Before I left for Japan I went up to Book Soup on Sunset to find something to read on the plane. This is a stupid thing to do because I’m almost never able to read much on the plane to Japan. About 2 hours into the flight they turn off all the lights and I feel like an ass if I turn mine back on. Before that there’s always meal services and stuff happening. I end up reading like 10 pages of whatever I bring and that’s it.
But I like reading and it was an excuse to buy something new. I was thinking of getting that book, The Man Who Heard Voices, which is all about how hard it was for M. Night Shaylaman (I think that’s the spelling) to make that new movie of his, the one nobody saw. I didn’t see it. But the book sounded good. Especially because I’ve been tasked with making a movie out here. Anyone who’s got any bright ideas about that is welcome to write me. We have some money to invest, our company has to be part of the production and it can’t be an Ultraman movie. Those are the parameters.
Anyway, while I was at the book store I noticed that Chuck Klosterman had a new book out. So I bought that instead. I really like Klosterman’s writing. Plus he lived in Akron for a few years and he’s a major fan of KISS. How can you go wrong with that combination? The first book of his I read was Killing Yourself to Live and that was really good. Then I read Fargo Rock City, which was good until the end where he just goes on and on forever about his alcoholism. Robyn Hitchcock has a great song called “Tell Me About Your Drugs.” It’s a sarcastic rant about people who like to regale others with their drug stories. Boring! So are drinking stories. But that’s just the last, like 20 pages, and the rest is spiffy, so I’ll forgive him and still recommend the book.
Chuck Klosterman IV is a collection of articles he wrote for SPIN, Esquire and even the Akron Beacon Journal (hoo-zah!). The first part is mostly celebrity profiles and investigative type writing. The Britney Spears piece is getting a lot of coverage. But that’s not my favorite. I was more interested in the report about the fact that Morrisey has a tremendous Latino following especially in LA, which I did not know. There’s another pretty funny piece about Akron’s clairvoyents. Klosterman does not bowl, but he went to a bunch of psychics asking them if he had any chance of making it on the pro bowling circuit. Most said what they thought he wanted to hear. Pretty much what I’d have expected.
The second part of the book wasn’t quite as good as the first. For one thing, in part one he introduces each essay with some interesting backstory type stuff about how, when & why it was written. I always like that kind of thing. But in part two he dispenses with that and writes these dopey thought problems, “You are on a raft in the middle of the ocean with your worst enemy and a friendly dog. Who do you eat?” Well, that wasn’t in there. But stuff along those lines. I know some people like that kind of thing. I just don’t see the point. If I ever find myself in such a situation, I’ll do whatever I do. There’s no point wasting brain cells on such thinking. I guess if you enjoy thinking, thinking, thinking all the time, you’re probably always searching for crap like this to keep the garbage soup inside your noggin churning around.
One interesting point he brought up is what is called the “paradox of choice” which is summarized as, “choice makes us depressed.” It’s absolutely true. Even though Klosterman gives credit to a professor named Barry Schwartz for inventing the theory, it’s been around a lot longer than that. There’s a famous Buddhist poem that opens, “The Way is not hard to follow, just give up choosing.”
Klosterman brings up the paradox of choice in reference to Johnny Carson. When Carson died everybody said, “there’ll never be another Johnny Crason.” This is true because everybody in America knew who Johnny Carson was whether they liked him or not. These days even a pop culture vulture like Klosterman misses out on lots of things that are huge hits with certain parts of the population, simply because there is so much more on offer these days. No one can possibly keep up with it all. This is why there’ll never be another Beatles either. No one can ever possibly have that kind of impact again unless we were to completely dismantle the Internet, cable TV, satellite radio and all the other media outlets we have access to now.
It’s always “57 Channels And Nothing On” as The Boss said. Even in the age of a Godzillion choices, there’s still only a tiny portion of truly worthwhile stuff out there. The fact that nowadays everyone and his brother can be a writer, a film maker, a graphic artist or a musician at the touch of a button (Heck, you can even pretend to be a Zen Master if you want to. Who’s gonna know you aren’t?) hasn’t seemed to have produced any greater wealth of truly good stuff. At best some of the good stuff that might not have gotten an audience before, now has a better chance of being seen or heard. But that stuff would’ve been produced anyway. Artists of any kind with true passion for what they do will create even if there’s not a chance in Hell of anyone ever seeing or hearing what they do. Pretty much nobody read Dogen’s Shobogenzo for 800 years after it was written. There weren’t even printing presses then for cryin’ out loud! Yet he still wrote 95 frikkin’ chapters of the thing.
This paradox of choice also relates to Buddhism. In reading Dogen, you’ll find a lot of passages where he extolls the virtues of Buddhism. But its interesting to note that in his time (the 13th century) the alternatives were far fewer than we have now. No one in Japan had ever so much as heard of Christianity, Judaism and Islam back then. Religion meant only Japanese folk religions (Shintoism) and Buddhism. There were a few varieties of Buddhism by then and Dogen gave each one a go. He found esoteric Buddhism lacking, discovered something more valid in Rinzai style Zen Buddhism but still felt it wasn’t quite right and finally discovered the truth through the study and practice of Soto style Zen Buddhism.
Nowadays we have about a trillion flavors of religion to choose from. There must be easily a couple hundred brands of Buddhism on the market. So how do we know which one is right? I’ve already answered that question for myself. But I was lucky in that what turned out to be the real deal was always right there for me. The few times I encountered bad teachers I dismissed them immediately. I have no idea why this happened. But it did. So I didn’t waste a whole lot of time searching and searching. I looked into a few other things and the fact that they were bullshit was abundantly clear without my even having to really dig into them too deeply.
Lately some people have accused me of “sectarianism.” But, honest to Jesus, I have no idea what they mean. I suppose they think that anyone who sticks clearly to one principle is, by doing so, implying that we should go out and kill everyone who believes anything else, or, at the very least that we should stick bamboo shoots up under their fingernails until they say they agree with us. Of course this is all true but….
NO! NO! I’m kidding! I have to be careful. Or maybe I don’t. Bob Dylan had a great line. A reporter asked him if he felt alarmed that his songs might be misinterpreted and, for example, be seen as an endorsement for drug abuse and other such bad stuff. He said, “That’s not my problem.” I like that. Anymore that’s the way I feel. I can’t stop people misinterpreting me unless I just shut up forever. And I’m not gonna do that. So, go ahead and misinterpret away. It’s not my problem.
At any rate, choice makes us miserable. I’ve never seen any happiness come from wafting around from philosophy to philosophy looking for just the right one. When you do that you just become addicted to being a Seeker of Truth. It’s far better to just stick with one thing and see it through to the end. Of course you need to watch out that that one thing isn’t Aum Shinrikyo or something like that. But it’s not necessary to try absolutely everything. Most of what passes for religion or meditation is crap. Sturgeon’s Law, you know, “98% of everything is crud.”
If I didn’t believe in the way that was handed down to my teacher and that he passed on to me absolutely, I would not have become part of his lineage. Otherwise why do it at all? If you want someone who’ll tell you that all the other methods of meditation out there are equally OK, I am not your go-to guy. There may be a million and a half choices out there, but I only buy into one way. The others are of no interest at all.