Monday, August 31, 2009


I looked over at the little boy sitting next to me on the couch. I saw his little tan hands with palms facing upwards, the same way my grandmother held her hands when she just couldn’t believe something. His little ten-year old body was already formed and aged, just as he would be years from now. The conservative grandparents clearly came though in his small face. The drive of his parents, the clear delineation between right and wrong and good and bad and black and white. He thought he knew it all. The world was clearly defined and he knew his place in it. His track was set, I could see that. The path of expectations needing fulfillment, degrees in need of achieving, bank accounts in need of filling.
“How can they say that??!!” He looked to me with a smile of disbelief on his face, somewhat mocking in origin, as though he knew it was wrong.
“It’s true,” I said.
We were watching a documentary about the drug war made from the perspective that the drug war is failing. Or rather, I was watching it and he sat beside me, mostly looking at a YouTube video on the small laptop in front of him and occasionally looking up to the larger screen, where images of marijuana fields and homeless men on Skid Row and the power players of America in their business suits moved across our vision.
“I don’t think anyone has ever died from marijuana,” I said.
“Yeah, but it’s bad.”
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s bad, if it was legal everyone would always walk around being high all the time.”
“Cigarettes and alcohol kill a lot more people, no one has ever died from just smoking marijuana.”
“Will you give me a hundred dollars if I find someone who’s died?”
I took a breath and smiled.
“I don’t have one hundred dollars to give you.”
“So then you don’t believe it. So you believe everyone should just walk around being high all the time.” His little face was scrunched in an accusatory ball. The verdict, the rightness of his opinion had been settled, any other statement would be taken as an offense.
“You know, it’s not one way or the other. Maybe a couple of people have died from some sort of weird complication with smoking, but overall, it’s safer than alcohol and alcohol is legal. Just because I don’t want to bet a hundred dollars, it doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s true. Just because I think medical use is okay doesn’t mean I believe everyone should walk around high.”
He disengaged and looked at his computer screen, on it was another little boy giving detailed instructions on how to modify a Nerf gun. Once again, as I had many times in the two years I had known him, I saw myself in this little boy. I recognized the binary thought. It’s one way or the other. This or that. The two ends of the spectrum, miles apart in reality, yet smushed together side by side, leaving no room for the middle.
For in this middle is the place of complex beauty. It is the realm of the subtle and vague. The softer spectrum of watercolor hues where many things can exist at once. Where all possibilities can coexist in an orgy of thought and merging possibilities and wonder.
I see a girl dancing. There are two walls made of bricks. They are miles apart, but they are so tall that their sheer height makes them always known. The pretty girl is in the field, among the gently sloping grass of yellow and green. Her skirt of layered gray chiffon moves like clouds tethered to her waist. She moves around trees and skips over sleeping foxes. She is in the gap. The huge space in the middle.
It is the middle which I push away with extreme thought. Either being happy or sad. Jealous or content in the slimy gloss of lovemaking. Two extremes, side by side. And always together, there will never be space for another possibility. Pushed together there can be no room for something new to flower. Without the gap, there can be no room for surprise.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kitchen Challenge

The scene was unveiled with the pull of a black velvet curtain. We watched from the comfort of a soft bed, surrounded by four walls which held in dry warmth and the sporadic clicks of two touching bodies. A couple feet from a well stocked kitchen, on the carpet which delineated the dining room from the tiled cleanliness of the cooking space, was a stylish craps table. A master chef in his spotless white jacket stood before it, two oversized dice in his hands. Two clear groups stood before him, a group of five women wearing white chef’s jackets with red collars and a group of four men wearing blue trimmed jackets.
The dice themselves had twelve faces. Each face displayed not a number, but a letter of the roman alphabet. The master chef explained the objective: each group would be given five rolls, one for each member of the team (the blue team would get one extra roll). Depending on the letter on the dice, each aspiring chef would pick a food ingredient beginning with the same letter. The true goal was to think as a unit and to come up with an entrée together…each team member building off the words/ingredients of their teammates. They would cook the dish to completion and the head chef would judge and proclaim a winner.
The women’s team went first. A young woman stepped to the table and threw the die… an “r.”
“Okay,” said the head chef, “what food do you want to pick that begins with an ‘r’?”
“Rabbit,” she said with total confidence.
Now it was up to her teammates to build off this main ingredient. A woman with dark skin and dreadlocks picked up the die, she cast it… “g”…. “green beans.” Two more young women rolled…there would be garlic and potatoes as well, as one chef said, “all the ingredients for a classic entrée.”
And then it was the men’s turn. A tall man approached the table. He had the face of a young marine or soldier, but in this play, he chose to be a chef. He held the die in his large hands, holding them for a split second while he prayed… “h”… “halibut.” His teammate rolled, there was an “f” on the table. He stood there, with lights and cameras and the eyes of his teammates silently trying to send him a psychic answer. His face was sweaty and pale, he was shaking his head as though there was nothing he could think of… “figs.” There was laughter from the women’s team and looks of stark concern from the men. Who had ever paired figs and halibut before? He walked back to the group with his head down as the next man stood before the table.
“Alright,” said the master chef, “remember you’re trying to compliment the ingredients of each other, you need to think as a team.”
The man at the table nodded, he cast his die. An “a” sat perfectly still on the black lined table. He started shaking his head too, as though there was nothing to be done, defeat written all over his face… “angel hair pasta.” Roaring laughter from the women filled the room, as though they already had an easy victory…who had ever paired pasta with figs? Then came another “a”…. “apples.” It was the last turn for the blue team…. “t,” as though in a sign of assured defeat, as though putting the last nail into the coffin was the job of the dark haired man with a cast on his arm… “tomatoes.” One of the women nearly fell over laughing.
“Okay,” said the head chef, “you have 45 minutes to cook.”
Both teams ran into the kitchen. The second hand moved with a speed only available under pressure. The men took a bit of time talking about their approach, drawing on a large piece of paper while they worked out their plan. The women went straight to cutting the tips off the green beans and marinating the rabbit breast and creating a garlic puree, each woman doing her own thing.
“You better move you asses, the women are already cooking!”
It was the voice of authority. The men jumped…one began creating the sauce of tomatoes and a hint of figs, another working on the fish, another on the pasta.
“Okay guys,” said the dark haired man stirring the sauce, “come taste this and tell me if it needs anything.”
The small group of men gathered around, each dipping a spoon into the bubbling sauce.
“Oh my god…that’s actually good!”
“I know…I can’t believe it!”
A hint of joyous energy began to jump between them.
“At least we still have a shot at this!”
The camera panned out for a couple of seconds and then moved to the women’s side of the kitchen. A young freckled woman was pureeing the garlic for a sauce. The women gathered to taste.
“You know,” said the woman with dreadlocks, “I think it’s a little too garlicky, maybe we should add some sugar to it to cut down the bite.”
“Naw, that’s how it’s supposed to be, it’s supposed to be strong.”
The freckled girl poured the pale sauce in an artistic swirl around the plate.

“Five, four, three, two, one…okay stop! Bring me the dishes.”
Two plates stood before the master chef. He took a bite of the rabbit and garlic, then another bite of the fish with figs…
“Wow, those are both good dishes.” He stood nodding his head in approval. “The fig and tomato sauce is actually very good…okay…the winner is…the blue team.”
The men hugged each other.
“You know,” said the master chef, “the rabbit is delicious, the only problem with that dish is the overwhelming garlic sauce, it’s just way too strong and overpowering everything else.”
The men smiled brightly, they were still dizzy with the realization that surprising wonder can be found in unexpected places. Without being completely forced to use those particular ingredients, no one would have ever paired figs and fish or pasta, but because they had to, because they were forced to, they used every bit of creative inspiration and cooking knowledge they had to try and create something unique and palatable. The women had an easy chance to win, they had classic ingredients, known ingredients that had been paired with each other for many, many years. The women had ingredients that sounded reasonable and known and acceptable…it was the men that were in no-man’s land, in completely unfamiliar territory. For the women, there had been no risk, but more than that, the very objective of the task had been to work as one, to build off each other and to compliment not only the ingredients but the skill set of the other team members, and in this, they failed. The deciding factor had been the garlic sauce, the very piece of the puzzle that did not have the spirit of collaboration within it.
It takes more than perfect building blocks to create something beautiful. With a sense of creative collaboration, you can take fish and figs and apples and pasta and tomatoes and create magic. You can take the most bizarre combinations and work them and re-work them and brainstorm and practice and stir and struggle and struggle some more and maybe…maybe something completely unexpected and truly glorious will emerge, something beyond the known, something far greater than you could have ever foreseen.

Monday, August 24, 2009


She was in the 400 quad, a cluster of classrooms in the shape of a square donut, each room’s door facing the cement courtyard outside that was marked with small patches of green grass in the process of turning yellow. It was the quad for math and chemistry, the quad where she had mostly learned to tune out and endure with open eyes but shuttered attention. Inside Mr. Payne’s classroom were six rows of steel legged chairs topped with a single piece of plastic that acted as both backrest and seat bottom. Six rows began five feet away from the blackboard and six chairs behind it stretched towards the back wall. Whether chosen or assigned, the chairs in the back tended to be filled with the failing and apathetic. Whether by design or happenstance, the tendency seemed to move through those back chairs like an angel feeding on determination and understanding. It was in one of these seats where she sat, just two chairs away from the back wall. It was true, she did not want to be there. She did not want to be in this small classroom, not in this sprawling school, not chained as she felt she was. She wanted to run through open fields and chat with runaways on the streets of Venice and splash in the ocean that beat against quiet rocks only an hour away. But she was complicit in her own constriction, driving everyday to this place, walking her body to each required class, coming back after lunch, the same routine each day until she couldn’t stand it and she would purposely drive past Indian Hill Blvd and keep on going till she hit the 10 freeway, then she let intuition guide her along cemented veins and to the strange encounters and mysteries that were waiting in the distance.
But most days, she found herself in Mr. Payne’s classroom. She occupied her time in many ways, but always aware of the slow moving second hand on the wall. As always, the man wore black running pants to school and paired it with a white T-shirt and unzipped running jacket. The material of his pants made a swishing sound as he walked and the elastic waistband accentuated his bubble butt. On top of the pants, around his waist, he accessorized with an overstuffed black leather fanny pack that bulged in the center and drooped down at a point, looking like a extra large penis. She saw him pull something out of it only once, she watched him curiously as he dug in deep for a calculator. It was his teaching style to turn his back to the class and work out math problems on the blackboard, mostly talking to himself in a slightly louder voice that if she paid attention, she could understand. But she didn’t care enough about it to weed through the gauze.

She had come back a few months ago from six weeks in Italy and she had been electrified ever since. Although she sat like a self-imposed prisoner, she let her mind drift and her hand draw. She brought her sketchpads to class, Mr. Payne’s and others, no teacher ever asked her to stop. She did what she called, “stream of consciousness” drawings. She was in the habit of using either blue or black ink pens and she would start by putting her pen to the paper. She would allow her hand to move, making a mark. She would just watch her hand, like watching a foreign object with a mind of its own. The pen would touch the white and it would all begin. She let her hand expand on the ink marking. Her mind would quiet and she would watch it all, her hand moving with quick intelligence. Lines turned into bulbous shapes and then those bulbous shapes expanded into other worlds. For many months she had let her hand move and work, turning mistakes into shapes and two dimensional movement.
She had done it enough times that she realized a particular process would always occur. She would begin the drawing, then at a particular point within the life of the piece she would come to the “uncomfortable stage,” the place where the drawing was only a rough outline of what was to come. There were forms, but none were finished. Sometimes she would step out of herself and look objectively at the paper. Seeing it this way, she would see scribbles and lines and messy ink markings. But this was also the stage of profound trust. The stage that always came but which also ended. She would dive back into the piece then, watching her hand, letting her body carry on, moving as it wanted, marking as it liked. She knew, very, very deeply, that the uncomfortable place was part of the process, a place to travel through that would end in delight and something she could never have planned.
Time and again, she would reach the uncomfortable stage and she would keep drawing, turning the page to the left or to the right, sometimes turning it upside-down until she saw a form or shape she recognized and then her hand would start expanding on the vision; and when there was nothing recognizable, she was content to create shapes that danced and twirled in on themselves. The uncomfortable stage was never the end, it was just the small hurdle, the gap that required patience to swim though, and for many years she trusted that knowledge.

But like a stone battered by a single drop, she eventually forgot the process, forgot the necessity of the uncomfortable stage, the same one that would occur over and over with each piece. Sometimes she would still draw, but she would hit the uncomfortable stage and get stuck. She would look at the piece of paper with critical intentions, through the eyes of another and she would see something ugly and unclean and unfinished. At this stage she would stop, thinking once again that she had failed. And she hit the wall over and over, always thinking that she had forgotten something. That she had forgotten how to draw or had lost inspiration…but she had forgotten the process. She stopped picking up pens and looking for paper and letting her hand take the reins, she thought that drawing was something that had come and gone, just like the force Bob Dylan had talked about in an interview she read a long time ago. It was something that had come in, from another place, from a place without words. It went through her, and now, she could not get back there.

And after many years of wandering a desert made of angst and tears and open questioning, she learned again about the uncomfortable stage, she learned another way to understand the gaps within the process. She looked at the intervals within the octave, the places to easily fall and be derailed, and she remembered that she had once recognized this interval when she had no name for it, and she had intuitively known that it was something that needed to be crossed with passion and zeal. And now, with a new language, she could begin again. It would all start with a new DO.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Release Of Pain

It all comes down to death. The machine wants to die. The machine wants to sleep and die. A warm sleep with no dreams and a soft pillow that might never be felt. In each release there is an explosion and in each explosion there is a death. The tear, the squirt, the shout, the laugh, the cut. The outward explosion is the death, of a moment, a chamber, an energetic movement. And the machine seeks death. To remain breathing, yet dead, that is an ever-present option. To remain asleep while the eyes are open, while the feet move, while the chest rises and falls.
Look for pain. Pain is my hand in the midst of flickering flames. Pain is hearing a baby screaming. Pain is being ignored. Pain comes with a swiftness that demands attention, it demands acknowledgement in one way or another. Pain requires the shifting of attention from one thing to another. Pain requires that I look at it and talk to it and indulge its wishes. My body begs me to look at its shape. My body wants pain to stop. My mind wants pain to continue. My machine desires the explosion. Pain needs to be hidden in the corner or given a bottle or smoked out of existence. Pain needs to be fed, consuming every thought and action and object in its path.
The body itself will only absorb a certain amount of pain, after that threshold consciousness is lost. It is the reason a baby cries itself to sleep, the reason a cold man would grab a bottle of whiskey or put a gun to his head. In one way or another, pain demands remedy. It demands attention, and the body demands an end. A death to the pain. Ends are found many ways. Pain wants an outlet, it seeks an explosion, an orgasm, there needs to be a resolution. Whether for one moment, or for a lifetime of recurring cycles, pain comes and comes and the body seeks over and over again to let it out in gasps, like a volcano releasing steam. Emotional pain can be covered in the mask of physical pain. A cut might relieve a little sadness. Pain can come little by little, mounting slowly until one day the landscape is a concrete path and a long row of trashcans. And as much as pain seeks a release, the body is addicted to the release itself, so over and over again, it finds reason for pain, creating the circumstances so a release can be had. The eternal cycle of death and sleep. Climb and fall, without any hope of ever reaching the top.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Nothing Ever Has Happened

Like wind that has no power, like a wave without sound, void of temperature or sensation, rolling past a body without shape or skin…the thought came over me. More than the thought, the moment of clear understanding, like the bell I ring every few minutes, sending its deep resonating power through my ears, penetrating the still air and layers of consciousness. I felt the moment come through me, roll through me, like an understanding that has traveled with a comet, past stars, though many outer levels, into this labyrinth. “I cannot be born” Oh. A tear stings. “Die.” Oh. “Exist.” Ouch. “Or change.”
The candle flickers in front of me. I take a deep breath. The body does. The body is born, the body dies, it changes…but the thing that moves through it, that thing inside this breathing flesh, it does not. There is no beginning, no end. It is. The thing with no shape, no characteristics, no form. I see.
Thank you. Thank you for the cosmic look into the blackness. Nothing ever has happened. The question I asked so long ago finally means something, the question is itself the answer. Depending on who does the asking.
Nothing happens to the unnamable. Nothing happens to the void, the void in which I am part of. Things happen to the body, or at least they seem to. The body can grow old and die and still, nothing ever will happen.
Two things happen simultaneously. One of flesh and nature, the other an eternal cosmic stillness that resides inside the movement of the body and light.
I sit in the garage, while the cold summer wind tries to make its way through a fleece blanket. This does not have to be learned in a cave deep in the Himalayas. It can be understood in a basement, with only a flickering flame and the sound of typing and sporadic coughs in the background. It can happen to a girl who talks slower, as deliberately as she can as other thoughts vie for space in her brain. And as thoughts seep in like oil into the bay, as they move like tendrils of smoke from the incense that burns a couple of steps away, a soft wave of knowledge rolls over the shores of consciousness.
Oh, and the tears.
The picture morphs like heat waves, taking on a manly harshness, becoming gentle, becoming a monster of blue and yellow and then a vague Mona Lisa smile. This woman from the corner house, twenty minutes from a place I call home. She is a part of me now, as much as she ever was, as much as I was blind to understand it. As I am one and there is no other. The body I never knew, but we are One. My mouth will move tonight, and while nothing has happened, it will. And I will watch and you will show and I will talk.
You were never born, I will never die.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Land Of Compost

About a week ago I went for a walk with an old friend and her boyfriend. They held hands as we walked along dirt paths that crisscrossed with cement sidewalks and litter-strewn black asphalt. I was just a few inches away, feeling the heat between their two palms, tasting the salty sweat of their mingling. We walked through El Salvador, the country of my birth, the land they still drink day after day and where I merely sip from the puddles every couple of years. We moved silently under thick leafed trees and through waves of humid wind. We walked in the shadow of our volcano creator and through plumes of black exhaust that whiled like svelte dancers with even thinner wings. Their words came, encapsulated in despair and a gray horizon. There were no jobs, the bellies of the countryside were still hungry. There were too many people for the small country and more were being born every day. The politicians still took their envelopes of cash and the people, the country of laborers and dreamers, extinguished their lights of hope with each sun that set.
And we walked, and they touched and I felt their words and their heat. Something had happened, they said. Something is happening. This little country of Central America, many times smaller than California, lost in the middle of a geological umbilical cord, this little country had become the most violent place on Earth. New-formed gangs dealt in drugs and crime. There was still the aftertaste of civil war, the death squads had been given new names but still moved through the open veins of city streets and political circles. There were murders every day, and not even the children held on to the dreams of pupusas and candy. El Salvador, they said, lacked purpose. On the glass coffee table of the earth, El Salvador was an odd shaped piece that didn’t fit the nearly-completed puzzle. There was no product they could deliver, nothing that they could contribute to a world of computers and trained technicians.

As they spoke of metal and machines and humans in cloaks and a world of parts, I started to smell the decaying forest floor. I saw mushrooms, I could almost taste the blackened rot of soggy leaves. I looked to my friend of flesh, her hips that gently moved as she walked, I looked to the right, past the street of busy cars and to the seven year old boy pushing a wooden cart of horchata. And then I couldn’t see, I didn’t see it with my eyes, but I felt as though the soil itself began to move through me, the energy of the land entered through the soles of my shoes and moved up my ankles and up through my legs and into my stomach, up and up…and they could not see it and I could not see it, but maybe this is what we had, perhaps this is what we were. We were the other, the subtle creation invisible to the modern eye, different than metal and shiny bits and cities of industry. What we had came from the ground, from the back alleys, from the black soil and the fields of bones. What we had was pumped out of the bloody streets of El Salvador and went up, vaporizing into a finer mist.

We, we machines of flesh. We, we readers and eaters and fuckers. We are a biomass. We are an endlessly repeating blob of flesh that feeds energy and information into a greater accumulator. We are, as Gurdjieff said a long time ago, "food for the moon.” We give to the nearly invisible. We give without knowing. We die, kill, are born, play…we do it without knowing that we ourselves are food. Our lives are the heat of the compost pile, a heap of orange rinds and tea bags and worms that make this smelly mess their home. As long as we walk with eyes closed, as long as we walk without a purpose, as long as we fuck to die we can be nothing but a massive compost pile, a burning pile that moves slowly in the great voidness of space.

The hot bloody biomass that is El Salvador serves as a place where dead life forms get broken down and, consequently, this space becomes a fertile breeding ground for new viruses, new language forms that slowly crawl up to the cold northern lands in a subtle invasion of broken English and ancient invocational rhythms. Maybe the planet has a need for a closed, warm environment, where the ancient and new codes can meet and explode into a thousand new mutations, splashing like burning rain over the borders of the industrialized nations. Such a place is bound to be violent, dangerous and unpredictable, especially when the sun shines with unrelenting force and the mutations multiply in multi-colored threads through the wide open sky. Maybe these things are as they should be, and it is only because we are deep in their entrails, in the very thrust of their movement, maybe because we are the movement itself, we slide into thinking that they shouldn’t be as they are. But regardless of what I want or don’t want, El Salvador continues, creation itself continues in its unrelenting and inherently beautiful grind, its multidimensional dance of life and death that will allow for no compromise.