Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Closing of the Year

So we come to the closing of the year. A small lift of light, as the sun begins to return. A slant gleam at five o'clock. No more than that. We are still in the dark of winter.

It has been an important year for me in several ways, none of them very amenable to summation. But you might render it down just to this: that for the first time I have nothing to record. The end of this year is just like the end of last year, except -- except -- that I see it and welcome it this time.

I can, when I'm tired, lean my head against death and find a moment's peace. Ride on my anxiety as a boat rocks on dark water.

Nothing is going to happen. Except that the leafless birches are going to stir the air with a fine netting of gray twigs, fractal lines of dark gray against a light gray sky, and the rain will kiss my face. People will come and go, happy and sad, pleased and angry. It doesn't add up to anything, and it never has. Not that that kept me from frantically doing sums and running projections.

Something new happened this year. I got Christmas cards from people that moved me. I have occasionally gotten a Christmas card from someone far away which touched me. Never more than one or two in one season, though. I got three from bloggers this year. I felt abashed and grateful, and I found it hard to believe that anyone would go to all that trouble, let alone three people. Ours has been a still and isolated life, I guess; I had come to think of Christmas cards as something that came from dentists and veterinarians, conscientiously tending their practices. I've never sent them myself. It occurs to me that I actually could, that I have people to send them to now.

The closing of the year. I like the idea of a year closing, as a shop or a flower closes, the valuable vulnerable things put away safe, everything folded down quiet and dark.

Bless you all, and thank you. May the opening light of the new year be good to you.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Dark leaves fluttering on a midnight sky,
A sky bleeding patterned stars,
Blue as the gleam of a crow's feather,
Blue as the sheen of a black cat's fur.

A heartbeat of drums in the black trees
I want I want I want I want
Vajradhara leans forward, his eyes
Intolerably bright.

Fools and children, they feasted upon the cattle of Helios
And he who walks all day through the heavens
Took from their eyes the dawn of their return.

What made you think you could fool the night?

Even the barren sky of daylight
Expects its due and enforces its law;
Did you the think the night, with every eye
A seeping wound, would ask for less?

Dark leaves fluttering on a midnight sky,
A sky bleeding patterned stars;
White as the ice of a sudden blow,
White as the sparks of a welding torch.

Compassion howls in the trembling hills
Compassion marks down the weak and the old
Compassion hunts from dusk to dawn,
Ruthless and implacable.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Somebody Else

I keep reading about Churchill, who fascinates me, and identifying with him, knowing full well I am a character much more in the Chamberlain line. Not defeatist, exactly, but so anxious to cut my losses that sometimes I start cutting them before they are incurred.

I wonder about the usefulness of all this. When I was younger I plumed myself on this ability of mine to see my faults and imagine different modes of being, but the usefulness of such an ability depends on actually being able to change. If I can't change, then imagining different modes of being only amounts to more uncertainty and indecisiveness. I don't remember who the teacher was, but some confident, expansive, dynamic rinpoche was once asked by a student if diligent meditation practice would make him (the student) as outgoing and enterprising as he (Rinpoche) was. Had meditation made him that way? "Oh no, no," answered Rinpoche, laughing. "I was born this way."

It is true in my observation, as in Lorianne's, that meditation tends to make extroverts more introverted and introverts more extroverted. But still, we're not talking Chamberlain-to-Churchill, here. I've felt the shift myself, but it's such a gradual shift that even if I'm given forty more years, the continent's not going to drift all that far. Which is not to say that it's not worth doing. There are wider contexts than just this life. But I'm not sure that just waiting until Oregon's coast is snuggled up to Honshu is the best plan.

At issue here I suppose is the assumption -- of which I'm becoming more conscious -- that I can only do whatever life-work I'm called to do, if I'm somebody else. And so I've spent a great deal of my life's energy in trying to become this other person who can get the work done, and in recrimination because I haven't succeeded. Maybe it's better to leave self-transformation as something to incubate by way of meditation -- the only even moderately successful of all the methods I've tried -- and to look for a life-work within my immediate compass, a life-work that a shy, hesitant person might accomplish. It needn't be glorious. It need only be useful.

An new essay of mine is up on Qarrtsiluni.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Drawing Down

What the inchworm really measures
with its green prostrations.

A flustered woman would clutch her housecoat. "What do you want?" she would ask anxiously.

Sgt Friday's face would twist into a faint grimace. "Just the facts, ma'am."

Drawing down to the solstice. Eight o'clock, and the sun has not yet risen. To the northwest, set in a sky that washes from lavender to violet, is a brilliant white moon. Full -- or nearly full -- it is startlingly far north, this time of year. Yes, Virginia, the Earth does tilt.

And it spins as well. In two hours will be the Hundredth Day Sit -- 6:00 pm Greenwich Mean Time. I've never been more aware of the spinning globe. Soen Joon's temple in Korea is still asleep. I'm just getting my breakfast. Brenda's been at her temp job in Toronto for hours already. Across the Atlantic, Jean is coming to the end of her working day. I try to hold all these facts in my mind at once, and fail, defeated by the hugeness of the world and the the intimacy that can so easily circle it. Empty, luminous, and unimpeded. When I first heard Kalu Rinpoche's often-repeated description of mind, I listened making indulgent allowances for Tibetan mysticism. Now it strikes me as hardheaded, unsentimental observation. Just the facts, ma'am.

Monday, December 12, 2005

This and That

If you notice that sort of thing, you may have noticed me restlessly twiddling my template. I went on a bit of an html purist binge. I removed a lot of formatting which was, I decided, an illegitimate attempt to wrest control over the appearance of my text from the reader, who may well have limitations and demands of his or her own. The whole point of html is to let the client computer figure out how to produce the page.

But at the default size for at least three different machines I've been on, my favored Garamond font looks cramped and gunky. So I think I'm going to return to bumping it to 120% -- which doesn't really violate html purity, I guess. At least it's relative. There are still plenty of other ways in which I violate the rules -- I knew nothing about html when I started blogging, so I just filched a template I liked. It turns out to be a very overbearing one, full of a very American confidence that it knows what's best for everyone (whether it knows anything about them or not). All kinds of things are sized in absolute rather than relative terms. It's the kind of template George Bush would have created.

So anyway, if anything I've done has been a change for the worse, please let me know.

In other news -- links have changed. I've added P and Lekmo and Not So Perfect to my blogroll. You've known the latter two in other incarnations. (P, another of the wonderful German bloggers, did an audio of my Asperger's post, which makes it sound beautiful. Thank you!)

With great sadness I've taken down my link to Michelle, who's given up blogging. For very good and sufficient reasons, but I will miss her very much.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Midnight, Thanksgiving day. The five of us stood around the formica counter; the fair-haired young vet, a little flustered maybe at having so large an audience, nevertheless moved quickly and capably. The catheter was already in Socks's foreleg, wrapped in that green webby stuff they use nowadays. Three syringes of sedatives -- all different, I think, but adding up to a whopping overdose -- he administered one after another. In a very short time, thirty seconds, it seemed, he said, "he's gone."

It was just couple weeks ago that we had noticed him getting fat. "His body is perfectly spherical; he weareth a runcible hat," I had quoted to him. "Socks, we're going to have to get you a runcible hat." This had happened before -- we had taken him to the vet, and the vet had said "Your cat is fat." So we didn't pay it much mind, so much else was going on. Socks, anyway, had always looked after himself. He was a rogue, or possibly "thug" is a more accurate word; he always walked with a bit of a swagger, and he never backed down from anything. One of his favorite things to do was to sit calmly at the edge of the sidewalk while people walked their leashed dogs by. Socks wouldn't budge, while the dogs barked and lunged at him, held back with difficulty by their owners. He'd just gaze at the dogs with an unblinking Clint Eastwood insouciance. "So you put up with a leash?"

I used to say that Socks was sent to us to show us another way of being. When he showed up, a slim arrogant teenager, our reigning cat, the large and regal but tremendously neurotic pitch-black Duncan, hitherto lord of the house, abdicated at once without a struggle, and retreated to the back bedroom. Socks would thrust his head at our dog's muzzle and demand to have his ears licked. Our dog always obliged, anxious to please -- if she didn't do it fast enough or thoroughly enough, Socks would cuff her, good-naturedly but imperatively, until she got it right.

Up there on the counter, as we all stroked him, I could see that his face had become gaunt. The tumor had been taking its toll. If any of us had taken a good look at him in the last week or so, we would have figured out sooner that he was ill. Not that I imagine it would have done any good. The cancer was extremely aggressive, moving in on his stomach and kidneys. But Socks hadn't complained. He never did. The night before Thanksgiving he threw up some, but, as for many cats, that was just matter of course for Socks -- he did it so often that we always laid carpet-samples over his favorite pieces of furniture, to make the cleaning-up easier. But when we came back from Thanksgiving dinner he'd thrown up all over the place, not the usual innocuous piles of kibbles that seemed barely to have seen the inside of a cat at all, but a noisome, ominous fluid. And he was moving very, very slowly.

Our cat-carrier was loaned out, so we put him in a cardboard box. He didn't object when we closed him in, which was when I knew for certain he was very ill. I held the box on my lap. On the way he vomited, and the fluid soaked the bottom of the box, and the lap of my jeans; a warm stinking drench. "'tsokay, socks," I crooned. I already knew it wasn't.

Later we murmurred "om mani"s as we petted him, and he receded from this life. It's supposed to be propitious for a good rebirth. Who knows. An assistant came in to ask about our disposal plans, pattering through their options. "We just need a box, I think," we said. "We'll bury him in the back yard." We're Victorian sentimentalists, really -- we want our mourning ceremonies. We were all wet-eyed.

"We could put him near Duncan..." mused Martha. Then she smiled a little. "... who he didn't get along with. Or near Croker, who he always wanted to eat."

Monday, December 05, 2005

A Line

I bought a bicycle yesterday. I had never till yesterday ridden a modern bike -- the last bike I owned was probably made in the 1970's. This bike was as light and nimble as a mountain-goat. I suppose I couldn't really have ridden it over fences and up the sides of houses, but it felt like I could. It will be ready for me Wednesday. It's blue. I love it.

I'm reading a biography of Churchill. As a young cornet of hussars he pulled every possible string -- & the young scion of a ducal house has access to a lot of strings -- to get posted to wherever the fighting was going to be; be it the Sudan or South Africa. If there was a war on, he wangled his way into it. To post-World-War-One eyes this behavior appears maybe surreally innocent -- maybe demented. I think to his contemporaries it appeared high-spirited and gallant.

I would like to be high-spirited and gallant. So I bought a bike.

I wrote an essay for blogging racism day, and one about the death of my cat. I thinking I probably won't post either of them. Much of my prose lately feels to me mis-timed and awkward. Either labored or glib. Sometimes both. I'm just waiting for the proper phase of the moon, now. But I thought I'd drop you a line.

P.S. -- Oh, and Petra, if you're a real person, as opposed to a diabolically clever phisher, send me another email :-)