Tender lovers, bravely face your suffering.
The god who gives you these bonds,
Must come to your aid in the end;
The least favor
That love provides
Is able to atone for the troubles that he makes us suffer.
Far from this place, sad wisdom,
Should one forbid youth
Forming these delightful bonds?
When from its love
A young heart loses its sweetest moments!
—Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre, act III of Cephale et Procris, 1665-1729
California, part 11 (love found and lost, perhaps found again):
From my journal while on the road, 6 weeks in October and November 2008, Alaska to California and back to Portland Oregon, then home to Cambridge Massachusetts—with 3 new slide shows about Palestine/Israel, “My Trip to Gaza,”, “Bethlehem the Holy,” and “The Hydropolitics of Israel-Palestine.” In early December and again in February 2009 I’ll be touring with these and other shows in the southeast section of the US. You can find more information here.
After a fitful night aboard the StarryLightLate train, sitting now in the Sacramento station (on the train), sipping morning coffee, after eating an egg-sausage-cheese squishy bagel, followed by an exquisite apple-peanut butter concoction, listening to folks comment on their night experience (cold, distributing pillows, removed the last car, just joined the train from the north, etc), looking out on a slowly-arising-sun-saturated sky, almost on time (1/2 hour late), I can write my night experiences.
To wit, many dreams, only one of which I can now recall: it featured L3, who rarely appears to me in dreams, coming from behind me as I and a crowd make our way to watch a Bread and Puppet Theater-like performance. She ignores me. Passes me. I notice her boots, the plopping sound they make on the pavement.
At the performance itself, I watch a young man wearing a mask that doesn’t fit. He complains about it hitting his mouth. He shifts it up (I continually shift my sleeping position to find respite from the slight torture of sleeping on a coach car) and I notice he’s vaselined his mouth area. On one more occasion L3 pointedly avoids me. How true to life this dream is.
I know I slept, since I dreamt. Did I sleep well? Does it matter? I will regain my sleep, eventually. Soon I will be in the loving arms of Dan.
What did I do on the train yesterday as we plummeted south?
I wrote M, a relatively long letter, not as long as some I’ve written to F. I wrote with high expectations that she will soon respond. She seems responsive. Our dialogue seems to me rich and wholesome, a form of advanced flirting perhaps, testing our friendship, how far it goes, setting the stage for something more developed. I am hopeful, not necessarily for a long-term partnership but for a sound, long-lived friendship.
Unlike meeting and instantly loving L1 and Louise, knowing when I met them (did I actually?) that we were for each other, M is slowly growing on me. I feel warm thinking about her. Not tingling, not erotic (is this also my age?), not with sparks, but with a glow, an ember in the night, sustained thru the long night.
~At this moment, revising my journal, I sit in the glowing sun, warming to its touch. The sky is now clear, the sun burning thru the window as trains flash by in the opposite direction.~
I chatted with a young man I’d met in the Seattle station, wearing his baseball cap with sunglasses perched on top. This is how I recognize him on the train. He seemed to seek me out. He sat with me several times in the café-parlor-dome car. He confided to me that he doesn’t read or write, he is severely dyslexic. His path is ideas, he told me, answering my question. Can you build anything with those ideas, bring them into existence?
Maybe, if aided.
I feel for him, his malady, virtually invisible yet restricting his outlook, his prospects. How debilitating to not be able to write or read.
He also told me he’d separated from his wife of 3 years, has 2 kids, one about 10, the other 5, his wife broke a court order and moved out of state. He’s trying to resolve this. He’s had warrants served on him from what he claimed were minor infractions. He just registered to vote, mainly to procure an ID, and seemed excited to be voting for the first time. He worries that he won’t understand the voting procedure. He backs Obama. He’s on his way to Chico California.
~We are in California’s Central Valley, very flat, alongside an interstate highway, speeding along at least as fast as the autos. I don’t believe we’ve been held up much by freights, I don’t recall any long stops. A mountain is in the distance. The sky is mostly clear, with thin cirrus and some haze. The light is orange. A recumbent biker just passed in the opposite direction on a smaller access road.~
We are almost at Davis, about 45 minutes late. It’s about time to try calling Dan to forecast my arrival time. Will my cell phone have coverage? Did I remember to write down his phone number?
Also yesterday I edited Hydropolitics, sitting in the lounge car, looking east, the sun setting behind me. I heard a voice. What software are you using?
Keynote, new Apple product, works well.
It was the train conductor, himself an amateur photographer. He showed me some of his photos on his iPhone, mostly of old steam trains. He knows the work of O Winston Link, the pre-eminent steam train photographer.
I read much of Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour, the horrors of dislocation and forced removal in Palestine’s Galilee, about as vicious as can be imagined. Chacour claims the Israelis promised to return the village to the Palestinians, on a given date and time. Ecstatic, the villagers returned, only to be given a performance: the shelling of their homes. Was this the design of the Israelis, to enhance the suffering of the native peoples?
~The central valley hills roll gently, brown and bare. It looks dry, auburn, toasted. Periodically I’ve left the train for short walks on various train platforms, just to test the air. I could chart the temperature rise from Juneau to Seattle, Portland, and further south. If I could hang my head out the window here I suspect the weather would be hot.~
I wrote in my journal, as I’m doing now, without end, nearly. Since on the train I have few competing interests, little I can do other than ride the train.
Adding to my account of my Vietnamese nephew, Vu, and family: his neighborhood of Renton Washington, recently constructed, is 80% white, he and Le estimate, with a large proportion of Asians, Russians, and Chinese. Recently they attended a BBQ block party. They claim no or little racism directed at their kids in the schools or in the neighborhood. Is this the American dream working? How deeply do they understand?
—October 20, 2008, Monday, on the Star Late/Light Nonexpress, Seattle to Oakland
Big news from M, not wholly surprising. More about that later, first the dreams:
The first dream reveals my true reaction to the news—or at least one component of that reaction. We were passing thru a mall, noticing displays related to Easter and Christmas, lots of brightly colored lights. She was on roller skates. Both of us were sad, for different reasons. She abruptly stopped, offered me a large hug, and then skated off. I was crushed, wept, wept in 3 distinct phases somehow. And I awoke with a sort of choked sobbing, not tearing, not exactly weeping, but wrought, pained.
Second dream, equally sorrowful, I was shooting at L1 and Joey with an automatic rifle. It was dark, probably night; I could see only vague shapes. I recoiled, did not wish to hit Jo, only L1. Why, I don’t know.
Now the news from M…
In short, as I guessed, she has a relationship brewing with her dancer friend…
How shall I respond? What do I truly feel? How to express that? What do I wish for, what might she wish for?
I felt knocked about when I read her message yesterday, embedded in a longer letter about that and other matters, as I was just settling into a brief sojourn with Dan and Elizabeth in Oakland. Crushed might be a better word, but mixed as well. I think when I respond I’ll say something about my hopes regarding relationships, and avoid pinning any blame on her. This is a tough one to sort out, to finesse—I’d like to maintain our friendship while deepening my understanding of love, friendship, companionship, courtship, partnership, commitment.
Rather than delve into that at this moment—one challenge is to not obsess about this, not lose focus on my journey, my mission, my path, my life—I’d like to make a few other observations about how this journey is progressing.
Dan met me at the Jack London Amtrak station in Oakland, the train a mere 45 minutes late (it can be 3 hours late). I was overjoyed to see him, we are back in our old grove of goofing off. Last evening he told me about a recent medical encounter… We roared as he told that, him almost on his knees in gales of laughter.
The train ride was excellent, as I’ve already recounted, the sleeping minimal, my companions OK, the landscapes exquisite, service excellent, price just right, and the work I did satisfying to me. Such a train ride is a sort of long carpool with strangers, few of them needing my attention, releasing me for wild reverie, reflection, writing, editing, and maybe even some photographing.
What about Internet access? One of my first questions to Dan. Maybe at the house thru an open neighborhood network, but first let’s try a local café. Dan and Elizabeth suggested the Eritrean café, Dejena, about 1 mile from here, near the BART station, in what Elizabeth calls a transition neighborhood. The general neighborhood is largely black, some Hispanic, some white, an integrated neighborhood. I noticed a plethora of storefront churches, perhaps one of the densest clusters of such nascent houses of worship. Other small shops, a boxing gym. Dan dropped me at the café, I checked to make sure they did have free Internet as their window sign claimed, and that it was functioning. I chose a table, set down my packs, ordered my split pea soup, and then opened my grey backpack to retrieve my computer.
No computer! First thought: someone stole it during my last minutes on the train. But I didn’t recall ever leaving the pack alone after I’d last dropped in the computer. Did I leave it in the parlor car where I’d been working, hurrying off to detrain at Oakland? My heart fluttered, I might have fainted. I mentally reviewed all the materials on the computer that I’d not backed up, most particularly my newest revision of Hydropolitics which I’d been editing on the train.
Second thought: what now? I’ll have to find a computer, transfer my backed up files from the compact flash and external hard drive to the new computer and soldier on. All at sizeable effort and cost. Oh how could this be, stolen or misplaced, my worst nightmare realized (later I toyed with a comparison: which is worse? Losing my computer or losing M to another man? Is there any comparison?)
Third thought: whoa big guy, didn’t you park your computer and its cables in the big black satchel Bob gave you, with the projector? At Elizabeth and Dan’s home? Oh yeah, that’s what I did. Relief. I asked the counter woman to put aside my soup, I’d be right back. Trotting to the house I bumped into Dan who was shocked to see me. I explained, we chuckled, I carried on. (I later discovered a free network I can use from home.)
Some good news amidst the sadness: Waddah S called my cell as I was chatting with Elizabeth in my room (Dan gave up his room for me, the ultimate mark of friendship, moved into the basement, slumbers in a sleeping bag on a mat, his breathing machine hooked to his mouth and nose, what a dear man). Waddah is Palestinian, living in Portland Oregon, teaching at Portland State University, and would like to host a public show. Eureka, a rare spontaneous invitation. This helps settle my plan for the last few days, most likely Portland, not Seattle.
Now to return to the M question—what to write her? I’ve already begun a letter, within minutes of reading hers, for my own edification, to reveal what I felt, to begin wording it, and I deliberately avoided sending it without gestation. I had that dream about sorrow (I wonder what her precipitating dream was, should I ask her, should I confess mine?) which opens my heart to my inner reality. I’m contemplating a combo of what I wrote last night which is a bit airy, theoretic, generic, and something about my hopes regarding coupleness. So here goes the latter part:
M, this recent episode in my life, getting to know you a little better, hearing from you about your friend, helps me clarify what I may be looking for in a relationship. (Is relationship the overarching question of the century, of the millennium, of existence?). Nearly always going steady, married, partnered, rarely single, never truly single for any significant period of time, and now on an unusual course at my age, not retired, no thought of retirement, on a mission until I keel over, I have to wonder, what sort of relationship might work, what sort of person? So if you don’t mind I’ll go inward, be self-absorbed and plumb this. You can delete if not interested, and you need not reply.
On the one hand… and on the other…
That is, I can visualize myself single for my remaining years, with lots of friends, some companions, some companeras and companeros, but never committed. Since, as I’ve said before, I am already committed: to my work, my missions of photography and social activism. This is paramount for me, supercedes most other considerations. Case: as I think I mentioned to you, when Louise’s sister was dying of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, a slowly debilitating, incurable malady, and I might have remained in the States supporting Louise, I chose to work in Israel-Palestine. She never asked me to remain home, but I know this was her wish. Had I been committed to her, to our relationship, I would not have left her side. (Maybe I explained all this about commitment to you before, sorry if I’m repeating myself.)
If the topic for me is not Palestine/Israel, it might be prisons. If not prisons, it might be poverty. If not poverty, it might be governance and civility (I’d love to explore Holland and other countries in that region that seem so livable.). And the primary path is always two fold: photography and political work. Doing the best I can in both areas. Risking my life, livelihood, comfort, and relationships.
However—a big however—I can also visualize myself partnered. Maybe with someone like Louise. Someone with whom I share the deepest passions, not necessarily photography and politics, but art and activism perhaps. Maybe she is about the environment or about the economic system (now in disarray), but she is active, she is committed, she is impassioned. She is stepping out, a dance of engagement.
Louise and I share a passion for Engaged Buddhism, the Thich Nhat Hanh-Dalai Lama approach, as we found operating with Nipponzan Myohoji, the Nichiren sect you and I have discussed. Right on—this sort of Buddhism, this sort of faith, this sort of approach, this use of the chant. To some extent what Soka Gokkai International, your group, is doing, and for sure what the Boston Research Center is aiming at so profoundly.
I won’t here go into why Louise and I decided to disengage from each other, to remain deep friends, karmic buddies, but not a couple.
Do I then set up requirements when assessing possible relationships? I’m afraid I do, for better or worse. Can anyone ever measure up? Jeez, I don’t know. Maybe this is the wrong approach, ultimately failing.
At the same time I’m happy with many sorts of people. I am a promiscuous friend maybe, with all sorts of buddies, pals, dears. A vagabond lover as my former wife’s astute dad named me.
And so I arrive at you and me: who knows?
Am I sad at your news? For you, no. I’m pleased, as mentioned earlier. For me, a mixture. You had a dream that prompted you to write me. I had a dream last night that revealed one aspect of my response to the news…
[And I disclose to M my grief dream. This is the first draft of a letter I eventually sent her.]
—October 21, 2008, Tuesday, with Dan and Elizabeth in Oakland