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Study on Biofields Jolts World

LOS ANGELES, CA -- A breakout team of scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles has published the latest in a controversial series of papers on the mammalian biofield. Citing dozens of new case studies and laboratory experiments, the researchers presented a convincing case that the mammalian biofield may persist for some time after death, and even with the host body in absentia.

The discovery comes on the heels of a previous study in which Rebecca Gletshman et al. demonstrated that the human biofield is at least as unique as the fingerprint, which attracted interest from security agencies worldwide. Since then, a flush of money from DARPA, funding giant for the US military, has led to more sophisticated and daring experiments.

For decades, conventional wisdom had linked the biofield with life itself, and pioneering experiments had averred the connection. But in the group's latest paper published in Nature, Gletshman's results indicate that the preliminary research was in error, and that rather than vanish entirely, the biofield simply separates from the human body.

Advances in the sensitivity made the difference. The latest data come from the development of a new device dubbed SPIRIT -- the Specialized Infrared Investigative Tool. Composed of conjugate polymer piezoelectrics, SPIRIT captures remarkably low-valence electrical activity at a distance. Gletshman's team was able to watch and even record the separation of the biofield as it occurred.

"We have yet to make the data public," said Gletshman, "but to describe it -- the biofield basically peels away from the host body, similar to how a warm label comes off of a jam jar. After that, it just kind of floats around, sometimes out of the lab. We have no idea where it goes, but of course there are theories."

The UCLA biophysics lab has even attracted money from the purse of the Pope himself. Upon hearing of the press release from the university, the Vatican issued a statement unveiling a $110M plan to fund further development of the SPIRIT device.

"The Vatican has never been the enemy of science, as science can only reveal what already exists under Christ's domain," said Pope Francis in one interview, "And no expense is too great to behold and to protect the creations of the Lord."

Some speculate that the Vatican may have its own interests in developing the technology. An anonymous source from inside the church wrote that SPIRIT could be used as a test for "spiritual verification" -- although the source was light on details.

But not all religious groups have been as rapturous watching the research take shape. Several have openly opposed it. In mid-October, the World Buddhist Council published an open letter belittling the research as "typical scientific arrogance," and "contradicting the [Buddha's teachings]. There is no soul, no self."

In Egypt muslims were filmed gathering in Tahrir Square. Present was Samir Al-Hassem, staff scientist at Cairo National Laboratory who, from behind a microphone, called the research "the devil's work" and said that "the infinite human soul must not be imprisoned by test tubes, nor traded like cards by hostile nations." The latter refers to a debunked internet rumor that the biofields were being be trapped and held hostage by the US and Israel.

Gletshman and her team dowplayed any religious or political implications. "First of all, there's a lot that we just don't know," said Gletshman, "We don't know where they go, what they do, or anything like that. I think people who refer to these fields as 'souls' are absolutely jumping the gun. And we have no evidence yet of any group or nation who has actually tried to contain these biofields in some other device. If that were happening that would certainly be worrisome."

"Even if we could consider these fields 'souls' or 'soul-like', if we can call them that," added Gletshman, "the fact that this 'soul' is material would actually resolve a number of philosophical questions. Like, how does a non-material 'soul' interact with a material body? It seems paradoxical. The answer might be that the soul was in fact material and that there was never any paradox."

But secular groups have too expressed concern over the research, as fears escalate that the technology might someday be abused. Various messaging boards were to blame for sparking a rumor which blazed through social media last month. Discussion centered around civil rights. Some worried that, combined with the biofield fingerprinting technology, US citizens could be potentially be "tracked beyond a single lifetime" or "imprisoned forever."

In an attempt to quell the rumors the US Department of Justice issued a public statement on its website last week saying that "the United States has no intention to use the technology imminently" and would "neither confirm nor deny whether [it had] its own SPIRIT devices in operation." The DOJ did comment that the research "raises new and challenging questions in the question of effecting justice."

The ACLU has already filed a lawsuit against the US government for failing to provide public documents related to the project. ACLU lawyer Tom Kennedy urged caution when speaking with the Times, saying , "If these biofields have any kind of human consciousness, awareness, volition, or experience, they deserve to have protection under the US constitution. We're basically working around the clock to ensure that. And hopefully we'll do it before any great damage is done."

Gletshman said that, rather than holding her back, the buzz around the research has motivated the group to work longer hours than ever. "We have certain experiments going on around the clock now," she said, "we're working to basically nail down the properties of these biofields, to the extent that we can, hoping to get a clearer picture and quell some of the misinformation."

"Plus," Gletshman continued, "I think most people will be surprised to find out that these biofields are weirder than we appreciated at the outset."

Gletshman is referring to a study-in-progress, one she claims may be the most controversial yet. She says that the lab has preliminary data showing the biofields can migrate not only out of human tissues, but into them as well -- at least under certain lab conditions. The implications, she says, transcend even the imaginations of the ancient sages.

"If one did interpret these biofields as 'souls', well, then no religion that I know of describes a 'soul' with the complex behavior that we see in the lab," Gletshman says.

She continues, "Whether people want to believe the science or not, as scientists, we work hard to not to let our biases get in the way of the facts. We welcome all minds as part of the scientific process, but all parties involved have to be willing to part with their cherished beliefs. That's the price of admission, the price of seeing the truth."

UCLA has applied for a patent for the SPIRIT device and plans to license it for use after regulatory approval.

This Year's Top Zen Koans

The following koans were selected by a group of awakened Japanese roshis specialized in the koan technique.

Koans are short poems designed to entirely rupture one's sense of logic, reason, and sense of reality, eventually culminating in insight. This year provided limitless such material to the roshis, who were scribbling down koans as fast as their little brushes could be dipped.

They then diligently pared down a long list of about a thousand koans to the most essential few, which I have presented to the reader below.

NOTE: I was personally entrusted with doing the English translation and I hope I have rendered them comprehensible. As aids to the reader I have added my own interpretations (when necessary) as "notes" below each koan.

199.

Nansen told Jōshū, "I am going to travel."
Jōshū said, "There is nowhere you can go."
Nansen said, "I will travel in my imagination then."
Jōshū said, "You are just as trapped there."
Nansen said, "I shall go to sleep now."
Jōshū said, "You will not go to sleep."

NOTE: Jōshū has explained Nansen's insomnia.

684.

Nansen asked Jōshū, "In this world, how can I stay free of harm?"
"Stay back!" said Jōshū, "Cover your face!"
Nansen then washes his hands many times.
Jōshū said, "Go outside!"
Nansen said, "What if I ingest this poison?"
Jōshū said, "Go outside, quickly!"
Jōshū then goes about his business, covering his face.

NOTE: Jōshū is trying to say that neither hand washing nor disinfecting are going to save Nansen.

65.

Nansen entered the hall with his hands wide to either side of him.
Jōshū said, "Show me where the center is."
Nansen took three steps to the right.

NOTE: Jōshū wants to know: is Jordan Peterson really considered centrist?

40.

Nansen began telling the news to Jōshū. Jōshū promptly covered his ears and said, "If you keep talking, I am going to die." Then Nansen stopped talking. Jōshū then put his sandal on his head and walked out of the room barefoot.

NOTE: Jōshū's putting a sandal on his own head is more useful and makes just as much sense.

532.

Nansen said to Jōshū, "It is too dangerous to vote in person, too risky to vote by mail."
Jōshū said, "You must vote."

241.

Nansen entered the room with a question in mind.

Nansen: "Who was elected?"
Jōshū: "The one who was not electable."
Nansen: "Who is electable?"
Jōshū: "The one who was not elected."

NOTE: Jōshū omitted saying whether the electable person would be elected in the end.

86.

Nansen asked Jōshū, "How do I know who to vote for?"

Jōshū begins screaming, spitting, and kicking at Nansen's shins. "Now listen here you horse-headed bastard!" Jōshū said.

Nansen said "I must vote for you then."
Jōshū replied, "Then you are a blind idiot."
Nansen said, "I will vote for someone else, then."
Jōshū responded, "Then you are worse than I thought!"

NOTE: You can vote for Jōshū, or you can choose not to, but you'd be a real fool not to.

777.

Nansen says to Jōshū, "My mother would like me to visit."
Jōshū responds, "Maybe you should call her first."
Nansen laughs, "She doesn't like to talk on the phone."

NOTE: Jōshū would have a much easier time calling Nansen's mother if he tried her work phone.

712.

A monk said to Jōshū, "What happened yesterday?"
Jōshū said, "It depends who you ask. Why do you ask me?"
The monk said, "Because you are wise."
Jōshū said, "You wouldn't believe me."
The monk said, "I would believe you."
Jōshū said, "I don't even believe it myself."

NOTE: Jōshū lives in a post-truth world where facts are irrelevant and no one can be convinced of anything they do not already believe, and perhaps not even of what they do believe.

123.

Nansen: "Why do you laugh?"
Jōshū starts weeping.
Nansen: "Why are you crying?"
Jōshū laughs hysterically.

NOTE: If you Jōshū is laughing, he should be crying. If Jōshū is crying, he might as well be laughing.

31.

Jōshū warned Nansen: "There is a snake behind you."
Nansen: "But I am not afraid of snakes."
Jōshū: "Did you try telling the snake?"
Nansen: "There is no snake behind me."
Jōshū: "Now there are two snakes, are you afraid now?"
Nansen: "How could I be afraid of what cannot bite me?"

Not knowing what Nansen thought, the snake bit Nansen. Not knowing of Jōshū's warning, the other snake then bit Jōshū.

NOTE: "If 1% of snakebites are lethal," Jōshū asks, "is bravery just a lack of fear, or something else?"

112.

Nansen: "Having a job is unsafe."
Jōshū: "Not having a job is unsafe."
Nansen: "What is best?"
Jōshū snatches a meditation pillow and screams into it.

NOTE: Jōshū is showing the simple escape from the dilemma.

87.

Nansen: "Do not wear a mask. Save them for the hospital workers."
Jōshū: "If we wear masks, why will they need them at the hospital?"
Nansen: "Masks don't work."
Jōshū: "Then why wear them at the hospital?"
Nansen thought for a moment and said, "Please wear a mask now."

NOTE: Jōshū did reluctantly wear a mask after this dialogue, but he will never trust the CDC like he did before.

"Suttas" for the uninitiated

Do you know what a "sutta" is? It might help explain what the hell these Buddhist fanfics are about. Quick historical primer:

Theravāda Buddhism, which claims to be religion's oldest school, bases its teachings around a huge collection of texts written in a dead Indian language called Palī. The Palī Canon is divided into suttas (Palī: discourses). Theravādin monks claim that the suttas are the direct teachings of Siddhartha Gōtama, also called the Buddha (Palī: awakened one.) Interestingly, the Buddha didn't speak Palī, but some other unknown Indo-European language.

It was in 100 BCE, around 400 years after the death of the Buddha, that the suttas were translated into Palī, systematized, and written down. The long telephone game of oral tradition in the interim meant that some elaborations were bound to creep in.

In addition to their grounded wisdom, the suttas (like most religious texts) also contain a fair bit of repetition, counting, theorizing about the origins and ends of the world; talk about beings in the sky, ghosts, spirits, various realms of heaven and hell; and, naturally, a lot of made-up stories. So I wrote some of my own made-up stories to provide a kind of balance and posted them here. I like the idea of creating my own, cartoonish version of Gōtama, re-fashioned as a chill guy you might be able to crush a few Corona-- er, I mean, Miller Lights with. Plus I like to sprinkle in my own little philosophy on how Buddhism might have been had the Buddha been a rationalist.

The Buddha was by all accounts a kind, practical, and thoughtful person, but he was also someone who for years struggled to find peace. He's notable for having claimed success and building a set of teachings that presumably lead to the same kind of insight.

If you're interested in actual Buddhism but don't want to get bogged down with spiritualism, magic, or devotion, there are plenty of suttas minus that flavor of madness. The Buddha Before Buddhism by Gil Fronsdal explores this in some detail.

Joe Biden: Bitcoin of the Dems

This is just political views and opinion based on my unremarkable human memory of 2020. Many of the things I say about Biden also apply to other candidates like Pete Buttegeig. This essay singles out Joe Biden as the winner of the Democratic nom, but it's less about him, and more about how decisions get made in politics, and what strategies may be used to influence populations to swing to one candidate or another.

[Update 10/12/2020: I'm no longer a fan of this essay. It was nice to get it down, and I'll leave it up for anyone who cares to read it. But the more I read it, the more sad I feel, for two reasons. 1) Any old dolt can explain the past, and right now, plenty of people are. I'm tired of reading other people's opinions and I'm sure other people feel the same way. In the end, I enjoyed writing this for myself, but it should be thought of as more of an exercise in writing than a persuasive essay. There is no such thing anymore, as there is no one left who can be persuaded of anything. 2) Politics sucks and I'm not trying to get involved in that. I just want this whole shitshow to end.]

In early 2020 I was so sure that Joe Biden was going to lose the Dem nomination that I openly scoffed -- scoffed! -- at anyone who said otherwise. Scoffing at my friends and family, can you believe it!

My gripe was Biden's take-home message: "I'm the only one who can beat Trump." I felt uneasy about this, and then I realized why. If Biden is claiming that he's the only one who can beat Trump, he's claiming that he's the only Dem who people turn out to vote for. I read this as: other people will turn out to vote for me, so you should too. It's a weak case. Who are the other people?

Lots of Dem candidates had a polling edge over Trump. But Biden was star in a contest of "electability." I morosely watched Biden stumble through the primary debates, and then I watched moderators grade his performance on a scale from zero to presidential. "Presidential" is an adjective with the same flavor as "electable" in that it refers what the person saying it believes the rest of the population is thinking.

That’s why I cannot accept the concept of electability: if we all thought our neighbors wanted to vote for some candidate "X" -- without wanting to vote for him ourselves -- we’d all be calling him "electable" without realizing that no one really wanted to elect him. That's the extreme case. In a more realistic case, a large fraction of the population would be swung towards a more "electable" candidate who already had a sizeable base. This is what I think happened with Joe Biden.

At the dawn of the 2020 election cycle, while this talk about electability was going on, a number of pundits pointed out that the "electable" Biden had a 20 year period of losing presidential elections, and that the current president who was actually elected fails to tick every conceivable box for electability.

The opposite happened too. Some candidates were labeled as "unelectable", a way of saying that even though you may like them, your neighbors never will. Candidates Sanders, Warren, and Yang were labeled as "unelectable" because they were either too old, too female, or too radical, which cleared the field for Biden.

Electable or not, I’m voting against Trump, so who cares. My rallying cry for 2020 is "vote blue, no matter who, don't care what you say or do." So when Biden got the nom I was able to let all of these thoughts go and accept the situation.

The thoughts only bubbled back up nine months later when I started reading Harari's Sapiens. Harari talks about the idea of shared fictions being cultural glues that keep societies stable. Religions are an obvious examples of shared fictions. Other examples are equality, human rights, Manifest Destiny, and money.

Electability, in my view, is also a shared fiction. But to explain how someone becomes electable, I'd first like to talk about how money becomes "collectible," and why this is a shared fiction.

Consider the humble dollar. To someone who's never seen one it's a rectangular piece of paper. I only think my dollars are worth something because my neighbors want them, and they're only worth something to my neighbors because I want them. If my neighbors didn't want my dollars, what would I do with them? I could make origami with them, snort coke with them, or burn them for warmth, but that's about it. It's not just true of dollars -- gold, silver, and seashells are goods that are mostly inherently worthless, but used extensively for trading.

Suppose I wanted to introduce a new currency. You could try to find something useful, small enough to carry around, easy to count, and hard to fake. It has been done before, with salt and barley. But what is a person to do with thousands of pounds of barley? It's much simpler to invent a good with the right properties of a currency -- transportable, countable, etc. -- but dropping the idea of something useful, and replacing it with something useless but that everybody seemingly wants.

A modern example is Bitcoin. What determines the value of a bitcoin? A bitcoin is less useful than the most useless thing on earth. What determines its value is a shared belief in how much a bitcoin is worth, determined by countless cultural variables and historical events. Bitcoin's market price in USD is a precise reflection of the shared belief in its value.

In the beginning Bitcoin wasn't a currency because it wasn't accepted widely, and it wasn't accepted widely because it wasn't a currency. When a few pioneers believed in its "collectibility" that gave license to other people to do the same thing. The pioneers of bitcoin wanted more of them because they, for a number of legitimate reasons, thought Bitcoin was the future of currency. Others, who may not have even believed in bitcoin's future, wanted it because they knew they could sell it to the pioneers.

Turning back to politics, if I call Joe Biden "electable," all that means is that when the time comes to vote, I believe that my neighbors will vote to elect Joe Biden. Calling him electable is not a statement about my own belief in the his value as a leader. It's a statement I make about his value to my neighbors. But the difference between politics and trade is that, when I've converted all my wealth to dollars, I don't have to withdraw my dollars from my bank account on Jan. 21 and then eat them over the next four years. The shared fiction in money remains so, whereas when it comes to leaders, they eventually have to lead.

I know where I personally stand when it comes to election strategy: that the most electable ones are the ones who have value to me (and you) personally. Instead of reasoning about what other people might consider valuable in a leader, i.e. their electability, reason that other people think more or less like you, and vote for the person you value the most.

Where I become cynical is in thinking that anyone with an outsized reach knows all of this and exploits it. Imagine that you have the ear of millions. Being in different social strata, you and your audience probably prefer different candidates. But there are more of them than there are of you, so what is your strategy to swing them your way? Is it more effective to argue point by point the virtues of your candidate of choice over theirs? They'd see right through that. It's a far easier to tell another story: maybe they don't like him, but their neighbors do, and if they don't all vote together, they'll lose. This way, you sidestep all of the old channels of debate, and let our natural human tendency to slide into a shared fiction do the rest of the work.

No matter what the origin of a shared fiction is, how people act in response to the belief ultimately spells its fate. If a currency is supposed to be worth something, but you can’t find a landscaper who will accept it as payment, it ceases to be so. The world bought into Bitcoin’s collectibility. But will you be buying your coffee with bitcoins any time soon, or are you holding onto them and waiting for your aunt to start spending hers? The Democrats bought into Joe Biden’s electability. But are your neighbors actually going to to get up and vote for Joe Biden, or are they going to stay put, expecting you to go vote instead?

After the election that shared fiction in electability will self-destruct. In its ashes will be the truth, what us and our neighbors really want. I'm hopeful, but I'm not optimistic. The saving grace may turn out to be another shared fiction among Dems: that literally anyone else in the world would be a better president than Donald Trump. But if that’s what gets a Dem elected, then practically anyone would have been “electable” in the end.

The Buddha's World Tour - a Buddhist fanfic

So I have heard. At one time the Lord Buddha, the Blessed One, the ascetic Gōtama, was sitting in the shade of a bodhi tree in Jeta's Grove. A slight tremor moved the earth and soon thereafter a deva appeared in front of him. The deva was named Sakha, and was the king of all devas. The deva stood to one side and began speaking to him.

"Lord Gōtama," said the king of devas, "I have come to tell you that by setting the Wheel of Dhamma in motion you have impressed us. We being the devas of the earthly realms, the devas of the hellish realms, the devas of the celestial realms, the devas who delight in their creations, and I, the king of all devas."

Bowing his head, the deva said to the Buddha, "I have come to ask, out of gratitude, how the devas might serve the dhamma."

The Lord Buddha spoke, looking up at the deva. "Deva Sakha, there is only one thing for the devas to do, whether they be earthly, hellbound, celestial, or otherwise. They must ensure that the Wheel of Dhamma continues to turn."

"Once the Wheel of Dhamma has been set in motion, Lord Gōtama," the deva said, "it cannot be stopped."

The Buddha reflected. "Then tell me, deva Sakha, king of all devas, if the Wheel of Dhamma cannot be stopped, then does that mean that my teachings and discourses will one day spread far and wide?"

"It is certain that they will, Lord Gōtama, for I have seen the future," said the deva to the Lord Buddha. "Over the decades your teachings and discourses will continue to spread, from Nagaratha to Bengal, and from Tathamurthi to Delhi. Over the centuries they will spread to China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. And over the millennia they will spread further yet, to distant lands not yet discovered."

The deva bowed his head again, "This I tell you with honesty and sincerity. But as an act of gratitude for setting the Wheel of Dhamma in motion, I will show you myself, so that you may behold your teachings, and see for yourself that what I say is true."

"You will take me with you, then," said the Buddha.

In an instant, a flash, the Lord Buddha and the deva Sakha had vanished, leaving only a tremor which quickly faded away.

Japan

"Behold your teachings, Lord Gōtama," whispered the deva.

The Buddha saw that on the floor of the temple were dozens of black robes wrapped around still, pale figures. The figures sat cross-legged, facing a blank wall, eyes half-closed. There was no decoration in the hall besides an and an electric waterfall and a statue of a fat, smiling man.

"They are sitting in meditation," said the deva Sakha. "These are your teachings. They sit and face the wall. Those are the only instructions they are given. They spend, ten, twenty, thirty years like this sometimes."

"Are they awakened?" asked the Buddha.

"Some of them, I assume," said the deva, "but they do not discuss it openly. They communicate only in riddles. Observe," and the deva approached the roshi, the senior monk.

"Dear monastic, I am the deva Sakha, come from another realm," said the deva, kneeling beside him. "Tell me, are you awakened?"

The roshi opened his eyes, picked up a wooden shoe, and threw it squarely at the head of a junior monk.

"Ah! Ow!" the junior monk cried, holding his head, his face in wrinkled in pain.

The roshi cried at him, "If you think this shoe is made of wood, you will never witness the Buddha!"

As the junior monk wailed, the Buddha stepped forward. "Actually, I am who you call the Buddha, monastic. I am the ascetic Gōtam... oh!"

The roshi had thrown his other shoe at the Buddha.

China

"Behold your teachings, Lord Gōtama!" said the deva.

In the middle of the field was a tall man standing on one leg. There was nothing but grass around him, not even a stump, not even a sapling. He had his hands raised as if holding an invisible ball above his head. He was like a tree. His body was perfectly still. His long, white beard lay at an angle in the evening breeze.

The king of devas assumed the same posture as the man and faced the Lord Buddha.

"They stand like this for hours. Or sometimes, like this," and the deva dropped low, as if he were riding a tiny horse. "They are unshakable, unmovable, standing between heaven and earth."

The Lord Buddha walked past the squatting deva and approached the man-on-one-foot. He was as still as a statue, as still as a mountain. "What are you doing?" asked the Buddha.

The man-on-one-foot said nothing.

"Are you awakened?" asked the Buddha.

The man-on-one-foot said nothing.

The Buddha had an idea. He stood beside the man. He carefully began to copy the positions of his legs, his torso, and his arms, until the Buddha was mirroring precisely the man's position.

He stood there like that for some time, until his muscles began to quiver and shake. This time, the man-on-one-foot did speak.

"Shaking body, shaking mind," said the man.

"I think I'm just out of shape," winced the Lord Buddha, "I am not as young as I used to be."

"You are think of yourself as standing. Not as being stood. That is your problem," said the man.

The Buddha considered this, and after a few moments the shaking calmed. Then a little later it ceased entirely.

"That is impressive, countryman," said the Lord Buddha. "And for what purpose do you stand for so long?"

The man-on-one-foot was silent.

"I'm fond of this fellow," said the Buddha to himself.

California

"Behold your teachings, Lord Gōtama!" said the deva, flinging open the doors to the synagogue.

The Buddha witnessed pews full of men and women. The men were wearing shawls and strange little hats on the crowns of their heads. The hats were as small as dhosas. The men and women were singing in a strange language, singing songs of a melody unknown to the Buddha.

"What are they doing?" asked the Lord Buddha to the deva, "What language is this?"

"It is hebrew, Lord Gōtama," said the deva. "Your followers recite it here. But I must confess that I do not understand the language. Temples such as this are elite training grounds for the awakened ones of this country, evidenced by the fact that all of this land's great teachers here were trained in centers such as this one."

An assistant rabbi approached the Buddha and the deva. "Good shabbos," said the assistant rabbi, his arm extending a couple of prayer books and yarmulkes, "will you be joining us for services?"

"You are the senior monastic?" asked the Buddha.

"I'm, uh, well you yes, you could say that," said the rabbi.

"Are you awakened?" asked the Buddha.

"Awake?" said the assistant rabbi, "You should ask if I ever get any sleep."

Tibet

The Lord Buddha and the deva were staring at a writhing, contorting, shadowy mass illuminated only by light of lanterns. Incense smoke filled the air and formed little whirlpools. The shadows on the floor grew, shrank, and grew again in a rhythmic pattern.

"Behold your teachings, Lord Gōtama!" whispered the deva.

The shadows suddenly stopped moving.

"Huh? Who said that? Who's there?" erupted a deep, nervous voice.

The Buddha took a step forward towards the mass of shadows, trying not to trip in the dark. "It is I, the ascetic Gōtama, having come to witness my teachings. And, wow." He gave the deva a look.

There was silence, and then a shriek.

"Oh my god, yes! Yes! It worked! I can't believe it worked!" cried a female voice from the mass of shadowy skin. Her shadow briefly separated from his.

"I swear, all this time, I was doubting, foolishly doubting! Believing all this to be some kind of trick!" The woman was hysterical. "Oh, after all these years, the Lord has finally come, just as you said he would! Oh! Oh! Oh!"

"Um," the man said.

"So, consort, shall we continue?" whispered the woman. The shadow shrank to one unit again. "I shall do whatever you say! I trust you..." and there was the sound of the womanly shadow kissing the other one.

"Um," the man said. The shadow regrew and began moving rhythmically again.

The Buddha looked back towards the deva and spoke.

"Not as soon as I spoke the words, 'refraining from sense pleasures,' I knew that someone, somewhere, would take it to mean this."

"Nevertheless," the Buddha continued, "knowing nothing of this method, all I can say is: maybe there is really something to it."

The deva considered this in silence, while the Lord Buddha squinted, considering something else.

"In any case I am impressed at how they have twisted it all up."

"Twisted up all of your teachings, you mean, Lord Gōtama?" asked the deva.

"No," replied the Lord Buddha.

Jeta's Grove

With a tremor, the Lord Buddha and the deva Sakha had returned to the shade of the bodhi tree in Jeta's Grove. The deva, with a warm heart, turned to the the Blessed One to ask him what he thought of his teachings and discourses, and how they had spread far and wide.

"I am pleased, Sakha, king of devas," said the Buddha.

"And you are not bothered at all, Lord Gōtama, by how some might have interpreted your teachings?"

"No," said the Buddha, "I do not teach the only way, Sakha -- I only teach The Way. The Wheel of Dhamma turns, but as the wheel of a large boat, it may steer one in either this direction or that one. It does not matter which way one goes, but only that one makes it to the other shore."

"You are truly the Blessed One, pure and holy," said the deva Sakha, who knew it to be true, "and now I have done what I can to ensure and prove to you that the Wheel of Dhamma will continue to turn." The deva turned away. "Knowing this, I will take my leave now."

"Where will you go?" asked the Buddha.

The king of devas stood silently with his back turned to the Blessed One. The Buddha sighed.

"I knew it," said the Buddha.

"You said it yourself, Lord Gōtama," said the deva Sakha, the king of all devas, "maybe there is really something to it."

With a flash and a tremor, the deva vanished.

The River of Mind Sutta - a Buddhist fanfic

So I have heard. At one time the Lord Buddha, the Blessed One, the ascetic Gōtama, and his five venerable ascetic disciples, were being ferried from Cittapālo to Kāsapo along the Titopañño river. The trip by ferry had lasted many hours, and hours on the ferry still remained. Word had begun to spread through the countryside of the Lord Buddha’s journey.

The Buddha was looking out over the water. He swept out a horizontal arc with his hand. "Look at this river," he said. And the venerable ascetic disciples looked.

"The mind is like this river, venerable disciples."

Silently, the disciples considered the river.

After a minute or two, venerable disciple Ānanda said, "Lord Gōtama, the mind is like this river because, like the river, the mind never stops flowing."

The Buddha smiled. Ānanda continued, however.

"The mind is like this river because, from moment to moment, the mind changes. Yet mind is also like this river because, from moment to moment, the mind stays the same."

The Buddha gently nodded and looked away, his face now blank. "Yes, Ānanda," he said, while facing the river, "that was what I was going for."

"The mind is like this river because it never begins, nor does it ever end--"

“Ānanda, you are getting carried away,” said the Buddha.

The other venerable disciples turned their heads away, apparently to investigate a sound coming from the shore.

“You must learn to stop while you are ahead,” the Buddha continued. “It's just that rivers do, in fact, end. We disembark from this ferry precisely where the river ends -— at the delta."

"You are right, as usual, Lord Gōtama," replied Ānanda.

For a time there was no sound except for the gentle splashing of the water onto the hull of the ferry, and the whisper of leaves dancing in the wind.

Meanwhile, Ānanda thought some more. And then again he spoke:

"The mind is also like this river because although it is turbulent on the surface it is still and calm below. And, yet, for the man who is afraid to leave his boat, he will never experience the tranquility of being beneath the ripples and waves, and will instead remain transfixed by the reflections on the surface--"

"You are forcing it, Ānanda," said the Buddha. "You are trying too hard. Though the essence of what you say is nevertheless true, and I cannot, in my wisdom, deny it... perhaps you should consider..." the Buddha paused to think.

"Yes, Lord Gōtama. Sorry," said Ānanda, and he went quiet for a while.

The other disciples were gazing away, into the trees, pretending to look for howler monkeys.

"Um... Lord Gōtama?" said Ānanda.

The Buddha turned to look at Ānanda, who was looking at his feet and crossing his toes.

"The mind... is like this river..." he said, waiting for the Buddha to say something, but the Buddha did not.

Ānanda's words then burst out of him like a flock of starlings. "The mind is like this river because there are fish in the river that arise to the surface causing ripples in the water but in reality the fish live underneath the surface and although they cannot be seen when they are underneath they are always there and thus we realize that the fish are thoughts and the surface of the river is the consciousn--"

"Ānanda -- please," said the Lord Buddha. He then smiled and offered a common refrain: “Those who know do not speak, and those who speak do not know."

A long time passed in silence. The afternoon sun grew strong and red.

As the ferry drifted along the Titopañño river, the Lord Buddha and his five venerable ascetic disciples passed a fisherman's boat. There was a lone fisherman inside who was pulling up his fishing net. The net was full of small fish. The Lord Buddha asked the fisherman, "Where did you cast this net to catch these small fish?"

"I placed the net just underneath the surface," replied the lone fisherman to the Lord Buddha.

The Buddha expressed his gratitude and thanks to the lone fisherman and the ferry continued on further.

They passed another fisherman's boat. There was yet another lone fisherman, pulling up a net full of medium-sized fish. The Lord Buddha asked the fisherman, "Where did you cast this net to catch these medium-sized fish?"

"I placed the net half-way deep in the river," said the lone fisherman to the Blessed One.

"I think I know where this is going," said Ānanda to himself.

The Buddha expressed his gratitude and thanks to the lone fisherman and the ferry continued on further.

They passed yet another fisherman's boat. There was a third lone fisherman, this time pulling up a net full of large fish. The Lord Buddha asked the fisherman, "Where did you cast this net to catch these large fish?"

Ānanda said, “He must have cast it near the bottom of the river," before the fisherman could reply.

"I did indeed," replied the lone fisherman. "But how did you know? Have you fished in this river before?"

"I know because the mind is like this river," said Ānanda, solemnly, his face assuming a frown, "The fish are concepts, concepts that contain other concepts. The small fish are the little concepts that abide near the surface -- in other words, near surface consciousness. The medium-sized fish are the medium-sized concepts that 'eat' the smaller fish, in other words, they contain the smaller concepts. And the large fish represent the biggest concepts of all, the concepts that include all the others but that which reside in the deepest depths of the mind -- er, I mean, the river..." Ānanda tripped over his words a little.

"Concepts?" said the fisherman. "But these are fish. Wait a minute,” the fisherman seemed to have an idea. “Are you the Buddha? The ascetic Gōtama? I have heard about you. But you are different than I was imagining.”

"Well I’m not exact--"

"I am the ascetic Gōtama," announced the Lord Buddha. "He who spoke is called Ānanda. Ānanda is my venerable disciple... I suppose."

The Buddha expressed his gratitude, thanks and apologies to the fisherman and the ferry pressed on.

It was nearing the end of the day and the ferry began to slow as it approached a river delta, where the it was to lay its anchor and where the Lord Buddha and his venerable disciples were to disembark. Beyond the delta the river spilled out into the sea.

Contemplating the delta, its features, details, and formations, Ānanda noticed the river dissolving, emptying itself into the vastness of the sea. Ānanda looked at the Lord Buddha. He could not help himself.

"Do not say it, Ānanda, do not say it," said the Buddha.

Ānanda barely lifted his hand as he pointed to the ocean.

"Please do not say it, Anānda," pleaded the Buddha.

Ānanda peeped, "...the collective consciousness?"

The Buddha put his face in his hands.

Ānanda tried again. "No... it's rebirth, because the river flows into the ocean, and continues on in a different form, before becoming a river again..."

He kept going. "And the strange creatures at the ocean floor -- perhaps those are the devas? Celestial beings, guardian spirits of the earth, inhabiting other realms, only accessible to those who have gone forth into the depths of the mind? When the river water can flow to the bottom of the sea?"

"Ānanda," said the Buddha, calmly, "you are taking what I say both too literally and yet not literally enough. If you were careful in your thinking you would have noticed that the river water does not just empty itself into the sea. The river also evaporates into the sky; becomes clouds, rains, and icebergs; and forms drinking water all across the world. Some of the water molecules will even break apart to form oxygen and hydrogen..."

"Huh?" said Anānda. "Molecules?"

"My point being that you are thinking about rebirth in a simplistic way. Humble yourself. You are trying to play the wise man, but just because you know one thing does not mean you know everything."

The Buddha continued. "If you are not careful with your words, Ānanda, they will take teachings like yours and attribute them to me. And they will assume that because I knew one thing, that I knew everything else, too. They will say that I was perfect, pure, the greatest man to ever live. But that is not so, Ānanda, it is not so."

"I hope that someday my teachings will be explained in just a few succinct truths," said the Buddha, "or else they will proliferate. And if they proliferate, the lesser ones will crowd out the important ones. Such teachings would surely form the basis of some kind of religious text -- long-winded, dogmatic, and stuck in the past."

The Buddha placed his hand around his chin. "Well, except, I suppose I'd have to explain the jhānas too..." He paused, frozen.

And then his face became animated again. "But I would keep those explanations brief, so as not to be misunderstood. For example, as a first instruction, ‘putting mindfulness to the front' is rather clear, no?"

Ānanda and the other venerable disciples nodded, acknowledging the Lord Buddha's wisdom.

One disciple whispered to another, "By ‘front’ the Lord must mean the 'front' of the body, near the face, by the nose, no?"

"I think he means to the 'front' of the mind, as in the forefront, a priority," said the second disciple, out of earshot to the Buddha. “I’m sure we’ll figure it out later.”

The Buddha continued talking, stepping off of the ferry and onto dry land.

“I teach only what truly matters — anicca, anātta, and dukkha. Too many teachings, venerable disciples, are like too many channels for the mind to flow through. The mind has only so much vigor, only so many places it can go. Every new teaching which is incidental to the first, such as those of celestial beings, spirits, realms of heaven or hell, rebirth, astral powers, arcane rules and responsibilities, each of these leaves the mind with less power with which to flow to those parts that matter.”

Ānanda thought "the mind is like this river," but didn’t say it. He silently stepped off of the ferry, following the Buddha to Kāsapo.

The Sandal Sutta - a Buddhist fanfic

So I have heard. At one time the Lord Buddha, the ascetic Gōtama, the Blessed One, was traveling along the road between Rajagaha and Nalanda, near Benares, with a large Sangha of around five hundred mendicants. Word passed through all these cities, including Benares, of the Lord Buddha's arrival.

The wanderer Rakhito who, having lived in Benares for much of his life and was traveling along the same road, had managed to save up fifteen drahts from begging. The soles of his feet swollen and tender from walking under the hot sun, he visited the nearby brahmin shoemaker Yasso.

Rakhito presented Yasso with his fifteen drahts, every last coin, and kindly requested a pair of simple thongs, believing the cost of leather, string, and workmanship could not exceed fifteen drahts.

But Yasso the shoemaker in turn demanded twenty five drahts, believing that the cost of leather, string, and workmanship could not be less than twenty five drahts. This angered Rakhito who felt that he was already being generous with his initial offer of fifteen drahts.

Actually, Rakhito was right, and the shoes would ordinarily cost only ten drahts, for the brahmin Yasso greatly overvalued the quality of his own workmanship. Such were the people of Benares.

But anyway, so they both went back and forth arguing with each other. Rakhito argued that fifteen drahts was too much. The brahmin Yasso thought twenty five drahts was plenty generous already.

The Lord Buddha then passed the two, the wanderer Rakhito and the brahmin shoemaker Yasso, and overheard the argument. As he passed by with his five hundred mendicants in tow, and headed towards them, the two began to talk more slowly, and quietly, until their mouths were just hanging opening and making no sounds at all. By then, the Lord Buddha was standing just paces away.

"Lord Buddha," said the wanderer Rakhito and the brahmin Yasso, at once, together.

"Mendicants," said the Lord Buddha to the crowd behind him, "let us learn about our two subjects, a wanderer and a brahmin, who are arguing about the fair price of a pair of thongs."

Rakhito and Yasso exchanged a glance.

"Tell us, subjects, of your claims."

And Rakhito told his side of the story, followed by Yasso who told his side.

The ascetic Gōtama appeared to consider for a moment. He had already mastered macroeconomics, microeconomics, behavioral economics, and economics not yet discovered; mathematics, both known, unknown, finite, and infinite; the natural sciences alchemy, chemistry, nuclear and particle physics; and as a hobby, he was rumored to do watercolor painting.

The Lord spoke. "There are some ascetics and brahmins who, by dint of keen, resolute, committed, diligent effort and right focus, compute the value of goods and services in the market economy. That is to say, goods of large value, medium value, low value, or even very small value."

Rakhito and Yasso were hanging on his every word. Yasso held the thongs hidden and secure behind his back, lest the wanderer try to grab them and make a break for it; Rakhito was fidgeting with his fifteen drahts, the coins making gentle clinking noises.

"That is, experts have considered items of value of one draht, two drahts, three drahts, four, five, six, ten, fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand, millions of drahts!" exclaimed the Lord Buddha.

"They remember: in Benares, a pair of shoes is worth thus; in Rajagaha, a single slipper is worth thus; that a fisherman at the river will sell a fresh fish for thus; and so on. And so on they recollect these goods and services, of many kinds, with all their features, details, and prices."

All of this seemed pretty true to Rakhito and Yasso, and they continued listening.

"Now, to get to the point, these ascetics and brahmins say: a pair of decent sandals in Benares is worth no more than fifteen drahts. For although the leather and string are fair in Benares, the workmanship there is not as good as in neighboring towns..." the Buddha trailed off.

The wanderer Rakhito, elated, pivoted on his heel with his finger pointed at the brahmin Yasso, his mouth open. The brahmin Yasso was already with a red face, both with anger and shame, for he had felt insulted and belittled by the wise Buddha's words.

"I told y--" started Rakhito, when the Lord Buddha started speaking again.

"But there are other ascetics and brahmins!" shouted the Lord Buddha, "Other ascetics and brahmins, who, by dint of keen, resolute, committed, diligent effort and right focus, calculate the value to be at least twenty five drahts!"

"What?" blurted Rakhito. "You just said I was right."

Yasso, pivoting with his finger out towards Rakhito, began to say, "I told y--"

"And yet there are still other ascetics and brahmins!" said the ascetic Gōtama, his energy rising, “Other ascetics and brahmins, who, by dint of keen, resolute, committed, diligent effort and right focus, calculate the value to be both greater than fifteen drahts, and less than twenty five drahts!"

At this moment, the wanderer Rakhito and the brahmin Yasso stood frozen in thought.

Not out of fear, anger, or hate, but out of compassion, wisdom, and understanding. They knew, at once, together, why the Lord Buddha was so praised; they knew how he had mastered all of the sciences; because of this, they knew that he understood.

The sentence echoed in their minds. "Both greater than fifteen drahts, and less than twenty five drahts." The ascetic Gōtama, it appeared, was asking them to reach a reasonable compromise, to find the middle ground. Both the wanderer and the shoemaker felt their blood pressures drop a little bit. The Lord Buddha had shown himself to be a practical man.

A brightness crept into the faces of the wanderer and the brahmin shoemaker. But they jumped as the Buddha began speaking yet again, and yet louder.

"And yet there are still other ascetics and brahmins!" The Lord Buddha continued, frantic, “Other ascetics and brahmins, who, by dint of keen, resolute, committed, and diligent effort and right focus, calculate the value of a Benares sandal to be both greater than twenty five drahts, and less than fifteen drahts!"

There was a short pause for reflection on what the Blessed One had said.

"Um," said Yasso, looking at Rakhito now, confused.

"Wait, hold on," said Rakhito.

Rakhito spoke. "How can a sandal be worth less than fifteen drahts, and more than twenty five drahts?"

The Lord Buddha gave Rakhito a knowing look, but Rakhito didn't understand it.

Yasso spoke up, his face bewildered, the thongs now loosely dangling in his hand by his side. "Lord Buddha, your holiness, it seems as if you started off by naming the reasonable possibilities, but your last point does not make sense. If the sandals are worth greater than twenty five drahts, then Rhakito could not afford them. If they are worth less, then he could. The two possibilities cannot be realized at the same time. It seems contradictory, abstract... and we are trying to settle an eminently practical problem."

The Lord Buddha gave Yasso a glance, or was it a smile? Yasso could not tell. And he said to Yasso:

"The ascetics and brahmins, who claim such -- of the claims they make, it is none of these. It is not fifteen drahts, nor is it not not fifteen drahts. It is not worth less, nor is it worth more. It is not neither worth more nor worth less..." and so the Buddha continued like this for some time.

There was a long pause while the crowd considered this.

Rakhito started again, "Lord Buddha, on reflection, you actually seem to have just given us every logically possible answer, and one answer that, depending on how you interpret it, is either a philosophical statement about the subjectiveness of value, or just plain contradictory."

The Lord Buddha didn't reply. He stood there like a statue, unwavering.

“Hello?" said Rakhito, waving his hand at around shoulder height.

The mendicants began to grovel at the Buddha's feet.

Confused and disappointed, the wanderer Rakhito wandered away, away from the Buddha, away from the brahmin Yasso, away from the groveling mendicants, and shoeless at that.

He entered into Benares and followed a pillar of smoke. Where there was smoke there was usually food.

The smoke grew in size until Rakhito reached an old inn. He figured he'd spend his fifteen drahts on a good meal at least, and perhaps lodging to rest his tired feet.

While washing his feet and preparing to enter, Rakhito observed that a rather curious and winsome stranger was seated outside. The man was wearing an exquisite pair of sandals, which Rakhito noticed right away, for the rest of the man's clothing was simple.

Rakhito wondered if this man had stolen the sandals. Perhaps reporting the incident to the police would get him into the good graces of a sandalmaker who could in turn give him a discount. He spoke to the brahmin thus:

"Brahmin," inquired the wanderer, "but where did you get those rare and desirable sandals?"

"They were a gift from the innkeeper," the stranger coolly replied. "I'm actually not that into shoes, I just accepted them to be polite. I'll be getting rid of them as soon as I leave this inn." He had an uncanny softness to his voice.

The words, calm as they were, slammed into Rakhito with the force of a thousand rickshaws. And then Rakhito realized.

He whisphered, "You — you are the ascetic Gōtama!"

"I am," replied the real, true, and veritable ascetic Gōtama.

"I was just arguing... but I thought you, there was another..." Rakhito rambled confusedly.

"I'm not that into crowds either," replied the real Lord Buddha. "That's a disciple of mine who you met. He's not who they say, but he sells it well, no one's really the wiser. He's been doing it for years. Likes the attention," the Buddha spoke, softly.

"His wisdom was inscrutable, your holiness."

"Yes," replied the true Buddha. "That was the thing. I tried to get him to understand the teachings so that he could explain them to others on my behalf. Meanwhile I could take some time off. In the end, the teachings are impersonal, it doesn't matter who gives them. There have been many other like me before me, and there will be many more after."

The true ascetic Gōtama continued. "None of what I teach is all that complicated, but the questions that I got asked were just the same confused ones, over and over again. Such as, 'How does the self continue on in rebirth if there is no self to continue on in the first place?'" The Blessed One appeared to chew on this thought for a moment, and then elaborated.

"I tried to explain that there was no such thing as 'rebirth', but such a belief ran through the blood of society, like the parable of the two fish wherein one asks 'how's the water today?' and the other replies, 'what's water?' People simply cannot imagine life without that assumption. It's foundational to their working model of the world, and yet they do not realize that it is assumed without evidence. Because all their beliefs are invisibly tangled up in the belief in rebirth, if you knock out that belief, you'd have to change everything else. The mind rarely accepts a change so radical, at least not without lots of training in the sciences."

"What are 'the sciences'?" asked Rakhito, but the Buddha just sighed.

"I then tried a different approach, trying to meet them in the middle. I said 'this is my last rebirth, after this I will not be reborn again.' I thought perhaps this might get the point across, that once you realize the no-self, you cannot be reborn again, because there's no self to be reborn! But that led to yet another kind of confusion. First, it appeared to validate the principle of rebirth. But also it added a new wrinkle into the process. Because how is rebirth supposed to end? How should the conditions of my mind cause the universe to change how it works? Again, this just led to more confusion, as some now believe that it's because of my meditation that I am not reborn -- not that I was never destined to be reborn in the first place!"

Rakhito stood there, uninterestedly, his feet swollen and in pain. He was keen to come inside the inn and have a drink of water.

"So, anyway, I got my accomplice there to just list off all the logical possibilities for every single question he was asked, and even some supra-logical ones, if I may call them that, and then to simply say that all these possibilities were wrong. People will eventually stop asking me questions. And in the end you don't have to understand anything really, you just have to have the feeling that you understood, and for most people that's enough."

Rakhito spoke. "Lord Buddha, that does not interest me. I am not interested in the self or the not-self, logic or non-logic. I am an old wanderer, tired and weary. What interests me is the argument with the brahmin shoemaker Yasso, so that I may go back and buy some sandals, bearing the wisdom of the true, authentic, and veritable Blessed One," and he recounted the rest of the story to the ascetic.

Gōtama thought for a moment, putting a finger on his lower lip. "You wish to buy sandals with your drahts?" He then reached down towards his ankles and began untying the ones on his feet. "Take these. I didn't want them anyway. Keep your drahts."

Rakhito was stunned.

"But I... I could never... accept a gift from the ascetic Go-- Go--" the words failed to escape his mouth.

"Shoes, even sandals, aren't that good for your feet," said Gōtama. "Better to just work on strengthening your insoles. Shoes should pretty much be worn in dangerous environments only.”

And with those words, then and there, Rakhito was enlightened.

Watercolor at the park

I stopped by Union Square to do some sketching, my goal being to work on spontaneous drawing of people -- fast, loose, approximate, but recognizable. 

This one was my favorite.

Loomis skulls

This afternoon I gave myself the task of trying to understand the anatomy of the head. The "Loomis" method seemed to be a little too coarse for me and I wanted to know how all the bones of the skull fit together. Well, it turns out Loomis had the same idea and wrote about this in his book. See below.

I tried to draw some of the skulls and heads. Here are my first attempts.

Lots of room for improvement but not too bad! Drawing faces is a nice hobby I can take with me wherever I go. And it's fun.


I tried to draw Dr. Jung again, with limited success.

Watercolor, Feb 1 2020

Some new drawings today. I worked a lot on Loomis heads. Lots of them came out acceptable and looking like plausible heads, but I struggled with matching those heads to those of the real world. Here I tried to sketch Carl Jung -- once with Einstein hair, the other time with an afro. I was tired and gave up on the shading, but I think structurally the faces are similar enough to Jung to see a resemblance.

Here's a shark profile I drew using a google image as a source. I both like and dislike the realism. I want to add some graffiti or flowers in the background or something.

Watercolor, January 31 2020

Learning about sketching using the mannequin and sketching by anatomy. Drawing skeletons, the Loomis method for faces, and cylinder decomposition.

This is Sam playing the bass.

With what little I knew I was able to put together a sketch of Murphy using shading techniques and sketching techniques that I picked up from YouTube. The sketch is small -- I'll work on a larger one for mom.

Here's the (more or less) final one. (Some finishing touches continue to be made.)

Federica requested "una bella medusa" so I made her one.

Watercolor, January 30 2020

Fish. Followed a YouTube video on fish sketching, and then applied some watercolor techniques I learned from a previous video. The result is this beautiful fellow.


Testing shading, geometry, depth, and scale on Sam's "Puppy."

Mushroom hunting in Salentu

Mugnola: yellow-fleshed boletes of the genus suillus.

I didn't know what I was looking for at the beginning. Giuseppe just showed me a picture and told me, "yellow." They don't distinguish different kinds of mugnole around here, "they're all mugnole," I was told.

I was terrifically excited when I first found them. I came home with a whole basketful, loaded with this big, dome-shaped boletes with twigs (rametti) glued to the caps (pellicini.)

Some varieties are tastier than others, especially the ones with the red netting that stain slightly blue. The ones I picked had a mild flavor when cooked. Unfortunately, glue from the caps tends to leak into whatever sauce you make, turning them into what some people called "snails."

Carduncellu: from ndu c'e' lu cardu, meaning "where the cardu is." Said in a circle, "ndu c'e' lu cardu ndu c'e' lu cardu..." you recover the name. Cardu is a thistle-like plant that grows in the steppes. The carduncelli, part of the genus pleurotus, grow in the dirt nearby it. The mushrooms blend in completely with the rocks.

He would point out similar looking mushrooms. "Check these out. See that the gills don't go down the stem? You want gills that go down the stem." But once I knew what I was looking for it was easy.

"You have the eye," he said.

People had visited the steppe before us. We know that because the previous folks took care to preserve the little mushrooms. Next to them, though, were the cleanly cut stumps. They must have come that morning. Carduncelli can fetch twenty to forty euros a kilo, which is a fine price. No wonder people hunt them.

Jo took me all around the steppe. He knew every little spot. "Walk towards the fence, and then walk parallel to it, about four meters away. Go for a while and you'll find a good spot." He was right most of the time. "You can walk for ages here and not find anything. You have to know where to look. I've walked around here for days and days. If it weren't so late we could go all around."

He brought up Giuseppe. "He's a character, huh," he told me. They had had a falling out, apparently Giuseppe got a bit too brusque with him one day. But they're back to being friends.

I know that Giuseppe can be like that. He's mostly kind, but I've seen that side of him too. Beside his considerate and friendly side is also an unfair side, a blameful side. You see this when he's stressed.

I told him that's how I felt about Francesca, but times a million. He knew her, said she came over for dinner once at Piccapane. He remembered that she had had cancer. I always found that strange about her. I thought that after 20 years of yoga, and having had cancer, she'd have softened up somewhat. But I don't know if I've ever met such a cold and hard berson before.

We even hunted for the carduncelli after dark. Jo brought out headlamps and handlamps and we scoured the field for thirty minutes before finally packing in.

On an evening I went to Jo's house to eat them. He had been cooking them in a pignata (terra cotta pot) by the fire for hours. He added green onions, a tiny tomato, origano, and some water. We ate them with our eyes closed.

Sanguignu: from sangue meaning "blood." When you cut them, bloody latex (latice) oozes out of the mushroom flesh.

Pietro was the first to show this to me on our trip through Parco dei Fossili. He had found a tiny one and the book was unambiguous about its identity: lactarius deliciosus.

Tiziana had mentioned that her husband found them. She showed me a picture. Ochre, orange, green, a whole basketful. She said they're better than meat.

Pietro didn't remember where he found it, so we walked through most of the park again. We found a lot of them this time, but they were a little older and drier this time. The blood had changed color to purple. We took them anyway.

No one would touch them but me. I simply trusted the book. I cooked them in a little olive oil and garlic. The flavor was on-point.

Watercolor, January 29 2020

Taking some inspiration from a YouTube video on drawing fish, a few images of boletes, and flowers from a watercolor book.

Inspired images from around the room. Loose coloring. Careless drawing. Just for fun.