Monday, October 31, 2005

Self-Portrait, with hints of Asperger's

I remember learning to smile. I must have been eleven or so, and I read an article in the newspaper about the latest research on smiles. A smile that showed your teeth, and involved your eyes -- that was what people trusted. So I practiced in the mirror, till I got it right. Got the smile I still use today -- a happy grin, that crinkles up my eyes. I smile a lot. Partly because I'm happy or amused quite a bit, but also because it became my policy to smile when I was eleven. I had decided I needed to engage with people, and that was to be one of my tools. It's an important tool, when you're slow and awkward of speech. If you smile and nod and are responsive, people don't notice that you're not saying much.

I've been reading just a bit about autism and Asperger's syndrome. I recognized myself immediately. Way over on the light side of it -- I can simulate normalcy for as long as I like. Nonetheless I'm not normal. Most people don't learn to smile from a newspaper, or have to make a conscious decision to engage with other people. Most people have not spent hours at a time counting in binary under their breath, or weeks patiently rolling dice in order to randomly generate millenia of geneologies for imaginary dynasties. Faced with making thousands of similar edits in hundreds of files, I have to force myself to use my software skills and do the job in a few minutes. I would much prefer to spend hours doing it by hand. It's the kind of task that absorbs me, that satisfies a deep, obscure longing to participate in orderly patterns.

I have always been affectionate. "A little cuddle-bum," my mother used to call me. I'll hug anyone who will stand still for it. The casual contact of haircutter's or a dentist's hands delights me. This impulse is so strong in me that I suspect it's hard-wired. Not long after we got together, Martha recalled that when I had first proposed a backrub to her, she thought I was trying to seduce her. "That was before I knew," she said, "that for you sex was as likely to be a pretext for massage, as massage a pretext for sex."

Smalltalk, however, like smiling, is something I had to learn; while unlike smiling, it's never become second-nature. If people want human contact, why don't they just nestle together? If they want to establish mutual affection, why don't they say, "I'm fond of you"? What do the weather, the iniquities of the government, or the daily news have to do with anything? I do my best, but it all seems terribly roundabout and inefficient. I don't think I'll ever really get the hang of it, in this life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


As I said the dedication prayers last night the rain rattled on the leaves outside the windows, the candle flickered, and the little wooden Buddha behind it trembled. The long-delayed rains seem to have set in.

I stood up gradually, as is prudent these days, after a long sit. Stretched out my legs, waited a bit, grabbed the side of the bed and eased up onto my knees, where I waited a bit more, before I stood all the way up. My right hip doesn't like the long sits now, and I favored it a bit as I gimped over to the shrine and picked up each offering-bowl in turn to carefully empty it into the pitcher.

I paused. I was in my stocking-feet -- the back porch would be wet. So I set the pitcher down on the floor, took off my socks, and dropped them in the sock-basket. Then I picked up the pitcher again and turned off the one dim lamp. The room was dark, except that a little light gleamed throught the colored window from the neighbor's kitchen. I stepped slowly to the door. The knob met my hand exactly where I expected it. I stepped through back into the workaday world.

Yellow light. Martha and Alan were at the living room computers. Neither looked up as I emerged, but Martha's voice caught up to me, musical, unhurried, as I walked throught the unlit kitchen. "Hi hon."

"Hi," I answered. I opened the back door, and stepped out into the night wind and rain. My bare feet rested happily on the cool wet boards of the the porch. I looked up at the pale, turbulent sky, for a moment, feeling a few sparse drops blow up against my face. I stepped carefully -- it was slick -- to the rail over which the mass of clematis was collapsing, and poured out the offering water, which coursed down through the clematis branches in elaborate patterns -- I couldn't see them, but my feet could imagine them. A last look at the sky, clouds running before the wind, ghosts driven by ghosts. Then I went back in.

"Reading time?" asked Alan.

"Sure," I said.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Deutsche Wälder

It's like having the ice crack under my feet, and being drawn into a swift dark current.

In a good way.

Some time ago -- a couple years ago, probably -- I went browsing German blogs, thinking it would be a good way to keep up my German, and wondering what they might be saying, over there -- those people who have the blessing of knowing (if they care to) that they're immune to nothing, having suffered just about everything the horrible last century had in its repertoire. I love the German language, and German poetry is my favorite after English. (Forget the pretty Spanish and French stuff, warbling along melodiously -- I like poetry with a beat. Hard rock poetry.)

But -- whether my internet search skills weren't very good, or whether I was unlucky, or whether they just weren't there then -- I didn't find very much, and what I found wasn't very exciting. So I forgot about it.

Then recently -- how, I don't remember -- I stumbled upon Alma's blog, Denken und Träumen. I was enchanted at once; it was mindful, simple and heartfelt. Like hearing a penny-whistle in the woods. And (speaking of woods) there I discovered Arboretum, who maintains a remarkable forest, populated by all manner of creatures. (Arboretum called my German "charmant," which of course is the sort of nice thing you say to someone who butchers your language, but means well.) Thence to Bartleby, today, a lovely sensitive disquisition on loneliness. And the dreadful truth is that now it appears that wonderful German blogs also extend to the horizon. Clear off into the wild blue. I struggle along using the online dictionary of the Technischen Universität München, lost sometimes, but happily so.

Of course, I don't have time for this. I'll have to quit my day-job.

Here's Arboretum, "going down for air" --

Man strampelt und strampelt, nur um dann festzustellen, dass man nicht wie weiland der Frosch in Milch schwimmt, sondern nur in Wasser. Man wird also keine Butter unter die Füße bekommen, nachdem man schon den Boden darunter etwas verloren hat. Allenfalls produziert man viele Wellen, bevor man absäuft.

You struggle and struggle, only to find that you're not -- as you were -- a frog swimming in milk, but instead in plain water. So now that you've lost your footing, you're not going to get any butter under your feet. At any rate -- before you drown you'll make a lot of waves.

Tell them I waited for you
As long as I could
But the leaves were burning,
Burning, and his eyes
Were so bright.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Dear Reader,

Now a slight hitch, a stutter. A sudden infatuation with the Victorian cult of hard work -- as if, at age 47, I could transform myself into a Salisbury and become A Man Who Gets Things Done, rather than a vacillating dreamy wordmonger. Silly fantasy.

I woke this morning frightened of becoming feeble and sick. Not something I recall ever having feared before. An uncharacteristically sensible thing to fear.

A young woman walks into the Applebee's across the street, flipping her long red hair. An atavistic desire pushes past me -- a quick rude jostle -- and is gone, leaving a faint nostalgia and a stronger relief. Relief that I'm no longer bound to that wheel, at least.

Silver-white sky; leaves flickering green and yellow. Cars hurrying back and forth. Some of the mechanisms of depression are stirring -- the Salisbury fantasy is one of them, but the most telltale is that every velleity is met immediately with an equal and opposite doubt. Every desire cancelled with anxiety, every imagination with skepticism. I wonder whether it might not end right here -- sitting in a cafe on 185th avenue in Beaverton, Oregon, with never again a wash of volition strong enough to slop over into action. They could make a school project of me, swathe me in papier-mache and paint me in bright basic colors. Man Stuck in Cafe. People could come to get their photographs taken, sitting next to the Stuck Man, hamming it up and pretending to offer him a soda.

A little blue opening in the cloud, covered again in less time than it took to type it.

The Three Foundations of Depression. Let us begin a disquisition. First is a chemical misstep in the brain, a pathological hiccup between desire and action. Second is a conviction that life is bounded in space and time, that I stop at the edge of my skin, at my birth, and at my death. And third (this is really the same thing, if you are attending carefully. Are you attending carefully?) is the conviction that anything real can repeat itself.

The convictions are patently false. I did not start and I do not stop in this body, even taking the strictest materialist view. Leave the supposed spirit out of it for the moment: biology and culture have flowed into me and out of me. They continue to do both. And though words and symbols can repeat, nothing that they represent can. Not only am I not stuck: I am not even capable of being stuck. I am capable of imagining myself to be stuck, that's all. I am capable too of imagining myself lifting the vajra and the bell, black and free as the midnight sky, my skin glittering with jeweled stars, and bending down, infinite in mercy, down even to 185th Avenue.

The blessings of October on you all. The hound of heaven can run pretty damn fast, in Autumn.



Sunday, October 16, 2005


There's a whiff of something decaying, these days. I step out onto the front porch and stop a moment. Is it the ghost of a skunk, struck on the road a mile south of here? A breath from the garbage cans out back? No telling. Inside the car, a suggestion of sour milk. A hint of molding leaves lingers in my jacket.

A permanent slight fluster has crept into my hands. I hesitate with my language or poetry books -- leave them aside. Take up the paper and work the sudoku. Time to kill. Time at the wrong time, unwieldy blocks of time, useless time. Time, it turns out, is a tough bugger. Not that easy to kill.

I sit, and exhale my consciousness like a lungful of smoke -- the room goes oddly bright and dark, and high-pitched engines whine in my ears. Furnace fans, refrigerator motors, electric lights, they all make noise, all the time. Most of the day I don't hear them -- but when I sit, I do.

My eyes cross and uncross. Sleep wanders briefly into my mindstream, and back out before I can even nod.

A month ago I wrote about the rains setting in. I was wrong. It's been dry. The yellow maple leaves cover the lawn. A forlorn Autumn, just like the ones they have in New England or Old England -- dry, quiet and sad. Still gray air. And, this year, tainted.

Something is decaying. Me, maybe.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Vincente in Headphones




I pulled myself into the present. My eyes suddenly uncrossed. Dots unhitched from each other as my eyes hunted for a new focus. In a dizzying moment they had created a new grid.

Vincente. That was me, my name in Spanish class. "Si. Estoy aqui." I managed. I heard Mr Gordon sigh in my headphones. It was a state-of-the-art language lab, such as the art was in 1966. He could listen to the whole class, or just to one of us. When he listened to just me, what he heard was mostly silence.

It was not that I was not paying attention. It's just that I was paying attention to something else. The sound booths were made of blond pressboard that was pierced with a grid of little ladybug-sized holes. If you let your eyes cross, the images held by each eye would float independently for a moment, and then the dots would align and my eyes would snap into focus. The image formed was complete and completely convincing, but the one hole I was focusing on was in fact two holes -- my left and right eye were looking at different holes; it was just my mind's determination that the two images couldn't look so alike without being the same that made it certain there was only one image. I could let my eyes travel over this made-up surface clear to the corner of the booth. When I hit the corner, though, my eyes would panic -- something was not right; there were two corners where there should be one. They would unmoor and refocus correctly. They did this without any perceptible volition on my part. In fact it took a great deal of concentration to prevent them from attempting to refocus. But I found that with some practice I could do it. I practiced and experimented continually with those holes, with cutting the images of the left and right eyes loose from each other, and letting their patterns drift into various configurations. It was not, I guess, the educational end envisioned by the school district, but I learned a lot from those booths.

I remain fascinated by the phenomenon. I find it difficult to refrain from playing that way with any repetitively-patterned surface -- wallpapers, ceiling tiles. I immediately begin unfocusing and refocusing. It is almost impossible to convince myself that the images are fabricated, that what I'm seeing is not in fact what's there. Once enough things match, my eyes do a splendid job of ignoring the things that don't.

Sitting in those booths was the first time I understood, down in my bones, that my mind was actively creating the world that I perceived, that it was filtering out things it didn't expect and doing whatever it had to in the way of distortion in order to present an orderly image to me. Light values would be doctored, imperfections in the wood would be smoothed away, in order that I might see an intelligible image. My mind needed intelligibility, and it would get it, by God, no matter what the cost in accuracy.

With some exertion of will, right there at the point of data-entry, as you might say, I could make myself see the divergences. But with story and memory, it's nearly hopeless. Very soon after an event, I'm remembering my memory of it, not the event itself. At every remembrance more incongruities will be tidied up. Soon I have a smooth story, a complete memory, self-consistent in every detail. The only problem with it is that it will be fake. And most of the stories and memories we have, we get second-hand. They've already gone through this process many times, in other people's minds, before they get to us. The stories and memories we steer by are fakes made of fakes. And it doesn't really matter if they're revealed as fakes. We still steer by them, because we have to. But we don't have to believe in them.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


(This is in response to Jean's haunting post,In Passing, the Past)

Then if thou art the food of worms. O virgin of the skies,
How great thy use. how great thy blessing; every thing that lives,
Lives not alone, nor for itself -- fear not and I will call
The weak worm from its lowly bed, and thou shalt hear its voice.

-- Wm Blake, The Book of Thel

You cast an indigo shadow on me. I don't know how to say it more precisely than that. If you could see the shadow you cast, you would not worry about useful and useless. You would be overpowered, not by your uselessness and disconnectedness, but by your responsibility and entanglement. Even in just this world, the least of worlds. The shadows cast shadows, falling from screen to screen. You move in my thoughts, and have since first I met you. I have never met you, I suppose, as they reckon things in this world. More fools they.

It is only ever and always love, love disguised as rain on a roof or as wine in a glass. I began thinking to comfort you, but it was not long before I saw through that. It's I that needed comfort, and took it, sheltering under the strength that you don't believe in, huddling into that blue shadow. And my shadow huddles under your shadow's shadow, and so on -- do you see, yet? It doesn't matter at all, and it matters terribly. The shadows are more real than what casts them. You know that -- I know you know that.

Monday, October 10, 2005

And a Crank, Too

I'm at it again. Inventing alphabets. My guilty pleasure. I spent at least two hours this morning fiddling with the script for representing English that appears in embryo on the napkin below, writing out bits of poetry in it, looking for unsightly letter-combinations and how to correct them. Does anybody else do this? I suppose I picked up the vice from Tolkien, when I was a teenager. I have journals written in half a dozen different alphabets lying about.

English already has an alphabet, I know, but the Roman alphabet painfully spells out things that English doesn't need spelled out, and leaves out other things that should be. Unstressed central vowels, for instance. Why bother? We write them in dozens of different ways, but a schwa is a schwa is a schwa. Much more elegant to assume that every consonant is followed by a schwa, and just mark it if it's something different. When you get to the stressed vowels, though, the situation is reversed -- too few letters for the sounds, with silly rules for doubling consonants and going off to the end of the word to look for silent 'e's. It was absurd even back when there really was a difference in the length of of "short" and "long" vowels. Now it's just a curse. -- And then those ridiculous digraphs for consonants that Latin (and Norman French) didn't have -- ch, sh, th, dg! It's a wonder anybody ever learns how to spell English.

Er, yes, I am aware that this makes me a crank.

Friday, October 07, 2005


The difficulty with coming out is not that I had to come out; wrote Pronoia, it's that I have to come out over and over and over again to all of the people -- known and unknown, familiar and not -- who make assumptions about who I am.

The issue of coming out and being out has been on my mind a lot, the last couple of months. Partly because it's been an issue for someone very close to me. But also because it's been an issue most of my life, in an oddly torqued way. Martha and I are queer as can be. Yet we're heterosexual, ("heterosexual to a fault," as one of our friends put it), and married, and de facto monogamous. I work and Martha stays home with the kids. We own a house in the close-in suburbs. When someone makes assumptions about us they're usually correct, so far as the ostensible realities go. The difficulty of coming out is that I have no pretexts for it. I can put a rainbow sticker on my car and signs in my yard against the horrid anti-gay-marriage initiatives, but that just marks me as a liberal. I'm not a liberal. I'm not tolerant. I'm queer, dammit.

Most of my closest friends have been lesbians, and if there's one gender/orientation group I feel I belong to -- I'm not sure there is, really -- that's it. I encounter "ordinary" heterosexual culture with bafflement. The sexual primping and suspicion, the weird mix of idolatry and contempt, the simultaneous exaltation of sex as sublime and its denigration as repulsive -- it all leaves me with the feeling that I'm visiting a superstitious, unpredictable, and very dangerous alien tribe. Whatever I am, I'm not one of them.

And yet I pass, all the time. It's an odd double sense of alienation. "Those people are all imagining that we're a straight couple," I think. "When in fact we're... well... we're a straight couple." Does that make them right? It doesn't, but it makes it difficult to tell them they're wrong. And there's something about this alienation that feels almost like an adolescent rebelliousness, as if I wanted to mutter, "we fuck because we want to, not because you tell us to!" I wonder sometimes if I'm just making it up. Maybe we are just an ordinary heterosexual couple, with a yen to believe ourselves different?

But it doesn't take much ordinary socializing to convince me that this is quite real, that this cultural alienation runs very deep. I return to my lesbian friends with relief, like a fish returning to water. Passing is exhausting. Especially when you don't mean to be.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


There's a poem of mine (or two of them, depending on how you count) up on
Qarrtsiluni -- Two Finger Poems
Till We have Built Jerusalem

I've written several (unposted) pages over the past couple days arguing with the Chris-Clarke-in-my-head about political reality. I don't post most of my political writing. Other people do that much better, most of the time. My rants are sometimes clever (I'm a dab hand at insults, actually, and gifted with creative obscenity -- Martha often laments that my best remarks generally can't be repeated in polite company, or really any company at all) -- where was I? (Lost in the parenthetical. Right.) -- My rants are sometimes clever, but they're not very rich in facts and after letting them stew awhile they generally turn out not to smell very good. So I dump them.

The gist of my argument with Chris is that the proportion of human suffering and ecological damage that can be affected by policy (of any sort, however effective, which is always a dubious proposition) is rather small. That the proportion that can be affected by cultivating meditative peace and self-understanding is relatively large. But mostly, of course, I just don't want to look like a selfish self-absorbed jerk. It's not really worth arguing much. Buddhism as a political program? Well, China was largely Buddhist for centuries, back when it was the heart of the civilized world, and it doesn't seem to have cured the world's ills, or even China's. The beat goes on. Let Chris do his work, and I mine. The first one to create universal peace, prosperity & good will, with a sustainable economy, a sound ecology, and a thriving wilderness wins. Loser buys dinner.

I've been happy a lot today. That sensation -- do other people get this? -- of insubstantiality. I can feel the air blowing through me, stirring my insides faintly like a curtain in breath of night-air, the light and air of the world barely impeded by my corporeal boundaries. Sticking with daily meditationfor a couple weeks seems to increase the frequency of this sensation. But I got it even when I was quite a young child. A presence. Or maybe an absence, I don't know.

Fare forward, you who think you are traveling.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Outside of Time

To tell you -- to set my life upon a cast, and stand the hazard of the die -- to say "I love you" -- and wait, counting the silent seconds with the thud thud thud of my heart -- that moment, which disguises itself as the moment of waiting and longing, is actually the moment of consummation. The rest, win or lose, takes place inside of time, in the world we know. Disappointment or delight, it trails away at length into Sunday crosswords and the swash of the dishwasher, in the plain light of day.

How much reckless and cruel infidelity, I wonder, is born of desperately wanting that moment outside of time? -- And not understanding that you can only ever get there once, by any one path.

Hail skittered down the dark wet roof of the house next-door, yesterday, rushing almost directly toward my eyes, so fast that I saw not the grains of hail, but white lines, an elaborate shifting rattling white net wavering toward me. Then thunder shook the house, and the window-panes trembled. There was not even time to tell the hail "I love you," before it stopped. But that was outside of time as well.

It's all outside of time, really, I think.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Paths not Taken

Moose asked -- Dale, if you're up for it, I'd be interested to hear about how you came to choose Tibetan Buddhism. I mean, of the various paths, why that particular one?

I've been trying to answer this question, and finding it surprisingly difficult. I've been jotting down bits and pieces of an answer all day, but it hasn't come together very happily. There are two answers, really, a historical one and a theoretical one. The historical answer is simple -- I just happened to fall in with Tibetan Buddhists, and since they provided everything I was looking for in a religious tradition, I looked no further. I don't -- I can't emphasize this too strongly -- consider Tibetan Buddhism to be superior to other kinds of Buddhism, and and I don't consider Buddhism to be superior to other religions. But there are of course reasons beyond historical accident for my having landed here.

One of the things I noted down was a list of the other contenders -- other paths that have caught my attention at various times. This may serve as the beginning of an answer to Moose's question. There's a kind of cartoon-style here that I cringe at a bit, but I suspect it will convey a more accurate picture of how that paths appeared to me than a more sophisticated version. So herewith a survey of paths not taken.


Theravadin Buddhism. It was a Theravadin, Walpola Rahula, who turned me into a Buddhist. I read his book, What the Buddha Taught, and found it overwhelmingly convincing. In many ways, I remain grounded with the Theravadins. Their simplicity and humility appeals strongly to me. I am confused and suffering and I want it to stop. It may not be grandly noble, but on the other hand, it's a hard foundation to build arrogance on. Ignorant Mahayana practitioners, and even some who should know better, fault the Theravadins for not cultivating compassion. This is nonsense, on a level with saying that Jews don't value forgiveness. Had I happened to encounter an inspiring Theravadin teacher or community I would probably have stayed with them happily.


Zen Buddhism. Zen appeals for many reasons. It's cosmopolitan, the product of a several very sophisticated civilizations. (As opposed to Tibetan Buddhism, which is the product of two rich but rather isolated, provincial, and culturally unsophisticated ones.) Much of the greatest Buddhist literature and art is Zen. Zen shrines are beautiful. Tibetan shrines are gaudy and clashing and rococo and -- not to put too fine a point upon it -- ugly. You will look in vain, in the Tibetan tradition, for a poet of Basho's stature or an artist of Hakuin's.

Zen has spent centuries sharpening its intellectual claws on Taoist and Confucian philosophy. I like its insistence on the moment, on enlightenment not as the end-goal of an orderly training program, but as something that might come along and whup you upside the head at any moment. And I like the austerity of its practice tradition. Tibetan Buddhism has thousands of different kinds of meditative disciplines -- Zen has basically one.

There are also things I don't like about Zen. There is sometimes, to my nose, a whiff of machismo to it. Sometimes a tinge of contempt for people who are intellectually weak or fearful, which appeals strongly to a certain sort of academic, but appeals to me not at all. (This is not something I've seen in Zen teachers or longtime Zen students -- not that I've known many -- but Zen seems to be particularly appealing to young men with something to prove.)


Taoism. Taoism is in some ways a strong contender, and always has been. I was sixteen when I was blown away by the Tao te Ching (or Dao de Jing, or whatever transliterators would like us to say, nowadays.) My reading of Lao Tzu was my first encounter with a contemplative, and a formative one. I didn't really know the difference between Buddhism and Taoism then, and I still today discover bits of Taoist poetry and philosophy mis-shelved in the Buddhist section of my mind, where they have been shedding light and causing confusion for decades.

I find its insistence on original innocence and the rightness of the natural world both very appealing and very problematic. It shares the Eden myth with Christianity, and I don't much like the Eden myth, for a few thousand reasons. But my real problem with Taoism is simply that its contemplative tradition isn't available to me. Whether it's died out, I couldn't say, but I do know that I've never encountered a Taoist master or a Taoist institution that appeared to me to hold the accumulated lore of its meditation tradition. As far as "what" and "why," Taoism can hold its own with any other tradition, for me, but when we get to "how," it doesn't offer much.


Catholicism. Catholicism never really had a chance with me, because I didn't even really know it had a living contemplative tradition until I was pretty well steeped in Buddhism. I think all my readers, including my Catholic ones, will understand why someone who wasn't born Catholic would find taking it on a rather tall order, especially for someone who doesn't (I think) believe in God. Now what would have happened had I read Thomas Merton at age sixteen, rather than Lao Tzu, we can only speculate.


Protestant Christianity. Or what, for me, could reasonably be called C.S. Lewisism. This is my cultural home, and largely my emotional and intellectual home as well. But there's a hitch to it. You have to subscribe to the belief that Jesus is God (in a way that the rest of us are not.) It's not enough to say, "well, I don't see why he couldn't be." Probably no one has had more influence over my religious habits of mind than C.S. Lewis, but we just don't agree on the facts. (There's another hitch, to wit, that there's no contemplative tradition to go with it, beyond free-form improvisational prayer.)


(Later.) I've hesitated several days about posting this. There's something horribly arrogant about shopping for a religious tradition -- "How does this fit? Does it go with my shoes? Is Jesus good enough for me, or do I prefer the Buddha?" But a lot of us find ourselves in this position willy-nilly, having been raised in no religious tradition, or in one that we revolted against, or in one so tentatively held and vaguely defined that it simply went away with childhood. We end up shopping whether we like it or not.

Paths that aren't on this list -- which are far more numerous than the ones that are -- aren't there simply because I never had a meaningful encounter with them in my formative years -- not because I examined them and rejected them.

I guess this list forms a negative portrait of what I was looking for. I didn't want to roll my own religious path -- I don't feel smart enough or strong enough. Anything I made would be too rickety to hold my weight. I wanted something ancient, for several reasons: in large part, I have to admit, just because I love ancient things, but also because an ancient tradition has had to accommodate lots of different personality-types and different cultures; it's less formed by the fashion of the moment and generally more roomy and comfortable. I wanted something with a living contemplative tradition -- I knew I wanted to meditate, and, with uncharacteristic sense, I recognized early that meditation was not something best learned from books. It's an art, and an art is best learned by a) doing it and b) studying with masters. And finally, I wanted an inspiring teacher. I wanted someone who was a living demonstration and reminder that it's possible to have a life that is not submerged in fretting and craving. I found all those things seven or eight years ago, improbably enough, at a Tibetan Buddhist center in Portland, Oregon. That I suppose is another post.