Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What Tightens Into

What tightens into survival is already inert;
how safe is it really in its inconspicuous grey?
From far off a far greater hardness warns what is hard,
and the absent hammer is lifted high!

- RM Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus, XII

* * *

I read Rilke as others do the Bible.

* * *

There is a hope that being able to bear one's plight will bring an end to that plight. There is a hope that bearing it in silence will speed its end. There is a hope that putting one's head down will stave off any unwanted attention. There is a hope that to survive without notice, to endure by withdrawing will produce relief from whatever trials beset you. That is the hope. It is an alluring one for by contracting you are made smaller than you otherwise were, less of a target, inconspicuous. And, yes, it works. It works exactly as imagined: you survive, you endure. But no further. That is the extent of its promise and reward.

But time is patient and invariably your survival vanishes in the distant ocean engines of tides endlessly pulling you out to sea.

We make this deal because whatever hurt or pain, or trial or difficulty or fear that stalks us looms larger in our minds than the maw of time. We hold at bay these trials as best we can not noticing that we are holding life at bay as well. We harden into shell, our movements become stiff, our range a fraction of its possibility. 

To tighten into survival is, without question, sometimes necessary in order to see a new day. Yet, the habit of this tightening can linger long after its utility has played out. We forget to release it because we no longer trust the life we are living.

* * *

The anger, vitriol and fear that is sewn into every pocket of the moment we are all living are all signs pointing to other signs: justice, equity, freedom. We take to the streets and the phone lines and social media to express our anger and fear. We tremble with sputtering rage at outrages inflicted upon our ideas of justice, equity and freedom.  Some cower. Some bloviate. Some seek to be calmer heads. Some hold purity tests. Some have quit altogether. It seems a good time to circle wagons, to play defense, to risk less because the future is uncertain.

The future is always uncertain, but now it is uncertain in ways that we could not have imagined a year ago. And this scares us (as it should0. Yet, being frightened isn't enough, nor is rage. These are incomplete responses, inadequate responses to the task set before us. Alone they amount to nothing and change nothing. All either succeeds in doing is making your life smaller, more isolated. To survive on fear, or anger is to compound misery and dislocation.

No, at exactly the moment you wish to withdraw into yourself in order to survive this moment, you lose the thread of what is possible in this moment.

The stanza I quoted above from Rilke is the second stanza in the poem. Here is the first:

Will transformation. Oh be inspired for the flame
in which a Thing disappears and bursts into something else;
the spirit of re-creation which masters this earthly form
loves most the pivoting point where you are no longer yourself.

This, today, right here, at this moment, is the pivoting point. What will you do?

* * *

There is no safety in surviving. It is an absolute keeper on what is possible for your life, for any life. If circumstances are such that that is the only option, then, please do so, but don't forget to let it go when it is no longer needed. Pride makes us cling to it. 

There is no safety in being inconspicuous, of keeping one's head down. You need to see the world as it is, regardless of awful it may be. Left unchecked, what is awful becomes toxic and the only way to check the advance of that toxicity, is to transform yourself from what you've been into what you can yet be. If needs be, will that transformation, dare it into being. Each moment of your life is the pivot point you've been waiting for. Wait no longer. Pivot. Burst into something else. Become.

If you think of time as broken into three sections, past, present and future, it seems to account for how our lives are lived. Those who live in the past are sentimentalists. Those who project themselves into the future miss what is present and those who live in the present, as we are always exhorted to, are promised an equilibrium that no one ever admits to not having. I think there is a fourth element of time. It occupies the space (I see it as a field, as if approaching a cliff) between the present and the future. It is the space where the future is created, brought into being by running towards it. It is the leading edge of an expanding universe, the cliff's drop that ceaselessly extends itself because you run toward it.

This is creation. It is the pivot point between what has been and what can be. It is where the future is written, shaped, brought into being. Inconspicuous souls need not apply. Raging souls will never see it. Only transformation will reveal it for transformation is what brings it into being.

And to transform is to create.

* * *

To endure is to stop creating. It makes small what could have been large enough to hold a life. Life is always seeking more of itself. To live small, pinched in anger or fear, is no way to use the chance, the one chance you have to see what can be made with your life. 

The world of politics and religion and economics is an unsteady place filled with ego and pride and cruelty. The response to it is not to mirror it, but transform it because those worlds are the makeshifts and tantrums of the past. You, my brother, you, my sister, know there is a place where the mastery of your hand can transform what has been into what might yet be. To get there you must let go of safety and trade it for the exhilaration of being transformed. You can use this very moment to run into the field and dare the cliff. I promise you it will respond in kind and dare you to keep at it, for it is nothing without you.

* * *

I wish you well.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Good Luck To

Good luck to the farmer! Good luck to the man who owns this place, the man who works it, the faithful, the virtuous! I can love him, I can revere him, I can envy him. But I have wasted half my life trying to live his life. I wanted to be something that I was not. I even wanted to be a poet and a middle class person at the same time. I wanted to be an artist and a man of fantasy, but I also wanted to be a good man, a man at home. It all went on for a long time, till I knew that a man cannot be both and have both, that I am a nomad and not a farmer, a man who searches and not a man who keeps. A long time I castigated myself before gods and laws which were only idols for me. That was what I did wrong, my anguish, my complicity in the world's pain. I increased the world's pain and anguish by doing violence to myself, by not daring to walk towards my own salvation. The way to salvation leads neither to the left nor the right. It leads into your own heart, and there alone is God, and there alone is peace.

- Hermann Hesse, Wandering

* * *

The violence we do to ourselves is always and in all cases made manifest in how we treat others. When we live a half life, when we live according to expectations that are not our own, when we stand with a foot in each world - the world of our our desires and the world of what we're told our desires should be - we lose the ability to give ourselves entirely to any cause: love, work, play, prayer, whatsoever it may be. This bifurcated existence then always and in all cases means we are less than we might be. This soaks into our relationships with those we encounter, with the natural world, with the metaphysics of our dreaming and cannot be turned aside. It limits the possible.

In this day, at this time, with the fears that are stalking the streets, it is impossible to say how vital, how necessary it is for each of us to choose: poet or farmer, searcher or keeper, artist or burgher. No one is better than the other. It is only that one is true for you and the other false. It may change over time, but what is vital now (what is vital at any time) is that we each know who we are and live according to that impulse. By wronging ourselves, we wrong the world we inhabit. This creates the space for others to tell you who you are, how to think, what to say. It is the opening fear rushes into and once there it poisons without volition. The only growth available is in doubt. A life that doubts itself, that doubts its experience, that doubts facts, or is unmoored by facts, that is reactionary, ready to assume others share the same fears and doubts and hatreds, that is not life at all, but an awful half life. It is how so many of us make our way. We want better, but are stymied by the conflict in our heads: searcher or keeper, believer or not, fearful or loving.

Unless and until we choose, we will never fully know the peace of belonging to our time, our place, with the gifts we have to offer this time and this place.  

* * *

To name a thing is to make it real. A name does more than define something; it encompasses the totality of what ever is named, but just as importantly it implies the named thing's relationships to every other thing, its obverse, which, of course, is the universe. Cheetah is not simply a solitary animal or the species, but its prey, its ecosystem, the desolation of that system by forces that have nothing to do with cheetah and it is also the image it conjures to each who hears its name. A name is an organizing principle. So, what name do you give yourself? others? to this time? this place? How's it working out?

We are given names at birth. We are ascribed traits by others as children. We encounter other types at school, in play, in movies, books, song. We try things on trying to fit in. We pretend. Then it gets late and we must choose a job, a career, a spouse, a home, or none of them, but we must choose. How much of who you are today is exactly what you'd hope to be, thought you'd be? How much of it happened by default? by going along? How much was fought for? insisted upon?

These questions are where you can begin to sort it out for yourself.

If all is well and all that can be done, has been done and distant ocean engines hum in your ears, then well played. If not, then why not?

From RL Stevenson:

You cannot run away from a weakness; you must some time fight it out or perish; and if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?

* * *

What name do you give yourself? What is your organizing principle? You may find that you have been living someone else's life. Your life, the one intended only for you, may be waiting for you to name it, to give yourself to it. Listen for it. And if in the din of the chaos that surrounds you, you hear its call, run toward it.

Much is made of the parallels between 2017 and 1930's Germany. For those who ascribe to the nativist call, such allusions are dismissed as overwrought, inaccurate. For the rest of us, it is all to prescient. America is ill-equipped to respond to demagoguery on our own shores. We rely on institutions and comity and the sense that we are a nation of laws, not men. Such faith is easily exploited by agents of destruction, whose own organizing principle is self and the stoking of chaos for the pleasure of watching things burn. 

This is the time we live in. This is our turn at the wheel.

This is also your chance to know your name, to live according to the totality of that name, not just in its specifics, but in its obverse, which is, of course, the universe. Now is the time to choose. Now is the time to know who you are for the world does not need half men and half women. It needs people who have come alive to the life inside of them, the life that is shared with others. Anything less isn't simply you letting yourself down, but it is also keeping from us, the rest of creation, what you might give to this time, this place.

It is easy for me to imagine someone reading this and using this as justification for harm: it is who I am. No such thing is possible. The desire to do harm is a measure of a half life, a thwarted life: lost, bitter, cowardly.

No, knowing your name, choosing wanderer or farmer, poet or businessman, priest or athiest, always and in all cases makes manifest to the rest of us the integration of one life and its effects with the whole: part and whole in agreement, concert, flowing. I can imagine no better response to these times. 

I, too, spent most of my life trying to live a different life, trying to be something I thought I had to be. But it never worked out, because it could not work out. All the tools were wrong for the job. The thing I am, the name I give myself, was always hidden, an embarrassment to say: artist. Who was I to say such a thing? Until, and at last, I found I could run no further. I am I.

* * *

I wish you well.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

To Communicate Liberally

To communicate liberally; to be useful.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

* * *

This photograph is by Walker Evans. It was taken on the subway in New York City sometime between 1938 and 1941. It shows a blind man playing an accordion: busking. When I first saw this image a few years ago it fell on me like a thunderstorm. Here, in a single image an entire life was held, suspended upon the moment: the surface tension of a subway car, it's uncertain balance as it rocked and teetered on the tracks, the blind man's faith in his ability to stand unaided, his mouth open, singing and the indifference of the man reading the newspaper on the right, and the light, the incandescent light of bare bulbs in a dark place. I tried to imagine the blind man's morning. Was it like every other morning as he dressed and carried his accordion into the subway? Did such things feed him, or was this proud desperation? I peg the guy as Irish. The face, the lighter hair, its curls. Who ever he was, he is long dead. What happened after this picture was taken? Did he have family? Had he always been blind, or was this a late tragedy? Was he loved? When he died, what crossed his mind? All we know is there in the picture taken about 80 years ago. Yet, when I look at this image I cannot help but feel a kinship to this man. It is a reverence for his willingness to stand and sing and keep his balance and not be aware of those who ignore him. He is a sign, a signifier of how lives are reduced by circumstance and chance and its sufferings made indifferent by those who don't count those particular afflictions among their own. He is also what he was: a man who dared. This humbles me. It emboldens me. It tells me to forever rise.

Such a message is sorely needed today.

* * *

Let me be clear: I stand opposed to the Trump administration. I see in it the very real threat of authoritarian fiat and the corrosion of civil society. My position is not based on politics, the mere swing of a pendulum, but on something that supersedes politics: the nihilist glorying in pain inflicted on any who are deemed the other. I have not been able to approach this project with any cohesive thought since this malignancy arrived in the body politic  What in the hell could I say or do that mattered? The project seemed small, vain, completely insufficient to the moment. I was embarrassed by things I've said here: too small a view, parochial, gated. 

I have been lazy and assumed too much for too long. That truths I deemed self-evident were not because I did not tend to them, did not insist upon them, did not fight for them, but cloaked myself in the delusion that the things I valued - openness, dignity, transparency, the arc of the moral universe bending towards justice - were inviolate. By believing this, by failing to bolster and support those values in day in and day out actions (private and public), I have contributed to the threat they are now under. 

So, what is a writer of a small blog to do? Aurelius tells me I am to communicate liberally; to be useful. I will take him at his word.

This project began many years ago and has stumbled forward by shifting focus every now and then. It has been a move from what was personal to what I hoped was universal. The work of each life is to come to know itself without fear. If there is one thing that we might all agree on it is this: fear pervades the public space regardless of who you voted for. Trump's assent was fueled by fear and resentment that others we getting ahead at the cost of the majority. The response to Trump is fueled by the fear of what will happen to civil society as that anger is unleashed on those who oppose it, those who are minorities. Fear has taken on flesh and roams freely and stokes enmity on every side.

This is not a false equivalence. I firmly stand against Trump's fear mongering and the monstrous nature of his ego.  If you are a Red Hat, a Trump believer, there will be little for you here. I will not spend a moment of my life arguing with you. Your revelation will have to come from elsewhere. This project is now devoted to supporting and encouraging those who would resist the desolation of civil society and the rights of minorities. It affirms the truth written out by William Blake that everything that lives is holy, the truth lived out by the Baal Shem Tov that within every object, within every aspect of world we inhabit there is a spark of light and our work is to release it into the surrounding darkness. This includes those who seek to harm us, those, who in their blindness reject the very possibility of light, who will do great harm to others. They, too, retain that spark. 

So, what to do? 

My answer is this: to communicate liberally; to be useful and help those willing to keep fires lit, even when there's nothing left to burn. Perhaps, someday, those blinded by hate will see, but I'd rather concentrate on making sure they feel the heat of the fire at the very least.

We're all accordion players now.

* * *

After the murders on September 11th, 2001, I found myself in a faculty meeting at Columbia College Chicago. The world had shifted off its axis. We were trying to figure out what to say to our students, all of whom were writers, dancers, filmmakers and photographers. My mentor, John Schultz, by then professor emeritus, spoke up and said, "Fuck it. Let's go make art." I found the response to be woefully useless to the matter at hand. Of what use was art in this new world where death rained on innocents because of religious extremism? It smacked of self-satisfied elitism. And it certainly can be read that way, lived that way and so add to the balance of hatred. The reason for this is simple: we use a very shitty definition of art. If all that comes to mind are museums and sculpture parks, graffiti and operas, Moby Dick and the King James Bible, Phillip Glass and Allan Ginsberg, then we have failed miserably to describe what art is and what it is not. Art has nothing to do with galleries, publications, events, or the deadly dull history of galleries and those accepted into the galleries. It is a way of being in the world: engaged, questioning, looking, listening and making use of what is at hand. No paints required. It is solely about engaging with the world as it is and taking a stand.

It is resistance to entropy. It is an answer to the void. It is, by its very nature, courageous: a man or woman insisting that THIS, right here, MATTERS. You can disagree if you like, but you cannot denigrate the life made vulnerable by its acts of meaning, its acts of solidarity to a cause other than itself.

The world shifted again with the election of Donald Trump. Norms we'd taken for granted have been dissolved. The kabuki theater in Washington will have its run, and still the question remains: what can you do in this new world? What will you do?

* * *

Josef Sudek lost his right arm as a young man in WWI. He returned to Prague and was told to beg in the streets. Instead, no longer able to work as a book binder, he immersed himself in his previous hobby: photography. For almost 60 years he documented his city. During WWII, when the Nazis occupied the city he was no longer allowed to walk the streets. In response he spent years photographing the view from his studio windows. When the Communist government erased all personal savings in 1953, he lost what was left of his fortune (he's spent the war years hiring Jewish friends to keep them from the camps). In response he delved deeper into light, trying to give substance to it. He continued to pursue it: aged, one armed, robbed of his wealth, surrounded by a repressive and conspiratorial regime. The photographs he took are beautiful, sublime, but the art he made was the life he lived. Our task is to do the same: to work with what we have and build a life worth having regardless of the forces that sweep across the plain of our time.

It is our job to work fearlessly, to live awake to the light and let nothing and no one say it doesn't exist. Only in this way will the blind know our fires burn. Only in this way will the riders on the subway know our song.

If you'll stay with me, I promise to help you in every way I possibly can.

* * *

May your well run deep.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Muse Don't

The muse don't care what chords you use
The time to burn is yours to choose

- Rivulets, "Ride on, Molina"

* * *

Some things won't leave me alone. This song is one of them.

* * *

The universe doesn't care about your worry. You do, but it doesn't. The whirling, spinning, expanding math of the universe doesn't care about your worry, your hesitation, your sense that things have to be just so before beginning. It doesn't care about redemption or remorse or reinvention. The muse don't care what chords you use, only that you play. The idea that we have to be right, correct, perfect, spot on, worthy is utter bullshit. That thought does more to stymie, stifle and cut you off from the flow of that spinning, unwieldy math than anything else. Life feeds on life. Motion, motion. The more you do, the more is done, right? Arguing with yourself that because your life, the art of your life is mottled, ragged around the edges, sore to the center, not completely formed and you, therefore, are an imperfect vessel misses the point entirely: you are formed in the floods and waterspouts of attempt, essay, dare, uncertainty.

The task each has set before them is to remain willing to move, to act while all is uncertain, to leave security for the dawning next, to get started, to start a fire with nothing left to burn. 

The muse don't care what chord you use.

* * *

As you stand, so you hold within you the possibility of entering into the stream of the mad math, the burgeoning sense of the new, the birthcry of what happens next. It is within you to engage it, to run to the space just ahead of you, outside of your well-worn path and be struck dumb by what you find there: such is the beauty of such daring. No ease, no promises of peace, no money to be made, no pats on the back, no love save for the love of belonging to the world and it to you and seeing, seeing, seeing it as a god might see it, as God might see it, as you, the god within you sees it. 

In dire times, when institutions are failing, our patterns failing, the cure is not to cling to the past, but play the future into being. It is entirely within your capability to form the world, to bend the math, to bring about a life you'd put your name to and so alter the arc of the spinning math for others, who then are dared to do their part as well. Circling back, retrograde dreaming keeps you stuck, keeps you trapped, cedes your freedom to choose to choices already made. Do not wait on moments, do not tend to ceremony. No time will ever ripe.

Of the river's secrets, however, today he saw only one that seized his soul: This water ran on and on, it always ran and yet it always was there, was always and ever the same and yet at every moment new!

* * *

We believe the gods fussy, jealous, hard to please because we are fussy and hard to please. But the flowing math is not anthropomorphic. It is a flowing fire and it seeks fuel. You, my love, are that fuel. The doings of your days are the straw for the fire. This is no bad thing. It allows you a hand in the arc of the math, the river's flow. What you say and do here and now will set the stage for what happens next. What will you have that be? If you stay where promises can be kept just know you've stood on the shore. Is that the inheritance you meant to leave? There is time. There is time. If you can read this there is time for you to enter the stream, to be part of the flow, and even now, even now, even now after all you've lost, suffered or feared, after all of that - whatsoever it may be - you can still add your weight to what happens next. The specifics of your life are simply what brought you here.

The muse don't care what chords you use.

* * *

I wish you well.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

You Cannot Mend

You cannot mend the chromosome, quell the earthquake, or stanch the flood. You cannot atone for dead tyrants' murders, and you alone cannot stop living tyrants.

- Annie Dillard, For The Time Being

* * *

The strength of our weakness is without end.

* * *

We exist in an agreed upon space. All that has been determined as good and meet has been determined long before you arrived. We rise into forms predicated on such agreements. Our ideas about self, marriage, community, work, faith, aspiration, desire are agreements we enter into. It is here we search for, discover or build meaning into our lives.  We, by every decision made or unmade, accumulate by degrees, the life we are now living.  To be an outsider, a rebel, a non-conformist is simply a function of the agreed upon space. It helps define the norm.

This is where the limits of our will meet the vastness of proscribed forms: this far and no further. You cannot mend the chromosome, quell the earthquake or change, by one iota, the forms of religion, politics or money. You are but one in a sea of ones who cannot agree that the sea even exists. What are you going to do? 

W. H. Auden once said, "Poetry makes nothing happen." He's right. It, too, is one of those proscribed forms that very few now bother with. Yet, I'll argue that it is poetry, or something very close to it that does not yet have a name, that makes everything happen. Poetry is pattern, sound, and seeing. Done with some sensitivity to those three things it mirrors the experience of cresting a hill. While you are walking, or hiking, the hill looms in front of you, occupying most everything you see. In those last steps as the hill lowers itself under your feet, what had been unseen now reveals itself and you stand on the edge of the new.

This sensation of emerging into the world, or having it reveal itself to you, is the synapse of creation. What hadn't existed a moment before was now present, a new connection forged between you and the world as it is, not as you've presumed it to be. The key to this revelation are those steps, those acts undertaken to find and meet the world as it reveals itself. The world where you know what happens next, the world of proscription and damnation, of rewards for compliance is the wasteland, the land of the dead who just don't know it yet: the tyrant's schoolyard. The wasteland is where you are trapped by your job, your obligations, where you seethe in your inability to change your circumstances. It is where you die each day instead of once and for all.

The cure, if there is one, is something like poetry. It is pattern - both obvious and latent (ten fingers, ten toes, the slalom curves footsteps make on unmarked paths, Fibonacci, atomic numbers, slant rhymes, breath) - interacting with sight and sound that draws you forward, carries you forward, draws you on to the emergent, unknown territory between what you've experienced and what happens next. Sitting back births the same thing over and over again. This is why you are trapped, stuck, lost. It takes courage, the courage of a poet, to crest the hill in front of you and find the world you haven't been able to imagine.

The problems we face, as a species, are vast and overwhelming. You cannot stanch the coming flood. You can, however, create a way of being in the world, as it is, not as your fantasy wishes or your pastor tells you, that can forge the connection to the next step, and then the next step and the one after that. It is always the same step, but you must take it for nothing can happen until you do. 

Don't worry about looking foolish or failing. That is the judgment of others and of little use. Those worries are part of the closed loop of the wasteland. Take a step, and another. A world you did not know existed will come into view. To walk like this is poetry itself.  To walk like this is to join life's inherent, creative pulse for what comes next.

* * *

The poet Christian Wiman wrote: 

God goes, belonging to every riven thing he's made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why

God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he's made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into a stillness where

God goes belonging. To every riven thing he's made
there is given one shade
shapes exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see

God goes belonging to every riven thing. He's made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows.
apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing he's made.

* * *

I wish you well.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Dark Night

The dark night of the soul comes just before revelation. When everything is lost and all seems darkness, then comes new life and all that is needed.

- Joseph Campbell

* * *

We are in the dark night as a nation. We have reached the same nadir as Reconstruction. The forces of racism, misogyny, homophobia and violence have taken a majority of those who voted. What comes next is terrifying if you believe in a liberal democracy, if you care about a warming planet, if you are trying to raise children to be kinder than you were. Make no mistake, millions are celebrating the return to white, male hegemony. The flirtation with a post-racial America is long dead. It wasn't simply rural whites, it was across the board: educated or not. It was fear made manifest: fear they no longer mattered if a black life mattered, fear of global others who took their jobs, fear that the mythology they were born into no longer fit the world. It no longer fits the world, but they could not change, so they sought to destroy what had changed around them, passed them by.

This has nothing to do with free trade or immigration or any of the excuses made to paper over the unalterable truth: the long dominance of white males over national life is coming to an end and they don't know what to do except re-trench, destroy and lash out at the change that will consume them anyway. They are fucked not because same sex couple can marry, but because they have lost the ability to change, to evolve, and emerge as something other than what they were born into.

I do not pity then. I loathe them for what they have done. This action contains the potential not simply to destroy American ideals of civic responsibility and equality before the law, it threatens the planet. The men who surround the next President are vile, corrupt, angry, lecherous men. I do not overstate the matter when I say, we may not survive.

I loathe the stupidity.
I loathe the sense of spoiled entitlement.
I loathe the smug satisfaction of promises to upend our laws into vehicles of vengeance.
I loathe the willful blindness to what can happen next.

These are no longer ordinary times with ordinary political disagreements. We now live in a authoritarian state that must be resisted.

* * *

For six years, seven years, I have written here about the trials of the individual to find his or her name, to come to a place past the the fear and mistakes and inequity where one could stand, could be who they were complete - no part left out.

I hope you were listening, because things have changed with this election.

It is easy to point to figures like Dr. King, or Susan B. Anthony, or Cesar Chavez and say you're just an ordinary person, there's nothing brave or special about you. It takes a figurehead to lead. But that is exactly wrong. First, each of them had people who were willing to be beaten, jailed and killed to serve the cause of justice. You and I are foot soldiers here. But more importantly, if you have gleaned anything from these writings you know it is incumbent upon you to act from the truth you know. You don't have to lead a march, or be jailed. You simply stand against racism in your day to day life. You stand against misogyny in your day to day life. You act out of a sense of shared destiny rather than self-interest. If you have children to raise you must model this or they will take on what is being modeled around them by those in power. Are your children to be bullies? Your daughters to be objects of male violence and gratification? Your sons perpetrators of these crimes?

Whatever life you imagined for yourself has now been altered by these facts on the ground. As Campbell says, you have to let go of the life you planned for the one waiting for you.

* * *

I woke this morning after a night of little sleep and suffocating dread. Years ago I berated an older gentleman for the shit world he'd left behind: the work of his generation the atomic age and ecological destruction. This morning I realized I was of the generation that allowed this horror to come to pass. Not by the way I voted, but by the way I lived: never working for anything other than my ego (at first) and then my kids. But don't be fooled by that last clause. What I did for my kids was necessary, but missed the mark. My spirit should have been broader, more generous, more willing to fight for an inclusive world. I could have been a better example of how to fight for what is just. Instead, I circled the wagons, got us through and could only think about how to pay my fucking bills. I didn't do them wrong. I just didn't make clear the larger circles.

And now we stand on a precipice. If you think I am over-exaggerating, then fuck off. You've learned nothing here and you are beyond my care.

But if you recognize that the life you have lived, that you assumed would be there has suddenly shifted under your feet with this hideous expression of male impotence, then I have something for you. What was true once remains true now: The dark night of the soul comes just before revelation. When everything is lost and all seems darkness, then comes new life and all that is needed.

A fight has been joined while you slept. Your old life has ended whether you wanted it to or not. You are now being called out of yourself to act from the truth you know in your bones: you are not alone. It is frightening to stand in the open, but you are not alone. It is difficult to resist racism, to call out misogyny, but you are not alone. It is dangerous to disagree, but you are not alone. What you need is at hand and it is enough to begin. The courage you are uncertain of is already in you. 

For people who think like this, we face hard times. Do not be afraid. You are not alone and together there is hope. I have no idea what shape any of this will take, my only promise is that I will not relent, I will not give up, I will not give in, I will serve and give by whatever gifts I possess and the ones I'll need to acquire along the way. Life demands life. It insists on your full measure. I promise you mine.

* * *

Noli timere, my friends. Noli timere.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

I'm Gonna Take

I'm gonna take that fear and wear it like a crown.

- Rebekka Karijord, Wear It Like a Crown

* * *

The Japanese phrase "wabi sabi" roughly translated means a lonely freedom, a solitary melancholy, a stoic acceptance of change, the ability to hold life with an open palm. It is the source of haiku. It can become precious, self-referential in unskilled hands. The best haiku is an explosion outward: revealing the sum of life in the particular. But outside and beyond haiku, past poetry itself, I am certain that wabi sabi is something altogether different. It is a type of fearlessness. Neither proud nor foolish, it is a courage to persist, to journey on regardless of hardship, equity or justice. As such it is fiercely subversive. It does not require being alone, but draws its strength from the ability to be alone, to choose for oneself how one will encounter the road, to know, just as haiku knows, that the individual, the specific, the momentary is eternal and encounters the universal by the very nature of its arc, that the arc of one's life is the very nature of eternity. We are eternal while we last. By our individual names we contain multitudes. 

All of this may or may not be true to you. It may or may not strike you as a type of poetry. What cannot be dismissed is that such things as wabi sabi and haiku and the arc of our days insist upon facing our fears (loss, money, love, adequacy, our physical selves, death, illness) and make our way not in spite of them, but because of them.

This is great poetry to do so.

* * *

We ebb and flow. We ascend and decline. We run on and we run on fumes. We burn days like a spendthrift. We count them like a miser. We want to make the good times last and the bad times to disappear. We want the bills paid and bit more. We desire love and touch. We get drunk and don't mind the hangovers (for a while), then, then, then, then, then, then, then, something shifts. We learn hunger, dis-satisfaction. We notice calendars. Our children seem ungrateful. Our partners unfaithful. Everyone is hungry though their bellies are full.

Sick on my journey
Now only my dreams
Wander the empty fields

We get sick on the journey. What we began with hope or enthusiasm, or at least the sense that we'd find our place, is detoured through losses and fears. We stumble over roots. We fear the dark. We drink too much, distrust too much, withdraw by degrees and bitterness comes easily. This is the sick part of the journey. Wabi sabi tells me I am free of constraints, tells me I am free to meet nature: my nature, God's nature, the natural world of leaf and worm and cycles and rain and snow and its effect on each and all. Bitterness is the opposite of freedom. The narrow mind the narrow gate while the world is free and open. It is refusal because it is hard or unwanted. But that is of no matter. What matters is your willingness to move past the sickness of wanting what you don't have and encountering the world as it is, where you take the fear and wear it like a crown.

This is the single most subversive act available to any of us: to journey on.

When you cease trying to box life into a shape you approve of, life quits resisting you. When you accept your fears, the amor fati Nietzsche called for,  the love of one's fate, when you are able to name the fear and not run from it, but defuse its power by wearing it, by taking it by the hand showing it the world before you, you become free, a solitary being at home in the world. But to be clear: you, as a single being, in this time and place, are, of course and by needs be the reflection of all that is not you. You are all beings, all times, all distances, all suffering, all joys, all that has been experienced. Your eyes are the eyes of God, and if God is too much, then your eyes are how I will see.

A wild sea
And arching to Sado Island
the Milky Way

* * *

We need poetry for the road. We need poetry to make it through the sickness that tells us we're wrong, that we've been wrong for some time. We need poetry like graffiti to let us know others have made their way. We need their stories so we can venture our own. If one can transform sickness and fear, then all can. It is how any of this works.

The old dog
Sleeps heavily–
A lifetime of rabbits

* * *

I wish you well.