News of the World

Today’s briefing is culled from assorted anonymous postings.

Messages regarding the state of the world tend to vary widely depending on the source, and since variety is what I was looking for this morning, I decided to get today’s early briefing from craigslist. Among top stories, a man known only as “shameless robber” has abducted wax apples from the garden of an ailing old woman. He claims he was just drinking water, but this reporter isn’t buying it. Which is nothing compared to the tall guy who had a custom sectional made and delivered before he wiggled his way (comfortably, we assume; it seems like he’s done this before) out of paying for it.

Who says that nothing good comes free? There are free pallets in Alisa Viejo, free notary services for active military, a yard sale this Saturday, and money being raised right now to cover medical bills. There is new music, a new bike shop, personal body sculpting (who can resist?) and, above all, this urgent reminder, all caps: HANG ON. KEEP CALM.

In other news, a woman without transportation would appreciate very much if someone would bring over a case of beer. IPA preferred, and rest assured: payment will be rendered upon payday next week.

There is no need to feel alone in this city. A mobile detailing car service can come over at any hour with amazing prices and reliable service, and there is a group meeting tonight in East County for individuals seeking an avant-garde interpretation of the Bible. If you’d like to spice up your daily commute with fresh company, there is no shortage of people ready to join you.

There is a new litter on Elm Street, an avid stargazer seeking company, a cornhole fall league, and a Dungeons and Dragons campaign looking for adventurers. Also, free dental hygiene services available from students, for anyone willing to wait.

You may not be aware of this, but you are leaving money on the table the longer you wait to join this quadrillion-dollar industry. Fortunately, there is a number you can call. Act now.

We can: build a yoga community, a film noir appreciation club, a craps club, these support groups, adult baseball, a sparring group, or just meet for a beer on Spring Street. So, what are you waiting for?

There are angels and no need to stay stuck. There is a nerdy outlet, a coffee shop friend, a focus group, and a well-muscled man available for private modeling gigs. Do you play drums, have too much stuff, need to get in shape? Do you need a washer/dryer, a group of paranormal enthusiasts, some fishing equipment? You can find it. It is here. Join us. 

I continue to appreciate the depth, breadth, and scope of coverage provided by the collective reporting of anonymous individuals and will return regularly for updates and breaking news. 

Magic for Monday

No tricks, no misdirection, no spectators. This is magic.

Mondays are when I need magic. Fortunately, there are books for this, and I have a few. I buy these on the pretense of character research and then use them as I see fit. Today, I’ll be scanning magician Joshua Jay’s Complete Course in the spirit of looking for clues as to how to manage this day. 

First, consider the classic pose of magician, a long-revered symbol of beginnings. Consider one arm to the heavens, the other to earth, a channel from energy to matter. Then consider this: you’re holding a book of secrets. You want to learn the art. Look around the room. Tell me: Where is the elephant now?

No tricks, no misdirection, no spectators. This is magic. Here is direction. These are participants.

Old dogs, new tricks: you can breathe new life into old props.

Now practice. Make a wave with your fingers. Call this a warmup. Repeat. 

Now hold this coin at the base of your fingers. Relax, turn your hand over.

Keep it invisible. Now go about your normal routine. 

Make the Phoenix disappear, then see the vanished match reborn! The hand is quicker, look. 

Make a prediction. Volunteer. A tube of lipstick, a small bill, a shoe. Any object will do, but force the lipstick. Wait. You can’t rush a miracle.

Hands down, where’s the card? Take this bread.

They call conjuring the poetry of magic. 

Shuffle, shuffle, pinch, peel. 

Remember: you are not a magician, but an actor, playing the part.

Inspired by:  Jay, Joshua. Magic: The Complete Course. Workman Publishing, 2008.

The Last Man

There is a story that the fathers used to tell, of the fire that burned the world.

After his brothers and his father, his father’s fathers, and his mother’s mother; after her sisters and their daughters and granddaughters were erased, he remained with his mother and his sisters until they died.

Then he was hungry. He took a calf. He was captured by a nineteen-year-old slaughterhouse worker and a self-proclaimed cowboy. He smiled as they handcuffed him. He did not resist. 

What is your name? Now they wanted to know.  I have none, he told them. They called him the last wild Indian, took him to the sheriff.  He sat peacefully. Many came to look. The Last Stone-Age man, one paper proclaimed, of this quiet survivor. His people, all gone now, had been egalitarian, reclusive, resistant to central authority. They once protected the canyons, but these canyons were near the fields of gold, and the newcomers, wild with fever, were armed for bear. They surrounded the peacemakers, hunted the gatherers, cornered them in a cave, in a ravine, and fired. A few had fled the fire, to hide on higher grounds.

Tradition, all but erased, lived in him. Tradition had been clear about his name. Tradition demanded: Never reveal your name to an enemy. Never reveal your name until you are introduced by a friend

Soon after he emerged from the mountains outside of the city of gold, soon after he was taken into custody, members of the anthropology department at Berkeley took note. They came to collect him from jail. They brought him on campus, made him a custodian, then a research assistant. He learned English.

But what is your name? They asked him. I have none, he insisted, because there are no people to name me. Among the Yana, now extinct, the word for man was Ishi. They called him Mr. Ishi. He was often ill. Over time, until he died of tuberculosis, he taught the white doctor who treated him to make arrows and bows, how to hunt. This white doctor became known as the father of modern bow hunting.  The original fathers were gone.

There is a story that these fathers used to tell, of the fire that burned the world. When Coyote dropped the fire that Fox stole, it burned the land, burned the people, burned everything. The eyes of Bear looked in all directions into fire, and finally popped off in the flames. Only Spider remained in the sky, weaving her invisible web. 

*On this day in 1911, the man known as Ishi, considered the last of the Yana to make contact with European Americans, emerged from the mountains near Oroville after the death of his mother and sister. He was handcuffed by a nineteen-year-old slaughterhouse worker and taken into custody. He became a public curiosity. Members of the anthropology department at UC Berkeley collected him from the sheriff’s office and brought him to the University. They gave him the title of custodian, then research assistant. Details of his life were documented by various members of the Kroeber family of UC Berkeley, and also by Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, who was concerned about the tendency of the so-called faithful to miss the divine light in the “others” that the self-proclaimed righteous are so often eager to erase or reform.

Events in Light and Color

Some saw wonders, others the portents of doom.

This week marks the anniversary of the 1859 Carrington Event, the largest geomagnetic storm on record, which resulted from a shock wave of solar wind interacting with Earth’s magnetic field. Apparently, there are holes in the sun, and these can work like wind tunnels. A cloud of plasma resulting from a solar flare can reach the earth in a few days.

The event started fires, disrupted telegraph systems, delivered electric shocks to the operators. Rocky Mountain gold miners began making breakfast in the middle of the night, thinking it was morning. The light was bright enough to read by, and it was described in one paper as something of indescribable softness which covered the whole firmament . . . like a luminous cloud. 

A miner witnessed lights of every imaginable color. As each one faded, he recalled, the next to emerge would be more beautiful than the last. Northern light auroras were seen as far south as Mexico, Cuba ––even Colombia. Some saw wonders, others a portent of coming doom.

Later that year, abolitionist John Brown raided Harper’s Ferry. He was soon captured by the soon-to-be Confederate general Robert E. Lee and executed for inciting a slave rebellion. Later that year, Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Later that year, hundreds died in a steamship wreck on the coast of Wales. 

Also, John Dewey was born, and painter Georges Seurat, and artist Paul César Helleu, whose idea it was to install a ceiling mural of night sky constellations in New York’s Grand Central Terminal. So was LL Zamenhof, who conceived of the international language, Esperanto, as a pathway to the end of nations and the oppressions they spawned. He was called the Doctor of Hope.

It is said, of Georges Seurat, that he was moved by an idea that laws of visual harmony might be learned as one learns harmony in music. He was only thirty-one when he died, and his son died soon after. Before this, they say that he was constantly moved to imagine and reimagine the symbolism of lines on a canvas, the language of color and light.

Bury My Ash and Plant a Tree

What if we gave it up, this whole habit of protecting these temporary husks?

I have an idea.

About what?

How to die.

Please. I’m trying to just––

No, it’s about that too, hear me out. Let’s not put these bodies in boxes when we’re done with them.

Ah, the boxes. What size, what wood, what level of cushioning? Where to put the box, and what shoes?

Let’s give it up, that whole thing.

You mean––?

The whole habit of protection, when it comes to these temporary husks.

From?

The inevitable ends we want to rage against. The humiliation of decay.

Not to mention of a bare face, unpainted.

Exactly. What were we doing with all of that, anyway?

What were we hoping to keep?

Look at the fate of cut flowers, gathered with the same impulse. I mean––

Any vase, however flimsy, will outlast its contents, destined in most cases to wind up broken.

Or on a Goodwill shelf with a sticker.

Let’s try something else. What if we burned as we lived, saving none?

Fuel for the living. What if––

we used the container we keep––

––for growing, instead?

With all the dirt, filth, worms––

Husks of fruit––

Let the falling seeds have at it.

If I’m going anyway, let me spend what I have on the living.

Here it is, take it. This hand.

Not to chain, but to comfort.

Yes, and this face. Not to photograph,

To hold a gaze. These eyes, even.

Don’t cover them with coins. 

Eat this vision, I am giving it up.

Don’t strike me down.

Don’t box and bury me. 

Let the fire eat my excess.

Let me prefer this and the way it reduces

––my body from its confines, to magnify

––Its purpose?

Infinitely. Then put me at the base of a tree.

Let me be dust. I am going now. Hold none of me.

In the spring, I will bloom for you, reminding you back.

To what?

To an original question: what is beauty without death?

To make it something we ache to be, hold; being held inside it, holding.

Wait. It comes for you also, but also coming is this impossible bloom. 

A thousand bursts. Like cotton balls when you squint, in baby-blanket pink.

Rest against this trunk.

Of my shade. There will be nothing to hold

but there you will be, cool inside it.

Cool from burning?

Yes, you will be cooling from the burning

there, in the shade of my ash, for a little while.

And you will welcome me there?

Yes.

For how long?

How long will you stay? Don’t answer.

Why not?

Because when the time comes, you will burn it all up again. 

But––

Still, I will be at the end of the burn and the beginning of this tree––this cooling shade, waiting.

Wait.

This post is inspired by an article I read this morning in My Modern Met (one of my go-to haunts for inspiration), about new environmentally friendly developments in burial rituals: vertical gravesites, human compost, and the option of burying ashes at the base of a new-planted tree.

Seeking Anon

Considering the message board as installation piece––or as altar to a mysterious deity.

From time to time, when I am looking for material, I look for anonymous inspiration on various message boards. It feels like being at a museum installation where a thousand notes are penned on backs of cardboard boxes and gas station receipts: some in pen, some in green marker, others in something that could be ketchup. I like to imagine that I am a time traveler from the Bronze Age, puzzling over this strange shrine, with these messages from the mysterious god, Anon. 

Today, it seems that Anon is concerned about the people who do not follow through when they inquire about the availability of motorcycles, and is also very disappointed with this heat pump. They want certain things known, these are enthusiastic points, and want it known that they are praying.

They would like whoever was driving the busted black four-door to stay off the freeway, especially in early morning hours, and wants you to be forewarned that if you have your baby at St. Mary’s, you may be waiting awhile to take it home.

Anon is happy to help, but not if it enables those who take advantage, like a co-worker who never– Not once!– offers gas money. Anon would like an explanation, if not for themselves then for the children, as to some recent decisions. Plus, they would very much like the woman who wore a red dress into Hobby Lobby to know that an encounter by the check stand was much appreciated.

Also, it is written: they are still looking for a few things: an old flame, old classmates, Mr. Thursday, surf girl, the guy in the sidecar in Hillcrest, some help, a missing Siamese, a new home for this bearded dragon, and a phone call from whomever is awake, also looking.

Real Talk With Gallileo

On keeping time with heartbeats and the bumpy, dusty moon.

Today, I’ll be having another one of those one-sided conversations with a dead person, as I love to do from time to time when I find occasion to think about them. What got me on this track was learning that on this day in 1609, Gallileo Gallilei demonstrated his first telescope to lawmakers in Venice. I was wondering: Why, of all people, was it them? Perhaps he needed a permit. I have not yet found the answer to this question, but I did find some more questions.

Gallileo, I’ve been wondering.

What must it have been like, to notice ––while studying medicine at your father’s insistence, after he discouraged you from your calling as a priest, after he discouraged your interest in mathematics (on the grounds that neither vocation paid as well as a physicist)––that the chandelier above you, swinging in the wind at variable arcs, seemed to keep time with your heartbeat, regardless of the size of the arc? To discover, in the experiment that followed, that pendulums of any length will keep time with one another and the human heart?

What is it like to know what happened to this discovery, how it led––a century later–– to the creation of the first timepiece, which over time meant that people kept time, which over centuries meant that people were kept by time, which over centuries meant that people no longer tended to look at the sky or the shadows of a sundial to know the hour; that people would often be so rushed by the march of expectations corresponding to the commodification of minutes, that they would no longer stop to look up?

Apologies for this digression. Of course, I am projecting here. I am somewhat envious of your freedom for study––of your freedom to stop and examine things, period. That and the way that not only did you never need to introduce yourself with an ID number, you didn’t even use a last name. 

Of course, you had money troubles of your own, especially with your brother, a composer, constantly accruing debt to support his love of music. You had studied the arts, too, against the wishes of your father, and you befriended the painter Cignoli, who painted a Madonna on the moon, which was a common-enough image until you noticed the pockmarks on the moon.

I can’t help but think that his friendship with you had a hand in the painter’s decision to resist the convention of a mythical orb. I can’t help but think that time spent with you helped him to appreciate the poetry of the possibility that the celestial body elevating her feet need not be a perfect sphere of dreamlike luminescence, that it might instead be a rock not unlike the rocks of this world, suggestive of a sort of comical lopsidedness, with cracks and crevices in which everyday filth and ordinariness may easily accumulate, along with lunar dust and cosmic pests and possibly even space mildew.

I am grateful that your work made it possible to make certain associations between our most sublime conceptions––say, heaven––and the stuff that was hanging around everywhere, either invisible or appearing to be in the way of the men with their lofty goals, who preferred not to debase themselves with considerations of the cracks in surfaces, the way that the wind would get through, and the cold, the way you had to keep mending and stopping them like you had to keep changing and feeding and holding the crying babies, ––

gathering and chopping and seasoning and boiling and stewing and roasting and cleaning; to feed the noble man a single meal, just before you got back to the babies and before you got back to do it again, how sometimes, even after all this, it was still possible, for the length of sixty to a hundred heartbeats at night, ––

just after the children were asleep, to sit in a chair, looking up, feeling an ineffable pull toward a wonder and mystery that felt both vast and made of the same mystery that you had noticed gathering herbs, wrapping the soft body of an infant, and in the longings that persisted no matter how long they seemed to go unanswered.

Thank you for insisting on this connection, even though it meant you were outcast from the basilicas you loved, from the rituals you had once thought to administer yourself, from the silence of the naves with their candles and incense, and the awe of an intimate mystery in the air.  

I’d love to say more, but my second alarm is going off now, and I’ve not yet been awake for an hour. Time to check the sleeping baby, time to check the food, iron the clothes, pack the things of the day, all the while watching the clock––which marches, I know now, by the rhythm you first noticed in the chandeliers swinging above you as you sat with the books you meant to study, the assignments you meant to get to, the financial responsibilities you meant to meet, the appointments you meant to keep, the wandering heart you meant to tame, and you could not keep your eyes from wandering up, to rest on what you had yet to understand, having the insight to notice that even this was made of something as utterly familiar as the drum in your own chest. 

Escape Room

Here was relief: a chance to work with others, toward a common goal.

It’s immersive, they said, but not like being in your life. More like a video game.  It’s like a treasure hunt, with higher stakes. You are locked in a house that is haunted. You are locked in a tomb.

Okay, we nodded. This was easy enough to understand, and more accessible than the tombs and haunted houses of the outside, from which there was no clear way out, where you could tell the size of our terror by how rarely we mentioned it. Sure, people were always jumping out windows and overdosing, but if you had the right medication, if you embraced positivity––

You get to be the main character, they said. It wasn’t hard to see the appeal: the promise of solving something. People are naturally inquisitive, they said. We nodded, forgetting the reasons we stopped looking. No one wants confusion, but a body adapts, including to its confines.

Millennials aren’t interested in collecting things, they said. They’d rather spend on experiences. Of course, we nodded. Besides, where would they put the things? Who had a home?

Here was relief: meaningful clues, and connections that lead somewhere. A chance to work with others, toward a common goal.

People like sharing the excitement in a photo, they told us. They led us to a wall. We waited for the first clue. We were standing before the company logo. They said, Smile!

Cusp of Exposure

August 23 is considered by some to be a cusp day, caught between dueling energies.

At the carnival, there was a palm reader in a back corner of a big tent. She wore a business suit, carried a briefcase. This was unexpected. There was a big sign, we noticed later.

It’s the Cusp of Exposure, she said, regarding the day.
What?
She pointed to the date on the calendar. It was August 23.
She gave us one of those How Dense Can You Be? looks and explained that this was an in-between day, and everything was in flux.

We held our questions.

Between the maiden and the lion, she said, the salvaged wheat and the overflowing rivers; the keeper of lists and the spotlight-seeker on stage, where the right decision is somewhere between healing a broken system and setting it on fire.

But we just wanted––

Between coastal tsunamis and a mountain threatening to blow, the singing revolution and a warlord on late-night TV, between earth crashing up beneath your feet and a fall from a hot-air balloon. It’s the birthday of the poet and the mathematician, the engineer and the biologist, the sculptor and the publicist––

I think we––

––politician pianist, sailor architect, socialite soldier, chess master cartoonist, bandleader baseball player, photographer priest. . . it’s the feast of the mystic and the day of the flag.

We were just curious, we told her, moving to leave.

Not everyone buys it, she said.
We explained about having no money.

No, she said, I mean the whole idea. The day itself, she said, the cusp day. It’s caught between recognition and mockery.

It was a strange experience because we had not been planning on a palm reader. We had not planned on the carnival, either. The point of our visit had been to park by the fairgrounds, to access the trailhead that led to the wetlands under the freeway bridge. But we got stuck between our intentions and what was available. When you’re looking for quiet at a carnival, sometimes the palm reader is your only option.

Well, she said, is it your birthday? It wasn’t, so we left as we had come, still curious and still looking for a quiet place, but now less sure that we would find one.

How We Once Faced

Imagining behind the veils we saw everywhere.

In early spring, we sat on a south facing

bench above the water and the topic was

veils, what they may keep and then

reveal of promises and mysteries.

They were everywhere, suggesting

kaleidoscopic arrays of faces around us,

spreading themselves wide like arms 

to the histories we’d lost,  

collapsed inside the buds 

of new expressions, blooming, 

and they were in the water, too, 

rippling after fish jumps, after 

the stones we threw like hopeful

singers in the night, at bedroom 

windows, begging them to hear 

and wake before our eyes, to open 

the windows and show themselves again.