Because I forget too often. And I cry when I remember
taking note of the all the days slipped by
and still I’m unable to acknowledge this imperfect bowl
of my own making

or what has been tossed into it by passers-by
by prophets, by bricklayers
like medieval poets

or what has landed here – no
there – like a maple tree seed spinning
then haphazardly taken root

growing at a pace that is so slow
I know I won’t live to see the greenware crumble
at a hatching
of something meaningful

“Make a list of all the things that are pleasure in life, and them make an art form of one of them. It’s not a way of making a living. It’s a way of making a life.” – Paulus Berensohn

At the wrong moment any little bit of wisdom sounds like a platitude. I know that. I was talking to B. last week and told her that I blame the French philosophers (or my reading of them) for making me believe that cynicism was a hallmark of intelligence, and that professional criticism was anything less than a hypocritical denial of sincere ambition.

I don’t think I used those words.

I have to play a podcast every night to keep myself from ruminating while I try to sleep. Listening to folklore – murderers and other monsters – is somehow more soothing than introspection. Who knows. Maybe the subconscious comparison is comforting.

Paulus added the “us” to his given name. He took on the extra syllable without apology. He unashamedly admitted that he wanted to be the monk who raises his hand and says remember – remember the hand.

Mary Oliver wrote that she wanted to ask him to make her a begging bowl.

Who asks to be asked. And who acknowledges the question with a question?

Rosemary oil is for memory. And the little blue electric light on my desk tries
to make up for the season’s darknesses.

That’s not a typo.

A man lashes out because he can’t escape himself
while I can’t find myself.

I’m not afraid of curses anymore: I’ve stopped apologizing.

I’ve emptied my pockets of posies – for some of us
it never was what we half-desired
it to be from the distance of our daydreams, linking us backward
in search of a future significance – and some of us

have emptied our pockets of withered violets
and of stones, too.

The academics get it all wrong. No season takes its leave peacefully
Conscious or not
The melting ice buzzes like the fat bee seeking shelter under the leaves
in the yes/no of late winter
like a fat bee caught under a Kilner jar at the waning edge of summer.

I slip off the beaked mask and I dare to touch the purple bodies
of the Amethyst Deceiver
which as the season ends is easily confused
with the deadlier Lilac fibrecap.

I hand one off to the furious runner
and I utter the truth that will catch up with him

when I finally find myself
deep under the soil
ever-reaching forward

Thank you, Richard.

Memories are so unreliable. I can’t remember how I learned about travel destinations, or about diseases before the internet. How did I get through high school or college and what exactly did access mean then? Was there a time when I knew how to read a map?

My reading then was indiscriminate. Scholastic book club picks, swap-meet bin grabs, the Fireside Theater play-of-the-month. Tally’s Terra Nova still sits on my shelf. As does Hayes’ Gift of Joy. Smithsonian magazine had the most incredible photographs. National Geographic, haunting articles. The man who lived in our garage paid me to clean his room. He had Playboy magazines scattered over the floor. So there was that, too. My influences were unintentionally post-modern, which I believe actually means nothing more than un-curated.

I had no idea what I wanted to be. No singular passion. I have no singular passion.

We’d move and then we’d move and I would have a new name. Like a new book that never quite takes hold of the imagination, this little narrative gets tossed aside. Break a new spine. Nothing fits inside the lines once it takes on a life of its own. I mean, life itself is transgressive, right?

Sometimes I wonder if when we breathe in, bits of the world gets lost in our bodies and move us around like ghosts under bed sheets. And we rationalize sometimes.

We can glide.

Mr. Shannon told me to put the pencil on the paper and then never look down again. Draw exactly what you see. He never explained himself. But I still believe sensitivity of the line is far more interesting than the perceived gesture. I think of Schiele and how he stripped his work of the ornamental influence of his teacher Klimt. I’m not considering Schiele’s narrative, mind you, but his lines which are a translation of sensation. Touch – with the eyes opened and closed at the same time. Much later, in college, a professor told me that the trouble with my drawings were that the parts didn’t work together to create a whole.

Maybe that was my unconscious goal. Parts are potentials and prompts and promise, the whole is as inescapable as a closed circle.

When I run, sometimes I close my eyes for dangerous seconds. I listen to the soft snap of twigs on the trail. How would one draw that? How would one translate the sensation that is simultaneously a drop in the pelvis and a rise in the chest? And a hatch-working of browns. And there is a smell in the foreground. Moss-greens, sticky translucent sweets.

That things can smell sweet may be the first order of synesthesia.

Yesterday, the air temperature barely above freezing, and a fat bumble bee attempted to fly. It sounded like death and I will argue that is synesthesia not simile.

There is pleasure in the unfocused life. There is discovery.

I have been thinking this morning that the internet is actually a closed circle. That my influences are more curated than ever, shaped by algorithms and consumer-economy necessity. My thousands of connections intelligently whittled down to a dozen or so assumptions that I don’t understand, and like even less.

I am Narcissus staring at my reflection, not liking it, and not able to walk away because if I can’t see myself, who will see me? And how will I know if what they see is accurate? Have you seen the flipped perspective of your face? There is no right answer, I’m afraid. But then: why look?

Is change even possible in a closed-form?

I watch the people pass by on the train platform. At 7 a.m. At 2 p.m. on my way to the doctor’s office, I may as well be in another country. Faces pass by. Context or content?

One more headline presupposing causation over correlation. A website wants to know if I am a “health professional” before allowing me to access information. Twelve more influencers slipped into my feed for me to measure myself against. A 91 year-old woman pulls the loose skin backward from her face and says she hasn’t had surgery but would love to be rid of this. And yes, pulled taut, she is freakishly youthful in the video clip. I have never looked that young.

But part of me really does wonder why that would be/should be something I would desire. I used to want to look as mature as I felt. Here is a rabbit hole of unavoidable self-loathing and self-denial. A young colleague dumps the details his CV into every conversation. Something in my gut swells with unlabeled feelings, like bed sheet ghosts moving me through the rest of the day.

I think I should write another book. A series of proper essays for publication. Shape things for a demographic that might give a shit. See themselves, in a niche.

But what I have here is a notebook of lines that I have been drawing with my eyes closed. And in certain contexts they look like words.

These vacation weeks always seem to slide by, and I think that is fine. I’ve moved almost easily through the days and taken advantage of the sunshine for a change. Leonard’s muscles are stiff from the long walks to the lake and back, but he is smiling. My muscles are sore from the morning rehab exercises. I move from downward dog into wild thing and every fiber of my being screams, oh, god, no!

I’m tucking in sheep cheese and slathering my shoulders with Ibux gel and hoping for the best. I’m reading pubmed articles about nutrition and wondering about the quality of a study that begins its abstract with the word “Nowadays”.

“My mind is clearer now. At last, I can see…”

There are songs popping up in my head. I haven’t heard songs in my head for a very long time. There is a lightness in everything right now. Even my frustrations seem like loosely tangled threads: not knots to numbly work around.

I forgot two days of medication and that made me feel like a bad patient. I am supposed to be weaning myself s.l.o.w.l.y. Tuesday night I lay ruminating about something I did at work that I should have handled better. Found myself shrugging it off. I am not perfect. More to the point – it is also just fine that I never will be.

It is time to let myself be moved on.

I have been talking- well, listening lately to B talk about community. She is exploring now – out loud – what kinds of compromises it demands. There is a part of me (a very large part of me) that believes that compromising is giving in to the oppressor. A form of toxic self-effacement. I am learning that there are other ways to look at it. There are so many other ways to maintain one’s integrity.

Better late than never.

B sees God in other people, without mysticism, she says. Whereas if I have seen god it has been through the disembodied word that arrives in a letter or a book, or a poster on the subway. All mysticism, really: a vague or ill-defined religious or spiritual belief, especially as associated with a belief in the occult.

Another definition of mysticism: belief that union with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or the spiritual apprehension of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect, may be attained through contemplation and self-surrender. Emphasis is mine.

How can contemplation and self-surrender co-exist? Doesn’t contemplation require critical thinking, which is an activity of the ego? Isn’t this a paradox?

The last time I went to a Quaker service, a porcelain doll propped in a Shaker chair began gesturing towards me. I cannot surrender my critical mind. There is a world too unreal that will take hold in the flung-wide, open open – with no footholds, no analytical scaffolding.

Still (and thank god) my contemplation is riddled with cracks, and here is how the light gets in or so wrote Cohen once – or at least he wrote something similar.

My human, animal nature is as integrous as is the wild, imperfect river that flows and shifts chaotically. The past marks the banks with a written record of what was and an illusion of what might have been. And even this is a distraction. Everything is as is meant to be. Nothing is broken. Even as it ends.

Leonard wades belly-deep in the water and drinks. I worry for a moment about summer’s green algae despite the thin ice that rings the reeds at the surface of the lake. I should have worn my sunglasses. The light is sharp. Cold. I turn my back to feel the warmth of it through my jacket. I frame a duck in the camera lens. On the phone’s screen. This correction is just another distraction.

The shutter opens, the light gets in, the depth of focus is set. Here is this little slice of life for your consideration. Contemplate.

How do you eat an elephant? (E. loves dad jokes.)
Bite by bite.

Eat it mindfully. What does that even mean? Here are words that link, fragile as a daisy chain, back to the blinding light that can overwhelm a person with its shimmer. Because everything inanimate becomes animate in the heat, so nothing ever really makes sense.

My childhood, being driven through the desert time and time again, was measured by mirages. Like the lives of books that open and close. Under the covers at night, with a flashlight and story, your own breath threatens to suffocate you.

I’ve wondered if an egg hatching in the nest gives off fog the way my breath does as I walk among the trees. I’ve wondered, but I’m learning that I would actually rather not know all of the facts.

I’ve added a photography club meeting to my calendar. Maybe there is some kind of compromise I can make here. I wanted to sit zazen, after all.

I am realizing that I don’t always have to be the one who attempts to accommodate everyone else’s preferences, social or otherwise. I can stop beating myself up for not succeeding at this, for not being what everyone else wants or expects.

(I know this sounds banal to many. I know I sound like a teenager, in which case it is definitely not banal but should be a lesson learned long ago.)

This realization a big deal is because when I stop thinking it is my role to appease everyone else, I am able to see that people sometimes work to accommodate me and my weird but comfortable habits.

And that is just fine. They can do that kind of bending, too.

I don’t need to feel guilty. Or assume I am being patronized. Yeah, sometimes I am being patronized, but it is what it is.

It just is.

I have no idea how any culture designates its spectrum of normal, but I am convinced that there is an immutable spectrum of self-awareness that is tightly bound to, parallel to, the spectrum of pity to compassion.

When I dare to admit to my own unpleasant eccentricities, what my boss at work calls aspects of a “big personality” (which is weird, since I feel so fu*king small), without lathering them in shame or denial, I can actually begin to see that other people aren’t perfect either – not it terms of their own definition and not in terms of mine. I can see that there is no reason for me to force myself to try to be more like them (caveat: not without first questioning whether what they are presenting is something I actually admire).

When I don’t feel censured or inadequate, I don’t feel a need to judge other people for not being who I want them to be. Expect them to be. Behave, that is. It is what it is – but it is their behavior, not the who of them. Nor the who of me.

Accept and move on. Accept and avoid when necessary. No big deal. No need to try to control the uncontrollable others by way of compliance.

I could write a poem about the lessons of childhood. About making ourselves sick in the attempt to be good. What are we supposed to be good for? good at?

Sometimes I think we are all tin wind-up toys toddling in a room, banging into one another until we are effectively unwound. Then for some reason, we wind ourselves up again heading into a meaningless competition. A bully jabs two fingers into your sternum and asks: What are you going to do about it?

I could write a poem about the sharp edges of tin toys.

B. assures me that, yes, I am weird. But to be fair, I kinda opened myself up for that one.
L. says I seem tired.

This is me, at 56, embarrassed that I’m not writing this at 17. I’m concerned I will forget again all that I’ve learned about my own integrity. I am integrous. Weirdly integrous (And I have learned just now that this is a word.)

This is the who of me, though not always the behavior.

I try.

“First the body. No. First the place. No. First both. Now either. Now the other. Sick of the either try the other. Sick of it back sick of the either. So on. Somehow on. Till sick of both. Throw up and go. Where neither. Till sick of there. Throw up and back. The body again. Where none. The place again. Where none. Try again. Fail again. Better again. Or better worse. Fail worse again. Still worse again. Till sick for good. Throw up for good. Go for good. Where neither for good. Good and all.”

Samuel Beckett