24 April 2012

903 Views Of Mt. Gumbo

Following my own "narrow road to the deep north"*, through the countryside of my mind...

This is a time of particular reflection, as I contemplate change in my life, and a path that unfolds a step at a time. The jottings here have mapped out parts of the peculiar terrain of my mind. I have been unable to shake the notion put forth in the work of Japanese artist Hokusai, in his famous series of woodblock prints 36 Views of Mount Fuji. The art being a manifestation of explorations into a central idea, I realized that I have been engaging in the same thing with words.

The problem is I am still chasing Mount Fuji.

My nine-hundred and third post. 903 different maps in just over three-and-a-half years of journeying. I'm still looking for that point about which this world of mine revolves. My own personal axis mundi. Perhaps it is there. There have been glimpses. Sometimes the fog burns off and I can just see something there, something that might be a mountain, a tree, a post the size of Fuji.

I don't know. Ideas are funny that way. Our heads are full of them, universes contained in the perimeter of our minds. I have many. What I don't know is the one that functions as the anchor of my internal universe, and by extension, my external universe. I've come close, at times, I think. Lately "Love" seems to be central to the mental eructations I call my writing. You, dear readers, may better able to tell me.

Gripping smoke. Herding cats. Embracing a waterfall. The tasks I set for myself, because if I have learned anything from writing, getting a handle on truth, authenticity, and the "real" means chasing something I may never fully grasp. Yet something keeps me on the path, searching for that one view in my head that finally makes me say "I have seen the mountain".

I will see it. I know it. All I need to do is keep looking.

*The Narrow Road to the Deep North (and Other Travel Sketches), by Matsuo Basho, is a book I would love to write for today, and one I wish I had written.

21 April 2012

Bennie Beats A Cougar

"The fuck...!"  There was a cougar in the door.

All Bennie Doyle wanted was a corned beef sandwich from Richler's. A short walk, the old green door and a corned beef so good it could make you hurt yourself. So the cougar scared the shit out of him, and he stumbled back. The animal sprang.

Bennie's right foot went looking for concrete. In his fright he forgot there were two steps up into the deli. With nothing under his boot, he tipped and began a slow fall to the sidewalk. He was too scared to know it but the fall had bought him some time.

The writer looked up, round-eyed and shaking, thinking two things. First, the cougar seemed a little on the small side; he was unsure what made him think that, not being an expert on large predators cats. Second, he thought about an interview he read, with Jim Harrison, where the grizzled author said his problem with being a writer is that he could not see a cow without thinking the word 'cow'.

Bennie Doyle had 'cougar' stuck in his mind. He sensed the cold grit of concrete rapidly approaching his back, the cougar streaking towards him. Concrete. Cougar. ConcreteCougarconcretecougarconcrete. The words formed a rhythm in his mind. Bracing for impact but trying not to laugh, he coughed in a strangled whinny. The cougars paws reached for him, rippled golden-brown muscle tipped with pain.

Bennie slammed into the sidewalk. He was never so thankful as then to have the wind knocked out him. The fall had thrown off the cougar's timing; the wiry beast failed to latch on to Bennie's throat. The change in arc allowed him time to bring his arms up and grab the cougar by its own throat. The cougar choked and chuffed under the pressure of Bennie's shaking hands. His arms were locked in a rigid 'A' to hold the snout as far away as he could get the beast. He shook the stars out of his eyes, drawing a deep breath.

The cougar swatted at Bennie's sweating face. He felt a tug and a burn as a claw ripped into his cheek.  Behind the cougar the door to the deli opened again. Mort Richler stood there, eyes wide and with a face the color of a raw pierogi.

"Bennie! The fuck you doin'?"

"What's it look like, Morty? Tryin' to kill this fuckin' cougar before it kills me!"

Bennie could feel his arms beginning to buckle. The snarling beast thrashed frantically, sensing freedom. Mort shouted again. "Cougar? What? That's not a cougar, dumbass! That's my wife's cat. Lay off!"

Bennie laughed hysterically. If it was a cat, it was a monster. He thought frantically, desperate for way to stop it. Choke it to death? Not likely, his hands were beginning to slip. Punch it in the nose? Wasn't that what you did to stop a shark?

Fuck. Think, Bennie. Think!

Above on the steps, Mort was babbling about his wife being pissed, she'd kill him, just stop, you crazy bastardstopstopstop...

Bennie blinked. It came to him. All he had to do was poke out the cougar's eyes. He choked back bile at the thought. It was do that, or the beast would rip his throat out. Bennie shouted and reached up a hand, thumb aimed at an eye socket. Mort jumped off the step, making a grab at the cat, which launched a frantic bite at Bennie's hand. It missed.

Bennie sank his thumb deep into the eye, screaming. The cougar howled like a doomed soul, vitreous humor gushing out of its ruined eye. Mort grabbed the cat and yanked, pulling it off, hurling curses at the writer laying sprawled on the sidewalk.

Bennie stared at the bloody mess of his hand. Blackness crept into his vision, fading into unconsciousness. He heard the faint wail of sirens approaching. The last thing he felt was a sense of relief, and he wondered a bit to know that he was no longer thinking 'cougar'. He only felt it. He slipped under the surface, passing out.

Everyone who came to see him in the hospital could only wonder at his smile.

18 April 2012

Patuxent River Meditation #8

Early twilight, I watched the silver sky diffract and ripple in the gunmetal sheen of the river below my feet. In front of me a pollen-encrusted spiderweb fluttered in a gentle breeze that felt like a lover's whispers. Worn wood, pitted iron bracing and the smell of sun-warmed creosote fading in my nostrils. The chuckle of water over rocks soothed me. Ten heartbeats of reflection took me back to my youth, and those spring evenings hanging out on the train trestle down the road from my house.

I tarried only briefly in that pool of memory. Traffic noise and passers-by broke my reverie. To my credit, I felt no irritation, only gentle joy. A river flows, far from the waters of my boyhood home, and carries me back and forth through time. Change is constant, the saying goes, and the river is an exemplar of the proverb. I leaned on the rail of the bridge to look closer at the water. I don't know what I was looking for, exactly. Maybe a way to divine the future, tell my fortune in the patterns on the surface.

The river said nothing. Not that I could hear with my ears, anyway. No, what it said was meant to be heard by the heart and the soul. The water flows to be broken up by stones and roll over sand. It rejoins itself. It cannot know clearly its true path, only that it flows ever onward to someday join the sea. Not unlike myself.

This I learned from the river, when it spoke to me.

16 April 2012

Breathtaking Beauty in the Museum of Our Lives

Today I witnessed, was blessed, by beauty that brought tears to my eyes and nearly brought me to my knees. I have seen the Mona Lisa in real life, and I don't make that assertion lightly. I felt in the hand of my daughter, pressed to mine, and saw it in a collage such as only a child can make.

"I know what beauty is" I read somewhere, cannot remember who wrote that, but on a pleasant Sunday afternoon at the mall I was hit full force by its unmistakable truth.

My daughter and I were at the mall to view the art exhibits of local schoolchildren, hers included. She was eager to see it, as was I. Her piece was a mixed media collage of what she dubbed the "Silly Bot", a whimsical creation of metallic foil paper, markers, crayons and pens. The Silly Bot, as one would expect, is a robot in a silly pose, flanked by a bird in a cage (wearing a party hat), a small stage (what she dubbed the "joke stand", a small platform complete with microphone) and the "Amazing Flying Zebra", an airborne zebra wearing "rocket boots" (complete with flames) to boost it into the sky.

She said "There it is, daddy!" in that voice that is the essence of a child's glee. I felt a surge of pride, wonder and gratitude that the day had taken me there. She smiled and my heart followed. This was the wonder of creation, the joy of something unspoiled by the grinding of life. That someone could take so much delight in a simple act of creation! My god, the amount of beauty there is when we let ourselves see!

She wanted to see more, so we wandered amongst the displays. Batik prints, ceramic plaques, paintings, drawings, colors and collages. This was not the Louvre, nor did it need to be. It did not want to be. It was while gazing upon a print of a tortoise, done in muted primaries on a burlap screen, that I felt a lump in my throat. At that moment with my daughter's hand in mine, surrounded by the collective joy of heartfelt creation made material, by the simple presence of Art, my knees went weak. There were momentary tears in my eyes. I looked down at my daughter who was taking great delight on pointing out new treasures.

"I know what beauty is..." Yes, I do. It was next to me, around me, holding my hand, letting me see.

11 April 2012

Spot Of Light

It's been of late a tough row to hoe here in the People's Republic of Gumbolia. Feeling a bit like being trapped in the northeast quarter of a tropical storm. My general outlook has been, shall we say, less than sunny.

I was challenged recently to find at least one good thing about my day. Just one, as an exercise in looking for the good in life.

Tonight, I stood at my kitchen windows, rubbing my face with my hands in an attempt to wipe away the anxiety.  I looked between my fingers, outside, where a smudge of pale bluish-purple caught my eye. I looked closer.

The lilacs are in bloom. I think I actually smiled.

08 April 2012

Sunday Meditation #20: Weeds Grow Again...As Do Souls

Some thoughts for this Easter Sunday, born in dirt and grown in pensive light...

I feel unqualified to speak in depth of the significance of Easter. Others know more, and have said it better. The commentary is too well known for me to illuminate it further.  Instead I will speak of rebirth on a small scale, the kind to be found in weeds and dirt, flowers and sunlight, on a rather ordinary Saturday.

My mind had been caroming about, never sitting still. A shame, really, on such a beautiful day. I flitted from chore to chore. I folded laundry, swept floors, caulked tubs. Yard work beckoned for the second day in a row. I finally could not take the confines of my house any longer and fled to the less claustrophobic setting of my backyard. It was white gold sunlight under a cerulean sky. The lessening of tension in my shoulders and gut were immediate, even as I drew on gloves and hefted the weed whacker.

The weeds were thick in the back planting bed, to my chagrin. I set the machine down, considered the thick mat of creeping plants that were threatening the little Japanese maple I have come to love. I bent down and with both hands began to tear at the runners. The crunch of leaves, snapping of twigs sounded oddly soothing in symmetry with the bird songs and wind. I pulled and clutched. I relaxed.

As I cleared weeds, I felt a lightening of spirit, wonderful and mysterious. The weeds I am sure saw no friend in me, but for the first time in a long time I felt no grudge against them. It felt good to clear, to uncover, to make things right. I finally understood that if the weeds were to have a purpose other than being a nuisance, it was to make me appreciate the joy of simple tasks with measurable results.  This rejuvenated me.

We can all rise again, in ways big and small, and it is perhaps the small ways that underpin our lives. I give thanks for the joy of small things.

07 April 2012

Tell Us, O Master, What Is Perfection?

"The perfect blend of spices, cheese and bread crumbs for you to make something wonderful..."

...Or some such drivel as I was about to push the 'Off' button. The tag line caught my attention. I was momentarily transfixed by what I was hearing and seeing on the tube. So now a Very Large Company has rolled out a new product to further relieve a long-suffering public from the burden of actually thinking about what they may want on their food. This company has combined spices (their choices), cheeses (their choices) and bread crumbs (simplicity itself to make).

Spices. Cheeses. Bread crumbs. All in one convenient (petrochemical-based plastic) package.

I watched the happy family gathered around the (perfectly) golden brown and delicious Spice/Cheese/BreadCrumb encrusted chicken breasts, and wondered if it is truly possible to know perfection if you refuse to try and define it yourself.

Because the contents of that bag were defined by market research and focus groups, and 'cheese' as generic monikers, combined with the seemingly insatiable appetite for convenience. Letting a faceless group constantly define the edges of taste and experience means giving up discrimination and control; it means giving up the ability to self-generate one's true likes and desires. If you give up that ability, then you will probably never know perfection. The hollow feeling in your stomach that you believe to be hunger is really the maw of an appetite that will never be fulfilled.

Turning off the television, I resolved again to seek my own perfection, away from the false promises of a Very Large Company. The search will be more work, but the result will be my own.

05 April 2012

Ebb and Flow

Much of the conventional wisdom I hear regarding writing is that to be a successful writer, one must write even when one feels no inspiration. Part of me knows it to be true, part of me fears it to be true. I do not take issue with that assertion.

I do believe, as so eloquently stated by the architect Le Corbusier, that "creation is a patient search".  Words that resonate in my soul as an architect and aspiring writer and photographer. This patient search can sometimes be at odds with the imperative to write at all times. I suspect that the tension between those poles has more than once been the fuel behind by creative bonfires. It can be productive but draining.

Occasionally I find myself in the grip of a story I feel I must write but find something holding me back. It is the feel of the mind straining at the leash, but the heart pulling it back and commanding it to "Sit!".  I have been at the end of that tether since the beginning of the month of April.

Tonight I ate dinner out on my porch. A lovely evening, tinged with blue light and optimism after a splendid day goofing off with my daughter. But the whispers were there. I heard the conversation between heart and mind, felt that impulse to rush to the keyboard to hammer out the story that has been nipping at me for days. I nearly gave in, even began some research as I dished up a fine bowl of ad hoc jambalaya.

But I couldn't do it. The table on the porch beckoned, the evening breeze a smile from a pretty lady, and my heart commanded my feet to carry me outside. The taskmaster in my head growled with resignation, and turned off his desk lamp before shuffling off in a huff.

I myself let go of the tension and bade myself, Eat. Rest. Be.

The story is still there, dear readers, as I knew it would be. I know my heart is right on this one. Yes, we must write as often as we can, and I will. But I will also respect my developing sense of patience, listening to my heart, because sometimes the right time for something is only known by itself. We must allow for patient creation.