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.