Saturday, April 22, 2006

Unexpected Memory

Something I forgot about living in Austin:

I was driving today and I had to slow down at a cross walk for a pair of teenaged girls who were crossing the street. This was nothing extraordinary, but one of the girls was carrying a ski pole (who knows why) and it triggered a memory.

When I lived in Austin, Texas, I lived in an area called Hyde Park. There was a school for the blind in my neighborhood, and it used to be a common sight to see blind students walking with their guides, learning to use the cane. On warm, misty days with the cottonwoods all green and the sidewalks fragrant after a rain, I'd watch their gentle progress, crossing streets, cruising around. Sometimes they'd be in groups of three or four, sometimes in pairs. I really loved to see them, and didn't even realize it until this morning. In fact, I had forgotten that aspect of my daily life in Texas completely. It came back to me and I realized how much that sight moved me. There was something graceful and gracious about the relationship between the blind student and the sighted teacher. They moved slowly, but with tentative confidence and trust. It was really nice.

Sometimes one of the people would be wearing a sleep mask type blindfold,I don't know why. Sometimes they'd have a seeing-eye dog. The dogs always struck me as noble,so focused. You're not supposed to pet them when they're working.

And I have an image of a middle-aged woman in a red-and-white striped shirt,and the cane sweeping the grass, and myself pausing at a Stop Sign with my dog on a leash, waiting to cross to the bakery--the best bakery on earth--Quack's. Just a normal day, probably a Saturday, and everyone was out walking.

I am glad I remembered this. It is a really nice memory, and I have very few nice memories of Texas.

That's all.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ways in which the voices in my head torture me, or Diary of a Mental Hostage

The voices in my head are off the charts lately, possibly because I've been trying to pay attention to them. The little darlings are chirping away like crickets, beckoning like sirens, muscling me around like bouncers, using every trick in the book to... I don't know what they're doing, really, or why, but they're louder than a doo-wop band and more persistent than a hungry mime.
Here are some of their tricks that I am deeply, deeply, bone-tired of:

1. Having the acoustic version of Thunder Road stuck in my head.

I know that when I get a song stuck in my head it is the angels of my unconscious trying to tell me something, but PLEASE enough with the

"we've got one last chance to make it real/ to trade in these wings for some wheels/ so climb in back, it's waiting there on the track/leave what you've lost/ leave what's grown old/on Thunder Road

Ok, Subconscious, I get the idea. You're trying to tell me something.

Yes, I try so hard Mary to understand, I'm heading out tomorrow to case the promised land/ baby we're born with nothing in our hands/ hey its our only chance
so just roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair
the night's busted open and these two lanes will take us any where
there's magic in the night
you're not a beauty but hey, you're all right, don't turn me home again/ I just can't face myself alone again.

yes, I know, subconscous, that you think I've been
hiding neath the covers and studying my pain,
making crosses from my lovers, throwing roses in the rain/
wasting my summers waiting in vain for a hero to rise from these streets--

but what am I supposed to do about it? Huh?
Just get in my car and drive away? I don't have la Springsteen's talent, heart, or nerve. So what are you doing nagging me to death with what is possibly the saddest song ever written? Shut up, already!

This song has been played in the top 40 of my unconscious for nearly TWO MONTHS NOW. I don't think it will stop unless I actually FIND Thunder Road and drive away to someplace better. But guess what, subconscious, Thunder Road is fictional, and there's NOWHERE TO GO.

2) Enacting long, pointless, heartfelt, well written and distracting conversations with lost-and-gone-forever exes.
Seriously, these could be made into a mini-series. One voice plays "me". She is eloquent, she'll bring them all to their knees with her wit and her fire and her pathos. The other voice plays "him"--mostly, of course, "he" doesn't talk because the whole point of this exercise is for "me" to get everything off my chest--everything I've realized, everything I regret. It's stellar material. I think maybe Frank Capra is in there, directing it. Sometimes we pull in for a close up and a single dewy tear trickles down my luminous face.

Won't somebody yell "Cut!"

3) The compulsion to eat cheeseburgers. I have been reading a lot of buddhist literature lately, and have made the considered decision that, in spite of the fact that red meat helps control my depression, there are better ways to get B vitamins, and I don't want to eat meat any more. So now, of course, I am dreaming, constantly, of cheeseburgers. Whoppers. Big Macs. Inn and Out, you name it. I want to eat at least 5 in one sitting. I think of the cows. I see cheeseburgers. I think of the cows with their throats slit, their big brown eyes, the thousands of acres deforested on behalf of the cheeseburger. I take some vitamin powder. And find myself pulling in to the nearest drive-thru. I'll just get a "shake", I think, and I emerge--dazed--with--yes, indeedy, a cheeseburger.

4) Not writing. Any time I sit down to write something "real", I fall under a paralysis so powerful that I wind up staying up until 11 pm reading chick lit, possibly after having consumed a cheeseburger. Another day wasted.

Then, as if to punish me, as I get into bed, Thunder Road will start playing in my head again.
Sing me to sleep, you bastard angels.

And if I'm really lucky, if I can get away from the unconscious radio station of guilt playing that song, then I won't have that dream, the dream where the long-lost comes back to me, and everything is great, and the dog is running figure eights in the backgroud, and my heart doesn't feel like a pathetic gob of cheese that's melted to a fast-food wrapper, and it's so good that I wake up in the morning wondering what the hell the point of being me is.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Rumors of You

I heard the rumors that things are turning out as I expected.
Really we are torn between the hope that the lives we leave will fall apart, (a hope unworthy of us and who we wish to be) and the fear that our departure will weigh anchor, help you cast off for exotic shores, successes, happiness without measure. Or is it that we fear the first and hope for the second? Flipsides. Always flipsides.

But the rumors of you that came back to me were contrary to my better imaginings. I imagined that somehow I touched you in passing, sparked a creative fire, gave you a hit of youth, or beauty, or hope. Egotistical fantasies.

We mark each other. I know we do. So I can hope that the marks might be wholesome, like trace minerals, like vitamins, like potions that revive, give heart, or act as keys, opening us into gardens. But the marks are more like fingerprints of soot, or gouges, or trails of poison leading to the heart.

I imagined that you were doing well--I hoped that you were falling apart. If you were falling apart it meant I meant something to you. If you were doing well, I intended to take credit for that too. As a catalyst. I just wanted, however it turned out, for it to mean something, to have meant something to you.

But the rumors are that the house is falling down around you.That you're surrounded by bottles and ashes and haze. That the tv is always on. That your cat is dying and pisses everywhere, and that the house, oh beautiful, reeks to make the eyes water, and that you're in the middle of it, blind, blurred, talking big dreams and drinking your own heart. That you go to sleep with the oven on. Wake up, you're dying. Wake up, you're dying.
Do you miss me?
Do I miss you?

The door we made between us swung open, and both of us looked at it, and turned our backs, and when I looked back it had become a wall, solid, stained, and behind the wall was you, and on it are the rumors scratched very small, along the baseboard, where the cat is sitting in a puddle, crying for you.

Moby Dick, literally--a poem by D.H. Lawrence


They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains
the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent.
All the whales in the wider deeps, hot are they, as they urge
on and on, and dive beneath the icebergs.

The right whales, the sperm-whales, the hammer-heads, the killers
there they blow, there they blow, hot wild white breath out of the sea!
And they rock, and they rock, through the sensual ageless ages
on the depths of the seven seas,
and through the salt they reel with drunk delight
and in the tropics tremble they with love
and roll with massive, strong desire, like gods.

Then the great bull lies up against his bride
in the blue deep bed of the sea,
as mountain pressing on mountain, in the zest of life:
and out of the inward roaring of the inner red ocean of whale-blood
the long tip reaches strong, intense, like the maelstrom-tip, and comes to rest
in the clasp and the soft, wild clutch of a she-whales's fathomless body.

And over the bridge of the whale's strong phallus, linking the wonder of whales
the burning archangels under the sea
keep passing, back and forth, keep passing, archangels of bliss
from him to her, from her to him, great Cherubim
that wait on whales in mid-ocean, suspended in the waves of the sea
great heaven of whales in the waters, old hierarchies.

And enormous mother whales lie dreaming suckling their whale-tender young
and dreaming with strange whale eyes wide open in the waters of the beginning and the end.
And bull-whales gather their women and whale-calves in a ring
when danger threatens, on the surface of the ceaseless flood
and range themselves like great fierce Seraphim facing the threat
encircling their huddled monsters of love.And all this happens in the sea, in the salt
where God is also love, but without words:and Aphrodite is the wife of whales
most happy, happy she!

and Venus among the fishes skips and is a she-dolphin
she is the gay, delighted porpoise sporting with love and the sea
she is the female tunny-fish, round and happy among the males
and dense with happy blood, dark rainbow bliss in the sea.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Tornado in Iowa City

My sister lived right in the path of the twister that came through Iowa City on April 13th. It missed her house by mere feet. (see photo at left)
She's allowed me to print her account of it here, as well as a link to some more great photos.

K's account:
"My impressions of last night. I was at a lecture by a visiting artist at the art building when the storm came. We spent the tornado time in the basement. I only saw the incredible lightning storm and shooter-marble hail that pummeled the magnolia tree outside the art building that had only a day before come into bloom. The lightning wasn't only the usual diffuse lightning we see here, but also crackling arms that reached out in the clouds and lit the ground for brief flashes that made your eyes spot.

I walked home from intermedia about 10:45, after a studio critique from which we were all distracted and after the storm was well past, and I was not expecting anything too bad. I'd heard some rumors about "a shed that fell out of the sky at Burlington and Clinton" or "at Washington and Dubuque" and some damage to the Dairy Queen.

[A] Fellow Intermedia grad student came with me, and as we walked by the Hydravlics (sic) Lab on Riverside and Burlington, we could see police lights flashing everywhere. There were droves of kids out, all with their cameras and phones, snapping pictures of the trees that were down along the river and the parking lots.

As we got closer to the Dairy Queen, the bike path became impassable because of the trees, but we went around and came upon a gigantic pile of red spoons and the smell of sugar as we crossed a little bridge at the back of the DQ lot. Upon arrival at the Dairy Queen itself, I was overcome by the distinct urge to get back to my house as-soon-as-possible because the Brazier was virtually destroyed, sheet metal and fiberglass insulation were littered all over, and there were crews trying to get downed trees and powerlines out of the road so traffic could start moving again.

(My math: DQ is about two blocks from my house, I knew that the tornado had hit Menards and WalMart, and my house lays on a straight line between the big box stores and the DQ. Oh crap I hope [my husband] and Sumi [the dog] are okay). Traffic was slowed to a snail's pace, and the scene felt simultaneously calm and chaotic. So many people were out gawking. The DQ employees, who hid with the customers in the basement and emerged unscathed, were handing out Dilly Bars before they melted -- it was like a weird carnival.

Luckily, [my husband] and some other friends who'd gone to check on him came walking up to us at that moment, saving me from worrying about his well being. A bunch of the car repair places and the car dealership on our corner were pretty trashed, with walls ripped out, glass blown from the windows, and the roof on the car dealership laying in the showroom on top of some SUVs.

[My husband] spent the whole time in the basement and didn't realize the tornado essentially came down Benton St. He was lured out by our neighbors shouting, "Holy Shit! Look at that! Dude!" He discovered that the source of their exclamations was was the large tree in our front yard, which had uprooted and toppled, leaving a four foot deep hole next to the sidewalk. It fell away from the road and missed smashing into the house by a matter of a foot or so. It crushed our fence and our beautiful white hydrangea bushes with its main trunk and limbs, and the outer branches came to rest on our roof and about half the back yard.

After checking in on Sumi (who was excited last night and anxious today) we decided to go be tourists downtown. Thursday night in Iowa City is the first night of the weekend for lots of the undergrads, so the many intoxicated party people were all out, drinking in public, crossing police lines, and trading stories. The atmosphere after something like this is always so lovely. I know that sounds awful to say, but people are so nice to each other, so open, more talkative than they would be otherwise with total strangers.

And everyone out yesterday night and today seemed to have two things: cameras, and stories. I think there must be 600 pictures of our uprooted tree (it was the first thing many people saw of the storm damage driving towards downtown from Benton), and the official post-tornado stance seemed to be one arm out, brandishing a cell phone and taking flash pictures.

We talked to people who'd seen the tornado come in from a vantage point at the top of the Benton St. hill and watched it wend its way across the city, a guy who'd been in the corner of a parking garage and heard six dumpsters in the alley booming up and down and came outside to the sight of overturned cars and a smashed in Happy Joe's Pizza building, the drunk guy who said he didn't care if he wasn't supposed to park on the lawn, the couple with matching headlamps who showed us a Vespa scooter, impaled by a 20' board, a sorority girl's boyfriend who was the self-appointed guard of a gas leak.

Everyone who heard the tornado characterized it the same way; they all said it sounded like an approaching freight train.

The sorority on Washington St. was pretty intense -- the east side outer wall and much of the roof got ripped off, turning it into a life-sized Barbie Dream House. This is one of the highest parts of Iowa City, and the worst damage to houses seemed to be on Washington St. and Iowa Ave. Trees in the area were sheared off at a height of about 20' and had no small branches left on them. A power pole with about 50 wires leading out of it had snapped in two, but the wires had the top transformer area suspended a few inches off the ground - all the art students thought it looked like a great installation.

Walking around in the dark, streetlightless night with the bright full moon and all these people out was oddly magical. The full extent of the devastation, seen in the dark, was obscured. We headed home about 1:30, sat in the dark of the house and drank some wine before going to bed.

Today, cleanup is beginning with great speed. By great good coincidence, my next door neighbor is an arborist. He had trees down in his yard and said he'd send his crew over to our place when they were done at his. So, much to my amazement, the huge tree and hole in our yard are gone already. I think that all the cleanup will take months, and some of the older parks and homes may never be what they were before the storm. Nobody died, and even the injuries the hospitals treated sounded fairly minor, so really, the city escaped what could have been a much more tragic event reasonably well intact."

I'm both glad she's ok, and a little envious.
I love natural disasters.

Hats lead to indecent proposals

It was a Parisien dance party. Glamour seemed to be de rigeur.

So I got all dolled up much like you see here---only of course considerably larger.

Yes, I had a hat. A pretty, eccentric hat. The kind of hat you'd see in a Wong Kar Wai movie. The kind of hat a chanteuse in Bladerunner might wear. Or a socialite in the movie Brazil. Or even, possibly, Garbo.

The kind of hat that comes down over one eye and has little feathers sticking up and bits of velvet studding the veiling--the kind of hat that is dangerous to wear in the 21st century.


Because glamour is now a mark of the hopelessly eccentric.

Think about it--glamour has become camp, glamour, without irony, will put you in situations you'd rather not.

For example, at a waltz in a homely little dance hall, peopled with gamer-types in dirndl skirts and high schol graduation era pumps, where men wore bowties and suspenders, and everyone polka-d--a hat like this can lead to--well, lots of things. In my case a dance partner who claimed to be a diplomat from Geneva and who ended the evening by offering me a foot massage (which is, as anyone who has ever seen Pulp Fiction knows, one step away from offering to put your tongue in the holy of holies). I don't let anyone who is not a trusted and proven beloved anywhere near my feet, because, as everyone knows, there's this one spot on the arch where, if you hit it correctly, you can, in fact, induce an orgasm. Sneaky little pressure point, that one. And there are those who exploit this spot, in the guise of a good-natured foot rub.

I doubt that this little 'diplomat' knew about the spot, but it was Berkeley, so odds are that he'd picked up a few sleazy tantric tricks to make up for his, er, deficiencies. There's nothing worse than a man you want nothing to do with trying to spring tantric secrets on you, like he's offering you posies or freshly minted hundred dollar bills. Especially when this happens on a dance floor, during an innocent waltz, when all you want to do is the box step.

And why, as an aside, do men think that an offer of massage, cunnilingus, or orgasms is something that women will jump on right off the bat? We aren't men, for one thing! And we aren't so easily bribed. If you want to bribe us, be a mensch and use money or goods like you would with anyone else. I mean, a diamond bracelet, sure, but an orgasm's kind of personal, for one thing, and for another, no matter how skilled you think you might be, there's simply no way a woman will believe you if you brag about it. That's a sure sign of a liar, a novice, or a sleaze. We won't take it like baksheesh--hear this now, gentlemen--no matter what kind of hat a woman is wearing, bribing her with your supposed ability to give pleasure or help her to release tension will just expose you for the pitiful, manipulative sham that you are. You'd do much better with chocolate.

And I had only come there to dance. I will dance with someone I would never in a million years go to bed with. Or even take off my shoes for.

When I politely declined, he then offered to massage my back instead, and when I declined that, he said that it was just that he "had a skill he really wanted to share with the world", and went into a long new-age exposition of why and how he was not making a pass at me at all. At which point I said that I was simply dying for a cigarette, and would he excuse me since I didn't want to expose his purity to the disgusting fumes of moral depravity? In Berkeley, or indeed all of California, mentioning that you smoke is generally the kiss of death. People flee as from a leper. But he was undeterred. Then it came to me.







And seeing my face unobscured by glamor, seeing the bared teeth, the steely eyes

he vanished, taking his massage oil and his diplomacy with him.

As for the hat, I'll save it for outings to the Castro.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Fido: A new low

Maybe it was the sunset.
Maybe it was the conjunction of a full moon rising and a rainbow bolting out of the sky and the edges of the waves flashing green.
Maybe it was the flakey singer who played Ben Harper, Leonard Cohen, and Joni Mitchell one after the other and in doing so inserted delicate needles into my heart.
Maybe it was the trippy dose of nutmeg in my latte.
Whatever it was, it made me decide to stalk your dog.
Not you. Of course not you.
never you.
But your dog.
I stalked your dog.

Maybe it was because the coffeeshop was within three blocks of where you park your truck and leave your dog while you work your shift.
Maybe it was the egregiously tall man greeting his tiny asian companion with obvious passion and affection.
Maybe it my heart.
I stalked your dog.

I wanted just one more look into his craggy, doggy, adoring face. His brown eyes. His outrageous breath. I wanted to rap my knuckles on that bucket head one more time. And sniff his dusty fur.
So I slunk into the dark parking lot. I peeked in the windows of all the white trucks. I stalked your dog.
But it must have been your day off.
Because, as usual, I got nothing.
But yes, my darling.
I stalked your dog.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Human Candles

This Saturday I saw him again and I believe it now. In the last two weeks, such changes. He is so much thinner. I used to think of him as a solid block--sturdy, hewn--as if of wood or stone--elemental. But he hasn't been able to eat, he is strung between chemo and steroids, and his flesh is turning to light. It is true, that people who are dying emit light. Or perhaps we always emit light, but the closer our bodies get to the end, the less the light is obscured--the shutters of the body (that strange lantern that carries us, that we carry) are cracked, and then thrown open, and the light emerges. Light in place of flesh. Does pain generate this light? Does love? Is it disease? Is it the phosphorescent net of tumors, lurid with chemicals? Is it simply life itself, that life is light, light in us?
And then we go out.

In the zendo, you aren't supposed to blow out candles or incense. You wave them out. I don't know why this is. Perhaps the connection between breath and life--we want to avoid the breath that extinguishes. In the same way we vow to protect and uphold all life. Keep the candles burning. And wave them out when they have to go. Wave at the light. Wave it all the way out.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A grey day dreaming of white nights

"If you visit St. Petersburg in June, you will probably not manage to fall asleep the first night. You will be waiting for it to get dark, but even though the sun will set, it will not get any darker. At midnight you can read a book by the window without having to turn on the lights. But it is not really so strange after all; for at 3:45 a.m. the sun will once again appear on the horizon. The entire night, this enchanting white night, will last only five hours and twenty six minutes. On such a night, the city seems to sink into a silvery-blue haze that comes from nowhere. Lovers will be strolling along the banks of the river. When the school year ends, the happy graduates will dance and sing all night long by the Neva." -Lev Uspensky

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Ladders in the Sky

All this rain and driving my car under the sky is like looking up the skirt of a sad bag lady, overhead the color of dingy washing, looking up at her old pantyhose with ladders all up the sides--split seams and runs and big holes in the crotch, a flash of blue panty and bulging thighs.

Then everything will change and light will come through and there will be ladders in the sky, and fortresses of clouds, and I can see why people used to imagine heaven was up there, because it's like a landscape on top of the landscape, unreachable and beautiful. And then the bag lady lets down her skirt, crouches by a cosmic garbage can, and pisses stale beer.

When will the rain let up?

When I wake up in the morning to no visible world, it's hard to get out of bed. Then when I'm on the road trying to suck down coffee and get to work, the rain is so beautiful I never want the drive to end.

The rubber on my wipers is starting to go. My car looks like a candy-apple when it's wet. But its interior smells like a poker-playing dog.