Archive for September, 2014

Red Beaning and Nothingness

Posted: September 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

redbeans

I spent last week reading Blood Beneath My Feet a remarkable true life account from Joseph Morgan, a death investigator from the South. A slim but potent volume, it covers the life and work of a coroner who lived and worked between New Orleans and Atlanta. For all the graphic and unsettling stories and descriptions within, the book also made me hungry. Between his childhood memories and crime scene walkthroughs, there is but a couple paragraphs on the importance of red beans in New Orleans and a off hand method for making them, if I dare not say ‘recipie’. Considering how little I cook, I was moved to slow cook a pot this weekend. (How red beans plays out in the book? Let’s not speak on that…)

I took the package of beans and put them in a pot with water and a good shot of red wine and left it in the fridge from noon till 5:30am Sunday morning. The beans emerged from the fridge looking momma-familiar: split like clam shells, much of the water having been soaked up. I poured out what water remained then re-filled the pot, tossing in a huge amount of chopped celery, bell pepper, onion and garlic. Then hand chopped sage, thyme and parsley. I mourned not having an ginger or any pork and instead quick grilled a package of hot italian sausage, chopped it up and tossed it in the pot– along with a teaspoon of baking soda and a half glass of red wine. Initiate Slow Cooker.

***

Let Go… Letting Go…

My focus this year. Letting go of expectations, Letting go of judgment, Letting go of the past, Letting go of my brains desperate and false narratives. This year I’ve been reading a lot on Buddhist & Zen studies, non-duality, vedanta. I spent the year collecting quotes and helpful teachings and prayers in a notebook I bought from India. It was, for me, a teaching notebook about letting go and letting be and finding oneself.

I lost that notebook.

Sometime between Thursday and Friday last week, I walked away from it– probably on the bus. I was looking for it because there was a prayer I found that I really liked and wanted to recite again. No luck. What I didn’t do was panic. What I didn’t do was fall into anger. What I didn’t do was mourn. What I did do was wonder: Who did I write that book for? I wished them well.

Because it turns out… the book itself I bought from a pre-teen boy in India, a vendor near Goa beach. It was important to me to get a notebook and I not only got it, but talked him down to a very low price. It was a book I coveted with its natural paper and leather cover. Because it was special — I began searching for something special to put in it. The teachings I found from Osho, Rupert Spira, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Krisnamurthi and many others all went in that book and were all helpful in finding some inner peace and settling with myself. That book became heavier over the last year, more valuable. Biblical, almost, as far as the truth it was revealing to me.

Its gone. Three things, now.

1) In spite of reading all this ‘non-Christian’ teaching, I recently found myself being overwhelmed with reminders of Jesus–coincidental references, random occurences– to the degree that last week I got a piece of unexpected mail from an old friend. I opened it and it was a comic book from 1979 Jesus, by Al Hartley. Jesus, I guess, was a late comer to the Buddhist philosophy, but he got it.

2) That ‘special notebook’ I bought in India 2012? Christmas 2013, my best friend gave me The EXACT Same Notebook as a gift; the same model, design, color and all. He never saw the book I bought myself. So: the special book I just lost? Technically, I still have one, wrapped in plastic. What was lost?

3) Now, I can’t remember what my 3rd point was. I guess I need to briefly write about my best friend. And how it occurs to me our friendship is over. What we had been for one another, what he’d been for me at least– a brother, family– is over. Its not that we ever fought or crossed any lines for each other. Perhaps the worst that can be said is we grew apart. We’re both deeply involved in our own unique lives, and our stories no longer cross. How deeply this saddens me I can never articulate. But isn’t that the entire point of the study I’ve been doing over the last year? For decades, I’ve fed my sadness, loneliness and frustration by recounting all my lifes failures and losses. To what end? Every note in that book points to one thing, vividly reflected in my friendship right now, should I dare to look directly at it:

Everything changes. Yesterday is gone; there is no tomorrow. There’s just the living, breathing now. All that exists, the crosshairs of yesterday and tomorrow meet in the center of now. Now is all there is. Nothing has been lost; neither book nor friendship, because nothing was ever mine to begin with. I didn’t make that friendship happen, neither did I stop it. I didn’t throw away that book or leave it behind purposely. Things happen under the illusion of us thinking we arrogantly cause anything to begin or end. Its the key definition of destiny we often overlook. Destiny finds us whether we allow it open arms or not. Thy Will Be Done

present

The office I was looking for was in an old building that for many years I thought was a theater or ballroom. The lobby was full of glassed offices and small businesses. A gorgeous ceiling made from stained glass. I saw a security dude seated at a desk. He sent me to the third floor, not to a doctor’s office, but a plain business office with little in it. An open room with chairs– a oak desk behind which sat a a woman in a white smock: the only hint that this was a medical facility. It was late in the day and I was the last appointment. I filled out the form, paid cash, had my photo taken on a small camera, then met with the doctor. Ten or so years older than I. Warm, patient, kind. Blue shirt, business casual. I went into his sunny office. Clean desk. Book shelf with a dozen books. There was nothing of importance anywhere: either back in the waiting room or here. One could empty the entire office in less than 10 minutes.

Initially, he didn’t speak; just typed quietly into his laptop. I took a breath then just started telling him what brought me here. I didn’t tell him about waking up crying in bed, or how much slower I now walk. I focued on the knee pain and how exhausted I was from it, exhausted from bracing myself for hurt while walking or standing or sitting and just tracking the ache stroking my leg.

He asked if I had a letter from my physician and I gave him the report my doctor wrote after my x-ray. Arthritis, he’d written. This is why you’re in pain, he’d written.

The man gazed at the letter and sighed. Do you have anything else? The man said. On the edge of his desk there was a stack of handouts with a stethoscope on top, like a paper weight.

I didn’t have anything else. The other papers I brought were just receipts from my appointment and perscription for the awfully generic sounding Ibuprophen. I mentioned the vicodin I got, but never took, from my dentist just to beef up my case.

Then he said: I need to see your medical history. Evidence that your doctor has been treating you for different ailments. He said: You could just go on your medical website and print out the page you see regarding your medical history and fax it too us…

After a couple of seconds I took out my phone to look up the site, and immediately found an app.

I’m over 40 & insist on noting this: It took less than 2 minutes to download and open my medical history on my phone. Both a modern miracle, convenient and still creepy how much of my personal info is out there and so easy to get.

I opened the app and touched the tab for medical history. It was empty. Tapped it a second time– still empty.

Looking at it this way: There’s nothing wrong me.

I told the man about insomnia, (getting in bed, shutting off the tv, closing my eyes only to rise again 5 minutes later and turn everything back on and brood) but never mentioned this to my own doctor, whom I barely trust. The last 3 or 4 times I went to my doctor, I was able to google more effective treatments than he provided. In my doctors office, I usually leave feeling like I’ve wasted my time. The last time I swore I would never go back. The app even included my all emails with the doctor. His last email after I asked him for a podiatrist read: I haven’t seen you in a year. Come in the office to talk about your knee.

But there was no record of anything. I’ve been seeing my doctor over 10 years. On paper: there was nothing wrong with me. Arthritis was the gift I got for my birthday, two weeks ago today.

I looked the man in his eye. I was truthful. I did hurt. I am exhausted. I’ve begun noticing all the people on the street with canes and walkers. Its no big deal, you say, everybody has arthritis. Everybody hurts.

After clicking away for a few minutes and us not speaking, the man said: Do you have any questions for me?

It surprised me, emerging out of my mouth, but I asked about treating depression. He told me certain strains elevate mood. We talked about insomnia a bit. He asked if I tried over the counter salves and ointments for my knee and I rattled off what I could. He said how dispensaries have a topical oil salve that’s good for pain. I’d heard same about a week prior. We talked about ebibles versus smoking. I flashed back a decade to my old coworker Tree’s pound cake that after I ignorantly shoved the entire slice into my mouth, left me debilitated for 5 hours. He handed me one of the printouts on his desk, then listened to my heart with the stethoscope. He gave me a fist bump as I left his office. He offered professorially, that when I come back for my renewal next year, I should have some more items on my medical history. The woman at the desk gave me a temporary card I could use today until my official card arrives in the mail. I left. The security dude at the desk downstairs was already gone.

I got what I wanted, but what did I have? I walked up the street, thinking about Jesus and how the universe just gave me a nice present for my birthday. I was walking to a cafe meeting with a new friend which went awesomely well. Once our meeting finished talking, a dude got on stage behind us and began playing Bach on violin. (How old were you when you learned that piece? The host after his set. Nine, the man said.) But after all that, leaving the cafe and heading home, I kept thinking–

Why did I do that? Really?? What is wrong with me– if there’s nothing wrong with me?

I immediately thought about my nephew. How years ago we first bonded over it, him showing me the way since I was so green and clean and ignorant. I thought about me sharing it with my friend even though he didn’t want or really need it. I thought: I’m here because of them. Its not for pain or insomnia, its because I’m lonesome and have no idea what to do with myself. I was there because I wanted to find a way to be okay. I wanted to be okay without family or feeling loved. I wanted to be okay that my nephew and I no longer speak, and I’m no longer certain my friend wants my friendship any longer. He certainly doesn’t need me as much as I needed him. I just wanted to be okay. I’d forgotten what that was.

I’m glad they didn’t ask me for emergency contact. I don’t know what I would have said.

Its Only Proper

Posted: September 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

sneeze

 

if you’re ever

present

when a

monkey sneezes,

say

‘evolution’

 

-jcagney

man with flock

Its been years since I’d taken the train to Sacramento. I don’t exactly remember the last trip I made in the name of my biological family that still lives there. I didn’t belong there.  My birth-mother was right in giving me up and never looking back.

For this trip, I bought my first cane. My knee had been loud and unpredictable for two weeks. Deeply pained and random. I needed help. I bought the cane at W—g—-ns and getting off the train in Sac, when they offered a shuttle cart to the door of the station, I took it.

I came to Sacramento because my friend has been running a poetry series here for 15 years and this weekend was its anniversary. For 1/5th of a minute that morning, I thought to call and cancel… but: what else would I be doing the rest of the weekend?

I arrived at the theater, yet instead of pushing my way past the dozen women already in line, I stood outside in line with them. A wind began and the sun set and it was pleasant. I watched as gorgeous woman after woman, groups of female friends, daughters and mothers, came up and got in line behind me. No one paid me any mind.  I have no Game.  What dudes I did see were part of the show and ducked inside. Everyone, except me, was dressed up, at least ‘after church’ nice. And I was the only one with a drug store cane.

They let us in and I was led backstage to the dressing room. I knew Shawn from the Bay Area. A couple of faces I remembered from my last visit which was… a while ago.  A woman came in a couple of times to put supplies in the bathroom.  The guys entered and exited and joked, changed, and capped on one another’s athletic Shoe Game or lack thereof. I watched and listened and laughed.

The theater was full and the show ran smoothly though I saw little of it. I leaned against the wall stage right and watched one performer from the wings, but couldn’t clearly hear him. Plus: standing for a long period wasn’t going to work for me. I went back in the dressing room with Shawn and caught up over the couple of years I hadn’t genuinely been able to talk with him.

Truthfully: I was told when I was going on. Right after the comics, she said. When you hear everybody laughing, you’re next, she said.

She said: you’re in a set with two ladies. When you do your piece at the mic, don’t leave the stage, ok? Just step back a couple of steps and the next performer will go up, then another and you’ll go back and do one short piece, then you can walk off.

Sounded fine by me. But because of time, there would be no second round.

I heard laughter in the auditorium, but wasn’t thinking. No one came to the door unless it was another brother to hang out or crack jokes. But suddenly, from afar I heard my name called. I reached into the backpack at my feet, grabbed some papers, and then the door opened and I popped up and went out on stage.

I don’t have stage fright. Not really. I knew what I wanted to do and was ready. But: I walked out seeing nothing except a modest shadows of people in the room.  And there was great stillness.  It had already been a long night, at the 90 minute mark of a show that had started about 20 minutes late. But when I walked out on stage I was met with… um…

Nothing. The audience had already applauded after she said my name then disappeared to get me. I introduced my poem which I’d written after Maya Angelou’s passing earlier this year. Had no one in the room heard of Maya Angelou? That they didn’t care is one thing… But I called the Dr.’s name and the audience sat and waited, nary a grunt of recognition.

And then there’s this. Dr. Angelou sampled a lot of gospel in her performances, call backs to spirituals and whatnot. I’m no singer, but I’m also not very intimidated to try if something feels necessary. Plus: I wasn’t going to, ahem, ‘sing’ very long. I only wanted to ground the piece with music.

Here’s the original of the song I attempted:

So I do the poem. I can hear myself very clearly. I don’t sound horrible or laughable, though I wouldn’t have minded being snickered at. I hit the poem, to my ear, correctly– it sounds and moves well. But:

No laughs, but no support either.  The audience wasn’t feeling it. I finished to a smattering of applause, stepped back as instructed and the hostess was there to greet me. (After her bullying the crowd to applaud a little louder…)

Because the show was running so long, the three of us who read didn’t do a second round. I was okay with that. I was okay with travelling a hundred and change in miles to do one poem for this show. I guess I was also okay with doing a poem that fell over like a lead balloon.

I got off stage and thought: I’m not cute, like the others. I was in a knit short sleeve shirt, jeans instead of a suit, which I don’t own. I’m no longer young, that’s for sure. I wasn’t styling either, I was just There. Yet the audience seemed to stare through me.

What did I do wrong? No flavor? My approach to the mic? Did I not introduce the poem correctly? Was my timing off? I already said I wasn’t a singer– but was it really that bad?

It was near the end of the show. I watched the remaining performers. Then it was over and everyone was leaving to gradually make it over to the afterparty two blocks away. I certainly wasn’t dancing, and I recently learned I am an angry, awful drunk so drinking would be minimal. I neglected to even secure a ride to the club, assuming I could limp two blocks in the cool night. Plus: I was hoping I could still crash on my friends couch until morning.

I was last to emerge from backstage, most of the audience having already emptied to the lobby. One woman snapped photographs of Shawn and another poet. I walked up the aisle, looking across the room and saw two people, one who “Made Me Think” of one relative and another who “Made Me Think” of someone else. Both family members I’ve had to let go of. It took me a minute of staring at them before they dissolved into strangers. Why, of all people, did I hallucinate seeing them? Lonesome. Starved for support I wasn’t getting.  I limped to the lobby.

I was a nobody. The night was over and I, with my bad knee, was going to have to negotiate myself until the next morning. I wandered out into the lobby, waddling behind much older women. One dude, standing near the door as I came up, nodded, said he liked my poem– but said in the way of Being Nice.  I walked out to the sidewalk and stood amongst a throng of females and no one saw me. Any one whose eyes swept across me, kept going. Even if I were on fire, no one would approach me to even ask for a light. I looked for the host whose couch I thought I was going to sleep on that night, but didn’t see him. The audience stopped some of the brothers who’d performed and chatted them up. One woman asked why one man changed his bright red shoes.  The brothers were all handsome, young. I was not.

I saw Shawn emerge from the theater, his backpack on and my heart leapt.  He quietly angled through the crowd and something in me told me to follow him and I did, until a group of women stopped him to praise his performance and poems.  He chatted briefly and handed them flyers for his series back in Oakland. Then, he saw me. I asked if he was heading back to the bay that night and if he would drop me off. He said: Come on.

I could end here or on the long conversation we had during the ride. Our talk about racism, about Michael Brown and the situation in Ferguson. It branched into his son, Django Unchained, Fox News, 12 Years A Slave, Austin, Texas and racists in flatbed trucks. I could say it was the longest and most involved conversation I’ve had with him, irrespective all the years we’ve known one another. I could also say his ride saved my knee: I didn’t have to wait longer than 10 minutes for either of my two remaining connnections home, despite it being well after midnight on a Saturday.

But instead, I want to say this.

Poetry, without love, is dead. Without love– in the nucleus of the poem or within the poets voice/heart–  my poetry, is kind of irrelevant.  Its what’s missing in my work.  During the train ride there, I wanted to write.  But without loving support, a crew of people, a family, a love even for what I’m doing, what was I writing?   And to whom?  On the train, I began writing about my father– who’s been dead for 20 years.  Time has crash landed me on a middle aged life without any family or friends. I didn’t expect that.  I didn’t think I’d become That Dude.  Once, I would have been deeply angered by the world’s flagrant racism, sexism, character assassinations of the dead in the news…  The rows of black men laying dead in the street, their families mournful and helpless– Yet, with no nephews, brothers, sons of my own?  Disjointed empathy.  On my own, my anger felt impotent.  I stood on stage, my words and the darkness, and felt at a loss. Nothing bounced back from the void.  Void as in: My viewpoint from the stage.  But is the void, me?  I didn’t want to read poems, I wanted to be held. But where was any love for me.  I miss what family I knew and had. And maybe I miss my anger, too. But standing on stage in the dark this weekend, I thought, maybe I can’t do this anymore. I’m talking to myself, doing this…writing and performing poems… and for what reason?

I made it home, safely, quietly.  No one waiting for me, rooting for me or missing me while I was gone.