All Is True

May 27th, 2019

Last night I went to see All Is True, the new Kenneth Branagh movie written by Ben Elton.  I was motivated by curiosity more than expectation, wondering where the creator of the hilarious and erudite “Upstart Crow”  BBC sitcom series would go in revisiting the life and works of Shakespeare.

During the first fifteen minutes I found the somber lighting, lugubrious pace and bleak expressions of the familiar sprightly characters alienating, but at a certain point I got oriented to the genre and recognized Elton’s earlier constructions of Will, Anne, Judith and Hamnet presented behind tragic instead of comic masks.

By the scene of the encounter between Ian McKellen’s Southhampton and Branagh’s Shakespeare that concludes with the double recitation of sonnet 29, “When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes,” my tears flowed along with theirs. I was stirred by its enactment of a “marriage of true minds” for whom the approach to immortality brought human limitations into highest relief.

By the end of the film this seemed its central tone and idea, brought home by the titles that followed the happy ending insisted upon by the Ben Jonson character–titles stating that the three sons of Judith, who seemed to fulfill Will’s obsessive wish for a male heir, all died as children, and by the song from Cybeline behind the final credits:

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o’ the great;
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke;
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The scepter, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.

Quiet consummation have;
And renownèd be thy grave!

As I left the theatre I felt that “All is True” achieved the aspiration uttered by its protagonist: with a patent fiction to express reality–in this case the notoriously elusive reality of the author’s personality. It did that by combining the few known facts with astute readings of his work to imagine the inner and outer life of his last silent years. In the words of Jonson’s tribute, it made “My Shakespeare rise!”

Albert Drive

March 24th, 2019

The mockingbird returned
on Spring’s first day
filling the silence
left by students
gone on break.
Its bebop warbles
replaced their hiphop grunts
with a memory of hope.

The Negative Space of Buddhism in Michael Pollan’s book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

August 27th, 2018

A talk to the White Heron Sangha, Sunday August 26, 2018

1.

One afternoon last May on my way home from working at City Farm San Luis Obispo, the car radio came on with my favorite program, Science Friday. I was surprised to hear the genial voice of Michael Pollan speaking with its host Ira Flaytow. Before I could could pick up the thread of the conversation, out popped the words psilocybin, LSD and mescaline. So that’s what he’s up to now, I thought.

Ever since I heard Pollan read The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2007) during a long drive to Canada ten years ago, he’s been one of my favorite writers and most informative teachers.  That book’s comprehensive reflections on the history, biology, economics, politics, and morality of America’s food system altered my tastes, motivated me to design a required general education course in argumentation at Cal Poly around its subject, and inspired me to spend a good part of my retired working life on our local urban farm. The broad impact of his work was demonstrated by a local incident that received national notoriety.  When Pollan was invited to give a public lecture here by Hunter Francis, the director of Poly’s center for sustainable agriculture, large agribusiness funders pressured the university administration to deny him an opportunity to speak unless he was part of a panel that included a professor of Beef Science from Kansas.

That book and two later short ones—In Defense of Food and Food Rules—mainstreamed attitudes about industrial agriculture, factory farming of animals, and healthy eating that had been elements of the counterculture of the sixties. As effective manifestos for change, they contributed to the revival of organic and local food movements. It struck me as fitting that he was now addressing another suppressed strain of that culture of my youth.

The conversation I tuned into was promoting a new book by Pollan called How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Flaytow was dwelling on the opening theme of the subtitle—the New Science of Psychedelics.  What turned me on, however, was its coupling of Science with Consciousness and Transcendance incorporated into a “how-to” book promising doubled satisfaction, with a pun on “change your mind.” Read the rest of this entry »

Verandah

July 2nd, 2018

Yesterday’s elegy dispatched me
on a search for “waggle dance.”
By URL I found it out on YouTube:
the manic moves of worker bees
that vector angle and distance
of nectar to their sisters.
On the drive home last night from sangha,
a podcast announced that science now
can eavesdrop on those numbers.
Coincidences abound
in reunion’s aftermath.
The hive is a web.
The end of the road
Leads back to corners.