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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. 

Monday
Aug052013

iPhone Airplane Ramble Part Whatever

I'm on an airplane to Chicago next to a member of the Chicago roller derby team, which is ranked 2nd in the world. She is also from Grand Rapids, MI, 30 miles from where I grew up. Born so close together, I hope we don't die.

People on airplanes seem to either be afraid of taking off or landing. I'm the only one I know who is genuinely concerned about collisions in the air with other airplanes. I have no rational basis for this fear. The news is not filled with devastating instances of fiery crashes in the air. However, it only takes one hung over air traffic controller and, bam, air collision, screaming through the sky strapped to this row of 3 seats. I suppose I would shout at the Chicago roller derby woman and try to calm her down. I would tell her "There's so much more than this! It's going to be really good, I promise!" Worrying about air collisions makes for a much higher stress level than the other fears. Take offers or landers have only a small window of terror, whereas I prepare for impact the whole flight.

I suppose I'm that kind of guy.

Being plagued somewhat by calendar based superstition, I'm for the most part certain that I'm going to Chicago to get dumped. This is of course a completely faulty defense mechanism because there's really no readiness in the fear of getting dumped. It's still a shocking jolt to one's worldview, which seems like an overly nice way to put it but I'm writing on an iPhone and not big on editing at the moment.

I've just been remembering myself, with compassion for what's coming for that guy, last August 5th. I was in Nova Scotia, naive, unsuspecting, not even considering the possibility that I was merely days away from the end of the relationship that had ended both our marriages. Cruise control. La-di-da. August 11. Fiery collision. I would drink at the airport and stay drunk for 8 days until a car accident raised my bottom high enough to start working Steps. There's a good argument for me deserving everything I got and there's even the bright side of sobriety but, man, the big lesson is that you just never see it coming. How about these poor fuckers who get peeled on the highway? Think too hard about it and you might never leave the house unless the carbon monoxide drives you into the street where a bus mows you down.

But this is all excessively negative. Being aware of the inevitable demise of everything can also make you alert in ways that you might otherwise neglect. Last night I had ice cream with my kids and it was so sweet and delicious. Eat everything as if you're on death row. And I made sure to hold my gaze into my son's eyes for an extra uncomfortable second and really add an extra POP! to my daughter's kiss because this goddamn airplane comes with no guarantees.

And what choice do I really have but to get on this plane with the assumption that it will land safely and to go to Chicago with the assumption that I'll leave on August 11th with my heart still in my chest? I can fear the worst and feel anxious but, if the last year taught me anything, it taught me to act better than I feel. Seriously. Just act better than I feel and, strangely, wondrously, I slowly begin to feel the way I'm acting. Gwen made a blueberry pie. People plotting to abandon you don't tend to make you blueberry pies. Unless there's arsenic in it. But, today, I will act as if there's no arsenic in my blueberry pie, just as I will act as if this plane will soon land and the Chicago roller derby girl next to me will live another day to skate and bash other skating women into submission, to rip apart their dreams, and even they too, the defeated ones, will rise once more to skate again, and again, because that's what we do: rip ourselves open to each and every seamless moment of creation and destruction, saunter on to airplanes, love again with reckless abandon and wide open hearts, and we eat the damn pie as if we're on death row, hopefully, faithfully, smiling, quivering on the razor between life and death as blueberry filling drips down our happy nervous chins.

Friday
Jul262013

15

“So you’re 15. For some reason that sounds a lot older than 14.”

“I know. It’s weird.”

“It’s absolutely insane. You’re approaching a time in your life when many young men mistakenly believe they pose a physical threat to their fathers. Have you considered swinging on me?”

“No.”

“Do you want to take it to the mat for some Greco-Roman style wrestling?”

“No.”

“You’ve got, like, bushels of hair in your armpits, dude. It’s freaking me out.”

“Why?”

“I just. I can’t. Piaget. The. You understand, right, that I used to wipe your baby ass?”

“I gotta believe that’s true, yes.”

“Like 1000s of times—I wiped your ass.”

“Got it.”

“And now you’re, like, I don’t know, this guy.

“Who’s going to drive your car in 6 months.”

“It’s like this surreal, um, totally not a pipe type of situation.”

“What’s the big deal? So I’m 15.”

“Man, you’re gonna go to college in like 3 frickin years goddamn!”

“Probably.”

“And then when you’re done, I’m done. You understand that, right? That’s what your grandpa did to me. He wrote me a check for $1500, told me good luck, and never gave me another thing—not a single penny.”

“Grandpa says you owe him $600.”

“That’s between me and your grandpa. See? That’s exactly what I was talking about. You wanna wrestle?”

“I said I don’t want to wrestle.”

“Wait. No. I think wrestling’s maybe just a metaphor for, like, I don’t know, wrestling to communicate or something but, see, it’s bigger than the standard generation gap. It’s more like this goofy postmodern goop where I want to tell you something but the words don’t mean anything.”

“Circle purple monkey drum.”

“Exactly! Now you’re talking! Listen, boy, it’s like this. When I look at your face and I see this this—this man, I feel like I’m choking on something, like I can’t breathe.”

“Do you detect, in my becoming a man, your own inevitable decline into old age and death?”

“Perhaps.”

“And the absurdity of death creates this crisis of meaning that you’re metaphorically representing with the desire to wrestle me?”

“I think maybe yeah.”

“But why me? Why wrestle me?”

“Because I love you! Listen, man, we gotta get this done before you go waltzing off into the world and I fade away into the dying of the light. I love you. I mean, damn, it’s so goddamn strange. We’re all just these weird ass sentient goofballs in this bizarre world of crazy shit like hammers and bananas and vacuum cleaners and switchblades and we stumble all over the place and, I don’t know, walk through doors and get haircuts and watch fireworks and give people money for eggs and toothpaste. And for what?!? Who the hell knows? Nobody fucking knows. But here’s the thing and I think this might be the thing that makes me choke. Honestly, I don’t even care about for what. And the reason I don’t care about for what is because of the simple fact that I get to do it with you. I get to do this whole charade of ridiculous nonsense with you. So what I mean when I say I love you is that the bushels of hair in your armpits are existential facts that overshadow the threat of meaninglessness. Absurdity itself is buried in all that armpit hair. See? I love you. Do you understand?”

“Only as far as understanding is possible in a world with no grounding foundation. But I love you too, Dad.”

“Fair enough. Happy birthday. Let's go raise some hell.”

Wednesday
Jul172013

Off The Trail

All paths are possible, many will work,
Being blocked is its own kind of pleasure,
Getting through is a joy, the side-trips
And detours show down logs and flowers —GS

A piece of a Gary Snyder poem he read 17 years back. That snapped into something she said last week. Big leaps. Across time and the synapse. We know so little about the people we love. We’re just a few facts away from being strangers. But then a piece will snap into place and what more can we ask for? The whole picture? He doubts such a thing exists at all. And, if it does, it moves way too fast to see. 

“A path is something that can be followed, it takes you somewhere. ‘Linear’” —GS

“If we’re going to go on hikes, you have to bear with me because I don’t do trails and I always get lost.” she said as she veered off the trail. “Bring lots of water.” He watched her march into the thick green woods. The lines of Snyder emerged just then with the vision of her little black Converse climbing over a fallen tree that blocked the way woven together with his fear of snakes and the knowledge that she grew up in a rainforest. Who is she? All this: poetry, fear, questions, relentless complexity.

“The relentless complexity of the world is off to the side of the trail.” —GS

Another piece. She spreads pieces all over the coffee table. They have iPhones, Mac Books, Wi-Fi, Blu-ray, and she wants to do a puzzle? Yes. She wants to do a puzzle and, because she wants to do a puzzle, it becomes apparent, as she flips over pieces and searches for the ones that will create the border, that they’re going to do a puzzle. (Another piece.) Kind of boring, he thinks. Tedious. And just as he begins to think something about how they’re in their 40s, for crying out loud, his eyes alight on two yellow pieces that maybe, he wonders—snap. A pencil? A banana? The sun?

Damn near wordlessly, for three hours, they listen to music and struggle with the puzzle. Being blocked is its own kind of pleasure. Getting through is a joy. The silence is not the kind of silence that bars communication. Rather, their minds—snap—are one thing that controls 4 hands and 4 eyes and this weird one mind beehive thing has 2 mouths that smile a lot. She fits, he thinks, and he is silently grateful for this night, its pace, this new piece that snaps together so perfectly with getting lost in the woods. The only way to love a puzzle is by carefully tending to its pieces while respecting what’s missing. Exhausted, they leave it on the coffee table, incomplete, and—snap—go to sleep.

Lost, they were dirty, tired, covered with mosquito bites and tree snagged scrapes. His right shoe was swamp wet. Sweaty, thirsty, divorced, in their 40s, living 2000 miles apart—there was no trail in sight and yet they rambled on together, side by side, piece by piece. 

Recall how the Dao De
Jing puts it: the trail’s not the way.
No path will get you there, we’re off the trail,
You and I, and we chose it! Our trips out of doors
Through the years have been practice
For this ramble together,
Deep in the mountains
Side by side,
Over rocks, through the trees. —GS 

Saturday
Jun292013

Flux, Tattoos, Snakes, And The Irrational Discontinuity Beneath All The Changeless Things

So not much has changed except everything, but most of the distinctions are blurred so it continues to look as if not much has changed. I love crazy ideas that fuck with the obvious. Like, you know how scientists say that, within a span of 7 years, every cell in your body has regenerated? That’s the kind of shit that gets my attention. Because that means I could see you today and, then, when I see you again in 7 years, you would be an absolutely different entity. Nothing of the you I knew will be the same and yet we’d still call you you. If your name is Jim, the ONLY thing that remains the same is the word “Jim”. Now we can start goofing with ideas like reality itself being constructed with the bones of grammar. There’s no selfsame person to whom we apply the name Jim; Jim is the word that gathers up and calls forth the Jimhoodness of this thing we call a “person named Jim”.

Is this the truth? Real? Verified by science? Who cares? It either interests you or it doesn’t. For me crazy ideas are generative; they open up alternative ways to live in and experience the world, which makes everything a lot more interesting and exciting than what everybody takes to be so obvious. People who hear this and say with sputtery disdain “Of COURSE we’re still US! Myah Myah Myah. So OBVIOUS! DUH!” have already stopped reading this post. If you’ve made it this far, we must be interested in the same kind of goofy things. Or if you’re forcing yourself to keep reading just so you can say “See? Black Hockey Stupid FACE is a stupid pretentious TWAT,” you might go look into reading some self-help books, partner. Go light. Take it slow.

For Hakuun Yasutani, being regenerated every 7 years is a far cry from radical. In his commentary on Dogen’s Genjokoan, Flowers Fall, he mentions that our bodies are created and destroyed 6,400,099,980 times a day. (!!!)—how can you not love Buddhism? Ideas like that are so exciting (and probably borne out by quantum physics but, again, science schmience). The frickin implications are boundless. Ultimately unfathomable. But, at the very least, wouldn’t it be a tad bit liberating to conceive of yourself as being in the midst of a constant process of rejuvenation as opposed to being the same old sack of shit for 80 years. The former generates awe and poetry. The latter generates, well, a sack of shit—albeit an OBVIOUS sack of shit. Commonsense, as they say.

Anyway, not much has changed except everything. I got a tattoo of Miro’s Bleu II across my hip, a painting that expresses Miro’s obsession with the landscape of dream and infinity. How many of you noted, just now, the way I leapt from ceaseless flux to the permanence of a tattoo? Stay on your toes. Me and Gwen are taking off for 2 weeks to go stay in a little cottage on the shore of a little island. I am for the most part excited about this trip except my study of the island revealed an above average density of snakes, like, everywhere. My imagination wavers between a smiling Gwen in a black bikini on the sunny beach and the need to watch my step on an island sized Indiana Jones snake pit. I’ll need to train for my half-marathon on the island and snakes. I’m beginning to lose control of this post’s sentence structure snakes. I’m exaggerating, of course. Mostly. Or not. Snakes are fucked up. Though none of the island’s snakes are poisonous, none of them have legs and they generate locomotion with naught but pure evil. One of the prevalent species is called the smooth green snake and this motherfucker is a bright and horrible shade of green found only in the palette of nightmares. Gwen grew up in the Indonesian jungle so she’s acclimated to an occasional python in the tree or cobra on the path but, as far as I’m concerned, fuck a green snake.

From the cool comfort of this airport, waiting to fly to Chicago, I can logically appreciate the fact that my fear of snakes is completely irrational. However, in the presence of an actual snake, fear’s irrationality trumps logical appreciation. Fear of snakes simmers beneath the skin, in my blood, lurking, like a coiled up snake, in the cellar of my brain. My frontal lobes can tell me all day long how they’re not poisonous or they don’t bite or it’s only 6 inches. But a real snake slashes into me like that streak of red on Miro’s blue background. From whence this fear of the serpent?

I’m still sober, quickly approaching a year, but focusing only on not taking a drink during the day in which I happen to find myself. For instance, today is June 29th and, certainly, I can get my head to a pillow tonight without taking a drink or 9. Each moment, 6,400,099,980 times a day, is a decision, a prayer, not only for me but for you as well: that your island vacation may be free of snakes, that someday, everyday and every moment, you arise into a sense of renewal, and that consciousness itself will appear to you as a great and constant prayer. Nothing need change, and everything after.