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. 


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Everything In This

Everything in this world has a hidden meaning, I thought. Men, animals, trees, stars, they are all hieroglyphics; woe to anyone who begins to decipher them and guess what they mean . . . When you see them, you do not understand them. You think they really are men, animals, trees, stars. It is only years later, too late, that you understand . . .

- Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba The Greek

* * *

Too much philosophy makes one dizzy, smug, yearning, nervous, haunted by the distance between what can be imagined and what is. That is not to say one should never dream in this way, only that such dreamings are themselves signs pointing to other signs. The reality behind such things a bead of mercury forever outside one's grasp.

* * *

There is something along the order of 4200 different religions practiced on the face of the earth and out of that milieu you'd have to guess tens of thousands of gods. Each is a reality to its adherents. Each is an expression of the ultimate desire in man to know his place in the cosmos. Each is a sign and symbol that is read by the ones who see it as a step along the path to a perfected state. Each is true. Each is false to non-believers. Each helps create its culture. Each feeds a spring of regeneration. Each changes by degrees across generations and within its community–sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Each is certain of itself. The question before you is this: knowing this, how can you reconcile your bedrock faith (and this includes the faith of atheism) with the 4199 other faiths? The answer is usually to dismiss them as wrong, infidels, non-believers worth of scorn, opprobrium, destruction, or just as horrifically with ridicule and paternal head patting.

For us fucked fuckers, questions like this drive us batty. Part of our disconnect is the disconnect between what we are told is true and what we experience as true. Religion, God, faith, non-belief can be the locus of our wandering, our drift, our sorrow at not being able to believe as others believe, but to feel the certainty of men and animals and trees and stars is just outside our reach. There must be a deficiency in us, a prideful doubt that keeps us outside the gates, or a pride in rejecting the idea of gates at all.

We try to riddle out proofs of our faith or lack of faith as if it might save the world from itself. These errors, we think, these errors are crippling us and if there was some way to show. . . 

As a species, we've been at this task a long time and it remains it ever was: un-provable except by faith.

* * *

Certainty concretizes metaphor, freezes it up and in the freezing strips it of its possibility.

The lives we lead are the acting out of possibility. We are possibility's venue. When we freeze up because of fear or shame or doubt, we concretize that fear, that shame, that doubt and our possibility narrows to the width of our fears. Everything here is knowable, certain, prospects strictly proscribed and we wonder that others dance, or know love, have God in their pockets, raise kind children, sleep well at night. It is like the engine of a car seizing: you move no more.

Perhaps you recognize this, if you are lucky you recognize this and you want to break out of the narrow lane. You watch others who appear happy to you. You read books that promise answers. You kneel. You pray. Maybe it helps. Maybe not as much as you'd hoped, but still, its something, right? Maybe you grow tired. Maybe you stop wondering. Maybe you content yourself with what's been gained, earned, rewarded. Right on. I'd never, not ever, belittle such things. It is hard to know what to do. Losses stagger us. Failures put a hitch in our stride. Joy is evanescent and so we don't trust it much. Like I said, it is hard to know what to do.

I don't really know either. I write to put some perspective on it and I know I think too much.

What does seems useful in all this is the idea of movement, motion, dance, fluidity, border crossings, flight, sailing, winds aloft, riding waves. What seems useful is the protection of metaphor, of uncertainty, of signs pointing to other signs, a religious adherence to letting go of what you thought you knew for the possibility, the possibility only of seeing something new, experiencing another way of being in the world that is more concerned with empathy than certainty and above all a forgiveness that begins with yourself for hanging onto your fear and shame for so long.

No one knows, love. No one. The privilege and purpose of a lifetime is to experience it. Believing men are only men and trees only trees and stars only stars is to delude yourself that time can be stopped, arrested, death held at arm's length, the metaphor crushed by fear, made to heel and serve our fears. Religion, no-religion, faith, disbelief saves us to the extent we keep the metaphors alive and flourishing. The best way to do that is to treat them lightly, to secretly smile, to watch children play in the twilight, to hear a sea make its way to the shore, to drink strong coffee, to make love as long as the plumbing works, to eat with friends, to not worry about icons, to notice the smell of grass, the smell of rain, to commit to your gifts, to bless, to laugh until there is no sound just the heaving of your shoulders, to know the type of birds near your home, to grow food, to master a new language, to tread softly, to collect found art, to notice the color of the sky throughout the day, to donate blood, to give a buck to the panhandler and not worry if you are being hustled, and to dance when there is nothing else to say or do.

Movement will save you.

You put one foot in front of the other and if you add a bit of rhythm, you are dancing and then, after all these years, you understand . . .

* * *

I wish you well.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

He Thought That

He thought that fear of death was perhaps the root of all art, perhaps also of all things of the mind. We fear death, we shudder at life's instability, we grieve to see the flowers wilt again and again, and the leaves fall, and in our hearts we know that we, too, are transitory and will soon disappear. When artists create pictures and thinkers search for laws and formulate thoughts, it is in order to salvage something from the great dance of death, to make something that lasts longer than we do. Perhaps the woman after whom the master shaped his beautiful madonna is already wilted or dead, and soon he, too, will be dead; others will live in his house and eat at his table–but his work will still be standing a hundred years from now, and longer. It will go on shimmering in the quiet cloister church, unchangingly beautiful, forever smiling with the same sad, flowering mouth.

- Hermann Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund

* * *

To fear death, is to fear life, to trade it as a paltry thing, of no merit, no value. The fear of death becomes the fear of life exactly at the moment it causes a hitch in your stride, a hesitation, a doubt that what you are doing at that moment matters in the broader, wider arcs of time and celestial distance. The fear of death is the fear of living because one is small, puny, a tiny voice crying in a tiny wilderness. This fear manifests itself in myriad ways: commonly in a vigorous/vacuous denial complete with ATV's, free porn, and politics. It is also shows its face in the aesthetics of aesthetes where everything is too fine, too beautiful to be spoken of. Both, and that which lies between the two, are death conquering life, the fear of death conquering the living out of a life in its fullest possibility. Conspicuous consumption, botox, hermetic withdrawal, a remembrance of every wound and insult, quick to anger–slow to forgive, channel surfing, corporate food, Citizens United, discrimination, terrorism, corruption, the nihilism of spring break, and fiddling while Rome burns are echoes of this predilection to despair, to giving up by giving in. Paint it brightly enough, it might even look like a good time, but at its root there is poison.

The poison is not death, itself, but shame that it should ever be so.

We fear death because we are ashamed of the time we've wasted, the losses we've allowed to govern our lives; we are ashamed of our bodies, so multi-various in form and color, but common in its decay; we pray in churches and synagogues and mosques and temples and the quiet stillness of a sleepless night for a way to conquer death, to submit to our fate without fear, to race it and die with the most toys. Always we frame our prayers, our actions in relation to death–be it defiance or acquiescence.

How different our lives would be if we framed our prayers and actions in relation to the life we have, the one in our veins, the one you inhabit at this very moment, without shame.

* * *

We dither with minutia, counting angels on the head of a pin and pennies in a jar, while the cacophony of the created world, the world where our bodies and our minds and our souls are loosed to see what may come of it, pours out a thunderous abundance of possibility. Dire circumstance is joined to our wit and intellect, our fear and tribalism and that circumstance is altered. Every circumstance is changed by our engagement with it. Whether we bring our desire or our dread, the circumstance is changed and we along with it. Hesse viewed our works as a wrestling match with death, a way of placing down a marker that would, for however long after, mark the path we traveled: death defied–you win my body but not my work.


I cannot deny this is what drives most of the world and we each are beneficiaries of that effort: our thoughts arrested by the beauty of the Belvedere Torso, aqueducts, alternating current, crepe pans, central air, children...

But most of the world is not all of the world, most of our progress is not all of our progress and isn't even the most essential progress. All that lies elsewhere, away from the dominance of death and the struggle for shelter and justice. Its home is in the burgeoning sense of life, the ceaseless creation and reinvention of life, in the transformation that is the very definition of life: from nothing then something, beautiful flowers growing out of shit.

Here the dichotomies of thinker and artist, civilian and soldier, life and death don't exist. They simply don't exist. Instead there is the circuitous path of the woolgatherer, the prophet, the crank, the outsider, the idler who is no idler, but is busy with life instead of being busy with death. Their works are not a statement against their days, in opposition to death, but rather an affirmation of the miraculous, the synchronous, the electric jelly of life meeting its partner, the one who can communicate his or her experience so another will not feel alone, so another will be both braver and kinder than they might have been otherwise, so that in simply doing the work their hands, their body, their minds bend to others will have the chance to be set free from the drumbeat of our foregone end.

Does this make sense?

Both ways of being in the world can create beauty, can be a sign of our genius. The opposition to death, the impassioned work to overcome it, still it, make it irrelevant can also carry with it more death, for those gifts can be weaponized in a zero-sum game of politics, economics and corporate tribalism. The way of the woolgatherer only seeds more life.

* * *

So, what is the difference between the two, what sends one to battle death, while another embraces life? What compels us to fear? What liberates us from it?

In a word: shame.

Shame is the power behind the throne of our fears. Shame is the progenitor of death, of ceding authority over our lives to the cult of death: achievement, war, discriminatory law, theological one-up-manship, wage inequality, sexual violence, violence itself. Shame is the stutter in your step, the doubt that quiets your voice, the caution that risks nothing and loses everything, the hail storm of ads for restless leg syndrome, depression, sleep aides, limp dicks, weight loss, dry eyes and menstrual cycles. Shame makes you dishonest. It is the fig leaf added to statues 400 years later. It is God's first punishment in Genesis. It is why we fucked fuckers are fucked.

And shame, my love, is never born inside us, but is rather a judgment placed on us that we then accept and internalize.

I don't know what it will take for you to see this, to feel it in your chest. I don't know what you will come across that will loosen that boulder and free you from the weight you've been dragging around. I don't know when it will happen, or even if it will. All I do know is the habit of gathering wool and leaving it here for you to find.

* * *

I wish you well.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Only Gifts

The only gifts from my Lord
Were a birth and a divorce
But I read the script and the costume fit
So I played my part

- The Lumineers, "Cleopatra"

* * *

There are times when you read something, hear something, some song, some bit of conversation, see something and your only response is to say, "Yes, fucking yes," under your breath because whatever it was that you read, heard, or saw so completely matches up with a truth you have known but haven't articulated that its: right on, yes, fucking, yes, that's it. And a thread of your loneliness flies away.

"Cleopatra" has that all over it. For me.

* * *

Rabbi Nachman wrote:  "Every day the glory is ready to emerge from its debasement." 

That this is true is difficult for us to imagine. We move through our days as best we can trying to tend to the immediate, the need in front of us, the task at hand. It is our way. It is also our way to become trapped in the immediate, the need and task in front of us, for that is an endless wave: moment by moment we have to choose what we do next. Over time this choosing becomes automatic, without thought, born out of experience and mostly it helps us to make it through each day. And yet these daily obligations are drained of any grace or meaning because they play on an endless loop. The only changes we notice are when we shift roles from child to adult to lover to parent to bread winner to caregiver to being aged to our demise. Each transition is marked by how expectations for us shift from no responsibility, to wearying responsibility, to no expectation but to die in our fashion and in turn.

I know: grim.

Yet, that is just the commonest story. It is not fate or destiny. At any moment you are free to choose differently. At any moment you can decide to choose differently and so live differently – even at the very end. The sort of life you have can be changed for a different sort of life, a life closer to the bone of your existence and the threshold to that life is not far, it is not remote, nor does it have to be earned by acts of worthiness. Every day the glory is ready to emerge from its debasement, is one response. There is also this: you simply choose it because what has come before has not sustained you.

I know,  I know: there's nothing "simply" about it.

Except that's how it is. What gets you to that point, what drives you to your knees, what breaks the hold of others' expectations for you - that's not so "simply." But once there the distance is not far. It takes but a breath.

* * *

The first gift is a birth. After that they tumble out, hand over fist, head over heel, one after the other in a torrent of possibility. But we are taught early to narrow the field and the wonder we once felt at the smell of rain, how walnuts make the tongue raw, the work of ants, the color of our blood, the stickiness of peaches, how running felt like flying, the flash of anger when we felt poorly used, the way water from a hose tastes better than from a glass, our first achievements, our first losses, the sweetness of our memories of a childhood dog, the Mississippi River, lying on our backs and staring into trees, into clouds, the taste of snow is slowly ebbed from us. But that is only our perception. The gifts remain and as we get older, as we matriculate along the timeline of our lives it takes greater and greater disruptions to catch our attention.  

Other gifts arrive: divorce, job loss, foreclosure, death, disease...

Each is a chance for you to change how you are experiencing the one life in your hands. Those latter gifts are terrible, can be terribly painful, but within each, just as within all the other gifts of taste and memory and sensation, lies the seed of your possibility. It is never far. It is always at hand. You just have to see it, to recognize it, to choose it.

And to choose it will mean to not choose other things, perhaps things that have been expected of you since birth, or that you've assumed you must take on because the larger society approves of this over that. Parents, well-meaning, may send you down a career path of stolid respectability because they fear economic hardship for you otherwise and because they are your parents you listen and perhaps stop listening to yourself. Reasonable things are lovely, but perhaps not for you. But if you follow there will come a time when you understand you didn't have to live this way. That will be a hard day and the threshold will still be right there for you.

* * *

Cleopatra was taller than the rafters, but missed much because the costume fit. 

This is a great sorrow, for everyday the glory is ready to emerge from its debasement, for everyday it is possible to choose a different sort of life, to build it out of other materials, to center it on a different idea. Perhaps the gift handed to you of faith and certainty is a hand in glove for you – right on, fuck yes, have at it. Perhaps the large, slow moving currents of society's expectation make perfect sense to you. Then go with your God. And perhaps the costume doesn't really fit, you've just convinced yourself it does so you can get along in the world. I get that. But listen, love, don't give up. You can choose a different way of being in the world, one that does no harm to you or those around you. You may disappoint some, but that is no harm. That is just a gift you give them to remind them the threshold to a different way of experiencing the one life they have to live is right there, at hand, not far, just the length of a breath.

* * *

I wish you well.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Film Of

A film of weariness enveloped everything. Events passed in slow motion, and thoughts became so confused I lost all sense of time passing. When I stopped I would make an excuse for it, so as not to feel guilty. My frostbitten fingers became the most common excuse. I had to take my mitts and inner gloves off to check that they were not getting worse. Ten minutes late the voice would jolt me back to reality, and I would pull on the glove I had only half managed to remove and tug my mitt over it, and crawl. My hands were always deep in the snow as I crawled, and when they had gone numb I would stop again and stare at them. I meant to massage them, or remove the gloves and heat them in the sun, but I just stared at them until the voice called me.

- Joe Simpson, Touching the Void

* * *

The voice, the voice, where does the voice come from, the italicized voice, the one that is separate from the day in and day out voice always running through our head, that internal dialog of bits of song, catch phrases and the testing out of ideas? The daily voice, the common voice, the voice of our meandering minds is just us having a conversation with ourselves. It is no worry. It is part of how we think. As I type I hear each word and listen for patterns and what comes next. I hear my voice. But the voice, the one outside of time, the one that is separate from the mundanities of habit and daily life, the one Joe Simpson had to italicize to make you know it was different, where does that voice come from? Dare we listen to it? Viewed quickly, it smacks of a disconnect with reality. But this isn't the horror of schizophrenia. No, this is its opposite. If your life is fucked, if it has ever been fucked, you have heard this voice. To be sure, it is part of you, but it is larger than you and you know it. That's why you pay attention. That's how it can save you.

* * *

Joe Simpson and Simon Yates had just ascended a 21,000 foot peak in the Andes and were on their descent when Simpson fell off an ice ledge, breaking his leg. Yates rigged a system of ropes to get Simpson down the side of the mountain when a blizzard struck. The rigged ropes became entangled and in the howling wind both would have been pulled off the mountain to their deaths. Yates cut the rope to save himself and Simpson plummeted to his certain death. Except he didn't die. For the next three days and nights he crawled, hand over hand off that mountain and was rescued by Yates, who racked by an oppressive guilt stayed behind in hopes of recovering the body.

In the 1920's when Air France began the first mail service over the Andes, a pilot, one Guillaumet, crashed and was given up for dead. He, too, walked off the mountain. He, too, as he made his way out of the ice and snow would lose track of time, would pull his gloves off to stare at his hands and then suddenly remember to move. He later said, "What saves a man is to take a step. It is always the same step, but you must take it." 

* * *

To be fucked, to have your life fucked is to be alone. No matter how many people you know, who know your story, who want to help, who truly, truly, truly are there for you, the overwhelming sense of being alone is its marker and signifier. Perhaps guilt isolates you, as in, "I did this to myself"; or it is the loneliness of being a victim: "This was done to me." Maybe it is simply the stunned silence of recognizing the wheels have come off - for whatever reason - and you can't imagine how it ever gets moving again, can't imagine where to begin to re-assemble the parts. Outside forces well beyond your control can compound this feeling. The blizzard struck Yates and Simpson. Guilaumet's engine failed. The Recession began right at the time of your divorce. These outside events act as a multiplier in your isolation, your sense of being lost and it washes over you and you lose track of time, of what you meant to be doing and are solely occupied with your predicament.

And then you hear that voice. And for five minutes you move again until you lose track of what you were doing and remember how alone you are. You think to warm your hands in the sun, but can only stare at your hands. And then you hear that voice. In time, over time, if you pay attention, you learn to trust this voice, so different from the voice of your woe, your losses, your fuckedness. You are able to move a bit more each day and then one day you find yourself near base camp and the sense of being alone is swamped by the realization that others have been there all the time, looking for you, waiting for you to come back.

What is this voice that kept you alive? What is this voice that brought you out of sleep and brought you back?

It is both of you and beyond you. 

God? Nature? Spirit? Science? I can only tell you this: it is sum of all life as filtered through you. It is the inaudible thrum of all life, of all transformation as realized in this very moment by you.

The isolation we feel when things are all jacked up is born out of a preponderance of ego: we are kings of fuckitude and lonely is the crown. Yes, you have helped make this mess, but no, the mea culpa is just more ego and is useless here. Somewhere you know that, but won't act on it. Somewhere you know to put one foot in front of the other, but refuse it because the pain is great, the isolation pure. You stare at your hands until, in your fatigue, the voice makes it through. It is the voice of life insisting on itself, insisting on change and transformation: out of the darkness, light. From nothing, something. 

Viktor Frankl wrote, "What is to give light, must endure burning."

That voice is the sound of all life expressing itself through you. It needs you to take a step so we all can discover what comes next, because, listen love, we're all on the mountain.

* * *

I wish you well.