Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ghosts with the Mosts

I have had a lot of nostalgia lately. D. lent me a copy of Depeche Mode 101 - the film version - which I watched with amazement, as the album really got me through 7/8th grade. I was shocked to see the film behind it - mid-80's reality show, live men running around on stage making a big show of it all. *My* sole copy of 101 was a poorly dubbed tape from my dj brother's record, and it's scratchy sound was matched by my hastily scrawled out titles of songs, frequently abbreviated or lopsided. To see the clean decadence of the 80's on stage was something else altogether, and not at all like dancing in my living room, alone on a Friday night, writing BAAAD poetry that was just thinly veiled DM relyricing.

When I am triggered and reminded of older traumas (which has been happening quite a bit lately), I recently seem to crave childhood comfort foods I hadn't realized meant so much to me. I have habits of food, just like everyone else, but most of them I hand't traced back to childhood - most are things I got into as an adult. The list is quite odd when you add it all together - like a pregnant woman's list of cravings:
-green olives with the red bits in the center on crackers with cream cheese
-toasted peanut butter sandwiches (only now also with butter, as I discovered this summer)
-7up or sparkling water and orange juice (Erika and I call these "spritzers")
-bratwurst (?!)

These, combined with a romance like I honestly haven't experienced since high school (in terms of how "new world" it feels) have made for a strange string of ghosts in my life. Streams of ex's who continue to call or email. People who have been asked very politely but firmly not to call me, calling me. And, of course, my own personal ghosts: memories. Memories that carry with them the weight of worry and fear, and yet, are so heavy if I don't acknowledge them. It's like dredging - when the river is being cleared, the boats pull hard behind, struggling to keep moving forward. This cleaning feels very clearing, but there's a lot of repetition: yesterday I did this and it didn't hurt, today I am doing it and it does. That is, repetition that seems like repetition, but proves there is no such thing as real repetition.

But my head is above water. Every time I think I am going to lower my head, just to rest (and drown in my own misery) D. gently calls out to me to pull my head back up and be present. I am reminded I have tools, I have methods, I have support, I have myself and others. I have worked hard to be able to work this hard on healing. In Courage to Heal, the authors note: "If you care as much about healing as you have cared about surviving, you will be just fine". These ghosts have got a lot. But I have more - a whole army of a living life, and we are ready with our swords and boundaries and every-ready real moments that put memories in their place, swiftly, gently and with compassion.

Friday, December 01, 2006

"There inside the garden

came my lover's lips...
"I will give you golden mountains
if you stay a while with me""...
The Garden, PJ Harvey, off "Is This Desire"

I waited 1/2 an hour this morning to give D a rose today at work. I came on a day I knew would be busy, but it's our first real anniversary - one month since our "first real date", when neither of us were impeded by other romantic things we had been previously engaged in. The funny thing is that I had waited outside the florists for 15 minutes, waited before that for snow-delayed busses the whole way out to my Friday "crack and poke" appointment. It was a day of waiting, and I was happy to be patient, if cold. The new snow makes it all so glorious, and I was replete with opportunity to consider how beautiful it is to be in love.

By the time I made it to the teller window, D was overwhelmed with what appeared to be a quite distressed foreign customer trying hard to transfer money from...China, I think? I didn't want to pay *too* much attention, trying to preserve privacy. After awhile, the other "customers" flowed around me and I resolved to lean against the pole and half listen to D meticulously and patiently talk bank while I watched silent Packer replays above the tellers' heads. At a moment, a tiny break, I busted the little red bud out of it's myriad layers of paper protecting it from the cold, and met D on the side to transfer my little representation of love in a moment's reprieve. "You are such a romantic", a friend of D's clucked before I waited in line. In the end, the gesture felt much less romantic and much more -- contrived, waiting for so long, but I didn't mind. After all, I stare at walls for fun and a profession; I'm pretty patient. Just one moment in the middle of stress means something, this is one thing I have learned, and I am happy I didn't give up and go home and save it for the evening.

So here's a shout out to all my friends and my lover, at their customer service jobs, plugging away at their days, being patient or hard on themselves. I send you all virtual roses. I am struggling on my own time to get things done without a boss over my shoulder, but I realize the privileges of my position, regardless, and I send out my love to all you working hard in your own ways right now. Let Friday bring you some repreive...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

"Jumped in the river and what did I see?

a band of angels swam at me..."

-Radiohead, Pyramid Song (off Amnesiac)

I am grateful for glasses of water, half full or half empty. It's winter coming on now, despite the 50 something degree weather, and nights at either D's or my place are dry, hot and hard on the lungs and skin. I have just gotten through a few days of massive coffee consumption (it's not much, by most standards, but large for me) and last night I suffered from serious acid in guts from drinking it mid-day (ah, recovering from Thanksgiving meals!). Over the last couple of days, D and I have figured out that we have to slow down a bit - spend some nights apart (or at least one!) go to bed at 5:30pm to allow time for all the chatting and cuddling we seem to need to do before we can snuggle up and sleep. Practicality kicks in, suddenly, luckily - mutually.

So I am home today, cleaning my office, working on my poetry manuscript, my novel. I have developed a fair amount of new material on the novel over the last 24 hours, mostly thanks to a trip to "see my family" on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving night, after being at Erika's sister's joint in Zion, Illinois, D, Erika and I stopped at Hickory Point, the name for our family's cabin (acquired 11/7/47) in Lake Geneva WI. I haven't been there in a couple of years now, but our parents are buried there, and we were very, very close on the drive and it just felt like the right thing to do. We didn't even have a flashlight, and although the mostly-new moon gave off some ambient light, we were all grateful for D's cell phone, which sports a very bright and useful flashlight on its tip. Because my brother Alex was going to be doing the same thing over the weekend (visiting their graves) I called him to let him know we were there, spontaneously. He called back not 5 minutes later to tell me he was 5 miles away, and almost to us.


In the dark, we uncovered my family - the generations before:
Alberta McClurkin Hall (paternal grandmother)
Betty and Glenn Reilly (maternal grandparents)
Chuck Riley (maternal great uncle)(family story is that grandparents had to be given up as kids to different families because of a freak lightning storm killing their parents - somehow they all kept Reilly, but it got spelled different ways?! Ah, family fables...)
Miriam Knaupf ("Big Mimi" - my namesake, maternal great aunt)
Tricia and Michael Hall (mom and dad)

I cried once, a single, sharp cry that I referred to in a later writing as being how sadness really is, "so quick, a bandaid pulled off a wound, healing more quickly than one would think. Like air is the only antibiotic that sadness needs." It felt clean, and it felt like the right thing to do on Thanksgiving.

I joked with D. that meeting dead parents is easier than live ones, since there's less to worry about with impressions. Alex and I stood there, unafraid of all the death we've seen, and waited until the air got too cold and our hearts were warmed enough by our own courage to go home.

Here's to enough water to keep us all hydrated, whether in the form of tears or sweat or glasses half-empty or full. Frankly, we are not in the ground yet, badly laid concrete or half-frozen earth. Today, typing, that's enough gratitude for me. And then, to Erika and D., gratitude that they found meeting my dead relatives as non-intimidating as D and I found meeting Erika's living ones.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"I will dream with you

If you need me to."
-Valley of the Minds Eye, Thomas Dolby

Tonight, my body chose its own cycle, claimed back from the anxieties over last weeks' WCATY class preparations, claimed back from the hormones my birth control is attempting to use to control my body. It's an interesting battle - the moon versus a little latex ring near my cervix. All the women close to me are on the same cycle I used to be on - the one my body is still fighting to be on; it's like my uterus is anxious to stay on track with everyone.

Last Thursday, I stood in front of 20 12-13 year olds and told them it is not only acceptable but benefitting to lie in their writing, only if they are noble about it. Teaching the kids was both draining in a way the adults are, and also so much more subtly inspiring - they bent over their pen and paper again and again, and I stood there while they opened to their own magic. I am stunned, again, this time the same form, new situation, that we need teachers to lead us to our own creativity. This is what the surprise is, I guess, the surprise I have had since I have begun to teach - that it feels so inspiring, so deathly simple and yet, so essential, to sit by anyone's elbow and breath for them, convince them that they should abide their mind for 10, 20 minutes and let themselves create. It's not that I don't know that I have needed it my whole life, that I still need it, and often. It's not even that I don't know that others don't need it. It's just that - we don't need people to tell us to eat. To sleep. To breath. To breath! And it feels that essential - Natalie says again and again, "Write like your life depends on it". Now it does to me, and yet what do I do instead sometimes? I watch tv. I go for a run. I wash dishes. I worry. Any of these instead of writing.

To my students, 12-60, I give the offer that I will dream with them. Just for 2, maybe 4 hours, tops. And now that I have romance in my life, this offer is intimate again. It has an added texture to it. Added dimension. I mentioned to D. the other night that I don't feel any urgency when we are together. What I get from D. both feels essential and calm. I am not panicked, like I often was in past relationships. It feels a lot like a dream, it feels like when D. woke this morning, and had had a nightmare about Aliens and high school, and needed to just mention it. Sometimes we need to just mention it. I can't dream for my students, I can't even be in the dream with them, but I can listen when they are done. And that is a very close, worthy second for me. I know that creative writing is essential. I am grateful someone out there, many someones, know that it is, too, and take them to my classes, bus them in, make their lunches, ask to hear the results. And for my adult students, that they even allow me to take them out onto the edge of the pier, close their eyes and tell me about the stars. What a wonder. What an honor.

And for D., who will lay there with me, hands held even in sleep, tight like two children near a lake, letting the breeze fill our lungs with dreams.

Friday, November 10, 2006

How easy it is to be honest

(Not a lyric that I know of, just true.)

I had problems with compulsive lying in Junior High School. After my dad died (I was 12), I went through a phase of milking sympathy from people for completely untrue things, as when he died I discovered sympathy got me some serious affection and attention. In the years between, say, 16 and last year, I still waffled with this a lot. I pretty much stopped lying when I left the born again Christian church at 16 (yes I know that is ironic, Our God is an Awesome God), but I still had ambivalence about sympathy leading to affection, mainly, that it worked, but I was unwilling to lie. Luckily enough, playing victim wasn't hard, as they were difficult years.

But as of the last year, with the last of the biggest true skeletons out of the closet, any need to receive attention for or in anything other than the present moment has dissipated a lot. And last night and today really emblazoned this change onto my little path. D. and I had a lovely evening watching Ren and Stimpy with the housemates ("Space Madness" *is* the best episode, by far), then up late, late talking (remember it's high school all over again!) - about love lives, sexuality - about the kinds of things people do when they are getting to know one another in "this kind of situation". "Figuring out the cast of characters", is one way D. put it. I was able to talk about the big trauma stuff, which is a huge step as it's the first time I've shared those specs with someone I am sexually/romantically engaged with ever. We talked about boundaries on sex a lot, from *both* our perspectives (this is big - I am realizing I have believed it is solely up to me - with women or men - for years now, somehow, probably because of victimhood).

Then, this morning, and into the afternoon, we talked about things that actually work for us in sexual engagement, and it was so easy to be honest, to be clear. To be complete - its not that I was *dishonest* in previous situations, rather, incomplete. I was able to say things to D. that now seem so simple, no cause for shame, yet I had never told anyone, and clearly I had been scared to do so before. I don't know why I am so surprised, maybe more surprised that I have chosen the harder, complex and cruddy path over the years, being less clear, less direct. Maybe I didn't know for myself. Maybe I never trusted most of those lovers, which certainly could be the case.

It helps that the affection is already there. For once, and for what it is so far, I am with someone who needs, craves and is comfortable with the level of affection I have in all the above forms. I am amazed what this takes care of for me. In the Markova/ Open Mind model, I carry physical experiences very, very deeply and intimately, and all I can think is that in the past, being with these folks who wouldn't hold my hand, look at me lovingly, even, I was cramming sex into the void that sex can't fill, because sex is only sex. Now, I feel full a lot of the time, and it's a nice feeling. I didn't know it existed, actually.

How easy it is to even be honest about that. And what a pleasure.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

"Listen, honey, there is nothing you could say to astound me,

Listen, honey, there is nothing you could do to offend me.
Because you don't send me anymore..."

Belle and Sebastian, from "You Don't Send Me", Dear Catastrophe Waitress

I feel horrible today. I have some kind of therapy hangover, some sort of relief now turned into spiralling release, probably with the momentum of samsara nausea, one of my favorite concepts to discuss, and least favorite things to experience. CTR says in numerous texts, and is quoted in endless interviews with his students, as saying that one has to actually become sick over samsara, our endless cycle of suffering, literally pukeably sick over it, before we can move on from our habits and forge new openness. Before we can let go. I know this is true for addicts of all ilk - I've watched friends try to quit smoking while they were still gaining from it, still enjoying the high, but that's nothing compared with the motivation of hating the smell, taste and worn out lung feeling of smoking. You have to really want something to be done in order to move on.

Yesterday, I uncovered a huge world, a world I had thought was simpler than it is, and my therapist and I rooted around in there, in the dark, hands out and eyes closed. He encouraged me to treat this world with tremendous tenderness, and to *not* assume I know what is in this room, though at first glance it seems as familiar as my own bedroom. How well, after all, do we really know the back of our own hands? How well do I really know my own mind? I am amazed, truly amazed, that nothing in there astounds me, and yet, that I was totally, consciously unaware of the workings until now. I had to want to see it, to see it. And now that I am seeing it, I'm not so sure I don't want to push it all back in and close the door.

How many times I have blamed others for pain I cause myself? I am not ashamed. Practice has taught me that this is the way we shut ourselves away from life and into the cocoon of suffering. I am nauseated by it, though, not at myself, but at the repetition, the seeming endless variation my ego entertains itself with. Last night, D. said he feels like he's in high school, staying up with me until 1am only go get up at 6am. Only now he can't recover as well, being 29, not 16. I laughed, but what I didn't fully recognize at that moment is how much *I've* been feeling like I'm in high school, only due to different reasons. Teaching these younger kids, going to What's Your Damage (the open mic where you bring JHS and HS notes and the like to read outloud at a bar!), being with him, and discovering, seemingly for the first time, patterns I set *then*, at 12, at 16, at 21, makes me feel like I am in some strange retro zone. Yesterday I even put on a t-shirt over a long-sleeved shirt, and a skirt with stripey socks. This was my uniform for most of high school.

It's not exactly retrogression, or regression of any sort. It's some kind of reconciliation, and not all of it is with "negative" things. In my first appointment with my therapist, he asked if I was popular in High School, was I socially successful? I surprised myself to discover I was. Yes, yes I was, I said, in the group I was in - the theater group. I was well-liked, I dated often, etc. What about in college, he asked. College. The void. The post-mom's death world of being lost. Of dropping out. Of being from nowhere. Constant travel, good grades, few friends. It was horrible. You certainly won't catch me getting any kind of interest in dressing that way again, a weird sort of nostalgia.

Last week, at Planned Parenthood, getting my annual, I was weighed for the first time since I went last year. I don't weigh myself otherwise, as I get into numbers games. I have lost thirty pounds since this time last year. I was amazed, least of which because it confirmed all the math - I am now the weight and size I was in High School (my freshman 10 was 30 and lasted my whole 20's). I can wear those clothes again - though, now I see how large they were, how I never wore fitted clothes in High School.

The world I discovered, this underground zone of people living in the subway, riding on the fumes of my external presence (I am back to remembering how much I have ridden, both for me and others, in the past on my sheer force of nature, driven personality, and not on true connections, though I feel this has healed up a lot in the last year alone), are not resentful, nor am I of them. In fact, it is almost as if I am no longer receiving messages from the underground. I practically stumbled into that dark, familiar but not oft-visited room. I was as surprised as they were, which is to say, not much. I am nauseous, and so are they. So far, we all want to work this out, and we feel safe doing it. Doesn't mean it isn't sickening, though.

I sat tonglen and did something I hadn't done since retreat this summer - sent out into the world compassion for folk who commit sexual crimes and for survivors, both. It is hard, but it really clears my head. Anger turns into molasses, and slowly eeks out of all of my pores. It doesn't mean I am ready to do any confrontation yet, but it helps me let air into my own little dark rooms.

I dreamt last night of my mother and my brother David at our old cabin in Lake Geneva, WI. My mother was lost, didn't know what to make us for dinner, and I offered to make chile. As David picked out kidney beans and I asked her if we had ground beef, I realized that there seemed to only be us three in the whole world. Why only us three? My semi-awake mind (this dream came right before waking) noted that there were only us three in the cabin, but not in the whole world. It was so simple, breaking that assumption I had made for so many years. But that simple, simple act made me hungry enough to cook dinner and eat it, and not puke it all back up again. After dinner, I left for a walk, and saw the stars, alone, and didn't worry about creatures or strangers in the forests around me. It was very healing to keep it all in, not try to get rid of any of it, but let myself see the sky at the same time. That way, none of what was happening astounded or offended me.

I feel less nauseous now, recounting this all. Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Density and Black Hole Happiness

"The work you do is dense". - my old/new again boss from the Overture Center.

Erika and I have been having a discourse lately about the guilt and issues involved in self-employment. One of her mentors and friends, a local photographer named Jim Wildeman (such a wonderful guy) pointed out to her a couple of weeks ago that the kind of work she does isn't something one does 40 hours a week, but then that supportive comment was counteracted nearly immediately by a friend with a brutal sense of humor who claimed she "doesn't have a job". I have been struggling with structure - in fact, working *too* hard, not taking enough breaks, etc. Today, one of my old mentors and a good friend called and we talked for a bit, and he said "How's the whole self-employment schtick going?" and I said "Great. So long as I don't stay in my pyjamas." My only real distraction is either a)internet (hello blog and flickr!) or b)doing other "work" - cleaning the house (Erika and I keep a clean house!) or taking care of the demi-business that fills in the rest of my life - maintaining discussion groups, working on my novel and poetry, etc. Stuff that is important but doesn't pay.

Then again, a new person in my life noted to me today that he doesn't think he'd have the discipline to be self-employed, which made me realize that even over-applied discipline (eg working *too* hard) does count for a lot. I have watched both my brothers attempt to be self-employed, and I learned from them that it is *hard* work. There are no customers (or bosses, more likely) waiting for you to show up. There are less people. And something about just leaving the house can really help a lot.

I joke that EVP, around the corner from my house, is my office.
; )

I like the Overture boss, Jacquie's statement the best. It feels very respectful, and matches how Dharma teachers discuss the teachings, as small seeds that appear tiny and/or empty on receiving, but unpack over time and expand, and in fact are quite dense. Erika and I related her statement to a program on black holes I saw last week on Public Television. The main gist, so far as 20 experts could barely express, is that black holes are both incredibly spacious and incredibly dense. That sounds like no big deal, until you realize those two things are never seen as the same in "ordinary physics". Einstein didn't even think that black holes could exist, so direly do they break all the freaking rules of physics.

Jacquie made the density statement yesterday, while we were on the phone, arranging to get me back at the Overture ushering part time until my Marquette University job kicks in in a year. She said it with such understanding and so matter of factly that it nearly knocked me off my seat. She said that anyone who can't see that isn't looking very deep, and that's true, of course. But why would anyone bother to look deeply at a structure so unlike what is familiar to them? Really, I am not being sarcastic. Not only is it incomprehensible to a lot of folks I know (though not most of my close friends, quite a few of whom are self-employed and/or artists!) that I can work at home and call it work, but that choosing to cut my pay - in half! - is a preferable option. I am not being a hippie snot here - I won't tell you all to quit yer day jobs (though I have influenced a few to do so!), but I *too* am amazed at how well it is working for me, and that in itself shows how biased I was, and often still am, against the idea.

In other news, I began my online class with 7+8th graders yesterday and I am having a BALL. I have kids asking what creative writing is (it is a creative writing class themed on immigration and family and culture), and show some serious insight and compassion about slavery, for instance. The whole gamut. The class is online, so the forum is open all the time. So far, the feedback from the employer is great - I emailed my supervisor there that I am having a ball, and she replied that that much is obvious, because I am already doing such a kick ass job. I meet the kids next week for the first time (the first "real week" of the class), and for three more times in person during the nine week class. It's a gifted and talented course, and the chances to get really deep into issues are endless, literally. It's a riot - I was, and still am a bit petrified about educating a population my last major contact with was *being* that age, but teaching really is teaching, and I have a great support base of middle school educators who are sweetly ensuring I don't reinvent the wheel. And these kids are very no b-s, even more than my adult students.

Off to Milwaukee this weekend to pick up the first of Shambhala sacred texts to study, preparing myself for seminary next year (I am hoping for summer, but may need to go off in February to VT, immediately after the online class is done). I, again, am intimidated by the process, but enlivened. It is becoming clearer and clearer by the moment (I can't even watch a freaking film without pulling out major dharmic elements, which reminds me that you all should see the Princess and the Warrior if you haven't already) that dharma teachings reach me in a way that nothing else, save life itself, does. In fact, working with them so intimately on a daily basis helps me to touch life itself much deeper, and vice versa.

It is amazing to me how much I am still packing into my life, but how not being at Rainbow in between all these bits not only makes my life feel more spacious, but makes me somehow crave "things" (objects and also distractions of any kind), less.
Something about the black hole of self-employment (and I cannot express enough how Erika and I love this analogy for its truth and complexity in physics, not because it depresses us!) really leaves me open, even if its to my own issues, sometimes...

Last but not least, a shout out to D, who's made the last couple of weeks' adjustment to winter much warmer. : )

Sunday, October 15, 2006

If you act as you think - the missing link - synchronicity

-The Police, by album of the same name (I have to confess that going to the new Discovery World in Milwaukee this weekend and seeing an exhibit of old Atari machines made me realize that I spent a few langorous and fat summers listening to this album in the basement of my parents house, playing endless Tetris. Ah. The laziness of yuth).

I went to Frugal Muse last week and sold off the first set of a series of books I have kept around for years, hoping I would renew my interest in myriad topics: French film, European history, theater. These are certain things, once well-known topics like no longer fitting clothes, that may fit me again one day, but the fact is there are books I actually need now (like another copy of Brenda Ueland's 1938 classic on "contemplative writing" called If You Want to Write) in order to teach and prepare to teach and continue to grow. It felt good to turn in over 40 books and even though I only "got back" 6 for the same price (trade in, along with a couple of snuck in cd's like The Police, Synchronicity), they are books I have either read and know I will use, or books I have been waiting to read and Know I Will Read Soon. Funny how knowledge can be such a burden - or unread knowledge, in this case.

My mother always warned me that my smartness would only cause depression. This certainly appeared true in her case, and not just to her (to us as well), however, this weekend I experienced some things that showed me I can cut short overdeveloped IQ and listen to instinct in the flash of a moment. I have experienced this a great deal outside of actual emotional in-the-moment situations, in meditation, and then in situations while on the slowed-down retreat world of Dathun this last summer (one month of mostly silent retreat in Colorado) but to do it while working on love, for instance, in the moment, is so hard. And I can't say that I "got it in real time" but just noticing was enough to console me that I am with me now, most of the time, not off somewhere else like I habitually had been for so many years, just like mama taught me to do.

My parents travelled a great deal - as well did their parents, and as well do I. While travel in itself is far from problematic, I cannot seem to shake (after having spent the weekend in Milwaukee) this feeling that the division my mother felt between her mind and heart wasn't healed by traveled, rather, further severed her connection to herself. Travel can be shaky that way. It seems to have something to do with timing, which Virginia reminded me lately (when I told her that my favorite line lately has been from Overlap by Ani DiFranco: "either you don't have the balls or you don't feel the same") is crucial to a lot of things - love in particular. Or not love. My parents had that one down, but that could neither heal nor eradicate deep, existential unhappiness. The timing of travel for me varies a great deal, as it may have for them, too, sometimes healing, sometimes killing.

Watching Rivers and Tides (a docurama on Andy Goldsworthy, I heart Andy Goldsworthy!) tonight, I felt this incredible loss in fall, this incredibly beauty in knowing that we will die. The only thing we don't know really is how or when. Why is it that we pretend we won't die? My mother, and all of us, taken by surprise. My father, with so much warning but little preparation (how can you really prepare the heart for losing a father?). And the leaves while walking Roscoe tonight, turned to turds by his bruising paws and grasping jaws and, well, his own excrement alongside, under, on top, mixed into my plastic bag hand. Erika and I joked about making excrement art, about making cairns like Goldsworthy makes, that will stay frozen all winter in our backyard. What else to do with poop but laugh?

How to stay in time with timing? We make such effort as humans to link everything up just right, just to find out that the few pitfalls we had so carefully healed up (or heeled ourselves against - just saw Open Season this weekend with my nephew, and I am thinking of the beavers and their damned dam) are not the only weak spots after all. We are made of weak spots, this is part of the natural variation of our existence, and I am slowly learning to not flinch when I either discover new ones or uncover old ones now that the stronger weak spot previously protecting this new found one is healed. Just when I thought I had figured how out to determine (I gave up on scientific determinism years ago, lord knows why I am still clinging to it emotionally.) the perfect lover, the perfect job, the perfect friendships, it's as if the lake I am living on turns into a mountain and the cake falls suddenly in the oven. It seems the only way to synchronize with organized chaos like that is to open the oven door and eat it as a cracker. Or give it to the wildlife outside. They, too, have a winter for which they must steel up, and
to go

Sunday, October 08, 2006

I know there is strength in the differences between us, I know there is comfort where we overlap

-"Overlap", Ani DiFranco

Lately, a league of ex's and old friends gone awol, by my cause or mutual, have reappeared at my doorstep, one by one (though there was one week when three appeared!). This is something that would have disgruntled me greatly in the past, but instead was cause for (though cautious) curiousity. It's been a real Saturn Return Year, full of all kinds of completing cycles and brand new beginnings, and somehow the appearance of open-ended endings seems appropo.

This weekend Erika and I participated in the Madison Area Open Art Studios, for which I did a shamefully small amount of promo, due to being in Toronto and being exhausted most of the week back. We got a pretty good turn out, regardless, and I got a lot more attention/interest to not only my work but my classes than ever before. In fact, I even made back money, and then some (usually I just cover expenses on this weekend), and quite a few of the folk coming by were looking just for me (usually they happen to notice my work but came mainly for Erika's). It was very reaffirming - a week and some of confirmation that my work can be spiritually significant and the teachings run deep, and a weekend of more of same, plus a bit of commercial/artistic blessing from the public.

But tides run deep, and it's tough to feel strong some days, even when I have joy for so many new things. Friday marked a year since I put Scotch to sleep (my twenty-one year old kitty, longer in my life than my mother!) and the week was a constant battle toward the anniversary matched only by my dire need to crash all day Friday, met with fierce resistance in the form of nervous breakdown trips to Woodmans and meanness toward myself in most ways possible. New relationships are blossoming in all of the old relationship reworkings, and drama around both finally put me in bed, where I should have been most of the day anyway, having good cries, leaning on phone friend shoulders and taking mini naps when my eyes dried up.

It's a hefty transition, and ongoing (when is life *not* transition?) but also lighter than it seems it should be somehow. I feel, even in a premenstrual mourning day like Friday, like I have witnessed enough endings and beginnings now, truly been present for enough, that I can sense, just barely taste, that all things do end, truly. It doesn't always help, honestly, but it is a way rather to somehow explain the strange comfort I take from life now, *in* it's up and down-ness. I am no longer reaching out into midair and hoping to find flesh, rather, seeking the warmth where I know is reliable and strong, in good friends, in relationships even though stagnant, still somehow strong. And I have gotten better at seeking out new worlds, discovering, exploring, on the basis of mutual curiosity. One of the ex's told me last night that he knows his desire for self-knowing and growth never matched mine, and still doesn't. Of course, I imagine his degree of self-aggression doesn't pace mine either (wink), but who knows. A new friend and I reached a place tonight that broke a degree of consistent misunderstanding and cracked a code between us, proving we were closer, overlapping even, where we had both though we were so far apart.

Tonight, the sun set and I was inside, missing it, watching tv with a glass of wine, and dinner, alone. It was lovely. There is no set here. No logic to my weekend or the way my feelings work. There is small comfort in moments of clarity, which then can seem much less clear in a day. But when they happen, I am actually here, for the first time ever. I get more present every day, for all of it, and I am grateful. This is where life and I overlap.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


I noticed today, checking my email, that the backlog of emails in my Inbox didn't count toward what I really wanted - *new* email. Email I hadn't read before. Email that, even if it, too, sat unanswered for a couple of days after it's novelty (in a justifiably email-oriented way) ran out quickly.

This is not the first time I have noticed my weakness for new stuff. When I was leaving Rainbow, I noticed quickly that even getting free books had counted as "new" - I don't have to actually purchase anything (and I have nothing to back this up but it does make me wonder if perhaps consumer impulses are not just a search for new-ness with cash attached because we are a cash to commodity based society). Just having something new was worth it. But, and here's the "sad" bit - no matter how much I had wanted it (and frequently I would get books from reps I had really, really wanted for as long as a two years' wait!), I didn't want it as much after it was no longer new, which doesn't last for long. Talking about switching Miksang to digital, we talked about this a lot this last week - how it's easy to get perfectly functional projectors and laptops for affordable prices so long as you buy the necessary parts now, as high turnover means stuff really drops in value immediately. Of course, obselence is more a burden than a boon, but for now, it's helpful-seeming.

But a desire for new-ness is not a "problem". First of all, if I lose interest in something it reflects to me that perhaps I wasn't so interested in the first place. I wish I could say I have exercised this well in relationships in the past, but hey, that kind of stuff takes a bit more learning. I have certainly learned it, forcibly by being on a more limited budget lately and also through contemplative practice and meditation, on a material level, or at least, how to be aware of it (eg if something loses value quickly...). And on the inverse, I have discovered what happens when I really really commit to something - an action, a philosophy, an object. This kind of commitment, faith, is not something I would say was modeled well for me in my childhood, but I know I have thirsted for it. And today the acknowledgement of that dedication was noted and matched beyond my expectations.

John authorized Maxine and I both to teach not only Level 2 of Miksang but Level 3. This was not the original plan, because although Maxine has been studying with him for years and knows Level 3 well, I just learned it this week for the first time. Even with Maxine, John noted that Level 3 isn't totally developed yet, not like the previous levels, and no one else has ever been authorized to teach Level 3 (limited folk can even do Level 2). I was blown out of the water, and not looking at Maxine at the time, but I think she was too. And yet, it makes sense. It's right to put eggs where they are safe, and she and I are dedicated to these teachings, wholly. This makes us "full teachers" - there is actually nothing more in the literal Miksang path he could give us now, though there are things we'll be fleshing out. After that is Absolute Eye, which is much more zygote, and as we discovered over many lunchtime conversations this week, we're less and less sure it is Miksang, in a literal sense.

This is very new. All of it is new. For awhile, I was afraid that if I did teaching long enough I would tire of it. And of course that is a possibility. But this isn't a new book, and in fact, these teachings aren't even new, though their packaging is. There is a sense of rootedness, connection that I have in these teachings to a whole lineage, and not just Shambhala. A contemplative lineage: haiku, ikebana, calligraphy. It is because we are both there that Maxine and I got authorized today to teach so far. In the car on the way back to my friends' houses, I told John I was completely taken aback at first, then realized immediately that I would be fine. "I learn best by teaching." I said to him, and all he said was "That's right", meant in so many ways.

This is a new stage for Miksang. This fall marks 20 years since it officially began. John only realized that recently. Now is the time, for what we are not yet sure, but for something starting with this. For new things.

And most of those books *do* get read, for what it is worth. When I was a kid, I used to re-wrap my presents after a few weeks, after the new-ness had faded, then pull them back out again a few months later. They were new all over again. This is how I feel teaching every time I do it, only I never have to put it away. It is always fresh, always there, always new. And so am I.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


I am in Toronto, in case you aren't caught up, doing an intensive, one-of-a-kind, never-before study with my Miksang teacher and one of the other senior students. She's way senior to me in terms of study - she's been at this 20 years to our teacher's 30, so I am like a baby senior student, senior only in my extreme dedication, which has not gone unnoticed.

This transmission period is - well, as I expected in the basic ways, and so much more. Every day Maxine Sidran (the other student) and I meet with John McQuade, co-founder of Miksang (www.miksang.org) and we listen to him (and transcribe, and record with notes - this is the first time a lot of this stuff has been taught to anyone this concisely) for an hour or so, then he shows us reams of slides. I've seen a lot of the slides before in various other workshops, but now there is a context, and my own experiences, both with shooting and with teaching. It's intense. I always have this worry looking at so many slides, I want to grasp them, to "get" something out of it, and by doing that of course, I get nothing. There is nothing to "get", is the thing. Then, we eat lunch at the local taqueria or sushi place (YUM TORONTO) and get to work, shooting. I've been shooting alone the last couple of days, working my way south from Little Korea (where the Shambhala Center is located) to "home" - Page and MG's house on Queen St West, the old hip neighborhood, now gentrified and condoified to the hilt.

The results are up on Flickr and will continue to be posted there daily (www.flickr.com/photos/herspiral). What we are studying is stuff that builds on the basics of the first levels - wherein we study color, light, texture, space, dot in space...the five major elements of our visual (and John would say, phenomenological) experience. Now, we are being asked to re-incorporate these (literally, within bodies) into daily experience. I am shooting scenes, things with plot, stuff that was called accidental or not on topic when I was shooting the basic levels. I have totally left earth, and yet, as John says about Level Three "somehow it all just hangs together". Like a satellite.

Last night MG and I went to a Toronto Maple Leafs game, courtesy of one of his clients from work, for free. Neither of us had ever been to a major sporting event, me in the states (eg Packers game) or him in Toronto, and going to an NHL game was some serious culture shock after day in day out of Miksang. I took photos, of course (those, too, on Flickr), but nothing can capture people excited for fights. MG said the saying in Canada is "I went to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out". There weren't a ton of fights - only 2 in a two hour game, but the way the refs let them keep fighting until one of the players signals its time to end was, well, weird. Especially with big sticks and sharp skates around. It also emphasized the ironic grace of hockey - big clumsy outfits, horribly awkward aiming and shooting with a long stick, but in a constant, fluid, seldom- falling-over movement.

Strange graces. Ordinary Chaos (another word for Level Three). Have I left earth? Sometimes the biggest culture shock is in a country so like my own, same language, similar culture, and yet totally different. I have been to Canada a few times, Toronto most of those trips, yet this time, on my own with my camera and ears and afternoons to myself, I am getting a deeper sense. Funny how in the states I might say that I had left earth doing all this shooting. But being here I am reminded how different I can be, how different the world is from itself, while still being on earth. So I am still here. All of this is still here. I rejoice and charge batteries, ready to see more.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

root root root for the home team

-hymie's basement, 21st century pop song, again!

It is mid-afternoon, on a day I expected to be very busy, but am only mildly busy. Mildly busy is a "risky" state for me, full of procrastination and naps (not necessarily the same thing, mind you, but sometimes, yes). Having a dog now doesn't help keep me on task, though it certainly helps me be more present with my own body and needs, as he mirrors them back to me.

Technical difficulties preparing to go to Toronto made me very nervous until I recalled that in preparing for the first teacher training, just over a year ago now, in Sonoma, I managed to take folder after folder of amazing Miksang shots, only to format them on the borrowed camera I was using, two times in a row. All that work, lost. And now, instead, I am flooded with images, stock slides from my teacher's pedagogical files, transforming them into digital messages to copy onto cds for all the other Miksang teachers.

Empty. Full. These teachings bring me close to this seeming contrast, this way in which we are both/and empty, full. I learn or teach Miksang and the same thing happens, in myriad variation, each time: I both am amazed and completed by the teachings, and left to wonder more questions than ever before. The former is tempered by the latter, and vice versa. What is left, on average, is tempered through faith, never used in a childhood of atheism, like its been waiting behind the curtains to make its strong center stage debut for 29 years.

It's hard to leave home again, after a summer of being away. I love Toronto, my friends there, the city itself, my teacher, the teachings. It is an amazing privilege to go. Yet so is sleeping with the dog. My neighbors. My housemates. I never realized those latter privileges so strongly until I was away so long.

News update: go to channel3000.com and vote for Erika and Doc Evermor's works to go into the Madison 50 year time capsule! When you click on the video, you will get me talking about Doc and Erika hyping herself. It was a fun day yesterday with Katy Sai.

On to Toronto. Keep an eye on Flickr - lots of Miksang additions over the next week, as I anticipate I will be shooting hundreds of shots a day. No better way to learn than to do.

Monday, September 18, 2006

nothing to worry

it takes nothing to worry...

i imagine all the insight, the innovation necessary to teach and although it certains takes no more of either than my last job did, i somehow worry more about it. worrying about nothing. it is not so much that there is nothing to worry about, but that i seem to worry most when there is nothing there. the existential issues - not the logistics, but after all it seems like the logistics come down to existential issues most of the time.

problem solving between humans in intimate situations? check.
being present when the shit hits the fan in myriad situations? check.

in fact, teaching supports all of these things, plus my own writing, in both professional and personal ways. yet i need to be hard on myself for something (lest i get truly unruly bored) so there we are, a little worry takes me a long way.

right behind the worry, true to the core of the teachings i have received and i am now passing on, is usually some true nugget, the source of the strength i need to fight my own concerns at their root, manifesting as a tool, as a poem, as an insight. the worry that the insight won't come, covering the insight itself. how many traditions have discussed this, time and time again? too many to discuss here. suffice it to say i appreciate the human effort, the leagues of literature wherein this has been discovered again and again as if it is something new every time, because, well, it is something new, every time.

amazing what a shelf life nothing has.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

You embodied his dreams, and with it, his oversights

-from Mr Nichols, by Coldcut (featuring Saul Williams) - and all those in italics

So much focus on my father's death for so many years.

Today she learns to meditate on a second-hand couch

This last weekend, appreciation for my mother and missing her continued. In January 2007, it will be ten years since she died.

You contemplate the setting sun, unaware of your disorientation. Dis-orient, turned away from the east.

Tonight, talking to a new rich voice in my life, I peered out from the tiny window death has opened on my life and felt freedom. Real freedom.

You fail to see that you've always stood outside of this window, perched on the threshold of oblivion, countless manmade stories above the truth.

I can see why I have feared it for so long. To love without worry. To write without concern. Tonight a student broke through a concern she had had in class about her writing being too much "about her". Tonight, the voice that was there all along, that knows there is perception before ego, saw freedom and she let it come out. This is why I teach. I teach for all moments, even the "worst shit in America ones" (with thanks to Nat Goldberg), but those moments give me the strength to go on when I'm not sure about what I am doing, which is rare, honestly, a privileged rarity.

For so long you've stood facing the setting sun, mistaking the complimentary unified duality of nature as being right or wrong... Instead of stepping from this ledge into the downfall of your uprise, why not just turn around, lessen the intensity of your western glare and face the rising sun, note the energy swirling from its center, how it illumes us all, and how only the birds fly first class...

It's not about me or anyone. And yet, here we are, pens in hand, hands on keyboards, plunking out words into the night. Words that come before us, after us. Words like water.

There's your inheritance. The warmth of a kiss. Invest your tongue into the mouth of mystery. Allow her breath to seep into your lungs, surrender to her touch and guidance. There's no other way. Your dreams of dominance will only help you forsake yourself.

Thank you for being here.

Monday, September 04, 2006

on wanting to fall

the well swells with smiles,
tells us to toss in our demises,
rinse sins.
this seems clear water.
we know we want in.

but when my lips separate to kiss you
water cannot contain the gap.
though a powerful force,
it is made to break at the surface
between every molecule.

so bugs carefully crossing fall through.

and because we can no longer float
you and i.

falling through love,
eyes wide open,
the surface closes in over us.
my mouth like a fish
and yours too:
lips now

Monday, August 28, 2006

Poem for today, not yet edited

as of yet untitled

for j.

where the river becomes lake
a bridge makes my heart
wider than the span
of all my desires.

wider than fire.

the water has no need
to be extinguished.
it flows and rolls,
tossing trout, spreading
algae to its shores.

boats pass and the water
is still water.

soon after, the lake is
river again.

the bridge passes over,
now passed under.

waves pounding,
open to the sky.

miriam hall

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"Computers have taken over, but they're man-made..."

"We're torn between the new ways of the present, between the old ways of the past. What will be the ways of the future? How long will the new world last?"
- both from "Torn", by Abstract Rude & A.T.U.

Here I am, marking my return through the computer. A month of silence, a week of writing, four weeks of travel, culminating in time in front of the computer. I am here because I am transcribing the novel (as my friend Becky just said on the phone to me "Wait. Did I just hear you say the word "my" before the word "novel"?!) I began in Taos while studying with Natalie. That's right. This poet, never having even attempted a short story before, is suddenly writing a novel. It is semi-autobiographical in a funny way, which is to say that it is about each of the generations of my family before I was born. They are, conveniently, all dead - convenient in that in this way I have lots of room for fictating (new word, I imagine) about them, though the stories that do exist (and even those may be fiction, I accept) in the remaining family are torrid enough. When I told J. last month that I was beginning a novel ostensibly about my family, he noted that I will likely learn the most about myself through the process as anything else. This has proved very true so far, as most of the interjections and projections that fill in gaps between the stories I know and the stories I imagine are composed of me, by me, for me.

It has been a very, very powerful time this summer. I have been back 48 hours and I feel both drastically changed and utterly normal. Firstly, not going to work each day at Rainbow is an obvious shift, and one I am still adapting to with rapidity. Tomorrow I go in to begin part time work at the Overture Center so I can pay the bills while teaching practice gets launched. I don't look forward to the air conditioning after a month of living outside in the Rockies, but living outside for a month in the Rockies didn't pay the bills (nor likely will the novel that partially came of it, ; ).

I feel gentler and more open, to myself and others. I feel sharp and clear. I feel at home, a place I missed much, with people I am just starting to catch up to - some coming home still from their own adventures (hallo birdfarm!). So much remains to be seen, and my eyes are wide open - at the computer, on the lake, in the middle of East Washington Ave watching the sunset and dodging cars.

And I missed you all. I welcome myself back to my world, and you back to me. Phones and email are open, come on in!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

for the grandfather on hwy 285

long hot sun dropped rock in my path.
"falling rock", always singular, took my tire.
lying behind dead vehicle in 90 degree sun, there was no more sky.

some upgrade.

not late. no late to be had, really, with so much time. just too much sun.
waving, waving hands alongside road, hoping someone can stop. hoping it won't
be a columbine caliber serial killer.

then, a voice.
"looks like a nasty blowout you got there"
i could tell from his trouser cuff and soft shoes he was going to be my
bapa, incarnate, come back to save me from myself.
as i gather the rim caps in a plastic bag, he is impressed.
"i used to work in technical theater", i blushed back, when he calls
me an expert, says he needn't even stop to help me.
but he had started me breathing again.

is this because i wrote about you, bapa? am writing your story
all their stories
the bad and the ugly, the true and the lovely?
or just because only the old stop? it's old fashioned to stop.

"it should be illegal to make these temporary tires", as he squeezes the last
hub cap nut on. smiles at me and the repacked trunk while he was working.
"very impressive, sweetie. you'll be just fine."

for the grandfather on hwy 285, just south of morrisson where my ex-lover still might live, who lives himself near the firehouse and was going to the lumber mill in a madras shirt, so many thanks, to not feel alone, pinned by the sun in a shift-tilt lens appearance, upswung on the mountain-side highway. i didn't need your help, but i sure am grateful for your smile.

(as of tomorrow i will be out of contact for a month. have a good rest of summer, wherever you are and do smile at old men, would you?)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Lost in Translation

"In a world where everything is living, nothing can be thrown away. Where would you throw it _to_?"- Clark Strand, cited in Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning.

I had forgotten how reorganized the french keyboard is. I get used to the "a" quickly, but the rest takes time. The language is much, much harder. It's been years since I've spoken French on a regular basis, and it shows, embarassingly. Reading Natalie has really helped - she's talking about fear and writing, and as this is ostensibly a partially working vacation, I've got plenty of that, too. I want so much to communicate 100% clearly all the time, in any language. Being so direly crippled in French is, pardon the analogy as that is all it is, like getting an arm back I lost in the last war. How do I use this again? I've watched others use arms in the interrim, read about arms, thought about them, but in the meantime, I was lacking from a bad accident. And now, so helpful-looking. Also, so useless.

But it is not lost. Clark Strand gives me hope. Reminds me of the basics. I'm in junior high school again and its not just because that's the level of french I feel I am speaking. It's also because to speak at that level really makes my emotions, intentions and misunderstandings raw and clear - even moreso to others than to myself! To strangers, to boot. I've really had to let go. This has been more like my retreat will be in August than I had first thought, I suspect.


I keep screwing up my current life's different mournings and pleasures in my dreams. A true transition time. Last night I dreamt (after meeting a portion of the Paris Shambhala sangha and direly missing my sangha back home!) that I didn't just leave Rainbow, but also Shambhala. A few nights before, I dreamt I faxed someone in English and they faxed me back a red marked return, with all my mistakes glaring back at me. IN ENGLISH. In the dream, I had lost English, too.

This is what I wrote after that dream:
Standards of submission. I lay my tongue on the floor and talk. I work there with the bare minimum. It scares me not to talk because I can't (versus choosing not to). It humbles me. I crave silence then I am angry when it arrives at my mouth like a communion wafer, full of value, seemingly empty of "meaning".


I cannot help but also connect my lessons learned about conservation whenever I am in Europe - a world smaller in so many physical senses, yet larger in terms of diversity and reach (with the EU, now the cash machines give you up to 8 languages to choose from!). It makes me think of intimacy, of so many different kinds, the way we consume and recycle or don't. The way we shop. The size of our clothing, cars, bodies. The size of our hearts. The size of our compassion. No way in hell will you catch me concluding thatbecause things are more physically intimate here, things are more compassionate or blah di blah. Just that when I am in a culture I both don't understand at all and yet also have a fair amount of experience with ( in this case, french and british) I am forced to reconsider what is cultural and what is individual, and in particular, what my issues are in all realms of intimacy. On this trip, I frankly have realized I have charged France in particular with this task since I first came here 13 years ago, without consciously realizing it until now. Again, Goldberg helps:

"Often the writer shies away because of fear. Things were getting too close and it made them nervous, or lazy - "I just didn't feel like going into that" - if you dig deeper you find that laziness is fear masked as inertia."

If travel does anything, it shocks inertia. I am struck by all that I have been holding on to, pain, pleasure. I am choking on the grounds of grief, in fact, so scared to recognize losses of any kind that I make the pain much worse than it need be. Once recognized while on the road, I can let it all go so much easier, as my inertia - emotional inertia - now has a physical model for letting go, and moving on. It's not as if any issues, grief or pleasure, language of mother or learned, go anywhere, as Clark Strand noted. But we cannot hold it all at once. There have to be some things lost in translation. I cannot understand it all, and I give myself over to that, even if for only a moment at a time, now.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


on the run
computer to computer
never a moment to flicker
alongside table
under mouse
gum jumps onto my knee,
mocks me.

warehouse to warehouse
shells of cars crest the hill
parentheses capture and dispell
disbelief in the form of
bridges, of highways, of
victoria park.

jump wide where your feet
find water. move toward the sun and
you will always see. i don't know
how we see in the dark, but our feet find
ways. toes like eyes.
toes like trees.
roots instantly deepened, removed,
simultaneous with each step.

spontaneous and unedited poem
hackney wick

Monday, June 12, 2006

Betrayed by the Romans

(passive tense intended)

A few nights ago, I saw a BBC program in which the host seemed quite miffed at the Romans. He seemed to believe he had been direly mislead most of his life, to believe the Romans were innovators, inventors, explorers. Instead, in his later life, he has now found them to be more the marauding sort, stealing from the Persians, ripping off Greek ideas, leaving a mess everywhere they went and claiming credit for the things to which they actual, inevitably, consistently, laid waste. He really did a wonderful job of celebrating the Persians in particular, and it was a very refreshing take in comparison to the litany of bullsh*t being posted, reported and dished out about Iran at the moment in the United States.

Also, as it was not much reported on in the United States prior to my leaving, I hadn't realized the World Cup was on, honestly, before I arrived. I had forgotten about it. Here, of course, it's everywhere. English flags, calendars of the schedule up all over town, in every pub, school, library and on the occasional street corner. I quite like watching football (soccer to you Americans), much to the relief of all my European hosts, who will be glued to the television pretty much the length of each of my entire visits. The other night, Iran played Mexico. June and Bruce, the friends I am staying with currently, and I were all secretly cheering on Iran. We couldn't help it - no offense to Mexico, we just couldn't help but think how nice it would be for Iran to win a match. They didn't - in the end it was 3-1, but they did score a point. Not trounced, at least.

The next day, we went to the British Museum hoping to catch the Michelangelo drawing exhibit. We hadn't pre-booked, and so were instead directed (by intuition and by staircase direction) to an exhibit of modern Middle East art. To think of something to this effect being a major exhibit in the States right now, especially featuring so much Iranian art, is unthinkable entirely. I was blown away, both by the exhibit itself which was stunning (it's title is Word into Art, and so is particularily pleasing for me!), but also by its political timing. This is what one poet, Zuhayr ibn Abi Sulma (died 609) has to say about armies and invaders:
How many men dost thou see, whose
abundant merit is admired, when they are
silent, but whose failings are discovered,
as soon as they open their lips!

Half of man is his tongue, and the other
half is his heart: the rest is only an image
composed of blood and flesh.

Couldn't have said it better myself. Certainly better than most Roman war poetry.

Exploring in this direction, doing "vacation research" in Bruce's endless Persian art books and reading poet Etal Adnan (bought a great book at the exhibit, but all of her poetry is amazing), June brought out some of her favorite Christian contemplative writers. She had, rightly, sniffed that Buddhism has opened me, lead me to being more receptive to truly contemplative work (she witnessed it first hand in the large amount of "religious" poetry in the Middle East exhibit) in any tradition. This ecumenical strain of honesty, and open-heartedness in the face of war, returns in the very first page I read of a book of contemplative Christian poetry June loaned me. The biblical verse he is making reference to is John 4:4-10, in which Jesus breaks the Samaritan/Jewish divide by simply asking for a cup of water from "the wrong woman". The poetry is by a chap named Eddie Askew from his book, Breaking the Rules:
Offering me the chance
to leave my warm cocoon,
thermostatically controlled by selfishness,
and take my place with them,
and you.
At risk in real relationships,
where love, not law, defines what I should do.

A few years ago, when we began this war with Iraq (part deux), I made my first "buddhist" sign:
"Fear opens spaces. Please do not fill them."
At the protest, everyone was sure they knew what I meant, that I meant not to bomb people, that the message was directed at "them". But that's not the only thing I meant, of course. With words, with cocoons, with all the things even happy liberal roman ancestors fill things with. TV. Anger. Sadness. It was directed at everyone.

At the Greenwich observatory, on the prime meridian itself, June and I stood over the spot marking Chicago's longitude, our connecting point, and took a photograph of our feet. As the Britons were mostly at home watching the match, we were surrounded more than usual by a bevy of foreign languages. We were both silent, grinning, as the Greenwich mean time, explorers standard, ticked away over our heads. Here we were, being explored, exploring. Inside the museum Harrison's sucesses at setting sea clocks are lauded alongside the earliest Persian clocks and astrology-reading instruments, brass meets brass.

And finally, I am preparing to go study with Natalie Goldberg (of Writing Down the Bones fame, or, as I have told those who don't know her work, "the famous person who does what I do in teaching contemplative writing") in July in Taos (Miriam's summer tour part deux). I have been reading her required and recommended books. I had yet to read her third book on writing, Thunder and Lightning, as for some reason I tend to stave off truly desirable things until I can't resist them anymore (Freudian analysis is welcomed, but privately by email only, please!) and then devour them completely. It is a stunning book, written 20 years after Bones, and this is what she has to say about opening inside spaces (to writing):
"If you want to know what you are made of, if you want to stand on death's dark face and leave behind the weary yellow coat of yourself, then just now -- I hear it -- the heavy wooden doors of the cloister of no return are creaking open. Please enter."

Prayas and I established this blog over a year ago. The last few nights, I have craved it, so much to say, so few places that feel as clear to express all the connections, all the synapses my newly released brain is making. This is how travel is for me, I set off to be open and each thing I encounter just opens me more. I am continually stunned and validated by this process. This Breaking of Rules. This Thunder and Lightning. Doesn't matter if its fear or joy in the end that opens me, that's all plot. I have heard rumor lately on the Shambhala lists that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (the founder of Shambhala, the buddhist mandala with which I sit and study) spoke a great deal about travel and using travel as an opportunity to open. Until someone tracks down his talks on it (the "folks who know" know the writings are out there, but no one knows where exactly), I'll just have to keep exploring it myself. The old fashioned way: no compass, no clock, no weary yellow coat, just space and companionship and experience as my guides.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Drawing Brand New Maps, Discretely Expanding the Nation's Borders

-more Hymie's Basement, 21st Century PopSong (yesiamobsessedwiththissong)

I finished my day job today.

Rainbow Bookstore has been more than a day job. I was raised a socialist, a red diaper grandbaby, in Joseph McCarthy's hometown and place of burial. My dad had a photo of him posted to a dartboard in his office; on break, he'd aim for the nose and cheer anything else he hit in the process. I spent a lot of time in bookstores, most not radical at all, when a kid. I hated them, and resisted, until one day they clicked, probably just a couple of years before my dad died. I am sure, whereever his soul is now, dad is proud of what I have just done. Five years at a radical, left bookstore, selling, knowing, reading and talking. He would have been a regular.

Today, the hardest person to say goodbye to was my coworker who's about what would be my dad's age. He's younger, in fact, but close enough that in strange ways he's been a bit of a father-person in my life. I've been at the store 5 years as an employee (seems short to me, but long to my friends who have spent their twenties drifting from job to job), 10 years if you include all my volunteering and board membering before then. That's enough time to make family, for sure, for better, for worse.

I'm the kind of person who makes myself indispensible in nearly every situation. I like being useful. I like being needed. And I'm good at doing lots of things, so it isn't hard for me to become both pretty quickly. This was very true at Rainbow.

Tonight, at a party for friends, I aimed to make myself as useless as possible. Becoming less useful over my job the last couple of weeks has really freed me up a lot. I have felt more creative, more inspired, and more stressed, interestingly enough, than I have in a long time.

Here's to the next bit. No more work until I leave on the bus to the plane to the train next Tuesday 10am. All packing, meeting with friends, goodbye parties. Not enough time, but time enough. Tonight, despite my uselessness, I gave the best description yet of my teaching and what it means. I don't even know now what I said, but it got me a student or two. I am confident, when I need to say it again, it will come back. I am confident, period.

Discretely Expanding My "Nation's" Borders,

Monday, May 29, 2006

And as the world is getting smaller and smaller, we can only be getting closer and closer

-from "Black White" by Asian Dub Foundation (Rafi's Revenge is the album)

"You realize that water always flows down, right?"

My new friend JP said this to me today, as I was squinting at the top of State Street buildings, hoping I could somehow induce the sense of distance, perspective and appreciation travel brings (and will be bringing me in one week for the two months after), even after you return home. I was needing to see a break in thinking, I was needing a jar, a sudden glass shard in my vision, to show me what I could see at any second, what I do perceive at any second: the openess of every moment, represented so strongly through the strangeness of travel, but available to us at every moment. Lots of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's writings on contemplative art get at this concept, and Miksang, through Michael Wood and John McQuade's work, was developed through exercises that "artificially induce" such an opening. For instance, we do an exercise called "Flash of Perception" in which the basic teaching of the openness of our perceptions (as opposed to "just what we see", which tends to include what we perceived (color, light, texture) plus everyting else in our range) in every moment. That's the deep teaching. The basic practice? Set your intention to see, say, color. Close your eyes. Spin around. Open them. Notice color.

Meditation in action.

I felt a tremendous sadness when JP noted the idea about water. He told me that when he was graduating college, he felt a strong need for things that are true, that are without Foucault fault, without Althussian influence. Water is one of them. It is a breaking point, a koan, a dharmic moment. The sadness, it seems, upon description to him, was that there are many moments I don't see that at all. And yet, the sadness was quickly followed by relief. Yes. Water does flow down. Thank fucking god.

It's getting hard. Madison is very, very hot right now. Way unseasonably hot. We cracked out the air conditioners in our abode following our massive 12 hour double birthday party, and we've been stowing away in our rooms, each chilled by the shut windows blowing through plastic and wood to keep us calm. Most of the wonderful folk I managed to spend a sliver of time with today before my big trip told me they can't function much in this weather, and notably slow down. It was a relief to hear - no wonder I feel so overwhelmed, trying to scurry around in this shit, but also because summer is the worst season for me. I'd rather just go off on retreat each summer. I'm not a sun fan, mostly, being fair skinned and hating bright light. The energy, for someone like me who is so driven, and on all the time, is too much to ask, as well. I have trouble pacing myself when winter forces me to slow down, much less when summer's endless possibilities (opened by the weather and my abilities to get around with sufficiently less hassle than winter, living on bike and foot) seem just that, like a filled to ridiculous brim supply of deodorants at Woodman's, or the hair dryers that all seemed oversized when I moved back from France.

In one week, I will be double-checking my passport, charging all my batteries (literal, metaphorical) and paying off the rest of my bills. A week from tomorrow, I will lunch with godmother Sherryl in Chicago, then fly straight to godmother June at Gatwick. I look forward to being nurtured, to having food cooked, to trading striped socks with June and drawing, painting and printing with godfather Bruce. After that, Paris with Viviane and any other continent crew members of the international contingency of Miriam Fan Base who can make it over the week. Then, London, to spend much overdue time with Tobi at Unit Six and cram in Susie's wedding at the end. I anticipate I'll be blogging a fair amount, and emailing, though of course I'll be mostly out of phone contact. Ipod is loaded with hot new tracks from Dan and Sus (Hymie's Basement is hot!) and camera has a new flash card. Sadness and relief are everywhere, not just in the water. Not just in the way the water falls. And not just in me.

For those in Madison - good-bye party for me, welcome party for my replacement and good discounts at Rainbow Bookstore this Friday, 6-9pm!

figuring out the confusion from the mess

Back in this familiar space, after quite a while. This blog feels like a nice personal space, something I quite think of in terms of an alternative web avatar. A rushed and unexpected trip to Chicago and now am back home, waiting for M to join me tomorrow.

Been watching a lot of movies. Been sleeping very bad... But have been drawing and writing fairly regularly, and that has been holding the strands of sanity together for me.

I woke up at 3 p.m. yesterday. Been out photographing late nights for my film, running behind schedule on it.

What does it mean, to be standing behind the blue curtain in my room, peeping out. All my clothes are in the wash, I am wondering how I can go out?

A torrent of stuff I want to do, and no one to bore with hyper-listen-me-up! Watching TV, TV, TV.

When I am alone, all I try to focus is being at peace with myself, else I go flying - searching for ways to hide, ways to delude myself.

It is very how in Mumbai - touch 35 C now, I think. How do I persuade the heat my mind is on to melt away, vapourize, give way? We need to look for a bigger house, I need to set up a studio space for myself...

Meeting up old friends is much more comfortable! I'd much rather network with people I've already met and connected with than hoard-up on new connections...

If a clock is set back by 5 minutes every 10 minutes, how off would it be at any given moment?

I seldom need an alarm clock to wake up, I can just worry myself awake. I think that I want to wake up 5 a.m. and I wake up at 5, bang.

So all night, I am curled up in an uneasy dream, ready to wake up, and I am ok with that. Why am I ok with that? Shouldn't I need more comfort/ease for myself? I am going down a waterfall in a paper-boat.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

You put your life in the hands of the Urban Planner

-21st Century Pop Song by Hymee's Basement

I had a horrible dream a few nights ago. Both horrible at how obvious it was, and horrible at how true it was. These are the only horrible factors. In the dream, every ex-partner was amalgamed onto my father's face. Their bodies were his body. My father's face appeared again and again, like a flash film, like one pixel somehow was every ex, every Devdutt, every Dayna, every Matt, every Michelle. I don't know how in description it actually occured, but it was heart-wrecking in its accuracy. I somehow knew in five seconds of observation that I had sought, for over 17 years now, love that was not just dead, but not useful when he was even alive. God love you dad, you were emotionally distant and unresponsive for the most part, both alive and dead you continue to be so. And, like my mother, I continued to see you even post-mortem, emotional patterning and all.

Tonight, lots of lovely folk came to my birthday party. I was amazed, though I never should be amazed, at the sort of congregation Erika and I can produce on relatively short notice. Camping friends bedammed, AG showed with her "35 guests", JP showed due to a lack of a monster torrent, the regular PGI crew made a half notice and we had a fire show sponsored and produced by T and friends. Neighbors were happily absent (out Memorial Day camping, I suppose).

I did have crushes present, which felt prescient considering the dream the night before! Usually, I would have bent all to spend time with them, only, well, at this moment they are all taken, and, also, I am wary to repeat anything like what the dream taught me about my tendencies in attraction. It is curious to explore draw. And more: after a year of celibacy, I can recognize that draw and also let it go. Maybe it will have different times, maybe not. I'm learning to make friends with love of all kinds. Certainly not now, not as I am entering 2 months of constant travel, is the time to disrupt much. So I flirted, both with the open and concealed flames, and was able to wrap up the night happy, feeling well-appreciated, and relatively sober.

That's where I am now.

I saw Prayas (co-blogger on this blog, occasionally) on a conference fluke two weeks ago in Chicago, IL, USA. What a thing! To see someone you hadn't thought you'd see on your own continent for a long time, someone you were convinced you wouldn't see for another year entirely! It has this effect, unexpected comfort, of someone you know, you bonded with, you met, and you can just click right in to what you need, as short as it was/is.

I have grown older, and in my growth seen just how significant friends are. I am not as likely to give license to a stranger who likes my face only to show me the emotional distance I radiate for in romance. Friends are more likely to get - and deserve! - my companionship.

"It's the perfect day, Elise" says PJ Harvey, and I am finding it hard to argue, difficult nearly-done job stuff aside, going to bed alone aside (that would have bothered me so much so more two years ago), all the discomforts of dancing with drunks (bruised toes and nose) aside, it is, Elise. Perfect day. Happy birthday (week) to me!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Cruel, Crazy Beautiful World

Today, I had four fillings replaced to the soundtrack of Johnny Clegg and Savuka's Cruel Crazy Beautiful World album, Capitol records, 1989. When they injected me, despite surface numbing material, the epinephedrine made me shake. I had either never encountered epi before, or, I had but my body is more sensitive now. For 10 minutes, I had some pretty serious convulsions and numbness going on in my legs and arms, hands and feet. It was gross, and scary, and the whole time I just kept breathing and listening to One Human, One Vote, and Jericho.

Shots are the thing that usually freak me out the most. I got one tattoo when I was 18, and I got high off it. When I got my nose pierced at 22, I felt a little more queasy about it, but that's understandable, I thought. But by my second tattoo at 26, I realized, maybe I'm not so good with adrenaline. My housemate loves to joke that I am the anti-coke, that I love to spend hours sitting and staring at walls for fun (thanks also to J for noting that one, and respecting it). So in a weird way, though I am sure it's not the cause, it doesn't surprise me that epi freaked me out. But it sure was scary. The dentist, Dr Golden Vu (yes, beautiful name, isn't it?) was super wonderful, and so was his assistant. But hey, it's a suck ass experience, regardless.

It *is* a Cruel, Crazy Beautiful World. When I was in Guyana a few years back, my friend Mark noted how much his small village, Canal #1, was just like his rural hometown in a lot of ways, back in the States. "Only here," he extrapolated, "there's no room for disgusting things to hide. Death, illness, the whole range, is all out here, splayed under and next to hibiscus and love." Best dentist ever, worst experience ever. All the while, up at the capitol, a rally was raging, the best rallies of my generation (and we've had some doozies what with the WTO and such) happening, the most inspiring work being manifested, about the most dire human rights issue in America (yes, the Americas) today: direct exploitation without compensation by the most powerful country in the world on its own turf. Joy, sorrow.

It seems such a trope. I know. But just in case it wasn't hammered in (oh yes, hammered in - they had to get that tooth-colored stuff deep into my new de-cavitized molars), goddess-sent Birdfarm and wife brought me for a co-op take-out buffet, and while I moped about numb and slightly sore, still whimpering over my speed overload, I felt loved. We watched Saving Face, a surprisingly subtle and quite charming lesbian film, and munched (well, I mostly sucked and mooshed). I know that trauma makes great openings. It is tempting, and frequent as human behavior goes, to fill it right back up. But sometimes, taking the risk to stay open, despite numbness, despite fear, is the right risk.

It helps that I feel optimistic in general about my life, my career right now. I am starting new classes tomorrow and I am excited. Another new friend and I met this week and he was clear about how much he believes in what I am doing. All of my long-standing friends are taking the transition without a blink, the store included. Yes, there's some painful shifting. Opening of wounds. Numbness. But they are the Right Risks. In fact, on the bus on the way home from chiro today, dreading my big dentist appointment, even wondering for sure, one last time, just one more time, if this decision for my job is the right *financial decision* (always good for a crisis, since who would argue about worrying about money?!), the woman sitting next to me closed her book and I looked, of course I looked, I am a bookseller.

It was this book:
I shit you not.
The description:
The Right Risk.
Teamwork and leadership consultant Treasurer-formerly known as the fire-diving stuntman Captain Inferno-here encourages readers to take risks calculated to catapult them out of the lukewarm safety of mediocrity and into "an intimate encounter with the magnificence of their own souls." Treasurer chooses intriguing anecdotes, often from his seven years as a member of the U.S. High Diving Team (which is where he first leapt from a diving board, engulfed in flames, and plunged into a pool 100 feet below) to illustrate how to take good risks. "When we don't take risks," Treasurer says, "we get stuck in a rut of safety. Over time, we become trapped inside our own life, like a pearl confined to its shell." He offers 10 principles to encourage such healthy risks, from "finding your golden silence" (becoming attuned to your needs and identifing intelligent risks) to "exposing yourself" emotionally (embracing honesty and avoiding the build-up of resentments). His clear, colloquial chapters encourage readers to overcome inertia, write "risk scripts" and turn fear into a positive force. Admonitions to go ahead and be imperfect and embrace the possibilities inherent in risks-whether they're professional or personal-should spark many readers to vow to live more deliberately, energetically and authentically, and the questions Treasurer poses to readers at each chapter's conclusion are helpful tools for self-guidance.

I won't read it. I already know how to do it. But what a crazy beautiful validation?

Thursday, April 27, 2006


I figure this is as good a place as any to see if I can figure out why I feel sad today. Or anyway, to recognize that I do. Crankiness throughout the morning, midday and evening lead to a somber walk home from non-class tonight. I have felt in a bit of a multi-faceted funk the last few days - happy enough on surface, but quiet, guts in a rumble and skin feisty. Just when I was ready to blame the storms of last week or the food poisoning of earlier this week, I am left with shell-less self and trying to actually get down to be with the sadness instead of blaming something else (or myself).

Tonight I thought I wanted to write poetry from National Geographics, one of my comfort activities that actually leads to good work quite often. Instead, I entered some recent work (I have been doing this much more frequently and much faster than I used to since my bag got stolen a couple of months ago), and so, the "ring poem" appears on the entry before this one. It turned out that is what I needed, after all. I feel more equalized, though my chest is still tight and my sadness feels wily.

When I'm here I can't tell if I need things that are easy or harder. If I need comfort or a bit more of a challenge. I have been opting more for nice-ness, for compassion (birdfarm and I finally figured out the other day that we both now know that compassion is a real, actual thing. Not an absence of hatred (of self or other) but a presence. Tangible, breathable presence. Right now, I think I'm likely feeling it's absence.

There have been many rough things happening in friend's lives this week, but mine remains calm. Tonight, noting my mood, Erika thought perhaps I have stretched myself too far being a support to others. Perhaps, more selfishly, I just dread a torrent for myself. Or maybe I'm just tired. Just tired. It happens. It doesn't really matter why. A small glass of wine, some Compass Rose stories by Ursula K LeGuin, and 9 hours of sleep will help. A hot bath, too. Self care and presence. Some days will take this fodder and see it as manna from heaven. Some days will shit all over it. Doesn't matter. Best I can do is to care for myself and others gently, regardless of environment.

No cathartic cry writing this, which is honestly what I sort of hoped for. Ah well.

Lost Ring Lament

Lost Ring Lament (revised)

“Now I’ll always know where it is.”
-Ruth Gordon in Harold and Maude

It could be clutching my sister’s spiked heel
or fomenting in my housemate’s first homebrew.
It likely looks new to someone else now,
not like it was on my mother’s ring finger for
forty years and three days, then on mine for nine.

Could be that construction workers cemented it.
Likely, something’s accidentally gulped it
and will shit it out, so it will grow into an apple
or pear tree in our orchard. There, it will circle
roots until they are richer than Midas from inside out.

For nine years after fear pulled it from her blue hand
and placed it onto mine, the shine warded off
clients, lovers; made of me a gold orphan, an outcast from love.

It may have risen on the rain, a diamond star now above.
Or perhaps a robin pushed it into the earth. There, it could
be sinking like tears, worms jumping through it like fire.
My mother, the gardener, would like it lost there best of all.
Choking back weeds. Forming fingers of dirt to fill it.

Lost rings cause curses on sailors, their hands dried from
an absence of lov , an overwhelm of rope.
No wonder pirates bury their treasures at sea,
mapping carefully as if these hordes are home,
as if they are sunken mistresses made of 12 karat bone.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

When I think I am Going slow Enough, I need to slow Down Even more...

I lost my mother's wedding ring this week.

I used to wear it on my right thumb, the only finger on which it would fit. I missed it, I pretty soon after losing it, but who knows how these things go. One of the other practicioners at the Shambhala center really believes we know everything that has happened to us, that it's all there, all the time. So part of me agrees. And part of me, not even guiltily or hopefully, just conceptually, believes I know when it left my finger. I have seen it every day for so many years, and so one would think I'd noticed it when it left my finger.

Only I was rushing. A great contemplative teacher notes that rushing has nothing to do with speed. It only has to do with the sense of pushing, the sense of force. You can rush and be going "slowly". That was all day Tuesday, when I lost it. I rushed out of bed, to give myself some kind of happy momentum. I rushed through breakfast, through voting, through buying groceries, through cooking, through eating. I rushed through gardening, my mother's favorite all-time activity, and the most likely place I lost the ring. My first thought, standing with no reflections on my finger from the bright, cold spring window, at the kitchen sink, was "I was rushing. That's how I lost it". Scotch's biggest lesson for me always was not to rush. My mother, who never worked a day in her life, this, I think, was her lesson to, though in my need to be needed by the world I have often overlooked this, hoping that if i just do enough, and well enough, I'll be able to stop at some point and chill. Right. Not going to happen. Likely I'll lose bits of myself along the way, as well. And die rushing right into my next life.

I attended a Sukavati at the center this last week - a Shambhala funeral service. It was very powerful and its main purpose is to attend to assisting the departed to slow down their now body-less (ergo light and rushing) spirit from careening into a bad next body choice. Although I had never met the woman, I cried when we burned her photo. No! I thought - you are killing her. As if she weren't already gone.

I finally cried about the ring this morning. Erika, who is such a good sport, drove me out to A to Z rental and we rented a metal detector, tested it on one of her rings, and scanned our front yard. A stranger passing by right away noted the irony (our yard is FILLED with metal sculpture), and that helped lighten it. We joked. It beeped. Mostly we found chunks of crap buried in the mulch. A phone call from a good friend and some hot chocolate later, I bawled, and a week's worth of reasons, of justifications, of feeling like it was ok just melted. It has to be ok. We didn't find the ring and we probably won't. I'll write some good poetry about it and feel bad about it sometimes. But the best thing I can do to honor the whole experience is to slow the fuck down. Erika even noted I was rushing to come to a determination, which likely would have been compromised, that we couldn't find it. This balance, between rushing to get done, and feeling horrible (I call it being in debt) because I rushed is key in my life.

I know what rushing feels like. Usually. Sometimes it takes slowing down even further to realize I was really, really rushing. That was this morning, this week. I can always stand to slow down more. No force, just always gentleness. Slowing is always gentle. I believe it. I've experienced it. It defies all logic, and I love that.

Postscript: a Friend invited me to go see Alan Clements this evening, whom I didn't know of until she asked me. On his website, this "former Buddhist monk cum comedian" describes an awakening moment involving, ironically, a wedding ring. I don't know much of his work, so I don't endorse him, nor am I sure I'll pay the 25$ to go see him today. But I had to share this, which is on his website www.worlddharma.com (excerpted from an interview with him): "In early 1996, driving back to Sarajevo from Srebrenica, the town where 9,000 Bosnian Muslims had been systematically executed over a 48-hour period, Alan and a friend came upon a mass grave being unearthed by workmen. In the middle of this pit of putrefying human flesh, he noticed an exposed hand with what looked like a wedding ring on one of the fingers protruding from the ground. Falling to his knees in what he describes as “existential anguish,” he realized at that moment that no matter what he knew or how free he assumed himself to be, his understanding of life, love and human consciousness was limited indeed."

Yep. Think you've slowed down enough, then a wedding ring comes along to remind you to slow down more.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

"What words break you?"

Last week, I read at the MCCCA with a dozen or so other poets. The theme was ostensibly poetry about Africa (sponsored by Africa Without Borders) but there were many stripes of poetry and poets there. I was honored to follow on the tails of professors like Daniel Kunene and Roberta Hill Whiteman, Doctors of their craft and veterans of three hour readings like the one we had. I met great new faces, and afterwards, the younger contingency hit the Angelic, wiggled to reggae and shouted out ideas at each other - talk of poetry community was strong, about bringing together community and university, about bringing together our own and each others' words. Unity. I was overwhelmed many times in the conversations - so much sound, all evening long, from quiet, isolated words, to escaped hollered expression, to blaring live music backbeated by other, random, social conversation. Many times I found myself in a corner, beer in one hand, someone else's hand in the other hand, straining to listen to just the content of their speech - their history, their ideas, but I felt overcome by it all. This time of year marks the time I was in Vermont, and I am so hungry for writing community I am beyond hungry - so hungry I had forgotten I haven't been eating, forgotten that the bread of poety is supposed to nourish me.

Breath is what breaks me.

I went to a dentist for the first time in years earlier that day.

Ok - I have to stop for a funny side story here...

Earlier on in the day, I had gone to the dentist for the first time in over three years. Even three years ago, all I got was a cleaning, and even that was a three-day cheap MATC training cleaning. There's a classic side story here - I've even written a poem that alludes to it, so many of my friends have heard it, about how due to some weird bureaucratic miscommunications before my cleaning, my attendant got interrupted in the middle of it to be told by her supervisor that she was cleaning the wrong woman. What made her supervisor think that? They had somehow mangled my name into Muaim Han (presumably "asian", though who knows which country) and so she was shocked to see a white woman and worried they had scheduled the wrong one in.


Back to the breath story... entering the clinic last week, I was horrified to quite clearly hear every tool in its chip and scream action in the whole joint. I thought, my god, I never used to hear THAT at my childhood dentist. I'm leaving! But it turned out later to be a rhythm for my breath. See, my childhood dental assistant (because its about the assistants, not the dentists, big surprise) talked too much and with bad boundaries. So when they asked me what I wanted in order to be comfortable, it didn't take me long to realize I wanted to try silence. "Silence, please". My assistant looked surprised, and she had to stifle some of the normal chit chat, but eventually the rain and clinking of tools let me be with my body, be with the pain, and it was the breath I was best to be with all along. So when a new friend, a poet, at the bar or afterbar after the poetry reading asked me "What words break you?" I struggled, but underneath I knew, I knew it was a boring and also glorious buddhist-y answer - its breath, it's the moment before words become words. Chogyam Trungpa talks about this a lot - mostly with photography, but also with words, in his first book, Shambhala Path of the Warrior. I am stunned by it again and again.

Let's face it - who *doesn't* think they hate the dentist? I went through 4 years orthodontry, with my scary white and skinny doc and all his pert, fuckable assitants. My overly invasive hygenist. I can't help but think, now that I've seen what silence does for me, that so much of it was the dread of attempting to avoid pain. What breathing allowed me, as it always has eventually in the last few years, is silence. Silence to recognize as the pain would come and go. In some ways, I see all of this as part of the joy of getting older and being ok with asking for what I want without inhibitions. I think Buddhism is a major catalyst, though. That, and that my new dentist's first name is Golden. As he also followed my silence request, I watched the snow outside and was able to imagine my grandfather and the tiny window he lived with for years, telling the temperature by the temperment of the local squirrels scurrying past the tiny section of sky he could squint to see. It was contemplative dentistry. Go figure. Breath, you win one more point. And you break all.