Wednesday
Aug062014

All Rubble

If there were such a thing as another option, we would advise you to keep moving. But there is no such thing. So keep moving.

Move, go, move until you yourself keep pace with the moving, merge with the moving, and then what? A daffodil, perhaps, on a windowsill, into which the whole world pours? A nice start, yes—pretty—but already gone.

So how can we say it? A flash of lightning? A thundering kaboom? The fire? All this. A clap of shine that shelters the darkness. A clap of darkness that shelters the shine. Applause!

But goddamn how we yearn to wash our hands of words and yet, at the same time, we can’t stop talking. Talking too can shine, does shine, has its time and then it’s gone, like wilting daffodils, forever.

Live every moment like a punch in the face. Get knocked out.

People will tell you to let go and let Whatever, but this assumes some selfsame you who lets go and remains, now bereft of something and probably crying, boring your friends. What if, instead, you let go of you, the you that holds things? If you let it all go together, it would all go together.

Wind, rivers, music. Blue balloons that vanish into blue skies. Like that.

But, then again, you letting go of you makes for a tricky jam. Because then you have to, in order to get the job done, let go of the you that lets go of you, too, and—wait—we’re making us dizzy. You really are infinitely persistent. So maybe just fall, or drop? Collapse, and die?

Dying takes practice.

So when things fall apart, fall apart with them. Stay falled apart. We know, we know. This is the last thing you wanted to hear. But what, if you would just stay falled apart, would be left that wants to hear something, let alone hold on to something that would need letting go?

No. Fall apart with the falling apart. Fall apart together. Whatever.

 

Sunday
Jul202014

This Is Not A Life

“So hey, um, thanks for being part of, I don’t know, the whole trip,” I said, groping for appropriate words. “You mattered, you know? You mattered big.”

“My pleasure,” he replied, strangely comfortable with the nearness of death. “And thank you, too, and Jon—you keep a good thought, will you?”

“Will do,” I said, nodding, manically wondering what to say when you part ways the last time, finally saying without thinking, “Take it slow, Jerry.” Eye contact. “You take it slow.”

Smiles.

Michigan. It’s always so good and fucked up. Childhood. Family. Old friends. Cancer. 

*

But tomorrow morning I will get on a train and go to the Art Institute of Chicago with a beautiful woman to see a Magritte exhibit and we’ll find secret places to hide and make out because being alive is no less beautiful for all its pain and suffering and lack of coherence.

People get cancer. Planes crash. We're all going to die. But this is not a life. This is not a life. This is not a life.

There are lines of poetry everywhere and songs to sing in the car and Magritte exhibits that display, among others, a painting of The Lovers (1928), two people with cloaked heads, unknown to each other, blind, ignorant, and yet—and yet—kissing with surreal abandon.

Beauty wins, death. May kissing trump despair.

Sunday
Jul132014

On Straightening

When all the happy teeth of your mischievous smile were covered the other day by your shiny new braces, I remembered brushing your hair. But that doesn’t make any sense at all, I imagine you saying without hesitation. No? Well maybe it doesn’t. But that’s the way I think, all over the place, all the time. Don’t you? Doesn’t everybody? Well I do and, for all we know, it does make sense. Let’s see if we can straighten this out.

When you were a little girl, I used to give you baths, which I loved when I wasn’t consumed by myself and my own ambitions, which was often but, nonetheless, there was always a part of me that stayed aware of loving to watch you play with cups and water and I loved the way it felt on my big hands when I washed and conditioned your pretty hair. It was after the bath when things got ugly. I went downstairs as you dried off and put on your pajamas. Solemnly, you descended the stairs with your detangling spray, a comb, and a brush. Your mouth was a straight line and your eyes were half-lidded. You walked straight to me and turned around, rigid, like a soldier. I doused your hair with the spray and so it began. First, the comb to rake through the bigger tangles and then the brush. You tried to stifle your outbursts but sometimes you squealed as big raindrops formed in the clouds of your eyes and rolled down your cheeks and God it killed me to hurt you.

One of the many beautiful things about primal cultures and children is their convincing ability to inhabit a world of amazingly creative theories of causation. I don’t look upon this ability in a disparaging way at all. I admire it, respect it, yearn for it, and fundamentally believe that it’s a truer way to dwell in the shelter of the world than the diminished world merely understood through the lens of science and its useful discoveries. People used to have gods that oversaw almost every form of activity and nearly everything they did was a prayer. They made sacrifices to influence the harvest. Mimicked myth through ritual. Created idols to protect their homes and sleep. Attributed good fortune to the goodwill of deceased ancestors. Danced for rain.

It’s been almost 4 years and you don’t talk about the divorce much; you never have. But I imagine you might shoulder the burden of your own ideas about what went wrong in your secret and magical way of making sense. What did you do wrong? Were you perhaps mean to the cat? Did you steal cookies? Did you think a horrible thing in anger that you quickly wished you never thought and couldn’t think away? Or maybe you stepped on a crack or forgot to water the plants and your parents got divorced. And though I wrote above that I admired this ability to live in a world where what happens occurs in the realm of art, one of my deepest desires is for you to know and understand in the deeps of your bones that nothing you did caused your parents’ divorce. That blame lies solely with me. Your dad made sacrifices to all the wrong gods and incurred the wrath of their vengeance. And, even though I’ve told you so many times that we’re both sick of hearing it, I remain always on the ready (when you are) to discuss my mistakes with you, to make amends, and set things straight. God, it killed me to hurt you.

But eventually the brush would slide through your long yellow hair like a hot knife through butter and I could see your body slacken with relief. And I would keep brushing for a good long while because I knew it felt so nice to have a brush running through your shiny clean hair without a single snag or snarl. Loosened up, you would climb on my lap and start telling me your funny stories about the way things appear and happen for little girls. The cat likes to sing when she thinks no one is listening but you have heard her, on more than one occasion, sing I Shall Be Released by the big glass slider. When you fell off your bike and skinned your knee, you yelled at your bike and now she doesn’t feel much like riding no more. If you ever get scared at night, you just talk to the moon, which makes you not scared, because the moon is maybe your best friend in the whole world next to Maddie. And I would just listen and love you, brushing and brushing your long yellow hair until it was perfectly straight.

Now it has come to my attention that a smart little girl has taken to sneaking a peek at what her daddy writes on the Internet, so I will break one of my rules—a magician should never ever never reveal his tricks—and explain to you exactly why your shiny new braces reminded me of brushing your hair. You start with the braces. They straighten your teeth. I brushed your hair to make it straight. But these are just metaphors for the constantly ongoing need to straighten things out with the people you love. I am ready when you are. Now turn that thing off and go to bed. I love you. —Daddy

Originally published in Brain, Child Magazine

Wednesday
Jul022014

Bardo

There will come a night when she falls asleep and leaves the light, on. It’s not a typo. Question that comma. Let that comma make you stumble, stop, and wonder. Why is it that we’re so drawn to what’s wrong? Why do mistakes stick out? Further, if what appears most vividly to us is that which is out of place, what do we notice when everything is supposedly in place. Is that even a thing? Is that an event inside of which you frequently occur? Nothing wrong here. Everything’s cool. No? Me neither. Because it seems to me that consciousness itself—what it’s for—is a tool for noticing what’s wrong with things, situations, other people, and punctuation.

For instance, she fell asleep and left the light, on. The comma looks like a mistake— yes—but it’s intentional because it wants your attention to cluster around the way sleeping leaves the light. Light, here, is synonymous with consciousness. She’s asleep. She left the light. She’s unconscious. But also? She left the light on. Damn. Now who has the problem here? Me, awake, or her, sleeping? This is why Dostoevsky said consciousness is a disease. Well, Dostoevsky had bigger problems than his girlfriend falling asleep and leaving the light on, but you get the picture. This is also why Whitman said “To die is different than anyone supposed, and luckier.” It’s going to be sweet. No worries.

Nonetheless, the light is still on and this won’t do—not at all. So I get up, walk around to her side of the bed, reach, for, the, lamp, and—stop. Again, what the fuck with the commas? Well, they denote a kind of distracted reaching for the lamp because, as I reached for the switch, I was caught completely off guard by the light spilling on her face and dripping all over her pillow. Does this ever happen to you? Please tell me it does. When you, alone and undetected, see something so beautiful that it sort of zaps your rational capacities and you think incoherent things like: But the. How? This. From nothing. How does it? All these silver rivers are too impossible to flow just, this, way. And yet. And yet. It hurts so exquisitely—this being rain, falling.

Who can say? But I think it was the splash of contrast between her dark hair on the starkly white pillow. It’s a violent collision, isn’t it? The way everything is—how we slam against nothing and appear. This, all this, is the orange sparks of something colliding with nothing and it becomes our story only through the telling, what we notice and how we use commas. So delicious to be something, anything, I thought, stunned, and perhaps not so sad that it all, disappears, as I clicked the light, off, and everything.

Sunday
May182014

How To Save The World or Twin High Maintenance Machines

Be generally despicable. Scoff at common sense. Ignore people who tell you the way things are. Ignore them some more. Ignore them until you can no longer stand their pinched faces and then tell them to put a sock in it and go straight to hell. Accept all their punishments with an impish smirk. Smile when you’re spanked. Laugh in the courtroom. Put your collar up and walk hunched over in the rain. Do not care about being very wet. Scowl a lot. Mutter incoherently to yourself and the moon. Listen closely to people’s problems with you, ask them to clarify the qualities that make you intolerable, make sure you know exactly what they mean, and then cherish those qualities. Cultivate them into a wild teeming garden of things people despise. Hail Satan. Hail Satan, tonight.

When people tell you how to be, what to think, and that you can’t be a writer unless you’re willing to be a great marketer, pause. Stare at them with no expression for an unreasonably long time until they begin to question their safety. Then say I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, but I’m afraid you mistook me for a street whore selling her ass for ten dollar rocks.

People will hate you. You will sometimes be inclined to internalize this hatred, agree with them, and turn on yourself. Resist this inclination and murder your judges. This is a metaphor. Do not take things so literally. Question the plausibility of truth and substance. Question these things until autumn arrives, all the leaves fall from the trees, and blow like mad through the raw and empty streets.

And then wait for her. Maybe smoke some cigarettes and develop and kick a few drug addictions. She might be a little while.

But when she arrives, you’ll know. Like you, after a long life of scoffing at common sense, she will be delightfully uncommon. She will be “delightfully” uncommon because she will have scoffed at common sense with more kindness and grace than you. Though she will not—like you—be a scoundrel, she will feel like one, for feeling unworthy of love is the price of admission for emerging individually from the mire of them. Because you are both laws unto yourselves, it follows that you will appear sexy as fuck to one another and devour each other with violent ecstatic abandon. Enjoy it. You deserve it. Remember all those hunched over walks in the rain?

But what’s this got to do with saving the world? It’s not as if you started a charity that received enough donations to cure a disease or carried a message of hope that restored peace to all nations. Okay. Fine. But let me tell you something. One of the worst things a person can do to another human being is to intentionally seek out what makes them unique—indeed, their essence, the thing about them that defines them and should be nurtured and loved and celebrated in order to flourish—to find that thing that sets them apart, hone in on it with abusive accuracy, and systematically dismantle it with hatred until they themselves despise the very things that make them special and loveable—this is the way the world ends, one person at a time.

So how then do you save the world? Well. Save yourself. Insist on being yourself at your own great expense and settle for nothing less. And then wait for her. When she arrives, you’ll know. And though she will be unwaveringly graceful and kind, she will not trust you or believe that you love her because the price of tenaciously being herself has stripped her of the capacity to risk indulging in such vulnerable luxuries. Do not worry about this. Love her anyway. First, love who she is for who she is, which will be incredibly easy because she is all you ever wanted. Next, love her fear and doubt and lack of trust without condemning it. In fact, love her because of it, because of its crucial role in protecting the woman you love. Love it all. Love it all. Love it all.

And finally, stop scowling and let her love you back. Grab an umbrella. Stay dry—both of you—until the rain stops and the sun comes out and then look up. Go ahead. Look up! My God you saved the world.

*

You are going to make it through this year, if it kills you.

Monday
Apr282014

Raising Feminist Kids

Feminism is a word that represents such a vast (and often conflicting) array of meanings, that, no matter how much you’ve read, it’s hard to know what you’re thinking and talking about when you’re thinking and talking about Feminism. And I should say it straight up in the first paragraph that I’m certainly no expert in terms of the many and varied nuances of feminist theory. I mean, hey, I like to think of myself as open-minded (who doesn’t?) but it’s often made clear to me that, as a result of my lifelong vision of the world from the perspective of white male privilege, I suffer from blind spots that make it either impossible or extremely difficult for me to imagine or understand the phenomenology of being a woman and/or any other victim of systematic social oppression. Now that insight doesn’t always occur to me as easily as I just typed it. When confronted by new insights, I get defensive, I resist, I stew, and I grimace until I’m finally able to see that I can’t see, that dwelling in privilege necessarily occurs on a foundation of blindness that is never magically cured by good intentions.

With that said, I have good intentions. I have a son and a daughter and a responsibility to wonder: How can I raise these kids with an eye toward a world that is kinder to women? Some of my kneejerk responses are that I should instill within my son a conscious respect for women, based in the awareness that being a woman entails experiences and struggles to which boys and men are never subjected and scarcely aware, and to teach my daughter that she’s beautiful no matter what, that how she looks need not be measured against unrealistic cultural constructs of beauty. Good starts, maybe, but there is further to go.

Being a man with a son, certainly, I’d like to raise him in such a way that he is sensitive to women’s issues and willing to play a part in the creation of a world in which women are confronted by less and less hostility. However, I’d also like to see the inverse of his kindness toward women manifest itself as outright activism when it comes to other men and our attitudes toward women. Above and beyond a revolution in our own sensibilities regarding women, men must up the ante by demanding the same in other men and by raising sons who are willing to make the same demands. This might mean something as simple as informing a friend that it’s totally not cool to call a woman a bitch. It could also mean the willingness to risk the use of force to put a stop to a sexual assault in progress. What I’m talking about is the exact opposite of the longstanding male tradition of looking away from misogyny and getting right up in its face. The logical extension of our “enlightened” views and good intentions is to risk our good standing among our fellows and demand some changes.

But what could possibly be wrong with celebrating my daughter’s beauty with no regard for its proximity to our culture’s twisted ideal of beauty? Well, what’s wrong with emphasizing our daughters as beautiful (no matter what) is that it overlooks and blocks us off from a pressing question about how we’re inclined to see women in the first place. Why is it that, as we nobly hope to revise what beautiful means, beauty remains, entrenched and unquestioned, the lens through which we apprehend women? Imagine the freedom we could reveal for our daughters if, instead of building more expansive prisons of beauty (“Everyone’s beautiful!”; “We’re beautiful in our own way!”; “We’re pretty on the inside!”), we knocked down the walls and granted them escape entirely from the shackles of this torturous adjective.

Our daughters deserve better adjectives. This is to say that we need nothing short of a revolution in consciousness in terms of the way we see and understand women. Think not? Observe for yourself for a single day what constitutes the first, the highest, and most frequent form of compliment doled out to women (indeed, from men and women alike) on television, in print, social media, and your day to day life. You’re beautiful. So pretty. Radiant. Gorgeous. Hottie. Love that dress. OMG your hair! Etc. Our damn near singular relationship to women as such is via their appearance and how their appearance shores up with beauty.

Our daughters deserve better adjectives. New modes from which to appear. Feminism as that which frees the female from a primarily seen and assessed object. But then what would she be? Sure, intelligent, funny, yeah, okay. But, further, adjectives personal to her, individual, that articulate her singular coming forth to girl in the world, not measured with scales of beauty, but apprehended as an expression of the unique explosion of forces that she was called to announce.

Originally published in Brain, Child Magazine

Tuesday
Apr222014

Lost in the Woods

It’s true that when I write I often misrepresent myself with confident declarative statements that appear to stand firmly on a bedrock of surety. But to know me, in a world among things and events as they happen, is to know a mostly quiet man who, when he does speak, usually stutters something about not knowing or the impossibility of knowing anything, which itself sounds much too excessively certain so I return to keeping my mouth shut to revel in the stunned awe of wondering shit.

Like, we’re supposedly these people, right? And we do things and there’s a sun and you lost me. I have always both envied and felt compassion for people who know what the hell they’re doing. When my alarm goes off, I’m amazed by how I just appeared in a bed and I have hands. And then people want to talk about gun control or sports and I just want to show them what happens when I close my eyes. Everything disappears.

I will sometimes say I love a woman named Gwen but I don’t know for sure what that means. I think that perhaps loving her might merely be a stand in for taking great pleasure in wondering and wandering with her. Gwen is a really good wonderer with great hands. A couple days ago we took a walk in the woods to look for a waterfall and got lost and it occurred to me, right then, that I loved her more than I did before. I had no idea why this should be so, but nonetheless I couldn’t deny that the experience I call being in love with Gwen—it grew. I was so purely glad to be with her and this gladness presented itself as a tender increase of fondness.

I am tempted now to describe her as we wandered through the woods but I’m wary of locating the experience solely in her appearance. She, as she appeared, was indeed the object of my affection but my affection itself was an event, an event in which she—being more of an event herself than an object—was entangled, and not just then, but it did however happen to be then when it culminated. She wore these cool as hell burgundy athletic shoes. See? I am not here trying to tell you that Gwen’s shoes made me swoon. But they were super cool and her black yoga pants flared at the ankle where they were bedazzled with gold swirls that really worked with those burgundy shoes.

And her tank top was not as much about her tank top as it was about the revelation of her freckled shoulders, which dip into blades that you can only see for a moment before you think about things like wings and flight and morning light. Gwen is lithe. She makes me want to say things like ballerina and porcelain figurine and wispy. Do you see now how she’s not just an object but a rich field of relational meaning?

We saw a snake. She asked if I wanted her to pick it up and I said, no, that I did not want her to pick it up. And, as I followed her through the woods, I thought about her childhood in the Borneo jungle and wondered if maybe my sense of falling more deeply in love with her was somehow related to being with her in this setting, if I was perhaps now having a more sincere experience of her, for was she not more clearly herself while wandering along meandering trails in the company of pythons (or harmless foot long snakes)? I smiled at the disparity of our childhoods, 9100 miles apart. How unlikely for us to meet. Impossible. And yet there we were, lost in the woods, as I puzzled through what I was feeling.

Is it possible that what we call loving is finding the right person with whom to be lost?

Sunday
Apr132014

Tell Me Something Good

The first cup of coffee. A good joke. The quiet certainty that you’re not alone and that you are loved. Sunrises from behind mountains. Long runs. Chocolate.

My daughter’s teacher called to discuss a classroom display of frustration that didn’t seem to shore up with merely struggling with long division. Something else was bothering her. Something she conceals that builds and builds until she unloads her sublimated wrath on that God awful math. She snapped her pencil and cried and cried and cried some more. Couldn’t be consoled. The teacher took her to a different room until she calmed down.

Movie theaters. Sharp pencils. Finding money in an old jacket. Forgiving. Forgetting. Popcorn.

Autumn explodes in a mad dazzle of fireworks but make no mistake: it’s the finale. It’s already over. And I suppose I keep returning to the metaphor of autumn with the hope of unveiling a graceful end. How, I wonder, can we situate death in a good story that’s beautiful? I have snapped my own share of pencils. It’s inherited. This frustration. These tears. And never knowing for certain what’s really wrong. Math’s giving her a hard time, yes, the teacher said, but she also let it slip that she misses her daddy.

Holding hands. Cherries. Looking up at a blue sky and feeling somehow boundless. Reading. Writing. Old wives’ tales.

To our delighted surprise, we realize that there’s no ultimate distinction between self and other. The painful experience of being-apart is merely a trick of the ego, itself the result of an illusion—some Great Reality mistaking itself for a smaller reality that often takes itself way too seriously. For an I is a you and the rest of it too. Unfortunately, however, our insights into ultimacy are ultimately fleeting. Being so stubbornly subjected to our own subjectivity, we find ourselves frequently lonely, afraid, and frustrated by math. We miss our dads. Will, we ask, these wounds ever mend?

The moon. Bridges. The ecstasy of losing one’s self in reverie. Solitude. Silence. Unagi.

The alcoholism recovery people suggest that we make amends to the people we harmed, which is easy if you stole $500 from your old boss because all you do is pay him back. But how do you make amends to your kids for wrecking their family? How do you put that right? I’m of the mind that it can’t be done, that the most I can do is maintain a vigilant attempt to mend the wound, to heal the separation. And this call from her teacher, this report that my daughter is frustrated and misses her daddy, stirred up—again—the issue of amends.

Smiling monks. Forest paths. The way light and shadow converse in a little girl’s hair. Belly laughs. Cold water. Naps.

An old friend, long dead, once, after vomiting blood for the better part of 45 minutes and collapsing on the bathroom floor, asked me to lay down next to him because he was scared. He shook with delirium tremens and cried and we just laid there, knowing he would die. And then from nowhere he said, “Tell me something good.” I peered into the brown sludge of his hopeless eyes and flashed him a counterfeit smile. “Please,” his voice quivered, “tell me something good.” We’re going to win, I told him. We didn’t.

Old photographs of your grandparents. Ice cream. The windows down in August. Devotion. Prayer. Potato chips.

And so, in addition to seeing her three times a week, to make amends, to keep busy with the work of mending, I commit to calling her on the days I don’t see her, to either see her or talk to her every single day. It’s awkward at first. We are often at a loss for words or she responds to my inquiries with single word answers and I flounder, stutter, stop. Until, as if haunted, I demand without thinking, “Tell me something good.” Silence. “Yes, that’s what we’ll do,” I make it up as I go. “It’s my job to call you, but you need a job too, so your job is to, every single day, tell me something good.” Silence. More silence. And then: I have five Jolly Ranchers.

Five Jolly Ranchers. Friendship bracelets. Indian food. A repaired microscope. Substitute teachers.

Autumn explodes in a mad dazzle of fireworks and—yes—it’s all over (nobody wins), but look at that bloody mess of red, orange, and yellow—gasp! Good things. Not a solution or a cure or an attempt at justification, but there nonetheless, always in all ways. And maybe in spite of the despair and the woe and all our lonely missing being-apart—maybe a way toward the real work of the never-ending mending is in the shared discipline of seeking out good things.

____

Originally published in Brain, Child Magazine