Ode to Thomas Cromwell

So apparently I’m addicted to writing sonnets now.

I read Wolf Hall a couple of years ago and fell in love with the character of Thomas Cromwell, his shrewdness and diplomatic brilliance, his canny navigation of the internecine politics of Henry VIII’s court. He (or, more accurately, Hilary Mantel’s depiction of him) influences and inspires me as I try to move through my own interpersonal challenges with evenhanded grace.

“Don’t say, ‘No, but.’ Say ‘Yes, and.’ “

A course unlovely visage may conceal
A mind acute, relentless in its quest
To open and delineate what’s real
From superficial dross that keeps the rest.
Appetite for praise, favor and acclaim
Though often they seduce and lead astray
To understand the vanity of fame
May guide the shrewd one to their proper way.
A strength and brilliance revealed in time
Will obtain far longer than what is shown
In appeal obvious as balmy clime
But with alacrity as sudden flown.
A blacksmith’s son from Putney gave the proof
That beauty must needs not always be truth.

August Tuesday Sonnet

I really like the sonnet form: its strictures provide just the right balance of challenge and reassuring structure. I’m certainly no master sonneteer. I’m vexed by my adherence to similar themes and a seemingly limited word-pool. I feel like I skirt around significance to dawdle in vagueness verging on inanity. But… there’s just one way to get better, right?

Discerned at first as little but what’s there
In daily sight and doings all shot through
May delicately grow til one’s aware
Of primal promise to unfurl anew.
A stone unturned remains a neutral thing
In potential like to any other
But once it’s grasped, fresh knowing it must bring
Work upon the sight which it uncovers.
A novel path to worlds as yet unseen
May stay obscure to those who seek it out
Yet offer itself up beheld between
The strait of curiosity and doubt.
Unbound by fear of subtlety is seen
A happily unchartable demesne.

 sonnet pic


Vanity of Vanities, All is Vanity (Plus, Pie!)

Lately a hyper-awareness of my own mortality has brought with it a sense of the futility of all human endeavor. It may have started with reading this story in the New Yorker, which reminded me a lot of dreams I’ve had in which I’m about to die (usually via trauma): there’s an instant awareness that “this is it,” that “my time has come.” It doesn’t bring sadness, just resignation, a recognition of death’s inevitability.

It’s one thing to think about death and finitude as abstract properties that exist in the world, outside of one’s immediate experience: even when someone close to you dies, it happened to them, not you, extinguished their consciousness and put an end to their experiences. You’re still around to feel the agony of grief, to be irritated by your body’s continued demands in the face of consuming psychic suffering. The cliche of young people thinking themselves immortal has its basis in a profound truth: it can be really, really hard to wrap your head around the idea that you, like everyone else who has ever lived or will ever live (unless certain transhumanists get their way), will die.

But I’m starting to get it. My waking hours are shot through with the knowledge of my certain demise. What was once a highly theoretical proposition with zero emotional resonance has become a frequent refrain in my mind, popping up whenever I think of anything remotely long-term. Artistic achievement, for instance.

Talking with a friend last night, I realized that any desire I hold to gain recognition is simply a thinly cloaked bid for immortality. This probably seems obvious. But I had never really felt the truth of it on a deep level. Since everyone (and probably eventually everything) is going to die, what is the real point of trying to get approval and affirmation from others? I’m convinced that there isn’t one.

This may sound depressing. It’s not. Quite the contrary: the more I come to terms with these realizations, the freer I feel. Freer from the judgments of others and from my own judgment of myself, freer of the need to judge others. Freer to create things that are true to my heart and increase my understanding and amplify my joy and make me a more empathetic and honest person, rather than feeling constant pressure to create things that will bring me acclaim. Because when I try to make art with other people’s responses in mind, I don’t make art.

Similarly, the knowledge that, one day in the not-too-distant future, my body will be dust, is helping me to heal from a deeply distorted body image. I’m starting to relate to my body more as my own precious vessel, a miraculous thing of inestimable value that enables me to move through the world.  That there exists visible fat on my body is starting to recede into irrelevance. Deciding when and what to eat is beginning to have more to do with when I’m hungry and what I want, rather than an anxiety-addled calculus that has little to do with my actual health. Instead of seeing it as a malleable, and ultimately perfectible, reflection of my worth as a person (when I achieve a coveted sculpted thin shape everyone will think I’m really great!), I recognize my body as the part of my self that enables me to experience the sensory pleasures of which I’m so fond, to do work that has meaning to me. And I have the great fortune of having a very strong and healthy body that also happens to look pretty good (for now).

I’m going to die. But I have pie!

i'm still alive and it's still summer! peach and blackberry pie (farmer's market peaches, ship canal trail blackberries) also the tonsure had to go.
i’m still alive and it’s still summer! peach and blackberry pie (farmer’s market peaches, ship canal trail blackberries). also the tonsure had to go.

Tonsure Time


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.



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




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.