Category Archives: The Abstract

No Fixed Address

June 20th 2022, San Juan Blvd, Belmont CA

To be indiscriminately captivated means to be at home anywhere, everywhere, nowhere. Why fault this faculty? Single-mindedness is so often misapplied. Would she tell the bumblebee not to be so flighty? Would she command the butterfly to be less fickle? So much depends on their roving eyes, their ravishing way.

Her life, and theirs. 

To be one with the Ten Thousand Things is her true nature. This is not dispersion. It is the end of a long exile. After living cramped in a dingy attic, like the blighted stepchild of fairytales– a return to a vast homeland.​

The heart, she discovered with a start, has no fixed address.


Personal Taste

What are you thinking of right now? he asks. Personal taste she says, and what it feels like to encounter it in other people when it’s wildly different from your own. What does it feel like? he wants to know. Well that depends, she says. Sometimes it can be unexpectedly invigorating. Like when you pull up at a light next to a vehicle emanating heavy metal- an earthquake-unto-itself that sets your car atremble. Sounds that pound their way into your bones, even your teeth are vibrating. When the light turns green and the car takes off, the silence left in its wake is both a relief and a mini-desolation. You’re still thrumming, freshly awake in your skin, full of teen spirit and ready for almost anything. 

But there are also occasions where other people’s personal taste can feel blighting. Like when your next door neighbor paints his house lime green. You believe that certain colors are best reserved for one thing and one thing only. Lime green for instance, is a color best reserved for green limes. It affects your pH balance. Now every time you look out your kitchen window, your mood turns reliably acidic. 

And then there are times when encountering the personal taste of others can be a source of unabashed wonder, like when someone pours hot sauce on top of their ice cream or– she catches an unusual expression on his face, and cuts herself off. What are you thinking right now? she asks. I was just thinking you’re something of an acquired taste. She smiles, of course, she says, all truly sophisticated things are– dark chocolate,  coffee, kimchi. It’s a wonderful thing to live in a world where taste can be acquired. Why is that? he wants to know. Because, she says, it means if you are willing to encounter strangeness often enough, chances are you’ll never run out of things to appreciate. 


A Broad Margin

To meander is a natural form of movement, uncontrived, unhurried. Rivers and roving butterflies are adept at meandering. And we were too, once upon a time– before we developed a preference for traveling in straight lines, perhaps because of Euclid, who told us a straight line is the shortest distance between two points (for the record he was not entirely right about this.) Regardless of length, a bend in the road will always be revelatory. A straight path seldom holds any surprises. In other words efficiency and epiphany do not typically travel together.  This is largely because efficiency deems as irrelevant, so much that is important. For instance, the most efficient way to travel from point A to point B will take into account toll booths, traffic patterns and the time of day. Whether or not the wayside California buckeye tree is currently in bloom will be deemed irrelevant. This is wildly ironic because stumbling upon a California buckeye tree in full bloom can transport you in an instant, but only if you aren’t trying to get somewhere. Efficiency is always trying to get somewhere. This is why it does not gallivant,  daydream, linger, or lounge. Unlike Walt Whitman, efficiency has never been known to ‘lean and loafe’ at its ease observing a spear of summer grass– or a California buckeye tree in bloom. No. Efficiency is ever-preoccupied in getting you from here to there. For it to work you must be firmly tethered to space-time, not lifting veils, traversing realms and hitchhiking with eternity (things liable to happen when meandering or being Whitmanesque.)

For most of our lives, whether we know it or not, we are shepherded along by unconscious habits of efficiency and selective attention. This is why passing a California buckeye tree in full bloom without noticing it is shockingly easy to do.  Like entirely missing the gorilla-suited personage in the Invisible Gorilla Experiment. While I am eminently okay with not catching sight of people in gorilla suits who wander into my field of vision, I very do not want to miss the sprawling California buckeye tree in late spring, waving its bright five-fingered leaves like so many small hands, covered in fanciful, fragrant wands– each an inflorescence up to eight inches long, studded with scores of tiny white flowers, that burst out of faint pink buds, freckled with delicate gold-tipped anthers, sweetly scented as white grape juice, intriguing from a distance, dazzling up close. Nor do I want to miss it in summer, when it preemptively drops its leaves in anticipation of thirst, a model of voluntary simplicity, or in fall when its large, leathery, pear-shaped pods hang from leafless branches,  splitting open to reveal a lacquered seed that bears a striking resemblance to the eye of a buck. And I certainly would be loath to miss it in winter, when its silvery bark is laid bare, and the impressive mind map of its branches rises into view, like a floating labyrinth, a lovely skeleton, a slumbering legend. 

Now I am finally undoing the unconscious conventions that control my attention, that push me towards chronic productivity. I am reclaiming my peripheral vision, my wandering soul, my capacity for wonder. I am realizing that what I thought were the footnotes of my life are actually where the fruitful stories are being told. The text in the middle of the page almost entirely misses the plot.

I am learning to love, like Thoreau, ‘a broad margin to my life.’ Priming myself for the buckeye, and all the beauty that lies just beside-the-point, just around the bend in the road. 


It Isn’t Time for Poetry Yet

It isn’t time for poetry yet. There will be time when the time comes, but it isn’t yet now. It is approaching but not quite nigh. When it comes you will know it by the look on its face. It will nod to you and you will be dragged along by the force of a glance. You will be ridden on roughshod and this will not be a problem but a privilege. You know this feeling because it has been felt inside before. You have locked the doors and shuttered the windows. But you often forget the backdoor, and one window is somehow always left open. Like a loophole. You know in your heart of hearts that there will never be a way to secure yourself from this demanding goodness. This force that eats you alive and spits out the bones. You are demolished, devoured, destroyed again and again by this arrival. It does not leave much behind – leaves you nothing you can boast of except your own disappearance. And it is not easy to boast when you are no longer here or anywhere any more. This is why you still believe in locks and entry codes, in screens and window curtains. You like being here, being you, being limited in time and space. It can be uncomfortable to inhabit infinite possibilities when you have grown accustomed to the snugness of the straitjacket. This is why you try and keep yourself invisible. But you are ostrich-like in this way– head in the sand and all the rest of you oddly positioned above it. Your absurdity inadvertently draws attention, the way a honeycomb inadvertently attracts bears through its sweetness. Both very quickly yield deliciously sticky situations. 


Pick a Pomegranate

Pick a pomegranate. One that cannot conceal its blush or merriment. One that is this close to bursting into ruby throated laughter. Let it sit in the nest of your palm like a flightless crimson bird heavy with gravity and hidden gifts. Call attention to that festive, sharp tipped calyx crown. Feel the shape of its ribs underneath the leathery red, roundness. A globe with subtle angles. Consider for a moment that these wonders grow on trees. On trees! Festooning them improbably as prima donna leaves pirouette into autumn mists. Great pouches filled with garnet gems. Yes — filled! 

Split open a pomegranate. See how its gleaming cargo spills. A jeweled honeycomb, dripping sweetness. Arils like tiny pendants, so many sun catchers clustered in a cavern. It is clear whoever packed these purses was unacquainted with the notion of scarcity. Whoever packed these purses was giving hand over fist from a mythic mother lode. Were we slightly less preoccupied by calendars and petty calculations we would be perpetually dumbstruck by the magnitude of this miracle. We would not rush past our unclaimed inheritance, but would stop instead and fill our pockets with lucky pennies. Dawn to dusk our footsteps would sing a coppery chorus.

But wait. You say I am mixing my metaphors. I have called this fruit a ship, a sack, a bird, a bequest, a cave, a mine, a honeyed hive, a carrier of crystal. To you I say, this fruit is the stuff of legends, and legends defy consistency. They traffic in transubstantiation. Straw will be spun into gold overnight, blood will birth flowers, at the wedding feast water will turn to wine. And so it is with the tumbling scarlet prosperity of the pomegranate. It will render you rich as an emperor if you let it. Quicker than a con-artist’s promise, and ever more lasting.

You will of course need a key. Something to spring the lock, something to cry out at the cave’s mouth that will conjure the boulders, roll them mightily out of your way. A sign that establishes your legitimacy and authenticates your claim. You do know what it is don’t you? Or maybe you don’t. In the stories the protagonist is always slow on the uptake. Always spends two-thirds of the tale wandering in desperation and self-doubt, before the kindness of strangers and tribulation-kindled insight reveal what was there all along. Then the wicked fairy’s one-hundred year spell collapses like a house of cards, the sword slips out of the stone, and the Earth greens with growing things again.

Is it still sitting in your palm? The pomegranate? A thing alive and almost electric with givenness? Look at it again. You can, but you don’t have to speak the words aloud. The feeling might perch in your eyes, gentle as mourning doves inhabited by a wondering, plaintive softness, even that is enough. Or maybe it rides into your chest and lifts the roof off your heart uncovering a canopy of stars and dizzying you for weeks. This works too. But if it must be sounded, then perhaps it vines into your throat and pulses forth a series of small buds amidst green tendrils. Bright flowers shaped like delicate trumpets. Then all you can say or sing amounts to the same thing:

A thousand times a thousand times — Thank You.

 


The Sixth Tree

A rambling and (very) tardy thank you to Maria Popova, curator of the incandescent corner of the internet we know as BrainPickings.

Dear Maria,

The first Spring after my husband fell seriously ill, I was taken by an intense desire to know the names of the flowers tumbling out of buds, scaling walls, and holding themselves around us like so many raised goblets to the sun. Until then I had been content to let them wave annually and anonymously at me as I paraded down the sunlit streets of my life like a (minor) celebrity. I tossed them a bright smile now and then before moving on to the next exciting thing around the corner. If someone had introduced them to me I feel certain their names would have lifted unnoticed out of my memory soon after, in the untraceable way noon lifts dew from grass.

Perhaps I had no use for their names because I was assured they knew mine. Why else would they crowd the pavements and turn such adoring faces my way? When one is known it seems less essential to acknowledge the unknown. We assume the right to remain unacquainted is the prerogative of fame. If all of you know me, I do not really need to know all of you. This is a dubious assumption. To be known is necessary, but not sufficient. One must also yearn to know. The bird for instance is known intimately by the sky, just as the dreaming water lily is known by the pond. But whether bird knows sky, or lily the rippling pond, or whether either knows the first thing about themselves, are questions that cannot be generalized, dependent as they are on the metaphysics of the specific bird and the specific lily in question.

When my husband was first diagnosed with an ill-understood condition, beauty in the world froze. No longer flowing and accessible, it turned rigid, impenetrable. Existing in a separate dimension. One I could still see but no longer touch– or be touched by. Such rapid relegation is disorienting. A bird banished from the sky must fall back on inner resources, must confront who and what he is without that blue embrace. But what does a bird do when he looks into the mirror and sees an abyss gazing back at him?

I was a newly exiled sovereign –but wait  — one must be true to the facts. My right to the throne had always been at best– ambiguous. I do not know by what means I came to be crowned. Was it by miracle or manipulation, by birthright or blessing? The confusion should have rendered me humble not entitled. No matter. What we do not learn quickly life will teach us slowly. Our obtuseness is no match for her patience. Whether you take the short cut or the scenic route your choices are the same. Be humble or be humbled.

Misfortune is a kind of magic, materializing trap doors under silken rugs, worming the fruit in plentiful orchards, turning the dog dozing by the fireplace into a fire-breathing dragon. It is also a key that turns darkly in a hidden passage, unlocking subterranean energies. The sun steals much of our attention when we think of growing things. But darkness is an imperative too as any seed will tell you. We deem misfortune as bad but what good myth ever came to life without it? The plot must thicken or why would anyone ever do anything vaguely heroic or evolutionary? But I digress.

The gates reopened slowly. As my husband stabilized by degrees I was allowed re-entry into the realm of beauty, able once again to touch and be touched by it. An erstwhile ruler returned as refugee. What is that old adage? Less is more? A one-time princess with a tumbled crown, wandering the sidewalks with nowhere but this moment to get to has time to pay attention. No longer the center of the story, she is at liberty to be curious, free to care in unconditioned ways. Perhaps this is why, the first Spring after my husband fell ill, I filled with an intense desire to know the names of all the flowers flooding the hills around us. I looked them up painstakingly after our rambles. How like spells they sounded to me! Incantatory names, simply to speak them was to enchant the air. Snowdrops, jonquils, camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias, lupins, buttercups, bearded irises…The unidentified ones haunted my dreams. Petalled presences that demanded to be known.

Perhaps when one has been freshly alienated from the familiar, names take on a primal importance. Recognition becomes an act of reclamation. Poppies, pansies, bleeding hearts, flowering acacia, foxtail, delphiniums, double tulips, violets, larkspur, periwinkle, plumbago, chrysanthemums, rock roses, asters, sweet pea, caped jessamine, ranunculus, amaryllis, alstroemeria…To be able to call out confidently to those around you when their faces, floral or otherwise, dance into view is a special kind of belonging. It means you are not a stranger.

Theories abound in the mind’s forest.

Perhaps, having glimpsed the ferocious fact of mortality– that sinuous black and gold striped reality that stalks us so relentlessly and is capable of pouncing when we are least prepared– perhaps having been so starkly reminded that we can only be here now and not forever– I am less able to dismiss the vast triumph of fleeting and exquisite forms of life. Every flower a victory of pure and simple existence. If I do not acknowledge her it is not the flower’s life that will be diminished. And now I realize that I have neglected to tell you about the trees…and the trees are my excuse to be writing you at all.

The first year of my husband’s illness we retreated into semi-solitude, seeing very few people beyond immediate family. How my heart ached with love and fear. It was a relief to focus on simple necessities– food, water, sleep, sunshine– we spent much of that time in our little bird’s nest of a home, perched on a hill with a tangled view of the valley and a peek-a-boo glimpse of the bay. I don’t remember exactly when it was that the trees began to press against the windowpane of my consciousness.

There were five of them — amongst the thousands beyond our door — who silently extended their guardianship — and a sixth who would make herself known a bit later. All five can be seen from our picture window, technically none of them are “our” trees, and all but one are some kind of pine– say I who know very little on the subject of pines– so take that piece of information with a grain– or ten– of salt. Unlike with the flowers, I was not consumed by a need to know the trees’ names– I simply gave them my own. They are rooted on other people’s properties. But between us there stretches a bond of belonging that goes deeper than possession.

First came Eldad Hagar — a stout-topped evergreen with the capable, no-nonsense air of a bodyguard, then Goldengrove a tall, slender maybe-birch who shimmers from green to gold to bare-fingered branches with ethereal grace. Next Piper Longhum, a spindly pine with a missing branch that makes her endearingly lopsided and hard to miss, then Gazeli, the tree who does not like to mingle and who sits high on a hillside above the fray, and finally Grindl the Good Pine who manages to be both slightly stooped and utterly regal in her bearing. She is a shaggy sorceress of a tree with a strong maternal streak. They are each endeared to me — and unaccountably I feel a sense of being endeared to, and also watched over, by each of them.

Of late I have been less attentive of my friends but they do not hold it against me. In that first year of my husband’s illness they were my pillars. I leaned on them every day with only a dim realization that I was doing so. But I have not told you of the sixth tree yet. The tree who it can be argued, inspired this lengthy missive to you.

She stands on the far edge of the horizon scanning it for riches. Stands with an emerald poise that conveys tender intelligence and strength. She is the farthest of “my” trees and in many ways the least familiar to me, but no less significant. Her role in our relationship is to convey the best of what she sees, to pass on glimpses of insight from other worlds and times. My role is to listen, and be willing to be lit by that which I listen to. The sixth tree is the well-placed curator of the blue beyond, and her name (of course) is Maria Popova.

For over three years I have been meaning to write and tell you of the tree I unofficially named after you. I even painted a tiny watercolor portrait of her to send your way with a handwritten letter of gratitude. Then in an absent-minded moment I penned a note on it for another friend, so it is in his keeping now. I am not a gifted painter, so do not mourn the mix up. Any image of the tree in your imagination is assuredly more splendid and representative of the living original than the one I actually created.

Thank you feels too small and flimsy a phrase for all that I want it to contain. So I will double bag it. Thank you, thank you for the work you found your way to –your books, your blog, and more– and for all that you do to delight, inform, spark and enliven the hearts and minds of so many readers. What you have created and continue to create word-by-word feels as alive, prolific, generous and generative as a rainforest.

Thank you for being one of my trees.

In joy and gratitude,

Pavi

 

 

 

 


Nobody, not even the rain

Listening is the least invasive of the senses
Touch the most needful of permission
Gazing has limits which exceeded
Test the bounds of politeness
Tasting on most occasions would incur scandal
Sniffing will almost always seem indelicate
But listening offends no one, pleases most
Endears the listener to the listened to
So would you seek to grow intimate and ocean deep
Contained of many creatures –then–
Prick your ears and still the urge to speak
Fall silent, fill with attendance to
The moment speaking
Take notes like a schoolgirl, forgive like
A mother, receive like the sky that cracks
Open at dawn–
Let not a whisper go unheeded
The voices you are most in need of
Will not break and enter–no–
So do not wait for bugles or trumpets
What you are listening for is tumbling
Towards you like scent of blossoms
On Spring breeze, rising within you like
A full moon and nobody–
Not even the rain
Has such soft feet.
Stop
Place your ear upon the ground of time
Feel the silence rumble
(Nearer than
Your next breath)
Listen!

Stream of Thought

She was sitting very still next to a silver stream and when she looked into it she saw her reflection. Clear eyes looked into clear eyes. And she wondered suddenly whether, when she rose and left, the memory of that face– her face– would still remain in the water. In a secret way she hoped it would. And she wondered then how many other faces had stopped at this silver stream to see themselves in its depths. And suddenly the face in the stream spoke up in a voice that was familiar because it was her own voice— only somehow like the stream—silvery.

And the voice said, “The stream cannot hold me forever because it is a stream and streams do not know the meaning of holding on and they do not know the meaning of forever.”

And she listened to this in some surprise (because you see she was a little unaccustomed to being addressed by her reflection) but when she had got over her surprise she nodded and said in a matter-of-fact kind of way, “ Yes you’re right. Silly me,” and she rose and walked away from the stream without a backward glance—which is why she did not see her reflection smiling after her.


Expiration Date

I found Fame in the cupboard–

Between baking soda and salt,

Her seal was yet unbroken,

Her Expiration Date at fault–

Or was it me?

 

Did I neglect this purchase

And let its worth grow stale?

Did I forfeit grand applause

While–opening the mail?

Tending traceless other tasks

Forgetting to put on my masks–

Has Golden Chance set sail?

 

If so I’ll gladly take the blame

And let this be my claim to fame—

I’d rather bake a cake — or two–

Than chase a Name.


How Do You Live In Your Days?

Do you live in your days like a forgotten ticket stub in someone’s jacket? As if the show were behind you? As if you went out one evening to watch your life, and decided halfway through that it wasn’t worth the price of admission.

Other things more interesting stole your attention, even though we’ve been told and told that all that glitters is not gold, we are so easily seduced by sparkle and the kind of food that fills our mouths but not our stomachs and never our souls.

How we gorge on the insubstantial, and substitute the vibrant, risky, full-bodied occupation of life with a weak-kneed, lukewarm stupor.

Do you live in your days like an unmarked bottle in the back of the fridge? A bottle that has been there so long that no one remembers what’s in it. Do you live in your days like a lone sock in the drawer whose match disappeared in the wash weeks or years ago.

Think. Think hard. What shape are you holding and in what container are you held? Those are not questions to be asked or answered lightly.

Live like the roar in the cave of the lion’s throat. Live like the mustard seed that is dropped into hot oil — ready to explode its flavor into everything. Like the wick in a candle. Flickering. Fierce. Alive.