Sunday, May 29, 2011

I Was Listening

I was listening to Gorecki's Symphony No. 3 this morning. It is also known as the symphony of sorrowful songs. It is a meditation on the Holocaust and the catastrophic wastes of war. It might be the most beautiful piece of music I have ever heard. The beauty of it is so clear, so crystalline I was taken back by loving something born out of annihilation, cruelty, depravity. I am always moved to tears as the music asks me to face all that was lost. It insists that I listen. It demands I bear witness. It asks, "And what, exactly, are you doing with your life? You, who know nothing of these horrors except as history or art, what are you doing with the life that moves in you?"

What, indeed.

* * *

For about a year now I have kept track of the possible answers to that question here. The words themselves the doing. But this morning I know there is more that I can do - both for you, and for the life that moves within me. I have come to understand they are one and the same.

Listening to Gorecki this morning reminded me that cruelty is always successful; it always wins, but never completely and because of that is also always doomed to collapse. History is nothing if not a litany of cruelty written on the largest possible stage. Everywhere tyrants and despots and kings imagine the world complete if their death count is high enough. But they fail to account for their own death and even the most successful murderers die. They want what cannot be had - the dominion of death over life.

Life persists. It dies in the particular, but always persists in the aggregate. If this is so for the sweep of human society, how can it not be so in the arc of a given life, your life?

The art and histories made by the survivors are made individually. Our greatness comes from the ordering and re-ordering and re-building of story and meaning - either public or intimate. If your life is fucked, unfuck it by finding your voice. Insist on being heard - not in retribution or revenge, but from the central core of yourself.

* * *

Helena Wanda Błażusiakówna, was an 18 year old held in a Gestapo jail in September of 1944 near the Tatra Mountains in Poland. She scratched the following message on the wall of her cell: 

O Mamo nie płacz nie—Niebios Przeczysta Królowo Ty zawsze wspieraj mnie
(Oh Mamma do not cry—Immaculate Queen of Heaven support me always). 

Gorecki found these words and they moved him: "In prison, the whole wall was covered with inscriptions screaming out loud: 'I'm innocent', 'Murderers', 'Executioners', 'Free me', 'You have to save me'—it was all so loud, so banal. Adults were writing this, while here it is an eighteen-year-old girl, almost a child. And she is so different. She does not despair, does not cry, does not scream for revenge. She does not think about herself; whether she deserves her fate or not. Instead, she only thinks about her mother: because it is her mother who will experience true despair. This inscription was something extraordinary."

Gorecki builds the Third Movement of his symphony around Helena's words.

Cruelty swept her away, but Life persisted and now, now we have her words, her grace, her presence because an artist found this bit of graffiti and saw it for what it was:  life in the midst of death.

Do you need a jail cell to believe it? You, who have been given so much (no matter your personal losses), what are you doing with the gift of your days?

Revenge? Despair? Why?

Your life is a gift. It is meant to be played with while you can.

Work. Build. Scratch your name into walls so those who come after you have something to work with.


Friday, May 27, 2011

The Crucial Thing

Yes, this.
The crucial thing to live for is the life in what you are doing, and if that's not there, then you are living according to other peoples' notions of how life should be lived.

- Joseph Campbell,
Reflections on the Art of Living

* * *

I have spent the past five days almost exclusively in the company of words. Hours flowed one into the other and I had little sense of time passing as I wrote and wrote and wrote and occasionally fixed dinner. A friend informed me I should never work again, but spend my days writing. I laughed.

This is my work.

* * *

And you, my fucked friend, what is your work? That is the crucial thing.

I have found employment as everything except a carney barker and each employment was a diversion, a channeling of my energy towards someone else's goal with the promise that I, too, would earn a measure of the reward, that security and plenty were to be found in the tracks and traces of other men's plans. Just get them over the hill and well, all would be well.

Perhaps it is so for others, but this has been a rolling disaster for me.

Why? Am I above working hard? Are certain types of work beneath me? No. A thousand times, no. It's not the work, it's the worker.

Any work is good work. All work can either be liberating or a prison - it depends on who approaches it. Can you live for the life in the work, or is it someone else's work you are living for? Don't take that to mean that working as part of team or a corporation is somehow wrong. It is not. Just be certain that is how you find the life in your work.

You feel me?

This is about how you live, what you live for. Paying bills comes second.

Every time I have taken on employment that has not corresponded with the impulse of my own wish I have foundered and failed (carney barker is next on that list). It is only when I follow the impulse of my own desire, when I put the pursuit of paying bills in service of that impulse that my life takes on its own rhythm and rhyme. The past five days are a proof of that premise.

Freedom arrives when you free yourself of the trial of living inauthentically and instead devote yourself to living in a accord with your essential self.

Maybe for you that means a corporate life, maybe you are fully yourself as a short order cook (I've done that one), maybe you are a farmer, or a ditch digger, or a plumber or anything that people do to earn their way in the world. All that matters, the crucial thing, is to suss this out before you die and learn that you had not lived.

* * *

What are you looking at me for? Hop to it.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Is It Not

The Poet as cliff, rock, shore
Is it not by his high superfluousness we know
Our God? For to be equal a need
Is natural, animal, mineral: but to fling
Rainbows over the rain
And beauty above the moon, and secret rainbows
On the domes of deep sea-shells,
And make the necessary embrace of breeding
Beautiful also as fire,
Not even the weeds to multiply without blossom
Nor the birds without music:
There is the great humaneness at the heart of things,
The extravagant kindness, the fountain
Humanity can understand, and would flow likewise
If power and desire were perch-mates.

- Robinson Jeffers, "The Excesses of God"

* * *

The fucked are blind. The fucked spend their days in lack. The fucked take their wounds too seriously and miss the extravagant kindness that surrounds and attends them. The fucked are, in a word, fucked.

* * *

I have come late to this dance, but I pray there is a song or two left in the band. If not, then such is my reward for believing only in the absences and not the endless, endless, endless thingness of my life, of any life, of all life.

Poetry is thingness plus a mind to order it, to say, "From these things - cliff, rock, shore - unseen things flow: imprint, myth, mystery, consciousness, meaning, solace, joy." Does joy have a physical presence, or is it perception and spirit? And mystery? Consciousness? They are as real as any physical thing, and it is in the created world we find the representations of what we know only in thought, in desire, internally. Poets point us to things and then push us past the thing itself to the thing behind it: creation. If you are fucked you create nothing. You exist outside the flow of the excesses of God - not as an outcast, but as one who refuses to enter.

* * *

A few weekends ago I sat along side a shallow stream that emptied off a small, marshy lake. Spring had yet to fill out the trees and it was overcast, rainy, cool. I sat with my back against a dead tree and watched ducks, cranes and herons take flight or stalk through the shallows. My battered copy of Jeffers poetry with me and I read in the solitude of being near water. I read to myself and then whispered the words out loud and finally read the poems in full voice to the ducks, cranes and herons. Jeffers made me notice, attend to my surroundings and the stillness was astoundingly full. There is only so much information your brain will process on default, but if you attend, if you focus then it all unspools and you see small things that mean more than large things. You become aware of your own thingness. Such is the true value of poetry: attendance.

I was by the marshy lake on a retreat with a group of mentors and their charges. We were encouraged to spend some time alone and just let it soak in. When I got back from my time by the water one of the kids was also back, but jumpy, alone, distracted, unengaged. I was asked to help him. So we hiked back to the spot by the shallow stream. It was as if I hadn't been there just minutes before. I saw more than I did before - paths through the thicket, the bones of animals scoured of their flesh by coyotes, birds and finally the insects that glean what is left behind, and the ugly presence of garbage left behind by others who had walked this way with blinders on. In a silty bed, the kid saw a large fresh-water mussel shell and asked if I could fish it out. I leaned out over the water and scooped it up. Once rinsed of the fine, melted chocolate mud that covered the inside of the shell it gleamed with mother-of-pearl iridescence: the domed secret rainbow of the shell.

It could only be called an extravagance, a superfluous gesture that meant nothing to the creature who lived inside the shell, but because we saw it we imbued it with wonder that such a thing could be so. The shell was just the shell. I decided it was beautiful. I placed Jeffers excesses of God there for no reason other than it was already there.

Like I said, the fucked are blind to the thingnesses of their lives. Yes, the shell was indifferent to my wonder, but I was not and that is the difference between being fucked and being unfucked.

You can read all about it in Mr. Jeffers poems. Mr. Blake's, Mr. Whitman's, Mr. Yeats', and an infinitude of others as well. You just have to open your eyes.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

For The Love

The Travi
For the love you bring 
Won't mean a thing
Unless you sing

- Travis, "Sing"

* * *

If you would be unfucked, then you must, must, must find your joy. Absent joy, what love can you possibly give or hope to receive? Absent joy what, exactly, are you doing with the gift of your days?

It is impossible to be fucked if you know what your joy is. And know this as well, it cannot be found in another, but can only be given to them; it cannot come from the outside in, but works only in reverse; once found it cannot ever be lost or destroyed - only doubted, ignored, abandoned. The joy continues to exist even if you aren't up to believing in it.

* * *

A hundred years ago of a Christmas Eve I sat at desk made by my father out of a hollow core door and some custom carpentered legs and dreamed of a current, a current of air that moved around the globe, that swirled and bent and swooped and flowed on and on and on. I dreamt this current to be grace, a balm to woe that was everpresent everywhere and all we had to do was reach out, reach just outside our woe and so be healed. It was the challenge of our lives to set down our troubles, to move beyond the immediate hurt or confusion and find the durable, unending balm of grace.

Such was my dream. So it remains.

But there is this as well: it isn't enough to say "enough"; it isn't enough to want to be past fear or any other hard thing - you have to enter singing.

Bodhisattvas joyfully participate in the sorrows of the world.
Joyce writes: Oh Lord, heap mysteries upon us, but entwine our work with laughter low.
Blake says: He who binds to himself a joy/Does the winged life destroy./But he who kisses the joy as it flies/Lives in eternity's sun rise.
Hassidim dance in front of their sorrows.

 As fate would have it, joy is the key to unfucking your life.

* * *

Think. Think. Think. What is your joy? When was the last time you dared to sing of that joy?

If you allow it, the immediate quashes the song of the eternal, drowns it out in the clatter of worry and fear. What is joy, but the presence of the eternal, of time suspended, of your life complete in the moment? Do you love from fear of loss, or the joy of giving? It makes a difference to both you and your beloved. Do move through the world pinched, circumscribed in spirit, or have you found the way to be you expansively, generously? It makes a difference to us all.

It doesn't matter how you sing, what you do - it's all good. It must, however, come from your essential self - not other's expectations, none but your own for you are the only one who knows, deep down in the root of it all, who you are, who you are to be, and, here's the kicker, how to be that.

If you have forgotten, or are afraid to be just what you are, remember it is that way for us all. We are here to learn how to live: unafraid, joyously, in spite of the horrors man is capable of.

You must enter into the sorrows of the world singing.

This is your gift to the rest of us.

* * *

Get going.


Monday, May 9, 2011

I Have Frozen

I have frozen up my dreams, thinking I was all alone
Fighting every minute for each turning stone
I have reached the rocket speed
I have touched the ground that feeds
Scaling fences, looking for the healing sun

- Daniel Lanois, "Shine"

* * *

The comes a moment, sometimes several moments if your life unspools itself that way, when it dawns on you just how wrong you have been about things, about the precious things: love, forgiveness, communion, solitude and the way you walk in the world. You can spend years and years of your time believing life was one way and you come to learn that not only were you wrong, but were wrong at a cellular level, wrong from the gate, wrong because you learned fear and from that understood time and its vicissitudes to be linear, that the only change coming was entropic. Seeing your life and time this way builds up a thick callous of regret and longing that can never be quenched. There is no balm. There is no double-take. No sea-change.

And it feels so damnably alone on that one narrow line from cradle to grave.

And this is how we live. This is how we live.

Fools. Fools. Fools.

Like you, I have frozen up my dreams, thinking I was all alone. But it is those dreams that are your salvation, that show you you are not alone, and the way to those dreams cannot bear the weight of your loneliness. If you would have them, those things, those precious things that keep you walking, you must, must I say, unlearn your fear of love, forgiveness, communion, solitude and the way only you can walk in the world.

Doubt will haunt you in the beginning, but haven't you had enough doubt?

* * *

Don't be hard on yourself. You can work and work and do good work and be good and still get it wrong. It isn't the work, you can do anything you like - it's all good, it is more basic, more encompassing than that. Do you hold the love you have been given against its loss? Do you believe love is ever lost? Do you forgive yourself for being yourself and not some other who seems to have a better life? Have you let those moments of communion become bitter because they could not last? Do you fear solitude and mistake it for being alone? And how, how do you keep walking? What moves you? Whose heart beats? Whose hands? Whose feet?

* * *

I live in between two worlds: what has been and what I am building. The good that has come to me in the past I have allowed to haunt me and I tried to undo death, undo the loss of love, undo time. It was as if because my best beloveds were no longer at hand they were forever gone, forever lost and that love had been a cruel, cruel thing because it could not be made to last. And so it goes. Bodies fail. The spirit, too. Living like this is living forever thirsty, forever hungry and never finding rest. It is how we are.

But it is not how we have to be.

I am the luckiest of men. You, too, my fucked friend. The love you have to give, the love you have been given cannot be destroyed or lost - only ignored. If you have loved, you love still. If you have been forgiven, you are forgiven still. If you have reached the rocket speed, touched the ground that feeds, that communion extends in all directions and is with you still. If you have accepted the gifts of solitude, they attend you still. And if you have ever put one foot in front of the other and continued to walk, to try, you always will.

* * *

In the end the thing that keeps me walking is your shine
Your shine in transmissions, your shine in decisions
Your shine when I labor to the new day
It's your shine, your shine, your shine, shine, shine on

* * *



Thursday, May 5, 2011

When Death Comes

Some notes of mine.
When death comes, let it find me at my work.

- Ovid

* * *

It is an old prayer: Let death hit a moving target. The idea that you'd sit and wait is anathema to me. If I have my mind, I pray I am at work. And this, this, this is my work, my joy, my reason.

To be fucked is to be without work or joy or reason. Just excuses.

Fuck that.

* * *

Every life holds within it the possibility of living out its fullest potential, the fullness of its name. The problem arises when we learn fear, when we doubt our potential, doubt our name and succumb to our circumstances. Here's a question: what is more real, the knowledge you hold within you, or the knowledge of all that is external? For us fucked fuckers we hold the knowledge of the external to be primary, but if you would be unfucked you must rely instead on the sure knowledge that is known only within you, within your mind, within your soul. Knowledge such as that is free of all external considerations. Free, I say. Free.

Make no mistake, what is external can limit, even destroy life, your life, but is your body your life? The fucked confuse physical realities and prerogatives (money, success, politics) with internal realities and prerogatives (authenticity, freedom, communion). You are both, not one or the other. Your task is to move through the world and find your work, your joy, your reason so that what is known in your soul in made known in the world.


Oh, yeah, and this is a timed test.

* * *

My father worked his entire adult life in the funeral business - almost all of it as an embalmer. He was good at it, too. He chose the profession after getting out of the Navy and the Second World War because he figured he'd always have work. As a child of both divorce and the Depression, he craved stability.  Despite how good he was at it, despite his willingness to do such a gruesome task routinely and without complaint, he was no embalmer. His work was something else. He was a pilot, a sky-jockey, Icarus, and he died a bit each day he was away from flight and he stopped flying almost thirty years before his body gave out.

How do I know this? Look at the picture below. That's 999 Mike Pop. His last plane.

After he sold it in 1967 he kept track of who owned her, how many times she changed hands and where she was hangered for the rest of his life. He loved flight and could not find a way to keep at it. A month or so before his death he said he had no regrets. After listing family and friends he said he had no regrets about any of it because he'd flown.

What was in him was in the skies.

What, oh what, is in you?