Saturday, April 30, 2005


Rain is pouring steadily into the streets, gushing down into the sewers that are not clogged with dead leaves and go-cups. If I inhale deeply, standing just inside the door next to Fain, I think that I can smell damp coneflower and clover and sweet olive and white berry. Some of the scents are mildly acidic, green and earthy, while others are thick and sweet. During the rain, they seem to maintain a balance that isn’t possible on hot days. When the sun prevails, the sweet odors are over-powering. That sounds pleasant, but garbage has a sickeningly sweet odor. And there is a lot of garbage in New Orleans. A rainy day in New Orleans reminds me of rainy days anywhere else. Peaceful. Sensual. The breezes that pass over my arms are barely perceptible fingers that squeezed through walls of humidity, weak and exhausted, tiny traces of coolness. The air just outside the door is warm and thick and presses against any exposed skin like sweaty palms covered in melted candy. And the sounds are soothing. It’s easy enough to imagine that I’m hearing a multitude of identical raindrops, but, in truth, each raindrop makes its own unique sound as it strikes larger or smaller leaves, Japanese magnolia or live oak or Confederate jasmine, concrete or asphalt or wood or plastic. Some raindrops are brisk and staccato. Others are large; they smack like swollen lips when they land. The leaves that droop just outside the door move up and down, individually, rhythmically, as each is struck like a key on a player piano. I hope it rains all day.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Blue Posted by Hello
Green Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Mardi Gras Trees.

I'll miss the Mardi Gras trees of New Orleans. I remember my first morning in the city - after a long first night - walking along St. Charles with my aching head hung near the sidewalk. A friend said, "Look up." When I did, I was struck by the brightly colored beads hanging from the branches of an oak. They made me think of the trees that Scherazade describes in Arabian Nights, trees that bear jewels instead of fruits or berries. Rubies, emeralds, diamonds. Of course, these jewels are plastic and fading from the sunlight that glints off of their sheen. But they do call to mind some sort of fantasy world. I see them and I think of midsummer's eve. When I have a tree of my own in North Carolina, I am going to deck it with baubles and beads so that I can claim my own garden of earthly delights. I wonder what the neighbors will think?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Kung-fu Tent.

I had left North Carolina two days earlier with just over a thousand dollars in ones, fives, and tens that I'd earned waiting tables. This was just after my first traumatic experience teaching high school. And, I suppose, this was one of my first acts of rebellion. I had finished college. I had made an attempt at doing the responsible adult thing. But I'd always had this desire to throw caution to the wind and strike out on my own.

The decision to leave North Carolina, alone, with few belongings and little money, had been a spurious one. I had no idea where I was going. I figured that I'd know when I got there or when I ran out of money. I had no plans. No intentions. Just my little black Tracker and a tent that my friend Sean had given to me. It was a wonderful feeling. Exhilarating.

I remember that one song that played over and over on the radio that summer. The lines that stick out in my mind went: They made up their minds/ and they started packing/ they left before the sun came up that day/ an exit to eternal summer slacking/ but where were they going without ever knowing the way. I'm not sure who sang it, but I would turn the volume up whenever it came on.

After a wild visit with my friend Laura in Atlanta, I headed down to Florida. I'd always wanted to see Savannah, and it wasn't far off course. I had almost decided to stay in a b&b, but I was intrigued when I saw a sign for Skidaway Island State Park. Camping would be cheaper, and I'd never spent the night in a tent alone. I'd never even pitched a tent.

So I stocked up my cooler with food at a local grocery store, and I picked out a nice little primitive lot in the swampy park. The sun was already beginning to sink when I pulled the neatly packed tent from the back of the car and removed it from its navy sack. I searched amongst the folds for instructions, but there were none. Oh well. I knew what a tent was supposed to look like. Triangular, right?

I set about the task, pulling out collapsible rods and unfolding the mess of nylon and tarp that formed the bulk of the tent. When the contents of the bag were all spread out before me, I examined the two rods and the slots along what I determined was the roof of the structure, smiling with self-assurance. It certainly looked easy enough. And people had been doing this for cenuries. How hard could it be?

Just extend the rod, uncollapse it, I guess, slide this rod up through here, like so, and then this one here, and voila! Hunh. Why on earth would the rods stick out so much further than the base of the tent. OK. Well, I guess because you put the end of this rod here like this and the the other end - whappow! The opposite end of the rod snapped up and popped me between the eyes. That's weird. OK. Let's try this other rod. Maybe it'll be more cooperative. Whapow! Right in the temple! I step into the middle of the tent, wrestling with the rods, forcing them this way and that, tangling my feet in the mesh and nylon, slipping on the tarp. Insert explitives here. The sun sets. I hear children screaming at a nearby site. I turn the headlights on and sit on a bench, staring at the pile of tent. I check the clock in the car. I've been battling this tent for over an hour, and it's winning. I go at it again, unsnapping the middle joints of the rods, folding one over the other. Wait. Yes. That looks right. Kind of a pyramid. I tie a piece of string around the disjointed rods and climb into the tent. I lie there under the center, in a narrow, very narrow, space. On either side of me the tent walls are collapsed and claustrophic. This can't be right. I lie there longer. Then I remember having once seen a dome shaped tent, and it occurs to me that this may be that sort of new-fangled contraption. A dome. I could sleep this way. But the thought of being out-smarted by inanimate camping gear was too much. I climbed back out of the cramped space, heaved a breath that let the tent know that I meant business. That I wasn't the kind of girl who settled for close enough. That I would not back down. We struggled more. I swore. I sweated. I ached, pushing those rods deep into the wet ground so that they would be out of commission. And, finally, the tent submitted and popped up into its proper shape. Large and airy and full of dirt and mosquitos.

It's a silly story, I know. But it's still one of the proudest moments of my life. I can remember the satisfaction of having done something that I'd never done, of taking care of myself, of being fearless and competent.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Hiking versus ambling.

When I was in college up in the mountains of North Carolina, I loved to amble along hiking trails. There were several occasions when I made the mistake of going with someone bent on actual hiking. Hikers and amblers just don't mix.

Hiking is a sport. Hikers have gear, special shoes, and they pump their arms and legs, bent forward, eyes on the prize.

Amblers wear shoes that give them blisters because they didn't actually intend to amble for such a long time or distance. Amblers are just ambling along when...oops, it's getting dark. They walk slowly, stopping often, inhaling deeply, searching the trees for squirrels.

My mother and her brother are hikers, though they have no gear to the best of my knowledge. Still, they are intent and intense in their forward momentum. My father and my uncle's wife are amblers. When I was a child and we hit the trails as a group, my mother and uncle were far off in the distance, while my father and aunt loped along at a leisurely pace.

I may be lazy. I may just loathe the idea of intentional exercise for its own sake. But I also love to just walk slowly and to take in whatever is surrounding me - dilapidated buildings or waterfalls.

I cannot wait to take Fain to the mountains when he's old enough to walk. I love them so much. More than anything, I've missed the mountains since I've been away. The scent of mulchy leaves in dark earth far below the dark tops of pines and maples. I can't wait to take Fain camping on weekends, to sit beside a campfire and talk about what we saw as we ambled along paths through rhododendrum, mountain myrtle, and azaleas. I can't wait to drive along the parkway, excited by the prospect of beauty around every corner. I've missed the mountains. I can't wait to share them with my son.

In the details.

My dad asks me every year on my birthday, "Do you feel different?" Or some similar variation. And I have to say that I never do. It's not as if I've aged a year overnight. Aging was happening every minute of every day. I never noticed it. Blowing out candles or opening wrapped gifts doesn't make me feel older. In fact, I never feel particularly excited about birthdays. I don't dread them either. They just seem like every other day.

I turned 30 on Sunday. Again, I wasn't too terribly excited or depressed. Actually, I was somewhat relieved to have finally passed through the ridiculous second decade of my life. I feel relieved to have that nice round number to fall back onto.

This morning, Bruce Springsteen was performing on the Today Show. At one point, he was playing the guitar and a harmonica at the same time. The harmonica was attached to him around his neck by metal rods that made me think of some sort of human-machine hybrid from Futurama. It looked rather silly, but I was also amazed by his dexterity and talent. I've never been a big fan. He doesn't play the sort of music that I really love. But playing the guitar and the harmonica at the same time seems like a feat to me.

One thing that I notice about myself now that I have to attribute to my latest years is an attention to details, a propensity for amazement. I feel in many ways like a very young child in the way that my mind turns continuously to the wonder of the world. During my teens and twenties, I was severely angst-ridden, and I took everything for granted. I had in my mind an idea of how the world worked - cruel, mechanical, ungenerous, predictably stacked against me - and that idea prevented me from actually looking at the world. No wonder I was constantly bumping into things.

In the past year or so, I've found myself on more than one occasion standing in front of a painting at the NOMA with my nose just inches away from centuries old canvas, enthralled by the idea of brushstrokes. In years past, I may have nodded my head and said, "Nice painting." But now I feel compelled to see into the painting. To see the hand that created it by seeing each unique feathering of oil paints. I see, for example, the young woman who sat patiently to have her portrait painted. But then I gasp in awe to realize that she is only a finite number of artistic techniques, geometric shapes. She is just a painting, in short. And I'm agog by the fact that a human being can use a brush, paint, and a series of wrist movements to capture the idea of a young woman.

Poetry is also new to me. I read poems in high school and college, of course. But their impact was limited to their immediately discernible content. Obviously a poem about love or passion was readable. A poem about a landscape waszzzzzz. And I do still love romantic poems, but I find myself more and more fascinated by the words themselves. A word without context has no value. But a word that has been meditated upon by a poet is imbued with pricelessness.

Details are what affect me now. Before I could look at a person and see a person. But now I look at a person and I see millions of possibilities that I can never know. I see the biological brushstrokes that created this artistic rendering of humanity. I know there are brushstrokes buried beneath brustrokes that I will never see, even with the most powerful x-ray. I imagine the words that stumble into one another in other minds, creating thoughtpoems that I will never be privy to.

The mystery is in the details because the details are too small and too many to know.

Monday, April 25, 2005

On Romeo, Juliet, and Gas.

I believe in soul mates. But that doesn't mean that I like the idea.

I think that we all long for the sort of instant, cosmic connection with another person that is implied by the very term "soul mate". Of course, it doesn't hurt if the other person has smoldering eyes and full, moist lips. But I don't know if having a soul mate would really make life better for anyone. Romeo and Juliet come to mind. Cleopatra and Antony. Helen and Paris. Tracy and Hepburn.

I guess that my main problem with soul mates is that they seem so fragile and tenuous, dependent upon perfection. Maybe a soul mate is a crystal figurine - a unicorn or a seahorse or something equally romantic and fanciful - something that you have to keep behind a glass door to protect from clumsy, curious fingers.

What happens when your soul mate farts? I bet that would kill a lot of the mystery and intrigue. Which is why I question the wisdom of searching for your soul mate. There's a lot of pressure inherent in finding him or her. Is it really healthy to hold all of those repellant smells in for so long? Just for the sake of true love? I bet Juliet would have never killed herself if she'd gotten a whiff of Romeo after he'd devoured a big batch of beef and bean nachos.

I think that perhaps there is a plane just beneath the plane of soul mates. Maybe there's no thunderbolt or lightning that signifies the start of some magical romance, but, on the other hand, if your stomach is already bothering you, you don't have to pretend it isn't just for the sake of appearances.

(If none of this makes sense, please note the time. And keep in mind that I'm only writing because the cat keeps trying to sleep on my face.)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

"Nothing's ever yours to keep." Tom Waits

Time is moving much more quickly than the Mississippi or a drunken streetcar driver. I heard a song yesterday. I can't remember where. One of the lines said something like if you just stand still you're travelling in time. I feel that way now.

Jack was talking about time and space one day pretty recently. Einstein. Stuff over my head for the most part, being only an average student of English and Philosophy. But something about what he said clicked in my mind. I mean, what are they? Nothing, really. Concepts.

And the idea that standing on my porch, watching cars pass, kids pass on scooters, dogs and cats pass, feeling the breeze pass, hearing sirens pass and birds and words, that being privy to these things is being privy to the passage of time and space. And that, even standing still as I can, I'm a part of the passage. I'm moving, even when I'm motionless. Not just in the sense of moving through time. I'm also on a moving planet in a galaxy headed far away from its original home.

What I meant to write about here is watching New Orleans pass from my hands.

I can remember driving into this city during the summer of 1999. I can remember the way that my chest expanded with excitement when I saw the signs that read "New Orleans" and the way that my hands shook on the steering wheel as I panicked in traffic. My anxiety when I took the wrong exit and found myself headlong in a strange city. The worn brick and the peeling wood. The cracks in the asphalt. The potholes. I can still remember how foreign and mysterious and frightening it was to me that first night. I didn't want to go back out once I was settled into the hostel. Overload. I was terrified because I knew this was my new home, but it felt like terra incognita. I was so afraid. And now I can only remember that feeling. I can't recapture it. I wish I could because it was the good fear. The fear of an adventurer. The fear that pushes you to explore and to force your way through the unknown, whether it's a concrete jungle, a rainforest, or a combination of the two.

Friday, April 22, 2005

I'll miss..

Gray streaks of Spanish moss hanging from live oaks in Audubon Park.

White egrets perched in dead trees in the center of the city.

A piano and a song.

Lazy Saturdays.

The tinkling music of the ice cream truck and the calliope on the river.

The statue people.

The cool breeze from the lake when the heat and humidity have become unbearable.

Metal buckets full of ice and beer strapped to the backs of mammoth delivery cockroaches at the Country Flame.

Tourist traps full of booby beads and gaudy souvenirs, blaring Zydeco music into the streets.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Stop the plant. Posted by Hello

The "I" of the weblog.

I read a quote by Simone de Beauvoir that I loved while I was in college. She was discussing fiction and the role of fiction in expressing thoughts, and she said that literature was important because it gave the reader the opportunity to put aside her own "I" in favor of an unfamiliar "I." Seeing the world through this unique other's perspective, the reader gains new insight into the world.

There was another essay entitled "On Being a Bat" that I remember from a philosophy class. The author, long forgotten by me, discusses the impossibility of sharing another's mind. Even if you could visit another's head, you couldn't share their thoughts. They would become your own.

But literature, in whatever form it takes, does allow you to glimpse into another's thoughts.

True, you understand the narrator from your own set of beliefs, but, if the writing is sincere and moving, then you do begin to understand the other on a more intimate level.

I've been thinking about this in connection with the weblog. I wasn't even aware of these things until my friend Jack introduced me to them. And I was wary of having one. I felt that it was a little self-important to just blog your thoughts into cyberspace like the undigested chili that couldn't stay in your belly.

But I've been thinking more recently, having become attached to the process of blathering on about nothing important, that it is a therapeutic act for the writer, at least.

And it does give everyone the opportunity to open their heads to others. Even if I only reveal a tiny portion of the incessant noise that goes on up there and only one person reads it, that's at least one person who has shared my experience.

Of course, my own experience is relatively uninformative. But there are others out there just blogging their little hearts out who do have experiences that can change the reader. It's an interesting phenomenon.

Perhaps a relatively angst-ridden American teen sitting comfortably in her ergonomic office chair might stumble onto the inner-workings of a survivor of the Rwandan massacres. She puts aside her own "I" and replaces it with this other's "I," and she can no longer see the world through her eyes only.

That can't be a bad thing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

"To be is to be perceived." Berkeley.

And, within the realms of popular culture, Scully said something very similar on the X-Files during one episode. I don't remember the exact context, but she was commenting on the possibility that we are who we are perceived to be.

I took my great-grandmother, Dearie, to lunch one day when I was home from college. Pizza again. She loved pizza. And coffee. I was curious about her mind. What thoughts lived there. And so I asked her. She chewed on her slice of cheese pizza and stared at the dish piled high with slices before her. I was afraid that she might not understand what I meant. Some people don't. And, at this point, she wasn't as hip as she'd once been.

But at last, she swallowed some black coffee and made a reply that left me thinking for years.

She said, "I think about all of my family - my mama, my brothers and sisters, my daddy - and I think about my friends and about how they've all gone. I'm the only one left."

I told her that she still had family left - me, my mom, my grandmother - and that we all loved her.

But she shook her neatly curled head and said, "I know. But there's nobody left that remembers me when I was a girl. Everybody else just thinks of me as an old lady."

"To be is to be perceived."

Your moments make you who you are. Then they float on down the river. And then you only have those people who shared your moments with you to revive them. When the only people left to you are the ones who view you as an old lady, I suppose you really are an old lady. But if you have just that one person who remembers you turning cartwheels on the front lawn in June, maybe you are more than that.
Floride Posted by Hello

About Charlie.

Years ago, I sat at the end of the bar at Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company, drinking a beer. I sat at the end because Bryan, my ex-husband, told me that if you sit at the end of the bar, you only have to worry about that one empty seat being occupied by a lunatic. Makes sense. Of course, one empty seat is still a big liability.

I was writing on this day. In my journal. It was just a cheap-o wirebound notebook that I'd pasted with photographs from National Geographic Explorer and the Weekly World News. And, as I said, I was drinking a beer. And there was the one empty seat to my right.

Before too long, the seat was filled by a gray-haired, bearded man in a plaid shirt and jeans. He ordered a beer and looked at me. I saw this out of the corner of my eye. I had determined not to make eye contact because I didn't want to get into a long drawn out discussion about the chill in the wind or the price of gas or, worse still, his marital problems. I have that sort of face. A bartender face, I guess.

He took a swallow from his beer, continuing to glance at me every once in a while. He cleared his throat. I made a point of not looking.

Finally, he said, "What're you writing about?"

I stared at the notebook, realizing that this guy was not going to not talk to me. So I may as well accept the fact and just get it over with.

"It's a journal," I said.

"So you're a writer?"

"No, not really. I just write in this journal."

"But you write?"

"Yes, but just in the journal. I'm not a writer."

"If you write," he said, "then you're a writer."

Anyway, the conversation went on in this vein for a while. And then the guy began to tell me about himself.

His name, for example. Charlie. And that he worked in the coffee shop at the university library. And that his girlfriend had red hair and was a firecracker. And that he'd like to possibly marry her, but he suspected that she was about to dump him.

And the whole time he's telling me all this, he's drinking. Starting to slur. Repeat himself. Make cryptic, philosophical statements.

He said, for instance, "I'm glad that you were here to be a witness to my existence."

I thought that it was a Sartrean sort of thing to say in a pizza place while drinking beer.

And he asked me if I would write about him in my journal. Maybe about his red-haired girlfriend, too. So I jotted down a few notes. That seemed to make him happy.

Well, he obviously wasn't much of a drinker because after his fifth or so beer he passed out with his wrinkled forehead just grazing the little pool of grease that had collected in a dent on his pizza slice. I took the opportunity to skedaddle, being somewhat tired of strange, sad existential musings on red-heads and libraries.

But two days later I found myself at the library, so I thought that I'd check in on Charlie. The young, pimply guy at the counter gave me a weird look when I asked if Charlie was around. Like he felt awkward. Like the doctor coming to tell family that the operation didn't go as well as planned.

He looked around and then whispered, "He shot himself in the head last night."

You could have knocked me over with a feather. I felt guilty. I'd laughed at him a little. I'd been annoyed by him. I hadn't wanted to be bothered. And it was sad that he had considered me a suitable witness to his existence. Someone who didn't know him at all. Someone who didn't even care. I didn't even want to see him, much less listen to him, and maybe I was the last friendly face he saw. And I wasn't even that friendly.

I feel for him now because he was just alone and lonely and looking for any sort of human contact. Sometimes maybe a groan and a grimace have to make do.

Oddly, my mind went to Charlie after I received an email from an old college acquaintance. I was so delighted to be remembered. I wonder if we all have this fear of being forgotten or, worse, not perceived at all.

The rule of it relates to honeybuns.

I'm feeling good today. No real existential dilemmas. The three honeybuns that I just devoured may have something to do with that. I justified the second one by telling myself that I deserved it because the baby ate part of the first one. Obviously a small portion of one honeybun cannot fill a grown woman. Sure, the kid only ate a teeny nibble, but that was one nibble less for me. And I needed it. The third one? I have no way to justify it. It was the last one. Maybe I was concerned that it would be lonely? I don't know. It was good though. I was jittery from the pot of coffee that I drank, so maybe three honeybuns were necessary to calm my nerves. Though, considering the amount of sugar contained in just one honeybun, I may have defeated the purpose of honeybun consumption if that was the case.

Feeling no particular angst or despair today, I find that I have nothing more to say.
The Rack Posted by Hello
Doors Posted by Hello

Saturday, April 16, 2005

French Market III Posted by Hello
French Market II Posted by Hello
French Market I Posted by Hello

Friday, April 15, 2005

A beautiful day

Sometimes I notice the mockingbirds and the cardinals and the little chickadees chirping up in the live oaks and the Japanese magnolias, and I think, "Have they been singing all along and I'm just now noticing?" I wonder about that often. At least once a week, when the feathery choirs are particularly bouyant in their gospel stylings. They seem to come out of nowhere, but maybe I just haven't been paying attention. I hate that. I wonder how many free symphonies I've missed.

Today was a beautiful day. The birds were raucous and reeling in heavily-scented sweet olive trees. I took the wee one for a walk in the Quarter, where we went mad with the camera. I focused on green because I will miss the one million and one shades of green to be found in New Orleans. Though North Carolina has her own fair share of green, don't get me wrong.

A mime girl in a black and red dress and black-and-red-striped stockings with her dark hair in pig tails and her cheeks rouged red sped by on a rickety old bicycle. Not something you see a lot of in North Carolina. Of course I wasn't quick enough on the draw to capture that image. Gone for good.

I don't feel quite as dejected as I did earlier. That's right. I admit it. I was a little depressed. What? You couldn't tell? How kind of you.
Greener on the other side Posted by Hello
"The heart of this flower" Posted by Hello

When does a mantra become a tic?

I was thinking about acceptance.

Is it a commendation or a condemnation that I accept things as well as I do?

Those lead aprons that the dentists wrap you in before they x-ray you...they protect you from harm, but they do feel so heavy on your chest. Acceptance is the same to me.

My mantra seems always to be: It doesn't matter anyway.

And then I smile.

Because acceptance is the thing to do, isn't it?

I mutter over and over: It doesn't matter anyway. It doesn't matter anyway.

Who's to say.

Pacheco. Again.

"there's something in time
that has sailed away forever."

Yes. Pacheco, again. All night.

There are things that I wanted that I can never have. Things that I had hoped for that will never be. Leaving New Orleans is my admission.

I'm like the person who storms out of the party and then hangs around just outside the door, waiting for someone to invite me back in. But it's not going to happen. Sometimes you have to admit that it's getting late. The party's ended. Everyone else has gone home, forgotten the scene you made, would look at you with confusion if you apologized.

I've known all along that something sailed away from me. I just couldn't admit to myself that it was forever. I sat on the edge of the river, waiting for its return with the hopeless hope of a child watching her toy boat being carried away on a careless current. She thinks, "If I sit here, it'll come back to me." That's how children think. Maybe the hope is silent, but it's there. You see it in her eyes. She's just old enough to know that it's hopeless, but she continues to hope nonetheless. But there's also resignation. And then one day she grows up all the way. I don't know. I guess the hopeless hope is still there somewhere. But the resignation gets heavier. Not depressing. I don't mean it to sound that way. But one day, she stands, wipes the hem of her little dress, pushes her hair back from her eyes, and says, "Well, I've waited here long enough. It's not coming back. I've lost it."

Maybe then she builds a bigger boat. One that she can climb into. Maybe she'll row down the river herself. Why not? Why sit, waiting?

She's not going after her long lost toy. She's just trying to keep up with time.

The party has ended. The boat has sailed. It's time for me to follow suit.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Some things that I'll miss...

There's an old brick church on Jackson down by Tchopitoulas that has a neon flaming heart and cross in the window. A neon church sign.

Sometimes the sewerage lines beneath the shoddy streets will break through little cracks in the asphalt, springing out and dripping along a puckered crevice to the curb.

I've seen some of the most beautiful weeds in the world here. Jurassic ferny palms, punching up through concrete and rubble. Tiny violets inside a tossed out go cup greenhouse. Clover and even black-eyed Susans nudging their way through debris and detritus in abandoned lots.

Stalls slung with faux gold and silver chains and amulets and purses and pill boxes in the French Market.

Ferns growing in the sixth floor window casements of brick buildings in the Central Business District like the hanging gardens of Babylon.

Crescent City Connection Posted by Hello

Wandering Mind

Let me bunk up in your head
and make an axon dendrite bed,
beside your stream of consciousness
where alpha waves will soothe my rest.

I'll ponder the mystery of your meninx
as though it was the riddlesome Sphinx.
I'll be the soul-searching Pizarro or Cortez,
pushing though ganglion and neocortex.

Your social constructs would be a find;
I'd like to climb them, if you wouldn't mind,
and see a flock of ideas in flight
from that heady and vertiginous height.

And I don't see why I can't be
privy to your escapist fantasy
and spend a lovely afternoon
in an imagined Paris in a delusional June.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Cheshire moon Posted by Hello

And another thing...

Maybe it's because I'm an only child. But I obsess on other minds. Not so much in the Descartes sense. I mean, I know you're out there. I know you, whoever you are, I know you have a mind. I don't mean to be insulting. I don't think that the rest of you are windbreakers and Mets caps hung on squishy, hairy automatons. But you all seem so confident in one another.

I've never felt confident about you other minds. You scare me. You're so mysterious. Some of you seem to be driven by a daily task list that you tick off with efficient zeal as you encounter and tackle each new chore. Some of you are fun. Some of you are workaholics. Some of you are mothers. Some are fathers. But I know that's not all you are. I know that you who present me with a simple self-analysis are hiding from me. You have these secret selves tucked away behind your task lists and your maternal instincts and your schedules and your Blackberries.

If I could just know one of you. If I could just crawl into one mind and sit there, making notes in a shruken steno pad, nodding or scratching my head as I listen to your innermost thoughts or view your Bergmaresque thoughtfilms. Would you let me? Please. Oh, I know. You don't have a choice. No room in the inn. All that. You don't get a say in the matter, anyway. I'm sure you wouldn't mind having me visit, but you don't call the shots. But if there was only a way...

Cheshire moon

I obsess. People who know me well know this. Molly, for instance, knows my obsession with pumpkins and hay rides, which compels me to write long letters to her each year beginning in September and ending somewhere in November that describe my intense longing to visit a pumpkin patch and to go on a hayride. I have no control over this obsession. I have to write the letters or to face the real possibility that I'll lose my mind to pumpkinmania. She tolerates these letters, and I appreciate it.

She also may have begun to discern my obsession with Cheshire moons. When she visited in February, we sat out on the front porch, enjoying the mild climate and the meandering conversation of friends who have been apart for a year. There was a Cheshire moon that night. She had never heard the term before, and I don't know where I heard it. But that night was the first time I ever thought about this particularly gleeful phase of the lunar cycle. It's strange and unsettling to see that disembodied smile.

I ask God for signs. Not for the sort of signs that tell me if I'm making the correct choices, like a kid during a test saying "psst" to the much smarter kid over one desk. But signs that...I don't know...that we have something in common. That we laugh at the same things. That the same things make us happy or sad or angry.

One day, for instance, I was really hooting about something that I found profoundly funny. But it was also something that I thought might be considered distasteful to laugh at, in God's much more sophisticated eyes. Like giggling about the words "boobies" or "boogers," in the presence of someone with a SOHO sense of humor. So I decided to check in because I don't want him to think that I'm a big dummy. I said, "Hey, God, that's funny, right? You think so, too. You can tell me." But then it occurred to me that I would have no idea what God would sound like if he was laughing along with me.

Just at that moment, no kidding, somewhere way high over my head, just out of sight, this flock of seagulls went reeling towards the river, making their seagull sounds that went just like this:


Well, that was it. I was pretty sure that it must have been a sign, which relieved me to no end. But it also made me wonder if God does think words like "booger" and "booby" are funny, too. Then I decided that if he made boogers and boobies, then he is certainly entitled to laugh at them. My friend Jennie said once that God must have a sense of humor because he made people with big butts.

So, back to the Cheshire moon, which is where I began. There was a Cheshire moon last night, just a little lop-sided like a grin. I was sure that it was a sign. How nice that the sky smiles down on us every once in a while.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Pontchartrain Posted by Hello

Time and the tide.

In Tom Wait's song "Fish and Bird," there's a line that I love:

"I'll never sail back to the time."

It reminds me of the line in "Boundaries":

"I can't describe it quite,
but there's something in time
that has sailed away forever."

And Ishmael says in Moby Dick:

"Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are forever wedded."

And, of course, there' that philosopher whose name I can't recall who said that you can never step into the same river twice.

I love to live near water. Particularly rivers, no matter how small. Even a creek will do. I wonder if a river would represent a singular movement of time forward, leaving silt and pebbles and faded Coca-cola cans lying in piles along the bank. Or if it represents eternal return? Doesn't all water come from the same place? That's not a rhetorical question. I really don't know. Does the Mississippi recycle its water supply somehow?

And there's time, moving onward with steadfast resolution. Either you jump in a little rowboat and go along with it, or you sit on the banks and watch it pass. But if you sit there long enough, you'd probably still get swept into the stream during a storm or a flood.

Are you watching new water, the old gone forever into the gulf? Or is some of the old mixed in with the new - water that has been evaporated and then redistributed by a passing rain cloud? Or is all water old water? Is time always time gone by?

Monday, April 11, 2005

You don't have to be a brain surgeon.

In Walden, Thoreau says that “no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another.” The idea stuck with me, though I had to look up the actual phrase. In my mind, I had translated it to an image that I could remember – two people kissing. Even pressed face to face, two people can never be any closer to one another than two planets in neighboring galaxies. The body is that boundary. But it is only the gross boundary.

If an army sacks a church and tears it down, there is no arguing that the church has been penetrated. But the divine is still ineffable. Going into a church doesn’t give you passage into the mysteries of the universe. The church is just a building. But my body is more than a building. It is also my only point of contact with the world – it effects me by its dalliances.

If a brain surgeon shaves my hair, peels back my scalp, and pries open my skull, he can see my brain, but he can’t see me. If a psychiatrist examined me every day, he still wouldn’t know me. Even people who feel certain that they know me, only know parts. And I’m never certain that I know anyone else. It makes me a little crazy.

I think about what others say to me. I think and think. I analyze. I dissect words. Debate over the precise meaning or the hint of innuendo. I think about what they don’t say to me. If shaving, scalping, and shucking would get me closer to having the slightest clue as to the inner-workings of another person, I think that I’d do it.

“It is a wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” Charles Dickens.

"Those salty walls unable to contain you."

Another line from "Boundaries." Not my favorite, but relevant to something that has been on my mind.

Once, years ago, I remember that I rubbed my eye and was astonished to feel the hole in my skull that encircles my eyeball. I had the disturbing revelation that I am a skeleton. A rag, a bone, and a hank of hair.

Do it now. Touch your body anywhere and you'll feel that hidden entity that is your scaffolding. Your mysterious and fragile Dia De Los Muertos self.

Being a bit of a recluse and prone to spending entire days on other planets, I forget sometimes that I am more than what is in my head. I forget that I am in a head at all. I don't think of myself as disembodied. But I also don't think of myself as embodied.

I read an essay in an undergraduate philosophy class entitled "On Having No Head." I don't remember the author. I don't remember any particular lines. But I know the gist of it. The narrator, unable to see his own head, only the world that he perceives around him, decides that the world must be his head. Or that he has no head at all. He turns around on the top of a hill, in the manner of Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, and all he can see are mountains and sky. No head at all. Like a dog trying to catch that elusive tail. So he supposes that the mountain is his head.

I don't feel like a body to myself. I certainly don't feel like a jangling skeleton. I don't feel like miles of skin. I don't feel like long hair. I feel like myself, which is something not found in the realm of salty walls. And yet there they are.

Once I read one of those spooky essays on astral projection. The author eluded to a "silver cord" that connects the traveller's soul to her body. Imagine a soul like an astronaut, jerking at the cord that connects her to her bulky home, trying to go just a little farther into the cosmos. The author said that if someone attempted to wake the astrally-projected individual, the silver cord would be broken or yanked, so that the poor ghostly astronaut would be carelessly and painfully thrown back into her body. Or something like that.

I feel that way sometimes. As if 70% of the time my mind is wandering into some world of its own making, as if I am blissfully unaware of myself as a body, and then someone tugs at me and I am jolted back to that skeleton. It doesn't bother me. I've not been caught trying to sneak my way into some sort of Nirvana state. But I'm suddenly aware of my own frailty. As a mind, as my self, I'm invulnerable. No walls contain me. But when I find myself in this body, I realize how easily I could be broken.

Overgrown Posted by Hello

Saturday, April 09, 2005

No eternal return here.

"When a moment dies..." There seems to be no question in Pachecho's mind of the possibility of eternal return. There is the moment, and now it is gone. For the life of me, I don't know why this poem is sticking in my mind. I've always loved it, but until recently it's been collecting paper mites in a notebook piled high with more notebooks, keeping good company with other poems that I love and lines and excerpts from novels that I love, mixed with my own much shabbier writings. Once upon a time, when I first stumbled onto it, I read and re-read it, dissecting each line. But I haven't read it in years. Now I feel compelled to read it anew, and I find myself murmuring the lines as I walk along Chartres or Decatur through crowds of tourists and French Quarter Fest aficienados. As if I might gain some new perspective. Or as if there is a message hidden there for me.

"There are faces now I'll never
see in my mind again;
and perhaps there's a mirror, a summer, a street
that already go under the echo of one more futile shade."

We can't even hold onto our memories.

There have been random moments in my life, mostly in my now-long-gone Tracker, when I've said to myself, "I'll never remember this moment." They weren't moments rife with meaning or importance. They weren't moments when something startling or unusual happened. They were just moments when I realized that so many small increments of my life that seemed unimportant or unnoteworthy were gone for good. Those little seconds when nothing is happening. At a stoplight. In a traffic jam. Doing a job. Running an errand. Nothing moments. But then, when you take those away, how much is left? If we only hold onto the truly riveting moments of our life, it's no wonder that we're said to use only minute portions of our mind's capacity. Funny thing to note: I remember those moments when I realized that I would forget them. I mean, I remember sitting at a stop light in Banner Elk, North Carolina, staring at the back of a navy van where a bumper sticker read "My other car is a broom," and thinking, "I'll forget this moment. It's already gone."

The scary part, though, is that many of the important moments are not as clear as I believed they would remain. Maybe I've taken them for granted, and they're fading from neglect. I've tried to revive them, but they're shadows of themselves now. A feeling in my gut that I was sure would last forever is gone. I remember having the feeling, but I no longer have the power to summon it to life. You know what I mean. Think back to your first kiss. For weeks afterwards, your lips tingled at strange times throughout the day and you could will yourself to feel that kiss again. But now, that first kiss is just a marker in your mind, a little, pink Post-It note that says "Insert first kiss here".

Friday, April 08, 2005

Somewhere I have never travelled. Posted by Hello

Odd Fellows Rest Posted by Hello

Peekaboo Posted by Hello


I was reminded of one of my favorite poems last night. I found it in a hard cover edition of translated poetry that I picked up in a used book store in Asheville, North Carolina several years ago, and I used a line from it as the title and description of this journal. The introduction to the book was written by the translator, who was describing the difficulties of translating poetry. I forget how complex a poem is. I roll my eyes at them. I forget that each word in a poem is carefully chosen to carry the most meaning and weight and grace and charm. Words in any writing form are important, but in poetry they are everything. A word is employed for the beauty of its sound, for its capacity to carry several meanings in just a few characters, for the simplicity or the ostentation of its appearance. And that in the native language of the poet. But to translate Shakespeare or Donne to Japanese or Swedish? The task must be almost insurmountable. Some poems must be utterly impossible. And all must lose something. What does the translator sacrifice? Form for function. Aesthetic for meaning. Does the double entendre limp along after one entendre is amputated and left in a garbage bag on the side of the road?

Attempting to translate poetry must be like the attempt to share a personal experience. Or that's how I imagine it. How do I translate my perception of a moment and how do I transmit it to another? How can I be sure, that done, that the other will understand as I intended for them to understand? How can he then translate back for me what I've shared to reassure me? If you've ever used, you may know what I mean. Write something beautiful. Translate it to Spanish or Chinese. Then translate that translation. What comes back is a far cry from your original message. And aren't you glad that you checked before you sent it to someone?

I finally went to McNultey's Bitter End by the graveyards on Canal last night. Jack said that it was a dive, but I have always loved the name and had to know for myself. And they had pool tables, which suited my mood. The crowds of college kids and suits were all next door at The Bulldog. McNultey's was nearly empty. Jazz was piped into the room. Old-fashioned jazz, not that clankety-clank-zoop-zoop sort of modern, experimental jazz. A band came in and began to play after we'd been there for a little while. More good jazz. Great jazz. And the place wasn't a dive to my eyes. The wood was warm and clean. The lighting was complementary. The company was excellent. One of the last songs that they played before they packed up for the night was "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans." I do. Do you?
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