Aug 042014


The cheese stands alone.

—From “Farmer in the Dell,” nursery rhyme

Spelunking into the shame cave, are you?
Don’t beat yourself to death with a headlamp.

That? That’s a cut from a stalagmite.
They’ll reach out and getcha.
If you swim too low, too slow, too something you don’t know.

And don’t swim fast, either.

It’s one thing to explore a cave, any old cave.
With a hole to the outside world, where you go in and out.

It’s quite another thing to swim underwater into a cave.
A cave within a cave.
That’s a dive, and it’s dangerous.

People drown in there.
At least, that’s what I believe.
Divers do survive; I know a few of them personally.
They claim that no one has actually drowned in the shame cave.
That when you slip through the hole, and come up through the cold black water, you’re not in another cave at all. You’re in the sunlight and the water is warm.

I met a guy once, who taught scuba diving in the Caribbean. He was saying that even warm water can be hideous and oppressive if you spend your whole life in it. He was a negative guy, a real downer. He wore sunglasses all the time. I never saw his eyes.

We love control. We hate being alone. We like to decorate.
We fetishize food. And dainty little soup tureens, and napkin holders.

Everything in its right place; I am god of my dinner party.
But it’s such a mess, afterward, the tablecloth stained with wine.

Mar 172014


“It was with great reluctance that I found the figure could not serve my purposes . . . But a time came when none of us could use the figure without mutilating it.”

—Mark Rothko, 1958

First Layer: We have an aura. It’s said to hover above our head and around the edges of our body. Best bet: wear white and sit in a room with white walls. Ask a friend to look at your aura for you. We can’t see our own aura. We are inside it, like a dry cleaning bag. A woman once told me my aura was red, and that was bad. (Anger.) This happened a long time ago; maybe the color has changed. Maybe not.

Aura is the visual cousin of what people call “energy,” that unseen vibe that follows us into a party and affects our social success. It can also influence sex life and salary. I would talk about “chi” here if I knew anything about it.

Second Layer: What people see, smell, taste, and hear when they get close enough to touch us. What we are trapped inside of. The bag of bones and the skin. The thing we dress and clean and feed and stroke and long to have stroked. Pretty simple, stupid even. The outer body.

Third Layer: The inner body, blood and guts. Biggest element? The brain, which has DNA telling it how happy we get to be. The same DNA tells us how lonely we feel, regardless of the people in our lives. The brain is going to do exactly what the DNA tells it to do, unless we intervene with chemicals. But the brain ALWAYS wants to revert to its original DNA-directed balance. And it will keep trying to get back there, like a stubborn horse, which makes higher doses necessary, and which also makes psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies lots of money. And drug dealers, and big tobacco, and alcohol manufacturers, and candy/cookie/ice-cream makers. You get the idea. A lot of people make a lot of money off the stubborn brain.
So screw the brain. Just go around, and hang out with the heart.
That’s right, circumvent the brain. It’s easy.
No, it’s not, it’s damn near impossible.
Still, the heart is much more relaxed, and forgiving, and elastic and fuzzy and melted and delicious. And it’s the size of our fist, which is adorable.

Fourth Layer. Ah. Dropping down into the depths below the organs and the blood. Where bombs go off on our arrival. And after the bombs, the hot lava. And after the hot lava, the clouds and the swollen oceans, crashing waves. And after the crashing waves, a tiny glimpse of light. Which is hiding behind this layer. Except this isn’t a layer. It drops away into something else altogether. This is only going to happen when we are sitting around alone. Probably close to suicide. In fact, maybe the glimpse of light is the thing that suicides are looking for, but they take a wrong turn and end up dead.

Fifth Layer: Let’s take that back, that comment about suicides. We are all presumably alive if we are reading this. So let’s leave the suicides out of it. But you do have to figure that they were either missing a layer, seeking a layer, stuck in the wrong layer, or involved in some kind of out of control soul-diving exercise when they took their own lives. That’s all we will say about it. (Except that the brain should have been able to put a stop to it, and it didn’t, which is why I say, boycott the brain.)

Fifth Layer: Let’s try layer five again. Well, there are more than five layers. Too many to number, if we could actually find a way to describe them. Let’s be cheerful and optimistic about this fact. And also acknowledge that there’s very little to be said about what goes on down there, or out there, or beyond. We would need new words, new language, maybe a new alphabet. Maybe a version of cyrillic. Maybe clicks and beats. But this is where we need to rest and grab our water bottles. Resolve to keep going.

Oct 012012


The Agents of Outrage: An embassy attacked. Diplomats murdered. The new calculus of violence against America.

Brooklyn is Finished: Or has it only just begun?

You call this an election?

Could China and Japan go to war over these?

The Adventures of Genius: True Tales of Brilliant Heroes

–headlines in the checkout line at Whole Foods magazines in order of appearance: Time Magazine, New York Magazine, The Atlantic, The Economist, Mental Floss


I went on a silent retreat once, and I meditated for four days. I did not have a meditation pillow or anything that might work for meditation, so I borrowed a big floor pillow from my landlady. She had a new dog, a puppy that wasn’t right. It was just one of those “lemon” puppies, and we could all tell within a few weeks. But what can you do in that situation? That’s why I like mutts, but my point here is that I borrowed a pillow from my landlady. Then we went to the meditation retreat.

The first morning, during our “sit,” the Buddhist teacher explained that only in extreme emergencies could we raise our hand. Then her assistant would come over to help us, but only by exchanging written notes. And then we sat. And sat. I was sitting there and it started to dawn on me that I was going to be sitting like that for not just hours but days. We really, truly, would not be allowed to talk. The other “retreaters” wouldn’t let me talk, even if the teachers had pity on me. They went there to get away from conversation. There was no one to talk to.

I looked down and there were all these little worms crawling out of the pillow I was sitting on. I want to say they were worms. Weevils maybe? Honestly, at that moment they looked like maggots, but that may have been a result of my heightened awareness. It occurred to me that Buddhists don’t like to kill living things. I smashed a couple, but they actually bled, so I stopped. I looked up and everyone was meditating, so peaceful, and the worms kept crawling out of my pillow. Yes, I did raise my hand. I did. And the assistant took my pillow somewhere and did something nonviolent with it.

I think I may have mentioned the American spiritual teacher I met in India who wore a JC Penny vest and had a big handlebar mustache. I am not going to say his name because though I don’t personally have a problem with him there are those who do. Anyway he was picking on this woman during one of his talks, a European woman who had actually become a Buddhist nun and meditated for twenty years. The teacher informed us that the nun was still hugely neurotic and worried constantly about the most trivial things.

“Right, Maria?” he said. “Meditation doesn’t work, does it? Your mind still chatters away and tortures your soul. Right, Maria? Right?”

Then he held his watch up in front of his face and said that most of us can only see that much of reality, it’s like each of us has a watch in front of our eyes, really close, so it’s all we can see and we think that’s all there is. I liked the way he used his watch; it was the only prop he had handy. But I didn’t like his vest. Vests are hard to do. You have to really know what you are about to successfully wear a vest. Any vest.

Oh, and my husband went on that silent retreat with me and we did not really talk it through before we went. He had done these retreats before, but I had no idea what I was getting into. We had separate rooms, and once the retreat started he would not make eye contact with me at all in the cafeteria, or if I passed him in the meditation room on my way to my new pillow. He was acting like he didn’t even know me, and that sent me into a sort of tailspin of rejection and uncertainty. Of course, he was only following the retreat protocol. Maybe I was being devoured by worms when they explained this protocol, because I had no idea why he was treating me like a stranger. We were newlyweds at the time and I was quite confident of his love for me, but I started to suffer the worst kind of heartache. Why wouldn’t he look at me? Was he mad at me? What had I done? I cried myself to sleep that first night, and then I went into a brooding rage. My meditations weren’t going well, to say the least. I finally slipped a desperate note under his door, in violation of the rules. He snuck up to me on a path and hugged me quickly, asked me if I was crazy. Someone witnessed the hug and reported us.

There is a funhouse ride I remember from when I was a kid and could ride those things without vomiting. It’s a haunted house with the spinning, tilted seats that carry you through on tracks. At the end, in a dark room, the seat suddenly spins around and brings you face to face with a huge mirror. And in the mirror, between you and the other person in your car, sits a ghost. A green wispy thing. Laughing at you.

Right, Maria? Right?