The Parable Series: My Kingdom for…

Wang_Zhaojun

My student recently reminded me of one of my favorite of the Tao parables:

An old man had built up a very wealthy life, owning many fine horses, and one very fine son. One day the latch on the horse corral was left open–quite possibly by the very fine son, but we’ll let that go–and the horses all ran away. The townspeople were all so sad for the man and cried “on, how awful for you.” The old man simply said “maybe.”

A few days later, the horses suddenly reappeared and not only did they return, they brought a bunch of wild horse friends with them (you know how horses party). This meant that the man now had even more wealth because more horses, more wealth, right, not accounting for oats, etc. Now the townspeople were so happy for him: “Look how lucky you are! Not only did your horses return, you have so many more. You are such a lucky man.” And the old man simply said “maybe.”

Wild horses need to be tamed so the very fine son took on the job of teaching the wild horses to play nice. As he was trying to ride one of them, the horse reared up, throwing the very fine son off and to the ground, breaking the son’s leg in several places–a very bad break in seemingly so many ways. Once again, the townspeople cried out “oh, we are so sorry for you, old man. What terrible luck this is to have your son so injured. How terribly bad and unlucky.” And once again the old man (I wonder whether he was getting tired of the nosy townspeople by now) simply replied “maybe.”

The very next day, while the son lay incapacitated in his bed, the soldiers of the king strode into town: “The king has decided he isn’t all that pleased with the country next door and is declaring war. All able bodied young men, especially very fine ones, must report immediately for duty.”

Except for the old man’s son who was, although still very fine, not at all able bodied and was not taken off to die in the not very fine war.

My Ukrainian Jewish grandmother when asked about her health or her children or her very fine husband who was a diamond auctioneer (which meant she had a couple very fine trinkets) always just responded “eh. So-so.” Because one shouldn’t ever brag about one’s luck. What might seem a piece of good fortune one day might be a piece of dreck the next. Just ask a Mega Lottery winner. Maybe.

Snippet from early stages of my Taoist mystery

The ditch didn’t exist yesterday. Then again, I didn’t exist yesterday, at least not the “I” that was standing at the edge of a ragged ditch stretching from three feet to my left up the dunes into the trees. Right. Everything Changes. I knew that part. But a ditch doesn’t just become a ditch overnight.

Sam came up behind me.

“That ditch wasn’t there yesterday.”

He bent over the edge, looking into it as if the answer to its birth would be gazing up at him from its bottom.

“Nope.”

“Well, how did it get there? Who dug it?”

“Everything Changes,” I said, knowing that I might as well just have said “Your mama’s so fat….”

“Don’t give me that crap. A ditch doesn’t just become a ditch overnight.”

Excellent. Something we could agree on out here in the middle of nothing at the end of nowhere.  Sam and I had come out here so he could ‘find’ himself. And the first thing we found was a ditch.

‘Bash It Out Now; Tart It Up Later’

Whether or not that’s really what Nick Lowe used to tell the bands he was producing, it’s an excellent method of doing…well, just about anything. So here goes, bashing:

I want to write. I want to write daily. I want to write as “the thing I do.”

I don’t want to do this because I’m a good writer. Once I might have been an ‘ok’ writer but that was in graduate school so maybe I’m just remembering the hubris of every grad student in literature. Mercifully, I didn’t save any of my writing from 40 years ago so I’ll never be able to dismay, despair or disabuse myself of this idea. No, I’m a pretty bad writer.

I don’t want to write because I get pleasure out of it. Writing sucks. Writing is hard. Writing is both torturous and tortuous because it twists my brain into the kind of little bundles socks and underwear come out of the dryer in. I hate sitting in front of a keyboard or picking up a pen whether I’m writing a blog piece, an email or a birthday card. I used to tell my students that was what made me a good writing teacher: I knew just how much they hated it and wanted it all to just go away. No, I don’t get pleasure out of writing.

I want to write because writing is there. Inside my head, thoughts are thoughts and they can grow and play and saunter around all night but they are never ‘there.’ Never within a moment; never here. Only by writing them down do they become the plum, become the juice of the time that I have right now as I dangle on the vine between the tiger above and the tiger below. I want to write because writing is being.

Sit, Black Dog, Sit

My, I have been silent a long time, haven’t I?

St_Johns_dog

The image of depression as a black dog is usually that of a Baskerville-like hound, running at the heels, biting and snapping. And yet that seems terribly active for the depressed state, one where the sufferer is more likely to simply wait to be devoured than to run away.

My black dog seems more likely to settle in at my side, head dropped on paws, unmoving and unmovable. He just sits. Is he waiting for me to make the first move so he can then spring up to block my way, stopping any forward progress I might try to make? No, I don’t think so. He knows I’m not going anywhere; he knows I don’t have the mental energy. He’s really quite content to hang with me, to be my wing man (if that’s not too confusing a metaphor for a dog). When he nestles beside me, my black dog of depression seems almost calm and friendly rather than threatening and ravening.

He sits. I sit. I do what has to be done. And when I return from those chores, he’s there, waiting and sitting. If I stumble into a burst of activity, he isn’t threatened. My black dog knows I’ll be back, that I’ll always return to him. And sit with him. And he will sit with me. Calm. Strong. Stronger than I. Lowered head, sad eyes, knowing eyes. How could I ever leave him?

Villanelle For The Black Dog (First Draft)

weepingbuddha

 

You will go through each motion, one by one,

As gentle night gives up to brutal day.

And repeat, “I’ll live.” As you’ve always done.

 

Pull the cord of the blinds, turn your back to the sun,

Step into the shower, dissolve in the spray.

You will go through each motion, one by one.

 

“Get over yourself; go have some fun.

Can’t be depressed with a smile!” silly optimists say.

Just repeat, “I’ll live.” As you’ve always done.

 

It’s not like you’re out buying pills or a gun.

You’ve never been one to make a display.

You still go through each motion, one by one.

 

You’ve been here before, and at least you’ve begun,

Studied the lines, know the acts of the play:

Just repeat, “I’ll live.” As you’ve always done.

 

Yes, you’ll go through each motion, one by one

And repeat, “I’ll live.” As you’ve always done.

NaPoWriMo: Not Just Late But Dead In The Water

I have fallen so far behind on my poem a day schedule that I’m likely to end up with something more like a “National Poetry Writing Week and A Half.” But I’m promising myself that I will step it up and get back on the horse: more mixed metaphors anyone?

So I go back to the prompt for, what, Day 7, a day I did actually write a mental poem based on the daily prompt, if 3 words can be considered a poem. The prompt was to write a love poem to an inanimate object. I rejected the idea–of course, because rejecting ideas is so much easier than letting them challenge one.

But perhaps Stephen Fry was right on the “bet you can’t watch just one” quiz show, QI, when he said that science has shown that people make the best decisions and think the fastest when they are most desperate to take a whiz. Yes, I was heading into the bathroom at a rather tidy pace when the “love poem to an inanimate object” came to me. With my apologies to scientists everywhere for calling this “fast thinking,” the love poem whose title far outweighs its contents:

To My Greatest Love, Welcoming Me At The Door Each Evening

Amo

Amas

A mat.

NaPoWriMo: Too late, too late; no time, no time!!

Sunday. Isn’t that supposed to be a day of rest? Apparently not for a Jewish-Taoist because I was running most of the day. For good purpose. My late afternoon QiGong class was attended by lovely people who needed the unwinding at the end of the day: a woman who works with dementia patients; another who is caregiver to a dying husband. So, I return fulfilled but with no time to write. At least not a full poem. So instead, I give you a fragment, a beginning of a poem that I hope to continue later.

Awake, shutter slats become a counting game;

A shadowbox of light now frames

Silhouettes of clutter on a dresser top:

Isis statue, cufflink, single sock.

 

That’s all folks. Rough draft of a partial poem. Second line is not what I wrote in my head last night while awake so I’ll have to try to dredge the better line back out.

As a sop bonus, the beginning of “The Ballad of Me and Mike”

It was quiet in the coffeeshop when the man came in the door:

Unimpressive figure with his eyes fixed on the floor.

Mike and I were transfixed by a Vogue ad Laboutine.

“If he could just be shot,”  Mike frowned, “I think it would be grand.”

“I doubt such luck for fashion.” Said I, turning to page four.