Thursday, September 29, 2011

Time May Rage

For Lucille
Time may rage but rage in vain
My designs unchanged remain.

- Surely, Black Dub

* * *

The genius of Aurelius, Epictetus, Frankl is the conscious decision to abandon any pretense at attempting to control that which cannot be controlled: the thoughts and actions of others, chance or fate and chief among the uncontrollable - time.

What care do I have about something that exists outside and beyond me, of which I am a brief traveler, my transit unnoticed by the sweep, silence, grandeur, and no-thingness of time?

If you are fucked you care deeply about time, or more precisely, your time. There just seems to be so damned little of it. But time is without quantity. It exists whether we measure it or not, whether we measure ourselves against it or not. It doesn't need you, yet you believe you need it.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

* * *

There is a cartoon of an eagle, sweeping out the sky, it's talons out about to kill a mouse. The mouse's back is to the viewer and he holds up the middle finger of his raised hand. The caption reads: "The last act of defiance."

* * *

If you want to unfuck your life you must defy the draw of time, the heavy patterns of ascension and decline and refuse the terms. But to do so you need something to live for, something to give your life to, something larger, better, finer, more beautiful than yourself: your cause, your love, your designs and desires. Doing so puts you outside of time, lets you abandon what you cannot control and brings you back to those things that are under your authority: your cause, your love, your designs and desires.

"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience." So says the brilliant and long suffering Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. If you are fucked you invert the line and so get it wrong from the start. If you are human striving for timelessness, or heaven or communion, you will always fail. Like Vegas, Time always wins in the end. But if you are timeless to begin with, if you already are the communion then you cannot be wounded by time.

Semantics! Semantics, you say!

No. Not a bit. Think. Has a preponderance of effort on the immediate brought you happiness? Is your circumstance hard, or unfair, or filled with unearned grief? Do you find yourself falling behind your designs and desires? Are outside influences dictating the terms of your life? Yes, the economy is in tatters, but does that absolve you of seeing what can be done for those you love, for those who need what you have to offer?

No. Not a bit.

Let time rage and let it rage in vain. Give yourself to the task of loving something beyond the immediate. In Rilke's words, "Love is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world for himself for another's sake, it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things."

What vast things are in you? Reveal them.

* * *

A day will come when we hear the news of the death of BB King. He is 86 years old and still touring. I pray he dies with Lucille in his hands. Don't get me wrong. I do not wish to hurry his passing, but he will pass and the vastness of his gift, what he gave his life to, what he gave to the world will continue, outside of time.

Again, what vast things are in you? 
Reveal them. 
Now is your time.
Raise your mousy middle finger and have at it.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Like The Memory

Mable Mae
Like the memory from your mother’s house 
from before you got too old
Like the feeling from a photograph 

before it’s meanings all got told

- If I Wanted Someone, Dawes

* * *

Whither the fucked? To what end do they tilt? What land awaits them, will embrace them? Death is either a door closing, or a door opening, but at the very least it isn't here, so, whither the fucked?

* * *

The beautiful young woman in the photograph is my father's mother, Mable Mae Child, nee Vail. I knew her only as an old, grey haired woman - a church lady - and so was shocked to see her looking something like a minx. The crooked smile is the give-away that before she destroyed her family for the love of Jesus, she held a few secrets. (As an aside, there are no portraits like this anymore: composed, well lit, expressive.)

I cannot tell you when she died. It was of little interest to me. It had to have been before my dad passed in 1993. From what I recall, this woman, who left a one-horse town in central Illinois to travel the world as an Evangelical trying to convert the unconverted, died, twisted into a pretzel of aged decay, anonymous and alone, alone, alone.

And yet, I will tell you she is immortal - at least for a little while longer. The only immortality available to the dead is in the memory of the living. Mae left few physical remnants that she'd ever lived at all. This photograph is one of them. I am one also. They say history is written by the victors, but it is truer to say it is written by the survivors.

* * *

The stories we tell about ourselves, our times, our dreams, desires and losses are all we have to carve meaning into our days. What is your narrative? That you're fucked? What stories will outlive you? What immortality awaits you in the memory of those who knew you, encountered you, loved and loathed you? What land will embrace your memory?

If you're a fucked fuckity fuck, then you're fucked not only in this life, but in the vanishing memories of those you knew, who, for how ever long, survive you.

I can assure you your life was meant to be something other than fucked, and fucked has nothing to do with the outward expression of your days, but with the freedom and responsibility to choose how you respond to the tasks, joys, trials and balms life puts in front of you.

* * *

Mae has not been well-served by me and my memories of her. She abandoned my father when he was 7 years old, left him when my grandfather was out of town working, to follow a Pentacostal tent show and never returned to his life except for a few brief periods, except to hurt him with her presence and all he had lost because she loved Jesus more than him. In the weeks before he died my father asked me why his mother didn't love him. I had no answer, but could tell him that I did.

Yet Mae lives on. It doesn't matter that I've probably got the few details wrong and that I'll never know anything about her except her betrayal of her son. She lives while I live. By writing her name here, she'll possibly continue to live beyond me. By any measure she fucked up and time will only know her as a fucked fucker. What she really was, the beauty with a crooked smile, the woman who chose her difficult life willingly, the aged church lady dying alone in a fading nursing home, is something I'll never know.

It is a helluva thing to have someone tell your story and know only the parts where you fucked up.

You ready to unfuck your life yet? Immortality awaits.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Stranger Here

A stranger here
Strange things doth meet, strange glories see;
Strange treasures lodged in this fair world appear,
Strange all, and new to me.
But that they mine should be, who nothing was,
That strangest of all, yet brought to pass.

- Thomas Traherne, from  A Salutation

* * *

Traherne was an Anglican priest who died in 1674. Over two hundred years later two anonymous manuscripts were found in a London bookstall. They were Traherne's poems and commentary. He was the last of the great Metaphysical Poets. It only took two hundred years to find that out. As late as 1967 Traherne manuscripts were still being found. The last one was burning at a garbage dump and saved by a man looking for auto parts.

Strange, indeed.

* * *

If you are counted among the fucked folk, your life somehow less than you'd imagined or expected, harder, meaner than necessary, hemmed in by loss or lethargy you have let slip the strange beauties, the strange mercies and currencies of life. You have traded strange treasures for certain miseries.

What the fuck? Do you not yet know this is your one turn at the wheel?

If the world moved easier because of loss and misfortune, our lives would be the most fortunate imaginable. If the world fed riches on tears, or rains fell because of fear, we'd be fat cats in a global rain forest. But that's not the way it is, is it?

I know you've been hurt. Some of you have born unbearable tragedies. Most of you are making excuses to hide your better self. Either way none of us are allowed the excuse of quitting, or simply going through the motions. Would you compound tragedy and loss with quitting, adding hurt to hurt, pain to pain, misery upon misery?

The one failure, the one sin always available to us is to give up. If you're fucked, you've given up.

Now knock it off.

* * *

The Traherne story echoes and reverberates in my bones. He was dead at 37. He is buried beneath the reading desk of his church. He wrote of life unfettered by fear. He was absorbed into the ground, his writings lost for two centuries, and then...  It is breathtaking to me. He lived as he wrote and died where he loved and the world outside of Hereford knew nothing of it. And yet you and I, should we bother, are heirs to his fidelity, his love, his desire to communicate that love because he wrote it down and it survived the fall of time and all its attendant miseries.

Had I died at 37 there is little I could have shown for having lived. We moderns are forever busy, but forever going nowhere. We have to fight through the clutter of distractions that pass as entertainments, indulgences wrapped in justifications because it is so damn hard to hear yourself think with all the noise clanging for our attention.

And yet this is our time, not Traherne's, and we must make use of it, just as he made use of his. Figure out what to do and then go do it. Waiting just fucks you. And if your work comes to nothing in this time, in this place, whisper Thomas Traherne's name as you fall asleep and know, and know, and know there is someone two hundred years ahead of you who needs what you have to give.

This is the strangest treasure of all, yet with your effort, will come to pass.

* * *

Now go. You have work to do.


Friday, September 16, 2011

If You Are

Green Stamps
If you are here unfaithfully with us,
you're causing terrible damage.
If you've opened up your loving to God's love,
you're helping people you don't know
and have never seen.

Is what I say true? Say yes quickly,
if you know, if you've known it
from before the beginning of the universe.

- Rumi

* * *

If you are here unfaithfully with us, you're causing terrible damage. This is so. This is so. This is so. Your fidelity is the very thread the world hangs by.

Did you not know this?

But fidelity to what? your spouse? your lover? your children? your work? your time? your self? What?

Here's what I got: you must be faithful to that which you are. All the rest - the work, the love, the self - all emanate from this further source, this point of origin.

Do you know where you begin? Where you are from? What animates you?

My friend, Rumi, tells me it is God, God's love and it surrounds and suffuses everything. I don't think he is wrong, but that is too vast, too much horizon for me to take in. My ecstasies are not cosmological. I am an abrupt occurrence in the field of time and as such I can only see from here. My dreams tell me of something larger, and like Rumi, I, too, recognize the scattered light in all things, though I often fail to live accordingly.

This failure is the unfaithfulness he and I are referring to.

If you are not moving in this world as who you are, tat tvam asi (thou art that), then you wreak terrible consequences on the brief pocket of time you are here. The damage extends from you to those around you for you are doing one of two things: 1) robbing them of your true nature and/or 2) harming them with your falsity, your unfaithfulness.

Know what I mean?

* * *

I quit this effort over a week ago. I thought I had finished the work I had set out to accomplish. I hadn't. I simply abandoned my faith in doing it. To what end was I working? Why encounter this page? There are few readers, scores of visitors. There's no money in it. I quit because I lost sight of the truth Rumi is pointing to: you do your work, you become your original self because that is all any of us are here to do. You do your work because by doing so, by carrying your own water, the tasks life has put in front of you you're helping people you don't know and have never seen.  The world moves just that much closer to solace and courage, to wisdom and freedom because you have mustered the courage to be that which thou art. There is one less lost soul. There is one more example that others can learn from. This is your work. This is the purpose and meaning of your days: be.

I gave up a little over a week ago and have been entirely rudderless since. I gave up because I lost my faith in myself, my works, my dreams. This is the singular definition of a fucked life.

Fuck that.

* * *

I am a writer who recognizes in all the other voices a thread of his own, but whose own voice has no mirror. It has made me doubt my ability and the wisdom of trying to be heard. Acceptance is a weighty thing, but not the essential thing. Only the work, my faithfulness to myself as expressed by my works, my loves, my desires matters. It has always been so, from before the beginning of the universe.

I cannot see or imagine God, but I, like you, am an expression of that spark. No one lights a lamp and hides it under a bushel. You were not born for darkness.

Do work, son. Do work.