Showing posts with label spirituality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spirituality. Show all posts

13 December, 2019

From Field Notes -- Lauds: Procession to the Long Night Moon

Wednesday, from The Abbey of Gethsemani, Trappist, KY:  Instead of observing Lauds and Mass this morning I came down to the cafeteria to sit with my coffee facing the windows that look out onto the patio that leads to the garden. On my way downstairs (where I was planning on staring out the window, anyway), the moon caught my attention through a window near the top of the stairs; the moon shined bright and hung low over the abbey. I decided to catch more of it because it was a crisp, clear, and cold moon. A December moon. And  with sunrise not until almost 8 AM, she would hold sway in the pre-solstice darkness.

My thoughts wandered, as they often do, wandering into wondering about ... well... my wonderings. My ruminations. And I found myself pondering the plusses and minuses of the contemplative life that Merton wrote about so eloquently. I can't be, nor do I have the desire to be, a Religious. But what about the notion of being a "secular contemplative"?

I had just read an article online about this, but the solution laid out there was to teach... an option I don't really have and, if I'm going to choose poverty in order to be able reflect and write,  I'll choose straight poverty and not sign up to be exploited.

Then there's the whole being in one place thing, which seems to be common among contemplators of various ilks and ordinations. But I think I try too hard to place contemplation and restlessness in opposition, even though I know in practice this isn't so. This tendency is World-bound thinking. Machine Thinking. My Ego, my enemy, still tries to set me in opposition to myself.  Merton maintained that "contemplation is dangerous" if only because the world at large tends not to understand the need for it.

Merton's thoughts on contemplation remind me of Heidegger's fears about calculated (machine) thinking -- a product of the industrial revolution -- causing humanity to reject what makes it human: the ability to reflect. Reflection and contemplation is a large part of what gives meaning to people's lives. How we think about life is what gives life  meaning; and without contemplation, without reflection, people deny themselves context for their own experience and have no choice to rely on some other, inorganic framework.

As usual no answers presented themselves. And probably, that was the answer anyway.
Of course, my nature has always been bent towards the contemplative, just as much as it's always been restless. This is what it means to be a dreamer. And I have most definitely always been that. Unapologetically.

I sat and watched the moon slip from the cradle of two giant arms from the oak tree out and to the other side. Even with the moon hidden briefly behind the tree, it's halo glowed like something out of a Renaissance painting.  Mars was stil visible... at least I think it was Mars... but as I left my monocular back in my room and couldn't retrieve it without crossing the balcony during Mass, I can't even get a minimal look at it. But I know it's there, orbiting the sun with us,  unobstructed by light pollution as the moon peaked out on the other side of the exterior limb: rounded, glowing. Beatific.

Wide-eyed dreamers:
we end up either
restless moon chasers
or bitter failures.



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13 June, 2019

Baboon Lumbering

Compiled in the early 12th century, Konjaku monogatarish├▒, or the "Tales of Times Now Past" is an anthology consisting of more than one thousand tales form India, China, and Japan. This print illustrates a scene from the story of a turtle who tried to kill a monkey because he heard that monkeys' livers are effective medicine. The turtle invited a monkey to his place telling him that there would be lots of delicious food. Anticipating the feast, the monkey climbed on the turtle's back to cross the ocean. When they were far out to sea, the turtle revealed his true intentions. The clever monkey then confided that he had accidentally left his liver hanging on a tree branch on the shore. Tricked by the monkey's claim, the turtle returned to land, where the monkey quickly scurried to safety high in the tree. Despite their adversarial roles in the story, the turtle and monkey in this print look to be friendly, thus giving the image an overall bucolic ambience.

I offer this image from a 12th Century manuscript and short explanation from the archive notes just to add a bit of context. Hopefully it will make sense by the time I'm finished with this post.

During my morning meditations a while back, it struck me that I am a baboon riding a turtle. I'm still unwrapping what all this metaphor means, but if I'm being honest this particular revelation didn't come as a great surprise. A few years back I started a long series of poems, many of them unread except by me and most of them probably not all that good, in which I wrote myself as a baboon. The phrase BABOON LUMBERING, or at the very least the image of it, was a central theme of those poems. It best described how I felt in the world.

Although my formal education is relatively extensive, my self education really began while I was still traversing  high school. I'm sure I went to classes my senior year, but I don't remember much of that year ... the year my dad died. What I do remember is spending a  lot of time in the very small high school library, obsessed with these dusty old books on the reference wall that no one ever paid any attention to. There was a huge series... maybe two or three encyclopedia sets long... of THE GREAT BOOKS. The first volume covered the major writings of Aristotle. Of course I didn't start there. I started with Descartes and The Scientific Method. I don't know why I started there, except that in the early time of mourning Dad's death, I found the religion I'd grown up with to be little or no salve. So maybe, I figured, maybe science will offer something else.

It didn't. Not really. But it did start to give me framework with which to view the world. There are two major element to the Scientific Method that matter here and now: evidence and observation. Although I'd done ok in school (I was a lazy student) I don't know that I ever learned anything about oberserving. And it was through the process of reading Descartes, Bacon, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and as many other of The Great Books as I could read, that I began to understand the difference between just SEEING and actually OBSERVING.

That lesson has been instrumental, and has shaped me into the writer, the thinker, and the spritutal and metaphysical person I am. That lesson continues to shape my journey because at the core of it is the belief that I am not just here to SEE. I am here to OBSERVE and to write it all down as honestly as I can.

Monkeys and baboons in various mythologies are storytellers, messengers, and tricksters. And while my choice of BABOON LUMBERING had more to do with my general discomfort in the world at that time, I am starting to see that my brain keeps kicking this image back at me for a reason.


And so, here I am. Still lumbering, but more at ease. Experience and observation. Detachment (a kind of empiricism) also comes into play. But I'll save that for another time.


Thanks for reading! 



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22 February, 2019

Reading the Grounds


Mick Parsons, #wellwornboots
Embrace the break in weather where you can. True, there are months when the last time you saw the sun feels like a dream; but when the rain break and there is a clear path, take advantage of it the best you can. [from Field Notes]

Even though I'm not bound to foot travel -- there is the bus, of course, and most recently, Mule -- I still like to walk. True, I could start up Mule and drive to a park and walk around a pre-designated track. I see merit in it, certainly for other people, because it's difficult enough to get exercise in a society that depends on us sitting in front of a computer, or staring at our phones, buying things. True, if you look long enough, nearly every aspect of the constructed reality we experience every day depends on commerce of some kind: whether it's the cappuccino I bought at the coffee shop today or the smiles my wife and I exchanged this morning before she left for work. But when I am not in motion in the world, there are fewer opportunities to see the world as it truly is instead of the filtered commodity that trickles in through my phone or my computer. When I am not in motion in the world, I'm not even certain the world exists.

Living as I do along the Ohio River, a once major artery of commerce of all kinds from coal, to slaves, to settlers, in a city whose very existence depended on commerce and The Falls that created a natural choke point for people to have to slow down and walk their boats through (Once Upon a Time), the metaphor and myth of commerce are a foundation upon which many myths have been  built.

But it's easy to let that take over... which is to say, it's easy to let that constructed reality dictate our
Mick Parsons #rubbertramp
Mule
our entire lives. And if the materialists are correct -- both the Capitalists and the Communists -- and we are simply matter in motion, then really, this constructed reality is nothing more than an increasingly complex maze we spend our days and nights in until one day, we stop moving and the maze moves on without us.

Unless there's something more. And when I walk around my neighborhood, or anywhere, and take in the sounds, the feel of broken cement underfoot, the vibrations of the coolish February air here in the grand divot that is the Ohio River Valley, I end up thinking of commerce as something more than buying and selling, more than money for sweat and blood, more than blood and bone in the name of man's most majestic and dangerous machination -- Contemporary American Society. 

This is why, I think, I am bound to travel whether I think I want it or not. A warm wind kicks up, the currents shift, and nothing is set right until I feel this world moving under foot. Because it's only in motion that this constructed reality shakes loose and the world opens itself wide for eyes willing to see, for ears willing to listen, and for hands willing to embrace it on its own terms. 


As old mystics read tea leaves
I flip my empty cup
open the heart, examining
the dark grounds and find
one more map towards
the river mouth and the sea.

Mick Parsons, #wellwornboots
The past is gone, the future is full.



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02 February, 2016

Working out: faith, floundering, and the limitations of mixaphors

 If any man make a vow to the Lord, or bind himself by an oath: he shall not make his word void but shall fulfill all that he promised. -- Numbers 30:3 (DR)

I want to live the real life/ I want to live my life close to the bone. - John Mellencamp, "The Real Life"

 When I was 14 I gave my life to God. It's important, for what comes next, to understand what I mean by that. I don't mean that I was baptized. Actually, I was dunked, by choice, at the age of 9. Church leadership was so skeptical of my sincerity and earnestness that I was required to participate in a series of tutorials with our minister, Dan Pence.

This experience isn't unusual; many protestant denominations require some kind of confirmation classes prior to being baptized. Though this process was never really explained to me, I've come to see it as one of those few, formalized echoes of a rite of passage -- something else I was never really told about and had to learn about through the books I read as a kid, through literature, and through my own study as a teenager and adult.*

The decision to go and be baptized, to make the confession of faith, was something I did with as much honesty and sincerity as I could -- though I later came to the conclusion that it was as much about finding a level of acceptance in some community or another rather than religious inspiration.**

When I was 14 I attended a Christ in Youth Conference in Tennessee with other kids in my church youth group. The experience was designed to be intense, focused, and, I think, intended to manipulate those attending to embrace a conservative style Christianity that has borne dangerous and distinctly unChristlike fruit.

The night I walked forward and committed my life to God, the sermon focused on Ephesians 6. They focused mostly on verse 13:

Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. (KJV)

Even then, I wasn't entirely sure that my reading and understanding of this man Jesus had any similarity to the medieval reflection I was being presented. Jesus the man I found in my own readings hung out with the botched and the despised*** -- with lepers, prostitutes, and tax collectors -- with the same sort equanimity as he had with religious leaders and the powerful. The only sin he raised his hand to was greed, when he forced the money changers^ out of the Temple.

For me, the part of Ephesians 6 that stood out to me was not all the sword and armor metaphors -- but the previous verse:

For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places (DR)

This made sense to me, and it seemed more like this man Jesus I was trying to emulate and learn about. He did not covet power. He did not want power. He questioned power. Central to his teachings was a code of behavior that included not only being kind to one another, but questioning those who claim to have a better idea of what's right and wrong than you do.

When I felt compelled to walk forward and commit my life to God, I was not entirely sure what it meant. But again, it was honest. And while I have rejected the formal religion of my childhood, I am finding myself more and more comfortable with calling myself a christian -- i.e., a follower of Christ. I'm increasingly less interested in worrying about the state of my soul than I am the state of the life I'm living and whether I'm doing anything of use to others, although I have had my own journeys and made my own mistakes and done more out of selfishness than any of the few little bits of hopefully good work I try to do.

That's not to say I'm embracing all the notions that often get attached to the label "christian." I disagree -- sometimes vehemently and with a lot of passion, cussing, and carousing -- with nearly all of the positions taken by mainstream conservative churches.  What resonates for me on this journey is this:  I am far more interested in the actions of the man Jesus than I am in praying for the salvation of my soul. My soul probably has too much demon in it^^ to bother, and anyway, I'm not interested in embracing a life of faith out of the same fear-based need for acceptance that, in part, drove me to baptism before I was ready for it.

 I am far more interested in trying to do good and have a positive impact on my world. I'm still trying to figure out how to do that. But I suspect that's the point.



__________________________________________
* Other than every Marvel/DC hero movie/TV show I watched as a kid, I was first really keyed into the notion of the hero's journey and other rites of passage by Stephen King's The Dark Tower books. After that I started seeing it everywhere and even recognized it in the imaginative play I engaged in when I was younger. Then I And then I found Joseph Campbell and was introduced to epic poetry like Gilgamesh and The Odyssey. And other than in narrative theory books, and in the occasional fiction workshop, it was not much discussed during my formal education.
**This proved to be a problem later when I found my own faith lacking in the absence of how I had come to think -- in very reflective ways -- about the nature of grace. It eventually led to my separating myself from formal religion entirely.
***The church I grew up in worried less about this man Jesus's humanity than whether the Methodists or Baptists were going stealing away future congregants. Yes, Blair Pride. I remember ye.
^Think credit cards -- where you borrow money and then pay it back at a high rate of return to the lender. Sometimes called usuary.  
^^One of the things I've learned is that I have to embrace that, too. If we really are made in the image of God, I suspect the likeness is more about the soul than God looking like Gandalf, the White Wizard. And if that's true, then God wrestles demons, too.

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29 January, 2013

Losantiville Lines: The Keys To The Kingdom

As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly. - Arthur Carlson, WKRP IN CINCINNATI

Probably the most succinct explanation I've ever heard or read of what's wrong with this place. Me, in relation to the quote above.


Being caught here as I was, over the weekend -- between illness, the weather, and the spinelessness of the Tennessee Division of Greyhound Buslines, I was left to cough up a lung and ponder the universe in the shadow of Porkopolis. This gave me a chance to try and get through a smallish pile of student writing that must be returned tomorrow when I exchange it for a fresh pile -- the unending cycle that is the educational machine.

Thank Crikey I'm not interested in being hired full time. This sentiment is not a reflection of how I feel about the students in my classes, as much as a recognition that other than a few new bells and whistles, the institution of higher education is no different than it was when I left (translate: ran screaming) from ASU in December 2009.

Perfect example: I received a circulating email in response to concerns raised by part-time Lit and Language faculty to the current chair in meetings scheduled for the purpose of airing such concerns and offering suggestions to improve the plight/make more comfortable those who do most of the work for little pay and no real recognition... since other than teaching classes that tenured faculty refuse to teach, part-timers do nothing to make the institution look good.

We are not a marketable bunch. Though a few of us are, I dare say, reasonably attractive.


I should note that I did not attend either Open Door session, which were scheduled on a Tuesday and Thursday... days I am not on campus. (They are, coincidentally, days that most part-timers are not on campus either. Draw your own conclusions, Dear Readers.)

The primary issue raised, according the email, was office space. Part-timers share the same corral on the 5th floor we shared when I taught at NKU in '04-'05. And apparently, those who went to the open door talks mentioned space as a priority.

It was not mentioned in the email, but I do wonder if anyone brought up access to health insurance. NKU DOES allow part-timers access to the institution's health insurance plan -- after 3 years of consecutive employment. Which means, if you're actually interested in having a full-time job, that you're pretty enough to screw but not to take to a family reunion. (Keep in mind that it is damn difficult to stay consecutively employed as a part-time instructor. That means you have at least a class every term... including summer, when enrollments are low, and spring, when a large number of First Year students run screaming from college campuses.)

Of course, the Chair has no say over what the Bean Counters in the administration bunker do. And a potential for access is better than no access at all, right? Carrot by any other name....

The solution to the aforementioned space issue? Give every part-timer his or her own key. This way, I suppose, it will feel like we really have an office and are taken seriously as professionals. Which, of course, is utter bullshit.

I should mention again, however, that I am less interested in being afforded the label of "professional" than I am in being treated like a human being and not a cog.

I got a set of keys instead.


I should also mention that every part-timer was going to be issued a set of keys anyway.

The solution, as I see it, is to have armed guards on campus.

Because lately that's the solution to all educational problems, and a blog is no place to think outside the box.

On a tangentially related note, Mount Carroll crank and all around lousy person Nina Cooper is running for City Clerk. She has built a very patriotic looking website to assert her candidacy, which ten people in town will see. (Five of them might actually vote for her; but she is one of them, and the other two are her co-hort cranks, Alderpersons Bob "The Amoral Pontificator" Sisler and Doris "I'm Not Dead I'm Just Plotting" Bork. The other two I'm giving her for kindness and statistical accuracy.)













12 December, 2012

Habitat For Humanity, Part 2




The church sanctuary reminded me of my old middle school gymnasium: high ceiling, stage, backboards at the long ends of the space, hardwood floor. Rows of chairs instead of pews. Also on the walls -- banners depicting preferred values like Compassion, Faith, Devotion rather than celebrating past years of sports championships. In fact, the word "sanctuary" was never used to describe the space. My Dear Sweet Ma called it a "multi-purpose room."

[This is the younger face of the old Protestant church, of course... the non-Catholic version of Buddy Christ (for those of you who are Dogma fans.) The move towards the attempt to be tragically hip started in the early 1990's when it suddenly occurred to churchy folk that their grandkids weren't connecting with that Old Time Religion and were, instead, plugging into video games and other technological demons... probably because of those Satanic role playing games their older cousins played in the 1980's, or the back-masked subliminal messages on heavy metal records in the 1970's.]



And while I don't buy into the new packaging, or into the central premise of Christianity, I have come to understand that while I reject the metaphor that religion... with it's many political foibles, flaws, and unnecessary tragedies... is humanity's attempt to explain things we don't yet understand, and to describe subjective experiences that cannot be empirically studied and smacks of something more than coincidence.

I also believe that the good work of the world can happen where ever the intention to do good exists along with the will to take action.

So I can tolerate a little religiosity. Right?

I showed up the second day because the first day had gone fairly well. Eight or ten of us cut, piled, and organized the lumber to build to house frames.

[Ok. I hauled lumber and let other, more experienced people handle the power tools. But still... I did sweat some. Really.



The morning of the build I showed up not knowing what to expect. The church had advertised the Habitat project for anyone in the area to come help, so I figured there would be anywhere from eight or ten people to maybe 100 or so. There ended up being around 160 people... an increase from the previous year. After I signed up and filled out a brief and scantily worded medical release, I wandered into the sanctuary, -- I mean the multi-purpose room -- where I was to wait for further instructions.

As people gathered I thought about the last time I sat in a church. More specifically, I thought about going to church when I was a kid, and how seriously I took the whole endeavor. There had been a time when the move towards tragic coolness would have appealed to me. That, in part, is the reason I'm skeptical of such marketing attempts. But I am willing to accept that while I am not especially religious, that there are people who are that have good intentions and want to do good things. Every mindset has it's kooks, crazies, and wingnuts. And there's very little to confuse about helping to build a house for people who don't have one.

Right?

At some point the minister, Bart, took to the stage. In his opening remarks, he told us that while the purpose of our being there was to build two house frames, that our focus should be to bring glory to God.


I tend to ignore the rhetoric, but it I have to confess that similar statements have vexed me for some time. Christians glorify their god because that, along with baptism, is how you prove your faith. And while there's quite the division over whether faith requires works ... and for some sects, whether the humanity of Jesus is even important... it always struck me that whatever the metaphysical nature of the thing referred to as God, Allah, Zeus, Shiva as well as a thousand other names from as many cultural constructs) happens to be, I find it hard to believe that it/he/she/they NEED us to adulate all over it/him/her/them.



Then again,I have to remember that the only intentions I can control are my own. And even that is a struggle at times.

What I liked about the experience was that at the end of the day, the frames for two houses were built. Whether this winter proves to be a cold one, a wet one, or a warm and mild one, the fact remains that two families have homes to protect them from it. And while I may not have wielded any power tools....and while I may be the most ineffectual mock carpenter around... I felt like I was doing a little of the good work of the world.

And so I'll close the blog with a question that sums up not only my views on Christianity, but organized religion in general:

Do you think that Jesus, ever once, would have rather someone ask him the proper way to build a door jam?

Location:Willow Creek, KY United States

30 October, 2012

O Losantiville, Don't You Cry For Me: Asynchronous/ 2 Poems From the Road

I am open to the guidance of synchronicity and do not let expectations hinder my path. - The Dalai Lama

I woke up this morning to snow -- a light dusting on rooftops and car windshields that's lingering even though the snow turned into a cold rain. I woke up mindful of loved ones up and down the east coast, and mindful of the people I don't know who, even when the weather is fine, have trouble finding shelter. I'm mindful of people like Roger, who I met in the Chicago Greyhound Station and who I will write about in an upcoming post.

While my time in Cincinnati hasn't been bad, and it's taking me longer to scratch up money for the travel fund than I would like, I have been busy trying to find the good work of the world to do while I am here. I'm making some progress in that regard, and I'll write about that as it presents itself.

 Central to the ideas laid out from the onset of this blog, nearly 10 months ago, is the belief that philosophy without application is a mental puzzle, a brain teaser, and nothing more.  It's easy to say among similarly thinking friends that you need to put up or shut up. But it becomes a different discussion when you start preaching to someone besides the choir.

What this means for me is that I have to dig in, while I'm here, and find a way to positively impact the world around me, even if that means contradicting some expectation or another. Yes, I'm looking for teaching work -- and writing gigs. Teaching is part of the good work of the world, but there are other things. I'm still looking for other things to do. And from what I can see, I don't have far to look.

Not by a long shot.

Whitman By Moonlight, The Crossing St. Frank, Plus 2

On Monday, November 5th, I will be adding a new chapbook, Whitman By Moonlight. This one will be for sale or for trade or in exchange for donations to the travel fund. I still have copies of The Crossing of St. Frank.

If you're more of an ebook reader, you can now purchase St. Frank on amazon.com for Kindle:





2 Poems From The Road (Not in the chapbook!)


Shadow of Our Fathers

Downhill side street
leading to the cemetery on Boot Hill.
This place is watched over by it's dead
and the dead do not care care
that the living are waiting to roll them over
and move in.

Do not let the city fathers know, and
do not tell the church matrons either.
The sewing circles and kaffeeklatsches already
have a notion; and they are dangerous enough.
They whisper among themselves with eyes cast towards the ground.

Old men rooted on coffee shop stools know, too.
They grumble back and forth between news reports
that blame the President for the drought
and gastric rumblings they dare not blame on the cook.
There is talk of jack-booted thugs trying to nationalize the granaries,
but only from the agribusiness barons.
The dead do not care – so we necromance ours upon them.
Just one more layer of make-up on the corpse
so we can tell one another “He looks asleep.”

It is true then: the dead do not watch us
though we try and see through their dried eye husks
and tell ourselves the vision is crystal clear
as the fog wraps around Boot Hill
temporarily saving the dead from our intentions.

Three Days in Litchfield

Feet bleeding through my socks
the smell of fir and field grass
and new morning dew
pressed into my skin
with lavender scented Epsom salts.
Bone sore, from the top of my neck
to the tips of my toes,
bobbling like and old man
locked in a cheap motel –
waiting for some signal from the weather
hoping money doesn't run dry
like this past summer's rain.
The television for a companion
Gideon's book for recrimination
and Whitman for salvation.
The plumbing is good.
The bed is bug free.
There is rain coming
and the Carlinville train
is 10 miles away.







19 January, 2012

The Third Thing

"It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards." -Lewis Carroll


Today's my last full day in Mount Carroll for a while. I packed what few clothes I'm bringing with me, a long with a couple of books. It would be nice to have a slightly larger bag, but my other option is a large Army duffle that I don't want to have to haul around or deal with. At some point, maybe a slightly larger bag. For now, it helps me decide, quite easily, what I'm taking and what I'm leaving here. I want to be able to keep things simple, keep it as light as possible, for when I'm walking; I'd also like to avoid having to ever check the bag when I'm riding a bus or train.

Other than the possibility of eating a bowl of the Soup Du Jour at Brick Street Coffee, I'm also pondering the number three.

In various mythologies, spiritual practices, and religious beliefs, the number three is sometimes imbued with mystical qualities. For that matter, mathematician Pythagoras considered it the perfect number, representing balance, harmony, and wisdom (because it encompasses the first two numbers perfectly.) The Holy Trinity in Christianity; clusters of three in Celtic religious art; the Triple Goddess; the Three Jewels of Buddhism; the Hindu Trimurti.

I'm leaving a bunch out. One particular treatment of the number three -- the one that weighs on my mind -- was mentioned briefly in a book called The Happiest Man in the World by Alec Wilkinson. It's a brief mostly biographical sketch of the life and times of Poppa Neutrino, who among other things, tried to build boats from garbage and sail them.

One of Poppa Neutrino's boats


Poppa Neutrino

He was a well read, mostly self-educated man. At one point, he tried to start his own religion, The First Church of Fulfillment, and even had a store front church. One of the tenets of this religion comes back to ... you guessed it ... the number three. Essentially, Poppa Neutrino claimed that every person needs three things to be happy, but that it's a different three things for each person. He asserted that most people only really know two of the things they want, being stuck in a never ending dichotomy and lacking balance.

I'm no disciple, but it does seem to me that there's something to the simplicity of the idea. We're a culture that pads itself from unpleasantness with possessions. We love our stuff. And even when we say we don't care about our stuff, we don't do much about changing the fact that we still AMASS ridiculous quantities of stuff.

Anyone who knows me well knows I don't care much about stuff. I like my books, some clothes, a place to write. I have certain... we'll call them eccentricities ... when it comes to writing. But I don't feel like I'm tied down to my stuff, either.

And while I haven't quite figured out my three things... I think I have a handle on two of them... I am using the number three to dictate what I'm bringing with me to start.  Three pouches of extra pipe tobacco; three t-shirts (plus the one on my back); three warm sweaters (plus the one on my back); three pairs of socks and underwear (plus what I'll be wearing); an extra pair of jeans, an extra long sleeve shirt, and toiletries. Also at least three hats... two warm and one to keep the sun out of my eyes. I'm also taking my netbook and audio recorder, my copy of Ernesto Cardenal's Cosmic Canticles, Ed MacClanahan's I Just Hitched in From the Cost,  my copy of George Eklund's new chapbook, Wanting to Be An Element. I also have a pocket version of Whitman's "Song of Myself." And of course, some pens, my journal, and a fresh one to fall back on.

Not bad for a small bag, eh?

Well, a slightly bigger one would be nice. But I don't want one that's too nice, either. And I don't want to spend my limited travel funds on something as trivial as luggage.

But more than helping decide what to being with me, thinking about the number three helps to remind me that all journeys -- the ones worth beginning, at any rate -- are as much about the spiritual journey as they are the geographic one, or even the poetic one.

And that really, they're all more or less the same. And that to ignore any of them -- the spiritual, the poetic, or the geographic -- means a loss of balance, an absence of harmony, and an absence of wisdom.


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03 September, 2011

21 Anno Domini



Ken Parsons, 1955.
The picture I chose of my dad was taken in 1955... 18 years before I was born. Although I have pictures of him from my childhood – the way I remember him – but I like this picture of him more than any of those. This is him in his youth, in his prime. There's a cockiness in his stance that grew into something larger, into a mental and spiritual indefatigably, which lingered, even when his health and his body began to fail him. The stamp on the back of the picture indicates that the picture was taken – or, at any rate, developed – in November of that year in San Antonio, Texas. The only thing I know about my dad being in Texas was that after being in that state with two other friends – he in the Air Force, and one friend each in the Navy and the Army – my dad received a letter from the governor asking him to please never return to the state or risk being incarcerated.

At least, that's the way I remember him telling the story. And while I'm sure that there was probably some exaggeration involved – the men in my family are prone to exaggeration – I have found there's an element of truth in all forms of exaggeration.

Today is the 21st anniversary of his death. Some years it's easier for me to handle than others. This year seems a bit more difficult than I've experienced in a while. Maybe it's because lately I've been acutely aware of his absence. There are times when I still want to ask his advice, still want him to make everything better. I'd ask him what he thinks about my life. Silly, really. I think maybe the reason I care so little about the opinions of other people is because his opinion was always the one that mattered – and in its absence, there is no one who's opinion can act as a substitute.

That he is gone doesn't mean I don't still learn from him. That I can't remember the sound of his voice doesn't mean he still doesn't speak to me. It is the blessing and the curse of children to carry their parents with them, in their bones and in their hearts. The imprint is a permanent one. I continue to learn from him because the core of what I learned continues to apply to my everyday life. He teaches me that being honest counts for more; that convictions are worth standing up for; that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity until they've proven otherwise. He also teaches me that I am not less deserving of respect than others so long as I remember these three things.

I miss you, Dad. Give'em Hell.

19 August, 2011

Mick's Rules For Living: Another Revision


I've been working on this list, trying to whittle it down to something simple. The first list was ambitious, and not unlike the inner workings of my brain, a bit abstract. Not that there's anything wrong with abstract thinking. But, abstract ideas only work when they are tied to something concrete... that is, theories that can only remain theories are pointless. 


So, here we are. The updated list.

1. Do No Harm. Ever. I don't know how to simplify this. Violence begats violence and never creates anything lasting or positive. And the use of violence -- either actual or implied -- to force your ideas on other people helps to create stupid people.

2. Wear Clean Socks. I can't recommend this highly enough. If you must wear socks, either because you have a job that requires it or because it's cold, make sure they're clean. You can be a week beyond the need for a good bath, your clothes can be rags, and you could look like an extra from a zombie movie. But if you're wearing clean socks, you just feel like better. Trust me.

3. Read something non-essential everyday. People who read are less likely to develop Alzheimer's later. They're also less likely to be stupid.

4. Don't live any further from a bar than a 20-30 minute walk or 40 minute bus ride, unless you know you have a ride. Seriously. And if all else fails, drink at home. It's cheaper, anyway.


5. Never offend a bartender, secretary, or janitor. They run the world. Deal with it.


6. Be kind to all critters smaller than yourself. 


7. Only apologize when it's sincere, and never subjugate your will to the whims of others. Another consolidation of two previous rules. The only thing a person has in this life that's worth a damn is integrity. Let the bastards take that and nothing else matters.

8. Be honest. Even if it hurts. It often does.

9. You know you had a good day when you can sleep that night. Really. Any other qualification is false advertising.

10. The only thing you have to do in life is die. Everything else is an option. 

29 October, 2009

Pendleton Underground: Parts 3 and 4 of 7

3.

After I got off the phone with Red, though, I was in no mood to growl at the kids for hitting my door. I was in no mood to growl at anybody. Except maybe Brenda.



She didn’t like me because I stood her up once. Not long after my ex and I split, Brenda invited me to her house for dinner. I ended up getting drunk and forgetting about it. She never forgave me. Actually, I’d forgotten all about it until she started dating Pendleton. Naturally, she brought it up. “It’s no big deal,” she said smiling through her triple chins. Brenda was not a petite woman; then again, Pendleton liked his women on the big side. She was a pious and broken woman who was easy to impress. She didn’t think she was smart, and all of Pendleton’s books impressed her. She worshipped him – which he loved – because he ex-wife, my ex-mother-in-law, was a bitter shrew who never showed him any respect at all.



We were all friends for a while – Pendleton and Brenda and Linda and me. We went to their house for dinner all the time, and we played cards after until well after midnight. Pendleton usually cooked because the only food Brenda knew how to cook were TV dinners and frozen pizzas. Eating with them made me glad I’d forgotten that dinner date with Brenda; Pendleton was a decent cook and liked things spicy, the same as me.



We stayed friends until they got married. The small ceremony happened in Pendleton’s living room with a few friends attending and a homemade wedding cake that always seems to lean a little to the left. After she married him, Brenda took ownership of everything –including Pendleton. She didn’t mind if Red came around because he could help her husband work on the cars or fix the lawn mower; he was useful. I was all thumbs and useless and I drank too much; plus she thought I was mean to Linda sometimes. She also didn’t understand why I couldn’t seem to hold down a job, even though she’d never been able to keep one more than two months in the entire time I knew her.



“Fuck her,” I spat at the empty apartment. “Fuck her and her fat condescending head and her TV fucking dinners and fake piety and her hollow fucking prayers.”



After Pendleton married Brenda he rediscovered religion. He’d always had his own point of view on the subject; he once told me that God spoke to him and explained the purpose of evil in the world. But when I asked him to tell me, he only smiled and shook his head. “You need to find that answer for yourself.”



Give m a fucking break, I thought. Pendleton thought of himself as a spiritual man, but he didn’t go to church very much. “There’s nothing there I can’t get sitting on my back porch,” he said. Mostly I think he didn’t like the idea of having to dress up. Cleaned up with his shirt tucked in, Pendleton looked more like an irate bus driver than the misunderstood mountain man he wanted to be. But Brenda had insisted they go at least once a month; it was her family’s church and she wanted to prove to them all that she could land a husband who wasn’t either a stumbling alcoholic or her fourth cousin.



The scotch bottle was empty, but I wasn’t done drinking. I considered my options. I probably could’ve closed my eyes right then and gone to sleep; that would’ve been the smart option. But I didn’t want to sleep. I didn’t want to stop thinking. I didn’t want to stop remembering. I didn’t want to stop the waves of anger pulsing in my arms and legs and chest. Normally Linda could talk some sense into me; but she was working an extra shift and wouldn’t be home until late. I was supposed to get up the next morning and teach. If I kept on, I wouldn’t feel like getting out of bed. All I’d feel was hungover and angry and all it would take was one stupid question and I’d bite some empty-headed student’s face off.



I put on my shoes and left. The sounds of the children playing echoed in my ears, nearly split my ear drums. So be it, I thought. If I’m deaf I won’t have hear anything anymore. No more children playing. No more silly questions. No more phone calls from Red. Nothing. Nada. Nunca. Silence.



The bar looked unusually crowded, so I didn’t go inside. I didn’t feel like being around people and having to play at being friendly. I kept walking. The scotch made my blood warm; I felt every drop of it coursing through my veins, pumping my heart, propelling me forward. Forward was all that mattered. I got as far as the corner drug store. I didn’t have enough cash for another bottle of scotch, so I settled for a reasonably cheap jug of table wine. The girl working the register eyed me carefully, but didn’t refuse my money. I walked out the automatic doors and cracked the seal. It was a serviceable burgundy; not usually to my liking, but it was the only red wine on the shelf.



If she had been there, Linda would have told me I was begging to be arrested. It was sweet that she still worried about – god knows why, since I rarely worry about myself; but she could never seem to grasp the basic laws of equilibrium. I wouldn’t get picked up because 1.) it was mid-week; 2.) I didn’t look homeless or like an illegal, and 3.) I wasn’t blocking traffic or impeding the forward progress of civilization. The only time anybody cared about a wandering drunk was when he became an affront to some respectable person’s sense of safety and balance. If we still lived in a small town, things would’ve worked out in a different pattern. Small town cops have nothing better to do than to set up speed traps and harass harmless drunks stumbling home from the bar; they have to do something in order to justify their existence. In a small town, one wandering drunk embodies the shaky line between order and chaos. In a city, especially one as self-involved as Phoenix with its image of being the new west coast, a wandering drunk in a decent pair of shoes isn’t the harbinger of anarchy; he’s a symbol of the economic recovery.



I kept the receipt, though. Just in case.



4.



P
endleton was annoyed by my ability to use reason to justify what he saw as unreasonable and unjustifiable behavior. He probably cut me some slack because my drinking didn’t pick up until after his daughter (Actually, she was his step-daughter.) and I split up. Also, I think he felt a little responsible, since he was the one who bought me my first beer.



I was eighteen and my ex and I had just started dating. She was seventeen and occupied nearly all of my attention, and he was worried that we were getting too serious too fast. To try and pull me away, he started taking me with him on his junk jaunts. Almost every Saturday he’d get up early and hit every yard sale, estate sale, and junk shop he knew. And he knew them all. And they knew him. He never looked for any thing in particular. Mostly, when people collect things, they focus on something specific. Baseball cards. Comic books. Tiffany lamp shades. Native American Figurines. Rare books. But not Pendleton; he collected everything and anything. It was like unearthing rare treasure to him. He kept piles of figurines, broken machines, buttons, pins, books, records, and furniture. He had two old Victrolas that, had he put the working parts together, he would’ve had one working record player; he didn’t, though. “It’ll ruin the value,” he said.



The junk dealers laid in wait for him with boxes of knick knacks and odds and ends. Once he came home with the carcass of an iron belly wood stove that was rusted beyond recognition and use. All it needed, he claimed was some repair and it could be useful again. He had to leave it on the front porch, though, because there was no room in small trailer for it.



I tried to understand his fascination, but I never really got into it. I kind of thought he went on his jaunts to get out of the house and away from the harpy voice of his wife and her continual attempts to force him into her idea of respectable self-improvement. My ex told me, with critical tone, that he’d been “that way” since the accident. It happened at work. One of the other mechanics was moving a truck full of engine blocks and rolled over Pendleton’s feet and ankles; the guy was clearly high, apparently. But he was the owner’s son, and when the doctors told Pendleton he’d never be able work on his feet again – they didn’t even think he’d be able to walk again (mostly because the insurance wouldn’t pay for the necessary operations) – the garage made it out that he’d been working on car in the path of the truck, making the accident his fault. That meant that not only did he lose his job, but he didn’t get any worker’s comp, either. I can’t say I blamed him for being a little bitter.



On one of the jaunts he took me on, we stopped and looked at an old Chevelle. It had been beaten up and abused and left out at the mercy of the elements. The body was covered in rust. The wheel wells in the front and the back were deteriorating. The tires were rotting. The engine was locked up. The seats were torn – done by cats, the owner said. He wanted $500 for the wreck. He would’ve asked for more, he told Pendleton, but his old lady was tired of looking at it and was making him get rid of it. Pendleton stared at the car for a long time. After a while, the owner stopped talking to him and wandered away because Pendleton looked like he was in trance. Had it been somebody else, they guy might’ve made him shove off; but Pendleton was good head and half taller and half a man larger. He wasn’t someone that anybody forced to do anything.



At first, I thought he was going to buy the car; but then he looked over at me and asked if I was ready to go. We left and before we stopped at one of his usual stops – a junktique shop housed in an old gas station on Elm Street – Pendleton stopped at a 7-11 and brought a couple of 22 ounce bottles of beer. He gave me one and drank his without saying anything. He just stared out the windshield. I drank mine. I’d never had beer before, and I’d always heard that nobody liked it the first time they drank it. But I did. It tasted like ginger ale to me. I drank it down pretty quickly, and Pendleton and I went on. He never mentioned it to his wife or my girlfriend, and we never talked about it.