Sunday, July 31, 2005

Out There

The candlewhite, the slow tightening of the coils of the mind around -- something, anything -- hardly matters -- my mind runs not like a stream but like a pen on a napkin, back and forth, fretting its groove, returning again and again to thicken and widen its cartoon representations. Restlessly making the curves smooth and the lines straight. Obliterating the reality under the conception.

Of course, without flaws, there is no drawing; without the irregularity and startlement of what doesn't fit, nothing interesting would happen at all. Everything would collapse to a single straight line or a single circle. So we admit a little of it, a little awkwardness. But then the whole force of the mind scours away at it. It goes looking for it, but the first thing it tries to do is contain it, insulate it, domesticate it.

It's an interesting exercise, to go looking for the origins of the awkward and irregular. Not because of what we find, but because of what we don't find. It comes from -- vague wave of the hand -- out there.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Well, it's official then -- I've failed.

I had thought I knew what failure would look like, but of course I didn't. I imagined a dam breaking or a building collapsing, roaring water or clouds of dust; but what has happened is -- nothing. Nothing has happened. Except realizing just how entrenched this habit of self-conflict is. It's not so easy to set it aside. Virtually everything I've ever known, felt, or thought about food has been in the context of trying to control myself. I have no other way to think about it. I have no other relationship with food to fall back on. This will all be new.

Many of my earliest memories are of my mother eating chocolate. She would buy cans of ready-made chocolate frosting and eat them, while reading or watching TV. She was fat, sometimes very fat, but she was haunted by the dream of being skinny. If her will had only been strong enough, she thought, she would have been skinny. And if she had been skinny she would have been happy.

No happiness. I have no clearer image of misery than my mother huddled in her armchair, doggedly eating her way through whole cans of frosting.

My father would point out the health risks of obesity -- he was conscious of the health implications of diet long before it became a national obsession. He would explain, patiently, relentlessly, why she shouldn't eat that way. It was my first lesson in the limits of reason and will. My mother already knew all that. If she could have stopped, she would have. She was utterly miserable. She was well aware that she was killing herself: in fact I'm not at all sure that wasn't part of the project.

The irony now, is that none of her health problems have turned out to have anything to do with her diet. When they opened up her heart to do the bypass, they found a perfectly healthy heart, apart from the defective valve. She's being taken down by multiple myeloma and and the tubercular infection it's enabled. She'd be dying the same death if she'd lived on raw vegetables all her life.

All that misery. And none of the supposed consequences of being fat every came into play. She's never been alone or abandoned -- she's divorced twice, but she was the one to leave, both times -- and her health never really suffered from it. But the misery of knowing herself to be flawed and weak stained the whole fabric of her consciousness.

My own history with food echoes this, on a lesser scale. Most of my life I've been thirty or forty pounds overweight. It humiliates me in odd ways. I don't really mind the belly so much; I'm even fond of it, but I hate how quickly I become red-faced and sweaty. I've always exercised in private, so no one can see that. And for the same reason I have avoided dancing, which I love, most of my life. It was one of the things I was going to do when I lost weight. Likewise, going to massage school. Who wants to be massaged by a stout red-faced man, dripping sweat?

This morning, contemplating breakfast, I kept drawing a blank. What did I want to eat? I had no idea. I knew what I ought to eat, and I knew what I could eat if I meant to thumb my nose at prudence and authority. But I had no idea what I wanted to eat. Accepting failure, which I had pictured so clearly, turns out to be a puzzle. I'm not sure how to do it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Mischief Managed

Ah, but you see, this moment, all thoughts of desiring are gone, the sun bright, only a calm friendliness rising from the cool earth. I walk unseen in the garden of your heart, content.

I will not always be asking and wanting, resenting and demanding. There are times when I am really quite like an adult.

Their eyes, their ancient glittering eyes are gay.

Forty-seven years old, and I have learned a little. About letting messages go into darkness, to rest without replies, to be happy with the ghosts of echoes and with connections that are not proven or proveable. It's okay.

And today I held hands with you, as I used to imagine it, nine years old and hearing the Beatles song for the first time, in the long sunlight of summer mornings so far gone and so present. More than enough.

Monday, July 25, 2005


There are two things I've been trying to accomplish for all of my adult life -- establish a regular exercise routine, and change my eating habits. I ordinarily see myself as failing repeatedly at both of them.

I've decided I have to treat these two projects the way I'd treat any project at work -- set measureable goals and milestones, and set criteria for success. Because I'm realizing the cost of having these perpetual projects -- to wit, that I'm always failing. I'm always failing, but I have never failed. If I failed I could just move on, and make room for other projects. But I've made failure unthinkable in my mind. I have to change that. To fail at a couple of things is tolerable. To fail at the same things, over and over, all my life, is just intolerable. And unnecessary.

I've always made these projects open-ended in some way. The change of diet has never had a deadline, and the exercise has never had a distinct end-goal. So I've set a deadline for the one and a goal for the other.

If I can't observe the dietary restrictions I've set myself for four weeks -- I've made them mild, and allowed for treats -- then I'm simply going to acknowledge that I've failed, and stop mucking with it. So I don't eat right. Most Americans don't. It isn't a disaster. I'll take it off the goal list and put it on the wish list, things I might take on after I've retired. And then, if I make the four-week goal, I'll monitor it for a year. If I can't then keep it up for the year, barring the typical Christmas-time spinout and one other contained collapse, then, again, I've simply failed, and I'm done.

It's difficult to make this thinkable, after it's been so long unthinkable. But I'm just sick of it. Not going to live there anymore.

The exercise is a slightly different. I've actually been fairly successful at this, but I always fail eventually, in my own mind, because I've always set up systems -- generally detailed and elaborate ones, because that's the kind of man I am -- that have me doing progressively more and more. More reps. Longer walks. More laps. Faster cycling times. Which is fine -- it is the way to improve one's physical condition -- but the problem is that eventually I get sick or injured, and then I can't keep up the progression. And since these progressions have had no terminus ad quem, I spin out at those points. My goals keep getting ahead of me, till they eventually vanish out of sight. So I fail perpetually at that, too.

So I've set end goals this time around. This is what I intend to do, and no more. When I get there, that's enough. I'm done. I don't try to get a little stronger, a little further, a little faster. The open-ended programs have all really rested on a denial of mortality, a denial of limitations. The fantasy of becoming extraordinary somehow has always whispered there -- usually, just out of range of my explicit awareness, but it's always been there. Gradually, secretly, I would achieve more and more until finally everyone would realize my greatness. I have to let that go.

These changes of view and expectation sound minor, but they are actually a serious insurrection against my ordinary habits of mind. As such, we can expect a counter-insurgency. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Napkin Art

Oh, this is way fun. Here we have a sample of my famous napkin art. Note the coffee stain center-left, one of the marks of authenticity. The rules of napkin art are quite strict: they must be real indigenous greasy-spoon napkins, and only a medium bic pen may be used. The drawing must be completed in the course of one breakfast, and it must be left on the table when you leave.

(This immediately creates a difficulty, of course. How can they ever be scanned, then? Grudgingly we allow as how one may be taken away as long as one is left. So I'll draw a new one tomorrow, and leave this one in its place.)

As you see, Alan got a scanner for his birthday. Ain't I generous? I'll let him use it any day now.

Friday, July 22, 2005


Wet leaves. The last flickers of lightning. Dawn pouring up into the sky, like dirty milk, after a dim night of halfhearted thunderstorms. The earliest crows mutter irritably in the distance.

My young cousin's eager face lingers in my mind. She is fearless. Filled up to the trembling brim with light -- it spills and scatters from her. The only bright figure at that table for eight, last night.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Word from Chiapas

This report from La Judia Errante.
In Which I Hit You Up for Money

$1.2 million down, $800,000 to go. We've got a matching gift for $400,000, so every dollar you give counts for two. And we're finally set up to take donations online. And, as a special inducement, you can see pictures of Martha clearing barbed wire (she loathes this picture) and Tori planting trees on the retreat land.

I believe there's no place you could spend your money more wisely to prevent America from further despoiling the environment and lurching into more wars. It's the beginning of a very long term solution, and I'm the first to admit it's a longshot, but it's where I'm placing my bets.

May all things done to benefit sentient beings accomplish the intended end.

May the authentic teachings of this and all genuine spiritual traditions continue to manifest in suitable ways for every single sentient being.

May this world be so filled with the wisdom of accomplished beings in all traditions that even the memory of suffering and negative influences is forgotten.

May we never forget the generosity and kindness of our teachers in this very life, without whom we might have never imagined an alternative to suffering.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Shameless Flowering Temples

This sense of another world being terribly close. This feeling that if I just turned a fraction, or tilted my head, I would see another country -- if I just ran my fingers over the nearest wall I would be able to feel the outline of a door. And even sometimes, in hot oppressive weather, a faint cool draft might come out of somewhere -- just a moment -- and I would think, it's a draft from there.

And then sometimes, of course, you see people from there. Just a glimpse, usually. A moment of recognition. No need to shush, to whisper "pretend not to know me!" because we're both being hustled down the main avenue of life, manhandled by events, by fear, by wanting. But our eyes meet, and we know. Maybe.

Your hands close on my wrists, and hold them very tight. You're trying to bring me somewhere. Where?

I love the faintly salt taste of your lips, the strength of your tongue, the hint of your teeth, as we kiss.

Our bodies open, as they grow older. Become less secretive. Doctors open them up, and pry here and there. The doors and windows of our souls fit more and more loosely. The vulva blossoms, a red-coral-purple flower opening. Our breasts and stomachs and buttocks spread. There's some slack. We don't need to hold the fiction quite so tight, that all our parts fit together. We know they don't. We even lose some of them. Ovaries, gall-bladders, uteruses, appendixes, breasts; here and there a tooth and a toenail. Various tubes get tied and cut. Hair comes out. Scars expand. Veins reveal themselves at the surface. We get used to workarounds for the joints that don't quite work as they're supposed to, and the eyes that don't quite see what they used to.

It's just a body, she said. And that becomes clearer, all the time. It's not a mystery, not a tightly-wrapped bud. It's a blowsy, smelly, gone-to-seed creature, a lumbering mammal, kin to bears and orangatans.

When she was young, Martha says, she wondered how middle-aged people had sex. They couldn't possibly be attracted to each other. So how did they go about it?

Apparently we manage. Not in spite of the spaces opening, but because of them.

I don't really miss the tight-wrapped buds, the smooth-functioning bodies. They always pretended to be doors into other countries, and they seldom were. But these bodies, these shameless flowering temples, they really are doors.

A breath of cool air. Come on.


The seed of this post was in Brenda's meditation on the middle-aged erotic body

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Ghosts of Leaves

In the summer we let the vines -- some kind of clematis, I'm told -- climb up the back porch and over the back door, till now, in high summer, a curtain of green hangs over the doorway, and to go out back I have to part it and duck through. I'm always reminded of the beaded doorways of the ramshackle hippie houses I used to know -- strings of cheap plastic sparkly beads, swaying in stale air that smelled of incense, dope, and candle-wax. This living, fragrant curtain was, maybe, what they were groping towards.

It's not good maintenance, of course; it encourages infestation, and it gives the house an unkempt aspect. But I love surrendering the house to the embrace of summer. In the winter it all dies down and we tear away the brown stems and withered gray leaves, and then the window of the back door frames the bones of the ancient, leaning apple tree. But now the porch is all leaves. Martha trains it over the kitchen window, as well; the morning sun throws moving leaf-shadows on the floor, and the kitchen is full of whispering and dappling.

This year the clematis discovered that it could push a tendril through the ill-fitting top sash of the window of the back bedroom. It's grown up to the ceiling, hoping to find sunlight, but not much sun gets in there, so the vine is not green, but pale yellow. It hovers there like the ghost of summers past.

Across the room is the shrine, where the refuge-tree stands when I do my prostrations. Its leaves are always thick, and restlessly moving and speaking, in counterpoint to the murmur of the pechas. Vajrayogini, glowing blood-red and fierce, anklets and bracelets clashing and ringing, dances there on the lowest branch. I wonder what she sees, when she looks at that ghostly vine. I wonder what she sees when she looks at me.


(My description of the prostrations and refuge-tree is here; a picture of Vajrayogini is here)

Saturday, July 16, 2005


I've just been reading a blog that horrified me. I had been searching for blogs referring to massage or bodywork, looking for some clues as to how other people have worked with that avocation, and I came across the blog of a man who worked at it full time, doing a heavy schedule of massage, as well as teaching it part time.

There was nothing so awful about it, really. It began two years ago, as he was beginning an affair with a married woman. He carefully recorded that beginning, but rapidly she became background material, and he was noting down the details of other flirtations. Sometimes at the bottom of the page he would score the day, on a scale apparently running from zero to twelve, over a varying number of categories, such as "money," "passion," "hugs" -- he meticulously noted the various hugs women gave him, and analyzed their meaning and nuance, as eskimos supposedly note the meaning and nuance of snow.

Occasional remarks about his clients, and a sort of "Bush delendum est" refrain as the 2004 elections approached, but otherwise it was a relentless monotone -- which pretty women would touch him, how much, with what intent. Nothing else could hold his attention.

Sometimes notes of a woman who flirted outrageously with him, whom he dismissed impatiently -- she was in his vocabulary, "queen-sized," whereas his attention was riveted on small women with "tight buns." Never a flicker of acknowledgement that the queen-sized woman was inhabiting the same hungry-ghost realm as he was; never a gleam of compassion for a fellow-sufferer. But he kept having lunch with her. A flirtation with someone he wasn't interested in was small-change, apparently, but money is money, and he wasn't going to just leave it on the table.

For two years it goes on, this monochrome, obsessive life. For all the detail, the character of these women who fill his field of vision remains a blank. They exist for him only as measures of his own importance and acceptance. Once one has accepted him as a lover, her usefulness as a yardstick is compromised, and he begins to find her attention importunate and annoying.

It was harrowing but fascinating. I felt I was reading the autobiography of my own damnation. I turned away from it with exhausted gratitude that somehow, by the grace of something, my life did not turn out like his. It was close enough, at times.

Friday, July 15, 2005

A Vast Fluttering

So it's a real stretch for me now to find that particular smallest movement that will make the biggest difference -- not just in absenting pain, but for unhinging the gates, at the other end of which the hordes of choice, a vast fluttering.

Maria has taken my breath away again.

That's what bodywork is all about.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Whiteness, Waiting

The trees above my house are very tall. Just now their leaves stand out still against a still white sky, the serrated serrations of a thousand maple leaves, each turned a slightly different way. Behind them the untidy swoop and knot of power lines. And behind it all the whiteness, waiting.
Three Theories

Depression hit yesterday, silently, murderously. Like being struck by a huge, hot sandbag. When I got home I didn't have the wherewithal to get out of the van. I laid my hands on the steering wheel and my head on my hands, and breathed. Waited. I don't know how long.

Today is better. Almost back to normal.

This last week has been full of resolutions and thinking about how life really ought to be and how a person really can reach for their dreams.

Here are three theories:

Theory One is that thinking a person can reach for their dreams sets me up for a fall, when I find myself, inevitably, failing in all the old, familiar ways -- so I shouldn't think that way, not only because it's not a Buddhist approach to desire, but also because it's just opening the door to depression.

Theory Two is that I have mistaken depression for Dharma, and that -- while the whole structure of craving and expectation does indeed have to be deconstructed -- replacing large, joyful cravings & expectations with small, dreary ones has nothing to do with Buddhist path. It has to do, instead, with brain chemistry.
Theory Three is the new one, which I find most interesting at the moment. It says that being full of resolutions and thinking about how life ought to be, rather than being the cause of a later depressive episode, is actually just an early symptom, an early sign that mood turbulence is setting in. There may be no causal relation between the two at all.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Five things that will happen in the last two Harry Potter books

But enough of trivial stuff. We are in the final run-down to the release of the Half-Blood Prince, and I had better note down my predictions, lest people think I'm just being wise after the event, when I boast about how I knew exactly what Rowling had in mind. Here are some things that have to happen in the last two books:

1) Hagrid has to die. The perpetual innocent always has to be sacrificed, in an epic. Expect to see him go doing something absurdly generous and loving and ill-advised. (I hope this one is wrong because I'm very fond of Hagrid. But he's a character like Coll in the Prydain books -- obviously marked out as a victim.)

2) Snape's history will be revealed, and it will be rather nasty. He will not be rehabilitated, but he may well die heroically, battling death-eaters.

3) Dumbledore has to be gotten off the stage somehow: he'll have to be gone for the last book to resolve, because a new order will have to be established, and if he's still actively onstage there will be no room for the new people.

4) Ron and Hermione have to realize they're in love, so a rival for Hermione's affections has to appear. (Otherwise Ron and Hermione could just go on like this forever.) Look for Viktor Krum to resurface, dashingly. Well, as dashingly as a duck-footed introvert can.

5) This won't happen till the last book, but it's actually Neville, not Harry, who will finally take Voldemort down.

There. Remember, you heard it here first.

Friday, July 08, 2005


My mother looked pleased, but puzzled.

"How did you know I was here?" she asked.

I rolled the dinner tray away from her bed, and attempted a cheerful smile. "We brought you here, remember?" I had ridden in the ambulance with her, two days before.

Her face clouded. "No," she said. "No, I don't remember." Troubled, for a moment, but then it was too much effort, and the trouble faded away.

A few moments later, she embarked on a narrative that I could not follow at all. Her eyes all the time on the television bolted to the ceiling, showing a young couple laying a tile patio. They were laying this tile very seriously, and the voice-over spoke in hushed, important tones, as though it was a historical documentary about, say, building the Burma Road. I had tried to turn the television off when I came in, but the only control I could find just switched channels. It was supposed to alter the volume, too, but those buttons seemed not to have any effect. So the television whispered along with all of our conversation. Somebody, she was telling me, had made her do something she had not wanted to do.

"Was that physical therapy?" I asked. She didn't answer for a little bit. Then she resumed: "They tried to tell me I was in a hospital!" she said, and smiled. Was it indignation? Did she know it was a hospital now? Was it a joke about how out of it she had been? Or was she fishing to see where I thought she was? I was at a loss for words. I smiled encouragingly, I hope, though I daresay it was wanly.

Later I understood that she had been made to sit upright for an hour, and that she thought she was in a furniture store. Very tired of it, and she wanted to go home: why did we just keep on hanging around?

Occasionally I struck a theme that interested her, and I could see, almost as a physical transformation, the intelligence return to her face. Something about Tory's shyness. A mention of Alan liking having grown taller than his mother. Anything having to do with psychology or personality. I wished I had thought to bring a quilting book -- color and design were the other things that might have fetched back that brief intelligence. I labored on, but I've never been good at making conversation, and anyway there are very few things we are both interested in. At the lulls of the conversation, which were frequent, she would read aloud the sentences the nurses had written on the whiteboard, or the little signs posted here and there. Was there a response to them that we were supposed to be sharing, or was it entirely automatic? I couldn't tell.

Finally she said, during one of those quick returns of intelligence, "Well, you better be getting home."

"I suppose I had better," I said, feeling relieved, and guilty at feeling relieved. "Can I bring you anything, before I go?"

This question seemed to strike her as very odd -- perhaps we were still in the furniture store -- but she shook her head. I leaned over to give her the odd half-hug that hospital beds grudgingly permit, and went out. I tried half-heartedly to catch the eye of one of the nurses, to ask about my mother's condition, but none of them looked my way. And I was too tired. Martha was better at that sort of thing, anyway.

As I shuffled down the long corridor to the elevators, I thought of how hateful, and how familiar, the smell of hospitals has become to me. It was hard for me to imagine thinking it was someplace as pleasant as a furniture store.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

English Faces

I don't usually think fondly of nations. I think nationalism is a curse, a virus of irrational bigotry that incubated in German universities in 19th Century, and then spread rapidly all over the world to make the 20th Century the worst of all human centuries. The idea that every people with their own language, religion, and customs should have their own sovereign government was a disaster, and continues to be a disaster. So nationalistic paeans about the supposed virtues and denunciations of the supposed vices of whole nations have always left me cold, if not hostile. And I've known too many gregarious Englishmen and humble French and easygoing Germans and reserved Italians to find them very convincing.

But this morning I am deeply aware of how much I love England and the English. How much I owe them, collectively and individually. And there is a commonality there, though I doubt it's wise to even try to identify it. I could say the English are headstrong, emotional, sentimental. In some ways, a people -- like the Russians, perhaps -- made for suffering. I could say that they -- especially if you set them beside the Americans -- are intensely aware of pain, decay, and death. Of how things come apart. Of how many things cannot be helped. And how it's precisely because of this, that their bravery is so moving. They are a people who go into every battle expecting to lose.

It was a queer fate that made them for a time the most successful of all imperial nations. It's made them maybe a little more sympathetic to us than nations that haven't been through it. They understand the fey mood that takes a country when it seems that it just can't lose, that fate has dealt it every winning card. The Swedes and the French and the Canadians and the Swiss can believe that they would act differently from us, if they were masters of the world. But the English know all too well that no people can resist the stupidities of imperial success. The rest of the world views us as arrogant, violent, insensitive, and hypocritical by nature. Only the English seem to understand that it's just the cards we were dealt.

But -- this was not at all the post I set out to write. Yes, I am sorry, England, that we involved you in this ill-advised, obscurely-motivated, and spectacularly badly-planned occupation. But I feel strangely distant from that. What is near me now is the leaves of Russel Square, the kindliness of round English faces, and the quick patter of English voices. I am sorry that anyone ever suffers this, but I'm especially sorry that it should be you, the people dearest to me of all peoples.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

In which I go Visiting

Looking for
A self-unmade man
Is both easier and harder than you'd think.

I roll up a few shirts and shorts
And a new pen
And walk out of the door, it's a July morning,

And I hitchhike to London,
(The Atlantic being the hard part)
And I make Jean give me a berth on her sofa,

She being kind, and unwise
As the wise often are
When the sun hits the concrete, and the glare spills over.

(And now for a moment
Excuse me
I wonder, could I make her laugh? She has

A wonderful laugh,
I know, though
I can't say how. But I digress.)

And that is my last stop
Because once I reach it,
The North Sea, it's only Heinrich Heine and me,

And Heinrich, you know --
I stickle for details --
Is dead. But I, for reasons that have not been explained to me,

Any more than they were explained
To nTexas,
Am alive. But still self-made. So still travelling.

After the last stop,
(See? Not so fast)
I will catch a freighter into Houston, and look for that tavern

Where all precepts evert,
And where nTexas
Will have left a clue, and I will follow it, till I'm dizzy

And stumbling backwards
Into New Mexico
I will sit down hard, and she will smile at me.

And we will just lean heads together
For an hour
And almost I will be self-unmade, but there is more,

Because, as I said
(I said this, remember)
It's harder than you'd think. So I will leave the waterfall,

And walk in Lekshe's garden,
In the cool of the day,
Hoping vainly that she will show up;

And then from there
Because (as you
Will recall, I also said), it's easier than you think,

I will wander down
To Tosi's
And have breakfast. Self-unmade, and hungry.

I will eat eggs,
And drink coffee,
And murmur the Lord's prayer. Give us this day.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Fat Man

The fat man went walking along the shore, and the sand squirted up between his toes. He was such a pondering weight that the force of his steps fused the sand to glass, and it hung just as it spurted, in frozen splashes of light. Mother-of-pearl fronds.

The fat man squatted there on the beach, and his round head settled into his jowls, like an egg settling into its nest. Chins flowed down to his breasts, and breasts flowed down to his belly, and bellies flowed down to his thighs, all of it quaking and trembling, while the blood flowed through it all. His huge chambered heart pounded.

He reached out with his great puffy fingers and grasped handfuls of the gleaming sand. Waves roared into the holes he left, and broke unnoticed on his bulk.

The fat man was thinking.

I have eaten the crabs and the mussels, he thought. I have eaten the gulls and the sandpipers, the sandfleas and the weedworms. I have eaten the cows and the pigs, the chickens and the turkeys, the buffalo and the oxen. I have eaten the ground wheat and the rolled oats and the milled corn. I have eaten the pale green salads and the sharp green onions. I have drunk the olive oil the spinach swam in, and the wine in wooden bowls, and the sweet licorice-tasting ouzo in shot-glasses. And now I am big.

The fat man raised his fist suddenly and struck the beach. All the shoreline rocked, and huge waves raced away. "I am content!" he bellowed.

And at that the stars began to drop from above, just a few at first, and then a steady drizzle, vanishing into the sea -- and then the sky itself peeled back, daysky and nightsky, all peeled back, and the moon and the sun went rolling away unregarded, like dog-chewed tennis balls. The fat man stood up.

"I have been waiting for you," he said quietly. "I have been waiting a long time."

"I know," she answered. "But now you are finally big enough."

Sunday, July 03, 2005


So we come to the end. Not a bad run. Let be all the fussing. It could well be worse; it has been worse. Let the hands drop loosely to the sides. We have been outwitted, outgeneraled, at the last. When the French general sent to retrieve Sedan asked after the reserves, he was told there are no reserves. Which was, he said later, when he realized that the war was lost.


Things break sometimes. Sometimes things are irretrievable. Friends and lovers die, and so do enemies; and suddenly all our plans for them are revealed for what they are: sequences of thought, patterns of expectation. Oh yes, they seem real, before you take off the lenses of immortality. Practical people never take them off, of course, so they are helpless in the face of death, and they run from every hint of it. "Take a realistic view," they say, by which they mean "Keep pretending we will all live forever, and resolutely ignore the occasional disappearances!" And they settle the lenses tighter on their noses, and scoff at the dreamers and sentimentalists, who read poems by dead poets and listen to music by dead composers and visit the graves of old friends. And who talk to the dead who cluster at their windows in the early morning.


"But -- haven't you died?" the children ask the apparition of their friend, in Lewis's book, and the friend answers, "Most people have, you know."


Herriot writes of looking at the necrotic paw of a dog slowly, nobly, and patiently recovering from having been caught in a trap. The rotting flesh had sloughed off clear down to the bone, and as Herriot looked at it he suddenly saw the metacarpals and phalanges of a human hand. Not so different, under the flesh.


When I came to pick up Alan, Jonquil's mother appeared from the back, in a skimpy black skirt and tube top, which she couldn't quite carry off, at forty. She refuses to be an adult. Trickles profanity and scorn, flirts with her daughters' friends, and imposes her will by tantrum or trickery, when she can, rather than by authority. And she's quite right that accepting the authority of a mother is the beginning of accepting all kinds of decay. Our culture generally harbors contempt for this particular refusal. But there are dozens of others just as destructive, which we by and large encourage. Never give up on your dreams, we say. Well, Jonquil's mother hasn't. That's what it looks like, not giving up on your dreams.


Jonquil insisted on coming with me to the store. At the checkout line, she methodically turned around the first magazine in each slot, so that the whole rack was a row of back-page ads. She has the adolescents' faith in oddity and inconvenience leading to awareness. She doesn't understand that the real enemy of awareness is not complacency, but exhaustion. "The beginning of revolution, Jonquil," I didn't say, "is a good night's sleep. Don't make anyone's life harder than it has to be."

Friday, July 01, 2005

Little Crater Lake

I can't reconstruct the thoughts of the person who named this pool. It's circular and clear and deep, and that's the extent of the similarity I could see to the real Crater Lake -- the ruins of Mt Mazama that haunt Oregon postcard racks.

A hot blue sky. We'd been driving for a couple hours. Back up through the Warm Springs Reservation, where we saw white wild horses dotting the tumble-home of the mesas, like mountain-goats in the North Cascades; and where stranded cars in various stages of decay seemed to wash up around every homestead. Up into the Mt Hood National Wilderness. All the windows down so that the dry wind could roar through and mitigate the heat; all of us a little cross and sick of road-food. The end of our trip was in sight, when everyone starts looking ahead to what they will be able to do when they can get away from each other.

We turned off at the Timothy Lake road. One of our goals from the start had been to have a look at this "Little Crater Lake," which was on our forest-service map, but which we had never heard of. At this point we were near the balance. One complaint or squabble and we would have gone straight on over Mt Hood's shoulder and back into Portland. But everyone held their grumpy peace. Overhead, a raven soared silently over us, scanning for road-kill, or for interesting litter to come out of those open windows. Ravens don't, apparently, tire of road-food.

An empty campground. This is a jumping-off place for cross-country skiers. Not much of a summer haunt -- no way to get a boat to the lake from here. So no one was in sight as we got out of the van and wandered down a little paved path in a sea of brilliant green meadow-grass, inwoven with purple lupine. Tiny white and orange butterflies tumbled drunkenly by. All quiet, all hot. Into a stand of hemlocks. Over a mysterious style; I couldn't imagine what animals might be being kept out, or in. Riding-horses? Deer?

A clearing opened, and a brimming blue pool appeared. But as we approached, its color became intenser, became an unearthly ice-cave blue, shot with phosophorescent green. The pool, maybe fifty yards across, was deeper than it was wide, and you could see all the way down. The sides were striated rock. Tree-trunks, glowing a paler blue, lay scattered at the bottom. The water was so clear that I couldn't shake the conviction that if you tried to swim here you would fall, not sink, through the water.

It's really a huge artesian well. No signs forbade swimming, but though we were all hot and the the water was cold and inviting, we all felt that to swim in this place would be wrong, even if we weren't slathered with sunscreen. I had never seen a place so obviously sacred. I cupped my hands in the water, feeling even this to be ethically dubious, and pressed them, wet and cool, to my face.

A sacred place, but the key to its meaning and ceremony are lost, and it's saddled now with this inappropriate tourist-mongering name. I wonder what its real name used to be. Names count, at a place such as this.