Friday, March 28, 2014

Oh How Many

Oh, how many travelers get weary
Bearing both their burdens and their scars?

- Johnny Cash, Out Among The Stars

* * *

There is this: lay down your weary tune.

* * *

Because of me, my father discovered espresso late in life. This was a man who had no problem reheating two day old coffee, and man I tell you what, he loved espresso. I bought him some cups and one of those Italian stove top percolators to make his own. When he died, among all his possessions, I wanted those cups and that little silver coffee maker. This morning, for the first time in the 21 years since he moved on I made coffee in that pot and drank out of one of those cups. I don't know why I hadn't done so sooner. Maybe I treated them like holy relics. Maybe I just liked to see them perched in my kitchen, but my coffee maker broke a few days ago and I wanted some damn coffee and I used what was at hand.

Might have been the best coffee I ever had.

My dad was indefatigable. If there was work to be done, he was the man to do. But he was as weary as he was strong, burdened by a rough start in life that left him wanting to trust life, but never quite able to. Stoic isn't the half of it. Fathers are like that - opaque without meaning to be. When he got sick he was relieved. The show was closing. No more burdens, no more walking a worried floor, no more, no more, no more. But then, but then, but then he did something remarkable. My brother and I didn't want him to go. We asked him to fight a bit longer, to carry his burden a while longer for us. And he did. It cost him, but he did.

You see, right then, right then, right when he was closing the curtains because he'd been so damned tired from all the battles, all the struggles just to pay the bills, from letting go of his dreams so he could feed me and my brother, he found something he'd been looking for all his life: love.

He knew he was dying and no amount of chemo was going to stop it, but he pushed back those curtains so me and my brother could have once last dose of the love he had to give: I'll do this for you, man. He saw it all the way through. His famous words to me were, "Alright, I'll kick this along as far as I can."


* * *

We are all burdened and scarred, my friends, my brothers, my sisters. We are burden by our mistakes, our regrets, the decisions of others and it wearies us; it winnows our soul to a feathery fray and we come to believe the weariness is permanent, our due, our punishment for ever wanting anything in this world. But it is not so. I tell you upon your face, it is not so.

If you quit half way, if you stop trying, if you doubt yourself so deeply that all your dreaming stops, then you are as fucked as fucked can be. You have already closed the curtains on what is possible in your life and, in effect, you're just waitin' round to die. But if you pick up that mantle and you push on, and you set your weariness aside, treat it and your grief like a falling leaf, and find the courage to take a step in the surrounding darkness you will find that your spirit will not fail, though your body will some day collapse. Waiting for you to take that step is the love you still have to give, to offer to those closest to you, to those unknown to you, to your time. You can choose to believe that your life is the sum of your burdens and scars, or you can choose to carry them lightly for the sake of others, for the sake of your own sense of purpose and belonging. It is up to you.

And the coffee's better, too.

* * *

I stood unwound beneath the skies
And clouds unbound by laws
The cryin’ rain like a trumpet sang
And asked for no applause

* * *



Sunday, March 23, 2014

To Enslave An

To enslave an individual troubles your consciences, Archivist, but to enslave a clone is no more troubling to you than owning the latest six-wheeler ford, ethically. Because you cannot discern our differences, you believe we have none. But make no mistake: even same-stem fabricants cultured in the same wombtank are as singular as snowflakes.

- David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

* * *

Think for a moment about the 10 year old you. Take a minute and think about that kid. Whether you had a tough start or the world ran in greased grooves for you, take a minute and think about that kid, about the sort of things that kid saw, dreamed of. Got it? Hold onto it for a minute. Now think about the 15 year old you. What has changed? What, if anything is still the same at the 10 year old? Think about your dreams, think about what you expect life to be like, the things you say you want to do. Hold onto it. Now try it at 20, at 25, at 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 60, 70... What are your dreams made of? What happened to the dreams you used to have, the expectations you once held about life? Are you doing anything you thought you'd be doing? Is your work anything at all like you once imagined it would be? How close are you to your dreams? How far away? If it is far away, what got in the way? Disappointment? A lack of effort? Betrayal? Other plans that seemed better? Are they better?

I have been thinking about work, about the things we do for pay and then what we do with our pay. If you are fucked this is likely a sticking point - either on the earning side, or the consuming side, or both.

Why is this? Because we traded who we are, who we meant to be for a job and the job became what defined us and not the other way around. If you have money, you spend conspicuously. These are outward symbols of the economic status you have achieved. If you are broke, every dollar spent feels like a loss and it can get so mind crushing that you, too, spend conspicuously to at least (for a brief while) have that outward symbol of success.

Everybody has to eat. Everybody has to find a way to secure shelter and care for their family. But we fucked fuckers struggle mightily to be at peace with the economic prerogatives of our time. Why? Here's my take: because we still dream. We still remember the dreams we had as kids - either escape or achievement - and those dreams persist and cause us to think wildly inappropriate thoughts (inappropriate to the world of economics, consumerism and corporatism), namely, that we are unique in the world, with unique abilities and aspirations that don't fit snugly into a niche, a warren, a cubbyhole with a 2% a year annual raise whether you perform like a rockstar or a miscreant. We still believe the uncomfortable thought that we have some thing to do with our time other than acquire durable goods, something to give beyond the hours our employers demand our bodies be on the sales floor.  We're fucked because we still believe in ourselves, underneath all the detritus and weight of our culture's adoration of money (consumerism) and the path to acquire it (corporatism). We still believe.

We often fail in the economy because it doesn't know what to do with us and we try to fit in and it often comes out bad. Vonnegut once wrote that artists and thinkers and cranks could not make it in the corporate world and so retreated to bookstores as it was the only place they felt at home in the world.

But bear this in mind: if you feel fucked because the larger world doesn't have much use for you, or you for it, it is always, and I mean always, the outsider who changes the times they live in. It is always the crank, the loser, the ostracized who advances our understanding of the world. If this is you, welcome to your real work - the work of resisting any and all entities that quash the individual.

If you define yourself as fucked because of economics you have adopted the larger world's definition of success and worth and not hewed to your own. It is hard, I know. The lights have to stay on, the kids need to be fed, and then there's all that work you have to do after you get off work, your real work, your service work, your work to realize the dreams you once had, that still live, that need your attention, that call to you in the night: Move, boy-o. You've got shit to do.

* * *

Listen: you are unique in the world. Your experience, your achievements, your failings are unique and are just what you need to become who you are. Do not believe the admen, the politicians, the 1% or the 99% percent, do not believe the news, do not buy into measuring your self worth by the square footage of your home, or the length of your dick. You are here with a knot of potential that only you can unfurl. Reject the call to consumption and corporate ladder climbing. It doesn't pay nearly enough for the job it does on your soul. No, go work. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and then get to your true work - the work of subversion, the work of freedom, the work of responsibility, the work of being exactly who that 10 year old kid dreamed of being.

* * *



Tuesday, March 18, 2014

We're All Bound

We're all bound by certain forces
The same as anyone
Step out of the shadows
My little one

There's a change a surely comin'
A will that will be done
Step out of the shadows
My little one

Will you step out of the shadows
My little one

- Glen Hansard, Step Out of the Shadows

* * *

Be no harbour for sorrow. Let what winds blow pass through you. Do not hold, catch or keep them. We're all bound by certain forces - damn but we are finite - and that there is your freedom, that there is your road up and out, that there is the way to find the truth of your life: there's work to be done while we are able to do it.

And what is that work?

To be no harbour for sorrow, but to live out loud while we can, to try and fail and try again and fail again and then fail better. No matter. This is our work: to try again, to enter the stream of our days and see where it might take us, to see the changes that can be wrought in a lifetime, over a lifetime with the raw material of a lifetime. Be no harbour for sorrow. If sorrows are with you now thank them for their reminder that none of this is easy or permanent, that love burns off the dross, and then let it go. You needn't mourn losses, grieve changes forever. There is more for you to do than be wounded.

* * *

The thing that fucks us deepest is the idea that because we can see, or imagine a particular outcome, or goal the work of actually achieving it is almost done. The distance between what we imagine and what we are capable of is closed only by our willingness to fail in our attempts to get there. We often stop ourselves right at the start because we know we are unskilled, more filled with dreams than grit, and stop while our image is unmarred by the necessary failures it takes to achieve anything. More than fearing failure, we fear being exposed as frauds and so either seethe with untried effort or simply shrink what we dream of to fit the ability we have today.


Life is a fucking muscle. Use it or watch it die.

We hold onto our woundings, our sorrows and use them as an excuse to not try again. We venture no game we don't already know the outcome of. We become lawyers, risk-averse, asking no question we don't already know the answer to and litigate the minutia of our pain.

Where's the life in that? Where's the joy? the joy of uncertainty met by effort, the satisfaction of overcoming a setback, the deep in your bones knowledge that you left it all on the field?

To unfuck your life you have to live the damn thing into the ground. You have to fail. It is the only proof you have that you are here, that you are still in the game, that you have a spirit and a drive inside you that has not yet found its expression. Each step taken, each song sung, each word written, each child taught, each dinner made, each time you make love to your beloved, each ending implies a beginning, another chance, a new day, a deeper connection, a broader, more generous spirit. Your accomplishings are but stepping stones to other accomplishings. When you freeze in the moment, like the rest who don't try, you become a harbour for all doubt, all sorrows, all fears. And you never leave the starting blocks.

You know this is true. I am saying nothing here that you don't already know.

* * *

The fact we know we will expire is a gift (a gift I say!) because the only chance we have to be kind is now. The only chance we have to try is now. The only time there is to forgive is now. There is no other moment possible. If you are awake, you postpone nothing. You eat life now. The failures and sorrows and setbacks are, in fact, the raw materials you use to build a signal fire, a life of ceaseless failings for that is how the gap is closed, mastery attained, death unfeared.

The shadows only surround you as long as you allow them to.

* * *



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

All Night I

All night I danced round the house of my Beloved.
In the morning he came out 
          and offered me some wine.
I had no cup–
"Here's my empty skull," I said.
"Pour your wine in here."

- Rumi

* * *

The dreaming is code, ancient code, a phantasm of DNA stretching back millennia that tries to bridge the threshold between waking and sleeping, warning us, cautioning us against too much literalism and tries to cajole us into daring to see differently. We are its source and we are its product. How closely we pay attention or how little we care has a direct effect on how we view our lives - not just our immediate, bill-paying life, but Life with a big-assed, motherfucking capital "L".

Dreams are both near and far at the same time, cut from the cloth of our personal experience but also from a larger bolt: our ancient experience of crawling over this planet and trying to make sense of it.

It is this sense of being near and far, finite and infinite that lends our dreaming its otherworldly nature. How can it possibly be both? Because, my beloved, so are we. You fuck yourself when you lose track of this and come to believe only one extreme or the other.

* * *

There is inside us a desire to know, to understand, to make sense and from that sense carve meaning out of our days. We want to know why our parents were so crippled or why they could not see us for who we are or why babies die or why politicians lie or why the Holocaust happened or why our marriage failed or why our schools suck or why money talks and bullshit walks or why we were born in the first place. We want answers because with answers we can bear it. We can bear the thought of crawling across this planet and not really notice how infinitesimally small we are in the cosmic order. It is dizzying to consider how unlikely we are. So, we generally don't consider it. We like our gods to look like and act just like us. Ask Zeus, Ganesha, and all the saints Patrick.

This is not to demean or dismiss the glory of those stories, those beliefs, but to make the rather obvious point that the deeper we go into a particular pattern of belief we are the beneficiary of a more ordered world and also know less of it because we excise those things that don't comport with the system.

And all we do is build systems to house our beliefs.

It is how we know the world and ourselves in it. I believe in words and so order my life accordingly.

What do you believe in?

* * *

But why dream? Why be teased with such visions as arrive in the night?

Here's an answer - not the answer, just something to consider: we dream to escape the systems we live in. Your beliefs are both affirming and confining. If you are awake there should be a tension there, a measure of doubt, a willingness to question. Dreams dare to ask the questions you won't speak aloud. But why? If you accept that idea we are still stuck with the why of dreaming.

Here's the rest of the answer: for us to move further down the road.

We are born and, if we have the wind at our back, can stretch this life out 80 or so years. Not very much at all compared to the scale of all space and time. But we are here anyway. Our efforts to know and be known have created the world we live in: wars, architecture, governance, the judgment of beauty, domesticity, religion, insanity, farming, rocket science. Right on and it is always changing, evolving, moving. That change, that evolution, that motion is us crawling over the planet: sometimes moving forward, sometimes retrograde, sometimes with grace and other times with willful ignorance and fear. The dreaming challenges our waking selves and sows doubt or inspiration and we change again.

You are fucked, your life a pig-fucked mess if you do not adjust, change, grow, move. We are stunned to stupefaction by our losses and want no further change. Remember: what is to give light must endure burning. Life is in the business of transformation. When you think you know the answers, when you know the name of your Beloved and you dance round his door you only have the sign pointing to the reality behind it: change.

Dance. Empty your skull. Lose some certainty. The dreaming is who you are, too.

* * *

One last thing. Look around you right now. Look at the room you are sitting in. Listen to the music you may be playing as you read this. Pay attention to the things in your life. When we play with the dreaming, when we live from the tension between near and far and never from the certainty of either, we build things, leave marks, clues, testaments to our desire to know and be known. Look around your room right now. How many things are the leavings others left behind to help you on your way?

It is always nigh. It is always being nigh.

You just have to open your eyes.

* * *



Friday, March 7, 2014

These Things You

These things you keep
You'd better throw them away
You wanna turn your back
On your soulless days
Once you were tethered
And now you are free
Once you were tethered
Well now you are free
That was the river
This is the sea

- The Waterboys, "This Is The Sea"

* * * 

It is a sudden wind that meets you, a gust that catches you unawares, passes through your coat and sails on, but for that one moment, that sudden burst - an unseen source - marks you the way you've been marking time. You turn your collar up, cinch your coat a bit tighter and carry on, but the wind has met you; you've felt it in your bones. Later, maybe at home, maybe at the edge of a bar, maybe in silence, maybe in a roar you remember the wind and how easily it saw through you. Your collar can't be turned high enough, your coat wrapped close enough to dissuade the thought that the natural world, the world of winds and storms and mudslides and earthquakes and rain and snow has so little use for you. It is you who must steel yourself against it: build shelters, put away food, learn to live around the edges of its impervious will. This thought disquiets you, but you drain the whiskey and toast the ingenuity of the generations who had it harder. It's not so bad after all. There is beauty in the forms we've created to hold onto to our places in the wide, windy world: architecture, gardens, towns and cities. All that can be done has been done and it is a fine, fine thing.

Yet, the wind persists. It nags and whistles. It cuts and caresses. You no longer notice the wind. It is simply part of the world. Some days it is fair and others foul, but it means nothing. You don't feel it anymore because your mind is occupied with accounts receivable and the cost of a nanny and the registration packet that sits on your desk and the damn bills that seem to fall like snow and that odd ache and tenderness under your arm and you really should quit smoking and sleep is either dreamless and blank (which frightens you because you worry this is what death is like) or it is too filled with dreams that you cannot understand and that, too frightens you and you walk to the corner to grab a beer from Mike and sit at his bar and you turn your collar up against the fucking wind that has just now kicked up and you enter the bar and it is warm and dark, the amber colored booze lit from below along the back bar and you think this is a fine old world after all. Mike pours you a draft and you are glad for the quiet and the bills are stuck on your desk and can't bother you here and the tenderness under your arm you convince yourself is a phantom and if you think about it a little extra weight looks good on you and you tip the glass back. It is bracing and cold and it hits the spot. You smile when you put the glass down. Without meaning to your eye is caught by the bottom-lit liquors. It looks to you like the warm glow of Christmas lights. You smile and your gaze lifts to the mirror behind the bar. It is a sudden wind that hits you, a gust of recognition that catches you unawares. You were just a moment ago a young man of 25, of 33, of 40, of 50, of 60 and now now now...

The wind tried to tell you all those years ago but you turned your nose and collar up, you cinched yourself in instead of opening up: live boy-o. The things you keep will only drag you down and in the end, at the end, their presumed importance will be ash in your mouth.

* * *

There are no do overs, no restarts. The Mulligans we claim are provisional, momentary, a winsome comfort. What there is a new day. We never start from zero again. Each moment adds to the next and what we do today will be incorporated into the next day. It is a dangerous conceit to believe we are born again, as if all that slogging up the hill didn't happen or doesn't matter. It did. It does. You're a fool to discount any part of your days. You're also a fool if you if you hold onto them like talismans, as if there is nothing more to think, say or do. If your eyes open in the morning, there is more for you to do.

Mostly it has to do with letting go.

Regrets are illuminations come too late. To be awake in the wide, windy world is to move from moment to moment alive to the possibility of each moment. Holding onto the weight of memory, of regret, of pain, of joy, of happiness robs you of the chance to see what this moment can be for you.

I get it. You've been hurt. You've hurt others. You lied. You cheated. You stole. You were afraid. You had a great time. You were in love. You slept. You believed things that you no longer believe in. You lost faith. You burned trust. You weren't kind when you had the chance. You were impatient with the littleness of your kids, the frailty of your aging parents. You lost track of your friends. You were betrayed. You were comforted. I get it. I've been there. I know the contours of that hill. But so what? It is just life, it is just magnificently life pouring itself out over your head. Let it go and go do what's next and then let that go and do what's next.

We confuse the shore for the river and the river for the sea.

Your god is too small if all you do is cling to the shore, the idea of a god you can name.

When you move past the past, when the dichotomies whither away, when even the idea of god cannot be named you'll be free. If you're willing to become that which you are - an essential part of a whole that is bound by no shore - then and then and then when the lights go out you become the wind itself.

* * *



Tuesday, March 4, 2014

We Can't Fall

We can't fall any further
If we can't deal with ordinary love
And we cannot reach any higher
If we can't deal with ordinary love

- U2, Ordinary Love

* * *

We're all bound by certain forces: the weight of all the evolution and revolution it took to bring us here, the pull of our personal gravity and the orbits we make round the moons of our desires, the black holes in our chests where disappointment, rejection and confusion dwell, the thrust and trajectory of our days - soaring out, speeding past, reaching its apex and then and then and then falling back to earth. This then is our common cause. This then is our common ground, and this then is were it falls apart, loses faith in those forces, scatters, breaks apart, disintegrates and we are left wondering where it all went to.

We dream in grandeur and our pains are magnificent, stultifying, technicolor ordeals - the hubris of our fantasies - but dude, dear one, my brother, my sister, my comrade in fuckeditude, it is what is plain and ordinary and everpresent that saves us, that we walk right past because it is so common. Our pride and self-importance blind us to it: love.

That which is ordinary is easily dismissed as somehow lacking presence. No one notices the sidewalk - it is just there. No one notices the sidewalk until it is broken, canted at an angle, chipped, falling away. Do you notice the love that has attended your days? Set aside the failings of yourself and others trying to communicate this love, you must acknowledge the fact that you have been loved, are loved, will be loved. Maybe it will include romance and plenty of mind-bending sex; maybe it will include the satisfaction of acknowledgement of what it is you bring; maybe it will exist only in your eyes as you see something, someone that needs you and you act and do what you can do.

The religious will tell you God's love fills their life and it is so, for they believe it to be so.
The secular will tell you of the freedom to give and receive love as the height of human expression, and it is so, for they believe it to be so.
The fucked will only tell you of the love they lost, the love they never had and it will be so for they believe it to be so.

What you believe about love, about anything, will have consequences in how your life unfolds. Our expectation guides our experience and our experience becomes the bedrock of our expression.

If that is so (and it is so) how can you fall any further than you already have? If you blot out the possibility of love, of being loved, of being worthy of love, then you are already at the edge of the universe, light years from your possibility. How can you reach any higher if you have placed a keeper on what is possible, on how love can be expressed in your life? If fucking and sucking is what you know of love then you haven't scratched the surface of what is there for you.

You fuck yourself by the things you come to believe because you mistake your heartache and losses, your unskilled performance as all your life affords you. Such arrogance! You are on the road to find out what your life can be and you cannot judge it while it is in process. Man is an event that cannot judge itself, but, for better or worse, is left to the judgement of others. Don't preclude your possibility because love didn't arrive as you wanted it do. It is here nonetheless. It hides in plain sight. It is ordinary. It is made up of the millions upon millions of acts we each take to make our way down the road. I will also tell you this: the road itself is the love you've been missing.

* * *

If we have failed in our romances, it does not mean we cannot love. It means we have more to learn and having something more to learn is why we're on the road. If we have failed to recognize the hurt in our children over the frightened things we say and do, it does not mean we cannot be there for them now. No feeling is final, love. We are here to find out what it like to be here. The road we travel is our destination and it is blessedly ordinary, the sum of all desires written in a million languages, by millions of different voices speaking in tongues: love, sweet, sweet love.

* * *

Boom, and may your bon temps rouler.