Saturday, July 31, 2010

What Would You Need to Make It Worth Being Alive?

I have been annoying the shit out of everyone with this question since reading this New Yorker article on hospice and heroic medicine. It includes a case study of a man whose daughter asked him the question as they were trying to decide on the value of undergoing a heroic procedure. He said as long as he could eat chocolate ice cream and watch football on TV, it would be worth being alive, so he underwent the procedure, which made him a quadriplegic, but gave him 10 years more during which he did those two things, plus writing some books. When he began to have difficulty swallowing and other problems, he decided to go the hospice route.

I enjoy talking to a relative who's a hospice/end of life nurse, very skilled and experienced. She has just about had it with the pain people are often put through to stay "alive." The major problem with people facing death is the dishonesty--or difficulty in admission--of doctors, who insist on trying everything, and the dishonesty of loved ones, who insist on trying everything, no matter how brutal.

The sense I have is that if hospice consists of having the best possible quality of life in each moment until death, then we are all in hospice anyhow, aren't we?

My dream is to have the will of the individual respected, as much as I might disagree with their will. Of course this issue got turned into a cynical political ploy by those who don't want to stop making money off people's desperation and those who fear death and can't admit it, and so oppose universal health care.

Here are my three things--and all must be met, or the deal is off, and it's morphine and weed for me until the end, if I'm lucky.

1. I need to be able to create and communicate using complex concepts, at the least in the level I now enjoy.
2. I need to be able to pray (meditate, ritual, intend) for others through interaction with nature, even if that simply means feeling sunlight through a window.
3. I don't want to be so appalling--appearance, raging, violent, smelly, cut into pieces--that no one but a strong-stomached medical pro can stand to be in the same room with me.

That's mine. Yours?

Photo: Robert Wyatt, who creates and communicates using complex concepts, more so than I do.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Pasta's on the boil; time for a poem. I got two last night/this morning, thanks to the full moon. There was some dispute over when the full moon happened this month; different people's calendars said different things, which does happen sometimes but seemed to happen more this month. One astrologer said this indicated that you needed to think about where you are and where you want to be and when you feel the moon is full. Relative.

Anyway, got two and one is structured and meaningful in a larger way, I hope, and the other is rambling and self-indulgent, so of course I'll share the latter.

"Aspiration and Literature"

The shaman shakes his rattle
At the base of the monolith,
Releasing the directions, and my own
Ritual begins. Each breath a struggle
To transform poison into magic. The lead
Filtered out of the water I sip
From a plastic cup. The stink
Of the river after a punishing rain.
The squish of the grainy mud, held in place
By invasive weeds on this patchy lawn
Beneath the sinking monuments. The snake
Crushed beneath the horse's hoof. The face
You say you see in the soot on the plinth.
The chemtrails lit orange in the sunset.
The homeless man walking out of the pit toilet
Under the bridge. The swarm of gnats
Over the pool, in the last gleaming. The radio keening
And thumping from the open car window, the car waiting,
Smoking. And when we're alone, I might just tip her.
She slides down the pole like a certified stripper.

My own keening. My own thumping. My own ecstasy. The night-approaching
Wind on your skin. The skin below your waistband.
My hands remembering the feel of your skin stretched
Over your hips. My own hair trapped in the hair
Of your chest. Every lie that has brought me here.
Every cruelty, every snap of rage, every loss,
Yours and mine and theirs and every death
We don't yet know. The god of art and games and song,
Bedecked with flowers, stone, still, at the center of it all.

Pasta is mush. Maybe I can still work with it. No wonder Plath was always in such a bad mood. She kept trying to cook and write at the same time.

Photo: "Aspiration and Literature" statue by Fraser, photo by M.V. Jantzen, Creative Commons.

Monday, July 26, 2010

I've Been Thinking Long and Hard About the Things You Said to Me

"To live outside the law, you must be honest." Well, OK, except that by a certain age, everyone including yourself is usually so heavily invested in your dishonesty, and those investments are so heavily leveraged. Nobody really intended it, it's just that getting to honesty is such an involved process that discovering it and then putting it into practice needs to be done in delicate increments to keep the whole thing from crumbling before you've got the new place built to move into. Too severe a change and the whole thing topples, much like the markets today.

Anyway, heard and felt a few honest things over the last week of travel. Country matters, mostly.

Pitchfork Ain't No Hoe
City of the Broad Shoulders for Pitchfork festival. I want to hate on hipsters, but damnit they ride bikes and care about music, so I'll forgive those too-tight pants and eccentric facial hair.

Pavement: If you get a chance to get a Virgin ticket, go for it for them; they're tight and kind judging from Chicago performance.
Major Lazer with Diplo and Switch: Chinese lion dancers, daggering from a ladder, beautiful dancers. Truly was a Band and Show. Even some hipsters got beyond doing their bend the knees a bit and head-bob dance.
St. Vincent: In love with the guy playing sax, flute, everything else.
Beach House: Took the heat off and that's OK.
Surfer Blood: If Brian Wilson really had been who he started out pretending to be. Plus, from West Palm Beach, got to love that.
Big Boi: Plays the hits, too much reliance on the big screens.

Behind the Music: Visited the 1913 Atwood Historic Planetarium, a big steel can with holes punched in it. You ride a platform with creaky wooden benches into it and it closes down over you and maybe three others, including a highly hilarious irreverent woman doing docent duty, and you see the night sky of Chicago 1913. Also, dinner at Publican, one of those trendy places where they use the whole animal and put you at communal tables, but corn/pistachio/peach salsa, OK? We ended up next to a Pitchfork writer and her paramour and they couldn't have been sweeter; were headed to the Surgical Museum the next day, which sounded interesting, but hell, when you're from DC and have Walter Reed AND the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, it's hard to get impressed. Then they left and on our other side we had a pair of insufferable foodie snobs who almost kept me from staying for the blueberry-lemon-lavender tart. I didn't eat any organ meats at the restaurant. And yes, I'm a medical-museum snob, so shoot me. (And I'll know how to extract the bullet, the old-fashioned way.) Oh, plus: Stayed in haunted hotel! Met three ghosts and took them to the Planetarium.

Life's a Garden, Dig It
No disrespect to Chicago, but loved, loved, loved Floydfest. Saw way, way, way too much to go into, but, in order of loveness:
Low Anthem: Acoustic set and on the big stage, ghostly songs and an eerie little antique organ.
Deer Tick: The big surprise, what rocking guys. First set sweltering and tight; second day drunk and attitudinal (but in a good way!) and reminding me of the 'Mats. Cover: Maybelline as it's meant to be.
Konono No. 1: 105 degrees and rising, danced my ass off. Could have been doing covers, how would I know.
American Aquarium: Just boys singing strong songs about heartbreak. Came back second day announcing to the crowd how they'd never camped before but they loved it and had done mushrooms the night before, although that was certainly dishonest because there was no such thing happening at that festival. Cover: Thunder Road, pretty dumbass sincere, except it was interesting to hear sax solo on pedal steel guitar.
Holy Ghost Tent Revival: So emotional! So horn-tastic! Was too busy dancing to hear if they did a cover.
Pimps of Joytime: Played a bedtime concert pretty much right outside my tent, while people danced and did hoop trapeze tricks on a giant fire-breathing metal dinosaur. Was too busy dancing to hear if they did a cover.
Big Daddy Love: Acoustic just standing around in the Garden section was the best; on the big stage later it got a little plain jam band.
Hackensaw Boys: Cover: Bluegrass jam on Another Brick in the Wall.
Behind the Music: Dance Afire did a real performance--not just the wow, how do they do that w/o setting themselves on fire wow look at that type fire dance and not that hokey Cirque stuff with a sort-of halfass newage storyline either. This was symbolic and unified and meaningful and the music and costumes--everything fit and worked for the place, and this is just seeing one 20-minute performance they did. It really opened my eyes.

But the very best things that happened were that two people said things that will give me sparks for some time. I was camped down by the late-night music, which also was where they had the agriculture booths, who were having some workshops and were also just up for talking and wandering. When I can sit and talk about dirt and nettles with a soft-spoken man, who then throws in the word "alchemical," well, that just about makes my weekend. Lots of talk about food, medicine and pleasure; my sense is that people have a hard time seeing food as medicine but no trouble seeing medicine as pleasure. I'm thinking making that into a functioning, flowing triangle, food-medicine-pleasure, might help a lot of people. Sorry about the non-exact quotes:

"Nothing can give you anything beyond what is put into it." That's from the biodynamic farming expert, talking about improving soil, but I'm going to make hay of it in some other ways. He also talked about feeling the travels and history of your food as you take it into yourself; feeling the needs and the wants of the earth in the air itself; and I'm feeling like, hey, maybe I'm not insane, and maybe I need to be reminded of that once in a while.

"I think Americans have these problems because we reject the bitter; we only want the sweet." That's from the guy with Backyard Revolution, a group that could use more support, I'm thinking. It was about greens, but again, I'll stretch it out like a single chicken into many meals to come. This is someone who found about 10 food and medicinal plants growing in the meadow border of the campsites alone; we didn't even have to get into the woods to find anything interesting. One more quote: "Take something wild into your body every day." That's worthy of needlepointing on a pillow, at least.

On the way home, stopped in Lexington in accordance with our policy not to eat in chain places off the highway but to actually go into the towns and see what's up; unfortunately a ghost hitched a ride and demanded that I play several Steely Dan songs before departing back south down I-81.

Photo: Mountain mint.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I've been thinking of changing the name on this blog, but I think I'll just keep it til the term evolves back into meaning simply the animal.

This bastard below's been driving me crazy all week, and I woke up at 5, with one of my sleeping daughter's languid, long, skinny arms flailing me in the face, feeling like I had it. (She's sleeping with me to soak up as much security as she can before she goes off to camp by herself.) I can only aspire to the brevity of the epigraph.

The River, from the Other Side

"I go to sleep on one shore,
wake up on another."

--Raymond Carver

I always suspected the side
Where I lived was the comfortable side.
Today I look on its green slopes,
But I'm not sure if I was right.
Peligroso, Peligroso,
There are signs on both sides,
Some rusting at the bottom of waterfalls.

I've watched people on the rocks
Of this side, from that side,
And wondered how they did it.
Here now, I see there are paths,
Some wide enough for two, passages
Between the points and slabs.
I rest my hands flat on the blazing rock
And read the hatches in the stone, in my skin.
What's crossed won't be uncrossed;
Not a step taken back.

The guide gave me the reasons
Women are better climbers:
Patience was the first. They scan,
Imagine alternative scenarios,
Then act. The second is the hips.
It's not in your arms, it's never
In your arms, he tells me.
He tells me: You can do this.
(Like they say to you in labor:
You can do this. But I couldn't
Let go, I couldn't clutch at
Those hands and pull.)

I think I believe I'm like
A drowning person: Don't
Touch me, I'll drag you down, too.
Throw a stick my way, let something
Come between us, save yourself, but
I would die before I took your hand.
A lifetime has tried to teach me
What I touch, I hurt.
I could believe this is true
Of the rocks and the river, even these.

He's on the rock above me,
Already carrying the lion's share,
Still reaching out his hand.

Photo: Seneca rocks, third-scariest thing I ever did.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Two Sides of the Coin of the Realm

This is the season for goldfinches in the mornings; they always travel in groups, often three. I would love a feather if it didn’t mean pain for the bird. I found a red feather just before beginning a trip recently. I’ll believe it was from a cardinal. I’m seeing a lot of them lately.

And close encounters with a few woodpeckers. Once, running, and I slowed a bit to watch one on a tree not two feet away, just at eye level, his head back and coolly determining where to nail. Each time I’ve seen them, I’m surprised at how big they are. I would call these sightings auspicious.

On that note, I’ve been feeling a lot of compassion for men lately, probably because of encountering quite a few of them, typically in their 40s, tearing themselves up about not being enough of this or having accomplished that. They are running themselves down for everything from not being astronauts to not having Situationist abs. Or, I guess, Situationesque would be a better word. In short, they’re talking like girls, and I don’t mean that in a mean-gym-coach way, but in a “damn, friend, how could you let Them bring you down like that” way.

And these are extraordinary men talking this talk. Great artists, great fathers, yes, great lovers, too, men who make you laugh, men with enough courage to actually show others something of their inner lives, men who can survive in the woods with a lighter and a piece of rope, men you could talk with all night. And there they are, letting themselves be declared worthless by Wall Street. I can only quote: “That place is dead anyhow.”

Despite being filled with compassion and delight, my brain and heart remain not the most pleasant places to be at all times. Witness what happened yesterday, as I was heading to the Westfield Shoppingtowne or whatever the fuck they’re calling it now, it used to be Wheaton Plaza, for a new pair of glasses, and there I was at the five-corner crossroads, a busy intersection far back into history even for animal migration, so it is alive with energy, most of it scary, today, and the radio was talking about BP, and I had a vision that made even me uncomfortable in its icy cruelty:

I see my huge hand as the hand of Eris, plucking fat white grubs from the office suites of Halliburton, of Blackwater, of Massey Energy, of BP and all the rest, harvesting them and shaking their slimy selves off my hands to fall on the decks of my boats in the Gulf. They will be my cleanup slaves. There they’ll sleep, when they seldom sleep, in the holds head to foot. They’ll drink the brown water that comes from taps in Appalachia, slurp quivering gobs of transfat and corn syrup from rusty ladles, when I let them feed. They will scrub and swab the seas themselves, and I will pay no mind when dizzy from thirst they fall face flat on the decks, when crazed with sun they leap into the Gulf and drown themselves; I won’t care what tumors grow in what soft places or how they hack and puke on the poison that sinks into their lungs and skin. They didn’t care when they did it to my mother. I am implacable as the sun. They opened this wound at their peril. For once, the cleanup won’t be done by the ones who need the money. It will be done by the ones who need killing.

And the ship….the black raider…disappears out to sea…

I know, it’s wrong, it’s scary, it accomplishes nothing, it only devalues me, myself, it’s unladylike, and it’s damned dangerous to evoke Eris. But once in a while I have to let that inner Johnny Cash fury out.

So I give myself an order to remember: they are someone’s child, they are someone’s lover, there is no end of blame, and you share the blame, rinse and repeat, as long as the water holds out.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Gift Horse

So, solar eclipse, total, July 11, around 3:40 Eastern, 19 degrees Cancer. It operates like a super new moon. What are you going to start? What will you hit the reset button on? What will you begin to create? What gifts will you ask for?

People have to remember to craft their wishes carefully. The great writer and spiritual woman Luisah Teish addresses this in a funny way. One morning in her rituals she opened her arms and called out for Oshun to rain love and abundance down on her. She met a man she knew (and liked) while on the subway that morning; he was carrying a large burlap bag of black beans and as he reached out to her, the bag broke open and beans poured down on her.

They call it being a horse, when you're possessed by a spirit. I've never experienced possession; surrender and trust do not come easily to me. That's what this poem is about. The rune for gift is an X, two wills intersecting, leaning together.


The gift comes
Wrapped in so many layers
You begin to believe the
Giver is mocking you
As you get to the center you see
He did it
Because it is fragile

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bang a Gong

The Batman, a reliable source of bits like this, passes along the winner of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest, for the worst opening line of an imaginary fiction: For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss--a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil.

Someday I'll win this thing, but they keep getting better every year.

Condolences to The Batman for the recent loss of his cat. Big Guy was an extraordinary companion and will long be missed.

I spent the weekend camped near The Gamelatron, the World's First Fully Robotic Gamelan Orchestra, created by Zemi17 and the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots. It's kind of like what would happen if you mated a prayer wheel and something out a Quay Brothers movie. It clanged and clattered and gonged at all hours of the day and night, and I can honestly say I enjoyed every minute of it. It could turn a simple exchange, such as "Does your Swiss Army knife have a corkscrew on it I can borrow?" into a moment fraught with drama and import, if you happened to say it during a point when all the cymbals were going off at once. Plus, it was great to just go into its temple, lie down, and take in the sound.

Forgive the mixing of cultures here--my mythologies in poems come from a post-apocalyptic culture where spiritualities are under stumbling reconstruction and as likely to contain pop culture deities as ancient ones. A world much like...our own (doom dooooooommm!).


Some tones are intended to welcome spirits,
Others to banish them. And then
There are transgressive spirits, who, heedless,
Sweep in on a breeze to provoke
An errant chime to sound.

The singing bowls are forged and polished as instructed,
Their brass rings true. The snake-hiss and shiver
Of each slice of metal sounds in accord.
The tongues of candle flame, in correct number, aligned.
Gold cloth enrobes the temple; the gold cloth of the path
To the door is in place. How this path blazes
Beneath the seekers' feet! All this is fine talk,
And can be read in heavy books
Of alchemy, planets, philters, and sigils.

But my longing persists in this wondering:
Why, why, you can give me no reason
For the caution against filling the bowl with red flesh,
Transmuting myself into liquid and vapor,
That the dross might be siphoned
From the gold, as I myself resolve.

Image: Cats Cooling Off on a Boat, Utagawa Kuniyoshi.