Buddha Rocks

We planted this stone statue of the Buddha under our American Cranberry Viburnum and placed some other large rocks found on our property nearby. Our friend Deb gave us a Daphne we planted near the statue to do dubious battle with the redwood roots, and over time other wind and bird-planted plants have taken hold.

With every passing year, the Buddha and the stones seem more rooted here. Moss is taking hold on some of the stones. Save for a little watering and very occasional weeding, we mostly leave the little ecosystem to the whims of nature.

The other day I was taking pictures of the statue and stones and was reminded of my story Statues from my collection of contemporary dharma tales Buddha In A Teacup. Here is that story.


“You know, of course,” says Reginald, gazing out the kitchen window at the sitting Buddha beside the little pond in Kristen’s garden, “statues of the Buddha are the antitheses of the fundamental teachings of Buddha.”

“Nonsense.” Kristen half-smiles and half-frowns at her old friend. “Nowhere is it written that Buddha was anti-statue.”

“It is certainly implied.” Reginald scowls imperiously as torrential rain batters the house. “Concretizing the metaphor is a cognitive attachment to illusion.”

Kristen and Reginald are members of a small circle of highly intellectual Buddhists. She is sixty, he is fifty-nine – she a widow, he twice divorced. They are friends not lovers.

“I don’t agree.” Kristen lifts the lid of her teapot to assess the scent of the steeping oolong. “Needs another minute.”

“As a matter of historical fact,” Reginald continues disdainfully, “there were no statues of Buddha until several generations after his death.” He clears his throat to foreshadow the importance of his next proclamation. “His original adherents, it is quite apparent, knew better than those lesser minds who came after.”

“Pish tosh,” says Kristen, pouring their tea. “I find statues of Buddha encouraging and thought provoking.”

“You would.” Reginald rolls his eyes. “You’re stuck in a concept of form. Spaciousness versus emptiness.”

Versus?” She reddens. “So you must be stuck in polemics.”

He scowls. “Just imagine your garden without that chunk of cement littering your ferns. Or is it too frighteningly natural without your bits of manufactured junk?”

“Imagine practice without ideas,” she retorts, her head throbbing. “Imagine your mind free of dogma. Imagine no judgment.”

“That statue is your ego.” He smirks complacently. “You’re just afraid of your non-self.”

She sighs. “I wish you wouldn’t resort to attacking me. I don’t mind if you disagree with my ideas, but when you…”

“But we are ideas,” he proclaims with a shout. “We are tangles of competing thought constructs vying for supremacy.”

“And our souls?” Kristen’s enormous gray tabby, Elvis, jumps onto her lap and butts his head against her breasts. “Are they thought constructs?”

 “The idea of the soul is a very minor thought form.” Reginald waves dismissively. “A mental statue, if you will. An idealized form. A wish fulfillment. An impediment to the experience of our innate emptiness, of our being emptiness.”

“This body,” she muses, weary of their conversation, “is a temporary coagulation of molecules meant for nothing, and only accidentally capable of self-replication?”

“Something like.” He gulps down his tea. “Shall we go? Movie starts in fifteen minutes.”

“Think I’ll pass.” She fakes a majestic yawn. “Feeling suddenly exhausted and hopeless.”

“Mad at me?” He grins triumphantly. “Nothing personal. I just happen to believe that statues are infantile, primitive obfuscations of the higher realms of thought.”

She nods. “Nothing personal.”

The storm abates in the late afternoon. Kristen and Elvis go out to inspect the garden and breathe the rain-washed air. While her cat has a drink from the pond, Kristen stands before the gray stone statue of the placid, closed-eyed Buddha.

“I love your form,” she says to him. “You inspire me to sit up straight and to seek balance. And to be patient.”

A red leaf from the overhanging Japanese maple tumbles down and lands on the statue where the fingertips of the right hand touch the fingertips of the left and are held against the stomach at the navel.

Kristen, connected to everything, witnesses this reply.


Buddha In A Teacup paperback

Buddha In A Teacup Apple Audio Book

Buddha In A Teacup Apple e-book

Buddha In A Teacup Audible Audio Book


Audi Memory

An Audi drove by. I knew it was an Audi by the trademark symbol of the four interlocking rings. Every time I see an Audi I am reminded of an evening in San Francisco twenty-five years ago when I emerged from a fancy restaurant in an upscale part of the city and was hailed by a beautiful woman in her forties wearing a stylish uniform and matching cap that gave her the appearance of a Lufthansa stewardess.

This woman and another attractive woman wearing the same kind of uniform and cap were standing next to two shiny new Audi sedans and offering likely passersby test drives of these snazzy cars.

I’m sure she hailed me because I had just emerged from a restaurant where it cost a good deal of money for a glass of wine and a paltry appetizer, though I had no such money. What I did have was a friend with a wealthy partner who had just treated me to a feast that cost more than I spent on groceries in three months. The Audi woman would not have known at first glance that I was a pauper, nor would she have guessed I had yet to accrue enough money to pay my rent that month, let alone buy an expensive car.

My friend and his partner were lingering in the restaurant foyer conversing with another couple, so I inquired of the lovely sales woman, “Do you sell Audis by day, too?”

She laughed and said, “No. By day I’m a movie star. This Audi gig is just for a couple weeks to coincide with the new models coming out.”

“Do you get a commission if you precipitate a sale?”

She nodded. “I’m not doing this for the hourly. Believe me.”

I said I believed her.

Having assessed my totality and realizing I would not be buying an Audi any time soon, she nonetheless asked pleasantly. “So what do you do by day?”

“I’m a writer and a musician,” I said, imagining her in more comfortable garb dancing her blues away.

She made a cross with her index fingers and held it up between us, and not entirely in jest.

“I thought I recognized in you a fellow artist,” I said, guessing writer actor singer dancer.

“Not anymore,” she said, uncrossing her fingers.

“May you sell a hundred Audis,” I said, bowing to her.

“May I sell three,” she said, returning my bow. “And then these two weeks won’t be a total bust.”


Whatever For short piano improv


Appointed Time

(I copied this parable from Kim by Rudyard Kipling, with a few minor changes for the sake of clarity. Kipling got the story from the Jataka, a vast collection of stories detailing some of the myriad incarnations of Buddha.)

Long and long ago, an elephant was captured for a time by the king’s hunters and, ere he broke free, beringed with a grievous leg-iron. This he strove to remove with hate and frenzy in his heart, and hurrying up and down the forests, besought his brother-elephants to wrench it asunder. One by one, with their strong trunks, they tried and failed. At last they gave it as their opinion that the ring was not to be broken by any bestial power.

And in a thicket, newborn, wet with the moisture of birth, lay a day-old calf of the herd whose mother had died. The fettered elephant, forgetting his own agony, said: “If I do not help this suckling it will perish under our feet.” So he stood above the young thing, making his legs buttresses against the uneasy moving herd; and he begged milk of a virtuous cow, and the calf throve, and the ringed elephant was the calf’s guide and defense. 

Now the days of an elephant are thirty-five years to his full strength, and through thirty-five Rains the ringed elephant befriended the younger, and all the while the fetter ate into the flesh. 

Then one day the young elephant saw the half-buried iron, and turning to the elder said: “What is this?”

“It is even my sorrow,” said he who had befriended him.

Then that other put out his trunk and in the twinkling of an eyelash abolished the ring, saying, “The appointed time has come.”

So the virtuous elephant who had waited temperately and done kind acts was relieved, at the appointed time, by the very calf who he had turned aside to cherish, for the elephant was Ananda, and the Calf that broke the ring was none other than Buddha himself.”


Just Love


Memories of Ireland

My friend Max recently sent me an excerpt from his journal written when he and his wife Kate were sojourning in Ireland some years ago. Reading about Ireland as Max describes life there brought to mind the few things I remember about the four days I spent in Ireland with my parents and siblings 56 years ago.

Little did I suspect at the time that this would be my only visit to Ireland in my life, and also my only trip to Europe. It was the summer of 1966. I was sixteen and had one more year of high school to endure. My father was going to attend a psychiatric conference in Edinburgh, and spending a few days in Ireland was how our month in Europe began – my father, mother, older sister Kathy, younger brother Steve, et moi.

Near Death

Our trans-Atlantic flight landed at Shannon Airport where we piled into a much-too-small-for-five-people rental car, and with my father at the wheel we drove off in the general direction of Dublin. In a large town along the way, my father turned the wrong way onto a one-way road where two lanes of cars fast approached us. Blessedly, this moment of terror ended without injury or death when the approaching cars slowed to a stop and waited for us to get off the road.

Two Redheads

We came to a small village awash in sunlight with almost no one about. We had somehow gotten off the main road and were lost. This was not unusual. My father, who thought he knew everything, often got us lost. He parked the car and we went in search of a place to eat. We found a small café, sparsely furnished with white walls, a few tables, and a high counter. There were no menus and nothing to indicate what kind of food, if any, was sold there. We were the only customers.

Two affable redheaded men, obviously brothers, came out from the kitchen and we asked if they served lunch. They exchanged amused looks and said they could make us some sandwiches and tea. We sat down, and after a fairly long wait, they served us hard dry buns, a bit of ham, no condiments, and a pot of strong black tea, which was helpful in breaking down the rock-hard buns.

At meal’s end, the minimal bill paid, my father asked what the tipping rate in Ireland was, and one of the redheads replied with a twinkle in his eyes, “Well first you try to get out without paying, and if you can’t do that, leave whatever you like.”

The Beach Boys

Several times I searched around on the car radio and on the clock radio in our hotel room in Dublin and found The Beach Boys playing simultaneously on several stations. The Irish, it seems, loved The Beach Boys.

Dublin Hotel

Our dining table in the old hotel where we stayed in Dublin was ornate and heavy and stood in the center of the small dining room. Our waiter for two suppers was a middle-aged man with little hair, friendly yet serious, and a thorough professional. He prefaced each meal by chatting with us, asking a question or two and responding to our answers with, “Lovely,” and “Now isn’t that grand?” His face was etched with deep lines and he had sad eyes.

I noticed some people about my age at the bar drinking beer, so I asked my parents if I could have a beer. I was sixteen and had never had alcohol, though both my parents were heavy drinkers.

My father inquired of our waiter, “What is the drinking age in Ireland?”

Our waiter looked around the table at each of us, pointed to my brother Steve and asked, “How old is this one?”

“He’s eleven,” said my mother.

The waiter nodded sagely and said, “That’s the drinkin’ age.”


What You Do In Ireland piano solo


Reading Ruby & Spear

I just finished reading my novel Ruby & Spear, which was published in 1996. The novel, ostensibly about basketball, is set in San Francisco and Oakland in the years just prior to the dot-com digital revolution, before cell phones and social media arrived and took over the world. If anyone ever makes a movie of this book (someone with a vivid imagination and a fabulous sense of humor) they’ll want to preface the film with a screen graphic with 1994 writ large.

I have only read Ruby & Spear one other time since it was published, and that was twelve years ago when I read the novel aloud to make the audio book. So what prompted me to read Ruby & Spear again after all these years? A mystery. I was hunting for books on my shelves to donate to the annual library book sale, took down Ruby & Spear, and began to read.

At first I felt I was doing something wrong, as if reading this book was forbidden to me. How strange to feel my own creation was verboten. Nevertheless, I was immediately hooked, the writing fluid and poetic and funny and largely unfamiliar to me, and though I knew the plot of the novel, I’d forgotten most of the details, forgotten the book is a realistic fantasy, very much a love story, much more about relationships than basketball.

The audio edition, which I loved making (so many juicy roles to play!), is an 8.5 hours listen, whereas reading the book to myself took about four hours. Given the extraordinary pace at which events unfold in the book, the audio-book length seems ideal. Reading the book in four hours felt like being swept along by a torrent – an epic poem punctuated by intriguing dialogue.

About a third of the way through the novel, I burst into tears, overwhelmed by the realization that this book was written for people like me who have struggled throughout our lives to overcome the sense of having done something wrong and inexcusable by choosing the lives we chose for ourselves. Ruby & Spear is a grand encouragement to be brave and honest and true to one’s self, despite inner and outer opposition to doing so.

I cried several more times while reading the book, and cried a little about the book being taken out of print by the publisher on the day it was published, which meant my lovely novel essentially disappeared at the moment of its birth. Fortunately, used paperback copies abound and Ruby & Spear lives on in that way and as an audio book and e-book. (links below)

I found the New York Times review online, the mini-review that ran two weeks after the book was stifled by the publisher, and it is clear the reviewer missed most of the fun by assuming the book was supposed to be entirely realistic, which it obviously is not, though the dialogue and scenes within the fanciful tale are wonderfully real-seeming.

And my biggest cry came when I finished the book and had a revelation I’d never had before, which is that Ruby & Spear and Inside Moves and Oasis Tales of the Conjuror and all my stories and books are deeply concerned with bridging the chasms between men and women and people of different colors.

Reading Ruby & Spear at this moment in my life was a powerfully reaffirming experience for me – a message I wrote to myself to be read twenty-seven years later!


Ruby & Spear used paperbacks

Ruby & Spear Apple Audio Book

Ruby & Spear Apple E-book

Ruby & Spear Audible Audio Book

Ruby & Spear Kindle E-book


Mendocino Winter Pictures

The year is 2022 and we’re having an odd winter in Mendocino California. I say this based on my sixteen winters here and from talking to folks who have been wintering here for much longer than I.

We had lots of much-needed rain in October and November, a little rain in December, none in January, and none so far in February, with no rain in sight, which means we could be in for an extremely dry spring and summer, with many wells running dry and high fire danger.

I have suggested to several people, including a member of the local water board, that a good deep reservoir of a few acres on the hill where the high school sits would be full now from the early rains and would be a boon via gravity to the town in summer, but my idea is apparently not financially feasible.

Aside from insufficient rain, we have had no days of freezing temperatures a mile from the coast where we live, and very few days in the 30s. Still it has been continuously cold, so if one is in the sun at noon, one is warm, but in the adjacent shade, one is cold. This lack of deep cold is causing many plants and insects to behave in ways we don’t usually see around here including blackberry bushes trying to blossom in January and a mosquito visiting my nose in February.

Ganesh in winter

Our statue of Ganesh was carved by an artist in Bali from white stone and is bone white in midsummer when the sun’s rays have cleansed him. By midwinter he has been painted artfully by the elements. Ganesh is called the Remover of Obstacles and I pray to him frequently in this regard.

In summer this same bird might sit on this same branch and we would not see her. But in winter, the leaves gone, she is beautifully revealed.

Every day we walk by these two dogs, and every day the black dog barks at us until one of us says, “Hello. It’s okay.” However, when I aimed my little camera to capture an image of the canines in their winter vests, the black dog began to bark menacingly and his usually blasé companion joined him in rushing to confront the nosy photographer who was glad for the intervening fence.

This is our view on our walk down Little Lake Road on a February morning, the local humans enjoying the sunshine while simultaneously praying for rain. The water delivery trucks have begun coming and going again on Little Lake Road, which does not bode well for the months ahead in terms of water.

When my brain quiets down and I’m not stuck somewhere in the past or worrying abut the future, we’re having a lovely winter.


Rain piano solo


Are Ravens Smart?

We live on the fringes of a redwood forest at the end of a

little lane where there are many ravens. For the most part,

we love the ravens, love seeing them flying through the

forest and across the sky, love coming upon them on our

walks. When they pillage our apple trees before the apples

are ripe enough for human consumption, we don’t love

them so much, nor do we appreciate them unearthing

the potato pieces shortly after I plant those spud chunks.

Oh well. Small price to pay for the company of the ravens.

Because we have so many ravens about, people who come to

visit often inform me that ravens are highly intelligent, which

I’m sure they are. However, this popular human assumption

about ravens implies other birds are not as smart as ravens,

so I decided to ask some local birds what they thought about

the human idea that ravens are especially intelligent.

The hummingbird opined, “Can ravens fly backwards?

No. Can they penetrate flowers with their tongues and

pollinate lemon trees? No. Can they fly even half as fast

as a hummingbird or hover in the air for minutes at a time?

No. We wonder what constitutes intelligence?”

The pelican retorted, “Ravens intelligent? Clever opportunists

at best. They cannot swim. They cannot fold their wings to

make of their bodies missiles for diving into the water to catch

fish. Nor can they glide in great lines of their kind in the troughs

of waves, hardly needing to flap their wings except once in a great

while. And when they come to the beach, they hang out with gulls,

not with pelicans, which speaks volumes.”

The sparrow gave me a dubious look and said, “Ravens are

evil. They search for our nests and eat our eggs and babies.

If that’s intelligence, who needs it? Can they sustain

themselves on seeds and little insects they find in the bushes

and on the ground? Negative. Do they sing pretty songs?

No, they caw incessantly and obnoxiously.”

The hawk weighed in with, “Ravens are bullies and thieves,

and they are supremely jealous of hawks, as well they should be.

Our eyesight is legendary, our hunting prowess unrivaled,

and we do not squawk, but sing beautiful warnings and

omens to those wise enough to listen to us. Hawks do not,

as a rule, like ravens, and vice-versa.”

Finally I asked Murray, the raven who hangs out on the north side

of our house, what he thinks of the idea that ravens are especially

intelligent. He thought for a moment and said, “The inability of

humans to realize the vast intelligence of all living things… or I

should say, that modern humans have forgotten the vast intelligence

of all living things, is the cause of most of the world’s woes. Are

ravens intelligent? Of course we are, though I’ve known some

pretty dumb ravens, believe you me. Are we more intelligent

than other birds and animals? Not even a little. If I had to pick

Most Intelligent Bird, I’d go with owls. But that’s just me.

Are ravens messengers of the spirit realm? Of course we are.

But so are the other birds. So are all living things.

We wonder why humans forgot this, forgot that they, too,

are messengers from the spirit realm.”


Don’t miss Todd’s two new little movies The Monster Part One and The Monster Part Two on Youtube