Tuesday, December 28, 2010

If ever time should flow calmly on...


[ source ]

After reading the fine collection of essays / reviews in George Steiner at The New Yorker several months back, I have found myself to be haunted by one in particular, Give The Word (on James Murray and the OED). As my life has been becoming increasingly entertained by the challenges of learning a new trade and running a business, I have more than a few times returned smiling, often laughing out loud, to these first two paragraphs concerning Murray and the ethos of Victorian culture that he worked within:

Did Victorian pundits need less sleep than we do? Consider the facts. They tramped miles over brake and through briar before breakfast or high tea. At either or both of which collations they would consume flitches of bacon, grilled kidneys, silver-sides of Scotch beef, a garland of mutton chops, kippers and bloaters in silvery shoals, and half a dozen cavernous cups of Indian tea. They sired more offspring than Jacob the Patriarch. They breathed Homer and Catullus, Plato and Vergil, Holy Scripture and Bradshaw's Railway Guide through their stentorian nostrils. When they voyaged, it was either through Turkestan with a walkind stick and one change of flea powder or to the spas of Europe with a pride of steamer trunks, portable escritoires, tooled-leather vanity cases, and mountainous hampers. The Sunday sermons that they orated or listened to ran anywhere up to two mortal hours. A second service, with an average of eleven hymns, four homilies, and assorted benedictions, followed in the afternoon. After which there would be Medelssohn's "Songs Without Words" at the piano, a reading out loud of two or three of the shorter epics by Clough or Tennyson, a charade featuring General Gordon's celebrated descent of a staircase at Khartoum in the grinning face of death.

Between which accomplishments out sages, scholars, boffins, and reformers would learn languages, sciences, literatures, and crafts at a rate and with a mastery to make lesser generations cringe. Victorian memories ingested epics, Biblical family trees, the flora of Lapland, Macedonian irregular verbs, Parliamentary reports, local topography, and the names of third cousins with tireless voracity. Victorian wrists and fingers wrote, without typewriters, without Dictaphones, to the tune of thousands of printable words per diem. Histories of religious opinion in six volumes, lives of Disraeli ditto, twelve tomes of The Golden Bough, eighteen of Darwin, thirty-five of Ruskin. Trollope had composed his daily stint of several thousand deftly placed words before the professional working day had even begun. Dickens could produce a quire at a time with the printer's devil puffing at the door. But this was only the half of it; for after the public leviathans came the private immensities -- diaries that run to thousands of minutely crowded pages, personal reflections, maxims, and exercises in pious meditation straining the hinges of marbled notebooks folio size, and, above all, letters. Letters of a length and deliberation of which we have no present imagining. Letters in the literal thousands and ten thousands: to Cousin Hallam on the Zambezi, to the Very Reverand Noel Tolpuddle concerning the thorny points raised in his nine addresses on infant perdition, letters of credit and discredit, epistles to every member of the family, to the beloved across the street. Written by hand. Very often with a first draft and a manuscript copy (no carbon, no Xerox). With scratchy pens. In the yellowish, straining aura of gaslight. In rooms getting chillier by the hour.

Time rushes by at an ever increasing speed. I often feel as if I am being thrown forward into the future with such violence that I am able to only jot down, create only the most ephemeral of impressions. Hours are minutes, days are hours, weeks are like days. I work on The Book as fast as I can, deliberately slowing myself to remark upon what seems the most superficial, telegraphic details. As the pages pile up before me, they seems mere outlines of what would write if I had more time. How much more? A hundred more years would not be enough. I happily, with typical morbidity, imagine only a few are left ahead of me. I must complete the Book.

And everything else. More realized drawings of Yoshitoshi's 100 Views of the Moon, The Ox-Herding Sequence. Paintings of the 10 Images of Incarnation in the style and structure of the Tibetan Thangka. Wood carvings of enormous bones and skulls. Origami structures inside a hundred bottles recovered from the sea. Scratchboard wood-cut style allegorical tales in the tradition of Lynd Ward, the story my mother told me, The Black Flower. Long blank verse epic poems about God as an organ grinder on the street corner and the dancing monkey. The Diary of the Ship Wrecked Sailor. Articles of local history on Bubbles Finley, the Equality Colony, Scrimshaw, Lost Hopes for Utopia in the Coal and Timber Booms of the past. A meta-novel that allegorizes The Maltese Falcon as a search for the lost presence  of God in Western Culture. Photo-comics about the dreams of dogs. Postcard series exploring the Rosarium Philosophorum. Photographic explorations of the local flora. Letters and cards to friends and family. And music, Seven Murder Ballads, The Forlorn Suite, Blues in the Key of Bone, live performances of The Insane. And more, always more. All of this in addition to the writing of The Stange and Sorrowfull Life and Terrible and Aweful Death of B. Jones. All of this in addition to owning and running a business. All of in addition to doing graphic design for several local companies.

And where would I begin to see any end to the mountains of books to be read, music to be listened to, films to be watched...

It is all good. There is time enough. And love. I take heart from the Victorians. From the core thesis of  Toynbee's Study of History: the greatest challenge triggers the greatest response, whether it be in civilizations or the creative minority of human beings. The Faustian wager, remarked by Toynbee,  is increasingly relevant:

Faust: Comfort and quiet! -- no, no! none of these
For me -- I ask them not -- I seek them not.
If ever I upon the bed of sloth
Lie down and rest, then be the hour in which
I so lie down and rest my last of life.
Canst thou be falsehood or by flattery
Delude me into self-complacent smiles,
Cheat me into tranquility? Come then,
And welcome, life's last day -- by this our wager.

Mephistopheles: Done.

Faust: Done, say I: clench we at once the bargain.
If ever time should flow calmly on,
Soothing my spirits in such oblivion
That in the pleasant trance I would arrest
And hail the happy moment in its course.
Bidding it linger with me....
Then willingly do I consent to perish.

Finally, the days burn bright. But burn. Often by the end of each, there seems nothing else to feed the flames. No more time to spend, no coin, no cent remaining. I go to sleep a penniless fool. Then the night restores. Mystical transference. And I wake up wealthy again, the world on fire around me.

I once thought of holding the Dragon's Tail. There is a fallacy in this. Wittgenstein's "If a question can be put into words at all, then it is also possible to answer it." Trying to hold the Dragon's Tail is a set up for the fall, for the un-holding.

So what is it? How to allude towards what needs not to be said? William James comes to mind. That resounding phrase of his: "The Moral Equivalent of War."

Its upshot can, it seems to me, be summed up in Simon Patten's words, that mankind was nursed in pain and fear, and that the transition to a "pleasure economy" may be fatal to a being wielding no powers of defence against its degenerative influences. If we speak of the fear of emancipation from the fear-regime, we put the whole situation into a single phrase; fear regarding ourselves now taking the place of the ancient fear of the enemy.

Finally, Cormac McCarthy:

There's no such thing as life without bloodshed. I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous.

There's no paranoia here, only a sense of urgency in the face of fleeting time, in the grinning face of death. I'll be the first to admit it's a personal decision. And a necessarily lonely one. Better: lone. The incessant refrain: there is work to do. Rising out of the wastes of my life, there is nothing more important than creating some artifact, however crude, of my redemption.





Sunday, September 12, 2010

O Bottom, thou art changed! what do I see on thee?


Daniel Maclise, The Disenchantment of Bottom (1832)
The painting is large, a bit more than 3 feet by 4 feet, filled and busy with detail. Bottom sits in front of a hollow tree and he seems to awaken from a nightmare rather than a dream. Two hag-like figures, not as we imagine Shakespeare's Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, Cobweb and Moth, are on either side of his head, an image that reminds us of the ears of an ass that have just been removed when the enchantment ended . One of these ugly little creatures pulls open his eyelid and the other blasts a trumpet in his ear. On his knee sits a small figure reading over his script for Pyramus and Thisbe, and overhead the reconciled Oberon and Titania float in a sensuous kiss. 


Haunted in every moment by the unforgettable desire to get the water back to the god.

In the face of this imperative, every word, image, sound... created artifact, seems a lie...

A key discovered in the dream with a message attached:

"Use this key upon yourself when you are ready to awaken."

When you do, the illusion of the dream gains more reality.

The flesh grows fat and quivers with sick laughter on the bone.

Eliot:

Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms his prison
Only at nightfall, aethereal rumors
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus

Refusing to accept the part of the "dull actor" regardless, in spite of, disgrace.

I have not forgotten my part in the play,
However,
Standing here in the curtains,
The pregnant moment
Shivers with the possibilities of abortion,
Wondering where such fears arise,
Worrying over my cue...

When you hear the key turn in the lock,
That is your cue.
When you see the flesh slide off the bone,
That is your cue.

Tucker believes a Globe actor would have received not a script with the whole play but a scroll containing only his individual part, just as Bottom and Snout and the rest did, and that before a performance the actor would have "conned" his part on his own with the help of the clues Shakespeare provided in the script. Going into a performance, an actor would know only his part, and the three-word "cue" that preceded each speaking part. Tucker has deduced that the actors would meet immediately before a performance to prepare the practicalities of entrances, exits, fights, and dances, but would have experienced the complete play for the first time only during the first full performance before the Globe audience.

Emphasis Mine:

...but would have experienced the complete play for the first time only during the first full performance before the Globe audience.


RE: Bottom and Snout:

FLUTE

Most radiant Pyramus, most lily-white of hue,
Of colour like the red rose on triumphant brier,
Most brisky juvenal and eke most lovely Jew,
As true as truest horse that yet would never tire,
I'll meet thee, Pyramus, at Ninny's tomb.

QUINCE

'Ninus' tomb,' man: why, you must not speak that
yet; that you answer to Pyramus: you speak all your
part at once, cues and all Pyramus enter: your cue
is past; it is, 'never tire.'

FLUTE

O,--As true as truest horse, that yet would
never tire.

Re-enter PUCK, and BOTTOM with an ass's head

BOTTOM

If I were fair, Thisby, I were only thine.

QUINCE

O monstrous! O strange! we are haunted. Pray,
masters! fly, masters! Help!

Exeunt QUINCE, SNUG, FLUTE, SNOUT, and STARVELING

PUCK

I'll follow you, I'll lead you about a round,
Through bog, through bush, through brake, through brier:
Sometime a horse I'll be, sometime a hound,
A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire;
And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,
Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn.

Exit

BOTTOM

Why do they run away? this is a knavery of them to
make me afeard.

Re-enter SNOUT

SNOUT

O Bottom, thou art changed! what do I see on thee?

BOTTOM

What do you see? you see an asshead of your own, do
you?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Just let it go. There is work to do. Not much time.


 [source]

Moments late at night, trying to assimilate some disturbing information, there with the book, with that textual dream ready to spin up inside my head again, a part of myself wounded, volatile, overcharged to explode into distracting drama, when this other part of myself doesn't actually move into the light as acquire firelit radiance, says, "Just let it go. There is work to do. Not much time." I sit there with that, staring into the fire of it all, burning in my mind, settling into peace, remembering each and every hell that I have suffered through, the demons dancing in the fire, desire throbbing in the blood pulse of the embers, contained transformation, soon ash.

In every life, there is always a season of moments that mark down deeper changes. A mother's voice: you are no longer a child. A father now: you have to stand up for yourself. Sadly, for most there are the sanitized rites of passage celebrated by society. A going through the motions. There's no weight to those rituals, no sacrifice. All is routine and compromise. A pre-printed card devised by some hollowed-out job-hating doofus at the Hallmark factory sums up your world perfectly. Where is the section for Sorrow Over the World's Darkening? Or, the politely chuckling off-color joke elbow to the side fist bump teeth brushed corrected smiles on the fake painted faces clucking around in a saccharine charade of solemnity where a parent's pride is continually leavened by a sidelong glance at the Jones' thus confirming the nightmare of the Sartrian No Exit: Hell is other people. In the most banal and bathetic way. There is nothing to remember about such pain for it is the only an incessant electric buzz of utter boredom. Mediocrity. You get used to it like a cheap paperback gets used: read and reread until its spine it broken and everything falls away except for the garish faded cover. A great read. Story of your life. What this is: the desperate and quiet lives of most men, most women. Men? Women? We live in a culture of artificial adolescence, spoiled rotten (in the most rigorous sense) brats left home to be always alone.

I never wanted that. I still don't. (Who does? Then, look around.) But you know how it is: you go to the party and no one is happy sitting with you in the kitchen as you raise your voice for a Living Philosophy that will Bleed! Them: discreetly eying the steak knives. You: shot down by a fucking metaphor, then wondering, but was I really? Like this: the vulpine pediatrician with the wet hand on my leg, telling me to use "all of my willpower" to not move my leg. Then the hammer with the rubber triangle strikes beneath the kneecap. The involuntary fucking jerk. A slow burn of shame as the doctor congratulates himself over the one thing he remembered from his third-rate education, looks over the top of his glasses, humming, "You can't control a reflex, son!" a lingering horsebite squeeze of the thigh. I wonder what started there as I imagined showing up next time with a secret metal harness to keep my leg in place. However, the social reflexes can be controlled. Still... difficult in every sense of the term. There are all manner of hidden social hammers. Even sitting there watching the game, declining to play, has been written into the rules.

Ritual involves pain. On all levels. Sacrifice is predicated by pain. The lesson taught about putting your hand into the fire is to not ever do it. But anyone who has ever tended a fire knows there are ways of putting your hand in without getting burned. The point is not to avoid pain, not to take some drug ("medicine") to get relief from it (licitly or illicitly), but to understand where it is coming from, then learn about it, to explore it and, finally, control it. Addiction (to whatever) takes root wherever there is a lack of control. Addiction... one of the most overused whored out words we have now. Means nothing, hasn't since 1906. It is not what it is about.

It is about having an eternal soul trapped in the body of a dying animal (Yeats). And the life of that animal is hell. Awareness is first and foremost all about suffering (Buddha). And it is only through authentic physical-emotional-mental (read: spiritual) pain that we have any chance to sacrifice our superficial, social lives in order to discover true redemption, at-one-ment (Christ).

So this pain now that I feel... what? The suffocating horror of an animal breaking out of its egg, skin, shell, chrysalis? No. All pretty poetry should be suspect. Who I am was born a couple of decades back. Thing now is I have become aware of a sort of freakish limb hanging off of me, a tiny leg attached to my chest just above the heart, kicking back and forth according to some hidden bovine joy. How long has that been there? I wonder. A long time it seems. And there I remember every pathetic scarecrow sack of skin, every sniveling twitching emotional mess, that wormed up close to me and tapped upon the reflex of that freakish little leg, delighting in the cute little dance, dressing it up in a cute little pant leg and a cute tiny shoe, making it dance and jerk around whenever it was convenient. So what is this pain now that I feel... it's the pain of having sawed off that fucking freakish appendage that was attached to my heart.

Sure it hurts. Hurts like hell, thank God. I can imagine it's going to hurt even more in coming months.

Just let it go. There is work to do. Not much time.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Big One That Always Got Away


 [ source ]


[...] And when real philosophers consider all these things, will they not be led to make a reflection which they will express in words something like the following? 'Have we not found,' they will say, 'a path of thought which seems to bring us and our argument to the conclusion, that while we are in the body, and while the soul is infected with the evils of the body, our desire will not be satisfied? and our desire is of the truth. For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and is liable also to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after true being: it fills us full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies of all kinds, and endless foolery, and in fact, as men say, takes away from us the power of thinking at all. Whence come wars, and fightings, and factions? whence but from the body and the lusts of the body? wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in the service of the body; and by reason of all these impediments we have no time to give to philosophy; and, last and worst of all, even if we are at leisure and betake ourselves to some speculation, the body is always breaking in upon us, causing turmoil and confusion in our enquiries, and so amazing us that we are prevented from seeing the truth. It has been proved to us by experience that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body--the soul in herself must behold things in themselves: and then we shall attain the wisdom which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers, not while we live, but after death; for if while in company with the body, the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things follows--either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will be parted from the body and exist in herself alone. In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible intercourse or communion with the body, and are not surfeited with the bodily nature, but keep ourselves pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And thus having got rid of the foolishness of the body we shall be pure and hold converse with the pure, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere, which is no other than the light of truth.'
[...]  And the true philosophers, Simmias, are always occupied in the practice of dying, wherefore also to them least of all men is death terrible. Look at the matter thus:--if they have been in every way the enemies of the body, and are wanting to be alone with the soul, when this desire of theirs is granted, how inconsistent would they be if they trembled and repined, instead of rejoicing at their departure to that place where, when they arrive, they hope to gain that which in life they desired--and this was wisdom--and at the same time to be rid of the company of their enemy. Many a man has been willing to go to the world below animated by the hope of seeing there an earthly love, or wife, or son, and conversing with them. And will he who is a true lover of wisdom, and is strongly persuaded in like manner that only in the world below he can worthily enjoy her, still repine at death? Will he not depart with joy? Surely he will, O my friend, if he be a true philosopher. For he will have a firm conviction that there and there only, he can find wisdom in her purity. And if this be true, he would be very absurd, as I was saying, if he were afraid of death.
- Plato, Phaedo

When I was young I used to go down to the Boathouse at the Lake. I would find an empty slip - where the owner had taken his boat out fishing - and lay down on my stomach on the walkway, my face close to the water. After laying down there for a few moments, the fish would return, darting here and there, tending shallow nests on the sandy bottoms. And I would feel let loose of my flesh. I forgot my body all together and dreamed down there in the water.

I came to have a hunger for it. When my Grandfather asked me if I wanted to go out fishing. I would decline, wanting to go dream down by the water.

One day, as I was laying there, an enormous catfish drifted slowly into view. I had never seen a fish that big in the wild. I remember feeling my excited mind was too big to fit in my skull. I stopped breathing for a few moments. The catfish swam a lazy eight underneath me. Finally, I couldn't stand it and slowly slowly slowly got to my feet, tiptoed a few more feet and then ran to find Charles, the Boathouse Caretaker and Fish Cleaner. He was down at the end of the Boathouse repairing a boat. Breathlessly, I told him about the catfish. I wanted him to come see it. He got up and walked quietly down the walkway with me.

Of course, the fish was gone.

Charles laughed and said that that was the Big One that always got away.

But I did see it, I told him, it was right in front of me.

I'm sure it was, he said.

Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day with my small fishing pole sitting in the Boathouse trying to catch the Big One.

And for many, many years after that.

The point I am trying to make is about when I first started to feel my "spirit" move within my "flesh," felt my bones first begin to laugh, when I started to attain a sense of God. What's interesting to me now is that initial hunger for transcendence, for freedom from the "foolishness of the body" and freedom for being the world of the spirit.

Until I was in my early teens, this connection between my flesh and my spirit was strong - a bright golden braided chain. Being young I took it for granted. Then came years of resentment where I pulled and twisted the chain, eventually breaking it in a kind of mis-guided Zen rebellion. Then came a time of no connection at all - just haunting memories.

And now...

I ride my bike down to the beach, sit with my back against a boulder, listen to the waves, occasionally pull out a length of braided cotton thread, lay it out in front of me and draw it slowly over the stones, imagining whales under the waters.


Friday, March 19, 2010

What Have I Learned? Or, What To Do With One Fold









Much of the Beauty that arises in art comes from the struggle an artist wages with his limited medium.
- Henri Matisse



I was born on this day.

I have never been more acutely aware of the "limited medium" of my self, this "shell" that my spirit resides within.

Spiritually, I feel less and less limited every day. This is beautiful.

Limited with my human being... here is the struggle, here is the enormous* sorrow, here is the daily, hourly, every single instant, awareness of abject forlornity, despair and anguish.

I imagine a poor hermit crab - nevertheless, still an inspiration for one of the more beautiful books I have read in recent years: Celeste Olalquiaga's The Artificial Kingdom: A Treasury of the Kitsch Experience:

A messenger of death, dust is the signature of lost time. 

The perfect golden proportions of the nautilus' shell is inhabited by the deformed and monstrous shape of the hermit crab. As the crab grows, it discards its shell to find a larger one. I imagine I'll cultivate a relationship. This seems all too appropriate. And I shall call my crab, Basil Hallward.

So here on the day of my birth, what have I learned?

A great secret (in that it was occult to me): I have learned the limits of my medium, of my self.

And I now have the wretched** and anguished awareness of everything that I will never be able to do. It sits on me like Fuseli's Nightmare. It is an enormous burden. Every time I wake from a world of dreams to the lineaments of my cold and grey existence, I am greeted with this terrifying-happy-puppy-cutely-licking-my-face awareness. (See "kitten on a pillow.")

Dayadhvam: A prisoner who dreams of the key wakes to confirm his imprisonment. Not thinks, dreams.

Or here, in this room with me now, the truly monstrous Skull of A God: long dead, long abandoned, even his bones forgotten.

Am I sad?

Not in the way most might think.

I am sad like Schellling:

This is the sadness which adheres to all mortal life, a sadness, however, which never attains reality, but only serves the everlasting joy of overcoming. Whence the veil of depression, of heavy-heartedness which is spread out across the whole of nature, hence the profound, indestructible melancholy of all life.

I am undoubtedly becoming more Teutonic in temperament.

I kid.

Happy Day to me. Here's how I plan to celebrate:

I'll raise my misshaped claw like Beethoven on his death-bed and shake it at the Great No One.

I'll stand next to Thanus in the stern and add voice to make certain his message is heard on Palodes.

So when we came opposite to Palodes, and there was neither wind nor wave, Thanus from the stern looked toward the land and said the words as he had heard them. "Great Pan is dead." Even before he had finished, there was a great cry of lamentation not of one person, but of many.

I'll blow out the torches, pick up the glasses and give the Last Call in the Gardens of the West.

It is closing-time in the gardens of the West and from now on an artist will be judged only by the resonance of his solitude or the quality of his despair.

I'll drink Black Milk with the shade of Paul Celan.

And while I have Celan at hand, I will make him carve the Holderlinic words he last underlined into my flesh:

Sometimes this genius goes dark and sinks down into the bitter well of his heart but mostly his apocalyptic star glitters wondrously.
And then he and I will swim for seven days in the Seine.

And I will have my cake, as they say, finally understanding why I cannot also eat it.

With this Achilles sprang from his seat and killed a sheep of silvery whiteness, which his followers skinned and made ready all in due order. They cut the meat carefully up into smaller pieces, spitted them, and drew them off again when they were well roasted. Automedon brought bread in fair baskets and served it round the table, while Achilles dealt out the meat, and they laid their hands on the good things that were before them. As soon as they had had enough to eat and drink, Priam, descendant of Dardanus, marveled at the strength and beauty of Achilles for he was as a god to see, and Achilles marveled at Priam as he listened to him and looked upon his noble presence. When they had gazed their fill Priam spoke first. "And now, O king," he said, "take me to my couch that we may lie down and enjoy the blessed boon of sleep. Never once have my eyes been closed from the day your hands took the life of my son; I have grovelled without ceasing in the mire of my stable-yard, making moan and brooding over my countless sorrows. Now, moreover, I have eaten bread and drunk wine; hitherto I have tasted nothing." - The last book of the Iliad, XXIV

And I will spend all day long alone in my room making origami blumphhs.



Fossil of a Whale Skull
"It had teeth and was a powerful predator that captured large fish, perhaps sharks, maybe even other whales."



*enormous = "a monstrous wickedness"
**wretched = something beautiful, twisted just once


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Blood even on the hand that had not held the knife



Down to the Bone

Doing some landscaping with an electric Bushwacker, clearing out a briar patch in the garden, moving too fast. Blades just kissed the fleshy pads of two fingers. Middle finger cut down to the bone. Ring finger no so bad. Time slows. I can admire the clean triangular geometry of each wound. The brain perceives the damage done to the flesh. Then just closes the door. Goes upstairs and stands on the balcony overlooking the pain. Pain claws at the door like a cat on fire. Brain calls down from above: I know that's got to hurt, but you are not getting in.




I go inside the house to wash out the blood, see how bad it is. Still no real pain. I figure that I must have a little shock reaction going on. The family advises a trip to the hospital. Down the road into the fluorescent institutional miasma. They stick me in a small room in triage. Sit for a while. I flash to the last time I was in a hospital, about nine months back, sociopathic, suicidal, paranoid, hallucinating helicopters and hell on drugs. I study the small wounds in my flesh. I can pull back a big chunk of flesh on my finger to see down to the bone. The pain is there. But it is out there. Not in my head. It seems rather easy to separate myself from it. 

A doctor comes in, washes it out with iodine. Tells me I need stitches. I tell him I don't want any. He looks at me. Shrugs. Says he might be able to glue them shut. He gets the shallow cut glued back but the deeper one is bleeding too much. Outside, we hear that a four month old child with cardiac arrest is being brought in. The doctor tells me to wait. Walks out. I wait about 15 minutes and walk out. They have more important issues to take care of than my cut fingers.

It has been just over 90 days since I have last used drugs. I remember it all like yesterday. I imagine that there are physical scars or lesions in my brain as a result. But more, I know without doubt that there are scars upon my soul. Every time I loaded up a rock into the stem, those blades were cutting into my soul. I can see now that I wanted that spiritual pain. I wanted to fall all the way down to the bottom of the of the world. To a place where I could be lost amongst the lost, where nothing was expected of me, where no one knew my name, or face, or spoke any language that I could understand. I wanted to cut myself down to degree zero. I wanted to know and to burn within the lowest circles of Hell. 

And I did. 

In the Divine Comedy, Dante tries at the beginning to take the way up. His path is progressively barred by three allegorical animals: a leopard, symbolizing sins of malice and fraud; a lion, symbolizing sins of violence and ambition, and a she-wolf, symbolizing sins of incontinence such as lust and adultery. So he must go down, take another path - "a te convien tenere altro viaggio" - through the Gates of Hell, abandoning all hope, down to the darkest pits of sin, before he can hope to ascend again. The path, as always, leading from the Dark Wood to the White Rose.

I imagine that most mature adults have their own particular allegories, myths, poems and prayers that they live their life by, that provide them with meaning. For me, it is the Divine Comedy and Wilde's Picture of Dorian Grey. I suppose that in some ways what I have been attempting over the last 90 days is to unlock the room where my "portrait" was hidden, to bring it to out "into the light" for all to see how I have cut and scarred the figure of my soul. It is only though this outward catharsis that have been able to take this first few steps upwards, with no fear of the leopard, the lion or the she-wolf.

A new life! That was what he wanted. That was what he was waiting for. Surely he had begun it already. He had spared one innocent thing, at any rate. He would never again tempt innocence. He would be good.

As he thought of Hetty Merton, he began to wonder if the portrait in the locked room had changed. Surely it was not still so horrible as it had been? Perhaps if his life became pure, he would be able to expel every sign of evil passion from the face. Perhaps the signs of evil had already gone away. He would go and look.

He took the lamp from the table and crept upstairs. As he unbarred the door, a smile of joy flitted across his strangely young-looking face and lingered for a moment about his lips. Yes, he would be good, and the hideous thing that he had hidden away would no longer be a terror to him. He felt as if the load had been lifted from him already.

He went in quietly, locking the door behind him, as was his custom, and dragged the purple hanging from the portrait. A cry of pain and indignation broke from him. He could see no change, save that in the eyes there was a look of cunning and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of the hypocrite. The thing was still loathsome--more loathsome, if possible, than before--and the scarlet dew that spotted the hand seemed brighter, and more like blood newly spilled. Then he trembled. Had it been merely vanity that had made him do his one good deed? Or the desire for a new sensation, as Lord Henry had hinted, with his mocking laugh? Or that passion to act a part that sometimes makes us do things finer than we are ourselves? Or, perhaps, all these? And why was the red stain larger than it had been? It seemed to have crept like a horrible disease over the wrinkled fingers. There was blood on the painted feet, as though the thing had dripped--blood even on the hand that had not held the knife. Confess? Did it mean that he was to confess? To give himself up and be put to death? He laughed. He felt that the idea was monstrous. Besides, even if he did confess, who would believe him? There was no trace of the murdered man anywhere. Everything belonging to him had been destroyed. He himself had burned what had been below-stairs. The world would simply say that he was mad. They would shut him up if he persisted in his story.... Yet it was his duty to confess, to suffer public shame, and to make public atonement. There was a God who called upon men to tell their sins to earth as well as to heaven. Nothing that he could do would cleanse him till he had told his own sin. His sin? He shrugged his shoulders. The death of Basil Hallward seemed very little to him. He was thinking of Hetty Merton. For it was an unjust mirror, this mirror of his soul that he was looking at. Vanity? Curiosity? Hypocrisy? Had there been nothing more in his renunciation than that? There had been something more. At least he thought so. But who could tell? ... No. There had been nothing more. Through vanity he had spared her. In hypocrisy he had worn the mask of goodness. For curiosity's sake he had tried the denial of self. He recognized that now.  - The Picture of Dorian Gray


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thus Were The Soothsayings Of the Sibyl Lost





I've always had a high capacity for solitude. Used to play by myself for hours out in the woods when I was a little kid. My grandmother even rewarded me for it. Walked all over Europe for a few months by myself. Wherever I've gone, I've always sought out the most desolate, isolated places. Walked the Camino de Santiago alone. Rode a bike across New Mexico alone. I never got lonely or bored.

Longest period of solitude: Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico, two weeks out in the canyon forests without seeing or talking to another human being. First week was hard. But then you start to lose the need for the presence of others. Even stopped talking to myself in my head. There was nothing to say. Strange and beautiful changes occur when you stop seeing yourself through another's eyes, when there is no more audience of family and friends whispering inside of your head, when your own inner voice becomes quiet and you realize that you are about as alone as you can get.

For the last four days, I have been alone here. My sister took a trip with her boyfriend to the coast. Before she left, she had a cold and passed it on to me. Nothing bad, just slightly uncomfortable. But I had no reason to go workout or run or bike. I didn't leave the house. Didn't even open the door. Slept during the days and worked all evening, night and early morning. Wasn't alone long enough that I stopped talking to myself in my head, but I was able to experience a level of inner quietness that I haven't had for a long time. And within this inner quietness, with the dust able to settle, I was able to get some critical inner work accomplished.

Imagine that you are able to think about a particular thing for not just a few minutes, not just a few hours, but for days. You don't mess with it a little and then move on. You stay with it, taking it completely apart, laying everything out around you, thousands of essential pieces, all arranged. Used to collect stickers, stamps and coins when I was a kid. On lazy Saturday afternoons, I loved nothing more than to lay the entire collection out on my bed, the floor, the dresser, grouping and classifying, studying each item, then reverentially replacing everything back into its box or book in just the right way. I absolutely forbid my mother or sister from coming in. They would mess up everything. So for the last four days it's been like that, except instead of stamps or stickers, I took apart my self.

What immediately comes to mind now is a transparency of intention, an absence of static, of resistance. Even better: an absence of doubt. Since I have been up here, it felt as if I would have an idea about something, a striking sort of idea, where I thought to myself: I should write that down, that's good. Then, the world would happen, distractions, interference, interruptions. If I could even remember the idea, doubt would darken it until it no longer seemed worth considering.

Listen, allow me this analogy: within us, there is an ur-language, a private language, that we use to think - and here language trembles on the verge of liquidity. Ideas leap out of the waters of the unconscious depths like fish. Some we have to catch. Some just fall right in our laps. At a certain point, we have to make sense of them, we start "preparing" them for language, for use, for expression. A good idea is an idea that can be used, that means something. As the idea is lifted ever further into higher modes of consciousness, it is cleaned up, gutted, filleted, wrapped in paper, packed into ice and put in a chest for us to carry home. Thus, the glimmer of an idea from ur-language to a sensible word.

For the last few years, I have, for a few instants almost every day, felt like a man in a boat full of fish. A boat full of fish and I never caught a single one. All I was left with was an abiding sorrow about the hollowness of my life.

It is obvious that for many the temporary pleasure, perhaps ecstasy, of the high you get from drugs is enough to justify hours and hours of trying to find some money, trying to find a ride, waiting for the man, running all over town, letting people fuck with you, only so you can score some drugs. You go through all of this trouble, this effort, this Indiana Jones and the $20 Rock routine, for what? A great hit will make the Great Golden Cathedral Bell ring for about 5 minutes. And that is a great hit. The usual hit is more like a cheap alarm clock clanging for a few seconds until it gets slapped down and muffled. One $20 rock might, if it is decent - and usually, it's not - get you four hits. But any crackhead will tell you: first one's always the best and you usually fuck that one up. Still. Still. You think that it is worth it. You tell yourself: even that horrible clang of an alarm clock high is worth it. Because, you see, inside of the experience of the high, as you are rising up, time stretches out all around you. Your skull becomes like a diamond that you are inside of looking out. Everything is illuminated, including your unconscious. Your boat, so to speak, is full of fish. Big fish. Beautiful fish that you believe could change the world. All of this in the time it takes to breathe in, then as you let go, breathe out, time shatters everything. Everything. Gone. And your boat has never seemed  so empty. You have never felt so hollow.

Time goes on like this. Doubt takes root in your head. You sit there in the boat getting high, fish jumping all around you, thinking: fuck it. It's all going to go away again. And sure enough, when you aren't high and a genuinely good idea leaps up into your awareness, you just ignore it or slap it back into the water. The drug has got you now, trained, conditioned to always doubt, to throw all the fish back, to let every moment of inspiration, of hope, slip right back into the black water of your hollowed soul.

After addiction, it is difficult to get rid of the doubt. I mean, you fucked up. Lied, stole, broke trust, all for this drug. Your judgment about even the simplest of matters is questionable, most especially to yourself. All you know is one thing: I am at the bottom of an enormous mountain and I have to start heading up. At first, it is almost like the tedium and trials of trying to get the hook up. Contrary to what many might believe, addicts can be extraordinarily patient. They will wait for hours in the cold and the rain, in the hot sun in the back seat of a black car with the windows rolled up listening to some stupid fuck talking to them about nothing because they know they are going to get the payoff. Of course, you take the reward out of that equation and they've got no patience at all. Point is, I learned a new level of patience, of just enduring, putting up with existence. So it's not a big deal to keep trudging up this mountain of recovery for a while without really even being able to think about what I was doing. Of course, some deeper part of myself understood: with every step, with every day, that I moved higher up, I was moving further away from any drug-related payoff or reward. For what then?

I've got this image in my head of Dante and Virgil climbing up the Mountain of Purgatory. After a while, Dante starts to speak about the sins of the Inferno. Virgil takes him over to a ledge and shows him the opening to Hell far below, says to Dante: it is time to speak of new things, to find new words, a new language. You have climbed too far up to return. The only way now is continually upwards. Always.

From that time forward what I saw was greater
Than our discourse, that to such vision yields,
And yields the memory unto such excess.
Even as he is who seeth in a dream,
And after dreaming the imprinted passion
Remains, and to his mind the rest returns not,
Even such am I, for almost utterly
Ceases my vision, and distilleth yet
Within my heart the sweetness born of it;
Even thus the snow is in the sun unsealed,
Even thus upon the wind in the light leaves
Were the soothsayings of the Sibyl lost.
Dante, The Divine Comedy, Paradiso XXXIII, Longfellow, trans.

This new way of speaking. This new language. Writing for hours. Thinking for hours. Ideas move through me, swim right into my grasp, easily slip into the wrappings of words and grammar. It is as if everything I have ever known is within my reach. I have thankfully been granted the time and space to arrange it all before me, regrouping and reclassifying, studying it, and then reverentially replacing it back within me, recovering it all. Everything is back in its place. Recovered in solitude. Recovered in grace.

It is a long way up. I still have a long way to go. I have a heavy cross to bear. And I can do no better than to end with a quote from The Eros of Repentance by Archimadrite George Capsanis, Abbot of the Monastery of Osiou Gregoriou on Mount Athos:

To walk this way means to lift up the cross of repentance. The Old Man does not give way without violence. And the devil is not conquered without hard warfare.



Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Another man dances through a stranger's days


[ source ]


Sixty-three days in the Bellingham haze
Dues down paid with the dealers only made
Me want to get up and with the bimp down grades
My love is long gone, fingerprints will fade

So no one will know if I just don't go
Back to Austin to stand in the Chicon Street glow
Over red rocks spit out of you told me so
I'll hide in the dumpster so the smoke won't show

Know that it's over in forty days
Quarantined bad dreams, a skull for a face
Know that I'll be back there to take my place
As another man dances through a stranger's days

Take seven from eleven and I'll pay you two
One for myself and here's a silver tooth
We're both burning rocks on the Fresh Up roof
A psychopathic liar and a lover of truth

She tells me again it's sin to fall down
High tales told in a cold northern town
She traces tattoos on my skin in the lost and found
I'm walking through the rodeo trying not to be a clown

Holding all the memories that are tearing me apart
There's a hole in my chest for a dead dog's heart
Take a bottle from the desert, drink in all the bars
Falling off my stool trying hard to play the part

I got a mirror in my trailer that's cracked three ways
Look into it long enough and you can still see her face
Up to facts about it all, those long summer days
In the smoke and the flame, the shame and disgrace

We burned up all her toys and sold all my books
About the bones and the language and everything it took
To take a dollar from the boy with the rabbit's foot
Set fire to the skies, lie about all we could

Now we stand in the front yard and she slaps my face
The bed's got a hole from where the dog took my place
Driving around the East Side for days and days
Crawl into the backseat to hide my face

I call out for forgiveness into a hung up phone
Digging through the snow, a dog for a bone
Trying to bury all the memories before I hear a dial tone
A recorded voice telling me that I'm not alone

Sixty-three days in the Bellingham haze
Holding my breath for a measure of grace
Amazing as it might have been, it's not my place
To try and start it all to end again, both of us insane


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

63 Days Walking Around the Rocks


Garbhagriha with Shiva-lingam | Kandariya Mahadeva Temple

Garbhagriha is also known as the sanctum sanctorum of the temple building. Within the garbhagriha the primary idol of the goddess is kept. Garbhagriha literally means the "womb chamber." These rooms closely resemble a cave and are generally etched out of granite. In the temples only the priests are allowed to enter the garbhagrihas. It would be wrong to suggest that these architectural structures are found only in Hindu temples. They are also part of the Jain and Buddhist temples. [...]

These structures are created on a plinth and are square in shape. The construction of religious temples in India is done according to Vastu Shastra. As a result the place where the garbhagriha is created is considered to be the spot where harmony prevails. Moreover according to the norms of the Hinduism the garbhagriha is considered to be the macrocosm of the universe.
- Garbhagriha, Indian Temple Sculpture

Long ago, music had a profound effect upon me. I remember how, at the time, simple pop songs expressed the truth of the world more completely than I could imagine. The feeling was that the song was mine, that the words were written for me. The music spoke to me. I identified myself through the music. Was defined by it. It transcended me.

I would wait for the song to come on the radio. If I was alone, I became quiet and opened myself up, allowing the deepest parts of my still developing self to be spoken to. If others were around, I tried to possess the song, stopping conversation, turning the volume up, wanting to be associated with it, making the song's sentiments my own. I have no doubt that this is a common experience. However, as I grew older and attained a stronger sense of self, those songs that once defined me were no longer satisfactory. I wince at scenes of my younger self desperately cuing up the perfect "driving down the highway at night" song, over and over again.

Still, even those songs, carried some measure of redemptive potential - if only as nostalgia. And while I may have been able to get around and move beyond certain songs of my youth, I have never been able to get beyond music itself. Indeed, I do not believe it is humanly possible. Music always prevails. No matter how deep I sink, music is more profound. No matter how high I rise, music is more ascendant.

All of this preamble to my current situation. With everything that has happened, I lost my sense of music. It doesn't move me. I can summon distinct memories of how music used to make me feel. But, hearing the music first hand, I don't feel it any more. I can't get inside of it. I am "locked-out."

The effect is similar to looking at a photograph of someone you love while they are standing right in front of you. I can only "see" the photograph. When I try to look at the person in the face, I do not see anything.

The secondary representation of music is accessible to me, but not the primary primal experience. I hear it. I cannot listen to it.

Often now, the sound of music is irritating to me, rhythmic waves of electrical current whipping and thudding through the pristine rings of silence, annoying drips of water in a glacial blue serenity, taut twistings of metal through skin, coughing rasps sawing upon the bone, insects eating into the skull.

I believe that, along with everything else, I am rebuilding my capacity to listen to music, to be inhabited by music, to be played, performed, by music. I imagine sacred architectural forms, temples, constructed according to the musical elements of rhythm and harmony, embodying symmetry and proportion, mediating between heaven and earth, and pulsing in the heart of the sanctum sanctorum, the garbhagriha: melody.

The problem is here: the meaning of melody is occluded, the notes do not adhere together. The imperative is to locate the meaning that is carried between the notes - as a metaphor carries meaning between two ideas.






Recently, I watched an animated video of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor where notes are broken down into bar graphs. Very ingenious, oddly fascinating, almost amusing and utterly sad. I have listened to this piece many times, conjuring cathedrals in my imagination, seeing the blood of sunsets pour out of the white bellies of clouds as they are ripped open by mountain peaks, felt the marble hands of the gods reach through the tissue of my skin and wrap fingers around my spine, but not this animated bar graph. Nevertheless this is how it is for me now. Music reduced down to a series of graphs, black notations on a page, dead, static.

It's been 63 days since I have used. I ask myself at least once a day, do you want to go back? Close the eyes, imagine a pile of rocks, an empty house, no threat of being interrupted for hours. Perfect crack scenario. Imagine no one will ever know. Say all of this, then... what am I going to do?

Without music, life is not worth living. I ruined that cathedral in my brain where the pleasure for music resides. Burned it out. But the stones remain. Where there is stone, there is an altar, threshold. Upon this, seven notes.

Seven notes over a pile of rocks. There is no going back.

With each passing hour, I endure the silence, tightening the strings of my resolve, holding seven notes in my memory, slowly turning the keys, listening for harmony, longing for melody.

The invention of melody is the supreme mystery in the sciences of man.
- Claude Levi-Strauss

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Eritis Sicut Deus: What is the Monkey?


 


At one point in my life I was obsessed by ontology. Obsessed in the in the same manner as the young man with Yorick's skull. I needed to move on to epistemology. From questions of Being, my own most especially, to knowledge. I mean, if I hadn't done it yet, then I might as well figure out what I could figure while I was here. Funny story:

Gutei raised his finger whenever he was asked a question about Zen. A boy attendant began to imitate him in this way. When anyone asked the boy what his master had preached about, the boy would raise his finger.

Gutei heard about the boy's mischief. He seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and ran away. Gutei called and stopped him. When the boy turned his head to Gutei, Gutei raised up his own finger. In that instant the boy was enlightened.
- The Gateless Gate

After meditating upon the un-meaning of Gutei's finger in the Gateless Gate, I came to the realization that, with regard to my issues of ontology and epistemology, it was the problem of the McGuffin.

From Hitchcock:
It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says, 'What's that package up there in the baggage rack?' And the other answers, 'Oh that's a McGuffin.' The first one asks, 'What's a McGuffin?' 'Well,' the other man says, 'It's an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.' The first man says, 'But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,' and the other one answers 'Well, then that's no McGuffin!' So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.

It functions as a device to initiate the action, to keep it going: letters of transit in Casablanca, the statue in the Maltese Falcon, a briefcase in Pulp Fiction. In itself, it means nothing and, as Hitchcock indicates, if you inquire into it, you are missing the point entirely. The film Detour is a beautiful allegory for what occurs if you do ask. What is important to keep in mind is that if there hadn't been a McGuffin, there would never have been a story.

What is the monkey?

The monkey is a negative McGuffin. It is whatever keeps you from realizing the truth of your nature. A negative McGuffin is something that turns the story away from it's true direction. Think of a rabid shaggy dog. Things just start going around in circles, never getting to the point. Think of a monkey. The Liar's Paradox. Godel's Theorem.

We all have our own particular names for the monkey. When I was a teenager and taking those first steps into the Wilderness of other religions, I had a hard time penetrating into what the Buddha meant when he spoke of attachment and suffering. What immediately came to mind was Peter Lorre in Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea, refusing to release the gold and jewels and sinking with them to the bottom of the ocean. At the time, love and attachment were almost synonymous. A few years later, under the spell of Walden and Thoreau's "possessions possessing us," I began to believe that it would be enough to merely maintain an awareness of attachment / possession - attempting the thread the eye of the needle by splitting the Buddha's hairs. It was around this time that the Monkey began to climb up my spine. I believed that as long as I was aware of the "Monkey on my back" that I would be immune to the various daemonic possessions and the sufferings of attachment. Soon enough, the Monkey was a member of the house. Not long after, I experienced my first "destruction of the room."



Inscribed on one of the books the Rheinhold Monkey is sitting upon:  Eritis sicut deus.

From: Eritis sicut deus scientes bonum et malum. Genesis 3:5 and a student's inscription, via Mephisopheles,  in Faust's yearbook. Translation: You will be like God, conscious of Good and Evil

Of course, that apple is a McGuffin.



Thursday, January 28, 2010

Watching Myself At the Stop Sign, Laughing Inside.



[ source ]


Late at night dreams. Old scenes. They are watching. Again. When you are hitting the rock hard, they are always watching, listening, waiting, gathering evidence against you. The neighbors with their infra-red scopes and parabolic microphones, the silent helicopters hovering above studying heat signatures, the undercover cops that look like housewives and midget cop-kids in the back seat of the white SUVs, the goddamned white SUVs everywhere. The tiny cameras in the corners of the rooms that look like spiders, blacked out faces in the a/c vents, the trap doors under the beds, the hands reaching up through the box springs. The shapeshifting shadows, demonic forces licking at your face. Through it all: the voices whispering, the teeth sliding against each other.

Everybody knows. Everything. You try to reason yourself out of the Fear. You know, since they all know, I might as well go all the way. Hold nothing back. Later, after the fiending, after the come down, when the low-key hunger to find more starts gnawing at you, forces you out of the house, you see it in their eyes: that self righteous smug superiority. Everyone acting like nothing happened. But you know that they know.

How it goes for the crack addict. You learn to live with it. After a while, the gallows humor, the trench mentality. Fuck it all. I got nothing to hide because I got nothing to lose. And, usually by the time you get to this level, you don't have anything left. You sold it all for the next rock. But the Fear never dies. It just gets stupid.

Now. Where I am now. It is all in the little things. Devils and details. I am watching myself again. Some part of me is watching, at least. A better part. It's like this: I'm riding down to the gym on my bike, come up to an intersection, no cars, no light, just a stop sign, I stop. When I take off my shoes, I place them side by side. I try to leave no trace of myself anywhere, no mess for anyone else to clean. Doesn't matter if I am in a coffee shop or a bar or a restaurant. I try not to waste anything: food, paper, water. When I am brushing my teeth at the gym, I wet my toothbrush, turn the water off.

This isn't an obsessive compulsive thing. It is that I want to do things the best way. The Best Way. Arete. This dawning ethos within me is most manifest in these trivial acts. Everyday, I sense myself watching myself, judging my actions and considering better ways to do them. In every aspect of my being, these changes are taking place.

Living in the World of the Rock, I became hollowed out. I saw myself constantly through other's eyes. And I was so far from doing anything The Best Way, that I surrendered to the drug. What morality there was defined good as more drugs, never enough, and the time and space to do them.  Evil was the absence of drugs. That was it.

After a time, you pretend to be good or nice or caring only to get more drugs, to get money for more drugs, to get more time to do drugs, to find a place to do drugs, to stay there and do drugs by yourself. And you build fucking cathedrals of lies and rationalizations to maintain. Lovers, friends, family, landlords are all ushered into the Cathedral of Lies. As long as it will allow you to maintain. To keep doing drugs.

You don't give a shit about stopping for a stop sign - unless it means you can get more drugs. You don't care where you take off your shoes. You leave trash wherever. You don't clean up anything. Leave the water running, oven on, whatever. The only best way is the best way to get high. And the highs just keep getting lower and the world you come down to just keeps getting darker.

So, yeah, I'm not laughing like a clown or anything as I stop at the intersection on my bike, or as I am standing there with a mouthful of toothpaste, but I take moment to beathe in and look back into the eyes of that part of me that is watching once again, watching me, wondering if this is The Best Way, knowing that it is.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Monkey In The Corner


Think about this all the time as metaphor, even allegory:

This is your life: a room filled with all the objects of memory, furniture of past and present selves and...  a monkey.

When all is well, you are in your room. You keep everything in order. And you've got this little place in the corner where the monkey stays. You attend to the needs of the monkey, feed him, change his bedding, etc.. You are happy. The monkey is happy.

But there are times in your life where you become preoccupied, distracted from attending to the room of your being. Starts off innocent enough. The memories pile up on the desk. You leave ideas hanging on the furniture of your selves. Particular pieces of furniture get shoved aside. The bed stays unmade. Chairs face walls.

And the monkey doesn't get fed and attended to.

You return to the room of yourself one day, open the door and a screaming insane monkey attacks you. You take cover in the corner. Everything is turned over, torn up. The monkey has covered the walls in shit. The monkey sits there laughing his crazy monkey laugh, screaming at you, masturbating onto your mirror, taking the most delicate aspects of your self and fouling them as he stares at you. All you can do is cower in the corner until you can get out the door and escape the room of your life.

You escape from yourself. But you know the longer you stay away from the room, the crazier the monkey will be when you return. You just don't want to deal with it. You stay away. You avoid the room of your life, of who you really are. Maybe, you think, that mother fucking monkey will die. Maybe then I will go back.

But you know the Truth: the monkey never dies.

Sooner or later, you've must return to the room of your Life. You must get the monkey back into the corner. Straighten up the furniture of your selves. Get the memories in order. Clean the shit off the walls, the cum off the mirrors. You've got to make friends with the monkey again. Let it know that you are in control and that it, not you, belongs in the corner.

Where I am: back in the room, sitting in a chair holding a huge knife. I am calm now. But it still feels like I have just finished a marathon. I am up, alert, weary. Sitting here with the knife watching the monkey in the corner. And he's acting all nonchalant and casual, grooming himself and pointedly ignoring me. But I know better than to take my eyes off him for an instant.

Every so often, he kind of glaces my way. I know what he's thinking. He's thinking: sooner or later, you are going have to sleep. You are going to get tired. You are going to forget than I'm even over here. Sooner or later, you are going to let your guard down, forget that I even exist. He is thinking: all it is going to take is just one second where you nod, look down, get distracted, and then I will fucking eat you alive.

But what the monkey doesn't know is that I have gotten wise to his ways. What the monkey doesn't know is that I found a way to fasten a little bell to his tail.

Where I am: sitting here, typing these words now, waiting, and knowing that it will happen, waiting for that first little ring of the bell, that little "ding" when he starts to sneak up on me, waiting by writing constantly, ready to write more, waiting for the monkey to attack so that I can begin cutting him apart, take off a leg or an arm, teach him a lesson, make sure he never leaves that corner again. Me and my monkey are going to get along just fine from now on.

***

You know what the Monkey represents, don't you?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Purity and the Practice of Death



[ source ]

Keep returning to Plato. Allegory of the Cave. Reinterpreted idosyncratically. The Chains beside the Fire. The Shadow World. The Black Houses on the Eastside. Chained to a glass tube. And the Fire. Dreams opening inside of the Smoke. And time like a tolling bell in the distance. There was a Monastery in the Desert... distant bell ringing... throw another rock in the fire... breathe in smoke, wait, wait, wait and the bell ringing becomes a single tone extending infinitely in all directions... a sphere of timelessness... not eternal... just a moment paused... free of all desire... then, the tone wavers, echoes and falls off... the silence of the Desert... Time wraps around you, fills you and overflows you... the Fire of Unattainable Desire burning white hot now... in the distance, a bell tolling.
At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply?
- Republic, Book VII
The Jungian Imago is born out of Platonic Forms. Within the Dantean Cave that is my self, I catch a glimpse of the Other, the Imago. Here is the core of my arete. The idealized image of self. A Form that transcends name and face, this particular form of flesh. This Imago is the skeleton that steps out of this body at death. Clothes itself with flesh at birth. The Skeleton of my Self abides.

The truth rather is that the soul which is pure at departing draws after her no bodily taint, having never voluntarily had connection with the body, which she is ever avoiding, herself gathered into herself (for such abstraction has been the study of her life). And what does this mean but that she has been a true disciple of philosophy and has practised how to die easily? And is not philosophy the practice of death?

Certainly.
That soul, I say, herself invisible, departs to the invisible world to the divine and immortal and rational: thither arriving, she lives in bliss and is released from the error and folly of men, their fears and wild passions and all other human ills, and forever dwells, as they say of the initiated, in company with the gods. Is not this true, Cebes?

Yes, said Cebes, beyond a doubt.
But the soul which has been polluted, and is impure at the time of her departure, and is the companion and servant of the body always, and is in love with and fascinated by the body and by the desires and pleasures of the body, until she is led to believe that the truth only exists in a bodily form, which a man may touch and see and taste and use for the purposes of his lusts-the soul, I mean, accustomed to hate and fear and avoid the intellectual principle, which to the bodily eye is dark and invisible, and can be attained only by philosophy-do you suppose that such a soul as this will depart pure and unalloyed?
- Phaedo
The imperative is Purity. After Purity, Simplicity. After Simplicity, Grace. To embrace the Imago, the Skeletal Self, the way leads down the Path of Purity. Stepping away from the Fire, from the Rock, from the Smoke, awakening from the Dreams of the Pipe was merely the beginning. Again. Circling around this Spiral Path. Again. The Slut of Time playing her tricks.

Friend of mine sent me a booklet once, Caigamos Abajo. It is an allegory of sorts. About Desire and Time. This is the Slut of Time:

He imagines this timeless sphere of ecstasy. A fragile shimmering bubble. But endless in duration. Outside of time. It  cannot be called an instant or a moment. But it is lodged within the memory – to such an extent that even the remembering of it dissolves the edges of time. But this memory corrupts. Every time-bound moment is polluted with the possibility of not-being-enough. A little more, a little less, not quite it, too much. Waiting for the next instant to unfold into the timeless possibilities of the eternal present. She is time. And she binds him down with desire. Seduces him to believe that it will all be there again in the next moment. He happily sacrifices his most sacred memories on an altar of the future. For her.

Here is the Big Lie. The Lie of the Mind. Here is the etiology of my Fall. The Great Secret of my Addiction. I know that as I attain greater Purity, these lightly coded allegories will become sharper and more vivid. The Skeleton is dancing in the Sun. Shadows of Bone and Skull flicker through the dim light of my world. The film is slowing. And I can finally start to discern the shapes of the frames, what lies between each instance of this projected illusion once again.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fragment of Arete: Star-Dust Caught



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Felt it the other day for the first time in a long while: a fragment, a shard from the broken whole of who I once was, a particle of ἀρετή, arete. Something so broken, so reduced, that there is no more breaking it into something less. But it is enough. Enough to make my Faustian stand. And here, Mephistopheles laughs.

From the immovable point of arete: everything. Archimedes bathes in my blood: give me a lever and I can move the world. I am sure it seems ridiculous. An elephant dancing on the head of a pin. But I have something to build up now. A single square stone at the core of the Cathedral.

Arete doesn't have an easy definition. Even the Greeks, as Aristotle famously stated, had trouble with it. Essentially, it is self-excellence. It is often translated as virtue. The trouble here is that, in our culuture, virtue is most often conferred upon one by others. One is virtuous more because of how he is seen by others, than how he sees himself. The language of virtue got tangled and wound tight around Christian qualities of humility and selflessness. To the Greeks, virtue, arete, was generated from within the person - or even thing. A bone could possess arete the same as a man.

The famous example is the Wrath of Achilles. Because Agamemnon stole Achilles concubine, Achilles refused to fight. His refusal led to the death of many of his friends, most especially his beloved Patroclus. Regardless of how right or wrong the Greeks believed Achilles' refusal to be, they still saw him as possessing arete. He was acting according to his beliefs. He was exercising self-excellence.

I remember sitting around a fire in the Chama River Canyon in New Mexico reading Walden. When I reached the chapter on Higher Laws, it seemed as if every word was a stone of truth being sunk into the depths of my being. I was a bell being rung over and over. Thoreau writes:

If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions of his genius, which are certainly true, he sees not to what extremes, or even insanity, it may lead him; and yet that way, as he grows more resolute and faithful, his road lies. The faintest assured objection which one healthy man feels will at length prevail over the arguments and customs of mankind. No man ever followed his genius till it misled him. Though the result were bodily weakness, yet perhaps no one can say that the consequences were to be regretted, for these were a life in conformity to higher principles. If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal- that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality. Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man. The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.

There it is: to follow your genius. This spark of a flame within, this fragile mote of arete, genius, restores me like nothing else. How long has it been? Too long. Far too long.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Who Remembers For the Dead?



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I can feel the forgetting. Fog of time. And I can feel how it all gets fixed in the memory. How it was. No questions. No doubt. From the sun to the fire down in the cave, what happened becomes a shadow on the wall. Hieroglyphic. Written in stone.

Distant now from everyone and everything that I once knew, I can feel the razors cutting it down. Tying it to the mast. Memory has no mercy. Take it all down to the root. Rarely is there any "we'll save what we can and cut away more later if we need to." And just like that. Gone.

I can still feel it all. In my mind, it is still out there, connected to me. Everyone has forgotten. No one remembers it except me. 

Sitting here in the middle of this Desert. Lone, not lonely. Morning fog shrouding the trees. Who remembers for the dead... these memories... these ghosts?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Blue Flame Burning Around the Bones



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I am an old man. Lived more than a full life. Could've died at 45 and been a happy man. There are those days, yesterday, where it just doesn't seem to be worth the effort. As I have grown older, these days come more often. But time keeps on happening. And I endure. Often this "endurance" feels like I am tied down to a chair in the middle of the desert watching the birds of appetite circle overhead. Just a matter of time.

I often imagine a scene out there. I fall asleep. The vultures land. Approach. Start in on me. I still don't wake up. But am aware. Out go the eyes, tongue, nose, ears, face. The birds slowly reduce me down to the bone. Yet, I am still aware. A skull balanced atop a skeleton sitting in a chair in the desert. The birds have their fill. Fly off. I endure beyond the birds of appetite.

Point is: I keep waking up. Closing the mouth so I don't drown in the shower. Putting food in the hole to keep on going. Stopping before crossing the busy street. All these acts that imply I want to keep living. So those days where it doesn't seem worth it, where thoughts of death swarm around my brain like black bees, those days are a lie.

There is a distance between the thought and the act. Unless you are sitting there with a razor at your throat or a gun in your mouth, thinking you want to die, then you are inside of a lie. In the best and worst of ways, it is all drama. If it gets to the point where you are expressing it, then the truth is that you are not going to kill yourself. You are just going to sit around being pathetic and making it so everyone around you wants to kill you.

Of course, there is another suicide. You kill your self, not your physical body. You let the name and face die, fall away, until you are left with what?

Here is where I am. A skull balanced atop a skeleton sitting in a chair in the middle of the desert. My name means nothing. My history means nothing. I see this in my mind, a blue flame burning around the bones. And I want to see the skeleton get up and dance.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Invisible Man Has No Shame



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Riding the bike down to the library, pass a cop car going the other way. He slows and pulls a u. Comes back up behind me. I do the invisible thing. He drives on by. And I laugh in a way that I haven't in a long time. Juxtaposition of Burroughs and Kafka. The Invisible Man has no shame.

Was a time, traveling to Morocco on the ferry from Spain, you'd get off in Tangiers. Walk down the plank, just outside of customs, see them waiting: guides, touts, taxi drivers, hustlers, money changers, thieves, pick-pockets, scam artists. They see you coming from a long way off. Got you marked down to your shoelaces. Everyone, even the Arabs, has to deal with them. Story goes that when Burroughs was living in Tangiers, he got so he could walk right past them. No problems. Cause of this, they called him, The Invisible Man.

Down on The Corner, 12th and Chicon, I used to think about this a lot. Waiting on 13th in front of a house, cop rolls by on Chicon. Thinking: be motherfucking cool. Saying: you got no guilt, no shame. Car rolls upside of you: you are just looking around. Nod. Fuck it: smile. You got to sell this: you are innocent. Pure as snow, Dumbfuck Whitey on the Eastside, waiting for a friend, no crack, no jack. Whatever. They have to feel that you have no guilt. But what you got: a handful of Rock. Inside, you are black neon burning. You make all of this invisible. You become an Invisible Man. I know this sounds like a crock. Hard to explain unless you've been in it, day after day. Becomes a reflex, survival instinct, a chameleon changing color. You feel it kick in.

I'd sit there, cops down the street, red and blue lights turning, unmarkeds circling like sharks. Should've been blood in the water. And I'd sit there smiling, immaculate, thinking about William Burroughs walking down the street in Tangiers.

Thing is: there is this huge shame connected with it all. When you are not invisible, you are a character straight out of a Kafka novel. Walking down the street, not holding a thing, Law Abiding Joe, and you feel guilty as hell. Just a matter of time. They are going to get you. No matter what you do. So you walk around like a beat down dog, carrying the weight of the guilt, hollowed out by the shame, resigned to go down at any moment.

You can get used to anything. Even this shame. Even this guilt. Like I said: the invisible thing got to be a reaction. The downside of transparency: it goes both ways. When it'd fade, the blackness would be darker than ever. After a time, it would get so that nothing mattered. In your head, you've been caught, tried, judged and convicted. Done deal.

How many times down in a House, watching the Fear creep around everyone's skull? Paranoia striking deep deep deep. Every hit it's getting stronger. White eyeballs showing. Behind the curtain. Under the door. For hours. Siege mentality starts to take hold. Constant gallows humor. Thinking: they are right outside with the dogs and the battering rams. Me loading up the stem, thinking: since I am going down anyway, I might was well finish off this shit before they knock down the door.

I lived like that for almost two years.

So I am riding the bike down to the Bellingham library. Cop car passes. The invisible thing kicks in. Automatic. Cop rolls by. And the laugh that burst out of me was so goddamned beautiful. I laughed because, first time in a long time, there was no shame. No guilt. Been a while since I have felt such... such.... freedom (almost forgot the word). A bone way down in the cold ashes of the burnt out fire: still warm.