Friday, August 26, 2016

A Writer Is

A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he hadn't started to say them.

- Wm. Stafford, "A Way of Writing"

* * *

As above, so below.

* * *

I have come to disbelieve in the idea of outcomes, end points, products, completeness, finality, terminus, omega, the definitive, once-and-for-all, the drolleries of certitude, and the sense of an ending. Not that these things don't exist, but that I have abandoned their presumed utility and dominance. All stories stop. My story will stop some day - the wherefore and why to be determined - but until that very moment all that matters is engaging with the life I have. This point of view squarely values the process of living over any thing made along the way.

Creativity, in the arts, in putting one foot in front of the other, has become a commodity to be monetized. The pervasiveness of turning everything into a dollar soaks into every pore. Writers struggle for publication, a measure of result, cultural heft, an audience. So, too, painters, dancers, sculptors, actors and the whole of the fine arts, but more so in the creativity we expend as parents, siblings, co-workers, bosses, husbands and wives and friends. This creates a linear life with specific rest stops along the way. It is a matriculated life. And that is fine, but it is just one way of encountering this experience. Just because it dominates doesn't mean it is the better way for you. It dominates because it is the lowest common denominator with articulated rules that even if you hate them, you know them.

What Stafford suggests occurs in his writing, that things arrive and as they arrive they lead to other things you couldn't have intentionally set out for, I will suggest occurs in our lives and if we pay attention we can be brought into a different sort of life than the fucked up jumble we have. This new life has no religion other than its faith in meeting what happens next. Out of that encounter between who we are at that moment and the arrival of a thought or idea or understanding we didn't see coming a new, third, thing emerges and so leads to the next arrival and its interaction with who we have just become and so on.

This is a meandering life. At least from the outside, from the world of productivity and judgment, but there is an internal logic that sustains it: the process is greater than any of its effects.

To get here it requires not having something to say, but the willingness to discover what might be said.

* * *

There is an over-ripeness to the banality that things change, that the only constant is change. It is spoken as if it were an acted on wisdom, but in truth those ideas that change surrounds us at every moment is an entrenchment to resist change, to withdraw, to not hope for too much, to acquiesce to fate. It has the effect of getting in line, shutting up and being thankful for what you have. I am all for gratitude, but not the meek and timid kind, the kind printed on a t-shirt or shared as a meme. No, the only gratitude I can offer is for the chance to try again, to keep working, my feet to fly, the world to see, the mystery of our breath set aside to breathe in the mystery. 

There is nothing rote or safe or known before hand. It frightens and thrills. It tests and saves. It calls and you respond. And here's the thing: when the hour comes and there's no voice left in your throat another will take up the cause and so keep us discovering who we may yet be. And those effects that I don't believe in anymore, those products and creations? They become part of what those who come later will encounter and process and transform in their time. The only value I can see in these effects (poems, children, songs, gardens, laws, dances, stories, images, films, trees planted, students taught) is in the message at the root of each one: you are not alone.

* * *

Your exact errors make a music
that nobody hears.
Your straying feet find the great dance,
walking alone.
And you live in a world where stumbling
always leads home.

Year after year fits over your face–
when there was youth, your talent
was youth;
later, you find your way by touch
where moss redeems the stone;

And you discover where music begins
before it makes any sound,
far in the mountains where canyons go
still as the always-falling, ever-new flakes of snow.

- Wm. Stafford, "You and Art"

* * *

I wish you well.

__________

Friday, August 19, 2016

In What Way


In what way were we trapped? where, our mistake? what, where, how, when, what way, might all these things have been different, if only we had done otherwise? if only we might have known. Where lost that bright health of love that knew so surely it would stay; how, did it sink away, beyond help, beyond hope, beyond desire, beyond remembrance; and where the weight and the wealth of that strong year when there was more to eat than we could hold, new clothes, a granfanola, and money in the bank? How, how did all this sink so swift away, like that grand august cloud who gathers–the day quiets dark and chills, and the leaves lather–and scarcely steams the land? How are these things?

- James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

* * *
How are these things? By what mechanism do they come to be? Where was the moment the wheel came loose before popping off? What seed was inadvertently planted? What weed came of it? How did intention and inattention become this?

There is no answer, no true answer, just feints and eclipses and ellipses. We are troubled by the answers we find because of their incompleteness. There is no grand unifying theory of fucking it up, having it get fucked up and being fucked. It is unique in its specifics, but I’ll suggest there is a thread–different colored as the case may be–that runs along and through such questions. It is this: the underlying premise that our lives are made meaningful by ease or comfort or success or the good fortune to not be familiar with tragedy is wrong. Our lives are not made meaningful by the pursuit of happiness, but by the willingness to undergo the experience that is uniquely ours. It may or may not hold much peace or quiet or love or relief. It may have all that in spades. What is certain is it is yours to suss out and see what is there for you to see, to learn, to forgive, to experience.

Sounds grim. Lord knows it can be. But that, too, is a type of lie, a keeper on the very experience you’re to wade into. Preconceiving, prejudging, allowing circumstance to be the arbiter of what is possible for you is as crippling as the saccharine mantras of self-help gurus who peddle a snake oil that, at its root, blames you for not believing hard enough.

No, the life in your hands has but one master: you. What you choose to believe, how you choose to act, where you choose to go are all under your control.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”

What is outside of that choice is the outcome, the very circumstance you find yourself in, but to you goes the freedom to choose how you’ll experience your life. This is the only truth to hang a hat on. Everything else you do, from religion to politics to work to love to how you will experience your death, flow from that one point. Culture and expectation may blind you to it, but it is there waiting for you.

* * *

Agee wrote about tenant farmers in Alabama during the Depression. Impossibly hard lives: subsistence farming, no education, crushing poverty and failing health from overwork. Children died early and often. How could that be bearable? How could the yoke of a nation’s indifference have a shred of meaning or purpose? It would be easy to say they lived so Agee could write of them and haunt us with their desolation, but that is facile. No, Agee took with him the photographer Walker Evans to document these lives and if you can’t find the meaning of these lives in the fury and righteous fire of Agee’s words, you’ll see the inherent dignity of these lives in the photographs themselves. The physical, the corporeal, the bent and withered bones themselves answer back: I lived. I struggled. I didn’t choose my birth, but made my way.

Would you switch your life for theirs? No. No one would. But that is beside the point. We have but the life we have to see what can be made of our days. Comparing it to the experience someone else is going through or has gone through keeps you from seeing all there is for you to see. There are no promises made about what that will be, only that it is yours to know.

* * *

Things sink swiftly away when we pay no attention, when we take their presence for granted, when we make assumptions instead of taking the time to learn and know. We do so, in part, because we fear what we might learn: a love shorn of its wonder, a job reduced to paycheck to paycheck living or no job at all, a mole ignored for fear it might be cancer. We tend to delusion, indifference and being a victim as it is easier to skate by. Few things actually sink swiftly. Mostly we lower our expectations for ourselves bit by bit until things are threadbare.

But there is a tonic, a cure: being awake to the life in your veins. That alone is promised (for a while). The rest is up to you.

* * *

“It is not likely for any of you, my beloved, whose poor lives I have already betrayed, and should you see these things so astounded, so destroyed, I dread to dare that I shall ever look into your dear eyes again: and soon, quite soon now, in two years, in five, in forty, it will all be over, and one by one we shall all be drawn into the planet beside one another; let us then hope better of our children, and of our children’s children; let us know, let us know there is cure, there is to be an end to it, whose beginnings are long begun, and in slow agonies and all deceptions clearing; and in the teeth of all hope of cure which shall pretend its denial and hope of good use to men, let us most quietly and in most reverent fierceness say, not by its captive but by its utmost meanings:”

I have lived and this is my story.

* * *

I wish you well.

__________

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Be Not Solitary

Be not solitary, be not idle.

- Robt. Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, Sec 4, 2:6

* * *

Suffering is a dislocation, a misalignment from what was expected or desired. It is a broken link in a chain of circumstance. It is unavoidable. It returns like a lost dog coming home and takes on so many forms–both large (in the moment) and small (at a distance). Memory plays a role in it. Those who are once bitten twice shy come to wall off parts of their lives because of life's refusal to comply to expectations and desires. Though seemingly protected they actually suffer twice: first the fear and then the isolation that curbs what could have been possible with their days.

This isolating factor, this add-on cruelty makes formidable what was merely difficult. 

And what are we to make of it? to do with it? I think if we suffer it alone there is hubris in it, a pride in the ability to endure that displaces the causes of our suffering–an injustice and an unjustness as may be the case–with the deeply satisfying thrill of knowing how much you can bear. This is all self-referential, a glorying in being fucked. This is the false suffering Viktor Frankl spoke of. It is, in many ways, our default setting. But that still does not answer what are we to do with this dislocation, this rupture between our expectation and what has occurred instead? If suffering alone isolates us then there can be no value in the experience at all for it is closed loop: it begins and ends and begins with us. It is only when we use the raw material of our suffering to help another, to share our story so another might be spared or comforted, only when we overcome the isolation can the suffering be considered a useful thing, an essential thing, a necessary gift if our consciousness is to inhale all it can and so build our capacity for compassion.

Perhaps I have this wrong, but it seems to me this is the function of our days. No one gets a pass on suffering. No one. But many forego the peace it can bring.

* * *

To suffer alone, to endure, is to suffer without end, without pause, without respite or a cool glass of water. To bear up burdens alone is, in some very compelling ways, heroic: Atlas and Hercules all in one, the golden apple being the certainty that one was strong enough. And like most things heroic, it is foolish, the bluntest instrument to do the job.

No, the answer lies not in carrying an ever greater load, but in transforming it into weightlessness, refusing its gravity by denying the impulse to withdraw, circle wagons, close the blinds and turn out the lights. Italo Calvino wrote:

"After forty years of writing fiction, after exploring various roads and making diverse experiments, the time has come for me to look for an overall definition of my work. I would suggest this: my working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language."

This seems a good place to begin, for what are our burdens, our sufferings except the language we use to describe them and to describe ourselves in the midst of carrying the weight of our losses? This is our story, the one we tell ourselves over and over to make sense out of the facts and occurrences of our lives. But if that story is is only whispered in our own head, if it never leaks out, if it never finds an audience of at least one, then the weight of that story grows until it is impossible to tell where the point of suffering ends and the story of the suffering begins. It becomes all of one piece.

But to dare to reveal it to another is the beginning of a new life, a new way of understanding and dealing with what ever it was that brought you to your knees.  Like all things, even your sufferings are to be used because they are the material at hand. The great flaw in the logic of what passes for stoicism is that life will begin again after the suffering has ceased, that there will be a day in the future when the way is cleared of this debris, but until then all that can be done is to bear up one's pall.

No, man. That ain't right.

Life has not ceased to continue. It continues and flows around you, the way a river slides past a rock. You are no longer carried, but are an obstacle. To rejoin the river's flow you have to subtract the weight and the way to do that is to take what is at hand–your loss, your sorrow, your anger, your fear– and use it to expiate the notion that you are alone in this. We are easily wounded. We are often afraid. What is best in us can be drained by being too long in the wasteland. The cure is not found in seeing how long we can endure, but in finding a way to let grief be a falling leaf. We are not to deny our losses, but to use them to be a bit kinder than we might otherwise have been, to be quicker to forgive, to be present when others are lost, to judge less and live more. This is the pearl of great price: out of suffering comes kindness.

To get to this understanding two things are required: be not solitary, be not idle.

The transformation of your losses is not done in a vacuum. It can only be done with at least one other: your spouse, your child, a friend, a stranger, a cause that touches countless others. To reach out from the solitary into the injustice and unjustness of the teeming world is a refutation of idle isolation. There is a force in it that learns to sustain itself on that contact, that feeds further action. And what is truly remarkable, what is the gift in all this is that action taken to redeem what has been lost, to forgive it, is never self-referential. It moves outward from your unique experience so that others can see a part of their own lives reflected and so feel less alone.

The struggle of our days is not between life and death, but between withdrawing from life, or engaging it. To have been hurt, to have been lost, to have struggled leaves open the door of greater compassion. This possibility is available to each of us because no one gets a pass on suffering, but this is achieved only if you be not solitary, if you be not idle.

I wish you well.

__________

Thursday, July 21, 2016

What Was That

"What was that? Does my face look strange?"

- The last words of RL Stevenson

* * *

In 1894, on the island of Samoa, Robert Louis Stevenson struggled a bit to pull the cork out of a wine bottle. It was the evening. His wife was with him. As he managed to free the cork, he looked up at his wife and said, "What was that? Does my face look strange?" and then fell to the floor. He died hours later from a hemorrhage that flew through his brain. He was 44.

I was put in the mind of this story yesterday when a strange flutter, an angry tremor danced alongside the right side of my head and a whanging headache roared instantly to life, encasing the right side of my head in a vise. I was instantly nauseous and light headed and all I could think of was RL and his wine bottle. Without meaning to, I asked myself, "What was that?"

* * *

We take our days at a gallop, then believe they cease to move. We become stuck in our miseries, trapped, and we come to believe that time, too, is stuck, trapped, stoppered like a wine bottle. Except, invariably we are jarred by circumstance and we wake to see the calendar has fled. Why is this so common a thing as to be a cliche: yes, yes, I know, time flies, etc, etc. I think it has something to do with forgetting. We forget our histories. We forget our wild, unruly dreams. We forget our silences and the deep well that surely exists inside of us: the reservoir of our soul, the umbilicus to the mystery of our existence. We trade it for such passing things as a mortgage, or a promotion, or a partner we've come to believe we cannot exist without. That's fine. We all have holes to fill, but unless we remember ourselves, our central self and try to build a life around the message of that self, then when the cork gets stuck a bit and our face becomes strange what will we have done with this one chance to know the world?

Against forgetting. Let me stand here, against forgetting. Let me stand against the unnoticed drip of days, the unnoticed sun. Let me stand against the tide of commerce and work as a free man. I will stand against forgetting the line of light, the limb of a tree, the sweet line cast out, the line of fathers and mothers stretching back behind me, the line of lives that bent and turned and were broken and healed and shuffled off and brought forth until at last I took my place and replaced myself with another. I stand against the forgetting, the abdication, the fear that whispers futility in my ears and I stand for the deeper well, the well spring of the driven green fuse. I stand with my brothers and sisters who dare to not forget themselves in the crush and welter of politics and instead work and live and create lives of integrity, which is to say lives of beauty. This is where I'll be.

And you, my best beloved, where will you be? Where will you stand?

* * *

The work of our days is to discover this well and never lose sight of it. It can be discovered in the dreams we have. It can reveal itself in the work we are drawn to. It is always part of us, even when we refuse it or ignore it or deny it. Regrets are illuminations come too late. Do not refuse, ignore or deny what is essential in you, whatever that may be. It is different for each of us, but there are echoes and rhymes that help us to feel less alone, part of a larger body than our solitary one. We know this is how love works–we are less alone and more willing to be our true selves. It is the mystery of religion, scholarship, craftsmanship, care-giving. It is what is best in us: to be known and a little more. It is found in respect for the other's journey and the compassion that attends such acknowledgement.

Joseph Campbell said that all of his work, all of writings, all of his scholarship was intended for artists only. He could care less about academia and its ilk. He wanted to get what he discovered into the hands of those who lived out those myths on a daily and hourly basis: those who create. I have always loved that about him. It is frank and telling and willing to stand where he saw fit. I have come to realize that this, too, is my work. I have tried to imagine this page as open and broad enough to take in all who aspire in any manner to find a bit of solace and encouragement. I hope that has been the case. I hope it remains so, but it is well past the time to be honest with myself and you. I know nothing about money or politics. I have opinions, but no knowledge of their workings. I know nothing about religious life. What I do know is the will to sit and write. What I do know is the impulse to create and that, at last, is where I'll stand.

* * *

CAT scans, blood tests, EKG, etc., all came back unremarkable. No change in my face. But I am pulverized this morning. It is the feeling the day after the car accident. On my way to the hospital, my son at the wheel, all I could think of was all the work that remains. Unremarkable tests tell me I have at least today to work at my work, and not at anything else.

I wish you well.

__________



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

I Write You

I write you in your fifteenth year. I am writing you because this was the year you saw Eric Garner choked to death for selling cigarettes; because you know now that Renisha McBride was shot for seeking help, that John Crawford was shot down for browsing in a department store. And you have seen men in uniform drive by and murder Tamir Rice, a twelve-year old child whom they were oath-bound to protect. And you have seen men in the same uniform pummel Marlene Pinnock, someone's grandmother, on the side of the road. And you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed wit the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding. It does not matter  if the destruction springs  from a foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be destroyed. Turn into a dark stairwell and your body can be destroyed. The destroyers will rarely be help accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions. And destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include friskings, detainings, beatings, and humiliations. All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible.
   There is nothing uniquely evil in these destroyers or even in the moment. The destroyers are merely men enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy. It is hard to face this. But all our phrasing–race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy–serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.

- Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

* * *

I write you in the sixth year of producing this work. I am writing to you because this is the work I have found for myself. It is my hope that the work here helps open up the possibilities inside you, allows you the permission to change, become the person you may yet be, the one you imagine freed from the sorrows and losses and fears that have attended and attached themselves to your days. The basic premise of what I do is this: fear = fucked. If you are fucked there is fear lurking inside it, perhaps a hundred fears, maybe just one, but fear is the marker of a fucked life. If you take even a cursory glance at the world around you you will know that fear stains, colors, skews, distorts and limits the lives we are living. Fear feels like it is the mortar of our society: present, solid, secure, binding each to a particular way of thinking and being in the world. Demographics change, but the fears remain locked in place: militarized, anxious, coiled, certain of itself.

Baton Rouge. Falcon Heights. Dallas.

Place names that stand in for the names of the dead, for the names of those killed most assuredly by fear: anxious and coiled, angry, sisyphean in its hubris and futility. Place names that will be used as a shorthand for every fear about the other, the one who does not think, act, do as I do, the one who does not have my experience, the one who blathers platitudes, the one who thinks himself conscious and free, the one blind with hate. Shorthand for a refusal to take more than a cursory look at what has been wrought over 240 years and self-righteously assure ourselves we aren't like that anymore.

"Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery," declared Mississippi as it left the Union, "the greatest material interest of the world."

But we are. We are like that and we are in ways that have nothing to do with the oafs and open sewers with their Confederate flags and neo-Nazi hate. We are trapped in institutions and systems that can't even name their sins, but instead seek to blame the victim for her plight. We don't have a language mature enough to say what is plain: our nation was birthed on the black and brown bodies of native peoples and slaves brought against their will to be the economic engine of the nation's wealth. To do this, to conceive of such genocide and generational brutality requires the elimination of the humanity of those enslaved (and their subsequent heirs).

Listen:

"The two great divisions of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black. And all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals."  

- John C. Calhoun, motherfucker.

This dis-logic, this contortion of piety, this vomitous rationale is not a remnant of the past, a thing dislodged at Gettysburg, but has been subsumed into our nation's DNA, part of the background, always there, always exerting an influence, never leaving us alone. The deeper problem than all of that is how easily we don't see it, how we imagine ourselves past all that, for we, ourselves, don't believe we are racist. That is for crackers and dumb-fucks. We pride ourselves on our post-racial bona fides. And because of this we do not examine, do not question, do not challenge the status quo and instead place the blame on rogue cops, or on the people who cannot bear the destruction of their bodies another minute and rise up in their anger and their desolation.

But this must not be allowed to stand, this unquestioning of self and country. This willful ignorance of the sources and wellsprings of our habituated disregard for the other, smoothed over by a myopic insistence on judging the immediate, the personal and refusing to account for the inherent, coded, embedded privilege of being "white" only sustains and extends the suffering.

Case in point:

In 2002 my then wife and I adopted a child who was 5 days old, abandoned at the hospital where my wife worked. My daughter is African-American. We needed her birth mother to relinquish her parental rights to complete the adoption and she agreed to come to court to do so. She stood before an Irish-American judge disheveled, scared, completely outmatched by the room and the moment. He was brutal to her. He shamed her for doing, what I believed, was a remarkable thing. She signed some papers and stepped aside in tears. My wife and I stepped up. He winked at us. He didn't ask a single question. He said, "God bless you for doing this. The child is yours. I already signed the papers." We drove the mother of our daughter back to the West Side of Chicago, leaving her at her methadone clinic and we went to the hospital to take our daughter home.

Was the judge an evil man for the way he treated this broken woman, for the favor he showered on us? Wasn't a child saved from desolation? He wasn't evil. He was in the system and couldn't see out of it. All he saw was a white suburban couple and that spoke volumes, besides, he had other cases to get to. We were the easiest thing he did all day.

This is the unexamined bias, birthed in the cancerous mouth of Calhoun, that prompts some to insist that "All Lives Matter" as a way of dismissing the generational destruction of black lives that ever enter the maw of the system, or even just stand along the edges of it selling mixtapes and cigarettes. It is the bias that informs the "twice as good" mantra of black families (which means they settle for half as much). It is in the air we breath and the water we drink (think Flint, Michigan). It stalks the streets of the Southside of Chicago and drives up sales AR-15's. 

Black lives matter more than white feelings. 

If can you unfuck just one thing in your life, let it be this. I don't say this as one who has it figured out. I say it only as the father of my daughter. She is heir to what we do next.

* * *

I wish you well.

__________

Thursday, July 7, 2016

In The Meanwhile

In the meanwhile our schools are designed to produce fractional men by the million, and the emphasis of life is placed on the extreme lower range of humanly realizable values. We are trying to live by bread alone, with far less than half of reality; and through the jungles of the world stalk monstrous hates and greeds, and even in the press of thousands upon thousands of our fellow creatures we are lonesome.

- John G Neihardt, Poetic Values: Their Reality and Our Need of Them

* * *

I look around me - in papers and books stacked and stuffed and stored on every shelf, in every drawer, packed in boxes I rarely open but am fully aware of, littered across the several desks and folding tables I seem to need to spread myself out - and I am surrounded by voices, voices stoppered and held on page after page by the million. They wait for an eye to read them and they roar back into life. It is easy to forget how these voices sound (there have been so many pages and so many books and stories and poems and essays and it seems enough to just touch the spine of the book and dimly remember you'd read it once, but could hardly say what was said) and you lie to yourself that in fact you do remember. But pull a book down and open it again and it is not what you remembered. It is, invariably, better, more alive than you'd allowed. You then think,  how will I ever reread them all?

* * *

Here is what is: every age, every era, every epoch is fraught with destruction, stupidity and willful ignorance. What should be stable is made tenuous by the avarice and greed by those pretending to the throne. Lives of the day in and day out aren't worth the effort to breathe their name. Even the god of writers, Ganesha, cannot keep up with the streaming toll of the dead to note even their name. It has always been so. It will always be so. It is, without hesitation, unbearable if you take but a moment to consider it. It is why we don't consider it and pass our days in distractions of acquisition and feral entertainments. Yet, here is what is: there is always a voice crying in the wilderness, there is always a poet, a healer, a saint, a thinker, a fool who speaks out truths and rhymes and points in a different direction. Always marginalized, always doubted, they hold to their vision and carry on until they are carried out. Their memory echoes a while, maybe even disappears, but if an eye falls upon an open book the possibility, the chance, to be heard again exists. This very subversive idea is what put the Gospel of Thomas in those caves along the Dead Sea; it is what sits inside each unread book from 1925; it is the single copy of Aurelius' notes to himself that someone saved at the time of his death, copied, held onto, passed along until another copy was made and 2000 years later we heirs to such unlikely events can know his mind as if he sat beside us.

John Neihardt wrote of poetic values not as literary values, but human, psychological necessities to navigate the experience of being alive. The fractional men were ones without those values, or who looked down upon such things a poetry. They were practical, striving men. Yet the better part of life was missing in them: the soul's desire to be known and at home in the world. It isn't rhyming schemes that gets you there. It is imagining rhyming schemes at all. It is imaging movement, color and form for no reason other than it seems to connect, belong and throw some light on what it might mean to be alive. There is no meaning to life. You have to bring meaning to it and the meaning you bring is born by your actions. Fractional men and women (churned out by schools whose primary function is to provide a profit center for themselves while sending out half men, half women who will know enough to desire wealth, but not know their own worth) fill the coffers of others with their labor, their time and have no solace except for the passing pleasures of consumption.

No, this is no way to live. It is the belief, the rock-bottom belief that life could not be any other way. Trapped in systems that do not benefit us, that do not sustain us, that do not even keep the paltry promises made for our time, our labor, our bodies, we cease trying to escape and just get behind the mule and plow. At our deaths people nod and say we worked hard, as if that was all a life could be.

* * *

Open a book. Set aside the self-help books and the celebrity confessionals. Open a book that once meant something to you. Maybe you read it years ago. Maybe you simply purchased it, but never read it, but once you thought it might be of some value. Open a book. Take it in for a minute. If it is an older book, maybe it was hand sewn. Look at the font. Claude Garamond, William Caslon, John Baskerville gave their lives to punch cut die so that others could read. There are lives on the page that have nothing to do with the meaning of the words. This is a miracle. Look at the binding: modern and glued, or are there boards and endpages? The object itself is an achievement in imaging rhyming schemes in three dimensions. Now read it. Read it. Another human being sat still long enough to gather her thoughts and organize them, find a pattern to them and lay them out for you and you alone to see so that you might understand what she was thinking. If Neihardt's fractional men, stalking hate and greed are also lonesome it is because they read but do not see the human effort behind the words, do not recognize the very soul required to imagine rhyming schemes and the value inherent in trying to share out what is ephemeral, evanescent before it disappears: a thought. To read is to be joined to another, is to hear their voice counseling you, encouraging you, cautioning you, warning you, exhorting you to pick up the mantle of your unlikely existence and run with it. Fully. Completely. No part left out.

* * *

To be fucked, is to be living a half life. The world sucks. It always has. The malicious buffoonery of presumptive leaders invariably creates fear, creates insiders and outsiders, the haves and have-nots. It will always be so. Quit trying to save the world. Save yourself instead. Become a fool, a saint, a poet, a healer, a thinker. Use your voice so others might hear it. If your audience is but one, you have done well. Leave notes, clues, passages about what it was like to come this way. They don't have to be books or poems. Something on the back of napkin will do. These acts are inherently subversive, inherently poetic in nature for they reject the prevailing culture and suggest there might be more than work, death and taxes.

The world does not need another corporate shill. It needs poets so others will be made brave enough to imagine their own rhyming schemes.

* * *

I wish you well.

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