Friday, March 30, 2012

I Open My

How it works.
I open my heart to myself like a sort of vitrine, and examine one by one all those love affairs of which the world can know nothing.

- Marcel Proust, Cities of the Plain

* * *

At the same time, I find this sentence to be among the saddest and most liberating words I have ever encountered. Since I could not write them, I am glad to have read them. They are as much a part of me as any I have written.

Such miracles.

* * *

There is a moment, a teetering moment, when you realize that all you have experienced, all you have known, all you have desired, feared, loved, hated is not that big a deal to anyone but you. The wounds you've tended and kept open only spilled your blood, no one else's; the unrequited love you've worked to maintain has only stopped you from finding love returned in kind; the hatreds have only poisoned your spirit; the joys extend no further than your arms. It is a swooning precipice to realize your brief history will be known only to you–small fragments and shards of your story embedded in those closest to you, but, finally, the story is only yours. The world can know nothing of the omissions and priorities that became your life, bit by bit. Like I said, it is a teetering moment to have your hubris, your benign hubris, your blind hubris, your absent-minded hubris, fall from your shoulders like a robe. Naked you are, with only you to see.

Such miracles, such private miracles.

I have fucked up plenty good big time in my time. I have misunderstood. I have been too proud, too aloof, too arrogant. It's what fucked looks like on me, but here's the thing: that's just the broad outline of my story. No matter how much I write, no matter how many words spill onto a page, no matter if I write as Proust did, trying to regain time, memory, place–I will fail. My works are approximations, facsimiles, sketches. The experience cannot be repeated or told. It is known and knowable only to me.

And this has nothing to do with being a writer.

I dreamt this dream only once:

I stood at a canyon's edge at dusk. I was dressed in a white linen suit. Into the silence comes a battered pick up truck filled with junk. The truck backs up to the edge of the canyon, the red tail lights glowing in the falling darkness. Out of the truck step another version of me: filthy, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. The well-dressed me watched the dirtier version climb up on the pile of junk and start heaving it down into the canyon as if trying to fill it. The well-dressed me looks over the edge and sees a pile of junk and garbage on the canyon floor. The pile is very small and the canyon fills the horizon. The well-dressed me thinks the guy on the truck is a fool for trying. The dirty, working me thinks the guy in the suit is a fool for not trying.

* * *

Your life is a gift to you. The things you populate your life with are the gifts you give to yourself; even if you are unaware of it, it is still so. Only you will know what it was to experience your life, how the things common to us all filtered into your consciousness: the tentative kiss of a new love, the lifeless kiss of neglected love, the sight of a large body of water at dawn, the taste of lemons, how walnuts make the tongue raw, the sight of your own blood, the embarrassment of not getting a joke, writing with your opposite hand, the terror of falling in a dream, the sting of blisters opening, the loyalty of a dog, deciding how you like your coffee, or if you like it all...

Each thing in your life, each emotion, each choice, each experience is a type of love affair you have had with living. It is impossible for any one to know how another experienced such things, at least not fully. That is life's gift to you: the chance to experience it. If you have fucked it up, if you have shit on it, if you have neglected or given up on it, well, only you will suffer it, and only you can redeem it. If you don't, no one will notice. No one will care. Perhaps, a few closest to you will hurt for you, but the pulse of life will not notice a man or woman who quit. There are so many others still willing to risk it.

Such miracles.

* * *

I open my heart to myself like a sort of vitrine, and examine one by one all those love affairs of which the world can know nothing. And of this collection to which I'm now much more attached than to my others, I say to myself, rather as Mazarin said of his books, but in fact with the least distress, that it will be very tiresome to have to leave it all.

* * *

Boom, my love. Boom.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Humility If It

The doctor and his soul
Humility, if it is genuine, is certainly as much a sign of inner strength as courage.

- Viktor Frankl, The Doctor and The Soul

* * *

Let me just say this: Viktor Frankl climbed mountains until he was in his eighties when poor eyesight, not a lack of strength nor will, stopped him. The only time he was off the mountain was when the Nazi's first outlawed climbing for Jews, and then his years in the camps. He lived to be 92 and here's the thing, here's the most important thing about Frankl: he used all that time to live fully engaged with his life–the horrible, the tragic, the soul-searing, the joyous, the exhilarating, the work-a-day. He used it all to create his life.

This requires great courage, great inner-strength, great faith, but mostly it requires the humility to do all of that and understand it is simply the task of life to find that strength, to build out of the rubble and detritus of circumstance a life worth living. No big damn thing. Just what we're here to do. It only seems big because we fail to treat our lives as creative acts of consciousness and instead default to living as consumers of other people's lives and doings.

You were made for more than this.

Snap out of it.

* * *

But like my friend, Lou Reed, said, "You can't be Shakespeare and you can't be Joyce. You're stuck with yourself instead."

Right on.

Wanting to be, trying to be something, someone other than yourself is what fucks you in the first place. Let it go. Let it all go, bro. Nothing good is waiting for you at the end of that line. It is simply time, right now, to work with your own shit instead of mucking around in the ashes of what others have done. You have to call on inner capacities you may not believe in, but here's the news: when you genuinely reach out for those strengths, when you act out of the deepest well of your own sense of being, that strength will arrive, that courage will be present and while your outward circumstance may not change, you will be changed. And that is enough. That is everything. And that, overtime, will change the world around you because you will be moving through it with eyes wide open: present, engaged, all hubris stripped away.

You can't be that person, that person who has reached out for the inner strength to live and still be an asshole. Humility is the mark of those who have passed through the fire, the fire of their fears and angers and seen them for what they are: chains. Never will you judge another harshly because you once wore the chains they embrace. Never will you laud the contents of your life over another because that is a betrayal of spirit. Never will you doubt your own strength with showy displays, but instead will sleep easy in the company of it.

Humility, more than anything else, is how you unfuck your life, boy-o.

You want to know how you can tell genuine humility from the maudlin, self-serving, sanctimonious kind? Easy. Genuine humility never speaks of it self, needs no outward justification or reinforcement. It is the product of inner capacities and is satisfied in and of itself.

* * *

I'll leave you in peace with this:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

Not everyone can do it, but you can. You just have to choose.

* * *


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Things Change He

Things change, he says. I don't know how they do. But they do without your realizing it or wanting them to.

- Raymond Carver, "Everything Stuck To Him"

* * *

The accumulation of decisions made, or unmade, decisions large or pitiably small, decisions made out of hate, made out of desire, out of fear or your finest intentions, made while the sun was going down, while you were drunk, or all too sober gather like dunes, bit by bit changing the landscape, altering what you thought you knew, what you thought you knew was there only to find it gone, buried, part of a time when there weren't so many decisions clogging up the view.

You are here today by the dint of such accumulations. Trying to trace back to the moment when the wheels came off is impossible. It is never so dramatic as that. The wheels come off because the bolts loosen over time, through neglect, unawareness or a a fevered hope they'll last a bit longer. The popping off is simply the by-product of fucking up in small ways over a long period of time.

But here's the news: even this will change and change again and it will change without your realizing it or wanting it to or even if you do it will never come out exactly as you imagine it. Other people's accumulations get in the way.

So what is a fucked fucker to do?


* * *

You are no longer a boy, but a full-grown man. If you are careless and lazy now and keep putting things off and always deferring the day after which you will attend to yourself, you will not notice that you are making no progress, but you will live and die as someone quite ordinary.

I don't have much use for the idea of self-improvement. It is a shell-game of making you feel inadequate and if you only lived as someone told you to, well, you'd be a better you.You may be fucked, but I sure as shit don't think any of this is self-improvement. You don't need to be better. None of us do. We need to be complete. There is a difference.

Carver's stories reveal the effects of people not noticing. You can't read them without a shiver of self-recognition. Not all of them work, but that's not the point, nor is it the goal. The goal is to attend to the accumulations of grit and sand and silica that make up your life and use them to attend your days. Things change. Sometimes by your hand, sometimes as an effect of a long-forgotten choice buried under the weight of living, sometimes you never notice and when you look up everything you thought you knew wasn't that way at all. And sometimes you keep plodding on: lazy and careless.

Live long enough and you are presented with these choices: cut loose the past or be drowned in it, pretend you haven't fucked up and keep moving, carry it all with you as a penance, or use it to make something else.

Soul dumpster-diving.

* * *

Quit pretending all your dirt is gold.
Quit pretending all your gold is dirt.

Call things by their names and use what is at hand to unfuck your life.
It is solely for you to decide what to keep and what you'll throw away.
It is solely for you to decide what to make of the life you've lived.
And remember, things change regardless of your attention or effort or intention. Your best work is but a season, but that is no reason to hold back. You, my dear friend, are but a season as well.

* * *



Wednesday, March 14, 2012

There Is Also

There is also talk about being deceived by life or in life; but he who self-deceptively cheated himself out of living––his loss is irredeemable.

- Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love

* * *

Take a minute and let SK's words soak in a minute. Read them out loud. Whisper them to yourself. Say them over and over until you can say them blind. Take all the time you need.

I'll wait.

* * *

Did you do it? Did you take your time? Did you?

I couldn't move past this sentence for a couple of days. I read it. Re-read it. Put the book down and had the distinct feeling I'd been kicked in the balls.

* * *

One of the unique characteristics of a fucked life is one's awareness that one's life is fucked. One senses a truer life just out of reach. One lives an awful half-life, but because one can imagine a better, fuller life, one imagines it is a matter of the rest of the world recognizing one's abilities and genius in order for that better life to arrive. One tells self-soothing lies to one's self in order to locate the responsibility of one's life in the hands of fate instead of one's own hands. One believes that because one possesses the awareness of one's fuckedness, one can be redeemed at a moment's notice because one means so well.

One is a shithead.

Redemption, like happiness, is earned. It does not, cannot, arrive without the sweat of your metaphoric brow. When I read the sentence above in Kierkegaard I was struck square in the head with a two by four by the simple, direct, declamation: HIS LOSS IS IRREDEEMABLE.

You think you're fucked now? Wait until you realize that your redemption will never come because you have deceived yourself about the nature of redemption. Or better still, don't wait. Quit lying to yourself about the work, the work my fucked friend, it will take to unfuck what you have fucked. But here's the news, comrade: this is the way it is supposed to be. Don't shy away from your work; don't denigrate it; don't compare it to another's; don't be embarrassed of it; don't hide it under the bushel of your fuckedness. Release it. Embrace it. Show that motherfucker off. Work at your work, whatever your work may be, and understand down into the marrow of your bones, that this is your redemption, this is your Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free-Card. But it only works if you work it––day in and day out, in large and small ways, for an audience of one, for an audience of millions, it doesn't matter. What matters is how you approach it, how you engage it, what you make of it.

You understand?

The world wants what you have to give, but only you can give it. And if you can't wrap your mind around the idea of the world giving a fiddler's fart about you and your work wrap your mind around this: you must care about your work and you need to stop deceiving yourself about how you're doing.

Because he who self-deceptively cheated himself out of living––his loss is irredeemable.

Kierkegaard is not wrong and you know it.

Now go, and sin no more.

* * *



Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Obvious Lesson

The obvious lesson. . . is that the first step to the knowledge of the highest divine symbol of the wonder and mystery of life is in the recognition of the monstrous nature of life and its glory in that character: the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think––and their name is legion––that they know how the universe could have been better than it is, how it would have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without life, are unfit for illumination. Or those who think––as many do––"Let me first correct society, then get around to myself" are barred from even the outer gate of the mansion of God's peace. All societies are evil, sorrowful, inequitable; and so they will always be. So if you really want to help this world, what you have to teach is how to live in it. And that no one can do who has not himself learned how to live in it, in the the joyful sorrow and sorrowful joy of the knowledge of life as it is.

- Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By

* * *

I've been thinking (always a dangerous thing), and it strikes me that at the root of a fucked life is a disconnect, a blindness, a missing sequence that if only it was present, if only we could see, or bind ourselves to the groundfloor of experience we'd encounter our lives in a wildly different way. We'd be stitched into it instead of viewing it from the side of the road. What is this disconnect? this blindness? this gap in our consciousness' genome?

Here's my answer: fairness.

We want life to play fair, to be honest, equitable, just. But each of those are human values. Life, with a big fucking capital "L" does not share those values. No, Life is in the business of transformation. We resist it because of what time's transformation will do to us, to our best beloveds. Our desire to hold our lives still because we don't want to lose who and what we love perverts that love.

When my father was dying I bargained with his cancer to take me on instead. When my infant son couldn't draw enough breath to keep from turning blue, I dared whatever malevolence had taken up in his lungs to find me and leave my boy alone. I offered prayers, built totems, imbued objects with magical powers to stay the hand of Life. My father died. My son lived.

What were the words I tried to cast a spell
To understand? Stay, stay. His eyes seized mine,
He summoned all his strength to move his gaze
To look out at the night, a final time.
Mysterious rudiments of our farewell
The night of January twenty-third.
Never again the moon in heaven above.

* * *

Life is monstrous not because it sweeps us away, but because we cannot change it. All that remains is to change ourselves. Each of us must wrestle with this fact. Some will withdraw in terror, others will believe they can bend nature to their will. Most of us will stumble along keeping change at arm's length except when it crashes through our paper-thin defenses and demands our attention: illness, accident, war, death: tragedies large and small.

If only life were fair. If only the wicked were struck down. If only she'd stayed. If only he hadn't gotten sick. If only, if only, if only this then that. We occupy our minds with useless imaginings and it takes us away from the one thing we have to do: live right now.

Look, there are libraries filled with answers about how to live. It is the one thing that has occupied mankind since we showed up. Cave art tells us our distant relations were held in awe by life and death and the mystery that held them together. For all of our gadgetry it is still the same for us, only now we have more to distract ourselves from the work at hand: being awake and alive in this moment. We distract ourselves to not look in the face of Life, of God, of the Great Electron. It is terrible to us because it demands something other than what we have shown so far.

I didn't want to see my dad go. I loved him. I didn't want to see my son so sick. I love him. I didn't want any of the grief or hardship or betrayal that has pocked my life. No one does. Love of another, of someone other than ourselves makes us want to protect and defend them, to bind up their wounds and keep all harm at bay. That is what is best in us and it is futile.

I have always found the assertion that we are "to participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world" to be beyond my ken. It was yet anther cruel dictum that I couldn't live up to. But I've been thinking (always a dangerous thing) and it strikes me that the sorrows of the world are not that we'll die, that our best beloveds will die, or that our love is a frail response to those changes, but that we live so poorly on our way to our deaths. That the time our love is strongest is now, not later. The good it can do can only be felt now. The joy we can extract from our brief transit is now and "every failure to cope with a life situation must be laid, in the end, to a restriction of consciousness. Wars and temper tantrums are the makeshifts of ignorance; regrets are illuminations come too late."

To live joyfully in the sorrow, sorrowfully in the joy means to undo the restrictions we placed on the terms and conditions of our lives. The great sorrow is that even if you have found the way to this point, by whatever path, and you are able to teach others, to tell them what you know, they'll be too afraid to listen. They want to focus on what is manipulable, concrete, immediate and keep all talk of the monstrous beauties, and joyful sorrow locked away.

But it is just fear that blinds them, that blinds us.
Smile and teach them anyway; teach by example and not any other way.

* * *



Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Once I Was

Mimi Parker: half of Low
Once I was lost
To the point of disgust
I had in my sight
Lack of vision
Lack of light

- Low, "Point of Disgust"

* * *

This is, this is, this is the contour, the form, the defining curve of the bottom. This is what being fucked is: lack of vision, lack of light. It is legless in spirit, empty in spirit, spiritless to the point of disgust.

Mercy me.

* * *

Being lost is no big damn thing. No big damn thing. Happens all the time. Happens to everyone. It is our natural state. Who can say they have not been lost? Who can say they have not wrestled the black dog of their disappointment, their despair? Who can say life has run in a greased groove from pillar to post? No one. No one can, and if anyone does they are a shit-dog liar.

And it is all to the good that this is so.

It keeps a sense of wonder about us, a sense of the possible, a sense that we are capable because we challenge our lostness, our fuckedness, our doubt and despair. We, as the poet said (it's always a poet), kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight. We respond to being lost by finding our way. We build, we create, we carve time to do our bidding, we insist on meaning over and against our despair. We are geniuses of darkness kicking.

Except when we aren't.
Except when we quit.
Except when we just want to lay down for a minute and catch our breaths.
Except when we define being lost as a permanent state.
Except when we fuck ourselves because we come to believe we are not up to it.

It gets like that sometimes and it is the harrowing of hell to arrive there. And when all is lost, when you've fucked yourself so hard you can't walk there is one remaining saving grace, one last fail safe: disgust.

If you are lucky, you become so disgusted by your inaction, your lip-quavering mea culpa-ing, you take a ferocious psychic shit and empty yourself of your fucktitude.

* * *

It is hard to have faith in yourself all the time. Hell, even some of the time, a fraction of the time, but you have to venture it anyway. It is the only way to clean yourself of the muck you've slid into. A long time ago I wrote: 

You fucked it.
You unfuck it.

The motto for these pages.

If you have lost a vision for your life, then look for it, insist on it, build one and if it doesn't work throw it out and build again. If you have lost the light, then bum some matches or see if you can't catch a spark off someone else's light: read a book, make love, cook a meal, listen to music. Don't let the point of disgust become a further excuse to not kick at the darkness. It is your life come to life, demanding something other than giving up from you.

It is a gift. Treat it as such. And listen, it is easy to string together a bunch of verbs and tell you to hop to it. I get that. But listen, listen, listen, this is exactly what life is made of: verbs. I'm not being a dick writing them here. I'm here to remind you of what you may have forgotten along the way.

That is all. That is all.

* * *

Boom, baby. Boom.


Friday, March 2, 2012

And As To

And as to you corpse, I think you are good manure, but that does not offend me,
I smell the white roses sweetscented and growing,
I reach to the leafy lips. . . I reach to the polished breasts of melons.

And as to you life, I reckon you are the leavings of many deaths,
No doubt I have died myself ten thousand times before.

- Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"

* * *

Walt, Walt, Walt, you beautiful sonofabitch.

* * *

And as to you, reckoning with time, worried about your reckoning––the malicious endgame that is either too soon, too sudden, or not soon enough in the dregs of a diseased body––I think you are good manure and if you can come to see that in yourself the weight of your worry is lifted. No lie. No doubt you have died ten thousand times before. You've just been forgetting.

* * *

I'm paraphrasing here, but I heard Woody Allen describe his artistic obsession with death in this way: Life is filled with the most horrible, unspeakable acts. There's violence and greed and depression and anxiety and it is all over too soon. For Allen, as miserable as it may be, he likes being alive and will bear up the pall of all that is shitty because, well, death is worse.

Except it is not. Death is neither good nor bad. It is beyond categorization. It simply is. It is neither to be wished for, nor avoided. It will find you eventually: behind the wheel of your car, out for a jog, standing in your garden, watching your grandchildren play, alone in your sleep, hooked up to machines, in the light of morning, in the cool of evening, in a snowstorm, underwater, by sudden violence, by old age, with a needle in your arm, with a smile on your face, a lightning bolt, an accident, slipping on ice, by gunshot, through hatred, surrounded by your family, looking out at treetops, in prison, in the home you were born in, in strange lands, as a soldier, as a bystander, swamped by nature, bitten by a snake, hit by a train, death by misadventure, death by stupidity, unjustly, with malice aforethought, as a kindness, a blessing, in pain, out of your mind, in a coma, at the dinner table, on vacation, in the flower of youth, at the moment of birth, fallen from a great height, in a fire, by lethal injection, by infection, filled with cancer, filled with joy, whether you accept it or not.

We are but the leavings of many deaths that have come before, that we will be part of, that will trouble those who follow until they can see in themselves the key to their happiness: the inevitability of manure.

* * *

Marcus Aurelius writes:

You have functioned as part of something; you will vanish into what produced you.
Or be restored, rather.
To the logos from which all things spring.
By being changed.

For Aurelius (and other Stoics) change, transformation is the basic, ground floor truth of life. It is nothing to be feared, but rather embraced so that while you live you are aware of the transformations all around and are part of it.

Frightened of change? But what can exist without it? What's closer to nature's heart? Can you take a hot bath and leave the firewood as it was? Eat food without transforming it? Can any vital process take place without something being changed? Can't you see? It is just the same with you––and just as vital to nature.

The job we have is to be awake to the changes that are endlessly flowing through us while we live. It is a conceit to imagine anything can be held still, held back, clung to. Life exists in flow, in flux, but we are guided by our senses not our minds, not our souls. We fear change because each change is a harbinger of the change from life to death. Look to every process and project completed that you have known in your life. Look. You have moved through thousands of changes and as a result have left behind thousands of pieces of your life that no longer fit or work. You have been changed even if you haven't noticed.

I think you are good manure, but that does not offend me,
I smell the white roses sweetscented and growing,
I reach to the leafy lips. . . I reach to the polished breasts of melons.

You are moving through transformation, out and in, with every breath, with every step, with every thought. Don't fear it, or resist it. Play while you can. Using up time worrying about when you'll run out of time and the circumstances of that clock running out is what fucks you up. Let it go. And get going.

* * *

One of my favorite passages from Aurelius:

Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both. They were absorbed alike into the life force of the world, or dissolved alike into atoms.

* * *