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Posts from the ‘I hear a sound of voices; not the voice’ Category


1. Today I found one of my journals from years and years ago.

The first thing I’d written in it was “By love I am guided toward beauty.”

2. I am reminded that the only thing more ecstatic than Oneness is the ongoing pulse of the binary.

Somehow I want only to keep touching things, tenderly, until they burst.

n’importe quoi.

It does, and I though I am no longer little I still post secret letters to strangers.

I am sorry that this one– although not secret– comes so late.

This week I sent someone I do not know two silver-clasped threads of silk. One was red, and one was white, and in return she sent me a poem. It was titled Love Sorrow.

It was not hers, but it was hers, and now I am holding it too. I am not sure what to do with it.

When I was a very little girl my mother read aloud to me the stories of John Irving’s strange and complicated families; when I was a little older, I read their familiar pages myself. I remember that similar inimitable line from Hotel New Hampshire: Sorrow floats.

Sorrow, in Irving’s novel, was not the little girl of Oliver’s poem, but rather the Berry family’s black lab, whom they’d had a taxidermist stuff upon dying; the line refers to the plane crash that killed Mary Berry and her youngest son, among the wreckage of which the glass-eyed body of the long-dead Sorrow buoyed.

You wrote in your letter of suicide, and of the nets and fences that prevent it in Toyko; you wrote of the fuck-you anti-dance of the West; you wrote of sadness, too. But what shape does your sorrow take?

(There is no need to answer; I would not know how to respond.)

On my desk a cat– she has been living with us for months; she is still cat– is half-purring and half-growling through the heart she has dragged close to me. Writing is nothing without blood.

The fire burns here too.


What does one do with wonder?

I walked for miles today through a city misted over by ocean and fall, past girls running in high black boots and bearded men singing in riddles, and all beneath a low and smoke-grey sky. The leaves were dying in auburns and golds, and the air pulled my breath from me, and I walked. The dark and the coming cold shoved me stubbornly home; I did not want to go.

How does one translate beauty? What does one do with something so perfect that description is ruinous and cruel?

October has fled so quickly.


On the flight back from California I sat next to a grey and corpulent man, the same man whose distracted bulk had slowly preceded me down the aisle to our seats, with me containing a quiet sigh at our assignments. I squeezed in next to him; he ignored my apologetic smile. I made myself small against the window and retrieved my book. I read.

After we took off, my seatmate pulled from his bag–instead of the usual laptop or iProduct–an ungainly sheaf of scribbled-upon and heavily marked musical notations. I slid my gaze and read these too, or tried; the lyrics beneath the bars were in Italian, and although I could cohere in my mind the melody, the meaning was opaque. The man retrieved a pencil, added a few notes, and then proceeded to sing, beneath his breath, from the beginning of the manuscript.

I feigned absorption in my book, but spent the next two hours listening, entranced, to the newness of a whispered opera.


I do not remember my first sauna.

I may have been a newborn, or perhaps it was months later; I know only that I was young. Before I was born my father built saunas–peculiar, coopered structures that resembled iron-hooped winebarrels–in the Adirondacks, so their occurrence and use was normal not only for our family, but for our relatives and neighbors as well. Saunas were a staple of my childhood, and more. They served as substitute baths, excuses for gatherings, and especially as buttresses against the cruelty of bitter upstate winters. I remember crouching on the floor to stay cool while the sweat seeped from the grim and glistening dimly-lit adults above me, and I remember jealously guarding the wooden pail of melting snow (the result was meant to be poured on the hot stones atop the cast-iron stove, an event I hated, as it would turn the air inside to scalding steam), and I remember the extremes of intolerable cold and intolerable heat and the happy thrill of shrieking naked through the night between them.

I do not own a sauna–and these days realize how still-unusual they are in this country–but I love them with that sweet familiar love that comes from a memory writ large in a body much smaller than the one I have now.

But this is all merely to introduce the Russian bath house within walking distance of our apartment here, a bath house which, until today, the summer had conspired to dissuade me from. I had last been there this spring, when, possessed of a hacking cough and an aversion toward hospitals, I decided to huddle in a steam room until I could breath freely again. Anticipating a lengthy recuperation, I had bought a half-dozen visits. I ended up needing only one.

Today I remembered my remaining passes, and wandered over in the early afternoon. The interior–chambered and stony and still–was empty save for a trio of heavily tattooed Russians, muscled and paunchy and clad in battered swimsuits and felted Soviet sauna caps. (They had seen fit–in the absence of any objection–to stoke the sauna to a comfortable 240° F, something I didn’t realize until the skin on my extremities started mottling into peculiar red-and-white leopard patterns. The air was so hot I ended up soaking my towel so I could breath through it occasionally; the air was so hot that deep inhalations were otherwise painful. I was grateful for the cold plunge outside.)

I spent the next few hours sweating in the dark, all the while being subjected to a bizarrely interrogative still-birth of a conversation. The three men spoke Russian between each other, but every so often one would bark a question–in affectless and heavily accented English–in my direction:





I am sure they were merely trying to include me in the group, or, more likely–given that my answers would result in their returning to a quiet Russian murmur–simply supplementing the boredom of their own familiar conversation with some additional material. Still, given the flickering darkness of the room, my heat-dazed state, and the spit of their rough accents, the experience was one of a surreal purgatory.

It felt strangely and sweetly like home.



On Sunday I went, with M and a friend whom I’d not seen in years, to an exhibition of Picasso’s work. I’d known very little about Picasso prior, perhaps little more than anyone else with a passing interest in art, but came away amazed.

The show spanned nearly an entire floor, and must have included well over one hundred works; visiting was like entering another world, or a different realm of human possibility. I am not sure whether it was the sheer generativity evidenced in those works, or the unbridled, almost terrifying, creativity, or the raw particularity of self that seemed to thrust forth no matter the subject or form, or some other panoply of reasons, but it made me marvel that such artists as him exist on the same plane as others. It make me feel crippled in comparison, and at the same time grateful that such beings exist.

There was something additionally surreal about the visit, too, in the fullness and diversity of the crowd and their strange procession through the show. The art museum had put together an audio tour, packaged on those perhaps-not-uncommon around-the-neck players, with information about select pieces and commentary about the works. I have an embarrassing appetite for facts and informational tidbits, and ordinarily would have leapt at the program. However, I’ve found that I’ll too-often dive into those to escape the deeper challenge of experience and reflection, and so declined the proffered audio wand. Instead I got to watch the museum-goers stand in front of each piece, heads cocked against the telephone-like devices, looking for all the world as though the art was, quite literally, speaking to them.

I felt a curious tension in this witnessing, as despite the shared story being broadcast through those devices, the experiences of the audiences seemed so isolated.

Perhaps it was I, watching without sound, who felt so. The isolation, after all, was only an illusion, as something had called each of those visitors–from so many paths and so many different mornings– there to meet at that same hour, in the same chamber, to take in something great. And this too was wonderful, and rare.


I returned from Seabeck late last night. The Gathering was wonderful, and the community warm, and it was undoubtedly the easiest, and most relaxed, Open Space I’d ever facilitated. Still, I found the weekend personally bittersweet. It reminded me how I am both so hungry for, and yet so utterly, determinedly, adverse to, any deeper sense of belonging.

Part of me wants to dive into that sentence and explain it more (the hungry part, I imagine); another is pressing me toward a prideful silent stoicism. I’ll compromise in saying only that I’m frustrated with myself. Over the past year I’ve managed to become more and more distanced from anything resembling a committed connection to a group–socially, professionally, politically, or otherwise–and have even actively sought this state: not-belonging feels familiar to me, and safe, and somehow an active distancing feels less painful than the deeper ache of a failed struggle to fit. At the same time, it’s painful, and troubling. It’s true that I like being on the fringes, and enjoy the necessary easy availability to many realms and peoples–I like flitting between groups and being able to understand and embrace a panoply of worldviews–but it’s hard feeling so often so homeless, and so little, myself, understood.

I don’t know what it is that whistles me back, either, nor why I keep knocking timidly on the door of the human collective. It is so easy for me to feel understood, and at home, in the broader expanses of sky and sea, or curled catlike in my own fond imaginings of the larger world, or even–perhaps most of all–in the meeting of a single Other, stranger or friend, in those particular depths that seem impossible to plumb with more than three or four other beings at a time.

Perhaps I was born with gills instead of lungs; perhaps I can only breathe easily in the depths; perhaps the effort of remaining up there, with others, no matter how gentle and inclusive their gestures, no matter how similar their views, is too much. I’m frustrated with myself. How can I love individuals so much, yet feel so started, and so exhausted, by the whole?


But outside that too-introspective lamentation, the gathering–and those who comprised it–was wonderful. I wish I could spend more of my life in circles; it was a gift being able to participate; the intimations of deeper friendships that flickered in the evenings were generous and promising; the work and the stories of those who came were inspiring.

And again, and again, and again, it was a gift to count myself among, even for a short while, this body of beings who’d been touched–even transformed–by the practice of an unusually attentive and heartful listening. It made me want, as always, to listen more, and made me wish I had more often the courage to speak.