Author Archives: Eric Halliwell

About Eric Halliwell

I am the creator and sustainer of rumi-nations.com, a website which features (among a few other things, like interesting and inspiring quotes, and Sufi stories) my poetry and illustrative blog posts, about one 1000 word essay a month. It is Sufi-themed, probably because for seven years I was an officially initiated Sufi mureed, in San Francisco circa 1970’s. My poetry has appeared in these publications: Penwood Review, Ascent Aspirations, Umbrella Journal, wordcatalyst.com (since defunct), Shine Journal, Ashé Journal, Berkeley Poetry Review, and Tipton Poetry Journal. I can be reached at estlin3@yahoo.com.

Instead of Despair, I Studied the Dancers

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Me and Mehera atop Arc de Triomphe

PR3–427

In Lieu of Despair, I Studied the Dancers

Normally I am mildly traumatized
At parties I subtly panic
And yet things are moving right along
Like last night was Mardi Gras

Right?
And there was dancing and I watched the dancers
I wondered at the fact that they enjoyed that
But then they all could dance but I

Felt like the illiterate dunce
At the poetry contest but guess what?
Instead of despair over what I couldn’t do
I studied the dancers

With their hands outstretched hips snaking
I looked at their eyes
And I saw there how it’s done
(You dance with your eyes)

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
Because I care about your happiness, I (from personal experience) write about and frankly push poetry production. And visual art. But if you are good at music or dance or even conversation is an art. So it expresses the heart, it’s therapy.

But I am dance challenged. When I was a Sufi (back in yore) I was a sufficient exhibitionist ham as to want to act in the annual Sufi play. But the Sufi Gods decreed that try for one you must try for all. Try for all three (singing, dancing and acting).

So I had too to audition to sing and then to dance.
Sigh.
No, my sigh is premature. Because first was the sing thing and that DID go okay because I chose the old spiritual Steal Away because at family Thanksgivings, etc. I used to sing the straight part of it–to be intermingled with the improvised harmonies of my musical genius older brother Jim (God rest him). The result was very nice. I am sure I must have talked about Jim. In some of the biographical blog posts. If not why not soon? He is very interesting. Yes and maybe a bit like the Chinese curse. (”May you live in interesting times!”)

Anyway to get the crabgrass out of my digress let’s get to my dancing audition.

I had the good fortune to have as my audition master my friend and fellow Sufi, Gail.

Kind Gail.

Patient Gail.

(Gail who could dance circles around a dervish)

Though it was a simple (I mean pathetically basic) choreographic instruction replete with several Sufis on either side none with any dance related troubles. All easily repeating it.

But I couldn’t repeat the basic steps. Oh, the humiliation.
The pressure.

And remember all this is with witnesses.

She had me go over the routine over and over, even after all the rest had left. Some kind of Sufi test I expect.

But I was ashamed. Especially when finally I had to throw in the towel.*

My point being I am scared of dancing. Except maybe in one sense because I am a clown exhbitionist (Boy did that piss off my first wife Judy! The dignified sedate quiet type, who was mortified to have God and everybody know she was married to dicho payaso.)

And that could cancel out the fear. I remember once when my old friend Ralph and I got roped into a party where there was dancing. I remember Ralph taking the safe route of sitting it out on the sidelines but watching me with arms flailing (well more exactly feet. I tended to imitate those clog dancers where all the action was below the hips.) but when I did it I remember I had friend Ralph almost on the floor from the belly laughs.

Or the time when my daughter Mehera graduated from medical school and I had to celebrate that so I invited her to a trip to Europe! See above–that’s us atop the Arc de Triomphe, over looking the also legendary Champs-Élysées (French for Elysian Fields—see Greek Mythology).

Not as expensive as it sounds because she had friends there (from having graduated from Cal Berkeley as a French Literature major, and for that having spent a year in France, largely with her host family, who came to declare Mehera was an honorary daughter for life.

Indeed as we left everyone there also declared me in the family and so whenever I am in France I have an invite to stay with them.

Of course they had a three foot in diameter cherry tree and we were there at prime ripe cherry time! I am a cook and got popular making cherry pie after cherry pie. They had a little handy apparatus that you punched by the palm of your hand forcing the pits in one direction and the cherry sans pit in the other. (Rhymes with cheery Sanskrit! Oops Pardon my “poetry!”)

But back to the dance theme. To prove her father was her puppet Mehera had me dance to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. (The Ode to Joy)

And Mehera too of course laughed her ass off. (Which made me dance funnier because I love Mehera’s laugh!)

And when in Paris we stayed with her old college roommate, Tina,** then a professor of French Literature in a Paris University. She had married a French photographer and they lived happily in an apartment on an island in the Seine not two blocks from Notre Dame Cathedral. Not as romantic a visit as it sounds though because it was under renovation at this time and so surrounded by scaffolding. I guess they had to tend to the row of gargoyles.

I have always heard impressive things about the medieval concept of religion and it IS said everyone down to the peasants believed in imminent miracles and the constant presence of God.*** But to “adorn” a such impressive cathedral with rows of hideous-aspected gargoyles, doesn’t seem in that vein, which is indeed hard to think runs on to the heart. I think I read somewhere that the gargoyles were there to be shown who’s boss or some such.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*Which reminds me. I have all ready to go a chapbook of poems dedicated to and loosely about my surprisingly spiritual cat, Dahlia. It’s titled “The Cat Who Threw in the Tao.”

So many projects

So little time

Sigh

** This friend of Mehera’s was named Tina Chen, and yes, of Chinese extraction. But she had been fighting bouts of cancer since she was seven years old. Alas, she died a few years after our visit. She came to California for her final treatment which was unsuccessful. Mehera flew north to be with her as she died. It’s a perennial matter for contemplation why the sweetest among us so often die young. A person (like me) who had independent and impressive proof of the existence of God, might wonder how that fits in. (If this statement makes you wonder see the “about” button above, where it is all explained.)  I suspect it has something to do with reincarnation.

***An instructive example of that in those times is found in the short booklet recounting the philosophy of Brother Lawrence (a simple monk in the sixteenth century or such). The title gives a hint: The Practice of the Presence of God, with Whom Brother Lawrence constantly talked, asking for help in what he was doing for the monastery etc. chatting merrily saying (to God) stuff like, “You see what happens when I do things unattended!”

It Makes Me Cry, Remembering Arden

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For Arden

PR–234

You Have To Believe

“…life was impossible like that, and that he must either
interpret life so that it would not present itself to him
as the evil jest of some devil, or shoot himself.”
–Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina)

There are caverns deep in the sun
Where people live on legends of earthlight:

To stay alive their hearts respond
To this perceived wholeness of things
And so they live in hope:

You have to believe
In what you would be dead without

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
November 2 was Arden’s birthday. I sent her her annual happy birthday email:
Arden,
Happy birthday! As you probably have noticed, I seem to have this compulsion to remember you every November 7. Hopefully too, you have noticed that I am not otherwise intruding on your life, and so, not to worry if somebody remembers you and loves you. After all, it is flattering, verdad?
Un abrazo,
Eric
To which she replied, Eric, you are a gentleman with a big heart. Thank you for remembering and caring.
Fondly,
Arden.

I have since learned her email was sent about two weeks before she died.

And so, to honor the memory of Arden, I am dedicating my blog post for this November to her whose birthday is November 7.

I mean to do this by reprising the post from five years ago that talks about Arden, and how she fit into my life.

SO HERE IT IS

(Posted on July 8, 2013)

Gentle Reader,
What is romance, really? This perhaps is the central question.

(This is referring to events–circa 2000–discussed in just previous biographical posts, to explain how I ended up a metaphysical poet in Guatemala).

So, I sold my house and quit my job and then moved north to Ashland, Oregon, to be with my new love, Arden. I no longer had to spend half of my time 300 miles away fixing my house in California up to sell. And so I was now free to get dedicated to making a relationship work. Work being the operative word, as it turned out.*

But there were tragic flaws in the ointment. For one, I couldn’t get work as a teacher. (When I met Arden I was a first grade teacher). In Oregon they are so flush with teachers and for even a day of substitute teaching, you have to have a full fledged, active credential. (As opposed to California for instance where all you need is any type of bachelor’s degree and pass the Mickey Mouse CBEST exam) So the competition for full time teaching slots was intense. Unless of course, one could speak Spanish (for their army of Latino students). And thereby hangs a tale. (Have I mentioned yet how neatly events dovetail into destiny?)

But we were both sufficiently romantic (very much so) to try to fit hexagonal pegs into pentagonal holes. (So near, and yet so far! So close, but no cigar!)

So of course we were always fighting. And yet truly shocked when one or the other of us appeared to be giving up. And of course a lot of this if not all is quite personal–not just to me but to Arden, who would perhaps not be amused to have our issues publicly aired.

But I will mention one thing, which has been mentioned before, and so was opened the door.

I don’t think this is a common problem, but it sure was a lousy fit for us. Because as my Gentle Readers have no doubt noticed, I am a believer in “God.” In my conception of God, (The “Sufi” one–the most liberal in the world), it is far from a matter of priests and churches but rather exists in one’s own heart. But to Arden that was like dressing up my faery dolls in less controversial clothing. Since Arden on the other hand was not merely an atheist, but one who had no respect for those who believed in such obvious fairy tales. And (go figure) it turned out that respect was a sine qua non of a good romance.

In an earlier post ( https://rumi-nations.com/2013/05/06/the-unaccountable-opportunity-to-do-experiments-with-happiness-2/ ) I told about how that played out in Arden’s heart. As if it was always logic and science uber alles. What the depths of your soul cried out for was of secondary importance. Even, apparently, if it did undo the life is worth living part.

Oddly, there’s some stigma that often seems to attach to believers in God. At least, I personally have felt that pressure. You’d think that my history of stubborn atheism and only reluctantly and in desperate straits, coming to believe otherwise, would have vaccinated me from that, and even with atheists would have given my conversion some respectability.

But alas it was the bottom line of what I believed that mattered to Arden. Not my fig leaf of why. It was like she couldn’t respect anyone who could believe such a thing. I remember once she emphasized to me, “I don’t EVER want to hear any talk of your religion.”

But she ended creditably, when I then replied, “So the thing that’s closest to my heart, the consolation without which I might want to kill myself, this is something which you do not ever want to hear about?”

So of course she backed off that right away, because she has the best heart in the world. But I do think she then saw a revelatory glimpse of incompatibility.

So neither of us was happy. Both of us wanted things we felt were not negotiable, and which we were not getting.

And then along came my daughter, Mehera, who was in medical school and had just taken advantage herself of a generously funded vaccine study by Johns Hopkins medical school, for travelers’ diarrhea. The catch was you had to go to Guatemala. (Please don’t throw me in the briar patch!)

And it paid enough for a round trip plane ticket. And the little wheels in Arden’s and my mind set to turning over the idea of me going to a Spanish school in Antigua and me supposedly being such a quick study, I would soon be back knowing Spanish, and thus employed. (As if my unemployment were the biggest problem.**)

But for all Arden’s disdain for fairy tales she bought this one, that I would just be gone a little while and come back to a rosy employed future. By that I do not mean to imply that Arden was more materialistic than romantic. Indeed if I hadn’t had the usual pride etc. she probably would have cheerfully installed me as house husband (I can cook!)

But it was just the fairy tale we needed to get me out of Dodge. (Just before High Noon, I think)

We both could hardly see to wave good-bye at the airport (for the tears).

Three months later reality dawned and Arden had a new boyfriend. So I found myself in Guatemala, with a small carpenter’s pension and $50,000 from the sale of my house in California, enough to last til I could take early social security. And then live nicely, with two incomes, if only I could find an occupation of some sort, as Lady Bracknell would say.

And I found in Guatemala something so much better than smoking! (see the Importance of Being Earnest)

So, the Guatemala saga starts next week.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

PS The photo above is of a magazine rack for a bathroom door, I made it (Remember, I was a carpenter also.) for Arden out of a rare purple African wood. With the heart cutout. Purple Heart seemed appropriate. Because asi es el amor.

We were in the midst of a bad fight and it seemed medicinal to choose that moment to give Arden the gift I had made in secret. Immediately the fight was over with Arden hugging me saying no one had ever made her anything before. And I send thanks to Jill, Arden’s friend who arranged to get the rack back to me, now that Arden has gone.

*I still have an old answering machine I keep to be able to hear Arden’s voice again and saying how much she appreciated the level of hard work I was prepared to undertake trying to keep us together. I listen sparingly though. Because it makes me cry, remembering Arden had so much wanted someone to love. And to my knowledge never found it.

**Unemployment is or should be just an economic problem. In my case of course, having quit my job, and unable to teach in Oregon, it would have been a severe and daunting one but for Arden’s generosity. She felt since I had renounced my job to be with her it was her job to feed me, etc. Case in point, when she gave me a copy of her ATM card, I asked, “You want me to have access to your money?” (asked in an incredulous tone) and she replied, “NO. I want you to have access to THE money!”

Elizabeth’s Punk Piece Party

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Elizabeth Herron

PR4–61

I’d Been Invited by the Queen

“I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
he said to me, “You must not ask for so much.”
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
she cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?”
–Leonard Cohen (Bird on a Wire)

Some guys like me
We talk big about no fear
Of death I tend to say
If my time were drawing near

(My theory goes)
I would wax wise and declare
It was like a dinner party:
I’d been invited by the queen

And then inevitably I’d had to go home
And yet there’s complaint anent which
A case could be made for it’s just ungrateful greed
Considering all the wonders I’ve seen

All the free dinners and theater tickets
To ask for more
Although these things are far from unarbitrary
(It’s a subjective soul thing)

And maybe it’s more like the Leonard Cohen thing
Above and even
(Lots of times)
There’s Oliver Twists to this

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,

In my youth my favorite TV show was Science Fiction Theater.

Every episode started out with the host saying, “Let me show you something interesting.”

And he would walk over to a sort of display which featured a scientific principle. Like how a phonograph works or radio signals or such. And then he would say something about how that tied in to the extrapolation which could be derived, allowing future scientists to do some amazing thing, but along the same lines.

I often try to do that with my poems, when I start off with a quote (to show you something interesting.)

Like the Leonard Cohen quote atop the above poem. And then I extrapolate from there. How amazing that is I do not claim except to say I tried, and to quote Emerson: “Hitch your wagon to a star.”

What got me started on this post, is a couple of quotes from a book I just finished reading. They are from Larry McMurtry’s Magnum opus, Lonesome Dove, which got him the Pulitzer Prize and whose screenplays of it (any other of his works) got him Emmys. And muchos Oscars.*

Apparently (by my standards) he is a metaphysically oriented kind of guy. Witness these (interesting) quotes from Lonesome Dove:

“ ‘When was you the happiest, Call?’ Augustus asked.
‘Happiest about what?’ Call asked.
‘Just about being a live human being, free on the earth,’ Augustus said.”

And

“He had known several men who blew their heads off, and he had pondered it much. It seemed to him it was probably because they could not take enough happiness just from the sky and the moon to carry them over the low feelings that came to all men.”

I hadn’t heard about him until many years ago when I got fortunate to have a writing teacher (Elizabeth Herron).**

Elizabeth (the professor at Sonoma State University) liked to tell us who her favorite writers were and high on her list was Larry McMurtry. This was before Lonesome Dove was written. I remember she especially recommended Somebody’s Darling, and All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers.

I had a crush on her. And even though she was married, a guy could dream, couldn’t he? But the upside of that was I was motivated to impress her and so I tried my damnedest. And I wrote a poetry collection for my final project. (She said ONE good poem would have sufficed but I wanted to show off, and even dedicated it to her; I titled it, Elizabeth’s Punk Piece Party and Other Poems.)

And guess what? Two of those sixtyish poems have been published (and one republished). Which gives me an excuse to put them in this blog post (which after all is also–apart from my concept of Sufism and mysticism in general–about poetry and poetry writing. And of course often some biographical stuff)

And so here they are:

(These journals below are now defunct, except for Tipton Poetry Journal)

Published in Word Catalyst and then republished in Tipton Poetry Review:

I Was a Prince

I was a prince who found you in a pond
Secure beneath a lily pad to hide
Your creamy body from the sun and me but
You squirmed out of my grasp and dived so deep
I dared not follow so I placed a net
Which looked quite like a lily pad and I
Disguised myself and sat on top a frog
As any fool could see–when you came up
I quickly kissed your lips and magic things
Occurred like in the fairy tales to wit
I did become a frog and it turned out
You really fancied frogs’ legs but I squirmed
Out of your grasp and dived down deeper than
You dared to follow so you placed a net
Which looked quite like a lily pad and when
I came back up again to sit on it
You kissed me back into a prince once more
And it turned out you fancied princes too
So you apologizing for the frogs’
Legs dinner episode said “Still it was
A lot of fun” And so we lived and dived
Quite happy ever after til one day
You were especially hungry and you knew
That when I was a frog you were supposed
To kiss me but you ate me and you said
“It was a boring game after a while”

Published in Umbrella Journal:

Einstein, God, and Picasso

Einstein thought things
Were pretty mysterious
And that made him “religious”

You can’t handle coal
Without getting your hands black
So I guess he couldn’t handle the universe
Without getting awestruck
It’s a pretty big place

If it isn’t distance it’s time so
Think about the Jurassic if you will
I mean actually seeing dinosaurs
Whose digestive juices and genes
Were just like ours

Only in a different pattern:
The style of the Artist
Is instantly recognizable

God I think is like Picasso
Who never had to pay for anything
He would just write a check
Which, of course, never got cashed
It was far more valuable as a collector’s item

And this has not been published but it was her favorite in the book of poems I wrote:

Trying to Write Something in the Air

Just come from visiting you
I wipe my eye
I wave good-bye

My hand lingers in the air
My finger pointing
Not to blame anyone

It is wet cool on one side
A secret moisture tells me
Which way the wind is blowing

My finger sways drunkenly
Trying to write something
In the air

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*Larry McMurtry is an amazing guy who wrote lots of wonderful books and spin-off screenplays, many of which won Oscars and Emmys. For an interesting short bit about him and these, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_McMurtry

**For more about her see: http://www.elizabethherron.net/