Day 125 10/28/13: Remembering Lou Reed, Andy Warhol & An Old Horse

I wanted to write about the shark presentations my students gave, but most of them were lifeless recitations of Powerpoint slides, and I found myself thinking more about Lou Reed.

I played his music all last night.

What does it take to crack open the human heart? I don’t know why I’m surprised at my depth of feeling at Lou’s death.

Had I forgotten the heavy thrill of buying my first VU album, “White Light, White Heat,” of memorizing “The Gift”? How I used to keep a picture of Lou Reed in my photo album among images of my family? Why did I not even own this music I loved so much anymore? I’d memorized every song.

Between classes, I tried to lose my despair over the death of a major artist and the death of collective student imagination, in an essay about horses called “Partnering with Pegasus.”  Mares are the true leaders of the herds, not stallions.  I started thinking of 1992,  the last time I saw my childhood mare-ribsy and grizzled, 35 years old coming over the edge of a hill. She nickered when she spotted me, but I, shocked at her appearance, gasped.

Then we both froze staring at each other.

What a great surprise to find that horse standing in that field again.

The image hung there, and suddenly infusing that lost world was John Cale singing “The Style It Takes” a gentle song about Andy Warhol:

I’ll put the Empire State Building on your wall,

For 24 hours, glowing on your wall

Watch the sun rise above it in your room,

Wallpaper art, a great view…..

Did they always belong together this unlikely memory pair–an elderly horse and lonely Andy Warhol?

I started thinking of that well-worn Camus quote about having an infinite summer within. The places I’m afraid to return to, those fields, those songs (which are also places), are sites of renewal. Loss numbs and loss  surprises. Like music it wakes us up again to the dream of life.

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Day 103 10/6/13: Certified and Certifiable

David Foster Wallace gave a reading for Booksm...

David Foster Wallace  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“That’s great! That’s just great! You’re certifiable! Do you know that, Quint?” Brody (Roy Scheider) hollers after Quint (Robert Shaw) smashes the boat’s radio (no more calling in for a bigger one) with a baseball bat.

I replayed that “Jaws” scene endlessly in my head on the way back from Catalina as my dive teacher filled out my diver certification card. I am by no means “good” at diving, but I am no longer afraid of bleeding ears or the large sharks attracted by the ribbons of blood pulsing from my exploding lungs.

The ocean is beautiful—heart-rendingly so. But I don’t want to disturb its inhabitants. I don’t want to shine flashlights in crevices to see lobster, or play with sea cucumbers. Even as I thrilled at the glimpse of a retiring purple octopus curled up in a rock hole, I felt a rush of feeling for the little guy. I know that octopus LIKE to be left alone. And lobsters seem to value their privacy as well.

I felt glad that I would be  teaching David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster” in the morning.

The essential question is this:

How do I commune with animals, while not interfering with their nature, their ways of being? 

It’s not that animal rights guilt precludes my enjoyment of the natural world, but thoughts about animal consciousness increasingly shape my experiences.

I grew up riding horses and still love doing it (as a way of seeing the countryside), but even that activity is fraught with complications: bits, and crops and heels into ribs. I recently discovered this observation (given in sign language) from the always candid Koko the Gorilla:

Koko looks at a picture of a horse with a bit in his mouth:

K: horse sad.

CD: Why?

K: TEETH.

(Check out more of Koko’s insights in this fascinating argument for the personhood of gorillas).

More on this idea of displacement & communion soon. The sea hath ignited in my mind the power and glory of language while it seemed to have sapped the very marrow from my bones.

Day 96: 9/29/13: Between Breaths

Back to the pool today to review some safety procedures after last week’s debacle at sea.

Thoughts I had while trying to achieve neutral buoyancy at the bottom:

1. Tried to remember the name of the guru who said, “My religion is breath.”

2. Yoko and John’s fabled first encounter at the Indica Gallery in 1966: She handed him a card that said “Breathe.”

3. What my brother told me about coming home from a recent road trip to Vermont with a bushel of sweet “wild apples.” The beauty of those two words together healed something in me.

4. How the peace one feels underwater is a kind of addictive silence, like the silence of meditation. So many kinds of silences, far more than there are kinds of apples.

5. What a strange honor it is to be with someone while they take their last breath, their last taste of the world.

6. My father and I used to race our horses through an apple orchard. The horses had white apple foam on their lips. At a certain point, I crossed some invisible, unspoken line and he stopped letting me win each race.

7. The fundamental law of diving and of life: don’t hold your breath.

8. The curved forms of the free divers that swim with sharks. They know how to move so as not to appear threatening. Their bodies are lithe, beautiful. They are seeking, it seems to me, some impossible form of communion.

9. Manannan mac Lir is an Irish sea deity. He is a clown, a beggar, and a psychopomp who guides souls to the underworld.  He’s associated with the Isles of Apple Trees in the next world.  In a painting I saw once Manannan mac Lir took the form of a breaking wave of horses. I remember the fury of the foam.

10.  My dive teacher takes the regulator out of his mouth. He lies on the bottom of the pool and blows these crazy rings of air to the surface–huge and perfect. They shiver and break apart. I immediately think of my father smoking cigars while he watched 60 Minutes–the hazy rings, not weird and futuristic silver water rings, but earthly like the rings of a tree. What good does it do to remember so much? My teacher gives me the signal: Are you ready to ascend? I have almost forgotten where I am. I nod. Yes. I am ready. I look to the surface.  I breathe.

Day 23: 7/18/2013: Dreaming of Sharks in the Desert

Today I went for a trail ride/riding lesson out near Sunland. My awesome teacher Keri and I rode in this interesting desert oasis where the sounds of the freeway grew distant. As we crossed small brooks and negotiated narrow pathways between cacti, Keri told me about her experience deep sea diving. Sharks and horses are my favorite animals, and I felt the particular geeky thrill that happens when obsessions collide—riding a horse through the desert and talking of the ocean.

My biggest nerd-fusion fantasy is to ride horses in the sea–a desire born during repeated adolescent matinees of Coppola’s “The Black Stallion.” Keri mentioned that some horses become mesmerized by the motion of the water and a bit startled by the white caps. Understandable. We ask horses to do a lot. They have a right to be daunted by the vast might of the ocean. Keri and I talked of the natural awe and respect one should have for sharks, for the power of the ocean and for the strength, mass and decidedly independent nature of horses.

Action: Yesterday I posted about helping the great white gain protected status via a three-prong approach of phone calls, e-mails and letters. I confess in the tumult of the day, I only conquered “one prong,” so today I am calling and writing the folks at California Fish and Wildlife Department to tell them to give California’s great whites endangered status.