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Archive for March, 2008

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Bright explorations

Monday, March 31st, 2008

I’m stumped. How do I talk about discovering the great Pacific Northwest without sounding like I’ve joined the Oregon tourism board? I’m gasping in wonder at some of the most breath-taking natural beauty I’ve ever seen in my life. I sent Stephen a few pictures and he found it “Sublime, the visionary New World that inspired the philosophers and drew the huddling masses ….” I should just leave that on this entry and say no more. I don’t have that much restraint, but if you’re sick of me raving about Oregon, feel free to skip this and do something that makes you feel good about being where you are. [read on]


Friday, March 28th, 2008

Nothing like a few good juxtapositions to get a person going in the morning, like the big fat lazy snowflakes drifting through the Portland sky at this moment, falling on cherry blossoms and melting instantly. Eating breakfast at the table by the window, I saw a jogger in shorts, a long-sleeved T-shirt and tennis shoes, carrying an umbrella to fend off snowflakes. Or how about this news? My new home town has the world’s first vegan strip club. Or as a local newspaper put it, “Boobs with a Side of Soy.” Will this business be able to overcome the economic doldrums besetting the rest of the country? Only time will tell.

The world is so full of a number of things/ I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings. –Robert Louis Stevenson

I doubt there is a king in the world as happy as I am with my life. The work on the book goes well. Chloe is curled warmly on the top of my chair. And nothing in the world is dependable but change. As Faust said, thereby damning himself to hell, “Linger a while, thou art so fair.”

Pay now, die later

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

I’ve just purchased a cremation policy that guarantees that wherever I die, anywhere on the planet, and whenever that happens, I’ll be picked up, cremated, and the ashes will be scattered at sea, and each of my kids will get two copies of the death certificate (necessary to claim anything left in the bank, if there is anything). This presumes that the insurance company that underwrites the policy will not file bankruptcy in the meanwhile, and that phones and computer systems will still be working at that time and the company will have a record of this purchase, since I will be–ahem–unable to request these services myself. It also presumes that nothing major in the way the world works will change (something it is never safe to assume), and that I will not be pulverized or vaporized by some cataclysmic event…but then, if that happens, no one will have to worry about how to dispose of the body anyway. I’m actually much more worried about the bats and the honeybees. [read on]

Bush’s War

Monday, March 24th, 2008

OK, enough of this head-in-the-sand, self-involved lollygagging. There are other things going on. Specifically, there is this obscene and pointless war in Iraq to make the world safe for oil billionnaires. I have never blogged about it before because everyone I know is dumbstruck by the horror of it, the obscenity of it; and not one of us knows what to do about it.  Nothing I can say will surprise anyone. But today, even if I say what everyone already knows, I have to say something. No one, not even Bush’s own people, has ever given a plausible reason for this war other than to take control of Iraq’s oil. The oil billionnaires who put Bush in power are now rolling in so many more billions of dollars that even they don’t know what to do with the money. Everybody knows this. There’s no point in even putting a link to the information. Now 4,o00 Americans are dead, about a million Iraqis are dead…a million, or at the very least 655,o00. So that would be everyone you have ever known in your whole life, and everyone they have ever known, and their families, and then some. A million dead people, give or take a few, and none of us can count that much suffering. Imagine that many bodies lying on the ground. My mind can’t hold it. How much grief is that? And the people who have lost legs or part of their brains, or who have gone mad with grief and horror, or the children whose lives are shattered by the loss of their parents, by hunger and despair–nobody even counts them.  This coming Friday I’m going to attend a peace action in a park near me, and there is a questionnaire they sent to the people who’ve signed up to attend. The first question is, “What have you done today to bring about peace?” Here’s my pathetic answer: for starters, I’m going to watch TV. [read on]


Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”–Jorge Luis Borges

This is the inscription over the main door to the Portland library. I set out today to get to the river park, but I failed. I passed the Bearing Service Company, its walls lined with small compartments full of bearings of every conceivable size. If anyone wants to find their bearings, I know where to send them. I got as far as the library, wandered in, and ended up spending a couple of hours in it, enjoying the architecture, the proportions, the light, the long wooden tables and rather stern wooden chairs, the friendly librarians, the books on display, the arrangement of rooms, the bustle and joy. First there is that inscription, which made me smile, and then I stepped into the main lobby, with its large white-streaked-with-garnet marble columns and its grand art deco staircase, black stone stairs wonderfully etched with natural motifs (foliage, a trout, a bear, a monkey [?],  intermingled with a violin, a rolling pin, an envelope, an inkstand, with words woven into the design: CREATE, DISCOVER, HOPE, SEEK). The main reading rooms are two stories high, with fifteen-foot windows to let in the light.  I climbed the broad staircase to the third floor (domed, beautifully lit) past all the look-alike portraits of white men in black suits, to a colorful portrait of Dorothy D. Hirsch, a gray-haired woman surrounded by books and greenery, a woman who looks like everybody’s favorite well-informed, well-read, civilized librarian–someone you would expect to make outrageous, irreverent, hilarious observations. In the painting there’s a book by Ursula LeGuin on the table by Dorothy. [read on]

Portland by camera

Friday, March 21st, 2008

I make absolutely no claim to being a photographer, but this city is so gorgeous I can’t help pointing and shooting, and everywhere I aim the camera there is more beauty. So here is what I saw this afternoon. I uploaded everything to Flickr, including pictures of Chloe and one picture of the outside of this high-rise I now live in. Sadly, my little cheap digital camera cannot do justice to the shades of gray in the sky. The skies in the pictures just look white, but they are not white. They are at least a hundred shades of gray, rolling clouds and cloud-banks constantly changing like the sea. Every picture in this set was made within a ten-block radius of my new home. Don’t you wish you lived here?

Finding my bearings

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

I wrote the title for this blog post and then wondered where the phrase came from. Apparently it means “Establishing awareness of one’s position or situation relative to one’s surroundings.” That works. It also works for me to imagine that I have lost a great many little round pieces of metal and am trying to find them again. Starting work on the book is not a simple matter of sitting down and putting words on the screen. I diddled with it for a few hours yesterday afternoon while Chloe explored the apartment around me, mewing with rising inflections that sounded like question-marks and looking back at me expectantly, as if she believed I could answer those questions if I would just leave that stupid keyboard and apply myself. After a few hours of this, I looked at what I had written and found it abysmally stupid; deleted everything and sat down in my new yellow chair to pet Chloe, to gaze out the window at the sunset bathing layers of cloud in vaguely pink pearlescence, and to listen to Alfred Brendel playing Schubert. [read on]

Chloe enters my life

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

I didn’t get the brain-damaged cat. I got, instead, a tiny perfect ten-month-old spayed female Abyssinian who was given the name Chloe by her former owner. She looks like this (link comes from the website of the woman from whom I got her and is Chloe herself just a couple of months ago). I had planned to name my new cat Sati, which is the Pali word for awareness–but Chloe already knows her name, and I’m quite happy to live with that name, with its Virginia Woolf associations. I will not be a bore and talk endlessly about my animal companion, but I will say that her presence nourishes me, makes me laugh, and brings me back to this moment in the body. Who doesn’t need all of that? And now, on with the new book.

Human stupidity

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

One of the things I decided when I was on the retreat is that I’m ready to have an animal companion in my life again. I spent some time online and found one that really called to me, a cat who appears to be what is called “Chartreux.” I did some research on Chartreux, and given my recent love of the film Into Great Silence (about the Carthusian brothers in Chartreuse, France)–and the connection (if only apocryphal) of these cats with that monastery, I drove out to the cat shelter today, where I learned that the cat I had chosen was not, as it says on the internet, abandoned by her former custodians. Would that were all there is to her story! When the police busted a meth house and hauled off its residents, they found this little gray cat, dazed and confused. The residents told the cops her name was “Meth Cat” and that they had kept her “high” on meth. They thought it was funny. When the vet at the cat shelter examined her, she found the little cat has permanent brain damage and occasionally gets seizures. The people at the shelter say she is “perpetually confused” and her eyes look like she is always “very surprised by everything.” The little gray cat is in a foster home right now, and so far I haven’t been able to contact the foster care-giver. I’ve left her a message. Maybe living with one quiet writer who is always very surprised by everything, in a little studio apartment with a view of the Fremont Bridge, is just what that little cat needs. Or maybe she is too badly damaged. I’ll wait and see. But the unbearable stupidity of the meth-heads who did this to that little animal keeps making my eyes water.

S.N. Goenka’s excellent system

Monday, March 17th, 2008

Home from the ten-day vipassana course, I recompose my molecules and begin again.  For ten days I was intimate with fifty strangers, sleeping from 10 p.m. till 4 a.m. in chilly dorms, standing in line to pee, jostling before dawn with toothbrushes in our mouths, staggering back to the meditation hall as if back into the mouth of hell.  Intimate as our circumstances were, each of us was engrossed in our own inner filmscape, what Yeats called the rag and bone shop of the heart. Full of memories and secrets, we sat knee to thigh with each other, absolutely still for thirteen hours a day. Sitting times were punctuated by breaks for breakfast and lunch (no dinner), a little time for walking in a spectacular meadow, a little time for personal hygiene, and by occasional five-minute pee-breaks. We sought equanimity, acknowledged impermanence, and watched our minds do what they do. Wander, obsess, fantasize, remember, hash things over and over. Occasionally we left our inner drama long enough to follow instructions. [read on]