Tonsure Time

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I wanted to feel the air on my shorn head once again before summer’s end.

But today a stiff breeze is blowing, and even though it’s sunny, I want a jacket: It already feels like fall.

I’d been contemplating a tonsure for a while – since last winter, at least. I’m intrigued by monasticism, by the self-effacement and intentional relinquishing of worldly values that it represents. I’m addicted to cutting my hair. I’m also very vain, and contend with the tension between really wanting to not care how I look, and really really caring how I look, on a daily basis.

Attempting to decouple my sense of identity and self-worth from my physical appearance is tremendously hard. I often regret my haircuts immediately after they’re done, then acclimate to them fairly quickly. But, then, I usually cut my hair because I don’t like what it’s doing and want to make it look better.

Today, before I picked up the clippers, my hair was perfect. Growing in nicely, looking fly, forming a protective coat around my vulnerable head in preparation for the winter that is certain to come (unless I die first). Now, I am possessed of perhaps the goofiest haircut of my life. Which is saying something: I’ve sported a Chelsea and a mullet and several wacky stripy shaves in between.

I certainly didn’t give myself a tonsure in an effort to look cute. But the confident glee I felt when I embarked on the cut quickly evaporated: Combined with an incipient breakout and the way my body has changed since this time last year (I’m muscular but  bulkier than I want to be, feeling ungainly), my ridiculous hair is making me feel sort of ugly.

So what? Isn’t this the type of deliberate self-confrontation that led me to a monk’s haircut in the first place?

Yes. Yes, it is.

There is a vile superficial essence that lurks within me, spinning insidious little stories: that my worth is directly proportional to how beautiful and thin I am. That, as an attractive person, I am entitled to a super-hot mate whose proximity will generate social approbation. That, no matter how worthy a person’s character, physical beauty is an essential constituent of goodness, of wholeness.

I want to be free of this essence. I want these stories to stop interfering with my joy. Because life is terribly short and terribly precious. Because appearance is the most fleeting of virtues (if it’s even a virtue at all – I’m sort of beginning to doubt that it is). Because I don’t want my vision to be circumscribed by something as vapid and arbitrary as culturally defined notions of what’s attractive.

I’m not there yet. I’m still in its grip, struggling to unbind myself, trying to inoculate myself against, and atone for, my sin by exposing it.

On the plus side, when it comes to unalloyed tactile pleasure, nothing beats stroking a freshly Bic’d scalp.

before

before

 

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aft…errrr…

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the back is the worst (trying to preserve my nascent rattail)

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silly hair, don't care (ca. 2001)

silly hair, don’t care (ca. 2001)

People Watching

On the ferry.  A pair of women who look to be mother and daughter. One thickset in black shorts, pearl grey blouse, the younger one svelte in a flowered sundress. Each with long, blondish hair, painstakingly highlighted and straightened: expensive hair. For some reason I find this hair depressing. Tragic, even.

A man leans against the lifeboat cage, gazing at his screen. He’s got on jeans holey at the knees, a black baseball cap with a red Polo logo on it. He sports the kind of trucker ‘stache I’ve got a weird weakness for.

A plump girl with curly auburn hair displays her butt in cutoffs, her belly in a cropped shirt. Though I admire the confidence and body acceptance evinced by such a getup, I can’t imagine ever being comfortable dressed like that (unless I was at the beach, maybe).

There’s another girl wearing pink shorts so short and tight that they grab at her crotch, jam themselves aggressively into her butt crack. They’re smaller than most of my underwear. She tugs at them, and I wince in sympathetic discomfort.

A young woman with pale skin and chin-length dark hair passes, wearing a long skirt of diaphanous ochre, a short-sleeved polka dot blouse, and black strappy sandals. Her elegant, flattering ensemble is a refreshing departure from all of the awkward and ill-fitting clothes I’ve seen today.

Sated on salad, fries, and coffee, hot sun beating down, stroked by sea breeze, Ranier’s majestic bulk looming across the sound, the smell of salt water exciting pleasure as keen as a lover’s caress. This place is paradise.

Inextricably entwined with Seattle summer’s idyllic nature, though, is an awareness of its ephemerality, an insistent anxiety that nibbles at the edge of consciousness, reminding you that it will be gone all too soon.

 

Ful Moon Encounter

“There was this girl… eighteen or nineteen… nine months pregnant. She jumped off the bridge! I figured, if she could do it, I could do it! Course, she was drunk and high at the time.”

And so on. From mysterious wealthy Middle-Eastern friends with limitless supplies of top-shelf weed (“I speak Persian, Farsi, Iranian, Iraqi”) to underground gambling dens where you can get three and a half grams of pure opium for $175 (“try to buy that on Mercer Island, it’ll cost you $1,000 at least! I speak Vietnamese, though, so they let me in. You wanna smoke some opium? You probably don’t even know what opium is!”).

Slight and wiry with upright posture and an ageless face under an orange baseball cap, he bobbed up and down as he spoke, oblivious to our occasional interjections.

He told us he’d been a bootlegger’s mule when he was a kid during prohibition, jacket stuffed with pint bottles of moonshine. He told us he’d been in Cuba before Castro, when Batista (he called him “Bastille”) was still in power. “Che Guevara, Castro, his brother, that Raul…”. Cackling delightedly, he rattled off names of politicians and revolutionaries and oligarchs and mercenaries, “all those crooked motherfuckers.”

He told us he’d once bet a friend that he could swim from Mercer Island to the Ballard bridge. Just two miles short of his goal, he was hauled out of the water by cops in a police boat.

“They took me to jail. I was full of energy, coulda swam for ten more hours. They didn’t know I was on speed, thought I was just on pot. Wrote me a ticket and let me go! Then I sat here by the canal, all jacked up and sleep deprived: I started hallucinating. I saw a road opening up, right over there. Lights. I said to myself, ‘wait a minute… there ain’t a road there!’ The road was full of people, foreign people, from Hungary,  walking around in circles holding those old-time record players – there was some sort of wedding going on – Filipino guys fishing. I knew I was hallucinating, though, so I just sat there and laughed. I got sense, see; if I’d have been younger, I probably would’ve jumped in the water. It took me four hours to break that hallucination! Forty hours without sleep. I said, I ain’t never doing that again!”

He claimed to be 89 years old, a veteran of Vietnam, Korea, WWII. He claimed fluency in eleven languages. He couldn’t find his lighter, implied that I’d filched it. My friend reassured him (correctly) that he’d find it in about the time it had taken him to find his pipe a few moments earlier (roughly three minutes).

He offered us beer and pot, not wanting to go home, though he said he needed to be up at 3 am for work.

When he’d first approached, Ayla barked furiously at him. Undaunted, he started to talk, and didn’t stop for a long while: he’d found in us the audience his tales demanded.

Back of the Checkbook

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 old checkbook found in a drawer, ca. 2006

Morning is for health and fresh resolve and vigor and hope. Night is for regrettable decisions, hollow rationalization of said decisions, mindless indulgence. I love the morning, wish I could get right with the night.

Grief and love are equally engulfing, and you can’t much have one without the other.

I Love Country.

I really love country music. Lots of people are puzzled by this fact: I skew socialist politically and libertarian socially, and am pretty much as far from conservative as you can get.

And yet – the guileless charm of country music, its emotional frankness, its straightforward embrace of simple pleasures – really moves me. Ditto the simple song structures, the yearning melodies, vocal harmonies and banjo and fiddle.

Maybe it’s because of my roots: my grandpa came from the hills of West Virginia and my grandma was from North Carolina. Music was important to both of them. My grandpa was a preacher and suspicious of the trappings of secular culture. Still, his extensive music collection included Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Randy Travis (plus a ton of bluegrass gospel).

Maybe it’s because of my rootlessness: having lived all over the world, I’m at home everywhere and nowhere. Country music lets  me imagine that I have a culture that I can call my own.

Whatever it is, it fills my heart with delight and makes me feel really good.

Crushin’

His feet are filthy, dirt in various shades of brown coating the soles in a mottled patchwork, the nails longish and jagged. I want to touch them.

I’m eager to impress and aware of it. I watch myself, amused, as I try to sound smart, to act nonchalant, to rein in my eagerness and play it cool. Is it working? I can’t tell.

I feel obvious, foolish. I want to break free of the game, of the need to put on a show, and instead be completely genuine.

Ah, but where’s the fun in that?

Perhaps it would open a realm more worthwhile than mere “fun.” I can hear K telling me as much.

People fetishize the concept of “life.” I see it manifest in a couple of ways:

1. The idea of life as interesting and noteworthy in of itself, i.e., life on Mars (microbial, whatever).

2. The idea of [human] life as somehow “sacred,” imbued with divine essence.

These views seem to be often at odds. I’m thinking at the moment of environmental degradation, the cataclysmic changes that are occurring as the result of human activity on the planet.

It seems like those who believe the earth was created to be our pleasure garden should want to preserve it in a state as close to original creation as possible, whereas those who believe that all life, simply because it is alive, incredibly, through a confluence of circumstances far from inevitable, would shrug and say, “life persists.”

But in practice it’s often the opposite.

I was thinking about astrology a minute ago, the idea of planetary phenomena causing (or, depending on your school of thought, merely predicting/correlating with) outcomes in human affairs. I think it arises out of a desire to feel connected, at home in the universe. To know oneself, not as pathetic and arbitrary and alienated, but as an integral player in the world, no matter how small the role.

I like the concept of fractals. Echoes of the big in the small, the minute in the vast. The way clouds mimic fossilized swirls of primordial mud. I believe that this phenomenon extends into the realm of ideas and feelings. From the individual all the way up to the cultural, and eventually, the collective unconscious, the Noosphere: The struggles and misapphrehensions and surges of insight and passion and madness that occur on the individual level also happen at the group level.

I want to believe he’s watching me, even though he’s not. It’s a titillating fiction, to think of him gazing out the window upon me unfolded on this rickety lounge chair, writing in my little notebook. The thought of being desired by someone you desire is catnip for the ego.

Running my fingertips over my thigh, I feel how it is both soft and rough. Soft to someone else, maybe, who’s used to the coarse bristles and tough skin of their own masculine leg. Rough to me, because I know each scuff and burl, each little eczema patch and inflamed hair follicle.

Its okay that I’m not all that good at drawing. It’s okay that I take off my shirt to sun my belly, wanting to not give a fuck, then think about putting it back on, giving a fuck after all.

Life’s like a lucid dream: We wake up when we die, and none of this will matter.

I don’t much like your tattoos, but I do like the warm rankness of your flesh, the raw grassy smell of your sweat.

Breaks in the clouds like veins through marble.

Sometimes you just gotta make out with a tree.

The fact that there is injustice in the world doesn’t absolve you from exercising common sense.