Category Archives: Personal Stuff

A Soldier’s Nightmare

A red flower erect in a cratered landscape
Perhaps a sign of life on an alien planet,
But here, a lying portent defacing the place
Where I remain alone on a sterile plain

Just moments before he waved me forward
To join him in our fellowship
As friends and brothers in service together
To stand united for love of country

Now only a bloodied hand remains
And reaches out from his unsought grave
A bloom of human immolation
In a bleak garden of devastation

His grave unmarked but for one red blot
That rises in defiance of why wars are fought.

AJD 8/17/2016

Nature’s Inheritance

Recently I read an article about the healthful effects of certain wood essential oils, called phytoncides. It seems a simple walk in the woods can elicit an immune reaction that releases anti-cancer proteins. The Japanese call this exercise “forest bathing.” Recent studies have noted other benefits as well: “forest bathing” is believed to boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve mood, increase ability to focus—even in children with ADHD, accelerate recovery from surgery or illness, increase energy level, and improve sleep. For anyone who has camped or hiked in a forest, these studies are not surprising. Nevertheless, (bear with me) serious science has been devoted to phytoncides’ effect on cytolytic activity of NK-9wMI cells and the expression pf peroorin, tranzyme A, and granulysin. Now I am not one to discredit serious science, but I do wonder about this obsession to verify empirically what simple introspection already makes apparent. I doubt any research scientist would lessen your fear of cancer with the suggestion of a walk in the forest. But what this research does highlight—and affirm—is the body/mind connection, even though its focus is exclusively on the physical elements.

Over the last decade health professionals have similarly demonstrated and borne witness to the fact that meditation can improve focus, energy, peace of mind, and a general sense of well-being. Our common experience also tells us that nature often elicits this beneficial meditative state. Why else do we Americans frequent our many natural parks? They help ground us with our connection to all that we can sense and thereby with our own bodies. That connection to the tangible world is also one of the triggers for our sense of wonder and awe.

Now wonder is at the root of all philosophy, as many philosophers have told us. And awe is the inspiration for most of what we humans struggle to express in our art, music, literature, and many of our cultural forms and figures. It is, I believe, at the core of all spirituality. Nature can inspire wonder and awe. It can awaken in us a deep resonance with all that is. And, in this manner, that resonance can change the meaning of one’s life.

Some years ago I published a work of historical fiction centered on the Vietnam War and the turmoil of the 1960’s. As you might expect, the experiences I depicted are drawn from real life. There is one scene in that book where my main character finally begins to overcome his fears—of death, commitment, and love. This scene is pivotal for it establishes the basis for his future decisions and the courage he will need to act on them. The context is one of heightened tension as his headquarters detachment awaits an eminent attack. It is the eve of the Tet Offensive in which many thousands would perish.

During his lunch break, Regis climbed the water tower. He had taken off his fatigues and stripped down to his boots and shorts. When he got to the top, he did not recline as planned, for the asphalt top would have been too hot on his bare back. Instead, he sat on the edge and hugged his knees to his chest, absorbing the heat of the sun bearing down on his uncovered head and shoulders. The horizon stretched out in all directions from his perch, the highest point on the highest hill in the local landscape. The more distant hills came to life with a fresh vividness. Their sun baked treetops aligned in a rolling pattern that mirrored the rise and fall of the earth beneath them as they reached towards the sun. They did not shrink from the heat, as Regis must, after too much exposure. They embraced it. For a time, Regis tried to embrace that heat as well. He could feel the pores of his skin releasing life-giving water into the air. In the valleys at the base of the surrounding hills, Regis perceived a slight mist that added translucence to the unending green that marched up the foothills in ever deepening hues. They too were giving up their moisture in an ongoing weather cycle that connected with endless other life cycles, of which Regis was a very small part.

His head began to throb with the rhythmic pounding of blood through his temples. His body was succumbing to a countdown in its own cycle of life and death. His death, he knew, was inevitable. If not Charlie (the Viet Cong), then nature would claim its purpose with him. There was nothing for him to do except to accept it. With his brain blasted by the heat, eyes bloated with the kaleidoscope of endless shades of green against a piercing blue sky, and the sound of nature’s silent voice humming like a seashell in his ear, Regis was overcome with the sheer beauty that rampaged at the gates of his senses. An alternate reality, ever-present but previously ignored, had broken down the barriers of his consciousness. He slid to the side of the tower, clasped the ladder rungs and slowly—with a savoring deliberation—descended. He felt unfamiliarly at peace, both with himself and with everything (“A Culpable Innocence,” page 165-166).

The key words in this excerpt are “he felt.” The affinity my protagonist felt with nature opens a window of awareness into the human heart and into the mystery of our kind. In our post-industrial and contemporary technological age, we tend to favor the view that intelligence is the dominant factor in human civilization: science is dominant, logic prevails, and well written laws can define morality and social interactions. But we evolved organically out of the very stuff our senses touch every day of our lives; and our minds can do more than objectify what we perceive. Not only can we analyze, but we can also experience our presence in the world, that is, feel reality in the absence of any intervening thoughts. We are more than a pretentious self-evolving species that can define chemical changes in our cells and even begin to manipulate our genetic inheritance. In moments of deep introspection, we can identify with nature. The danger before us, I suspect, is the foolhardy assumption that we can divorce ourselves from nature, from the mother that bore us into existence, and from our own mind/body identity. Not only has nature formed the physical basis for our existence and the introspective awareness of our presence in the world, but it can ground us in its most fundamental lesson: we cannot survive a divorce from nature, neither as individuals nor as a species.

Perhaps the supreme challenge of our time is maintaining our affinity with the natural life forces that course through our bodies. A simple walk in the woods may not only bring peace of mind, but reorient our consciousness to nature’s ubiquity and the unbiased reality of pure existence. Like the main character in my book, feeling existence in the face of death might just be the premise for leading a meaningful life. At least that was what I learned on that water tower.

(Note: If this blog resonates with you, you might also be interested in “Bound in a Nutshell . . . King of Infinite Space,” “It’s a Small World After All,” and “The Doors of Perception.”)

My Anne

Her music is a bow drawn lightly across a string
rather than fingers skipping and pounding on keys.

She is exuberant like a flower opening to dawn
rather than an overripe grapefruit falling from a tree.

Her laughter sings a melodic strain
like a chime that answers a petulant breeze:
both responsive to the moment and soothing to the ear.

The music I hear in her words
is the heart that beats in her bosom:
the echo of love’s conjoining
that issued from my loins.

AJD: 7/07/2016

Anthony’s World: A Vision of the Human Condition

One day long ago as a young undergraduate, I anxiously awaited my favorite professor to begin a class in understanding poetry. His desk and chair sat ominously on a foot high podium, so positioned it seemed to lord over us, his philistine students. When he entered the room on that memorable day, his stride was long and purposeful, like a man anxious to speak his mind. The step up to his chair was not enough for him on this day. Instead he literally jumped up on his desk, startling his expectant students. With his feet swinging freely, he addressed us with a tinge of excitement in his voice, “I’m going to read to you the lyrics of a song. What I want you to do is to determine whether it is a poem or not, and why?” Then he proceeded to read the words to Simon and Garfunkel’s song, “The Sound of Silence.” I will never forget the cadence of his voice, as if he were singing the words in a different key. His face became flushed as he reached the final stanza, “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls. And whisper’d in the sounds of silence.”

What this teacher taught us that day was that words can transcend their literal meaning and speak to a part of our humanity that can transform us. Actually, any art form must transcend its medium. If it fails to do so, then, as Joyce so pithily enjoined, it is nothing more than pornography. But when it touches us, beyond what words can adequately delineate, it moves our spirit and raises our aspiration for something more. When Paul Simon wrote his lyrics, he was inspired by an emptiness that seemed to enclose him from all sides: “People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening, People writing songs that voices never share And no one dared Disturb the sound of silence.” The closing stanza cannot really be translated into a declarative sentence, for it leaves you breathless as it did that day when read by my professor. And yet you know what Paul Simon is communicating. He was speaking about a truth that no word or metaphor could adequately express, but that his lyrics could elicit in the heart and feelings of any person living in that time and circumstance.

Paul Simon was fortunate that he found a way to support his artistic ability. As a student in that class, I wondered whether I could write anything worth sharing with others and whether I could support a family in the process of doing so. Well, I finally reached a point about a decade ago when I could make an attempt at the first proposition and not worry so much about the latter. My family had become largely independent of me. And so I began to write.

You, my faithful subscribers, know that I began writing this blog in July, 2013, not quite two years ago. My motivation perhaps was a humble attempt to provide a counterpoint to Simon’s pessimistic refrain, “my words like silent raindrops fell, And echoed In the wells of silence.” My words may be critical, but their intent is to awaken a resounding echo of coherence and sanity in a world seemed bent on the insubstantial, the incoherent, and an insane competition for power and status, the very bane of human coexistence. Some of Simon’s angst comes out in my recent blogs on politics and the media like “Perverted Politics,” “Compromise: An Unfulfilled Promise,” “Why Fable News?” “Is our Free Enterprise System at Risk?” and more. But I also write about matters of the heart and spirit like “In the Zone,” “A Blossom in the Wilderness,” “A Congregation of Life Forms,” “The Womb of Life,” and more. I have written about dogs and centipedes and just about anything that my tagline promises, i.e., “A Running Commentary on Whatever.” But, in all these blogs, my muse speaks to me in fragments and is thwarted by my personal limitations and ignorance. Before I began this blog, I challenged myself to paint on a broader canvas framed only by the limits of my imagination and creativity. As you can readily see, that aforementioned professor had done more than introduce me to poetry.

What you may not know is that I also write novels, actually three novels: “A Culpable Innocence,” a work of historical fiction set in the context of the Vietnam War, “A Life Apart,” the story of a dysfunctional family’s journey into wholeness, and my recently published novel, “In Search of Fate.” The latter is a love story embedded in a high stakes futuristic adventure that bridges the divide between orthodoxy and conscience, capitalism and altruism, death and immortality, faith and fate. The inspiration for these novels came from that same undergraduate professor who taught me that words can be more than signs, but symbols for those unspoken truths that can only be experienced. As a novelist, I create characters and circumstances that speak to our human condition, while intimating our ability to transcend the “wells of silence.” There is another kind of silence that speaks in the heart of every human being like a siren’s call and intones loudest when voiced in the words of compassion and love. That silence can be couched within words that breathe hope and love and function as a wellspring of change. That silence masquerades as the quiet center of a storm, but its centrifugal force can sweep humanity into a future very different than Simon’s lament, “And the people bowed and prayed To the neon god they made.” His words, like my blogs, convey a specific message. My novels, on the other hand, live in the broader world of interrelationships and the national/international cross currents of culture, politics and economics. If you wish to explore that world as I envision it, check out my website at www.aculpableinnocence.com. There you will find synopses, excerpts and more information than perhaps you need or want. Although I have been reluctant to accept or promote any advertising on this blog, there are now over 1300 of you that seem interested in “Anthony’s Blog,” my running commentary on whatever. Only recently have I been persuaded that you might also be interested in Anthony’s world—my imaginative vision of our contemporary human condition.

To Nathalie, Wife and Mother

Stripped bare in alabaster hue
The birch releases its summer growth
Gently falling to the parched earth
That exhales its font to the heavens
Where condensing and billowing forms
Spread over the face of all
Awaken a universe reborn in each,
Like sparkling dew on a rose petal,
A glistening kiss on a child’s cheek,
And a blossoming stem.

AJD, 1/17/2015

Truth in Blogging

I have been thinking deeply about my reasons for writing this blog. My first blog attempted to define a rationale (“To Blog or Not to Blog”). Now that I am much further along in the process, I find myself once again questioning my initial motivation. Certainly, I was not attracted to the siren call of fame or fortune—that much must be obvious to my readers. Did I have a particular ideology or dogma to articulate? But that phase of my life began to disintegrate at the age of 21. Gradually, I came to realize every ideology is just a singular network of conceptions that form an integrated world picture. To the extent that this world picture overlaps with others, it has some validity. Otherwise, it serves as a healthy delusion, comforting to the degree that it allows one to make sense of his/her life. Dogma, I soon learned, was often hard earned wisdom from past generations that had become calcified into an exclusive set of actions and beliefs. To the extent that one’s personal belief system is lived with openness to its founding inspiration, it has the power to transcend the opaque routine of everyday life. But it can too easily become a prescription for living and thinking that relieves one of any personal responsibility and precludes reasoning or self-examination by its very mandate. The bottom line is that I am neither an advocate for any specific ideology nor an evangelist for any specific religion or practice. So what manner of hubris has brought me to blogging? Perhaps I fancy that I have access to some element of truth whose validity depends upon it being shared.

So what is truth? One person’s truth is another’s fallacy, or so it seems. Can we even recognize truth within the blizzard of its many potential sources? We live in an age when communication has been multiplied by the digital media—the internet, cable news, and various handheld devices to include the ubiquitous cellphones. But are we communicating any better today than before digital transmission ruled the airwaves? Within the realm of science, truth is validated when an hypothesis is tested in a lab and confirmed by repeated tests. Between individuals, I believe, most communications are validated solely on the basis of trust. (Our gullibility in this regard is stupendous, especially when you consider are susceptibility to advertising campaigns and to the promises and propagandized world views of politicians.) We may not have physical labs where every communication can be pre-tested for validity; but we do have the equivalent apparatus lodged in our brains where memories of past experience and the power of reason itself reside. When something you have read or heard “resonates” with you, it seems to flow with the patterns of your life experiences and self-reflection. In an instant, you sense that something true has been communicated and you feel connected with the communicator in a mutual relation. You share a truth which seems further validated by that relationship: a real feedback loop. If you have followed me thus far, then you might conclude that all truth is relative, with the possible exception of scientific truth. But, actually, I believe all truth is relative, even when validated by objective scientific tests, by the shared experience of others, or by so-called “common sense” (what used to be called “self-evident truth”). There was a time when philosophers saw the world in terms of matter, form and the interplay of causal principles; and scientist explained everything in terms of material substance, energy, and the movement of objects from point “a” to point “b.” But the philosophers never agreed on any one system of philosophy. And science has long struggled with the “grand vision of everything” that might explain the fundamental source of all energy and the underlining mystery of matter itself—the fact that its atomic composition appears to be nothing other than empty space and energy states. My point is simple: all truth changes, including scientific truth, as we amass more experience, real world testing and a common understanding. The only truth that is absolute is the vast area of our mutual ignorance which includes the unknowable—the proper subject of art and religion. “Truth” is that ever-accumulating ball of knowledge and wisdom we persistently push towards a mountain peak forever shrouded by clouds. What has been generally accepted in the West as the accumulation of our knowledge and wisdom is called the perennial philosophy and contemporary science (including, of course, quantum physics, which rather reads as metaphysics). What amalgamates and establishes the various relative truths of ages past is our mutually concurred/verified understanding as expressed in mathematics and, most especially, in language. The latter expression is my entry into writing a blog.

If a tree falls in the forest . . . is there objective truth when no one can testify to its existence? Is consciousness the sine qua non of existence? For us, the answer to that question would seem to be “yes.” For without our awareness, we ourselves would be simply “not there.” Without consciousness, in fact, we would not be in the world-as-we-know-it at all. But there was a time when our species did not exist on this planet. Yet there is plenty of evidence that the earth and life evolved together as necessary precursors to our emergence. So trees fell in many forests around the globe long before humans were on the scene. The force of nature that spins the galaxies and spawns its many life forms on mother earth is that same creative energy that both predates our existence and invites us as active players in its tour de force. We make reality for ourselves by simply being aware of it and more; for we enter into its creative vitality by the decisions we make and the concepts we form and share with one another. The world we inhabit is both the oyster shell we create and, at the same time, that mysterious and unknown force that governs every energy state and enables every creation. So we can agree on some measure of truth that we attain together, but that measure is inconsequential to the absolute that engendered us and encompasses our past, present, and future. Scientists share their results with other scientists in order to make possible the next generation of discoveries. As individuals, we share our personal truth with each other in order to validate/enhance our three-dimensioned/conceptualized perspective on a world in order to gain some wisdom for ourselves and our posterity. Likewise, my “truth” is my entry into writing a blog.

With confidence I can say that my written words are a testimony to my ignorance. When I share with you my self-assumed knowledge and limited wisdom, I am merely casting into the wealth of knowledge and wisdom that already exists in you, my readers. If what I have written resonates with you, then we have attained some measure of truth together. Recently, I have netted many new subscribers. So your apparent interest seems to justify my rationale for writing this blog. I can only thank you for your interest and support.

To Blog or Not to Blog

Why write a blog? And why would anyone want to read it? These were the questions that came to mind when a close friend suggested I take on this responsibility. Yes, I consider it a responsibility because it challenges one to leave egocentric comments at the door. For example, if I address superficiality, I place myself above my own tendencies to engage in such. Likewise, if I criticize others’ ideas, I presuppose a higher knowledge. But I do believe in a higher knowledge that transcends the conditioned, the culturally accepted, even the pseudo-objective. Actually, we all know what that higher knowledge is, for we call upon it regularly when we are arrested by beauty, when we love unconditionally, and when we either rail against injustice or struggle to right a wrong at all costs. What we know in these circumstances often propels us to act against our self-interest, to speak out against so-called common wisdom, and to risk the loss of anonymity in a society that demands conformity. If I’m right about this higher knowledge – call it wisdom’s threshold – then there will be readers out there who will want to track with me, even in my failed attempts to reach it. After all, the evolution of our race’s world perspective is not continuous, but subject to spontaneous leaps, sometimes synchronous leaps from a common collective. And so, I begin this journey humbled by the fact of my dependence on my readers to join with me in this venture. In fact, I invite them – you – to help me tune into the world consciousness, perhaps to participate in its evolution.