Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Evil Deeds

The evil deeds that we do
screaming from the headline
Can't stop to read, or to watch
’cause I ain’t got the patience or time
To live a life of despair
to live by another man’s word
It’s always been in your hands
to live the life you want while you’re here

- JJ Grey and Mofro, "Every Minute"

* * *

There is this: the way you experience life has less to do with your circumstance and more to do with how you choose to experience those circumstances. To think otherwise, to believe that the circumstances you were born into, to place the authority over your experience in the hands of others (benign or malignant), to understand life, your life, as merely a consumer of others' experience is to put a ferocious keeper on what is possible in your life. 

You don't have time to live by another man's word. You must engage and shout back, talk back, whisper back something of your own experience to find out that you are not the prisoner you thought you were. 

Now, it would be easy to read something like that and presume I mean that each of us is an island, a discrete experience that has to protect itself against the intrusive bullshit of others. 

Not so.

We live in a welter of various experiences, a storm of possibility that is expressed by each person you encounter. Each of those people have had a life that brought them, somehow, to intersect with yours. Maybe it was just for a minute, perhaps for the length of your days, but somehow you and they intersected and in ways large and infinitely small the arc of your days was altered, just as you have altered their days. You are of the welter, from the welter and exist within the welter. The road you are on, by needs be, must be your own; however, there are other travelers, others searching in their own way and to fully unfuck your life you have to be able to welcome them, care for them, forgive them, kick them the fuck out of your life, encourage them, bless them with whatever reserves of grace and kindness remain.

* * *

The solitary and the silent can be essential tools to help unfuck what is fucked in your life. I crave them both and there is a dark lure to believing such isolation - good in doses, must be better as immersive. But that is as corrosive a self-serving lie as is the one about getting in line and doing as your told.

Life, your life, any life exists as a mad combinatoria of possibilities, strengths, weaknesses and the willingness to see, to act, to do with the materials at hand. To choose the poles of possibility because of their completeness is to remain fucked, but by a different name. 

No, one of the tasks life sets before you is to not only find your road, find your feet, find your work and give yourself over wholly to that work, but to also find the ability to experience compassion at the state of things - which is generally shitty because so many people are afraid.

Want to unfuck your life? Right on. Have at it. But you ain't done until you take what you have learned, what you have experienced and transform it into something others can use, learn from, be emboldened by, to be made less afraid. This is how you are not an island.

* * *

Which brings us back to the beginning: How you choose to experience your days has a greater bearing on your life than the circumstances you find yourself in. This is man's truest, greatest and last freedom: the ability to choose how to undergo the experience of one's life.

You can despair at the evil headline deeds. You can withdraw. You can act of out fear, but don't fool yourself: all of those are choices.

You can also choose differently and in either case what you choose becomes your fate.

And there is this also: you are always free to choose again and again and so re-write your destiny.

I wish you well.

See you in the New Year.

* * *



Tuesday, December 22, 2015

One Day When

One day when it finds you
Take it to heart
You can’t run away when you know
That the tall tall shadow
Tall tall shadow
The tall tall shadow
Tall tall shadow
The tall tall shadow
Tall tall shadow
The tall tall shadow
Tall tall shadow
You know the tall tall shadow
Tall tall shadow
The tall tall shadow
Tall tall shadow is yours
You can’t run away
If the shadow is yours
You can’t run away
When the shadow is yours
You can’t run away
No you can’t run away
If the shadow is yours

- Basia Bulat, Tall Tall Shadow
* * *
Let me begin by saying that I propose to uphold the virtues of two contradictory ideas, and more so, that the apparent contradiction is no contradiction at all, but is, instead, two truths held in either hand and simply because they are separate does not put them in opposition.

I'll begin again.

Here are two things equally true:
1)  The process of living is the process of letting go.
2)  The process of living is the integration of your experience.

We fuck ourselves when we can't free ourselves from the ego fight to be right, righteous, the proud victim.

We fuck ourselves when we regret having fallen, or having been pushed and we seek to excise the difficult from the easy and so rob ourselves of our complete experience. We list and limp because of this.

To unfuck your life both processes must be happening. To cheat one is to cheat both is to cheat yourself of the chance to free yourself from the dolor and drudgery of slogging it out.

* * *

The work of your days is to not be slowed by your days. To not be slowed you have to let go of the weight of losses, failings, accidents, aborted efforts, slip and falls, misunderstandings, misjudgments, misnomers, of faith foolishly placed in others, that others placed in you, the accruals of your stumbling and searching. 

But listen, letting go does not mean abandonment, nor does it mean regret.

I'll venture to say this: the process of letting go is one of acceptance and integration, of wholeness, of not running away.

Acceptance is such a shitty word here. It has the sulfurous whiff of acquiescence to it. Not what I mean. Maybe a better word is maturity, equanimity, forgiveness, patience. It is saying yes to it all: all you have experienced, all you have lost, all you have learned, all you may yet lose and learn, all that is unjust, all that is satisfying, troublesome, joyous, wounding, gutting, healing. The ability to grow large enough in spirit to not be slowed by what has proved difficult is the central challenge we face. You cannot just dump the jute and think all is well, your load lightened. That is a pretense, a pretending, a denial that the difficult has only served to wound you.


The difficult is your crucible, the changing place. The facts as they lay - the circumstance you were born into, the people who populated your beginning, the things they said and did for good or no, your first responses to your first wanderings - these things are heated by life and you have the choice to be changed or pretend the fire doesn't exist. The law of conservation of matter tells us that matter cannot be created or destroyed - only transformed. This is how you can let go of what slows you down and not lose a bit of the experience of having gone there: you change into what you may yet be. Nothing is lost, but you are not the same.

When you pass through the fire, you pass through humble
You pass through a maze of self doubt
When you pass through humble, the lights can blind you
Some people never figure that out

You pass through arrogance, you pass through hurt
You pass through an ever present past
And it's best not to wait for luck to save you
Pass through the fire to the light

* * *

I have to re-write the lede: there are not two processes. It is the same thing just seen from a different light. All lives, any life, your life holds the promise of transformation. Nothing is ever lost, only changed. To unfuck yourself you have be a partner with the fire, the fire in your belly, the fire in the sky, the birth cry of new life at its term. 

Your shadow can only take the shape you give to your life.



Thursday, December 17, 2015

Similarly If A

Similarly, if a pious man sees an amputee, or anyone whom misfortune has harmed since birth, he utters the same blessing, ending with "The True Judge." These words vivify a view common enough in the first century, and extant and thriving among troubled theists everywhere: that God the puppeteer controls all events and fates, and morally. He rewards us or afflicts us as he judges. He blames the victim.
   If you, Lord, should mark iniquities, who could stand? who could stand?
   Certainly not the amputee. For what did God judge him? For getting his leg infected, dummkopf.
   No, it does not wash.

- Annie Dillard, For the Time Being

* * *

If you have not acquired a copy of Ms. Dillard's book, stop what you are doing right now and go get one. Run as if your hair is on fire. 

* * *

The shortest route to being fucked is to lay that responsibility at the foot of God the King, God the Judge, the Metaphysical Hanging Judge who has looked upon your life and found it wanting. It is a lie perpetrated to assuage the guilt of the fortunate ("There but for the grace of God go I," my unhappy mother always said, thereby relieving herself of any authority for the shape of her days.) and bring order to chaos. No, we cannot live in a world where innocent misfortune, the combinatoria of genetic material, the ill-luck of shopping in a market in Beruit, or being on the road at the same time as a drunken fuck, is randomized, is without cause. We demand causes and God, The Judge, will do.

But no, it doesn't wash.
It doesn't wash.

Your life, any life, is both under your control and far outside your control. The most dedicated runner can still be hit by a car on the road. The desire to start a family can be tripped at the starting gate and suffering, unannounced suffering is the only thing birthed. There is only the space between any given event and your reaction to it that allows you the freedom (and responsibility) to choose. This space is the place you are in control. To abdicate that freedom to the 2000 year old bogey-man of Judea and its environs is a betrayal of your self, the life you do have and it does not wash.

To be fucked is to be stunned into inaction, is to come to believe that you deserve your losses, you have earned them by not being something other than who and what you are. We take in the judgements of others - spouses, parents, employers, friends - and since it is difficult to understand why those closest to us don't understand us, we transmogrify that judgement into the judgement of God. Job-like we cover ourselves in ash and say since we did not create Leviathan, we are to be judged for that lack.

No, it does not wash.

* * *

You are an astounding array of dead stars and human intention: consciousness (collective and otherwise) clothed in flesh and you are gifted with the chance to stomp around for a while. Go play. Go have some fun. Wrestle with conundrums. Aim to put a roof over your head. If you are afflicted by misfortune - the potential losses are too great to list - you are not relieved of the obligation to see how far your will and imagination can take you; you are not relieved of the obligation to live out your life in the fullest possible way for you to do so. How that is is determined by you, not God. Those losses are not divine retribution for being who you are. They are losses. Do not compound them with first century superstition.

For those reading this who think I am shitting on your faith, nothing could be further from the truth. I do not know, and no longer care to riddle it out, the how or why of our existence. All I know is this shit is a miracle ("a highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences"). The consequence of the miracle of you is that you get to be here with us, that you have something unique to your own experience that can help make us more human. Sitting on your hands won't do. It does not wash. You have to give it out to us. 

The time of being judged from a throne in the sky has passed. It was part of our evolution, part of the journey we are on. It appeals to this day because it provides certainty. That was its appeal 2000 years ago and for many the prospect of being responsible for themselves and still being vulnerable to forces outside their control is too much and they retreat to such certainties. May their God bless them.

You and I, we have other things to do.

* * *

You are not to blame for your wounds. You are not judged for your losses. 

In the space between being fucked and unfucked lies your freedom. There is no guarantee of anything but the the chance to decide how you will experience your days.

And that does wash.



Sunday, December 13, 2015

Before You Can

Before you can express anything in tangible form, you first need eyes to see. The mere attempt, therefore, to create an artistic form compels the artist to take a fresh look at the visible reality; it requires authentic and personal observation. Long before a creation is completed, the artist has gained for himself another and more intimate achievement: a deeper and more receptive vision, a more intense awareness, a sharper and more discerning understanding, a more patient openness for all things quiet and inconspicuous, an eye for things previously overlooked. In short: the artist will be able to perceive with new eyes the abundant wealth of all visible reality, and, thus challenged, additionally acquires the inner capacity to absorb into his mind such an exceedingly rich harvest. The capacity to see increases.

- Josef Pieper, Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation.

* * *

The way forward for any last one of us is to create. The way to create is to see with new eyes the circumstances one finds oneself in. Only by one is the other engendered, but once set in motion becomes a self-sustaining (or Self sustaining) process of vision and creation and a further vision and further creation: a life built. To create you need only the awareness, the desire to change the circumstances surrounding you. That is all. By each word I type I change the quality of my life and the quality of the lives of those close to me. But that is only one form of creation. The form does not matter, only that there is a form, a desire, a willingness to undergo the process of opening your eyes and taking the time to see what there is to be seen–no matter how small, inconspicuous, difficult, quiet, over-looked, commonplace, ephemeral, personal or miraculous.

It requires a willingness to see yourself as an artist: one who creates her life by each step, thought, action and word.

If you are only thinking paintings you've missed the point.

* * *

Two of the seminal books that inform this writing are Epictetus' The Art of Living and Joseph Campbell's Reflections on the Art of Living. Both take as their premise that a life, your life, any life is created by the choices made or unmade, choices in concert with the times of one's life, or in opposition to it. Both frame the conversation in terms of art. Neither of them solely speak of the plastic arts, the fine arts (though Campbell writes only for the poets and artists and dancers and composers who might hear him). I think this quality of seeing your life as a work, an on-going work of art, has fallen from much consideration. It has been replaced with a view of life as a matter of extraction and acquisition, a capitalist function that forever separates winners from losers and never considers the interior life of those pushed along that conveyor belt.

It is exactly here, at this juncture of public life and interior life, of expectation from without and the innate compass within that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. The latter appears to have no place in public affairs, while the former parches the inner worlds of those who go along to get along, to remain anonymous, to not resist it. The world of men is renewed and made more fully human when the interior life, the inner vision of how a life might be lived in concert with the visible world is made manifest by those willing to risk such things: the audacity to see and not recoil, to see and witness, to bear witness to their lives and the life of the world around them.

To do so changes reality, alters worlds, changes them from wastelands into fields of the possible, even if those fields are simply your backyard.

If you count yourself fucked, off the centerline of your better self, I can only ask that you start seeing the world as it is, the rich harvest of the mundane: the astonishment of origins. 

* * *

The art of living presupposes an artist.

It is you my brother.
It is you, my sister.

And to be an artist is to create: ceaselessly, with an ever intensifying awareness of the power of your vision, with no concern whatsoever for the particular form, only that it is yours.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

After A While

   After a while, my father whispered in my ear, 'Ask your grandfather to sing. He has a fine voice.'
    "Won't you give us a song yourself now, grandfather?" said I.
   "I will not refuse you," he said, smiling.

- Maurice O'Sullivan, Twenty Years A-Growing

* * *

I cannot walk past a book shop with out pining to go in. So, one day, a summer day, lost to the annals of great things done and undone, a muggy hot day with a yolk yellow sun, I was walking north on Michigan Avenue, on the west side of the street, across from the park that lead to the Art Institute of Chicago to the east of me. The sidewalk there is exceptionally wide and given the heat and the sun, the cement baked the feet of all who walked upon it. In need of distraction and a chance to get out of the sun I walked into a rare book shop to see what was there. I do not frequent rare book shops for two reasons: 1) there would be a stream of books I'd want to buy and 2) I don't have the money to quench that thirst. But on this day, this sunny, hot, oppressive sort of day 25 years ago I walked in to escape the heat. It was beautiful in there - dark and leathery with fine prints on the walls and a heavy, clerckish sort of man with sloping shoulders stood behind the counter, a yellow bow tie under his chin, however, being self-conscious that I had $20 to my name, I quickly moved past the glass cases and lock and key books and found a niche of what, to them, was their bargain bin: books under $50. A well of embarrassment came over me and my neck prickled and ticked with nervous sweat - You don't belong here. But I stayed and lingered over the books I could touch and tucked in among them was a small book, no more that six inches high and three across. It was a book about Ireland, a childhood in Ireland at the start of the 20th Century. It was $10 and I split my last few dollars to get it. I had to buy the book for no other reason than to beat back my shame at being broke. Of course, the book temporarily made me poorer still, but it was a more than fair trade. It has been part of my life since.

* * *

Won't you give us a song yourself?

I am hard-pressed to know of a more direct and vital question: Won't you give us a song yourself? Now.

All that I write about is there in that question - won't you give us a song?

In order to give a song, you have to know the lyrics and melody, you have to love a song enough to be able to sing it, you have to lose your self-consciousness about how others might receive it and simply allow yourself to give it.

But that is simply what life is asking you each and every day. Each day you are afforded the chance to answer the questions life puts before you. Each day you are presented with the opportunity to choose how you will respond to those questions. If you are fucked and stuck and going nowhere, if your shame is greater than your will, if you know and don't do, well, that's what defines being fucked, no?

Just as I am hard-pressed to know of a more direct and vital question, I am at a loss as to know of a better answer: I will not refuse you.

Joe Campbell says: "Often in actual life, and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered, for it is always possible to turn the ear to other interests. Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or 'culture,' the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved."

The answer must always be: I will not refuse you (which means you will not refuse yourself the chance to know this adventure, this experience of being here, now, present and accounted for, willing to give what you have to give). But the distance isn't covered until you can say so while smiling.

* * *

There are countless good reasons to worry, to sweat how you are going to provide for yourself, your kids, how to keep your job and keep the lights on. If that's no worry for you, then there are other things that will occupy your mind (investments, the cost of college, retirement, etc) and keep your nose to the grindstone,  or there is a loss, an illness, a death and I will not diminish or make light of those trials. They are real and they occupy a large and sometimes painful space in our lives. All I ask is won't you give us a song, something of yourself that is not attached to worry, that is not prosaic, but is, instead, essential. Despair comes as easily as opening a newspaper or looking at your Facebook feed. It is overwhelming and dire in many regards. It can only be answered with a song, your song, the song of your life.

What will you sing?
Do not refuse us.

* * *

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Maybe There Is

"Maybe there is still some hope. If man is indeed made in the image of God, as I believed in the pre-Auschwitz days, maybe there are still some godly sparks left in men and some humanity in God," Margaret thought to herself as the column slowly entered the gates of Bergen Belsen.

- Yaffa Eliach, "In the Image of God" from Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust

* * *

Modern barbarism began its journey in the trenches of WW1 and bloomed into its poisonous flower with the Holocaust. Since then the seeds of such acts have been sown far and wide: Liberia, Serbia, Albania, Myanmar, Northern Ireland, Syria, Libya, Zimbabwe, New York on September 11, 2001, London, Paris, Chicago...

Our capacity to perpetrate horrors upon the bodies of those considered other knows no limit. The strain and stain of tribalism haunts the blood and is evoked for political gain by inciting fear, by demonizing what ever opposes it. This is an ancient thing and will never be scrubbed from us. We simply have access to greater means of desolation, of stoking fear and reprisal and part and parcel of that is we also have the means to learn of these horrors almost immediately, which further cements our fear and creates a perfect feedback loop of anger, violence, fear and back round again.

You cannot read anything of the Holocaust that does not provide you with a sorrowing prospect for our survival. Everything we see being played out today, was played out once before and before that as well: demagogues, hollow patriotism that demands compliance, masses of people silent in the face of their civil society being torn apart because they are afraid to speak, violence erupting with such common occurrence it is no longer noticed, and a handful profiting off our fear and violence. (Gun manufacturers, the very source of our ills, see sales "go vertical" after a mass shooting. Death has always been good for business.)

We truly are fucked.

We have always been truly fucked.

It is inescapable: there has never been a time in human history when the bodies of whom ever was other were not considered cheap. Can you count the bodies from Nazi Germany, or Stalin's Russia, or the number of slaves dead in MississippiNorthCarolinaAlabamaGeorgia, what of the dead pushed like mortar into The Great Wall, Alexander's barbarians, or the victims in Ciudad Juarez? 

It is unimaginable.

It has always been so.

Except we are called to imagine it. The blood-lakes we forever wade through are only ever stilled by the ones who refuse to look away, who refuse the narrative that there is no point in resisting these red tides, who reject the idea that whatever agency they might  have is not enough. Fascists are defeated. Survivors hold their perpetrators accountable by being indefatigable in the face of the unreliability of the law. It is always up to the victim of crime to push our society forward, instead of retreating further into tribal retribution. It is the minority voice, the isolated voice, the one who has every justification to work for the obliteration of her enemies, who saves us from ourselves, who restores a quality of compassion and righteousness to the cause of resisting the crushing waves of compliance and fear. 

Ghandi liberated his fractured home from the British empire through the rightness of his cause and more so, through the rightness of his being. I am not asking you to liberate a nation, only yourself. 

* * *

It's a bit much, I know. The easiest trope is to drag out the Holocaust and parade it about in order to shame another, or make some obvious point. I get that. But my point here isn't obvious. 

The truth is for every 28 people who entered the maw of the camps, only one exited. Among the dead were righteous people who resisted their circumstance with whatever resources of dignity they might have had. Cowards died, too. The dead are not sainted because they are dead, but how they lived. One who walked out was Viktor Frankl. He wrote: "You may of course ask whether we really need to refer to "saints". Wouldn't it suffice just to refer to decent people? It is true that they form a minority. More than that, they always will remain a minority. And yet I see therein the very challenge to join the minority. For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.” 

Are you doing your best? Are you here faithfully among us?

Desolation is met and overcome by those who have chosen to live out their days - however few, however many - from the center of their being, humanizing a distant God, a god-like spark of creation in their step.

I cannot bring Wayne Lapierre to heel (BTW, he earns $1 million a year). I have no power to bring about a sea-change in my dying society. I do, however, have the power to resist. I do have the power to choose my response to the world around me. I do have the power try and embolden others to resist their losses, to turn their suffering into meaning, to rise each day and be the example they wished existed in the world. 

Power politics will play out in horrific ways. It always has. And there has always been a minority resisting it. Once in a while we break through and we change the larger society for the better, against its will, but it is changed.

Only the fucked can do this.

Welcome to the resistance.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

We Have Now

We have now won two world-wars, neither of which
  concerned us, we were slipped in. We have leveled
  the powers
Of Europe, that were the powers of the world, into rub-
  ble and dependence. We have won two wars and a
  third is coming.

This one–will not be so easy. We were at ease while the
  powers of the world were split into factions: we've
  changed that.
We have enjoyed fine dreams; we have dreamed of unify-
  ing the world; we are unifying it–against us.

Two wars, and they breed a third. Now guard the beaches,
  watch the north, trust not the dawns. Probe every
Build power. Fortress America may yet for a long time
  stand, between the east and the west, like By-

–As for me: laugh at me. I agree with you. It is a fool-
  ish business to see the future and screech at it.
One should watch and not speak. And patriotism has run
  the world through so many blood-lakes: and we
  always fall in.

- Robinson Jeffers, "So Many Blood-Lakes" (written 5/12/1944)

* * *

It is foolish business to give a fuck. It is foolish to stand against tides, to spit into the wind, to see the future and screech at it. Very foolish. Better to get out of the way. To get along, to get the corner office, to acquire all the debt you can so you can be a bigger slave than your neighbor. It is foolish to think gun laws will be changed in this quickly dying nation. It is foolish to think we will ever be rid of the poison of money buying elections, installing puppets and continually eroding what was once a fine idea of liberty and justice for all. It is over. 355 mass shooting so far this year. The mayor of Chicago sandbags a murder and will suffer no consequence. The House and Senate will, for the 65th time pass a bill dismantling the healthcare law that has protected millions for destitution for the kabuki show of it. Lies will sputter out of the mouths of the men and women seeking to become President and no one will call them on it, no one will hold them to task for inciting hatred, violence, for spreading dis-information. The nation they seek to rule is a rubble of factions turned against each other. No common cause. No civility. Just the brutality of social media and the echo chambers they engender, the violence they engender.

It is foolish to give a fuck.

But someone has to, and who better than the fucked, the outsiders, the ones struggling for a foothold? Who better than the poets and writers and artists and activists who are so fucking broke they have no skin in the economics of it but only will themselves to be heard, to create, to stand against the tide of barbarism and infantile patriotism? Who better to remind us of beauty? Who better to define what the fight is really about: freedom from the crushing powers of normative society, institutional ignorance and the feral stupidity of those who presume to govern. There is a truism: the best men never run for President - too many compromises to get there. So that means the best men and women are here, among us, beside us, our cohort, our family. 

It may even be you.

* * *

Our fine dreams are gone. The illusion of our hegemony abroad, our righteousness at home has been shown for what it is: a means of control and compliance and shrugging our shoulders at another mass murder and going only so far as to scream into the wind of social media and feel we have done enough to voice our opinion, but never, ever take up the cause and push back against this tide by voting the pricks out of office, by organizing together to silence the lies being fed to us.

We live in an unmasked world. Be glad for it. The illusion kept you small, kept you in place, made you feel you weren't enough. You can now see that isn't true, and if you can see that you are now obliged to act, to pull together the best in yourself and find a brother or sister to stand with, shoulder to shoulder, and together say: "Not in our name. Not a bit of your lies" Live so the very fact of your existence is an act of subversion, of revolution, of freedom from these tides that seek only to drown us in another blood-lake.

* * *

I fear the world my children are heir to. I worry that I have not done enough, done my best to make it a less shitty place. There is no courage that can be taught. It is a stubborn well in each of us that rises when pushed too far and you have to decide if you can ignore its message, or if you will risk something to heed it.

It is time to rise up.

There are no more excuses.


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Our Inward Power

Our inward power, when it obeys nature, reacts to events by accommodating itself to what it faces–to what is possible. It needs no specific material. It pursues its own aims as circumstances allow; it turns obstacles into fuel. As a fire overwhelms what would have quenched a lamp. What's thrown on top of the conflagration is absorbed, consumed by it–and make it burn brighter still.

- Aurelius, Meditations, Book 4:1

* * *

A man who lived in a yellow shack in the woods of North Carolina, who sometimes lived in a mobile home in Colorado, who beat his ex-wife, who told stories of himself as a government agent, an art dealer, who crawled on his belly - commando style - and entered a Planned Parenthood facility and fired his assault rifle at random through the walls, sometimes taking aim, eventually killing three and wounding nine others and reportedly told police "no more baby parts" is just the most recent version of domestic terrorism, the most recent version of a lost man latching onto an ideology of hatred and violence and considered himself an avenging angel. He is the latest. He won't be the last.

A 17 year old black man, walking away from Chicago police is gunned down–16 rounds fired by one officer who began shooting within six seconds of arriving on the scene. This same officer had 20 prior accusations of police brutality and had caused over $2 million in payouts before killing this man. City officials sandbagged the investigation because of a re-election bid by the mayor, out of fear of the police union, because they could. The police union has started a GoFund Me page for the officer's legal expenses.

Is this not fuel enough for your fire?

* * *

To know and don't do is worse than not knowing. It is a betrayal of the life you hold in your hands. To be fucked is to be paralyzed with fear, with doubt, with the sense that nothing you could do would matter anyway. 

Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.

The world around you is aflame with idiocy and fear, with a feral hatred born of desperation and xenophobic specters. It burns alongside daily life and is now becoming part and parcel of our daily lives making it invisible to those who would be deluded that it does not involve them, that it does not affect them, that it is too large a prospect and besides, maybe, you know, they had it coming to them. No more baby parts. That kid shouldn't have slashed those tires.


To be alive is to be involved, is to be part of the welter of voices calling out their names. The fucked claim a special dispensation to not get involved, to not claim responsibility for themselves, but to point to forces larger than themselves and say, "I would if I could, but my wife left me, my job was outsourced, my kid's on drugs, my dad hit me, my husband beat me, she broke my heart, what could I do, what do you want me to do?"

I want you to live like you mean it.

You don't have to block traffic on Michigan Avenue. Nor do you have to #shoutyourabortion. You don't have to be pro-choice in order to stand against terrorism. You can be the head of the Fraternal Order of Police and still reject officers breaking the law. Your actions don't have to take place on a broad political stage in order to be heard. You inward power is a moral compass that allows you to navigate your life and the times you find yourself in. But this compass is not handed down from on high, or from reading a book, or any such thing. It is bred in the bone. Aurelius noted when it obeys nature, not when it obeys others. Aurelius believed in the logos, an ordered universe where each was to give what was his to give and to let go of trying to bend the universe to one's will. This is the nature he is speaking of. What I am speaking of is something ancient in us: a memory we've forgotten, a certainty we've abandoned, a still, quiet voice we can't hear anymore but echoes dimly, thrums dimly, hums softly inside of us hoping we will hear it again, understand it again, come back to it again.

Collective unconscious. Courage. Fate. Faith. Logos. Creator. Quark. Dark Matter. Give it any name you wish, but listen for it. It will not resurrect Laquan McDonald, nor unshoot the gun in the hands of Robert Lewis Dear, Jr. It will not end the feral stupidity, cupidity and culpability of politicians who exploit tragedy for self-aggrandizement. It will not uncorrupt unions. It will not change the world. It will, however, change you. The obstacles of your pain, your loss, your fuckeditude are transformed into the way forward. The obstacle is the way when you understand that your life is not so precious that you should risk nothing, but is exactly as precious as the gift you give by your example.

* * *

It is easy to see the hinges coming off, to believe that the voice we were promised we had has been taken from us by oligarchs and has been replaced by the rants of fascists. It is easy to give up.

You must not.

Regardless of circumstance, you must not.

What you say and do has effects beyond your ability to reckon. The example you set will be incorporated by those close beside you. What will you have it be: acquiescence or resistance, surrender or subversion, mute delusion or vocal affirmation of an ancient memory that we are to be saved from ourselves by the courage to resist what is fucked in ourselves.

The choice, as always, is yours.

* * *

Resistance is not futile. It is our duty to one another. It is how we burn bright.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Harvest Would

The harvest would not have been the less if the furrows wavered a little. But, of course, a straight furrow was all that a man was left with. It was his signature, not only on the field but on life.

- Ronald Blythe, Akenfield

* * *

The mundane, the dayinandoutishness of our lives is where we live. The easily identified peaks and valleys of our experience are a minority of days when you pull back and try and see the whole of it. Those seminal experiences - the intensity of them, the stamp, the mark, the scar (perhaps) they leave become pivot points in our understanding of our lives. Or so it seems to me. Joy, despair, hunger, lust, defeat: it is a tumult through the clouds of our being. And we attach a great deal of our emotional and intellectual energy to those points; yet, we do not live on those peaks, we do not reside ever in the valley. We are, for long, large swaths of unnoticed time traveling somewhere between: paying bills, changing diapers, getting the oil changed, buying groceries, waiting in line at the DMV, sitting in cars, in trains, on planes, walking the dog, taking out the garbage, vacuuming, having a cup of coffee, doing the laundry, looking for a job, donating clothes to the Salvation Army, going to funerals, sitting at banquet tables when a friend's son or daughter marries, combing our children's hair while they still let us, staring absently out a window, raking leaves, painting walls, re-arranging furniture, cooking a meal, shitting, laying in bed another five minutes, holding hands with our beloved, singing when the house is empty, daydreaming, trying to remember the sound of our father's laughter (if he ever laughed), and on and on throughout the day of our days.

This is what our lives are made of, and we do great harm in letting it slide by unnoticed, in not bringing to bear in these moments the fullness of our attention, our openness, the possibility that something great is happening right now, something as meaningful as our exaltation and our darkest fear. It isn't to make these things precious and holy, but that which is holy must be able to be found, to be recognized in the world as it is. 

...a stone covered by a species of vividly green moss, small and velvety, that seemed enjoying a vernal prime of its own, in the midst of the universal dissolution. In a moment, like a rush of warm summer air, there came sweeping over his mind the memory of certain pier-posts at Weymouth, covered with small green seaweed...

* * * 

We speak with satisfaction of the first cup of coffee in the morning, the smell of cut grass, the bellies of clouds lit vermilion by a setting sun: the very definition of day in and out, diurnal repetitions. We are steadied by these repetitions whether we recognize it or not. It can also lull us into believing that these events are unimportant because we are certain to see them again. This creates a dullness in our lives, an absence of wonder at the inscrutable mystery of being here at all, at having  a consciousness that can acknowledge that we are here at all. If you think your life exists only at the poles, if that is what fills your memory, occupies your mind - nursing wounds that should have been long healed, holding hostage a moment of utter joy for fear you won't feel it again you forgo the possibility that your life is ever ready to reveal itself to you: in a cup of coffee, on the lichen splayed upon a stone, but mostly in the manner in which you go about your days.

The furrows can be straight or crooked and it won't much affect the harvest. There will be food enough, but what will be missing from the crooked rows is the sense of a mind alive to its possibilities and its obligations: to itself, to those close beside it, to the earth itself.  If anything is worth doing it is worth doing as well as possible for it is a gift you give yourself (and those you love) to be the sort of person who withholds nothing from the task of answering the questions life sets before you: will you plow this field, can you comfort your child, forgive yourself, will you do all you can with all you have, or will you cheat yourself and us of your gifts?

Heroes are born moment to moment. The peak expression is just another moment. What matters is the daily habit of being awake, quickened by the fact of your pulse and the promise that holds. 

* * *

The plowman only has his furrows for his work. The seasons roll on and he, too, is rolled over and turned back into the ground and so it goes for us. Does that mean we are excused from trying?

Not a bit.

* * *

Look around you today. If you can drop the attitude, you'll see your life waiting for you. It is everpresent everywhere.

How can it not be?


Sunday, November 22, 2015

I Slipped The

I slipped the photograph into my pocket. My mother was real and her son was real. When he died she buried him. Now she is dead. Mother Courage and her children, my mother and her son. They are all stories now.

- Patti Smith, M Train

* * *

The hell of it is lives lived out in what ever fashion they are lived (third shift factory worker who bets the ponies and paints Russian Easter Eggs, suburban mom with a real estate license and a new divorce who dreams of walking the Via Dolorosa to atone for it all, refugee washed ashore - somehow alive who carries his father's worry beads in his pocket and misses his cats, bus boy at 52 working 16 hours a day at two jobs who sings fado to ease his mind, dermatologist with contact lenses that make her eyes blue in attempt to be more alluring who still turns down invitations for drinks, bus driver ignoring his wife's infidelity, soldier dying in a VA hospital from a staph infection, priest who doesn't believe in anything, cabbie, politician, homeless teenager, drug dealer, short order cook, drunken lawyer, teacher's aide, janitor, air traffic controller, hackitvist, and on and on and on and on) end too soon, not soon enough, suddenly, in slow decline, anonymously, on the world stage and all that remains at the end of each of them is a story to be told, a story to be forgotten, that will be forgotten, poorly remembered, told wrong, that will look nothing like the life lived, but endures for a bit longer in the memories and actions of those still living, of those making their way to the lullaby pile and you can exert no editorial control over those stories except while you are still here among us.

If you are here unfaithfully with us,
you're causing terrible damage.
If you've opened up your loving to God's love,
you're helping people you don't know
and have never seen.

* * * 

There are no good old days. There is no golden past. There's only here. There's only now. What you think, say, and do today matters more than you can imagine. One doesn't have to be a believer to see the truth in Rumi's words: if you are awake right now you're helping people you don't know and have never seen. How is this possible? Because like fear, good accrues in all directions once it is set in motion. Your kindness, your sacrifice, your strength, your decency, your acts are absolute goods that bloom and die. Nothing lasts, but your willingness to open yourself again and again to doing what is yours to do, by working at your work, by bringing the gifts you can bring over and over again those close beside may be encouraged, emboldened to find their voice and take action. And they don't, if their fear is greater than your kindness then so be it. You have no control over how other's might see you, only over how you choose to see yourself, your work, your very brief transit here among us.

We are ephemeral beings longing for permanence. No such thing is possible. Our love affairs end or grow stale. Our children may die before us. Political freedom is always a breath away from being rescinded. Our personal economies are boom and bust. The trick is to not get lost in these waves of unasked for change. The through line in all circumstances is you and your willingness to choose among the options before you in such a way that your life makes sense to you, a purpose emerges out of the rubble of circumstance and you know your name.

Those choices may bring your story to a close sooner than you imagined; they may make you a survivor of all you loved and have had to bury; they may cascade in joy, in grief, but they will, at the core, be yours and that is all that matters.

* * *

Did you dream of the life you have? Did it play out exactly as you imagined?


It bent and turned and came to abrupt halts and stuttering re-starts as you made your way. I did not dream my life. I chose it. I may have chosen poorly for large swaths of it, but still, it was my choice. I prioritized A over B and wound up with R. Now here, I have other choices to make and they are made day in and day out even unto the smallest detail: the brush for the blue on the Easter Egg, the fado that brings the most tears, Lucky Laraoux in the Fifth at Belmont, next time I'll say yes, I know it is in Jerusalem, I'm still going.

History, your history is made in these choices. Your story will be told out of what you leave behind. What you are to leave behind are the stories of choices and how you kept the faith with all of us, all of the people you don't know and have never seen.

We are all stories: now and ever after. 

It is time to author your days.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Political Language And

Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase -- some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse -- into the dustbin, where it belongs. 

- George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

* * *

For years now, I have written in this space as a traveler, a tinker, a gypsy, a fallingforward stumblebum. I have stretched out my legs and rested in this space and eaten apples off the nearby trees: books and music and poetry and half-remembered lines and phrases plucked out of books I haven't read, but somehow were passed to me in conversation and they stuck - burdock seeds clinging to what ever brushed against them. I began doing this to make sense of my life with no thought that anyone would ever happen upon my work. It was essential, in the beginning, to simply write and let it out into the internet ether so that it was no longer simply confined to me. Do something long enough and others notice. With readers came a shift in the work: less about me and more about you. The work was now about harvesting those apples to give to you so that you could do something with them. A few more of you came along and I found myself in the uneasy position of writing out ideas I had not fully made my own. It was aspirational for both of us, an exhortation to wake from the dolor of our flattened selves and engage life from a different footing. 

The single most important lesson I have learned in doing this can be summed up in two words: ceaseless creation.

The life that is fucked is one that creates nothing, that contributes nothing to the world around it. It is myopic, nursing wounds, keeping them fresh, suffering past the loss and it is always self-referential. 

The life that is unfucked is a stream, a river, a flood of works that is always, and in all places, pointed outward, toward others. Doesn't matter if you are baking cookies, or shoveling your neighbor's drive, or writing a new bible, the essential thing is that it is a gift you bring. And you do it even into the smallest hours, the smallest moment: each action you takes somehow supports the larger faith that the gifts you bring matter.

When I read, when I am silent in the house after my children are asleep and I am alone and let no thought bother me, when I eat as well as I can, when I walk among gravestones early in the morning as I am sometimes wont to do, the quiet, the simplest of pleasures, feeds that larger purpose; it is a making ready.

And for years, this space is what I have made myself ready for. And I will continue to do so, except things have changed again, a shift has taken place and the work here will change. I will never let go of the idea that our lives can be made more meaningful (if not necessarily easier or more comfortable) by engaging the unique abilities and habits of mind that each of us brings as the unheralded gifts they are. Somehow, by some unknown alchemy, we live and that is our deepest mystery, our truest privilege and the cross we bear - all at the same time. But my brothers and sisters, take a look around you: the world is coming apart at the seams. The civilizing aspect of culture and law and common cause has been perverted into narrow political aims to satisfy the madness of a few and to enslave the rest of us in fear: for our lives, in the face of the other, in what is different, with purity tests and compliance being the watchwords of acceptance.

You need to unfuck your life in order to help unfuck the world around you.

* * *

George Orwell's works are often smugly patted on the head with a knowing nod of "Orwellian." As if that adjective can stand for the entirety of a man's work. It is a poor use of the man. Orwell fought, through words and, for a while, with a rifle in his hands, against Fascism. He did so with precision of language and an empathy for those subjugated by fascism. He did so by ceaselessly working at his work, using what ever form made sense to him and not caring what others thought of him, but only that the words be sent out as far as possible.

We live in another age of fascism, of extremism, of feral, willful ignorance. This is the politics of our times: left, right, center, theocracy - no matter. Each uses tragedy to entrench their interests and leaves the rest of us as fodder for their aims. We cannot be silent, my loves. I cannot be silent and be satisfied that twice a week I leave you a note here.

There is more to do.

* * *

I will, as I have promised, keep this work alive and will continue to bring to you what I find along the way. But I give you fair warning, I will no longer be silent in these pages about the politics that seeks to harm us. If I lose you as a reader because of this then I wish you well. I don't know what form this shift will take, only that it must be taken. 

If you can look at the horror of concentration camps being re-built in central Europe, at the dead in the waters of the Mediterranean, at the rubble of Aleppo and the craven posturing of politicians using such suffering for their personal gain and not be moved to action, then frankly, I don't want to know you. 

The only action I am any good at is putting one word after the other. From now on I'll be using that gift more precisely, with greater exactitude in order to challenge the political language of our times. In doing so, I hope to be able to braid that imperative with the one we have been working on here.

Wish me luck.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

If The Skies

If the skies fall, one may hope to catch larks.

- Francois Rabelais

* * *

For the life of me, I cannot remember where I heard this line from Rabelais. It is in my air, part of the welter of words and sayings half-forgotten and cobbled back together that populate the interior of my skull. I cannot remember when I first encountered it. It was lying there in my sub-conscious for how long I cannot say, but this morning, bits of song in my head as I sat down to sort this out, it unearthed itself and insisted I use it as the place to begin. Who am I to argue with such things?

I have barely slept in two days - my mind running ahead, running in rage, running on fumes, running to this moment when I could be with you again. If you have read me at all you know I do not write about news, about unfolding events - and I will not here. It is more an exhortation to embolden you to set aside your fears and jump in.

And then Paris was destroyed again.

And then came the ranking of tragedies, as if to mourn these lives lost over here, a dis-service has been done to those lives lost over there. Rage becomes its own sort of impotence: each to the other demanding fealty to the idea that my grief is greater than yours, that because only brown bodies were consumed over there the world cares less than it does for the white bodies in a different place, that the tragedies are to be used politically - for the goals of the murderer and politician are a dovetail joint.

And the Left will not allow the moment to pass without a recitation of other sins and a blindness to the cause of these feedback loops.

And the Right will not allow the moment to pass without stoking the furnace of that feedback loop.

And I have barely slept for two days believing I had something to say here, today, about all this and when I sat down to write, a line from a Cowboy Junkies song, "September Skies", echoed in me. They wrote about the murders of September 11th, 2001 and sang how more would follow, flowing in each direction. The word skies kept repeating itself to me: September skies, skies, flies, skies falling, buildings falling, the fallen, the wounded, the dead, the dying, flying, the skies falling, if the skies fall, one may hope to catch larks.

* * *

I am not Paris.
I am not Beirut.
I am not Chi-raq.

I am human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me.

Any murder is all murders. Any violence is all violence. The goal of all violence is silence, to silence the enemy, the opposition, the other: be it a wife, a child, a religious sect, a nation. Violence craves silence. It is a cult of death set in opposition to the uncontrolled burgeoning of life. Music, dance, sex, pleasure, laughter and belief that is not their own - these are the insults to the death eaters and so these are what is attacked, what is silenced. Shia are murdered because they are not Sunni. Concertgoers are murdered because their joy is a symbol that must be destroyed. Black men murder each other on the South side of Chicago because no one has ever cared about their lives.

And you, my best beloved? What about your silence?

I tell you true, my loves, we cannot abide your silence another day, another hour. What ever grief has gotten hold of you, what ever sorrow you have made harbor for, now, right now is the time to forgive it, to set it aside. The world does not need more silence. It needs voices, cacophonous voices calling out their name, being loud, filling the void of deathly silence with the thrum of life unfolding.

Dance, turn the music up all the way, fuck more than you do, shout out that you are here. Do not go quietly.

* * *

If the skies fall, one may hope to catch larks.

We live in sorrowful times. We have always lived in sorrowful times. The cult of death is strong in our species. So too, is the thirst for life.  In this grievous time catch larks. We need you to catch larks so that flight is remembered, that beauty continues, that aspiration and hope can fight against the silence. It may look like the odds are stacked against you, against us, but that is only because you haven't danced in front of your sorrows yet.

If you wish to honor Paris, Beirut, Chi-raq then come alive and be brave enough to dance out your days in defiance of those who would silence you, would silence your neighbor, your community, any community, any nation.

Fuck those guys.

* * *

Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured. 

The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home. 

History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme. 

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells. 

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky 

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

The List Could

The list could surely go on, and there is nothing more wonderful than a list, instrument of wondrous hypotyposis.

- Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

* * *

1. There is no merit that can be scored.

2. Reason & rules are not the arbiters of the possible.

3. Grace is found in works of creation.

4. Intuition & experience are the only guides.

5. There is no room, no time for comparison.

6. Never associate with any you would not dine with.

7. Seek quiet so you can hear.

8. No man's deadline is the driver of your days.

9. Corrupt, compromising systems are to be subverted by working at your work, not theirs.

10. All of the systems in place, all of the institutions built, all of the laws and rules were once intended to bring peace and order to chaos. Now they are chaos.

11. Harm no one - least of all yourself.

12. Let go of all forms of comparison: beauty, money, position, etc.

13. Live outside the systems, on their edges.

14. Accepting pay for work you would not do otherwise is a bribe to keep you compliant.

15. Render unto Caesar enough that he leaves you alone.

16. Quit listening to watches.

17. Manipulation enslaves.

18. The book of your life is written with each breath. How's the story coming along?

19. Ignore other people's lists.

20. The numinous is stamped in your finger prints.

21. Doubt is society whispering in your ear: you're not really up to snuff, are you? Fuck that.

22. Works of creation are not art. They are life itself.

23. Being the smartest person in the room is useless unless you are kind. And if you are kind, that is all that matters.

24. Old dogs teach best.

25. Live so your work is your meditation.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

I Must Create

I must Create a System or be enslav'd by another Man's
I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create.

- Wm. Blake, Jerusalem

* * *

To read Blake is to encounter the voice in the whirlwind, the whirlwind and voice being the same, the force of each twinned to the creation of a new, third, thing. It is dizzying, unsettled, prone to shifts that only made sense in William's mind: a universe made complete with the same unknowing and profound mystery in the blank spaces as the universe we barely acknowledge when we pay our bills and rake leaves. William is always asking us to catch up - not to him, never that, but to the whirlwind of our own genius, the emanation of our spirit, the power of our bodies, our will to create.

William is fire itself.

* * * 

To be fucked, as the term is used here, is to be outside the flow of things: your life, the community, the marketplace, the houses of the holy. Any thing man has created and institutionalized in order that trains run on time, garbage is picked up, property inherited, marriage codified, debts incurred and paid, commerce conducted is, at its root, an attempt to bring order out of chaos. And this is an absolute good when it delivers clean water, fresh food, wise governance, and justice to the day in and day out of living together. However, when that absolute good is used to enforce compliance beyond the mutual respect for common law and common decency, when it becomes a prophecy of how you are allowed to live, where you can live, the work you are to do, the expectations you are to meet it becomes an albatross and its effect is gutting.

The choices set before you are straightforward enough: follow the path, read the sign and some day you'll own a home as big as a house; or rebel, chafe and be excluded from the great swim of things. And, in truth, you needn't even rebel in order to wind up lost and fucked and stuck. All that needs to happen is to lose faith in yourself to know how to put one foot in front of the other, to fear the experience of failing, to sacrifice your beauty for those who do not see it in you, but whom you desperately hope will.

William says elsewhere:

The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive. And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity;
Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav'd the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects: thus began Priesthood; Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales. And at length they pronounc'd that the Gods had order'd such things.

Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.

* * * 

William is always asking his reader to catch up, to catch fire, to let go of religion so one might know God, to abandon commerce so one might be rich, to forgo all but the power, the creative power of your genius. He believed a life come alive to it's Ancient Self could only produce freedom from slavery. For he believed such emanations, such productions were part of the original fire, the ancient fire buried under the detritus of rules and commandments and banker's laws, that burned with the genius of the first spark.

He was mad. 
He died penniless. 
He thought sex an excellent pastime. 
He invented a process of printing to suit his needs.
He was a self-taught writer and painter.
He created forms and books and images no one had ever seen.
He built a mythos to answer his questions.
He did not reason or compare, but only create.

The question I ask you is this:

What have you created with your life?

Take a minute before you answer. Don't compare yourself to William, or me, or any last motherfucker you know. Answer this as only you can. It may take days before you hear the answer. Maybe years. Answer it only when you are past reason and comparison. Answer it by your doings. Answer it only when you need no answer.


Expect poison from standing water.







Wednesday, November 4, 2015

No Cord Or

No cord or cable can draw so forcibly, or bind so fast, as [love] can do with a single thread.
- Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
* * *

What is it we talk about when we talk about love? Raymond Carver made it a feral, dangerous thing - outside of reckoning. Hallmark makes it insipid, flaccid, useless. Religions call wrath love and vengeance mercy, making them ugly politicos of the soul and so they are useless here as well.

To unfuck your life you need love, but if you can't render a meaning beyond what is handed to you in church, or the market, or the writings of others (this here included), then what are you scrambling after? To name, but not know a thing, to name a thing as central to your well-being as love so often is, but not be able to know, describe or understand what it is you're after leaves you trundling in circles: a dog chasing its tail.

Baby, this I know.
So, to love.
* * *
Your own experience will tell you what love is not, just as it will also hover about your head like a personal fog diffusing what should be clear in a miasma of conflicting impulses. Is love the desire for your lover's body? Is it the exaltation of the soul enraptured like Blake, fixed on a vision? Is it the promise of long friendship, or long work at your trade? Is it an outward sign, or an inward gift? Tell me of love and I will tell you of its counter, its variation; I will recast your telling to tell of something else that is equally justified in being called love, at least by the terms we acknowledge and abide by.

And all of that is right, just as all of it can be wrong. Proof? From Matt Groening:

Akbar: Do you love me?
Jeff: I love you as much as I love this bowl of chili, and I LOOOOVE chili.

Though Burton is right: there is no bond as strong as love, we use the term too loosely for it to be of any use when times are tight, when you're lost, when things are just so fucked you can't see straight and you grab onto, hold onto anyone else's definition for at least they have an answer, a point of departure and well, fuck, they have their shit together and maybe this is how all that works.

In despair we head to church. In despair we head to therapy. In despair we start to drink. 

I think it has something to do with not knowing what we're talking about when we're talking about love. We all claim to know what love is, how it functions in our lives, why we desire to be inside it rather than on the outside looking in. This much is true. And all of that is centered on us, our feelings, our desires, our needs. That's why it crumbles, changes shape, is used so loosely and poorly. The object of one's affection is, ultimately, one's self.

The bond Burton speaks of exists only when those desires are directed for a cause other than your own. This is not to be taken as self-denial, or self-abnegation, or self-loathing. Nothing could be further from reality. No, the strength derived from love is in its being given away. To give requires but one thing: to know what it is you are giving. Think for a minute. A love affair, a relationship ends and one or the other is frightened, hurt by this change and so clings ever more desperately to the idea of rekindling the romance so their fear is alleviated. But what is it they bring to their former lover to entice them back? Fear. Now push that idea further: if your life is fucked and stuck, if you can gain no traction where you once had sure footing, are you not focused on your fuckedness, your stuckness? How's that working out for you?

You want out of being fucked? Then love someone, something more than yourself and your misery. 

And love is left for you to define. Its only requirement is that it be given away, freely. There is no thought about what's in it for you, only that everybody should give like everybody could.

* * *