Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fill Up Your

Fill up your glasses
And take your stand
Tip your hat to the world

- Bob Dylan, Duncan and Jimmy

* * *

5 years, 293 posts, something like 200,000 words, 1 premature good-bye, thousands of readers and the incalculable happiness that accrued to me for keeping your good company all this time. Thank you.

For a while now I have been hesitant to add more to this body of work because I knew my time with it was coming to a close. When I was a kid my mom gave me Leon Uris' book Trinity and I inhaled that book until I got to the last 100 pages. I could not bear to read it, to have it end, to let go of such a thrilling book. So I read no more than 5 page a night in order to make it last. I have been slow to write here because I knew soon I would be letting go of this, too, and didn't want it to end, though I was certain it must.

And so, I have come to say good-by and to thank you for being here. You have added both ballast to my wanderings and made my life lighter, easier to carry and nothing I say here can repay such kindness.

* * *

Five years ago I began this project with no idea about what it might be, only that I had to get started. The ideas that informed the work evolved over time as my own thought and ability to write it out changed. The gift of long practice in writing is not the discovery of your voice, but the mastery of it. I make no claim as to any mastery, but I do know that writing for you has brought me closer to it and now I have to try it out in other ways.

I have loved doing this. Thank you for reading it. There is a balance restored when a reader finds someone's words and every word read helps that restoration.

I'll leave this blog intact and available for as long as I live and may it do some good to those who encounter it.

* * *

So, fill up your glasses, my brothers, my sisters, and take your stand. You got this. Your life is a gift forever being unwrapped by your experience, your love, your willingness to walk the road in front of you. Tip your hat to the world and say yes to it all. Even the good-byes.

My love forever.



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Beggar Man Beggar

Beggar man, beggar man
Tell me no lie
Is it a mystery to live
Or is it a mystery to die

- Bob Dylan via Rhiannon Giddens, Spanish Mary

* * *

That's the ball of wax, isn't it?

* * *

The mystery of our days are the days themselves. The mystery of our lives are the lives themselves. The mystery of our deaths is death itself. Where, oh where can a poor man lay his head in all of this? I just want to pay some bills, have a beer at the end of the day, and maybe, just maybe curl up next to a body that loves my body and rock awhile. Not too much to ask, mister. Not too much at all. Now leave me be, leave me be my show's coming on and I have 4 beers left before the night is through. I been down in the bottom with no place to go but up. I seen the lights of Paris and I seen men die from forgetfulness. Now leave me be and grab a beer if you're staying. Other than that, other than that, this is my time. My time and I like the quiet.

* * *

Listen, the best thing I know about being here is we don't know a goddamn thing. We have feints and suppositions. We surmise and we guess. We believe and then don't believe. We cobble together a way to move on, always on (even sitting still is an answer - a shitty one, but an answer nonetheless) never knowing if what we're doing matters at all. God awaits in heaven, or he doesn't. Hell is sitting there waiting for the violent, or it isn't. We pull back from questions of the afterlife and focus on the here and now and here and now and here and now we idle in passing pleasures and passing griefs. But time abides, my friends. Time abides and the flesh we've clothed ourselves in begins to fail, discombobule, rattles and rusts and then, then, and then our passions are spent or unused and we are here no more.

So, let me ask you, is it a mystery to live or is it a mystery to die?

From where I sit, the answer is yes.

This, this one moment, this right now is the mystery and it is plain and ordinary. Any moment has within it depths and layers to satisfy any interpretation of it: superficial, spiritual, material, emotional, psychological. If you see with tired eyes, then the world passes unnoticed and miracles of infinite possibility pass without being touched or considered. It always used to blow my mind that my father could see birds in the trees. He'd hear their song, look into a tangle of branched and burled twigs and limbs and leaves and find the damn thing and try to point it out to me. All I saw were leaves. He found the source of the song. Maybe it is something that grows as you get older, but now I see the birds and can pick them out from the tangle before me.

Two people in the same place at the same time having two entirely different experiences of the same thing. I don't know why he wanted to find the birds, but I know why I do it: to remember him and his good company.

This, itself, is the mystery of life and death held in birdsong.

* * *

So, let me ask you, is it a mystery to live or is it a mystery to die?

Each moment waits for you to see it.
Each moment is there for you to use.
Each moment, regardless of your circumstance, is a chance to choose how you will undergo, how you will experience, how you will enter that moment.
Each moment has more than leaves and birds in it. It is up to you see all you can.

And there is this: death sings its own songs and worrying about it now robs you of the mystery of being here right now.

And there is this: fear is death leaking into life and hiding away, hiding in hurt, hiding in anger, hiding in worry blinds you, blinds you, blinds you to the emergent mystery unfolding all around you: life, motherfucker, life is incessant and insistent and awaits your contribution. You can refuse it, if you like, but life will flow anyway and fill in the space where you could have been.

* * *

I been down in the bottom with no place to go but up. I seen the lights of Paris and I seen men die from forgetfulness, busted up because things went wrong. I seen dogs with two legs and touched Lincoln's brass nose. I been places and still have places to go. Grab a beer and if you'll sit a while I'll tell you what I know. I got lost on the river, but I didn't drown.

* * *

For you, Pops.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Sometimes It Is

Sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness

- Galway Kinnell, Saint Francis and the Sow

* * *

The object of any life is to live it, to experience it, to know what it was to be alive at such a place in such a time. It has never not been this way.  The question then becomes: what sort of experience are you having?

Too often we determine our experience by its outward makers: what class we are born into or aspire to, the color of our skin, the faith we believe in or reject, our parents' approval, the cohort we associate with, etc. All of this matters. All of it is important because it is the world we are hurled against as we try and sort out our gifts, our abilities, our opportunities and our dreams. Each circumstance is unique. Each is fraught with limits. Each is a type of school we attend. But we fuck ourselves royally when these outward limits, these external circumstances trump our innate ability to know ourselves, to act from self-knowledge and replace it with an unshakeable faith in our externals (the job we have, the money we spend, the attractiveness of our spouse, the achievements of our children, the superiority of our politics and it doesn't matter if we come at this from a position of want or affluence: it fucks us just the same). When you spend your days fulfilling roles that are not born out of your innermost knowledge you become disconnected from the one thing you were born to do: experience your life. Fully.

Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.

* * *

My experience has been a haunting of close, but no cigar. I spent my youth chasing dreams that were desires built on doubt: earthstruck lightning claps of earnest passion devoted to others' ends. There was an emphasis on being perceived as good, or somehow worthy. Many good and beautiful things came into my life and quickly exited because there was no ballast to the passion, no grounding in myself to know this was what I wanted, but only that I could reach it. Living so I was always haunted by what could have been. My mind worked great feats of emotional gymnastics to torture some logic out of my failings. Like earth-centric astronomers, I invented retrograde solutions to explain away what was plain and present: I was not I.

At its root, this is what it means to be fucked.

* * *

The privilege of a lifetime is to live it. If you live out your days wearing another man's clothes, you have missed your opportunity to know life, to be in the stream of the endlessly creative forces that combust and propel all life from the past to the present. This is your time. There is no other time to be alive. A great and kind man, Father Damien, former Abbot at the Our Lady of Gethsemani monastery in Bardstown, KY, once told me that God is forever calling us into our name. I have always loved that idea: the door is endlessly held open for you to walk through, for you to become who you are and to give what you have to give.

In order to do that sometimes it is necessary to reteach a things its loveliness.

And who will reteach you? God? Saint Francis? your beloved? your children?

No, brother, it will have to be you.

Your life is littered with chances to relearn your innate loveliness, your innate worth and desire. Littered, I say. But there is a price you must pay: you have to let go of the past, of the mistakes, the losses, the scars and stand naked before your life and say yes to it all. It is the only way you'll find the courage to live your life out loud, in your name, by the light in your head. Half measures and promises to get started on a self-improvement program won't do it. You have to let go. You have to trust yourself to know how to respond to the circumstances of your life from the center of your being. Things haven't worked out because you haven't been yourself. You have been what others wanted you to be. You have convinced yourself that's better than what you know. Enough, now. Enough. You got this.

Ever so softly it grows when you don't wear your armor
Crushing confusion and the burden sour

A life on fire with its own power is loveliness itself and whole and complete regardless of circumstance.

* * *



Sunday, October 26, 2014

Say That You

Say that you have several objects on a table. Put a frame around any portion of this situation, and what is within that frame is now to be regarded not as an assortment of separate objects but as something else: a single entity, a wholeness: integritas.

Now, when you have integritas, wholeness inside such a frame, the only thing that counts is the harmonious placement of everything, the consonantia, what Joyce calls the "rhythm of beauty," which includes the relationship of colors to each other, of masses to each other, and of the spaces in between. When the rhythm is fortunately achieved, one experiences the claritas, or radiance: one sees that the aesthetic object is itself and no other thing, and one is held in esthetic arrest.

- J. Campbell, Reflections on the Art of Living

* * *

It was sometime in the 80's. I found myself in downtown Chicago with time on my hands. It was midweek, midday. I was near Michigan Avenue and thought I'd go to the Art Institute. There was a show there - Treasures of the Vatican - or some such thing. The jewel of the show was the Belvedere Torso, a fragment of a marble sculpture from the 1st century B.C. There were several stories about its possible subject: Hercules after his labors, Ajax contemplating his suicide. It was impossible to know, but what was known was this headless, legless, armless fragment unearthed in Rome in the early 15th Century has never ceased to inspire artists and the common man alike since the day it was found.

I was common. I wanted to see.

I will always remember the gallery the Torso was displayed in. It was in a room to itself in my memory. There may have been paintings on the wall, but in my mind I don't see them. I did not come for the paintings. I wanted to see the Torso. It was a wide room, empty as I say, as I believe, as I want to believe, of anything but the 2000 year old marble. I turn a corner. I think I turned to my left, and the gallery opened before me. There was a small crowd in front of the sculpture, maybe 6 or 7 people. I know there were children there. When I stepped into the gallery the 6 or 7 people, the children!, all scattered as if on cue and flew from the room. I was alone with the broken thing. I could not believe my good fortune to be entirely alone with it. As I moved closer to it the air surrounding it shimmered and moved in waves as it does when looking down a hot, empty road. I know I continued to walk to it until I was within the 4 or 5 feet they'd cordoned off on every side. It thrummed. It was alive to me and I was stock still. For another minute or two I was alone with him, Hercules, Ajax, the sculptor Appollonios, the creation itself. There was no separation between myself and the sculpture and the air shone like diamonds. The moment others entered the gallery to view the piece it was like a switch thrown: everything snapped back to the everyday: no thrum, no diamonds, no radiance. I lingered in the gallery hoping to feel that way again, but the moment had come and gone.

* * *

Here's what I love: in the quote above, Joseph Campbell quotes James Joyce, who took his ideas from Thomas Aquinas (and Aquinas, Aristotle before him). I love this because each used what was at hand - the work of others - to transform it into the work in their hands. Nothing exists in a vacuum. It is born from what preceded it.  Joyce and Campbell are talking about "proper art," not decorative art, or the art of propaganda which they knew to be pornographic, but the art that erases boundaries, that draws you in and holds you, if only for a moment, above and outside of time so that you experience timelessness. The Belvedere Torso gave that to me, as did William Faulkner's Light in August, Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, Gjertrude Schnackenberg's Heavenly Questions, Daniel Lanois' song Fire, and on and on and on. And that is just how it went for me. You have your own list. We all do, for if we ever let our guard down shit like this just pours in and we are stilled and made to feel more alive from the experience.

But, listen, if this is so for works of art, how can it not be so for the work of the life you are living? Isn't your life born from the lives of those who came before you? Isn't it possible that each step you take is a form of creation, of willing the next thing, the new thing, the thing that has not arrived yet, into being? Isn't it true that when you are in your stride all time recedes and you are simply in the moment, fully experiencing it without filters or categories, but simply are?

We fuck ourselves when we think and believe otherwise, when we live otherwise. The unfucked life is experienced and created, not categorized and judged; it's frame of reference is itself and no other.

* * *

There are two things that really have my attention:

1) the frame of reference, and
2) the idea of harmony.

Most of what fucks us is a withering belief that we are out of step, unwelcome at the table, unskilled in the ways of business, romance, just putting one fucking foot in front of the goddamned other. We are always wrong to the light, never catching a break. And, I promise you, we have all felt some stripe of all that. The mistake we make is in using the definitions others have devised as to what constitutes a worthy life. We use a frame of reference (the scope and scale of what is possible) that is not of us, but of the long agreed upon expectations of the society we are born into. Inside such a frame our life looks ill-fitting, unbalanced, the proportions are wrong. We suck. We suck because we never ask the question about using a different framing device, a different understanding of life.

If you were to lay your losses on a table and frame them as you now feel judged, it looks fairly shitty. A few splashes here and there where it started to come together, but mostly it is a mess. Re-frame it according to your internal compass. It looks different, no? Maybe it even begins to make sense. Now, is this wishful thinking, just blotting out the bits you don't like? Not at all. Remember Campbell's first condition of proper art: wholeness/integritas. You have to use all of it, not just some of it. And this gets to the second idea of harmony.

By harmony neither Campbell nor Joyce nor I mean anything rigidly, categorically beautiful or sweet, but rather an accounting of the whole seen so that light and dark have their place and in fact relate to and reciprocate a continuity that could not exist if what was desired was merely aggressively pretty or fine or fair or just. Harmony, consonantia, is the condition of wholeness that is not static, but is, instead in motion to an internal rhythm that needs no justification, but simply is. This would include your pain, your despair, your bright promise, your redemption and your grace.

* * *

Michaelangleo knew the Torso and copied it into several figures on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. He was asked by the Pope to repair it, to give it a head, arms and legs. He refused. He preferred it as it was: beautiful.

I want you to look at the Torso and if you ever get the chance, you should be in its good company, but until then, look at it: broken, forgotten for 1400 years, and yet it lives, it inspires, it makes the air around it to vibrate and shimmer. Its beauty comes from its brokenness.

Just like the rest of us.

* * *



Sunday, October 19, 2014

It Will Actually

It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars - compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff's necessarily true. The only thing that's capital "T" True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.

- David Foster Wallace, "This is Water"

* * *

Several months ago, a reader reached out to me to tell me she was going to have something I wrote tattooed onto her body. As a man with no tattoos and as someone who never considered the possibility that anything I wrote could be tattoo-able, this news knocked me off my pins. It was terrifyingly humbling and all I could think to say was, "Make sure the tattoo artist knows how to spell." It was the most useful thing I could think of to say. I mention this because I have been thinking of inking someone else's words onto my right forearm: This is water. It will remind me, because I often need reminding, that I don't know a goddamned thing.

* * *

The deepest truth is that we don't know anything. We want to make things knowable. We want the life spread before to make sense - not only in the immediate, day in and day out sort of making sense (the work we devote our time to, the people we devote our love to, how dinner is going to be paid for and made), but also in the colossal, impossibly huge sense of our place in the cosmos, the hand of God, if there is a God, gods, deities, djinns, or the mindlessness of biology writ as all we are or can be. We want to know, so we take it in bites, portions we can manage and over time - the length of a life, the length of generations, skipping back to an eon - we have mistaken these bite-sized portions for the mystery they were once part of and so reduced ourselves to certitude, knowability, and the ugly smugness of having an answer.

Into this we fucked fuckers are cast, the dross to be burned off because what is knowable is useless to us. It doesn't work for us and we assume, incorrectly, that the fault is ours. We medicate our unease out of existence. We take on the yoke of others' expectations as to what can and cannot be done with a life, our life. Eventually we settle like dust into the corners of our existence. We do this because we make the mistake of believing what we know is all there is to know. If your life has brought you betrayal or abuse of any kind, that is the filter you view the world from and the world tends to conform to your sight. If your life has been one of frustrated ambition, false starts and the gnawing sense that you are not ever going to find your footing, then so it is. And so on regardless of the experience you have encountered. This is an internal caste system of which there is no escape because you have made the mistake of presuming your experience is the only experience available and that even acknowledging the possibility of other people having other experiences does not move you to see that you, too, could live otherwise. No, your default setting is a type of narcissism that fucks you up: this is all there is.

This is the hell of living. This is the wasteland. This is our default setting because we experience our life as disconnected from the multiplicity that surrounds, supports, connects and ignites every form in every world.

* * *

The groundfloor of our existence is not suffering, nor life, nor death, but is, instead, a mystery unsayable, but entirely possible to enter and experience for it swims above your bed, on the street, in the darkest possible wood, in the gift of your lover's body, the meal you make, the child you raise, the love you give to your time, your place. It is here, now, and always has been. It is our self-importance, our arrogance at presuming to count the number angels on the head of pin, at extracting the last of fossil fuels, at assuming every one else is the asshole that blinds us to the possibility that our lives are greater than our imaginations currently allow, that we ebb and flow into and out of gradations of understanding just as we ebb and flow into and out of existence.

No feeling is final.

Your certitude is what is fucking you.

The world is not organized for your convenience. Every hardship, every pain is still life presenting you with the opportunity to choose how you will respond to the circumstances of your life. By withdrawing, by casting about for blame, by internalizing your victimhood, you cut off other possibilities. The world is reduced to the knowable, the bite-sized, the narrow, the small, the fearborn, the lifeless. This is what fucks you.

Listen, life is more than your misery, loss, unhappiness, joy, contentment or ease. It is present, pregnant, pulsing with variations on the theme. This is water, love. This is our milleu. It is larger than all of us, but needs each of us to be awake to something other than ourselves.

You get to choose. So do so. Refusing it wastes the one thing that is certain: being alive right now.

* * *

This is water.
This is water.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

In Reality Everybody

"In reality, everybody can't make it. If a guy makes a million dollars, he can do so only because another thousand people are making $3,000 a year."

- Scott Farwell, quoted in Studs Terkel's Hard Times

* * *

It has been troubling me for some time. I root and rumble through these ideas trying to grab hold of something that I can show you, give to you to play with, to consider. I've been doing this long enough now to know when there are changes coming, when there is a shift in the ideas and in the writing that I could never have planned for. It begins when something troubles me for some time.

During my stint at Columbia College Chicago getting my futile MFA in in fiction writing and then in the not futile years I taught there, an idea took root that I swear by to this day: throw away your ideas and see which ones are strong enough to come back and insist on being heard. It is a tonic to hubris and believing one's shit does not stink. It is the easiest of tasks to write lists of ideas to be turned into projects. It is just as easy to begin those projects. It is entirely different to complete them. Here's part of the reason why: we never tested the idea, risked losing the happiness/challenge the first blush afforded us and as that first rush faded there was nothing underneath to sustain the effort.

Or so it has been with me.

So, something has been troubling me for some time and is making its way into the conversation, in fact has been hovering over it, occasionally flashing in and out of the work, but now wants a place at the table. It is this: if one is to unfuck one's life then by needs be one must talk about money and the hold it has on this conversation.

Except, this isn't a polemic for or against any economic system, but rather is a polemic in favor of what each of us needs to live unfucked: authority, autonomy and cooperation.

* * *

It is a lie told so often it is gospel: anyone can make it in America. Hard work is rewarded. Upward mobility is routine. Self-fulfillment is found in the market. Build a better mouse trap and the world's your oyster. Fuck, does anyone really believe that anymore? It is a pernicious myth that enslaves us to a lifetime of debt, of enriching others through our labor, of believing the crumbs cast off from the table are a just reward. Listen, capital accrues to those with capital through the theft of labor. Money is not made off of goods, but the labor to craft and deliver those goods.

And, you know, whatever. The machinations of the monied are their own business, but what I do care about is how their operating story (opportunity! hard work!, mortgages! credit scores!) permeates everything we say and do. Take a minute and listen to the incessant drone of commercials, the endless marketing of things no one needs. Listen to the language. Listen to how stupid you are presumed to be. Listen to the easy stereotypes, the maddening jingles, the sense of unease and want you experience. Listen to that story and then listen to your story. Is there any place they overlap? Is there anything in you, deep down in the heart of it all, that finds its expression in the story being told over and over to you? Buy this. Be that. Do this. Vote this way. Protest the vote. Donate to the cause. All of it moves out from the same premise: the best way to organize human life is via the marketplace, albeit a marketplace that is rigged to privatize reward and socialize risk.

If you're fucked, how much of it has to do with the work you do, the money you earn, how you treat the money you earn, the dreams you exchanged for the money you earn, the debt you service and the lifestyle you've grown accustomed to or aspire to having? How many zeroes at the end of your check do you need to be happy?

I'm not hating on money, or earning it or wanting more of it. I am hating on how this is presumed to be the best measure of a life.

* * *

At the start of the recession I lost my marriage, my home, my savings and my job all within six months. Every identity was stripped from me. I was reduced to one modifier: failure. And it was true. I'd failed in every way a man is judged. Go and read Hard Times and you'll find that story repeated a thousand different ways. But what saves a man is to take a step, and then another, and another. It is always the same step and you have to take it. Having been flayed bare I started from zero and wanted to see what I could yet make of my life.

What is it about money that controls us? I do not believe it is mere acquisition or the ugly habit of Veblen's conspicuous consumption. No, this goes back further. In the west the story begins with the fall of Eden and the collective punishment of labor. We have been held by these stories because there has always been someone who benefited from them: priests, rulers, bankers, burghers. If you want to get to heaven/own a business/rule and judge others, then work, work, work. We have never escaped the idea of castes and of trying to escape them and so have internalized this poison until we can sing its praises.

The drollest commentary is this: Arbeit macht frei. The full horror of which was not lost on its creators.

* * *

No, we fuck ourselves when we cede the authority over our lives to others who have no scruples about meeting their outsized need to control and manipulate in the name of wealth/power. We fuck ourselves when the autonomy we are fucking born with is traded for debt and a bigger house we cannot afford. We fuck ourselves when we cease cooperating with one another and make it everyman for himself: a hellhole of Darwinian economics.

Listen, bubbe, you want to unfuck your life? Unfuck the way you measure it. Your bank account is the least important thing about you. We all need dough to live. No doubt, no doubt, no doubt. But we sure as hell don't have to participate in the shitshow that keeps us indentured to systems that steal not only our labor and years, but our very sense of self in the process. Do not die a mere plaything of chance. Instead, die a free man or woman who devoted their labor to a cause greater than themselves, who, through the sustaining power of that commitment, used their wit and soul to author their own life and so be a wellspring of fearlessness for those who encountered them.

* * *

Go. Let no man choose for you.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

We're All Broke

We're all broke down
We're all well hid
We're all just kids
Despite our age

- Nathaniel Rateliff, Nothing to Show For

* * *

Here's the thing: what breaks us is the sense of disconnect, the distance between what we want/expect and what is. This disconnect can be born out of hubris and entitlement and those poor fucks are easy to spot and it is tough to work up the spit to feel overly sympathetic to their plight. Though plight it is. No, man, that's how it goes for the obvious shit, but what breaks the rest of us isn't hubris or ego or vanity or the silver spoon in our mouth. What breaks us is the nagging sense it didn't have to be this way, that we never really felt welcome at the table, the haunting sense we are out of sync with our lives. From here it appears the rest of the world knows its way and is content in their goings. We struggle. We rage. We collapse. We struggle again and in our struggle we wonder, as Jesus must have after each raising of the dead, how many more fucking times can I do this?

You do it as many times as you need to, love. If your way is the way of struggle to find your footing, then you keep at because those closest to you need you despite your withering sense of disconnect. You are not alone in feeling outside the swim of things. You are not alone. And here's the proof: you are reading this.

* * *

No one runs cradle to grave without trial and loss and grief and worry and disconnect and betrayal and anger. And no one runs from cradle to grave without wonder and peace and happiness and love  and connection and laughter. No one. It isn't a balancing act. Some lives tilt more one way or the other. Some barely have a sliver of a taste of either, but don't be fooled into thinking someone else has it better than you. They don't. They don't have it worse, either. What they have, what you have is the single life you and they have to live. There is no one else who can live it for you. If the universe is to find its fullest expression, then you have something to give, to contribute. Pulling back from what you may yet be leaves a hole where your life could have been.

We are all broke down. We are all well hid. We venture this far and no further. We fail to tell our beloved we love them for fear they won't understand or reject us. We fail to venture any risk except the foolhardy ones and replace courage with the hollowness of bravado. We root and grub for our bread when we could have looked up and found the world teeming with possibility. Why? Why the fuck does this happen over and over again?

Because fear, our fears, have us by the short hairs.

Here's the news: fear is always about something external to us that we then internalize: the judgment of others, of God, the acceptance or rejection of our gifts, the measure of our cocks and bank accounts. And it is all bullshit.

What is outside of us is beyond our ability to control. What we can control, and often fail to do, is how we respond to our circumstances. By locating our wellness in others we make ourselves sick. By absorbing the judgements of the market, of the church, of the governments we happen to live under, we become lost. This is the disconnect that eats away at us. This is the sense that we are out of step. This is why our struggle seems endless.

As long as you accept those conditions then the brokenness cannot heal.

* * *

Last night a young woman I know tried to kill herself. Her sense of disconnect was so complete nothing stood between her and her oblivion. She did not succeed. She will be starting again from less than zero with very little belief that it will be worth the effort. Maybe she will be scared straight. Maybe she will try again. Maybe she will limp through her life always wounded. Maybe, maybe, maybe. What is known is her pain was so great she needed to gouge it's eyes out. What is unknown is what her response will be to the life she is now living.

There is this: you are not alone. You belong here, to us, to this time and we belong to you. We may be mis-shapen hulks, but we are yours and that is the best of all things, the sense of belonging, of a place being saved for you at the table without judgment, just gladness that you are here. It is not our brokenness that matters, but the truth we're all just kids despite our age and every kid wants to belong, to be welcomed, to be part of a family. If your family is scattered, non-existent, then realize there are other families for you, including this one.

You are always welcome here.

I'll leave a light on.

* * *



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

To Overcome An

To overcome an obstacle or an enemy
To dominate the impossible in your life

- P. Simon, The Rhythm of the Saints

* * *

It is one of those statements that is both tedious and imbued with a depth of mystery so as to blow your head apart: where you stumble, there lies your treasure. Said another way: the obstacle is the way. It is tedious because it smacks of new age bullshit magical thinking. It has the odor of smug superiority on it, like it brushed up against a dead skunk. It is mysterious because if you can get past how ill-used this idea is, if you can overcome the odious nature of others who can name their obstacle, their god, their fall and move out beyond their reckoning of your circumstances and enter this idea as a pilgrim, man, what you'll find is something all the gurus and naysayers and doubters and believers and every fucking tomdickandharry dream of: a place past fear.

* * *

Fear is the reason for religion. Fear is the reason for economics. Fear is the reason for marriage and divorce and children and work and weekends off and new cars and foreclosures and politics, fucking politics, and the drive to keep up with and then bury the Joneses. We are fear born creatures. The world will kill you and our fight or flight response has allowed the species to survive to the point where we are so clever we are about to collapse our environment and thus bring to an end our cleverness. If you are a climate change denier, you are filled with fear. It is the opposite of my fear (that we'll never change), but it is fear nonetheless.

We are so puny, so incredibly puny in the vastness of space. Our first attempts at understanding our place, the order of nature, placed fear in the center of things: the cave bear altars are unknowable mysteries of trying to know the vicissitudes of life as they lived it: violent, hard, yet awash in the mystery of the unknown. As we aged we took on greater knowledge and our knowledge made us afraid. The motion of the stars only isolated us. Gods arose and fell to explain how we really are central to the heavens. In time new gods of money and acquisition took hold and all do the same thing: they paper over our fear that we are useless mites on a pebble in the infinitude of the cosmos.

Now think about you. Think about your circumstance, the thing that has fucked you. Is it not a fear you cannot face, or having faced it have no answer to it? Isn't the thing you have tried to avoid the very thing that has stayed with you throughout?

This is either tedious or revelatory.

* * *

When you live in fear there is a wall between you and life. What you experience is an approximation of life, a filtered thing, a dimmed thing because to remove that wall would be to experience your life directly. And that would mean dealing with the fear that has driven you. It would mean having to find something other than fear to propel your days. Make no mistake, we love our fear. It justifies us, makes excuses and there are scores and scores of stories we have invented to massage the fear into compliance (religion, politics, economics, etc.). But to overcome the obstacle, the enemy that has you on the run you have to let go of those stories, of all expectations, and sit with the impossible, sit with the fear, sit with the enemy until all such categories dissolve.

It isn't a ten step process. It can't be read in a book, or here, or told to you at all. It happens when you're ready to be done with being a fear born creature and instead choose to live out your days beyond others' categories. This is how the impossible is dominated.

* * *

A while ago I wrote about beyuls, sacred hidden places where the physical and the spiritual overlap. The story goes that they can only be found by adepts, pilgrims of great merit who have suffered long. When they find such a place, well...

What I am trying to tell you is this: the world itself is a beyul. The revelation is not outside of you, but solely in your eyes. The obstacle to be overcome isn't exterior to you, but is in how you see the world your life, all life. If gains are to be extracted like so such crude oil, then your life will live out as the oil is lived out: a slow process of depletion. If life is engaged, open-ended and without the certain comfort of others' religions, then your life will be lived out in a such a way that will blow apart all doctrines and instead become an unsayble, but fully knowable mystery.

You are the beyul, baby and your fears are your pilgrimage.

* * *



Sunday, September 21, 2014

And The Sky

And the sky was a woman's arms.

- The Handsome Family, Giant of Illinois

* * *

The beauty we can name is of the fine, delicate sort - easily recognized as such - that brings a measure of order and solace out of the surrounding din of chaos. The chaos that seemingly has a stronger hand to play than we ever will. We hang pictures and listen to music and plant flowers and write poems and stories and take photographs of the monuments we happen upon in our travels. We hold onto trinkets made by our children's willing, unskilled hands and imbue those clay figures and painted boxes with an innocence we ache for once we recognize it is gone. We do this because it grounds us, tells us our name, describes the place we live and is a bulwark against the uneasy slippage of time.

I am not religious, yet I wear around my neck a cross that was garbage picked for me by an old family friend and on the same chain I wear a St. Joseph's medal I acquired for myself to remind myself (as if I needed reminding) that being a father saved my life. Each is a symbol, a metaphor, that is both beautiful and recognizable. But what of the more difficult beauty, the beauty that cannot be defined, the beauty that cannot be fully described or understood? What of the beauty of open ends, broken pieces, scattered light?

And the sky was a woman's arms.

* * *

We stamp meaning into our lives because without it the weight of our puniness would drive us insane. Religion, philosophy, art, music, literature, our children, our beloved, our work - all can serve as the well-spring of meaning for our days.  Again, this is how we have survived since the cave paintings in Chauvet, and with man's first attempts to order his world through symbol and effort the idea of the individual is born. The ego we drag around can be traced back to those first artists. But for a while now that ego has been sick, twisted into a knot of anxiety, helplessness, broken-ness, fuckedness. We know more that any generation of humans, yet we are less at home in our skins, prone to retrograde violence and violence of thought. We narrow. We conform. We hide and pretend that all this suits us just fine. If you are fucked, it is clear it does not suit you at all.

We need metaphors that are not neat, clean and knowable. We have walked those paths for thousands of years. They are tired, played out. They lock us into patterns of thought and action that have the weight of history behind them, making them inert, dead, concretized.

To find a path out you have to think in metaphors that are not knowable, perfectly, recognizably knowable, but have in them the ineffable, the unsayable: the mystery of your consciousness spun with the larger mystery of all life.

And the sky was a woman's arms.

Those who would proscribe, who would say, "Thus is thus and no other," are lying sacks of shit. All fundamentalism (religious, political, cultural) is retrograde, backward, fearful. It cannot bear the thought of either our isolation, or our interconnectedness. But you know who can bear it? You and all us fucked fuckers. In our broken-ness we have seen the falsity of the inert, lifeless patterns laid out before us as the way and the truth. We have been broken against those patterns because we don't fit them. Either temperament or circumstance forced upon us the sense that there was something other than this to life, to our lives. The metaphors and symbols handed to us don't belong to us and we suffer for great swaths of time because we feel the fault is in us.

But that is not so. That suffering is a call to re-imagine the stories we tell, the art we make, the science we describe. The neat, tidy mythologies of the past were once feral, unkempt, wild attempts to understand our puny place in the cosmos. They don't work nearly so well anymore. We need to rebuild, recombine, re-purpose those ideas to create new possibilities for ourselves. And letting things be unknowable, letting a bit of uncertainty in, letting things be beautiful in their broken-ness, their incompleteness seems like a place to start.

* * *

And the sky was a woman's arms.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

My Hands Shall

My hands shall not tremble
My feet shall not falter
The voyage shall not weary
The fear shall not alter

- Robert Plant, Rainbow

* * *

What can I say to you, my best beloved, that you need to hear? What story can I tell that will help you to set down your burden and find some ease, some peace, some measure of the happiness each of us craves? I can point you in any direction and find a story that echoes the hope you and I still believe in: the riddle answered, the path made clear. But it will be echo only, the reverberating voices of the ones who have come this way before us. They call out their trials and triumphs in song and poetry and legend and story and art and the work they put themselves to while there was time for them to do so.

They make us less alone, help us to be brave enough to carry on.

You know this is true. Stories are talismans, touchstones we rely on to find in the doings and deeds of others the line that connects us to them and so emboldens us to bear what must be borne and be able to dance as if it were no burden.

I litter this place with stories hoping you will find one that rhymes with something inside you. Sometimes these stories are deeply personal to me, other times I see in them a beauty I have not known before, still other stories arrive without volition and insist upon being heard. If there is one story that moves through them all, that has a part to play in each is the story of the road, of the hard road, the journey and the voyage out, away from what is known into realms unknown and unimagined before being set out on the road.

Joyce called it the monomyth.
Campbell called it The Hero's Journey.
I just call it the road.

If your life is be unfucked, you have to hit the road - your road. If you find yourself on a path already marked, that is not your road. The stories that come back to us are not maps to follow, but exhortations to get started on our own. The only value a story has is in telling you others have ventured it, not in giving you step by step instructions.

* * *

Here is what I know: you are already on the road. The length of your life is the length of your road. You can dismiss the idea out of hand, but it doesn't alter the fact that from your birth-cry to your death rattle you are on the road to find out what it is like to be you in this time and place. A fucked life is still a life on the road. It is just stuck, run out of gas, stalled. But the road does not retreat under your feet, but waits instead for you to use it. Make no mistake, you can stall and dither and remain stuck your entire life and never find out how much road you could have taken on. This is so. This is so. This is so. But there is also this truth: if you breathe then you can take on more road at any time. This isn't one of those ideas that belongs solely to the young, but belongs to any one who draws breath and wants to see what happens next.

I an 54. I've have been on the road a while. I have seen great chunks of the world, had the world pour gifts out over my head like falling rain, and I have been lost in a dark wood wandering, fucked and stuck and going nowhere. In the monomyth you are called out of your contentment, your known and prescribed community and put into unfamiliar circumstances. The call is often made by dark forces, malevolence, fright. On the road you are aided by guides and spirits you would not have believed existed before encountering them and after a series of trials you achieve the goal, acquire the boon, the chalice, the grail, the knowledge and must return home, out of this otherworldly realm, and bring the gift back to those who need it most: the ones you said good-bye to. A few weeks ago, I realized I could go home. The particular trials and challenges that shoved me out onto the road had offered up their gifts to me after 7 years. A new set awaits me - getting home, but the thing that always knifed me was the sense that old men don't get to go home, that this adventure was better held 30 years ago, that all of this talk about journeys and guides and the seemingly dark nature of the initial call out of the confines of your once ordinary life belonged to others and not me for I had waited too long to get started.

Well, that's bullshit. You hit the road or recognize you are on it when you are ready to see it. There is no timetable to waking up. It is always nigh. I was 47 when the shit was kicked out of me. I'd had the shit kicked out of me previously, but I didn't see it for what it was - a chance to wake up - and I slid by it hoping I could avoid ever dealing with it. That sort of thing never goes away and at some point you have to thrash it out. I waited and part of the trick bag I put myself in was: yeah, I see it now, but it's too late. I'm too old. Again, bullshit. That was one of the last lessons I had to learn. It is always being nigh, my love. Always nigh.

The last shall be first and the first shall be last because we worked harder for it and "it" being whatever it was that called you out and into your life. And even though others may have had the grace to manage all this sooner, even though the pain may have been crazy-making, wisdom doesn't come to those who never struggle, but to those who overcome, who understand the obstacle is the way they must go, who dance in front of their sorrows.

* * *

One last thing: that dark call, the malevolent spirit, the demon that set you out alone - unsteady, uncertain and afraid - was no demon, but metaphorically, an angel come to save your life. Even if, especially if they had no such sense of themselves and harm was all they wished to bring. I can tell  you that all day long and it won't matter until you see it for yourself.

We each have work to do and a road to travel. This is part of that work for me and I am glad for it.

* * *

And I will sing my song for you
And I will carry on.

* * *



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Thunder On The

Thunder on the mountain rolling to the ground
Gonna get up in the morning walk the hard road down
Some sweet day I'll stand beside my king
I wouldn't betray your love or any other thing 

Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches
I'll recruit my army from the orphanages
I been to St. Herman's church and I've said my religious vows
I've sucked the milk out of a thousand cows 

- B. Dylan, Thunder On The Mountain

* * *

There are hidden places in the world, sacred places where the boundaries between the physical and spiritual worlds blur, overlap, erasing distinctions between them. In Tibetan Buddhism these last hidden places are called beyul. If you have heard the story of Shangri-la, of paradise hiding behind a waterfall, this has its birth as the Beyul Pemako. The only ones who are said to be able to discover these hidden lands are pilgrims of merit who have suffered great hardship on the road to find out. Only then is it possible for the inner and outer worlds to become one and the same. But there is no promise made.

If you are called to adventure, then perhaps a road that passes through Tibet is in order. But in truth, as Proust said, "The real journey of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."

Beyul surround you. No lie.

* * *

The purpose of life is to experience it. There is no other purpose. You are to experience what it is like to be you in this time and place. What you make of that experience, what meaning you then bring to that experience is entirely up to you. It is out of our experience that we create meaning. The tasks set before us become an endless stream of possibility for us to hone the edge of our intellect, our desire, our empathy, our compassion. How we respond to the facts of our lives, in fact, becomes our life. These responses, repeated and revised, become our way of moving in the world. At some point along the way, along the hard road down, we begin to discipline ourselves as a way of coping with the risks and challenges before us. We narrow some of the focus to become adept at things: earning money, playing guitar, raising children, performing surgery, dancing, cooking, teaching, etc. If the thing we become adept at is not truly an expression of our Self, then we find frustration, anger, disappointment along the way. Everything seems harder than it should be.

Disciplining ourselves to master a skill, to master a way of being in the world is useless if it is not a direct outgrowth of our innate ability. This is why we fall into ruts of unhappiness in our relationships, our work, and why we feel so unwelcome in the world. However; disciplining ourselves, submitting to the necessary apprenticeship of any skill or action that is a manifestation of our Self brings, in time, its own reward. For when you master your gift, you have mastered yourself and you know who you are and are at peace with the road you traveled.

But the beyuls....

Imagine you are on a pilgrimage. Imagine you are on a pilgrimage to a specific location. Imagine that while on this pilgrimage you have been robbed and beaten and the road is wholly lost. You need to find your way back to the road, to the destination you set out for. You believe you once knew the way. You believe you once knew how to get there, but you are no longer certain. You can't go forward and you can't go back, yet you continue to move. You think of laying in the dirt and simply expiring. But you take a step, and then another. It is always the same step, but you take it. You begin to lose things: your watch, your canteen, your compass. What keeps you moving is the idea of this place you were to go to, this sacred place where you would finally understand your life. It is no longer a place on the map because you cannot remember its name, but it is an idea that holds you together long enough to take another step. Before your pilgrimage you were a cobbler, an embalmer, a cook, a soldier, a shop keeper, a priest, a wife, a son and you remember how good it felt to be that, for others to know you as that and you hate the pilgrimage that has taken you away from that, from the certainty you once knew. You learn to read the sky and know when difficult weather is coming in. You learn which berries are safe to eat. You learn to catch fish with your hands. There is no longer a destination, only the pilgrimage: the camino, the road, the hard road down. Nothing of what you were before remains. One day you enter a small town. It looks like every other town you have passed through. There are signs above doorways that tell you what each shop offers: a pliers and tooth for the dentist, an astrolabe for the fortune-teller, a pig above the butcher's door, and so on. You have seen all of this before, in some form or another, and you make your way through the streets looking for the place you always look for: the temple. In other towns you have sat beneath crosses and crescent moons, stars and trees, and asked the priest or priestess how to get to this sacred place you once heard of, and had they heard of it, too. But you circle the town once, twice, three times, a hundred times and there is no temple. You are tired and enter the doorway with a bathtub over it to soak away the grime from the road. Water is drawn. You are left with some soap and a towel. You ease into the hot water and can see the filth rise off your body and float to the surface of the water. When you towel yourself off there is a mirror in front of you. You hardly recognize yourself. You are leaner, stronger than before. You can trace the scars of your journey from the first beating up until the scratches you took on that very morning coming through dense brush. Your life is traced on your body. All of your desire, all of your love, all of your longing and will is carved into you - with no difference between the scar and the thought that brought you on this journey. It is there, standing naked in a dim bathhouse, as ordinary as any other, you smile and finally understand.

* * *

I don't know your road, love. All I do know is you have to walk it. I don't know what trials you have already passed through, or what lies ahead, but I do know you are the only one who can experience them. I don't know what you'll make of your experience, if anything, but I do know you are the only one who can and what you do or don't do will have an effect on those you know, those you love, those you have yet to forgive.

The hidden place is you. You carry it with you. You don't know this. You still think it is in Tibet. It may be, but only if you make it so. The purpose of your life is to experience it and out of that experience respond to it. Your response may have to take you to the Himalayas. It may take you one town over, or just to the kitchen. It really doesn't matter. Any place will do, for every place is ready for you.

And one more thing: the pilgrimage doesn't end here. You have to get home and tell the stories. Most won't listen, but a few will, and so they begin.

* * *



Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Find A Thing

Find a thing that you love
Find a thing you understand

- Vance Joy, "My Kind of Man"

* * *

Everything changes all the time. We pretend this isn't true. We hide the fact of it from our consciousness so we can hold onto what ever is dear and meaningful to us. The slow slippage of age is hardly noticed until at some point there is a disruption in the slow decay and a parent or grandparent dies and we look through old photographs and marvel that they were ever young. Everything changes all the time in all places and we hold it at bay because we love this one moment so well, or in the obverse believe our pain is somehow permanent, a fixture, immutable. If we are lucky we see through our defenses. We see through the illusion of stasis and find rest in motion, our bodies in motion while they can still move.

How is such a thing possible? How can a body in motion ever find rest? Newton's First Law of Motion suggests otherwise.

You find a thing that you love. You find a thing you understand and live there, letting that love and understanding accompany you wherever you go, through all the changes that will course over you.

* * *

We each believe we are unique, an ultimate expression of life when in fact we are simply the current iteration of life. Our uniqueness is in recognizing that and still finding meaning and purpose in the life in our hands. For some it is too much to bear and they retreat to comfortable stories about the afterlife, about an anthropomorphic God and leave the wonderment of being alive behind for the certitude of death.  Others find in the infinitude of space the same emptiness they drag beside themselves - proof of their fear and anger that it is so. But, there are others still who find a thing they love and carry it with them, inside of them, throughout their travels. It is neither a promise of heavenly delight, nor the blackness of the abyss, but instead is the animating spark of their humanity. It makes them kinder, more patient, more understanding. It allows them to be brave, courageous, willing to sacrifice. What you love is different than what I love, and even if it were the same we would go about it differently. But all that matters is that you find it and live according to the demands it places on you to be kinder and gentler than you might otherwise be.  To find the thing you understand is to find the boat that will carry you across your time. What waits on the further shore is all conjecture. What matters, my love, is how you use your time getting there.

Find a thing that you love.
Find a thing you understand.

It doesn't have to be grand. In fact, I'd argue that grandeur is a sign you've fallen off the rails. No, the thing you love is scaled to your size, your life, your dreams. If you dream of feeding the hungry, then feed one man and your dream is fulfilled. If you want to house the homeless and you raise one roof, you have lived out the fullness of that desire. If the thing you understand is the unspeakable depths of the love you have for your children and you teach them by your example how to be kind, willing to love, then all is well, my friend. All is well. I think we dream outsized dreams so we never have to fulfill them, their distance is so great, the cause so noble and we can be contented that we meant well. But isn't loving your child, your beloved, your partner, your spouse as you two share part of the road together a miracle? It is humanity's one greatness: the ability to love. Find that. Live there. It is sweetness itself - not treacly sentiment - but sweetness as of cut grass and the smell of rain and the taste of your lover's skin.

* * *

Everything changes all the time. Through the love you find along your way you, too, will be changed. Fear becomes meaningless when you understand that we are here to love the best we can, to keep each other company - on a human scale: the scale of one loving another, the scale of one life alive to itself and doing the best you can with what that means to you.

How we express it is different for each of us, but the same truth holds for us all:

Find a thing that you love.
Find a thing you understand.

This is how you become a body at rest while in motion. Newton had this part wrong.

* * *



Thursday, August 28, 2014

Come With Me

Come with me to the forgotten lake
Where covered wagons and the wings of missing planes
Float between black fish underneath the velvet waves

Strange lights fly across the rocky beach
Girls in white nightgowns wander barefoot in their sleep
And the vapors of dreams winding circles 'round their feet

Down, down
Float them down
Let the waters float them down
To where they'll remember everything

- The Handsome Family, Forgotten Lake

* * *

Roberto Mangabeira Unger tells me we are mummies, bound by ever tightening roles as we age, where no freedom of movement is possible because the pressures brought to bear by institutions and societal expectations freeze us in time, embalm us to our supposed character. Here, character is defined as the habits that remain after a lifetime of fulfilling the expectations of others - both individuals and the society we happen to be in.

He is not wrong.

We do this because the dominant way of thinking and acting over the past 200 years (though born 2000 years ago with Near Eastern monotheisms) is based on a religious premise that we can ascend to a more perfect life after death and that life, the one we have in our hands, points in one direction and has a specific destination. Whether you are a believer or not, this mode of thought dominates the times we live in and is expressed profanely in commerce and baths the wars we wage in religious light.

And what does this have to do with you, bubbe?


* * *

The pain we feel, as individuals, is the distance between expectation and reality. We expect to outlive our children; we expect our parents to protect and understand us; we expect the love we feel to be returned to us in kind; we expect our work to be fruitful; we expect fairness, equity, justice, but nowhere is it found. Instead we are taught the horrific lesson that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, or worse, that God does not give us anything we cannot handle. Really? Has anyone asked the thousands dead and dying from Ebola, AIDS, H1N1? The families destroyed in the Great Recession? To imagine that God doles out misery is to believe in a miserable God and is one of the ways your mummy wrappings tighten and tighten and tighten.


1 Corinthians 13: 11
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

It is time to be done with childish things. Like the fairy tale that God is a spiteful fuck. We think that because we are spiteful fucks. We seek reasons and order and justification for the suffering our jelly bag bodies are prone to and so we have created God in our image: alone and afraid. This is the heartroot deep of the McWorld we live in. Old Testament wrath colors what we can even imagine about how to live.

But like I said, enough.

There are other ways of being. And this isn't just a New Age bullshit flip to some deeper Eastern mysticism. That's as much crap as anything else. It just another system. We don't need another system, another institution, another doctrine with adherents and followers and believers and executioners. We need freedom. Spiritual freedom: the vapors of dreams winding circles 'round our feet.

Listen, you know who you are. If you're fucked it is because you've been forgetting. Who you are is simple, direct and unfathomable: you are alive. There is no further destination. You are the destination. Your circumstances are the results of hundreds of years of people before you choosing to organize their lives according to this precept that life is to be perfected on a further shore. I will argue that is wrong on its face. What if life, your life, right now, was perfected simply because you breathe? Or, to refine it a bit, your life was perfected because you chose to pay more attention to the dreams that animate you and not the demands of institutions you find yourself living in.

No individual can succeed alone. The institutions and societal impulses are a reflection of the people who participate in them. If you can remember yourself, if you can see the strange lights fly, if you can remember everything about yourself and act from that well of knowledge then you will be the revolution itself. This is a spiritual revolution and if it only reaches as far as your front door, then that will be enough. You and I will not live long enough to see our society changed, but we can see the society of our family, our friends changed by our willingness to act as we are: creatures perfected by the life we live. Doing so we are bound not by forced expectation, but by love, charity, patience and courage.

* * *

Human life is no better than any other form of life. Part of the fairy tale is that we are to have dominion over the world. But that, too, is a toxic premise. All life is equally life. William Blake tells me for everything that lives is holy. He is not wrong. Here is why: we die. We perish. We pass away. The time to live is now. The comfort that can be offered is now, the passion lived is now, the joy, the regret, the suffering, the forgiveness, the birthcry of life at its term is now. 

You know this already.

You've just been forgetting.

It is time to remember everything.

* * *



Sunday, August 24, 2014

When The Lights

When the lights they go out
We congregate
The storm will come
And we shall congregate
The ground, ground will shake
And we shall congregate

And I will help you
'Cause you will help me through
This trouble at the the gates of this heart

- Rocco Deluca, Congregate

* * *

The ground, ground will shake, my best beloved and we will need to walk this road together: in good company, at poor peace, doing the best we can with the materials at hand. Lights go out, storms roll in and we are to weather it - not because of some holy doctrine, or a misplaced sense of suffering and martyrdom - but because experiencing our lives as they unfold is all we have. If there is difficulty, darkness, sorrow, regret then each of those things is to be experienced as well. We fuck ourselves when we hold on to them and wall off experiencing other things, emerging things, this one unfolding moment we have to breathe, to be brave enough to breathe and journey on.

And I will help you, 'cause you will help me through this trouble at the gates of this heart.

* * *

I sometimes doubt my ability to tell you what I know and if I could, would it be able to reach you as I hope it will. I stumble over the distance between experience and knowledge, between experiencing something and trying to tell you any of it so that you might understand exactly what it means. James Agee wrote:

The light in this room is of a lamp. Its flame in the glass is of the dry, famished delicateness of the latest lateness of the night, and of such ultimate, such holiness of silence and peace that all on earth and within extremest remembrance seem suspended upon it in perfection as upon reflective water: and I feel that if I can by utter quietness succeed in not disturbing this silence, in not so much as touching this plain of water, I can tell you anything within realm of God, whatsoever it may be, that I wish to tell you, and that what so ever it may be, you will not be able to help but understand it.

This, if I have a prayer, is my prayer.

We never get there, though. Do we? Our lover does not understand what it means when we look in their eyes and see gladness there, see desire and laughter there. We see it. We are boiled in love for it and what is left for us is a touch, a word, a song we can sing, but it never says it completely and here, too, the distance between experience and knowledge is left to be bridged with such inventions as we can muster: language, symbol, story.

Writing invariably leaves me sad because I know I have not said the thing I hoped to say. I circle the airport over and over in ellipses, a spirograph filling in as much as I can, hoping the pattern is recognized, but always knowing I can't ever get there because my experience cannot be transferred, only partially translated.

You know this is true. You know when you have loved someone so completely that the word "love" is puny and irrelevant. You know when your grief swims over you there is no telling of its completeness. You alone experience it and know its contours. In love and in grief, the ground, ground will shake, so all that can be done, all that we can do is congregate, to be present for each other. And that love, that grief falls to silence as we recognize the impossibility of not disturbing that plain of water and offer up instead the sweet bravery of another breath and journey on together for as long as we are together. This is how we get through this trouble at the gates of our hearts.

* * *

Shall I tell you of love? Can it be done? Can I tell you about a woman who boils me in love, such is the gladness I feel when I am near her? Can I tell you about the sorrow of a lonely death? Can I warn you away from the latter, so you might know the former? Is there a word that can be said, a sentence assembled that tells you any of this? I think Agee's tumbling, spilling sentence is the closest thing to human perfection I have ever seen; I think the color of this woman's eyes are the closet thing to human perfection I have ever seen. I think my mother dying alone is the closest thing to perfect sorrow I have ever seen; and the ground, ground will shake regardless.

So, we are left with imperfection, approximations of the experience of being alive when we try to tell, teach, share what we have come to know in our bones. And we do this out of great love, we do this because we have come to believe it is the best way to express our experience and we are not wrong to do so. But there is something else - not more, just another way: we can help each other through by keeping company, by catching each other when we fall, by being a witness to each other's joy and love and grief through the sweetness of silence, the road shared for as long as possible.

* * *

I write because I once thought I could be understood. Like St. Francis I now care very little for being understood. I just want to understand what it is like to experience life while it is mine to use. This morning, all I know is the road is still mine, the road is still yours. For a little while we can share it and that is all, that is all, that is all.

* * *

Boom. Boom. Boom.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I Know A

I know a fella 
Eats like a horse
Knocks his old balls
'Round the old golf course
You ought to see his wife
She's a cute little dish
Smokes like a chimney
And drinks like a fish
There's a big old goofy man
Dancing with a big old goofy girl
Oooh, baby, it's a big old goofy world

- John Prine, Big Old Goofy World

* * *

Sometimes the thing you are looking for is the thing you hold in your hand and keep setting down so you can go look for the thing you think you need. Happens all the time. We blind ourselves to our cures because they don't often fit the image we have of them. Like Melville's whale-line, we believe we must be dragged into the profundity of the sea in order to secure our treasure, our boon, the chalice of our torments. But truth is, it is usually a hell of a lot more pedestrian then that. What does take some balls is once you know it, once you recognize that you've had the answer in your metaphoric pocket the whole time you then have to act on it.

Whole 'nother ball of wax.

* * *

You know you're supposed to eat better than you do. You know booze can kill you and that some exercise will actually make you feel better. The smokes are killers, too, but we all have another, don't we? Another beer, another pack of smokes before we quit. One more McWhopper and I'll go for a run after my show is over. I mention all this not to hector or judge, but to draw an analogy about how we fucked fuckity fuck fucks are smarter than we allow - we know this shit, we know what's ailing us, we know how to fix it, too, because we're smart - but maybe we're too damn smart to actually do anything about it, too much up in our heads and not enough of being in our bodies, our world.

Forever looking for answers is a type of avoidance, a merry-go-round of altruism hiding our fears. There is a solid payoff to be searching. We grow smarter (though that is not the problem); we are fed on hope that what we are looking for can be found in the road up ahead; we tack on knowledge, and believe that is the thing we are missing. Except it is not. What is missing is the experience of living the life you have - just as it is. Meaning is not carved out of stone, but from the manner in which you engage your life, use your assets, burn up your days, hurl your body about.

Get this straight: you can go on the journey and still refuse the call.

Refusing the call is a waking death, a half-life, a nose pressed against the glass sort of life envying the dancer, but never daring to cut a rug. You can travel the world a hundred thousand hundred thousand times and still never move.

* * *

The answers are easy, love. We've known them a long time. They are written in books, sung in songs, sculpted and painted into beautiful objects. They are born and raised and grow into men and women we hope are a measure braver, kinder and gentler than we are. The answers litter the field. It is all in the doing and what you are willing to do to unfuck the fear that has held you.

I knew a fella, a hale fellow well met, indeed. Life poured out of him: loud, generous, imperfect, willing, ready for a drink, glad for a smoke. No doubt he suffered in the middle of the night as well. No doubt tragedy touched his life as it touches all lives: a child lost, cancer from the smokes, a broken neck. This is so. This is so. This is so. And still when he saw you again after too long apart you were always drawn into his orbit of mirth, his willingness to laugh despite the pain, to be so very glad you were together again for he was a man who held the world in his smile, his appetite - not hunger, but appetite - and you, lost you, wanted to know his secret in order to be like him. And therein lies the answer: it is the distance between hunger and appetite. One is forever on its back foot and the other is forever leading the dance.

You have what you need. In this vale of tears, this whore of an island in God's sea, you have everything you need. You can stop chasing your tail, stop sliding after esoteric solutions. The mystery is here: you are alive - act accordingly.

Enjoy this despite your losses.

* * *

Oooh, baby, its a big old goofy world.

* * *



Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Of All That

Of all that God has shown me
I can speak just the smallest word,
Not more than a honey bee
Takes on her foot
From an overspilling jar.

- Mechthild of Magdeburg

* * *

I am verbose. I spill words the way drunks spill beer. I listen for my voice in words, to catch the cadence and rhythms of my thoughts. I write and write and talk and talk and it is what I do. But, in truth, I cannot say a single thing that I know. Either it is unsayable or unknown and in either case all of these words are shadow puppets trying to pantomime a flash at the corner of my eye. It is both too much and not enough for me to write these things out, for you to read them, for me to presume to say a word. Silence is sweet to me because I can pull back and just listen once in a while.

The past few days have been quiet. Very little written. Not much said. Out of that quietude, that interval of relative quiet I heard a screaming, a howling darkness. It seemed to belong to all of us. It kept me silenced because of its raw, ragged insistence. It said: you don't understand, you cannot know my pain, my suffering, you know nothing of where I am or my losses or my anger or my desire to be rid of being this lost. All of your words are meaningless to me. Platitudes. Pablum. Shit. They mean shit to me.

And I cannot argue that truth. Words are paltry things. Approximations for some other thing and while I find them to be beautiful from time to time their beauty is often held in the distance between my desire and the desired. Sweetness is there. A crack of light in the door that leaves nothing to compare. You know this feeling as well. The ineffable knowledge that you have caught a glimpse of something but have no way of making another understand other than words.

This is so. This is so. This is so.

But in the end neither you nor I can know another's mind. We cannot feel what they feel. We cannot know what they know. And if they are in pain, if the howling storm of depression has them in its grip, if they cannot let go of a tragedy, of a loss, of being lost, of never being able to forgive themselves for the wounds they delivered, the wounds they think they deserved, for the whole ball of wax, our words are meaningless. Our words become further proofs of their insidious pain. But we offer the words anyway for it is all we have to give - this transmission of knowledge, hoping it all makes it through, hoping it isn't distorted, lost in translation, that out of love we offer our words of hope and encouragement and logic and reason and love, sweetgodalmighty love.

And we are not wrong to try, but words really aren't the best way for us help.

Compassion is.

* * *

The word "compassion" is bandied about like a cure-all, a magic spell, a word that contains healing powers just by uttering it. Bullshit. There is no healing in a word. Compassion is a noun, where it needs to be a verb.

Of all the things I know, of the things I know in part, of all the things I think I know, but actually have it wrong, all that matters is that we be kinder and gentler to one another than we are. We do not, I do not, you do not know exactly what another is going through. You cannot. Language helps us understand and give names to these concepts, but there is no bridging that gap, that distance between you and I except by being present, by each other's side, without judgment or complaint. This is the beginning of compassion.

* * *

I write here in a voice that is direct, sometimes caustic, certainly full of itself, hopefully at times with more elegance than I have away from the page. I presume to speak of unfucking our lives because, well, I've fucked mine up and writing is how I try to unfuck it. I use the words of others to help me get started and then I rant downstream from there. I want to embolden you. I want to remind you that your life is beautiful regardless of your circumstance. I want you to feel less alone, for aloneness is a great sorrow. I want all of these things, to be able to do these things - for us both. And after the last few days, with so much talk about depression and the headlong rush to great, great harm, I just wanted to say I can't say a thing that truly matters. But I can be here. I can provide this for you to use as a place to do some of your healing. I have no answers. I am a clod of clay.

All I know is that a bee's foot is a very small thing and it carries with it every bloom.

You are not alone.

* * *



Sunday, August 10, 2014

And In The

And in the night my father came to me
And held me to his chest
He said, "There's not much more
That you can do. Go on get some rest."
And I say, yeah, maybe I think too much

- Paul Simon, Think Too Much (B)

* * *

Who we come from, where we come from and why are all outside of our control. If we are lucky we have food and shelter. If we are truly blessed there is love and connection and understanding. This is so. This is so. This is so. But the rest of it is for us to figure out, to take into our hands those things that can build a life into the shape, color and tenor of our choosing.

But we get lost along the way, don't we? The plans, aspirations, dreams we held so close as we grew up morphed into accepting what was at hand, nearby, within reach. We are the ones who should have morphed into beings with a greater reach and because we did not, because we held the bag while those around us lost their heads, because we had an uncertain footing, because we could find precious little in the world around us to allay our doubts, cool our fears, we took to the grain and our dreams were no longer ferocious with our spirit, but docile, tamed, ever so compliant.

And yet, it chafes, does it not? It chafes the soul to be so poorly used. We know something is amiss and we know we're fucked and stuck and going nowhere (except maybe in circles). We just can't riddle out how to break this awful cycle of doubt, remorse, self-flagellation and trying to boot-strap our way to happiness.

We look to our past, our families, our childhoods, our love affairs, our relationships, our jobs, our losses and like witch doctors we spill the dry bones of the past trying to discern the future. And it either hurts all the time, or we feel so very little. This is what it is like to be fucked.

And those who came before us knew this as well and they, our parents and our grandparents and our cousins and relations stretched out across the field of time, were broken, healed, lost, redeemed, convicted and set free as was their due. Some of us know the stories of our people. Some know nothing and that absence is just another sort of fuckitude, but I tell you upon your faces, in either case, that you are looking at it the wrong way.

* * *

No matter if you come from love, or have run from desolation, no matter if you know your history, or are a blank slate, no matter, no matter, no  matter what your condition - the names of your losses, the signs of your gifts,  the betrayals and wounds of walking in the world, the communion and healing of walking in the world, you cannot look to any of that to excuse, justify or rationalize what you think, say or do today.

Listen, you can spend your days reliving the past, combing over every injustice, or every golden moment to find the thread of the life you think you have lost and doing so will keep you forever feeling like you are lost, forever feeling fucked, stuck, damned. But it isn't that you have lost something, it is that you are not using what you have. Right now. The thread is not lost. It is in your hands. It always has been.

We are waylaid by others' notions of what life is for, how it is to be lived and to what ends. We model the habits of our families and so we come to resemble them in large and small ways. This becomes a wound we pick at when we are older, blaming them for being who and what they are and then blaming ourselves for aping them. But that shit needs to stop. It is just what happens inside families. The real test is not that we reject our people, or deify them, but that we leave them in peace and slather on the compassion so we can find our own feet.

You can't get there by thinking too much. You can only get there by going there, by doing, through right action. And right action is anything that reveals and supports your essential self without denigrating or limiting another.

* * *

Last night I dreamt of my father. He stood beside me. He said nothing, but it was clear he had something to say to me. He put his hand on my shoulder and then he was gone. I'd missed him so I played the dream over and over just so I could see his face again. At first, in the dream, I was afraid, but then with each playing of the dream my fears eased until they were erased by the time I woke up.

He was a good man, deeply flawed, wounded by the loss of love as a child, and he often could not find the words to express his feelings. Silence was his way. He was ill-prepared to be a father, but then again, aren't we all? He knew there was something great he could do in the world if only he could break free of the weighty obligations he taken on. He knew it. He dreamed without ballast. He worked like a pig and others got rich from his labor. When death was knocking at the door, he was relieved to be done with it all. Except, at the last minute, he did his great thing, achieved his greatness. He showed my brother and I how to die: filled with compassion for our coming grief.

This is the doing we must do, my friends.

Thinking only goes so far. Living by choice, with compassion for our sins and the sins of others is the way of happiness and belonging to the world.


It came to me in a dream.

* * *



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What Is This

What is this, fundamentally? What is its nature and substance, its reason for being? What is it doing in the world? How long is it here for?

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 8:11

* * *

This is what Tuesday morning gives me.

* * *

Not to fall off the cliff of useless metaphysical speculation here, there is something remarkably urgent about Aurelius' questions, something that expressed an urgency inside him: he wanted to know. This is what brought him to life - this questioning of himself, his attempt to riddle out some knowledge about why we are born, why we die, of what life is to be like in between those poles. He wanted to understand and the tools he had available to him were language and his mind. In the end, these tools are all that are left to you and I to play with these questions, to devise ones of our own. It is inescapable - we are our thoughts. What we think, how we think, whether we think at all, is the truest measure of how we navigate our lives. The thinking becomes our reality. It takes on flesh. It robes that flesh and so we walk in the world. 

What have you been thinking?

* * *

Cogito ergo sum, Rene Descartes (that drunken fart), tells me this is how knowledge becomes certain: thought implies, nay, proves, existence. Right on. I suppose. But that is ontology, the ever narrowing gyre of first causes, and I have little use for it. Such questions distract from the matter at hand: how am I to live. Present tense. It is in our thinking, our habits of understanding the world around us that we create our lives. Circumstances matter less than the way we think about those circumstances and the various ways we can/should/might respond to them. Aurelius is asking after this substance: our animating spark - consciousness, conscience, thought, belief. These things are the ground floor of our actions and our actions are but our thoughts in motion.

Why bother asking after it? Why bother trying to know it? Isn't it unknowable? We've had several thousand years to riddle it out and all we've come up with are conflicting stories and the wars that attend those stories. Lots of death trying to figure out life. If that scale is too big, then drill down to the scale of your lifetime. How much harm have you done to yourself or others because of the way you thought of your life? How much harm has befallen you because others have thought and acted in unthinking ways?

It is because we are infants, emotional, intellectual, moral infants. We destroy others and ourselves with the thought that we can know absolutes, that our beliefs are truths, that because we think we are justified: cogitationis justifactus.


It isn't mere thought that matters, but what we think, what we play with, what takes our attention and why. Aurelius believed in the logos, a natural order in which all men and women played a role in maintaining and furthering. It was transcendent of day to day life, yet was made up of the actions each made day to day. This was the bulwark against which he asked his questions. Where each of us begins matters. It is a limiting factor. It excludes, as it must, other starting places. And here's the thing, my friend, each starting place is valid, each starting place is true, each starting place is just that: the beginning. We fuck ourselves when we stop there, when we ask no questions, when we do not wander and wonder about the nature and substance of our being and what it is doing in the world.

If you are here unfaithfully among us you are doing great damage. This is so. This is so. This is so.

And what makes one unfaithful?

Not thinking.

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.

* * *

Tattoo it on your forehead.

* * *