Saturday, January 30, 2010


Comments, the lifeblood of Mole, have changed. For many years I have used Haloscan as my comment server. (Yes, I started on Blogger before it provided comments, and yes, I do have a long white beard.) Haloscan has, on the whole, been good to me. But unfortunately, it has predeceased me. For no effort, and twelve bucks a year, I can continue with the folks who bought it, who call themselves Echo.

Now I have to admit that the transition has been handled pretty maturely. There was no hostage taking. They let me export my Haloscan comments to a reasonable xml format and warned me that no one actually has an import tool yet. And the first month on Echo is free, so if I really hate it at least I'm not out of pocket. But I confess to considerable foreboding.

So your job, Jim, should you decide to accept it, is to leave lots of comments and stress the system and tell me what you think of it.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Picking My Nose in the Absolute Flesh

As a teenager I dutifully read Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey, and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenter, with intense attention, and tried to absorb the great lessons therein; I naturally attributed not finding any such lessons to my own incapacity. It's not Salinger's fault that he was made an inevitable part of the high school English syllabus, like that other wildly overvalued writer of the same period, Hemingway. But I still resent the fact that I piddled away that intensity of attention, for years, on mediocre recent American novels, when the whole wealth of English literature was to hand. I was in college before anyone ever assigned me a book genuinely worth reading. I was sixteen, and going to Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon: and I took a survey of world literature. Almost every one of those books exploded under my feet and sent me flying. Lao Tzu. The Bhagavad-Gita. Homer. Hamlet. Blake. Twain. Books that were revelations, that took me to new countries. Books that celebrated courage and loyalty, compassion and generosity.

It was decades before I had the self-confidence to take those elegant Salinger paperbacks off to the used bookstore and sell them back, to decide that the reason I got nothing from them but petulance and itching egotism was probably that they contained nothing but petulance and itching egotism. They were such beautiful books: so very upper class and restrained and austere. They looked like literature. The cover of Franny and Zooey was off-white, almost completely blank, with a double horizontal green line under the high-placed title. Oh, I wanted to be someone who read books that looked like that! It was surely my fault that, after repeated readings, I could not tell you what happened in any of those stories, or recall a single character from them. One scene only remained with me, as it does to this day: Holden Caulfield watching his principal in disgust as the man surreptitiously picks his nose. It distressed me at the time because I surreptitiously picked my nose, in exactly that way: and I understood that Salinger's contempt was as much for me as for anyone. I wasn't really the kind of person who read those elegant off-white books. I was a gross, fleshy sensualist, full of ideals that he couldn't live up to, just like that disgusting principal.

And I remain that. I hope without the bland self-righteousness and insensitivity: but I am going to pick my nose until I die, Mr Salinger, and ask no forgiveness, from you or anyone else. I am going to waddle through this world in the absolute flesh, falling in love and gaping in admiration, no matter how silly I look. I hope that won't prevent you from resting in peace, Mr Salinger: but if it does, I can't help that.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Splay; Embrasure

I finally got to meet Alexandra of Geology of Being. Wonderful! There is always something that takes you by surprise when you meet someone that you've long admired online in the flesh: in this case it was electric blue eyes. I guess I had expected a watercolorist to be all pale pastels & low saturation. Nope.

Back to reading Harry Potter in Spanish, learning or relearning wonderful words such as “lechuza” (owl) and “alféizar” (window-seat). Except “alféizar” was defined in my pocket dictionary – glossary, really – fascinatingly as “splay; embrasure.” “Splay” as a noun captivated me. I'm not sure I'd ever seen it used as one. I used it at once, in my last post -- wrongly, as it turns out: it's supposed to mean something like “bevel,” but I took it to mean something like “a thing that is spread out” -- and I'm sure there are poems accreting around it in my subconscious, even as we speak. Wiktionary assures me that “alféizar” derives from an Arabic word meaning “tenure.” That goes “plop” and vanishes into my subconscious as well. As often, I have the feeling that poetry simply grows of itself out of language: that poets are not so much like artists as like petri dishes. For me, other languages have always been a method, maybe my main method, of learning to see English fresh. Foreign words land in the dish, and all kinds of exotic things grow, over time, in the agar of English.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Someone Else's Sending

The leaves and branches hang quite still. A quiet morning. Grateful for a pause.

I've been slammed for weeks, not only at the Foundation -- the usual rush of charitable giving at the end of the year -- but also with massage: I've been booked solid, for weeks. Everyone's New Year's resolution seems to have been: get more massage. Also I've been taking a couple insurance clients, and people schedule a lot more frequently when they don't have to pay out of pocket. It's only a couple new clients, but they've both been twice-a-week people. The equivalent, in other words, of sixteen new once-a-month people.

I love that more of my sessions are with regular clients. The rapport deepens, and I become more confident that I know what works with this body; I try new things, let go of old things. If I was going to get tired of massage, I think I'd know by now. It's always new, because people's bodies and spirits are always new. I'm continually astonished both by their fragility and by their resilience.

There's the anchor of touch, of connection, but there's also intellectual challenges, the deductive part of tracking pain down to its (sometimes improbable) sources. There's hanging out with all manner of people at home, en deshabille -- in their bathrobes with their hair down. There's people bursting into tears and trying to figure out what their lives are for. There's people who drift out into wide waters of stillness, and take me with them. And always there's that moment, the unmooring: laying on hands, and becoming aware of my breathing and of theirs. You just never know where they're going to take you.

Things that have always been wrong with me are suddenly virtues. That I simply go where other people are emotionally. That I need to be in physical contact with people in order stay oriented. That my own agenda tends to dissolve when it meets someone else's. That I'm willing to follow narratives and metaphors that other people find incoherent or contradictory.

I have no intention of calling myself a shaman -- I'm always skeptical of people who borrow the glittery parts of other people's religious traditions without taking on the disciplines and sacrifices of them -- but I think I'm the sort of person who becomes a shaman, in cultures that support that. Someone who sees around corners and crosses boundaries, who's willing to be a bird in the air and a fish in the sea and a ghost in the past. I put on the dress that makes sense for the road I need to take. I don't mind that things are strange and disgusting sometimes; I don't mind that I find myself sometimes a snake, sometimes a girl, sometimes a swirl of dirty water. I'm always half a spy, half an envoy. I'm someone else's sending.

At this point I pause, and look over what I've written suspicously. I dislike the genre of self-congratulation-disguised-as-confession: and somehow it's those people who most loudly declare their marriages perfect that you're least surprised to see turn up in divorce court. What am I not saying?

Well, one, that it's not always easy to be traveling on other people's behalf: sometimes I wonder if I shoudn't be traveling on my own behalf instead.

And two, that I'm not always sure it's in perfectly good faith. Oh, I observe boundaries scrupulously. But a touch can be lover-like without being technically improper. You can call all this border-crossing and wearing of elaborately carved personas a high spiritual quest: but you could also call it a masked ball for incorrigible flirts. There's a reason, beyond prudery, that people look askance at massage.

But that's all I find, in the minor key: and it's not as though those reservations were unique to my massage relationships. In fact the massage relationships are generally more straightforward. I bring more awareness to them. It's more clear that care is needed.

I'm going to have learn to deal with a full schedule. A new, welcome, set of problems.

I push my fingers into damp moss and the water pools between my fingers. A faint smell of toast; the shrill peep of an unseen bird. Slippery clay. A white and formless day up above the canopy of firs: there are no shadows, only shifts of light. Every flaw in the bark draws an arresting coastline. Map after map of unexplored countries, unreachable worlds. I miss you. Somewhere up above a thrush gives a long, echoing, humorless laugh.

Over across the unfolded continent, you stand at the window, looking out at the white, shining Berkshires. The baby on your chest is momentarily quieted by your slow shift from foot to foot. You are composing prayers to your rash, inexplicable God, our absent mother. I can't follow: I only hear your resonant voice, a little hoarser and fuller with motherhood, slightly thickened with the milk coming, the deeper splay of the ribs, the wider stance. Once you have given hostages to the World, your relationship with it will never be the same. It's a helpless codependent relationship with a moody, violent husband, now; and God may sympathize but She won't intervene. You'll have to work it out yourselves, She'll say.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Well, I just spent another morning writing an essay I won't post. But I wanted to say hi to y'all. I miss you. Sometimes all I seem to have in me is political rants, which I don't care to post because 1) they're just ignorant ranting, and 2) their effect, if any, would be the opposite of what I want, since I tend to get most irritated with liberal political attitudes -- in the same way I guess that it's your close family who always really tick you off -- and to attack liberalism in America, these days, is to attack all humane policy. So forget it.

I don't want to write about Haiti, for similar reasons, and for all the reasons I didn't want to write about the Tsunami or about Katrina. & I can't really write about massage without worrying about confidentiality.

But of course, those are all just surface fumes. What's really rotting at the bottom of the pond? That's the question.

I've been very busy, both at the Foundation and with massage. But yesterday there were white clouds in a blue sky, and my table was warm in the greenhouse of the Honda. In a couple months it will be Spring again. The time for the second renewal of my massage license has come. How can all these things be true at once? And how about all the things that are true, but that one must not say? I close my eyes, and bars of orange and umber shift in a roiling, starry field.

Yesterday Mt Hood must have been in the shadow of a cloud, for while it was a bright day, and the mountain covered in snow, it was strangely dark, a gray shape on the horizon. I'd never seen it look like that, and it made me uneasy.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010


This is the country where broken things heal. Here
a bottle smashed on the sand gathers itself
together, fuses, melds: leaving smooth scars
where the light snags, ridges of brightness,
but whole again and stronger than it was.

Here in the dark the stars pulse,
and at dawn the spent moon
pulls lavender blankets over blue sheets,
and lays her head on my shoulder, while
the race of both our hearts fades into sleep.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Why is it the people who are most obviously out of control who most shrilly assert that they have free will? John Adams's metaphor (not original with him, I'd guess; his was a keen but not an original mind) is the one I like best: the passions are the wind, and reason sets the sails. A skillful sailor can usually get where he wants to go, but seldom directly, and not on a strict schedule. In a severe emotional gale sometimes all you can do is heave to, drop a sea anchor, and wait it out.

No wonder Americans won't put his head on a nickel. They prefer that prodigal slaveholder, the politically hysterical Jefferson. "The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time by the blood of patriots." Screw that. I'll take Adams, every time. Build your weakness into the system. Make your weaknesses part of your strength. And

Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

Ten things I've learned in six months of commuting by bicycle:

1) Most drivers are extraordinarily kind and accommodating if they see you.

2) They see you about half the time.

3) They have no idea that the raised left hand signal means a right turn. You need to signal by pointing left with your left hand or right with your right hand. Extending your whole arm, extravagantly.

4) Riding close in to a line of parked cars, where you'll plow straight into a door if someone suddenly opens it, is an excellent way to court death. You need to ride a few feet out. It feels more dangerous but it's actually much safer. It's where drivers look for vehicles, where they expect them. And they're not so tempted to try to squeeze past you if there really isn't room.

5) In the mild maritime Northwest, at any rate, cold isn't so troublesome as rain, and rain isn't so troublesome as wind.

6) It's your hands and feet that you need to keep warm and dry. The rest doesn't really matter. You generate plenty of body heat for that.

7) Except that blue jeans, once truly wet, will stay wet for a whole workday. You need to keep them dry, not for the ride, but for the sequel.

8) You must always assume they don't see you. Drivers, pedestrians, other bicyclists. (Bicyclists are no better than anyone else at being aware of bikes.)

9) It's just as fun as when you were a kid. You go zoom! and whoosh! You're a sky creature, not a miserable earth-crawler. And you get to the end of your commute feeling invigorated and intensely alive.

10) There's always a parking space. Always.

It takes me 20 or 25 minutes to drive to work; 30 to 35 minutes to bike. If I drove to work and went to the gym to get my daily cardio, the total drive-and-exercise time would exceed my total bike time by at least fifteen minutes. Maybe even half an hour. I'm saving time by riding my bike. Not to mention the $10 parking every day. (Yes, parking in downtown Portland is exorbitant.) $10 every working day, by the way, comes out to some $2,500 per year. In other words, enough to offset my whole breakfast-out addiction.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Fire on the Beach

Your hands are my hands: our fingers
twine at the least excuse. We need
so little now. All year I have been
casting things aside.

Burdens falling away
like the bark of plane trees, like
paint peeling from a fence:
you can pack light at the last.

Strip off the shirt, hair and all.
Point your toes and haul
your trouser legs off, one by one.
wrench the socks off of your feet.

No more shoes, no more coats,
No more fussing with laces or buttons,
With snaps, buckles, clasps. No more
Elastic. Nothing tied.

Bottle blue, shadowed insides of toes,
the dart of hummingbird tongues.
You turn your head and your hair swings
forward, and then back.

Again to the river, to the scree
of gulls, who can swallow anything;
to the scrabble of rats, the scuttle of beetles;
the pull and sieve of water through the nets

of river grass, the fragile eels, the sour
smell of mud, the sough of air
breathing down your neck. The sundrip
through the coffee filter sky.

Books you bought new, in the days of wanting,
break at the spine when you open them;
the pages are brown at the edges, the glue
falls brittle in clots and flakes.

Pages float loose. Crumple them. Do
what you would never do before:
shake them free in a heap on the beach,
strike a match, and watch them rise in love.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Teenager: Spokane, 1973

Crosby, Stills & Nash is what my mind returns to. I played that album, the one they did before Neil Young joined the band, incessantly. And I waited.

It had everything, all the pieces. The political defiance and despair. The sensual love songs that were about seizing the day, about being willing to lose, rather than about keeping and possessing. The cryptic acid-inspired imagist songs. But it was musically quite simple and tuneful, with lovely harmonies.

"Carry on. Love is coming. Love is coming to us all," they sang. I didn't believe it, but I had to believe it. What else did I have to believe?

I waited for love, for the peaceful revolution, for everything to happen all at once, for a new life to present itself to me. Everyone knew it was glimmering just beyond the horizon. Nobody had a plan, though. No one had a task. No one knew how to work towards it. Our only directions, or the only ones we trusted, were that we should learn to see. "You better free your mind instead." It's funny: after all these years, I still believe it. That the fundamental task is to learn to see.

We tried. God, gurus were a dime a dozen. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was my brother's. Guru Maharaj Ji had a place around the corner. I spent an evening with the Jesus People on the beach, around a driftwood fire, and a pretty girl assured me that we wouldn't be idle in Heaven. We'd take the battle to the enemy. And she gave me a hug, a hug I still remember, nearly forty years later. The next day I cautiously invited Jesus into my heart. He, presumably aware that what I really wanted was more hugs from more pretty girls, declined to come.

I read Hugh Prather, Carlos Casteneda, Hermann Hesse. For a while my bible was a book called How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, which recommended uncompromising honesty and militant selfishness. A sort of dumbed-down Ayn Rand.

I knew enough about myself not to meddle with drugs. Everyone else was experimenting with mescaline and hash and acid and speed. I didn't trust myself: I had a shrewd idea that if I started I would never stop. And anyway, I found I could alter my consciousness quite as drastically, and much more cheaply, by simply going without sleep for thirty-plus hours. Waking dreams and hallucinations are not that hard to find. Nor are violent mood swings. Go that long without sleep and hang out with people doing acid, and your mind will indeed go traveling.

Traveling, yes. But not -- not to someplace new. Not to someplace where I was unselfconscious. Wherever I went, I was still shy, still awkward. I still had glut of love on my shelves for which I couldn't find a market. And my body dogged me wherever I went: pudgy, soft, and pale. I knew as well as you do that only slender, tan, catlike people find enlightenment, or love. I was more piglike. I had never lost my puppy fat. I burned and freckled under the sun, but never tanned.

I composed manifestos and declarations. Kept a diary, a precursor of this blog, which I invited people to read. The handwriting changed daily, from small precise printing to a ferocious forward-slanting scrawl. (I had never really learned cursive writing, despite the best efforts of my elementary school teachers. I pretended I didn't care about such a trivial matter, but the truth was that I found it impossible to concentrate on writing one letter while thinking about the next one, which is what you must do to write a neat cursive hand -- you have to know what the next letter is so you'll be able to join this one to it properly. I had always found this, and still do, hellishly difficult. As soon as I started thinking about the next letter, my hand started losing its place in the present letter. I hated the childish writing I produced when I tried this. Soon I simply and flatly refused to write cursive and took to printing, which is how I've written ever since. This trick of disguising my disabilities as the eccentricities of a genius who simply can't be bothered was, and remains, one of my main strategies for getting through life.

But I digress. Where was I? Manifestos. Yes.) One of the peculiarities of the time was the conviction that nobody could be meaningfully happy until everyone was happy. So all my projects for becoming happier were projects for making the world happy. Property had to abolished, authority abrogated, sex roles abandoned, oppression eradicated, before I could begin to become happier. I wouldn't even be able to start until these preliminary steps were accomplished. It was a generous impulse, in its bizarre way, if a useless one. The ambitions were so huge they smothered under their own weight. My solution to being pudgy was to write diatribes about the evils of private property. My solution to injustice was to try to get girls to go to bed with me. It all made sense at the time.

I was pudgy, but I was not out of shape, actually. I strode briskly for hours around Spokane, racking up ten or twelve miles per day at times, muttering to myself, arguing with myself, laying out frameworks for vast works of philosophy, composing worlds in which epic fantasies would play out. Then, as now, I would suddenly stop stock still and gaze at a crook of waterpipe, or a weed, or a cloud, in astonishment that anything could be so beautiful, so much itself. My senses were as raw and tender as I was. I wanted, desperately, to be loved. To be loved like that, like I loved the waterpipe. Such a thing was clearly both impossible, and urgently necessary.

"Carry on," they sang. I walked on, full of hope or of despair. Maybe I could make the impossible happen, just by wanting it enough. Maybe. Maybe I could.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Thank You

Walking strange winding paths. Happy? Yes, insofar as that word applies.

It's not a trustworthy word, though. It originally meant "lucky," and it implies the ideology of the lottery. What the world gives, it can, and sooner or later will, take away. Which doesn't mean you shouldn't delight in the gifts of the day. It just means you shouldn't mistake a tent for a house.

So. A new year. I'm a little suspicious of stock-taking: it always seems to me to say a lot more about one's mood at the moment than about the period supposedly under review. Still I pause and look back.

It has been a year of extraordinary, intense love. A year in which everything has been broken loose and jumbled together. It's been a year of Chinese (which I now formally announce I intend to give up). It's been a year of experimenting with diet (I have learned a lot and settled nothing). It's been a year of seriously replacing the car and bus with the bicycle, as my main method of personal transportation (to my great delight and to the serious improvement of my health. Swoosh!). Of replacing Powell's with the Library. Of Coleridge and of the 18th Century, of a little dabbling in listening to classical music. It's been a year of modest growth in my massage practice, which (given the miserable Oregon economy), pleases me.

I have traveled not at all. No further than Breitenbush. I have rather let friendships languish. Likewise, I have not paid much mind to writing, this year. It happens or it doesn't. A few good poems early in the year, but since then mostly fallow. Doesn't trouble me. There are still fish in the sea bigger than any that have come out of it.

I am happy. Working at the Library Foundation fills me with joy: I have never had a job in which I love, admire, and trust everyone I work with. I don't know that I've ever even heard of such a thing.

Bless you, dear friends, bobbing with me in this little coracle of the present on the huge sea of time. I won't say goodbye yet, but I will say thank you. Thank you. Thank you.