August 22, 2015
The third week of August, 2015
Cool nights, foggy mornings, warm days – the fading of long summer light – a sense of oncoming fall.
As often as possible I go out into the world in the same spirit as if going to the theater to see a play. Here’s the result of doing that this morning:
TEN FRAGMENTS OF THE MIRROR FOUND ON A SUMMER DAY – without commentary . . .
1. Words noticed written on a construction-site fence just behind a bus stop - apparently by four different people:
I used to think I was indecisive, but now I’m not so sure.
I used to think she was my happily ever after but now I know she was only my once upon a time.
I used to think I cared, but now I take a pill for that.
I used to think that thinking got me somewhere, but now I try not to think about that.
* * * *
“How’s it going?”
“I’ve had a hard day – about you?”
“Days are easy – it’s night that’s hard.”
* * *
3. Memory: Seattle’s recent Hempfest, a rather straight-looking young man was standing by a tall tube painted gold and marked “Wishing Well.” He was holding two signs. Both said: “Free - Take One.” And both had those tear-off tabs at the bottom.
One set of tabs had “Just a minute” printed on them.
The other set of tabs said, “One Good Wish – Make One and Put It In The Wishing Well.”
* * *
4. Question: Have you ever seen the word “mayonnaise” in a poem?
Answer: I have. But it was misspelled. I think . . .
* * * *
5. Advice found in a poem: “See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little.” Who said that? A web search says it was Pope John XXIII.
* * *
6. “I have the right to remain silent – but not the ability.”
Words on a T shirt on an old man in a bookstore in Asheville, N.C.
I thought, “That’s me, too.”
This morning I sat at an outdoor table at a French bakery.
At the next table was a young Oriental couple with a young puppy.
Dogs seem to like me, and the wriggly puppy jumped up on my legs
so enthusiastically that I pulled it on up onto my lap.
“Do you like puppies?” the young woman asked.
“Well, it all depends,” I replied.
“I once ate baked puppies served as a special dish at a Thai wedding.
A little strange, but it tasted pretty good. It’s all in the sauce, I suppose.
I’ll tell you the whole story . . .”
She stood up, gave me a fierce look, grabbed her puppy, and marched away in disgust.
Maybe I should get the T shirt and wear it as a warning . . .
* * *
7. Thought: As I writer I sometimes think I am only an ordinary workman building a Tower of Babel that will never be finished and doesn’t ultimately serve any useful purpose. There are lots of us, though.
And we keep on laying bricks.
* * *
8.“I miss pay phones. I miss the intensity of a conversation measured by a dwindling stack of quarters.” Sherman Alexie said that.
* * *
9. Remembering a Tibetan tradition: “kha sher lamkhyer:
Meaning – whatever arises, carry it to the path.
* * *
10. Sometimes daily life seems more like comic fiction than serious reality.
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August 18, 2015
The middle of August, 2015
Cool nights, warm days, the soft slide into September
It’s a useful habit to shift into third person and stand outside one’s self to try to get a more objective perspective – or so say I.
Here’s an example.
The “man I know very well” is, of course, me.
You may know someone like me, so I share this to be useful.
A man I know very well recently spent a month in crisis.
He had developed symptoms.
- dry mouth – often thirsty
- numbness in the bottom of his feet at the end of the day
- swelling of his ankles by bedtime
- a frequent need to urinate
- bouts of low energy - lethargic
- frequent need to nap
- weight gain
- slightly blurred vision when he was reading
- restless sleep – waking often at night
- unpredictable periods of being irritable and mildly depressed
- forgetful – often absent-minded
Research on the web suggested the onset of Type II diabetes.
No doubt in his mind.
And way back in the darkest corner of his mind:
maybe the early signs of senility.
This was a blow to his self-image of always being in good health, never ill, and feeling far from old, even though he was in his 79th year of life.
He didn’t think old or talk old or act old or live old.
He refused to accept the category of “Senior Citizen” or “Retiree.”
No senior discounts for him.
But maybe that’s all an avoidance of the reality – denial of the obvious.
The body ages and with age comes failures of systems and organs.
He would get old and die – and he accepted that.
And he always said that if he had some kind of terminal illness, he would take himself out gracefully rather than prolong the struggle.
He expected that sooner or later something would catch up with him.
Some of the possibilities: high blood pressure, heart disease,
Alzheimer’s, liver problems, arthritis, cancer, joint failure and on and on – all the maladies of the end stages of life.
So now, he thought, “Here it comes – the onset of diabetes – meaning significant lifestyle change, strict diet, medications, insulin injections, possibility of amputations, even blindness – nothing but a long struggle to try and survive the inevitable.”
He sensed the beginning of the end . . .
He went so far as to review his will and his instructions for death and burial – and he stopped by to stand on his cemetery plot to ponder.
On the other hand, the man I know well has always thought that factual information trumps prejudicial guessing, and that getting more than one opinion about serious matters should be basic policy.
So he made appointments with his ophthalmologist, his dentist, his family doctor, and even his car dealer (might as well get a final service on his old and worn-out car while he was in review mode.)
Silly thinking crept into the edges of his mind.
The eye lady said his blurred vision while reading was likely a result of ongoing improvement in his near vision. His reading glasses were stronger than necessary. “You should even be able to read in bed without glasses now.” (True) Moreover, he had no signs of cataracts or glaucoma, certainly no symptoms of diabetes - no problems.
His eyes were in excellent condition.
His dentist and the oral hygienist could find no signs of new cavities, no
unusual wear on past repairs, or any indication of oral ill health.
His teeth were in fine shape.
Even the car dealer had good news. All that was needed was standard service. His car was good for another 50,000 miles or more.
Finally, his physician reviewed his list of symptoms, had all the necessary tests done on his blood and urine, and checked his heart function and blood pressure.
She smiled and summed up her findings.
“There’s nothing wrong with you. And you do not have diabetes.
Your blood pressure is normal, kidney function normal, glucose level normal, cholesterol a little high, but there’s a medication for that.
In fact there’s nothing to treat or to be overly concerned about.
You’re good to go for a long time to come.”
“What about my symptoms?” asked the still-anxious man.
After a long discussion, it boiled down to the fact that drinking 8 cups of coffee in the morning was excessive - producing all the symptoms of a reaction to an overdose of caffeine. It’s a diuretic and irritates the bladder and the bladder wants to get rid of it.
And the athletic socks he wears daily were probably constricting nerve and blood flow to his feet.
Finally, anxiety about having diabetes was likely the cause of all the rest – stress and worry hampered sleep.
The only thing she would suggest was using a cream on his face to clear up sand-papery barnacles that are the late life evidence of from having too much sunburn as a kid.
“It’s a mild chemical peel,” she said, “But you’ll have skin like a baby when the treatment is over.”
Really? That’s it? That’s all?
A lot less coffee – loose socks – and a facial?
The man went away laughing - in a euphoric stupor.
He felt like dancing down the hall of the clinic.
He got in his tuned-up car, and drove away in tears of relief.
In a mood of revival – from the Latin revivere – to live again.
Maybe another 50,000 miles to go – for him and the car?
“They’ll call me Babyface,” he thought. “I can live with that.”
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August 02, 2015
The first week of August, 2015
Hot, hot days, with no immediate relief in sight.
In all the years I’ve posted on Facebook and on my website journal page, no photo or essay or story has elicited as much response as the
picture of my new shoes that I put up last week. I was astonished, but not completely surprised because, as I wore my colorful shoes around town, time and again people stopped me to approve the shoes and ask where to get a pair. In the grocery store, at a book store, or just walking on the street in my neighborhood it was the same: “Love your shoes!”
This morning, at the Ballard Sunday Farmer’s Market, I stopped to consider three young people sitting at small tables punching away at old-fashioned mechanical typewriters. In front of them was a sign:
“POEMS. YOUR TOPIC, YOUR PRICE.”
I’ve seen them before. They offer poetry on demand.
One of them looked up at me and then down at my shoes.
He stopped typing, and smiled.
“Here we go,” I thought, and “Why not?”
“Give me a ten dollar poem about my shoes,” I said.
“Give me twenty minutes and I will,” said William-the-Poet.
Here’s the result, in the format given to me:
do wear the finest
shoes to keep
the body up.
infuse the wisdom,
dispel the lonesome,
scene of desert,
in the art
which moves and shapes . . .
the carrier of
the burning son,
on the feet of the chosen one . . .
one that carries the infinite
picture of the
I went away pleased – never expecting to have a poem written about my shoes. Or, for that matter, to meet a real poet engaged in the world.
Poets tend to be contemplative souls, working in solitude.
Their writing tends to be self-referential and often obscure.
To declare to the world that you are a poet takes social courage.
And to use your calling to serve customers a dose of contemplative
insight to their request for a poem – well, that takes a special talent.
To decide you are a poet in the first place is uncommon – not an easily- taken decisions about who you are.
Your mom probably never said she hoped you’d grow up to be one.
You have to love words more than anything.
And you would have to have an affection for people to do it in the street, on demand, with a sign that says: “Poems – Your Topic – Your Price.”
Thanks for the gifts, William-the-Poet.
Write on . . .
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July 26, 2015
The last week of July, 2015
Cool weather, morning showers
AGAMA PEKEN AND MUSHIN
The religion of the people of Bali is a combination of Hinduism and Animism. That’s the statement a Western anthropologist might make –
a labeled category. The Balinese would only say that all things have spirit and the spirits must be respected every day. They don’t think about it much because it is so deeply woven into a Way of Being in the World.
When I lived in Bali, the elderly woman who was the caretaker of my house and the preparer of my meals would appear early every morning with small offerings to the spirits. Little bamboo baskets containing some rice, powdered spices, and flowers. Exquisitely beautiful works of art. She would light incense and place the offerings on stone altars in the garden, but also on the ground at the gateway to my compound. And on the path leading away from my house.
This was going on everywhere in Bali.
(see images of Balinese offerings: https://goo.gl/VFJNYD)
During the day, people would walk on the offerings, chickens and ducks and dogs would eat the offerings. And by day’s end, the offerings would be scattered, their remains littering the paths and roads.
I was appalled – how could they let the offerings be destroyed?
So much care and thought and beauty gone to waste.
A Balinese gentlemen laughed when I put my concern to him.
“Ah, you have such a Western mind,” he said.
“The finished offering is not important – it goes back into the compost of the world. What’s important is the state of mind one has while making the offering – the inner spirit that relates to the outer spirits.
You Westerners think of this as meditation or prayer. We Balinese think of this as our Way of Being in the World – a way of engaging life.”
It’s called Agama Peken.”
* * * * *
Keep that in mind while I tell you about Japanese Archery – Kyudo.
First, click on this link: (https://goo.gl/rv4lkK) so that you will have images of this art in your mind as you read on.
Japanese martial arts arise out of techniques of combat.
Judo, Kendo, Sumo, Akido, and Karate are familiar to Westerners,
but there are many other forms. Almost all have an opponent – involving a contest between two competitors.
Kyudo is an exception. The archer is shooting at a target.
Or so it would seem to Westerners.
Legendary archers include some who were blind, some who could hit the center of the target in complete darkness, and some who could split the arrow already in the target with a second arrow.
But the Japanese say that this not the essence of Kyudo.
They say that the bow takes care of the arrow and the arrow takes care of the target – the round one out there at the far end of the range.
The real target is a state of mind – Mushin – an inner focused tranquility that is the base of what the bow and arrow accomplish.
When I lived in Japan one summer I visited an archery range and watched while the art was being practiced.
My eye was on the target.
The Japanese watched the archer.
I was told that one great archer was able to bring down flying ducks far away in the air.
His inner being was so focused that he did not need a bow or an arrow.
* * * * *
Now, keep those Balinese and Japanese arts in mind while I tell you about what I did at art camp this summer.
In two weeks I constructed 22 small sculptures out of steel, river stones, wood, and bones.
Every morning I went “shopping” – visiting the studios at Penland.
From outside the metals studio I sorted through scrap odds and ends.
From the scrap barrels in the wood studio I took more odds and ends.
From outside the Japanese wood-fired kiln I took slabs of wood that would be burned in the next firing.
From the drainage systems around the campus I picked up rounded
stones with interesting shapes.
From the nearby Toe River I took more stones and old pieces of brick.
And from the box of animal bones I brought with me, I selected shapes
that caught my eye as sculptural.
Finally, I added pieces of fired pottery I had made two years before and buried in a flower bed to dig up when I came back to Penland.
Every morning I laid out my collection on a picnic table outside the metals studio – and from these I constructed sculptures – relying on gravity to hold the pieces together, not epoxy or superglue.
When people admired what I was doing, I gave them the sculptures –
saying only that they would have to take them apart and put them back together when they got home.
At the end of my week at art camp, I disassembled the sculptures and put all the parts back where I had found them.
As I write, all those parts of sculptures are still there in North Carolina, safely in the care of the spirits that foster art.
Some of my fellow students – and the class instructor – found my behavior strange. The test of Art for them is in the product – and whether or not it can be admired, sold, or collected.
And that’s the way the Western art world usually operates.
The Art is a tangible thing you can have, or hold, or wear or hang up.
That’s ok – just not my way.
But, for me, the art was the state of mind required to see possibilities in the odds and ends around me, to find a way to make art out of them, and to have, at the end, only the memory of the creative imagination involved and the state of mind I was in while doing Art.
I did take a few photographs, but everything in the pictures I posted on my Facebook page is now once again part of the compost of the world.
And part of the cherished memories stored in my mind.
The Balinese offering makers and the Japanese archers would understand.
Of course. Agama Peken and Mushin.
Wealth lies not in having stuff – it’s in doing simple things as well as possible having fine memories.
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July 20, 2015
The third week of July, 2015
Cool weather, morning fog
Back in Seattle after two weeks at the Penland School of Arts and Crafts in North Carolina. Willow-the-Wife acquired new technical skills and crafted lovely jewelry. And I made 22 small sculptures out of stones and steel and bones and wood. I’ll share thoughts and photos at another time, because the most seminal event of the trip was a lot less glamorous, though more memorably instructive . . .
STAYING AT HOME IN THE WORLD
It’s 5 a.m. at the Seattle airport – my travel anxiety level is rapidly falling - the flight is on time - my boarding pass is in hand - all is well.
Wife points and says: “Look! You still have on your house slippers.”
And I do.
No socks, either.
It was still dark when we loaded out from the house to the taxi.
Too late now to go back, get socks, and change shoes.
Is this a problem?
Maybe. . . .
“Sorry, sir, but you aren’t allowed through Security wearing shoes like that. Flying is serious business. Change your shoes or go home.”
“Sorry, sir, but you are not allowed to board the airplane in your house slippers. United Airlines requires dignified dress.”
Wife gives me the look that says I’m getting old and stupid.
I imagine that fellow travelers give me the looks that say I should be back in the nursing home shuffling toward breakfast.
I know that the Airport Shoe Fashion Police are noticing and will follow me – and detain me as a suspicious character.
And the rental car company in Asheville will not let me drive in house slippers and I’ll have to ride in the back seat while Willow drives.
So, what to do?
Epictetus comes to mind.
What would my Greek philosopher mentor say?
“Well, Fulghum, are you comfortable? Feet happy?”
“Look around – is your footwear any weirder than what the rest of your fellow travelers are wearing?”
“Are people moving away from you to avoid your shabbiness?”
“Does anyone else care about your house slippers except you?”
Well, maybe my wife – but she’s laughing – and that’s good.
“Is wearing your house slippers while traveling illegal or immoral?”
“Do they sell shoes where you are going?”
“Then there is no problem, not even an inconvenience, right?”
Onward . . .
At Security they gave me a red card – (I knew this would happen - busted for wearing house slippers.)
“What’s this for?”
“It means you don’t have to take off your shoes.”
“It’s in recognition of your being a senior citizen.”
“Oh, well, then . . .”
Now, I don’t think of myself as a senior citizen, but if my slippers give me a privileged status at the security check, then I’m in.
Besides, I know the red card is really because they don’t want house slippers in the trays – they probably make the x-rays go wonky – setting off alarms and mandating personal inspections.
But it’s a done deal – either wear the slippers or go barefoot.
Wearing my house slippers changed my traveler’s attitude.
I stayed in a comfy mode – stress-free - like early morning in my own house – padding around in the airport at ease.
Next time I’ll wear my pajamas and bathrobe.
And so . . .
I wore my house slippers around for two weeks at art camp, and all the way back to Seattle.
Nobody noticed except me.
I’m wearing my house slippers as I write.
Shortly I will go to the bakery for fresh bread for lunch.
Wearing my house slippers.
At home out in the wide world.
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