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What are they?

I don't know.

How do they see it? our sadness and pain.


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I'm starting up a collection to explore content similar to the stuff I've been sharing here, but with a different focus, both representationally and thematically.

I'm interested in exploring the way colors create their own spaces, manifest their own attributes. I call it The Four Color Threorem. I will be exploring four colors - yellow, red, green, and blue_.

Right now I'm on yellow.

The content will tend to be more polished, but more intense in depth subject matter and form, I'm making it so my followers do not automatically follow it. If this kind of content interests you, feel free to follow.
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Outside of my house, just down the sidewalk a little ways - no more than half a block - there is a small tree which spends the San Francisco winter, which is to say, most of the year, barren and lifeless. The branches stretch out against the sky forming a black-against-white fractal pattern that looks like it would make a nice photograph.

Around the beginning of March, you may notice a single pink bud. A flower. That will remain the only sign of color on the tree for several weeks, until it starts to open, softening, letting the rippling mass of petals breathe into the world. Then you will notice another flower. That's nice, you may say to yourself. That looks pretty.

Things will continue like this for several more weeks, a new bud popping up, barely registering at the periphery of your awareness until, one day, you will stop and gasp as you walk past and realize that the whole tree is covered with bright pink flowers, proudly announcing themselves.

This is where my daughter first learned to say "flower". We would pass it every day on our way out the house in the morning, and back home in the evening. "Look, Elaine, do you see? Do you see the flowers?" My wife and I must have said that hundreds of times. Most of time we be met with simple drooling, or an indiscriminate "ahh". One day I neglected to point out the flowers as as we walked past, and Elaine started rocking furiously in the carrier strapped to my chest. "Wow-wah. Wow-wah," she said. "What?" I thought. The. I saw her pointing to the tree. "Oh! Flower! Yes, flower, Elaine."
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4/29/18
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What lay beneath? Was it raw and vulnerable like the soft flesh revealed by a wound? Recently I smashed my finger while setting down a weight at the gym; the outer layer of skin curdled and dried almost instantly. A throbbing white and red mass lay exposed; it disturbed me to see. I chilled at the sight of it - this was what was there, hidden only by the thin veneer of skin and fabric; really I was muscle and bone, a somehow self-perpetuating mass of cells, there was nothing animating it beyond blind respiration and reproduction. A face is just a skull with skin.
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The records office smells like a library. It's magisterial in scope, the row of columns down the center imparts a feeling of processing towards something, of coming to see the archivist, who, like an old shrew, studiously tracks and maintains all the various pieces of knowledge that impart the authority of the state. Here is knowledge made real - there are dusty old books, physical books, sitting behind the counter. Walking here felt like crossing a barrier through to a time when pieces of paper mattered, could make the difference between life and death, to when they conferred the recognition of the king and of the divine.

The scene is made more surreal by the throngs of people dressed for weddings, taking pictures in front of the gilded doors to city hall; pink bouqets, long draping white dresses, photographers peering from across the street to frame the couple against the magnitude of the hall of governance.
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I am a creature of habit, and hence of place. When I reflect on periods in my life, it's the places I frequented that stand out as characters in my drama; the cafe near my office that I go to every morning to work on my side projects, the bench in front of Dwinnelle hall that I sat at every Tuesday of my freshman year of college to watch Stoney Burke, the half-bald, half-mad street comedian who mocked everyone from the hapless students wearing headphones to avoid the throng of people handing out fliers to George Bush, the imperialist of that era, who feels so tame with the benefit of hindsight.

I remember that bench so well. It was wood, slightly decaying, and rimmed a planter box with a young tree that provided a modicum of shade. Berkeley is often sunny, and warm, especially during the fall, so I would frequently sit out there early and enjoy the feeling of the warmth from the sun on my hands. There was a rumor that at 4:20 people would sit in the trees and smoke weed; anything felt possible, Berkeley was a different world, it didn't obey the laws and constraints of my suburban upbringing; the people were wild and weird and free.
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The freight train came to a creaking groaning halt, slowing imperceptibly at first, the deceleration so minute it could be mistaken for coasting; freight cars stretched interminably in both directions. The train rested.

What logic guided its movement? Who lay at the helm? What plans were made, maps surveyed, manifests written, that determined the train should stop here, not elsewhere?

I felt small, in the vast sea of society. Like the people in war of the worlds must have felt when they saw an intelligence far greater than their own guiding events.
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The eyes we had then

There is, on my right calf, a tattoo of a bicycle, drawn in bold black lines and iconic style; it's almost like an ideogram, the crossbar a simple horizontal line and the wheels matching geometric circles. Two moles dot the space below it, and light, wispy hairs poke out from amongst the space formed by its lines.

I can see myself lying prone in the back of the tattoo parlor on 16th street while the young, thin Japanese man whose only English to me was a thumbs up and a smile hunched over my outstretched leg and painstakingly filled in the thick bars of black composing the design I had taken from a street sign. Who was that young man, who sat there, breathed through the pain, enjoyed it even, who shone with a pride he could barely conceal when showing off the tattoo?

The young me later encountered an older gentleman in a position of power who marveled at the tattoo. The older man was thrilled at the similarities between us - he had a light blue dolphin on the dried and fleshy skin near his his achilles tendon that reminded him of his youth; our tattoos symbolized rebellion and vitality and sexuality to him.

To the young me, it wasn't so much a symbol of something abstract as a representation, a distillation of what I thought of myself at the time. I liked bikes. I liked the feeling of expansiveness and power that came with being on a long trip, camping at night and riding during the day. I liked the feeling of self-determination, the sense that we were masters of the road, that we could make our own fates, that we could decide how far we could bike today, no one else. I liked the rush of speed that came with riding a fixie in the city, never stopping but rather flowing, weaving around traffic, the sense of connection with the physicality of my body and my bike.

Now the extent of my cycling is the daily trip to take my daughter to daycare. She points, she babbles, she occasionally grabs my pants from her seat right behind me and tries to pull them down. She shouts as we pass the water fountain at civic center. I shout along.

One time an older woman chatted with us at an intersection. "I have a grown son now," she said. "I never did the bike thing, but, seeing you, I wish I had. She's pointing at things, she's singing, she's learning..."

"Yea," I said. "She likes riding the bike."

-----

The young me. The me now. Is there any connection between them? I sometimes catch a glimpse of that Alex, when the throbbing pain in my knee lets up long enough for me to go for a jog, and I feel the sun on my back, the exhaustion filling me and being repulsed by waves of energy; he sings, he shouts, he is joyously exuberant at the mere fact of being alive. He is powerful.

I have a habit of taking notes when I think of things to write. I do so in order to prevent myself from forgetting. The worst feeling to me is to lose a story idea to the ether, they float so effervescently that if I don't catch them, don't pull them down, they will wisp away. I was worried about losing this story, I had had the thought and didn't have a chance to write it down. Then, stepping into the shower, I caught a glimpse of the bicycle on my calf; the story was there. It was a memento of me, the person I was who got the tattoo, what he believed and what he cherished. It will be here many years from now, when I forget about him again, reminding me.

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Art is what we do to get somewhere when we don't know where we're going.
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Our Animal Natures

The cat, whose thick orange hair often lay matted and knotted against his body after his lackluster attempts at self-grooming, could never poop when he left the house. Any time Kacie and I left for the weekend and dropped him off at a cat hotel, he would sit frightened in the corner of his carrier until I coaxed him out, while the kennel employee, often a young woman, crouched nearby, watching us, giving us encouraging coos. Eventually I would have to pull him out the last few inches, grabbing him by the belly as he struggled to gain a foothold on anything that could keep him in the carrier. He never meowed, even in times of great stress like this; he would just get a wild and frightened look in his eyes as he scanned for an exit. After depositing him in his temporary cage I would wave goodbye, smile encouragingly at the young woman, and be off. Then he would not poop for two days.

I am the same way. I cannot poop on any day in which I travel. I’ll feel the need; I’ll try. But I won’t be able to poop. Something inside me will have sensed the difference, the change in surroundings, and interpreted it as danger: a whole complex of muscles will have tightened, tensed, preparing for action and in the process closed off my sphincter. Sitting still, grunting, for a period of time is a luxury my body is convinced it cannot afford. Even after years of mindfulness practice, this is a reaction whose reasoning I don’t have access to. There’s nothing conscious I can sense, nor, after careful probing, unconscious, that explicates this bracing. It seems entirely physical.

The tightness in my throat seemed to be of the same nature. For a while I thought it was actually a physical ailment - the hard knot in my throat that curled up and was sometimes so painful it caused me to gag was probably a cancerous lump. One night, in college, I gagged and gagged until I started spitting up blood. I went to the hospital; predictably, they said there was nothing wrong with me. Perhaps a stomach bug, they said, and the bile had worn at the lining of my throat.

I took it as a fact of life, but it constantly pulled me away from wherever I was and absorbed me in its world, stirred up worry and fear that there was something wrong with me, something fundamental, there was no better evidence than this, that I was in constant pain. I was different from other people, worse, damaged.

--

The first psychiatrist I saw to get a prescription for antidepressants was a kooky old man who saw patients out of his house in the north Berkeley hills. I biked up there - at the time I biked everywhere - and was sweating profusely by the time I arrived.

“Did you look me up like I told you to?” was one of the first things he asked.

“Um, a little”

“Well you should always look up the people you’re going to see. Me, you see, I’m a radical skeptic. If you had looked me up, you would have found this article I just wrote. Here, take a look.”

He pulled out a copy of Radical Skeptic magazine, with a picture of a UFO on the front. Uh oh, I thought. I just wanted this to be over as fast as possible. I didn’t even want to take the medication, it was only after having worked in therapy for several months that I began to see the need for it. I still retained a streak of Puritanism from my upbringing - the only real good in life comes from work and suffering; anything easy was suspect.

He droned on, finally getting around to asking me what I was looking for here, and asked me to describe what I meant by “depression”. I explained, eventually getting to the tightness in my throat and chest.

“And when do you feel it?” he asked.

“All the time,” I answered.

“All the time? Really? Even right now?”

“Yes.”

“Well that’s ridiculous. You’re not under any stress right now.”

That visit didn’t go well.

--

A decade later, after years of therapy and medication and mindfulness practice, I began to be able to see the knot form. It would start, actually, with a clenching of my jaw, in anticipation of some event - seeing my mother for example. I would periodically become aware of the pressure on my molars, and then notice that the muscles around my jaw and up my cheekbones had tightened; they were tensed in anticipation. After a day or so the muscles on the bottom of my chin would start to constrict, and eventually, that old familiar spot on the left side of my adam’s apple would start to ache with a sharp pain. Just like the cat, my body braced itself of its own accord, under its own volition, entirely apart from my conscious control. There was nothing I could “do” to alter this behavior; I could only watch. But that’s the beauty of mindfulness - in watching we transcend. My conscious mind wants nothing more than to escape, to avoid the pain. With a still mind I’ve been able to watch it unfold, to trace the progress of a whole host of interconnected muscles tightening and tensing. And somehow, the spread of these fires has started to lessen.
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