Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Therefore Look Up

Turner's Vision
Therefore look up and search deep and when you have found it/Take hold of it boldly and duly. If fate has called you,/the bough will come away easily enough, of its own accord./Otherwise, no matter how much strength you muster, you never will/Manage to quell it or cut it down with the toughest of blades.

- Aeneid, Book VI, lines 143-148, trans. Seamus Heaney

* * *

The key to the underworld, for brave Aeneas, is a golden tree branch. It is always easy to enter the land of the dead, walking out is tougher. The bough guaranteed passage back to the living, yet there was no guarantee that one could a) find the branch in the forests of Hades, and b) once found, it would come away for the one who took hold of it. But Rome must be founded, and Aeneas, led by two doves finds the branch - some scholars presume it was mistletoe - and takes it in his hands and so is able to move through the underworld to find his beloved father and seek his counsel once more.

There is never any doubt that Aeneas will succeed in finding the bough and that the bough will come away for him. But for you and I, it is a bit different, no?

* * *

The purpose of our days is direct: be who you are - completely.

The path to that purpose is often circuitous, torturous, foolish, with switchbacks, cul de sacs and hairpin turns. It ain't easy being green. Every choice creates and presents new choices and you can choose so poorly for so long that the way back to base, the ground floor of your experience is wholly lost. Dante's great description of his mid-life crisis begins his descent into hell:

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

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

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

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
  So full was I of slumber at the moment
  In which I had abandoned the true way. 

Every time you choose A over B, you are, in large and small ways, creating the world you live in. It cannot help but be this way, so the question is begged: What are you choosing?

The fucked life has no reigns on the process, but instead is pulled and pushed along by the choices others make about their lives. Have you claimed to be in love, when you were not because it was what you thought was expected of you, or you didn't want to hurt someone's feelings? How'd that work out? Have you taken work that you are ill-suited for in order to please someone other than yourself? Have you worked essentially as a caddie? Always carrying the bosses bags and hoping for a tip? Each is a choice and when you don't exercise your choices, when they are exercised for you by others, well, can you be surprised that you're fucked and stuck? Even in this shitty economy, you always retain the choice as to how you will respond to any circumstance.


* * *

So, about Aeneas...

When Dante goes to hell, he is lost and needs a guide, who, it just so happens is Virgil - the dude who wrote The Aeneid. (Patterns, patterns everywhere.) But Aeneas isn't lost. He's aiming for hell because what we seeks is there. He tells the Sibyl of Cumae:  I pray for one look, one face-to-face meeting with my dear father. Teach me the way and open the holy doors wide.

And what does she teach him? To look, to search deep, and when he has found it to take hold of it boldly and duly.

And what is the golden bough? Why, himself, of course.

But you knew that, right?

Had it been any other thing, any other way, no blade or strength could quell it. You must first master who you are before you can possibly know what you want.

* * *

Now, isn't there something you should be doing?

* * *

Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Poetry Is A

Poetry is a means of communication between the stable and universal background of human personality and the flowing foreground of the individual. The act of creating a poem - or any work of art - is an act of translating; and if pure poetry could be created, it would not be literature; it would be music; just as pure music could be conceived only as enchanted silence.

- John G. Neihardt, Poetic Values: Their Reality and Our Need of Them

* * *

I'll go John one better: the act of living - any life - is an act of translating, of clothing in flesh the idea of life, of taking the thoughts that are our sole possession and translating them into acts, objects, patterns, broken patterns, relationships: life.

* * *

A few years ago I felt I had to sell off my books in order to raise some money to make rent. I got rid of 80% I had spent most of my adult life collecting and gathering. The pay out was puny for such devotion and I promised myself the future pleasure of re-assembling my books. Most of what I didn't sell was either too dear to me, or simply too far gone to be worth a nickle. Poetic Values stayed because I believed in his basic premise: we need poetry in order to be human. It is a first edition from a relatively collectable author whose later work in ethnography would change generations to follow. It might have raised all of $20 for me. I passed.

The poetic value is the value you place on life, on your life, on any life. Is there any value to living at all? If so, what is it? Do you live it? Does it animate your thought, or does it sleep?

If you are fucked and stuck and going nowhere or going through the motions or motioning for time out or are simply out of it, I ask you: what do you value?

See, if you value something, if it has value/meaning/importance in your life then you will translate that value into the way you live. You will act on that value. If you are fucked you have stopped acting, stopped translating. You've allowed the inherent difficulties, unfairness and injustice of living to derail you, to strip you of the values you (and you alone) have. Without those values how can you act? What is life without meaning?

I'll answer that: life without meaning is time wasted, is mere existence; with meaning it is Life itself. You are a finite event. When will you live?

Wake the fuck up, dude.

* * *

I believe in words. I believe in the effort it takes to say what you mean and mean what you say. I believe in my children and the changing of the generational guard. I believe that just because you can't be with someone doesn't mean you can't love them. I believe once given, love extends itself endlessly. I believe nothing is wasted unless you make it so. I believe in the kindness and friendship shown to me. I believe nothing worth having is free. I believe life is for us to see what we can make of it. I believe to pass on that challenge because we've been wounded, hurt, harmed by circumstance or laziness is the only sin available to us. I believe we are supposed to be verbs not nouns. And as someone who has failed time and time again to live by those beliefs, I believe we are redeemed by the effort to try again.

* * *

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.

The innocent in gaols

beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker's father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home.

History says, Don't hope

on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change

on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.

Call the miracle self-healing:

The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.
If there's fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing

the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.
It means once in a lifetime
That justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.

- From The Cure At Troy, Seamus Heaney

* * *

Now go.


Monday, August 22, 2011

For Unto Whomsoever

Burning bright
For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

- Luke 12:48

* * *

Lately, I have been reading my Blake. The poems, yes, and the parables and Prophetic Books, but only in connection to the thread of narrative about his life. It is a story prettied up by Romantic notions of the difficulties inherent in being a genius. Tell me if you've heard this one before: an artist, a thinker, a revolutionary toils in anonymity, is considered barking mad by contemporaries then dies penniless only to be recognized a hundred years later as, well, a genius. Ta-da!


* * *

The beauty of biography is in the construction of it's fable.  From here, at this distance, I, mere I, can detect the flowing contours of X's life far better then he could have. Look there, the impoverished childhood, and over there the love lost, the love that would haunt him and so be the true impetus of his work. And finally, the squalid death, the pauper's grave.

Except it isn't like that. Even if the details are correct, it isn't like that.

Life, as you live it, has none of that fatalistic charm (even if you are a fatalist). No, instead, life hurtles forward presenting you with a succession of tasks that you have to answer. You may fail to answer. You may hit it out of the park, but the succession does not cease until you cease. The concussive, successive choices are the ebb and flow of your life's work: living. The external circumstances are all anybody really sees, but isn't the living first the choosing?

You choose, in the moment, how you will act and respond to each element in your life. It may be unconscious, an ossified habit, or a moment's clarity, but you will choose and that has none of the sweep of Romantic tragedy required in the biographies of geniuses. No, if you are awake at all, you recognize Luke 12:48 as just another way of saying unfuck your life.

Blake did not work because he wanted others to call him a genius. His genius was to work with the vision he had before him. These were his capacities and so he used them, often breaking the bonds of his limits and creating new forms to contain his vision, make it evident to others. The fact that he sold little did nothing to dim the tide of his commitment to his work. He worked, man. He worked all the time, and no doubt the money would have come in handy, but he had his work, his vision of man freed of all limits - social, religious, private - and that was his life. Whether it was enough for him, only he could say.

* * *

And you, my fucked fucker, what of you?

Do you know what you have been given? Do you know what is required of you?

In Blake's most famous poem, The Tyger, William refuses to answer the question he asks: What immortal hand or eye/Could frame thy fearful symmetry? Awe was in the creation, not the creator.  When I ask if you know what you have been given I am not asking you to believe or even consider a Creator, the one who gives, only that you consider the gift: your life. And the requirement is not to pay off some debt for having been born. No, the requirement is something closer than that. It is being who you are - completely.

William will tell you, For everything that lives is holy. You are a holy thing, you fucked sonofabitch. What is holy in you is what is holy in any of us - the chance to be who we are. If you fail this, if you allow an impoverished childhood, a lost love, economic trial or any other such thing to turn you away from your life's work, the vision only you can possibly bring to life, well, then I don't want to know you. Life is hard and unfair and unjust. William should have been a king, but he never traveled more than 60 miles from London. His work was shit on by lesser minds and yet he worked and worked and worked and because of that almost 200 years after his death I can read him and tell you if he could bear it, so can you.

You don't have to be a poet or an artist, just live by the vision you have. Order your life to feed that vision and you'll have met the requirement Luke was aiming at.

Live. It is all we're here to do.

* * *



Thursday, August 18, 2011

Moling Ordered His

From Rachel Giese's Sweeney's Flight 
Moling ordered his cook to leave aside some of each day's milking for Sweeney's supper. This cook's name was Muirghil and she was married to a swineherd of Moling's called Mongan. Anyhow, Sweeney's supper was like this: she would sink her heel to the ankle in the nearest cow-dung and fill the hole to the brim with new milk. Then Sweeney would sneak into the deserted corner of the milking yard and lap it up.

- Seamus Heaney, Sweeney Astray

* * * 

The mad king, Sweeney, cursed by the cleric Ronan to forever roam, transformed into a bird, removed from his life, is, near the end of his trials, offered the kindness of milk in a dung hole. I am unfailingly moved by this.

* * *

My first attempts at poetry were to use Heaney's words as a starting point, a guide, a cheat sheet and write of the mad bird king. Like Heaney before me, I saw myself in Sweeney: arrogance brought low only to be redeemed by the feral loneliness of words. (I am Irish, it clings to me like wet wool.)

And what will redeem you from your madness?

It is madness to live as anything other than who you are. Must you be transformed into a rook, a skittering bird to see who you are in your essential, naked form? This is the criminal arrogance, the debilitating hubris: to pretend you are that which you are not.

It is a habit of mind to try and improve one's self, but that just keeps you running in circles. It is completeness you should be after, your full self, your true self writ large upon your time. I don't need to improve a single thing if, like Popeye and God, I am that I am. To be anything else is to be fucked. You know that, right?

* * *

The madness of Sweeney, his torment is not because he's been cursed into a lunatic bird, but because he did not live as he might and so was transformed by that decision. In his new, feathery skin he laments what he's lost and comes to sing songs of praise for the natural world, the world as it is. The madness of waiting for time to ripen before you act, the madness of waiting at all to be that which you are brings you to ruin. Instead of a bird, are you a cow grazing on a quiet hillside? Your days contentedly the same, your range sweet and calm, the days indistinguishable from one to the next until the day you are carted off to the abatoir? There is more to it than this. There is more to living than breathing. There is more to your life than you have shown.

Riddle me this. What are you waiting for?

It is not perfection or non-attachment or any other voodoo mind-fuck that you have to achieve or attain. It is simpler and harder than that: be yourself, completely. That may mean you are a paranoid bird lamenting what's been lost, eating watercress from cold streams and drinking milk from dung holes. And if that is who you are, then so be it. Like Sweeney, you will find kindness in the corner of milk yards and exaltation in tree tops. To be fucked is to be other than you are.

There is a balm for every woe and forgiveness attends the one who is.

* * *

All the same, I would prefer
a hollow tree and Sweeney bare–
that sweetest game we used to play–
to banqueting with him today.

I tell you Sweeney, if I were given
the pick of all in earth and Ireland
I'd rather go with you, live sinless
and sup on water and watercress.


I wish we could fly away together,
be rolling stones, birds of a feather:
I'd swoop to pleasure you in flight
and huddle close on the roost at night.

* * *

Now go.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

He Who Desires

Satan Watching the Caresses of Adam & Eve
He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.

- Wm. Blake, The Proverbs of Hell

* * *

I find that I am unwaveringly pleased to find or remember some line of poetry, or passage from a song or book that says what is on my mind (and says it in finer and better ways than my own ability to say). Long ago I let go of the idea of being original. My art, if that be its name, is in sourcing connective tissue, finding threads from one thing to another, connecting them in ways that bring to light a new, third thing.

Today it is Blake's Proverb's of Hell. Tomorrow, who knows? But I am made a bit stronger by finding others have gone before me and left such remarkable signs of their passage.

* * *

Blake's writings and paintings aim to demolish the dichotomies of Good & Evil, Body & Soul, Heaven & Hell. And he does a right fine job of it, too.

As I was walking among the fires of hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius, which to Angels look like torment and insanity, I collected some of their Proverbs; thinking that as the sayings used in a nation mark its character, so the Proverbs of Hell shew the Nature of infernal wisdom better than any descriptions of buildings or garments.

And from that infernal list: He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.

Pestilence is defined as a deadly plague or an evil, pernicious influence. That's a helluva thing for a devil to be carping about. Isn't that his stock and trade? No. In this William and I are in agreement. The deadliest plague is the un-acted desire, the un-born work, the chance not taken because of what? rules? fear of breaking the rules? cowardice? sloth?


A man who desires but acts not is no man at all.

William would have you know that following the rules of religion or commerce, of improving one's self by hewing to those rules, is a hell of unimaginable torment. Those who do so have dulled their eyes to dull their pain. There is no Genius in it. Nothing of the animating spark of desire and life in it. Is God so needy and cruel that once setting us out into the world we are to deny that creation and our own God-given desires and lay them on some altar as a burnt offering? Hell no. Fuck that. But the fucked cling to rules, to appearances, to the boundaries of Reason. They hate themselves in whole or part and that, my fucked fuckers, is our greatest and only sin.

We were born to live, not die. We are made of flesh and blood and mind and soul. Not one over the other, but both together to make a new, third thing: who we are - Geniuses of our time. A God that would command you to deny your essential, creative, desiring self is no God at all, but a man-made bogey-man to control you and make you heel. Look around. The world is an endless cacophony of creation and desire. Why the holy fuck would you think you were here to look, but not touch? You get one shot at this.

Do something.

* * *

Whenever I get like this I hear a voice in the back of my head that whispers: you're not being clear. What if someone takes this and uses it to harm or hurt someone. Speciously arguing: this is who I am. I am acting on my desires.

Here's the antidote to such thinking. There is only one prohibition. Do what you will, but do it without malice or denigration of any other. Other than that, you're good to go.

Now, fuck off.

As William says: Eternity is in love with the productions of time. And you have work to do.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Frail My Heart

Frail my heart apart
And play me a little shady grove
Ring the bells of Rhymney
Till they ring inside my head forever
Bounce the bow, rock the gallows
For the hangman's reel
And wake the devil from his dream
I'm going back to Harlan
I'm going back to Harlan
I'm going back to Harlan 

- Emmy Lou Harris via Anna McGarrigle, "Goin' Back To Harlan"

* * *

Each life contains what is possible for that life. Each life waits for this discovery and once found, each life then teeters on the courage to act on that discovery. The life you are living is a reflection of your willingness to look for and act on the possible. Suffice to say your fuckedness is a reflection of the same.

Mr. Browning tells me a man's reach should exceed his grasp or what's a heaven for? And he is spot on. The possibilities that lie within you, born out of experience melded with desire, with consciousness, are strictly and only yours to suss out. If you live only by what is near, easy, accessible then you never, and I mean never, begin to tap what is possible, what is possible for you to do with your life because you never bothered to take it out for a test drive. It leads to a leaden life: thick, lugubrious, stultified, you know, fucked.

What will it take to move you from where you are to where you might be if you only had the courage to act, or to act with integrity? A death? A near-death? Loss of job, marriage, money? The proverbial wake-up call?

Fuck that.

Those things will send a jolt through you alright, but they are sugar highs: too intense and over too soon. You need to work this out day in and day out. Not once and done. But how? That's as shitty a question as "why?" I can't tell you. You have to figure it out for yourself, or it won't work. Sucks, I know, but there's this: this is exactly what you were made for.

* * *

The first time I heard Ms. Harris sing "Goin' Back to Harlan" I heard her sing it a couple dozen times. I played it over and over, repeating the song until I had it in my bloodstream. It is a great song of time passing. It is a song of resolve. It is a song of adios, of one last song before I go, of fighting where you stand because every last beautiful, lonely, sad, glorious thing you've ever known won't mean nothing unless you make that stand. It is a taunt - bounce the bow, rock the gallows, wake the devil - and it says, like Aeschylus before, "I care nothing for Zeus. Let him do what he wants."

No one gets out of here alive, so why not live until then? The need of a wake-up call is a crutch, another excuse, more simpering. I have watched my father die from pride and cancer, seen two marriages end, witnessed the confusion and hurt in my children from one of those divorces, lost jobs, lost friends, under-achieved and been lost myself for ages and none of it comes close to creating a permanent fix to the problems and tasks of living. No, my life runs in a greased groove only when waking up is reason enough to try again. There is no wake-up call as certain as coffee and the hour before light. It is when I am at my best. When I fail to give myself the courage to get up and engage my life, my work, I betray the faith and trust others have or once had in me. I need no other motivation other than this.

When you wake tomorrow do me a favor.

Bounce the bow.
Rock the gallows.
Wake the devil from his dream if for no other reason than it is possible to do so, and then see what happens next.

* * *



Saturday, August 6, 2011

Every Breath Is

Every breath is yours, beloved.
Every breath is yours.
Every breath is yours, beloved.
Every breath is yours.

I give myself to you, beloved.
The self that I thought I was.
I give myself to you, beloved.
The self that was mystified and lost.

Every breath is yours, beloved.
Every breath is yours.
Every breath is yours, beloved.
Every breath is yours.

Mike Scott, Every Breath Is Yours

I cannot shake the thought (though I have acted otherwise) that the whole of wisdom, the whole of the moon, the whole point of no return is but to give your life, your work, your thought, your desire, your self over to a cause greater than yourself. I find this idea littered in the books and music I turn to get started writing here. I find it in those whose lives tilt me toward envy, such is the beauty of their step and gait. I find it in myself when I am stronger than my fears and losses. But until you surrender to this cause your life will stutter-step, will move in fits and starts, never gaining traction, never being what you would have it be.

It takes courage to surrender to this cause, whatever it might be for you. Perhaps you have been brave for a week, or a year, or just a few hours, but somewhere you stopped putting in the effort. Like working out at the gym the first blush is always the easiest. Still working a month or a decade later is the challenge. Any one can start something. How many finish it?

I, too, am a grievous sinner here. Hence, "Unfuck Your Life." We all need a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance, a word, a signal, a nod, a little breath so the last shall be first and the first shall be last in a cardboard box 'neath the underpass.

And what cause is it that you will surrender to, that will allow you to live a life of meaning exactly because you have given your life over to something larger and other than yourself? In a word: love.

Bo Diddley asked, Who do you love? and I will ask it as well: who do you love?

Answer that and you begin to unfuck your life. But, of course, you know that me and Bo and are only asking about the love you have to give, and not your desire for it to be returned. Right? Love's only value is in giving it away and there are as many ways to do that as there are dreams: an infinitude for each. The key is in choosing from among all these possible loves and then giving yourself over to its needs.

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

Your work is the courage to surrender to your love - of another, of all others and express it here and now so they and you are comforted, made strong in spite of all external circumstances.

To be born is hard.
To live is hard.
To die is hard.

Love expressed is our only way through.

Now quit lolly-gagging and get to it.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

You Cannot Run

You cannot run away from a weakness; you must some time fight it out or perish; and if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?

- RL Stevenson

* * *

This from a man weakened by ill-health his entire life. Perhaps, it is the fact of his physical weakness that he attacked the mental and emotional weakness in man, in himself, overcoming bouts of crippling self-doubt to write and write and write until the thin balloon of an aneurysm burst in his skull and was dead before he hit the ground.

Heroic is the only word I have.

* * *

The fucked are fucked, in part, because they live with a false sense of time. Tomorrow, you see, is time enough to accomplish things. The weaknesses that plague them (self-doubt, fear, anger, et al) are promised another day's respite because the willingness to fight it out or perish simply does not exist. It is a unique tic of the fucked to cling to their miseries instead of thrashing them or being thrashed by them. Life is deemed so precious that an awful life, an awful half-life of never even trying to break free of the fears and doubts that pinch and confine is worth more than perishing in a bid to be free.

But are you really going to perish?

Someday, but not here. No, what would perish is the construct of your identity as a victim or a fucked fucker, or some other unhappy thing that you've grown so accustomed to you want to sew patches onto the corduroy sleeves of your straight jacket. Having a sad-sack self-image is better than none, right? Actually, no.

RLS said this as well: To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.

Well, have you become what you are capable of becoming? Are you even trying?

* * *

Courage is an odd thing. It isn't bravado, but is, instead, acceptance: acceptance of the fact that you are who you are and not someone else, acceptance of the price you must pay for being who you are and not someone else, acceptance that your life is your's to make into the shape, form, color and tenor of your choosing in spite of all external pressures, and acceptance that the reward for all this is simply a good death.

Are you up to it, or is being a fucked fuckity fuck somehow a better deal?

Why not now, and where you stand?

To unfuck yourself you have to be willing to lose the self-soothing lies you sing to yourself. You have to fight it out or perish, because, I hate to tell you, if you don't you're already dead for you'll have missed your chance to become what you were capable of becoming.


* * *

Why not now, and where you stand?