Thursday, January 26, 2012

Each Torpid Turn

Each torpid turn of the world has such disinherited children,
to whom no longer what's been, and not yet what's coming, belongs.

- RM Rilke, "Seventh Elegy" Duino Elegies

* * * 

The Seventh Elegy is the pivot on which turns the great cycle of The Duino Elegies. Lamentation, the wooing of an unattainable beloved, the seeming negation of human agency in the face of remorseless angelic perfection is turned on its head and now becomes a song of praise for all existence. It is done with trying to search and find a remote god, and instead finds the beloved in all things, in the transformations required to move from an outward facing life, to an internal life that can contain all possibilities (including angelic ones). Its business is with being as opposed to longing.

It is the one I turn to again and again. A note, written hundreds of years ago in my own hand, at the end of the poem says simply this: "I am destroyed."

* * *

The two lines at the top of the page are as complete a definition of the fucked as I know: disinherited children to whom nothing belongs.

Let that soak in a bit. I'll wait.

* * *

It strikes me that we fucked sonsofbitches spend our days becoming experts at barking up wrong trees, mistaking the forest for all the trees and generally holding the wrong end of the telescope to our eyes. We look outward for satisfaction or a sense of identity or a purpose when those things are the very things excluded from such a view. Our inheritance, our treasure is not outside our skin but within it. Looking outside for clues as to how to live brings a poisonous overabundance of pride and ego and love of external markers of that pride and ego: materialism, narcissism, and smug self-righteousness. What's been and what's yet to come are as useless as tits on a bull.

Go back to the top of the page.  

Each torpid turn of the world...

Rilke has, in those few words, damned the cult of time. The world turns regardless of your presence on the surface, regardless of your presence six feet under the surface. You are immaterial to the world's turning. But you are not immaterial to existence - your own and the infinite swelter of all who came before, of all who live while you live, of all who will succeed you. The key is to:

Move through transformation out and in...
And if the earthly no longer knows your name,
whisper to the silent earth: I'm flowing.
To the flashing water say: I am.

* * *

The Seventh Elegy is an exaltation of such a transformation, a transformation only we puny, fucked-in-the-head humans can pull off. The angelic orders may be perfect, but that cannot grow; they cannot experience the joy of moving through transformations out and in; they cannot live outside of time as we can for though we are finite we can yet transform time into life. But not everyone will see it, and of those who see it, not everyone of them will venture it, and of those who venture it not all will succeed. Rilke knows this and announces it with each torpid turn of the world.

So, what will it be my friend, my fartlet, my fucked fucker? What will it be for you? More longing for the unattainable? More focus on what is outward (and thus at the absent mercy of time)? More of the same until some kind soul erects a marker over your bones and thus does more than you to delineate the chance you had at life? What do you think life is for, paying bills and dying? Is this all you can imagine for yourself? Is this what you've become: a disinherited child?

Further on, just before the conclusion of the poem, Rilke writes:

Wasn't all this a miracle? Angel, gaze, for it's we–
O mightiness, tell them that we were capable of it–my breath's
too short for this celebration. So, after all, we have not
failed to make use of the spaces, these generous spaces, these,
our spaces. (How terribly big they must be,
when, with thousands of years of our feeling, they're not over-crowded.)

* * *

Make use of the spaces, these generous spaces that are laid at your feet. Fight against the torpid turning of the world and embrace you inheritance. It is right there. Inside you.



Monday, January 23, 2012

They Say No

They say no one person can do it all
But you want to in your head
But you can't be Shakespeare and you can't be Joyce
So what is left instead

You're stuck with yourself and a rage that can hurt you
You have to start at the beginning again
And just this moment this wonderful fire
Started up again

- Lou Read, Magic and Loss

* * *

St. John of the Cross wrote of the Dark Night of the Soul, the painful and frightening transit of the soul leaving behind its earthly attachments in order to find and be reunited with God.  Lou Reed does something similar, only he describes the transit of your fucked in the head attachments being burned up in the process of being fully awake and alive, the process of you finding and being reunited with your soul.

Lou Reed.
St. John of the Cross.
Same thing.

* * *

The deepest frustration we fucked fuckers experience is being stuck with ourselves. The habit, sewn into every thought or act, of believing we were meant for more than we've shown, but are utterly clueless as to how that transformation occurs. We are often aesthetes, critics, gossips and guttersnipes always with a clever damning of someone who, you know, actually did something in the world. We have refined tastes in others' efforts because we cannot manage any effort other than to have an opinion. To quote the great Clint Eastwood, "Opinions are like assholes. everyone has one." And you can live on this threshold quite admirably, in full delusion with no nightmares waking you in the middle of the night wondering where all the time has gone.

If this is you, bully for you. Have another toddy and go back to sleep.

But for the rest of us fuckers we enjoy none of the snippy delusion of critics and couch-loungers. No, we take that feeling of having missed the boat and ramp up the self-flagellation because we know we could have done better if only, if only, if only... Now, instead of being what ever it was we thought we could be in and of ourselves, we compare ourselves to Shakespeare and Joyce and are disgusted with our pitiable gifts. We suffer the comparison because it is suits our low opinion of our abilities to be adjudged against others than to simply work and leave the judging to others - those guttersnipes and gossips sipping dirty martinis and wondering why you even bother.

This is the rage that can and does hurt you.
This is the rage fills you with self-loathing because... what? you haven't written Dubliners?

Dude, someone already did that. Move on.

* * *

The wisdom of Lou is summed up in five words: YOU ARE STUCK WITH YOURSELF. This is the ground floor of experience. Quit running from it or trying to deny it. Stop. It just fucks you up. Stop. You are not nothing but you and that's all the material you get to work with. And here's the news: it is solely up to you what you make of it.

You want to do it all.
I know.
You want to quit starting over and just be in the game.
I know.
You want the fire to either destroy you or light your way.
I know.

I know the dark night can last years, a lifetime, in fact, without finding that connection. But, let me ask you, what else are you going to do? You are too smart to settle down on the couch and wait for time to wash you away. You care far too much about what might yet be done to be a dweller on the threshold. Yet you are fucked and stuck and going nowhere because there is no evidence to support your claim that you could still bring this round, still use the fire to light your way. No such evidence is coming, my dear friend. It cannot come from without. It is just between you and your soul and a soul that's come alive needs no other justification.

* * *

You need to get started again, because just this moment this wonderful fire...


Thursday, January 19, 2012

I Asked One

The Abbey of St. Wandrille de Fontanelle
I asked one of the monks how he could sum up, in a couple of words, his way of life. He paused a moment and said, "Have you ever been in love?" I said, "Yes." A large Fernandel smile spread across his face. "Eh bien," he said, "c'est exactement pariel..."

- Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time To Keep Silence

* * *

Have you ever been in love?

What kind of question is that for a monk to ask?

The only question worth asking and, consequently, the only one worth answering.

* * *

I have written here before of my deep affection for the monks and lay-brothers I met at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane in Bardstown, Kentucky. My affection, the deep sense that I either belonged there or had once, in a past life, been among their number, has never, ever left me. I wake at 4 in the morning - the hour of the first office of the day (Matins) and prize the darkness before dawn above all else. The quiet is a tonic to all that will follow and should I sleep in my day is off-kilter and I am in a sour mood until I can sleep and then wake in the darkness to begin my day.

The vast majority of my writing is done before 6:30 in the morning and the rest of the day moves in anticipation of being able to sit at my table and put one word after the other in silence, in the surrounding darkness.

My answer to the question is the same as Fermor's: Yes, I have been in love. Waking in the darkness of morning not yet light and searching for words is one way I express that love. For it is what I have to give, and after much heartache and loss and ineptitude and desire and longing and just fucking it up in general, this is all that love asks of us: to give away what we have.

For you, my brothers and sisters in the holy order of fucked fuckers, we get it exactly backwards and wonder why things never work out.

* * *

It doesn't matter how you express the love you have. A monk's devotion and submission is no better than knowing how to satisfy your lover, to knowing how to express your love physically. The form is immaterial, what matters is the fact of expression. If you so love another - be it God, a lover, a friend, a child, a cause, an idea - that you are moved to act to express it and that expression is from the inside out, then you have unfucked your life.

It is love, the selfless expression of it, that cures the fucked life, that redeems what you've fucked up. It is here that meaning is created. It is here that your life becomes something more than the combustion of energy required to travel a lifetime. It is here that death is matched - not overcome, but equaled, wrestled to a draw.

Mortality fucks us. We pay attention to clocks. We look in mirrors to gauge the effects of time on our faces. We stop looking at scales as our middles thicken. We are haunted as time passes that we have not used our time well, or worse, give no thought at all to how we have lived. The thin ice of our days eventually breaks and we are taken under, drowned in the eternity that will not know us. To this unshakeable inevitability we respond by spending our days on amusements, distractions, escapes so that we never actually look at our lives, and by extension, our deaths. This is where sex passes for love, where attending church and mumbling prayers passes for devotion, where children rear themselves because their parents are having affairs, or botox treatments or are zoned out in front of the TV - too tired to give a fuck.

Welcome to the fucked life. Welcome to not knowing shit from shinola.

* * *

Have you ever been in love?

If so, then you have the key to unfucking your life, even if that love was long ago, even if that love is unreturned, even if it was a fleeting moment, you now have something to give. Love prompts action and it is action born of loving something beyond yourself that meets death and says, "Fuck you. I've got love."

Death cannot be vanquished, but acts of love, acts of a life come alive, slip the bonds of death and live on in memory and story, in works and in our children. These are the products of love expressed in time.

The defining characteristic of love is the will to express it. So, I ask you, can you sum up, in a couple of words, your way of life?

The only answer that matters is: "Have you ever been in love? Eh bien, c'est exactment pariel..."

* * *



Monday, January 16, 2012

Lift Me Up

Lift me up and hurl me. Wherever you will. My spirit will be gracious to me there–gracious and satisfied–as long as its existence and actions match its nature. Is there any reason why my soul should suffer and be degraded–miserable, tense, huddled, frightened? How could there be?

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

* * *

Books like the Meditations require a lifetime of rereading, for they cannot possibly reveal all they have to give in one reading. The reason for this is we are never ready to hear it all, to use it all. Last night this passage jumped out and took hold of me. At first it was the action "hurl me" that stood out, but the soul of the passage, the one I want to give you is "My spirit will be gracious to me there..."

It is the still point of consciousness: no matter what happens outside of me, as long as my actions match my nature, my spirit will be gracious to me. Gracious and satisfied.


* * *

It is impossible to speak of graciousness to the fucked, for they know nothing of it. Grace, the stillness of knowing who you are, is utterly foreign and smacks of holy-roller bullshit. Satisfaction is defined by The Stones, is something forever out of reach. Can you imagine what your life would be like were it attended by a gracious and satisfied spirit: your own? Can you imagine a life that is less interested in the makings of graceless men, and is more interested in actions that match its unique and irreplaceable nature?

What would that look like?
What sort of person would you be if that was so for you?
Here's the answer: unfucked.

There is no reason to be miserable, tense, huddled, frightened. How could there be? Yet, for us fucked fuckity fucks our lives are miserable; we are tense; we do withdraw; we are afraid. If there is no reason for it, why is this so? Because we would rather have the misery than be without it. We would rather the comfort of our fears, the place we retreat to rather than meet the world as it is. Our payoffs are the certainty of our wounds rather than the uncertainty of knowing how to align our spirit's existence and nature with our actions. We cultivate ready-made excuses by focusing on the fact that we are lifted and hurled by circumstances beyond our control and believe that if we could just catch a break we could catch our breath, that if it weren't for the marriage or the divorce or the illness or the boss or the economy or the Chinese or the price of gasoline or the Republicans or the Democrats or whatever it may be that we choose as our external bogey-man that our lives would miraculously run in greased grooves.

An endless focus on externals breeds discontent and a sour soul because what is happening outside of your spirit is endlessly changing, endlessly breaking off and reforming, endlessly beyond your control. All you get in this world is a chance to live, a chance to find and live from the still point of your gracious and satisfied spirit no matter what is happening around you.

* * *

Here's the news: your fucked life ends when you decide it ends. I have no idea what it will be like for you to get to that place where you can make that decision and live by it.  I have no idea how much misery you can bear. I have no idea how married you are to the vicissitudes of chance. I can't know. Only you can.

Each of is on the road to find out how much we can get wrong before we let go of living as playthings of chance and instead match our actions to our true natures and so let our spirits be gracious no matter where we are hurled.

The still point is the you you may yet be, is the acceptance of your unshakeable death and the grace and satisfaction to live fully awake until that very moment no matter what guise it comes in or when it announces itself.

* * *

Boom, baby. Boom.


Friday, January 13, 2012

My Writing Is

The mess I make.
My writing is of a very different kind from anything I have heard about.

- Joseph Campbell

* * *

I have been at work writing a book. Actually, I have several projects underway, but one of them is based on this blog and the things I've encountered along the way and as I've been adding pages and editing and sorting and culling I find the happiest of circumstances: my writing is of a very different kind from anything I have heard about.

Yeah, baby.

* * *

Too often what fucks us has nothing to do with us. It is simply the expectations of others. Expectations we adopt because we want to please, be accepted. Look, there is nothing wrong with wanting to please or be accepted. The problem is most of our attempts to please are servile, our desire to be accepted becomes a question of conformity. If you want to please someone, they must be willing to be pleased by what you bring; their acceptance must come in recognition of what is uniquely yours. Resisting the inertia of general blandishments and expected expectations is the central task of anyone who wants to unfuck their life.

But we're often out of practice, or have precious little experience resisting those expectations and placing a primacy on what is authentically our own. This is where the fuckedness takes up residence. We think if we could only be like the others, if we could just get the job and the house and the spouse, well, isn't that the good life? Yeah, sure it is, but not if you fall to it by default. The basic divide between a fucked life and an unfucked life is the gulf between action and inaction, between intention and good enough, between being a verb and a noun.

One moves. The other doesn't.

And there's this as well, any life can be a creative, active life. Any way of living can be creative and active if you choose that life consciously, from the well of your desire. Anything less is a fucked life. Cenobites can be unfucked and free and world travelers fucked. It isn't the outward expression of a life that is determinative, but the inward choices, understandings and resolutions that land you on one side of the fucked line or the other. How you express those choices in the world matters less than having made them. Honest.

But this is an inside-out proposition.

Once you look within, once you recognize your true and essential self, your true nature, the next step is always to give it away. Love is never self-directed. It is an offering to another, to others, to causes larger than your own concerns. Once you know who you are, what your gifts are, what your reasons are, once you have looked inward you cannot help but turn your attention outside of yourself.

Been this way for eons.

Joseph Campbell named it the Hero's Journey: the call to adventure (knowing yourself), leaving conformity behind, traveling to a spiritual realm, and then coming back to give away what's been learned. Short change any step on the journey and the journey remains incomplete.

* * *

Years ago I attended Columbia College Chicago and earned an MFA in Fiction Writing. It always cracks me up because it wasn't my fiction that carried me through. One day I was at lunch with my mentor, John Schultz, the former Chair of the Fiction Department and developer of the Story Workshop® approach to writing. He'd seen a lot of my fiction and had recently read some non-fiction I had started to produce that was shockingly better than the fiction. In between sips of his ever present cup of green tea he said to me, "It's hell when you find your voice," and he laughed and laughed. I did too.

It is hell when you find your voice because now you have to live by it or know you died a coward.
It is hell when you find your voice because all illusion is stripped from you: you are this not that.
It is hell when you find your voice because you now stand alone–no more hiding behind potential.
It is hell when you find your voice because it takes courage to sound like you and not someone else.
It is hell when you find your voice because now you know the true value and nature of your life and if you don't live it, no one else will.

I did alright for a while. I followed my voice. I grew into it. Then I fucked it up and lost track of it. For a long while. And then as I was adding pages and editing and sorting and culling I found the happiest of circumstances: my writing is of a very different kind from anything I have heard about.

* * *



Monday, January 9, 2012

If Any Part

If any part of me survives from time's corruption, let it be this. For this was the sort of man I was.

- JL Carr, A Month in the Country

* * *

I cannot recommend Carr's A Month in the Country highly enough. It is a small, quiet book with a love of small, quiet things stitched into each sentence, each character. It tells of a WWI veteran spending a summer in a small Yorkshire village cleaning the ceiling in a church to reveal a medieval painting.  It can be read profitably on a Sunday afternoon when the house is quiet enough to read and while you are reading it (for I hope you will take up my recommendation) you will think it a slight thing. You will wait and wait for a big reveal, a dramatic climax and you will be disappointed. And then you will take up the book a second time and you will read it closer, paying attention to the small, quiet things that other writers toss in as filler and dust, and you will see what sort of man JL Carr was and you will wish to your bones that'd you known him, that you could have lived a life to create such a small and quiet thing as this book and know you have done the impossible: halted time, reclaimed love.

* * *

And what of you, my beloved fartlet? What sort of man or woman are you? If any part of you survives from time's corruption, what would that say about you and the way you lived?

The first time I read those two sentences from Carr's beautiful book I put the book down, slammed it shut in fact, and paced the space I think of as my studio for half an hour before I could bear to read another word. I was caught and the directness of the prose made it hurt all the more. Indeed, what sort of man was I? am I? could I yet be?

We fucked fuckers move through our days in ignorance of our true nature, our true value. We stumble and trip over the paths worn smooth and slick by the stampede of feet belonging to those who follow paths and are well-rewarded for it. We want the same. We want the seeming ease, the lack of thought, the unconsidered life because a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and we have questions. But that will never do if you want to walk that well-worn, well-defined road. And so we trip where others glide and come to believe we are wrong to the world. We promise our gods fidelity if we could just get a foothold, a seat at the table. Stay at it long enough and it will come to pass as you distance yourself from your self and adopt the standards, mores and masks of the mass and mobs of men.

Welcome, your cubicle is waiting.

You have no worry about any part of you surviving from time's corruption. There is no you to survive in whole or part.

And what makes this worse for us is we know, we know, it could have been different. We know we did it to ourselves.

Why? Why does this happen to us?

Because the true nature and value of our lives eludes us; we mistake external happenings for internal realities.

* * *

Tom Birkin, the restoration expert in Carr's book, tells his story fifty years on from the time he describes. His choices have had their consequences and his memory is no relief from how he chose to live. Rather, his memory is the passage through which he understands what sort of man he came to be.

I ask this sincerely, with kindness and hope for both of us: who the fuck are you?

What part of you will survive from time's corruption? Who will know you lived, how you lived, what causes moved you, what love saved you?

For love, in the end, is the only thing that matters. Did you love your life sufficiently to exhaust it before it ended? Did you love another, if only for the length of a breath, and find someone to give your life, your work to? Did you love the chances you had? If so, then time's corruption is nothing. If not, you are dead where you stand.

* * *

Boom, my love. Boom.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

One Night I

One night I got up and told my father there were witches in my room
He gave me a baseball bat and said here's what you do
When you have finally submitted to embarrassing capture
Take out that baseball bat and show those witches some pasture

- Low, "Witches"

* * *

Let's face it, it's embarrassing to live fucked and stuck. Embarrassing. Fucking embarrassing because you were made for better than you've shown and you know it. So does everybody else. Fucking embarrassing because you've been pretending it isn't so - whistling past graveyards, making assumptions about time enough, adding on a few pounds every year, slowing down and sitting still. Riddle me this: when was the last time you took any action that was born solely out of your self interest? And I'm not taking about the petty, small shit, the manipulations and selfish bullshit, but your ultimate self-interest, the universe's ultimate self-interest - being who you are: fully, complete, no part left out.


That's what's so embarrassing.

* * *

Understand that a life gone off the rails is no surprise. In fact, if it doesn't ever fall apart how will you ever find out what's in you, what you are capable of, how much of a hit you can take and keep moving? See, that's the key right there. Fucked fuckity fucks like you and me take too much pride in the hits we've taken, the hits that crush and stun and stupify us. Our fuckitude rests on the certainty that no one else has absorbed as much as we have. But we leave out the essential part - the need to keep moving. Anybody can get hit. Anybody can absorb a hit. Not everybody can keep moving once they've been hit. We are proof of that.

And then there's this: someone always has taken a bigger hit than you. So quit pretending your trials are anything more than what they are: yours and yours alone.

If you want to unfuck your life then start moving. Taking the hit is no big deal, is nothing to be proud of. That is simply life asking you questions. It is what makes us human. What makes us great is to keep moving.

* * *

Don't be afraid to act. Don't be afraid to take a baseball bat to the witches in your room. It is time for some creative destruction. There are costs associated with it. The witches always make you pay a price, but that price is never greater than the cost of stagnation, of stupefaction, of dying where you stand instead of making them hit a moving target.

Is your fucked life so precious you won't risk unfucking it?
If you were a passenger in a car and the driver fell asleep would you just ride along because that's just how it was? No, you'd wake that fucker up and here's the news: that fucker is you.

* * *

It is in the doing that you come alive.
It is in the doing that life seeks out other life.
It is in the doing that your life takes on its form.
It is in the doing that you find your feet.
It is in the doing that takes a baseball bat to the witches.
It is in the doing that embarrassment ceases.
It is in the doing that your self-interest becomes the same as the universe's.
It is in the doing that you finally unfuck your life.

Now go do something.

* * *