Tuesday, April 15, 2014

But After Awhile

But after awhile you stand up, wipe the frost out of your ear, go someplace to get warm, bum a nickel for coffee, and then start walkin' toward somewheres else that ain't near no bridge.

- William Kennedy, Ironweed

* * *

There are three sorts in this world: the living, the recently dead whose lives overlap with those still living, and the dead so dead there's no one alive who knew them. There is a type of conversation had between them: memories rounded and burnished, gaps ever widening and the need, for now - always now - to keep moving. It is what we have done since memory was first invented. Later, we figured out how to leave our stories behind, stories that didn't need to passed by word of mouth, but by the magic of symbols and signs: our tongues turned to text.

Always, it is a conversation between the three sorts. Always, we pattern ourselves on the patterns laid down before we arrived. Always, we have to answer the answers others came up with to figure out what we're to do with the incredible phenomenon of breathing and thinking and feeling and longing and wondering and fearing and loving and trying, always trying to figure out purpose and meaning and rarely getting out past the patterns laid down before us. We are original only in that we are a unique, solitary, one-off expression of life.

And it troubles us that this is so.

* * *

I have been looping back through a thought over and over. I come close to understanding it, but it moves away like mercury and I run the film again trying to find that line of thought and I come close to understanding it, but it moves away like mercury and I run the film again trying to find the line of thought...

It is this: we are here to help each other move on - in life, in death, in memory, in love, in action, in sweet repose, in daylight, in midnight, in fullness, in part, in the myriad ways we've devised to put one foot in front of the other. We are on our way to find out what it is we can find out about being the incredible phenomenon that breathes, thinks, feels, longs, wonders, fears, loves and tries to riddle out meaning in the infinitude of time.

I dreamt I was standing along the Pacific, on a windy beach. It was bright. The spray of the ocean fell on everything, salting it. I was with a woman. In the dream I knew she and I were together, but I did not recognize her from my waking life. It was the moment of our deaths and when we realized it we were, for a flash, afraid, then it passed through us. We took each other's hand and smiled.

This is the loop, the film. She is back lit, but I see that smile, that calmness and I think, "Of course."

* * *

You are not alone in this world. You come from people who handled their lives well or less well. You've been told stories about the people who came before them, or you've created ones to fill the gaps. You are known. You belong. You have something to do while you are here. It mostly has to do with love - not of any god, or cosmology, but with the incredible phenomenon of being here. If it has run off the rails, so what? Fix it. If it hasn't been easy or just or fair, so what? You still breathe. If you fail to fix it, if you stay mired in the muck of being affronted by life's indifference, then you'll have burned time for nothing. When you get to the shore you'll fear it.

You can fall into the trap of an existential crisis. You can despair of your finite nature. You can do all that (and it happens to us all), but after awhile you stand up, wipe the frost out of your ear, go someplace to get warm, bum a nickle for coffee and then start walkin' towards somewheres else. It is in the moment you decide to get up, to move that stories are born. The things we do when we push away from the bullshit ennui are the things that populate our lives, are the doings of our lives. It is the first word in the conversation we have with the lives that surround us, the lives that overlapped ours, that exist now only in story and memory and by doing so we reach, "Of course."

* * *



Thursday, April 10, 2014

Every Fury On

Every fury on earth has been absorbed in time, as art, or as religion, or as authority in one form or another. The deadliest blow the enemy of the human soul can strike is to do fury honor. Swift, Blake, Beethoven, Christ, Joyce, Kafka, name me a one who has not been this castrated. Official acceptance is the one unmistakable symptom that salvation is beaten again, and is the one surest sign of fatal misunderstanding, and is the kiss of Judas.

- James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

* * *

Read Agee. Your life will be set on fire.

* * *

There is this: either you are awake to your own genius, or you sleepwalk; either you are the author of your days, or you are a character in someone else's book; either you can live without anyone's approval save your own, or you are forever on your back foot awaiting acceptance that should it ever come will always be less than you hoped for. There is no grey area here. The only part that is muddied, unclear is your willingness to live this out day in and day out. Our spirit flags and we need time to recover, but none of that changes the foundational prerogative that you either master your days or are a slave to them.

And remember, this is a timed test. Pencils down at any moment.

* * *

I cannot advocate for anger, but fury I'm good with. Anger is base, dissolute, easily spent and easily stoked. Fury is of a different order. It permeates, informs, drives, lifts; it is the will to sit in a chair and type out books; it is the will to work late into the night, to miss meals, to reject the status quo, to speak truth to power, to draw inspiration from the fact you draw breath and there is work for you to do. Not employment, but work. Fury is the genius you have left untapped. Fury is the force that drives the green fuse, that inflames a life so it might pursue justice, or beauty, or solace, or love, or redemption. It is the full expression of a life - its soul laid bare: unashamed, unapologetic, fierce with love.

Thus is fury. Thus is a life unfucked.

You are the only authority that matters. You are the the only one who can decide what shape and color your life is to have. No guru, no method, no teacher matters. Only you do. There is inside you a life that is not yet lived. Forget the trials of past. Let them be. They are dead and they are gone. You still live. Will you bring the dead with you? Will you be limited by those things that cannot be changed, or will you embrace this one moment to torch up your life, to accept the unique fury that is inside you and give it room to express itself? Will you? The world doesn't need another doctor or lawyer or salesman. It needs people who have come alive, who are lit from within and live accordingly.

Look around you. Is your life happier, better, more complete because did as you were told, or as you decided?

It is a lonely thing at first. No one quite understands and the judgments come swift and unkind. No one likes to see someone separate from the herd and be happy. It reminds them of all they have hedged and compromised and it stings. But let your fury be your guide. There is genius in it because unlike anger, fury is sustaining because it always sees work to do, places it can go to complete the task in front of itself: helping you be the author of your life.

* * *

Swift, Blake, Beethoven, Christ, Joyce, Kafka - they paid dearly for their genius, their fury and in time that genius was subsumed into polite conversation, a place in the canon, history's high regard. Fuck that. You cannot read or hear their works and be as you were before. They are transformative exactly because they were subversive, their lives a rebuke to the status quo and the death that cloaks it. It was only after their deaths that acceptance found them.

You must be the genius you are and forego acceptance in exchange for the fury that will carry you until the end.

* * *

You can add James Agee to that list as well.

* * *



Sunday, April 6, 2014

We All Got

We all got holes to fill
And them holes are all that's real
Some fall on you like a storm
Sometimes you dig your own

But choice is yours to make
And time is yours to take
Some dive into the sea
Some toil upon the stone

- Townes Van Zandt, To Live Is To Fly

* * *

There are times when I am destroyed by tenderness. The frailty of our bodies, the transitory nature of our days, how lost we can get are all part of the mystery of putting one foot in front of the other, of venturing a bit further on and in those moments when we are unsure of ourselves, when we glimpse at the edge of our vision time's ceaseless flight, when fear and doubt and longing all knot themselves together a kindness, a gesture from another recognizing our plight, our common struggle is all it takes to unknot those ropes, to destroy the fear and move freer, lighter: unbound.

Tenderness is the outward expression of an internal truth: we're all going to die and nothing can be done about it, but there is something we can do while we live - we can give what we can so others' fears are stilled. A balm, a gift, our very soul.

Such is the work of musicians, writers, painters, poets. But also of plumbers and teachers and embalmers and bank tellers and cooks and every last one of us fuckers. Townes destroys me all the time, destroys my fears, keeps me on the road. By reading this, you do to.

* * *

We all got holes to fill. Those absences define us in ways we aren't always able to recognize. Habits of thought become patterns of doing and it takes an outside actor - a book, a song, a sermon, a drink with a friend, a date, bad news, good news, a diagnosis, a death - to break the pattern and so give us a chance to see what we've been doing, how we've dealt (or not dealt) with those holes. Whether the holes are simply what you were born into, or whether you created them is, at the end of the day, immaterial. What matters is what you're going to do about it. How will you go about your days? Will you be filled with anger at the injustice of it? Shame for your hand in it? Denial because you fear facing it? Courage to finally fight it out? What?

Here's my answer: destroy it through the kindness of your doing. There is no finer gift possible than to give yourself to a cause greater than yourself. This is the tenderness I'm talking about. You can do X and by doing X you add to the store of good will, kindness, gestures referencing something other than yourself and so lay down tracks of hope and solace and inspiration and courage. You needn't be any of those things yourself, but by your doing, by working outside of yourself you litter the world with signs and signifiers for others to find, to use and build from. Your doings can touch lives unknown to you, can make those lives kinder and better than might have otherwise been possible except for your willingness to do your work, to be who you are.

What is fear or doubt in the face of such beauty?

Again, you can be a drunk, a junkie as Townes was and still say and do things that can transform lives. I hope you're not a junkie, but being one doesn't exclude you from having something to give. The only thing that does that is you choosing not to. If you're fucked this is what's fucking you.

* * *

Lately, I have become aware of the small gestures I see passing between aging couples, couples who seemingly are still connected to each other and not drifting into old age and decline as solitary beings. A hand placed on a forearm to help the other remember a name, walking slowly together, glances passed back and forth without words but keen understanding, how close their bodies are to each other and it takes every thought out of my head. These are the doings they can share and so simply because their bodies are declining does not mean their willingness to be present for the other, with the other must decline as well. This is what I write about. Works of art are attempts to hold time in place: words, sounds, images are all ordered to halt time, to transcend it. And that is one type of work, one type of doing, one type of kindness. The other work does not resist time, but remains indifferent to it while there is still time to place a hand on a forearm, to look into another's eyes and say, "I'm here. I got you. I love you."

Choose your work and then do it.

* * *

To live is to fly, low and high
So shake the dust off of your wings
And the sleep out of your eyes.

* * *



Wednesday, April 2, 2014

And Through My

And through my bones an iron rage
Paints my soul upon the page.

- David Grey, "Real Love"

* * *

The impulse to try again, to try again and again, to restart, reboot, recover, redeem is rooted in a rage against the way things are, the way we allowed things to be, the way we have responded to the way things are in our lives. Writ large or small, our responses to the facts of our lives are the only things we control. When we reach a point of no longer giving a flying fuck about anything other than trying to unfuck what has us stuck, there are streaks of rage marbled into it.  It isn't a question of denying the rage. No, the question before you is how to use it.

If you stumble, if you have become lost, if there is a darkening sense that you could have shown better than you have, been willing to stand up straight and not be straightened, you can fall down the rabbit of hole of self-loathing that plagues all of this. You can turn against yourself because you are the closest thing at hand, because you realize you were responsible for every last word and deed, because you have convinced yourself the process of individuation, of learning how to be you, was somehow supposed to be complete from Day 1 and not something learned over time. We all do it, and it is all bullshit.

Let it go. Let it all go. All it does is give you a headache in the eye.

* * *

To unfuck your life, friend, you have to use what is at hand to get yourself moving again. If the rage I described is part of you right now, then use it to help yourself along. Unbridled rage is a waste of energy. It is dramatic and useless and only delays the day when you finally get down to the business at hand: unfucking what's been fucked.

There must be ways for you to route that rage, to send it along corridors of intention to drive you out of the muck you've been covered in. This is the art of it, the challenge of it, the burgeoning sense of being able to out stare your blindness. And it can be tough. There will be fallow times, empty swaths where it seems nothing is changing, where, for all your efforts, you are twinned to the realization that you're fucked and your efforts to unfuck it have yielded no fruit.

No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

This is the power that comes into your hands if you ply that rage on a daily basis, if you discipline that rage into works and actions and doings. You free yourself from outcomes, from proofs, from outward signs and symbols of your efforts. All that matters is the doing, the daily doing, the doing when there is no light, the doing when there is no acknowledgement, the doing because to not do it is to betray what you have learned to date and nothing and no one will cause you to give it up.

You're uncertain? No matter.
You don't know how? No matter.
You fear being misunderstood? You will be, so no matter.

What does matter, what does carry with it the key to your soul, is the willingness to show up and use what is at hand to build your life, to consciously choose all you can and to trust your unconscious to do its part as well. When you are willing to live in the moment, in process, engaged, then your rage is transformed into desire, the desire to know your name, to know what you can yet be, to do all you can yet do with the spit of time left to you.

Howl, motherfucker, but do.

* * *

I work. I do. I hit empty stretches. I rage. I show up. Music helps with all that. Find what helps you and give it space, room to grow. Tend it for it will one day save you.

* * *



Friday, March 28, 2014

Oh How Many

Oh, how many travelers get weary
Bearing both their burdens and their scars?

- Johnny Cash, Out Among The Stars

* * *

There is this: lay down your weary tune.

* * *

Because of me, my father discovered espresso late in life. This was a man who had no problem reheating two day old coffee, and man I tell you what, he loved espresso. I bought him some cups and one of those Italian stove top percolators to make his own. When he died, among all his possessions, I wanted those cups and that little silver coffee maker. This morning, for the first time in the 21 years since he moved on I made coffee in that pot and drank out of one of those cups. I don't know why I hadn't done so sooner. Maybe I treated them like holy relics. Maybe I just liked to see them perched in my kitchen, but my coffee maker broke a few days ago and I wanted some damn coffee and I used what was at hand.

Might have been the best coffee I ever had.

My dad was indefatigable. If there was work to be done, he was the man to do. But he was as weary as he was strong, burdened by a rough start in life that left him wanting to trust life, but never quite able to. Stoic isn't the half of it. Fathers are like that - opaque without meaning to be. When he got sick he was relieved. The show was closing. No more burdens, no more walking a worried floor, no more, no more, no more. But then, but then, but then he did something remarkable. My brother and I didn't want him to go. We asked him to fight a bit longer, to carry his burden a while longer for us. And he did. It cost him, but he did.

You see, right then, right then, right when he was closing the curtains because he'd been so damned tired from all the battles, all the struggles just to pay the bills, from letting go of his dreams so he could feed me and my brother, he found something he'd been looking for all his life: love.

He knew he was dying and no amount of chemo was going to stop it, but he pushed back those curtains so me and my brother could have once last dose of the love he had to give: I'll do this for you, man. He saw it all the way through. His famous words to me were, "Alright, I'll kick this along as far as I can."


* * *

We are all burdened and scarred, my friends, my brothers, my sisters. We are burden by our mistakes, our regrets, the decisions of others and it wearies us; it winnows our soul to a feathery fray and we come to believe the weariness is permanent, our due, our punishment for ever wanting anything in this world. But it is not so. I tell you upon your face, it is not so.

If you quit half way, if you stop trying, if you doubt yourself so deeply that all your dreaming stops, then you are as fucked as fucked can be. You have already closed the curtains on what is possible in your life and, in effect, you're just waitin' round to die. But if you pick up that mantle and you push on, and you set your weariness aside, treat it and your grief like a falling leaf, and find the courage to take a step in the surrounding darkness you will find that your spirit will not fail, though your body will some day collapse. Waiting for you to take that step is the love you still have to give, to offer to those closest to you, to those unknown to you, to your time. You can choose to believe that your life is the sum of your burdens and scars, or you can choose to carry them lightly for the sake of others, for the sake of your own sense of purpose and belonging. It is up to you.

And the coffee's better, too.

* * *

I stood unwound beneath the skies
And clouds unbound by laws
The cryin’ rain like a trumpet sang
And asked for no applause

* * *



Sunday, March 23, 2014

To Enslave An

To enslave an individual troubles your consciences, Archivist, but to enslave a clone is no more troubling to you than owning the latest six-wheeler ford, ethically. Because you cannot discern our differences, you believe we have none. But make no mistake: even same-stem fabricants cultured in the same wombtank are as singular as snowflakes.

- David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

* * *

Think for a moment about the 10 year old you. Take a minute and think about that kid. Whether you had a tough start or the world ran in greased grooves for you, take a minute and think about that kid, about the sort of things that kid saw, dreamed of. Got it? Hold onto it for a minute. Now think about the 15 year old you. What has changed? What, if anything is still the same at the 10 year old? Think about your dreams, think about what you expect life to be like, the things you say you want to do. Hold onto it. Now try it at 20, at 25, at 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 60, 70... What are your dreams made of? What happened to the dreams you used to have, the expectations you once held about life? Are you doing anything you thought you'd be doing? Is your work anything at all like you once imagined it would be? How close are you to your dreams? How far away? If it is far away, what got in the way? Disappointment? A lack of effort? Betrayal? Other plans that seemed better? Are they better?

I have been thinking about work, about the things we do for pay and then what we do with our pay. If you are fucked this is likely a sticking point - either on the earning side, or the consuming side, or both.

Why is this? Because we traded who we are, who we meant to be for a job and the job became what defined us and not the other way around. If you have money, you spend conspicuously. These are outward symbols of the economic status you have achieved. If you are broke, every dollar spent feels like a loss and it can get so mind crushing that you, too, spend conspicuously to at least (for a brief while) have that outward symbol of success.

Everybody has to eat. Everybody has to find a way to secure shelter and care for their family. But we fucked fuckers struggle mightily to be at peace with the economic prerogatives of our time. Why? Here's my take: because we still dream. We still remember the dreams we had as kids - either escape or achievement - and those dreams persist and cause us to think wildly inappropriate thoughts (inappropriate to the world of economics, consumerism and corporatism), namely, that we are unique in the world, with unique abilities and aspirations that don't fit snugly into a niche, a warren, a cubbyhole with a 2% a year annual raise whether you perform like a rockstar or a miscreant. We still believe the uncomfortable thought that we have some thing to do with our time other than acquire durable goods, something to give beyond the hours our employers demand our bodies be on the sales floor.  We're fucked because we still believe in ourselves, underneath all the detritus and weight of our culture's adoration of money (consumerism) and the path to acquire it (corporatism). We still believe.

We often fail in the economy because it doesn't know what to do with us and we try to fit in and it often comes out bad. Vonnegut once wrote that artists and thinkers and cranks could not make it in the corporate world and so retreated to bookstores as it was the only place they felt at home in the world.

But bear this in mind: if you feel fucked because the larger world doesn't have much use for you, or you for it, it is always, and I mean always, the outsider who changes the times they live in. It is always the crank, the loser, the ostracized who advances our understanding of the world. If this is you, welcome to your real work - the work of resisting any and all entities that quash the individual.

If you define yourself as fucked because of economics you have adopted the larger world's definition of success and worth and not hewed to your own. It is hard, I know. The lights have to stay on, the kids need to be fed, and then there's all that work you have to do after you get off work, your real work, your service work, your work to realize the dreams you once had, that still live, that need your attention, that call to you in the night: Move, boy-o. You've got shit to do.

* * *

Listen: you are unique in the world. Your experience, your achievements, your failings are unique and are just what you need to become who you are. Do not believe the admen, the politicians, the 1% or the 99% percent, do not believe the news, do not buy into measuring your self worth by the square footage of your home, or the length of your dick. You are here with a knot of potential that only you can unfurl. Reject the call to consumption and corporate ladder climbing. It doesn't pay nearly enough for the job it does on your soul. No, go work. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and then get to your true work - the work of subversion, the work of freedom, the work of responsibility, the work of being exactly who that 10 year old kid dreamed of being.

* * *



Tuesday, March 18, 2014

We're All Bound

We're all bound by certain forces
The same as anyone
Step out of the shadows
My little one

There's a change a surely comin'
A will that will be done
Step out of the shadows
My little one

Will you step out of the shadows
My little one

- Glen Hansard, Step Out of the Shadows

* * *

Be no harbour for sorrow. Let what winds blow pass through you. Do not hold, catch or keep them. We're all bound by certain forces - damn but we are finite - and that there is your freedom, that there is your road up and out, that there is the way to find the truth of your life: there's work to be done while we are able to do it.

And what is that work?

To be no harbour for sorrow, but to live out loud while we can, to try and fail and try again and fail again and then fail better. No matter. This is our work: to try again, to enter the stream of our days and see where it might take us, to see the changes that can be wrought in a lifetime, over a lifetime with the raw material of a lifetime. Be no harbour for sorrow. If sorrows are with you now thank them for their reminder that none of this is easy or permanent, that love burns off the dross, and then let it go. You needn't mourn losses, grieve changes forever. There is more for you to do than be wounded.

* * *

The thing that fucks us deepest is the idea that because we can see, or imagine a particular outcome, or goal the work of actually achieving it is almost done. The distance between what we imagine and what we are capable of is closed only by our willingness to fail in our attempts to get there. We often stop ourselves right at the start because we know we are unskilled, more filled with dreams than grit, and stop while our image is unmarred by the necessary failures it takes to achieve anything. More than fearing failure, we fear being exposed as frauds and so either seethe with untried effort or simply shrink what we dream of to fit the ability we have today.


Life is a fucking muscle. Use it or watch it die.

We hold onto our woundings, our sorrows and use them as an excuse to not try again. We venture no game we don't already know the outcome of. We become lawyers, risk-averse, asking no question we don't already know the answer to and litigate the minutia of our pain.

Where's the life in that? Where's the joy? the joy of uncertainty met by effort, the satisfaction of overcoming a setback, the deep in your bones knowledge that you left it all on the field?

To unfuck your life you have to live the damn thing into the ground. You have to fail. It is the only proof you have that you are here, that you are still in the game, that you have a spirit and a drive inside you that has not yet found its expression. Each step taken, each song sung, each word written, each child taught, each dinner made, each time you make love to your beloved, each ending implies a beginning, another chance, a new day, a deeper connection, a broader, more generous spirit. Your accomplishings are but stepping stones to other accomplishings. When you freeze in the moment, like the rest who don't try, you become a harbour for all doubt, all sorrows, all fears. And you never leave the starting blocks.

You know this is true. I am saying nothing here that you don't already know.

* * *

The fact we know we will expire is a gift (a gift I say!) because the only chance we have to be kind is now. The only chance we have to try is now. The only time there is to forgive is now. There is no other moment possible. If you are awake, you postpone nothing. You eat life now. The failures and sorrows and setbacks are, in fact, the raw materials you use to build a signal fire, a life of ceaseless failings for that is how the gap is closed, mastery attained, death unfeared.

The shadows only surround you as long as you allow them to.

* * *