480. 9 October 2006, Beloit, WI
Yesterday my friend P. came down to cook some food for us to eat and store for future, and we spent all day in the kitchen. I went to bed exhausted, overstuffed, and hugely content. I had intense, disturbing dreams, though, and Ive woken with a headache, having given myself permission to oversleep just this once. Im still full from yesterday, and have no real appetite as yet. I have things I want to finish today, projects I want to tie up, and so forth, and in the meanwhile, I am sitting at my secretary desk (an antique heirloom that belonged to my grandmother) which is the perfect size and shape for a laptop desk for me, and looking out on the woods and Turtle Creek behind the house. We are in the city, but we might as well be out in the deep woods, there is so much wildlife here, and were so densely surrounded by trees and nature. The leaves are beginning to fall, and some of are turning, but it looks to be a brown fall rather than a spectacularly colorful autumn display this year. It could end suddenly, too, with the cold front thats due to sweep down from Canada later this week. A few days ago the great blue heron was stalking in the creek; I saw him spear and eat a fish as I stood by the big windows, watching. The past few days have been sunny and warmer; we even sat outside on the deck for awhile yesterday afternoon, in between bouts of food preparation. The wind is making the trees dance now, green on brown. Its one of those natural scenes that you might not glance at twice, if your mind was elsewhere, but if you stop and sit and look for awhile, as this desk arrangement, right in front of the big living room picture windows, encourages you to do, you start to see that everything ordinary is beautiful. Even the dingy browns and greens of the woods, on this overcast day, are exquisite, as they dance in the wind, leaves blowing down from their tips to cover the ground. And just at this moment, a ray of sunlight breaks through, silvering the leaves some distance back in the woods with a shaft of light: benediction.
479. 7 October 2006, Middleton, WI
Im taking a respite day from caregiving. I drove up here to the Madison area this noon, partially through the back roads between Janesville and Edgerton, roads I know well, from when I lived here years ago, in this part of the state which is one of my favorite places, and one of the few places that I feel I can call home. Im sitting in my favorite WiFi coffeehouse in Middleton, sitting and contemplating, doing a little writing, a little reading, lots of quiet thinking. I am going to meet one of my best friends here for the afternoon, and dinner later; no agenda but a wander, a hike, maybe a bookstore or two, and some quite company.
In the back roads, I see the cornfields are half-shorn, some still with tall tan husks of dead leaves and stalks; on quiet backroads, houses near the fields with corn-sheaves tied together and proper on the porch on either side of the front door: ancient pagan symbols of the harvest, the corn-time, the autumn shorn and shriven, and winters sleep coming on; we all hibernate, dormant under the snow-whitened fields, sleeping with the rodents and bears, sleeping with the dead gods in their underworld; only to be reborn next spring. Brown Man will return to Green Man.
In my more neo-pagan, Wiccan moments, I find myself tied to the cycle of the Yearwheel again, now that Im back in a land with strongly-marked seasons, an agricultural area with traditions that go back centuries or more, even though some of the traditions are subsumed under the calendar of Christianity. Like exotic rocks protruding above the tilled fields, remnants of old festival and old beliefs poke through the mainstream religious country rock.
In the coffeehouse order line, a thin girl wearing black that exposes her thin arms and brown shoulders, pigtails of dirty blond hair; she wraps her arms around her mother as they stand in line, willowy, thin, and barely yet pubescent: an image of the Maiden with her Mother. Elsewhere in this quiet room, two Crones conversing at a table, elderly women who talk with heads together, sometimes laughing. The girls thin black dress clings tightly to her willowy frame, the curve of her torso, her long legs. An image of pure summer beauty, at the edge of womanhood and autumn.
A drive out to the Wisconsin countryside west of Madison in the afternoon.
Walking in the fields, then sitting under a shagbark hickory tree to watch the light change and become golden towards sunset.
Barns and barn-cats, sunning themselves on the concrete apron in front of the old barns red door.
The wind rustling the corn sheaves, and otherwise complete silence.
From the top of the hill behind the barns, a view across the land towards Blue Mound, and a glacial hill in the foreground with Indian mounds on it. Clear blue skies as crisp as apples.
Then, driving up over the ridges towards Sauk City, arriving at Fish Lake just after sunset, in time to catch the salmon-tinted clouds being reflected in the lakes still waters, with cat-tail reeds at waters edge, and the black totems of dead trees in the water, slicing the light above and below the waterline.
The Harvest Moon rising over Fish Lake, golden as the sun, and reflected in the still waters. A thing of silent beauty, out here in the low hills east of the Wisconsin River.
Its full moon, so the moon rose huge and gold, before leaping above the lake waters into the sky and turning silver as a coin spun into the night.
478. 6 October 2006, Beloit, WI
I want to recommend to you an article that speaks to me very strongly right now: Alzak Amlani, From India to Africa to Buddha: Weaving a path home, in the collection Queer Dharma: Voices of Gay Buddhism, Volume 2, edited by Winston Leyland. The first volume of Queer Dharma came out in 1998, and was such a success, and drew so many replies to the publisher, that this second volume appeared in 2000. There is something about Buddhism that speaks very directly to many gay lives, including my own.
Buddhism and particularly Zen Buddhism is one of the central streams of my personal spirituality, along with shamanism (spiritual technology), Taoism, Native American spirituality, the Medieval Christian mystics, neo-pagan earth-centered religions of embodiment such as Wicca, and Jungian archetypal, mythopoetic studies. These streams all feed into one unified way of being in the world, that presents with different facets in different circumstances. I find Buddhism particularly useful in times of personal distress, or in coping with the difficult times every life contains.
For purposes of meditation, here are some quotes from the article, along with some quotes cited in the article from other sources:
What is born will die,
What has been gathered will be dispersed,
What has been accumulated will be exhausted,
What has been built up will collapse,
And what has been high will be brought low.
This speaks not only to the ephemeral nature of human life, but also to entropy, to the processes of erosion, both geologic and psychological, and to the ideas we get from physics and chaos theory that the universe is always in flux, ever-changing, never static. (The only truth we can be certain will not change is that everything changes.)
One of the points that Buddhism touches on Christianity (and Judaism) is in the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament: particularly Ecclesiastes, but also the Proverbs, the Psalms, and the Book of Job. What is high will be made low is something many of the prophets have said, from Elijah to Ezekiel to Jesus. (I think Jesus can be well-placed in the tradition of dissident Judaic prophets, many of whom spoke about social justice as being essential to spiritual wisdom.)
From my personal and professional experience as a psychotherapist, it appears that most of us are called to find meaning and being a spiritual quest after certain crucial experiences of suffering. For some, this suffering is a constant ache for something more, what is referred to as Dukkha in Buddhism, a sense that something is off, not quite right in life. For others this Dukkha is riveted by some significant death or loss. For people with a different sexual orientation than the norm, the common experience of being an outcast, as well as facing familial and cultural homophobia while coming out, can surface this experience of Dukkha earlier in life. The AIDS epidemic has catapulted many individuals, and perhaps the gay community [as a whole,] into the impermanence of physical life. in my work on racism and the Sangha, Ive interviewed several people of color who have faced issues of oppression and can relate to experiences of shame, inferiority, anger, and fear towards the majority. These feelings parallel those experienced by gays and lesbians. Alzak Amlani
This is the best explanation of Dukkha Ive encountered in years. The sense of Dukkha is a key experience for LGBT people, it seems to me: the sense that there is something wrong with the worldalthough the world often tries to make us feel as though the wrongness were in us, ourselves, not in the world. There is the Tribal level of circling the wagons of conformity, the tendency to make different or unusual kids into the Other, to demonize, to place in exile (outside the community) any persons or behaviors not normative to the community.
We even do that within the gay community, to our everlasting shame, when we build our cliques based on ageism, looksism, anti-this and pro-that, etc. Disagreement seems to be all too often the root of hatred and back-biting, rather than dialogue and conversation. Why do we do this to ourselves? Are we so wounded in soul and body that the only thing we can do is lash out at each other, exactly paralleling how our oppressors have lashed out as us in the past? I confess that this is something about the LGBT community (if indeed there is a community, rather than just ) that I have never been able to comprehend. Sure, I know we have a lot of walking wounded. It just doesnt seem to me to be a healing act to perpetuate the same problems among ourselves that we had that we had that Liberation revolution about, that we started at Stonewall.
One of the explanations that is often given for this intra-community strife is that any such internal discontent arises from homophobia. While this is certainly true, and while there are certainly many instances of it in the LGBT commonality, it also gives us a convenient excuse, an Other to blame. We can blame society, in the end, because society screwed us over. So its okay for us to screw each other over, because we were screwed over first. (Paybacks a Bitch.) The problem with this stance is that it is an excuse to not heal ourselves, to not grow up, to not get over our own wounds. It can be used as an excuse to NOT take responsibility for the shape of our own lives, or change ourselves for the better, or to give up trying, or not even make an attempt at self-liberation. It can be very convenient to stay wounded, because that can give us a certain kind of power over the worldand over our lovers, friends, and family. Youll just have to excuse my offensive behavior, I was abused as a gay kid. Blaming an Other, even an internalized Other, is a convenient way of avoiding taking responsibility for the outcome of our own actions.
So, how do we get past internalized homophobia? As with everything else in spiritual life, the first step is to simply accept that its there. Rather than ignoring the elephant under the rug that no one wants to talk about, we pick the rug up and actually contemplate the elephant.
When we finally look at horror and joy, birth and death, gain and loss, things, with an equal heart and open mind, there arises a most beautiful and profound equanimity. Jack Kornfield
Amlani writes, in partial response to Kornfield:
My experience is that if we fully move through the crumbling of our lives with a certain amount of consciousness of reflective awareness, then when the resolution arrives, it is at a deeper level. A new understanding, a letting go, clarity, compassion, or peace arrives. Alzak Amlani
Jung once said something along the lines of: fate or destiny will rule any person who does not live their life with conscious attention. In other words, as long as we are living unconsciously, we are subject to the whims of fate, which seem to be coming from outside ourselves. They are in fact just those aspects of ourselves, within our unconscious selves, that we are projecting out onto the worlds screen and mirror.
Once we face the certainty that everything changes, that everything is subject to entropy and decay, that everyone we love will die (and even if we are reborn we will not always know each other again as fellow-travelers), the crumbling of flesh and spirit, once we freely accept this truth, then a liberation seems to happen, almost automatically. It is a relief to set down the burden of trying to impose order onto chaos, and stop trying to fix things that cant be fixed. We regain a huge amount of our personal energy when we stop trying to make everything in our lives conform to our ideas about the way things ought to be, and just go with the flow of how they actually are.
Sometimes this is the single biggest step towards spiritual growth: simple acceptance of the way things are, right now, right here, in this present moment, without judgment, without needing to change anything, or fix it, or make it better. Are not all attempts to fix things based in a judgment that there is something wrong? Is not even the awareness of Dukkha, and the activists goal of social justice, on some level based on a judgment that things are not as they should be? Anything based on a judgment will lead to suffering, simply because we are attached to an outcome. (And remember, rejecting an outcome is a negative attachment, in exactly the same way that desiring an outcome is a positive attachment. Both are still attachments.)
The ascetic approach emphasizes renunciation of sensual experience in an effort to achieve a one-pointed state of mind or a transformation insight; the ecstatic approach emphasizes engaging sensory experience with a radical shift in attitude to experience the divine essence within the forms of the phenomenal world. William Schindler
One of the most wounding things in gay culture, in my experience, is our judgments of each other based on appearances. In this, we are merely repeating the judgments placed on us by the mainstream culture, which itself is shallow and judgmental about appearances. But almost as wounding is our adoption of, on very deep levelslevels that we placed into our minds when we were children and the Tribe was caring for us and our growththe idea that spirit and flesh are opposites, rather than One. It is a Western philosophical notion, and a product of the Abrahamic religions that dominate Western philosophical assumptions about life, that the mind and body are dualistically divided and in contention with each other. The ultimate expression of hatred of the flesh, as opposed to its acceptance, is the monastic practice of self-flagellation, or other denigration of the flesh practices. In the end, these are simply self-torture. (I have often wondered about the connection between the spiritual seekers denigration of the flesh, and the S&M communitys parallel practices, on a purely technical level.)
Both ascetic and ecstatic approaches exist within the LGBT community. (One can argue that both also exist in the S&M community, whether hetero or homo or whatever.) They mix and merge in varying degrees, with various sub-groups within the overall community emphasizing various kinds of mix. For example, one group promotes sexual abstinence as a form of moral purity, while another group We can redefine chastity as Right Sexuality: it doesnt necessarily mean abstaining from sexual activity, but it does mean going about ones sexual contacts with conscious attention, right thinking, and lovingkindness. There is room in this world for the old archetype of the temple prostitute, the sacred whore, the sexual healer of others.
Let me restate part of what William Schindler says above: the ecstatic approach emphasizes engaging sensory experience with a radical shift in attitude to experience the divine essence within the forms of the phenomenal world.
In some ways, this is a Credo for myself, for what I believe in, and the way I work to live my life: as a shaman, a mystic, an experiencer of both Eros and Ekstasis, and an embodied gay man who has experienced that sexuality is very much an aspect of spirituality.
This is also a nice definition of Tantra: harnessing all experiences as fuel for enlightenment. As one of the original Buddhist precepts as listed in the Pali sutras says it: Everything is food. Everything that lives, eats: and what we experience, we feed on.
I am critical of the ascetic approach, when it is life-denying, and I affirm it, when it is life-supporting. My basic feeling here is that abstinence can be a good discipline, for various people, for various amounts of timea tool to learn some deep truths from. (Everything is food.) All too often, asceticism is anti-life, however, when it promotes the denigration of the present moment in favor of an afterlife reward. (The dogmatically dominant Fall/Redemption paradigm in all sects of Christianity, and the accompanying doctrine of Original Sin, falls into this camp.) This is the mindset that sees all flesh as not only impermanent, but evil. (The Buddhists at least do not judge Creation as intrinsically evil, just as the root of suffering.) This is the attitude that starts with hatred with of ones own body (and sexuality), and ends up with the desecration of all Creation, because, after all, the world is empty matter, with no spirit in it, and thus dead matter can be exploited in any way we desire. This is the anti-life creed of what in Late Capitalism has come to be enacted as environmental degradation for the sake of short-term corporate profit. This is rooted in Augustinian and Cartesian mind-body dualism: soul and flesh in binary opposition. So, we want to exalt the soul, as pure spirit, and deny or reject the flesh, as dead matter. This leads to those abuses of asceticism, and its extremes of abuse of the self.
We hear about transcending our ego, or seek to attain divine states and purity, beyond desire, beyond the body; we are taught that enlightenment is to be found through renunciation; we believe that it is somewhere beyond or outside ourselves. The notion of attaining a pure and divine abode fits unfortunately well with whatever neurotic, fearful, or idealistic tendencies we may have. To the extent that we see ourselves to be impure, shameful, or unworthy, we may use spiritual precepts and forms, we may hope to create a pure spiritual identity. In India this is called the Golden Chain. Its not a chain of iron, but its still a chain. Jack Kornfield
This is also the pitfall of spiritual materialism or spiritual athleticism: striving so hard at purity through meditation or religious practices, that one ignores everything else. There is ego involved in this ambition to be pure at any costhence its still a chain. It is still something we desire, something we cling to. The Taoist aspect of Zen Buddhism comes to the fore here, in the Zen instructions to let even ones ambition for enlightenment fall away: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. If we have an image or a goal, we still have an attachment to an outcome. When we can let even those attachments fall away, they come to us, all-undesired, all-unexpected, authentic and unblemished. The trap of the Golden Chain is in thinking that enlightenment is the goal, when ordinariness is enough.
Ordinariness includes daily life and embodiment. It includes immanence and mysticism. The miraculous is an everyday phenomenon, not something special. I can look out my window and see the miracle of the changing cycles of the Yearwheel, early autumn breezes knocking leaves from the trees, green falling to brown on the ground. That the seasons will continue to cycle long after I am gone is miraculous. That I have a body is miraculous. That my body and spirit are not separate, and are able to conjoin in ekstasis, which I have experienced more than once in this lifetime, is miraculous. This is the erotic and ecstatic viewpoint: that everything is alive with love.
In my own personal work touch became a powerful way to get out of the trap of the mind with all its expectations and standards. Getting a massage or being held gave me the experience of safety and trust that the body had forgotten. It relaxed and opened me. I remember a few instances when I would look in the mirror after a couple of hours of my partner and I holding each other, and my face looked completely different. My forehead, jaw, and neck would be fully relaxed and my eyes clear and soft. My partner noticed that my skin had a soft radiance. Although meditation had offered some wonderful states, this was different. My body had been held in the arms of love and acceptance and my heart heard it. It was a fuller experience of embodying. I consider this to one of the significant spiritual experiences Ive had. Perhaps it is in moments like this where the body meets the spirit. Alzak Amlani
Since growing up in a world that is oppressively homophobic means hiding who we are, our gayness, our true nature, sometimes for a very long time, our gayness often gets completely split from our spirituality. I think this is especially true for religious settings that have institutionalized homophobia to the degree that suppression leads to self-hatred. Discovering a mentor or teacher who is open to understanding what gay spirituality might look like, might become, allows us to explore those archetypes within ourselves that are Two-Spirited, anima/animus, hermaphrodite, androgynous: the stated goal of integration of the Self. I dont think a fully realized human being can remain homophobic: those fears of Otherness must fall away, in the arms of the Sacred marriage of the self with the Self. Internalized homophobia will dissolve away like wine.
To be able to embark upon the mystical quest with maximum confidence, enthusiasm, and energy gay people need to overcome their sense of ontological alienation from God; they need to know that God also truly in gay, not in an exclusive sense but in a sense of That too. God is gay because God is the source of love, all kinds of love. God is gay because God is both male and female as well as that which is neither. To truly know that God is Gay, that their deepest self is one with the Divine Self, gay people need to learn how they can approach God with and through their gay sexuality, without having to try to leave the essential component of their being at the door, as it were. What is needed to unleash the power of gay love to propel gay persons to the threshold of mystical realization, therefore, is a living spiritual tradition with direct access to the lines of transmission of powerful, systematic spiritual technologies, couple with rigorous elimination of intra-psychic and interpersonal homophobic processes that divide and dissipate ones psychic energies. William Schindler
I have noticed that often the greatest fulfillment in being with another has come when both of us become empty of self and let the Void fill the gap. At first there might even be discomfort, but after some of the words have decreased, a Great Silence, an Awareness, or Peace seems to pervade the space. honoring this space and paying homage to what appears is my spiritual practice. I find this occurs even in the midst of suffering and disappointment. By acknowledging and surrendering into the pain, a profound connection is made. We are both in it together, and in our togetherness there is deep compassion and love. Alzak Amlani
This is also my spiritual practice: honoring this space, the Void, minding the Gap, and paying homage to whatever appears.
477. 2 October 2006, Beloit, WI
A hot day, almost 90 degrees, a hot wind in the parking lots, and the sky full of cloud-wisps. I had another dental appointment todayI am getting all my overdue dental repairs done nowso I could be out in it for part of the afternoon.
Then, driving home, dramatic skies over the dead and drying corn rows. Golden afternoon light under the clouds to the west. Brilliant white clouds, greyed and standing tall, as the front rolls in. One thing about the Great Plains: there is no shortage of beautiful skies, and you can see the storms roll in for a long time before they actually arrive. These fertile lands made smooth by glacial polish and runoff.
At last, arriving home, a few drops of rain. A few drops to wet the land, not much more. Rolling thunder in the distance. And at sunset, an amber-gold sky.
476. 2 October 2006, Beloit, WI
Small rituals: at night, after midnight, nightwatch, when everyone is asleep, I go outside to the fairy circle. Its warm tonight, almost summery warm, not quite fall cool. The slight breeze is warm rather than chill. In the dark, the trees are full of insect sounds, late cicadas or tree-frogs; the distant highway traffic is white noise beyond the woods; I enter the circle, asking permission. I desire nothing, I want help and protection for my loved ones and myself, and I sacrifice my fears. I light a stick of dragons blood incense and place in a cleared spot in the ground (sacrificing myself). I pour milk and honey around the circle, and break bread to the seven directions. I pour apple cider around the circle. I stand there in the loud darkness and pray. There is a flash of light overhead, like lightning. I look up, praying, through the silent trees, to a gap in the branches directly overhead; the sky is clear and full of stars. Silence within, and without. I really have no purpose for ritual tonight, and nothing to ask: just an acknowledgment to the spirits of this place, who have indicated their presence with this perfect ring of white mushrooms, this fairy circle. Just an acknowledgment: I see you; I welcome you; I am grateful to you; I feel your presence; I thank you. Blessed be.
475. 30 September 2006, Beloit, WI
Out in the small woods north of the house, between our house and the neighbors house, yesterday there emerged a fairy circle: an actual fairy-circle ring of white mushrooms.
Fall is in the air. It was a crisp, warm autumn day today, with blue skies. We drove out to Darien, to have brunch at Millies Restaurant, and the cornfields are yellow and rustling, signaling the end of summer to the trees whose leaves are beginning to yellow and fall. It is autumn, although summer lingers still.
In the trees beside the house, the ring of white mushrooms is around the base of a hickory tree, and pokes up through the brown loam of fallen oak and hickory leaves. An almost perfect circle, almost eight feet in diameter, much larger than these fairy circles are supposed to be.
Its a time for the old religions rites, this evening, this night, these crisp autumn days. Its a time to remember the old cycles of birth, death, dormancy, and rebirth. The Goddess, ever-changing with the moons cycles, never changes. Her consort, the bright God, a Green Man and restless boy at Beltane, now ages towards his annual death: the corn-king, the barrow-god, the one who dies and is reborn each year with the seasons, the son of White Buffalo Calf Woman, the son of death and the father of rebirth. In Janesville, just north of year, a second white buffalo calf has been born, to the same farm, to the same herd, as the first white calf, Miracle, was born, some ten years ago. A second white buffalo calf, born on the Great Plains, a second miracle, a second chance for change. And the God dies, and is reborn.
naked cornfield nights
dancing ancient sacred rites
by new moons light
UPDATE, 30 October 2006: I did a little research or fairy circles, or fairy rings, and found out some things I didn't knnow about their scientific mycological basis. I don't think this kills the mystery, but it does explain its biological aspects. Here are some links: fairy rings, the best entry I've found so far, and I believe this is the species I have in the woods here; more facts; a Wikipedia entry; cooking fairy ring mushrooms (which I will never do, as I am allergic to mushrooms); another; yet another; and, for fun, here's something from the conspiracy/alien folks.
474. 26 September 2006, Beloit, WI
At my best, creatively, I seem to be capable of summoning emotions into music that are larger than the room itself contains. More than once, over the years, especially when improvising percussion and piano music, people have told me that they have been enraptured by what happened, that it pulled them in. A friend told me once that listening to one of the tracks from the Wind, Sand & Stars CD, she felt like she was receiving a Reiki treatment while listening. Im intrigued by the phenomenon, but I dont feel solely responsible for it. Its more like opening a window to let some greater Presence come in, and fill the room with the music of its being. Opening a window to a larger world, or opening a channel to a greater Being than I am myself. I take no credit for this; it just happens. If I have a gift at all, its in getting myself out of the way, so that this greater Presence can come in. Jungians would call it the presence of the archetypes. It is a liminal experience of the Threshold.
473. 18 September 2006, Beloit, WI
Big Life Changes
an open letter to my friends back in California
Last June, we found out my dad had colon cancer; it was discovered during a routine colonoscopy just after his 80th birthday. My sister flew back from Holland, where she and her husband live, to be with him during the surgery on July 5th, and I arrived sometime later. I had been planning to do a long road trip, anyway; through Texas and the Midwest in July and August, and up visiting my dad in Wisconsin, before heading back to California, and do more photography in the Southwest. We all decided together that I should still make that trip, rather than drop everything and rush directly to Wisconsin; so on July 15th, I loaded up the truck and drove cross-country to the Texas hill country for a week of music and hiking in the local state parks, and up in Fredericksburg. (And if you ever get a chance to visit Lost Maples State Park in TX, do: it's simply stunning. Although the label "strenuous" for some of the hiking trails is a major understatement.) I should also mention that during the entire time of my travels between California and Wisconsin, not one single day was cooler than 95 degrees, and most were above 100. I took my time driving, because of the heat, and stopped at Joshua Tree National Monument, which at the time was in the smoke zone from the San Bernardino wildfires (cough cough), then in western New Mexico, after stopping for an afternoon at Saguaro National Monument outside Tucson, and then for a night in Marfa, TX. After being in the Texas hill country for several days, I headed north up through Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois, to Chicago for a couple nights at the recording studio, with my business partners and musical collaborators there. Then I arrived in Beloit, WI, where my dad is, in late July.
Well, I'm still in Beloit, and I'm likely to be here for a long time, now. Things have changed since I got here, and my plans and my life have changed. I new that this year was going to be a year of Big Changes, and I even wrote about it, prophetically, last winter, in the Road Journal. But I didnt know what the changes would be, or when, or big they would be. The year isnt over yet, and the changes are still ringing through our lives.
It turned out dad's cancer had already metastasized, or spread throughout his body, and there were other tumors that they found when doing a PET/CT scan. He immediately started on radiation treatment, which has done wonders for his pain level and general well-being. A tumor in his sacral area had been pressing on the nerves down there, causing him a lot of pain (in the butt, literally), and making it hard to sleep. He was on a lot of pain meds for awhile. We had some bad encounters with narcotic pain meds early on, and a bad few days with his bladder shutting down, again probably because of pressure on his nerves there by the tumor.
The good news is, that all seems to have been completely cleared up by the radiation treatments; he is barely taking any pain meds now, he's walking well, albeit with a walker because his balance is still uncertain, and his appetite is much improved since the surgery.
The bad news is, he is now starting a course of chemotherapy, and then we'll find out how well he's doing when they do another scan in November. At that point, if the tumors have been greatly reduced by the chemo and radiation treatments, he will be doing very well. But the doctors dont know if the cancer will come back or not; and if the tumors have not been reduced enough, he may have to do more chemo sessions.
So, since my sister had to go back to Holland in August, I am here being my dad's primary caregiver. I know some of you have done that; it's a full-time job, as you know. I've helped friends with caregiving for cancer and AIDS, before, so I had a little knowledge going into this. But it's still overwhelming, and exhausting, and more than a full-time job. I am glad that my own life is such that I am able to help my dad this way, at this time, and he really needs me to be here with him. His prognosis, even with the cancer treatments is for about two years of life; either he'll get better before then, and possibly live for a few more years, or he won't make it much past that. The oncologists are talking about quality of life issues, rather than a cure. "Palliative therapy rather than curative therapy."
Also, we had to put my mom into an Alzheimer's residential-care facility here in town (it's just 5 miles away), in March or April, which was a real blow to Dad's morale earlier this year. He's so deeply in love with her, that sometimes when we get back from a visit, he weeps over her situation. (I am not usually a fan of Prozac, but Dad has been taking it for depression all through this cancer process, ever since his first hospital visit, during which he was very depressed, on his internist's recommendation, and I'm pleased about it.)
Dad has got some of the best doctors and nurses I've ever met, and I've been around medicine my whole life, since Dad himself was a physician when he was working. So, I feel like he is being very well taken care of, and we have lots of good people giving us whatever information we ask them for. On the other hand, his cancer had already spread by the time he had his colon surgery, but we didn't know it; as I said, that was discovered during a routine colonoscopy in June, and although that initial surgery was fully successful, and has caused him zero further problems, now we're dealing with cancer elsewhere in his body.
Needless to say, I don't know when I'm going to get back to California. I gave up a lot to do this, and be here, and sometimes I miss it very much, even though there isn't a thought in my mind of not doing this for Dad. So, I'm pretty damn overwhelmed, I'm feeling pretty cut offI love Wisconsin, but face it, there are far fewer musical and LGBT/social outlets here than there are in the SF areaI have way too much to do every day, and I'm probably not taking good enough care of myself, since taking care of Dad eats up most of my day, every day. I have barely even done any music or artwork of my own since I got here. I have a freelance or two to finish, and I squeeze them in as I can.
So, I'm pretty overwhelmed. This has all happened since I got here. Every week it's something new, some new drama, or cancer thing to deal with, and I can only say, I'm treading water so far. We both have good days, and bad days. None of this is exactly unique to our situation, there are plenty of other people even worse off, with cancer, AIDS, or worse. On the plus side, Dad has got good insurance coverage, and Medicare, and so we're not going to be destroyed financially by all this. We are also reorganizing all his finances so that they're consolidated into a trust that automatically pays the billsso I don't have to worry about forgetting to pay something, or missing some detail. That is all to the good.
I really, really want to stay in touch with my friends in California, etc. I really wish I could participate in the next SF Gay Mens Chorus concerts, but I don't honestly know when I will be able to get back to SF, even for a visit. I am hoping that folks will be able to support me by occasionally staying in touch with me, and reminding me that life goes on outside these clinic and hospital and homestead walls. Dad has got a lot of great friends here, who are being very supportive, and I have friends up in Madison and the Twin Cities, and down in Chicago, but my chances of being able to travel anywhere from here, for more than a day, are near zero at the moment. Dad needs me too much, especially now that he's starting chemo. On the other hand, guests ARE welcome to visit me here, so if you're passing through, let me know.
Needless to say, this is a lot to deal with. I have no idea what's next, and I'm living very day-to-day. I miss the ocean, and I miss the desert. Fortunately, I shot circa another 1500 or so frames during my travels to here, and this part of Wisconsin is lovely in summer, so I keep taking photos. Winter? Oh yes, lovely, but ask me come Februarys cold deep freeze how much I would rather be in San Francisco!
I may be here for a long time. I may need to travel back to California, sometime in the next few months, to put my other belongings in storage. (I'd love to be able to do it as a road trip, and have some time to visit folks, too. We'll see. You never know.)
Loving you all, and asking that you keep us in your thoughts and prayer-equivalents as you can
472. 14 September 2006, Beloit, WI
we, caught in a rigorous net, move on a circling path
The oncologist, very serious, very compassionate, tells your father he only has a limited time to live. Outside, the sky is full of small white clouds docking themselves against the wind-lashed cellphone tower two blocks away. It's so silent in the examining room you can hear the wind move the windowpane, and voices murmuring down the hall, through the closed door. The cancer has already spread. It was only a fluke they discovered it, and it's been going on for several months more than they knew. Now it's too late to cure it, they can only help postpone the inevitable, and they talk about quality of life. They can relieve the pain with radiation treatments; the doctor picks up the phone and calls his colleague who runs the radiation clinic, and gets an appointment for this same hour, tomorrow. Your father had to stop taking the heavy painkillers a few days ago, because he was having a toxic reaction. The oxycontin made him infantile, gone; one night, he chewed his dinner for an hour, never swallowing, even when you told him to. It wasn't working. Now, the pain returns, with his wits. You watch a stupid, funny movie at home that night, too stunned to do anything else. Your father has to sit on two pillows to relieve the pressure that brings on the pain; tomorrow, the radiation treatments start to relieve his pain, but it might never completely go away. It's a new, constant moon, a lover who stays for breakfast every morning. There's a very simple truth about pain that everyone with their theories, and their fancy languages, and their advice, and their encouragement that is designed to comfort themselves, not you, overlooks. No theology can address it, no doctor can answer why. No wind that moves through your afternoon backyard teatime, with the clouds deliriously skipping through the oaks, can make it go away.
471. 14 August 2006, Beloit, WI
Several days of sheer fucking hell. Whatever. Yesterday, at the oncologists office, we looked at the PET scan, and the cancer has already spread throughout Dads body; there are at least three other tumors in other areas. So, they got the colon cancer cleanly removed, but its already spread. We came home, my sister and dad and I, in almost total silence, and wept. Its stunning: you dont know what to do. This means that Dads recovery from cancer is far from over, and I may be here a long time. I called a couple of close friends with the news, because I just had to talk to someone, and they had some good advice: watch a silly comedy movie tonight; so thats what we did. (Actually a really good movie: Steve Martins Roxanne, which is a version of Edmond Rostands play Cyrano de Bergerac.) Today, Dad begins radiation treatments on two of the tumors, which is designed to relieve pain and increase his chances at living; quality of life matters, too. It is said that almost every family will experience cancer, nowwhich is a clue to how horribly we have been treating our planet, and ourselves, for far too longbut you never expect your own family to be part of those statistics. It hits very close to home.
470. 12 August 2006, Beloit, WI
Yesterday was a crisis day for Dad. We ended up taking him to the clinic, and he had a catheter put in, because he hadnt urinated in two days. He was so tired by days end, he was shaky and incoherent. We were wiped out, too. I hope I can get through all this. The narcotic drug they have put him on is making him infantile, unable to track things well, incoherent.
In all this, I feel the need to turn towards the Buddhist aspect of my spiritual practice (which contains elements from Buddhist, shamanic, mystical, and Native American traditions). I set up an altar in my room last night, with a Buddha statue that holds a tea-light candle in his lotus-bearing hands, and my khe (a Japanese meditation bell), and a beautiful statue of Shiva Nataraj (Lord of the Dance) that my family brought back from India many years ago. I lit a candle and tapped the bell, to clear the air, clear my mind, and let the lovingkindness rise up from nothingness. Peace with every breath.
469. 11 August 2006, Beloit, WI
I wondered if would have another shamanic dream last night, which would have been the third night in a row, which would have been perhaps significant, but last nights dreams before waking were comedic rather than anything else. Not that thats not also meaningful, but in a different way, perhaps, than one might predict.
468. 10 August 2006, Beloit, WI
In the dream, I am sitting and reading by water; this is an inlet cove at the end of a bay, or something similar; behind me is a hill, and tall cliffs either side of the water; there isnt much of a beach, but the water gets shallow and lies over sand and flat stone as the waves lap at the shore; its like a fjord, because the cliffs then continue around the landward side and go on as a steep valley; I am sitting and reading or writing, my cameras are on a rock next to me, as are my backpack, most of my clothes, etc.; there is a group of nude bathers lying prone in the shallows nearby, and another bather or two; most of them are nude; Im wearing a shirt, but no pants; suddenly, a wall of green water appears at the end of the valley, on the seaward side: a tidal wave, a tsunami; in the dream, and waking, my heart races, with fear and adrenaline; I grab my cameras and notebook and race to the side, towards the rise of the hill towards the cliff; the water comes crashing into the inlet, but then quickly dissipates; it floods everything, everywhere; but I have grabbed what matters of my belongings, and as the wall of water hits me, running, its only three feet deep, and even though I am knocked off my feet, I keep my head and hands, and cameras, above water.
Thats two shamanic dreams, two nights in a row. Both were about the flooding of the unconscious into waking life: the rise of the waters of the deep, the unconscious; the mysterious presences of the animal powers watching me, wanting to rise within me. Some surge of new life rising from within.
467. 9 August 2006, Beloit, WI
A series of intense, hauntingly visual dream images: driving a long way cross-country, alone, I stop to pause and rest and consult my maps in a southern town, maybe Tennessee or Missouri, rich green life everywhere, bougainvilla and hibiscus in flower, stately homes with lovely lawns, city parks by cool waters, to rest in; a mendicant walking with pack, staff, and companion dog, along a ridgeline trail in early winter; driving up winding roads in the mountains, we look down on meadows and fields below us, filled with gigantic, strange, furred animals, 50 foot tall animals that look like meerkats or strange prairie dogs, gathered in clumps, and staring at our vehicle as we pass by on the road above them; herds of strange buffalo-like creatures, gigantic and alert; small towns with the lights coming on at dusk, in early winter; a film crew making a little avant-garde movie, I tell the director who is my friend about my fathers cancer diagnosis, and while they are sympathetic, and some have similar experiences to tell, I feel misty and emotional as we move forward with our work; kneeling under a huge black umbrella, it slowly enfolds me inside itself as it collapses, and I struggle to open it up again, till after three attempts I finally get the umbrella to lock into its open position; the colors not muted in that last scene but with a limited palette of blacks, grays, and whites, like the light on an overcast rainy day.
what vast beasts move invisibly in us . . .
thick dark fur mottled with spots of dappled light from the trees surrounding the glade
dark eyes watching, standing erect on hind legs, forelegs relaxed and waiting
the great slow eyes of the beasts whose time has come to arise, whose patience endures long winters and longer eons, whose silent voices are vast and slow as the forest
these beasts arise in me, from places hidden in me, and greet me simply by showing themselves; my darker, richer selves
This dream reminds me strongly of a poem I wrote several years ago:
What vast beasts move invisibly in us
What vast beasts move invisibly in us:
furrowing to and fro the plains of our being,
to plant desolations and joys we have not yet named.
They are dark and huge, and mostly silent:
only a rare flash of inward lightning reveals their forms,
the turn of a muscled neck, the glint of an eye or fang.
Sing, then: sing inwardly. Light the fields with barleycorn
burning effigy husks. Make them brightly puppet-dance.
Sing the snakes water-way through the cracked earth,
uneven and lightning-forked: the feathered snake, lunging.
Sing as if life mattered, and you were still alive.
Till the inward fields with song. Harness the invisible:
each vast-shouldered shadow tamed under the hunters mane.
And the plains themselves: a furrowed song,
a fallow song: till, like the corn turned under
and despairing. Every row a graveline tended
by nothingness and air. The earths dark breathing.
A naked woman, under a crescent moon, planting.
She weaves cornstalks into autumn tapestries.
All the earths colors: the suns, too.
A harness of nativities embracing the soil.
A man broken by blood and new-turned loam.
Rain smells, forest smells, birds calling. A storm.
The fields themselves a memory of being born:
tamed by the furrower, still wild in the winter midnight.
This was a shamanic dream. Its been with me all day. I keep coming back to it. The image of the giant beasts below the road, looking up into our eyes, watching calmly. Their fur was dark, dappled with sunlight and shadow from the tall trees overhead; they stood in a clearing, really, a circular gap at the side of the hill, just below the road. As we drove above them, two more came in, and rose to their hind legs, like prairie dogs; one put its forepaws out towards us, in a gesture like benediction, greeting, or like praying hands.
466. 7 August 2006, Beloit, WI
Yesterday was what we call a Bad Technology Day: nothing worked, even though there was nothing wrong, and everything resumed working today, as though nothing had happened. Im not going to Faerie Gathering this year at Kawashaway; Id like to, but Im needed here, and so I cant go. I called Penny, and hes not going to Gathering either, as they got only a very little way yesterday, then their car died on them. They didnt even get out of Chicago. Theres a few things going on otherwise, too, but that was the worst of it.
465. 5 August 2006, Beloit, WI
Its been cooler the past few days, after the major heatwave that has lasted all summer. Some parts of the country are still burning, but its been in the 80s here: ironic how the 80s can seem cool, after the many days topping 100 degrees. When I was driving across the country, most days it topped 100, everywhere I traveled. Theres even a cool breeze this afternoon. Im sitting on the deck in the backyard, listening to the cicadas in the trees surrounding us. And traffic noise, and planes, and the freeway from some miles away; it blends into white noise in the still afternoon. But then a cardinal zooms by where Im sitting; the neighborhood flock of wild turkeys meanders across the lawn; and birds sing from the various trees. Not too long ago, there were woodpeckers in the oaks soaring above the house. The clouds are standing tall to the east of here, and moving quickly from south to north: storms, for someone, some hours from now. I record another ambient piece for the Road Journal podcast.
I am feeling light and almost merry again today. I know that my moods are affected by those around me, especially if I forget to shield. When Im tired or emotionally strainedand with Dads cancer in play, and going to see the doctors, and so forth, how could I not be strained at times?its even harder to shield. Today I felt good, even when we went to see Mom at the Alzheimers residential care place where she has been since March of this year; we brought her a new purse, to replace her broken one, and she was charmed and even silly and funny about transferring the contents of her purse from old to new. It was a nice visit, except at the very end when she wanted to leave with us, which she hasnt tried to do for some time.
464. 4 August 2006, Beloit, WI
Yesterday we took Dad to see the oncologist. There are new problems, unexpected results from CAT scan; he still has cancer, and is going to need some kind of chemo. The doctor is still trying to determine what level of cancer is involved, or if its spread past the colon to the bones, or beyond.
I feel a little vaporized. I sort of collapsed last night, although I couldnt get to sleep till very late. What was theoretical, or possible, is now real, and its a blow.
Both my sister and I have given up a lot, each of us, personally, to be here to support our dad. Its not forever, and still, its a lot. Yesterday, it seemed endless, and enough to make one despair. Its not so bad this morning, although I still feel vaporized.
463. 2 August 2006, Beloit, WI
One of the positive things about being back here in Beloit is that I have access to my library of books that have been in storage for two years while I was Out West. I have been reading through Queer Dharma: Voices of Gay Buddhists (ed. Winston Leyland, Gay Sunshine Press), and find it timely and relevant to my own life now. There is a strong thread of Buddhist thought in my own spiritual life. I have never felt called to take formal Buddhist vows, and I dont call myself a Buddhist, but there is a lot there that I have learned from. Even rejection is a form of practice.
I feel light about being here, this morning. It is an opportunity to practice. Tantric Buddhism offers us the chance to practice even in the face of death, decay, disease, sex, love, and all other forms of judgment and attachment, so that we can learn to let go of those same judgments and attachments. I have done some significant spiritual work about letting go of the ties to my birth family; as a gay man, I am hardly alone in that practice, nor as a shaman. Yet, here I am, back in the fold, helping my aging parents to slowly dissolve and die, caring for them as we can, my sister and I, as they go. My attitude is more Buddhist than Christian, throughout all this, I keep noticing. The ephemerality of the present moment is highlighted when you have to live day to day, hour to hour, with challenges and complications. It all resonates in me. There are new challenges every single week, often every single day.
And there is continual wisdom for me in Buddhism. I find myself drawn again to the Red Thread tradition in Zen, that practices sexuality and spirituality together, side by side, both grist fro the mill. I am always drawn to the Tantras, and to Tibetan Buddhism; there are teachers in that lineage who have given me great gifts, even though we have never met face to face. Pema Chodron, for example. I learn continuously to practice sexuality without attachment, compassion and love for the one youre with, even as you love each other in whatever ways that manifests.
So, here I am. Its an opportunity to deepen my practice. As I said, I feel light about it at the moment. I know full well that on other days, it will feel burdensome and too heavy to carry. I know that other days I might weep over it, and grieve. Yet that, tooas all fully embodied, fully lived emotions arecan be practice, and fulfillment.
Blessings on this morning.
462. 31 July 2006, Beloit, WI
Compromise, compromise, change, change, whatever. Sometimes you have to make changes for no reason relevant to you, but for others needs and wants. The tricky part is figuring what you can compromise on, and what you cannot.
Ive been here for a few days, and Ill probably be here a long while. I am learning how to help my father, who is recovering from colon cancer surgery, and about to start cancer treatments, probably including chemotherapy; his advanced age is part of the problem, hes weak and I need to do a lot of stuff around the house. There are good things about all this, yet at times I feel trapped. It all still has to be negotiated, and worked out, and talked about. Its all still in flux. Im living day to day; at times it feels as if through no will of my own.
Last nights dreams were vivid and were about traveling across the face of the world. Places with people, staircases up and down on mountain towns, stopped there to do a performance with a chorus of men; in the early morning, climbing up for breakfast; the staircases are outside the buildings; a group of women, in uniforms, employees of the resort, are sitting outside on an upper patio, chatting, eating breakfast, knitting, reading; they ignore me as I pass through them; twisting mountain roads that curve and go around hidden corners; crisp, clean air.
461. 29 July 2006, Beloit, WI
Arrived here yesterday afternoon, after a last drive through traffic and heavy construction. The Illinois Tollway fees are raised to an extortionist level while they build their new tollway system, which is going to be based on electronic charges on a pass-through system. A ridiculously high fee at some toll-booths, even for this interim period.
Mixed feelings about arrival. Now that Im here, I miss the road. I miss the desert, and the ocean. I miss friends out West. I am giving up a lot, to do this, to be here. I will be here for awhile, I dont know how long yet. I would love to have more hot days, and I dont know if I can stand the long winter here again, after two much milder winters in California. I havent even settled in, I just got here. I could sleep for days.
460. 28 July 2006, Chicago, IL
Two quotes on creativity and artistry:
Robert Fripp: The creative impulse animates whatever instrument is placed at its disposal.
Kevin Kling (paraphrased, as I dont remember the exact words): As artists we have a responsibility to stay mad. As artists, it is our responsibility to help others to laugh because that makes staying mad tolerable and survivable. As artists, we have to give people stories that the media and news won't give.
Tornadic Clouds & Sunset, 27 July 2006, Chicago, IL
459. 26 July 2006, Chicago, IL
Made it here late last night after a 700-mile, 13-hour drive, from Tulsa, across the wide hills of Missouri, and then across the flatlands of Illinois. Talked late into the night, then collapsed. I sleep wherever I fall. Any floor is as comfortable as any other, but not all beds are the same.
While we were talking last night, there was a 40 minute power outage; we sat outside on the deck with candlelight, and watched the fireflies pulse along the dark alleyway behind the studio building, and watched the orange glow of the city reflected on the low clouds, like some presage of an apocalyptic nuclear winter. Then the power quietly came back on, no drama, for reasons unknown. The internets still not back, though. I slept the sleep of the exhausted, 9 hours or more, and I woke somewhat refreshed. The skies are gloomy and lowering, and the breeze is warm.
In this nationwide heat wave, everywhere I go, the winds are hot rather than cooling, the basal air temperature in the 90s or 100s, and the world is finally waking up to the truth of global warming. Hurricane season this year could be devastating again, with all the extra heat in the system. Mother Earth has been talking to us, if only wed listen: major earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, heat waves, melting glaciers, and all the rest of the natural so-called disasters of the past few yearsdisasters for whom, one asks? For humans. We live on a dynamic, active planet, and we live on her fragile, malleable skin. Its about time we stopped taking it all for granted, and noticed. If it seems like more disasters are happening than ever before, some of that is just the effect of the increased news access to the more remote parts of the planet: we notice and report these events faster than ever before. Yet, there do seem to be a lot of them lately: Mother Earth, shrugging her shoulders, telling her wayward children to wake up and pay attention, before its too late. Beauty is just the beginning of terror, as the poet said. Watching a natural disaster unfold from orbit, no doubt it would look beautiful and awe-inspiring, till you scaled down and realized how many were dying of that beauty. Driving across the West these past two weeks, seeing all the desolate beauty: realizing how much of the land in some areas is still covered by the volcanic tuff and rhyolites of the ancient supervolcanoes of the region, of which Yellowstones hot spot is a small modern remnant; but the hot spot is still there, and if a Western supervolcano were ever to reawaken, it could devastate the entire hemisphere, and bury the world under a cloud of ashes and smoke, creating a nuclear winter effect. We live on a dynamic, active planet: such things have happened in the millions of years past, and can happen again. Right now, we worry about global warming, and rightly so, forgetting that the geologic record indicates that right now we are in a brief warm period between cold spells, an interglacial pause. Right now, we have so over-populated the planet with our own fecundity, that any natural disaster, on any scale, kills people; simply because there are too many people on the planet, taking up all the available space, populating the former wildernesses and oceansides and inaccessible regions so that nowhere is safe. Nowhere is safe on a living, dynamic planet: earthquakes and tsunamis and global warming, oh my! Surrender, Dorothy: time to wake up to the realities: we are fragile species on a dynamic planet. We need to pay attention to that, and prepare for it, and think ahead. There will be more disasters to come. We need to be ready.
458. 25 July 2006, dusk, a Hwy. 55 rest stop north of Springfield, IL
I stopped here to take a break, and rest and maybe eat something. Its just after sunset, the sky is darkening, although the heat remains intense. Chicago is another three hours of driving from here, but I want to try to make it, anyway, if I can. Ill stop if I cant go any further. But Id rather save money and not do another hotel tonight; theres no way to find a campground now, and Im not wanting to futz with unloading and reloading the truck now; the back hatch on the truck has got a problem, so I dont want to strain it.
The cicadas here are amazingly loud, louder even than the traffic nearby. I am recording them as I sit at a concrete picnic table across the lawn from the parking lot. A firefly blips in and out of sight, at the picnic table where I sit, typing. The clouds are just turning pink with sunset, little ribbons in a clear blue sky. The heat wave which has been crushing the countryside all this time Ive been traveling is lessening, a little, but it still reached the upper 90s, and even in the evening, 80 degrees feels cool now. If I stop periodically, and take breaks, and eat a real meal at some truck stop somewhere, I might make it. Most of my snack food, brought along since Texas, is eaten or no longer good to eat anymore; I dont mind tossing it, if necessary, but it leaves me with nothing to eat. I crave a real meal; a meal I cooked; a hot meal; like the grilled t-bone steak and grilled zucchini we made that last night at the cabin.
Well, time to saddle up and get going, again. I made two recordings of the cicadas, traffic, and the rest of the ambient here. The cicadas are loud.
From the Road Journal podcast:
Illinois rest stop cicadas 1
Illinois rest stop cicadas 2
457. 24 July 2006, Tulsa, OK
Ive only been able to drive this far today, after spending the night in Austin last night, with some of my best writer friends. I hadnt seen them since we all moved away from Minnesota, near the same time, a couple of years ago. It was a good visit, lots of good talking, if a short one. Im pretty wiped out, and worried about spending the money on a hotel, but I was too tired to do anything else, and this is a good hotel; free WiFi is getting common with these hotels, now, which I find very convenient, since I live out of my laptop. I am going to go back and edit some entries on the Road Journal here, because I just dont want to present myself as so raw and angry as I have been feeling lately; its just venting, and its not serious, but people who dont know me cannot know that.
The day began in Texas with the incongruous sight of fields of trees and prairie grass also filled with patches of prickly-pear cactus: a very surreal combination. The sky was stacked with clouds all day as I drove, then cleared to amber towards evening. Oklahoma is a lovely southern prairie state to drive across: low rolling hills like waves, red soil, dark rock in the roadcuts, trees everywhere. I drove a long, long time, stopping often for rests and to try to nap once or twice, although I couldnt. I slept poorly last night, or rather, couldnt get to sleep right away; so I felt a little grimy-eyed at times, today, but not too bad.
At a rest stop, had a conversation with an old man, an ex-trucker from Arkansas; he had taken his dog and his station wagon and left his childrens family in southeast Oklahoma earlier today because he didnt want to be around them doing dope; we talked about the weather, and Ill tell you what, we even agreed on politics: he hates the current administration, and the war, and how badly the economy is now compared to what it was ten years ago under the previous Presidents administration. An interesting conversation; his dog was also friendly to me. This was at a rest stop in the high heat of the day, just over the border into Oklahoma, with a hot breeze under the trees; I thought to take a nap, but it was too hot to sleep. Then I drove on; we wished each other safe journeys.
This heat wave is hovering over the entire northern hemisphere; the fires in California are still raging uncontrolled, more than a week on, now. I remember back to the smoke zone that I drove through, and slept under at Joshua Tree, and the clear skies here seem like another world, even if a world that is just as hot and sweaty as the other.
Im worried irrationally about money, and my broken glasses, and having to ask Dad for financial aid when I arrive in Wisconsin, even as he just got home again from the hospital today. Im tired enough to sleep now, after doing some reading, and watching some brainless TV, but also the weather channel for travel updates. I might make it all the way to Chicago tomorrow, or I might not. Either way, its going to be a long day of driving. Maybe Ill stop in and look at some of those Ozark hills parks in Missouri that are dotted along the highway. Maybe Ill just drive on through. I look forward to sleep, and a big breakfast at dawn, and the road stretching out before me again.
The road is my home, more than any other home, right now. The black road, the white road, the dawn road, the evening road, the glaring bright road, and the road that hides terrible fates (the black car of death) around every curve in the dark night, where the road twists too tightly for the high-beams to tell you whats ahead. Such mysteries that we are made on.
456. 23 July 2006, Foxfire Cabins, near Vanderpool, TX
Part of a longer dream sequence: I have to go to some event, so I leave the wedding Id been supposed to attend, with three friends, one man and two women; we go with the blessings of the bride and groom, who are compact Filipinos, or otherwise SE Asian; we get into my truck and go; everyone seems to understand that we have to go, that this is duty calling, not a whim; except for the second woman, who joins us at the last minute, who has a crippled leg and uses a cane, but gets around with no problems; as we race down the steep church steps, I ask if she needs help, and she smiles and says, thanks, shes fine.
In the morning here after the dampness of yesterday, I wake to another hot, sunny day. Most of the days on this journey across the country, the temperature has topped 100 degrees. Only yesterdays rain kept it cooler, although when the sun came out later it was in the 90s, at least.
I have seen tons of butterflies here. I am still not sure what it is they are saying to transform; perhaps myself, perhaps a situation, or another person. I have also seen, in this area and the rest of TX that Ive visited this trip, roadrunners, jackrabbits, lots of deer (we saw more the evening we drove back from F Burg), some enormous beetles, lots of doves (a great variety of birds, actually), hawks, vultures, cacti mixed in with the deciduous trees (which just looks ODD), and lots more.
455. 22 July 2006, Foxfire Cabins, near Vanderpool, TX
My last full day here. I wake late, after staying up late. The morning light is calm and still, and the air is not yet as hot as it has been in the afternoons, these past few days. Last night, we recorded SH reading some of my poems, as he had done for me years before. I like the way he reads my work; of course, hes familiar with it, too, both topics and style. I find myself already thinking about moving on form here, but also about what else we can do today and tonight, before I tear down all the recording gear and pack up the computer. etc. Last night, I took the laptop out to the picnic table and recorded ambient night sounds. If the cicadas start singing loudly again this afternoon, I will want to record them, as well. Cicadas, with their loud long buzzsaw wails, are the pure sound of high summer, for me; the sound of relentless heat and distance. Moving on, staying still. Forward momentum. Its time to imagine the next roads, and where they will take me.
Did some more recording and listening to of music by both of us. Then, the skies darkened, the wind came up, and there was a short but intense rain shower, with water drops falling from the tin eaves of the porch afterwards, and rolling thunder very close by. I recorded the rain going away, from peak to a few last thunder rolls in the distance, about 20 minutes worth. Now the sun will probably come out again, speckling the trees with jewel-drops. The rain cooled off the days heat, and made it much more pleasant in the afternoon. Almost time for a siesta, but I may take a walk in stead. At last, starting to feel relaxed, and letting go of every expectation and desire: the day before I hit the road again. Thats the way it always seems to be: you just get settled in, then you must move on. Im going to go out in the already-drying air and take some more photos, of the wet trees and leaves, live-oaks and flowers. Magical.
I took a short hike around the area, just as the sun came out and it got hot again. Cicadas in the trees by the road, but not by the cabin. Toads began croaking, thankful for the rain. Later on, we grilled delicious, tender, t-bone steaks on the grill, with grilled zucchini, and ate outdoors at the picnic table. The skies darkened as we ate, a few gusts of wind blew in, and lightning strokes in the distance. Just as we cleared the table and went in, it began to rain again. Another brief shower, nothing much, but enough perhaps to make the toads sing again in gratitude, later this evening.
Well, no more toads singing, but another, even more dramatic rainstorm swept through. I took the good mics out on the porch, and did some more ambient recording; got two or three really excellent recordings of rolling thunder. Now, much later, we have torn down our respective music gear and packed our vehicles, except for clothes, coolers, and last minute items. Its been a good week, a good visit, a productive and successful time together, even if we did get less done than I had envisioned. Some of that was just that things werent fully prepared; some that I could only do so much recording before hitting the wall, mentally and technologically.
Came up with some new ideas while talking things over, and also, listening to SH read my poems as I recorded them, I learned where some gaps were, and what I need to fil them with; the Books, for example, need to be filled out with some new poem series on the remaining five Chinese elements: metal and air. I have already done water, earth, and wood; and the water and wood poems are among the best in this sequence, or collection.
Ive been re-reading Basho all week, The Narrow Road to the Interior (the Sam Hamill translation): a favorite pocket book I carry with me on my travels, that never ceases to inspire and suggest where I might go next. Basho said, Dont imitate the masters. Seek what they sought. And that is what I continually do, or attempt to do. Basho is in some ways my poetry master, but its best to follow him in spirit rather than in literal imitation. The same holds true for Issa, who makes me laugh, and whose sense of the absurd, and the place of man in the vast universe, is excellent. I was never a big Buson fan, and recently I figured out why: he is painterly, and imagistic, but it was also his style in ascendancy that influenced that first wave of haiku being brought into English, and thus it is also still Busons style that many people continue to think are the haiku rules in English. At that time, Buson was in ascendance in Japan, and so many people thought that was the ultimate in haiku its led to some real distortions, in my opinion; I mean, even Shiki, in his revival, praised Buson over the others, and largely dismissed Basho; now that Basho and Issa are more in the ascendancy, though, I think the balance is there. But one still has arguments with recalcitrant English-language haijin whose ideas of the rules are what they got from folks who wrote their translation and writing guidebooks under the influence of Shiki and Buson. Frankly, Buson is pretty, and elegant, and imagistic: but superficial. He lacks Bashos spiritual depths, and he lacks Issas humor and subtlety and emotional dpeths. Buson was a painter: his haiku are all surface, all painterly, all imagistic. Basho and Issa regularly break the "rules that so many English-language haiijin keep swearing by. Its an ironic and ultimately tragically stupid situation.
I am more than half=packed for the next stage of my journey. A brief stop in Austin, then another series of day-long drives, not knowing how far Ill get, or where Ill sleep, then Ill be in Chicago, and then Ill be home in Beloit. If thats home. My glasses broke again today. I hope they can get me the rest of the this distance, this journey, before completely dying. I hope, I wish, I pray.
From the Road Journal podcast:
Foxfire night rain
Rolling Thunder at Foxfire Cabins
454. 21 July 2006, Foxfire Cabins, near Vanderpool, TX
Swarms of patterned sulfur: black orange-eyed petals, immolated on sun-heated high-speed windshield and grille. Blue-black flickers on purple thistle by ponds green and deep in rust-stained white-cliff limestone. Rivers carved incessantly from old seabeds, risen exposed high into calving sun. Caves blink in darkening light, open mouths astonished, exclamatory. Teeth hung from edges of riverine stalactite-stone, vine, aerial moss, soil sinking down, root-bound, rippled, conclave of gathered bindings. Scatter of summer-snow on black stone under spreading maples, tiny leaves bunched in pallid exuberance.
wing and field of wings,
bright black echo of sunhide
cloud of butterflies
Huge sycamore fans, smooth green-barked tall stands: arboreal greeting of shy acquaintance. Clustered waves, small hands of antique isolated sugar maples from a time before time. No need to seek a horizon: it moves underfoot, bounds up trails and strenuous spectacles, dives naked into greening forest pools, where small mysteries and tall deer-antlered gods watch laughing bathers, sun-turned and intimate, tell secrets to the wind and light and echoing cave-cliffs.
geisha flutters fan,
red thread of summer desire
dead maple branch
Words these dolomites know as well as any ear-filled tree. Insect hum and cicada shriek in dappled forest naves, white boulders and green lichen interwoven. An antlered prayer, forest-whisper, a disappearing wind-tremor. A thrumming wing, stirring the breeze under these trees, could summon anything, any god, any gate into return. What must be renewed but these amber rivulets, these cyan pools, these blond ledges.
butterflies, dark blue,
flung into cyan skies
portals of heaven
453. 21 July 2006, Foxfire Cabins, near Vanderpool, TX
Yesterday we hiked up in Lost Maples State Park, a beautiful place that I would love to visit again. We took the East Trail, which was scenic and beautiful till it reached the area called the Ponds. After that, it was a near vertical climb up to the top of the plateau, which in the hot sun and dry air was much more an exercise challenge than I had wanted. The trail on the other side was just as bad, although going down was easier than going up.
The trails were marked strenuous, but thats a major understatement. By the time we got back to the car, I was at my limit, and had to quickly find some Gatorade and orange juice to recover. We whipped down to Vanderpools only mercantile store for that, which is close to the cabin. It didnt help that I was so tired near the end of it all that I got confused, took the wrong trail, and went in circles for awhile, adding to my frustration and fatigue. When you see the same part of the trail, the same rocks, three times, you get a little bent out of it.
But I got many good photos at various spots, and we saw a young armadillo shoveling its way through the fallen leaves. It was unafraid of humans, and small, so we figured it was a young one. It was fascinating to watch it tunnel through the leaves and dirt with its armored snout.
The maple tree species here were geographically isolated during the last glacial period, and so are a kind of sugar maple unlike any other in North America. They are truly strikingly beautiful: huge clusters of small leaves in dense patches, twisting roots holding them to the hillsides. A very beautiful tree species. I really like this park, after all.
Later in the evening, I grilled chicken outside, with potatoes. I should have made a hotter fire, as it took longer to cook than planned. But sitting there under the live oaks and watching the sunset, while I waited, was no bad experience. We also have a couple of steaks that I will probably grill tomorrow evening.
Music work here goes in fits and starts. Getting some stuff done, having to let go of getting more done. Drop expectations, and just do what can be done. If I get something good out of these sessions, great; if I get only bits and pieces that I have to work with more later, thats great, too.
We did the tourist thing in Fredericksburg, TX, today. Unfortunately, had a flat tire just past Medina, and so got hot and sweaty putting on the spare, then spent 2 hours at the Wal-Mart tire center in F Burg getting new tires. So, didnt get to walking around the downtown shopping area till 2pm, in the high heat of the day, and so got back to the cabin late, tired, and footsore.
I found some good shopping items as travel gifts for family and friends up in Wisconsin and Chicago. Spent a little money. Found a restaurant with wireless internet, and spent an hour doing email and other online chores. Email piles up when youre off the grid like this, and youre not checking it daily. There were over a 100 new emails, mostly non-interesting but mostly stuff Ill read later to catch up on. Also, while in town made some necessary phone calls, to check in at various places, for updates and plans. When I leave here, Im going to be pushing hard to get to Wisconsin, rather than my original leisurely plan; I just need to get there sooner rather than later.
Beautiful vistas of hills and valleys from the road, here in the central Texas hill country. Roadcut geology, exposed limestone, and related sedimentary formations, what these hills are all made from. They use the white limestone for buildings here, and its very beautiful.
Song Without Words, 20 July 2006. Lost Maples State Park, TX
452. 20 July 2006, Foxfire Cabins, near Vanderpool, TX
A hot sweaty night: left the AC off, because I was tired of the noise and vibration; I woke up sweaty and a little slow; turned the AC on again after enjoying a short silence. Lots of vivid fitful dreams which I didnt retain on waking. Some impressions of much action and violence and change; but nothing I can hold onto.
Its nice to be still in the morning, even if the damn AC is too loud. A quiet space before the day begins. We plan to hike this morning in Lost Maples State Park, which is just up the road from here. A stand of trees geographically isolated in this biome, left over from the last period of glacial advance and retreat, antique species hidden in this valley area.
451. 19 July 2006, Foxfire Cabins, near Vanderpool, TX
Got here yesterday evening after another long drive across the deserted desert of western Texas, and at the end some confusions and getting lost moments, trying to find the actual cabin, which made me frustrated and cranky. This place is pretty good. This particular cabin is called the Orchard Inn. A good location, semi-private and removed from the main cabins (which is why it was harder to find at the last), and a good place to stop for awhile. Met SH here, and talked into the evening. Sat under the trees and stars outside, watching the stars through the live-oaks around the firepit, and a dozen or so fireflies. I made dinner, which smoked up the house some, but we aired it out and it was fine. I havent been able to use up my food or firewood on this trip, because of the heatwave and the fire hazards: nowhere could one cook outdoors, and you dont really want to, in this heat.
I went to bed overtired and cranky, feeling like the day could have been better. I wake up in the same mood, but wanting to do something about it. Foolish to expect everything to go smoothly all the time. I really want a shower, now. Slept adequately, if a little fitfully.
This area, the Texas hill country they call it, in the central part of the state, is rolling old hills covered with forest. But its still a semi-arid, desert place, even with the small river going through. There are deciduous trees around, the first Ive seen in days. But there are also still cacti in places, too. Its like a transitional zone between the Western high desert and the agricultural Great Plains, which are much richer in water sources. Thick forest around the cabin, in this valley of the Sabinal River. I sit on the couch in front of the window, and a cardinal lands in the branches outside. This part of Texas is apparently home to a vast and diverse bird population.
Driving yesterday, saw several deer; a hawk by the roadside, looking at me; a flock of vultures pecking at some roadkill, flying up as I approached, one or two actually almost flying into my truck; a roadrunner skating across the tarmac; a cloud of orange butterflies, little flitting things, surround the truck in Uvalde, then more swarms of them further along the road, in two or three other places. A cloud of butterflies, leafing towards transformation. Signals from the other worlds, everywhere around me. What is it I am to transform, now?
The long drive on Hwy. 90 was beautiful, scenic, and very much like the Big Empty in Nevada. Hardly any other traffic at times. Stopped at a state-run tourist information station in Langtry, right next to the Judge Roy Bean historical spot, where they had free WiFi. I talked to the DOT employees there for awhile about my life as a roving photographer. This trip is also a scouting trip for future locations for photos and camping stops. Ive already taken some good pictures, but also found future places to revisit, camp, stay, scout out, etc.
Just back from driving into Uvalde for groceries and a meal. Ate at a small, authentic Mexican place; corn tortillas and excellent quesadillas: crisp, small, flavorful corn tortillas with cheese, chicken, and lettuce and tomatoes and onions for me to scoop in as desired. Some really delicious red salsa. Driving through the hills here, windy roads, roadcuts exposing the characteristic white limestone sequences here/ They use this white limestone for buildings, and they are bright and lovely in the sunlight. Hills covered with mesquite, live-oak, and by the roadside stands of prickly-pear cactus about to burst into bloom: red bulbs fattening on their edges, about to open luscious red flowers.
Spent the afternoon setting up the recording gear, and trying things out. Some figuring out of details, what gets plugged where, what will work how, and then a little music jamming. All this with the very noisy AC on. None of this music is really suitable for releasing, its mostly just trying things out at this point. We pause for dinner, and then when the evening cools a little, we can do things in greater silence, with all the fans and AC turned off. Meanwhile, my ears need a break, so I step outside and sit in the lawn chair under the live-oaks for a few minutes. Very quiet, very restful.
From the Road Journal podcast:
Night sounds, Foxfire Cabins
450. 17 July 2006, Marfa, TX
Spent the night in the hotel, after showering and watching the end of a dumb movie. In the morning, packed the truck and took off again. Today was a shorter leg of the trip, and I took my time, and enjoyed more of the sights.
I started by driving up north of Deming, where I had spent the night, and visited City of Rocks State Park. A very amazing place, an outcrop of weathered tuff, rounded tan and stained boulders, in the middle of the open plain. The plains here are volcanic flood fill from the ancient supervolcanoes that once dominated this part of the West: rhyolites and tuffs and basalts and lava flows, like vast plains in between island peaks like seamounts extruding above the land. City of Rocks was where I had originally intended to camp, but it was late at night when I got to the area, I was too tired to drive the extra 30 miles in the dark, and then set up the tent and everything.
But Im scouting as I go along my way, and making notes of where to camp, and take photos, next time I pass through each of these areas along my path. I intend to camp and do many more photos here at City of Rocks. Next time through, as well, I wont be racing to get somewhere on deadline, Ill just take my time, and only drive a few hours a day between destinations.
Birds calling in amongst the rocks and trees and cacti. Formations that remind me very much of the magic of a sacred place: hoodoos and strange gorgons, and power in the land. I made a spiral out of the loose rocks, and photograph it.
Then back to Deming, back onto Hwy 10 and on to Las Cruces, El Paso, Van Horn, then off onto Hwy 90 in TX, and across to Marfa, where I spent the evening talking to fellow Stick player John Edmonds. We talked about music, photography, and much else, till after midnight. (Another lengthy drive tomorrow, across Texas, to get to the hill country in Central Texas, but oh well.) Trains go by in the close distance, rumbling and blowing their horns. The night sky full of stars, the Milky Way. The things I miss most about I spent living in New Mexico: the stars in the night sky, and the silence.
The elements of this journey have been dominated so far by Air and Fire. The elements are all very present and obvious, but recurring experiences of Fire and Air in particular. Today, I saw so many dust devils, tornadic whirlwinds in the distance, or close by on the open land. Some huge gusts at times threatening to blow the truck off the highway. The tedious drive between El Paso and Van Horn, the Mexico border looming very close by. I am not at peace about Mexico; it bothers me, for some reason, all this foolishness about immigration laws and national boundaries, and none of it really reflects the reality of peoples lives. Then, driving between Van Horn and Marfa, a whole sequence of surreal events, and more elemental encounters: at least half a dozen more tornadoes of dust; two rain squalls; an actual dust storm in between the rain squalls; lightning in the distance with clear sky over in the other direction; passing by a huge pink sign supporting Kinky Friedman for governor of TX (made me think of Kinky and the TX Jewboys); an art installation by the side of the road near Valentine, consisting of a box-like store front, in the middle of literally nowhere, of Prada shoes and designer clothing and handbags (a Prada store in the middle of a field, by the highway, how very odd).
From the Road Journal podcast:
Marfa morning birds
Marfa ambient 4'33" 1
Marfa ambient 4'33" 2
449. 16 July 2006, Deming, NM
Im so tired tonight, from the long drivebut also just generally tired, in cumulative exhaustion from the past few weeksthat I decided to find a cheap hotel. I got a hotel coupon book at a truck stop, and found a decent hotel here, with free wireless internet (WiFi); its not the best signal, it keeps dropping, but then Im in the hotel room at the far end of everything, so the signal is just not strong enough to be stable here.
Some notes now about what I saw and experienced on todays long drive:
Driving down through the Cottonwoods part of Joshua Tree, on the way down to Highway 10, I stopped and took some pictures of the Cholla Garden, and the nearby stands of ocotillo. Its bee season, and despite the lingering smoke haze, bees were swarming everywhere as soon as I got out of the truck. They followed me up the trail, probably enticed by my smoked shirt. They were all over me, so I only took a few photos. When I got back to the truck, they were all over the seat, and inside, and everywhere. Generally, I like bees; they dont bother me, and I like them; we get along. All of a sudden, I felt a sting beyond my left arm, probably where a worker had gotten caught in a fold of my shirt, and panicked. I whipped off my shirt and fanned the air, making my own wind to scatter the bees. Then I hopped in and drove several hundred yards down the road, before getting out and throwing the truck open and fanning out the last of the bees. I really dont want to harm them; I just dont want them to harm me, either. It was only a small sting, and when I checked in a mirror later, there was no stinger left in it; it bothered me the rest of the day, but then faded quickly with a little Reiki.
A reminder from the Melissa, though, the bee-wise goddess: to pay attention to what the bee knows, the earth, the interwoven myths and powers of the planet. The planet is stirred up lately, with recent fires and earthquakes and volcanoes and tsunamis; its a turbulent time for our planet, and for our civilization.
On the way out of the Park, I stop and chat with a nice ranger. They have a new DVD about the park, images and music, and I buy it for market research. But then we get to chatting, and I tell her Im a roving photographer who does similar DVD work to this new one about the Park. So, I go out to the truck and give her a sample copy of Basin & Range, my first DVD. So far, I havent seen any other commercial DVDs remotely as good as our new product that were making now. I also have decided to start collecting those little push-pins badges many parks sell; so I bought a few small momentoes, and drove on into the heat. It was a nice visit, and a seed planted for future possible connections.
Crossing over the river that marks the boundary between California and Arizona, on the AZ side there is already a different biome, a different kind of desert. You see cholla, and ocotillo, side by side now with saguaro, and also a few yucca still, the same yucca species that one sees at Joshua Tree. A mix and blending of desert species, all under a raging hot sun.
Another tornadic dust-devil out there, on the open plains, in the bright light.
I stop to rest in a small business park near the Phoenix airport. There's a college in here, and a soda bottling plant, and small business malls, and residential condos. Its Sunday, everythings closed. I find a shady spot in a parking lot to cool off the truck and rest.
Now, how's this for a magic moment: I followed my intuition and it led me to this spot. It's 108 here in Phoenix, which is not my favorite town by any means, but an okay place for a rest-stop. I pulled off the highway to find some shade and rest for a bit, and to write down some thoughts on my laptop, etc. So, I'm sitting here in my front seatand there's WiFi access! i can get online. I'm in someone's parking lot, it's empty since it's Sunday and no one's working, and I can get online without having to move or hunt down a WiFi cafe. Laptops and wireless access rule.
My glasses are totally fried. The heat and sweat are killing the repairs I made. I hope they make it. Repaired them with duct tape for now.
I stopped briefly at Saguaro National Monument, just east of Tucson, AZ. The main road through the park was closed for repairs, and I arrived late enough in the day that the park office was closing, so I stayed on the grounds for only a little while. Still, I wandered through the cacti gardens by the park office, where they have many local species on display, labeled with names and descriptions, like an educational botanical garden. I took several good photos here of striking plants against a deep blue sky filled with white puffy clouds.
I had originally thought about camping for the night at Colossal Cave Mountain Park, just east of Saguaro in this same region. I even drove out to the park, to check it out, and had a pleasant chat with the gatekeeper. But after the day's high heat, a summer storm was rolling in, and I had hours of daylight left for driving, and in the end I pushed on through. But I stopped several times driving down through Vail to get back on Highway 10, to take photos of the dramatic sky, the stormclouds creating spotlights on the land all around. Tall clumps of saguaro cacti on the hillsides, marching up to the high hills. It feels really good in this spot, and I fully expect that at another time, I will camp here. It would a good base for several day trips in the region, for photos.
The afternoon light was dramatic and stunning, as the clouds parted and merged. There were flahses of lightning to the east while at the same time in the west the sky was clearing and full of light.
A ghost-town in western New Mexico. The highway sign advertises hotels and gas stations, but when you pull off on Business Highway 10 to investigate, you see the dusty remnants of abandoned, boarded-up hotels, not a single living gas station although there are two boarded-up ones, and a dead general store. There must be someone living here, because two boys walk along the street towards a single tiny store. But all the other buildings on the main street are dead, empty, boarded-up. The light of dusk, a half hour after sunset, makes everything seem the same ghostly blue-white pale color, with no definition or detail. Its uncanny, eerie. Very much like one of those small isolated towns you drive into, in an X-Files episode, and all the people turn out to be non-human, aliens, or bee-people, or roach-people, and as they rush in and completely smother anyone whose car breaks down, weird sounds are heard, till their victim disappears under a welter of strange bodies and stranger cries. This little town, this dusk, felt just like one of those moments. Needless to say, I kept driving till I found this hotel in Deming.
448. 16 July 2006, Joshua Tree National Monument, CA
Bird-spirits everywhere this morning: dozens of quail in the roadway as I drive along, scaring them into brief scattered flight; a roadrunner; a pair of magpies; and a pair of ravens at dawn.
This morning, I rose as the sun warmed the tent; although hidden behind dramatic clouds, it was already fiercely hot. Two ravens calling was the days first sound; two voices, distinct pitches and tones of voice, like a bickering married couple rattling the morning papers. I also heard the coyote pack again, the same singing and yipping, but further away. Good morning, cousins! I broke camp quickly and efficiently; the neighbors, a British couple, looked at me a little oddly as they packed their own camp more slowly, but we didnt talk.
I woke with the feeling of being on the road again, at last. I was enjoying the silence of the tentsite and campground area generally, and the dawn air, which was fresh and free of smoke: the nights clearing wind had done its business. I can see clearly at the moment, this whole area seems clear; I can breathe freely.
I drove out to Keys View after breaking camp, to see the smoke or the fires. And smoke was all that could be seen: so thick, the valley below, with the Salton Sea and the San Andreas fault on the valley floor, they were all invisible beneath blank grayness; and so were the mountains and hills above Palm Springs, as well as the town itself.
Im standing here in the morning sunlight, making notes, half-dressed, feeling like I could use a shower to wash off last nights smoke. My nose still clogged with smoke boogers, desert dry boogers. Blowing my nose till big dry chunks come out, and I can breathe freely again.
Driving back into the Park from the overlook, I see the air is fogged after all: some of the far hills appear shrouded and grayed by the thick air. The floor of the high valley here recedes into smoky mist.
447. 15 July 2006, Joshua Tree National Monument, CA
I finally left Pinole at 12:30, and drove all day, till I got here after 9:30pm. A long, long day, but I got almost everything finished that I needed to get finished. The weather all over the Southwest this week is in the 100 degree range; baking and sweltering. There are wildfires burning in the hills east of San Jose, and two much bigger fires in the hills east of San Bernadino, between Los Angeles and Joshua Tree. Dead black patches of burned grassland interfinger the golden hills of the coastal range east of the Bay, east of San Jose. I drove along Highway 5 as far south as the bottom end of the Big Valley, before cutting across on two-lane state highways to the hills above Joshua Tree.
At the south end of the valley, a huge tornado-like dust-devil whirled, almost stationary, in a field right next to the road. It got darker with dust, then went nearly invisible. I have the feeling of passing between worlds, imagining myself walking into the eye of the tornado, arms spread, to be whirled in place or lifted off the ground: a turning galaxy of air lifting us up into the sky.
I got into the smoke zone, from the big fires, near dusk. I wanted to turn off the air conditioner in the truck in favor of the cooler night air, but when I stuck my hand out the window, the air was incredibly hot: the ash and smoke-filled air was furnace-like in temperature, even hotter than the air had been during the days drive in the sun-beaten Valley. When I got to the Park, it was late, the air was fogged with smoke, my headlights cutting tunnels through the murk, bits of ash falling in spots, some clear spots, the air hot and hard to breathe. You spend all day covered in sweat, then the smoke gets into your clothes, and your nostrils and lungs and eyes.
I camped at Hidden Valley, pulling in late. Twice I paused in the midst of setting up the tent, with the smoke really bothering me, thinking perhaps I ought to drive on. I had to cold-camp anyway, and eat a cold supper; no camp fires are allowed in these extreme hazard conditions. But then I realized I was too tired to keep driving, so I would have to make this work. I soaked my shirt with water, and used it to breathe through for awhile. Restless at first, unable to sleep. It was so hot that I lay naked on my air mattress, still sweating, with no covers.
Finally, I Summoned a Southron Wind to come and blow the smoke clear of this campground area. And a wind came, and shook the tent and rattled my ground-tarp, and allowed me to sleep while still able to breath; and the air was clear the rest of the night, and into the morning. At moonrise, a pack of coyotes passed very close by, very loud and boisterous; it sounded like 30 pups yipping and howling, although it was probably only a dozen or fewer coyotes. The moon woke me in the middle of the night, striking the tent with cold blue light.
446. 13 July 2006, Pinole, CA
I played a gig with Fuse, the improvising fusion/jazz band, tonight at the Starry Plough in Berkeley. I thought it went very well; it was our first gig out in public, after about a year of jamming together, writing structures, playing and listening. I recorded the gig, and on a brief listen before saving off the file, I think it was decent sound; Ill have to do some editing and mastering tricks to get an optimal sound, but we all played really well, we were together, and the energy was high. We played a variety of moods and styles, from propulsive to gently melancholy, taking the crowd on a journey. Lots of people nodding and tapping feet in time to the music, and the crowd was enthusiastic and asked us to play one more number at the end of it all. We played about 64 minutes total.
I feel good about this. Even if Im away for awhile, or if life makes me go off in a different direction, I at least have this gig, these memories, and lots of recordings of this group of people playing together. I find myself taking a lead role at times, even though were collectively improvising; partly thats because Im willing to jump in and play lead, since I rarely play bass function with this group. Its Stick, guitar, bass, and drums, and it works well because we listen to each other, take visual cues, and are responsive. So I often play the guitar function, lead or comping, as we trade off. Everyone got a chance to shine tonight, and there were times I just stopped playing to take it all in. A friend took some photos, too.
So, even if it never works out that I get to continue with this group, I am satisfied. And I have hours of recordings to edit, when I get a chance. At least enough for a CD, Im sure of that.
I spent much of today preparing for the upcoming long drive to Texas, Chicago, and Wisconsin. I will be spending many days in the car, soon, and also several days in Texas. My old musical partner Stuart Hinds and I are going to be getting together for a few days to make music, hike in the West Texas hill country, and generally just take time to relax. I will be bringing along my studio computer, of course, so I can keep working on all my projects while Im in Wisconsin.
445. 9 July 2006, Pinole, CA
Had a fairly productive packing and organizing day today. Got some chores done preparatory to leaving, and more importantly, packed one or two cases of things I plan to take along. I can always modify choices later, but for now it feels good to have achieved something, anything. It puts me on track for the actual day of departure, although theres still a lot more to be done.
I also realized today that I cant call Dad in the hospital every day, because when I do, I get nothing done afterwards. It makes me into an emotional wreck, so I skipped it today. Ill call tomorrow.
444. 8 July 2006, Pinole, CA
Sang one last outreach concert with the SF Gay Mens Chorus this afternoon, in Oakland, for a group of LGBT Asian families at the Oakland Chinatown Asian community center. It was good, and I had some nice conversations with the guys beforehand.
There is so much happening, so quickly, I feel like Im drowning in the details I have to do before departure. In a week, I will be departing for Texas, then on to the Midwest, to spend time with my Dad while he recovers from colon cancer surgery. Thats why Ive been absent lately; theres so much to deal with, writing is low on the totem pole. I am preparing everything I need to get done before I go, and the list seems impossible and endless; much as it was when I first hit the road, almost two years ago now. Just about the same level of craziness, too. If I leave here, will I ever come back? What about the stuff I will have to leave here, as I cannot possibly take it all with me at this time. Id need a trailer, and since the last trailer episode ended badly, Im gunshy about trailers. There may be a storage locker in the future.
I am losing other ties and relationships, as well: new friends, old friends. People who I thought were friends and lovers, who complain to me about us drifting apart, but who themselves wont do any of the work of keeping us together. Not my job to do all the work in a relationship, and not my job to fix what I didnt break. So, unfuck you: if youre not going to do anything about it, why should I?
I want to come back to California, eventually, although I dont know where Ill be staying if and when I do. Its all up in the air again. Back to never knowing whats going to happen next. I dont know if I can cope with much more of this. Id just as soon disappear in the desert, right now, and never be seen again.
I cant even write about all this as yet. Im too close to it. I may never write about it, and thats no loss. Its gut-ripping, emotionally wrenching, and as naked as you can get and still be alive. So, I cant even do it justice; this is where words fail us all.
443. 4 July 2006, Pinole, CA
Night, fireworks going off, legally or otherwise, from every hill, and over the Bay. I drove out to Point Richmond, to the abandoned peer at the end of the park there, and took some photos over the water, of the fireworks from Sausalito, San Francisco, Oakland, and other points of light. Very windy, very cold. I didnt stay for the end of the show, but left when my batteries died, as I was freezing in the wind. Just me and the other lowlife locals, huddling in the dark. A great place to watch the fireworks over the Bay, and no light to pollute the view, but not the safest place to be, either. Seals on the rocks, birds in the sky. Two planets near the moon. Planes flying over in airport runway flightpaths.
Ive started reading Andrew Solomons book, The Noonday Demon: An atlas of depression. I fit more of that profile than I like; especially the section on the gay population, and how we are 7 times more likely to suffer from depression, and 7 to 10 times more likely to deal with suicide, one way or another. The text is anecdotal and personal as well as thoroughly researched, and its a compelling read.
But reading through it, even just skimming it, as I have done so far, makes me realize some things about my own state of being: if I am naturally melancholic by nature, and probably depressive, and if I am afraid of it killing me, then I also fight back. Sometimes it takes all my energy just to get out of bed and get dressed: but I do get out of bed, I do get dressed, and I do get things done. Every day, whether I want to or not. Some days it is a struggle to care about it, but I still do it. Many days its hard to shift my attitude towards the positive, and I go around muc of the day in a dark mood, with a cloud over me, and a less than sunny disposition. That actually seems to piss other people off more than if I dont bother to try to get anything done. People don't mind depression as much as they are afraid of honest frustration or anger. But at least Im doing something other than lying in bed all day feeling numb or sorry for myself. I hate that crap; I wont do it, I refuse. I would rather burn myself out and explode than get sucked into a black hole and just give in and give up.
So I get angry at times, these past few years, as a way of coping with stress and anxiety, but I feel that its a sane (if not ideal) response to anxiety, to fearand to depression. I fight back by summoning my resources, and sometimes that means getting mad enough to mobilize those resources, rather than getting sucked down into the tidal black hole of depression, and the dark night.
But I also look at the history of treating depression with a jaundiced eye. There are things about the industry of depressionlike the tendency to medicate and over-medicate and provide a pill-based panacea for every little emotional problemthat fill me with righteous rage. The root cause of gay depression is homophobia, so medicating the victims in this case is like letting the rapist go and locking up the victim, which also fills me with rage. A social injustice that creates a medical and psychological condition. I have fought hard to survive. I have worked hard to evolve, and progress, and grow past that particular pain. As Solomon points out, the range of mental health in the gay community is much wider than the mainstream idea of normal, normative mental health stereotypes: there are many men and women who have become psychologically stronger than the average from having gone through the experience of homophobia, oppression, and any resulting depressions, and there are many others who remain wounded beyond measure. So, we have both extremes, with a wider range. The utter cluelessness of mainstream straight culture about all this, and about their silent culpability in letting it go on, is enough to infuriate anyone with even a modicum of social justice awareness. Fuck the battle for gay marriage laws: I want much more than that, that merely symbolic bit of assimilationist tokenism. Because the gay marriage laws are only the top layer of a deep lack of understanding, tolerance, and sympathy.
Its medically and politically correct to acknowledge that drugs do help some people with depression, they do help them recover and live normal lives, and in some cases they get off the drugs and get back to life. Others spend the rest of their lives on medication. But you know what? Fuck that. That has never sat right with me: on some deep level, I flat out dont believe it. I never have. Ive never understood it. It makes no sense to me, and it is a cheap and easy belief that contradicts my own experience. So, I remain deeply suspicious of it, even though I have met some folks who do seem to have benefited from the anti-depression drugs.
I continue to come from the perspective of seeing, with my own eyes, instances where drugs were used to suppress someone from being fully activated in their potential as a human being, simply because the people in their environment were unsettled by themin other words, kids and teens drugged to keep the peace and make the family happy, or the school teacher more comfortable and in control of the classroom. That is an abuse of parental and scholastic power. I know for a fact that at least two people Ive known have been medicated out of their minds when what they were in fact going through was not depression but a spiritual emergency: had they received spiritual direction and counseling, some sort of transpersonal therapy, they may have come out the other side as fully human, fully alive, and even become healers or teachers; instead, they remain zombies just coasting through life. I know of at least two diagnosed schizophrenics who are failed shaman: their initiatory experiences were halted and deflected by medical and psychiatric intervention: well-intentioned, but clueless and misapplied and in the end destructive and harmful to both individual and community. So, sometimes I feel strongly anti-drug, anti-medication, and anti-medical-establishment. This feeling is not theoretical, it is based on witness: I have seen these things with my own eyes.
I've even been part of this, myself. I have myself taken herbal and homeopathic forms of such medications, such St. Johns Wort and herbal blends, and after a time I hated them: they cut me off from my feelings, and my gifts: it was like looking at life distantly, as though through a glass wall, and feeling numb all of the time. One time, when I was dozing after a massage, I overheard a conversation in which two of my friends talked about how they liked me on the drugs, because I was so much more even-keel, emotionally. But I would rather have to deal with my strong, passionate emotions, and feel alive all the time, and have access to my gifts, than to be that numbed-out, stillborn, zombified, brain-dead, shut-down piece of mindless meat walking around in a fog, that I felt like for those few months I tried it out. So, fuck drugs as a solution to spiritual emergency. Fuck depression. And fuck anybody who cant deal with me, just as I am, just as who I am, just as I look, just as I love who I love, just as I want to dress, act, and be.
442. 4 July 2006, Pinole, CA
Yesterday I spent the afternoon with J. wandering around Marin County, both of us taking a day off from thinking about lifes troubles. We just went on an aimless wander. We found a deli in Mill Valley, bought sandwiches, and sat in a sunny spot on the sidewalk nearby, enjoying the food as a sensual treat.
I had a good roast-beef sandwich on sourdough bread. We also wandered into a store up the street tha sells mostly vinyl LPS, vintage and modern, and found some real treasures there; but I am trying to clean out clutter in my life, not add to it, so I bought nothing.
Then, after lunch, we drove up the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais and spent several hours in Muir Woods. It was the day before the Fourth of July holiday, so a lot of people had taken the day off, and the Woods were busy and crowded with tourists. But I for one got some good silent time. I felt myself slowing down, becoming closer to the slow thoughts of trees, and hearing the silence. Even with people chattering nearby, I found lots of moments of silence and stillness. I took numerous photos: camera as tool of meditation. I am as always in awe of these giant, long-lived trees. I stopped and looked up, and looked down, and took many photos capturing the beauty of the place.
The forecast had been for fog, and I guess there was fog along the coast, but in the trees there was dramatic sunlight spotlighting beautiful scenes, filtering through the trees, creating sun-dapples on the ground, and everywhere creating dramatic, powerful lighting effects. Seeing through the camera is all about light: everything is all about light. Light and stillness and silence and emptiness and light. Light everywhere. Filling everything. Illuminating the calmed and silent mind. Let it all end in peaceful, still, silent light.
Song Without Words, 3 July 2006. Muir Woods, Marin County, CA
441. 2 July 2006, Pinole, CA
Late night. Been having insomnia the past few nights. Likely its just anxiety and stress. Last nights dreams were so sharp, vivid, lucid, fitful, and intense, that I kept waking up, then finding it hard to return to sleep. Yesterday was an emotional day, and I broke down into tears at least a few times, got angry a few times, and so on. Today felt more balanced, but no less intense. I made some real progress on projects to be done, and tonight I started another website design freelance. I may just work on that till I have to sleep; Im not falling asleep easily or quickly, tonight, anymore than I have the past few nights. Yes, I know a lot of this in stress and anxiety; but its hard to fight wraiths.
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