i have a project for you.
(*actual solicitation email once found in James’ spam folder)
JAMES: So, thanks for volunteering me to write this newsletter with you.
JEFF: No problem. I missed you. Doing work for me.
JAMES: Miss you too. Got to say, the best thing about this CEC business, has been doing it with you. This January is our tenth anniversary, right? Hard to believe. Here’s a new animation about that.
JEFF: About how we turned a ramshackle house in Kensington Market …
JAMES: …into a meditation dojo for dancing misfits?
JEFF: I think we’ve found our new mission statement.
JAMES: Speaking of missions … Kwong.
JEFF: How could I forget? You’ve been forwarding and re-forwarding me his email for years.
JAMES: That’s because with Kwong, you can never step into the same project twice. And it fits well with the theme for December, our favourite CEC month: “Fuck it”.
JEFF: Yes. Rescue me please from my precious pieties and grown-up self-regard.
JAMES: And all the hand-wringing about “getting it right.” The tut-tutting on meditation postures and the microschools of thought on which subcontinental strand of Buddhism is most pure.
JEFF: Truly: Fuck it.
JAMES: Indeed my good man. How should we go about describing this particular practice? What would Kwong do?
Project 1: Find the Absurdity
“I’m sick of following my dreams. I’m just gonna ask them where they’re going and catch up with them later.” – Mitch Hedberg
JEFF: I guess this is step one? Shock ourselves out of consensus propriety? We often get so busy conforming to self-/societal expectations that we forget the pleasures of being ridiculous.
JAMES: Reminds me of driving my grandmother, too frail to stand alone, into the city. We stopped at a traffic light, and there were two people waiting to cross, and she said “Why are they just standing there? If that was me again, I would be dancing.”
JEFF: She was deep Kwong.
JAMES: Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s Kwong.
JEFF: You’re going to insist on keeping that in there, right?
JAMES: Of course. It’s the best line we have.
JEFF: So how do we unhook, when the habit of business-as-usual is so strong?
JAMES: The prompts are all around. We actively look for the joke that will surprise us into a wider field of possibility. At least for a second. That’s why we love comedians.
JEFF: They’re like ambassadors from the unconditioned.
KWONG: Your homework, should you choose to accept it, is write a one-minute stand-up comedy routine about the ridiculousness of this exact moment.
Project 2: Destroy the Mandala
“Hint: the cage is not locked” – Nova Knutson
JAMES: So, step one: shock yourself out of the illusion, by finding something hilarious. What’s next?
JEFF: Be willing to start over. Again and again. Basically the heart of meditation. Like the Tibetan mandala that gets built grain by grain, and then wiped off the table to make way for something new.
JAMES: That’s why my inspiration as a kid was Kurt Cobain smashing his guitar, then ramming it into the amp. Not rich Kurt, but the one who was sleeping in the van with Dave and Kris, because they had to spend what little money they made on new gear every show.
JEFF: Leap into the drum kit and it will reappear. My biggest experience of this was trying for years to write a book for Random House that kept going off in a million ADD directions, so that year after year I got further and further away from my goal and I was losing my mind and it was killing me.
JAMES: I remember your working title: Falling Upwards Together Through Causality. That almost killed ME. Anyway, you did eventually decide to give up.
JEFF: Even though I was broke with no plan and no job and no clue what I would do with my days. Telling the publisher I couldn’t finish was like stepping off a cliff. I was ashamed and terrified and defeated.
JAMES: Then what happened?
JEFF: Life happened, now that the way was clear. A few months later I got invited to write a totally different book, and my existence went in a new direction. Letting go of my fixation made room for opportunity. Another way of saying this is: go get defeated. Make sure it’s a real disaster.
JAMES: I gotta say, even though that time was hard to watch as a friend, you left me with what I consider your deepest teaching: a writer should never work more than 45 minutes a day.
JEFF: Kwong level: unlocked.
KWONG: Your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to wipe one precious thing off the table to make room for something new.(Don’t spend more than 45 minutes on this. Or anything.)
Project 3: Proceed With Love
“You can hold yourself back from the suffering of the world, but maybe this holding back is the one suffering you can avoid” – Franz Kafka
JEFF: Can I ask you a personal question?
JEFF: You work in ERs in Canada and Ethiopia and Sudan. How do you go back in every day, when it looks like everything is falling apart?
JEFF: Let’s call it celebrating life.
JAMES: The best way we know how. Take the CEC. At first it was just a few of us sitting on the floor, imagining how great it would be to have community that didn’t only meet at the local bar. So what did we do?
JEFF: Met at the local bar to discuss! Came up with our mission: Meditate. Celebrate. Activate. I became a truly terrible meditator DJ, and you started wearing a gold lamé bodysuit to church.
JAMES: May I break form and risk sincerity?
JAMES: I also try to connect to something bigger. Literally. With MSF I was leaving the field with no plan to help the people left behind, so some Ethiopian friends and I started training emergency doctors and nurses in Addis Ababa. Now those graduates have started their own training programs. Bigger graduation parties. See, it is about parties.
JEFF: Not too many parties happening right now though, with all this Covid Groundhog Day looping around and around. We’ve got none of the usual distractions and escapes and liberties. Feeling far away from family and friends. I’m finding it hard to get motivated to do anything other than work.
JAMES: I feel it too. Still holding to my line, though. Look at the conversations happening now. Taking care of the elderly. Housing for the most vulnerable. Supporting small businesses.
JEFF: Universal basic income. The Green New Deal. Way more discussion of mental health.
JAMES: Maybe we’re rediscovering who we are. Maybe the people we meet on the other side of this are going to be just….cooler.
JEFF: So not “Fuck it, I give up,” but “Fuck it, let’s just go for it.”
JAMES: Exactly. Now’s the time. Bet it all. The body doesn’t ask whether or when it should heal your skin back together. It just proceeds. “Hey! Fibroblast! Let’s do this thing.”
JEFF: I have no idea what a fibroblast is, but maybe we don’t need to figure everything out. Maybe we mostly need to trust in the forward movement of our love, our service, our joy …
JAMES … our jack-assery, our ridiculousness … our friends.
JEFF: Always friends.
JAMES: Thanks for walking with me, brother.
JEFF: I love you James.
JAMES: I love you Jeff.
KWONG: Correct. Your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to proceed with love. Also I recommend finding a good project.
Ten more years, yo!
“Hard times require furious dancing”
– Alice Walker