Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Every Day Even

Every day, even when he has a bad hangover or even when he is weak and listless from hunger, he spends at least a couple of hours working on a formless, rather mysterious book that he calls "An Oral History of Our Time." He began this project twenty six years ago, and it is nowhere near finished. His preoccupation with it seems to be principally responsible for the way he lives; a steady job of any kind, he says, would interfere with his thinking.

- Joseph Mitchell, "Professor Sea Gull."

* * *

My son asked me the other day what was at the edge of the universe. I replied there was no edge, no border, no boundary. Word is that the universe is ever expanding. He asked, into what, where? My answer was, into itself, it invented space as it went along. He shook his head and said I can't think about that. It makes me crazy to try and imagine it.

Welcome to the world, boy-o.

* * *

The preoccupations of our lives can become the sum of our lives: worry over love and money and safety and belonging and work and purpose and God and no-God and politics, fucking politics and the sports teams and fashions and entertainments and so on and on. We trap our identities in the accouterments we gather to us as a shield and defense against the prospect that the universe doesn't have an edge. It makes us crazy to consider it, so we don't and instead fill our days with the passing pleasures of worrying about more immediate things. This is how roads are built and wars inflicted. This is the welter we wade into each day and try to find our way.

And you know, right on.

The universe is set in motion and couldn't give a fiddler's fart for me, or you, or anyone of us. It simply is. We, on the other hand, we do care about things like justice and equity and love and compassion. We are the makers of these things and we rightly work those fields and the edge of the universe can take care of itself, thank you very much. A few among us dare to imagine something a bit more, to imagine they can imagine totalities and truths: The Domesday Book, If On a Winter's Night a Traveler, An Oral History of Our Time.

William The Conqueror wanted to know how much the people of England and Wales owned so he could tax them to their grave. Italo Calvino tried to capture every sort of story and Joe Gould sought to tell the history of the "shirt-sleeved multitude." Impossible each and every one, but that has never stopped anyone who needed to sort something out.

* * *

The way you get fucked and stuck and going nowhere is when your preoccupations make you small, make you cautious, make you unwilling to risk an ounce of your life because of the systems you have bought into (religion, commerce, politics - the American Dream) keep telling you to hedge your bets, to not ask for too much on this side of history. To follow the path. To read sign. When we lose the thread of the life that animates us, that was there in us before we arrived, that somehow was always present as we learned to make our way in society, when we lose that spark we are fucked. Now, don't think that this means all hippie ass motherfuckers are free and you are not. They may very well be fucked by taking on that role. No, don't look to the outward signs of what anyone is wearing or where they are living or how they earn their daily bread. 

Look to what they do with the time they have to do.

Even when nursing a bad hangover, or listless and hungry.

* * *

Joe Gould attended Harvard, lived in Greenwich Village bumming drinks, was pals with e.e. cummings and wrote this sprawling tale of the stiffs he met along the way. It was estimated that the book had over 9 million words and he'd stash his notebooks at friends' homes all over New York. He was never seen without a notebook on him. Joe was fucked every which way. He'd be invited to swanky parties as the sideshow drunk and he always obliged. He had no family, just the damn notebooks and he was even written up in Collier's Magazine once for his bohemian ways.

Except there was no book, no Oral History of Our Time. For over 30 years Joe Gould wrote and re-wrote the same few opening chapters of an autobiographical novel. It was the tale of his childhood and he could not get past it. Make no mistake, he wrote everyday to his exhaustion, just not the story he said he was. The fact that he could not get past those chapters, that the whole of his life was taken up with just those chapters and nothing else, does nothing to diminish the audacity of the attempt.

Joseph Ferdinand Gould was broken by something early on - just like the rest of us. That something was to him the edge of the universe - it made him crazy to think of it. So, he dared to wrestle it under his control. He didn't get far and his life was a ruin, but I would never say he was fucked. He had a mission and that mission propelled his wild and unkempt life. 

So, what is your mission, my friend? What is that thing you do even with a hangover, even when hungry? What do you devote a couple of hours to each day around the daily obligations you have taken on? What is it that helps you live with an ever expanding universe that doesn't know you exist? What is it you need to say so that someone will know you came this way and that your life may have been a ruin in parts - just like the rest of us - but you had a mission, a story to tell and you, goddammit, told it and/or died trying?

* * *



Saturday, September 26, 2015

What If Our

What if our hard work ends in despair?
What if the road won't take me there?
Oh, I wish, for once, we could stay gold.

- First Aid Kit, "Stay Gold"

* * *

There is an apocryphal story (apocryphal not simply because it is ancient, but because it serves a particular aim, a gloss of politics, of hagiography, but still useful nonetheless) of Socrates trying to master a melody on a flute as they mixed his unhappy cocktail. When asked why he would bother with such a thing, such a simple thing, such a useless thing at the hour of his execution, the dude is reported to have answered, "At least I will learn this melody before I die."

* * *

It must be acknowledged that all your hard work may come up short of your intention. It must be acknowledged that effort and intention and faithfulness may not blossom into the life you aspire to, the one that is unfucked, the one you dream of in the stillness of the hour before dawn, the one you have only known in flashes and bursts of evanescent delight and joy. Not simply acknowledged, but embraced. To fail to walk with this reality is to remain fucked.

The road you travel, the experiences thereon, the tribulations and ecstasies you encounter are the warp and woof of your life and are not guarantors of anything other than being on the road you travel. Your intention to be at peace, to be loved, to be strong, to have money enough to eat, to avoid tragedy, to work at your work with your whole being are intentions only - worthy, desireable, basic, the basis of all human endeavor - but if you enter the road believing that because you believe all goodness is a fait accompli, your losses will be even more mystifying.

The goal of your life is not a goal, but a process, a way of experiencing it as it emerges.

It is the difference between a noun and a verb: nouns can be broken, destroyed (see Socrates' body), but verbs are ever becoming (see Socrates with the flute). 

Your choice: bodies at rest or bodies in motion. And motion only promises motion - no values added. That's what you bring to the process.

* * *

Our very temporariness makes us long for certitude, solidity, everafterishness. We crave the hand that knows our brow, the cuppa Joe poured by our beloved and sugared the way we like it, the regularity of being a regular, of being known and a little more. And all of that is to be desired, all of that bespeaks of a good beyond words. But do not conflate goodness with permanence. All existence is in the business of transformation and nothing remains as it was. Making the good in your life an absolute, the only sort of experience you can carry dooms that goodness, that happiness to a rotting and that which is painful, which staggers the mind is not permanent either - quit endorsing your pain by succumbing to the lie that nothing changes. 

Aim for what you will.
Work for that aim.
Adjust as necessary.
Drink deep draughts of joy.
Let pass what wounds you.

The purpose is not to stay gold, pony-boy, but to be gold.

* * *



Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I Turned My

I turned my pain into a simple plan
Harmony onward friend
Draggin' myself out again
Oh, through the lonesome valley, the lonesome valley
Oh, through the lonesome valley, the lonesome valley

- Jason Molina/Magnolia Electric Co., "Lonesome Valley"

* * *

The days we spend locked away from our lives are the days we spend spinning wool trying to justify ourselves for doing so. The weight and pain of our losses, our sense of being lost, of the everpresent feeling that we could have shown better never dissipates but grows in presence because we have chosen to hide in our suffering, our losses and misfortunes. We all do it. I think it has something to do with a basic misunderstanding of what we're to do with the life in our hands. Too often, almost everytime, children are raised to fall in line and do as they are told, to aspire for certain things and not other things, to conform to the larger structures they are born into. At a certain point, if you are lucky, you begin to come unglued.

Joseph Campbell said: "No one in the world was ever you before, with your particular gifts and abilities and possibilities. It's a shame to waste those by doing what someone else has done."

This is one of those truths that appears to be too weak and obvious to be considered as useful, but it may be the most practical thing of all.

The conformity that is baked into how we raise our children, how we were raised, is, it must be said, a type of love, an attempt to smooth out the spikes of loneliness, to bring us into a community where we can be certain of the rules and rewards. But, my best beloveds, if you are reading such a thing as Unfuck Your Life, then that wasn't the answer for you. Was it?

* * *

Much is made, and rightly so, of Campbell's description of the Hero's Journey: the call from everyday life, the adventure to reach a goal, the helpers along the way, achieving the boon and then the return back to the wasteland to share what has been found with those who might hear it. Beautiful stuff. It makes me envious of those whose lives follow that arc. Sometimes I try to imagine the course I've taken is that journey, but, in truth, it is not. 

There is another journey, one that is closer to the experience of us fucked fuckers: draggin' myself out again. 

Sometimes something as beautiful as the story of the Hero's Journey can become a leadstone, an albatross, an unwinking stare of unmet expectation: surely, this is my story; surely, now I have the roadmap. 

Maybe not so much.

The fucked are stuck and can't break free of the pain that has stopped them. Whatever the source of the pain, whatever the reason, we become stuck, anti-Billy Pilgrims, and can't get moving again. We mount terrific efforts to overcome ourselves and we stutterstep and lunge forward, only to be stopped just a few steps ahead because we are still carrying that weight of our fuckedness with us. We are heroic in the effort. We do this because we still misunderstand the life in our hands. We cherish it. We protect it. We fear for it. 

Instead, we should be using it up like spendthrifts.

* * *

To come to the end of your days with gas in the tank is the only sin possible. 

Use your life up. 

We are forever hedging our bets, still trying to conform to norms we did not create, still trying to thread the needle of respectability, success and responsibility. The only thing you are responsible for is your freedom and the manner in which you use your days.

Turn your pain into a simple plan: harmony onward, friend. Draggin' yourself out again from your hiding place and meeting life full on. Your life. The one in your hands. The one you are responsible for. Use your days the way a thirsty man uses up water. And your pain? Well, that's simply the price of admission to access your freedom. It is part of your story, but it isn't the only story out there. 

You need to hear as many stories as you can. 
You need to tell yours as you make your way through the lonesome valley.

That is the way of the unfucked.

* * *

PS: None of this means to destroy yourself as Jason Molina did. It means to quit fearing your death and live while you can. The frightening thing is not dying. The frightening thing is not living.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

There'll Be No

There'll be no more runnin' around for me
No more backing down, you'll see
What ever lies in store, I'll get through it.

- G. Hansard, "Grace Beneath the Pines"

* * *

The answer to all questions lies in the experience of living out one's life. It is only the expenditure of time that reveals the truths you've been living by. The crisis occurs at the moment you recognize how you've spent your time, towards what ends (if any), by what light you have offered up the irreplaceable hours of your life.

Horror. Denial. Despair. Joy. Satisfaction. Regret. Acceptance. Indifference. It all depends on what you find as the hours thin out.

Our finiteness should make us kind, forgiving, tolerant. Instead we are often fearful, cruel and indifferent to others coursing through the very trials that haunt us. It is a trick we play on ourselves: we be center, polestar, the source of oceans and all others be sodden, hardscrabble, unworthies. We fall for this trick because we doubt our capacity to take in the world's suffering, the world's longing, the world's hunger. We can barely manage our own. We imagine our reach extends as far as our arms and those we embrace. The other, the stranger, the notoneofus is immaterial at best, hated as a matter of course.

How can it be otherwise?

It depends on what you find as the hours thin out.

* * *

A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for, Mr. Browning asks.

I answer, a man's reach is the sum of his kindness, generosity and lion-hearted openness.

If this be so, and it is so, then no wonder some can't reach the salt on the table.

* * *

The faiths we conjure to inform our decisions, the religions we abandon, the gods we worship and loathe, the riddles presented to us as the scavenger hunt we are on for the length of our lives are always and in all places only capable of being answered by you and you alone, for you are the one experiencing the life in your hands. Your life may be fated with unearned luck and good fortune. It may a hazard of losses. In either case it is yours to suss out. How will you answer for it? Self-destruction, self-denial, selfishness, selflessness: it is solely yours to decide my friend. And if your circumstances are unjust, harrowing in its ignorance, proscribed by the viciousness of tradition and cultural norms, you are still free to choose how you will respond. The mistake we make is to assume that happiness, ease, justice and equity are our due. Nothing is further from the truth. We live amongst sleepwalkers and zombies of the spirit (some in clerics robes, some in three piece suits, some who look just like our parents) whose fear and hatred is everready to blot out the sky. Do not be a bullshit pollyanna cantor of weak aphorisms. Better to choose for yourself and live by those choices and see what comes of it.

And you can only choose when you take the time to take the temperature of your life, to see the road you've come and set for the road ahead. I am oldish. It is part of things now, but there's no need to wait for balding middle age. Right now is perfect.

Now go. You got shit to do.

* * *

My brothers, my sisters, I thought this passage was complete. And it was, it was, it was. But I found myself always looking about as if I'd lost my keys. Something was missing. This morning I realized it was this, it was you.

And so, I'll begin again.

The rhumboogie of it all is this: plow your field with your full attention, with the fullness of your name. Done in this manner, what you harvest feeds others beside yourself, or what's a heaven for?

* * *