Monday, September 27, 2010

An Interview With George of Transit Notes

The next  interviewee in this feature series is George of Transit Notes.  As you will discover, George is a man of extraordinary talent,  gentle wisdom, a strong intellect and a generous spirit.  Every one of his posts is a tour-de-force.  Mere descriptions cannot not do his blog justice, you must experience it for yourself.  You will find a link enabling you to do just that, at the end of the interview.

Just to change things up a bit, George has agreed to opening the questions up to YOU the readers, after you read the interview.  If there is something in particular you would like to ask him when you comment, he will answer questions in the comment section here.

(Images that accompany this interview were photographed and/or painted by George.  You will find titles and details of his works on his blog.)

I invite you now to read and enjoy:

George, could you give us a brief overview of who you are, where you live, current interests or preoccupations?

Prior to retiring in my early fifties, I was a practicing lawyer in Washington, D.C., where I lived for twenty-five years. After retirement, my wife and I moved to an area known as the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which is part of the Delmarva Peninsula, just east of the Chesapeake Bay. My current interests are essentially the great passions that have always driven my life, even during my years of practicing law — reading, philosophy, the creative arts, travel, spiritual growth, and physical challenges.

Could you name a couple of your strengths?

My principal strength is the self-discipline to to whatever is required to achieve the goals I establish for myself. Secondly, I think I have what Keats called "negative capability," which is the essentially the ability to move forward in one's life, confidently and creatively, without being paralyzed by uncertainties, doubts, and fears.

And how about one weakness.

Thanks for limiting your request to just one. I would say it's the inability to enjoy myself in the company of people with whom I have nothing in common.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Overcoming the conditioning of my childhood in the American South and discovering that the world holds wonderful and infinite possibilities for the questing heart.

In your sidebar you reveal that you are a lawyer. What can you tell us about your lawyering days?

For most of my legal career, I specialized in energy law, working out of my own small law firm in Washington. I have nothing but gratitude for the opportunities I was given and the support I received during that phase of my life. The great joys of my life, however, have always been found outside of the trappings of my chosen profession.

When did you first become interested in Zen? Would you share a bit about how your Zen training manifests in your everyday life?

At some point in the late sixties, I came across a mind-shifting book, titled "The Wisdom of Insecurity," by the Zen philosopher, Alan Watts. The thrust of the book is that all insecurity and anxiety is based upon the false premise that there is something that we can do in this world to make ourselves secure. Everything we value, however — our status, our possessions, our achievements, and ultimately our lives and the lives of those we love — is impermanent. When this is accepted, argued Watts, the insecurity vanishes. It was one of those paradoxes that resonated with me in the sixties, and continues to do so.

I have not had any formal Zen training. My knowledge of Zen has come from books and observations of those who seem to embody the essence of Zen, whether they are aware of it or not. As for the impact of Zen in my everyday life, I can only say that I am still a work in progress. Compared to earlier years, however, I feel that I am now more capable of living in the present moment without the mind-numbing need to judge everything as either good or bad. To some extent — and, again, I'm still working on it — I have developed the ability to step away from my ego, which I regard as highly untrustworthy, and to simply be a witness to what is happening in my life. I no longer feel the need to resist everything that offends my ego. "Let it be, let it be," as John Lennon reminded us.

Please tell us about your Zen Master?
That would be my yellow lab, Derry, and, facetious though it may seem, dogs have much to teach us about the best way to encounter life. They eat, they play, they rest, they do not become preoccupied with thought — and most importantly, they live in neither the past of the future. They are always living in the present moment — in the here and now — as, indeed, we should all be.

What quality do you value most in your human friends?

Intimacy and honesty — the ability to be forthcoming about the truth of one's own life, and the ability to listen to, and be compassionate with, the truth of other lives.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

It's difficult for me to answer this question by identifying a particular trait that I would like to change. I am primarily concerned with the ongoing process of changing the way that I see things — breaking through the conditioning of my childhood and my culture, breaking through the illusions that a terrified mankind has created to avoid an encounter with reality.

You are clearly a lover of poetry. Please tell us about the origins of that love.

Like others, I studied poetry in high school and college, but processed it through my mind as nothing more than an academic requirement. At some point in my early twenties, however, I discovered that poetry relieved the loneliness I was feeling as I attempted to sort through a wide array of existential questions on the path to adulthood. The voices of poetry became my friends, my confidants, my trusted advisors. Poetry reassured me then, as it reassures me now, that I am not alone in this sometimes perilous journey, where the ground is always shifting, and where we are always, as T.E. Eliot says, "wavering between the profit and the loss in this brief transit where dreams cross."

George, your sidebar is lined with your own stunning abstract paintings. When did you start painting and have any been featured publicly apart from on your blog?

I began painting — and studying painting intensely — about thirteen or fourteen years ago. Until fairly recently, I painted three or four days per week, maintained a rented art studio, and displayed my paintings at a few galleries, the most important of which was a co-op gallery in which I was an active participant. While I will return to painting soon, I am now spending relatively more time with writing and photography.

You are also an excellent photographer. Does photography rank up there with your love of painting?

Thank you being so kind. I'm not inclined to rank one over the other. My passion is for expression through the creative process. Sometimes I am called to painting; sometimes I am called to photography; sometimes I am called to writing. I just try to dance with it, avoiding any need to establish myself exclusively as "a painter," "a photographer," "a writer," or anything else. Again, it's all about creative expression for me — nothing more and nothing less.

Changing topics again, what do you consider the most over-rated virtue?

There are so many that it's hard to choose. Perhaps it would be something like success or achievement. Somewhere in the dusty bins of my memory is a quote to this effect: "I would rather be a man of value than a man of success." That's something I have always agreed with.

Which living person do you most admire?

The first name that comes to mind in the Dalai Lama. I'm sure I could think of others, but they would all be people who have resisted cultural materialism and conducted their lives with a higher consciousness.

 Is there a historical figure, or a figure from literature, you identify with?

I've always identified with the character of Larry Darrell in W. Somerset Maugham's excellent novel, "The Razor's Edge."

How do you play?

I try to bring a spirit of play to everything I do. I also find play in just wandering through cities or countrysides with curious eyes and a receptive heart — no agenda — just being "at play in the fields of the Lord," to use the title of a book by Peter Matthiessen, another Zen practitioner.

How do you attend to your spiritual needs?

Solitude, stillness, and listening — finding a quiet, beautiful place that keeps me anchored in gratitude.

Is there one thing you wish you had learned or discovered earlier in your life?

This is difficult to answer because I don't dwell too much on what might have been in the past. More to the point, it seems to me that what is truly important could not have been learned or discovered earlier in life. I needed the ignorance, the inexperience, the pain, and the fear. These were the conditions that energized me, the conditions that launched the quest. Everything plays a role, doesn't it? At this point, it seems to me that the comforting fullness of age could not be experienced without the emptiness of youth.

What do you still want to learn?

I just want to learn — learn, learn, learn — period! Learn about others, learn about myself, learn about the weaknesses and strengths of human beings, learn how to keep my ego under control, learn what things are beyond learning . . . the list is endless. Mainly, I want to continue to break through the myriad layers of cultural conditioning that limit true sight. I want to see what a human being is capable of seeing — and then accept the ineffable mystery of everything that lies beyond our grasp.

In the midst of so much mystery, how do you make your life meaningful?

While I can be as cynical as anyone, I can't escape the belief that my life is — and always has been — meaningful. I simply believe that my little bag of cells is making a small but meaningful contribution in the larger scheme of things — in the slow but certain evolution of life. My task, as I see it, is to live authentically, to be me and no one else, and to evolve in some small way that could possibly improve the future of those who follow us.

What is your greatest fear?

Gorillas. I've never recovered from my childhood experience with "King Kong." More seriously, I guess that my greatest fear would be some type of incapacity that would threaten my ability to fully experience the joys of life. Consistent with my philosophy of life, I certainly hope that I will be able to gracefully accept whatever comes my way, even if it severely limits my external abilities. On the whole, however, I think that I am relatively free of fear — assuming, of course, that I am within striking distance of a good bistro that does not permit gorillas.

So I take it we should not come knocking on your door October 31st costumed in a gorilla suit!
George, what sustains you through difficult times?

Gratitude and the knowledge that I have always made it through difficult times in the past. Without being too theological about it, I walk through life with a core feeling that my life is unfolding in the way that it should, a way that is written on the wind, through what is written is often incomprehensible to me. I feel somehow that all will be well — eventually, all will be well. My challenge is simply to ignore the ego, which is always trying to persuade me otherwise.

What two or three pieces of advice would you give to a young person just starting out?

First, understand that the greatest enemy you will face in the world is your conditioned mind. Conquer the conditioned mind and you will able to conquer everything else in life. Second, live an authentic life and live it passionately. There is no other voice like yours, and the universe wants to hear it sing. Finally, don't be afraid to be an iconoclast. We live in a world of illusions — illusions about power, illusions about money, illusions about the nature of the divine, and myriad other illusions. Feel free to cast stones at those illusions. That which is false in life will collapse; that which is true will applaud you for your courage and audacity.

What brought you to blogging?

While doing research on a coast-to-coast trek across England, which I completed in June of this year, I came across our friend Robert's blog, "The Solitary Walker," and found myself delighted by Robert's intelligence, the scope of his interests, the quality of his writing, and the types of things he was writing about. That prompted me to follow through by checking out some of the blogs he read on a regular basis, and that, in turn, led to the discovery of a community of like-minded friends who I have been searching for all of my life. I never expected to place so much importance on electronic communications, but blogging, I'm forced to admit, has turned out to be a great and unadulterated joy.

What keeps you blogging?

People like you — people who are growing, people who reach out to others, people who love to play with words, images, and ideas, people who are willing to express their lives honestly and creatively. Underpinning all of this are the friendships among fellow bloggers, friendships that, in my case, are as valuable as any I have ever had in my life.

It IS the people we encounter that really make this blogging endeavor worthwhile! 
What have you learned from the experience of blogging?

The most important thing I've learned from blogging is that there are more interesting people in the world than I knew previously. I've also learned that one can find friendship and sustenance outside of one's own local community.

What is the one thing about you that would surprise readers of your blog?

I haven't the faintest idea. Perhaps it would be that George — the forceful advocate of breaking free of cultural restraints and other types of mental conditioning — does not like sushi.
OMG, I'm not sure we can be BFF if you don't like sushi  :-)  ... but back to our questions:
What two books would you recommend to readers of your blog?

Off the top of my head, I would say, first, the "Tao Te Ching." Read it now and regularly for the rest of one's life. Second, I would recommend the novel mentioned earlier, "The Razor's Edge," by W. Somerset Maugham. The Maugham novel is not only a beautifully written book; it is also a novel of deep philosophical questioning. One cannot read it without having profound questions about the relationship between the spirit and the material seductions of the modern world.

What is your favorite word?

The first words that come to mind are "transcendent," "mystical," "iconoclastic" — all for obvious symbolic reasons. I also like some words for their musical value — "bistro" and "trattoria," for example. Having just said that, I can see that these words also have symbolic value for me. I'm suddenly experiencing the onset of hunger.

What is your least favorite word?

This is the easiest question to answer thus far. It would be that word — shall we say the other "f" word — that is often used to describe flatulence and older people. Where this comes from, I don't know, but I really recoil from this word. As a runner-up in this category, I would suggest "blog," which, to my ear, is a harsh-sounding, hard-edged word for what is basically an online journal or scrapbook. 

What sound or noise do you love?

Small wind chimes, perhaps, with their mystical tinkling. I also love the deep moan of my Zen Master, Derry, as she roles over on her side and goes to sleep at my feet.

What sound or noise to you hate? 

It's the monotonous sound of unwatched televisions that are left on in gyms, bars, and many homes.

What question have I neglected to ask that would have given readers more insight into who you are?

I think you have done a masterful job, Bonnie, so masterful that I may be forced to leave the country after this is published. Speaking of another country, however, it occurs to me that one question that might have been asked is whether there is any country or region other than my own where I might be more comfortable living, given my temperament, interests, and passions?"

And the answer to that question?

Since first traveling to Europe forty-seven years ago, I have felt that I would be more comfortable philosophically and culturally living in a European country, with France and Italy being at the top of my list. Perhaps it's just the romantic in me, but I suspect it goes deeper.

Thank you George for sharing so much about your life and philosophy, as well as a few pieces of your artistic creations with us.  To discover even more about George, visit his blog Transit Notes by clicking here.

George has agreed to grace us with some responses to your comments and questions.

Stay tuned, more interviews on the way!


  1. i was going to do a gorilla impression but it did not look right..smiles. george wounds like a real down to earth guy...think i will pop over to his place and check him out..

  2. I've been looking forward to your interview with George, Bonnie, for George is a person who creates peace and balance around him. I feel it at his blog, and I feel it here in his responses to your good and playful questions. There is clearly such a rapport between the two of you, even on the computer screen, that this was a real treat.

    George, your photographs, your paintings, your aesthetic sense altogether, and your physical as well as spiritual journeys are a privilege to witness. I'm terribly grateful you entered the blog world, because you bring to it an impeccable standard of excellence. I have always felt you needed to be discovered by more readers, and I hope that will be a result of this interview.

    Bravo to the two of you!

  3. First, I want to thank you, Bonnie, for your generosity and kind words. This has been a great deal of fun, and I am honored that your selected me as one of your interviewees. And, yes, I may reconsider the use of that other "f" word, given the problems I was having with Blogger last week.

    Brian, thanks for avoiding the gorilla imitation; I'm still in recovery from watching King Kong at a midnight show when I was quite young. I hope you will find something of interest on my blog.

    Ruth, what can I say? I am genuinely humbled just to be in the company of such interesting people — you, Bonnie, and the other bloggers who we follow day to day. What I said in the interview is sincerely felt; I have never met so many people with whom I seem to have so much in common. It's a joy and a privilege to correspond with all of you, and I look forward to participating more in this enriching new adventure.

  4. I just want to say, George, that I find that first photo of you an apt metaphor for your life. I can't tell whether the path shown has already been traveled, or if you will turn and hike onward. Either way, I believe you have come far, and I wish you a satisfying journey until you reach your destination. Maybe that could be my question - are you coming or going in the photo?

  5. A wonderful interview/conversation between two of my favorite bloggers. The interview rounds out my vision of what I so much appreciate in Tranist Notes, George's questing and questioning spirit, artistic talent with his camera and paintings, cogent essay writing, philosophical restlessness and playfulness, I could go on and on, but I just love a person who can consitently act so convinced that there are epiphanies to be found and 'sacred' moments to be achieved by the mere acting of contemplating the beauty around us (be it a dragonfly, stones in a stream, reflections in a harbor...), yet at the same time refuses to take himself so seriously that he cannot poke fun at himself and nudge his friends playfully too. Wow, that is the biggest run-on sentence I have put together in a while, but I really do find George's blog inspiring, consistently inspiring, and enthusiastically recommend it to others. And the best part is, that I just met him a few short months ago. This is just beginning...

  6. I have just met George recently through your work, Bonnie. What a delightful combination of discipline (certainly of his mind and energy) and artistic expression. His continuing journey, along with that ability to focus and let go simultaneously, makes he and his work always a worthwhile visit. Thanks again for your work, Bonnie; and to you for your unique contribution to this world, George! Best to you. EFH

  7. BARB — Thank you so much for the lovely comments and the good wishes. As I hope you know, I am always inspired by the beauty and wisdom I find on your site, "Live and Learn," which always leaves me wondering why I am not living in Colorado.

    I like to think of the road or the path as a metaphor for my life, and perhaps that's what I had in mind when I provided this photo to Bonnie as part of the interview. This photo was taken in the Lake District on the third day of my recent coast-to-coast hike across England. I am standing in an area near Honnister and headed down to the magnificent Borrowdale Valley.

    LORENZO — Thank you for your generous comments. From the first day that I embarked upon this enterprise, I have been inspired by the extraordinary quality of the prose, the poetry, and the many other wonders that I find weekly on your wonderful blog, "The Alchemist's Pillow." Upon first reading your poems, I was shocked that such fine writing could be found in a blog, and that discovery is one of the things that has propelled me forward to discover other online poets, including Ruth and Juie. Finally, I think I speak on behalf of many blogger friends when I say that you, like Bonnie, are one of the generous spirits who continue to energize and improve the blogging community. Thanks so much for your support.

  8. KENT — Thanks for your kind and generous comments. Through the remarkably effort that Bonnie has made to introduce her blogging friends to one another, I have recently discovered your blog, "Expat From Hell," and I'm really enjoying what I find there. I find your writing to be trenchant and heart-felt, but, more importantly, I find it to be viscerally honest. I look forward to keeping up with your journey as I continue with mine.

  9. George, this is the first time I have met you but it most certainly will not be the last.
    There are answers in your interview which could have been mine, had I given more thought to my own interview, or were I capable of taking blogging and everything to do with blogging more seriously.

    So much of what you say resonates with me and I admire you tremendously for being able to voice it in this medium, seriously, calmly,
    thoughtfully and intelligently.

    I would love to have you for a friend, with whom to debate the great questions of existence. For now, for real and probably for good, visiting your blog will have to suffice.


    Amazing interview Bonnie, I so love this concept. And George, I Loved learning about you and I so appreciate and admire your artistry and philosophy and shared wisdom. I sense the 'conditioning' of which you write was powerful in it's impact on you. I too know the power of conditioning. Although I now see such as part of my greatest strength and I wonder if you feel that as well.
    "thank you" for being so forth coming. You interview quite well. :-)

    Love Gail
    peace and hope.....

  11. Hey, Bonnie, that was a really inspiring, altogether magnificent interview with our friend, George! Though I must say I've enjoyed all of them to date without exception. What a fab project, and I'm following it with great interest and anticipation.

    And George, this was powerfully honest and true, and quite wonderful, and thanks for revealing yourself so openly. Just a natural extension of your blog, really! But do learn to trust those gorillas! You know, they're some of the most gentle beasts...

    And Lorenzo, splendid comment, I agree with everything you said here...

  12. Absolutely fascinating stuff Bonnie - I feel I really know George so much better after reading that - I love his Zen Master and as for his abstract paintings - they are wonderful - would love to own one of those. Thank you George if you are reading this - for baring your soul and letting us into your life.

  13. FRIKO — Thanks so much for your generous and supportive comments, both here and on my own blog today. As I said in my response to your comments on my site, I am completely empathetic with the desire to discuss "the great questions of existence," without appearing supercilious or putting people to sleep, and that's what I try to encourage with many of the postings on my blog. I certainly hope we can continue this conversation through our respective blogs and the blogs of others. During the meantime, consider me a friend and kindred spirit.

    GAIL — Thanks for the kind comments. With respect to whether my early conditioning has proved to be a strength, I must avoid painting with too broad of a brush. During the American South of my youth, conformity was the ironclad rule of social acceptance — conformity with certain religious beliefs, conformity with certain political values, and conformity with historic social standards, which, unfortunately, included racism. I rejected these rules of conformity at a very early age and, as I indicated in the interview, I continue to believe, if I may do so modestly, that this is my greatest achievement in life. Lest someone think that I am being unduly harsh toward the South of my early childhood, I must add that it was two native southerners, one an English teacher and the other a courageous, progressive lawyer, who were instrumental in my liberation.

    Thanks, Gail, and peace and hope to you as well.

    ROBERT — Thanks so much for your comments and support. As I indicated in the interview, this all began with my discovery of your blog, "The Solitary Walker," when I was preparing for the coast-to-coast trek, and I can say without hesitation that I enjoy reading your postings as much today as I did the first day I discovered them. Thanks also because it was through your site that I was able to meet so many other wonderful people.

    PAT — Thanks for the support and lovely comments. I only hope that I haven't gone off the deep end with the baring of my soul. I could end up having to leave the country, in which case I would certainly want to look around in that beautiful area where you live.

  14. Dear Bonnie,
    I am delighted to be walking in this posh neighborhood of intellect, creativity, and spirituality. I applaud your choices for these interviews and look forward to reading more. Thank you for your insightful interviews!

    Dear George,
    Your Southern roots explain so much about you. I'm a real sucker for a Southern gentleman - I married the gentlest one of them all.

    Though I only found you a couple of months ago, when you wrote about wabi-sabi, it seems that I've already learned so much about you. This speaks to your communication skills and your willingness to reveal yourself. Your considerable talents are showcased beautifully in this interview.

    I've been curious about the abstract paintings displayed here and on the sidebar of your blog and wondered whether you were the artist. I think they are magnificent! I would love to learn more about how your created each of them. Did you already write about them in your blog? Could you please add links to your sidebar or under the paintings so that I may find them?

    Your photo of the dragonfly is worthy of National Geographic. So intricate - down to the hairs on the legs.

    "The Razor's Edge" is one of my favorite books, and movies, of all time. I had the good fortune of reading the book during a trying time in my career. Larry Darrell inspired me to stick to my convictions and look for another job. It proved to be a great decision.

    You must have been a rare bird in Washington DC. How many other lawyers are there in DC that consider success and achievement an overrated virtue?

    I am so very pleased to meet you, Mr. George.

  15. DUTCHBABY — Thanks so much for your kind and very generous comments. To begin, I must tell you that I am delighted that you are married to a southern man who you regard as the gentlest one of them all. It sounds like he is a wonderful ambassador for the region of the country in which he and I have our roots.

    While I haven't written a specific post about my art work, I have used photos of several of my paintings to illustrate points I was trying to make in other postings. At some point in the not too distant future, I will probably do an article on abstract or non-objective art, at which time I will probably use some of my paintings to illustrate what I'm talking about. I may also add some more painting images to my sidebar. In any event, I really appreciate your interest and your compliments on my work.

    I'm glad you like the dragonfly photo. There are several other photos of dragonflies in my posting of "Blue Dashers," dated July 21, 2010.

    I'm so glad you love "The Razor's Edge." While I've read the book several times, I re-read it again recently and it still resonated with me as much as it did the first time I read it. The character of Larry Darrell is a hero for me because his entire life, at least as we know it from the novel, was dedicated to spiritual and intellectual growth, and in the end, it brought him to something more important than wealth, status, or possessions — that something being happiness.

    I look forward to continuing this conversation on our respective blogs. Thanks.

  16. "The most important thing I've learned from blogging is that there are more interesting people in the world than I knew previously. I've also learned that one can find friendship and sustenance outside of one's own local community."

    SO very true and wonderful!
    Aloha from Waikiki

    Comfort Spiral

  17. Thanks for the comment, Claudia, and for taking the time to read the interview. I hope that you will find something of interest in my blog and those of the others being interviewed by Bonnie. Have a nice day.

  18. Hello George nice to meet you. After stuggling for only fifty years I too reached a crossorads and a small realisationn that I am still very much a work in progress. It's very inspiring to hear from the mouths of others how thay have discovered their lives and are moving on. I shall have to pop on over to your blog and get to know more about you throuhg your work. I now have a huge grin on my face which is always an excellent way to strart any new day. Tahnk you :)

  19. Thank you George. You are an inspiration to all who know you and read your blog. This interview gave us all a lovely glimpse into the fine man behind the blog, Transit Notes.

  20. GWEN — Thanks for the nice comments, and I am delighted to know that you are beginning the day with a smile on your face. May it remain there for a long time. During the meantime, I hope you find something of value on my blog, and I will certainly make a visit to yours. Best wishes.

    BONNIE — You're welcome. The pleasure was all mine. It was a delight to make new friends and hear from the friends I have made since beginning "Transit Notes." Have a delightful day and a good week!

  21. Hello. I met George just a short time ago, and I have already learned so much from him at Transit Notes. He is kind, gentle, and I love his peaceful spirit.

    His blog inspires me. He encourages conversation in the comments section, and it is always so interesting. During my most stressful days, all I have to do is click George's link, and I am filled with peace. I am in awe of his artistic talent. His words are always meaningful.

    Thank you for an excellent interview. The questions and answers have given me even further insight into a person I admire.

  22. JULIE — Thanks so much for the lovely comments. I am delighted that you find my postings to be peaceful. As you well know, I greatly admire the work that you are doing, work that always leaves me inspired and, frankly, in a bit of awe. Have a lovely weekend.

  23. George...

    I'm beyond honoured to meet you.
    I will visit your blog .

    Sometimes I just want to join so many others in this "who knew" gift of learning and community and awe.

  24. DEB— Thanks so much for the lovely comments. I, too, am honored. I hope that you will find something of interest to you at "Transit Notes." During the meantime, I plan to go over to your site, which, at first glance, looks quite enticing to me. The photos are striking. Thanks again.


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