The Disaster of Miami, 2017

It must be hard being (rather than having) a brain. You are designed to process data, to keep vital organs running, to analyze and find patterns whether they exist or not, uptime uptime uptime, until it get so exhausting you have to shut the system down (then run in low power mode… heartbeat plus fantasy… for hours).

It must be hard being a brain when the nimrod who trained you decides to take away most of the tools you used to keep the whole complex network cooking. As if all the smartphones and all the remotes in the world suddenly went poof. Sure you could get to work the next day, but how would you coordinate with friends across town for dinner?

My brain has done a wicked thing for the last two weeks. It decided that without external music it would play the greatest hits. But it couldn’t find anything digital, or anything from CDs, and the cassette tapes in an old box were water damaged and the walkman was missing a couple of buttons.

I grew up in New York in the 80s. My college friends will tell you I am an upstate hick and not at all from the city, but somethings in our worlds were universal. If you could get three radio stations where you lived, you could spend your entire childhood listening to nothing but Billy Joel. K-Billy.

That was a long time ago. I’m old. And my brain has done something sinister. It decided to find a song that I know less than half of, and play it on a loop, in my head, for days… for the last two weeks… punishment for my transgressions. 

(In the missing sections, just go LaLaLaLaLaaaa or imagine some high speed piano).

I’ve seen the lights go out on Broadway. I’ve watch the Empire State laid low…………

I’ve watched the island bridges blow………….

You know the old folks didn’t notice it, they’d seen it all the time on 42nd St………….

They burnt the churches up in Harlem, like in that Spanish Civil War………….

They always burned up there before………….

They sent a carrier up from Norfolk, and put the Yankees up for free. They said that Queens could stay, and blew the Bronx away, and sank Manhattan out to sea………….

You know those lights were bright on Broadway, but that was so many years ago, before we all lived here in Florida, before the mafia took over Mexico………….

Luckily I have friends who love me, who listened to me, and laughed with me (at me). And the horror has dulled. It hasn’t gone away, but it has dulled. I could probably kill it with a quick hit. Three minutes. I could probably scratch the itch by looking up the lyrics. But I won’t. I won’t let the 80s win, let Billy win, let this brain win.

UPDATE: Apparently the BJoel module in my brain can be assuaged by any relevant track. “They say that these are not the best of times, but there the only times I’ve ever known…”

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Weight

A measure of mass times gravity. An element of work over time. The burdens we bear of remembering history, of ‘Never Forget’ing.

There’s an image in my head from a Capitol. One of those pillars next to the big stairs, a girl sitting on the edge there, her scissored heels drumming the granite. I can tell from down the street that she is young, not by her height, but the way she is sitting, and her energy. She is my freshmen year friends skipping across campus, my junior year welcoming the freshmen, my job as a teacher, the friend everyone (still) calls goofy. Some people in this world just… stay… unburdened.

For three years I’ve been training in professional wrestling, and for some of that time in parkour. I’ve watched folks twice my size move with grace, three hundred pound linemen with agility, and felt comparatively heavy. I’ve had them land on me from fifteen feet high, all the time being… light. I’ve seen the dour looks on faces of coworkers, zombies walking aisles in the grocery. I’ve been excitedly giddy to test drive a car only to have the sales person ground me with their gravity. I have felt myself get bloated, and slow, and heavy.

Weight. A measure of what we injest minus what we burn plus what we excrete, of what we shoulder versus what we surrender, of responsibility compared to capacity, of our incomes versus our mortgages, of how much we worry about the ones we love, and our own death, and the collapse of the world. All that we have can fall away. Will fall away.

This day is going to fail your ideals. Days that dissapoint pile, one by one, on top of us. We can’t forget or release. We walk around constipated with expectation. Advertisements claim you can get out from under by getting something new and doing something new. We vacation and dread coming back. Our stuff is there. Our doing is there. The way to get out is less, less of everything.

I could tell she wasn’t one of the adults concealing herself, scarfing down lunch, holding it in, sitting cross legged with her hands clenched, arm across her belly, trudging to and from work , touching each step deliberately, hiding our resumes from ourselves.

This month has been a cleansing of toxins. Not by adding any product, but by removing. And by moving. And by excreting. I am lighter in the ring. Less irritable at home. I skip a little. I make goofy noises when driving (when driving alone). I jump on top of things and drum and swing my feet. It’s not all defense and agony. It doesn’t have to be. Not… so much… weight.

This Is A Being

This is a being.
A being is an instance of existence.

Existence is the imagination of not notness.
Imagination acted out is experience.
Experience is also not notness, but it’s different.
Existence (experience and imagination) and notness. That is all.

This being came into existence from notness.
It began to experience and imagine, and to want things.
Wanting is the impulse to move closer to some beings and away from others.
In existence all beings are different and all beings move.
Wanting and moving are also ways to say imagination and experience.

This being imagines distinctions between itself and others:
Between alive and not alive beings.
Between animal and plant beings.
Between brained and not brained beings.
Between beings with different numbers of brainial lobes.
Between reproducing and non-reproducing beings.
Between equatorial and non-equatorial beings.
Between itself and the beings next door.
Between beings with and beings without doors.

Distinctions allow for the imagination of wanting and the experience of movement.
This being imagines it can improve things for those it less distinguishes itself from.
It wants and it moves with this imagined improving intention.
Intention is this being’s imagined impulse for moving and improving.

This being will return to the notness. All beings return to the notness.

This being defines improving:
As having resources nearby to ease its existence.
As sharing resources with those beings it has moved towards.
As experiencing existence longer than those beings it distinguishes itself from.
As leaving something of its imagination in existence when it returns to notness.

Getting There…

When I was in college our game was “How would you get there?” Go the Thruway? But the back roads are less congested. There’s actually a windy route if you head east first that will get you north faster. And that bridge is free while this one costs a dollar. But that way costs you more in gas. This one is better during the week, but that one is better on weekends.

College was on the verge of the text-based, desktop internet, so no one had satellite-connected maps in their car or a precise way to answer the question. It was all anecdotal speculation and habit colliding in ceaseless low-level bickering. In the end one way was just as economical as the other. In four years at school I may have saved or wasted the sum total of an hour of drive time.

When GPSs came out they were dumb pipes. They knew where you were in the world and on a map, but they had no idea about traffic, or how fast this route normally took, or accidents up ahead, or what speed the other cars were going. They were wildly inaccurate. The game was “By how much can I beat the GPS?” It says I should arrive by 7:15. I think I can get there by 6:55. The intersection of your guess and the time your ‘high-tech’ device estimated varied more the longer the trip was, and came slowly together over the course of the journey. Rather than squabbling with our friends, then we challenged our machines. And none of us got there any faster.

We retain an element of those quibbles in our travels. Friends look at the route a smartphone suggests and say, “That’s stupid. Don’t go that way.” And we could debate all day the value of interconnected position-aware crowd-sourced devices versus individual common sense. But in most situations we are not saving ourselves (or costing ourselves) any discernible time. And we inject unneeded strife into our travels. 

Once again I feel myself tilting against the point of the game. Rallying against drama. I’ve never understood argument for argument’s sake, bickering over the mostly meaningless, the fun tussle. I could continue, but those of you who’ve known me for awhile are already halfway through a text making some convincing counterpoint that will surely move me to your side. Just so you know, I plan on agreeing with you completely. You are so wise. 

Why fight? What does it get us? We are all going to get there a little early or a little late. And most of us will end up right on-time.

Meditating With My Dogs

I’m not sure what you imagine a meditation practice to be. You might picture a throne of pillows in a light-blue room, a gentle breeze wafting in from an open window, soft music, a tiny fountain babbling over a pile of stones.

This is not my practice.

I am of the school that the simplest works best, so when a friend asked me how to meditate I said, “Find a three foot square where you can’t reach any electronics, and stay inside it. If you aren’t sure if you’re doing it right, look down. If you are still in the square you’re doing it right.” For me this means I have a mat that I place anywhere on the floor and sit for 30 minutes.

We have dogs, four of them. Anyone with puppies will tell you the quickest way to become popular is to put yourself at their level. Sit on the ground in our house and a Golden tornado will accost you. I imagine our dogs as the embodiment of my cravings. One wants to be loved, and will flop down in front of me with soft eyes and her belly up. One wants to play and will hassle me with a toy and an amusing growl. One wants something; to go out, fresh water, to go upstairs, to lay down, to pace in circles, to lick everything. One is rude and wants to be patted on the head and will lift my hand with his noozle.

But much like my cravings, much like thoughts in general, after a few minutes of trying and not getting a response they will calm down. And after a couple of days they start to understand that this is not their time. And sure, one will pop up with renewed vigor now and again; a new attempt with a new toy, a fresh idea, an unfulfilled desire. But daily practice, and patience, and kindness, and responding with as little intervention as necessary to any tantrum is key.

Find a spot about three feet square. Are you in it? Good. You are doing good.

The Sun Does Not Rise, The Earth Turns

The hardest thing I’ve done in a dream was teaching myself to die. When I lived alone in grad school I had little to do and could devote hours to meditation. It took me months to figure out, each time waking up before the explosion, the bullet, the impact. When it finally worked (car crash) it was life altering. Suddenly something we are taught to fear was inside me, and I was still me.

I find myself on a similar quest, not for the experience of death, but projection. Plato taught about people in the cave staring at a wall, believing the shadows dancing there were reality. It was a metaphor, but what for? Thinkers since have noted that our eyes are not simply receptors, but projectors, screens on which we display our reality. The optic nerve is coaxial cable bringing data from some other source. Your baby-blues are the sharpest retina screens. There are even vestigial parts of our lizard brain that still possess photo receptors in the darkest bits of our skull.

And so I set off to think about what might be doing the projecting, to envision my eyes as a proscenium, to sense where the light might be coming from. But, like a muggle in Harry Potter wondering towards the World Cup my mind remembers an important appointment, some piece of news it would rather consider. Hours later (or just minutes) I wonder what happened to my quest for that corner of the lizard brain and set out again. Sometimes while watching the sun rise I try to get myself aligned with scientific truth, that the sun is standing still (relatively), and it’s the earth and I that are turning. I know if I focus with enough awareness I can make myself feel it. But the earth and my feet appear so still, with such permanence. I haven’t succeeded.

We have a bias against truth, towards our own experience and persistence, towards survival. Toying with death or the earth or our lizard brain seems against our preservative nature. But I’ve lost all hope of making it out of here alive. I fell through that veil years ago, and know that each of our times are temporary. And so I am more intrigued by hiding from the ushers, meeting the stage crew, sneaking into the booth. In my experience the nerds up there love to talk shop and would happily explain how the mechanism works. It’s just a matter of getting there, somehow, from here.

October Thoughts: Volume 1

An orderless collection of small thoughts I have kept so far this month:

— Forgetting is an act of cleanliness.
— The body is meant to move and the mind is meant to be at rest. In our culture we increasingly have the body at rest while the mind moves.
— For society to evolve there has to come a time when science and evidence and information supersedes tradition and ideology and belief. This is the only way forward.
— I have never met a spiritually wealthy person who was selfish or separate or superior. I cannot say the same for those with monetary wealth.
— May you be overcome by the expansive joy of your own genuine being.
— There has to be a way to do difficult acts in a relaxed state. As in a pull-up where only the engaged muscles are tense. Think more about this.
— In our current cultural incarnation it is harder to delete content than create anew. What does this vision of moments made permanent say about immortality?

— “I get angry in traffic”:
—— Level 0 Solution: Complain and change nothing. Not a Solution.
—— Level 1 Solution: Focus on the IN TRAFFIC problem: Move closer to work. Carpool. Change your schedule to drive off-peak.
—— Level 2 solution: Focus on the GET ANGRY aspect. Go to therapy. Find the source of your rage. Talk about your dad yelling in the car.
—— Level 3 solution: Focus on the I, the ego. Realize you don’t exist. Find peace in non-duality, in non-existence. In God.

— I don’t know where the “is” is. And the isness of it dies with me.
— Knowledge = nutrients, information = food. How nutrient dense (conscious raising) is the information you take in daily?
— How valuable is my anger, my lust, my wrath. Shouldn’t I save them for things much more worthy?
— Assuming that how you have been or how you are is how you will always be is a trap that keeps you stuck in your habits.
— I am stuck in someone else’s delusions, when what I want most is to be stuck in my own.
— Replace everything but the connecting words with God, and you get closer to reality. “God godded God yesterday, right upside the God.”
— Forget everything. None of it happened. You don’t need to remember burning your hand on the stove to not do it again. Common sense. Keep the moral, forget the story. Those who forget their history are destined to transcend it.

Weakness

It’s not all rainbows.
It’s not all beauty.

I am filled with toxins. And the first thing that happens when you decide to imbibe less is that the wells of good things that have been outweighing the poisons drain away. You find out all the crap that has sunk to the bottom of your pond.

Restraint and will have never been my strong suit. I am more of an indulgence-freak, enjoying this world freely. I have been no where close to perfect doing this. I slip up and start to load a webpage. I stop and close the browser. I go to the App Store, search, download, delete. I have lost myself in GIFs because they are not forbidden. I’ve strained to hear songs in restaurants, waited in an aisle at the grocery for a tune to finish. I have gone through everything in the fridge having a taste of each. I itch scratch more than I care to admit.

It’s not all sunny skies.
This shit is a challenge.

There are demons in my head who are strongest when they are not distracted, who respond well to binge watching TV and pot cookies, who have nothing to do now but run amok and wreak havoc. I hate hanging out with my brain. A half hour of meditation sometimes goes by so quickly, and sometimes is a chore akin to building a castle out of dust bunnies. I don’t know if I am strong enough for the second half of the month. I don’t know if I care anymore.

It’s getting old.
It’s getting boring.

Your mind is good. It will trick you. It will tell you it’s ok. It will congratulate you on the work you have done. It will schmooze and flirt with you to buy it a drink. Relax. Take a load off. Come back to it tomorrow. It will argue for its own supremacy, for your supremacy, for the righteousness of your cause, and for why you should quit.

Grounded

I realized I have grounded myself.

One month: No TV, no YouTube, no Netflix, no Facebook, no music or podcasts, no watching poker or wrestling, no professionally produced drama. No internet unless it relates directly to work. Go to work, exercise, meditate, write. No spending money frivolously (no new things). No eating to excess. Weigh in every morning. I will know if you have been cheating.

But, grounded means something different now than it did when I was fifteen. Grounded in my teens meant my wings were clipped to prevent me from flittering off into imagined, tempting dangers. The scope of my frivolity has narrowed, the likelihood of ending up dead or in prison diminished. But my mind, before this month, was no more at rest. The idiot friends are now internal. You can totally get away with it.

Removing these indulgences has been instructive. I am younger, unburdened, whole, amnesiac, prana coming back to me. I have grounded myself; meaning connected, centered, strapped in, at peace.

Small World Little Squirrel

More thoughts on the coversation.

The More I Learn the More I Wonder

I set out to comment on this post by Thom Ingram, and realized instead that his writing had inspired more than just a comment. I’m not going to rehash his post; just read it for yourself because it’s a beautiful mindful struggle with the meaning of life.

I haven’t studied – or even read – multiple spiritual texts as Thom has – but I have this sense that in addition to the commonalities across texts that he mentions, there is also a shared thread of being fully present in the here and now; of living compassionately and empathetically towards myself and all others. And I think that is actually based on – and counterweight to – the commonalites he does bring up – that there is more than we know or sense, that we are more than we know or sense, that so much of what we think we…

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The Next Five Minutes

Consider the next five minutes of your life, only five. Any further than that and things get murky. What could happen in the next five minutes that would make you ebulliently happy, overwhelmingly overjoyed? If it takes more than five minutes scratch it off the list.

Consider again. What could happen in the next five minutes that would make you glum and sour? What could make you angry, hurt, pissed? How many things could wound you? Again, only five minutes. Which list is longer? Which has more possibilities of coming true?

If we walk around ready to be damaged and skeptical of our potential delight, what does that prepare us for? What does our worrying and our fear prepare us for, but a life where those horrors come true. If the bar to bliss is too steep, the price too high, the list of prerequisites too long, we will spend our lives as freshmen, looking out over years and years before getting to learn what we love.

The Yummy Crumbs

At the end of the first half-marathon I ran they led us through a tent filled with the most delicious pizza anyone had ever tasted.

It probably wasn’t.

It was probably greasy, cheap, and more like cardboard. But I had never run past six miles.

So to my distressed, exhausted, parched tongue it was astounding.

When you eat the same thing over and over any change is a delicacy. And the opposite is true.

Let’s admit everything past the third or fourth spoonful of ice cream has no flavor. It tastes like everything.

Water is wine to the dehydrated.

Wine is water to the drunk.

The first time I see an old friend in years its a number one hit single.

By the time I head home for the weekend the tune is overplayed.

God, everything which is everywhere, seems meaningless and absent.

Until, of course you hear its new joke.

It’s just so. damn. funny.

DTTW

I think my deep reading of spiritual literature started in grad school. Which is unfortunate since I took a course in undergrad that I barely remember that included the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. I purchased the books, but read them only enough to pass the class. In grad school, outside of class, I was introduced to the Sephirot, the Jewish Tree of Life, the Vedic Chakras, The Celestine Prophecy, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Tao Te Ching, and the Islamic mystic poet Rumi.

For the twenty years since then I have read or listened to all sorts of spiritual texts from around the world, a library of knowledge I continue to expand upon. And all of it, almost every last bit, carries with it a single message: Don’t Trust This World. Don’t trust what your eyes, ears, and fingertips sense. Don’t trust what your brain interprets. Don’t trust the language, or the baggage of tradition, or the stories culture tells.

Now, that is not all these texts agree on. They also agree that it is more true that we are one than that we are separate. They also agree that we are bigger and more lasting than our bodies suggest. They also agree that true joy is counter-intuitive, often coming by having less and being vulnerable and giving away everything generously. But they also agree not to get caught up in the drama and the zeitgeist. Don’t get caught up in the body and the physical. Don’t get caught up in the alliances and allegiances of country and team and tribe. Don’t trust this world. The message is everywhere. And it distresses me.

I remember an argument while sitting in the lounge of the residence hall I lived in at grad school. I had heard and embraced a poem by the Shams of Tabriz that read:

“I. You. He. She. We. In the garden of mystic lovers, these are not true distinctions.” To which a friend inquired, “What’s your point?” And I said, “I live in the garden of mystic lovers.” And she expertly replied, “You live in Cobb Hall.”

I have been told by people I love and trust that I am aloof, disconnected, esoteric, cut-off, cold. But none of the authors I have read, nor the spiritual leaders I have listened to or seen, come off as cold or disconnected to me. If anything I can see the joy and sorrow of the world in them, in their writing, and in me. I want to be in this world. In the here and now. I want to be centered on this place. But it’s all an illusion. This skin, this body, this gender, this race, this language, this technology, this society, societies, states, countries, the earth. It’s all just a construct of geometries. If the great spiritual masters are to be believed. If the triptronauts, and the experimentalists, and the sages, and the meditators, and the madmen, and the ascetics, and the poets, and the psychics, and the quantum physicists are to be believed then my Bill Hicks tattoo is accurate: It’s just a ride.

In which case I don’t know what to do with any of it. Do I even worry about the body? Do I even worry about death? Do I worry about anything? And if not am I leaving those brutalized by society because of its reaction to their skin and their bones and their neurodiversity by the wayside? I wrestle with this. If it’s just a ride— an unjust, unfair, uneven, violent, inhumane ride— what’s the point in anything? What’s the point in crying?

A Morsel To A Madman

Remember when everything was amazing? When you would brake your bike to catch the sunset and be dumbstruck by how wonderfully tri-colored shades splashed across the sky.

When the number one song on the radio moved you not just to dance, but to look longingly at a very ordinary person across math class and see their majesty, to fall in love. This has come back to me.

A week into near nothingness and the odd moments when I catch snippets of music playing over a low tuned speaker in a restaurant elevate what would otherwise be a garnish to this dish into the most delicious ragtime ever heard. It becomes sublime.

Writing pops. Video dazzles. Simple foods I eat alight with new flavor.

I suspect the nuns and monks have been holding out on us; keeping the most delectable treasures hidden in plain sight, watching us drown in our own excess while they dine on water and rice that digests like ambrosia, listening to leaves and creatures, more beautiful than the most complex synthesizer, the most masterful symphonies.

Flush the Field

You have a wound. Dug into it is debris and dirt, some bugs, definitely any opportunistic infections. The first thing you are supposed to do is flush the field. Fill the whole thing with water until everything is cleared. It’s a strategy that makes a lot more sense than using the world’s tiniest tweezers to pick everything out individually.

There are awful songs we listen to, terrible movies, news articles that make us feel tiny and afraid. We are filled with the remnants of substandard nutrition-free foods. So what do we do. We flush the field. If we wash out enough we can hopefully remove the worst of it.

When you go sparse, when you meditate, when you swear off media what you realize is how much of your body and your being is built on poison, how much of what you carry is bad for you. My body is at war with itself. As I feel my excess falling away I can see the brutal internal landscape, the rusty decay. It’s in my skin and my emotions, in my cranky thoughts.

There is another way, rather than simply drowning it away. We can bring it to the surface. See it for the wound that it is. Deal with it, with each gnarly piece.

Attribution

In the movie Stranger Than Fiction the main character Harold Crick observes that the sound made while filing IRS paperwork resembles “a deep and endless ocean.” Were I to quote this line I should therefore attribute the line to Harold Crick.

But Crick only verbalizes this thought because the narrator of the story, and of Harold’s life, Karen Eiffel, speaks the idea into his head. So, “a deep and endless ocean,” should be properly attributed, of course, to the author Karen Eiffel.

Except Harold Crick is just a character played by an actor named Will Ferrell. So when I saw the line spoken on screen it was indeed Will Farrell who said the line, “a deep and endless ocean.” Except it was first spoken in the voice of Karen Eiffel. And Karen Eiffel is played by Emma Thompson, so the line belongs to Emma Thompson. You see my dilemma?

Both Harold Crick and Karen Eiffel are characters in a movie written by Zach Helm and directed by Marc Forster. I assume the line should be attributed to the screen writer. But the delivery, perhaps, could be based on the direction by the director, or because of a selection made by the editor when they edited it. So who was it that observed that filing papers can sound like “A deep and endless ocean”?

In the movie Dead Poets Society John Keating, played by Robin Williams, quotes Walt Whitman, after being given that choice of line by the screen writer Tom Schulman, under the direction of Peter Weir. I am not sure who was playing Walt Whitman when he wrote the line, or who was his inspiration, or what he was playing at. Was Walt Whitman? Was Robin Williams? Is John Keating?

I am also not sure who wrote this piece you are reading right now, or if you chose for some stranger reason to quote it who should get credit. I love these stories and their performances. I keep their quotes close to me. But who is the – me, and the – their, and the – I? This is beyond – me.

The Pit

The pit sat inside the fruit.

It could not remember coming into existence, but knew it existed.

It hung suspended in a beautiful sea of bright color and moist nourishment, a lovely and succulent meat. But it was none of these. It did not feel lovely or succulent, colorful or nourishing, bright or moist. The pit felt hard and unyielding and dark and alone.

The pit heard tale that it hung suspended by something called a stem, with countless other fruits and pits making up a vast multiverse of nourishment. It saw no stem and no multiverse. And so called the stories ‘Hogwash’, chalked them up to childhood lullabies, silly controlling lies.

The pit knew that one day the fruit that surrounded it would fall away, that the fruit would rot or be consumed. It called this impending doom ‘death’, the end of existence. It had no idea what came after. It assumed nothing came after.

The pit heard Shamans say that there was, actually, no death, that when existence fell away the pit would bust open and give new life, new pits and new fruits in countless numbers. The Shamans said the pit contained whole universes inside it.

The pit would not believe it. All available observable evidence proved otherwise.

A pit was a dark, hard, small thing with only more darkness and hardness right to its center. There was no room inside. It was the center of the universe. How could the center contain the whole?

The pit lived, like this, right up until the moment it died.

Memory in the Flesh

If one were to design a body you might put the sensing IO very near to the processor, in fact you would embed the optical nerve, the auditory nerve, the nasal processor, the taste module right up into the brain. There is zero lag time between my seeing and my knowing I’m seeing, zero lag time between sound and processing sound.

The two things you would not put at the top of the head (so easily damaged, so hard to defend) would be the battery and the memory storage. Sure, we imagine the brain to house all our memories. When we mess with it we remember and forget. But this is all just processing. It is not where the ones and zeroes are actually stored. That is everywhere.

My right big toe contains a video of the year my parents bought me Transformers for Christmas and I set up a little scene to play with them. It has been telling that story to new bone and new skin over and over and over again. My right knee knows a joke about a string walking into a bar. Does my elbow know that joke? I’m afraid not. My left peck sees the Horseman busting Dusty’s arm in a car door. My spleen remembers that night Colleen left my life at sixteen.

If I truly want to lose weight I have to be willing to forget. To forgo holding onto the (only alive in this flesh) past. Unknow it. And while I am at it let’s talk a look at our current diet of new memories. Any coach will tell you that you need to balance how much you move, with how much you eat. In the parlance, you must become aware of how much you take in (watch, post, read), and how much you process (ponder, chew on, contemplate). Balance too far in the consumption direction and we end up intellectually fat.

If you want to lose weight you must be willing to forget, to fast, to take in less, to move your mind by forgetting so you move the lessening flesh of your body. That is what I am trying to do this October.

Day Four

Day one you feel great. You’re starting something new. You have all the hope in the world. The idea is a new born baby cleaned off by the nurses and handed to you pristine and innocent.

Day two you feel even better. Wow. Who would have thought after one day that this could go so well. You could do this forever, and you assume things would just keep getting better in a linear graph. Up up up.

Day three your habits start revolting, but that’s expected. People always say new stuff is hard, so struggle against them. Your cause is righteous, go through the motions. There’s no need for your heart to always be in it. It will kick in. Just do the work. Negotiate. Struggle. Come around. And succeed.

Day four is all anger and hatred. Vicious lusting for your favorite snack. Your favorite fix. The red-eyed monster of everything you want on the other side of a thin veil of choice and surrender. This is ridiculous. Stupid. Pointless. You are not going to be a different person when you are done, so why struggle? Give up. Give in. You suck. Everything hurts. All you want is your habitual life back. So just quit. YOU LOSER. Just quit.

For the Love of Drama

God.
Or nothing.
Or whatever predated this existence, hanging in its existenceness, a unified everything.

One of my college girlfriend’s had a rape fantasy. The first rule of fighting fair is choosing to fight. Don’t talk about Fight Club. Eliot dared to eat a peach (pushing the moment to its crisis). If we go more than a few weeks in silence we’ll manufacture a quarrel. No one could tell me why the other loved the bad boy who treated her like shit. “Why can’t I find someone more like you (like you, but you know, exciting and dangerous).

God. Or nothing.

A unified peace. Preexistence lacked panache. And so we burst forth from the darkness, letting there be light, letting there be heaven and earth, cold and warmth, day and night, lies, anger, underhandedness, conniving, redemption, betrayal. Wait. Not betrayal. It’s a continuum. She wanted someone who would never betray her, but who constantly might, someone who would be tempted at every moment, and at every moment choose her. But no one told the abusive asshole. And I was too nice (read: boring).

We need the drama, crave it in a way deeper than instinct. If we cannot have it, we will script it, watch it, read it. We’ll manufacture it, put it in our games and our amusements, elevate small town pettiness, call them plays, and operas, and well: dramas. It is why we still have wars and traffic and accidents, the reason we have legal alcohol and illegal hallucinogens, the reason for cigarettes and racism, but not for morphine, for terrorism.

Drama. Anything for a fix.

But do not tap-dance too far in that direction. Heroin kills quickly. Weed makes you too mellow. Hang here in the between. We want long term friendships that could end at any moment, but don’t. Don’t die. Don’t leave. But for God-sake don’t love unconditionally. Don’t stand there always taking all of my shit. Don’t make any product too good that we have nothing left to miss. We were one once. It didn’t work. We came here to bicker, to tussle, to battle, for the love of drama. It’s why good things happen to bad people.

And you, God. Who was everything, who promised and gave us everything. You were undone easily by a snake, and its ripe and rotting fruits.

The Volume of Voices

Not much has changed since I was twelve years old. We’ve grown taller and rounder and traded vices. Cars last longer. Movie runs are shorter. But the essentials are the same. Venerable actors keep dying. Grandparents are still aghast at the world their grandkids are growing up in. We long for an imaginary better time. Everyone is so freaking smart.

What has also not changed are the voices in my head, they are all still there: the scared and beat up kid, the wise-ass with a joke for every moment, the lewd and lascivious deviant who can make anything sexual, the intellectual who can reason himself out of any moment, the angry young man, the sunshine at five am, the easily duped, the dork who thinks music can save the world, the hopeless romantic, the hapless spiritualist, my father, my mother, the aphorism-tosser filching from the great quoted books of wisdom.

Nothing changes. But the volumes change. I am still struck whenever a woman tucks her hair behind her ear, my eyes perk up when someone wears clothes that accentuate their hips, their ass, or breasts. I still flinch when someone bigger and meaner than me gets upset in my same room. I still love to listen when good writers play games with newly mismatched words. My mind is still always strategizing and thinking, seeing everything as a puzzle to be solved.

But the volumes on these knobs (haha, knobs) fluctuates. Where once I was in the throes of puberty (and my twenties, and my thirties), and nearly any woman could floor me with little more than a look, now I can hear that voice, and talk over it. The muscles in my neck seem easier to control. In college I would raise the sleeping dead with sunshine and rainbows, caring not for the fact that they were groggy, and ill-rested, and not looking forward to the day. I have learned empathy, and compassion, and meeting people where they are rather than starting by dragging them to where I want them to be.

Nothing changes, but everything. And I wonder how these voices got to be mine, and if others have different voices forged from their unique lives. And I wonder what voices I’ve still yet to uncover. What is still in there, either new or turned so low it couldn’t be heard over the cacophony of the choir? Who has the next solo? Can I make space for those new and unheard? How much control can I muster? What happens if I forego control? What will I hear this month? What might I say?

October’s Intentions

August was a warmup, and it was fascinating.

So what if, instead, for 31 days one attempts to make space for insight, for information to come through, rather than in or out? If with everything imbibed the question was, “Is this what I want to bring into being, not just into the body, but into this being?

Is reading the news worth it, the latest superhero flick, that video on YouTube. What space can be freed up by inviting in less, and what would fill that space. Let’s find out. Let’s cull and toss and return and pay fantastic attention to whatever rises, to what grows, to what heals.

An Exchange

A big thought while listening to a teaching from Pema Chödrön: saying “I don’t want to be how I currently am,” is the surest way to remain exactly how you are.”

A simply question: Why?

I don’t have the capability to answer why, so instead I will take a swing at how, how it works. And let me start off by saying that none of what I spell out here is new. I have aped it all from countless book and lectures. If I researched or remembered better I could cite and point you towards them. Alas.

We embrace the model of cause and effect, of stimulus and response. Someone cut me off in traffic and so I get angry. But impulse exists before object. Shame, joy, jealousy, lust; like a kitchen filled with gas they exist in you waiting for a spark. But the spark didn’t burn down the house any more than the toy on the stairs ignited your frustration. It was the fuel. You walk around clogged with potential. The object simply clicks and sets it off.

One of these impulses exists as want, which we rarely classify as an emotion, and less often see as sin. Not sin in the sense of forbidden by God or prescribed in text, but sin in the sense that it acts as a roadblock to our success. Want, desire, craving, hunger; it’s all shackles. And we hope the next object, food or cash or a person will quell it. But again, we walk around brimming with unstable elements. Want persists.

Yet, we can break down these compounds with brain-grammar. The phrase “I want” could be rewritten as “I am wanting” or “I have want” or “I want my wanting.” And the opposite of wanting is having. Why don’t you want two arms, or room temperature oxygen, or skin to keep your blood in? Because you have these things intrinsically. Wanting them makes no sense.

And so, knowing, you now have a choice. You can keep your wanting, let it swell you to overflowing, and enjoy your dissatisfaction daily, or you can let it go. You can open a window, vent the fumes, and simply let it drift away. Nature, disliking vacuums, will replace that gas with what matters, with everything. Back to our mental grammar. I am now… what? What are you? You wanted to change. So now you are change. You wanted love. So now you love. You wanted your body to be a certain way. Your body is, in a way.

This is not simply mumbo jumbo. It is turning your inner vocabulary, your mind inside out, flipping your awareness and your consciousness, eliminating that which prevents you from being. Instead you will now get what you are. You will see what exists. And this, “this”, all of of this, will become your gift. As Mary Howe’s brother taught her, “This is what you have been waiting for.”

Four ‘Verses

Here… exists the Sensory Universe, the world we were born into, vagina we were pushed through, the room, which in comparison was too bright and so cold and overly sterile. So we howled. And to this day we’ve build castles to regulate temperature, to protect us from wind and rain, sprays to add and detract aroma, gloves and boots to keep blood in our appendages, drugs to numb any pain. We detest things offensive to these senses. Yet we trust this, this Sensory Universe, embrace its predictability. This wall that was blue-grey yesterday will be blue-grey today. This blanket is exactly where I left it. And we are intoxicated by the touch of another, by the adorable, by the beat of wings and the march of procreation. Even our cancers we find fascinating, worthy of study, valuable. We have built branches of sciences on the study of trees, movement of the planets, sent tin cans unfathomable distances to toss back data, wrapped the planet in cables and satellites, crunched knowledge to encapsulate this universe, to measure it, to explain it. This universe, this sense of a universe which birthed us, which we hope one day to finally log and compute completely. Even the mystics tell us this, here, now, is all that exists. This sensory experience. This beginning and end timeclock universe.

But I feel hungry, dirty, mean, viscious, vivacious, viscous, alert, dreary, annihilated, underappreciated, overwhelmed, tired, alive, old, inexperienced, green. I feel. I wake each day full of these adjectives, these impulses, and hope to find an object in the sensory universe to blame these actions on. So then I can call them reactions. Welcome to the Feeling Universe. Atypical, atopical, illogical. Today I feel sad for no reason, tomorrow anxious, sometimes (on Tuesdays) like dancing. And I would prefer to claim each of these as a response to a trigger, lest I have to live with the reality that somethings in existence refuse logic as their underpinning. Call it feminine and blame it on hormones. Your derision is another form of security. In the Feeling Universe the cloud of dust coalesces into a planet (and back into dust) on a whim, a scent, an impulse unexplained, and unexplainable. Some days I love you. Some I am so afraid. And the best bet, the way to live in closest concert here is to simply let impulses be impulses. Do not search for a match or kindling just because you have seen a spark. Sometimes I feel happy (I feel happy) with no subject, no cause, no cure. Anger for angersake, joy for joy, tired despite having just come awake. Feeling. Result without meaning.

But I stress these things. I go over them again and again. Why did I say or do that thing. Why did I turn that corner or pack that bag. What was the cause. And what will I do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next time it comes round to this. I live, in a great percentage in this Temporal Universe, a great chasm of mental gymnastics where I try to recall the impulse and pin each potentiality with a cause and effect. I waste away in the 1990s, in the 2030s, in yesterday and tomorrow. Mistelling each story and dismembering myself from myself. It is so drunkmaking, so satisfying to try and find a path backwards through this where I would have ended up at a place way more exciting, enticing, alluring, sexy, a place safer and richer and with six pack abs, and money, and better hair. Maybe I will get there someday, if I make better choices, eat better food, start saving, start playing the game. Tomorrow. I will start tomorrow. Tomorrow (or yesterday) is the best place to be in this temporality.

Yet that universe, the Temporal Universe, the then and when, is not the same as the not-yet, as the land of magic and invention, of the land of art and design. This is the Verse Imagine, where lives both the possible and the im-. This is a world of gadgets and gizmos, of invisible computing and utter contentment, of unfathomable war and an everlasting piece. Let me have something to do with this, this coming, whether it be raising a genius, or doing research. A line, a lyric, a story told for one iteration longer than me. Let this Verse Imagine be the bastion of creativity, the galactic core that spits out stars and stories at unmappable intervals and immeasurable pace. The Not Yet, the never mired in fear but in love, in making. Tinged with anger. Born of frustration. Lift one more thing off the plate of animality, one less concern for where we will eat and sleep. Each time we eliminate a bodily need a leap forward in science, in the arts, in sculpture, in products that lack productivity. Here in the making. Here in the moment. Here in the feeling. Here in every lesson and plan. Our cries. Our howling. Our being wiped off and wrapped up, and laid on our mother’s breasts. Something new, always, in the making.

Catch

April is National Poetry Month. This year I will be combining my passions in a project called “Meditations of a Word.” If you would like to suggest a word for this project comment below. #NationalPoetryMonth

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Thrive

The Presidential election was either the culmination or precursor to some major changes in the way our country views itself, and how we view each other. I can tell you personally it has heightened or highlighted tensions between myself and people whom I love and respect. I don’t think it has much, or anything, to do with the candidates or the parties or the voting process. They are all just catalysts for a larger conversation about what kind of society and world we each thing we should live in.

For some of my circle, this world went from an already mean and heartless place to a even colder place. For some, this world went from soft to softer, from easily offended to even thinner skinned. For some we moved from more communal to less communal. For some we went from too individualistic to even more individualistic. My reaction to all of this was to ask three questions.

First, what kind of world do we live in? Second, what kind of world do we want to live in? And thirdly, why do we want to live in that kind of world. For me, the first question is only mildly interesting. Society, people, rocks, climate, it’s all in flux. Everything moves. Everything changes. Asking to identify it is pinning down a butterfly. What type of society we want to live in is slightly more interesting. And for some, the world should be softer, or harder, or more connected, or less. The last question, for me, is key. Why?

It is a big question, that for now, has led me to a small answer. Why would one want the world to grow towards being a certain way? Myself and those around me might espouse grand ideas: because this is how we create wealth, or keep people free, or protect our country, or ensure fairness. I think it is much more personal than that. We want the world to be a certain way because that is how ‘my people’, thrive.

I will out myself here. I sign onto the adage that it is more true that we are one people than that we are individuals. And I think society is better off when we are more connected and more compassionate. Why do I believe that? Because I, personally, do best in a connected and compassionate environment. I am a strong extrovert who needs people to bounce ideas off of, to create with. I work best in highly energetic teams. I was not talented in sports growing up, and was beat up in school. So I don’t do well with bullies, or alpha leaders, or situations that create a few winners and a large pile of losers. I would not do well as a stock broker.

I could couch all of this in some grand idea about either our historical true nature as human beings, a species that does not thrive in nature except by our communalism. Or I could paint it as the best way for us to move forward by pointing out that our greatest inventions were the works of multitudes, that no one person is going to get us to Mars or out of our solar system before the sun blows.

But the honest assessment is that I believe being generous, and connected, and empathetic is how me and mine thrive. Those around me who believe that we should live in a meritocracy, where hard work should have a direct correlation to wealth and success, well, they are hard workers. That is how people like them thrive. Those who believe it should be the beautiful and the innately talented, those who believe it should be by sheer intellectual horsepower, those who believe in luck, or cunning, or diversity, or God-given talent, or honesty, or rule-following, or cold-heartedness, or piety; we’re all arguing for the success of our own. Even my friend Raheem, who jokingly argued for a hairitocracy (those with the longest hair rule), in contrast to my buzz-cut, was just looking out for his own.

The narrative since the election has been that we have never been so divided, or that there are now (at least) two Americas, or that we have always been a terribly heartless place and this just highlighted it, or returned us to our roots. For me, this is an opportunity for us to (re)define who is us, and who is them. That is tied up, historically, in party, and class, and genders, and race, and wealth, and sexuality, and location. But now we can add it that list that a great part of ‘us and them’ is world view, is our preferred method of success, is a discussion of process as well as progress.

It is a selfish, honest tag added to the sentence, “this is how any good society should act…”

“…so folks like me thrive.”

“Calm Down”

In my native language there are concepts that lack corollary words, and words that inaccurately convey complex concepts. One such phrase is calm down (or relax or chill out), a phrase that has never yet achieved its intended result. I think the problem with this phrase is the chasm between its intended delivery and its perceived reception. Someone is upset or scared or in crisis, and their partner, friend, coworker says, “calm down.”

What is heard is, “this is nothing to get upset about at all” or “your fear is unfounded” or “what is important to you is not important to me.” And with that justification, the eruption that inevitably follows makes sense. But that is not always the intent of the phrase. In any situation there is a sense of urgency that is optimal to attack a problem. If you look up and a piano has fallen out of a 12th floor window and is about to hit you in the head, you can not gracefully and calmly walk out of the way. You need to (fucking) move. On a scale of 1-10, this calls for a 10.

If you start to feel a cold coming on, just the first sniffles, you can drive to the store, get some echinacea or NyQuil, get to bed early, drink some extra fluid. This might require a two or three level of urgency. We have all seen people in a situation best dealt with on one end of that scale, and yet, approached on the other end. It’s frustrating.

But language is limiting. And there doesn’t seem to be a a shorthand way to say to someone, “I agree, this situation is important and requires our attention and response. I think the best level to set our solve-o-meters at is six. Right now, you seem to be reacting with a nine (or a two). Perhaps if we reset to a more reasonable level we can solve the problem more efficiently.” What comes out instead is, “calm down”, not to a zero, not to a one, just a notch or two. There is not a phrase I know of to convey “just a couple notches less (or more) urgency.”

Do you know of one?

Why You Can’t Have A Puppy

Because you will love it dearly.

Because one night when you can’t sleep you’ll reach out to her for comfort but she’ll be on the other end of the bed, so you’ll roll back over lonely, and she’ll somehow know to get up, turn around and lay back down directly under your outstretched arm.

Perhaps a sea turtle, who lives near the ocean, who buries her eggs at night in the darkness, under the stars then forgets. Who sits for hours in the sun unmoving, whose hard shell makes her unfit for any form of petting, boring, who will live, we expect, longer than you, for hundreds of years.

Come to think of it you can’t have the toy at Christmas either, that will bring you joy for weeks until it wears out from use, or a best friendship, or a first love, or God forbid kids, because things like these break-up, or break down, or brake at stoplights far too slowly.

No. It will be better for you to be curmudgeonly, cynical, surrounded by the trappings of modern society which when damaged or stolen can be repurchased or upgraded nonchalantly, utilities of glass and metal replaced at the slightest hint of slowness or a newly released model.

Because love happens. Because things die. Because dear friends often move on before they grow old with you. Because you will die too. You will leave behind people who love you. Who think your passing, no matter your age or theirs, will be far too soon.

Who’s going to take care of your puppy then? Mopey, distraught, inconsolable.

A Series of Bubbles

I think more and more about reality, in all its incarnations and levels, as a series of bubbles.

Two teenagers hop into a rusted out clunker of a car and crank up a stereo worth more than the value of the rest of the car. While they ride, feet up on the dashboard, rhythm mimicked on the steering wheel, they exist in a bubble. As soon as the ride ends, or the lights of a cop car flash, or a parent calls wondering where they are and when they will be home, the bubble pops.

Three roommates live in a 12 by 12 room at college. They each had different classes during the day. They each come from a different place. The lights went out hours ago and they have been laying in the darkness spouting truths, and lies, and bullshit, and questions, until all three fall asleep, or the sun comes up, or the fire alarm, or a knock on the door.

With writing, with cycling, designing, editing, running, a puppy on your chest, a baby in your arms. You see a stranger across the foyer and find you are on the same elevator. For fourteen floors there is an awkward and magic tension, a thin film of possibility. At the door at the end of a really good first date. In that one meeting you’ve had all year that was actually productive. We hash out our laws and our limitations, feel the touch of the muse, the possibility of insight, come face to face with the nascent.

Even our earth, even our universe, born of a single utterance or dimension, expanding in all directions, until something breaks the skin, until a tear in space-time. The multiverse possibility that we are floating along the tough skin of another reality, and another, and another, like bubble bath. Unreplicateable moments, nested each inside each, inclusive of everything necessary, separated gladly from the bubbles outside.

VS.

Huh. A second album. Let’s see what else you had to record in the back of the bin. What else you have to say.

Go
We start at a thousand miles, the pace of a band that has been touring, the pace of light posts passing over a car, a bus, below planes, carrying electricity and energy right up to the stage where the guitars get plugged into. “Please.” Something begging here in this song. Begging the muse to let the rocker keep rocking. Begging the lighter to last one more cigarette. Begging your heart to keep beating, your fans to keep listening, your third eye to stay open despite what you have seen. Stay with me.

Animal
A riff to open this that we have heard before. An homage to oneself? A cover? An extension? Something more to say? “I’d rather be with an animal.” Than what? It feels like Eddie wants to hide, that he wants the band elevated, that he is teasing the critics. The industry. “What? You wanted it to sound familiar? Like our last album? Fuck you. Here you go. Sell this.” Tongue and cheek. Inviting your audience in…. pushing everyone else away.

Daughter
Back to the acoustic riff. Such standard rock here. But Vedder takes the opportunity to say something. If we are going to walk in the middle of the street we are at least going to say something to the passersby. What does it take to be fit to be called daughter? What is a daughter’s place in the world? Again it feels like at some point in the song the lyrics are just going to repeat and run, the music has said all we will say and now it must play out for three and a half minutes. The radio requires. Ok, we’ve done our work. Now, can we get back to being a band.

Glorified G
And now we can rally against the things holding us back as a people, now that we have fed the beast. Take this. The start here feels fresh. Fresh, and a parody of someone feeling like a man because they own a gun. The guitars are playing in unison with the drums. All very standard. We are not angry. There is no dissonance between owning a piece and the damage 300 million pieces cause in society. It all makes perfect sense. But it’s silly, right? We are not, indeed, a nation of glorified G’s. It’s Weird Al in reverse.

Dissident
Hold on. Interruption. This album is not, musically, lyrically, nearly as interesting as Ten. And that may be the sheer depth of the cutting into skin that was the first. Or it could be me with too much perspective. But here, finally, five songs in, it feels like Eddie found something meaningful to say. And there is some more dissonant guitaring (no pun intended) going on. “Escape is never the safest.” The early part of the album felt like running away, or thumbing their collective nose.

W.M.A.
So here the band can explore. The drums have take over. The repetitive beat on the head driving the action. Calling out African rhythms to talk about privilege. A dig at the band and themselves, and me. Another dig at success, knowing part of it has to do with the lottery of genetics and society. Something in the middle that sounds at once like soldiers marching and dogs barking. The rhythmic thump thumping on our heads the entire time we are present in this present society. Fading out and in unfading.

Blood
Ok. Eddie’s done fucking around. The band is done fucking around. This is Samuel L. Jackson standing in the window of the Negotiator. “You want my blood?” The bass is thundering off in one direction, the lead is barreling off in another. Ed is just grinding his voice into oblivion. Except for that one line. I feel like this whole album is a hurt child trying to push everyone and everything away. Only the voices in my head get to stay.

Rearviewmirror
Updated 50s rock. Springsteen’s cars through New Jersey. Another call back to Ten. Was this recorded under some contract the band wanted out of? Pushed into the studio before they were necessary? Dear recording industry, would you like a history of late 20th century American rock disguised as a sophomore effort? Or a sophomoric effort? If you are going to rush us, we will make an art school project. A rock record, in theory.

Rats
Someone’s been going to see Soul Coughing shows… so now, instead of making fun of where rock has been, let’s make fun of where it is going. I am not sure if this is co-opting, or parody, or an attempt at leadership, at bringing something new into existence. It certainly feels like making music begrudingly, under duress. Most of this album feels like a hostage situation.

Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town
There is something I love about the rolling fun of songs in 6/8 time. It’s not a car going down the highway, nor a boulder down the side of a mountain. This continues my perception of the album, as a band doing a parody of itself for the purpose of making fun of the carnival around them, a way to make fun of the people who are bandwagoning them, while stating in the middle, “I changed by not changing.” Don’t worry, our popularity will fade… fade… away.

Leash
Let’s hit this one big. We are getting near the end here. Let’s make an easy song, and then a very hard one to love. Let the radio figure out what the hits are. And only the true messiahs will hear this one as being the soul of the record. It’s one thing to love someone who is looking to be loved. Quite another to love someone saying, “get out of my fucking face.” Our are we making fun of Extreme, and other such bands?

Indifference
Euro synth-rock. Gen-X canvas. I know what you want of me and that is the last thing I will give you. I won’t fix it. I won’t be your voice. I won’t be your ally. I will sit here just being myself, and you can love me, or you can leave me. No difference. It’s not a dream or fantasy. It’s not a puzzle with a solution. It’s just a bunch of shattered pieces of something that used to fit together, now disjunct and broken, and unredeemable.

What would you do? If you had no interest in being “the man” and were thrust into the light? Would you dance for your change? Would you take the glam and the bjs? Would you rise above? Or simply go home? Would you fulfill your contractual obligations hoping to someday, once again, be free?

An Experiment

For a day, or an hour, or the length of a meditation or thought experiment, eliminate the use and concept of I.

I, as in, the inclusive actor in the story. i, as in, the little naked monkey with a disconnected head. And I, the formally dressed; top hat and heels.

Think, instead, of the constituent parts as individual actors, as yourself as a play, an entire production.

my-oh-my-001

My body is hungry. My emotions are reacting, exuding anger. My brain can’t focus. My awareness is all over the place. My imagination is drawing up scenarios where all the food in the world is gone. My co-workers are worried. My vibes are standoffish. My reputation is shot.

What does it do for control? For responsibility? For management? For direction, if I am an entire cast and crew? What is that which is permanent? Central? At the core? Is this a comedy or tragedy? Or just an improv?

Ten

I am fascinated by a band’s first album. This is before everyone knows their name. While they can still get in a van and stop at a gas station and eat at a diner and not be huge. This is before they are as good as they one day will be. These are the songs they have been working out late at night for years. This is the album they would make if they could only make one album.

Once
Dreary bongos and a snare, a shaker, half a voice in the background, a guitar whines. Is this the song or are they just warming up? “I admit it.” But not I. IIIIIIIIIIII. Or eyeeeeeeee. Or aaaaaayyeee. The drum is like a metronome beating on the head of the body that the voice comes out of. The only words that have any breath in this cacophony are the I and Once. What was I once? I… Once….. Won’ce. Wince. Meaning is certainly secondary.

Even Flow
So iconic. So wrapped up in all that has come since. It’s hard to untangle all of it, to not see the faces and places flash by and listen to it simply as music. It feels like the voice has more to say here than the first track, but not so much that he wants to overshadow the others. The pain is in the guitars. The headache is in the drum. The unstopping pace of this world. The thump on the head. It’s an unending conversation. There is something cathartic about howling the parts we know at the top of our lungs. I know someone should come by and tell me to keep it down, or ask me what’s wrong, or call the cops. But they don’t. I live in this cocoon of adulthood, of teenage angst, of my own house, my own skin. And I feel broken in it, safe in it, fake in it. Something is wrong in this world and someone should fix it. But, isn’t that me. Shouldn’t that be me? Is adulthood merely a test of what I can get away with?

Alive
One riff blends into another. But just as we are comfortable with the vibe it changes. I can hear you now Eddie. I can make out what you are saying and what you are asking. And the questions are just as salient now as they were then. Should I be allow to have lived this long? I had so much energy as a child, so much oddity. And now I am this boring old man, this tired cliche, this failed everything. Why should I be allowed to live when far better people have passed? “Is something wrong she said? Of course there is.” Just hearing this makes me want to crawl inside a cupboard and hide. Inside a lazy susan. Inside a bottle. Inside a pillowcase or somewhere safe. Anywhere safe. Is there such a thing as a safe space? This world has us surrounded, and always has. Lots of times I want out. Good gawd I want out. But it won’t let me. I can’t take off these headphones. Or this skin. Or these bones.

Why Go
This feels like a call back, the undone completion of Once. A thought was interrupted and now we must finish. But Eddie is more sure of his place here, as the voice, as the spokesman. Second song in row where the voice is talking about the position we put women in. Does anyone do that? Then or now? Try to understand the world from someone else’s point of view? Does anyone start out with the thought that I….. I….. might have been the one to fuck things up. Let’s ask questions about what I have done to make this world a worse place. I am sure it must be my fault. I am sure it is something I did, and therefore something I can fix. And that question “Why go home? Why go home?”

Black
Wait. What? Where did those big guitars go? That big voice? Someone hits a single string. Pulls on it. Again with the “Her” motif. Not a song about what she did wrong. After all, “She gave me all she wore.” But a song about how love, and life, and this reality are terminally flawed for all of us. There are kids at play, and I can feel there laughter, but my thoughts are still… twisted. And now the voice is trying to be a guitar. The guitar is trying to be a voice. Everyone wants to be a painter. But the only color they have to work with is black. The relentlessness here is in the keyboards. The pounding in my head are the black and white keys. There are things in this life with no solution. No matter how much you love the future, or love the past, or love the now. There are some knots that simply won’t be unwound. Some wounds that will never heal. Some catastrophes we simply will not avoid. Life will be what it was before we all got here, what it will be when all the suns have all faded, slowly, out. Black.

Jeremy
I can’t hear this. Won’t. I want to run away from it. Really. The video. The shootings. All that has come since. I want to not hear this. What caused Jeremy? Folks picked on him. He was mentally bereft. Mama didn’t care. Whatever anguish lives inside the adolescent heart, the American heart, the tenth generation of American hearts, it will all be reduced at some point to clickbait, to a headline, to workout music, to repetitive stress, to a sign of the times. It’s all so prophetic and so tragic. And this is our greatest failing. That those with energy and passion find outlet in violence and channel it into anger and vengeance. As if this was the only thing Jeremy could have done, or said. The only time he had a voice. The only thing he had the will, and skill, and capability to say. It’s my fault after all. Clearly I remember.

Oceans
Wait. The voice in unison with guitars. Major chords. Big waves washing over, and then receding. Bass drum. Maybe my moodiness won’t become my undoing. Perhaps I have something redeeming inside me. Twenty-five years and I still have no idea what Vedder is saying here. Perhaps he, like me listening, is just riding the wave. Ohmming. Praying. Meditating.

Porch
What the fuck? Back to dissonance. Back to big rock. The music is a thousand miles an hour. Like a highway. Like time. Like the meals we cook in microwaves. Like the love that comes and goes. An album of teenage relationships. Of short lived races. Of sitcoms. Of YouTube videos. Of passing faces on big roads going 80 mph, all of them, and me, zombies in coffins quickly moving towards death and our collective, final, imminent death. Was home really so bad you had to leave? So much shouting on the porch.

Garden
Again with the welcoming opening. Someone has found me. Out here in the cold. Someone who knows, who welcomes me, who allows me to come. Was it so long ago when we were homeless? And alive? And loved each other. Or is it just an admission that you can’t run from the world no matter how much you might want to? You can’t make time go slower or faster. You can’t run or jog or grab a train in time. You can only move one day at a time, no matter how much you might like to have it be otherwise. There is only this slow plodding walk up the side of a steep and treacherous mountain, with beautiful switchback views and vistas, with terrible cliffs, and satiating streams. You can avoid none and keep none of it. You have little choice in the matter but to walk at time’s pace, laid out by the drums, buoyed by the guitars, pattered with keyboards, smeared with blood. Day on day on day on day on day on.

Deep
This far into the album I will admit I am warped in the head, and if anyone came up to me right now and tapped me on the shoulder I might growl at them, or cower in fear, or kiss them on the lips, or hide. I feel nearly not human. Unthinking. I can only hear my heartbeat in that high hat. My blood in the drone of the guitar. The scratches on my corneas with every wah-wah of the guitars. And I know there’s a voice there saying something, but honestly I can’t hear it. My body is this mess of wires untied. And every time we get them untangled we are called away to work, or to class, and when we come back they are once again a mess. Was someone here? Has someone always been here? Are they ghosts or voices? Did I not fix them before, and again? Am I in an asylum imagining all these things? Can I please wake up? Will you please wake me up? Someone come tap me on the shoulder and wake me up? Please.

Release
There is a guru on a mountaintop who knows I am on my way to meet them. Who has watched me my entire life and seen all the silly lines I took to get up here. When I get to my guru a smile across that serene face. I need never make this climb again. I need never lose. Guru will teach me that the whole universe is available in a grain of sand, a drop of water, all things, each thing. When I climb to the gates of heaven my father will be there waiting, and all the fuckery of this earth will pass away. All the problems of the flesh, all the pleasures, can be overcome by howling at the top of our… lungs? no, those are gone. Heart? gone. Consciousness. Will that last? Can you yell with awareness? Always?

That same riff from the beginning comes in again. Hearing this album I have been reborn. I am a newborn. A child. Hopeful. Everything, once, again, (all the love and loss and agony and laughter and begging and completion and affection and peace) is possible. Maybe even probable. Let’s do this living.

Rules for this Mix: Pearl Jam

I am not an audiophile. I’ve never been cool. So let’s keep this simple.

1. I am listening to the ten studio albums that Pearl Jam has released over the last 25 years.

I am ignoring all the iterations and live versions that are available. I am ignoring everybody’s solo careers, work with other bands, vanity projects, movie soundtracks. I know this is a band of creative musicians that constantly rework everything. I am reducing it to the manageable.

2. I am listening to the available digital versions.

I know. I know. Either buy the CDs like you did when you first heard it, or get a turntable and vinyl. At least find the original versions and not the remastered ones. Have some self-respect. Sorry. Again. Convenience wins. I promise to download the best version I can, and not stream.

3. I am listening with headphones.

They are good headphones. They are the best ones in the house. But I no longer posses the wall of speakers (and wires) that use to take up a corner in my apartments, which were the last thing packed on moving out, and the first thing unpacked moving in. Again, life is this. It’s personal. And so I will be the only one listening.

4. I am listening alone.

The right way to do this would be to get a group of friends together, rent a place for a week, bring in a big stereo, and do this together. I agree. But practicality means I will have to pine, and complain, and make due. Gen-X true.

Once

Twenty-five years ago this month, by fate and by coincidence, a series of blessings were laid out before me. Me, the odd child out of every clique in high school, left for college and found the greatest gift any weirdo could hope for, a group of fellow oddities scared and afraid and honest and frightened and open and together. It was 1991, and less than a year into college something else wondrous happened. The music bubble of the 80s (pop, hair metal, corporate rap) popped. It just popped.

Life felt more dualistic then, either because the world has indeed fractured, or because the view at 43 is far different than the view at 18. Or both. It felt like everyone back then was either/or, male or female, black or white, straight or gay, Republican or Democrat, Ford or Chevy, east coast, west coast, Tiffany or Debbie, Motley Crue or Poison. Life didn’t feel complicated. You just had to choose. Or let life choose for you.

Less than a month into this new reality, returning to my room, walking down the hallway I heard… I heard… What is that? I wasn’t sure what I heard. We had no way to understand then, no way to decifer the lyrics, or get online and see who else was listening, no way to know but to listen over and over again. It was Pearl Jam. It was Ten. It was the opening riff to Even Flow.

In my whole life I have never felt adequate. I have never felt like I fit or I belonged no matter where I was. But in that room, that day, that year, with those people, I felt found. I felt for the first time in my life, both in reality and in metaphor, that someone was singing in my octave. Here was a baritone bellowing about the lost, the homicidal, the fatherless, the misdirected, the unloved. Here were guitars, and a voice, saying something of substance, and meaning it.

And while others fell in love with “Here we are now, entertain us.” We fell in love with these one-word-titled jams. Ten.

Twenty five years later and I will be honest. I fell out of touch too often with those folks who shared that year with me, those folks who saved me, whom I love dearly. And I fell out of touch with Pearl Jam. Sure, I know all the hits. But, I never followed them on tour. I never bought their third album, or their fourth. They did exactly what a true Gen-X band should have done. They made their music and ignored the industry. They avoided Top 40 and refused Ticketmaster. If you were trying to sabotage a “recording artist” career you couldn’t have done better. If you were trying to be just musicians.

But, as a band, they did all this and kept making their music. They are that good. The first time I heard them was the first time music resequenced my DNA. And so, twenty-five years later I am going to do something small to make up for my mistakes of being far too square and far too mainstream. My plan is to go back and binge-listen to Pearl Jam’s entire catalog, and to write down what I hear. I don’t claim any great insight. I don’t hope to change anything. I am 90s to the bone. Gen-X forever. I am doing it simply because it intriques me, because there is love there, because I wish to honor the band, and my loved ones, my friends.

I love you all. Thank you. I miss you. Happy anniversary.

Thinking In Graphs – Economic Fairness

I think we can all agree (of course we can’t, but let me dream) that a fair and economically just society would look something like this:

charts.001

Where work is considered the time, energy, creativity, brain and body power that you emit each day in order to create something meaningful for society. In exchange you get money, benefits, status, respect, security, and protection. In our ideal society the more you work the more you are compensated. And no one is too far from that direct relationship line.

Now, I am an optimist, so I believe two things. First, that for the most part the trend holds. Second, that most citizens want to be somewhere near this ideal.

I think society breaks down as we get closer and closer to this:

charts.002

Conservatives get upset with people who do very little work and still get compensation. Progressives get upset with people who get extremely well compensated for very little work. To illustrate this I am going to rely on a little absurdity from comedian Doug Stanhope.

Starting at around the two minute mark Stanhope points out one aspect of society where injustice plays out, ugly people and beautiful people. Ugly people can work harder and harder, but will never be as well compensated as beautiful people. He explains this better than I do.

Now, could an ugly person work hard enough to earn tons of respect, money, and security? Sure, Steven Tyler. Could a beautiful person go through their whole life poorly compensated for their harder and harder work? I’m sure.

Consider, there could be, theoretically, one type of economically just society shaped like the second graph, though not one that most of us would want to live in. If the second graph occurred randomly across all demographic categories, if your success economically was essentially a result of chance, it would be fair. Although I don’t think we want to live in that random place.

Where a society becomes economically unjust is when those two divergent lines mirror demographics groups. I will give you an example. There are two groups on our country that receive significant compensation with very little productive work. The very old, and the very young. Essentially, for the first and last ten to fifteen years of your life you receive compensation while giving very little back. In this case, it is either because of your promise of future work, or as a reward for your past years of service. We agree these are reasonable outlier categories. But what of gender, race, religion, creed, association?

When work is not justly rewarded, when one is compensated well beyond their contribution or when one works tirelessly and is unrewarded, anytime there is a disconnect between that direct relationship, society unravels. What do you call someone who works endlessly and receives zero compensation? A slave. What do you call someone who needs to do no productive work for society, yet can have anything they want? Royalty.

We are not a society of slaves and royals. We never should be. We should nudge folks towards that center line. Never giving up on the idea that you should work for what you want in life, and never giving up on the idea that you should be fairly compensated for the work you do. You should not be exalted toward the top of the graph by lineage, or gender, or birthright (or really even beauty). You should not be oppressed in the bottom of the graph by lineage, gender or birthright. That would be… ugly.

We can agree to strive for this unified center… right?

Episode 8 – Moments

http://www.podbean.com/media/player/audio/postId/6364156?url=http%3A%2F%2Fthesecondarrrow.podbean.com%2Fe%2Fepisode-8-moments%2F%3Ftoken%3Dcfbdc44d2743256a1e346bf44511524d&skin=1&download=1&share=1&auto=0&fonts=Helvetica
The first arrow is the one that hits you out of the blue; the accident, the misstep, the karmic thwap. The second arrow is the one you fire at yourself, in order to deepen the wound and teach yourself a lesson. The first arrow is painful. The second arrow is suffering.

Episode 7 – Matter

http://www.podbean.com/media/player/audio/postId/6360153?url=http%3A%2F%2Fthesecondarrrow.podbean.com%2Fe%2Fepisode-7-matter%2F%3Ftoken%3D5161a17f6f3dd28d3700e27fbbe7565d&skin=1&download=1&share=1&auto=0&fonts=Helvetica
The first arrow is the one that hits you out of the blue; the accident, the misstep, the karmic thwap. The second arrow is the one you fire at yourself, in order to deepen the wound and teach yourself a lesson. The first arrow is painful. The second arrow is suffering.

Episode 1 – Herenow

http://www.podbean.com/media/player/audio/postId/6360152?url=http%3A%2F%2Fthesecondarrrow.podbean.com%2Fe%2Fepisode-1-herenow%2F%3Ftoken%3D9d98fd675a6133113efb8c5ea52ecf77&skin=1&download=1&share=1&auto=0&fonts=Helvetica
The first arrow is the one that hits you out of the blue; the accident, the misstep, the karmic thwap. The second arrow is the one you fire at yourself, in order to deepen the wound and teach yourself a lesson. The first arrow is painful. The second arrow is suffering.

Episode 6: Kind

http://www.podbean.com/media/player/audio/postId/6357352?url=http%3A%2F%2Fthesecondarrrow.podbean.com%2Fe%2Fepisode-6-kind%2F%3Ftoken%3D5cae934877747a78c840bb7336a129fe&skin=1&download=1&share=1&auto=0&fonts=Helvetica
The first arrow is the one that hits you out of the blue; the accident, the misstep, the karmic thwap. The second arrow is the one you fire at yourself, in order to deepen the wound and teach yourself a lesson. The first arrow is painful. The second arrow is suffering.

Episode 5: Taste

http://www.podbean.com/media/player/audio/postId/6354110?url=http%3A%2F%2Fthesecondarrrow.podbean.com%2Fe%2Fepisode-5-taste%2F%3Ftoken%3D0fac2d1f3729fcc5deb4aace0cf81cab&skin=1&download=1&share=1&auto=0&fonts=Helvetica
The first arrow is the one that hits you out of the blue; the accident, the misstep, the karmic thwap. The second arrow is the one you fire at yourself, in order to deepen the wound and teach yourself a lesson. The first arrow is painful. The second arrow is suffering.

Episode 4: Choice

http://www.podbean.com/media/player/audio/postId/6350555?url=http%3A%2F%2Fthesecondarrrow.podbean.com%2Fe%2Fepisode-4-choice%2F%3Ftoken%3D98d807f257ecd601a7b7171921fe3b31&skin=1&download=1&share=1&auto=0&fonts=Helvetica
The first arrow is the one that hits you out of the blue; the accident, the misstep, the karmic thwap. The second arrow is the one you fire at yourself, in order to deepen the wound and teach yourself a lesson. The first arrow is painful. The second arrow is suffering.

A Notice Meditation

I notice the weight of the blanket on my legs. The tightness of my shorts. The feeling of one hand weighing on top of the other on top of my chest.

I notice what appears to be light around the left edge of my closed eyes. What they tell me are floaters. Luminous squares that grow and then disappear.

Notice the sound of the dog playing with a toy drowning out the sound of the air conditioning drowning out the motor of the fridge. All of it above the high pitch subtle whine always in my ears.

Notice the voice asking whether it is a whine or static, if there is a scientific explanation I once knew for it. Notice the promise to do research, to write about what I find.

Notice the pain in my right ankle. Notice the breath in and out, which triggers reminders to always pay attention to the breath. Notice my memory of the man in front of the temple. Notice the silhouette of someone in front of my vision. The silhouette that never resolves to anything.

Notice the process of scanning through memory. Notice the moment rising where I have an urge to turn onto my side. Notice the decision about my shoulder, about feet on top of feet, about being more receptive to the vibes when I am on my back.

Notice the heaviness of my head, the turn, the right hand grabbing the left clavicle, the hangnail on my ring finger, the soreness felt, and release when legs are straightened, the thickness of tongue in my mouth, the memory of grey wet gravestones, of riding bikes, of rust.

Notice the voice taking notes, and notice the one watching the voice taking notes, and someone listening to that inner voice, and someone watching the one listening, and the dog shifting its weight, and the itch behind the left ear, and the shapes becoming clear. And dissolving.

What The Hell Is Water?

“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” – David Foster Wallace addressing the graduating class at Kenyon College, 2005

What are we bathed in? What have we always been bathed in which is so close and central to our existence that we simply cannot experience it? What do we swim against?

I have a guess. It is predicated on the possibility of finding what is around us by identifying what we build away from. Call it identity through antithesis.

I am still not over the ride home I took from work when I was seventeen and sure I would never again see a friend whom I adored. A part of me is still at home 1800 miles away in New York. I am fascinated by the carvings and music we’ve shot into space as a signal to aliens of our existence. Earlier today I couldn’t clear my head of a Rod Stewart song from the 90s.

We build monuments and manifestos for wars, and signings, and dead people, and explorers. Our holidays are about remembrance, our political debates about other times. All of our science is based on previous experiments and distant galaxies. In short, we are there, and we are then. We chastise children for not thinking of consequences and futures, and consider adulthood as being wise, and well-storied, and prepared. It is everywhere.

Well, everywhere but here.

Perhaps what we swim in, what we marinade in, what sustains us is this moment. The moment, rather than a three dimensional world, plus time, a one dimensional world, sans time. The water of nowness.

I have my senses. And they are present. Very few things make the then and there go away quite as well as stubbing a toe, or crashing a car, or an orgasm. What is now is this carpet, these keys, the weight of the ring on my finger. My wife is upstairs. My family’s in Buffalo. Who knows where all the friends I adore exist? As I remember them, likely, they live only in my memory.

But nowness. The sound of the dishwasher. The hiss of the fireplace. The light, unending buzz in my ears that fills the cracks of emptiness. A smudge on my glasses. Floaters just in front of my eyes. Every meditation involves breathing. Breathing is here and now.

A man walks up to another man and quips, “Morning. How’s the nowandhere?”

It’s the only place we’ve ever been.

I Wander Downstairs…

I wander downstairs in my white blousey
shirt sleeves stretched in all directions

from twisting in sleepless sheets. I sit
on the floor surrounded by silent voices

on the page as I struggle to free my wonder…

who said a line and in what verse? Rumi? Doty?
The line spoke to what it means to have a secret,

to be awake while other sleep, to be alive

while others have long died. The moon is bright
behind the blinds, dogs curl in the chairs,

the line is hidden deep. McPherson? Forché?

They’ve known things. They whisper secrets
which make bail after years in solitary. Wisdom.

Whatever that might be. When everyone wakes

I’ve done dishes. Tables dusted. Laundry
shifted. The books reshelved. And know

no more about the line now, nor myself.

El Cuerpo de Bomberos de La Ciudad de Ibarra

-for Dayko

The bodies like bombs
that fell in the city of Ibarra
were exalted to hear the pawing
scrape of nails, the long tongue
dragging along rubble,
the bay and the yap
which called fireman to rescue.

Seven lives
by that four year old body. Seven.
God’s number. Sins and virtues.
Psalms and parables.
The day on which the Creator rests,
(while we suffer our bodies and our injuries)
caressing a loyal, faithful friend.

https://www.facebook.com/bomberos.ibarra?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000618

ChrisPaulMikeDave

I have met you
in chunks, like clones
that march endlessly
around corners, blocking
every escape.

I have seen you in
your archetypes, each calling
back to their kin,
a victim of initial,
impulse, and name.

Chris. Spending your life
as a suggestion of the Christ,
consumed with the need
to be top, first in class,
center, A+, savior.

Paul. Sounding like a pall
or appalled, but also
ending in All.
Helper. Friend.
Dour, damp, but giver.

Mike. Loudmouth. Feedback.
All talk. Braggadocio.
Center of every
meeting. Captain
of every team.

Dave. You hit me.
Not just me. Everybody.
Did no one teach
you Dave, in your naiveté,
a better way to behave?

For My Generation X

It’s happened. We were informed, since the day we were born
first children of single parent, divorce, abortion, contraception.
First children of AIDs, heroine, just say no… experimental.
We were told by our diminished numbers in a bureaucracy
that our children and parents would split the spoils. And so…

one more election where baby boomers bitch about the lot
they’ve been given and how to divide it. One more argument
left over from the dorms about America becoming browner
and gayer and immigrant and feminine. One more election
about what we can’t afford. Next one… some young millennial?

To Anonymous Hands

The food on my table has no label,
no name of the founders who traided
with the natives when they had no word

yet for ownership. No snappy slogan etched
in cardboard in order to convey health
despite the fact we know it’s meal and sugar.

But I know a hand must have tilled the field,
picked it from the soil, chose it from a lot
of rejects, bagged it, packed it, trucked it.

And I’d guess their name wasn’t Kellogg
or Dole, or Kraft, or Johnson. The meal
was grand, an honor to anonymous hands.

Six Flags America

In Six Flags America children under two get in free,
so if they ask you do not tell them that you are three.
In Six Flags America you must be 38 inches to ride,
so stuff a sock in your sneakers to make you that high.
In Six Flags America you can get free soda refills,
so we snuck a cup in we have from last year still.

There are rules and policies and ways to cheat
in America we condone them
as ways to compete.
In baseball the juiced ball.
The banks at the margin call,
short sells, derivatives, micro trading with ease.
In DC the insiders writing policy.

In Six Flags America is not explicitly illegal.
We wrote it vaguely when we put it in the bill.
In Six Flags American everyone gets rich,
everyone that is, willing to scuff up the pitch.
We promise and cajole and hunt for an edge
and anyone who does it is only “alleged”.

I Fucking Hate This Week (April 16-22)

Each year it’s as if our position in revolution
or the tilt of our axis causes all of us to slip
off our cusp, to blow up or gun down, overdose
or fall asleep in jeopardy, never again to wake.

Something about the movement of Spring
stubbornly into Summer, of Prince
into a sarcophagus, of Chyna into Tibet,
of oil into water, of Aries into Taurus.

Something causes us to protest life and be slaughtered
for it, to strap to our chests our worst
intentions and find new, seemingly unthinkable
maddening ways to spit at our making.

What I Saw In Banja Luka, Tabitha Fortis

-based on The U.S. Poet Laureate episode of The West Wing

In Banja Luka a father leads his son to the shores of the Sava River
for an afternoon spent listening to the water, like life and time, passing.

He teaches his son to cast his metal out into the moving current
and to wait patiently for a connection, wait until something tugs at him.

The boy, with his pole and his pride and his father, mistakes a relic
rusted out on his hook for the wiggle and struggle of some reward.

For half an hour he drags the ring to shore, fighting a pointless war.

In Banja Luka the remains of a boy are laid to rest. The hands,
a foot, what’s left of a chest, the blood of the boy exploded

into the pores of the father’s dark, muscled, scarred arms,
blown into the grey flecks of his once jet black hair, his own

childhood stolen, like a first kiss is stolen, like land is stolen.
And the father, all day, whimpering to emptiness, “Mine, mine.”

Boston 4/15/13

At the end of the marathon everyone’s legs are gone.
Most just want to rest, stripped of their grievances,
humanity, civilization. Glycogen stores depleted.

But there were emergency vehicles, and screaming.
Confusion and heat. Shards of metal from barricades
meant to keep the runners from their loved ones.

Safe.

At the end of the marathon everyone’s euphoric.
Strangers around them breaking through enemies
and therefore soldiers, brothers you’d run with.

Our animus burned away. For four days no one
moved, left, blinked, slept. Poured over photography
and evidence. “Come out, if you want to live.”

Iconography

What question has you that the Gods might answer? The one
about right choices and your destiny? The one about the lives
of your children? About which team to take over the weekend?

Immediate deistic intervention into a traffic jam? And which God
will you ask? The monotheistic God seems overwhelmed and busy.
Imagine being in charge of everything. But the bureaucrat Gods
feel like something might get lost; that the God of lost souls

might have different jurisdiction than the God of lost causes.
And what of the atheists? Trapped by the gods of physics,
the gods of reproducible evidence and the observable universe.

The Gods who meet the dead and the newborn. The Gods
of customer support. Gods of laundry and chores. So many
Gods one must check your own inbox for requests. Who
needs you today? Who is praying for your own meddling?

For #8, Gary Edmund Carter

On a rainy day in April we twist and turn into Cooperstown
where I’m interested only in laying hands on one bust.

Kids expect no one in sports to be worth their trust, no one
in the upcoming election, no movie star who won’t someday

soon be caught in a situation fraught with pride and excess,
the kind of temptation offered only to those of endless fame.

I liked the way he held his bat. The way he walked and ran.
The joy with which he met the warm air and the lined dirt field.

Older Than Elvis

I sit on the toilet and wonder what rhythms
might rise up from these pipes to claim me. Left eye
whipping around a corner in her Mitsubishi.

Patsy Cline each time I board a plane. Jim Morrison
in the bath. Jimi in bed. Janis on the floor by the bathroom.
My feet on cold tile. I’m older than my soundtrack,

than all the good music of love and heartbreak,
than idealism. Overdosed on realism
and stumbling towards old age,

worries about dementia and an enlarged
prostate. They died so young. Young
and knowing, and pretty.

At The Garden

At the Garden ten men take the floor
while 10,000 stand in front
of seats, dreaming. A hundred
more sell popcorn, run the soundboard,

wash towels. At two in the afternoon
someone wipes the seats, At five
someone opens parking. America
may highlight the tall and the strong,

lavish on talent a jersey and a spotlight.
But most of us hope just to get close,
to have some walk-on roll
in the success of a nation.

To say I met Ewing once,
handed water to Carmelo,
made some law work, returned
the wagons, polished the apple.

The Mount Rushmore Metaphor

1

The bust of a baby taking a first step or shit,
eating strained peas, soap, or cursed words.

2

One could say, in my day, a car was freedom,
that we drove west to fuck folks we didn’t yet know.

3

In our 20s we climbed trees, rocks, each other,
thought our bull-bare bottoms were revolutions.

4

Some work for evolution, living ideals, generosity
towards others. We’ll put a bullet in their head.

Era

The headline reads, “Steph Curry Redefining Greatness in the Post-Michael Jordan Era”
which I complain to my boss would be like A-Rod defining home runs in the post Babe Ruth era
or Jágr in the post Gretzky era, Obama in the post-Lincoln era. Humans: post dinosaurs.

All that’s left in the house I grew up in are scratches on walls, meaningless to anyone
who was not there to see them made, paint chipping away while the story
of how we chose the color and the hijinks of hanging it, the brush strokes long gone.

All life exists in the post-microbial, single-celled, post-bacterial era. All cities exist
in the post fertile crescent, post Egyptian era. All superheroes in the post Phantom,
post Superman era. All love in the post-first-love era. All kisses post first kiss.

A Filter

For the third time today the boss refers to her as “hon” and she chooses
to stop the meeting for a sec to ask him to quit it.

A teacher recognizes the introverts are passing tests, though
not participating. Stops class clowns long enough to ask.

Sekou Sundiata must type his name over again to prevent being
seiko sundial. Others are onto the next line.

It’s a race. To the top. To the bottom. To the suburbs.
To the watch and the view and to automatically rolling down your window.

It’s an obstacle course and every peg is a filter meant
to slow some down, the non-conforming, non-typical, non-hackers.

It doesn’t have to be. We choose it. So it is.

Out West These Days

Out west these days the fences are made of hoods
of plastic covering concrete, made to look like wood
but never in need of painting. And so Tom Sawyer need
not come up with some intricate, conniving idea to feed
to his dupes and friends. Instead he’s graduated from
the University with a degree in finance. The dumb
folks he took advantage of now spread worldwide
and paying him a dime for each dollar they make. Hide
of some expensive animal no longer his cap or coat
but the shine of his shoes. Snakeskins on his boat.

A Superhero Is Someone

A superhero is someone who uses their advantage for the betterment of others.
A superhero is someone who uses their ability for the betterment of others.
A superhero is someone who uses their strength for the betterment of others.
A superhero uses their freak for the advancement of others.

There was an incident.
A horrible accident.
A miscue, a mistake, a miscalculation.

Someone died.
Someone came back changed.
Diana, Peter, Reed, Steve, Anna Marie, Clark, Susan, Bruce, Ben, Scott, Logan

A superhero is someone who chooses to make life better for others.
A superhero is someone who chooses to sacrifice for others.
A superhero is someone who chooses their own risk for others.
A superhero chooses to live for others.

The Key, 1946 – Jackson Pollock

At six the kid loved the long lines, the swirling puddles, the intersection
of dried color and what she dubbed, “its barking and
its funny.”

At sixteen she could not be bothered
to accompany her old man to the museum
where “everything is so dusty and boring.”

By twenty-six she’d humor me
once a year, and complain about
the lack of narrative and the bourgeoisness and the patriarchy.

By thirty-six she loved his risk, and our memories, the wonder of her own child
and of my failing body, as we crawled
inside the painting.

At forty-six I hope
she cried, though with a hint of a her smile. I hope
she’s missed me and my commentary.

And that she kept going.

Henry Hudson Never Saw The World

Henry Hudson never saw the world
I was raised in. Railroad tracks
over cracked concrete pitted
with fresh tar and overflowing,
flowers of oversized homes
sprung up along the forested
shores, weeds of trailers
sprung at their feet.

No. He doffed his cap and trimmed
his sails without the smoke
stacks pumping out concrete,
the barrier walls and the docks
nestled up against the rocks
where I used to tie my line
and wait for the bass to bite,
lost in the bosomy mountains.

One World Trade Center

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

From the top of Manhattan it appears like a jeweler’s tool,
large triangle spikes alternatively piercing the air
and the ground, suggesting both a rise and collapse.

Across the barricades and signs for “Authorized
Vehicles Only” the bottom third is shards of glass
stitched together with cross-knit supports.

It’s good that it’s here. For vain reasons.

For selfish reasons. Because a tattoo

of a piñata is an improvement

over a challenging surgery’s

uncamouflaged

scar.

In The Painting There’s A Man

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

In the painting there’s a man on a bridge.
Often iconic, either the Brooklyn or San Francisco Bay.
From the angle of his head and height of his climb
one can tell if he is despondent or reaching the other side.

On this canvas a dirt road carved through a forest,
barely the bump of a four month gestation.
If you did not know the woods you could not see
the pregnant arch of stone nor the creek below.

The man looks sideways, unaware of the breach
he walks over. Neck twisted by the sound of a robin
rising on its wings off the branch of a tree.

Half buried in the mud behind the bridge
lies a rusted-out plow drawing back to the land,
and a glove, and some abandoned, hopeful plan.

“Welcome To Bell Atlantic”

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

Wind back through time, through your sculptures of the mind
old washed out hues of umber-tinted photos.
You, however, can never explain a hairdo,

nor flannel, nor cord-tangled tech, nor
James Earl Jones welcoming you the same
way each time you pick up the phone. Say
your vinyl truth, and no more.

Fan Boi

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

I once held a door open for Stockard Channing,
a woman who’s never looked less than breathtaking
and who in my youth was Grease’s bad girl of high school
despite being, already, thirty-four.

Whom I’ve never seen do poorly in a movie.
Who’s always portrayed a sense of royalty.
Whose backlash against societal expectations
has been at the center of her role selection.

And what did I say? In this moment of idolatry?
Did I mention her ground breaking roles?
Did I compliment her storytelling or acting? No.
I made some crack about the coming snow.

I’ve hugged a micro-famous comedian. Stalked podcasters.
Taught Dee Dee Myers to drag and drop. Made Richard Dreyfus
angry and Alex Trebek irate. Mumbled something unintelligible
to Mariah Carey. Hung coolly with Vince Neil.

If Alanis Morissette walked in the room I’d like to think
I could be composed, ask her to chat about writing
over coffee, and not drop to her feet promising
my undying allegiance. But who knows?

Too Many Mics, Not Enough Emcees

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

“All I need is one blunt, one page, one pen, one prayer.” – Nas

Back when Nas was Stillmatic and the Fugees ran The Score
both used to bitch about not enough mics in the store

Virgin Records running profits by limiting shelf space
tubes of posters for small walls of a Tribe Called Quest and Pac’s face.

Then the net broke it open to everyone everywhere
technology meant to democratize who got paid for their wares

But now the big conglomerates have become nothing but McDonalds
the only way to make them bucks is show your tits or abdominals

Thin beefs, fake buns, hooks with no verses
vagueness, pablum, low nutrient curses

During Technique’s Revolution, when Public Enemy was in the Hour of Chaos
the beats broke the barrier between blood, brain, and know-mas

It opened our chakras, now it closes our mind,
some pretty boy fronting about his rims and his wine

Any fool with a Mac can now drag and drop
no need to even know if the beats wack or hot

You only want one score and that’s what you’ll get
Take your cash, get outta my damn ears, enjoy your shit hit

Not enough Emcees, too many rap
we all waste our mics on thin thoughts that ain’t phat.

King Tut’s Sarcophagus

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

There are nights when the sheets that drape me
swaddle me like papier-mâché and dry to a stiff cast,

the dribble from my mouth a gold mask at the shock
that I was King for just that breath past my father’s death.

The tour of artifacts locked in the basement whispers none
until the robbers come digging at the rubble. Until

I am preserved and carted out on World Tour. Until they realize
the best thing I did was to smile after I died. Inconsequential

people like Lucy, mosquitoes trapped in amber with the DNA
tale of extinct species. Average folk who covered their head

when the comet hit. Who sung nothing but a song which children
passed on, who made one notable, lasting, petrified thing.

James Brady Is Dead

April is National Poetry Month – #NaPoMo #30for30

James Brady is dead,
though for the last thirty-three
years of his life he lived
in seesawing disagreement
with his body which somedays
responded well to access
and other days refused
to admit the failure of the bullet.

James Brady is dead,
though for sixty-nine days
he joked with the press
in a manner seemingly laughable
by today’s adversarial media
melee, where one wrong
word spins instantaneously
crisscrossing the equator.

James Brady is dead,
though for three centimeters
he could have had long less,
and Reagan might have been
Kennedy, and Bush might
have spent the eighties railing
against Madonna’s gyrations
tilting wildly right and left.

James Brady is dead,
though in less than a second
he became a cyborg of mind
and metal, a man who was lead
to believe, by the delusion of want,
in the terror of maddened men
who feel slighted by the voices
to whom they are dutifully wed.

The Difference Between Being Polite and Being Kind

In the visual thesaurus there is a one word jump between being polite and being kind. According to this reference these two words are not synonyms, but they are synonymous. And yet, in real-world function they are worlds apart. The distinction between these two words is the distance between someone who supports Donald Trump’s presidential campaign (who can’t understand why others don’t), and someone who loathes his campaign (and can’t understand why others don’t).

Being polite is a social construct, a societal facade based on time, manner, and place. It is the southern euphemism “bless his heart,” a way to insult someone while seeming to be… well… polite. It is maintaining a professional visage towards a coworker you would rather never interact with. It is the correct fork, the nicely tied tie, using the word “miffed” to talk about a time you were really “pissed off.”

When I was in college the idea of political correctness was just coming into vogue. This was a time when folks were trying to replace some of the micro-aggressive ways we referred to each other. Political correctness was derided by comedians and politicians as an extreme form of politeness, a mask underneath which we were still angry separate supremacists. Political correctness was simply not, as we have heard more than one Trump surrogate laud, “telling it like it is.”

Kindness is the act of seeing the burdens another is carrying and doing something to lighten them. For everything about politeness that is faux and skin deep, kindness is to the bone. It requires peripheral awareness, and empathy, commitment and action and self-sacrifice, even in its smallest incarnations.

In the 90s when my friends and I entered the workforce almost every boss was male and it was still common to refer to the women in the office as “toots” or “dear” or “honey” or “darling” or “sweetie”. There was nothing I could do about unequal pay, or sexual harassment, or bosses expecting female coworkers to “wear something pretty” to the staff meeting. But I could say something about “dear” and “honey” and “toots”. Was I being polite? Or was that an act of kindness? When I pulled him aside and he responds with, “You know being nice to them is not going to get them to like you or fuck you.” Was he being impolite or unkind?

I can do a little more now to shape the workplace in which both I, and those I know supervise, exist. I can make sure we are paying an even wage for work, not paying more for a certain type of person. I can create an environment where we consider the people around us in our decisions. And I can choose, and encourage others to choose to be kind; deeply, meaningfully, genuinely.

I can’t do much to stop the unkindness in our larger culture. I can’t tell police officers that their job is to successfully apprehend suspects, no matter their age or size or skin color, so they can go to trial, rather than killing them in the streets. I can’t make the State of Alabama see the burden it places on people when they say some consenting adult relationships are more important than others. I can’t express how damaging it is to young minds when a large swath of the country declares a President illegitimate because of the color of his skin.

But, in every moment, we all have the choice to be kind. In small ways and big we can stop, wherever we are, and look around us. We can try to see in each other the burdens we are carrying, the scars, and the triggers, and the damages that have been done. We can offer to carry or share those burdens, just for a few steps, just for a little while.

It’s not that the Trump candidacy is impolite. Fuck, I love impolite. I think we are all too caught up in our corporate dress and buzz-words. It is that this campaign is unkind. It makes people fear for their bodies. It states that there are some people in America more deserving of protection and rights and creator-endowed liberties than others. It argues that in our society people have their places, and there they should stay. It adds to our scars and our burdens, rather than lightening them.

For those who see this as simple impoliteness, and who cheer him, I say this. He is not saying what he believes. He is saying what you cannot say, what you wish you could still say, in the workplace, in the grocery store, in social circles. He is saying what you believe. And it is mean. And it is hurtful. And it is unkind.

Rules For This Mix: The Book Of Us

This is a mix for you, my love. It can never be called a playlist, because this is not play. This is serious business, although admittedly a first draft. This is a mix which will be edited and updated as we find new ways to love each other. But the rules, the rules must remain.

1. Nothing that has touched anyone else. None of these songs are recycled, nor for one moment make me think of anyone but you. These are yours and yours alone.

2. The words matter here. I know sometimes the lyric is not as important as the instrumentation. But here the lyric is paramount. What they are saying, I am saying.

3. That being said I know you love the wall of sound, when the notes intertwine and exude power and overwhelm. So I looked here for those, for you.

4. If there were multiple versions of a song, remakes, reboots, covers, the only choice was the one you would like, the one you would listen to.

5. No sarcasm here. No wit. Only sincerity.

6. Life with you is full and complex and glorious, full of ups and downs. So is this mix.

And here it is, for you and only you. iTunes Music: The Book of Us

Us – Regina Spektor: When we first got together I said you were the type of person, and we could be the type of couple, that people named buildings and cities and wings of hospitals after. This is a wall of sound that agrees.
“They made a statue of us, and it put it on a mountain top. Now tourists come and stare at us.”

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – The Proclaimers: Quite simply the greatest love song of all time. And for you, a literal meaning. You love to run. And to love you I ran, thousands of miles and marathons.
“Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles to fall down at your door.”

I Found My Everything – Mary J. Blige: I will never be able to put in my own words, or find in anyone else’s, what it is like when you walk in a room, what it was like the first time you walked into my life. But Ms. Blige says something close.
“Can’t you see? Look at my face it’s glowing and it’s all because of you.
Everything about you, you see I need. And I thank God for sending you through.”

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face – Roberta Flack: There are things you can say in a song that you can’t say outside of a song, things I want to say to you.
“The first time ever I kissed your mouth I felt the earth move in my hand like the trembling heart of a captive bird.”

At My Most Beautiful – R.E.M.: As much as life is full and wonderful when you are around, it is that hollow when you are not. So I leave you messages, and send you thoughts.
“At my most beautiful I count your eyelashes secretly, with every one whisper, I love you.”

Share The Moon – Indigo Girls: Here’s a band who meant a lot to me before I knew you, but means so much more to me since sharing them with you.
“I can go one day without calling…
Two days without bawling…
Three days without missing…
But a lifetime of no kissing you is something that I just can’t do.”

Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers: When you are not home, the dogs and I feel the same way.
“This house just ain’t no home anytime she goes away. And I know, I know, I know, I know………….”

First Day of My Life – Bright Eyes: Meeting you, knowing you, loving you, sharing life with you. It is a waking up.
“This is the first day of my life. I’m glad I didn’t die before I met you.”

To Make You Feel My Love – Adele: For a moment, for you to see what I see, to feel what I feel for you, I would do anything.
“I’d go hungry. I’d go black and blue. I’d go crawling down the avenue. No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do. To make you feel my love.”

The Book Of Love – Peter Gabriel: I love when we are riding in the car and this song comes on. I love our relationship to music, and kissing, and cars.
“The book of love is long and boring and written very long ago.
It’s full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes and things we’re all too young to know.”

You Are The Best Thing – Ray LaMontagne: I could just go with the title here. It is the truth. But there are great lyrics too.
“Both of us have known love before to come on promising like a spring, and walk on out the door.
Our hearts are strong and our hearts are kind. Let me tell you just exactly what’s on my mind.”

I’ll Stand By You – Pretenders: If you could have one person, the one person, say one thing to you, and you would know it to be true, what would that one thing be?
“Take me in, into your darkest hour. And I’ll never desert you. I’ll stand by you.”

Thoughts after watching “Making A Murderer”

This is not an unbiased telling of a story. The filmmakers here have an agenda and a point of view. They are storytellers. That is what they do. All my thoughts flow from what they told.

I don’t know how Teresa Halbach died, or what happened to her body after she died.

The state did an awful job of coming up with a coherent timeline, a motive, or an explanation in the inconsistencies of the evidence.

This may not be a uniquely American thought, but it was groundbreaking when it was built into the organizing principles of our society. People who have power will abuse it, will be corrupted by it, will use it against those they see as the other, will wield it for their own gain.

There are HUGE amounts of prosecutorial misconduct here. There are HUGE amounts of police misconduct here. There is a huge amount of small town, backdoor, underhanded politicking going on here.

The idea that the family that lives on the other side of town, who keep to themselves, who didn’t go to college, who work with their hands, who don’t share your need for upward mobility, who just want to be left alone, and who have the gall, the unmitigated gall, to show up smiling with the governor, and at court, and on TV in their casual clothes are somehow deviant and criminal and dangerous (and we are just waiting to get them on something) is Wholly UnAmerican. It is counter to our espoused principles that all people are created equal.

The idea that some people are criminal, rather than actions being criminal, is wholly UnAmerican.

And yet, it is central to our culture, to our politics, to law enforcement, to our court systems. It is part of our bullshit hypocrisy. And it is holding us back as a people. Every time someone on this show said, “How dare he. These police officers are good men, with good reputations, and they are calling into question their character,” I wanted to punch someone.

This show has little to do with presentable facts at trial and everything to do with reputation and character. On both sides.

The part that I found most salient was at the end of the Avery trial when the lawyer said, “Police don’t plant evidence to frame an innocent man. They do it because they believe he is guilty.” I think the cops, and the prosecutors genuinely believe the Averys are bad people, and they needed to strengthen this case to put two of them behind bars, and the rest of them in their places. I believe they imagine a great many crimes the family has gotten away with, and this is what they can prove.

And, in the unlikely event that I am right about something, about this, then this was a miscarriage of justice.