Text Installation by Barbara Kruger
This coming Tuesday, March 31
With Rob Wilder, another writer well worth hearing
Miriam’s Well: In the novel ALL THINGS TENDING TOWARDS THE ETERNAL, you talk about “traditionless Buddhism” or your character Bruno does. How do you see that? Can you talk a bit about Buddhism as an influence?
KL: I’m not sure there’s a clear answer or not one that’s clear to me so here are some partial answers:
1. When traveling in China, I always visited whatever Buddhist temple or monastery was in a town or village, in part to have something to do. So I spent a lot of time around Buddhism, in whatever condition it was in.
2. I found the various traditions of Buddhism a distraction and kept trying to view plain buddhism. Buddhism Buddhism, instead of Tibetan Buddhism or Theravadan Buddhism, or Zen, or Soto….
3. I must have made up the term ‘traditionless Buddhism.’
4. Your (Miriam Sagan’s) first husband, Robert Winson, who was a Zen Buddhist monk, died when he and I were 36 years old and it affected me on the one hand in a completely ordinary and comprehensible way, and on the other hand in a way that remained invisible and mysterious to me. That sense of not understanding what had happened was an irritatant, a seed for writing.
5. Extended, uncomfortable solo travel is its own kind of practice in concentration, not unlike a meditation or koan practice.
6. When my characters meet their own inner emptiness, they realize the wisdom of no-escape.
Miriam’s Well: I feel the novel takes an ethical approach, like the 19th century novel, only in a modern non-overt fashion. The two central Chinese characters exemplify some moral conflict–self vs. family, wealth vs. authenticity, etc. but they come from a rigid world (hard on individuals but good for fiction!). Can you address this–and maybe mention how the other characters fit in to a moral framework?
KL: One of the many things I miss about the 19th century is the loss of a sort of grand, cosmic ethical framework against which people, or characters, throw themselves. I’m interested in that kind of pressure or friction and how it affects a person and since this isn’t the 19th century, that pressure or friction takes place mostly, at least in my novel, within each character; each character has a conscience or not, crosses a line, and suffers, or not. The place that ethics seems to exist now is within the self, and within relationships, and so, in a sense, each person is left to police themselves.
Childhood memories : collecting beads baubles stones leaves to be pressed in books has lasted me into adulthood, rather dotage. Shopping for table linen I come upon bins of polished stones ,white, beige, brown, obsidian and blue. I ask if I might just hold the blue ones for a moment and the shopkeeper seeing the longing on my face tells me to take some for free.I choose four which capture an ethereal light and hold them close all the way home.
the dolphin’s smile wider
than the spectators’
Patricia Boinest Potter: Patterns of Place
Alabama-based artist and architect Potter creates enigmatic artworks in the form of three-dimensional maps that she refers to as “Isomorphic Map Tables” and “1:1 Map Insets.” The exhibition will include a series of six tables and one hundred insets. Ostensibly representing a one-hundred-mile stretch of northern Alabama, these works also expand outward to the cosmos, then inward again into the dark energy of particle physics.
New York —> Santa Fe —> New York
I moved to Santa Fe in the springtime. Well—it was almost spring; it was the end of February, and still cold in New York. The first morning I woke up in Santa Fe, it was sixty degrees. At first the sun came up fast and angry, but the ground was cold, and cold from the window came in, and in my bed it was very cold and I thought: Nothing’s different except the sun. But by noon it was t-shirt weather, so I pulled one on and hiked to the top of Atalaya Mountain.
Nothing much was going on in New York, where I grew up. I was twenty-two. I’d dropped out of some prestigious East Coast college. I had no money, I’d been living in New Jersey, there was nothing holding me to my ties with the Atlantic. The old story. So I decided to make something new.
From the top of Atalaya I could see what I figured were many miles. It could’ve been less: I had no sense of distance from growing up the city, and I still don’t. I felt as though I could see Albuquerque, sixty miles south, along these mountains called the Sandias—after watermelons, because they look like them at sunset. It was all magical and confusing. I didn’t get it and wasn’t even sure there was anything to get, but I thought maybe if I could make it in Santa Fe, I could prove myself. And then I could go back to New York where I really belonged.
Perhaps my climb to Atalaya’s summit wasn’t my first day in Santa Fe. It could have been during my first week, or even first month. Now, eight years later, the details of my early life in the Southwest are hazy—like the sky there in the summer sometimes, when forest fires rack stands of aspens and leave a film of ash all over everything.
But I did “make it” there. I define making it in Santa Fe differently from thriving in a city—especially my native New York. Every place has its own flavor of success, and Santa Fe’s tone is decidedly about happiness. About “finding yourself.” About “living the dream.”
To be clear, I was not always happy during my tenure of living in the Southwest. If such a thing is possible, I both “found” and “lost” myself a few times over. And as to living the dream: If the dream is falling in love with a beautiful stoner and taking up residence in a shoddy adobe casita with two kiva fireplaces and an appalling lack of proper heat in the winter, then, yes, I lived the dream.
I finished a bachelor’s degree and started an MFA in fiction writing. I worked weird jobs: ghostwriting a D-list celebrity’s book with a couple of other writers; tutoring a homeschooled teenager, which quickly devolved into some sort of bizarre amalgam of personal assistantship and stand-in mothering, with a dash of teaching thrown in for good measure; holding the post of senior editor at Santa Fean magazine.
Most of all, I lived. Santa Fe is good for that. The first question asked in Santa Fe is never, What do you do? The focus is more about being, rather than doing. At first, I loved that. Then, like many good relationships that start out strong but finish badly in the end, I came to loathe the laissez-faire lifestyle. New Mexico is called the “Land of Enchantment,” but it’s also known as the “Land of Mañana.”
Don’t get me wrong: I love New Mexico. I’m not denigrating the state, or the people who live there, or even the culture. I spent my twenties there, and I’m grateful for every second of my life in Santa Fe. Like the boyfriend you grow out of, it was perfect for me—until it wasn’t.
I probably overstayed my welcome by about three years. In the beginning, I thought I’d spend a year in Santa Fe. But then I fell in love—first with the mountains, the dry air perfumed with juniper and lavender and sage, the dazzling sunlight and hundred-and-eighty-degrees of usually blue sky and green chile and kivas and incredible huevos rancheros. Next, I fell in love with a person. And then, when I was ready to leave and he wasn’t, I stayed.
A year ago, coincident with the end of that relationship, six months shy of finishing my MFA, I left Santa Fe and moved back to New York. I finished the MFA from a cafe downtown, near the street where I grew up. I found out what it’s like to live in the city as a thirty-year-old. I reconnected with some old friends and made a lot of new ones. I wrote from my rooftop in Brooklyn.
Life, then, goes on. Almost eight years to the day I packed my little Nissan Sentra to its breaking point and hustled it across the country blasting mixes from friends—mixes from friends, on CDs—they might as well have been on cassettes, or eight-tracks—I’m back in New York a little over a year, listening to The-Dream, dreaming, living a new form of the dream. Redefining it.
Bibi Deitz lives and writes in Brooklyn. Recent work has appeared in Vice, Bookforum, The Rumpus, Berfrois, Queen’s Mob’s Teahouse and BOMB.