30 11 2009

Paris VI, 29, Rue Cassette,

ON SUNDAY   [ SEPTEMBER 29, 1907 ]

“…What you experienced with the Portuguese grape is something I know so well: I am feeling it simultaneously in two pomegranates I recently bought from Potin; how glorious they are in their massive heaviness, with the curved ornament of the pistil still on the top; princely in their golden skins with the red undercoat showing through, strong and genuine, like the leather of old Cordovan tapestries.

I have not yet tried to open them; they probably aren’t ripe yet. When they are, I believe they easily burst of their own fullness and have slits with purple linings like noblemen in grand apparel.

–Looking at them, I too felt rising up within me the desire and presentiment of things foreign and southerly, and the lure of long voyages.

But then, how much of all that is already within one, and how much more so when closing one’s eyes tightly….”

-from Letters on Cezanne by Rainer Maria Rilke


unexpected broken heart

16 11 2009

I baked 9 apples this weekend. I carried them home from the farmers market, cored them, and stuffed them with currants, brown sugar, almonds, a little butter, and then baked them for about an hour. They were delicious. Like an apple pie without the crust.

my next door neighbor and I have been in a feud of varying degrees of heat for the past 4 years. last month he had a heart attack in his apartment and went online to find out what was wrong with him and while typing in his symptoms into the computer, he discovered he was having a heart attack. he called 911 and went to the hospital where he had stints or shunts (you know– the things that open up the passageways) put in. He was there, alone, in the hospital for a week, and then took a taxi home.

To say this guy is a loner would be to under serve the word. he is one of those people who is totally and utterly alone in the world. it kinda gives me chills when i really think about it.

he has been so uncooperative about walking around in his cowboy boots on a hardwood floor, and vacuuming (he’s a vacuuming fanatic), at all hours of the dark, that i haven’t cared much for his situation.

I have made him into that “other” kind of thing that feels so good to do when we are hurt or wronged by someone or we find someone to be just a plain old asshole. When I asked him if he would mind taking off the rodeo shoes at 6 a.m. or 1.30 a.m. he said he didn’t want to have to consider me in everything he did, and slammed the door. What an asshole, I thought.

I saw him about a month after he had his heart attack and his normally robust figure was slimmed way down. He was trying to get his wheelie cart in the front door, and I happened to be going out of the building. seeing him shocked me, and thinking everyone loves to be complimented on weight loss, I said, “wow, B__ you look great.” “I had a heart attack”, he replied. The asshole thing was feeling more like mine at that moment, so I held the door open for him and carried his cart up the stairs. we stood in the cruddy flourescent-lit hallway chatting.

He lost his job a year ago, is behind in the rent, the landlords have taken him to court three times, he has no health insurance, and his heart medicine is $200 a month.

He had just missed a deadline that the court gave him to pay $200 to the landlords, but it was a choice between the heart medicine and the landlords so he chose the medicine. His unemployment is going to run out in two months.

he told me he hopes they don’t evict him because, he said, “i have literally nowhere to go.”

i walked away from that little chat shaken.

since then we’ve been saying hello, so yesterday when i baked the apples i decided to give up a little of my part of being an asshole and give him one. He was vacuuming in his boots with his front door open, and so i asked him if he wanted one. He jumped at the offer, and when i went back into my apartment i was trembling a bit.

when i handed the apple to him in a plastic dish he said,”i like it much better when we get along as neighbors”

“yes,” i said, and stepped toward him and hugged him. we hugged for kind of a long time and because I couldn’t quite bear the intimacy of the moment, I made a joke.

later, there was a small knock on my door, and it was B__. he was holding out a can of custard powder. “I thought maybe this would be yummy over your baked apples.” he said.

after i shut the door thanking him, i looked at the can which seemed to be maybe an inherited can from world war II rations. the lid was dented and the expiration date was august 4, 2002.

the fact that i personally would never make custard from a can, or that it was expired, didn’t matter. what mattered was that this man, this odd man, tried to give back what he could.  he gave back in his way thinking i would like custard for my apples–a delicious treat for anyone.

i stood there in my kitchen silently looking at the can and thinking how tender we all are underneath. i pictured him buying a can of custard off the shelf of the supermarket 7 years ago. maybe he thought he would make himself something sweet, and not being a cook (he gets food delivered every night), maybe a can of powered custard was a way in.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (one of my teachers) talks about how at any moment, we can wake up from the dream of our own aggression and separateness, and glimpse the fundamental vulnerability of all beings, and that direct experience is a moment or a glimpse of genuine wakefulness.

that at any moment we can glimpse the soft spot in people, or in ourselves, and how by seeing the vulnerability of the human condition, it could arouse in you an awakened heart that already exists in us, but that we cover over and harden against.

enlightenment, Rinpoche says, is not separate from ordinary life. the circumstances of our lives are the very things that cause us to wake up.

this morning when i got up to let the dog out, there was my plastic dish on the floor outside my front door with a note. it said; “delish. thanks. a sweet sunday treat.”

i stood there in my pajamas holding the note, my mind still, with quiet appreciation.

how to climb Mt. Everest

6 11 2009


I have a friend who is a semi-professional mountain climber. He works here in nyc and flies all over the world climbing mountains. He lives to climb mountains. He works, saves the money and then when he has enough, he’s off on the next adventure. It always includes risking his life because that’s how mountain climbing is. But like any mountain climber will tell you, being afraid of death is no way to live.

I am on the cusp of completing my first week of http://www.nanowrimo.org and it is my own personal Mt. Everest.

Before I began this trek of 50,00 words in 30 days, I asked my friend the climber what are the 3 things a mountain climber needs. Without a moment’s hesitation, he said:

1. the will

2. the right training

3. the right equipment

then he said to me, and when #2 and #3 fail you, #1 saves your life.

i am applying these principles to my month of writing. and here’s what i have found out so far after week 1;

a person’s will is a mysterious thing. It is very complex to say what makes one person dig deep and go forward and another person as soon as the going gets tough, sit down and give up.

we all have our personal thresholds. thresholds can become habitual ways of saying, thinking, and acting out, “i can’t” either with self-awareness or without it.

i have said i can’t for years.

mountain climbers are solitary, internal people much like marathon runners who really know what it is to rely on oneself. much like writers actually.

for those of us writing memoir, we face the interior and slippery landscape of memory and often it is painful. We are trying to render on the page the complexity of people we have had relationships with in a way that resonates with the universal human condition.

for the fiction writer, they face the landscape of imagination and it’s elastic edges of what they can think up out of thin air.

don’t worry if you are a non-writer reading this. writing is just a word used for living life. You could insert any noun really and then the particulars of executing that craft.

the will is a muscle. And like any muscle it needs to be used and then given increasingly difficult tasks and weights to make it grow. it’s the thing inside of us that makes us want to accomplish something no matter how difficult it may be along the way. the will is what takes us there.

How far we get is a matter of training ourselves. I have been going to bed around 10 and getting up at 530 for over a month now. I am at my desk by 545 after i get dressed, make tea, light a candle and incense, and offer my work on behalf of all beings. then i open the blank page.

i do not let myself get up until i reach 2,000 words which on my worst day so far took me close to 5 hours.

i don’t know what has shifted for me. I am not backing down. I am not giving up when the material gets so hard to write that i am drumming on my desk, taking 5 minutes to wash the window behind me, saying things out loud, going over to the bookshelf and making sure every book is pulled neat right up to the edge, i am then right back in the chair word by word moving forward.

when it’s difficult, the mountain climber goes slowly, takes breaks, but keeps putting one foot in front of the other. often his life depends on keeping moving, sticking with it.

for me, will is closely related to wanting things to be better for myself. coming from a buddhist perspective, i don’t believe there is anything to improve in one’s self, but rather i believe that there is a discarding of the concepts and beliefs of who we have been told we are, or who we believe ourselves to be. i am using my will to see who i really am and what i’m really made of.

i don’t want to be someone who did not get out there deeply in my life and do the hard, challenging, i-have-no-idea-how-to-do-this-but-i-want-to kind of things.

i have been secretly and joyfully surprised (although now you know) at the capacity i have inside of me to find my way and do what i want to do. that i am getting up every morning and sitting here alone with some very difficult memories and confusion of why human beings do what they do to each other.

one more thing, the highway that leads to base camp at Mt. Everest? it’s called friendship highway. (i’m serious, it really is).

i have been comforted and cheered on by people this week that i don’t even know and who have made contact with me via twitter. we recognize people making big efforts and we cheer them on because it’s human nature to want to rise to our highest heights.