this is the rain that came as grace

I'll dig in,

into my days, having come here to live, not to visit. Grey is the price 

of neighboring with eagles, of knowing
a mountain's vast presence, seen or unseen.

-Denise Levertov

"You're as stubborn as I am!" yelled a woman in an electric blue rain jacket, coming down the trail. We laughed and replied, "We are!" We thought we would be the only ones in Sutro Forest this morning, and for the most part, we were, except for this one woman, whose spirit (and resolve) was not unlike ours. We had parked the car and walked up just a few steps when we encountered the first demarcation of caution tape, wound haphazardly around two trees. "CAUTION. DO NOT ENTER" read the tape, blocking off the path, weakly urging you to turn around. Crys and I looked at each other, shrugged, and kept going without any debate, holding up the caution tape for one another as we slid underneath and into the forest. The caution was lost on us, mainly because we assumed that what might be a slippery inconvenience for most would be a private haven for us. And we're stubborn. I was adamant about hiking this morning, rain or shine, so we crossed at least three more of these barriers. At one point Crys peeled a slimy wet sheet of paper off my shoulder that said "Area closed. Do not enter." I must have swiped it as I ducked beneath the tape. We laughed and kept going.

The ground was muddy of course, reddish like terracotta. The logs were smooth and slick, cylinders perfectly shaped like musket barrels, rounded and dark and shiny. Not too far from the trailhead, a fallen tree lay, swathed in vine branches that hugged the trunk like a hundred serpentine limbs. The eucalyptus, we assumed, had been knocked over by the wind from the storm last week, whose intensity of the wind and water shook up the earth and the trees, compensating, like a long-lost lover, for its absence this year. Extreme begets extreme. The fallen trunk had split open, and now soggy with rainwater, the innards of the bark glowed a pale orange. From faraway, we could smell it. Crys bent down for a deeper whiff. "It smells like a candle," she said. Funny isn't it, how we try to bring wilderness into our homes instead of going out to it. The replica becomes the first point of contact, our access to the original: we first experience, if it can be called that at all, nature in a convenient, bottled and condensed form, as a reminiscence, a fragment, a purified remnant. Less wild, more domestic.

Sutro Forest, is of course, merely a remnant, a hundred-year-old, 80-acre forest first planted by Adolf Sutro, the remainder of the 1100 acres of eucalyptus trees that used to cover the western side of the city. Sutro Forest is strange and magical because of its location, an island of wilderness surrounded by an ocean of urbanity: asphalt, Victorian houses, cars parked parallel, and perpendicular streets around its perimeter, no buffer, really, between the wilderness and the city. But wander beyond the houses and up into the hills, and you will find yourself wandering not lonely as a cloud, but wandering through a cloud, in the majestic canopy of fog that hangs over the entire hill, the midair suspension of water droplets that enshrouds San Francisco even in the summer months, the dense thicket of vapor compacted into the spaces between trees, exhaling its breath through every turn of the city.

That Sutro Forest rests in the city's fog belt, wrapped up in a low-level cloud, creates a lush ecosystem that fosters abundant understory growth: mosses, lichens, ivy everywhere, Himalayan blackberry bushes, funguses growing like flecks of dandruff on the bare wet logs. Cloud forests, of which Sutro is one of the very few in the world, are also called "elfin forests," which, in a very impressionistic way, makes sense: the brush is so electrifyingly green, so layered with its histories of secrets, its dark crevices, its burrows, its passageways; there must be mystical creatures hiding out here somewhere.

A cloud forest is a self-sustaining ecosystem, a micro-climate whose life depends on its own watershed: the tree leaves first absorb moisture from the fog, then drip fog condensation down onto the ground, watering the plants and life below it. As you walk through Sutro forest, you are traversing multiple spheres, stratified into layers. The growth at your feet, new grasses and ivies, has just sprung up from the rain, among lithe branches and prehistoric ferns, dark and waxy. This field of green recalls a cushy, verdant Irish knoll; it is the color of life, the color of a blessed land, the color of sufficiency. Beyond the path on which you tread, you can hardly see any ground, for green overflows. It is as if the forest has finally awakened, and it awakens you with its abundant life. Your eyes move upward along the rigid trunks of the eucalyptus trees, and now you are in the clouds, which keep you here, rooted in this place. There is too much to see, and yet, the fog precludes your seeing beyond the forest. The fog is its own presence, not a disappearance of the things beyond it. This is a good thing because the forest contains itself, and it contains you in it. It holds all your attention today.

Today it is raining, streams from the sky creating small streams on the ground. Everyone is hidden away inside their homes, but we have chosen the forest as our hiding place. We have chosen to dwell here this morning. In the city, the rain is made out to be an inconvenience, a hindrance, a barrier between you and the next place you need to go or the errand you need to run. But for a farmer or a gardener, rain is life, as it has been forever, a cleansing of the earth as well as a revival.

The other night, Crys, expressing her gratitude for the rain, said, "Our food comes from the earth, and the earth needs rain to live. So rain is life. We can't exist without it." This is the truth spoken by a woman who spends her mornings kneeling in the dirt, sifting out rocks and fallen fruit so that the soil is rich and pure, ready for new seeds. It would help us all to listen to those who move with the earth, who tend to its wildness. It would, perhaps, be salve to our wounds, to be more attentive to the life that springs from ground and reaches up into the fog, for in it, we see light and grace. We would know so surely that rain is, in fact, a way of grace, a gift that precedes our existence, and a gift upon which our existence depends. And if we understood that it was grace being poured down upon us, we would dance expectantly, pleading for rain, and dance again when it came. For when it rains, the ground, the flora, the eucalyptus trees, the mushrooms, and the grasses are as they should be, joyful, exuberant, teeming with life. Growing upward, shooting sprouts, revealing new leaves. We, walking through Sutro Forest on this rainy day, rejoiced with the rain, celebrated the way it resuscitates, resurrects, revives. Among us there was no silence, though we did not speak or clamor; life, even what was invisible, even what we could not see or grasp or understand, was singing a hymn, saying over and over again, amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn’t. It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don’t know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash. I wish I had paid more attention to it. My list of regrets may seem unusual, but who can know that they are, really. This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.  
-Marilynne Robinson, Gilead 


this is the back of the world

12/13 Bobo Birthday Boil

In high school, after we got our drivers' licenses and could finally, with the obsessive exercise of newfound freedom that defines adolescence, roam the Bay Area beyond our parents' houses, we used to go this secret spot we called "the back of the world," a lookout in San Carlos that opened up into a spectacular view of the entire Bay Area. The entrance to the lookout was unassuming: merely a passageway between two houses in a very average-looking suburban neighborhood, albeit, a little higher up in the hills than most. But you had to know where to look to find the back of the world. After someone took you once (and it was, like any local spot, shared through word of mouth and random late-night visits), you made sure to remember how to get there and what the houses on either side of it looked like, and then, when you wanted to impress someone, or stay out past curfew, you'd go, re-discovering it, again and again. For its beauty and its mystery, it never got old.

12/13 Bobo Birthday Boil

The back of the world. We found another little corner of it in Geoff Evans' Bolinas backyard this past Saturday, where I celebrated my birthday with a gathering of friends, a crab boil, a bonfire, and a whole lot of food spread across (Geoff's hand-built) 32-foot-long table (the wood was found swept up on the shores below). I wanted my friends to experience the Bolinas that I have gotten to know over the past few months, the protective and somewhat mysterious little coastal town with its shark-infested waters and artsy denizens. You only get a first impression once, that overwhelming deluge of sensation in which you're taking in so many new sights and smells and sounds, not separately, most of the time, but as a superabundant stream, and you're seeing the glacial tip of a place, not yet understanding its full spirit, or essence. Even the tip of a glacier, when you see it for the first time, is so magnificent and extraordinary and incomprehensible (Where did it come from? How did it get there?) that there is enough to take in for now. Plumbing the depths will come later.

12/13 Bobo Birthday Boil

The back of the world. This implies a place hidden beyond. You must find it; it is not in the path of tourists and dabblers. It is not public; it does not make itself known. The front is easy to see; the back is somewhere else. The back is intimate and familiar once you arrive, tucked away from the noise and buzz of swarm out there. It was serendipity, then, a privilege really, to gather in a backyard, a private and personal corner of the world whose view of the Bolinas Lagoon, where it siphons into the Pacific Ocean. has been passed through generations; to hide away together for an afternoon; to be among friends, instead of a crowd of strangers; to be in someone's home, but still feel uncontained, free; to eat the food our hands had made, off a table and among ceramics and vases created by Geoff; to see out into the wild, where the infinite tides move in and out, and the strands of light, the first sun after days of rain and storm are purer and stronger, full of spirit like freshly cut rope, more incandescent than before. Re-emergence demands glory, after all.

12/13 Bobo Birthday Boil

12/13 Bobo Birthday Boil

12/13 Bobo Birthday Boil

12/13 Bobo Birthday Boil

12/13 Bobo Birthday Boil

Thanks friends for celebrating with me. Audrey, Evan, Jaron, Paige, Janette, Viv, Phil, Jared, Nnena, Channing, Andrew, Andrew, Justin, Emily, Jess, JJ, Josh, Jackie, Jacob, Matt, Carlos, Steven, Zack, Roxi, Ryan, Shannon, Sam, MM.

Thanks Ben, for orchestrating the crab boil. You are the man all men strive to be.

Thanks Geoff, for your generosity and kindness, for your artistry, which was woven through every crevice of your house and backyard. You inspire and bless all of us.

Thanks JD, Rob, Crystal, Jia Min, Jonathan, for your extra culinary and emotional support. You are the best friends a lady could ask for.

12/13 Bobo Birthday Boil


"I have fallen in love with a painting. Though that phrase doesn't seem to suffice, not really—rather's it that I have been drawn into the orbit of a painting, have allowed myself to be pulled into its sphere by casual attraction deepening to something more compelling. I have felt the energy and life of the painting's will; I have been held there, instructed. And the overall effect, the result of looking and looking into its brimming surface as long as I could look, is love, by which I mean a sense of tenderness toward experience, of being held within an intimacy with the things of the world."

-Mark Doty, Still Life with Oysters and Lemon


"There is no such thing as the life we deserve, just like there is no such thing as a prophylactic against regret. There is the life we live. There is the series of crises we do our best to muddle through. No sacrifice now will make the future effortless or the pain we will inevitably cause easier for others to forgive ... But we all do our best, and we hurt some people and get hurt by others and what's terrible as it is wonderful is that we endure, we endure and find ways of looking back and, if we are able to manage the trick of perspective, if we are able to hold on to our memories ... we find a way for it to have made sense."

-Gideon Lewis-Kraus, A Sense of Direction
"Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life. All it needs from you is that you take care not to trample on it. And that was such a quiet day, rain on the roof, rain against the windows, and everyone grateful, since it seems we never do have quite enough rain. At times like that I might not care particularly whether people are listening to whatever I have to say, because I know what their thoughts are. Then if some stranger comes in, that very same peace can seem like somnolence and like dull habit, because that is how you're afraid it seems to her."

-Marilynne Robinson, Gilead


this is a place: west marin & west county

I wrote this piece for Edition Local as a story about a very special region in Northern California, home to the first group of makers and craftspeople we are featuring. It was an extremely difficult piece to write; it is difficult to do justice to a place so complex, rich, and beautiful, but I am happy with the first few strands of a narrative that I was able to put forth. As with any place, this story continues on, and I hope to revisit this place and its story often.

Read the original piece here

Photo by Daniel Dent for Edition Local

We begin here, at the edge of the Western frontier, where water meets the land below mountains and forests, where tectonic plates slide along a fracture in the earth. To the northwest of San Francisco, along the coast, West Marin and West Sonoma County sit on a triangular peninsula that reaches into the Pacific Ocean. From the coastal communities of Muir Beach and Jenner, to the tree-filled enclaves of Inverness and the peaks of Mount Tamalpais, to the small towns of Mill Valley, Sebastopol, and Petaluma, this mostly rural region is a convergence of some of the grandest Californian landscapes, home to artists, poets, philosophers, tradespeople, farmers, fishermen, musicians, laborers, and more.

The story of this place originates with the Coast Miwok Indians, who over the course of thirty centuries, lived as hunters and gatherers in both permanent villages and temporary settlements scattered throughout Marin and the southern Sonoma counties. They consisted of three major groups: the Kookooeko of Marin County, the Olamentko of Bodega Bay, and the Lekahtewutko near Petaluma. The Coast Miwok were the first people (hoi-ah’-ko), and it is from them that we receive a legacy of histories and mythologies, a vital understanding about what came before and what still remains. Among the things they left behind: broken shells, bones, spirits, names of places: Olampoli, Tamál, Oléma.

As the populations have changed, as people have settled here and thrived, there is still a deep sense of living with the land in harmony, as the Coast Miwok Indians did, instead of on it, indifferent to its complexities, in conflict with its wildness. To exist at the intersection of several intricate and interwoven ecosystems is to live, literally, on the edge: on the edges between redwood forests and salt marshes, between coastal shrubs and Pacific winds, between montane chaparrals and open woodlands. These blurred edges are everywhere: in the wilderness, in ideologies, in the tensions between art and commerce, between outsiders and natives, between governments and people.

Over the years, this region has become known for its preservation of land, environment, ranching, and farming, as well as for its rich architectural and craft history. The Sea Ranch houses, the Farallon Institute, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Point Reyes National Seashore Association, the J.B. Blunk house, Straus Creamery, farmers markets, oyster companies, wineries, and more. Its diverse microclimates, species, and people have drawn pioneers desiring the freedom to live on the fringes as well as those seeking refuge from the city. Like the Coast Miwok, displaced nomads have come to roam, moving with seasons and opportunities. Liberal and libertarian ideologies have abounded here; enclaves, monasteries, and communes have thrived. The surf is thrilling; the untrodden still available.

Nevertheless, despite the richness of the land and its history, jobs are scarce in the region. Ecological preservation, in the face of tourism and fierce encroachments, has required resilience, perseverance, and protest. In turn, the evolution of these counties, shaped by both internal and external forces, has been a story of both protection and accommodation.

Despite gentrification, the land here still possesses a sense of unearthed mystery and welcomes recluses, itinerants, and pilgrims. Because each ecosystem is dense with its own natural populations—each is a world unto itself, and a multiplicity of these hidden worlds exists—, it is still possible to wander and to get lost. One might lose herself, perhaps, and find a mirror in nature instead: in the volatile waters of Dillon beach, in the fog that breathes heavily on the hills around the Nicasio Reservoir, in the still and empty shores of Marshall, in the precariousness of the craggy coastlines that end at Bodega Bay. And it is here, in the local community’s preservation of the land as a refuge and a hiding place, that trails and beaches have become secret codes and handshakes, whispered among those who dwell here.

The individuals whose lives we bring to the first edition of Edition Local are varied: some are artists and craftspeople; others are musicians, teachers, carpenters, weavers, community organizers, bird experts, and historians. Some are transplants; others were born and raised here. But in common, they share this region of Northern California, West Marin and West Sonoma counties, and inevitably, they each have a profound and unique relationship with the land. They live with wilderness, which is the wilderness cultivated inside their homes and the wilderness beyond. As Gary Snyder once wrote, “wildness is not just the ‘preservation of the world,’ it is the world.” Through the things they make and the ideas they profess, a distinct sense of these places begins to emerge.


this is the rain that came

“But hope deferred is still hope.”

Grief has found its way into my community this year, a downpour of tragedy. People keep getting taken away from us. How do we continually find ourselves amidst other people’s suffering? And then their grief becomes our own, because grief is not finite, it cannot be contained within one body. If you love deeply, grief flows into you heedlessly, from friend to friend, from lover to lover, down through histories, passed between eulogies and families and hymns. You see it, you hear it, you feel it. It shakes you down. Grief has little mercy.

If our tears could water the ground, the California drought might be less severe.

But right now it is raining outside, finally, after we waited so long for water to come down. Finally the skies acquiesced and opened. Finally there is life being brought out of the ground after so much dryness, so strange an endless summer, though the rain is finicky and intermittent—it comes and goes. I was afraid our entire state was turning into a desert. Fig season ran too long, all the way into October. I, a California child, who loathes New England winters and the severity of seasonal transitions, did not want an endless summer, because the lack of change scared me.

I was once diagnosed with adjustment disorder, which means coping with major life changes can be—or at least once was—difficult for me, but I’ve spent the past several years fending off the fear of change. I have to move with change, let the waves just take me like a sea otter, and I do—I keep changing, I keep letting change happen, I keep rejoicing in change happening. Lack of change, after all, is a kind of paralysis, like stagnant water that breeds bacteria. If not paralysis, then ignorance for sure. We measure seasons by their changes—rise over run—the steeper the slope, the more intense the seasonality. In California, the change is slight. This year, only minor fluctuations. We fluctuated less than is normal or healthy. The dry and sunny days carried on, so we enjoyed them. We continued to go to the beach and to the mountains. We kept sitting on picnic blankets at Dolores Park and eating ice cream at Humphrey Slocombe. We reveled in the easiness of it all. But the farmers were struggling. Crops were dying. Growth stopped. Thirst everywhere.

Even under the pretense of an endless summer, which I suppose can make one feel immortal, invincible, and unchangeable, we cannot help ourselves. Things will change. The cilantro I tried to grow in my house died with the intense heat. So did the Thai basil, though it was spry and lively for a little while. I can only stand to talk about the death of herbs. If these fragile herbs should remind us of anything, if my black thumb should bring about any insight or wisdom, it is that everything comes to an end, and there is a limit to how long we can ignore our mortality—yes, our mortality, which feels not like an inconvenience but a robbery, a violation, not a fact. We are obsessed with fighting our mortality by removing all signs of time and aging: botox for wrinkles, plastic surgery for sagging skin. San Franciscans are a particular breed of ageless city-dwellers, foolishly basking in a hopelessly implausible sunshine of eternal youth.

I’m talking about weather and plants because it is difficult to talk about everything else. I am writing about common things in hopes that I will have some way of writing about the abstract and the tragic. But perhaps when we talk about death and suffering and pain and love we are talking about common things after all… Death is as common a thing as weather and plants, and yet…

And yet, because of death, we find ourselves in a profusion of darkness that neither weather nor dead houseplant can foretell. From endless summer we move into endless night, and it is there, in that grief, that the limit of language reveals itself. Words fall short. Their power seems insufficient, and I, whose words are the way I help myself, cannot help my grieving friends with my words. I can hardly allay their grief. I feel weak and powerless. Writing is so difficult right now. My words cannot change the course of things; I cannot turn over their grief. Though grief is right and necessary and cannot be retracted, nor should it be, grief is hard to bear, whether you are bearing it, baring it, or merely bearing witness. Grief is living in pain. Grief is a wound. But the heart will move as it moves, in its own time. Let grief be, I know that.

And I am helpless because the grief I know is only tangential. I sit at the fringes of other people’s sadnesses. I grieve around the edges, for what the people I love have lost and cannot be recovered. They are hurting so deeply, so I grieve alongside. I grieve for the seasons. I grieve the change that has to happen, that has happened, that will happen: this is grief that had to be after that first shalom was broken; the grief that will come again (its recurrence is no less disarming or painful); the grief of absence, which often feels more violating than any presence. The grief that is not proof of our weakness, but a revelation of our humanity. I grieve for our human-ness, for our humanity.

I try to grieve without fear. But fear consumes me, mostly in my sleep. 

With the words I have, I eulogize the living. This is what I do best. I will continue to celebrate what I have here, I will continue to celebrate the people I love. I will continue to hold their grief inside me, and then cast their cares heavenwards. I will invite your grief into me. These words keep resounding in my ears: “So joy can be joy and sorrow can be sorrow, with neither of them casting either light or shadow on the other.” Let your joy be joy and your sorrow be sorrow. Joy and sorrow do exist, together and separately. I do not think we can have one without the other; but I do think they do make one another more powerful and resonant, without inflating or diminishing. In spite of sorrow, because of joy, let us continue on, however we may.

“But my heart and body are crying out, come back, come back. Be a circle, touching my circle on the plane of Nature. But I know this is impossible. I know that the thing I want is exactly the thing I can never get. The old life, the jokes, the drinks, the arguments, the lovemaking, the tiny, heartbreaking commonplace … It is a part of the past. And the past is the past and that is what time means, and time itself is one more name for death, and Heaven itself is a state where ‘the former things have passed away.’”
-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

“We fly forgotten as a dream, certainly, leaving the forgetful world behind us to trample and mar and misplace everything we have ever cared for. That is just the way of it, and it is remarkable.”
-Marilynne Robinson, Gilead


“Time” is a word. “Love” is a word.
Between them are words and between them
an entrance. I pray to be
entranced, starting right now again I do.
I am old enough to understand
being willing
to go on is a great gift.

-Liz Waldner, "The Sovereignty and the Goodness of God, Together with the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed"


"No doubt some other young man, who takes his heart's impressions more prudently, who has already learned how to love not ardently but just lukewarmly, whose thoughts, though correct, are too reasonable (and therefore cheap) for his age, such a young man, I say, would avoid what happened to my young man, but in certain cases, really, it is more honorable to yield to some passion, however unwise, if it springs from great love, than not to yield to it at all ... I am glad that at such a moment my young man turned out to be not so reasonable: the time will come for an intelligent man to be reasonable, but if at such an exceptional moment there is no love to be found in a young man's heart, then when will it come?"

-Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov


this is a newsletter

I'm starting a periodic newsletter. I'll be sending the first one out in the next few days.

An experiment in writing, dissemination, relations. With the added bonus of absurdity, strangeness, and things on the edge of your consciousness.

Sign up here.


there is a prevenient grace...

I write these things not as new insights—for many poets, theologians, and philosophers have expounded on these truths much more incisively, eloquently, and deeply than I will ever—but as reminders for myself, and maybe others. Despite the daily evidence of these truths, I am forgetful and easily distracted! For the times that I can remember them I count as blessings, and for the moments in which I can act on them, I count as divine miracles, a bestowing of a supernatural grace.

New Camaldoli Hermitage, 10/16

Love and grace precede us.

By which I mean that the existence and efficacy of love and grace are not contingent on our actions and words, and not even on our ability to receive them. Their power, in fact, lies in their prevenience, in our inability to merit either. We receive them nonetheless.

We forget this too often because in our everyday lives, we are tethered to a very human, which means limited, conception of justice, elementary cognitive systems of what is right and wrong. We miss the point completely when we define ourselves by our weaknesses but also when we overestimate our strengths. We are blind when we are mired in darkness, but also when we over-expose ourselves to false and artificial light…

The systems and institutions we live in have their own measures of justice, of course, doling out rewards and punishments deemed worthy and necessary based on subjective measures of goodness and evil. What a fair punishment is in another part of the world may seem like an atrocity here, and what standards of freedom we uphold here may seem like a misstep in justice elsewhere. Beyond our governments, our cultures also shape our sense of propriety, and for the most part, we must live under these laws, spoken and unspoken, that organize the places that we live in. But for this very reason, it is easy to believe that we are incapable of harm, or evil, or darkness, when we stay within the bounds of the laws set upon us, whether visibly or invisibly. We forget—it’s easier to—that, as complex creatures with even more complex admixtures of good and evil in us, we are not merely one or the other but inevitably possessors of both. Sometimes it is impossible for us to distinguish one from the other. That we do not suffer the punishments of human society or profess visible signs of madness does not mean we are exempt from darkness; that we do not receive the praise of men does not mean we have no goodness in our hearts either.

For when you witness, in all its agony and dissonance and mystery, the unsettling heterogeny of the human soul—whether you see the moments of light in a swath of darkness, or echoes of light receding into the shadows—you are not seeing something separate from yourself. You cannot distance yourself from the reality of realities, supposing you are any better or any worse. He is not an aberration, and neither are you.

I am not justifying or rationalizing atrocities. My theodicy is not to condone or ignore evil; I cannot condemn, that is not my place. But I am saying all this because, amidst the sorrow and tragedy and betrayal that our lives are not without, it is much easier to try to make sense of darkness—muddling is futile though—than to seek the light. I am wrestling with questions much too great for my understanding and knowledge, but let me clarify—I am not trying to answer the question of why evil exists, or why people do evil. I am saying, that in what I know to be true, grace was bestowed on us before we knew that we needed it.

The narratives that drive us to do good or wrong are complex, for sure. Give people the benefit of this complexity. Our broken, faltering natures will always be a fact and a mystery. I do not know why we do the things that we do, but I also know, that in the irrational way we are compelled to fuck things up, we are also recipients of an irrational love, and by irrational, I mean, incomprehensible by the human mind, unexposed by reason.

In the face of utter desolation and devastation, when we are in the wilderness of ourselves, perhaps we are not to justify it or make sense of it, or to even come to terms with it, but instead, run towards what we know to be true.

For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion. So great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring afflictions of grief to the children of men.*

I think back to the moments in which someone has been gracious to me—given me something when I felt I deserved nothing. Was it my need or their gift that was the grace? Surely the grace began at its mere intention, at the giving before it was given. The grace was not consecrated because of my need for it. Neither was the grace amplified because I felt diminished, or lessened because I was no longer in need of it (the latter is impossible, I think).

            Forgive them for they know not what they do.**

It is much easier to receive grace than to give it of course, especially when the extension of such—and what is alike: mercy, forgiveness—feels like a betrayal of our selves, the pride of our principles, our precarious sense of justice. We might even feel offended by the possibility of such grace. What’s left of us might be rend asunder. We cling onto what we know; all else is unsafe and dangerous, an affront to our identities, our culture, whom we know ourselves to be.

By our sensibilities and our senselessness, we demand to know exactly what it is that we are forgiving, and whether, by our own calculating conscience, such an offense is worth the forgiveness. Can we risk such a transaction? Often we wait to be distracted from our anger or we force time to dissipate our anger before we will admit to the relevance of grace in our circumstances.

How then do we extend it? Not by our own will, and not by the abilities that we have. We do have to try to extend it though, calling upon what divine help there is. We extend it with both joy and sorrow, I suppose, which I believe, are not in diametrical opposition—for you can be joyful, that in God’s prevenient grace we have an incredible example to follow and a great gift to receive, and you can be sorrowful in the clear-eyed recognition that, in the first place, our truly broken selves require such divine grace to heal.

This happens for reasons that are hidden from us, utterly hidden, for as long as we think they must proceed from what has come before, our guilt or our deserving, rather than coming to us from a future that God in his freedom offers us … 
The future always finds us changed. Each of them, joy and loss, exists in its own right and must be recognized for what it is. Sorrow is very real, and loss feels very final to us. Life on earth is difficult and grave, and marvelous.  
Nothing makes sense until we understand that experience does not accumulate like money, or memory, or like years and frailties. Instead, it is presented to us by a God who is not under any obligation to the past except in His eternal, freely given constancy. When I say that much the greater part of our existence is unknowable by us because it rests with God, who is unknowable, I acknowledge His grace in allowing us to feel that we know any slightest part of it. Therefore, we have no way to reconcile its elements because they are what we are given out of no necessity at all except God’s grace in sustaining us as creatures we can recognize as ourselves.  
So joy can be joy and sorrow can be sorrow, with neither of them casting either light or shadow on the other.*** 
We are broken, but we do not have to be crestfallen, for that brokenness is not all there is. Instead, there is hope, and that hope is manifest in the prevenience of the abundant grace and love which I have seen and felt, and I hope you do too.

So have compassion. Have mercy. It is much easier to not than it is to live by these things, but we must persevere. I think it a travesty—a perversion, really—of the density and beauty of these truths, to reduce them to mere bolsters of identity and self-worth, or to decide by our own human and arbitrary means, what merits compassion and what does not. Certainly, having compassion and mercy can result in the betterment of society and of humankind as a whole, and yet we cannot depend on these measures to justify our actions, and we cannot depend on ourselves to make better what will break over and over again.

Redemption comes from outside us. To see redemption is to first see darkness, followed by a miraculous light… I do believe that our lives, as brief as they may be, as much tragedy and sorrow as they do bear, are gifts, spans of time bestowed on us in which we know love and love more, in which we receive grace and give it, in which the character of God becomes more apparent and more astounding as we parse through our own joys and sorrows. His love, his mercy, his grace, his compassion are endless and infinite, and these are the things to which our lives must cleave. I have no authority in writing all this, but there is a beginning, a greater author by whom we must, if we will live hopefully and joyfully, carry out all the unconditional love and compassion we can muster. There is a root in a Creator, and He is the reason and the first manifestation, the highest principle.

But what is it which gives a man immortality, what except the love which abides?****

* Lamentations 3:31-33
** Luke 23:34
*** Marilynne Robinson, Lila
**** Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love


Francis Bacon. Three Studies of the Male Back, 1970 

"The way I try to bring appearance about makes one question all the time what appearance is at all. The longer you work, the more the mystery deepens of what appearance is, or how can what is called appearance be made in another medium. And it needs a sort of moment of magic to coagulate colour and form so that it gets the equivalent of appearance, the appearance that you see at any moment, because so-called appearance is only riveted for one moment as that appearance. In a second you may blink your eyes or turn your head slightly, and you look again and the appearance has changed. I mean, appearance is like a continuously floating thing."

-Francis Bacon, in conversation with David Sylvester

What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocksis it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have . . .

-Theodore Roethke, "In a Dark Time"


"Like that bewildered savage who has picked up a strange object . . . perhaps something thrown up by the sea, perhaps disinterred from the sands or dropped from the heavens . . . an object intricate in its convolutions, which shines first with a dull glow and then with a bright shaft of light . . . who keeps turning it over and over in his hands in an effort to find some way of putting it to use, seeking some humble function for it, which is within his limited grasp, never conceiving a higher purpose . . "

-Aleksandr Solzenitsyn, "Beauty Will Save the World"

"About my interests: I don't know if I have any, unless the morbid desire to own a sixteen-millimeter camera and make experimental movies can be so classified. Otherwise, I love to eat and drinkit's my melancholy conviction that I've scarcely ever had enough to eat (this is because it's impossible to eat enough if you're worried about the next meal)and I love to argue with people who do not disagree with me too profoundly, and I love to laugh. I do not like bohemia, or bohemians, I do not like people whose principal aim is pleasure, and I do not like people who are earnest about anything. I don't like people who like me because I'm a Negro; neither do I like people who find in the same accident grounds for contempt. I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one's own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright. I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done. I want to be an honest man and a good writer."

-James Baldwin, "Autobiographical Notes"


this is the beyond

Nicasio Reservoir, 10/21

On the drive to Point Reyes Station from San Francisco, after ten miles on Lucas Valley Road, you’ll curve around the Nicasio Reservoir, a shallow basin of glassy water with fingers that reach into the surrounding crevices of Marin's dry and grassy hills. You’ll be focused on making your way around each bend with enough speed and balance, and the scenery will move—appear and then disappear—as you move through it. Even so, you will inevitably be struck by how still the water is, a mirrored expanse upon which Jesus surely could have tread. The sky above, the wisps of fog contrails that crown the peaks below, are doubled—made more glorious—in the water, a reflection that seems to be a landscape unto itself, not just a cheapened reproduction of the thing above, but the expansion of an Edenic vision. The light makes it so. For reflections and shadows, which are transient, changing footprints, marked and then unmarked, may slip away from us—they are not things or objects to which we can give a proper name—, but they are, nevertheless, the vital signs of a prelapsarian light cast from up above. They give shape and sense to an otherwise formless darkness.

I have been noticing these reflections and shadows everywhere. As I glean and then tell the stories of people who are making objects and books and vessels to eat off of, I suppose I am merely shifting and shaping and refracting light to ensure that the reflection I put forth is as rich a thing as the person herself, and that the reflection might expose what the eye itself might have trouble seeing otherwise, a small, evanescent glimpse at the richness and the complexity of being human.

Lately, I have been going into strangers’ houses and asking them to tell me about their lives, which takes courage on my part as well as theirs—and I have been impressed by earnestness, openness, hospitality. Most of what I do is listen, which I like to do, and then I try to see, like not just look at what’s in front of me—the surfaces—but really see what is on the peripheries, and what little gems I might find if I just push aside a log, or brush off some sand—an obsidian arrowhead or a sand dollar or a piece of smooth glass tumbled over and over again in crashing waves.

It is a privilege to see the different textures of light, the multiplicity of hues and tones and colors, which you know is an infinite range if you’ve driven from the west coast to the east and seen the way light casts itself differently in every landscape. White looks different in every place you go. It is a privilege to be given the time and space to hear the voice of a person’s consciousness—this will never be dreary or boring for me, ever. To be in wonderment, to be in awe—I thank God for those things, for, through an exchange of words, finding myself in new terrains, exploring perspectives not owed to me, but gifted graciously.

In listening to other people's stories, and trying to know them more, I have a clearer sense of similarity and difference, both of which imply relations, or perhaps, a relationship. The profound realization that we are similar, or that we are different, is a recognition at the very least, that we are related in some way. To see similarity in a person is to know that this person is not irrelevant to you; to see difference, is to realize that you can't make generalizations about humanity as a whole—which you (and I) do not understand, beyond a few fundamental things, like our collective need for love and respect and kindness. Both similarity and difference require the space—and grace—of empathy; they demand acceptance that goes beyond acknowledgment. To know a person, of course, is to break through a surface, render the glass asunder, I suppose, and to know that impressions might be mere shadows or reflections—sometimes distorted, overexposed, twisted. The resonance of the ocean changes as you go down into its depths, as you pass through the sunlight zone, into the twilight zone, the midnight zone, and then finally, into the abyss. In those deepest of depths—I have not explored—life exists we might not know otherwise. Knowing those depths at all, requires that we admit we might not have known anything at all.

Most days, we shuffle through a long, dark tunnel from home to work to the places we know that are bounded in ways that make us feel safe and comfortable. It is hard to see beyond those walls, and it is easy to repeat those shuffling motions numbly, without any sense of obligation to an outside world, a wilderness beyond ourselves that we can’t fathom, or bear to try. But in the very little I know—in the very few years I’ve lived—I know that people gather a sense of meaning about their lives—a sense of resilient joy, which I mean to be a profound acceptance of their own existence—from moments in which they see beyond themselves. Do we not thirst for the transcendent? We want to see beyond tangible things, beyond what is merely physical. Despite our beliefs or unbeliefs, the seeking for the beyond, for the farther, for what lies outside of our humanly grasp, seems to be the most redeeming—and at times the most damning—quality of our consciousness. Like water refusing to be held, our understanding of what we cannot see seems to slip out from under us, again and again. Sometimes we can’t be bothered. Most of the time we are distracted by the shiny baubles that dangle around our heads like a child’s mobile toy, a temporary pacifier—but no maternal comfort.

Knowing this, I am relieved—elated, in fact—to live in this particular Bay Area landscape, in which so many different terrains and ecosystems—lakes, mountains, dry deserts, marshes, deep forests, grasslands—converge and make themselves known to us, if we will pay attention. Because there is no way you can, when you meet these mountains, and lakes, and oceans, ignore their grandeur, their infinity, their mystery, their glimpses of this truth that we are minute and small and that much else exists beyond our lives as we know it. They the rolling hills, they the bodies of water, they the great sequoias are mere synecdoches, parts of some greater whole. They are nature’s figures of speech that implore us to acknowledge the existence of secrets we will never know and crevices we will never explore. There are ways moving and being in the wild that we will never understand. The humility—the unknowingness—in the face of all that, is comforting, I think, breathlessly so; I am relieved to relinquish a need to know it all, to know how it all plays out.


"Wabi-sabi is an aesthetic appreciation of the evanescence of life. The luxuriant tree of summer is now only withered branches under a winter sky. All that remains of a splendid mansion is a crumbled foundation overgrown with weeds and moss. Wabi-sabi images force us to contemplate our own mortality, and they evoke an existential loneliness and tender sadness."

-Leonard Koren


this is how it's been

“Unemployment” hasn’t really panned out as I thought it would. That’s not a completely accurate statement, as I had no foresight—or plan—as to how this particular time of my life would develop. But I am working everyday—harder than I did at my last job, probably because I don’t have the privilege of a false structure I can cling to—going into an office, getting paid a regular salary, employment by a known company—when I am passing minutes mindlessly.

There was no particular thing I wanted to happen, except to live by the day, as long as I could with the means I have, in pursuit of what I believe is good and meaningful: faith, knowledge, community, relationships.

I spent two weeks in Asia—first in Taiwan, and then in Hong Kong, celebrating the birthdays of both my grandmothers. They are paragons of elegant aging.

All my life, both oceans and languages have separated me from my grandparents. I have always had the sense that I do not really know them, and they do not really know me. All I know of them is their love for me, a kind of blind and ridiculous love that I will not understand until I am a grandparent, perhaps. I hear about my grandparents from my parents, mostly. For the majority of my life, they have been abstract ideas, with temporary stints of embodiment when I visit them, or when they used to visit me. A person incarnate, after so much time as an idea, is mostly distressing, incongruous—this is the bane of an active imagination, I suppose, or a mind biased towards perfection. Mostly, I was saddened by the diminishing of time, the realization of Shakespearean tropes—minutes hastening to their end, Time’s scythe mowing everything down, swift and ravaging—mere poetry until manifest IRL, which is blindness, deafness, exhaustion, old skin, wrinkles, inertia, pain, diminishing appetites. A week after I waved goodbye to my grandmother at the airport—a moment that surprised me with its pain and gravitas—, she was knocked over by a reckless and truculent man. She fell down and broke her clavicle. I saw her on Facetime last night, her voice hoarse, her neck swathed in gauze.

After that short trip to Asia, I came back here, to the States, glad to return to a place where I feel a deep sense of belonging, but was also wary of that sense, which I’ve believed, by experience, can be a mirage. I constantly carry with me the doom of impending loss. I stayed for a short while, and then I drove down south, down highway 1, and sojourned at a monastery for a few nights. Quiet beauty. Silence I craved. A taste of what it is like to feel, not lonely, but alone—a distinction I am still fleshing out. A woman in the wilderness feels a sense of danger—paranoia caused by abrupt and creeping noises—with which a man will never truly be able to empathize—unless you live in a war zone, maybe, or Fruitvale (I kid).

These days, I am traveling up and down the coast—to Bolinas, Pt. Reyes, Inverness—interviewing people, writing their stories. In talking with artists and makers, I have garnered a sense that, while the economics and circumstances of life may often be difficult, the pursuit of art—not its desired outcomes or its profits, but the tumbling after—has been straightforward. A choice backed up by repetitive acts, commitments made to oneself that are enacted everyday, every week, every month. The repetition lurches you forward. 

The endeavor to create is no fruitful task—it is first and foremost an endeavor, not an accomplishment. The accomplishment seems to be a byproduct, sometimes a turn of luck—recognition by people with a certain authority and acclaim, serendipity, the collision of fortunate circumstances. But I am more convinced than ever, that we, a people, were created to do work, and to work hard at what we do, whatever that is. Work looks different for everyone, but idleness and recreation, which are so glorified, in our idealization of rogues and wild men and hippies, the itinerant, the world traveler, the pilgrim who walks El Camino and then across Siberia (perhaps these are forms of work too, I know not, and will not assume they are not, but these occupations are idealized because we believe them to be the antitheses of work) seem to me, to be robbing ourselves of our own endowments: of talents, of gifts, of the ways we could possibly give ourselves back to this world. Dolce far niente­—the sweetness of doing nothing—doesn’t make sense to me, unless it’s in the context of resting, a Sabbath. Call me a Puritan—I am of the America founded on a Protestant work ethic—and I’ll tell you that I can hardly live up to that Puritanism, because working hard is not easy—most days I want to give up. 

Philip Lopate wrote a remarkable and highly memorable essay called “Against Joie De Vivre”—which I love for its grumpy truth—we suffer the same kind of nervous discontent, I think—and in it, he makes a point about the fundamental nature of humans—which is to be constantly hungry—at least he is, and I am—and that precludes an idealism that would find perfect richness in every present moment. Keep busy, he says, which I interpret, by way of his passage on depressives that follows, to avoid self-pity, to accept the imperfect distress and anxiety that occasionally riddle our lives—some more than others—, and to swallow the disappointments (I say, mourn them, move on as best as you can). Every day since I’ve quit my last job, I’ve battled idealism and nihilism, both the idolization of joie de vivre and the realization of its frequent senselessness. And after I’ve thought about all this for a moment, I return to where I was—which is, in the middle of some action, some forward motion. I keep walking, keep praying.

More later.

 “You write about yourself because in the long run all man’s problems are the same, his human needs of sustenance and love.”
-Dorothy Day