He hopped atop the rock. The one holding down the table against the wind.
His piercing eyes gazed through the window. What life did they have beyond the glass barrier, he wondered.
There is good news out there–YES, REALLY! I just didn’t have time to find it this month. TOO much going on but I won’t bother you with that.
Instead, something I’ve been meaning to do for some time now–post an occasional excerpt from Waiting for Westmoreland. This is from the 2017 Tenth Anniversary Edition. This post does have its good news perspective–about an unorthodox introduction to the faith that has led me to create value over the years.
It’s condensed; two parts from the same chapter, closely related. Emphasis has been added that’s not in the text of the book.
FROM DEATH COMES LIFE. Two weeks after returning from Doug’s funeral, I attended a party. It was like most parties. People were standing around with a drink in one hand, a cigarette in the other, holding forth inanely on topics of little or no consequence. The more intoxicated they got, the more animated (but no more meaningful) the conversation became. Borrrrrinnng. It was Lorna’s party. She was a legal secretary, at the law firm where I clerked. I wasn’t obliged to go, from the self-interest perspective, as would have been the case if the invitation had come from one of the law firm’s partners. I went anyway. How could I turn down free food and booze? It was fortunate that I did. I met Lisa there, a member of Lorna’s carpool. They all commuted from Virginia to the K Street business district in DC.
Amidst the dull peoplescape of the party, Lisa sparkled like a mirrored ball above a dance floor. Who is that person? Why is she so alive, so different from the rest? I had to talk to her. I asked what it was about her that accounted for her obviously higher state of being than the rest of the partygoers. She explained that she was a Buddhist and she chanted.
“Oh, what do you chant—Nam-myoho-renge-kyo?” I asked.
“Yes! How did you know that?”
“Somebody told me about it two years ago at Springfield Mall. They invited me to a meeting but I didn’t go. When you said you were a Buddhist and chanted, it just popped into my head.”
“Do you remember who it was?”
“Well, they planted a seed. Once you hear it, you never forget it.”
A seed may have been planted, but in 1975, the ground surrounding and supporting my life was compacted too hard for it to sprout. That was before I had pursued another year and a half of law school without realizing I still didn’t know where I was going. That was before Liz split. Now, with less than a semester to go until the end of law school, Lisa would bring sun and rain to fertile soil. Widening cracks in my self-confidence ran in all directions after Liz left. Until then, I had reassured myself that once I learned enough, my path in life would become obvious. I would know what to do to make the world a better place. But it hadn’t worked out that way. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” He might have added that the over-examined life could be very frustrating in its complications and unresolved questions.
. . . .
Lisa and I hit it off right from the start in my soon-to-be-well-lubricated state. Although I didn’t know it at the time, what I perceived was the life-condition of a Buddha. I had no interest in talking further with any of the other partygoers. Compared to Lisa, they were semi-somnambulant. She wound up in my lap, where we blissfully exchanged kisses, heedless of the party continuing around but apart from us. The experience was nothing like what I supposed an orthodox introduction to Buddhism should be, but it was an effective one nonetheless. At the conclusion of the evening, in my intoxicated state, I couldn’t find a pen and paper to write down her phone number.
“I’ll remember your number,” I said, repeating it several times to ensure success.
“I’ll remember your kisses,” she replied, with a happy smile promising more.
It could only have been through a concerted act of will that I did remember the number. I called her the next day. I had to know why she had such a self-confident zest for life. More importantly, I had to know how I could get one. Recognizing my intellectual bent, Lisa gave me a thick book to read the very next time we were together, The Toynbee-Ikeda Dialogue. The book was a compilation of an extensive discussion between the noted historian Arnold Toynbee and Daisaku Ikeda, the leader of an international Buddhist lay organization (the Soka Gakkai). I read it quickly, ravenously. Three things running through the dialogue impressed me: pragmatism, humanism and hope.
The romance with Lisa was short-lived. The continuing one came two years later and has lasted for 40 years. You can read more about the start of that relationship in the link to the brief intro to Waiting for Westmoreland here on this site. The book’s hook, if you will.
The elegance of chance, a prompt for the “Munching Words Brunch.”
We used to meet on Saturdays at a local coffee shop. Now, with the pandemic, we meet Thursday mornings on Zoom. It’s poetry and prose by Southwestern New Mexico writers.
I seldom speak of my Buddhist faith on this blog, but it seemed workable to combine it with the brunch piece because the discussion of chance happens, not by chance, to feature some discussion of the practice.
On July 17, 1977, I received a scroll, a mandala, to which my attention is focused when I do morning or evening Gongyo. Gongyo is that assiduous practice that Nichiren Buddhists do twice daily. Reciting some parts of the Lotus Sutra and much more daimoku. You can find much more about that and other aspects of Buddhism in this PDF of a three-part series on Eagle Peak Press, my publishing site.
I took a ride on the Reading a few times—somebody else always owned it.
The chance of winning the jackpot on Power Ball or Mega Millions is slim. We play three or four times a year. Won back the price of a lottery ticket a couple times. Five dollars once. Sad seeing the poor folk buying 20 tickets or more when the jackpot gets huge.
Played cards in the hooch in Nam—never for money. At a $100 a month who the hell could take the chance. Besides, too stoned by then. Inelegant when mistakenly sipping from the reconstituted chocolate milk after somebody dropped a cigarette in it—don’t think I pitched the butt or sipped the mix. That memory eludes me.
Surely not chance smoking dope in a Spec-5’s private room—tiny purple fishes ran laughing through my fingers. His girlfriend sent him the LP with Cream’s Tales of Brave Ulysses.
Some might suppose it chance that the guy pulled in front of us from an on ramp on the interstate from Shively to Louisville at 4:30 am. Had to take my first wife to work before heading to Ft. Knox in 1969. Instinctively, at 60 mph, I did a four-wheel drift—cutting the wheel sharply to the left and stepped on the gas. We moved ahead into the next lane without a skid and kept moving. NASCAR people do it all the time. I never watched them. Just did it.
A chance encounter at the Depot. Platform shoes, elephant bells and the tank top—that was me. Don’t remember what she wore. She mirrored my every move on the dance floor. A one-night event.
The Depot was formerly a bus station, reincarnated as a club. I chanced to see Zappa and the Mothers—with Flo and Eddie. Not so elegant but certainly entertaining. Mitch Ryder and more. The club was short-lived.
By chance, my 2nd father-in-law worked at the depot, before the conversion, back when the gray dog still stopped there. He gave me with some very heavy (7-8 pounds) suede pants from the lost and found. Perhaps some performer left them behind—either a time traveler or heading for another venue. The 30-inch waist fit then. Doubtful it will again.
For a time, chance worked for me. Won tickets from WGTB a few times. A station owned by the very Jesuit Georgetown University. It played progressive/psychedelic music and had news from Pacifica. The school sold the station when they tired of the foolish radio guys making rude comments about the Church. But I did get to take a young fellow Buddhist to see Poco and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Even got a parking space next to GWU auditorium—impossible to park there. Tickets AND a parking space! Elegant indeed.
The Burrito Brothers were among the groups at the one and only rock festival I attended. Heard about it by chance. In an Iowa farm a 150 miles away from Minneapolis. Not that crazy about the Burritos, but the Chambers Brothers were fantastic. Lying on the grass and smoking it—perhaps not elegant. A bong, a chillum or at least a filter would have improved the Panama Red that liked to rip my lungs out.
Chance, elegant or otherwise, not something I really acknowledge anymore. Where others see it, I see karmic opportunities. It’s not fate or predetermination. The choice to take this path or another is still up to me—the available choice and the consequence of the decision is where karma comes in. That’s very elegant to me.
The tapestry of life—events occurring along the timeline of eternity. Painful or pleasant—experiences are what they are, and what we make of them. It’s not easy, mastering the mind rather than letting it master us. Decades ago, I never tried, now I do. Sometimes I even succeed, elegantly.
Herbie Hancock won Album of the Year for River: the Joni Letters in 2008—the first one for jazz in 43 years. A very humble and gracious man. I ferried him and his wife around DC a couple days in 1981 as I volunteered at a control center in L’Enfant Plaza for a major SGI event —the Aloha We Love America Rally. I did morning Gongyo with him, Tina Turner and Patrick Duffy. It wasn’t chance that I could get off from work to do this. It was elegant.
I had given up the weed by then. Children were on the agenda. Then there was the New Year’s Gongyo in Silver Spring, Maryland. A location 45 minutes from our Northern Virginia home. Didn’t see a drunk driver anywhere along the way. I did feel a sense of exhilaration surprisingly like the effects of marijuana. I didn’t really need it anymore.
The novel won’t be out for a long time. We (the wife and I) recently watched yet another movie of the ilk, The Fountain (2006, starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz; a good one). I d finally getting around to reading Paulo Coelho’s book, the Alchemist. Yes, the book of my dreams will be about Derek. Check out the Alchemist, you’ll understand.
That’s all part of the explanation about why I keep dropping Derek on you here, even though the book is far off–in time.
So here’s a mashup that will likely be substantially expanded, edited and filled in with more characters, dialogue, etc. Hope you find it worthwhile in this abbreviated form. (You may recognize a couple of the short Maine bits from previous blog posts).
With aching muscles burning, Derek paddled slowly through the cold water, watching walleyes leap in his midst. He regretted nothing of this journey, admiring the birch, aspen, spruce and fir. Visions of his voyageur ancestor warming his soul. Two centuries ago and more, the kernel of recall tickled his mind.
He must make camp soon, before the freezing night. Mosquitoes and flies were gone, replaced by a biting breeze. Snow and ice might visit you, warned the outfitter. Derek had no choice. Darjeeling—and then Maine, took longer than expected.
A gust struck, carrying him back in time. He had yet to control that trigger for the time-shift. His fur-laden canoe rode low in the water. Three pipes the map said, from the last to the next portage. He had smoked the third just as the gale blew him onshore. Like a latter day powerlifter, Luc jerked the beached canoe onto his shoulders with a half twist.
Derek, cum Luc, took the weight in stride. He had felt heavy burdens before. Beaver pelts lashed between the padded thwarts along with supplies. How long, he wondered, before he could put it all down. How long will this visit with his forebear be?
Luc stumbled on a root, nearly dropping the cargo, “sacré bleu!” Luc cursed. Je dois arrêter, Luc thought.
Yes, he must stop; he’s as tired as me, Derek realized.
Qu’est-ce que c’est?, muttered Luc, sensing Derek’s commentary.
Damn, I must be more subdued in the subconscious, Derek reminded himself.
Luc unshouldered the canoe in a clearing off the trail. He scratched his beard reflexively, as a deer fly buzzed round his head. Time to reapply the bear grease and skunk urine.
Damn, that stuff is nasty, Derek thought. No DEET back then.
But why here—why now? There must some significance in this trip in the life of Luc. An opportunity to make a change, a minor one, so as not to disturb the timeline too dramatically—or dangerously.
Derek swatted at a bug. No—not Maine, not now! The Mainahs call lobstahs bugs, a memory flash. He needed to remain with Luc. These bounces are getting out of control!
Luc looked right and left, startled again at Derek’s outburst in his head, just as Derek found himself in Maine, in the middle of a mystery story he’d read—The Dipping Bowls. It started like this:
“Never seen nothin’ like this Sheriff. I mean, we’ve had a few drunks; a few punks takin’ drugs but if we find out we get ’em outta heah real fast. We’ah real careful who we rent to.”
“I’m sure you are Fred. Why don’t you go out on the porch and sit down now, you’re still shakin. We can handle this in heah. We got any more questions, we’ll come out and talk with you.”
The bodies were still fresh, with the cold nights of early June in central Maine. Fred, the cabin owner discovered them. The renters were two days late checking out, so he went for a look see.
Derek read the tale while recovering in the hospital in Darjeeling. He went to sample the tea, riding the Himalayan National Railway “Toy Train.” An attempted side trip on the two-cup line caused the delay. “It’s been abandoned for decades, sir. No one speaks of it anymore—a bit of a scandal you see,” the station agent said.
Aunt Jane’s news clippings said nothing about that. Just a brief feature of his great granduncle Joffrey working as a conductor. His own research showed it offered female companions on special trips. Well, at least I can walk the railway path, Derek had thought. A brisk breeze blew along the abandoned railway. He found himself as a track maintenance worker, not as Joffrey. Just as Derek entered his mind, the man fell from a wagon hitting his head. Derek awoke in the hospital, his head bandaged, with his host in a coma. Strangely, Derek could read the mystery—the staff none the wiser.
The story demanded of Derek a physical trip to Maine, before heading to Minnesota. That’s why he didn’t get in the canoe until late October. He spent some time in Windham, where his seventh great grandfather settled in 1735. Genealogy seemed a good idea for a time traveler. From there headed for a camp on Schoodic Lake. That’s where he learned that’s what cottages were called in Maine if open only part of the year.
He met a girl from the neighboring camp. She saw him sitting alone, looking at the lake and walked over to say hello. He had some muffins.
“C’mon ovah’ “ she said, “I’ve got some coffee on.”
He did. He buttered the cornbread muffin with nearly melted butter. She accepted it with grace. She’d have preferred cranberry orange, but that could be her offering in a future encounter should the first bloom into something more.
She poured the strong coffee, thick with the sweet syrup of a local maple. An acquired taste in Maine. She thought he might like it, despite his choice of a corn muffin. She turned away briefly at the call of a loon and looked back at the hint of a smile forming on his face as he put down the mug.
“Well, can’t say I’ve ever had coffee like that,” his grin growing.
“It’s better with a bit of buttered rum,” she said, “it cuts the sweetness some.”
A gust off the lake took him back to Luc. How is this possible? A rerun journey—cut off? Ah well, it’s Luc’s time here and now–I’ll figure out what needs to happen.
A little something inspired by Suzanne Burke’s “Fiction in A Flash Challenge!” Week #7 .
Here is the photo prompt that brought this to mind.
Of all the times they’d gone to the Outer Banks, they had never strayed far from shore. They snorkeled. They beachcombed. They took the sail board lessons but never hang gliding or parasailing. She wanted to try surfing.
“Not for me,” he said, “the channels and the sandbars constantly changing—too risky.”
“Don’t be a wuss, Eddy,” she laughed, “I’m doing it.”
“All right, you go. Just stay away from the fishing piers and the inlets.”
Lighthouses. They loved the lighthouses. Especially the one that had to be moved inland as the shore eroded. It’s the image he saw that reminded him. How she got careless. Careless at that rocky, dangerous shore. The sun between clouds and a high barrier dune, blinded her. She looked away—the wrong way, avoiding the sun’s glare only to catch the flash of the automated lighthouse. She veered too late. Out of the channel onto the rocks emerging at low tide.
Yes, it’s the last Friday of the month, when bloggers unite to post some happy/good apolitical news. It’s all part of the We Are the World Blogfest.
As the catch-line and movie title from Monty Python ages ago said–“And now for something completely different.”
Some, in the negative camp, often say “no good deed goes unpunished.” A corollary might be, the bad guy always gets away with it. This year, a strange phenomena as occurred in America. Bad behavior IS finally being punished–or at least visible consequences are happening. At the same time, reforms from right-minded people are moving forward.
The US House of Representatives passed the George Floyd policing reform bill–on a party line basis. Meaning it’s doomed in the Senate. As anyone with any political sense knows, nothing will come in the way of police reform in Congress until 2021. BUT there is much happening in states and localities. That’s the good news of people finally making steps to remedy the abuses which have been visited on African-Americans for so long.
Here’s a clue: Black Lives Matter can better be understood among White folks (like myself) by adding the simple word TOO after it. All lives do matter, the problem is that up until recently, Black lives haven’t mattered as much or at all among the majority population.
On a different issue, the pandemic: All those governors (of Red States) who eagerly reopened their states from COVID-19 restrictions are reaping a whirlwind of rewards. The nonsensical barhopping, beach-going, partying no-mask folks who denied the existence of the pandemic or resisted restrictions on their freedom to get sick and die are learning they are on their way to non-fun hospitalization. Words and deeds sometimes do have consequences sooner than heaven, hell or the next lifetime. Sounds bad, but it’s a good thing, I believe–illustrating that following health and medical guidelines over economic and entertainment interests is the wiser choice.
NOTE: For those of you who may have missed my recent post of poetry (yes, I do occasionally venture there), it’s been updated to include some photos that may aid in your understanding. Here’s a link.
Ask me and I’ll tell you, I’m not big on poetry–reading it or writing it. I’ve been exposed to more lately. Made me think that maybe, just maybe, I should putter around with it now and then.
We live high atop a New Mexico hill now. We lived and vacationed on the East Coast in days gone by. Do your senses take you to other places and times? Perhaps you don’t know what some of these things look like. We have added some images to aid you.
Summer winds push pinion–rustle bear grass
Breezes bounce off prickly pear–chuck cholla
Gusty wind’s wake strikes my ear
Waves breaking on the shore
The Mid-Atlantic, not New Mexico
Avon or Buxton–the Outer Banks
Warm and breezy–here or there
Hours go by, chilly gusts come–damp with rain
Temps drop quickly–a passing front
A decade ago in Virginia–here
Something different—excerpts from Waiting for Westmoreland (WFW) mashed up with blog posts from here. Or, in this case, from an unpublished story. Why, you may ask? It came to me in exercising on a treadmill one day—in the water. It’s an experiment–please tell me what you think.
Explore the shift in consciousness/perspective from 2007, when WFW was first published. Or better, the 10th anniversary edition from 2017. From memoir to fiction—scene to scene. Places and time. Events or feelings. Those posts, some of them, will wind up in a collection—maybe novella length. Something in the writing will link the WFW excerpt and the post—perhaps subtle, perhaps not. You will find it.
From WFW, Chapter 13 — Love and Death, Here and There
Finally, on June 13, 1970, Jill and I went on our long-awaited first date, a Neil Diamond concert at the Minneapolis Auditorium. I picked her up at her home, still wondering whether I should be doing this and why she had picked me out of a university crowd. Despite my doubts, I couldn’t help being excited about it anyway. Nearly to the open car door, she turned back to wave goodbye to her husband Dave, an average-looking guy perhaps a few years older than she or I. He was standing in the doorway, leaning down a little to get a look at me, waiting behind the wheel. It would be 2:30 a.m. before I brought her home. While the agreement with Dave did not extend to sleepovers, apparently it didn’t preclude wild sex. In the face of my earlier self-doubts, Jill assured me that I had nothing to fear in future amorous adventures with women. How encouraging.
Then it was on to a summer of sex. It was the best sex I had ever had, not that I had had so much sex by the age of 23.
I even got comfortable going out together with both Dave and Jill or spending time with them at their home. Not that we all went to bed together, since none of us were into group sex. We all went to Wisconsin one weekend, to visit her family, including her parents, brother and sister. They introduced me as a friend of the family, which, of course, by then I was.
Life was good, too good. It had never been so good. Five years later, when I first heard the Brian Ferry sing, “Love is the drug,” my time with Jill immediately came to mind. Like a drug, my attachment to Jill was an intoxicating addiction. It left me in a state of withdrawal when I didn’t get my fix and made me willing to do whatever I had to, to get it. I surrendered control of my heart and my life to Jill, playing by her rules, keeping nothing of myself in reserve.
In October, Jill gave me the news, over coffee at Coffman Union. “It’s over,” she said.
“What do you mean, over?”
“I’m leaving Dave.”
“So,” I began, optimistically “Does that mean you’ll be spending more time with me?” Continue reading
Back in 2013, James Galvin wrote a well-received western novel called Fencing the Sky. This post has only a slight connection to it–a writing prompt from a Zoom-hosted small group of local writers in southwestern New Mexico.
This will likely be the extent of it, but who can say.
Big Sky Country—where the well-off buy land to get away from it all. And to have great views. Views of mountain peaks and more. One would never think anyone would be concerned with air rights, the ability to add on stories to a house or have unobstructed views without interference from neighbors. Neighbors are mostly far away in Montana. Still, some folks might want to ensure they had unrestricted rights of that big sky over their acreage. That’s what popped into the head of one entrepreneur. Thus, was born BS Fencing.
“Look, Jane, there’s our fence—20,000 miles up in the sky over our ranch,” Bill was thrilled when he saw the gossamer fibers glistening in the morning sun.
“Seriously, you can see the wires from here?” she shared his enthusiasm, though she doubted the reality of a nanoparticle-formed fence.
“Yes, right here on the screen. They have a feed from a ground station for all the landowners, tuned to each geolocation. Shows up shiny when the Sun’s overhead and little different at night, when the fence is illuminated through the optical fiber.”
“Wow, cool. Hard to believe they can put that orbital fence up from that space elevator transport station!”
“Well, that’s technology for you. For just $25 a month we can see our fence anytime. Anybody messing with our view, they’ll let them know it’s our space they’re violating. Course, it’s us that must take action on it. They don’t enforce the rights for us.”
“Yeah, I guess that could run some serious money with lawyers and all. But a warning should be enough.”
“That’s what I figured.”
The fence package was an addon that came with the Big Sky Country land package. Fifty-thousand acres subdivided into 50-acre parcels, with water, solar and satellite internet available for a reasonable fee. The agent said she didn’t make any commission on the fence package—it was just a special that the owner was offering. All she knew was the name of the company—BS Fencing. She passed along the brochure—got a lot of takers too.
The landowner assembled the acreage for himself, planning on a combo preservation deal where he could have an easement to graze cattle where that worked and ski chalets on the mountain sections. After the people got tired of cow pies everywhere and rutty roads he gave up on that plan. The ski slopes were nothing like Vail or Aspen either. That’s when he broke the acreage back down and put the whole thing on the market. He planned on moving to Alaska—a bigger frontier.
BS Fencing—one might assume it stood for Big Sky. Not really. The entrepreneur that came up with it was a software engineer with a larcenous streak. Started out as a hacker but the Feds and the White Hats were always after him. Cybersecurity was a hassle even for hackers. That’s when he heard about the land package. He had an inspiration one night smoking some good stuff from neighboring Colorado. Knowing what he did about satellite tech, he knew he could produce the content. All he had to do is sell it.
No problem creating the feed. He made a deal with an orbiting communication satellite. Just like all the content providers, they could shoot his fence images to subscribers for a small piece of the monthly fee. All he needed was a good brochure and a small, really small, sales staff.
It all went well until some retired engineer bought a parcel. He wasn’t taking the addon. He was calling them up though. He saw through the name right away—this is all a bunch of Bull he told the guy on the phone. He knew there was no way they could be doing what they said they were. BS Fencing soon was no more. Off to another scam somewhere else.
There are so many people and organizations worthy of recognition during the pandemic sweeping the world. Frontline medical professionals. Support staff at hospitals or health centers. EMTs, food pantries, grocery store workers, delivery people and so many more. Most of which are often mentioned, if not featured on news shows. So, let’s consider others—the ordinary folks that are doing their best to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Those are the people who are wearing masks in public. The ones who are maintaining physical distance from fellow human beings. That signifies that they care enough about the well being of others as they do about themselves. The masks are to protect others from themselves—not the other way around. Yes, it’s frustrating not being able to freely enjoy time in restaurants and bars, socializing with friends. It’s bothersome having to sit or stand apart.
Freedom is not being able to whatever one wants whenever and wherever it suits you. Freedom comes with responsibility and respect. Respect for the health and safety of others. That’s why there are laws against driving vehicles while drunk. That’s why smoking tobacco is prohibited in stores, restaurants, offices and other buildings. Secondhand smoke is hazardous.
Asymptomatic people can spread the virus to others. One cannot assume that he or she is free from COVID-19. That’s why one is not free to go about without wearing a mask, risking spreading the disease to others. Others who may die.
So, I want to thank those people who endure a tiny impediment to their own freedom by wearing a mask and maintaining a safe distance. Those are not politically correct actions–they are ethically essential behaviors.
Your cohosts for this month are Eric Lahti, Susan Scott, Dan Antion, Damyanti Biswas, and Inderpreet Kaur Uppal. And if you want to read more uplifting articles, please visit the WATWB Facebook page here or the Twitter home page here to find links to other stories.