Posts Tagged ‘nothing’


February 6, 2011


Cruddy Bows

“At its simplest and most essential, faith is that willingness to continue to move forward.”–Patricia Walden & Jarvis Chen

window of opportunity

I am walking hurriedly along the snow-shushed avenues of Park Slope towards the Gowanus Canal, the only body of water that can’t manage to sparkle.  Little ice globes drop from the trees like arboreal sighs.

The crud in me bows to the crud in you, I holler to the canal.

Blah, the canal answers.

Right-o. The drawbridge is covered in salt.  It would give Lot’s wife a panic attack, all these tiny crystals meant to melt the frozen skin of the earth.  I look down into the flat, gray water, then up at its dance partner, the flat, gray sky.  They seem to recognize each other.  As Brené Brown– researcher-storyteller and compassion-cowgirl– says, “Only when we know the darkness in ourselves can we be present with the darkness of others.”  Pellets of ice fall like punctuation.

I’m going to see R, who can speed-dial what some yogis refer to as source with her eyeballs: by looking right at you, while she kindly coaxes your pain to come out and play in the fresh air.   And your pain goes: Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee. What really seems to matter for healing to take place is that “your” pain, and the subtle layers of connective tissue that bind it to “your” joy, be seen.  That the other person doesn’t look away, not even if your nose runs all over your upper lip.  After all, in a staring contest with God, God’s got all the time in the world on her side. 

I think of Brene’s digest of Pema Chodron, champion of compassion: “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded.  It is a relationship between equals” (16).  Got that right, sistah!  The sky may be infinite, but the water can contain the infinite.  Same same.

left hand right hand parity


At the swampy street corners, I suspend my quick pace just long enough to strategize about where to put my foot down next: alleys of icy slush? Tall, dirty snowdrifts?

Where is a safe place for the next step?

This is a spiritual as well as practical question.  And where do you put your foot, ultimately?  The only place it can go.  Which is usually exactly what you were trying to avoid: the deep, wet part.

It’s the recurrent winter koan:  how do you step in a puddle without stepping in a puddle? Pass through without suffering from passing through?


The cars zoom through the crosswalks.  They mean it.  Even in this bad weather–schools closed, walking iffy– when pedestrians are unusually compromised and the acuity of most people falters, the cars are tough.  And they don’t care that it’s their speed or your pants.

In New York, when the weather is at its worst, garbage amasses.  Normal collection schedules are forfeited.  Bins and bags rise, topsy-turvy, out of the snow like renovated Deities, patched together from the shit we tried to get rid of.   The result is a collaboration between nature and our detritus which forms shapes awkward, imposing, and random.  If this were Wednesday of Genesis Week, the Lord might begin to doubt his scheme.  Take up a new hobby, like paintball or knitting.

I pass an older Chinese woman, hair in a rough ponytail, sorting through blue plastic bags stuffed with trash, moving them from one garbage bin to another and back.  She observes her work then shakes her head, stamps her feet in their stiff boots, and wipes her thick gloves on her equally plastic pants. Repeat.  It’s as if she’s auditioning for the part of an Urban Sisyphus.  Nothing, really, happens.

nothin' flowers all over

“–Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,/
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?”—Juan Ramon Jiminez

If The Sock Fits

Just when I’m cruising, my left boot floods completely, the way an eye fills spontaneously with tears when someone says I love you. For the next mile, I’m in my own private puddle, which seems even colder than the already cold outside temperature.  What we take personally really does go to the bone.

I have ten minutes before my appointment, and my tears brim over; sadness practices that martial art of quiet, invisible presence.  Emotion, like Jackie Chan, is always crouched to pounce.  And when it does pounce, I try the remedy that (sometimes) worked when I was small: call my parents.

Since I’m near his workplace, I try my Dad on the phone:

Dad, do you happen to have an extra pair of socks at your office?

Never mind his feet are double the size of mine: warm plus dry equals perfect.

Let me look, he says kindly.  And proceeds to look nowhere, because he knows he doesn’t have what I need. I can hear him looking nowhere; through the phone it sounds like nobody is doing anything.

Sorry, he says.

I pass by the fascist yoga place: why not?  I go in and stand, dripping, on the plastic bag laid down as a weather-guard in front of the door.  Here, at least, I might receive low-grade pity and good cheer.  My boot immediately lets out a ring of water around me as if it has just peed.

The two people at the desk look at me, a cloth diagram of the chakras dangling behind where they sit.  They are always ready for yoga.

heartily spinning

Hi, I say. Do you, by any chance, sell socks?

The student receptionist cuts me a smile like she’s been saving it for me all day and measured it precisely to fit my face.  Yes! She says.

I’m going to have to rethink my assumptions about fascist yogis who are also fortuitously sock vendors.  The gods can assume any form the human mind can imagine.

Mine are drenched, I say.  I’m not going to walk into your studio.

She squats by the lucky bin on the lowest shelf.  The socks she retrieves are fitted for sports, whiter than white, the N in nylon, with plastic dots for traction on the soles.  They are marked with the insignia HSP, “Health Smile Peace”—in primary colors, as befits the building blocks of your own well-being.

A little Smiley Guy, emblazoned into the arch of the sock, smiles up at the wearer forebodingly.  He is meant to remind you that it’s better to be you, however wet and miserable, than a Smiley Guy, pathologically cheerful, merged with cheap fabric and sweaty feet, so just get on with it, smile and feel your innate health and peace.

I can hear Smiley Guy talking to me through the plastic wrap like a furious guru:

Do you feel peaceful?

No, I say.  I feel wet and childish and….

But do you feel peaceful? The Smiley Guy interrupts forcefully, as if only a dummy would stop at those adjectives.

I think he should meditate on his face before someone sewed him on.  But we’re about to be intimate, he and I.  So I extend my credit card compassionately.

I’m taking you home with me, I tell him.  And your lovingkindness.  I used to have goldfish.  Now I have you.

She sells me the socks right in the doorway.  Sixteen dollars.  Perfect.  Just what I was hoping to pay for some crappy socks with poor design and a weird bump in the back so you’re sure to get a blister should you wear them with shoes.  Instructions on the package warn: do not sterilize these in boiling water!  Well, duh!  Because there is a dude on them!  But, O.K. Check.

I’m not even going to sterilize you, I try to convey to Smiley Guy with body-language alone.

As I leave, and the yogis settle down, it occurs to me that you really don’t know where relief lies or how it will come—or your own capacity to find peace in the throes of discomfort.  Even Smiley Guy has to concede this point.  Once you are a being in the world, you are not protected—no plastic wrap, no instructions on how you should be used, no specifications for washing.  But you are connected—and it is incumbent upon you to figure out how.

Weighing In

the one i'd been waiting for

As it is, R lets me put my sopping Maggie Moo socks on her whistling office radiator to dry, and I step into the crosshairs of her caring gaze barefoot.  Outside her office door in the dimly lit hallway, two stooped old men are taking turns weighing one another on the medical scale.  Neither of them can see the register.  We hear them muttering and laughing.  Through the window, I can see the ice religiously laying down its slippery film: over the confusion, over the elation.  Nothing, really, happens.  But it’s a tremendous kind of nothing; if you put it on the scale, even stripped of its wet socks, it would grate against the very depths.

bowl at the depths


paris, nebraska, enh

July 29, 2009

dearest of dearests: what unfolds in this blog entry is the beginning of a journey, or the in medias res of a journey, (and my morbid self pipes in: conceivably the end of a journey, who knows, i’m jewish, any number of diseases could be almost at full throttle as i compose this!) (i put that in parenthesis for safety and containment, since there is no e-wood to knock on). j and i depart for paris, for our teaching year away, august 25-ish. please come back here often, please check in often, please leave comments often!

blessings on your heads!!!!!!   with wide-open heart and a lake in my hair–a real lake, a real heart– SARA

i didn't make him.

i didn't make him.

* * *

there is nothing in iowa– nothing in nebraska– quoth the Nothing Experts (of which there are many), when i told of my forthcoming sojourn by car with j from boulder, CO, to hubbard lake, MI.  this piteous response was also my first clue as to what states lay between colorado and michigan, for i like to learn my geography by surprise.  suprise, we’re in iowa! enh? i-o-wah.  my other tried-and-true method for apprehending the placement of the continental states is that of abstract geography, as in: hey, j, if my lightswitch is boulder, where on that wall is indiana? just because michael jackson passed on from this world doesn’t mean Gary acquired insta-topographical significance.

“nothing” in nebraska?  there is always a lot to say about “nothing”: in this case, it’s just the wrong pronoun.  the intention of a pronoun is to stand in for some noun that’s gone missing or which it is sloppy-speak to repeat too close to its identical twin.  “nothing”, therefore, as applies to iowa and nebraska, is a cloak for green-as-green-gets cornfields unfurling same-same.  plus trees as if nature hiccoughed.   plus clouds so worthy of love that i can still see-feel (compound verb for which i thank j’s teacher, n– o the alphabet is so great!) their bizarre shapes.

perhaps i’ve been around buddhists too long, for whom “nothing” is used like a choice compliment and career aspiration.  you can’t really say something nicer about the phenomenal world than to say it’s “nothing”– and even then, like iowa & nebraska properly epitheted, you really mean it’s something, but something that words only chop and dice rather than suffice. (yeah, i know “suffice” is not actually a transitive verb, but i’m feeling transitive right now).

preamble usually contains some seed of the actual amble, and in this case you’ve already gotten it: screw paris– nebraska is where it’s at!  and all you people who told me otherwise: maybe you feel like green is just a little too last year?  the real “nothing”– as in, the thing that makes you feel like being alive is a condition of deficit rather than surplus– was (for me) outside chicago, where ugliness of industry and unkempt billboardage trumped whatever plans nature might have had for the area.  plus, the humans who had made the mess in the first place seemed not to care about its eye-sore, soul-sore status.

but my aunt T: she has a pineapple on her back porch that she grew herself– in indiana. so that‘s where indiana is: where the cultivated pineapple is.  T has onions the earth is practically spitting up at her– more per day, it seems, than the number of BMs that A counted his newborn son dropped between sunrise and sunset: 10.  said newborn had his hands thrown up to his face in the way only a pristine creature can, the already-an-old-man asana that says shield me from this post-womb engagement.

america  possesses (at least) one universally nauseating trait: that of signs intentionally spelled wrong.  i cite for you: Tastee Freez (at which the faux-icecream, to match the faux-spelling, is served in portions bigger than anyone’s face).  i cite for you again: “Kum & Go” gas station.  OK– ew.  Just– ew.  And again, the seed syllable of poor advertisement choices: ew.  clearly an 8th grade boy was hired to kum up with that business Gag.

and here’s some of the things that are impossible as one ventures across america: normal stuff. as in: sara nolan leaving motel 6 room for hot water and getting from the woman at the front desk a cheerful i’d have to run it through the coffee machine and then it will taste like coffee; at which point SN cheerily (because, after all, who can help being cheery on such occasions), climbs the grass mound that separates the grounds from Kum & Go and, entering with mug of lemon juice in hand, has the following exchange:

SN (to counter attendant): do you mind if i take some hot water? i’ll pay for it if needed.

CA: what?

SN: can i take some hot water in my mug?

CA: what?

SN: uh, do you have any hot water?

CA: water?

(in thailand the first time i tried to ask for hot water as a separate commodity i was handed it– yes, boiling– in two plastic baggies, held shut with a twistie– and they promptly melted in my hands—)

you get it and i did, eventually, get some.  but the point is: normal stuff doesn’t make sense as one traverses the torso of our nation.  my inquiry was probably the weirdest the poor CA received in his week and maybe he chalked it up, eventually, to a spectral affair. the point is: after you kum in, no matter what you kame for, you go. and this, too, like everything else i contemplate, can apply to the condition of being mortal, which, at times, is a condition that no one bargained for. and we can’t just put our tiny hands up to our faces and poop ten times a day and nap as a coping mechanism– that only works for the first few months, and then you start to be expected to look cute, even if your digestive system is still trying to develop to full capacity.

i am in northern michigan now, at j’s parents’ place, which is a little mecca.  a mecca of what?  a mecca of confluence.  it is on the lip of hubbard lake, and behind it sits The Woods– ferns, red pines, cedars, birch, more of same, more of same, more of same.  light  makes its way through the leaves and straight to the tear ducts, where it calls forth what those ducts manufacture best: an assembly line of little drops.  these depart the eye and explore the cheek and meet the floor of the earth.  something like that. let me say it another way: the trees made me weep as trees are wont to do when you really greet them for what they are.  another tree phenomenon of worthy note: when they fall over dead, they often rest (in peace, conceivably) right on their neighbor– which may or may not be all in the family– and rot there, exposed, until they further fall, and continue to rot, and no one in the arboreal community seems to mind much.  we don’t die this way too often, and i think it might be a pity.

a few other signs winked at us as we crossed the nation in j’s car: “The Coffee Cup: Home of the Porker Omelette” (ew);  “Baked Beans: Tanning Salon and Coffee House” (Transcendental Ew); “We Bake Memories” (on the back of a bread truck, carrying Aunt Millie’s Shitbread Frostean miles and miles and miles).  And lastly, in Luzerne: “This is God’s Country.  Please Don’t Drive Through It Like Hell.”  it was not too far from this sign that traffic had slowed for a car deroaded due to an animal having gone through its windshield– the road was tracked in deer blood and the windshield shattered.  irony takes very few ingredients to occur.  also, this was one of the most heavy feelings of tragedy i have had passing any traffic accident anywhere, due to its aura of unnecessariness–  a complex, hapax-legomenon-y abstract noun that speaks for a lot of the trouble we cause by the cars we drive through land that was meant to belong to the velocity proper to a deer, rather than to autos. i love me a car, it’s true, but i don’t love a lot of the consequences.

and i do– i really really do– love nothing.