The other day I found myself thinking I might like to have a gun. Not to shoot, it, of course—well, maybe. It was the gun as a piece of intricate, precision machinery that attracted me. Delicate mechanisms, superbly honed, flawlessly fitted, I could almost feel the pleasure of its balance in my hand.
It would be a small gun; a derringer, wasn’t that a lady’s gun? Something with a mother-of-pearl inlay. Almost like a piece of jewelry.
I remember when I bought my first—and so far only—pocket knife. The handle separated lengthwise and folded around to encapsulate the blade. Such a powerful feeling it gave me to hold it.
So what’s the attraction of the gun?
Just having it, I say.
It’s power. The pocket knife, upgraded.
I have to tell you that this desire, springing to mind as I came to the end of a peaceful walk with my dog, astonished and horrified me. Yet, I saw quite suddenly the beauty of a firearm, the way gun enthusiasts describe it. A small thing, so exquisitely precise as to be considered almost delicate—yet still deadly.
There was no redeeming value for me. And I knew if I possessed it, I would fire it. It had to be so; else why would it call to me?
Perhaps I am a firearm, compact, deceptively put together, masking my true form and purpose behind attractiveness. Perhaps humanity is a firearm, waiting to go off. But the trigger is so often pulled by some childish hand—and the world is never the same.
Desire rising. I heard a radio interview last night with a Jewish Biblical scholar. She said God desired Desire. And humanity was born.
Every time I feel desire, I am God.
Only God did something about it.
No Comments »
Parents die. Children may or may not do their best to keep the ties close, but the geographic and emotional center is gone.
It is the way of the world.
Sometimes, new geographic and emotional centers have been forming, even before the old ones passed away. Children marry and have their own children. For a while, the family expands. Like a cell dividing, it separates but the molecule remains.
Until death comes.
Life goes on as it must. It has always been this way; it seems likely that it always will be.
The Great Hand of Nature turns the kaleidoscope and shuffles the elements; new beauty arises.
Yes, someone close to me is dying. I am struggling to accept it.
No Comments »
Somebody sent me an email that warned me that muslin was out to get me, well not me in particular, us Americans. Now hold on a minute, I thought to myself.
I know muslin’s not really nice material like silk or anything, but I can’t see that that’s any reason to intend the people of this country harm. I suppose it could be upset that it never gets to go to the prom, or for that matter, get dressed up for any reason. But really, I just find this hard to believe. Muslin is such a nice, serviceable cloth; I’ve always liked it. Some of it is really soft and comfortable.
The email said that muslin wanted to kill Christians who didn’t convert, and as a formerly Christian country that obviously isn’t converting fast enough, we should all be afraid. I tried to see a connection, but all I could come up with was this: I don’t know about Protestants, but Catholic priests wear a lot of shiny satiny stuff when they get dressed up for church. Muslin must think we’ve gotten too uppity.
Well, before I got too freaked out, I thought I’d do a little investigating, so I went to dictionary.com to see what I could find out about this new enemy of ours, and I discovered something interesting. Way back when, muslin was actually a luxurious cloth. It originated in a city called Mosul in northern Mesopotamia, which is now Iraq. It used to mean cloth of silk and gold. It got its more modern meaning, “everyday cotton fabric,” from the US back in 1872.
OK, that sheds a little light. Maybe muslin is mad because the US didn’t recognize its true worth and value. Maybe it feels belittled. I feel kind of sorry for it.
Now I don’t know what to do. It’s a crazy world out there. Maybe I’d better go check my closets. I like cotton stuff, but there might be a shirt in there right now, plotting an attack.
Hey, we were friends once. Maybe I could put it on and we could go out for a drink—something that wouldn’t stain, of course. I wouldn’t want to be totally insensitive.
No Comments »
Is our government too big? I don’t mean in terms of programs, budget, sheer numbers of people, etc. I mean in terms of being able to see the whole picture, in terms of keeping the welfare of the entire country front and center in its mind (if government can be said to have a mind, but you know what I mean).
Call me myopic, but I think the major problem with our government (and not coincidentally with our educational system, our health ‘care’ system, our banking and insurance system, many of our large corporations, etc.) is that they are too big. In government, our representatives have lost the ability to see and the will to work for what is best for the country as a whole. In education, schools are turning out students who can’t think creatively or critically but who can pass the state tests (and don’t get me started on why graduating seniors have to be able to pass an exam that that tests only to the level of 9th grade). In health care, drug companies can’t afford to develop much needed medications because the ROI is too low or too risky in the first place. Do I really need to say anything about our banking and insurance systems? In those businesses and others, our leaders have allowed themselves to be committed to next quarter’s growth at the expense of long-term viability.
Why do we have all these problems? Because people are no longer part of the equation. When people disappear from view, all sorts of aberrations become rationally justifiable. And people disappear from view when things get too big.
Buddhists say everyone has been our mother and our father. How would we treat each other if we could see each other that way?
No Comments »
I sat out on my front porch this morning and listened to a storm approach. I love listening to an approaching storm. The first low rumbles of thunder somewhere over the horizon, the flicker of lightning, so subtle against the gray sky it barely registers. It was hot and muggy already at 7:30 a.m., the air thick and close and heavy.
I had abandoned my chores, drawn to the drama of the storm as I had been as a child. Then my brothers and sisters and I would run out onto the sidewalk, separate ourselves by the width of the small front yard, and walk backwards towards each other, hoping to crash just as the thunder sounded.
So I stood at the edge of the porch this morning, watching the gray clouds move in from the northeast. The thunder swelled. A small, deliciously cool breeze lifted a few strands of my hair.
I fixed my gaze on the treetops. Often I have traced the progress of the wind by following the movement of the trees. I wanted to see that now. It took some minutes, but—there! The topmost branches of several trees, a good 300 feet away, swayed.
Buoyed, I kept my vigil. At my level, the cool breeze had vanished, but then I spotted movement in several clusters of branches in a nearer clump of trees. I dared hope. The atmosphere, I noticed, had grown quite dark. Overhead, the sky cleared its throat.
And then it came. A sound I heard for the first time when I was standing at the end of a pier at a rural college in New York, looking out at a lake. A high rustling, like a taffeta skirt. It grew louder and louder until, up in New York, I finally turned toward it, muttering, “What is that?” And saw a broad, heavy curtain of rain moving across the water directly toward me. Transfixed—and really, what else could I do—I opened my arms to it. I was drenched.
That was the sound I heard now. At first, it mimics wind in the trees, and I can never be sure. But it grew continually, the minute pattering of a thousand tiny impacts, multiplied and amplified as it engulfed more and more of the woods that surround my house.
Finally it roared in my ears, and great fat drops of rain splattered at my feet. A moment or two more, and I had to retreat into the house as the storm claimed my sheltered space. I stood in the living room and drank in the sound, the glorious sound of rain.
No Comments »
I walked outside to have my coffee and toast on the deck this morning, and I was met with air that was already thick with humidity. “It’s muggy,” I thought. And that got me to wondering about this word.
Turning it over in my mind, I could immediately come up with several different uses, not for the adjective—that seems to have only one meaning—but for the verb and the noun.
There’s mug, to assault someone usually intending to rob him or her.
Or mug, to make faces, especially for an audience.
And that leads to mug shot, which is slang for a police photo but is also used to describe the singularly unflattering photographs that people must be trained to take at the driver’s license bureau.
And of course, there’s the common mug, or drinking cup of a certain size and shape.
A quick exploration of dictionary.com yielded the following clue to a thread that might link several of these. It appears that the mug-as-cup may have come from Scandinavian roots, the old word meaning drinking vessel. The notation that such vessels were sometimes molded to look like faces provides a plausible link to mug-as-face and mug-as-making faces. Scandinavia also appears to provide the root word for the mug-as-assault usage, as there was an ancient word that was apparently a slang term for fighting or striking in the face. (There’s that face connection, again.)
Muggy, I discovered, also has Scandinavian ancestry, an old Norse word that meant mist. Now I can draw a tenuous line (my favorite kind sometimes) from the wet contents of a drinking cup to the feeling of wetness engendered by exposure to humid air, as if someone had poured the contents of said drinking cup over my head. I love it when an exploration comes full circle (even if the circle is possibly a bit lopsided).
But then I learned that mug is also a British slang term used to indicate a fool or a gullible person. And now I’m stuck. Maybe there’s a saying somewhere (England, perhaps?) along the lines of, “She’s got the brains of a mug.”
Not that I feel that way … particularly.
No Comments »
The nail on my left index finger keeps splitting vertically. I don’t know why. Some soothsayer might read the sign of a deep internal flaw in my psyche, trying to get my attention.
The pattern on the carpet runs diagonally from where I sit. But if I turn my head, it becomes vertical. Just a slight adjustment of my view. And if I glance into the narrow space between the book displays, there is chaos for a moment before the pattern appears.
The mind loves patterns. It thinks it understands something when it sees them. Never mind that the whole thing is a fabrication. The truth is neither chaos nor pattern.
This morning a gray curtain of rain fell continually outside my windows on the world. The house was dark, even at 11 a.m. I fancied I felt the force of gravity pulling the rain drops fiercely down, or was it? My mind tells me the rain is falling down, but what if it were falling up? Am I sure it’s not? I see what I expect to see. What do I miss?
The other day on a whim, I decide to recycle some bags of plastic bags. I grabbed them and took them upstairs. It was lunch time and I was thinking how much I’d like a sweet potato, but I didn’t have any. I dropped the bags on the floor in the mudroom and one went thunk! Bags don’t thunk, I thought. I investigated and what did I find? A sweet potato!
I wonder how often a gift waits for me to discover it. I wonder how often I don’t know where I’m going until I get there.
Does the split in my index fingernail warn me I can’t keep it together, no matter how hard I try? Or is it the universe laughing at me for excavating meaning out of nothingness.
Well, that’s what we human beings do. And now I’ll file my nail, solve the problem, and forget about it, while the mystery beneath persists and waits for another chance to catch my eye—or my sleeve, which is how I got started on this in the first place.
No Comments »
Sometimes I just feel like writing a poem.
Mine was the life of the mind
Stimulating love affair with the intellect
I plumbed heights and depths of thought and was content
No one prepared me for this!
And after all these years, I still
Can’t understand where this astonishing capacity came from
How it is possible that I can care so much
I pray for a heart strong enough to bear the pain.
No Comments »
I’ve been thinking a lot about barriers and boundaries recently. For a while, I thought they were the same, but then I came to realize that they were quite different. And actually now, I’m toying with the idea that barriers might not exist at all.
I got started on this particular exploration because I felt like I kept running into barriers. You know them—rules, bureaucracies, laws of physics, etc. I didn’t like being prevented from doing whatever it was I wanted to do. I experienced the barrier as an obstacle to be gotten around somehow or—particularly when I was in a ferocious mood—demolished.
One day, however, a revolutionary thought popped into my head: what if I stopped trying to circumvent or push through the barrier and instead investigated it.
Now I’m in many ways a visual person, so in my mind I immediately saw a wall, and in my mind, I approached the wall with the intention of discovering as much as I could about it. Imagine my surprise when, as I got closer, I began to see that the wall was not a solid monolith. It had cracks and spaces. And it wasn’t a thin, hard thing; it was wide and porous.
And then a really curious thing happened. I began to see the barrier as a very dynamic place, a place where energy is being exchanged all the time. Far from being static, it was always in flux.
I could see particles of energy moving in this wide band, leaving, joining, traveling within the borders, which were themselves more like those clouds I see in the sky, fraying at the edges. It reminded me of a crowd of people, and suddenly, I knew how I could cross it.
All I needed to do was cooperate with it. It was the most natural thing in the world!
I mean, if I want to get through a crowd, I could just throw myself at the edges of it. I would probably be bounced backwards, maybe even fall down and hurt myself. A better strategy would be to move into an opening, any opening I see, and then find my way, small space by small space, through the mass until I reach the other side. And so what if my path is not a straight line? Nothing in nature is a straight line!
And here’s something even more exciting. As I feel my way through the crowd, the crowd itself, the flow of its very energy, can help me get through!
I bet you can see now why I’m thinking that there might not even be any barriers in life, just—let’s call them boundaries. Because, after all, a boundary is just a border area where something ends and something else begins. And if I want to get to the other side, it’s just up to me to find my way, step by step.
No Comments »
The email was sprung on me, an unexpected, unpleasant surprise. It was from my brother. His ex-boss, whom he considered also a friend – good man, devoted to his family, always upbeat and in good spirits – had died in a scuba accident. He had retired 11 weeks ago.
I sat back in my chair, my heart hurting, tears coming.
My reaction surprised me. Yes, the death was tragic. And yes, it was clearly sudden. And yes, my brother had ended his email by saying the news was affecting him more than he thought it would, and he asked for prayers.
But why was I sobbing. Why did I get up from my computer and start wandering through my house, wiping my hands across my face, massaging my forehead with my fingertips?
I heard myself speaking aloud, asking a question: What are we doing? We being Eddie and me. What we are doing being delaying his retirement. What if that happened to him?
I could hear the faint voice of my Buddhist training. We live in the eternal present. The length of time is irrelevant. Every now moment is infinite, boundless. 11 minutes, 11 weeks, 11 years, 11 decades—it makes no difference in the eternal present.
I believe this.
And yet I feel grief-stricken.
What if Eddie’s eternal present never gets to retirement? What if mine doesn’t?
What if I spend my life preparing, lining things up, fulfilling requirements that I made up in my mind and then took to be existentially true?
Ah, this is an old argument. In “Advice to My Son,” poet Peter Meinke says the trick is to live each day as if it is your last and yet plan for the future. Plant flowers—and vegetables. Serve bread with the wine. But, he ends:
“… son, / always serve wine.” (li 22, 23)
Every so often, I must be reminded of the fiction of long life. So I can practice—in Buddhist terminology—as if my hair were on fire.
Serving the wine. And drinking it. And maybe sometimes pouring it on my head. And grieving.
Meinke, Peter. “Advice to My Son.” Literature: The Human Experience. 9th ed. Eds. Peter Abcarian and Marvin Klotz. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins. 2006. 174-75.
No Comments »