Tuesday, February 07, 2006

self portrait

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Friday, April 22, 2005


The following poem was given to me by a fascinating practitioner of the aesthetic, British actor Robert Lloyd, no doubt after I had failed grandly at some thing or another.

I enjoy reading it often. The author’s name, Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi, stands for Love and ecstatic flight into the infinite. Rumi is one of the great spiritual masters and poetical geniuses of mankind and was the founder of the Mawlawi Sufi order, a leading mystical brotherhood of Islam.

He was born in Wakhsh (Tajikistan) in 30 September 1207 to a family of learned theologians. Escaping the Mongol invasion and destruction, Rumi and his family traveled extensivly in the Muslim lands, performed pilgrimage to Mecca and finally settled in Konya, Anatolia, then part of Seljuk Empire.

If there is any general idea underlying Rumi's poetry, it's the absolute love of God. His influence on thought, literature and all forms of aesthetic expression in the world of Islam cannot be overrated. And, he remains an inspirational poet today.

Here's the poem Bob Lloyd gave me on one of my dark days:


Come, whoever you are,
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of learning,
It doesn’t matter.

Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.
Come, come yet again.



This poem by Angelos Sikelianos sat me right down; and, opened my mind right up.

Through the new wound that fate opened in me
I felt the setting sun piercing my heart,
like the sudden surge of the wave
entering through a gash
in a ship rapidly sinking
or at last that evening,
like a man long sick who first comes out
to milk life from the outside world,
I was a solitary walker on the road
that starts from Athens,
and has Eleusis as its sacred goal,
for this road always was for me
Like the road of the soul…flowing
like a great manifest river:
wagons slowly drawn by oxen,
full of haystacks or logs, and other
carriages quickly passing
with the people inside them like shadow
but farther on, as if the world were lost
and nature alone were left, little by little
a stillness settled…and the rock
I saw rooted at the edge,
appeared like a throne the centuries
had destined for me. And, as I sat,
I crossed my hands around my knees,
forgetting whether I had started that day
or whether I had taken
this same road centuries ago…


In this economy of selfishness, I find these last written words of Mishima's life pearls of wisdom:

“people attatch too much importance to life…if a human life has an important meaning it is because of some relationship with other human beings. From this springs the principle of honor.

Life rests on this idea.

There are two types of existence in this world: that of animals, who simply obey their instincts, and that of men, who consciously devote their lives to serving something outside themselves…if men merely existed, what a burden it would be.

We suffer because we want life to be different from what it is.
We suffer because we try to make pleasurable what is painful, to make solid what is fluid, to make permanent what is changing.
We suffer because we try to make ourselves into something real and unchanging when our fundamental state of being is unconditionally open and ungraspable – selfless.

By accepting the impermanence and selflessness of our existence , we will stop suffering and realize peace.”

Mishima wrote these words in 1966 moments prior to committing seppuku


This poem from the Pima culture works like a Zen koan for me:

Many people have gathered together,
I am ready to start the race,
And, the swallow with beating wings
Cools me in readiness for the word.

Far in the west the black mountain stands.
Around which our racers run at the noon.
Who is this man running with me,
The shadow of whose hands I see?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Ode to "BUD", the cat

Writing about a cat is like pondering an enigma: there is cat laid out before me, unanswerable and mysterious, napping there in his feline sprawl: there's nothing to write about, unless the cat has taken over your favorite spot.

Tonight I realized our front patio is actually the throne of our family cat, “Bud”.

Bud is one of those cats your young son insists he will totally take care of: then, 15 years later, it’s all you and your kid is gone. I never liked cats much; and, certainly didn’t want this one.

The patio, my favorite spot here at home, is a 15 foot by 15 foot cement slab kind of stuck on the front of our house with a heavy, pointed overhang roof, around which I have nailed up white plastic, crisscrossed fencing that almost completely encloses it. I left a five foot wide opening facing the door, so it empties out on the street. It's almost invisible in there from the street.

Inside the fencing are white Christmas tree lights in a try at re-producing Stanley Kubrick’s lighting schemes. On the floor are squares of rattan as outdoor rugs. And, there are lots of fall leaves, even ‘tho I’ve got hazy vinyl plastic tacked up all around the inside to keep a little weather out. It’s ‘off code’ for my neighborhood and kind of crappy but I love it out there. It’s my funky spring, summer, fall think tank. My private, little throne zone.

There are four chairs out there, three of them are passed-on plastic lawn chairs from a friend a few years ago and a leather director’s chair I bought at the local Church Shop for five bucks. Also, a black metal table with a cheesy lamp on top and a couple of Vice magazines on the bottom platform.

Back against the wall, rather in the center of the seating arrangements, is Bud’s pale cream, fluffy pillow where he oversees his domain, weather permiting.

He’s real old now, has a nasty tumor on his jaw and his hair is getting ratty. He came to us from London’s Humane Society after they found him just born under a Soho bridge. Bud grew up in London's West End as my son’s dearest pet, then moved with us to a barn on a West Branch, Michigan farm, and lastly, now lives in a quiet Detroit suburb. In a tough, old stray cat's paradise!

Bud has always been an outdoor cat. He’s thoroughly British: Always been ‘offish’ / Never warm and cuddly. So, for most of his life I’ve kind of resented him. “Did you feed the cat, honey?” “Could you do the cat litter, honey?” This for a cat who never acknowledged I existed. A cat whose contribution has been killing my favorite birds.

I first warmed to Bud on our farm in Michigan. One day, I heard these screams from my barn, then saw this large, orange and black scruffy, farm cat running like Hell from our barn toward the road below. A moment later, here came Bud sauntering toward the house having just routed out a stray that was to his dislike.

Skinny as he always has been, he’s a tough, eccentric cat and I’ve grown to respect and like him. Now over 17 years old, the Vet has told us he’s dieing.

So, this is probably his last Fall where he protests coming into the house. Prefering to stay outside as long as possible, sleeping during the day in my private throne zone, while the birds and squirrels float around and by him drowsing the day away in my favorite spot!

My wife and I are giving him lots of love; and, the son who raised him has asked to be there at his last. And, I keep his pillow nice and fluffy.

The scraggly old bastard has been a good pet after all.

Saturday, April 16, 2005


I'm getting some very nice responses on this really interesting poem.

The author was born in 1830 in London. She was published in the Germ, the Pre-Raphaelite journal, and sat for a number of paintings by the Pre-Raphaelites, including some by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The existential themes in her poetry turned from unrequited love to the renunciation of earthly love. Death hovered above all of her work, like the demon in Fuseli's Nightmare. Christina Rossetti's famous poem "Goblin's Market" is an amazing meditation on women as sexual prey.

She was a devout Anglican who never married. There's this sexist assumption that something is solemn about women who never marry. Men who don't marry 'tho seem roguish and sexually charged. Anyway, she died in 1894. And, her poetry rocks, dig this:

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling
The wind is passing thro'

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads
The wind is passing by.

by Christina Georgina Rossetti

Monday, March 28, 2005


By Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Where Is The Outrage?

Halting Human Rights Defender

Some time ago I attended a talk at Detroit’s Focus HOPE Gallery by Ursiline nun, Sister Dianna Ortiz. And, now reading how our government is outsourcing it's cruel treatment of our prisoners, I am moved to plunk this story right back into my blog. For, I am still wondering: Where is the outrage?

Attending this event wasn't like going out to the movies or the theatre; going in, I knew it was going to be highly emotional; and, I'm a person who cries at every single wedding I attend. Like the sucker I am, I sat up front and near the speaker's podium.

Let me set the scene:

15 years ago, while teaching Mayan children to read in Guatemala, Sister Dianna was abducted by soldiers there, gang raped and brutally tortured. When the Red Cross finally got her they found over a hundred cigarette burns on her body. She was to tell her story to us as it was recorded in Kerry Kennedy’s beautiful book, “Speak Truth To Power”.

She was introduced by the St. Leo’s church Pastor, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who worked with her in Guatemala; and, subsequently prayed with her during her hunger strike in front of the Clinton White House (Mrs. Clinton came to her aid). She’s young still, and dressed this evening in a black and dark grey skirt and jacket.

She reminds me of a soft, brown eyed Audrey Hepburn. She has a pretty head of dark hair and someone has given her a bright yellow flower corsage to wear. She pauses, standing before the microphone, gathering her strength.

Her voice is untrained and not one accustomed to public speaking. It’s scratchy and halting. She begins to explain that experts have informed her that the re-telling of her story will bring healing, but so far she hasn’t found a fellow torture victim who can release the horror of it, nor can she. She tells us, “Torture shackles itself to you, so that you are always in its grasp. Fully there for me whenever I hear keys rattling or smell cigarette smoke.”

Handkerchief in hand, she rubs sweat from the back of her neck. As she recounts the horrific details of her torture, tears begin streaming down my face. The room of 500 or so is very still. Finally, she can take it no longer and asks our forgiveness for a moment and steps down to her chair. Everyone exhales and prays for her, I am sure. She holds her face in her hands and tries to calm herself down sufficient to continue.

We wish she didn't have to.

For the next hour she confirmed our worst nightmares about torture, the evil governments (ours particularly) inaugurate, and described the responsibility she now bears in having to share her anguish. We learn that the man apparently in charge of the rebels who tortured her was an American agent working for our government in Guatemala.

One of the last things her torturer told her was “No one will care!” Her solution was to form www.tassc.org. And, to “Speak truth to power.” at evenings like this one.

In closing she asked us, “For all that so many of us have suffered, and the thousands who are suffering at this moment: “Where is the outrage?”

Her question still resonates.

If we allow Sister Ortiz's experience, and the so many others we learn about, to slip quietly into the past, aren't we like the thousands of German citizens who, when questioned about the genocidal atrocities comitted by their government, said, "We didn't know what that smell was."

I am adding this anecote to this piece: it was written by Sister Ortiz on Easter Sunday 2005:

"For those of us who are both Christians and survivors of
torture, Good Friday has an additional meaning. It is
but one more reminder that for the tortured, every day
is Good Friday-in the sense that during every day of the
year, there are those who hang on one government's cross
or another, tortured as was Jesus 2000 years ago.

>From that day to this, governments that torture have
justified what they do, saying 'What we have done is
only what we had to do.' Rather than calling it
torture, we are assured that what is done-whatever it
is-is "for the protection of the state, the protection
of you, the people.' If questioned closely, we are
assured that, 'There is no blood on our hands.' If there
is blood-that is, if it cannot be denied that blood has
been spilled-then it is not the leaders who spilled it
but, only those on the lowest levels from whom such
barbaric acts may be expected.

So it has been for a long time, and so it is today. Our
leaders attempt to keep secret what they do. When they
are caught, they claim that what they do is not what
they do-that is, they lie. When they cannot deny what
was done, they blame others-those far from them,
'hillbillies' and 'bad apples'- intentionally using code
words to imply, 'They are not like us. What can you
expect from those with no culture?' It is as if what
happened on that Friday so long ago was caused by a few
Roman bad apples, low-level soldiers, standing around
the cross, acting on their own to produce that death
agony taking place there.

In this, the holiest time in the Christian calendar,
what might we ask our leaders? What might we ask that-
although they will not give it- is within their power to

In the spirit of Easter, might we at least hope for a
resurrection of truth from President George W. Bush and
those who work for him? Instead, what we hear is
something like: 'Renditions occur, it is true, and
indeed to countries that torture. But we make sure to
ask them if they intend to torture this particular
person and they say, 'No, of course not.' And we, of
course, believe them." We are asked to accept this type
of statement as truth. Donald Rumsfeld certifies
procedures which are plain and simple torture (not
abuse), yet he meant them to be used only in Guantánamo-
not in Iraq, for heaven's sake. He is not responsible
for what happened there. It's those bad apples. All
agree they must be punished, and they are. No blood on
Rumsfeld's hands." Sister Dianna Ortiz, 2005

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


My bride and I sought a place to have our first baby, now 30 years ago. My mother was recently deceased and my British wife was just stepping off of a whirlwind, 18-month theatrical tour. We felt we needed a divergence from our prior lives. Too, like most newlyweds we hoped the union might inaugurate a better each of us. It did me, and our sons are testimony to the union’s health.

Much like the Thomas Gray elegy, we sought a quiet place away from the calamitous rushes of our lives.

“Far from the maddening crowd’s ignoble strife
their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept their noiseless tenor of their way."

I had inherited a box full of cash, we were in love, and a honeymoon cum life quest became our manifest. We visited her family and friends in Britain, bought a sailboat in Florida with dreams of sailing the Caribbean, got pregnant, then newly navigated ourselves toward a sweeter place than the Devil’s Triangle to have our first born.

Some fool bought our cutter rigged, 49’ sail boat (doubtfully named, the “Halcyon”), and we loaded up our used Toyota’s U-haul trailer and drove off out of Florida. Bride, navigating from a road map of the lesser-traveled blue highways and headed west.

We knew there were extraordinary people out there and we wanted to find them.

We drove slow, so she could see rural America with all the windows down. My left foot, mostly perched up on the dashboard when not shifting and the seat kicked way back. Marlboro and Jamaican reefer smoke roiling out the windows. We cruised up, along, and around the rural American South West allowing the grid of normal life to drift off in our smokey trail.

We stayed one night in an old Texas Stage Coach stop, just anointed as a national landmark; it’s soul not yet trampled by the State. Miles and miles later, suffered good-old boy stares at my long hair and sailor’s tan in a few back road Texan coffee shops, and rolled on further West up Colorado, past Elephant Buttes (which my new wife thought charming to have been named after an elephant’s rear end); and, drove on and through Denver’s thick, yellow smog, turning further left up into the magnificent Rocky Mountains thinking the mountains a fine place to let our baby out.

But, no: most of the towns up there were either for the rich and fancy or inhabited by women wearing combat boots and calico dresses. None seemed the future reflection of our union.

We circled the mountains, ate here, slept there, and looked real hard. Finally, deciding to drive up toward Utah where a lady was making and marketing baby backpacks we thought were cool. (When you’ve got a pocket full of cash like we did, long wide turns in the road, like this one, come easy; and, who knows, we might have liked the place!)

We got our baby backpack and found ourselves in Salt Lake City, which we found to be an eerie place, on the West side of a big mountain. History being the only item of interest there, we grabbed a San Francisco newspaper and over breakfast my wife noticed an ad in there for a house for rent in Mendocino County, California, an area she had been shown when performing in San Francisco and recalled it as a Pacific Paradise. We called the ad. Then, drove straight to it. U-haul full of bathing suits and sailing gear bouncing along behind us.

The freeway out of Salt Lake only goes down, so the drive pretty much impelled us right into northern California. The house overlooked the Pacific Ocean in a gorgeous surround of pine, madrone, and redwood trees. I coughed up a few grand and we moved in to what I still consider the finest place in the world.

As dumb luck and good fortune would have it, we found ourselves surrounded by a reclusive colony of Artists who preferred anonymity in the vast Redwood forest to the film façade glitter of the town of Mendocino itself, a few miles north of where we were. Our town was (is still) called Point Arena. It had old-fashioned board sidewalks, a few stores, a breakfast café, and a tsunami blown out port with a fabulous bar still operating in it on Friday nights. Some would have called it a Hippie back woods Paradise; and, it was. Is.

The area is still famous for the Thai weed grown in its national wilderness forests. It was rumored that the Mexican Government was managing several thousand acres of weed way far back in there beyond anyone’s reach. Local gendarmes were afraid to go back into those woods on account of the legendary Vietnam vets who were big time growers; and, knew from the Vietcong how to booby trap an area.

When our 6-month lease ran out, we bought a house of our own back in the woods nearby, with a driveway that curved right down to the ocean’s edge at Route One. Our nearest neighbor was a half a mile away to the north. Once immersed into the culture there, a quiet world of Artists and fellow recluses opened up to us. Our days were spent in idle, watching my wife’s tummy grow, and embracing the awesome beauty of the area we were living in. And, total commitment to raising our new son.

On hot summer days we would load up our rusty ‘45 Dodge pick up truck, drive it back into the vast national forest to our East, and forage wood for our fireplace. (It rained six to seven feet of water every year there; and firewood was our only source of heat. The last year we lived there we burned up six cords.) On these wood foraging missions we would park the truck near a little offshoot of the Gualala River, and plunk our baby’s plastic baby chair in the cool creek so the cool water could slide over his chubby little body, while we chain sawed a cord or two of oak or madrone trees that had fallen near the river. We’d do this as naked as our baby was in his little chair in the creek. Load up the wood and drive it home. This was life appropriately distant from the maddening crowd for me; and, delicious to live.

Made more so by the amazing people we came to know. Recluses like “Redwood”, who was a tall, blonde man who owned and operated a very successful, several thousand acre commune well back in the woods. One day I had coffee with him at the little breakfast café in Point Arena, and as he left he said, “Well Randy, I’m off for India.” And came back a year later! Far, far from the grid.

I also became very fond of a man named “Kentucky John”. You’d see him in his overalls and long beard, riding his bicycle along U.S. Route One almost everyday. His mission was to be out there helping kids keep their bikes running. A few years prior to being the area Bike Angel, John quit his job as Principle Photographer for Architectural Digest magazine in San Francisco, bought an old school bus, drove it up to Mendocino, turned right into the woods and drove it in there as far as she would go, then shut it down and turned it into a metallic home on rotting wheels, finally turning it into a live in-shop and turning out world class metal gates and doors.

Brian was another oneovakind man there who fascinated. Having grown up on a busted down little horse ranch in rural Montana Brian, graduated high school there with a four year, full ride scholastic scholarship to Harvard University. He graduated Harvard with honors; after which, he drove straight back to his home in Montana, got his rifle and mountain man gear and drove off to California, landing smack dab at the beach in Point Arena. The day I met him he was washing down a carburetor part in oil in the musty garage next to his beach shack in the sand hills north of town. Within days he had me out in the mountains behind us hunting wild mountain goats and boar. For Brian lived entirely without cash. He traded for everything except the fish he caught, wild animals he killed, skinned and ate, his garden and the odd mechanical part that he might fix in exchange for lead and powder for his guns. For all I know he’s still living off the grid somewhere in the California wildnerness.

Even a girl of with a name like: Magnolia Thunderpussy could find a home there. Magnolia was a California girl who married a Native American named, “Chief Thunder Pussy”. The magistrates in San Francisco, who married her, wrote her new name on the record books as Magnolia Thunderpussy; which set in motion her famous cafés. The first, I am told, was in San Francisco, and simply called “Thunderpussy’s”. Her second was in Point Arena. It was on the second floor of the area’s only retail shop and open on one or two weekend nights. You could buy a coke or a coffee in there, but most customers just smoked that fabulous Mendocino weed on the way in. It was broadly known that blues singer Taj Mahal used to hitch hike up the Mendocino Coast with his guitar. Apparently, he played at Thunderpussy’s café, but I never saw him there. One night when my wife and I were in there with about eight or nine other locals, a lone guy was playing guitar and singing like an old, black blues man. You’d of thought he could-should do it for a living, so good he was. Later I was to learn it he was John Fogarty of Credence Clearwater fame. I don’t think the café made any money because it wasn’t there for long. But, it was world class while it was. I have found nothing like it in the planet’s more urbane environs.

When we allow ourselves to be like cattle buying into lives of constant repetition, never straying from the grid, and suffering the false security of ‘normal’ lives, we miss the music playing out there in places like Thunderpussy’s Café. That is a no no by me.