Friday, March 10, 2017

It's The Same

It's the same old lie they tell you when you're little
Try to make you forget just what it is you're really made of
And follow on just like most everyone
But you and me, we ain't like most everyone
Pure individual, bright as the shining sun
And sure as hell we know where it is we come from
And where it is, yeah, we probably going back to it
But now we gonna live a little, try and get a little truth

- Jim James, "Same Old Lie"

* * *

There is a truth you once knew. It was not separate from you. It wasn't even recognized as something outside of you, or something you could name. It could not be pointed to or talked about. This truth existed in the space between left foot, right foot; it lived in your breath, the unthinkingness of sight, the phantasmagorical processes of neural pathways and a body in motion. You and it were one and had no need to call out its name because it was self-evident. You were the truth itself. The fact of you, the gifts, limits and impulses of you when you arrived here, before learning anything, these were the cloth of your truth. In time, over time, for most of us, that time when we were as one, indivisible from our self, ebbed away or was yanked away as the business of growing up took hold. But the truth is, if your life is fucked today, if it is off-kilter, you need to reclaim that once upon a time truth, the truth you knew when you were a kid, when you ran like a dork and sang to trees. Somewhere, behind the fog of memory, your truth still exists and waits for you to reclaim it - bright as the shining sun.

* * *

The task set before each life is to know itself as it is - not as others would have it, not as we imagine ourselves to be - but as we are. This is the great challenge: who can bear to be themselves? Who can bear to be themselves when everything around you wants you to be what your father expected you to be, what your mother hoped you'd be, what your employer wants from you, what your loves hope to find in you? To please is to be accepted and to be accepted is to know where you are, who you are, to have ballast to your days and direction to go in. None of which is bad or wrong or to be judged with a self-righteous eye. No. Everyone craves some version of that. The crisis, if it ever comes, occurs when you can't remember if what it is you are doing and the sort of life you are living is one you have chosen because it reflects what is innate in you, or if it was chosen in order for others to be pleased with you. Matriculation and compliance are the coin of the realm. Look around you. The tribalism of our politics demands compliance to one of two poles. Look at the language used to enforce the in group versus the out group. How much of that is bred in the bone and how much is a program to follow?

But you and me we ain't like most everyone.

We struggle to remember our truth. It troubles us when we cannot, or when we think we have a sense of it, but it still doesn't seems right, like something's missing. We can find ourselves lost more often than we want to admit, but even in that lostness, where the right road is wholly lost, that truth still lives in us and it calls out our name.

What is beautiful, what is terrible, what is beautiful about all this is that no one can help you. You can be encouraged (that is why I write these things), but you alone have to find your way to the truth you knew before you knew words. It can be harrowing. It is also, when you get there, a liberation, a communion, a silent exaltation as you restore yourself to yourself.

* * *

There is no one way to get there. There is no plan you can follow, no steps to memorize. There is no promise made other than you get to venture the effort. What works for one might influence another, but it can never replace the inescapable fact that you alone know this truth and you alone can live it. I am sustained by music and words. Recently, I have found that color, the making of images, playing with shape and color is the doorway to the truth I knew once, but lost sight of. By needs be, you will have to clear away the rubble and find what sustains you and where it might lead and what long closed doors might open. Perhaps it will be faith, perhaps sound. It might be the natural world. It could be questioning everything. Only you can know.

But don't take that to mean a life of isolation. If that's where you wind up, please note you haven't gotten to the truth yet. For no matter how it is expressed, no matter the form you give it, the inner truth, if it is the true thing itself, always and in all cases leads you outward, towards generosity, towards the giving away of your gifts to a cause greater than yourself. You know this is true if you but think of those who have moved you in your life: their spirit was always generous. And here lies a paradox that you cannot resolve (to resolve it is to kill its inherent mystery): you are pure individual, bright as the shining sun, whose gifts belong to everyone, who is a part of a larger whole, a larger mystery that cannot be riddled out except to be the truth you are.

You are near and far at the same time: cosmic and smelly, eternal and corporeal, a timeless creature with a clock around its neck. Don't try and resolve it. You'll pick one over the other. That's how you got lost in the first place: mom and dad didn't want you to make their mistakes, the church wanted your bended knee, the boss wants your weekends and your sweet love wants you to fill what is empty inside them. There is a truth you once knew. It was not separate from you. It wasn't even recognized as something outside of you, or something you could name. It could not be pointed to or talked about. This truth existed in the space between left foot, right foot; it lived in your breath, the unthinkingness of sight, the phantasmagorical processes of neural pathways and a body in motion. You and it were one and had no need to call out its name because it was self-evident. You were the truth itself. 

And you can be again.

Listen back. You are forever being called into your name.

* * *

May your well run deep.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Some Time When

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden, and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

- William Stafford, "Ask Me"

* * *

I once was plagued by trying find and secure ultimate answers about God, meaning, the depth of the cosmos, an answer to the question, "Why?" Because my goal was impossible, nothing satisfied and I could pride myself in the search, as if futility were an accomplishment. Such thoughts no longer trouble me. Instead, I only want to know who I am. Should I ever figure that out I have a sense the other questions will be answered as much as they can be.

* * *

Ask me whether what I have done is my life.

It is written as a dare, no? Ask me, go ahead, ask me. I'll tell you. Or maybe it is written plaintively, a request to be relieved of the haunting of the unasked question: who are you? It is a loaded line. Everything else in the poem turns on this question: doings, love, hate, distances, forces of nature beyond our control. Is who we are the origin of these things? And if we don't know if what we have done is who we are, what have we created by not paying attention? 

Here's the thing, it is impossible to always be aware of how each step, each breath, each glance somehow reveals, projects, makes manifest who we are. And those projections are often default settings we operate under just to manage getting through the day. We move by rote and muscle memory in order to move more smoothly, with less friction because to pay closer attention would, invariably slow us down. By moving through our days this way it is both easier to manage and harder to ever know our own names. Layer upon layer, fog upon fog, we mute and muffle what we might have once recognized as our soul, our spark, our fire in order to simply get through. A day of it makes a second day more likely - less pain - and a year of it makes a decade of stifling the thought of who were before we learned to love a frictionless life a done deal. Into the mix we find every sort of justification for turning down the flame and come to believe, honestly believe, we're better off doing as everyone around us is doing: American Dream, mortgage, debt, Netflix and chill.

And if we came to those choices unencumbered by expectation, if we came to them by knowing whether what we have done is our life, then those choices would be fucking gold.

But, that's not the way it is, is it?

* * *

Ask me whether what I have done is my life.

How to clear the fog? How to know if what you are doing to clear the fog is even up to the job? Again, there are bookshelves full of justifications, programs, models for getting at this question, but, love, listen, a book can't do it. Neither can a poem. All they can do is ask a question. The rest falls to you. Should you demand more of them, should you follow someone else's trail of breadcrumbs, nothing much will change. Maybe the language you use will change (psychology, theology, poetry, philosophy, etc.) but the underlying facts will not. The muting of your one precious existence will continue. No, you have to use what is at hand to go beyond whatever they might offer.

That is the risk, the challenge, the privilege.

That would be challenge enough, but should you choose to embark, like smoke and sparks, you will have to do so surrounded by the fears and aspirations of your time, your culture, your society, community and family. Of what possible value is such a journey in the time of Trump? Aren't there bills to pay? Walls to build? Others to blame? 

Well, every life has had to move through the politics of their time. It is always, in all places, a limiting factor, an impingement, a threat to life - if not yours, then the fellow you have demonized. Joseph Campbell, in one of his lectures at the Cooper Union, spoke of the limiting horizons of the in group versus the out group. Each society claims affection and protection for their own against any who are deemed outside the group. Tribal, you know? But as mankind moved from hunting and gathering to cultivating, to the origins of landed society and civilization each step brought about the destruction of the previous horizon. Each step exploded the horizons outward until you reach Copernicus who places the sun in the center, instead of the Earth, instead of man, and suddenly the horizons are now cosmic. What was true for the pre-Copernican society of western Europe, was no longer true. This change occurred because of an expansion of conscious thought. When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969 another expansion occurred, or least it held the possibility of it. It seems to me we have contracted from that possibility of redefining horizons. Things have become narrower, meaner, more cut-throat than they otherwise should have been. Why?

Ask me whether what I have done is my life.

We have conflated the things we do to secure shelter, food, to find a partner, to maintain a home, with who we are. We have let slip any knowledge of ourselves for the certainty of borders and limited horizons. We have become afraid.

The cure is to stand along a frozen river and know that its currents still flow below what we see, to know, without saying, the distances covered, how rivers are the past, present and future all at the same time, to know that what appears to be present for us is yet to be for others, is already past for others still. Rivers move to the sea. Their horizons expand and still they flow. 


And if the earthly no longer knows your name,
whisper to the silent earth: I'm flowing.
To the flashing water say: I am.

* * *

Ask me whether what I have done is my life and I will tell you no. The things I have done, the mistakes I have made, the kindness I have managed are not my life. They are the externals, the ice of the frozen river, the thing you see. My life is in the current below all that. It is part of a past I did not witness, a future I will not see.  The only worthy goal is to integrate the two, to introduce my shadow to the light so that what feeds from below is made manifest above. We live, to our great detriment, too much in either one or the other, with no harmony or rhyme present. It is easier to endlessly search, or ceaselessly comply than to challenge either. Justifications abound for both and it is very easy to get lost, to be made afraid. Justifications are constrictions, a limiting factor, a narrow horizon. To know who you are no justifications will do. It can only be you and your experience of the river.

* * *

What the river says, that is what I say.

* * *

I wish you well.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What Tightens Into

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

- RM Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus, XII

* * *

I read Rilke as others do the Bible.

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

And to transform is to create.

* * *

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

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

* * *

I wish you well.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Good Luck To

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

- Hermann Hesse, Wandering

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

From RL Stevenson:

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

I wish you well.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

To Communicate Liberally

To communicate liberally; to be useful.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

* * *

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

Such a message is sorely needed today.

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

So, what to do? 

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

We're all accordion players now.

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

May your well run deep.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Muse Don't

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

- Rivulets, "Ride on, Molina"

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

The muse don't care what chord you use.

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

The muse don't care what chords you use.

* * *

I wish you well.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

You Cannot Mend

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

- Annie Dillard, For The Time Being

* * *

The strength of our weakness is without end.

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

The poet Christian Wiman wrote: 

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

I wish you well.