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.


Thursday, June 2, 2016

Unvisible Barbed Wire

Unvisible barbed wire all along
Around the neck of my song
Hey Romale, I'm beat up but going strong

Unstoppable fire of my tongue
And the path ahead that's long
Will get me at the end where I belong

- Gogol Bordello, Last One Goes The Hope
* * *
Bend a knee to no one.
* * *
Have you ever choked back a diatribe? Have you held your tongue because your spouse, your boss, your parents, your teachers, friends, co-workers, children, neighbors, politicians, museum docents, dolphin trainers, jai lai players, bar-room drummers, janitors, Comcast installers, gamblers, nurses, Boy-Scouts, garbage men, book store clerks, rabbis, small-town cops, and barbers all managed to take some advantage in their dealings with you: bullying, nagging, accusatory, demeaning, unthinking, thoughtless jibing, arrogant blustering, self-centered ego tripped blathering? Yeah, of course you have. Ten minutes later you've thought of the perfect thing to say, but the moment passed and the saying is never done. So you choke it down, add it to the pile of bile that has no outlet and you fuck yourself just that much more each time.

Love, bend a knee to no one.
Our habit of what we incorrectly call "decency" is, in fact, an indecent act of self-annihilation. To manage the dickheads, asshats, douche-y douchebags and the various and sundry people who have no sense of what they say and how it comes off and how it wounds, limits and bullys us into compliance and we clam up, we let the moment pass for fear of tapping that reservoir of unsaid things and losing control. Besides, we live to fight another day. But honestly, do we ever actually fight? No, we don't. The only examples we have are the dickheads, asshats and douchebags bullying and insulting their way along the road, and it isn't in us to be like them.

But, I tell you true, bend a knee to no one.
The question before you isn't will you encounter assholes and idiots, but rather will you allow them to define you and your choices?

And there is this: to resist their nihilism does not require you to become as they are, but demands that you become as you are.

* * *
It is simple to say: the only things you can control are what you think, say and do. So own it. You have no obligation to bear responsibility for the ridiculousness of others, only your own. To know yourself well enough to take no shit from anyone without becoming a shit yourself is what mastery is for.  To arrive at this mastery isn't simple, but it is direct.
Here's the dope: to get there, keep your feet moving; to get there, keep your fire alive; to get there, you'll take some beatings from others who don't get it, who want you to comply, get in line just like them, but use those obstacles to further free yourself.  Make ready by learning the contours of your soul. Learn the places where no more grief will be allowed to pass. Stand, love, stand and when challenged by a bully or a nag or a coward or a gossip or a prima donna just say, "No." Explain nothing, do not justify yourself to those who would limit you. Let your no, no more, no mas, pas plus, niks meer nie, zadna, nicht mehr, nincs tobb, nach bhfuil nios mo, non piu, kore ake stand as your final word and keep your feet moving, keep an eye on the fire and bend a knee to no one.

When you get drawn into the infernal pettiness of corporate politics, identify politics, partisan politics you cede ground and concede your integrity to their terms. You are ever fighting from your back foot and the best you can hope for is a draw. That is why you hold your tongue in the first place: you know it's futile. You've already lost before it's begun. Over time it wearies you and you forget what you ever felt so bad about.

Bend a knee to no one and you'll always know your name.
Bend a knee to no one and ask no one to bend a knee to you.
Bend a knee to no one and be free.

* * *

One last thing: there are forces you cannot control, things outside of your ability to influence - the unvisible barbed wire all along, around the neck of your song. Your task is not to undo that barbed wire, but to sing in spite of it, to move in such a manner that every act is an act of rebellion, of radical freedom that bends a knee to no one because it knows its name, its source, and where it is bound. 

The path ahead is long, love, but it will take you where you belong.

I wish you well.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

La Infinitia Liberacion

La infinitia liberacion de no saberse solo
  The infinite liberation of knowing that one is not alone

- Ernesto Sabato
(trans. Clive James in Cultural Amnesia)

* * *

The French word for it,  frisson, meaning that shiver of delight and emotional recognition that sometimes visits when listening to music, or looking at some beautiful thing, or a touch from the right person at the right time, comes close, as does Campbell's idea of "aesthetic arrest", where time falls away and you are held by the beauty of something. Close, but when I read Sabato's phrase (he was arguing against the idea that genius and art were only for the elect and instead could also be found at the street level) I was neither delighted, nor held by beauty. Something more elemental, visceral, ancient held my guts aside to see if I still had a soul, that deep body knowledge, bred in the bone, of truths so old we've forgotten them, and was held there for a moment while the examination was completed and then released.

Ezra Pound once translated an old troubadour poem, maybe it was some Cavalcanti, I can't remember and no longer have the book, but this I do remember, it was about love:

He, caught, then
falleth on the spike of the targe

Sabaoto's statement, too, is about love. We do great harm to ourselves to believe, as we are wont to do, that we are alone. The hellish drumbeat of youwerebornaloneandyoulldiealone echoes all around us. We defend ourselves and build walls against our loneliness by becoming ever more alone. We trust little as politics and religion and economics have all proved fatally flawed. This bleeds into our daily lives with those closest to us: we love this far, but no further. We become tribal or we become hermetic, both doing a nice job of sealing us off from the world around us: the world that is in ruin and always has been, the world of suffering and need as well as the world of unspeakable beauty and mystery.

Sabato tells me liberation is found in realizing the opposite of what our institutions have told us for millennia: you are not alone. Now, you can take that to mean your God walks beside you. You can understand that as being being part of what the ancient Stoics called the logos. Sabato meant only, as surely as the historical Jesus did, that I'm here with you on the streets. We share this road. Our genius, our liberation is found in our connection to one another. Not as lovers, or family or any intimate relationship, but in the broader, wider, encompassing prospect that the stranger is the same as I am. Our details may diverge, but pull aside the guts and our souls rhyme. It is how we serve our highest self and keep what what what matters most in sight: compassion - for it can be a difficult road we walk. This is the fall, the release of pride in our sufferings, the release of guilt over not knowing sooner, and the source of liberation and being able to move again in the genius of our days.

* * *

What drives our isolation, what fucks us deep and true, is a preponderance of the immediate, the circumstantial, the greased grooves of expectation and compliance. It is a hard climb to get any perspective on what the hell is going on, to separate yourself from the welter of obligations and responsibilities and disappointments and know who you are down in the marrow of your bones. You can hardly tell what is foreground and what is background and where you might stand in relation to either. But you climb, you work at it, you try to find a place to stand and it occupies the whole of you.  For six years this is what I have basically written about here, for it was my struggle to know, to stand, to work at it. The seductive nature of always struggling is a ferocious temptation to remain wounded. Pass that hurdle and you have found your feet. You have achieved a remarkable thing: you have become yourself.

But, my friend, there is more to do. The job is only half done. You know that, right?

There is more to do.

Having made that journey, you have to come back to the rest of us. The gifts you can bring are unlike anything here where there is suffering and isolation and the injustice of institutions and the fear that walks about looking for a place, a victim to pour its anger over. To be liberated is not solely to know one's self, but to know and then share it out, to remind those who need it most that they are not alone.

The beloved Mavis Staples sings:

You're not alone 
I'm with you, 
I'm lonely too
What's that song
Can't be sung by two?

* * *

I wish you well.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Unity Of

The unity of nearness and remoteness involved in every human relation is organized, in the phenomenon of the stranger, in a way which may be most briefly formulated by saying that in relationship to him, distance means that he, who also is far, is actually near. For, to be a stranger is naturally a very positive relation: it is a specific form of interaction.

- Georg Simmel, The Stranger

* * *

Ideas stick like burdock seeds to clothes: unintended, found in places you didn't know existed, hidden to you, but part of you. Should you become aware of them and try to pry them off fragments will still remain, a burr to remember your passage this way. The Stranger is one of those burrs, something I walked past years ago and somehow it became attached to me: sometimes silent, sometimes an irritant. Simmel wrote, clear-eyed, about the unique position of European Jews at the turn of the 20th century: part of the community, but not of it, a necessary intermediary, a necessary scapegoat, their economic mobility contrasted to the rootedness of the landed gentry. He was bedeviled and captivated by the near and far, the two elements of the stranger. 

I am, too, and by very different means I, too, see this as a remarkable unity.

* * *

To be fucked, as I use the term here, is to be disjointed, out of place, stuck, frozen up, lost and disconnected from the elemental forces of your life–forces that are known only to you in their specifics through your experience, but known to anyone and everyone who has felt the tug of life's tide pulling them into oceanic waters. To that I would add that to be fucked is to abandon or doubt the unity of your experience and instead choose either near or far, settling for once and for all which side you are on. Doing so is the very thing that fucks you. In order to be near and far, remote and present, requires but one thing from you: to be able to move (in space, in time, across thought, by desire). Fucked is stuck and it goes nowhere.

Now, take a look around. You can see the evidence of lives plopped on one side of that line or the other. The landed, the folk, the stable, the near live lives made stable by commerce and their ability to remain in place: home ownership, careers, nationalism, consensus, law, institutions. Their opposite, the remote ones, the distant others live lives completely foreign to the landed: esoteric, aloof, elite, or on the lower rungs, homeless, vagabond. To be so one or the other is to limit what is possible in life, is to choose a set of blinkers (for the unlanded are no less bound to their choice than the home owner) and only allow in that which comports with the choice one has made. Cogito ergo sum is now remade into, I think thus and thus it is: Puto ego tale et tale est.

And lives are lived happily here. 

But you are reading something called Unfuck Your Life, so perhaps that happiness has eluded you. It has eluded me as well for many years. Yet, through slog and trial, the idea clung to me that it did not have to be this way. Predisposed to being unsettled, I tried to be settled and failed. But out of that failure came four children and that relationship settled me, in part, but also left me unsatisfied. It was as if I could not be gracious for the privilege of being their dad, for the lessons of the fire we all walked through. For an idea clung to me and I could not quite name it.

* * *

Lives are lived on a continuum, a long stroke of possibility and the emphasis any life places on one point of that continuum, is different than the emphasis of the next life. We thrum and vibrate along lines of what is humanly possible. It is difficult to be outside the group, to feel unwanted or rejected, to reject others. It feels like we're missing out on the basics of human experience. It is difficult to stay put, to adventure this far and no further out of obligation or expectation. Depending on who you are, what you've seen by now you may wish for the opposite of what you have, you may be snug and smug with what you've got and in either case you're fucked. You are looking outside yourself for answers. Only other peoples' answers are out there, mate. Even this blog.

Now, the one person I haven't spoken of here is the artist, the creative and their place in all this. I must admit that I don't have much patience with defining "artist" as someone engaged in the fine arts alone. I define the artist as someone who is crafting their life using old forms and innovating from there. All of my writing is aimed at that audience. And it is in this conception of the artist that the long-ago encounter with Simmel's Stranger finds the expression I have been searching for.

To be near and far at the same time is to collapse all duality, all categories, all proscriptions written from within one camp or the other: religious, economic, political. Fluidity, participating in the joys and sorrows of your community while still retaining a longer sense of time, of objectivity that induces compassion. This is what the artist does, this is what art is made of: compassion. Artists own homes as easily as they own nothing. Artists represent their time and place as easily as they transcend it. The Stranger is no stranger. It is you, the positive relation to the whole, for the artist is both individual and specific to the days of her life, and the whole itself: foreground and field, the remarkable unity of a specific expression (your life) in the context of all lives.

Seen from this angle, what is there to be stuck by? What is there that can hold you in place, a partisan for one side or the other? Only one thing: fear. We fear we are not enough, that we won't know what to do, or that what we have to offer won't find acceptance. It is a pervasive thing and is the most powerful keeper on your life. In order to be an artist, of any stripe, to make your life an offering to those close beside you and to your time, to build out compassion through your works, you must first be compassionate with yourself. It is time, love, to let go of the anger and self-loathing for not knowing sooner, the regret that things took the time they did and the road and losses were long and great to get here. Forgive it all and keep moving. You have stories to tell, a life to live. And if there isn't as much light in the sky as there once was, if your days have slipped by and middle age or old age is upon you, no matter. You can begin now, for the only thing that does not end is now.

* * *

I wish you well.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Birds Flying High

Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin' on by you know how I feel

It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
And I'm feeling good 

- Nina Simone, I'm Feeling Good 

* * *

At the end of the day, the question must be asked: In what manner did I live today? This is not a simple question, for the likely answer given by the great most of us is that we worked, perhaps at things we do not enjoy, perhaps at things we cannot stomach, but we work because of the grace of our daily obligations to our best beloveds, to ourselves, for food, shelter and love. Some may even work at things that feel right and good and serve a profound sense of self and well-being. But, do you see the problem with these answers? To answer the question about the manner in which one lived the answer is I worked.

I am not here to denigrate the value of work, nor its necessity to maintain hearth and home. But I do want to challenge the default position that work is our primary mode of living. If it is, it shouldn't be. If it isn't, then never let it be.

The idea of work as an ideal state, of difficulty in effort equaling an ideal in man can be traced back to Ancient Greece. Antisthenes the Cynic, a contemporary of Plato's, is the first to make Hercules the ideal for man: Herculean effort is his contribution to the welter of things. But this idea doesn't really grab hold in a dominant way until Immanuel Kant separates Western philosophy from the contemplation of the ways to organize a life and announces that hard work and difficult effort were the markers of a well-organized life. Since then we have overvalued the difficult, turned it into an ideal, at the cost of a wider view of the lives we live.

For years my pride was stoked by my ability to endure, to suffer, to survive another day. Family wondered at the capacity and every bit of it was driven by the idea that if something was difficult and painful it must therefore be worthy, that I was made worthy by the effort. All external evidence indicated I was not a worthy, so I made myself into one by out staring it.

And here's the uneasy thing: sometimes that is true. There are times when you will have to endure, to bear the difficult, to put in a Herculean effort in order get where you are going. The fault lies in believing that is the way of all things at all times. The fault lies in the pride you take out of it. The fault lies in mistaking what is transitory for something that is permanent. The difficult, the work of your days is not your baseline of experience. We've made it so through generations of cultural prohibitions, stories, accruals and unspoken agreements that the Emporer and his clothes look fine, just fine to us.

* * *

There is a point at which words can go no further. There is a point at which science ceases to answer and speculates (about a millisecond after the Big Bang the door closes). There is a truth that is sayable and the rest becomes unsayable–our capacity to express our experience is overrun by the experience of simply being present in our lives. This inability to describe what we are experiencing, be it an exalted physical experience, an emotional recognition that one is loved, or an insight that eclipses the intellect, holds little currency in our lives. Make no mistake, when it happens to us we love it. We are held in thrall. But to try and tell another, to dare to build your live around the message of that moment, to put it into words is to make it small and make it look ridiculous. It doesn't fit into the story of effort and the difficult and work and redemption through effort and work and the difficult. We are sinners and we have been cast out. Now work.

Yet, despite the weight of these inherited notions, our bodies, our senses are capable of experiencing the life in our veins as something other than the toil and moil of debt management. We are still capable of what Campbell called "aesthetic arrest", the ability to be stunned into silence by beauty and enter directly into that moment as both an observer and, miraculously, the observed. The answer as to what is beautiful is, of course, culturally predisposed, but this is less about form and more about the awareness of form. We are still capable of delight that costs no other thing its integrity. This delight is best described by the metaphor of waking up, of seeing with new eyes. And, I will tell you, this is our natural default position. We learn blindness.

* * *

How is one to unlearn this blindness? The world is fraught with dangers. There are insane men doing insane things that don't give a rat's ass about any of this. Exactly. They are the product of the belief in trial and suffering as man's highest art. The violence of our politics and the violence of our religions is a causal effect of this underlying, un-approached, un-challenged belief in the arduous as salvation. Again, there are times when we each must take up the mantle of the difficult to meet a given moment, but it is a critical error to hold onto it as a permanent and absolute good. It isn't. Seeing with new eyes is.

In order to see, to wake up, to be able to set aside the pride in your effort to make others rich, only one thing is required of you: to play. Children are not aware of time when they run. They flow. When you lose yourself doing something you love, something you can make no money off of, something you undertake for the delight of having a body that can do and imagine such a thing, you flow. You have no ability to conceive of stopping, to articulate what is happening. You simply enter it and flow and move and are satisfied down unto your marrow. This is not foreign to you. You know this moment. You have experienced it. It is, my love, who you are.

And there is this: who you are is the unique intersection of the world's phenomena, the history of all phenomena, held in a single body. "That is why every man's story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every man, as long as he lives and fulfills the will of nature, is wondrous, and worthy of consideration."

* * *

Ms. Simone sings:

Stars when you shine, you know how I feel
Scent of the pine, you know how I feel
Yeah, freedom is mine, and I know how I feel
It's a new dawn 

It's a new day
It's a new life for me
And I'm feelin'... good.

The key there is she knows how she feels. She knows what the stars and the pines know, too.

Now go play.

* * *

I wish you well.