Equinox

On Saturday afternoon, Brookie and I went to a park here in Carpinteria, which overlooks the ocean. We took a little walk as the sun lowered into the trees, then returned to the car to await the moment of the equinox – the end of summer and the start of fall.

Brookie likes watching sunsets.

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It is done.

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Intangible Things

I was clearing a few things out of a desk drawer and found a yellow sticky note with this phrase written on it:

“Intangible things are the writer’s business.”

I Googled it but I can’t find the source of this quote. It used to be the tagline of this blog, Metaphor, and now Google only points back here. (I switched to the quotation from Keats, above, in April 2010.)

I don’t think I made it up. It’s too brilliantly succinct to be me. I believe it though. We are surrounded by a cloud of the unknowable, unnamable, unspeakable and formless. The artist’s job is to give its particulars form and name, color and voice. The rare willingness and arguable ability to do so is the reason why we creative types get the big money.

Probably the first intangible, nebulous thing that comes to mind is my identity. I don’t mean the identity that a hacker can steal and use to buy stuff. I mean my self image. Who am I? Am I a good man or a self-centered jerk? Can questions of identity be that simple?

I remember studying the pathos of self image in college psych classes. I hope it’s not too wrong to say that your self image is who you believe you are, right or wrong. It’s what gets offended and bruised when someone misjudges you. And if you suddenly discover that the image of yourself that you’ve believed for a long time has been wrong, well that shit is really going to hurt.

Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas.

If my sense of myself is intangible, isn’t my sense of belonging, of community, even more so? Can we expect our images of self to fit together like Legos? And then how is it even possible to dream, to have dreams, if we know so little about who we are?

“If you want a certain thing, you must first be a certain person. Once you are that certain person, obtaining that certain thing will no longer be a concern of yours.”
~ Zen proverb

I don’t know who I am, except that I go through most days with a vague sense of disappointment and a wariness against pride. I am, as Douglas Adams said of planet Earth, “Mostly Harmless.” I place a high value on Albert Schweitzer’s “Gentle hands and kindly words,” and love the first sentence of the anonymous 19th century Russian book The Way of a Pilgrim:

I am by the Grace of God a Christian man, by my acts a great sinner. 

I can tell you more about my fears than about my dreams and desires. I know what and whom I love, that I have loved and been loved, that I am loved for today. But I’m not sure what I want, except that I’m sure I will always want love in my life. No one wants to be lonely.

At this point, you might want to listen to James Taylor sing Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, just because, you know, I rock at blogging. Smile  

 

If I don’t know myself, I certainly don’t know you. I’m still struggling to understand Kyle and everyone I’ve ever known. William Stafford said it best:

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

Do you know for sure who you are? Is that a question you like to explore? I imagine you do. Such intangible things are common among us, being tribal creatures. Perhaps the world’s remaining elephants would nod in agreement and commiserate.

I’ve quoted this passage from Stegner’s “All the Little Live Things” before.

“I am concerned with gloomier matters: the condition of being flesh, susceptible to pain, infected with consciousness and the consciousness of consciousness, doomed to death and the awareness of death. My life stains the air around me. I am a tea bag left too long in the cup, and my steepings grow darker and bitterer.”

The writer’s job, then, is to walk the common thoroughfare, observe the suffering therein, and take a few notes; to reach out now and then and touch the hand of a fellow pilgrim on the way to infinity. Not a bad gig, right?

The problem, fellow pilgrim, is the fog, isn’t it? The blinding, low-down tule fog of the mind. It obscures everything: the road ahead and behind, the ditches by the side of the road, the trees and hills, the reason why your character can’t sleep, never finished building his boat, or became a long haul trucker.

I don’t know about you, but I write to find my way through that fog. This effort to see, to understand, to try to share the shapes forming in the thickly settled gray, is the path of all poetry. Poets are explorers of the intangible.

I remember one early morning in 1985, coming down the Sacramento Valley at Christmas. The fog was so thick, I had to open my door and look down beside me to see the line painted on the road. I survived.

Here’s a photo of me with my grandparents, taken in 1983. The fog in the background was lifting and I was eager to get on the road, back to college, and on with my exciting and promising life. I just had no idea how long the fog would stay on the ground.

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Remembering Jonathan Winters

I don’t know what year it was, but my Sheltie Tasha was young, so I’d have to guess mid 1990s. We were walking on Coast Village Road in Montecito one day, and Jonathan Winters came up to us. I mean I saw him nearby, recognized him, but intended to leave him alone. That’s what I usually do when I see a celebrity: I leave them in peace. I could claim that it’s because they have a right to a personal life when they’re not working. But famous people make me nervous. Still, Jonathan Winters changed his course and walked up and started talking to me about my dog.  

Tasha was exceedingly cute. But that’s not why we talked for awhile, about dogs and what a nice day it was, etc. We did because Jonathan Winters was simply an uncommonly nice guy.

My parents have a good story about meeting Winters one evening years ago, in the Carrows restaurant in Carpinteria. They struck up a conversation, he sat down at their table, with his wife, and they talked for a long time. He was so friendly and likable; not a molecule of the self-importance or conceit that it’s so easy to associate with celebrities.

Tasha and I saw Jonathan again in Montecito on another day, and we chatted again. I think I said something like, “Thank you for making us laugh.” I hope I did. Because it’s not as easy as it looks, to get that reaction. I imagine it’s something you have to be good at, without the effort that would make it false. And it’s even harder – just by being yourself –  to be remembered for being openly, spontaneously gentle and friendly.

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Fifteen

by William Stafford, read by Garrison Keillor.

http://goo.gl/hvt9B

This poem has always had a peculiar feeling for me, because I first read it when I was younger than fifteen, and many years before I discovered William Stafford for myself.

Someone – probably my parents – gave me an anthology of poems when I was maybe thirteen or fourteen. I remember it had pictures too. I didn’t even take note of the poet’s name but I remember this poem.

Years later, out of college and trying to teach myself poetry using the thinking and reading that I’d been taught to do, I found William Stafford again and learned his name. I was at one of the last readings that he gave, in the summer of his death.

But this poem – Fifteen – has never fit in my mind along with all the others Stafford wrote. Because it alone belonged to that other time; another life, before I turned fifteen.

Repent and Be

If there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.

– Albert Camus, writer, philosopher, Nobel laureate (1913-1960)

We don’t get to see Camus quoted very often, do we? And did you know he had a Nobel Prize? I’d forgotten.  Pretty good for a guy who died at the age of 47.

It is a hard thing, not to be like a dog, always on the wrong side of the door. Or always at the end of a leash which ends no closer than Oh that’s not close enough to the best place on the planet to pee.

I joke, but I’m guilty of forgetting that peace lives in acceptance, and surrender to a Power Greater than myself. That’s how to see “the implacable grandeur of this life.”

ethereal daze

Well, it’s been a quiet week here in Carpinteria, my hometown.

No, that’s not right. The week started out very noisy, with a massive – by local standards – thunderstorm on Monday night. Usually, if we get thunder and lightning here, it’s pretty wimpy. Such storms are small and brief, tending to pass along the Santa Barbara channel or over the coastal mountains. This one developed right over town. And it was angry about something.

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I’ve never heard fiercer thunder, or seen more ardent lightning, in this valley or over our ambitious little patch of sea.  And of course, the power went out.

Thunder, October 18*

Cymbals and symbols, drums
and the heartbeats of small creatures passing
into their certain eternities by and by.
And nothing we can do about any of that.
Except to smile into the darkness
and leave each other searching for a light.
Shantih.

We should let the master handle it:

After the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places    
The shouting and the crying
Prison and place and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains    
He who was living is now dead    
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience.
… a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust
Bringing rain.
… Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

            Shantih shantih shantih

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*Thunder, October 18 by Kyle Kimberlin 
is a rough draft poetic work, 
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