Monthly Archives: July 2007

Blogging for Dollars

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I went to WordCamp in SF last Saturday, to hang out for a day with the bloggers and developers who, like me, use the charmingly sophisticated open source WordPress blogging software. WordPress used to be just free software that you downloaded and configured onto your website to create a blog. Now it is actually a whole enterprise where you can host your blog on their servers for free, becoming part of the “community” while not having to install upgrades or worry about .htaccess files. Ah, progress! (And it’s easy to import from Blogger, TypePad, LiveJournal and all those other places. I’m just saying.)

If they’d had wordpress.com when I succumbed to the lure of blogging two years ago I would probably have set my blog up there, because I like supporting open source software and they all seem like very nice people. As it is though, the Gnosis Cafe blog is doing quite nicely here on my server so long as I don’t try anything too fancy and screw it all up.

Anyway, I came, I saw, I sat. I was not there for any important reason, just trying to find out what’s new, hear the latest blogging buzz, and of course drink my fill of Peet’s coffee and get a new t-shirt. It didn’t take much sipping and listening to figure out that the latest thing in blogging is people making money at it.

This got my attention, of course. I love blogging, and happily do it for free on a regular basis, but who wouldn’t like a little extra income for their trouble? The current options for “blog monetization” seem to be the ubiquitous Google ads, being an Amazon affiliate, using paid text links, writing for other people’s blogs, getting blog sponsors, having your content syndicated, writing reviews, and using your blog to get other kinds of paid writing and consulting work.

Apparently there is some serious money being funneled by corporate advertisers into the land o’ blogs, so start ducking everybody. I’ve considered doing some of those Google ads, but I personally hate them and never look at them on other people’s sites, so I don’t want to have them here. Writing reviews for money is interesting, but I think it is geared more toward the tech and gadget industries. In any case, I’m already writing some book reviews here and other places as well which is right up my alley, so I think I’m covered on that one.

I do have an amazon.com bookstore but the returns from that are very low. I probably need to update it. Syndication seems to require the least extra work and I may look into that a bit more, though essays about dreams and spirituality are not necessarily what everyone in the business world wants to read about over their morning espresso.

In the end I was forced to conclude that I’ve been doing the right thing all along: writing regularly about what interests me, keeping up a conversation with my friends, dream clients, and extended network through comments here and on other people’s blogs, and using my blog to generally increase my visibility as a writer and all that other stuff I do.

It was a bit of a let down, I have to admit, because I’d love for there to be some magic bullet that solves all my cash flow problems. There was some very good news, though. Bloggers are becoming more recognized by the mainstream as legitimate writers, commentators, even journalists. That bodes well for all of us who have something to say and know how to say it well.

After the conference I had a delicious meal with two old and very dear friends before heading back home. All three of us have been through painful breakups, and have also been part of the Pagan activist community since we were young. We talked about writing, mostly—about putting our stories on paper and giving voice to our experience and opinions, which at this point vary considerably from the status quo.

It was really good to cap the day off by remembering what a unique slice of history we have all been living through. We are veterans of some great and exciting times, with a lot of crap thrown in for good measure, and each of us has something to say which might help others as young as we were survive with fewer bruises. How nice it was to feel excited by the prospect of keeping those stories alive, and how nice it is now to come home and use my lovely blog to record yet another step on that journey.

California Cosmology

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Last month as I was reading Chas Clifton’s book Her Hidden Children, I came across the curious phrase “California Cosmology.” Chas uses the term in his discussion of West Coast feminist Witchcraft’s influence on Paganism as a whole and cites Ronald Hutton’s The Triumph of the Moon as the source of the phrase, so when I had some free time I went back to Hutton’s book to chase down the reference.

Hutton uses the phrase when he describes Starhawk’s influence on the Craft. I won’t go into his whole analysis of her particular brand of political and spiritual synthesis (though it is certainly worth a read), but will quote from his description (pg 350-1) of “California Cosmology,” a phrase he attributes to Alston Chase:

This was a development of nineteenth-century American pantheism, that strain of thought associated with writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and John Muir, which relied on the twin propositions that God is good and that God’s spirit is inherent in the natural world. To these thinkers, therefore, humanity could be brought closer to God by a closer relationship with that world…

What Chase has characterized as the Californian contribution to these ideas was made in the 1970s by academics based at Berkeley, Stanford, and the various divisions of the University of California—above all by Fritjof Capra, Theodore Roszak, Bill Devall…Marilyn Ferguson, Jacob Needleman,…Alan Watts, Gary Snyder,…and William Everson.

Hutton then quotes directly from Alston Chase’s 1987 book, Playing God in Yellowstone: The Destruction of America’s first National Park. Chase, a former philosophy professor, current curmudgeon and interesting thinker, is an even more enjoyable writer than Hutton. Consider how Chase characterizes these influential Western writers, who:

buzzed around a flowerbed of exotic religions and an eclectic cornucopia of offbeat ideas—Tao, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, Hua-Yen Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, Gnosticism, physics, Heideggerian phenomenology, Jungian archetypal symbolism, Yoga, biofeedback, Transcendental Meditation, psychedelic drugs, self-awareness exercises, psychotherapy, pre-Socratic philosophy, the ‘Inhumanism’ of Robinson Jeffers, Gandhian pacifism, animism, panpsychism, alchemy, ritual magic.

It all sounds intoxicating to hear him describe it, but there is acid on the tip of his pen so the reader is left wondering whether it is all too good to be true. Since it is this mindset which Chase also critiques in his book for destroying the wilderness it sought to preserve, it would seem that the idealism represented by California Cosmology is overall a bad thing, at least to Alston Chase.

Hutton is a little more even, or perhaps carefully journalistic, about not ascribing judgment to the movement which turned British Wicca from a conservative upper class pursuit to an Americanized den of radical politics and environmentalism. One gets the feeling from his writing that he is eternally amused by just about everyone and everything, at least in public. In private I suspect it is another matter.

The idea is older than Chase’s writing, though; the Beat poet William Everson recognized the unique subculture of which he was a part and coined the term Archetype West in 1974 to describe the Pacific Coast literary scene. George Leonard said that the human potential movement, itself a product of California Cosmology thinking, would in the end be considered a literary movement because so many of its key players were primarily writers. And Hutton, though he pokes many holes in Starhawk’s thinking, also gives her credit for being a great writer.

I have more to say about California Cosmology, but it has taken me an entire blog post to just list my references for it. I considered naming the term only briefly and moving right into polemic, but this is such an important cultural reference point in my lifetime that I think it is worth sourcing in greater depth.

Besides, as a child of the phenomenon myself it is hard to separate the strands of its influence enough to figure out what to say next about California Cosmology. In general, I am for it. Except when it gets so hideous and embarrassing that I am against it. How’s that for a thumbnail sketch? Meanwhile, as I collect my thoughts I would love to hear other people’s opinions, references or random insights.

Light in Dreams

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Last weekend I went to the conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams held at Sonoma State. I could only attend for one day, but fortunately it was the same day that Fariba Bogzaran presented a panel on “The Phenomenology of Light in Dreams.”

In her presentation she talked about different ways she has experienced light in dreams. She is a gifted lucid dreamer and artist, so she spoke of her attempts to translate her lucid experiences, which were filled with different qualities of light, into the medium of paint. It was a fascinating presentation, followed by three other speakers who each had something unique and personal to say about how they experienced light in dreams.

An African-American woman in the audience stood up and made a comment about the racist implications of the language of light and dark, where light is always valued more highly, seen as closer to God, and darkness is viewed as inferior and less “enlightened.” All of the panelists responded to this, and Bob Van de Castle gave what I thought was the best response.

He said that first of all there is a big difference between light and dark as qualities of By S. Pierre, Haitian artist. Painting owned by Bob Van de Castle.light, and black, brown, pink and white as pigmented skin colors. The English language is such that it blends the words for different qualities with those of different colors. This linguistic quirk and the sloppy thinking it encourages have only added to the racism which causes so much harm to people all over the world.

Second, he made the observation that the brightest light is not necessarily the closest to Divine, even in dreams. There are a lot of accounts of illumination coming from the depths of darkness, and he in particular noted the darkness of space which gives birth to light, a major theme in world mythology. I am glad he mentioned this, because it got me thinking of my own experiences of light in dreams.

I have had a couple dreams of figures surrounded in a bright white/golden light. These were powerful dreams, but these visions of Divinity don’t stand out for me as much as my dreams of being in the darkness. In one memorable dream I am walking rather quickly through a house, down this hallway with rooms on either side. I am about to leave the house and go back outside, when I decide to go into this one last room to my right. I open the door and am instantly gone, as in disappeared.

The room is full and dense, but nothing exists in it. My mind is active but I have no body, and though I know I am still in that room, there is no door, no walls, nothing. The closest color I can use to describe the room is gray. All there is is a dense gray matter, and I understand that this is a fertile, creative place where anything I imagine can take form. I think of writing, and instantly in the middle of this gray field there is a scroll of parchment with handwritten text on it. I start to think of all the other amazing things I could do in this room, but then something startles me (probably my kids) and I wake up.

Sometimes in dreams I am in utter blackness and need to find my way somewhere. Always, I feel currents on the wind, which in the dream I perceive as paths of light unfolding, shifting and changing all around me. They are etheric but somehow palpable to me, with curved edges I can sense and move with. I know that if I follow these currents of energy, I will be on the right path and reach my destination.

These experiences of movement and creation coming from the void are very powerful for me, and have been a comfort in some rather desperate times. They have validated my intuition and encouraged me to trust my awareness in every moment, rather than relying on a preconceived idea of where I am and where I need to go.

Can we ever separate spirituality and creativity? These dreams of the darkness of inner/outer space bring me closer to a feeling of Source than any others. They also help me remember that to create something, all we have to do is start down the path sparked by our ideas and the way will unfold before us.

China’s Revenge

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This year was my first 4th of July in the Mission District of San Francisco, and even though I’d heard reports I was unprepared for the amazing exhibition of loud, bright, flaming things flying through the air. Chrissy Field and the Embarcadero were lit up with big traditional fireworks displays. But so was the Castro, Twin Peaks, Bernal Hill, Potrero Hill, and every intersection between those points. Big ones, pretty ones, mean and noisy ones, sparkling, whistling, screaming, and ear-popping ones—you name it, it was going off that night. At 2-second intervals. In short, the City looked and sounded like a guerrilla war going on in a carnival tent.

This was fun in a presaging-the-apocalypse type of way, or a cynical-about-the-nation way, or an SF-is-wild-and-wacky kind of way. I vacillated between laughing along with everybody else, being glad I didn’t work for the fire department, and wondering if any of the kids on the street knew the Star Spangled Banner. People told me the fireworks and firecrackers would go on till 4 am or so. I left at 10:30, long enough to have seen lots of revelry but early enough to get back home by midnight.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t late enough to walk safely to my car, which was a block away. The M-80s were going off fast and furious, and I felt like I needed to duck to avoid sniper attacks. In the intersection near my car there were some kids lighting fireworks. I waited to cross the street until they had finished. Needing to back up my car slightly to get out of the space, it was a good thing I checked the rear-view mirror before moving! I nearly ran over a newly-lit rolling ball o’ flame which probably would not have been good to have underneath my car.

Still, part of me was enjoying it. Anarchy in the streets, kids having fun, margaritas, bbq, people celebrating together. What’s not to love? But driving through the Mission, I started to get another view entirely. The streets were strewn with ash and wreckage from the fireworks. The sky was filled with noxious smoke. All those fireworks came from China, right? And now the whole toxic brew would get washed into the gutters and drain into the San Francisco Bay.

If China puts poison in their dog food to export, and antifreeze in their toothpaste to export, why the hell aren’t we worried about what it’s putting into its non-foodstuff exports like fireworks? I mean, there are mountains of our old CRT monitors, computer innards, and other high-tech pollution lying around China’s countryside. If I were a clever middle-management person over there I’d quickly develop a way to slip the worst of the lead, mercury, and other heavy metals into the pretty, bright, sparkly fireworks heading back overseas. That would probably earn me a promotion and be poetic justice to boot.

So it was with a sour taste in my mouth that I drove out of the City Wednesday night. It had been fun hanging out with friends, watching my daughters traipse around from party to party, and soaking in some homegrown celebrating, Mission style. But now I just dread hearing the reports that will come in when people start testing these things. I’m sure it is only a matter of time before someone gives us the bad news and tells us what we’re unloading all over ourselves, our children, and our neighborhoods. It just makes me weary and sad beyond belief that even on a happy occasion when we celebrate this country, we trash it at the same time. And that we are setting such a poor standard as a country that there are people all over the world who wouldn’t think twice about following our example and sending their poisons over to us, wrapped in a big American flag.

Revving Up

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There I was, minding my own business on a beautiful Sunday morning, sitting around reading internet news and opinion. I heard a helicopter overhead, which is a fairly unremarkable event here on the coast. Summer weather combined with weekend visitors means lots of work for those who pluck people off cliffs, save drowning swimmers, and rescue anyone left as an offering on rocky outcroppings.

Anyway, the noise kept getting louder so I glanced out the window and saw said helicopter landing a few hundred feet away from my house. Instantly, I intuited that it was time to take Vince for a walk. Acting on a hunch, I also brought my camera.Sheriff's helicopter 0707

Sure enough, there was a sheriff’s helicopter right where all the neighborhood dogs are walked. No one was there but it looked loaded down with rescue equipment, which is a reassuring detail in the jarring assortment of uncomfortable feelings that the sight of a sheriff’s helicopter next door can evoke.

You might notice behind the helicopter the golden rolling hills of California. Mulling over the Westside Park 0707possible reasons that someone might want to park a rescue helicopter in my neighborhood, I recalled that this is the Fourth of July weekend. Moreover, tonight is the annual fireworks display over in Westside Park, which is that cluster of white RVs in this photo. From where the helicopter is parked, all of us in the neighborhood will have a perfect view across the bay of the fireworks, minus all the wretched smoke and jarring noises that being closer involves.

Since I was having such good luck snapping pictures of things without having my camera confiscated, I also took this shot looking south. The beach in the foreground is Doran Park, BodegaBay0707the land mass on the left is Tomales Head, and to the right of that you can barely see the Point Reyes peninsula, just above the water line. In the space of time it has taken for me to write this blog entry, the helicopter has taken off and I have heard three separate sets of sirens speeding up the coast highway. Yep, it will be a busy day today. Take it easy everyone, and when in doubt err on the side of caution with incendiary devices and dry, grassy hills.