Sunday, April 27, 2008


(I wrote this a couple of years ago.)

If we use anger at injustice as the source for our energy, we may do something harmful, something that we will later regret. According to Buddhism, compassion is the only source of energy that is useful and safe. With compassion, your energy is born from insight; it is not blind energy. - Thich Nhat Hanh
Not indulging in anger is one of the ten grave precepts a Zen student is supposed to follow. My teacher suggested that the precepts are simply restrictions keep unenlightened beings from doing harm. A Buddha behaves in a non-karma-generating way spontaneously and without thought, therefore s/he has no need of precepts. When administering the precepts in ceremonies, my teacher would always follow each with the question "do you vow to follow this precept until you achieve Buddhahood?"

This is one of my areas of ambivalence towards Buddhism, where the received wisdom of the ages seems to clash with my own experience. The more self-knowledge I develop, the more conscious I am of my anger, and the less afraid I am of it. I am beginning to understand it not as a force to blunt down and bury and deny, but as the fire that effects change. Yes, it can harm us if we attach to it, but so can any other emotion or thought or feeling.

Moreover, it seems to me that to regard anger and compassion as mutually exclusive--to reject anger in order to cultivate compassion--is to embrace a false duality. We talk about doing zazen for all sentient beings, and that's a beautiful mystical concept, but perching on a little black cushion won't house the homeless or feed hungry mouths or stop the military-industrial complex from trampling the weak. That takes recognizing the need for change and reacting to it with the passion, the drive, the anger that makes the change happen.

I suppose my road to complete understanding lies long before me.

But if I'm not getting off the wheel of life and death this time around, I'm ok with that. It's mighty interesting here, where there are cats, and really good music, and dark chocolate, and soft spring evenings, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and millions of beautiful fascinating people, each one a cosmos.

My quoting Thich Nhat Hanh in this context isn't quite fair. Of any teacher, he has most exemplified the engaged activist path that more and more seems my dharma. But honestly, my sympathies lie more with Audre Lorde:
My anger has meant pain to me, but it has also meant survival, and before I give it up I'm going to be sure that there is something at least as powerful to replace it on the road to clarity.
And with Zack de la Rocha:
Your anger is a gift.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Maybe it's a little premature

Maybe I should at least wait till the results of today's primary in Pennsylvania are in. Although even that is kind of moot because whoever wins the election is going to have his or her hands full cleaning things up, repairing the deep harm done to our relationships with other countries, and earning back the trust of Americans in their own government. And it's impossible not to feel horrified and hopeless at the situation in Iraq, which is really really grave, much worse than the mainstream media is telling us. And of course there's a lot that could happen in the last eight months of the Dear Leader's reign, and the possiblity exists that John McCain could win the election, which would strike a blow for the cranky old white man demographic and guarantee us another four years of the same damn thing. For that matter, Hillary Clinton threatened to obliterate Iran today. Who knows what's going to happen?

But still, I just can't stop singing this song. It's "The News" by Carbon/Silicon, the new band fronted by Mick Jones and Terry James (late of the Clash and Generation X, respectively).

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Deep Gratitude

I got home a few hours ago, raw and sore from a session with Fatty, and what should I find in my fridge but the great big bottle of Chimay Grande Reserve ale that Jet brought last month when she came to visit. I'd absolutely forgotten about it till now, the moment when it would do me the most good. Jet, please accept my profound, heartfelt thanks. Nine bows.

Friday, April 18, 2008

More household carnage

First there's the crash, the unbelievably loud almighty crash from the next room, all the more startling because you're home alone. As you reflexively jerk your head in the direction of the noise, thinking, "what the FUCK?" you see a cat running from the room. No, not running: walking very, very fast, faster than you can run, absolutely silently, body held low to the ground. Whoosh. She vanishes from view. You survey the damage.

See the thing lying across the toilet lid and pinning the shattered remains of my aluminum plant to the wall there? That's the section of marble countertop that sits above the tank of my commode. It weighs about fifteen pounds. Ishi weighs about seven. I'm pretty sure this was her doing because she's been munching on that plant a lot lately.

Seven pounds. The wonder of it all.

Monday, April 14, 2008

In case you were wondering: a tax tip from Vaca Estupenda

It's right there in black and white on page 28 of the IRS Publication 525.

And on page 31. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Update. In the comments, Tes observes that this means we'd better report our $600 "stimulus" checks. So remember: it goes on line 21 ("other income"), and be sure to put BRIBE as the type of payment.

Another update. Check it out: the current cost of the Iraq war per day is $341,400,000. My total Federal taxes for 2007 were $4418.00, which means I paid for roughly 1.118 seconds of the war. My salary over 15 years would pay for one Tomahawk cruise missile.

The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. Even when weapons of war are not actually destroyed, their manufacture is still a convenient way of expending labour power without producing anything that can be consumed. ... And at the same time the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival. (George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four)

The best thing I've heard about Charlton Heston

"Quick, somebody pry his guns loose."

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Beauty vs Context Revisited

Speaking of Gene Weingarten, it was announced yesterday he won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for this incredibly insightful and moving story about setting up Joshua Bell to busk during morning rush hour at the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station. Kinda restores my faith in stuff, you know?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Forty Smells

Wet cement.
Garlic frying in olive oil.
The soundhole of a new guitar: hide glue, nitrocellulose lacquer, mahogany.
Fresh sweat.
Ishi's fur, licked clean, warm from a nap in the sun.
Coffee beans, freshly ground.
Tomatoes, straight from the garden, exhaling their strange chemical vapor.
Dust burning off the tubes of a guitar amplifier.
Cigar smoke.
Beach: salt air, wet sand, decay.
New carpet.
Tattoo shop: antiseptics, pigments.
Oil paint.
Patrick Olwell's flute shop: scorched bamboo and linseed oil.
Brown paper bags.
Burning hair.
Almonds, toasting in a pan.
Pencil shavings.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Coconut Bra Effect

Stop me if I've already told you about this. Oh, right, you can't. Ha. Anyway, about ten years ago, I read an article in the Washington Post that mentioned Josephine Baker, and how she "wowed Paris in a coconut bra."

A couple of days later, I was on the Metro, and I heard a guy behind me saying to his friend, "I don't know, man, I'm afraid I might wake up in a coconut bra or something."

This continued for a few weeks. I kept stumbling on the words "coconut bra" in conversation or in print, and at one point I actually saw a manniquin in a store window wearing, yes, a coconut bra.

This still seems to happen every so often. A random word or concept pops into my awareness (antimaccassars, the eucharist, Vanilla Ice, curling) and keeps showing up for the next month or so. I'm thinking about this now because, well, look what I found in Gene Weingarten's online chat this morning.

Cue the Twin Peaks giant: IT. IS HAPPENING. AGAIN.