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Do Not Be Fooled By Those 4 Walls

What I really want you to know is that I don’t understand how I am where I am. And, because I find the arrival to my life confusing, it’s really hard to make sense of the events of my life. Things keep happening and that’s enough. Let’s not allow meaning to harsh our presence. When I got to the detox, the guys were talking to a drunk man in the parking lot. The drunk man told us a few things that were wrong with the world and we didn’t disagree. Who were we to disagree? There’s a lot of things from various perspectives that are wrong with the world. Then he told us we could all get fucked and he hopes we fucking die, which was good timing because we had to get inside by 7.

Me and Kris and Wes and Zac were the guys they bring to the detox to tell the drug addicts that, if they stop using drugs, they will soon get money and girlfriends. Zac has a girlfriend in Germany. I knew Zac a couple years ago and I guarantee you that not one woman in Germany wanted to be his girlfriend back then. And Wes? Just 18 months ago, Wes came out of a blackout while helping a 52-year-old prostitute find a good enough vein to shoot dope in her neck. Have you ever come out of a blackout and just found yourself being alive and doing stuff? I can’t, in good conscience, recommend this to you but I recommend it anyway, at least once. It’s a good metaphor for every single morning. Wes is married now and has a daughter, only 2 weeks old. The prostitute, Candi, is dead. Now how’s that work? I don’t know either. But if you don’t pray, why not? Don’t you continue to appear where you are—over and over—for no rhyme or reason?

Are you paying attention? You need to understand this because, if you read this wrong, you’ll think I’m outlining some qualitative difference between us (me, Kris, Wes, and Zac) and them—the people in the detox wearing white gowns and orange socks. Or the drunk man in the parking lot. Or Candi. Or you. And I’m absolutely not; I’m telling you the exact opposite. I’m trying to tell you that I don’t understand how I am where I am or what a you is in relation to this. It’s like I woke up from a blackout and Zac said “Jon?” and I just started telling stories. “When I was 12, I got drunk for the first time and an angel whispered in my ear that Something good’s about to happen.” Some of the people in the white gowns and orange socks were sleeping or knocking my teeth out or losing the rigid sense of distinction between us; I saw my reflection in their eyes and we forgot for awhile about the frailty of names.

Kris told this story about being a little kid and going to the Grand Canyon. Looking over the edge and wrestling with that insatiable urge to just jump. You know, somewhere in your heart, that you won’t but, still, there’s that reckless part of you that’s always ready to jump, to take the next big step, to go where you’re going and I thought, yes, that’s where this, here, always is—the edge of the Grand Canyon. And, sure, some people are talking, some people are listening, some people are outside telling the whole world to get fucked, some are dead, and one of them is even doing what you’re doing, but we’re—all of us—on the edge and we all, in our own ways, want to jump.

Suspended between where we’ve been and where we’re going, our fates depend on the way the drink tips. Do you pray? Do you pray? Do you pray?


The Phenomenology of Funnel Cake

I want to talk now about remembering the funnel cake. Actually, I want to talk about something more than a funnel cake because who remembers a plain old funnel cake? I mean, seriously. How many funnel cakes in world history have been deep fried, consumed, and forgotten? A lot! That’s how many. Innumerable memories of funnel cakes have vanished in our collective swamp of memorial oblivion. People remember their rides on the ferris wheel, the merry-go-round, and a bunch of other carnival pleasures but press them for a memory of a funnel cake and you’re likely to receive some blank stares. Oh sure, they’ve had their fair share of funnel cakes; they know what they are. But ask them to describe the specifics of a particular experience with a funnel cake and those funnel cakes? They are gone, baby. Gone.

But this funnel cake was different and I’m not sure why. Do you have memories like that? Memories derived from experiences that stand out as they’re happening and you pay special attention to them because you know that this—this will be a memory. What’s the source of this standing out? It’s not as if it was an especially great funnel cake. It was—as they all are—crazy delicious, but that’s not what I’m talking about at all. I’m talking about the funnel cake, not as an isolated noun, but as a form of funnel caking occurrence. The way it funnel caked. A thing that happened set apart and above the things that usually happen, the things we often forget.

There is of course the context inside of which the funnel cake becomes the funnel cake: the carnival. The carnival, as you know, is a chaotic (anxiety producing) production of random forms and noisy colors. There’s lots of red! and blue! and yellow things! and little kids yelling or crying or drinking excessive root beers or looking at you strangely like they see dead people and you’re dead, which is dislocating. Greasy haired slicksters taunt you into throwing ping pong balls in goldfish bowls or plastic rings around soda bottles; they question your manhood with a single sneer. Was that a wild boar? A wild boar weaved its way through a crowd of Miller swilled men and motorcycle women. Or maybe it didn’t. The great fact is that it could’ve been a wild boar; it could’ve been anything. And it’s here—in the unreal midst of the way anything goes at the carnival, the rigged games, dizzying rides, dirty kids, loud music, brashly juxtaposed color, and hordes of drunken poor people­—here, at the carnival, where the funnel cake finds its place, its meaning in our cultural code, its essential funnel cakeitude. Add powdered sugar. Boom.

But here we have merely discovered the funnel cake’s essence in the funnel cake’s context. However, we are nowhere nearer the source of what made this funnel cake, the one I’m writing about, more than a plain-old-funnel-cake-at-the-carnival—indeed, a funnel cake that stands out and shines forth, worthy of vivid memory. Phenomenology’s hard.

Perhaps, though, the plain old funnel cake’s relational dependence upon context could serve as a clue toward discerning the power of this particular funnel cake, shared with Gwen at the carnival when the sun was just releasing its grasp on the day and the declining light ripped through her hair like a 1000 golden promises that shimmered underwater and I, absorbed in the activity of seeing her, forgot I was a man with a name and a funnel cake. Do you ever disappear like that? Like there’s no such thing as a you at all or, if there is, “you” are everything, all at once, together. Like, the world just then is one big explosion, a fountain, an eruption into which the past (and the future too) pours and it includes—is supported by—everything everywhere ever and this thing, this whole big thing, of which you’re usually just a tiny part is all here now, just now, and you are somehow a representation of the whole ball of wax. You are IT, you know? And it’s YOU, you feel me? Seamlessly. Can you imagine? Me and Gwen sharing a funnel cake at the carnival, more than me and Gwen sharing a funnel cake at the carnival, but a moment by moment exploding expression of the infinite bones of all that was, is, and ever will be, happening, issing, funnel caking.

All that to say: The power of the memory of that particular funnel cake undoubtedly occurs in relation to sharing it with Gwen. Gwen makes everything better. Gwen makes everything better. I will never forget that funnel cake.


Where I've Been

It all started when I choked on a Burrito Mexicano and I don’t mean a little. I’m talking blocked windpipe, stuck, stopped. It was like letting go of a helium balloon. Trust me. My kids, fighting over salsa verde, appeared in the vivid luminosity of lastness. Everything erupts in shining presence as the maw of death licks his hungry lips. Farewell, little ones. Don’t fight. It’s only salsa. The world is a rainstorm of salsa verde and free refills. Be good. Go light. Be kind and gentle stewards of the earth.

You know the sounds zombies make when they’re feasting and slurping on brains? It was like that. The sound. The Burrito Mexicano yacked from my throat, shot clear across the dining room, and stuck with a goopy smack on the window at Baja Fresh. All the people wondered what the hell. Life kept happening.

Fuck me, I thought, I need a free refill.


When a Burrito Mexicano almost kills you in a Baja Fresh, it changes you in your most deep and hidden places. Maybe you grasp this on an intellectual level but only the initiated can truly know in the heart of all their chakras. To make a long story short, blogging, Twitter, and Instagram were, just like that, robbed of their meaning. I was newly overwhelmed by an insatiable hunger to live life, do things, go outside, hit up the mall. There were innumerable bones from which to suck marrow. That might sound gross but have you ever tried bone marrow? Then don’t hate. Stop being a judge in a glass house who ignorantly disses marrow.

I found a place to live in the desert deliberately, or at least hang out for awhile. I needed a Bodhi Tree to sit beneath but I don’t live in Nepal or Bhutan and airfare is ridiculous, so I sat next to a cactus and called it good. I let my eyes go blurry and prepared myself for a direct confrontation with the true nature of suchness. If you can’t relate to the lofty nature of my ambition, try choking on a Burrito Mexicano at Baja Fresh and get back to me. It’ll fuck with your aims. Anyway, I’m trying to let body and mind fall away and dissolve into the ceaseless flux with neither beginning nor end but there’s these stupid birds going chicka-chicka! click! chicka-chicka! I mean WTF, birds? Don’t get me wrong. I’m trying to let things ride with an easygoing John Cage vibe but I need to speak my truth: these annoying desert birds—they’re pissing me off. First of all, they’re harshing my direct confrontation. The next thing you know, I’m musing on John Cage, a zillion miles away from the Great Matter. Then I’m angry and, worse, I’m getting angry about being angry because—dammit—a burrito almost killed me and my ardent attempt to enter the Treasure House is being thwarted by a couple birds and John Cage. Fuck it all to hell.


I’m not around much anymore. I sit still and quiet in the mornings until everything vanishes into the deep and empty oblivion of forgetfulness until Tingggggggggg, the world arises with a bell and nothing more is needed than the ever-strange thrill of being-this. There comes a time when the moment occurs with the force of all time and what an uncanny honor—to be a temporary expression of the unspeakable.

How will you express it? Smile, help, chew your food slow and careful.


Cutting & Mending


she said and I did. I looked into the mirror. Behind me, in front of me (mirrors are like that), she opened a drawer and removed a pair of scissors. In front of her, too, was a mirror and there we stood, back to back in the slippery world; I could, if I tilted my head just right, see her back and her face, depending on which reflection held my attention. I’ve been wondering, lately, about the nature of attention, reflecting on the way things appear in its focus and where, or if, things are when they don’t appear. If a tree. But here were we, over and over, infinite, all in an instant, stopped. Me, wondering to what end she held all those scissors, numberless, dizzying, too many to count.

“Don’t move,”

she said and I didn’t. She had been called by the hair, out of control, on the back of my neck to remedy the situation. The scissors’ cool metal on my skin made me shiver but the extent of this shivering, considering the circumstances, was excessive. It was akin to the experiences of being watched in a public place, déjà vu, the jarring realization that you will one day die, the sudden emergence of a pristine childhood memory, being drunk, the shudder of orgasm, and the sneaking suspicion that you are somehow always more and less than what you are. The shiver rippled. That is to say the whole room trembled and nothing was certain. The edges of things—called into question, forgotten. The cool metal of the scissors came together with the heat of her focus on the back of my neck to create a balance that conversed with the earth and sky, sun and moon, this, that—


“I won’t cut you, baby,”

she said and I believed her, though I closed my eyes and counted my breath. Here, in this bathroom as she slowly and carefully cut the hair on my neck, I felt the etching of what would inevitably be an indelible memory and a knot of jumbled thoughts knocked against my teeth.

I wanted to say things like I know this sounds weird but I have always been so miles away from everything, you know? Like, for instance, a coffee cup. I could grab it, sure, bring it to my mouth and take a drink but, still, it’s so ‘out there’ like everything else, everything, out there, and me ‘in here’, alone, really and truly alone, you know? Cut off, from everything, especially people. Sometimes, rarely, I would, you know, try to explain this to someone and they would think I meant lonely, like I had this feeling that would pass but, no, I’m talking about being ALONE, all by myself, always, and—I’m sorry if this isn’t making sense, but—right now, here, I don’t feel like me. Like I, me, am not me, as if those scissors cut away the distance between me and things and me and you and everything. It’s like I am. It’s like this is. The whole thing, you know, is maybe what people call—I don’t know—‘love’ and this, right now, isn’t me talking but, instead, maybe it’s the stars mumbling in their own awkward way about illumination and the shining that lights the way and—


I wanted to say things like that but I didn’t. It was just scissors on my neck and her concentration.


And freely cut hair, reflected endlessly, held aloft for a moment by the entirety of the world.


Until it began its infinite descent to the steady tile and things resumed their clarity and distance, supported now upon a foundation of selflessness and intimacy.



When you were pushing your daughter on the swing, you forgot about the rent. You forgot about your taxes and your credit cards and the broken towel rack in the bathroom and the hangnail on your right index finger. You forgot about work and working out and the bad dreams you’ve been having about a wicked pack of oil slicked witches chasing you through an endless concrete maze lacking both entrance and exit. From a pop psychological perspective, you were not a symptom of your issues. You were not abandoned. You were not the victim of a God fashioned after the constraints imposed by your drunk and raving stepdad. Your inner child was not wounded. You were not hounded by the sense that you’re not okay or good enough or worthy of love. Nor did you smother yourself with positive self-talk about all your admirable qualities and the good things you deserve. You did not obsess about, or feel compelled, to have a drink—just one drink, to take the edge off. Indeed, you forgot you had an edge. From a less conventional perspective of our psychopathologies, you were not possessed by demons or haunted by ghosts and you weren’t the numinous vessel through which bloodthirsty gods of war erupted, blindly seeking power and vengeance. You forgot to worry about the future’s uncertainty. You forgot to dwell in the muck of the past. You even forgot to remember that your car was low on gas.

Come to think of it, when you were pushing your daughter on the swing, you forgot about yourself entirely and, in the ecstatic release of this blessing, you forgot you were even a you at all, that such an odd little thing called you existed. Where did you go? Pay attention. Because here’s where it gets interesting and twisted. When you were pushing your daughter on the swing, some vaster You, the great big You that, indeed, contains you and everything else, but frequently—too frequently—gets imprisoned by your persistent identification with It, freed Itself from your unusually imperial dominance to inhabit the perspective of your daughter and, as a result, you forgot yourself in the service of this You that loves only to wander through the exotic forests of otherness.

And you were swinging! As the chains binding you to the swing set moaned with their predictable creaking like the bones of the very old, you were swinging, wildly to and fro, screaming Higher, Daddy, higher, screaming WHOO, and laughing. You were swinging and your long yellow hair sailed behind you like a superhero’s cape and the big yellow sun hung in the perfectly blue sky like a painting that sought only to explore the magic of juxtaposing a vivid yellow circle on a vast blue canvas. You forgot that math was hard and that school was a drag and that it’s becoming more and more difficult to navigate school’s social demands. Some girls are mean. Some girls are nice. Who are you? You forgot that your parents are divorced and how confusing it is to somehow be a member of the same family while blurring into the scenes of two new families. You forgot about your big brother, how much you admire and despise him. You forgot that your dad always goes to those meetings and you don’t really understand why but you’re glad he does. You forgot you spilled mustard on your blue dress and that you can’t find your hairbrush under your bed or anywhere and you even forgot that your braces make your whole mouth sore.

Come to think of it, when you were swinging, you forgot about yourself entirely and, in the ecstatic release of this blessing, you forgot you were even a you at all, that such an odd little thing called you existed. Where did you go? To the mountains! As you reached the highest point of your backward arc, you swooped forward and, freed from yourself into some vaster You, you were a bird launching into the air and flapping your wings, trafficking with airplanes and clouds, thinking big thoughts as big as the sky. Look at you! You can fly anywhere, anywhere at all, but the city and all its cold angled concrete and people bore you to death so you fly to the mountains where the rock is red and yellow and as constant as hope. You belong in the mountains. The mountains are home. For only in the mountains do you fit like a carefully built nest in the branches of a humble tree. You feel free in the mountains. There, you can finally relax and sing and, unafraid of men with guns and other predators, forget yourself. Come to think of it, as the idea of yourself as a bird gives way and blurs into your surroundings, you yourself are the entire range of red mountains covered in blue sky and we, too, are all of this.


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.



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.”


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.


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