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“It Hurts to Set You Free”

I last wrote here in the middle of our vacation, as we enjoyed the tropical sun while our distant home was plunged into a deep freeze of historic proportions.

Now, two months later, our heroes are in a different place altogether.

I might prefer leave them in Hawaii, David and Rob, to enjoy the warm breezes and friendly faces for all time. Huddled together against the lizards in the dripping jungle, helping each other stumble through caverns carved by the goddess of lava, lording over the private lagoon from their balconied suite in the sky. It is as good a finale as any. Rob wrote a play in which he imagined a happy ending for the famous Amelia Earhart, instead of the one she actually experienced plunging into the lonely and tempestuous seas, and I could take a page from his book and write this carefree existence for the characters I created here over the past twelve years. Happily ever after.

Why do we have this idea about relationships, marriages, that they can only be successful if somebody dies at the end? We all die every day, every minute, and are born again into new possibilities in the next. I declare we can consider it a success if we spend happy times together and part as friends—as family—the better off for them. There is no such thing as happily ever after because relationships are not playgrounds; they are laboratories of life, in which complex people experiment with story and perspective and compromise and expectation in the presence of a devoted witness. Who are we, and how do we fit together? What will I give to you, and what will I give up for you? And what will we do when the answers to these questions are suddenly no longer what they were the day before, and the day before that?

In his play, Rob has Amelia Earhart sing, “This is how I write my story,” as she realizes what she was meant to do and turns her back on the happy ending for which she traversed the planet. And, my dear friends, this is how I write my story, here in these pixels. If you have been reading it since 2002, you have witnessed the beginning and the end of this chapter in my life, in which two men and a sweet little dog come together and learn and love and change . . .

. . . and then move on.

My story is that it was a success, that our time together mattered and will always matter, that we will deeply mourn what no longer is and feel our way through creating something new and different and special.

And dear reader, this is goodbye for now. You can close the covers of this book and imagine the characters living on as you like, happily ever after together in paradise, or in a new and less comfortable reality, with broken edges that don’t quite fit together the way they used to, but which will smoothen and heal as they begin writing the next chapters of their lives.

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TRAVEL JOURNAL: Hawaii, Days Eight and Nine

Day 8

Back in 2009, when I was still employed but the writing was on the wall, I got it into my head that I wanted a nice camera, the kind where you could change the lenses depending on your mood, to zoom in on a distant hummingbird or assume the ocular perspective of a fish. I had no particular goal attached to this desire but that did not stop me and I soon came home with a gleaming new Nikon that had more controls and components than C-3PO, and which other than being pressed into service that year to take photos of Goblin Foo in front of Mt. Rushmore and Niagara Falls was shoved into a closet and later stolen by a poltergeist. Believe it or not, it is difficult for me to tell you about this. I have–we all have–been through so much since then that the capability of buying something expensive on a whim now seems a distant and shameful. So when I planned this trip to Hawaii, built largely around a Vacation Club purchase from the same era so that it did not require an outlay of cash, I thought it would be a good opportunity to resurrect the Nikon and settle my guilt on this matter. And after wresting it from the clutches of the ghost and getting a refresher course in its use from my friend Amanda, I took it to Kalani on the Big Island of Hawaii and left it in its forlorn bag for a week. That just did not seem to be the land of lugging around a big camera or any sort of unnatural equipment, although there was a core group who smuggled their laptops down to the cafe on a regular basis to compete in the Hunger Games of Internet access.

Since arriving on Oahu, I have gradually begun to take the Nikon out and get used to its function. I have never been trained as a photographer, although I have a degree in design and understand good visual composition, and I have read up on the Rule of Thirds and other basic tips. Today, I decided to wander around the resort and play with some basic shots incorporating depth of field, which was more difficult than I thought it would be. Disney is actually famous for an experience design that incorporates a visual foreground, middle area, and background–this is how they lure consumers to the distant corners of their amusement parks–but down among the lush foliage of the hotel courtyard, the twisting paths and an endless procession of families in bathing suits did not quite lend themselves as fodder to my amateur eye.

Later, back at the room, the day devolved into the ambitionless sort I enjoy the most on vacation. I lollygagged, dilly-dallied, and frittered away the afternoon by editing photos, reading novels, and watching the ocean and clouds from the balcony. The lawn below, usually an out-of-the-way corner, bloomed to life at prescribed intervals with congregations of small children and life-sized cartoon characters, taking photographs and participating in activities such as Musical Surfboards. One of the hotel’s outdoor venues has an album of Disney music on rotation, with strains of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “Colors of the Wind,” “Under the Sea,” or the ever-present “It’s a Small World” drifting up at all hours. Outside, the world was warm, pleasant, regimented; accessible enough to participate in if I wanted to, inconsequential enough to avoid if not.

After dinner, Rob and I descended back to the courtyard for what I had suggested be a drink or dessert, and actually turned out to be both. Nearby, children whose parents didn’t love them frolicked through the pools in the chilly night air, and a bedraggled storyteller enthralled his audience around a gas-powered fire pit. I did not bring my camera because I discovered its annoying tendency to leave its aperture open for several seconds in dim lighting, and I was not in the mood for capturing shapeless blurs and streaks of light. Instead, Rob and I discussed the Disney corporation and my fervent hope that the employees who had been so kind and cheerful around me in this hotel were actually happy in their jobs, and well-paid. They seemed happy, and they made me happy, and I did not want the atmosphere of beatitude to be based on a lie. Rob’s conclusion was that there is a certain mythos of higher purpose in some branches of the company, but at the end of the day it is a corporation like any other, and maybe the hotel employees are just happy to have jobs at all. I gave the bartender an extra large tip for my Superfruit Margarita and thought about this for the rest of the evening. I’m not stupid. I know how the world works and am daily horrified by economic injustices. But sometimes, I just want the illusion to be real.

Day 9

There is a stretch of highway between Ko Olina and Honolulu that seems eternally congested for no discernible reason. Today, we braved this again so we could visit the Chinatown section of the capital city, an excursion that would never have occurred to me, but Rob is one for scouring travel forums for unique activities and even seems to have some radar for discerning which self-appointed connoisseurs have the reliable opinions. In any case, I have been to Chinatowns across North America, and I thought it would be interesting to see one that was the closest to Actual China, the medicine of which I have based my latest career around.

Chinatown in Honolulu is architecturally similar to the Old West, with late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century buildings that resemble the saloons and shops of that dusty epoch. It does not seem particularly geared toward tourism, although there are a few small shops of tchotchkes, and we went into one antique store that played versions of “Aloha Oe” on an unceasing loop. After meandering a bit, we eventually ate lunch in a pho shop, so I suppose we were more accurately in “Pan-Asiantown.” I did not make a special study of this, but it seems that this quadrant of Honolulu was constructed in discreet eras. After the Old West buildings of Pan-Asiantown, we passed through a neighborhood that could have been lifted from the nineteen fifties and eventually came to the colonial structures of Iolani Palace and its environs. More fascinating to me than the architecture were the palace grounds, which contained some of the most spectacular trees I have ever seen, including a banyan that seemed as if it could be a thousand years old. Afterward, we entered a Ross Dress for Less store so I could buy a pair of shorts and Rob could look for some sandals. Let me tell you, you know you are in a special kind of place when there are signs saying “Aloha” and “Mahalo” in the Ross Dress for Less.

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Even though I do not eat pork, one of the things I had wanted to do in Hawaii was attend a luau, just for the traditional entertainment, and although I could not be moved to research this agenda item in any way that would make it Actionable, I was happily surprised to discover that Aulani twice a week stages a Hawaiian-themed show on the lawn directly below our room. Tonight was the night for this, and Rob and I ate dinner on the balcony in anticipation of the hula dancers and ukulele players, who arrived as advertised in a graceful pageant that was marred only by their invitation to the children in the audience to come up to the stage and bang on coconut shells during one rhythmic number. Unfortunately, the traditional show ended abruptly at a point I thought should be the middle, the beat of the music changed wildly, and out popped Chip, Dale, Stitch, Goofy, and Mickey and Minnie Mouse; the previously soft lights of the stage began to flash and pulse in time to the disco beat, and suddenly the lawn erupted in a Disney dance party, which I found both completely unexpected and utterly interminable. I suppose this is the sort of thing that one has to put up with in a place like this, but I really would have thought Stitch would have better sense than to endorse these shenanigans.

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TRAVEL JOURNAL: Hawaii, Days Six and Seven

Day 6

Our last day on Hawaii dawned with a wind storm and a light drizzle, almost a fine mist, that fell regardless of whether clouds or sun were directly overhead. Rob had developed a slight cold the previous day, and after treating it with a judicious application of needles, I made him wear his jacket with the hood up, as any acupuncturist worth his moxa can tell you that disease enters the body through the back of the neck in unfavorable climates. After breakfast, while he rested, I went down to the ocean to say goodbye to Pele and the other spirits of the island.

Ben was at the desk when we checked out of Kalani, and upon settling my debts, I gave him my business card in case he ever found himself on the East Coast and needed assistance.

“You never know, I could end up anywhere,” he said.

“I distinctly have that impression,” I told him, picturing him adrift, buffeted hither and yon by the forces of a universe he is convinced has his best interests at heart.

I noticed that, instead of pants, he was wearing an orange skirt.

As we pulled up to Hilo International Airport, I was a little startled at how small it is, since I did not have a good perspective of its size upon our arrival. There were no planes at any of its few gates and only one large airliner parked away from the terminal; any conclusions I may have had about having traveled to a remote backwater were put to rest as soon as I noticed that it happened to be Air Force One, and I wondered if Goblin Foo had pulled some strings to get her daddy a more direct ride home. There could only be one other explanation as far as I was concerned, but I was tragically not offered an ambassadorship on my way to Gate 6.

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The topography of the Honolulu area is more interesting than where we were on the Big Island, although there is far less wild foliage. Our hotel, Aulani, turned out to be in a gated community called Ko Olina, which is lushly and impeccably landscaped to within an inch of its life, and I imagined any disharmonious branches or blades of grass were issued urgent cease-and-desist orders by a security patrol empowered for this very purpose.

We had arrived in Resort Hawaii.

I was disconcerted by the obvious wealth in this territory, in contrast with the casual wilderness around Kalani, but I could only be stunned by the architecture and accoutrement of Aulani, which is owned by Disney and subject to that corporation’s legendary attention to detail. After checking in, Rob and I familiarized ourselves with our one-bedroom suite overlooking the ocean and later strolled the open-air lobby and its surrounding beaches and pools, which majestically evoked Hawaiian palaces and vistas in staggering proportions. I am a sucker for a good design theme, and the interpolation of Disney trademarks into this hallowed iconography was minimal and tasteful, but I did glimpse someone dressed up as Donald Duck across the courtyard, and “It’s a Small World” was piped subtly into the elevator–in the Hawaiian language and accompanied by ukeleles.

I can’t begin to stress how different this is from Kalani, and Rob and I are probably two of the few characters on the face of the earth who might occupy the overlapping sector of a Venn diagram that represented each as a distinct circle. Our fellow travelers here appear to be self-involved and wearing name brands, although the staff greets everyone who passes with cheerful alohas that do not seem enforced by their salaries. And when it comes to Internet access on every square inch of this property, I am in like Flynn, if Flynn were a wifi provider and not an infamous libertine.

I confess, I love it here, too, the comfort and thoughtfulness of it mostly. “Welcome home!” they say when you arrive, and it does feel like that, especially if my home were a responsibility-free zone removed from the realities of the world. But I confess that I wouldn’t mind wandering downstairs and finding the hippies and mystics of the jungle gathered for a simple meal around the infinity pool, awaiting me with open arms.

Day 7

I left for this vacation without doing an iota of research on the destination, but everyone and my mother said that we should visit the Dole Plantation when we got to Oahu, which is what we decided to do today. The Dole Plantation grows pineapples, apparently, a bulbous and prickly fruit I did not personally encounter in that locale except for in the pineapple-flavored ice cream Rob enjoyed on the patio. There was a tour through the property on a miniature train, but we opted instead for the sprawling arrangement of hedges billed as the World’s Largest Maze. I am used to mazes being printed puzzles in which you are given the entrance and must direct your pencil point to the exit. This one, it took me a while to understand, did not disguise the way out but instead contained eight secret stations that you were supposed to navigate to your own or with the aid of the little map provided at the ticket booth. I was quite unclear on the nature of these stations, but we were also given a little card with a blank space to record something from each, so I assumed that this would be stamped in some way at every one. Rob and I split up, and I thought I would try my luck without the guidance of the map, a disastrous decision that left me retracing my steps with increasing disgruntlement. When I arrived at what I thought might be one of the landmarks, all that awaited me was a lone peacock, which eyed me with wary annoyance as it groomed its own feathers. I wondered if this was what I was looking for, so I took its photo. Around another corner there was a chicken pecking around contentedly under one of the hedge walls, and I imagined I had struck a bonanza of live-action poultry. But when the only other unusuality I encountered was a weed that resembled a marijuana plant, I decided to leave the maze and sit under an umbrella to catch up on my emails. Rob, of course, had discovered every station and an ice cream booth besides.

That evening, we drove down to Waikiki, a district of Honolulu by the beach characterized by throngs of tourists from all over the world streaming through an otherworldly bazaar of twirling Hare Krishnas; solemn adherents of the Falun Gong; apocalyptic cultists shouting about the Book of Revelation; mangy Rastafarians; native Hawaiian performers of music and magic; tour guides hawking their products with the gusto of carnival barkers; wild-eyed beggars bearing cardboard signs; and a trained guinea pig that could balance on a ball, drive a toy car, and perform other marvels, while simultaneously modeling a succession of tiny hats–all of this against a backdrop of some of the most opulent shops ever begotten by capitalism, including an Apple Store, of which I availed myself to purchase a dongle to connect my camera to my iPad. Our ostensible goal in this seaside circus was to find a restaurant to eat dinner, but given the advancing hour and my plummeting blood sugar, we settled for tacos from a food court stand, which were fine enough.

Later that evening, back at Aulani, I sat out on the balcony with a glass of wine, listened to the waves against the shore, and thought, refreshingly, about nothing.

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TRAVEL JOURNAL: Hawaii, Day Five

Day 5

Apparently, Rob had trouble sleeping the other night and decided to list all fifty states in alphabetical order, creating an elaborate spreadsheet on his iPhone to keep track of this self-inflicted challenge. “There was only one that started with H,” he reported in a significant tone, and I could not imagine what he was referring to, chalking it up to a deranged genius getting his wires crossed. But when I woke up this morning, I realized he had meant Hawaii. Oh gosh, we are in America, I remembered for the first time since our arrival. I can’t imagine now what part of the universe I had been under the impression we occupied, but that country of lunatic politicians, inexhaustible consumerism, superhuman corporations, ubiquitous surveillance, and militarized police would not have been on the list. On this island of free spirits, everyone says hello or aloha at every encounter, with eyes that shine with warmth and acceptance. I have encountered no ego or ostentation, just a community of fellow travelers who behave with kindness, respect, and mutual service. There are a couple of Annoying People, as there are in every human civilization, but no one pays any attention to their personality tics, and I think this relaxes them enough to keep their provocations to a minimum. The worst I have seen is the mild and contagious self-congratulation of having the fortune or foresight to inhabit this Edenic land.

After breakfast today, I wandered down to the cafe then then, for the first time, to the stretch of shore across the street. There, on a flat point of land surrounded by palm trees and crashing waves, individuals did yoga or sat in quiet contemplation. The sky and water today were the purest of blues, in contrast to the grey rains of other days, and the ocean stretched into a featureless forever. I returned later in the day with Rob, and we walked up the road a piece, in awe of a landscape that, within a steps, ranged from lush to lunar. The flora here is so gorgeous, I noticed, when I could tear my gaze away from the sea; growing wild on the side of the road are many species sold as exotic houseplants back home, the kind I specialize in killing with brutal neglect. These gave way to heaps of lava boulders, remnants of past eruptions that pushed toward the sea in a fiery death march. We renamed Hawaii “the sharp island” after their jagged contours, and Rob said Oahu will be softer. I suppose I will find out tomorrow. I don’t particularly want to leave here, although I don’t have the slightest conviction that Fate has led me to reside in this area, a theory Ben and assorted others have espoused since we arrived; in fact, I know something different is waiting. But the appeal of this life is strong, and I have even made friends with the lizards, although I have tried to be very clear with them that this is not the sort of friendship that should result in unannounced visitations at all hours.

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TRAVEL JOURNAL: Days Three and Four

Day 3

Every business owner needs to be proficient at creating systems. Here is mine for navigating the dark nights with the lights off: By the light of my iPhone screen, I make sure that no representatives of Nature are congregating on the little flashlight that I keep on the ant colony by the bed. Then I use the flashlight to guide myself across the cement floor without stepping on any lizards.

You can tell I am not used to roughing it. Yes, we have hot water and, for the most part, electricity, but I consider occupying any room in which a reptile may suddenly make a dramatic appearance to be Roughing It. Let us just say that, as well as the king of the closet rod, I have made a new friend who lives on the curtains next to the toilet, and this morning, at the cafe down by the road, the kind attendant found another of this cold-blooded species lounging on the handle of the tea kettle. (Yes, I ordered Kava Stress Relief.)

Today was Adventure Day here in Hawaii. Our room reservation included an afternoon of optional activities, and we picked “lava tube” and “hot pool,” an itinerary that given my colorful palette of terrors were perhaps not the most prudent choices, but against all odds I ended up loving them. Our guide was Ben, a young man with bright eyes and the indomitable conviction that the universe will provide for his needs in life, and who described every one of his personal decisions, from moving to Hawaii to taking the watch off his wrist at the beach, as “being called” to do this or that. I liked him immediately, even though his first official act was to have us sign a form protecting him from liability if the land we occupied was called to collapse into the ocean or we fell into a bottomless pit, and we allowed him to lead us on a harrowing descent into the earth, through a grotto carved out by lava and the Hawaiian goddess Pele, mistress of volcanoes. The lava tube was strewn with sharp boulders piled at steep angles, which we had to climb while clutching flashlights to illuminate the pitch blackness. Twice, we stopped and turned them off, allowing ourselves to appreciate the sensory deprivation and, as Ben said, “just be present.” The highlight of this expedition was a rock formation with the uncanny shape of an enormous labia, an anatomy that was assigned to Pele. Other travelers had left noni fruit and leaves, carved sticks, and other offerings to the goddess; we had brought some along, ourselves, but deposited them at the beginning of the cave when it became clear that it was difficult enough to balance on those treacherous rocks with a flashlight in one hand without clutching a noni fruit in the other.

Our next stop, the hot pool, was at a popular local beach. Heated by volcanic activity, the pool was set back from the ocean, a rocky hole in the ground surrounded by jungle trees. It was actually not much hotter than a lukewarm bath, but it was warmer than the air and a comfort to sink into even though I find water disconcerting. We were joined by a stranger, another man who discussed with Ben such topics of Paths In Life, Energy, Letting Go, and The Divine Source with ecclesiastical fervor, and it was clear from their stories that both Ben and the other man were comfortable with finding a simple abundance in the midst of uncertainty. I envied them their lack of attachments to possessions and permanent addresses. Not long ago, Rob asked me what I would do if I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted, and my immediate answer was “vanish without a trace.” He didn’t believe me, and I can see why not, but the impulse is a rising drumbeat in my heart, and it was illuminating to talk to men who called disappearing from the midst of their responsibilities a spiritual journey.

Back at Kalani, Rob and I rinsed off the evidence of our excursions and lounged in the cafe for a while. It was New Year’s Eve, and the staff was setting up for the dance party that was set to begin at nine p.m., and which we planned to miss because our bodies stubbornly remained conditioned to Eastern Standard Time. We did, however, attend the special holiday dinner of prime rib and enjoyed the company of some random Canadians.

Afterward, we wandered into the tropical night to look at the stars, which gleamed against the blackness with a ferocious brilliance–there were brighter versions of familiar constellations and thousands of stars I had never before seen or imagined. It was navigating by these celestial beacons a thousand years ago that led the original inhabitants to the Hawaiian islands in their precarious canoes, almost as if they were confident of the paradise that awaited them. Why else would they abandon the safety and comfort of their home shores for the trepidations of the rough and desolate seas? Ben would say that the universe provides for those who let go of security and step into the unknown, unsure of where they are going but letting go of the constraints of where they have been.

Day 4

We ushered in 2014 from the depths of unconsciousness and awakened to another morning of rain pattering on the jungle leaves. I took advantage of a lull in the weather to slip down to the cafe by the road, where I could suck up the precious Internet and watch the unfathomable grey expanse of the Pacific Ocean through the trees. Later was the special New Year’s brunch, which I devoured ravenously, although not to the extent that I may have liked as I did not want to be too full for my massage.

Today was Spa Day here in Hawaii. The package deal that included the room and the meal plan also came with the excursions from yesterday, a spa treatment, and all the yoga classes I can take, a number that has thus far turned out to be zero. Rob has attended some meditation classes and paid a mystical Italian woman to retrieve fragments of his soul from the corners of the galaxy, but I just signed up for a massage, which I needed because my mutinous vertebrae had been tormenting me without mercy. The setting for the massage was a screened treatment room overlooking a small garden pond, perfectly gorgeous, and I melted into the strong hands of the massage therapist, although melting is relative for someone with the tension of iron bars in his back and shoulder muscles. I tried not to notice how the vampiric bluish-white tone of my own skin contrasted with his more natural hue, and for the rest of the day, I tried not to notice my clothes sticking to my body from the application of massage oil, but these were totally worth the experience.

I love it here, even though connecting to the Internet is like, as Rob put it, sucking pudding through a straw. As connecting to the Internet is my chief activity in life, the withdrawal is acute, and I take out my iPhone and look at it longingly every so often, its lack of signal continuing to dishearten. It will all come flooding back when we go to Honolulu on Friday: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

It is the Good that I look forward to the most.

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TRAVEL JOURNAL: Hawaii, Days One and Two

Day One

I once heard the Legend of Jackie Kennedy and the Tragically Surpassed Budget For Decorating Dulles Airport, a cautionary tale for the ages starring a profusion of Barcelona chairs. Unfortunately, I cannot research these details, as I find myself in the middle of a tropical jungle without the indispensable comforts of wifi or glass in the windows. There is also some sort of tiny and undoubtedly ferocious lizard occupying the closet. (I decided not to unpack after all.)

As I write this, someone, somewhere in the pitch darkness, is playing a flute.

I started today, bleary-eyed and soggy from the grim rain, in Dulles Airport and ended it in Kalani, a retreat center on the Big Island of Hawaii that Rob had once visited and fondly recalled in a way that captured my imagination. I perhaps should have been more suspicious when he mentioned that, last time, the facility shut down its electrical generators at nine p.m. and facilitated encounters with German lesbian nudists. All the clues were there. And now I get to sleep next to a white wicker nightstand that is crawling with ants. Yes, you read that right: white wicker.

Everything is damp to the touch.

People like this sort of thing, I think, because it brings them close to Nature and highlights the simple core of the human experience. I like Nature, too, but not staring at me balefully from the rod in the closet. I found myself wandering in contemplative spirals trying to capture a bar of service on my iPhone, an exercise in frustration akin to perusing a Republican budget proposal. I can tell this trip is going to test the limits of my addictions.

We went to bed at 7:48 p.m. I slept with the iPhone next to me, just in case.

Day Two

I woke up at 3:43 a.m. to discover, in the impossible darkness, that my iPhone had fallen behind the bed. I used the keychain LED flashlight they had given us at the front desk to gingerly retrieve it and find my way to the bathroom while encountering as little of Nature as possible. Getting back into bed, I made a deal with the lizards, ants, and whatever that oblong bug was on the wall that I would respect their territory if they would stay off of my sheets. Lizard, I said, that bar in the closet is your private kingdom. Ants, you may occupy the white wicker nightstand with impunity as long as you adhere to our treaty. I know you have the proper discipline because of that time Erich and I stayed in that dilapidated Mexican beach hotel with the trail of your people precisely down the center of the room, not one of you straying an inch from this insectile superhighway.

At six-something, a monsoon started, sounding like an avalanche through the glassless windows; the rumble of thunder, impossibly deep, like a volcano. It poured down all morning, causing me to pull out my little travel umbrella so I could get to breakfast relatively undrenched, but I noticed no one else carried such a civilized utensil. The standard uniform here is loose shorts and tee shirts, although this is punctuated by yoga pants, long skirts, the occasional spandex, and Clothing Optional areas. Many women and some men wrap parts of themselves in festive scarves–one man is sporting a rather ostentatious sarong–and I have seen no evidence that anyone wears underwear. In the rain, my fellow travelers sprouted waterproof ponchos or jackets. I do not own any shorts or waterproof jackets or sarongs. I wear underwear with a religious zeal. Rob said this is Hippie Hawaii, and when we go to Oahu next week, we will be in Resort Hawaii. I feel like my soul craves Hippie Hawaii and my body craves a four-star hotel.

It is sort of peaceful here, and sort of not. Or maybe it is peaceful here and it’s me who is not yet at peace despite the cups of Kava Stress Relief tea I gulp down after every meal like medicine. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming, but I’m afraid a meth addict is going to wander out of the jungle and steal my camera, the expensive one I bought years ago and have barely used. There is essentially no way to lock anything safely here. When it stopped raining, I put the camera in my backpack with my iPad and wandered down to the cafe by the road in search of the elusive Internet, which was Not Working. I then spent the afternoon alternatively reading one of the novels I have been saving all year for this trip and meandering the property looking for reception bars on my cell phone, a Mr. Spock scrutinizing his tricorder on a distant planet.

It is breathtakingly beautiful here, and the food is amazing, exactly what you might expect from a collective of hippies: fresh, local, simply prepared, and labeled with the precision of a thousand conflicting dietary restrictions. Mealtimes are announced by the blowing of a conch shell, which echoes through the jungle clearing like the howl of a sea monster. We eat communally around long tables on the lanai, although some tables are reserved for special groups. The Male Nude Yoga Retreat is happening here, which I was informed of both by phone when I made the reservation and by the signs on the dining table saving their space. I must say this bunch looks better in person than I had been imagining, as their name conjures something more grizzled and ropy and the reality is a group of mostly young gay men with a preternaturally upright bearing.

After dinner, Rob decided to walk down to the cafe by the road, but still jetlagged, I stayed in the room to read and sleep. The rain started up again, and I turned off the light to listen to it beat down against the leaves and roofs; the hoots and chirps of frogs and insects could still be heard over the falling water, and I felt very remote and alone. In the darkness, I clutched my iPhone and went to sleep.

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The Ballad of Jeffrey Cufaude

Someone who shall remain nameless, whose name is Jeffrey Cufaude, has been been pestering me for months to produce some words in these here pixels. I have never met Jeffrey Cufaude in person, but then again, because Internet, I have met decreasing numbers of the people who are important to me. Jeffrey Cufaude clearly appreciates brilliance when he sees it, as well as melancholic rumination, catalogs of overwhelming and neverending projects, and extended hiatuses followed by deplorable excuses for my absence and plucky proclamations of turning over a new leaf. And of course chupacabras.

Next week, I am going on a trip to a far away land, something I have rarely done in recent years thanks to the aforementioned projects and a healthy dollop of destitution. I see this as an almost explosive decompression after the highs and lows of the past decade enkindled a near-constant crisis state that curdled the blood in my veins and left me with a haunted look that inspires strangers on the street to ask what is the matter. Nothing is the matter now because I am going to Hawaii, lovely land of lava, and when I get back, I am going to do some other things.

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A Confession

I apologize. It was me. I take full responsibility that you woke up this morning to find the universe has ended, a chain of events that began when I decided to get up at six a.m. to accomplish something productive rather than continuing to lie in bed, sleepless, fretting over the usual material. I’m afraid the laws of space and time simply could not accommodate such stupefyingly uncharacteristic behavior; the resulting unraveling began the moment my feet hit the floor, and by six fifteen all of the matter and antimatter and dark matter had exploded into its component molecules, which then got sucked into black holes. Which then exploded. And there was an earthquake AND LAVA, which every mother’s child knows is the ultimate disaster, like when the floor turns into lava and you have to get across the room by jumping from the coffee table to a pillow and stuff, which of course have turned into rocks. And there were some tarantulas.

How are you?

Well, look, back to me. It’s going to be a weird day. I found out my mother is in the hospital, so I have to look into that. My city has for some reason transformed into one of those video games where you drive race cars around and around, except I think all of the video games these days are about shooting people, which my city, finally ahead of the trends on something, turned into years ago. Goblin has an acupuncture appointment. I am exhausted. And now this whole end of the universe thing. I guess I’d better make my oatmeal and get started.

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The Morning Is Light and Full of Terrors

It is not even noon, and already my daily quota of horrors has been filled. The first thing that happened was that I got up at eight a.m. to clean the dog poop out of the back yard. I realize that that sentence already contains the seeds of madness, but things escalate quickly around these here parts. I went into the basement to get a trash bag and heard heavy footsteps walking across the floor just over my head, which continued for several moments but stopped when I got halfway back up the stairs. It never occurred to me that this was anything but a terrifying ghost, as Kate was out of the house and my husband does not exactly arise with the roosters and in fact also misses the crows, pigeons, robins, orioles, hummingbirds, vultures, potato birds, and other feathered friends, most closely aligning his circadian rhythm to some particularly slugabeddish cockatiels in a distant timezone.

So, anyway, there was no one there.

I wrote recently of my plans to delight my potential heirs by causing them to spend the night in a haunted house and perform other feats of endurance to determine who is worthy of inheriting my worldly goods, which (I did not mention at the time) consist largely of Boston terrier memorabilia and oddly placed books that I killed bugs with in the distant past and have been afraid to move since. I suppose the haunted house part is settled.

Later, post cleanup, I was checking email and noticed one from the MVA. Guess what! It is time to renew my driver’s license. And guess what! “Because you are 40 years of age or older, you are required by state law to have vision screening before you renew.” Well, the joke is on them because I am not a day over 29 and haven’t been able to see anything for years.

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Uncle Monster

My nine nieces and nephews call me Uncle Monster, which indicates they are young enough not to realize that I own a house and a car and have no descendants of my own to be the beneficiaries of my will. I expect that eventually there will be fierce competition for my favor, though Uncle Monster has no intention of making this process a walk in the park. For decades, I have fantasized about a Last Will and Testament that specifies the designated lucky ducky must spend the night IN A HAUNTED HOUSE!!!!!! In preparation, I must obtain A HAUNTED HOUSE, some cobwebs, and a creepy portrait of myself with eyes that follow you around. Further details will emerge in consultation with the writers of every television series from the late twentieth century, as this–along with the arrival of an identical cousin–is one of the most important plot devices of that era. My only regret is that I will not be around to ROTFLMAO at the resulting hijinks, although perhaps the fortuitous arrival of my identical cousin will allow me to fake my own death and watch from a secret passage.

Ha ha, just kidding. I’m leaving everything to Goblin.

And I’m immortal.

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To Be an American

I always wanted to be a Canadian, one of those sensible, pleasant people huddled together for warmth throughout the long winters, tittering in their parkas at the antics of the brash and aggressive neighbors to the south. This international dynamic mirrors perfectly the one within my family: a gay boy with four horrifyingly straight brothers, begetters of such extraordinary chaos as to leave me huddled alone up in my room, separated by an imaginary line in the earth, praying for rescue by a Mountie.

It didn’t help that I never felt American. My lifetime has paralleled the rise of a base and paleolithic conservatism whose visions of “liberty” and “justice” and “pursuit of happiness” did not leave room for the likes of me. I grew up hearing people in power lie about who I am and what I wanted out of life, and these lies rendered their other ones even more obvious to my ears . . . and, apparently, to my ears alone. Nowhere within my family or the media we were exposed to was there much dissension with the party line. To be American meant to be white, to be straight, to get married to someone of the opposite sex, to buy a house, to have lots of kids, to buy! buy! buy!, to buy even more!, and to cheer on the wars that furthered the interest of our corporations. America never told me it was all right to be gay, or that I might one day exercise the personal freedom to marry a man that I love; indeed, these most basic things about my life were actively maligned and outlawed and dehumanized in state houses across the land. And I reciprocated their disgust, outraged that my pursuit of happiness was actively thwarted by such cold-hearted intellectual midgets who, with all of the actual problems in the world, would expend so many resources on denying their brothers and sisters this major source of comfort and security. 

As with many minorities, my electoral calculus was not focused on who might make my life better, for that was unfathomable, but who might hurt it the least. I watched wiser nations, including my fantasy homeland of Canada, enact sweeping protections for gay people, legalizing our marriages, celebrating our loves, and it literally never occurred to me that it might happen here, even as more politicians pandered for our money and a few lonely states started coming to their senses. When my own state legalized same-sex marriage last year, I wept for days afterward as it sank in. Nationally, I was still a second-class citizen, but this was the first glimmer that there might be something other than an endless political struggle to legally make the most personal decision that any two people can make. 

Still, when I heard Windsor v. United States was going to the Supreme Court, I felt mostly dread. I put it out of my mind as much as possible. I avoided conversations on the topic and erased all of the rabble-rousing emails without opening them. I just couldn’t envision success in any institution that depended on the cancerous values of Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Roberts, and I couldn’t bear to think of failure, of more torment and wrangling and insults to my battered spirit.

And then, the ruling.

As I write this on the Fourth of July, stray fireworks are booming in the humid Baltimore night, indistinguishable from the gunshots. The same Supreme Court has effectively blocked the votes of some of our most vulnerable citizens. The government is tapping into our private information. Our robot airplanes are raining death from the sky on innocent people around the world, and our pollution is dooming millions more to climatic cataclysm. I face all of this for the first time as an American citizen who is recognized equally by my government, a government that, for the first time, can claim its  actions are fully in my interests. It is an awesome responsibility, with the full awareness of all of those who yet to have this standing, including those LGBT citizens of less progressive states and the people of color who are profiled and targeted in endless ways.  

I am lucky. 

Honestly, I was lucky before, as well, in so many ways, but it has a new flavor now that I am no longer an alien in this land, whose full equality to his fellow citizens was dependent upon northward emigration. I’m not proud to be an American yet, but for the first time ever, I do feel like I’m American. Mr. Spock is free to marry his Captain Kirk; I don’t yet know what that means for my own life, but I do know I will not abandon my mission to spread logic to the masses. This is a moment to pause, acknowledge, refresh, ponder, and set our sights anew. 

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A Morning with Isa

There are times when I seem to forget certain words, not because of encroaching age since I am younger than the morning dew, but who knows why. Distraction? Anxiety? Sunspots? This morning, I forgot the word “decaffeinated” when ordering my iced coffee–not what it meant, just to say it–and ended up with with a gigantic terrorist bomb of jittery mayhem with added half-and-half and one packet of raw sugar. I was meeting my friend Isa–and her companion, a baby who kept reaching for my cup, which gleamed entrancingly in the sunlight, sending little prisms of color sparking across his face.

Clutching our drinks, we left Starbucks and strolled to a park, where that baby snatched a bag of almonds from somewhere and ran off down the path, looking back to see if we were watching, smiling like a goon, and running a little further, his arms thrown wide to the world in front of him with the infantile confidence that we had his back. I can’t think of the last time I threw my arms wide to a world, this one or any of the others, but I am working at it.

There is another word I seem to be forgetting, which describes sitting on a park bench with a sweet friend on a bright summer morning, people and dogs passing amiably by, giddiness rising in my body as caffeine hits bloodstream, a baby laughing while he plays in the sun. I think it is something like “magic.”

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The Tragedy of the Princess and the Wasabi Pea

Today, I went to the hardware store to pick up a few things, including a new toilet seat.

Today, I learned that one doesn’t just walk in the hardware store and walk out with a new toilet seat. There is a little-known fact that you need to know the size and shape of the required toilet seat in advance. A very little-known fact.

On the way home, I was stopped at a traffic light, eating a wasabi pea, when I felt my car shake. Someone had rear-ended me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

!!!

!

Well, not very hard. More like a tap, a kiss of the bumper. I wasn’t even sure what had happened. I looked in my rearview mirror and the guy behind me was looking embarrassed and making these mea culpa gestures. I was going to get out and see if there was any damage when a guy in a Verizon van pulled up alongside and started yelling at me.

Look, I just wanted to enjoy my wasabi peas at a traffic light. Terry Gross was on the radio. I didn’t ask for this to happen. I didn’t know why people were hitting my car with their car and other people were yelling at me. And then the light changed and more chaos ensued. The Verizon van and I were blocking both lanes of traffic. I finally got my window open, and the guy pointed to the rear-ender and yelled, “He was taxiing!”

Taxiing?

The culprit drove a blue station wagon with a canoe strapped to the roof. Was he taxiing a canoe enthusiast?

I looked puzzled. The Verizon guy looked disgusted with me and drove away. Cars were everywhere. I made a quick decision to just start driving because I was feeling very unsafe and confused at the intersection. Maybe if I pulled over past the light, the guy behind me would, too, and we could figure this out.

Oh, I thought. TEXTING, not taxiing!

I started to pull over. The blue station wagon darted around me and zipped off down the street. I sped up enough to get his license plate number, which I dictated to Siri, who made such a fuss about not knowing what I was talking about that I almost gave up on the whole thing.

Anyway, it turned out there was no damage to my car, just to the wasabi pea-craving neurotransmitters that were ultimately disappointed.

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XI

Ghost towns have anniversaries, too, and today is the eleventh anniversary of your friendly “ghost-neighborhood” Upside-down Hippopotamus! Still featuring your favorite wacky “ghost-neighbors”–Rob, Goblin Foo, and moi–two of whom are eleven years older, while I have not changed a molecule! Maybe because I am a “ghost” and do not have molecules! Note to self: reconsider this entire paragraph before hitting “publish.”

Note to self: reconsider the entire previous eleven years.

Note to self: ha ha.

Somewhere around the birth of UDH, I had a freelance job producing an audio series by some finance guy, based on the book he had supposedly written. The book was brilliant, but the man was not;* while he could not hold a conversation about current events and had to have basic concepts about living in the world explained to him, and was not particularly articulate on tape, and was increasingly depressive over his pending divorce, he was at least gorgeous to look at. He also claimed to have something like $100 million under management, which sounded impressive enough at the time that I questioned the justice of the universe in showering abundance on such an apparent dimwit.

Today, it occurred to me to check up on him, and I discovered that he is now some sort of Christian investment guru (“Shoving camels through eyes of needles since 2002!”) with $3.6 billion under management. He is still inarticulate, if the videos on his website are any indication. He is still gorgeous. He has remarried and produced six kids.

I suppose my life has changed a great deal in eleven years, as well, but I am not thirty-six times more successful. My one child, an aging Boston terrier, pretends she is deaf and doddering when I tell her to do anything but appears at the speed of a neutrino when she hears her treat bag crinkle two floors down.

Note to self: I am, at least, gorgeous.

 

* “Ghost-writer”?

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Status Update

I’m not happy with any of the writing I’ve been doing lately. #writersblock #frustration #chupacabra-attack

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Away

I am doing this thing called “getting away from it all,” which consists of fleeing all of my responsibilities by traveling by myself to a remote cabin in the woods in order to focus on my responsibilities. Yeah, I don’t get it, either. The first couple of days, I lolled around like a Hutt, although I did not eat like a Hutt because all I brought with me were ingredients for a stew, and I quickly got nauseated by the idea of stew.

But then a little spark of something, most probably guilt, took hold and I actually began working, mostly studying for my national board exams. “Studying” is not the correct word; I am making study sheets that I hope to study from at some unspecified future date, but those sheets are not going to make themselves. If they did, I would pay them a hundred dollars. If they made themselves and then disguised themselves as me to go and take the high-security exam, which they then passed in my name so I do not have to bother, I would pay them a million dollars. If they made themselves and brought me a pizza, I would pay them ten dollars.

I also did my weekly cafe bookkeeping, planned updates to my acupuncture website, and then lolled around some more just for the heck of it.

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Hello.

Hello. I hope you can hear me over the deafening clamor for my return. Hello. Hello. That ticker-tape parade might be a bit much, but thank you. Where do you even get ticker tape in this day and age? I applaud this initiative, but it was unnecessary. You could have just thrown iPads, which are readily available, and when I say “thrown iPads,” I mean, “placed the unopened iPad boxes gently in the back of my car.”

Hello.

So, look, I am not only writing this because it was on my to-do list. It was on my to-do list plenty of times in the past few weeks and did not get to-done. Daffodil season came and went without any insightful comments from yours truly. I have plenty of ideas on the subject of marathons and quasi-domestic terror.

I am writing now because I missed you.

And I could also use a new iPad.

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Undisclosed

It is time to face the music, a tune that says that I have been remiss in my writing here, and I have brought shame upon myself and my ancestors. And I am shamed, although I have some excuses, which are that I have been overburdened, lazy, focusing on minutia and not the big picture, and on an emotional roller-coaster. I have also been to Disneyland. I mean, Undisclosed Locationland, a term I prefer because I do not like to rub it in that I was whooping it up with robot ghosts and pirates while you were slaving away on a shrimp boat, or whatever it is you do, which I cannot be bothered to keep track of. (See above excuses.) Anyway, hello. Like Frankenstein, I am alive. Like the Terminator, I am back. Like Mickey Mouse—I mean, Undisclosed Secret Mouse—I am seeing you again because I like you.

I would say more now, but the Republicans have cut my funding.

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What Exactly Is It That You Do Do?

If one were to have begun reading these pages recently, he or she could be forgiven for imagining I while away the hours pondering the motivations of monsters, ghosts, and a little Boston terrier named Goblin Foo. And then there are the fictions, frequently cited, of studying for some impossible board exam, building my acupuncture practice, and so forth. All of this is hogwash except for the part about Goblin Foo, who continues to advance her claim that she is the Maharincess of Franistan. I also read a book about a boy during the Revolutionary War who was convinced he was some sort of prince and that his poop needed to be weighed and studied on a daily basis, and that sounds like it’s right up GFU’s alley, as well. In any case, I’m afraid my actual actions have been labeled Top Secret by the Franistan Ministry For Security And The Advancement Of Feeding Boston Terriers Chicken From Your Own Dinner Plate, so you will just have to speculate, but you will probably be wrong.

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The Next Big Thing

My monster carols were such a big hit that I have considered branching out into other monster-oriented ditties. Monster country-and-western songs might be a good place to start, because “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Chupacabras” has been going through my head, although I have already written and performed a song about chupacabras. I think the wolf man is next. Also, a friend and I have created a character called GUN WOLF, which is a gun that turns into a werewolf during the full moon. As you might imagine, he has a complicated origin story.

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FRIDAY CHUPACABRA BLOGGING

Oh, come on.

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What We Usually Play

When I was a little kid, the little girl who lived around the corner and I used to do this thing called “Sing and Swing.” Given who we are talking about, moi, it probably seems equally improbable that “Sing and Swing” would be either dirty or innocent. As it happens, it was the latter, and Deena and I spent many jovial afternoons on the swing set in my back yard, singing the songs we learned in school and the Elvis songs she was obsessed with. The higher we swung, the louder we sung, and I imagine our high-pitched croons rattling the windows of the surrounding houses. Besides the two regular swings, the swing set also featured a sort of swaying gondola for toddlers, which we appropriated for use as Glinda’s Magic Bubble when we played “Wizard of Oz.” We also played “What We Usually Play,” which was an interactive jumble of imaginary characters from all of the TV shows and movies we had seen, including “The Lone Ranger,” which we watched religiously every afternoon in syndication. I don’t know how old we were; pretty young, although we had no supervision and could wander the neighborhood at will as long as we were home for dinner. This leniency did not include going into each other’s houses, which required special permission since our mothers were sworn enemies, so we watched “The Lone Ranger” separately and rendezvoused later to compare notes. Often, in the midst of “What We Usually Play,” the Lone Ranger and Tonto would get confused and end up on hovering in Glinda’s Magic Bubble, singing the soulful tunes of Elvis Presley. The Lone Ranger was inconsolable when Elvis died. I remember her sending a kiss in every direction of the compass, as well as up to heaven and (just in case) down to hell, just to be sure it would reach him wherever he ended up; she made me shake hands in all of those directions along with her. In my mind, this somehow made sense, and I imagined that musical ghost collecting air kisses and air handshakes from mourners the world over.

We also collected caterpillars.

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Evolution

I remember when I was a little kid and cordless phones were suddenly a thing. Communicating without wires was magic. I had a Dukes of Hazzard walkie-talkie, which could sometimes be relied upon to transmit static from the back yard to the front, but cordless telephones were a whole nother ball of wax. My mother bought one for my grandparents, a hunk of heavy plastic with an antenna that must have extended three feet. We tested it out before we mailed it to them in Florida, and I felt like Buck Rogers talking to the moon. Much later, when I was in high school and cordless phones had metamorphosed into fussy devices with built-in answering machines, I worked at the electronics counter of a department store. I sold those and cassette Walkmans and electric typewriters with built-in correction tape. I sold a satellite phone that was the size of two bricks taped together and cost over a thousand dollars.

Now, I am old, and I jab people with needles for a living. And I have an iPhone. The end.

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Anti-Ping-Pongical Acts

I just watched a ping pong ball penetrate a ping pong paddle. You can witness this phenomenon, too, in the video above, although I warn you that this unnatural act occurs only after several minutes of scientific jibber jabber.

Unnatural, yes. Verily, ping pong balls are not supposed to penetrate ping pong paddles! A reading from The Laws of Table Tennis

Chapter 2, Verse 3:

2.3.1 The ball shall be spherical, with a diameter of 40mm.

2.3.2 The ball shall weigh 2.7g.

2.3.3 The ball shall be made of celluloid or  similar  plastics  material  and  shall  be white or orange, and matte.

Chapter 2, Verse 4:

2.4.2 At least 85% of the blade by thickness shall be of natural wood; an adhesive layer within the blade may be reinforced with fibrous material such as carbon fibre, glass fibre or compressed paper, but shall not be thicker than 7.5% of the total thickness or 0.35mm, whichever is the smaller.

2.4.3 A side of the blade used for striking the ball shall be covered with either ordinary pimpled rubber, with pimples outwards having a total thickness including adhesive of not more than 2.0mm, or sandwich rubber, with pimples inwards or outwards, having a total thickness including adhesive of not more than 4.0mm.

2.4.3.1 Ordinary pimpled rubber is a single layer of non-cellular rubber, natural or synthetic, with pimples evenly distributed over its surface at a density of not less than 10 per cm² and not more than 30 per cm².

2.4.3.2 Sandwich rubber is a single layer of cellular rubber covered with a single outer layer of ordinary pimpled rubber, the thickness of the pimpled rubber not being more than 2.0mm.

I say unto thee, brothers and sisters, a 40mm 2.7g spherical object cannot pass through a blade of a minimum 85% natural wood, possibly reinforced by carbon fiber, and covered by ordinary pimpled rubber!

Can I get a hallelujah for Ordinary Pimpled Rubber?

The very idea is an offense to all that is good and decent in this world. Science has given us this abomination, my people. Science and homosexuals! Working in tandem, these sinful bedfellows have brought forth an unholy and unnatural act of penetration. Witness ye the blizzard called Nemo, wrought as revenge from an angry Nature and set against the most wicked land of the Atlantic Northeast, where science flourishes and homosexuals engage in anti-ping-pongical acts of matrimony!

Ahem. Pardon me, I seem to have gotten carried away.

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FRIDAY CHUPACABRA BLOGGING, DAY LATE AND DOLLAR SHORT EDITION

What you see here is a baby chupacabra. He is, um, sleeping. A sleeping baby chupacabra. It is no wonder that the chupacabra is an endangered species because people are picking sleeping baby chupacabras out of their nests and handling them. You should know that if you touch a baby chupacabra, its mother will stop loving it. Then you will have to raise it yourself. Several times a day, you will have to cut open a goat’s neck and hand the baby chupacabra a straw. This will make you unpopular in the goat community, but I don’t make the rules. Maybe you will find a nice, understanding goat, I don’t know. You could barter. It’s possible.

This particular baby chupacabra turned out not to be very active, so the goat got off easy.

In other news, as I was trying to sleep last night, I kept thinking of my friend, the Starship Enterprise. I kept picturing him with a damaged hull, and honestly, when has he NOT had a damaged hull? That thing has been blown up more times than good heavens I can’t think of a comparison on the spur of the moment but something good, and it looks like that is his fate again in the upcoming movie with the hotter Captain Kirk. Blowing up the Enterprise is a multimillion-dollar enterprise.

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Status Stylus

I’ll bet you weren’t expecting to see me here, but TA DA! After my Superb Owl win, I should be in Disney World. Come to think of it, I really should be in Disney World. I had a trip booked for this very week, but I sold it on sleazy eBay, criminal lair of the nickel-and-dimers. Now some family from Minnesota or Missouri or one of those middle-American M states is stinking up the room I picked out. Michigan? I have no idea.

In other news, everything continues apace. I am starting to practice acupuncture in a third location next week. Book-writing, check. Studying, check. Cafe, check. Blogging, check. Sort-of check. I missed a couple of days, yes. Get over it. Bad back, check. Maybe calling it bad is setting up an unnecessary opposition. Good-back-doing-bad-things, check. Meditation, no. I have missed a few days of that, too. I think I am not necessarily the meditating sort. But maybe I should redefine myself as the meditating sort so I will do it. I am the meditating sort who is not meditating. Check.

Also, I put some little Vine videos on Twitter @UDHippo. I will see if I can put one here.

Hmm, that isn’t quite right. I can’t be bothered with this anymore, but click on that link if you want to. It has sound, too.

 

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And Winter Turns to Spring

I am lying on a heating pad under a pile of blankets, textbooks stacked around me, a cup of tea at hand, as snow drifts by the darkening window. It is a cozy winter’s afternoon. I am supposed to be studying, but I thought I’d talk to you for a bit instead. Hello.

I have been thinking a lot about life lately—my life in particular, but I suppose they do all tend to connect. There is something floating just beyond my awareness, like the snow outside the window, invisible now that I’ve turned on a lamp. It is something important. I have probably said that a lot here over the years; I have always looked for meaning beyond what I know or for ways to be peaceful with where I am. And I have always thought those quests opposite ends of the same continuum, like yin and yang, combining to make a meaningful life. Indeed, at Ye Olde Acupuncture School, we were taught something similar, that life is perfect as it is, and it can always be otherwise if we choose.

There must be some sort of disturbance in the Force, as I don’t know where I am on that continuum right now, or where I should be. Perhaps the disturbance itself is the perfection, that discomfortable, unknowing place on the creative cycle that we must inhabit before we can burst forth. Maybe this is what the plants feel like as they start sensing the longer days, the sap vibrating uneasily in their cold roots, knowing that a bloom awaits them.

But a plant knows in its bones what shape its flowers will take, and it knows that its place is where it has been growing. On this cozy winter’s afternoon, I don’t know those things for myself. And in this moment, I will take a breath, savor the heating pad, and not think about the invisible snow.

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FRIDAY CHUPACABRA BLOGGING: MOVIN’ ON UP EDITION

Today would have been Sherman Hemsley’s seventy-fifth birthday, if he were alive. I suppose it is whether he is alive or not, but he isn’t. Isabel Sanford, whose birthday is in August, will be ninety-six this year. She died in July 2004, and Sherman Hemsley died in July 2012. July, you are a cruel mistress.

Speaking of cruel, here is a chupacabra with a tribal tattoo, steampunk goggles, and a man purse. I cannot help but wonder what he has in his man purse. A straw? Additional accessories? I like his tattoo, but I don’t feel like this chupacabra and I would be friends. His look may seem effortless, but in a way, he is Trying Too Hard.

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365 Days Hath January

I used to really love winter, and I still do in theory, but there is something about January that I am starting to find unsettling. It’s not really about the weather, although these stretches of spring-like temperatures are both a pleasant break from the chill and a terrifying hint of future chaos. There is just something that seems interminable about this month, as if I’ve gone through a whole year in a mere thirty-one days. Maybe I’m feeling that way in particular this year, as I’ve purposely heaped a lot on my plate, or maybe this infernal back pain has really been a reminder to take it easy. I’ve spent an awful lot of time on a heating pad this January.

Well, today is the last day of January, and I think things are going to speed up. If my back does not heal, I’m going to have it surgically removed, and that will cut one of the anchors that are slowing me down. I will just be a front zipping about my business, the jauntiest front in town. It’s just the sunny side of the hill for me in February.

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Despite All My Rage

I read once, I think in a scientific journal, that the ghosts of our ancestors are watching us all the time, even when we poop and have sex. But that they aren’t judging us on the quality of our pooping or sex techniques or anything; those ghosts are so evolved beyond bodies that they are just amused at the demands being corporeal places on us lowly humans. It is like us watching the habits of animals at the zoo, said the scientific journal. I don’t go to the zoo very often, but I watch an animal in my bedroom all the time. This particular animal retreats to her corner to gnaw on cow bones or slurp on her own forepaws for hours at a stretch. Regularly, she will emerge to issue demands that her stuffed yeti be tossed or her belly rubbed. This is an alien creature, I will think, with a correspondingly perplexing worldview. We try to communicate, but as with the ghosts of our ancestors, we are each trapped on our own side of the veil, doing whatever it is we do.

There is a meditation I’ve been doing lately that invites us to imagine that we are not our thoughts and deeds, but the silent space that contains them; that we can observe our thoughts and be the observer and not the thinker. Esoteric, but I thought I understood enough of the gist after a few weeks that I would watch my thinking with a certain detachment. “This is not me, this is just what I am doing right now.” Which in itself is sort of liberating but nothing compared to when I woke up in middle of last night and, accidentally, conjured up the real deal. Was my brain sleep addled? Was it a psychotic break? I felt a tremendous calmness and suddenly had a unique perspective on my life, as if I were a ghost watching from the outside, as if I were a Boston terrier peeking out of a corner at the confounding behavior of her human. I saw that not just my thinking and emotions and actions, but my very perceptions are cage that I habitually navigate, almost blindly, responding to external triggers rather than shaping my own experience. And honestly, even the idea of “external triggers” is ceding too much power, as they are really flare-ups of my own exhausted or insecure or self-centered mind. This seems a bit depressing to type, but honestly, the feeling I had as it was occurring to me was calm, optimistic, liberating.

Today, in the waking world, it was business as usual in my brain, but every once in a while, I did catch a glimpse of the cage of my thinking and, blessedly, the space beyond.

In other news, I am starting to regret not having had any descendants. Who am I going to watch when I am a ghost?

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My Encounters with the Healing Professions

All of these visits to the skeleton doctor remind me of when I was caught in a feedback loop between the frankenstein and the mad scientist, the former wanting me to talk through my problems and the latter wanting to medicate me into forgetting I had any. No pharmaceutical on earth was up to that heroic task, and I was tied in knots by the frankenstein’s grab bag of uplifting metaphors: I think I was supposed to be swimming over waves while pedaling a bicycle at one point, and I don’t even know how to swim. Luckily, acupuncture saved the day back then, but it’s taking its sweet time with this back pain situation, which is ironic since half of my patients are now former back pain sufferers thanks to me and my needles of stinging love. I think I have started psychically absorbing their symptoms, sort of like Jesus, except, I hope, with a better outcome.