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Writer Stephen Kessler Contemplates Culture

author“Just give me something to talk about and I’ll go to town,” admited Stephen Kessler as he adjusted his spectacles in front of an attentive crowd at Bookshop Santa Cruz this past Thursday night, Aug. 25—a crowd that gathered to hear Kessler, the poet, translator, editor and novelist, as well as general cultural humorist, read three excerpts from his new collection of essays entitled: The Tolstoy of the Zulus.

These essays that Kessler describes as part of an “elastic genre” date back as far as 30 years. If you are not familiar with Kessler’s work, as I am a bit embarrassed to say I was not just a few days ago, his essays combine journalism, autobiographical information, poetry and prose, as well as an element of exploration and ambiguity. His words carry highly conversational tones that invite discussion, and despite much of the serious nature of his work, Kessler still manages to find amusement in such universal themes as the human condition of loneliness within his stories. Kessler categorizes this compilation of essay-type writings in a form of their own: “long-winded responses or a form of trying to figure out what I think about something that interests me.”

Kessler began his reading in the arts section of his collection: a post-mortem obituary piece he wrote in 2002 for Metro Santa Cruz about his dear friend Mary Holmes, an all-around influential artist and founding faculty member of UC Santa Cruz. Kessler prefaces this reading by explaining that he hopes to “evoke the essence of the [deceased’s] accomplishments.” He certainly did this, yet obviously not through a mechanical and generic formulation. This piece was quite heart breaking and covered, in a personal manner, the beliefs, virtues and passions of Holmes. I also found it to be very inspiring, as Kessler detailed Holmes’s urge to have all people contemplate the meaning of life through creativity and an explosion of the arts.

Moving right along to the letters portion, Kessler shares a column he wrote in 1995 for the Mendocino County Outlook. “Poor Nietzsche,” Kessler starts, “the guy gets a bad rap.” He then goes on to explore in an exceptionally fluid and understandable conduct the deep abstractness of the subject matter, some of the philosophy of Nietzsche as well as the male psyche. Still, Kessler’s work always remains relatable and accessible, as even he admits cheekily, but honestly, in this essay that “Nietzsche’s work is not reducible to thought bites,” and that similar to Bob Dylan and The Bible, one may find countless meanings and messages in Nietzsche’s work.

Again, having not been familiar with much of Kessler’s work before this night, I must say I was already captivated by these two aforementioned pieces. I think I should also note that despite being one of the youngest people in the room, by far, I still found Kessler’s words timeless and engaging. It was Kessler’s last reading, however that was so beautifully haunting, which really gave me an appreciation for his work. The essay, called “Hollywood Wax Museum,” was written in 1989 for The Sun Santa Cruz, a short-lived weekly newspaper, and recalls Kessler’s adolescence within Hollywood. He describes Marilynn Monroe’s constant presence throughout Hollywood, her face, “as sad and lifeless as ever.” He recalls the night James Dean died, who was coincidentally a racing buddy of Kessler’s brother. And rounding out this, “ghostly trinity,” he reminisces about Elvis, though he is sure to clarify, not the later Vegas Elvis.

I immensely enjoyed Kessler’s readings, which he describes as, “poetry cleverly disguised as prose,” as well as his complete candidness: during the question and answer fragment, one of the last things he said to the crowd was “I am sick of poetry. Poetry was just my gateway drug to harder stuff.”

 

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Heart Me Up

In defense of Valentine’s Day

 

“be(ing) of love (a little) more careful”—e.e. cummings

Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

The New Tech Nexus

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