Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Slight Revision of My OkCupid Profile

Ok, let's be real. Yes, I am happy to "share an adventure" with you, though mostly what this seems to mean is a weekend skiing in Aspen, which is not so much an adventure as a purchased entertainment. There's nothing wrong with that; it's just not, exactly, an "adventure," or if it is, it's an extremely minor one, like Bilbo Baggins venturing forth to the local pub for a pint. Also, I don't ski.

So, to be real, mostly what I would like is not an adventure, but someone with whom to share a perfectly prepared dinner, or a crossword puzzle, or a particularly well-written book, or, of course, some spirited lovemaking. This is, I admit, not a very high bar, and so it must likewise be admitted that I have several possible levels of entry, relationship-wise.

The first is essentially physical. You may, for instance, not even be on OkCupid, and simply approach me at a dance party, where I am standing by the sidelines, somewhat sweaty, having been popping and locking with both skill and abandon. Since you are also presumably drunk, or high on something or other, you disregard your mostly useless mores and descend upon me like a divine blessing upon the brow of a lucky mortal, and in short order we kiss, the sensations bursting upon us like fireworks, spines arched, lips transcendent, every molecule ecstatic. From there, who knows? Truly, the universe is infinite and wondrous.

The second is a hybrid. Okay, we've got some physical connection; great! But what about after, as we're lying on our sweat-soaked sheets on this too-warm summer night, joyfully exhausted? What then, when I mention how this reminds me of a line from Theodore Roethke, of the "prodigious mowing we did make," or of the Song of Solomon via Robert Heinlein, of "thy breasts ... like two young roes," roes being young deer, i.e. fawns? Can you hang? You needn't know the literature; maybe it reminds you more of a particular afternoon on a beach in Hawaii, those years ago, and you slip into a melancholy reflection on the dissolution of the body; or perhaps it's a certain song that keeps playing in your head, a song I've never heard before but that now you sing for me in a so-sweet mezzo-soprano.

But let's be real. Even this is circumferenced by fate; we've hit a fine middle ground, but the heights, alas, are not to be reached. There is still something essential missing, some critical bond elided, a single atom pulled by its charge to some competing structure.

Still, somewhere – somewhere! – there is a lock to fit this key. You have to believe it. It's happened before, after all, even if just for a little while. For a moment, a day, a week, a year, everything seemed to make sense; it was just right, destined, imbued with an inevitability that you may spend your whole life seeking to experience again. When you find that one, you will take their hands; your doubt will vanish like a wisp of fog in the daylight; you will whisper You, and you, and forever you. Like perfectly mirrored waves of sound, you will meet each other and fall into a profound and immeasurable silence. Just gazing upon that beloved visage, you know this silence will continue, on and on, yea, to the last delighted breath.

So if you're into it, let's, like, go for drinks or something. It'll be an adventure!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Jack Be Quick

Note: This story follows upon an earlier one, "Jack in the Box." Read it here.

In those halcyon days before the world ended, Jack had only two speeds: dead asleep or running full tilt. Even compared to other little boys he ran a lot, and ran fast, whether in a school hallway or on a soccer field. Now, on his first day in Hawaii, he flew across the sand to where his father, Lew, reclined on the beach. "Dad! I think there's turtles over here!"

Friday, March 17, 2017

Delusion and Disintegration in Edgar John Pettegree's Flat River

Among the fifty-three paintings bequeathed the world by artist and architect Edgar John Pettegree, one stands anomalous: Flat River, dated just weeks before his death in 1917. While nearly his whole oeuvre is infused with an architect's eye for detail, Flat River appears to break with his previous work, eschewing realism for a hallucinatory, proto-Surrealist view of another world, often claimed to present a Blakeian vision of the voyage of the soul through the afterlife, painted in eerie premonition of his own death. However, as I will show, Pettegree himself regarded it as no mere visual metaphor, but a depiction of an actual repository of human souls, accessible via the occult powers of a former employer, silver baron Henry Magorian. That this indicated a precipitous collapse of Pettegree's sanity cannot be doubted; but it is also true that far from sinking into a lax or vague imaginative effort, he applied the same rigor of craftsmanship to his final painting as in all his prior works.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Geneblaster Disaster

"Don't mess with geneblasters," repeated the captain as they scanned the wreckage of the fuel depot, the blue light of Kiki's scanner fanning out sharply in the dust-heavy night, limning a profusion of broken struts and shattered steel-mesh platforms. "Isn't that what I always say? Kiki, what do I always say about geneblasters?"

"Don't mess with them, sir," the robot repeated dolorously.

"It's just obvious, right? You start –"

An enormous boom, felt as much as heard, the vibration actually visible as a shimmer in the dust, pounded through the darkened city, so they all three involuntarily ducked their heads. But it seemed distant enough, and after a considering pause, Hor pointed out a half-buried chunk of illuximite glowing under the scanner. "Here. Bring the dolly." Illuximite was ten times as dense as gold – and ten times as valuable. "You start altering this, shifting that, introducing whatever crazy mutagen you found at the bottom of the ocean or whatever, and suddenly shit goes crazy. Flesh bubbling up like fucking chewing gum, mouths everywhere, probably acid for blood... shit could lead anywhere."

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Hatred Never Ceases Through Hatred

If what we object to in Nazis is that they dehumanize others and commit acts of violence on that basis, then subjecting Nazis to dehumanization and violence in response solves absolutely nothing. You've given way to the thing you despise, and lent your force to the maelstrom of violence that perpetually threatens to engulf us all.

And really, this is the sickness that lies at the heart of all injustice: the reduction of human beings to a faceless Them, deserving only abuse, and the violence that follows upon that separation. This is what we should reject, in the sure knowledge that we are all connected, we are all fundamentally alike, and we are all deserving of compassion.

Monday, December 26, 2016

A Birthday in Bodhgaya

From my journal, Nov. 24, 2016.

I am forty years old today, and here I am in Bodhgaya, the place of the Buddha's Enlightenment. It has a beautiful symmetry, I think: a marker at the mid-point of my life, honoring that which is most important to me, this ongoing inquiry into fundamental nature, into ultimate reality.

Recently Peggy Sensei asked if we (Zen Center of Denver members) would write a paragraph answering the question "How has Zen changed you?" And as it happens, in Varanasi someone asked much the same question in person. I explained how Zen had made me calmer, more aware, more centered, and how ultimately it was about seeing one's connection to all things, and actually experiencing that connection in the moment.

It wasn't terrible, as answers went, but afterward I felt dissatisfied. Because I don't practice just to gain some balance. If that was all I sought, I could probably accomplish something similar by exercising for an hour a day; certainly that will improve your mood. No, I don't practice to improve myself. Nor do I practice to obtain some experience, however grand. I practice to reach the root, to touch the firmament, to live beyond the reach of petty doubt.

And this is Zen's great strength, this direct approach in addressing the roots of suffering and separation. It refuses to become lost in the leaves and branches; it moves straight down the trunk into the black earth.

"Wonder of wonders! From the very beginning all beings are by nature whole and complete." The Buddha's words, spoken in this very place, perhaps the most profound words ever spoken.

How have I changed? It isn't necessarily much on the outside. I look much the same, I speak much the same, my mannerisms and even my faults are much the same. But these are only the outward appearance, the leaves and branches; it's what lies at the root that is different.

This is hard to see in another. It takes real perception and insight. Often, we look at someone else and say, "Oh, it's the same old John. He still curses like a sailor, and eats too much, and watches football on the weekends." Because outward change is slow, we miss the inner transformation, which may happen in an instant.

And if you could stand in my shoes, you would see that I am irrevocably changed from when I was a teenager, before I began this practice. The difference lies not in a change of any habit, not in whether I watch television or not, eat meat or not, wear certain clothes, change my hairstyle, expand my vocabulary, gain a job or lose one, gain a partner or lose them, nor in any circumstance or condition; because all these are transient. It lies rather in the timeless, the unceasing, the limitless and vast, an understanding that reaches beyond the stars and down to the very core.

This is what Zen offers: a truth beyond the reach of opposites, of you and me, here and there, knowing and not knowing. It offers a certainty not found in words – including these – but only in reality itself. This is why Zen teachers so often seem to present such randomness: because they are guided by the reality of this moment, with all its particularities, and no other.

So forget what you think you know. True knowledge isn't found by knowing. I'll do the same, and tell you instead about this moment, this place and time:

This room is on the fourth floor of an out-of-the-way guest house in Bodhgaya, India. The concrete walls are painted the color of straw, and the floor is a dusty red. There is a desk, some shelves and a nightstand, all painted lavender. There is a flatscreen TV on the wall opposite the bed, its plug dangling because its status light was shining in my eyes at night.

There is a strong smell of indefinite origin, perhaps from the many cookfires outside, that reminds me of pot resin. On the wall, around the spiral of the light bulb, many small insects are gathering. I'm not sure what they are – some kind of aphid? – nor how they are finding their way inside. This reminds me to touch my neck, where a previously enormous mosquito bite is slowly subsiding.

Bodhgaya isn't quiet; far from it. Just now an auto-rickshaw honks outside; two men are speaking in Hindi outside my door; some children are playing in the courtyard; someone is chopping vegetables in the rooftop restaurant, a hollow wooden rhythm; a dog barks; a door slams; a pot clangs; my pencil scratches on the page.

The place of enlightenment isn't quiet. It is full of noise, cacophonous, complex. But none of this is a stumbling block; it is, just as it is, the living truth.

Now forget all this, crumple up the page, turn of the computer. Where are you now? What is this place? What's really happening here?