A Modern Odyssey of Vocation by Rusty Kjarvik
Essay for “Book that Changed my Life” segment on The Drunken Odyssey with John King, written for the book of Nikos Kazantzakis, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel
I was 18 years old, returning to my mother’s south shore home in Massachusetts after my first few months away at university. It began one evening, at the end of a series of meditations, where, motionless, I re-conceived the magic psalms of Ginsberg’s elemental void, the enlightened palms of Snyder’s versified mudras and the delicate alms of Kerouac’s prosaic spontaneity. In the pitch darkness, I wrote, “Tat Tvam Asi” on the wall with my trusty writing pencil. “You are it!” translated Alan Watts, whose English clarity rung through my mind with echoing resonance, reverberating interminably to the next day, when I had read every word on my bookshelf and sought more.
I set out, to the library of my Greek-Jewish Romaniote grandfather; whose literary meditations on the healing properties of the written word had sent him unscathed from World War II to the centenarian desk. There he sat, with a penknife shakily opening letters as his Polack Jewess wife screamed from the downstairs banister. “Take whatever you want!” He spoke over the long-winded cacophony of domestic affairs. In the name Kazantzakis, I saw another Greek, an ancestral voice unperturbed by the walled house.
In a moment of intuition, scanning through the compendium of classics, I chose The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel. Crouched inside my off-white walls, completely bare if not for the Sanskrit scribble and a prized first draft poem hanging deliriously like a whitewashed door of perception. I began reading everything – the copyright date, the ISBN code, and every insignificant character in between.
Smashed skulls, bespattered bowels and upended spines weaned my consciousness from a walled indoor adolescence. My mind voyaged onward into the travails of a maturing intellect. Spawned with a Greek flair for disinhibiting fleshly experience, I read with a burning momentum. I needed to feel each word pulsate its rhythms of modern wisdom into every minutiae of my being. I began reciting, with the quickening taste of the classical orator, moved by the enigmatic grandeur of such literary quality. Soon, it was dusk, and the tired footsteps of my stepfather climbed the stairs to rest his weary skull on a pillow of televised static.
Reading, reciting, orating, on and on and into my pores sunk the blood of the fallen men and raped women, and from my nostrils leaked the icy salt of the Mediterranean seas. I wept with unspoken clarity for the emotional barbarism of modern spiritual greed!
At a break in the violent awe, I spoke sweet lines of sexual camaraderie. Women’s voices formed on my dry tongue as the fecund prosperity of mortal despair. In those tempestuous rhythms, my drunken brother stumbled longingly upstairs to lust in the barfly haven of suburban coitus.
Undeceived, unwilling to desist, I read on, with soft muttering in the depths of red twilight as Morpheus, the Greek god of sleep, laid the house to rest. In my empty hollow, I swam to the subterranean netherworlds of the creative subconscious. Emerging, still as ever, with the light of morning, my mother’s knock could not startle my ever-strengthening concentration.
I savored each of the 33,333 17-syllable verses as a ripe, freshly picked Kalamata olive, cleansing my palate, as with my cognitive sensibility. The unique versification of Kazantzakis’ voice led me onward into the depths of creative literacy, as I relished on his startlingly characteristic use of nouns, at once subjectively descriptive, while aesthetically presented with the definitive tone of proverbial lists. His “Cretan glance” remains unmatched in modern literature, evoking the spirit of the Mediterranean as an invocation to the deified ancestral hearth of earthly humanity: the book.
On reading the final character, I threw the book into the air and sprang from my narrowing walls before the book crashed onto an unlit lamp. Visiting relatives, weakly frightened, noticed my sorry state, and their misguided sympathies amplified under the crushing noise of broken glass.
After being handed a Greek salad, to end my bookish fast, I greeted my grandfather, whose smile shone with mutual respect and ancestral fraternity, as two men of pure literacy. Outside, a childhood friend stood to greet me. We had not seen each other since pre-pubescence. Her eyes, crooked, observed my own downward slant into the abnormal body of creative tradition. I was not mad, I was not sane, and yet, from that moment, her eyes told me what she could not. I was rapt, eternally in the powerful vocation of the word of silence and thought.
Also taken during the Calgary flood, the image intends to capture the vibrant and intense presence of water, and the Bow River more specifically, entering our daily lives. What was once an anthropocentric, urban reality has become a very real connection to the presence and power of nature in her greatest manifestation. We cannot now go about our daily lives, nor even cross the street as this picture conveys, without being at least somewhat submerged in the omnipresence of the natural environment.
"Journeys end in lovers' meeting" wrote Shakespeare in the comedy, Twelfth Night. All the more so when the journeying are lovers of music! And so, the saying, "I'll see you on the other side" is expressed in the pure creativity of Earth and Sky, of rhythm and wind, of bone and breath, wherein musicians enter and emerge from the collective realm of collaborative unity through the essence of sound as beat, melody and harmony.
And in the above recording, a serendipitous connection forms between two lovers of music across the expanse of the Atlantic sea. From Barcelona to Boston to Calgary to Vietnam, windswept and travelling to the Chinatown home of two artist-seers of sound and light, we anchored our minds in the vast breadth of the true love that rests in our hearts. Improvising on the rhythmic influences of African blues, intermingled with Cuban folk music and original hymns of Catalonia through the instrumentations of guitar and voice (El Toubab), zheng (Vi An), together with my xaphoon and percussion.
The recording above represents one of the larger productions and mixings that I have engineered through collaboration, as opposed to my solo project, Mister E. Menachem. At first, I was inspired to reach back through the catalogue of recorded memory through field recordings of concerts, jams, cafe moods and late-night stirrings. Listen below for a collection of such recordings. Their wealth of emergent intonation in the voice of a flowering mind speaks tales and tomes of innocence and experience, of the extrovert amateur and introspective auteur, of the public artist and private dreamer.
After reflecting on the raw grit of creativity in the burgeoning flesh of a new community, a new movement, an incipient birth of open life, we see the whole society unvarnished. As the economy becomes more and more a blasphemous term of bitter and cold forewarning, the heart deepens and the mind sharpens. Look around. In every corner of the world there are shadows. Gold and oil are self-destructing through a mutual phase-out, blurred by irrelevance.
Each and every one has, and are part of, only one life. As I wrote in the essay, A Modern Odyssey of Vocation, "I was not mad, I was not sane, and yet, from that moment, her eyes told me what she could not. I was rapt, eternally in the powerful vocation of the word of silence and thought." SoJourn(al) is an offering of time to explore the inner space (the dream space) where the natural watercourse way of existence merges with the choice to be in unity with all of creation; the way of the wise fool, the blind seer, and the musician...of silence.