24 September 2009

Check the Map

"Not I personify, but the anima personifies me, or soul makes herself through me, giving my life her sense-- her intense daydream is my 'me-ness', and 'I', a psychic vessel whose existence is a psychic metaphor, ..." - James Hillman
"...I want my students to see ...that they are as capable of shaping the world as it is of shaping them. ... newfound appreciation for his [family] history allows Milkman to see himself as a link in the chain between the past and the future..." Marc Schuster from "'Gimme Hate, Lord!' Facets of Love in Song of Solomon" in The Fiction of Toni Morrison: Reading and Writing on Race, Culture, and Identity

I am in Boston this week, helping a friend (and former employer) prepare for an IRS audit of his non-profit organization which I once served. This work and I found each other last week. My earnings here will pay October rent.

Some people associated with this project see me as a savior. This is largely because my left brain almost always goes into overdrive when I'm around these folks [I just took a quiz online to measure where I am after two days' contact...] and of the hundreds of volunteers and staff associated with the group since Katrina, I am the sole survivor left on the Gulf Coast.

Right Brain/ Left Brain Quiz
The higher of these two numbers below indicates which side of your brain has dominance in your life. Realising your right brain/left brain tendancy will help you interact with and to understand others.
Left Brain Dominance: 8(8)
Right Brain Dominance: 9(9)
Right Brain/ Left Brain Quiz

If the last four weeks are an indicator, I will not save the day. Anything short of disaster will be a complete reversal of September fortunes.

I'm not in savior mode. I don't know exactly what to call this mode but "savior" is definitely a misnomer.

Three cats and a dog live in the South Boston apartment where I'm staying. I am allergic to cats. Luckily the weather allows wide open windows and physical distress has been minimal. This morning I have itchy eyes and nasal congestion. These reactions are reassuring -- yeah, I'm still me.

The backyard of the house next door has no lawn. The man who lives in the house has spent every dry weather day of the last 8 years, raking the ground and removing all pebbles, grass, weeds and leaves. He bags what he harvests and the trash collectors haul it away twice a week.

I watched him on and off all day yesterday. It's fascinating. Medium-sized bits of brick or stone outline two narrow strips on the north end of the yard. A single line of similar stones runs the length of these strips. From the second floor balcony where I stand, it looks like a Kahloesque uni-brow above two Asian eyes.

Yesterday, after sundown, he spent almost an hour toting pitchers of soapy water from inside his house, dumping them onto the side porch and watching the water drip through the wooden slats.

On this second morning, he is meticulously snipping all branches, twigs and leaves extending over or through the fence between his yard and the one next door. The woman who lives with him appears to be slightly disabled, both physically and mentally. When she comes out of the house and touches anything, he screams at her.

I think this would be called obsessive compulsive behavior but he seems quite focused and sure of himself. I'm told he has lowered the grade of his yard by at least 4 inches since moving in over a decade ago.

It feels like something is being worked out through my life. Maybe this is, as Hillman suggests, Soul making herself through me. Is it possible to know Soul's objective? To participate and contribute to the mission? Can I do something more than just fumble blindly, be more than a vessel? I listened last night to my hosts' discussion of the man next door, how he is spending the days of his life. What do observers say about how I am spending the days of mine? What do They see?

I don't know much about the lives of my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. Beyond a few immaculate anecdotes, I have little information about the story before I came onstage. Still, I have a sense of how I have been shaped by ancestors, how the past makes me what I am.

The link between my life and my son's is clearer to me but still hazy. I can see a little about how I contribute to who he is.

I can't see how I'm shaping the world.

18 September 2009

Three Notes

Last night a neighbor sought to explain the "real New Orleans" to me. It's not the first time I've been on the receiving end of such a tutorial since arriving here in 2005. Does it mean anything that the only people who ever try to spell this out for me are always born and raised somewhere else?


I met Sara Roahen Tuesday night! I walked over to the Alvar branch to return Bill Clinton's book (couldn't get past the first 20 or 30 pages...what a disappointment) and the dear head librarian remembered my effusive praise of Gumbo Tales. "You know your girl is talking tonight on the West Bank," she warbled.

"My girl? Who's that?"

"Gumbo Tales, of course" she said, looking at me like I was the most fickle of readers. She doesn't know yet that I fall in love every time I read good writing.

Guessing (correctly) that my piano student for the afternoon would neither show up nor call (part of the storm of misfortune and rudeness and loss referenced below), I biked down to Canal Street and caught the ferry over, reaching the Hubbell Library only 10 minutes late for the reading. Shamelessly smitten with Sara, I plopped my sweaty self down in the front row.

Hers was not the face or voice I'd imagined while reading the book but I was not disappointed. What a precious young woman! Besides having the opportunity to thank her for writing the book and to tell her that I love her and the book and give her a big hug at the end of the reading, I'm glad I went because

a) I learned that she and her husband moved back to New Orleans last year!
b) Her humor and candor about her creative process was refreshing and inspiring.
c) The view of New Orleans and the Mississippi River was heart-breaking-ly beautiful that night from the West Bank. It's rare I'm down on the River after dark.

The storm seems to be over for now. "I'm at the mercy of my life," was the description I gave a friend several nights ago. For almost two solid weeks, the barrage of irreparable loss was intense, unpredictable and unrelenting. I understand more clearly now why people jumped out of windows during the Depression. Last week, I couldn't stop thinking about suicide. I decided to "just say no," every time the thought came to mind--for as long as I could.

Finally came a day with not a single turn of misfortune....and then another day when several people thought of me and called or dropped an email. I slept well that night.

So everything is gone. I have nothing left to lose. Feels like I'm starting over from scratch -- except there's no "scratch" left to work from. Feels like the storm has passed over, like the house and barn were destroyed and the fields and livestock decimated but I survived. I'm alive. Where do we go from here?

11 September 2009


In answer or response to comments about recent blog posts:

--The earthquake I experienced while living in the San Francisco Bay area (The Letter H: Rambling as Directed) caused only minor property damage and no loss of life.

--Bradley Whitford (Name Calling) is an Emmy-winning actor from The West Wing.

--No one in my immediate family has died recently. (The Letter H: Rambling as Directed)

--All the writing on this blog, including "Lord Loss" from last week, is my own unless specifically attributed. The images are chosen from Google Image searches done on a word or phrase from the post.

--Donovan (Heat) is my housemate. We are not romantically or sexually involved with each other. I believe he is gay but he says he is not.

10 September 2009

The Letter H: Rambling as Directed

The instruction from last night's dreaming was "blog H". What does that mean?

It is difficult to ask for Help. Because, except in cases of emergency--drowning, hair on fire, and knife in the thigh, for example--it is difficult to know specifically what to ask for. Asking for Help is also risky: first, because there is the potential for the true nature of the one who asks and the one who responds to be revealed in the interaction; and second because the request may set in motion a story one has no desire to participate in or witness.

Although my mother insisted throughout my childhood that I had no sense of Humor, I know now she was mistaken. This is not to say I am incapable of an obdurate humorlessness at times; there are innumerable situations in which the forced gaiety of other villagers is crassly inappropriate. It feels like a civic responsibility to keep a straight face. Still, my memory stores enough hilarity to ensure some fun when the time for Life Review arrives.

My piano students and I have been looking at our hands this week. I'm working on Rachmaninov's Prelude in C# Minor, challenged by the size and progression of the chords. It is rumored his hand span encompassed the interval of a 13th on the keyboard! This shatters my long-held belief that I have exceptionally large hands: depending on the notes in the chord, a 10th is my maximum stretch.

Also shattered this week, my belief that I have advanced math aptitude.

[Note: Contrary to my first thought, I am not bored by this blog post. I am terrified of what people will think of it...]

Only one restaurant in my experience met my expectation when I ordered "extra crispy" hash browns. A little diner in San Francisco on Irving Street, N Judah line before the turn onto 9th Avenue. The cook produced a dinner-plate size, crispy potato cookie--with cheese if you like. It was the best. I hope they're still making hash browns this way when/if I ever get back to San Francisco.

I am no longer afraid of becoming homeless. Delusion or no, I believe there are a handful of people who would take me in.

Hurricanes are another matter. Sucked into New Orleans on Katrina's tailwinds, I've come no closer to the real deal. Friends insisted and assisted last year's evacuation for Gustav. Bill was close enough to shorten my stay on Star Island last month. When I lived in San Francisco I longed to experience an earthquake. The fulfillment of that longing was strong enough to educate without injuring. I have a longing to experience a hurricane but, given where I live, I don't voice this longing even in the privacy of my own thoughts.

I miss my grandson, Henry. We hardly know each other since I've only visited him twice and he's never visited me in the three years he's been alive. His parents post photos of him on a blog set up to track his sojourn on the planet. I especially like pictures like this one that capture a full-front gaze. He doesn't remind me of his father, my son, any more. Looking into the eyes is a little like looking at myself, a little like hearing my name called and a little like being embraced...or hugged.

Hubris, harmony, hips and hallucination are additional "h" words but for a variety of reasons I lack the energy to discuss them this morning.

Something must be said about heart before I close.

A month ago I boasted that everything I wanted was coming to me. My heart was full, elated, exuberant, grateful. The past two weeks have been marked by loss of biblical proportions. I feel this, too, in my heart. I am exhausted, depleted, afraid. If I asked for help now, it would be a request for relief or strength or inspiration but who, besides the God of my forefathers, can grant such a request?

I no longer believe in that God.

From my aloneness and aliveness in the Universe, I call out, cry out, only half-believing that personal cries impact the cosmic field. Today I will write, walk in the rain, play piano, rearrange the furniture in my bedroom and perhaps cut my hair. These substitutes for prayer.

04 September 2009

Sir Michael

Morning radio on WWOZ is all Michael Jackson today. Dozing in and out this morning NPR informed me Michael's body was finally laid to rest last night. Some place fancy; where was it?

Ah, yes. Google (how did we live before you?) harvests more than 170 million hits on "Michael Jackson"! "Entombed Among Hollywood Royalty" at Forest Lawn mausoleum reports The Australian.

What a life, no?

Michael's death surprised me but did not elicit an emotional response. What can you say? With celebrity of the magnitude that he endured, you are mostly the projections, conjecture and cravings of fans and the media and big business. Everyone who ever thinks of you, thinks of you under the influence of their own fantasies and nightmares.

I suppose we could call it "public service," giving the world a screen to dream and freak on.

When celebrities die, I always hope there's a book. A collection of letters. A journal. Some written clues about the true heart of the celebrated "public servant." Extraordinary, tragic, gifted public servant.


My parents' playlists dominated the airwaves in my childhood home: Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington, Lou Rawls, Sarah Vaughn (my mother's music)and Moms Mabley, Redd Foxx, Bill Cosby--with Pearl Bailey or Louis Armstrong thrown into the mix occasionally (my father's playlist).

A Jackson Five album somehow found its way into the family collection. We played it on the hulking combo TV-radio-record player stereo cabinet unit and danced around the living room after school. The custom among adolescent girls, possibly practiced worldwide, was to choose a fantasy boyfriend from among the members of popular boy bands--the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Osmonds, Monkeys. I was 15 and I think Jermaine was my choice in the Jackson Five. It was never Michael; he was too young.

I only ever purchased two Jackson albums: Off The Wall and Bad. Each appeared briefly in my personal Top Ten before being relegated to the "never listen to it but can't quite throw it away" bin. Great dance music and I was dancing a lot in those days. I'd hardly noticed Michael in the Jackson Five but he was a much brighter star and more exciting artist on his own.

I didn't pay much attention to him between album releases. All of the media drum-drum and yak-yak had begun years ago and was at a fevered pitch by the time I noticed the covers of the gossip magazines. It struck me as more of the usual ridiculous waste of time that tabloids make their stock in trade.

Michael seemed as capable as any other celebrity of ignoring the drivel and maintaining a focus on his artistry and personal wholeness. I didn't see him as fragile or at-risk. This image, the jerri-curled young artist, was how I remembered him. A bright-eyed artist having a good time as the world responds to his gift.

But his appearance began to change. Dramatically. Looking back, I wonder if each cosmetic modification brought him more fully into donning a mask, living in it, so that even alone, looking into the mirror, he saw only the mask. His natural face erased.

What do the eyes see when they look into the eyes in the mirror, the eyes in the mask? Is that infinity called "soul"?

I once knew a woman whose concept of the world did not include "soul." OK. Give me another word for who and what the eyes see in a mirror, for where and why the heart feels what it does during that gaze....

How many of the gazillions of photo images taken of him did he ever see? Photos are mostly freeze-frames or snapshots of personality but personality is an aspect of "soul".

I cringe when I try to perceive some truth about Michael Jackson from the traces of him found in snapshots and video clips. I feel sad or trapped and then I remember that these feelings are emotional byproduct of my own projection onto a man I never met.

Dancing to the music this morning, I tried to find something true about Michael in the music but remembered again that whatever I feel is just more projection.

What, then, is the significance of group projection? What does it mean when lots of people look at a man and feel a similar ache in their heart? Does consensus validate the projection?

In many photos from the last two or three years, Michael looked already-dead to me. A gifted ghost. And so, while the recent video clips of his children highlight the less-frequently documented collateral damage of his life, these children were raised by a ghost. They are the adopted children of a ghost.

My mind bends into knots trying to imagine their reality...

His body is at last retired.

Maybe someone will try to make a movie? Feed our dreams and memories of the ghost with more images?

02 September 2009

Lord Loss

Sometimes I feel him coming before he arrives. But always I am breathless and surprised when he arrives.

We are not lovers but we are intimates. He is faithful. No matter how long we are apart, he always returns to me.

He knows me well (finally I notice that he knows me much better than I know him...) He is sensitive, consistently perceiving where I am vulnerable and focusing his dark gaze there, touching me there.

He is bigger than me. I have never heard his voice. The sounds of him are deep breathing and heavy footsteps and the hushed rustle of his clothing when he listens at the door.

He shows me no mercy. He is true to his nature. He takes whatever he wants from me. I am his submissive. He puts me in my place. He takes my breath away.

He's like an angel -- he is not afraid of me and he looks me right in the eye.
I fear him but I do not resist him. I don't love him.

He is brutal. Each time we meet, he wounds me--in the eyes, the heart, the hands. No man-made restraining order can hold him. He does what he likes.

Here is the strange thing: his abuse feels sometimes like love to me. I am freer, lighter after each encounter. He takes my innocence. I am less afraid of the World because of him.

He is here now and I don't know how long he will stay. This is a long visit. I hurt but the process has been slower this time. It's as though he seeks Recognition, wants me to know him. Between blows, my cells reverberate with echos of the deep, beautiful, mourning within him.

It almost feels like Love.