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,