Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Piano Practice

She drove to his house as she did every Thursday and Friday afternoon. He lived on a peaceful tree lined street where none of the inhabitants knew of hunger or felt the fear of F16’s flying overhead. The children grew up playing soccer and learning instruments. He got out of school at three o’clock, and she always tried to arrive a couple minutes before him. She was pulling into the driveway and she saw him standing by the neighbors trash cans with his friend Jack from across the street. She waved to him and he raised his arm, moving it, yet it could not be described as a wave, there was no greeting or friendliness within the movement, it was more something his body did to shrug off the forwarded hello. He walked towards the front door where she was just turning the copper key into the top lock. Entering the house, he threw off his backpack and slid off his shoes and walked away, leaving them in front of the door.
"I have a lot of piano work to do, but I’m hungry too."
"Your hungry? you want some curry?"
"yes, please."
She took off her shoes by the front door and went to the kitchen in her wool socks to the sounds of an unlearned wedding march. She wondered why his teacher had selected that particular piece for him to learn. She grabbed a white ceramic bowl from the cupboard and scooped some rice from the cooker into it and got out the container of curry his grandmother had made the previous day. The bowl spun in the microwave and she munched on cold purple grapes while she waited for the seconds to pass. Dooot! Dooot! Doooot! The food was hot and she put the steaming bowl on the marble countertop, it smelled so good. She went down the hall and towards the sound of the crashing keys and inglorious notes. The boy was crouching on the piano bench, his toes the only part of his body making contact with the shiny black bench. He looked up as she approached and stopped playing. "Is that the way you’re supposed to sit?"
"Okay…" he said with a groan and then sat half on the bench and half on his heels.
"No, sit the way your teacher would want you to."
And he slouched more, but sat on his butt.
"the food’s ready."
"Ahhhhh!!! I’m never going to have this perfect by Monday!"
"why does it need to be perfect by Monday?….oh, that’s when your class is?"
"But you don’t have a performance or anything?"
"No, but this needs to be really good because I never have it good when I go there and I have martial arts class later and then I have to do homework and we’re leaving to go skiing on Friday and we’ll be gone all weekend!" He looked like he was going to cry, his head was dropped low to his chin. "I need to practice this for hours!"
"You’ll have time to practice and do martial arts and your homework if you don’t watch any TV."
"That’s not true" his voice turned authoritative, like a child king. "Homework takes me a couple hours, dinner takes an hour, I won’t get home from martial arts ‘til 6 and I also have to go buy some books."
"Okay, look…look at me…look at me" she touched his shoulder. "You won’t be able to do any of those things if you freak out. You don’t need to cry. Are you hungry?"
"Okay, why don’t you go eat, the curry’s hot. Then, do your homework before martial arts, you’ll go to marts, and you’ll be home by six. I really don’t think it takes you an hour to eat dinner, but even so, you’ll have time afterwards to practice and all your homework will be taken care of."
"Yeah, but I go to bed at 8:30 and I start getting ready for bed at 8:15."
"Well, if you just want to make up excuses…."
"Yeah, but…"
"Look," she touched his hair compassionately, "the worse thing is to start crying and getting yourself all worked up. You’re freaking out instead of doing the small things you need to do. If you want to be able to do it all, then you should start by eating and then doing your homework."
"Okay," he walked defeated into the kitchen, his footsteps pounding on the hardwood floor. He started gobbling his food and glancing every couple of seconds to the clock on the wall.
"Hey, I don’t want you to choke. You can do everything and do it well and not sloppy. Chew your food, okay? It’s not going to be good if you do everything fast and sloppy. Do you want something to drink?"
"Yes, please"
She poured him some grape juice and went to sit at her computer in the other room. Ten minutes passed…she was typing an email…
"You forgot I have to get books!" he called from the other room.
"you forgot I have to go get books later tonight, so I’ll have even less time to practice."
"if you want to keep making excuses up, then I’m not sure what to say. Are you doing your homework?"
"well, keep working on it and stop getting ahead of yourself."
An hour and a half passed, he had finished his homework and had changed into his martial arts uniform. He was sitting on the couch fifteen minutes before they had to leave.
"What happened to practicing?"
"I just want to relax for a couple minutes."
She took him to martial arts and then back home. His mother’s car was in the driveway. She opened the front door and he charged through.
"MOM!! We need to go buy books!"
"Oh," she turned to him a little surprised, "You want to go before dinner?"
"okay." She got her keys and they said goodbye. She left as well, saying she would see them tomorrow.
Friday arrived and both of his parents were home preparing for their ski trip. She made the boy a sandwich and then he sat in front of the TV. He stayed there for hours, watching the military channel and simultaneously reading a book. Then, he went downstairs and closed the computer room door. His mother called to him from the hall without opening the door.
"Dad and I are going to your brother’s soccer game, you should practice piano."
"Okay," he said. But he did not remerge from the room ‘til almost 5:45 and there was a tentative plan to leave for the mountains at 6pm. He came out from the computer room to use the bathroom.
She looked up from her computer when she saw him in the hall, "what happened to playing the piano? You were practically crying about it yesterday?"
"Oh yeah," he said. He shrugged his shoulders and went downstairs again without an explanation or second thought.
On Thursday, he had felt an urgency, a need to act. Perhaps it was just brought about by the responsibility he had to his teacher, the same way he was compelled to do his homework, not brought about by an internal desire, but familial pressure. But he had felt the urgency, the knowledge there was barely enough time to do it all. Friday, he had forgotten all about it, he had fallen asleep to any pressure or need and allowed himself to drift through hours without a second thought to his goal. When the urgency is clear, it is the time to act. The window of opportunity passes all too quickly.

Friday, January 16, 2009

On A Game Board

My left hand is on the top left curve of the gray steering wheel, my right hand is a mirror of it, gripping the thin piece of plastic. I feel the urge, the desire to release my left hand and caress the smooth, long fingers that grace the nape of my neck, but I cannot…there is too much at stake. The paved road is worn and bumpy, there have been too many cars travelling too long and too fast. The white lines clearly indicate our prescribed path and I need every bit of attention to stay within them. My eyes awaken to the game, and we are among the many players in shiny colored objects moving across the board. The road begins to split, green signs with block yellow writing point in different directions, my left hand reaches for the knob, it turns on the blinker and we merge seamlessly into another path. The metal machine is powerful, I awaken to that knowledge with a tinge of wide-eyed fear. Can I handle this beast? This is more power than I should be granted, the force of our velocity is too great. I imagine turning the wheel sharply and driving us over the freeway’s edge, sending us plunging into the bushes below. A red car passes us on the left. Another player moves. A discarded piece of trash drifts in the wake of rubber tires and disappears beneath the hood of the black truck. In front of us, a red car changes lanes. No one talks. There cannot be words, there cannot be listening. These moves require me, they demand my attention. There’s a shiny building over there, the reflective windows shoot back our vision. In the mirror, I see the green player switch paths. The cement bridge is wide and thick, the tires are making gripping sounds. The wind pulls us onwards and in the distance, the buildings loom in the hazy sunshine. My hands are on the wheel; my face, nearly expressionless; my eyes, dead ahead. The wheels pull us onwards. The pedal moves us onwards. The freeway begins to end, taking us down one last curving slope, we are moving too quick and I grip the wheel and press the brakes in muted panic. This is real and unreal. There is a red stoplight, I gently push on the brakes and we are still. My heart beats, my eyes are dead ahead, a girl in calf-high leather boots walks along the crosswalk, her arms swing confidently at her sides. A young woman crosses a couple seconds behind her, she’s wearing tight jeans and black high heel shoes, the jeans are a little short. Two other girls, they are more round, wearing jeans and sweatshirts. The wind blows and the tree tops on the curb rustle. There is a trash can, it’s green. The light is still red. The light is green, my foot presses on the gas pedal. Our turn to move. There are other cars on both sides of us. There is a red light ahead, we slow down. We stop. There are groups of people at the crosswalk waiting for the signal. There is a man in a maroon turban talking on a cell phone. They cross, I look at them as ghosts. We are ghosts. A bicycle. A man. The building. We turn left. There are cars ahead, my foot presses the brake. Onward. Raw. Data.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


There once was a kernel of knowledge, and although it is described as a kernel, its beauty and wonder stretched further than most eyes could see and went deeper than most could even begin to imagine. It lived in a clear void of light and constant movement that displayed itself with rays of electricity that darted like fireflies across the blackened expanse. The kernel lived eternally, existing before beginning and lasting beyond end…and although the kernel would bend and re-form and breathe, it always remained a kernel, a nucleus around an orbiting mass. The kernel was boundless, able to touch and transform itself through solid matter and muscle mass. It remained contained outside the world of laws and concrete, outside of human society, yet, it traveled and moved through their realms. It journeyed in and out of the earth with the help of human bodies through a system of paths and golden corridors and sparkling moments of serene attention. The earth was cluttered with metal buildings and rigid gray institutions that were rooted in generations of dogma and habit. It was full of gluttons and those who could not eat. There were morals that were woven through generations like woolen thread and pretty fashions that changed like the seasons and boomeranged with the wind. There were men who desired power and beautiful women, there were women who hoped for fine hats and smart children. Some wanted gold and rugged health, some read mountains of books and drew pictures of the world’s monuments on white napkins. There were people who believed in law and order and there were slaves who were forbidden to read. There were women forced into small rooms with only a fire and a cooking pot and there were certain plants which were forbidden by those in power.
The kernel existed before all this, long before human history and moral codes and lawyers and banking institutions. There was once a man who had a moment of blinding insight. He sat under a blue sky, his thin legs were crossed as he sat close to the earth. The wind blew across his face, and for a long moment, he felt inhuman, he was, in this awakening, open to knowledge beyond the human world. He was experiencing the kernel. Everything he had been taught as a young boy was irrelevant, what he felt, now, was beyond the people of this world and everything they created. The knowledge, the kernel, was far beyond his social status and beyond his ethics. As he sat, he felt a channel open up within him and a radiantly blue cord flowed into his heart with the force of a runaway train. He received it, his body slightly fearful, but his will was open and receptive. In this moment, though his direct contact with the kernel, he developed a way. A way to live, a way to walk, a way to experience the universe, a way to work. He developed a set of tools so that others might open up to the channel as well.
While he was alive, his ideas spread. His students spoke to others who spoke to more people. A large web was formed. After his body died, his way of life traveled across seas and mountains, from person to person. Schools were built to study his way. For thousands of years, his way was passed through language and books and song. The popularity was not without consequence, though, and his way had become words…a religion…an idea or philosophy that someone could try out and perhaps quickly move on to the next tantalizing idea promising inner peace. The initial discovery of the kernel was diluted into an organization with leaders and foundations and bureaucracy. There were workshops and seminars, people paid hundreds of dollars for a couple of life lessons on anger and love, but in the end, there were no life teachers and guides. Some tried the way and gave up after a few weeks. Some tried it and devoted the rest to their lives to it. Movies referenced it and it became a household name, along with the other religions with scores of followers. Entrepreneurs made T-shirts with quotes and people browsed bookstores with hundreds of titles in the genre.
This Way, this way of living life and working with its electrical nature, began with a man that had a deep moment of awakening, a true moment that left behind a changed man and a path into the void. But after thousands of years, moving through continents and people, many of its secrets were lost or misunderstood, its power became diluted as people without teachers experimented with the ideas and then became dogmatic. People practiced what they thought was the way, they claimed it as their own, yet they had no direct contact or connection with the man who had opened to the source. The initial knowledge was so contaminated by the human world that most traces of its way had been lost on the human machines, its power to awaken, its "ways" that required devotion and constant attention were lost on the sleeping, even the sincere workers had no real power or skills to do the work required and nowhere to get it from.
But still the kernel exists, it stands outside, now, living, alive, moving, shifting, glowing. There are other lines. There are other channels that run from the kernel and others that run in, feeding it the nutrients of attention and work. There are long lineages of work, passed from person to person, always under the shadow of secrecy. There are too many chances for contamination if the ideas are distributed freely. This knowledge is beyond humans, it lives outside of humans, but it can pass through them, like sparkling ions through a willing conductor. A direct channel flows from the kernel to the people, and, from them, the energy flows back into the kernel. A circuit in constant movement. The eternal kernel flows out, passing from one person to the other, and the energy comes back, slightly more diffused, back to the source, where the current flows out once again. This has always been so. It cannot be otherwise.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Labyrinth Walk

I stood on the border looking in. There was a great circular labyrinth in front of me and I stood on the edge, where the stone edged path began. Should I go in? I wondered. Is this the time? I wondered. Will there be another opportunity? My mind was clouded with thoughts, tinged with self conscious doubt and human concerns. As I whirled in the pro and cons and brain activity, I felt the moment closing. It was moving past, rushing like a slow current, but definitely moving…drifting through my finger tips as I stood there debating. The moment moved as would the stream past a rock, unafraid to leave me in its wake. I could feel the three women behind me squirming slightly, their bodies preparing for departure, ready to move up the hill and begin our lunch. I felt it all passing. I knew it was leaving, maybe forever.
A small bird chirped in a nearby tree. A soft breeze blew wisps of hair across my forehead. Without a thought, my foot took a step, my first step on the labyrinth. And as my foot took the step, my mind was surprised. It had been left out of the decision. It was being taken for a walk. I thought, "oh, I guess I’m doing this." And my mind was shocked, but willing to go. I looked down at the path directly in front of me, at the narrow bit of dirt outlined in gray stones. I remembered myself. I remembered what to do. My right foot touched lightly upon the path, I felt the earth beneath me, I felt the heel as it made contact with the earth. Each step was slow, each movement deliberate and noticed.
Nearly thirty steps in, my mind started to dart. "Was this a good time for this? Will they be mad? Did I mess up the space? This is probably taking too much time!" And then, a calmer voice, another "I" said, "you’re doing it now, you can’t turn back, you’re in the middle, you made the decision…so do it as best as you can." My hands were swinging, the air drifted through my curled fingers like soft kisses on a journey. My left knee bent as my body prepared for the next step. I turned the corners carefully and slowly, watching the ground as the outlined path turned back on itself. "This just keeps going!" I thought. I put my attention back on my feet. I felt my arcs stretch with the forward movement of heel to toe. The breeze touched me again and tousled my hair.
When I had started, I heard the voices of the three women on the outside. I imagined how they saw me, how I looked from the outside. They kept talking and I felt safe in their neglect. But when I was focusing on my feet, somewhere along the way, their voices had dropped away. The space was silent except for the rustling of nearby leaves and the occasional car tires swishing on the asphalt of the road below. It was me and the labyrinth. Me and the elements. Me and my effort. Perhaps me and their attention.
The rings were getting smaller, I turned corners more often until I reached the center. In the small round center was a mosaic stepping stone that had small stones and beads upon it. I closed my eyes. I saw small sparks of electricity playing on the canvas of my eyelids. I raised my hands out to the sides, opening them wide then raising them above my head and finally bringing both hands together in front of my chest. Oooooommmmmm, the sound was not as pure as it is when I intone it sometimes, alone in my bedroom, but I noticed that fact objectively and I held my attention on the sound and my diaphragm, even as the sound cracked slightly. I pulled my stomach in as my rounded mouth continued with the elongated sound. I stood in the center, feeling the soft breeze, feeling the sun, hearing the sound of birds, feeling quiet, yet electrified and alive. My ego had fallen and I was overcome with a sense of lightness.
My body turned back. I took a step, I raised my leg like a solider, placing it firmly on the ground. I took another step, a very short one on the tips of my toes. I walked back through the rings, sometimes emphasizing the movement of my hips like a supermodel, other times walking erect and with a sense of formality. Other steps, I glided. I alternated between movements, improvising each like a chaotic dance with my attention as the thread of consistency. And the more I played, the more alive I felt. My smile increased the more I played and I shed more of myself upon the soil.
There was nothing else. My past was a distant part of my imagination, the future was never coming. There was only each single step and the thousands of movements which seamlessly created it . The labyrinth and I were playing. We were lovers in union. Dancers intertwined. Actors upon a stage. Beings in a living void.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


I spin the paper color wheel. In the color spectrum, black is the culmination of all, black it at the center, black is all around. Red, white, yellow, green, violet, aqua, every shade in between the primaries, every subtle hue and variation, blended and pure, black contains them all. It is the ultimate mixture, the pure blend. The night sky, shining in darkness, it contains all our naked desires, all the brutal thoughts covered in polite conversation and gracious smiles, all the loving smiles that flow like a river without end, without a source, without an ocean a thousand miles south. The starless black covers me, seeping through my open bedroom window unabated, invading me like the man I love, coming in and conspiring with all the sparks I cannot name. Darkness is the universe I perceive, finite in my understanding, infinite in truth. The name given for hours without sun, it covers the blue of day, the light of nothing with the culmination of all. It is the immense dinner plate with everything heaped upon it, gravy mixing with peas and touching the virginal apple pie. Everything that ever was, every thought that burst shining with splendor from an idealistic youth, every hearty chuckle of laughter from a newborn just discovering their hands and feet, every groan from lovemaking at its peak, all this is mashed and mixed and spread across black. Next to the lumpy sauce and sparking water. Next to the shiny fork that wishes it could poke the voluptuous girl in fishnet stockings, while she hopes you peak into her uncrossed legs. The little candle burns softy upon the table, lapping gently as the waves of wind and hot air caress its flame. Beyond the lit kitchen, the night outside is dark, the wind is roaring and trash cans slide down the street in gusts of released tension. Misfit cans make their escape, rolling without a thought of destination. I hope to stay and avoid the wind. I hope to stay and hold the softness of your skin in the dark. I hope to kiss you in the all consuming darkness of your room and bury my face in the finality of your hair. Blackness is me and you, in the man who died a couple minutes ago in a burst of warm white cream and a final grunt. It is the girl walking hurriedly down the sidewalk with a cell phone in her hand. It is the gray tombstone in Germany and the Dodo bird. It is the amoebas that spawned life, it is the asteroids that tear through the atmosphere and dissolve into dust before they meet my upturned face. Black is the stew of eternity. The witch’s cauldron of peas and carrots, stones and hearts, swords and fingernails and dinosaur bones. Every sound that has been made, every emotion felt, every orgasm that escaped. Within it, within this color, is everything. Each shape, each equation and unsolved problem. The sweat of your passion, the tears of my pain. The screams of the dying as they struggle for their last gulp of air, the shouts of rebellion as fire lights the night. Each century with its layers of texture, each murmured prayer and taste of salt. Each myth recited and kernel of knowledge discovered. Blackness holds it all. We are in its arms and it rests like a lover in mine. We are here, the collectors, the deconstructionsts. The observers and creators. The destroyers. The writers, the ghosts that pick up lost pieces and make puzzles from mosaics. Foraging with blindfolds and baskets, we gather small sounds and memories to form our songs. My voice cracks as I wander half blind in the night, singing a soft melody while burning trees remind me of your flesh.