Poem problems • 2 May 2010

Last Friday I drank some wine and took the iPod to the arboretum. Malbec and Morrissey: a florid pairing. Overstated. Lewd. Attention-needy. I used them to dull my senses—keep the birdsongs out of my ears and make the mind spacey enough that I wouldn’t get all emotional about the lilt of the magnolia petals and the little sprouting dogwood flowers. Anything to stem the desire to talk about plants in figurative language. (Images of straight jackets. Hip ones, that Morrisey would approve.)

Aesthetically speaking, a part of me despises American transcendentalism, and nature writing, and meditations on the seasons. And I’m supposed to feel all displaced here—that’s been the expectation. But it’s getting so I need little escape devices to stay cool—intravenous infusions of outsider attitude. I’m reminded of the mantras I used to recite when I’d get too caught up in the lifeworlds of my ethnographic fieldwork, when I’ start to go native: participant observation, participant observation, participant observation.

Nevertheless… absorption is happening. For all it is not, Michigan wins. Uncertainty and alienation have gotten so boring that there’s nothing left to do but allow contentment to happen as a kind of natural state—and not just in a honeymoonish way, but in a sane one.

Saturday, eight days from my last walk in the Arb, the leaves were large enough that they change the whole look and feel of the air. It rained hard—summer rain—as a crowd the size of the whole damn town packed in to the stadium for commencement, and the Editor and I stood on the back porch in our bath robes and bare feet. He mentioned our summers in DC, and our bodies remembered that heavy green, mulchy musk. Funny to be in a place where the air is both heavy and fresh (three is no atmosphere in Southern California, in a way that keeps moods light and shallow).

A huge robin hopped through the mint leaves in the yard, chasing a squirrel, and then I went to the farmers’ market, where the destruction was its worst. Flower explosions, barricades of artisanal cuteness, psy-ops in the form of free-sampled tender greens and smiles from old ladies with thick worker-hands. They’d pry your mouth open with those hands if you got too close; force-feed you some scones. In the melee, a military helicopter swooped over, and instead of ducking for cover, the natives threw up their hands and cheered it. Obama en route to the hippodrome.

Anyway, I have found that my contingent sense of sanity needs time-containers even more than it needs grounding in some immediate place. I’d be lost without practice, and probably without the digital devices I use to create routine. For now, I’ve found a few quiet, long-practicing friends. We conspire a couple of times a week, and the other four I practice in my shala at home.

Other important rhythms, new ones, include: sitting, cycling, and pooping.

Meditation every morning. Thirty minutes. Not jhana practice (the happy absorption stuff that I’ve been doing since July) but straightforward Vipassana – intense, fast-paced Shinzenian noting. I’ll do it until the next retreat, and then evaluate. So far, three weeks in to the change, there is a new sense of confidence and stability. I have no idea why the most destabilizing, self-annihilating practice would generate such joy and ease—and this might change tomorrow. But for now, it feels like deconstructing my subjectivity is mellowing out my passionate search or meaning in the world. Who knew that would feed good?

Cycling. I went to spin class with Tim, and loved the way it made my heart work and generated new closeness with L, who is sitting out this summer’s bike racing season for a course of chemo. Somehow I’ve found myself back on the bikes, riding hard two or three times a week, connecting with these fierce athletes who happen to be gen-x and female. What an alluring, powerful generation (or, rather, market segment): hardworking, clear-minded, independent women with extremely refined skills in some obscure sport, with lives of their own, without the buy-in to the messages about consumption, traditional nuclear-family images of success, or the desperation to marry some poor sucker. Explicitly not waiting for someone to come take care of them. They’re different from the “You go, girl!” world of girlfriend groups who have problems with men, do lunch, and tell each other they’re beautiful. Rather, the biking women have men as well as women among their best friends, write books, and date who they want: it’s like The Golden Notebook after a few generations of good therapy. Their discipline and openness kicks my ass, too: my practice has emphasized receptivity and grace in a way that makes me quiet in their presence. These women are savage, sharp and lovely. Full of integrity. They need a better meaning-maker than Nike—the brand of sweatshop labor and sexually creepy heroes. I wonder what would speak to their spirits.

I don’t know. But about pooping. We are talking three times a day. Every day. It’s so good that all of a sudden I’m kind of interested in cultivating radical gut efficiency.

It’s true that organ cleansing can be a neurotic activity used to advance eating disorders, and that at times it may be some kind of attack one’s feelings of impurity and guilt. I will grant that the body works best if you just eat and drink in moderation, and listen to your environment. But after months of dosas and chai, and after a few enthusiastic recommendations, I did send away to Venice for Dr. Schulze’s miracle bowel cleanse.

I read his instructional booklet, in which he grouses about all the “trendy” cleanses out there (trendy cleanses? talk about a cool kids complex), asks himself a string of insane, ill-punctuated rhetorical questions, and brags that his cleans is much more “hardcore” than all the others, which may not get you anything more “than a few good farts.”

Wary of doing anything “hardcore in the pooping realm, I took half the herb dosage he recommended, and stayed on the cleanse for half as long. There was some annoying heaviness in the gut from ingesting dirt and weeds, but three weeks later I’ve settled in to new, responsive digestion. Now tell me, can your sphincter shift on the fly? Can you poo at will within 30 minutes of each meal? Ok… maybe this is not a good marketing tack.

The herbal approach to bowel cleansing is top-down, in contrast to the bottom-up method, which is rather… mechanical. I’ve participated in the device-driven method, thanks to an LA client who gifted me with a course of treatment at a Beverly Hills colonic salon (yes, salon), right on Rodeo Drive. It’s fine, but seems more a spot treatment than an overall wellness thing. What I’m impressed by here is the assimilative-evacuative rhythm that is possible. The karmic symmetry of letting go as often as you take in, the direct connection of what is eaten with what is wasted. Ah! There’s so much to say about it, really. I need to cut myself off. Talk about unwanted poetry!