Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts

24 September, 2018

At Home Along the Dirty, Sacred River, Part 1

Where we love is home -- home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.



Ohio River at Louisville and Jefferson, IN. 1928
Home has traditionally been a complex issue for me. I've written before about how home is a person, not a place, and that is still very much true. But it also follows that while I have settled down... which is to say, I'm stationary far more than is natural for me... the truth is that the concept of home is one that I continue to struggle with. In particular, other people's notions of home have given me nothing but vexation for decades.

Yes. Decades.

Let me explain.

I live in Louisville, Kentucky. I like it here. Of all the places I've lived, it probably best matches the landscape inside my head. It's both rural and urban, straightforward and urbane, full of possibility and weighed down with deep dark problems that infiltrate nearly every good thing that happens within its borders. Louisville is a small town with a few tall buildings; not because of its size, but because of the way it functions... and sometimes the way it doesn't function. I've lived in other places in Kentucky, from as far East as Menifee County to the rolling hilled-hypocrisy of Lexington. I've travelled the state over, too, from Covington to Corbin. from Morehead to Middlesboro, from Paducah to Pikeville.1 And except for a decade on and off, I've spent most of the last 30 years here. Kentucky is one of the few places where -- except Lexington -- I have always felt at home. Calling Kentucky home brings up all sorts of complications, the second most challenging being that it's the sort of home you're expected to leave and (maybe) eventually return to.

The most challenging part of being at home in Kentucky is that Kentucky is more or less particular about who it claims.

I run into this problem most often in literary circles. It's increasingly common enough to NOT be from Louisville, or from Kentucky. But in literary circles... probably because Kentucky writers are once again an exportable commodity... because of or in spite of our Tin Pot Governor's dismissal of the arts... there's even more of the sometimes overt, sometimes covert protectionism of Kentucky culture and geographical identification.2

To be fair, I haven't been EXCLUDED because I'm not from Kentucky. That would be like saying no one reads my shit because I'm just one more cis-gendered white guy in America.3 I haven't been excluded, but living here creates a certain bias on the part of others about what kind of writer I orta be. Literary event organizers here tend to look for that commercially consistent version of "authentic" voices -- authentic but pedigreed, of course -- and while I can claim a lot of experience, many miles traveled, and a regional upbringing, the abstract lines that make Kentucky separate from the other cleaved pieces of geography that make up the Ohio River Valley delineate the cultural boundary, too.

Or, simply put: I'm from Ohio.

True, it's Southern Ohio... Southwest Ohio, to be exact, which is about as culturally divergent from the rest of the state as Paducah is from Pikeville. Ohio, like Kentucky, could be split into (at least) four different states if you look at geography, culture, and other demographic points. Actually, you could cut the Southeast corner of the state and slide it nicely into a larger state called Appalachia... a state that would include not only part of Ohio, but a fair chunk of Kentucky and Pennsylvania too, along with West Virginia.

For me, though, the map as drawn has less to do with the culture of where I live than geography, which transcends... and sometimes confounds... cartography. The dirty scared river's long and storied history as a major commercial artery that eventually opened up the West to the trials, terrors, and seeming inevitability of Manifest Destiny have made permanent imprint on the geography of the nation. And while it's true that the Ohio River isn't as prominent a commercial artery as it used to be, the fact is that without it there would have been no place for wagons, trains, roads, or interstates to be laid. The river, diverted as it is, still runs and still has a say over everything from where people live, how they get back and forth to work, and sometimes, how the weather impacts the area.4 So, I will never be a Kentucky writer. But every breath, drop of blood, and bone in my body is from the river valley.

And there's something to that, too.

________________________________________________

1. I even went to Fancy Farm once. Read about that here. There is no better explanation of the political landscape of this Commonwealth than Fancy Farm.
2. This actually has much deeper roots than Herr Bevin. He's just one more in a long series of yahoos and crankyanks who think they know what's best for Kentucky without ever actually spending any time in the state's underbelly.
3.I recently had coffee with another writer here who made that kind of observation, but I don't agree. There's room for everyone and all the voices need to be heard. I'll keep scribbling in my basement, unabated.
4, Watch a tornado laden storms hit the valley and split in half just to pass over Louisville. It happens. A lot.



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04 June, 2018

It's all casual along the dirty, sacred river

Mick Parsons, writing, Louisville, violence
I spied the end of a sex transaction while walking to the coffee shop. As I rounded the corner from my street to the main artery, I saw a young man trying to simultaneously pull up and snap his jeans while walking nonchalantly. He did neither of them very well. The girl he was with was short, blond, and far less concerned about being seen than he was. Then again, her clothes were in place and walking seemed far less of an issue.
The young man noticed me and tried even harder to look like nothing was happening... at one point, even trying to put his arm around the girl, who, to her credit, could have cared less about the appearance of things. They continued to walk together, but it was hard to imagine them being a couple. He was very tall and dressed like an extra from a late-90's gang movie. She was very short by comparison.
And except for his failed attempt to look like she hadn't just serviced him near a busy street corner in between acts of the torrential downpour, I probably wouldn't have noticed were it not for the fact that, at a distance, she looked underage and it was a little early for the street walkers in my part of town to be out and about. 
I'm being unfair, I know. They COULD be in a relationship. But the fact is she was far more interested in her sucker than she was in him -- and in my experience, even a quick oral cop in the late morning between consenting adults will most likely include just a little post-glottal tenderness. 
This wasn't the blog I intended to write today. I had something else in mind, something having to do with this dog issue on my street. One of the houses on my street had a husky tied out without shelter all day yesterday -- a day with weather ranging from hot and sunny to torrential downpour. After trying unsuccessfully to find anyone home --or, at any rate, anyone who was willing to answer the door -- I called the city, which, with its usual bureaucratic ineffectiveness, did not come.  At points the husky was pulling on the VERY short tie out she was on and making that high pitched whine that only Huskies and German Shepards seem to make. 
Casual cruelty and abuse offend me more deeply maybe than intentional cruelty and abuse. At least when someone is intentionally evil, deliberately cruel and abusive, the direct action to correct it seems just. There is an intelligence -- albeit a disturbed one -- at work when cruelty is committed in a deliberate manner. I could even make the case that cruelty in the name of passion -- maybe not deliberate, but focused and full of evil purpose all the same -- is at least understandable, even though it is abhorrent. 
But casual cruelty is not deliberate. It's rooted in ignorance, and the educator in me still likes to think that ignorance can be educated and eradicated. And I know enough about this neighbor in particular to know that there is nothing deliberate in the aforementioned cruel behavior. Some people just don't see dogs -- big dogs especially -- as anything other than a soulless animal, something maybe pretty to look at, but in the end, not human and therefore not entitled to being treated with love and dignity.
At some point in the afternoon, some of the neighborhood kids checked on the Husky. Not long after, she disappeared -- and so I thought maybe either the city came and picked her up -- she would have found a home in no time -- or maybe the owner thought better of his or her cruelty.
The husky was back out early this morning. At an appropriate time I once again walked over to try and talk to someone at the house. Once again, no one was home - or no one answered.  I once again called the city. Sometime later the husky was gone again. And I hope to God that someone came and retrieved her.
There's no accounting for the humanity or lack thereof here along the dirty, sacred river -- or anywhere, really. One of the things I love about living in Louisville is that when you strip it to the bare bones and look at how it functions -- and in some cases, doesn't function -- this town is just that. It's a small town with some tall buildings and the growing pains of a mid-sized Midwestern City in the process of redefining itself. 
But when you look at the bare bones of a place like this, it's hard not to notice that while many of the things that make it a small town still exist, there's a malignancy growing there, too.  Live here long enough and you start to find odd connections between the seemingly disparate people you know because they either went to the same high school or grew up in the same part of town but never knew one another because they were bussed to different schools. Locals give directions based on non-existent landmarks.
But that casual cruelty -- which isn't absent from small towns, either -- grows on the bones and spreads with startling innocuousness. 

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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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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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24 October, 2017

Just yesterday morning, Part 1

You can't fix the weather - you just have to get on with it. - Douglas Adams

home repair fail
Buster Keaton & Virginia Fox. The Electric House (1922)
Sometimes I think I'm cursed by crumbling ceilings. I wake up early in the morning to write and read, to meditate and pray, while the house is silent. At that time of day, before the time-tracking part of my brain, before the you've-got-too-much-shit-to-get-done-today part of my brain, before the mark-my-obligations-off-the-never-ending-list part of my brain kicks in, I swim outside of the clockwork world. Even in the technological age I find there are mechanical underpinnings. This touch and go techno gratification stuff is just a thin skin for Descartes' bastard son -- a wholly mechanical model universe created by monkeys with bigger brains who also think God is monkey but with a machine heart.

And in this swim of mental time space, before the machines clang and the digital clock face on my cell phone reminds me that I'm simply not allowed to exist outside the artificial time loop, I take in the whole of my surroundings. The silence. The sound the dog's paws make on the linoleum floor. The sound of the cat jumping on top of the garbage can by the backdoor to be let out. The feel of the ceiling fan blades cutting the air. The sound of rain outside as the sun starts to come into view.

The leaking roof in the corner of the dining room.

I used to love the sound of the rain. Especially early in the morning or at night when it was time to (finally) sleep. When I was living in a friend's cabin out in Eastern Kentucky, I loved the sound of rain on the tin A-frame roof. The sound was hypnotic. The cadence was meditative. 

Now when I hear the sound of rain, my first thought is: "FUCK! Where will the house leak today?"

I once heard a man wiser than me say that it was a mistake to own anything you have to paint or feed. Most of the time I take that statement with a grain of salt. It's not that I'm all about ownership. Actually, I'm pretty certain my dog only tolerates me because I feed her most of the time, and as such I've never really thought of myself as a "dog owner" as much as I have a "dog person."

The same goes with home ownership. I tend not to think of myself as a homeowner as much as the
dog man
person helping pay the mortgage on a house that will, by and by,be someone else's responsibility. It's better than paying rent, in theory, because someday -- if Amanda and I are very very lucky -- we'll only have to pay property taxes to a municipality that has done nothing in regards to the care or upkeep of this house we call a home.  The bank doesn't help out either, come to think of it. All I do is live here and I'm bound and obligated to keep the yard mowed, see to basic repairs, try not to let it be too much of an eyesore, and take care of the place until the "mort*" part of the "mortgage" kicks in.

That's the deal. And most of the time -- like 88-90 percent of the time -- I'm perfectly fine with this. Life is about impermanence after all, and all we're doing is trying to figure out our purpose and find meaning in what mostly seems like a futile attempt to avoid being the target of rush hour road rage -- someone else's or, God help us, our own.

And I was still ok... until I heard the not so subtle drip of water from the corner of where, when it rains a little too much, water leaks in. We're prepared, of course. We have a bucket there, and towel.  But it is only a short-term fix. The leak is sufficiently bad that I will probably have to find the wherewithal to climb up on the roof -- something I don't excel at. OK, I'm pretty decent at the up part. It's the down part that almost always gives me trouble. It's not that I'm scared of heights. It's that I'm far too aware that Murphy's Law kicks in to triple time whenever I'm doing anything like, say, climbing a ladder, or working under a car, crawling into the creepy space under the ceiling to repair a hole (causing me my first and heretofore only panic attack.)

When Amanda got up a couple of hours later, I was annoyed at the ceiling, annoyed at my inability to either repair it or pay someone on better terms with Murphy to repair it. I'm not entirely sure I've tried to ever explain to her why I feel haunted by leaky roofs.

And I wasn't entirely sure I felt like explaining it then, either.
__________________________________________________________________
* In trying to find the etymological root of the word mortgage, I made the mistake of just typing the word  "mort" into Google. Apparently "mort" does not mean death, but instead is "the note sounded on a horn when the quarry is killed." Now, I know I'm not much of an expert on the sound that horns make while hunters are hunting, but I'm not entirely sure I trust Google Dictionary. 

The good news is that after I went to the trouble of typing in, Boolean style, the words "etymological" and "mortgage", I finally found the proper definition... just in case some of you good looking and clearly intelligent folks didn't know it already.

mortgage (n.)
late 14c., morgage, "conveyance of property as security for a loan or agreement," from Old French morgage (13c.), mort gaige, literally "dead pledge" (replaced in modern French by hypothèque), from mort "dead" (see mortal (adj.)) + gage "pledge" (see wage (n.)). So called because the deal dies either when the debt is paid or when payment fails. Old French mort is from Vulgar Latin *mortus "dead," from Latin mortuus, past participle of mori "to die" (from PIE root *mer- "to rub away, harm," also "to die" and forming words referring to death and to beings subject to death). The -t- restored in English based on Latin.


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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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03 October, 2017

Junktique Memory Palace, part 2: a place for everything and everything everywhere

 Do not encumber your mind with useless thoughts. What good does it do to brood on the past or anticipate the future? Remain in the simplicity of the present moment. ~ Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already I am. ~Thomas Merton


In his 20's a smart man -- if he learns anything at all -- learns to embrace failure as an educational experience as well as the importance of reflection. During his 30's, a smart man ... if he's paying any attention at all ... begins to understand the space -- physically, metaphysically, spiritually, and ontologically --  he takes up in the world.

By the time he reaches his mid-40's -- whether he's smart or not -- a man stumbles upon who he is in the world, regardless of whether he's aware of the space(s) he occupies or not.

And if there is anything about me that's true, it's this: I've always been particular about how I inhabit my living space.

It's not that I'm a neat freak. At least, I don't think I'm a neat freak. I mean... no. No, I am NOT a neat freak.

But I DO tend to think of it as working really hard in order to be lazy. I always put my keys in the same place. I always put glasses in the same place. I recognize two basic categories of things:

  1. stuff, and 
  2. stuff-without-a-home. 

As I wrote about in a previous blog, my spaces -- mental or otherwise -- are filled with things from which I derive a certain amount of comfort. The way I do things and how I organize things makes total and complete sense to me. By way of an example -

We own this lovely fruit bowl. I believe it was a wedding gift. I won't describe it, so, for the sake of illustration, picture a fruit bowl you would find lovely. Because we tend to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, we have a small table in the kitchen that has become the Spot Where Produce Lives. After we go shopping, the table sort of looks like one of those Thanksgiving cornucopias exploded. We're very fortunate that we're able to eat healthy in spite of eternally operating on a feast and famine budget.  But because of our sometimes bountiful amount of fruits and veggies -- and because my daughter is a vegan and so we tend to have a lot of rabbit lettuce type things on hand -- that lovely bowl was buried, never to be seen.

Yes, I knew it was there. But I didn't like that a lovely little bowl -- a very thoughtful wedding present at that -- wasn't in a place where I could see it at a glance.

So I moved the bowl. I moved it next to the toaster on the short side of the kitchen sink.

This created no small amount of controversy with my daughter, who -- like me -- is someone who likes to have things organized and in place... 

for the most part.

I'm certain she often looks at it and ponders moving back to the exploded cornucopia table. My wife, who has the wisdom to stay out of such odd and ultimately pointless conundrums, simply says "Well, that's where it lives now."


Lately I've come around to embracing the notion that my need for a certain amount order is simply who I am rather than something I ought to try and subvert. I do think sharing a home with others makes me more thoughtful about the impact my home-for-everything attitude has on other people, because the truth is, there are times when things need to be out of order. If things never change, if things don't move, then sometimes I don't see the need for something to change. And since the only constant in the universe IS change, it's good to be able to roll with it, too.

Just don't move the fruit bowl.

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29 September, 2017

Junktique Memory Palace: The solace of certain things / Essay on the Eight of Swords (Draft)

It is not down in any map; true places never are. ~ Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Is it possible to become ecstatic amid destruction, rejuvenate oneself through cruelty?” ~ Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations


My memory palace is one, giant flea market.

Which is to say, it's entirely possible that one of the reasons why I tend towards a certain precision -- what my daughter sometimes calls "picky" and my wife lovingly refers to as "being particular" -- about certain things:  like where I leave my keys, how I organize the house, where I'd prefer things are stored and how, and how clean I try to be, is because a large portion of my mental landscape is an odd mix of old stuff, bric-a-brac, used books, dated movies, music, oddly random and seemingly pointed connections between disparate things, several rabbit holes of useless information, and picture memories... a long with a massive card catalog in which I file every useless piece of datum ranging from historical dates to my chili recipe.

NOTE: the greenscape has long since been ruined by cement.
If it helps you imagine, once upon a time I conjured my memory palace as a large library, not unlike the interior of the Camden-Carroll library at Morehead State University.

Which is to say, my memory palace probably resembles the library in that episode of The Twilight Zone in which the poor bastard that just wanted more time to read after the apocalypse ended up breaking his reading glasses.




But, it's my mess, dammit, and I like it that way. Besides, no one rummages around there besides me.

This mess does bleed out into my life in certain ways. While I am, admittedly, particular about the condition of my living space, that's not to say that I'm much of minimalist. It's true, I've whittled down things to what I think I need. But this includes a lot books, random rocks, various mementos and, yes, bric-a-brac, that helps make our house a home.

Every once in a while The Kid will ask if I've actually read all the books in the house, to which I usually replay something to the effect of " Most of them." Truthfully, I never want to run out of books on hand that I haven't read. That way if I owe the public library too much in late fees (which is as inevitable as the sunrise), I can lean on a few books on our shelves until the drought passes.

So why, you may ask, do I keep the books I've already read?

Well let me ask you: Do you never talk to old friends just because you've already talked to them and only make new friends?

The books I've read are old friends and fine company. And I like being able to go back and read them, revisit, 

My writing area in the basement -- that I affectionately refer to as The Bunker -- is similarly organized. I have hard and digital files and old journals dating back to the early 90's, when I started journaling. I have records -- the kind that go on record players -- cassettes, CD's books, a shiny brass compass that was a gift from my brother, a skull shaped candle I got for Christmas from my niece. There's a little silver bell with no ringer. A pink magic wand that is the only thing left from my teaching -- a prop from a teacher in-service. A beech wood candle stick I turned on a lathe in Menifee County, Kentucky.

All of these things -- and the others I haven't listed here -- I keep because they, in some way, embody an important memory. It's true I can live without most of them. It's true that I still have the memories even if everything is lost, locked up in my cluttered but somehow manageable by me memory flea market.

The solace of certain things helps when the world leaves me feeling daunted. It's important for me to be able to get lost sometimes, maybe even hide. I don't get out and about like I used to -- which is usually what I'd do if I need to get some mental breathing space. Now I either retreat to The Bunker and write or find some other way to tilt at windmills using the weapon I've been granted -- words

And lately, there's a lot that leaves me daunted. If I draw any comfort from these, the days of Trumplandia, the days of the yoke and the bit, the days of democracy's death rattle, it is in the fact that it will go on whether I take notice or not, that change is perpetual and inevitable. I also draw comfort and strength from the faith I have that even if all I'm doing is taking care of my house full of people, books, and animals and writing like a madman in basement, that maybe it does help bring some measure of grace to the world. If that's all I ever do, then at least it's time well-spent. Art is created in such ways. If I'm lucky.

Essay on the Eight of Swords (Draft)

Transitional dreams portend a seasonal shift:
like the tarot, not all is as they appear.
There is wisdom in The Hanged Man.
Escalators and hotel employees suggest
it will be a long autumn.
Train stations do not suggest travel,
but it’s better to be prepared anyway.
There are signs, and rumors of signs.
You will meet a beautiful hitchhiker.
Do not trust her.
The raggedy man will bring you a message.
Offer him beanie weenies and bottled water.
He will ask for wine, but it’s only a test.
There are no wrong answers,
only more appropriate ones.
But they do offer varying degrees of detail.
Do not be afraid to drink beer with the devil.
He wants your soul, but does not know
you have been spoken for.
The Eight of Swords is still your card.
But you are not bound to that narrative.


 











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11 September, 2017

Sacred Moments in Profane Times: dads, daughters, remembrance as practice / practice as activism

We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.~ Thomas Merton

We often think of peace as the absence of war, that if powerful countries would reduce their weapon arsenals, we could have peace. But if we look deeply into the weapons, we see our own minds- our own prejudices, fears and ignorance. Even if we transport all the bombs to the moon, the roots of war and the roots of bombs are still there, in our hearts and minds, and sooner or later we will make new bombs. To work for peace is to uproot war from ourselves and from the hearts of men and women. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

My daughter came home one evening after work last week and told me she watched a man get stabbed at the bus stop.

She said a man walked up to another man standing next to her at the bus stop, stabbed him, and ran away. Stabbed him like he was just looking for a place to put his knife away. The police were called. The ambulance came. She told me she thought the man died because when the ambulance left, the lights weren't on and it wasn't in a hurry.

The week started with celebrating her birthday. She turned 23 this year. Most days I'm amazed that I have a child who's old enough to drink. I'm also daily amazed by the way she's choosing to walk through the world.

We celebrated her birthday with a short hike near this waterfall where Amanda and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Actually, we celebrated her birthday over the entire long weekend -- her birthday fell on Labor Day this year -- with a vegan chocolate raspberry tart and a meal at a Morels Cafe, a local vegan restaurant known for its "Farby" Sandwich... which is a surprisingly accurate vegan version of an Arby's roast beef sandwich.

Amanda and I aren't vegan, but my daughter is. We end up eating a largely vegetarian diet, but we would do that anyway.

I always enjoy my daughter's birthdays. Because I wasn't the custodial parent when she was growing up, I take special joy in spending them with her now.  I was glad we spent it as a family. When we were at the waterfall, I mostly watched her from a bit of a distance, watched her taking everything in and soaking in her happiness and satisfaction. I enjoy watching her explore and grow into the beautiful person she is -- striving to find the path of her best possible self.

Even if it means eating a (surprisingly convincing and delicious ) vegan roast beef sandwich.

I enjoy the moments with my daughter -- or sometimes, just around her -- as she reaches out, tries to grow in spite of all in the world that would drag her backwards. When she came home from watching a man get stabbed, it was all I could do not to hug her forever. The world is a dangerous place. It's good that she knows this. I just wish she didn't have to.

Remembrance is such a heavy word. When I think of it, the word is burdened with religious connotation... which isn't surprising for a rural small town boy.  Lately, though, I've come to think of remembrance as something more akin to what Buddhists and monks and other Religious have described as practice. This means not limiting my acts of remembrance... my practice... to one day or to specific times. Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton describes the contemplative life as one in which a person works to make each moment a prayer, each moment a moment in the presence of God. In Sign of Jonas he refers to a monk's life as full of hard work, but also one of peace. A peace that is earned by daily work and by daily devotion.

I'm no monk, and thank Christ for that. I'd be a lousy one. But as I work to keep my writing central -- and what is writing but one form a contemplative life takes in the physical world -- I remind myself that I need to strive in each part of my day, in every aspect of my life, to make each action a kind of prayer. The world isn't designed for this kind of thing, of course. I'm supposed to be about the business of making money and doing my part in the great capitalist machine that's been built up around us. A machine that's choking out the very sound and light of God in the name of power and money.

When I think about how to mediate the world... in the current state of the world... I'm reminded of Thich Nhat Hanh's statement in Living Buddha, Living Christ that it's not simply a matter of choosing whether to be engaged with the world or to have a contemplative life, but deciding how to engage and still have a contemplative life. I've met a lot of people who are engaged.
The tree remembers the shape of the ground.

I tend to struggle, though, when their insistence on engagement -- usually limited by adherence to concepts rather than a clearer reality -- cuts into my contemplative life.  I'm always struggling with where I ought to be -- especially in these days when the New Wave Fascists are in the news, running over protestors, claiming to defend history without realizing -- or caring -- that they are on the wrong side of it.

And while I feel like I've been clear on this point, I'll keep on it for another short paragraph:

If you aren't Antifa, you aren't paying attention. Being Antifa doesn't mean you need to join a group. You don't need to dress in black. You don't need to be a socialist. Or a communist. Or an anarchist. You just need to understand that fascism is bad and is a threat to America and to the Democratic experiment. There's historic precedence for it.

And once you understand that, make it part of your daily practice. Like prayer. Like meditation. Like breathing. Like an old sycamore tree that remembers the shape of the ground washed away by the ebb and flow of water, hold to what matters.

Do this in remembrance of your children. Do this in remembrance of the sacrifices your grandparents made. Do this in remembrance of the remembered and forgotten dead. Do this in remembrance of a world where knives are not sheathed in people at bus stops. Do this in remembrance of the living who should not have to bleed so the war machine can keep spinning. Do this in remembrance of the radical idea that all people are equal.

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20 June, 2017

Some musings on the absence of the 13th floor

It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea. – Dylan Thomas

My brother lives on the 15th floor of a very tall building with a view of Lake Erie. The view is gorgeous. Cleveland is a nice town and I always enjoy my visits there.

We grew up not really talking much. I've come to think of it as an indication that we lived in two very different worlds. Or rather, we each created very different worlds to inhabit buried in the same basic reality as everyone else -- where gravity and girls were inevitable and occasionally painful forces of nature, where our small town was, in many ways, the wrong kind of small for us to stick around and flourish, and where without our respective self-created realities, we probably would not have made it out as clearly well adjusted as we are.

Once, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, we went to this bar near where my mom lives that's no longer there. It was called "The London Bridge Piano Bar." The only piano was on the sign hanging above the door. Both the sign and the door had seen better days. I don't know if he'd been to many truly divey dive bars before then. I've spent a lot of time in them, especially back in those days. I still had my long hair and biker leather. He's always been more aware of fashion labels and professional couture. After a few drinks, one of the two or three people who were day drinking there asked if we were cops.

At the time, I thought the lousy drunk probably got most of his notions about under cover cops from prime time television. In hindsight, having watched the ridiculous -- and obvious -- links my state trooper ex-brother-in-law went to in order to try and look like an unsavory criminal type in a massive sting attempt to get people stripping copper out of houses left empty thanks to Bush II's subprime mortgage crisis -- I wish I could go back and buy that barfly a drink.*

Another time -- also around 10 or 15 years ago -- we were in a grocery store line. I don't remember what we were buying. The woman working the check out -- who was cute, as I recall -- asked if he was my parole officer. At the time, I may have remarked (or maybe I just thought) that I must be moving up in the world, going from a presumed undercover cop to a parole.

Both events stuck us both as funny, though maybe for different reasons. His sense of humor tends to be a little drier than mine, but we both appreciate absurdity. Most humor is based on mistaken assumptions and basic human absurdity.

One of the things I like about visiting my brother is that more than maybe anyone other than my wife, he gets me. And I think I get him, too. We're both creative in our ways, introspective in our ways. And we've both gone about creating our worlds in seemingly very different ways. But for both of us have build our worlds around our respective work.  It's a difficult thing to explain when people focus on the surface differences between us. A lot of people have made that mistake, and probably will continue to. It doesn't matter. A man with one brother in the world who understands him is never alone.

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*The sum total of his "cover" was to grow a beard that looked entirely unnatural on his face, wear wrinkled t-shirts, and sport a backwards ball cap. He also pulled down his Facebook Page... but of course, his wife didn't.






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24 March, 2017

Letters from Trumplandia 6: Clockwork Eternity and Daylight Savings Time (Delayed)

 Certainly, it seems true enough that there's a good deal of irony in the world... I mean, if you live in a world full of politicians and advertising, there's obviously a lot of deception. -- Kenneth Koch

Nations are born in the hearts of poets, they prosper and die in the hands of politicians. -- Muhammad Iqbal



Digital watches were all the rage when I was in second grade.  They were new. They were Clunky. And they were completely modern. However, in order to get one, I had to learn to tell time.

In spite of my clear articulation of the argument that old fashioned watches were going the way of the dinosaur, The Old Man insisted that I learn to read a clock.

"But someday no one will know what they are!"

"You will," he said. And there was no arguing.

I don't know if my obsession with time pieces started there. But I still know what a clock is, even as each generation forgets how to read them just like they're forgetting cursive writing.Clocks are funny extensions of an abstraction. Man's attempt to not only own the world but to control how it moves through the universe, and by extension, how we move through the world.

The thing about writing is there's always something that needs doing that will inevitably take you away from your desk. In these, the dark days of Babylon under the mighty Trumplandian flag, there is more so.

There are days to be lived and ways to go about it, and always ... and always... there is something to distract you from the things you really ought to be doing. When they are things we embrace and decide they're worthwhile, we call them obligations. When they are things we'd rather not be doing, we call them duty.

When they are things that are forced upon us under the guess of personal choice, we call it a career.

And it is always this career business that ends up defining us -- by how we choose it, or by it how it chooses us , or by how we choose not to choose it.

Daylight savings time is another one of those fake ideas that we give credence to out of habit. There are places in the world -- in the country, as a matter of fact -- that live without having to turn the clock forward one hour in the spring, only to have to turn it back one hour in fall. Arizona, with everything it does wrong (and there is an epic list) does that one thing right. Not changing the clock twice a year has absolutely no impact on daily life except the absence of jet lag.

Yes, yes. The story goes that the government instituted Daylight Savings Time to help farmers. It's supposed to help because it gives them more daylight in the winter. Never mind the fact that the sun is still in the same spot in relation to the Earth, the days get shorter until Winter Solstice and then begin to get longer as the the Earth spins and the sun is, as a result, in a different position in relation to equator.  Never mind that the length or lack or available sunlight doesn't really change what a farmer has to get done.

As a matter of fact, I haven't met a farmer yet who gave a good gawd damn about the length of daylight in relation to the chores that have to get done. Those people are some of the most rock-hard people I've ever met, precisely because they work regardless of the season, regardless of the weather, and regardless of what time the clock says in relation to where the sun in in the sky.

Daylight savings time is nothing more than an absurd delusion that we can control the time. We can't. Time is the current that carries us. The only difference is that we can choose whether we're going to sink or swim.

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14 February, 2017

Letter from Trumplandia 3: art as memory/ memory as subversion

 Life is subversive. - Ernesto Cardenal

When you are forced by circumstance to focus on survival, it can be difficult to remember that it's as important to nourish your soul as it is to feed your stomach.  Arts-based organizations are poised for a fight that they may very well lose simply because the numbers are against them. Grant money is already being squeezed and if the past budgetary actions of the Republican Party are any indication, the arts will have to find other revenue streams in order to survive.

The squeeze has already been felt here in Kentucky, where our tin pot little fascista Governor Matt Bevin cut money to the Kentucky Arts Council (and everything else) in his first budget. Granted, he did not, as was widely feared, eliminate funding for the KAC entirely... for which they puckered up and kissed his New England ass. There will most likely be another budget cut next year, too. Bevin, like every fascista before him, refers to the arts and things like it* as "nonessential services."

And most likely, when he does, the folks still remaining at the KAC will again express gratitude for Herr Governor's

As Trump's overblown inauguration began to loom as an inevitable reality, The Hill reported that undisclosed sources within his transition team said some of his budget cuts included privatizing NPR and eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts .Naturally, that would be catastrophic for many arts organizations, including educational arts organizations.

Though really, part of me suspects that the announcement was leaked, not so much as a statement of
intention but as a misdirection. 45 has time and time again proven to be a master at misdirection. His entire professional life up to and including his 2016 POTUS election win has been nothing more than an extended game of 3 Card Monte.

The biggest danger to the arts, though, really isn't coming from Trump (yet) or Bevin (yet.) The biggest danger to the arts comes from inside an arts community that has gotten so comfortable that it has forgotten how to innovate.

Without the arts, there is no such thing as civilization. I've said before that society rests not on laws, but on the arts and simple etiquette. In these, the rising days of the new wave, this is especially true. Art is more than entertainment. The arts are our collective memory. And it's been nice to have a government that acknowledges -- albeit grudgingly and not without malice** -- the arts.

It's been nice. But we need to start deciding what to do if it ends.

Over the weekend I listened to David Marcus -- Sr. Contributor to The Federalist and Artistic Director of Blue Box World in Brooklyn -- on NPR's Saturday morning journal show talk about why the death of the NEA would be good for art in America.

His essential argument is that the arts existed before government and don't really need the government, and that the arts need to be competitive in a free market. I'll deconstruct the problem of commodifying art and how free markets are a myth in another post.***

Part of what feeds his argument and gives it validity is the strain of elitism in the arts and how arts organizations go about doing what they do. There was a time when you preserved the arts by opening a gallery, or a theater, or creating a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving a particular art form. These organizations operate on membership dues, donations, patronage, partnerships, and grant money. In the absence of grant money, non-profits have a really difficult time sustaining themselves -- or, if they don't have trouble sustaining, no one knows they exist, their membership stagnates, and eventually the organization disappears because most of the membership dies.

In order to survive, artists and arts organizations have to reinvent themselves, not to try and break into or maintain a market, but to remain the living memory of a civilization at risk. There's more at stake than ticket sales. Democracy is at stake. In addition to the obligation to speak out against the tyrannical new wave, artists are obliged to be the memory of what is happening. We record. We remember. We are the storytellers, the bards, the players. The job is ours, because if we leave it to the historians, the narrative will be an extension of the same manifest destiny bullshit they still teach kids.

In order to survive, artists have to understand that even they haven't declared war, even if they don't like the language of war, even if they believe it has nothing to do with them, that war has been declared on them. In order to survive arts organizations have stop thinking like bureaucratic machines and start being strategizing like a guerrilla army.

In other words, start thinking like a tagger and not the cops who arrest taggers.


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* literature, foreign languages, health care, social services, public education, roads, bridges, and clean rivers.
**GOP deity Ronald Reagan wanted to start phasing out the NEA in 1981, but he was advised by no less than gun and 'MURICA lover Charlton Heston that it would be a really bad idea
*** To prepare, if you haven't already, bone up on Karl Marx. 

31 January, 2017

Letters from Trumplandia: laying the groundwork

Self-erasure is a harsh religion. - from travel journal


I have to remind myself sometimes that in spite of what I think of my general sense of discontent, my own life is pretty good.

When I was younger, and probably smarter though not as wise*, I told myself that my sense of discontent was what drove my writing.  I blamed a small town childhood filled with social isolation and religion. I blamed the death of my father. I eventually cast wider nets and blamed my discontent on the state of the world, the sense of decay I saw in everything around me. I blamed my high school guidance counselor for the Three Card Monte fashion in which she preached about the importance of a college degree to achieving the American Dream. I blamed the American Dream for being fake.

Something in me when I was younger insisted on seeing the worst in things, and I would silently condemn my elders for acting as though nothing was wrong when everything seemed ravaged, burned, and abandoned. I wrapped myself in anger and discontent and I wrote about it. When I was writing about how angry and discontent I was, I would drink and think about how I'd somehow missed the train that every American boy was supposed to catch. At times, I blamed my father for having the audacity to die before imparting any of the wisdom I thought I was entitled to before being pushed into the world.

Yes, pushed. I was pushed. 

Because left to my own devices, I would have cloistered myself off years ago, wrapped in my self-righteous blanket of anger and discontent, ranting to the silence for its own sake. I would not have faced the world on my own because I'd drawn such a dim view of it that it I would have dismissed it out of hand.

Next month I turn 44 years old, and the world has become the world of monsters I imagined it was when I was young.  The culture wars are on fire, thanks to the gasoline poured on by our Fascist-in-Chief.  His supporters are loving him now because he has moved on pretty much every single campaign promise he made. To be fair, I don't know if he's signing more executive orders in the first 100 days than any of his predecessors or if he just signs them in front of television cameras. But I do know that politics is a three ring circus and Trump is the Ringmaster of all Ringmasters; and whatever is going on, I feel like making him roll up his sleeves to check for an arm full of aces.

The art of the deal is pretty much the same thing as the art of the con. It's all slight of hand and misdirection. And while Trump and his lackeys embolden the Proud Boys and Alt-Reich Evangelists to do the dirty work of cultural purification, he is slowly whitewashing America with one hand and jerking off with the other.

In spite of all this, however, I think it's important to remind myself that even as monsters walk the earth in human skin suits, that my life is pretty good. My primary goals have pretty much always been the same since I was 19 or 20:

  • write,
  • reject workaday time clocks and the masters behind them,
  • walk through the world at my own rhythm,
  • try to be useful,
  • work to be honorable, and
  • stand up for what I believe.

Along the way I've also found the love of my life and figured out how to be an ok father.

One of the most challenging parts of it all is to accept that while I could easily cloister myself and ignore the world, that my desire to do so is fueled by ego. To turn away and dismiss everything would mean that I have it all figured out. There's an arrogance to that notion which is toxic to not only the world, but to myself and to the life I am continuing to build.

The internal workings of my life are actually pretty good, and I'm grateful for that. I am lucky to be married to someone who loves me as I am and who I adore with all my strength and the marrow in my bones. I'm still writing.  I have clients and deadlines, but these are things I establish and set for myself. I am trying to be useful and I work to be live an honorable life (although it's more challenging for me than maybe for some other people I know).  Because the internal workings of my life are what they are, I have the ability to stand up for what I believe and do what I think is right.

These are the rights and privileges of a free person, and I have taken my freedom back from those who would take it from me -- bosses, politicians, punks, thugs, and lackeys of powermongers. And it's only because I understand that freedom is something we must take back -- not something that is conferred upon by the high offices of human institutions -- that I know it's not just about me, and never has been.

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*Not that I'm all that wise now. Most days I vacillate
between feeling incredibly stupid and three steps behind enlightenment.

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06 January, 2017

A word about Patreon -- thanks for your support!



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05 January, 2017

Beauty is a monster, but it's still worth the search

Let the beauty you seek be what you do. -Rumi

Left to my own devices, I am a baboon wandering the wilderness. I would rather be either 1) at my desk writing or 2) on a barstool drinking than engaged in any other activity.  These two truths about me have been constant for roughly 20 years. I don't expect either of those things to change any time soon.  Both of those predilections have led me have both a ceaseless need to wander and a deep-rooted desire for love and stability. If all of these things seem to be contradictions, then you are correct. This is nothing more than a condensed explanation of the human condition. In spite of our desire to be utterly, drudgingly consistent through and through, human beings are driven by natural and contradictory needs.

A man who does not recognize he is beast with a thin veneer of manufactured civility is lying to himself. I've come around to the idea over the last few years that even admitting this falls short of enough. It's not enough to simply identify the beast. If the focus of a life is to embrace beauty, to seek enlightenment, to live as one with a higher ethic and moral conscious -- indeed, to eventually return to God -- a man has to, to a certain degree, accept and embrace the beast. If we accept Keats' poetic dictum: Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty'*, we must also accept that beauty is not always a comforting or comfortable thing. Beauty can be terrifying.

The weight on the other end of the fulcrum are my obligations -- to those I love, to those who love me, and to that short list of people whose opinions matter.

Lately I've been writing about the Grand Experiment -- my attempt to both hold down a job and pursue Beauty.  Like every other round of the Grand Experiment, this last round ended in failure. I allowed myself to get absorbed into the work I was doing, scribbling along the way, but ultimately I was chasing something other beauty, other than art. Something other. When this happens, the beast that is me gets surly. My temper -- which I have managed to meticulously starve and bury in the back of my psyche -- starts to taste the air.

I've decided to stop trying to restrain my temper as much as work it like hot steel. It's not so much that I want to fly off the handle, but I want to stop feeling guilty because I sometimes do. Anger, like any other emotion, can have justified roots. Anger, like any other impulse, will be misused and abused if I don't get used to it.





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* "Ode to a Grecian Urn"
 
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