Saturday, December 31, 2011

Quickly As If

Quickly, as if she were recalled by something over there, she turned to her canvas. There it was - her picture. Yes, with all its greens and blues, its lines running up and across, its attempt at something. It would be hung in the attics, she thought; it would be destroyed. But what did that matter? she asked herself, taking up her brush again. She looked at the steps; they were empty; she looked at her canvas; it was blurred. With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.

- Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse

* * *

But what did that matter? This is the question that lies at the root of your life, of all lives. The answer you give is what gives your life its meaning. Lily Briscoe, Woolf's doppleganger, the independent female artist resisting the concussive weight of male domination, decides, or better still, recognizes the final judgement of her work is meaningless compared to the experience of having created it in the first place.

Knowing the true order of things and their true value - which is always and in all places determined solely by you - is the end of death and the source of life.

* * *

Life is without meaning. 
You bring the meaning to it.
The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be.
Being alive is the meaning.

* * *

When do you die?
When you stop breathing?
How about when you stop living?
Do you know the difference?

We are sent hurtling through our lives like so much buckshot: POW, and off you go in a million directions from that one point in time. It is an open field and all possibilities are initially present, but soon, too soon, the possibilities are hacked and hewed by circumstances outside of our control: culture, gender, affluence, want, etc. Paths are made for us by others. Expectations are raised and we follow - not out of cowardice (initially), but rather devotion to those who prepared our way. As some of the shot falls to the ground, as other pellets are refused, our lives narrow to a fraction of what was possible. We matriculate. We accommodate. We abdicate. We suck. We worry about where the painting will hang instead of simply painting another. Out of the many possible lives we are reduced to the habits of others who were, in their day, in their turn, reduced as well.

Orwell writes: "But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks."

This is the way of us fucked fuckers.

The task of living is to restore "the scattered light of God," that buckshot of potential and make it whole again within your own life.

* * *

Like cavalry horses at the bugle, we are well trained by others to assemble and charge in the direction of their choosing. But before a cavalry horse was cavalry made, it was a horse: unfettered, complete. Stop answering another's call. Stop caring about other's expectations. It doesn't matter. All that matters is your vision and your willingness to make it complete.

Lily Briscoe did it.
You can too.

It's the whole fucking reason you are here.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Friday, December 23, 2011

Hey Willie How

TVZ: The hard road
Hey Willie, how you gonna feel
When leaves turn gold beneath your heels?
Twirl and spin never gonna fall.
Fallin' just wont do at all.
Naw, that wouldn't do at all.

- Townes Van Zandt, "Hey Willie Boy"

* * *

I read to find clues others have left behind. Truly. I read, I listen, I watch for the clues others have left behind. As a kid I always searched the ground for money that had fallen out of pockets, and usually could find some if I was walking for a bit. I also scanned the ground for the stray Playboy magazine and could find that as well. It was all about choosing to look for those things. Had I chosen to look for hubcaps or pop bottles, I'd have found those and filtered out the scraps of money and the stray pages of naked girls. So, when I read and listen and watch for clues that others left behind - whether they did so consciously or not - I find hints and threads and trails and it keeps me moving. 20 years ago I came upon Townes Van Zandt's music. It's been a motherlode.

* * *

I know. I know. Your life is fucked. I get it. Your demons have you by the short hairs. The world doesn't give a shit about you and you are fucked, stuck and going nowhere. I get it, but the clock is ticking. That is the one constant for us all - the clock is always winding down on our tour of this time and place. So, you have to make some choices. Are you looking for money, naked girls, hubcaps or pop bottles? What you choose makes all the difference and if you choose to wallow in your fucktitude by not choosing you will find that too: exactly nothing.

This isn't wishful thinking, The Secret, or any such feel-good pablum. No, no, no. This is about the hard road and the choices you need to make to reclaim your life. It isn't beauty or ease that are the ends. No, it's about living by what light you have in your head and organizing every aspect of your life to tend that flame, to keep it burning and finally to use it up before laying it down. Your choices are the filters of your experience. While there is the objective truth that the Grand Canyon exists, there is no accord as to its meaning because each of us brings to bear our choices, our filters and what each sees and responds to will necessarily be different.

And this is the incredible gift you have been shitting on.
Snap out of it.

* * *

In the story of Sir Galahad, the knights agree to go on a quest, but thinking it would be a disgrace to go forth as a group, each "entered into the forest, at one point or another, there where they saw it to be thickest, all in those places where they found no way or path." Where there is a way or path, it's someone else's way. Each knight enters the forest at the most mysterious point and follows his own intuition. What each brings forth is what never before was on land or sea: the fulfillment of his unique potentialities, which are different from anybody else's. All you get on your life way are little clues.
     In that wonderful story, when any knight sees the trail of another, thinks he's getting there, and starts to follow the other's track, he goes astray entirely.

* * *

You listen to Townes' music for a while and one character always tends to show up, makes his presence felt: the road, the hard road. Townes wrote about the men and women of the hard road. The music is by turns sad, haunting, occasionally shot through with graveyard humor but always, always, always, always human, humane, soaked in compassion for the losers and drifters on the road. Having been lost, having drifted in my time I am drawn to that compassion. It is a clue to my redemption, the thing I now look for instead of loose change or rainsoaked porn.

Willie Boy tells me that fallin' just won't do at all. You see there's still a bit of road left in his feet and things can still come 'round. It may be a hard road, but it is his road and that is all anyone ever gets or could ask for and what each brings forth was never on land or sea.

Fallin' just won't do.
You have to choose and you have some ground to cover.
Now quit looking at me and enter into that place where there is no path.

* * *

Boom.

__________


Monday, December 19, 2011

At The Moment

Joyce's Nora
At the moment of the wakening to love, an object, apparently without "passes (in the words of Joyce) into the soul forever... And the soul leaps at the call. To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life!"

- Joseph Campbell/James Joyce

* * *

To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life: put that on your tombstone.

* * *

I woke to love and found myself ruined for it. Blessedly ruined.

* * *

The fire ate slowly into the wood. Little tongues of orange and yellow flickered a few inches above the logs and right at the base, where the combustion was occurring, there was no light, no color: invisible heat. It is possible to stare into a fire and believe it is the most beautiful thing. It touches on something primal. Silence attends it in order to hear the pop and hiss of the fire's work. The room was darkened except for the light from the fireplace. Outside snow had fallen in high banks against the house insulating it and us, muting all sound. We sat, her head in my lap, my fingers quietly drifting through her long dark hair, and watched the fire burn.

Out of all the possible moments, out of all the possible moments to say, "Here," "Here, love began," "Here, it started," it is the fire, the small fire on a winter's night that comes to me and says, "No, it was here." And I will not argue, for it could have been any of them, all of them, but it is this moment that rides certain and true.

It was the moment I understood my life was now, and forever unfucked. Unbidden, love awoke and called me to live, to err, to fall, to triumph not for myself, but for another. And at that moment my world collapsed, the world of an awful half-life, the world of fear, of false suffering, of hiding out from my ability and desire. All that had been built to house my arrogance, my self-righteousness, my sense of being what others wanted/expected me to be disappeared the moment I woke to love. The fire, the fire, my fire...

* * *

To unfuck yourself, your life, requiresinsistsdemands the destruction of your life, your fucked life, that ill-used, poorly attended life that you've assumed would be better than it is without any effort or sacrifice on your part. To destroy it you must wake to love. Lust alone won't do it, for lust is always self-directed, but love - desire tied to the realization you hold another's life in your hands and will sacrifice everything to protect and nurture it - takes you out of your head, out of your life, out of control and delivers you to the leading edge of time where danger and redemption walk together.

Do you not know this already?

But love ends, you say. Affairs run their course. Love dies. New loves arrive only to die in their turn.

And that is true enough when you live an awful half-life, moving from desire to desire, with all your choices and actions self-centered, self-satisfied. But that is a poor use of the word "love." It allows you to build up a formidable life, a formidably fucked life that by needs be must be destroyed, or die fucked. Love lived for another is outside of time and death.

Which will it be, the destruction of waking to love, or the waste of sleepwalking past love?

* * *

Do not for a moment think that wakening to love makes your life easier, or better, or any other sentimental thing. It is a life and death challenge; it is life asking you if you are up to life and that requires something other than the scattered effort you've shown so far. To fail the challenge is to die while you still breathe.

When I err, when I fall, doubt harps at me, tells me I am a fool. But then, always then, I see the fire.

* * *

I'll go down burning in your embrace
On fire, on fire
My tremolo
You're my fire

* * *

Boom.

__________

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Seeing One Could

Seeing. One could say that the whole of life lies in seeing...to try to see more and to see better is not, therefore, just a fantasy, curiosity, or a luxury. See or perish. This is the situation imposed on every element of the universe by the mysterious gift of existence. And thus, to a higher degree, this is the human condition.

- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon 

* * *

When I taught fiction writing at Columbia College Chicago, we used a common coaching to help our students understand the task in front of them: See it and say it so someone else can see it. These eleven words seemed to me to be the whole of what I had to offer as an instructor. Teilhard manages to reduce the idea even further, to three words: See or perish.

* * *

Vonnegut once wrote about the human need to see a horizon. I cannot recall the essay, but I am certain it was Vonnegut. If it wasn't Vonnegut and my memory is faulty as to the source, it does not change the truth or value of the idea I am now attributing to Kurt Vonnegut: you need to see a horizon. Think about it for a minute. What happens when you see an uncluttered, building-free horizon? What happens when you step out of the canyons of any downtown and move out, way out  to more open spaces? It is a feeling of relief and release bred in the bone. Horizons could always show primitive man trouble that was headed his way and the escape routes out. This is part of what Teilhard means in "see or perish."

But as we have evolved, as our interior lives have taken on language, as our emotional intelligence has evolved along side our intellectual capabilities, the idea of horizons and the necessity to see or perish takes on meanings that echo and thrum inside each of us. We must attend or perish. We must be awake or perish. We must unfuck our lives or perish with the sure knowledge that we fucked it up.

* * *

Most students at Columbia when they "saw" their stories saw them as movies. That is often a huge step. It helps them gain a measure of control and knowledge about their stories that helps them tell it more effectively. But it is also crippling. To see as a movie sees, as a camera, or a director sees is to put strict limits on what is possible in the story. John Schultz, the father of fiction writing at Columbia and the progenitor of The Story Workshop® Approach, places a further demand on the writer - to see in the mind the totality of the scene in front of them, the secrets each character knows, the objects hidden from sight but present, the sounds three miles away and on and on. It is a demand to have a god-like consciousness of everything: a 360 degree, three dimensional thought process with the added concept of time. It is tough for the students to let go of their movies, but the most successful writing they'll do begins when they own it all.

The same is true for you, for your fucked in the fuck life. You want to unfuck your life? Then see it or perish. Just as horizons once made us safe by knowing what direction the danger was coming from and still provides a measure of peace when we encounter an unbroken horizon, so too are there horizons within you that can help restore your sense of place in the world, in your world, can help you see the ground you need to cover. The whole of life lies in seeing. Some of it is the light that enters your eye and then some of it is the inward sight of knowing who you are, knowing your desires and having the courage to act in accordance with them.

We get lost when we lose sight of these inward horizons. Our life becomes a movie instead of the profound mystery it is.

* * *

I wear glasses. My sight is unfocussed without them, and I know I need a new prescription as it has been years since I've been to see an eye doc and the glasses are a weaker and weaker filter for what I see. A secret fear is that I will go blind, as Borges did, because I love words too much. But until such time I must use what I have available to me to do the work that is set out in front of me. And this touches on the broader aspect of Teilhard's dictum to see or perish. We are each gifted with existence, this existence and to short change the possibilities of that existence because we cannot see past our fears, our sorrows, our fuckedness is to shit on the gift and turn it into a punishment instead of a joy ride. But there is this as well: you have to move past the categories of fear and joy and move out into that open space, that horizon that offers both danger and redemption in equal measure and is silent in front of both.

Get there. Get to that place and you'll see.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I'm A Million

The Unsung
I'm a million miles away
I'm a million miles away
Sailing like a driftwood
On a windy bay

- Rory Gallagher, "A Million Miles Away"

* * *

Songs, like poems and books, come in and out of your life in waves - crashing in, receding and making for shore again - and each successive round adds something that wasn't there before. Of course, what wasn't there before was you, the you you are at this moment, this one moment, the only moment there is. I've listened to Rory Gallagher for decades now, a gritty Irish blues that matched my own blues note for note, and truth to tell, I've missed the boat time and time again.

* * *

Don't think for a minute you are alone. Don't think for a minute you are the only one who has walked a hard path, suffered the loss of love, the loss of beloved ones, been lost. Don't you ever fucking indulge that fantasy. You read me? If anything fucks you up, it is that exceptionalism, that sense you were the first to ever walk the earth with a sack of woe, walk the earth in circles, walk heroically under your burden. It isn't true, so stop it.

Your stew of confusion, hurt and loss is particular to you, but there is nothing particular about confusion, hurt and loss. The longer you wallow in your unique miseries the longer it takes to unfuck your life. The world is littered with the detritus of confusion, hurt and loss. It is called music, art, literature, performance, ritual, myth, faith: solace. This is what human beings do when confronted with their lives, with the arrival of joy, the arrival of despair - they cry out their stories and join a chorus of stories stretching back millennia to the Caves of Chauvet.

You are not alone. You never were. You are just next.

* * *

The blues embraces what ain't right, gone wrong, unfair and lost. It embraces it, holds it close and wrestles it into a communion of recognition: you, too, motherfucker, you know what I'm talking about. That is why I play "A Million Miles Away" on an endless loop while I write. It soaks in, tells me I ain't alone. There was this guy name of Rory Gallagher who felt like I do and wrote it down and played it out and so I get to know what I already knew if I'd just had the balls to write it down and play it out.

The same thing when I look at the paleolithic paintings of Chauvet: horses, lions, mammoths, and the one insistent artist who had no means to give his name, but dabbed his palm print in red all over the cave: Kilroy was here, too.

We've been at this since we began.
You are not alone.
The key, the key, the key is to listen, look, attend.

“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

* * *

Not Inferno:

The hotel bar has lost its people
The piano man has caught the last bus home
The old bartender sleeps in the corner
So why must I still be here?
I don't know

But I'm a million miles away
I'm a million miles away
Sailing like a driftwood 
On a windy bay

* * *

Boom. Boom. Boom.

___________

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I Was Drowning

I was drowning in champagne eyes
Skipping along in compromise
When dignity rattled me on the back
And my rebel mind needed to attack

Don't sit waiting for the thing to come

Get lit feel the power of the one
Don't sit waiting for the thing to come
Get lit feel the power of the one 


- Daniel Lanois, "Power of One"

* * *

We fucked sonsofbitches are strangers to ourselves - the disconnect between what we've become and who we are a canyon of unknowing, by turns blind, fearful and wearying. In moments of insight, second sight, sightless sight we capture an image of our disconnect, see it in the ways our lives have been contorted or made too smooth by living our lives removed from our very selves: an empty marriage, useless work, too many marriages, too much work. We spend our lives building lives to hide our life, the one true chance we get to live.

What the fuck, right?

It has something to do with time, something in the way we assume there is enough time to get around to living the way we imagine it could be, the way we need it to be. And yet, I tell you upon your face, there is no time, no such thing as time, not as you and I have conceived of it. There is only now, this one moment to live. Just this one. Waiting for a better day never creates that better day. Waiting for love to find you never convinces love to appear. Waiting for your life to be coherent never induces your thought to cohere.

Don't sit waiting for the thing to come.
Get lit feel the power of one.

You have to undergo a transformation: from out to in (as per Rilke). You have to shed, scrape away, pull apart the blubbery skin of compromise, of the compromises you've made on your way to becoming a fucked fuckity fuck. Every encounter with externals, with the world of other fucked fuckers, with the desires and traps and rules of others is a pinch-point of compromise and the erosion of who you are into what you've become happens because you've located your life in those compromises, in those negotiations with the prerogatives of others. Yes, we live in and amongst others. Yes, there are many, many, many great things that accrue to us all for doing so: food, shelter, faith, a sense of being of a place and time. Keep all that, but don't mistake it for your soul.

"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who've come alive."

* * *

I was drowning in champagne eyes, skipping along in compromise, always taking the path laid out before me: here, this is the way to go, boy-o. I tried on the hats and uniforms offered to me as answers to the only question that matters, the only question I've ever asked: how do I live? There are rewards for doing so, for going along - money, affection, a measure of acclaim, smugness, arrogance and clueless-ness. Each of which is a shield against the canyon eroding in your soul, blinding you to it, anesthetizing you to the pain of doing so. And if you're lucky, this world falls apart under its own weight. But don't sit waiting for the thing to come. Get lit and feel the power of one, one soul, one mind, one life, your only life, lit from within, lit by a desire to be exactly who you are regardless of the world outside your skin in order to return to that world a boon beyond all telling: your life on fire with life, with desire, with the canyon bridged and life renewed, made complete.

Your rebel mind must attack.

Get lit. Feel the power of one. You.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I Want To

Georgia O'Keefe's hands
I want to explore, namely, the mutual entanglement of intellectual qualities with moral qualities. This entanglement shows itself in the work we do.

- Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class As Soulcraft

* * *

A hundred years ago I worked in film/commercial production. I started as a PA, the lowest of the low, moved up to Set Dresser, up a bit more to Art Department Coordinator, sideways to Assistant Director, and finally, on my last job, Art Director. I lent my name and effort, my time, to selling salsa, chocolate bars, bottled water, air travel, fast food, casinos, shoes, anything that you can buy or can be induced to buy, I was part of in large or small ways. I also worked on violent, misogynist movies (I'm looking at you Excessive Force), the crapbucket entertainments of Home Alone 2 and the greasy luster of blockbuster-y nostrums like The Fugitive.

All because I wanted to make movies, write scripts, and instead was shunted off into cul de sacs of production. I was eventually well-paid and that was nice, but neither my intellectual nor moral qualities were engaged or acted upon. At which point the pay became compensation. I was bought off early in order to keep the highly specialized machinery of film production running without any hiccups from the likes of me. I loathed myself, but kept working, begging for work because I lacked the intellectual and moral qualities of a man who knew his work and worked to become a master of it.

Such is the fucked life: working against one's intellectual and moral qualities - often in utter un-awareness of them in the first place.

Motherfuckin' A.

And you, my fucked fartlet, what of you, your work, your intellectual and moral entanglements?

* * *

Aurelius wrote in his notebooks to himself: to communicate liberally, to be useful.

How useful are you? Of what use is your work? What is it you do? Do you build, create, fix, solve anything? Being a "knowledge worker," as I have been for years, is a euphemism for clerk, and while the world does need its papers shuffled, is this what you set out to do? Or were you bought off on the way to your goal, as I was, gladly bought off so you could buy some stuff and show everybody you arrived.

Your work is what you do, what you do because of who you are. Your employment is what you get paid for. Making the two be one is the great trick, but even trickier is being someone who doesn't need stuff to know who and what they are.

Your work is to discover your work
And then with all your heart
To give yourself to it.

So says the Buddha So says I. What do you say?

* * *

The set of Excessive Force was no different than any other I'd worked on: the crew was made of a mix of lifers and artists, and the out-of-town, above the line folks never bothered to learn our names. We locals comforted ourselves with the platitude, "It's not who you work for. It's who you work with." And we were mostly glad to work with one another. But mostly we were very glad to be working - families and all. It was that sense of obligation to our families, to the hope our careers would take off that kept us on set, adding our names to shit films like this one.

There was one guy, an electrician named Bill Reilly, who hated what he was doing on this film. My memory of Bill tells me he was a filmmaker who earned his rent as an electrician or grip on other productions. We got along well, and daily he wondered aloud, and for all to hear, why the holy fuck were we participating in the production of this worthless-piece-of-shit movie. Bill's intellectual and moral entanglement prompted him to quit, to shed his association with such USELESS effort.

I wanted to do the same, but because I didn't know my work, didn't know what I wanted, or how I might find out, I stayed because, well, the pay was good and other good people stayed and it was hard for Bill to find other work because he was viewed as a quitter and none of us wanted that for ourselves and on and on and on.

Bill was the only one willing to live by his entanglement. He was the only one who knew his work was worth more in dignity and integrity than in dollars.

* * *

I have spent a lifetime working at things that were not my own, that did not engage my intellectual and moral qualities because I always traded one or the other for some cash in my hand. Now, don't misunderstand. We all need money and we all need work. The problem arises when you don't know what your work is, what useful thing you could do and earn enough to keep doing it.

Mastery is the goal. Your work is the means to attain it.

Now go. You have work to do.

__________

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Book Of

The book of love is long and boring
No one can lift the damn thing
It's full of charts and facts and figures
And instructions for dancing but
I...
I love it when you read to me and
You...
You can read me anything

- The Magnetic Fields, "The Book of Love"

* * *

What is the chiefest deed that is asked of us?
To dance in front of our sorrows.

* * *

I read some. I am not well-read. I am selective. I trace down echoes that already reverberate inside me, inside the works I already know. I am eclectic within a narrow range. I am sometimes a complete-ist - reading all the works of one author, mostly I am not. I am open to recommendations, but only if they come with the force of conviction. And in the entirety of a lifetime of reading so, of ignoring huge swaths of creative effort, I have learned that the whole of wisdom is contained in the following words: You must learn to dance in front of your sorrows.

Most cannot do this. It is sacrilege, diminishing the weight and profundity of the sorrow, the sacred sorrow.

Some will do so in spite of the sorrows and that seems better than the ones who won't venture the game, but to do so is to do it wrong, is to miss the opportunity laid before you like a Persian rug.

No, you must not dance in spite of your sorrow, but because of it.

* * *

In January of 1993 my father died. It is what all fathers eventually do. I grieved him grievously for seven years, until the birth of my third child. His death became my sacred sorrow, the one fact I could not overcome, the one that sat on my chest and dared me to breathe. I married as I plunged into the icy waters of my grief - dancing in spite of my sorrow. It ends poorly.

There is something about sorrow, travail, trial, grief, trouble that leads us to think we are somehow immune to it and when it shows up, as it must, we are ill-equipped to understand it. We spend a lot of time rhetorically asking, "Why?" But it ain't why, why, why. It just is. What remains is up to you. What remains is a choice, always a choice, about how you will answer the questions, the tasks life is putting in front of you. You can, as I did, withdraw into a cocoon of meaningless sorrow, sorrow just for the sake of feeling something without the courage or love to feel something more. Or, you can grab your metaphoric crotch and yell, "Right here with yer fuckin' grief" and dance a furious dance to scatter the ghosts, to show the world you ain't been beat yet (which I did as well).

Or...

Or you can take your partner by the hand and dance. You know how to dance, right? You hold someone close and start swaying, maybe humming soft and low in their ear. From there anything can happen. And if no one is close by, take hold of your sorrow, whisper soft and low, "I know, I know, I know..."

* * *

The book of love is long and boring. No one can lift the damn thing. But is only through love, love beyond the self, for another, for a cause greater than your own that you finally let go, finally stop worrying if anyone is watching you dance and you embrace the entirety of your life, your chance to live, your experience, your desire, your hope, your sorrow and find it better to do so than to withdraw or get angry.

* * *

What is the deepest loss you have suffered?
If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine

* * *

What is the chiefest deed that is asked of us?
To dance in front of our sorrows.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Thursday, November 24, 2011

If It Takes

If it takes my whole life
I won't break, I won't bend
It will all be worth it
Worth it in the end

- Sarah McLachlan, "Answer"

* * *

The only ones who can promise to not break or bend are those who have already been broken - not like a horse, but like glass dropped from a great height.

* * *

Here's the news: it takes your whole life to figure out what your whole life was about. The answers we come up with along the way (money, marriage, kids, work, etc.) are provisional, the best we can do with the information at hand. We fuck ourselves by assuming these answers are all we've got. Lots of bad juju gets stitched into our souls when the money runs out, or the love fades, or the kids leave or the work turns out to have been a straw man. It takes a lifetime to live and, for better or worse, you won't be here to judge the results. No, that's for others to suss out. What you have right now, right there in your hand, in your head, in the heart that still splashes inside your chest, what you've always had is this one moment to breathe, to think, to act, say and do as you will.

And what you think, act, say and do is born out of two things: your experience and your desire. You need both in order to unfuck yourself. Too much emphasis on one or the other will keep you screwed. Each is the tonic and cure for the other; each has something to offer you, your life; each, when lived on the sleeve, becomes the arc and direction of your life.

You follow?
Good.

But we get hurt, don't we? We get hurt and we get hard - in our hearts, in our heads. Our experience teaches caution, fear, doubt and when this happens our desires stay close to our wounds: my father was a child of the Depression and sought out work that would always be needed and so became an embalmer; an old college friend only wanted quiet in his life after a rugged childhood and so took on work far below his ability in order to find the anonymity he craved. I cannot say how well served these two were by their choices, but their experiences taught them not to hope for too much, to desire more. Reach out for something and you could fall a long way. They'd both seen it, both lived it.

And yet...

* * *

And yet, this seems to me to be an abdication of the privilege each of us has in drawing breath. There is no doubt that life can be a cruel master, but if that is all we choose to see then the picture remains incomplete. Desire, the spark of genius, the lust for another breath, another lover, another chance is our way out and up, up from the floor of our hard experience, up from fear and into the marrow of our lives.

The lessons of experience (the past) are not here to limit you, but rather to test your desire, your willingness to submit to the demands of your desire and so overcome every failing, every mistake, every miscue, every circumstance that limited your ability to express your highest desires.

And what are those desires?

Here's my answer: love beyond the self, love for another, for a cause greater than yourself. When the parochial, provisional desires lead you to unhappiness, when their promises shatter (as they must) like glass dropped from a great height, you are then free to love beyond your self. If it takes your whole life it will be worth it. Love makes you timeless. The vicissitudes of time are no more than falling leaves.

Viktor Frankl wrote: "A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life l saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth--that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way--an honorable way--in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, 'The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.'

* * *

'Cause I can only tell you what I know
That I need you in my life
When the stars have all burned out
You'll still be burning so bright

* * *

Boom

__________

Thursday, November 17, 2011

At Poor Peace

The Welshman
At poor peace I sing
To you strangers (though song
Is a burning and crested act,
The fire of birds in
The world's turning wood,
For my sawn, splay sounds),
Out of these seathumbed leaves
That will fly and fall
Like leaves of trees and as soon
Crumble and undie
Into the dogdayed night.
Seaward the salmon, sucked sun slips,
And the dumb swans drub blue
My dabbed bay's dusk, as I hack
This rumpus of shapes
For you to know
How I, a spinning man,
Glory also this star, bird
Roared, sea born, man torn, blood blest.


- Dylan Thomas, "Author's Prologue" Collected Poems


* * *

Ah, damn, but someone has said it before me, and better.

* * *

The days of poets has ended, its ending a quiet fading behind the sounds of self-important slams and raving rants that have all the fury and none of the grace and art and love of words, this rumpus of shapes, hacked and hewed into exact shape and cadence. A spinning man spinning in self-made circles, spinning out yarns, bits of string, a thread to follow back to some original source, some moment that could be held for just enough time to enter it and so be consumed in it: bird roared, sea born, man torn, blood blest, indeed.

So it is for me. When I keep the company of poets, especially Thomas and Yeats, their rhythms, the propulsion of their words, steadies me, emboldens me and so unfucks what I've fucked up, redeems the life I've wasted and calls me to put one foot in front of the other, one word after the other. This is what I have, this is what I do, this is when I am me.

What do you have? How is it for you? Roethke wrote, This shaking keeps me steady.  What steadies you?

* * *

At poor peace I sing to you strangers - poor because I have squandered my days and there are fewer ahead of me then now trail out behind - and I stifle the thought I am a fraud to say a word at all. Better to be mute than betray my own failings, but the rhythm and cadence of words tells me I am not unique in being prodigal, not unique in failing to grab hold of the sweet line and ride it to my grave. No, I am not unique at all. I am part of a large tribe of human beings who allowed fear or uncertainty or the loss of love or the arrival of hate or the sure knowledge that no one gets out of here alive to slow my step, to break my stride and mud-spattered I have to rise and rise again from the floor of my doubt to put one foot in front of the other, one word after the other to reclaim my fucked up life.

This is how it is for us fuckers. There are no answers, only the rhythms that you find.

* * *

Sing to me. Tell me your song. Hack and hew the rumpus of your life and tell me your story, for story is all we have to steady us, to make us ready, to make us feel less alone in the infinitude of space. It is a brave, brave thing to sing, to be heard, to spin out tales and meanings, to mark this one moment, to hold it for just enough time to allow another to enter into it and so undie before we crumble.

Once, a long time ago now, a beautiful woman sang to me. She held my head in her lap, told me to close my eyes and sang:

OH! why left I my hame? 
  Why did I cross the deep? 
Oh! why left I the land 
  Where my forefathers sleep? 
I sigh for Scotia’s shore,  
  And I gaze across the sea, 
But I canna get a blink 
  O’ my ain countrie. 
 
There ’s a hope for every woe, 
  And a balm for every pain, 
But the first joys o’ our heart 
  Come never back again. 
There’s a track upon the deep, 
  And a path across the sea;   
But the weary ne’er return 
  To their ain countrie.


It's called "The Exile's Song" and to this day I hear her voice calming my fears, shushing my fevers. It was the kindest thing ever done for me, and so I ask you to sing. Find your song, tell your story, find the rhythm and cadence of your days and sing it out at poor peace, burning and crested, a hope to every woe, a balm to every pain.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Friday, November 11, 2011

All That Is

Teilhard in Mongolia
All that is really worthwhile is action. Personal success or personal satisfaction are not worth another thought.

- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

* * *

This from a man who, bound by his dedication to his Jesuit brothers and also bound by his dedication to science, was endlessly at odds with the church he'd hoped to liberate from its hidebound orthodoxies and so was endlessly prohibited from publishing his work, from living in his home country, from having the same love and dedication returned to him by his church. He was as fucked and stuck as any last one of us, but only in terns of personal success or satisfaction that his work had reached distant audiences. As good and fine as all that is, of greater value, the only value was in doing the work in the first place.

* * *

My friend, Annie Dillard, tells me "In any instant the sacred may wipe you with its finger. In any instant the bush may flare, your feet may rise, or you may see a bunch of souls in a tree. In any instant you may avail yourself of the power to love your enemies; to accept failure, slander or the grief of loss; or to endure torture."

My friend, Annie, is not wrong; especially about that last part.

The ability to endure, to abide, to suffer and still move is the greatest of all man's tricks. Any one can curl up and die. Any one can be co-opted, but the ability to retain your integrity, your liberty in the face of trials large and small, chronic or acute is not a talent that comes naturally, easily. It must be chosen. It is in the choosing that you are free. It is this first act of choosing A over B that liberates and provides solace. Always we are asked to choose. Always we are asked, Who the fuck are you? Always, but we fuck ourselves by mumbling an answer about success and satisfaction as if this was the only possible answer–everything else being lesser, a sign of weakness, failure.

This kills.
This kills the spirit.
This kills the spirit that is required to be able to choose, to be free in the face of all adversity.

This is not acquiescence. This is not giving up, or in, but placing a primary, solitary value on those actions that are under your control: the way you think, what you choose, and how you live it out in the field of time. That must be your success. That must be your satisfaction.

* * *

Teilhard was banished to China for decades. Each year he petitioned Rome for permission to return to France, to publish his writings, and each and every time he was refused. He maintained a deference to church authority that even his Jesuit brothers couldn't understand. They encouraged him to leave the priesthood, but he refused to do so.  In effect, he wore the yoke they placed on him, a yoke he never ceased trying to remove, but accepted. And in his exile he worked. He wrote 18 books, only one of which was allowed to be published in his lifetime. Denied access to a teaching position in France, he traveled the world talking to those he could reach to spread his ideas on evolution and science and the sacred. There was no comfortable life, no acclaim for him. He'd have preferred it, but it didn't change the basic need: the call to action.

And you? How is it with you?

My friend, Annie Dillard writes: "This hospital, like every other, is a hole in the universe through which holiness issues in blasts. It blows both ways, in and out of time. On the wards above and below me, men and women are dying. Their hearts seize, give out or clatter, their kidneys fail, their lungs harden or drown, their brains clog or jam and die for blood. Their awarenesses lower like lamp wicks. Off they go, these many great and beloved people, as death subtracts them one by one from the living–about 164,300 of them a day worldwide, and 6,000 a day in the United States–and the hospitals shunt their bodies away. Simultaneously, here they come, these many new people, for now absurdly alike–about 10,000 of them a day in this country–as apparently shabby replacements."

What will it matter how satisfied you were with yourself? What will it matter about your success? We all know how this story ends. What we don't know is what to do or how to do it until then. In any instant the sacred may wipe you with its finger, the bush may flare and you choose to avail yourself of the power to love your enemies, to accept slander, failure, the grief of loss, to endure torture because that is within your power to do so. It is a choice to derive meaning out of trial, just as it is a choice to build meaning through creative acts, through love. Refusing the choice, or only focusing on outcomes fucks you up but good.

* * *

Teilhard survived 30 months on the front during WWI as medic/stretcher bearer plucking the wounded off the ground. He exalted in the work. He wrote:  "All the enchantments of the East, all of the spiritual warmth of Paris, are not worth the mud of Douaumont...  How heart-rending it is to find oneself so seldom with a task to be accomplished, one to which the soul feels it can commit itself unreservedly!"

Take up arms against your fuckedness. Take action. Live, choose and bear what you must bear to do so without complaint and you may yet find success and satisfaction, but only because you weren't aiming for it. And if it never comes you will still have accomplished your task.

Now go. You have work to do.

__________

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pharaoh's Army Got

Amenhotep II, The Pharaoh of Exodus
Pharaoh's army got drown'ded
O Mary don't you weep

- "O Mary Don't You Weep," American Spiritual

* * *

The Old Testament is a gleeful panoply of destruction, vengeance, of fucking with the wrong dude, of the mighty brought low and more terribly the righteous as well. It is the tribal promise of an eye for an eye, of promised lands that are never seen, of murder on an epic scale, of impossible rules and the stories that inhabit our Western brains.

O Mary don't you weep. We got that fucker.

* * *

Each of us is tasked with figuring out how to put one foot in front of the other, of how to move through this life. We fuck it up pretty well and sort of stumble forward trying to pick up a thread, a clean line to follow. We hold high the banner of consistency and fail to achieve it. We reach out to find some answers, something that can provide us with that sweet line and so like beggars at a feast we ingest copious amounts of other people's ideas and beliefs trying to stuff ourselves once and for all and get some goddamned answers around here. Except, we're always hungry a half hour later. Those sure answers become uncertain guesses and we stumble forward again.

Try this on: the longer you or I or anyone looks outside of themselves for answers the further away those answers become.

And this: consistency is not a primary value, but is, instead, a sign of a closed mind, and by extension, a closed off life.

That's not to suggest careening through life is your best option, but is to suggest to you fucked in the head fuckers, that life evolves, thought matures, changes with new experiences and if you think there is only one way you are most assuredly not on it.

O Mary don't you weep.

* * *

Folk cling to their guns, their religion, their stories because it is a comfort that someone else, something else has done all the thinking for us. All we gotta do is believe. And there ain't nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong so long as you actually live by it. Trouble is, most people do so only in part, the easy part, the quotable part, the showy part - never the hard part. They claim consistency, but like all us fucked fuckers, they fail to achieve it. What makes this worse is they think they are consistent and so close off their lives from the possibility of change.

But change is all we got. Just ask Amenhotep II.

Now you're really fucked.

* * *

But what about the bad guys, the fuckers who fuck with us? Don't they deserve to get drown'ded?

You bet. That's why our religions promise vengeance, why African slaves found the story of the Old Testament so vital, why any one who is oppressed or beat down understands these stories - they are a reflection of our life and times no matter what year it is.

But you, good fellow that you are, endeavoring to reach a higher ground, live a better life, a forgiving life, a life of peace, are sorely tested by the inequities that are present in every life. You desire to turn the other cheek - you've read past the Old Testament - but the sonsofbitches won't leave you alone. You want to be "good." You've chosen your story and yet, you fall short of the consistency you believe is required of you.

At this point some will opt out of all conflict. Others will opt out of all faith. But it doesn't have to be either or. When consistency means rigidity you are lost. Consistency can only be of any value if you consistently test and question yourself, your beliefs against the reality on the ground and are willing to adjust and evolve your thought so that you become more COMPLETE, more completely yourself, with all of your contradictions and inconsistencies fully integrated into how you move through this world, how you put one foot in front of the other. This is how you unfuck your life.

O Mary don't you weep no more.

* * *

Moses lead his people out of slavery. Pharaoh's army got drown'ded in the process. One tribe defeated another tribe: the arc of human history.

And who will lead you out of your slavery?

Don't worry about the Pharaohs in your life. Don't worry about their doom. Don't worry about being the agent of their doom. You have to be your own Moses. Remember, Moses offered Amenhotep several chances to avoid his destruction, but the pharaoh was utterly consistent and so was drownd'ed.

O Mary don't you weep. He earned it.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Friday, November 4, 2011

Watching The Moon

Watching the moon
at dawn,
solitary, mid-sky,
I knew myself completely:
no part left out.

- Izumi Shikibu, 974-1034

* * *

It is told (who can know for sure, such stories we are willing to accept!) that Izumi Shikibu, a Lady at the Kyoto Court, had numerous affairs, marriages and wrote with such passion in her poetry she became known as The Floating Lady.

* * *

Each morning in the autumn, when I let my dog out at 4:30 in the blessed AM, I look up and to my left, and there, regular as the clockwork he is, rests Orion - floating just above my house. This morning was a fine, clear, dark morning and the sky was littered with stars, but Orion is the one I know and take great comfort in its arrival.

My father tried to teach me about the stars, to be able to recognize the constellations and so know where I was in the world. I could only master the obvious: Orion. After his death, I placed my father's spirit there: sky-born, forever the pilot he once was. I mention this because I only know Orion just before dawn and it is in the darkness of the hour before dawn that steadies me, that I know myself completely, no part left out.

* * *

For each and every last one of us on this whore of an island, an island in God's sea, is tasked with using the fact that we live to find out who we are to become - completely, no part left out. This is the great call of Life to our lives: who the fuck are you?

Are you listening?
Do you not yet know Life is without meaning?
You bring the meaning to it.
The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe to it.
Being alive is the meaning.

But we fuck it up, don't we? We want pat answers and sure things and so we compromise who we are, who we could yet be, in order to fit in, be made useful, smoothed into our niche; we accept the institutional, organized rules because it is easier to go along than to fight the system. Such foolish fears we have! As if by dulling ourselves down, stripping away what is unique, irreplaceable in us, becoming a consumer only (never a creator) death will somehow spare us, will take pity on us because we played by the fucking rules. Ha! You're a dead man walking, brother. Now what are you going to do about it?

I dare you to live.
I dare you to carve meaning out of time.
I dare you to wake the motherfuck up.

I triple dog dare you.

* * *

Izumi Shikibu paired off with numerous men at court: married men, princes. She even married a few herself. She wrote:


My black hair is unkempt; 
unconcerned, 
he lies down and first gently smooths it, 
my darling!

This intimacy between lovers is, I pray, universal. It contains passions best imagined off-stage. And it is passion that drives The Floating Lady; passion that earns her the scorn and opprobrium of the court, her society; passion that saves her for watching the moon at dawn, solitary, mid-sky she knew herself completely, no part left out.

We are not here to become better people; we are here to become complete, no part left out. If you live without passion - for someone, for a cause other than yourself, for your work, your time - you are already dead. Izumi scandalized her peers and they are both dead over a thousand years. Who lived before they died? The one who knew herself completely. You needn't take on numerous affairs in order to be alive, but you do need to live by whatever passion or desire stirs in you.

* * *

In the days before my father's death he said he was content with the way things worked out because he'd flown, a farmboy turned into a pilot, and that was all, that was all, that was everything to him.

* * *

The hour before dawn.

Boom.

__________

Monday, October 31, 2011

My Gentle Hill

Poet as farmer
My gentle hill, I rest
beside you in the dark
in a place warmed by my body,
where by ardor, grace, work,
and loss, I belong.

- Wendell Berry, "Song (2)"

* * *

I once owned a slim hardcover of The Wheel, a poem cycle of Berry's published in 1982. The cover was a dark, leafy green and a first edition to boot. It was holy to me. It was lost somewhere along the way, somewhere between the dozens of times I've moved, somewhere between the dozens of times I needed to raise some cash and sold my beloved books to do so, somewhere in the intervening years - almost 30 now - I lost track of it, my holy book. I hope I lent it to someone and forgot, or if not that, I pray who ever has it knows just what they have in their hands.

Though it was the poems, the effort made by Berry to fashion those poems that spoke directly to me, that moved me as few poems ever had before, that got me thinking about poetry as I never had before, the physical thing - the paper and board glued and stitched together - became a talisman, a reliquary of ideas and experience and hope that I might one day know where, by ardor, grace, work and loss, I belonged.

* * *

Some lives are in motion. Some lives settle in. As someone who has lived peripatetically, who has sent down no roots, I have envied those who did. Berry decided to forgo a promising literary career in NewYork City to return to Kentucky to farm and write. He sank down roots and watched the effect of his efforts to transform the land season after season until the land had taken on some of his intention, watched the effect of writing and working in the same place until the he had taken on some of the land's intention. It was where he belonged.

And you? Where do you belong, my dear fucked friend?

It's not that we all need to become poet/farmers, but we do have to become our true selves.

And how do you do that? You may well ask.

Listen to the poet: by ardor, grace, work and loss.

* * *

Ardor, the heat of desire, the zeal that does not flame out, is the most beautiful word I know. It sounds old-fashioned to our modern ears, but once language was unafraid to be say exactly what it meant and did not hide behind euphemisms, and ardor does not hide - not on the page, not on your tongue and not in your life. It is the spark, the holy spark of your essential self trying to light you up. Fucker that you are, you worry about burns and never consider the light. It is this quality, this unquenchable fire, this fire in the belly that allows you to find your work, to work with grace, to bear your losses with grace and still work, still believe that you were no fool to light such a fire as burns within you. No one lights a fire and then hides it under a bushel, but the very fact of light demands that it shine.

What are you doing with your light? Have you forgotten it? It hasn't died out, but it needs your attention. It needs you to tend it. It needs you to leave New York and come home, if that is what calls you. It needs you to stay on the road and see the endless forms and resolutions of the world. It needs you to record the quality of light you live by so that some other, some other one unknown to you or blessedly next to you, will know your ardor, your grace, your work and your loss and then, and then, and then and then you will belong to your time, your place.

Communion.

* * *

Heed your call. Tend your fire: a summons un-refused. Light it up.

* * *

Boom

__________

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Waterfall For A

Where the wandering water gushes
Waterfall
For a million days
Fall with me for a million days
My sweet waterfall

- Jimi Hendrix/Emmylou Harris, May This Be Love

* * *

A million days is just shy of 2740 years. Might as well be forever.

* * *

The difference between a simile and a metaphor is the difference between saying Joe runs like a deer and Joe is a deer, is the difference between saying love is like a waterfall and love is a waterfall. There is no qualification. The subject is the embodiment of the metaphoric image, not merely a reflection of it, but the thing itself. This is poetry's great gift to anyone who would bother with it: the thingness of the world holding the mystery of the world deep in its pockets. Lazy, approximate thought assumes metaphor is a humbug, mere semantics, a rose by any other name and utterly misses the knife-edge clarity, the unsayable rightness of a metaphor offered, understood deep in the pockets of your soul and then lived out in the field of time.

By what metaphor or metaphors do you understand your life? What image are you the embodiment of? is your life the embodiment of?

* * *

I can see
A rainbow calling me
Through your mystery
My sweet waterfall

* * *

Images litter our lives. We are heirs to millenia of struggling to find the words and images to describe what it is to be alive, to know we'll die, to organize our lives around something. We trip over the easy analogy, the worn out metaphor and move in a trench of no insight, no second sight, blindness and fear because these images that litter our lives have all been turned from their metaphoric powers into facts that are to be understood historically: virgin births, crosses, bodhi trees, mountains on the move, bangs that are big.

We fuck ourselves by demanding facts, expecting facts, historical, agreed upon facts, where there are none to be found. There is only the metaphor and what it means, what it can mean, how it can produce meaning in our days. Historical events pass out of existence with every breath. All that remains is the image of the event, the story of the event. The event itself is as surely gone as if it had never existed. All we have left is the memory of it, and the means by which we can recall it: image, metaphor, story.

* * *

When I go
When I go down deep
I want you here with me
My sweet waterfall

* * *

Living historically, moving from point to point to point, accepting only the actual, what you have witnessed, what you have done is impossible. It cannot be done. You always have to accept someone else's image, story in order to function in society: this food is clean, these lights control traffic, there are soldiers dying somewhere on my behalf. But that is the trench of images, the tumult of images produced and accepted and never re-examined. Living through metaphor, through the language of images, the thingness of the world revealing the mystery of being alive, knowing you will die and living by what light you have anyway is how you unfuck your life. A focus on the immediate, the tangible without the ability to find, or build a context for it is to live fucked and stuck, world without end. Amen.

I'll ask it again.

By what metaphor or metaphors do you understand your life? What image are you the embodiment of? is your life the embodiment of?

* * *

Waterfall
Nothing can go wrong
Nothing can go wrong
My sweet waterfall

* * *

Boom.

___________

Monday, October 24, 2011

So Make Sure

So make sure when you say you're in it 
but not of it
You're not helping to make this earth a place 
sometimes called hell

- Stevie Wonder, As

* * *

My mother is 80 years old. She has high blood pressure and diabetes; her kidneys are failing and she had open heart surgery a while back; She has an abdominal aneurism the size of a party balloon and this past week suffered two TIA's (mini-strokes). She is a calamitous wreck physically. Live long enough and all the wheels start to come off. But beyond the inevitable reduction and failure of physical systems there lies a deeper woe, a disease that traces its roots back to her earliest days. She always described it this way: This is hell. This life is hell. We are here being punished for something we can't remember doing. This is hell. We're not alive. We're dead and living in hell.

Merry Fucking Christmas.

* * *

Live fucked long enough and my mother's description becomes a balm releasing you of any responsibility for the way you have conducted your life. Forces larger than you can imagine were in control from the start and, well, you never really had a chance. It is the complete abnegation of your chance to live. What the fucked assume, what my mother assumes, is that somehow Life owed you something more than the opportunity to live, that Life owed you happiness, or ease, or peace, or success, or money, or contentment.

Sorry, dude. Not how it unfolds.

Life owes you nothing. You owe Life everything.

The world, your world expands and contracts with your willingness to engage it, to give to it, to feed it upon your commitment to a cause larger than your own: acts of love, acts of creation, acts of suffering. (It has been my experience that when I am firing on all cylinders it is all three at once.) And it is these acts, these ways of being that create meaning, add ballast against the tide of decrepitude, and release you from the bonds of heaven or hell or purgatory and you are free of any such categories.

There is comfort in imaging, believing in a heaven. Great comfort. The inequities of living will all be made right. There is comfort in imaging hell. Dante put many an irritant and foe in his icy depths, ordering the afterlife to suit the demands of this life. But in the end it is not Dante, or the Bible or any holy book that knows anything about heaven or hell. It's my mom. She hit it right on the nose.

This life is hell. She made it so, and so it is.
She's got 80 years of proving herself right under her belt.
This is why the last shall be first and the first shall be last - so much more to overcome.

* * *

My mom taught me many things: how to play poker, how to make Irish soda bread, how to pick myself up after I got knocked down, how to be generous. She also schooled me in believing the odds were permanently and purposefully stacked against me, that happiness was a humbug and who was I to believe different. But I do believe different and neither her sadness, nor any other person's influence on my life - for good or not - can shake me from the belief that we are here to live as fully as we can in spite of the trials we encounter.

Setbacks, wounds, tragedies, losses are the lot we are heir to. No one misses it. No one gets a pass and no one gets out of here alive. So the task that is asked of each of us, that is demanded of us is to figure out what we're going to do in the face of those (seemingly) cold facts. And cold they are because it is all at such a remove from our ability to alter. We can't change time. We can't stop aging. We can't avoid our deaths. The question before us is then does that excuse us from avoiding Life? If you're a fucked fucker you know that answer better than most.

Seamus Heaney sings: Human beings suffer/they torture one another/they get hurt and get hard./No poem or play or song/can fully right a wrong/inflicted or endured.

What the fucked presume to be the fates arrayed against them is just some other poor fucks who know no better than they do and so lash out at the inequities and injustice that they themselves breed.

We're pigs for punishment. We hurt ourselves and others because we get hurt and get hard and inure ourselves to our prophecies of woundedness and despair. Yes, this life is hell because it has been made so out of a lack of imagination and daring to make it anything else: hell as the default setting. But great goddamn is this hell so glorious that you'd rather cling to it than venture the risk of being free of it? Since you are the one creating the world in which you live with every choice made or unmade, what the fuck are you doing putting crenelations on hell? If this is hell, why are you protecting it?

* * *

My mom has always gotten up from the mat whenever she's been knocked down. Always. It's fucking heroic. The problem is she's been fighting herself the whole time.

80 years is a long time to knock yourself around. It eventually ends, but is a waste of time and ability.

How long you been at it?
When you gonna stop?

Merry Fucking Christmas.

__________

Friday, October 21, 2011

Your Problem Is

"Your problem is that you bring in the critical factor before the lyric factor has had a chance to express itself."

- Friedrich Schiller, in a letter to a young writer who had writer's block.

* * *

The cart before the horse, chickens before they are hatched, etc., etc.:  the precondition of the fucked.

 * * *

The life you are living is the one chance you get to do this. Perhaps there is another life of some sort to follow. Perhaps! Perhaps! If there is, and you knew it with unbridled certainty, would that relieve you of the task of living now? Fuck no. And if you could only guess or hope for another round after this attempt at living would that relieve you of your obligations to be awake and alive now? Not a fucking bit. And if there was only silence at the end of this road would that relieve....  well, you get the idea.

So, what, exactly, are you doing with your time, this time, this life, this chance?

Putting carts before horses, counting chickens before they hatch, bringing in the critical factor before the lyric has had a chance to express itself. That last one isn't exactly an old saying, but it cuts closer to the bone.

* * *

Any time you find yourself thwarted, impeded, blocked by your own thoughts you have replaced the primacy of your creative response to living with the easier and stultifying response of finding fault with your works before they are done, finding fault with yourself for even venturing the game.

Get this through your fucked-in-the-head head: "I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by what light I have."

That is Abraham Fucking Lincoln there, my friends. He knew from fucked and this was his response to it. Quit doubling down on yourself before you even get started. Schiller's "lyrical factor" is emergent not fixed. It is always in the process of becoming. It isn't one act, one poem, one song, one dance, one story, one home built, one toilet unplugged, one checkbook balanced, it is the life that contains those acts and there is no end to your obligation, your joyful obligation to act. Death brings the proceedings to a close, and if you knew with unbridled certainty there was some sort of life to follow this one how much more satisfied would you be for having left it all on the field here? And if you could only hope there was something after this, how much finer would your example here be if you lived out loud the greatest charity of all - a life lived fully? And if there is only lights out and nothing more, then this is your only chance to make hay.

So, what, exactly, are you doing with your time, this time, this life, this chance?

* * *

Schiller wrote the following:

Joy, fair spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
Drunk with fiery rapture, Goddess,
We approach thy shrine!

Thy magic reunites those
Whom stern custom has parted;
All men will become brothers
Under thy gentle wing. 

May he who has had the fortune
To gain a true friend
And he who has won a noble wife
Join in our jubilation!

Yes, even if he calls but one soul
His own in all the world.
But he who has failed in this
Must steal away alone and in tears. 

All the world's creatures
Draw joy from nature's breast;
Both the good and the evil 
Follow her rose-strewn path.

She gave us kisses and wine
And a friend loyal unto death;
She gave lust for life to the lowliest
And the Cherub stands before God. 

Of course he wrote it in German, and you probably know it better as this, but what is essential here is not its fame, but the simple fact of it; it exists. It did not until Schiller wrote it down, hewed it, formed it, re-worked it and built it. Over two hundred years on, it exists while Schiller does not. His bones are mold, yet are his bones him? Or is some elemental spark still alive because of the work he did while he could, bestowing, without knowing it, on those who followed and cared to seek it out?

Your task is not to write the next Ode to Joy. Your task is to let the lyrical take precedence over the critical. The critical is a whole clusterfuck of rules and expectations and customs, stern customs, that put you in and keep you in a trick bag. The lyrical is the mystery and force of Life moving through your life.

Schiller believed in angels and a heavenly Father. You needn't in order to do what life asks of you. It is your choice. It isn't required. What is required is joy.

Now get out the fuck out of your head and start living. You owe us some work.

__________

Monday, October 17, 2011

But I'll Teach

But I'll teach my eyes to see 
Beyond these walls in front of me
And someday I'll walk out of here again
Yeah I know someday I'll walk out of here again


- Jimmy Cliff via Bruce Springsteen, Trapped 

* * *

Being fucked is being trapped. The absence of options - perceived options - is what seizes the engine and you are left with only time's empty cup to remind you that your life was for naught; it went speeding by you while you gnashed your teeth and rent your hair over how fucking unfair everything is, how you were trapped by circumstance and could never break free and live.

Fuck and you.

You may never break free, but that does not absolve you of the effort to live.

* * *

Listen, honey, I know from trapped. I bet you do to. Maybe it was a relationship, maybe it was drugs, maybe it was money, maybe it was the place you were born into and that sickening wave of helplessness pervaded every pore of your life: swamped, fucked, stuck, trapped by circumstances beyond your ability to control.

It is so. It is so. It is so.

Until you decide it is not.

There may be nothing you can do to change the outer circumstance of your life, but you can change your approach to it. The truth is when you change your approach to the stuff of your life you inexorably change the circumstances as well. What keeps us trapped in despair, resignation, futility is fear. We fear the changes required to alter our circumstance because they are either uncertain or come with a cost we are unwilling to pay thereby prioritizing our trappedness, our fuckedness over the risk of fighting it out.

It is said that discretion is the better part of valor; yet you are fucked - what do you have to be discrete about? Better than discretion is discernment. Look. See. Think. Act on what you see and think:

But I'll teach my eyes to see 
Beyond these walls in front of me
And someday I'll walk out of here again
Yeah I know someday I'll walk out of here again


* * *

 When it gets to the point that your fears and the patterns of habit those fears breed inside of you have become as stable and predictable as gravity you are lost. If you thought that laying low, causing no waves would serve you well, you were wrong. Make some fucking waves, dude. If only in yourself and the way you think, the way you see, in what you believe is possible. By doing so you inexorably change the world in which you live. As you change, so it changes. As you stagnate, so it stagnates.

When you forfeit the authority for change, you forfeit your freedom. What are you waiting for? An engraved invitation to live? Fuck and you, my friend. Fuck and you. If you can't muster the spit to teach your eyes to see beyond the walls in front of you, then what are you doing here, what are you doing with the gift (the gift, I say!) of your life? I know it is hard to overcome fear. I know it is hard to risk change, but truly, what are you risking? Your fucked life? That's no risk at all.

What you are risking is freedom and the responsibility that comes with it.

* * *

You got to make dea kuleana pono, bro. You do that and you won't be trapped no more forever.

__________


Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Person's Life

The Generous Writer
A person's life consists of a collection of events, the last of which could also change the meaning of the whole, not because it counts more than the previous ones but because once they are included in a life, events are arranged in an order that is not chronological but, rather, corresponds to an inner architecture.

- Italo Calvino, Mr. Palomar

* * *


You have been forgetting. I know, I know, it is hard to keep everything relevant. What once seemed the whole of your experience, your understanding, your sense of place in this uncertain place is gone, or poorly remembered or only refreshed with the sudden appearance of a face you'd once known, a smell you once loved, a sound that echoes deep in your still beating and splashing heart and then...  you remember.

All this living you've done. How are you supposed to keep it all straight? What defines you now is not what defined you then and this moment is the one you have to attend to. No?

But fucked fuckity fucked fucker that you are, you have done what all us fucked fuckers do: you've lost sight of the forest because of all these damned trees.

* * *

Among the fucked are two great camps of misunderstanding: 1) the linear and 2) the absent. The Linear believe there is a line from cradle to grave that propels each event into the next; a causation as solid as ore and that brooks no challenge to its headlong rush from hour to hour until there be no more hours. The Absent want there to be such a line, but their lives are pocked with absences - yawning gaps where they have no idea about what they experienced or how to incorporate that experience into their worldview because, frankly, they have no worldview. All those absences thwart any such thought if they'd bother to think it all.

When you are tied to time, the measurement of it, the ticking of it, you force an order on yourself that does not exist without that ticking. When you cannot recall the name of one you once loved, or why you might have loved her in the first place, you strip yourself of the meaning you built into loving her in the first place. Great blanks, great dead spaces pollute your life and you tell yourself this is simply the way things go.

In both instances you are nothing but a coward.

In both instances you cede the authority for your life over to either a construct outside of yourself (time), or to no construct at all (apathy).

My dear friend Epictetus would tell you this: Stop the excuses and the procrastination. This is your life!

* * *

The generosity of Calvino's spirit, as expressed in his writings, is such that he looks deeply into such questions and plumbs an answer that he freely shares in a clear and elegant language so that you might understand it: ...events are arranged in an order that is not chronological but, rather, corresponds to an inner architecture.

It is this inner architecture, this inner construct of meaning that determines not only the outward appearance of any life, but also (and more importantly) the value you, and you alone place on the life you are living. This is why the linear and the absent are so very fucked. You are the author of your days. The narrative you build is all you have to help you navigate this experience of living in this uncertain place at this uncertain time.

* * *

I prefer drinking coffee and chicory, the impoverished coffee of New Orleans, and am stupidly happy when I search it out and start my day with a goddamn pot of it. Most people I know can't stomach it without cutting it with milk or cream. Black, a bit of sugar and I am stupidly happy. Why is this so? Because once I was in love in New Orleans. The love did not last. It turned sour, but part of my inner architecture hoists that experience up as a beam supporting an expanse of meaning: I was such a man as who could fall in love in New Orleans, suffer its consequences and still believe I was no fool to do so. The difficulties that grew out of that experience are another part of that inner architecture that moves not according to a calendar, but rather according to harmonies and resonances with other experiences. All of which allows me to sit here in the morning with a cup of coffee and tap out these signals.

Each experience does not fall into line; it re-jiggers the whole, helping it come into focus, helping you see the shape you, and you alone, have given to this uncertain place, this uncertain time.

So, the question must be asked: what are you building?

* * *

I take mine black, with a bit of sugar.

__________

Monday, October 10, 2011

There Is A

The Weary Monk
"There is a love like a small lamp, which goes out when the oil is consumed; or like a stream, which dries up when it doesn't rain. But there is a love that is like a mighty spring gushing up out of the earth; it keeps flowing forever, and is inexhaustible."

- Isaac of Nineveh

* * *

Isaac The Syrian, Isaac of Nineveh lived until study and his asceticism induced blindness and his weary bones, like the small lamp he wrote about, gave out. He refused to write about the controversies of his time, the theology, the politics of his time and instead lived as a hermit writing and writing and writing about an inexhaustible stream of which politics and theology mattered not.

Would all the saints were so.

* * *

The politics of our time, this time, has become a theology filled with true believers and heretics and councils to decide how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It is feverish and entirely out of balance, lacking any sense of proportion, justice, equity, or comity. I rage and rail among those close to me about it, but not here and I never will. Here's why: it's a pig fuck that keeps you distracted from attending to your work; a cluster fuck of lamps going out and streams running dry. There's no life in it.

And if you (and I) are going to unfuck our lives then we need to focus on life, not theology; life, not politics; our work instead of being someone else's pawns.

* * *

The shelf life of politics is about that of a household fly. And by politics I mean anything that is external - any arrangement, any organized prerogatives, any influence that is not self born, self described, self administered. Some politics is necessary and inevitable, but to elevate it to a passionate hatred of all who do not think or act or look like you do is to fuck yourself and those you oppose. Remember, things change. Politics and politicians come and go like lamps using up their oil, like streams running dry from a lack of rain. Clinging to these things, like guns and religion, is to mistake the puddle for the stream, the stream for a river, the river for the sea.

To unfuck yourself you have to find the inexhaustible waters inside of yourself. My friend Isaac names these waters as love, inexhaustible love, a love outside of time and politics and theology.

I'm good with that.

* * *

David Grey sang about This Year's Love, a weary plea for this love, the love in this moment to last. Who hasn't felt that sense of love never taking hold, taking root, of too many possible loves fading into regret and the ache of what could have been if only...  It is that "if only" that fucks you because you are looking outside of yourself for the thing you already possess - ancient and inexhaustible. You cannot cause another to love you. It never lasts because it is all a manipulation, a personal politics that exhausts itself. It is a sputtering lamp. You can however tap into the well spring of love that walks around inside you, going where you go, expressing itself when you allow it some breathing room. This is what will allow you to walk in this time, your time, tending to your immediate needs, a member of this time and place and still not be tempest tossed by it.

This is how Isaac of Nineveh still lives: He refused to write about the controversies of his time, the theology, the politics of his time and instead lived as a hermit writing and writing and writing about an inexhaustible stream of which politics and theology mattered not.

When you tie yourself to the politics of the moment (and all politics is not only local, but also momentary) you remain tied to that moment and when things change - as they will, as they must - the stream you've been floating down dries up.

Before you can unfuck the world you have to unfuck yourself. Before you can be loved by another, you must love yourself first. Same thing. There's no way around it, but there is a way through it: on the waters that forever flow through you.

* * *

O, Love, that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee.
 
Damne, I am tired, me!

__________