just B

I don’t know why it should be so hard. why the thrash, why the flail– even with virtually all external expectation removed.

accidentally, initiated by misreading an oblique reference, I start reading about samsara, about the persistent cycle of world-building– and consequent world-destroying– and associated suffering.

up with the growling radiators and belly cramps, I ponder the various ways in which I’m complicit in this cycle of suffering. the compulsion to disclaim here is strong, to unwrite myself even in the process of attempting to write– codas ad infinitum– a little knowledge is a glancing and misapprehending thing– and yet I must begin someplace. indeed I must make peace with both beginning and continuing. having had a bellyful of ending for some little while. that, at least.

chris, shape maven, in the course of a lifetime culling industrial and popular culture ephemera has collected a number of large signage letters. he has, for instance, the most elegant aluminum Y– emblematic of the eternal question. last night, in the spirit of a letter he used to own, he was urging me to let loose my internal tyranny of self doubt and recrimination and just be.

it should be simple, right? implicitly. and yet ironically difficult. “to what end?” the monkey mind immediately demands, leaping about, scratching its pits. service? industry? communication? lord help me, art?

in memoriam vox–- and by extension community

Eras ending, heydays fading out to make way for the next new thing barreling down the line. So passes away Vox– which has been so many things to so many of us.

In odd synchronicity for me personally, the lifetime of Vox has run nearly parallel with the first stage of my life here in Chicago—my early posts mark the move from Iowa to my new city neighborhood. Writing my way through that transition, I resettled both psychically and geographically, found work of a new and unanticipated variety herding cats on behalf of wallpaper—a job I’ve held since that first summer four years ago and have just recently left for who-knows-what-next. Meanwhile, Chris and I are busy planning our mutual second wedding—done in intentionally markedly different fashion from either of our first weddings—on Friday afternoon, feeling somehow like a dame in a black and white flick from the ‘40s, I met my fiancé downtown at the city offices where we procured our marriage license and civil ceremony date for October at the Tiffany-domed Chicago Cultural Center. Afterward we toasted with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at a shiny downtown bar with, appropriately enough, feature wallpaper booths and the following morning breakfasted at Ohio House, where we went after buying the ring. Parallels abound, both intentional and fortuitous, in times of change. Into the current state of personal/professional transition arrive into my inbox the Vox shutdown notification, quickly followed by neighbor-member farewell and forwarding address notes.

Once upon a time, for a couple of years in the late ’90s, I participated in a small, close-knit virtual mailing list-based community, which I loved dearly. Folks I saw face-to-face only rarely if at all, who lived across a widely dispersed map, became my daily touchstones, virtual neighbors and friends, through the words we crafted in the digital realm. That community saw me through an enormous series of life transitions as well—the ending of my first marriage and move to Iowa and a writing life. In time that beloved community dispersed likewise—its constituent members gone off into entirely other lives, and to a large extent vanished from my own—the coming together real enough, yet wholly comprised by the tenuous connection created by the medium.

In both cases, I’d be remiss if I failed to note the pivotal performance of one particular friend, responsible for this media-nourished conjunction of experiences and identity: dear Michael, whose life I now glimpse across the ether in Facebook flashes.

Labor day weekend is upon us, unemployment and all, and here in Chicago the weather’s shifted without ceremony from sticky hot to crisp cool. Late in the night I wake to find the single light summer cover no longer keeps me warm through the night. Driving through Michigan, we encountered lone trees with leaves turning to fall. How many more ways can the world insist on change without me changing too?

Long ago I created navelgazer.com as a repository for the drifted sift and flotsam of a turbulent mind. For several years now it’s snoozed away with little more than a front page footnote to mark it as I noodle my way through other online writing venues. But the time has come to wake it up and witness what can be built of all its dreaming. I sincerely hope my Vox friends who’ve generously shared so much of themselves and their own journeys will find a way to visit from time to time, as I intend to check in on their new online writings. The truth, I know, is that life, that real, physical, inevitable force, drives us all on in our distinct directions, only occasionally allowing the good fortune of real reconnection in aftermath. In light of which I will now holler out my own gratitude and grief in the passing of this particular place, this sweet Vox with all its riches of connection and connotation. Farewell and my love to all, always.

what a good book should do

There’s a fairly short list of books I truly love, by which I feel gratefully reshaped while reading them—and I’ve just added one more title to their number: The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst. I don’t even quite know yet what I want to say about it… only to testify to this feeling of awe, of gratitude and grace for the experience of something so utterly moving and beautiful and bittersweet. It hurts exquisitely to read how well Parkhurst writes of Lexy’s anguish, as imagined through her husband’s eyes after the fact—there are two or three pages right near the end where the describing of the experience of despair is so pitch-perfect, accurate and immediately recognizable, that it feels as if my own heart, in its most private and awful moments, has been written onto the page and published and printed in the thousands by a complete stranger—it’s the oddest combination of intimacy and the public—which I suppose is also the pith of my secret heart. I want to hold the feeling this book has created inside me, not to let it slip away into daily whatevers—that’s really why I write about it. I dearly don’t want this exquisite feeling of graceful recognition and my own amazement to end. O the tragedy of the final page. So the inclination to talk about such books with others in classrooms and coffeeshops and book circles. But when a book comes printed, as this one does, with prepared discussion questions for groups of readers, well, I appreciate it, take it as a sign of the book’s power to move, but still can’t bear to glance at them for awhile—they feel, in their candor and baldness, at first like a cheapening of that magical, intimate, transported moment. The great power of a work of fiction to reach into exactly you in your most personal heart to create a there quiet chemical explosion, this is the wondrous gift of certain writers. If I could accomplish the same for other readers so wholly and satisfyingly in books, I would feel unutterably blessed and successful in my work.

there. if I’m honest about it, that is the dream. nothing less.

And now I’m going to make a cup of tea and maybe a batch of cookies and continue to savor the receiving of the gift.

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someone I love lies sleeping, invisible to me, leashed by dreams.
I’ve walked in circles clockwise and still can’t seem to unwind.
all the loaves are stone and the sky is bitter with wine.
the stairs are so small I can’t step confidently,
and the flight disappears up and up around a bend.
I’m in the middle with no choice but to climb
or slip and maybe tumble. I’m afraid of falling
and all the spiny things like what birds carry
to build their wicked nests in bare treetops.
the sky hangs above, snagged by a thousand fingers
that drag down the grey light into evening.
somehow engines and lights roar through the dark
on flightpaths surpassing my understanding:
I’ve stood in those terminals, proceeded
faster than the floor moving under me,
and still failed to arrive. my baggage
begins to feel like ballast, so much sand
sealed up to stow against a flood. if I heave
it over surely gravity will let me go.
how is it my hands are so roped
to the necks of all these bags,
canvas sodden under my palms?