The Trash Period

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Photo by Rachel Sharon
Photo by Rachel Sharon

You never really know what any of this is going to be, you know? The trick, I’m finding, is to tear straight into it and see.

The first time I picked up a guitar, I hit it the same way I would see Townshend hit his. Brave, angry, unapologetic. Yeah, it sounded fucking awful, but it felt amazing. And that was the beginning of the whole thing. One noisy punch of teen angst and I got free. That’s the really right-on stuff about being fucked up—the restlessness, the relentlessness, the charge to find the thing that will help quiet that junk. I found mine in records. I found even more in making them.

The first time I ever tried to write anything, it was trash. So were the next hundred, maybe thousand. The Trash Period—that’s the part people don’t brace up for or they forget about or give up on. Man, here’s what it is: that is the time. That’s where it matters. The process, the struggle, that is the healing. Sitting down inside of nothing and making something out of it, poking holes in your guts to drain out something really real—man, that’s still my favorite part of this stuff.

I don’t know. I spend most of my time thinking about too many things at the same time, so much that my brain gets raw. I wonder about this weird life thing we all do. What’s that thing Bukowski said about being stuck with so many knives that when someone hands him a flower it takes time to make out what it is? I get that. I do.

Look, I listen more than I talk. I think more than I listen. Most days I forget to change my clothes. And I never comb my hair. I’ve never cared much about denting the world or fitting in.

Rock and roll is a lawless place for forgotten kids. We insisted on that part.

 

Listen to Beach Slang here.

Featured image by Jessica Flynn.

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FLOW AND STILLNESS IN YOGA

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Not all of the subject, you understand. Not even remotely. More nearly, the yoga-related thoughts of a late apprentice.

Most people seem to have an aversion to exercise. They seem to regard it as painful. I’m addicted to it. I haven’t felt the usual way about exercise since I discovered distance running in 1959 when Doc Bannister broke the four-minute mile. (Until I was in my late forties, and ridiculous as the ambition was, I didn’t give up the dream of somehow running an impossible number of miles a week till I was lean as whipcord and broke the world record.)

Which they started doing with a lot of regularity from the sixties on, breaking the record. I haven’t kept up and don’t know where the world record is now but I would guess it was down around 3:44. More and more they don’t even run it. Everybody runs the fifteen hundred. But no matter how many times they break the record now, none of the efforts will ever seem so incredible as that first sub-four. There will never be a three-minute mile. I guess you could go for a 200-second one. Seems a stretch though.

Anyway my point before that was that, regardless of my original motives, my fascination with running made me a distance runner, mediocre at best, but I, the four-eyed intellectual son of a Baptist preacher, became an actual ath-a-lete. All I had to do was run forty or so miles a week at a six-minute pace.

What was even more wonderful was how I felt, nimble and yet almost undentable. And all I had to do was exercise.

Distance running actually worked. Not many practices did.

It changed my life. I became addicted to exercise. There were some strange side-effects. When I came into graduate studies with fellow writer/intellectuals, I was suddenly seen as a jock. All my life and in some measure to this day I’ve seen myself as the spindly and undernourished clown, the social idiot who’s good with numbers and writes poetry and makes good grades.

But being considered a jock was irresistible, and I fell for it, not noticing at first all the bad things, including envy, that came along with the status.

You probably noticed I made one undiscussed assumption, that yoga is exercise. Yeah, I think so.

Even elementary yoga practice, kept up for a while, can be aerobic. The body begins to generate internal heat (you “warm up” quite literally), which is called, from the Sanskrit I think, “tapas” (spelled the exact the same way as the word for finger food in Spain).

Nowadays I never think of vigor in terms of numbers, but used to be I kept track of distances and times.   Even devised an aerobic ratio for yoga. I considered thirty minutes worth equal to running a mile in ten minutes.

This dodge was more strategy than fact. At first, it was what I had to do to allow myself to replace some of my aerobic exercise with yoga.

But here’s the thing.   There was always, even for such a life-long over-compensating ubergeek, that instant of dread before I started. I was addicted working out, but I never got rid of the shiver of panic just before I started. I have it just before I launch into the cold water to swim.   I have that reaction, in some measure, to this very day. Even though I’ve done every asana in my repertoire thousands of times, sometimes I dread beginning a session, or a even an asan, which leads up to—finally—my theme.

Everyone needs to find a way to overcome that dread. It’s only momentary when you establish the habit, but you have to beat that only momentary dread, or nothing at all will happen. My daughter laughed aloud reading a book this morning, and when I asked, quoted a line in which a father told his son to be sure and “start what you finish.”

That’s one way I handle the the moment.

Just do it, like Nike says.

But seriously, all the benefits will come from that one moment. Without it, nothing. With it, everything. None of the good results will come from not beginning.

Still, there’s the pain angle. Not a big one, and you get used to it. It really isn’t a pain, just an inconvenience.

To who? Okay, you big chicken. Begin.

That’s another.

But like I’ve been trying to say in all of this, the best remedies are physical, not matters of ideation. You wanna get so used to the twinge it aint a pain any more. That’s one of the differences, one of the ways to tell.

With a real pain, your opinion doesn’t matter.

It has been an approach to doing the asanas that proven the most successful way of side-stepping that beginning moment.

I was accustomed to doing them as fixed positions, in which the purpose was to achieve a maximum stillness and to hold it. Sometimes, when I wanted to do yoga that was frankly aerobic, I would, instead of trying to perfectly accomplish fixed positions, what I was trying to achieve was smooth and easy flow from position to position, with and without a hesitation in the position. Probably usually just a few seconds of hang.

In the fixed-position approach, I was trying to train myself to hold the ideal (most stress-balanced position) for various intervals, and approximating the seconds by going 1234 2234 3234 and so on. Some as long as an eighty-count, most 48 or fewer.

The aerobic, or “flow” approach had no threatening aspect. You would not have to endure the strain of holding a position for a long count. This way was much faster but required nearly the same energy, so eventually breathlessness could conceivably be a problem but you let it not be one by resting whenever you want to. If you think about it, you’re more likely to keep doing a good thing if it doesn’t hurt so much, and you know it holds the way to make you feel better.

There’s a reason.

It does. It actually does. I have never known anyone not to feel better after a session of yoga that is appropriate to for his or her condition. I have never, not once in what is now ten years of steady yoga, failed to feel better after a session of any length whatsoever (but usually at least twenty minutes worth).

Every now and then just remind yourself that no matter how silly a script-writer might make a yoga or yogini seem, the point is not to be thought either cool or uncool, but to develop a set of exercises or performances that will actually improve your health and make you feel better.

On a regular basis, you can make yourself feel better.

I can’t tell you how much I look forward to the days when I will allow myself to chant out loud. I especially like ending this ritual warm-up—kneeling, with my feet out behind me and butt on a block—“Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.”

Always, every time, by the end of the chant, I’m asking for peace within myself. It’s really impossible to do yoga correctly without that aim. But the good news is you have only to begin. You cannot begin it wrongly. Or if you do, you will learn better. That’s a frequent way to learn how to do things right, doing them wrong and not getting the results you want.

Don’t let that little cold-water-slap or needle-sting of dread keep you from starting what you finish.

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With Binoculars and other stories

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WITH BINOCULARS

Marth inherited thirty grand. It came in the form of direct deposit, a small percentage of his grandmother’s estate. A cancer of the inside put her away. In memory, Marth spends Tuesday evenings in her presence. Her legs are crossed. She holds a slim cigarette. They sit on beach furniture. She’s widowed, and enjoys straw hats, colorful drinks, and the company of her growing grandson. She tells him, “One day, you can spend it all,” while Marth scratches at the sand, wishing for the sun to disappear completely.

***

He needed a few things now–a new wardrobe (white high tops, black denim, silk button-ups [he will not wear this clothing in the sun]), a 4×4 truck that can dismantle the dunes, a home stereo with the latest Tom Petty record, a pawn shop pistol to ward off intrusion. He put himself ahead on rent. He quit his janitorial job and erased all debt. His friends were friends again. Carrie, his ex, forgave him. She claimed passenger in his new ride. The radio worked perfectly, the FM band bright and clear. Together, they visited someone who recently returned from a spiritual journey in South America. This person sold red brick hash. They were having a good time, devouring sweet smoke. They drove around the strip and yelled at people on the street. At stoplights, they held small conversation with folks driving hot rods. Marth said their engines had “a very fine pulse.” They visited Wolf Photography and Optical, a store on the strip. Marth wanted a pair of binoculars to see what was ahead. Carrie pointed at a camera behind the counter, and Marth shed a few fifties from a rubberbanded bundle. She pointed again but shot a camera this time around.

She photographed the clouds. She photographed alleyway-neon. She photographed Marth gripping the steering wheel of his new truck. He was proud of this truck. She photographed stray dogs with long dry tongues. She photographed people with blurred tattoos and disfigured hair. She photographed the chrome pistol he kept in the glove department. Why not?

He eventually took her to a spot where a horizon of blond grass led to the ocean. “This place is important and filled with peace,” he said. They shared the Pacific until Marth thought of his pistol. He handled it freely, yipped into the air, and fired the gun for the sake of heathen freedom. Carrie photographed this. Camera ablaze, pistol ablaze.

When out of ammunition, Marth remembered the binoculars he purchased at Wolf Photography and Optical. He brought the device to his eyes. Everything magnified, he watched the curved grass tilt in the breeze. He watched critters move in the sand. He watched the diamond ocean and gazed at the sun until it weakened, the star making a slow dip into darkness. In that darkness, he couldn’t see anything except the moon, so he focused on its landscape, its lunar silver, its craters. Carrie asked what was he staring at? With the binoculars, he told her imperfections could be something good, that flaws somehow forgave the earth of its carelessness, that this day was over.

LUXURIOUS THINGS

I told her I wanted to inhale the polish vapor from her toes. She ignored me. I told her I wanted to kiss her limbs as she toodle-a-doo’d around the house in nothing but a pair of drawers. She ignored me. I told her I wanted to conceive a pair of twins with her, and at the last second, decide against the idea. She stormed off somewhere in the house, this cruel ritual of us, and she ignored me.

In a meltdown, I purchased a car, a Buick-make, big-white luxury thing, two doors. “You don’t want to go with four?” I asked.

“This is what I like,” she said. “Driver only. Passenger only. And a struggle to get in the backseat.” Hand on a cross, that’s what she said, and a struggle to get in the backseat. We gave it a test drive, made our way around the neighborhood. She waved at boys on the sidewalk and said she dreamed of leather interior.

“Should I park in the garage?” I asked. “To get a feel?”

“Don’t even try,” she said, “just keep driving.” Bound to her in chaperone-form and doomed to lose a couple grand.

The dealer wore aviator sunglasses, his face glossed in sweat at the thought of a sale. He wanted me to sign fast. He said there were a number of couples, just like us, waiting to arrange budgets around this ride. “Believe me,” he said, “the interior is dandy. You’re getting a deal.” She liked that, the thought of a deal, a man identifying her needs. She smiled at him good. I felt a pinch of pure jealousy. Goddamn him.

Driving the car home, I accepted everything. Passion runs until its empty, a drought land. I’m to the point where hearing her piss in the toilet causes frothing at the mouth. Madness in the midsection. Damaged, I’m to the point where I trade money for a shot at household skin. I’m to the point where I drive, drive, drive until I make it to the garage. I’m to the point where being ignored is physical pain. I’m to the point where I’ll propose anything for a feel.

PATERNAL STONE

To calm myself in nervous situations, I force my mind to visualize the shape of an arrowhead, a symmetric vision. I know where it comes from. The one I had when I was a kid. Gray-colored stone, a treasure in a decent collection, smooth and jagged at the same time. Either my father or stepfather gave it to me. It’s foggy.

My stepfather was responsible for most of the collection. He came home with a hunk of obsidian one afternoon, volcano glass from the center of the earth. He found it after digging a ditch for the city. The best backhoe operator in Lexington, he was paid overtime to drag mysterious waters around town. A jailbird once confessed to putting an eighteen year old beauty queen into a waterhole, but my stepfather found nothing except silt and junked tires. One time, he bought me some tiger-eye onyx at the Casey Jones Train Museum. He told me this kind specifically was good luck, so I stuffed them deep into the pockets of my denim cut-offs and hoped for the best. Mom would receive a miniature fortress of crystal quartz as an anniversary gift for their two year. Then she went back to bed. A few months later, she was awake and re-gifted it to me. I put it on my nightstand and made a habit of touching the crystal every morning before school.

But that perfect arrowhead, it could’ve easily come from my real father when he roused me from sleep early in the AM. This was the small window of time when he wasn’t divorced. He woke her, said we were going for a Huddle House breakfast and then yardsales. She didn’t come with us, and we didn’t go to a yardsale. We stalked Pinson Mounds and looted the former ceremonial site of the Chickasaw tribe. Dad told me to be quiet, we could get in trouble, a federal offense, thrown in prison.I remembered thinking the mounds were little mountains with oak trees.

In October, I wore a black windbreaker. The sun came in, moments before dawn, and I followed the grim reaper tattooed on my father’s elbow, the insignia to a motorcycle club he was in debt to. He dug his fingers in the grass and dirt, picking pieces of pottery, translucent chert, and hammer-rocks. I wondered if the native phantoms would come at us with tomahawks and warpaint. But the Chickasaw were a peaceful tribe, and we left the mounds with our Huddle House to-go bag filled with theft, a true father and son moment. Months later, he set up a tent in the parking lot of the local fairgrounds, selling the artifacts for as much as twenty-five dollars a pop.

Yeah, the arrowhead came from either my father or stepfather and disappeared in the same fashion. My dad could’ve taken it with him when he left, something to remember me by, a good luck charm for the highway in front of him. He needed it as he fled to Florida to escape an assault charge. I can almost recall him coming into my room, thinking I was asleep, and putting the perfect arrowhead into his military backpack. Or I gave it to him personally when I ran outside, hearing the crank of his ’79 Harley Knucklehead. I told him, “Take this for the road. Come back when you can.” His leather-gloves accepting whatever was in my hand. I want to believe this happened.

The vanishing could also be blamed on my stepfather. I left in a hurry. Things had turned strange–bills weren’t paid, no electricity in the mornings. He began staying in the shed after work, pulling all-nighters. Strange men appeared with cruddy teeth. My mother was awake and found cut-up straws in the washing machine. I was blamed.

Later, my stepfather’s backhoe entered a no-dig zone, piping busted. The city gave him a piss test. He failed, couldn’t be trusted with a backhoe no more, lost his job. We needed money. He liked crystals so much he learned how to make them in the shed. More men in mesh ball caps with scabs on their elbows appeared. Paranoia brewed. My mother slept. So I packed a bag, touched the quartz on my night stand, deserted everything.

Now, to calm myself in situations where I’m in the dark, where isolation is full, the edge near, and there’s nothing left but meditation, I think about that symmetric arrowhead, the color of an overcast sky, something that could fit in the palm of my hand, serrated, sharp, and I always come to the same idea, the same question: Who do I blame?

 

 

 

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