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Conversations with My Cat

Essays and Poetry by Takashi Yogi

Contents









      Shy People


     Garrison Keillor did us a great favor when he acknowledged that
we, the shy people of the world, do exist.  Before his "Prairie Home
Companion"  radio program, we had no voice, no one noticed us.  We
were always out of the spotlight, standing alone at parties, observing
others, waiting for the perfect moment to say something important. But
now our time has come, for Keillor has invented "Powdermilk Biscuits"
to give us shy people the courage to do what needs to be.
     Most of us did well in school.  We  never volunteered to answer a
teacher's question, but waited to be called.  The teachers soon knew
who to call to get the right answer, and we studied even harder to
gain our reward.  However, many of us flunked recess.  We were always
chosen last for the basketball team, and we became experts at playing
deep right field in baseball.  We thought we were clumsy, but this
really wasn't true, as I learned much later.  We had our fantasies of
catching the ball and listening to the cheers, but hits to right field
were rare and when we got a chance, we were so nervous that we dropped
the ball.  So we studied even harder.
     High school threw a new peril at us:  dating.  We went through
agonies of doubt over who to ask or why no one asked for us.  So we
usually settled for fantasy romances in which we never revealed our
interest.  The fantasies were better than the rare actual dates, which
were more nervous torture than enjoyment.  So we went back to the
books; at least we could make good grades.
     It is a wonder that we managed to eventually find a mate, or more
likely,  that someone found us.  That someone was probably not a shy
person, and therein lies the start of much turmoil.  We expect our
desires to be fulfilled without having to ask. Instead, we get
ignored.
     What makes a person shy?  Why am I never the first to respond in
a class?  Perhaps I filter my thought so thoroughly that very little
gets through.  Is my comment necessary?  Is it correct?  What will the
reception be?  How can I express my thought best?  So I usually wait
for the perfect moment to say something profound and insightful.  But
that perfect moment rarely comes, so I silently watch the world from
the safe refuge of my self.
    Speaking out is only one problem for me.  More general is my
attitude toward taking risks.  I find that I rarely push myself into
something new unless I have a good chance of success.  I feel more
comfortable with maps than with uncharted territory.  When I visit a
foreign country I need to speak the language.  I feel uncomfortable
going to a class if I haven't done the homework.  Before I perform a
song, I will spend hours practicing and memorizing.  All this is not
necessarily bad, but this attitude probably keeps me from doing some
things that I would enjoy.
     Is there any cure for my shyness?  Maybe it isn't a disease, no
more than being short.  I've accepted being short and find that it is
an advantage most of the time.  At other times I use a ladder.  So
maybe I can live with being shy, knowing its limitations but not being
trapped by them.





     Mushrooms Hunting



     I have a tendency to expect that the universe is arranged
logically, that everything fits into sensible categories.  This
expectation comes partly from my background in physics and electronics
engineering.  The arrangement of elements in the periodic
table, computer circuits, and the motions of the planets are
beautifully logical and predictable.  The other part of my bias for
logic is that I can manage large amounts of information as long as it
all makes sense, but I'm easily confused by chaos.  So I
strive to keep my things and thoughts orderly.
     My predilection for order was challenged when I started hunting
wild mushrooms a few years ago.  Whoever invented mushroom was
certainly ignorant of taxonomy.  Inconsistencies and exceptions are as
abundant as mushrooms after the fall rain.
     Life would be much easier if one could rely on a few simple rules
of behavior.  A simple rule to separate poisonous mushrooms from
edible ones would be nice. But alas, there is none.  One of the
deadliest mushrooms is Amanita phalloides.  It kills several
people in California every year. But one of the most delicious edible
mushrooms is Amanita calyptroderma. I always check my identification
carefully before I eat this one.  Why are these two species so similar
but so different?
     Mushrooms are like people.  They come in all shapes, colors, and
sizes.  Even those of the same specie have their individual
variations.  People are as difficult to classify as mushrooms.  We
have devised categories and labels in an attempt to sort them out:
good, bad, conservative, liberal, pro-life, pro-choice.  But people
won't fit into our neat boxes.
    One of my favorite movies is John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy.
A dude from Texas (John Voight) sets out to make it big in New York
hustling women. He runs in a scummy character (Dustin Hoffman) who
survives by ripping people off.  These two are despicable, but they
manage to co-exist and finally learn to accept each other
unconditionally in spite of their faults.  This is a love story in the
highest sense of the word.  It shows that people can't be labeled good
or bad, and attempts to do so causes us to miss a lot of the richness
and diversity of life.
    Trying to sort poisonous mushrooms by color doesn't work.  One
poisonous mushroom has such a delicious golden brown color that it is
nicknamed Poison Pie.  Similarly, attempts to sort people by color can
be disastrous.  The history of American slavery and the Holocaust show
the tragic result of grouping people in categories so that they become
identical object rather than individuals.
    The fact that a particular mushroom happens to be poisonous to
humans should not lead us to destroy them or fear them.  If we do so,
we lose our chance to understand them and to learn about their unique
place in the universe. The most valuable thing we can learn from
mushrooms is that the world is far too diverse and wonderful to fit
into our simplistic notions of order.





 Conversations with My Cat



     My cat stares at my computer monitor, but the images are not
real; she cannot smell them.  She watches my fingers as they scramble
over the keys.  She is fourteen years old, no longer a kitten that
would try to touch the moving images or play with the
moving fingers.  She is soon bored, but  keeps purring contentedly,
knowing that this strange object and meaningless activity is important
to me and therefore to her.  Long experience has taught her that
sitting on pieces of paper or on books will ensure
that she will not be ignored.
     What goes on in that tiny brain as she stares out the window?
For me that question is a unanswerable as the question of why anything
exists.  Unanswerable and therefore eternally meaningful.  I know that
she dreams, for I can watch her white paws twitch in excitement as she
sleeps. If she can dream while asleep, why not when awake?
     I can understand why many people prefer dogs to cats.  The
affection of a dog is obvious and dependable, but a cat's feelings are
more subtle, often bordering on aloofness or disdain.  This reserve
causes me to treasure the few spontaneous shows of affection.  Cats
seem to guard their independence and respect mine.
     Taking my cat for walks in the woods has taught me patience.  She
needs a lot of coaxing to get started, and she stops often to sniff
the plants and sits down when she wishes.  It is futile to try to rush
a cat.  Therefore a cat is a perfect antidote for our hectic lives.
     Pets can teach us how to live.  They are good examples of
acceptance and tranquility.  A pet is a lifelong friend,  its
affection can be depended upon regardless of circumstances.  Its
acceptance is unconditional and is not withheld even when it is
mistreated.  Humans have the strange ability to change their state of
mind when their external world remains the same.  They can be happy
one moment and by sheer willpower make themselves miserable and
depressed.  Pets happily lack this ability and are
therefore more stable.

(Unfinished)



June 26, 1993

In Memory of My Cat

My cat Tally came into my life quite unintentionally.  I first saw him
fighting with our female cat, who was spayed and fought his advances
vigorously.  Tally was a large gray manx, but was no match for our
fierce cat.  When I tried to chase him away with a broom, he would
look at me directly, unafraid,  as if to ask why he was not treated
with more civility.  He was a wild cat, orphaned when his alcoholic
master died.  I decided to try feeding him and gradually won his
trust.  But he always kept a wild streak in his behavior.  He would
sometimes swat my legs or rear up and snarl.  He was filthy at first,
but some vigorous brushing and combing revealed a beautiful cat with
fine, soft fur.  And under the wild exterior was a gentle, loving cat.

I'm amazed by the way an animal can slowly become a part of me.  When
I first saw him he was an ordinary, pesky cat.  But he gradually
became a unique cat who walked funny, liked to eat corn on the cob,
and spent much time grooming his beautiful fur.  I
have had many cats in my life and they have all been unique and
irreplaceable.  There was Loner, shy and expert at chasing pingpong
balls.  Snug was the extrovert, smart and always demanding, liked to
eat olives.  Yuki was gentle and cuddly.  Each one has made my life
fuller.  They become a part of me and I have difficulty when they
leave.  I have learned to love them when they are alive, delighting in
the feel of their fur, their voices, the look in their eyes--savoring
these moments, knowing that their lives are
short.  Cats know how to live in the present and can teach us how to
enjoy what is at hand.






Motherhood, Flag, and Apple Pie


     Motherhood is no longer sacrosanct, and the flag is an outdated
relic of patriotism for many Americans.  But apple pie still reigns as
the quintessential symbol of America, a favorite of conservatives,
liberals, feminists, Catholics, billionaires, socialists, and Klu Klux
Klan members.  So it is with trepidation that I examine food as a
symbol, a subject more controversial than politics or religion.
     Apple pie is a good example of the food we eat for enjoyment more
than for nutrition.  Few would argue that cooking apples improves
their vitamin content.  Apple pie is a symbol of the good life, one in
which we can indulge in a few luxuries that are not essential to
survival.
     A trip through the aisles of any supermarket shows our
preoccupation with food as a major part of life.  The shelves are
crammed with a bewildering array of instant gourmet dishes, snack
foods, and drinks.  These products are promoted by advertising
that shows people enjoying the good life while eating.  Go to any
bookstore and notice how large the cookbook section is.  Pick up any
magazine on the arts and notice how many ads are for restaurants.
     Our pleasurable relation to food is quite natural.  From the
moment of birth we learn that food means love and security.  Children
are rewarded with sweets for good behavior.  Celebrations such as
birthdays and Thanksgiving always mean lots of special food.  Much of
our social life is centered on eating and drinking.
     So what's wrong with enjoying good food?  How can anyone
criticize the social value of eating together?  What I'm attempting to
do is to examine our attitudes to food and how those attitudes affect
the quality of our lives.  Our attitudes toward food run parallel to
our attitudes toward material things:  more is better.  We lust after
seven-course dinners, five-bedroom houses and three-car garages.  Of
course there is nothing intrinsically bad about these things.  The
danger is that we chase these objects as symbols of happiness and
security.  We can thus lose our ability to distinguish necessity from
luxury.
     Let's go from our American supermarket to a Third World country,
say Ethiopia.  It's as if we have traveled to another planet, one in
which food is a matter of survival rather than pleasure.  Certainly we
would not trade our bounty for this grim existence.  But wait.  These
people have something to teach us: eat to live rather than live to
eat.  Such a simple concept but so foreign to our opulent life; it is
a revolutionary idea.  We have become so accustomed to eating for
pleasure that it takes the shock of seeing hungry people to change our
viewpoint.
(unfinished)


       Outline
the gourmet society
abundance of cookbooks
heresy to buck trends--too sensitive
fighting apple pie
part of luxury lifestyle
relation to overeating-- eating when not hungry
gourmet backpacking
Advertising
eating as celebration--Thanksgiving
siege of Leningrad
early instincts--food as survival
dieting or exercise allow one to keep eating
anorexia: symbol of food as rejection or loss of control
Parallels to alcohol--continuing to eat when full
not talking about food quality--organic food can also be a symbol
the same food can be sustenance or symbol--only the eater knows which
reverence for food
Connections with art, music
restaurant
importance of nutrition
Connection to other attitudes-- the disposable society
Attitudes would still be important even if everyone was fed
         



         
         
         To the Unknown God
    The Religion of an Agnostic



     I find myself in the strange process of sorting through
religious beliefs that I once totally rejected, and I'm finding
some gems that I threw out with the garbage.  My
perspective now is different from the time when I readily
accepted the entire Bible as the inspired word of God.  I am
starting from zero and accepting only those beliefs that
satisfy my inner sense of goodness and justice.  This is a
somewhat frightening and lonely stance.  Frightening in that
I presume to question the goodness of God.  Lonely in that
I know of almost no one else in this position; people seem
to either totally accept or reject God.  The only company I
have so far is Dostoyevsky, who questioned the justice of
God and found a faith "out of the crucible of doubt."
     My motivation for searching is similar to that of
most religions:  to find some meaning and direction in the
confusing jumble of life.  My goals are more modest than
those of Christians.  I don't need eternal truths; I just need
something that works.  I am willing to live with unanswered
questions such as the origin of the universe and of God.  I
reject the views of both creationists and evolutionists as
being too simple to explain the universe, and I prefer to
marvel at the incredible universe and forever wonder why
anything exists.
     Christians postulate the goodness of God and tend to
overlook aspects of God that would not be considered good
in humans.  If a nation decided that all its prisoners were
wicked and deserved to die by drowning or burning, most
people would be appalled, even if the guilt of the victims
was certain.  Yet similar actions by God in the Bible don't
disturb Christians.  The Old Testament is full of stories of
hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children
slaughtered because they believed in the wrong god.  (The
only exceptions to total genocide were cases where virgin
women were saved.)  I would like to be able to dismiss all
this as rationalization by the Israelites, claiming that God
was on their side to justify their imperialism and genocide.
But there is so much of it and so many instances of divine
intervention that I have difficulty dismissing all this as
fiction.  Even if we assume that the victims were utterly
wicked, we still have to wonder why infants were killed.
And even if we assume the necessity of the killing, we can
question the use of human swords instead of miraculous
disappearance.
     One solution to this problem is the theory of an
evolutionary concept of God:  the Old Testament describes
God's dealing with primitive people, and the level of religion
improves until it culminates in the Gospel.  There is much
to support this theory, e.g., Isaiah writing about turning
swords into plowshares.  But Jesus says nothing about the
Gospel superseding the Old Testament, even though they
are often in direct contradiction:  eye for an eye vs. turn the
other cheek.
     The judgment and punishment of the wicked is a
constant theme throughout both Old and New Testaments.
This bothers me because I see no necessity for a final
judgment.  The evil is already done and the wicked are
dead.  Why resurrect the wicked to punish them?  I'm
satisfied that Hitler is gone, and I'm more concerned with
stopping people like him rather than fretting over his escape
from punishment.  I also see no justice in punishment when
a person's behavior is mostly a result of environment rather
than conscious choice.  If a child is raised by brutal parents
who beat him and teach him to steal, lie, and hate people,
would we not expect the child to behave badly?  Yet both
God and society condemn and punish such a person, when
quarantine and rehabilitation would be more appropriate
and effective.
     The reason I'm concerned with the concept of God is
that it directly affects how I live my life and treat other
people.  If I believe in a God who demands rigid obedience
and destroys those who disobey, I will probably treat people
in the same way.  History is full of atrocities committed by
people who were convinced that they were right and God
would help them destroy those who were wrong.  Religion
is not innocuous.  It is a handy excuse for people who want
to justify their actions, and it gives righteous dignity to
hatred for people such as Jews, gays, and Communists.
     So much for the negative.  The gem amidst all this is the
Gospel concept of loving and accepting oneself and others
unconditionally.  I have proven in myself that this works,
even for an agnostic.  It has given me peace and meaning in
my life, which traditional religion and philosophy have
failed to do.  I look at the beauty of the world and have a
subliminal feeling of some benevolent force in the universe.
So I will continue my quest.  If God is accurately described
in the Bible, I will respect that power, be grateful for the
autonomy to reject it, and be willing to suffer the
consequences.  But I have a vague feeling that God might
really be better than the image presented by Christians and
the Bible.


    3/84





  Toilet Tanks and Democracy



     One of the wonders of technology is found in your bathroom.  The
toilet tank is a example of one of the most revolutionary ideas in
technology: feedback.  To see this idea in action, take the cover off
the toilet tank.  Don't worry, this part of the
device is quite clean.  Watch what happens after you flush.  The drop
in the water level lowers a float, which is connected to a valve that
opens to supply fresh water.  The water level rises until the float
rises high enough to shut off the water.
     The beauty of this simple system is that it will always fill the
tank to the same level, regardless of how fast the water flows.  This
is the basic idea behind feedback systems: a sensor controls a source
of power.  Other examples in the home are thermostats that control
furnaces, water heaters, and refrigerators.  In all of these, the
source of power can be quite irregular without affecting the final
result.  For example, a furnace may be clogged with dust so that it
puts out less heat than normal.  The thermostat compensates for this
defect by simply turning on the furnace for longer periods of time;
the room temperature stays constant.
     Feedback systems are used extensively because they work so well.
There is a float in the carburetor of your car that works like the
toilet tank to keep the gasoline level constant.  The concept of
feedback has revolutionized electronics.  High-fidelity amplifiers
were not possible before feedback was discovered.  Ordinary amplifiers
have large amounts of distortion; what you get out is different sound
from what you put in. When feedback is added to an imperfect
amplifier, the distorted output is compared with the input and the
amplifier is corrected to produce a nearly distortion-free output.
The essence of the feedback concept is achieving near-perfection from
imperfection.
     Democracy is a feedback system:  the people who are affected by
the government control the government.  Our familiarity with democracy
tends to dull our sense of its revolutionary nature.  What seems
obvious now was earlier seen as a radical and dangerous idea.   The
conventional view was that a special person or group of people should
decide what was best for the masses.  It was inconceivable that
ignorant, uneducated peasants could govern themselves.  So their fate
rested uneasily on the wisdom or more often the folly of the rulers.
Even a benevolent monarch could hardly comprehend the needs of all of
the people.  A monarchy was usually a one-way system:  the source of
power was not governed by the recipients of the actions.  In other
words, there was scant feedback from the receiver back to the source.
So the ruler was often guessing about the best way to keep the
starving peasants from revolting.
     Lincoln's words about the government of the people have become so
familiar that we tend to forget that we are the government.  There is
a tendency to revere elected official and entrust matters of
government to them.  We forget that they are our employees since we
pay their salaries.  We have become accustomed to turning over our
governing responsibility to them and they have welcomed the increase
in their autocratic power.  By abdicating our responsibility we have
strayed away from true democracy.
     
     

     
     
     Confessions of a Slow Reader  
     
     
     
     Many years ago I ordered a speedreading course through the 
mail. I felt inadequate because I had spent endless hours getting 
through the abridged version of Tolstoy's War and Peace.  I was 
able to hide my handicap by simply spending more time reading 
than normal people.  I belonged to the class of readers who hear 
the sound of each syllable as they read.  Of course I never moved 
my lips, so my secret was safe.  
     When I received my speedreading course, I eagerly started the 
lessons. I could imagine myself whizzing through Homer's 
Odyssey in one evening.  Perhaps I could finish most of the 
classics and have time left over to read some current best sellers, 
I thought.  The ads for the course told of people who could read 
a whole novel while standing in a bookstore.  So I read the text 
and practiced with the gadget that forced one to read faster.    

     Years later as I was moving, I found the reading course packed 
neatly away at the back of a closet.  I had one last pang of guilt, 
"I really should learn to read faster," then threw it in the trash, 
along with a pile of magazines that I had been meaning to read.       
     I have learned to accept my handicap.  I managed to get through 
school by choosing to study science, which does not demand 
voluminous reading.  Slow reading has probably saved me more 
time than I lost because I have been spared the temptation of 
reading trivia-- the disposable best-sellers that crowd the fronts 
of bookstores.  I have come to realize that I actually enjoy 
reading slowly.  I find myself rereading a well-written phrase, 
savoring the sounds of the words, playing with the images and 
feelings, reveling in one of the cardinal sins of speedreading.    
     Speedreading has its place, of course. It is an efficient tool for 
reading text containing information rather than emotions. If one 
must read the Wall Street Journal or bureaucratic memos, then 
speed is useful.  Perhaps someday we will be able to connect our 
brains directly to computers to transfer this kind of information 
and save ourselves a lot of drudgery.      
     There is more to reading than the transfer of information.  
Reading can be a medium for transmitting thought and feeling from 
the author to the reader.  As with music, the original expression can 
be recreated and can transcend the medium.  This is an incredible 
process, in which we can span centuries and leap across oceans.      
     Some works are not meant for speedreading.  One can speed through 
the words and pass a test on the contents.  But can one really 
experience the work?  Can one listen to a Mozart recording at a 
speed of 45 instead of 33?  Can a person's emotions keep pace 
with the rush of notes or words?  There is no time for tears; the 
pages keep turning, the clock keeps ticking.      
     The greed for more words is consistent with the pace of the jet age.  
We want more, and we want it faster.  We read the newspaper while eating 
breakfast and listening to music and talking.  And yet we never 
fully read or eat or listen or talk.  We never fully taste the food 
or the words.  We try to fill all the empty spaces in our lives with 
activity.  In our frantic chase of the pot of gold, we miss the 
splendor of the rainbow.  Speed is not the essence of life.  
Flying over the Grand Canyon is no substitute for walking down 
through the strata and feeling the eons. There are times when the 
journey means everything, and goals mean nothing.  And there 
are times to stop, and not continue until we have absorbed the 
full richness of our surroundings.       
     I have been able to read a meager sampling of the infinity 
of written words.  But those few books are like old friends who 
have spent many hours with me.  
Steinbeck, Hugo, Dostoyevsky, Thoreau, LeGuin, Saroyan-- 
these have changed my life.  The value of their books is not in 
the information they contain.  Even their truth or error is 
secondary.  Their eternal gift was their ability to share their 
feelings through words.  At my speed, I certainly will not get 
very far, but I fully intend to enjoy the journey.
     





  The Virtue of Crooked Nails



     My experience as a carpenter has taught me the value of
imperfection.  Nails hammered in at an angle hold much better that
nails hammered in straight.  Nails placed exactly in line on a board
are more likely to split the board than nails placed
somewhat unevenly.
     One of the appeals of working with wood is that each piece of
wood is unique.  Part of the challenge is to use the seeming
imperfections to advantage.  A bowed board can form a stronger roof
rafter than a straight board if the bow is upward.  Knots
can be beautiful and have only slight effect on strength if the knot
is in the center of the board.
     Wood is a living, dynamic substance.  It changes with humidity
and temperature.  Coping with these changes is part of the challenge
of carpentry.  If sheets of plywood are nailed to form a wall without
gaps between the sheets, the sheets will buckle
when they expand during the first rain.  Take a close look at one of
the drawers in your kitchen.  If it is made well, the bottom piece
will not be fastened to the sides of the drawer.  This allows the
bottom to expand and contract without warping the
drawer.
(unfinished)




Selling Your Soul
The Real Evil of Prostitution
    Sex has something to do with prostitution.  But our
preoccupation with sex as the most cardinal of all sins
obscures more sinister evils.  If sex was a neutral act,
like getting a haircut, it would be an innocuous business
transaction.  You pay your money and get a service in
return.  Many would argue that this is the case, that
prostitution is a victimless crime,  that it involves
consenting adults, that it should be legal.
    What really is evil about prostitution also applies to
haircuts and every other business transaction.  A business
transaction can be beneficial or poisonous depending on
the attitudes held by the two parties.  Here's the
unspoken dialogue during an evil haircut:
     "That's an ripoff price to pay for a 15-minute cut, and I
      had to wait a half hour to get it.  He had better do it
      right."
      "Here's that jerk that always gripes about how I cut his
       hair.  I would love to tell him to get lost, but need the
       damn money."
    Both are losers in this transaction.  The buyer gets
grudging service, a poor haircut, and no satisfaction.
The seller loses a bit of his soul and gains no
satisfaction.  Evil transactions like this permeate much
of society.  Whenever a person thinks that paying money
gives a right to own a person, to force that person's
action, a corrosive act occurs that is as evil as
prostitution.  Slavery is the ultimate example of this
evil.
    When I use the word evil,  I mean that which
eventually diminishes or destroys a person.  This is not
an absolute, nor is there agreement on what things are
detrimental. But neither is the matter completely
arbitrary.  Take for example incest.  The harm of incest
is not immediately apparent, and the ancient Egyptian
royalty practiced it.  But we know that in the long run
incest will destroy people. So the widespread prohibition
against incest is not an arbitrary moral edict.  I call
slavery evil because I believe that it will eventually
destroy both slave and master.
    Sometimes the ill effects of our actions are subtle
and not immediately apparent.  Like DDT that seemed
innocuous at first but many years later proved insidious,
we realize the mistake after the damage is done.  If we
look back at a lifetime of transactions, most of them seem
inconsequential, but they are all part of the web of the
universe; every action is connected to  all other actions
in some small way.
    This connectedness is related to the concept of karma.
Karma is the web that connects every event in the history
of the universe.  Our present actions are influenced by
previous actions of everyone and will affect everyone in
the future.  This is not a rigid predestination.  It is
more like a strong river current.  We can choose to follow
our preset inclinations or we can choose the more
difficult path of purposely acting to benefit the whole
universe.
    The evil karma of money is that it becomes a substitute 
for real connections between people.  Money is the artificial
web that connects all the transactions of the world.  The
danger of money is that it separates people.  When wheat 
is bartered for eggs, the transaction is real.  When money is
the medium, the sources and receivers are separated.  People
tend to lose their awareness of the countless people who
supply their food and other essentials.  These people fool
themselves into thinking that the payment of money is
their only obligation to the sources of their support.
This attitude leads to exploitation of their support
systems.  This method seems to work, but not forever.  The
web of karma connects both ways.  It eventually reflects
 back from exploited to exploiter.
    So you have a choice.  You can live with an awareness
 of the infinite connections between people, or you can pay
 your money, thinking you are getting the real thing.


1-29-00

 

 Zen Agnostic


    If I had to fill out a survey with a line for
religion, I would probably put in zen agnostic, for lack
of any better label for my current lack of organized
belief.  I certainly don't believe in the Christian God or
any of the alternative ones, and have a disdain for
organized belief in general.  I prefer to wonder forever
why anything exists.
    But agnostics are made, not born.  My path to
disbelief started with belief.  I was converted to
Christianity at ten, and was attracted by the orderliness
of the system.  As long as one believed in the teachings
of the church,  there was unity and order in the universe.
I joined the Seventh-day Adventist church, which was the
one true church, since all the others had fallen by the
wayside by adopting the Sunday worship of the Catholic
church.  Of course the Jews also worshiped on Saturday,
but they were mistaken because they rejected the Messiah.
Adventists were distinguished from the general public
because there were strict rules that covered all aspects
of life.  The list of forbidden items included movies,
pork, makeup, jewelry, novels, popular music, dancing,
liquor, cigarettes, and coffee. But I was a true believer and
 these rules did not bother me.
    Ironically the first cracks in my solid belief
structure were caused by education at an Adventist
college. I majored in physics, which forced me to think
rather than simply parrot back the truth out of the book.
I remember my freshman english class, where I had all the
grammar tools for writing, but nothing original to write
about.  I realized that I had been accepting what I had
gotten from the church and teachers without critical
examination.  For example, I had been taught that the
seventh day was the only true day of worship.  But
thinking about the physics of the earth led me to realize
that the seventh day is quite arbitrarily defined by
geography on a round planet.  Once I started questioning,
I started down the path out of the garden of Eden.
    Leaving the security of the church was scary and
exhilarating.  I had nothing to replace my former faith.
I read a lot of philosophy in a vain attempt to find a
substitute system.  I discovered a whole world of popular
music.  I remember reading my first real novel, Grapes of
Wrath by John Steinbeck, and how it changed my thinking
and my life.  I remember how guilty I felt as I entered a
movie theater for the first time to see The Graduate, with
Dustin Hoffman and music by Simon and Garfunkel.  I left
the theater with my eyes wide open, having seen good and
evil; I could never return to the Garden.
    Tolstoy wrote that he could no more return to that
from which he had escaped through great suffering than a
flying bird could return to the egg.  Although the door is
forever closed,  I still feel remnants of the former life.
Occasionally while driving lonely  stretches of the
interstate at night, I will tune into a religious program
and sing along with the familiar hymns, the words etched
indelibly in my brain: "There is a fountain filled with
blood, drawn from Emmanuel's veins, and sinners plunge
beneath the flood lose all their guilty stains."  My
intellect is repelled by the awful imagery, but my soul
still wants to plunge beneath the flood.





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Poems by Takashi Yogi


     
     Starry night
     Diamonds of cold light
     Melting with the dawn

     
     11/75   



         
 Greyhound Bus 7515
         
         
         
         No cold.
         No stifling heat.
         Painless.
         
         Wrapped in a steel shell
         we move through life
         feeling nothing.
         
         
         
         11/75
     


     
  For Carol, 31 years old
     
     
     The end of time.
     
     The beginning of freedom from
       the ticking of a billion clocks,
     all the clocks of the world
       stomping in military cadence.
     
     The end of a measure of silver
       for a measure of time.
     Time-- the invisible ruler 
 by which we measure 
 our meager lives--
       no longer enslaves us.
     
     Smash all the clocks.
     Let our pulsing hearts be rhythm enough   
       for our lives.
     Slow in sleep and 
       racing in fear and love--
     Unlike a billion other hearts.
     
     Be no more a grain of sand 
       in the hourglass of time,
       moving between birth and the grave.
     Time is a fiction--
     You are immortal.
     
    
     
     1/76        




     
     
     Pain of a wound almost healed
       now felt anew
     
     Warm, gentle rain 
       falls on the dusty ground
     
     
     1/78         




     
   Oak Creek Nursing Home
 (Eyes that were Once Young)
     
     
     They see me as I step into the room
     
     The eyes of a many-headed creature
       turning in unison.
     
     Eyes that see me at infinity--
       far out of hope's grasp
     
     But still they reach out
     
     Their emptiness sucking at my soul,
       devouring my youth.
     
     
     
     
     9/79
     




 The Last Pelican



       Gliding effortlessly
       Majestic motion without movement
       Wingtips almost touching the molten-jade sea
       Climbing silently with slow, powerful strokes
       Then the dive! Wings folded just before the
         splash.

       It gazed at me with sage face.
       Wisdom distilled from eons of
       survival.

         "Remember well what you have just seen;
 it will never be seen again.
         For I am the last--
 you have destroyed all the others.
         Learn from our dying that all life is one--
 we live or die together."

       The pelican unfurled its wings and flew out
         to merge with
         the timeless sea.



       9/79




   
   Driven by the winds of life past
   
   I chose not where I sailed
   
   Often cast on rocky shores
     or becalmed in mid-ocean
   
   Cursing those who set my course.
   
   
   
   But now I will steer my own destiny
   
   Tacking against the wind
     or running before it
   
   Secure in raging tempest or calm
   
   I dance with wind and waves.
   
   
   9/79, 7/85
     





     
   The Unknown Soldier
     
     
     
     You press the trigger
       the man disappears.
     One less enemy soldierDU
       so far away that you
       never saw his face
       never knew who he was.
     
     Did he like chocolate ice cream?
     Was he married?
     Maybe he enjoyed playing the saxophone 
       and was an expert restorer of old
     clocks.
     What made him laugh?
     Who were his friends?
     Could you have been his friend?
     Do you care that you have killed
       someone you didn't know?
     
     
     10/79
     


     
     
     Eyes often wet with sadness or joy
     
     Eyes with wrinkles on the edges
       yet wide with childlike wonder
     
     Flashing with anger
       or probing the dark recesses of my soul
     
     Eyes that see beauty in worthless rocks
     
     Eyes that make me feel my own blindness
     
     
     10/79
     
     




     
     Beauty and joy
       the spirit of humanity
       captured on canvas
     
     Hung on walls built with blood-splattered gold
     
     
     The thunderous organ swell
       fills the majestic cathedral 
       with glorious music
     
     Masking ancient echoes of weeping peasants
     
     
     
     I will not pay the hidden price
     
     Give me rather the sound 
       of crude pipes played by work-worn hands,
       the laughing faces of children
     
     Honest art, untainted and free.
     
     
     10/79     



Sather Tower


     Symbol of a man--
       built by men in honor of a man.

     Noble
     Massive
     Stable and enduring

     The perfection is marred by words
       roughly painted on the white stone.
       "A womon was raped here.  Fight back."


     We are angry.

Please calm down and look at
the problem rationally.
We are doing everything we can.
There have been only 3.2 rapes
per ten thousand here--
well below the national average.

     We will fight back.

Why don't you use the proper channels?
There are bulletin boards--
Why do you deface our buildings?

     We will not be ignored.

Please don't shout.
Do it neatly.
Use proper English.
Dress more modestly.

     You can whitewash our words,
     but you cannot cover our anger.
     Anger that is strong enough to
     destroy this tower.
     An avalanche of anger that you
     cannot ignore.



     10/79




     
     Fragment of dreams
     
     Apparitions of night fleeing from
       my frantic grasping.
     
     Come back!
     
     Let me feel the pieces again 
       before they fade forever.
     
     The elusive smiles,
       the terrors seen only at night.
     
     Come back!
     
     But the window mist is fading in the 
       warm morning light.
     
     
     
     3/80
     
    



   
   Just once more
   
   Just one more nickel
   
   Pull the crank
     and listen for
     the sweet clatter of coins.
   
   Silence
     only the faint echo of the good times
     when life overflowed.
   
   Why complain?
     I still get enough to keep playing.
     Someday I'll get it.
   
   Do I really believe that?  No.
   I should quit this stupid game.
   
   One more nickel and I'll leave.
   
   
   3/80
     


     
     
     alone
     quiet
     me
     
     wind
     leaves
     solitude
     
     shattered
     loneliness
     numb
     
     sun
     ripples
     life
     
     see 
     touch
     alive
     
     Rebirth
     
     
     4/80
     





         Eulogy for Pharaoh's Army
     
     "And the waters returned, and
     covered the chariots, and the
     horsemen, and all the host of
     Pharaoh that came into the sea
     after them; there remained not so
     much as one of them.  But the
     children of Israel walked upon dry
     land in the midst of the sea; and
     the waters were a wall unto them on
     their right hand, and on their
     left.  Thus the Lord saved Israel
     that day out of the hand of the
     Egyptians; and Israel saw the
     Egyptians dead upon the sea shore."
  Exodus 14:28-30
     
     
Weep, O women of Egypt
Drown your sorrows in tears
Your firstborn sons lie buried
Your husbands lie beneath the Red Sea

Curse Pharaoh for your sorrow
Curse him who defied Jehovah 
   and brought the plagues upon you
Curse in vain the unfeeling heavens,
   deaf to your wailing

You who bear the painful harvest of arrogance
You who are the mothers and lovers of soldiers
Weep for the glories of battle





     
     Trapped in a world of words
     groping for the primeval feelings
     that came before words--
     the groans, the grunts of our animal existence  
     
  rage  loneliness  condescension  joy
     
     Feelings filtered through the intellect
     until all the raw essence is gone
     
  lust  courage  exuberance
     
     Touching with gloved hands
     shielded from the slime and thorns
     of uncivil instincts
     
  malice  love  fear  ecstasy
     
     Bound by symbols
     that are our path and prison
     
  jealousy  awe
     
     Oh, to wander in the wild meadows of pure feeling
     to trade gladly all the words
     for silence and a touch
     
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