Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ready for the Day

Spring is rising up, gathering itself in masses of leaves, rolling and pitching in the wind, green seas under white cloud. Rain comes and goes, and comes and goes, a spatter on the windshield or the face; sometimes it's surprisingly cold, and others surprisingly warm. Ants have found their way into the house again.

I forget to re-tape the windshield weatherstripping when it's dry, and I can't, when it's wet. So far it's never come off entirely, and no damp seems to have got into the roof yet. But when it comes half-loose on the freeway, it knocks sharply on the roof, or buzzes like an exasperated rattlesnake.


Tears on the table. Just a few. "Dammit, you unlocked me, Dale."

"Sorry," I said. "It's my job, you know."


Only sometimes, though. When I was younger, I might have thought it was always my job (and that's one of many reasons why I shouldn't have become a therapist any younger than I did.) Open them up! Make them vulnerable! Blossom them, whether they want to be blossomed or not!

No. There's a time for flowers to be closed, tight-furled. Everything in its season. Armor isn't always a bad idea: sometimes the world really is trying to kill you.


I did an end-of-month cast-up, yesterday. Money is yet another of those things, long out of control, that I'm finally getting a handle on. It feels good. And yet I long, too, to get away from this punctilious recording and tracking: to get up to the high country and have the wind in my face. Money, like health, is something I attend to in order that I may forget it, which means that even at its best its not really very inspiring.

Bow my head, rest my hands on my lap. Three mindful breaths.

All right. Ready for the day.

Monday, May 27, 2013


I've got my ship in dry-dock. Refitting.

Paint. Varnish. Make and mend.

Formless sky, bright with rain and pattering light: the earth a trembling snare drum.

The rhythm just barely escapes me, but the drummer is joyful, and each raindrop is a spark thrown from the drumhead. The rain, thank God: the rain, real rain, at last.

Remember me to your aunts and uncles, with all respect and formality. My duty to them all. But my ship is upside down, being careened and recoppered. The weather, for once, is no concern of mine. My delight in the rain is purely that of a private person.

I shrug, throw on my hoodie, leave it all to the carpenter and the bosun.

I must go up to the shore again, 
where the cat waits in the window, and the hopper in the yard; 
where the beer is in the pitcher and the wagon is on the hard.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Faintly Visible Silver

I'm very light. I think maybe I burned all up: I'm ash, now. I once saw a sheet of newspaper fall into a very hot campfire: the entire sheet flared and turned carbon-black, all at once, still whole, its type a faintly visible silver. And it floated back towards the sky, in one piece.

I'm adrift like that: transformed, possibly ruined, but whole, and drifting very gently. I have been a long time aloft.

Self-exiled from my friends, from my writing, from all the life I knew before. But I'm coming home now, with my black, silver-tattooed wings shivering. Gliding down to rest, softly. Maybe I'll come to bits, snagged on twig-points and leaf-ends and fence-posts. But maybe I'm fine. Who knows?

Once upon a time, Prince Siddhartha Gautama decided enough was enough. It was time to sit down, and not to get up again until he had solved the problem of suffering. But you have to reach the ground, before you can do something like that.

So many things happened in such rapid succession. I was dazed by the end of it. Because for many long years nothing had happened, and I had grown accustomed to nothing happening. I thought nothing would ever happen again. Then, whoosh! The fire – and again – and again –

And now, the ground coming slowly up to meet me; the night air gently laying me down.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


The variability of appetites: it was very late in life that I really understood how different we are -- from each other, from ourselves at various times. I have always been a person of very strong animal appetites. I have lost my appetite for food once in my life, when I was very wretched -- I was teaching a course on Chaucer at a third-rate university, to students who could not have cared less about the history of English words or the valor of gap-toothed widows, and I was failing miserably, by every conceivable standard -- and once, after a particularly bad class, for an entire evening, I had no interest in food. That had never happened before, and has never happened since. But even in my misery it interested me. Some people live here, I thought, wonderingly. They never think about food.

Likewise, many years ago now, decades, perhaps, I experimented with a couple different anti-depressants. One of them, I forget which, dampened my libido considerably. And suddenly the world made sense to me in a new way. This is how it is for most people. They can take it or leave it alone. There's no urgency about it at all: in fact, to come to the point of actually doing anything, they have to tease themselves up and work at it. All sorts of things about the world that had always been difficult for me to comprehend came into focus. Very simple. It's just very different, and it makes you a very different person in all sorts of relations, if you don't want things very much. People who break rules and screw up relationships out of desire must seem to you like careless, self-indulgent oafs. As I would feel about someone who, say, stole a watch from a friend because he took a fancy to it. What kind of depraved person would do that?

I don't want to oversimplify or excuse anything. these are matters of immense complexity and many valences. There seems to me some overlap, in all the desires: but I don't know how much, and I'm loathe to generalize. How tied to the intensity with which I experience the beauty of a shifting sky to the intensity with which I long for a hamburger? How separate are the appetites? Are they driven from one source of pressure, like a single pneumatic system? I don't know, and I don't really even know how to get purchase on the question. But it seems important.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Three Months

It's three months now.

I have become the world's most boring person. In the morning I weigh myself and measure my waist, and enter the numbers in a spreadsheet; in the evening I conscientiously fill out my food journal. When I wake up I lie in bed for a while, solemnly considering my shopping and exercise plans for the day. I have become a self-contained system, a zero-sum human being: all my energy is subsumed in my own maintenance. I feel a bit lonely, a bit ridiculous. Stupid thing to be doing with my time. Was it for this?

The hardest part of all this is realizing that – while many of the constituent parts of fixing how I eat and exercise are in fact easier than I expected – in aggregate, it is simply a large and never-ending project. The most damaging of all my many damaging fantasies about this was that, if I only succeeded, it would become easy and automatic. At some point, I thought, the boat would hydroplane. It does not: at least, it does not within three months. It simply goes on thrusting through the water. It requires a lot of energy. Period. This is not going to change.

Why do I keep doing it? Sheer cussedness, for one thing. But also, in this as in so many other areas of my life, I am tired of living beyond my means, tired of the ominous sense that I am only getting along by storing up trouble for myself. I want a pay-as-I-go life, not an indebted one. So far this is – just barely – worth it. I like getting stronger, quicker, livelier. I like being unashamed.

But it also makes me feel old, vulnerable, ordinary, mortal.

I will learn what everything costs, says Dorothea Brooke. Well, it all costs quite a bit.

Monday, May 13, 2013


I roll over, pile up a couple of pillows, and sit up on them. Lift the cardboard box that conceals the clock to get a glimpse of the time. 5:02. A little light leaks in around the curtain: dawn already? Seems too early in Spring for that.

I put my hands together. “Until enlightenment I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and in the Supreme assembly of the Sangha...” My lips barely move, and I hear the murmur only in my mind's ear. I repeat the prayer three times. “...may I realize buddhahood, in order to help all sentient beings.”

I rest my hands on my thighs – I find these days that when I fold them in my lap, my shoulders tend to come up and forward, and queer my posture – and let my eyes find their place. I let my back arch, and my belly swag. I can't see at all, but my eyes come to rest in their accustomed position, somewhere around the unseen foot of the bed. Still very dark. I lay my mind, deliberately, on my breath, which falters a moment, under the weight of my attention, but rallies, and takes its way, carrying my mind with it. The breath washes in and out of my body, and my thought rolls on top of it, like a beach ball in the surf.

Sometimes there's a constriction, and I, remembering an instruction from – it must be twenty years ago now – my very first meditation teacher, I let my mind leave my body with the breath, let my whole self depart and dissolve with the out-breath. As I do the room quite suddenly is visible. Not that the light has changed; it hasn't. But I can see, the dim shapes of bed and dresser, the drapery over the little closet, the dawn light edging the curtain. As I breathe in again the room goes dark and invisible again. The light, or rather my eyes' ability to receive it, comes and goes a few times more. And it is, I think, truly getting lighter outside.

I lift the box again. 5:24. Call it a sit. Hands together again: “By this virtue may I quickly realize Mahamudra, and establish all beings, without exception, in this state.”

The well-worn words tumble out. My hair is tousled, my eyes sticky with sleep. A new day, a new week, a new life: but the same breath, washing in and out, whether my attention is on it or not. I get up to let Kiki in, and open the living room shades.


Saturday, May 11, 2013


Wrestling with strange phantoms of hatred and baffled pride: rage, and the desire to inflict pain. There's nothing mysterious about the daily horrors of the world. It's just this impulse, with a good excuse and the encouragement of a like-minded group. Nothing more dangerous than a would-be alpha resentful of obscurity. When I was a young man, these fits would come upon me with terrifying speed and power: and I had so little skill or knowledge to help me against them. Good luck, that's what got me through.

So I wait, and breathe, and have my coffee. Suburban lawn mowers trumpet and keen, each to each; crows fume on the wires; cats probe the tall grass and the spaces between fence palings. I grow old with each passing moment: wrinkling, shrinking, decaying. The sun blisters and fades the paint on the walls. I keep hearing, or think I'm hearing, the call of a hungry young osprey. Absurd, of course: nothing would induce an osprey to nest here. It must be some other bird. How have I lived so long, to know so little?

I hold an egg-sized stone in my hand, smooth and reddish, with a notion of jasper about it. Place it on my book. My shoulders hunch, and I seem to myself to be rotting, rotting in place. I give up, and dive for the shadow. Next time. Something more, something less. At least, pray God, something other.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Keeping House

The red cubes there are memories
and the yellow flakes are pictures:

the blue dust comes of journal pages --
Facebook threads -- emails crosscut
and suitable for framing.

Turn your hands.

Make them into plastic scoops
nine feet wide, conformable
to any wood or tiled floor;

and now your hair, or beard,
becomes a handy broom.

Sweep, sweep, sweep, sweep:
Fold, shake down, repeat.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

In the House of Tom Bombadil

“Here in the house of death,” I muttered to myself, as I pulled a tee shirt out of my drawer.

I was sad: I've been grieving too long, and here was another death, and this one from my own generation. My sister-in-law. Cancer again. Not unexpected, except by Martha, who has a strange ability, despite her habitual pessimism, to create hopeful scenarios out of unlikely materials. I never took the respite for more than that. We will miss Kathy: her madcap gaiety, her immense good humor. Probably the best poem I ever wrote, I wrote in her voice. She was blown about by the wind of the world, but she was always ready for the next adventure. I hope the next is an easier one.

I dressed and headed out to get breakfast at Tom's Restaurant: a treat nowadays, rather than routine. But I needed to get out. Sometimes the weight of death is too much to carry, and I need to get out. Perhaps it's always been that, running from death, or from the dread of it, or the prefigurement of it. You can even run into it, to get away from it, like the supposed bird charmed by the snake: most suicides I think, come from that convergence of running away from it and running towards it, fueled by the delusion – so rampant these days! – that death is a sure-fire escape. Oh, no, my dears: I don't think so.

There is no escape really, of course: in fact the impulse to escape is itself the problem, masquerading as the solution. So many things are like that. Really it is time, and rhythm of the earth, that draws us up and away, regardless of our circumstances, into a different deception, dancing to a different pipe. If I could learn to wait in perfect stillness and adoration, death would pop like a bubble. Even as I am, it does sometimes. And I lay my hand on the breastbone of a client, and years and doubts wash away: and my soul ducks its head into its paws, and curls its tail around its nose. “And that's true too,” says Lear's fool. Exit clown.

And May comes with a vengeance, its colors shrieking, the greedy young sun climbing the sky like glowing yellow ape. It's been ten years since I began this blog: I missed my anniversary, yet again. Such things have no hold on his mind: he would be a most unsafe guardian. Na ja.

Lots of love, dears.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Version of Repose

I clasp my hands, feel the blood knocking
at the roots of my interlaced fingers. Dawn
is still far off: the ropes cast by the summer stars
barely drawing yet. The eyes that will see morning
are not these.

And not these glass marbles, glancing into mine --
quick, opaque, inquiring; pupils wide as death --
and the deft turn, the tufted ears describing
a parabola that hangs a moment in the air --

not these, either. She is gone
before her tail has quite begun.

The old prayers come comfortably,
and the mind settles, the precipitate
of thought coming gradually to rest,
river-silt homing in the lake bottom;
old staggered ambitions and regrets --

what is wished for -- what is dreaded --
drifting down, through the water,
to a dim, rippled version of repose