Sunday, April 27, 2014

When There's A


When there's a trap set up for you
In every corner of this town
And so you learn the only way to go is underground
When there's a trap set up for you
In every corner of your room
And so you learn the only way to go is through the roof


- Gogol Bordello, Through the Roof N Underground

* * *

When I lived in Hungary a million years ago I was asked this question by way of indoctrination to the culture in the waning days of Communist rule: What is the definition of a Hungarian?

The answer: A Hungarian is someone who enters a revolving door behind you and exits in front of you.

Time to be Hungarian.

* * *

The world that surrounds, the cultural norms and expectations - from your immediate family to the broad arcs of commerce, entertainment and politics - has very little use for you and your own sense of self, of becoming who you might be. There are jobs to fill. Debt to fall into. Politicians to elect. It is the way of things. You are to become what others need you to be: a consumer of their ideas about the who, what, where, when and why of life. If you agree to these terms some day you'll own a home as big as a house. Promise.

Don't read that wrong. I am a strong advocate for food and shelter. What I want you to consider though are the means by which those goals are reached.

There are pernicious platitudes about finding happiness in doing the work you love, a horrific misreading of Campbell's "Follow you bliss." It is a decidedly white, privileged, smug, suburban, faux-intellectual, bullshit approach to the central question each is faced with and must answer at some point in their lives: How am I to live?

Here's my answer: as a Hungarian, as a subversive.

Do you think migrant workers - in this country or any other - are following their bliss? How about the woman who cleaned the hotel room you stayed in? Or the cabbie or the short order cook? Would you be blissed out doing that work? None of us would be. But those who take on those dirty jobs at least know why they are doing it: so someday their kid doesn't have to, or they get themselves through school, or they bust tail and own the joint. And that is a wildly subversive act. You think I am only this? Wait til you see what's coming.

* * *

When cultural conformity becomes the default response to the day-to-day requirements of living, then the responsibility of the individual is to resist such pressure and subvert its expectation. Camus said,  "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion." I say, the only way to deal with a fucked up world is to unfuck yourself.  By unfucking your life you set yourself free from the constraints that have bound you, be it love, abuse, poverty, unwilling compliance, religiosity - any of it. An unfucked life thinks for itself and that is what makes you a subversive. It is how you exit the revolving door.

Despotism and totalitarianism are not simply political and historical artifacts. They exist inside families, inside work places, schools - anywhere people congregate someone will want to decide what is best for others. Like I said, I am all for food and shelter, traffic laws and the need to have the water safe, the runways clear and the trains on time. Right on. This is the best of what we can accomplish together. But after that, once it gets into modes of living, of what is acceptable, normal, productive - well, fuck that. But, I am just one in a sea of many. Resistance is futile. Except it is not. Resistance is imperative. No one needs another fucking lawyer to show up on the scene. What we need are revolutionaries - those who have figured out how to live and pursue their essential selves in such a way that their freedom does not impinge, limit or harm anothers'. This isn't political. It is a spiritual pursuit - not toward any religion's god, but to one's own sense of belonging in the world, of belonging to the world and it belonging to you.

* * *

Ev'rybody's talkin' 'bout
Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism
This-ism, that-ism, ism ism ism


* * *

The various isms in the world are attempts to get the world to bend to someone's will. It never works. Not completely. Here's why: someone always survives and tells a different story.

The Magyars have been under the heel of invaders ever since they settled the large bowl of what we call Hungary: Tartars, Turks, Hapsburgs and Soviets. When it was part of the Austrian empire the Hungarian language was dying out. Then the puffy-lipped geniuses in Vienna outlawed the Hungarian language and demanded only German be spoken. The language that was dying on its own came roaring back to life with a massive influx of new words and applications.  Like others behind Churchill's Iron Curtain, Hungarians learned to live with their oppressors and provided whatever show was demanded of them, but in private, away from spying eyes, they rebelled, finding ways to re-exert their individual experience, if only for themselves, regardless of the external forces demanding conformity. Not everyone, of course. Plenty of collaborators, but there were enough to prove the point: all of man's freedom's can be taken from him except one - the freedom to choose how to respond to his circumstance.

I ask you to consider a life as a subversive. The pay can be lousy, but the fringe benefits are what give the next generation hope.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

All Sanity Depends

All sanity depends on this: that it should be a delight to feel heat strike the skin, a delight to stand upright, knowing the bones are moving easily under the flesh.

- Doris Lessing

* * *

Too much time contemplating one's navel makes one an ass. There is a certain hubris that sweeps down the mountainside of spiritual growth, of pride in how fucking holy one has become (or presumes to be). It is rank, foul and a marker that you are still fucked and stuck. Beneficence wafts off you like diesel fumes. Your goodness is simply an ego trip. Like Little Jack Horner you've pulled out a plum. Bully for you.

The thing you have to get past is the false assumption that things of the spirit have nothing to do with the flesh, or that things of this moment aren't eternal, or that sanity and wisdom aren't bones and skin and sunlight and movement. It is a terrible thing to have caught a glimpse of something, a glimpse of something other than you, larger than you, more suddenly perfect than you could have imagined. Call it what you will: God, Life, Pure Mind, the Logos. The name doesn't matter, but when you catch it for a moment you are in thrall of it. You can't believe it has broken into your life. You are changed. You hunger for it again and you retrace your steps hoping to trick it into appearing again. You practice. You devote yourself to ritual. You read. You meditate. You pray. You carry the memory of the moment inside you like a secret message and everywhere you can find no trace of it except in your memory.

You go a little crazy. Maybe a lot crazy. You think you had something in hand and it has slipped through your fingers. If you stay on this path you realize it was evanescent, but you take comfort in that it was shown to you - you saw it - you felt it - more importantly, you recognized it. You become insufferable in your pride.

* * *

There is this: if you pay attention to the sun on your skin, the knowledge of bones moving under your flesh, you have slipped the bonds of categorizing your experience. Why must there be dichotomies? Why must God, or Life, or Pure Mind only be revealed in spiritually exalted circumstances? Why not in a bowl of pasta, or earthquakes, or wiping a baby's ass, or fucking, or noting the color of roses, or just walking down the goddamned street because it feels good to walk and feel heat strike your skin and delight in being upright at this moment?

We are not here to ignore the world of sensation, to reject our physical selves for the higher arts of spiritual cunning. We are here to discover the spiritual in the world, in its ordinariness, in its profanity and grace, through our limited resources of touch and taste and smell and sound and sight, through the limitless resource of our desiring.

Know this: in this exact moment you are alright, you are perfect, you are the heat and the skin and the bones and the sanity and the knowledge you need to be in this moment. The exact now is always bearable, is always ready to reveal itself to you. The pain of the past has no bearing on this one moment, nor does any fear you may harbor for the future. The only spiritual exercise worthy of your time is to be here: now. You have to get away from the blind side of life - pride, arrogance, fear, anger, et al.

When you are here you are the glimpse of eternity itself.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

But After Awhile

But after awhile you stand up, wipe the frost out of your ear, go someplace to get warm, bum a nickel for coffee, and then start walkin' toward somewheres else that ain't near no bridge.

- William Kennedy, Ironweed

* * *

There are three sorts in this world: the living, the recently dead whose lives overlap with those still living, and the dead so dead there's no one alive who knew them. There is a type of conversation had between them: memories rounded and burnished, gaps ever widening and the need, for now - always now - to keep moving. It is what we have done since memory was first invented. Later, we figured out how to leave our stories behind, stories that didn't need to passed by word of mouth, but by the magic of symbols and signs: our tongues turned to text.

Always, it is a conversation between the three sorts. Always, we pattern ourselves on the patterns laid down before we arrived. Always, we have to answer the answers others came up with to figure out what we're to do with the incredible phenomenon of breathing and thinking and feeling and longing and wondering and fearing and loving and trying, always trying to figure out purpose and meaning and rarely getting out past the patterns laid down before us. We are original only in that we are a unique, solitary, one-off expression of life.

And it troubles us that this is so.

* * *

I have been looping back through a thought over and over. I come close to understanding it, but it moves away like mercury and I run the film again trying to find that line of thought and I come close to understanding it, but it moves away like mercury and I run the film again trying to find the line of thought...

It is this: we are here to help each other move on - in life, in death, in memory, in love, in action, in sweet repose, in daylight, in midnight, in fullness, in part, in the myriad ways we've devised to put one foot in front of the other. We are on our way to find out what it is we can find out about being the incredible phenomenon that breathes, thinks, feels, longs, wonders, fears, loves and tries to riddle out meaning in the infinitude of time.

I dreamt I was standing along the Pacific, on a windy beach. It was bright. The spray of the ocean fell on everything, salting it. I was with a woman. In the dream I knew she and I were together, but I did not recognize her from my waking life. It was the moment of our deaths and when we realized it we were, for a flash, afraid, then it passed through us. We took each other's hand and smiled.

This is the loop, the film. She is back lit, but I see that smile, that calmness and I think, "Of course."

* * *

You are not alone in this world. You come from people who handled their lives well or less well. You've been told stories about the people who came before them, or you've created ones to fill the gaps. You are known. You belong. You have something to do while you are here. It mostly has to do with love - not of any god, or cosmology, but with the incredible phenomenon of being here. If it has run off the rails, so what? Fix it. If it hasn't been easy or just or fair, so what? You still breathe. If you fail to fix it, if you stay mired in the muck of being affronted by life's indifference, then you'll have burned time for nothing. When you get to the shore you'll fear it.

You can fall into the trap of an existential crisis. You can despair of your finite nature. You can do all that (and it happens to us all), but after awhile you stand up, wipe the frost out of your ear, go someplace to get warm, bum a nickle for coffee and then start walkin' towards somewheres else. It is in the moment you decide to get up, to move that stories are born. The things we do when we push away from the bullshit ennui are the things that populate our lives, are the doings of our lives. It is the first word in the conversation we have with the lives that surround us, the lives that overlapped ours, that exist now only in story and memory and by doing so we reach, "Of course."

* * *

Boom.

__________

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Every Fury On

Every fury on earth has been absorbed in time, as art, or as religion, or as authority in one form or another. The deadliest blow the enemy of the human soul can strike is to do fury honor. Swift, Blake, Beethoven, Christ, Joyce, Kafka, name me a one who has not been this castrated. Official acceptance is the one unmistakable symptom that salvation is beaten again, and is the one surest sign of fatal misunderstanding, and is the kiss of Judas.

- James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

* * *

Read Agee. Your life will be set on fire.

* * *

There is this: either you are awake to your own genius, or you sleepwalk; either you are the author of your days, or you are a character in someone else's book; either you can live without anyone's approval save your own, or you are forever on your back foot awaiting acceptance that should it ever come will always be less than you hoped for. There is no grey area here. The only part that is muddied, unclear is your willingness to live this out day in and day out. Our spirit flags and we need time to recover, but none of that changes the foundational prerogative that you either master your days or are a slave to them.

And remember, this is a timed test. Pencils down at any moment.

* * *

I cannot advocate for anger, but fury I'm good with. Anger is base, dissolute, easily spent and easily stoked. Fury is of a different order. It permeates, informs, drives, lifts; it is the will to sit in a chair and type out books; it is the will to work late into the night, to miss meals, to reject the status quo, to speak truth to power, to draw inspiration from the fact you draw breath and there is work for you to do. Not employment, but work. Fury is the genius you have left untapped. Fury is the force that drives the green fuse, that inflames a life so it might pursue justice, or beauty, or solace, or love, or redemption. It is the full expression of a life - its soul laid bare: unashamed, unapologetic, fierce with love.

Thus is fury. Thus is a life unfucked.

You are the only authority that matters. You are the the only one who can decide what shape and color your life is to have. No guru, no method, no teacher matters. Only you do. There is inside you a life that is not yet lived. Forget the trials of past. Let them be. They are dead and they are gone. You still live. Will you bring the dead with you? Will you be limited by those things that cannot be changed, or will you embrace this one moment to torch up your life, to accept the unique fury that is inside you and give it room to express itself? Will you? The world doesn't need another doctor or lawyer or salesman. It needs people who have come alive, who are lit from within and live accordingly.

Look around you. Is your life happier, better, more complete because did as you were told, or as you decided?

It is a lonely thing at first. No one quite understands and the judgments come swift and unkind. No one likes to see someone separate from the herd and be happy. It reminds them of all they have hedged and compromised and it stings. But let your fury be your guide. There is genius in it because unlike anger, fury is sustaining because it always sees work to do, places it can go to complete the task in front of itself: helping you be the author of your life.

* * *

Swift, Blake, Beethoven, Christ, Joyce, Kafka - they paid dearly for their genius, their fury and in time that genius was subsumed into polite conversation, a place in the canon, history's high regard. Fuck that. You cannot read or hear their works and be as you were before. They are transformative exactly because they were subversive, their lives a rebuke to the status quo and the death that cloaks it. It was only after their deaths that acceptance found them.

You must be the genius you are and forego acceptance in exchange for the fury that will carry you until the end.

* * *

You can add James Agee to that list as well.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Sunday, April 6, 2014

We All Got

We all got holes to fill
And them holes are all that's real
Some fall on you like a storm
Sometimes you dig your own

But choice is yours to make
And time is yours to take
Some dive into the sea
Some toil upon the stone

- Townes Van Zandt, To Live Is To Fly

* * *

There are times when I am destroyed by tenderness. The frailty of our bodies, the transitory nature of our days, how lost we can get are all part of the mystery of putting one foot in front of the other, of venturing a bit further on and in those moments when we are unsure of ourselves, when we glimpse at the edge of our vision time's ceaseless flight, when fear and doubt and longing all knot themselves together a kindness, a gesture from another recognizing our plight, our common struggle is all it takes to unknot those ropes, to destroy the fear and move freer, lighter: unbound.

Tenderness is the outward expression of an internal truth: we're all going to die and nothing can be done about it, but there is something we can do while we live - we can give what we can so others' fears are stilled. A balm, a gift, our very soul.

Such is the work of musicians, writers, painters, poets. But also of plumbers and teachers and embalmers and bank tellers and cooks and every last one of us fuckers. Townes destroys me all the time, destroys my fears, keeps me on the road. By reading this, you do to.

* * *

We all got holes to fill. Those absences define us in ways we aren't always able to recognize. Habits of thought become patterns of doing and it takes an outside actor - a book, a song, a sermon, a drink with a friend, a date, bad news, good news, a diagnosis, a death - to break the pattern and so give us a chance to see what we've been doing, how we've dealt (or not dealt) with those holes. Whether the holes are simply what you were born into, or whether you created them is, at the end of the day, immaterial. What matters is what you're going to do about it. How will you go about your days? Will you be filled with anger at the injustice of it? Shame for your hand in it? Denial because you fear facing it? Courage to finally fight it out? What?

Here's my answer: destroy it through the kindness of your doing. There is no finer gift possible than to give yourself to a cause greater than yourself. This is the tenderness I'm talking about. You can do X and by doing X you add to the store of good will, kindness, gestures referencing something other than yourself and so lay down tracks of hope and solace and inspiration and courage. You needn't be any of those things yourself, but by your doing, by working outside of yourself you litter the world with signs and signifiers for others to find, to use and build from. Your doings can touch lives unknown to you, can make those lives kinder and better than might have otherwise been possible except for your willingness to do your work, to be who you are.

What is fear or doubt in the face of such beauty?

Again, you can be a drunk, a junkie as Townes was and still say and do things that can transform lives. I hope you're not a junkie, but being one doesn't exclude you from having something to give. The only thing that does that is you choosing not to. If you're fucked this is what's fucking you.

* * *

Lately, I have become aware of the small gestures I see passing between aging couples, couples who seemingly are still connected to each other and not drifting into old age and decline as solitary beings. A hand placed on a forearm to help the other remember a name, walking slowly together, glances passed back and forth without words but keen understanding, how close their bodies are to each other and it takes every thought out of my head. These are the doings they can share and so simply because their bodies are declining does not mean their willingness to be present for the other, with the other must decline as well. This is what I write about. Works of art are attempts to hold time in place: words, sounds, images are all ordered to halt time, to transcend it. And that is one type of work, one type of doing, one type of kindness. The other work does not resist time, but remains indifferent to it while there is still time to place a hand on a forearm, to look into another's eyes and say, "I'm here. I got you. I love you."

Choose your work and then do it.

* * *

To live is to fly, low and high
So shake the dust off of your wings
And the sleep out of your eyes.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

And Through My


And through my bones an iron rage
Paints my soul upon the page.

- David Grey, "Real Love"

* * *

The impulse to try again, to try again and again, to restart, reboot, recover, redeem is rooted in a rage against the way things are, the way we allowed things to be, the way we have responded to the way things are in our lives. Writ large or small, our responses to the facts of our lives are the only things we control. When we reach a point of no longer giving a flying fuck about anything other than trying to unfuck what has us stuck, there are streaks of rage marbled into it.  It isn't a question of denying the rage. No, the question before you is how to use it.

If you stumble, if you have become lost, if there is a darkening sense that you could have shown better than you have, been willing to stand up straight and not be straightened, you can fall down the rabbit of hole of self-loathing that plagues all of this. You can turn against yourself because you are the closest thing at hand, because you realize you were responsible for every last word and deed, because you have convinced yourself the process of individuation, of learning how to be you, was somehow supposed to be complete from Day 1 and not something learned over time. We all do it, and it is all bullshit.

Let it go. Let it all go. All it does is give you a headache in the eye.

* * *

To unfuck your life, friend, you have to use what is at hand to get yourself moving again. If the rage I described is part of you right now, then use it to help yourself along. Unbridled rage is a waste of energy. It is dramatic and useless and only delays the day when you finally get down to the business at hand: unfucking what's been fucked.

There must be ways for you to route that rage, to send it along corridors of intention to drive you out of the muck you've been covered in. This is the art of it, the challenge of it, the burgeoning sense of being able to out stare your blindness. And it can be tough. There will be fallow times, empty swaths where it seems nothing is changing, where, for all your efforts, you are twinned to the realization that you're fucked and your efforts to unfuck it have yielded no fruit.

No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

This is the power that comes into your hands if you ply that rage on a daily basis, if you discipline that rage into works and actions and doings. You free yourself from outcomes, from proofs, from outward signs and symbols of your efforts. All that matters is the doing, the daily doing, the doing when there is no light, the doing when there is no acknowledgement, the doing because to not do it is to betray what you have learned to date and nothing and no one will cause you to give it up.

You're uncertain? No matter.
You don't know how? No matter.
You fear being misunderstood? You will be, so no matter.

What does matter, what does carry with it the key to your soul, is the willingness to show up and use what is at hand to build your life, to consciously choose all you can and to trust your unconscious to do its part as well. When you are willing to live in the moment, in process, engaged, then your rage is transformed into desire, the desire to know your name, to know what you can yet be, to do all you can yet do with the spit of time left to you.

Howl, motherfucker, but do.

* * *

I work. I do. I hit empty stretches. I rage. I show up. Music helps with all that. Find what helps you and give it space, room to grow. Tend it for it will one day save you.

* * *

Boom.

__________