Daisy Sidewinder interviews Ken Peters
Daisy - Can you talk about your Muse? Do you think of your Muse in personal terms? Are there times when the Muse is most prone to visit? Are there subjects you want to write about that the Muse doesn't seem interested in?
Ken - I often have an individual in mind when I write. Sometimes it is easiest to imagine a conversation with someone I respect and care for when I am approaching an idea or an emotional state that pushes my personal envelope. Addressing thoughts and emotions to an idealized listener also helps keep me from being too solipsistic or self indulgent. There have been people in my life who have acted as muses in the traditional classical sense in that they have embodied inspiration. They are gratifying and challenging to be with because they call forth from me much more than I am usually capable of. That can be exhausting too.
I have two other writing modes though which are not engendered by or derived from what most observers would term a muse. Often I experience something or become conscious of something and write without any audience in mind.
The first voice is passive, dispassionate and introspective. I observe and comment about what is. This type of writing owes something to my appreciation of haiku, although I would never presume to consider myself in the same breath with the masters of that most delicate form. I have never been able to successfully operate within the strict parameters of 17 syllables of three lines. Rather, I been blessed at times with the understanding that ephemera can be an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual act. Not that I have become facile with that type of sacrament - only that I see and try to write what I see.
The second is an automatic process that I can take no credit or blame for. Very infrequently and usually unexpectedly I am seized by and used by something larger than myself. I just happen to be there when something comes by. I am merely an instrument and not the "author". The results can be confusing to those thinking linearly, uncomfortable for those who are judging reasonably, or gibberish to those who want traditional and approachable writing. For those reasons when younger I would throw away the results of my automatic writing rather than share them. Now I am becoming both more humble and more confident. Moongate and other websites have given me the opportunity to cast these words out like a message in a bottle on an electronic sea. Sometimes they ring true with people I will never meet. Sometimes they engender the most incredible responses that help me understand what I said! That is very gratifying and I would like it to happen more. I wait on the muse.
Daisy - What are some of the surprising responses?
Ken - The surprises have been both good and bad. I try to ignore the negative comments on my mental health, speculation concerning my sexual practices, and deprecatory guesses concerning the marital status of my parents! At the other end of the spectrum are complete strangers who contact me to tell me their interpretation of something I have written, thank me for my efforts and tell me how I helped when they needed it.
Sometimes the same poem gets both types of response. Is this something that should deter or encourage me? We all like to get positive feedback certainly. Mostly I try to stay focused on how things remain innately and completely themselves no matter how we view them. A rock is a rock is a rock, whether I see it as a weapon or as a fragment of a star or as an objet d'art. I am trying not to judge what comes through me but simply let it flow. I try not to be upset or have my ego inflated when others judge what results negatively or positively. It's like that Dead song: "take what you need and leave the rest". I know that clues, hints and intimations have always been all around me and that I have simply failed to pick up on them. Sometimes though somebody says something and -abracadabra!- I am ready to listen and to understand. If I can be that type of catalyst by what I write for somebody who comes across my stuff on the net then - Wow!
Daisy - Have you ever been so radically misinterpreted that you can't believe you're talking about the same thing?
Ken - Misinterpretation is an integral part of using language. We can never capture reality in a net of words no matter how assiduous we become as weavers and no matter how fine a net is woven. Language is a matter of approximations. Even the most carefully delineated annotation carries different connotations for each of us. Our idiosyncratic experience make each of us see each word differently. We can see this carried to the absurd, as when Bubba quibbled about the words "sex" and "is" in response to the inquisition. We can also celebrate the ambiguities and ephemeralities that make language a living, breathing animal that anybody can try to ride. Misinterpretations be damned! Full speed ahead! We'll invent and reinvent any term we need!
Daisy - Have you ever written to a poet or other writer? Who are your heroes and gurus? Has anybody written anything that really knocked your socks off to the point of enlightenment -- I mean something big here, that changed your world view.
Ken - Summer has been a receptive and understanding editor whose encouragement has been very important to me. We have exchanged poems when we had congruent thoughts, touched on the same subjects, or produced writing that needed a companionable response. So Summer is a friend who has helped me evolve as a person and therefore a writer. I have had no heroes, gurus or mentors in the formal sense of models for my behavior or standards for my writing. There have certainly been people I admire: Bucky Fuller for his clarity and vision; Malcolm X for his commitment and passion: Jaques Barzun for his wide ranging intellect; Paco Ignacias Taibo for his ability to entertain and elucidate; Garcia Marquez for his knowledge of the human heart. Lots of people out there really who sustain me. For many years I identified closely with Richard Brautigan. His suicide shook me because of my belief in his ability to surf on troubled waters. If a creative and brave soul like Brautigan could kill himself what hope was there for this poor and troubled kid from the wrong side of the tracks?
For good or bad though I have never felt that somebody else's life was a template for mine. For better or worse I have never been able to accept another's answers for my particular circumstances and I think the age of heroes is over. There's just us folks left, doing what we can as best we can. Maybe that comes from growing up in a time when JFK, Martin Luther King and Che Guevara all bought it before they could make the world over. Maybe though that comes from living in a world that is increasingly a reticulated net with co-equal and equidistant nodes rather than a pyramidal hierarchy where answers flow from the top down to waiting recipients below.
I once wrote a short (and very bad ) one-act play called "Sometime Here Below". The play looked at Abraham and Sarah coming to grips with God's command to sacrifice their son. Abraham accepts this ludicrous order like a good soldier but his wife rails at an unreasonable, albeit all-powerful, authority. Her attitude is mine. Why accept rules, regulations, from any external source?
Which brings me to other people I admire: Emma Goldman for her refusal to relinquish command of her own soul and her own mind; friends who have remained impoverished because of their inability to suffer fools and foolishness gladly; all mothers, fathers, lovers and friends who retain their humanity in an increasingly mechanized and material culture. In that sense we are all heroes. We can learn from one another (and by listening to our own souls) what is true and valuable.
I remain woefully unenlightened so even if there have been things I read that have provided insights (Conversations with God by Walsch, The Zen Art of Archery, Barbara Tuchman's Proud Tower, Shakespeare's sonnets, etc.) they were mostly pearls before swine.
Just one or two more thoughts about heroes Daisy, if you can indulge me a bit. Leaders I have met have been so taken with either themselves or their goals that they miss much that is around them. And we all know followers: too often they have emptied themselves and tried to fill the void with a reflection of their leader or a system of beliefs that can protect them from chance, happenstance, new experience or new perceptions. Followers are too willing to not think or feel for themselves. Leaders are too willing to ignore the thoughts or feelings of others. I think both are impoverished. I don't want to lead and I don't want to follow. I want to follow my own road and want others to follow theirs. All these parallel lines meet at infinity, n'cest pas? Je chante pour raviver les memoires.
Daisy - One last question; concerning catalysts. I'm interested in human catalysts, the kind who wander into your life, or perhaps just accidentally wander through your space, leave completely unchanged by you, but somehow, by their presence or words or actions, change you profoundly. People in the flesh, not famous people, ordinary people. This could be something dramatic or something simple, but it must be somebody who gave you a new worldview. I'd like to hear about one or some catalyst experiences you've had.
Ken - When I was in my late teens I met a woman who was occupying an abandoned observatory in the mountains. She used the local town name as her last name and used various first names depending on her mood. She took in stray humans and other animals. We would take her pick up into town and scavenge vegetables and fruits that had been left out at the local farmers' market. We took the blemished but perfectly edible food to the poorest neighborhoods in the area and distributed them to families that were in need. She would encourage the people to vote, to actively resist the war (Viet Nam), to plant gardens in vacant lots and to otherwise take charge of their own lives. I had to leave precipitously when the FBI came looking for a friend who was AWOL from the Brooklyn Navy yard brig and staying at one of the observatory's outbuildings. Thirty years later I still become paranoid sometimes about doing what I know is right but socially unacceptable. At those times I always think back to her matter-of-fact acceptance of her own unique way of being in the world. I still don't know her name but she changed my way of being in the world by her example.
When traveling across country one time I stopped in Taos, New Mexico at a commune that was building adobe huts and trying to make the high desert bloom. A local man, a native American, was teaching the communards, all middle class white kids from the suburbs, what they needed to survive in a harsh environment. That mentor's patience, care and acceptance of a wide range of behaviors I am sure he had never encountered before have helped me deal more effectively with others I have met who are struggling to change their lives.
My uncle grew up in the Depression and during World War II. Though he lacked a formal education he was continually curious and always exploring his world. He helped me be an auto-didact.
I have a childhood friend who grew up to be a gay activist. He has helped me overcome my homophobia and become more accepting of people in general.
When a high school student I had a long-term affair with one of my teachers. She changed my mind about sexuality and the place of sexuality in my life.
I once had the privilege of saving an old woman from drowning. Though unconscious the entire time she taught me volumes about the sanctity of life and the joy of giving. My time with her also showed me the potential for profound differences between what we do and what we are thinking.
I don't think any of these examples are what you want though. I have no single person who has informed and infused what I am. I do have many, many people that helped make me, for better or worse, what I am. People who make music, make love and make changes are at the top of that list.