My prose poem, “Flora and Fauna,” part of my nomadic surrealist novel The Dreamlife of Honey, the third in a trilogy, still in progress, just published at OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters. Based on experiences teaching English in Bielsko Biala, Poland. Many years ago. etc.
My writing is part of a life practice, using language as a means of travel, being in the flow, letting go. Language in motion, not attempting to impart stale or static knowledge. Maybe language is a little bit like a finger. If language is the finger, then what is the moon? The moon is a great mystery. Do not mistake the finger for the moon. Or vice versa. My writing attempts to travel with those great mysteries, to the moon, or other places, without clinging, or judging what is appropriate, better or worse. The Spirit of the Bathtub is part of that great mystery. It is, essentially, a spiritual book of nomadic surrealist travel. In the expansive tradition. Sometimes minimalist like Basho. Sometimes narrative and parable like.
If you listen to Alan Watts and other American Buddhist dharma talks, they often talk about expanding, rather than constricting. What does it mean? We all feel it, in one way or another, the tightening in the mind and body from various obligations, fears, and worries. The natural response is to cling, try to hold on. For example, as a teacher, I sometimes think in order to create a good lesson I need a lot of planning, and also anxiety, before entering the classroom. I have to prepare myself for the unexpected. But does the anxiety really help? Are my lessons more effective when I am anxious beforehand? It seems when I am in a more open and expansive state, some call this being in the flow, I am also more likely to complete various tasks more effectively, including writing and teaching. Of course, most importantly, the quality of my life is also better.
Many of us, in one way or another, have to deal with anxiety. My anxiety is very high. I used to take various prescriptions for severe anxiety, among other mental health issues, but stopped taking them in 2007. It is not easy but I felt they were no longer useful. Cognitive behavioural therapy is sometimes helpful. But I often feel I have a long way to go in dealing with my anxiety. It is a practice. I have to find ways of letting go. How to let go, in a skilful way? Without either repressing the emotions or feeding the anxiety by expressing it? Sometimes I need to allow for anger, and that is something I am still working on. How to express anger in a healthy way. I rarely express any anger. I just internalise it. I am afraid if I express anger, or any other so-called negative emotion, I will feed it. So how to let go? I am most happy in the moment, not holding onto anything, not clinging, being in the flow in an alert observational state, but this takes practice, without clinging to ideas of the “correct” outcome, and sometimes it takes expressing my “negative” emotions in order to let go.
In Alan Watts book,The Wisdom of Insecurity, he explains the often repeated story of the finger and the moon:
“It is like when someone points his finger at the moon to show it to someone else. Guided by the finger, that person should see the moon. If he looks at the finger instead and mistakes it for the moon, he loses not only the moon but the finger also. Why? It is because he mistakes the pointing finger for the bright moon.”
Poetry is part of my life practice, but it is only the finger pointing to the moon, bright and radiant. If language is the finger then what is the moon? It is the great mystery. It is original mind. Beyond good and evil.
Why do we travel? The weekend getaway. The summer and winter breaks. The islands and exotic locations. What are we looking for?
The travel industry is one of the biggest on our planet. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the travel industry generated 7.6 trillion U.S. dollars in 2016. We are looking for something obviously.
Do we travel to escape our mundane lives? That is surely one of the biggest reasons. But often, at least from my own experiences, we bring our fears and anxieties with us. Some of us, me included, might even panic a little without the comforts (and pains) of our daily routines. And yet the allure of kicking back on the beach with a cocktail, with the turquoise water of the Mediterranean, while a cliche, is hard to resist. We want new scenery to refresh ourselves. We all know stress (too much or too little) affects the quality of our lives and we are told a recreational holiday will renew us. Keep us fresh and productive workers. Employers know this and give us paid holidays.
Holidays are a type of recreation, time spent away from work, but what is recreation? Recreation is RE CREATION. Maybe you have heard that before. But it is good to contemplate. Do our holidays enable us to really RE CREATE ourselves? Do new environments really RE CREATE us?
“It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life.” That’s Alain de Botton. I think he is onto something.
What is ordinary life? Well, I suppose it is a kind of delusion.We are “tethered” to our everyday obligations, worries, and fears. We all lead busy lives, endlessly trying to balance work, family, and the endless options for entertainment, and, perhaps often detrimental to our well-being, comparing ourselves with others via social media. We are also “tethered” to the idea of permanence and trying to cling to it. Permanence is an illusion. The Buddhists tell us this and we can check it out for ourselves. Take a look around. Everything is always changing. Nothing is permanent.
This realisation of non-permanance can engender further worries. How can we anchor ourselves if everything is changing? One response, and I think it is quite natural, is to try to cling to what appears, at least for now, as solid. But there is another response, and at least from my experience, more renewing and life enriching, and that is to allow for this change, not to see it as the enemy, but rather as a potential source for wonder and awe.
When I lived in Poland, I remember visiting Krakow and seeing the tourists flock to comfort zones. The British tourists to British pubs for British food and beer and football. Maybe, out of guilt, some cultural excursions. While living in Turkey, especially around the southern Antalya province, I also noticed the same thing. British pubs, British all day breakfasts, fish and chips, and so on. This of course is understandable. We also want the familiar from our daily routines. It is a kind of comfort, at least temporarily. I understand the appeal. However, for me at least, I feel most renewed with surprise, awe, and stepping out of the familiar.
This stepping out of the familiar doesn’t come right away. I start off by clinging. Worrying what’s for breakfast in the new place, the best deals for lunch, trying to get myself situated. But when I am able to let go, allowing for the new environment to refresh me by not clinging to the familiar, time mostly disappears, or at least the clinging to it, and I feel the most free and happy. I am fully in the present moment, not weighing and judging and comparing, but open and ready to experience whatever is happening now in front of me. I am seeing the world again as if for the first time, because it really is the first time. The Buddhists call this beginner’s mind. You don’t have to travel, of course, to experience beginner’s mind, but it can be one of the ways.
The mind is the source of suffering and pleasure, but the environment, of course, plays a factor. Stepping out of the familiar. That, perhaps, is the source of our recreation. Traveling as a way to see things as they really are, forever changing. Spontaneous travel can help us recover our curiosity. Here is another piece of wisdom, this time from the great Zen teacher Alan Watts:
Real travel requires a maximum of unscheduled wandering, for there is no other way of discovering surprises and marvels, which, as I see it, is the only good reason for not staying at home.
This is the child’s mind, open and curious. For me, it is the greatest source of recreation. This child-like beginner’s mind can renew us. Lots of wisdom teachers tell us about the importance of beginner’s mind. Jesus said to become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven. What is it about children? Again, look around, they are naturally curious, in the moment, not clinging to the past or future, a beginner’s mind. It seems, at least from my experience, as we get older and become aware of mortality and death, we cling more and more to the illusion of permanence. For me, that is the source of most of my suffering. My mind trying to hold on too tightly. I am most happy in the moment, fully immersed and also observing, curious and open.
Nomadic travel does not require exotic locations and extensive planning. It can happen here and now, in your own neighbourhood. It is about letting go of expectations, cultivating a child-like curiosity.
Here, again, is Alan Watts:
The only way to make sense of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
The dance of life! What a great mystery!
Some of my poems from Hello Tiny Bird Brain (a chapbook from Knives, Forks, and Spoon Press in the U.K.) are now available in Polish. Translated by Adam Zdrodowski.
These poems in Polish originally appeared in the Polish magazine Helikopter and are now published in Helikopter‘s terrific anthology of Polish poetry – Przewodnik Po Zaminowanym Terenie [A guide through a minefield] (Wrocław 2016). Helikopter is a Polish cultural magazine. It is a supplementary to the Creative Arts Centre’s work connected with the visual and music area. The Creative Arts Centre is based in Wroclaw, Poland.
Some of the poets from the anthology read on the second day of the SILESIUS International Poetry Festival.
Super happy to have some more poems in Polish. My Polish friends tell me they read very well in Polish. I must learn more Polish. Adam Zdrodowski is a terrific translator of such greats as Lifting Belly” by Gertrude Stein, prose pieces by Raymond Roussel and William S. Burroughs as well as poems by James Schuyler and Mark Ford. It is nice to be in their company!!!
My poems in Polish in the anthology Przewodnik Po Zaminowanym Terenie are also online at the Helikopter website.
[wiersze Marcusa Slease’a w przekładzie Adama Zdrodowskiego z książki: PRZEWODNIK PO ZAMINOWANYM TERENIE. HELIKOPTER, antologia tekstów z lat 2011-2015, wybór i opracowanie – Krzysztof Śliwka, Marek Śnieciński, Ośrodek Postaw Twórczych / Biuro Festiwalowe IMPART, Wrocław 2016, str. 16-17]
Tomorrow in Madrid, 11th May 2018, at Desperate Literature Bookshop, I am launching my new book The Spirit of the Bathtub, along with visiting poet Grzegorz Wroblewski, also reading from his newest work, Zero Visibility (translated by Piotr Gwiazda).
The fun starts at 8PM. Entry 3 euro. You get a glass of wine (or beer) and support the bookshop. The only one of its kind (except maybe Shakespeare and Company in Paris).
Nice review of Wróblewski’s Zero Visibility over at Asymptote Literary Journal. Another planet indeed.
I have long admired the trifle. It is the crown jewel of English sweets. I often remember it at Christmas. I felt a bit of nostalgia for the trifle when I lived in America. My memories are often connected with Milton Keynes since that’s where we moved when we “immigrated” from Northern Ireland. I put immigrated in quotes because of the technicality of immigrating. But really, it was an immigration. Northern Ireland and England are two different cultures and countries. Of course they both speak forms of English but that doesn’t make them similar. Or at least completely similar. There is a lot of Scottish influence in Northern Ireland. And also Irish. Of course the Irish and Scottish are similar and also different. That’s the troubles. The English separated the Scottish and Irish and encouraged them to fight each other and then called it tribalism. A familiar tactic. It is called divide and conquer. No matter. Here is some more about trifles. Northern Ireland has trifle cakes too. And now that I am here, I hardly eat it. It is not as good as I remembered it. But then again what is. Everything is different from childhood. Smaller and less tasty usually. But the memory of something is often better than the actual event, object, or, in this case, food.
The trifle is the queen of English sponge cakes. Do you know how to make this cake? It is not too difficult. It is the strip tease of cakes.
Here is my poem about English trifles. It is part of my book in progress Play Yr Kardz Right. You can hear it over here: