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I can Hear the Angles

I can hear the angels
Sing songs only the angels
Sing songs of being
Neither here nor there
Angels and those
Close to death
Sing songs often sweetly
Sing songs below hearing
For all those
Neither here nor there
Hearing the songs of
Angels and those
Near to being angels
Sing songs I hear
Everywhere.

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Posted by on November 20, 2017 in Religion, philosophy, psychology, Poetry

 

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How Much More Sad the Music is Today

This may be the most inelegant writing I have accomplished. Usually, I will write over a period of days, put it away for a week, revise, put it away again, write something else, come back to it when It is no longer is my head, revise and edit as though it wee someone else’s work. I want the writing to sing, sway, build images, make motion. I want to write music. It looks like words.

But not tonight. I will finish this tonight. I may revise, I may not. It will be rough, incomplete, dissonant, shaky. It will mirror how I feel and I will leae it at that.

I attended a concert a month ago. Coyote Run. It was at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ft. Lauderdale. Coyote Run is a high energy band with some high energy fans and the outpouring of emotive support was evident and loud.

I had not counted on that.

When I was in high school, I used to hide in the library during pep rallies. Once I was found and made to attend. I was not allowed to read quietly but was told I must cheer for the team, whatever team or sport it was. I was escorted to the auditorium and the bleachers, given a seat. The roar started, the whistling, the clapping, the pounding and the yelling and I fell over, onto the bench, unconscious and silent. Woke up, did it again and again.

As a teacher I would trade out of auditorium duty even of it meant watching the indoor suspension. Once or twice, I was ordered to a post in the auditorium. I would hold on to a railing, cover my ears. With warning I would bring ear plugs. Without warning I would hold tight.

At Coyote Run, I remember when I started to feel exhausted. Then started to rock slightly, then became withdrawn, quiet, dull. Shaking. That night I was famished. That night I barely slept. The next day I hated myself. I was depressed. Slow, shaking, twisting, seizing, wanting out of amy skin and able to see, only with effort, the wonder my life is, those things others see in me that makes me the adored friend of people I hold dear, the beloved of those with whom I am lucky to share my life. The husband of the most wondrous woman in the world and the father of the Earth’s best children. I could see that wonder that is my life intellectually, but felt none of the joy in it, only weight and hate, my own and my own.

It passed in a few days.

I heard John McCutcheon was coming to town. A rare event. Six-time Grammy nominees do not have to play small churches. It was a benefit concert and I was going to go.

It was at a Unity Church I have attended from time to time for events and talks. Half the size of the UU at which I saw Coyote Run. I knew many of the people there. I sat next to Craig. He asked what to do if I start to seize. Nothing, I said. He asked if he could point and laugh. Absolutely.

I waited a long time to hear John McCutcheon play and I paid as close attention as I could, even as the rocking started directly with the first too-loud applause, the sharp whistling and the lingering camera flashes. I quelled it and my right foot started to sway back and forth instead. The my head, twisting sharply at the neck. Afraid I’d give myself a concussion, I tried to slow that and hold tight, letting the shoulder and neck muscles pull suddenly but giving them no space to move, ending with a head and neck ache. The diaphragm started to spasm as well.

People often ask me if I have the hiccups. I just answer no.

It started at eight. By eleven I was withdrawing, quiet, in pain, exhausted, famished and inwardly hateful. I still took my CDs up to John to have them sighed, to talk a bit, hoping to hide my discomfort. I always hope to. I always fail.

I fell asleep at two from exhaustion despite the blinding lightning, the constant flashing behind my eyelids. I was woken at four by spasms in my trachea and bronchi. Flutterings and beetlewings in my throat and chest. I stayed awake breathing, trying not to shake so I would not wake my dear one.

This morning, I feel fat, heavy, ungainly, slow. I feel tired, taught, tense and tortured. I am depressed and despondent. I am wasted and washed-out. I have been famished all day no matter how much I eat and then no matter how much I stay away from food. Good choices seem the furthest thing from good.

Meditation does not come. My perception is off. I try not to drive.

And I can feel nothing that is positive though I can point out every blessing that fills my life, every talent I am told I possess. I can point the myriad directions whence love comes but feeling none. It all goes out but none makes it in. Least of all for myself. I think not feeling this anymore would be good. I think never eating again would be fine and think thoughts envious toward those who have the will to eschew food for days and days, those who find the ways to stop. Stop eating, moving, breathing, being.

Stop.

In a few days this will leave. Maybe by tomorrow even. I’ll return to rhythmic work and the seizures will leave for a while. I’ll stay away from loud sudden noises, watch nothing violent and, as long as I am careful, controlled, cautious, the lightning will be sparse, the thoughts will return to joy, the hunger will subside, the pain will be kept away.

Until a door slams or the TV is too loud or I forget and buy a ticket for another concert.

The music was wonderful last night. How much more sad it is today.

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2008 in psychology

 

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Poetry as Power: From Spellcraft to Statecraft

I have been asked by Craig Smith, he of “Notes from the Dreamtime” fame, to post my notes for a workshop I often teach.

He posted a blog entry called Poetry’s Power and thought of my workshop, which I am proud to say he has participated in twice.

These notes are designed not to be read at the workshop but as fodder for discussion. I tell participants that I am happy to read for an hour or two, but it is my desire I be interrupted at every turn with question, comments, poetry of their own. It is meant to create interaction and creative thought on the state of poetry, past and present. It is meant to open a few eyes and a few ears to the place of poetry in our culture.

So, imagine yourself in a group of ten, twenty or thirty people, all eager to listen and share.

These are the notes we never get through.

* * * * * * *

Poetry as Power: From Spellcraft to Statecraft
A workshop by Adam Byrn Tritt

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

(William Carlos Williams, from “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”)

From as far back as there are records, poets have been by the side of the monarch in court and in battle. The words of the poet were known to be magic and an insult from the poet could sway a battle. This post was often called the Jester. He spoke the truth, did so without fear and did so in rhyme. His words had power.

Words have meaning, rhythm and sound. Their power comes from the vibration of these three. But, sometimes, the rhythm and sound are all that is needed as these impart their own meaning.

Prayers are in the form of poems and songs. A rabbi taught me . . . if you don’t know the words, hum. There is power in the tune, in the rhythm and sound.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug

 

(Twain)

Poetry is just the right word, the right sound, the rhythm that conveys just the right feeling. In a spell, we want to create just the right vibration, at a state event, at a prayer, we want just the right meaning and to leave no room for a meaning other than what is intended. Poetry is meaning, sound distilled until there is no doubt left. Anything that is unsaid is as carefully crafted as what is said. Hence, poetry becomes powerful in its economy, its concentration and its intention and all of this is built on carefully constructed meaning and sound.

Spells are often placed in the form of rhymes. Poetry has power in the natural and supernatural realm. But as important as the poetry is, the poet is a position of even greater mystery. Our Monarchs and presidents have poet laureates. Chaucer was paid in wine. Our own national poet laureate is paid less than a beginning school teacher but is expected to compose and appear at affairs of state and the position so contentious an anti-laureate is voted upon as well. Only three US poets, Piercy, Walker and Angelou, make a living from their art. Yet, despite this, poets have honours of which other artists can only dream.

We will explore the power and place of poetry and rhyme in ancient and modern culture and religion and leave you exploring for yourself how we can use poetry in both our magical and ordinary lives, as though we should be able to tell them apart.

Poetry has power. I once taught at a public high school where poetry could not be taught without permission slips being signed. One child became upset about one poem. One parent called.

I was asked to head up a poetry reading at a book night at Barnes and Noble to benefit the school. I wrote this and dedicated it to our Principal.

Gather your permission slips, parents, teachers,
All school activities possess the possibility of danger, always
An unsuspecting student may come back broken,
Different, changed or
Not come back at all. Some tender child
May come back
Not a child at all.

Children know some activities possess danger,
We cannot wholly shield them. These are undertaken by
Brave students must have permission slips during
Such activities may result in loss, or gain
Unknown results.

Read the fine-print
Parents, your children may not come back
The same tender child may not return to you
As you remember.
Sign to state your contrition
Your baby might grow up different
Than you had anticipated. Beware.

(Adam Byrn Tritt)

Poetry is not to be taken lightly. It is not for the faint of heart.

Obviously, poetry is political.

The Chinese word for poetry, shih (詩), is composed of two idiograms. One, yan (言), means “word; language” & the other, szu (寺), means “temple, monastery.” Hence, poetry is a “temple of words.” Yan itself is composed of t’ou (頭) “above” (heaven, Tao), erh (二) “two” (earth, duality), & k’ou (口) “mouth” (pass). The mouth, the sound that connects Heaven and Earth. Poetry, The Temple of Words, the Great Connector. Shakespeare must have intuited the Chinese ideogram for poetry in A Midsummer Night’s Dream V.1.12 (1595):

The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven
And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

The Chinese words for culture is wen hua (文化) meaning “literary” or “transformation.” We see the Chinese looked at words, at poetry, as a definer of culture and civilization. They connected poetry to change, transformation and alchemy.

Muriel Rukeyser spoke of this as well, in her writing about the two different kinds of poetry: the poetry of the unverifiable fact, love, art, feelings, and the poetry of documentary fact, literal accounts of strikes, wars, barbaries. She said, in 1974:

The poet today must be twice born. She must have begun as a poet, she must have understood the suffering of the world as political, and have gone through politics, and on the other side of politics she must be reborn again as a poet.

And so, we have a calling. We have an art and talent with which one is born, a born magic, a way of seeing the world and words which is shaped—forged and tempered—by the world and then set out again. A natural skill honed. It is a synthesis of the gift of the gods, heaven, and the practices of men, of Earth. It is an alchemy.

As for alchemy, the poet Gary Snyder tells us:

As for poets
The Earth Poets
Who write small poems,
Need help from no man.

The Air Poets
Play out the swiftest gales
And sometimes loll in the eddies.
Poem after poem,
Curling back on the same thrust.

At fifty below
Fuel oil won’t flow
And propane stays in the tank.
Fire Poets
Burn at absolute zero
Fossil love pumped backup

The first
Water Poet
Stayed down six years.
He was covered with seaweed.
The life in his poem
Left millions of tiny
Different tracks
Criss-crossing through the mud.

With the Sun and Moon
In his belly,
The Space Poet
Sleeps.
No end to the sky—
But his poems,
Like wild geese,
Fly off the edge.

A Mind Poet
Stays in the house.
The house is empty
And it has no walls.
The poem
Is seen from all sides,
Everywhere,
At once.

Power has often been associated not with words, certainly not with Poetry, but with physical might and control over others. Again, Snyder tells us:

We all know that the power of a great poem is not that we felt that person expressed himself well. We don’t think that. What we think is, “How deeply I am touched.” That’s our level of response. And so a great poet does not express his or her self, he expresses all of our selves. And to express all of ourselves you have to go beyond your own self. The Zen master Dogen said, “We study the self to forget the self. And when you forget the self, you become one with all things.” And that’s why poetry’s not self-expression in those small self terms.

A poet is indeed a priest in a temple of words, that power is a voice linking heaven with earth. That is a poet’s real work. A poet’s work is to show us the ordinary in a way that makes it new and fresh, perhaps, even alien and to take the alien and show us how it is familiar.

Poem
by William Carlos Williams

As the cat
climbed over
the top of
the jamcloset
first the right
forefoot

carefully
then the hind
stepped down

into the pit of
the empty
flowerpot

And we value this. We value this after it is done, though we neither value the effort of the poet him or herself. How may poets make a living from poetry?

Williams still had to practice medicine. Most poets teach, or work at drug stores, newpapers. Few even work in the arts. E.E. Cummings, a staple in the cannon of American poetry, could not get his work published even. His mother had to self publish his first collection.

We honor poetry after the fact.

 

For the Young Who Want To

by Marge Piercy

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

Part of this is because we forget how powerful words are. People only faintly recall the worth and power words once possessed. Words gave order and shape to reality: To know the name of a thing was to perceive its essence and therefore to master it. To name a thing not present was to summon it into being, so that the thing itself existed in the words for it.

“I was many things before I was released, ” sang Taliesin, a man thought by many to be the Merlin of lore. “I was a word in letters.” A name could be moved and manipulated and placed in new arrangements, and all of these activities would affect the object named.

The outward sign of the inner powers of a wise woman or man was the knowledge of words and names and the songs made from them. This was true of the celts and of the native American. That is why so many shamans and workers of magic prefaced their spells with transformation songs—verses that claimed they had taken the shape of everything in creation, from raindrops and starlight to bubbles in beer, and thereby had gained infinite understanding. Words were the bricks of all charms and incantations, all spells, riddles and conjurations. Look at the words we use. Spell from the German Speilan, or story. And Incantation from the word chant. In Hebrew, the one who says the prayers is the cantor, the singer the enchanter, the one with the incantations. He binds us to god with words even if the words are unknown to us.

Our own King Authur, JFK, had this to say about poetry and the Poet Laureate at his inauguration:

Robert Frost coupled poetry and power, for he saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself. When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.

Poets have had the power to affect culture even while they are outside of culture and even when part of a despised minority.

Pope. Swift. Catholic, diminutive, sickly.

Mr. Pope

Mr. Pope did not demur
To attack a poet he’d scarce endure.
His whetted wit exposing flaws
With metric feet and raptor’s claws.
This wasp would sting at authors dim
Even those who feared not God, feared him.

(Adam Byrn Tritt)

Not respected. Not paid even when feared.

Not paid. But certainly valued even when reviled. Right up to, but, it may seem, no including present time, poets were outside rebuke. It was the poetry of Wilfred Owen and Sigfried Sasoon that helped bring what WWII was really like home to the masses and was as instrumental doing so as the verse of Phil Ochs was during Vietnam.

Suicide in the Trenches
by Siegfried Sasoon

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Disabled
by Wilfred Owen
(First and last verses)

He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees,
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,—
In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands.
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now, he is old; his back will never brace;
He’s lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg,
After the matches, carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he’d drunk a peg,
He thought he’d better join.—He wonders why.
Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts,

That’s why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts
He asked to join. He didn’t have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; all their guilt,
And Austria’s, did not move him. And no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then enquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?

Dulce et Decorum Est
by Owen
(Last verse)

 

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
“The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” by Randall Jarrell, was published in 1945. What did it do? Listen.

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Prior to this, most people actually did not know how the B-17s and 24s fought and protected themselves. Jarrell, himself, thought it was necessary, but also that the people in the war with the shortest life expectancy deserved to have their fates understood by the people for whom they fought. He did this in an obvious, yet amazingly poetic and political way. It was widely distributed. Poets enjoyed an immunity.

That immunity seems to be waning. In 2003 First Lady Laura Bush canceled a White House poetry symposium in fear of finding poetry and poets critical of the administration and its policies. She feared the invited poets would recite poetry against war. Laura Bush defended her actions citing her freedom of speech. A spokesperson for the First Lady said, “While Mrs. Bush respects and believes in the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she too has opinions and believes that it would be inappropriate to turn what is intended to be a literary event into a political forum.”

Poets around the world have cried foul. Two former U.S. poets laureate, Stanley Kunitz and Rita Dove, have criticized the cancellation. The result was, instead of a symposium at the White House with one hundred poets, a backlash, anti-war symposium with over 3,600 and a collection of poetry assembled on the topic of which I am delighted to be a part.

Far from showing a waning power, this demonstrates the power of poetry is still quite understood and, in some cases, feared. Kings, and would be kings, know what a poem can do.

“What are big girls made of?”
by Marge Piercy

The construction of a woman:
a woman is not made of flesh
of bone and sinew
belly and breasts, elbows and liver and toe.
She is manufactured like a sports sedan.
She is retooled, refitted and redesigned
every decade.
Cecile had been seduction itself in college.
She wriggled through bars like a satin eel,
her hips and ass promising, her mouth pursed
in the dark red lipstick of desire.
She visited in ’68 still wearing skirts
tight to the knees, dark red lipstick,
while I danced through Manhattan in mini skirt,
lipstick pale as apricot milk,
hair loose as a horse’s mane. Oh dear,
I thought in my superiority of the moment,
whatever has happened to poor Cecile?
She was out of fashion, out of the game,
disqualified, disdained, dis-
membered from the club of desire.

Look at pictures in French fashion
magazines of the 18th century:
century of the ultimate lady
fantasy wrought of silk and corseting.
Paniers bring her hips out three feet
each way, while the waist is pinched
and the belly flattened under wood.
The breasts are stuffed up and out
offered like apples in a bowl.
The tiny foot is encased in a slipper
never meant for walking.
On top is a grandiose headache:
hair like a museum piece, daily
ornamented with ribbons, vases,
grottoes, mountains, frigates in full
sail, balloons, baboons, the fancy
of a hairdresser turned loose.
The hats were rococo wedding cakes
that would dim the Las Vegas strip.
Here is a woman forced into shape
rigid exoskeleton torturing flesh:
a woman made of pain.

How superior we are now: see the modern woman
thin as a blade of scissors.
She runs on a treadmill every morning,
fits herself into machines of weights
and pulleys to heave and grunt,
an image in her mind she can never
approximate, a body of rosy
glass that never wrinkles,
never grows, never fades. She
sits at the table closing her eyes to food
hungry, always hungry:
a woman made of pain.

A cat or dog approaches another,
they sniff noses. They sniff asses.
They bristle or lick. They fall
in love as often as we do,
as passionately. But they fall
in love or lust with furry flesh,
not hoop skirts or push up bras
rib removal or liposuction.
It is not for male or female dogs
that poodles are clipped
to topiary hedges.
If only we could like each other raw.
If only we could love ourselves
like healthy babies burbling in our arms.
If only we were not programmed and reprogrammed
to need what is sold us.
Why should we want to live inside ads?
Why should we want to scourge our softness
to straight lines like a Mondrian painting?
Why should we punish each other with scorn
as if to have a large ass
were worse than being greedy or mean?

When will women not be compelled
to view their bodies as science projects,
gardens to be weeded,
dogs to be trained?
When will a woman cease
to be made of pain?

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on November 30, 2008 in Culture, History, philosophy, Religion, Social, Writing

 

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Seven Questions for Adam: An Interview by Craig Smith

I’ve known Adam Tritt for a few years now, though it simultaneously feels like forever and no time at all. He’s a kindred spirit with enough significant differences to keep things interesting. His blog, Adamus at Large, is where he publishes essays and poetry. He doesn’t post as frequently as any of us would like, but when he does, it’s an incomparable feast of words and ideas.

(Note from Adam: To make this as authentic as possible, I did no revision and answered all questions given without reservation and as the responses came to me. What you see is what was written the first time. I looked back at not one question. I wanted this to be as conversational as possible and not a prepared document.)

1. Why are you a poet?

I am not a poet. What a strange question. To call myself a poet would be terribly presumptuous and boorish. Not only that, but it would set up an unfair expectation and then I’d have to perform. Sit, Adam, sit. Show the folks how well you poe.

I am not a poet, I simply think metaphorically. I think in metaphors about everything. The contents of the world—whether we believe they originate from within one’s head, are a combination of that which is without and the experiences and expectations from within, or come wholly from within one’s head—always rumble around and find things to connect with. Everything is a metaphor. Since I don’t see terribly well and remember nothing of the visual world, I think in words. So I get a picture or a sound and I make them into words.

Well, enough of that and my head fills up, so I write. I can’t stand not being understood so I revise and revise and revise, cutting out everything that is not meaning because I’d hate for people to think something I didn’t want them to. My goal is to lead them to the same metaphoric feeling and understanding I experienced. By the throat, if need be. By the hand, if I can. Though truthfully, by the throat is much more fun.

The poetic model allows me to do this in a way that is deceptively short so people will read it. Otherwise I’d have twenty-six page essays.

I then put it out there for people to read, on the blog, in magazines, in anthologies, and in my own books, because part of me believes Descartes: I publish, therefore I exist. Besides, I like the fan mail and the undies that get thrown at me.

Of course, none of that explains why I also write twenty-six page essays.

Asking why I am a poet is very much like asking why I have two legs. I can’t help it. I’d have a prehensile tail if I could. My wife would love that. It would be like in Venus on the Half-Shell. But I don’t. So I have two legs. So I think metaphorically. So I put everything into words. It’s burden. It’s a pain. I’m simply built that way. It’s not my fault, I swear. I blame my temporal lobe. I once filled an entire sliding glass door with poetry. I write on my office walls. I write on people if they stand still long enough and give me enough exposed area.

2. Your first public reading was at a clothing-optional event, and you performed in the nude. And you’ve written about your visits to the local nude beach, and clearly have no problem with nakedness. On the other hand, you write about how you wrestle with body image, and seem to feel ashamed when you are battling weight. For me, being fat means I don’t want anyone to see me naked, even though I thoroughly enjoyed my one and only visit to a nudist resort, and am a closet naturist (I’ve even been skinny-dipping in my neighbors’ pool while they’re away, when I go over to feed their cat).

So how do you reconcile that dichotomy? How do you find the freedom to be nude with others even during those times when you feel discomfiture over the way you look?

Because I’m ornery. Because, unlike dancing, which scares me silly and I force myself to do, or parties, which scare me sillier and I don’t force myself to do, reading poetry at a clothing-optional gathering flies in the face of so many conventions I have no choice but to do it. I teach myself my fears are meaningless and my self-judgments are baseless and thumb my nose at society at the same time? Hell, where do I sigh up? Can I do it twice?

You can walk all the fire pits you want, jump out of airplanes hoping the chute opens, bungee-jump from any bridge you choose, but for sheer fright, read your poetry in front of a crowd while wearing nothing but glasses.

I always reserve the right to not reconcile anything. No need. What makes sense anyway? I am about as dysmorphic as a fella can get. I just got over yo-yo binge and starvation. I no longer run three miles because I ate a piece of bread. That ended last Thursday. A friend who knows me better than well (bless you Joyce) will notice the look in my eye as we are out to eat and take away the menu and order for me. It’s insane. And so, through all this, while I thumb my nose at the culture I live in I simultaneously thumb my nose at that part of the culture that lives in me and is discordant with my world-view, or at least the view I would like to have of the world.

In my mind, the more I push this particular illusion, the thinner it gets and, sometimes, I can see clearly through it and know it is untrue.

There is another part to this as well. I want the walls, those illusory walls between self and other, to disappear. I want the illusions to go away. I am happiest when I cannot tell self from other. That is a theme in my writing. That is a theme in my spiritual practice. That is a theme in my massage practice and in hypnotherapy. That is a theme in my life. Maybe I know it is true and I am working to make it happen, to experience it as much as possible and bring that to other people as well. Maybe I am just trying to convince myself that it is so. Which depends on when you ask me.

And let’s be clear—I do not seem to feel ashamed when battling weight. I have, in this area, a self-disgust that is deep and abiding. It’s open 24/7 and never takes a vacation. I am not sure where it came from and I’m not sure when it’s going, but my job, since I can’t seem to shake it, is to be happy anyway. Happy with the world around me. Happy with myself. My job is to thumb my nose, even from within, at anything that keeps me from being happy, at anything that keeps the illusion of separateness alive.

Besides, I am awesomely cute.

3. In both “Funeral, Expurgated” and “My Grandmothers Came from the Ukraine,” you talk about the quandary a writer faces over how much personal or familial information to reveal and how much to conceal or change to protect the innocent (or guilty). David Sedaris, when asked if his books should be filed in fiction or nonfiction, replied, “Nonfiction. I’ve always been a huge exaggerator, but when I write something, I put it on a scale. And if it’s 97% true, I think that’s true enough. I’m not going to call it fiction because 3% of it isn’t true.” And I can’t remember which writer says that the first duty of a writer is to kill his family—that is, write as if there were no one to offend, no one who would be upset if secrets were revealed.

So how have you struggled with the issue of “truthiness” in your writing? And what kind of fallout has there been among friends or relatives when you’ve revealed something that they would rather keep quiet?

Some of what I write falls into the category of New Reporting or New Journalism. Some into creative non-fiction. But, regardless of what I write, I have never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Many have made the mistake of thinking every piece I write is true just because most of it is non-fiction. So the poetry must be as well. Sure, some of it is but much of it is not. Poetry can be creative storytelling just as much as any other type of writing. My daughter never gathered angels in a field. My wife never complained about her life over coffee as I dreamed of moving west. But with few exceptions, what I write is based on the amazement of that which makes up everyday life. So I did almost hit a wall while she was changing in the passenger seat and the monk did make the spoon stick to his nose. But just because most of it is true does not mean it all is. I reserve the right to tell a story from time to time.

Given that, those who read me know if you see a name in the essay, the account is true. Percentage? If you see a name, it happened. If you see my name, I reserve the right to make my life what I choose it to be. If that is after the fact, then that is just fine with me. My memory is fluid.

That said, there are some things I just don’t write. I don’t write things I feel will hurt a person or compromise them in some way. I have made that judgment incorrectly from time to time but I never set out writing knowing what I am putting down will hurt. I can’t do that. It’s not in me. Even if the person has done me harm, I won’t.

There is so much out there to write. There is no need.

As far a narrative therapy goes, that is the truest account, the most full exposition I can manage. Your example of “Funeral, Expurgated” is narrative therapy. So is “The Shadow.” I write them so fully, so completely there is nothing left inside and, in the end, the content is all without and not within.

Many fail at narrative therapy and are sure it does not work. But they just write it once and get it out in the immediacy of the moment. That is ineffective. To work it must be revised and revised and revised again, experienced over and over in the writing, pared down, blown up, filled and emptied until it is all truth as you see it, until it reads like drama and feels real to one and all. Then, and only then, is it out.

In the essay you mentioned I spoke about the potential fallout a writer can experience and the fear that can engender. My wife, I mentioned in the first paragraph or two, said she cannot grasp the bravery of writing in tha manner. Sometime, neither can I.

But I did not think I wrote anything that would hurt anyone. As my daughter had pointed out, if they thought what they did was wrong or embarrassing, then why did they do it? One would think they felt their actions just fine and so why not record them?

But I did hurt some feelings. After it was out for a while my mother calls with some confusing story about an email and a letter and whatnot. It took me quite a while to put the bits together and figure out it was about the essay. The feeling was, I gathered, that I had aired the family’s dirty laundry in giving the blow-by-blow account of the funeral days.

I have a very small family. Now, it is much much smaller.

4. A casual reader of your blog may be confused about your spiritual inclinations. Are you a Buddhist? A Jew? A Unitarian? A Pagan? How do you reconcile all your disparate beliefs? Or are they really disparate after all?

I am a Jewitarian Buddhaversalist Pagan. What could be more clear than that? I follow the shamanic elements in Judaism as well as in Buddhism but find Buddhism and Judaism are quite similar in their emphasis on tikkun and right action.

I am, of course, a panentheist. But I am also a solipsist and once attended a convention of solipsists where we spent the entire weekend trying to figure out which of us it was.

I spent ten years studying with the Center for Tao and Man. Master Ni told me I had the cosmic egg. What difference what I call it? OK, so I am a Taoist. I follow the watercourse way and sometimes that flows through Judaism and sometimes it washes me into the Thai Buddhist Temple where the abbot explains to me the deeper meaning of the Kol Nidre.

After many years of attempting to reconcile seemingly disparate paths, I have stopped any attempts at reconciliation. The result is that all things now seem much more similar and it becomes more and more difficult to see the space between them or recognize there are differences.

Besides, name one cantor who does not like to be accompanied by a rattle or drum.

5. Tell me about turtle shells.

[Note: I had a turtle shell that I brought out whenever I did any group shamanic work. Every time Adam was present, he clutched the shell as if it were a talisman or protective shield. And when I do energy work with him, particularly when I use quartz or amethyst crystals, he seems to find the shell soothing, since my energy feels “edgy,” for lack of a better word. It became clear one evening that the shell wanted to go and live with Adam.]

The carapace is the dorsal, convex, magical part of the shell structure of a turtle, though a turtle would argue it is concave. It consist primarily of the ribcage which is a strange concept because there is never any chance of the ribs escaping. The spine and ribs are fused to bony plates beneath the skin which interlock to form a hard shell when blue and yellow make green, locking freshness in. Exterior to the skin, the shell is covered by scutes, horny plates that protect the shell from scrapes and bruises. Underneath they are made of backhoes.

They are alternately named Don, Horace, or Filbert.

They are not like crystals at all.

They go wonderfully with a cup of papaya juice and Northern Exposure.

One called to me for a year before it ended up coming home with me.It was playing hard to get.

If you lie one on your stomach, you might not have seizures.

Turtles don’t mind.

6. A dear friend of mine named Geralyn said an old chum once told her, “You know what’s so wonderful about you, Schulz? You can’t sing worth a damn. But it never stops you!”

I know you love to listen to music—music of all genres, music that makes you think and feel, with a smattering of Broadway just for good measure—but I think you like making music even more. Singing for the joy of it.

I remember a workshop you conducted on chanting. It was something everyone could do even if they couldn’t carry a tune. And there’s that wonderful Yom Kippur piece you wrote where you imply that chant and prayer and incantation are different aspects of the same thing.

So what does singing give to you, or do for you, that other forms of creativity do not?

Everything sings. The Earth sings from beneath and around us. Everything on/in/apart of it sings. We come out of the Earth and go back into the Earth and, therefore are never apart from the Earth, and so we sing. Any part of a whole carries the nature of the whole. So I do a whole lot of singing.

I think everyone should. And, no, it does not matter if the person can carry a tune. Sing. We are made of an Earth that sings and it is a function of our bodies. We get caught in subjective notions of quality which we mistake for objective ones and which we then assign value to. People do not sing because they are not good at it. But we do many things we are not the best at. We don’t see people refusing to walk because so many other people do it so much better. So sing.

Music reconnects me to all that is around me. I can disappear as a separate entity—the illusion of disconnection evaporates—when I sing. When I am singing with others in harmony there is an experience that is ecstatic, in what I feel is the true sense of that state: I am outside of myself. The harmony creates a larger sound that is made of but is not simply the voices that create it. The harmonious vibration is larger than the sum of the voices. Larger and different. And that applies holographically from the macrocosm to the microcosm, and fractally from the microcosm to the macrocosm.

What is it that vibration does not do, is not made of? I remember someone wrote somewhere in some well-known book something about “In the beginning there was the word; the word was in God’s presence, and the word was God.”

Names, sounds, create things. And it is the naming that creates separation and, therefore, identity. It is my feeling that what wounds can also heal, and sound heals. Singing heals. Music heals. The cantor sings to the congregation the holy words. We chant holiness. Incantations create. All is sound.

Other forms of creativity are, for me, secondary. They are derivative. They pale. To learn to write I took music classes. My writing exists because I do not play an instrument well.

7. I actually went back and reread every single entry in your blog this evening. I teared up at a few, but mostly I smiled. Or sighed. I am honored to know you.

One of my favorites (though to pick even a Top Five would be next to impossible) is Day of the Manatees. There’s a quote by Henry Beston that we both like—in fact, we’ve emailed it to one another, forgetting that the other had already sent it to us—that goes:

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

If you’re a panentheist, then you believe that God (however you define the concept) interpenetrates every part of Nature. My friend Tim has a wood carving of a fish; on the side is painted the word COD, except that the bottom of the C curls in just a tad too much, making it halfway between a C and a G. It’s the God Cod. (Or, for the dyslexic, the Dog Doc.)

Speaking of dogs, here’s my second favorite zen kōan: A monk asked Zhàozhōu, “Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?” Zhaozhou answered, “Wú!” (Wú means “no” and “non-being,” and is also the sound of a dog’s bark.)

There doesn’t seem to be a question in there anywhere. Hmmm.

How’s this: Manatees. Dogs. Cod. Us. God. If all our separateness is maya—illusion—then do manatees bark, and does God swim in Turkey Creek?

Hafiz tells us:

Ever since Happiness heard your name
It has been running through the streets
Trying to find you.

And several times in the last week,
God Himself has even come to my door—
Asking me for your address!

If God can come to my door, I am sure God can swim in Turkey Creek.

 
 

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Austin CIty’s Limits Day Five: The Final Day

I have mixed feelings about today. I have enjoyed myself here, walked myself silly, had wonderful food, seen things I’ve not seen before and could not see anywhere else. Yet, I miss home. I am a homebody. I think of this as I rise. It is 5:15.

I spend a half hour exercising, as I have each morning, and then get ready for my day. I have some time left. I’m packed. I travel lightly. So I go out for a walk.

At seven I meet the gang at the lobby. Judy has asked we go back to the Driskill for breakfast. It’s a great place, I’m sure. But it is more expensive than Las Manitas Cafe. I’m not sure about finding food there either. But she was a trooper about the bats, went where I wanted for bar-b-que, walked and walked and walked and… so off to the Driskill we went.

It shined in the new morning. It glowed bronze through the expansive windows, showing it to be mostly empty and we entered and found seats to the left of the extensive dessert display; the centerpiece of the café. It is 7:15.

I found nothing healthy that appealed to me and nothing inexpensive I liked. In the end, I simply decided it was my last day and I would get what I wanted. Ten dollars for eggs and cheese, jalapeño biscuit with chorizo gravy and grits. It’s my last day, this place makes Judy happy, it’s only four more dollars and I’ll fore-go the coffee.

The food came late and we ate faster than I’d have liked. Still, we didn’t rush too much. We thought, and correctly so, most people would be late for conference this morning, checking out, settling bills, getting to breakfast late at the last chance to go to the Driskill.

The grits were ok. Nothing special. Instant, perhaps. Loose, the consistency of quicksand, mucilage. I find food is rarely worth what I pay for it or the cost later. This bodes no different.

The eggs were ok as well. Just ok.

The biscuit was, however, stupendous in taste, tremendous in texture though not size and, at this point, I was thankful for the diminutive quality. The gravy was heavy, dark, flavorful, savory, smokey, incredible.

We ate to the scent of coffee and croissants, chocolate and baking cakes. We settled our bills and we were out the door to the softly voiced, and it is a rarity Judy speaks softly, “Thank you.”

We walked fast, not quickly. Nearly skipping. We arrived fifteen minutes late. We arrived to only half-full classes and people trickling in.

It was expected we would leave early and little was happening. It was 8:15. We were to meet at 10:00 in the convention center lobby.

I decided to leave at 9:30 and go back to Sixth Street for a belt I saw two days prior. A two inch belt instead of a one and a quarter. A stretch for me. I’d need a buckle. They were large and I think of myself, especially now, as small. It was a chance I felt I was taking with my self-image. It felt dangerous. Like it would bring attention to me and such is always unwelcomed but, why not? Maybe I deserve some attention now?

We are filling out observations, reflections, evaluations. Around the room we discuss strategies, methods and, at 9:15, we are set for a Socratic seminar. I tell the leader I must leave. She knows this. I tell her I want to leave before the seminar as, once a part of it, I could not extricate without causing difficulty to the group. She agrees and I leave at 9:17 heading, with backpack, for Sixth Street.

Before leaving, several teachers want to talk with me. Move, stay, we need teachers. In Florida we are told there is a shortage of teachers as well. Yet, pay is low enough teachers leave for other jobs, schools actually ‘record’ the shortage and then combine classes to save money. The schools in Florida churn out the teachers but I know many who are not finding work yet Tallahassee has stated they may have to import teachers from Puerto Rico. I thought the teachers I spoke to from Austin, Dallas, Colleen, El Paso and San Antonio were splendid. They spoke of the state test the way we do of it here and of the shortage the same way. Burnout was rampant. Many told me they no longer had curriculum but all taught the same thing, the same day, (within subject area, of course) and it was directly related to the end test. Their plans were handed to them. Many are looking to leave. This has happened to me in some Florida schools as well. I’ve heard enough. Off I go.

In the shop I ask for a black belt in size 32. I ask if I can take mine off and try theirs on with some buckles. Sure, why not?

It is the smallest belt they have and I put it on. I look at the only buckles there I like, not bothering to pay more than a cursory glance, as the night before at the array of biker, suggestive, rockband, etc…

Two dragons in a circle, each feeding into the other. It is the design on my next book, except it is two dragons instead of one being a phoenix. Still, close, very close.

I try it on. It fits. Even with the size 32, I have only one hole left on the belt. The buckle fits; it touches no overflowing stomach, no paunch. How things have changed. Perhaps neither I nor the buckle are as large as I think?

I try to look at it with a hand mirror, aware of how self-conscious I feel holding a hand mirror toward my belt-line, staring. But, it is 9:30 and the shop is empty save the Asian shopkeep: a young lady of mid twenties of thirties. She is use to this.

I decide to take a chance and keep it on. It is inexpensive at $14 for the belt and $11 for a pewter buckle. I put the belt I came in with in my pack and, as I pay, the shopkeep asks, “Are you Buddhist?”

She asks me questions and I try to answer them, she’s telling me her professor at U of T told her explaining Buddhism is too difficult. She wants to know of her heritage and she is asking me, my white, nearly transparent, European self.

We talk for fifteen minutes, discussing Buddhism’s forth wave, engaged Buddhism, the development of the differing types, the core common to it all and the central experience which needs no explanation. I tell her where the temples are in town.

I am aware I have an appointment to keep and stay later than I should. I apologize and leave, nearly running back to the center, through the doors, up the two sets of escalators (the stairs are for emergencies only, silly as that is) to find two ladies approaching the designates spot. I am arriving just in time.

Back to the hotel. Up to the room, toss the few extra things in I need to, and grabbing bags, head back downstairs. Everyone meets and the van soon arrives.

The ride back is a different route it seems and I see things I’d have visited had I a vehicle. It is a faster route and I mention this. I am met with disagreement. The difference, I’m told, is, on the way in, I was quiet, I knew no-one, was watching each second pass. Now, I’m chattering, listening. I was with a crowd then and now I’m with friends and time moves differently in that more fluid medium.

At the airport, in the terminal, tickets verified and, with everyone else in Austin being as friendly as they were, I am not surprised by the jovial manner, the jocularity of the security, x-rayers, friskers and checkers. Thanks for playing, I’m told.

Lunch. I still am regretting breakfast. It is a small airport and there is nothing but meat I can find. A hamburger joint has been suggested and I rationalize this as it is the last day, I can undo anything done, I can start anew, I can eat better, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

I reiterate – food is rarely worth it. Can you make the french fries extra well done? They usually are. Usually? Yes. Well, can we make sure they are THIS time as well? Yes sir.

The hamburger is ok, not great. I go back for the missing vegetation I was sure to ask was included when I ordered. The fries are barely cooked. At this point, I don’t care. I should have eaten a food bar, a box of raisins, some of the seaweed packets, my own nails.

To the gate and they are boarding. One of us asks if she has a window seat. Yes. But it is a C. Yes. But C is an isle seat. Yes, it’s both. Both!?

Boarding, we walk out the door to a short ramp to a set of stairs. Where is the plane? OH! Down the stairs, to the tarmac, over to the plane, up the stairs. Everyone ducks to get in but me. I love being short.

EMB-145 is the plane type. Two seats on one side and one on the other.

As we taxi, Shammeeza is asking me questions about hypnotherapy. I think she is keeping me busy and I appreciate the kindness. It helps. I talk until the wheels leave the Earth and I can no longer speak. We lift off and the plane lurches up and up and up steeply.

It is a two hour flight. We talk the entire time about the trip, our disappointment in our country, where we might go, how teaching is not valued and then we are told we are about to run into turbulence. The plane bumps and I can see what is coming as I look out the window and all there is to the sky is an undifferentiated whiteness.

I am now regretting lunch as well.

I apologize in advance. I am nervous. If the plane drops or lurches, I say, I’ll probably grab you. I’ll find your hand, your leg. I tell her it is nothing personal and, out of reflex, I’d probably grab whoever was next to me regardless of gender, size or species.

The plane spends a half hour bumping up and down. I was on a rollercoaster once – just once – and this was very much like that ride. It jutted up, dropped how far down I can’t know, shoved abruptly from side to side and all the while, we’re fighting feeling ill. The plane suddenly shifts and I can’t tell if it is up or down but it is a shock and I grab her leg, or her hand or… how many times I don’t remember.

Later on I’m told she had done the same. We were both nervous enough, who can tell.

Another of our group says, smiling, she’s telling my wife. “Not before I do,” is my response. “This is all part of the story.”

We land still in turbulence. I’d kiss the ground but, who knows what has been on it. Just as long as I’m on it too.

Driving back home, we listen to Busman’s Holiday from Orlando to Melbourne, singing, feeling a bit as we did the night prior on the busy street, feeling alive with music. In Melbourne, we exit the car, grab our bags, no one leaves.

Everyone goes inside to use the bathroom, wait for a ride, keep the connection. Nearly everyone. I stay without. It is raining, unusually cool for the last day of June, the grass has just been cut, shoes would have to come off, I’m tired, reason, reason, reason. In fact I am keeping distance. In fact, I wish to go home.

Shammeeza exits and we leave. We listen to The Indigo Girls and discuss where we might find dinner. Lee is working and so there is no one home to feed. Rocky’s? Closed early. No matter. I thank her, as I drop her off at home, for making this trip the opposite of everything I had feared it would be. As I lift her luggage out, I know I have an ally this year at school.

I think of Austin as I drive toward the ocean. Had I visited before, I’d have thought about it as a place to live. How comfortable it was.

When one belongs no-place, visiting is hard. When one feels comfortable, one feels doubts. I make my home by where my family is. We have settled where it was best. We have work, friends, family. But my internal landscape is bare. I smell lilacs in the summer where there are none growing, feel hills where none are seen. My feet always feel a stranger. My landscape consists of time but not space, is temporal, temporary.

I am now to get re-acquainted with Palm Bay. I will compare. Ultimately, who can tell?

And so I do what is comfortable. My sweetie will soon be home. What would she like for dinner? I remove a knife from the block, the cutting board from the wall. An onion from the refrigerator. I begin to cook.

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2006 in Travel

 

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Austin City’s Limits Day Four

I made a discovery today. South Congress and 4th Street. In a small Mexican café, Las Manitas, at seven am, I discovered tacos actually are eaten for breakfast and are not a creation of the frozen/fast food industry. Go figure! It was great, filling, healthy and inexpensive. Egg, cheese, lettuce, and a patio.

It looks to be a small place and I stepped in on my way to the convention center the day before. I had consumed nothing more than a can of V8. Others say they could have had a V8 but there are times I fairly live on them. I walked by at 7:15 and it was half full. I stepped in to find quick, small, dark-haired waitresses, a scent that told me I could have done better than V8 and, upon picking up a menu from a yet-to-be-bussed table, prices that told me my vegetable juice was not the bargain I had thought. One does not buy from a hotel gift-shop expecting a bargain. I told the ladies about this during lunch. They had breakfasted on overpriced Starbucks coffee and muffins and we decided Las Manitas would be tomorrow’s first stop.

There is a before-bed discussion about the time to meet. Bus-ladies say it is a five minute walk. Someone other than me responds that it would not take that long even on hands and knees and when the ladies trade barbs I back up. Bus-ladies win because it is easier and we agree to meet at five minutes to seven to be there as they open.

The day started at six as I went out to stand over the Congress Ave Bridge crossing the Colorado to watch the bats and the sun return.

Every day the sun rises and part of me thinks it’s a new sun each day. Each day a new day, a new sun and a new chance to start over. It also seems, despite the sun’s slow arc across the sky, the sun in Florida may not be the sun here and, so, I rose to watch a new sun start a new day.

And the bats slowly flitted home to sleep, nestle and hang under the bridge and await a new dusk.

It is five to seven the next morning when I arrive in the lobby to see Shammeeza and Judy waiting for me. No bus-ladies. They called and said they’d be late. They’d meet us. We walk to Las Manitas and arrive just as the doors have been opened. Entering, we are ushered though the room to the kitchen. We stop and the waitress motions for us to keep walking. Perhaps this is a do-it-yourself café?

We walk through the narrow kitchen into a lush courtyard with leaf and flower everywhere, benches, tables and laughter.

Coffee is brought, tacos chosen food comes and the bu-ladies follow. Their food arrives as we are ready to leave and I walk out full, happy, with coffee renewed in a to-go cup and I have spent five dollars including a healthy tip.

My cup of coffee in hand, a bottle of sugarfree mountain dew in my backpack (from the hotel store) and I was ready for the second half of my walk to the conference.

For lunch we headed North to the Red River District. We want pizza. No such luck and find pizza places closed that open only at night. But, we found a coffeehouse and sandwiches where I could have espresso and a vegetable sub. No complaints. Time spent in the Red River District is worth the walk. A new sugarfree mountain dew in my backpack and I headed off again to the conference, me and my buddies but, wait… what is that?

I see stairs heading down and hear the quiet murmur of water. I run down the stairs, backpack on and to the sound of Shammeeza exclaiming “That’s why I love him. He’s ten again.”

Down the steps, there are, in the river, platforms to skip across and I do, of course, and, in the river, a bed.

A creek, really; Waller Creek. It is a creek winding its way under arches, between steps, though alleys – all the way looking at first glance to be filled with brilliant billowing foam.

On a second look, it is white stone, seemingly bubbled and convoluted. I imagine, in times of rain, this is underwater but Austin has over 300 sunny days a year and today is no exception. Today, it seems solid stone foam is suddenly formed; petrified suds. In it, set central, a bed.

Seems like a place for a walk and how far can I walk, in the creek, strolling upon the foam? The answer is quite a ways. But first, a lie down in bed, in the creek, in Austin in the early afternoon.

Then to head back to the conference, stopping at stores along the way – music stores, hat shops, Mexican art galleries – and purchasing what I have been all week; not a blessed thing.

The afternoon comes and we explore. The sour member of our troop is left at the hotel and we are off. Art Galleries, shops, over the First Ave. Bridge to enjoy the creative stenciled graffiti. Dinner of Moroccan food and mint tea, vegetables and couscous.

Our waiter is tall, thin, slow and altogether reminding me far too much of a Looney Toons character. He is nice enough but seems to be lacking an essential ingredient and I suggest he must be a son of the owner. He brings the ladies their appetizers. Mine he forgets. We renew our singing of “Mr. Cellophane.”

He forgets one thing after another. He faces away watching TV. It isn’t been the World Cup, which I could understand. It is prime time TV and he cannot see us.

Couscous, lamb, pita, vegetables. Do I want desert? He asks me specifically. Is the Halva fresh? No, it comes from a small plastic-wrapped package like from he grocery store. I answer no and he walks away to bring us the bill ten minutes later.

I follow, explaining a lady did desire desert and I did not suggest I spoke for her. Is the baklava made here? No. Is it store-bought? No, it comes from a bakery a block away. One baklava please. Four cups of mint tea.

We pay our bill. My tip is a note stating “Slow and steady wins the race.”

And, now, back to our walk.

The Driskill Hotel is a glorious edifice of an era which is fast going away to be replaced with the expedient. But then money can buy patience if it pays well enough. People staying at The Driskill can afford it.


Elegant, appointed, dense with art, alight with the recollection of how things once were, one can go from Edwardian comfort on a setee on the veranda to cowskin, soft and furred, in the Piano bar.

We found some unlocked doors, as I am want to do, and discovered some private club rooms, banquet rooms filled with lemon towers awaiting tomorrow’s well-heeled guests, libraries and ornate landings.

I played, by request, Rhett Butler at the bottom of a carpeted, wide staircase to the wafting decent of Scarlet O’Hara, played by Judy, now transformed into a Nubian Queen. An audience gathered and suddenly, every lady was Scarlet.

We wandered the guest floors singing “Money” by Pink Floyd, “Money” by The Beatles and “Money” from Cabaret in four-part harmony. From the Piano bar we heard “Hey Big Spender” as the patrons played stump the pianist.

We wandered up the road further after exiting The Driskill and relieving their cafe of a bit of chocolate cake; small triangular pieces arranged on a plate by the café door. Up the road, we found The Iron Cactus and a band in front playing an array of strange instruments and a few not so strange. Busman’s Holiday was the name the four lads went by, ages sixteen through twenty-one, from Bloomington, on tour and a night off, and we stayed and sang with them for nearly an hour.
I purchased a CD for three dollars, turned around a few minutes later and tossed in another seven, exchanging the five song CD with the full collection. Pass it on, they tell us. Copy it, put it on the Internet. Anything so people hear us. I agree.

Music was everywhere, the streets were crowded with people, musicians, peddlers. It was 10:30.

I purchased another CD from them, the one I had just given back and, as the second set ended, we moved on full of song again.


Up the stairs to Maggy Mae’s for a rooftop view of Sixth Street. Down again, hearing all the bands from on high blend into one sound of the late night street with the cars, bikes, radios, laughter.

We were told to go the Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar and we did, as it was next door. “Bring your out-of-town guests to Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar to embarrass them” the ads said. Inside was a crowd which made movement, once we settled near the stage, impossible.

“Joy to the World” was being sung, pianos high on the stage beside us, and the crowd was being taught rather off-coulor hand gestures for the words. This is new territory for me.

It was a bridal shower crowding the bar and, as the bride was brought on stage to sing and be gestured over, the massed ladies became restless for the few males in the crowd. My male butt was save by the presence of The Nubian Queen and the Indian Princess, Judith and Shemeeza. One cannot say I don’t travel in style and good company.

Once out, I told them I had not intended on letting my co-workers get to know me quite this well.

On to the hotel. It is late and there is packing to do. We sang “On the Street where you live.” “I have often walked/on this street before.” Several times a day this week, as a matter of fact.

“When I fall in Love,” “Mona Lisa” and the Nubian Queen and I in “Unforgettable” which we sang in harmony as we entered the hotel grounds in a way, I imagined, that paid tribute to Cole. The doorman held his ears, then the door, closed, laughing. We pointed out the sign that said, “Radisson: Express Yourself” and he opened the door. We were just following the directions, after all.

He asked where we’d been drinking and I told him about the mint tea and he looked unbelieving.

“Were you singing earlier with the cashier in the giftshop?”

“Yes, I was.”

And I’m still singing now, even as I type these last lines.

Tomorrow, breakfast, out by seven, conference and out by ten (leaving early) and heading back to the airport.

And back home. Posted by Picasa

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2006 in Travel

 

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Austin City’s Limits Day Two

22,206 steps today. Not bad considering eight hours of that was spent in a conference room, under florescent lights, in the cold, stagnant air. I could not wait to get outside!Tomorrow they have a luncheon set for us. That worries me as I’ll be inside with no place to get food and rather captive so I do fervently hope there is food I feel I can eat. I haven’t the will power to go hungry. I might have the ability to eat only small amounts if I have enough breakfast. I so dislike orchestrated mass meals.I could find no place for breakfast other than Fridays Buffet (nope, especially at THAT price) and Starbucks. I opted for one of the Uncle Sam’s bars I brought with me and a box of raisins. The morning session ended and I received an instant phone call from Judy, the Gifted Social Studies Teacher, wanting to make sure I did not get lost and would be able to meet them in an obvious place. Actually, I received several calls from her. We met, though I was planning on finding my own way. I suggested a Mongolian Grill I found during my walk there from the hotel this morning. It is a four block walk I made sure I mapped out for myself the day before so I could find my way without taking the bus provided. A bus? For an able person to walk four blocks? A crowded bus one must wait for and wait in? Yesterday I beat the bus’s time, at a leisurely walk, by five minutes.

The Mongolian Grill, and that was its name, was one block away. It was better than finding a place far a field. It was six dollars and easy to get to. We had an hour and a half to eat. A good lunch time except if you are one of five thousand people in a small area all looking for food.

Everyone thought it was great once I and Shemmeeza explained it was mostly vegetables and one could make it as bland as one liked as two of our party will not eat anything ‘ethnic.’ We hurried over.

It was next door to a place called “The Cock Pit” – the logo, a three-blade propeller with each word printed on a blade. Is it a bar for pilots? A fellow exits as we approach the grill and I gather it is not a place for pilots, specifically, unless one was a member of The Village People, and I won’t be going there for any reason I can see.

We entered quickly to stand in line and it was quite a wait but, finally, we snaked our way to the food bar. Taking here and there, piling food on my plate and, somehow, feeling the eyes of the African Amazon behind me, looking down over my head. I wondered how tall she was. Nearly seen feet?

We needed a table. Is it too late as the place fills up with more patrons? Next thing I know my backpack is taken from me and placed at a long table, well within sight, along with another backpack, a large purse and a tote-bag given to one of the participants in our group. It says, AVID, Two Decades of Collage Dreams. I wonder if AVID includes spelling lessons. Or perhaps the person who made it really does dream of collages. I like collages, myself. But what it has to do with our conference…?

Judy is responsible for wresting of may backpack. It is a green Jansport I rolled up and placed in my satchel. I arrived with my laptop backpack with my poetry and some other electronics hanging from my shoulders and my satchel, nearly fifty years old, thick brown smooth leather and a strap none the worse for having gotten caught in the conveyor at the Austin Airport baggage carousel. It is sturdy and easy to recognize. Both important when one are clumsy and nearsighted.

The Jansport is used now, filled with the booklets, papers and materials given to use as I know my laptop will be of no use in the conference. I have left that in the hotel room where I get a wireless Internet signal, regardless of the supposed inability to receive such on the eleventh floor and the Radisson’s desire to have me hook in via phone line for ten dollars a day. I decided to leave it the day before when I discovered how heavy it was. Actually, I walked all through Milwaukee with the laptop in my pack. I did not want to do that again without reason.

Sunday, when we arrived, as check-in was not for two hours, we needed to carry them around with us as the concierge told us he could hold our luggage, give us tickets for them, but was not allowed to hold laptops.

Judy looked tired and I saw no need in us both dragging heavy packs. So I offered to put hers in my pack as well. Thus was the first time of many Judy professed “I love this man.” Just for a laptop? Has no-one been nice to her before? Today, we traveled much more lightly.

We had our massive piles of vegetables and small frozen thin coins of meat. We stood in front of the massive battery of sauces and looked at the recipe board telling us how to make different curies, marsalas, sauces of many types, by taking one ladle of this, two of that, a half of that from the various recessed stainless steel containers making up the four long rows of pungent liquids. Pour it all on.

It all gets cooked on a flat griddle, round, four feet across, with six meals being stir-fried at a time by two people using long, flat blades to move and separate the hills of food. It was masterful. Vegetables, vegetables and more vegetables with any sauce I wanted. Excellent, especially for six bucks!

We eat together and talk pleasantly. I am getting along with these people despite myself.

Later, I felt ill.

Back to conference. Lunch is still weighing heavily both up and down. I wonder what could have been in it to do this. It must have been something in the sauce. No matter and too late. The conference ends a bit after four pm. We all go to the bus and I decide it’s too long, too crowded and too silly. I walk and arrive well before the gang. I went for a walk and a lie-down on the forty-five degree angled grass behind the hotel looking up at the sky and Congress Ave Bridge. Then dinner. I receive another call.

These gals I’m here with are trying to take care of me. I don’t want to upset them by ditching them and grabbing a bit of fruit somewhere so I went with them. A Columbian place with nothing I wanted. I settled for chicken potato soup and an arepa. I figure I’m under-fed today having had an oatmeal bar, a small box of raisins and vegetables I had given much of back prematurely. But I’m saving some caloric intake.

I am planning on going to Stubbs tomorrow for Bar-B-Que, then a walk to the Capitol (Largest Capitol building outside of Washington DC) and then on to the University of Texas campus and a singer/songwriter club up there called The Hole in the Wall.

None of us drink and I’m delighted with that.

Tonight we were back to see the bats but earlier this time. It seems one pastime is to watch the bats (Largest Urban Bat Colony in existence) and the other is to walk/drive/bike by and make derisive comments about the people watching the bats. Rather amusing.

Undeniably incredible to see them flood out from under the bridge making flowing black streaks in the dusking sky. Then we walked he short trail to he observatory space under the bridge to see them from a new angle. It is hard to get close for all the people. Bataphernalia is being sold: glowing necklaces, bat pendants, people wearing batty clothing. Amazing.

Then on to Sixth Street by a circuitous rout stopping by The Elephant room to listen to some Jazz. Under the stairs is The Elephant Room, dark and narrow and full of sound. It makes two of our party nervous and we leave after barely a few minutes. Back from the subterranean to the urban.

So many places with live music, right next to each other, each louding out the one a door up ’till it’s hard to make one out from the other. But some we got into and the variety of music is staggering. And so crowded. So very busy. So impossibly full, and not one corporate entity around, not one mega-meal chain fast-food monstrosity.

Like Philly and NY, Austin has its areas, districts and each is cool in its own way, has its own things, style, flavour. The amount of culture and art here is incredible.

I could hope, with enough density, Melbourne could do this. The raw art and talent, the culture is there but just not the density needed so that it feeds itself and grows. It does not yet have the critical mass. I want a culture monster!

I am hungry. I was tempted by the dueling pizza parlors we pass on our return, but I was good. I’m rather hungry but being unconscious should take care of that. Soon. We head back into the hotel. It has been a long day. I have writing to do. Then sleep. I say goodnight. I have enjoyed my day. I have enjoyed my company. Posted by Picasa

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2006 in Travel

 

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