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My Novel

At the edge of the waves, at the rising tide, where the surf dug a cliff of the sand, a father was flying a kite. His daughter of nine or ten is digging a hole, arm deep, water filling from the bottom, scoops of mud pulled out one by one. His son stares at the sea. He is seven or eight, and he stares at the sea. His father asks if he wants to fly the kite. His sister asks if he wants to dig. “I just want to go fish.”

His name is Javier or Julian, Emiliano or Felipe and he just wants to fish. He is a young man of nineteen and he is out on his boat. His father is an accountant, or a lawyer, and he wants him to go to college. He presses. They don’t talk. He is a man of thirty-five, and he fishes. His sister has moved far inland. She wants him to visit. Stay. Meet a girl. She says she loves him. She worries.

He is fifty. His nephew calls. Wonders when he will visit. He is fifty five. His father calls. He has not seen him in ten years. Fifteen years. They draw near, fall away, decide to connect, find their egos, fall away again.

He is fifty-eight. His sister has died. She had an illness. Or an accident. She lingered, gave in. He wasn’t there. He is sixty-one, his father makes a last call. His son answers but all he hears is the sea.

He is seventy, and the waves roll up and down. The horizon fades. This is the novel. But I know nothing about fishing. All I know is the child we passed as we walked the beach. He said something. Six words. I heard him. This is the novel. But I don’t know what to write.

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Posted by on May 3, 2015 in Writing

 

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I Will Write You A Poem

Come to me tonight,
And I will write you a poem
To carry with you
In your body,
On your skin.

My fingers will write it
On the palm of your hand,
My lips shall speak to your lips
in silent verse,
My eyes
Will show you the seat of love
From which all poetry comes
And in my voice
You will hear the sound of my soul
Singing your name
In words that come to you
As starlight,
Sweet wind through the trees,
The brush of grass,
The sound of your feet.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2011 in Poetry

 

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When Did You Enter Me?

Look at you up in the sky
Shining, pulling oceans
Back and forth,
The flow of blood
Through my heart,
Thoughts in my head.

When was it you
Entered my genes,
Became part of me,
Wrapped around my soul,
Filled my veins with liquid
Moonlight?

When did my
Comings and goings,
Ebb and flow
Fall under your gravity?
When did I discover
I saw better by
Moonlight?

Look at you up in the sky
Shining, so bright
Mars hides
In your light,
Blushes at your beauty,
Paralyzed.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2011 in Nature, Poetry

 

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Summer Solstice Eve

I have been standing in the Indian River for an hour now. Maybe longer. Maybe less. But, as I have stood here, the sun has disappeared behind me and darkness risen before me. This impossibly hot, long day has slipped into hot night.

A wood stork, never more than six feet from me, has been my companion since first I entered the water. We have both been listening. Just listening. Waves come gently in and out. Manatees nudge me in the knee-deep water. Fish jump, splash me. The bird and my self, silent and still.

There is no moon in the sky, only stars, numerous and bright. No light reflects in the lapping waves. They are felt, heard but invisible. The river, unseen. The water, silky, thick, warm. The air, dense, warmer, still.

After some time, I am moved to move, to travel to the sea and so I leave the river and make my way the half mile over it to the ocean, to the Atlantic.

Coconut Point. Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. My car is the only one there. I leave my shirt in the car. Sandals in the car. Wallet and keys and phone in the car. The boardwalk through the mangrove, over the dunes, is long, winding, impossible to see in the new moon and I feel my way along. The waves resonate thunder through the boards, reflect off the waxy leaves. The thunder is everywhere. The waves are everything. Everything drums and crashes, washes in and out.

The boardwalk turns and declines and becomes sand. The waves quiet on the wide beach. I walk. I feel no other human footprints on the dark sand but, from time to time tracks, shaped like those which might be left by a small earthmover, a backhoe. Follow them to the waves and they disappear. Follow them to the dunes, a sea turtle may be found digging her nest, laying her eggs. Some tracks lead from the water, to the dunes and back – a turtle having entered the air and exited again, leaving her eggs behind.

Still, there are no signs of people. No light, no print, no sound. I remove my shorts and walk. Walk. The world is naked to me and I to it, with no thing between me and nature that is not of nature’s making. Feeling the air about me, over me, covered in night and salt and dark and warmth, I am engulfed by the moist air and the sound of waves, each inch of me.

More sea turtle tracks. More and more. Some come halfway to the dunes, circle and return to the sea. Once a turtle is laying her eggs, she will not cease. Nothing will end it until she is done. Before she has begun, she may be followed behind, but cross in front and she will turn around to try another night, undisturbed.

Here and there I see a darker spot on the dark sand. They are patches of plant or stone, driftwood or the shadow of a depression in the beach. One walks carefully in the new moon. Slowly, they move. Turtles, the size of wheelbarrows, walk to the ocean, and I, from a distance, watch. Turtles, the size of kitchen tables, moving beachward against the oscillating surf. Do I see it? Do I see it? Yes, moving, moving, leaving the water for the land. I keep my distance, wait, watch, cross far behind.

I walk. Walk. There are small luminous, glowing spots in the sand. Shells, insects, glow worms, radium. I don’t know. I don’t want to know, I don’t want a description, I don’t want a name, I don’t want them named. I want only for them to shine blue and green and be the only lights on the beach. They are a mystery and I want them to stay that way. I leave them, undisturbed, like the turtles. Like the dunes, like the beach. When I have left, it will be as though I were never here. Already it is so.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2009 in Nature

 

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Yom Kippur as Manifest in an Approaching Dorsal Fin

It is Yom Kippur. A Monday. I have taken the day off work to walk, meditate, think. I have taken the day off work so I could go to temple the night before and not worry about the time, the hour, how late it was getting, when I would need to get up.

We asked our friends to go with us. In our back yard, playing with clay, our conversation set on cognates and religion. I mentioned the Buddha of compassion, Amitabha, and the other name for him, Amida. How the Amidah is the name of a prayer of compassion during Yom Kippur. How it relates to the fruit, almonds, as the ancient Hebrews saw the almond as a symbol for watchfulness, promises and redemption. How the part of the brain which we know to be the seat of our ability to see things in a global, compassionate way is called the amygdala, from the Greek ‘amugdale,’ meaning almond. Craig started talking about the Kol Nidre prayer and, being Craig, translated it for us and we sat, transfixed, as often we do listening to Craig. Lee, Evanne, Beth and I, listening to Craig.

Of course we listen to Craig. He, translator of dead languages. He, who juggles biblical text back and forth from language to language, from meaning to meaning as though the passages are but palm-sized bean bags. He, of the three books of translations. Yes, we listen when he speaks.

As we talked, we discovered he had never been to temple, had never actually listened to the Kol Nidre. Neither had Beth nor Evanne and that, of course, was not a surprise, growing up in the Midwest: Ohio and Nebraska, Methodist. Right then, we asked if they’d like to go with us this Yom Kippur, to the Kol Nidre service; the only one we go to.

They were surprised. Craig said he was honoured. Evanne agreed with a clear look of shock on her face. Beth asked if we’re sure it was ok and told us how special it was to be asked; how appreciated it was.

That was months ago. We asked the small, local temple if we could come and bring three guests. No problem. May we have their names and do they have any departed they would like Yizkor candles for? Yes. We were set to go.

Erev Yom Kippur arrives. Lee is under the weather and cannot go. She asks that I go anyway and I resist but she does not want to disappoint our friends.

Evanne worries whether she should have her hair covered. Beth is concerned she looks like a ‘goy.’ Lee tells her, jokingly, that she should proudly announce she is a shiksa. I suggest against it and let them know it is an honor that they are going and the congregation would be overjoyed they are there.

They are worried. No need to dress well; not for this congregation. But they do and Beth’s heels put her so high above me she has to bend over and I must tip myself up on my toes to kiss her on the cheek.

Both wear black, notice their shoes are made of leather, point out they have worn black and now discover the color of the holy day is white. No-one will be following all these rules. No-one will notice.

Evanne, married, wears a scarf on her head, long and flowing, tied into her hair, nearly as long, nearly to her thighs. She could be Golda and Tevye’s shorter, forgotten daughter. She could be from the shtetle. No-one will guess she isn’t Jewish. Beth actually looks Jewish and no-one tells her this. How to explain what that looks like?

Craig fits in perfectly but is wearing shoes for the first time in, perhaps, more than a year. I offer him one of my tallit (prayer shawls) and a kipa I think will fit him well, gold and silver. He tells me he is honoured to be invited and I am privileged to give him my tallis to wear.

We arrive, are greeted, take prayerbooks and I search for a large print version, find one, enter, find a place in the pews close to the front. Myself, Evanne, Beth and Craig. I leave space to my right, where Lee would sit, where I would be able to see her.

We talk, discuss translation, Craig notices the Kol Nidre is not translated literally and, a game of telephone, shows me the text clues by showing Beth who shows Evanne who shows me, differences in font, serif versus sans serif, that tell a careful reader what is a translation and what is a paraphrase.

This congregation, Mateh Chaim, has, as yet, no home. And, yet, we have been welcomed even though we swell their ranks and available room. Even though there are non-Jews among us who need not be here. The congregation is growing and hopes to have one, but there is, in thoughtful congregations, a balance between the need for a building and the needs of community; the understanding an edifice takes money many of the people here tonight don’t have. It is the only congregation in Palm Bay. It meets tonight in a Methodist church. Behind the portable ark, containing the Torah, is a twenty-foot cross. It is not the building that makes a congregation.

I do not mind this so much. We talk, quietly, as we would before any service. Evanne tells us she is glad to see me misbehaving as usual as it puts her at ease.

Misbehaving? I ask. She answers I have said ‘ass’ twice since sitting down in the pews. She says it like this: “You said a-$-$ twice since sitting your a-$-$ down.” Silly. Anglo Saxon not allowed for a Methodist?

I think, momentarily, of our Yom Kippur in North Carolina. We were alone. No-one around us had an understanding. I listened to Kol Nidre on Internet Radio.

Joel Fleishman had a similar experience on the television program Northern Exposure in an episode called “Shofar, So Good” (1994) when, on Yom Kippur, he was visited by Rabbi Schulman. Our program opens with Joel, physician to Cicely, Alaska, carbo-loading in preparation for his day of fasting. He is attempting to explain Yom Kippur to the ever-interested residents as they eat at The Brick, the inn and tavern, and has little success. This is mostly because he has only a tenuous, superficial understanding himself. He knows the words, he knows the rules and proscriptions, takes care to keep the fast, not wash, not to care for personal convenience, to give the day up to feeling keenly, sharply one’s place in the world and relationship to God and our fellows. He sees the holiday as a noun with a set of rules, not a verb with a set of tools. To Joel, it is no longer a living tradition and he does not know what to do with it. On top of this, he is lonely for those who know his tradition.

Our Good Doctor Joel, while in the midst of his fast, was visited by the Good Rabbi Schulman who, as surprised as Joel, was lifted by a shaft of light and deposited in Cicely to help Joel understand what Yom Kippur is really about and Dr. Fleishman begins the process of making amends. It is a journey, a Hebrew Dickensian vision quest, which starts with the Good Rabbi occupying the space of the top head of a totem pole. Jews, after all, are tribal too.

Not too surprisingly, the members of the cast who understand Yom Kippur best are the shamans.

But I am not alone and I revel in this. Craig tells us the history of the Kol Nidre. The actual translation, the ‘Kol Nidre Controversy’ surrounding just what the proper place and ramification of the prayer is.

Kol Nidre means “All Vows” and it absolves us of vows and promises made that we needed to make to survive but knew were wrong. It apologises and gives release from the many times we said Yes when we wanted to say No, but did not because our jobs, food on the table, roofs over our heads, our safety, our security meant we had to say one thing, do one thing, when another was what we knew was proper.

He explains, my teaching middle school is my Kol Nidre. My giving grades, requiring students to do what they have no desire to, that is my Kol Nidre. When I teach them to pass a test when they want to learn creativity. That is my Kol Nidre. When I do that which I must to put bring food and security, when I do not call those around me on their actions because I must protect my job, that is my Kol Nidre. When I do not, can not, must not act in accordance with my true self; my Kol Nidre. When I do something I must instead of write and create. Kol Nidre.

Evanne points out that is exactly what the abbot at the Thai Buddhist temple told me, that I was doing what I needed to and need only recognize that and the needs of fitting into our community and of survival and taken into account in the realm of Karma.

Yet, even those vows I take seriously. I uttered them. And so the Kol Nidre also protects us from ourselves; we make this prayer because we take vows so seriously we consider ourselves bound even if we make them under duress or in times of stress when we are not thinking straight.

The Rabbi, Fred Natkin, walks up to the bima (stage) and we look around. No fashion show here. Women in pants, men in dungarees, vests. Hats instead of kipas. I have done this as well as it is more comfortable, does not fall off, shades my eyes when reading. Many women have Tallit and that is a sure sign of a rather liberal welcoming congregation.

The service starts and it is with great participation of the congregation, coming up to the bima, sitting down again after hugs and kisses. Always each moment, each prayer ends with hugs and kisses among all those on the bima. Evanne asks me if this is important. Among many liberal congregations, this is common, important, this contact and affection. I say it is a fitting way to end a prayer to love each other and who are we to argue, and I lean over and kiss Evanne on the cheek.

The congregation prays, meditates, responds, the rabbi sings, chants.

The time has come for the sermon. The rabbi speaks of science fiction. Reads a letter written by him to the neighbouring Moslem congregation offering aide and friendship after a shooting into the mosque this week. He is offering for the descendants of the two sons of Abraham, the children of Isaac and the children of Ishmael, to make peace and fight together for justice. The Jewish high holy days and Ramadan started the same day. We have the same goals. The president of the congregation writes his thanks, appreciation and friendship in a letter to the newspaper, thanking the rabbi and congregation. He reminds us we must make the world the heaven we wish it to be. It is our job and what we are chosen to do. That we do not pray for peace, but pray to be peace. That Judaism is a religion of verbs. The prayers re-commence.

The Kol Nidre is sung. There are two tunes for this prayer. I was taught by a rabbi there is magic in the tunes themselves, in the music, so, if one does not know the words, hum, dai de dai, la la la, and that is good and will do the trick. But I want to sing and this is the other tune, the one Lee knows. It is the Sephardic tune, I believe, the one from the Mid-East and not the Ashkenazic tune of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. I do my best. Craig knows the words but does not sing, unfamiliar with the tune even more than I. Evanne, somehow, reads more loudly than others, seems to fit, sounds clear and I am frequently amazed by this.

More prayers, meditations, the Amidah and call for compassion. I feel this prayer as I did the Kol Nidre and look for my wife, see the empty space. I think of my own Yom Kippur Prayer. And when I have trouble following along, I recite it to myself:

We open our mouths to proclaim how beautiful the world is, how sweet life is and how dear to us you are, Lady, Mother of All Living.

We stand here today to remind ourselves that we are all part of this web of creation. We are all linked, so that what any of us do affects all of us, and that we are all responsible for the Earth, and each other. We have chosen to be here today as a symbol of our commitment, our awareness of this connection.

Even so, we forget our promises and our duties.

We gossip, we mock, we jeer.

We quarrel, we are unkind, we lie.

We neglect, we abuse, we betray.

We are cruel, we hate, we destroy.

We are careless, we are violent, we steal.

We are jealous, we oppress, we are xenophobic.

We are racist, we are sexist, we are homophobic.

We waste, we pollute, we are selfish.

We disregard the sufferings of others, we allow others to suffer for our ignorance and our pride.

We hurt each other willingly and unwillingly.

We betray each other with violence and with stealth.

And most of all, we resist the impulse to do what we know is good, and we do not resist the impulse to do what we know is bad.

All this we acknowledge to be true, and we do not blame the mirror if the reflection displeases.

Lady, help us to forgive each other for all we have done and help us to do better in the coming year. Bring us into harmony with the Earth and all Her ways.

So mote it be!

In this prayer, we admit we are not perfect and proclaim we will make good on our mistakes even if we are not aware we have made them. We all make such mistakes. Such is the friction, the dukkuh as the Tibetans call it, of life. And we must have the compassion for others to apologise, to make amends, person to person. If we do not, we cannot go into the new year. If they do not accept, the guilt is on their heads if, and only truly if, we have honestly done our best to make amends.

We must also have compassion for ourselves and the ways we have transgressed against ourselves. Such is the message of the Amidah and Kol Nidre; we can start over and do better. Such is the message from Amida, Amitabha.

And we are cognizant we have made mistakes we are unaware of individually. For these, we say a prayer and ask forgiveness not of God, but of each other and offer our forgiveness as well.

More meditations, kisses, hugs. The Mourner’s Kaddish and I quietly remind those with me this is what they gave those the names of the departed for. I think of those I have lost and feel keenly the empty space next to me, where my wife should be, and move slightly over more, closer to Evanne, leaving more room for my absent wife as though I was looking to be able to see her as I sang, but could not find her. I am missing her and think, sadly, at some point this space will be open, open and empty and not fillable. Thus says this prayer.

And with this, service ends. Craig mentions how so many of these prayers have been taken, nearly without change, for Christian services. Beth feels the continuity with the Methodist services she is familiar. We exit, putting our books back as we do, and head back to the house.

Lee greets us outside still not feeling well but wanting to be social to a degree. I am grateful, and tell my friends so, that I was able to go to temple with those I love even when my own dear was at home. I was able to share this evening with them, this prayer, this holy day. I am grateful to them and happy.

They had said it was an honour to be asked. That night they repeated their gratitude and surprise. It is I who am grateful. It is I who am honoured. It is I who am, again, surprised, amazed and smiling. I hold them both and say thank you, then smile as they drive away.

Today I stay home for Yom Kippur. I do not go to temple, however. I plan to write, run, walk, meditate, remain quiet.

I get ready to go to the beach. On days like this I am reminded of some of the perks to living in Florida. It is October and I am going for a run on the beach. My ancestors would already be cold, wearing thick coats and would have long collected the winter wood. I will be running by the waves wearing as little as I can get away with. I say to Lee, listening, that it is too hot to wear dungaree shorts, the only kind I have. I have two swimsuits, both old, hardly worn but seeming worn, nonetheless, elastics given up their ability to stretch, become brittle.

I have not purchased any in years and told myself I would not until my weight was down to where I wanted it. I might have to go back and revisit that idea. They were too small for years and I would not go to the beach. Now they are too big and are unfit, do not fit, I put on the one with the best elastic. My wife shakes her head. No? Why not? Does it have a lining? No. She tells me I have lost weight and that will lead to needing a lining if I am planning on going running. She does not want me to be uncomfortable or, worse, injure myself, telling me the fat I use to have kept some things in place and, without that weight, I’ll want that lining as I go jangling up and down. I put on the other suit and it falls off. It has a cord, I pull it tight. It still hangs a bit and I’ll need a new suit soon.

I go off to Melbourne Beach and leave everything, including my sandals, in the car. Keys, wallet, glasses. I put about fifty cents in the meter and get one hour and fifteen minutes for my coins. I did not take sunscreen so I leave my shirt on, planning to take it off if I get too hot.

It is bright, clear, brilliant and the beach is quiet and nearly empty. I head to the shoreline and walk, briskly, south.

I practice an exercise as I go called the Walk for Atonement. At-one-ment, removing separation. Becoming one with what is around me, with the world and all that is in it. With time and space. If we felt at one with all things, who would we, who could we, hurt?

What is our place in this world? What is our place, in context to all that is? I walk. With my steps, I contemplate spans of time. A day. What does a day feel like? What does it feel like to exist a day? A year. How does a year feel? Ten years. Can I feel ten years? How plastic I am. How much one can change in ten years.

I do this every year. From then to one hundred. This year, I add fifty years. Fifty years. I am approaching that and can feel it. It is not far beyond my span now and I can understand that in a personal context. One hundred years. What does that feel like? I have and had relatives nearly that old. One thousand years. I can understand this historically but what does it feel like? I am uncertain. My place in it is, or can be, nearly a tenth. But how much a part do I actually play? My grasp on it is tenuous. Ten thousand years. Again, historically, I have an idea. Personally, it is too vast, too long. I have no context. What is my place in that span of time? Nearly none. One hundred thousand? None. None at all. A million?

yomkippurshark_acnmAs I reach a million, I see something I have never seen but which is astonishingly familiar in the water a scant twenty feet from me: a triangular dorsal fin, a triangular tail fin, both moving gracefully in the water so close if I wanted to, if I were fool enough, I could walk out to it and barely have my calves half covered by ocean. This is amazingly close for a shark.

I stand and watch. This is an interruption in the flow of the meditation. Or is it? A shark comes so close as I contemplate a million years and this seems like a message. It feels like a hello from distance of time and I can see, now, what that million years looks like. I cannot go to it so it, instead, has come to me. Today.

I am aware of a person next to me, fewer than a few feet away. “Is that what I think it is?”

What else could he be asking? It is safe, I imagine, to answer in the affirmative. “Yes.”

“I was going to go swimming.”

“Still going to?”

“I just moved here. This is my first time at the beach. Are they out there all the time.”

“Are you asking me if there are always sharks out there or if death is always fewer than twenty feet away and swimming around us.”

He stares at me.

“The answer is yes to both. You’re just getting to see it today. Welcome to Florida. If you plan on hiking instead, remember, we’re the only state with all four kinds of venomous snakes.”

He walks off.

I continue my walk. With each step I think of a person I have wronged. I apologise. With the next step, I forgive myself as well. I do this until I can think of no more people but I am human and I must have hurt more people than I think by simply the act of living. I apologise, with each step, contemplating the many ways we hurt each other and never know it, cannot help it. And, when this is done, forgive myself.

As I continue to walk, I think of each person I know has hurt me. I forgive them. It no longer matters. In the span of time, what could it matter? If they have not admitted guilt, what does it matter? I forgive them. I forgive them all. If I have thought badly of them for the wrong they have done, for this, even, I apologise and forgive myself.

Why carry guilt? Why carry anger? Why carry a careless word? Of what use is it in the span of years? A million years and how long am I here? There is a shark in the water.

Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha. Gone, gone. Beyond gone. Past beyond gone. There is enlightenment.

I start to run. Barefoot I pad the sand beneath me. Step by step following the mean line of the surf. If the waves come in further, I lift my legs higher, pull up my knees, splash as each sole descends. This varies my running, changes the muscles used, increases my activity.

With each footfall, I think of a year of my life. A year. Each time I pad the sand beneath me; grains millions of years in creation, millions in erosion. Each step, a year. I run out of years quickly, in a matter of half a minute. I think of my potential lifespan and run them out in another half minute.

I think then of the people I love and run them out, each step a year of life. My family, less than a minute each, like the blink in time they are, we are. My friends, a minute. I think of those I know, enjoy the company of, gone in minutes and I do this consecutively but I know it is all concurrent, all gone, more or less, in the steps it takes me to run out mine. I think of those I don’t like. All gone too. No different. All the same. We are a set of footprints. We wash away.

I wish all people happiness and the root of happiness. I wish all people freedom from suffering and the root of suffering. Even those I don’t like. Especially. Now, before I become invisible among the sands. Now, before I wash away.

I have run out of people. I have not run out of beach. I continue, watching the evannebirds skitter the foamline as I splash and make impressions which are instantly gone behind me as the tide washes out. I run and am not tired. How much further?

I expected to run for a few minutes. I thought, how long can I run before I need to turn back? How far can I go before I know I am half-spent and turn around to run back or all spent and must walk my way back? But neither point comes. I run.

I run easily, no pain, barely sweating, my heart slow, my breathing calm. It was not long ago I would run five minutes and be exhausted. I would run and walk and run and walk in alternate minutes. Now I am easy and feel free and comfortable, open. How long have I been running?

I choose a point in the distance; a home among the many but different in colour than most and decide to run to that, then turn around. On the return I can sense no reason to be heading back but my desire to return to my writing. Still, I am not tired, not worn, my breathing slow and full.

I see the salmon hued building that signals where I started. There is the boardwalk, invisible behind the sea oats and dunes. I run up to the ramp and there I stop.

Once to my car, I look at the meter. I have been gone more than an hour and a quarter and it flashes at me. I have run for much of that time. I have run for nearly an hour. It is not a marathon, but it is an amazement, an accomplishment and I have a sudden keen sense I have not eaten anything today but half a cup of milk. I am not fasting. I cannot fast. It is bad for my health and is, therefore, forbidden by Talmudic law. Certain people and people under certain conditions, according to the Talmud, may not fast. I have brought nothing by way of food with me and across the empty street is a Coldstone.

I get my things from the car, brush off my feet, put my sandals on, put another quarter into the meter and walk over. What could make this day more perfect than adding an ice cream?

There is a Starbucks, on one side of it and, on the other, Bizarro’s Pizza. There use to be café here Lee and I ate at once; had lunch with Jeannie, Joseph, and Connor on our first visit to Melbourne. It left with Frances, or Wilma or one of the September storms to visit in 2004. The building is still empty, partial.

I walk into Coldstone. It is slightly after twelve and it feels as though there have been few customers today. I ask the young lady behind the counter for plain ice cream with no fat and no sugar. They have ice cream with no flavouring; simply the taste of milk, crystalised, thick and solid. No sweetener. Why would milk need sugar? She is happy to oblige and what size? One cup. A small.

Would you like anything in that? No. Wait, yes.

Please, if you would, some almonds.

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2006 in Culture, Religion, Social

 

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Playing at Playalinda: Mindful Self-indulgence at the Beach.

Playing at Playalinda: Mindful Self-indulgence at the Beach

We planned another day at the beach, Evanne and I. The last day at Playalinda was enjoyed so much that another day was planned on the way back from the first. It certainly lived up to its name: beautiful beach. Evanne pulled out her planner: a notebook with self-drawn calendar inside. Evanne’s keeping of a calendar has been the best thing for my social life. That is what I told her in the car. I misspoke. Social, yes, but artistic more-so, as every time we are together feels like an artistic expedition. It is not that I use Evanne’s scheduler. I need no calendar on paper and keep it, instead, in my head. But others do not and it has always been a difficulty. They must check their calendars, look at their schedules, get back to me later. Evanne knows now with the flip of a page. So, yes, I misspoke. With Evanne’s do-it-yourself dayplanner, we can work in tandem. With a date picked, Beth was called to make sure it was a day she could make it, or arrange to, and it was done. Thus, our day was set.

A trip for five was in our thoughts. We had just heard about a shipwreck and wanted to investigate; knowing Evanne’s husband Jack would be as interested as we. I looked forward to the mile or so walk up the most unspoiled seashore in Florida to the derelict, supposedly on the shore. My wife, Lee, may or may not go for the walk but was definitely up for an afternoon of laying out on the sand, wading in the water, enjoying her Atlantic Ocean. A trip for five and, as today, not a single bathing suit would be packed.

And for two weeks this was looked forward to. We would leave at ten to keep Beth out of the afternoon sun.

During the next two weeks, times changed; later, earlier, who can go, who might be working and but week was left.

We spent the week painting my son’s room. This had been planned for over the last two months and the time was here. By ‘we’ I mean Evanne and Alek from a design by Alek. I was tapemeister. I can be trusted with masking tape. Paint is another story.

Black squares, red squares, black and white checkerboard walls, graffiti ceiling, a black wall full of Mindless Self Indulgence. That is to say, the wall is covered from top left to bottom right with lyrics written in silver Sharpie. It was amazing, the process of taping, painting and moving a room from stark to startling in three days. What was more amazing was to watch the process of Evanne writing on the wall, word by word, letter by letter. Just as startling, no six inch square section of the lyric wall does not contain a curse-word, an expletive, a derisive term. I measured.

Pictures were taken, digital, emailed to his friends. They think it is cool and can hardly believe his parents, us, allowed the room painted in such a way. My son thinks it would be more cool if we thought it was less so. He’ll have to deal with that. My wife thinks it’s cool. I think it’s cool too but I don’t get the lyrics. I understand the parodic nature of the band. I get it as anti-pop. But I also don’t see the artistry, why anyone would want to look at it day after day after day. The world from which that music would come is not the world I’d want to live in.

I too have started writing on my walls. In silver Sharpie. Our back room, that which use to be a shed, is painted in dark swirls blue as new denim, dense as cirrus clouds. It is the conservatory of our manor home and it contains two drum-sets, a dulcimer, a base guitar, an amp, four full floor to ceiling bookcases, an old sofabed, a fifty-year-old Castro Convertible table. It is ten by nine and slowly, the walls become home to a hypergraphic storm of poetry and prose.

It was two weeks ago I had said, in an off comment, if I lived alone, I’d write on my walls. I said this again, later, to Evanne, Evanne said this to my wife. Surprised, Lee thought this was splendid. Why not?

Soon, we’ll start on our bedroom: denim, patched walls. Rivets and seams. Lee has already picked up a denim comforter. On the walls will be the signs for the directions. Painted around the room, emerging from the fictionalized aging of the denim, within the discoloration over time, a part of the creases from wear, the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Tibetan Buddhism. What do we constantly face? What do we take in through the eyes, in what do we immerse ourselves? What do we make ourselves and what do we become?

Lee is talking about a wall of hieroglyphs.

She is also saying she can’t go to the beach. She has taken patients for that day originally scheduled for a day she had to drive to South Florida. We are four.

Friday comes, Jack is called to work. Ultimately, this is a good thing for him. Construction, remodeling, building and rebuilding is decreased here. This is recent. It is hurricane season. So now we are three and it is time to leave. Driving together, in Beth’s car, we are lost, end up on US1, much like old Florida, roadside attractions, rustic shops, antique malls, flea markets. Scrub and river. Forty-five minutes and we find our way. We drive to the last lot as Beth, a biologist by training, cannot believe there is so much unspoiled, conserved land. We must come back to hike. We must return to the sanctuary. We will, but on to the beach.

As usual, the parking lot for the clothing optional section, the last section, is the most crowded. It is next to one of the many small domed observatories dotting this coast, used to track launches. A white two story bubble with a mohawk crest, surrounded by a fence. We see them everywhere here.

We look to use the restrooms before unloading the car: three chairs, a small plantable umbrella, and a cloth bag stuffed with two horseblankets, some towels, extra clothing and our water. The bathrooms are composed of a room the size of two port-a-potties with a slanted toilet embedded into the stainless steel wall. Next to it is a lever coming out from the floor, extending upward about three feet and slightly off ninety degrees; long enough to reach my waist. The ladies bathroom, and I have this on authority only, contains a spider large enough to require a personal name, wide enough to play frisbee with. As a result, I guard the men’s room door while it was occupied Evanne. It has two locks. I guard it anyway. There are few honours left men these days.

We have taken sneakers with us and small bags to hold our clothes. We grab those and the umbrella, take out the blankets, put back the chairs. Off we go, walking past the observatory, giving it a wide berth. NASA is close by, fences everywhere, guardposts. Our boys in the government, here to help. A wide berth.

The beach is crowded, especially considering the distance one must travel to get to this beach, to the end of this beach, to the last lot at the end of this beach. We walk toward the water and the cooler sand, north, out of the crowd and, at a place Beth and Evanne decide is a great spot for a blanket, settle. Down the blankets are lain, out comes the umbrella, Evanne opens it and I grab the handle quickly as she is jerked suddenly northward. I take the umbrella to make exactly the same error in case anyone did not see it the first time. Shall we open it into the wind, she suggests. Absolutely. Into the ground, no hammer, rocks gathered, sand piled around the base and, when all is done, we have earned an oblong patch of shadow large enough to keep the one o’clock sun off a toy dog.

And, by the time I have the sand piled around the umbrella pole, the clothes are off and the ladies sit, looking out to the ocean. How easily one can get use to a new way. No trepidation. I’ve nothing to do but join them.

I pull the sunscreen from my bag and make sure it is available, visible. I am reminded we should watch each other to make sure no-one burns. I don’t forget the spots I missed last time. You are parental just when you need to be, I am told. A compliment. Appreciated.

Into the water. It feels cold to start and warms slowly. I know the temperature of the water has not changed but only how I feel it, perceive it. We become accustomed to a thing. Our perceptions change. Our senses adjust. Plain becomes beautiful, cool becomes warm and the change has been us, not the thing itself. But, in the end, who can tell. With no external witness, it is the location of two points in an otherwise empty space. Which one has moved and in what relation to the other cannot be told. Reality is plastic.

Beth walks out. At an inch shy of six feet, thin and long, the waves wash around her, take no notice. Evanne and I get knocked over again and again, washed in, washed out. We are buffeted and I turn to the side, grab Evanne’s hand to keep her from falling back as she is hit by another wave. Beth stands tall in the distance; we are getting buried on the sand. Still, the hot air, warm water, cooling breeze, open to the world, even with feet covered, sand over my ankles, I am in bliss and, then I am on my backside and washed over by a wave.

So we walk. We think of getting our sneakers, putting them in our bags with some clothes so, if the shipwreck is found, we can climb, clamber, explore. Instead, we opt to leave them behind taking only one small bag and a camera, choosing the freedom to walk unfettered, unburdened. And walk we do. A mile, two, three. No shipwreck. Then, darkness at the surf’s edge. Rolling rippled darkness visible through the sand. Tar? Stone? Stone is unlikely here on this central Florida shore. I reach down and feel for the texture. It is not stone but gives gently, dense and spongy. A fingernail comes up with softness under it. Softness and moistness like soil, compost. This is wood; sea-soaked, decomposing wood. We have found our shipwreck and there is nothing here to explore. We walk it and it is visible over a hundred feet long, look out and it is wide by at least forty, disappearing into the waves. We walk on.

And walk. We pass all people, everything. There is nothing in sight made by a human. Nothing to hear but waves, birds and our own laughter. We are alone on the beach from which we are separated by nothing. Evanne says something I do not remember but it results in a hug, my arm around her waist for a moment as we walk.

And walk – the three of us, all light, bright, reflective. Ohio, Nebraska and Massachusetts have given three bodies to the South and we look it. We are white and pink, not tan, beige, bronze. And we are walking together in the July sun.

The sandpipers are running up to the receding surf, away from the incoming waves. Along the shoreline as it moves in and out. Evanne does the same, yelling she is a sandpiper, a sandpiper, a sandpiper, running up to the foam as it leaves, away from the surf as it arrives, in and out, up and down following the shore. It is a perfect imitation as she jogs and bobs with them, her little body in perfect mimic of the tiny birds.

They are redubbed Evannebirds.

It may be too much for Beth, the heat or the distance or the incline of the shore and we turn back, passing a couple kissing by the surf. In the distance, the observatory, small like a newly popped mushroom. The closer we get the more people we pass, then chairs, towels and, at last, our blankets, umbrella and Beth heads to the water to cool. Then back, wet, to the blanket to lie, looking up at the sky, blue and clear.

As she rests quietly, Evanne and I talk. Who is offended? Why should so few beaches be open to this? We are comfortable without wet cloth, we are not cold. Not covered in dry cloth, we are not hot. I frame it as a health issue. Evanne frames it as a freedom issue. Why not at least half the beaches? If there are people who are really offended, why not set aside a beach for them. At the end of the road. The last lot. Past the last lot. But those who wish the least constraints are nearly always put upon to travel the furthest. It is the way, it seems, and seems to have always been so.

And now it is time to return to constraints. The clouds are coming in: dark and rumbling in the not-so distance. I do not mind getting wet, walking in the rain, but I would like to put away the umbrella and blankets before they are sodden. Once this is done, we make a mistake by looking at a watch hanging on a bag. It is past four o’clock. We have taken our time, took no notice of tomorrow, no thought of yesterday. Just now, now and the sound of the waves. In the moment. Mindless.

We do, indeed, go.

Clothes are put on with great reticence. We have eaten saltines, apples, oat-bars. Real food is called for. Where to go is asked by Beth, who is driving today, as we pack. They know I am careful but I do not try to put my diet on them. They know I will not keep them from going where they want but know I should eat as well and want to know where we can go. Anywhere with vegetables is what I tell her as we drive the long road out of Canaveral. Down US1 or to 95? Truly, I do not know. We choose 95, driving through Titusville and find a sub place. This will do and we park as Lee calls. Dinner? But the girls are hungry and we are forty minutes away from Lee.

Vietnamese is what she wants. I’d love it myself. Beth and Evanne have not had and, Beth, considerate as she always is, suggests putting dinner off a bit and joining Lee. I am glad of this. Since Lee still has an errand or two, the timing works. Beth drives and Evanne holds my phone out between them as they sing her a song, one they created about a “pokey woman” and dedicated to their favorite physician; my Lee. She laughs and laughs over the cell.

We meet at the Vietnamese restaurant. One of us is short and the meal is covered. It’s no big thing. It is no thing at all.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2006 in Culture, Nature, philosophy, Social

 

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A Day at the Beach

I headed out of the house at 9:30 to pick up my friend for a day at the beach. I am light and burn. Evanne is transparent and will, if given the opportunity and circumstances, frizz away faster than a vampire in special-effects sunlight. So, of course, we headed to the beach where no suit’s needed.

I picked her up about ten. Evanne is not her real name, of course. I changed it to protect her identity. Her real name is Evan. Her father had expected a boy, it seemed, or had the name picked out already and why let a little thing like the gender of a child change an already well laid plan?

My son had a name before he was born. Benjamin. When he arrived, I caught him. I looked at him, handed him to my wife as my daughter, age five, readied to cut the cord. He lifted himself up on my wife’s chest and looked her straight in the eye. She then voiced what I had thought: This is not Benjamin.

We named him Alek. Four years later he was playing with a friend neither I nor my wife could see. We asked him, “Who are you playing with?”

“Benjamin.”

“Who is Benjamin?” We knew the answer. We didn’t expect the answer.

“My brother. We switched,” he stated with a broad, wry smile.

Well laid plans.

Evanne wanted to go to this beach for a while now but had no-one who wanted to go with her. For me this was an easy decision. A day with Evanne is not exactly a kick in the head. For those of you with no sense of sarcasm, remember sarcasm is the statement, as foil (a sharp contrast to point out clear differences), of the opposite of what is well understood as truth. So, I restate: a day with Evanne is definitely an event to look forward to. And looking forward to this I had been; listening, talking, walking with my friend.

Her husband is delighted. He doesn’t want her to go alone, has not been there, has no intention of going there. And, happily, he trusts me. I’m safe. At least, that’s how my wife explains it.

I’m good with that. Being safe has gotten me into some rather interesting situations.

“Help me try this on.” “Does too much of me show in this?” “Is this too see-through?” “How does this thong fit?” Can you help me put this chain-mail bikini on?” “Would you watch my nubile young daughter for me?”

All which, of course, have nothing to do with this. But it was great or making the guys I worked with, went to school with, shake their heads in disbelief.

We were headed to the nude beach.

I love being safe.

“Whoowhoo!! Nude Beach!” That’s Evanne. That’s quite a bit of sound from my four-ten friend.

She is nervous. Has brought clothes just in case. Has looked forward to this and brought clothes just in case. It is deeply ingrained, this feeling that taking clothes off is wrong. I know. I feel it each and every time I go there. I tell her not to worry but, if she wants to leave at any point, just to let me know.

On the way we talk of writing and she asks if I’ll be writing about this. Of course.

In truth, no. I will write in a cursory fashion. I’ll write of the generality, the universality. Most of what we say will never make it here. I won’t let it. It is no value to those who read it but it is priceless to me. And why should my friend think everything we say and do will be for the world? I’m too selfish for that.

Do you want me to change your name?

I would. If she wanted I’d change her name. She tells me no. No need to change her name but, if I want, I can give her a nickname instead. She’d love to see what kind of nickname I’d come up with for her.

I tell her it would take me longer to come up with a good nickname than it would to write the entire piece. Nicknaming is not a direction my brain goes in. I can’t think of a better name for her.

For some people, their names are just wrong. I take a moment to think of their names. Hesitate before calling them. Wondering if I have the name right. Not so with Evanne.

So we headed to the end of Playalinda Beach, the end of road at Canaveral National Seashore. Past lot 13. Perhaps they thought having a lot 13 would scare folk away. It was the busiest of the lots, had the most people. Of course they were happy: No wet suits.

We parked. Took the bags, the two folding cloth chairs, the water and lemonade and walked from the lot to the dune-crossover. Above our heads, the American flag and, directly under it, waving from the same pole, a yellow flag with a bright orange sun sporting dark sunglasses. The sun protected from itself.

She had been covered with Coppertone sunscreen before we left. It was the kind that has the large pink bottle and the small blue bottles that attaches to it. I must assume one solution is the girl sunscreen and the blue is the boy sunscreen. I imagine they are mixed together like epoxy, bind and make an impenetrable shield of reflection. I imagined looking at her and being fried, instantly, by the exponentially magnified ultraviolet.

I told her mine was SPF 2,316.

“Really?’

“No.” What can I say? To nearly anyone else I’d have let that go. To Evanne I tell the truth. “But it is waterproof and I won’t slide off the seat.”

I waited until we were out on the beach and made sure she had any extra she needed. I worried about missing some spots. I always worry and always do. They become evident later.

The sun has heated the sand. We’ve gotten there by eleven to avoid the most direct heat of the day. Neither on of us needs that much sun. Yet, the sand is still too hot to for me as we walk toward the surf.

We move to where the sand has been wet and the temperature is lower. The chairs are set out as we remove shoes. Two towels out of the bag. Shirts. Hesitation. Hesitation. Pants. Sunscreen. I miss some spots. I know it.

I am now comfortable. I am amazed. Not long ago, heavier, paunchier, I’d have worried. Who was looking, how did I look? There was some vanity involved, self-consciousness, and if I admit it, which I shall not, self-loathing as well. But now, lighter, thinner, I know no-one is looking, no-one cares. I am comfortable with myself. Comfortable in this chair. Not perfect, but comfortable and I delight in knowing it was my hard work and persistence which is paying off, now, in my comfort and joy, out in the sun, today, with my friend.

I know Evanne does not care. We would have come out anyway, enjoyed the day, the company, conversation. I admit it’s all me and I am out and delighted with myself. A new experience for me. I could get use to this.

We work on fleshing out my RPG character. I’m not quite geeky enough. Not yet. I need to play a Role Playing Game. That will help.

We talk of a video game that I remember as Catman Domine. That’s not the name. It involves funky Japanese music and a sticky ball that picks up cats and batteries so the King’s only begotten son can bring light back to the world. A Japanese electro-analogue of Kabalistic Christianity.

I have never played a video game. Not since Centipede. I don’t think this is the one to start with.

The sun is hot. The dunes behind us real, seagrassed, tall. Before us the waves are high, wide, long.

We talk of Russian history, the Tsars, movements to freedom stopped by well-meaning anarchists unknowlingly putting an end to that for which they fought, assassinated with constitutions in their pockets, on their way to dissolving themselves.

It’s time for a walk. We head North on the waterline. The tide is headed in and the chairs disappear in the distance behind us. People are walking. Adults, children, teens. Some by themselves. Some as groups, couples. Some comfortable with each other, some stand at distances, apart, unsure. Mixed couples. Female couples. Male couples. Laughing, holding hands, trading glances between themselves and the incoming waves. Families, lovers, friends.

“Look at that. It’s so sweet. Everyone gets along. No worries about clothing or gender or who’s who. What if it were like that everywhere?”

“Well, then we’d actually take care of things that mattered, like who had no place to live, who had no medical care, instead of who’s living with who and who says they’re married. Imagine that.”

We turn around. How long has it been? As we walk, we move toward the water. The waves are aggressive, they push and pull as the large-grained sand buries our feet, pulls out with each receding wave, grates our ankles. The water is colder than we expect. There is gasping, squealing.

Once back at the chairs we sit. Not in them but far out in front of them, in the place where the waves reach out to the shore. We sit ourselves down upon the sand, legs out, feet meeting the water, inviting, letting the water wash over us, behind up, taking the sand from beneath us. More squealing. The waves hit hard. The tide comes in. We let it move over us, over time.

We stand, move into the water to wash off the sand.

I have been careful to make sure I notice if Evanne starts to turn red, burn, become flush. I know there is no real need to take care of her, but that doesn’t stop me. We all take care of each other. I see some pink in her face, looking rosy. It’s time to go.

Moving toward the chairs, I pick up her shirt, hand it to her.

Sand off the feet, clothes on, chairs away.

We are approached by a fellow who says hello. Asks where we’re from. Have we been here before?

How far up does this section go?

Miles.

We walk to the truck as it begins to rain.

Later that day, I read he headlines. NY and Georgia both dealt with same sex marriage, anything that passed as marriage, anything that gave the semblance of marriage and some, even, making domestic partner insurance illegal; Georgia’s Supreme Court overturning a lower court ruling that said that state’s 2004 voter-passed ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and the New York Court of Appeals upholding a state law banning same-sex marriages. The court ruled it was up to the legislature to decide, not us. They ducked.

While we walked in the sun at Playalinda.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2006 in Culture, Social, Travel

 

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