Friday, March 28, 2008

How to stop worrying

How to stop worrying.

Dale Carnegie had some good ideas, but the story isn’t over yet.

It’s not as if there aren’t thousands, maybe millions of positive examples out there. So many mentors, so many shining examples of how to live life more joyously in the present moment. No, all you have to do is ask-- and even sometimes when you don’t ask, somebody you know will send a truly inspiring video directly to you via the magic of email.

But all those uncountable resources, they don’t always get through, they don’t work on the the tough cases. I recently figured out why. The brilliant, shining examples are speaking the wrong language. For people who worry, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer and other motivational speakers may as well be speaking Martian. You have to know your audience.

So let’s make a fresh start.

If you worry, it’s because you’re bad, wrong, and in all likelihood, stupid. Now, it’s not as if anything I say will change the fact that you fill your life with useless worry. No, you will continue on, day in and day out, running through your same, tired old internal rhetoric. You always do that. I’m so sick of it I could scream. I knew you would turn out this way. Why can’t you be more like your sister ? You’re supposed to be the smart one. Go clean your room.

Now I’m getting through, aren’t I ? If you worry obsessively it’s because you were taught to do so, either by example or by drilling into your brain that a certain world-view is in fact, reality. Of course that world view isn’t true. It’s a vicious lie. The world is filled with lies and deception. And you fell for it. God, you are so gullible. I can’t even believe it. Who raised you? Trust me, you can’t trust anyone. Look at me when I’m talking to you.

So, obsessive worry is caused by a faulty thought process, and that process is fueled by having been immersed in a world view skewed by excessive concern for safety, security and familiarity. That world view is ruled by fear, an emotion. Emotions aren’t bad or good, they just are. But it’s a useful thing to be aware of which emotions you’d be better off making a habit of feeling. Even more useful if you’re aware that your thoughts have a very direct effect on your emotions, and you can certainly learn to think useful thoughts which result in a more pleasant emotional state. Interestingly enough, more pleasant emotions tend to spawn more useful thoughts, encouraging a more positive and productive world view and that becomes a cycle which is self supporting. I’m losing you, aren’t I ? Like pearls before swine. I might as well be talking to a brick wall. Look, if you don’t pay attention you’re going to miss all this good stuff and then where will you be? Screwed, that’s where. I should have known. I could have predicted this. When will you ever learn ? What’s so funny, damn it ? Use your indoor voice.

Worry is, in fact, oppression. It was probably taught to you by people who meant well, as it was taught to them and so on. Don’t blame yourself for that, and there’s no need to blame your teachers either. Engender forgiveness in your heart-- for the fact that everything in this world is meant to change and grow. You learned one world view which has useful facets, but it was unbalanced and now you’re going to learn a new one. It’s not hard, but it might be scary. The whole reason for that fear to appear is because the new world view contradicts the old one which was based on. . . right, you guessed it, Fear with a capital “F”. Fear in this case does not indicate danger. Fear in this case indicates change, and your previous world view was constructed to sound the alarm whenever change appeared imminent. Again, be forgiving. Your friends, relatives, neighbors may have experienced very unpleasant changes. Those changes became associated with fear, and then equated with fear, and finally any change gets viewed as bad, wrong, or even “evil.” Whoops, that’s a stretch. Only an idiot would believe something like that. An idiot like you. You and the horse you rode in on. Mercy me. Stay with me now, remember; a stitch in time saves nine. I want you to turn over a new leaf. I’m just trying to help, and there you go again, flying off the handle like always. Now don’t go off half cocked. You could put an eye out. All I’m saying is, be careful.

So worry is a habit whose emotional basis is fear. When someone is afraid, the first instinctual thing we do is tell them “everything is all right,” “you’re safe now,” “you’re home”, essentially that they are in a quiet, protected, PREDICTABLE environment. Worry, interestingly enough, is the mind trying to predict the future, and all possible variations of it. It’s an attempt to achieve readiness now, for what might occur later. That’s impossible, if you look at the sheer number of things which might happen in the future and that you can’t mathematically prepare for all of them. On the other hand, nearly every creature on this earth is a living example of being prepared for everything. You are too, I’m telling you, you’re prepared, you’re worthy, you’re a high functioning individual-- the product of millions of years of evolution and a perfect child of God. And yet you think otherwise. I could slap you. I swear, right now. Oh la -dee-dah, you think you’re so special don’t you? That you have to stay up nights running scripts in your head because you’re the one individual in history who can mentally catalog every possible future event-- not just for you but for everyone and every thing in your life. Wow. Get over yourself.

Worry is oppression that is taught, and learned, based upon the idea that fear equals readiness-- that feeling bad is a good idea. Maybe it’s even a responsibility. Worry embraces the concept that the one constant in the universe, change, is something to be avoided at all costs. Worry can’t exist very well in an individual unless they are living in a state of constant fear. Interestingly enough, fear can’t be upheld in an environment of faith. Oh, ye of little faith. Oppression means that you were taught that you aren’t ready for anything, that you’re inferior. That really cracks me up. I’m laughing at you right now. Pointing and laughing, and doing a little dance which is rather uncoordinated but is reminiscent of the Bossa Nova. It looks totally silly and I don’t care. You have no faith at all, you sorry bastard. Even a little child knows that he can walk around in the world and be totally joyous. Hell, baby goats know that, puppies and kittens know that. Even flowers bloom, grass grows automatically, the sun rises and sets without writing a business plan every night. Point of fact, if you worry you are dumber than dirt.

Even though change is constant in the universe, on a day to day basis a lot of things do stay the same. Our civilization is built upon a certain degree of predictability. When we want to direct specific changes, we theorize based upon past observances, we try new things and observe the results. We innovate, and innovation is faith based. We have faith in our abilities to bring positive change, and we generally know that when we try new things we aren’t usually risking much. There’s a certain amount of inertia to reality, we can’t help but be aware of that. Little mistakes do not cause the fabric of the universe to unravel. That’s another reason not to worry. Most change is incremental, not revolutionary, or to put a negative spin on it, disastrous. This is what you should forgive your oppressors for: for knowing that much of life is about balancing inertia (tradition) with incremental risks to bring about positive change. They weren’t wrong to teach you this, maybe just a little out of balance. And because they loved you so much, they may have taught you to worry, thinking they were helping you to be ready for anything. So forgive them now and know that you are ready. Peace be with you.

Ok, I hope I was speaking your language and that this helped.
If it didn’t, don’t worry about it.
I know I won’t.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

No Place (Technicolor Yawn part two)

(A fictional story I decided to publish today: it's the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.)

7-10-03:“Surrender Dorothy” I say, pointing to the small sticker of Dorothy from the “Wizard of Oz.” A previous tenant stuck it there, right on the light switch plate. Star high-fives me and says “Oh my God,” because I had been referring to Eugene, Oregon as OZ, and here I am in Eugene and there is Dorothy, just waiting for me to arrive. Dorothy is smiling, holding a basket and wearing the ruby slippers. She is already in Oz and not yet back home in boring, sepia-tone Kansas. I’m still trying to understand that story in it’s entirety. For five weeks or so I will see Dorothy every time I need illumination, and every time I have had enough light for one day.

And there is Star, my Star, who moved back to Eugene from our college home in Chico, California several months before. That would have been about the third time that we broke up in four years. I missed her. We can’t stay away from each other. So I moved to Eugene too.

Star doesn’t yet know that some fool, probably the same sticker-happy fool; stuck a glow-in-the-dark five-pointed star on my newly rented bedroom wall also. It’s kind of near my bed but not really: they stuck it there off-kilter by about forty-five degrees so that a single point is aiming due south: Satanic style. It’s hard to spot that sticker in the daylight, white on white.

“. . . the little woman's hat was white, and she wore a white gown that hung in pleats from her shoulders. Over it were sprinkled little stars that glistened in the sun like diamonds. . . I am the witch of the North” (L. Frank Baum)

7-3-03 : I am on my way North to Eugene. The license plates change color as I leave California to enter Oregon, my new home. I look around me, expecting to see all the women suddenly turn big-boned, horsey, pale and plain; for the scent of patchouli oil to fill the air and for several vehicles to instantly transform into psychedelic V.W. hippy vans and love-bugs too, but they don’t.

Air-cooled veedubs didn’t make it past the 70’s in this country; gross polluters. I ponder my enyclopedic knowledge of the veedub to pass the time. The slug-bug itself was originally designed and built on commission to the Nazi party in the mid thirties. In 72 it beat out the Ford Model -T as the best selling car of all time. Henry Ford and Ferdinand Porsche exchanged ideas and even personnel. Adolf Hitler read Ford’s book while he was in prison. Ford didn’t much like Jews either, they had something in common.

‘73 and earlier Beetles are the preferred classic models in California, Oregon or elsewhere--no complicated fuel injection, no smog requirements. For whatever reason this car became an icon of 60’s rebellion, the proverbial horse of a different color. The last air-cooled Beetle just rolled off the line in Mexico where they still made them until this year because they are cheap, reliable and easy to maintain if you’re poor.

Star drives a beetle, that’s why I researched them in the first place. But hers has been in and out of the shop many times and still has mysterious and persistent problems. Nobody can figure out what’s wrong with that car. It’s not in mint condition. Star says the car is just like her: body damage, slow moving and doesn’t run right in the heat. It requires premium fuel and has a lot of quirks that only the driver knows how to deal with. Sometimes when you hit the brakes the left front wheel abruptly locks up and makes an unbearable noise. Or on any given day it just barely runs at all--it’s a random thing, like it’s mad or upset about something. Yep, that’s Star.

“Folkeswagen,” the original economy car, was designed to save Germany’s pre-WWII failing economy and it might have worked, through a system of privatized gains, socialized losses which the World Trade Organization and the World Bank would later adopt. VW would also utilize cheap foreign labor and eventually slave labor. The car was supposed to get 50 mpg, but never did. In 1937 you could buy one by saving up in a sort of coupon book, and it was more or less your patriotic duty as a German citizen to pony up your inflated German currency and do so. But war demanded that the first beetle drivers would be Nazi soldiers. No civilians who had collected their coupons ever got the car.

Post war beetles are all over Oregon today, painted with flowers, birds, covered with political stickers, and spewing nearly as much pollution into the air as an old V-8. It’s just vehicle, a device to serve a purpose like any other device.

I pull up in a rented Ford mini van to my new home. Having ascended directly through a six hour ring of satellite radio, it is still echoing in my head: one-hundred channels of digital chaos orbiting the big blue marble. I make escape velocity from Chico only to find that Eugene isn’t as green as it is supposed to be. Nobody waters their lawn here on account of the 40 inches of rain a year. The grass turns brown the minute the rain stops.

I am in paradise, the holy land, if you can imagine thirty degrees cooler than Chico as such, and I do. It’s easy if you try, but then you may say I’m a dreamer. I’ve been known to wish upon a star, a lot. I imagine much more about the promises of Eugene and it’s liberal, progressive community. The birthplace of civilization. It’s a place of hope. Chico is hell in summer, feels like 120 degrees in the sun. I don’t have to imagine that before I leave there. I have actually heard people compare Chico and Eugene as though they are alike. I don’t know what they are thinking. If Chico and Eugene are separated by degrees, then it is one hundred and eighty of them. As above, so below I guess. But one is the pale shadow of the other. To me anyway.

When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around . . . The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of he long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. (L. Frank Baum)

I have never been to an intentional community before. In the old days they used to be called “communes.” An intentional community is a household, or a series of nearby households that is intentionally a community, not just by accident. They share things, share values, they exist for some nameable reason and they want to accomplish some movement, not just eat, sleep and the like. It’s a symbol, it stands for something. You take a concept and stuff a reality into it. That's the plan. That's how it works.

Before I know it I am knock-knock-knocking on Ma-doon’s door to meet my future house mates. I have died and gone to Oregon. I am quickly introduced to several people, a blur of bodies and faces. The nicest one is Jean. She has a bright and spacey demeanor with slurring and vague speech, like a singsong, hard to describe. She honestly looks a bit like a wicked old witch but she doesn’t act like one, not at all. She’s very warm and kind of goofy and her little son, Adam, the only munchkin in the house, is totally adorable. It’s hard to believe he’s only nine months old, he’s a smart one. Looks you right in the eye with those wise little brown eyes and a smirky playful smile. Some kids will freak you out like that, old souls-- they already know everything, and little Adam can’t even walk yet.

I am supposed to find Susan, the woman in charge, my contact person. I remind myself of the warning that she is a reserved person and not to take it personally if she appears to hate my guts.
“So, you’re staying for a week?” Susan asks,
“Yeah, hopefully longer, if everything works out.” I answer, and she does appear to hate my guts, there is really no preparing for that. Maybe it’s only fair, if first impressions mean anything then I don’t much like her either.

It’s a huge house and I am shown to a tiny guest room. I think of it as my staging area, temporary, if and until I stage a more permanent theater in this foreign place. It’s tri-level, not a simple house: three floors, not counting the basement; a sort of underworld they call the dungeon rooms. I don’t want to get stuck down there, our own private guantanamo. The whole place is painted in unreal cheery yellow and other bright primary colors, not red, green and blue exactly but you get the picture. This house is called “Ma-doon” and that means “home.” The word was stolen from a local Native American language that is now dead.

I carry in box after box, bag after bag of my stuff, and notice that nobody offers to help me in any way. I come with baggage. I’m not asked how my trip went, and neither are many pleasantries exchanged. Jean disappears pretty fast. Susan shows me a plastic laminated sheet of instructions for visitors. It’s two-sided and is nothing but rules. Everybody in the house now has the air, to one degree or another, of annoyance. The natives are not happy to see me, and I thought I was wanted here. What’s wrong with them?

Star is living across town, she largely arranged for me to move in here, but I still have to qualify and be approved by the members. I get no key, no lollipop, no real welcome from the lullaby league or the mayor. I have to prove myself. It’s a brand new day.

“When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child's laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy's merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.” (L. Frank Baum)

The guest room, after several trips from the van, is filled entirely with my stuff. Much of it hastily interred within large black oblong plastic bags sealed with yellow ribbons in bows. There is a coffin sized space on the floor of the guest room for my narrow camping pad and that’s it. The move from Chico was a harrowing whirlwind of a campaign, like prepping for the hostile invasion of a distant place. All late nights, injuries and total exhaustion: my stuff, ex-house mates stuff, truck loads of stuff. I tried to cut down to a mere carload of belongings and I failed, badly. I never entirely made it out of Chico. A lot of things I needed were left behind and much that I didn’t need came with me. It was a messy, sloppy move but I felt it needed to be done and the timing was right, what with the weather and all. My resources were dwindling away and I had to act fast. Anyway it’s done now. It was expensive though. In more ways than one I may be paying for it for a long time.

I look out the window and see a crow attacking a squirrel, something I had seen before, in Chico before I left town. Why? Do crows eat nuts? Do squirrels steal crows eggs? I should think squirrels and crows have no cause to fight. There actually is a scarecrow in the garden here; the real kind, not the OZ kind that dances around, falls down, speaks eloquently about how he needs a brain. This one stands perfectly still and actually does scare crows, for awhile until they wise up. Crows, given time, will learn what kind of car the farmer with the shotgun drives and respond accordingly; the inherent advantage of guerilla warfare, like in our war for independence. Over the next several weeks I will be followed, played with, harassed and hounded by both squirrels and crows and spend too much time trying to decode that.

Now I sit in the two by six foot area afforded me at Ma-doon, and find myself surprised that my fat little heart hasn’t given out. Amongst all the stress, lost sleep and immense physical labor I have given away my companion orange-persian cat of five years, my buddy, my familiar. I loved him. I’ll never see him again but with so few casualties the move was an overall success. I put him in a basket and sent him off to be adopted. I also gave away the electric guitar that I built when I was twelve, about twelve boxes of precious books and virtually all my kitchen wares. Things went into the dumpster that I shudder to recall, and that was after the yard sale, after the donating, and I still had to last minute rent a storage locker and fill it mostly full. Everything is replaceable. Well, nearly everything.

Before I ascend from Chico, most of the dumpster leavings get rescued and recycled by a woman introducing herself as Anne Eubis, a black haired woman with a very pronounced nose, wearing incredibly thick glasses and driving a small station-wagon which she is very adept at loading. Everything I get rid of, she is hungry for, raiding the dumpster like an Egyptian tomb. She arrives at that Chico crossroads at three in the morning and ends up giving me quite the pep talk when I am ready to give up. She just plain cheers me up mostly, and is nice to me. I sit there on somebody else's discarded couch and I am absolutely done, shot, over. I’m a corpse, and she is a voice of reason and comfort, even as she rescues virtually all the food from my refrigerator: out of the dumpster, still cold. She thanks me for all the nice stuff, and I resurrect after talking with her. It’s a miracle. I think she is an Angel, a good fairy or a good witch; one of those, or better yet a goddess of the underworld. I’m glad she was fed. Her domain will be bursting at the seams. Casting off virtually all my worldly goods I feel that my flesh itself is being transformed to something lighter and finer. I’ll need that where I’m going, need to pass as a native, not an invader. Well OK, not a native, but a good-guy.

A few weeks later in Oregon, a massive thunderstorm gathers just above the house and wakes me before sunrise. It booms and rolls in the dark, shaking the entire three story structure down to it’s foundation. I spend the day tired, wandering and exploring, find myself standing in a graveyard, acclimated to this new State that I’m in. The graveyard is right in the middle of the university campus. All university campuses should have a graveyard in the middle, gives one a perspective. I am laughing.

I have just read the last tombstone I am going to read that day and it says “Holeman.” It strikes me funny, even though it isn’t, “At last your name makes complete sense, you are in a Hole man!” stupid really, and about then there is a crushing sensation in the center of my chest. I stand up straight and force myself to take a deep breath. The feeling does not subside but grows stronger. I try to take my own pulse and get nothing, that’s what it feels like; my heart has stopped beating. I look around and tell myself to find a place quick, where I can be seen if I fall unconscious, and I start walking towards the university campus center, my hand on my heart, waiting to feel a beat, and figuring that I must have only a few seconds before I pass out.

There are already paramedics arriving on campus at that moment, but not for me. Somebody else called them on behalf of yet somebody else, so that is the direction that I walk towards. My Heart decides to kick into high gear: from zero to all-out, no in-between. I count the beats at two hundred and forty per minute and say to myself "better late than never". When I get to where the paramedics are standing, I don’t know why, but I say nothing. I just stand there with my hand on my heart feeling it run under my fingers like a horse at full gallop-- going nowhere for no reason at all.

I just don’t want to be bothered with hospitals and dying today, it’s incongruous. Yet there is something about wondering if you’re going to die, as in soon, makes you run off at the mouth about everything. You’re suddenly this whirling dervish of talking, a vocal cyclone, saying absolutely everything to absolutely everybody. I’m out of time. This is out of sequence. Where will I go from here?

"Perhaps you have heart disease," said the Tin Woodman.
"It may be," said the Lion. (L. Frank Baum)


"From the far north they heard a low wail of the wind, and Uncle Henry and Dorothy could see where the long grass bowed in waves before the coming storm. There now came a sharp whistling in the air from the south, and as they turned their eyes that way they saw ripples in the grass coming from that direction also... The north and south winds met where the house stood, and made it the exact center of the cyclone." (L. Frank Baum)

Everybody at Ma-doon is around my age or older. I have only arrived that day and I am asked again a time or two how long I will be staying. I make a phone call to Star, my one friend here in Eugene; my bright point in the North. She conjured me up here. She is the first person I want to see tonight, but it takes what seems like hours for her to show up. I have not seen her in months. She is ill and I am lucky she comes at all. We decide to go out to dinner since nobody at the house will be cooking, and on the spur of the moment I ask whether anyone wants to join us. It’s a “community” after all.

Abraham does, he’s an interesting looking guy, due to the bushiest eyebrows I have ever seen. He also has a beard, sloping brow and weak chin. He honestly does look a bit like the wizard of OZ himself- the actor who also played the fortune teller in Kansas, and most especially the OZ gate keeper.

In a day or so I’ll be told not to trust him, a bit late for that news as I have already confided in him like a long lost brother. He talks about you when you’re gone, constantly one-ups and name drops in conversation and seems to have a need to put other people down to make himself feel better. In short, he is not who he appears to be. His sole purpose in life seems to be to gather information about everyone and everything and to use that information in any way that he sees fit, to his own advantage whether there is an actual advantage to be gained or not. He has more books than any other human I have met, and the house is bursting with them. He’s two faced. No, he is multiple faced. And yet over time I find myself liking him despite myself. He is like a congenitally flawed version of God, a jealous God; omnipresent, omniscient, enigmatic and ever changing.

"I thought Oz was a great Head," said Dorothy.
"And I thought Oz was a lovely Lady," said the Scarecrow.
"And I thought Oz was a terrible Beast," said the Tin Woodman.
"And I thought Oz was a Ball of Fire," exclaimed the Lion.
"No, you are all wrong," said the little man meekly. "I have been making believe."
(L. Frank Baum)

While I am living at Ma-doon I have a strange and vivid dream that on Easter, Israel will be simultaneously attacked on three fronts. Two will suffer heavy casualties, and the third will prevail. Israel's response will be blinding and terrible in the eyes of the world. Who knows what the start of WW III may look like? We will be busy watching reality television and reading about the lives of celebrities. My dream is odd, like Easter bunnies and candy eggs, children with chocolatey faces and hands. This is shocking to me. It’s so offensive that it wakes me up. I tell Abraham about it, asking him if he’s Jewish, he says, “Not entirely.” He advises me to keep my dreams to myself.

In his often friendly demeanor there is a loving quality about him, governed by an incalculable and overriding fear. His congenial manner hides something ghastly; a fire belching, booming voice and the face of a monster. We reach the end of the movie and we never know why. He is the kind of guy who seems to think he has the answers to every question, that he can solve all your problems for you because he knows all, sees all. In the end it’s just enough hot air to fill a large balloon, enough to float away on and you wish he would.

But right now, over dinner my very first night in this strange new place I am grateful to have his friendly, smiling, witty face sitting across from me at dinner, being my insider, telling me all the secrets of the house. Now I belong. I’m one of us. But then I discover that they all think I’m only visiting for a week with no intention of staying.

Somehow, intentionally or unintentionally, nobody was told that I intended to move in there, that I must move in there because I have no place else to go. I tell my brother on the phone that night that I am living in an intentional community and he says, “What the hell ? So what’s an “unintentional community,” you’re walking down the street and suddenly find yourself living with a bunch of people?”
“Yeah, it’s like that.” I answer, “I fell through the sky and here I am. Like the planet earth, an unintentional community.”

In this strange paradise I am lost. Every street leads to some mysterious somewhere. I find myself reeling with confusion and constantly losing my sense of direction. I’m not in “Kansas” anymore but neither is there a yellow brick road to follow. I might already be in OZ but I can’t tell, I just followed Dorothy into the tornado like Toto: a trained dog taking off camera cues and running after treats. Or maybe I’m Dorothy, I haven’t figured it out yet. The colorful players I have met so far are not on the same path as I. We all seem to have distinctly different needs and alternate destinations. There is no linking of arms and skipping along the path, there is no singing. Nothing is clear to me. The script got picked up by a mighty spiraling wind and all the pages got spun. That’s the structure of this thing. That’s how it is.

Susan is in the bathroom now for hours, cleaning. She is scrubbing in endless circular motions a bathroom that to my eyes wasn’t dirty to begin with. Susan is a “member” of the household, I am a “renter.” They joke about it: “members only” they say, if you are picking blueberries in the yard and there are only so many on the bush fit to eat. Blueberry bushes in Oregon grow like weeds. Susan’s five hours in the bathroom are being paid out of the previous renter’s deposit. The members believe he didn’t clean well enough when he lived here. Susan offers me another fifty dollars to do the kitchen, fifty dollars of money that isn’t hers, she says she doesn’t care if the job only takes an hour. Lucky me, no bidding on that contract. Just call me Haliburton. I decline the offer.“Consensus based community” that’s what it is called on the web page, you can look it up. “Like family, only better” it says. It’s inconceivable to me. They keep using that word,“community.” I do not think it means what they think it means.

"Don't you dare to bite Toto! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, a big beast like you, to bite a poor little dog!"
"Is he made of tin, or stuffed?" asked the Lion.
"Neither. He's a--a--a meat dog," said the girl. (L. Frank Baum)

There is no communal dinner my first night at Ma-doon, nor the next night, nor the next. Star, takes an opportunity to critique my personality at the end of a long day; says I get mad too much and she’s tired of it. Also I repeat myself obsessively and can’t ever just surrender and let go of things. I hold grudges. She compares me to a scratched phonograph record, with a worn needle that keeps skipping, an outdated technology. In four years I have worn a groove in her. This is all the worse because it is true. I am tired of it too but I can’t seem to stop.

When she calls back to apologize I ignore the message and erase it: spend the next day plotting and planning my retreat back to Chico. Not for any good reason necessarily, it’s just that I suddenly realize I moved to Eugene entirely for her, and so far things haven’t worked out the way I planned. I can spin it to make it look like a success: like coming here was a good thing and leaving here is also, not a surrender but a triumph. Mission accomplished. Blame the whole debacle on Eugene and it’s cast of characters. I can rationalize anything, especially unopposed.

I ignore Star for a couple of days, mad at her for jumping on my case almost as soon as I arrived, and figure on ignoring her for much longer. I put on my armor like a tin suit and it’s easy.

These Ma-doon people won’t make up their minds whether or not I belong here, and nobody wants to talk to me about it either. It’s a bad feeling, homelessness, even the thought of it terrifies me. I’ve slipped downward into a liminal state, purgatory, an uncomfortable no place. I need to claw back up and in through the gates. Home is where you hang your hat.

I start calling house-mate ads, making no attempt to be discreet, just in case I do want to stay in Eugene and can’t stay at Ma-doon. The members overhear my phone calls and realize that they are about to lose the option of making a choice about me. It is amazing then, how fast the members decide that I am top drawer communitarian material. I am a meat dog. Just to make it interesting I tell them I’ll have to think about whether or not to accept. A few hours later I ask them “OK, which vacant room should I go for?” They get my seven hundred bucks move-in costs and that is the end of the discussion. I take a middle room. I assume that the house has fully landed after the storm, the witch is crushed, and everything after that point is preordained to happen. Maybe it’s always that way. Maybe it never is.

"It was very dark, and the wind howled horribly around her, but Dorothy found she was riding quite easily. After the first few whirls around, and one other time when the house tipped badly, she felt as if she were being rocked gently, like a baby in a cradle." (L. Frank Baum)

Interesting thing about OZ, once Dorothy lands there she doesn’t eat, sleep (unless you count the poppy field and that doesn’t count), she has no shelter nor change of clothing. She walks the whole way to meet the wizard in those ruby slippers and we have no idea how far that is or exactly how long it takes, like dream time. She has no car and she doesn’t need one, not even a bicycle. I think there is only one horse in the film and it keeps changing colors over and over but it’s always the same horse. In the film version of Oz, Dorothy has no bodily needs, all she wants is to go home, back to Kansas. Kansas, where it is all brown and boring and she couldn’t wait to leave there. Then she wakes up after her coma or whatever it was, and says she never should have left! In the film they imply that she never did. I think one day she’ll be eaten by the pigs at the trough; playing her balancing game she’ll fall in again and no cowardly lion will save her. The book is a little different than the film:

“When Dorothy was left alone she began to feel hungry. So she went to the cupboard and cut herself some bread, which she spread with butter. She gave some to Toto, and taking a pail from the shelf she carried it down to the little brook and filled it with clear, sparkling water. Toto ran over to the trees and began to bark at the birds sitting there. Dorothy went to get him, and saw such delicious fruit hanging from the branches that she gathered some of it, finding it just what she wanted to help out her breakfast.” (L. Frank Baum)

Michaela, one of the departing Ma-doon renters, turns out to be another Angel, like that dumpster Angel, Anne, only different. Michaela looks like an Angel too, the kind I like with that rough sort of beauty. No Angels in the OZ film though, just good witches and bad witches, some unaccounted for, if you count all four compass points, and I do. I figure they get around some, pop up here and there. Michaela looks a little angry a lot of the time, like the kind of girl you want on your side. Finding allies is not hard, just look for a malcontent. Dirty blonde hair, chiseled features, nice mouth, cute figure: we ride around in her mini-van one day running errands. It is a thin excuse for her to tell me all about what it is like to live here (she was there for three years). She tells me every secret of the house that she knows. It is also a good opportunity for her to tell me how much she likes my contrary attitude. While I sit in the passenger seat watching her profile, she draws her flaming white sword of truth. A warrior angel, I wondered when I’d get to meet one in the flesh. I get the sense that she is immensely accurate in her perceptions. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is a hot day (for Eugene) and we are driving a van-load to goodwill. I can smell Michaela, she positively stinks but I don’t care. Actually I like it. I want to lick her clean. I’m bad like that, she has no idea. Michaela has a boyfriend she is moving in with; a white guy with dreds. So I am just looking, and smelling, and thinking. So is she I think.

One night she shows up in my room drinking a beer and wants to talk a little. The rest of the house is empty. My imagination runs wild, and she has the good sense not to get within ten feet of me. In my mind I tell myself that she was maybe tempted. I allow myself that. Star and I talk later about Michaela, we both find her attractive. Star thinks Michaela doesn’t belong with the dredlock guy. I’m not as quick to judge on that particular occasion, but Star is often smarter and more perceptive than I on a lot of things. She’s my top advisor, my true North. Michaela is not the only strong, healthy and independent woman in Eugene who attracts me, they are everywhere.

Within days of my arrival I catch myself thinking how wrong they are to accept me in this house. As a community member I’m going to fail. I already am in some ways. But I will take others down with me too, and feel good about it. I remember a quote, a favorite of mine: “Time, terrible time, destroys all beings in all worlds.”(Shiva). This community has been around for 12 years, a very long time for this sort of arrangement. The clock will strike thirteen, and this, sick, aging and corrupt household will die, decompose and go back from whence it came.

There are rules for this household; a two inch thick binder, of plastic laminated pages, filled. The rental agreement that I signed is something the members made up in an attempt to give them absolute power and control over all possible outcomes. Ironically this has resulted in several legal loopholes. I don't really understand any of it, but in my free time I delight in all the things that I “could” get away with. It’s like a U.N. resolution, a passage from scripture, or something your wife made you promise. Rules are all about interpretation, and enforceability. In any given situation I figure there are potentially hundreds or thousands of possible outcomes. It just takes a little imagination to exploit any given one.

At lunch time, ten days into my stay, John, a founding member, discusses buying the properties that surround this house as well, just for that extra measure of control. In his mind he has already bought them. He and Abraham discuss which people amongst their select circle of friends might be suitable to live next door to them. Their personalities, relationships, life challenges are bandied about like a cast of cartoon characters drawn crudely in crayon. Buy up the block and install “our kind of people.” It’s called gentrification if you’re in a bad neighborhood, but we aren’t. The gentry is “us,” the good guys.

Deciding that everyone around you should meet your personal approval, your standards of behavior is called something else, I am not sure what. Fascism maybe. In this circumstance I run out of “isms” to call it. Sitting there eating a sandwich, I stand up and walk away from the table, leaving John and Abraham giggling and winking at each other like fourteen year old girls who are best friends this week and will hate each other next week.

After I fall away from this place for good, every remaining resident will give notice to vacate inside of one week, a mass exodus. Except John, founder and web page author, and Abraham. They presumably will be left giggling at that table, alone together in a huge house, at last. But I am certain that this too will be temporary. I can’t say that I had much to do with that. I like to think that I’m influential though, once I get in the front door.

"Dorothy sat up and noticed that the house was not moving; nor was it dark, for the bright sunshine came in at the window, flooding the little room. " (L. Frank Baum)

The morning sun typically breaks bright and early every morning in my second floor bedroom of Ma-doon. There are a lot of windows and no curtains to hide behind. The neighbors, if they look, have already seen me naked several times. I don’t much care about being exposed. The room is small, but I like it all right. I like the yard too, and the front porch, but after only two weeks I find it unbearable to live here and I give notice, much to the shock and surprise of the household. I guess they thought I was there for good, that I would never leave. No, if I don’t get what I need, I’m gone. There are certain people I will miss. I have favorites and I have those whom I wouldn’t have near me if I could possibly help it.

Sean, Jean’s partner, is a beautiful man, long and lanky with ebony skin and very nice teeth and an agreeable and affable personality. He is also a very talented artist, and he makes good money at it. All these qualities, but this is a guy that one instantly likes, and I couldn’t tell you exactly why, except that when he talks to me he calls me “my brother.” There is something about the way that he says it that you know he really means it. I cannot possibly say enough about that particular thing. I will say it again, that is the best I can do. He calls me “my brother” and he means it. I have only ever called one person in my lifetime “my brother” and that’s David. David is my brother.

A stated mission of the house is to “embrace diversity,” but all us residents are about the same age, same color, same politics, and from the same socioeconomic background, except Sean, and his son Adam. Sean is only here because he is Jean’s partner, and Jean is a full member, not a renter like me. Sean would not be subject to an acceptance or rejection process, but later members would discuss this amongst themselves; that Sean would not have been accepted on his own merits. Arguably all of Sean’s qualities, or lack thereof to achieve membership, are a result of being an immigrant from a foreign country, Africa. It seems his diversity makes him undesirable; not one of us. There are worse things than a slightly dirty bathroom or kitchen to occupy your Ma-doon, one of those other “isms.”

On Monday I take a long bike ride, wandering and letting my intuition guide me, and I manage not to get lost. I do that a lot. The new bike I bought for two-fifty-nine is awesome, It’s a Trek model 3700, and I tipped the guy with a 1937 Quarter that turned up in my pocket shortly after I arrived here. They were made of silver back then, precious metal, now history along with the gold standard when our currency could be exchanged for a soft, heavy, tangible metal that won’t corrode or lose value. Since Nixon washed out of the White house in ‘73 we’ve had to find other ways to get the world to believe in the pocket sized portraits of our presidents. Perhaps we could introduce a tin standard, or a wheat and rice standard. On my bike ride I find myself wondering what Star is worth to me, pros and cons, a single human life, but a very specific one. If I had to choose one person to spend my life with, how would I make that discriminating choice?

Shortly after the bike purchase I buy a car for three hundred bucks. Even though it’s an old Mazda 323, to me it’s my mid-life Ferrari, or Maserati Bora. Mmmmm, Maserati Bora I don’t have to explain that to anyone; impractical, but what a ride. I pat her on the dash and tell her “you complete me.” I found her in the 3700 block of Diamond street. Many of the streets here are named after precious stones.

37 miles outside of Eugene, on the way back to Chico, the engine will expire and leave me stranded; after 37 days in Eugene I can’t get away. I will call Star on my cell phone, asking her to please come and pick me up. The night before that, she will cry and cry in my car and say, “why can’t we be together forever?” and I will reply that she makes herself a burden to me, that I tend to resent her for it, and eventually I won’t love her anymore if I resent her. It feels like having a child who refuses to grow up, but I don’t tell her that part. Sometimes I’m a child too. We’re enmeshed like North and South winds spiraling into the center of a compass needle. Ours is a dependency that is mutually depleting, yet wholly addictive. We melt into each other and are ecstatically annihilated, losing all sense of linear cohesion and order. This is the way the world ends: a brief commercial interruption.

This is a test of the emergency broadcast system. Tornado warning.

“Please come and pick me up Star,” I say into my cell phone,”I don’t mean to be a burden to you, wouldn’t want to be a burden.” She laughs, but she does come and pick me up. I spend the next week eating crow, hanging out with Star and wondering what it was that bounced me back to her. Might as well be talking to a squirrel as trying to figure that one out.

I have no idea what all those 37’s mean. I could probably do some research and figure it out but I don’t care now, it’s water under the bridge and I’m busy with what’s in front of me. I’m lying though, I did look it up. Aside from the Nazi’s getting awfully busy by 1937, and I don’t mean building Beetles, Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific ocean. The same day I wrote the previous paragraph, afterwards I happen to watch an episode of “Star Trek, Voyager,” even though I never watch that show: that’s the show where all they want to do for the whole series is to“go home.” The episode I watch is titled “The 37’s.” The crew finds a group of humans who had been kidnapped by aliens in 1937, held in stasis, frozen in time-- and one of them is Amelia Earhart, who by the way, was born in Kansas, just like little Dorothy. The show premise is that she got sucked up into the sky by aliens, and that’s why the wreckage of her plane was never found. She and Noonan, her navigator, have existed all this time in stasis on another planet, like the tin-man rusted in mid ax stroke.

Following a trail of rust, the Star Trek Voyager runs across this ‘37 Ford truck, floating in space. Eventually this leads them to a very earth-like planet, a home away from home for frozen Amelia and a bunch of unfrozen descendants of 1937 Earth. It’s so nice there that Captain Janeway tells her entire crew that anybody who wants to stay there, can. They can all surrender their likely hopeless quest to go home. Nobody stays, except Amelia and the other 37’s after they wake up. Chakotay even gives a speech to Janeway about how he wouldn’t give up the Arizona sunset for anything. Arizona is hot as hell, he doesn’t mention that. Plus they are already on this really nice planet. No, I think Chakotay is institutionalized, the ship is his home. He likes the replicated cafeteria food and the simple plot lines handed to him on a weekly basis. He’s so stuck to his Star Trek that he may never grow up and move on. That’s why I don’t watch the show. One thing that’s interesting though: “Jane-way,” she’s the woman in charge of getting them home. Fun with Dick and Jane. Everything is done her way, for a change.

Amelia Earhart got married on my birthday, February 7th, and she disappeared July 2nd: that is to say, respectively, 2/7 and 7/2. Those are bookend dates to her marriage, a mirror image. Interestingly, 2-7 was when I decided I couldn’t be with Star anymore, and 7-2 was my last day in Chico before I ascended back home to my lovely Star. Amelia was 39 when she died, my age. I am not saying that I am Amelia reincarnated, somebody else already wrote that book. Star on the other hand, looks a lot like Amelia, is deathly afraid of flying, and has a phobia that long trips will result in death. Amelia was a big Star, a strong woman who accomplished a great deal in her lifetime. Star however, is the anti-Amelia. Not only does she refuse to fly, she barely makes it out of the house most days. Mired in Amber like an Amelia fossil she has the appearance of motion but that’s all.

L. Frank Baum, the creator of OZ, was married 37 years before he died of congenital heart failure, a condition which dogged him his whole life. He had to severely limit his activity, foster a happy go lucky frame of mind, and cultivate his imagination in order to survive. He was a homebody. They say his wife, Maud was his virtual opposite. L. Frank married into major connections with the women’s suffrage movement. Mr. Baum doted on Maud, and relied heavily upon her advice and support. He figured out the “yes dear” factor, the secret of success. They had a long and happy marriage, maybe I could too.

Amelia Earhart went over the rainbow, and didn’t come home. She died two years before the Wizard of Oz film was released. In ‘39 Dorothy proclaimed to little girls everywhere: stay home, don’t go anywhere, remain in brown and white sepia-tone Kansas, on the farm with Aunt-Em and one day marry one of those farm hands. Your dreams are nothing but brightly colored delirious fantasies. L. Frank Baum was already dead twenty years and had no creative control over the film.

Amelia Earhart ran out of gas on the last attempted leg of her journey-- leaving at zero o’clock on a 2556 mile trip, or, exactly 37 degrees of circumference across the face of the great round mother. That’s 370 seconds if you think of the earth as a spinning, rocking clock face, orbiting a small star. The destination was Howland island. How to land when you can’t find the tiny island, that was the trouble. Noonan failed to navigate them to the tiny half-mile wide by one-mile long island. Their plane, a Lockheed Electra, skipped out of a rather narrow groove and their song ended abruptly. At 7:30 pm this radio transmission was received, "KHAQQ calling Itasca. We must be on you but cannot see you... gas is running low..." They were 7,000 miles short of their final destination, home. Amelia planned to have no more “stunt” flights after this one.

Eleanor Roosevelt convinced her husband to engage in the most costly air and sea rescue mission in US history, 9 naval ships and 66 aircraft, to find her friend. They never did find her. Amelia stayed where she fell, or landed. “The end” I guess. Ms. Earhart is something like Elvis though, alive with urban legend. Some say she was captured by the Japanese, believed to be a spy. W.W.II had already started really, though not officially, we just weren’t in it yet-- a few more years and we had to goad the Japanese into bombing Pearl Harbor first , by cutting off their oil. Then we act all surprised and shocked. Roosevelt knew. Here’s the thing, the Japanese said, “If you cut off our oil, we will attack you.” We cut off their oil. We had a lot of oil back then.

“Earhart” that’s an unusual name, like “Holeman” it means something. My name might mean something, maybe somebody will be entertained by my gravestone. I hope so. “Ear” and “heart”, listen to your heart, that’s an easy one. Amelia did that, in many ways, including stealing her husband away from his wife, Dorothy Putnam. We can’t feel too sorry for Dorothy however, the Crayola Crayon heiress, she got bored with her workaholic husband and was the first to have an ongoing affair with a man 20 years her junior. 64 colors and whenever you are looking for red, green and blue all you find is crimson, emerald and sky, or if you’re Amelia; aqua. Plenty of fish in the sea. Endless variations on a theme, you’d think people would get tired of that but they never do: millions have been made in colored wax, a petroleum product.

On average, twelve million crayons are made daily, enough to circle the globe 6 times, which unfortunately Amelia died trying to do only once. The average child in the United States will wear down 730 crayons by his 10th birthday. Crayola, a week ago as I write this, celebrates it’s one hundredth birthday with the unveiling of a fifteen foot tall 1500 pound crayon. I imagine it’s blunt blue tip aimed playfully at heaven like an intercontinental ballistic missile. On a crazy publicity tour, Crayola collected the worn down nubs of crayons from children everywhere, melted them down to make this one huge crayon that no mortal can use. God’s crayon. A three quarter ton crayon has an intangible value like paper currency, precious stones and metals. They’re all worth something because we say they are. Every kid wants his Crayolas, every bride wants her diamond, and every man had better have a pocketful of presidents. I don’t have that. I have enough to buy some crayons maybe, no diamond.

Also part of Crayola’s birthday party, was the retiring of four colors. Death, actually, but they didn’t call it that. For months prior, Crayola called for people to vote to save their favorite color. I believe burnt sienna made it off the chopping block. But this left Crayola at the end of the day, with cases of now dead crayons, in four colors, and thousands of angry and disenfranchised customers who had voted to save them. Therefore today you can buy a box of 64 Crayolas, by special order, which looks just like any other box of Crayolas, but when you open it up it’s full of dead crayons: all in eaxactly the same color, a mass unicolor grave. I want one. Somewhere along the way Star decided I’m her burnt sienna. Even though I’m not. I’m more like devil-red to her, which is not a crayola color and never was. We consume each other. It’s killing us.

“. . . The houses of the Munchkins were odd-looking dwellings, for each was round, with a big dome for a roof. All were painted blue, for in this country of the East blue was the favorite color.” (L. Frank Baum)

Dorothy Putnam got a divorce and Amelia surrendered. She got married after first turning down George Putnam several times. This was the prenuptial agreement that Amelia Earheart wrote:

" The Square House
Church Street

Dear GPP,
There are some things which should be writ before we are married--things we have talked over before--most of them.

You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means most to me. I feel the move just now as foolish as anything I could do. I know there may be compensations but have no heart to look ahead.

On our life together I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any midaevil (sic) code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly. If we can be honest I think the difficulties which arise may best be avoided should you or I become interested deeply (or in passing) in anyone else.

Please let us not interfere with the others’ work or play, nor let the world see our private joys or disagreements. In this connection I may have to keep some place where I can go to be myself, now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinement of even an attractive cage.

I must exact a cruel promise and that is you will let me go in a year if we find no happiness together.

I will try to do my best in every way and give you that part of me you know and seem to want.

I can’t help but notice, no “dearest George” and no “your loving Amelia.” It’s all business. Ms. Earhart requested and got an open relationship, just like Star did with me, even though I didn’t want that. Neither of us ever really acted on it, but in the four years we were together, we knew we had freedom. Rules, subject to interpretation and enforcement. Amelia listened to her heart, maybe I should too, and do whatever it tells me to do. Amelia, Dorothy, Eleanor, Janeway and Maud, I like strong women. Typically all my heart says to me is this: tick-tock, tick-tock, and it leaves the rest to me. Home is where the heart is, I’m told.

The last few minutes in the death of my car: I have my foot to the floor, the revs are dropping as the aluminum head warps and the oil and water mix-- then the last of that noxious steam escapes out the overflow. The car keeps slowing and slowing, the temperature gauge goes all the way up to the top and the engine is already gone. My stomach constricts as I wait for the final deathblow, a thrown rod maybe- a horrible horrible clunking sound, or the valve train will give way, or a total engine seizure as pistons weld themselves to the cylinder walls and the front wheels might lock up too.

I listen intently as the sound of the engine changes, hissing and grinding, and perversely the temperature gauge drops back down to almost normal, a false reading, giving me a sick feeling in my stomach. I can’t stand the suspense anymore, and I put in the clutch and let her die peacefully, shut off the engine and drift to a halt. It is a coma she’ll never wake from, but not the end of the world. Outside the steaming, smoking car I step to the back and unstrap my bicycle like dropping a life raft. At that moment I realize that nobody on the planet knows where I am. I have thirty something dollars to my name and all the important stuff that I own is in a dead car on the side of the road, some side road, middle of no place, Oregon. Actually I am just barely above a town called “Drain” and behind another called “Curtin.” In about one minute I am back on the road, bicycling. I ride to the nearest town where I call Star, passing some kids on MX bikes who tell me it’s not far. Not far my ass.

It’s too bad about that car, a fuel injected 1987 Mazda 323. I had just spent five hundred dollars fixing her up; new tires, struts and a muffler. A tiny rubber hose, hidden under the intake manifold burst. It is part of the cooling system, and the heart of the car, the engine, can’t do without it. By the time I realize that there is anything wrong, it’s too late.

1972 air-cooled VW’s don’t have a separate cooling system. Beetles are great cars, flawed by their own history, but then I guess we all are. Star drives hers out from Eugene to rescue me. Her ladybug isn’t painted with flowers, trees, birds or polka-dots though, it’s pure white. We fly away home, back to Eugene. I have to wonder if my car breaking down is a message to me, something to prevent me from leaving Star.

The tow truck driver informs me that they crush all the cars once a year, and that’s coming up in a week, so my new car will be one of them. Any car older than ten years they don’t want for parts, they crush it for scrap and it’s barely worth the crushing; decidedly not precious metal. In a week’s time the center of that scrap yard will be a crushing sensation. This vehicle is done. I feel so broke up, I want to go home.

That Satanic star sticker is now directly behind where my computer sits on the floor. I hate typing like this, but I have no desk, no chair. The five pointed Star as I said earlier, is actually just tilted, on it’s axis like the earth does at seasons, rocking back and forth like a baby’s cradle, 23.4 degrees plus and minus, solstice to solstice. Tick tock. The star is a symmetrical object, so it depends on how you look at it: one point is supposed to be pointing skyward, that means your spirit, your higher ideals are in the clouds, the heavens, the ideal realm. Turn it upside down (or tilt it, like I said, single point aiming South) and your spirit is somehow inverted-- you are motivated by earthly things, dirty things, quite literally material, bodily concerns: Sex, money, food. That’s the whole point of it, what’s at the top, what’s at the bottom, or more precisely, who. Positive aspected or ill aspected. Turn something upside down and you are looking at it’s opposite- south for north, heaven for earth or maybe hell, male for female, microcosm for macrocosm, Republicans for Democrats and so on.

The transcendent minded believe that these earthly concerns can be crushing to the spirit, or at the very least distracting from the true path, the proverbial yellow brick road. Please follow this. The Star is just a symbol, it can mean anything depending on how it is interpreted. Betsy Ross was fond of the five pointed star, although George Washington preferred the six pointed variety: a double triangle traveling North-South; a diamond in transition, towards becoming. Betsy won George over with a magic trick. She cut out a pentangle from a folded piece of cloth with a single clip. Here’s your handkerchief back, Georgey. At least a couple of religions have adopted the pentangle as their own, the Muslim faith, the Wiccan faith, to name two. Both have been subjected to witch hunts in recent memory. The word “Islam” means “surrender.” Ultimate surrender, to God. Allah is the same God of the Christians and the Jews if we are talking family history, and we are.

Some people say, “before enlightenment; chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” Rules, subject to interpretation and enforcement. I think it’s a Buddhist proverb. When you’re chopping wood, all that exists in the world is that wood, the ax, your body, and each successive moment in time-- all perfectly balanced and in harmony with all things, beings, and other moments; past, present, future. Chopping wood is meditative, but it’s also totally earthy. Why are you chopping wood anyway? Because you’re cold and you need a fire to warm your beautiful stinking body. Fuel, can’t live without it.

So if you’re a woodsman, out there in the woods by yourself, chopping, maybe you achieve enlightenment and you don’t even realize it so you just keep on chopping. Meditation is designed to bring about what’s called the “still-point.” The still point is stasis; the zero place where infinity is. Time does not pass there, nor does space exist, nor movement, no energy is expended, it is the place of total nothingness and of infinite possibility, the ultimate coming home, a quantum singularity. You don’t even have to leave home to find it. It exists between thoughts, during thoughts, it’s always there. It is the white page on which all black ink is spilled or scrawled, forever. No compass points, no up, no down, no reference, and no discrimination. Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s the no-place place. So you could get there and not know it, because as Allan Watts once said, “There is no there, there.” But then he was a notorious alcoholic, always had a bottle of something about him. One short step then, from the zero point to infinity. I’m somewhere in the muddle of all that, in between and caught up in the endless details. “Ein Sof, Ein Sof, Ein Sof” I sometimes dream that. It means endless. “God is in the details,” Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, an architect, said that. He also said “simpler is better.”

The Scarecrow listened carefully, and said, "I cannot understand why you should wish to leave this beautiful country and go back to the dry, gray place you call Kansas."
"That is because you have no brains" answered the girl. "No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home."
The Scarecrow sighed.
(L. Frank Baum)

Think of the tin-woodsman, he’s out chopping and it rains, he doesn’t notice, he rusts solid and doesn’t move, for a whole season at least, maybe longer. Then Dorothy and the Scarecrow come along and they see him, or they hear him. What’s the first thing he says? “Oil can.” You wish he’d just make up his mind--either stand like a statue blissful and perfect, or dance around, sing, cry; for a man with no heart he does a lot of that. Cries, and then he needs the oil can again. It’s the monkey on his back, his milk from the mother. Oil, he has to have it lest he rust up, freeze and become immobile. What the hell, we all need something to keep us moving. Characters who don’t move make for a boring story.

Meanwhile the Scarecrow is always thinking, he’s the brains of the outfit, and the lion despite his fears behaves courageously. Dorothy just wants to go home but in reality she is already there, she’s just asleep. I missed all that significance when I was a kid. None of the characters change at all, they gain nothing. They are the same at the end as they were at the beginning, in the middle of no place, briefly interrupted by a storm.

This has been a test of the emergency broadcast system. We now return you to your program, already in progress.

Tuesday afternoon in Eugene, Star arrives for a visit. She is wearing very unflattering clothes that look like baggy pajamas. We hang out for a long time, walking and talking in my neighborhood and she knows all the good places to walk because she used to live here too. We wind up at the cemetery. I go ahead and tell her that I think we are better as friends than lovers, and it is not a huge surprise to her. She’s been more or less waiting to go out with this older guy named Nick, a lawyer with a bunch of kids. He has money and can take care of her. I tell her she should if she wants to. I have no idea at the time how quickly she will get around to that, but it will only last a couple of days. Sean cooks a big African dinner for everyone that night, and I eat far, far more than anyone. I eat like I’m starving. Star leaves.

I go to bed thinking that this is Star’s room, it should be her room but it isn’t. Dorothy is on the light switch, the star is on the wall, she likes things clean and organized and she is much more social than I. But Star already got kicked out of Ma-doon once, they won’t have her. A lot of good people haven’t made it in this house. I can’t be with Star either. I tried it more than twice. I had to drive 385 miles North to discover that, again. The curse that plagued her in Chico has followed her here to some degree. Star invited me here to Oregon, to see her in her power. I don’t see that.

Still, Star is fighting guys off with a stick, as usual. She can be quite amazing and she won’t continue fighting for long. She is trying to create a utopia of her own environment. Me too maybe. The translation of the word “utopia,” is “no place.”

A star is a singularly unique celestial body, precious as a diamond amongst an infinite number of possibilities. Stars are unique, no two alike and all brilliant. But up close I can’t stand the heat.

Diamonds are pretty too, hard but brittle. Tapped in the wrong place and they shatter into a million phonograph needles. All you see is the twinkle. The multifaceted geometry is an architectural structure not designed to reveal itself, only reflections. It’s a mirror trick. The landscape is the observer and not the thing. Cut and polished diamonds are said to have “fire” and “clarity” but they contain nothing, only light; that which is shed upon them. A bit like marriage.

One day after the “just friends” talk and Star and I are in bed, if I had a bed, but I don’t so we are on the floor of my second floor bedroom without any curtains, windows wide open and ducking as low as we can below the sills while Abraham waters in the garden like God wandering amongst his esteemed creations. It’s hot and we’re sweating. My palms stick to her skin as they slide over her body. Her breath smells like apples and her wide lips and broad mouth are wet and friendly as ever.

Later we walk to the local health food store and Star points out that the fudge-swirl mint ice cream is 1/3 off. I swear that woman wants to keep me fat. It’s sinful.

Michaela is in the kitchen right before the ice cream and telling Star and I again about how to manifest your perfect career. I know that this kind of thing works. Michaela is still looking really good but I am not supposed to notice that within minutes of what Star and I had just been doing in the bedroom. “What have you been up to ?” Michaela asks, and I manage to somehow answer that question.

Sean is out in the backyard, drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette; I think it’s a cigarette. He keeps emphasizing how hard Americans work and how different things are in Kenya. Sean is an artist who creates and then sells his work at fairs and festivals. The word “taxes” has also come up several times since I have been here. Death and taxes, the inevitables, and I think I’ve heard marriage in there once or twice. “They don’t pay taxes in Kenya.” he says, and we learn that the IRS has audited Sean’s bank accounts, as if he were hiding diamonds in the soles of his shoes. “We pay taxes here,” I say, “so we can conquer the world, fill the earth and subdue it. It’s currently our four year mission to explore strange new worlds, meet exciting new people, and kill them.”
“God, would you just shut up and enjoy the sunset?” Star asks, and I obey.
“Sorry,” I answer, kissing her on the cheek.

Star and I are now on the porch, in the dark, eating ice cream. Susan comes home at 11 at night with a whole carload of groceries for the house, so Star and I help unload them. Susan is a very busy person, her job is taxing. She can’t quit, even though it is destroying her, the job pays too well. There is a job at the Dari-Mart two blocks away that I tried for and couldn’t get, it probably pays minimum wage.

There is apparently no job for me in this State. Not only is Oregon highest in unemployment in the nation, but Eugene is the highest in the State. There’s no place precisely like what I am looking for. I’m afraid. I’m out of money. I’ll return to sepia-tone Chico and go back to school, collect government financial aid and eat cafeteria food: institutionalized again, just like Chakotay. This will all have been like a dream. But back in Chico I’ll be purely miserable, miss my Star, miss Eugene, and wonder how to get out of where I am. Dorothy squared, ad infinitum, forever and ever, Amen.

"Where is Kansas?" asked the man, with surprise.
"I don't know," replied Dorothy sorrowfully, "but it is my home, and I'm sure it's somewhere." (L. Frank Baum)

Star is sitting on the arm of my chair on the front porch and the sun went down a long time ago. It’s getting dark, too dark to see, like a long black cloud covering the sky. Star’s cricket legs are stretched across my lap and her right arm is draped around my neck. We finished the ice cream. In the dark I think I can see her smiling at me. I imagine her eyes. I wonder about her, what she is.. “Like a diamond in the sky” but better. She knows me, knows who I am and doesn’t mind. She wants my dreams to come true and hers too. So do I.

Back in my room later, I remove the Star sticker from the wall and smooth it back on in the correct position with the top point aimed North: spirit ascending, earthly concerns in balance. I place my hand over my heart and feel that it is beating, underneath that tin rib cage of mine; hard bars separated by soft cartilage. I listen to it for awhile. It’s not exactly like clockwork, but it keeps on ticking, clicking, and skipping along in it’s circular, spiraling grooves. Emphasis on the off beats. Star has gone home to her place and I’m still here. For some reason I am still here, but I won’t be for long. I’m headed South, back where I crawled up from. Time is fleeting, and I want to go home. There’s no place like it.

It was a terrible thing to undergo, but during the year I stood there I had time to think that the greatest loss I had known was the loss of my heart. While I was in love I was the happiest man on earth; but no one can love who has not a heart, and so I am resolved to ask Oz to give me one. If he does, I will go back to the Munchkin maiden and marry her." -----Tin Woodman

Two months later, back in Chico, I hop on my “Trek” and go for a spin. It’s a good thing the car died. This bicycle is probably saving me from death by heart attack. Near the end of the ride I come up on a teenaged boy with a bunch of his friends. He has a rock in his hand, aimed at my head, his right arm aloft and waiting. He says, “Do you surrender? Just say yes.” I’m within a few feet of him now. I smile out of the corner of my mouth and keep on pedaling, say nothing.

Star has started up with a new guy. We’d been keeping in touch, and I had been fantasizing about going back to her as soon as I could. On the phone she tells me about him. I break down and cry, sobbing my love for her. She demonizes me and the whole relationship, like I’m the great Satan who just took over everything. An irresistable force. I don’t think I was that. Maybe I was that. Surrender means a lot of things, depending how you spin it, tilt it, fly it, color it, invert it or obscure it. I surrender. I say yes, but it’s too late. Maybe her surrender to me was destroying her. I make a resolution to withdraw from her life, and her territory, she needs to rebuild. So I surrender Star, to her own happiness, and I hope ultimately, to mine.

“Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace” Amelia Earhart

Monday, March 17, 2008

Who is susanchap21 ?

A spammer.

It's a real person (not a bot) who is not accessible via the web (no published information) but who nonetheless posts constantly to blogs, forums, etc. What stands out is her constant hyping of Judith Orloff, MD.

I found nine pages of google entries with that specific earmark. I found easily 143 entries containing "susanchap21 and Orloff" together. Sheryl and I both got hit. I published the comment at first, and then realized what was going on and deleted it.

I only looked closely at a few of susanchap21's posts. In one instance she claims not to be connected to Judith Orloff (somebody asked her directly). In other instances the unsuspecting have answered her comments with carefully thought out responses, several paragraphs long. Why? Because susanchap21 will actually read enough of your blog to make it look sincere, then she invariably touts Doctor Orloff's work in some way, providing a helpful link within the comment.

I can't prove who she is or who she works for, but my personal opinion is that this is a particularly deceptive guerilla marketing technique. Another personal opinion: it's not ethical to feign interest in another person's sincere creative work in order to snipe in an advertisement .

Sheryl is writing about this too. We got nearly identical comments within 24 hours to a couple of our blogs. If Judith Orloff or her employee wants a free ad on my blog, she can offer me a free ad on her blog or website and I'll consider it. But I don't like being tricked.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Technicolor Yawn

(A story I wrote, about 6 years ago, it still seems relevant to me)

“Technicolor Yawn” I’ve heard it called. That word, “Technicolor,” makes me think of “Old Technicolor” and movies like The Wizard of OZ where reds are ruby, greens are over the top “Emerald-City”, blues are sky-topaz and the scariest characters in the whole picture are the flying monkeys.

In 1932 the initial three-color technicolor process was perfected; before that, all movies were in black and white. The new cameras were big and cumbersome with two “splitter” lenses and three large reels of film running simultaneously in parallel through filters: red, green and blue. When the film was processed these three reels were perfectly laminated together for full color. The negatives were super dense and imparted dreamy, ultra vivid, over-saturated colors. It wasn’t quite right.

The film was “slow” and blindingly bright movie lights had to be used during shooting. Brighter, hotter, projection bulbs had to be developed also and if the film reel ever stopped during playback the highly flammable cellulose nitrate films would ignite. Cellulose nitrate, also called nitrocellulose, is the principle ingredient of modern gunpowder. Upon decomposition these old films have been known to spontaneously explode. People sat in the dark, watching the screen, while the film ticked and cooked: just above their enraptured heads, and just below the point of conflagration.

Many people called color a gimmick. They didn’t like it much at first. Sound had been a fairly recent innovation and some people were still getting used to that. They called the early sound films “talkies” because these films featured actors chattering and blathering away constantly with approximately nothing to say. “Scriptwriters” had not been properly invented yet. “Stereo” would not be developed for decades.

The Wizard of OZ hit the screen in 1939. It was a color talkie. Black and white film would not survive this new gimmick. Buddy Ebsen was the original Tin Man, but he was poisoned by breathing the aluminum powdered silver makeup while working under the brighter-than-the-sun movie lights. He was sick a long time and when he recovered he found that he had been replaced. The makeup was changed when next actor was elected.

Various actors had fought and squabbled over certain parts in the picture. Those who fought best, pulled strings and manipulated won the day. Imagine what it would have been like if the Scarecrow had been the Tin Man or the Wicked Witch of the West had been slinky, sexy and seductive: they tried that, it didn’t work. It would have been a completely different picture. No, the Wicked Witch of the West had to be old, vivid green with envy, and want those blood-red shoes of adolescent Dorothy more than anything.

“Well my little pretty, I can cause accidents too” is one of her lines which hasn’t been quoted to death. The art of illusion is fragile, these things must be done delicately.

Another premier in 1939, September first, Hitler invaded Poland. Two days later W.W.II was declared. Hitler wanted Poland; he took it. Hitler was master of the art of illusion. You never knew what he was really up to until it was too late. America was late entering the war. After all everything we needed was in our own back yard.

Flying monkeys- they scared me pretty badly when I was six or so, the first time I saw that movie. In 1939 audiences screamed. Some ran from the theater. Children had nightmares. I’m not sure why the monkeys were so scary, but maybe it’s something about the way that they could fly down from the sky without any warning and just carry you away. Big damn monkeys too, in full, bright, abnormally vivid color, making sounds.

Flying monkeys are somewhere in size between a chimpanzee and an ape: about the size of a small man in a monkey suit. The first monkey on the ground looks unstoppable, absolutely bent on his task. He’s moving fast and with only a dim glimmer of intelligence: he can’t be reasoned with. The second one gets Toto. A whole gang of them rip Scarecrow apart, but it doesn’t kill him. There are advantages to being a straw man. His head and upper torso are intact and his friends put him back together.


“Technicolor yawn,” a novel term for vomiting, is supposed to be a cute or funny name. Makes you think of a wide open mouth, like a yawn I guess, presenting a kaleidoscope of colors. “Yawn,” something you do when you’re tired, or bored and need entertainment. The technicolor part is about being sick. Can a person be all that at once? In any case I’ll be occupied with that particular activity for about six hours straight on this Monday evening. It’s near midnight when the first symptom of food poisoning suddenly and unexpectedly appears, but it isn’t the “yawn”.

“The trots”, is the first flying monkey to arrive, so to speak. The colloquialism, “trots” doesn’t make me think of anything, except maybe the fact that I didn’t trot to the bathroom fast enough. We make up funny names for things we don’t actually want to talk about. A foreign body has invaded mine. In six hours it has mobilized, multiplied and successfully liberated my digestive system from my control. Freedom fighters. Or insurgents: what I have consumed is consuming me. Everything, absolutely everything, gets consumed by something else.

A man sits in the White House with a sixty percent approval rating. If he starts raining missiles on the people of Iraq in a few days, a week or a month, his approval will go higher still. All of France, Germany, Russia and China to name but a few countries, think he’s a dangerous madman, a bloodthirsty cowboy. We know better, we are Americans and our president couldn’t be that way. He is defending our constitution. He is bringing peace to the Middle East. He is a sworn-in agent of democracy. Our top rated shows on television feature real people lying, cheating, stealing, beating each other up and generally screwing each other over. Some of these concept shows were borrowed from Great Britain. Great Britain likes our cowboy. The consumers have spoken.

Iraq has 142 years of oil reserves at current production ratios, the second largest oil reserve in the world after Saudi Arabia. Iran is in the top five, the second of three “Axis of Evil” countries named by our president. The U.S. is pretty far down the list, we have only seven years left before we run out of our own oil. Great Britain has four years. The big red hourglass has been turned over and sand is pouring through.

The blood of the earth is black. Who put it there and why? Were they careful and methodical when they created it? It doesn’t “go bad”, it just sits in the ground at a cool fifty-two degrees waiting to be sucked out and consumed. It does have an expiration date, seven years for us, 142 for Iraq. Our frig is almost empty. There is no way to burn petroleum without creating poisonous gases, no matter how refined. It is a good lubricant for machines and can be reused many many times. Otherwise we don’t know what to do with it. It’s toxic, it’s poisonous, but we love it.

So I’m sitting on my toilet staring at my own shit on the white tile floor and thinking “well, that never happened before.” It makes me think of geriatrics, and the trick of always making it to the bathroom on time even when you are sick. I suddenly have a lot more sympathy for those whose physical selves have deteriorated to the point of causing them embarrassment, and beyond, well beyond that. I almost always feel like I am somewhere in my mid-twenties, but right now I feel way past my chronological age. There is something about seeing my own body-fluid outside of my body and some place where it shouldn’t be, some place I never expected it to be, that is unnerving.

My bathroom is incredibly tiny, just a toilet, stall-shower and sink. The door swings inward and therefore can‘t be opened if the shower door is open at the same time. It can’t be opened if anyone is sitting on the toilet. The door almost can’t be opened if you are in there at all: there’s a bit of a dance involved; of grabbing the doorknob, pulling, and backing up nearly into the shower before you can finally escape. On the upside however, you can, if so inclined, touch everything in the room from the one tiny square that you can stand in: shower nozzle, toilet-tank, faucets. No bending, no stretching, touch everything. It’s a tiny universe. Everything is connected, all within reach and every movement has an outcome.

Star and I can’t reasonably take a shower together, this somewhat complicated by the fact that I have gained about fifty pounds in the five years that I have lived as a born again college student in this generic little Northern California town of little distinction, called "Chico" which means "boy." It's a good name for it. Our town’s claim to fame; The Adventures of Robin Hood was shot here, with Errol Flynn, in Old Technicolor, 1938. That year Joseph Goebbels declared the assassination of a single German official an “international Jewish conspiracy”. Angry Mobs immediately killed 96 Jews, burned 1000+ synagogues among many other acts, and 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. It was called kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass.” Welcome to Sherwood.

Sorry, Robin Hood is only one of Chico’s claims to fame, the other being massive college-student riots. Storefronts smashed, cars overturned-- not protesting anything, just rioting, for fun. Drunk and bored. A technicolor yawn.

A journalist once described Chico as the place where you will find Velveeta in the gourmet foods section. That pretty much describes it. Ok, there’s a river and some trees because there had to be a Sherwood forest, but Chico is like my bathroom except without the Velveeta. I once swam where Little John got knocked into the water by Robin Hood. They became fast friends as soon as they were done whacking each other with wooden sticks. I love the movies.

Another thing that you can do in my tiny bathroom is sit on the toilet and throw up in the sink at the same time. I am now finding this out for the first time. It seems that my body is making simultaneous efforts to purge itself of some unknown substance. At this moment I am not thinking of the ruby slippers, all covered in glitter, clicking together, “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home”. I am not hearing that song in my head ‘Ho ho ho, ha ha ha, and a couple of tra-la la’s, that’s how we laugh the day away in the merry old land of OZ.” There is probably a vague ringing in my ears that does not sound like the bells of Saint Peter nor can it be described as musical in any way. I say probably because I am paying no attention to sound right now, but instead, trying to figure out what it was that I ate.

This is not a talkie. The colors don’t please me, they are for identification purposes only, they are decidedly not technicolor. My girlfriend, Star, asks through the bathroom door, “Are you all right?” and I answer after some delay. I don’t really hear in stereo anymore. Most of the hearing in my right ear got lost somewhere.


Minutes have passed, maybe longer, I am partially recovered and cleaning the bathroom. Spraying blue Windex on the white surfaces of the floor, sink, and toilet has a pleasing effect, like an instant solution to a very big problem. I imagine the ammonia burning, killing these pathogens that so recently poisoned me. Each time I squeeze the trigger on the spray bottle I’m thinking “die, die, die”. If they are tiny flying monkeys, I am unaware of it. They may feel pain or have a desire to preserve their own lives, these small beings. I doubt that they can be described as evil, hungry maybe, maybe even ambitious, but not evil. They do what they do. I do what I do.

It’s a blue chemical rain of ammonia that they receive, a bio-toxin guaranteed to kill, but from my great distance and relative size, the microscopic bacteria are expiring in complete silence, without any drama or suffering evident. They absolutely do not stand a chance. There is no hope, no god for them, unless he is me, and I hold the technicolor blue windex; a weapon of mass destruction.

When I am done I take a shower, assuming that the ordeal is all over. But in the shower I begin to feel lightheaded, weak, and dizzy. It is some effort to get the water turned off and myself out of the shower before fainting. Soon I am sitting on the bathroom floor, dripping from the shower, with my head between my knees to keep from passing out. The window is open and it’s cold. I’m shivering but not inclined to reach for a towel. It’s somewhere after midnight. My girlfriend tries to open the bathroom door and can’t, the door presses up against my right knee, “Do you want me to take you to the hospital?” she asks, “Maybe,” I say, but I am thinking how wrong that would be. This is a private thing, it’s mine and I don’t want to share it with anyone. It's a secret. “Besides,” I tell myself, “there isn’t anything that they can do for you- unless you pass out, so don’t pass out.”


It’s now after the second or third bathroom session. I have managed to dry off, get warm by the wall heater, and ask my girlfriend to help me write down the things that I can remember having eaten that day. What do we have that needs to be thrown away? What do I need to warn others about? It seems like an orderly and reasonable thing to do within the few minutes afforded me between panicky runs to the bathroom.

Throwing up again: I notice that things are coming up in the wrong order. Last thing in should be first thing out, and it isn’t. “Wow, I didn’t know that my stomach could do magic tricks” I think to myself, and the fact that it can does not explain why it would want to. The presentation is out of sequence, non-chronological and I don’t understand it. It is confusing the facts like rewritten history, and the proofs are disappearing as fast as I can flush. No paper trail that anyone can follow.

Chocolate doesn’t seem so appealing like this. It’s just regurgitated brown batter now, as ugly and boring as crude oil. I can’t remember at all why I like chocolate at this moment and yet I love chocolate, I always have. It’s just another concoction that we humans make. We make stuff, we consume it, we excrete it, over and over and over again. And then one day we die, and the stuff that was our body gets buried and turns into other stuff. Stuff stuff stuff, I am so tired of stuff, nothing but stuff to deal with. Later Star argues with me, it’s not about the chocolate, she says, but I can’t shake the idea that it is. It’s somehow all about the chocolate.

Chocolate muffin, with chocolate chips, bought from the liquor store across the street and what I assume to be the culprit. God knows how long the thing was actually buried in their semi-refrigerated section at fifty-two degrees, give or take. There was no date on it. Who made it? Who actually mixed up the batter and baked it and stored it there? Were they a careful methodical person? I’ll know as much about that as I will ever know about how, or why my stomach did a magic trick. Was it to frighten and amaze me? To shock and awe? Was it to keep me entertained while waiting for this sickness to pass? Was it trying to trick me, misdirect me, get me to agree to something or just observe my response. I no longer trust my stomach. God knows.

Nothing I swallowed on Monday tasted evil, it all went down just fine. Some people say that chocolate is a necessary evil. Chocolate is a funny thing, it has a little caffeine in it, and it has a lot of chemicals which mimic brain hormones. These hormones give you the same feeling as love. Then there’s the fat and sugar-it’s like artificial love, it’s addictive. Most chocolate contains lead, from it’s source; tetraethyl lead, an ingredient of refined petroleum not yet outlawed in Africa; the source of most of our cocoa. It’s in the ground, the water, the chocolate.


It’s hours earlier in the evening and I am laying my hand on my girlfriend’s blonde head, meditating and asking to remove whatever this plague is, this thing that keeps her from sleeping, causes pains in her knees, neck, back, circulation problems, extreme sensitivity to temperature, crying jags and more.

I’m a healer, or at least I was one at one time. I have healed quite a few people just by laying my hands on them but I haven’t healed Star. For years I have been watching her fall further into despair and frailty. Maybe she has an autoimmune disorder, maybe rheumatoid arthritis, something similar to chronic fatigue or to fibro-myalgia but not the same. Another healer told her she was going to end up with Multiple Sclerosis. Never tell that to a hypochondriac. Star doesn’t believe in hypochondria. I can’t say that I think the problem is all in her head but I think that it may have originated there, now it’s systemic and it’s tearing her apart.

Star calls it a curse and she doesn’t know what it is. “Curses!” the Wicked Witch said, “Somebody is always helping that girl”. Somebody is always helping Star, actually, everybody is. An amazing amount of aid gets dedicated to her by family and friends on an ongoing basis.
That same healer who diagnosed Star also thought that the world was largely coming to an end last summer, and he told many many more stories crazier than that. Sometimes I worry what people will think of me if I voice a controversial opinion. Sometimes I talk about one thing when I am really talking about another thing entirely. Maybe I shouldn’t worry. I don’t think we listen all that hard anyway.

“No, you’d better not do that,” she says, and I take my hand away, “Remember what happened last time” she continues, “I spent half the night clawing at my chest afterward”. It’s true, she hadn’t told me about that response for a long time, for fear of what I would think of her. I had worked to separate her from this thing which plagues her . . . whatever it is. I pictured ripping, removing, separating them apart and throwing the offending entity away, even giving it a bit of a trouncing for good measure. My hands were laid on her for healing but I was kicking ass in another realm. I knocked the stuffing out of it.

Fighting wasn’t the thing to do I think. I followed an instinct and I was wrong. My girlfriend unfortunately had a bad night after that. I don’t know if her clawing at her chest was to let something out, or to let it back in. One of my drawbacks as a healer; I’m impatient. Not everything can be changed overnight. Not everyone wants to be healed. There is a lot invested in habit and history. But I don’t always know what’s best and it’s condescending to act as if I do. Star says I don’t understand what’s going on with her and I’m wrong. Flying monkeys, we move fast but we don’t think a lot. Scary, even now.

Another session with the toilet and I am shouting because I can hardly stop myself, it’s more of a bellow. A sound comes out of me like my soul is leaving my body and won’t be back anytime soon. At the time I can think of better places for it to be. My girlfriend comes in and touches my lower back and it feels like an electric shock. “No don’t touch me please!” I say, and I am back to my task at hand, surprised that I am getting worse instead of better. I had believed that things improve over time, pretty much everything.

I don’t know if I am protecting myself or protecting her from some sort of spiritual contagion. I find myself thinking of the movie “The Exorcist” I can’t help it, even though I have never actually seen the flick from beginning to end. Released in December 1973, when Star turned two years old, “The Exorcist” was billed as the scariest movie of all time, based on the true story of a two month long exorcism of a 14 year old boy in 1949, the year that NATO was formed and the USSR tested it’s first atom bomb.

The main character in this film, a young teenaged girl, is sick a lot and generally annoys people. She is possessed by the Devil, which is something I don’t believe in. I only barely believe in evil at all. Usually when people say “evil” they mean something else. Linda Blair’s head turns around completely backwards at some point in the film and she’s looking the wrong way. Two Catholic priests show up to try to drive out the offending entity. Apparently the Devil is Catholic too because he really responds to what these priests say and do; that should make him pretty predictable. Had he been a Buddhist or Muslim demon it would have been a very different film. How they made the plot interesting I don’t know. Like I say, I never saw the movie. There were sequels, each one worse than the previous.

In 1973 Saigon fell and we fled Vietnam, Watergate gathered steam, and audiences ran in horror and nausea from “The Exorcist”. September 2000 the original film was re-released; audiences laughed and ate popcorn. The art of illusion is fragile


I can’t help wondering if some kind of curse on my house is being cleansed through me, through my body. It is a fact that in my eclectic belief system I sometimes ask the assistance of the archangel Michael, the warrior angel, to clear dark energies away. He likes to fight, I like to fight. What can I say, I like the image of an angel with a flaming sword, it’s cool, even though I’m not a Christian it just works for me. I had asked for his help earlier that evening, before I knew that I was sick, it wasn’t for me, it was for Star, I felt fine. There was nothing wrong with me.

In between retching I thank the archangel for his assistance, I thank him for the opportunity to be an instrument of God. It’s impossible right now not to think that some sort of cleansing is going on. My body feels like a battlefield, a little country wracked with explosions and soaked in toxic chemicals. I feel like I asked for this, but I don’t know, I really don’t know.


Star is in her room throwing a fit like a woman possessed. It’s before midnight and I am not sick yet, feeling only mildly bloated. Star can’t sleep, even though she has done everything that the sleep expert told her to. She is tearing something up, I can hear it from my room. I lie in bed hoping that it isn’t something important like her syllabus, her notebooks or textbooks.

I get up and check on her, ask her not to put another hole in the wall like last time. She is sort-of sick all the time and generally annoying to live with, and it’s getting worse. She has new complaints, new symptoms every day. I think that there is nothing inherently wrong with her. In fact she is one of the sweetest and kindest people I have ever met, her smile positively lights up the room and she is likely smarter than me; to name just a few of her qualities. But over the course of about five years, her behavior has become completely intolerable, and if I had a good witch who could wave her wand and grant me just one wish it would be for her to be carried far, far away from me.

Out in the living room we both start to talk. She is calmer. I try to lighten things up, “ I ate this little muffin and it just got bigger and bigger and bigger, now it’s this big!” I indicate a globe-sized orb with my hands, she laughs. “I’m sorry you can’t sleep,” I say, “that must be terrible.” And I do mean it: that’s when I lay my hand on the top of her head, and then she asks me to stop.

Somewhere after this I am retracing my thoughts, which are beginning to get very confused. My reasoning abilities are impaired and my memory is too short to be trusted either- I have lost not only the chronology but some of the events of the evening itself. It’s a scary place to be. I am trying to sort it out in my mind so that I understand what is going on, what happened and in what order and exactly how I got here. I want to understand and I don’t want to be wrong.


Around three a.m. my brain is repeating the word ‘Ricin’ in my head, one of the world’s deadliest poisons. It can be easily extracted from castor beans. “Terrorists caught in London manufacturing “ricin” the headline said. “Oh God,” I think, “Maybe the terrorists are poisoning the chocolate, the coffee, other stimulants that good Muslims don’t indulge in. What a brilliant way to attack the US, poisoning only the forbidden fruit. I’ve got to e-mail the FBI. Or it could be Smallpox. It’s an early outbreak of smallpox and I am one of the first victims. Too sick to go online. I haven’t checked the news today, maybe there are outbreaks in the major cities.”

The NBC nightly news has somehow become the most effective terrorist organization on the planet, and all they do is talk. Why do they want us so afraid, and why do we keep watching?

Dimly aware that Ricin and Smallpox probably have nothing to do with me, I am also still aware that I truly might be involved in some kind of spiritual cleanse and that I probably should be praying. It is just as likely that I ate a quantity of food containing tiny bar-shaped bacteria called “salmonella” which is a fairly random event having nothing to do with anything, just bad luck. Or it’s both. Or it’s neither.

I question just where it was that I went wrong to begin with, morally that is; the chocolate muffin that I ate now seems irrelevant: this must be punishment for something. I need to apologize. I need to do better, be a better person. I am growing old. I am certainly decadent. Where I used to be strong I am now merely fat. Where I used to think in long complex thought patterns I now merely hold opinions, it’s much easier. Worse yet, I would actually recommend this to others. The ignorant are more successful, achieve higher office, they live longer and when they die they die happy, rich, and without regret. They are winning, they are winning the war. It is taking me a long time to figure this out. There must be something that I can do about this. I don’t know for sure whether I am becoming better or worse. I am a college student. I am almost thirty-nine.


It’s six in the morning and I am taking my first drink of water for quite some time. I instantly know that this is the best tasting water I have ever had. There are repetitive thoughts in my head which have been looping back and forth, over and over. I can’t describe the nature of these thoughts further, but I am unable to make them stop. I have been trying to sleep despite feeling very cold, shivering, and breathing very rapidly. I know that I won’t be able to hold down the water but I drink it anyway. I can’t resist it and it makes me feel better in that moment that I am drinking.

Star is on the couch and has taken muscle relaxants. She is able to sleep between my bellowing and moaning but I don’t know this. I am vaguely sorry to be keeping her awake but there is no point in telling her so. I eventually drift off myself and dream of a large black rectangular object which is occupying the interior of my forehead. Eventually this dream, which turns out to be a headache, wakes me up. The headache lasts three days. My first solid food is Friday and that’s my birthday .


I’m dizzy and tired for about another week from the sickness, then I am okay. Star had complained to me after a few days of being sick: on my birthday I think it was, that I had better get well because she couldn’t “carry me” for much longer. “Carry me?” I wonder; I have been lying around, sipping water and asking for nothing at all, an inert object. I don’t get it, but I think that is the day that I decide I really can’t be with her anymore. My body may have decided that a little sooner.

On Valentines day I buy myself an electric guitar that I can’t afford. Star buys herself a drum, and me a small teddy bear wearing a white t-shirt and black leather jacket. He looks a whole lot like me. I think that’s what I am to her in a certain way; a teddy bear that she cries and holds and tells all her secrets and troubles to. But I just can’t take it anymore. It doesn’t take much to blow Star over as if she were made of straw and she falls apart; legs over here, stomach over there. She’s at war with herself. She’s Iran and Iraq, North and South Vietnam, Palestine and Israel. What a world, what a world. I don’t know what the problem is but but a nagging feeling tells me that it’s me. She’d be better off without me. I’m not what she truly wants or needs.

I take Star out to the movie theater for Valentines day and we watch an incredibly melodramatic, sad movie because our first choice, what we came to see, is pretty full up and only the front row is still available: it’s a big splashy musical with lots of dancing and fun. But when you are that close to the action you can’t really see what’s going on, it’s like you’re in the movie, not watching it, you have no perspective at all.

So instead, Star and I opt for the second choice: It’s about spending the hours waiting to die, or deciding to truly live. Almost everyone in the film cries, and a couple of them die also. Most every relationship in the film is full of grief, longing, obligation. I find myself wishing that we hadn’t watched the film on Valentines day, that this hadn’t been my gift to her, but it was.

Four days later Star reads an early draft of this essay and informs me that she is quitting school and returning to her family and friends in Eugene, Oregon, The Emerald Valley. Unlike the scarecrow she gets no college degree as yet, but she has an excellent brain and I’m sure she’ll get by. She has to leave while there is still something left of her. Who cares what the square of the hypotenuse is anyway.

Her mother is coming down to pick her up. Her mother is a Witch, no joke; a good Witch, we think. Actually Star isn’t entirely sure what kind of Witch her mother is but she strikes me as a nice enough person. She owns a chapel and performs marriage ceremonies, has a lot of cats. Waves her wand and Star is gone.

Within a day the house feels cold and empty, like I’m not even there, it’s as if I melted away. But there is finally peace, and I’ll adapt to that. Star escaped, she got away. I hope she finds what she needs. Oregon is pretty far off, somewhere over the rainbow. It rains there a lot. There’s no place like home.