Reminding Myself to See

In the interest of full disclosure: in last week’s blog post I wrote about losing my kick drum pedal, and it looked like it had been taken from my suitcase while flying from Denver back to San Francisco. Two days ago, I opened the suitcase to store some things in it before the next trip, and lo and behold there was my kick pedal, tangled up in the towel I use to wrap around it for transport – the towel I had of course picked up and felt around in for the pedal in the first place.

This led in some ways to this blog, about what it’s like to look at something and completely not see it. I could write about what it’s like to blame others for problems that are purely caused by yourself, but instead I will say, my apologies, TSA employees. My original disbelief that you would take something so dirty and useless proved correct! I’m sorry for temporarily believing the worst about people. For my punishment, I received my tangled footwork at two shows at which I hoped to play better.


Several years ago, I decided to take a sewing class. It was something I always wanted to learn and some time had opened up, so I enrolled in a class in a little sewing studio in the Avenues of San Francisco. I headed over there once a week for six weeks. I made a robe, which I still wear and treasure. I think it was the only time I chose exactly the perfect fabric for anything I ever created.

As often happens with me when learning something new, I quickly became obsessed. I took a couple more classes there, and then went on a rampage of making clothing that consisted of a few shining pieces and many very goofy articles and attempts. I really loved the work. I loved the figuring out and the attention to detail and working with my hands. I loved imagining a piece of clothing and then trying to concoct it.

Very quickly, I was floored to realize that I had never paid attention to clothing, at all. I began to realize how little visual attention I had paid to what people wore, varieties of style, and all the aspects of fashion. No wonder I had always dressed myself as a child does, as a kind of costume or camouflage, or out of the simple need to not be naked. In learning to sew, I started to see differently, to really pay attention to objects, for the first time.

Where had I been looking? The details of life had escaped me, until now. I remembered feelings and intimations and impressions, but I would never be able to tell you what anyone wore. I can see the radiant beauty of a girl I worked with long ago, and remember hearing a man catch his breath as she came into view, but I don’t know her name or her haircut or what she wore. I remember the light in the room, and the feeling of wistfulness in the proximity to her beauty, but very little else.

When I started to sew, the world came alive. The difference in skirt lines were of interest: a-line, draped, bell, straight, pencil. Shoulders and hips and proportion. I started to see hair styles as well, and corners of buildings and sconces and car bumpers. Design. Objects. Where had I been looking?

The thing I remember most is always the light in a room. I catch a scent of something and an entire place and scenario and emotion rises up and I fall into that particular light. It can be 30 years ago and I remember exactly how I was feeling and how it felt. I remember the light. I remember the atmosphere. I remember the emotion and sometimes the romance of being back in that body, back in that younger self, that younger feeling, can overwhelm me, and I feel like curling up in a ball in the middle of the sidewalk to keep it from leaving. This kind of sense and emotional memory, triggered by scent and atmosphere, is profound.

Where have I been looking, though? I guess the answer is related to why I close my eyes when I play drums. Without seeing, I can hear more completely. I can sense where the other instruments are leading, and the music becomes entire and fluid. It is one song then, and my attention rests there fully, in the center. It is a conversation that I intuit and hear deeply. This is related to why I rarely remember characters’ names, but I can remember the theme, or the feeling, or my impression of a book or a movie. I can remember how it felt. I rarely have an idea of how someone was dressed.

I guess psychology could come into play here. Why don’t I look closely at people? It is something about a highly developed intuition, a way of merging with an essence, and entering a friendship from the fringe of the connection. Is this a fear or a shock at the direct experience of an other? This is interesting to examine, certainly. My first idea is always to bring it back to mean girls in junior high. The story of that trauma is a tired vein of gold when I examine my personality from a psychological perspective.

Maybe this indirect seeing has to do with a relationship with time that develops in age. You have less of it, and yet you spend it more present. Maybe I allow myself time to notice, now. More on this idea, later.

Anyway, after a while, I got busier and sewing had to be put aside. The experience of this new vision stayed, though. I started to remind myself to pay attention to the details, to notice the tiles on the floor and the color of the walls and the jacket of a friend. I reminded myself to pay attention to the material world around me. It’s still something I need to remember to do, this kind of attention. I guess having to remind myself of this is a part of the meaning of the word space-y.

Where have I been looking? I can see that the natural world is where I have spilling much of my attention. When I look at the photos I have taken, on my phone or laptop, I see they are of my friends, of skies, and of flowers. I remember cloud formations. I become apoplectic in the wonder of movements of the sky. I am hyper aware of flying things.

Yesterday morning. First, there was a robin on a wire looking over the little park. There is a new bush, and it was lit up with pink flowers with round petals and yellow faces. The robin’s song was so pretty and lilting, but at the end, a little rasp rang out. Maybe I have never believed that the robin’s song was pretty; maybe the harsh ending clouded my whole perspective of it. Today, it was gorgeous, and the push at the end added a kind of desperation that solidified the poignancy. It was so relentless and free and I felt it directed at me. It was a fat robin. I was delighted with its deep orange breast against the clear blue of the sky.

I saw one of my bluejays. I immediately knew it was one of the pair who cavort in the garden outside my windowseat glass; I just knew it was one of them. I saw him dancing in the crimson fuchsia, hopping on the bulging wall of red and green. He was playing a game and looked happy. He looked back at me, found an exit and disappeared through it.

There were crows all day. One swooped low through the park, braying as it flew and then lifting high over the gate and beyond. “As the crow flies,” that phrase came into my head and I again felt a sense of envy for that way of traveling. His bombast agitated two doves, and I felt the air pulse with their fluttering.

Later, on my walk through the morning, my memory of the sewing class came up and I spent some time noticing objects. When I walk through San Francisco I fall in love with buildings, which I can gaze at forever, forcing myself to notice their details. There are houses that look like wedding cakes, and still angular apartments with so little decoration that it is like high art. There are doorways from the street through which I see cellar-dark hallways and I get a panting sort of curiosity that dies to know what lies beyond. And the windows. I consider getting a realtor license just to be able to enter apartments and see how the light falls in all those rooms.

I gaze at the water and its relation to the color wheel of sky and watch the peaceful swimmers in Aquatic Park. I remember my numb feet and the shock of cold when I spent some time believing I could be one of them, and still, I envy them. I feel in my shoulders what it must be like to be in the long meditative stroke of their pace. I turn a corner and the sun is the largest thing in view, hanging heavy over the bell curve of Chestnut Street, burning behind the marine layer and spreading a coral light across the screendoor of sky.

As I walk my mind drifts, and I come back from whatever thought has pulled me away to sound; again, there are crows. They fly overhead, their sound a fading alarm. I switch up on my attention and start to play with my hearing. My eyes follow the sidewalk as I go in order to listen intently to every layer of sound: the heavy whoosh of the tour bus, the whining of the engine and the sharp cry of the brakes, the conversation of teenagers rising and falling. I imagine I don’t speak their language, and try to hear the true sound of the words beyond meaning. I hear the rising and falling sigh of tires on the street beyond, the rustle of my clothing against my limbs in motion, the sound of the breeze in my hair, the small white-noise buzz in my ears, and still, in a level all to themselves, the crows.

I return to the house and sit in meditation, and one crow interrupts with a persistent squawk. What is he doing out there, in a space where there are never crows, outside the window of my little room. It stops me up for a while, and unsettles me. I should look up the meaning of crow again. I think they are the messenger birds. Maybe I am being told something I should know.

I am looking for something in meditation today, falling deeply and watching thoughts try to steal me away and finding it easy to let them pass unnoticed, but there is something out of reach, something I can tell I am trying to find, and a way of not trying I can not reach. I sit for an hour or so and at the end I am restless and I give up. When I first sit, I am overwhelmed by a stillness that feels like a rising, a silver bubble of emptiness rising up out of my physical body. When I focus on that image and the feeling, it goes away. I am left in a still space where battle enters and releases, enter and release.

I can’t really write very coherently about these things, as they are at best not of the mind or of story at all. It was like that though, a focus and losing focus, a voice and silence, a familiar still plain and a noisy rattling of desire.

One thing I have learned, is that what I don’t understand now often makes some sense later, so I just let it go. Maybe later, a conversation will spread some light on the struggle of that hour. This is the message, to accept what is. More information will unfold or withhold, and that too is a message.

I look around this room and I see the red carpet, the diffused afternoon light, the movement of the candle flames and the waving loquat leaves in the periphery of my vision. The wooden chimes clatter and the pug snores and what will stay is most likely this smell of fresh bay air, this still peace, and this lovely perfect happiness that will sustain me through less happy times no doubt to come. I will curl my being in a ball around this feeling, and as the 3PM church chimes move through me I will send out this peace to all.


You can hear me read this here:

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