Saturday
Dec142013

Resilience

When the door opened, the light shocked the little boy’s eyes like a bright white epiphany.

“What are you doing?” a girl’s voice asked him. Not yet distinct from the light, she could’ve been a fairy or a goddess or anything. However, as she unblurred into focus, she emerged into a crooked nosed 9-year-old. She smiled as if to say I come in peace and she was missing a few teeth. Her right eye, a thundercloud of bruises.

“Nothing,” he said, timidly.

“Who’s that?” she asked, pointing at the dead man with a knife in his hand, lying in a pool of his own blood.

“He’s none of your business,” the boy murmured.

“So, to be clear, you’re doing nothing in a closet with a dead guy. Do I have that right, then?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Well move over, Rover. I’m doing nothing, too, but only in that godforsaken time out chair for—well—for forever, basically.” She shut the door and it was dark again. After rearranging a few board games, a tennis racket, and one left shoe, she sat down next to him. Their shoulders touched and he liked that very much.

“I’ve been here forever, too,” he said.

“Of course you have,” she replied. “But why? What’s to do in a closet forever?”

“It’s very quiet in here,” he said, “and safe. I do a lot of thinking.” He paused, waiting for her to ask him another question but she didn’t. The dark felt different, he thought, with someone else in it. “What about you? Why are you in time out?”

“I get punished all the damn time. Did you see my eye?”

He nodded. She couldn’t see him.

“I basically can’t stand the forced homogeneity and the hypocrisy and the robotic thoughtlessness that fitting in requires. So, yeah,” she shrugged. “The time out chair.”

He wished she would say more. He wondered what happened to her nose and teeth.

“You don’t say much, do you?” she asked.

He shook his head.

“So you like it quiet then, here, in your safe dark closet where you like to think.”

He nodded.

“Well that’s cool. I’ll shut-up then. I can be quiet.”

He listened to her breathe and, as all the muscles in his body began to relax, he watched the dark explode into a riot of writhing colors that began to morph into lively forms that he imagined—

“For a little while,” she said. “I can be quiet, I mean, you know, for a little while. But then there’s that whole forced homogeneity thing.”

He smiled at her. She smiled back.

Sunday
Dec082013

Entanglement

We lit a fire on the beach and I loved her the way waves roll in and smoke lures you into visions. Ghosts. Flowing white script. Snowflakes and flowers. Her sex messed hair. And then gone. Makes you wonder about the substance of things. But then I heard the waves. Saw the shadows on her face. How do we so constantly erupt from the dark into light? We looked at the stars, wondered which ones formed what constellations, but didn’t know.

We don’t know much, do we? Or anything? Probably not. Each and every certainty is two, maybe three, questions away from a brick wall. And we, familiar with good old Heisenberg and the superposition of Schrodinger’s weird ass cat, and also too old and divorced and smart to fall in love (it is, after all, only an illusion produced by an above average surge of dopamine through the mesolimbic pathway, no?), once—a year ago today—sat on the stage waiting for the Mountain Goats to play at the Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix.

But even if we did find all those Bears and Dragons and Dippers, couldn’t we, we wondered, just connect the dots any old way? Hey, look! There’s a coffee mug. And there! It’s a Swiss Army knife. And over there. That’s us, asleep in the morning, entangled.

The cat’s dead. But it’s also alive. Nothing is definite and you can work it all out with elegant equations or just accept the nature of boxes. You want to be my girlfriend? I asked playfully with the edge of a dare on the question. Yeah, I do. She replied, confident, cocky, up for anything. And I will lie and I will cheat on her and she will die too soon of a disease whose early symptoms are headaches, neck pain, and vertigo and all we will ever do is fight and we’ll even fight about fighting and the way you’re supposed to fight and how often we fight and how we don’t fight enough and I will get drunk and I will stay sober and we will light fires on the beach and look at stars and make love in Madrid and we will always find each other exciting and interesting and we will be bored stiff and depend on reality TV to survive and we will get married and we will resist such antiquated notions of enduring union and call each other lover until we’re 92 and we will both die in a car accident on the way to the Art Institute and we will break up and die alone and take new lovers and we will stay together until our pain and rages have chiseled deep wrinkles in our old wise faces and we will both walk slowly and see the bright side and complain a lot because we don’t see or hear so well and I will notice her barely shiver, just slightly, and I will hobble up the stairs and hobble back down again and, gently, carefully, like I’m wrapping a birthday present, drape a green sweater across her shoulders and say There there, chilly girl and all this.

We don’t know what will happen because everything will; it’s all entangled and not yet definite. But here we are, one year later, not with promises or vows, but only this: a willingness to keep opening the box. Look up. What do you see? You can draw anything you want with all those stars. 

Thursday
Nov282013

Gratitude

Today I remember you laughing with blood in your mouth. When we were young and wild with our heads on fire. When we thought integrity and poetry were enough to fill our stomachs. You were only ever a boy in the blue city. You were never supposed to be 50 and you aren't, but happy birthday anyway.

Friday
Nov152013

The Consequences Of Losing Bunny

“As truths are the fictions of the rational, so fictions are the truths of the imaginal.” —James Hillman

When my daughter, 9, recently unpacked her suitcase and discovered that she had left her oldest friend, a pink bunny named Bunny, 9, in a San Diego hotel room, she lost her mind. Here, I choose my words carefully. She lost her mind. Or a big part of it. The rich, important part.

I once caught her talking to her bike. “You are a very good bike, you know? Yeah. Uh-huh. Of course I will ride you. A good bike makes little girls happy and happy girls love to ride good bikes. I like your horn. Are you hungry? I will ask my daddy for a treat and then we’ll go for a ride. Okay? I will be right back but don’t you dare go riding without me because that would be silly. Okay? Good!”

And once, after gulping down a refreshing glass of red juice on a very hot day, she exhaled with a satisfied Ahhhh, held the purple cup to her face, and said with solemn sincerity, “Thank you, cup.”

I’m not relaying these stories as cute little anecdotes about the whimsical nature of childhood. Rather, I want to assert with the same solemn sincerity my daughter uses when talking to cups that the imagination is real. Without going into lengthy investigations into the history of ontology (the philosophy of what things are) and religion, allow me for the sake of brevity to point out that, at some catastrophic point in our pasts (both cultural and personal), the imagination, once an aspect of our experience as viable as any other, was demoted to being the opposite of what’s real as opposed to being a part of what’s real.

Everything speaks to us, yearning to be heard.

But it’s just our imagination, right? You see how we do that? We say it’s “just” our imagination. And when our children talk to bikes and cups and form intimate relationships with stuffed animals and invisible friends, we smile and chuckle because it’s “just” their imagination. But the imagination hasn’t always been thus degraded by being “just” so much nonsense in comparison to what’s reallier real. It was once collectively considered JUST as real as the scientifically measured stuff that monopolizes reality today.

And to what end? Well watch the news. Take a look outside. And ask yourself this: If we all believed, and acted as if, the myriad things that inhabit our lives were sentient; that our bikes and cups did talk to us, not through audible waves that vibrated our ear drums, but through our newly restored and esteemed imagination; that we genuinely do hear the whispers of our dead friends and relatives; that the whole world, all of it, was as alive as you and me; that, indeed, you and me were but lively voices in this enormous choir of liveliness; and we crowned it all off, this big teeming lively thing, with some fancy word like psyche or anima or soul or God—again, if we believed all this and acted as if it were true, how then would the world appear when we looked outside? Of what then would the news consist?

Put more simply, what if we were as kind to each other and the things of this world as my little girl is to her bicycle? Is racism, sexism, homophobia, environmental crisis, etc. and so on, even conceivable in a world where we feel sincere gratitude for the cup that provides our refreshing red juice?

Can you imagine?

These ideas would be certifiably insane (indeed, what is insanity but a way to label and marginalize an imagination that won’t cooperate?) if we didn’t have constant everyday proof of their reality parading right before our eyes in the children we’re raising. They are living examples of the way things really and truly are until those ways are stamped out of us by the tyranny of growing up.

And that’s precisely why my daughter lost her mind when she lost her bunny. I don’t want to minimize my daughter’s living relationship with Bunny by abstracting it into some deeper issue, so let me be clear. Her relationship with Bunny is real and it’s the primary thing. They’ve grown up together, shared all their nights together, and they’ve maintained a lively dialogue since the days my daughter first emerged into the evocative power of language. However, because she is 9 and approaching the appalling threshold where rationality begins to assume its imperial dominance (in our culture), the loss of Bunny amounted to nothing short of my daughter losing one of her last portals to a vital world where imagination retains its airy substance and becoming trapped in the rigid adult world of the way things are. And she lost her mind. She couldn’t sleep. She was inconsolable. Just like us, back when the reality of the imaginal vanished into being just our imagination.

On a happier note, Bunny has been discovered asleep beneath the hotel bed in San Diego. She is right now flying home, first class, where a raucous tea party will be had with a caterpillar, a guitar, and the ghost of my dead friend, Skip.

__

Originally published in Brain, Child Magazine

Saturday
Oct052013

What's A Girl For?

“Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad.” This is how my daughter gathers up my scattered attention into one focused lump. “Watch!” She runs toward the pool, jumps, transforms from a 9-year-old girl into a cannonball, and makes a hugeSPLASH! Wet old people grimace. The sun continues to hurl 100+ temps at the valley. The earth spins on its axis, devoted. Anxious traffic crawls and honks. My daughter emerges from beneath the water, smiles at me, and swims away, a happy little fish with yellow hair. My God how I love her.

In order to avoid thinking, a lot of fathers immediately inhabit an outworn stereotype when someone mentions the prospect of boys eventually dating their daughters. They become caricatures of anger and make wisecracks about running boys off with guns or keeping their daughters locked up until some ridiculous age. But I’m curiously warm to the idea of my daughter going on dates someday. Mostly because I think she’s really cool and falling in love is a wonderful thing to do between broken hearts.

“Are you looking for Gate B-8, sir?”

“Indeed,” I reply.

“Nonstop flight to Chicago?”

“How did you know?”

“Because that’s exactly where I’m headed,” she beams, “Climb aboard!” She’s too small to climb aboard—I would crush her—so I latch my hands on her shoulders and follow her around the room. Her arms are outstretched. She’s a little airplane in a yellow dress. The clouds are fat and happy ghosts that haunt, lazily, as if from big celestial hammocks, the fearless blue sky. I listen to the drone of propellers and Bob Dylan. My daughter offers me honey roasted peanuts and a diet Coke. My eyes hone in on a suburb of 100s of tiny houses below and I dream about the various dramas occurring simultaneously and ignorant of one another. A man is yelling something about a wet dog and an open door. Another one hopelessly pays the bills. A woman paints her toenails blue and remembers what the boy said on the playground years ago. A door slams. Somewhere, two people have sex as if the fate of the world depended on that frantic brutal deed.

As she grows up, as the boys and men inevitably gaze at her more and more from that perspective of apprehending her only as an object with which to have sex, it will become increasingly important for her to not permit those gazes to construct the woman she sees in the mirror, to refuse becoming a prisoner of that perspective. In this regard, I consider it an essential responsibility of my fatherhood to provide my daughter with an endless supply of avenues to otherness, keys out of the jail of certainty and the stasis of identity. Which means taking her to modern art museums, constantly using the words or and maybe, and celebrating the myriad ways she girls in the world. There are as many ways to be as there are stars in the sky and more. Of course a sexual being will be one way for her to understand herself, indeed a wonderful way, but in the end only one facet of numberless ways to shine.

“Tick… tick… tick,” my daughter is hiding beneath my desk and tapping my ankle and ticking. I’m trying to write this essay. People are dying in the war. People are dying in the street. My neighbor is in jail for selling methamphetamine. There is more than just our story. We are more than who we are. “Tick… tick… tick… Guess what I am, daddy. Guess what I am.”

“A clock,” I guess, thinking about deadlines.

“Nope,” she grins, “I’m a bomb—KABOOOOOOOOM!”

One of my biggest hopes for my daughter is that she never sells herself short in terms of what a girl’s for. What’s a girl for? A girl’s not for anything. Nothing. Not a single thing. A girl is for holding the space between, for or. And only from this space between, from nothing, can she ever and continually participate in the groundless potential of anything. She’s everything. My daughter is a cannonball, a fish, an airplane, and more—may she never stop exploding.

___

Originally published in Brain, Child Magazine

Tuesday
Sep242013

Awake And Listening To Gwen Breathe Away The Distinction Between This And That Until Morning And Mountains Are Mountains Again

I listen
to you
breathe
in the dark,
the ocean,
blood
through
a vein, rain,
wind coming,
going, again
and again like
a luminous
myth.

First Lovers,
awake, asleep,
both clutching
at dreams,
weaved.

Until the sun
frightens
the fish away
and we
appear, lit in
a literal room,
a real bed,
your head
of sleepy hair
caught
somewhere
between straw
and gold.

Thursday
Sep052013

The Fact Of Kids Fucks With My Head

There’s only so much you can say after awhile about being a parent because what I want to say, what most wants to be said is sealed off by a brick wall of unsayable presence. See. I’m not so much interested in humorous little anecdotes about kid wackiness or the powerful life lessons they teach via their wise childishness. I’m obsessed with something prior to what a good parent is or the things kids do. It’s really hard to talk about. I guess I’m just perpetually shocked by the incomprehensible fact that there was a time when my kids—they were no one—and the way that contrasts with the original fact of their suddenly being these things we call people. Over and over. They just exist exist exist and I’m like what? Who are? How did? And these dumbstruck unformulated questions ultimately dissolve into what I can only assume is love.

Do this. Go in the bathroom and turn off the light. Count to 10 and flick it on. That. That’s what I’m talking about. The way nothing erupts into something. How in the?

Sometimes I see my daughter dancing or skipping rope or drawing a big dinosaur with chalk on the driveway and I become intensely aware that she’s made of bones. I mean, there’s lots of other parts too but beneath it all there’s a bunch of bones that will outlast all our activities and reveries. It occurs to me then that I will die, that she will die too, and everything we ever shared will exist forever as a story scribbled somewhere on the soul of the world. And then I think something like How can such a pretty girl dance upon the tooth of death? and I don’t know what that means, but I write it down and leave it on my desk until it one day finds a partner to dance with in some poem or story.

Presence is differential, spit from and swallowed by absence. No future and past without contrast. The night sky is never the night sky until it’s salty with stars.

I’m coming at this two ways here and both ways are crooked because that’s how paths meander through the woods. I mean, first, there’s the day before my daughter was born and she wasn’t—you know—she just wasn’t. And let’s not get bogged down by the issue of when life begins; of course she was alive the day before she was born but I’m reasonably sure that she hadn’t encountered enough distinctions to erect a very sophisticated consciousness. Now transitioning from inside the womb out into the world? There’s a contrast upon which to begin building some pretty sound notions of this and that. However, if you insist that life begins at conception, that doesn’t negate the straight up weirdness I’m trying to convey. There was a day when my daughter was no one and then she was someone. I remember holding her in my arms in the hospital and viewing her from an oddly different perspective from all my relatives and their (spot on) assessments that she was beautiful. Stunned, I couldn’t even make it to the sophistication of assessing beauty. Someone, I kept thinking. How are you so suddenly someone? Where were you just yesterday? I bet you know secrets. I bet you understand everything more clearly than all the mystics. For you, so newly someone, have just made the longest voyage.

But the second path is harder to grasp because it moves from understanding being and not being in terms of a lifespan to the more subtle seamless and constant birth and death that flows like a river now now now. From this perspective, death is not something that comes at the end of your life. It’s the very stuff from which our lives constantly shine forth. Beneath her, above her, behind her, snaking in between all of my daughter’s little ribs, death is the just then and in a second, between which, against which, from which, my daughter appears, eating an ice cream cone. And that’s what I struggle to comprehend: the mere fact that my daughter is. Surrounded by, engulfed by, and nearly always snuffed out by darkness, she tenaciously illumines the moment with the light of appearance and being. So happy and blissfully unaware that she’s dancing on the tooth of death, she plays with a kitten, brushes her hair, laughs and eats candy. And I, dumbstruck by the way she comes and goes, dissolve into what I can only assume is love. 

Tuesday
Aug202013

The Dragon's Pearl Of Great Price: A Brief History Of Sobriety

A bright pearl has entered my constellation of cherished images, joining the likes of the moon and ice cubes and bridges and water and thieves and fire (burn it!). I keep finding pearls in my dreams. I notice them strung around the petite necks of women, on the lobe of a Vermeer, and the moon—it’s lately yearning to be a pearl. I don’t know why. Asking why insults the pearl’s bright white confusion of myriad colors that perhaps want to shine because shining is enough.

The images that populate my thoughts and writing are never derived consciously with the aim to symbolize things in a one to one type of meaning equation. That’s the way writers work and, lately, I’ve been feeling more like my life itself is immersed in some mysterious and unarticulable art project (artist unknown) as opposed to feeling like I want to craft little yarns spun by my clever ego. 

Certain images become of their own accord important to me and they both invite and resist interpretation. Rich, ambiguous, open to revision, but always, first and foremost, the image itself—the bright pearl, not what the bright pearl might stand for or what it means. Rather, what it might mean shoots off the image like sparks, losing me on paths of reverie and wonder but always leading back to its original source, the numinous image that calls and beckons, the bright pearl.

I have already alluded to the pearl’s strange communion with the moon. 13th c. Zen Master Dogen Zenji had much to say about the bright pearl. Alchemical texts refer to the Dragon’s Pearl of Great Price in relation to the Philosopher’s Stone. There is the strange notion of the pearl emerging as a result of sand or grit irritating the oyster. And this—because we’re wandering—leads to metaphorical resonance with my being sober for a year today and the great irritable price of that sobriety. 

Again, and I can’t stress this enough, these are all just secondary sparks of potential meaning that lead us back to the bright pearl as the bright pearl. The image is always and ever the thing. We mustn’t forget to give our images the room and time to interpret, change, and go to work on us before we kill them with our premature interpretation of what they mean. Let the pearl pearl awhile. Let the bridges connect. Let the fire burn and burn and burn until the city smolders in black ruin.

*

My history of sobriety is cloudy and fragmented and so many people, myself included, have different versions of the story that I want to provide a quick outline of my relationship to alcohol and then swear on my mother’s life that I haven’t taken a drink in a year, a fact for which I’m grateful and humbled.

I drank the first time when I was 12 and I loved it and did it as often as I could until my first introduction to AA at 19. I stayed sober 90 days and relapsed during finals week of my freshman year at Michigan State University. I got sober again when I was 20, February 16th, 1992, and stayed sober until the day after Thanksgiving in 1998, making me 26. I got sober again when I was 30 on July 31st, 2002 and stayed sober until November 10th, 2008, another 6 year run. My wife at the time was out of town in Seattle for work and that’s the night I began my extramarital affair with Kate via Facebook. Not engaged in a full blown relapse of frequent drinking, I drank with Kate in Chicago, July, 2009, and again with Kate in New York City, August, 2010. I left my wife later that month and my alcoholism flared out of control. I drank with Kate in Edmonton, October, 2010, and my drinking all but ruined a meeting with Kate in Portland in February, 2011. I made efforts to quit after that but couldn’t string together any time until Mother’s Day in 2011 that lasted until November of 2011. The hardest drinking of my life was between November of 2011 and August 20, 2012, because it was an absolute secret to everyone. It was semi-controlled (infrequent binges), insofar as no one knew about it—not even Kate—but it grew and grew in frequency and exploded when my relationship with Kate ended in August, 2012. I drank from morning till night for 8 days, mostly blacked out, until I woke up on August 20th, defeated, shaky, and finished. I read Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami and cried and cried and cried until I could finally stop shaking and consider alternatives to suicide. Pearls are created in an oyster’s reaction to sand and grit.

And here I am a year later, still alive, with a year of uninterrupted continuous sobriety for the 3rd time in my life. Good morning!

*

You may have noticed that my longer stretches of sobriety began when I was 20, 30, and this current year began when I was 40. I don’t know what that’s about but I honestly don’t believe I have room for another relapse and a recovery at age 50. I feel pretty done. Skeptics will wonder what’s different this time and I don’t know what to tell them. I can only say that, for the last year and especially today, for the first time ever, the 12 Step principles aren’t in conflict with the fundamental perspectives that shape my vision of what and who and where we are. In fact, the last year has created a forum for a very congenial conversation between the 12 Steps, Buddhism, the Post-Jungian psychology of James Hillman, and the philosophies of Nietzsche and Heidegger. And if certain areas of this conversation do initially appear to be irreconcilable, I merely utilize Keats’ concept of negative capability to allow for contradiction and the ability to endure the tension without the irritable need for immediate resolution. 

I pray.

I ask for help.

I conceive of a Higher Power that evokes paganism and animism and a spark of life undermining the eachness of each thing in the inseparable eachness of each moment, all connected and mirrored in pasts and futures that exist only in the imaginative song of presence.

Which lately coheres in the image of the bright pearl. The last 21 years is a pearl. Sobriety is a pearl. Today is a pearl. Everything is a bright, bright pearl that both contains and displays its differentiated resonance while declaring itself above all as a pearl—bright, brilliant, radiant, an image that sings with the voice of luminescence.

I wonder. What images capture your imagination? What are the actual tangible things that call to you, alter, inform, and change the way you see and live your life? What makes you wonder? What speaks to you about the many different ways your life can mean? What images need you to tell their story?