Monday, January 28, 2013

A Mulligan on My LIfe

“It seemed like a mistake. And mistakes ought to be rectified, only this one couldn't be. Between the way things used to be and the way they were now was a void that couldn't be crossed. I had to find an explanation other than the real one, which was that we were no more immune to misfortune than anybody else, and the idea that kept recurring to me...was that I had inadvertently walked through a door that I shouldn't have gone through and couldn't get back to the place I hadn't meant to leave.”
~ William Keepers Maxwell, Jr., So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980).

Today is the first day of my 27th year of marriage. All day yesterday I kept thinking how 26 used to be unimaginably old and now it isn’t.  Last night I dreamt that I was in school taking a test and I’d missed the lesson about the book and I hadn’t even read the book.  I figured I’d just have to fake it. Someone who took dream interpretation seriously might venture that that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. Yet if I could go back to before, I would do it all again.

There are however, a few things I’d tell myself.  Not just about how beautiful bodies grow old, and energy wanes and the usual stuff.  I’d tell myself not to take that disastrous job working for Skippy. I’d warn myself that the most imprudent decisions are survivable; that stylish but cheap shoes are never a good bargain; that hangovers are rarely worth the drunken fun; that loud music causes hearing loss; that I’d never like green olives stuffed with pimentos no matter how many times I tried them thinking my tastes might have finally matured, so not to bother; not to waste two hours of my life seeing that Mel Gibson movie about aliens invading his corn field; and not to take statins because they wouldn’t help and would hurt. I’d thank each of my parents and assure them that they gave me everything I needed even when I thought at the time that they weren’t.

Then, not only avoiding past mistakes and painful lessons, I’d tell myself what to do that I hadn’t done. Not just about buying stock in google and apple early on, and exercise more and the usual stuff.  I’d tell myself to mellow out; to hug more often and be kinder – especially to old people whose reaction time may seem pathetically slow. I’d get myself a kitty years and years earlier than I finally did; keep that VW camper bus and get it fixed rather than trading it in on a Rabbit; plant a bigger vegetable garden and always include tomatoes; learn how to cook and can food better and sooner; and to care less about what others thought about me.

Mainly though, if I had it all to do over, I would walk (or ride my bike) through the same doors with purpose and confidence - both on the way in and on the way out. And I’d enjoy the music while I could still hear it. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Spring Will Come

"Spring will come despite the rain—

wild mustard and garlic a tangled skein 

of yellow and white; forget-me-nots

on hillsides and in puddling ruts

misting in drifts of blue.

"Mothwing petals sift past quince, 

blooming bare-branched beneath 

the plumed plum. Despite the rain, 

despite the pain—or is it from, 

or through? Prepositions don’t matter; 

spring will come.

 - Rebecca Foust, Spring Will Come

I spent a few afternoons last week in the backyard – unshrouding and watering my potted succulents, planting some new stuff that had been sitting around in pots, and generally cleaning up. It’s the first time I’ve been able to enjoy some garden therapy for what seems like forever.

This is the time of year I feel like I've been curled up inside a dank cave hibernating, except that I don't just sleep - I eat. Great combination when added to a regimen of absolutely no exercise.

I love this poem even though I have exactly none of the flowers the poet mentions. Instead, I’m enjoying the slant of late afternoon sunlight on the aeoneum in bloom and the heady smell of lavender and impatient narcissus in bloom.

Speaking of impatient, the dog ran between me and the narcissus flower the first time I tried to snap a picture. I like the flower one better than the one with the dog’s butt.

The dog has to run around outside during the day so she can sit quietly in the evening so I won’t strangle her. She enjoys her time outside trampling my plants, splashing into the dirty pond, and generally being a rambunctious kid. She does however want all your attention all the time and can’t even go out to pee without company. Charming.

At least cats leave me alone most of the time, and then display their love without jumping on me and trying to knock me down with webbed paws soaked in pond scum. The dog leaves this afternoon for a ten-day doggie boot camp which may save my life and her own, and not a moment too soon. My poor therapy cat has become paranoid and has sentenced herself to solitary confinement in rooms carefully blocked off so there is only enough room for a cat to enter and leave. I'm told that within three months the cat will no longer be terrified of the huge clumsy dog who thumps noisily around the house bumping into stuff and looking for trouble or the remains of a nasty rawhide bone that is soggy and chewed.  The three months are half over.

Despite the rain, despite the pain, spring comes eventually to every climate zone and every backyard. The trick is to hold on until then. And also to hold on until doggie boot camp ends and my lovable dog learns how to behave.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Prayer to Saint #11

“It is the pain, it is the pain endures.
Your chemic beauty burned my muscles through.”
William Empson, Villanelle 

January 14 is the feast day of St. Barbasceminus and Sixteen of His Clergy, Martyrs, which, if I was going to have a seventeen piece band, I would totally name it that.

St. Barb, as I’ll call him, was the brother of Sadoth (also a saint BTW). The story is that Barb wouldn’t give in to demands of Persian King Sapor II who told Barb to stop preaching against some of the Persian gods. Before he killed him, the king confined Barb in a “loathsome dungeon” for a year and intermittently tortured him and his men with one result that “Their bodies were disfigured by their torments, and their faces discoloured by a blackish hue which they had contracted.” That sounds pretty dreadful.

But it makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Is there a dungeon that wouldn’t fit the description loathsome? And if so, would that mean simply absence of torture; or possibly the presence of some meager amenities like say, hot water or a tempurpedic cot, or overpriced room service. Which makes me think that a rating system that lists from one to five stars to indicate the quality of the establishment would be of no help to describe the degree of loathsomeness of any particular dungeon.

Since I need such a rating system to illustrate the point of this post, first I had to institute a rating system that covers the negative scale, say one to five emoticons for brimstone – one being the best of the worst and five the most loathsome on the scale measured by St. Barb’s accommodations in his final year as a guest of the king. But then, I encountered a setback. It turns out that there is no keyboard symbol for brimstone!

For the purposes of this post, I have risen to this challenge and decided to use the universal symbol for pirate: N (which is the Capital N in Windings font). By this scale, St. Barbasceminus’ loathsome accommodations would clearly get a rating of NNNN. You’ll see in a minute why I don’t give him five pirates. But now we have a point of reference for loathsome conditions. Problem solved, and I can almost get to the point of this post.

But first, who gets five pirates? In my opinion, the only fate worse than St. Barbasceminus in this story would arguably be that of his 16 other clergy who don’t even get name recognition for the feast day of their martyrdom.  At least St. Barb got top billing. If I could pick my own patron saint, I’d go with Clergyman #11, Martyr, who didn’t even make it into the top ten, thus however earning him the distinction of his final imprisonment and death a rate of NNNNN

Now I can get to the point of this post. Today, I’m praying to Saint #11 that this string of below freezing night temperatures will abate and I can take the sheets and towels off of my potted succulents. Their accommodations beneath bath towels and old bed sheets in my backyard merits maybe two pirates. Five pirates would be the terrible torture they would undergo by having their vascular systems frozen and bursting their tender leaves and stems. That would have been their fate if I had failed to cover them with bed sheets and towels these past 4 nights.

So who better to pray to than Saint #11? Succulents martyred at the hands of a killing frost have bodies that are also disfigured by the torments of and left discolored and black. Coincidence?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Update on My Quest for Enlightment

“ ‘You may seek it with thimbles — and seek it with care;
 You may hunt it with forks and hope;
You may threaten its life with a railway-share;
 You may charm it with smiles and soap —’ ”
Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark

It’s just too cold and gloomy outside. I love the winter weather in So Cal, and I love the rain: almost 4” in my backyard since rains began in mid-December. That’s almost a year’s worth. But it’s not inviting outside, so here I sit in an overheated house – bored with dehydrating fruit marinated with spices and liquor. (Although I should mention that my pears seasoned with crushed anise seeds and infused with violet liquor are awesome.)

So, trying to reach enlightenment seems like a worthwhile diversion.

And my search has been a qualified success. I have had a revelation. The search for enlightenment is what separates man from animals.  Cooped up with me when it’s too cold and rainy for a walk or a romp on the rocks in the front yard, my dog prefers to search for trouble. Or a place to pee, or  for something of questionable edibility on the floor.

I have also realized that my dog’s definition of edible – plastic objects like medicine jar lids, rubber canning gaskets, pencils, dropped silverware – is somewhat broader than hungry humans might consider possible sources of food. Perhaps that’s another thing that separates us from animals. Although I haven’t verified this by checking with Wikipedia, I am confident that humans generally don’t eat jar lids or forks. 

So is that sense of certainty on the basis of no thoughtful study or research another sign that I’m becoming enlightened? Or, in the alternative, is it a sign that I’m more like Todd Aiken than I ever suspected?

But I have learned another thing in my quest for enlightenment, and I will share it with you.  I thought that the term Bodhi Tree referred to a single tree beneath which Gautama Buddha attained supreme enlightenment. The species of his tree is generally understood to be a sacred fig (Ficus religiosa).

But it turns out that Bhodi Tree means Tree of Enlightment and may or may not be a sacred fig. According to Robert Beer, Tibetan Buddhist Symbols there have been Six Universal Buddhas, each of whom “are believed to have attained enlightenment under different trees”.   They are:

Budda              Tree
Vipashyin        Ashoka (Saraca indica)
Shikhin            Pundarika or edible white lotus tree
Vishvabhu       Sala tree (Vatica robusta, Shorea robusta)                
Krakuchandra  Shirisha tree (Acacia sirissa
Kanakamuni    Glomerous fig tree, or undumbara (Ficus glomerata)
Kashyapa        Banyan tree (Ficus indicia)

I have an abridged version of the above book by Beer: The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols. Strangely it lists only 5, skipping Shikhin. Either there is something about the “epochs preceding Shakyamuni” which I didn’t bother to read and would explain this; or the abridged version is abridged because it only lists 5 of the 6. From the Handbook, I was left with the impression that Gautama Buddha and his sacred fig was the sixth of the Six Universal Buddhas.

Clearly, I’ve got work to do before I will be ready to sit under whatever tree I select to be my tree of enlightenment. By then, I hope the weather improves.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Split Decision

"Thought you were gettin' the best of me
Floatin' like a butterfly, stingin' like a bee
Thought a good fight would get it out of our system
But we walked away with a split decision…

I did my best to roll with the punches
You wore me out with fakin' and a-duckin'
Almost put me outta commission
But we walked away with a split decision

Split decision
Split decision
Everbody losin' and nobody winnin'
Just too tough, I had enough
Nobody oughta hafta fight for love"

 - Bonnie Raitt, Split Decision

Our amazing legislators pulled a rabbit out of a hat last night: half dead and missing his ears. But still, a rabbit. The title of this post is in honor of their remarkable display of negotiating skills. Based on my own professional experience as a negotiator, I evaluate at their negotiating skills to be at the approximate level of third graders fighting over the basketball at recess. I would not fathom a guess as to what amazing feats they have in store for us in the coming months.

I do however, have a final few prophecies for the coming year. I return to the War on Women.

#102.  Men will declare victory in the War on Women and go home.
I hope that this prediction comes true because it’s not funny any more. I hope in 2013 that more men will approach their personal responsibility to end the war on women less casually than a homophobic elected official requests a private lap dance in a Gentlemen’s club. I hope men will wake up and speak up. Nobody ought to have to fight for love.

#3. No substantive gun control legislation will pass anywhere.
Despite my cautious optimism that good men will help to end the the War Against Women, I predict that many other (mostly) men will continue to blame everybody else for an average 33 gun related homicides that will continue to be committed each day this year, as was the case in 2005-2010.

#1984.  Gender equality sooner or later
If some men continue to impose their primitive and violent beliefs on women for their own good, and if women don’t rise up in 2013 to oppose them, I predict that their daughters will. It doesn’t take the talent of a Delphic Oracle to foretell that they have much more to lose.