Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pema Dorje (excerpted from "The Lazlo Mission"

(Based partially on true events...)

Pema Dorje, seven year old shepherd in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, suddenly remembered who he really was. It might have been frightening or confusing. It was neither. It was a moment of pure joy for Pema.

There was no one around to tell except his faithful sheep dog and the sheep crowding before him as they moved down the mountain toward their winter shelter. Pema looked out over the sheep at the slope, at the spread of the Kanjora valley below, at the endlessly varied shapes of stone and grass and earth and sky and clouds, and he remembered. He remembered not just his former life, but many lives before them, and especially the life he had lived in the north of India when, inspired by a great teacher, his incarnations took on a different purpose. It was then he had taken the great vow to forgo the final merging of his consciousness with Atman until all of humanity was ready to achieve similar transcendence. It was then that he was given the name of Avalokitesvara. And later he was to be known as Padmapa-ni and Loke-avara and Guan Yin. Guan Yin. That had been his most recent incarnation. A healer and a teacher. He remembered his life, and he remembered his death at a great age in a tiny village in northern China.

And suddenly he remembered something else. He ran at his sheep, yelling and waving his staff, urging them along as fast as possible. His urgency was not that of need but of excitement. He must find Samdruptse, the village where his servant and protector Chin had planted the jewel.

Later, at home, his charges safely penned and fed, Pema went to his father. “Please, I must go to the village of Samdruptse. I beg you to help me get there safely.”

Pema's father had long felt his son's destiny lay beyond the hills of his birth. “I have not heard of this village, son. Let us consult the governor to find where it may be.”

This required patience, as the regional governor passed through their district only once a year. Pema was patient. If anything, he became a better son to his family and worked hard for the family welfare. At last the day came that his father said, “Let us go to the market today. The governor is coming.”

When they gained audience and posed the question, the governor answered, “Samdruptse. Let me think. Ah yes. A small village in the foothills of the Drolmari as I recall. Or so it was in my youth. That village has grown into a fine city. It is the city of Shigatse that you seek. Six days to the north and the west. Just north of here is a fine road leading to Shigatse!”

After that it was preparations and farewells to his mother and sisters and an arduous journey across mountain ridges west and north. When they reached Shigatse, which was more than a village to be sure, but less of a city than the governor had led them to expect, Pema asked his father to take him to the temple of Avalokitesvara. But no one they asked could tell them where such a temple might be. Finally they were directed to a humble monastery on the edge of the town. “Can you tell us where we can find the temple dedicated to Avalokitesvara?” Pema's father asked the monks. They were led to the abbot, an old monk draped in robes of yellow and deep scarlet. When Pema's father asked the abbot about the shrine to Avalokitesvara, he led them behind the monastery to a small and ancient shrine hidden in the back of a walled garden. Pema immediately sat in the lotus position and began meditation before the shrine.

The abbot asked him, “Pema, you have come from far to the south. Tell me why you have sought this shrine and no other.”

“It is because this is my shrine.” He looked up at the abbot with shining eyes. “I have remembered who I am, grandfather.”

After this, there was great questioning of the youth, and the monks quickly understood this boy was the incarnation of Avalokitesvara. Pema was born in 1391, seven hundred years after the death of Guan Yin and almost two thousand years after the death of Avalokitesvara. His family was invited to live nearby while Pema was instructed in the monastery known as Nartang. As he grew, his knowledge and wisdom and intelligence and compassion impressed all who met him. Eventually he took the name Gendun Drup and established the largest monastery in Shigatse, the Tashilhunpo, and founded the line of spiritual leaders in Tibet known as the Dali Lamas. His influence was so great in that region that he renamed the Drolmari mountains behind Shigatse the Tara mountains, to honor the memory of Guan Yin.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Great Secrets

Mick pulled back the curtain, entered, and sat in a small camp chair across a TV table from a very pretty young woman. "Welcome," she said. "I'm Pam. What's your name?"

"You should probably be able to tell me, right?"

Pam sighed. If she had a buck for every time she'd heard that. "Doesn't work that way."

"Okay, if you say so. My name's Mick. Now you know everything about me." He smirked, trying to cover a slight nervousness. He'd never done this, got a reading or whatever it was supposed to be. And damn if she wasn't great looking.

"Hardly. Everyone has a great secret. Something they wouldn't tell anyone, no matter what."

"What's yours?" he asked.

"Are you kidding? That's way too personal. Besides, let's keep this about you." Pam dropped her eyes to her purse. Stuck her hand in it and rummaged. Pulled out a small tube of lip gloss and applied it. She looked back up into his eyes. "Want to tell me yours?"

Mick laughed. He didn't mean to. It just came out, a short bark. A split second later it occurred to him that, well, it was funny. He followed it with a wide grin. His best feature, he knew. "I don't have any great secret, I can tell you that. What you see is pretty much what you get."

"Right," Pam said with an ironic twist to her now glossy and very full lips. "So, it's five dollars. In advance."

Mick reached into his jeans and pulled out a wrinkled bill and handed it to her. She took it carefully between two perfectly manicured fingers and dropped it into her purse.

"Now give me your hand."

"Which one?"

"Either one. Your right one. You're right handed?"

Mick reached out his right hand, palm up. He felt the feather-soft touch of her fingertips cradling the back of his hand as she stared intently down at the lines and curves of his palm. He was suddenly aware of how long it had been since he had washed it. "Uh, so, can you really see stuff there? It mean anything to you?"

"Of course. Shhh. Let me look." A few seconds later, "You had an accident recently. A bad one." He tried to jerk his hand back but her fingers gripped his wrist and held it in position. She continued to look at his palm. "Oh my, you have a temper, don't you. That had something to do with it, I think." She never looked up at him for confirmation. "Lost something." She twisted her head a bit for a better look. "Something important."

This time Mick pulled his hand back hard and she let go. "Sign says you can tell my future. Didn't say anything about my past." Pam looked up at him with as neutral a look as she could manage. "Okay, sure, if you want me to."

Mick wasn't sure he did. He looked at her, his face a shifting map of anger, fear and confusion. He was from out of state, visiting cousins who for a lark had taken him to this county fair. She couldn't have known about the accident he'd had six months before. No one here did. The accident that resulted from chasing a buddy who had thrown beer on him. The attempt to follow him over a chain link fence, and the rip to his groin when he failed to jump over it. The surgery that followed resulting in the removal of his penis and testicles. Sexless and ashamed, that was his great secret.

He felt the bile of a challenge rise in him. No sex organs didn't mean he wasn't a man anymore. "Sure I want you to. Tell me my future."

Pam gazed at Mick's face carefully. She'd been doing this a long time, ever since her mother taught her as a kid. Something about this guy, though. She wasn't sure she wanted to tell him more.

"Your hand," she said, looking down without changing her expression. This time she held his wrist lightly with one hand and gently stroked his palm with the fingers of her other hand, following the splay of lines, letting the image and the feel of them create patterns in her mind. She closed her eyes.

Then, "Tell you what, Mick. I'll refund your money and we'll just call this one a nice try, okay?"

"Why?" His features hardened. "Just tell me what you see."

"Nothing. I'm getting nothing."

"I don't believe you," he snapped. "Okay, you were right about the accident thing. So tell me what else you see!"

Something in Pam rose and hardened in her throat in response to his belligerence. "Are you sure? You may not like what I see."

"Yes. Tell me!"

"Okay Mick. You're going to have a sex change operation. You're going to become a woman. Now go away." With that, she released his hand, rose, and left the tent from the back exit, feeling confused and annoyed with herself. What bothered her was the feeling that flooded her when she realized his fate. A feeling of overwhelming attraction for him, or her, or for who he might become.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Death by Story

Jonathan A. was more nervous than he could remember being in years. He was sipping espresso in the lounge behind the small auditorium classroom where he was due to speak in a few minutes. The audience would be a mix of journalism, literature and creative writing students. Undergrads mostly. Jonathan was here at the invitation of Alex, a creative writing faculty member at this private midwest college.

"Thanks for taking this on, Jon. I may call you Jon? Jonathan seems so formal."

"Of course. Thanks for asking me."

"It'll be a mixed bag out there. We announced your lecture and students with a variety of backgrounds are attending. I expect what ties them together is that they're almost all would-be writers. Short stories seem to be the favorite form around here, and short non-fiction pieces. You know how it is, we try to keep up with the times, adapt to the changing literary and journalistic landscape. All of our students post their work on blogs. We require that. We preach short, tight prose. Very few novels-in-progress among this bunch, I'm afraid. It's the Zeitgeist."

"I'm a novelist, you know. It's what I know best. I haven't written short fiction in years." Jonathan put his mug down and loosened his tie. It was warmer than he was used to.

"Of course you are. Two books published and your most recent one ... what was it called? Doing well, I hear."

"Natural Man. It's a story about...."

"Right. I remember now. Marvelous work. Well, are you ready? It's time."

Alex gave Jonathan a brief introduction before the half-full auditorium. "So, I give you the author of The Natural Man, best selling author Jon A. Be sure to subject him to your usual grilling after he speaks." Then Alex disappeared from the auditorium.

He introduced himself and talked briefly about his novels. "I understand that most of you are writers. Could I see a show of hands?" As far as he could see, all hands went up. "Now, how many of you have been published? Paid or not, you've seen yourself in print." After what seemed to be some confusion and hesitation, about half the audience raised their hands.

"Excuse me, Mr. A," said a young man near the front. "Sir, 'Print' has me confused. Does that include self-publishing and posting our work on our blogs?"

"Ah. Well, no, I wouldn't consider self-publishing the same thing as having your work accepted by an actual publication."

"But sir, online newsletters and magazines ...."

"Okay, yes. If they're serious online publications, with some sort of editorial staff using critical judgment." Jonathan paused and looked out over the audience, who seemed uncomfortable, some quietly murmuring to each other. "So, given that definition, how many of you feel your work has been published?"

Only a few hands this time.

"One more question. How many of you are actively working on a novel? I mean with the real intention of getting it published some day?"

Total silence. No hands.

Jonathan was stunned. These were writers? Individuals who love expressing themselves with words? Back when he was in college, that question would have resulted in near-unanimous raised hands.

"I'm puzzled by that," he said at last. "Don't any of you have a story you want to tell the world?"

"Sir," said the same young man, "We write stories all the time."

Jonathan looked intently at the young man. "Please tell me what you think a story is."

What followed was a half-hour of back and forth on the topic of stories, what made one, how it could be best expressed, what were favored mediums and methods, even a bit of personal philosophy about why these people had chosen to major in their fields. Story telling for most of them, it turned out, meant something very different from what it meant to Jonathan. For most, a story almost never amounted to more than a vignette, an incident, a glimpse, a hint. For those few who were published, length was rarely longer than one browser page, maybe 600-800 words. Many were much shorter than that.

"Let me ask you this. Please think about it before you answer. If you were to tell the story of your life to someone you didn't know - I mean the whole story, the real story - how long would it be? How many pages, or words, or how many minutes or hours would it take you to tell the whole thing? If you think you have an estimate, please raise your hand."

Hands soon went up. Jonathan picked one at random.

"Sir, I think I could tell mine in, oh, around a thousand words or so. I could probably trim that down too, once I had the words on the screen."

Another: "A page and a half, maybe two. Three to five paragraphs. That should do it."

Another: "I did this recently when I met this guy at a bar. It took, oh, I don't know, eight or ten minutes. Pretty much covered everything, I think. He did too, in maybe five minutes."

"That's it?" replied Jonathan. "Ten minutes for your whole life? A thousand words? Folks, that's maybe three pages of type script. Are your lives really that empty of content? Not to mention meaning?"

Jonathan dismissed the group. He sought out Alex and apologized for what felt was a failed lecture.

"Don't worry about it, Jon," Alex said. "Those kids, they're just doing what we've been teaching them. To prepare for the real world and a limited job market out there. Fiction or non-fiction, it's all the same. No one wants to read long works anymore. It's all about the short hit, the summary, the sound-bite. I mean, short or long, they're all stories, right?"

Jonathan, a deep sense of despair overwhelming him, shook his head. "Those kids don't know what a real story is. Hell Alex, they don't know their own stories. Their lives are little more than sound-bites now. God help them. God help us all."

Friday, August 6, 2010

Spider's Song

our home this bell inner shell curved well of love babies strung beads across center motion clapper sways rocking our children with ringing love as we collect meals sweet meat of flies torn life giving flesh no strife we live short sweet lives our home a shell of warmth and motion and song

we know not of others but as selves as one as food we love the bringers of blood for our children their final moments a chorus song of ecstatic singing agony we hear love with each tug and vibration we thank them-us and sing back their lives to them we feel as they feel as we are all one song life unto death unto life and yet again the vibration of eternal strings

our children stir and pour forth a flood of smallest silent clicks on shell of home we see and almost feel them crawl over and around and past us waves of waves of smallest blessings each one and all turn in alarm at brightness and heat as they reach outer rim and feel air pick them into its arms and carry up and down and all directions are one direction spreading collapsing union separation entangled in so many arms at once

and our mother odor leads them back now to tangled torn web our joy to spin to wholeness as over and again we learn to talk each to the many and our loving food hosts always to each of us feed our dreams the dreams we love we love we love