Archive for May, 2008


May 28, 2008

Speaking of the boat, I spent 7 hours at the wheel yesterday without a break.  I escaped the endless list of the home front at 2:15 and beat my way downriver (but uptide and against a freshening SW breeze) into the bay.  These springtime days bring sudden strong winds, cold and sharp-tongued as your 5th grade teacher. By the time I cleared Thrumcap Island, I was rail under, hard on the wind, chop spray flying overhead and salting my glasses, riding the edge out to sea with straining sails and sheets.

The goal was Damariscove Island, a long, thin treeless and haunted offshore island, the last before the deep Atlantic.  Damariscove is distinguished by having been the stopping place for Maine’s first tourists, the first ‘summer people’. English fishing boats followed the explorers over to gather the cod when they were too numerous to count.  They set up on this island as a shelter and resting spot, to store gear they wouldn’t have to carry back to Old Blighty, as a place to dry the salt fish, and as a gossip and trading post. It was far enough ‘off the main’ to be safe from the ‘savages’ that prevented permanent mainland settlements.  Although no one knows when the visiting first started, it was certainly in full swing in the late 1500’s.  The island is named for Captain Dameril, who set up a store there in 1608.  It is hard to credit that maybe thirty ships sailed out of this tiny sleepy harbor fully 400 years ago.

But the Pilgrims, landing a couple of days’ sail south on Cape Cod, and desperate after the deadly winter of 1620, sent a boat up to Damariscove in the spring of ’21 to get fish and other things, and were generously assisted – so this summer settlement helped save the Pilgrims.  It was also the rendezvous for English, French, and Dutch ships making their way to the colonial settlements in Virginia and New Amsterdam (New York).  Men drank, gambled, quarreled, bartered with each other and the Indians – in other words, a typical commercial seaport.

The harbor is mightily thin and open to the southwest, which makes it a challenge for single-handed boats from that day to this, so I rounded up to take one of the moorings near the old Coast Guard station, only to find at the crucial moment that my batteries were dead.  (The floating switch on the bilge pump had packed up and run them down.)

In a high wind, you have only a few second to get a mooring secure, and I missed my moment. I couldn’t hold the mooring pennant, and without an engine was pushed ignominiously up the tiny harbor to rest bumping against the rocks.  Desperate, breathing hard – it was a falling tide, I was alone, and I had been in this situation before without good result – I used the whisker pole to push myself off before I got stuck fast, got the sails up again, and – shaking – short-tacked my way up the cove past the ledges to the open water.

I decided to spend the night closer to shore, as I would have no power for lights, stove or anything. Starting at 6:30, I opened the sails and made my way shoreward, fighting the ebbing tide, but helped by the wind that persisted long after the sun had gone to bed, I decided to try to make it all the way home, and arrived back on the mooring at exactly 9:15, far into nautical twilight – I put the sails away mostly by feel.

Except for a 30-second run down below to check the bilge, I had not left the wheel for 7 hours.  It was a great lesson, and one that ended with a welcoming committee (no one should have been out alone on such a windy day, so Annie, Quan, Peter and Sarah, knowing I was out in the airy dark, were anxiously awaiting my return) and with me in my soft bed – not bad therapy.


Nine-Inch Nails

May 27, 2008

In these few brief days between the coming of the light and the arrival of the bugs, it is good to get your hands in the earth, turn the soil, pluck the weeds, set the seeds – Maine is glorious at this time, so don’t tell anyone else.  These nails of mine – that spend too much time coaxing sense from these computer keys and feeling for the terrain under the human skin – need dirt under them.  By the end of these days, between the boat and garden, my city hands are scraped and gouged, no good for bodywork, but they feel like hands again.

Does anyone have a copy of Light Years Away?  A sleeper film from the early 80’s maybe; doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s list (like Netflix). Trevor Howard plays a spiritual teacher in back-of-beyond Ireland whose quest is to fly.  At one point he is pecked, scratched, and torn by all his raptors, and he has his assistant bury him up to his neck in the peaty soil for three days and feed him soup by hand.

At the end of the three days (a little heavy on the symbolism here), he rises from the soil with his skin restored.  I have never tried the method (we hit Presumpscot clay within a foot or two here), but I wonder if the skin can absorb minerals directly from the soil.  Between that and the bacteria that could act commensally to seal the skin, it looks like a good idea.

Spring here means the ‘Order of the Bloody Knuckle’, seasonal changes around the boats, docks, plumbing fixtures and the barn are hard on the hands.  Working the soil speeds the recovery.


May 25, 2008

New York, this time, is by turns wonderful and awful.  From the pleasant spring sunshine of Maine, I dive into the canyons of the city, where a cold wind tunnels down between the buildings, turning umbrellas inside out and getting in your crevices.  The clerks seem hostile, the traffic aggressive, the streets dangerous.  Intending to take a long walk, I get some water instead and quickly return to Michael’s loft, softly lit, warm furniture, full of good cooking smells.

By yesterday the sun is warm and the clerk at Starbucks gives me a coffee rather than break my $100 bill, and I am so warmed I come back to give her both the money and a tip later when I have change.

The course – my last in a long string of traveling gigs – is likewise up and down as we search out a modus vivendi for conveying what we have in bigger ways to the yoga, Pilates, and personal training professions.  Sometimes I feel we have a coherent message, and sometimes it feels as if we are being spread way too thin, but such is the nature of experiment and working into new areas.

But I am too tired to really pop in the class, so let’s go home and see if there’s a rest available for me to recharge the batteries for another round later this year.  Fatigue is something I often feel temporarily, but this  – 45 of the last 54 days teaching or traveling (so those 9 recovering, packing, doing laundry) – feels a deep tiredness – systemic, a more profound level of chemistry, and a Dantean level of lostness that goes along with it.

The fatigue spreads like a virus – I am tired of the election.  I am tired that after one or two debates last winter where, for one brief shining moment it looked like we might have a discussion of the truly pressing issues at hand.  But instead we have been dragged back into old-style gutter politics by the very first woman who had earned our grudging and then genuine admiration as the first woman to contend on the playing field of the presidency.  I am tired of the non-work on energy and the silly prating of the chattering classes while the world spins out of control and we, the people, can seemingly do nothing, and evince no interest in doing so.

So it was with some interest that I emerged onto the street to the sounds of 60’s protest chants, and the sight of banners across the sidewalk.  It was a small but well-organized protest by W.A.R. – a PETA-like group called Win Animal Rights – who had discovered that Roger Waltzman, an executive with ties to a lab that kills test animals, lived across the street, and was embarrassing him to his family and neighbors by holding this noisy protest outside his home.

“Huntington Life Sciences Kills 500 Animals Every Day – Novartis Pays Them to Do It” read the headline on the paper they were passing out.  Huntingdon Life Sciences kills these animals for product testing – toothpaste and tanning lotion in the eyes, poisons, cuts, burns, broken limbs – if it is all true, then more power to these folks, at least they are up and doing something.

Novartis, a pharmaceutical company, publishes Netter, a great service to our trade.  But if you want them to stop being associated with killing animals, you can email Roger Waltzman at, or follow up with WAR at

May my children, real and children of spirit, rise up and take control of our country.  “The Earth has a skin and that skin has diseases,” I paraphrase Nietzsche, “and one of those diseases is Man.”  Are we a disease or an embryonic demi-urge?  The next few generations will tell, and it seems a pretty close run question to me.  I am interested in the continuation of the human experiment, but not at the cost of all these innocent animals, all these innocent children, all these nascent countries, and the exquisite resources of the earth – our yolk sac for this developmental journey.

Cheney has amassed $40 billion out of this war and the attendant oil profits. The continued ascendancy of him and his ilk is the most fatiguing thing of all.  He deserves to be on trial in Den Hague.


May 15, 2008

I’m with David Mamet, who says:  “I’m afraid of only two things:being lazy and being cowardly.”

Here’s the full paragraph, quoted from the New Yorker:  “I hate the computer, I hate their spell-check.  I won’t ever do email.  I love working on a typewriter, the rhythm, the sound; it’s like playing the piano, which I do too.  I’m afraid of only two things:being lazy and being cowardly. I get up early in the morning and go to work.  I love to write.”


May 6, 2008

I suppose one must admit the primal landforms shimmering in lovely light, with cool dawns and dry warm days, and towns full of rugged individuals.

But underfoot, the entire desert southwest of the United States is one big catbox; everywhere you walk off the road, it feels like kitty litter.

(thanks to Kathleen Mary)

Your Cheatin’ Heart

May 2, 2008

For one day, the weather finally clears in Oslo, and in the lingering evening from my tiny 15th floor balcony (reminiscent of a hot-air balloon basket – I have the sickening feeling that my evil twin is going to grab my body, leap to the railing and jump wildly for the waterfall) I can finally see more than the pounding spray below me. A sliver of cupped moonlight follows the sun to bed, and far to my left, the harbor – I didn’t know I had a sea view until this moment – reflects the last orange of the daylight.

By tomorrow, according to CNN, it will be cold rain again, and Patreus and Crocker will be tossed softballs by Congress for an easy hit into more war, more lives lost, more disruption for the poor people who were unlucky enough to be in Dick Cheney’s way. The way they got this war started – Rummy and Cheney and Perles and Wolfowitz – that’s got to be a form of cheating? It is hard to keep going sometimes, having faith that the political and the environmental degradation will not overwhelm this human experiment before the work that we do – preparing the next generation of children for this 21st century world – has a chance to take hold.

Each day I travel down the hill to the class in the town center on a five-minute tram ride. The ticket is 30 kr., about $6. No one checks whether you have a ticket,. My American sensibility suggests that $12/day is a bit much, and for reasons too complicated to explain, I have trouble getting Norwegian cash. In any case, I confess to jumping on and off again without a ticket some mornings.

The ethic that we grew up with in the hippie era – it’s ok to stick it to ‘the man’, including the phone company, the government, or anyone corporate, while maintaining a high personal ethic with our fellow individuals. (Supposedly – in fact we were sexist in our treatment of both women and gays.)

Nowadays, this kind of petty cheating is very rare for me – this one was remarkable for its appearance. Nobody wants to pay more taxes than they have to, so that’s simply a form of disguise. But not only can I afford the things I used to rationalize cheating on, but decades have shown me the humans in the corporations – and of course I have a few of those corporations myself these days. I still think ‘the people’ are getting screwed, but the sharply-drawn blacks and whites have all gone for the gray wash like those a friend showed me on some drawings in a museum in Edinburgh.

I have spent nearly $1300 replacing 2 shirts, 2 pairs of pants (a shirt has two sleeves, but it’s not a pair of shirts – why is that?), underwear, and a belt and a toothbrush, toothpaste, and shampoo – and not even high quality clothes. Surely that’s enough? Doesn’t that justify some cheating? But what does the Oslo Transit Authority have to do with British Airways?

In some form of poetry, British Airways coughs up my suitcase in my literal last hour in Oslo – I collect it and drop it onto my flight to Munich. BA offers to pay me £35 ($70) for having lost my luggage – surely that’s a form of cheating? Not even worth filing for, as it will take more time than it’s worth.

As the plane peels out over the rugged and extraordinary coast, I contemplate what constitutes cheating, and rapidly move from the convoluted but navigable pathways of the mind to the wild and stormy uncharted domain of the heart.

I recently had to tell a good friend that he hadn’t made the cut for a team. From the brain’s point of view, it was a straightforward call, but my heart – my compassion and my fear all mixed up – blew the communication, and the friendship was shot out of the sky. I never did team sports as a kid, and I guess I missed out on how to do these things kindly but quickly and clearly.

More recently still, I had to tell another friend – who was much younger emotionally than I ever suspected – that her fantasies about our ‘deep connection’ were just that. This was a blow, as I had thought I had a good friend, with none of the clutter that can gum up the easiest cross-gender friendship (at least in my generation – Misty seems immune to the problem and has equal friends in both genders). But the empathy and charm I use to create the bonds of friendship is all too easily mistaken for seduction, so – all unintended – I was the cheat. I must be so careful, and I hate having to be so watchful, so closed-hearted, so vigilant. Must I so close my heart to live as I am in this world?

But: Thou shalt not commit pain.

And I did.

My dear, sweet, infirm and insane wife understands the pathways of the heart better than anyone I know. A lot of good it has done her (not). Some people ‘get’ her and celebrate her wisdom, some (like my family) see only the surface and shake their heads in disbelief that I am with her, and gloriously happy with her, despite our differences, despite the frustrations, despite the fact that in learning her, I have committed pain.

The human heart is minefield, a battlefield, a stormy ocean, and a nightmare of phantasms all rolled into one. Of course it’s an Alpine meadow, a calm Aegean sea, and an exhilarating flying dream as well. Right now, though, with my body breaking down and my mind running on fumes from too much travel and too little reflective time, my heart and everyone else’s seems terra incognita, ultima thule, one of Dante’s circles of Hell.

I look forward to time off the road, out of this plane, in the arms of the one who sets straight the paths, calms the storms, and sorts the complexities out in simple, direct, and refreshingly earthy terms. Quan, I celebrate you.