Sunday, December 17, 2006

Hoop-jumping to commence soon!

The time has come to quit whining (even if only to myself) about my thesis, and to start writing. As my advisor implied, I can go on believing forever that I’ve not read enough to know anything about my topic. I’ve read some, I’ve done some thinking, and (theoretically) I can therefore begin. As my sister agreed, it’s all BS anyway, no better or worse than previous BS I’ve produced, especially a paper I wrote two years ago in a course called “Writing Pedagogy,” based on a piece of “found” text that consisted of the word “BLAH” handwritten more than 200 times. I created an erudite 16 or so pages about that “artifact.” Surely I can create 75 pages on the literature and films surrounding the (mostly fictional) character of “Calamity Jane.” If I can post on a blog, I can do anything! I hope such ego-boosting occurs with all who do blogs! I suspect that it might! Ahem. So, for all the friends and acquaintances whom I may be neglecting in order to focus on this master’s-degree-obtaining task, here’s the thing: Marylyn’s need to be needed must be set aside for a few months while she tries to meet the six-year deadline imposed by the degree-granting entity with which she has become entangled. If she does not complete the requirements by the end of April, all heck will break loose. Or rather, she’ll have to undergo re-examinations in courses that were taken six years ago, and she does not want to do that, even though they were great courses ("Introduction to Literary Criticism" and "Women's Autobiography"). Yes, I’ve heard of people who procrastinated longer than the two years I’ve been guilty of doing same, but I don’t have that luxury, being an “older” student, and having taken a course per semester, making it truly “gradual school,” as an artist friend calls it. It’s now or never. This won’t be my last blog post, but it will be the one I’ll be referring friends to for a while in order to explain my absence from their e-mail inboxes and other media. Carry on with life in the real world, and I'll rejoin you soon!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Can we hairtalk?

Having read somewhere that women’s comments on each other’s hair are the equivalent of men’s remarks about sports teams, that is, a ritualized “bonding” exchange, I’m trying to go deeper. Surely there are hidden meanings in women’s hair-related conversations! I think hairtalk is shorthand that women friends and even mere acquaintances use to describe their “spiritual” and/or psychological states, and sometimes to establish a hierarchy, a temporary pecking order, although the cultural “values” of styles and methods get contaminated by other factors and are never static. One exchange I had recently was a three-way. A woman who’d started CUTTING HER OWN hair very short was complimented (drastic changes, of course, trump everything). A comparison was made between her and another woman whose hair was a similar length, but because she was black, the “do” had a different look. Self-reliance was emphasized, and the manner in which one cuts one’s own hair was described. The African-American woman admitted that she had not cut her own hair, but acknowledged the wisdom and economy of doing so. Both women came to the conclusion that in the future they would go through a period of dreadlock. This, I think, was an important moment in the bonding process. The money-saving woman added that, following the period of dreadlock, a period of head-shaving would follow. The other woman did not respond directly, thus indicating that this was not a (nun-like?) passage she anticipated for herself. Meanwhile, the third party (me) advanced another economical (retirement-related) tack, that is, one of letting the locks grow and braiding them. The amazingly common denominator was ACTUALLY PLANNING THE FUTURE of our hairstyles to parallel life’s passages! Since none of us could know upcoming hair trends (which may have an influence), the plans were symbolic, and showed an acceptance of certain styles “meaning” certain renunciations, aspirations, roles. I must say that this type of “bonding” exchange seems "richer" than male reports of sports teams’ wins-losses/responses to wins-losses, because the females involved create most of the content themselves. I am willing to entertain arguments. And I know “richer” isn’t necessarily “better”!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Death-in-life experiences

A long time ago, during a period of transition in my life, I had a dream that I was lying in the woods in a pile of leaves, dissolving. It felt delicious, almost orgasmic. I was becoming part of the forest, losing all the pain and sorrow I'd been preoccupied with at the time. But the dissolving stopped somewhere near the back of my neck, perhaps where the "lizard brain" resides, the basic instincts. So, I lived. I woke up and continued. But I did not forget the wonderful experience of almost non-existing. About seven years before that dream, I had had an accident on a Massachusetts highway, spinning around uncontrollably in a borrowed Volkswagen after vainly trying to correct a skid on slippery snow. I was a new driver, but cars all around me were wrecking that night. My vehicle went ass-end into a ditch, breaking its rear axle. Just before the spin ended, my mind said to itself quite cheerfully, "Well, here we go!" These are my near-death experiences, and I kind of like them. A few days ago, a friend of mine whom I hadn't seen for ages turned up at a gathering and mentioned that she'd been having death dreams. The people in the dreams who were dying were herself in another guise or persona. In the dream, disappearing was just fine, no problem, but when she woke up, she was distressed. I think she should have been glad. It's a privilege to be able to imagine or even experience some kind of death before the actual one occurs. So many things that begin in life, end. Whole "lifestyles" can come crashing down. Rehearsal is good. I don't know what my next death will be like, but I'm not afraid to find out. Not much, anyway.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The kid next door

The "kid" who lives in the house next door once again (after his tenants moved out) is the son of a friend of mine. He's only 25, and he actually owns the house, having bought it some years ago in a mood of stability-seeking and hopefully, investment-making. He's a small fellow, slender, with a sweet face. He bakes cookies. He does carpentry. He puzzles over philosophies and concepts. He now studies computer information systems management after exploring other careers (including construction work). He would like a girlfriend, but most of the girls he meets just want to be "friends." He's going to visit my Buddhist group tonight, and I'm so proud, as if I were, yes, his mother. In some ways, I'm his mother's opposite. I think alternatively but I behave (for the most part) conventionally. She has always lived a "wild" life but lately has been thinking more sedately (I can sense her thought waves all the way from California). I am so pleased to be able to invite her son over for a meal, discuss literature with him, and emanate wishes for his happiness; not that I have time to do those things every day, or even every week, but at least now I have the opportunity. I've had a surrogate son before, but this one is a joy to know. Any single young women out there looking for a quality fellah?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Life and Hope and Buddhist Nuns

Sometimes the propositions of Tibetan Buddhism really cross sticks with Human Nature, especially in the seventh chapter of this little Pema Chodron book I've got here, "When Things Fall Apart." In the "Hopelessness and Death" section, the charming, round-faced sage with a buzz-cut promotes the benefits of "hopelessness" and disparages the comforts of theism (indulged in by millions). It's an addiction, she says. Well, maybe some folks get hung up on a jolly, kindly, managerial God and can't stop thinking about him (not that addiction is always to kindly, jolly things), but I never did, even as a kid. Somehow, the threat of years-long punishment in Purgatory for childish transgressions outweighed any images of his hippie son Jesus's loving glances and mysterious but compassionate words. I was kind of glad to give up on God when I "came of age," and I had only recently advanced to laughing at the Everything-Happens-for-a-Reason cliche (whether it had to do with God or not). But I draw the line at dropping "the fundamental hope that there is a better 'me' who one day will emerge." I mean, what the heck did I buy this book for, anyway? Isn't an occasionally meditative, more peaceful, less reactive and impulsive "me" a better one? And isn't this book touted as an aid to achieving this? (Even though there's no "self," we're supposed to behave well toward others.) What's going on here is your basic "Zen" paradox: the harder you try to grasp an idea and roll with it, the slipperier it gets, and then the landscape changes, the leaves turn yellow, the clock falls back, and you're rolling uphill.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Test Drive

I understand it's silly to be proud of NOT buying something I can't afford. I wasn't even tempted, really. I'd informed my daydreams, "No," ahead of time. But being on the edge of the cliff, enjoying the view, was fun. I was too sane to actually jump off. But used-car salespeople don't understand sanity. They are there to discourage it. As one of three trying to convince me said, "Occasionally common sense rears its ugly head." This was after I'd taken the nearly-new Toyota MR2 Spyder for a spin, with the top down. I never got to fifth gear, but fourth was a thrill. The woman salesperson, Dana, went with me, and directed me to a business park nearby where there was a pleasant loop road deserted for the weekend. It had a hill, several curves, and one short straightaway. The silver-and-black roadster had something special: auto-manual transmission. No clutch, just the touch of a finger on a steering-wheel button or the right palm gently tapping the spider-decorated stick. I got the hang of it almost immediately. Now that's not silly to be proud of, is it? I told them, laughing, that if they could work out payments of $100 or less per month, I'd buy it. The manager himself took MY car for a test drive, and reported it to be in fair condition. Hey, I KNEW that. The paper he then handed me invited payments of $316 per month for 60 months, not terribly high for some, but way out of my range. Besides, where would I park such a car? On the street as usual? No, I've parked it back in my daydreams, where it belongs, but the dreams are more vivid now.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Temporary Wowness

I am so full of love right now for everyone. And really, it only took a glass and a half of wine (I'm a cheap flower child). I took a friend to a play (a play with lots of cussing and violence) and she liked it, and I was glad to be with her. WOW. I stopped to visit another friend and give him a birthday present, and he smiled and was hospitable and talkative. WOW. My brother does a great blog that brings some of the siblings and even my father ("Dr. Kinbote") together (virtually), and I'm so enthused. WOW. My husband is the world's best lover (last night), but also has given me an evening of alone-time (tonight) as if he knows what I need at every minute. WOW. And an elegant older woman (my age, ha ha) at the Buddhist-GroupTherapy-BookDiscussion the other night laughed at my jokes and sent me an e-mail today. WOW. People who need people are the luckiest people in the world! (or not, as the case may be).

Monday, October 16, 2006

Paean to Yoga in Cliché Mode

One of my sisters asked me recently why I did yoga. Her view was that it was a waste of time. She’s a person with lots to do: a full-time teaching position in a European university, and two beautiful but willful little boys. She used to love to go to the gym and sweat. She seems to feel that unless something is strenuous both in appearance and subjective experience, it’s not really physical exercise. She doesn't really want anything less than her ideal workout (although she stays trim running after her children and shorting herself on meals) and laments her former-fitness-buff fate. I understand that; I am still addicted to cardio machines and weight work, and glad I have time to do it. And yet, I love yoga. It’s really more of a complicated discipline than either of the above, an exercise not of exertion but of control and precise forms. Rather than heavy breathing to pull in the air, the breath is coordinated with movements, usually very slowly done, calling for a lot of muscular strength in places you didn’t know you had muscles. The movements themselves are at the edge of what is possible for most amateur practitioners in terms of stretching and flexibility. American yoga doesn’t ask the impossible, and offers alternative positions for those who can’t quite do the lotus or the various twisting “binds” that conclude some of the more advanced postures. Poses like “triangle” are a balance challenge for me (let’s not even talk about “standing tree”)! The spiritual aspects of yoga are downplayed for Westerners; in my state-sponsored university gym, any “meditation” at the end of an hour-and-15-minute yoga session is verboten. But the vaguely-Eastern music drones on. Sometimes it’s pleasant when kept at a low volume. At the very least, it helps create the illusion that one’s movements are smooth, not jerky. I have achieved more of that “good achey” feeling (particularly in the hamstrings) from yoga than from almost any other workout. Friends of mine have had to take naps afterwards; even the instructor ends the class with, “Don’t go tossing any hay bales today. Be kind to your lower back; it’s probably very vulnerable right now. Drink plenty of water.” This is also what some massage therapists say after giving you a deep rubdown. I rarely follow the advice, but it indicates that there have been enough unfortunate post-session events for both yoga instructors and massage therapists to be wary of lawsuits. So something must be getting done to the body! I’m a once-a-weeker, not all that devoted, but I look forward to it. My Saturday morning yoga class makes my weekend.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Having a beer

It's really my fault for playing the do-gooder role with other people's possessions. I fervently wanted my spouse to give his old computer to my friend who just had her appendix out. I overheard he'd transferred all the data from the old computer to the new one. I heard wrong. I must have seemed appallingly eager to take away his "box" that still had allegedly important e-mails on it. I put the pressure on. He got irritated. I got irritated. He left for a while, and in the interim I had to have a beer to calm down. It was only 5 pm, too early for a beer, according to MY rules (my rules are only for me, and I never expect others to obey them). Having the beer led to making chicken soup, which negated our plans for going out to dinner. See how out-of-control I can get on ONE BEER? By the time my spouse got back I'd calmed down and had a basic dinner to offer him. Things seemed peaceful. However, I soon found another source of irritation. I had promised to send an "estranged" friend a copy of some writing I'd done (about her) 30 years ago. I knew it was in my file cabinet somewhere, but I couldn't find it. Leo, the good (and still wonderfully alive) cat, tried to help me, but was only a hindrance, and I became agitated, once again, to the point of using bad language audible to my spouse, who was in another room, trying to "chill." At this point, I craved a second beer. But my "rules" said, "No!" These rules have waxed more stringent lately by the Buddhist influence, the idea of allowing oneself to FEEL COMPLETELY what is going on at the time, not smothering the opportunity to learn by distractions like alcohol, drugs, or television. Oh, I felt it completely. I was ready to smoosh up all the papers I've carefully saved (for whatever pitiful reason) and make a trashy bonfire on the front lawn, just as I often wish my spouse would do with HIS papers. Ranting, I drank an entire bottle of flavored club soda (about as expensive as one beer) trying to avoid the additional alcohol which would have provided the dulling sensation, the RELIEF. But relief did come as soon as I located the elusive materials in a red folder inside the cabinet. Looking at these papers gave me pause. I'd always been a writer. Here I had been fictionalizing a "breakup" between friends, using poetry and film scripting. Perhaps the person I'm sending it to will say, "What the HELL was she thinking?" But I'm fearless. I'll launch it off in the mail, thus bringing full circle one of the mysteries of my life: my obsession with abandonment by various women whose wishes I've "obeyed," thinking I was "pleasing" them by doing so. This one woman's response is not as important as the fact that I've made a tentative reconnection with her. But if I DON'T get an answer in a few days, I reserve the right to have at least TWO BEERS!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Learning from the boob tube

Watching good television (namely, the last season of “Six Feet Under” episodes) is like dreaming. It feels as if it’s coming from your own mind. You know those people; you are with them in their kitchen, mourning a death or eating yogurt or chasing a bird out the window, and it’s all so deliciously angst-filled, like a tragic pastry. The few minutes after watching an episode are necessarily a streaming of that dream into your life. You haven’t woken up quite yet, and the phone call from your girlfriend who’s having an emergency appendectomy seems like a continuation of the show. Fortunately, you’ve just learned how to behave like a well-written amiga or family member should; you’ve seen many interesting examples in the last hour or two. These examples, combined with short-term memories of emphatic things your girlfriend has said to you when you’ve momentarily let her down in the past, guide you in your speech and behavior, and you want to serve. There would be exhilaration in venturing out into the night on an errand of mercy, whether it would be to feed her dog or to park yourself in a hospital corridor to tenderly greet her when she’s wheeled out, groggy and grateful. As it turns out, you get to do none of these things. Still, you were willing, and you think maybe she knows that, though others have taken the available positions. You go to sleep wondering, for the fourth or fifth time in about twenty years, what exactly the appendix is for.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Complacency, procrastination, identity

I am way too comfortable at my desk at work. It leads to a false view of the world for hours at a time. The situation is extraordinarily forgiving. When I think of jobs I've had in the past, I'm amazed I have landed here. Students and callers-in seem to think I actually have power to help them. My boss is two hallways away and rarely bothers me with requests. People stop by to chat. My tasks are relatively easy (if sometimes tedious). I don't have to think about "teamwork" or group projects. I can indulge in personal e-mail and postings like this. I am respected and get regular raises. Something's terribly WRONG here! I don't deserve this! That's why it's convenient to have a failure-in-the-offing, such as my un-done thesis. THAT's what I've done with the old Marylyn; I've wrapped her up in the guilt and worry of a nearly-complete master's degree, and I can take her with me wherever I go. If I'm feeling uncomfortably satisfied, I just unwrap the psychic bundle of un-done thesis, and there she is, babbling incoherently from the middle of a pile of books about Calamity Jane and the Western novel.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The horror of not being horrified

I'm wondering about my lack of aghast-ness upon finding out about the suicide of an acquaintance, a woman in her forties who was part of my "ladies who lunch" group. I was not close to her; she was not part of my daily life. I liked her. She seemed very cheerful, almost too cheerful. She loved dogs and children. She was unmarried; had never found "the one," and may have been "gay," but never made an admission of such (to me, anyway). Other friends from the group are quite distraught. I am more worried about them at this time than I am horrified by this person shooting herself through the heart with a 22. Is it possible it has not fully penetrated me, this news? It has been three days. Am I really so unenlightened as to care only about family, spouse, and very close friends? Or is the emotion I feel I'm lacking simply an unproductive panic that I've blessedly lost the capacity for? Even still, I asked the Wednesday-night Buddhist group to meditate on/around/about her for a few minutes. Like our now-deceased cat, Shadow, I must need an example of normal behavior to imitate, because tears came to my eyes only when I heard the sorrow in someone else's voice over the phone. Either Shadow was (in retrospect) guru-calm and free of kitty "samsara," or I am psychologically damaged, as we thought Shadow was. Or, none of the above.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Does "the way" get in the way?

Caught between the personal and objective reality. No longer interested in my "self," but in something larger. What vanity, though, to think I've finally come around to something "spiritual." Came to the conclusion at Sunday's Buddhist gathering that the "spiritual" and "imagination" are the same thing, or rather, the "spiritual" is a powerful subset of "imagination." But that's OK, you see, because our shared imaginations create our shared realities in the sense that what's in people's minds governs their view of anything that's actually "out there," beyond the eyes, the breath, the touch. In pure moments when the imagination, including the spiritual imagination, is absent-- moments of shock and awe, for instance-- that is when we're really in touch with something greater, and sometimes it's not so pretty.

Friday, September 15, 2006


This blog is the place for what I'm missing in myself; it's an invitation. Build it and I will come? I will say nothing objectively new here, show no photograph that doesn't resemble one someone's already taken. The medium is (a big part of) the message. Presence on the internet may create an apparition within the soul, whose eyes are made new by the world each day. (I don't even believe in a "soul," really, so there ya go; problematic enterprise from the start.)