27 September 2012

Anarchy in the USA, with Dinner

Some people may have the impression that I am a very organized person.

That I cannot function without complete control.

That I am a liberal.

That I am a conservative.

They may think I am a socialist, or perhaps a closet authoritarian. But they would be wrong, in the main. I am many different things for different needs, and one size does not fit all when it comes to me, myself and I.

What I am, mostly, is hungry. And this I believe has made me, of all things, an anarchist.

You laugh, I know. At least, you chuckled. That statement seems absurd, but contains a kernel of truth. One of the definitions of 'anarchy' is:

Absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal.
How about that, my lovelies? My belly tells me it is true. I had been meditating on this idea for a long time, but it was a type of curry, rogan josh, that made it blossom for me. Nothing like putting a healthy dollop of ground spices into hot oil to give one a swift kick in the senses. I was making it last Sunday, and while stirring in the yogurt I had my moment of clarity.

I wasn't exactly following the recipe suggestion on the packet of spices I had. I wasn't exactly following the directions on a recipe I had tracked down from a source I have reason to believe is credible. In hindsight, the only recipe I think I could be said to follow was my own.

This has been true for years. I simply did not possess the clarity of vision to know it. I am a self-taught cook, born out of curiosity (the early years) and true necessity (my fairly recent past), and I know I have volumes to learn about food and how to cook it. I still work on gathering the courage to step into the kitchen and simply cook.

It needs to be done, dear ones. The jackasses have brayed loudly this election year, trying to shame me or scare me into being just like them lest I end up a victim, a fool or in hell. I know I am not the first two, and I believe hell is what you make of it. Bleat loudly they may, but I will never allow my salvation or my damnation to be defined by the prejudices of others.

They will never succeed, because I will always have the freedom to cook what I want.

I can make my pasta sauce with yellow tomatoes if I so desire, regardless of which verses of whatever canonical text are screamed at me. My gumbo will be MY gumbo, and taste damned good, no matter whose buttocks grace the chairs in the chambers of government. No one has, nor will they ever have, the right to tell me what to eat or how to cook it. Ultimately, I hold the knife, I stir the pot, it is my hand that puts the spices in the pot.

This is as it should be, my friends. I need that bit of territory I can call my own; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are grounded in that notion, and they all start within. This is why cooking something for myself is a declaration of independence. The skillet in my hand, the cook pot on my stove, these are my sovereign lands. I'll be honored to share my borders with you, if you find yourself hungry like me.

24 September 2012

Magpie Tales 136: Escaping The Deep End

Flying Down, 2006, by David Salle, via Magpie Tales

Rainer sucked in a lungful of bluish smoke, sighing it out through his nostrils as he rocked on his heels outside the gallery. The cigarette tip glowed like a tiny baleful eye, illuminating his reflection in the gallery glass. His reflection overlaid the poster he was eyeing, the rumples of his clothes giving texture where there was none. Sunken eyeballs, weed-whacker hair and sallow flesh looking ghastly in the sodden oyster light of a hangover Sunday morning. He belched quietly. The backwash in his throat a mixture of gin, diner eggs and something like regret which failed to fade no matter how hard he swallowed.

His head ached. His eyes twitched slowly in their sockets, lead balls in syrup. The mish-mash of images, the riot of color seemed to set up a resonance in his chest and belly. They fluttered in odd syncopation. The stirring in his groin caught him off guard. What the hell? he thought.

He found himself staring again at her ass. Slow realization trickled into his sludgy consciousness. It was her. Her. Again.

"Goddamnit, Morgan, leave me be. You with the look!" Rainer barked at the glass. Shame coursed through his mind, causing him to shiver. Six years, and she still yanked his chains. He rubbed a throbbing temple with a shaking hand. He knew she was still there, red hair and green eyes and that ass, Oh my god her body, those curves, face buried in her hair, hands desperate to pull off her sweater, JesusH she smelled like the ocean, she's a selkie come to drag me out to sea, again and again...

Rainer staggered back from the glass, the warm drops coursing down his cheeks mixing with the cindery rain that began to fall. He wiped his face with a dirty cuff. The bottle in his coat pocket slapped against his sunken chest. He looked down, mildly surprised, and pulled it out. Two fingers of gin sloshed around inside. Rainer swore he heard her voice in the beads of liquor rolling down the sides. His breathing stopped momentarily as he stared at the bottle, then back to the woman on the poster. Back and forth, a sluggish metronome. His trance was broken by a man approaching from down the sidewalk. He had a leash wrapped around his wrist, at the end of which an eager Irish setter strained forward, finding something interesting in Rainer standing there.

Rainer stood up a little straighter, pushing his hat back on his head. He tried to look jaunty as he saluted the dog and owner with the gin bottle. The setter sniffed at him with that goofy look all dim but happy dogs seem to have; the owner eyed Rainer suspiciously and barely nodded in return. He pulled hard, yanking the dog away in such a manner as to suggest they were not really trying to hurry away from the well-dressed hobo muttering into a shop window.

Rainer watched them walk away. The bottle was wavering under his nose, and the urge to open it was so strong his knees came close to buckling. Eyes watering, nose running, he turned back to the poster. He could not tear his eyes away from her face, her hair, her bottom. A loud sob burbled out of his mouth. He stepped back again, raising the bottle in a shaking fist. He drew it back, and flung it as hard as he could at the plate glass window, shouting "Leave me be, damn you!"

To his utter shock, the window burst into a million little pieces. The noise was like a rifle shot combined with the cracking of a bell. The shrieking of the alarm galvanized Rainer into action. He took off running as fast as his trembling legs would carry him, heading for home. Wheezing, coughing, and crying, he kept thinking that maybe, this time, today would be the first day of the rest of his life.

23 September 2012

Boundary Conditions (Sunday Meditation #21)

September 22nd, 2012. 7:31 PM. On the front patio, in the company of a dog. Serenaded by crickets, wind and faint barks from a few yard over. It is reflection.

Well. I see that it has been almost a week since I have administered the purge to my brain. There is no surprise here, but there is a tinge of melancholy. To write sometimes to me is to live. It is to feel. Feel in ways I occasionally have difficulty in allowing myself to experience, or perhaps, understand is the better term. The page or the screen, like the camera lens, affords me a shield and a filter on the world. It allows the parsing of what often seems unparsable. 

I find I am in a bit of a fugue state. Weariness, of the mind and the heart, is blurring my edges and smearing me over the landscape of my existence. Four solid days of work have shored me up and worn me out. This has kept me from the page, from the keyboard. Not for lack of ideas, mind you; I've had quite many. The lack of...ambition? desire? energy? has forestalled my getting them out of my head.

I am bored, fed up with current events, with politics, yet those things have been the fuel for the fires of my mind in overdrive. There has been much to consider, much to say, but two things have (wisely) reeled me in: a desire to free my mind from the attachments of righteous anger, and a loss of appetite for 'pig wrestling' in the social sphere. If I may crib from The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy in "Music and Politics":
If ever I would stop thinking about music and politics
I might be able to listen in silence to your concerns
Rather than hearing everything as an accusation
Or an indictment against me
That sort of describes my state of mind since the beginning of September. My attachments to certain beliefs and states of being had begun to mislead me, down a path of anxiety and negative emotions. And when I say 'current events' I include events not only in the world external to my life, but the one internal to it. Two events in particular have become signal bells in the cluttered temple of my mind.

The first was my visit back east for a long weekend with my daughter. The second was an evening stroll through an arts fair in my new, nearby, adopted hometown of Kansas City. Both made me rejoice, admire and celebrate. Both made me near to weep in humility and inadequacy. It was not until my afternoon break today that I had an inkling of why.

First thing: My daughter is beautiful, smart and luminous. She tests me, pushes me, exalts me. All that without guile or pretense or even true self-awareness. She is a mirror to my soul. It is one I gaze into frequently, when we are together and when apart. In that reflection I see the radiant joy and vampiric doubts that are peculiar to my fatherhood. The total of things I know about being a father is far outweighed by the total of things I don't know about being a father. On this last visit I wondered how I could be so lucky to have her as my daughter, and I hoped that someday she might think herself lucky that I am her dad.

Second thing: I have finally admitted to myself that perhaps, after all, I do have a modicum of skill and talent when it comes to photography. This led me to spend an evening, in good company, strolling amongst the light and sound and creative outpouring that was my first Plaza Art Fair in KCMO. So much wonder, so much beauty, so much expression of the creative urge. My encounters with two photographers induced the same exaltation and humiliation. Both had prints of photos I wish I had taken, from an artistic and a technical perspective. Both demonstrated to me that I have so much to learn about photography. I left the art fair in a slight brown study, which I hadn't quite left this morning.

So it was I found myself on break, leaning back on a bench, swaddled in shade with my head thrown back. I felt myself falling upward, pressured into a state of elastic resistance by the realities of myself and my circumstances. My daughter, those photographers, have shown me I am hemmed in by the knowledge I possess and the knowledge I wish to possess.  

I stared up between the gold-tinged leaves overhead, reveling in the electric blue sky tinged with its dreams of the coming fall. Thus was I illuminated: let go of the fear, embrace the unknown, and step through the boundary conditions of my soul.

17 September 2012

Magpie Tales 135: She Holds the Ocean

Venus and the Sailor, 1925, by Salvador Dali via Magpie Tales

Sinking into her gelid depths
drawn under by aphrodisiac waves
pillowed between gravid curves
pulling me across the rail
swells upon a Mare Libido
into which I fall with abandon
never to be seen again

13 September 2012

Light Switch

What flame will you seek?
When you can't push back the dark,
step outside and own the shadows
when the light is gone

What if those switches disappeared?
The streets cloaked in turbid black
and the curbs become enemies
in your panic-stricken stumbles

Will starlight fill your eyes?
Will it be your blanket
while you mewl into your fist
and dream of electricity?

Incandescence tags the civilized
But our eyes grow weak,
our spines begin to soften
when we forsake the night

10 September 2012

Magpie Tales 134: Dawn Breaks Over the Painter's Head

Breakfast, 1921, Fernand Leger via Magpie Tales

"Care for some more coffee, hon?" said the waitress, her fangs shining in the blood-orange light  streaming through the smeary plate glass of the diner window. Hobson blinked hard, swallowing a lump of dread that the coffee hadn't dislodged from his throat. The waitress smiled, or so he thought, but it didn't reach the eyes of green-gold brilliance set into the silver fur of her ruff and muzzle. Hobson stared at her, eyes watering a little, and tried to convince himself he was not looking at or having a conversation with a wolf.

He corrected himself. It wasn't a wolf. It was a woman's body with the head of a wolf. A very attractive wolf-woman, or was it woman-wolf, the curves of which he had not failed to notice when had stumbled into the Sip 'N' Chew for his morning usual. "Damnit, when did Roxy start with the wolf head?" he thought, frantically trying to respond to her before she got pissed and walked off, leaving no coffee. His mouth opened and closed like a fish cast up out of the tide line. Roxy stared at him, eye arching up in annoyance.

"Uh...eh...more coffee, I guess, Roxy. And what happened to your head?" he sputtered.

Roxy leaned over to pour him another cup, inadvertently gapping her blouse and giving Hobson an eyeful of what he considered to be an ample bosom. He gulped. Those almond eyes of hers bore into him, and he swore he caught a whiff of musky scent, like warm fur in sunlight. 

"Whaddya mean, what happened to my head? My head is fine. Just had my hair cut two days ago, that's all. Jesus, Hobbsy, if you aren't going to finish your eggs, at least go home and sleep it off. Come back when you get some manners."

Roxy spun on a comfortably soled heel to amble back to the counter. Hobson watched her hips sway, feeling a tiny surge of lust, but then shook his head violently in an effort to clear his eyes while holding them tightly shut. Eggs. He forgot he had been eating eggs. He lowered his head, afraid to open his eyes, but cracking them all the same.

His breakfast was nearly gone. Only a small crescent of orangey-yellow eggs lay on the edge of the plate. He recalled it was an omelet he had ordered, instead of the usual scrambled eggs. A few flecks of ragged mushroom bits lay embedded in the crescent. Hobson was puzzled; he didn't especially like mushrooms.

The conversation swirling around him dipped into a lull. Hobson felt a prickling sensation at the base of his neck, that weird feeling like he was being stared at. Which in this case turned out to be correct. Looking up, he saw Roxy standing in the swinging doors leading to the rear kitchen. Her wolf mouth was open, tongue lolling a bit as she talked in low tones with Jake, the fire-plug shaped morning cook in the diner. Roxy was glancing over at Hobson, tilting her head little in his direction. Jake was nodding his head, the shiny black beak dipping up and down as he nodded to something Roxy said. Jake's beady black eyes were looking Hobson over.

The painter nearly fainted. "Raven head, raven head, Jake has a raven head..." the words began looping around in Hobson's head in a maniacal chorus. He must have made a sound, because the other patrons in the diner were all staring to gawk and stare, their faces a menagerie. Hobson stood up, the colors in his head breaking over him in a rainbow wave, and he began to twitch and laugh. The diner swirled around him. As he pitched forward, grabbing his chest, he watched the little crescent of egg coming up fast to meet his face. Just before his chin crashed into the plate, he wondered just what kind of mushrooms were in that omelet he had eaten.

Hobson hit the table, bounced, and fell out of the booth. He landed on his back, shaking and laughing his way into unconsciousness. The last thing Roxy heard him say was "I can see myself before I see myself, and after I see myself, past and future its all in one..."

07 September 2012

Retail Therapy, with Chiles

September 6th, 2012, 8:41 PM. This notion swirling in my head, after a bowl of beans, dressed in shades of cinnabar and rust.

Close to three weeks into my part-time job, dear ones, of being a seller of spices. About time for a status report, methinks. For me just as much for you, it would seem. This is because the retail environment is a very different terrarium than my usual habitat.  I took my emotional temperature on the matter earlier this week. I had a particularly enjoyable day at the store. Stocking, finding stuff, connecting the customers with what they need, what they want and occasionally with something they did not realize they wanted...it was all to the good. This is important. The work is uncomplicated, but important. I mused on that as I drove home after closing. Why did I think that? 

The first thing that occurred to me was that it is important because getting your customer what he or she needs is crucial to survival as a merchant. Even more so is doing it with grace, style and efficiency. Not only connecting them to the particular product, but enjoying the process becomes a matter of pride. 

The second thing was the realization that all of these transactions I was involved with during the day were opportunities to learn something new about someone or something. I am finding it fascinating to discover what people are making with and doing with the herbs and spices and seasonings they come to buy. Talk about a fertile ground! It opened my mind again to the notion that there are so many good things in the world, to be seen, touched, tasted. Listening the short stories people tell is time well spent, I believe.

The third thing, and perhaps the most revelatory of my musings, was the effects on my own physical and mental states of being. At the end of the day, I was tired, but strangely happy. Happy. Being in a store, selling the stuff and the things! How could this be? I'm introverted, people usually wear me out, and sometimes I feel like Forrest Gump when it comes to small talk. So you would think this setup would be the wrong way to go.

Much to my delight, it is not. At least, not so far. I realized that, yes, people do wear me out. I do have to venture outside of my "hamster ball" for hours at a time. But the reasons for that are good ones. I get to solve simple problems, with easily measurable results. I can talk about what people are cooking for dinner (and I so enjoy food and the cooking of it), and for whom they are cooking. And one of the coolest things about the gig: if at any point in the day I feel the need for a pick-me-up, I can open any number of the apothecary jars holding samples of a huge variety of spices or herbs...and smell them, enjoy the colors and textures.

Trust me, there are times where a noseful of basil or oregano or curry spices are just the thing to perk a mind and body up. Lately my new favorite has been this ground Indonesian white pepper that looks a little like fine sand and smells like wine and beaches. So good...

I arrived home, pulling into the driveway to park the car. I sat for a moment in the silence after turning off the engine, wondering why I felt so accomplished. The only thing I could think was that it was retail therapy that is doing me some good. Not the buying of things, but the selling of things that help fill bellies and bring people to the table that have brought me some peace of mind. 

Epilogue: Tonight I made a big batch of pot beans, based on a new recipe newly brought to my attention. The ingredient list is short and simple, just the thing for a day when you don't feel like much fuss. I did make some changes, because I like to ask questions of what I cook. Instead of 2 to 3 dried 'red' chile pods, I used the equivalent of 5 chiles (3 Anaheims and 2 anchos). And instead of leaving them whole, I removed the seeds and ground the peppers fine in a spice grinder. The resulting powder was spicy but not hot, and was beautifully mottled in shades of red. Bricks and rust, cinnabar and iron, painterly shades swirling around in the pot as the beans simmered to full-bodied tastiness. I spooned up the last bits from the bowl, at peace with a full belly and savoring the good things come from this earth.

05 September 2012

Slow Time With Avocados

September 4, 2012, 8:22 PM. Settling in beside the electronic hearth.

Here is the antidote to small anxieties:

2 ripe avocados
1 lime, halved
Minced fresh cilantro, 1 to 2 tablespoons
1/4 teaspoon dried minced garlic, rehydrated in a very small amount of cool water
Pinch of cayenne pepper (if you like)
Kosher salt, to taste
Potato masher

Cure: Cut the avocados in half, carefully remove pits. Scoop out avocado flesh and place in a bowl big enough to hold it with room to spare. Squeeze one half lime over avocado. Be thorough, squeeze hard for catharsis and to get as much juice as possible over the avocado. Sprinkle minced cilantro into bowl. Pour minced garlic and the small amount of remaining water into the bowl, distributed as evenly as possible. Dust the mixture with the cayenne and a big pinch of kosher salt.

Take the potato masher firmly in hand and give the avocado mixture a gentle massage. Make sure things are evenly distributed, but don't get carried away. A short go will smooth things out and leave just enough chunks of avocado embedded in a pureed matrix of green goodness. Stop. Taste. Add more lime juice, cayenne or salt if needed, to make it your own. Scoop into small ramekins, if you wish, but definitely cover with plastic wrap and let chill in the fridge for an hour or so.

Dosage: Pick up a spoon. If tortilla chips are available, take some of those. Crackers work, too. Spoon up some guacamole, or scoop it with a chip. Place in mouth, chew, swallow, and grin. Repeat, feeling the little anxieties of the day melt away. Be content. 

You have just experienced grace.

04 September 2012

Prayer Flags on Everest Cerebrum

Some time ago I discovered the delightful artifacts known as prayer flags, those humble yet amazing pieces of cloth whose purpose came to fill me with delight. Their roots are in India, they blossomed in Tibet (known as lung ta or darchor depending on the style) and somehow ended up flying in the cool winds caressing the Mount Everest of my mind.

It is my understanding that traditionally, the flags are used to promote compassion, strength, wisdom and peace. The idea is that the prayers and mantras written on the flags will be carried by the wind into the surrounding space. Thus, by power of the wind, good will is carried to all. Hanging the flags in high places, especially those with frequent or powerful winds, is considered to be especially effective.

Lately I find myself struggling with the ideas of compassion, strength, wisdom and peace. How to find them within myself, and how to help spread them throughout the world. It seems to me that all of us could use more of each. I am acutely aware of the struggle within myself to overcome the base impulses that led me away from those four elements. I see and hear what is happening in the world and am saddened but also amazed at the feelings created within my head and heart.

I have written "flying some prayer flags for you on the Everest of my mind" quite often in my correspondence with my friends and acquaintances over the interwebs. I don't recall the first time I used those words, but I do recall thinking I was quite clever in my turn of phrase. It has not been until recently that it occurred to me it was more than triteness meant to convey solidarity or sympathy. I mean, it is that, but has also become much more to me.

I know now that I will almost certainly never climb Mount Everest, or even venture into the foothills of that majestic, legendary mountain. My life path and circumstances will most likely not allow it. At one time, that notion made me very sad; I don't have to climb it, but I would love to at least see it with my own two eyes, breathe the cold crystalline air sweeping down it flanks.

At the same time, I know that I may never get to see some of the dear people I consider to be my friends of the electronic age, as much as the notion pains me. This does not stop me from wishing them love, peace, and good fortune in whatever life is serving up to them. So if I can't get to the mountain, I will bring the mountain to me.

The space within my mind may be infinite if I wish it so. I could build cities marching to the horizon, oceans unbounded or invisible forests if I so desired. But with all that is going on in our lives, dear ones, I have chosen to create a shield against the negative energy that threatens us. I am forcing up a mountain range from the tectonic plates of my soul, the anchor of which is this Everest I think has grown from my heart.

It fits there, in the space behind my eyes, a stereo vision overlay on the shared hallucination that is our world. The winds blow strong and swift in the crystalline cerulean sky around the Everest I see. The flanks of the mountain are dotted with bits of bright fabric, seeming almost alive as the flags I have hung for you swirl in their eager arabesques and tarantellas and tangos upon the wind.

Lately my heart has grown weary of the hardness and stone of its typical existence. There are cracks, like those of a shell surrounding a chick. My heart is trying to break out so as to share in this world...to share with you, my fellow humans. In the foothills, I kneel and turn my gaze toward the mountain. In my hands are lung ta, inscribed with prayers and the names of those I know and those I wish to know.

The shadows hang blue upon the valley, dear ones. I fly my flags in the wind. May they bring you compassion, strength, wisdom and peace.

03 September 2012

Magpie Tales 133: Clubbin'

Summer Night, 1913, by Albert Bloch, via Magpie Tales

Bass through the walls
stiletto pinning his brain

through the crystal haze

Coughing crimson in the sink
choking on a younger man's tears
that oil hinges on his door to hell

Clenching a gravid vial of evil
Vitrine holding his soul in thrall
His hand unlocks, breaks the chain

Breath fogs the mirror, he squints
at the raven face smiling back,
mouthing the word "Nevermore"

01 September 2012

Braving the Deep Wood - Where From Here?

A forest of noises, the great green wall within my head. Steam from the nostrils of my horse drifts lazily past my eyes. The sun is just cracking the sky, frost is on the grass, and I clutch the reins a bit nervously while staring into the trees. It is dark between the trunks. A darkness so thick I cannot quit the notion that it never goes away, even in the implacable white gold noon of a high summer's day.

I wrote that bit above a few days ago. My head was full of pressure and noise. That passage is what came out, and I must confess I was slightly disappointed. It started with such promise. It came to a crashing halt as I typed "...day."

The wheels fell off the writing bus. There was so much promise...

I seemed to have abruptly lost the thread. I was banging away on the keyboard, turned my head slightly to look out the window at a passing shadow, and the thoughts vanished like steam into the air.

I had such promise.

The paragraph suddenly became a metaphor for my forays into writing. Burst of promise, bright new idea, the words flowing...into nothing. This is most troubling.

There is something holding me back, dear ones, and I cannot get a grip on it. The specter of unfulfilled potential is shuffling around in the dusty closets of my mind. I am fighting the urge to look over my shoulder.

Specters, my friends. If anyone has insight in how to banish them, please let me know. It is the first day of September and harvest time is coming up soon. I need to be ready to reap what I have sown.