Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bell

The morning opens, and the waves run away in all directions: I take a deep breath, and release it, and the warm air spills over the hand that props my cheek, like a murmured benediction in an unknown language. I glance up at strangers holding toast, chewing, chatting. I hear many different voices, but no words. A faint, accustomed isolation. It's like the chirr and click and buzz of insects on a summer evening. It's fortunate for me that this sort of loneliness is comfortable, familiar from long use, stretching back to childhood. Understanding and being understood – in real time – are luxuries to me: a little rich for daily fare.

All the major transitions of my life have worked this way: a sudden oblique shift, a step sideways into the wings. Never a stride forward in full view. That is not, apparently, how my life was designed. “Am an attendant lord, one that will do / To swell a progress, start a scene or two...”

Across the street, faded prayer flags sway and shiver, mapping out the chaos of the air, as falling snow, or a field of long grass, can do: suddenly I'm aware that all that turbulence is the usual thing, that every reach of the air is whirling and bucking and shifting. Fast or slow, maybe, but never really still. If I scan for every moving leaf, ribbon, thread, fly, bit of paper, puff of exhaust, with my eyes in soft focus, I get a dim sense of the surge and billow, the continual restlessness.

Another deep breath. I will pack up my things now, pay my bill, drive to the store. I am waiting for the bell, for one clear stroke of silver, to make sense of the hour. God bless you and keep you, my dear.

Friday, April 11, 2014

In Which I Destroy Civilization

My dear friend Kim gave me a wonderful book, "An Everlasting Meal," which is making me realize I have been taught to think that vegetables are dangerous, temperamental, edgy, easy-to-ruin cookstuffs, rather than the amiable, durable, almost-impossible-to-wreck home buddies they actually are. You can effing boil them and mash them up if you want to. You can eat them hot, cold, or room temperature. You can reheat them without being a Goth and destroying civilization. All this crap about rushing them home from the store and lightly steaming them at the last minute and eating them hot, well, sure, that's good, but it's a lot of trouble and fine timing; and fact is, at the store they've just been sitting in the refrigerator (if not the freezer) for days anyway.

I wonder how many people besides me have been driven away from them by the stigma associated with – quelle horreur! – overcooked vegetables? There is something far, far worse than overcooked vegetables, and that's no vegetables at all. I have been microwaving my broccoli for the last few days, like the wicked old man I am, and I'm perfectly happy with it. I am never going to be a foodie. I enjoy my food enormously, always have -- I can savor quite horrible junk food -- and generally speaking this capacity for enjoyment seems to me a quality to be cultivated, not destroyed. I don't want to have a delicate palate: I want to eat my food with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of health and get on with my life.

Monday, April 07, 2014

I Think It Must Be True

I think it must be true
that when the membrane tears
and the drenched butterfly
hauling with all her strength
leaves her petrified skin behind
I think it must be true that for some time
she does not know 
if what she's done to herself
is mortal.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Regrets

What do I most regret, looking back on 56 years? (about which I regret very little, all told, I should say.) I most regret not having given up sooner.
I see lots of inspirational slogans about perseverance, but not very many about recognizing defeat. I wasted a fair amount of time not recognizing some things that weren't all that hard to figure out: that some ambitions were unattainable, that some expenditures of time and energy were unsustainable. The trouble is, of course, that "give up" appeals most to the people who should persevere, and "persevere" appeals most to the people who should give up. So, why I'm writing this, I don't really know. Personal reference, I guess. G'night!
There are goals that you can't really give up and remain human: the goals of being happy and useful, it seems to me, are non-negotiable. “To love and to work,” as Freud said. But there are goals that people commonly mistake for these: the goal of having a certain sort of love life, say, or of having a certain career, become so identified with “happy and useful” that it seems to them that in talking about giving up one, they're talking about giving up the other. No wonder they resist any talk of surrender so fiercely. But in fact there are many, many ways of being happy and useful, more ways than any one person can imagine. The ways that are handed to us by parents, storybooks, and movies may not be possible at all; or they may not be possible for people of our particular propensities, abilities, opportunities. There is a time to stop beating your head against the wall.
Here is a list of the major surrenders in my life, in roughly chronological order:
  1. I gave up on establishing utopia (on even a small scale!)
  2. I gave up on writing fiction
  3. I gave up on being an English professor
  4. I gave up on attaining enlightenment in this life
  5. I gave up on being a computer programmer
That's a lot to give up, and that's only the major ones, and only the ones I feel comfortable talking about in public: I gave up on other things too, such as achieving fluency in Tibetan, and becoming comfortable making phone calls to strangers. I should be miserable, right? In fact, each major surrender – difficult as each was: each resulted in weeks or months or even years of distress – marked a palpable increase in my happiness and usefulness.
And – this is maybe the most interesting and unexpected thing – each surrender has been followed by a sense of expansion, not contraction. The world seems wider, the possibilities greater, the future less limited.
The losses are real, don't mistake me. I mourn all of them. But as I say, I regret none of the surrenders: I only regret having delayed them. I regret the year I whipped myself to write fiction, grinding out a few short stories at the cost of incredible self-inflicted suffering. I regret the years I spent (not) finishing the two dissertations I started; I regret the years I spent trying to make myself into the sort of person who makes a successful career at IBM. None of those things were going to happen; nor – it becomes increasing obvious to me – would any of them have made me a lot happier or more useful.
What makes me happy and useful now, insofar as I am, and so far as I can see (which is not at all far, and that's one of the lessons) – what makes me happy and useful now is writing my blogs, doing my half-time work as a data entry clerk (mostly) at the Library Foundation, doing massage, and going for rambles in the Gorge with Martha. None of it is distinguished, or remunerative, or special; none of it figured in my youthful ambitions; none of it will leave a mark. But I only wish I had found my way to it all sooner.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Hawthorn Pome

for Katherine Mayerovitch
pomaceous /pɒˈmeɪʃəs/ adj
  1. of, relating to, or bearing pomes, such as the apple, pear, and quince trees http://www.wordreference.com/definition/pomaceous

A pome is the fleshy fruit of the apple
and related plants, it consists of
an enlarged receptacle, enclosing
ovary and seeds.

The hawberry,
though you might not think it,
is a pome.

Chinese hawthorn pomes
are used to produce
jams, jellies, juices,
alcoholic beverages;

In Mexico, hawthorn pomes
are called tejocotes: they are
eaten raw, cooked, or in jam
during the winter months;

in America
we do not use the pomes
at all.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Breakfast Hall

The Breakfast Hall

Hah! Here I am in the splendor of my private breakfast hall: eight feet wide, perhaps, and opening onto a vista of our ten-foot strip of back yard – mostly concrete – which ends in a mixed laurel and juniper hedge, under which the neighbors' magnificent chickens strut – glorious gray-speckled dominae, with red crests that take on an unearthly glow in the sunlight: they tear up the duff with gloriously contemptuous back-kicks of their powerful feet, and peck up whatever they find. Kiki likes to contemplate them too, but apparently all parties are convinced of mutually assured destruction. They keep a watchful eye on each other, but they stick to their spheres of influence.

The Chicken Hedge
 But my dining hall: Alan is coming back for at least the early part of the summer, and I'm going to require some private space, so I'm turning this odd slot of a room into a breakfast nook / writing space. It was simply storage, and the door to the back, before. So I've cleared some things away – my poor neglected bicycle, alas! among other things – and set up a card table and a folding chair, and moved my coffeemaker back here. The kitchen window, which used to be an exterior window, overlooks this space, and its sill can serve conveniently as a pass-through. When I'm done I can simply stand up and set my dishes up there. This all may work. We'll see. Two boiled eggs – I can do my back exercises while they boil – and broccoli steamed in the microwave, and a banana, and coffee. And straight up above my head, a skylight: white clouds drifting due east in a blue sky. I may even set the door ajar and get some spring air and some birdsong. 

The Elegant Pass-Through

Birdsong; spring air. It's good.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

For Livia Montana

(Who asked: “What does the beating of the heart and the taste of salt have in common?”)

One

you feel both in the tremble beside the trachea,
where the carotid and the swallow-muscles clutch.

Two

Blood, they have blood in common,
the taste of tarnished copper in the mouth.

Three

They have grief in common, the skin of the world's drum:
I wonder you would be asking this late in the day.