Favorite walk… end of Meder Street, walking distance from our home, surprise! a 246-acre natural park, Moore Creek Preserve inside Santa Cruz City limits. Since it’s posted “Be aware this is a mountain lion habitat… if you encounter a mountain lion, do not run, raise your arms to appear larger, speak in a loud voice and pick up small children…” one tends not to encounter many people. Of course there are also ticks… “If you become ill after being bitten by a tick, consult a physician,” says brochure. Everything costs. I dunno. It’s my favorite walk. And, still unable to break the coffee habit, I’m wired (loaded up again today at Peet’s) and it’s a way to unwind. We once walked from Highway #1, adjacent to ocean, to top of M. C. Preserve. Anyway, this is home. And who are _you_ who’s reading this? And why am I writing this? And why does anybody care?
I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting in picking up a copy of Mark Doty’s DOG YEARS. I’m writing about dogs, writing in the voice of dogs, Shelby (my daughter’s dog) in particular. I liked the cover, warm, welcoming image of a golden retriever. And then page 1, “No dog ever said a word, but that doesn’t mean they live outside the world of speech. They listen acutely. They wait to hear a term–biscuit, walk–and an inflection they know… Because they do not speak, except in the most limited fashion, we are always trying to figure them out…”
Then, browsing, flipping pages, I come across lines that say something about the nature of lyric poetry, elegaic poetry. “I did, after all, grow up with apocalyptic Christians who believed the end was near, and that this phenomenal world was merely a veil soon to be torn away. This is great training for a lyric poet concerned with evanescence.”
And if ever there was a book concerned with evanescence, this is it.
Continuing to use blog –in part– as extension of my journal and habit of scrapbooking, i.e., including quotations / passages from what I happen to be reading and want to preserve. Right now I’m engrossed in “Japanese Death Poems” Written by Zen monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of death. Compiled and edited by Yoel Hoffman. Learned, e.g., that WW II Kamakazi pilots often wrote death poems before embarking on suicide missions. “…warriors dying a martyr’s death…” and writing death poems reflecting bravery and resignation to fate.
Much amusement in this book as well. “But for the deeply rooted conservatism of the Japanese people, their culture would not have preserved itself so well through so many centuries. Such conservatism, however, sometimes borders on blind worship of tradition and customs, with results that are often somewhat ridiculous. We have, for example, the ironic story of ‘a man who asked his poetry teacher to compose a death poem for his wife.’ There is also the story of Narushima, a man who, ‘fearing that he might die without warning and be unable to write a farewell poem,’ began writing death poems at the age of fifty-odd years, sending them for criticism to his poetry master Reizei Tameyasu (18th Cent.). At the age of 80, he wrote:
For eighty years and more,
by the grace of my sovereign
and my parents, I have lived
with a tranquil heart
between the flowers and the moon.
As usual, he sent the poem to Reizei, who replied in this wise: ‘When you reach age ninety, correct the first line.'”
In her New Yorker article (Feb. 9, ’09), Another Country, James Baldwin’s Flight from America, Claudia Roth Pierpont describes Baldwin’s 1961 arrival at a party in Istanbul.
“Baldwin’s arrival at his Turkish friend’s door, in the midst of a party, was, as the friend recalled, a great surprise: two rings of the bell, and there stood a small and bedraggled black man with a battered suitcase and enormous eyes.”
I remember the eyes and something similar when Baldwin read at Cornell University in 1963. The Fire Next Time had just been published and Baldwin, I believe, was on tour. I was transfixed by that book and by Go Tell It On The Mountain—and my former wife and I offered to host a reception for Baldwin at our home. I was junior faculty and teaching creative writing. Baldwin accepted and we were somehow, miraculously, able to accommodate 60 – 70 people in our little home.
Something of the man’s amazing presence, strength, vulnerability combined with a readiness to engage… what else to say? I was also moved by Baldwin’s graciousness… ah, how do you describe a too brief encounter with a man whose work has so affected you, whose background and experience is utterly unlike your own and yet, and yet, at some level he’s altogether familiar?
Turned out to be one of those life-changing events, life-changing and not necessarily for the better. For hubris did me in.
How Hubris Did Me In
Successful writers sometimes remark on how fans can’t wait to meet them, have them sign their books… and what they really want to do is talk about themselves.
Unexpectedly the President of the University turned up at our reception and we had a cordial exchange. I don’t know what else you call it. Thereafter I felt myself part of the academic community in a way I hadn’t felt before. And that same year I received a Guggenheim Fellowship for Poetry and in January informed the Chairman of the English Department that I would be taking up the Fellowship in the Fall. He said, “No you won’t. Wait a year… and then you can take up the Fellowship.” “But I’m working on a book,” I said, “I have this opportunity to write full time.” “No. Wait a year…” At last he said, “Well, you’ll never teach on the East Coast again.” It was too late. I couldn’t back down.
And at that time, with book publications, etc., I felt I’d take my chances. Hubris. Hubris. I lived to regret it.
Last night for the first time since the 2001 Associated Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in Palm Springs, I connect with two East Coast friends, Mike Neff of Web Del Sol and Doug Lawson of Blue Moon Review. Both, it turns out, are newly settled in Northern California and we get together at Aqua Blue Restaurant in Santa Cruz. Dear friends who I had long associated with the East, Mike from Washington, D.C. and Doug Lawson from Virginia, where, like Mike, in 1994, he founded and began editing one of the few consistently high quality literary eZines. I was privileged to serve as contributing editor to both Mike’s Web Del Sol and to Doug’s Blue Moon Review.
It was Doug Lawson who published, among other things, my 25 page Earthquake Collage, and did so with imaginative tweakings of photos I took following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which destroyed 70 percent of Santa Cruz’ downtown. Earthquake Collage, BTW, will be published soon by the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH).
Aqua Blue, a seafood restaurant, coincidentally decorated with several blue moons, i.e., large spherical blue lamps… the word spherical, it turns out, can refer to astronomical objects and spheres of ancient astronomy.
By chance… what follows seems to have some connection with these two old friends. Ferris Wheel in the Sky, A Dream.
Mountain. Then a still higher mountain behind the first. Then, at “end” of dream, a giant ferris wheel fully lit and filled with people as at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, only this one is rotating, it seems, in the sky above the second of the two mountains. At first I simply “see” it, then I see it rotating.
What’s that about?
Begins: I’m “inside” in some bare, bland community room at a yoga meditation retreat. Then I’m called out to join the others and am amazed to see first one mountain, then another, higher, taller, steeper just beyond the first. First thought is, This is the Sermon on the Mount, it is that kind of mountain. It seems a combination of the Old Testament and the contemporary Santa Cruz Boardwalk as when, for example, the ferris wheel begins rotating. It seems nothing out of the ordinary and yet totally extraordinary.
At first I’m facing outward toward an open field where yoga classes might be held and I see people, Esalen like scene, everyone relaxed, picnic-like atmosphere, quiet, peaceful… a partially clouded yet sunny afternoon. That’s the setting and, asked to join the group, I choose an unoccupied reclining chair, a rather old worn wooden lawn chair with a folded meditation mat or blanket. Nothing special.
Then I’m aware of someone nearby to my left, a male figure dressed in a loose, khaki-colored robe. I put out my arm to touch him and he withdraws… the gesture is unwelcome. At once I realize the seat I’ve taken belongs to this man, the leader. I never actually see his face, but imagine him to be a man in his mid 40s or 50s.
And I’m embarrassed and want to vacate and I want to do so quickly, quietly and without notice. Suddenly self-conscious… I’m about to move elsewhere… I turn 180 degrees and it’s then I see this amazing mountain, only this time animated… complete with a giant ferris wheel and it’s rotating and there are people on it.
And it turns out, in dream, that the “upper mountain,” the one above and beyond the first, the one I’m calling the Sermon on the Mount mountain, is where people on this Zen Meditation Retreat sleep, where they’re housed and it’s from there they come down for classes or whatever goes on down below, so to speak, in the area where I’m sitting, the one with the large open field. That’s a long way to come, I think, but somehow realize at the same time that it’s only walking distance, from mountain top to the main yoga or instruction area. Tassajara. Big Sur. Esalen.
I wake thinking the ferris wheel is Web Del Sol, my friend Mike Neff’s website extraordinaire. Web Del Sol. Web of the sun. It’s a ferris wheel, spinning, with 60,000 visitors a day or a week or something…
Dream connected somehow with Mike Neff and Doug Lawson, and our friendship, virtual, virtual friendship that goes back 14 years, to early Internet, early eZines, when WDS and Blue Moon first began publishing.
Following dinner last night, I worked on Robert Dana’s Writers’ Friendship essay on British poet Stephen Spender… and the awe and warmth Robert Dana expresses for his friend.
I’m from Chicago, “transplanted” to Santa Cruz. Here since 1985, I wake asking myself, What am I doing having such a West Coast Esalen-like dream? I’m just a transplanted mid Westerner.
How did the world begin?
What is the address of the beginning?
All existence is God.
God’s presence fills the entire world.
definition is spiritual idolatry.
Prayer – it’s a good thing. It gives you an edge.
But God doesn’t answer prayers.
“You’re prolific. How about a poem for your urologist?” she asks.
“Okay,” I say.
“All I ask is that you keep it general and don’t use my name.”
“Okay, but I’ll need the first line.”
“I went for my annual.”
So I’m doing this as something of a love song to coffee, parting with my lover. Began as a teenager in Korean War serving at Great Lakes Naval Training Station and lasted… and lasted… now, it’s farewell to coffee. This morning, as former devotee, I found myself helping clean my wife’s espresso machine, part by part, inside, outside, filter and all the rest… but it’s the fragrance that really gets to me. A non-smoker I find I even have a certain craving for second-hand smoke, that is, having grown up in a household where Mom and Dad smoked… so there’s a certain nostalgia that gets satisfied by a whiff of tobacco. People are crazy. People are really crazy.
As for addiction, as for health, wife says I’m not getting up as much at night… most people sleep through. You don’t wanna know, but I’m up a lot. So, combination of acupuncture and weaning myself from coffee, it makes a difference.
Back to coffee. Reviewing my “Mr. Taste Test” article “Coffee Without Compromise,” I’ll pick up where I left off. Article included a sidebar with coffee facts. When you’re in love with something, every detail every detail… it all matters… and I’m more obsessive than most…
* It takes 3 to 5 years for a new coffee tree to yield its first pound of coffee. The average tree bears only 2,000 cherries, enough to produce a single pound of roasted coffee.
* In 1984, each person in American consumed, on average, 7.7 pounds of coffee (up from 7.6 pounds per person in 1983).
* The Boston Tea Party, protesting King George’s levy on tea, set the stage for:
1. The American Revolution, and,
2. Coffee–the most popular U.S. beverage since 1733. Coffee-drinking in America began as an act of protest, a patriotic gesture of this country’s independence from England.
Now into my 5th day without coffee. At the same time consulting an acupuncturist who is also a licensed medical doctor. “Try going without coffee for two weeks, see if it helps…” he says. Practical advice for a medical condition that may be aggravated by caffeine consumption. Currently drinking peppermint tea and Good Earth spice tea, now and then slipping in some Chinese Breakfast Tea. Doc suggests I keep up a journal detailing a) overall results of acupuncture treatment and b) what I notice in giving up coffee. I love coffee. It’s like breaking up with someone who, for years, years! has been the source of such pleasure. I became addicted to coffee at Great Lakes Naval Training Center when, standing watch midnight to 4 AM, we were nicely fed (sandwiches, whatever! and coffee). I was 18 and had enlisted at the start of the Korean War. Drinking coffee was what sailors did, vets, a man’s drink… alcohol being illegal on the base… so it was when I became a food reviewer I sought to find the best coffee houses in Santa Cruz County.
As for acupuncture, I’m actually feeling mellower, less anxious, more “conscious” somehow… all very subjective, of course. Living in Santa Cruz this is how one’s supposed to feel. Clear skies, temperature in the 60s, a mild winter… I’ll be going swimming at UCSC outdoor pool. So while acupuncure hasn’t yet affected medical complaint (still the inflammation, still the discomfort, etc.), it has affected my state of mind. I see these little seeds, inappropriate “notes,” preoccupations which I recognize as germs of a kind which, when inflammed, are part and parcel of the hell of depression.
Coffee Without Compromise…. excerpt #2:
* The 18th Century poet, Delille, hailed: “…divine coffee, for thine is the art,
without turning the head,
yet to gladden the heart.”
* Delille’s fellow writer, Balzac, proclaimed: “When one drinks coffee, ideas come marching in like an army.”
* The early Arabs discovered that cooked coffee beans yielded a much better brew than raw beans. Heat develops the aromatic oils in the coffee bean and makes them ready for solution in water when the cells are broken down by grinding.
*According to the National Coffee Association, coffee is a fruit product. In fact, coffee is the most often used fruit product in the average American home. The coffee tree’s fruit not only resembles our North American edible cherry, but is called a cherry. With a regular cherry, we eat the pulpy part and throw away the pit. It’s the other way around with the coffee cherry, where the pulp is thrown away and the bean inside is used to make the brew.
–more to come…
Preparing to give up coffee addiction, now into my 4th day without COFFEE, visit acupuncturist. I leave feeling calmer, a little more mindful and anxiety free. Home to “once more” tackle my room, do justice to my new MacBook. Coffee, anxiety, disorder, they seem to go together. And some related health problems. MacBook an inspiration to get the fucking room in order! Sorting through my papers I come across “Coffee Without Compromise,” a magazine piece I wrote for Monterey Life and Taste Magazine. Those were the days! Working as a food reviewer. For one column (I was known as “Mr. Taste Test”) I visited ten Santa Cruz County coffee houses in search of the BEST cappuccino.
Ever the academic, I began with this entry from Samuel Pepys DIARY, written in 1663:
“On the evening of 3rd of February, 1663, I just looked in on my way home from Covent Garden, at the great coffee house there where I never was before; where Dryden, the poet I knew at Cambridge, and all the wits of the town were assembled.”
* In the 17th Century, coffee was associated with health. The first known coffee advertisement in 1652 claimed that coffee “is good against the eyes… excellent to prevent and cure the dropsy, gout and scurvey.”
* By 1700, there were more than 2,000 coffee houses in London. Poor students paid a penny for a ‘dish’ of coffee–the price of admission–to listen to such illustrious conversationalists as Alexander Pope, John Dryden and Jonathan Swift. The coffee houses became known as ‘Penny Universities.’
* In 1732, Johann Sebastian Bach paid high tribute to the pleasures of a good cup of coffee. “Most precious of blisses,” sang the immortal composer in his ‘Coffee Cantata.’
–more to come–
[from “Coffee Without Compromise,” Mr. Taste Test]
Wed., 8:30 PM – 1.28.09
Updike’s death at age 76 – notes, jottings in course of Tom Ashbrook’s NPR show… plan to re-read Pigeon Feathers, Rabbit Run… Sue Miller and critic William Pritchard… first use of MacBook in this way, i.e., as a notebook, carrying into the kitchen…
We were put on earth to praise creation, Updike is quoted as saying. Updike a self-declared Christian.
One caller praises him, “That man can make even psoriasis interesting…”
My birthday and Father’s Day coinciding. Five children, five grandchildren…
Reflecting on the “if only” moments in my life. No regrets, but journeys I made, some of them without exactly knowing why I was making them, leaving a thoroughly advantageous position (teaching in the Writing Program at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, for example) to go, as much on whim as anything else, to spend a year in London…
Reading David Grossman’s New Yorker (6/15/09) feature “The Age of Genius, The legend of Bruno Schulz.” A couple paragraphs in particular stand out: “…salmon have always seemed to be the living incarnation of a journey. They are born in freshwater rivers or lakes. They swim there for a while, and then head for salt water. In the sea, they travel in huge schools for thousands of miles, until they sense some inner signal, and the school reverses direction and begins to return home, to the place where its members were hatched. Again the salmon swim thousands of miles.
“Along the way, they are preyed upon by other fish, by eagles and bears. In dwindling numbers, they scoot upriver and leap against the current, through waterfalls twenty or thirty feet long, until the few that remain reach the exact spot where they were spawned, and lay their eggs. When the babies hatch, they swim over the dead bodies of their parents. Only a few adult salmon survive to perform the journey a second time.
“When I first heard about the life cycle of salmon, I felt that there was something very Jewish about it: that inner signal which suddenly resonates in the consciousness of the fish, bidding them to return to the place where they were born, the place where they were formed as a group. (There may also be something very Jewish in the urge to leave that homeland and wander all over the world—that eternal journey.)”
So blog becoming something of a scrapbook, snippets of things I want to remember… blog more handy, more efficient than the hardcopy journals I used to keep. Well, in truth, I still keep ’em.