I can't think of anything to write tonight. The moon is a locked door, something you can't remember, a dream letter written in a foreign language. I want to say something that is not language but is the way you see a field of shocking purple flowers, all at once, like a fist to your jaw or a woman wearing a yellow dress. I know I'm writing like this because I read her Neruda in the bath last night and the candles and the cautious cat keeping her secrets and the flickering shadows. Neruda. Now that guy wooed some ladies. Because the moon and cherry trees and the green knife, the lines of poetry, coming and going like waves crashing in the dark. I am the first man ever to see the moon undressed on the water's surface, quicksilver, her three-colored eyes, fireflies. It is just this slow opening of the window and singing, the way she dries herself with a white towel, lit by candles, in the mirrors, infinity. I want to do to her what the thunderstorm does to the dark quiet sky. No. I can't think of anything to write tonight. Because these words will never be a bowl of fruit. Watching her walk across the room and disappear into the big white bed will never explain who she is or what she means. For meaning only ever truly resides in music, painting, shadows, and the infuriating silence of cats.
I fell asleep immediately on this airplane and I missed the free Diet Coke and peanuts so I don't know why I even try anymore.
I'm on my way to see Gwen and if you don't know Gwen then that's your problem. Maybe Gwen will stop somewhere so I can buy a Diet Coke and some peanuts, but it won't be the same. Is there no end to the pain of being sentient?
Everyone on Facebook is all "Yeah! We got you, bitch!" about the Boston Bomber but there are still people in the world who sleep through the free Diet Coke and peanuts. Somewhere, a bunny is squealing in the talons of a Hawk and a clown is getting fired from the circus. Can you imagine a clown getting fired from the circus? He will no doubt succumb to his taste for bourbon and pedophilia. Man, fuck the world.
I just woke up. This is how it is. Bob Marley says it'll be alright.
Maybe I should pray. God. Free me from the bondage of my self so that I can be useful and help me not hate everybody because resentment creates separation while trapping me in the perspective of my ego. God. Free me from my own perspective so everyone's not an asshole and life isn't just one long torture chamber with no free Diet Cokes or peanuts. Amen.
There. That's better. I hope you feel better too. I need somebody to help. Do you need a sponsor? Give me a shout if you need a sponsor and we'll do the Steps and there will come a day when the things inside of you that make suicide necessary are put to rest. Promise. They're resting in me and I was very recently almost dead.
A guy came to work drunk and it wasn't me. I felt really bad about it. Guys are coming to work drunk. People are blowing up marathons. And the pedophilia clowns? Mercy!
But I mustn't dwell on the negative. Soon, this plane will land in Chicago and me and Gwen will be freed from the bondage of our clothes. For today, that's my contribution. You guys can get revenge and argue about guns and make everything equal and fix the world. I just want to make out like crazy and do it well. Is that selfish? Man, you are full of shit. Just imagine if everyone shut their fucking yaps and made out like crazy. There's redemption in abandoning yourself to the mania of kissing.
I still need someone to sponsor.
What else? I've been running a lot again and feeling good. My little sister got married today. Bless her. All my sibs are married now. Looking forward to the summer and being with the world the way me and Gwen are when we're with the world. A lot of people still bug me about the novel so I'm 80% sure I'm going to dick around with it one more time and self-publish it with Amazon. I've lost a lot of ambition in terms of being A Writer. Makes people ugly. Enough about that.
The plane's beginning to drop. Hope it does so safely. But even if it doesn't, I could die with an easy conscience. I have done what I can to see and reveal beauty in the world. I've struggled, crashed, died, risen. I continue to conceive of my life as an art project on the canvas of soul.
Forget yourself. Grab every hand that reaches out to you. Find someone to kiss and kiss them hard and there will come a day when the things inside of you that make suicide necessary will be put to rest. Take it slow. Take care of each other. Take care where you can get it. Take care. And give it back. ~bhj
My doctor likes to listen to my heart. He likes also to call interns into the exam room and say “Give this guy’s heart a listen, and tell me what you think.”
Placing the stethoscope on different parts of my chest, they look perplexed. Waiting the doctor out, they don’t venture a guess until he says “It’s nothing. Runner’s heart. Slow. Steady.”
“Yes,” the young woman said today, “but it’s not just the low rate, is it?” She moved the stethoscope again. And again. “The beat itself. It’s so calm. Gentle.”
And I knew then that I was a monster, that all my fire had turned to ice, that I was a student of the silver snow.
I didn’t mean it that way, Miss Codi. Truly, I didn’t. Dead serious. Nothing up my sleeve. I never meant for you to stop blogging or abandon your Instagram. Do you feel bullied? I never meant to bully you.
Seriously. Come back and come in. Take your shoes off. Would you like a cup of tea? This is my little place on the internet and you’re welcome here. Indeed. Come sit on the couch. Would you like to sit on my lap? Or how’s this? Maybe we could get to know one another and snuggle under the covers. Clothes on. Scout’s honor.
I want you to be comfortable.
On the real, Miss Codi—how could I be anything but flattered? So you stole some (3) posts from my little place on the internet, posted them on your Tumblr, and kinda maybe fibbed a little about writing them yourself. Big deal. I mean—wait. Okay. In a way, it’s not very cool. But not in the way you’re worried about. You’re okay, girl. Leave the lights on.
Listen. People on the internet are straight up crazy. Most of them don’t care one smidge about any genuine ethics of plagiarism. Not at all. What they want is the opportunity to feel insanely self-righteous, shoot off at the mouth about it, lose their fool minds, and beat the living snot out of someone. But to hell with those people, sweetie. My comments are CLOSED.
And to tell you the truth, I’m on the fence about how I feel about plagiarism. Once I write this stuff and hit “Publish,” it shoots all over the world and appears on 1000s of screens and phones. People take stuff I write and make banners out of it or paint it on shit and send me pictures. They quote it. They link to it. A lot of stuff I write Stumbles and Tumbls. It’s cool as hell. Probably the coolest thing I can imagine about the fate of ANYTHING I write is the possibility that someone—anyone, anywhere—will someday remember it. Isn’t that a pretty thing to imagine? Even if this reads like bragging, what it is is fucking humbling. And you know what else it is? It’s enough. It’s more than enough. It’s cup runneth over type shit.
Who am I to claim ownership of these words? They just fall on me, like rain, and I write them down. Can I really accuse someone of stealing them when I’m the one who tossed them to the wind? Besides, it’s all just a dance of 26 letters, some space, and punctuation. What’s it mean to call these words mine? Hell, you’re the one reading them. Now, they’re yours. Forget them. Remember them. I don’t care. Jot the hot stuff down and give it to your lover. If you get some—hell—we ALL win.
I’m glad, Miss Codi, that the things I write impress you enough to wish that you, yourself, wrote them. Sincerely. And the reason it’s not cool doesn’t hinge on ethics and stealing and being wrong and bad. Being bad is awesome; I often am. Rather, to copy my stuff isn’t cool, dear, because it denies you the opportunity to bask in the pure pleasure and unparalleled joy of writing the things that only YOU can write. Only YOU can say what you say the way you can say it. And the real beauty of the whole enterprise is that what only you can say is always right there, right in front of you, waiting to be said. Trust it is all. Trust it. Even if it appears too weird and strange to write. That’s the stuff, Miss Codi. The stuff you resist writing is your style in labor. Breathe. Push. Let it be born.
How? A few quick pointers and then off you go. I never said you could stay all night.
When you’re wondering what to write, shut your eyes. In mere seconds (it can’t be avoided), something will appear. Don’t chase it away. Invite it in. Offer it some tea. Ask it to sit on your lap or snuggle under the covers. Talk to it. See what it wants. Write down whatever it tells you. It might say something like “The moon tonight is a thorn in my side” or “Stare at endings” or “There will come a day, if you’re lucky, when all your greatest futures melt into puddles that you splash around in, fitfully, for awhile until they all dry up and you just stand there, looking dazed and feeling stupid.” All the posts you borrowed began just this way, with one quirky little phrase that had a story it wanted to tell.
Go get quiet. Listen. Tell your story. Now shake your ass home and start over again.
I was in a band for a couple months. I got really drunk one night, again, and Brian Glover told me to leave and never come back. Has anyone ever told you to leave and never come back? You get used to it. Most of that night is blacked out but there’s a fragment of memory that hangs somewhere in my mind like an old painting in an abandoned museum: outside, the amp was so fucking heavy; I was walking all lop-sided, holding it against my leg with my guitar in my other hand; snow bit my ankles like January snakes; I remember that alienated feeling once again that only the most selfish people can possibly know; but then I stopped, drunk and freezing, to stare at the moon; and it occurred to me that the hidden blessing of loneliness is a unique and singular relationship to things like the moon and being cold and the wildly vivid sensation of being alive against the backdrop of wishing you were dead.
It hurts like hell, sure, but you have to pay the price to shine in the dark.
All that to say I was in a band for only a couple months and yet I remember the ecstatic sensation of being submerged, losing myself, in the depths of a group effort. And sound. What calls us away into the truth of forgetting more intensely than music?
Though sometimes it’s a source of confusion and frustration, I’ve been recently fascinated by the slow deterioration of my memory. Intrigued, I imagine a kind of goop clogging up my neurons as I struggle to recall things that used to simply fire through my mind at will. I try to remember something from a few days ago and I feel neurotransmitters ramming into walls, clutching messages that get lost in the mail. Man, I used to be razor sharp—I remembered details like burdens—but I can’t remember what I had for dinner yesterday without pausing to stare, sort through a few thoughts, and wait.
Which infuses the things that still possess the power to scar themselves into memory with curious significance and magic. No longer everything, why just these things? My daughter skipping across the crosswalk. The collection of 3 people at the bus stop when I run by in the early morning. Gwen, in her closet, looking at dresses. I remember some things in the vivid way that things happen right now. Why?
And then there’s this guy I know, Kris, at the end of the last song of the set on the first night of Listener’s most recent tour. Beating—and I mean BEATING—his drums about every 5 seconds until the song faded into nothing and we all became people again. Here’s the thing. I remember loving the song but I couldn't remember the song. Let me invert that for emphasis. I couldn’t remember the song, but I loved it—the formal aspect of loving itself voided of content. Except for that final image of Kris. Beating his drums so hard that he was doing more than beating drums.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe some memories stick because they’re more than what they are: some archetypal something else that’s always happening and constantly searching for ways to be memorialized in the images that populate our everyday lives.
The hidden blessing of loneliness is the moon shining through you until the January cold is a guy beating on drums like he’s trying to break you out of prison. We are not us. There’s a way out. Just hold on. There’s a way out.
The song referred to above is Track 8 on the band's latest unreleased album, so you can't hear it yet. But here's this. And this is, yeah, just listen.
I'm writing this blog post on my iPhone on a 3 hour airplane voyage ripping through the clouds on my way to Chicago. I have no idea what I'm going to write about because isn't that enough? Posting on my iPhone 30,000 feet in the air? The world is so crazy. I remember acid dropping my skateboard off a park bench and my Suicidal Tendencies disc skipping in my Sony Discman. Back then, you could only carry 9 songs at a time in a bulky contraption clipped to your belt and continuous play was a fantasy. Now I've got 1000s of tunes on this little phone and I'm writing you a letter from the sky.
Hello down thereeeeee...
I've got no unified metaphors or universal truths to express. I'm just strangely content and I hope you are too. We're all going to die. Let's let the years unspool how they will, unburdened by our opinions of them. It's a weird amazing thing to just be a being who lives and perishes. Our lives only suck to the extent that they contradict our plans while we cling to our plans. A funny twist, no? I used to dwell a lot on how things never seemed to go my way while never even CONSIDERING the solution of taking a hatchet to "my way". Because why? What then?
I'll tell you what then. When you stop approaching the world with an agenda and let yourself get swept away by the world's agenda, the world does a pretty damn good job all on its own. And if you think it doesn't, guess what? You're still judging it from the perspective of your agenda. Let it drop. I mean REALLY let it drop. Forget your plans. Forget yourself.
Because then all of a sudden, or gradually, you discover that your agenda is precisely the thing that kept you small and that forgetting yourself cracks you open to a bigger self that includes and embraces all the otherness that used to be other. But it's not anymore. It never was. Because YOU are THAT. Seamlessly, without conflict, and with amazed joy at just how in you are in or how out you are out (indeed, what could these "opposites" even mean anymore after the distinctions have blurred and dissolved?).
My God I've been thinking about mending. Not just with people, mind you. But mending the divide also between me and the world via selfless forgetting.
I am so glad to be sober.
I told my ex-wife the whole truth about the end of our marriage, which is not a pretty story. And yet she soldiers on with her eye trained with focused discipline on being solid partners in the big job of raising our children. She's a great example of the things I tried to describe above and she doesn't even need to go to meetings to remind her how to be.
When you approach the world with that very subtle shift in perspective, which amounts to dropping your approach and letting the world approach you, you are suddenly stunned by mangoes. To eat a mango is enough, absolutely, to topple the foundations of western philosophy - yet there's so much more. The joy of making new friends. Thank you so much Mark, Rob, Kris, and Zac. There's indescribable joy in taking my designs off my kids and giving them space to unfold. To actually IMAGINE that I am them (imagining is the path to being otherwise), to really inhabit their perspectives, wonder what they want and need from their dad, and then take steps to be that dad - the dad THEY crave.
Imagine yourself other, because you are, and then be what that otherness calls for and needs. And the world will explode into something crazier than the wildest poems. It's so amazing when it's not about you. So amazing when all that's not you fills the void of the forgotten self. My God, the mango! Juice dripping down my chin.
I try to imagine Gwen in her house right now. Is she reading? Watching TV on the couch? Doing something, somewhere on the ground in Chicago, the city toward which this plane magically hurtles as I type this rambling letter to you, she waits. On any given day there's 2000 miles between us and yet she waits as I rip through the clouds. What is this thing we call separation? What is the process by which people mend? And how is it that, in this crazy world of fruit and friends and children, that Gwen and I will soon find ourselves in a tangle of limbs and kisses?
We were not our plans and designs. We were what remained after all our plans evaporated, slipping through our clenched fists during those terrible lessons about how to unclench. What we thought we wanted was suddenly overshadowed by the undeniable fact of the world gifting us to each other. In this way, Gwen is the world. The amazing big world that rushed in to replace and surpass my best ideas. Constantly more than I could ever imagine, she outshines the limits of my paltry vision. The way the sun rises is the way her face emerges into view. Her hair is all lilacs. She's the other in my mirror.
And this plane is descending through the clouds now into a future that wants me.
My life is so good. I hope yours is too. I pray that you're able to find and smash through the edge of everything you think you are. The world - it's just beyond, waiting for you, hungry for you, aching and ready to kiss you hard on the mouth.
“Gone is always coming?” She read it off a post-it note stuck to my wall.
“Yeah,” I replied. “That line came to me in 2004 when I was a methadone counselor. A client missed her appointment because she was dead. So yeah. Gone. It’s coming. Always. In all kinds of ways.”
“That’s so cheerful,” she said and tilted her head. Smiled. Gwen is my kind of sarcastic.
“It is, in its own way.” I explained. “It creates a kind of pressure to be present. Being aware of gone coming infuses the here with a heightened sense of urgency as it goes.”
So we kissed like crazy because gone was coming; her plane would soon leave.
“So of course he’s just devastated,” my dad explained. My mind came unspooled, trying to fathom.
The trick is to genuinely know that gone is indeed coming while still throwing down and going all in. A year ago tonight I was planning a wedding: Kate and I were picking out rings and white dresses and discussing who would perform the ceremony. By mid-August she was gone; it was always coming because that’s what gone does: comes.
But we are human casualties to the extent that we permit the awareness of the way gone comes to prevent us from showing up to the here before the gone with the mad tenacious intention of staying.
And so I clutch Gwen tightly with hands that know she might always maybe turn to smoke while holding her as if I’ll never let her go. Because I believe in love. I believe in a love that breaks all the rules in a world whose only promise is the (sometimes slow, sometimes fast) dismantling of all that dares to stand fast against the gone that so ceaselessly and relentlessly comes.
“I’m calling to tell you your grandma died. She was 98.”
I bit my lip. “And grandpa? How’s he holding up?”
“Well. He’s a 97-year-old man who lost his wife of 65 years. So of course he’s just devastated.”
And who could possibly sense the coming of gone more than he? Yet he’s devastated and the reason he’s devastated is because he loved with absolute and complete abandon. He pushed all his chips to the center of the table and he went all in.
Risk it all. Hurl yourselves off cliffs. Jump! Devastation is the price of admission for a triumphant here that rages in love against the coming of gone.
Rest, Grandma Conover. Peace be with you, Grandpa. I love you, Gwen—the more impossible the better.
Elle Bee. You are 9 today and everything is smiling. The fear that trembles at the heart of all things has turned to faith and confetti and a gentle song that everyone is humming. No one is lonely. Sadness is ruined. It’s your birthday!
Piaget and Erickson have a bunch of sophisticated ideas about where 9-year-old girls are supposed to be on the spectrum of childhood development, but I’ve forgotten all that college stuff. And who cares? You’re so much more than a child in a predictable stage. You’re infinitely more mystery than can ever be known. You’re a vast expanse of yellow flowers howling in the rain. You’re the wind blasting through the trees and the weeds. You’re a pearl.
But I want to share with you what 9 was for me in my personal mythology with the hope that you too will be so blessed. When I was 9, my 3rd grade teacher told me I was creative and that I would one day be a writer and these messages took root in the core of my selfiest self to form the seeds of my identity and the way I understood my place in the world. These ideas were the rock thrown in the center of my pond; the rest is just ripples. Everything I am rings out from being 9.
Who will you be?
I’ve wondered it since the day you were born: Who are you? Who will you be, little girl? But don’t worry. You don’t have to know. You will always be more than what you are.
As you turn 9, my favorite memories of you are seeing you come off the school bus—when you grab my hand and we walk home. You burst with stories. The sun bounces through your hair and all the trees lean toward you. I tell myself to listen to you. I tell myself to remember you. I love you so much that I imagine the whole world was designed just for you to move through, live in, and tell stories about. You are a guitar. You’re the very best song.
9 years ago, your mother and I started a little fire and you have burned my forest down. I don’t remember being a man who wasn’t your daddy. Alone, by myself, left to my own devices, I am not a very good man but you make me better. I want to teach you things. I want to tell you about the things I have read in books and show you the paintings that change what seeing means. I want to be an umbrella. I want to be glue. I want to crack your head open and let the sky flood in.
An artist. An accountant. A drug addict. A nurse like your mom. A used bookstore owner. A ward of the state with a rap sheet of felonies and mental health disorders. A journalist. A cashier. A mother. I will love whoever you become, however you unfold. There is no possible way you will ever appear in the world and not breathe in the atmosphere of me loving you. That will sometimes mean a lot and sometimes not at all, but it will nonetheless be constant and sure like the ground beneath our feet. There’s a sky filled with clouds and birds. There are mountains and rivers and ageless stones. Water assumes the shape of its container. Two plus two is four. You will laugh and cry. Your dad loves you.
It’s your birthday. Cake. Candles. Presents. Presence. Yes, I love all the past and future yous but none like the you right now, today, the one turning 9. The whole world and all its processes rush and converge into the explosion of you, a fountain, a thunderstorm, a fire, awe, wonder, a precious little girl. Yes. It all adds up to you. So laugh. Dance and spin. Swirl your dress and rip the doors off the house. Because you’re 9! Throw your stone in the middle of the pond; let the water ripple where it will.
Happy birthday, little girl. And many more, and more, long after I’m gone and I’m only a memory. Smile. And that will be me, a ghost, haunting your face.