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Imperfect Thirst
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Lately I have been attracted to contemporary Japanese novels, not in small part because of the matter-of-fact tone about everything. Matter of factness in a way that is the opposite of smacking or smarmy. A matter of factness that seems to seek to peel the layers of human preference off of things, and lay them out as they are, much as say, Annie Dillard lays out the pages of her book drafts in a crudely rustic cabin in a dripping rainforest. The only essential thing about a cabin like that is its roof: best that it doesn’t leak. A cabin like that is matter of factly away from everywhere. I can imagine, (easily, as she chronicles this in a bit of detail in her book “The Writing Life”) as she performs a ritual circumlocution around the table, perhaps even examining how certain words look upside down. Everything to be seen, everything to be taken into account: pruning, deletion, revision, “back to the drawing board” executions, all in equanimity.

That is the kind of matter of factness I am getting from these lovely novels. Banana Yoshimoto comes to mind, and well, Ruth Ozaki is American, but she does a wonderful job of including her Japanese roots; she makes an emphatic point of it, so I include her too.

This matter of factness gets right to all roots, I think. At least eventually. The matter of factness of conflicts in relationships, with society, and the matter-of-fact desire to slide along our grooves around and within these necessary frictions really instills a lot of peace. This life, it is a “Just So” experience. Why fight it? Better to marvel. And chop a little wood, carry a little water.

All this is lovely within itself, but there is a further matter-of-factness that arrests my attention, and my mind. These novels fold in a matter of factness about ghosts; ghosts, here, are not scary, or even very supernatural, they are just another person in the room, that must be acknowledged, listened to, attended to, taken into account. As a matter of fact.

I cannot say that I am any closer to detecting the language and messages of the ghosts in my life, at the moment. I have been working on what they have been saying for some good time, and I can’t say I’ve fully integrated it enough to be ready for newer messages. One thing at a time is part of my matter of fact.

This routine inclusion of ghosts is nonetheless nourishment for my imperfect thirst (nod to the poet Galway Kinnell for his collection “Imperfect Thirst”). It leads me to good questions, such as, if I were a ghost right now, what would I have to say?

Perhaps it is helpful to know I am already getting closer and closer to being a ghost. Perhaps this is among the many comforts of old age, bequeathed to match and assuage the many challenges. In many respects, then, already a ghost, perhaps I need only examine where I have made impact, and what I say to myself now, to understand the message(s) I will have as a ghost. I can ghost unto myself, as it were. Hopefully, it’s the kind of ghosting the Heart Sutra speaks to, at least a little bit. Ghosts, are, after all, spiritual creatures. I think they, just like us, want freedom from religion and superstition to be able to fully express themselves. I can’t help but think they have a lot to say, with some level of insistence, one might even say.

A character in Kinnell’s poem “Neverland,” Wendy by name, says: “I want you to know I don’t mind dying…I only wish it didn’t take so long.” David Whyte speaks to the taboo experience we all have around this: our reluctance to be in this world, as we enter kicking and screaming, and find much that we revolt against throughout. As if we are in a restaurant and have received a wrong order. So, I am guessing what Wendy said could be applied to our experience of this entire life, knowing it will end. I think Heidegger would agree, but he also adds a twist: “Mere anxiety,” he says in the intro of “Being and Time” “Is the source of everything.” Ah, Heidegger, there’s a ghost saying something with urgency!

Well, I have sumptuously digressed. It is Rilke who says to live the questions and forget about the crude resolutions we call answers. My questions here then, again, are two: How can I listen better to the messages received from what we inaccurately call “the beyond?” And also: How can I be a better ghost myself, matter of factly?


can’t help but think they have a lot to say, with some level of insistence, one might even say.….YOU BET!

Well, I have sumptuously digressed….


can’t help but think they have a lot to say, with some level of insistence, one might even say.….YOU BET

Well, I have sumptuously digressed…I VALUE YOUR WANDERINGS….xxev

Thanks Evalyn, you are encouraging and kind!!!

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