Monday, May 28, 2012

Is East Texas Anti-Gay?

Way up north of Houston, in the town nearest our lakehouse, you know, the people out here don’t look like the people where I come from.

Elbows look different, for starters. Out here, elbows are… well, they’re recessed, I guess you could say. Like there will be a great hangover of skin from the upper arm and a great hangover of skin from the lower arm, and then an elbow that resides somewhere down between the two, as though in a crevice. It’s not even seen, this elbow, only it has to be there, right? I mean, the arms do bend, even here.

Then there’s the hair. The women’s all look straight out of John Waters films, and the men all wear ball caps so you can’t tell what’s going on. And the eyeglasses are bigger: huge, to the point where maybe they used to be windshields on old Dodge trucks. And there are floral housedresses and there are belt buckles and there are people named Shirley and Gladys and Ruby Lee.

They are amazing!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

I Talk to God (and God Talks to Me)

Day 458 of my spiritual and physical ascent of the mountain.

Today was a wonderful day! Today was a fruitful day! I awoke before the sun in the small alcove I have discovered on the sheer north face of the mountain.

I say I “awoke”  but strictly speaking, this is not entirely accurate. I find that in these last days of my ascent, I rarely enter into anything that could be called “sleep”. As I have sublimated my will to the divine will, my state of contemplative prayer has deepened accordingly.

So I don’t really sleep now so much as I enter a deeper level of contemplation.

I eat only whatever grass or other foliage I can find, supplemented by small insects or even an occasional rodent or two. But this far up the mountain, flora and fauna grow scarce.

I drink rainwater; I eat snow. I chant for two hours every day. You should hear my voice: it fills the whole valley, coming back at me multiplied a thousand fold!

I no longer drum for an hour a day. This is because my djembe drum is no more. It was 17 days ago and I lost my footing when I momentarily fell asleep during a climb. Or I should say, rather, that a moment of especially deep contemplative prayer made me less than attentive to the precise location of my appendages. My drum fell down the mountainside. I watched it falling, splintering into its constitutive parts – parts, which, ironically, had all been found on this very mountain.

I have also stopped the twice-daily self-flagellations. I did not want to, but, alas, oxygen deprivation, extreme dehydration, and blood loss are not a good mix.

Words fail me.

Even analogy fails me.

I cannot describe the change in myself.

I feel that my soul, my very esse, is like… a mirror? A light? Bit by bit, I have cleansed it of each spot and of every imperfection. This process feeds upon itself: As I purify myself, the gratuitous grace granted to me by the divine increases exponentially, enabling me to further be cleansed of the darkness and the sins that my time on earth has left upon my soul.

The mountain peak is hidden behind clouds twenty-four hours a day now. But still, the mountain peak beckons to me. I feel drawn to it as though I am nearing home at last.

When I reach that cloud bank – tomorrow or the next day or on the day after that – and when I climb through the clouds to the peak that lies beyond, I know the veil will be lifted. I will gaze upon pure Being, upon the “I Am Who Am,” upon He who is in, with, and under everything that ever was.

Day 463 of my spiritual and physical ascent of the mountain.

The break in my leg yesterday was worse than I first thought.

The bone is coming all of the way through the skin. I wrapped it with my shirt. This means I do not have a shirt to wear anymore. The temperatures at night get below freezing for many hours. In addition, I have no wood for a splint.

My progress has slowed. I keep going up.

After all, it seems unlikely I will ever be able to get back down the mountain.

Day 466 of my spiritual and physical ascent of the mountain.

Today, after more than a year on this mountain, I reached the cloud bank that hid the peak. My lifetime of rigorous spiritual preparation and my months of mountain living had all been leading to this.

I entered unto a darkness that was a lightness that was THE lightness.

But I am not a poet. I cannot communicate the ineffable.

I could not feel my body, but I could sense a great wind, a wind which picked up speed until it sounded as though the world itself were being torn asunder.

And from the darkness that was a lightness that was THE lightness, at last I made out what sounded like words.

And I heard what sounded like this: “I-i-i-i HA-a-a-a-aTES FAGGO-o-o-oTS!”

Now, there is something you should understand before I proceed. Asceticism, it does things to a mind. You start to see things, to hear things that are not really there. After months of this, you almost even get used to it. The world is a giant Rorschach ink blot. Your mind can create words out of things that are not words, but just noise. It tries to make sense of things that defy sense.

Things like, you know, a voice that says, “I hates faggots.”

So I rose to my knees and stared into the cloud. I said, “Lord, I thank thee, for by your grace I have been granted the strength to come so far, to gaze into your divine visage and-”


The words were remarkably clear this time, leaving little room for misunderstanding or ambiguity.

I paused. I said, “Lord, I do not comprehend. My human ears are simply not equipped to make sense of the divine voice, for-”

“DID I STUTTER? I hate fags!”


I winced, for I had always really hated that joke.

I took a deep breath. I refocused. This was the moment I had been waiting for; I could not bear to mess it up simply because of my weakened physical state.

I said, “My God, creator of Heaven and Earth, you who sent your only Son to die for my sins so that I might be redeemed, I have traveled far so that I might ask you this: Is my soul – my subjectiveness – a distinct something, separate and distinct from the eternal, divine essence, or is like… like… like a candle flame, a flame that will be reconnected with the divine fire at the end of my earthly life?”

Then came unto my ears a noise that sort of sounded like, well, to be honest, it sort of sounded like a belch.

“My butt is ineffable, so you can’t see it, but if you could, you’d see this big ‘exit only’ tattoo I got a while back.”

“‘exit only’! get it? hahaha!”

A long pause, and then,“HEY, Yer not a faggot, are you?”

I looked around. I tried to make some sense of the situation. What was happening? Why could my brain not process it?

I said, “Well, Lord, as you in your omniscience are undoubtedly aware, the term ‘faggot’ is typically an epithet directed at effeminate and/or homosexual MEN, and so, as a woman, I-”

“shoot fire in a bucket! You’re a woman? Didn’t I give you any tits?”

I looked around in the haze. There had to be something here to help me get my bearings.

“so you’re a bull dyke, huh? You Got something against dick?”

Ignoring the pain in my leg, I stood.

I turned around. I started walking back through the cloudbank.


Day 1 of my spiritual and physical descent of the mountain.

I’ve heard some good things about the next mountain over from this one.

The Wheel of Dharma is said to be rotating behind the clouds at its peak.

I must prepare myself physically and spiritually for the journey ahead…

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Skinned Knee Blues

Now, Rachel, she walked on up to us, moping along with skinned knees. Stiff-leg staggering like a Frankenstein, flapping her hands to stay balanced or else stay away the pain, I can’t tell. I don’t know.

And she said moms, I can’t wear pants today and moms, I can’t wear jeans ‘cos… skinned knees.

From where I was sitting, there was not a single drop of blood… or at least none that I could see. Maybe two little matching shiny spots, you know, like where the skin kinda got rubbed away?  Maybe, if I turned my head just so, maybe… Well, it was nothing to call the paramedics over.

But still she was holding back the tears and none too well. And then the color, it drained right out of Dana’s face, and I could see what way things were headed, so I swept up the girl in my arms and I rushed her into the bathroom like she’d come to us with her arm severed or with a sucking chest wound and massive head trauma, instead of just with these… skinned knees.

And I fell back on what I knew. I reached on back into my own past and I brought out what I had seen when it comes to skinned knees. And what I’d seen was that Neosporin and a Band-Aid can cure pretty damn much anything. It can yank a body right back from the very precipice of certain death, hanging on by the fingernails, breaths shallow, whimpering low or screaming out in pain if they’ve still got it in them by then.

But if you’ve got yourself some Neosporin and a Band-Aid or two or maybe three, you slap ‘em on there and then give the tyke some attention and they just might be as right as rain and as good as new to go.

It is something that’s always worked when it comes to skinned knees.

Thing is, it only sort of worked with Rachel.

I said Rachel, have you never skinned your knees before? And she stared on down at the Band-Aids – one on each knee – standing there vacant like she couldn’t walk out and was going to need crutches or hell, I don’t know, a full-body cast or something, and she shrugged.

That’s right, shrugged! This nine-year old girl… Precocious. Boundless energy. Athletic, even. Yet she did not know… she could not recall… she was unsure whether she’d ever before suffered from that old ubiquitous childhood affliction known the whole world over as the skinned knee.  

I spent all my early years running around with skinned knees. Half my life, and every time they’d almost heal to where I’d have those dark, horizontal scab lines coming in, I’d pick them off and let the healing start all over again.

It was the circle of life.

I said as much to Dana, and then Dana said Katy, what the hell were you doing as a kid that you were always getting hurt?

And I thought it over a little and well, I hadn’t really been injured per se. They were only skinned knees. But looking back it seems now like back then it was a whole lot of skinned knees.

What in the world had I been doing?

How does one, in the normal course of one’s daily activities, so to speak, happen to come by quite so many skinned knees? D’I have some kind of balance problem? An equilibrium thing that was never properly diagnosed?

And to be honest, that started haunting me – for a day, for two days, for three days – I’d lie there at night and try to reconstruct in my mind the circumstances leading to those skinned knees of my childhood.

And then, wouldn’t you know it? Roundabout the fourth day of this, they all started coming back to me. All those knees. The skinned knees. I recognized some of them. You were summer of ’91, weren’t you? Or Hey, June of 1994, how ya been?

They’re all kind of like snowflakes, I suppose. No two skinned knees quite the same.

Like there’s I-thought-that-branch-was-strong-enough-to-hold-me skinned knees.

Lookin’-back-to-see-if-that-dog-is-still-chasing-me-while-I’m-running skinned knees.

There’s climbed-up-one-side-of-the-fence-no-problem-but-had-some-trouble-getting-down-the-other-side skinned knees.

And who-the-heck-loosened-my-bike-seat? skinned knees.

No-no-the-side-of-the-bayou’s-not-too-steep-for-me-to-run-down skinned knees.

There’s the my-brother-unexpectedly-launches-a-basketball-at-the-back-of-my-head skinned knees.

Can’t forget the at least fifteen variations on your classic treehouse skinned knees, which I would be glad to chart out for you someday by sub-class, height and time of day incurred.

And then there’s the skateboard skinned knees. All told, I probably I left a pound of flesh and three quarts of blood on various Houston-area half pipes before the day that I turned fourteen. And you know, skateboarding was probably just a bad idea for someone like me. We oughta take some time and compare scars when we get a chance…

But there’s also got-shoved, got-kicked, got-pushed-down-the-stairs skinned knees, and fell-while-doing-various-blatantly-stupid-things skinned knees, not to mention the unicycle, pogo stick, dirt bike, big wheel, and trying-to-ride-the-dog-but-the-dog-doesn’t-want-to-be-rode-today skinned knees.

Why, after a few days of all this recollecting, it was starting to seem like there were more ways for a knee to get itself skinned than there were for a knee to remain unskinned. Like unless you were living some kind of boy-in-the-bubble, padded hallways, Little Lord Fontleroy existence, there was just no way for your knees not to look like the remains of some eighteenth century battlefield by the time you hit puberty and started giving some serious thought to wearing skirts.

Like if you were doing anything at all that was worth the doing, it was practically an inevitability that your knees were going to bear the brunt of it.

And this led me, in turn, when I followed the bouncing ball, to two distressing questions: One was with skinned knees being what they were, how was it my own daughter missed out on them altogether? Two was what had happened to me that I’d now gone so long without skinned knees?

Don’t we take chances? Don’t we do anything outside our comfort zone?

Don’t we ever try and ride the dog?

So here’s a little something, I guess… A little tribute or maybe a toast of sorts in honor of skinned knees and the knowledge that tomorrow, my daughter and I are taking a sheet of cardboard down to Buffalo Bayou so we can sled down its banks.  

Our knees don’t stand a chance.

I have stocked up on the Neosporin and Band-Aids. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

My Favorite Faces

And she walked up – Rachel, I mean, and she’s my daughter – and she put her hands right up on my face, like one on either cheek, and she looked me dead in the eyes.

She said, “You sort of look like Bette Davis.”

And I thought, “Okay.”  I thought, “This is something I can live with. There are a lot worse things a nine year old can tell you than you look like than Bette Davis.”

She said, “Or Steve Buscemi. Yeah.”  She said, “You look like a cross between Bette Davis and Steve Buscemi.”

And you know how sometimes somebody says something to you – just some off-the-cuff remark or random thought – and you just know that you’re going to remember it twenty years from now? Like you’re going to be sitting on your death bed and you’re going to be going over your life and this is going to be one of the two dozen or so things you can recall?

For the rest of my life, every time I look in a mirror, I am going to think Bette Davis.
…Or Steve Buscemi…

…Or I’m going to think Bette Davis and Steve Buscemi…

Thank God she doesn’t know who Peter Lorre is.

So that got me thinking about faces and thinking about beauty, and then I read this study the other day, and it turns out that scientists? They know. They’ve got it all mapped out, this facial beauty thing. They know the proportions. They know the shapes. They know the symmetry behind the whole thing.

They know what we like and they know why we like it.

Florence Colgate,
possessor of the perfect face.
They know Florence Colgate has the perfect female face. This is the face that males see and want to breed with. Which is really what the whole beauty thing is about, anyway. Breeding, I mean. Fitness for reproduction.

But I am generally attracted to women and – with all due respect to Ms. Florence Colgate – if I saw that face coming down the street, and then it went away, and then five minutes later walked back past me, I’m not sure I’d remember having seen it the first time.

I admit that might not be a deal breaker for human males seeking a mating partner. Hell, it might even be a plus.

Maybe I’m just weird. I am probably weird, what with the unnatural sexual proclivities and all that abominating.

But I can remember my thinking for a few years back now and ever since I can remember, I have been drawn to interesting faces. Not healthy faces. Not symmetrical faces. Not perfect faces of the sort that scientists would pick out with their fancy computer programs.

Interesting faces. Faces like puzzles. Faces that make you wonder what is going on inside, behind the eyes. How did they get that way? How the hell’d they grow that thing?

Young Lou... and old. 
Lou Reed looks like he might have some sort of congenital mental disorder and I find his face endlessly fascinating. I could stare at him all day if most his music weren’t so bad.

If an art student painted a picture of a person with a face like Patti Smith, his instructor would immediately fail him. She looks like something terrible happened to her during the night.

Sometimes Tom Waits looks like he has fetal alcohol syndrome.

So does Neil Young.

And Polly Jean Harvey looks like a Muppet and young Roger Waters looked like an alien doing a shitty job at trying to pass himself off as a human. Phillip Glass looks like a fish and Samuel Beckett always looked (to me, at any rate) as though he’d had brain surgery that got botched and left him… you know, left him a little bit “off”, as they say.

But these people have the greatest faces I have ever seen. I take one glance at them and I’ll never forget them. Any of them. I take one glance at them and I want to know more.

Young Patti Smith... and old.
Now, no one would look like any of these people on purpose, villagers with torches being what they are. Nobody walks into their barber let alone their plastic surgeon and says, “Yeah, I want to look like Lou Reed. Can you make my eyes go in two different directions at the same time?”

And who else, who else? Who am I missing?

How about Bette Davis and Steve Buscemi?

Life is too short to spend drooling over a generic department store mannequin.

Maybe I’m just rationalizing my own freakiness…