Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Next Thing

Or perhaps I've just added the horror of poverty to all the other horrors.

I don't know how to judge. I only know that I ache with sickness, the horror of a life of accumulated shame and doubt and fear. I feel certain tonight that this clutch around my heart will never ease.

It's good I guess to be brought face to face with it -- this grimacing creature that's mocked me all my life, scoffing my state and grinning at my pomp. I guess. Or maybe I should never have looked up.

But. Get a grip, Dale. The truth of the matter is -- it's not that bad, either way. And it doesn't last that long. It's just one moment, and then another, and then another. It's okay. The clutch eases in fact quite frequently. Only once did it stay for long, and that was long ago and far away.

At this point, kiddo, the best thing to do is walk straight into it. What else is there? After all, this is what you've always longed to do: to shatter everyone's expectations, to fail spectacularly in every particular. So do it. Fail.

But not as a slave. Don't fail that way. Fail as a free human being.

Just do the next thing. Even if that is what you used to tell yourself when you paused by the windows at IBM, having wasted half a day, taking a deep breath before going back to your cubicle to waste the other half. It was good advice then, even if you couldn't take it. It's good advice now. Do the next thing.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


I and Tiel of Knocking from Inside will among those reading poetry Saturday evening at

Missa's Herbal Products and Health Care
6026 NE Glisan
Oct 21 - 7 PM

Yikes! Never done such a thing.

Monday, October 16, 2006


5:30 a.m. I close the bedroom door and pad quietly downstairs. At the landing I pause, as always, to part the window curtain and see what the sky is up to.

The overcast is starting to break apart. Through one tear in the clouds, I can see Sirius burning, throbbing blue and white and blue and white. Comforted, as always, by knowing the stars are always there, way beyond the reach of greedy hands. Made lonely, as always, by knowing that they're beyond the reach of my greedy hands as well. I drop the curtain and go on downstairs.

Good morning. Wherever you are, the sky will be holding you. Don't forget to look up.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Neighboring Tribes

There lives not three good men unhanged in England, and one of them is fat, and grows old.

Woke this morning full of anxiety about whether, when we reach week three, and are supposed to be giving two massages and receiving one each week, anyone will want
to trade with me. It is a very juvenile-feeling anxiety -- like wondering if anyone will date you in highschool -- which jumbles up particularly disagreeably with the fact that in this case my chief insecurity is that, in this context, I am so old. In both my classes I am by far the oldest student. Quite old enough to be the father of most of them. The young women in my classes are careful not to encourage me -- perfectly civil, but avoiding much eye contact and staying very neutral. Which of course is precisely how I would behave, if I were them, but that doesn't make it less nettling.

The young men, on the other hand, do not seem cautious this way. Altogether the young men surprise and please me. There are a lot of men in my classes -- two thirds in my Massage I class, and half in my Kinesiology class -- and they are comfortable in their bodies and comfortable with touch in a way that I think would have been rare, or even impossible, when I was their age. Some of them of course, like me, were raised in the cultural far-left, children of flower-children. But some are just ordinary working-class guys, who grew up in Tigard or Salem, guys who like to watch football and tinker with their cars on the weekend. Mostly it seems their wives or girlfriends have encouraged them to do this, told them they had a gift for it. Thirty years ago this sort of man wouldn't even have considered it. Now here they are, practicing bilateral tree strokes and shingling on other men with no more fuss about it than the mild acknowledgement that "it's a little weird to do this on guys." It's not a big deal.

Working class. One thing this experience is bringing forcibly home to me is how very segregated my school and work environments have been. In my work life, for years, the only hint I have that there even are working-class people have been the barely visible trace presences -- the crews of dour Hispanic landscapers, the young women with long blond braids who silently appeared to water the plants, the cleaning crews of smiling, but again silent, Hispanic women who showed up and cleaned around you if you were working late. In that environment it was easy to fall into thinking that everybody goes to college and sends their kids to a private school.

These people -- these young men, in particular -- have a sort of openness about them. After the rather pinched and self-conscious academics and software engineers I've grown accustomed to they're lovely to be around -- perfectly willing to make mistakes and be corrected, and full of an oddly old-fashioned gallantry toward the women. No doubt a proportion of them are jerks, but there's something touching about how anxious they are to make sure the women's privacy is respected when they're undressing to get on the table, how careful they are with the draping. Many of them are very big, burly men, and they carry it very gently and -- what? Almost apologetically.

This is not my tribe either. But it's a nice one to visit.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Went in this morning, signed a couple papers, surrendered my badge, my laptop, and sundry keys and passwords, and walked out into the free air of a bright Indian summer day. Done.

Very queer, to have time. So many entrenched habits of haste, and calculating time. Unnecessary at the moment, but I keep finding myself hurrying. I went home and took a nap. Tried making some tabouli, which I'd never made before. The pleasures of touching fresh food, squeezing lemons, chopping tomatoes and scallions and parsley.

All very odd, nostalgic, and not quite real-seeming. I feel like an adult pretending to be a child. How tracking time and eating out of frozen cardboard boxes and tin cans came to represent adulthood to me is a little hard to fathom.

I mostly don't feel free, at the moment, so much as disoriented, and a little at a loss. What now?

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Hmm. I started off, once again, trying to write something for Qarrtsiluni on education and failing. Once again, it's turned out to be all about me. So now it's a rather unformed blog post.

I have been groping for the analog. At some point, at some point of my life I felt just this way. There was even a similar catastrophe of loss hanging over me.

Finally I got it. Just now. And of course if I'd paid attention to the earworm, I would have known right away. School's... out... for... summer! School's... out... for... ever! Alice Cooper, right? And the image in my head? A blond little boy races up the steps and goes into a school.

Ah. But. The point is, it's not a school. No chain-link fences. No barbed wire. No asphalt to skin your knees on. Not a real school. It looks like a house. Real schools look like prisons.

The image is from a short documentary someone made about the New School, the little private alternative boarding school I attended for two years. It ended up with that song and that image. Liberation. That's what it was about.

I hated school, before that. Passionately. But the odd thing is, I didn't know it. I was bored. Many of my classes were desperately uninteresting. I was "weird," which meant I was mostly friendless. My movements were almost completely prescribed -- sit at this desk in this room, go to this section of the cafeteria; the only time I could move on my own was on that desolate plain of asphalt during recess. And recess was a dangerous time, because bullies too had liberty of movement then. Any sane person would hate all this. And I did.

But, as I say, I didn't know it. I had no conception of freedom.

I recognize it now, now that I'm leaving it. The craven subservience, the regimentation of movement, the good-boy eagerness to please, pretending to want to do things I am completely uninterested in -- what does all that remind me of? Oh yeah. Of course. School.

That was where I trained in this passive-aggressive style, this say-yes-mean-no. Like a beaten dog, I wag my tail and fawn, because I don't dare bite. That's even where I learned to sit like this, slumped and slouching, defeated. That's where I learned to watch a clock. To think of time as something to be gotten through somehow. To live in worlds of imagination because the world I was in had nothing, nothing to interest me. The real world was simply something to be borne. It had nothing to do with desire.

I'm not sure how I let my worklife devolve into this. Sure, my company got acquired by the company which is a stock emblem of dullness and conformity. But that doesn't really account for it. Not everyone here is slumped hopelessly in their cubicle, surreptitiously blogging. Some of them are alive, have hopes and fears and investment in their work. How? How does that work? Why doesn't it work for me?

I'm not sure. But I suspect a piece of it is that I have never connected with anyone here, never felt like anyone from my own tribe was ever in these buildings. I'm pretty sure I'm wrong about that. That there were people I could have made friends with. But I didn't, because it would be too risky. Of all places, the place where you don't reveal yourself is work.

The single most telling moment in all of this was when I told my boss what I was going to do next. "Um... something like, uh, massage therapy or physical therapy." And the next time I mentioned it, it had become physical therapy, which had to recommend it -- what? Well, maybe that it was less touchy-feely. But I suspect that what it really had to recommend it was that it wasn't the truth. It wasn't my real desire. To let my real desire be seen in this environment felt horribly rash. Anything other than the truth would have done. And when he asked me what I was going to do next week -- he was just expressing friendly interest, I think -- did I say I was starting massage school and I was terribly excited about it? No. I said I was going to sleep a lot. "Sleep a lot?" he repeated, in some puzzlement. I nodded, affably, vaguely.

Certainly no one from my tribe was going to find me while I was so assiduously hiding. And nobody, my tribe or not, was going to know me or value me for who I was, if I was carefully withholding all significant information about it.

Writing mole and having people respond to me has been a wonderful step out of hiding. But I would like to appear as myself to everybody. Surely at age 48 one is a little old to be hiding like this. To be so anxious to please.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Embodiment of Grief

While the computer talked to the porcelain-shaping machine, and the dentist and assistant had both wandered off, I sat up and found & massaged a variety of trigger-points in muscles of my thighs and calves and forearms. Stood up and stretched. All my life hitherto, when I've been waiting for dentists to finish something, I've just sat in the chair like a lump, considering myself under authority and therefore obliged to be utterly passive. Screw that.

When they were done I walked out with a new crown, happy that I've discovered that novocaine, while doing not much to mitigate what I dislike about dentistry -- chiefly the noise of the drills rattling the tiny bones of my inner ear -- makes me miserable for half a day after an appointment. Now I do without it, and I walk out of the dentist's office perfectly free. Really done. My face still my own.

My fragile mood collapsed at some point. Anger and despair and grief filled me. Bitter denunciations of capitalism, of patriarchy, of monogamy, all the myriad systems by which people establish ownership of other people's time, persons, and affections, rose of their own accord in my mind. Old, old rants, simplistic, out-dated and old-fashioned since the advent of Napoleon, but still rising with huge power. I was filled with malice, like the venemous Rousseau, and believed myself sweetness and light.

Winding myself up farther and farther, wrapping myself up in my own story. There is only one story. Believing in it implicitly. Grieving. Resenting.

This mood too collapsed, and I thought, "why this story? Why not some other, or none at all? Why keep nailing myself to this particular tree?"

I stepped out of the shell of my body. It slumped there like an abandoned rag-doll. I stepped out of the story. Enough already. Let Rousseau simmer in his own juice. I'm not staying here.

No sooner had I stepped out than I was awash in love and pain, soaked in it. Missing you horribly, horribly, horribly. What have I done wrong? Another story threatened to step in smoothly and start to shape itself. Guilt, remorse, resolution, all the stupidities.

No. I don't want it. I don't want it. Damned flies, always drawn to pain, spreading pestilence. Go away. I took a breath, watching it from beginning to end, from the stir at the nostrils to the sinking of the ribs. That's better.

There, there below, that crumpled, miserable body, slumped in a cubicle chair. What's to be done with it?

Well. Pick it up gently, first of all. Sit it upright. So. Pinch the nostrils shut and breathe into its mouth. One breath of love. One breath of pain. One breath of love. One breath of pain.

We're here to teach each other, remember?

And that mood collapsed too.

It's little enough that survives the wreck. Memory, they say, dies with the body. Thank God for small mercies.

Or you could say, with equal truth, it's little enough that gets smashed up. A little engine droning worn-out stories all day, like some infuriating child's toy. The sooner we're done with it the better. That would be another perfectly sensible way to approach it.

But the body brings its own gifts to the party. Its own light, thicker and even more cryptic. Rhythmic hunger. A rush of saliva into the mouth, a rush of blood into the genitals -- renewing the hunger, renewing it multiple times a day. Bringing us back to another kind of simplicity. Back to square one. Muscles hunger for movement. Eyes hunger for sleep.

I close my eyes, feeling the exhaustion in my eyelids. I'm sorry, readers, I know you want me to be suffused with joy and walking confidently into a new future. That will happen, maybe. But just now I am grieving.