Saturday, November 25, 2006


I was seven years old, at the neighbor's house, and I surreptitiously broke off a little piece of styrofoam packaging and chewed on it.

"You shouldn't eat styrofoam," the Neighbor Dad said, his face full of concern. "It's just like glass, it will cut you up inside."

I nodded, full of interested understanding, pretending I hadn't eaten it, pretending he hadn't seen me, pretending he was just introducing a topic of general interest. In my experience if you pretended blank incomprehension long enough, and just refused to inhabit the same world as other people, the other people eventually became nonplussed and went away.

It worked now, too. He went away. I didn't really think the styrofoam was going to cut me up inside. But I didn't know. It might. I've waited, ever since, for that styrofoam to begin cutting. It will serve me right, if it does.

I remember it still, so it must have frightened me pretty badly. His words have sat in my mind ever since, like that maleficent styrofoam, cutting me up inside. Other words sit there in the same way, chance remarks, parting shots from bitter lovers, bits of magazine advice.

My own survival came to weigh on me, after a while. The end of my life and my love had been prophesied so often, so many dooms had been invoked over my blond-white head, that living on -- even thriving, in my queer, viral, parasitic way -- came to seem perverse.

Yet here I am. Apparently indestructible.

Still turned at this odd angle to the world, half in, half out. I open my hands to catch the light, I mold the clay of the hills, shear the coastlines; I take a deep breath and blow, and all the clouds rush away in turbulent swirls. What am I making, here? Why did I shape those trees, this street, that glimpsed face?

I am old, old, old; old with making, old with dreaming. I don't belong here, but nothing has the strength, it seems, to heave me out.

I kiss you gently as you sleep, night after night. I used to long for a real life. Now I know that I was never meant for that. I was meant for something else.

Snowflakes come out of the dark sky, like confused moths, brushing me with their wings. Winter, Summer, Winter, Summer. I can't keep track. The zodiac spins slowly around me; Orion trades with Lyra, Lyra with Auriga. Moments ago it was summer; now it seems to be the dead of winter.

I cradle your head in my hands, working the little muscles of the neck. All that head to hold. Poor little hybrid: head as heavy as a pony's, and just that little monkey neck to hold it all up.

In the middle of the dream your brown eyes open and look straight into mine, our faces upside-down to each other. Your eyes fill with confusion. I'm not what you expected to see. I don't whisper, "sleep, dear. Sleep." I turn your head, softening the scalenes, letting my fingers flow in among them. My other hand works your scalp. Soon enough, soon enough, you'll have the story put together again, about who you are, and who I am, and what light that is, falling through the high window.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Playground Nightmares

Words do not come easily, just now. I've lost my voice. Physically -- I have a wretched cold and my throat is on fire -- but also mentally. Something has shaken loose, in the core of me, and nothing verbal quite works anymore.

So I write, hoping that if I just pump enough words through, they'll wash the obstructions away and my voice will run clear again. It's not exactly that I have nothing to say. It's that I have nothing to say that feels bold or new. I have wandered backward into the nightmares of my childhood. There's nothing adult to be seen here. This is a country of selfish, inflated anxieties, and of endless primping of an ego that's never, quite, somehow, cued onto the stage. I come back to it with a little distance. But I haven't grown out of it all -- I've just been holding it at arm's length.

I wanted to take private yoga classes. A hopeless extravagance, for someone unemployed. But I sense that I've gone as far as I can with sitting meditation, for the moment. These are anxieties that live in the flesh, a hunch of the shoulders and slump of the spine that replicate themselves moment by moment, and they have to be addressed physically. And I don't know how to do that. But the idea of being in a class, on display in my physical self, horrifies me. It's all old, old anxiety, childish stuff, playground nightmares. I suppose I could try to learn yoga out of books. I have some suspicion of that; that it would be like trying to learn meditation out of books, a long laborious roundabout way of doing things.

I know that some of you are serious practitioners of yoga. What do you think I should do?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Confidence Skulls and Incubi

They keep the classrooms locked, so we accumulate in the hall before class, sitting on the carpeted floor, looking over our anatomy cards, chatting about what we did last night.

Kinesiology midterm, already. I drop my pack and settle to the floor. "Dale, here," says Clint, and he tosses me something about the size of a marble. "It's a confidence skull. It's a Buddhist thing." He's brought one for everyone. A carved wooden skull, sans mandible. Tests are not Clint's favorite thing. He's been having nightmares, he tells us, about this midterm.

He's shaved his head, except for an odd forelock. "Like a kewpie doll!" exclaims Lindsey, accurately.

I roll the skull between my fingers, surprised at how strong a gratitude I feel. I wonder what sort of "Buddhist thing" it is, but I doubt there's any information to be gleaned by asking. I'm not nervous about the test. My gratitude is for being included.

You would think it would be the massage class that would be tight, since we lay hands on each other all the time, but it's the kinesiology class that's become our common hearth.

"How old are you, Dale?" asks George, asking as if to settle a bet. "Forty-eight," I answer. Speculation ensues about the age of our instructor, a lithe and beautiful woman past her youth. Guesses range from mid-thirties to mid-forties. She has at least one teenager, we know.

And here she is, looking uncharacteristically worn.

"Where are our cupcakes?" asks Mae. "On my kitchen counter," says our teacher wearily, as she unlocks the door. Meaning she forgot them, I suppose. She has a discipline problem to deal with at home, she says, so she won't be joining us after the test. A chorus of genuine regret. "No cupcakes?" says Mae, mournfully.

We file into the classroom, get settled, several of us fondling our little skulls. Mae has torn off a wisp of her hair and is threading it through hers, producing a surprisingly gruesome effect. Andrea's already threaded hers through a fine chain around her neck. Lindsey springs up a moment later. "I just have to!" she says, and leans over to rub the fuzz of Clint's head. "So soft!"

Just eight of us, now. (Three people have dropped the class, including, alas, the Girl with the Magic Hands.) So we find a partner, and repair to the tables, with the curtains drawn so they're open just in front -- we can't see each other, but the teacher can see all of us. There's a lot of waiting around, during a palp test, and we're not allowed to speak. We sit on the tables and kick our feet, or pace around, as the instructor moves down the line, having one person in turn name and palpate the origin and insertion of some muscle on his or her partner, and run it through its actions.

We can hear George, the other side of the curtain. "The latissimus dorsi originates at the posterior iliac crest, the thoracolumbar aponeurosis, the spinous processes of the last six thoracic vertebrae, and the posterior surfaces of the last three or four ribs," he says, authoritatively. I'm a little amused. George always talks himself down, and gives the impression that he expects to fail horribly, but he doesn't fool anyone anymore. He has it down cold. " runs under the arm here and inserts here, at the crest of the lesser tubercle of the humerus. Its actions are to extend the shoulder, adduct the shoulder" -- he'll be moving Clint's arm as he speaks -- "and..."

He stops: he's gone blank. Silence. Andrea and I exchange a glance. He finds his way again. "...and medially rotate the shoulder." Andrea pumps a fist in silent triumph, and we grin at each other.

Mae's too young to drink, so Andrea's reserved a lane at the bowling alley. The rest of us can drink there, fetching pitchers out of the bar, and we sit at a cafeteria table under glaring flourescent lights. Our lane won't be ready for a while. James, who is a movie buff, is talking about other films by the maker of Amelie, which fascinates Andrea and bores George. Mae has found other friends at the bowling alley and is dividing her time between us.

Clint asks me what music I listen to. I find this a difficult question to answer, and what I say is not particularly true; I say I listen to old stuff, Beatles and Stones and Zeppelin. Actually I listen to all kinds of stuff, whatever's on the radio, new stations or oldies stations. There's all kinds of wonderful music. I wonder why the question makes me so anxious. I guess because I no longer know what liking this music or that music is supposed to say about me. Wary, as ever, of being pigeon-holed. If I say Red Hot Chili Peppers or Sarah McLachlan, will I have branded myself as... something? I look at Clint's guileless face and find myself ashamed of my reticence and caution.

Cosmic bowling. The black light picks out the skulls on Clint's wristband and ring, and the white of his boxer shorts as he clownishly wiggles his hips before taking his three steps and bowling. How he can bowl with his pants riding so low is a mystery to me. He can't, very well. George leans over to me and murmurs, "I've never seen a grown man suck so bad at bowling."

A certain moroseness has been growing in George. There's just five of us left when we head into the karaoke bar -- all four men from kinesiology, and Andrea. We're all flirting lightly with Andrea. But for George possibly it's serious; it seems to have an edge to it.

Karaoke. Andrea does a creditable "Son of a Preacher Man." James, who reveals an unexpectedly commanding stage presence, does Metallica's "Sandman." I've never seen karaoke before and I'm delighted by it. It reminds me of blogging: singing for each other, all amateurs together, rather than being passive spectators of remote, professional artists; borrowing the taped instrumentals just as we borrow the professional-looking typesetting of html apps to make a show of being real writers.

"Back to never never land," James growls into the microphone, radiating sinister, and wholly feigned, malevolence. I glance at George's closed face with some uneasiness. Some are born to endless night, Blake whispers to me. I hope not.

But George is the exception. The rest of us are simply having a good time.

We shut the bar down. That strange moment arrives when ordinary lights come up, and tired waitstaff begin to wipe things down, and all the shabbiness of worn carpets and tattered upholstery is revealed, and a sudden quiet hangs in the stale air.

This is the time when the incubus usually settles heavily on my shoulders, whispering to me about the futility of my love and my perpetual isolation. But not tonight. It's absent. We say our good nights affectionately, and I drive carefully home, with nothing, nothing on my shoulders.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Do I Owe You Email?

Hell yes. The first person on my "reply to at once!" list sent their unanswered mail four months ago. If you've heard from me more recently than that, which is very unlikely, you jumped the queue.

Sorry. You're in good company, anyway.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Moon, Again

Walked out under the streetlights. Eastwards the white lob of the moon, dwindling from full; westwards the illuminated green glass towers of the Convention Center. I shrugged into my jacket, and stopped, resting a knee on the brickwork wall, and looked at the night.

Took a bit of something out of my pocket and touched it to my lips. Doubting all my decisions, and painfully aware of how many moons have already run out under my fingers. An old song from my childhood, about rain-drenched streets, came to my mind. Accidents of time and space. This wall, this knee, this evening. It all could have been different.

I turned my talisman in my fingers. I'm not such an unwary prey of samsara as to believe the whole story of loss and missed opportunity that its refraction of the streetlights told me. But still. You can't help but listen.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Occasions of Joy

A couple weeks ago. I drove through a landscape of fog and suddenly looming, yellow, fluttering leaves, till the sky suddenly cleared and turned bright blue; turned into a little small-town college campus, and walked into the nearest building, and there was Tarakuanyin. She held out a hand to shake, but I hugged her instead. So glad to see her, and to feel her shoulders under my hands.

So we found a little cafe, and talked, and discovered old mentors in common. A beautiful Irish voice, slowed to cowboy cadences. Altogether such a lovely experience, out of the clear blue autumn sky. Pure gift.

(If you haven't read TK, read the harrowing series of posts that begins here. She's an extraordinary writer.)

Yesterday. Half the sangha is gone to India, including all our official teachers. So Peggy was leading a half-day of shamatha. I wish, I wish she did this weekly. She's all business. No long introductions and explanations, no question-and-answer period for people to talk and try to impress the teachers, or each other. We're here to sit; let's sit.

So we sit a full hour -- Peggy also doesn't trim down the time of the meditations -- and it's wonderful, and since we're observing the customs of the all-day sit, there's silence at the breaks, which means I can walk out, at the first break, in silence, all the benefit of the meditation intact, and go home in the quiet morning to prepare my massage room. Life as I have dreamed it could be.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


There have been times, I know, when I have felt loveless. But I know that without being able to revisit the feeling. Nowadays there seems always to be a tenderness welling up in me. Sometimes pleasurable, sometimes painful. But always there.

For much of my life I was troubled by it. Along with the tenderness there used to come a hunger, and a sense that there was something I should do in response to it. I felt all the more isolated: all that love, and no way to say it, no way for it to flow from me to you.

I think that of all the things practicing the Dharma has brought me, the most valuable has been the understanding that there is nothing that needs to be done in response to it. That it already does flow from me to you. I was stuck in a narrow materialism, I believed the boundaries of my self where absolute and impermeable. And I was so alone.

Of course I am usually still hungry. I want everyone for a lover. I want to embrace every stranger who smiles at me, and every stranger with sad eyes. I want to hold everyone, feel them fall asleep in my arms. And the rules that say I mustn't do those things -- well, I guess I accept them now: I understand, at any rate, that those rules have never been the source of my loneliness, and that abolishing them would not have filled my emptiness. But I don't think they will ever feel right to me.

Life is so short, after all, and the gale is blowing all the time, that tearing wind fluttering the hair and grabbing at the clothes, and all we have to hang on to is each other. Someone comes along and says, oh no, you must hold on to just these people. Not those people. And I want to say, for God's sake, don't you feel the force of that wind? Don't you see how important it is, that we be able to hold on to each other?

But no. They don't feel it, they don't know it, they don't see it. All right. Then I just need to hold on another way. I will hold on with words, and with the sanctioned touch of supposed therapy -- as though sickness were what made touch necessary! -- but yes, I will solemnly nod my head and pretend to be a therapist, rather than someone who holds on to people so they won't be blown away by the storm. And so I won't be blown away by the storm.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Feminism 5

By way of Sage, the question is: what five things has feminism given you?

1) Touch. Permission to be tender with my children, parents, and friends. To hug, ruffle hair, snuggle.

2) Flourishing gay friends. Two old friends in particular come to mind. Both came out in their twenties, and both were transformed. Their voices deepened, they looked you in the eye, their feet were on solid ground, and they laughed from their bellies.

3) Twenty years of life. I'm just guessing. But my grandfather, who worked virtually all the time, dropped dead at age sixty-two. People who can't be soft and can't rest die young.

4) Sex as play. When sex is neither conquest nor performance, it's a lot more fun.

5) Permission to be silent, to dwell in uncertainty, to listen, and to wait.