Wednesday, December 29, 2010

All Freedom Has

Prototype of The Statue of Responsibility
"All freedom has a 'from what' and a 'to what.' The 'from what' of man's freedom is his being driven, and the 'to what' is his being responsible, his having a conscience."

- Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning

* * *
Too often we focus on the "from what" in describing freedom: freedom from tyranny - be it governmental or personal - freedom from servitude, from pain, from guilt, from anything that obstructs, thwarts or diminishes our lives, our sense of well-being, our sense of Self. And it is good and right to want to be free of such limitations. But the drive away from something necessarily includes the question - To what end? Is simply away enough, or musn't it also include a vision of what life will be like once that freedom is achieved?

For the fucked, we stay focused on the getting away, the freedom fight, the majesty of our suffering. We lack the imagination required of conscience, of acting in accordance with that first impulse to believe in freedom. Us fuckers lack the freedom of responsibility. We only know the fight. We don't know what to do when the fight is against ourselves. We devolve into arbitrariness - equating freedom with mere impulsiveness and instant gratification.

* * *

As I age my knees literally creak. What were once freckles are now liver spots and my back is a busted hinge. So it goes. But as I age so grows my sense of responsibility - not only to myself, my children, my friends, but to Life.  Perhaps it is a function of the aging process - the narcissism of youth a necessary step on the path; or perhaps, and I think more likely, this is simply how it worked out for me. No one has to wait to be responsible for their life. There is no certificate required to live one's life out loud. But it does require the ability to be awake and to recognize that most of what we think of as freedom is an excuse to behave badly, to show poorly, to get a pass on our obligations. The mere mention of the word obligation sends shudders down the spineless spines of fucked fuckers - "Hey man, I ain't obligated to no one. You feel me?"

And yet without obligations, without responsibility we can never be free.

Oxymoronic, I know.

But "to what" are we striving? The answer me and my liver spots have come up with have been spoken thousands of times in thousands of tongues and is hardly new. Aurelius called it logos. The same root can be found in Frankl's Logotherapy. Joseph Campbell described it as a communion with the elemental mystery of consciousness. Rumi referred to it as his beloved. My own shorthand calls it The River, but by any of these names it refers to a point beyond knowing, but is instead a discovery of one's own unique contributions to the ongoing pulse of Life. We are whole and discreet, utterly unique and at the same time we are part, a small part of a much vaster whole. We live in the immediate, and yet the extent to which we participate in the infinite is determined by our willingness and ability to be responsible for our thoughts, words, deeds.

If you are fucked you have abdicated that responsibility.

* * *

"Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness."

Be as free as you think you are. Until you are responsible, your freedom is a self-soothing lie, and is the reason you are fucked.


__________

Thursday, December 9, 2010

There Is No

There is no end to the tasks and challenges life puts before you. No end until you end. If you believe that to unfuck your life is to live without those tasks and challenges then you are even more fucked than you know. What sort of life would that be anyway? What would occupy your time, your mind? How would you know who you were?

What possible purpose could there be to a life untasked, unchallenged by Life?

But I can hear your whining from here, "I've been challenged enough. Let someone else have a turn." "Nobody knows the troubles I've seen." And on and on ad nauseum.

Most of what troubles us is petty, vainglorious, the product of our fears. True and abiding trouble is rarer than our self-made woes and yet we treat all our trials as equals never realizing the differences between then, never sorting the wheat from the chaff, the shit from the shinola. We want to be rid of them all and refuse the necessary work of prioritizing, of discerning the differences between them, and by doing so we could unfuck ourselves by half. True trial always shames the small shit into oblivion.

* * *

In the medieval poem Parzival the story is told of a knight who joins Arthur's Court and goes on the Grail quest. He stumbles upon it, but fails to recognize it for what it is and so loses his one chance at it. He is cursed by the protectors of the Grail, yet he still does not know why. He spends the next several years alone, cut off from his wife, his home, still trying to find the Grail. Two great events happen that bring him back to the Grail. First, he meets a holy man who teaches him what the Grail was and Parzival begins to leave the world of Arthur's Court and its rules and propriety and instead moves into the world of the Grail. Yet he is still a knight and battles surround him. He slays many and toward the end of his search he meets his match - a Moor who is certain to kill him. Parzival's sword breaks and the Infidel refuses to kill him, finding no glory in such a victory. They sit together and learn they are half-brothers. Shortly thereafter Parzival finds the Grail, is made its protector and is reunited with his wife.

I mention this because it strikes me that all us fucked fuckers are like Parzival at the beginning of the story: clueless, strong, capable of great feats, but utterly lacking in insight, or self knowledge. Our lives take on the flavor of his wandering years - forever fighting and never getting any closer. Until we move out of the world of petty alliances and someone else's propriety and someone else's rules we are choked off from our complete self (see Spinoza, Proposition 15). But Parzival learns to separate shit from shinola when he abandons Arthur's world and enters the world of the Grail, meaning the spiritual rather than the economic world. But the task is not complete until he is. When sitting next to his half-brother, Feirefiz, he says, "I was against my own self."

If you are fucked it is because you are against your own self. You are fighting all the wrong battles assuming the flurry of activity somehow ennobles you. It doesn't. It fucks you. Life is forever questioning you, putting tasks and challenges in front of you. It wants to know if you are worthy of the Grail. If you were without these tasks you can be assured Life had its answer and found you wanting.

* * *

And there is this: once Parzival became the protector of the Grail his work had just begun.

__________

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Best Revenge

The best revenge is to not be like that.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 6.6

* * *

The conduct of one's life is all we've got; it is all we get to work with. How well or poorly we work with the material facts of our lives is determined by our willingness to live our lives in accordance with who we are. Become as others would have you be, become their caricature of who you are and you have fucked yourself, but good.

Integrity is one of those attributes that we all seem to acknowledge as a fine, fine thing, but are equally incapable of living out in three dimensions. So much effort. To know and not do is a dearth of integrity - is the product of a paltry and feeble imagination. You want to unfuck your life? Then live what you know.

But that begs the ontological questions: what do you know and how do you know it?

We, each of us, are jelly bags of potential. We, the living, get to move about in our time, in these bodies and engage Life as it rushes towards us. But we are marked men and women. Our time is finite and knowing this we have learned to live in fear, in doubt. We seek answers in holy books, in rituals, in what others say and believe and we, too, become believers. All belief systems are a type of religion - a code and way of organizing experience so that we can make some sense of our lives (this includes atheism, science, humanism, etc., not just the codified religions). As such, much of what we know is what others would have us believe. And there's the rub.

It brings on the habit of lazy acceptance, the habit of believing, whole hog, what others say about ourselves and our lives. It matters not what anyone may say or do. All that matters is what you say and do.

* * *

Almost 25 years ago I worked for a difficult and bombastic man, an art dealer whose outsized sense of self swallowed up all in his path. During my time with him one of his other employees tried to kill him by running him over with a truck. When you reach the point of madness because all that you know to be true has no place in the world, well, anything can happen.

But the driver of that truck got it wrong. He had accepted the conditions of his employment and its concomitant humiliations and degradations as the sum total of his life. Any man would want to break free of it. His error was believing what that sonofabitch had to say. When you cede authority over the conditions of your life to others, then you get results that benefit them and leave you sucking air like a fish on shore.

I hated working for that prick, but felt hemmed in by economics, by my lack of imagination. I had a job and that was enough. I quit after the attempt on his life. It was too easy to see myself behind the wheel.

* * *

We are told when we have been wronged by others that the best revenge is living well. As if revenge will do anything to free us from our failings. My former sister-in-law suggested the same to me, adding that my happiness would surely unglue her sister - an added bonus to my happiness.

But all such constructs are wrong on their face. To live for revenge is to remain tied to what you have allowed to limit you. The pain in your life is your responsibility - you are the one who accepted the terms and conditions, the humiliations and degradations of your circumstance. Living to crackback on those you blame for your circumstance keeps you on the same footing as them. You are no different from your tormentors.

The best revenge is to not be like that.

Quit accepting what others say you should or should not do. Quit accepting their judgments about the size of your house, or the depth of your checking account. Quit being subservient. You have a mind, don't you? Use it. Learn to filter out all the white noise. The only things you can control are your thoughts and actions. Do so. Allowing others to dictate who you are puts you behind the wheel going 50 mph to your doom.

You can do better than that. You must do better than that.

__________

Thursday, December 2, 2010

We Are Made

We are made of story only. We are narratives projected backwards and forwards through time (the length of our lives, the length of our memories, the length of collected, collective memories held in books, records, all media). Our projected stories overlap, resonate or are dissonant with other stories and we form our various identities based on these agreements, disagreements and mis-understandings both benign and cruel.

So what story do you tell? What sort of story are you? To be fucked is to not know your own story and/or to take no responsibility for the telling of your story. It is the difference between an active or passive voice, i.e., "Would you care to meet me for drinks?" vs. "Meet me for drinks."

* * *

My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and where I was born. Instead, they returned to Ireland when I was four, my brother, Malachy, three, the twins, Oliver and Eugene, barely one, and my sister, Margaret, dead and gone.


When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.


People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious devoted mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years.


Above all - we were wet.

- Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes

* * *

As the authors of our lives, even if you are having your's ghost written, we are all unreliable narrators. But we are all we've got so we accept the limits of our memories and color in those parts we've forgotten (on purpose? who can tell?) with such detail as to hold our larger narrative together. I have told, written, re-told and re-written of my experiences with Fr. Damien at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane dozens of times and each time I know the details shift, the language I use is modified by time and purpose, but always I believe I am telling the truth. Perhaps not facts, but truth(s). And my comfort with the variances, the changes large and small in the language, in my re-telling becomes part of the story as well.

* * *

It is like a bottomless well. Does all this looking down make you dizzy? It does me. So let's light a scrap of paper, and drop it down into that well. It will fall slowly, deeper and deeper. And as it drops it will light up the sides of the well. Can you see it? It's going down and down. Now it's so far down it's like a tiny star in the dark depths. It's getting smaller and smaller...and now it's gone. Our memory is like that burning scrap of paper.

- EH Gombrich, A Little History of the World

* * *

Jung wrote that his life's story was of the self-realization of the unconscious (his, and I suppose, the collective as well). That bit of light from the burning scrap of paper floating down the well of our personal history only casts a pinprick of light - the rest is unformed darkness. To be alive, to engage the tasks and purposes that life continually puts in front of you is to bring light and form to that darkness - to determine the exact shape of your life, your story. It is the story of Jung's self-realization. Given that we are narrative creatures it is more than permissible to create fictions about your life; it is, in fact, required.

Not lies, but fictions. My re-telling of Fr. Damien hearing my confession, talking to me under the Ginko tree all happened and are all true. When I write it out it cannot help but become a fiction, for the reportage of experience does not replace experience. What was true happened. What I write about is a useful and necessary fiction.

If you are fucked you either obsess over "fact" or simply allow others to define your life. If there is going to be a story told anyway, why don't you tell it yourself?

* * *

In John 1:1 it says, "In the beginning was the Word..." To Christians that "word" is Christ, but strip out the religion. The word in Greek is "logos." Viktor Frankl uses this term as the basis of his Logotherapy, or meaning-based therapy. Your word, your logos, is the story of your life - fucked or not. Remember Gombrich's burning scrap of paper? John 1:5 reads: "And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."

That is how you unfuck your life, my friend: confound the darkness with your light.

Tell your story, or it will be told for you.

__________

Saturday, November 27, 2010

You're Looking For

You're looking for evidence
When you're living proof.

- Karl Walinger, "Sunshine"

* * *

I've spent a good deal of my life looking for answers. Not just any answers, not answers that could, say, improve the quality of drinking water in Sub-Saharan Africa, or positively impact dropout rates at inner-city schools, or feed, heal, cure any one on this planet other than myself. I was better than that. I sought burning bushes, gazed at my navel, read as much of the Upanishads as I could choke down and in the end simply wasted my precious time.

The answers I sought were always unanswerable. They do, however, provide great cover while dithering away one's life. One looks so busy and serious and deep and well, profound.

Except, of course, one is none of the that. One is a shithead.

* * *

My head is clotted with bits of song, passages from books, scripture, movie lines, jokes, memories of words said or unsaid to those I love and those I could do without: the accumulated rust of fifty years. I strained to see the use of it. So much information, so little knowledge. But it is not the fault of the songs or books or movies or loves that has made their accumulation useless. Child, it was me not using that info to create something new: my life.

To be fucked is to want answers but to not put those answers - whatever they might be - into action. Doubt, fear that you've got it wrong, or won't know how to work this damned thing, keeps you circling back trying to get it right.

I keep getting caught in the rain,
Fooled again and again.
I start acting like there's no tomorrow.
Drowning in a sea of pain and sorrow.


It has such a familiar ring to it, no?

But that's just you stuck on the wheel of your own fears. Stop. Leave it behind. Life is always ready for you to join it, but bear this in mind - the game clock is always winding down and you have no idea how long the game will last. If you are going to get any living in before time runs out then you'd better start right now. Truly, what will you be giving up? Your doubt? Your fear? Your victimhood? Are these things worth clinging to (like guns and religion)?

Don't be a shithead all your life.

* * *

The verse from Walinger's song is:

You're down in the basement
When we're up here on the roof.
You're looking for evidence
When you're living proof.
But we hope you're gonna make it,
Up here.


I have to tell you: Karl is right, as was Plato's Allegory of the Cave, as was this odd couplet:
The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.

There is no want of clues for you to unfuck your life. It strikes me the whole of man's striving has been to do just that - moving from need to need (food, shelter, meaning, purpose). What has gone wanting is your willingness to live by the light in your head and not simply live in the reflected glow of others' work.

The world will not notice when you die. That is a human value - to miss the dead, to mourn the dead - but even that will fade in time and sooner than you think. No, the world won't notice when you stop breathing and I'll forget soon, just as you'll forget me. So live while you can. You have everything you need right now. There is nothing that you need, nothing that you lack. You have been your answer all along.

Don't make a big deal about it. Forgive yourself quickly. Show, don't tell.

Oh, I said,
Sometimes I just can't get enough of you.
Sunshine, you just blow my mind.
Gonna take it all, gonna change it all for you.
And I'm so glad that you found me,
Yeah, you made it just in time.
Yeah, I'm so glad now - I'm getting delirious.



__________

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Proposition 15 He

Proposition 15: He who clearly and distinctly understands himself and his emotions loves God, and does so the more, the more he understands himself and his emotions.

- Baruch Spinoza, Book 5, Ethics

* * *

My translation of Spinoza says this: "Spinoza was one of the three greatest Jewish teachers, along with Jesus and the author of Job, and the only one of the great Western philosophers who deserves to be compared to Lao-Tzu or the Buddha. He lived with the irreproachable integrity of someone who understands not in his head, but in his blood and bones."


That is about as far away from living a fucked life as you can get. But why? Why is irreproachable integrity so far out of our reach? The answer is held in Proposition 15: do you clearly and distictly understand yourself?

* * *

I have known but one person who lived with such integrity, and I knew him only in a few brief moments of my life: Fr. Damien, the Guestmaster and later Abbot of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane in Bardstown, Ky.

The life of a Cistercian monk is so completely out of step with the world that surrounds it so as to make that life seem like fiction: devotion, solitude, silence. But the one aspect of the life that is always left out is doubt. I came to see the brothers and monks of the Abbey not as men who had achieved a state of grace, but rather as ones who wrestled with their desire for that state and their doubt that it existed. They lived their lives on the bone.

Damien is tall in my memory, wiry strong, with large knobby hands, close cropped hair and a pervasive sense of decency and patience about him. On my retreats to the Abbey nothing was required of me - no mass, no confessions, no nothing. It was about as non-religious as a monastery could get. I was there in the throes of my confusion at the break up of my first marriage. After a few days of walking the grounds in a stupefied silence I asked Damien if he'd hear my confession.

We sat next to one another - no screen, no division between us. I tried to remember the script of, "Forgive me father, for I have sinned..." but I had no heart for it. Damien sat still, his eyes closed, waiting for me to continue and I finally said, "My greatest sin, Father, is that I find myself here and not at home with my wife." I pierced him through with those words. He winced and shook his head slightly from side to side and then he raised a hand over me, still not looking at me, and in a voice that echoed from some deeper place than his throat, absolved me of that sin.

Later, as I was leaving, he told me I needed to "sit with it," the mess of my life and find out what worked and what didn't and then do that which worked.

* * *

Perhaps it is unfair to compare ourselves to thinkers like Spinoza, or to those who have the ability to withstand and/or bear fools with loving kindness as Damien did, but what is a man's reach for, if not to exceed his grasp? The more we know ourselves, the more we sit with the mess of our lives, the closer we come to fulfilling Proposition 15. For some of you fucked fuckers even mentioning God will throw you in a tizzy, but that is only because in your fuckedness you've assumed God means what you've been taught in Sunday school. That is a fiction, a beautiful fiction and for some it is a great comfort. But God, as Baruch would have you know is "a being absolutely infinite," of whose attributes your irreproachable self is but one aspect.

Now get to it.

__________

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Oh Not Because

Oh not because happiness exists,
that too-hasty profit snatched from approaching loss.
Not out of curiosity, not as practice for the heart, which
would exist in the laurel too...


But because truly being here is so much; because everything here
apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some
          strange way
keeps calling us. Us the most fleeting of all.
Once for each thing. Just once; no more. And we too,
just once. And never again. But to have been 
this once, completely, even if only once:
to have been at one with the earth, seems beyond undoing.

- RM Rilke, "The Ninth Elegy," Duino Elegies


* * *

In conversation the other day a woman said she still hoped to be a better person, that she had placed herself on "an affirmative path" to become that better person she imagined she could yet be. She sat, bird-like as if on a nervous perch, her eyes never once meeting mine, but always flitting to the ground or somewhere off to the left or right, but never at me as she spoke to me. I said, "For me I am done with trying to be a better person. It implies I am somehow worse, in need of fixing. But to what standard? No, I am done trying to be a better man. I am aiming for complete - no part left out."

The Self-Help Industrial Complex is made for fucked fuckers like you and me who know something is missing and assume something ain't right. There is a chicken soup for every sort of soul and gurus rise and fade and all profit from the fucked. But they, too, are fucked. Their stepping off place is the same as the woman perched on her intent to be better: what ails you can be fixed with a prescription, a course, a methodology, the power of positive thinking. As if wishing could make it so.

There is something wrong - you keep looking outside of yourself for answers. Kill the Buddha. You have work to do - not on yourself, but of yourself. What's been missing from your life is you.

* * *

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.

- Joseph Campbell

* * *

Budapest from St. Matyas Temple
She was beautiful in ways that I could not say were attached to her physical self. She was twenty years older than I was. Unhappily married. The mother of a bright and handsome boy of maybe eight. She was the first person I had ever met who was fully alive and that did not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, she was happy in the sense that most of us aspire to: peace, stability, a lack of problems. Her's was something else entirely - she walked with the hard-won grace of a survivor.

Borbala Szendro was my Hungarian language teacher in Budapest in 1984. I had a serious school-boy crush on her. She would take the lot of us exchange students on walking tours of her strange and tired city and always we would walk arm and arm. She never seemed hurried and delighted in sudden beauty: a grocer with baskets of warm, red peppers, a vine creeping over a wall, the quality of a light in the cafe she like to take us all to. She was at ease with herself.

I mistook that ease for sexual interest - and it may have been - but I was too locked into my blinkered worldview to even imagine pursuing it. Instead I simply loved being in her company. Perhaps she had witnessed enough deprivation, enough violence, enough man-made misery that having survived it she vowed to be live only as herself and take what pleasure and happiness that came to her. I don't know. We never spoke of any of that. We simply walked together: a middle aged Hungarian woman who was born in a time of war and a punk-assed American born into a time of plenty and I knew then I was in the company of a rare sort of person - one who was alive in spite of being alive.

* * *

The answer to life is to live - completely, fully, to use it up before you lay it down. Do not die with gas left in your tank. Apparently, this world needs us to do just that in order for the next thing to arrive. Half-measures and false suffering - the hallmarks of the fucked - are worse than doing nothing at all for it taints the water with self-righteous victimhood when what is needed is the ability to walk arm in arm across the city and be delighted by prosaic beauty - the impulse to be alive right fucking now.

 * * *

Borbala, by the way, means "wine-dancer" in Hungarian.

__________

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

All Stories Stop

All stories stop: once more you're lost
in something I can merely see:
steam spiriting out of black coffee,
the scorched pores of toast, a bowl
of apple butter like edible soil,
bald cloth, knifelight, the lip of a glass,
my plate's gleaming, teeming emptiness.

- Christiam Wiman, "Sitting Down To Breakfast Alone," Every Riven Thing

* * *

1993. Grant's Pass, Oregon. I am there working on the final, staggering legs of the movie The River Wild. It has, to put it mildly, been something more than an adventure. Beyond the extended contact with helicopters, white water rafting, mountaineers, and bougy Hollywood types, I married a woman I had met but four months earlier. We lived apart for most of the first six months of our marriage and now are within a stone's throw of each other in our divorce.

But to Grant's Pass, 1993.

The primary pleasure of working on the job was the decency and kindness of one of the movie's stars, David Strathairn. It wasn't that he added no drama to the set with outsized demands to stoke his ego (though he never did) it was the interest he took in those around him that made every last one of us willing to walk through walls for him. He was one of us.

We were idling away a cold, dank morning in late October along a quiet eddy of the Rogue River. The film was winding down with only a few more days left to get some shots of David in the water and running along the river. No drama. Just passing shots to give the editor something to work with. I had purchased a sleek, black 1950's typewriter at a garage sale and was banging out a treatment to a story that I imagined belonged on film. It was a take on the fall of Satan from heaven. He held no evil. He was a spurned lover trying to find his way home.

I gave the piece to Mr. Strathairn and in his kindness he said, "I thought you were a poet-guy, not a movie-guy."

* * *

All stories stop. All stories. The terminus is our long dirt nap. Others will be left to tell our tales and over time they'll get them wrong and with enough time even the mistakes will fade as one generation's passions become a further generation's unknowing. Do you know the stories from your great-grandparent's time? How much can you tell? I live for this stuff and only have fragments that may or may not have belonged to them and there is no undoing it.

I'll repeat Christian Wiman's statement: All stories stop.

Knowing this, how can you allow a minute of your life to spent being anything other than your own true self?

It is the habit of the fucked to imagine fields of possibility - and it is true, there are endless possibilities. But so much choice has the tendency to paralyze, thwart, subvert and misdirect our efforts. I loved working in movies. It was a shaggy-dog sort of life wherein I met some of the best and worst people I have known, but the truth is I was there because of possibility - not desire, and that explains why I am no longer there. Life needs a form to define it. One thing must always be chosen over another in order to unfuck yourself.

* * *

Wiman's book has restored something to me, reminded me of who I am. It isn't that I fancy myself a poet - I am not - but I am someone who loves words, language, the process of wrestling words and language into forms that others can enter into. My film career was started with the idea of bringing myself closer to the center of an industry built around process and forms and so find a way in where my words could find a home. But I was bribed, gladly bribed to leave it alone and become a fieldhand. Which would have been fine if I had continued to love words and process. But I did not.

When David Strathairn asked about being a poet-guy or a movie-guy I had no answer. I just wanted work. 17 years later his kindness still stings.

* * *

We are not here for long.
Unfuck yourself.
There is nothing to fear.
The frightening thing is not dying.
The frightening thing is not living.
Tattoo it on your forehead.

__________

Friday, November 12, 2010

Even The Most

Even the most beautiful words are but signs pointing the way; they are not the way itself. The whole point of living this life is to move past the signs and engage the external facts of your life with your internal knowledge - a primal, bred-in-the-bone type of knowledge that uses language and art as approximations for what it knows.

All these posts are ghosts of the thing I'm trying to live. They act as reminders, bits of string tied around my fingers in order to remember what it is I am here for - what it is I have to give. I have the sense that I could tattoo these things on my body, but resist because if I ink one into my skin I would soon have a hundred.

* * *

"The dark night of the soul comes just before revelation. When everything is lost, and all seems darkness, then comes the new life and all that is needed... The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes."

- Joseph Campbell

* * *

We are, each of us, required to exhibit strength throughout our lives. We each face crises that are utterly unique to our circumstance, and we are left to our own devices to solve those riddles. Except mostly we don't. And this is the source of our fucking: not the crisis itself, but our weak resolve to face it.

I have lived poorly for the bulk of my life. I have always been too smart by half. The challenges that Life put before me were met with cleverness and cluelessness as to what those challenges actually were: opportunities to discover and live by my unique strengths without giving a fiddler's fart about what anyone else said or did. These were my challenges, my gifts and I abdicated my authority to resolve them to the nearest external authority: school, jobs, marriage, etc. But here's the thing: Life will continue to question you, challenge you and afford you the opportunity to find the required strength to be who you are. No guarantees about money or health or love or external freedom; but it does vouchsafe your name if you will embrace the choices you have to make.

"I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church...And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake, and perhaps as long as eternity too."

- James Joyce

* * *

I am deeply grateful to whatever gods may be to have survived the past few years. That dark night is over for me, and yet I know there are more ahead. It is the nature of Life to be unpredictable, to be cruel, to be breathtaking, to be generous, to be fully outside of our ability to control. As such we will be asked again and again who we are and to find the required strength to keep that name.

It takes a deeper commitment to Life than any fucked one of us will allow in order to unfuck your life. We want everything to be okay, for the fog to lift, the hurt to stop, for happiness to flow, but refuse to sacrifice anything in order to get there. We simply want it and that has never been and will never be enough.

You must choose, and like Joyce you must be willing to make a great mistake without fear, and then live by your choices, your name.

* * *

The most beautiful words I know are:

"What ails thee?"

Sunday, November 7, 2010

As I've Gone

"As I've gone through life, I've found that your chances for happiness are increased if you wind up doing something that is a reflection of what you loved most when you were somewhere between nine and eleven years old."

- Walter Murch, The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

* * *

So much of what fucks us is the inevitable layering of other's opinions about ourselves that it becomes impossible to see our original self and so we work and wander in another man's clothes. Life moves in bursts and jerks, in headlong rushes to cul de sacs, in mucilage stasis, in tentative steps because we have forgotten to be who we meant to be and instead fulfill the wishes and clammy fantasies of those closest to us.

Here, where it matters most, we are absent. We've traded what we're capable of for what is at hand.

* * *

"What did you do as a child that created timelessness, that made you forget time? There lies the myth to live by...  As an adult, you must rediscover the moving power of your life. Tension, a lack of honesty, and as sense of unreality come from following the wrong force in your life."

- Joseph Campbell

* * *

Growing up in the Catholic Church there were always prayers for vocations, the call to priesthood. It was the first place I heard the word and for most of my childhood assumed vocation was a Latin term for being a priest. And yet that really isn't a bad definition, is it?. Each of us, in our own ways, and in our own time are left to answer the one question Life has for all of us: how will you express the privilege of being alive? In other words, what is your vocation, your purpose in life? What will you give your life to?


There are no answers hidden in the pockets of another man's clothes.

* * *

They filed into the church draped in white robes. There were maybe six of them. All young men. All solemn. All moving toward the altar as a condemned man might walk to his death: resigned and free at the same time.

I was sitting with my mother and father towards the front of the church, St. Raymond's Cathedral, and stood on the kneeler in order to see better. The six men in white robes arrayed themselves in a semi-circle in front of the altar and then did something extraordinary - they lay face down on the ground with their arms spread wide. They lay that way for the bulk of the service. Chants and blessings and prayers and songs floated down to them on the floor as dust and snow falls without a wind to stir them and when they rose they were no longer young men, but priests.

It is impossible to know if these young men had always felt the call to the priesthood, or whether it became apparent with time. It is impossible to know if these young men were as good as their vows. It is impossible to know if they chose the priesthood out of fear, or expectation or simple devotion.  It is impossible to know any of this. I was barely a witness to their transformation, but I will attest that something was transformed, forever altered by the snow drifted prayers that covered them on the floor. We all wanted to believe in their vocation.

If them, why not you?

What is your vocation, my fucked friend?

Don't know? Don't worry, you once knew it, when you were a kid you knew it, only you didn't have the words for it. It will come to you if you are willing to shed the dead skins of other's expectations and live solely by the light in your head.

You enter the forest
at the darkest point,
where there is no path.

Where there is a way or path,
it is someone else's path.

You are not on your own path.

If you follow someone else's way,
you are not going to realize
your potential.

So quit reading this and get to it .

__________

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I Have Lived

I have lived on the lip
of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens.
I've been knocking from the inside!

- Rumi

* * *

There are lots of markers of a fucked life. I've lost track of the ones I've spelled out here, but I don't think this one has made the list yet: wanting to know reasons.

In a Kundera story the protagonist walks up to a man vomiting in the street and says, "I know what you mean." I read this bit of Rumi - the lip of insanity and wanting to know the reasons going hand in hand - and I think, "I know what you mean."

What reason would satisfy a fucked life? Desiring answers we can't bear the truth, and so we ask some more; we knock on doors; we bang our fists on tables; we shout at the moon demanding an answer as to why it is the way it and not as we would have it.

We are petulant in our misery, forever fucked because what we want can't be given.

We are the answer to our questions. Only for the fucked that answer will not do.

* * *

He is drunk. I can tell by a wildness in his eyes that simply does not exist when he is sober. He is not a man who is drunk often, but this is a bender, a two day self-pity fest that will last as long as the beer does.

My father is a few years away from his brittle death and he is standing in the doorway of the kitchen, a beer in his hand, his white short sleeved t-shirt pulling against his middle. His glasses are off and the two deep indentations along the bridge of his nose from the weight of his glasses are a deep, crimson purple against his tan face.

He offers me a beer and it is more a dare to stand there and listen to him than to drink with him. I take a beer from the fridge. He takes a pull on his and says, "Goddamn, bitch." He steps into the laundry room and slides his torso over the washing machine, burying his head in the crook of his arm and repeats himself, "Goddamn, bitch."

I walk around to face him. He rights himself and his eyes are full of anger and unspent rage. He continues, "Can you tell me, Mark? Can you tell me? That one," and he ticks his head back into the house and I assume he means my mother, "can't tell me. You're smart. Can you tell me?"

Tell you what, Dad?

And here he straightens himself and stares past me.

"Can you tell me why my mother didn't love me? Can you tell me why she left me when I was just a little kid? Can you show me in the Bible where it says that's what you're supposed to do, because that bitch loved Jesus more than me. Why didn't she love me, Mark?"

Almost sixty years since his mother abandoned him to follow a Pentecostal revival show and he still wanted answers, answers he knew he'd never get for she'd been dead for five years.

* * *

My father was fucked and for too long I've taken over the family business of wanting answers, reasons to what is unjust, what is senseless, what fails to live up to its potential. It is a bad way. It compounds facts with imagined answers and serves only to keep you fucked.

Like Rumi, I have been pounding on a door desiring to be let in where the answers are, where the reasons bide their time, where I could find out why the brutality of the past few years had to unfold as it did and not in some other, less painful way. But there are no such answers to be found. It ain't why, why, why. It just is. That's all there is about it.

Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Asking why some people are the way they are and expecting a viable answer is the same.

You want to unfuck your life? Quit banging on the door. You are already in.

* * *

He was quiet. The time for crying was passed. He was sitting up in his hospital bed. He looked almost well. It was like an Indian Summer before the chill of his death swooped down on us all, and he was telling stories. I had heard them all dozens and dozens of times, but thought this could be the last time he tells them and I listened. Stories of fishing trips, of wayward uncles, of funerals gone wrong, of his first time as a pilot flying at night, of Orion, of a high-school sweetheart, of cars, of how he liked to swim by himself, of his time in the Navy, of his friends, of my brother, of me and nowhere not a breath about the woman who bore him and abandoned him.

His last stories were about the love he had. Not the love not given.

He was unfucked just before time ran out.

I'll not wait so long.

* * *

Boom.
__________

Friday, October 29, 2010

What Saves A

"What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it."

- Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars

* * *

It is a teetering thing, this living. The impulse to overcome adversity matched, point for point, by the impulse to surrender. What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it.

* * *

I am sore, heart-sore and bone tired.

Last night I attended a meeting of some very good and kind people who were volunteering their time to be part of mentoring program for kids in middle and high school. I was there to do the same with the crucial difference that I did not know how I could keep this commitment, and if I failed the fallout would include a setback, a disappointment, a further proof of life's unreliability to my mentee. I knew all this and had the phone in my hand to back out.

I had problems enough of my own and could hardly justify including another in my life. My heart raced. I was irritable, uncertain as to what to do and somehow I decided to get in the car and go.

As I said, these were good and kind people - generous and willing to serve - and I sat among them like a spy, eavesdropping on their willingness to set aside their troubles, their constraints and offer something of themselves. It wasn't because they knew their gifts to be so wonderful, but because they felt they had something to give and that would be enough.

I listened. I asked questions. My heart still raced and I wanted for all the world to leave that room, take back my offer to help, run back home and pace the floors like a caged animal and simply worry myself to distraction. Every bit of my conscious mind wanted to leave, knew it was wrong for me to stay, and yet I stayed, and yet I stayed.

* * *

In Wind, Sand and Stars, Saint Exupéry tells a story of one Guillaumet, an aviator who crashed in the Andes in the 1930's and how he survived a week in the ice and snow and returned to his comrades, his family.  He writes:

Guillaumet's courage is in the main a product of his honesty. But even this is not his fundamental quality. His moral greatness consists in his sense of responsibility. He knew that he was responsible for himself, for the mails, for the fulfillment of the hopes of his comrades. He was holding in his hands their sorrow and their joy. He was responsible for that new element which the living were constructing and in which he was a participant. Responsible, in as much as his work contributed to it, for the fate of these men.

Guillaumet was one among those bold and generous men who had taken upon themselves the task of spreading their foliage over bold and generous horizons. To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible. It is to feel shame at the sight of what seems an unmerited misery. It is to take pride in a victory won by one's comrades. It is to feel, when setting one's stone, that one is contributing to the building of the world.

* * *

They say that teachers are often taught by their students, an exchange occurs that is not in the lesson plan, but one that happens when the teacher is open to it. Last night I doubted to the very core of my being that I had anything to offer to those good and kind people, to the good and kind program they'd worked on, to the young person I was to help and yet I stayed. My conscious mind - so filled with doubt and worry - was silenced long enough by a deeper current that I stayed. I took a step. Then another and was rewarded with the gift of responsibility, of a new tie to bind me to my work. Without having met my student, my mentee, I have already been taught by them.

You want to unfuck your life? Take a step, especially when you think you can't, and then take another.

__________


Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Unharming Sharks

"The unharming sharks, they glided by as if with padlocks on their mouths; the savage sea-hawks sailed with sheathed beaks."

- Herman Melville, Moby Dick

* * *

The effort it takes to unfuck your life seems easy on paper; it is another thing entirely to live out whatever fine thoughts encourage you. The savage banality of circumstance intrudes and the way forward, which seemed so clear just a moment ago, is lost in a tangle of doubt and uncertainty.

And yet there is always available to each of us the choice as to how we will engage the overweening prerogative of circumstance. Will we fold? flee? absorb the battering? Will we determine to live to tell the tale at all costs? Will we insist on our dignity, bred in the bone, as being sufficient to answer any questions life puts to us?

Mr. Melville was, by all accounts, an abject failure in the world he lived in. Forever broke, deep in debt, unhappily married and cursed with a gift that few of his contemporaries could fathom. He died, as they say, penniless and forgotten.

What such a life must have felt like to live! Unceasing war against his times. His skills were not viable in the currency of putting food on the table, yet beyond all question his works are without equal in American letters. Was he fucked, or are his works proof that he lived unfucked? Is this the measure we must take if we are fucked - that we must write Moby Dick in order to be unfucked?

No. That is no measure. That is simply what Melville did.

* * *

This morning I cleaned behind the wake of 30 or 40 homeless men, women and children; the sight of which pulled the air out of my chest: resignation, vacancy, fear and courtliness registering across their faces. I had missed my call time to be there to help this morning - the second time in as many weeks when I could not prioritize my commitment to be there and slept instead. I was late, but determined I should go and on the way there my heart raced and the old fear burned a little brighter: I am one step way from their ranks.

Is dissolution the necessary destruction in order to rid yourself of all hubris, conceit and fear? Like another great 19th century character, Ebeneezer Scrooge, are these the portents of things that will be, or what might be?

Your dissolution is compete when you decide it is, otherwise it is an endless torment, forever longing for the freedom you left behind. Destruction of your physical self is not required, only destruction of your habits of mind that limit you, that cause you to suffer without cause or greater purpose.

In Moby Dick, Ishmael is the only one who lives to tell the tale. Throughout the book, Ishmael and the rest of the crew are driven to their doom by Ahab's hatred and their willingness to be driven. Ishmael, at the end, is rendered a cork floating on the waves - an apt symbol for his life. Yet Melville affords him a remarkable grace in the closing lines of the book. After all that struggle, pain and death, Melville closes the mouths of more guileless predators and Ishmael is rescued.

That ending always struck me as nature's acknowledgment that she would not compound such man-made torment. It was the required rest after such labors.

Are you Ahab? Ishamel? or doomed Starbuck or Stubbs? Will you go willingly to your dissolution because another has made it so? Or will you choose something else? At what point does the Pequod of your life get dragged down?

Ishamel is saved by Queequeg's coffin, a symbol of life over death, and it is then, and only then the sharks become unharming. It is time to choose. Now. The dirty, sleepy, dazed two year old I saw this morning does not have a choice. His parents had chosen for him long before he was born.

What is your excuse?

__________

Monday, October 25, 2010

Happiness Hit Her



Happiness hit her 
like a bullet in the brain.

- Florence and The Machine, Dog Days Are Over

* * *

The fucked life is one void of happiness. It never sticks. There can be moments of elation, but happiness? Not so much. And this begs the question as to what happiness is. We all claim we want to live in the reflected glow of happiness, but I doubt we'd know it if we saw it.

Is it the absence of worry, hurt, pain?
Is it additive, a state layered over a baseline of experience?
Is it seminal? topical? internal? eternal?

What is this thing that our Constitution guarantees we have the right to pursue?

I'll give you a hint: I have no fucking idea what it might be for you, but as for me...

* * *

"I doubt whether a doctor can answer this question in general terms. For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment...  One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone's task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it."

- Viktor Frankl

Now switch out the words meaning/life for happiness.
Or switch their meanings until they are the same.

Your happiness, or lack thereof, is entirely yours to suss out and live. What most people call happiness is a shallow appreciation of pleasant things. Not happiness. Happiness hits like a bullet in the brain, swapping out your easy love of easy things with the crystalline clarity of finally knowing shit from shinola.

No one can "make" you happy. They can please you, but happiness is something other than pleasure or the absence of hurt. It cuts back through all the bullshit, and demands that you live according to your own lights, and do that which only you can do. You have to kill the Buddha in order to be free. This is the essence of happiness.

* * *

You are now free to move about the cabin.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Whatever Anyone May

"Whatever anyone may do or say, I am bound to be good; exactly as if gold or emerald or purple were continually to say this: 'Whatever anyone may do or say, I am bound to be an emerald and to keep the colour that is mine.'"

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book VII, 15

* * *

The most difficult challenge for the fucked is to know, understand and be who they are regardless of anyone's opinion or judgment of them. At some point in their wandering they dropped, or never grabbed hold of their essential self. Currents of doubt and betrayal, love ungiven or unreturned, the habit of going along to get along saps the life out of who they meant to be. Like husks after a dry harvest they are blown this way and that by externals, by chance, by circumstance. The misery attendant to such a life presumes that misery has no end.

And for once the fucked are right. That misery knows no bottoming, no point at which the nadir can be reached if only to gain one's footing to begin the climb out.

Such a plummet ends only when you decide it ends, and if you are fucked you'll never believe it.

* * *

I am sitting in the shade of a large Ginko tree. It is 1986 and I have retreated to the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in west-central Kentucky reeling from the end of my young marriage. I am a gutted fish. It is a hot September day in my past and the shade of the tree is a relief from the heat. I am grateful that the Cistercians take vows of silence because I couldn't imagine talking to anyone. The monks and brothers communicate with a sort of sign language, but even this is often considered an intrusion on their thoughts, and the general rule is if you see somene alone with their thoughts leave them be.

The guestmaster, Fr. Damien, a tall, wiry-strong sort of fellow in his late forties walks past the tree and nods to me. I grimace a smile back and am surprised when he spins on his heel and walks back to me and sits down next to me. After a few moments, while looking out over his cloistered world, he says to me: "I can see the pain you are in, Mark and I wish I could take it away for you, but I can't. No one can do that, but I will tell you this: we are always being called into our names. Every minute of every day is another opportunity we're given to be who we are. There is only one of you and if you don't live out the fullness of that, then who will? God is always calling us into our names."

With that Damien stood, brushed out the dirt and mulch from his robes and walked off in silence. I sat there in my pain and had just been given the keys to the kingdom, so to speak, and knew it not.

* * *
We claim we want answers, but in truth we want soothing lies. Fr. Damien's faith allowed him to offer me what he had learned, and true to his word, he could not take the pain away for me, but he'd given me a tool so that I could do it for myself. But I preferred the pain because it kept me attached to the remarkable woman I'd lost. And this is how we are: vain, hurt, filled with a raging hope and a desperate longing. In Joseph Campbell's terms, we refuse the call of our lives because it is uncertain, dangerous, with no promises. The problem is it is that anyway and the longer we turn away from our lives, the deeper we are fucked.

Aurelius tells me I am bound to be good in the same way emeralds are bound to be green because that is who each of us are. But emeralds don't have to be convinced they are green, but you and I need to be convinced we are good. We wait for permission to be happy; we demean our abilities by putting them in service of economics only; we judge ourselves and others with a high dose of snark and derision and all the while we are merely dithering on shore, refusing to get wet, to enter the stream of our lives.

The plummet ends when you sit under a Ginko tree and recognize that if every moment is an opportunity to be called into your name, then every moment is an opportunity to stop the fall, end the self-inflicted misery and be emerald green if for no other reason than that is exactly who you are.

__________

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oh They Tell

Oh, they tell me of a home
Far beyond the skies
Oh, they tell me of a home
So far away
Yes, they tell me of a home
Where no storm clouds rise
Oh, they tell me
Yes, they tell me
Of an uncloudy day


Uncloudy Day - Gospel Standard


* * *


So much of what we suffer is self-inflicted pain, a doubling down on the externals that plague us from time to time, or all the time. This self-inducement to misery is the very worst of us for it extends, broadens, deepens the suffering that is beyond our control; it takes what is unjust, or senseless and makes it endlessly cruel.

This drift to self-suffering is the singular attribute of the fucked life.

We take what is difficult or awful or troubling and work it over in our minds until it becomes the whole of our experience. Wounds are kept fresh with daily, hourly assaults on the point of pain so that we never notice the moment when we supplant the injustice of the original hurt with a more toxic version of our own. We victimize ourselves and mistakenly point our fingers outward. These are perfect circles of logic that cannot be broken through argument or love. It takes the accumulated weight of false suffering to bring it to an end.

This the point at which we self-soothe with the truism - "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." We endure and endure and endure the pain of our days never realizing we are the source of that extended pain. We are heroic. We are Hercules at his labors. We are fucked.

* * *

This idea of false suffering is a frightening truth. Lord knows there is enough suffering in the world to hold our attention, but to willingly compound it leaves me without words to express the horror and waste of it.

This morning as I was taking my garbage out (a crystalline October morning) the thought occurred to me that I have but a handful more seasons to enjoy mornings like this and while I do not fear my death I was struck through to the bone with the frightening knowledge that over the past three years I have wasted my time, been a spendthrift in misery and there is no undoing it.

We all hurt. We all suffer the loss of love, the loss of our parents. Some of us lose our spouses our children our freedom our home our jobs our friends. Loss seems to be the permanent state of humanity. And that is simply how it is. You cannot argue with time. You cannot argue with your losses. Lazarus lives only in the Bible and no one makes too much to do about his second and final death.

Grief - the wounding that comes from an absence - has no particular shape. There aren't fixed stages that last a fixed amount of time. We resolve our griefs on our own; we accommodate the new landscape in our own ways and in our own time - sometimes spending years and years pursuing the one thing that cannot be done: rewinding the clock. I grieved my father for 7 years before letting his memory rest. What I grieved was not his death, but the absence he was when he lived and with his death the sure knowledge that that absence was all I'd get.

But is it not the same for you? Have you not suffered too long because the true loss, the true absence was you? Death and divorce, absence and loss are facts we impose our fears and longings and doubts about ourselves on. It is what makes us human, these imperfections against the enormity of time. But stay too long and the right road is wholly lost.

That's a picture of Pops Staples at the top of the page. Gospel and the spirituals that preceded it are all about a time and a place removed from this time and this place and its injustices and trials and tears. I hated it for many years because it put off until the afterlife a way of reckoning with this life. I thought such believers fools to wait. But I had it all wrong. While the song speaks of an uncloudy day somewhere else, those singing about it are right here, right now and while they may not be able to stay the hand of injustice, they can compose themselves to withstand it; they can free themselves from the imposition of loss and absence by living by their faith, by living for something other than themselves and their sufferings. That uncloudy day walks around inside them. One listen to Pops and you'll know what I mean.

To live for your sufferings is to falsely suffer. To live while you suffer is to free yourself from that suffering. Or in my terms, is to unfuck your life.

Life, like death, wants more of itself. Which will you serve?

__________

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The God You

"The god you worship is the god you deserve."

- J. Campbell

* * *

It pains me to say this, but the life you are living is exactly the life you deserve. Just as we get the government we deserve through our sloth, stupidity and cupidity, so, too, our lives, our gods, our souls.

Does this mean the rich are better than dumb fucks like me - possibly, but not because they are rich. Is money Life? No, for fuck's sake, no. It may be a god you worship, and so it will be the god you deserve.

For the fucked (and I count myself among that number) what we want is to live unfucked, free of doubt and trouble, free of fear and poor judgment. What we get is altogether different because we mistakenly assume that an unfucked life has no trouble, has no fear, no doubt and is as wise an owl. And so we are able to earn our fuckedness because our stepping off place points down the wrong road and all we do is circle back over the same old ground, carving a nice deep rut to wallow in.

Fuck.

The god you worship is the god you deserve and is the god you get.

Campbell also says this: "You become mature when you become the authority for your own life."

When we cede authority over our lives to a god, to someone else, to some fear or pursuit, we are lost. For the the very thing we need to find our way is that which we have let go of. We claim we are not worthy; we claim we have no right; we claim others know better and on and on - anything but to take the damn thing into our hands and say, "This is mine and I am the only one who can live this life."

It is easier to nurse our pride with excuses and complaints against circumstance than to own every last bit of our lives. The god you worship is the god you deserve. If you are not mature enough to claim authority over your life - your thoughts, dreams, actions - then you are, by definition, worshiping an immature god and your results can only be adolescent.

* * *

I read Campbell not because I agree with all he says, though all he says makes me think. No, I read him because of how he lived, the example he left for authoring his own life. In that regard he was fearless, meaning he accepted the fear of being outside the current of common society and lived as he saw fit - not based on tenure, or profits or reputation and in return he received all those things and more. He is a proof of Frankl's statement that happiness and success ensue precisely because one has forgotten them and devoted one's life to a cause greater than oneself.

I have been a fool lately. The totality of circumstance swamped the totality of my devotion and I am lucky that I have not had to face a more stringent master than the effluent of divorce. The god you worship is the god you deserve and I worshiped my losses and in return became lost. It is a bad way and I do not recommend it.

You must find it in you to be glad of the life you have and no other. I can do nothing about the actions of others. I cannot dim the tide of chaos that swirls through my days. I can, however, choose to act in accordance with what I know to be true - despite all outward appearances. It is this capacity to remain grounded in your Self, your Soul, your Life that delivers to you the life and god you deserve.

I have learned this lesson a thousand times. When I live in it I am surrounded by gifts of unimagined beauty, solace and love. When I despair of it those gifts becomes as alewives washed up on a dirty shore.

I am free to choose. So are you.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I Am Stunned

I am stunned, from time to time, by the elements in my life that make themselves known in ways I could not imagine, or hope for. Coincidences, rhymes, echoes fall through my days and I am saved time and time again by one or more of these elements. It is unseemly to the cynical or modern or fucked mind to believe in anything let alone these resonances that buoy me, that will not quit on me though I have quit on them a hundred thousand hundred thousand times.

If that is the case, then add unseemly to my roster of failings.

It has been the blackest of times for me. The unending waste and bile of the divorce after the divorce ground me to a point of despair I had not ever felt before because now I knew there was no end to it. Before I could imagine a day when I would be restored to myself, free of the trails of the past 15 years, able to walk upright and embrace the days before me. But no more. There will be no such day. The bile and venom of a meaningless war continues unabated and will not cease.

I allowed this realization to paralyze me, to cut off my connections with those I love for fear of them being hurt further by this senseless mess. Work shriveled up because I could not free my mind from the pall cast over my life. Dissolution was, and is, at hand.

And yet I persist in spite of the odds and in spite of the sure knowledge of the durability of this plague. How? I don't ask why anymore, but how is this possible?

Echoes and rhymes and coincidences.

* * *

I was born August 23rd, 1960. For the whole of my life I have wondered who else was born on that day, who were the famous ones, the ones someone would write about. Turns out I share that day with Gene Kelly, Kobe Bryant, River Phoenix, Keith Moon and Barbara Eden.

And William Ernest Henley.

Somehow he didn't make the list I just looked up. He's the chap whose likeness Rodin sculpted. His daughter, who died at the age of 5, was the model for JM Barrie's "Wendy" in Peter Pan. Henley himself, a pal of RL Stevenson, was the physical model for Long-John Silver, as he was a tall, broad shouldered man with a flowing red beard, and a loud, vital way about himself and but one leg. He was also a publisher, a critic, a playwright and poet. If you have ever used or mis-used the phrase, "my head is bloodied, but unbowed," you're cribbing Henley. That line shows up in his most famous poem:

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced, nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Lies but the Horror of the shade.
Yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me unafraid.

No matter how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate.
I am the captain of my soul.

It is told that Nelson Mandela found strength in this poem, this odd and old-fashioned poem of assertion, of insistence, of character. All that sounds so pathetic to our fucked ears. (Add pathetic to my list of failings as well.) And, yes, this poem echoes the same sentiment, the same thought as Viktor Frankl's exhortation that we are always free to choose how we respond to our circumstances - no matter how dire, and in so choosing be free regardless of circumstance.

It is a hard thing to do, and yet there is all this work that others have left behind to remind us to stand when we are beaten, to resist what we know to be false regardless of any other opinion. I hunt for them to leave here for you, and to remind myself to keep at it, but these are the blackest days of my life and I've been losing my way.

I recalled Invictus the other night and was comforted by the words. I've taken it to memory and use it as something of a prayer when doubt comes strolling by. But it wasn't the poem, or the movie that buoyed me, it was learning this one legged man was born on the same day as I was 111 years before that struck with the full force of coincidence, echo and rhyme.

* * *

I cannot see an end to this toxic wasteland that is the divorce after the divorce. I do not expect or hope for it to end, or to end well. But a one-legged Scotsman's got my back, a twin separated by 111 years, and that will do. That will do.

__________

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Never For The

"Never, 'for the sake of peace and quiet,' deny your own experience and convictions."

- Dag Hammarskjold, Markings

* * *

The shortest route to the fucked life is to deny your own experience. Period. When you trade your knowledge for another's opinion, when you doubt the veracity of your experience, when your unsure mind makes excuses for other's behavior or finds that it is easier to go along to get along, you are fucked. It is hard to be who you are if you have no practice at it. Success seems to come to those who form the current that seems to glide so easily around you, who have none of your qualms, questions or inconvenient hope for something more than a brutish life spent consuming conspicuously.

But it only seems so. It is your perception of yourself (and those around you, those of your time) that implies greater ease or comfort or knowledge in others. It is not a point of fact, but one of perception.

Listen:
Is the bleakness of this world of mine a reflection of my poverty or my honesty, a symptom of weakness or of strength, an indication that I have strayed from my path or that I am following it?
These are essential questions, ones that we gloss over at great peril to our souls, for it is here in the tension between hope and despair, when we finally admit the latter is forever the obverse of the former and must not be denied, that you find it is easier to carry, to own your experience, to hold to your convictions because they have been earned and not merely added as a fashion statement.

This is the necessary crucible we all must pass through if we are going to unfuck our lives. And the longer you postpone it, the longer you deny it, the harder it becomes to face your life, your choices and embrace them in their totality - not just in the lovely bits - and be exactly who you are.

* * *

My brother offered me this advice the other day. He said, "You've got to do something 180 from what you've been doing, something bold and brave."

The implications of this statement lurch and yawn and rush toward sudden disruptions, chasms, bridges burned, etc., and the truth is there are some bridges that must be burned. It is too easy, too pat to keep all options open. It stinks of a magnanimous world view wherein there is never a reckoning or sorting of priorities. I have lived this and it has been key to my fuckedness. Over much is made of Cortez burning his ships, but it is an inescapable fact that we must choose, always choose one thing over another; to prize this over that and if you prize your freedom, your inherent dignity and worth, you MUST BURN your ships, your bridges, your pride in order to live fully in the midst of the mystery of our existence.

We are not born simply to die. We are here to learn how to live before we die. Deny your own experience and convictions and you are dead before you hit the ground.

Let it go. You have to choose. You have to choose your life over your death and in so choosing something else must die. This is that bold and brave thing - knowing something must die in order for you to be free (no matter your circumstances) and doing it just the same.

Burn it up so you can lay it down.

__________

Monday, September 27, 2010

My Long-Crushed Spirit

"My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact."

- Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an Americn Slave

* * *

I heard Ingrid Betancourt on the radio the other day talking about her six years of imprisonment at the hands of the FARC, a Columbian rebel group. I had been dimly aware of her story over the years - a Columbian presidential candidate had been abducted and held in the jungle - but, please, it was such a small tragedy in the endless onslaught of tragedies we inflict on one another. When ever word came of some attempt to free her I thought, "Oh, yeah, she's that one who's been held in the jungle..."

She was rescued in February of 2009. She was on the radio to promote her book about the ordeal. I went that night to purchase it.

So much of what catches my eye, so much of what I want to read, what I re-read are stories of imprisonment and exile. At 17 I read In Search of Identity, Anwar el-Sadat's autobiography and still remember the passages about his time in prison and how it radicalized him, changed him. From that book through today I read and find solace in the stories of those, fictional or historical, who were trapped, held, forced out and managed to find their way home, managed to overcome their imprisonment, out last it, defeat it.

It seems the whole of literature is about one thing: overcoming (or failing to overcome) circumstance.

This is the story we want told, this is the story we tell. Joseph Campbell articulated the great common story of the Hero's Journey and that strikes me as the same thing. We are imprisoned - sometimes in fact, sometimes in our mind - and we either die in chains or die trying to escape them. A few manage to live to tell the tale: Ishmael, Ulysses, Frankl, Douglass, Betancourt, St. Paul, Wiesel, Graves. Others reach us from the grave: Anne Frank, Miklos Radnoti...

These stories are all about lives that have been fucked by circumstance, by choice, by no choice and all of them describe the unmitigated hell of such a life, and all point to a life unfucked by circumstance.

What is it with our modern lives, our helplessly bourgeois lives that we, who are blessed with material comfort, are fucked in the head? Does comfort fuck us? Does the guilt over our endless gifts fuck us? Must we only find examples in slavery and murder and mayhem to identify those few noble spirits who overcame their very real, very physical fucking and wrote it down so others would know such a spirit once existed?

What the fuck is wrong with us?

What the fuck is wrong with you? with me? Must we wait for calamity to wake up? And what use would that be? Having never practiced courage what reservoir will we draw from on that horrific day?

No, these tales, these stories of those who endured imprisonment, who wandered in the desert, are not told as heroic achievements, but rather as markers pointing the way: if I/we/they overcame this, this unimaginable grief, then you can unfuck yourself and get on the good foot.

* * *

I was once a slave to fear. I made terrible choices because of it and was imprisoned by those choices. I became free a few years ago and the world unrolled itself before me, or rather I unrolled myself and the world welcomed me. I was home.

Except I wasn't.

The desert is dotted with oasises, and thirsty as I was for this wandering to be done I called that patch of green home and rest and love and peace. But I have been drawn out again, there is more to do, again, there is fear yet to be tamed, again and the despair that swoops down after tasting a bit of freedom is worse than never having known any of it.

I am hungry for my freedom, hungry for my love. The journey has been naturally difficult, as it is for each of us stumbling to find our way, and I have made it more so by misjudging its end. Fear, the very chain of servitude, is self-made and has no place in a life that would be free.

Douglass writes, "You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see you a slave was made a man."

All deserts end. The trick is to out live Moses.

__________

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Joke What

A joke.

What is the difference between a trans-sexual and a transvestite?

It is really just a question of commitment.


(I think this is really funny.)

* * *

I thumb the pages of books and listen for what shows up. Just as I have sensory blind spots, those physiological dead zones where I cannot smell or taste what you or another might perceive simply because I don't possess the receptors necessary to smell and taste what you do, so, too with seeing and listening and understanding.

How many times must one see something before one sees it?
How many times told?
How many times explained?
How many times?

An infinitude, if you like.

* * *

The man pulling radishes
pointed the way
with a radish.

- Issa (1763 - 1827)

* * *

Die while you're alive
and be absolutely dead.
Then go do whatever you want:
it's all good.


- Bunan (1603 - 1676)

* * *

The eye is easily deceived. It is of two minds: rods and cones. My father was a sailor in the Second World War. This is how he taught me to remember the difference between rods and cones:

When you're out with your girl during the day buy her a cone - your rod works at night.

Staring straight at something in the dark makes it disappear. The cluster of cones is centered in the eye and are useless at night. The rods rim the periphery and so through sidelong glances, through looking away from the thing in front of you can you begin to see it.

I am here to tell you that if your life is fucked the answer is right in front of you, but you just can't see it for all the darkness. Look to the left, try the right, let go of staring at it and you'll see it.

* * *

God is a pure no-thing
concealed in now and here:
the less you reach for him,
the more he will appear.

- Angelus Silesius (1624 - 1677)

* * *

Too much is made of ambition, the drive to accomplishment, the impulse towards acquisition be it monetary or intellectual. It smacks of being a slave to another's terms. Freedom and peace are not external phenomena - they exist, if they exist at all, as an inward journey that never reaches any imagined shore.

Your life is process only. The goals that are attainable aren't worth your time if you see in them the culmination of all that you are. They are stepping stones in a river only. Stop on any one and the river will carry you away. Keep moving and the river will widen to accommodate you.

Listen:

When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any "how."

- Viktor Frankl

* * *

I have been blessed a hundred thousand hundred thousand times. Always the answers I sought were within my reach, always the answers were given, always the presence of love, of desire stood with me, and almost always I did not see it, did not know it, did not believe it. The answer's simplicity, it's plainness made it seem impossible to be true and I doubted and feared it. To follow up on the joke, I was more transvestite than trans-sexual - I lacked commitment.

But a commitment to what? I've just dissed ambition and accomplishment as ends in themselves. What then?

* * *

Meditate
Live purely.
Be quiet.
Do your work, with mastery.

__________

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Midway Upon The

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.


- D. Alighieri, Inferno, Canto 1

* * *

Memory is not to be trusted. It swerves along slalom paths, gliding easily to deliver the exact shade of color to match one's mood, predisposition, unfailing belief that this is how it was, that this is what you did, this is what you learned, and is now what you carry with you as talisman or lodestone or albatross.

Eyewitness testimony is the feeblest because what is remembered is filtered by expectation, experience and the million unseen, automatic choices the mind makes in order to navigate the sensory world. Memory is shorthand only. The trials you suffered were real in the moment and are echoes in memory. You suffer them twice when the memory replaces reality. Your joys, the same. If memory cannot be trusted with the worst in your life, it cannot be trusted with what has brought you happiness either.

So, what then are the uses of memory? Is it only a self-soothing lullaby, or a Promethian wound that never heals?

For the fucked these are the two broad options, but there is a third use that does not apologize for memory's limitations regarding fact, but instead uses memory to describe the truth of a moment: memory is story.

* * *

Dante's "forest dark" in Italian is selva oscura: sybalent, foggy, thick. Is this not what it feels like when your life is fucked? Selva oscura is the challenge each of us face by sheer dint of being alive. Getting lost here is why we are here. For scores and scores and an infinitude of scores of people they don't recognize or acknowledge the selva oscura. Life unfolds for them in an orderly manner; they matriculate from point to point along their time line and end their days happy, or at least content, never noticing the difficult love all around them. Rituals of birth, adolescence, marriage, parenthood, career, decline and death are steady drumbeats. And those who live this way are blessed. Their desire never exceeds their grasp and they know nothing of the dark wood around them.

For others this tangle is all they know - their desire unmatched by ability or sacrifice. They have eyes that see, but hands that refuse to work, that fear it. These are our brothers and sisters in fuckedness. It is a half gift to know you are lost but lack the faith to embrace the journey. We want to be like the others: happily dozing in our graves.

Memory codifies and ossifies both versions of the selva oscura.

But there is a third answer.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.


You can tell your story. You can be Dante. You can be Virgil. You can be as you are and use the memories you've accumulated to tell another story. There is an endless array, endless combinations available to you to use the stuff of your life to carve meaning out of the stone of your existence. The forest dark is not hell. It is your source material. It is quarry, motherlode. Treating it as anything other than the gift it is diminishes and fucks your life.

Hell is inaction.
Hell is indulging your fears.
Hell is denying the selva oscura.

Listen, you fuckhead, the forest dark is a grace beyond all telling for it is here your living is done.

* * *

Enough of your lip. Get to it.

__________