House Like a Lotus • 7 August 2008

First foot I set in Boston was in step with CP who, like Ee in SF, met me in the lobby of the Hiton. CP walked me through the Back Bay with a secret ebullience that comes as easy as his not-so-secret wit. He paused and got wistful down in the street below the shala.

There is really nothing like the smell of this place…

The smell of transformation, yes. I like that.

I don’t know that it’s transformation… gesturing to the seedy first-floor pizza establishment and the seedier kids on its threshold. More like pizza.

The Editor, sleuth that he is, followed the scent all the way to the source. A good large New York style slice, it turns out. The late night bites I took Monday fueled practice eight hours later from the inside, at the same time that the subtle—almost tasteful?—wafts of lightly burnt cornmeal crust and days-old marinara marked my senses. Is the anise-tinged dry decay of the Nag I burn each morning at Brentwood much different?

At Back Bay they spin to center with heads facing in for Savasana, though being myopic it took me three days to notice. This morning, head to center, I woke up looking in to a stained glass lotus hanging exactly above my head. An old fashioned pizza parlor light, like the one over the Editor’s and my living room table the year we were dirt poor in Seattle. Maybe the pizza essence is not wafting up from two floors below but just left over from times days this was the restaurant’s banquet room?

Waking under the lotus, pretending to take my mind back up inside it, I just thought house like a lotus.

That’s a book I read late in August the summer I checked out all the Madeline L’Engle titles at the public library in town. I was maybe 11. I think the book begins on the Acropolis in another cradle of civilization, narrated by a confounded young girl who definitely confounded me. Oh if my parents had known the things I read in the children’s section of the public library. But at the time I finished the book without really understanding the imagery or meaning of the eponymous lotus.

This morning I looked into the lamp thinking ­house like a lotus and sort of recovering that little seed of my apostasy. My explanations for my migrations away from the poor rural country and for my losses and gains of faiths tend to rely on luck and personality. But as the more buried history comes up, the accidents that began my own deviating line of experience seem to be located earlier and earlier. What was the unremembered accident that even oriented me to that book? What are the limits for explaining the growth and change, the evolution and homecomings, of humans when my own history is so forgotten or lost in my unconscious?

I don’t know. My historywriting ambitions, of self and others, get humbler the more I try to explain. But they have also been so hilariously, totally inspired by the impossibility of explaining anything. Especially this week.

Why is it that even as a deep non-believer in all the systems I love best, I take so much heart from the true believers who have the virtuosity and intelligence to do their practice with extreme skill? But the true believer sociologists are all undoing their premises from the inside out too, and the interesting ones know it and see the discrete steps of this process rather than throwing up their hands in a weak boring mutiny on “truth.” This week a few of them made me remember this whole vocation makes sense for me in whatever history gets written. Of course I’m an historian. It’s right there, so obvious, in my own history. Funny I had to go back inside the lotus, here in America’s little cradle, to remember again.