Saturday, November 27, 2010

i'm sorry

so things aren't going so well for me these days. it takes me three days to write a blog post, but then again i keep writing blog posts with pictures and long narratives and timelines and stuff.

i spend a lot of my hours just staring out the window, and some days the crazy comes and sits on me like an unfed cat an hour past dinnertime. and for a lot of complicated reasons it's best if i don't try to go to church tomorrow. and for some reasons that are complicated and related to the crazy, it only gets worse if i try not to do a thing and the only thing for it is to be away so i CAN'T go to church at home even if i stop trying NOT to do it, but it's going to be the first sunday of advent and that means something to me.

and it's going to hurt me not to be in my own choir, not to be in my own congregation, not to be with my own church family to see them light those candles, so the best i can do is to be among friends in another choir where they know me and where they're kind to me and it's three hours from home so i can't get into any trouble.

but i've had a hell of a day, you know?

so when i get to the mcdonald's i can be pretty sure i LOOK like i'm not having a good day.

it's kind of busy. not super busy, but the service is going kind of slow. i can sort of see why. there's a guy in front of me who's very talkative but doesn't seem to have quite enough  sandwiches for a picnic and hotshot drivethru guy looks like he think he could run the place by himself and counter guy looks kind of like he's been having a bad day all day and there's an irritated-looking couple, and some guys who went through he drive through and ordered sweet tea but got unsweet tea and he brings it back in and the manager doesn't just give him more of the sweet tea; the first thing she does is check the tea coming from the dispenser and then she checks what's coming out of the unsweet dispenser and she discovers with a minimum of steps that none of the dispensers anywhere in the store have sweetened tea in them and she rectifies the problem kinda speedy. everbody is polite about it.

and the woman is apologizing to everybody, and i get the impression they apologize a lot around there. i get this idea because of the suggestion/comment box on the front counter. in the corners of the computer printed sign are handwritten notes asking people to PLEASE be appropriately polite in their comments; that the staff is trying really hard to improve their service, and they would very much appreciate appropriate language in the notes left for them.

so by the time the manager gives me my burger, she has apologized to everyone else there and when it's my turn she apologizes to me for...

...that's where she breaks off and says she doesn't know what i need an apology for, but she hopes i have a nice night. i kind of laugh a litle.

and you know? it wasn't her that owed me the apology, but the apology owed me isn't forthcoming and it was just nice to hear.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

seventeen men, give or take

i'm still processing the pictures and information from my trip to virginia last month. you know, because i can't just show you some pictures and call it done. oh, no. i have to organize it.

before i left home i picked a handful of small stones to take along with me. they were nothing very fancy; small and typical of vermont hillside geology. the thing is that i planned to visit the fredericksburg national cemetery and i had printed up a list of the vermont men who are known to be buried there.

i say "known to be buried there", because of the over 15,000 dead in the cemetery, only 2,473 have been identified. of the identified dead, there are 94 men that i know of who came from vermont. i don't even want to think about how many of the unidentified dead came from here. at wilderness alone 1,234 vermont men died, most of them in the same afternoon in the same small patch of woods. later on i'll tell you more about that, but not now.

so it just wouldn't be possible to go and pay my respects to all of them, but i decided to find as many of them as i had stones for. it's probably been a while since anyone called any of them by name, and for each one i found i looked up his full name and his unit, his hometown, and the place where he died.

i knelt down to place one of the stones on each of the graves, and had a few words with each of the men:

i know where you came from; i've been to your hometown. i know that when you left there you thought maybe you'd get to go back or at least they might send your body home and i know it's a poor substitute for home, but i've brought just a little piece of vermont to leave with you here.

it was hard to find them, all mixed in as they were with men who came from pennsylvania or new york or michigan, some of them buried here after dying on the sunken road, some after dying here in the hospital, some after lying out in the open out in the fields where they fell and brought here later.

so there wasn't much system to which men got my stones; i did not play favorites other than to bring my vermont stones to vermont men. i just walked around until i had given them all out. the randomness was pleasing to me, as if the method of sampling made my offering more properly for all of them, known and not.

oh, my boys, my boys;
each of you, every one
no matter where you came from
all a mother's precious son.

view original

my timeline details events in the war as relate to my seventeen men: their enlistments, promotions, and for all but one, when in the war they died.   the only battles listed are the battle fought by these men, and the only units listed are the units they belonged to. it is a very narrow view.

some of my pictures from that day can be seen here as a slideshow. the seventeen vermont men (and one wife) are posted there in order of their dates of death. the statue of richard kirkland isn't from the cemetery proper, but his story is worth knowing. it's also worth reading william jones's medal of honor citation:

Rank and organization: First Sergeant, Company A, 73d New York Infantry. Place and date: At Spotsylvania, Va., 12 May 1864. Entered service at: New York, N.Y. Birth: Ireland. Date of issue: 1 December 1864. Citation: Capture of flag of 65th Virginia Infantry (C.S.A.). 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

peace be with you

sometime earlier on and closer to the time at which it actually happened, i told you about finding a little buddhist shrine in the woods and thinking that i should get myself down to leverett for evening prayers.

i had called the temple to ask what i should do; when i am on unfamiliar ground i often call ahead to ask what will be appropriate dress and what i can expect. sister claire was very kind to me in the phone message i left so on that day i felt i had to go, i just quit my activities of the day and headed down into massachusetts.

(i hate spelling that blasted thing; i always have to look it up. is it two sets of double s's, or is it two s's and two t's?)

anyway, i got down there in the late afternoon; evening prayers are typically at five-thirty. i leave my car in the parking lot and walk up the hill and all along the way there are increasing amounts of little piles of stones. first they appear here and there, on the ground, and then in groups, in trees, or on any object that will hold them. nearer the top of the hill there is a wooden platform for the piles of rocks which are not, i guess, stupa in the strictest sense, and not mani in the strictest sense.

still, i have heard it said that when you come across stones piled just so and without any other apparent reason, you have come across somebody's prayer and should deal with it accordingly.

it doesn't matter how many times i come to the top of this hill or how many pictures i have seen; when the pagoda comes into view it is breathtaking.

when i get there, there's a man in blue jeans and a hoodie working in the cold afternoon to lay tile in the steps of the yet-unfinished new temple. i ask his pardon to interrupt him to ask when i can expect evening prayers and to whom should i speak about them. he tells me that they will begin to gather around five-thirty and that i should go down and knock on the door of the house.

things are still kind of unclear to me, so i'm still kind of apprehensive, but i go up into the garden to walk and take pictures and just breathe. you can find that slideshow here.

i have never been to any buddhist service, so i don't know what to expect. sometimes i don't know exactly what to expect when i go to christian services that depart from what is familiar to me. and doctrinal concerns? well, what i know about this order is that the whole of their work is to pray for peace. typically buddhists will pray for the enlightenment of mankind, but the work of this order is to pray for the disarmament of mankind; peace between people and among all peoples. regardless of the supervising deity or inspiring scripture, the one thing i know for sure is that there's not enough peace in the world.

so it's a prayer i can get wholeheartedly behind.

at five-thirty i leave the garden and walk kind of nervously to the house; there is no sign of anyone gathering,  and no sign that anyone is there. i'm on the porch, skulking timidly when a car pulls up and i go down to meet it, but not knowing what to do exactly i stand a little at a distance.

at last a woman in what looks like a tan karate uniform gets out, carrying a bag or two of stuff, some maybe groceries. i introduce myself, and say that i had called last week about coming to join evening prayers.

"oh, yes.", she says, recognizing my name. "i'm sister claire."

she brings me to the house and i know without being asked to remove my shoes. i am tempted to tell her that i love her haircut; she's bald and i'm only nearly bald. i kind of feel like a piker.

the room is very much like any well-used communal living room such as your college buddies might have shared junior year, except at one end of the room is a giant stature of some man probably not the Buddha, but he has candles and incense and some other items in front of him anyway, and there are an assortment of banners on the wall around him.

sister claire goes into another room, and i perch on the sofa. she comes back and while talking to me she puts on her saffron robes and she takes me upstairs to the prayer room.

the whole house is kind of half-finished; i know that there was a fire that burned the order out of their original temple some years back and it appears that what's being stored is being stored here.

at the top of the stairs we run into the man from the garden; there is some bowing and shuffling to make room.

coming around the corner i am nearly overwhelmed with the density of the place. we are moving at a normal pace and there's too much to take in: a back wall mostly covered with a giant american flag made of origami cranes. there are banners and decorations, most of which are in shades of saffron or yellow. there are storage boxes around the walls, piles of cushions. chairs completely escape my notice, but i know there are some, since sister claire offers me a choice of a cushion or a chair.

i tell her that i will prefer to do as they do. she hands me a cushion, and places one on the floor for herself. "i'll teach you how we pray", she says, and she hands me a drum and a stick. the drum is a shallow frame drum with a handle, maybe fourteen inches in diameter. it has what i will later recognize as the daimoko written around the edge in japanese.

she begins by teaching me the drum pattern. it's a simple six beat pattern, but for one reason or another i have trouble grasping it entirely. i keep forgetting where i am in the sequence. there's a lot in that room for my mind to attach to and distract me from the pattern.

the front wall is dominated by a very large statue similar to the one in the livingroom. i guess (correctly) that since it does not appear to the the Buddha, it must be the likeness of the founder of this order. there are candles and incense burners and all manner of decorations and offerings all around him: flowers, banners, strings of beads or shells, stones, bags of beans and peas and rice. to one side of the room is a large taiko-style drum with a pile of cushions behind it, and at the center of the room a little desk like a priedieu, only shorter. it has some cushions behind it, and a book of scripture on it.

i am trying to place my attention on the moment, on the drum pattern, but i am in foreign territory with everything here except the drum pattern. i am nervous in unfamiliar surroundings. i am nervous when i do not know what to expect. i wish to be polite and reverent, but i do not know what the customs and courtesies are.

sister claire begins to teach me the chant. she provides me with it written out: na mu myo ho ren ge kyo. it seems simple enough, but i can't recognize the sound of it when i hear it. to complicate things, sister claire tell me not to worry about the pitch or the rhythm of the chant; they make it up as they go along.

after a while she tells me that she will begin the prayer. she goes to the front wall with its statue of the founder and lights the candles and some incense and bows deeply, saying a few words in japanese. then she sits on the cushions behind the taiko drum and begins to play the pattern. she chants, and i try to follow along.

i'm having trouble quieting my mind, but i expect it's all part of the process.  what happens will happen. after a while, other people come in, but not all at once. each of them sets down a cushion on the floor, selects a drum and stick, and goes to light incense or a candle, bowing deeply and saying a few words. each person joins the drum pattern in unison, but chants on his or her own. it is sort of a call-and response, but sort of not. some of the chants sound to me like the printed text, and it's easier to follow. some chant on just one note; some to a tune of sorts. chords form and unform; my mind stills and startles.

if i concentrate on praying for peace or the idea of peace, it is difficult to take everything in. when i let everything fall out of my mind, i fall into the prayer naturally, as if i am an organic part of it.

...and then my mind comes up behind and says: pretty good. and i'm flailing again.

i lose track of time and do not know how long we chant, or how long an interval there is between the entrances of the various people; i only know that when the whole thing is over two and a half hours have elapsed.

each person who comes in takes a seat on a cushion around the outside of the room. each of them, except one, is bald and dressed in a saffron robe. the one woman in street clothes and with hair sits next to me and helps me find my way through parts of the service.

the brothers and sisters take turns at the taiko drum, keeping its pattern seamless and flowing, sliding in and out of that seat with precision. after a while a small man comes in, makes his greeting at the front of the room and takes his seat at the little desk.

there is a lot more uninterrupted chanting. my knees hurt, even when i shift weight. and then, suddenly and by some signal i can't perceive, the chanting stops. everyone reaches for a prayer book. they are written in what seems to me to be japanese, transliterated into english characters. we read from left to right, but turn the pages from right to left.

then there's more chanting. and then, again on some signal i cannot perceive or by a habit i do not know, suddenly we are standing, bowing, kneeling, bowing, standing, bowing, kneeling, bowing. i remember thinking: wow. these people are very limber. in between positional changes there is a recitation of something else. i don't understand it, but i think i recognize the words for "thank you".

then there's more seated chanting.

and then, suddenly, we stop chanting. the little man at the center desk turns to face me. sister claire makes the introduction: "sensei, this is (my proper name). this is her first time joining us. she came because she heard this is where we pray for peace."

he bows to me, palms touching. i return the bow. he makes a little chitchat with me about where i have come from and how far away it is, and then as suddenly as he turned toward me, he turns away.

we chant some more, and after a while, we stop. people get up to put away their drums and cushions. sister claire steps beside me to say that before we leave the prayer room, we greet the buddha. at the front of the room on the left wall there is a small shrine to the buddha, and we stop there to bow and the others recite a few words i do not understand. we chant the daimoko again a small number of times.

and then sister claire tells me that they do one last thing before they finish evening prayers: they go downstairs to greet the founder. so we all go down to the livingroom. one of the sisters is talking about the cat, or at least cat litter. there's some small talk and then all of a sudden a little more chanting and bowing and recitations.

and then suddenly we're done.

they make some chitchat with me and then sister claire asks if she can give me a lift down to the parking lot so i don't have to make my way in the dark. "come anytime", she says. "come often".

it's a long way for me to go to drop in on evening prayers, but when i keep reading even the small amount of news stories that i read these days, it makes me happy to think that somewhere there is a group of people praying for nothing more or less than peace.

Monday, November 15, 2010

perception of time

douglas adams suggested in at least one of his novels that not all beings experience time as unidirectional and linear. i do, and so do you.

i was going to try to tell you part of my story going in reverse starting with the confederate cemetery and ending with the national cemetery at fredericksburg, but aside from an interesting literary conceit and maybe some poetic turns and maybe a feeling of confusion that might serve to evoke the chaos of that virginia campaign, i realize that i can't quite tell the story that way and still leave in the details or the ideas that make me want to tell you the story in the first place.

and i for sure couldn't place everything in sequence going back to the beginning of ocotber or even last may, so i have decided to just tell you the story in a series of vignettes. can i use that word? vignette? is it too pretentious?

anyway, they're all linked in my mind and it's probably no good to tell you that i'm not really a linear thinker, but more of an associative thinker, so you get what you get. i save linear storytelling, more or less, for my geocaching logs and even then not so much.

i have now frittered away the time i intended to use making a real bog entry telling you why i have nothing to say yet about some stuff i was going to tell you about.

maybe tomorrow, maybe some other day. tomorrow i might fritter away this time by making ice cream, or i might decide to pack up my things and go camping for a couple of weeks.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

threadbare excuses

you'd think that with all the time i'm spending sitting here at my desk that i might take a few minutes to update my blog. i keep thinking that i'll have something cool to show you, but not so much.

i've been workign on learning google sketchup (easy enough for you to find so do your own search) and while it is super cool, i don't have anything i can post to show you.

on other fronts, Christmas is coming.

yes, i KNOW it isn't even thanksgiving yet, but if you're designing items for purchase or even use at Christmas, you have to get a jump on it. in the music publishing business, that means you start getting ready for Christmas in may.

i'm not working on such a large scale, but i know it's that season when people are buying cards and ornaments and such and i didn't figure to be moving a lot of merchandise through my zazzle store, but they're my designs and i'm fond of them and people keep telling me that they'd buy cards or mugs or other stuff with my designs, and it don't cost me nothin' but time to put them out there for sale. so why not?

yesterday some unknown person bought twenty copies of this card, so go figure. the mystery is this, though: i have exactly ONE friend who knows of the existence of my zazzle store. with very few exceptions, people who read my blog are people who do not know me personally. it's not that my friends aren't interested in what i'm up to; it's just that they for the most part figure that they'll hear what i have to say anyway, and in great detail, and if they want to see the pictures, they go here.

so who's the purchaser? if you're reading this, you've already seen all of the advertising i'm doing, so "random stranger" is a good guess, but weird, you know?


in other news, i'm editing several months' worth of photos (none to show you yet) and some video (none to show you yet) and posting new items to my zazzle store every day (sidebar link, if you're interested), and learning to make models in sketchup (nothing to show you yet). i have not even touched my huge backlog of geocache logs (caught up to noon on may 6), but i have made an awesome rice pudding layered with chocolate panna cotta (nothing to show you yet) and i have in my spare time been following the cooks source conflagration. and reading the blogs i read. a lot of them.

in short, a lot of doing, but not much show and tell.

later on maybe get around to it.

Monday, November 08, 2010

three graves

i go a lot of places. not fancy places, like nepal, or cozumel, which i suppose aren't fancy if you live there, but regular places. i go to look and see what's there and maybe take some pictures and maybe tell you what i saw.

i was a lot of places in october, but right now i want to tell you about three graves in three cemeteries in southern vermont.

guilford, VT
i will let his headstone speak for him:

Sacred to the Memory of the Late
Born in Rehoboth, Mass A.D. 1726
A Magistrate in Rhode Island inA.D. 1764
A public teacher of righteousness,
An able advocate to his last for Democracy,
And the equal rights of man.
Removed to this town A. D. 1770
Was a field officer in the Revolutionary War,
A founder of the first constitution and government of Vermont,
A counsellor of Censors in A.D. 1783
A member of the Counsil and Lieut Gov.r of the state in A.D. 1779
A firm professor of Christianity in the Baptist church 50 years. Left this world
and 146 persons of lineal posterity March 29, 1804, aged 78 y 10m 12d;
with a strong mind and full faith of a more glorious state hereafter. Stature
about 6 feet, weight 200. 

Death had no terror!

Lewis H. Lamb

wilmington, VT
the front of his headstone reads:

Sergt. Co. D 8t Vt. In.
wounded at the battle of 
Cedar Creek Oct. 19, 1864
died at Newtown, Va.
Oct 23, 1864
(here the crack across the stone obscures what appears to be his age at death.)

the back of his stone is inscribed:

In memory of a dutiful son;
an affectionate brother;
a defender of the Union.

his service record, according to Vermont in the Civil War, reads:

Lamb, Lewis H., 18, Wilmington, VT; enl 12/16/61, m/i 2/18/62, CPL, Co. I, 8th VVI, reen 1/5/64, pr SGT, mwia, Cedar Creek, 10/19/64, d/wds 10/23/64

he was a volunteer, enlisted early.  the 8th VT Volunteers were posted in Louisiana for much of the war. in january after re-enlisting, he and the other re-enlisted veterans returned to vermont on thirty day furlough. Lewis Lamb was wounded in the battle of cedar creek and died of those wounds four days later.

Nathan Mann

searsburg, VT
his headstone is the simple unadorned civil war veteran's stone; it tells nothing except his name and unit. knowing his unit alone tells a horrific tale: first manassas, antietam, fredericksburg, marye's heights, gettysburg, wilderness, spotsylvania, cold harbor.

his service record reads (again, vermont in the civil war): Mann, Nathan, cred. Searsburg, VT, age 43, enl 12/19/63, m/i 1/7/64, Pvt, Co. A, 4th VVI, wdd, 6/9/64, pow, Weldon Railroad, 6/23/64, Andersonville, prld 12/11/64, d/svc 12/31/64

oh, God of mercy.  wounded at cold harbor, he's taken prisoner at petersburgh and kept at andersonville nearly six months.

his obituary (Hoosac Valley News and Transcript, Feb. 2, 1865 via Vermont in the Civil War) reads:

Nathan Mann of Searsburg, Co. A, 4th Vt. Vol., has just deceased. He was taken prisoner at Petersburg and was for a long time in the Andersonville Hell. He was finally paroled and died in three days after his arrival home.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

all saints/susan youens

today is all saints sunday (first sunday after all saints' day) in our church and by happy coincidence it is also international susan youens day. while many people celebrate all saints' say and all saints sunday, international susan youens day is largely only celebrated by me, to the bemusement of susan youens.

so. next year you'll be forewarned, and will have put up your decorations in time to raise a mug of very good coffee, light and sweet, in her honor.

happy international susan youens day, everybody!

Friday, November 05, 2010

commuter fares to hell

i was going to call it "hell and back", because i have been to hell recently but i can't quite find my way back.

it's like i have a commuter pass, only there's a transit strike while i'm still out there and nobody i know has a car that isn't in the shop.

there's no undoing the Very Bad Thing; you cannot un-know what you know, at least not selectively and for most of the things in my life i don't wish i had never done them even if they hurt, because they make me who i am, and i know what brain damage does to your memory and what memory loss does in your life and i wish something big would come and rub this whole last week right out of my head.

that moment in which i got run over by a truck on route two, that hurt. nearly freezing to death on the mountain, that hurt a lot. the subsuming pain when they turn the med lock and the chemical flows into your veins and you know it's coming and you promised yourself that THIS time you were just going to take it silently and bravely is bad enough, but what hurts about it is knowing that you're only going to do it again in a day or two. that mind-bogglingly bad moment in which i got the news my pastor was leaving our church AND my supervisor came to get my keys when my twenty-year career came to an end, THAT was pain.

THIS, this Very Bad Thing goes so far beyond my scope of what i know how to deal with that i don't even know how to lift my head.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

frijoles and hushpuppies

so. after the Very Bad Thing happened, i was kind of stuck here on the ground. no, you will not find a link to it. no, i will not talk to you about it.


but i'm kind of stuck here, right? because every time i start to think i start to cry and maybe the best thing for it is a little vacation in virginia, which is where i am.

aside from the Very Bad Thing, though, i have a lot to say about these blank days for which there are no blog entries yet, but it's all kind of dense and involves the processing of some photos.

so expect me to go on about it later.

meantime, when it gets to be suppertime now, i'm actually going to restaurants in my bid to pamper myself enough to be fit to drive home and once there, function somewhat.

i do not count horrid mass produced meals at shiny national chains pretending to be hometown hangouts to be real food, and one of the things i do in a burg when i get to it is ask some of the locals where locals eat.

last night the very nice young lady at the rite aid recommended cracker barrel, which alerted me instantly that while she was very kind in her dealings with me (VERY kind), she was not he right person to ask about eating out.

so i drove around some until i found a place out behind some fancier places and there were a buncha cars parked there and it didn't seem to be trying to be cute or trendy in any way, so i went in.

it was el charro in fredericksburg.

they seat me right away and they are friendly and kind (which i need) and it takes me a while to order but the waiter doesn't seem to mind and then what comes is very good. and pretty cheap, too. dinner is served with salsa and chips, but they're fresh chips. and i'm full when i finish eating, but i ask the waiter if the flan is any good and he says that if i like flan i should not miss this one.

and he's right; it is heavenly.

fastforward to today.

i get done today's touring and i'm going crazy, looking for real food to eat, because from where i am to the interstate there is a vast wasteland of national chains and mall food and box stores on every twisty street and i am just about to give up when i see this kinda beat-up lookin' place that looks like it's been sitting on that corner since sometime just after world war II finished up, and i've been thinking i might be toasty for some BBQ anyway, so i hang a u turn and negotiate some really bizarre street configurations to get to the dumpy looking brick building, but once i make up my mind to go there, it seems the whole block smells like BBQ.


and i take a seat in the corner and everyone there can tell i'm from away, and i start gettign advice on what to have, and i ask the waiter "if i'm only ever going to eat here once, what should i order?" and he tells me to get the BBQ (which, for all my friends back home, is a sandwich and not a genre) and maybe two sides, so that's what i order. onion rings (because the lady at the next table says they're really good) and hushpuppies (because i cain't get hushpuppies at home).

and it is AWESOME.

awesome, do you hear me?


just go there.


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