February to June 2008
See the special page documenting my trip to Peru.
12/21/2008 to top
Austin to San Diego Road Trip with Dave "Fancy Boots" Combs. Pictures of roadside shrines are in a new gallery page here.
Dave and his boots; Dave and his cigarette; Dave and his 50's Gibson.
Priya in Austin; morning in West Texas, moon in the thorns.
Dave explains it to a Texas State Trooper; rekindling my love affair with the highways of New Mexico.
Gila National Monument; Immaculate Coneption Church, Ajo, Arizona.
11/22/2008 to top
11/13/2008 to top
“Your effort should extend to saving all sentient beings. If my words are not good enough, I’ll hit you!” – Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki
Unemployed and applying for grad school, I feel now more than ever it’s important to keep consciously reminding myself of what I’m working towards. It is amazing how days - even weeks - can go by, and I can forget! Suzuki’s quote has been on my mind a lot, strangely effective with that mysterious Zen-blend of sternness and playful wit; for some reason I can’t help but feel happy to hear those words. His command is so obvious, impossible, and necessary. It is a friendly slap in the face. It puts me in my place, but also encourages me. He goes on to say, “And if you do not understand me just now, some day you will. I will wait for the island I was told is moving slowly up the coast from Los Angeles to Seattle.”
11/08/2008 to top
I stepped in from the rain and the cafe was full of light and warm bodies, every table occupied, windows cloudy. I ordered a cafe au lait, and just as it was set out for me a woman left her table, which I gratefully claimed for myself. A minute later she returned and I realized she had not left but went to order another coffee. I apologized and, smiling, asked her if I could share the table.
“Oh alright.” she said evenly, sighing and smiling slightly, giving no indication of either graciousness or resentment, just a recognition of the fact. She was a hefty woman, middle-aged, wearing old-fashioned wool clothing, a wool hat, and a wide, mostly featureless face, except for her remarkable teeth – or lack of teeth – with gaps in opposing sides of the upper and lower jaw, remaining teeth jutting out from beneath her thin lips. It occurred to me, unfortunately, that this woman might have a mental disability.
I began scanning the room for open tables, not because I felt uncomfortable sitting with her, but because I had my computer and notebooks spread out on our diminutive and mutual allocation of real-estate*. Almost immediately a man vacated the table adjacent to us, so I offered, “How about I let you have your table back?” and began shifting my books and computer over, to which she replied blankly, “Okay.”
I put my head back inside my computer until it was drawn out again by the conversation next me. Evidently another young man had swooped in on my empty chair, so once again the woman had company. A comment, which I didn’t hear, was made about Catholicism, and the response from the young man was, “It’s too religious, huh? All of those saints and stuff, you can forget what it’s all about.” I wondered if he was Catholic. He went on to explain that he believed in God, but didn’t like religion. Everything seemed to be going well until he brought up Jesus. “Oh I believe in God, but I just can’t believe in Jesus anymore.” the woman declared, as if to herself.
“That is a lie, it is impossible to know God without Jesus.” He launched into an impressive assault on the woman’s religious sensibilities. It was awesome in that way the roar of the Blue Angels during Fleet Week is awesome – the idea and the principal are obnoxious, but the accumulation and release of such energy earns respect on a primal level. I was close enough that I could feel his body heat rise along with his fervor – or was it my own, as I grew more and more uncomfortable? He shook his Bible, “This is God’s love letter to us” he told her, among other set phrases he had practiced well. He kept saying, “That is a lie...that is a lie...” He wanted to know what had destroyed her faith in Jesus. There must have been some reason. He had his reason: he was raised by a Baptist Minister who abused him and his mother for 15 years, he turned to drugs, he repented, he felt the power of Jesus**.
Should I intervene? I thought. It’s unfair; he is her guest, is he not? I also began to feel responsible. I had made space for him, had I not? Yes, I thought lamely, I would have made a much better table-mate. The truth is I was uncomfortable and I was never going to get any work down with fire and brimstone happening just a few feet from my head.
Her demeanor reassured me. “What church do you belong to?” she asked smiling, cupping her coffee, in a tone of voice she might ask, “Which preschool does your daughter attend?” or “Do you like to watch movies?” She was being polite as the young man labored desperately to prove her ignorance and impending doom. She was resolute in her reservations on the Jesus question, but offered civilly, “It’s all very complicated.”
“Can I pray for you? Can I put my hand on you?” he asked. I was surprised when she acquiesced quietly. He put his hand on hers, closed his eyes, began to plead with Jesus for the woman’s soul; at first softly, and pleasantly, and slowly with greater conviction until currents of anger began to creep in and our shared body heat began to rise. He began to reach such a pitch so that I wondered if others might notice and intervene. Jesus, I thought, we’re in the Haight Ashbury of San Francisco for god’s sake, aren’t there any equally self-righteous Chomsky-ites or nihilistic anarchists on hand to combat this?
She was in no need of assistance. Cutting him off mid-exhortation, the woman calmly decided, “Okay, well that’s enough now. I will be going, but it was very nice to meet you.” And with her grandmotherly benediction, she slowly rose and walked away.
Her way defined the encounter for me, which unfortunately is not possible for me to describe. It wasn't so much that I had overheard a conversation but rather that I had witnessed something elemental; that amoral energy which courses up from the earth and through us, in youth uncontrolled, an addiction that feeds the ego and other addictions, distorting us; that dangerous mix of youthful exuberance and desperate need for certainty that so often finds a home in religion but draws from a deeper and more frightening source. The woman was like a tree perfectly still in the middle of storm, absorbing and releasing all the changing phenomenon around her as if it was centered on her own body, with a wisdom and acceptance that I mistook for dimness. I wondered and hoped that the young man - and myself - could one day achieve that unshakeable equanimity.
11/01/08 Halloween to top