Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Forty Questions

For some reason this one really charms me. Udge did one and so did Beth. I'm tagging you, Dear Reader.

1) Who is the last person you high-fived? -- Hmm... I don't know. I'd guess my teenaged friend Jonquil.

2) If you were drafted into a war, would you survive. -- Odds are pretty good. I wouldn't expect my odds to be much different from anyone else's, which I think is what the question is driving at.

3) Do you sleep with the TV on? -- Nope. Only TV in the house receives two channels and is on for two hours Saturday mornings. & it's in my son's room.

4) Have you ever drunk milk straight out of the carton? -- Sure. Last night, in fact.

5) Have you ever won a spelling bee -- I must have, in grade school. I was pretty insufferable that way.

6) Have you ever been stung by a bee -- maybe once. Half a dozen times by yellow-jackets. They get mean, late in the Fall.

7) How fast can you type -- pretty fast, but my accuracy's not all that good. I spend a lot of time backspacing.

8) Are you afraid of the dark? -- I LOVE the dark.

9) Eye color -- sky blue.

10) Have you ever made out at a drive-in? -- Oh. Yes. Yes, definitely. Yes.

11) When is the last time you chose a bath over a shower? -- a couple months ago?

12) Do you knock on wood? -- oh yeah. I have a little piece of wood I brought into the office especially for the purpose, since there's no real wood here in cubicle land. More often though I say "knock on wood!" and rap on my skull.

13) Do you floss daily? -- I seem to do it daily for a month or two, and then forget it for a week or two, and then do it daily for a month or two, and so on.

15) Can you hula hoop? -- Nope. Can't make the things stay up at ALL. Bugs me.

16) Are you good at keeping secrets? -- Yes.

17) What do you want for Christmas? -- I deeply, devoutly, wholeheartedly want the damn holiday to go away. I hate it.

18) Do you know the Muffin Man? -- No, which I think is too bad.

19) Do you talk in your sleep? -- Not often.

20) Who wrote the book of love? -- Emily Bronte wrote one of them. Charlotte wrote the other.

21) Have you ever flown a kite? -- Sure. I even sold them once, on the beach near Astoria.

22) Do you wish on your fallen lashes? -- Never heard of it. Too old to start now.

23) Do you consider yourself successful? -- Huh. I don't know.

24) How many people are on your contact list of your cell? -- You get me a cell, I'll tell you how many contacts I put on it.

25) Have you ever asked for a pony? Nope.

26) Plans for tomorrow? Figure out why my damn tests run on Mr Gates' operating systems in the US, but not in Canada.

27) Can you juggle? -- Yes, but only three objects at a time.

28) Missing someone now? -- Yes.

29) when was the last time you told someone I Love You? -- This morning.

30) And truly meant it? -- Of course!

31) how often do you drink -- Almost never.

32) How are you feeling today? -- Delighted.

33) what do you say too much? -- "Oh, anything's fine with me."

34) Have you ever been suspended or expelled from school? -- Hmm. I don't think so.... but I could have been.

35) What are you looking forward to? -- Visiting Montreal.

36) Have you ever crawled through a window? -- Oh yes, many times. Mostly for fine upstanding reasons like being locked out.

37) Have you ever eaten dog food? -- not that I remember.

38) Can you handle the truth? -- Well, better than I can handle lies, anyway.

39) Do you like green eggs and ham? -- Sure. What's not to like?

40) Any cool scars? -- Oh yeah. I have one shaped like the orange mark on a Black Widow's belly on the back of my left thumb. I think it's really cool.

Friday, March 17, 2006


I think this is good. But I'm not sure.

I've been working pretty hard -- putting in five times as much real work, probably, as I had been during my slump. I'm pulling myself out of habitual grooves over and over.

It's exhausting. I keep finding that the question "am I doing this the best and smartest way I can think of?" turns up the answer: "no." Not that it's any easier or more rewarding to do the work in a substandard way. On the contrary, it's harder and less rewarding. But I've habitually chosen the way of least exposure. Do it the laborious way rather than ask somebody's help. Spending half an hour trying to make sense of blurry documentation rather than phoning someone who's sure to know, and could tell me in two minutes.

But every time I ask for help or make a phone call, it takes its toll. And I end the workday completely spent.

It's easy to imagine I"ve transcended something when in fact I haven't risen to it yet. I used to plume myself on how I put my work aside at the end of the day, and came home to be fully with my family. Not like those drones who worked themselves into a stupor and came home unavailable.

But really, I had just solved the problem by hiding out at work. I could come home and be present, because I'd had a whole day of being absent. I hadn't balanced anything.

I'm trusting that at some point this will become less hard. Because I can't keep this up much longer.

Beyond this -- well beyond this -- is the question of whether I actually want to be doing this work. I'm more than ever convinced that I was right when I decided that I would never be able to determine that, unless I knew what it being committed to the work was like.

I feel diminished and ordinary, though. This was what I have been protecting myself against, all these years -- against this sense of myself as just a person like any other person, subject to the same discontents, laboring under the same conditions. And that's exhausting too. I hadn't realized just how heavily I leaned on a sense that I had something special about me, something in reserve that would dazzle people if they only knew -- how much I depended on that. If this is really all I am (and what else could a person be, than what they are? There's a lot of teeth in that; come back to it) -- if this is really all I am, then all the motivation I've drawn from glittering futures has to be replaced. Replaced with ordinary pleasures. And that's not just a morning's work, either; that's another task, as hard for me as lifting the telephone.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Yesterday my highschool roommate said he had seen me slap my girlfriend, once. I believe him, but I don't remember it, and there was a cold constriction behind my breastbone all day. This is well over thirty years ago; any connection I have to that overwrought teenager is tenuous, but it distressed me, and it still distresses me.

That I'd done it -- if I could remember it -- would be forgiveable. I was fifteen and terribly unstable. But that I could do it and forget it, that's what frightened me. What else have I forgotten? Just how much editing has gone into making this persona?

I had to ask Martha, last night. "Have I ever hit you?"

Her blank perplexity was reassuring. I told her why I was asking. "No, you've never hit me," she said.

So that was a relief, anyway.

I still don't remember it. But a couple hours after he had said that, a picture formed in my mind: a dark hallway, and she standing a couple yards away, on her high-colored face an expression of mixed anger and triumph. The expression said, "I knew that was what you really were." There's no movement to this picture. Nothing leads up to it or away from it.

My memory works like that. Disconnected pictures, charged with emotion. There are no stories in my memory, no narratives. I'm always astonished by people with narrative memories. Martha has the whole history of our lives in stories. Start her anywhere, with any memory, and she catches the thread of the story, and soon the narrative unfolds, complete with characters and motives. She even remembers other peoples' stories.

But my memory is little vivid pictures framed by a huge darkness. I remember things I've seen and things I've felt. There's M, having just stepped back from me, the stairs tumbling away to my right, an unlighted doorway behind her; and the picture is suffused with dread. But that's all there is.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sweet Delight

Down from the Carolina shore
The Yankee sails tonight
Carrying soldiers guns and more
Down below
Down below
The Yankee sails tonight.

The loom of the wind over the shoulder of the hill; Antares wrecked in the surf of Scorpio; late summer, and the grass thick and wet with dew.

An anxious scrabbling underneath the split concrete of the 'S' for Springfield, a teenage hand thrust under the waistband of tight jeans, reaching as far as a soft nest of pubic hair, and then stopping. Further than it had ever got before, and that was enough. No idea what to do beyond that point, anyway. But too tightly wedged in the jeans to withdraw.

Impass, till she abruptly wriggles free, with an unaccustomed mobility of hip, and reaches for the Gallo jug again.

Splintered brown-gold glass, glittering in the far reflected gleam of a streetlight, old cigarette packs, cheap wine. A place where old idols cluster for revenge.

But that's not this story. Except that it's always the same story. "If it's not one damn thing after another, it's the same damn thing over and over."

Oh she sails with the wind it's a bloody end
She has for the rebels' fight
When there's money in the banks there'll be hoodlums in the ranks
Down below
Down below
The Yankee sails tonight.

But no, it's not greed and it's not desire that we have to fear. It's the plowshare of habit, digging one gash of a furrow, over, and over, and over, till all of life is one muddy line. That one Cyclopic tooth. Our one bite, like the sting of a honey-bee.

Hard unaffectionate kisses, the sour taste of Gallo, and a disaster of clouds gathering up the valley. This night will never end. Not till they all end.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Lake Water

I don't remember what lake it was -- Waldo Lake? Triangle Lake? -- or why we were there. It was not a real lake -- Oregon doesn't run much to natural lakes, being so geologically young -- but a reservoir, a drowned river valley. We didn't ordinarily go to such lakes, my Dad having an aversion to man-meddled landscapes, so I wonder that we were there. Wild rivers and mountains were more in his line.

But I remember just this -- seeing the wrecks of trees below me, dark green shadows, like a dim nightmare of giant pick-up-sticks. Sinking into the cool, hazy water, sunlight filtering through uncertainly. My feet touched the cold water underneath, and recoiled. It was icy down there with the corpses of the trees. "Not yet," I thought.

Today the sadness surrounds me, just like that. The light of the dharma weakly illuminating it. There is a different world up above, and a different one again down below. But for now I'm held up, held down by the sadness. Suspended.

(Love, which made all things -- ah well, it made this, at least.)

The cherries are already blossoming.

Here, where winter never really takes hold, and never really leaves.

"You should believe in reincarnation," my teacher's teacher said to him. "You should believe in reincarnation."

"Why?" he said

"Because believing that will push out all the other stupid things you believe."

Sometimes the loneliness and longing are so intense, that it feels like an intoxication. I am poisoned with it, drunk with it. I become reckless. Sometimes there is a really dangerous moment or two -- but then I just become weak, weak and sick.

But listen, enough of that.

Oh penny, brown penny, brown penny
One cannot begin it too soon.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


She was hideous when I first saw her -- head half shaved, criss-crossed with wicked rows of black stitches, one ear in shreds, and half her side shaved and stiched too. She'd apparently lost a fight with a racoon. The stiches looked like zippers against her pink flesh and white fur.

It was Martha, of course, who found her, under a bush. Her owner was away, so Martha took her to the vet. It was a good chunk of money to patch her up. Her owner, when she came back, said "oh -- I would have just had her put her down." So since we were willing to shell out, and to nurse her, we got a cat.

She was a tiny thing, and she'd been living hard even before that -- she weighed only a few pounds.. She lay flat on the bed like a dirty white child's sock. But when I found an undamaged bit of her to pet, she purred.

"She did that at the vet," said Martha, ruefully. "we were looking her over, deciding whether we should even try to put her back together, and I stroked her, and she started purring. I couldn't believe it Well, after that --"

She was embarassed, as she always is about spending money on animals. I always say to think about all the much stupider things people spend much more money on -- luxury automobiles, for example, or fancy clothes, or jewellery. If they're not embarassed about that, why we should be embarassed about spending money patching up cats?

Even patched up, she suffered from heart trouble and asthma. Her purchase on life was tenuous. But she doubled her weight over the next few weeks, and within a couple weeks had blossomed into a beatiful little white cat, with arresting dark eyes, fluffy and dainty, a perfect old lady's cat. With an old lady's cat's name: Angel. I was a little ashamed of the name, and always made a point of telling people we hadn't named her. But in fact it was a good name for her: she was ethereal and light as a feather. A visitor in this world.

That was a year or two ago. After living with us for couple months, she suddenly found her voice. She'd barely made a sound, up till then; we weren't even sure she could meow. But it seemed she'd finally built up enough confidence to ask for dinner. And pretty soon she'd built up enough to insist on dinner, like any other cat.

This morning I heard an odd sound, like a brief moan of overstressed machinery. Couldn't tell where it was coming from. I sat down at the computer & did a bit of work. There was the sound again.

I got up and found her half-under the easy chair, twisted around as if she had been fighting with it, her claws fixed in the upholstery. My first thought was that somehow she had gotten trapped under it. Her eyes were all pupil, staring hard. She was perfectly still.

I gently unhooked her claws. She wasn't trapped. But she wasn't okay either. She writhed in slow motion once, with her forelegs held out stiff in front of her. Made that queer noise again. I think she was trying to stand, but her body wasn't following instructions. I stroked her, looking for injuries, though I didn't really expect to find any. I know neurological damage when I see it. Poison, or a stroke, was my guess.

She calmed a little as I stroked her. Closed her eyes, and began to purr.

I woke Martha, and she took Angel to the veterinary clinic, while I took Alan to school and went on to work. She called me here at work, not long ago. Angel had purred while she was holding her after the final injection, too. "I cried and cried," admitted Martha.