Friday, November 26, 2010

Never Let Me Down Again

"Taking the Refuge Vow is taking a vow in yourself. Your own Basic Goodness."

This is what my preceptor (person who gives the vow) told me before I took my Refuge Vow, the "first" vow you take as a formal Buddhist, to say out loud that you will aspire to look to the Dharma first for solutions, clarity and sanity. Of course, sometimes I still look first to chocolate or TV or books, but setting one's intention in this way can help - and has helped me. Especially when I remember to do it. That can be the hardest step - remembering to do sitting meditation, to take a walk even, when the shit hits the proverbial fan.

Because it does. It will. Inevitably, and not just during potentially - loaded holiday season, I get cranky, sad, off. I express anger meant for the world at large at my lover, I focus on what is not working over what is. And you know what? A lot isn't working, doesn't work, won't work. This isn't a feel-good message that nothing will ever go wrong again or even that I won't suffer because it is going wrong. It's faith that I can endure that, that I am bigger than that.

The title of this post is from the Depeche Mode song of the same title. I used to take it quite literally, dedicating it to my best friends, people who didn't let me down. But over time, I let everyone down at least once, as they did me. No longer could any of us promise each other we were "safe as houses, as long as we remember who's wearing the trousers." I started to see the parody in the song - the ridiculous rhymes pointing to the absurd expectation that we can actually protect anything - ourselves, others - from hurt, from pain. That we could ever not be let down again. On the literal level, this is impossible. We will fall, we do. And hurt ourselves and others.

And yet, we can never let ourselves down again. I can. Not be let down. Because if I understand that it is not about me, then there's no me to be let down. Reading Sutrayana Seminary transcripts in preparation for my month retreat at Karme Choling in Vermont next February, it comes up again and again - this is the Four Noble Truths, this is the truth of perception, this is what is actually going on - that there is no "me" in the way we think of there as being, and if there is no me, there's no letting me down again. It's the ultimate, infalliable grief and the ultimate ineffable joy - nothing to fix and no one to fix it for. It's all Good.

For today, I can get this. I can remember this, on a literal level. While eating my coconut curry soup, while talking with a friend, seeing a movie, I might remember my vow for awhile and default to clarity and honesty instead of self-deception. Even when I forget, and turn to sleep or eat as avoidance, or try to hide in my own fear, it is still "me" - a different me, a more expansive and ever present me - who can help me remember again. That's who will never let me down again - the "me" who took the vow - who may not show up all the time, but who is never gone, regardless. This is on the Ultimate Level - not literal, not daily, but Ultimately.

This Ultimate non-abandoning me was never gone. The vow just called her up from the depths, and we promised to keep our heads above water together. Never let each other down again - in the biggest and most important way - by remembering our vow to take Refuge in what is, again and again, as often as it takes.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Impermanence Poems

It's November, which for novelists means NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, and for poets means PAD chapbook challenge - Poem a Day. I started doing this a couple of years ago after doing Poem a Day during the month of April - National Poetry Month - and last year I finished a chapbook (which hasn't been published but I love it none the less) on native place names of Wisconsin. Quite a few of the poems went into my finished poetry book manuscript Family Matters (NYP).

It's great. For once I can receive a prompt instead of giving one and respond to it according to what is in my head. I treat it like writing practice, and write spontaneously.

Yesterday's was on "small spaces" or "contained" - and I have been tossing around some ideas in my head ever since I left for Milwaukee at noon. Now looking out over Marquette before dinner with my brother, the pieces are falling together.

Blow Out
after the sculptures of Chakaia Booker in MAM

On my way, I see the usual litter
of semi truck tires shredded and encasing
dead raccoons, railings and other
skins of tire shreds. The thick black
bakes in the sun, and takes me
to the inside of the light and air museum,
where your sculptures of rubber sit heavily
along one hallway. There, the old tires
are just about to expand, to blow out,
curled back with your force of art
into flower and cunt and ball shapes,
screwed, hammered, glued into place.

There is no way to contain the air inside of me
my breath comes ragged
as I drive past the accident
blown out tires a living sculpture.

Monday, November 01, 2010

So many forms of Impermanence

My brother Alex got married this weekend. It was a Halloween wedding, resplendent with major crafting done by my now sister-in-law, Patty, and many images of love mixed with impermanence. Bride and Groom skeletons, for instance, held up pumpkins with their names carved out, and a ghoulish butler invited everyone into the reception room.

Witches, goblins, zombies and ghosts attended the wedding, along with, of course, living costumed creatures: Mr and Mrs Potato Head, Masquerading Bridesmaid (that was me), a few devils and belly dancers. Some kind of goliath, a few goths and a secret detective who gave his ID away right away. One baby pumpkin, and so on. But the first list - witches, goblins, ghosts and zombies - struck me in particular because for my brother, sister-in-law and me, another set of ghosts attended the wedding: Alex's and my dead parents, Michael and Tricia. Patty, my sister-in-law, suggested that they place a white rose on each chair for our parents in the front row during the ceremony - and so in the front row at the ceremony (attended by other ghosts, goblins and ghouls) there lay their ghostly traces. Later, I carried the white roses with me everywhere - they sat at Dylan's and my dinner table, and visited the DJ table where Dylan made sure plenty of Thriller and other celebratory scary music was played to dance to. Now they are home with me, where I will dry them and add them to my Dio de las Muertos shrine.

Everywhere I went this weekend, I saw skeletons and skulls, and not just in costumes, in places I wouldn't expect: in art at the Milwaukee Art Museum, on the streets imbedded in concrete. Impermanence, sometimes in a joyful way, other times in complete sadness that overwhelmed me and threatened my careful makeup job, reared its head completely this weekend. Ostensibly we say that the wedding was Halloween themed because Patty is a Mortician - technically, a County Examiner - with a license plate "Morticia" and Halloween stuff all over their house any time of the year. But for me, the theme was perfect and quite healing, actually, considering how much death Alex and I have lived through in our family: our parents, all of our grandparents and great aunts and uncles, and a godparent all gone by our twenties. What better way to invite our whole family - not ever as big as Patty's, but once more sizeable than now - than to invite the dead as well.

And not just the kindly ghosts, but the haunters, spooks and zombies, too.

To invite impermanence itself to one's wedding is to do a brave act of acknowledging this short life. During his speech at the reception, Alex spoke of how our mother had cried for a month after our father's death. Then, he admitted, he thought to himself "Just get on with it," but now that he has so much to lose - Tyler, his son, and Patty, his wife to name the big ones - he understands her grief so much more.

To love is to know what it is to lose, to lose is to know what it is to love. A risk. Life is a risk.
A Halloween wedding acknowledges this. I thank them both more heartily than they could ever imagine for not only throwing the most fun wedding ever, full of bagpipes and dancing sausages and moustache props, but also for letting the sometimes-difficult truth of our existence dance in its skeletal form alongside our joy and laughter.