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.


Blogger Sandra said...

"this next portion of the program goes out to Hector, who's driving around this morning in his truck."

That would have freaked me out.


Wonderful post, AmyJo.

2:21 PM  
Blogger karen said...

It has been so difficult for me to deal with this grief and loss and shock alone here in Salinas. I don't have anyone here or easily accessible to talk to about Hector. I am happy to have found your writings about him. I was close to him after we met in LA and was with him when he died. I hope to find more of the people he touched. Thank you

7:45 AM  

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