Thursday, August 28, 2014

Come With Me

Come with me to the forgotten lake
Where covered wagons and the wings of missing planes
Float between black fish underneath the velvet waves

Strange lights fly across the rocky beach
Girls in white nightgowns wander barefoot in their sleep
And the vapors of dreams winding circles 'round their feet
 

Down, down
Float them down
Let the waters float them down
To where they'll remember everything


- The Handsome Family, Forgotten Lake

* * *

Roberto Mangabeira Unger tells me we are mummies, bound by ever tightening roles as we age, where no freedom of movement is possible because the pressures brought to bear by institutions and societal expectations freeze us in time, embalm us to our supposed character. Here, character is defined as the habits that remain after a lifetime of fulfilling the expectations of others - both individuals and the society we happen to be in.

He is not wrong.

We do this because the dominant way of thinking and acting over the past 200 years (though born 2000 years ago with Near Eastern monotheisms) is based on a religious premise that we can ascend to a more perfect life after death and that life, the one we have in our hands, points in one direction and has a specific destination. Whether you are a believer or not, this mode of thought dominates the times we live in and is expressed profanely in commerce and baths the wars we wage in religious light.

And what does this have to do with you, bubbe?

Everything.

* * *

The pain we feel, as individuals, is the distance between expectation and reality. We expect to outlive our children; we expect our parents to protect and understand us; we expect the love we feel to be returned to us in kind; we expect our work to be fruitful; we expect fairness, equity, justice, but nowhere is it found. Instead we are taught the horrific lesson that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, or worse, that God does not give us anything we cannot handle. Really? Has anyone asked the thousands dead and dying from Ebola, AIDS, H1N1? The families destroyed in the Great Recession? To imagine that God doles out misery is to believe in a miserable God and is one of the ways your mummy wrappings tighten and tighten and tighten.

Enough.

1 Corinthians 13: 11
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

It is time to be done with childish things. Like the fairy tale that God is a spiteful fuck. We think that because we are spiteful fucks. We seek reasons and order and justification for the suffering our jelly bag bodies are prone to and so we have created God in our image: alone and afraid. This is the heartroot deep of the McWorld we live in. Old Testament wrath colors what we can even imagine about how to live.

But like I said, enough.

There are other ways of being. And this isn't just a New Age bullshit flip to some deeper Eastern mysticism. That's as much crap as anything else. It just another system. We don't need another system, another institution, another doctrine with adherents and followers and believers and executioners. We need freedom. Spiritual freedom: the vapors of dreams winding circles 'round our feet.

Listen, you know who you are. If you're fucked it is because you've been forgetting. Who you are is simple, direct and unfathomable: you are alive. There is no further destination. You are the destination. Your circumstances are the results of hundreds of years of people before you choosing to organize their lives according to this precept that life is to be perfected on a further shore. I will argue that is wrong on its face. What if life, your life, right now, was perfected simply because you breathe? Or, to refine it a bit, your life was perfected because you chose to pay more attention to the dreams that animate you and not the demands of institutions you find yourself living in.

No individual can succeed alone. The institutions and societal impulses are a reflection of the people who participate in them. If you can remember yourself, if you can see the strange lights fly, if you can remember everything about yourself and act from that well of knowledge then you will be the revolution itself. This is a spiritual revolution and if it only reaches as far as your front door, then that will be enough. You and I will not live long enough to see our society changed, but we can see the society of our family, our friends changed by our willingness to act as we are: creatures perfected by the life we live. Doing so we are bound not by forced expectation, but by love, charity, patience and courage.

* * *

Human life is no better than any other form of life. Part of the fairy tale is that we are to have dominion over the world. But that, too, is a toxic premise. All life is equally life. William Blake tells me for everything that lives is holy. He is not wrong. Here is why: we die. We perish. We pass away. The time to live is now. The comfort that can be offered is now, the passion lived is now, the joy, the regret, the suffering, the forgiveness, the birthcry of life at its term is now. 

You know this already.

You've just been forgetting.

It is time to remember everything.

* * *

Boom.

_________

Sunday, August 24, 2014

When The Lights

When the lights they go out
We congregate
The storm will come
And we shall congregate
The ground, ground will shake
And we shall congregate

And I will help you
'Cause you will help me through
This trouble at the the gates of this heart

- Rocco Deluca, Congregate


* * *

The ground, ground will shake, my best beloved and we will need to walk this road together: in good company, at poor peace, doing the best we can with the materials at hand. Lights go out, storms roll in and we are to weather it - not because of some holy doctrine, or a misplaced sense of suffering and martyrdom - but because experiencing our lives as they unfold is all we have. If there is difficulty, darkness, sorrow, regret then each of those things is to be experienced as well. We fuck ourselves when we hold on to them and wall off experiencing other things, emerging things, this one unfolding moment we have to breathe, to be brave enough to breathe and journey on.

And I will help you, 'cause you will help me through this trouble at the gates of this heart.

* * *

I sometimes doubt my ability to tell you what I know and if I could, would it be able to reach you as I hope it will. I stumble over the distance between experience and knowledge, between experiencing something and trying to tell you any of it so that you might understand exactly what it means. James Agee wrote:

The light in this room is of a lamp. Its flame in the glass is of the dry, famished delicateness of the latest lateness of the night, and of such ultimate, such holiness of silence and peace that all on earth and within extremest remembrance seem suspended upon it in perfection as upon reflective water: and I feel that if I can by utter quietness succeed in not disturbing this silence, in not so much as touching this plain of water, I can tell you anything within realm of God, whatsoever it may be, that I wish to tell you, and that what so ever it may be, you will not be able to help but understand it.

This, if I have a prayer, is my prayer.

We never get there, though. Do we? Our lover does not understand what it means when we look in their eyes and see gladness there, see desire and laughter there. We see it. We are boiled in love for it and what is left for us is a touch, a word, a song we can sing, but it never says it completely and here, too, the distance between experience and knowledge is left to be bridged with such inventions as we can muster: language, symbol, story.

Writing invariably leaves me sad because I know I have not said the thing I hoped to say. I circle the airport over and over in ellipses, a spirograph filling in as much as I can, hoping the pattern is recognized, but always knowing I can't ever get there because my experience cannot be transferred, only partially translated.

You know this is true. You know when you have loved someone so completely that the word "love" is puny and irrelevant. You know when your grief swims over you there is no telling of its completeness. You alone experience it and know its contours. In love and in grief, the ground, ground will shake, so all that can be done, all that we can do is congregate, to be present for each other. And that love, that grief falls to silence as we recognize the impossibility of not disturbing that plain of water and offer up instead the sweet bravery of another breath and journey on together for as long as we are together. This is how we get through this trouble at the gates of our hearts.

* * *

Shall I tell you of love? Can it be done? Can I tell you about a woman who boils me in love, such is the gladness I feel when I am near her? Can I tell you about the sorrow of a lonely death? Can I warn you away from the latter, so you might know the former? Is there a word that can be said, a sentence assembled that tells you any of this? I think Agee's tumbling, spilling sentence is the closest thing to human perfection I have ever seen; I think the color of this woman's eyes are the closet thing to human perfection I have ever seen. I think my mother dying alone is the closest thing to perfect sorrow I have ever seen; and the ground, ground will shake regardless.

So, we are left with imperfection, approximations of the experience of being alive when we try to tell, teach, share what we have come to know in our bones. And we do this out of great love, we do this because we have come to believe it is the best way to express our experience and we are not wrong to do so. But there is something else - not more, just another way: we can help each other through by keeping company, by catching each other when we fall, by being a witness to each other's joy and love and grief through the sweetness of silence, the road shared for as long as possible.

* * *

I write because I once thought I could be understood. Like St. Francis I now care very little for being understood. I just want to understand what it is like to experience life while it is mine to use. This morning, all I know is the road is still mine, the road is still yours. For a little while we can share it and that is all, that is all, that is all.

* * *

Boom. Boom. Boom.

__________

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I Know A

I know a fella 
Eats like a horse
Knocks his old balls
'Round the old golf course
You ought to see his wife
She's a cute little dish
Smokes like a chimney
And drinks like a fish
 
There's a big old goofy man
Dancing with a big old goofy girl
Oooh, baby, it's a big old goofy world

- John Prine, Big Old Goofy World

* * *

Sometimes the thing you are looking for is the thing you hold in your hand and keep setting down so you can go look for the thing you think you need. Happens all the time. We blind ourselves to our cures because they don't often fit the image we have of them. Like Melville's whale-line, we believe we must be dragged into the profundity of the sea in order to secure our treasure, our boon, the chalice of our torments. But truth is, it is usually a hell of a lot more pedestrian then that. What does take some balls is once you know it, once you recognize that you've had the answer in your metaphoric pocket the whole time you then have to act on it.

Whole 'nother ball of wax.

* * *

You know you're supposed to eat better than you do. You know booze can kill you and that some exercise will actually make you feel better. The smokes are killers, too, but we all have another, don't we? Another beer, another pack of smokes before we quit. One more McWhopper and I'll go for a run after my show is over. I mention all this not to hector or judge, but to draw an analogy about how we fucked fuckity fuck fucks are smarter than we allow - we know this shit, we know what's ailing us, we know how to fix it, too, because we're smart - but maybe we're too damn smart to actually do anything about it, too much up in our heads and not enough of being in our bodies, our world.

Forever looking for answers is a type of avoidance, a merry-go-round of altruism hiding our fears. There is a solid payoff to be searching. We grow smarter (though that is not the problem); we are fed on hope that what we are looking for can be found in the road up ahead; we tack on knowledge, and believe that is the thing we are missing. Except it is not. What is missing is the experience of living the life you have - just as it is. Meaning is not carved out of stone, but from the manner in which you engage your life, use your assets, burn up your days, hurl your body about.

Get this straight: you can go on the journey and still refuse the call.

Refusing the call is a waking death, a half-life, a nose pressed against the glass sort of life envying the dancer, but never daring to cut a rug. You can travel the world a hundred thousand hundred thousand times and still never move.

* * *

The answers are easy, love. We've known them a long time. They are written in books, sung in songs, sculpted and painted into beautiful objects. They are born and raised and grow into men and women we hope are a measure braver, kinder and gentler than we are. The answers litter the field. It is all in the doing and what you are willing to do to unfuck the fear that has held you.

I knew a fella, a hale fellow well met, indeed. Life poured out of him: loud, generous, imperfect, willing, ready for a drink, glad for a smoke. No doubt he suffered in the middle of the night as well. No doubt tragedy touched his life as it touches all lives: a child lost, cancer from the smokes, a broken neck. This is so. This is so. This is so. And still when he saw you again after too long apart you were always drawn into his orbit of mirth, his willingness to laugh despite the pain, to be so very glad you were together again for he was a man who held the world in his smile, his appetite - not hunger, but appetite - and you, lost you, wanted to know his secret in order to be like him. And therein lies the answer: it is the distance between hunger and appetite. One is forever on its back foot and the other is forever leading the dance.

You have what you need. In this vale of tears, this whore of an island in God's sea, you have everything you need. You can stop chasing your tail, stop sliding after esoteric solutions. The mystery is here: you are alive - act accordingly.

Enjoy this despite your losses.

* * *

Oooh, baby, its a big old goofy world.

* * *

Boom.

_________




Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Of All That

Of all that God has shown me
I can speak just the smallest word,
Not more than a honey bee
Takes on her foot
From an overspilling jar.

- Mechthild of Magdeburg

* * *

I am verbose. I spill words the way drunks spill beer. I listen for my voice in words, to catch the cadence and rhythms of my thoughts. I write and write and talk and talk and it is what I do. But, in truth, I cannot say a single thing that I know. Either it is unsayable or unknown and in either case all of these words are shadow puppets trying to pantomime a flash at the corner of my eye. It is both too much and not enough for me to write these things out, for you to read them, for me to presume to say a word. Silence is sweet to me because I can pull back and just listen once in a while.

The past few days have been quiet. Very little written. Not much said. Out of that quietude, that interval of relative quiet I heard a screaming, a howling darkness. It seemed to belong to all of us. It kept me silenced because of its raw, ragged insistence. It said: you don't understand, you cannot know my pain, my suffering, you know nothing of where I am or my losses or my anger or my desire to be rid of being this lost. All of your words are meaningless to me. Platitudes. Pablum. Shit. They mean shit to me.

And I cannot argue that truth. Words are paltry things. Approximations for some other thing and while I find them to be beautiful from time to time their beauty is often held in the distance between my desire and the desired. Sweetness is there. A crack of light in the door that leaves nothing to compare. You know this feeling as well. The ineffable knowledge that you have caught a glimpse of something but have no way of making another understand other than words.

This is so. This is so. This is so.

But in the end neither you nor I can know another's mind. We cannot feel what they feel. We cannot know what they know. And if they are in pain, if the howling storm of depression has them in its grip, if they cannot let go of a tragedy, of a loss, of being lost, of never being able to forgive themselves for the wounds they delivered, the wounds they think they deserved, for the whole ball of wax, our words are meaningless. Our words become further proofs of their insidious pain. But we offer the words anyway for it is all we have to give - this transmission of knowledge, hoping it all makes it through, hoping it isn't distorted, lost in translation, that out of love we offer our words of hope and encouragement and logic and reason and love, sweetgodalmighty love.

And we are not wrong to try, but words really aren't the best way for us help.

Compassion is.

* * *

The word "compassion" is bandied about like a cure-all, a magic spell, a word that contains healing powers just by uttering it. Bullshit. There is no healing in a word. Compassion is a noun, where it needs to be a verb.

Of all the things I know, of the things I know in part, of all the things I think I know, but actually have it wrong, all that matters is that we be kinder and gentler to one another than we are. We do not, I do not, you do not know exactly what another is going through. You cannot. Language helps us understand and give names to these concepts, but there is no bridging that gap, that distance between you and I except by being present, by each other's side, without judgment or complaint. This is the beginning of compassion.

* * *

I write here in a voice that is direct, sometimes caustic, certainly full of itself, hopefully at times with more elegance than I have away from the page. I presume to speak of unfucking our lives because, well, I've fucked mine up and writing is how I try to unfuck it. I use the words of others to help me get started and then I rant downstream from there. I want to embolden you. I want to remind you that your life is beautiful regardless of your circumstance. I want you to feel less alone, for aloneness is a great sorrow. I want all of these things, to be able to do these things - for us both. And after the last few days, with so much talk about depression and the headlong rush to great, great harm, I just wanted to say I can't say a thing that truly matters. But I can be here. I can provide this for you to use as a place to do some of your healing. I have no answers. I am a clod of clay.

All I know is that a bee's foot is a very small thing and it carries with it every bloom.

You are not alone.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Sunday, August 10, 2014

And In The

And in the night my father came to me
And held me to his chest
He said, "There's not much more
That you can do. Go on get some rest."
And I say, yeah, maybe I think too much

- Paul Simon, Think Too Much (B)

* * *

Who we come from, where we come from and why are all outside of our control. If we are lucky we have food and shelter. If we are truly blessed there is love and connection and understanding. This is so. This is so. This is so. But the rest of it is for us to figure out, to take into our hands those things that can build a life into the shape, color and tenor of our choosing.

But we get lost along the way, don't we? The plans, aspirations, dreams we held so close as we grew up morphed into accepting what was at hand, nearby, within reach. We are the ones who should have morphed into beings with a greater reach and because we did not, because we held the bag while those around us lost their heads, because we had an uncertain footing, because we could find precious little in the world around us to allay our doubts, cool our fears, we took to the grain and our dreams were no longer ferocious with our spirit, but docile, tamed, ever so compliant.

And yet, it chafes, does it not? It chafes the soul to be so poorly used. We know something is amiss and we know we're fucked and stuck and going nowhere (except maybe in circles). We just can't riddle out how to break this awful cycle of doubt, remorse, self-flagellation and trying to boot-strap our way to happiness.

We look to our past, our families, our childhoods, our love affairs, our relationships, our jobs, our losses and like witch doctors we spill the dry bones of the past trying to discern the future. And it either hurts all the time, or we feel so very little. This is what it is like to be fucked.

And those who came before us knew this as well and they, our parents and our grandparents and our cousins and relations stretched out across the field of time, were broken, healed, lost, redeemed, convicted and set free as was their due. Some of us know the stories of our people. Some know nothing and that absence is just another sort of fuckitude, but I tell you upon your faces, in either case, that you are looking at it the wrong way.

* * *

No matter if you come from love, or have run from desolation, no matter if you know your history, or are a blank slate, no matter, no matter, no  matter what your condition - the names of your losses, the signs of your gifts,  the betrayals and wounds of walking in the world, the communion and healing of walking in the world, you cannot look to any of that to excuse, justify or rationalize what you think, say or do today.

Listen, you can spend your days reliving the past, combing over every injustice, or every golden moment to find the thread of the life you think you have lost and doing so will keep you forever feeling like you are lost, forever feeling fucked, stuck, damned. But it isn't that you have lost something, it is that you are not using what you have. Right now. The thread is not lost. It is in your hands. It always has been.

We are waylaid by others' notions of what life is for, how it is to be lived and to what ends. We model the habits of our families and so we come to resemble them in large and small ways. This becomes a wound we pick at when we are older, blaming them for being who and what they are and then blaming ourselves for aping them. But that shit needs to stop. It is just what happens inside families. The real test is not that we reject our people, or deify them, but that we leave them in peace and slather on the compassion so we can find our own feet.

You can't get there by thinking too much. You can only get there by going there, by doing, through right action. And right action is anything that reveals and supports your essential self without denigrating or limiting another.

* * *

Last night I dreamt of my father. He stood beside me. He said nothing, but it was clear he had something to say to me. He put his hand on my shoulder and then he was gone. I'd missed him so I played the dream over and over just so I could see his face again. At first, in the dream, I was afraid, but then with each playing of the dream my fears eased until they were erased by the time I woke up.

He was a good man, deeply flawed, wounded by the loss of love as a child, and he often could not find the words to express his feelings. Silence was his way. He was ill-prepared to be a father, but then again, aren't we all? He knew there was something great he could do in the world if only he could break free of the weighty obligations he taken on. He knew it. He dreamed without ballast. He worked like a pig and others got rich from his labor. When death was knocking at the door, he was relieved to be done with it all. Except, at the last minute, he did his great thing, achieved his greatness. He showed my brother and I how to die: filled with compassion for our coming grief.

This is the doing we must do, my friends.

Thinking only goes so far. Living by choice, with compassion for our sins and the sins of others is the way of happiness and belonging to the world.

Honest.

It came to me in a dream.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What Is This

What is this, fundamentally? What is its nature and substance, its reason for being? What is it doing in the world? How long is it here for?

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 8:11

* * *

This is what Tuesday morning gives me.

* * *

Not to fall off the cliff of useless metaphysical speculation here, there is something remarkably urgent about Aurelius' questions, something that expressed an urgency inside him: he wanted to know. This is what brought him to life - this questioning of himself, his attempt to riddle out some knowledge about why we are born, why we die, of what life is to be like in between those poles. He wanted to understand and the tools he had available to him were language and his mind. In the end, these tools are all that are left to you and I to play with these questions, to devise ones of our own. It is inescapable - we are our thoughts. What we think, how we think, whether we think at all, is the truest measure of how we navigate our lives. The thinking becomes our reality. It takes on flesh. It robes that flesh and so we walk in the world. 

What have you been thinking?

* * *

Cogito ergo sum, Rene Descartes (that drunken fart), tells me this is how knowledge becomes certain: thought implies, nay, proves, existence. Right on. I suppose. But that is ontology, the ever narrowing gyre of first causes, and I have little use for it. Such questions distract from the matter at hand: how am I to live. Present tense. It is in our thinking, our habits of understanding the world around us that we create our lives. Circumstances matter less than the way we think about those circumstances and the various ways we can/should/might respond to them. Aurelius is asking after this substance: our animating spark - consciousness, conscience, thought, belief. These things are the ground floor of our actions and our actions are but our thoughts in motion.

Why bother asking after it? Why bother trying to know it? Isn't it unknowable? We've had several thousand years to riddle it out and all we've come up with are conflicting stories and the wars that attend those stories. Lots of death trying to figure out life. If that scale is too big, then drill down to the scale of your lifetime. How much harm have you done to yourself or others because of the way you thought of your life? How much harm has befallen you because others have thought and acted in unthinking ways?

It is because we are infants, emotional, intellectual, moral infants. We destroy others and ourselves with the thought that we can know absolutes, that our beliefs are truths, that because we think we are justified: cogitationis justifactus.

Losers.

It isn't mere thought that matters, but what we think, what we play with, what takes our attention and why. Aurelius believed in the logos, a natural order in which all men and women played a role in maintaining and furthering. It was transcendent of day to day life, yet was made up of the actions each made day to day. This was the bulwark against which he asked his questions. Where each of us begins matters. It is a limiting factor. It excludes, as it must, other starting places. And here's the thing, my friend, each starting place is valid, each starting place is true, each starting place is just that: the beginning. We fuck ourselves when we stop there, when we ask no questions, when we do not wander and wonder about the nature and substance of our being and what it is doing in the world.

If you are here unfaithfully among us you are doing great damage. This is so. This is so. This is so.

And what makes one unfaithful?

Not thinking.

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.

* * *

Tattoo it on your forehead.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Oh I Don't

Oh I don't know
I don't know
I don't know
I don't know a goddamned thing

- Nathaniel Rateliff, Still Trying

* * *

It strikes me that I don't know a goddamned thing. I have a host of reactions and suppositions, knee-jerk responses and postures to draw upon: the detritus of navigating my days and playing roles. And for much of the time this sort of shorthand for thinking passes muster because we each do it and no one really wants the jig to be up.

But, damn, it is time for spades to be called spades and the man behind the curtain to come out and fess up.

If not, then this wound is gonna cancel us out.

* * *

We are never trapped by our circumstances, but by our responses to them. This is true. This is true. This is true. But when was the last time you took a breath and looked at those responses? When was the last time you re-considered anything? We fall into patterns of unknowing, of rote responses (a phone call from your ex makes you instantly angry, work places fresh responsibilities on you and you instantly compare yourself to others who don't have that new pressure, a bill collector calls and you flush with shame) and never really figure out why it is so. We are justified, in our minds, for how we react. After all, your ex cheated on you, your cubicle mate earns more and does less, and the fucking bills are a constant reminder of just how far you fall short. Right?

I know. I know. I've walked that road. It blows.

But, really, my love, when was the last time you stopped yourself from those automatic responses and took the heat out of it? The shorthand responses we've developed for negotiating our way through the bullshit and tumult of living are incredibly effective defense mechanisms. They help. In the short term. In the short term only. But, listen, you are not a short term project. It's going to take a goddamned lifetime for you to finish your work. So, ease off that pedal and start thinking past those responses and see what you come up with.

* * *

The first step, as near as I can tell, is to admit you don't know a goddamned thing.

Honest.

If you're fucked, if your life is fucked, if you are wandering in circles, then, baby, you don't know a godddamn thing. You have let your fears and wounds dictate your life and all you know is fear and hurt. That ain't shit. That is the bottom of our experience, lizard brain shit. You are more then that. Wildly more and the automatic response, by definition, is thoughtless. What the fuck use is a frontal lobe if you don't use it?

Breathe. Think. Know. Yourself.

It ain't easy and it is as easy as pie. The risk you must run is letting what is thoughtless drop from your shoulders and have the grit and grace to embrace what you find waiting for you. It may be a palsied thing, it may be weak, wan, sallow, it may be bloated, unwell, but there begins your healing, there begins your knowledge and from there begins your unfucked life.

* * *

And to do this, there is one absolutely essential element that must come into play. Without it you'll cycle back out into the wasteland of unthinking responses to the challenges of living the life you have. You have to forgive yourself for not knowing sooner. Gnashing your teeth, feeling embarrassed for not getting here sooner is just another ego trick, a protective response keeping you trapped. It happens because, in that moment, when you are face to face with the frailty and magnificence of your life, of all life, you wish to unknow your mistakes, to unknow your soon enough death, to unknow the days that have slipped through your hands. Ignorance seems so much nicer. And it may be for some, but not you. You want to know. You want to move in the world free, unfettered, your losses no longer defining you. You want your life to take hold. How do I know this? Because you are reading this.

* * *

Boom.

__________