The Archive of Self-Absorption

full-back tattoo of a crane
“To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away.” ― Dogen


That didn’t happen.

Sorry for the Discursion

(warning: far more political than usual)

Two weeks floating without any kind of routine. Yesterday I cried when I read the news about leaked documents from the Supreme Court. I was embarrassed for crying and wondered for a second if this was it – the tipping into the irrational. Was it the vestiges of Covid fatigue?

But what was there under the tears was my grandmother’s voice. This was the one political issue I ever heard her speak passionately about. She had a lot of opinions but kept her passions to herself. I wasn’t even a teenager yet, and thought my grandmother was the most conservative woman in the world. (There were a lot of things I didn’t know about her then.) She told me about her friend dying from a back alley abortion.

My grandmother didn’t call many people friends. She had built a lot of walls. Maybe because she lost a lot of people in her life under differing circumstances. But this loss was unnecessary. A young woman died for no reason. Sacrificed to the puritan, performative idealism of the privileged. My grandmother would raise her voice on this issue: There was nothing to discuss.

I live in a country where “self-chosen” abortion is only occasionally an issue up for discussion. And this is in a country where children’s health is prioritized (sometimes to a fault). We have generous maternity and paternity leave and universal health care. So why does this matter to me?

Whether I am an “American” or not – whether in my own view or in others’ views – shifts according to the most useful perspective for the sake of the argument. I can say that I can’t go more than five minutes after meeting someone before they ask me where I am from. In that sense, I will always be an American.

I think it is the least interesting thing about me, but I am stuck with it.

The truth is I am absolutely removed from the culture now. Though I remember, in 2016, the surreal experience of waking at 4 am to see the election results on my phone. I tried to go back to sleep. I grieved for a long time. I think I am still grieving all that is slipping away. Feeling ashamed of all that I didn’t see when I lived there. Now helpless to do anything about it.

You can leave your hometown but still feel a loss when it is wiped out by a tornado.

But these tears are for my grandmother’s America which seemed to be on a path towards a more compassionate culture. When I was in high school, my grandmother thought that the local segregated schools were appropriate, and she once dragged me out of a theater performance of Mahalia because we were the only white people in the audience. She wasn’t a forward-thinking woman. But by her 80s called to tell me about a “brilliant young man” she was going to vote for named Obama.

My grandmother went to church twice a week as long as I was alive. Well – until the pastor retired and a young guy took over and preached that it was the wife’s job to “obey”. That was the last time she or my grandfather went to church. She thought it was a weird glitch. She didn’t imagine it was a harbinger of something that… is here now.

I am glad she didn’t live to see this. This promise of death for the women who grew up the way she did. Hand to mouth. No bus fare to a safe clinic. No safety net of people who will help. Who care. My grandmother didn’t need to say that her friend could have been her. And knowing what I know now about my grandmother’s life, I wonder…

America is not known as a compassionate country. No one even knows how many people died in the dust bowl. In the building of bridges and railroads. Reagan (probably wasn’t the first) said that the responsibility of taking care of the citizen’s well-being and caring for those who need it should fall on the churches.

Just like it was in the colonies, I suppose. I don’t think that the issue is a separation of Church and State, because from the beginning the people who ruled America saw Church and State as two branches of the ruling power. Separate, but equal. America didn’t want the Pope to have a say in America, because the Puritans were already there to keep the status quo of the oligarchy. A legacy of Cromwell.

Maybe? I’m not a historian.

I cry for the destruction of what was my illusion of America. I cry for my grandmother and for her friend. For all the women this will hurt. Kill.

But I also worry because American culture is like a virus in the world. And women’s reproductive rights are a domino that will knock over so many other human rights we have been cultivating.

Theater of Cruelty

Well, not exactly, and I apologize to anyone landing here who feels misled.

But these past 9 days have felt like a minor ordeal. Every moment that’d been expected to bring a catharsis was just left hanging. I was sick as a dog last week, though my lateral flow tests were negative. Monday I felt well enough to go back to work, only to relapse yesterday (which, weirdly. seems like so long ago). Now I’m testing positive for Covid. I must have had it all along.

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger… eventually. In one way or another. I went to a fortune teller once (only once) with a question about a then-upcoming show I wrote and directed: will it be a success? She answered, “Yes, but maybe not in the way you expect.”

Safe answer. And it would have been a very kind, counseling kind of answer was it to have landed as a fiasco? “Hmmm” (I could say to myself). “But she said… so: In what way was it a success?”

As it was, it wasn’t a fiasco or a success. Just, meh. Like the production this week. But sometimes meh is fine. Sometimes having enough energy/stamina/dedication/obstinance to get through it all is a victory. When the plague burns through everything, no one said what is left standing is going to be a towering superhero. Sometimes it is a tiny, blind inchworm. Swaying just a little. Getting on with it.

The children’s song comes to mind. Measuring a marigold. I know very little about gardening or flowers in general, but I do remember the marigolds in the kitchen garden. How they took over. Beautiful but invasive. They just keep coming up through the soil, self-seeding. Inch after foot after yard.

That’s a lot of busywork for an inchworm.


Halfway through the ten-day vacation. Still waiting for some kind of joy to take hold. Just at the edge of the day. Just a small tug.

There are 4 y’s in that paragraph. Like utterances of frustration.
Three j’s. Like little fishhooks.
Two g’s with their round descenders. Heavy. Resigned.
Where it ends.

Depression is a sneaky creature. Like one of those cats who hang out in your driveway, in your yard, until you find yourself living with a cat full time. Feeding it. Making concessions for it, as though you’re obligated to tend to it.

I keep using external excuses: I need to get away – to the desert’s heat and the intense sunshine that condenses everything vital into granular truths. Uncomfortable, but discernable. Not that I want to stay in the desert. Just learn from it. Take some things home with me.

A friend once visited the Saraha on her vacation, and for Christmas that year, she sent us all tiny packets with a few grains of sand. There’s a beautiful innocence in that little crime. An optimism. A desire for magic.

I think of the word charming, the history of the word, and figure before I go down the rabbit hole, it is bound to turn up darkness.

Charming. Charming. Every spell comes at a price. Handwritten letters. Deliberate fonts. It’s all in the details.

So just let it be? J. Like a fishhook.

A second definition for vacation is the action of leaving something one previously occupied. The example given in the dictionary is that of a priest and the “vacation of his fellowship” for marriage. I suppose then, one can have a vacation from a state of mind. And it need not be temporary.

Today I will listen to Edith Piaf and think of Coach, who died this week. I will be grateful for his compassion and generosity. He put a roof over my head. He parented me when I should have already grown up. “Stand up straight.” Seems like a metaphor now.

He gently questioned all the clichè melodrama I dragged into his house, “Do you think you two are good for each other?”

When I moved in, his kitchen was covered with dust. I learned that his bills went straight to the bank, and the paper copies piled high, unopened on the counter. He lived each day as it came. For the easy small talk at the cafè. For the deliberate ease and the joy of theater rehearsals. I swear he was the weirdest bodhisattva that ever lived.

I will remember him sitting in his den: smoking, and listening to Piaf.

I will be grateful for my healthy lungs.

“Avec mes souvenirs/J’ai allumé le feu”.

We go on vacation, we go through the desert, we take our chances fishing, and we burn our pasts to learn how to begin again.

While we can. Rest in peace, Coach.