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.

* * *



Sunday, November 1, 2015

Half A Page

Half a page–and the morning is already ancient.

- Michael Ondaatje, Running in the Family

* * *

I begin at roughly 5 in the morning most mornings and drink coffee and write - something, anything - until  I have to clock in and work for pay. There are times those two plus hours are flown past in the time it takes to drain the cup, and other times, well... let's just say I know how to make time crawl. All I need to do is have nothing to say.

* * *

There is a teaching that was part of my work at Columbia College Chicago in the Fiction Department (back when there was the luxury of such a thing) that tried to make students aware of this remarkable force in writing: voice - the voice of the story, the voice of the author, the physical voice in one's throat, your own voice in the voice of the story as you read it out loud. Sounds gibberish-y, I know, but it was trying to describe the un-noticed, un-attended, obvious truth of all writing: it sounds like something. And if the writing was thrumming it sounded unlike anything else.

You know this is true in your day to day life. The patterns and tics and pat phrases of your speech and the way those familiar to you speak are well-worn talismans of recognition: Uncle Joe always says, "Ain't that sumthin'" in that high nasal pitch, Louise's vocal fry makes every word sound painful, your daughter says "swag" instead of "cool." It surrounds you and you take no notice of it. Yet, I can think of few things that hold more potential for unfucking what is fucked in your life than listening for and understanding voice - your voice.

Hemingway sounds like Hemingway: short, sharp, declarative, forward.
Calvino is Calvino: elegant, learned, questioning, patient.
Ondaatje is ever the poet he started out as: the startling image rendered meticulously, whispering, refusing to let go until he is satisfied you can't help but see it as he does.

We easily recognize the voice of authors and mistakenly refer to it as style. Nothing is further from the truth. Voice is inescapable. Style is interchangeable.

So, if this is true in writing, and it is true, what then does it say about your voice - not your writerly voice, but the voice of your life?

What story have you been telling and how? Do you even know you've been telling a story, that the things you do or don't do are the warp and woof of your life, your tale?

This is not a small thing.

* * *

Let us begin by putting forward some definitions.

1. Your physical voice is the primary source of what I am calling "voice."
2. Your physical voice is an extremely limited understanding of "voice."
3. Words, the representative symbols of sounds, carry further meaning than sound alone.
4. Words strung together to tell of some experience carry additional freight.
5. Rhythm in stringing those words together is the beginning of the "voice on the page."
6. The "voice on the page" is a hybrid of physical sound, symbol, and the utterly unique filter of the one assembling the story.
7. This filter is the product of experience and intention.
8. The marshaling of these resources (sound, symbol, rhythm, meaning, intention and experience) is the sole task of the one seeking to be heard.
9. When you first start out you can't help but borrow and copy from the examples closest to you.
10. Over time, if you are faithful to this idea of being heard, you leave the copies and listen for your own way of doing it.
11. Once you hear your own voice, you would rather die than lose it.
12. I am not talking about writing anymore.

* * *

Half a page–and the morning is already ancient is simply how it goes. Fallow times are not to be shunned. You work at your work - whatever it may be - and keep the faith with yourself, in yourself, that what you are doing matters to you. What is essential is listening for and swimming in the sound of your life in its desire to know and be known. We fuck ourselves when we abandon the cause, when we think it isn't for us, when we never realize it could be so.

Your experience and intention are not fixed, but fluid. They respond to your honest effort.

Now go, you have a story to rewrite.