Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence? -Sathya Sai Baba

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Gah! Not like this.

Woman on the train, tightly curly hair, high cheekbones, looked exactly a woman I did a disastrous play with in Cortland, NY. The woman with whom I worked, Victoria, was pretty and patrician, thin as a whip and entirely intimidating to me. We had exactly zero chemistry, mostly due to my inexplicable terror of her, and the play was the beginning of the end of my time in the theater.

And here she was! On my train! Except, looking closer, not. Not really. This woman was slightly broader in the face, shorter in statue, narrower eyes, darker hair. Still and all, though, she could have been Victoria's sister.

Now, there's a part of my brain which, in spite of my messy, free-wheeling persona, craves order, and finds it deeply comforting. People overuse the term "OCD," but I believe that there are fundamental, organic structures in the mind that love symmetry and balance. And what this part of my mind would really like would be to line people up, in, say, a flip book, and show the gradations of skin color and eye shape and brow shape and head shape and all the other variations, and in order, please. By order, I mean any arbitrary system that goes from, for example, thinner to fatter, darker to lighter, taller to shorter. I don't particularly care what the order is. I simply long to see the minute changes playing along a timeline, orderly and regular. It soothes some fundamental hunger in my soul.

I can see them, like the crayons in a box that I spent many blissful hours ordering and re-ordering,  gradually lightening in shade and in hue, from black to brown to red to orange to yellow to green to blue to purple. The ones left over were white (not "flesh," no longer a color, I believe), gold, and silver, which were grouped together at the end. The variations on themes, between periwinkle and cornflower, between rust and brick, are small, but would consume my time. I would experiment with the starting point, the order, and whether yellow green proceeded to blue through green or down through yellow to orange.

Perhaps there is some great lesson here in race relations, but I'm not so sure. Probably not.

Image: By Crayonsman (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 22, 2012

Decorative Gourd Season is for Children

The pumpkin carving is finished, and I'm sitting on the pavement outside the flower-shop-slash-tea-ceremony-spot where we came to turn gourds into grotesques as is traditional this season. It's sunny and cool. The proprietor's dog, a soft and well-mannered pekingese named Mickey, has decided that he would like a rest from his ambassadorship and has clambered into my lap yet again, where he sits, surveying the world with a look of pug-nosed satisfaction.

A little girl, with the encouragement of her parents, is having at a pumpkin with every color she can muster. The father rides herd on another child, a tow headed toddler who tries to touch everything he sees. Each handsy exploration is followed by a short pause, an inward gaze while he considers how each thing he touched made him feel. Seeing Mickey, the little boy's eyes light up, and he lurches over to us like a miniature drunk, ecstatic at his discovery. The dog endures the boy's uncoordinated but clearly loving open-handed pats for a moment, and then unhurriedly jumps down and makes his way back inside the shop.

But the little boy has already found a new game. In his fat little fist (all toddler hands are fat, eminently chewable) he holds a pebble, which he places in my hand. He then picks it up again, and puts it down, again, back in my hand. This time, however, I close my hand (my huge hand, bigger than his head, ridiculously large in context) around the pebble, and drop it back onto his palm. This variation on the game delights him, and he laughs open mouthed and loud.

He toddles around now, the slow, wobbling three-point turn of the new driver, and I expect him to walk back to daddy, but on the contrary, he tumbles backward, purposely half-sitting, half-falling into my lap. I look up at his dad, who is smiling benevolently down on the scene, and I laugh, too. 

"I guess I just have one of those laps," I say.


My recent forays back into playing the saxophone were encouraged when I met the great Mr. Donny McCaslin this weekend. His stuff is on Spotify, and I can highly recommend what I have listened to so far, without necessarily being able to speak all that intelligently about it. His earlier stuff reminded me of a less yearning Coltrane, if that makes sense. As a side note, me comparing every tenor player to Coltrane is a little like a guy who only occasionally listens to rock comparing every guitarist he's ever heard to Hendrix. I mean, yes, but.... 

Regardless, if that sounds like something you'd be interested in (and it should), go to, and visit his website at His new album, he informed me, has a much more electronic feel to it, and was influenced by Aphex Twin. I can't wait to hear it. Check him out.

Monday, October 15, 2012

I Have the Touch

Peter gets it.

 - The woman behind me nudges me lightly with her bag. It feels like the soft nose of a dog in the small of my back. I turn to see if I'm crowding her, and she says, "Sorry." I nod, and shift to my left to give her some room.

- I look up from my book to find I'm being watched by a woman. She holds her own book in her hand. Like good New Yorkers, our gazes meet and slide away, so as not to intrude. 

- As I wait to get on the train, I turn my body sideways to let the passengers get off. Someone bumps into me from behind, impatient with my politeness. I don't even look.

- The train is crowded, and a person brushes my back to get past me to an open space. I have a vague impression of their mass, and then they are gone, and I go back to staring at the ad next to the transit map.

- Another woman looks me in the eye as I scan the train. There is only the slightest flicker of recognition that I am there, but I take it.

- At Grand Central Station, almost everybody is getting off. In adjusting my bag, I touch the sleeve of an older man's gray suit with my wrist. Neither he nor I react at all.

- On the platform, we all wait to ascend the stairs. A person comes a little too fast and bounces off my back. I have more mass, so I don't move, but I can feel their point of impact, a memory of motion. I feel solid like a tree, and I am secretly pleased to be so. 

Amidst the gentle collisions and jostlings of the commute, I am touched, spooned, butted, elbowed, pushed, shouldered, and looked at, and I do so in return. My boundaries are defined and rubbed smooth, like a stone in a river, and the world defines itself by being what I am not, and so on, energy exchanged and grounded and leaked and returned, until I arrive at work.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fall, Fallen

"Why am I restless?" he asked. "Why do I have this feeling in my blood?" 
 "Wait and see," she said mysteriously. "Tomorrow, perhaps, or the day after...." 
- T.H. White, The Once and Future King 

We passed beneath the thick overhanging urban arbors of Third Street, down-slope from the park. The sky was so blue as to almost pass into purple, and the wind carried the slight spice of browning leaves in its chill breeze. The streets were mostly weekend quiet, until we walked by a particularly noisy, bird-thronged tree that rattled with a riot of squawks and twitters. The whole block echoed with constant conversation, all the birds flitting back and forth, quarreling and laughing at one another, searching for their friends and flock-mates, making plans and executing complicated test flights above the brownstones. I could hear the restlessness in their voices, in the way they seemed to be gathering momentum for a great journey.

I could picture the moment, maybe not today, but tomorrow, perhaps the day after that, when they would rise up, without any one leader giving the signal or calling a vote. At first one at a time, then in groups, then, suddenly, en masse, up into the sky they'd go, impelled by something they did not know and could not understand, a giant cloud of them, all of one mind, heading south, fleeing the coming cold, knowing-without-knowing where they were going, turning the wheel of the seasons on into fall.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Reading on the Subway (and On Being an Occasionally Moody Fucker)

Found this neat little website of folks reading on the subway: Underground New York Public Library. I often think of how I am presenting myself with the books I read, which is pretty typical of the narcissism I hate in myself, but there we are.

I mean, I'm a big person (six foot four, two hundred pounds), so I know I'm tough to miss. I make it a point never to sit on the train during rush hour if it's very crowded, so there I am, taking up all that space like a giant, and I read big, chunky books that hurt my wrists somewhat. So I try to be inconspicuous in my mind, as if, through some sort of meekness transference, I can make all this mass invisible and unobtrusive. Even so, I still sometimes find myself wondering if anybody is looking at whatever I'm reading - if they've read it too, if they want to read it, if they'd like to talk about it, if they hated it and are judging me viciously for my perceived lack of taste. Most of the time, I'm sure, they don't think of me at all.

I recently started reading Wilhelm Reich's The Function of the Orgasm, mostly because an author I admire, Robert Anton Wilson, was a big fan. The book itself was dry and dull, pretty typical mid-Twentieth Century psychological text, but let me tell you, that is a title to carry around on the train. I found the woman seated in front of me while I read it glancing up furtively at the cover, tilting her head a little to try and read the blurb on the back. It's a pretty audacious title for such a dull book. I was a little embarrassed by her frank perusal and, worried I might accidentally meet her eyes, I lifted my book so I couldn't see her over it. 

I eventually got tired of reading it, though, so I recently switched to trying to read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle again. It's much easier going this time than the last, which is understandable, considering what a mess I was the first time I tried to read it (circa 2009, stopped using kratom, blah-blah-blah). I'm hoping that Murakami wins the Nobel Prize tomorrow, so that I can be reading a book by him when he wins. And then people can see me reading it, and know how cool I am (i.e. not at all).

This past weekend's writing came to a little under 10,000 words. Some of them were even pretty good. 

As you may or may not be able to tell from my writing style, I'm feeling a little under the weather today. I swam yesterday, and I may have overdone it. Oddly enough, my physical distress manifests itself in emotional issues. It only took me forty years to figure that little bit of information out. If I'd known in high school that when I'm sore and tired or hungry I get cranky, anxious and depressed, I imagine I might have been a little kinder to myself. Better late than never, I suppose.

Friday, October 5, 2012

My Ideal Day

This morning, I got up, like I always do, at seven o'clock. The whiskey that I'd had at rehearsal with my friend Ray last night had a little something to say about the hour, but I'd been quite moderate in my imbibing, so I told it to shut the hell up. I kissed my wife on her sleeping shoulder, tried to get out of bed without disturbing the cat (who had been awake for hours (im)patiently awaiting my rising), and put both feet on the floor.

After feeding said cat, I took a shower, shaved, combed my hair, threw on some clothes, watched In the Papers (for you non-New Yorkers, a local anchor on the New York news channel reads the major articles in the dozens of newspapers from around the area. It sounds stupid, but trust me, it's awesome), ate some breakfast, kissed my wife one more time and headed out into the day.

That's where everything changed.

Because instead of turning left, walking to the subway, riding the train into work (reading my current book), sitting at my desk, and muddling my way through the next eight hours at a job that I don't hate, but certainly don't love, I turned right, and started down Seventh Avenue, walking in the morning cool.

That's right, kids. I'm not going to my day job today.

But I'm keeping most of my routines. I did my morning writing, I drank my morning tea (chamomile, thank you. Caffeine makes me jittery, then depressed. I know, very rock and roll of me) and am now sitting, looking with some trepidation at the outline for the novel. I'm sitting at a desk, much like if I went into my day job, but now it's my desk. My work that I gotta get through.

This is my ideal day. Later, I'm going to the library (for research), swimming, doing yoga, writing some more and playing some music. If I had my way, every day of my life would be like this. I would work on the things I love. Most of my life may not be like this, but for one day, I am getting what I think I want.

The thing is, I've realized that a good chunk of my ideal day involves work. Working towards my goals, making something, interacting with people, physical activity. And sometimes, no matter what your job is, work is stressful. I've spent a very large chunk of my life avoiding anything that would disturb my equilibrium, avoiding work that might "stress me out." I've ignored huge problems in my life, and pretended nothing's wrong. I've acted like I was happy doing things that I wasn't, and thought I was happy when really I was just numbing myself out.

Well, here's a different way of doing it. I'm gonna keep my routine. I'm gonna do my work. I'm gonna act like the things that I want in my life are important enough to do them all day, even if it's only for one day. And maybe, if I can string more and more of these types of days together, I can make the kind of life I've always dreamed of. Not a life of escape, not escaping from the day to day world, but making the day-to-day world my kind of world. One that I made. Let's see how it goes.

What's your ideal day look like?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Kratom and PAWS, a follow up post

Update: The original post referenced in this post can be found here. Please check it out.

So, not to get too inside baseball on things, but the post on this blog that has received the most hits in the past year is a post I wrote back in November about getting off kratom. Mostly from people looking up information on how to use kratom to get over their own issues with Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. This suggests a couple of issues to me:
  1. People are doing a lot of drugs (duh)
  2. People are looking for information on what they assume is a slightly less dangerous substance to do some of the heavy lifting of recovery from arguably more dangerous substances (I'm guessing alcohol and opiates).
Now, anybody who knows me knows that people using plants (technically called ethnobotany) is a hobby of mine. I've done a lot of research, and at the risk of sounding like an idiot, I'd like to state something very clearly - kratom is a very temporary fix for opiate addiction maintenance. Please note that just because it's "natural" (e.g. less processed, closer to the original plant) doesn't mean that it's "safer." It can be just as addictive as anything processed.

Kratom is a very mild narcotic, and most people can do it with little to no problems. People have used it for hundreds of years to enrich their lives and make living on earth a little nicer. The plants are not the problem.

The problem is you.

By you, I mean the person that is looking for relief from the pain of withdrawal, which presupposes that you have already managed to addict yourself to something or other. If you are addictive, your relationship to plants with abuse potential is, let's say, problematic. Another good word is dangerous.

What all the convoluted logic above amounts to is this - if you're trying to get off opiates, be very careful doing kratom. It may temporarily relieve your depression and the physical symptoms of withdrawal, but ultimately it can flip on you, and you will be no better off than when you started. It is easy to develop tolerance to kratom, and there are new processing methods, including extractions and reinforced strains, that up the ante in a big way. It is less expensive, and the social stigma of stirring powder into juice or brewing a relatively inexpensive legal tea is a lot lower than trying to score pills or snorting heroin. I'm not saying it doesn't work. If you are only in mild trouble, you might be able to hang. I'm just saying that, instead of turning to another substance, you might want to address behavioral and chemical issues (i.e. your internal neurochemistry, depression, anxiety) that might be better taken care of by a doctor. If you're self medicating in this way, you risk addicting yourself to a different substance. 

This might leave you saying "Well, dammit, what am I supposed to do, here? I am in pain!" You need to do what keeps you from killing yourself. All I'm saying is that at some point, like with methadone, really you are just extending the amount of time that you will be kicking. It is a risk/benefit analysis. If you're here looking for advice, I don't have a lot to offer, except please, please talk to somebody who's smarter than me. Don't get your advice for getting off drugs from some random guy off the internet. Please take care of your self, and know that with help, you can get through this. Please don't try to do it by yourself.