Monday, November 30, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 29

How can we pass by a hundred worlds without noticing? Some notice. Some hear calls from these other worlds; and some, from their sleep, awaken.

I sat across from Truth and Grace. We were at a place called Gusto, a "family restaurant," floating in space just above northern Otoyk, outside the gates to the monastery of the Wondrous Heart.

We had parked our craft below the shop and then climbed the stairs up into the eating room. The cuisine was standard. In Nohin there are a hundred thousand other Gustos or Gusto clones- Friendly, Joyful, Seizeriya. They all offer flavorless meats in gelatinous sauce; rice polished, bleached, and gooy; colorful laminated menus; and of course, all you can drink soda.

Truth and Grace are artists, potters. They are learning the ancient arts of putting fire to mud: molding soil and mineral into stone of human design.

Truth used to work at a desk in Akaso, her energy poured into data processing for a big machine. Worthy, perhaps, but she heard the call of the worlds below and beyond. She remembered her talents, and she decided to answer those voices.

Grace has traveled the galaxy, working in space or on various planets. She has picked apples, cleaned houses, and now, she follows a spinning clod of clay, shaping it between slender fingers.

I was having fun and I told them they should "dig deeply from the well of shadow"- something funny. But really, it was the tea that said it, speaking through me.

Truth comes from a tea plantation, a place that refines its product like a fine wine, only using the leaves of certain fields on one big mountain. The green tea is bitter, astringent, tastes of vitamin C, like edible pine needles, yet as deep and as flavorful as grape wine. The lady of the house poured the tea, in traditional style, just enough water in the kettle, steeped quickly and shaken intensely three times for every last drop, although not one leaf is allowed to come through. Ice cream, of three flavors of tea- roasted, green, and the soft tips of the leaves- was served on wafers, thin and beige, that crunch and melt at the same time. I had seconds too: heaps of ice cream, bitter and sweet, on a waffle cone, dark green like the long globular rows that line the mountain fields.

Truth's mother remembers walking the old streets in the center of the town, Trust Enjoyment, in the world of Nourishing Joy. She used to buy goods there, and meet friends in the long yard of the old shrine.

The shop windows are boarded up now, the path is nearly empty. We floated through the lanes in our rocket, squeezing through its tiny human scale. A river runs through here, and with it, perhaps, hope for new life.

At the center of the town is the shrine lined with tall pines. By the shrine's tall stone gate, where 6 roads intersect, a huge leafless persimmon tree stands, heavy with orange fruit. Truth looks at it, so full and ripe. "It gives me a bad feeling," she says. Who will eat it? The square is empty, the persimmons will fall and rot alone.

We land here and step into the pottery museum. The rooms are filled with fantastic pieces of earth. Dipped in "medicine," they glow. Raw, they show the red baked soil of the land, streaked with melted ash, green and gray.

The pieces are here: lanes, river, bowls, tea, fruit, Truth, Grace. Where is the link?

This morning we stopped by a gorge, livid with red leaves, and climbed the long stone staircase up the mountain. We washed at a cool spring gushing out of solid stone. A small monastery sits, nestled among colorful branches, at the top of the climb. In the courtyard was a small bronze child, rubbed dark. A saint of mercy, Ojizosama. His red and white bib was draped around him like a cloak, his big eyes were nearly shut. Before him was a fan, singed by a small candle, and on a pillow, a big fat persimmon as round and large as his own head. He stood on a pedestal of stone and moss. As colored leaves fell in the courtyard, he seemed pensive, almost unforgiving. I walked around him counter clockwise and said a few words.

The monks were carrying big pails of water up the mountain on foot. As they went, they lit incense along the way. In the fresh mountain air, among the dark scents floating up, I had the feeling that I could really live at this temple, that I could land on this mountain and stay. But, under changing leaves, following a local guide, Truth, Grace, and I came back to the gorge by the river that cuts esoteric shapes out of the solid rock.

Back to our craft, we flew to the Peach Blossom Valley and the Miho Museum. The valley is home to the religion of Natural Agriculture. We parked amid bushes and moss. At the gates, we waited for a small car to pick us up at a circle of white bricks. The car took us through a strange tunnel of brightly lit metal and out across a wire bridge. The museum is designed by the galactic artist I. M. Pei. It sits in the saddle of a forested ridge. Its door is an automated sliding glass circle, always separating but becoming whole again. The grand foyer faces out onto the far valley. The vista is framed by a pine like an ancient painting.

The exhibition was titled "Jakushu: Wonderland." Jakushu lived 300 years ago, a time of realism and renaissance. He grew up the child of merchants in Otoyk, quickly mastered contemporary and traditional styles, and then injected a sense of mystery, a sense of the work of the "underthink." He created a wonderland. We watched Jakushu's cocks and hens dive about golden screens. Grace nodded her head silently to each painting.

I wonder if Jakushu brought the birds to life, if they brought him to life, or if he just captured the birds, alive, forever. Perhaps, in the last 300 years, they have inspired a thousand other birds to take flight.

The crescendo of the show was the the arrangement of the Whale and the Elephant. The greatest creatures of land and sea, frozen in gray shades, they appear colorful, pink, blue, white, soft, playful, yet almost brimming with mysterious power. Behind them, strange soft hills roll into the horizon. It is not clear if these hills are of sea or land. It had to be careful not to fall into that odd world.

And then, at Gusto; Grace, Truth, and I ate syrupy foods on plastic trays.

As I sit in this park now and write this, the memories float about me. The frustration of living in such separation dangles like threads. The pages of this notepad fall among fallen yellow ginko leaves on the skin colored sand, one leaf next to another.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 28

I ate a camellia tonight.

Soft petals of pink encased pure white beans, liquified just enough to feel their original shape dissolve against the tongue. I closed my eyes and ate, breathing in the scent and sensing the texture. Mr. "Bridge Entrance" said, "You are really tasting it now aren't you?"

The word for this variety of pink camellia, sazanka, brought to mind a song, taught to me by the lady next to me:

kakineno the hedge
kakineno the hedge
magari kado turn around the corner

takibita the fire
takibita the fire
ochibata of fallen leaves
atarouka won't you warm up?
atarouyo let's warm up

kitakaze the north wind
piibuu piibuu
fuiteiru blowing

sazanka camellia
sazanka camellia
saitamichi blossoming path

takibita the fire
takibita the fire
ochibata of fallen leaves
atarouka won't you warm up?
atarouyo let's warm up

shimoyake frost bitten
otete ga hands
mou kayoui are already itchy

With the talk of frost bitten hands from washing every day in icy water and the sound of the wind blowing down a cold road, I could really feel the warmth of the room. We were not burning leaves, just drinking tea; but I could imagine a pile of leaves before us, smoldering away, warming out tired bodies.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 27

The walls of my living room are also doors, dark wooden doors with visible grain. Although cut and aged, these doors can always lead to a new room.

Once a tree has been felled, or an animal killed, the woodcutter, the butcher, the artist goes to work to bring the dead into the human realm. The surface of this planet is writhing with those who would decompose and eat the newly dead, quickly turning them into a storehouse for life. And so, the artist must hurry to avoid rot. His workshop is a place of knives for slicing, peeling back, and revealing. Sliced pieces hang about. Straight regular cuts contrast with serpentine vascular curves, grain in wood and flesh. To become a part of a human home or a human body a creature must pass through this process of transition; it's grain is revealed. The butcher shop and the woodworker's shop are two places where creatures are turned into art.

I watch the walls of my living room now, dark and swirling with grain. Each panel is a woodcutter's painting. Together the panels create doors and a ceiling. The doors, some open now, some closed, become walls and a room. Combined with the woven reed mats, cushions, and table, these parts become a room. To eat here is to experience the harmony of many voices.

When our actions ring among a chorus of changing voices, daily activity becomes entertainment. Long ago, some fellow realized that people could derive this satisfaction of interaction through buying new things. Stores were collected, shops were designed. Eventually every human need was met by an ever changing world of brilliant objects. Products were even created to quickly become useless so as to encourage more buying, and hence, more entertainment, more enjoyment.

Yet, the old doors, stained and smooth by a century of hands, can also be entertaining. Cleaning the doors, I interpret the lines and grain in the current context of the room. The story can replayed a dozen times. It was played a thousand times before I arrived.

Many people have come and gone from this place, their thoughts and words filling the air between the old doors. Each time, in their opening and closing, the doors lead to a different room.

I will tire from this game when I no longer realize I am in a different room. Only when I am tricked, by similarity or in-attentiveness, into thinking that I have been here before, will the room not be remade. Then, I will come back to walls and closed doors, silent and old.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 26

There is a place in my house where I sit and draw- the living room:

Tracing, following lines. A road of mud curves down the plaster wall. I follow it. The black leg of the table is a gentle silhouetted curve in front of the straight wooden window lattice. The two cloths of the old door hanging, connected at the top, fall a gentle beige, a hand's-width apart. They divide an image of a great tree, sheltering two little girls from a sudden rain. Another girl, caught in the sprinkle, dashes onto the cloth from somewhere out of sight. She's lost her sandal playing in the fields.

I follow the lines, winding my eyes around the room, showered by patterns. Standing in the rain, opening my mouth catches only a few drops, hardly quenching thirst. But my body is mostly water, a little soft bag, carrying liquid from one great river to the next.

The shower of pattern rains on me now. Like liquid, it pools, and my pen drinks from it. And then, onto the empty white field I draw the lines again. Consumed, digested, and given back, liquid pattern.

Sometimes I remember having tea:

Stop for a moment, the shower continues. We are here, dry, under this tree. A ginko, the leaves are bright yellow now. Many have fallen and carpet the ground. The reeds and thickets all around are walls of our hut. We build a small fire and begin to boil water. I can hear the rain falling on the old logs, branches, moss, mushroom caps. Steam curls from the kettle and disappears.

In a little black lacquer box, you carry green powder. Under the lid, is a mountain surrounded by darkness. In the ancient way, you trace invisible lines in the air, folding the kerchief, wiping perspirations away. Your hands work their arts and our little dry corner under the tree starts to stretch and bend. The closer you follow the ancient lines, the more you can play with them, pushing and pulling borders into curves.

You pick up an old spoon, a wand of bamboo. Uncovering the lid of the mountain, you scoop, and drop the green powder into the bowl. The bowl itself is rough, ancient, baked earth from this soil under this very tree. You dip a long bamboo ladle into the kettle and drizzle the liquid into the bowl.

A soup of patterns is whisked into a froth: fine bubbles of green, thick and creamy, milk of that mountain surrounded by darkness.

I have been eating; sweets: sticky, crunchy, and ripe; fruits fallen from the tree beside us; ginko nuts in bean paste. And now I hold the bowl, misshapen, rough, and cracked. It is my entire vista, a bright lake in an earthen valley.

I drink from the green pool, three times, and pull the froth down with my breath. The sound is like a thousand tiny bubbles popping, little worlds I can barely see and will never know.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 25

Some say that the beat of the drum is like the beat of the heart. We humans resonate with the rhythm of the universe. Today, I came close to a loud drum.

We traveled together, "Wishes Come True," "Second," "Compendium," "Beautiful Freedom," and I. We flew there, of course. In a big jet we darted out high above Otoyk. The sun was shining and we slid through clear blue sky. Looking out our window, "Second" named a few old cities as we passed over them. Soon we left Otoyk altogether and reached the nearby world, Akaso. Akaso is an urban world, famous for its gaudy fashions and colorful personalities. In all of Nohin, the people of Akaso are said to be the funniest. I grew excited approaching this new world-- but we flew right over its vast cities-- we flew across the sea to a small island spaceport. Ringed by palms, Osigan is in a beautiful spot. The weather could not have been better. In every direction bright blue sky nearly met bright blue sea. In the distance we could see far off mountains and floating cities.

We were drawn by the beating. Amplified drumming and amplified joy shined out from Osigan like the sun shined down from above. Throbbing crowds, burning with the beat, yelped and rocked with the drums. We reached our hands to the sky, drenched our bodies in sunlight and swam in sound. The energy and music poured out of the huge speakers, washing over us. Wave after wave crashed by, resonating, running in every direction, and dissipating into thin air and beyond, into space.

So many youthful, smiling, joyful, beautiful faces I saw on that island. The joy burned bright; a globe, a star.

But what about the world below? What about Asako, and the other worlds from which these people came? The joyful dance and song is missing there today. The young people are missing there. Once they called from house to house on narrow streets, singing love songs; now they are only beautiful bodies, swaying to an amplified, universal, electronic drum.

The beauties of a thousand worlds burn here. But the fire does not catch, the way it would have, long ago. When the plug is pulled late tonight, when the battery dies, the fire will dim, and the dancing will stop, still, cold, and dark, in the vacuum.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 24

In the dark, I rode for nearly an hour. I stopped in a grand book store for a while, then stopped and landed on the street in downtown Otoyk. Some say it is easiest to live on the surface when you live in the center of a city. I say it is easiest to live on the surface when you recognize the place you live as the center of a city. Either way, I only landed for a short while. I met friends and we clinked glasses of dark foreign beer. It was a Nacerima style bar with peanuts, stools, and high tables. I soon set out again, riding into the dark.

Eventually I landed at a small space station dangled above the forests, mountains, and rivers of Otoyk. My friend met me at the landing pad where travelers were refueling their vehicles. We walked through concrete and plastic tubes to "The Village." A few young people sat on the balcony peering out at the dark sky above, planet below, and steel bubble in between. They welcomed us with a smile, "take it easy, enjoy..."

The entrance was dark and dim, but loud music echoed out. A cluster of people stood about in the shadows, talking under the music. Four artists stood crouched around a large frescoed tablet. They were painting to the music, and we all watched. The painting, brilliantly lit, took various shapes and designs over time. Artists switched topics, areas, colors. Sometimes they sat on couches, sometimes they spoke to guests.

I spoke for a while to a carpenter-architect who knew the Nacerima language. He designed and built the interior for "The Village." He showed me a nook with rounded earthen walls, reed mats, a low wooden ceiling, and an alcove for flowers and seasonal artwork. As this party showed, his spot was a hit with the guests.

Now, he is working on a treehouse project. "There are no restrictions on treehouse architecture in Nohin," he said, "no regulation." He and his friends have complete freedom as designers. I imagined the treehouse: high up, but still attached to nature, a place to meet, a place to play, a place to a share a moment.

"The Village" reminds me of a city I lived in back in Nacerima. Both were full of young people, together searching for a way to live on the planet, a way down from space. "We want to live close to nature!" the architect said.

But, ironically, "the Village" is an orbiting thing. Or perhaps, it is like the treehouse, close to the tree, close to the soil, but still above it, still escaping the laws and rules of the planet below. If the world is full of treehouses then what will be left on the ground below? If we fly from tree to tree, then everything beneath the tree slowly erodes until finally, the tree falls.

After the show, I glided back home through space, high above Otoyk. If I had walked on the surface, it would have taken me all night to plod back through the sleeping city.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 23

Living on the surface means finding amazing food- narrow streets, rich flavors, and friends.

Today I collected a sackful of oranges, and another of persimmons. As I filled a tall green bottle with bean milk at the bean curd shop, I chanced upon my neighbor. She was buying a mash of sweetened beans garnished with onions. The shopkeeper, my neighbor, and I stood about chatting. The shop doubles as factory and street facade. Factory worker, shopper, shopkeeper, and passerby are all fair game for hellos and friendly conversation. I finally gave in and bought a little tray of mash. The dish was a rarity- one can only stand around in front of a delicious treat so long before picking up a pinch.

At home, as I tasted a thick slice of orange persimmon and filled a glass with white milk, S. Pillier came over and settled across the table, behind an arrangement of drooping yellow leaves. Soft white light filtered in from the the frosted glass of the old, south facing, kitchen windows.

He spoke, "So here you are, in this world, Otoyk. You have arrived. It tastes good to eat well, doesn't it?"

"But there is more to the world than just eating, tasting flavors. More than just sharing your table with friends, guests, and strangers. "

"You must do something with the food in your belly." He picked up an old Kazantzakis book I had been reading. His cunning eyes scanned the pages until he found a passage of Zorba's words:

"Tell me what you do with the food you eat, and I'll tell you who you are. Some turn their food into fat and manure, some into work and good humor, and others, I am told, into God. So there must be three sorts of men- I'm not the worst, boss, nor yet one the of the best. I'm somewhere between the two. What I eat I turn into work and good humor. That's not too bad, after all."

Sometimes in books we find reflections of ourselves. Sometimes we find reflections of the kind of people we want to be, cannot be, or simply admire. Here, reading the words of Kazantzakis, the character of that old book had come through time and paper to finally bubble out of S. Pillier's own fleshy mouth. That old voice became S. Pillier's voice.

As Kazantzakis' character began to dance, I remembered dancing on Machiit. It was a dark winter night. An old man was singing an old song, his voice bellowed, calling out to the Tital Tital people, waking them up. We would soon go and meet them in their villages to dance with them and eat with them. In a line the men were dancing, I was among them. Across from us the women were dancing. We hopped, bounded, flew. My long necklace followed the movement of my arms, up and down. We breathed hard, you could almost hear the hearts beating, and everyone was smiling. The floor beneath our feet began to bounce. The whole house began to move, resonating. We traveled together, there and back again, screaming out with joy, waking the villages along the way.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 22

I watched a film from another world, Grubsennahaj, also called Isnazm, far on the other side of the galaxy. I know nothing about this place except for what these recorded stories tell me. Orbiting Grubsennahaj is Otewos, a huge space station. The people orbit, disconnected, often without work. Many don't have rockets, they ride mass transit when they travel. The boys have taken to an extreme sport, "trainsurfing." The kids are acrobats who play with death. Who would dangle themselves outside a speeding rocket?! Clinging to metal, to a small window, or to the roof, they feel the rush of the void flying by.
Watch the film

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 21

A dryad has her tree. When she dies, so does her tree. And so people here in Nohin have their houses.

What is not passed to a child for his or her own use, passes away. A house is like an outer body and the body in this world passes from parents to children. From old branches spring new limbs. Where limbs don't continue, the branch stops, frozen, suspended until it dies.

I have had the privilege of living in someone else's house Our time together has been a pleasure. But, I am not a citizen of this world, nor a branch of this tree. Although I have enjoyed this brief meeting, this house is not a part of my body. I cannot save it from destruction.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 20

Walking the path of the silver temple, one passes a field of sand raised to reflect the moon. Geometric patterns are carved in the sand, soon to fall away.

The path is narrow and paved in stone. Its banks are braced with moss, striped according to the flow of rainwater down the hill. The moss seems to be a living impression left by the touch and flow of rain, now dense and dark green, now thin and neon teal.

To my right I look out across a vast vista. I am above forests, above clouds. In the distance, the roof of the silver temple floats, geometric, crafted, and human. Beyond, the towers and roofs of the city stretch for miles towards far away green and blue mountain ridges. I feel like I'm flying, above it all, a giant.

I look to my left. Here I am solidly on the forest floor at the base of a huge mountain. I can't make out the tops of the trees, they are so high above me. In fact, I can't even see their higher branches, only trunks stretch up and up into a canopy of green. I am crawling at the base, like a shrew, or a beetle. What I think are trees might even be moss and I am the size of a flea.

My friend, a native of Nohin who studied with me in the Nacerima empire, says almost jokingly, "Here we are, in between- in the palm of the Great Boddhisatva!" We laughed.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 19

Two years ago, when I came to Nohin to study, I was fresh off Machiit and I was unwilling to actually land on a new planet. Convinced that my way of life in space was essential and unchangeable, I tricked myself into believing in artificial gravity. I floated in space, but I mistakenly believed that my own space ship contained my own gravity. From high above I watched the beautiful worlds below longingly, frustratingly, without knowing why. I believed I didn't need a planet to orbit at all. This is a very dangerous belief and it leads to long lonely journeys with extreme space sickness.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 18

Tonight I rode into the dark. I have been staying for a few months on the surface here in Otoyk. Living on the surface we are constantly reminded of loss, and I was tired of it. I had been alerted to the fact that this small piece of Otoyk would soon be obliterated. I tried to retain what was here, but bound in my own contracts and relationships I can only pull so many strings before my own web begins to unravel. I must choose wisely and the stress had me frustrated.

I set out. Gliding by vast rumbling cargo vessels, gliding by brightly lit bubble stores, I came near the night side of a planet. I hovered above the surface for a while, just a few meters up above the forest canopy. I could hear chirping crickets and wind rustling the foliage below.

Then off again, through the dark. I saw a cluster of bubbles in the distance. They were houses, a small orbiting space station. What they were orbiting I couldn't tell, so I rode closer. I squeezed by bubbles and capsules. Nestled there is a small globe, a small patch of earth. It is bordered by a gate, tall, broad, granite, and hung with white paper tassels.

I parked, hopped off my vehicle, and walked through the gate. Several ancient trees tower, their roots holding the soil. Built on the land between them, an old wooden stage stands. In the distance, under a floating florescent lantern two youths rested. One balanced on his vehicle while the other sat on a bench, his head was in his hands. This place is a shrine. At its center is an enclosed granary, a box of spirit. This granary is raised just off the ground and hidden behind trees and veils. I approached the inner shrine and looked through the fence. Light filtered through illuminating white streaks in the thick mat of leaves on the ground. Standing there I looked up. All around this little bit of earth, houses rise up, tightly clustered like barnacles.

I had arrived here randomly, cutting through the silent darkness. But the roots of the trees go deep, they are timeless. This timelessness makes this place a center, the center of its own world. It gives it gravity.

I decided I had better take off, so I departed. Leaving a center is disorienting and I mixed up my directions. What I thought was East was South and what I thought was South was West. I tried to go home but I flew in circles. Passing floating restaurants and shops, brightly lit and flashing neon in the dark, I wanted to land. I saw people inside big fish bowl windows laughing, eating, drinking. Momentarily I wished I never knew what it was like to live on a planet, I wished I didn't know the sadness of passing wisdom, obliterated. Finally, seeing big floating metal signs, I found my way.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 17

It was evening when we arrived at Imihsuf. The road from the station goes past small shops, now closed, and snakes up the mountain towards the Great Shrine.

Here they worship the fox. And here, at the great gate, there are a two foxes that keep watch. Sitting on their haunches they stand taller than a grown man. One holds the jewel of wisdom encircled by his fangs. In the jaws of the other is the scroll that contains the secret to his teachings.

Foxes are not dogs and they don't easily give their treasure away. It must be bought or earned. And so the businesses of Otoyk pay handsomely. For each, there is a red gate erected on the mountain. The gates, built of hopes and dreams, create paths and tunnels that wind up to the summit.

As night fell, we dove through the gates, climbing the mountain. We numbered 8 and for a while I walked by a friend named "Wishes-come-true."

There are many stories of the mountain, stories of fox's tricks, stories of men and women possessed who tell fortunes, and stories of those who seeking possessions.

We reached a clearing in the trail. Looking out beyond the trees, the darkness of sky met the darkness of earth. The fox was playing a trick. What was once earth, dark and silent, was filled with lights like stars. What was once a sky bright with moving celestial bodies was now only a paste of pale grey black.

We summited, entering a small shrine with a small mirror high in the boughs of the roof, paid our respects, and descended. We descended into space, black and filled with burning globes, satellites, and buzzing rockets.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 16

Sometimes I don't know if I am in space, or on on the surface of a world. Space elevators, stations, capsules, and pods rise in chains through the stratosphere and deep into the black beyond. Likewise, spindly towers, orbiting platforms and airships float above and below.

Sometimes I reach what appears to be a solid patch of earth. Park like, grassy fields, stately trees, all quiet and serene. I might wander here for a while. To my surprise, I suddenly come to the edge. It was not the surface of a globe, but only a wide veranda on a high tower.

I might find myself in a grove of trees indistinguishable from the neck of a vast forest. Then, jetting away, I see the grove from a new angle. It was only a ball of mud and stones cradled in wire suspended by vast metallic cables hooked to sky scrapers.

In search of the planet below I descend- into clouds, smog, past rainbows of technicolored vehicles. I land on numerous floating islands along the way.

On one, by a strip of sycamores and junipers, I take a bit of soil in my hand, a few twigs, flowers. By pulling up these weeds, have I just created one more separation? One more island? Or, by touching these beings and directing them, do I build a conscious bridge from one ledge to another?

Perhaps there is no planet at all, I wonder. Just swirling sky, above and below.

But time still passes. Each day the clouds pinken and the sky darkens. I can only go so far in each day. I measure islands in days and stories.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 15

Walking in the forest as a child I longed to be able to read - to read meadows, grasses, trees, bark, footprints, moss. Many years of coming to the surface of the planet Dumbe gave me a keen sense of recognition. I could walk in the forest without being bitten by insects or breaking out in a rash. From time to time, I even ate a few plants by the path, fellow space travelers scattered from the other side of the galaxy.

I knew the characters of the forest, I listened to their songs, but I could not read their story. I did not know their drama. Here in Otoyk, I am learning to read and the write, learning to compose.

I live and work in the home of my teacher, a famous artist. This weekend, I went to a show of her work. It was a fantastic exhibition of botanical arrangement housed on the sixth floor of the Great Circle, in the heart of the commercial district.

Artists from across the city attempted to tell a story with nature. Some works were glamorous, others outlandish. Some harnessed the wildest and weirdest creatures of the forest for display.

My teacher's work was a small globe sitting in a dark wicker vase. Reading from left to right, it told a tale of summer and fall, with hints of other seasons to come, a story made of wispy dreams blowing away and delicious temptations, ripe for taking. It began with translucent dandelion puffs on graceful stems rising out of a sphere of dense green clover. This became punctuated by rough green leaves that, reading further, burned yellow, red, finally jutting confidently into the air. These ardent branches revealed gobs of juicy red berries. The work was assembled from seemingly ordinary creatures and would have seemed quite natural in the woods.

My teacher used the language of nature, the language of these particular beings as they express themselves, in order to to write the story.

So I study the characters, I learn their drama, and eventually, I hope, I too will learn to write a play complete with a chorus of voices.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 14

While floating in space, there is an inclination to "plug in." Without bindings, there are no strings to strum and devices deliver music to our ears.

Sealed in ship, pod, or the velvet silence of the space walk, humans desire a bit of entertainment. With the click of a button, music flows into our ears. It comes from artists across the galaxy, "superstars" mostly. With a potential audience of billions, artists rise and fall with their country's economic and political tide.

Drifting in the void, with no fellow traveler, blaring the seductive tones of a superstar deep into our eardrums makes perfect sense. Yet, even on the planet's surface, even when surrounded by buzzing strings and singing choirs, I sometimes "plug in." For the space traveler, the voice of a distant star is comfort.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 13


In this perfect early fall cool with soft chirping of crickets and night clouds above, I can almost hear the faint echo of high platform shoes clicking on the stone cobble lanes.


-The sound of the tayu as she carefully steps. My neighbor, now an old woman, is a tayu.

The dark slats on on my own house tell a story, as they do on Sumiya banquet hall, or Wachigaya, where the rings overlap as two umbrellas might, for a moment, in the rain. To some, these slats were bindings.

There are many bindings in this world. The reeds are bound into the mats under my feet. The blinds are grasses bound with strings. This room is bound with beams of lumber doubly bound in plaster. The picture is bound in a frame. Even the hanging scroll, delicate, is bound in silk. The garden fence, bound spicebush, came undone long ago, its reeds tatters now. When the bindings of this house are finally undone, it too will crumble.

What are my bindings, I wonder? Those who worked here years ago were bound almost in cages. Beautiful things pacing behind bars, like tigers, or laughing, fanning themselves, like monkeys. The flowers in the vase too, cut and bound, bloom fantastically and then wither.

Space is supposed to rid us of bindings. An endless void, natural, beautiful. From space, our planet is a flawless blue-jade sphere.

We brought our human ways into space: families and passions, but the void always calls from beyond big glass windows in plastic frames- "Run! You can be free! Depart!" And so many make their lives on distant planets, distant cities, and distant space stations. The price we pay, of course, is risk of a kind of space-sickness.

The tayu here on this planet represent a refined aesthetic. They have the beauty of nature, but it is prepared as entertainment, suitable for human tastes. They manifest the other world of ecology, of mysterious happenings, of spontaneous blossoms, encounters, and they present it, to be consumed.

In space there is a similar practice, one no longer attached to place and season. Girls gather in fancy space age bars, dim blue light, plastic tables, seats, glistening ice in cylindrical glasses, over which delicious liquors are poured. Customers come because they suffer from space-sickness.

In this sickness they have not dreamed in weeks. If they do dream, their dreams are lost on the long commute to the space station, or they dry out in the void, just before waking, never pooling in the mind like morning dew.

Those with space-sickness seek a friend, a conversation, anything. The girls serve a concoction of make up, primped dresses, and giggles. In return, they make more money in a month than they would in a year, and they only work nights.

With this money and time they can fall through space, weightless, floating... The black depths with pinhole stars swaddle them, or swallow them. This darkness might come to resemble bars, black slats, like the ones here in this old neighborhood, on this planet.

There is a story of two lovers who free themselves from such a prison. I saw it in a film called "Sakuran." At the end of the film, when the fox god's old cherry tree finally blooms two small white blossoms, the heroine and hero escape. They were bound in beauty. She was a worker who started low, but became a high tayu. He was the son of the company owners, just as much a slave to the industry. They found freedom in love, unbinding.

So in an old house, still bound and intact, in an old neighborhood, its streets tied as ribbons between black tiled houses, I hear the click clack of high platform shoes on stone cobbles, binding and unbinding in autumn air-


Monday, August 31, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 12

We walk surrounded by death. Only a fine, invisible line separates our worlds.

We all have the power to kill, and to die.

As life goes on, a million packets of life, "beings," cross that line. A million contents of those packets are exchanged.

Our life, our memory, is incidental, and an incredible blessing.

Thank you God.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 11

The old shape changers of the worlds were not totally erased.

The machines that build and maintain the space stations need fuel, parts, energy. And so the planets are scourged, the mountains toppled, the forests cut, the marshes drained, and the shape changers living in these worlds are changed too. Their bodies are broken, their hearts and minds stupefied. Yet their powers remain, although in pieces. Re-animated by the lust and greed of people similarly beaten, the shape changers become golems.

The golems take many forms, and they can infect anyone. They prey on the young and old, the robust and the sickly.

Blasted worlds, writhing with hordes of sick, hopeless people- these are the golem's breeding grounds.

When space people leave their ships, touch soil, planet, and folk, they risk encounter with these golems. I risk such encounter.

I should have read the signs. Signs of ghosts. The fan at the festival drew a strange smile, fearful. The gift I brought from Nacerima had triggered some memory of a golem in a childhood game I used to play. And most of all, I had been sensing ghosts lingering nearby.

I played too close to the mouth of the demon and I was bitten. I waited to see the affects of the poison. I waited, praying not to die, knowing the work left to be done.

This time, there was no poison.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 10

Riding aimlessly through the 7th street market I found a video rental shop. With nothing in mind, I chose two videos, "Che" and Yamamura's depiction of Kafka's "Ein Landarzt" (The Country Doctor). In both, I see the tragedy of sacrificing humanity for service.

Che is about a determined man who finds purpose in guerrilla war. "Kill or be killed." His life ends futilely and tragically. Kafka's "Ein Landarzt" tells a similar tale:
On a cold of winter night, a doctor is called for. However, his horse is dead. His beloved Rosa seeks another horse, but who would loan a horse on a night like this?! She finds a groom who kisses her outright. But, since he offers the horses, the doctor has no choice but go take the horses and go. The groom sends the horses away and quickly breaks into Rosa's house.
The doctor arrives immediately at the house of a strange family. Here, he meets the patient: "Thin, without fever, not cold, not warm, with empty eyes, without a shirt, the young man under the stuffed quilt heaves himself up, hangs around my throat and whispers in my ear, 'Doctor, let me die."
Noticing the girl in the house to be holding a bloody handkerchief, he analyzes further. The boy has a strange wound. He thinks of Rosa and blames himself. Meanwhile, the family forces him, naked, into bed with the boy. After telling the boy that the wound is not fatal, he flees. The horses, now tired, return slowly and he merely "crawls slowly through the wasteland of snow men." The story ends with this line, "A false ring of the night bell, once answered — it can never be made right." (

The "country doctor" and "Che" are both used as tools. Both operate in the country and both are trying to help people. They serve, but where is their humanity? In both films, their humanity seems to come from their confrontation of death, and the pain that they find in this.

Here in Nohin, the spirit of service is very important. People will die to get the job done. Indeed, there was once a famous class of warriors who were called "servants" because of how they embodied, lived, and died for the service of their lord.

If one lives and works in the same breath, if one serves and creates at the same time, in the same place, then there is no problem here. For example, if a shop keeper's business is his home, and his company is his family, then service is also an expression of his humanity. His purpose as a man and his purpose as a servant are united.

When one's work is also an exploration of their creative humanity one can embody this life and death service and also embody their humanity. But to do this requires a very strict sort of life, and it requires a certain kind of social, living, and working system.

When living in space people live in isolated capsules far from the station where they work. Their families and their friends are likely even farther away. Trying to join work and life requires even greater commutes.

Here in Nohin, the strict standard of service, combined with living in space, requires people to channel their humanity through text messages. Friends, values, family, all become memories; the rest is dropped into the void. Life becomes a series of commutes, silent travel through space, alone.

As we walk down a dark road, I confide in S. Pillier, "I fear I am waiting alone, I have lost faith in others." He says, "Let your humanity become your service. Fill it with your being, and then in being, you will see the others. They are all around you."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 9

To be independent is really to be in-dependence. Every object one calls his own is made of a thousand parts coming from a thousand worlds, was assembled by a thousand hands, and has changed a thousand times. After its brief stay in the space capsule, it will become a thousand more things a thousand more times before the end of the galaxy.

Relation can be symbiotic and not parasitic. In the web of being, each knot is a meeting. To live on a planet, in a world, not just visit one with a backpack and an ideology, is to meet each string of being with an open heart. It is to tie something together out of your beings that will become the part of a string of other beings that will in turn be knotted again. In this way, work is art.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 8

In space there is a fantasy of independence and freedom. Sure, looking through big clean windows at an endless void gives these feelings. In space there is the tendency to be believe that one has everything one needs on his or her own space ship, station, or pod. It is wonderful to believe that everything one needs is enclosed within his own walls- his air, his bed, his computer, his TV, his food, his drink, his toilette. "I bought all this. It is mine. I made this world by myself, I can thank only myself. I am so proud of myself."

Space travelers tend to enjoy their fantasy of independence wherever they go. Sometimes they land on some beautiful planet and, taking only a bag on their back, they go hiking into the "wilderness." "Everything I need is right here! Right on my back!" They love to say. They tread into the planet. Some leave only footprints. Others leave trash. Yet, rarely does a space traveler take part in the native dances and celebrations on the planets.

For centuries, people have arrived on some new planet and decided to make it become a mirror of their own world. Unable to see the new world for what it is, they simply tried to remake it into their own old world without taking part in the old celebrations and meetings. Almost always, however, both worlds persevered. The shape changers changed or moved or consolidated their stories.

The movement to space was supposed to end the destruction and replacement of worlds. Yet, by moving into space, the very perpetuation of all worlds is threatened. With nobody left on the planet nobody knows how to bring together the peoples there. Nobody knows how to create meetings.

The goods that a space traveler carries in his backpack or his apartment capsule came from some world, but without knowing where or how it came, the means become dubious. Indeed, the cheapest method is almost always used- mountains leveled, villages and cities crushed into their mineral components- worlds are robbed of their wealth and beauty.

The idea of independence that a space traveler carries is the most dangerous of all. Uncaring of the consequences of his actions, he becomes a parasite. Uncaring of the consequence of his words, he becomes foul mouthed. Work becomes a means to earn money. Money may give momentary satisfaction, but it usually just perpetuates the means to work.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 7

The Imperial scientists and their drones know that every thing, every creature, and every person in the galaxy has its own energy, its own being. They also know that the human mind and body needs to be fed, excited, and sedated. Especially after floating in space for a long time, deprived of live-able refuge and rest, the human mind and body needs treatment.

For this reason, the Imperial scientists have designed special means of sedation. Trifling entertainments can be quite fun when they are augmented by great light and sound. One song, one rhythm, one story, raised to a magnificent volume and brightness, properly piped to the eyes and ears of millions can be quite satisfying and sedating.

Augmenting and piping one central story to billions of human minds and bodies across the galaxy seems easy today. In fact, it is incredibly common. However, it comes at a cost. Even considering that the infrastructure of central Imperial entertainment is already in place, augmentation itself requires a great deal of energy.

Light and sound is released when one being meets and is consumed by another being, taking a new form. At each scale such a release is satisfying, but to someone of larger scale, it is hardly enough, to someone smaller it could be blinding or catastrophic. The sun lights an entire star system, and while a man cannot read a book by the light of a glow worm, a child can enjoy a summer night in the presence of one. To the glow worm the reading lamp is confusing and dangerous.

The power plants of the Galactic Empire crush the existences of billions of tiny and ancient beings so that men and women, deprived of interaction at their own scale of humanity, can be excited or sedated- cool air on a hot day, bright lights at night, an out of season tomato.

I was eating some mint ice cream under the neon lights out by the space port in Otoyk and S. Pillier warned me: "Although fantastic, such things are a waste," he said. "If we meet the a summer day appropriately, say, in the shade of an ancient tree, the heat and the cool are gifts. To burn the tree to artificially cool the heat would soon leave us with barren space. I would rather make a place between me and the tree and dwell there for a moment." By sharing these gifts, meeting each at his own scale, S. Pillier expands a live-able place; I, with my ice cream and air conditioning, expand barren space.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 6

In the galaxy today, with the presence of space always close by, we always have the chance to simply drift off, at relatively little cost, and cut loose from gravity. With space trenches crisscrossing the planet, with a short flight up into boundless weightlessness always at hand, how does one stay grounded?

It is necessary, under these circumstances, to expand place, expand live-able human ground. This is done, not by simply engineering larger and larger space stations; indeed the large space stations are clusters of detached human lives strung like glass bouys in a fishing net, dangled in the darkness of space. In the space stations each person in his or her own globe commutes for hours to seek his or her own personal satisfaction. Expanding live-able human ground is done through encounter.

S. Pellier is infinitely old. His great age comes from his ability to always change, slip into various shapes and sizes, beings. He is capable of meeting any other being or creature at its own scale, and that meeting becomes an infinite moment, ecstatic and delicious. This is the power of the shape-changers.

We mere humans can only live our simple short lives. In the delicious moments we find our living platforms, our places of rest, refuge from the vastness of space. With songs, stories, and memories, these moments, these encounters, come to enrich and lengthen all the moments that they come into contact with. In the songs, in the stories, we seek timelessness.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 5

About 7 generations ago, a long time before people entirely jetted off into space, inventors figured out a way that a few people could draw thousands to them. By cutting a trench of space, about 10 feet wide and as long as possible, people all along the trench would be drawn like magnets to whoever could muster the most power along the trench. If one was willing to give up his original location, he too could have a chance at drawing others to him along the trench. Of course, existing governments and headmen already had the most power for miles around. The sirens call of the powerful trench drew thousands into these places. What was once simply one place among many became the powerful capital of a whole planet. A small group of people that before only represented the tip of a pyramid of reciprocal relationships now actually came to wield direct control over vast populations.

Governments and powerful companies of people cut these trenches long and deep across whole planets. Everything that stood in the way of such a trench- groves, houses, shrines, temples, even mountains, all - was eliminated, erased from existence.

Imagine jumping onto a train of cars floating in such a trench. The moment the doors close, you leave behind the tangled emotions of family, village, visitors, reciprocity. Within minutes, you zip across cities, continents even, soon to arrive in a super-city! Here nobody knows you. You are what you can buy. You are what you can sell.

About 7 generations ago, the central Imperial government of Nohin sought a way to unite the people of the Empire. They sought a way to draw together the diverse peoples of the Empire into one functioning body, a machine of interplanetary proportions. Using these trenches of space, a million villages, a hundred worlds- vast masses of people were attracted to a few super cities. Here, people were fast at work building machines, fertilizer, bombs. These super cities were flattened in the galactic war three generations ago. Thus, the Imperial efforts ended in tragedy.

Yet, following the leadership of the new Galactic Empire, the space trenches were rebuilt with an even greater gusto, and accordingly, the super cities were rebuilt even larger than before.

Today, a traveler, lucky enough to find himself on the surface of a planet, is rarely farther than a few minutes walk from one of these space trenches. Their magnetic pull is always close by, keeping the machines of the Empire running smoothly.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 4

I am a bit afraid. There is a festival fast arriving. It is said that for one week, the souls of the dead return from across the river. They come back to the homes, welcomed by their family. Together they feast and enjoy each other's company. For the natives, this is a joyous event.

I find it a bit frightening. As far as I know, I have no deceased relatives in this land. Indeed, if my deceased relatives are seeking my company, how would they know to cross the river at this point, to enter this world? Do they need to know the language of Nohin? Do they need to know any language at all? Or do they simply creep across, lonely, blindly from that vast other world of darkness. Their presence already leaks into my consciousness. As I write this I am sitting wrapped in shadow in an old house on surface of this planet. Perhaps I am already surrounded by ghosts. Yet, I don't know them, and they don't know me. We are beginning to acquaint ourselves with each other- see! the dim electric lamp just flickered.

In my classes, as I teach the language of the Galactic Empire, there are noises. A creak there, a knocking there. Once there was a kind of crying in the garden, although we found nothing. The students notice these things. Many have lived on this planet for most of their lives and so they appreciate this sort of thing, contrary to those who live in antiseptic space capsules and would not recognize a ghost even if they met him face to face in the street. I too I am listening, and watching. But perhaps I am trying to avoid their beaconing. I don't want to travel to their side. If I were to do such a thing, I want to do it following a strong person- somebody who knows the way back. I just checked the gas stove, no leak. Yet, still there is a bead of shadow in my room, floating about. I rub my eyebrows, an itch. Why?

On my home planet, there is no specific day or night when the dead come to visit, I think. Or perhaps this is just what I was taught in the government school. Yet, always, they were there, in my parent's actions, in their hearts, in mine too. Just by living, whether in space or on the surface, their lives animated our spirits. By eating, I eat the dead and I live. By breathing I breath the breaths of a thousand generations. By washing and drinking we share one river, always flowing...

They say that on this one night the lanterns, lit at temples around this ancient city, are let loose on the rivers, sent back to the pure land. Perhaps. And I wont' see it.

I'm going to the Eastern Capital, a huge metropolis, the biggest in the Galaxy. I will visit an old friend. But I'm worried because of the spirits traveling the roads, to and from their homes. Surely I may have to cross a river or two. And on the bridge? What about the man who rides next to me on that night bus? What about the girl at the station? And even more dangerous- what about the girl I am going to visit? A friend holds the key to places into which others are not allowed, what if a spirit should also enter?

I could avoid the whole thing. I could stay in this ancient city guarded that night by the five great fires on the mountainsides. I could watch and enjoy the festival as a foreigner would, alone, an observer. I could sleep, clutching my assumptions, my answers and my ego.

Or I could go, face the dark road, the dark rivers, bridges... women... and hold my energy, my cool. I won't come unarmed. I'll have the beaded mirror Pat'a Tootsie gave me on Machiit. I'll have a ward for the evil eye too. And all this to what end? To have my wits. Wits, cool, energy. Life is a long road and the mountains cast deep shadows. Every journey requires careful choice of stepping stones, to cross the streams, to cross through the deep moss, to pass through the forests, the fields, the cities. May each stepping stone be its own mountain, with its own spirit. I'll meet it with my own, as an equal.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 3

I am living in the most ancient city of Nohin, Otoyk. Otoyk exists on the planet's surface. Hundreds of neighborhoods fill the city, each with subtle and ancient character. From the fields and mountains of the planet many arts are created in Otoyk. 1000 products of individual nature can be bought in the shops here. 1000 foods can be tasted, each changing with the seasons. In the summer one can find meat of the bony eel, long white noodles, and cool Jellies served on leaves, to name a few. However, even here, among the ancient lanes and ancient houses, space people drive their huge noisy rocket ships. The space people think their shiny metal ships are sleek and beautiful, but how can they be anything but clumsy in this ancient city of dark wooden slats, soft door hangings tumbling in the wind, and gardens that beacon directly to the human soul.

Yet the allure of space continues. Most of the ancient city is inhabited by the very old, those who keep to the old ways. Younger people and families choose the space life. Yet, many don't entirely take to the skies. Instead, they bring space down to earth- they destroy the old houses, the old shops, the old inns, and gardens. In their place they bring the void, dark, black, grey; for the void of space is the only place they can park their big metal space ships.

Slowly, as the old people die and their children come to claim their planetary homes, these homes are turned into space. Empty, nonhuman, space.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 2

Now I have traveled to the other side of the intergalactic Empire. This side of the Empire is called Nohin. Everything here is similar to the Nacerima side, but different. This side of the galaxy developed in its own way and most things are nearly opposite from how they are on the Nacerima side. It was once independent, but ever since the galactic wars, now the whole galaxy has been united in one Empire.

Technically speaking, my job is to teach the Nacerima language here, but I have another mission. I am seeking, with S. Pillier's help, the secret to reawaken the shape changers. Together, we will heal the planets and make them places where people can live again.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 1

There is beauty in space. As long as we are human we will see beauty, even in the vacuum of space.

I grew up in a space station. Long rows of houses, bubbles trimmed and primed to resemble the various gardens and architectural trends of Earth, each with its own spaceport. I enjoyed short spacewalks, drifting through the void, occasionally avoiding passing rockets.

I often looked longingly at the planet below. With each season it would change, green in the winter and golden brown in the summer. If possible, after school or on vacation, my friends and I would descend to the earth and spend long days walking on lush grassy hills or under groves of oak and bay. We filled the quiet valleys with imaginary tales of what life was like for the people who once lived there. Ironically, although I lived high in the association of bubbles of the space station, it was by the creeks and groves of the planet below that my dreams really took flight.

Children have the fantastic ability of filling any place with life. For me, that planet, Dumbe, and the space station of Agarom were places that I loved and filled with life. This space lifestyle is not richer or poorer than living in any other way, although I didn't know how different it was either. It would be a long time before I realized what it might have been like to actually have lived on the planet below, or what it really means to live in space.

At age 18 I flew away to a far away station for college. Still a creature of space, I hardly understood the implications of such a long journey. Indeed, I greatly enjoyed it. On this new planet, Machiit, and it's stations, the people were of a little different hue and the buildings were of a bit different design. But, for the most part it was the same. Indeed, this planet, like Dumbe of my youth, is in the intergalactic Empire. The people of the Empire come in different shades, and the buildings occasionally are of different design, but almost all the residents of the Empire speak the same language and eat fairly similar foods. These foods are produced by vast factories, managed from the skies for utmost efficiency. They stretch, at times, across whole planets- rows and rows of manicured fruit trees and corn, or vast warehouses of quarantined meat and milk producing machines.

As for people on the planets themselves, there are some survivors still living on the surface; some old old people eeking away an existence surrounded by the ghosts of the dead. Occasionally, the relatives of these old people come and visit, spend time on the surface, learn some of the old ways and perhaps enjoy some of the ancient pleasures and foods, totally unique in taste and procurement. Yet, the weight of death usually weighs too heavy for these visitors and they return to the skies and space stations. Going to the surface to live is a very serious move. Who wants to be constantly surrounded by ghosts of timeless generations, or constantly moved by the stench of life and death?

When I was 19 I met some surface dwellers of the planet Machiit. I was taken to a feast by a guide, Mary, who eventually became a good friend. The people were celebrating the arrival of relatives, the Tital tital people. Coming together we sang and ate and danced. I quickly realized the uniqueness of my experience, although I also saw that these people were living in a bricolage of space debris. Yet the joy and sadness in the songs and stories at that feast features much more prominently in my memories than the arrangement of fallen satellite parts on the front lawn.

Before I was 23 I knew the planet of Machiit well, its beauty and its pain. Slowly, I had found the key to travel to and from the planet. I had discovered the means by which to enter that world. It was not by calculation or by mission, but instead by means of an open mind and an open heart. By being silent and by listening, I realized that I could leave space and approach the threshold of the world below, now hidden. I met the peoples of this world many times, each time learning new facets of their cultures and language. It was in this way that I met S. Pillier.

S. Pillier is an old man, if you can call him a man. He is a shape changer. A member of an ancient species, almost entirely extinct. He is a priest of sorts, frozen in graphite many years ago, just before the intergalactic war, along with his relatives, in an attempt to preserve their potential benefit to the planet of Machiit. Indeed, without the shape changers, Machiit will slowly and entirely be converted to massive rows of food factories like so many other planets.

S. Piller explained to me the great problem that the galaxy is facing. For a long time people have been trying to enforce their will on others, but after the intergalactic war two generations ago, seduced by the power they had briefly seen during the war, flying rockets and jets across space, people bought their own civilian jets and rockets and left the surface of the planets all together.

I have a picture of my own grandfather from that time. A young man with brilliant thick red hair, he holds my swadled baby mother while standing in front of his green rocket ship. They were still on their planet at that time, the same planet his people had always lived on. Yet, he, my grandmother, and my mother were about to leave the surface for a brilliant adventure in the skies. They would visit many worlds, but never would they really return to that old planet. Indeed, once you leave on a rocket ship, it is hard to come back to and live on the surface for long.

Most people stopped being born into life on the planets. Those people living there simply aged and aged. Now, S. Pillier explains, as these old people, keepers of the old ways, pass away, the hope of unfreezing the shape changers and healing the planet of Machiit, and every other planet like it, passes with them.

For this reason, S. Pillier was thawed and brought back to life. The surviving old ones sung him out of graphite and, with song and the beating of medicine sticks, they sewed back together his life and spirit. I was witness to this happening, there in the darkness, on the surface of Machiit, in a house surrounded by ancient spirits.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Holy Books

One day, as winter dusk settled on the wooded streets of Eugene, I wandered into an odd corner of a University of Oregon library.

I found shelves lined with ancient, holy books.

Each was a collection of stories housing the tenets of reality of another world. Running my hand across the spines, I was at once attracted to a book the shape of a rectangular prism, a box.

... the world of the Nootka ...

Opening the cover, the lid, I began to hear the voice of an old man, long since passed.

He spoke a language I didn't understand... told of wolves and men, and men who became wolves, and many other things...

Eventually, remembering dinner waiting for me at home, I returned to the library.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Nanotechnology and the reinvention of the world

By Alan with the help of Jassem and others.

In American English class today a number of students and I from around the world discussed how we might imagine the future economy. Despairing over squandered resources like steel and petroleum, we envisioned a future economy where people provide for each other.

In the future....

Nanotechnology will engineer people who can breath water and live in the sea. Maybe these people will lose their ability to speak or we will forget that they are people. Perhaps, someday, we will call these people "fish" and maybe eat them.

Nanotechnology will create people who have chlorophyll and who can breath carbon dioxide and create oxygen. Maybe these people will lose their ability to speak or we will forget that they are people like us because they look so different, move so slowly, and live so long. Perhaps, someday, we will call these people "trees" and maybe we will chop them down, burn them for heat, and build houses out of them.

Far in the future... there might someday be a world where all of these adapted and carefully engineered people support each other in a brilliant and infinite web of life and death.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Three Human Cities

By Alan Waxman

A human city could be defined by the frequency and quality of meaningful encounters on a human scale. The following is examples from three kinds of cities: an East Bay park (EBMUD), San Francisco, and a suburb.

Walking in EBMUD or other large East Bay parks is an experience full of meaningful encounters at a very high frequency. The whole scene is constantly changing all the time: wind ripples through grass, trees shake, clouds move about the sky. Throughout the course of one day, shadows stretch across the ground and temperature changes (although that is true anywhere in the Bay Area). Paths are not straight; always there is new scenery and perspectives, colors, shapes and textures. The whole scene changes with each season, from green to yellow to golden brown to gray to green again. With each season there is a different smell. I encounter various plants, animals, and rocks that have meaning- oaks, redwoods, pines, tule, grasses, coyote brush, bays, poison oak, seasonal flowers, cows, turkeys, coyotes, bobcats, crows, rabbits, skunks, stones, cliffs, mud, barbed wire fences, and buildings, to name a few. These encounters become more and more meaningful as I become more educated about them and encounter them in different contexts. My means of experiencing these things are visual, auditory, and also bodily. I walk everywhere, up slopes, down slopes. I have to avoid poison oak and bushes carefully. Every few feet requires me to remain riveted. These are all reasons that EBMUD and the East Bay parks are a city of the most interesting kind.

Likewise, San Francisco is also full of meaningful encounters. SF is effected by changing temperature and weather constantly during the day and according to season, just like the East Bay parks. Also, there are many different buildings, each with posters and people near them, the people change according to time of day, and their clothes change according to season. Some people wish to speak to me, sell things to me, or even rob me. There are foods and smells and music in and around the buildings. There are also bookstores and libraries, among other things. Since most of the time I have to walk around the city, I feel slopes of hills in my muscles and the texture of pavement and grassy parks.

The suburb is a city with more distance involved. The house I might live in has seasonal plants, shapes, and colors. The television or computer also provide constantly changing pictures and stories. Drive- the streets aren't so interesting up close, but from the car window I can look at large vistas. I can no longer feel the air in this state except for on rare occasions, so weather is not such a meaningful encounter, only an obstacle. Danger is much more of an issue, so stress level is higher and it is more difficult to enjoy distant scenery. Watch the road at hand. Arrive at the supermarket. The supermarket itself is not so interesting a building but it is full of sounds and smells and people. However, these do not change according to season, only very vaguely, like with Halloween pumpkins or Christmas trees. Arrive at the office park. The office park has some plantings, lawns, and a few deciduous trees. The trees do change according to season, but the lawns don't. The building itself is not so interesting. Inside the building is an environment that actually never changes. Tinted windows obscure the view of the changing world, if I are lucky enough to have a window with a view. Air conditioning keeps a solid temperature, no need to change clothes; in fact, there is a dress code. Depending on my job, I might never actually do different tasks, only vaguely seasonal ones: data entry during the winter, cataloguing and phone calls during the summer. Most of the time spent experiencing this city is from the sitting position- in front of the television, in the car, at the computer or maybe even in an occasional bus. There is very little actual tactile experience of an interesting kind, only at the park or at home while cooking. The muscles are rarely used except if I go to the gym.

No wonder that when I grew up in a suburb I spent as much time as possible in the East Bay parks. EBMUD was located only a 5 minute walk from my house. I can also understand why so many suburban kids spend as much time as possible in cities like San Francisco or Berkeley.

Waste of Humanity

By Alan Waxman

At the University of Oregon there is currently a demonstration going on about slavery. On the grass in front of the Knight Library are hundreds of little flags, each meant to represent 6000 slaves. In total, demonstrators claim this represents 27 million slaves, the number of slaves in the world today. But as I experienced by watching Gomorra at the Bijou theatre, perhaps the number is far higher. The recent award winning Italian film, Gomorra, is directed by Matteo Garrone and based on the non-fiction book by journalist Roberto Saviano. By demonstrating forms of modern slavery and modern waste, the modern waste of humanity is vividly explored.

The final scene of the film uses the revolting metaphor of wasted food to show the way current system has perverted relationships between people and the land. In the final scene, Roberto, working for a toxic waste disposal corporation, visits the home of elderly land owners because it is on their land that the corporation will bury the toxic waste. Roberto's boss, Franco convinces the land owners that they need to bury the waste in order to cover their debts. After the discussion, Roberto wanders outside where he encounters an old woman in her garden. She says, "Luca, Luca,"she says, "I'm not Luca, I'm Roberto" he says, but she continues, as if her mind were in another time, "Luca, this garden is so dirty, it needs to be cleaned." Roberto and all the viewers of the film know that the garden, literally, and as metaphor for the entire society, is very dirty and that the system is only making it more and more poisoned. The old woman represents human responsibility to one another, to the past, the future, and to the land itself. As Roberto and Franco leave, the old woman gives him a box of peaches. Driving down the country road, Franco stops the car and exclaims, "Throw out the peaches, can't you tell they smell horrible." Roberto, just a cog in a wheel, steps out onto the land and dumps out the peaches on the side of the road, wasted. For him, as a man, this is the final and most revolting act. He quits his job and walks alone down the country road, leaving his boss and the corporation. There were several truly revolting scenes in the film depicting abuse and waste of humanity, but for some reason this final scene is one of the most powerful.

I think the film suggests that modern life is just as much a form of slavery as pre-modern life was for serfs and peasants, only now coupled with modern waste. Living amidst the decomposing rubble of modern architecture, people are isolated and their only choice is what corporation to become slave to. In Gomorra, Roberto acts as slave to Franco's toxic waste corporation until the final scene; Pasquale, a tailor who sincerely loves his work, is slave to his boss until he survives an attempt on his life and becomes a truck driver (another kind of slavery); and Toto, a 13 year old boy, becomes slave to one of the warring gangs. The only characters who refuse to be slaves are two boys, Marco and Ciro, who youthfully fantasize that they can be boss. As result, they are eventually lured into a trap and murdered. Modernity originally caught on among average people because they saw it as their way out of slavery as serfs and peasants. But as this movie vividly shows, people gave up one sort of slavery for another. And now, the organizations themselves, corporations, have become monsters of global proportions with incredible and poisonous waste.

I think it is fitting that the slow food movement originated in Italy. In Italy, love for food, land, and people is truly palpable for many, natives and tourists alike. But, as Gomorra details, what needs to be conserved in the slow food movement is the relationships between free people. This sort of democracy is one based upon care for people and land. But, is this different from corporate care or the care between master and slave?? You can taste the difference, and that is what slow food, and real democracy, is all about.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Perspectives on Green-isms

I recently answered these questions for an interview. I'm republishing them here.

1. What is the state of the modern day environmental movement?

The environmental movement today is moving past its former emphasis on a strict black and white dichotomy of nature and culture towards a multi-centered vision with a global focus on climate change. There has been an explosion of local environmental groups and there are as many different varieties of environmentalists today as there are distinct personalities, value systems, and environments in the world. Despite differences, people everywhere are coming to the realization that in the recent past a great deal of resources and energy has been squandered and somebody must pay the price. We must all work together to make sure we have a stable and lush garden to offer the next generation.

2. What is your favorite book or article that you have read about the environment? What take-away message did it give you?

Although familiar with great books like Walden and My First Summer in the Sierra, I will introduce the Japanese author Yanagita Kunio (1875-1962) and his work, The Legends of Tôno. Yanagita worked directly at odds with the strong centralizing powers of global capitalism to celebrate the unique ways and knowledge of local people as a part of local ecology. The Legends of Tôno are a collection of tales that illustrate the wisdom in the old stories, songs, rivers, and mountains. In one story, a man descends into the dark depths of the river to encounter a dead girl who shares with him a secret to personal wealth. The lesson: one's true wealth is one’s sense of self-awareness and place, and this comes from one’s knowledge of folkways and landscape.

3. The U.S. accounts for 4.6% of the global population, almost 25% of global CO2 emissions. Who/what is to blame?

Everywhere in the world, people live full lives of happiness and suffering; the US is no exception, yet the system by which Americans live requires huge expenditures of energy from fossil fuels, releasing dangerous CO2. Fossil fuel, thousands of years of sunlight compressed into a powerful source of energy, is an extremely valuable and non-renewable resource that probably could have been safely used for thousands of generations. Unfortunately, well-meaning people believed human-kind could engineer a solution to any shortage. The result was the design of our current system of highways, commutes, SUV's, industrial agriculture, and the list goes on. Today, most Americans can barely scrape together a normal family life without squandering fossil fuel. We must come together and redesign our entire system to tackle this sad situation.

4. Do you consider yourself a radical? Why or why not?

I definitely consider myself a radical. One definition of "radical" is "of or going to the root or origin; fundamental" (Random House 2009), and in terms of chemistry, a "free radical" is a molecule or atom with an unpaired electron that is extremely reactive and which may serve in an enzyme or catalyst. I see myself in this catalyzing role. Dealing with the fundamentals of an issue, I don't seek to change the situation in my image, but to provide antagonistic parties a chance to interact and trade perspectives. During this catalyzing process, more balance can be brought to a potentially explosive situation.

5. David Brower, Chair of Earth Island Institute and often considered the "grandfather of the environmental movement" once stated: "We should never compromise. That's what we pay politicians for." Do you agree with Brower?

With so many environmental woes and so little time to address them we no longer can afford to be stubborn. I believe sincerely in the rights of humans, animals, plants, land, and atmosphere, but it is because of the interconnectedness of all creatures and places that everyone must compromise to ensure our basic rights. In today's environmental movement, every person must be an environmentalist; we cannot afford to alienate anyone. If a fisherman were to follow Brower's advice and continuously over-harvest fish because he is unwilling to compromise, then neither fish nor sustainable fishing would benefit in the long run.

6. Write a Letter to the Editor about an environmental issue you are passionate about.

Dear Editor,

Standing by the Columbia River, I dip a kupins digging spade into the native root field, or xnitpama, and lift out a full piyaxi plant (Lewisia rediviva or "Bitterroot"), one of the sacred foods of native plateau people. As with all of the sacred foods, the roots and their habitat must be carefully tended. Unfortunately, many root fields are converted to wheat farming; forever destroying native plant communities and eroding huge quantities of soil into streams each year, raising temperatures and impeding the life cycle of returning salmon, another sacred food. Because the wheat farmer rarely turns a profit or tastes his wheat, this change leaves little lasting benefit to local people, ecosystems, or economies. The next time you buy bread in the supermarket, consider the distinct flavors you might have tasted from the root fields now plowed under.


Alan Waxman

Friday, January 9, 2009

First Encounter with the British Museum

(Check it out on
By Julia Somit

I sit in the grand hall at the back of the first exhibit, unable to walk any farther. The bench I slid onto is tucked away at the end of the long rooms. The hall is filled with broken pieces of Antiquity; it flows and ebbs, emptying people like the great tides of the oceans- swaying in echoing noise and muffled by sheer grandeur and magnitude. The height of the ceiling is awe-inspiring.

There is something here, seeped into the stones, the floor, the bench I sit on, and transcribed thickly into the air. A mixture of subsequence is a fog that melts slowly inside, like a slow sweet poison. A wonderful mixture of fear slides through like a shiver in the cold as ghostly as lives of those who’s work is before you on the walls, and those who have walked these halls for so long surround you. The breath of the past seems thrown upon you and drenches your insides with every breath.

The insignificance and short span of life is so easily displayed before your waking eyes that inspiration leaps into my mind and my pen begins to work out these words.

The majesty that is history, the very art of it, is so strong. In a subtextual and subconscious way it flows out of my hand through ink.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Walla Walla Food Scene

(check out this article at
By Karlis

The Walla Walla food scene is defined by three major factors: the conservative industrial farming traditions of the area, Seventh Day Adventist dietary practices, and gentrification.

Very little of the pre-settlement Walla Walla influence is present now. Damming of the Columbia and its tributaries have decimated the fish population, including the flooding of the famous Celilo Falls fishing site near present day Dalles. Remnants of that tradition, however, can be seen on the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla reservation near Pendlton, OR. Root feasts and other festivals are sometimes open to the public.

The Walla Walla river valley area is a major food agriculture area and the first center for Pacific Northwest's ag-finance. Several large agricultural banks are still based and located here. The valley also early on developed significant industrial size orchards and vegetable gardens to provide food for the miners at the booming Idaho silver and later also coal mines.

Several immigrant ethnic groups have shaped the Walla Walla ag industry. The Italians brought the sweet onions to the town. They also brought the initial wine industry here. Several Asian families have been growing vegetables for the local market since late 19th century. Most large landowners growing wheat are Anglo-Saxon protestants, but there are exceptions and there are farmers here from many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Roll out on the small roads around Walla Walla to see the wheat, alfa-alfa, and onion fields, and stop at the numerous farm stands. Bicycles can be rented in downtown Walla Walla.

Seventh Day Adventists are a Christian denomination with roots in the 19th century. With the founding of the Walla Walla College (now, University) Walla Walla and College Place have become a major SDA center in the US. Among the main considerations for the Adventists is treating the body as the temple of God and consequently sacred. It should be protected and maintained well.

Good stewardship of the body includes not only abstinence from intoxicants, stimulants, and promiscuity, but also a healthy diet, particularly vegetarianism. Although the Adventists are not required to be vegetarian, the wast majority are. As a result, there is plenty of great vegetarian food available in the town. It is often meat substitute-heavy. His Garden Bakery, for example, offers almost only vegan baked goods and other goodies. Except for the wiener kiosk on First and Main, I can't think of a place that does not offer decent veggie options.

There is also Andy's Market, which offers a large selection of vegetarian bulk foods. Great food for bargain prices. And for a special experience, head to Washington's largest vegetarian dinning hall on the Walla Walla University's (“quad u” for the hip) campus.

And the last of the three factors- gentrification. The town has become quite some hip spot over the last two decades, and the food scene has been affected too. Whitehouse-Crawford offers you the over a hundred dollar dinner experience, if you feel like it. Safeway upgraded a few year back. There is even a farmer's market in the downtown on summer weekends, with live music too.

Wine industry drives the gentrification. The region strives to produce medium and high priced wines, and attracts the people with the means and the lifestyle.

Gentrified Walla Walla has also brought about changes in ag. Farms offering high-end products are cropping up ever year, but CSA still have waiting lists.