Thursday, May 26, 2016

La Infinitia Liberacion

La infinitia liberacion de no saberse solo
  The infinite liberation of knowing that one is not alone

- Ernesto Sabato
(trans. Clive James in Cultural Amnesia)

* * *

The French word for it,  frisson, meaning that shiver of delight and emotional recognition that sometimes visits when listening to music, or looking at some beautiful thing, or a touch from the right person at the right time, comes close, as does Campbell's idea of "aesthetic arrest", where time falls away and you are held by the beauty of something. Close, but when I read Sabato's phrase (he was arguing against the idea that genius and art were only for the elect and instead could also be found at the street level) I was neither delighted, nor held by beauty. Something more elemental, visceral, ancient held my guts aside to see if I still had a soul, that deep body knowledge, bred in the bone, of truths so old we've forgotten them, and was held there for a moment while the examination was completed and then released.

Ezra Pound once translated an old troubadour poem, maybe it was some Cavalcanti, I can't remember and no longer have the book, but this I do remember, it was about love:

He, caught, then
falleth on the spike of the targe

Sabaoto's statement, too, is about love. We do great harm to ourselves to believe, as we are wont to do, that we are alone. The hellish drumbeat of youwerebornaloneandyoulldiealone echoes all around us. We defend ourselves and build walls against our loneliness by becoming ever more alone. We trust little as politics and religion and economics have all proved fatally flawed. This bleeds into our daily lives with those closest to us: we love this far, but no further. We become tribal or we become hermetic, both doing a nice job of sealing us off from the world around us: the world that is in ruin and always has been, the world of suffering and need as well as the world of unspeakable beauty and mystery.

Sabato tells me liberation is found in realizing the opposite of what our institutions have told us for millennia: you are not alone. Now, you can take that to mean your God walks beside you. You can understand that as being being part of what the ancient Stoics called the logos. Sabato meant only, as surely as the historical Jesus did, that I'm here with you on the streets. We share this road. Our genius, our liberation is found in our connection to one another. Not as lovers, or family or any intimate relationship, but in the broader, wider, encompassing prospect that the stranger is the same as I am. Our details may diverge, but pull aside the guts and our souls rhyme. It is how we serve our highest self and keep what what what matters most in sight: compassion - for it can be a difficult road we walk. This is the fall, the release of pride in our sufferings, the release of guilt over not knowing sooner, and the source of liberation and being able to move again in the genius of our days.

* * *

What drives our isolation, what fucks us deep and true, is a preponderance of the immediate, the circumstantial, the greased grooves of expectation and compliance. It is a hard climb to get any perspective on what the hell is going on, to separate yourself from the welter of obligations and responsibilities and disappointments and know who you are down in the marrow of your bones. You can hardly tell what is foreground and what is background and where you might stand in relation to either. But you climb, you work at it, you try to find a place to stand and it occupies the whole of you.  For six years this is what I have basically written about here, for it was my struggle to know, to stand, to work at it. The seductive nature of always struggling is a ferocious temptation to remain wounded. Pass that hurdle and you have found your feet. You have achieved a remarkable thing: you have become yourself.

But, my friend, there is more to do. The job is only half done. You know that, right?

There is more to do.

Having made that journey, you have to come back to the rest of us. The gifts you can bring are unlike anything here where there is suffering and isolation and the injustice of institutions and the fear that walks about looking for a place, a victim to pour its anger over. To be liberated is not solely to know one's self, but to know and then share it out, to remind those who need it most that they are not alone.

The beloved Mavis Staples sings:

You're not alone 
I'm with you, 
I'm lonely too
What's that song
Can't be sung by two?

* * *

I wish you well.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Unity Of

The unity of nearness and remoteness involved in every human relation is organized, in the phenomenon of the stranger, in a way which may be most briefly formulated by saying that in relationship to him, distance means that he, who also is far, is actually near. For, to be a stranger is naturally a very positive relation: it is a specific form of interaction.

- Georg Simmel, The Stranger

* * *

Ideas stick like burdock seeds to clothes: unintended, found in places you didn't know existed, hidden to you, but part of you. Should you become aware of them and try to pry them off fragments will still remain, a burr to remember your passage this way. The Stranger is one of those burrs, something I walked past years ago and somehow it became attached to me: sometimes silent, sometimes an irritant. Simmel wrote, clear-eyed, about the unique position of European Jews at the turn of the 20th century: part of the community, but not of it, a necessary intermediary, a necessary scapegoat, their economic mobility contrasted to the rootedness of the landed gentry. He was bedeviled and captivated by the near and far, the two elements of the stranger. 

I am, too, and by very different means I, too, see this as a remarkable unity.

* * *

To be fucked, as I use the term here, is to be disjointed, out of place, stuck, frozen up, lost and disconnected from the elemental forces of your life–forces that are known only to you in their specifics through your experience, but known to anyone and everyone who has felt the tug of life's tide pulling them into oceanic waters. To that I would add that to be fucked is to abandon or doubt the unity of your experience and instead choose either near or far, settling for once and for all which side you are on. Doing so is the very thing that fucks you. In order to be near and far, remote and present, requires but one thing from you: to be able to move (in space, in time, across thought, by desire). Fucked is stuck and it goes nowhere.

Now, take a look around. You can see the evidence of lives plopped on one side of that line or the other. The landed, the folk, the stable, the near live lives made stable by commerce and their ability to remain in place: home ownership, careers, nationalism, consensus, law, institutions. Their opposite, the remote ones, the distant others live lives completely foreign to the landed: esoteric, aloof, elite, or on the lower rungs, homeless, vagabond. To be so one or the other is to limit what is possible in life, is to choose a set of blinkers (for the unlanded are no less bound to their choice than the home owner) and only allow in that which comports with the choice one has made. Cogito ergo sum is now remade into, I think thus and thus it is: Puto ego tale et tale est.

And lives are lived happily here. 

But you are reading something called Unfuck Your Life, so perhaps that happiness has eluded you. It has eluded me as well for many years. Yet, through slog and trial, the idea clung to me that it did not have to be this way. Predisposed to being unsettled, I tried to be settled and failed. But out of that failure came four children and that relationship settled me, in part, but also left me unsatisfied. It was as if I could not be gracious for the privilege of being their dad, for the lessons of the fire we all walked through. For an idea clung to me and I could not quite name it.

* * *

Lives are lived on a continuum, a long stroke of possibility and the emphasis any life places on one point of that continuum, is different than the emphasis of the next life. We thrum and vibrate along lines of what is humanly possible. It is difficult to be outside the group, to feel unwanted or rejected, to reject others. It feels like we're missing out on the basics of human experience. It is difficult to stay put, to adventure this far and no further out of obligation or expectation. Depending on who you are, what you've seen by now you may wish for the opposite of what you have, you may be snug and smug with what you've got and in either case you're fucked. You are looking outside yourself for answers. Only other peoples' answers are out there, mate. Even this blog.

Now, the one person I haven't spoken of here is the artist, the creative and their place in all this. I must admit that I don't have much patience with defining "artist" as someone engaged in the fine arts alone. I define the artist as someone who is crafting their life using old forms and innovating from there. All of my writing is aimed at that audience. And it is in this conception of the artist that the long-ago encounter with Simmel's Stranger finds the expression I have been searching for.

To be near and far at the same time is to collapse all duality, all categories, all proscriptions written from within one camp or the other: religious, economic, political. Fluidity, participating in the joys and sorrows of your community while still retaining a longer sense of time, of objectivity that induces compassion. This is what the artist does, this is what art is made of: compassion. Artists own homes as easily as they own nothing. Artists represent their time and place as easily as they transcend it. The Stranger is no stranger. It is you, the positive relation to the whole, for the artist is both individual and specific to the days of her life, and the whole itself: foreground and field, the remarkable unity of a specific expression (your life) in the context of all lives.

Seen from this angle, what is there to be stuck by? What is there that can hold you in place, a partisan for one side or the other? Only one thing: fear. We fear we are not enough, that we won't know what to do, or that what we have to offer won't find acceptance. It is a pervasive thing and is the most powerful keeper on your life. In order to be an artist, of any stripe, to make your life an offering to those close beside you and to your time, to build out compassion through your works, you must first be compassionate with yourself. It is time, love, to let go of the anger and self-loathing for not knowing sooner, the regret that things took the time they did and the road and losses were long and great to get here. Forgive it all and keep moving. You have stories to tell, a life to live. And if there isn't as much light in the sky as there once was, if your days have slipped by and middle age or old age is upon you, no matter. You can begin now, for the only thing that does not end is now.

* * *

I wish you well.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Birds Flying High

Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin' on by you know how I feel

It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
And I'm feeling good 

- Nina Simone, I'm Feeling Good 

* * *

At the end of the day, the question must be asked: In what manner did I live today? This is not a simple question, for the likely answer given by the great most of us is that we worked, perhaps at things we do not enjoy, perhaps at things we cannot stomach, but we work because of the grace of our daily obligations to our best beloveds, to ourselves, for food, shelter and love. Some may even work at things that feel right and good and serve a profound sense of self and well-being. But, do you see the problem with these answers? To answer the question about the manner in which one lived the answer is I worked.

I am not here to denigrate the value of work, nor its necessity to maintain hearth and home. But I do want to challenge the default position that work is our primary mode of living. If it is, it shouldn't be. If it isn't, then never let it be.

The idea of work as an ideal state, of difficulty in effort equaling an ideal in man can be traced back to Ancient Greece. Antisthenes the Cynic, a contemporary of Plato's, is the first to make Hercules the ideal for man: Herculean effort is his contribution to the welter of things. But this idea doesn't really grab hold in a dominant way until Immanuel Kant separates Western philosophy from the contemplation of the ways to organize a life and announces that hard work and difficult effort were the markers of a well-organized life. Since then we have overvalued the difficult, turned it into an ideal, at the cost of a wider view of the lives we live.

For years my pride was stoked by my ability to endure, to suffer, to survive another day. Family wondered at the capacity and every bit of it was driven by the idea that if something was difficult and painful it must therefore be worthy, that I was made worthy by the effort. All external evidence indicated I was not a worthy, so I made myself into one by out staring it.

And here's the uneasy thing: sometimes that is true. There are times when you will have to endure, to bear the difficult, to put in a Herculean effort in order get where you are going. The fault lies in believing that is the way of all things at all times. The fault lies in the pride you take out of it. The fault lies in mistaking what is transitory for something that is permanent. The difficult, the work of your days is not your baseline of experience. We've made it so through generations of cultural prohibitions, stories, accruals and unspoken agreements that the Emporer and his clothes look fine, just fine to us.

* * *

There is a point at which words can go no further. There is a point at which science ceases to answer and speculates (about a millisecond after the Big Bang the door closes). There is a truth that is sayable and the rest becomes unsayable–our capacity to express our experience is overrun by the experience of simply being present in our lives. This inability to describe what we are experiencing, be it an exalted physical experience, an emotional recognition that one is loved, or an insight that eclipses the intellect, holds little currency in our lives. Make no mistake, when it happens to us we love it. We are held in thrall. But to try and tell another, to dare to build your live around the message of that moment, to put it into words is to make it small and make it look ridiculous. It doesn't fit into the story of effort and the difficult and work and redemption through effort and work and the difficult. We are sinners and we have been cast out. Now work.

Yet, despite the weight of these inherited notions, our bodies, our senses are capable of experiencing the life in our veins as something other than the toil and moil of debt management. We are still capable of what Campbell called "aesthetic arrest", the ability to be stunned into silence by beauty and enter directly into that moment as both an observer and, miraculously, the observed. The answer as to what is beautiful is, of course, culturally predisposed, but this is less about form and more about the awareness of form. We are still capable of delight that costs no other thing its integrity. This delight is best described by the metaphor of waking up, of seeing with new eyes. And, I will tell you, this is our natural default position. We learn blindness.

* * *

How is one to unlearn this blindness? The world is fraught with dangers. There are insane men doing insane things that don't give a rat's ass about any of this. Exactly. They are the product of the belief in trial and suffering as man's highest art. The violence of our politics and the violence of our religions is a causal effect of this underlying, un-approached, un-challenged belief in the arduous as salvation. Again, there are times when we each must take up the mantle of the difficult to meet a given moment, but it is a critical error to hold onto it as a permanent and absolute good. It isn't. Seeing with new eyes is.

In order to see, to wake up, to be able to set aside the pride in your effort to make others rich, only one thing is required of you: to play. Children are not aware of time when they run. They flow. When you lose yourself doing something you love, something you can make no money off of, something you undertake for the delight of having a body that can do and imagine such a thing, you flow. You have no ability to conceive of stopping, to articulate what is happening. You simply enter it and flow and move and are satisfied down unto your marrow. This is not foreign to you. You know this moment. You have experienced it. It is, my love, who you are.

And there is this: who you are is the unique intersection of the world's phenomena, the history of all phenomena, held in a single body. "That is why every man's story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every man, as long as he lives and fulfills the will of nature, is wondrous, and worthy of consideration."

* * *

Ms. Simone sings:

Stars when you shine, you know how I feel
Scent of the pine, you know how I feel
Yeah, freedom is mine, and I know how I feel
It's a new dawn 

It's a new day
It's a new life for me
And I'm feelin'... good.

The key there is she knows how she feels. She knows what the stars and the pines know, too.

Now go play.

* * *

I wish you well.