The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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The Misuse of Power

One of the laws of life is that we are permitted to accumulate psychic power (the shamanistic kind), but we’re not allowed to use it. At least, in a conscious way. The moment we do—especially when we harm others—we get buried in shit. I learned this in hospital when I examined how I got there. We normally think our symptoms are the result of life acting upon us in a physical way. This is true, of course, but there is another element, as well. Something only seers talk about. Mind changes matter. Psychic actions have consequences. Pain and suffering are often the direct result of the misuse of power.

Don’t believe me if you don’t care to. Read Gurdjieff. Don’t believe him either if you don’t want to. In any case, if anyone asks, I’ll deny I ever said it.

February 4, 2011   Comments Off on The Misuse of Power

Locus of Reconciliation

Gurdjieff often cloaked simple concepts in arcane and difficult-to-understand language. In a sense, it was his stock in trade. He knew that as humans, we only appreciate what we work for. In fact, the more we work for it, the more we appreciate it.

One of his less difficult concepts was the notion that we are distinct from animals because we have three centers or brains—the emotional center (locus of Reconciliation), the intellectual center (locus of Affirmation), and the instinctive motor center (locus of Negation). He often stressed that these three centers were out of balance in humans, particularly, the emotional center. Gurdjieff implied that our wild and uncontrollable emotions—because they are at the base of the other two centers—are the principal reason we cannot achieve anything spiritually. Simply stated, we are all over the place all the time.

I’m very emotional myself, so I quite understand this. For example, my loud neighbors have purchased an even larger gazebo this year, to accommodate more of their friends, and placed it strategically as close to our bedroom and patio doors as possible. They are well within their legal right to do so, but it’s hard not to be angry.

The problem is that anger, like any negative emotion, is destructive. Its corrosive effect destroys the personality from within. Philosophically, this is one of the central dilemmas we face as humans. How do you deal with disrespectful or outrageous behavior (or “evil” in the philosophical sense) without hating it? Gurdjieff had no real answer. He simply pointed out the problem.

I’m quite certain the answer lies in patience and forgiveness. But how do you forgive someone who continually goes out of his way to harm you? How do you forgive your torturer? How do you forgive, as Mandela did, the people who put you in prison for decades? Where does one find the strength? In Mandela’s case, I think it was because he realized that it was the only way to liberate himself and his people. The inward change comes first, then the outward effect.

May 4, 2010   Comments Off on Locus of Reconciliation

Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin has been pushing the boundaries of art (and perception) for the majority of his 81 years. His work is so subtle (and he, himself, so self-deprecating) that only the conoscenti know about it. I certainly didn’t. I got interested because Lawrence Weschler wrote a book called seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees, which captures the essence of the man. Almost sounds like a Gurdjieff conundrum, doesn’t it? Life is only real when I am. That sort of thing.

In truth, the book interested me more than the art. Hey, what can I say? I’m a philistine.

There is a passage in a chapter called “the desert” that describes Irwin’s reaction to losing his inspiration which I find interesting. I like it because it is similar to the notion of becoming enlightened by “wandering around.” Irwin didn’t worry that he was dead in the water. He didn’t scream to god for help. He just said to hell with it and moved on. Here’s the passage:

“He got rid of everything. The studio he sold to Doug Christmas, who quickly turned it into the Ace Gallery. The supplies, he threw out. The collection of other artists’ work, which he had built up over the years through a series of trades, he returned piece by piece to the respective artists. Then he went out on the Venice boardwalk [famous LA spot], and for a long time, he just sat there.

“Did nothing. Didn’t even thing about what to do next.”

Do you see what I mean? How many of us are capable of turning our backs on everything that was formerly important when it no longer serves us. Neat lesson there. If only we had the good sense to make a clean break and simply wander around when the goddess of inspiration deserts us, how much happier we’d be.

October 14, 2009   Comments Off on Robert Irwin


Bronson is a film about a famous—and very violent—Welsh prisoner, who has spent the bulk of his adult life in prison, most of it in solitary confinement. Should be dull, right? Not when it’s directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, the wacky Dane, who transforms this man’s life into a Brechtian parable. Refn gives us three points of view. Not only do we get to see Bronson mindlessly beating and garroting people and parading around in the nude, but we also see him (bald-headed and mustachioed like Gurdjieff in his prime) philosophically telling us about his exploits, as well as seeing him address a theater full of people in wonderfully absurd costumes like a fabulous showman.

What does it all mean? I haven’t the faintest idea. Is it art? Probably. Would Lars von Trier approve? No clue. Should you go and see it? I don’t know, but if you like Brecht, enjoy Ionesco, think The Iceman Cometh is pretty hot, and have more than a passing interest in Samuel Beckett, you’ll probably like it. Not that it rises to those heights, mind you. It’s more like watching de Sade brutalize himself for no fathomable reason.

May 31, 2009   Comments Off on Bronson


Although I’ve spent a lifetime reading mystical literature, I didn’t really understand the term “attachment” until the other day. Of course, I understood it intellectually. To become attached to something is to need it to some degree. Our lives consist of pursuing what we want and avoiding what we don’t want. Satisfying our desires for food, shelter, clothing, status, and sex pretty much defines everything we do. I don’t mean this as a criticism. It’s just how things are. We have needs, and we try to meet them as best we can. I remember that someone asked Fellini about this, and he said he constantly looked forward to the next thing. Why feel guilty about it or try to change how things are? It seemed like a wise statement, the fruit of a lifetime of pursuing art and pleasure, though I ultimately disagreed.

Anyway, wanting something begins with attachment, which is a bonding (like a chemical bond) of thought and emotion with an object of desire, an image, or a feeling. What I didn’t understand until the other day (because of my jet lag I could actually watch the process) is that the moment of bonding is always done with conscious attention. That is, we decide we need or want something, dislike another person, are affected by a particular smell, enjoy a kiss, or whatever it happens to be. We decide. Often, this decision passes without attention. That is, we make the decision without being conscious of it. Changing how we react to things, or changing ourselves, can occur only if we see ourselves at the moment we are about to decide something and then consciously decide to think or react in a different way. I think this is what Gurdjieff meant by working on oneself, or the Work.

There’s nothing profound in this. I only mention it because one bad choice often leads to a string of others, and when the groove of thought becomes deep enough, there is no way back.

January 14, 2009   Comments Off on Attachment

Magic Circles

I vaguely remember reading an incident G. I. Gurdjieff described in one of his books about a man (or was it a boy?) trapped inside a magic circle. He told the story in such a way that the reader fully grasped this person’s titanic, but ultimately useless, efforts to escape. Of course, Gurdjieff offered several explanations for the phenomenon, though none of them were true, because one of his firmest principles was obfuscation. (You have to have read Gurdjieff to know what I mean.) Everything was mysterious. Nothing was as it appeared. If there was a point to the story, I suspect it was that there are powers in this world we dimly guess, but never fully grasp. The psychic power of casting a circle is one of them.

Women are mistresses at casting magical circles around themselves. The intent, of course, is to keep you out, rather than the other way around (although it probably functions in that manner also). She dares you to cross, all the while making it very plain that you cannot and will not cross, no matter how hard you throw yourself at the barrier. What’s fascinating about barriers is the thin line that demarcates two separate realities—the one inside and the one outside the circle. For this is really what the line does—it sets up two separate realities with different rules and ways of being.

Good writers do this. That is, they create worlds we happily inhabit because they’re interesting and contain people who are remarkable. The ability to invent magical worlds is a gift. Any of us with a modicum of imagination can create separate realities, but few of us can invent truly absorbing ones. So if you’re struggling as a writer, ask yourself whether the worlds you create are interesting to anyone other than yourself. If the answer is no, and you continue to write, congratulations, you’ve cast a magic circle inhabited by no one other than yourself.

December 16, 2008   Comments Off on Magic Circles