Sunday, May 25, 2008

Double Yellow Line

The best way to watch David Lynch movies is to watch as many as possible in a series. Essentially, they all tell the same story. Plus, you start to notice recurrent visual metaphors, one of which is a medium-distance take of the double yellow line of a freeway, whizzing very fast below in the darkness. It's in nearly all his movies.

It's iconic, that shot: of the cumulative mythology of the American highway, of forward motion and boundless space, or often in Lynch's case, of transition between worlds or conditions of ordinary and evil (only ordinary. Never really good).

Mt. Tremper is not much more than a narrow spot on a curve of road in the Catskills, somewhere between Phoenicia and Woodstock. This weekend, I rode my motorcycle from here to there, across the state and back again. The Catskill roads are gorgeous--lots of 30 and 40 mph sweeps and bends, but also challenging. I've gotten unaccustomed to vertical curves, tricks of light and strange cambers living so long away from mountainous terrain. The whole first day, I felt kind of disjointed and lurchy, like I did when I first learned to ride, out of synch with everything, and I didn't like it.

The only thing really notable about Mt. Tremper, besides the adorably decrepit and sweetly shoddy Victorian inn I stayed in is the Zen Mountain Monastery--"one of the West's most respected Zen Buddhist monasteries," their web page claims. I suppose it is. The building is pretty enough. I wouldn't know though. The gate was closed because there was a retreat going on.

Apparently, according to their calendar, they were doing stuff like sitting zazen for seven-hour stretches. Yoicks. That is a whole lot of nothing.

Across from the main Monastery building is a stretch of woods and some trails along the creek. It's kind of pretty from a distance--little wooden bridges and such. But keep out signs were posted every ten or twelve feet, admonishments to stay away and keep quiet, because there was Zen going on. WTF kind of zen is that, I asked myself, that designates certain things as zen (the luxury of silence and private property and exclusion), and everything else, the whole noisy, random world, as not zen and therefore forbidden? It kind of pissed me off, so I walked around on their precious paths anyway. There really wasn't much to see. For whatever reason, that little stretch of the the otherwise lovely Esopus Creek is scummy and stagnant. There were a couple of dead trees wrapped in wire cages and then neglected. And one or two human-made structures that looked like sweat lodges for woodchucks--the result, no doubt of some nature encounter thingie workshop. There was something seriously wrong with the earth energy there, in this supposed place of policed zen peace, way out of kilter with the rest of the deep green woods, stone-bubbling creek and gently worn mountains.

So much for zen. I was going for a ride. A really difficult one, to make the connection with the road and myself that had eluded me the entire ride there.

Friends who don't really like motorcycles don't quite get why I ride. But this is why. Because riding is zen--all the zen that the designated Zen place wasn't (but of course, that's zen too, because there isn't anything that isn't). It requires complete concentration, awareness, focus, breath. And the point of focus is that double yellow line.

Everything, especially on twisty mountain roads, depends on that line. Lose connection with it, misjudge your approach to it, cease to follow it, and you can die. Let the fear of dying seize up your mind, and your ride goes all jittery and bad. Focus and timing and breath are everything. You're breathing that line, those curves, aligning body and breath and pulse with the rhythm of the road. Only this, only this.

Comparison of motorcycles to sex is crude and banal. But both have tantric aspects. There have only been one or two times in my life when I've gotten so deeply inside the space that everything bent and transformed around me. When I'm there, on the bike, hitting the curves in perfect breath-rhythm, cornering so deep I'm scraping metal on the road, the motor sounds different--my heartbeat is a thrumming engine. It feels different--narrow band of rubber slick on the road. The world recede, ordinary thoughts are long, long gone.

Finally, finally, I found my lost rhythm again, me, the bike, the twisting road and green mountains one roaring thing---sound and dimension and motion.

Hung out with friends in a peacefully industrial oasis in Kingston, drank fine, fine microbrew, heckled the band (not to their faces. We're much too polite,) chatted about construction projects with the locals, assembled the verbal Rube Goldberg machines in person that we normally only get to do online. Rode back to the Inn on cold dark mountain roads. Walked in expecting to climb the narrow stairs and drift off to sleep reading the bad novel somebody had left lying in the room. But I didn't, because there was a party in the lounge. A young orthodox Jew from Woodstock, beard and little sidelocks and yarmulke and all, was grooving out jazz piano, accompanied by a hippie kid on a doumbek, mesmerizing a crowd of locals.

So instead, I hung out to watch, and got cornered into an odd conversation by the local geriatric hippie woodcarver, who wanted to talk about the modernist writers he'd been reading. Which was great because I love modernist writers, and he's read some good ones: Samuel Beckett and Djuna Barnes. But then he wanted to talk about Anais Nin and Henry Miller and fucking in elevators and blow jobs, and I remembered why I get creeped out by older hippie men. They seem to think, that generation, that it's somehow not only acceptable, but somehow revolutionary, to talk to a woman they've just met that way. Bleah. He, predictably, hit on me. I gently declined, and retired upstairs to my bad novel.

Rode back through rolling country in the yellowgreen sunshine of late spring, hitting every curve in keen rhythm, and following my double yellow line all the way home.

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