Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Lives We

Detail Michaelangelo's Pieta
The lives we lead are marbled dreams

- Anonymous

* * *

Marble is formed when limestone softens through heat and pressure and then recrystalizes into its familiar milky gleam. It shatters if not respected and only under Michaelangelo's touch does it take on flesh.

Not unlike what happens when we wake and think our dreams have ended only to find we are still asleep.

* * *

In The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie asks: What is the opposite of faith? The answer isn't not-faith or a denunciation of faith, for that is a simply a different sort of faith. No, the opposite of faith is doubt. We doubt the solidity of our bones, the origins of our consciousness, the world we have dreamed into existence.

O what befalls the Creator when he doubts his creation?

Frankenstein or Rabbi Loew?
The hand of God or the mind of Man?

Are we not the rebellious angels cast out from heaven?
Are we not the cause of their rebellion - fallible, doubting Thomases who shit on the hand that feeds us, forever slouching, stumbling toward Bethlehem, the rough beast waiting to be born?

Such dreams we dream.

* * *

The great mystery isn't whether or not God exists, but rather why we dream of such a puny God - like us in every detail.  Where is the grandeur, the awe? If it is not in us, then it is not in him.

* * *

We populate our dreams with such small things: money, goods, sexual conquest, the visceral. This is what I take Mr. Anonymous to mean when he tells us the lives we lead are marbled dreams: solid, stolid, heavy and cold. And yet, and yet...

...marble takes on flesh. Can you not put your finger into Jesus' wound? So skillfully has the marble been subdued, that indeed you can, at least, imagine it. Can you not feel Mary's fingertips pressing into the stillwarm flesh of her dead son, his weight so, so, so very heavy across her lap? This is not the son of God, but a mother's son. That other story starts in three days - the story of one kind of faith.

Other faiths struggle for your attention: Pick me! Pick me! I am the Truth!

No, you are just one kind of truth. Or, just one kind of doubt.

If you are fucked, and let's face it, Boy-o, you are, every faith is a doorway to doubt, every answer is a question, every step forward is two steps back. And what do you do? You dither, wring your hands, try out new types of faith that are off-the-rack ill fitting and wonder where you fit in, because, well, you've tried it all and nothing works. So you take on a new faith: doubt. You doubt you've ever been born; you doubt the ground under your feet; you doubt you've ever been loved; you doubt your ability to love; and you doubt such a thing exists and doubt it would matter if it did.

Such dreams we dream.

Why the long face, puddin' head? You dreamt it. You have exactly what you wished for: doubt.

* * *

You want to unfuck your life? Then have some faith in it, in yourself, any old sort of faith will do.

You don't need God, unless you do. You don't need religion, unless you do. You don't need evolution or science or atheism, unless you do. What you absolutely need is a faith that will turn marble to flesh, your lethargy and woe into Life.

Get off your ass and start working with the stone in front of you. You die whether you do or you don't. The work won't save you from dying, but will give you a shot a living.

That is all. That is all. That is all.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Not Revelation Tis

The poet, her ownself
Not "Revelation"--'tis--that waits,
But our unfurnished eyes--

- Emily Dickinson

* * *

There is nothing that can be given that isn't already in your possession, nothing that can be lost that was never yours to begin with.  It isn't the gift or the loss that is essential, only that you are awake to it.

Don't you know this yet?

* * *

I fain would furnish your eyes with such things as I have seen: the slowness of a dying breath, sibilant and hushing - the gaunt form tired, tired, tired; the fiery red gills of small-mouth bass on a thick nylon line gulping in air instead of water - their eyes wide in disbelief; cream-colored vernix slathered helter-skelter over a newborn - gathering in creases like mortar; the eyes of a child drifting into unconsciousness and later searching, searching for yours as they are strapped to a back board and rolled into an ambulance; the betrayal of cancerous bones - traitorous in their submission; the stiffness in a dead dog's body as it is laid, forever laid in a grave cut by your own hands; the burning pride of a young girl on a sorrel mare vaulting impossibly high jumps - her father a wreck of fear and astonishment; the curves and rays of a hip seen by moonlight, candlelight, by the light of desire - bone and skin as taut as a drum; the meandering of 500 year old tree roots tumbling over themselves - a slow fury of attachment; a monk - tall, sinewy, hair close-cropped - praying over a sinner in a voice that belongs to God and God alone; gravestones stacked like playing cards and the small rocks placed atop each in clusters of remembrance; a closed eye waiting to be kissed - the eyelashes fluttering; the rotted teeth of an addict and her inability to chew solid food - the detritus of despair; a bald eagle gliding down a steep walled river at dusk - impervious to everything not him; families attached to one another for no reason other than comfort and love - a new lesson, a new lesson; a silver ring flung into a fallow field - its parabola eclipsed by a larger arc; the sweetness - un-nameable - of watching a woman sleep - still naked, still vulnerable, still next to you; a father standing behind a boy, his knobby hands trying to show the boy how to tie a tie - forever to be tied the same way; a beloved friend, a priest facing his death with as much fear as any and able to still that fear by the grace of his faith; a solitary and brittle child practicing her music, subduing her inexperience - proud, alone, beautiful; an open window, dark in mid-day and the sound of a woman's voice singing to herself and hiding below the sill to hear her sing viragom, viragom.

* * *

Do you not know yet?

It isn't the world waiting to reveal itself to you, but you to it.

* * *

Amen and amen.


Monday, June 20, 2011

When Jarred Unavoidably

The logos
When jarred, unavoidably, by circumstance, revert at once to yourself, and don't lose the rhythm more than you can help. You'll have a better grasp of the harmony if you keep going back to it.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

* * *

When I am lost, I return again and again to the Meditations.  I am no less lost, but now have some company.

* * *

Is there anything punier than our pride and hubris, our conceit and machinations? Is there anything as useless as our self-importance? I struggle to imagine what it could be. The devotion with which we build our empires of dirt must seem to distant gods as we view the busy-ness of ants: furious activity reduced to chaos with the scuff of a shoe.

And yet, like ants, this is the life we are living. These are the causes we must attend to: food, shelter, the hand-off to the next generation and unlike ants, the mystery of our consciousness, the rhythm of our days.

Because our time is short, and we believe it to be long - a by product of our incessant busy work - we are buffeted by circumstance, trapped in cycles of ascension and decline until, at last the lights go out and the memory of our trials fades in a few seasons, to be replaced by the self-importance of the trials among the, as yet, still living.

We come and go, like the women speaking of Michaelangelo.

Allow me these heresies:

Money is not life.
Politics is not life.
Self-indulgence is not life.

Accepting the dogma that money, power and the right to self-medicate is the purpose of our time is to whistle past the graveyard, is to order time in such a way so as to pretend we have all the time in the world. Acquisition, control, the trope of the magnificent "I" are all ways we hide the clock from ourselves and count our lives well-lived by how much money and power we fail to take with us to the grave.

It is also the way we are ruined by circumstance. There is always a bigger bully who is willing to go further than you in the race to acquire these things. Without a ground floor of experience that sees further than the immediate cause, that can recognize itself in the larger, slower cycles of acceptance and communion and finally annihilation into those slower rhythms, we are fucked because all that we have is the immediate and immediate changes every moment.

We are here briefly. A preoccupation with the immediate reduces one's life to the trivial. Yes, we must attend to our daily lives, but no, the daily life is not our only life. We are part of a larger life, what Aurelius would have called the logos, the rhythm of all life, the crests and troughs still echoing from the moment when nothing became something. Failing to recognize the unfathomable nature of our unlikely existence makes us conceited, filled with unearned pride and we spend our days destroying anything that is not to our liking.

* * *

In his essay, The Stranger, Georg Simmel wrote about the plight of European Jewry from the Middle ages onward. Essential to their communities, yet prevented from owning land or being "landed" Simmel wrote they were both near and far at the same time. I have always understood that idea as not only a comment of European Jews, but for every last one of us on this whore of an island in God's sea.

We live. We need to eat and drink and sleep in tight, regular rhythms, and yet if this is all we do we miss what makes life worth living: the encounter with the mystery of our days. If you are fucked and stuck and trapped and lost you are foregoing part of Simmel's construct. You are near only and are blind to the far. For Simmel this meant isolation and the convenience of being scape-goated by the gentry. For me it means we lose sight of the longer rhythms that each life is part of, that each life, willing or not, helps extend.

When you are jarred by circumstance and the immediate, the near appears unbearable step back and return yourself to the rhythm that existed before your arrival, and will exist after you leave. Doing so allows you to be kind, generous, forgiving of all those ants trying to build their puny empires.

* * *

The unfucked life is both near and far at the same time, with no distinction between the two.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

We'll Leave The

Michael Stripe
We'll leave the allegory to another bible story
Out of deference, defiance, the choice

- REM, "It Happened Today"

* * *

If you would have your life be unfucked, then you must set aside all the constructs you have been living by. All of them. They need a good cleaning and a cold eye to determine their value, or lack thereof, in going forward. You must choose what you will keep, what you'll discard, what you'll build: relationships, work, location, habits, preferences, patterns, worship, all of the acts that define - for good or no - your life.

You have to look at each thing and figure out of it is worth hanging on to, fixing or chucking into a fast moving river. The weight of others' choices, the accumulation of cultural norms, and the well-worn trails of all who have come before you are a lulling as to sleep. They say, "This is the way. Everyone thinks they are unique, but they all fall in line here because what is here is good, with attainable rewards and the promise of peace."

A hundred years ago Van Morrison growled out some lines of Blake:

It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity.
Thus could I sing, and thus rejoice,
But it is not so with me.

It is incumbent upon each last sorry one of us to question what is presented to us as the good, or the norm, or the expected and measure it against what is only inside us. And having taken that measure decide its usefulness in our lives. The fucked do no such thing, or if they venture the risk they cower and cavil and carp at the requirements their answer demands of them.

You must choose. You must place one thing higher than another. You must sacrifice A to attain B. There is no hedging of bets. Well, actually, there is. That's what's fucked you in the first place. Asking Google how to unfuck you life is a measure of how far you have fallen from any authority or integrity in your life.

Snap the fuck out of it.

* * *

We'll leave the allegory to another bible story. You have a life to live and doing it behind the skirts of what others expect of you is a poor way to use your time. You can be defiant without being an asshole. You can recognize that each person is somewhere on the continuum of fucked or unfucked and they live well or less well because of it. If they doubt you or try and stop you, have mercy on them and leave them to their narrow straits. If they love you as you are, then return the favor.

Defy what you must.
Defer to those who can teach you.
Choose to live awake.

That's what I got.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Happiness More Or

The Ashcroft
Happiness more or less
Is just a change in me
Something in my liberty

- The Verve, "Lucky Man"

* * *

A hundred years ago, while trying to find a way into a remarkable woman's pants, I'd sit and soak up her company any way I could, talking endlessly about anything she wanted to: old movies, our shared inability to sing, and the detritus of leaving the south side of Chicago. One night she told me of a movie from the thirties that ended with a final shot of a starry night sky and in the way of 1930's special effects how those stars re-organized themselves to spell out "HAPPINESS IS EARNED."

She laughed at the charm and earnestness of it.

I have never forgotten it. It seems the clue bag was open for me a hundred years ago.

* * *

If you are fucked, stuck and never getting to happiness, you've assumed happiness is a gift, a boon, bestowed, or an entitlement making its way to you. Thinking so you leave the agency of your happiness outside of your control and it never comes, never takes on flesh, never is anything other than an itch you cannot scratch. You torment yourself and anyone who has the misfortune to be near you because, goddamnit, you are deserving.

Except you aren't. Not as long as you think and act this way.

Happiness is earned.
Happiness is a change from what doesn't work, what isn't authentic to living solely by what is.

The problem for most of us fucked fuckers is that we mistake pleasure or ease with happiness. Nothing could be further from the truth than this formulation. Happiness is not something that can be pursued directly. Frankl posited that happiness could only ensue after pursuing a life devoted to a cause larger than one's self. He is not wrong.

What you can achieve and hold in your hand is, by definition, not happiness. What you can work for and give away is the source, root and well of your happiness. Acquisition and consumption are not enough to make it to happiness. The river has to run in reverse: give it - your work, your love, your better self - all away.

* * *

The change from a fucked life to an unfucked life, from pursuing happiness to letting it ensue, is entirely an internal process. This is how happiness is earned. You must submit to finding out who you are and what you love, what cause greater than yourself you are willing to live for. The answer for each of us will be different, as it must be. But answer it we must. Make no fucking mistake - you must answer it, or others will answer it for you and you will never know a moment's peace, rest, love or happiness.

A hungry ghost is all you are, is all you will be.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

If I Have

Odilon Redon: "Closed Eyes"
If I have included visibility in my list of values to be saved, it is to give warning of the danger we run in losing a basic human faculty: the power of bringing visions into focus with our eyes shut, of bringing forth forms and colors from the lines of black letters on a white page, and in fact of thinking in terms of images.

- Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium

I was first introduced to Calvino's writing in a graduate class I took at DePaul University taught by John Dominic Crossan. My life was forever changed.

* * *

The closed eye, the dreaming eye, the inner-vision, the inward space where we are each free to see what we will see, to think in pictures, to pattern for ourselves a visual guide to the meaning of our days is a gift beyond all measure. The danger for most isn't in what they'll imagine and create, but that they'll fall asleep and think that is their work.

Close your eyes and wake up!

Back in my happy teaching days at Columbia College Chicago we had a coaching for our fiction writing students that has an application far beyond writing: See it and say it so someone else can see it.

You feel me?

Calvino's warning about losing the ability to think in images has come true for each and every fucked one of you. If you are fucked it is because the images you think in keep you focused on your fuckedness. Stop. For just a minute stop and think about the images you keep in your head. What are they? Are they perfunctory desires (sex, money, prowess)? Are they allegories? Metaphors? Do they embolden you or frighten you? Do you pay any attention to them? Do they motivate or stymy you?

Think. What vision guides you?

Here's a hint: if you are fucked you have no vision, but instead are a "mere plaything of chance."

* * *

You don't have to be an artist to have a vision, to have the capacity to see with your eyes closed. In fact, if that is what you think you are more fucked than you know.

* * *

The desk I sit at is a 3/4 inch deck of plywood stained a dark brown and held together by two pine spines screwed into the bottom to keep it from bowing. It is large: six feet in length by forty inches in depth. It is capable of holding over four hundred pounds of weight. To my left is a battered dictionary that I have used for over thirty years. On top of that sits my copy of Calvino's Six Memos. To my right sit the stacks of pages from three different projects, each in various states of completion. A blue handled jack knife sits on top of the furthest pile as a paper weight. Stacks of journals, books and CD's press up against the wall on the back edge of the desk and two rustic, hand carved saints, one in red, the other in black, watch over me and my desk from behind those stacks. A horse pinwheel made out of cardboard by my oldest daughter almost ten years ago has the far corner. Bills and unopened mail cover most of the rest of the desk in a haphazard display of my disgust.

Do you see it? Do you see this desk? Can you imagine it? The desk you see will not look anything like the desk as it is, but you are tapping into this deep well of associative thinking and you are coming up with something.

Now, what do you see when you see your life? What symbols, images recur? These are the keys to unfucking yourself. Pay attention!


* * *

Saints and books and words and my children are the vision I live within, the vision I work to express so that I will have left something behind for those who come after. If I fail to say it so you can see it, ain't no body's fault but mine.

Find your vision. Think in pictures. Translate words into images. Hold an image before you as means of calling yourself into your name.

* * *

The first time I saw Redon's "Closed Eyes" I knew I could never turn away again.
The first time I read Calvino I knew I'd found my guide.

Go and sin no more.