Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Well, if they want to fail me, I gave them plenty of reasons to. If they want to pass me I think I gave them reasons for that as well. Within thirty days they'll tell me which it is.


Sunday, October 28, 2007


The moon is not full, this morning. It is
frayed at the bottom, as if from dragging itself
over the hills; a moon tired of traveling,
Ready to quit. It leans on the pale sky
of a Fall morning.

My heart
searches for you, like a tongue searching
for a pulled tooth. Tender there.
I am going to the beach this morning,
to walk along the wrong shore;
Japan is closer than you are.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Final Exam

I view my upcoming Oregon Massage Board exam with a sort of anticipatory nostalgia. It is to be last, probably, of the exams that have loomed so large in my life, the make-or-break exams after weeks of study: the GRE; my orals in grad school; the finals in the course on compilers that were the dread of Computer Science students at PSU. I have always had a gift for exams. I'm a clutch hitter, and I have the kind of peripheral psychological vision that tells me what sorts of answers will be welcome, even when I have no knowledge to go on.

At my orals, John Hollander followed up a question about the Romantic poets with a question about their sources. The answer, I knew, had to do with Gray, but I also knew I didn't know it. "I'm aware of my ignorance of the Pre-Romantics," I said stiffly. Technically, the Pre-Romantics weren't to be part of the exam: we chose nine out of fifteen possible topics to be examined on, and the 18th Century wasn't one of mine. But really Hollander was quite within his rights: knowing sources is fundamental to understanding any poetry, and Gray is hardly obscure. My Romantic poet, whichever he was, would almost certainly have learned Gray's poems by heart in school. But I knew that a) Hollander really wanted to know if I knew what sort of knowledge would supply the answer to his question, more than he wanted the specific answer, b) that he was sensitive about being thought of as an overbearing academic -- he was the sort of professor who wants his students to like him -- and c) that admitting ignorance of something I wasn't to be tested on wasn't going to be damaging, and d) a spirited answer of any sort was going to do me more good with the examining board than a meek one. Hollander backed off at once, with a mumbled apology. I passed my orals.

There was a brilliant girl in the same year who failed. She was slight and nervous, the sort of girl who touches her face a lot and seems always to be apologizing for occupying even the small space she takes up, who makes her smallness seem smaller by always wearing dark clothes. You usually had the impression that if she could have disappeared altogether, she would gladly have done so. Confronted with seven august professors sitting around the table, at her orals, she froze. The rumor was that she had managed to speak maybe two or three sentences during the whole hour and a half. They had no choice but to fail her, though every one of them knew she had more intelligent things to say about most of the topics than any of them did.

There was a certain sense to it, cruel though it seemed, and still seems, to me. It was difficult to imagine her teaching, at least teaching in America, which requires a lot of improvisation in front of a class (as opposed to reading written-out lectures and doing tutorials.) But she worked so hard, and thought so well. I suppose it's a species of survivor-guilt that I feel, about the people I know who have failed exams out of anxiety, or because they were just not very good at guessing what sort of thing was wanted. So many of them were better thinkers and harder workers than I ever was.

But anyway -- to return -- this is probably it. The last time I do such a thing. Oh, I imagine I'll take exams from time to time, in reality as we shape it here in the first world, exams are a fact of life; but not exams I'll need to be anxious about. All these exams, of course, were supposed to be initiations -- the only initiation rituals we still know how to do -- but I'm not entirely sure I'll know how to live without one in the offing. The thought that I may have exhausted all my delaying tactics, and finally have to be an adult, is a spooky one. So it's appropriate, maybe, that it should be scheduled for the eve of the All Hallow's Eve.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bottom's Dream

In response to this week's totally optional prompt

I wondered metrically, at first, why it was so satisfying:
A four beat line followed by two three beat lines, and
A four beat line followed by two three beat lines. This Horse.
And I knew I did not know horses, so I couldn't write about horses
As horses.

But a clever lad doesn't need to know horses, of course
To write about horses. He only needs words. The horses
Of Achilles. Or the horse they rolled into Troy, on a day
I have always pictured cloudy and dim, with rain threatening,
And all those Greeks stuffed into its belly, like bits of walnut
In a thanksgiving turkey. Stick to what you know? Well,
I know words.

But the head of Kooser's horse kept obtruding
Bony, with accusing eyes, and telling me what I do not want to hear
And have never wanted to hear -- it pushed its nose into my room
And told me that words are not enough. It told me that I must
Know horses.

I told it I was writing an essay on just that topic. Hold your --
Well, never mind, but, anyway, the question of knowing --
But the tickling about the ears became

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Literary Professionals

I have been doing a lot of finishing old half-finished essays lately (no, I will not identify which they are, you will have to guess.) This post began life as a response to a post by Beth at Cassandra Pages many months ago.

The professional literary writer sustained by a public is a product of the cheap-only-if-centralized print industry. It didn't exist before the printing press, and I don't think it will survive it. Which doesn't trouble me: I don't know that it was an especially desirable phenomenon. It's not at all clear to me that trying to please a wide public, or more precisely, trying to please editors who are trying to please both a wide public and a publishing company, tends to produce good writing.

If we have settled for living in a Capitalist society, then we shouldn't fuss about the market shifting to adapt to different technologies. I don't see why I should be more distressed about professional writers being out of work than I am about, say, loggers being out of work here in Oregon. If they're not needed, they've just got to learn to do something else. That's the society we've chosen to live in.

The fact is, there aren't just a few people with something valuable to say. There also aren't just a few people (though fewer, I concede) who can say it well. Professionalizing writing may have given a few people full-time jobs, but it also ensured that only a few of the people worth reading were read.

Many of us who write would like -- or think we would like -- to spend all of our time writing, and not have to do anything else. But is that really good for writing? Think of the writers you most admire -- how many of them simply wrote, and did nothing else? Writing is a reflective activity, a yin activity. Making it a yang activity, the main activity of life, violates its nature. It's no wonder that Hemingway blew his brains out. No one bought more heavily into the idea of the full-time writer than Hemingway (and his handlers: he was a very deliberately produced public figure). But you can watch him becoming increasingly desperate with the fact that making writing the central activity of your life leaves you with nothing to write about. It was not so much that he lied, as that there was no more truth to tell. He viewed it as an existential crisis and a psychological failure. May it not have been simply an untenable life-project?

It was my ambition, all through high school and college, to be a writer of fiction. (Which is odd, because I had no talent for it whatsoever; but it was what Great American Writers wrote, so by God I was going to write it too.) After college, I spent a year -- my family being at the time well off enough for me to do so -- just writing. The dream life, yes?

It was probably the worst year of my life: the loneliest and the least productive. At a wrenching psychological cost I produced, by dint of grim grinding determination, a couple uninspired short stories and a couple essays. In the course of an idle year, that's all I produced. I made half-hearted and unsuccessful attempts at publishing them, and gave up. While in college, on the other hand, I had written two short novels -- not effortlessly, but handily enough. I probably wrote less, in my year of Being a Writer, than any year before or since. And I still bear the scars of that horrible time, of day after day after day of trying to wring stuff out of my head that simply wasn't there.

In retrospect it's not at all mysterious to me. I didn't have anything to say because I didn't have a life. I wasn't doing anything in the world, and, unsurprisingly, when I tried to reflect, all I had to reflect upon was trying to reflect. There are people who have made careers of just that, but even at the tender age of twenty-one I knew that wasn't the career I wanted. Or the life I wanted.

So I find myself unmoved by the endangered-species status of the professional literateur. The species can vanish, as far as I'm concerned, as rapidly as it appeared, and no one will be much the worse for it. We may in fact be the better for it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


One of those quick eddies that are the thing I love most about blogging: Dave Bonta wrote something that spurred me to write my last post, and both of those spurred Dick Jones to write an incredible poem, which in turn spurred a beautiful meditation by Dave.

This sort of thing happens in the paper print world, of course, but you have to piece it together afterwards, like an archaeologist with crumbly bits of a pot. Here you get to see the wet clay on the wheel. I love it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Make Believe

"One of my base assumptions," wrote Dave, "is that if some doctrine or dogma makes me feel good, it can’t possibly be true." That's my knee-jerk response as well. Of course how I feel about a doctrine doesn't have anything to do with whether it's true. If making me feel good disposed me to fool myself into believing something, then I would rightly be suspicious of my belief; but since actually it disposes me to doubt it, maybe I should ballast the other way, if I want to balance the boat.

That is, if anyone were trying to get me to believe anything. I can't honestly say that in my -- what, ten years now? -- of hanging out with the Tibetans, that anyone's shown any interest in getting me to believe anything. I've been so long away from faith traditions that I have a hard time understanding what people are asking when they ask me what Tibetan Buddhists "believe"; it's clear to me that none of my answers are going to match any of their questions.

There is, of course, a sort of spiritual pornography rife among Buddhists which I don't think much of. The extravagant claims for total enlightenment. The insistence on holding people to be "fully realized beings" -- a phrase that I loathe -- when you know that you don't know them well enough to have any reason to think they're even particularly wise or kind. There, you can see the desire to believe something that makes us feel good. Of course, it runs in the same course with the impulse of devotion, which is, I think, one of the things which people will simply wither and die without. If their devotion isn't to lamas, it will be to musicians, or demagogues, or unrequitable loves. I've never known anyone who doesn't do it with somebody. Perhaps psychopaths, if there are such things, don't do it.

But anyway, that's possibly different from the pornography: the fantasy that we'll just click in, and so radically transform that all our kleshas will vanish. That's not going to happen. Oh, transformations happen; I have myself been transformed beyond recognition -- beyond my own recognition, anyway -- by Buddhist practice. But it only reveals how much more I would have to change to become a buddha. The idea of that happening any lifetime soon is absurd. Although it's plain to see the evolutionary advantage of the fantasies; it's how religions reproduce, by making ridiculous promises and extravagant claims. Would I be a Buddhist now if I hadn't been enticed by them? Probably not.

Anyway. All this keeps leaning away from the main point, which is my relationship with Buddhism, and with KCC, nowadays. I've gone to puja the last couple Sundays. I plan to go again tomorrow morning. I feel, oddly, more at home and more integrated there now that I've acknowledged to myself that I don't believe anyone ever gets enlightened. I used to get myself stuck in impossible positions, trying to believe things I didn't really believe, or trying to make believe that whether I believed them didn't make any difference. Of course it makes a difference. And at the same time, I have also to bring myself face to face with things that are true in the other direction, even though no doctrinal scaffolding I accept supports them -- the fact that practicing ngondro, for example, worked so powerfully against my compulsiveness. If I'm to be empirical, I have to be empirical all the way. The suffering I want to escape will be impossible to escape without transformation, and the only transformations I've been offered, since I was a teenager, have been the results of Buddhist practice. Ignoring that would be as deeply stupid as ignoring the fact that I don't think people get "fully realized."

It's a strange feeling, being back at the sangha, with this new attitude. I love them more than ever. I feel I belong there. Somehow, now, I can belong to them without needing to make believe.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


I passed the first of the two exams I need for my massage license, this afternoon. This was the written, the "national certification," as it calls itself, though it's only required in about half of the states, and doesn't really certify anything except that you passed a written exam about massage.

Driving home afterwards, in the rain, the sun came out, and there was a brilliant rainbow off to the East.

The practical, the state exam, is Tuesday after next. It's the one I'm worried about. (I have been saying that I wasn't worried about the national certification, but obviously, given how relieved I am right now, I have been lying through my teeth :->)
Candles for the King

something stale in Denmark
darkening the tale
they stagger in the park
and belch up honey ale

candles for the king
kindling for the cat
and trickling down the wick
tallow for the rat

falter there and stumble
fumble without traction
hesitate and crumple
and lose the aim of faction

candles for the king
kindling for the cat
and trickling down the wick
tallow for the rat

a party for the Jack
jabbing at the part
writ down down for a fact
as the short way to the heart

candles for the king
kindling for the cat
and trickling down the wick
tallow for the rat

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Transference and Plenitude

The little I've read about transference, in the therapeutic relationship, discusses it as a hazard of the trade. Something that might happen to you to interrupt the smooth running of your practice, like the water-main to your office breaking: your clients might imagine that they're falling in love with you. How annoying. We borrow the term from psychiatry, of course, and it brings its baggage from there: the ideal of the lofty, unmoved scientist bringing superior understanding, and hence healing, to the ignorant. For the patient, the therapist becomes, for instance, a stand-in for the father who would never love them as they craved. And the therapist's job is to let this happen without participating in it; so the patients works out their issues with their fathers -- the real issues -- through an unreal and imaginary relationship with their therapist. At the resolution, the cured patient understands that the therapist was just a stand-in, and leaves, with gratitude to the unmoved mover. Who rides slow and lonely into the sunset, to find another town that needs a hired gun.

Well. It's a crock, of course, from beginning to end. There's no such thing as imagining that you're falling in love. That's where falling in love happens, in the imagination; or, as you could also say, in the heart. There isn't any other kind. And therapists get into the business precisely because they crave adoration. Oh, they have other reasons, of course. But by and large that's what drives them.

Only one book I've read is imprudent enough to say plainly what the other kind of love looks like. That love isn't based on need, and doesn't resonate with the love of the father or the first lost love; it's a love that comes of plenitude rather than of wanting. The words get shriller and shriller, less and less convincing, till they dry up. They have the marks of fantasy all over them. Get over it, kids. All love is transference. All love is need. All love in the fallen world has far more to do with what we feel we lack than with disinterested admiration.

The fact is that transference, far from being an incidental hazard, is our stock-in-trade. The sooner we admit it the better. Boundaries are important not because they clarify the relationship, but because they misrepresent it. Without the fiction of the therapeutic distance, the whole thing would come down around our ears. It still does, often enough.

You showed a reluctance to cut to the chase and get on the table. We chatted easily. You paused a moment, and said, "you look good in green."

Well, I hope so; that's why I wear it. "Thanks," I said carelessly, and rapidly changed the subject, and got up and bustled about with the linens.

Later I used my forearms on your back. Not the elbow or the edge of the ulna, as we learn in class, to save our hands when we want to apply deep pressure. You can't handle deep pressure. I turned the edge of the ulna outwards and used the soft anterior forearm. I was just giving as much skin contact as I could, and still maintain the therapeutic fiction. You wanted touch. I was giving it to you. I wanted touch too; I was taking it.

At such moments only two things can keep me from going over the edge and crossing the boundary: sublime ignorance, or acute awareness. I must either believe that what's happening is entirely emotionally neutral, or understand exactly how involved I am in my own emotional need, and your emotional need, and my emotional need for your emotional need. But what I can't afford is vagueness or fuzziness.

This is the time to go for refuge, to recall the pure motivation disguised as need. I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the supreme assembly of the Sangha. The source of it all, of the need and the compassion, of the desire and of the connection, is pure Buddha-nature. I need to touch that. I need all the help of my practice tradition. Not to escape the need and the desire -- fat chance of that! But to go through it, to see past the apparent lack to the real plenitude. Not the plenitude of a healthy individual -- that will-o'-the-wisp -- but the plenitude of the Buddha.

Monday, October 15, 2007

To Carmen

of Overmatter

It occurred to me that you might not know how often,
Reading your words, minute enclaves of joy
Form in my heart and keep it from sinking. You are
An ordinary daylight falling across the page,
A northern window, the scent of cookies in the kitchen,
The ring of kind laughter in the next room, the comfort
Of a well-used prayer: the blessing of every day.

Two lovely foliations: Amanda on the sticking power of poetry; Tiel on the difference between oil and salt.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Four Directions

Life comes gently to the southern people

That there are
Women who undress in a single gesture
Locking eyes before the gown has quite finished
Crumpling to the floor

That there are
Griefs that run a course of tears and are done
And anger that flares once like a match, blown out
With laughter

That there are
Chances of disaster reckoned too small
To bother with, and abandoned,
Leaving no trace

Life comes harshly to the northern people

That there are
Loyalties that never waver, promises made in the morning
That hold until evening, and wreaths laid on memorial day
for a Normandy soldier

That there are
Plans laid for next year's crops, wills carefully drawn up
And hedged with codicils, and no disaster so unlikely
That it goes unanguished

That there are
Well kept houses bequeathed to prodigal sons
Unfaltering care for wayward husbands, and cancers
Kept secret out of love

Life comes in sequence to the western people

That there is
One king one god one law, that things are
Exactly as they appear to be, and there are cameras
That do not lie

That there is
A reason for everything and everything in its reason
And light that does not curve, and irreducible

That there is
A way to take everything to bits and a way
To put it back together just as it was, only
Understood this time

Life comes obliquely to the eastern people

That there are
Consequences too many to be numbered
The stumbling weariness of ten thousand lives
Bound to the wheel

That there are
Defeats more precious than victories, jewels
Hidden in the mud, drunken saints slumped
In the whorehouses

That there are
Kindnesses beyond reason and more grist
Than can ever be milled; and that there is at last
A stillness

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Noble Poverty and Cheap Cars

I never had doubts that I knew of that I could finish a massage program, so it's a little odd that I should feel such relief at being done. I was worried about clinic, I guess, and I came through that -- with an A, even, having scraped through with 91%, despite my deep lack of connection with the teacher. (An odd experience for me: I usually connect with teachers. But somehow Linda and I just weren't from the same planet.)

The relief is odd too because I loved massage school. I have been as happy this year as I've ever been in my life. But anyway I am relieved. And excited to go on to the next step. The first of my two exams is scheduled for Saturday after next; I'm still waiting to hear back from the Oregon board about when my second, the practical, will be.

Zhoen warned about the inevitable disappointment. But I am temperamentally so given to expecting disappointment that I don't think I need prepare for it. Of course there have been times when connection doesn't happen, when massage is just a chore. But I think that if I continue to hold it as a vocation, and to approach it with reverence, it will continue to feel this important, and this sustaining. The only really discouraging scenario I can imagine is just not getting the clients.

Of course, at some point being relatively poor may begin to rankle. The pinch has not yet come. And it's been interesting gradually assimilating my external status in the world. Here on the West Coast, and particularly in the People's Republic of Multnomah,* a good proportion of people hold massage to be a healing art, worthy of respect; but a good proportion also -- and a considerably higher proportion, in the rest of the country -- view it as somewhere on the continuum between prostitute and cosmetician: the sort of work that no-good cousins drift into because they can't do anything else.** I don't think you ever get the full impact of such changes in status until you're fully in them. I still remember the shock of the change that being married brought about. I was taken more seriously in some ways, and less seriously in others. It's not until you meet strangers, and it's among the first facts they know about you, that you really get it. And for the first time in many years I have no brand name to depend on. Yale and IBM guaranteed a certain amount of respect. Everyone's heard of them; everyone knows they're exclusive clubs. But an independent massage therapist could be any kind of gormless fool or untrustworthy scammer -- there's just no telling.

One consequence of this is that, for the first time in my life, I am embarrassed by the car I drive. My father-in-law, as his sight deteriorated, gave up driving, and so, very generously, gave us his car, a white Ford Taurus station wagon.

I have to confess that I loathe this car. It has so little headroom that if I've pushed my reading glasses to the top of my head -- as I generally do, nowadays -- I don't fit; the glasses scrape the roof and I have to snatch them off and toss them onto the passenger seat. Everything about it feels cheap, awkward, and shoddy. Our 1984 Honda handles far better, and feels much roomier, despite being a smaller car.and having three times the mileage on it. But I have to use the Taurus sometimes. My massage table fits comfortably in the back. So when I'm doing outcall I use it.

What I really hate about the Taurus, though -- I blush to admit it -- is that it's a loser car. The Honda may be ancient, and indicate noble poverty, but it was a good quality car to start with. It shows taste and discernment. The Taurus began life as bad value even for cheap.*** It indicates stupid poverty. And with neither the IBM nor the Yale brand backing me up, to belie the impression, it galls me to pull up somewhere in that ugly, ill-proportioned, ill-made car. I feel like the no-good cousin. There will be more things like this, as the reality of living on a third of my former income sinks in.

* The People's Republic of Multnomah. Note for foreigners: The city of Portland occupies much of Multnomah County, and its radicalism (much exaggerated by friend and foe alike) has gained it this moniker in Oregon.

** With apologies to any prostitutes or cosmeticians among my readers. But you know, better than I, how people think of these occupations.

*** This is not to say that my father-in-law is a loser. The man had driven Ford and Chevrolets since the days when you used to order them and then take a bus halfway across the country to Detroit to pick them up. That's different.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Taking on Energy

One of our instructors at massage school gave out a short piece she'd written about how not to take on negative energy. I don't have it to hand, but among its suggestions as I remember them was a ritual hand-washing, and saying aloud "I will not take on anything that is not mine." It's not the first time I've met this view. The idea is that someone who works with energy, as bodyworkers inevitable do, whether they do energy work or not, are peculiarly vulnerable to being swamped with the negative energy -- the anger, resentment, or despair -- of their clients. And the solution is to affirm the boundary between us and them, and refuse to allow their energy entry.

I disagreed with this violently. To be ask a Mahayana Buddhist to reject someone else's energy is rather like asking a Fundamentalist to worship the Devil. One of my Buddhist teachers once told me that there is only one way to really break the Bodhisattva vow -- the vow to work in the suffering world until all beings are enlightened, which is really the heart of the Mahayana -- and that is to give up on someone, to deny our connection to him or her. And that is precisely what this little piece was advising us to do.

Now, the risk she's addressing is real. Absorbing negative energy is dangerous. I don't think it's more dangerous to energy workers than to anyone else, but energy workers are bound to be particularly aware of it, and need to be particularly skillful in dealing with it. So what should be done?

To answer that requires a little more precision than we usually use in talking about energy. What do we actually mean by "negative energy," and what happens when we "take it on?"

In a misguided attempt to please people who pride themselves on rationalism, we have tended to talk about "energy" as if it were a kind of electricity, or something like heat: and we have gotten tangled up in our own metaphors. Electricity and heat are actually tranferrable. They can leave one place and go to another. The process of warming up one thing cools off another -- the warmth going into the ice cubes actually leaves the lemonade; that's why the lemonade gets cooler, and why the ice cubes melt. The ice cubes are taking on the lemonade's thermal energy, in a quite concrete and measurable fashion.

But this is not what happens when I take on negative energy from a client. And there's no need to get abstruse and mystical about it, here; we can take commonplace examples. When someone gets angry at me, and I "take it on" -- get angry back -- their anger does not ordinarily go away. It hasn't left them in order to enter me; ordinarily it escalates in both of us. Likewise, if someone is expressing their despair and hopelessness to me, and I become despairing and hopeless too, that doesn't ordinarily cheer them up. Ordinarily it makes them even more depressed. So negative energy is not exactly transferrable, like heat. It's more contagious, like a disease.

Now, what is the medium of the contagion? How does it spread? It spreads by perception. As soon as I perceive it, I resonate with it.

Here's the heart of the problem. As an energy worker -- or as a compassionate human being, for that matter -- I have to resonate with it. I can't just avoid it, because to work with it, I have to perceive it. And once I've perceived it, it's too late. The transfer, or the contagion, is already done. It's not their energy anymore; it's mine. I can try to reject it, sure. But any experienced meditator knows that attempting to reject an experience is actually a way of holding on to it. The harder I try to make it go away, the more stubbornly it will stay.

Stating the problem this way makes its solution obvious. We already know, as a meditators, how to deal with "negative energy." We just let it come, and let it go. It doesn't matter whose energy it is. And after all, wherever did this idea of energy belonging to people, of its being mine or yours, come from? Energy isn't monogrammed. It's no more mine or yours than the sky is mine or yours. The problem is not that we might pick up foreign, alien energy. The problem is the same problem we have, every day, with everything: we clutch at our experience or we try to escape it. If the problem were that the energy is not ours, then we ought to view alien joy or contentment with just as much apprehension; but somehow you don't see people ritually washing their hands of other people's joy and contentment and worrying about it invading their soul.

Milarepa found that the only way to get rid of the demons infesting his cave was to welcome them, and invite them to stay as long as they liked. The only way to avoid taking on negative energy is to welcome it. It's just passing through. We need not, and we must not, try to shove it out the door.

The sort of rituals my instructor proposed can still be useful. There is nothing wrong with recognizing that we are resonating with negativity and need to release it, and there's nothing wrong with using a ritual and reciting a formula to do so -- they're age-old and effective techniques: I imagine that healing traditions of all stripes use something of the sort. But an affirmation of our impermeable, inviolable self, and a rejection of other people, is the last thing we need to include in them.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Home Improvements

So, bowing to popular demand, I have added a "home" link, over on the right, and a link to (I hope and believe) my RSS feed. Since I don't really understand the RSS feed thingy, let me know if it's not what was wanted, and I'll learn how to do it right.

You'll also see that the links to individual posts now call themselves "Link," on a new line below, rather than the cryptic ":::" before the "posted by" line, which has been missed by nearly everyone.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Spilling Darkness

What is it that we hold in our hands? We cup the light, and spill darkness.

I walked across the room, lit only by the glow of the city lights. Your still form on the couch. I touched you softly. Your eyes opened, and everything I knew vanished.

This morning I thought, of so many things: I can't rise to this. A careless god of casting has got everything wrong. I'm no lover. I'm no poet. I'm no healer. I'm nothing but a clumsy, feeble, white-haired old man, awkward and shy, living far past his time. I know nothing but nursery rhymes and the jingles of forgotten commercials and old worn-out fantasies.

I lay on the couch last night and waited for Ashley to come out of the room. "Are you asleep?" asked Alan. I was, and I wasn't. But Ashley must have fallen asleep on the table. Finally, after half an hour, I knocked, and went in. She was still on the table, half awake now but a little confused. I turned off the heater and collected a pair of the sweat pants I use for pajamas from the dresser, shut the door softly again, and went upstairs. I don't know when she finally got off the table.

And, last week: a picture of the Karmapa on the mantle. A white dog shifting from bed to bed. The angry scar of an ill-done ostomy under the navel. You could see colors, you said, following my hands; and I felt I was watering a dessicated plant. But the next day you were in great pain.

Or the week before that: deep nurturing, you said. I have become very young. Driving my father's chariot through the heavens. The horses can tell that I'm not really the master here.

I would not have you think that I am unhappy. I am not. I walk in this stolen joy, waiting to hear the police sirens, and thinking: it's worth it, whatever happens next.

Or again. Skywalkers, dakinis. But that's an old, old tune, invented by lecherous old monks trying to drown out the sound of women's music, and trying to pretend that they weren't intent on having it both ways. Alas! We're all intent on it.

Rest, then, in my arms. Just for now. Radiant daughter of light. You know what I would say, if I could.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

On the Ground

When I began riding my bike to Tosi's, I took the same route I took in the van: straight north over the shoulder of Mt Tabor. It was a bit of an incline, but one I barely noticed that when I was driving.

Riding the bike, I discovered, was another matter entirely. It wasn't a bit of an incline. It was steep. I geared down and geared down and finally -- on my first couple rides, anyway -- dismounted and walked the bike up the last half-block, feeling a little silly.

Now I simply swing west a couple blocks and avoid the ridge altogether. Now that I'm riding regularly it's second nature to avoid inclines, either up or down. I learned in my mountain climbing days that elevation is precious: you never wantonly waste it. "Never go down before you go up," my Dad taught me. Bicycles teach the same lesson. Going straight up over the ridge was obviously squandering energy.

A driver of a new hybrid told me that his car has a dashboard gauge that shows the real-time MPG the car is getting, and that he drives radically differently on account of it. Watching that gauge drop down to single digits when he was accelerating uphill on the freeway -- when gas is $3.25 a gallon -- was a sobering sight. Ordinarily, automobiles do their best to conceal the variation from us. That's what we like: feeling that we can swoop anywhere, effortlessly.

But the illusion comes at a price, and not only in gasoline; you pay for it, eventually, with your spatial sense and groundedness. It disturbs me now that, after years of driving over it, I knew so little of the lay of the land around my house. South and west is downhill: I can coast most of the way to Tom's, but I labor back. But I had no idea of that, before I was cycling. I thought it was all flat.

A whole countryful of people who float over the ground like wraiths, with no sense of geography, whether local or international: I can't help thinking that explains a lot about the American sensibility, or -- to be more accurate -- the American insensibility. Our feet don't touch the ground. For a commercial people, we are remarkably resistant to getting down to facts, to reckoning prices, to weighing costs and benefits. Would we have gone to war in Iraq, had the government begun the war by presenting every household in the country with a bill for $5,000 dollars? I doubt it. But we seem to be unable to think like that.

Monday, October 01, 2007

And Goodbye to All That

At karaoke that night Malin sang "Oh Darling." The Beatles, you know. With her long hair hanging down in her face. (Darling is a British word. It means "dear." Just so you know.) And Jen's brother came, massive and blunt, with a broad grin, a working-class kid from nowhere, and he sang "Boy named Sue," with startling confidence and panache. Tele and I sat there, slumped, leaning on each other's shoulders, And I felt I had arrived at a country I had only ever heard about. And I was wise enough to let it be.

Now it all recedes, and a new thing surfaces in the dark, water running off its gleaming sides.

Oh darling
Please believe me.

It faded into daylight, and the smell of oil on the hands; all gone, gone.