Got to get behind the mule
In the morning and plow.
- Tom Waits, Get Behind The Mule
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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.
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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.
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