Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Meditating, it makes sense, the morning writing session, the attempt to find bits and pieces of what the subtle mind is thinking.  Subtle mind, in the Buddhist sense.  Seat of wisdom, compassion, non-judgment,  concerned with the welfare of all sentient beings, aware of the unsatisfactory nature of the life unenlightened and its constant pursuits…

I should have figured that out years ago, how, for instance, it ties in to Chekhov's accomplishment of the sweet sad not un-beautiful complexities of life (as if he were an early physicist of laws of conservation and equality in the energy of personal lives.)

That's the accomplishment of a writer, and it, of course, includes the mysteries of his own freedom from the standard accomplishments of life-nailed-down, the job, the family-man life, the house, the investments…  Unconsciously he/she makes no such strivings, as if to see through them, sensing a greater good beyond it all, one that references the greater good of the monk, a Dalai Lama…  Few other accomplishments, even, happily, as a writer.  (No crime-ridden best-seller page turner a la whomever, not naming those I haven't read.)  Instead, the maintaining of ambiguity and the void behind all reality.

It makes one happy to read, via New York Times, and NPR, the search for the grave, the bones, of Cervantes.  His beautiful penniless last wish:  to be buried in the refuge of the Sisters who were kind enough to save him when he was a hostage, the Dominican Nuns without Footwear, something like that (Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians.)  Indeed, he created, if you think about it, a great portrait of humanity, the imbalanced (or balanced) play between the gross mind (of worldly achievement and conventional viewpoints) and that of the subtle mind (of beauty and noble wisdom--even as it is in a way, in Cervantes' presentation, somewhat laughable.)  You can't help but see that crystalizing inner force of a person's subtle inner life, portrayed in that odd way of being, of taking it upon one's own self, to be, something fine (though let's not get carried away--he still had to sell books, thus the humor of the situation of Don Quixote, not that it helped poor old Cervantes out much financially.)  Yes, as he was dying, of "the dropsy," (something unpleasant to do with bodily fluids) he wished to remember those selfless subtle nuns who hide away saying Mass and praying all day quite apart from the rest of the day to day practical cement-mixing real-estate grabbing world, as if in a large way he was aligned with them, and would find with them, as all along, a final resting place, a home.  Perhaps being wounded as he was, now the story is less the Turkish pirate axe and more the gunshot, to the left hand and chest, helped him attain a less deluded life.  Made funnier, richer, by the fact of his having written a book about a fellow who in ripe old age has his head go soft from reading too much of El Cid and tales other noble and storied knights (which, of course, in real actual life, he shall never be.)  Oh, the beautiful old straight face, Spanish and proper, of Miguel.

Easy to get carried away with.

If you take away the gross mind, and let the subtle mind meditate and do its work, from within, as if alighting some DNA-like spiritual structure within, the totality of being crystalizes, forms, becomes afresh something prone to do righteous and unselfish things.  And if anything can enable or help along a gross and humble being, as if to help find in the confusion of the present moment, a good way to be, well, maybe in the long run, that's a good thing.

And so, the practice becomes more and more about the practice of mediation, the great initial work one has to do before doing anything else...

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Buyer's remorse, it never fails to hit.  "What will I do with all this crap?"  A question always arises, just as you might think you would take some satisfaction for solving a problem, a rusted charcoal chimney replaced, comfortable clunky Ecco black work shoes for work, the metatarsal aches, but why stay grilling (as a Buddhist go vegetarian), or why stay with that job (not the right profession as the eight fold path says.)  Dukkha, that feeling of ill at ease…  Only thing you can do, is Simplify.  Why the whole shelf of Ernest Hemingway books that have been hanging around here for ever--sign of an egotistical past, kept for show, for the same vain reasons as everything else.

It just gets clearer and clearer to me, the world of samsara, the constant suffering of occupying the gross mind of duality and qualification, the world of Saturday night, young people out having their loud 'fun.'  Which only makes me ashamed at all the years I've spent in bars.  Well, is what it is.  We tried to keep them calm bars, civilized…  That's my reaction as I practice walking meditation on a Saturday night after midnight, walking past Russia House and the bars on Connecticut Avenue, loud, drunken, aggressive...

But in the end it makes no difference, because you have to realize this about the world.  And writing too is a part of that false world, made up, looking real, feeling substantial but a complete delusion.

Beneath the gross mind, where everything is identified as fitting into its proper little cubbyhole, lies, according to Buddhist thought, the subtle mind.  It is said to operate beneath the quantum level, and so perhaps its appropriate that when we see a star or a planet, that would be giving us an idea of scale, up there the quantum level (what we normally associate with protons, neutrons, forces, etc.), down here, thought.  Thus the notion that when we look at objects, phenomenon, they and we merge, as if in a dream.

To say I've come to actively dislike Washington, DC, wouldn't be correct.  But I've finally come to see it as I've seen it all along, the world of samsara, of seemingly happy, efficient capable self-minded people tied to the functions of gross thought.  Everyone keeps to themselves, unless something strange moves them.  Friendships are few and far between, as are real understandings.  The classic DC question, "what do you do," which means "who are you, who do you know that I might use usefully…' says it all.  The gross mind in action, no subtle open curiosity.

Everyone is defined here, egotistically.  Sexual identity, professional life, material comforts, all flaunted, defined, displayed, pointed to.  And if you're not in that game of ego, as you might if you were more of a subtle mind kind of person wondering who you are, striving to be better and wiser and good, you're to be ignored as a useless idiot.

And so it is a place where people are, some of them, kept on the outside, kept out of the tribe of those-in-the-know and the right track in life.

If you weren't a Buddhist, hoping to hatch an escape plan, it can be a horribly depressing place to be, even despite all the civil politeness it might be, on the surface, known for.  And because of the nature of gross mind, as opposed to subtle, no one here will ever agree on anything, and nothing will ever get done to solve a problem, at least without attempts by another party at retribution.

Friday, April 25, 2014

I did go see the chanting monks, but to my consternation I did not see the Dalai Lama when he came to campus that year when I was a sophomore.  I don't know where my head was.  And I could have used some spiritual help that year.  My father would have been happy with me, too.  He saw D.T. Suzuki at Johnson Chapel;  my seeing his holiness would have been a great counterpoint to that.  I don't know what I believed in then… being an English major, I guess.  And other foolishness.  Why did I not take a class with Robert Thurman?  That would have changed the course of my education, I'm sure.  But I fell into the pagan cult of English, and worse things too.  Punk that I was.

But you cannot avoid being a Buddhist.  The way of thinking is simply tried and true, the most accurate picture the primate human animal has ever come up with.  And we are all vessels of the dharma and its truth.  Like a typical fool American kid, I missed it, and stumbled on into years of what should be adulthood under the general illusions of society and consumerist bent, to which I suppose Buddhism is a threat.

If you're an artist I guess you have a second chance, for being able to appreciate, as you would the simplicity of a Zen garden, the coherent logic of the Buddha, the no self, the law of dependent origination, the noble truths, the proper steps on the path, the concept of the subtle mind operating below the quantum level…  And what you do, when it runs contrary to that system is indeed foolishness and wasted time.  Who knows why such things happen, misguided foolishness, wasted years spent under illusions… who knows.

It is important to go see such a person, as his holiness, just like it's important to have a guru.  You get it much better, in person.  You see the effects of all that spiritual training, the meditation, the self-control, the enlightened quality.  Why my arrogance, passing up such a chance, I feel very shameful… The only thing is, Buddha wouldn't want one to dwell on such a thing…  Not to worship, but to follow the path, that is the important thing.

Perhaps this is a bad habit enabled by American literature, as if we have to go on a long voyage with Captain Ahab or Dean Moriarty to earn enlightenment, only getting it on the very last page, and even then just for a lyrical moment before probably going right back to square one.  The curse of having no long traditions, no structure to fall into to save ourselves.  Consumerist fools that we are.  Is it that we are subject to the Christian tradition, left to consider a mystifying story, not very well explained, almost political, a great work of literature, but why not, like the Buddha, stop to explain things, keeping it simple… not to confuse us into thinking that we too are little Jesus Christs.  But yes, the whole Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition is aimed at a political world, and look at the consequences.  We might think it's necessary to be political, but it's all missing the point, the business of really considering the nature of reality…  Of course, you can get Theosophically theologically imaginative and say the Cross itself is a simple of our being stuck to Three-Dimensional reality, the Cross being a cube laid open, as if to explain a three dimensional object to a two dimensional existence…  but no one, being stuck in tradition would really listen to you anyway, not for a moment, believe me.  Religions meant for family and professionals and the world of the worldly, of appointed time… but, one might argue, missing something.  "Hey, look at me, see how well I cope with society and fight wars to keep us safe from 'those people…'"

Well, you don't buy Buddhism.  You get it, you comprehend it, you understand it, you see the infinitely layered beautiful wisdom of it, and it causes you to be compassionate.  And maybe you celebrate that, well, after all, no, it's not too late, look on the bright side.  Take great joy in simple things.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"Lions surround family in burning car"--from news gathered by the Weather Channel.  In game preserve, park wardens save mother and children, video of a family style van engulfed in flames.  Little more is told.  No pictures of lions sitting expectantly on haunches surrounding the vehicle.  Dialog of sentient beings the lions?  Hey, what do you think we should do?  Ah, nothing.  Tourist dollars keep us safe.  Wouldn't pay to do anything more than express a little curious interest.  Besides, it will be a story on the Weather Channel.  But we don't need the coverage.  We'll just play it cool.  Terrible thing, fire like that.  They'll come to save them.  No worries.

Born Free tells the story of the dignity of these creatures, and revisiting, following up, the lions come and sit respectfully at the man's cairn gravesite.  (Poachers killed him.)

The story of Prince Gautama is the story of all of us.  Young fellow, in his particular case, raised in ease, with pleasures given to him, an exaggerated case.  He practiced the arts, probably was a literary young fart writing poetry and whatnot, music, swords, whatever.  Consorts to school him in pleasures.  But all of it details as far as his greater accomplishment as Buddha, awakened one, enlightened being.  The final truth of no mind.  No mind, only light within.  No need for any story.  Only thing to tell is a general guide of how to live in accordance with that, supporting that ultimate reality.  Thus, no engaging in story, which perhaps is the point of  the Zen branch.

A few stories to illustrate, to teach the point, but otherwise, get right at it.  Meditate, clear the mind.

We crave narrative.  Our minds love the habit of qualifying things, labeling, nailing down, discussing.

Chekhov's Black Monk, the specter haunting the protagonist of a famous story, perhaps representing that there is no story to tell, that it's all relative, nothing to nail down ultimately, no judgments to be made that really last.

I think of my egoless father…  How with such great love and tolerance he put up with my presence, placed little need for a narrative upon me…  And that is love, the way we feel it, when we sense that great agelessness, the need for narrative no longer pressing up against us or our relationship, passive in a way…  telling us, as maybe the lions said to one another, 'no mind.'

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Okay, painters in the kitchen.  Do not set the alarm.  Do not set the alarm, I repeat to myself as I leave, finally.  I watched myself close the door.  I watched myself push in the code, followed by the little beep beep beep.  I opened the wine bar door, picked up my bicycle, backed it out onto the steps down to the sidewalk as the door shut.  Then, about to lock the deadbolt, uh oh.  Shit.  So, I scramble, open the other door, punch in the one code I know.  I'm inside now.  Will it work?  And then, no.  Very loudly, no.  (Never to try to rob a place.  The alarm noise is such that you can't even think.)  But, somehow it doesn't seem to effect the painters, viewed through the porthole window on the kitchen door.  Or they are such stoics that the noise, through the closed door doesn't seem to bother them.  I try to figure out the keypad alarm system, but can't find my reading glasses, blasted by the horns, so eventually, I lock the door and step outside.  I wait around for a while.  A policeman goes by hurriedly on a motorcycle, to the Safeway.  The noise stops.  I check my phone, and pedal away, pulse racing, guilt following me.  What if the cops come and think the painters are robbers?  No, it's pretty obvious they are painting the kitchen ceiling.  Long night.  Kitchen closed three hours before I'm finally done.  A quick run to the Safeway for groceries, rice, quinoa.  Back to restaurant, groceries into courier bag, get ready for ride home.   Boss's wife stays late with my regular customers, electric violin from the live jazz in my ears, no wonder the distraction, the mind gone into auto mode.  The jumble, as I ride, distractedly, home, stopping in the park to see if any remnants of the meteor shower are still in the eastern sky.  Too much light pollution anyway.

I come home, amped still.  I vacuum the living room rug, the television on, something about Rembrandt compared with a Chinese Buddhist nature painter with the black brush sketches.  But there is backsliding going on, and despite lighting candles, and some incense, I know there is an open bottle of Ventoux in the fridge, and though I've been dry all night, home, I do not resist the urge.  "Just don't bring any home, next time," I tell myself.  Thus, no temptation.  Live simply.  But, yes, there is backsliding, even though I find where I was in the YouTube "Dalai Lama -- How To Practice:  The Way to a Meaningful Life."  I'm no longer bent on getting the electric razor out and shaving my head, Buddhist style, like I was a few days ago.  Hair, a problem, it would be better to not have to deal with it really.  Typical, no follow through, just another one of those phases in an unserious life.

Stupid intellectual, should have never gone slumming for such a job, I might have mumbled to myself as I do the dishes.  Finally go to bed.

Today, the third anniversary of my father's funeral.

My head's a jumble, subtly pained, too much, the night before.  The depressive aftereffect of a melatonin tablet, a glass and a half of wine, on top of the seeming lack of direction, the need to show up to work tonight?  I don't seem to know what to do today.  How to find some calm before going off to wine tasting…    Where did I leave off yesterday in my calm clear understanding about how we all are in dharma reality, and that it might be construed that we act accordingly on a deeper instinct.  Somehow we find our way in the dharma, naturally, on instinct, like a bee does its work in the hive.  And this is to resist the outer pressure to conform, to do all the things we're supposed to do as citizens and people, sons and daughters.

The problem of society is the impugnment of motives.  Motives, motives, everywhere.  And the motive of some people is little more than finding a way in the dharma, finding a place,  way to teach, however they can.  This, of course, requires an awakening, to be conscious of this primary quality of mind.  And this awakening is not encouraged much here.  It's hard enough to come o an understanding of it, given favorable conditions.  Yes, the greater motives of the world are confusing and weighty.   Everyone seems to think, you need motives to get you through, don't you, anyway…   Don't have any?  You must be a fool, with no ambition.

But there is that place of learning, that ability to be open and ready for a lesson,  wherever it might come from.  And that's how we treat a student, with the benefit of such respect.

There is also the condition that a student might one day mature, grow into being a teacher, having awoken to a logic, a coherent philosophy.  And with the dharma, perhaps it depends on how you fit into it, as either an example or a teacher, through an understanding of it or through a choice of ignorance for it.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Finally, at the end of Easter, feeling odd with a house guest in the basement who goes to bed early, tired from Saturday, I opened a bottle of wine around midnight after a long nap, still feeling the smoke from grilling meat on my face, dishes undone  After taking a week off, only a few glasses of wine after the Tuesday shift, a beer after Wednesday night jazz, then three days completely dry, even the Saturday shift, I felt I could try a little wine and see how I felt about it.  I needed some calm energy, I thought, to sort through my book shelves, assess what I had.  Too much stuff, beginning to weigh on me.  Attachments.  I'd ingested bread at work on Saturday at the end of the night, feeling it in my joints, unable to get into lotus.  I felt I could use a glass, just to smooth things over, calm me down, let my writer mind wander unselfconsciously.  Do some recycling.  Strip things down.  "Good wine is a necessity of life for me," Jefferson said, so maybe it will help me organize my little Monticello with too many books, too many guitars, papers, Hemingway magpie clutter, Madam Korbonski's Polish stuff.   I see the picture of Dad, the botanist as a boy back in Turner's Falls atop the desk.  The cat knocked it over, broke the glass.

Okay, try a glass, okay.  After all this Buddhist stuff, let's see if I'm being a little too Taliban, a little too Puritanical…  It all makes a supreme amount of sense, but let's see how the calm reaction to it will be…  trying not to get nervous because maybe my future as a barman is riding on this.  Peter Matthiessen, you can't get any better than that, the magazine section piece noted him having "a well stocked bar," and maybe the Zen wing more readily allows that, holds that it's the intoxication, and that you can get intoxicated on anything, even Buddha.  And poor old Kerouac liked to allude to old Chinese monks of the mountains who loved their wine, whatever they made it out of, even though this hints loudly of enablement.  (He could go dry when he had to.  Fame… that's what fucked him up.  Let's drink with the King of the Beatniks, they'd say, knocking on his basement window as he sat at the typewriter.)

You can't be an Enlightened Buddha overnight.  It takes practice, daily practice, the following of moral code, the discipline of meditation and physical readiness.  As I hoped, the wine didn't taste that good, and nor did it soothe.  I know one can easily get 'holy, holy, holy,' think he is getting somewhere, pray to Jesus in sincere hopes of a second-coming;  I know one can go through phases, fully buying it one week, and then a few weeks later, losing enthusiasm and will power and vision.  Don't get ahead of yourself.  Don't become a full Catholic quite yet, as nice and as comforting as that would be, your mind made up for you about just about everything.

Therefore, test things yourself, in your own laboratory, be honest with yourself, and see what happens. What's all this Buddha stuff about anyway?  What is the Lama saying when he says that within all pleasures there is, if you partake, the increase of suffering?

And what I felt was, after all these years of trying to fit in, of telling myself a story, was that no, I don't need it.  There was no great aversion, no spitting out, just non-attachment, the truth of non-attachment, distance from the ego-body of 'wine enjoyer.'  (And look how my email in box is full of wine related offers, along with all the rest of marketing crap.)  There wasn't even too much--though there was some--of great regret, at least the next day in daylight.  There was simple plain honesty.  A simple note of how very preferable not to even begin.

I might wonder why.  Because wine represents attachment?  I'm not sure.  Or maybe I was just now being honest with myself, cutting through all the crap myths of self, seeing rather the red flush on my cheeks as I looked in the bathroom mirror.  "Oh, yes, writers are supposed to drink," a voice said, but it was old and distant, an old fool, tired, though I did not beat up the voice, fearing reprisal, fearing being taken back in.  "Think of Coltrane, the Love Supreme, for the newly clean, newly strong."

Forgive self for, in state of complete hunger and growing stiffness from seven hours on your feet after a busy shift for reaching toward the glass of camaraderie, the drink with the chefs jolly to be done with their very long day sweating the kitchen over the proverbial hot stove.  There's no fault, just the call to be aware, to raise awareness, to not do the knee-jerk patterned response, after an evening of seeing everyone wrap their own lips around the edge of a tipped wine glass, as if stories and laughter of Czech proportions would come out of the pagan woods, that spirits would dance, the sky would open above and that one would return, with all his hard working good hearted friends to the bosom of a nice small town somewhere tucked within forested hills with very old trees and gardens and courtyards, a magnificent light pollution free sky overhead, fresh mountain air, a river, a fountain, then go home to sleep well under a thick feathered comforter embraced and embracing the girl of dreams.

No, enough fantasies, and each day is day one not be drawn in by the old habit, but to see freshly, to not even dwell on the sins of the past, but be liberated and be the moral being of good just wisdom who harms no one and wishes for the enlightenment of all sentient beings.

Yes, doesn't it feel good, after two ibuprofen, to be up at a reasonable hour for a night shift worker, sipping green tea.  And if I can't figure everything out today, quit my job as barman instantly, as I might like, go join at last the monastic call, well, I guess that's okay.  Just, yes, live in the present, and only care about what you need to care about and really wish to care about.  And don't I feel calmer for saying so.

We cannot but help practice Buddhism in our lives.  That is the funny thing.  You might as well realize this, and map out to what extent you are doing this negatively or positively.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

In the hours before my shift tonight, Saturday, I think of the suffering of humanity and all creatures, the deep secretive pain we all feel not knowing enlightenment and the refuge of the Buddha's teachings.  I feel strange about the duties of work now, as if I am only adding to the illusion of escape, through wine, through promoting the whole restaurant ritual.  How many martinis and manhattans and old fashionedes will I have to make?  How much bubbly will I pour?  I will offer dessert to every table that dines, unless otherwise instructed.  And all I will do cordially and in a good-natured way.

Suffering, I know, because I too have suffered, and blindly sought to escape it, looking at my own behavior, not constantly poor or cruel or evil to others, but enough to feel shame and realize I hurt people close to me who were far more enlightened and serious than I.  And I know what it's like, to go home, feeling the great angst, not knowing what else to do, but pour a glass of wine and feel the medicinal numbing, almost sleepy, as I lean back on the couch, remote in hand, nodding, until I wake up and try to go to bed.

Saturday Night is a shift of suffering anyway for those who have to work them.  There is tonight the six top just before kitchen closing.  That's life.  That's business.  "Do you want to not be busy," the boss would ask, to make his point firm.   Stress is involved.  I get in early and diligently, very diligently, set up.

So I write this minor meditation on it, as if to present the issue, clearly, coming out of my mind, this time, rather than bottled up within.  "I'll have a splash more," a regular fellow, a very decent guy who visits the wine bar of The Bistrot of the Dying Gaul, says when he gets rolling.  Of course his buddy comes, a man in his prime with lots of energy, serving him a complicated business to be endured.  "Well, my friend, you do not need a splash," I might like to say tonight.  For you, I, and all poor creatures are dearly suffering in this existence, ignorant of the dharma truths.

The night is busy, but it goes by.  Mercifully, no bar crowd expecting entertainment.  My coworker stresses.  (I've begun to hint to him that meditation would be helpful, as it helps keep the calm in the air-traffic controller stress situations common in busy restaurants.)  He barks orders.  "I need bread on 62," he half shouts, wide eyed, loud like a bluejay.  The little walkie talkie behind the bar rings its beeping electric alarm, an excited frantic tone, and he goes off running downstairs through the main dining room to the kitchen and back with whatever is ready.  I would have let the busser make the trip in the hectic pitched battle hours.  Enough to do here as it is.

As I student, as a young writer trying to find my voice, I was aware of the problem of suffering.  I  sought alternative to the  deep joy of mediation.  I tried the escapes of pleasure, and years went down a hole, even as I showed friendship and compassion to my fellow beings.  I thought a mutual escape of reality seemed a solution, as if it was a political movement, as if it would bind people on a common ground.  I went on long bike rides, stoically propping up my mood and physique.  There was always suffering there, the unsatisfactory quality, dukkha, from which no one can escape, for whom efforts to escape will only generate more suffering.

But it is uncommon becoming a Buddhist here.  I was an idiot and passed up several good opportunities at college, special chances that I let pass by, missing the boat.  I didn't know how to go about becoming one, and still don't know what to do, except begin an attempt at my own little practice.  On the other hand there were the books my father passed down to me, from his Theosophical tradition, and I read when I could, and yes, such things made sense.  But then it was always, back to work, back to the shift, and then back to the modest pleasures of close friends--you bring a bottle of good wine, they cook dinner, you catch up.  Always, the problem of a career, and years ticking by.  Life in a city--you drink wine, keep up to date somewhat.  The city's greatest paper, repository of culture and art and all the news that's fit to print, has a wine column, a beautiful subject.  "Buy in, buy in," it all says.  You don't want to look odd.  And your own foolishness, lack of direction, career obtuseness left that your best option, knowing how to open a wine bottle and talk about it, to read people, to entertain, to get the job done.

So what do you do?  The monastery?  If you were honest, if you weren't stuck with too many possessions already from trying to enjoy some of life, yes, you would.  You would disdain attachments as low things, and move on.

I get home, spoon up some quinoa, nothing on television, wash face, brush teeth, pour glass of water, tuck myself in in the April cold, put a melatonin tablet under my tongue.  I wake at first light, Easter morning, with a day free ahead of me, but not feeling I know what to do with it, and rather feeling darkly about a lot of things, as if anything I could do at this point in life, mid life, late mid life, wouldn't help anyway.

I do a small rubber made tub of dishes, as tea brews.  It's Easter morning, and I will attempt to meditate.

Who is happy?  What is happiness?  What if I had caught that train early on and became a Buddhist scholar, taught, had a respectable job, a house somewhere, family life…  Or was it better, for the purposes of understanding, to live a suffering life with that strange beauty of enlightenment within grasp, but difficult to attain, until finally comprehending it as fully as one could from within.

The Buddha is right to explore suffering, to experience it first hand, freed from illusion.  The problem is that this philosophical look at suffering, this experience of it, causes a change in one's look at things, a change one might compare to the atomic bomb explosion, such that suddenly one sees all things differently, entire great cities not mattering anymore than an anthill, all human endeavors seen in new light, separating the things that matter from the things that do not matter in an entirely new way.  The things that conventionally matter suddenly shrink and blow away in importance, the bulk of human society amounting to sand pipers trotting hurriedly around on a beach as waves come up and then recede.  The things that were taken as utterly important, like the kind small act of a stranger, are suddenly the atomic solar light, far surpassing the strict codified system of manners and social rules and social position and estimations of personal importance in their relevance to the good of the world, the shy and the often silent upholding the species and its footing on the planet.

But who wouldn't initially want to back away in pain at such realizations, seeing all the good one has done in the form of small acts, not wishing anything in return, suddenly more important than what all the world's "great leaders" manage, ants too, but not with the knowledge that they are ants.

"My Life had stood--a loaded Gun
In corners--Till a Day
The Owner passed--identified
And carried Me Away."

You, like I, have felt the unsatisfactory quality of conversations, particularly over the phone, talk about stuff, plans, happenings…  You want to say, 'no, that is just stuff of the ego;  we're not really interested in that, so let's not talk about it.'  Talk about stuff can be amusing, but it falls short, distracts.  Perhaps that's another reason to enjoy Emily Dickinson's poem here, its sense of great resolution.  And that resolution, almost like a mantra, seems to pull the reader into a place of resolution too, a place of contentment, everything, even relationships, in the right form, proper, well-mannered.  And this speaks of course of the initial state of not being content, of running things of the past through the mind and wondering why things turned out so, as perhaps she, being "the spinster," might have felt closely.  And again, that sense that seems to run through her poems, of feeling that townspeople curiosity, "what's up with Emily, does she like that Colonel guy?"  (which we still feel compelled to ponder--"maybe she's gay"), juxtaposed with her own deep sense of things that basically pays little mind to that stuff, having an entirely different view of time, thus being present enough, egoless enough, to see and compose a poem on its own terms.

Does that sense of time account for the enigmatic ending of her poem, born with the power to kill, but not the power to die…  What is the sense of "He must longer live"?  Is it desirable, to live longer, if you must?  Is she speaking of living in a great omniscient present, thus no power to die, the freedom of being passively in perfect order with the Universe?  That the narrator has now few worries, because of the epiphany, in one reading of it.  Without the power to die, she has found eternity's presence.  Still, it is an odd meeting of the normal material time we live in and the eternal, puzzling.

The palpable satisfaction of suddenly finding no regrets, of a great order to life, lasts through the end of the poem.  She has found a greater purpose than would have come with other relationships.  It was all easy in the end, being chosen, carried away, no need for any effort but to be what you are.  What a comfort to the reader beating his or her self up for something that didn't happen.

Suffering does lead us somewhere.  It's a fact we live under till we are carried away by a realization...

Friday, April 18, 2014

So we see, vis a vis, Emily Dickinson's poem on the loaded gun in corners, vis a vis a job tending bar for twenty five years, that people pleasing is different from pleasing the deep master of ultimate reality, 'the Owner' of her poem.   One looks for calm to know the difference.

Hypothetical situations:

Stuck in a the family vacation, between the wishes and claims of two factions, why please B, asks A.  Well, this whole thing is not much about me doing what I want to be doing, so what real difference does it make anyway whether I take mom with sunburned feet into town or sit or the beach?  Indeed, the Buddha sees no difference, that to see the difference is to live in the misery of samsara with all its tempting devils, when all, ultimately is the same.

You go out, to be social, with a neighborly friend, dinner, a glass of wine, and then slowly comes out the projection of your friend's particular issues on yourself.  You sit, nod, take a sip from your glass, and quietly feel disturbed.  Patience.

How to be your own master?  How to break into the open?  Cut off the regulars as soon as they begin to get loud and silly.  "One is never enough, is it?"  I know, believe me.

Buddha, sitting under the tree, tempted by Mara and his army of demons, asking Buddha, as a last resort really, what right had he to the space he sits on, touches the earth, and the earth responds as his witness.

The precious instrument of the clear mind.

When you have meditated enough, you find it's true, that beyond the experience, the sensation of breathing, there is no fixed self, no real I separate from everything else.  This is something you must find out on your own, directly, through meditation.  Maybe it doesn't hurt to have puzzled over the human condition and gone through all the weary illusions, seeking safety, comfort, sanity, a break from fear, in all other things.  No more pleasure sought in conventional ways, for what is pleasure.

When you come to see the light of Buddha then the codependent situations become that much clearer to you.  You are no longer participating, no longer jumping at the usual instigations, the usual calling peace into question.  You are no longer going along, doing things that hurt you, whereas before you thought of doing so as good will.  What you took as stupidity and foolishness all along, you know better to hear your voice saying so.

I can see that writers, like a lot of the economy, are in a codependent situation.  They have to feed something in order to be popular, and to do this act, they have to dumb themselves down often enough, so that they too can have their cars, vacation homes, whiskey, nice clothes, etc.  So what do they write about?  Not the truth of no-self, but cars, vacation homes, whiskey, nice clothes, people stuck in codependent situations.  Who calls the tune?  That is hard to figure.  When did the novel itself become a  material possession, an enabler of the illusions of life, a rehearsal for silly things?  The ego crept in to reality and suggested that boring plain old life wasn't good enough, that it had to be dressed up with great conflict and ever-present and mounting tensions, a narrative arch that kept one on the edge of the seat.  The novel had to do false things, its practitioners felt.  It had to sell to be worthwhile.  It had to be good by certain standards.

Zen must have come about because of a tendency for posing and posturing in their Buddhist practices...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"My Life had stood--a Loaded Gun/  in Corners--till a Day/  the Owner passed--identified/  And carried Me away," she wrote, judiciously as always, poem number 764, after establishing her practice and thinking about many things.

I went to see my father teach a class a year or two before his retirement. on the subjects of plants and society.  At the beginning of it, he drew a distinction, between praying and playing.  When we pray, it is much different from playing.   The two should not be mixed.

That was during the days when I had graduated, looking for a way in the world, back home, thinking it over, what to do.  I suppose in a quiet way I was leaning toward a life that can most readily be compared to that of a monk, perhaps a Buddhist, all of this coming out of the subconscious.  I was thinking, as the Buddha's mind was doing, back when he was a prince now wandering seeker practicing this and that, thinking over the nature of suffering and desire, etc.  But living here in modern world America, one thinks first, 'well, how am I going to make money, what am I going to do for a career, keep a roof over my head, maybe start a family.'  So, one day, tired of a vague period of employment in landscaping, not feeling I was getting anywhere, I left my hometown with a few possessions and got on the train toward a city having absolutely no idea of what I would do.

I found a place to say, steady work.  A few years went by.  I worked a lot.  Slept on Saturdays.  And eventually, my curiosity led me out of the suffering that is the modern office clerk's life to the different form of suffering that is pleasure seeking, a lively restaurant that had a democratic quality to it.

I wrote then, I did some reading, of course, on the side, but steadily, nothing to be particularly proud of, but an effort.  Years, and years, and years.  And then, perhaps as I might have realized all along, but stuck in some psychological pattern of people pleasing, of overly empathetic urges--like when I'd go hang out with the old retiree in his tiny one room bare apartment with a Coleman kitchen, one burner, after a shift for one more beer--I was not in that mode of what to a Buddhist is 'right profession.'  In fact, I was in rather one of the worst and most harmful of professions, short of selling guns.  I was harming people.  I was aiding them maintain a great ignorance.

I was playing when I should be praying.

But there is that quality to life, the thoughtful life, of being a loaded gun, waiting, in a corner (where propped up safely so as not to fall down and fire off accidentally, as it might if leaned up against a wall) till the Owner, the Transcendental Oversoul, deep spiritual reality, Buddha nature, comes along and finally puts the real thou-art-that-which-is being into its proper usage.  (What else can you do with a gun but shoot it.)

I think of all the foolish years enabling people, thinking I was being kind to them, listening to their stories, having, years ago, not anymore, 'shots' with them.  As if anyone ever benefited in the slightest from any of that.  Just one long stupid 'ha ha ha' joke that, at the end of the day, went nowhere.

When I heard her poem's line quoted by a regular patron in the bar, as a vanity, as a means of showing off that he knew his culture as he swilled, blinking his eyes proudly, but with no follow up, no curiosity about what it might mean in all its deep sense, no placing it in within the Transcendentalism of her time,  I had to sense that I was in the wrong place.  As well intentioned as it may have been, or not, to quote Emily in passing context as a kind of show…

The sweeping logic of it all, Buddhism, I felt I could finally accept, and see finally as my own awkward efforts to fit in, to have an identity, a distinct self I could show, beyond the plain being I was, for the selfish confused vanity and attempt at scheming that it was.  For life is simple.  You eat, you sleep, you do your chores.  To try and carry, to hold up any identity--and this I might have felt more than others, having no easy proud professional identity to fall back on, lawyer, doctor, etc., thus having to try harder as a kind of tentative 'wine guy' (because I saw myself initially as a writer of undefined sort)--is tiresome.  It turns out that all experiences , to the Buddha, are pretty much the same anyway, no distinctions to be made in the final analysis, between the room at the Four Seasons and a tent.  Living in a city it seems all about making distinctions, what's the best job, the best hang-out, etc., but I found myself only able to relax when I made it all as simple as I could, and as I walked past a bar and looked into the window with greater certainty could I pass it all by as samsara, just that, the world where oneness of all isn't seen.

So I began to rue whatever extent I was participating in the illusions of pleasure and distinctions commonly made.  I seemed to find that a glass of wine wasn't the desirable thing after all, but rather a thing getting in my way to apply the logic and the meditative clarity of Buddhism to life, as I felt one finally must, finally being serious.

I guess it's a matter of needing to experience first hand the delusion, to prove to yourself that such laws are applicable and true.  I found myself, technically speaking, in the wrong profession, over and over and over, and could/can only hope that through it I might find the right one.

I have to see Dickinson's ultimate literary success as rising beyond simply that.  She was wise, as we all know, for keeping out of the spotlight, away from the 'admiring bog.'  This gives her time and the security for her message to evolve and mature beyond being, simply, good poetry, on into the timeless wisdom that we need.  She waited for her poetry to mature.  She didn't let the praise or critique of others effect it.  She wrote poetry for its own sake, indifferent to outside definition of what poetry should be like.  She followed a noble path in it, took it day by day, wrote of moments that speak of one who appreciates the present moment.  There is nothing quick or facile to her work.  She built it from the ground up, from little scribbles on backs of envelope paper.  No pop anthems that instantly achieve great commercial success but then blow away as far as offering any deep moral advice or psalm that lasts either in the life of its creator or the public at large.

And this is one of her gems.  There's a real sense of joy and purpose in it, the great comfort, that almost reminds one of an affectionate dog out with her master.  There's a sense of carrying through, of finally figuring everything out, so that all things make sense.  It's a victorious poem, one of fine clarity, conveying that all important sense of knowing what we doing here in this world.

Could tending bar ever be a 'right profession?'  It's a complicated issue.  (In a modern world of interconnectedness, who isn't involved in the sale of alcohol in restaurants…  Perhaps wine making allows regional countryside traditions to live long happy lives.  Christ himself wanted joy for people, wine out of water.)  One the one hand, yes, you're a binding element in a neighborhood, a place to discuss things, to share in information and life stories.  But, the Buddha is strict on this, that even a small amount of intoxicant impairs the mind, interferes with  the instrument.

Was Christ a more co-dependent figure than Buddha, a topic for another day...

So, it's a child's job, that of one who claims not to know any better.  I was impaired in judgment taking up such work, and it dependent on impairment to keep it up.  I came to a city and suffered along with it, but that doesn't suffice.  It was a job that embodied co-dependency.  And it was, like a lot things, hard work, physically, mentally, spiritually, meaning that it was a hindrance rather than a help.

But it was always as if the great reality had, like "The Owner," waited for me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I feel the sweet gentle melancholy as I wake after the night of work that had the glass of wine at the end of it, Tuesday night wine tasting by myself, and a chimerical busser, at The Dying Gaul.  I was pretty entertaining all night, to just about every party that came in the wine bar upstairs there.  I didn't have that much, as I ate a piece of grilled salmon with broccoli mousse, cleaning up at the end of it all, before walking home under a clear sky and a bright moon.  Enough, after two days off from wine, to begin to feel the burn deep in my gorge, more sensitive witness to the self-destructive, but it wasn't a lot.  I got home, and fell asleep without staying up 'til dawn and bird singing, but then woke very early, three hours in, then again, and then later I got up.  But you feel the adrenaline kick in the first waking.

I finally had the sensation, reflecting on the previous few nights of dreaming, that the world we live in, that seems so real, that it too is a dream.  But today I don't remember any dreams.  I do the dishes from yesterday and drink my tea, put brown rice into the cooker.

It is this Buddhist stuff that has helped me, happily, in an authentic good mood, to face work the last few days.  That there are, or once were, monks, and communities of them, monasteries, makes me happy.  That there is a rich and full philosophy, and many hues of the spectrum of practicing spiritual energy, comes as very pleasing.  And one piece of it leads to the understanding of another, and I come across the Buddha's law of dependent origination.  The flame cannot burn without the wick, without the candle.  A worthy subject to read up on, but to summarize the obvious, we wouldn't be here, alive, burning, without having done something in a previous life to be here.  We cannot deny responsibility and simply disappear from this existence, nihilistically, nor can we say there is an eternal immutable self that goes on forever, positivistically.  Always, the middle path, toward understanding.  And so it seems, first and foremost, we must acknowledge some guilt, some imperfect understanding, that led us here, and that's just a plain fact.  The good news is, we can wake from that ignorance, and do the best we can this existence, for that will help us along the ultimate path to enlightenment.  And this is empowering, and helps us see when we sin, and then, gentled, we can find again, the love supreme, which even we sinners are worthy of.

Then we can take a step back from the world, and see better what its issues are.  We can see that we are dangerously corroborating with the Chinese in our nationalist materialism, treason to the true cleric and the spirit of deep education and wisdom.  We can see that we have a similar guilt, pushing the human soul into sweat shop factories, and who knows, one day maybe it will be us, toiling there under a police state that knows our every move, the natural world drilled and bulldozed into a vast spread of smoke stacks, human storage units, trains to take us back and forth.

Or, we can see the larger issues of why we are here and where we are and what we share.

In Buddhist-minded retrospective, I look back with some approval and what in poorer understanding seemed to have 'bothered me' enough to write a book about it, the inherently conflicted reality of attraction and desire.   It is with some sense of a student's joy of learning something that I look back on the main character of A Hero For Our Time and see for a moment that his impulses came out of a deeper understanding.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I became a writer out of spiritual reasons.  It was as if there was a silent understanding between my father and I, that I understood the core of his teachings, and that this sort of thing would be my life's work.  I read Dharma Bums and drank tea in his apartment down in the village of Clinton.  I had no idea what to write about up in the college library up on College Hill my first year after college, but the bookish life felt right.  You just needed the journey for material.  But it was all that Zen stuff, the Void stuff Kerouac referred to in Desolation Angels, this seemed like, yes, my politics.

It is a different trip, being a spiritual writer, different from academic, magazine, and basically has the sole distinction of not fitting in anywhere.  Short stories, poetry, crime novels, yes, but not often that kind of journey, perhaps because you never know along the way how the journey is going to turn out, for well or ill.  That's how the restaurant business was for me:  there was, and is, a great potential for disaster attached to it.

My journey, as I worked away, was to slowly come to an understanding, as of how to really live in the present, to not live in the past, to accept.  And so it was long journey, really, to say that and mean it too, that I could not, nor would I want, to return to the past as if a few crucial things had been wrong and that over time they had been righted, or better appreciated, or something like that.  NO.  Things had simply happened, as things happened.  There should be no expectation about the past, because things happen for a reason.  My past shaped me to be a writer, and as far as I am concerned, I earned it, largely through the time spent, technically, away from writing, doing a job, chewing on the reality of humanity, my reality.  You could say there was not a lot to write about, not a lot for someone to read about, and I even might agree, but, the fact that you are a writer shapes you.  It makes you a pilgrim of the kind the race must have respect for.  Buddhism is built on a deep philosophical base, in case you didn't know, not just a bunch of chants and robes and laziness.  The dharma happens to make a lot of sense, and for some of us, it is very vital and necessary, as if it were, indeed, the very thing that kept us from throwing our hands up and going crazy.  Such things keep some of us focussed, on track, still making sense in our own minds, knowing finally to grow disgusted with all the informational interruptions...

My journey in the restaurant business I took as no professional direct thing, but just for the experience that I thought a writer might have, as he went on crafting some of his Vanity of Dulouz, though really it's about the spiritual practice in the end and not so much the writing.  Then, one day, having figured it out, you become a sort of monk, yogi, lama, teacher, what-have-you, wishing of course to belong somewhere where it could be like you went there for work everyday.  And then, you realize, you don't want to hear about the restaurant business at all, you want to hear about the monk stuff, the holy elders, the patriarch of Karamazov...

Monday, April 14, 2014

How could a bartender be a Buddhist?  Years of tequila and country music in a Tex Mex restaurant.  Caught up in the culture of work hard/play hard, though it was work for me, and I'd go home alone at the end of it.  My years of observing people, of friendships real once, now scattered away, the community I was a part of.

Western science studied the outer world, the material aspect, while Eastern science, Buddhism studied the inner world.  China builds our stuff for us, cheaply, using material science.  China kills monks, destroys temples and culture thousands of years old in the blink of an eye.  China pollutes, like nobody's business.  China basically did its best to kill the thoughtful spiritual life of modern humanity, in the name of market economy, global power, 'communism,' (when Buddhist had been living communally for how long?)

It is odd for us here in the West to get it, to see through all the stuff we've accumulated, to clear and simplify and look within.  It's easy for us too to do the bidding of economic overlords.  It's hard to see the peace found within, to inhabit the present moment.  No wonder we don't get it, stuck in our egos, thinking a yogi is insanity, that compassion is secondary at best...

As technology advances, so does a basic ignorance of nature's scale.  The arrogance, to build a pipe line, that will bring a lifetime of profit for some individuals, be appreciated by some for a job for a while, that despite all humanity can do, despite its best technology will one day fall apart, thus leaving the future with the difficult problem of upkeep, of whether its worth it to keep the leaky pipes flowing.  Nothing lasts forever, and this is the problem when humanity attempts to meet things on a geologic scale.  What happen to the fracking pipes in the ground (and all those Dick Cheney proprietary secret chemicals) when they begin to rot?  Make money now, get rich, let the elite build their compounds, let the rest of the poor cope with flaming tap water…

The dharma asks us to be responsible for the actions of previous lives that led us to be born.  That seems a main responsibility.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

When I finally got up out of bed after one more Saturday night, I had, as if reaffirmed, the distinct impression, confirming a Buddhist precept, that all my reaching--clinging--for personal happiness had only ended up in some form of misery.  My search for a job that wasn't sitting in a cubicle had brought me to a  miserable trap.  My innocent attempt at the live happily ever after in the storybook way had brought far more misery than I would ever have expected.  And this condition of life became increasingly reflected on smaller more regular levels, the disappointment in just about everything as far as those things that are supposed to make you happy and pleased.  I saw through things, as if going out to a restaurant for a good meal, with rare exceptions of personal meaning, was far more trouble than it was worth (unless you simply had no energy to cook), reminding me of Jesus sensing the goodness passing from him as the sick woman of faith touches his robe.  Yes, that was my impression, that even things begun in seeming happiness would soon enough turn, a knowledge I did not particularly want to have.  Who wants to see that behind the rosy beauty there is a decay of everything.

Are we all led this way, to see such things, or are some of us stuck with it, while others go free?  I seemed picked out by my own curiosities for the interest, the eye, the knowledge.  The passage in Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden, assigned sophomore year I knew I had to answer, more carefully than time allowed, an A becoming a D.  My eye was drawn to the problem, as if I felt a great need to take it seriously, not just whip something off.  It was as if I'd always been a student of Buddhism, just stuck in some strange culture I did not understand, but obligingly went about the duties of the labors it pushed my way.  All the while seeing the great inversion, the kind beautiful princess of opportunity inverted into a shunning enemy, no room for even common kindness.  A shock.  Everything a dead end, eventual homelessness.

So is the scientist drawn to the particular problem as it reveals itself to him and makes him wonder and get out his paper, pen and drawing board and return to study nature.

Striving for happiness, the great mystery, the mathematical problem, the impossibility, unless you flip the problem around so that it is the simple things that make you happy, far simpler than the things of modern life's complicated ways, a visit with your mom…

"One intuits truth in Zen teachings, even those that are scarcely understood;  and now intuition had become knowing, not through merit but--it seemed--through grace," Matthiessen writes in a key passage of The Snow Leopard, a book I am finding practical and hugely useful.  The passages leading up discuss the Bodhisattva Avalokita Ishvara, who represents, as the writer explains, "the divine within."  There is a sutra the writer chants, in Japanese, related to this Bodhisattva known in Japan as Kanzeon, and Matthiessen has it written on a plum pit amulet given to him by his Zen master.  The sutra is a close relative of the chant Om Mani Padmi Hum, which Matthiessen breaks down for his readers.   "'Eternal, Joyful, Selfless, Pure' are the qualities of Nirvana in which the Dream-state, 'the Many,' of samsara, is transmuted in Awakening, 'the One.'"  And this to me, quietly, is brilliant.  Thank you, Bodhisattva of Matthiessen's departed form.

Now, after a call to mom during a shuffle through the neighborhood, warm, windy--my old man cherry tree next to the Irish Patriot Robert Emmet has lost many of its blossoms, leafing out in its wide spread--and remaining sore well into the evening such that a nap is necessary, partly out of gloom of "never wanting to go back to tending bar ever again," I am able to reflect.  It seems I have seen Mara's army of devils, the many strange individual things of samara, the world of suffering, in my travails.  It seems they have sat at my bar, in one form or another.  And thus they must be part of my enlightenment, my need for awakening into a sense of one.  "Padme--in the lotus--is the world of phemonena, samsara, unfolding with spiritual progress to reveal beneath the leaves of delusion the mani-jewel of nirvana, that lies not apart from daily life but at its heart," writes the writer of The Snow Leopard, laying down the wisdom, with footnotes.

Then am I able to reflect on a visitor at the bar from Saturday night, a customer of jazz night who'd given me her business card while tipsy one evening, to whom I finally politely responded to via email before heading off to work in my own state of samsara.  Going about the chores of a Saturday night, which is as much as being a waiter over the front half of the dining room when my fellow is busy in the back room, the woman appears, sits down, talks about her travels, talks to a strange couple who begin to lean in on her as she talks away, drinking a few glasses of Sancerre.  I am not in a mood of entertaining.  This person has strange energy, increasingly loud, and after a third glass of wine, then a glass of port--I am reminded of her drinking-- I am greatly relieved when, finally, she departs, seeming to know to drop the cue for me to walk her home, "there is a predator on the loose."  I waited on the boss and his wife, who had retreated to a quiet corner to dine in peace, dealt with the last few people, spared by a babysitter, chatty, cleaned up, took the rechargeable candles off the tables, counted the money, ate a reheated hamburger, retrieved my beloved bike, set the alarm, stepped out, closed the door.

I finally got home, and opened, I must admit, a bottle of wine just to have enough energy to vacuum the living room rug.  I sleep fitfully, sore.  And my day starts unhappily, because I know better now that I was wrong for seeing phenomena as disjointed individual things, and only later do I say, inwardly, "Ah-HAH!" like Jack Kerouac and sing praises to my salvation and deeper understanding.  But that's what I often see, the people of Samsara, who see things individually, thus themselves individually, thus egos grown to big in search of illusory selves and illusory pleasures and statements.  Palm Sunday, indeed.  Bars should have signs above them, "Do Not Disturb."

This generally speaks of the great problem of the modern world, its great fascination with the multiplicity of samsara, its suggestion that in order to participate we must know, taking seriously, its individual leaves of delusion as if, indeed, our own gainful employment depended on it.   It speaks of our need to go home and meditate, as if to say, "Fuck you, it's all the same; let me go home and light some sandalwood incense and a candle to calm."  Being home alone doesn't seem to effect the nature of reality very much anyway.

Armed with a bit of poetic Buddhist wisdom perhaps I am able again to put my job of barman in some perspective, thus indebted to the kindness of Bodhisattvas everywhere.

And yet, after writing, finally preparing dinner, getting grass fed burgers and a steak that needs cooking ready, breaking out the small Weber grill, the charcoal chimney's bottom rusted, another wave of loneliness or sadness sweeps over me, as the glow of realizing some wisdom fades, nagged by other things in the mind.   As the Buddhists say, you can learn the most from your enemies, things like patience, compassion, non-judgment, lessons you need along the way of life, and this is something that makes a lot of sense.  I know myself how wrong-headed ideas can flicker through, and even take control in the mind, all of them illusions.  The uncontrolled mind is a raging elephant.  Is writing "the next book" even an artistic endeavor still, or has it not become a record of sorting things out, so, as if, to move on, to evolve.

The coals are glowing, flames rising before their transport to the grill, and oddly enough it is a message, through Facebook, that saves me, preserves my ability to meditate, and keeps me from opening the bottle of white burgundy my mom put in the fridge when she visited, as I only think I need a glass of wine.  A lovely old soul far away.

I am up 'til the wee hours yet again, but at least it is a quiet time, free of sirens, helicopters overhead, the rumble of traffic on streets below.  The neighbors sleep and there is quiet here.  I know why I fear my shifts, uneasy about them.  I also know I will learn from them.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

That then is the problem, that life is bent in order so that you would really come to understand very well the necessity for Buddhist enlightenment thought.  Life as it was shaped was a great teacher, and just like Gautama the young prince you get exposed to the suffering of life, and of course you can try and run from it, or think you can master all circumstances, but some of us get early on that you can't really do that.  No odder it should to happen to you than it should happen to the young prince, coming across illness, old age, the corpse.  Thus is life asking us to realize something important.  And it is a blessing when the basic need for enlightenment stirs within, a latent budding. Then you realize that the shape of life isn't about the sadnesses or the hard facts of life, but about the learning in such things.

So was it an interesting situation to be a bartender, who, on the one hand, is supposed to be the entertainer sometimes, dishing out a cup of soothing distraction as if offering relief from life's realities, and on the other hand, probably better, sounder, the role of being there, a kindly person, a listener, someone to share the long day at the office.  I'd never bought into the idea that bars are about happy escape, knowing vices lead to misery and shame.  Things which I inevitably suffered from, back when I too was tempted to escapism.

I know:  a bar can be a great stage for loud juvenile simian behavior, rife with old superstitions, old demon gods.  But I suppose, or I hope, that the same scene can be made gentler--a test for humanity--where people can talk about deeper things, personal things.  The flaw is the alcohol, but with wine, with the approval of Jesus, maybe good things are possible, to be decided on an individual basis.  Wine does relax, but it causes a thirst for more, which amounts to hiding from truth.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The problem lies in not knowing how to think.  That's why you write.  A way to organize.

I wake up, I get out of bed, I get to the kitchen to take care of the body.  "Live in the present," I tell myself, "forget the past."  I am drawn to look at the headlines of the morning paper, on the laptop of course.  But this is strange.  These are not my thoughts, they are distractions.  The main part of me wants to address Matthiessen's writing in The Snow Leopard, about how Buddha was not interested in politics or organization, the highest duty being to awaken the consciousness of mankind.  (He writes very well about such issues, with clarity and simplicity.)

But still, I think of the annual college reunion, and wonder, whether to go or not.  A meeting of bright minds.  Poets to meet.  I would inconvenience my coworkers.  How to get there?  Am I entitled?  Of course I'd love to go.  But I don't want to bother anyone, crashing the party, so to speak.  Do I have any business going there, bringing my ghostly presence to it, my original hometown…

What are my thoughts today?  Do the dishes.  Set the laundry up.  Why write such shit…  It is sunny out.  And warmer.  So?   "Come by the Four Seasons tomorrow night," a friend's attractive voice from last night rings in my head.   But what business would I have with that crowd anyway, all bent on luxuriating themselves, their illusions of self.  ("She has a boyfriend anyway," my mind, not in control of itself, says to itself, trying to dispel notions and protect a peace it somehow knows and strives for.)  For as much as I might like the staff, the customers set the tone, "look at me…"  Still, it became a subliminal message, such that I almost became obsessed with it and its "you need to go out and meet people and you are missing out" tug.

My day off and I am writing such shit.  Why?  Because I am writing about nothing.  Showing the misdirections of a life so led, the ringmaster of a bar and its wine supply.

And Jesus says, do not seek the high places, worldly power and riches and temptations.  Live a simple life.   But how to balance that with popularity, with the necessary popularity to make that message known and vitally alive, present to other beings?  What did he mean by all that?  Go on television, or not?

And how could I myself avoid the sometimes feeling of being, sort of, a bum?  To think such a thing, exactly, what not to do.  Live in the present.  Embrace the now, whatever that might mean, though one can never really know what that means, except keep the apartment tidy, things like that, maybe go for a walk down by the stream.  Simplify.

If we take the logic of a mystic, of Jesus or Buddha, it would seem like we need do very little as far as selfish things, but merely need just 'to be,' as far as worldly endeavors go.   Pointless to go out and meet an irrepressible force with matching might, bring a mighty police force to all the thieves of the world, for what does that accomplish but cause a need for more of both?  More guns equals more safety?  I think not.  (Look at all the strong armed Police "mistakes" of late, the kind you can't take back.)  Change the way people see things, and then they'll see how to live, how to not pollute and burn fossil fuels like there's no tomorrow.  There is always a root to the problem, and the root is how we see things, and we seem to have gotten a lot wrong, perhaps mainly through our ambitious efforts.  But, how does that square in the real world?  Can a passive person seated lotus fashion in the middle of it all change things?  Have writers themselves become themselves more of the problem, muddying the waters further?

Unfinished thoughts, such as we all have.

But it is true, if we aren't Buddhist minded, we set ourselves up, through our illusions--'oh my god, going to the Four Seasons is going to be great and I'll meet fantastic people, hot chicks who turn out to be deep kind people who immediately recognize a likened soul'--for disappointment, am I wrong?  The egotistical model of success…

We are asked by faith to believe that we will be provided what we need, to the extent we need.  Behold the lilies of the field, neither do thy reap, nor do they sow.  Time and space are an illusion anyway, so go with the flow, not against.  If we stopped all the conventional thoughts and calmed ourselves, so that by doing apparently very little a natural side of ourselves would arise, beyond conventional words and conversation, beyond the usual topics, if we stopped to simply just 'be,' and listen, and see the beauty in the world and in other people and life and its textures, what appreciations might arise within, rather than the opposite of all that, which we constantly put each other through, the blindness, the judgments…   But we don't even stop to understand our own species, so how could we possibly stop and understand the whale, the endangered species of big cat and elephant and bird, or the rest of the earth itself...

I am the only person who has stopped to look down into the creek from the bridge to watch the alewives run.  People too are running, in packs, wearing neon tee shirts and running shoes, a group sport now.

Out of boredom, up to date on the excellent television that is Cosmos, after midnight I ride my bike down to 11th Street, hoping to check out a wine bar, turning out it is quite closed.  A chance to look over 14th Street, all the new places, finally a glass of wine at Barcelona, as I looked over The New York Review of Books at a dirty table by myself by the front window, my only contact being with a kind bartender, then back on the bike, my 'uber,' back up 14th to find a market I've heard about, then back to R Street's bike lane and westward home, finding The Umbrellas of Cherbourg on the television.  And the next day I get up thinking, "I'm not a writer, what the heck  am I doing anyway…  I can't even read my own book."  The thoughts left behind after the going out, looking for life outside your own simple things.  "I am no one.  Who are you?" A basic conclusion.  Emily Dickinson wrote it, of course, and it is one of the best, most accurate statements ever made by an honest writer.  (Sorrentino's The Great Beauty seems to flirt with it, a scene at an old temple in Rome, a little girl in the basement as her mother looks for her.  "Who are you," she asks the central figure, a writer, and his response is proper.)

I am no one.  Not even a writer, really, just a being, caught in human form, in time, in space, attempting to keep himself fed and clothed.  In light of the great cosmic event, I'm afraid, all the things we crack up, the identities we assign, the judgments, the distinctions we seem obliged to carry, it's all just marketing.  Sadly enough, the world is in need of Zen.

What is it, that doesn't need marketing, nor hype, that doesn't even need words, such that we all could agree on as good things, like the night starry sky, the nature of an undeveloped beach or a path that's just enough to let us enjoy the rocks and the great trees of a mountain landscape, something basic, before all the issues that complicate our lives, as those issues, the complication-free ones, are telling us something about how to live as ecologically sound beings.

To that way of thinking, there's not much stimulating in reading the headlines, as if it were all entertainment gossip, the actions of strange people in strange corporate organizations of undue power, egotistical almost out of necessity… With the exception of the human interest story, which reminds us that we are, yes, human.

How thoroughly have we become homo incorporatus, the creature whose primary identity is taken up in the illusions of a larger, of a nationality and its 'national interests,' of life styled by the big corporation, of the need to appear normal to its constructs.  The cynical Supreme Court decision affirming the corporation as an individual comes as a sign of the times, one corporation empowering another, little guy forget it.  How can that possibly jive with the meaningful statement of "the proposition that all men are created equal," of "government of the people, by the people, and for the people," of the Gettysburg Address.  (Apparently, having a plethora of brilliant legal minds leads more toward the greatest misreading possible of self-evident truths rather than their protection.)

It seems more likely to me that the divine is best expressed by the individual, as by a lone unprotected artist, a Da Vinci, a Cervantes, someone, like a Sherwood Anderson, who understands the frailty of a person, finding in frailty the strength of something spiritual, rather than a seating of corporate judges.

Friday night, I think I'll stay in, boring as that sounds.  But it is awfully easy--I should know--to waste time, and tonight seems cut out for that most important kind of work, to reduce the size and influence of one's own ego, doing what one can to eliminate illusions, and freed, able to think clearly.

It seems a stretch at first, but reading Peter Matthiessen helps, and now, after the suffering of life, time to get closer to truth.  The voice of last night, 'go out, you don't know what you are missing,' now is simply ego, an irrational need to protect the self against…  what?  "being alone for the rest of my life?" I roast a chicken after some good reading, and for the first time in ages I feel clean, not in any need of any wine, that ego part of my job, that I must constantly be enjoying wine and the good life of dining and cool night life, which isn't what it's about, for that too is about ego defending itself, what do I do in Washington, DC, professionally, yes of course…

Still, after a roast chicken spiced with turmeric, Maldon salt, paprika, oregano, first a squeeze of lemon and then olive oil, with a iron pan gravy with onion, carrot and bay leaf, and rice from the rice cooker, after a nap, I have a glass of wine, and one sip demands more.  It isn't easy, to live in a city and keep the wish, as it is truly in all of us, and the great conclusion for a thinking person, to seek enlightenment, to understand that one's whole life has been a murmuring, the suggestion of that need to seek that enlightenment, as Sakyamuni Buddha worked very hard for, then finally, confidently, sat under a ficus religiosa, and really did it.  I could wish I had not punted this night, and poured a sip from the open bottle of very decent Clos de Mont-Olivet, Font de Blanche, Cotes du Rhone in the fridge for myself and then relaxed too much, lazing in the confines of home's space on a night off.

This is Washington, DC, and one feels odd thinking suddenly that it's about enlightenment and its poetry more than it is about that culture we seemingly must adhere to, that of a McNamara or a Rumsfeld, 'we must do something.'  The old illusion, the greatest waste of intellectual power, a dark ages in its brightness.
"… But it is the Gretsch Country Gentleman of 1962 that is a guitar to have.  That is the one with timbre.  A big thud.  'Last night I saw you in the restaurant…'  And George Harrison does that beautiful simple octave thing, 'Please me, oh yeah, like I please you.'  I hear they are tricky guitars to play, with the floating bridge, very bright sound, good for twang, but limited, so they say.  But they went for the big sound of Nashville, The Beatles, and I find myself drawn to them.

"Then there is the Telecaster.  Leo Fender's secrets.  The bridge pick-up, that metal plate underneath, unlike the Stratocaster, that gives a weird resonator sort of thing.  There is evil in a Tele, you have to tame it.  And with the tone control, the neck pickup you can get a smooth jazz sound out of it.  The Strat doesn't have that.

Tossed off Hemingway imitation

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What is a writer working on, anyway?  Is it science?  Theory?  Is it Proust…

A poor student makes, in a way, a good scientist.  The worst student of all, of all science, the writer, the writer of that sphere we primitively call "fiction"…  and yet still able to navigate to that understanding we all need:  to live in the present moment.

And this is revolutionary, remarkable, and yet probably very very very very old.  And it is also probably very difficult in a complicated modern world.

And that is why a  moment of fiction is beautiful, because it is a--and nothing else but--living in the moment.  As strange as that sounds….  (as we might think of literature as a quaint long revisitation that is basically inaccurate to the present moment and how we should rise to treat it.)

This speaks of the moments that rise, naturally noticed, out of literature:  when we finally get to the bridge near Austerlitz in War And Peace;  the moments of Levin reaping grain with peasants;  the utterly remarkable entrance into momentary consciousness as Anna nears the station.  This is when things get vital, when even the adolescent male present in the reader becomes as involved, as if over a pictured pirate tale or a children's book, Richard Scarry.

One book's moment.  When one person tells another, 'crazy to bring flowers to a beautiful girl.'  One of those moments, when the participants, basically only two of them, merge in a moment, become present, alive, current.

Carver pays homage to Chekhov the scientist, on some deep instinct.   To catch that moment when Chekhov is dying, his wife, the actress Olga Knipper--they'd met at 40, more or less-by his side, the call to the doctor there.  Chekhov, tubercular, finally wheezing with nothing left, turn him on his side, and his (the great writer's) own recorded comment, spoken in German, "Ich sterbe…"  The moment.  Full of stuff.  That elusive moment behind all his stories, stories of so many moments.  A science, and one that Carver understood, in some way.  A strange kind of science, that in its own way has to do with the Cosmos, in that living and dying are too part of the Cosmos along with Big Bang, Light, Gravity, relativity, Newton's principals…

Perhaps the writing mind appreciates that lesson, of living, happily as one can, in the present, to create and act a good present moment, not creepy, kind, not too passive, involved, alive, aware, not caught in the past's slights, nor the future's heavy anticipations of what adult life might actually entail as far as sweat and blood.  Just to keep a good attitude, a spiritual self-comfort.  The lesson of art unto itself…  the wise person knowing, having a bad attitude going into something, thus not listening, thus withdrawing into complexes, does no good at all.

It is, of course, a complex dance, to live in that, the now, the present.  But still, a nervous person can be calm, and find relief, as if by the tonic of an herbal medicine free and available in the woods or a backyard, remarkably effective, giving even unto the timid the voice of a lion.

Yes, for the nervous human creature to realize the healthy beauty of a given moment, it can only come as a relief, an unburdening from over thinking…  The quality of the shit one takes after tea before the shower, the praise-worthy submarine-minus-conning-tower accredited to flax seed, no gluten, a probiotic tablet;  the discovery of how to more properly do the act of shaving;  the sexy beauty of nature, the witnessed event, the tree budding, the little fish running, the hawk on thermal circuit mimicking the spins of the heavens, the flight of a rabbit.  Even the discovery of how to write itself, as if one lived in a gently surrounding Moveable Feast...

The beauty of Dylan Thomas' Child's Christmas, the cave painting, the physicality of a Hemingway short…  all easily clich├ęd, but leading us out to experience the movement, the dance of life…

And maybe somewhere, as a writer becomes a scientist of his own fashion, being the son of one, a teacher, as God in Heaven as a teacher, and realizes that indeed, behind everything, there is… yes, love.

Well, he just didn't seem to look much like a scientist, bumbling along at his slow pace, looking off into the trees, studying a squirrel…  What work was he doing?  It didn't seem like much of a science at all…  But for the fact that he was always looking at things, or scribbling, absently, in a notebook.  He had not ingratiated himself with any school of science, it would seem, but for his love of old DeMott, who was strange and iconoclastic and made a big deal out of bringing a Shakespeare scene or a poem to life.  He seemed to believe in impossible things, things that had little to do with…  well, adult business stuff, as if he lived in a bubble, had a completely different sense of time and its operations…  And he was at his best when there was a transition coming immediately, as if that was the only time he could really speak his mind, in his own crude but delicate way,a real primitive.   And so it was probably good, somehow, no?… that he wasn't a successful writer, that sort of thing, but just went on, at it, at his own thing…  in his own time… 

Being male--it must be horrible, horrible as what women physically have to go through, an invert of all the threats a woman has, yet alike, the battle of finding our own way to health and healthy things for us, individually, seemingly, almost, unique.  The sexes will never quite understand each other, but by the present...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Get to work at 4.  A set-up, stocking the bar, that doesn't stop--wine bottles, soda, mineral water… not even a chance to call mom.  People arrive at 5:30, leave finally at 12:00.  The last party ordered their food two minutes after the official kitchen closing.  I groaned when the boss had mentioned they were on their way.  "You don't want the business?" almost storming away.  "I'll send them to La Pique," he says, taking the restaurant's handset phone out.  "No, they're nice…  Let them come," I say, and he nods.  The same people had kept me 'til 1:30 after a busy combined wine tasting night benefit party.  Believe me, I was very good to them.  Later, he comes back around the bar from the office in the back.  "But it's good to be busy," he smiles, positive again.  "I know," I nod.  "There've been some scary nights."  I had momentarily envisioned the same sort of late night privileged people party thing happening, and regretted now my negative reaction.  Fortunately the late night thing did not happen, except for the ordering of food at the last possible minute and making a tired kitchen staff very unhappy.  I had called the party of four at the bar "V I P," and when the busboy comes back from downstairs with the food they've ordered, he tells me, "Chef says the kitchen is very closed."

Finally I get home, I scout the TV listings, pour a glass of cheap Spanish wine, get out the yoga mat, light a few candles, finally turn off the TV after the conclusion of The Last Samurai and actually do some yoga.  Triangle, half moon, shoulder stand, plow, head stand, attempt at lotus, finally meditating, as the first of blue light rises beyond the Buddha seated low above the couch and the two back windows.

I rise around 11:30, to drink some water, take an allergy tablet, eat a reheated hamburger, have a cup of Moroccan Mint tea, go back to bed, feeling hollow, legs weak, no energy at all.  And finally, now around 3:00 I'm up.

I gather my scattered self, pulling it from diffusion into the core, the caduceus, the line of chakras, in no small part by writing, or at least attempting to have thoughts that feel like ones that should be written down, as much as any yogic envisioning.  My thoughts have turned in the last day to observe what an emasculating job it must be, waiting on people.  Nothing in particular, I couldn't ask for a better more respectful place to work, but just the whole thing.  What a waste.  A person who should be a man not standing up for himself, getting by on this certain kind of unresolving job, attempting to write about nothing at all.  Twisting in the wind.  I've kept the wrong attitude.  Why did I stumble?  These days it seems that in an attempt to be a gentleman I've lost the masculinity of a way forward.

Is this perhaps the problem of one who would like to participate in the ancient religion, the mystical removal of a self separate from the universe, who needs now just to be, not to listen to anyone's problems, but realize he's in his own sort of mess, allowing the outside to define him, put upon him the sticker of a certain identity, the duties of a restaurant, taking him and his work for granted.  Have I suddenly begun to reject the work, finally realizing that it is wrong and that I have to do something about it, even if that should be create something new as if on my own?  Shouldn't I finally just stop and ponder and finally find the enlightenment I have every reason to believe, along with gut instinct, is out there, that to get there I must stop and sit in one place…

Earlier in life, I was dumb.  I didn't realize that in order to have a literary life it helped to have grown up on 5th Avenue, privileged, with connections.  I failed to create a career for myself in lines of work of big value, rather just a faulted novel based too much on life, what could be dumber or more embarrassing…  Except that it looked for some kind of understanding, not unrelated to Buddhism, or Zen or Christianity, or Theosophy…  That spirit of questioning makes it fair, I think, if I'm not mistaken, coming out of some hazy tradition, perhaps found in American writers of the salt of the earth type, perhaps in literary study of a certain kind, or in the intellectual questions of college age that one thinks should last a whole life, though they succumb to far more practical things.

Unaccomplished, I am real, an ordinary person, suffering the same things a lot of Americans, a lot of people around the world are having now.

I go for a walk, along the stream, down to the creek finally, which is flowing and slightly murky, of a greenish hue under April light.  I see a flicker in the water as I walk the dirt trail by beech trees.  From the small bridge I see, the alewives are running.

Friday, April 4, 2014

I tried to watch Boardwalk Empire to see Jeffrey Wright in character, but the violence… I had to turn it off, even as I could see how I could get involved in it.  So, alone, late at night, I turned to YouTube to find what I could about The Pogues and Shane MacGowan.  There was something about how the song Fairytale of New York came to be…  I got out a guitar, had some wine, and chilled out.  See, doctor, I'm been working these four night shifts and basically get the shit beaten out of me on each of them, and I have a few more Saturday nights to deal with before I go back to Sunday, not that I really want Sunday any more…  I'll do Saturday just on pride, even if it will kill my day off.  A cross to bear, what can you do…

But I did have a moment of self understanding, or awareness, whatever you want to call it.  I'm naturally an empathetic person.  I get how people are feeling.  Maybe that's why I can't watch that violence, even if it is imaginary, staged.  It's not real but it can feel real, and so why horrify yourself…  Things are scary enough.

Being an empathetic person, well, that leaves you wanting to be a writer, or maybe you're just not good at other things, like when you have to impose discipline or meet some tedious regulation.  And maybe that's why I feel so wiped out after the work week, too much of other people's agendas, no real support for your own self...  Frenchie doesn't care…

That's the whole culture, I guess.  I don't find people particularly kind in the city, not that I blame them. They're under pressure just as I am.  What am I saying…  I don't know.  But I just find it strange:  you're an empathetic person, and you try to reach out to people, but, it's like they take you as a creep, an oddball.  "What?  You can't get with the competition?  What's wrong with you?"  And that's why I walk around this town like I would imagine Abraham Lincoln walked around, feeling this gloom, feeling the cold anonymity.  I don't want to even go out anymore…  You're not going to find much kindness.  You'll just find people in selfish trances, glorified by their careers and their successes, when it's hard.  And even if you were to try to bring up empathy, people would for the greatest part turn away or just shut down, or even worse, like outright reject you.

For me, there is no other issue.   I mean, everyone talks about issues, issues, political, geopolitical, business, commerce, crime and justice and so forth, but to me that's all a side point.  You know in your heart what the right thing to do is.  You know your own capacity to offer the generic kindness to other reasonable people…

But my life is fucked up because I'm not self-protective enough, or not a good breadwinner, or just lousy at being an in-charge take-care-of-stuff male, try as I might.  Okay, fault me for that; I can understand.  Fault me for being so lazy as to want nothing else other than to be a writer who's writing as he sees fit to write, not even on anything in particular, but admit at least, 'well, but he's a nice guy,' for what it's worth, though it's completely true that nice guys finish last, might not get much done in the world in the way of, I don't know, defeating Al Queda terrorists or regulating banks like that savings and loan run by the guy who just died, Keating, big anti-porn Christian guy, and yet he knowingly bilked how many people out of their retirement savings so he could have lavish boats and vacations and real estate, which is the disgusting side of people that we should take measures against…  A nice guy wouldn't do that, wouldn't blow up people, wouldn't swindle them…

I guess with everyone as self-centered as they must be they don't notice humanity anymore, like they don't want to see anyone who's not that well dressed who can't afford to be so well dressed, like they don't want any part of that loserdom, lest it be infectious.  Yeah, we all know it's a slippery slope.  We all know, in theory, to avoid being depressed, to keep working hard and all that, but not all of us are so lucky, and it seems like the fault of 'those people' is primarily that they aren't aggressive pricks who like to hear themselves hold forth all the time.

I guess you can shrug it all off, and say, well, to be empathetic is to go with God's love, the Love Supreme, believing however foolishly that if you love as God loves you'll find the right path in life, know how to conduct yourself, take care of things, set the right boundaries to protect yourself so that you don't fall into unhealthy things…  And that's I guess why I write, just to keep myself on that path, so I understand myself and who I am and all that natural empathy stuff even though it seems useless to other minds.

I think this is one of the most important thing as an author, that because you are empathetic, you have the right to be writer, as a tool in bigger hands to show that we are all human, that we all suffer pain, and that the largest most important thing to do is simply to be kind.   Qualifying that by admitting that I am a meat eater, I'm sorry, it's just the way it is.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

On my way home tonight, walking, after a very long, very harried and busy shift, walking down past Dumbarton Oaks, down along R Street, past the park, where I stopped for a moment, then past Katharine Graham's house, slow enough to notice a dying back up in the high limbs of the maple along the iron fence, I remember how hard it always was for me to leave my father's house.  Powerful emotions tell you something, and I tried to accept whatever it was that put that distance between us , that thing which seems like adult life, places to start careers.

I stop to complement and hug a linden tree on Q Street.  How beautiful you are, and I love your bark, and I see how you have grown, so wisely, so intelligently.  Never underestimate a tree, the wise beings that they are, how fully they represent life in this world.   I stop and sit in a small park and I see how all the trees balance, reach out, a play, a conversation, an agreement going on between them, ballet between earth and sky.  And in the background, the old trees that play with all, the larch, the evergreen, that reaches everywhere, each limb a discussion, each limb gathering in the energy of sunlight.  The original tree, the original vigor and lesson of tree life.  (Too bad the blaring light in the right of my field of vision above a parking area.)

Kids had left out chalk on a sidewalk.  I stopped and drew a snoozing cat, an octopus, a bear, a doggie on the brick sidewalk.  That's about all I'm good for in this town.

What an unfulfilled life, it seems when I wake, as if I couldn't follow through even with the things I wanted.  What is it?  And yet, there is nature, there to appreciate on a slow walk home, leaving the restaurant at 2:30 in the morning, stopping to look at trees, just as the cold had finally ended.

As I curled up into a nap, still exhausted and hurting in all ways from my efforts, it occurred to me, the obvious problem of humanity, as if staring one in the face.   The great vulnerability.  How close to the ribby surface is the heart, how easy to reach.  How easy to hurt us, to kill us, or to make it so we'd wish to take our own lives, as if our own functions might almost tear at us from within.  "All the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,"in Shakespeare's terms… No wonder an animal like us likes the reassurance of being stroked along the ear and muzzle, the back of the head.  No wonder, the great need to protect oneself, to have time alone, to clear.  (Written of well here:  PERMALINK)  It's the great empathy within that drives us, and it can get misused.  It can allow us to be misdirected.  (And this is why nature is so important.)

This was why I liked tending bar, out of a natural empathy for people, but it also let in the abuse, making me lose focus on my own self.  Too kind, not selfish enough, not having enough of a protective shell, such that it would almost hurt to be out amongst people after the week was over.  (And maybe now you need a stronger shield, always reachable, always in the marketing bullseye…)