Saturday, July 27, 2013


Wikipedia Commons, Whipsaw
The teeth of a whipsaw (more frequently used in a sawpit than up on trestles like this) were in ripsaw fashion, i.e. they only bit on the the downstroke. Made it a bit easier on the topman. But God, imagine how sore a day of sawing planks would have made you! According to Wikipedia, these guys were probably up in the Klondike in the 1890s. I wonder how long it took to saw a plank? And how often the planks and logs came down on the pitman?

I was going to post about feeling raw, and the word "whipsawed" occurred to me, followed closely the the realization that I've been using the word all my life with no clear and distinct understanding of what a whipsaw was. So I looked it up. And after looking at this picture for a while, I've decided my own troubles and labors are not very burdensome, after all.

And turn no more aside to brood
Upon love's bitter mystery:
For Fergus rules the brazen cars
And rules the shadows of the wood
And the white breast of the dim sea
And all disheveled, wandering stars.

But still, you know, the wind comes walking up from the river, and the little cemetery stands on the hillside, five blocks to the northeast of us, and the cat comes in for dinner in the evening.

Today we worked on the boat dolly a bit, and I got a trade-massage from the fabulous Neva. Martha went to a birthday dinner, and I stayed home, and now suddenly the day is over. A cool breeze coming in the window, and the streetlights coming on: the sky a shadowy, fading turquoise.

A moment of panic and wanting to binge, but Martha had the car (& I don't drive the truck), and the nearest store is ten blocks away, and by the time I'd walked most of the way there I'd talked myself down. The panic is a funny thing. I'd let all day go by between my modest breakfast and my dinner. I tell myself a story sometimes, which I'm pretty sure is not true, but which I find useful: the only time our ancestors made themselves refrain from eating (goes the story), it was because the tigers were down by the fruit trees, or maybe because the alpha male was down there in a crappy mood. So what we're programmed to do, when it finally does seem safe to eat, is to chow down for real, get it while the getting's good. It feels like that. Quick, quick, eat before the tigers get back, before the Alpha catches on!

I told myself this story as I walked, and then I just turned around and walked back home and made myself a sandwich. Even though I had just eaten: I was still a thousand calories shy for the day, after all. And now the panic has gone away, and Martha is back. And night is falling. The passing of the day is still mysterious, though.

I close my eyelids and feel the midday sun still wounding them. Tender, a little swollen. The sun and I, despite our detente of recent years, will never really be friends.

Good night. I think that's all for now.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

How to Stop Eating Too Much

I dithered about whether to post this here or on my massage blog, but I'm tending to put my health-related writing over there now. So it's over there: a post on how I'd reform my eating if I were starting over again. I like framing it this way, "stopping eating too much," rather than as "losing weight." Losing weight is a temporary project, of dubious health value, which doesn't address the real problem at all: so long as your metabolism is screwy, you have an eating problem, regardless of how much you weigh.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


A pause, a deep breath, before the new life. It took some reckoning, and I'm still piecing it slowly together. But basically, I'm going to become a handyman, and I'm going to spend a few years doing things as cheaply as possible. We're living quite cheaply now, but we're making no headway, and we're not going to make any headway if maintenance expenses keep periodically dinging us for hundreds, or thousands, of dollars at a time. I have to learn to do my own work maintaining the house, to fix the place on the south side of the house where shingles are coming loose; dig out the earth & possibly pour a little concrete to keep the house walls up out of the dirt & of course to scrape and paint, scrape and paint, scrape and paint.

I will enjoy this work, I think, if I go into it mindfully and deliberately. I've always liked working with my hands. I only ever shied away from it out of embarrassment, a conviction that as a man I ought already magically to know how to do all these things. But with the glory of the internet -- how-to videos about everything under the sun -- and the recently-discovered resource of ancient hardware-store guys, who basically know how everybody in the neighborhood has rigged everything, from boat-dolly wheels to curtain rods, for the past sixty years -- I think I can get over that hurdle too. What's the point of being a whiz at learning things if you can't learn to do what most needs to be done?

Monday, July 08, 2013

The Bay Candles

Coming up
from long underwater, still dark,

a snorting breath in the quiet
under the bridge.

The water ticks on the pylons;
outside, somewhere, the sun.

Play fair, they said. And as I climb
hand over hand, the beams creak,

and a kingfisher streak of sunlight
crosses my eyelids. Above, now,

leaves boil in the Spring wind,
and cotton glides to the roadbed.

I pitch over the rail, with the sky revolving,
my eyes still blurred with water,

and two feet, mine, land
on the wooden planks, prickled

with the long needles
of the ponderosas.

Say, dear, what odds now?
Your thick dark hair

smells of olives and
of bay candles on a snowy night;

we are never
in the right place,

we are never
at the right time.

Saturday, July 06, 2013


I don't know why I come up with these little mottos and slogans. A Lichtenberg manqué, I guess: I imagine my trove of pithy sayings being discovered and my genius suddenly flaring up to light the world. But anyway, the one I'm thinking of now is: never a new beginning.

And, back when I was surer of myself and my place than I am now, I pronounced America to be plagued by new beginnings. We are, after all, a nation-full of people who picked up and left to start over. Don't fix it! Get a new one! A new home, a new wife, a new life. Now, I don't know, that sort of thing sounds glib and trivial to me. And anyway, what do I know? I've spent my life here: I can no more tell you the qualities of America than a fish can tell you the qualities of water.

But I do know that reincarnation is the Buddhist teaching that sticks most often in my throat, and it's because of that ambivalence about new beginnings, or cutting-and-running, if you prefer. Some people -- mostly people who've never thought hard about it -- think that reincarnation is a reassuring doctrine. Well, it's not. What would be reassuring would be an end: a guaranteed end to suffering, a time when the burdens are lifted, when the bets are all off. Having to do it again -- and again -- and again -- until we get it right? Oh, Jesus. I'm tired already.

And. It means, say the teachers, that you never really get to leave any relationship. You don't get to start over. You come back and take it up where you left off. That's why you connect so intensely with some (apparently) new people: you were in the middle of something when you left off with them. And you still have to work it out with them, for good or ill.

It's at this point that you begin to appreciate the enormity of the Buddhist world-view, the vastness of its time-scale, and, at the same time, the terrifying constriction it implies. The world is huge: but there is no way out of it. The kid you pushed on the playground, the spouse you divorced, the home-town you ditched: they're all waiting for you. You are slowly, but inevitably, cycling round to meet them again -- and again -- and again. Are you tired yet?

No, no, I don't believe in reincarnation. I don't believe in believing in things, for one thing, and for another, I don't see the mechanism. I think we die dead as a doornail. But that's not the point. Who cares whether we die dead or not? The point is what we do when we're alive, no matter how many iterations we have. And dying dead is not an escape. It's not a liberation. It's just -- nothing. It's really no help at all.

No, the only point of any cosmological notion is not perceiving ultimate reality -- which I'm convinced we are utterly unfitted for in any case: we have no more hope of understanding the universe than an ant has of comprehending Beowulf -- it's not for perceiving ultimate reality. It's for perceiving this reality, this one right here, where
The noise of life begins again, 
And ghastly thro' the drizzling rain 

On the bald street breaks the blank day.
And what the notion of reincarnation says is: there's no getting away from it. Starting over is an illusion: you may think you're walking away from these relationships, but you're just putting them off. There is no real choice but to fix them, here and now. There is no "away" to get to.

Believe it? No, why would I do a silly thing like believe it? That's not what it's for. But I will use it. I will use knowing that this is not just one thing here now, a one-off relationship of no importance. This is the whole pattern of my life, the basic confusion of my mind: it's the longing and the revulsion that marks out the minutes and hours of my ordinary life. The more I turn away and back off, the longer it will haunt me. I had better, far better, deal with it now, here, with you, in this fleeting shape.

But even if we say, we will not start over, we will clutch at no new beginning: still, there is the sweetness of night and the healing of sleep: stars casting shadows over closed eyelids, and water running underground. Rest, rest is real too.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013


They melt away when you try to reach them, my mother says. And perhaps there's not much sinister about them. “I think they were probably just looking for a warm place to stay the night,” she confides to me. Still it's a whole crowd of them, in a house that's supposed to be empty. Well, it's not supposed to be empty. But it's supposed to be empty of strangers, anyway. Her husband is overseas, getting his mother settled in a nursing home. No one knows exactly when he'll be back.

Three children playing on the floor. And a tall, shadowy couple that called her name through the door. She doesn't know who they were.

In the hospital, they think it's the UTI infection. Fair enough. She can catch their conversations, though. And sometimes she can see their emails, scrolling down the whiteboard where the nurses write their names. There are two groups of them, in conflict. Some of them want to kill her, and some don't. Dr Phil comes into it, at this point, and she carefully tics off his list of different sorts of people. There are baiters, and helpers, and traitors, and... she frowns at not being able to complete the list. But anyway, there are no “baiters” in this group. That's her point. She smiles at me, winningly. I smile back, and take her hand.

They won't believe her about the people. It's hard to know who might be in on in and who might not. But there were some of them riding on top of the paramedics' van when they picked her up: how could that be imaginary?

But something happened Sunday night. That's when the whole scam began to come apart. And that explains why some of them were trying to get into the house. They were just looking for a warm place to sleep.

I consider remarking that the evening outside of her air-conditioned house that evening had been a particularly warm, even sweltering, summer night, and decide against it.

A great sadness and weariness comes over me. There is a whole crowd of them waiting for me, too, I suppose. They come at sunset, when the shadows are long, and shapes move on the windows. Every obligation I failed to meet, every lover I disappointed, every deadline I missed. Everyone I ever failed to attend to when they needed me. And now, with the light draining out of the world, it comes to me to make arrangements, to know what to do? It's laughable, a fantastic notion, far more ludicrous than gangsters perched on top of an ambulance. Someone has made a mistake.