To the Point, which is Pointy

A Sharp Point

J asks me: Why blog? As in: why bother? I could ask the same of the bright, red berries in Champ de Mars, which have just burst into shocking red flowers despite the imminent frost.  Hey guys, pourquoi? My answer is sentimentalized existentialism: just more heartache and pointlessness.  Which itself is enough to make me sharpen my proverbial pencil and write.

Pencil sharpening is, and always has been, more of a manipulative behavioral trait than a functional event.  So much of the school day, when one is young, is sculpted by Others, plodding movement along the arthritic spine of Somebody’s Agenda.  But the pencil, bless it, comes along and allows the student’s Autonomy to do the worm irreverently, in the very face of rigidity and standards.  How?

Recall the wall-affixed sharpeners in the classroom (http://www.officemuseum.com/pencil_sharpeners.htm):  one could get up from one’s desk legitimately to take advantage of these, and with frequent repeats.  From a teacher’s perspective, those “repeat sharpeners” were immediately obvious, like a Lamborghini parked at a bike rack– slinking towards the wall, brandishing the broken point of a mustard yellow #2– and completely unstoppable.

The only other legitimate excuse to leave one’s desk was the indisputable human need to urinate.  After all, what is an appropriate come-back to “I have to pee!”? “No, no you don’t”?  But this raison d’ voyager could only be utilized so many times before you (as student) risked being diagnosed with something serious. No so much a case of what would Jesus do? as who would Jesus sue? Pencil sharpening, on the other hand, is an infinitely renewable excuse: pencils break faster than bladders fill.

But I return to pointlessness itself, more existential than material, for which the world offers no relieving sharpener– except the will to imagine one.

elementally pointless

Sacred Profane, Same Same

The idealist in me and the pragmatist in me frequently need to sit down to talk, and it’s not always pretty.  At this schizophrenic forum, the topic du jour is: how to learn in the world? It seems incumbent upon me to answer that question in the course of this year away.  But either the pragmatist or the idealist, feeling persnickety and school-yard-ish, rejoins: I don’t hear anything, do you?—What is that, the wind? A split mind is, alas, not mediated by the pure fact of inhabiting a single organ.  At these times, I must throw up my hands and turn back to poetry.

Perhaps one learns in the world just by being in it, in the very messiness of Time.  Or is that too obvious of a conclusion?  In my skull’s miniature laboratory, the ego still likes to think it has concocted, or will concoct, some original solution.  A solution not so absolute that it would give Socrates a posthumous ulcer, but rather one provisional enough that the ego has something to wear to its Cocktail Party and drop, with an intentional, philosophical thrust, as a marinade atop the olives.

And so: Ikkyu.

Ikkyu this body isn’t yours I say to myself
wherever I am I’m there

A poet who refused to pick between the sacred and profane as subject matter: for him, it was a case of both both, the quintessence of same-same, not either-or. And this swaddle infuriates: to not be told what to sublimate, what to deprecate, is analogous to a vegetarian being handed a steaming bowl of broth which is either made with beef bone or not made with beef bone.   Bon appetite! Enjoy, in great moral perplexity, the conundrum of cow or cowlessness.

Thus spoke Ikkyu:

A single night of love is better
than a hundred thousand years
of stale meditation

&


That stone Buddha deserves all
the bird-shit it gets. I wave my boney
arms like tall flowers in the wind

These offerings were left at my electronic doorstep, at just the right moment, by R.  For R, poetry is a thread, a fil du monde, which ties him (back) to the world.  This kind of knot a sailor couldn’t undo– not even a drunk, knot-savvy sailor.   G. Apollinaire, who talked back to the sharp teeth of Modernism before the flu put him in the dirty laundry bag of its even dirtier suitcase, saw a thread like this in the coursing Seine itself:

Under the Mirabeau Bridge there flows the Seine
Must I recall
Our loves recall how then
After each sorrow joy came back again

Let night come on bells end the day
The days go by me still I stay

(trans. R. Wilbur)

My R. is not a Parisian, but he’s slept the night in Gare du Nord—a right of passage in and of itself, though it is unclear from what to what the passage runs.  There may still be a pigeon living, giving himself fowl-enemas on the transparent ceiling of the Batobus, who remembers this event.  In a dwindling dialect of pigeonese, he tells his tribe about the night the poet dreamed under the gray awning of the station’s roof, under the grayer awning of the sky—a gray dream, likely, of a less gray time.

Or perhaps, even less abstractly, a dream of where the closest pencil might be, and a sharpener to grind away the dullness of Samsara.

a lil bird telling me samsara saga

Transit & Toilette

My contemplations so often begin with the toilet and its ken.  I don’t do this on purpose—it’s become a dhyana destination as inevitable as the cycles of the moon.

A few years ago during a Vipassana retreat, the cheery monk explained to us how an Arahant dealt with his desires and cravings.  A woman who loved him regularly came to the temple.  One day, he gave her a lump of his own feces rolled up in a kerchief.  She got the message.

Our monk didn’t bother to say what that message was.  He just smiled and folded his hands and went into the kind of Samadhi that makes all your shit irrelevant.

Perhaps it is ironic that the retreat, shortly after inception, made available constipation tea for all the meditators.  No spiritual tradition can seem, practically or otherwise– to entirely ignore this “outcome” of human metabolism—both cellular and emotive—halting or roller-coster-ing on its tracks.

Swami Sivananda, jovial giant of yoga, even scripted a humorous constipation prayer, which I stumbled across in his center, here, in a hidden courtyard off Rue St. Martin.  But our monk was speaking on constipating desire.  I wonder about this: what hurts more than the colossal hemorrhoids of the shuttered heart, and what does this teach us, really?

While I’m not sure that desire need ever be corked, it does need to be directed.  The spine, o charged limb, around which the heart pole-dances, is a good place to begin.  After all, you can’t get away from it.  But you can chose option B: get closer to it.

So I come back to the toilet not because of some scatological fetish, and not just so that my wonderful Dad will turn away from my blog posts in dismay, but because the toilet shows you, and fast, your own deepest aversions.  It is also a democracy of butts, the place where, peering in, you see your own face look back, superimposed upon that which you both loathe and love.  C’est pas bête; it’s not stupid.

I haven’t read enough Freud to know if I’d have him over for a kale dinner, but I think that there but I do believe he had something in the idea that our waste, our output, has some inherent fascination.  We’re not that different from the stuff we can’t stand to be around, and that we better learn how to relate to that fact.

When you’re on the toilet, there is no place to sharpen your pencil, though there is plenty of time, if you take it, to notice where the heart strains against its pericardium, wanting to leap into the abyss of the world.

Thus, A Transit

On the TGV to Aix-en-Provence, no one can figure out how to close or open the bathroom door.  My aisle seat affords me this scene episodically.  Of course, there is a button (and rules posted for the button), which controls the door, one that is big and obvious and anterior to the funny bone, but it only half-works.  Watching the demonstrative confusion, person after person, becomes a mini-lesson in how we live; that dude might have been a clueless fool, but watch me master this.  And try the same thing.  And fail.  The farce is so good, I’m sure that if I filmed it as reality-TV– do people still watch that?  Is that what meditation is?– I’d become a billionaire overnight.  Although the economy is hiding under the bath mat, people will still find a way, even if it necessitates selling their own children, to afford to laugh at superfluous stupidity.

The sun is out, and everything on earth is the color of Semolina.  Because it makes people feel like they are free when they spontaneously go somewhere, we are going somewhere spontaneously: to the South of France, to Aix-en-Provence.  This is Cezanne country.  The clouds are hazarding a retreat, then changing their collective mind.  A flock of birds couldn’t have been in more cohesive agreement about direction.

We’re in first class.  The bon marché ticket gives the passenger a choice of two “atmospheres”; we chose “idZen” enthusiastically.  But, alas, no itinerant monks creating and destroying sand and rock gardens in these cars: simply the prohibition of cell phone use.  At first, a chirping comes through the speaker.  This is a taster and, as it turns out, a taster of nothing—not “nothing” in the twinkling spiritual sense, but nothing in the Luddite sense.  Same same?  Nope.

Now, the broken over-head rack bangs, like a proper Zen Master warming up his disciple-smacking forehand.  To boot, the toilet is brimming over with someone’s poo (sorry, Dad). It’s good and gross and the best part is: it’s expensive.

Welcome to the actual.  The trees are nimble and tall outside, and the train splits a field of sheep in half.  They keep grazing, as the sky keeps wintering.  The countryside beyond Paris imprints its greens sharply, pointlessly.  But it yields an instant heartache, as if the manifest were encoding itself in the field of feeling with a hundred whittled pencils, just to be privy, as an anonymous human on a train, to the colors in which the world steps into the light.

somewhere else, retroactively

In the next post, I think, I’ll arrive.

sick of it whatever it’s called sick of the names
I dedicate every pore to what’s here

–Ikkyu

(these and more to be found at http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/I/IkkyuSojunIk/index.htm)

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3 Responses to “To the Point, which is Pointy”

  1. Travis Says:

    What does it say about me that I never wanted to get up to use the pencil sharpener? That, moreover, I never even wanted to use a pencil… that pencils irritated me and that all I ever wanted to write I wanted to write with a pen? I still remember getting graded down on math quizzes in elementary school–not because I got any answers wrong, just because I was told to use a pencil. And, just for the record (which I think was part of the whole point), not making any mistakes is apparently no excuse for permanence.

    When it comes to that other inarguably excuses for exchanging one’s square seat for one that’s horseshoe-shaped, I remember one shaping event on a train when I was about 6. My mother and I were heading from Denver up into the mountains on the old (and let me emphasize the OLD here) ski train to enjoy a day of sledding at Winter Park. The train car had more leakeys than East Africa, and the draft was monstrous. The “seats” resembled park benches as much as they did anything I’d ever imagined on a train. And, when my little kid bladder filled inevitably, I headed to the back of the squeaking, rumbling, windy, rocking, and sure-to-fall-apart-at-any-moment car. The door to the WC opened with ease (almost fell off the hinges), revealing a small closet, an open window, arctic air, and a two-foot-square wooden box on the floor filled with cat litter and human excrement. I identify this point as the epiphany moment when I finally understood what my mother meant when she said, “hold it.”

    • saraknowsyou Says:

      your mom proves that the best wisdom usually fits in the shortest phrases.

      i wasn´t a friend of pencils either. they shmeared too easily, like tears.

  2. (0v0) Says:

    Finally! The first time we emailed, you said your writing was scatological… but this is the first time in a while that you have really gotten down to business!

    Last year, a yoga client gave me a colon cleanse as a holiday gift. My first. A special, psychic, super-spiritual, Beverly Hills hydrotherapist. She read my excrement like it was tea leaves. Fascinating.

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