Saturday, April 30, 2011

True Happiness Is

In the original.
"True happiness is a verb. It's the ongoing dynamic performance of worthy deeds. The flourishing life, whose foundation is virtuous intention, is something we continually improvise, and in doing so our souls mature. Our life has usefulness to ourselves and the people we touch."

- Epictetus, The Art of Living

* * *

I came upon Epicetus' phrase "the flourishing life" and found the 180 of the fucked life - not simply unfucked, but flourishing. Who doesn't want to flourish? Yet, yet, yet...  We don't, do we? We bog ourselves down in circular thoughts that leave us exhausted from trying to find the one unequivocal moment that was true or righteous or damning. We look for stasis, certainty, stability and ignore the everflowing changes in our lives. Because we live we change. Nothing holds its previous shape and yet we fuck ourselves trying to make believe it does.

Happiness is a verb and requires continual improvisation. Brilliant.

* * *

What is it in us that wants to go backwards, that wants things to remain as they were, that fears the constancy of change? Epictetus' forerunner, Heraclitus, tells me I can't step into the same river twice and yet I have spent too much of my life trying to do just that: stop time. I wanted my father to live again; I wanted the love of one remarkable woman to return again; I wanted to return to the moment before the wheels came off so I could bolt them on and so on and so on and so on. Death, the loss of love, mistakes are all benign plagues that exist externally, in our outward lives. The malignant plague is how we internalize those outward events and judge ourselves sorely because we could not hold off our beloved's death, the end of love, our inherent fallibility. This is to cease improvising and instead devote time and energy to living in the one moment where we imagined ourselves whole. By doing so we forever exclude any chance at wholeness, at happiness, at a flourishing life.

Snap out of it. Forgive yourself, but for fuck's sake, snap out of it.

* * *

I still dream of my father. The other night I saw him standing in the backyard of the home I grew up in. I was in my childhood bedroom looking out the window, and there he was smiling, laughing, tending to his fat, black Weber kettle. I still dream of the remarkable woman. The same night as my father's dream I was running through a school built like an Escher labyrinth. I escaped, but had to get back in to retrieve something. When I got there she emerged from behind a closed door, grabbed my arm and pulled me into her classroom. I still dream and in my dreams I am called to let go, all is well now, hush, close your eyes, my best beloveds are still with me, bred in my bone, informing each gesture and choice. They are gone only in the external world; they exist as part of who I am now. Their lesson is ancient: you can't step into the same river twice, but that doesn't mean you can't enter the stream and be carried by the currents that flow through you.

That is the flourishing life.
That is the life improvised to address the tasks set before it.
That is the life worth having.

* * *

Unfuck yourself and live before you die.

__________

Monday, April 25, 2011

Move Over 'Cause

"Move over 'cause you're standing in my light."

- Ian Hunter

* * *

It is like 1978, '79 or thereabouts, and I acquire Ian Hunter's album, You're Never Alone With a Schizophrenic. I play it until no more sound emerges from the grooves except that very satisfying hiss and pop of vinyl records. I hadn't thought of or listened to it in over twenty-five years and then, clear as a bell, from out of whatever dark well of forgotten memories exists in me I had to hear it again and again and again.

* * *

Enough. Enough. Enough of the bullshit. Enough of the endless, withering crap of others' madness. Enough. The true hallmark of a fucked life is one that is constantly eclipsed by the vanity, fear and manipulations of those closest to it. Forever on our back foot, the fucked are too nice to insist on their place in the world. Don't want to cause any trouble and all.

Shit, dude, get over yourself and cause some fucking trouble. Push back against those who would push you around. Tell them, "Move over, 'cause you're standing in my light." And if they don't move shove them out of the way. But for fucked fuckers that is the one thing we don't know how to do. We equate all conflict with somehow being less, with being just like them, and so let others run riot over our lives.

How fucked it that?

Like I said, enough.

* * *

1978 or '79 or thereabouts I am fucked. It is my first trip down Fuck-Up Lane. I am smart, wicked smart for being just a punk-assed southwest-side kid. I know, I know am bound for something other than a life in the sleepy suburbs where dads work in trades and that is enough for them all. I know I am bound for what? glory? fame? something? I am accepted into the warm embrace of DePaul University's Freshman class in the fall of 1978. I attend orientation and then take a job cutting fabric in my mother's tiny dress factory.

Now I can tell you there wasn't money to go to college and that would be true. I can tell you I stepped in to help my mom as a stop-gap measure to help her out and that would be true. I can tell you it all worked out because I went to DePaul two years later and graduated with honors and that is true as well, but all three statements miss the truth behind the truth - I lacked the imagination to find my own money to attend; I lacked the ability to put myself ahead of my mother's needs; I lacked the strength of my convictions and did what was "selfless," and "good." In so doing I fucked myself.

What are our obligations to those closest to us? At what point do our needs recede and their's take precedence? When is it our turn?

Here's the news: it is always your turn - it is never your turn. When you live for a cause greater than yourself, then these acts truly are selfless and good, but when the cause is imposed on you (through guilt or threat) you are fucked. My decision to forgo college for two years was not made from strength, but weakness and it is a bad way, a crazy bad way to live. You know you've fucked up, but you can wear the patina of noble grace to fool everyone else.

* * *

Every life has within it the potential for ascendancy, for its moment in the sun. There is no set timetable for when that moment occurs. There may be hundreds and hundreds of opportunities for you to step into the light, your light. If someone is blocking you tell them to move. If they won't budge shove them out of the way. If they fight you and limit you keep this in mind: the only light that matters is the one inside you and you are the only one who can block that.

* * *

Let it roll.

__________

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ask And It

The Jesus of Cool
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."

- The Gospel According to Jesus, translated by Stephen Mitchell

* * *

"In order to catch the ball you have to want to catch the ball."

- John Cassavettes

* * *

I would only add: In order to unfuck your life you have to want to unfuck it. It isn't going to happen by wishing it would happen, or by waiting for a miracle to clear your eyes, your ears, your very fucking soul of the debris you've allowed to accumulate in your fucked-in-the-headness. The unfucking begins when you act, when you ask, when you knock, when you yell like a little leaguer, "I GOT IT! I GOT IT!"

Until then, it is all fucked up.

And here's the news: you can't ask for money or happiness or peace or any of the good things you wish or want to have. That's still being fucked. All you can ask for, all you can seek is you, just you and that will be all, that will be all, that will be all.

Understand?

* * *

A great and kind man once told me that God was forever calling us into our names, that there was only one of me and if I didn't fulfill the potential of my name, who would? The purpose of our life was to live it - not in God's name, but in our own. For those of you playing at home you'll understand when I say there is no difference between the two.

* * *

Kurt Vonnegut once referred to today as "Spikenard Thursday" - spikenard being the ointment Mary Magdalene massaged in to Jesus' feet when some later editor had him utter the selfish and unkind words, "The poor will be with you always. Me? Not so much." Since finding Vonnegut's comments (he wonders if it is blasphemy to imagine Jesus as a weary man and of course counts it blasphemy not to) I have been drawn to the day before the day we are told Jesus died. It is a storm about to be unleashed and nothing will be the same after, and just like all storms it is quiet, quiet, quiet in advance.

Every life has a Spikenard Thursday in it - sometimes dozens and dozens and dozens of them - when all is quiet and all is about to change. It is okay. Everything needs to ripen and just as nature cannot stop an apple to coming to fruition, so too once you have decided to act, to ask, to seek your life it cannot help but happen. So, rest today. Close your eyes and rest. Tomorrow you die and once dead you can live again. Unlike Jesus the cross you'll be nailed to is your fear and vanity and the death you'll suffer is your pride and hubris at imagining you can control anything but how you think, what you say and the things you do.

Spikenard Thursday is the day you decide you want to catch the ball. And I promise you, sure as shit, that you will.

* * *

May your Friday's be great rather than good.

__________

Friday, April 15, 2011

It Takes Courage

It takes courage to do what you want. Other people have a lot of plans for you. Nobody wants you to do what you want to do. They want you to go on their trip, but you can do what you want. I did. I went into the woods and read for five years.

- Joseph Campbell

* * *

Sacrifice is the hallmark of love. When we place another - our children, our spouses, our lovers - ahead of ourselves we are sacrificing time and energy so they might be cared for, might know our love. For the fucked this becomes a ritual not of sacrifice, not a willing gift, but rather a self-reflexive act that neither sacrifices anything nor comforts anyone. In order to sacrifice, in order to love there must be something to give. When you spend your days as a mere plaything of chance, forever put upon by the outward circumstances of your life you are on someone else's trip, completely removed from your own true self. Do this, live like this and time will only bring you an empty cup.

You have to fill the well before you can give it away.

The fucked would rather be martyrs to their own cause than acknowledge this. Somehow we've set in opposition the need to care for ourselves and our desire to love others. It isn't either/or. It is both. Goddamn, it is both.

* * *

I have lived on the lip of madness, a knife's edge between what I know and what others do. I have allowed the acts of others to throw doubt into my bucket. This is madness, this is the knife's edge: doubting yourself because of the acts of others. Campbell further on writes:

Actually, there were times with I almost thought - ALMOST thought- "Jeez, I wish someone would tell me what I had to do," that sort of thing. Freedom involves making decisions, and each decision is a destiny decision. It's very difficult to find in the outside world something that matches what the system inside you is yearning for.

What are you yearning for? That is all. That is all. The outside cannot ever determine what is inside you. Of course we allow it to happen all the time. That's what makes us fucked. But listen, you can unfuck it, but only you can do it. Remember, things like this blog and the books I use and the books you'll read are all still part of what is outside. It only gets unfucked from within. You want to love someone, then unfuck yourself. You want to care for someone, offer them your time and energy, then unfuck yourself. Think of what you are giving if you are a fucked fucker. Snap out of it.

It takes courage to do what you want. It takes courage to resist the ennui of others' bad acts. It takes courage to know yourself so that you can know another. It takes courage to do almost anything in this world. Not because the world is inherently bad. It is neither good nor bad, but is populated with people who make it so by their thoughts, words and deeds.

I have lived on the lip of madness, the madness of others. I have allowed it to stain my thoughts, and yet because of this obligation to be here, to write, to continually push at what I know that blot is erased every day. It is up to me keep it so. Like Prometheus' liver, it grows back over night and I have to start again. But what of it? This is what life is for - having the courage to be exactly who you are.

* * *

Long may you run.

__________

Sunday, April 10, 2011

How Selfish Of

The Greatest
How selfish of you to believe in the meaning of all the bad dreaming.

- Cat Power, "Metal Heart"

* * *

At its root, being fucked is the most selfish thing you can do - to yourself, to others, to your time. A premium is placed on your misery, your woe, your sorrow and you come to believe in that misery, woe and sorrow as the sole function of living, the meaning of all the bad dreaming.

Fuck.

Being fucked is a choice, my brothers and sisters, a fucking choice between allowing what is difficult, painful or sorrowful to color all of your thought, or taking what is difficult, painful or sorrowful and using it to create a life unbowed by what is unfair, unjust or burdensome. That's not to say its obverse - all is happiness and joy - but to choose to use what is at hand to build something that had never existed before: you.

Happiness, joy, sorrow, woe happen as they will. It is you who must choose among the meanings. It is you, my fucked in the head friend, who will decide what can or cannot be made of it. You and only you.

* * *

Nothing is easy, but is ease our only measure? I hope not, otherwise I'm more fucked than I knew. No, there has to be a different measure, a different barometer of the meaning of a life, your life. Is goodness a better yardstick? I don't think so. Maybe the only one that matters is the one you choose, but what if you choose the meaning of all the bad dreaming? Then you're fucked. Is that legitimate? You bet. You want to be fucked and stay fucked, have at at. No one will much notice. It is you who will suffer it the most. But here's the thing: it is a waste suffering without cause, suffering at your own hand. You are certainly free to choose it, but that doesn't alter its inherent wastefulness, its uselessness, its calamity.

Don't be so fucking self-important.

There are stories of Ms. Power's drama, meltdowns and insecurities. How we know any of this is true is beyond me, but assume they are, so what? She takes what is there and transforms it into songs, performances and stories about her drama, meltdowns and insecurities. Isn't that the true measure: transformation? We are to be bridges between our desire and our ability; we are, if we are awake, miracles of synthesis taking what is encoded, stored, retrieved and re-fashioning it into a new thing, a never before seen thing: the indivisible you.

* * *

Call me to the one among your moments
that stands against you, ineluctably:
intimate as a dog's imploring glance
but, again, forever, turned away


when you think you've captured it at last.
What seems so far from you is most your own.
We are already free, and we're dismissed
where we thought we soon would be at home.


Anxious, we keep longing for a foothold-
we, at times too young for what is old
and too old for what has never been;


doing justice only where we praise,
because we are the branch, the iron blade,
and sweet danger, ripening from within.


 - RM Rilke, Sonnets To Orpheus, XXIII

* * *

 What he said.

__________

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How Does It

Songwriter for beginners
How does it feel 
When life doesn't seem real
And you're floating about on your own
Your life seems uncertain
So you draw the curtain
Pretending nobody's home

- G. Nash, "Be Yourself"

* * *

There is a sweetness and gentle naivete to most of Graham Nash's songs that finds its truest voice here. The album, Songs for Beginners, is a meander of stunned loss after the end of love. But here is what separates Mr. Nash from the fucked - though pierced with loss he uses that loss as a catalyst to do something. Namely, write songs and sing them. Each of us has withdrawn from our lives, stung by losses that over-match our ability to accommodate in the near-term. That withdrawal into our sorrows, our grief, our stupefaction is as natural as it is necessary. The true grief is when we fail to emerge and take up our lives again. It seems a betrayal of our loss to move, if not on, but at least again.

So we stay stuck in that moment. How much better to write sweet and gently naive songs.

* * *

For those of you keeping track at home, this is the 99th entry in this meander, and I wonder about my own naivete - gentle or otherwise - and its application to this project. I began this work as a response to the volcanic shit flowing through my life, a way of resisting it and hopefully to be of some use. Aurelius, in his Meditations, asks that he communicate liberally; to be useful. Having found that passage several years back I have wanted the same for myself.

But how to do this? A blog called Unfuck Your Life? Really?

The question isn't one of form, but rather voice. This form suggests a certain pungency to my voice, but if it is not there as a matter of course, then it isn't my voice. It is an attempt at voice, a winnowing of everything not me. In this I am the same as Mr. Nash. Call it Attempts For Beginners.

* * *

And what of you, my fucked friend? What are you doing with your time, your losses, the volcanic shit in your life?

Trust what I say and do what you're told
And surely all of your dirt will turn into gold.

That's Van Morrison's advice and it strikes me as the central mystery of our time: what to do with the unruly, ill-fitting, sloppy, ragged losses, failures and poor showings of our lives. Do they define our lives, or do we use what is less than perfect to perfect the one thing that is always and always and always ours: our voice.

I possess an MFA in Fiction Writing earned at Columbia College Chicago. It was there I first heard the first cracked strains of my voice and there it merged with others into a muscular chorus of accomplishment. After, after, after that voice was lost, as if it could not exist without the support of the other voices I came to know and love. I was on my own and I stopped writing. Those years were the worst of my life. I abandoned the one thing that defined me: words. And what did I abandon it for? Volcanic shit.

This is what I mean by being fucked and stuck. I know that of which I speak and it has taken more time, more years to find my voice again. It has been a cavernous waste, but would you and I have met otherwise?

Why this existence and not another?

It ain't why, why, why. It just is. That's all there is to it.

The task is to use the materials at hand and build your life.


* * *

Are you ready?

_________

Friday, April 1, 2011

And I Call

Walt The Great
And I call to mankind, Be not curious about God,
For I who am curious about each am not curious about God,
No array of terms can say how much I am at peace about God
   and about death.

I hear and behold God in every object, yet I understand God not
   in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than
   myself.

Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God in each hour of the twenty four, and each
   moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in
   the glass;
I find letters from God dropped in the street, and every one is
   signed by God's name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that others will
   punctually come forever and ever.

- W. Whitman, Song of Myself

* * *

It is ludicrous to imagine writing a single word after quoting Song of Myself. Ludicrous. But that is what I am here for, so allow me to be ludicrous.

If you are fucked you haven't let go.

Let me say it again: if you are fucked you haven't let go; you haven't let go of some joy, some memory, some hurt, some pride, some injustice and you have sewn yourself into that injustice, that pride, that hurt, that memory, that joy and you and it are seemless in your stasis. Being fucked is being stuck and being stuck is a choice.

For a hundred years I have read and not understood anything. Those letters from God that Whitman leaves in the street are the libraries I have perused and gleaned nothing from, they are the works of lives I'll never know except by their words and I read without the eyes to see what it was they would have me know and I was stuck like a Christmas goose. What is it in us that always seeks to control our environment, to make it bend to our will, to ask why this? We are born hungry and feed upon our own strengths moving from helplessness to self-sufficiency and we naturally presume we are, in fact, complete unto ourselves.

We like mirrors instead of windows.

We listen to only that which supports our original thesis: I am a universe.

And it is true, it is true. In a sense we are complete, we need no knowledge except what we acquire. But if that is all there was to it why the fucked up lives, why the dissolution of always striving, but never arriving, why our grief, why our stumbling? Because we are universe in part, not whole. As much as we try to control the circumstances of our lives, there is more that cannot be controlled. We butt up against it and try to make it bend, but it does not. Here is the moment Frankl speaks of when he says that he and his fellow prisoners realized they needed to stop asking Life why? and understand they were being questioned by Life: And who are you?

Ah, who the fuck are you?

You are the faces of the men and women that Walt sees in the street, there is no one more wonderful that yourself because you are that face in the street to someone else. When you let go of being the only one who has ever lived and loved on this whore of an island, an island in God's sea, you lose track of your fear, lose track of your false pride; when you let go of your joys and hurt, when you scatter them in the street, like so many letters from God, someone will come across them and realize it is addressed to them and it will help them to let go into the mystery of this one chance at life.

* * *

We are all messengers, except we don't know who we are to deliver our messages to, or even what our message is exactly. I'm operating under the idea that my life is my message - not any single thing, but the thing itself - and the more I let go of hope and fear, the more I enter directly into this one moment, the clearer my message will be and those who pass over it in the street are simply on their way to their lives. I will have lived mine.

I am multitudes.

You too, my fucked friend. You, too.

__________