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The coyotes woke me up last night. It wasn't the first time. The first time I lay frozen in bed, listening. First came the yips, several. Then howls and yaps. Finally, the rising cacophonous crescendo, not animal, not human. Now, I lay in bed and just listened, amazed at the range and beauty, the eerie sound a comfort. I had not heard from them in over a year. The wild had been cleared to create yet another new vinyard, the brush cleared to protect grapes from hungry deer. Yet, here they were last night, just under my window, a seranade.
On Crete, I lived in a 5 x 10 cinder block room on the roof of the hotel I managed. Finding, the local bugs spectacular, I started a collection. Nightly, I would place the day's bug on the table next to the bed but each morning I would wake up to find the bug missing. I explored every crevice of that room and found nothing. I could only conclude that I had a nightime thief. With no electricity, I lit countless matches hoping for a sudden revelation. I set traps and mazes and snares, but never did catch the crook.
Day of the Dead ceremony- After a great pot luck people were asked to speak. A woman stood up and began with.."I am a psychic and I speak to dead people all the time." She then read three pages from a conversation with her dead husband. Surprised me. Death is about impermanence, right? But we adjust to the death of our loved ones in different ways. I had a serious "Huh" moment. Wasn't what I came there to talk about.
So a poem:
Life too is sudden
It is a rare and wonderful thing to do nothing. I don't mean doing nothing by reading, or playing computer games, of meditating, or watching TV. I mean really doing nothing. Sitting, maybe in the dark, in the middle of the night, maybe between tasks in the afternoon. But just sitting there, letting my mind wander, unfocused and resting those figetity hands and restless legs. Nothing seems to come up or not come up. Maybe something is percolating in the basement or maybe not. I never can really tell. But, I know I love the feeling,the sense of peace.
It is about a five mile flat walk between Irepetra and Stomeo. I would make that walk every morning to look for work. Arriving in Stomeo, I waited to be selected for a day of picking tomatoes in the greenhouses.
Inside the greenhouses, the air was warm and moist, the smells intoxicating . Small frogs were everywhere, darting among the plants. I would fill my pail with tomatoes and carry it to Elefterie, who carefully packed them into boxes. My hands became green and caked. The only way to remove this, said Maria, was to wash your hands with tomoatoes.
We decided right from the beginning not to have a relationship. I mean, the nasty little imps take over. You know it. It's insideous thought. First they just want to be mentioned, occasionally included in the conversation, just an small acknowledgement, they say. Pretty soon they want to be fed. Something just for them. You are no longer two people, but three. What about my needs? they whine. The next thing you know, they're in bed with you. You reach for your loved one and what do you get? The relationship. I say, kick 'em out of bed right now.
Woke up in the middle of the night restless and rubbing my eyes. Before? After? During? a song was rumbling through my head. The night has a thousand eyes, by that old teeny bopper Bobby Vee. It's not like I usually hum that song. Is it some kind of cross connection of synapse pathways? I think it may have something to do with the right brain commenting on a somatic episode and being incapable of the rational ordered speech of the left brain so it sings a little song. But the song is unsophistocated and just associates night and eyes.
No child left behind, every child should have a college education? We need 60,000 more BA's by 2015. Seze who? the Educational Industry no doubt. We have an education bubble now much in the same way we had a housing bubble. There are more bus drivers with BA's then ever before. What's new is the massive debt acquired by students. That, coupled with low paying jobs, and high housing and living costs, let's face it, our kids are screwed. Beyond the BA, even more staggering debt and still no great salary if involved in anything but corporate tech. Yikes.
Have had to sneak up on my words this morning. I have been sitting drinking tea without a thought in my brain, or rather a thousand monkey thoughts tumbling incoherently, chasing each other through this infinate space I call my head. I moved to the computer and just sat down. Ho Hum, maybe I'll check the weather. My fingers are now on the keyboard. Humm, maybe I'll just mosy over to the 100 word site and look at it. OK, I'll fill in the date selected. It's 87 words later and nothing has really surfaced. And suddenly, it's 100 words.
I was the paramedic on duty when they hauled his body out of the water. A crane uncermoniously lifted him out and dropped him on the pier. There wasn't much to look at, fish had eaten most of his face. And then, as he hit the deck, hundreds of crabs swarmed from his body and back into the oily water around the pilings. I can't share this story with friends. We live in an area where the winter crab harvest is sacred. It was many years before I could eat crab. Its' delicate flesh, so pure, so white, so succlent.
My father was in and out of the VA for years. I would visit him after my classes in middle school. The VA complex held about 20 widely spaced buildings, all painted a dull brown. Only a few trees and few scraggly bushes broke up the monotony of the cement paths. Entering the hospital, I would see rows and rows of beds filled with sick and dying men. Some I knew and they waved as I passed. The place smelled of lysol with something underneath. When my father got worse, they put a curtain around the bed. I dreaded that.
I sometimes wonder if my father's later remarkable behavior was related to the many hypoxic episodes he had in the hospital. Living with death so close, he seemed released from his earlier, more convential life.
He smuggled marijauna across the boarder in his huge green oxygen tanks. He said that they needed a special tool to open them and if they did bother, he would start breathing hard and get an emergency ride to the nearest VA. He also became interested in peyote and I would find piles of carefully cleaned buttons on the kitchen table, complete with recipe.
When my daughter was young, I often took her backpacking in the High Sierras. I would carry the heavy stuff and she would carry a few of the lighter odds and ends. It had been many years since I had been backpacking, but this year, on my birthday, my daughter asked me to go with her. Just the two of us. I had some misgivings, but we did go and found a hidden valley 10,000 ft. up. Some snow was still on the ground and delicate shooting stars covered the valley. And best, she carried all the heavy stuff.
Looking out the window, I could see the swans meander slowly, languorously, up the canal. All birds are irritable, but swans are big and irritable, so that one respected their presence in multiple ways. Occasionally they would give the window an exploratory peck, testing, perhaps to remind me that I was the interloper and I was there at their descretion. All spring and summer they swam, courted and pecked. Their stately white bodies gradually accumulating a kind of bathtub ring from the canals. In the winter, when the canals froze, the elegant swans were replaced by the woosh of skaters.
Two rabbis are in a synogogue praying. "Oh lord", wails the first " I am nothing, I am less than a speck of dirt on your shoe" The second rabbi, not to be out done cries "Oh Lord, I am nothing, less than the tinyest insect in your sight. They lament and tear at their clothes. A janitor working in the synogogue, hearing them, becomes inspired. He comes up to arc and crys "Oh Lord, I am nothing" The first rabbi looks at the second and says "Look who thinks he's nothing"
This joke makes me laugh at myself regularly.
I think of the joke mostly in the context of being a scientist. I think most people want to know the truth and that is a quality of scientific thinking also. The real difference is that ideally a scientist sets out to disprove what they believe or expect, or disprove their hypothesis. Rather than gather information that supports our beliefs, which is our normal bent, real scientists ask themselves what evidence or experiment would make this not true. They look for flaws in their arguments. If they can't dissprove it, then it is conditionally supported. Most people don't do this.
Am reading about the Spartans and thinking that we never get to show much courage in this culture other than the day to day small kind. Boys and girls grow up without the great drama of sacrifice, of ritual and we become a culture for which sacriface is something for chumps. And when we are called upon to sacriface: for our children, for our country, our parents, it lacks nobility and instead of a sign of strength it is a sign of weakness. My generation, who had such high ideals, is eating it's children. Ruining our only home, our planet.
I am looking out the window at multiple shades of grey. I am hoping it will rain. The countryside is on fire wiht reds and oranges, the pistachio and malple trees are blazing bright. The liquid ambers are just about to turn and some of the grape vines have oxidized into fields of crimson. It is almost too bright for the heart and the soft grey light just seems to enhance and accentuate the effect. A wind rises before the storm and the path becomes the golden road. A last and overwhelming blaze of color before the monochrome of winter.
I sat in my French class thinking I really hate this, I can't stand the droning another minute. So I got up and walked out. I never went back to my apartment, I just started hitchhiking to San Francisco. I had heard about the Haight Ashbury district and that was something I wanted to be a part of. I had $10.00 and spent 5 of it on the book "Damien" in Monterrey. When I got to S.F. it was raining. I stood on the corner of Haight and Ashbury and wondered what I would do next.
The 9 month gestation of the Egyptian revolution has not produced the baby anyone wanted. The military turns out not the wise father. Riots again rock the streets of Cairo. The gains in civil rights of women is on the chopping block. In the words of lily thomlin "I try to stay cynical, but I just can't keep up".
We assume that all countries and individuals want freedom-at least our definition of it. This is not true. There are many kinds of freedom. Personal, political, national. The priorities of each of these vary with individuals and countries.
I am not cooking turkey this year. Last year, I poisoned everyone. Friday morning was greeted with the sound of retching and explosive diarrhea. We thought at first that it was the flu. My daughter and I curled up on the couch unable to move. My son in law wasn't quite as bad off and was able to walk the dog (who, of course, has a dog's stomach) His polite father and his girlfriend came downstairs pale and sweaty and frequently disappeared throughout the day. The other diners retreated to their homes and their own private hells. Ham this year.
The Thanksgiving poisoning incident was not really my fault. I put the turkey in the oven and it sat there about an hour before I realized that my oven didn't work. Then I had to call a neighbor and ask her if she would cook the turkey. Then she had to warm her oven and the turkey had to be transported. All this took a little while, and gave the bacteria time to get itself setteled in. It all tasted fine and it was not until the next day that we began to fall like trees in a clearcut forest.
We have such high expectations for our healthcare . Disregarding the current fiscal fiascos, as elders, maybe it's time to think about our own expectations of care toward the end of our lives. That's where the money goes, you know. Should we expect to have and demand a triple bypass at 80? How about chemotherapy, radiation? We need to reassess how much we take from the next generation. Shouldn't we agree not to have expensive care that prolongs our life, no matter what the quality? Shouldn't we make some sacrifices, accept the inevitable, and rechannel that money into our children's health?
Thanksgiving, and it's getting predictably darker and darker. It is also the time of tule fog and the mornings struggle to emerge from the thick grey blankets. Each year it seems a little darker, but I know that is not true. The dark is not a active time for me. I slow down, I want to stop, I want to go to sleep. My intended projects get set aside for the next day, and I am content to sit and read and go to bed early. I know there is another world that I allow to remain closed to me.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It seemed less commercial, more friendly. Less about greed and the accumulation of stuff and more about family and friends gathering together to share a meal.
I don't really "get" Black Friday and there was no black Friday when I was younger. But, now it has become an oily black wave oozing over the turkey. An insidious encrouchment into expectations of conversation and the complacency of sufficiency. Enter anxiety based on the idea that we really don't have enough; not enough things, enough presents, enough friends, that we are somehow lacking.
Got a call from the Democratic National Committee. We had a "failure to communicate". It sounded like a young black woman and normally we should have been allies. But contributing to the democrates is something I won't do. I told her I wasn't going to vote for any incombent. I was sick of the Congress and the Senate. I would vote third party and wait for a constitutional convention declared by the people. She stuck to the line that we can't afford to let the Republicians win, so we must comprimise. I've heard that for years and nothing ever changes.
When I tell people that this is the best that will be for me they get uncomfortable. We imagine that there is always some surprise treat on the horizon. But the facts are, that when we start to get old, it doesn't get better. If we are healthy we can count on getting unhealthy. If we are strong, we will getting weaker For most of us our income will decrease with retirement. At some point we will die and probably uncomfortably. I say this not to sound depressing, but to remind myself how wonderful this is now, and how ephemerial.
Our chickens are getting old now and don't lay many eggs. They are still the girls we carried around in our pockets though and we are incapable of killing them. Over the years the foxes and hawks have thinned our flock, choosing those who were a little slower, a little more confused. But now the land has fenced and cleared, so there few placed preditors can hide. Hence, our aging flock. We are down to four of our elders, so we will begin the spring with five new chicks, riding around in our pockets, pleasing us with their insistant chirps.
Almost missed my hundred words today. Am oh, so sick. Just want to sleep. Everything looks so dark when I feel sick. Like teenage depression, it seems like this will be a perminant state. I can't even imagine feeling well, feeling like I could do something. I was to start a new job yesterday and was too sick to go. Very bad beginning. So mixed up with feeling awful is a great deal of fear and guilt. I really should just go back to bed and rest in the knowledge that no state is perminant, good or bad. Good night.
The great thing about the flu today, is that I have about a 99% chance of getting better, eventually. I can't help but reflect that this won't always be the case for an illness. What will I be thinking if my odds are 75% chance of getting better? How about 10% chance? I see this as a reflection on the inevitable rather than useless morbid thoughts. The old hippy sorcerer "Don Jaun" or Carlos Castenada spoke of having death as an advisor and some Tibetian practioners sit with corpses. It's instructive for me to keep my awareness of death near.
The Tip Jar