Stray thought on a cat

Sitting last night with my cat, who is dying of cancer, in my lap. Wondered, Am I doing this right? A voice came to say, There is no doing this right. Was such a relief.

Does that make sense? Do other people have the same overseer in them I do?

Am I being present in the right way? am I letting these last moments with her in fully? am I not clinging to her? All this stuff, just below the threshold of awareness, about living up to some ideal I’ve got, where it came from who knows. Saw it for the load of crap it was.

Wasabi, my dying scrappy streetfighter, is a good teacher. She’s not worried about dying right, she’s just dying. Slowing down, drawing inward.

There’s no doing it right, there’s just doing it.

Found her outside a sushi restaurant in a blizzard the day after Christmas, year of 2000 in Philadelphia. She’s been with me to Salt Spring Island, Salt Lake City, Bellingham WA. A whole lot of mice met their maker in her. She’s been companion comfort irritant playmate and source of many forearm scratches. When I have to let her go I’m going to bawl like a little baby.

Say a prayer – whatever that means to you – that her last weeks are easy for her?

 

 

 

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Vagrant introduction, first para

First paragraph of the intro to Unlikeness Is Us, a draft of it, what I been driving at these past days. Also doubles as a diversity statement. To my heterodox way of thinking anyway.


Ungelīc is ūs. Enigmatic, in the Old English, but it means something like “it’s different for us,” or maybe, “we are set apart.” To say rather “unlikeness is us” is to go after something uncanny in it—and in the poem it comes from and in all these poems—rather than the surface sense. By “uncanny” I mean something both familiar and strange, near and far, about these poems, that makes them, not scary, unsettling. Freud’s word for it was unheimlich, “unhomelike,” and he meant something intimately known, then by choice forgotten, and now it’s come back to be known again, and there’s an inner shiver. Something true of you you’ve become absent or alien to and here it is at the door. It’s how these poems meet me anyway. They’ve always been with us but have we known how to read them? Unlikeness has always been us but do we how to be it? I sit writing in a whitish corner of America, 2017, summer, no clouds and no sun either. Corner of Canada adjacent, where I grew up, is burning. America is burning too, literally,[1] allegorically,[2] morally,[3] anagogically.[4]


[1]. Reading according to the letter. Record-breaking heat this summer, again, and a terrible wildfire season, again.

[2]. Reading for the “truth hidden under a beautiful fiction” (Dante, Il Convivio).

[3]. Reading for the teaching or instruction implied.

[4]. Reading oriented toward the future, eschatology, end times. Note the vanishing of the sun without clouds or night or an eclipse to explain it. Apocalyptic.


I have ADHD. Confirmed last week. Don’t know whether to cry or be glad. Lot of things fall into place. Including why this leap and not knowing whether it’s an overshare, how to tell.[5] I guess, if you can’t spill too much on a blog, where can you.

To everyone I’ve ever talked over, interrupted, I’m sorry. God but I am.


[5]. Good example of unlikeness though whatever else it is.


Image atop is from this article here, about adoption as dissimilitude, and the love of humans and God. Have only scanned it but looks intelligent, and moving, and pertinent to the next paragraph of my intro, which isn’t ready to post yet.

But here’s the bit from Augustine:

When I first knew you, you took me up, so that I might see that there was something to see, but that I was not yet one able to see it. You beat back my feeble sight, sending down your beams most powerfully upon me, and I trembled with love and awe. I found myself to be far from you in a region of unlikeness, as though I heard your voice from on high: “I am the food of grown men. Grow, and you shall feed upon me….” I said, “Is truth nothing, because it is diffused neither through finite nor through infinite space?” From afar you cried to me, “I am who am.” I heard, as one hears in his heart; there was no further place for doubt.”

I hate his theology, as it seems to have come out to be as a whole, but love his writing, as I find it in its concrete instants. And yes I’m playing around w/ ADHD as a form, have been a good long while, apparently, it’s one of the upsides. Thanks for reading.

Caught then not

Got caught in a post-breakup jag of self-hate for a bit there. No one loves me, no one will want me, why should I bother. You know, that drill. It can be pretty compelling; it can be a rock fast at your head; a rock sunk fast in your head.

For me – I’m noticing this more and more lately, and wonder if it’s a lumpy fruit of years of practice, zazen, psychotherapy, artmaking – it was powerful but also clear-edged, I couldn’t push it away but it couldn’t take me over, either. Like, I can’t repress much anymore, walls of the mind don’t work so well anymore. What arises, I gotta suffer. But as recompense, what arises doesn’t wash me away either.

Or is it just getting older? Anyway, it came with a migraine, there was that much wave to it, and as I lay on my bed in the afternoon, near naked with the sun on me and the cat beside me, window wide open and the wind in the dogwood outside, and all the little birds, and traffic sounds, a thought came, and it was, the world wants you here. And another thought came, and it was, the evidence is, you’re here.

That is all.

 

Broke stick

I miss my lady. Got my coffee, books piled round me, sun on me through the big window as I work, some beautiful songbird being ceaseless on the patio, it’s all good. And I miss my lady. And it’s still all good. And still I miss her.

Painting of us, hers, angel as broke stick.

 

Plum blossoms

First noble truth. Being hurts. It just hurts, to be. What is it to sit in that? Not to gnash, flail, look for a door out of it, but just abide in it. Wakeful, curious.

Hurting with more losses than I’m used to right now. Orphaned, a friend said, and nailed it. A woman I loved and loved me she said and I thought might be my only has shifted and said no to me. Bereft. My father my dear rigid irritable father is sliding into a senescence our lengthening life spans have made famous. His wife N. who has become dear to me, I fear for her, the burdening. And my mother, wounded and wounding, I have to say a no to her I don’t know she’ll withstand.

And these are all what a young man dear to me would call “first world problems.” And he is in duress in the only psychiatric bed that could be found in the whole GD state. A sort of duress I know myself. Times I think the error might be traced back to matter, the making of it in the first place.

So. First noble truth. It hurts to be. Duhkha. Suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness. We crave, age, we sicken, die. And it’s called noble because it’s good news. Good news because it’s the truth, said plainly, straightly.

My teacher gave me the name KyushunKyu, endlessshun, spring. One of the epithets for enlightenment. Occurs to me now, this cold cold blowy night, he wasn’t giving me that name he was giving it the world.

I don’t know what my practice is. I know my heart hurts. I can try to make it not hurt, like some ruffian to it, I guess, or I can let it hurt, tender it. But even then I don’t know what my practice is.

Is all I got for now. And love. And plum blossoms, who throw off the cold.

Safety pin note

Been so much dismal storm around safety pins, their moral meaning and weight, that wearing one, which was meant to mean

I’m with you and will help you out if you need me to if I can—

is at risk of meaning instead

I have taken a position in the debate over safety pins!

Goddamn. If anyone decides to kill off all the liberals, it won’t take a pogrom, it’ll only take putting us all in a room, and an invitation: “Talk to each other.”

That said. I’m wearing one and it’s sharpening my attention. Same as the precepts I took should (that’s another post). And I’m bothered by a small encounter and want to think and feel it through here.


I’m at Elizabeth Station, nice beer store / watering hole. Got an IPA I’m ready to buy, standing in line, and right beside me is a tasting going on – beers from my favourite brewery in the world. Unibroue, out of rural Quebec, they do the awesomest Belgians. (And you know, I’m tired to the bone of being American, suddenly keen to get my Canadian on. Quebecois, moi – vraiment? )

And K so, I’m not the best at breaking into ongoing conversations – I’m pretty damn bloody socially awkward, it’s been given me to know, on this point and others. That known, truth be told, I’m not at this point too aware of the guy presently tasting. He’s sipping from his taster glass, he’s not presently talking to dress shirt Unibroue dude. I step up

—Oh, are you doing a tasting?

And the spiel begins. Aged in cognac barrels, whatever. Pretty quick I can feel that the guy to my right, previous taster, is a bit put out. I’m not sure what it is exactly – strained smile? awkward stance? – but you’d sense it, too. Here’s where I take a few more visible facts of him in. Latino, thin well-trimmed beard, short, stocky, muscular. A smile that looks like it’s used to being friendly but just went to being thin and pained.

Okay. I’m in the middle of a micro-aggression I done. Even sweeter? I’m wearing the GD safety pin.

I want out. And am quadruply trapped: In the checkout line. At the tasting table. Wearing the GD the safety pin. Took the effing Buddhist precepts.

Quadruply stuck in a triangle of mutual misapprehension. I come up with

—Wasn’t Unibroue bought by Heineken or something?

—Sleeman’s. And they were bought by Sapporo. And they let Unibroue pretty much do their own thing. The Japanese can’t even pronounce the names of our beers.

That, from me, got a head tilt. A small thing, but the safety pin sent it to me, and I meant it as apology to the friend I didn’t make beside me, and I could see it got the message across the other spar of the triangle. The invitation to collaborate in an us-and-them, I’d turned down. Unibroue dude stumbled over his words a bit for a minute or two, till I bid him adieu.

Don’t wish him ill. He wanted to make connection in the how he knew to. Should be said, he sorely mangled the names of the beers he was pouring, Fin du mondeTrois pistoles.

Wanted, as I left, to find the friend I didn’t make, make eye contact, anything, but couldn’t. Liberal friends, conservative friends if I have any, we live in dukkha. Just gotta suck it up.


Did I break into an ongoing conversation cluelessly? I can do that. And that does happen all the time, esp. where beer is drunk. More to the point, did I feel licensed to because the man in the thin well kept beard wasn’t white?

I’m pretty self-aware, when I have time to reflect and introspect, and when I look in, I don’t find any sign of that. That a blind spot? Can’t, by definition, know.

If I’m honest about all the grubby factors that go on in male dominance calculi, our height difference was more likely a factor. But even that – not so much. He seems to me in memory grounded, muscular, sound in his frame, also open, friendly. The gorilla dog in me felt not threatening not threatened.

I can’t find a dominance intention in me. But maybe some cluelessness as to his sitch. Really the question here is, did he feel shoved aside, because I was white, and Unibroue dude was white, and he was not?

And here we are, that awful term and awfuller thing, white privilege. I don’t want it, don’t feel I have it, feel continually inadequate, but appear to be given it. At least that’s what I take from the body language and pained smile of the friend I didn’t make – something was not right for him and I was involved in it.

Tried, after I’d bought my beer, to catch his eye, make a connection – something to atone for what felt wrong and unfinished to me – and could not.

Atonement, that’s another post.


Last thought, a thread left stray above. One of the things we’re in here, with the election of Sad Trump, is a change in the chess game of the gestalt of masculinity. (Chess comes to me as trope because you can look to be losing badly – as I’ve felt we, who want to be voices of enlightenment and kindness, are – only to turn it round, wow, whew.)

I hope we’re seeing an old sense of manhood in its vital death throes. Not, please no, a victorious fascistic resurgence. (Fascist surges have never been victorious, long run; there’s comfort there.) But masculinity will not itself be extinguished. It needs to metamorphose. So I’m going to here if I need to be in my small way (10,000 hits in 2+ years is hardly more than a smudge) open, even at risk of being heterodox, about what that metamorphosis might ask. Of men, of all. Love to you friends.

Exercise: Mythtime, mythworld

Their writing exercise for this week, and it’s a tough one:

Write a poem that taps into myth consciousness. Pointers. Not literary myth consciousness, Hera, Zeus, Leda and the swan, that sentimental crap. The myth consciousness of Ghandl’s poems, all the world potentially sentient, stuffed with spirit beings. Awe, wonder, the sacred breaking down the door. To help that happen – no names of any gods or goddesses.

That would be Ghandl of the Qayahl Llaanas, classical Haida mythteller, in Robert Bringhurst’s translation.1 

Tough for students for whom Thor is a Marvel Superhero. I try to get across that the Greek and Norse gods of popular imagination are attenuated forms – you have to go back to Sappho at least, the Homeric hymns, to get a whiff of the sacred those forms were to their makers. Don’t know if I get my point across very well.

I say, when we talk about mythtime in Ghandl, that’s not only a distant past – it’s also just under the skin of this moment. Other cultures call it dreamtime. It’s what people take hallucinogenic drugs to get to. When you wake from a dream supercharged with with meaning – that’s myth consciousness.

Write a poem from that place.

How I put it in an e-mail to a student wanting to retell an Arthurian story:

The key to the assignment is to tap into myth consciousness. The state of mind that finds an enlarged significance in anything it pays close attention to. In Ghandl’s stories that enlarged significance is expressed as spirit beings and metamorphoses – how a bird skin can turn out to be weather, or a wife can be revealed as a cloud. In Greek myths, originally, that enlarged significance got expressed as “Zeus,” or “Aphrodite,” divine beings that embodied something awesome and terrifying – sacred – about being in the world.

But those myths have long since been attenuated, turned to literature, pretty stories. So I think have the Arthurian legends (which are legends, not myths, there’s a difference, though also some overlap). So it might be hard for you to tap into myth consciousness retelling one of those stories, whether or not you use the names.

I’m not going to tell you not to do it though; I’d sort of rather you didn’t retell anyone else’s story, but if you’re keen on this one, it’s not my business to stop you. Do apply this test to your poem though: Does it express wonderment? Not second-hand wonderment, coopted from the story you’re retelling, but your own, discovered in your encounter with the material.

The trick? The emoji on our iPhones, the Pokemon chars they spent a while chasing after, they too’s attenuated forms of that. We’re still after scraps of awe. Some of them are called metaphors.

A sorry nostalgic chase, I say, when leaves, wind, rain, sun, deer 953.

photo-23


1. Around which controversy skirled awhile. Whether Bringhurst had the right to. Whether those who said he didn’t spoke for the whole Haida people or no. I feel tender, tentative, around it all, but from what I can tell, Ghandl knew what he were up to, when he sold and told his stories to John Swanton, an anthropologist committed (unlike most – astonishing) to transcribing the stories he heard word for word. Was Ghandl coerced just the same? His culture was in grave peril. He could have had his stories die with him – perhaps let many to. He also, for reasons we can’t ask him, chose to sow this killing culture with seeds that flourish even today. Though the book‘s out of print.