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