Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
Subscribe and Save up to 45%
In this issue are several thousand words I wrote last year — journal entries, poems, even a song. Deciding which to use of the many more words I wrote required not just an editor’s touch but the strong guiding hand of my ego — a school-crossing guard gesturing me to go or stay, print it or hide it — and the even deeper guidance of my heart: permissive teacher of love who knows there are no secrets from God and God is everywhere, so what is there to hide?
As stills from last year’s movie, advertisements for a life, these words by their very nature distort; there’s little here of the real pain, wrenching and wordless, or the real joy, light too bright to read by. Brave, afraid, by turns loved and lonely — often surprised by how much — I go my way, sometimes writing about it, sometimes not.
1/8 — Talking about change instead of changing. How L. and I reinforce our loneliness by joking about it: men’s jokes, objectifying women not nearly so much as ourselves.
1/11 — With E., swords of perception clashing, sparks in the air. Shall I argue about how the steel is tempered, the difference in our grips, or follow the sparks to the spacious sky? Forgiveness. There’s a sky. Forgiving myself my limited perceptions of myself and others.
1/16 — The apron strings dangle from the heavenly mother. I swing from one to the other, bed to bed, with my jungle cry, my idiot’s cry: freedom!
1/17 — God says: Behind the door which you’re most afraid to open will you find me. Come down the dim corridor of tears, come down the iron stairs of grief, come down to my love for you.
1/24 — On the Far Shore (a song)
My discontent is deep and wide
Feels like I’m standing on the other side
Of my love for the children
And the tender eyes
Of my brothers and sisters
On the far shore
The waters of my hunger
Are muddy and brown
No reflection to calm me down
I know it’s temporary
Just a season of change
But I keep forgetting
And I want to lay down
On the far shore
Hot coffee don’t warm the heart
Guess the day don’t want to start
Dreamt I was a boat on a stormy sea
Thought I heard birds crying
But it turned out
To be me
On the far shore
2/6 — C. says, “I felt like a bird who’d been let out of its cage and was flying around the house and now the door has opened.” “Wait till the sky opens,” I say. Now, am I spiritually one-upping her, or handing her a useful image — or maybe it’s both, the ego turning the image to its own advantage, and then feeling guilty about it, while my inner self freely gives the gift of its knowing.
2/6 — Remembering that mischievous Santa at University Mall, clearly in love with his work. Mara said, “I think there’s more than one Santa.” “Why?” I asked. “Well,” she said, “the one in Boone asked me if I wanted a doll and this one asked me if I wanted a moose.”
3/3 — Do I betray God by falling in love? So afraid of possessing and being possessed; what sense of myself am I possessing? The paradox: I need her and I don’t need her. The worst fear: I’ll lose her to another man. What am I doing on a level that so amplifies the differences between me and other men? I’m reminded on the phone by my sister that making love makes me feel good about myself; then I get attached to the vehicle to that feeling, try to get it heavily insured and lock it in the garage and don’t let anyone else drive it because they might smash it up or not bring it back.
3/8 — The voice within: Who do you think I was crucified for?
3/9 — Sometimes my loneliness flies away from me; other times it stares down at the day like a great bird whose forest home has been destroyed.
3/11 — Willie Nelson in the film “Thief”: “Lie to no one. If they’re somebody close to you, you’ll ruin it with a lie. If they’re not, who the fuck are they you got to lie to them?”
3/29 — Coming
Lying there, she thinks, Daddy keeps getting in the way, or is it Mommy, or is it I’m tired, or giving too much, or looking to get too much. His hands are birds. I’m the sky. I’m too high and reaching higher. His hands are earth. I’m a brick. I’m a hole in the wall. I’m crumbling. His hands are shelter. I’m the rain, drumming on the roof. Harder. Lightning in his eyes. Daddy the thunder scares me. Don’t make me pretend. I’m tired of lying. Hold me. I want you. I want it oh baby give it to me: the flower the root the dark tears in you the silver nail. Build a home for us here in the heat. Hammer it here. No here. Yes here. And our parents will come. We’ll feed them lilies and dreams, wrap them in lace, show them where the light comes through, let them be children again. We’ll slip out the door in their head, leave them a note saying, “Don’t worry about us. We’ve found a way to die and it’s sweeter than those lives you say you lead. It’s leading us toward glory and you can follow it if you want, just leave your clothes and lies behind.” Then we’ll take off our spikes and thorns, the golden mask, the gauze around the heart. And you’ll fuck me then, won’t you darling, come to me then and me to you?
5/25 — We’re nearly out of half-and-half at the office. Playfully, I “send” a message to John to get some on his way in. Then I go to the store and buy it. I come back, make coffee, get to work. The phone rings. It’s John, about to leave, wanting to know if we need half-and-half. It’s the only time he’s called to ask something like that.
7/1 — God is what sustains me, not “my” strength, clarity, good looks. And God isn’t known. So what I call the unknown is where I find God: in change, at the edge of the inner and outer, in silence, in the genuine surrender of my insistence that life be just so. The arrangement and rearrangement of people, things, goals: that just seduces me into imagining that my happiness exists apart from God’s will for me. I can’t look for it in THE SUN, or in C., or in my children, or in these engines of desire — sleek and powerful, propelling me this way and that, but mostly in circles around the still center: sputter, sputter.
7/6 — I write a line this morning about “Putting my hand into a deep pocket.” An hour later, C. comments on her pants pocket, how deep it is, asks me to put my hand in, which I do. I’d not talked to her about the poem. Now, from what hidden pool do these parts of “my day” surface?
7/15 — On the road to Boone: Hall’s Cafe, halfway to P.’s home in the mountains, gets uglier each time I pass it. This is where she used to meet me with the children after she moved, until she decided the driving was my job, not hers. Hall’s, an unprepossessing place to begin with, becomes the symbol of everything unreconcilable between us; I haven’t stopped there since. But my thoughts today lean toward forgiveness; I’ll start with Hall’s Cafe. I stop the car and go in. Someone is talking about the tobacco crop. On the bulletin board are notices of land for sale, cartoons from the paper, a rock band poster. The woman behind the counter isn’t happy to be here this early, but she’s polite. I drink some coffee. Then, on my way out, I step on the scale. For a penny it tells me, “Present difficulties will resolve in your favor.”
So, once again, into the mouth of the beast, past the skunk breath, bleeding gums, razor-sharp tooth of fear: and inside — nothing. Space and more space, to fill with my projections or not.
7/21 — Giving C. the larger slice, realizing I wanted her to know it, then realizing it didn’t matter whether or not I gave it to her, what mattered was the love in my heart, the not-needing to be applauded. Hugh Prather says: Truth implies nothing about our behavior. The same action can be loving or unloving.
7/26 — I dream I’m complaining to Ram Dass about my romantic attachments. He looks at me directly. “You have a choice,” he says. His face changes to that of his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, and then there are only eyes: oceans on fire, liquid love ablaze. I wake up weeping, touched by grace.
7/29 — He looked 25 or 30, but it was hard to say, the light in his face shadowed by drink or boredom, the eyes misted over but friendly. He started the ride, and the children rose a few feet into the air with gleeful cries. “How long have you been doing this?” I asked. “Four years,” he said, shaking his head, “and I’m tired of it.” “So why don’t you do something else?” “I plan to,” he said. “What do you want to do?” “Run one of the bigger rides,” he said, “at the other end of the park.”
8/16 — Returning the extra $5 in change to the cashier lightens my load. There’s nothing good about returning it or bad about keeping it — only, if I’d kept it, I’d still be wondering if I’d done the right thing: one more stale sandwich for the hungry mind.
9/5 — Now that I have “the time” to write, how do I keep “the time” from having me? The poem doesn’t swim toward me on the currents of time. Love isn’t finite, of the world, though it’s expressed in and for the world. My true self isn’t measured in days or tasks, nor do I discover my animal eyes that way, or her animal smell. Spirit floods the dry bed of limitation only if I affirm it, again and again, not just for fifteen minutes in the morning when I meditate, or for fifteen seconds when I come, or for fifteen micro-seconds when peace enters me and turns my song into something haunting, my eyes into signposts, my whole body into something else.
9/5 — His Love
She put a vase of flowers
next to the man.
The man and the flowers
breathed quietly together.
She felt his love swaying
9/13 — Gossip
The ones who talk about you
are walking in their sleep
on polished floors. They
don’t know about anything,
and their words are small
windows, painted shut,
dirty, almost useless.
Who are you to look
through a window like that?
9/21 — The wolf of my fear prowls in the sheep’s clothing of “better communication,” of “love.” It wouldn’t know love if love bit it on the ass.
10/4 — Why is doing nothing scary, a treason, the mind seen as a welfare loafer, a cheat, a bum. To sit and stare out the window, to walk aimlessly, this is a “waste of time,” as if all of time weren’t wasted on the way to eternity, in purposeful leaps or purposeless shuffling.
10/4 — His Secret Life
He wondered, making the bed, if he could remember and understand his dreams by studying the shape of the covers in the morning — whether they lay smoothed or bunched, curved to the body or falling to the floor. Like a hunter tracking an animal, maybe he could discover his secret life.
10/14 — In the middle of my stand-off with Sara — not yet five and she can stare me into the wall — I decide to stop testing wills, being a parent, and just love her. If that’s all she learns from me, it will be enough.
10/18 — Poem for My Children
The distance between us
is my greatest sorrow,
my greatest gift.
How can that be?
The bow is stretched
to its full tautness
before the arrow flies.
The mother lies heavy
on her side the night
before the birth.
God comes to us
when we feel furthest
from Him, used up
like cities, broken
10/18 — Letter to C.
I want you to remember yesterday, a day on which nothing happened, nothing important — a leisurely breakfast, gardening in the perfect autumn light, burning scrap wood in the yard, all the small, unremembered acts that make up a day, a life, unimportant when weighed against The Issues Of A Day, even the issues of a life. Meditating in the morning, reading Tagore in bed; later I watched the late afternoon sun spread across the dark-grained dresser, like honey on toast; later still I looked into your eyes as we made love, with much laughter and soulful gazing. No one rewards us for this, but who needs anything but this? Oh yes, we need our sorrow, too, our thick roots in the human, keeping us real: missing our children, our parents, missing the parts of ourselves from which we’re barred by fear. And we need each other.
10/31 — Poem for Pete and Lil
You stood where you stood.
Your roots went down.
Sometimes the birds came.
Sometimes the empty sky stretched
grey and friendless.
For a man or a woman,
Life calls the same:
Enter me, it says.
Sink into my rot
and my sweetness.
Learn the chemistry of love —
how everything breaks down
and returns to me.
Those who know this grow,
together and apart,
as apart you grew
till together you came,
roots touching deeper
than you dreamed.
You argue over nothing,
laugh over nothing,
live as if the things
others cry and die about
Everything you gave up
returns to you,
because you did not wander
from where God put you down.
There you stand.
How I love to stand beside you.
11/2 — Into the valley we went, not really knowing what we’d come for: she to find out if I could take the truth, me to find out she’d kept it shrouded in clouds, a distant mountain, unnamed.
From the mountain top, I look down on the smashed house of honesty. Is that where we lived? Where am I now?
11/3 — S. tells me of her friend’s sign on the refrigerator door: WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR ISN’T HERE.
11/17 — I dream of interviewing a controversial monk, then, in my dream, tell C. I’d also interviewed Adolf Hitler, but not quite believing it myself. Did I dream it, I ask her.
So, even in my dreams, there’s a deeper level I’m not ready to accept — the way I don’t accept my dreams in waking reality?
11/18 — Letter to J.
I keep waiting for the right moment to write, and it never seems to come, so I’ll let today’s sadness be right — it is gusty, like the weather, like old leaves drifting down in me: if only I could make a big pile of them, and jump in them, and let the young boy in my heart be free, run out from this closed room of thoughts where everything must be expressed so precisely, and yell instead, whoop to the big grey sky of nothing in particular, unzip my pants and piss on the leaves in some mystical design, some wet joy, soaked up immediately by the thirsty universe, which seems always to want more tears — of joy or sorrow it doesn’t matter, just keep those eyes moist and seeing, it tells me. . . .
12/1 — The generals tell us our lives depend on the warheads, while in our heads, we wage war — and call it living. Who, knowing that, penetrates his own defenses, walks through the crossfire of the angry mind, rescues the wounded heart from years of unkindness to self? Is there any other way to peace? World peace, inner peace — we keep imagining they’re different. So with raised fists, we shout for one kind of peace, and with the mind’s raised fist, we bully ourselves into the other. But no one’s buying, not the generals, not the cold and hungry troops of Self we order this way and that. Each generation discovers new ways to make war, to lay blame. When I was younger, we blamed it on our parents; those mired in therapy continue that way. But the history of war shows it’s the same old fist, curled into the same old dream of pain. Who’s to blame — the sleeper, for sleeping?
12/7 — Last night, after a good day, I eat a pint of honey ice cream and an enormous bowl of popcorn. This, after deciding to lose ten pounds by Christmas. Made myself sick. The gift? One less bowl of popcorn before I remember that emptiness isn’t satisfied by eating — or fucking: popcorn sex, the mind movies, reruns of lust.
12/21 — Everywhere I Wandered
In the house of fear I wandered
without direction, ice on my
eyes, the chill of centuries
on my fingers, yet God took
my hand and led me to the wall,
and showed me the hollow
places and the rotting beams,
and led me to the window
streaked with the dirt of time,
and showed me how to run
my mind across it, and see.
Everywhere I wandered,
he wandered with me,
out the door and down
the rutted road
to the house of love.
There he sits, and waits,
while he leads me to him.
12/24 — On the road to Florida with C., to spend Christmas with her family:
The meal last night was greasy, tasteless, fried American night, highway-style. The junky parenthesis in our oh-so-perfect diet. Yet I know that complaining about it is the greater tastelessness — while others starve, while we eat from cardboard boxes in front of the late-night news, in a motel in South Carolina, starving for some sense.
I’m reminded, on this road that looks like every other road, just another screaming headline, how deeply disenchanted I am with “society”: I take it for granted that every institution is corrupt and corrupting — the schools, medicine, the church, sports, business — and that the wheels keep turning only because there are individuals who care. The man or woman who manages a smile at the most excruciating moment. The devoted parent whose devotion will never be acknowledged, even by the child. The solitary teenager who pushes away from the money and the mirror, the old man alone in a furnished room who does the same. How American, this faith in people.
“Going home” with C., most literally and figuratively; I’m of her life yet distinctly separate, the balance most exquisite and, when I forget it, most painful. There’s the milk and cookies of the relationship, and the homework, and the work’s gotten harder. The temptation to play hooky rises like smoke from the singed and smoky dream. But look at the ones who drop out, with their flashy cars and loud egos blasting: is that the future you want, my man?
Talking with C. about her family, the impenetrable karma of parent and child. On the psychological level the dynamics may be clear enough, but the roots go deeper; we are not bound just by our time together but beyond time, which is why no amount of psychotherapeutic shrewdness will carry the day. Psychotherapy makes a good stab at explaining hate, but nothing explains love; it is its own explanation or there is none, and to enter into the world of parent and child is to acknowledge the futility of such a feeble flashlight as reason. So when C. talks to me of her apprehensions, past disappointments, fears, and I try to help her untangle them, I’m brushing out just a few silky strands. The rest is dark, thickly matted, her knotted love for them and theirs for her, mute, whispered in dream, denied, diluted by false expectation, polluted by lies, ever clear, contradictory, eternal in a fleeting glance, singing in the telephone wires, pressed flat in a greeting card, travelling down the alleys of smell and taste and “style” — the uniqueness we claim as our own, which is really us trying to just like them or precisely unlike them.