Thursday, March 30, 2006

Paradise Rooms 3--behind the shower curtain

The light in this bathroom is pure as a visitation, white-gold--you expect visions offering lilies, paranormal clarity, hazes of brilliance, in the early morning or late afternoon, so that the shower, tub, toilet, window are charged with splendor and when you stand behind the shower curtain in the steam and mist and press your hands or tits or knee against the white plastic making wet pink impressions, glimpses of naked skin, it all becomes revelation, too brilliant to see directly, and the light is so clean, and so divine, and so pure and radiant that it's like the annunciation, even when he's just sitting on the downturned toilet seat watching you in the shower, there are angels in the water vapor, and when you soap yourself and rinse, you can almost believe that God is with you this time, with this one, if you can just stay clean and glimpsed through perfect light and mist, behind a screen, if you can just scrub yourself inside with light then this one will last.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


At the moment I'm pissy because I have a psychic hangover. I had a wonderful weekend--sheer ebullience and manic conversation, dancing to cajun music at night and talking and walking around with my friends in Berkeley--graduate students and teachers. Every time I am around people I consider to be my fellows I get all happy and feel like "myself" (not that any such entity has any inherent existence) and then when I return to four walls at home with just the ceiling fan and books and a deadly silent phone--or when I come in to work and listen to the beige noise of the copy machine and overhear co-workers conversations about their babies or what they're going to cook for dinner(stabs of both jealousy and disdain), and look at my beige temporary walls and my beige phone and the beige carpet and the white bland pages of bubble answer sheets I feel like ripping my own heart out, putting it on the glass of the photocopy machine, smashing the lid down so blood oozes a little bit and I can smell my own flesh cooking in that flash of light, and making a thousand copies of the still-beating, still wanting, still hoping muscle--copies that I will then scotch-tape or staple or tack to every telephone pole in the next 50 miles with my phone number and the single word PLEASE with a thousand exclamation marks after it. ----------------------------------------

There's a flier on the corkboards here at the office about a cell phone tower project that people want to oppose. Apparently a church has rented out its spire as a cell phone tower. They want to shape transmittors like crosses and beam the cell phone radio waves all over creation. The catch--there's an elementary school nearby, and people are scared the kids are going to turn mutant from the emanations of people's chatter about their babies and what to cook for dinner and their hangnails and their latest purchases at radio shack.

Cell phone towers in the shape of crosses on the pinnacle of a church.

It's perfect. It's God. I'm all for it.

Jiminy I am in a crappy mood.Is it true that in the original book version of Pinocchio, Pinocchio KILLS Jiminy Cricket, his conscience? Maybe he makes him sit in a direct line with the radio-emanations of a cruciform cell phone tower, and the poor little conscience keels over in his spats and dies of brain cancer.

When you wish upon a star... sometimes I can't tell the difference between satellites and stars. between the voice of God and radio waves bearing human voices--- maybe there is less difference than I'd wish. I don't know.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Paradise Rooms 2: The jungle, the green blanket and the smoke

In this room it is always 2 a.m. verging on dawn.
The window is open to perpetual fog. It is the end of November, mud and snow.
The room itself is cinderblock. You get in by scratching on the screen.
You get in through the dorm-room door, and pass beneath the fronds of a pothos overgrown, grown so long it hangs in Tarzan-strands, blocking the doorway, a curtain of vines that thrive on smoke.
A single lamp. It is green and dim. Mirrors on the closet, a straight chair with an ashtray on it, a single bed. A green velvet blanket. Two pillows, side by side. And a plume of smoke rising from the bed. The source of paradise (perceived) is that spiral of smoke. The exhalation that bellows exultation. Of course all this is false. It is a fool's paradise. But for the moment you don't care. You drop your wrap. You kick off your muddy shoes. The green blanket is a warm-napped pool. You dive in. You dive into the heat and the corkscrew of smoke.

You smoke while getting head. You smoke before, after, during. Your throat is raw. Your nerves are stripped, like the rest of you, and you smuggle your nakedness across the room in the green blanket. You drink fog from the window. Cascades of vines. Cascades of hair. And that killing smoke, enervating you. You light his cigarette. He lights you. And the dawn is the grey of the ashes in the bottom of the cruddy glass ashtray he swiped from a Denny's. And your fingers tremble as you put your necklace back on, and you go to your first class reeking of paradise, green blanket, green vines, smoke and mirrors, incandescent with illusion, stinking of hope.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Paradise rooms part 1

My idea of paradise:

a dim room on a rainy afternoon--the windows are open, a warm rain is falling on hazy greenery outside, and the rain makes shadows on the walls. I'm in someone else's bed, alone, because they're out, but they're coming back, and there is the rain--sound and smell of it, and the deep green light, and the slow shadows, and a sense of expectancy --because I'm waiting for their return--and of peace, because I know they will come back. I'm awake but dreaming. The walls are white. The windows are large and deep, and it is someone else's room, all quiet, and empty, except for me. Maybe I drowse a little. Maybe I just watch the rain, light, warm rain that pulses and swells and then drops back to mist, beating on the leaves. The smell of wet vegetation and of grass, and rain-on-dust. It is afternoon. It has rained all day. And I am waiting without impatience in a bed that is not my own, a bed I belong to, but that doesn't belong to me.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Strange confluences in 3 parts

Part 1/the dream

Yesterday I was thinking intently of Tassajara--projecting myself there, both backward and forward in time. I have been reflecting on so many layers of my experience there that it is nearly impossible to cast into words--or rather, I am too lazy to take the time to do the casting. It would take a lot of effort and time. The speed of thought exceeds the speed of speech, especially since thinking is non-linear; I tend to think in layers and multiple dimensions, touching many things at once. It is hard to translate, and I am a conditioned shirker.

Anyway, last night/in the early hours of this morning I had a vivid dream.In the dream, I was at Tassajara, and Hector's ghost appeared. I knew it was his ghost, and not him, because he is dead, and the ghost, though solid enough, had a pale green tinge to its face (sort of like the faces in a Giotto). Also he did not speak. He smiled a canny, unsettling, brilliant, strained, funny smile--a smile that was both a provocation and a source of pain. He reminded me, in this gesture and in his movements, of a Silent-era comedian--Harpo Marx, specifically. Like Harpo, Hector's ghost could get across intention and inner life with great clarity. Like Harpo, there was something both sad and menacing and seductive about Hector's ghost. Like Harpo, he seemed driven by a sense of comic chaos and basic human desire (think Harpo chasing his blondes).

He wore a deep-dyed indigo jacket with napoleanic buttons. I was glad to see him, but felt a mixture of guilt and unease. I wanted to hug him, but told myself you can't hug a ghost. I wanted to ask him "are you a hungry ghost"? (the buddhist term for a spirit that is one huge belly and a tiny mouth--the inhabit their own particular hell realm of fierce, insatiable hunger--they want to eat but can't take in any nourishment because their mouths and throats are so small, and any touch of liquid or nourishment burns like fire--they are pitiful beings and the sagaki ceremony (which takes place around Halloween) is dedicated to feeding the hungry ghosts). I wanted to ask him this, but it seemed impolite. He followed me around, Harpo-like, grinning. He also greeted, silently, my younger sister and my ex-monk. Then he mugged at some pretty, generic young women. That's all I remember.

strange confluence, part 2/the magic radio station

I carried the dream with me this morning as I drove the 40 miles to work. As usual, I tuned in to what I think of as 'the magic radio station'--a public radio station that broadcasts out of Cupertino. Every time I tune in, the station is playing something strange and unlikely, something that is often a source of inspiration or delight. It is the only station on which I've ever heard Tom Waits played; I also heard middle eastern accordian there once. This morning, however, though I didn't realize it at the time, the magic radio station wasn't playing music at all. I tuned in to the announcer speaking the usual stream-of-consciousness amateur rambling that is characteristic of 91.5 on the FM dial.

However, he caught my attention because he said""this next portion of the program goes out to Hector, who's driving around this morning in his truck."Hector is a common enough name in California. It tugged at me a little, but I let it go.Then he announced what he would be airing: the Dalai Lama's explanation on Tibetan attitudes toward death; how to handle death; the appropriate actions to take around the death of a loved one.

The Dalai Lama had given annotations to an ancient text that expresses the stages the mind goes through at death; (also before sleep, when sneezing, and during orgasm) and this program was going to be readings from that book.

"For Hector, who is out driving around in his truck." I got chills.

The day I found out that Hector died, I was distraught. I'd just injured myself badly a few days earlier, and I was spending most of my time at Tassajara in bed, on ice, in a dark cabin listening to the sounds of others' activities. One of the older priests, a woman who had known Hector and worked with him on various committees in the Zen Center, recommended that I read aloud from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. I didn't understand quite why she suggested this--I'd never been interested in the book, and didn't think Hector had either, and I wasn't sure how Zen buddhist practices meshed with the more florid and esoteric Tibetan practices. The priest said that it was felt to be helpful in guiding a spirit that might be confused by the death experience. Because Hector's death was violent (a botched suicide resulting in liver failure and death) and the worry was that one's consciousness at such a time would be harrowed.

The buddhists believe that the more conscious and peaceful the death, the better. Reading the book aloud to the hovering, uncertain spirit is supposed to be beneficial. Apparently, according to some beliefs, the spirit hangs around the body for seven days (or 49?) before going into Bardo. The book of the dead is meant to guide you through the terrors of the bardo.I read the book aloud, feeling foolish and uncertain. What I read terrified me. Tibetan imagery is vivid, violent stuff--tasting of blood and lightning. Afterward, I wasn't sure I'd done the right thing at all. But one has to do something. Anyway, this program came on and I listened with all my attention.

strange confluence, part 3/ another lost brother

So I'm driving, the tears bursting out and then drying up, with this feeling of sweetness and relief and connection, listening to this discussion of death, consciousness, and a long digression on the history of Tibet and China and the selection process for the incarnations of lamas, wondering what these connections mean, if anything, and feeling oddly consoled, as though Hector had touched me, or I had touched Hector, or maybe his ghost had found itself somewhere after all, that he was taken care of, or I don't know--these kinds of confluences never have clear interpretations, if they have interpretations at all--but I think they do, and certainly spending an hour listening to the Tibetan POV made me believe that they do--a whole country is founded on portents, a whole line of spiritual leaders... and I pulled into the parking lot at work and had to refocus.

As soon as I sat down I found an email another cut-off friend, my practically-brother Sam. And I wrote back to him. This is going to sound dumb, and is a terrible example of how we use one another as our narratives, force one another into stories, to great violence. I laid so much on Hector, when I had a crush on him. I believed that if I could only win him, that would solve the whole mess between me, my sister, and Sam. I believed this ardently, needed it, willed it--I convinced myself that he was the missing piece of the puzzle, the final solution. It was a terrible and stupid thing to believe, and it fucked up what would have been an otherwise great friendship. We were great friends anyway, but I kind of slimed all over it--to its detriment later.

When Hector died, I realized I could no longer punish people for not loving me. Not unless I wanted to risk the same sense of violent loss and shame--not unless I wanted to cheat myself, and them, of connection, of company. I lost a precious year with a friend because I was stubborn and punitive. I lost the chance, maybe, to make a difference in his life, to be a positive, loving, supportive voice. I don't know if being more involved in his life would have kept him safe. But I do know that I lost an opportunity to be present in the life of someone I putatively "loved". I can't live this fact down. I can only try not to repeat it.

The connections and conflations we make between people are dangerous and prophetic. They shape things. I imputed so much of my pain over Sam onto Hector. I lost Hector. Sam, bless his stubborn egotistical heart, is still around. I am managing to patch things with my sister. But I know, and always knew, that because she and Sam are now so much a part of one another, if I cut him out, there were ways that she would always be cut out, too. And there would be ways that she and I could no longer be candid with one another, and entire forbidden zones--minefields where neither of us could venture. There would be the eternal taboo. I knew eventually I'd have to relent toward sam, to find some way to negotiate my relationship to him, in the aftermath of what was a fucking greek tragedy.

So Sam wrote to me today. I hadn't heard from him since last June. At my request. And I wrote back. Such a simple thing. But I wouldn't have done it if it hadn't been for this dream, and the radio, and thinking all this stuff through. He still irks me. After an exchange of only 2 emails, I find myself getting defensive, irritated, all of it. It is actually funny. But I guess that's ok. That's the bitch of having to deal with people. They aren't abstractions. They're full of burrs. They drive you nuts. You have to relate to them as they are and not how you idealize or demonize them. Ugh. It's a giant pain in the ass.

But the alternative is-- the alternative is always worse. A world of propoganda, ego, and violent control. Or a world of disconnection, loneliness, and one's own narcissistic company. Or a world of regret. All closed worlds. I miss Hector. I hate that I have made, and still make, a symbol of him. That I use him to think with. I would much prefer that I had negotiated the friendship in a wholesome way. I would prefer his real voice, his real face, his company, his writing, his laugh, even his boundless self-loathing, obnoxious and desperate perfectionism and his occasional thoughtless cruelty--to this strange Hector-emblem, the words that are unmaking him, even as I am grateful for what I can learn from such activity. Ugh. I miss him.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tassajara--Food and Work

I am trying to get myself jazzed about going back there, so I am remembering and to some extent idealizing all the things I love about it.

I did a big post on the RWBS about food. But the corollary to all that good food is the joy of experiencing real hunger. Anyone who has done hard physical work can attest to this--when you work with your body all day, you get hungry. Deep down muscle and cell hungry, sharp in the belly, but you feel it all over. And when you eat--my God, the food tastes incredible. There's nothing like it.

At Tassajara, you basically wake up hungry, and get hungrier in the two hours of sitting and soji before breakfast. Soji is the set of chores the workers do the get the place spick and span and ready for the day. Some people clean the zendo, some people set up the dining hall, some people clean bathrooms, etc. By the time you're in line for breakfast doing the meal chant, you're so hungry and chilly and awake that everything looks crisp and the smells just sneak up into your head and make you high. It's all about delayed gratification, and savoring. The students do a meal chant, then you have to sit and wait for the signal to begin eating. (Yes, it is regimented--I reiterate my friend Michelle's observation that zen has lots in common with S&M). For the first five minutes of the meal, no one is allowed to talk. So you really get to taste and experience the food in ways that you don't when you're babbling bullshit over mouthfuls of whatever.

After five minutes, the edge is gone, and things slow down, and you can talk. But those first few bites--even if it is something as bland as plain oatmeal with a little soy milk thrown in--you think you're sipping ambrosia.

Every meal is like this--but breakfast especially. In the ordinary office-job world, I usually skip breakfast, because I am not hungry. But at Tassajara, breakfast--you can feel it getting into your bloodstream, combating the cold, shoring you up, giving you strength for the day ahead--can feel how food really is fuel and not primarily pleasure or distraction, feel how work and food and yes, shit, are intimately connected, and there's an aliveness in it--the food is alive, you're alive, the work you do is alive, all this energy circulating, none of it congealing to fat, none of it stored, all of it expended in lifting, running, toting, cleaning, greeting, working. I really love that.

The work gets tedious and so does the menu. And Tassajara brings out other hungers, too. Less wholesome ones. But the phenomenon of looking forward to food with my body--and of discovering a real relationship between food and work--is something I cherish. That is why I go back. To get into more balanced physical rhythms, if only for a summer.

Friday, March 03, 2006

California Birds

Last night there was a rain storm and my room rocked like a ship. I think because the house I live in has pedimented dormers, they catch the wind like sails and the house sways. I don't mind at all; I like it. I woke up to the fury of the storm with a profound sense of well-being, and then fell back asleep. Then this morning I was awakened by all these starlings having a tremendous fuckfest outside my windows. It is their season, and they're all fluttering and pecking one another in the face and pumping away. They make noise that isn't exactly singing, and it isn't exactly chirping--it's more like--I dunno, the bird equivalent of a whole stadium of people cheering after a touchdown.

There are some days here where the bird patterns astonish me. I remember a few months ago walking on the winter beach at Moss Landing and coming on a transylvania of gulls--more gulls than I could begin to imagine, cross-hatching the sky, flapping ragged above and in the surf, overhead, as far down the beach as I could see. The beach was so spotted with gull shit there was nowhere to place a bare foot; it was like someone had upended an enourmous wastebasket of white paper, just shaking, shaking out gull after gull--a sight both beautiful and frightening. I am not especially fond of gulls, and seeing them in a --what's a good word for an exponential flock? A flock to the nth power--and not knowing what they were doing or why--it was astonishing. A few days later they were gone. The beach had returned to its standard quota of gulls, and the tiny sandpipers were back, and the wimbrels.

I love Moss Landing, too, because of the egrets, tremendously white and graceful and abundant. They fish in the slough. (Someone has put lawn flamingoes in the shallows near where the egrets hunt. Every time I see this,I am amused.) When the ice plants are green and red and blooming, the pure white of the egret pops you in the face like a good clean snowball.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Horseshoes and lucky monkeys

More from the self-help book of 1925.

This shows how much the world has changed:

Instead of making their affirmations and looking to God for success and prosperity, they had each bougt a "lucky monkey". I said, "Oh, I see, you have been trusting in the lucky monkeys instead of God." "Put away the lucky monkeys and call on the law of forgiveness." The decided to throw the lucky monkeys down a coalhole, and all went well again. This does not mean, however, that one should throw away every "lucky" ornament or horse-shoe about the house...I was with a friend, one day, who was in deep despair. In crossing the street, she picked up a horseshoe. Immediately she was filled with joy and hope. She said God had sent her the horsehoe in order to keep up her courage.... I wish to make the point clear that the men previously mentioened were depending on the monekys, alone, while this woman reognized the power back of the horseshoe."

Lucky monkeys, coal-holes and horse-shoes--what a strange world.
Imagine finding a horseshoe on the street now--it would be a totally bizarre experience, rather than a mnior rarity.
And coal-holes--I am not even sure what those are. Though in Turkey I did see coal chutes.

As for the lucky monkeys, one can only imagine what those might have been. Something won from Coney Island, no doubt, and stuffed with straw.

What magic items do people have now? Bumper stickers? Ipods? Nothing so primitive and earthy as a horse-shoe, a monkey's paw, or a rabbit's foot.

The Magic Radio Station/Self-Help from 1925

I am in love with this radio station. No matter when it's on, there is always something bizarre or wonderful playing. Ok, the djs are obnoxious, but I think that's a genetic requirement for all djs, and they tend to ramble, but it's better than listening to commercials, and their amateur stylings have a certain charm.

This morning they were playing a show that was all irish/bluegrass music themed around storms--the wind and the rain. You'd be amazed how many narrative ballads are structured around wind and rain--possibly because when it's sunny out, people are running around frolicking rather than telling stories or singing songs. Anyway, then they announced that this band, The Gourds, is playing tonight. I KNOW I've heard of the Gourds, but I can't remember from when or where. So I thought, hey, I'll go check them out, they play dance music, and I like to dance.

So we'll see if I actually go. I am training myself to go to things alone; sometimes it is fun; often it is merely uncomfortable. I LOVE going to movies alone, but that's easy--you're in the dark, there's no interaction necessary--and you don't have to have some inane discussion with your fellow movie-goers afterward. Going to shows alone is tougher. Plus I have to drive to this one, on dark old highway 9, scene of many accidents, so I can't drink. But I should go. I don't know why I should go, but I have a feeling.

This morning in the lobby of my house someone had put out a weird assortment of free books. The one I grabbed was a self-help book written in 1925! Not substantitively different from affirmation books now, but the language and use of references is sooo dated, it's fascinating. It uses Christian tropes to peddle the same hooey that new age gurus are shucking today. I didn't realize the self-help industry was not of recent vintage.
The book is called The Game of Life & How to Play It, and it's written by Florence Scovel Shinn. It mixes Christian law with Freudian psychology and basic superstition/sympathetic magic. Some of it reads almost as Wiccan rede--the law of three, etc, and some of it reads like a fundamentalist tract. And yet I had to have it.

Here's a quote:
All disease, all unhappiness, come from the violation of the law of love. Man's boomerangs of hate, resentment and criticism come back laden with sickness and sorrow. Love seems almost a lost art, but the man with the knowledge of spiritual law knows it must be regained."

It goes on and on in this vein. And it makes me wonder about the persistence of human superstition, human need for magic, human doubt. How old is this mythology--the myth of affirmations, of mental magicks? Is it, in fact, a mythology? Is it 'true', or is it a plausible program sold to dupes? This makes me wonder about prophets and charlatans, about will and magic and the power of the mind, the power of desire, of weak-mindedness, of hope, of an industry (religion, self-help) built on the back of the basic fact that people suffer loss and lonliness, poverty, ill-health, misery, injustice--and want, more than anything, to find out WHY. These self-help books all posit a WHY--and with the WHY a way to eradicate it, or to reverse ill-fortune. If you know WHY you lost your money or your love, or why you fail, then you can go about changing it, making it better. But what if there is no WHY, just a BECAUSE? Then these self-help books are just placebos, pastilles that get their writers rich (some of them) and their buyers--the brief hour or two of comfort that comes from believing, as they read, that there is a reason for misfortune, and that it is something that, with the mastery of the correct methods, can be averted, again and again.

I look around and see an epidemic of lonliness. But I bet Florence Scovel Shinn would advise me otherwise. Allow me to consult her at random
Says Flo: "I knew a woman who always went about bragging of her troubles. So, of course, she always had something to brag about."

This book is my new oracle.