Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Agatha and Me

Lori's Diner
Late in life Agatha Christie was a houseguest at a large estate in the English countryside. She came down to breakfast one morning and failed to stifle a series of yawns. When asked why she was so sleepy, she replied that one of her early novels was being reprinted--and the night before she had realized that she couldn't remember the identity of the villain. So she had stayed up till she finished the book!

This morning I didn't have anything brand-new that I liked for my daily photo blog (http://dailybenigneye.blogspot.com/) so I went rummaging through old pictures, some rejects, some I had already used, and all of a sudden "Lori's Diner" appeared on my monitor. Did I take that? I had no immediate memory of having done so. Hmm. Well, it must be mine, so I used it--and the Christie story came to mind.

Now I think I took this photograph at the Elm Street Mall in Emeryville, but I'm still not sure. I must have been with Barbara Boughton, but I'm not sure about that either. Nonetheless, I like it that I can surprise myself. I hope Agatha liked how the book came out.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mr Blue at Starbucks

Yep, Mr Blue is back--this time at our local (2+ miles) mall. Someone told me they had "seen" him at Starbucks. Yesterday I called first, to find if it had been painted over yet, and when I said I wanted to take a picture of it, the young barrista immediately got suspicious and worried I was up to no good! I was halfway afraid I'd arrive to find waiting police.

The tag is not on the building itself but on the dumpster enclosure. Mission accomplished, I went inside to get a pastry and asked the barrista if she was the one I had talked to. "No, but I heard about it. We just want things to be safe. As long as you're doing it for your pleasure [I didn't mention his worldwide fans!], it's all right."

A funny little story, definitely worth a bus ride--and the driver on the way home had a delicious New Orleans accent and comped me my dollar ticket after some friendly flirting.

Mr Blue, you may have gathered, is a tagger, one whose work I've been photographing for the last few years. Now, I know all the arguments against graffiti and defacing private property--and most of the time I agree, especially when it's ugly. But Mr Blue charms me and I cheer him on, though both he and I can be taken to task by strict conservationists of the public space and most definitely the owners of the property he chooses to be his canvas.

Be that as it may, I want to meet Mr Blue, have him write that name on a 16" x 20" canvas board that I'll then frame and hang in a place of honor in my home. I haven't quite figured out how to do that. I don't know if he visits his old sites so I don't know if he'd ever see a note I left. And if I did leave a note, he might think it was from the police. And I certainly wouldn't want my phone number and name out there for various and sundry possibly disreputable types to find.

But it occurs to me that I can, and will, place an ad in the personals section of the East Bay Express, our local free paper. As long as I use a disposable email address, what could be the harm?

I just might come out of it with my own personal Mr Blue--and another good story.

[Note: I have a collection of 35 Mr Blue sightings at Flickr.com. To see them, go to Lynn Park, click Organize & Create (third tab at upper left), select Collections & Sets, then choose Mr Blue.]

Thursday, August 12, 2010

August Postcard Poems

Thirty other people--all strangers to me except the noted poet Diane DiPrima, whose work I've admired for years--have gathered online and committed to send a postcard with an original poem to each person on the list every day in August. If all goes as it should, each of us should receive thirty postcards/poems.

Instead of commercial postcards I've used 4" by 6" prints of my photographs and--just recently--4" by 6" file cards on which I glue a magazine image that's caught my fancy. Like a doofus, I sent off my first cards without copying down the poem or noting the photograph I used.

At the very first I sent several people one American Sentence, the 17-syllable Western equivalent of haiku. Thinking back, that seems a bit skimpy, so I think I'll send those people another offering.

Here are two recent pieces.

"Poem for My Aunt"

the old woman is dying, will die in six weeks
if not a month, but already the formerly
managed dementia now in full sway
from mismanaged medication
has taken her away from herself and
those who love her, leaving her to pluck
the sheet and whimper sounds that
are less than speech, she who might
have shed her body in the full knowledge
of being loved

I used a photograph of an Easter lily in a colorful pot made by a friend. The pot sits on the table on my patio and is seen in a reflection through the screen door.

And now "How She Laughs"

she is the woman who fills my mind's I
lives in how I think of myself
when I avoid mirrors and hard thought
unaffected charming girlish
nonchalant about her beauty
she has an innocence any crone would envy
and the crone I am becoming
replete with skin tags wrinkles and thinning hair
beset by obstinate extra pounds
and ridged fingernails that are too quick to split
cannot understand either
how this one stays alive in me
or why no one ever asks her to dance

I used a magazine illustration of a young woman laughing, her eyes downcast, her hand up to her mouth.

Now a couple of American Sentences, written in response to a photograph of St. Gregory's Palm Sunday procession:

Sunshine lights our way as we go toward the darkening week ahead.

He is ahead of us, riding on an ass, on a road we'd avoid.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Church's One Foundation

"The Church's one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. . . ." Many of us, especially those with Protestant backgrounds, have sung this venerable chestnut in church. With what enthusiasm or at what tempo, I don't know--but I do know that several years ago when I learned that the words fit perfectly to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas," I perked up mightily. For some reason the joy came through in a new way. That was important because I've had a conflicted relationship with Christianity in general and my own Christianity in particular.

When I was a small child, "good Lynn" was expected to side with believer Mama against loudly vocal atheist father. Church attendance was sporadic, depending on the vagaries of my health and their relationship. But at twelve, as was the custom then in the South, I joined the Presbyterian Church--and proceeded to worry about the state of my soul. Was I really saved? (It was a great comfort, some years later, to read Kenneth Kenniston and to discover that, far from being a monstrous anomaly, I had had what he termed an "existential" adolescence.)

Shortly before I entered college I had an intense involvement with Pentecostal fundamentalism that at moments was piercingly sweet but that I could not sustain in my life at a liberal church school. I dropped away from the white church with the neon cross on top and early in my sophomore year sought out the one girl on campus who fancied herself a Buddhist. I don't think I believe in God any more. Okay, she said.

In the Sixties, I was never anti-God or anti-religion, still liked the Psalms and parts of Isaiah, just didn't go to church (much to my mother's consternation till I told her and found myself meaning it, I worship God every day of my life). Religion, with the exception of reading Thomas Merton, just wasn't part of my life.

Then, in 1972, serendipity led me to the practice of Transcendental Meditation, or TM. For the first time I found something good, and whole, and stable inside myself. I went more than two years without missing my twice-daily practice. Then the rhythm broke and I found Vajrayana Buddhism as taught by Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche from the Nyingma tradition. And here I could write volumes. Suffice it to say, in the Buddha I found an inexhaustible source of never-blaming compassion.

In the years to come I maintained some sort of Buddhist practice, almost always in the form of chanting, usually alone, sometimes in the company of others. And I started going back to church, for a year here, for a year and a half there, sticking my toe in the water, poised for flight despite myself. Looking back, I think there was a connection I missed then.

On a hot Arizona afternoon in 1980 I was blessed with a deep apprehension that the Love I sought, sought me and that in my heart there could be strong friendship between Christianity and Buddhism. But still I wandered, chanting as I went, occasionally allowing myself to be churched, however tentatively, for a while.

Till my mother died in 1989. After her death, to my great surprise, I began to hear a little voice telling me to go to seminary. But I don't even know if I'm Christian, I thought to myself. Somehow that became a non-issue and I wound up attending, and graduating from, a progressive Presbyterian seminary with the full intention to become a pastor.

But in the increasingly tense climate caused by the conflict between conservatives and liberals, I did not feel free to speak of the Buddhist half my heart. So, when six months after graduation it became clear to me that I was not after all called to ordination, my Thank you thank you thank you thank you began to release me back into the fullness of being myself.

I continued to attend the Presbyterian church where I had done my internship and worked part-time. And St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco entered my life. For a while I tried to split myself between both congregations. Then, when I had been greatly injured, St. Gregory's was my Good Samaritan and did not let me languish. That was eleven years ago. When it's right, I tell my Buddhist stories at St. Gregory's. More and more I have felt myself belonging, even when it hasn't been entirely comfortable, as I sense a vastness and possibility in the home tradition that at one time seemed to constrict.

Recently, filling out the profile for a new online social networking site, I was trying to find words to describe who I am spiritually. Over time I've used phrases like "bi-chambered heart" and "informed primarily by Christianity and Buddhism." This time I came the closest yet: "Astonished Christian with a deep debt to, and love of, Buddhism." The child or adolescent I was would have never dared to dream it. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Ducks on the Run

The jailer man and sailor sam are still looking for the band on the run, but I'm more interested in the ducks that cut a swath outside my back door a few days ago. I don't know what got into them--whether it was fear of a hot wok or the rumor of good birdseed down the block--but those avians were covering some territory. They were young ones, too, hadn't mastered flying yet, were still at the bobbing up and down in the water, rump up phase. But they moved fast on land. I hope they found what they were looking for, those ducks on the run.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


Disappointment matures when anger and sadness come to sit side by side, in silence, instead of each scampering off to make its case heard and maybe even won. What disappointment knows is that there is no winning, no forced fading of the bruise, no taking back of the wince.

Sadness and anger typically take turns on a seesaw, sadness focusing on the loss to the self, anger concentrating its attack on the guilty other, both getting out of breath and sweaty, even tearful if too tired. Disappointment can empathize, casts no stones, sometimes even would prefer to indulge itself like them, but latterly prefers the calm of taking in the situation as a whole, melancholy and tart, to one-sided and premature venting.

Not long ago someone disappointed me. This is a person to whom I have given my trust and of whom I asked a small consideration, a consideration that I found was the next day denied. There was no practical negative consequence, though I thought that there could have been, which was the reason for my asking.

I think of William Blake, who wrote, "I was angry with my friend: I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow." I will tell my friend my disappointment. In the necessary meantime I seem to learn a certain silence.

Some days later. . . I broke that silence when I talked to my friend. "My wrath did end," and our bond continues, strengthened.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


One of my dearest friends had exploratory surgery yesterday. She's been told she'll be three days in the hospital and will likely have a painful, weeklong recouperation. I know it will be a while before she checks her email, but I still sent this picture to her this morning, with the wish that this freshlet of beauty, like the drops of water that speak to where we are parched, bring her ease and comfort.

And I got to thinking: freshlets. Little moments that catch the eye and heart, that may stop us and even turn us around.

Today, for me, it was going at 6:30 in the morning to the Coke machine at the pool of my apartment complex to get my daily kick-start of Diet Coke. The light was still new and the air was just cool enough to announce its presence. I hadn't even begun to indulge my habitual nattering that I shouldn't have so much caffeine, that I shouldn't spend the money on expensive individual cans, that I shouldn't. . . .

And there they were, these purple flowers whose name I do not know still clothed with remnants of the day's watering. I stopped and looked. "I have to get my camera." In the few minutes I was gone the light did not change, the droplets did not dry up. And I came back to see more clearly, to play with light and air and color and form, and dials and settings and exposures.

The bejewelled flowers were a freshlet, as was the interlude, as is something it stirred in me.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cracked Egg

Fragile egg, cracked but not broken open. Hard concrete. Green grass that might have been a cushion but wasn’t. I select the picture, a recent one, not sure where it will take me, and list what I see. Then I know this piece is about my sprained knee—approximately 7:45 p.m. on Monday, April 19. Never let it be said that it didn’t make an impression on me.

My left big toe got stuck as I was transferring back into my power wheelchair. The chair and I—everything but my foot—were moving away from where I had been sitting. In those few seconds before the brain could interpret the knee’s pain as a direct order to remove my hand from the chair’s joy stick, my foot was pulled to the right side at about a 30 degree angle. And it hurt. It hurt bad, and all I could think was “gravel,” imagining as I did that the bones in my kneecap were being pulverized. (I fracture easily.)

911 call, ambulance and emergency personnel, hospital emergency room all night, where I find out that knees are governed by ligaments, which I’ve pulled badly, and that nothing is broken. “It hurts as much as a fracture at first but gets better faster.” I turn down the ER doctor’s offer to put me in a splint, saying I’ll wait for the orthopedic technicians in the morning, who put me in a lightweight full-leg half cast with secure bandages. Picky, me? Damned straight.

And almost two weeks in a rehab hospital, learning to transfer myself with a leg that at first spasms every time I move it, a leg that is clunky and awkward though finally almost pain-free. And that is the easy part.

Then I go home, where I cannot transfer myself onto the toilet with my stiff leg and so must use a slide board to get into and out of bed every single time I have to “use the bathroom” on a bedpan. It is tiring and it is awkward and I basically have to take care of it by myself. My home health aide was required to quit when I went in the hospital because she can’t be paid when I’m not in residence. (It took more than a month to hire a new worker.)

And I was lonely. After the rich “people broth” of the nursing home, having only minimal contact with people made the situation even more difficult. And it was hard, hard as concrete I might have said if asked. But I was only cracked, not broken open, and unlike Humpty Dumpty I was graced to be put together again. Though it felt so far out of reach at the time, I regain a sense of that vibrant green cushion.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Valentines Day!!

I've been wondering what I'd write about, what would pull me out of my literary torpor--and this image by my Flickr friend Darwin Bell did it.

I am a fan of hearts, both emotional and physical, and in fact try to live guided by the clarity of "the diamond in the eye of the heart." To remind myself I wear a white gold ring with a diamond in the center on my "wedding finger"--third finger left hand--even though I have only married my own heart.

My heart has been tender lately, a little on the achey side. If I were plotting the story of my life, I'd be pondering the open book that is the last major section. At 65 I need to learn to lay skillful offerings at the altar of Janus, as I look back at a past that delivered disappointments on the order of the proverbial elephant that demands to be eaten and as I stay open to a future that can still offer solid satisfactions and surely some pleasant surprises.

Staying in more than usual because of the rainy weather hasn't helped my heart. When I stay in too long, I get over-frugal with my own energy and don't venture out to the new places that excite my eye. I don't meet the strangers I so enjoy, and too often I pull back from deepening with the people already in my life. "They're too busy," I say. "I had him to dinner once; I don't know if he'd want to come back." Or I don't issue the invitation to the new acquaintance whose friendliness is already giving me so much pleasure. "Better leave well enough alone," I mutter to myself.

But Darwin's tincture of pink may be just the restorative I need right now. Accessible, imperfect, actual, off-center, it invites one in, says, "Come closer, you don't have to be afraid of me."

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Saturday, January 2, 2010


(Some people have asked why this picture with this particular musing. If I say my friend Deb is fully alive, you'll understand at the end.)

I hadn't known what I would write about first here, what would summon my heart, what would be the first cracked twig or bruised moss on the forest floor to show me my direction this writing year. Firsts are important, and contain unfoldings.

And somehow I wind up at an online article about the recent Kennedy Center arts honorees, among whom was Bruce Springsteen. Bruuce. Who can't be 60 and who is.
Who wears his medal and ribbon almost as comfortably as a t-shirt and jeans.

And a YouTube video of him singing "Born To Run" in Turin, full of concert energy and heart and heat and joy. My eyes filled with tears and my tight, beleaguered heart let go into celebration, even as I asked, even as I wondered, "What could I have done if I had had my health? How large could I have been?"

I watched the crowd, surely swayed with them to the rhythm that held us all, knew myself to be smiling at the same time a cry was torn from me. Tears fell, as I went from video to video, from city to city, exulting in watching a supremely talented good man enact the magic that transmuted the art of performance into love given and received. I looked at the faces in the audiences. Each one beaming, a brighter than normal icon of its normal visage through which clearly shone a light that both reflects and attracts. I remember Iraneaus, the fourth-century Greek father who is noted for having said that the glory of God is the human person fully alive. May glimpsing and limning the glory that I just partook of and witnessed call me onward during this new year.