Sunday, September 21, 2014

And The Sky

And the sky was a woman's arms.

- The Handsome Family, Giant of Illinois

* * *

The beauty we can name is of the fine, delicate sort - easily recognized as such - that brings a measure of order and solace out of the surrounding din of chaos. The chaos that seemingly has a stronger hand to play than we ever will. We hang pictures and listen to music and plant flowers and write poems and stories and take photographs of the monuments we happen upon in our travels. We hold onto trinkets made by our children's willing, unskilled hands and imbue those clay figures and painted boxes with an innocence we ache for once we recognize it is gone. We do this because it grounds us, tells us our name, describes the place we live and is a bulwark against the uneasy slippage of time.

I am not religious, yet I wear around my neck a cross that was garbage picked for me by an old family friend and on the same chain I wear a St. Joseph's medal I acquired for myself to remind myself (as if I needed reminding) that being a father saved my life. Each is a symbol, a metaphor, that is both beautiful and recognizable. But what of the more difficult beauty, the beauty that cannot be defined, the beauty that cannot be fully described or understood? What of the beauty of open ends, broken pieces, scattered light?

And the sky was a woman's arms.

* * *

We stamp meaning into our lives because without it the weight of our puniness would drive us insane. Religion, philosophy, art, music, literature, our children, our beloved, our work - all can serve as the well-spring of meaning for our days.  Again, this is how we have survived since the cave paintings in Chauvet, and with man's first attempts to order his world through symbol and effort the idea of the individual is born. The ego we drag around can be traced back to those first artists. But for a while now that ego has been sick, twisted into a knot of anxiety, helplessness, broken-ness, fuckedness. We know more that any generation of humans, yet we are less at home in our skins, prone to retrograde violence and violence of thought. We narrow. We conform. We hide and pretend that all this suits us just fine. If you are fucked, it is clear it does not suit you at all.

We need metaphors that are not neat, clean and knowable. We have walked those paths for thousands of years. They are tired, played out. They lock us into patterns of thought and action that have the weight of history behind them, making them inert, dead, concretized.

To find a path out you have to think in metaphors that are not knowable, perfectly, recognizably knowable, but have in them the ineffable, the unsayable: the mystery of your consciousness spun with the larger mystery of all life.

And the sky was a woman's arms.

Those who would proscribe, who would say, "Thus is thus and no other," are lying sacks of shit. All fundamentalism (religious, political, cultural) is retrograde, backward, fearful. It cannot bear the thought of either our isolation, or our interconnectedness. But you know who can bear it? You and all us fucked fuckers. In our broken-ness we have seen the falsity of the inert, lifeless patterns laid out before us as the way and the truth. We have been broken against those patterns because we don't fit them. Either temperament or circumstance forced upon us the sense that there was something other than this to life, to our lives. The metaphors and symbols handed to us don't belong to us and we suffer for great swaths of time because we feel the fault is in us.

But that is not so. That suffering is a call to re-imagine the stories we tell, the art we make, the science we describe. The neat, tidy mythologies of the past were once feral, unkempt, wild attempts to understand our puny place in the cosmos. They don't work nearly so well anymore. We need to rebuild, recombine, re-purpose those ideas to create new possibilities for ourselves. And letting things be unknowable, letting a bit of uncertainty in, letting things be beautiful in their broken-ness, their incompleteness seems like a place to start.

* * *

And the sky was a woman's arms.

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