Write About About Being and/or Dying



Being an Oddity

This summer I had an operation on my left hand for Dupuytren’s Contracture. Undue stress upon the hand and being of northern European extraction made me a likely candidate for the affliction. As a halibut fisherman I chopped far too much bait for too many hours with my left hand holding a machete. Then, after retiring from fishing, I became a saxophonist wrapping my fingers around an instrument requiring elaborate contortions to make musical notes. I’ve also, under the instruction of a master Nigerian drummer, spent seven years beating a timbale stick against African metal bells with my left hand absorbing vibrations. Decades of abuse created cords of scar tissue between the tendons and the flesh or fascia of the palm, inhibiting movement in my fingers. In advanced stages Dupuytren’s Contracture turns the hand into a claw.

I raised money for a noninvasive operation. It’s called an aponeurotomy and was developed in France and executed by Doctor French. The procedure uses needles with sharp edges to cut the cords of scar tissue and release the fingers. The doctor used topical freezing to reduce pain yet allowing for patient response to assure the needle didn’t go too deep, damaging tendons or nerves. I could feel him clicking away at the cords. I’ve felt more pain in the dentist chair.

Twenty-four hours after the operation I was vigorously playing my saxophone. I could do things that were previously difficult because the cords of scar tissue pulled against the tendons, creating clumsy overcompensation. My newfound fluidity astounded me. I felt giddy, like a kid saying: “Hey, look at me. I can do cartwheels!”

I’m in saxophone bliss. I’m such an oddity. My life has been totally nonsensical, beyond pigeonholing. There hasn’t been an arc to my career because there’s been no career. I’m Stew-Beyonda. I tell people I’m Canada’s greatest unpublished author. My writing skims the margins and as a musician I’m sans CD’s. I refuse to play in clubs or lounges where alcohol is served because my music is for everyone and it’s free. In the summer months public parks are my stage.

Long ago a psychic told me my wealth would be posthumous. I love the irony; I’m worth more dead than alive. After living beneath the poverty line most of my adult life, it’s evident I’m not in it for the money. My most valued possession is a saxophone. I’m a Boomer who took the least traveled road. I’m a bona fide contrarian: a Holy Fool. My saxophone is called Majid, one of the ninety-nine names of Allah. It means the Glorious One. I’m a Sufi who’s so far out in left field even the Sufis don’t know what to make of me. I wear a knitted skullcap. Sometimes Jews or Arabs view me with suspicion. Am I one of them or one of the Other? I’m neither. I’m just me and it took seventy-one years to become simply myself.

--Stewart Brinton


Rene Daumal

I will not even say "he" has the poetic gift... and "he" not. Do I have it? Often I doubt it and sometimes I believe it absolutely. I am never certain once and for all. Each moment the question is new. Each time the dawn occurs the mystery is there in its entirety.


(Matthew, 27)

Jesus before Pilate said nothing. And the governor marveled greatly. He says to himself: "One does not meet up with this kind of man everyday. What pleasure it would have given me to discuss ideas with him, if only my official duties did not preclude such things!" He eyes Jesus with longing. But his right hand clasps the hand of the armrest, a reminder of the sphere of the Empire whose faithful and no doubt well-paid official he is. And then, there is Caiaphas, swollen with hatred under his priestly robes, unwilling to let pass this opportunity to unite the skepticism of the Sadducees with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees against the Son of Man. And last of all, there is the mob, calling for Barabbas, that good fellow who already has one foot outside the prison while the carpenters are finishing the cross within. Government, Clergy, Populace: before these three powers, Pilate has only to wash his hands. Everyone here is a prisoner of his office, of his facade, and everyone looks through his mask at the only one who wears no mask, the only one who in fact is one, who looks into the center of his being and sees the living truth: that truth whose name alone so utterly absorbs poor Pontius Pilate.

- Rene Daumal (tr. by Katherine Washburn)


What is this "gift" common to all poets. It is a particular connection between the various lives which make of our life, such that each manifestation of one of them is no longer simply it exclusive sign, but could become, through an internal resonance, a sign of the emotion that at a given moment is one's own color, sound, taste. This central emotion, deeply hidden within us, vibrates and shines only in rare instants. For the poet, these instants will be poetic moments, and at such a moment all his thoughts, feelings, movements and words will be the signs of this central emotion. And when the unity of their meaning is realized in an image stated in words, then most especially will we say that he is a poet. This is what we call the "poetic gift" for want of knowing more about it.

- pg 155 The Power of the Word.

Rene Daumal




Back to the top.




"A complete surprise," said Brian Eno. "Shocked," said Peter Gabriel. After more than 40 years of friendship and, in the case of Eno, regular email exchanges, the news of David BowieÕs death Sunday appeared staggering and unexpected to his friends. The rest of us were surprised and shocked too. Bowie had managed to hide his terminal cancer from almost everyone, even flashing a joyous smile for the release of his new album. Read more...


Longtime Salon contributor and columnist Camille Paglia has often hailed David Bowie as one of her central influences. Her book “Sexual Personae” was influenced in many ways by Bowie — and then he heralded it on his list of 100 favorite books which went viral again yesterday after his death. London’s Victoria & Albert Museum asked Paglia to write the catalog essay on Bowie and gender for its blockbuster 2013 show of Bowie’s costumes, which is still touring internationally. We asked her to discuss Bowie’s legacy on Monday, as the world mourned the passing of an icon.

Would you describe your first and formative experiences with Bowie? He was a mind-blowing artist to first encounter at a young age — a pop star for whom there seemed to be no traditional boundaries, and capable of awakening such creative possibilities and awareness.

One late night in New Haven in 1969, while I was a grad student at Yale, I was listening as usual to a local FM station that played progressive rock, a brand-new medium. The host said that a strange single had arrived at the studio that day and that the station staff was divided about it—so they wondered what the listeners might think. Then he played David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” I can remember that eerie, mesmerizing moment as if it was yesterday. An elegy for a lost astronaut (inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey), the song marked an epochal shift from the utopian triumphalism of the counterculture 1960s. I learned long afterward that Bowie had prophetically written the song a few months before the Woodstock Music Festival, with its heady populist dreams. Communal idealism was over. “Space Oddity,” with its bleak isolationism, looked forward to the darker 1970s, a decade of disillusion and decadent hedonism. Read more...