Masters of Unknowing

My old friend Huang used to say to me “When I was a kid I wanted to know stuff but as I’ve become older it has started to seem to me both more important, and more difficult, and more fun to learn how to not know stuff.”  And I said, as I usually did by that point in the evening, cause I was tired and drunk from Mekong whiskey and my feet had finally stopped being numb and settled in to really hurting “What are you talking about?”  “I honestly don’t even know.” he said ‘Why would I think that you would understand?  You’re from Brooklyn, I’m from Mae Sariang, you’re a Jewish American, I’m a Chinese Thai.  Why would I think you would even understand?  Let’s talk about something else.”  But I said “Okay are you talking about local minimums?”  “What are you talking about?”asked Huang.

“Local minimums mean you have climbed to the top of a mountain and the only way to get higher is to go down.”

“Because the mountain is not the tallest mountain?” asked Huang.  We had left the room and were now in the convenience store across the soi and he was buying us another bottle.  I was being bitten by so many mosquitos.  The next morning when I counted the bites on my legs I lost count at three hundred.  The woman selling us the whiskey was slender and amused by us.

“Yes.  There are taller mountains.  So knowing is climbing a mountain.  Unknowing is going down a mountain.”

“Yes, okay.  Something like that.” he said  “That’s right and also very, very wrong.  Because you know you want to climb a mountain and I don’t even know that.  To me the idea that I need to climb mountains is itself one of your little hills pretending to be a mountain.”

“Okay maybe it is like backing up out of a blind alley.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.  We were staggering down the street, helping each other from falling down.  We had tried to sing “I am a Young Woman from Kon Khaen” but I could not carry a tune and he didn’t know the words.  Even so I think we were pretty good.

“If you go forward in life sometimes you get trapped. ”

“And the only way out of the trap is to back up?”


“That’s even worse than your hill thing.  The biggest trap is to think you are in a trap.”  He laughed.  We sat down on the steps in front of the mobile phone store.  A few tuk tuks full of drunk people in search of commercial sex were still plying the streets, but the night was huge, moist, quiet.  The noises actually made the quiet noisier, if that makes sense.

“Why is it do you think that when people wake up from a deep sleep their first question is “Where am I?” and only a few moments later to they ask “Who am I?”

“I don’t know.” I said.






Special Skills

The power of clarity is okay as far as it goes, but sometimes when something is too clear I ignore everything else which although it is confusing to me, is nevertheless real.
There’s no question if I knew how to answer some important questions or at least stop asking them I could move forward. What kind of questions?  Well: “Am I compromising or surrendering?” “Is this maturity or is it death?” “Who am I?” “Where do I come from?” “Where am I going?”
Actually I’m lying. I do know how to answer all these questions. They are easy to answer! Too easy. My problem is that they are so easy to answer that I can answer them in so many different ways.
“Where am I going?” Nowhere./My destiny.
Is this maturity or death? Maturity./Death.
Who am I? It doesn’t matter/Who Knows?
To summarize, all these questions just mean that none of these things — maturity, death, I, and where I come from to name just a few — are clear to me. To some other people I’m sure, or I’ve heard, or I imagine, handling these tokens properly and turning them in for what they redeem works fine. But to me they are like smudgy pictures that I have drawn and erased so many times. Some times I have even torn through the paper. The paper in this metaphor I think is either me or maybe where I am.
But like I was saying before I started lying, if I could just stop asking these questions I could finally move forward!
But what if I moved forward in the wrong direction? That’s another question.
It might well be nothing but dithering this “maybe my dog loves me” “maybe my dog is just an eating machine” stuff — I mean it’s a dog isn’t it?
But what do I mean “It’s a dog isn’t it?” And don’t I know what I mean by saying “It’s a dog isn’t it?” If I don’t know what I mean, then who does?
Who does. I have been listening to my tapes about how one of the names of God is Who. And needless to say I don’t know why I’m listening to them, or if I believe them, or what it would mean to believe that one of the names is Who, or that it isn’t.
More and more these days I think my only marketable skill — by which I mean my only survival skill, because I survive by selling myself, like so many who neither farm nor hunt do — I say my only marketable skill is being confused.

The Raging Sage

I tend to be opposed to authoritarianism and traditionalism.  It seems to me traditionalism gets people stuck in local minimums — something worked once but that’s no argument that we couldn’t come to a better arrangement. And authoritarianism — do it because Dad, or the boss, or the priest or whoever says so — seems to open itself up to abuse.  When you give somebody the power to tell somebody else what to do and what to believe you bring out the worst parts of human nature.

Recently though I took a psychological test on “openness to experience” and I came out extremely high.  100 out of 100.   I realized that compared to the average, I was much more open to experience.

This caused me to question my philosophy of encouraging people to think for themselves rather than obeying the precepts of the past and the orders of those in authority.  Maybe for people who are not open to experience thinking for oneself is difficult and unpleasant.  Maybe they will simply refuse to do it.  In that case, arguing against tradition and authority is simply going to be ineffective.  And it is uncompassionate to boot!

Burdened by self-doubt I sought advice from my friend the Raging Sage who lives in a studio apartment above a used typewriter store on Coney Island Avenue.

“You think tradition and authority are a bad idea?”

“I do, but I’m worried that that’s just cause of my own psychological predispositions.  And if that’s true –”

“DON’T BE WORRIED!” he screamed in my ear, flecking my collar with his spittle.  “SAY YOUR THING!”

“And then other people will say their thing based upon their emotional and character dispositions and it will all work out.”

“HOW THE FUCK WOULD I KNOW?” screamed the raging sage and threw a cigar box full of quarters at my head.

Sometimes I think I should be also be a raging sage, but honestly, he’s already doing such a good job.


A to Z

az the (Hungarian)

beku frozen (Indonesian)

culus heavy (Somali)

daji blow (Chinese)

eetali earthen (Samoan)

fomelis small (Greek)

gadak carcass (Gujarati)

himlib he was (Uzbek)

injuk Poughkeepsie (Sundanese)

jazo penalty (Uzbek)

kuza come (Xhosa)

locho route (Gujarati)

moshar mosquito (Bengali)

noofa diesel (Swahili)

oq what (Portugese)

qoxa smell (Azerbaijani)

radam landfill (Maltese)

sujub goes smoothly (Estonian)

teeke blanket (Frisian)

upad decline (Slovenian)

vlon seethe (Albanian)

weshxo diagram (Zulu)

xim color (Hmong)

yashb live (Uzbek)

zibimi farmers (Zulu)



The Boy Who Said Eh

My old friend Ross used to work for the city checking up on people on welfare to see that they didn’t have other sources of money and also that they were generally doing okay.  But his passion was investigating the different ways that people pronounced “Eh”.  Cause those two letters can be pronounced in a bunch of different ways, you know?  “Ay” “Eh” like a short kind of eh but also like a long low kind of eh.   But I have to tell you THIS IS TRUE he took it to a deeper level!  Ross said the way somebody says “Eh” who is hanging on the loved one to say “I love you” or “Be gone!” is a different Eh!  He said the “Eh” of the collective is different from the eh of the lone solo singulon.  The Eh of the grandson of a farmer is different from the Eh of the grandson of a priest, or for that matter the eh of the grandfather of a priest.

When I saw him years later his arm had seized up, the muscles were so tight.  God I spent so many hours massaging Ross’s arm.  I left my wife and my darling boy Joshua and devoted myself to helping Ross get better.

Joshua forgive me!  I massaged Ross’s arm with walnut oil and took him to the Spas in Brighton Beach every morning at 8 am and picked him up every evening at 6:30 pm and then back by the D train to his one bedroom apartment at Brighton Beach.

When the decade of spring turned to the decade we now call familiarly THE GOLDEN DECADE his arm unfurled like the sail of a ship.

Eh eh eh said Ross eh eh eh

Joshua I am coming to see you and your mother!  Traveling on the speed of song with feet made of dreams…


No Song for the Sidewalk

When I was growing up there were a few people who sang very memorable songs.  Probably I should not call them “songs” because they weren’t always musical, but I don’t know what to call them otherwise.  Sy Serber had a particular jokey way of talking about the books about werewolves in his living room — there was one book that said you became a werewolf by urinating in a circle and standing in the circle — and the way he would share that was his song. His son Ross knew all the different kinds of fireworks — m80, pineapple, blockbuster — and could (and would) reel them off like a patter song.  Mrs. Calahan would walk the neighborhood in her bathrobe pushing a shopping cart.  Now we would call her an alcoholic, and she had to numb out certain parts of her brain to access the streaming flow of divine light she expressed in her song, which is what I’ll call it, because, as I said, I don’t know what else.

Now since all these people are long gone, their songs function as maps to a neighborhood, which is also long gone, not just for me, although it is for me, but in truth.

Where I live now there are not long summer days, and you don’t wait around on the street corner until 9:30 at night in late June, trying to hold on to something that you can’t quite think or hear.  But the song gives me a place to go back to in my body.  I’m not kidding when I say it takes me back there in my body — my actual eyes cry actual water when I try to remember it.  Maybe that was the late summer day’s song, reaching out through time, making me cry. Not sure!  Not sure.

Obviously a trouble with songs that you hear in your mind is you can’t just hear them when you want to.  Unheard melodies are sweeter than heard ones, but they’re harder to sing, or perhaps just harder to hear.  Not sure!

When I started writing this I thought it was about how particular songs are like particular houses or particular people.  You can return to them at different times in your life.  And within each one there is a piece of yourself hidden that you can get back by going there.  If you want, if you’re “lucky”, if it works out that way.

But now I realize that I am not thinking deeply enough about this — not even close. Because the real songs are the words, and each step you take wandering further from the words, but you can always go back and see how they’ve change, how you’ve changed.  “When”.





All worth returning to.  All changed utterly.  All holding a piece of my heart.   All home to new people living in them now, trying to live, like all of us.  All occupying space where we could build something else some day, and whose to say that wouldn’t be a good thing?


Humanity Been Coasting Since We Invented Writing

Before writing: invented clothes, tool use, language, myth story

After writing: organized religion, nation state, environmental despoilation, some nice poems and books.

Why?  I think writing locks us up, blocks us, by giving us the idea that there is SO MUCH PAST and thus this present moment is a tiny sliver of time in which we are unable to make any momentous change.

But the pre-literate man or woman who invented music had no such worry.  In the relatively short time horizon of the remembered past (or maybe the past remembered by the oldest living member of the tribe) — he had no reason to think he could not pick up a bone flute and invent something TOTALLY NEW.

But the weight of the past is an illusion born of writing!  Every moment flows into our soul bearing gifts of infinite possibility.

Let the new be born in our souls this Christmas Day!@