Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sorrow Is An

Frank, the poi dog
Sorrow is an angel
That comes to you in blue light
And shows you what is wrong
Just to see if you'll set it right
And I've fucked up
So many times in my life
That I want to get it right this time
I want to get it right this time
I want to get it right this time
I want to get it right this time
I want to get it right this time
I want to get it right this time
I want to get it right this time
I want to get it right this time

- Poi Dog Pondering, "Complicated"

* * *

There is a specific mechanism to unfucking your life. It goes by different names: disgust, enough, waking up, sorrow as an angel. They all point to the same place. They all bring you to the threshold of unfucking what you have fucked just to see if you'll set it right. None of it will work until you've had enough of the half-life, until you've reached the point of disgust with the ways things are for you, until you've woken up and know the difference between shit and shinola, until all you want is to get it right this time. And all of that means next to nothing unless you are willing to see it for what it is - a chance to get it right. Moreover, you have to take that chance or nothing changes for you. Nothing.

* * *

You've done it a thousand times, maybe more. I know I have. You have found yourself pinched and fucked and screwed and bottomed out. You have fucked up so many times that you've lost count or don't even want to consider it. I get that. And each time, as the consequences of your fuckitude unfurl like a dirty flag on a barren battlefield, you have said, "Enough of all this shit." Admit it. You have promised yourself that this time, this time it would be different. This time you finally got the message. This time you weren't ever going back no more.  You had your last drink. Your last cigarette. Your last hit. Your last excuse. Your last whatever the holy fuck has been eating at you. Done. Good to go. Fuck and you, baby. This is a new life starting right here.

How many times have you done that?

It never held, did it? Don't worry, man. We all go through it and we all go through it because we confuse acknowledging how fucked things are with actually taking the steps to unfuck it. Why? Because it takes all our will just to say its all fucked up. It takes everything we have to let that angel in. And it seems heroic. It seems like it should be enough. But the results don't lie. So, now what?

Here's what: you let go of what's right or wrong, of everything that comes to you in blue light. Let it all go, man. You have to figure this shit out for yourself. Can't get there with preconceived notions of how it get s done. Each of us has to craft an answer that works for ourselves. Baby, what worked for me cannot work for you. It can be similar. It can be in the same direction, but you are blessedly unique and the solutions must be as well. Broad balms of religiosity, creative endeavor, material wealth are the equivalent of using a broad-axe for brain surgery: yes, it will split you open, but kill you at the same time. Only you have the answers for how your life gets unfucked, and you have cycled back through this moment how ever many times because you lost the ability to trust yourself.

After all, you're the dude who's fucked up so many times. Right?

Bullshit. You're the dude who has kept trying to set it right. You're a fucking rockstar. Now get the job done. MOVE.

* * *

Knowledge without action is like a tit on a bull: useless.

Much is made of the idea of "flow," I have made much of it myself. But here's the deal, flow, the sense of right action, of being in the moment, of creating your life as it happens only happens when you take action, when you consistently choose to act (and not simply act for the sake of doing something) from the deepest well of your soul, your self, your purpose. This powerful sense of authority for your life cannot happen if you will not take the chance to change your response to the circumstances of your life. Brother, sister, you have no control over external elements in your life. None. But you do control how you engage with the stuff of your life. When you find you have cycled back to a point of disgust, of being sick and tired of being sick and tired of the way things are, you have a chance and a choice to choose differently. That angel in blue light can't get you there. She's but a sign that this is your chance, your time to get it right.

Now go. Nothing bad will happen.

Promise.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Friday, September 20, 2013

Let Everything Happen

Let everything happen to you: 
beauty and terror.
Just keep going. 
No feeling is final.

- RM Rilke, "God Speaks"

* * *

I first read Rilke when I was in my mid-twenties. I'd found a copy of Stephen Mitchell's translation of Letter's to a Young Poet and knew I'd found a voice I needed to listen to. The intensity of his desire to form into words the things he'd come to know were a bulwark against my lethargy and his words drove me on: Duino Elegies, Sonnets to Orpheus, The Astonishment of Origins. 

The trajectory of my life changes direction after seeing Wings of Desire - a retelling of the Duino Elegies and I work to find a way into the movie business. Once there more changes arrive: a wife, children, divorce, the wilderness and the words I leave behind here. It is safe to say that without Rilke there is no me.

* * *

The fucked life is a stuck life, a fearful life, a life of dread and worry and anger - all the emotions of a captive. We chafe at our chains believing we have been shackled by others, by circumstance and all there is for us to do is draw attention to the weight of our burdens, the sorrow of our plight.  We wear our fuckedness like a sack-cloth badge of honor. And time slips by and by and by the change we have so long resisted, believed we'd made to heel, overtakes us: dust to dust, over and out.

What the fuck are we thinking?

Here's a possibility: we have come to believe all feeling is final.

At any moment your life could be running in a greased groove, could be motoring along without a thought or care in your head, or could be diresome with loss, riddled with despair and when it falls off the tracks, when the terror comes along we freeze in the moment and so fuck ourselves just that much deeper. We fall in love with our pain, believe it to be complete, perfect in its own way and so we don't disturb it or challenge it or fight with it. Our various forms of failure become more desperate and so fail more desperately and there we find proof that nothing will change. This suffering is a permanent stain.  Sure, once in a while we rally, read a few holy words and set out ready for God to save us and when nothing changes we slip back into our hole and curse the God we never really believed in anyway.

Now go back a minute. All this unfolds because we have come to believe the moment we are living in - filled with all the worry, fear, anger and despair we feel - is the final statement on our lives. What arrogance! What unbridled self-serving, self-important bullshit!

No feeling is final. Knock it off.

Think for a minute, who and or what is served by staying fucked? No one, right? Wrong. Your ego and pride are stoked. Bearing false suffering is like all those 19th century generals with a chest full of medals they've given themselves for making other men die on their behalf. There is genuine suffering in this world, soul-searing suffering that can hardly be described except by those who survive it. Don't confuse your pain with another's. Don't draw equivalences. There are none. Each has to walk his own road. So walk yours.

Things change.

* * *

The few lines pulled from Rilke are enough to get started on, to play with, to consider. It may help draw you out of the place you're in. I hope so. Usually, when this bit of poetry is quoted the quote ends where I have ended it: No feeling is final. And if those four words soak into you, you will be changed and your life will start moving again. But there is another line that follows. It reads:

Don't let yourself lose me.

Rilke has imagined the poem in the voice of God, as the last bits of advice God has for us before sending us out into the world. The line - Don't let yourself lose me - can be read as God pleading that we remember our connection for his sake. But that belies Rilke's spirit. Rilke, in his imagined God's voice, is telling us who we are, to not lose ourselves as we undergo the seriousness of life.

Don't let yourself lose yourself - no matter your circumstance. Now is not forever. It will change. So will you. When you cling to any moment you fuck yourself. You have to let go in order to hold it, to be part of it. You are part of it. So go play for a while. Be home before it's dark. Supper will be waiting.

Promise.

* * *

Boom.

__________



Friday, September 13, 2013

The Second Element

The second element of true love is 
compassion, karuna. This is not only 
the desire to ease the pain of another 
person, but the ability to do so.

- Thich Nhat Hanh, True Love

* * *

It is an easy thing to love another. I once dated a woman who complained of my love for her this way, "You have been in love too many times." It is an easy thing to love, to feel it in the marrow of your soul, to daydream about your beloved, to feel that love as a sign of your inherent goodness, your worthiness to be here. Love of your child, your spouse, your partner, the one you are with - all are signs of your humanity. Right on. Have at. But don't kid yourself - there 's more to it than that.

Love's not a noun, but a verb.

* * *

The basic requirement of love is to place another before you, to put their well-being, their needs ahead of your own. Viktor Frankl spoke of it as "a cause larger than yourself." But most of us fail this elemental test. What we profess as love is self-referential, about how we feel about ourselves as some one who says, "I love you." And it fucks you. It fails you. It sends you into the arms of another and another and another and another. It stupefies you in front of your children because you can't trade them in and that first rush of pride in their arrival is replaced by frustration as your children grow into who they are, formed in part by your half-love.

The problem is one of misunderstanding what love is and is not. The simplest way to think of it is this: love is active, never passive and it always moves from the inside out. Anything else is pleasure, not love, useless suffering, not love, ego and pride, not love. It is not enough to desire love, or wish to be good and loving. You have to have the chops to actually do it.

* * *

When my children arrived I thought myself a good man, a good father. I was, too. I read to them, held them, got on the ground and crawled with them. I cooked for them, bathed them, cleaned them and considered myself a good man, a man who did all those things. It was what I knew of love and it was mostly about me. This is not to damn my actions, but to point out we don't know what we don't know until the day comes and we learn something new. But once you come to know something you can never unknow it. Fatherhood and love became known to me at the nadir of both: divorce. An unhappy and toxic marriage found its bottom and the process of unraveling it all was moving down the well-worn paths of the courts. Fathers become ghosts seeing their kids 4 days a month and the kids forget who their fathers are. So it was for me. Clueless, I was pushed along on the dis-assembly line, accepting whatever was said because I didn't think I had a voice. And then the line stopped. I said, no.

What would have taken a few months and little money, became a long fight to keep my place with my children. At this point it was still about me, about how others perceived me, about how I perceived myself: I am the man who fought. Again, you don't know what you don't know. Each step along the way here was colored with fear and hubris until the day it wasn't.

My youngest has been storm-tossed her entire life. The divorce heightened that. The damage done to all my children was crystalized in her and it shattered her. Her hurt spread out in all directions adding pain to pain for my other children. It was her need that woke me. It was seeing how her hurt affected and magnified the losses for my other children that woke me to the basic truth of love: it is not enough to desire it, to say you feel it, to promise it - you must act on it. Love is not a noun but a verb. It is active, vital. It moves. It moves from the well of your soul through the things you say and do and travels into the world. This is the world you create, the one you live in.

* * *

What world have you created for yourself? If you have been unknowing, if you have been self-focused, you're probably fucked.  We fear letting go of our primacy because we don't know how our needs will be met and so we act to protect them. But here is another truth to awaken to: when you love another, a cause larger than yourself, when that love is active and you master the ability to give, to offer compassion, joy, kindness and freedom to another, all of your needs are met in the same moment. It sounds like a ridiculous koan - by giving you receive, but it isn't simply that you get yours, but your needs have changed, you have changed. No longer a noun, but a verb, you move and are sustained by the motion.

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

* * *

Boom

__________

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Is It Too

Is it too late, baby?
Too late now?
Too late, baby?
Too late now?
Too late for you
To realize everything
Could have been alright?

- World Party, "Is It Too Late?"

* * *

Time is a rip tide: the further into it you go the stronger its pull. At least that is the feeling that steals over you in the first blush of middle age as the infinitude of youth gives way to the harsher linear quality of days, months and years.

Yet, at some point the tide releases you into larger, oceanic currents whose motions are not felt in the same dire way. It is a release from the straining and striving to overcome the circumstances you find yourself in, and it becomes a birthing into a new way of being shorn of hubris, pride and the ego required to swim against tides. The question is whether or not you will reach this place before your death, or if your death is this place.

The question is: Is it too late, baby?

* * *

The life you have is the life you chose. Not its outward markers, but the inward ones, the habits of thought and belief that are the starting point for how you meet the world. There is a popular idea that states if you wish to change your life, change your thoughts and your life will follow as a cart follows the ox. And I will not argue its truth. Perception is reality.  Instead what I will argue is this change is not a switch being thrown with a click of the heels and all is well. Understood as a fix, this is a cruel hoax. No, lives don't change because of incantations or affirmations or the saying of holy words. Lives change when the awareness grows inside of you that regardless of your circumstance you are always free to choose your response to it. Each response is valid: struggle, acceptance, despair, humor. But this is life in the rip tide. There is more to come.

Each response to circumstance is a sign pointing to something beyond that sign, that signifier. Just as when people imbibe their religion as literal, historical fact (and so confuse metaphor with reality which then allows them the comfort of any atrocity) so, too, does it happen when you mistake your struggle for nobility, acceptance for wisdom, despair for clarity and humor for lightness. In this way you create your own religion, your own font of reality. The role you have taken on (martyr, sage, victim, clown) ossifies as this is where you are most comfortable, certain of the signs and signifiers you have builded up.

But like the blind men and the elephant, you only know the thing in front of you - not its entirety.

* * *

Recognize your soul
And everything's alright
You got to see the whole
And everything's alright
C'mon, give yourself a break
And everything's alright
We'll be breathing deep
And everything's alright
C'mon, c'mon, c'mon
Everything's alright

* * *

Your life is the accumulation of your choices. And you are always free to choose how you live it. Yet, our lives get fucked, pig-fucked, stuck, ground down, worn-out and the sense of being trapped is palpable. It brings on sleeplessness, doubt, worry and fear. How can this be, if we are free to choose the sort of life we live or at least how we live our lives?

Here's an answer. I'm not saying it is fact, or some truth you must obey. I'm just putting it out here as a possibility, something for you to consider, play with and see where it leads you.

You're not seeing the whole. You only see yourself in isolation. You only see your struggle in the moment and the larger oceanic currents are unimagined. You have taken your unique response to living your life and stopped there. Yes, you are free. You are also still fucked. If you recognize your soul then you must recognize the soul in each and all. If you reject the idea of an animating spark, the timeless inside you, then by needs be you reject it every where you set your eyes. if you consider the possibility that you have a soul it changes the ground beneath your feet. Remember, perception is reality and if you perceive the soul inside you then you can't help but feel the grip of time loosen from around your neck.

Yes, your circumstances may still be hard, unjust, but your suffering is no longer useless and filled with pride. You can transform it into meaning, a gift to give others so they might be reminded they are not alone, but are part of a whole, their lives part and whole complete. Just like you.

It is never too late to recognize your soul. It is how you see the whole. It is how you give yourself a break. It is how and why everything's alright.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Noli Timere Do

Noli timere (Do not fear)

- Seamus Heaney's last words

* * *

Things are different now.

* * *

It was Heaney's book, Sweeney Astray, that brought me to his work and I never left. The first poetry I ever published was based off Sweeney and I shudder at the shoddiness of it now, but then, back then, in the way back of my memory, I thought them fine. I had no knowledge of the labor required to build a poem, only the love of sounds that tumbled out of Sweeney.  I aped. I copied. I dreamt of a life spent building sounds that tumbled out of books, of lecture halls and book shops, of wet moors and mad kings cursed to never return home. I wrote bad poetry and thought it fine. I was without guile or fear. Seamus Heaney's work gave me that. Things are different now.

Between the first blush of words and the ones I clack today fear took root in stops and starts, gaining a bit of ground each time. Doubt, faithlessness to the cause, worry over judgment all found a place in my life. But it isn't poetry I am speaking of, is it? It is the fucked life itself. To move in half-steps, to fear shadows and the feral desire inside you to live differently than you have been. Comportment, compliance, acceptance of the norms governing daily life - these are a type of assurance that all is well and all that could be done has been done and it is the birthplace of fear. We fear not being accepted. We fear isolation. We look outside our own experience for validation of that experience and it changes us. We learn to hesitate. We learn to judge. We learn we are not poets. We learn there is a payoff for coming in out of the cold: a job, a house and paid vacation. And if you come to it out of fear then happiness and peace will never know your name.

Things are different now.

* * *

A few minutes before he died, Seamus Heaney sent a text message to his wife. It was in Latin: "Noli timere" - do not fear, or don't be afraid - a final gesture of love and hard won grace.

Is this not how we must live?

Every time you feel your fears take hold of your thoughts, every time you choose to act from fear, or doubt I want you to remember Seamus Heaney: leonine, white haired, minutes from his death and there, there at the threshold between his life and his death and the one last poem he sent back - noli timere. 

Don't be afraid.
Don't be afraid to live without me.
Don't be afraid of this change.
Don't be afraid.

And so, things are different now. The world is down a poet and the wet earth is a bit richer for it. The memory of him will linger in those who knew him and then be reduced to those who read him and over time will gutter out. And that is perfect. For it is not immortality that feeds us, but touching the eternal while we are here.

Noli timere, my friends. Do not fear your life.

* * *

Published in Ceilidh, Vol IV, No. 2, 1985.

Sweeney At Home (After Seamus Heaney)

I know the crevices and cracks.
I have seen the slip and mortar
so close I know the name
of each speckled grain.

The slant of a roof,
once my home,
the pocked gable
below. Heroic relief shows
the deeds of my dead.
I recognize the weathered
faces. I knew the one
without his head.
The years and I ate
him away.

I am king.
I fly from stone wall
to brick. I peck and peer
into the surface of things.

* * *

Boom.


__________

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Get Away From

Get away from 
The blind side of life
Honey, I want you 
To be by my side
Me and my backdoor 
Moves ain't no more
No more

- Stevie Ray Vaughan,
"Change It"

* * *

This morning there is a thick and dangerous fog. Cloud hidden, the sun lights the day weakly and I am remembering a late August morning thick with dangerous fog and hearing the news that Stevie Ray Vaughan and others were killed in a helicopter crash in a thick and dangerous fog trying to get out of SE WI and back to Chicago. It was as if a border had been crossed into an unknown, unfriendly territory where we'd all have to make our way without our guide.

* * *

Here is what is, my brother.
Here is what is, my sister: you are here for a short time, might as well make it a good time. We sabotage and undermine our innate, I say innate!, ability to experience wonder and awe because we are blind to the power in our hands to experience our lives as the adventures they are. Sure as shit, there is danger here - you could climb into a doomed helicopter - but there is also the indescribable wow, the exhilaration of going where you have to go, learning what you have to learn, doing what you have to do and giving back to Life the life well-lived.

My pal, Joseph Campbell, tells me: "Nothing is  exciting if you know what the outcome is going to be."

Lemme ask you, when was the last time you felt exhilarated?

Let that answer be a check against your dolor and woe.

* * *

When I was 14 years old, my cousin, Bob Child and his young son, Christopher, were killed in a helicopter accident at the Illinois State Fair. Bob, his wife and son, paid for tickets to take a quick fly-over of the fair. As the helicopter was landing the engines cut out and the bird dropped like a stone. The pilot and Bob's wife were injured, but Bob and Christopher were thrown from the helicopter. Both were decapitated by the rotors still chopping the air.

This is tattooed in my memory.

When I was 33 I worked on the movie, The River Wild, in Montana and Oregon. We filmed along the Kootenai and Rogue Rivers. It was a big helicopter show as that was the only way to ferry personnel, actors and equipment up the rivers. Part of my assignment was to work with the helicopter unit. My only experience with helicopters was the deaths of my cousins and Stevie Ray Vaughan. By the time the show ended I'd flown dozens and dozens of times, always saying a quick prayer to my father and my cousins to keep me aloft. And as frightened and haunted as I was by the prospect of those machines, they also provided me with a new way of seeing the world, of beauties I could not have imagined, of trust in the skill of the pilot, of wonder that I was, in my limited way, part of the crew.

Bob and Christopher climbed into a helicopter once and were killed.
I climbed in 100's of times and was not.
Stevie Ray climbed in after a concert and that was the last we've heard of him.

Nothing is exciting if you know what the outcome is going to be. Even grief.

* * *

Both caskets were closed at Bob and Christopher's funeral. Bob's wife was hospitalized and could not be there to say good-bye to her beloveds. It is impossible to render into words the depth of the sadness in that room that day. That, too, is tattooed in my memory.

As my father neared his death he said, "Hell, I've had a good run: my two boys, married over 40 years and besides, I've flown."

The joy my father felt piloting a plane was the pinnacle of his adventure. It paid for and compensated him for what was earth-bound, difficult and sad. Each of us is tasked with mastering the moment in our hands, the moment we have to live. Life, if you let it be, is a thrill ride, a hurtling fevered train, a ride on the Wall of Death, a chance to press yourself against eternity and find out what is eternal inside you.

I miss my dad. I still remember Christopher and Bob. I wish Stevie Ray was here to play some music for us to carry us through. But they're not here. You and I are here and it is up to us wring the last drop of life out of this rag. To do anything less is a betrayal of the promise made to each of us when light first creased out eyes: Go play. I got you.

The blind side of life is the one where you no longer dare yourself to live, where the pain of the past stops you from taking another step, where you haven't lifted a middle finger to the troubles besetting you, where you pretend there is all this time ahead of you and you can stumble through your days drunk and disorderly because, well, shit ain't fair.

You keep waiting for Life to be fair. Life is not fair. Fairness, justice, equity are human concepts. The Universe is not guided by such rules. No, man, let go of the fairness thing.  Go have an adventure. It may kill you, but go play. I got you.

* * *

Boom.

__________