Table of Contents


At Naropa I studied calligraphy. I lived in Boulder all through the 80s. The whole time I was living there, I found ways to keep a foot on the ground outside TH and Harmonizing. Two spots were especially helpful in this regard: Mataam Fez and Naropa University.

The great hands. Not Tibetan calligraphy, though they did teach that; mainstream Western calligraphy. Over the course of a year I did a cycle of classes that moved through the great European hands in historical order: Roman capitals, Roman rustics, uncials & half uncials, carolingian, gothic blackletter, rotunda, humanist & italic. Barbara Bash was an excellent teacher: clear, encouraging, demanding, and humble. She's also a world-class calligrapher, among her many talents.

Apprenticeship. After I finished the yearlong cycle, I took on an apprenticeship of sorts: I volunteered to design flyers for all-campus lectures given by Naropa faculty and visiting dignitaries of Buddhist studies. These happened several times a week, so I got lots of practice. At the time I was considering calligraphy as a part-time career. I did try that for a while, but soon realized I don't have much talent for graphic design. But I had fun at Naropa, and developed an artistic skill at a very basic level of proficiency.

Real value. Between the classes and the apprenticeship I spent a lot of time at Naropa, giving myself the freedom to do something that had nothing to do with TH. It also let me develop friendships outside TH's community. These were the real value of the time I spent at Naropa.

Barbara taught us that letterforms should never be so extreme as to obscure the content. Calligraphy is an empty art. That's a contradiction in terms, in my understanding of art; it's not noble. So maybe craft's a better word. Calligraphy is decorative, and decoration by definition has no content; the content is whatever gets decorated. The content of calligraphy is the message someone cares so much about that they take the extra step of illuminating it with calligraphy, whether that someone is the calligrapher or a client.

I gave all my calligraphic tools and supplies to the local guild years ago. When I was studying calligraphy, I didn't care about the message; I was just interested in the skill, the techniques of illumination. Now I don't care about verbal messages at all, and I'm no longer interested in calligraphy or decoration of any kind.

I'm just me, and I care about certain people. How can a writer not care about verbal messages? The answer is in the word care. If I care about something I'm engaged with it, actively involved. I do my best not to care, in that sense, about things, events, or messages; I only care about people, and only a very few people at that: the important people in my life. To put it in Buddhist terms, caring is the same as attachment. If I were a good Buddhist I wouldn't care about people either, in that sense. But I'm not any kind of Buddhist, or anything else. I'm not religious.

I care about people I'm connected with, close friends and lovers. If there's love or deep friendship between me and someone, that forges a connection reaching way down into my wisdom, down to who I really am, for as long as that love or friendship lasts. Of course I'm attached to those people; it's a normal and inevitable aspect of any such relationship. When I grow apart from someone, that attachment goes away quite naturally. Being attached to my lover is not an issue I need to work on, it takes care of itself in a healthy relationship. All of that is true as far as it goes. It fails to address two things: the potential usefulness of messages, and the right way to treat my fellow humans.

Valuable messages. I've found certain messages useful. Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know was useful; so was Atman is Brahman. However, these were useful because I very actively sought them out in a period of intense inner work, soul-searching and meditation, not because someone illuminated them. I don't see a value in the decoration of wisdom. The readiness of the seeker is everything.

Suffering. All my fellow humans are suffering, whatever their outward situation. I need to remember that and embody it. That gives rise to compassion, kindness, friendliness, and respect. All these virtues are about the right way to treat all people, including the ones I'm connected with. I would add good manners to that list. I guess that's highbrow, but it's true for me.