Wednesday, May 28, 2014

One Is Always

One is always reminded of the difference between Achilles and Homer: one has the experience, the feeling; the other describes it.

- F. Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human: 211

* * *

Forever looking in from the outside, noses pressed against the metaphoric glass, the fucked see the actions and doings of others as spectacle, theater - brave possibly, thrilling certainly - and become as sports fans with painted faces and team logos and howling screams of a fuck-yeah sort of affirmation of what others are doing seemingly for the pleasure of hearing those on the sidelines call out their names. One is always reminded of the difference between the unfucked and the fucked: one has the experience, the feeling; the other consumes it with a mixture of envy and disgust.

* * *

Nietzsche was having his way putting down the artist. Pale and wan, the artist could only describe what others had done. But as with all things, Nietzsche is here to challenge, confront and demand some thought about things that we give no thought to: the habits and modes of society and their effect on the individual. The man himself was an artist - a scaldingly brilliant one - and some of his disparaging can be read as a challenge to himself to do more.

It is this urge for something more, for some other way of experiencing life that can leave us unsatisfied, with the stale, flat taste of copper in our mouths for we can envision a life that we might live, but yet haven't figured out how to execute it. The difference between what is possible and what is can drive you to your knees, make you despair of ever moving out past the banalities of bills paid, clocks punched - the minute matriculations of day-to-day living that accrue, accumulate and clog the life you meant to have. You look up and ten years have fled since your marriage broke apart; fifteen years since you took the degree in business instead of finishing off your work in the history department; five years since you first realized the clock is forever winding down and all you've done is buy things instead of doing things. The seductions of material pleasures, of material achievement are as lullabies - they infantilize the power that flows in your veins, the power for you to choose the shape and color of your life.

If you are fucked, then you do nothing of what you are capable of. One needn't be Achilles (and Homer's description is another form of doing), but you do have to be who you are - complete, no part left out. If losses define you, if frustration harries you, if the hurt that comes with being alive simply confounds you then your life will never take hold, you will never find the sweet line until you let go of the false assumption that you are owed something for your pain, your confusion, the raw deal you see your life as.

Here's the thing, love: it isn't a raw deal. It is a fucking marvelous deal.

* * *

We are raised to wear the mantle of the values and mores of our time. We assimilate the unspoken expectations of a certain kind of achievement: wealth, power, status, etc. Though the channels are choked off for many to make it through it is still held as the ideal and when our lives butt up against that ideal we find ourselves wanting. The only thing real about reality TV is the desperation of the participants to be judged as winners in the fame lottery. When losses come as they must we have no mooring, no grounding to weather them. The old icons of religion have become retrograde, medieval, a fundamentalist blindness to the complexity and awe of life. So what happens? We take it out on ourselves. Because we don't fit neatly into a category, or even if we do there is a voice that whispers to us, "There is more to do," we chafe and blame ourselves. We grind to a halt. We fuck ourselves instead of challenging, confronting and demanding some thought about the things we have given an easy acquiescence to.

Life is here for you to use it up before you lay it down.

Don't die with gas in the tank.

* * *

But to what end is all this unfucking to lead to, eh? We still die. The faith that could once describe a heaven is in tatters - unreliable for all the sins of the priests and gurus and the politics of it all. To what end is a fair question.

Here's an answer: because to do anything less is to betray not a God, or a Creator, but to betray the consciousness that can dream of love and wit and meaning and sacrifice and joy in the face of all comers - your consciousness, love. Yours.

Now go. Have some fun while it is still light out.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Have You Ever

Have you ever worn thin
Have you ever never known where to begin
Have you ever lost your belief
Watching your faith turn to grief


- Ben Harper via The Blind Boys of Alabama
Give A Man A Home

* * *

Hey, man, there's work to do. I know you've been busted up some. I know you've done some meanness in your time. I know how precarious it can seem, how tired and worn thin you can get. I know this because you and I are the same. We are brothers and sisters staggering on, standing still, racing the wind, always with a road to put our feet upon and there are times when it is just so fucking hard to know why.

Baby, it ain't why, why, why. It just is. That's all there is to it. It just is. You is. I is. We is. We are here and there is work to do. Lay down your weary tune and get to work.

But that's easier said than done, right?

* * *

St. John of the Cross called it the dark night of the soul, the yearning for connection unmet except by faith and faith in short supply.  This is the nature of who we are: we seek connection, a harbor, a home - safe and certain - in the surrounding darkness and when the difference between who we are and what we've become grows too great there is collapse, confusion, chaos. We stagger on not believing a thing; feeling the fool for ever once believing. Our losses are taunts, humiliations, proofs of an indifferent cosmos. It is a promise broken.

Fuck.

You can spend the rest of your days in that mire. It is true. That is an option. So is a pollyana, immature, saccharine faith all sunshine and lollipops that bears no weight, that induces sleep rather than emboldens you to awake.

But there are other options as well.

Joseph Campbell said, "that each of us is a completely unique creature and that, if we are ever to give any gift to the world, it will have to come out of our own experience and fulfillment of our own potentialities, not someone else’s."

That's your work, love.

Quit asking life to be fair or just. It is not. It cares only for more of itself, more life, more change. When you are fucked and stuck and going nowhere you are outside the floods and waterspouts of God, of Life, of the whatever name you choose to give the combustive energy that sustains life. If you have been worn down by the difficulty, the pain, the suffering you have met in your life your task is not to curl up in a corner and nurse those wounds. No, you are to transform those trials, those losses, that pain, those site specific happenings in your life into acts and doings that are the fulfillment of the potential that exists solely in you. And the vehicle for that transformation? Why the pain itself.

Really.

I know you don't want to hear it. Some losses are unimaginable, seemingly unbearable. You want them to be unbearable so you can finally lay down and quit trying. But you haven't quit, have you? You are here. You are reading this. This is your life trying to come back to life. Listen to it. Follow it. You'll have to let go of some things. We fucked fucks are ever faithful to our pain, never leaving it, always tending to it because we believe we owe something to it. And we do, but it ain't holding on to it. It is letting it go and moving once again in the world.

Your trials mark you. Your bruised faith marks you. Your losses and desires and frustrations mark you and are the raw materials you have to work with to transform that experience into something new, something that only your love and will can make. This is your gift. It is your genius.

* * *

We all crave a place to call our own, something that is ours - safe and certain. It may be a home; it could be a relationship; it might be the work you do. But consider this as well: you and your unique experience - in peace and in war, at rest and in motion, filled with doubt or filled with love - is your home, is your harbor and the place you ever return to to begin again. It is where grief turns to belief and you find the world waiting for you and the gifts you bring.

* * *

Boom.

__________

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Lost In The

Lost in the world
It seemed
Caught and lost for words
I didn't know til now
How could I have known
I didn't know til now
How could I have known
But now I see, but now I see
how sweet like a leaf
And now I see, I see it complete
And now I see, like a leaf


- Jim James, Know Til Now

* * *

I have been thinking about us, about why I write these pieces, about why you might read them, about the reasons behind it, the place all these words point to. For it is assuredly not these words that matter. It is not the text - that is just a sign pointing to a deeper, unwrite-able reality. Words are a vehicle. I love writing them and they are, or can be beautiful, life-changing. It is a type of art we have invented like music, or dance, or image; but like those plastic arts they are but signs and metaphors approximating a deeper, bone deep knowledge and experience of life that we struggle to not only name, but stay connected to in our lives.

It is never the sign, never the art, but the reality behind it, supporting, surrounding it that matters. And a life spent building signs for others to see, to make with what they will, is also a metaphor - a living metaphor - that others can read and make with what they will, what their own genius will demand and so continue the work of learning how to be human in this time, in this place.

I began this project several years ago as a way of knowing my own experience, of holding it out at arm's length and looking at it, the chips and flaws as well as the brilliant places and filtering it through the music and poetry and thoughts of those who left behind those artifacts seemingly just for me and trying to find where my experience overlapped with theirs, where my road echoed something they had experienced. That is where this began. It is not where we are today.

All art - not just the fine arts - but the art of living is the art of leaving yourself behind, your vanity, your hubris, your fears and opening the doors of experience, busting them off their hinges, blowing out the walls that held them and entering into the stream of the life that surrounds you and being connected to every corner of it. You can't be in all places. You can't serve all people. You can't answer their questions. What you can do is be present. What you can do is the work your hands demand of you. What you can do is free yourself of the dogma of your time so you can help free others - not by the answers you come up with, but by the subversive example of simply being here: awake, alive, unafraid, participating in the joys and sorrows of our days.

I unfuck my life by being here. It is part of who I am now. It is not the totality of my work, but it is foundational. I write so you might find these words and think they were written seemingly just for you (and they are), so that you might find an echo of your own experience and so be emboldened to let go of the traps and snares you may find yourself in. And if that was all we did I'd call it a good life, a fair trade, a briliance.

But we can't stop there.

Every generation believes it is the ultimate generation, the one who faced the greatest obstacles, overcame the deepest hells, invented the world as it is. And in a sense, that is true enough, and the poets and thinkers and workers and soldiers and businessmen and politicians and priests all believe they know and never once consider that what they know is simply a repeat of what the generation before it went through. Certainly with new names, new technologies, new horrors and new faiths, but essentially the same: how are we to live.

* * *

We are in trouble - collectively, on a planetary scale. The narrowness of our politics, the tribalism that has never left us and is blind to all things that do not fit into the narrow, short-sighted, immediate goals of the group in power (and the plotting of those out of power) has always been a threat to our lives, has always been used to excuse and justify the horrors we rain down on anyone and anything that is "other." To quote Tom Waits, we are monkeys with money and guns. Just like every generation before us, we need people to come alive, to be awake and unafraid, to be present and accounted for, to be selfless in the face of willful ignorance, to help in every corner by simply being connected to the life that surrounds, subsumes, and supports it. Listen, we are fouling the nest, destroying ecosystems, boiling away the ice caps and building a watery end to the human experiment all because we are monkeys with money and guns. The world needs you to show up, to be the voice crying in the wilderness, to subvert the arches of commerce with a life well-lived so it emboldens others to do the same.

By doing so you will leave a trail of artifacts that the next generation will pick up and use to filter their experience and see if there are places where their experiences echo and rhyme with yours. It is what we do best, it is the best of us, our finest trait, our highest art: we are living metaphors of a completeness that cannot be named, but experienced.

* * *

It's okay, man, if it hasn't grokked til now. But now that it has, you know what to do.

I'll keep doing my part here. Go get to your stuff. This is why you are here. This is what you were made for.

* * *

Boom.

__________




Thursday, May 15, 2014

To Know What

To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.

- RL Stevenson

* * *

There is a moment, a still moment, a quiet moment, perhaps it arrives in the middle of the night, perhaps in the purple glow of noon, at your desk, in the car, walking idly down a street, or at dinner with your family, but this moment arrives regardless of where you are physically in the world and when it comes nothing can be as it was before for this still moment, this quiet moment, this moment when you realize that yes, you would have preferred to go to your graduation instead of pretending it was no big deal because those around you couldn't understand or were jealous; that, yes, it does matter that you return my calls; that, yes, what is being asked of you at work is an inverse relationship between the suppression of wages and inhuman demands of productivity; that, yes, you are well aware of the qualities of shit versus shinola and you won't be lied to again, won't accept corporate doublespeak as a language worthy of your attention, won't deny your preferences, desires and thoughts to appease another, to avoid an uncomfortable conversation, to diminish yourself because those around you have infected you with their fear, jealousy and remorse.

When this moment comes, when you finally let it in, everything changes.

Everything.

* * *

Riddle me this. If the mantra of these pages is that you are free to choose how you respond to the circumstances of your life and there is no keeper on those choices save one - that what ever you do cannot impede, diminish or limit another's choices - and you grok that idea then the last question that remains is: If you can do this for others, are you doing it for yourself?

Are you choosing anything that impedes the transit of your days?
Are you choosing anything that diminishes your ability, your accomplishments, your desires?
Are you choosing anything that limits your ability to express those desires?

Well, are you? If you're fucked, you most certainly are. You may be goddamned fucking Mother Theresa to the world, but to your own self thine are not true. Virtue becomes a trap. Look at me. I am a good person. I put others before me. I care, pal. Right on. Have at it, but knock that shit off anyway. There is no virtue, no goodness no caring possible without caring for yourself first. Sounds ridiculously selfish, right? That's just the trap you are in convincing you that you prefer being stuck and safe and normal to being free to move in the world as one who is awake, unafraid, no longer tethered to the expectations of others. You know shit from shinola and you can trust yourself to act accordingly. Virtue is no virtue when it stymies the fullest expression of your life. Maybe you are the next Mother Theresa serving the untouchables of the world. Right on. (Try to avoid her notions that suffering is God's will. She was no friend of the poor, but loved poverty instead. But I digress.) But unless this call to service is an outward expression of an inward truth, if it is just the accouterments of "goodness", then fuck off. No one needs it. The world doesn't need yet another person treading trodden trails. It needs you to quit pretending that you like what you don't like, that you believe what you don't feel, that you start doing what you dream of doing.

Preferences matter. Being honest with them matters more.

Virtue is no virtue when the cost is your soul.

* * *

But it gets messy. We fall into the virtue trap to avoid what we believe will be ugly, uncomfortable conversations/confrontations with those closest to us. How fucked is that? We learn to be "good" because it eases the discomfort of acknowledging how we see the world and how we see the world is different from our moms and dads, our siblings, our cohorts in school, on the job and we tamp down our difference in order to be accepted, avoid a fight, leave things be. But it troubles us. It never really goes away and there is a moment, a still moment, a quiet moment, perhaps it arrives in the middle of the night, perhaps in the purple glow of noon, at your desk, in the car, walking idly down a street, or at dinner with your family, but this moment arrives regardless of where you are physically in the world and when it comes nothing can be as it was before for this still moment, this quiet moment, this moment when you realize that yes, you would have preferred to go to your graduation instead of pretending it was no big deal because those around you couldn't understand or were jealous; that, yes, it does matter that you return my calls; that, yes, what is being asked of you at work is an inverse relationship between the suppression of wages and inhuman demands of productivity; that, yes, you are well aware of the qualities of shit versus shinola and you won't be lied to again, won't accept corporate doublespeak as a language worthy of your attention, won't deny your preferences, desires and thoughts to appease another, to avoid an uncomfortable conversation, to diminish yourself because those around you have infected you with their fear, jealousy and remorse.

When this moment comes, when you finally let it in, everything changes.

Everything.

* * *

Boom. Boom. Boom.

__________

Friday, May 9, 2014

For You I

For you I will win
For you I will trust myself
For you I could throw with abandon
Old glories and everything to the wind


- Glen Hansard, Races

* * *

Forgive me. I am going to speak of love.

* * *

We are misbegotten. We are woeful. We chase after material things, evanescent things, after others' things as dogs chase their tails: determined to do the impossible, and should we succeed we only hurt ourselves for the effort. We do this not because we are truly misbegotten, not because we are truly woeful; we do this because we believe it is expected of us. We adhere to ideas that we have not challenged or questioned for ourselves. We treat the world as off the rack, when, in fact, it is custom-made. But we fear the independence required. We trust others who have come before us, trust prophets from another time, trust institutions whose primary function is to perpetuate themselves rather than trust our bloody selves to figure out how to live.

There is a great reward for going along and getting along: certainty - one knows one's place and in time one is placed reverently below ground - a grub and mealworm banquet.

But you know something isn't right. You know it in your bones. Your clothes, the uniforms others provide, don't really fit unless you squint your eyes and pretend you actually prefer what's been handed to you rather than the thing you would put your hand to. Everybody's got to eat, right? But, my best beloveds, you know life is for something more than that. You just haven't been able to name it yet. Here's my answer: love. Do not accept this at face value. Go test it. Play with it. See what comes to you.

The world of laws and rules and expectations is simply an optional world. It is simply a set of established patterns that seem to exclude other patterns, other possibilities. We accept this exclusion as a foregone conclusion, but it is not. Plans that are executed without being open to new ideas are dry, dead, lifeless, fucked. To create anything - a life - a work of art - a meal - raise a child - requires that you let go of the plans and open up to the chaos underlying the plans. This is the source, the headwaters of creativity, innovation and, of course, love (which is creativity and innovation itself).

* * *

If you cannot bear the thought of your independence for yourself, then bear it for another. If you so love another, then free yourself in order to love them freely, with an open hand, holding onto nothing. It may be a romantic love; maybe familial; it could be the work you set for yourself, a cause, a mission, anything that is directed away from yourself, that brings you out of yourself and puts you in service of any cause greater than your immediate need is the road to venture. And here is where your life unfucks itself. By being that guy, that person who acts out of love rather than avarice, love rather than control, love rather than anyone else's acceptance or benediction you complete the circuit and learn to trust and love the life in your veins. Then, and then and then and then you are able to live by the pattern you describe with your words and deeds and doings.

Really.

* * *

Will you come walk beside me
To the end of this story
And I'll let you go gently
Among your own kind, oh


* * *

All stories end, my brothers. All stories end, my sisters. These things you keep best be thrown way. Old glories are meaningless in the light of a life alive to light, to love, to a love greater than itself. Maybe this is how you think of your God. Maybe this is how you think of your wife, your husband, your child. No matter. It all works. But it cannot work without you, without what is essentially you present in the world, going about its business: awake, unafraid, in love with the chance to experience life as the man or woman you are, a partner in chaos' work of bringing new things to life.

If you are fucked it is not forever. It needn't be. Now is not forever and right now, as you read this, it is the perfect time to let go of the pain that has bound you, to let go of the narrow, certain fears of others, to see plans and expectations as just one possibility out of an infinite number of possibilities, to cast your fate to the wind and love life instead: its chaos and mystery in equal measure. Grubs and mealworms will have their day. Until then you have work to do.

Love.
Trust yourself.
Trust your gifts.
Repeat.

If there is a God, they'll dig it. If not, you'll have known love and eternity is nothing compared to that.

* * *

Boom.

(4 x 4)

__________

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Got To Get

Got to get behind the mule
In the morning and plow.

- Tom Waits, Get Behind The Mule

* * *

There is something you must do, something only you can do.  I don't know what that something is - only you do - but I do know you have to do it or spend your days where water cannot slake your thirst or spend your days where water cannot slake your thirst or spend your days where no water, no wine, no whiskey will slake your thirst or calm your being or ease your pain.

You got to get behind the mule in the morning and plow.

* * *

There is a gap in our experience, a gap between what we know, what we think we know and what we don't know. Into this space we pour out faith the way concrete is poured: solid, certain, connective, safe - a patio of certitude. We move into the unknown and make it known by our faith in Jesus, in science, in money, in sex, in capitalism, in corporatism, in ism, ism, ism. We are builders of meaning in the bleakness of time and space. Here, we say, here this is the truth; here is the purpose, here is the meaning. We need this faith. We crave this faith. We are faith itself. Everything is a leap of faith. And right on with that. Right on. But then we get into pissing matches about whose faith is better, whose god more powerful, whose story more true.

Molly be Damned smote Jimmy the Harp
With a horrid little pistol and a lariat
She's goin to the bottom
And she's goin down the drain
Said she wasn't big enough to carry it


We retreat from ever thinking about those stories. They do take on a life of their own and things seems to work out, for a while anyway, and we're only here for a while anyway, and so if you tell me I have a credit score of 720 and you'll give me a house because of that number, I suppose that's just fine. And you know, if you tell me you like the cut of my jib and this job is now mine and I can use that money to keep my 720 credit score, well, that, too, is just fine. And thank you for the weekends, a man needs to unwind, fertilize the lawn, raise a little hell and get back to work and never think about the work or the money or the way his life is being lived - not in the service of others, but in servitude to ideas that are never challenged.

Choppity chop goes the axe in the woods
You gotta meet me by the fall down tree
Shovel of dirt upon a coffin lid
And I know they'll come lookin for me boys
And I know they'll come a-lookin for me


Not trying to be a dick here. Really, I'm not. We accept so many things at face value. We don't have the time for anything other than a gloss on things. We trust that others are looking out for us, that experts really are expert in their dealings. The water is safe to drink, the food is mostly safe to eat. For God's sake there are people who are job creators always looking out for the little guy. It mostly sort of works. Especially if you are white and male, but even that sort of advantage isn't a guarantee. No, we go along believing the larger cultural/tribal stories because of the sense of belonging and purpose they give us. We acquire personal saviors. Like Notre Dame football, God is on our side. It feels good to be in from the cold.

Big Jack Earl was 8'1
He stood in the road and he cried
He couldn't make her love him
Couldn't make her stay
But tell the good Lord that he tried


Except it rings hollow after awhile. You have a choice to either double down on your willful ignorance and continue being a willful slave in return for the accouterments a good life: Pottery Barn porn, fuel-injected performance, and silicone implants. Or, you can ask the one question that is put before each of us, and though it can be ignored, it cannot be erased: how am I to live?

None of this is to say that work or religion or faith in science or faith in John Stuart Mill or faith in aromatherapy is misplaced or unworthy of your attention. They are all precisely worthy of your attention, but if you are fucked and stuck and going nowhere it is your attention to these things that is lacking. You haven't been asking the one question and testing your answers against the stories you've been told, against the story you tell. You want to get your life running in greased grooves? Start asking that one question and see what happens.

Well the rampaging sons of The Widow James
Jack The Cutter and The Pock Marked Kid
Had to stand naked at the bottom
Of the cross
And tell the good lord what they did
Tell the good lord what they did


No one knows a fucking thing. No one. We suss it out or we have it spoon fed to us. But no one has a handle on anything ultimate, for if you can name it, then you surely don't have it. The deep mythic core of our stories, be they spiritual, political, or economic, all point to the impossibility of knowing. Our stories are approximations of that singular truth we crave, the concrete certainty of it. We say thus is thus and non-believers are either worthy of death or are to be pitied (hate the sin, love the sinner, etc.). Never do believers doubt. That's why it is up to us fucked fuckers to do the job.

Punctuated birds on the power line
In a Studebaker with the Birdie Joe Joaks
I'm diggin all the way to China
With a silver spoon
While the hangman fumbles with the noose, boys
The hangman fumbles with the noose


If we are willing to ask the questions, to doubt the answers others have devised - and let's face it, we think we're fucked because we don't fit into the niches others want us to fill - then we are the best hope for mankind to survive its fevered stupidity. Our willingness to challenge the status quo by simply struggling with how to live is the one gift, the one boon that can outlive the brief transit of our days. Our lives are not for nothing. Our lives are essential. Our doubt and uncertainty the only way for there to be a shift away from corporatism, the degradation of peoples and our finite resources. We are the voice in the wilderness and it has always been so. Our individual lives are mere fodder for the larger currents of commerce and control. But you and I, right now, are awake to the inequities that surround us. That is why we feel out of step, feel we have no home. But I assure you, we do. It just isn't inside the wasteland.

Pin your ear to the wisdom post
Pin your eye to the line
Never let the weeds get higher
Than the garden
Always keep a sapphire in your mind
Always keep a diamond in your mind


So, what to do, right? Here's an answer for you to consider: You got to get behind the mule in the morning and plow. What your mule is, well, that is a gift of your own devising. What ever that mule is, what ever that desire is, what ever that service is you have to wake each day with the willingness to tend it regardless of acceptance or understanding or comfort. There is but one rule regarding the mule: whatever it is you do must never impede, limit or defile another's mule. In fact, it must go one step further: it has to help others find their mule.

It is how we'll be saved. One mule at a time.

* * *

Boom.

__________