Wondering where I’ve been? Have you given up on checking my RSS feed? Has this blog fallen off the face of the earth? What the hell happened to Russell in July?
Not much. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been writing. Well, not exactly “not much,” but mostly things I didn’t want to write about. I’ve backed off of reading the news, reading books (though Phillip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” rocks!), going out, consuming anything beyond a movie here or there. So I haven’t been thinking about politics, taking many photographs, doing any carny or puppet gigs, or thinking in audial mode. I haven’t really left the house that much.
Why? Well, I spent half of July at a vipassana retreat in North Fork, CA (near Yosemite NP). The course lasted 10 days, Goenka the teacher called it “prison,” “deep surgery,” “a monastery,” and I had an intense time. I couldn’t talk, write, gesture, interact with anyone else beyond the assistant teachers and the manager. The less distractions the better. My brain more than made up for the lack of technology, consumptive items, and interaction with others. I wrote amazing blog entries about the course, made many revisions, and then realized that I shouldn’t say much about the workshop. Once we all broke Noble Silence, we all realized that we had different experiences.
I will tell you a little bit: I bunked in a room with a guy from LA who never stopped moving. I sat by him in the meditation hall 3 to 6 hours a day, and he never stopped moving. I nicknamed him Squirrel Boy for obvious reasons, and soon grew to love his many tics, wipes, scratches, fidgets, and other distracting things. He taught me several things, most importantly that I cannot control other people or my surroundings so I must learn to observe his distractions with equanimity in the present.
The food was amazing. The course was in Burmese as well as English, so we sometimes had Burmese food for our lunch. We didn’t really eat dinner, but that never became a problem. Goenka knew the best schedule for us and I agree that it all worked for our benefit. The property was amazing too. I saw a deer early one morning near the meditation hall, had a fox fly past me on night on the path to my building, and got to know the ants and trees as I struggled with the “deep surgery” of the attachments that came up. Other folks saw a rattlesnake, one person had ants invade his sleeping bag. The stars and sunsets where post-card perfect.
Goenka is all about giving away the dharma, just like Buddha did 2500 years ago, so the property had no gift shop, no idols, no altars, no indication at all that it was a buddhist retreat (I write that in lowercase because Goenka stressed that he was a religious leader and we weren’t learning a new religion. I agree.) Though we where Goenka’s students for the 12 days there, he honestly told us that he had no control over what we did afterwards in our homes. Buddha didn’t have control either. We did.
The technique is the same in the documentary Doing Time, Doing Vipassana, and it was effective. I soon discovered that even Goenka’s jokes during the evening dharma talksÂ where tips and lessons to use for the practice. I experienced a lot of physical and emotional pain throughout the week, but moved beyond the gross sensation of it at times, and found it to be an amazing release for things I’m holding on to. Whatever came up, I tried my best to observe in the present and not judge the reaction it tried to elicit.
The first time was free because someone before me had donated money or time to support a future student. I donated what cash I could and helped clean up for the children who where arriving the next day. I also caught a ride from someone who shared a mutual friend with me, and we hit it off. I think we became friends and his experience was much different form mine.
What else happened in July? The Strangers painted over 40 stencils all across my neighborhood. I saw some of them July 4 when I watched the fireworks insanity in Dolores Park. A few days later, I got interviewed by a freelance journalist working for SF Weekly, and we caught the Strangers’ story at Dolores Park Cafe and followed it all the way up to 20th and Sanchez. Scott Williams then called me and told me about more of them over on 20th and Capp. I spent many hours before leaving for vipassana photographing and mapping the stencils. A few fans emailed me and I got the Strangers’ press release. The SF Weekly article turned into an article about their story, “Why She Loves the Moon,” and I got a few quotes in there.Â I also got to plug the upcoming stencil book.
That’s right, I saved the best for last! A few months ago, I ran into Al Kizziah in front of Last Gasp. He was taking stencils to his account rep. John, and John asked if I’d like to do a book. That’s why I started the web site in the first place. So the negotiations started with Jennifer Joseph, the publisher of Manic D Press, and we all decided on creating a book. Titled “Stencil Nation” it’ll be an attempt to show the many sides of the 21st Century stencil scene. I’m excited to finally see this dream come true.
So I spent most of July writing calls for submissions, contacting artists, working on a historical time line, researching stencils, contacting people who might know the history, trying to find a designer, etc. I found a great designer who could do the book, but he’s a pro and didn’t have time for the project. He was super cool enough to design the cover and act as art director pro bono. So we talked about cover ideas this week, and he encouraged me to make a stencil for it. Three days later, and I just painted the stencil on the walls and sidewalks in front of CELLspace and passed along the photos to the designer. Jennifer needs the cover by Monday before she goes to a New York City convention to promote Stencil Nation and her other Spring releases.
I have occasionally left the desk to help Laura work in her garden, make yummy organic meals, take walks, and eat out with friends a few times. Now, early August has arrived, and my parents are bringing my nieces to visit me next Wednesday. Laura and I also have a joint-birthday party planned in her garden for Sunday. Hope you all got the invite.
I’ve wondered if anybody really reads this blog as well, so made it a low priority these past weeks. I get hits, but get no comments or feedback about the content. I’ve spent blog time working on my friend Mark’s blog, Sage In The Cage. He’s been mailing me sketches and letters to post, and I have formatted the site to his wishes. Mark hasn’t been on a computer in 5 months because he’s been in jail. He made a stupid mistake, and I taking time out of his life to pay for it. Talk about monastery!
I’ll try to post more in August. Promise…..