Tuesday, December 25, 2007

New Painting Technique

Okay, this is mixing pigments (& blue tube watercolors for some of the glazing; the particles of dry pigment just don't seem small enough)with vinyl acetate bookbinder's glue (also available as a sizing glue for preparing canvases.)

Again I'm using transparent layers of red, then yellow, then blue under everything. At each stage I hit the brightest spots with a layer of transparent white (which makes everything painted over it brighter.) Getting the values (dark/light) right before worrying about colors seems to be a good technique for making paintings at all realistic--and using light to brighten the light spots works far easier than starting with a white background & adding darks! (For the first time I feel like I know what I'm doing! & if I can do this, anyone can.)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Link Fixed for New Blog.

I have found people I really like doing their separate quaker blogs here and there, but I don't catch all their posts or know if they'll see any particular post on my own blog.

That seems all too individualistic in the bad sense!

Let's some of us meet on one site!--A Quaker Watering Hole

If you like the idea, there's a pretty good chance I'll want you there too.

Suggested ground rules: "Playful" is good, but let's keep it mindfully, lovingly playful. "Serious," but not stuffy or hostile, if we can help it.

Subjects?--anything of religious interest to Quakers & other mystical sentient beings.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Breaking the Quaker Code of Silence

I was drawn to Quakers in the first place, because (unlike my Mormon uncles, or the inmates of any traditional church) they were reticent about God, hesitant to put words in God's mouth or tell him at great length what they expected of him. And also because my best friend dragged me there. Why should an atheist come to Meeting?–because my friend asked, and if God was going to exist despite all the good reasons I knew otherwise, I'd give him a chance to get in a word or two on his own behalf. I went once, had a nice experience; but God didn't tell me he'd been there, and so I didn't feel it right to return. What happened between me & God developed elsewhere, in its own time.

[I use the G word- -It's been misused a lot, but it's what we've got for the purpose. (If I say "he," you're welcome to say "she" or "ge" or anything that does it for you.) Some of the difficulties are simply in the nature of things; an honest effort to understand how we exist, rather than Nothing-with-nobody-to-notice-it, sometimes just makes me dizzy! It's not just-us; it's not other-than-us either, but what humans call paradox and mystery is simply the way things are.]

I visited meetings several times over the years, and always went away feeling that I didn't belong; that "They aren't doing this right!" or that "I have nothing to contribute here, no money and I don't do marvelous Good Works." There was even an apocalyptic time in 1970 when I sat with a student worship group, and felt an invisible presence in the doorway: "Why Forrest," it asked, "What are you doing, trying to hide among the good people?"

I returned in 1991, after I'd been roped into a campaign for the rights of homeless people. Enlisted at last with the angels, I expected to find other people intending to devote themselves to God. Some of the people at meeting did join in demonstrations, were helpful in various ways. Worshiping with the group felt right. But there was something I didn't understand about it.

It's that culture of silence.

Talk puts barriers between people, and silence can be a way to bypass them. Talk can hide God behind a verbal image, which silence may dissolve. But silence is a double-edged sword.

Silence also puts barriers between people. Refusal to talk about God shuts us off from learning ways of recognizing him.

In the Bible, Adam is not necessarily created male or female. But at some point, God says, "It is not good for the man to be alone." We could have been one person alone, communing with God and living in Paradise as if it were a vacant lot. It wasn't what God had in mind, when he made this world and called it "good."

We find God in ourselves, if we're going to find him anywhere at all. There's no "corporate worship" unless we parts of the body go into worship ourselves. But we come together for the occasion because we weren't made to be so alone.

Silence is the "plain dress" of contemporary Quakerism. It's become a "poor silly gospel" that risks taking the place of its actual purpose.

Remember the "parable of the talents"? The master distributes money for his servants to hold while he's traveling. Two servants find uses for the money, and return more than they were given. The third buries it in the back yard, and when the master sees that his servant is only returning the original deposit, there's the usual wailing & gnashing of teeth. "To he who has much, more will be given, but he who has little will find even what he has taken away;" that's the moral we're given. But what was "little" here?-- the gift, or the willingness to use it?

Since a few spiritually connected old members have died, the messages in my meeting have dwindled to the point that our Ministry & Oversight committee was concerned about the lack, a year or so before my own term there. Are we merely short of spiritual gifts?-- or have we been practicing a sort of spiritual stinginess that leads to us receiving little?

I've always had misgivings about our "state of the meeting" reports, considered them empty formalities, our annual exercise in denial. This year was different. Our Yearly Meeting ministry committee was suggesting that local meetings treat this year as a jubilee, a long sabbath, an occasion for discernment of what we were doing, and whether all of it was really necessary. That recommendation may have been influential, was certainly in the background. Also, the report had been left in the hands of two aging members, the third of the committee having left unexpectedly for Costa Rico. Not knowing what to say about us, certainly not about "our spiritual condition," they followed the example of nearby La Jolla Meeting and scheduled a potluck "talking meeting" to learn what our meeting members could say about themselves.

At the potluck, we found the meeting sharply divided between "Our meeting is just fine, so please shut up!" vs "We wouldn't know a ‘spiritual condition' if it bit us!" The report even reflects this division. But it isn't only the report. The value of preparing the report is to bring a meeting's attention to its situation. Doing this, we've also agreed to continue examining and working on the divisions between us. Before and after-meeting study & sharing groups are starting up again, with new members interested in attending.

Why does that make me hopeful? I had a message last week. For years I've felt oppressed with a sense of being given important things to say to my meeting, but without the ability to make them palatable. And lately I've sometimes been telling myself, "I have nothing to say to these people!" This last week, I simply told them "I don't know what to say to you because I don't know where you are!" Right, wrong, welcome, unwelcome? It was an uncomfortable thing to say. But between the silence of the meeting and the chatter of after-meeting refreshments, it's been damned hard to know a lot of us very deeply.

As someone once said, "If this is a true message, you know it too." I was very surprised, during refreshments, when one of the old members came up and thanked me. I don't know how this will turn out, but we're letting something new happen.

As for me, I can know God by myself. But when I keep it to myself, it goes nowhere and I get stuck. When I find ways to share what I've learned, other people can share what they're learning. Once talking, I don't easily shut up enough to hear them well. But I'm learning. And when this happens, God brings out a lot more for me to understand.

Is a conversation only "listening"? Only "talking"? Is a meeting only silence, or only messages? Can we bring our souls out of the closet for refreshments, share the meat of Christ's words between us? I see it beginning here. Is this something other meetings need as well?

Friday, February 02, 2007

a nice little poem

Dear Civilization

I'm running a fever like the Earth
to cure the sickness of your medicines

You splash filth in my eyes
and think I do not see

My lungs clog with your fires
and my mouth with your murders,
my throat with honest vomit.

I refuse your treatments; my heart
drifts down the river strewing daisies
and singing.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


It's the season, if that still helps, for being sick, at least where I live. A couple of weeks of unaccustomed cold weather and a couple of nights of lying mostly (more-or-less) awake listening to my gizzards and wondering when will they let me relax, followed by last night's sore throat (in perfect sync with Anne this time) providing at last an explanation why a moderate amount of perfectly good (even yummy) food was doing this to me.

It keeps the old immune system in practice, on the level of physical causation. I guess this game of physical causation serves some spiritual purpose; I mean that the discomfortable details of it and the scarcity of sexually oblivious whee seem to require more explanation than the nice blissful bits; and while the notion of God at eternal play has its appealing side, it also carries a nasty hint of "Oh shit! Eternity again! What can I do now?"--which I hope is merely my own emotionally-jaundiced take rather than the actual Divine Condition...

A new way to play Prayer... if there is such a thing--anyway, newish to me. (By the way, I'm also finding out that tempera, meaning playing with egg in my paints, is utterly wonderful (as well as frustrating when big chunks of lovely luminous color peel off and leave yucky chaos; I'll let you know how it works when I get a little more experience myself))!!

Should one play Prayer? My experience has been, what I play at I do again, and get better at. We'll see.

There's all this "counting the breath" stuff, which helps some people get there. Sometimes it gets even me more there. Then there's counting heartbeats--which has the virtue of letting one's breath alone so it isn't so much at the mercy of my expectations of How It Should Be Done. Traditional zen practice was to count breaths 1-10, then start over at 1. But modern computer practice goes 1-9, then a-f, then 10 (stands for "16" in the usual number system), 11, 12... 1a-1f, 20, whee! (Mathematicians are weird; get used to it!)

But really we've got the whole alphabet available. Which takes us up to "base 36," meaning that when you count "z" and prepare to say 10, you have actually counted what we normally call 35 breaths and are about to count the 36th. More symbols than that would be too complicated, but we have that old verse for remembering how alphabetical order goes... We can count up to a fairly big number this way, without many digits. Rather than being pedantic about exactly how many breaths we're actually counting (which doesn't in itself matter) we can say 10 as 1,0 followed by 1,1 and 1,2 on up to 1,z and 2,0 and beyond to z,z & on past 1,0,0 if we're really obsessive about this.

Anyway. However large or small the number you choose to count up to (and you might vary that, why not?) there is a tendency to drift off into just normal inattentive thinking, the sort you were trying to avoid being looped-into in the first place.

You can just address some remarks to God, in your mind. One word per heartbeat.

You probably, so far as you're like me, wonder what to say. Okay, blather something quick & banal and then take a break--by counting awhile. When you reach your intended goal, say more. Repeat as needed.

All right, you don't tell God anything this way he doesn't already know.

But you now have something to do while wondering "What can I possibly find to say next?" And then you get the pressure of having to "say" something at THIS moment, followed by a more contemplative counting break.

I find myself saying utterly childish things. It's all right; God is used to me. It is not what God needs to hear but what I need to address to God, what comes out when I'm trying at short notice to say whatever I actually mean... I get to hear what I really mean, and that seems a good thing.

Maybe these blurts should all be pious. I don't think so. I mean, yes, love and gratitude and praise are good, appropriate things to feel but sometimes I don't, and it may be better just to say "My-throat-hurts-and-I-don't-know-what-I-should-be-say-ing-but-I-guess-I'm-glad-I'm-here-Thanks-for-Anne" and so on. With every beat of my silly heart. It gets me though the Long Dark Night of the Tummy. And some day, who knows, it might just make me better.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Piece for Quaker-L

As I said during in a recent fuss, I'm not required to answer every objection posed by a habitual objector. But the objection, taken as a question, was a pretty good question: How do I explain God's failure to consistently intervene in this world--while insisting that God can and does intervene? Doesn't this make God responsible for events and conditions we all consider utterly inhumane and wrong?

This question is bound to arise so far as people consider God as merely an outside force, "wholly other" as some like to put it, a maker of physical law and enforcer of their moral judgments. "Why doesn't HE get on the job?"

The problem disappears if one imagines God to be merely psychological: "Take One a day, internally, and call me in the morning!" But this is untrue as well as unpleasant.

What we have, and what we are, is God expressing into everything we know and experience, including our knowing and experiencing anything whatsoever.

Raw experience can have a random flavor--as we know from various chaotic dreams. The fact that we do remember having had such dreams indicates that whatever was going on, even if it violated our normal sense of logical interconnection, included a continuing causal thread in which we formed and carried the memories--even though the details probably soon slipped away from lack of memorable structure for us to grasp them by.

So human experience is intrinsically "experiencing plus structure." A world without the "act" of experiencing would not be a world, merely a big pointless machine. A world without coherence would be only a blurred dream. Rather than (not) finding either of these things, we _are_ each a window into a world of experience (including such "active" experiences as wanting, intending, doing.)

It is not emotionally safe for us to know ourselves to "be" God so long as we are alienated from ourselves.

It can not feel safe to grant ourselves divine power so long as we are alienated from ourselves. And so far as we imagine God as "wholy other," we can hardly feel safe from God. Therefore we cling to the belief that "we" have (somehow) independent power; those who suffer worst from this are forced to imagine God as harmlessly imaginary.

Some people imagine God as imaginary for other reasons, having been taught that this is the "only common sense rationality" ("Thou shalt put no other rationality before it!") That limited sense of what is possible can be expanded; this can be exhilarating (as well as scarey!) and the result does not have to be a mind too open to hold anything. What one gets is a roomy (Rumi?) mind that accepts far more of what people actually do think and experience in their lives.

Some people "believe in" God but in practice imagine Him limited to some theological function or other. But what we've got, in fact, is "The Living God" (You don't have to trust Him--but if you can't, this must be a very dark place indeed!) The God we've got, in fact, is willing to surprise us, but is generally gentle with our need for a predictable, dependable environment.

Beliefs, then? Where do they come into this?--What you believe is largely what you get, because the alternative would be profoundly disturbing and disorienting.

A common behavior pattern for battered women, we are told, is to attach themselves to the kind of guy they "understand"; this leads them into a relation that feels "natural" because it's familiar--and the result is not a matter of "getting what they deserve," but of preferring to think they understand--preferring to think that their experience, however unpleasant, at least makes sense.

The more fearful we may be, the harder it is for us to tolerate uncertainty. Atheism is a comforting belief that offers a world in which nothing can go wrong go wrong "because that crazy mean Tyrant all those crazy people believe in doesn't exist." But that crazy mean Tyrant is us.

We'd prefer a world without a Holocaust. ("Bad Hitler! Stop that!") But the world which gave birth to us included the Holocaust, and we prefer existing, as we are (in a world, the best way to exist) to not. Our war against Iraq goes on, and we don't like it, but we'd rather live, and see this world (eventually) come out right, than just discorporate, and see how that turns out.

A notion I get from reading Joel Goldsmith lately: God is present everywhere and always, but the manifestation of God we receive in any occasion depends largely on what we are consciously prepared to accept.

So far as we "believe in" a mechanical universe, God manifests as the Perfect Referee (but then there's nothing for us down that road but decay and death, after which we'd have to figure out "What am I doing here?" all over again.) So far as we believe in a God who does our will, we can only muster limited belief and only see limited results. So far as we're open to God as wiser, kinder and more creative than our personal selves, miracles come.

Forrest Curo

Monday, January 22, 2007

Show & Tell

I think this is pretty good for a poet who needed to be dragged to an art class a few years ago.

I picked up the idea for this technique at http://www.brigidmarlin.com/Pages/Mische.html
but fudged considerably; playing with eggs sounded too messy and I didn't get around to sanding, probably haven't been getting the layers thin enough or even enough. Doing it wrong like this makes for nice effects--though looking around her site makes for an embarrassing comparison. Maybe sometime next life...

I used casein & oils on 5X7 canvas, with a no-hair brush (alligator clip on a disposable chopstick, holding a thin sliver from a stiff rubber pipe.)

Old Poem May Say It Better

Something I wrote for a rather sweet little woman shortly before I met Anne. (I write fewer poems when I'm happy.)


Here, my sweet, is a magic
chemical to give you
historical perspective,
a certain glossy distance
between you and the news.

Sometimes it makes you laugh
to see the clowns in their
robes of shoddy royalty
doing the verbal tap-dance around
and around and around.

Sometimes you see high drama,
something to give you chills
about somebody telling the truth
who hasn't been shot yet.

Sometimes it gives you panic
terror to be at the mercy
of armed madmen, and fools
playing like drunken gods
for gold stars and party hats
and our lives.

Let me caress your nipples
gently, a touch that resonates
deep into your body. Close your eyes.
Ignore the strident ravings
distracting you from my body
and hold me; hold me.

Forrest Curo
maybe 1982(?)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Nuff of All That

I'm tired of old Saddam just hanging around here. What's that boy in the White House been up to since then? I think I might just die of boredom before he kills us all. But it wouldn't make me happier if we hung him too, and the gang he rode in with. Better I should go to the zoo and watch monkeys.

Blessed are the fools, for we grow hardened to embarrassment and feel free to blather out truth.

In the Main Ring of this circus, we have the monkey show. Some people look on uncomprehendingly as the monkeys cleverly pick pockets and rip out throats; others wonder if they should be worried; are these critters going to get loose and do us harm out here in the audience? It's all just fuss.

Yes, the Wrath is loosed on our world; the fact that we can take this show seriously is just more evidence of our condition. "Pay no attention to Caesar; Caesar doesn't have the faintest notion what's really going on" says Bokonon, Kurt Vonnegut's holy false prophet in the jungle. Who calls himself a liar, but got that one right.

We are organs of God's pleasure, folks. (Quakers might rather think of ourselves as God's work-callused hands, but trying too hard just makes us twitch. And some people consider themselves born to lie about and be caressed, but that's not the sort of organs we are...) Martin Buber quotes the Hassidim about a man who keeps all the commandments, but has no yearning... He is admitted to Paradise, but doesn't care much for that, either. After awhile he says something like "Paradise, so what?" and they kick him out. I say that's not a punishment, but a mercy. Now he can yearn for Paradise.

Each of us is God telling himself a story. Let's make that a story about waking up and looking truth in the face. (If you think you can't face it, you're just scaring yourself with somebody's false notions.) The real truth is God. It's bewildering; it can be overwhelming (if you like) but there's more of this truth in a quiet voice than in a nuclear bomb. We've had enough horror flicks on this planet.

We don't have to be a hero; we don't have to save the planet; we just have to look truth in the face. It'll tell us what comes next...

Monday, January 01, 2007

For Saddam

little man!

Strutting in a
djinn's palace on
a slippery heap,

of ruthlessness,

Photos with
American satraps--winks
and handshakes.
You were smarter
than them but

you never understood
your place.

Saddam, you married a
whore. Beware
the dagger in
your nuptual bed;
you should have known.

But you've had time,
since, to see
the other side
of atrocity.
Did you learn wisdom?

He should have given you
your knife fight:
some recognition of
your underlying

but he never will
and that's the most
significant difference
between you.

Forrest Curo, December 31 2006