Friday, May 30, 2014

A Love Supreme.  John Coltrane becoming spiritual, no more with the heroin, with the drink, with the buttons pushed, no more with accepting the triggers, but finding health instead, peace and Buddha calm, the last years of his life, serene, different.  Part of the music legend.  A transcendent piece of music;  like me, almost fifty years old.

I call my mom to help sort it all out.  I was thinking about getting out of DC for a cheap vacation in my old hometown, where I went to college.  But it's a long train ride, and it's not my reunion year anyway, having gone to my twenty-fifth two years ago.  I'm going to relax, and enjoy a day off from work, and think about camping trips and getting outfitted for hikes.  REI seems to be a satisfying materialistic outlet.

We talk about meditation, as a way to get through the bad thoughts that crop up.  "I watch the lake, the clouds, the birds...  I learned to get the bad thoughts go."  That's why I meditate.  Through the practice of clearing the mind, I don't get bothered by the past.  I deal with what I can.  I live, or try to, as healthily as I can.  Live in the moment, go for a walk in the woods in the rain.  Sit by the stream on an old fallen tree trunk.  Walk home, a little less fun, out on the sidewalk of Massachusetts Avenue against rush hour traffic.   Do some yoga at some point.  Later treat yourself to carry out Chinese.

It's good not to be provoked, to not fall into reacting.  But it's a decision, and decisions are often hard.  Cheap vacation or no?  Would be nice to get out of town... Go rub elbows with old friends, or just take care of yourself, nurse a stiff neck, a tired frame.  Admit to not feeling so self-satisfied as to go and paint a cheery picture of adult success and jobs that do more than pay the rent, something you can stomach.  Not wanting to go down the path of 'hey, wine guy... '  Like Coltrane, not wanting to be part of the part, not a part of it anyway.  Who can you talk about a love supreme without sounding off in left field anyway?  And maybe you need a belief in that, or in the Dharma, or some form of peace that might not seem a part of normal logic or the normal successful path.

I take refuge in writing.  I don't always get it from a social setting, from the crowds.  Individuals within, yes, but crowds doing something, no.  You have to realize you're an artist, doing something an artist does, which is more ignoring the social setting's self-congratulatory group behavior.  And maybe that's just because of being a different kind of person.

Peace is a habit you slip into, no longer feeling it improper or unearned.   Boring, perhaps it feels sometimes.  But oddly enough, some support for that, lately, the wrier George Saunders on Charlie Rose asked to talk largely not so much about his writing but about his commencement speech at Syracuse a few years ago, and that of his friend's, both his and Foster Wallace's bringing up the Buddhist's understandings that relate to a firm fixed self, the distance from that illusion through thought and kindness, compassion for other sentient beings.  Commencement speeches... advice, guidance, thoughts from writers who've stared at the problems of existence... mentioning kindness.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I like this form.  It's quick, it's a sketch, it doesn't burden anyone with over ambition, a loss of message due to too much ego-identification with the process or result.  Thoughts are caught quickly in transitory form, like ripples left by the tide on a beach with kelp and seaweed and remains of things.

Dostoevsky reached for a form, after the years of practicing his amateur brilliant craft.  You have The Idiot, Prince Myshkin the epileptic with the femme fatal and the money guy, you have to have Notes from the House of the Dead for its journal experiences, you have to have the one with the horse head dream, before you get to the sublime story of true teachers, craftily deposited in the serial murder yarn of Karamazov, that is his pinnacle, that closing scene of Alyosha and schoolboys, and a small but happy vulnerable but strong 'hurrah,' that is also the story by a writer who knows that he is dying.

In a pure sense, worth entertaining as a deeper thought, I wonder if my father considered much of the modern academy fairly bankrupt as far as meeting the duties of the cleric, the educator.  Selfish careerism, the cagey politics catering to the business end of the animal...  In a way the last thing you'd want to criticize about society, the vulnerable people who do the job of teaching at the higher level.

It was as if my father could wipe out all the little differences and distinctions we make on the worldly level, to sweep away nationality and worldly purpose, for all the sciences and the sciences that are humanistic and even poetic to be taught for their original purposes of having other people learn what there is.

He belonged to a mystical realm as much as that of his employer.  He would teach, on anything that came across his mind, really, though, ostensibly, his subject was botany, or the societal use of plants.
Memorial Day Eve.  Slow.  8:45, server V, working downstairs, lets me know, gleefully, as I run downstairs for something, to say hi to the Holmgrens maybe, "Tim, Tim," imitating the famous Mr. Tap, who has my name wrong.  He's a legend of bon vivant cosmology.  He has a fur coat of every kind, and when he came once with a waist length mink coat one late fall, the conservative Sunday night customers of Bistrot of the Dying Gaul downstairs dining room turned and almost sneered.  Which didn't faze him.  Sometimes he might get a little close to being a bit happy lets say.  He has a good cocktail, he has some champagne, he orders a three course meal, he has maybe a half bottle of Bordeaux, then an espresso series, along with a digestif.  V. is happy, as she's almost done, fall on the ball, let the clock tick away, she's going home soon anyway.  And the famous Mister Tap is going to be eating upstairs with "Tim," a name I will readily respond to when called over.  And Mr. Tap will be with me 'til midnight at least.

But Jesus Christ, it's been a slow slow night, and now, fuck, we all just want to go home.  As Mr. Tap is sat, V brings up 3 new customers--almost 9 by now, kitchen closing in half an hour, to look over and see what dining room they might be comfortable in.  She tries to sell them on the beauty of eating with me, upstairs, with no busboy.   They sit at a couch, it doesn't fit them.  They decide to sit downstairs.  They'll end up lingering at the front table by the window, but V doesn't have to close anyway.

Mr. Tap calls me over, Tim...  He's had a cocktail with bartender so n so at La Plume chic restaurant in fancy hotel, drink called a red devil, takes muddling, ingredient special blend...  Mr. Tap, as you know, I'm not up to date with all those hipster time consuming craft cocktails.  (This is a bistrot.  You have to do things fast here, everything all at once.  Slow craft cocktails just aren't part of a realistic approach to service, wham bam thank you ma'am.)  You know I'm a classicist here.  I like to keep things simple and clean.  Maybe... a sidecar?  Oh!  Oh!!  Wonderful.  Wonderful, Tim!  That's exactly what I was thinking of.  By now he's not so nervous as he was earlier.  He was cut off, and/or given a lecture about by the boss, laying ground rules about what he might drink if he is going to have a bottle of wine, that sort of thing.  The man's been a partier for a long time, and it seems he likes to throw in a little medication, ambien or something, into the blend of his buzz.  I've had to carry him to the men's room before, where it seemed he reclined on the floor to relax for a while.

I bring over a fresh lemon muddled sugar rimmed beauty of sidecar, made with cognac and cointreau, the rim sugared, to his specs.   "Oww!  Tim,  Oww!  Thank you."  Mr. Tap is happy.

Monday, May 26, 2014

My father, a scientist, was not a facile thinker.  And so he kept wordless understandings about things beyond our terms and yet somehow within the reach of experience and the heart's insight.  It was appropriate that he studied nature, plant biology.  It was appropriate that his mentor was a Theosophist, and that he kept around books about Zen  Buddhism and the like.

Writing a book is never a facile experience, and nor should the critique of one be.  Inner vision, vision beyond words, is the only guide.    A text emerges in accordance with the intent.  A critique might offer, as in the case of the Kirkus Indie review of A Hero For Our Time, the thought--to use an example--that the character of 'the Princess' is not well drawn, doesn't venture beyond an opaque portrait.  Well, people, being part of the Universe, aren't always that knowable.  Only through meditation, entering into nonverbal mind of non judgment, can one truly see them as they are, which is never to be facilely put into terms.  Thus opaque.  It is part of the same ultimate truth that if one even ventures to draw himself as a defined character in a social understanding attached to the verbal (rather than the depth of reality), or even ventures or fancies to be a particular sort of individual, then he has most likely lost the thread of truth and proper portrayal and real understanding, as such things are beyond the dualist nature of verbal thought.  The Kirkus critique also tripped over the deeper discussion between character and father about the purpose of education, suggesting that education is merely job training, but that's another topic.

If the writing of a book entails a deeper effort to understand the nature of a human character, or 'the human character,' I think certain conclusions are drawn.  Writing a real book as an effect upon those who enter into the duty.  And so are they changed, stripped away of facile self-image.  So they must remain untouched by the great bulk of societal understandings of them, by the terms.

Following the logic, properly, the writer must approach the great task of meditation, leaving behind dualistic understandings, and so there's a good chance the writer will eventually find peace, a peace he might find deep and interesting, moving, requiring no falseness, no cliché.

Perhaps this is why people, and writers, retreat into nature, and there find company with their friends, creatures, natural life, who stand in the same wordless understanding, as the manifestation of the same deeper reality.  The unknowable quality of persons is therefore to be respected in the writing of works that truly reflect experience.

And if not, then you're writing a book merely for entertainment purposes, hopefully careful not to damage humanity any more than it already is by thoughtless effort.

The matter lies in the vision, that which the writer brings out of the wordless, out of non verbal understanding, out of that steady background his deeper personality is attached to.

Is it related to the vision that a backsliding in one area, or in one act, leads to others, a chain of events that needs recovery from.
The National Memorial Day Concert...

The stories, the narration, the visitations, the choreography, the stars, the hoopla, the singing, the appearances of General Powell, a narration preying upon emotions, words of 'family,' pride, prayer, remind one of that basic kernel of All Quiet on the Western Front.  Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria Mori.  And one is not faulting the people who are the victims, brave, of the world of conflict, the wars one nation feels obliged, out of PR, and identity, to enter into or start or feel obliged to begin.  Pop artists sing pretty, and patriotically, as if death could be soothed by a tuneful voice in the shape of a star who fits an archetype role related to a dead or injured soldier.

Enemy fighters, "insurgents," bad guys... terrorists, those are the ones on the other side.  And all powers are used to summon those worth fighting against.  D-Day...

But what if Americans stayed home?  Would it be all that bad?  Would the Taliban come and kill us all?  Or is it rather that we don't make any friends around the world when we send in troops with guns to tell other people how to run their own lives with our democracy?  How unpatriotic that seems, to wonder, to depart from the narration of Memorial Day Concert, American's sons and daughters.

Lincoln's prose and phrasing seem useful to such narrations, such blind patriotism, and I wonder how he would feel about such things.  His calculus, over a particular issue, allowed a great war.  But enough, he would have said, that one was enough, no more, no more blind patriotic fanfare justifying the excesses of military spending, the numbers of crippled wounded and dead, the excesses of stirred emotions a la Hitler one finds here in some seemingly innocuous form.

Still, we can sing God Bless America and mean it, without excess.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

I agree--it is tiresome analyzing everything, going around in circles.  But what else are you going to do?  How else are you going to climb out of the mess?  How else are you going to see clearly?

War is a by-product of the egotism of story telling, the addiction of believing in a story 'that must be true.'  A coworker taking a Masters in Peace and Conflict Resolution talked to us one day over our pre shift "family meal" about the million centuries old blood feuds and avenging that make up Middle East conflict.  Good luck, Francis.  May you succeed in taking the ego away from the Christian story to reveal its older Buddhist wisdom of laying aside things of the ego, aside with the sense of concrete self, aside with the compelling quality of the illusionary world.  Turn off the great ongoing Game of Thrones and awaken humanity from conflict, reciprocal attack, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, prejudice.
We are born gentle harmless creatures happy in our helplessness.  Part of us, at least, remains gentle, happy, good and kind, as the helplessness retreats, as we grow bigger, stronger, more powerful and able to take care of ourselves.  The helplessness of childhood transmutes into the helplessness of mortal adulthood.

Saturday night, Memorial Day weekend.  I go out to make a drug store run, taking care of a cold, pick some carry-out Chinese.  Connecticut Avenue is busy with tourist foot traffic, the open bars and restaurants full, people out experiencing conventional happiness, the relative degree of less pain.  There are groups of young women in enticing outfits talking with each other, guys checking them out.  In one bar, windows open to the street, young people are playing boardgames.  And in my Buddhist mind, I see it as a fair amount of automatic behavior, less considered, barely self-controlled, such that one would not be so surprised by the presence of a potential drive-by shooter somewhere in it all along with all the rest, given that people are acting however they''d like to and given that within that there is a small percentage of latent craziness.  It's all advertised to appear as fun, a good social time, but I cannot help see the dissatisfaction, the dissatisfactory nature of it.  At a gut level I see suffering.  And that's Buddhism, pure and simple, though you'd be had put to convince the people out on a Saturday night of it,  the Four Noble Truths, about dukkha, about suffering, about the unsatisfactory quality of life, about the source of suffering, about the release from suffering.  The most fundamental truth of being alive there is.

But what other option is there?  Where else are you going to be happy but somewhere not alone on a Saturday night?  Enmeshed in the world, thinking conventionally, of course you would be inclined to pursue forms of happiness in pleasant experiences, until you get honest with yourself.

My years as a barkeep have been a front row seat to the human condition just like that of the young prince who became the Buddha when he left the palace to observe the sick, the old, the dying.  The suffering was there all along, below the surface.  We all fall in to it, say, of course we are happy, because this is the only way to be happy, through relatively less suffering, until we stop and think about it, and pursue another way to live.

Drawn into conversation that assumes the normal purposes of a Saturday night, you're not going to win, because you've already become a part of its terms, silently shouted down as it were by assumptions normal to the social species.  To that way of thought, Buddhism is retreat, a state of being alone (and who wants that really), foolish really, a waste of life, youth, energy, good looks.

And I know from all the going away parties for our coworker off on adventure, there's little point bringing up Buddha, the wine starts flowing, you're in the world again, a part of it, part of its conversations and its egos.  You feel you have to reestablish who you are, etc.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

I take a stroll, starting out aimlessly, and end up doing some yoga in the kid's playground part of the local dog park and garden up on S Street, Mitchell Park.    The playground, fenced off, jungle gyms and swing set, has a soft play surface made of ground up tire pebbles, cushiony.  So, I take off my sneakers and socks, wallet, keys, pen, phone out of pocket, and I start my little yoga routine, and it's nice to do a tree pose outside where there are trees.  It's nice doing warrior poses and triangle under the arch of the blue sky in the evening quiet.  And you know, doing yoga, shoulder stand, head stand, lotus, in public for the first time in ages, thoughts come, elusive as they might be to put back into words and some form of verbal understanding, flickering away like fish if you try to hold them.

My job (as bartender in a particular sort of place) became a strange embodiment of the old Buddhist saying, "It matters not what path one take; I am there to meet him."  I found within it that I could relax in the perfection of the world.  I didn't have to place any meaning upon it, just accept whoever came in, fine, ( the best way to look at it anyway)  do your bit, run down the clock, clean up and go home.  And walking around slowly, meditatively, after doing my yoga, looking the irises and the green grass and the dawn redwood sapling growing up fine and straight there is peace in the world, as if for a moment one had entered Buddha's Deer Park just as the first lesson of the Noble Truths comes into the world, the sky just so, the light, the air, all of it agreeing to be perfect for what it is and meant to be.  Thunderstorms may come later.  The phone might ring or text, but for now, peace.  Contentment from within to match the understanding.

Have I always been prone to be the solitary contemplative to come across the perfection of Buddhist thought.  Considered weird and an outsider, until discovered to be more normal and saner than anyone.  If the nature of reality, the Universe, That Which Is, can be summoned, then we are a part of that just as we are, no need to go run and do anything.  Deeper study comes along to reaffirm, to flesh out the great theories of that which works on gut instinct and a practical approach to work.  Go and read the Buddhist literature and piece it all together, because it works.  No need to go and do anything differently than you've been doing, just do it with awareness.  Things are perfect as they are, being constructed that way all along, forever.

"But stop overanalyzing," a friendly voice says.  "Stop putting off, live in the moment, don't burden yourself with comparison to otherness, use your energies for work, live your life, get out of your own head."  Which is flattering to hear, appreciated and all that, but as usual the finger wag seems to come at at time of hard earned revelation, of finally putting good practice to work, of some discipline, some clarity, quiet concentration, and that sort of stuff.  And hey, whether a general soreness, or the lingering cold, or the tight crick in the neck, or the tree pollen, you avoided the invitation to go join a good friend at a bar, which is great, a good thing brought home by the fact that you'd only really been up two hours or so anyway (and who wants to start in with wine right after they get up...)  It was definitely better  (if you could make such a judgment anyway, venturing into the falseness of dualities)  to go do yoga in the park, and then to admit a lack of energy, such that you stayed home, at peace, (until word came that the restaurant had some form of kitchen fire event, which provoked some temptation to go out on the town...)  Meditation may be difficult sometimes, but it is a very useful exercise, speaking from recent experience, the calming effect its practice has over the little storms within the monkey mind.

Indeed, it was nice to stay home reading D.T. Suzuki on Mahayana Buddhism, beautifully presented.  And if I have some karmic legacy that makes any sense it is that my father was a scientist, a botanist, one who incorporated the bigger questions of reality into his science, dovetailing with elements of Buddhist thought.  Such that in a bad or sorry mood I might really berate myself for not following the scientific path, but the good news being that there is a large element or compatibility within Buddhism of the scientific.  But place such sins as your own aside, because you can miss the point if you're just sitting around denying that you are alive, or reviewing all your bad acts, so, the famous Middle Path in all things.  If you are a frustrated science writer, with a lazy or distracted educational past preoccupied by poetry, well, the "science" of Buddhist thought is a rich place to find some discipline.

The thing about writing, often overlooked about it, is that it has to fall in with the compassion that is at the heart of the Dharma.  That's why you go through the trouble (of looking so stupid and publicly foolish as to have a blog or some other utterance specious in nature.)   Kindness is at the heart of all writing, properly.  You're here to perpetuate the greater truth behind all things, and follow through with that bodhisattva duty of engaging with people who need it and, at the very least, practicing a kindness and a patience and a tolerance reflecting the greater reality, and for them holding up, as Buddha did, quietly, in silence, a flower to convey enlightenment.  Even if the modern mind, skeptically responding, says, yeah, but...

If you stop and trouble yourself with reading the comments to a youtube lecture of the Dalai Lama you may well find yourself unimpressed and take away a sense of the willful dug-in intolerant ignorance, at least in the type of people who feel compelled to make negative comments in such a forum.  I wouldn't recommend it.

The first teachings of Buddha, even him, were met with skepticism anyway.

We might not have, even in this season of Commencement Speeches--thanks to NPR for reminding us of David Foster Wallace's at Kenyon, (speaking of the great kind act that writing truly is)--all that much to go on.  We have, from Buddha himself, a bit of guidance, the Eightfold Path, a handy list of dos and don'ts, but such things too can be, I don't know, a little wooden, stiff, until you remember that such teachings are meant for the purpose of getting you across the river, over to the enlightened side, as a raft you may then abandon as having served its use.  (I didn't come up with that myself.)  ... remembering that it all came from a very nice fellow, and perpetuated by more nice people, you have an innate way to know about thoughtful action, the considered act, careful, proper.  It's like a built in yardstick, a refined lens to see through.  You can guess better, know the difference better between selfish and unselfish.

Mahayanists, it turns out, offer a fair amount of leeway to bodhisattvas, judgment calls.
Dunt Dunt dudda Dunt Dunt dudda Dunt Dunt didda Dunt Dunt...  Okay, it has been entertaining, but I don't know if I can watch Game of Thrones any more.  The writers have outdone themselves following the hoary rule of tension, arc, more tension, character through-lines, conflict, more tension on top to keep the eye.  Every detail a set-up for something new... Predictable, but mesmerizing, intriguing.   I've had enough tension, my adrenaline is jacked, and I don't need any more, after my four shifts on the mound.  I need to come down, and it's been three hours already, a spinach mushroom omelette, a start of the laundry, a walk around the block, unplugging a fountain drain clogged with leaves and pollen apparatus, a sighting of a bunny rabbit behind the chain link fence of an abandoned gothic embassy in restoration limbo (seeing the haunches of brown fur behind a box of slate tiles I wondered if it was another kind of rodent, a large one), robins singing back and forth on the parapets of ambassador's residences on high S Street, the conducting mockingbirds in the fresh leaved trees.  I don't need to see another spear go through an armored chest or hear the sound of a sword going across something hard as if glancing off a stone as it swiped another throat open.  For all of that has its effect, at a gut level, entering the eyeball through the medium of a flat high def TV screen.  Is this all supposed to be cathartic, like the scream you get out of your system watching a horror movie?

I catch myself, during the week, getting involved in the ritual of the new show, the build up, the theme music, the catching up, the fix, all like a drug, the little bit new you get, the story of the dwarf guy that you'll be able to talk about with another fan.  But I find myself remembering fondly the children's books, Richard Scarry's characters doing simple normal things, Huck the cat, Lowly the worm, the small every day stuff of operating motor vehicles, really quite something when you think about it.  Gorilla Bananas rides a bicycle, and I feel in league with him.  Gorilla Bananas tries to go sleep after being jacked up by a busy freakin' jazz night, no longer sure what is calming, what is exciting, what helps his monkey body quiet down, his long monkey legs seeking some relief from standing all night.

I need some Buddhist calm now.  I need a hot shower or a bath in epsom salts to soothe sore foot, a stiff neck.  I'd like to listen the Dalai Lama talking, or read from D. T. Suzuki, but that takes some energy I might not have, beyond two pages.  Use my mind again, after the grind, the simple simpleton job, hammering out dustpans out of sheet metal, opening bottles, pouring wine, taking orders, keeping track, putting things on all the checks we then hand out when people finally say, okay, I think I'll take the check.

The wine does not work, the music preying on the emotions does not work, it all manipulates, makes one react like a puppet, bound to embrace emotions, when no reaction is necessary...

The more wine, the more Game of Thrones I watch, the more pop music I listen to, the more excited my emotions are, the more addicted to the excitement of them I am.  Why did that take me so long to learn?  The more wine I drink now, the more I'll want it tomorrow, the more acceptable a habit it will be.  The answer is incense, candles, meditation, the freedom of thought into the nonverbal, where we no longer have to feel odd thinking, thinking this, thinking that, wondering, what will they think if I think this, and so on.  They're in the same boat, after all.

I take a soak in bath salts, turning off the bathroom light, only candles.  If I've said it once, I've said it a million times--Dostoevsky hated electric lights..  Is his story of the penal colony a rip roaring tale of conflict and adventure?  No, it's an honest tale, a character study, a look at real life and its confines.  It tells a tale of how stupid people get when, after saving and saving, conniving, dealing, they finally get their hands on the vodka they wanted, their first moments of relief and partial rapture, then the anger and antagonism and ego coming out, so that after their good time, even in the midst of it, they are miserable, and worse off the next day by far then when they started.

At this hour I keep searching for the delivering sip.  I pour of the inexpensive Ventoux into a glass with three good ice cubes, in this hour it's still dark out.  The birds seem to have receded, a lull, a nap before dawn, and I remember the all night study hall, and when it was finally Spring then you'd hear the birds, as if they all turned on with the first light, their eyes waking in their little heads, their little throat boxes warmed by the understanding of what was coming.

I know that something of my own personal story here in life is related to Buddhism.  I've been, as a study on the behalf of mankind, I'd like to think so, a sort of prodigal son, even as I am in some ways less led by emotions as the next guy, though, yeah, in other ways more...

The body lain out, leaned back agains the leather couch, a trickle here and there of sleep, beginning to tickle here and there, run up the vein in the calf now that my skin is clean of all the stress compounds and the oils and the sweat of the night and all the wandering molecules.

There were calming parts of the night, words from the veteran, a few choice tales about the prominent citizens of Georgetown, Washington, DC, the meanness that lurks behind the successful and their picture perfect comfortable lives, taken out on the waiter.  I'm surprised and not surprised at the names.  To be calm and not reacting, that's the thing, the way through all the traps of Shakespeare's dramas.

The next day, neck still sore, hey, I'm doing okay, I discover, except for the great Not Knowing What To Do With Myself.  I only had a small amount of wine, and so its vestiges have not pooled in the memory parts of my brain, to remember some sorrowful awkward moment of my college age adolescence, the pathways of regrets that seem to click like a record needle at the end.  Only a small amount of that today.  Which is a very good realization to make, that the grand emotional release one thinks he's experiencing after two soothing glasses of wine will become tomorrow, as in the case of any other exciting drug, the chemistry of depression.  (I suppose there are some exceptions to the rule, but it's a slippery slope.)  It might feel good at the time, but it leads to the brewing of that which makes us comprehend Noble Truths.

I wish I'd not been an English major, but taken up some science.  Good thing that Buddhism has that scientific side to its understandings, even if they are largely beyond the verbal.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A simple life was all I wanted, I wrote in that book about a college kid and his wants, a simple cabin in the woods by a lake with Buddha statues… something like that.  The book traces him through the usual typical mentally-created minefield we all live in, thinking of the world as a place where we must act straightforwardly upon our desires.  "Go and do, for you have the talent."

And yet, as we might learn in our wisdom, it doesn't quite work like that, not so perfectly anyway.  And here, as symbol, the kid has his aims, and even an object of his affection, though he doesn't know what to do about it, beyond express, guardedly, his affections.  In the real world, yes, things are complicated and not very straightforward.  We might be told some slogan of advice, 'go seize the day, be forward, be aggressive,' of course a whole range of things.  But even if you think you are miserable for not achieving some staked out goal, as we all know, the world is full of miserable people, people who've taken just such advice to heart as 'go seize the day, etc.' and acted.

Oddly, what resulted in the long writing of such a piece as the college kid trying to figure it out, acting, reacting, acting the whole mix of human ways, wise and stupid, drunk and sober, smart and dumb, sensitive and insensitive, courageous and cowardly, left and right, day and night, thoughtful, impetuous,  slow, fast, was this author's appreciation of the time carved out for writing.  The writer too, as his main character, wanted, still wants, a simple life.  He wanted some time to reflect,  to reflect over his sins, his actions, his failure to achieve what he might have wanted, or thought he might have wanted, as far as a mate, a career, an academic life, a home life, wrapped up in such a story.  Perhaps this was selfish and self-indulgent.

What the writer wanted was a way to think about things, a way to handle his thoughts, a way to relax, a way to step back and maybe slowly improve, after the big mess, his own circumstances, maybe even by helping other people, indirectly, see how they might handle their own thoughts.  This was important, and this was the kind of literature that intrigued him.

Perhaps by instinct, or through long trial and error, through ignorance and then also exploration and learning and reading books, a kind of solution presented itself, one that seemed time honored and wise and useful even to such circumstances as written about should they happen again, and even retroactively to some extent.  This after a lot of poking around, and even staring answers in the face, as happens in any seeker's life.  Meditation.

Yes, good old Buddhist meditation, the achievement of distance, insulation, protection, circumspection from all those little voices inside the head like those of the spoiled brat demanding an ice cream cone 'now.'  Maybe that's what I was doing all those years when I went down to Starbuck's trying to talk as little as I could, trying to avoid newspaper and headlines and information jumping out at me, to quietly write a few thoughts down in my old legal pads with no clear notion as to what I was even doing anyway, but like the fisherman seeing what might come by.

Perhaps I was trying to squeeze too much out of that little stream of thoughts and wonderings.  It's rewarding to record trains of thoughts, surprising ideas, dreams, mental events, interpretations of poetic moments, but this is only mediation for beginners.

A time ago I might have even found it a little strange, if not creepy, to want that simple life, or to take so happily to meditation, finally a release, a perspective from all the voices inside the head.  For I've found that needs are pretty simple, that a simple life has a contentment to it, that one needs simple functional clothing and outfitting and good wholesome food.  Basic, not costing a lot.  Why drive yourself mad with all the things you should be doing on a Saturday night.  Getting over a cold, well, that might be enough.  Doing some good yoga, maybe a walk to the store, before returning to read the last parts of The Snow Leopard.

I found, in meditation, a freedom from mind, and I found that essential.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The end of a long week.  Saturday Night, Mother's Day night with live jazz, Monday, live jazz again with Hot Club of DC, Tuesday, worst of all, a champagne tasting/going away event for Jay, a massive hectic show of regulars, wishing our coworker well, then Wednesday incredibly hectic again with more live jazz, a head cold, hacking cough from Sunday night on, and by Thursday, I don't know who I am or what I'm doing.  I seemed to have a decent grip on Buddhism before the Saturday pre-brunch garden tour (really just a tour of fancy real estate) with my aunt in Georgetown and the extra wine the night back at the hotel before, before that an early dinner, again compelled to drink wine, to show my real engaged genuine enjoyment at a good restaurant--a rare beloved visitor, so why not--after a couple of weeks of cleaning up my act, real distance from the wine habit, a sense of relative freedom from illusions, hollow pleasures.  In between that and now, a lot of voices, a lot of personalities, barroom behavior, the primate gathering.  Of course by the end of the big going away party, it is impossible not to succumb.  As if a voice came and said, hey, if you work here you're going to end up drinking wine.  A time, of course, for well-earned toasts, who am I to say no to the shot of Jameson.

Having a cold, a hacking cough I must repress into an arm sleeve as I toil does not help.  The last night of the week, after Marie Allouette's Gypsy Jazz, a brand of music that makes waiting on people very hard for the way each run of notes reverberates loudly through one's skull, the head, the mind even (in contrast to Wes Montgomery's gently spelled chord revelations), after they all leave I put on The Weeknd Pandora Station and make myself an armangac toddy with honey and lemon peel and then have another one after my little small plate of salmon tartar with micro greens, putting the acidic capers aside.  After all that, you have to clean up and restock as energy fades and legs hurt, stairs to climb

What can I do but quit the job, at least the drink, out of moral grounds?  But then what?  No more of this long lying business about desperate escapist pleasures, at least.

Maybe it was the Georgetown Garden Tour which got to me.  A visit to the backyards of the Gods of DC, walled in areas invisible from the street but for the tree tops, lawns, dogwoods, boxwoods, pools, below a tennis court.  An older generation walking through oohing and ahh-ing over the dream real estate, the achievement of, clearly, great success.  Except I see right through it all, and the show makes me wonder, again, as in the Hamptons, what are all these people hiding.  Behind the hedgerows, what crimes against basic good human nature, crimes of great arrogance, crimes that are an outrage to how we are to live and be better people… The lady greeters, exclusive members of a club (those trusted)  mark our tour cards off by the number, as we wait to enter and visit a garden, behaving as if they were complicit in allowing the ruffian general public a chance to look at a pile of gold bars and crown jewels for this one day, don't get carried away folks.  The young virgins, the real pleasures are hidden unless all of it is simply like the beautiful catalog show-room, the backs of houses morose and stale, humid like all the rest of this swampy town of no return.  The ladies instruct us how to exit through the alley, well aware of the difference between us country bumpkins who wouldn't know taste if it fell on us and Them.  But note: the rich live the same depressing closed-in lives we do.  One night later in the week I get home whipped and find the documentary Grey Gardens on the television, a lot of momma sitting up on her bed, her life around her, the daughter's slow craziness…  Not even Jackie's people are immune.  We all are real, we all suffer the human condition.  Behind the pampered yards and the coiffed hair and compelling personalities that demand respect and attention there are the same skin conditions, the same aging, the same perplexing questions, albeit put a little differently than "what good is my savings of $20, 000 going to do me when I'm old…"

It takes no act of fiction, and none is necessary, to reveal the show it is the well-to-do put up.  The whole show of Georgetown society, waited on at brunch… (No rest for me, as soon I will be waiting tables myself.)  But of course, one would feel like an ingrate for mentioning any reservations, as if told by a more mature voice, what else is there?

The week ends, you rest, you heal.  Accept your lot in life, to educate against the illusions from knowing them in your own unsatisfied way…

That was yesterday, and I wanted a glass of wine after a certain point, but I hung on.  And today I don't even want one.  This is pretty good, I say to myself.  Even after a restless night hacking away I get up, manage a few chores, and even get down to the Whole Foods to stock up on good things, adzuki beans and other good stuff to keep me going from the bulk foods section, chocolate bars, veggies, a piece of halibut, and rather than wine, carrot juice.  I get a quick hair cut, stop by CVS for some meds, and bike home, my courier bag stuffed full.  I get out for a run, and come across some deer in the little meadow just past the end of the Massachusetts Avenue Glover bridge where the road dips down toward Rock Creek.  A yearling buck munches on long grass not twenty feet from me, following me almost as I walk downhill.  A decent training run, getting the form back, arm muscles in synch.  Followed by yoga.

We cannot avoid being Buddhist.  The seed takes hold, sooner or later.  You'd rather listen to the Dalai Lama delivering a lecture about the Path to Enlightenment than listen to W. Bush explain that the surveillance stuff is really nothing, completely Constitutional, that to even suggest otherwise would cost American lives in a good Frontline piece.  That explains the strange click I'd hear sometimes when I'd call my mom.  His Holiness looks a lot more honest, a deeper perspective, let's say.

And even the news from The New York Times about a young chap who helps guys date is good, the advice being not to play a certain cagey game but to just be you, open, vulnerable, talking about what interests you honestly.  No more of the silly dutch courage get them a little tipsy business I'm entirely sick of witnessing from my own perspective.  I would feel a bit of redemption knowing that for young people it's come back to a sweet openness to honest talk.

Out running I reflect on my years of keeping bar, a dated job anyway, one belonging to the Eighties, even though it seems fashionable again, hip, a way to show the act of hipness.  And I know from first hand I know that once you're gone from their lives they all forget you anyway, leaving you with nothing, because you're no longer a piece of their little merriment, their little enabling rituals of fun and social life, you're no longer operational, a cog in the wheel that feeds them.  Quit and tomorrow they'd say, oh, where'd he go, and then a few days later it would be, to show their own belonging, a story or two, and then after that silence, out with the old, in with the new.  And perhaps for your own part, you didn't want to be a part of it so much anyway, as it was, indeed, work.  A few good people, of course, will remember you, but the context of friendliness will have changed.

Well, well, it's all fine like this just as it is.  I had an act once, I suppose, a youthful thing, a kind of posturing, play at adulthood.  It was a silly act, maybe having something to do with the overblown writer thing I would now cringe at, writer as bon vivant.  It took, or has taken rather, me the longest time to get through the act and find some true way to look at the world and at self.  That perspective has let things regulate, be less random.  Every day it takes a lot of maturity, I'm afraid, but that's how it goes.

Monday, May 12, 2014


I wrote, a while ago, about how the fundraisers bug my retired mom.  Which was not fair to Obama, who is obliged to raise money to fight those with the agenda to defeat Affordable Health Care and a lot of other good programs, those lobbied against by those who have lots of corporate money to throw around, particularly now that it's blind.

Mom has a bumper sticker on her old Corolla, "No Billionaire Left Behind."

What option do we have to fight them and their agenda, their vision of how they should lead us, and what we will be like.

The internet entrepreneurs wanted us all to have devices, to be plugged in.  And now, kids don't even read anymore.  Thanks, billionaires, applause to your great vision.  Maybe dumbing us all down was part your secret intent.

The Koch brothers, sons of the John Birch Society rabid anti JFK guy big in Dallas circles, do about all they can to derail the things a government tries to do to help people, like affordable health care that doesn't leave us at the whims of profit-minded corporations.  They work on all levels, Citizens United, every where they can get into, a sphere of influence.  Their dream:  that the mega-rich will live secluded unto themselves, not having to pay taxes, never having to see poor people ( at least those who aren't obliged by employment to behave.)

I don't blame the folks who send me emails, asking for help, to support Obamacare, etc….

But what is one's root argument against the billionaires?  Other than that they mow down forests and plunder earth and sky for personal profit…  Well, basically, it is that they are sensualists, the utter polar opposite of the Dalai Lama.  They crave mansions, the deal in things of the world, worldly pleasures, yachts, the Hamptons, exclusive penthouses looking over Central Park.  Their very wealth is based on such things.  How about living a simple life, riding a bike to work, getting your city to accommodate the human form with parks, green space for all, bike lanes, solar powered buildings…

Ah yes, that wonderful billionaire vision governing our lives, teasing and enticing us with the products of sensuality, the fancy car full of power, the bright screen full of tower of babel, preaching to us that it is all good stuff… As opposed to our own subtle quiet inner wisdom, that says, 'no thank you, I'd rather turn all my devices off, read a book, talk to my fellow humanity, go for a walk in the woods, a park we all share.'

That ole' billionaire vision, about it all being about this life and this life only...

Friday, May 9, 2014

Irish Wake

additional sketches

That's the problem, that the conversation gets hemmed in by what people are willing to talk about.  They talk about the usual matters.  They see things conventionally.  The same old terms, of comfort and  discomfort.  That's the overwhelming barometer of normalcy for them, to ask, am I happy, am I sad, am I comfortable, am I uncomfortable, thus how do I figure out how to be comfortable most of the time…
The conversation can never get to the deeper part, to the real issues, because people simply have to use those terms, good bad happy sad hot cold smart dumb… and they can't break out of that into something deeper, limited to a binary argument.  Well, life ain't like that, I tell you.  To move forward you have to back up sometimes, and even that's too complicated to explain, I'm afraid.  Because for people it's simply happy or sad, one way or the other, my way or the way of my enemy.  How pathetically limited must any conversation be…  Unless you're a real clever bastard who can do some kind of weird complex calculus based on factors no one can really see…  And try to explain that to the voting masses and the whole lot.  That's why I was glad you were there when things on that island got sticky.  No one knew what was going on.  Everyone turned into ants, thinking they had some mission to do…

And what we all needed was time, an open mind… backing off.


Whitman… he helped all those poor boys, all shot to hell…  And he still was kind enough to salute my old frame.  I could see it in his eyes, bright as they were.   Tender fellow.  Some being beyond us and our normal ways…

I'd 'a quit if I could.  Gone and helped take care of them…  But the train was moving, on to its ending point, and I knew I had to stand and do the work of Reconstruction, repatriating, convincing them all, letting them know, they had a place still, the rebels.  I wasn't going to hang them all, far from it.  That too was the work I wanted to do, the greater work…  I figured that was my place on Earth, to do all that…

Then suddenly, as if there was no time even in life, but only a great rush, from one thing to another, never a chance to stop, then suddenly I'm walking up that little part of Tenth Street in front of the theater, finding myself going in.

And for some reason, maybe that dream I had, I felt weird about tit.  I might have said to myself, well, it's just plays that make me feel strange, drumming up all those emotions in you, making you attached to the figures on the stage…  When they're not even real…  Kinda sickening if you think about it sometimes.

So I sat down in that rocking chair, Mrs. Lincoln to my side, and I followed along with it…

Some people are of the kind to get you all riled up, ain't they.  Never stop at it.  I hope I'm remembered as one of the calm ones, and maybe that's why it all happened.  I wasn't some obnoxious SOB insisting on a phalanx of guards and all the trappings…  I was left with that one dullard idiot, guarding the President of the United States of America as he sat with his wife, turned toward the stage.

Shakespeare would have been a more calming thing to watch anyway...

Kennedy: Yes, we can never stop.  We get pulled along, have no time to take a look around, always something.  A blur.  One minute you're eating breakfast with Jackie one cold morning up in Oregon, next, you're landing in...  I..  we had a few times when we tried to step back, like during the Missile Crisis...

Lincoln:  Bullet's the only damn thing that can catch up with you.  Words can't.  Poetry could, because poetry knows its terms are imprecise, like catching a sunbeam, Whitman, and that guy Sandburg.  And once he started...  Ha ha.  He was smart.  He simply took all those stories, what people simply remembered from my life, like how I liked to lay out on the couch and try not to think, except they didn't know, it was just the story, then leave it to the imagination...  Like I pulled that pig out of the mud... Who knows why, I just did it.

As you see, all life blends together from up here.

And maybe only poor bastards like us, you with your pains and me with mine, kinda get that when we're down in the thick of the world's drama.

But getting laid all the time...  did that help?  (chuckle)

Kennedy:  Yes, I'd say it would, ah, take one's mind away from the pain for a little while, yes, for a time...

Lincoln:  (looking depressed)  Well, I can't say I blame you...  But don't quote

Kennedy:  Yes, don't quote me on that.

Lincoln:  You always had quite a talent at it.  Braver than I, I guess.  For me, never was easy.  What monsters they can be sometimes.
I, the bartender, meets them as if they are sleepwalking, in suspended animation, enchanted.  Some of them, many, are great with their acts of being awake, playing out their dream-like roles.  It is of course, a spectacle, a tense one, this cow-like habit of people going out in public, often to preen.  The anthropologist within can be intrigued.  I follow them through conversations, through their illusions they bring in, reassuring themselves of their unrealities as is always a part of the deal, asking for enabling.  Some of them slumber lightly, their quietness being a sign of some awakening.   Possessive of dreams, they hold on to me, as if I were too gentle a soul to disturb them, indeed, agreeably smiling along with them, for at least they are behaving.  Some of them come in, and can no longer function, having behavioral issues.  "How's that rosé," the sweaty faced late comer who knows about Tuesday Night wine tasting and of how the bartender is worn down and vulnerable by ten o'clock finally asks.  A question I knew was coming.  He futzes with the iPad wine list, unable to turn it on.  It's dawning on him, basically, having been given a glass of water and then ignored, that he's not being served after the initial self-satisfaction of his arrival in a place he perceives to 'really understand him.'  He's coming from a wine tasting of German Pinot Noir, tasting being here a code word.  "Denny, you've had enough wine," I finally say, putting away the store'n'pour juices away in the cooler after wiping them down and giving the stainless steel cooler floor a shot of windex and the rag.  He makes a last ditch effort for liquid sympathy, clinging.  "My mother died a year ago this month."   But him, I know, from being cornered at the end of shifts often enough.  The site of him coming up the stairs, late as usual, was disturbing enough.  There are still two people over in the corner.  I bring the orange glow candles from the low tables back to the closet for recharging, putting them away in their pockets, the charger on top of the power amp.  They are small, easy and light, but at this point it takes a bit of effort.  One person at the bar is enough to make me nervous anyway.   What do they want?  "I didn't have that much tonight actually," he says thoughtfully.  "But Cinco de Mayo…" He chuckles darkly, still pleased at the drunk bender he can pull off.

My patients, dreaming away in their daytime work roles…  Coming home from a cookout, a coworker's mom, a retired English as a Second Language teacher, up visiting, I pass through Thursday night along Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park, passing where I spent far too long at another place as a barman.  Another kind of show, tipsy young ladies in short skirts and high heels waiting for cabs to take them away, as loud young man swagger in front of a late night hamburger grill.  I walk my bicycle to the corner, turn the lamps back on, pull my courier bag closer--the adzuki beans I cooked no one touched--and pedal home.

Napping in ropes on the boat, he is in meditation.  The wind blows up, the waves come up.  The men in the boat get antsy, and, the master called upon to do something, the message to them is Buddhist.  Before everything else, even before the dream of existence of a concrete separate self, there is experience.  Take down all the illusions and there remaining, at the bottom of it all, is existence, experienced through a clear consciousness like clear light quite beyond the dualism and definitions our dreaming minds label all things touched with.  There is, in the end, nothing to worry about, consciousness simply being, just as the waves are.  Calmed, no longer tied to their self-based perceptions, their worries about man in ship versus storm and water are eased.  At least the meditating master, his mind freed, can see that, being at one with the entire experienced world, and so the event is offers a chance for a teaching, one that is recorded in the Gospels.  It's an important lesson.

That the community of educators passing on the Christian lesson put it in such a way, as a story of an actual miracle, an act beyond the grasp of normal human existence and powers, rather than delving into the intellectual complexity, as the Buddha did, explaining a philosophy, was a worldly self-based choice, of dubious spirit to the truth.  (Unless there was a person, named Jesus, who really did that, who really could do that and other miraculous things.)  But it's as if there was indeed a council of worldly men, largely, some women, who wanted first a church, codified literature and ritual quite beyond the teacher and his constantly Buddhist teachings, a blueprint to define things accepted and things set apart.  Worldly themselves, they had to make it about something worldly, love directly passed down from God complete with precious words.  Intentionally emphasizing personality, they get it wrong, almost willfully wrong, but the words of the master shine through, some insisting that at least in the bureaucracy we get some of that right.  Perhaps not completely wrong, as there are worldly parts to the Christian message, good things to behoove, of course, to make placing him in worldly context reasonable and proper.

Perhaps masters find that we should make our own mistakes, that our paths might be ultimately better.  Thus we have to experience the prodigal way to better appreciate the teachings of the deeper realities of existence.  We must be placed out in the boat in the storm.  We must learn from the master, the master within, to meditate, to still the monkey mind and find the deeper awakened peace, rooted in something often called faith.

To quell one's anxiety… that is the difficult thing of life.  And why does the barman now suffer from deep anxiety of having to be around the drink and the illusions that prevail?  It could be worse;  you could work at a law firm full of miserable angry people…

"I meet them," it should read, but I don't mind the mistake, "meets them."  There's something to it.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

I get up in the morning and don't know what to think.  Maybe like you, but I won't assume.  I make tea, do the dishes, eat some breakfast--rice and the sauce leftover from last night's Lemongrass Chicken--vacuum, dust some, do a quick sweep of the back deck, retreat inside because of the Embassy Open House Tour.

"I too" would like to fit in, to feel stylish and attractive on a Saturday night, to not have to endure feeling strange and out of place, not falling into any category known.  I too want to be associated with something, like 'Whole Foods shopper'… not fall through the cracks.

But for the fact that it's more fun and engaging to read D.T. Suzuki on Mayahana Buddhism and go for a simple walk through the woods, taking time to call mom.
And so, my twenty five year sojourn into the world of the suffering, in that there is, in some ways, no more evocative of suffering than people trying to enjoy themselves, carrying about their egos, their wants, needs, hearing themselves talk, listening to music that put them in the mood, drinks, food, company…  And I was waiting on them, serving, turning up the music even, doling out, in the bad old days, a shot.  It was done out of love, at least I'd like to think, out of the spirit of wishing to share a social life, as much as trying to fit in somewhere, and because I have an affection for restaurant people. Perhaps, too, I became addicted to entertaining the crowd, as if that gave me a persona, a reason to be in the give and take of daily life.

I tended to find it suffering, personally, but then again it was work.  "That's why they call it work," as people say, who know.  It was my job.

And in the meantime, I searched.  I read.  I read things as background, I read things to try out, and I hoped that one day I would find seriousness and commitment to something, in a lasting steady way, something that made sense to me.  I went through phases.

And even as I felt a vague uneasiness, not really knowing what else to do for employment of a most basic sort, I continued on under my own illusions, pressed as I was by my profession to, say, learn about wine.  I was still operating under all the illusions that a good thorough reading of Buddhism and the practice of it does its best to exactly dispel, the very ones, which are basic and endemic, and perhaps rather problematic for modern Westerners to remove.

Calm and self-control, that's what I needed, so that I could see the stirring up of something sensually based, but rather than being taken by it, keep a distance.  In the old days, illusioned, the opening riff of The Rolling Stones "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" would gain its hold over me, just as the patron's demand that the barman have a particular kind of personality viewed from his or her own self-based illusions, but I meditated and strove to not react.  And of course, how could I not feel shame about that, not being able to draw the line between that which takes us out of illusions and that which pushes us in.

Could you not see the love in Kerouac, for going along trips with his troubled friends, as if wanting to suffer along with them in hopes all would find the Buddhist Enlightenment he explicitly wrote about so often and so seriously, along with the Christian part of his ethos;  could one not see that though it tends to be mixed in with a few things that might make an excitable reader want to fire up some of his own egotistical false self illusions.  You have to be very careful.

You do have to be very careful, and that was why I might thank the great force of dharma love for not leading me into some circumstances where I would be more forced to be attached, as awful as that sounds.  But it would seem to me that you'd be a better Buddhist not necessarily by being a college professor, at least these days.  Or that I also found some strange part of my psyche never lead me to the conventional long term relationship, the consuming job, other calamities as may still befall me.  Experience, always a strange and thought provoking thing for me, such that one could very easily lampoon my pensive slow walk or the lazy act of introspection.

Friday, May 2, 2014

I thought of Einstein's theories, the relationship between gravitational force, mass, time and light, the great relativity of all perspectives, the bending of the fabric of the universe around big objects, the conservational relationship of mass and energy.

I thought of teachings of the Buddha, compassion to alleviate the sufferings of all sentient beings caught in the cycle of illusion, freeing us, showing us the great reality, the true nature of mind, the illusion of self.  Truth comes, in lieu of science's methods, as a great relief, freeing us from the encroachment of materialism into life's meaning.  The path of enlightenment reveals a shape to all things, one that speaks of the great fabric bent by the powers of kindness and compassion.

Therefore what we do in life is bent by the slope, toward our goodness when we are compassionate and selfless and freed from illusion, away from us when it has motivations of self and illusionary gains.  Gravitational force that pulls things our way, accordingly.  We awaken from within, becoming our own source of light and understanding.

Compassion, kindness, reinforces the understanding of the shape of life's planes and realities, the forces that govern life and the consciousness that has no ending, no beginning.  Which in turn speaks of karma, of the realty behind the circumstances of our 'genetic lineage,' the events deep within the world that led to our creation (both as individuals and as a 'species,' as a manifestation of the deeper), to our own individual birth in the particular circumstances (of love) we came to.

And so it is the deeper bodhisattva nature to our own personal realities that came out of our deep lineage, out of our genes, out of the nature of our individual parents and families, but also out of the bodies of the deep wisdom teachers who are the core and sunlight of humanity and the manifest world.

That's the only way it can be, and such are the calculations that we as reasonable and scientific and just people are asked to reach.

I wake sometimes, as a writer, looking for meaning.  "What if it is all about compassion?  What if that isn't the primary reality, as far as what counts…"  I find myself saying to myself one morning, surprised by a mild moment of eureka.  "I never thought of that."  I had viewed life differently, conventionally, as another battle altogether, in which it was almost a failure, a separate factor unrelated to any success, to have compassion and to live your own life in some form of quiet kind peace.  That had sounded to me as something a lot like giving up.  I had even thought perhaps compassion and being kind didn't matter, and that you just had to compete and hope to find a spot in society that offered some protection.  Grab what you can.  But then increasingly I found relief in being free of complicating desire.  I found peace, contentment with the way things are, and that the things I might have thought I wanted pointed to a larger relief not having them as a possession of life, as an attachment, but instead just something to feel compassion over.

I felt a bit like the world had been turned on its head.  I found myself satisfied with the simple life I had, a starting place.  I experienced retrospective self-recognition, an honest sense of non-attachment, something I felt tentatively people might sneer at but to which I found a value and a way out of confusion.  Meditation seems to be working its magic.  I saw the source of my own faults, and grasped better the things I seemed to have been subconsciously doing right.  Sins to atone for, sure, but in the knowledge of an overall peace and compassion.

So I ponder the dream the evening before during a nap of a huge and vivid explosion out the back window, such that I swore I heard a loud bang, looked out and saw the smoke rise, woke up unsure of where to be oriented,  unlike any other dream experience I've had…  a harbinger of change...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

After my week ended, after my departing coworker (off to Brazil for the World Cup) and I share what's left of a bottle of 2009 Beaune Lycée Viticole ( a red Burgandy) from a customers' table to celebrate our last shift together, after cleaning up, counting the money and doing the checkout report, tidying up the liquor/stereo/supplies closet, then finally out the door with my stuff into the rain, I hopped on my bike and rode down to the great river.   Driftwood, grasses, an occasional long tree limb mid river moving fast, and also plastic, plastic water bottles, motor oil containers, a large shiny blue plastic 50 gallon drum skimming crazily along the top, the crap of the manmade world there bobbing and floating along on top of the river's currents, rolling stuck on nature's skin.   From the cement bank, I watched two male mallards drift down by the boathouse and join two others.  Meeting, they quacked some, talked over the situation in duck, then parted, two upstream, then eventually followed by the two others taking flight.

Up the hill I walked along by the old canal, up past the lock, the water white and flowing torrentially, fuming through and over the old wooden lock gates, up past the long boat.  I leaned my bike up against a stone wall and sat down and watched the rain fall heavily on the scene.  Feeling refreshed, and taking a moment to watch three people sitting at a hotel bar on the far bank (a fancy hotel restaurant) served by a large bald barman, an odd perspective, pleasantly distant, I sat and watched the night, streetlamps lining bridges reflected by the pattered water.  A large dark shape making a steady wake comes toward me, turns out to be a huge beaver skimming along head up on his implacable night mission, followed later by a lone duck drifting along with the pace of the current.  I'm happy, content with my little version of Kurasawa's Seven Samurai or Roshoman, the rain pouring and pouring but me in the outdoor gear rain parka my mom got me quite dry enough where I need to be.  Living outdoors wouldn't be so bad if, if…  I can identify with the wish to be outside surrounded directly by nature.  I can feel for homeless people.  I can feel the contentment of a life stripped down.   An exercise of compassion, remembering the presumably homeless man standing with his bags smoking a cigarette underneath the girders of the Whitehurst Freeway bridge on K Street by the waterfront complex seen the night before on another check of the river.

And today, as if to prove something to myself about wine, I wake up dry and hungover and wondering why I poison myself so.  Nothing much inspiring me, just dirty dishes in the sink from the eggs I ate when I got home and stripped off the wet clothes.  Administer Perrier, green tea, a bowl of reheated quinoa, a couple astragalus capsules, an ibuprofen for good measure, a nap on the couch while the neighbor's cat pokes around sniffing here and there as I lapse in and out of shallow dream, one my father has thoughtfully rented an extra car for my visit with him, too kind.  I take off, at his encouragement, to drive the hills of the other side of the valley… the cat wakes me.

Why drink at all?  To fit in with the foolish job of serving people, to fit in to the world of jobs.  Enjoying the interaction, the people observing, but it does tend to push you to that point, "Here, c'mon, try a little taste of wine…"  which then leads, often enough, of course, to more and then a little more.  The fake personality, prompted by the gross mind, where the subtle mind is the true person.

My friend and coworker is going on his trip to get out of the business and being a waiter as much as any other reason, leaving me to ponder.  Wanting to drink no more, can one still stand behind a bar and face people?  Or, perhaps, how much more going on awkwardly, with small claim--even that I feel shame as much as any other emotion--of being a writer accompanied by little dignity, coming to believe what I wrote is no good, not even a novel, or that I am ignorant of too much of thought and literature.  Awkwardness and embarrassment at where I am, that leading to the wine… and the habit of wine leading no where but more, more standing in front of people who are almost saying, why don't you have one too…  Or is even that thought somehow not sufficient…

Perhaps there is something mystical to writing, as if what one would write comes out of past lives.

I've come to think it's all about compassion in the end.  We don't always place much value in it, reward the people, like my coworker, who's been kind and open to a lot of people over the five years he's worked with me, who practice it.  I see myself through him, perhaps, how people relax, tell their little stories, listen to his, an intangible of the restaurant business, of hospitality.  Is it frustrating, perhaps, to only allow so much compassion to enter in to the deal as you serve?  One feels he could be better used somewhere else, where it's more clearly and directly about helping people, not confused by the promotion of an escapist beverage and the selling of culinary pleasures...