Saturday, May 03, 2008

On My Fifth Blogday

I started this blog on May 2nd, 2003: five years and a day ago.

I can discern three loose and overlapping phases to it. At first it was a practice journal, primarily about Buddhism and the Vajrayana.

Then came the Laupe phase, in which that community of spiritually-minded writers became a home and a refuge, and gave me room to think through and come to grips with worldly discontents, and to make some radical wordly changes. My practice had been serving partly as a way of putting off setting my house in order. But practice is lousy for that: it keeps bringing you face to face with what's there. What was there, was that I was working at something I had no stake in, with people to whom I felt no connection, in order to maintain a prosperity that I didn't think was really doing me or my dependents any good.

So, borrowing courage from my Laupe friends, I quit IBM, and went to massage school. The first day of class, when we were asked to say a bit about why we were there, I looked around at all the twenty-year-olds and said, "I'm here because I've wanted to do this for... well, for longer than most of you have been alive."

Practice took a back seat. Which was appropriate. The support I felt here -- and leaned on very heavily -- was extraordinary. I'm very grateful to you.

In the last couple years, things have changed yet again. I've taken to reading and writing poetry. I've always read and loved old poetry, but my interest peaked at Shakespeare, and tailed off: the only "moderns" I cared much for were Yeats and Eliot. That, as far as I was concerned, was the end of English poetry.

One of my favorite blogs, discovered early in my blog existence, had been Via Negativa, by Dave Bonta. I loved the range of his thought, his openness, his eye for detail, his kindness, his refusal to prettify. But he did a queer thing. He wrote poems. Just as if no one had ever told him that poetry was a dead language, as if he thought people still wrote in it. And they were good poems. Beautifully made things that held the best of his thought and his eye.

I didn't know quite what to make of this aberrant behavior. It took me a while to credit the fact that I was reading contemporary poetry, for pleasure, just as I might read Chaucer or Donne. I found I was reading other blog-poets with pleasure too. And, with a sense that I was doing something rather ridiculous and spurious, I started writing poems myself. To my astonishment, people read them. Not as many people. My poems generally garner about half the comments that my prose posts do, and I reckon that probably corresponds roughly to how much they're read. But people read them and responded to them.

I don't think I'm a very good poet. I think I'm a good prose stylist, in a somewhat heavy and elaborate way: but I don't really think in verse, mostly. I've written a few good poems and a lot of not very good ones. I don't think of myself as a poet. I don't want to be a poet. But I do want to read and write poems.

And so we're in the third phase. Bonafide poetry blogs have started to show up on my blogroll. At some point I'm probably going to collect together a print-on-demand book of my poems. At the same time, Portlanders, some of them poets, are starting to show up in my blogroll. And the distance between my blog persona and my real-life persona continues to erode. I feel that I'm just too old, now, to maintain pretenses. If people don't like who I am, that's tough. This is it, this is who I am, this is what I'm doing in the world.

And also at the same time I'm increasingly turning back to Buddhism and meditation. I have lower expectations of it now, I guess: it's more a matter of spiritual hygiene for me, now, than a way to escape the human condition. It's not going to change my life, and I don't ask it to. It's a way of touching base. I meditate now because when I stop, my mind deteriorates: it becomes more anxious, obsessive, compulsive and narrow. I don't think I have a lot more to say about it. Not at the moment. A lot of my ideation about it, the stuff I wrote in the early years of this blog, seems to me now a little overwrought and overstated. And I didn't fully understand, then, how many other ways there are of unwinding confusion: in particular, my tradition of Buddhism undervalues the role the body can play in it, as drastically as mainstream American Christianity does. (See Maria's fascinating commentaries on the yoga sutras of Patanjali.)

But still, Buddhism is the center of my life, and my practice community is KCC -- Kagyu Changchub Chuling -- even if only some twenty percent of the people now there have any idea who I am. I need a holy space: I need people to join me in prostrations, to mumble prayers to the three jewels, and dedications of merit, in that rather dreary monotone that comes of imitating the drone of Tibetan prayer in a language that has no tonal variation. It is something to sit in a roomful of people who are, momentarily, determined to end the suffering of every single sentient being in the universe. That's absurdity on a grand scale: that's the kind of silliness without which we can't be fully human.

So. Thank you, old friends and new, for walking with me in this virtual space, and loaning me your courage and your insight. Thank you. That this experience could be so rich was, like most blessings, wholly unexpected.

No comments: