Showing posts with label blog. Show all posts
Showing posts with label blog. Show all posts

25 May, 2018

Memorial Day: For all the Fallen Fathers (and Mothers), Real and Imagined

On leave in Florida. 
I am 45 years old and I'm still coming to terms with the impact my father's death had on my life.
Just when I think I've caught all the ripples and echoes created by the absence of gravity Dad instilled in my life, I end up finding just one more thing. One more ripple. One more echo. And it never stops.
The impact of his death on my life when I was 17 has been and is incalculable. It set into motion virtually all the circumstances that my life now is built upon, from my own fatherhood that has long defined the geography of my life to my writing which has long been the compass I've used to make my way through map I draw with every step I take and every line I write, to the deep anger that drove me towards self-destruction,  the weight of guilt and obligation that tore me away from self-destruction, and the imparted wisdom that eventually drew me back to the greatest love I could ever imagine. 
My father was a complicated man, though I don't think he wanted to be one. Then again, it's possible that men placed on pedestals always look complicated. Through the years of learning more about myself, I've been able to humanize him a little more... especially as I am now the age he was when I was small and  I was in and out of the hospital -- the age he was when he became my hero and the archetype by which I still (whether I mean to or not) judge all would-be heroes, real or imagined.
It also happens that my father was a veteran of two wars (Korea and Vietnam)  that America has
consistently overlooked. I would say that he part of the ignored generation of American Veterans -- but the truth is that our government has historically ignored those who risk life and limb in defense of the ideas embodied in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Our government breaks bodies and spirits, but it does not buy what it breaks. And while my father was fortunate enough to come back physically intact and mentally steeled, it's impossible for me to say exactly what the impact of his military service was -- which started when he was 17 and continued until he was almost 40.
It's impossible for me to understand the impact it had on him because I have never served and because he died before he felt like he could share those stories with me. 
I feel the absence of those stories almost as acutely as I feel his.
It's also impossible for me to understand the loss felt by sons and daughters whose fathers -- and whose mothers --did not come home alive or in one piece. And although I've long held the opinion that war is a travesty perpetrated by cowards too far removed from the devastation to feel its impacts, as time goes on I find that I see it even in starker terms. War is a sin, and a tragedy with an impact so devastating that it's easier to make more war than it is to examine the impacts.

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20 April, 2018

Kintsukuroi: Or, Being Humpty Dumpty

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. ~ Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Mick Parsons Dirty Sacred River
Check out more of Beth's work on Instagram
or buy it at AA Clay Studio & Gallery
When I broke the bowl I was pissed. Maybe more pissed than the situation merited, but that probably isn't for me to decide.  

Keep in mind, I'm not one to lose my temper and I'm not inordinately attached to stuff... as a concept. Certain things among the stuff I have has intrinsic meaning, though. And while the bowl hasn't been mine long, it quickly gained the status of useful artifact.

The bowl, along with a sturdy little cup, was a gift from my wife. And if that wasn't enough, both were made by my friend Beth -- one of my oldest friends and one of the few remaining people from the ether of my undergraduate college years who I still talk to.

People trapped in an avoidance culture full of disposable everything dismiss the importance of artifacts. But I've long maintained the importance of certain things of the various stuff I've had over the years. At one point in my life, when all of my earthly possessions could fit in one smallish suitcase and one milk crate (for books... what else) I still had this red coffee mug from Bybee Pottery... a mug I still have and still use.

The glaze has a crack, but I can't let it go. And yes. That's my fidget spinner.

I don't know if the bowl can be repaired, but I hope it can. Amanda reminded me of Kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing bowls and cups with silver or gold. 

In other words, as my wife succinctly pointed out:

If you can't hide it, paint it red.

At the core of her statement is an idea that runs counter to the avoidance culture we live in. We're not supposed to look like we've been through anything. Entire industries have grown that encourage us to hide everything from our age to our relative poverty (thanks to the usury perpetrated by credit card companies and the stupid amount of importance people put on their FICO Score).  Every truly human thing we experience, ranging from absolute happiness to the darkest of grief, is supposed to be tempered, homogenized, and run through a cultural meat grinder that either reduces it something just one person feels or -- maybe worse -- dilutes it into something that needs to be healed by the latest version of New Age hokum.

Living in the midst of an avoidance culture means every experience we have should be neither too happy, too hard, too sad, or too disastrous as to leave a mark. And when it does leave a mark, we should feel shame and hide them accordingly.

Well... to hell with all that.

The Hemingway quote I used is a pretty popular one. You see it in a lot of inspirational memes that are supposed to make people feel better about going through the meat grinder. But it's also cherry-picked... which is the curse of all great writing and proof that there is some truth buried in it that people want to overlook. Here's the rest of the quote:

But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

The truth here, as I see it, is that we really have two options. We live and suffer breakage -- which means, at some point, we have to find a way to repair the broken spots -- or we die. Finding a way to fix the broken spots doesn't mean we need to cover it up to make other people feel better, though. On the contrary. It is the things that have broken us that we have worked to repair that make us beautiful. It is these things that make us human. And moreover, it is these things that bring out the divinity buried in every person. Our broken points bring us closer to oneness with God.

The beauty of artifacts and of people... especially the broken ones... is that they bear the mark of our having lived through the moment when the break happened.  It means we survived. 







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24 February, 2018

Every day is a title fight: the last round

Everyday is a title fight, Mick Parsons
I haven't felt like blogging lately, at least in the vein that I normally do in this space. That's not to say I haven't been writing, because I have. And it's also not to say that there's lack of things to  expound upon and I haven't developed a case of apathy for the general state of the world. But I am aware that just having a blog, a slightly above average vocabulary, and a need to string words together just to feel like I'm not wasting space on the planet are not enough to drive me to comb through all of the comb-worthy things happening in the world to lay out my opinion on them. 

This could have something to do with the fact that I just turned 45, or with the fact that I recently got my 90 day chip from AA. 

AA, disease, Dante, sponsor, Virgil
From Inferno, Canto 29, engraving by Gustav Dore'
Part of the process, other than being able to sit in a room of other People Like Me and say "Hi, my name's Mick and I'm an alcoholic" is examining both the impacts and causal relationship of drinking in your life. It's taken me forever -- 90 days, actually -- to get a sponsor I trust enough to let be my sponsor... which is to say, I found someone whose experience and opinions I trust so that I can release myself into the life-long process called sobriety. 

My sponsor is the Virgil to my Dante in this journey. And yes, being in the process of maintaining my sobriety feels more like a circle of hell than a ring of paradise these days. Even though I've been really productive lately in my professional life and doing a pretty okay job of keeping my house in order, the fact it there isn't a day that I don't obsess over drinking... even if I'm just obsessing over not drinking.  

When you're not in recovery, or if you're not one of the 10% of the population with this particular allergy to alcohol, it sounds absurd. I know that. I also know it sounds equally absurd that as I am engaged in the process of my sobriety, I know that relapse is built into the disease. 

As Virgil says... my sponsor, that is ... it's never a question of IF we will relapse. It's a question of when. 

In last two weeks, two people I care about very much, people in my recovery community, have relapsed. They both struggle hard with their addictions... for them it's drugs and not booze, but the disease is fundamentally the same. The most recent of them relapsed on his 90th day of sobriety. It's hard for me not to think about that in terms of the dumb luck that's kept me sober for 90 days. Dumb luck or faith, depending on what day it is, how I feel, and how I feel about myself. Today it feels like dumb luck. Tomorrow, with any luck, I'll still be sober and feel differently about it.

Part of being sober means I feel things differently... which is to say more. One of the reasons I drink is that I get really worn out on feeling things. Working in homeless outreach and seeing what people go through, or what they put themselves through, or what they have no control over, hurts my heart. It makes me angry when politicians and some so-called religious folk dismiss, ignore, and erase the suffering of people. School shootings make me scared for my friends who are teachers, for kids, and for their parents. That people place the need to own a death machine over the lives of children enrages me. That Kentucky's governor can only dismiss violence by blaming video games, only to commit economic violence upon teachers and students in the name of a balanced budget deepens my mistrust of governments, of institutions, and of people in positions of power. 

There's so much to write about, but I'm not convinced that being one more blogger in the blogosphere makes a damn bit of difference. I'm not sure this is a time for bloggers. But I know it is a time for poets and artists. That's one arena where the fight is and that's where I'm going to be... and yes, some of it will get posted here. It's not like I'm going anywhere. I'm just shifting my process and step work to something more productive.

I've written before that everyday is a title fight. And it is. I've written before about fighting my demons, and I'm sure I'll write more. But no one talks about the fact that we end up fighting our angels, too. And contrary to popular belief, angels and demons aren't always on opposing sides. Sometimes they tag team. And sometimes faith wins. Other times it's dumb luck. Because we're just people, and flawed, though, it's sometimes damn hard to tell the difference.


But the fight goes on, anyway.

024.Jacob Wrestles with the Angel.jpg
By Gustav Dore'





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07 November, 2017

Just yesterday morning, Part 3

All things are made bitter, words even / are made to taste like paper, wars gets tossed up / like soldiers used to be/ (in a child's attic) lined up / to be knocked down, as I am... ~ Charles Olson
The life of reality is confused, disorderly, almost always without apparent purpose, whereas in the artist's imaginative life there is purpose. ~ Sherwood Anderson 
Daylight Savings Time, Marriage, Art
Give it about 30 years and no one will even talk about Daylight Savings Time anymore.

Seriously. As annoying as it is, as pointless as it is, and as completely illogical as it is, it will cease to be the topic any real discussion.  
This won't happen because the powers-that-be will suddenly come to their senses and realize that moving the hour hand backwards or forwards doesn't actually extend or shorten the day. As a matter of fact, if anyone talks about hour hands, it will be in the sense of a quaint curiosity. Like jewelry made out of the hair of a dead loved one or the concept of privacy. All things fall into the dust of quaint curiosity shops of the mind -- including curiosity shops -- so seriously, don't put too much stock in the illusion that you're getting an extra hour sleep when we  FALL BACK IN THE FALL.

Don't worry about it. The Internet of Things will do it for us. We won't have to think about Daylight Savings Time because the ability to think about anything -- like the ability to read a clock or have a private thought that can't be described by a meme -- will have disappeared and we will have the IOT (Internet of Things, or, as we'll maybe call it NetStuf) heft the apparent burden of consciousness for us.

But if this Internet of Things... I mean, NetStuf... is so damn dandy, why can't it fix the hole in my ceiling? It can, apparently, predict what kind of advertising I'll respond to based on (really, very) random keyword searches. It can tell me who I was in a past life. It can tell me how I'm probably going to die and -- based just on my Facebook profile picture -- tell me where my ancestors came from. This Internet of Things assures that I'm instantly and permanently connected to countless facts, factoids, fake news, friend updates, new business connections, and scores for everything from the little league game (in languid immobile Summer, anyway) to World Cup Soccer.

But it can't crawl up into the very small and sort of claustrophobic space under the ceiling awning off the attic and repair a hole. It can't climb up on the roof and make any necessary repairs. It's 2017 and there are robots that can vacuum your house while you're gone... not that we can afford one or could even make use of one with three dogs and two cats to either hunt it, stalk it, or asphyxiate it with the endless trails of shed fur.

Ok, I know. I signed up for this life on the margin, right? Making Art out your life isn't easy, nor, I suppose, should it be. Though I'm still unsure of why. And I feel like I've been asking that question a really, really long time.




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17 October, 2017

Perpetual pilgrim, Part 2: exile amor fati

 I am an exile's book. He sent me. ~Ovid

Exile is more than a geographical concept. You can be an exile in your homeland, in your own house, in a room. ~ Mahmoud Darwish 


home and exile
Although I haven't lived in my hometown for better than several years and I rarely go back, I do follow some of the comings and goings there. There's an insatiable fascination about the place for me, in spite of the fact that there's nothing there for me but cemetery stones and geographically bound nostalgia. Think of it as something akin to voyeurism.

Recently on the Facebook page for my hometown's historical society I noticed an event. Five local authors were going to converge on the historical society... the old Grant Building where the library was housed when I was a kid ... to talk about how they became writers.

Each of them, I suppose, had written and published books. I only knew one of the names because other than random and terrible violence and the odd billboard paid for by a local church  proclaiming that Satan had taken over the school board, the only thing my hometown ever made the news for was the fame of the The World Walker. No one remembered him leaving on his trip, but everyone was there for the return, including a parade, a key to the village, and an invitation to speak to high school students about his experience.

Now, although I've made my home a few hours south and on the other side of the dirty, sacred river, the fact is that as much as I have no place or purpose in the place I'm from, I'm a transplant everywhere else. I guess it's fair to say that I haven't made The Big Time. There are no parades or keys to the town with ubiquitous invites to talk to ungrateful high school kids about my accomplishments.

Probably one of the most challenging parts of being a writer isn't actually the writing. That's always been the easier part. I don't believe in writer's block and I reject the idea that creative energy fizzles. It changes channel and sometimes doesn't march with popular tastes and trends, but generally the writers who chase trends end up burning themselves out -- not because their creativity fizzles but because they cut themselves off from it a long time ago and decided to sustain themselves on praise and marketability.

The biggest challenge for me has always been the subject of tradition... literary or otherwise. Although I don't remember much from when my thesis defense*, I do remember Dr. Glenn Colburn asking me where I would place myself in the canon of American Literary Tradition. I don't even remember exactly what I said because I was a bit taken aback by the question. I managed to write a collection of integrated (hopefully) poems and short stories. It was probably incredibly abstract and most likely total failure. My graduate advisor asked me once if I thought it would end up being publishable. My answer was that it probably was not at all publishable, because there was no way to categorize it in any way that literary agents and the publishing world would or could understand, or in such a way that agents and publishers could excise their percentages from sales.

I'm still pretty good with that. And I'm still pretty good with probably being a little too left of center for poets and a little to right of center for fiction writers. But it does sometimes nag at me that I grew up in  place that so assiduously tried to erase its history that I've been running all over the place for 30 years or more trying to find one, only to keep running into one inescapable fact: there is no such thing as adopting a literary root. Either you're born with one, or you cobble your own from the flotsam and jetsam of experience. It's that or it's creative death.

I guess it's OK that they didn't invite me, being as I'm not as news worthy as a guy who tried to rob a bank with a pocket knife (in my graduating class.) I suppose it's OK that I still can't answer the question of where I am in the scope of American letters because I'm not a Louisville writer or a Kentucky writer or, really, an Ohio writer... or even a Bethel, Ohio writer.

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