It's a strange season. Friends and loved ones all over the place are telling me about aching limbs, soaring temperatures, stolen purses, lost wallets. I went to the beach with a couple of friends and poured an offering of rum to the sea. The Library's Sort Center is a smoldering wreck, hit hard by the balmy weather (which somehow induces everyone and their mothers to return more books) and the weeklong absence of one or two of the regular veteran staff.
One of my best friends in this callow world sent me a lovely letter.
I haven't finished writing a letter for someone else, for far too long, now.
We've gotten grand reviews that have broken some people's hearts in my cast.
I sleep too much. I should do this early morning thing more often.
The six-year-old in me likes to think of these insomniac evenings as though they were deeply important nocturnal missions; someone, after all, has to check the roads and make sure they're still there. You never know when these ornery and lonely roads might up and decide not to be there anymore. Best to check them periodically, do the rounds, as it were, flash the hi-beams about and keep an eye on things.
Roads, solitary bus-stops, and incandescent lane stripes all strike me as tremendous acts of faith, in the middle of the lonesome night. I sometimes forget, in this ongoing malcontent, that there is such a world around me, and it is when I'm alone on the road and in the dark that I see these things and wonder at what a world there is. This road leads through so many places. Buses pass that post, and sometimes people pass that way. These lanes are kept, even when there is no one to keep them, and I follow all these things like a ghost, for whom they were all laid out just so.
These are tokens of a numinous and intimated world that I do not know; different from their appearances in daylight, because then they are something different--perhaps lesser, perhaps diminished and mundane, but also perhaps simply something else entirely--whereas tonight, in this light, these lane stripes and that bus stop hint of a sleeping reality that isn't mine, not even in daylight, and perhaps my longing for this other world is an expression of my lingering malcontent. Perhaps.
Thank you for your expressions of concern and support or otherwise; I assure you I am quite alright, thank you very much. I'm just rambling on now, and I'm not looking for help or attention or anything of the kind. To clarify and/or reiterate; the purpose of this site, amongst a great many other purposes, is to act as a mode by which I engage the world around me, and maybe harness/hone my craft as a writer in the process. I am not needful of anything in particular from anyone. Which is not to sound ungrateful, for of late I have received a number of e-mails and/or random acts of kindness/strangeness in my waking world, of which it has been my privilege to be so honored. (I spell this out more for myself to read, in truth.)
Last night I was talking with my roommate when quite suddenly, and apropos of nothing, a longing to once more visit the Hopi Reservation came upon me. And in describing to her what I was longing for, I very nearly walked out the door and into my car, in order to find again that magical memory in my waking world. To watch the sunrise from the lip of the high mesa, to smell the baking flatbreads and the roasting sweet corn, to feel the rhythm of the kachina dolls drumming in my feet and in my chest, to see the vastness of this world enclosed in the limitless horizons of the Arizona desert and the San Francisco Mountains and the endless stare of the Hopi Creator glancing into my core.
There is a post office on the Reservation, in the village of Kykotsmovi, where I used to send and sometimes even receive mail via General Delivery. I sometimes wonder if perhaps there is not some letter still waiting there for me, in the dusty antique mailbox. And that perhaps I ought to go and retrieve it...
There are only so many waking hours. Days rush past so precipitously. I can only do so much.
I dream of flat tires and being late to the theatre and getting lost in an airport. I dream of ticket stubs and tire patches and invalid boarding passes. Since when have dreams been enlisted as implements of mediocrity? I worry that I'm becoming that which I most fear: boring.
I push through these slow mornings in hope of an accomplished and brimming life, differing from what I have by way of emphasis, texture and means. I must look at things with a slanting eye, as it were, and force my pupils to dilate and focus, to take these bits in and push those others away, and thereby see what I need to see, changing the emphasis to see what I hope to see.
But it is a dangerous and even a cruel thing, to live in hope. It can be as bitter and rending as it can be lovely and inspiring. We should all be so lucky.
I think actors make natural chess players. We of the west are trained to think in terms of these abstract gestures, these physicalized manifestations of objectives and intentions. It hearkens back to a (by now) outmoded conception of theatre as primarily pscychological; but at the same time I see a transcending experience of the abstract made manifest, and of the deliberate, cultivated virtues and skills which make for extremely adept and effective performers of whatever theatre discipline. In chess, there's a creeping fascination to the tension deliciously turning upon a single, deft move. An entire world plays out between two focused minds, two people silently sparring with a vicious elegance.
There has been much tension in these technical rehearsals, as is usually the case. Things go wrong, almost as a matter of course. Our cast has numbers and an irrepressible temperament on our side, but after the eleventh and twelfth hour things must fall apart, as a matter of course, and nothing can kill a joke like a roomful of repetitive actors. Yes, even cleavage jokes get old.
During one of the several long pauses onstage, while techies furiously worked to resolve recurring glitches in their gear, I wandered upstairs and found an access ladder onto the roof of the building--obviously somewhere I'm really not supposed to go. Outside, Portland was blazing with tremendous rainclouds glowing in the setting sun, and rain backlit by the shining river and the walls and overpasses reflecting the sky's warmth. Two successive rainbows arched around and above us. The dark rainclouds offset the shining windows and the lush green of the trees. Mist was rising off the streets and the tar-paper roofs.
I don't know that this sour, misanthropic mood (which has kept me from posting and generally hounds me away from my fellow humans) will lift anytime soon. But so long as moments like that keep coming, I am well content.
Brenna is one of my best friends in this callow world, and I love her dearly. She took me to Europe that summer, because she had some extra frequent flier miles, and because she's a kickass rockstar.
If you're looking for the house pics, just scroll down a bit, they're kind of hard to miss.
More up-to-date and topical posts will follow soon, I promise you.
...and it very nearly was the rest of my life...
In Paris, I allowed myself to be coerced by Brenna and her friends Jim, Suzie and Ann into riding this twisted, infernal machine at a carnival in the Tuileries. Some sick, sick individual came up with the idea of mounting swings high above the ground, and married that idea to the merry-go-round, so that you have this towering instrument of doom revolving at unspeakably nauseating speeds, and, as if that weren't enough, you're supposed to willingly climb in and fly around up there like Icarus or Phaeton or something. I think a similar monstrosity was featured on the cover of the Dave Matthews Band album, 'Under the Table and Dreaming'.
Friends, you all know I'm a pretty tough cookie. I've wrestled 300-lb. 'clients' into Safety Rooms at Hooper Detox. I hold the all-time record of tools broken in the line of duty at AmeriCorps. I'm halfway through Gibbon's Decline and Fall. I've stepped into major roles with less than a week before opening. But so help me, it took everything I had and more to keep down the several scoops of ice cream I so injudiciously consumed moments before ascending the scaffold. "Wow, I've never heard anyone scream Shakespeare verse before," said Anne.
But apparently, Brenna's appetite for disaster was only whetted by the Twisting Cyclone of Destruction (she's trained as a trapeze artist, and other such heathenish practices). Scarcely three weeks later, Brenna the Danger Fetishist prodded and insinuated so subtly that I hardly realized the mortal peril lurking beneath the shiny little headlights and the plush vinyl riding seats.
"You never ride before? That's not so good." said Billy, the proprietor of Billy's Bikes, eyeing me suspiciously. I do my best to act nonchalant and tough. I swagger and mount the moped like it's a bucking bronco waiting for a strong cowhand to break her in. My toe catches on the seat and I stumble, nearly bringing down the bike on Billy's feet. Brenna rolls her eyes.
Billy smells money. "But it's easy. You take it easy like when you're going to fu-uh, make love to your lady, sorry, yeah, you relax and you ease the accelorator, yeah, easy." You ACT Greenies out there; I could have sworn Billy was Greg Dubin's long lost Greek brother. Billy and his Bike shop, staffed by Billy, a Greek ex-military man, Jim, a retired New Zealand carpenter, and an anonymous Cypriot teenage grease-monkey, is a David Mamet play waiting to be written.
Within a few nerve-racking moments Billy has passed along to me all that I supposedly need to know about driving a moped in Naxos ("Do I need to worry about one-way streets?" "No, you don't need to worry about them. Just don't get killed in them."), and as a test, he sends me on my way to find the nearest gas station. And, true to form, I promptly get lost in Naxos.
Twenty harrowing minutes later, I circle back to Billy's, where I conference with Brenna and touch bases with Jim about where this supposed gas station is. But more importantly, I start to really like riding this thing...
Twenty more minutes later, I do find the gas station on the other side of town, where the attendant watches me with that withering "You're not from here, are you?" stare as I sputter about trying to open the fuel cap. After a few long moments, he reaches down, flips a switch and the cap flips open.
Twenty more minutes later, with a full tank of gas, Brenna and I are flying down the road out of Naxos, wind and sky and the dust of the road our only companions.
All I remember is that one moment we were beginning to descend a suspiciously steep stretch of dirt road, and the next moment I was sprawled on the road with my leg curiously supporting the weight of the moped. My first thought was, "Thank God Brenna's wearing a helmet." Followed closely by "Now which way is up, again?"
You see, the most unsettling aspect of That Twirling Thing in Paris was how potently it messed with my internal gyroscope. Up, down, around, within, without, all of my prepositions got mixed up in a blender set for puree. The Motorcycle/Howler Monkey was kind of like that.
I spent the rest of the day nursing some nasty burns on my knee and arm, and various accompanying bruises and cuts. Brenna, thank goodness, leapt away with impeccable timing, and so survived with but a touch of dust and a bruise or two. The salt water helped, I think, to salve my wounds, though my pride suffered beyond the power even of the sea to heal. All hopes of growing up to become a professional dirtbike Olympian were most ignominiously dashed that day. Jack Kerouac walked off into the sunset. My philly cheesesteak evaporated into thin air. The tonka truck tonked out. Marlon Brando turned his back on me.
We carefully rode back to Naxos at sunset. Passing Billy on the street, I gave him the "Well, if it isn't the man who's going to kill me tommorrow!" grin, complicated by the probable effects of a mild concussion. We returned the bike the next day, swallowing a 150 euro bill for the damages. "Good thing you've got the insurance plan, mate" said Jim.
I still can't kneel on my right knee, and the moving bits move about in a curious, unsettling way. And I have some permanent Naxos love-bites.
(Say it with me, everybody. "Who's motorcycle is this?" "It's a chopper, baby." "Who's chopper is this?" "It's Zed's." "Who's Zed?"...)
The first thing one sees after stepping off the ferry in Naxos is a massive square arch (forgive the contradiction in terms, it's so crude of me and yet if you could see this thing no other words can describe it) perhaps forty feet high, perhaps more. It stands proudly on a rocky islet to the side of the harbor, a towering Gate of marble with nothing else to suggest why or how or who. It sits there sphinxlike with a beckoning, come-hither air, not come-hither wink-wink so much as come-hither-or-else.
You approach by way of a narrow path of masonry flanked with hungry ocean and festooned with small, dark Greek children playing in the waves. Climbing up this lonely little spit of rock, one can turn and see the the busy mass of Naxos-town blossoming with the signature blues and whites and the lovely little domed Orthodox churches that Greece must have copywritten by now. Gradually your eyes adjust to the vast backdrop hues of browns and ochres and surprising greens, the warm tones of the Mediterranean that one cannot but associate with Desdemona and leaping Minoans and poisoned daggers and Byzantines. You will expect to have drawn a multitude of clues from this cacophonous panorama of the ancient town, from which you might immediately recognize the salient details and the appropriate anecdotal facts of this towering anonymity that rises over your shoulder like the anvil of a stormcloud.
But the Gate says nothing, and you recognize nothing, and meanwhile the sun wheels about overhead as indifferent to your labored climb as the Gate itself. It's a short climb, thank goodness, and you soon reach a small clearing littered with the skeletal outlines of conjectured chambers and so forth--the kind of mournful ruin that one stumbles over every few minutes in Greece. But this only compounds your growing sense of bewilderment; if everything else on this ancient little islet is all but entirely effaced by the salt winds and the inexorable tide of time, then the question re-emerges; why this Gate?
Looking closely, you see traces of wear here and there, enough to discount the possibility of some strange tourist-attracting scheme that the island's citizens cooked up to supplement the beaches and the gyros. Circling it you spot strange protrusions in the worn marble, suggestive of tongue-and-groove joints whose corresponding marbles you can find no trace of. There are the usual fragments of stone and pebble and sand underfoot--bits of red that might be pottery if you were one of those obsessive amateur archaelogists who spend their careers gluing together amphorae the size of dachshunds from fragments no larger than fingernails. But if all of these conjectures were stitched together with this massive enigmatical Gate, the entire islet would surely have been housed in marble, and why, again, is this completely shrouded in unknowns, even given the lamentable education any of us receives in the Classics these days?
You learn no answers on the waveswept islet: you take some pictures, just like all the other nice Germans and Danes who disembarked from the ferry with you. You sit for a spell with the ocean at your feet, and sky and arch and nothing else overhead, and you bask in the rippling sensations of the sea--breathing salt air, letting your eyes lose focus in the far blue distance, tasting the stickiness of your sun- and sea-drenched skin, luxoriating in the delectable sensation of sand between your toes. You soak yourself in this moment, it steeps you irreversibly, it adds cream to the coffee of your soul, in a way you can neither explain nor reverse, even if you wanted to. Eventually, you clamber back to Naxos already thinking of pistachio ice cream and the clear sea to swim in and the comfort of a soft bed soon to come. And the Gate says nothing, and if you dream of it you don't rightly remember. But neither do you entirely forget, the striking image simply strikes too powerfully.
They say that Naxos is one of the oldest inhabited islands known to the learned; they've traced bits and pieces in the town back ten thousand years. Only later on do you discover offhand details mentioned in passing in the modern guidebooks; that the Gate was to be the entrance to the largest temple in Greece before the Parthenon or the Olympeion were built, that it was the mad scheme of a doomed island tyrant that only funny old men in Oxford remember the name of. Perhaps it was to be consecrated to Apollo--on a clear day it is said you could see the lights of Delos from that Gate--but whether it was ever finished remains in dispute, and everyone seems to have overlooked it.
This trip overall has been all about Contrasts, and Naxos has been of the most juxtapositionally rabid of the entire lot. Quiet and riot, people and lonesomeness, poverty and opulence, sea and desert. Orthodox chapels and topless beaches. The foul fumes of the ferries, oily and coarse, and the limpid Aegean sea, clear as a child's blue eyes. Curving pretzel streets literally older than Methusaleh, and bright red mopeds that handle like leaping howler monkeys with twitching disorders. On this distant Greek island, Brenna and I dined twice at an Asian restaurant owned by Australians, with Indian, Chinese and Thai menu sections. Naxos is like the universe in that as time goes on, complexity arises from isolated simplicity and things just keep getting more and more interesting...
...TO BE CONTINUED...
This is where all the magic happens. In daylight, we have bucolic views of the only dormant volcano within municipal limits anywhere in the lower 48 states. Also, riveting NY Times crossword puzzles, all unfolding while the ancient rivalry between bird and squirrel plays out with the glowering tension of a Pinter script, just outside that window.
My own room is not pictured, but you get a fair sense of things from the images below. More forthcoming, too.
As you might expect, I'm flooded with congratulatory telegrams, keys of the city, oppressive floral arrangements and bevies of beautiful women. Olympic sprinters all over the world tremble under their fast-wilting laurels. The Wheaties people are knocking down my door again.
But I know better. This morning's triumph is but fleeting (or at the very least, walking very quickly with a little bounce in the step to give the illusion of slowly jogging). We've got 27 more weeks between now and The Marathon on the 9th of October. And just to be clear, that's 26 miles of pure, distilled, hamstringing human endeavor we're talking about.
With steely resolve and thighs like tree trunks, I say BRING IT.