Posts Tagged ‘buddhism’

Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.

― Jack Kerouac

Inspired by a photo exhibition I recently viewed called The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip at the Detroit Institute of Arts (based on a book by Aperture with a fuller array of photos on the same theme) I will now sketch my Open Road experiences, hoping later to flesh this out more fully as perhaps a photographic memoir.

First however, I should nod a thanks to Jack Kerouac and his revolutionary, and for me highly affecting book, On the Road. I read it when well into my 30s, with family in Maine, camping for much of the summer. I recall reading it while riding in our car to Branch Lake. The book was old and decrepit. So as I finished a page I tossed it out the window, heedless of environmental consequences, but I thought then, as pages flew like autumn leaves, a fitting reflection on the ephemerality I detected as a subtheme of the novel.

When a youth during the depression unable to find work in his hometown of Dubuque Iowa, Fran, my dad, hopped a freight train and landed in Chicago. No doubt he influenced me to, as soon as possible, join the Open Road, even tho at that moment I was yet unborn.

I attempted a similar vagabond trip—my first real road trip— when, at the age of about 4, I decided to run away from my pleasant, safe, comfortable, relatively loving Southside home in Chicago. I gathered a few things, probably candy bars and pop (and toilet paper), into a large hankie or bandana, and tied it to a stick. I threw the contraption over my shoulder and set out. I made it to the local school, Caldwell Elementary, about two blocks from my home, and quickly returned.


Skip Schiel, age 4, 1945


Skip Schiel in his First Communion suit, age 7, 1946


Skip Schiel with Tom Rinkach (L), age 11, 1952 c.

While at Boy Scout camp in Michigan, my buddy, Kruli, and I ditched the program to make an all day hike. Without permission we left before breakfast, returned after dinner, and carried with us only brownies that my mom had sent me—and that crucial toilet paper.

Between my junior and senior high school years, my dad and I canoed Boundary Waters along the Minnesota-Canada border. I felt responsible for him, even tho I was only 17 years old. Until that trip I’d resisted the idea of attending college. Since my father was a salesman (a traveling salesman at that, eventually in charge of a large Midwest region, warranting many road trips for him) and sometimes very persuasive, I expected he would urge me—incessantly as he’d done before—to attend college, make something of myself, utilize my interests and possible gifts in engineering to become an electronic engineer. During that entire ten-day journey, he never raised the topic.

I decided to attend college. Long bouts of paddling, lugging our canoe over portages, making camp, and cooking together might have softened his outlook about me, developing his trust that I’d make the correct decision.


Frank (Fran) J. Schiel, 1958, Boundary Waters, Minnesota-Canada, photo by Skip Schiel

Fran and my mother, Pearl, with my sister Elaine when she was old enough, every summer drove long distances for vacations—West Coast to San Francisco, East Coast to Maine. Dad photographed; eventually I took over, probably reluctantly. Mainly he (because I refuse such setups) created endless images of Pearl in front of some scene or historic marker.

Easter, 1953, Chicago

Frank Schiel, Elaine (sister), Pearl, Chicago’s Southside, 1954 c. photo by Skip Schiel (probably)

My big road trip break was in the summer of 1959. I’d just graduated Arlington Heights High School in a Chicago suburb, felt a strong urge to “go west, young man, go west,” and boarded the Union Pacific train to Utah where I thought I might find summer work, possibly on a ranch. Shortening that story (which could constitute one chapter—or even the entire memoir) I ended up working the balloon dart and bingo games with a carnival that paired with rodeos traveling thru Colorado and Wyoming—the summer of my big rupture from family.

During term breaks at Iowa State University I would often not return home (long distance, 300 miles) but instead hitchhike around the Midwest, with camera, with curiosity, producing numerous slide shows that predictably bored all the neighbors and family I could persuade to watch.


Skip Schiel in Cimarron, Arlington Heights, IL, 1960 c.

Still at Iowa State, I bought my first vehicle, a Ford pickup truck that I named Cimarron (after a western movie), and let it cart me around to places distant and exotic, like the Black Hills. Amidst wandering defecating, fornicating buffalo, sacred to the Lakota Sioux, I camped, I photographed.

My first international road trip was to Romania in 1977, the year my father died. As an instructor of filmmaking at Boston College, I’d received a scholarship to attend a program in Cluj Romania, in the heart of the Transylvanian Alps, as an introduction to Romania. It was skilled propaganda during the era of the tyrant, Nicolae Ceaușescu, designed to generate positive impressions of this then communist and iconoclastic country. Altho by now I’d identified as a photographer and movie maker I decided not to bring equipment for this first, for me monumental, road trip. Instead, I’d observe, observe as purely and contemplatively as I could. For this decision I am forever grateful. When to not photograph is a skill difficult to develop.

With my wife Lynn and our two daughters, we bought a black VW bug and drove it each summer, Katy and Joey stuffed in the back seat, luggage hurtling from the roof top carrier, back to Chicago and Racine Wisconsin to visit grandparents. I photographed along the way.


Joey, Skip, Katy (left to right), Watertown Massachusetts, 2009

For three months in 1979, one year after Pearl’s death, two years after Fran’s, I visited Nepal and my sister Elaine and her husband Bob, studying Buddhism with a lama at the Swayambhu monastery. I made numerous road journeys, including one with a guide to Helambu, the foothills of the Himalayas. Lots of mountain walking then.

I should add the many mountain hikes with family and my former partner Louise over a long period of time—White Mountains, Green Mountains, Sierra Nevada, etc. Don’t they constitute travel along the open road, a very open and winding road?


Skip & Louise, White Mountains, 2002 c.

In 1982, a pivotal year for me, I drove across the Great Plains alone and discovered American Indians.


Rosebud Reservation, 1983

Which led to 1983 when I bused the same route at the end of winter, and took up residence on the Rosebud Indian reservation, hosted by Jesuits. I lived and photographed there for one month.

(In this report I do not constrain myself to car-based road trips only, but include other modes of transport, soon to be foot and plane, never boat or ship, surprising because of my love of water-borne transport.)

In 1988, the first of my many Alaskan journeys (roughly every 3 years) I walked solo the Chilkoot Gold Rush Trail. Since then I’ve made other Alaskan exploits, alone and with my Juneau family.

In the summer of 1989 my newly discovered mate, Louise, and I flew across the country to visit her family. Followed in the summer of 1990 by a car trip across that same continent to meet my family. With stops in Chicago for cousins Karen and Bob and aunt Anna Mae and uncle Spike, Rockport for cousin Ginger, Dubuque for uncle Eldon, Napa California for her mother and father, Elizabeth and David, and Juneau for Elaine and Bob. Returning, we stopped at Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations and learned about the upcoming Big Foot Ride to Wounded Knee that winter. We decided to raise money for the Ride generally and to ourselves participate as support people.


Elaine, sister (L), and Louise

In early 1990, with Frank Gatti and Tom Sander, I explored South Africa on behalf of Friends Meeting at Cambridge, mostly by car but also for short trips on foot. Circumventing restrictions from apartheid we had reasonably free range of the country.

In Dec 1990, Louise and I boarded the train for Denver, rented a 4-wheel drive SUV to help as support people and participated for 2 weeks on the frigid plains. We camped out some nights, stayed in school gymnasiums on others. Louise walked the final day with Buddhist walkers into the Wounded Knee Massacre site for our final ceremonies, Wiping the Tears and Mending the Sacred Hoop. Here she met Jun-San, a nun of the Japanese Buddhist order, Nipponzan Myohoji, that would lead inexorably to more road trips we shared—almost entirely by foot.


Morning circle, Big Foot Ride to Wounded Knee, December 1990, photo by Skip Schiel


Big Foot Ride to Wounded Knee, December 1990, photo by Skip Schiel


Lakota lands, South Dakota, 1990, photo by Skip Schiel

In 1995 I joined the Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War 2 from a Japanese perspective. We walked (mostly, also used bus, train, and plane) thru Poland, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Running out of money in Hungary after about 4 months, I returned home to raise more money (with help from Louise and daughter Katy) and incidentally joined the Turtle Island pilgrimage that Jun-San, one of the Buddhist nuns, had organized to support native rights. We walked from Plymouth Massachusetts, around Lake Ontario, to New York City, to learn the story of Peacemaker (the founder of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy). Staying on reservations and reserves (in Canada), walking thru the Hudson River Valley in the spring, we finally arrived at a major conference in NYC about violence. We walked some 1000 miles in about 3 months.


Auschwitz main gate, December 1998, photo by Skip Schiel


Croatian women, Lipic Croatia, former Yugoslavia, 1995, photo by Skip Schiel


Boy with peace crane, Cambodia, 1995, photo by Skip Schiel

At the end of that long walk I returned to the Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage and walked from Thailand to Japan, thru Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The journey of a lifetime—until the next one.

Then in 1998 on the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage I and many others, mostly European Americans, African-Americans, and Japanese walked from Leverett Massachusetts, down the coast to Savannah Georgia, thru the deep south to New Orleans. I left that pilgrimage for one of my own, first driving thru the Mississippi Delta to Chicago and across to Leverett in Western Massachusetts, and then by train back south for 4 months of pro bono photography to groups we’d met during the Middle Passage Pilgrimage.


From the book, The Middle Passage: White Ships/ Black Cargo, by Tom Feelings


Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, Ingrid Askew, co-founder & co-director, 1998, photo by Skip Schiel


Gulf Coast, Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, 1998, photo by Skip Schiel

In 1999 I rejoined the pilgrimage in South Africa and remained there for 4 months doing photography.


Robben Island, South Africa, Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, 1999

Subsequently (and earlier), driven mainly by Louise’s enthusiasm, she and I joined Nipponzan Myohoji for various walks: to and around Walden Pond in Massachusetts; in 1992, commemorating the Columbian quincentenary in a counter cultural manner, Alcatraz Island in San Francisco to Reno Nevada; numerous Walk for a New Spring journeys thru Boston and environs; and the Hiroshima Flame Walk in DC (which was mostly Louise because by now my enthusiasm for such long walks had waned and Palestine-Israel had taken over).


Louise, 1995 c., photo by Skip Schiel

And currently Palestine-Israel and Detroit. In Detroit I bike around the sprawling city. In Palestine-Israel for short periods I rent a car and have traveled the entire length and breadth of that small (by United States standards) region, mainly by bus and shared taxi—Negev Desert, Galilee, Golan Heights, and the Israeli coast, also Gaza, by foot and rides with friends.

by mark, 2003

Skip Schiel in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, 2003, photo by Mark Daoud


Pre-wedding party, Gaza, 2013, photo by Skip Schiel


Johnny Price, Detroit, 2011 c., photo by Skip Schiel

Ghost Bike, with my folding bike in the background

Ghost Bike, marking a bicyclist’s death, Schiel’s folding bike in the background, Detroit, 2016, photo by Skip Schiel

Later I may add various other photographic tours I’ve made in the United States while touring with my Palestine-Israel presentations, especially south as far as Florida by train and bus, Chicago by train and car, and the West Coast, California to Alaska, by airplane, train and car. At each location I prod myself to walk, often to photograph.

When will I reach the end of my road? And how will the end manifest? Who if anyone might emerge as a solid travel partner or am I fated to walk this path alone (probably, most unlikely that current close friends will ever join me). In addition, my peers and I are aging.

I conclude this little foray into my road trips with two quotes, one by the illustrious peripatetic poet, Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass, the other by what might have been a fellow walker but this was not to happen, my former wife (or simply my former as we call each other), Lynn.

I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

I am large, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.

All seems beautiful to me…

—Walt Whitman

And from Lynn, her inscription in Whitman’s, Leaves of Grass, that she gave me shortly after we’d met.








The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip (at the Detroit Institute of Arts, summer 2016)

The book the exhibition is based on, by the same title

My photos

“And you will be carried where you do not wish to go” in 8 parts, part one

Auschwitz to Hiroshima: A Pilgrimage, 1995

On Turtle Island, A Pilgrimage, 1995

My account specifically about my Open Road experiences in the troubled lands of Palestine and Israel:

The Palestine-Israel Kaleidoscope, a memoir-part 1

The Palestine-Israel Kaleidoscope, a memoir-part 2

And my most recent writing and photography from Detroit (as of posting this blog)

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The universal door manifests itself
in the voice of the rolling tide.
Hearing and practicing it, we become a child,
born from the heart of a lotus,
fresh, pure, and happy,
capable of speaking and listening
in accord with the universal door.
With only one drop of the water
of compassion
from the branch of the willow,
spring returns to the great Earth.

—Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (as quoted by Thich Nhat Hanh)


Courtesy of Bread & Puppet Theater

I suffer the perpetual difficulty of pure listening. No distractions, no meanders, no questions or reflections of any sort, the purest form of listening possible. Deep listening as taught by the venerable Zen Buddhist monk, poet, and activist, Thich Nhat Hanh. No visual observations or any other sensory input. Is this even possible? Is listening ever pure? Is the mind ever truly empty? Could the Buddha do it, when in his prime? Could Thich Nhat Hanh himself when healthy? Can anyone teach pure listening? What might be some techniques?

Shifting to my usual tool, photography, I might ask the same questions. Photography without distractions—or are distractions important to expand vision? Photography without…without what? What is the essence of pure mind photography, expanded vision, seeing as if the other senses were detached, the mind itself dormant so that the connection between scene observed and camera is clear, only the retina and camera sensor involved, a direct channel?

Have I ever achieved pure or deep listening? Possibly I do it best when in conversation, not in simply listening. And photography, pure and deep photography, maybe when most attentive to the larger world—including my inner world—I make the purest photos, the most powerful. Where was my mind’s concentration when I met the young men in the Gaza city park and chose one (or did he choose me?) to photograph?

Israel Palestine-Gaza-2193

Gaza City, 2012 c.

What was my thinking? Did I see his eyes thru my viewfinder, my frame, via the inner mechanism of my camera? Did I concentrate better because I was distracted by thoughts about the camera’s settings, position, the scene’s lighting? How pure was this seemingly impure process that may have resulted in what some say is a beautiful, moving, extraordinary photograph?

Then, shifting again, to my life. How can I live a pure life? How does pure listening help, if it does, pure photography, if it does, pure eating, pure sleeping, pure fucking, if any of these are possible?

I pray. That seems to help. I call on and regularly thank my muses, maybe surrogates for what others might name god or higher power or inner light or the divine or spirit.

(Asked of Thich Nhat Hanh in 2001 shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Towers and Pentagon) If you could speak to Osama bin Laden, what would you say to him?…

If I were given the opportunity to be face to face with Osama bin Laden, the first thing I would do is listen. I would try to understand why he had acted in that cruel way. I would try to understand all of the suffering that had led him to violence. It might not be easy to listen in that way, so I would have to remain calm and lucid. I would need several friends with me, who are strong in the practice of deep listening, listening without reacting, without judging and blaming. In this way, an atmosphere of support would be created for this person and those connected so that they could share completely, trust that they are really being heard.

After listening for some time, we might need to take a break to allow what has been said to enter into our consciousness. Only when we felt calm and lucid would we respond. We would respond point by point to what had been said. We would respond gently but firmly in such a way to help them to discover their own misunderstandings so that they will stop violent acts from their own will….

Tu Hieu-final copy 2

Deep Listening Hut, constructed in homage to Thich Nhat Hanh, in his root (first) temple, Tu Hieu, Hue, Vietnam, photo by Skip Schiel (copyright), 1995

(Thanks to Louise Dunlap, Aravinda Ananda, and Joseph Rotella whose workshop on writing and The Work That Reconnects inspired this writing and several more possible blogs to follow.)


Thich Nhat Hanh on Compassionate Listening | Super Soul Sunday | Oprah Winfrey Network (short video)

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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?
What madness,
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):

Photos: none

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

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