Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Moonbeam Espresso

Pre-Dawn dalliance still serving as a welcome matt for insomnia. Even after two showers and two books, sleep is almost seen as a trangression; a lunar tresspass against my latent urge to spill words into sentences. Perhaps it's b/c, since I officially 'declared' my alcohol blood level has diminished considerably. Finding a devout writer who has a healthy pair of lungs and an unjaundiced liver is like finding a hockey player with a full-set of teeth: A rarity. This is a hard-image for writers to slough because nearly all of our hero's were intelligent, well-read alcoholics. It's like when you are in third grade and you save up money to buy a pair of Air Jordan's (or AIR JORDACHE's, in my case) and you go to the playground and emulate all the moves you saw Jordan himself perform in applauded slow motion on the Highlight reel. You wanna be like those people whom you look up to. Those people who have made it. Go and stare at the literary vignette in your local Barnes and Nobles cafe. When I was a young writer I almost always tuned up ye olde ribbon in my Smith-Corona with a few brewskies first, demanded still-life-with-a-bowl-of-pruned-ego-nourishing-silence and eventually slopped a few paragraphs of indulgent, forgettable drivel onto the page.....and my community (the literary one) in DIRE need of writers who don't get manacled to their work and can let go of their ego and their solipsistic/hedonistic urges. The last Christmas I had with my father he gave me an old gray file cabinet. I embellished the side of the file cabinet with cut-out pictures of writers I admire. There was the James Joyces and the TS Eliots. The Ezra Pounds and the Kerouacs, Ginsbergs. J.D. Salinger and a rare blur of Thomas Pynchon. Hawthorn and Whitman (of course) but also Contemporary angels like Carole maso, Dave Wallace, Rick Moody, Laurie Moore, Jhumpa Lahari Franzen and Eugendies and George Saunders. William T. Vollmann and Richard 'I-don't sign-autographs-b/c-I-still-can't-get-over-the-scientific-truism-that-I-was-unpopular-with-cheerleaders-in-high-school' Powers. There were buckeye poetic-eyed photographs of high school slyphs: Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath...and in the center was a balck-and white nonchalant ciagarette in paw portrait; the godfather of the minimalistic short-story himself, Raymond Carver... A photograph I ripped out of a library book in Normal, Illinois (along with Josesph Campbell authenticated autograph....I know, Thief in the Night...) Carver drank like he was supporting his local aquarium for most of his life and then, in the last decade, he was sober and produced a glut of subtly crafted short-stories and poems--his short stories are by far, arguably, the best of the latter portion of the 20th century. He died when he was just fifty (even though he quit drinking he still smoked something like three packs of cigarettes a day) Here's a poem that was published in the New Yorker just after his demise.

by Raymond Carver

No other word will do. For that's what it was. Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that is was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. "Don't weep for me,"
he said to his friends. "I'm a lucky man.
I've had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure Gravy. And don't forget it."

Mara disguised as sleep depriven agony. During my second shower a voice kept telling me to put down Sebastian Junger's Perfect Storm and go downstairs, into Uncle Mike's boxed archieve and fish out one of his crazy books. I told the voice to go away. Told it I wanted to sleep. I held up my index, middle and pointer fingers and told it to read between the lines, but eventually (has the topic this week been surrneder?) I capitulated, in towel and damp hair, and descended into the catacombs and reeled up an old edition of the Baha'i world. '68-71 I think.

For me, being so new to this elusive faith, there has honestly been no greater teacher than the Bahai World (although Uncle Mike comes close) particularly I love reading the detailed Memorials of the early pilgrims and praying for them. Lives of unalloyed surrender and service. Saints and angels and disciples who never once questioned the call to orchestrate a dance in a foreign country or surrender all personal material wealth to a cause greater than themselves...the sort of humble servants my parents were for their own faith (literally, my mom gave away the money Dad had saved up for her engagement ring to the church).....and so I open the book up and of course (TC SMILES) the first black and white rectangular photograph I see right when I randomly plop open the book is one Arya's grandfather pioneering in Jamaica, flooded by Jamaican townies, an almost feather-golden eternal grin humbly stitched into his face.

Uncle Mike has always been keen on praying for souls that have previously deaprted.

"Always remember to pray for the souls who don't have anyone to pray for them." Uncle Mike says, and whenever we drive past a cemetary, Uncle Mike always chants the short prayer for the departed and tells the anecdote about how he teaches Chinese students to drive in cemetaries, telling them. "Don't worry if you run over anything. They're already dead."

On my first dip into the House of worship, March 2003, I was all alone. I chain-smoked my way to Wilmette and went into the basement of the House first. A silver-haired, very tall, somewhat lanky woman dressed all in black named EVE, appeared in front of me. I told her I was a visitor from Peoria. She smiled. I asked her if she knew Uncle Mike. She said she didn't. I watched a brief cursory movie about the faith and then I entered the House fo Worhsip from the bottom via elevator. I still wasn't 'declared' or wahtever but the one prayer I said over and over again was the prayer for the departed. I thought about my father (I was still pissed off at God, maybe rightfully so)...I thought about my grandmother whose funeral was on Naw Ruz and whose time had come. I stared up at got lost into the satellite ceiling, my eyes, dizzy and flapping inwardly at the sight of the Greatest Holy Name.

But there was only silver-haired EVE with me in the House of Worship. She has a deep, baritone voice that blossomed forth in verbal bouquets everytime she smiles. She addressed everyone as honey.

"Thanks for coming honey," She said before saying the greatest holy name as I walked out of the House of Worship by myself.

I smiled.

Later that year, at Green Lake (where of course, all the magic happens--see Arya's recent splendiferous 'novel') I bumped into Eve again. She was in the cafeteria ferrying a tray to her seat. She was seated with a Knight of the Master (though, I didn't know it at the time). I scurried up to Eve and immediately thanked her for the tour the previous March. I told her that I was new to the faith and that was my first time at the House of Worship, last March, en route to my grandmother's funeral.

It was amazing what happened next. She didn't remember me but at the word 'funeral' she set down her tray on the nearest table, clasped her fists into a prayer sized-heart and immediately beagn to chant the Prayer for the Departed, in the middle of the cafeteria. She said it with her husky, feminine brass-instrument baritone. She kept her eyes stamped closed like she was shielding her spirit from a pending spiritual hurricane. She said the one prayer that I had been saying every night, and she chanted it for me even though she didn't know me at all. Even though I had approached her simply to thank her.

I almost cried right then and there.

Greenlake's sorta like sleepy-hollow. A Midwestern Baptist affilated bastion that once a year breaks out in spirtual hives. It's bloggworthy and inevitably will be. Strange things happen there. Mystical pinings and gentle breezes. Greenlakes how I know arya and where I met my friends Cool Abir and Dick and Anne (Anne's an artist, she's my spiritual godmother who has purple hair. She taught Uncle Mike the faith.....)

Last year at Greenlake was crazy because spiritual guru Thich Nhat Hanh, who wrote the book, Living Buddha, Living Christ and received ( I think) a nobel prize for peace, was slated to hold a conference the same day that the Baha'i conference ends. There was all these Buddhists disciples from all over the world, clad in taupe capes sauntering around the premesis lost in serene meditation ( the story about how I spilled a cup-of-java on a French Monk is also bloggsworthy...but not here).....

Last year at Greenlake I was being incessantly stalked by GreenLake Gretchen. She's sweet but also ( ) (smiles) yeah, needless to say I was graced with a shadow last GreenLake and somehow the shadow even got a hold of my work number and called me incessantly for four weeks straight after the conference ended.

While trying to evade the persistent paws of Greenlake Gretchen, I forced myself to actually HIDE near the lake for close to an hour Saturday night, and availed myself only when the mass of bodies exited from the auditorium from the talent show.

Caught up in the fluss and hoi-poloi, trying cognizantly to avoid Gretchen without hurting her feelings, who do I literally come tete-a-tete with? Unbelievable. There she was. The Knight of the Master, at eleven-thirty at night, slowly grappeling the rail outside the main building.

What happened next was also a gift.

I walked up to her, introduced myself, jutted out my elbow and offered her my arm. I escourted her back to her lodging facility, very slowly, talking. All I could do was thank her. She smiled and seemed slightly confused but nodded after my every effort to feebly convey spiritual gratitude.

When I helped her back into her room, Eve was there, asleep.

When I got back to my own room and told Mike about my experience the next morning at breakfast, he slanted his head back and forth
in disappointment.

"She's a Knight." In a hundred years from now she'd be swamped if she were walking home late-at-night. Alone."

Indeed, the faith has given me many gifts. Spirtual tablets, the insight of Uncle Mike, a return to prayer, the daily discourses with blogging beauty queens,... but no greater a gift has it given me than that one night at GreenLake last August where I was somehow granted the priveledge to escourt the arm of both a Knight of the Master and an angel at the same time.

O my God!
O Thou forgiver of sins, bestower of gifts, dispeller of afflictions!

Verily, I beseech thee to forgive the sins of such as have abandoned the physical garment and have ascended to the spiritual world.

O my Lord! Purify them from trespasses, dispel their sorrows, and change their darkness into light. Cause them to enter the garden of happiness, cleanse them with the most pure water, and grant them to behold Thy splendors on the loftiest mount.



arya said...

Would this Knight by any chance be named Mrs. Wilson? Ohhhhhh do I have stories about her.

arya said...

By the way, i mean WOOLSON not Wilson. Find out if it was her. I owe that precious lady so much and gave her so much grief. Regarding the voice in your head that told you to go get the book, isn't that conversation the best? "Go do it." "No, I don't want to." "Go do it." "Do I have to?" "Yes." "OK, fine." And then it's always right. Sometimes when I say "Do I have to?" it says, "No, you don't HAVE to but you really should." And then of course I don't and I end up regretting it. So, I guess my grandfather is looking out for you. But I already knew that.

daku said...

Arya joon, pls put a word for me with your grand dad too - i have a very scary voice in my head right now! will send you guys gmail a bit later...