In the midst of trying to sort out a third epistle about the protocols of estrangement, I found myself sinking in quicksand. This despite the fact that I had already written the epistle in question and felt quite satisfied with it.
But when one of my confidantes questioned the way it was written, suggesting it might have implications for everything I might address in the realm of estrangement, she handed me some rethinking to do. [Details of these concerns are addressed in Estrangement Protocols Part III, featured in this issue of the Keyboard, No. 19.] So, as I started rewriting that epistle and considered the subsequent epistles I envision on this topic, I began to wonder if I really wanted to space these out over time. I see five more—three of them personal and two others, while not impersonal, that would lie more in the arena of the speculative and philosophical. Ah, I thought of them as a package. Perhaps I would call it an estrangement “shindig.” And I would change the tone ... perhaps it would extend to the blog as a whole. Yes, yes, I thought, eager to be on my way. And yet, nothing happened. I often have this kind of experience when writing for this blog. I think I know what I am going to do (for instance, compose a shindig) but I am totally stymied. I put time aside to write and then fritter it away as I condemn myself for wandering far afield. I wish I were better at being gentle and patient with myself.
As I sat with this reading for a couple of days, it quickly became evident that it had little to do with the question I was attempting to pose. Ah, that question was of little account. This demanded a radical change in the way I am approaching this blog. Ah, but where? How?
Finally I decided I would consult the oracle known in the West as the I Ching, the Chinese Book of Changes. I am so familiar with it I seldom sit down for a consultation. Once in a while as I contemplate my situation a particular reading comes to mind, and I think Oh, yes, that hits the target! But when I do consult the oracle I usually start out by filling a page with concerns I have on the subject, trusting that an exact question will appear. But not on this day. The question suddenly seemed foolish, too simple. I was on the verge of abandoning this probe but wrote down impulsively, Shindig or Dribbling Out? –and grabbed my coins.
Throwing three coins six times, out came the heading: Hexagram 49, water over fire: Radical Change, so titled by one of my favorite translators, Hilary Barrett. Almost literally, fire in the lake. Shades of my early years, when I repeatedly met up with this hexagram (called Revolution, Molting, by the Wilhelm version I was using). I yearned for revolution then, and these readings always excited me. But it just seemed that the best I could hope for was a bit of molting. Not very pretty, being surrounded by one’s own discarded, molted feathers.
As I sat with this reading for a couple of days, it quickly became evident that it had little to do with the question I was attempting to pose. Ah, that question was of little account. This demanded a radical change in the way I am approaching this blog. Ah, but where? How? From my experience with the I Ching, I knew I would have to be content with waiting, not knowing. I resigned myself to settle in, and then something I had discarded crept back into my mind. I kept trying to discard it, but it would not go away.
Now I don’t mean to suggest that the I Ching was simply transferring emphasis from estrangement to Black lives. Let us say it is advising me to honor the material that presents itself as appropriate subject matter. And yet it is deeper, even more enigmatic than that. May I learn to be better attuned to the essence of Radical Change.
On occasion when I am enumerating my “higher powers”—are there six? Seven? Eight? —I neglect to include the I Ching. Still it functions, without resentment, as a higher power. And a single session can evolve into a profound meditation.