Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Green Or

The green or grey of Hugo's eyes depends on the weather. "This 'Not Today' attitude of yours is a cancer. Cancer of the character. It stunts your growth. Other kids sense your Not-Todayness, and despise you for it. 'Not Today' is why those plebs in Black Swan made you nervous. 'Not-Today' - I would bet - is at the root of that speech defect of yours." (A shame bomb blew my head off.) " 'Not Today' condemns you to be the lapdog of authority, any bully,  any shitehawk. They sense you won't stand up to them. Not today, not ever. 'Not Today' is the blind slave of every petty rule. Even the rule that says" - Hugo did this bleaty voice - " 'No, smoking is BAD! Don't listen to naughty Hugo Lamb!' Jason, you have to kill 'Not-Today.' "

- David Mitchell,  Black Swan Green

* * *

There is this: everything, the whole of life, is ceaselessly emergent, ceaselessly in decline, ceaselessly flowing into and out of each moment, ceaselessly using what is at hand to prompt the next thing, the next step, the next moment, the next breath, the next death, the next gesture. It moves. Ceaselessly, it moves. Our judgments of good or bad are immaterial to the process itself. They matter only to us as we live well or less-well in each cascading moment. What fucks you, love, is postponing to some later date, some future moment when you'll have the courage or the money or the time (ha!) to get around to all those things you meant to do.

You never get there, love. Do you? Time becomes a bead of mercury you chase across the floor: impossible to capture. This is why we fear death, for we have squandered all those successive moments waiting, waiting, waiting for some perfect moment when we could finally act, be free, be at home in the world. It isn't the death we fear, but the realization we've blown it.


But here's the good news: everything, the whole of life, is ceaselessly emergent, ceaselessly in decline, ceaselessly flowing into and out of each moment, ceaselessly using what is at hand to prompt the next thing. Your fuckedness, your Not-Todayness is permanent only to the extent you allow it to be. You, too, are ceaselessly emergent.


* * *

Inside each breath is a death. Inside each truth is a lie. Inside each moment is eternity. It is all we have and it is more than enough. It is our rootstock, our origin, the legacy of every act of kindness, every brutality, every cruelty, every act of love, courage, fidelity, infidelity, cowardice and forgiveness. This is what we do inside the ceaseless flow. We are human: fallible, frail, resilient, searching, foolish, faithful, drowsy, ignorant, capable, heroic by dint of waking to face each day. In order to unfuck what is fucked you have to kill 'Not Today.' There is only today, friend. Every postponement is a betrayal.

Today is all we have. It is enough. It is more than enough to put you back into the ceaseless flow and give what you have to your life, your loves, your time. And because it is ceaselessly emergent, you get to do so every day until your days run dry. And after, after your decline, your dissolution, your example will remain for a while and effect those who were part of your orbit. The only question that is unanswered is whether or not that example will help them to be kinder, gentler, more willing to enter the stream or not. What you do today will be their inheritance.

So, what's it going to be?

* * *

This one's for Levon. Boom.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Dancers Saved

The dancers saved you. They are the ones who brought you back to life that evening in December 1978, who made it possible for you to experience the scalding, epiphanic moment of clarity that pushed you through a crack in the universe and allowed you to begin again.

- Paul Auster, Winter Journal

* * *

I will say this: every day the glory is waiting to emerge from its debasement.

* * *

Each moment holds within it the potential to be scalding, epiphanic, clear. Each moment. Not those moments somewhere ahead of you, where you promise you'll get started, where you locate your happiness, your identity, your imagined well-being; but each moment, meaning this moment, meaning right now. We linger in our lostness because being lost is the same at treading water: you're not drowning, but you're going nowhere either. The fact we haven't drowned is taken as a marker of progress. We recognize just how incredibly puny we are in the enormity of time and we grind to a halt trying to absorb it. 

Time distorts our perceptions of ourselves. In our youth we have the luxury of boredom, of nothing to do. We are kings unto ourselves and the world spins to our ego and pleasure. But at some point we recognize we are finite, recognize that our plans have turned to ash, recognize that the lives we've been living reek of being someone else's lives, recognize our puniness. Boom. You're fucked. And so you float, tread water, do nothing, become lost, nurse wounds and quake in the night.

But these things are the product of looking at life - not just your life - the wrong way, as if you were owed something for the hurt and suffering and the end of the line. You are owed nothing, my friend. Nothing. But there is a compensation, a reward of sorts and the potential exists this very moment for you to be awash in it: you get to act, to do, to create, to build, to love, to redeem your inherent puniness with acts of love. Boom. You're unfucked. And here's the great part: how you find a way to express that love will be, must be different from everyone else and at the end of the day, together, we add our work to the work that came before us and will be the jumping off place for those who follow.

* * *

There are cracks in the universe. I would argue the universe is crazed with them: an infinitude of opportunities to see what can be done with your life. To get pushed through one of those cracks, to begin again, you have to be open to it, the possibility of it and be fearless in accepting it and yourself. You are flawed. You've been broken and glued back together. You bear scars. You've lost limbs along the way. In other words, you're perfect. You're just like every other slob who's taken a beat down because he mistook his ego and innocent narcissism for the entirety of experience. You're just another line in the field of time, babe. But that is nothing to bitch about or worry about. It just is. What matters is not your wounds or your death, but the love you share with those around you in the way that only you can express it.


You can be saved by dancers. You can be saved by the smell of cut grass, the arc of a falling leaf, children at play, cracked pepper, line dried clothes, Orion, the smell of old books, the sight of your beloved, naked, next to you, the hour before dawn, quarter-sawn oak, fog, a rain-storm, a grade-school Christmas concert, the taste of a backyard tomato, dogs, fireflies rising out of a summer field, late night movies, music, music, music, stained glass windows, birdsong, a carpet of pine needles, bedside as a parent dies, in a summer hayloft prickly with sweat and dirt, by the callouses in your hands, Bay Rum aftershave, lemons, sweeping your kitchen floor - anywhere, everywhere, at any time the glory is waiting to emerge from its debasement.

Push yourself through and begin again. This time with love.

* * *

Boom, boom. boom.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Today Outside Your

    Today outside your prison I stand
and rattle my walking stick: Prisoners, listen;
you have relatives outside. And there are
thousands of ways to escape.

Years ago I bent my skill to keep my
cell locked, had chains smuggled to me in pies,
and shouted my plans to jailers;
but always new plans occured to me,
or the new heavy locks bent hinges off,
or some stupid jailer would forget
and leave the keys.

Inside, I dreamed of constellations—
those feeding creatures outlined by stars,
their skeletons a darkness between jewels,
heroes that exist only where they are not.

Thus freedom always came nibbling my thought,
just as—often, in light, on the open hills—
you can pass an antelope and not know
and look back, and then—even before you see—
there is something wrong about the grass.
And then you see.

That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.

Now—these few more words, and then I’m
gone: Tell everyone just to remember
their names, and remind others, later, when we
find each other. Tell the little ones
to cry and then go to sleep, curled up
where they can. And if any of us get lost,
if any of us cannot come all the way—
remember: there will come a time when
all we have said and all we have hoped
will be all right.

There will be that form in the grass.

- William E. Stafford, "A Message from the Wanderer"
* * *

I am always killed by poetry. The good shit, anyway.

* * *
Prisoners, listen; you have relatives outside, people unknown to you, but of the same blood and condition, people who were once as you are now and they are pulling for you to figure it out. The door is open, pal. All you have to do is walk through. You have followed when you should have found your own path and so ceded your autonomy to the structures that buffet you from cradle to grave: family, education, marriage, career, decline and death. Your debts and worry grow and you chain yourself all the tighter to what is leaching the life from your bones. This is not what your life was made for, but what you have allowed to happen because you believed the stories that if you work hard and kept the sabbath someday you'll own a home as big as a house. You never hear another sort of story, the kind told by wanderers. The stories about heroes that only exist where they are not, of forms in the grass, bent hinges and walking sticks: the peripheral vision of intuition and knowing your name.

If I am of any service in this world let it be to do this.

* * *

There is a trite truism in wide circulation: "Love what you do. Do what you love."  Seems an utterly harmless aphorism, yet it I tell you it is another prison. Love what you do and do what you love is a slant on Campbell's "Follow your bliss," which is always used as a cop out for narcissism (these sorts of mis-readings happen because those spouting off haven't read the book and only glommed onto the easiest meme to justify their poor behavior). Campbell used that phrase to describe a life fully awake to the experience of being alive, of using its capacities to see what could done with the privilege of being alive. The LWYD mantra is lazy, indolent and holds yet another trap for you to fall into.  Here's why: the vast majority of the planet is not working at work they love, but rather at work they must do (and poorly paid) in order to eat and shelter themselves. The trap is sprung when it conflates who you are with what you do to eat. Another door is locked and you are made to feel a failure for working to eat instead of eating your bliss.

Fuck that.

Listen: Raymond Carver worked as a janitor in a hospital while he wrote his short stories and poems, Wallace Stevens sold insurance, Jimmy Page wrote jingles. But set aside the ghetto of the arts. Who you are is not what do for money. Who you are is what you do in spite of money - whether you have it or not. The prison is made when you don't question the basic set up: that who you are is exactly the same as what you do to sustain you physical, present self.

Workers are paid shit so the wealthy can get the gout. Fuck them fat fucks. Do what you must then carve time to do your bidding. Be subversive by doing what the rich will never understand: give, sacrifice and then give again. You unfuck your life not by giving a rat's hairy ass about the externals, but by living from the inside out, by aligning your thoughts with your actions and knowing that even if you die a bit each day from the inequitable nature of most employment, as long as you are living for a cause greater than yourself - your kids, the environment, social justice, the one you love, your God - you are free, outside the structures and controls of unthinking life and that makes you a subversive.

Welcome, so glad you're here.

Just remember your name and remind others to do the same. If you get lost or can't make it all the way, we'll still be here and there will come a time when all you have said and done will come right. Just look for the signs in the grass.

* * *



Saturday, January 11, 2014

What If We

What if we choose not to do the things we are supposed to do? The principal gain is a sense of an authentic act – and an authentic life. It may be a short one, but it is an authentic one, and that's a lot better than those short lives full of boredom. The principal loss is security. Another is respect from the community. But you gain the respect of another community, the one that is worth having the respect of.

- Joseph Campbell, Myth & The Body

* * *

There are songlines in a thousand tongues all singing the same melody. It is how you get through. You just have to be quiet enough to listen and then you join in.

It is how any of us get through.

* * *

The fucked life does exactly as it is told.  It compromises itself in order to receive a promised reward for its cooperation and compliance: work, sex, religion. It is a big tent and it welcomes everyone. Your life is given meaning, order and is, above all, secure. There are no sharp edges. All is well. All that can be done has been done. Hush now, sleep. You're among friends. 

But the question is never asked: do I want these friends?

Your first friends are the kids you knew in your neighborhood. You didn't choose them, just as you didn't choose the family you were born into. Such happenstance accumulations become habit, thoughtless, simply the low hanging fruit of circumstance. Who you work with, who you work for, the work you do - are these conscious choices or default circumstances? How much have you actually chosen here? Don't read this wrong. I am all for work and love and friendship and paying bills, but I ask you: how much have of that is aligned with your essential, on-fire self and how much is mere opportunity?

What if we choose to do things we're not supposed to do? 


* * *

Most of what keeps us from venturing the game is fear, fear we won't be successful, fear we won't be loved, fear we won't know what to do, fear that we cannot trust ourselves to figure it out. We stay where it is safe and warm, where others have created order and meaning and for most it is Cinderella's slipper. Except it doesn't work for everyone and we blame ourselves instead of questioning the rubric, the matrix, the system, the plans others have for us. The idea of struggling to fit in is somehow better than daring to leave it behind. 

But what will you be leaving behind? Unhappiness, doubt, the sense of being a stranger in your own skin? Seems worth leaving behind.

Now think about what is gained. 
Think about it.

Pretty, cool, eh?

You lose a home that was never yours and find the place you can be exactly who and what you are. 
You lose friends who really just want to commiserate in their own sorrows and find souls who have come alive and can't help but share that sense of belonging to the moment.
You lose security and instead find adventure, the thrill of being alive, of a mind and a body working together to see what can be done with this spit of time and a spine that won't cave.

You lose the fucked life and gain your life. Your voice is added to the Dreaming and so you navigate these landscapes and leave a song for the next one to listen for, to listen for and find their own way across the expanse of their time.

* * *

Our genius lies in our choices, our commitments, our willingness to risk security in exchange for the experience of being fully alive. 

You are a genius, my friend. It's time to share it out.

* * *



Sunday, January 5, 2014

Every Difficulty In

Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own submerged inner resources. The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths.

- Epictetus, The Art of Living

* * * 

No one is coming to save you. No one.

Take a minute here and let that soak in. I'll wait.

To be clear: no one is coming to save you. No one. Ever.

* * *

At the center of a fucked life is an assumption - reinforced by the paradigm of consumption (in commerce, in love, in religion) - that is wrong on its face, that inevitably burns through your days as straw for the fire, that fucks you before you have a chance to breathe: you will be saved, made whole, cured, your life given meaning by another, by God, by your bank account, etc. We matriculate from point to point never questioning the idea that somewhere out there is our soul mate, our work, our God. We push and drive and grind it out - heroes to a cause we believe is ours, but in fact has nothing to do with us. You are straw for the fire. You are consumed in the same way you consume the ideas of love and God and work laid down for you: thoughtlessly, as anonymous to the fire as any kindling because everywhere you look it is the same. What is there to doubt?

All would be well except for that 2 in the morning fear that covers you in a cold sweat, the distance in your beloved's kiss, the job that eats a bit of your soul each day because none of this fits exactly right, but is passable, good enough and we count ourselves lucky to have insurance, a bedmate, a prayer we can whisper for deliverance.

And we delivered only unto the fire.


Because we leave the agency for our lives in all that is not us, in all this external to us, that we mistake for authority, that we gladly offer up our lives, our love, our effort to because it promises to rescue us, save us, give us a path to follow, end our confusion and tuck us in at night. Follow, my brothers, follow my sisters then you won't get in the way.

* * *

No one is coming to save you. No one. Ever. It can't be done. If you will be saved it can only be accomplished by your hand. Don't misunderstand me. You will be helped, kindnesses will be offered, respites will crop up and your journey will be made sweeter because of it. But do not confuse help and kindness with being saved from the effort of finding out what your life can do. I have been the beneficiary of kindnesses too numerous to count, too sweet to tell in words and for the bulk of my life I conflated these gestures of empathy and concern and faith with being relieved of the task at hand. And so I cycled through and recycled through the same conflicts, the same challenges never reaching shore, never putting it to rest, always using the miracles of love and solace as a hideout, excusing myself from the hard road down because, well, look, I was saved from it by this love, that job, this kindness.

No one is coming to save you. No one. Ever. It can't be done because you are the answer, you are the way you will be saved from an anonymous life. The gifts of love and kindness are shared, not imposed, and they cannot save you - not in the terms you're thinking of. What they can do is embolden you to live better than you've shown, encourage you to embrace the idea that your life is yours to save, rescue, make meaningful. This is the power behind loving another: letting them be as they are and loving them anyway. If love can save you it will be because you give it away without expectation. This is love's great power: it is a sign of faith in another that they are up to the task of living a life out loud.

* * *

Every difficulty is a doorway to what comes next. Your life cannot be saved or rescued from these difficulties by another or by God or money. It never sticks. You slip past the worst of it and count  yourself lucky and set yourself up to do it again and again. You rely on love to save you, on a new job, a deeper fidelity to the God you pray to to deliver you from your trials.  As such you are a mere plaything of chance. But it doesn't have to be so. Such views of love and God and work are, at heart, adolescent and filled with magical thinking. It feeds a fantasy of never having to do any of the heavy lifting yourself. You can let go of that now. It hasn't served you very well, has it?

No one is coming to save you because you are already here. You have everything you need - right now - to unfuck your life. The love and kindnesses you have received are but signs of faith that you'll get there.

Now go. It's time. You have work to do.

* * *



Thursday, January 2, 2014

At Dawn When

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: "I have to go to work–as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I am going to do what I was born for–the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?"

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5:1

* * * 

I prefer this portrait of the man. No dreamy-eyed philosopher bestowing benedictions, but the soldier he was.

* * *

It is out here the doings are done. It is out here differences are made. It is out here, in the world, engaged in the messiness of living, of finding your way that who you are takes on flesh and moves in the world. Hiding out, believing you are superior to the moment and thus have no need to act is the way of death, of the miserable death of living as a dead man: untouched, unmoved, unengaged, huddled in blankets, mocking the fools who bother to try.

You have work to do–as a human being. When are you going to get to it?

* * *

It does not matter what your work is, only that it is yours, only that you engage it and put in the time to become a master of it. By mastering any skill you contribute to the well-being of others known and unknown to you. Aurelius believed in the logos, the rational, cosmic order wherein each life plays its role and so sustains the logos. What have you helped sustain?

If the answer comes slowly to you or not at all, know this: you are the answer itself, you are the logos itself.


We fuck ourselves when we lose the conviction that we have something to offer, that the effort necessary to build or create or give is too great, the reward too small and so offer nothing, build nothing, create nothing and then wonder why everything sucks as badly as it does.  I guarantee you that right now you have plans, you have ideas about what you would like to do, about how you want your life to be. You have the idea in hand, but you won't act on it because you fear failure, or don't see any money in it, or were told by someone it was a stupid idea, or compare yourself to others who have already mastered what you haven't begun yet and so stopped yourself from trying. Right? Tell the truth, right?

There are no shortcuts, love. You have to get out of bed, put your feet on the floor and try, and work, and fail and try again until you get a handle on it and then you have to try harder, commit deeper and give yourself over to it - completely. Once you are there your half-life ends, the struggle and doubt and insecurity and fear evaporate in the light of your life come alive. Oh, you'll still have to wrestle the angel before he blesses you, but you'll be up to it, glad of it: strong, at peace with the work and the way you have used the gift of your life.

* * *

"Wake up and fight."

So reads number 33 on Woody Guthrie's list of New Year's Rulin's. Wake up and fight. Wake up and fight against the urge to pull the blanket up over your head. Wake up and fight the fear that freezes you in place. Wake up and fight for the truth that caroms inside you looking for a way out. Wake up and fight the easy impulse to criticize instead of risking anything yourself. Wake up and fight to be who you are: complete, no part left out. Wake up and fight for your life instead of letting it leak and ebb away.

In my head, Aurelius and Guthrie sing in harmony. 

Where's your voice?

* * *