Day 122 10/25/13: Overheard While Meditating

Cropped screenshot of Humphrey Bogart from the...

Cropped screenshot of Humphrey Bogart from the trailer for the film The Petrified Forest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night I had the first shark dream in a long time. I only remember fleeting details: night sea (a common setting),  a white belly, a thin black line for a mouth. Although sharks rarely  drift through my dreams, they often materialize in my meditations, appearing and disappearing just as they do in the oceans. Silent images—another kind of thought.

When I meditate in my little office at school, I hear the urgent scratch and peck of someone writing in chalk on the other side of the thin wall. Across the hall, hollow and booming, lectures on economics: the virtues of spreadsheets, the falling markets. When I meditate at home on the couch, the blissful silence is often invaded by street noise. How I achieve higher consciousness when I can’t even transcend Los Angeles? Applause and laughter erupt from the 12-Step meetings in the church basement next door. Other times I hear one-sided Hollywood phone conversation– an unseen starlet squealing about an upcoming audition, or a deep-voiced man describing an upcoming job to a potential stunt guy:

So here’s the scene:

The wife is cooking for her in-laws (car roars past) and so she takes butcher knife and cuts off her husband’s (motorcycle speeds by) and feeds it to him. Think you can do that? Can you light yourself on fire? Are you good with smoke? Knives? The husband’s a football player-esque type. Your general asshole.

If all of life is an illusion, Los Angeles is the illusion within the illusion. Living here for so long, I’ve experienced many a surreal collision between past and present, the living and the dead. Walking through the Hollywood Forever cemetery, I once found a man building a styrofoam mausoleum for a horror film. It  looked as solid and cold as the actual stone tombs that house the first movie stars and passengers from the Titanic.

Even if my meditations are often interrupted, L.A. feels like the perfect place to contemplate the fleeting nature of all things.

Driving through a block of Hollywood Boulevard, I once found myself surrounded by cigarette billboards and 1940s cars, under a marquee advertising a Humphrey Bogart movie. I needed a few minutes to orient myself, to understand this movie wasn’t a revival showing, not a matter of nostalgia, but a meticulously organized, briefly resurrected world as bright and new as it must have been in 1945, that would likely be gone by morning.

Day 121 10/24/13: A Poem for Sharktober

I don’t know how I feel about this poem yet…..what do you think?

Requiem Shark

By Rad Smith

This morning as I gulp five gleaming white
capsules of shark cartilage
to make me strong again, I want
another look at the terrible
eye with its nictitating membrane,
those extravagant fins,
the ampullae of Lorenzini freckling its snout,
all of that huge body on the rippled sand
in turtle grass
with an entourage of neon-blue barjacks,
and a remora wriggling in
and out of its gill-slits.
I even want to touch it again,
and this time not just with my fingertips,
but my palm, loveline and lifeline,
my wrist, the underside of my forearm.
I want to press my cheek against its chaste
astonishing skin smooth as a headstone,
want the touch that feels like a blow,
the summoning touch, the touch
of reckoning, the consummating touch, as well as
the stinging sandblown touch of regret,
the stranger’s touch on the train,
the reproachful touch,
even the last touch of a human
who has lain down with a shark,
the touch I have spent my life so ignorant of,
your touch as you unbutton my shirt,
the searing, unbearable touch.

Source: Poetry (March 2000).

Day 120 10/23/13: Alcatraz Swim for the Sharks!

imagesLooking for a productive & meaningful way to celebrate Sharktober?

Feel like taking a round-trip swim around Alcatraz to raise funds for shark conservation?

Me neither.

(I love sharks, but I’m not quite there. Yet.)

Luckily, some folks at Shark Stewards are willing to brave the frigid Northern waters for us.

By sponsoring a swimmer in Shark Stewards’ “Swim for the Sharks” event on Oct. 25, you fund research about Bay Area shark populations and help create the first shark sanctuary in North America. For a $25 donation you can join the post-swim fun at Sharks and Mermaids Ball. A $500 gift=a biologist-led day trip for two to the shark-centric Farallon Islands.

Click here to sponsor a swimmer!

Day 119: 10/22/13: On Mothers & Shipwrecks

English: Illustration for "The Wreck of t...

English: Illustration for “The Wreck of the Hesperus” by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. From Illustrated Poems and Songs for Young People, edited by Mrs. [L.D.] Sale Barker. Published 1885. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another blurred batch of sea poems today. That none of the students chose “The Wreck of the Hesperus,” that morbid Longfellow melodrama that my mother used to recite, left me vaguely disappointed and relieved. No one could have owned “Hesperus” like my mother with her thick Salem Mass. accent. I cannot read it without hearing her voice. The skipper of the Hesperus binds his daughter to the mast during a violent storm. She, being  a rather chatty child, keeps asking the beleaguered old salt questions that he patiently answers until the twelfth stanza:

O father! I see a gleaming light,

Oh say, what may it be?”

But the father answered never a word,

A frozen corpse was he.

In Ma’s dialect, corpse became a very earnest “caawpse” and I had to suppress my delighted laughter or she would not continue to my favorite part:

Lashed to the helm, all stiff and stark,

With his face turned to the skies,

The lantern gleamed through the gleaming snow

On his fixed and glassy eyes.

I loved the lantern. I loved the snow. I loved the odd repetition of “gleamed” and “gleaming” and I loved death’s glassy stare.

Continue reading

Day 118 10/21/13: Sea Fragments

School passed in a blur of dangling modifiers, wordy and mixed constructions and about twenty-four recitations of sea poems by Frost, Baudelaire, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore and that time-traveling favorite “Anonymous.” One student recited a poem I had memorized and recited in 1979, John Masefield’s “Sea Fever.” It is amazing to me that I remember even a fragment of a stanza of “Sea Fever,” since I can’t remember what I had for lunch–but certain phrases whip and twist around my head like ghost nets. Simple juxtapositions–“the lonely sea and the sky,” and the hurried feeling (then & now) of “a gray mist on the sea’s face and a gray dawn breaking.”

I could tell which students connected to the specifics (the curve of a shell) or believed, as Marianne Moore believed that the sea is “a grave.”

The language of effective conservation has to include poetry, science and humor. It has to become a lasting and permanent force inside us, not something we dutifully digest and regurgitate in slogans–although I spotted the words MORE BIRTH LESS EARTH spray painted on the side of rusted bridge over the 101 Freeway, about 20 years ago. It’s stuck with me as stubbornly as any poetic fragment.

P.S. I hope it’s true that demand for shark fin has declined 50-70% in China.

John Masefield, Hampstead, January 1st, 1913.

John Masefield, Hampstead, January 1st, 1913. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Day 117 10/20/13: Sunday Slacktivism: 5 Easy Ways to Help the Oceans

Large open water fish, like this Northern blue...

Large open water fish, like this Northern bluefin tuna, are oily fish. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are 5 quick and dandy ways to help the ocean and its animals:

1. Still fuming over Blackfish? Free Lolita the Orca from 43 years in captivity. Sign here.

2. A click a day helps fund Oceana’s sea-saving campaigns.

3. Overfishing, radiation, global warming and overfishing are putting unbelievable pressure on the sea and the animals that live there. Sign Greenpeace’s petition to designate 40% of the world’s oceans as protected marine reserves.

4. Bluefin Tuna are seriously overfished. Urge the National Marine Fisheries Service to take more specific measures to help them.

5. Two words: The Cove.  Ask Japan to stop killing dolphins.

Day 108 10/18/13: On Animals, People & Impermanence

“The physical world is spiritual,” said British philosopher Alan Watts, “because it is impermanent.”

The Buddhists remind us that without some form spiritual discipline or community to remind us of the fleeting nature of all things, we suffer a lot.

As Van Morrison once sang: “How can we not be attached? After all, we’re only human.”

But I propose that there is another task we have in this mortal realm that is even more difficult than accepting change: Human beings are meant to love each other. While it’s fairly easy to find individuals for whom we feel affection, loyalty, and affinity,  what of humanity itself?

Every day in my mailbox, on Facebook, in my e-mail box, in my news feed, in documentary films, and on the streets, I see the horrible things human beings do not only to each other, but to animals. A leopard is caged and set on fire in India, a boy kicks a cat to death for fun, ducks are force-fed to the point of liver explosion, foxes caught in snares chew off their own feet, hotels carve up endangered sharks at banquets, horses and donkeys are starved and whipped even as the packed carts they pull have tipped over, whales suffocate on plastic, orangutans on palm oil plantations burn to death when their habitats are lit on fire or sold to cretins who drug them and train them to perform in X-rated entertainment shows. Farmers rip calves away from their distressed mother cows and chain them in crates. All of this for what? Creamier sandwich spreads? The joy of ice cream?  To satisfy our frustration,  boredom,  our love of glamor, our constant, driving emptiness?

Here is another philosophical challenge: How are people whose hearts aren’t made of marble supposed to witness these things on a daily basis and not believe that people are fundamentally awful?

To put it another way, how did Anne Frank do it?

When people die, when friendships end, I am devastated. Yet although I mourn these individual losses, I wonder how much I will, when it’s time for me to die, miss “the world.” This maybe is akin to the old joke, “I love people! It’s humanity I can’t stand.”

The impermanence of life is a blessing as well as a burden. Suffering, both human and animal, is ultimately temporary. But why does it feel so endless? If I didn’t believe that animal souls go on to another, better world I don’t know how I would deal with the myriad cruelties we as a species inflict on other creatures both actively and passively. This is not a fairy tale I tell myself in order not to go insane, but a deeply held belief. The more I look at animals, the more I see how evolved they are in ways we rarely acknowledge, I understand how deserving and ready they are to go on to a higher plane when their long, painful work here–with us–is finally done.

Day 114 10/17/13: Shark Miscellany #2

Today’s assortment of shark (& shark related news):

Five Myths about Fishing

16-year-old spots white shark off La Jolla 

Fatal Shark Attack in New Zealand

The cookie cutter shark strikes again