Romanesco • 15 November 2010

In LA, Santa Monica Boulevard bisected my life. There is always a new building going up in place of one that’s just been demolished, whose shape and function you’ve already forgotten; and the massive billboards change by the week. Mike Davis, in City of Quartz, calls the street a palimpsest. Those last 14.5 miles of Route 66 are never the same street twice. Still, I trust that when I return next week, the boulevard's western marker (Real Food Daily) and its eastern (AYLA) will be what I’m looking for. And I trust in the light, the breezy receptions, the traffic patterns. SoCal may be obsessed with keeping current, but compared to Michigan, it is constant and easy to know.

Here, the environment changes who we are every few weeks. We’ve been in a cycle of sunless, high-pressure days with light bone chill and brief, ecstatic visits from a naked sun before it sets at 5 pm. I walk to practice in freezing dark, or roll out in the upstairs room overlooking the skeleton-forest out back….

What an eerie phase. Out of joint in the extreme. Ice cream sales rise as the temperature drops. The cemetery up the hill has chosen the haunted month to lose its ghoulishness. All the spiders that took over the house in October have fled, out-done by the fruit I’ve left in the basement to rot. Bums share the same migratory patterns as ghosts.

I want to write about my hyoid bone. Do you know about it? A horseshoe in the throat. Jointless, just hanging there tangled in fascia. Behind it, the spinning pinlight of anahata, in my case partway choked by tension. I’ve been interested in the body’s fourth diaphragm—which arches under the hyoid the way uddiyana bandha arches inside the ribcage—and in the way of being that comes after Vishnu granthi but before Rudra granthi.

But when I’m spent like this, at the end of a weekend, I’m out of story-words and just sitting here feeling the weird surroundings now five hours in to night. Fourteen hours of darkness; ten of sunlight filtered through clouds the same dense grey as the lake. Surely this is no time for logical blogging.

The ghosts are out in droves, I’m telling you, along with the bums in the streets. In summer both groups of Invisibles stay in the cemetery, making it more vibrant than most. The bums drink near the far hedge, propped up against 150-year-old gravestones so beautifully cut I suspect all sorts of freemasonry when this town was younger. What's creepy, in summer, is that sound and light behave a little strangely, as if black holes and theramins were at work. The tiny nerves around my spine extend out beyond the skin; the back muscles shudder to reel them in to center. The bums ignore visitors, gazing out over a bend in the Huron where the canoes are liveried and the high school kids practice their skulling. But now the river’s quiet and the graveyard’s deserted. Souless in every sense.

I’m not sure why both groups of invisibles migrated downtown. Yesterday I gave one of them (a bum) a fiver in a gesture of peace. But it’s a relatively contented phase: nobody’s cold but me. Layering ski-silks under dimestore cashmeres (oh the sweaters you can thrift in Michigan), wondering if cracking out the -24 degree Sorrels would be as wrong as wearing white shoes to church before Easter.

I got handmade leg warmers from the Lithuanian scarf lady at the market, plus Romanesco (inside-out cauliflower) and kabocha (a squash with its own cult network) that now sit on the counter alongside a nicely rotting osage orange. The “orange,” a fluorescent yellow orb with the wormy-deformed look of a Garbage Pail Kid, cost me a dollar last month and can’t be eaten, but as it decays it generates an aroma extremely beautiful to certain humans. Those involved in nadi shodana are highly susceptible to Osage ecstasies: some of the more seasoned ashtangis can’t keep their noses off the ugly orb. (At least if the practice threatens to spin you right out of the everyday world by wiring in a trance channel, it compensates by amping your senses so high you wouldn’t want to leave.)

The funny thing about the Osage orbs is that spiders hate them as much as ashtangis love them. Last week I happened on the freshly-dropped bounty of one of Ann Arbor’s two main trees, and initiated a little traffic jam on South State while a delivery truck driver, a golfer and others stopped to fill their arms. So now there are a dozen oranges rotting in the basement, gaseous amrit coming up through the floorboards; and I haven’t had to deter the Editor from an act of voluntary bugslaughter all week.

During the New Deal, the WPA planted whole hedge-rows of Osage Oranges as part of the task of “changing the environment” of dust bowl America. Okay. End soil erosion by importing a species whose fruit is not only inedible but so offensive to creepy-crawly things that it shoos off a whole layer of the biosphere. What is useful for squamish householders is not so useful, maybe, for nation-states. But many of the Osage died out. Other than the two big trees in town, the next option for aquiring this folk-object (which the FDA states is not proven to repel arachnids) is a Kansas family who sells them on the internet for 36 dollars a dozen!

These feel like liminal things: temperatures that make bums and ghosts come together, smells that make ashtangis and spiders separate. They are sensations that stop me in my tracks, stacking something wretched-worldly on top of something glimmery and ontologically suspect. The only-too-manifest aligned with the not-quite-materialized.

When I practice at home, the mat rolls out inches from the window that overlooks the roof and beyond that what I’d taken (in a Narnia way) for forest. But with the trees bare and the mornings pitch effing black, now there is a bright light out there—probably shining off the back porch of a house in the next block.

For a long time, I started in samastithi with the gaze down the cheeks, to avoid looking at the row of practitioners facing me California-style. Now I imitate the old ghost-image of SKPJ in the Jesus-shorts, staring straight ahead at the void. This works out ok because there’s a light in the void that has, over a few years, become as stable as any other drsti in open-eye space. It’s what anapanasati and maybe some tratak pratitioners call a nimitta, or what my high-tech opthamologist calls a physiological floater. It just floats there in space, a bit high and right, like a coin on the sidewalk reflecting the sun. It doesn’t care if my eyes are open or closed; and even if I ignore it for weeks, it just continues to hang out there doing nothing, waiting for me to remember to do nothing myself.

For now, up there in the dark practice room, every return from nava or sapta-dasa back to 0 Position brings my gaze from nasagrai or angustha back to the light in the forest. And the nimitta, signpost of the jnanas, sneaks in and dissolves between the fluorescent light and my seeing.

I wonder if the neighbors installed that blazing light in order to ward off the bums, who’re said to lurk around trying doors and windows at night. Either that, or they're concerned about the ghosts.

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