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).


"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.


Thursday, June 30, 2016

John Alec Baker

John Alec Baker (1926 - 1987) was born and lived in Essex, England. He left school at the age of sixteen and worked at the Automobile Association and later for the soft drink company Britvic. He was forty-one when he published his first book, The Peregrine, the culmination of what he described as a ten-year fascination with hawks.

- From the inside cover of The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

* * *

Driving home from work yesterday I saw a guy walking on the sidewalk. He moved slowly, with some difficulty up the very slight incline of the shaved and dimpled handicap access curbs that corner all new streets. He was tallish, heavy, his musculature soft, sagging - as if from long idleness, and he had a backpack clinging to him like a papoose. He appeared to be in his mid-late fifties (my age) and he looked like death would soon overtake him if could not ever find a way to move just a bit faster: the flat, wide sidewalks too much for him to bear. He thereafter entered a bar.

What does his home look like? What are the rituals of long, quiet decay? Did he eat standing at the sink? in front of the television or computer? Was he alone? Who knew him? At ten, could he have imagined the life he now lived? Of course not, but once he imagined something other than a slow walk to a bar. We bolt out into the world and some simply fade, fall to the side, as anonymous as any, but somehow more so: an accumulation of food eaten, chances taken, missed, bungled, a clot of redemption, a knot of unknowability and the unfair judgment of passersby.

How can this be? How can we remain unknown, unknowable? Were we not once loved? If not by a mother or father, but surely a friend, a lover? Is it possible to live a life without a fraction of love? And what have we done with it, our one wild and precious life? 

* * *

I am haunted by rivers, by winter skies, by winds and weather that are indifferent to me. I have stood along canyon edges and felt myself annihilated by the time it took for the water to cut the rock. I have wished for eyes that could see more than I am capable of - to look into the distant, dim past and look for hints of my arrival - but can only see to my front door. If I am honest, this is who I am, this is what occupies me, but often, always often I am dishonest and am busy in other thoughts: 

Perhaps there remains for us some tree on a hillside,
which every day we can take into our vision;
when it stayed with us that it moved in and never left.
There remains for us yesterday's street
and the loyalty of a habit so much at ease.

The habit at its ease, the easy pattern of low expectation and making it to the next paycheck, the companionable slide into wanting less, being less, accepting less becomes a default setting which allows you the pleasure of not noticing others in their plight, in their days, in their hopes. If you don't see, then you cannot be troubled and an untroubled life is better than one turned and roiled by thoughts that go nowhere, have no answer or at best are unsatisfactory.

A man in his fifties walks slowly on the streets of Elburn, IL and heads into a saloon. What the hell am I thinking? Could it not just as easily be the case that he is delighted with his life, his work and the slowness in his step is part of a recovery? It is impossible to know, unless I knew him.

* * *

In 1968, a man named J.A. Baker published an odd and beautiful book, The Peregrine. He worked for a soda maker. He was married. Something, unnamed, unmoored him: illness, a breakdown, something. He went into the wintered fields near his home and watched the hawks to cease being as he was. He took notes. He saw another book come into the world a year later and then not another word was spoken. He died at 61. The story he left behind, the clues he left behind are incandescent in their fury and elegiac despair at ever ceasing to be what one was: hunter and hunted. Time, you know? And while my eyes fall to the easy habit of searching out odd voices, my honest habit looks to all that is missing in the biography of such a man, of any man, woman or child who ever bolted out onto this plain, this vista of experience and was known not.

You, my best beloved, are anonymous to all but a handful, and I to you. Perhaps I leak out some information here and there and you may have a picture of me, but I assure you it is just a framing device, a fiction that allows me to speak at all. This is our fate: to see the world and not be able to impress upon it our existence. Kilroy was here, alright, but unless another is there to read the graffito, then Kilroy wasn't there at all. It is this sense of needing another to close the circle that births the impulse to create, to speak, to move, to hammer at stone so that another might find it and know something of the one who came before. It is the home of elegy, of annihilation of a self bound by its fearful smallness and its burgeoning into life, connection, communion with the things on this plain: hawk, canyon, river, sky.

And this, too: solitary men and women confronting their fates and being moved to action, to plant their feet, plant a flag and proclaim: this mattered.

* * *

A three sentence biography, the coldest of obituaries, will not suffice. The slow walking man in Elburn is vastly more than I imagined for him. He contains dozens, hundreds of lives that have crossed his, of which he was part, of which he is heir to. If he is wounded then that makes him my brother. If the bar is his wintered field where he struggles to understand, then so be it. Even the anonymous live lives of feral glory, of feral sadness and we are all anonymous save but for the few closest to us. And since that is the case, be kind to them. They will, in their turn, struggle and will need to know  how you managed, where you went looking for hawks.

I wish you well.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

People Expect You

People expect you to fall
Hit that same old wall
Really they don't want to help at all
They talk behind your back today
Shake their heads and say
"Well, I always knew that the boy
would come to no good anyway"

- Barbara Keith, "Detroit or Buffalo"

* * *

We are prisoners of expectation,  forever holding our tongues or gibbering like monkeys to suit the needs of the room. We modulate ourselves to accommodate what is expected from us in a given situation: you can say this, not that to your employer, you don't ever mention x in front of your mother, avoid politics, sex and religion around your father-in-law, but speak of nothing else with your closest friends. It is all of one piece: the expectations of others shape and determine what we say and do. This is, in itself, unremarkable, for it is how we manage to survive much of our days. What is remarkable is how little we believe we do it. That is someone else's problem. We rarely see it in ourselves or in how we've lived our lives. Yet, I can think of nothing else quite as powerful, insidious and deleterious to the potential to know one's self (and this presumes that that knowledge is the singular task of being alive), as how the expectations of others can define a life–your life, my life, the life of the kid in the room down the hall, the lives of every last one of us making our way, on our way to find out.

People expect you to fall and hit that same old wall because they need you to fall in order to keep their understanding of the world locked in place. Should you "exceed expectations" folks are shocked, just shocked that it could be so. Why? Because patterns and well-defined roles are the grease in the grooves that keeps things moving. To where, no one asks, but move along, go along to get along, we do. God forbid you have a creative bone in your body, it will draw the ire of people who want you to drop it and get a real job, or monetize it - "Honey, making logos and brochures is a kind of art and it pays," or "You should try writing something people will like, a best seller sort of thing, and then you'd have enough money to write whatever you want." Have you noticed that expectations come with a price tag? It is the definitive mode of setting expectations and defining worth. And it cripples those who don't fit neatly into niches. It wears on each who struggle to make art, eat and keep the lights on. It is a scarlet letter, a brand, the mark of Cain among those torn between the expectations of others, the ones they've absorbed from others, and the ones they still have for themselves. Expectations define and over time we adjust our sense of self to accommodate the results.

And that, right there, bubbe, fucks you up.

* * *

What wall do you hit? What is the name of the expectation you fail to reach for others? What is the absolute keeper on your endeavor? How do you sublimate your own desires to fulfill the desires of others? How many bottles of wine does it take to wash that stain out?

We fail ourselves when we fail to be truthful with others.
We fail ourselves when we promise to get back to our work just as soon as there's money in the bank.
We fail ourselves when we believe what others tell us to believe.

Over time you can lose any thread of yourself blistering your heels running in the darkness of others' expectations. But there are magnificent pressures to stay lost: money will be tossed your way, love (just so long as you act the part), a measure of prestige perhaps, a scosh of fame, a local hero, the corner office and a gold watch.

Am I unfair? You bet I am. It is possible to live well and contentedly by meeting the expectations of your parents, spouse, employer and community. No doubt. No doubt. But those folks aren't reading this blog. You are. Those folks aren't like you or me. They are glad for the knowledge they have, while you and I think there is something more to do. Artists, if they are nothing else, are inventors of the possible. They shape chaos, birth form out of nothing and can only do so when they can hear their own hearts splashing inside their chests. Expectation is white noise blotting out that rhythm. You gotta listen, man. You gotta listen for what is calling your name, calling you into action, calling you to set aside worry over any expectation save for the one: the tattoo of your heartbeat calling you back to yourself.

It's hard to open up the door
Like you've done so many times before
Sometimes you think you just can't do it anymore
Take a chance and take a train
Out into the pouring rain
All you've got's your suitcase
full of pain

* * *

Keep this in mind: in 1972 Barbara Keith returned the advance she received for this album. She didn't want to live under the influence of the label. Unsurprisingly, the album hardly sold because it wasn't backed by the company. No matter. She lived up to her own expectations. Should you ever find a copy of the album in a junk shop or antique mall, buy it. Play it if you can, if not, frame it. Place it where you can see it everyday and bend a knee to no one. Listen to what you know to be true and go have a life free of the limits others would place on you.

* * *

I wish you well.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Around Every Man

Around every man streams an atmosphere that influences his experience.

- Albert Steffen, Meetings with Rudolph Steiner

* * *

I rummage in used book stores. It has been a constant therapy for me since I first left home. The thing with used book stores, as opposed to a book store devoted to new releases, is that you can't walk in with a plan. You are always thrown back on your memory, on vague memories of authors' names that you might have once come across, or a title someone once recommended to you and there, somehow, on the shelf was a book you couldn't have sought, but are deeply satisfied to find. Such is Meetings with Rudolph Steiner. Steiner was a philosopher, lecturer and public intellectual when that sort of thing was prized and respected. He is part of the welter of German arts that roughly coincides with Rilke and Hesse. He was, by all accounts, generous with his time and driven to understand man's spiritual life in scientific terms which would lead to an evolution in man's being, creating freer, more fully complete human beings, which would then bring about societal change because we'd all be so damned free.

You have to respect such hope.

I have been aware of Steiner's name for years. He started the Waldorf Schools and I have friends who sent their children there. He is the father of bio-dynamic agriculture that goes far beyond mere organics and is the holy grail of wine producers. He founded the Anthroposophical Society (an off-shoot of Theosophy) and spent his life writing and teaching his ideas in such a way that thousands were drawn to him and in time, after his death, the Nazi's sought to blot out his name. Steiner believed, man. He believed in his systems, his thought, the, to him, logical extension of that thought into every realm of man's endeavor. He wanted and expected us to evolve into something better than we'd shown.

You have to respect such hope.

And so rummaging in the used book store this book caught me eye. How odd, how wonderfully odd Steiner was and here was a book written by his protege about the great man. Had to have it, but I put it back on the shelf as its cost was greater than I allow myself. But then my daughter went into the same store two weeks later, found it and made it an early Father's Day gift. 

You have to respect such things.

* * *

Around every man streams an atmosphere that influences his experience. This atmosphere can be personal, idiosyncratic, familial, part of his community, nation and most broadly, his or her time. It is colored by personal acts, as well as events far removed from one's daily life. It is easy to imagine this atmosphere as being layered, colored, weighted by what occupies the mind most: personal loss, societal rage, money, faith, family, sex, work that does not insult, etc. This atmosphere, this mist of influences accompanies us everywhere we go and we are no longer able to see it in ourselves, but only in the actions of others. This atmosphere is light or dark depending on the time of day, the day of the year, the year in the life. It is the air we breathe.

You can understand all that as being an albatross, a fated unhappiness. You can also understand it as being the very thing that sustains you, that feeds your next step. It is neither. It is both. It is and what is made of it, how it is used and understood (if considered at all) will determine the rough shape of your days. It is impossible to not be influenced by one's family, or lack thereof. Impossible to not feel the shifts in the society one is born in and then grows into. And we, here, today, are moving in an atmosphere of upheaval, violence and the disintegration of civil discourse. Just like it always has been, only this time it is our turn to make our way through and we are horrified by what we see - regardless of which side of the political spectrum you sit on you are angry that it is so.

The ease with which we can vilify and dismiss anyone who is not of our mind is breathtaking. Social media allows for punches to be thrown, but from a distance. No one is eye to eye which makes throwing that punch, throwing shade, throwing aside any civility that much easier. Better to create a snark filled meme than imagine things are more complicated than that. What is the rise of Trump other than snark and anger made manifest to the world?

Around every man streams an atmosphere that influences his experience.

There is a second line to that quote. It reads: How can one tear him out of it?

But that is a useless thing to ask, for it can't be done. Horses to water and all. No, the answer, if there is an answer, lies elsewhere and it is deeply unsatisfying: if our experience is colored by the atmosphere that surrounds us–from the personal to the societal–then the task set before us is to live in such a way that the manner in which we live shifts the weight and color of the atmosphere of those closest to us, and they in their turn do the same. If you want a more just and free society, then you must be just and free to the darkest hour of the night. If you seek a return to white, male hegemony then you will follow that path and you will influence those around you. You will particularly influence those who stand opposed to such retrograde doings. You will engender the protests that will, in time, be the undoing of such chains. Here's why: the atmosphere that surrounds us is changeable, not fixed, regardless of any propaganda that says otherwise. The arc of history is long, but it bends to justice and along the way the atmosphere has been polluted by those who imagine the past is better than their present and who fear the future. Yet, despite world wars, despite holocausts on every continent, despite cruelty and fear, the atmosphere changes and hope and history rhyme.

* * *

Steiner was a lunatic, a beautiful, kind lunatic who believed in the spiritual evolution of mankind. He believed that nature revealed itself to man in such a way that man, too, could reveal his truest self to his brief time and so move, by degrees, closer to a perfection, a completeness that had yet to be accomplished except, for Steiner, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Steiner believed, man. He believed and his works live past him, have been taken up by others, added to and edited and shaped by new hands. These works spark creativity and autonomy in children, produce healthy environments that yield clean foodstuffs. By feeding off the atmosphere that surrounded him, his own story with the story of his time, he changed the atmosphere for others and it continues almost 100 years after his death.

Listen, love, you don't have to be Steiner to do this. You have to be who you are–complete, with no part left out. The things you say and do today can and will influence others unknown to you, as yet unborn. Your actions will be the atmosphere they are born into, that they start from. So, what will it be? Will you join your time and fight and work and live from what is essential in you, or will you let it slide? 

As Rumi says, everything depends on this.

* * *

I wish you well.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Where Are The

Where are the favors?
Where are the wise men?
Where are the open doors?
Where is the Revealer of Secrets?––
The answer is: "Right here!"
They are here, 
From the beginning to the end.
So it says,
     "You are what you seek."

- Jalaluiddin Rumi, "From Black Soot"

* * *

We forget this. We forget to slow our thoughts and let a bit of silence and birdsong into the clanging of our worry and frustration. We forget to be silent for long enough to hear our own voice. We forget to heed this voice when we hear it because it seems so out of place. We forget this and we do so time and again and do it at great cost to ourselves, those close beside us, to our days, our time, our sense of being in the world.

It is an easy thing to remain tied to the business of our daily lives: our Promethean struggle to live in the time and place where we stand. For some of you that place is an ugly field of broken opportunities, promises and the people you are near may be worn down to their poorer selves because of their own struggle to make sense of things. Others of you may be running in greased grooves money-wise, but there is no kidding anyone that once that spigot is turned on, all you want is to keep it flowing and that creates other sorts of trials. Fuck, listen, it doesn't matter where you stand. Each place and each life is its own test to see what can be done. Do you often wish you could trade your problems for another's because they seem to have it easier? That only makes you human. It also keeps you fucked.

Where are the favors, the wise men, the open doors? 
Who will reveal the secret to making something out of this? 

You will, or it won't be done.

The cavalry is not coming, love. You are already it.

But this does not mean you are alone. It means only you must remember who you are: not by the measurements and judgements of the world surrounding you, but by the silence of your higher self waiting for you to reveal it to yourself.

* * *

We wait on occasions. We hesitate to trust. We'd rather be certain. We do this because our identity is bound up in the goings on of commerce, religion and politics. We look to these institutions because they have answers, answers that have been honed for millennia. If we don't look there, we turn to our beloved, the one who loves us over all others. We tie our well-being to their estimation of us and should that love founder so, too, does our sense of identity and purpose. We do this, time and again, because it seems as if the world moves in those circles and that is where we want to be: safe, within, accepted, part of a whole, aiming for "better."

Neither you nor I need to be better. We need to be complete. 

What fucks us is conflating one for the other. We seek completeness in our beloved, our work, the rewards of that work and the promises made by falling into line and singing from the same choir book. And that works for many. But maybe not so much for you. You want to believe, but can't cross that line. You want to believe in your corporate work, your minimum wage work, your bullshit job that was left after the recession and the hope that this will somehow turn out all right because you worked hard.

And that's cool, man. I feel you there, but it really never feels too good, does it? The fit is off the rack: close, but nothing great. And if you follow the lead of your parents, who in their time had to choose where they stood, your life will be an echo of theirs. Even if they were poet-saints, that's no good for you. No, man, you want the secret to be revealed, then you'll have to reveal it. If you are waiting for the arrival of Shams Tabriz, you'll have to be Shams yourself. If you need a favor, then give it to yourself. If you pray to your God, you'll have to recognize that you are both supplicant and God. To get here, to get to this you need to quiet the noise and listen within yourself. It may take days, weeks, years, but my love, it is where your life takes hold. The answers you find will not be like mine. The answers you find may leave you out of step with others who want you to be like them. Your answers may not ever find their way into the world except for the way you carry yourself. Your greatness may lie in your dying as my father learned. Your silence may reveal upheaval. It may calm you. What is certain is that it will be yours to use, to build your life around, and if you follow the message of what you find and build everything in your life around that, of what you reveal to yourself, down into the marrow of the night, you will have a very different sort of life than the one you are living now. This says nothing about ease or success, only that what you find is yours.

And should you do this, should you venture the game (for this is not to be heavy or lugubrious–that closes off the possibility) you will be Shams, the favor, the secret revealed and every step you take will be a sign and signifier for others to dare it. You have to do this alone, but you are not alone. Others have been where you are now and their birdsong lingers in the air.

Just as yours will when you are done.

* * *

I wish you well.