Thursday, April 14, 2016

Everything In This

Everything in this world has a hidden meaning, I thought. Men, animals, trees, stars, they are all hieroglyphics; woe to anyone who begins to decipher them and guess what they mean . . . When you see them, you do not understand them. You think they really are men, animals, trees, stars. It is only years later, too late, that you understand . . .

- Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba The Greek

* * *

Too much philosophy makes one dizzy, smug, yearning, nervous, haunted by the distance between what can be imagined and what is. That is not to say one should never dream in this way, only that such dreamings are themselves signs pointing to other signs. The reality behind such things a bead of mercury forever outside one's grasp.

* * *

There is something along the order of 4200 different religions practiced on the face of the earth and out of that milieu you'd have to guess tens of thousands of gods. Each is a reality to its adherents. Each is an expression of the ultimate desire in man to know his place in the cosmos. Each is a sign and symbol that is read by the ones who see it as a step along the path to a perfected state. Each is true. Each is false to non-believers. Each helps create its culture. Each feeds a spring of regeneration. Each changes by degrees across generations and within its community–sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Each is certain of itself. The question before you is this: knowing this, how can you reconcile your bedrock faith (and this includes the faith of atheism) with the 4199 other faiths? The answer is usually to dismiss them as wrong, infidels, non-believers worth of scorn, opprobrium, destruction, or just as horrifically with ridicule and paternal head patting.

For us fucked fuckers, questions like this drive us batty. Part of our disconnect is the disconnect between what we are told is true and what we experience as true. Religion, God, faith, non-belief can be the locus of our wandering, our drift, our sorrow at not being able to believe as others believe, but to feel the certainty of men and animals and trees and stars is just outside our reach. There must be a deficiency in us, a prideful doubt that keeps us outside the gates, or a pride in rejecting the idea of gates at all.

We try to riddle out proofs of our faith or lack of faith as if it might save the world from itself. These errors, we think, these errors are crippling us and if there was some way to show. . . 

As a species, we've been at this task a long time and it remains it ever was: un-provable except by faith.

* * *

Certainty concretizes metaphor, freezes it up and in the freezing strips it of its possibility.

The lives we lead are the acting out of possibility. We are possibility's venue. When we freeze up because of fear or shame or doubt, we concretize that fear, that shame, that doubt and our possibility narrows to the width of our fears. Everything here is knowable, certain, prospects strictly proscribed and we wonder that others dance, or know love, have God in their pockets, raise kind children, sleep well at night. It is like the engine of a car seizing: you move no more.

Perhaps you recognize this, if you are lucky you recognize this and you want to break out of the narrow lane. You watch others who appear happy to you. You read books that promise answers. You kneel. You pray. Maybe it helps. Maybe not as much as you'd hoped, but still, its something, right? Maybe you grow tired. Maybe you stop wondering. Maybe you content yourself with what's been gained, earned, rewarded. Right on. I'd never, not ever, belittle such things. It is hard to know what to do. Losses stagger us. Failures put a hitch in our stride. Joy is evanescent and so we don't trust it much. Like I said, it is hard to know what to do.

I don't really know either. I write to put some perspective on it and I know I think too much.

What does seems useful in all this is the idea of movement, motion, dance, fluidity, border crossings, flight, sailing, winds aloft, riding waves. What seems useful is the protection of metaphor, of uncertainty, of signs pointing to other signs, a religious adherence to letting go of what you thought you knew for the possibility, the possibility only of seeing something new, experiencing another way of being in the world that is more concerned with empathy than certainty and above all a forgiveness that begins with yourself for hanging onto your fear and shame for so long.

No one knows, love. No one. The privilege and purpose of a lifetime is to experience it. Believing men are only men and trees only trees and stars only stars is to delude yourself that time can be stopped, arrested, death held at arm's length, the metaphor crushed by fear, made to heel and serve our fears. Religion, no-religion, faith, disbelief saves us to the extent we keep the metaphors alive and flourishing. The best way to do that is to treat them lightly, to secretly smile, to watch children play in the twilight, to hear a sea make its way to the shore, to drink strong coffee, to make love as long as the plumbing works, to eat with friends, to not worry about icons, to notice the smell of grass, the smell of rain, to commit to your gifts, to bless, to laugh until there is no sound just the heaving of your shoulders, to know the type of birds near your home, to grow food, to master a new language, to tread softly, to collect found art, to notice the color of the sky throughout the day, to donate blood, to give a buck to the panhandler and not worry if you are being hustled, and to dance when there is nothing else to say or do.

Movement will save you.

You put one foot in front of the other and if you add a bit of rhythm, you are dancing and then, after all these years, you understand . . .

* * *

I wish you well.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

He Thought That

He thought that fear of death was perhaps the root of all art, perhaps also of all things of the mind. We fear death, we shudder at life's instability, we grieve to see the flowers wilt again and again, and the leaves fall, and in our hearts we know that we, too, are transitory and will soon disappear. When artists create pictures and thinkers search for laws and formulate thoughts, it is in order to salvage something from the great dance of death, to make something that lasts longer than we do. Perhaps the woman after whom the master shaped his beautiful madonna is already wilted or dead, and soon he, too, will be dead; others will live in his house and eat at his table–but his work will still be standing a hundred years from now, and longer. It will go on shimmering in the quiet cloister church, unchangingly beautiful, forever smiling with the same sad, flowering mouth.

- Hermann Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund

* * *

To fear death, is to fear life, to trade it as a paltry thing, of no merit, no value. The fear of death becomes the fear of life exactly at the moment it causes a hitch in your stride, a hesitation, a doubt that what you are doing at that moment matters in the broader, wider arcs of time and celestial distance. The fear of death is the fear of living because one is small, puny, a tiny voice crying in a tiny wilderness. This fear manifests itself in myriad ways: commonly in a vigorous/vacuous denial complete with ATV's, free porn, and politics. It is also shows its face in the aesthetics of aesthetes where everything is too fine, too beautiful to be spoken of. Both, and that which lies between the two, are death conquering life, the fear of death conquering the living out of a life in its fullest possibility. Conspicuous consumption, botox, hermetic withdrawal, a remembrance of every wound and insult, quick to anger–slow to forgive, channel surfing, corporate food, Citizens United, discrimination, terrorism, corruption, the nihilism of spring break, and fiddling while Rome burns are echoes of this predilection to despair, to giving up by giving in. Paint it brightly enough, it might even look like a good time, but at its root there is poison.

The poison is not death, itself, but shame that it should ever be so.

We fear death because we are ashamed of the time we've wasted, the losses we've allowed to govern our lives; we are ashamed of our bodies, so multi-various in form and color, but common in its decay; we pray in churches and synagogues and mosques and temples and the quiet stillness of a sleepless night for a way to conquer death, to submit to our fate without fear, to race it and die with the most toys. Always we frame our prayers, our actions in relation to death–be it defiance or acquiescence.

How different our lives would be if we framed our prayers and actions in relation to the life we have, the one in our veins, the one you inhabit at this very moment, without shame.

* * *

We dither with minutia, counting angels on the head of a pin and pennies in a jar, while the cacophony of the created world, the world where our bodies and our minds and our souls are loosed to see what may come of it, pours out a thunderous abundance of possibility. Dire circumstance is joined to our wit and intellect, our fear and tribalism and that circumstance is altered. Every circumstance is changed by our engagement with it. Whether we bring our desire or our dread, the circumstance is changed and we along with it. Hesse viewed our works as a wrestling match with death, a way of placing down a marker that would, for however long after, mark the path we traveled: death defied–you win my body but not my work.


I cannot deny this is what drives most of the world and we each are beneficiaries of that effort: our thoughts arrested by the beauty of the Belvedere Torso, aqueducts, alternating current, crepe pans, central air, children...

But most of the world is not all of the world, most of our progress is not all of our progress and isn't even the most essential progress. All that lies elsewhere, away from the dominance of death and the struggle for shelter and justice. Its home is in the burgeoning sense of life, the ceaseless creation and reinvention of life, in the transformation that is the very definition of life: from nothing then something, beautiful flowers growing out of shit.

Here the dichotomies of thinker and artist, civilian and soldier, life and death don't exist. They simply don't exist. Instead there is the circuitous path of the woolgatherer, the prophet, the crank, the outsider, the idler who is no idler, but is busy with life instead of being busy with death. Their works are not a statement against their days, in opposition to death, but rather an affirmation of the miraculous, the synchronous, the electric jelly of life meeting its partner, the one who can communicate his or her experience so another will not feel alone, so another will be both braver and kinder than they might have been otherwise, so that in simply doing the work their hands, their body, their minds bend to others will have the chance to be set free from the drumbeat of our foregone end.

Does this make sense?

Both ways of being in the world can create beauty, can be a sign of our genius. The opposition to death, the impassioned work to overcome it, still it, make it irrelevant can also carry with it more death, for those gifts can be weaponized in a zero-sum game of politics, economics and corporate tribalism. The way of the woolgatherer only seeds more life.

* * *

So, what is the difference between the two, what sends one to battle death, while another embraces life? What compels us to fear? What liberates us from it?

In a word: shame.

Shame is the power behind the throne of our fears. Shame is the progenitor of death, of ceding authority over our lives to the cult of death: achievement, war, discriminatory law, theological one-up-manship, wage inequality, sexual violence, violence itself. Shame is the stutter in your step, the doubt that quiets your voice, the caution that risks nothing and loses everything, the hail storm of ads for restless leg syndrome, depression, sleep aides, limp dicks, weight loss, dry eyes and menstrual cycles. Shame makes you dishonest. It is the fig leaf added to statues 400 years later. It is God's first punishment in Genesis. It is why we fucked fuckers are fucked.

And shame, my love, is never born inside us, but is rather a judgment placed on us that we then accept and internalize.

I don't know what it will take for you to see this, to feel it in your chest. I don't know what you will come across that will loosen that boulder and free you from the weight you've been dragging around. I don't know when it will happen, or even if it will. All I do know is the habit of gathering wool and leaving it here for you to find.

* * *

I wish you well.