Sunday, May 27, 2012
We laughed my friends and I
We swore we'd be together
Until the day we died
Until the day we died
- Tom Waits, "Innocent When You Dream"
* * *
It feels like something is arriving, some new thing is on its way, but that's not right at all. Now that I think about it, there's nothing new headed my way, but rather something very old and I am simply new to it. I don't have hold of it yet. It is a bead of mercury in the sink, or the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, or a song by Tom Waits. It is miraculously old and it is present, always emerging, always ready to emerge from its debasement.
* * *
We live in a graveyard. Our lives are simply the thing before we are humus, soil, earth - stable. And what do we do with this moment above ground, before we become ground, before we are ground down into the ground? We whistle through the graveyard pretending it does not exist. How else to explain the strife, the horrors we inflict on ourselves, on others through our misplaced sense of self - either too grand, or too puny? We are buggers for misunderstanding the brevity of our transit. Our lives, your life, my life, the one life in our hands, is scarce, infinitesimally so. But it is also everything: the sum of our capacity to imagine.
And what have you been imagining for yourself?
The speed with which all of them vanish–the objects in the world, and the memory of them in time.
You and I will not last very long. Memories of our lives will fade within a generation, or simply be a name added to a family tree in two generations hence. And so it is. It is so. But so what, my dear fucked friend? So what. You live now, the endlessly emerging present and the question before you is not about what others will remember about you after you are gone, but what will you do with this one moment - the only one you'll ever have?
Here's an answer: Run through the graveyard and laugh with your friends. Swear you'll be together until the day you die.
* * *
The boneyard is always open and is always taking in new customers: in Guatemala in 1982 government troops killed every man woman and child in the village of Dos Erres - they bludgeoned them with sledgehammers and threw them down a well, filling it with bodies; in Syria just the other day troops slaughtered over 100 villagers - over thirty of them children; in nursing homes across the land the forgotten fade out every day; Rwanda, Armenia, the genocide of the North American people, the Holocaust, the man-made famines in Ukraine, Somalia, the Khmer Rouge, Sherman's march to the sea, beheadings in Ciudad Juarez... if we did not decay there'd be no room for the dead, and this is how it has always been. It is how it will always be.
There is nothing new under the sun.
When the pablum pushers tell you that wishing will make it so ask them about Dos Erres, ask them about wishes snuffed out by cruelty. Their only answer is to blame the victim - they didn't wish hard enough.
Here is what I wish for you: friends that you can run with for as long as you can run.
No one person can stem the tide of our tribal blood lusts - be it at the point of spear, the end of a gun, or atop a political movement. It can't be done. The wheels have always been falling off because those who lead are expressly the ones who must not. Pride, faith, certainty and vanity pave the way to hell, not good intentions.
So run through this graveyard with your friends.
Pledge your troth to one another.
Make promises out of love and fidelity.
Caretake this moment - it is all you'll ever have.
Man's greatness does not abide in societal change, in new technologies, but in how a single individual manages to live a life of purpose and meaning in spite of and in the face of every sweeping change beyond his or her ability to control or influence. What you are left with is you and the choices you make. You can do nothing about the chaos that surrounds you, but you can reduce to perfect order your response to it.
* * *
It's such a sad old feeling
The fields are soft and green
It's memories that I'm stealing
But you're innocent when you dream
When you dream
You're innocent when you dream.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Here is what is
Spiral on down to your sweet heart
Here is what is
Here is what is
Don't you go walking too long in the dark
- Daniel Lanois, Here Is What Is
* * *
Here is what is: you live and from here all things are possible.
Here is what is: your blood is your ink - tell your story.
Here is what is: you'll find your way when you let go of worrying about finding your way.
Here is what is: passion is the cure.
Here is what is: indulging your fears diminishes your life and everything you touch.
Here is what is: love is the only thing that endures - it is our genius.
Here is what is: you will get lost and that is how you get found.
Here is what is: I know it hurts sometimes, but don't you go walking too long in the dark.
Here is what is: if the road is marked it is not your road.
Here is what is: you are here to teach by example only.
Here is what is: you are free - you always have been - to choose.
Here is what is: whatever you have to give you have to give.
Here is what is: happiness and peace are the by-products of commitment.
Here is what is: the best idea untried is cowardice.
Here is what is: freedom and responsibility are the same thing.
Here is what is: you know all this but you learned doubt - now unlearn it.
* * *
Here is what is, you need to stop fighting the wrong fights and figure this shit out for yourself. There's nothing for it, Bub, but for you take up the cause of your life and live the goddamn thing into the ground.
Quit thinking you have to have the whole thing figured out before you get to it. The whole point is to figure it out while it is happening. Seeds, baby, are small, small things, but in the right place with the right attention they insist upon themselves and become other, remarkably other. That's something from nothing. You are something from nothing. Quit waiting. It's all already here. The only thing that's been missing is you.
* * *
A few years ago I met and fell in love with a remarkable woman. We were great. And then we weren't. A seam busted and it all unraveled. The sense of loss was staggering to me. Divorce was a walk in the park - I was leaving behind unhappiness, but this, this was far worse. I was losing greatness, happiness, fire.
No one wants to be on the outside looking in. Yet, that was where I was and the question before me was the same then as it is today: now what? Life is always ready with the questions, the uneasy questions, the hard questions of letting go and getting on with it. You can postpone answering the question for as long as you like, but eventually you must answer it. Now what?
For too long I did nothing. I waited for the world to turn a few degrees. I stood still, stayed in place so she'd know where to find me and in so doing I lost all the momentum I'd earned rocketing out of the divorce, lost all of the mojomentum that brought me to her in the first place. I doubted the gift. I doubted myself and right there buddy-boy I fucked myself right hard and not only did the affair unspool, but so did I.
Fuck. This again? Fuck.
But life still wants its answer: now what?
So I let go. Not the love, not the greatness. That is warp and woof to me, but the rest could go. The good that came to me, is still good to me and that fuels a fire that cannot be extinguished. Not now. Not ever. It is the fire that lights us all up, generation after generation, if only we'd see.
* * *
Don't you go walking too long in the dark. There's nothing there but more darkness.
* * *
Boom. Boom. Boom.
Saturday, May 12, 2012
In Lissagary's History of the Commune there is an interesting passage describing the shootings that took place after the Commune had been suppressed. The authorities were shooting the ringleaders, and as they did not know who the ringleaders were, they were picking them out on the principle that those of better class would be the ringleaders. An officer walked down a line of prisoners, picking out likely-looking types. One man was shot because he was wearing a watch, another because he "had an intelligent face." I should not like to be shot for having an intelligent face, but I do agree that in almost any revolt the leaders tend to be people who could pronounce their aitches.
- George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier
* * *
I have been away. I have been working. I have been driving long stretches at the start and end of my work day, and while I try to fill that time with music loud enough to not hear my brakes squeal, I cannot fill that time with music loud enough to not think. I think about you, my fucked friend. I think about this page. I think I am still a fucked fucker. I think about all the work that remains and the disturbing tremor that moves my left hand without volition and I think, "Fuck it. Time to use all this powder I've been keeping dry."
Today, we shift our conversation. Today, we, you and I, start out from this turf, this sod, this ground littered and festooned with poetry and song and words and images and examples and exhortations and feet up the ass and prayers and keens and ablutions and talismans and faith and will and dreams and un-made plans to wrestle the angel of our higher self until he blesses us, until we wring from him the acts and deeds and doings that are ours to do.
The time is now. It always has been.
* * *
In the book For the Time Being, Annie Dillard eviscerates the idea that we, of this time and place, are THE generation, THE people of destiny. She writes: Is it not late? A late time to be living? Are not our generations the crucial ones? For we have changed the world. Are not our heightened times the important ones? For we have nuclear bombs. Are we not especially significant because our century is? - our century and its unique Holocaust, its refugee populations, its serial totalitarian exterminations; our century and its antibiotics, silicon chips, men on the moon, and spliced genes? No, we are not and it is not. These times of ours are ordinary times, a slice of life like any other. Who can bear to hear this, or who will consider it?... Why are we watching the news, reading the news, keeping up with the news? Only to enforce our fancy - probably a necessary lie - that these are crucial times, and we are in on them. Newly revealed, and we are in the know: crazy people, bunches of them. New diseases, shifts in power, floods! Can the news from dynastic Egypt have been any different?”
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
All is vanity.
* * *
At the top of this post, in the passage from Orwell, there is a magnificent clue, a big-assed bread crumb on the trail of unfucking your life. Actually, there are several, but for now the one I want to look at is Lissagary's History of the Commune. Do you know it? I didn't until George recommended it. Seems back in 1871 the working class of Paris took control of the city for two months. It is cited as the first worker's government. Karl Marx was a big fan. The original Occupy movement. Do you know what these radicals did in their brief time? They decreed a separation of church and state, granted pensions to unmarried companions and children of National Guard troops killed in service, recognized the rights of business owners, forgave the debt of workers who pawned their tools in order to eat, and abolished interest on commercial debt. The rogues. An enterprise like that must be crushed, and it was. Estimates vary, but somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 to 50,000 French citizens (women and children included) were slaughtered in the process of restoring "stability."
Did you know such a thing happened in the City of Light? I didn't.
Who were they? What were their names? Why did they rise up? Why were they crushed? Why care at this far remove? Surely, those who loved the murdered are dead over and over. Surely, those who loved the murderers are as dead as Jacob Marley's doornail. This is a historical footnote. A blip of extravagant bloodshed dimmed by time. Dead for wearing a watch. Dead for the sort of face deemed intelligent. Dead for money. Dead for an idea, but pushing up daisies nonetheless.
Our times are as profane as any other. The Parisian dead from the Spring of 1871 are the same as Cambodian dead of the 1970's (the Khmer Rouge started in Paris!). The large story never changes. It never changes, just new faces on old stories.
So all that remains is for you to be changed. All that remains is for you to change from a spectator, a consumer of others' actions, into a participant. You have to enter the stream. This is how you unfuck your life: you live it at the risk of dying from it.
Which is no risk at all, but a guarantee. And believe it or not, that's the best news possible. It frees you from ever worrying about it again.
* * *
Who are you, my friend? Who are you? What have you got to show for yourself? What did you do with your time? My pal, George Orwell, his given name was Eric Blair, wrote his motherfucking ass off because he was enraged by injustice - the old story that never changes - and he died at 47. He also fought against Franco, stood with the impoverished miners of Wigan Pier, and chronicled man's inhumanity with a powerful control of language and empathy thereby setting a stone of humanity against totalitarianism. In his day it was Fascism and Nazism and Stalinism. Do we not live in the same time only with new names: Conformity, Commercialism, Corporate-ism?
Do not be idle. There is nothing new under the sun. That which has been will be again. The stories never change, just the names of those willing to stand and give what they have to give: their work, their name, their sweat, their minds, their lives. This is not futile. This is the doorway to your greatness. Go. See how far you can get. Defy the inertia that attends every age. And most important, forgive those who don't understand, who don't want you to go, who would crush you like a French workman in May of 1871. Forgive them. They know not what they do.
But you do.
No doubt it is an exile who speaks, who knows no better plea for the vanquished than the simple and sincere recital of their history.
* * *
Pronounce your aitches loud and clear.
* * *