Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Friday, November 25, 2016
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology
QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology
I have several poems in this anthology by disabled LGBTQ* poets, non-fiction writers, essayists, academics, critics, and prose fiction writers. I am very proud to be involved with this anthology, and my fellow writers. It is a Really Big Deal of an anthology, pretty much the first of its kind. I'm pleased that it is making waves in both the LGBT and the disability communities.
Since the book's release, in fall of 2015, there have been several group reading events around the US, a couple of which I have been pleased to have read at. Being a part of this has been fulfilling, exciting, enlivening, scary, revealing, courageous and cowardly, and mostly just honest, authentic, and real. It is something that needs to be talked about.
Featuring fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and comics by 48 writers from around the world, QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology proves that intersectionality isn’t just a buzzword. It’s a penetrating and unforgettable look into the hearts and souls of those defiant enough to explore their own vulnerabilities and demonstrate their own strengths.
“Queer sexuality and disability places me so far outside the realms of the everyday that it renders people silent.” —Jax Jacki Brown
Here is a gathering of people with the transformative—and political—power of love that transcends gender and ability. Ignorance is the biggest barrier.
“I feel exhilarated that you might actually accept me as a sexual being; that you might see the deliciousness that is my disability.” —Andrew Gurza
“An anthology often creates a community. In this respect, QDA is truly groundbreaking because it brings two wonderful communities together. There is not a single style, genre, or opinion in the book, but an orchestra of voices. Their seminal works mirror—and do not mirror—each other. Taken together, they light a brilliant path of honesty.” —Jennifer Bartlett, co-editor of Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability
Saturday, April 16, 2016
Playing and Making
Lots of us play musical instruments, or sing. I play adequately, and I sing well (albeit not this week, thanks to pneumonia). But I was not a performance major, practicing several hours per day. I was a composition major. My urge has always been to Make, rather than recreate.
I do believe you have to be able to do both. I can read music like a sonofabitch, and I could do so even before I went to music school. I've been musical since I was 4 or 5 years old. I started piano at age 6 or 7, and I started singing in choir and chorus at that age, as well. The Lutheran church in Ann Arbor that my family went to had a music staff who were at the University of Michigan, and we did a lot of ambitious music in church choir: before age 24 I had sung probably a third of all the Bach Cantatas, some more than once. So I have some pretty good performance chops.
But I'll never be as good a Chapman Stick player, or bassist, as several of my friends are. I don't put in the practice time. (I'm not a slacker. In fact, for most of my adult life, I had an undiagnosed chronic illness that sapped my strength and willpower, and which I will spend the rest of my life recovering from.) There was a period in my 30s when I was in several bands that focused on improvised music; so you could say I was composing on a weekly basis, and playing spontaneous music. But most of that went direct to recording, and was never notated. It's only in the past five or six years that I've begun seriously notating written music scores again, and I've been prolific throughout this period. (Within the limitations of chronic illness and post-illness, always.) When I was in my 30s I did not suck as a player, but in fact I'm a better player now, even though I play gigs less often: time and experience do that, no matter what age you begin. I don't have as many opportunities to play, which sucks, but on balance I'm musically satisfied because I'm writing more.
My focus was always on Making. On writing music. On composing. I have been reading a biography of Wayne Shorter, which made a comparison between Shorter's meticulous writing of music and Joe Zawinul's habit of improvising a piece, then transcribing it, and declaring it done. Actually, I do both. Both of those methods work for me. Most of the music I recorded in my 30s and 40s was never notated, but it WAS recorded, and stands as pieces. I did on occasion transcribe music I had recorded and made it into a score others could play. ("Night/Fire" on my album The Western Lands was done this way.) If I had enough energy, or an assistant, I could transcribe most of what I recorded in those years, and give you a score you could play from. (But I don't. If I have any regrets about surviving chronic illness, it's that I never had the energy to do what I wanted to do, and so much never got finished.)
You see, that's been the trade-off: I will never learn to play as many songs as many of my friends do, and I'll never play them as well as they do. (Mostly. I do have my moments.) But most of them don't compose as much I do, either. That's the trade-off I observed way back in music school, where I was majoring as a composer: what your emphasis is, is probably what it will in future. Bruce Cockburn, the great songwriter, once said something that really stuck with me: "I don't know many songs that I didn't write." (He then said, "But this is one of them," and launched into Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." A song, I might add, that I also know, that I didn't write.)
In music school I focused on making new music; all of us music school students who were not performance-track were required to play or sing, and have declared instruments, but even then in my piano and percussion minors I preferred to focus on new music. (Or music so old it was new all over again: hence my minors in Medieval and Renaissance music.) In music school, and after, I was involved with a group of composers and performers who presented concerts of new music several times a year; some of us were both performers and composers, and traded hats as needed. It was a very fertile ground upon which to write and have performed new music scores. It was also the time in which I began to learn to play jazz, and improvise.
Im not sure why I wanted to write about this, today. Maybe it's because I never stop thinking about music, no matter what else is going on. Maybe it's because I see some of my Stick playing pals and other musician pals having all these minor and major successes in their musical lives that make me want to stand up and cheer. And I do cheer! And then, sometimes, I think about how the touring musician life was never one I could take on (undiagnosed chronic illness, for one; opportunities, for another). It makes me very happy to see some of my friends out there on the road, and to get to their concerts as often as I am able (energy permitting: I'd go to a hell of a lot more concerts if I had the strength).
I genuinely enjoy hearing my friends make their music. I love hearing what they do. I'll never play as well as they do, and I'm okay with that.
And then I go home and go back to writing. It's just what I do.
Wednesday, April 06, 2016
Pacem In Terris
Peace is not merely the absence of war.
Peace is not merely tranquility, or serenity, although those are also sublime.
Peace is an active (rather than passive) state of whole being in harmony with others, with oneself, and with the all.
Peace like a river sends a taproot out of nowhere and into my heart.
Peace is aware and awake.
Peace is connection to and radical acceptance of what is.
Peace is an unexpected gift and grace that can in an instant redeem the world.
From out of nothing, peace is created.
Peace hums like a bee whose entire being is in joy with the flower.
Peace is the song of thanks that rises from the throat of the weary pilgrim who arrives home to find it uplifted and more holy than before.
Peace is a grace.
Peace is a place beyond words.
Peace is an infinite voice singing in a place filled with light.
Tikkun ha-olam. Pacem In Terris.
Peace is the world made whole, the spirit healed, the body refreshed and released.
Peace is the name of the night we walked the fields filled with fireflies as numerous as the stars overhead.
Peace cannot be destroyed, only forgotten. It is not peace that departs when life is mired in blood, it is we who walk away from peace.
In peace there is no loneliness, as all is one.
Peace is the rock-solid conviction that, just for today, I will not harm or hurt or kill, just today, just for today.
I greet the divine in you, in peace, as you greet the divine in me.
The sword of peace cuts through illusion to leave in its wake only the real.
Peace in the warrior's heart acts only to protect and defend, and ceases all action when the need is done.
True peace, once experienced, can never truly leave you, or truly be forgotten. Its scent is the perfume of the desert, its trace the last line of blue before sunrise.
There is no loneliness in peace, only solitudes.
Peace is the ground of genuine love, love that has no room in it for the corrosions of worry, jealousy, or fear.
Peace as the ground of love accepts and releases all; everything that goes shall return; everything that loves shall be redeemed.
Peace is the redemption of the world.
Those who make peace are the Saviors of God: may they blossom from the all that is into the flower that must be.
Monday, March 14, 2016
What I'm For, or How To Discover Your Purpose In Life By Failing At Everything Else
I spent several years on that, training in the sciences, especially the earth sciences. I pursued that goal all the way to college level classes in geology and chemistry. What stopped me was math studies. I placed in advanced math till the eighth grade, and then I got stuck. Later in life, my Mom said it was because of the math teacher. She had seen it at the time, but had not been able to change it, or talk to me about it; she thought there were psychological problems in play. I had really liked my math teacher at the time, for example he liked to play Beethoven's Sixth Symphony during class while we worked, but he did somehow derail my confidence in my math studies.
I'm not really sure how that happened. I only remember that after 8th grade math, I felt stupid rather than smart in math studies. I had little confidence in my own ability. When it came to college entry exams, I scored nearly perfectly in Language Arts, and only at 50 percent in Math on the SATs. This was after scoring in the top 1 percent in every test battery taken throughout my school years. I still somehow scored in the top 5 percent overall for college entry exams, and placed out of both English and Foreign Language requirements, by getting top marks in Advanced Placement classes for both. But not for math.
I was a gifted child who didn't want to be one. I was one of those child prodigies. But I was bullied for being smart, for being a teacher's pet, for being different. I wanted nothing more than to fit in, to be liked, to be accepted. Well, that never happened. I continued in the sciences, till college, and loved doing geology in the field, partly because I loved being outdoors, and then I realized something.
I wasn't meant to be a scientist.
Well, I was, and none of that work was wasted, but there was a thing in me that could never be suppressed or ignored or set aside. It just wasn't possible. It was too powerful to ignore. It's too much more of what I was, and supposed to be.
I wanted to be a scientist. But I was supposed to be a Maker.
I was born to make art. I'm a natural creative. It's the thing I do best. (Really. I can barely handle mundane tasks like managing money, by contrast.)
It took me a very long time to accept that I'm supposed to an artist, a composer, a worker, a person who makes things. New things. A MAker
I say this with neither pride nor humility. I am neither egotistical about it, or falsely humble about it. It's just a fact. Making things is what I do best.
It's really the only thing I'm any good at. I've tried a lot of other career paths in life, and mostly failed at them. I'm looking at a future of failure again, every time I try to fit in, or be accepted, or be like other people. Fitting in never worked in school, when I was being bullied, and it still never seems to work in my adult life. I seem to fated to always be "other." Again, that's just data, not ego.
In mid-college I changed majors from science to the arts. I switched from geology to music, and transferred to the Music School. Almost everyone tried to talk me out of it, including the Dean of the Music School. But the fact is, I had been playing music since I was 5 or 6 years old, singing as a boy soprano soloist. I began piano studies at age 7. (That was inevitable, as Mom was a concert pianist and music educator. Both my sister and I studied piano. I think it made us better thinkers overall, as later education studies seem to suggest.) Everyone wanted me to continue in science, get a good job, and continue to be an amateur musician. But I couldn't do it. In fact, I had been composing music, and had even had a few pieces played, since I was a young boy. I had won awards for short story fiction by age 16. I had gotten interested in photography at a young age, and got better with every year. Even when I was out studying geology in the field, all summer long in Wyoming, my very first college class, when I returned home I had already taken so many photos in the mountains that people started to notice them. I was a gifted child, and stood out, even though a lot of the time I just wanted to disappear.
After music school, my first job after graduation was ironically with Mathematical Reviews, a monthly review journal, where I got in on the ground floor of the desktop publishing revolution, and became a computer graphics expert, a digital type designer, and more. Working in corporate graphic design jobs was creative enough to be fulfilling for me, and I did it for many years, but it still wasn't enough. A book design company, one of the best places I ever worked for, allowed me to use their gear to teach myself Photoshop, and become even more of an expert. I also started to win awards for photography and digital art. I worked there till they corporately downsized. The book publishing business collapsed starting in 2000, and has radically changed since then. Nonetheless, I still have all those skills.
And corporate employment just never seems to work. I can never seem to make it work. It's like it's prevented. And then my life changed due to chronic illness. I suspect those corporate doors may be forever closed to me now.
So I've got no choice, now, but to go forward with no hope of success but with my only choice being to be what I am, a Maker. I make stuff. It's all I'm any good at. I don't know if it will be enough to sustain me. I guess it's time to do what I'm good at, and forget about the rest.
It's pretty scary, because I've developed trust issues. Really big ones. I guess the only thing I actually trust anymore is Making, in which I never seem to doubt myself, and in which I always have full self-confidence in my ability and need to make things.
I make art of some kind every day. (Well, some really bad days I can't. But that's a symptom of a dark day. I hate it, but I try to get past it.) Even if everything else falls apart, that's still true. ON good days I make things, on bad days I make things, I just make things. I guess that's how to tell that's what you're for: it's the thing that you never stop doing, even when all the rest has been taken away. So that's what you do. That's what you're for.
And that's all I can do. It's all that's left. Wish me luck.
Thursday, March 10, 2016
Trapped in a motel in Escanaba
And now I feel like crap. I was feeling okay awhile ago, but then feelings rush over you like the weather, and your internal weather changes in an instant, and that's that.
What am I doing in a hotel room again? Well, I was hoping to camp these past two nights, since it was unseasonably warm. But that didn't work out, in part because on neither night did I really have the energy to do it; plus as soon as I get really tired, I begin coughing like a consumptive, a leftover from that cold/flu I had three weeks (or more) ago. It's like the dread night fungus keeps growing in your lungs, a mad parasite of neglect. *cough cough* I just didn't have enough spoons for camping. I'm a little annoyed about that. I'm also determined to "Escape From Wisconsin" again in the near future, and go camping when it's a few weeks warmer, and I'm a few weeks more rested.
Escape From Wisconsin.
No offense, folks, but Wisconsin has turned into a toxic sludge morass hellpit for me. I must leave. I must find better pastures elsewhere. It's not your fault, unless you voted for anything Republican in Wisconsin since 2008, in which case it's at least your fault that I can't find work, that the economy in WI tanked and hasn't recovered, that our current Governor is a hollow man who only ambition is personal and who has done more to tear the net of the social contract than any past Governor of WI ever dreamed possible, creating a social climate in which sociopathy is in ascendance and empathy is a quaint notion of yesteryear. In which case, we are reaping the whirlwind that you sowed, and gods bless you and keep you safe. For me, not so much. So my big job over the next several weeks is basically finding the best way to get the frak out of Dodge City, in such a way as to not destroy my health again in the process.
I'm also feeling trapped and unhappy in this Escanaba hotel room because tomorrow I have to go back into the venomous black hole sludge pit that Wisconsin has become for me. When I hit the road to head up to Minneapolis, then up to Duluth and Lake Superior, I was quite calm and even happy. As soon as I turn around to go back into Wisconsin, I begin to feel like crap. This has happened every time I've had to go back home in the past two or three years. Why? Because my life has been a hell of loss and desolation, and all of that happened between Beloit and Madison.
Trust me, though, there have been some astoundingly superb, wonderful and good things that have also happened in that same tanged timespace locus, and for which I have only good memories and grateful feelings. Yet the scales are nowhere near balanced. The good is no longer either necessary or sufficient to maintain a desire to try to make things work out, in a place where nothing has worked out (well, mostly nothing), and every year of the ten years since I moved back to WI has been worse than the previous, not better. I moved back to be the full-time live-in caregiver for my parents, giving up my own life and career—with no regrets—during which I almost died. I mean that literally: an undiagnosed chronic illness that I had had for at least 15 or 20 years by that time was driven into an acute and near-lethal phase by the strain of being a full-time live-in caregiver, and then having to deal with everything that followed upon the deaths of my parents. There was a house with thirty years of Stuff to sort through and get rid of, just for starters. It was more than I could deal with, and I did have a lot of help dealing with it—for which I will forever be grateful, because without that angelic help I'd probably be dead. Literally. I'm not exaggerating. I'm not being a drama queen. I am reporting what my doctors said to me over the past few years: without help, I'd be dead.
If you are ever ashamed of asking for help from your friends, get over it, grow the frak up, swallow your pride and your shame and your guilt, and FUCKING ASK FOR HELP. It will be there. Maybe not always, and maybe only in limited ways, and maybe not in the forms that you expect it to be in—but it WILL be there.
I'm feeling like crap tonight, and writing it all out. You are not required to read it, or respond, or do a frakking thing about it. The truth is very simple: sometimes all I really need is to fell like just one person has actively heard me. And then I can go on. This does not require "fixing." It requires listening. Nothing more, nothing less.
I used to have friends, now apparently former friends, who are now afraid of me, apparently, because I'm too intense for them. Well, I would respectfully point out that almost dying (twice, not just the once reported above) can kind of make you so aware of the basic realities of life that you do get a little intense. It deeply sorts out your priorities in life, and fairly brutally. I am so very aware that No One Here Gets Out Alive. So get over your fucking ego selves and just start being good to each other.
That's all. That's really all that it's about.
We might all be born into the species homo sapiens sapiens, but that does automatically make you into a human being. It gives you the POTENTIAL to BECOME a human being, a fully realized, adult, grown up human being, capable of both competency in life and being aware that the Golden Rule basically reduces to: Don't be a dick to each other. Just fucking be nice to each other. Apparently this needs to be shouted from the rooftops far more often than it has been; certainly centuries of social and spiritual evolution have yet to convert the majority of homo sapiens sapiens away from being monkeys throwing excrement at each other through the bars of their cages. Which is what you get if you don't develop your potential to become a human being. You need to take that potential and DO something with it. Otherwise you're just a smart mammal, and not a fully realized human being.
I readily admit to the vice of impatience, because my hyper-acute awareness of mortality, stemming from almost dying, twice, leaves me with no desire to see love wasted, or time wasted. You are no longer allowed to be bored: you don't have time for it. Life's too short. If you ever find yourself approaching the Kingdom of Boredom (which ultimately lies within you), take another road immediately, towards something much less deadly to the heart and mind. Life's too short to waste being bored. Seriously.
Before I began typing out this annoyed longish rant, I wrote an annoyed little song lyric, for a bad song I'll never actually write, which began with the phrases: "Trapped in a motel in Escanaba / there's nothing wrong / but there's nothing right." That's when I knew I was feeling bad, rather than good. Sometimes you don't know what you're feeling or thinking till you make art about it. Which is another frakking reason to make art about everything. Figure it out.
Here's the whole song lyric. Oh, and by the way, [/end rant mode/]
Trapped in a motel in Escanaba
there's nothing wrong
but there's nothing right
If I'd had my way
I'd be camped by the water
drinking in the campfire light
But here I am in a cheap motel
the water's fine but the heat don't work
the night's fooled up, the neighbor's a jerk
but somehow we'll have to get through because
we're all trapped in a motel in Escanaba
Wednesday, March 02, 2016
distant scraping resolves to
sails further out, skaters with parasails
in just enough wind, metal on ice
wet gliding, steel shaving, memory of iceboats
several hours' drive further north
there are bear tracks in late snow
some kind of quiet god woken too early
to own his still-twilit domain
long summer evenings have not yet sprung
out of blue bogs, green cattails, moose brown
there's a river only half-awake
this blue hour of year, stone clatter
musical chime of cold flow on icicle
blue tears hung by spray on granite over shale ledge
this single river carving its shallow valley
scrapes dense kraton, tough sheets, resistant caprock
even further where loons will migrate later
hallow sea-edge open watered haloed green
white pack ice wind-sails into the corner bay
lead left half-open, ready someday for seals
where shallow river-mouth meets tidal swell
we write what we have, when it comes
on shore sand, on half-drowned leaf
brown with tannins and river rust
the land writes on my own waters
circulating sea-tide of red blood and bone shell
skull under skin just waiting its time to emerge
back south in more habitable home
late snow coats milkweed pods whiter
than white, late broken buds exploding with cotton
wild rice stalks clump like black bamboo
and the ring of open water mudding the shore shines
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Why Genre Fiction Is Better Than Mainstream Fiction
Mainstream literary linear-narrative fiction is a genre. It just happens to be the privileged genre. Privilege is where you don't have to defend your existence, and wherein your tropes and idiosyncrasies are taken as normative rather than highlighted as Other, as exotic. It is the no-genre genre, often written in what has been called the no-style style: that bland form straightforward linear prose that is storytelling stripped down to plot without digression, cinematic description without interesting lighting, and characterization more often based on type than idiosyncrasy (although "the eccentric best friend" is such a cliché that it's become a literary trope on its own). Even when mainstream literally fiction is written in a more poetic style, rather than the no-style style it is identifiable by those other characteristics.
Here's another salvo: The quality of writing and storytelling, overall, is often much better in "genre fiction," story per story, than is the case in literary "realistic" fiction. One may place numerous examples side by side and, barring personal taste regarding what you find exciting to read, just on the quality of writing alone many examples of genre novels are better-written than many in the mainstream. Writing that has substance as well as style. There is contemporary science fiction writing that is far more original in terms of style and narrative experiment than anything on the literary best-seller list.
Ignoring for the moment that "realism" in the novel is itself a construct, itself contested as a construct, itself subject to fashions of style and trends of subject matter: in fact the conventions of the Romantic/Victorian "realistic" novel were exactly what such writers as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and even E.M. Forster rebelled against. That was at the root of the Modernist literary rebellion, after all. When Woolf used interior monologue and stream-of-consciousness in her fiction, it is precisely a reaction against the stifling mannerisms of the staid literary novel. As much as I think Willa Cather did in fact write one or two examples of the Great American Novel (I would nominate some of Stephen King's less supernatural fiction as well); as much as I agree that Jane Austen, Henry James, and Edith Wharton were great stylists who brought to life characters that we all still care about; as much as I agree that Victor Hugo was a great, great writer of fiction which he intended to be realistic in its depiction of natural and psychological life, real dialogue, and characters true in motivation to the psychology of real people: as much as all of that is true, once you've absorbed the literary innovations of Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and, yes, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Samuel Beckett, you can't go back. You can't stuff those horses back in their barns.
What most critics of the contemporary literary novel do is pay lip-service to the artistic greatness of those older Moderns, while in practice rolling back every new idea they brought to the writer's table. The literary novel these days owes more to Henry James and Jane Austen, or Nathaniel Hawthorne, than any other writers. Even writers such as Mark Twain are considered to be genre writers, and not taken seriously as Authors; which is proven by the typical reverence paid to Huckleberry Finn as one of the Great American Novels, but looking askance at most of the rest of Twain's explorations, such as Letters from the Earth.
In response to critics who like to dismiss this literary-critical dispute as having been settled long ago, I retort that obviously it's not, else the Critics of the Literary Novel wouldn't feel a need to keep setting up straw men to knock down, on the on the topic genre quality. Those self-anointed Critics who would present themselves as the gatekeepers of literary merit and literary taste are fond of building canons, of lists of Great Books, and debating what works should be included in The Canon, and which should be rejected. Meanwhile the average voracious reader just keeps reading whatever they can get their hands on; as always.
Literature remains an artifice. It is art, but it is also artifice. It is made by artists, but also by artisans. It is a made thing, like a sculpture, a painting, a beautiful building. (Music and dance are a bit different, as artforms, because they also involve time. Duration is part of their performance, and they must be performed.) Literature is neither inherently natural or realistic: "naturalism" is itself artifice.
Some of the rise of no-style no-genre fiction can be blamed, and has been, on the increasing professionalization of literature: the authors and critics who make their living by working in academia, or in hosting and teaching writer's workshops, make up a de facto professional class. Writers exist outside the professional-writer mainstream, of course. And it can be argued that writing styles, genres, and indeed approach, stretch across all other boundaries between writers. But professionalism does have an influence on writing style. Robert Bly lamented as early as the 1970s that writer's workshops (which even he taught; you gotta pay the bills) had generated a stylistic (no-style?) sameness among so many poets, in terms of both approach and content. How many MFA programs in writing are there now? Several hundred, scattered around the nation and world? Lots of people write; more than ever. That's only a bad thing if there are more imitators of the sameness than not.
As to the quality of genre fiction writing, I find writers like Gregory Benford, a physicist who writes "hard science fiction," i.e. SF based on speculative science from astrophysics to biology, to be stylists of a high order. Sometimes it's as though the writing style is part of the experience, which style at its best ought to be, enhancing the reading by getting you deeper into the ideas organically. Not telling you about the ideas, but embodying them. Other hard SF writers who have stylistic chops include Kate Wilhelm, Greg Bear, Samuel R. Delany, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, and several others I could name. The point here is that SF is not just about the ideas, it's about exploring the ideas in a literary way, with prose that involves the reader. The language envelops and immerses one rather than just being a tale told. On the fantasy side of the speculative fiction genre, great stylists include Patricia Mckillop, Neil Gaiman, and of course J.R.R. Tolkien, whose works helped establish the modern genre.
I would add Charles Williams, a friend of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, one of The Inklings, whose "spiritual fantasy" novel are amazing works of fantastic fiction. In Descent Into Hell, one of his characters is gradually losing his mind in a kind of spiritual/psychological damnation, and the way Williams describes his inner world is compelling and frightening. His novel All Hallow's Eve is a masterpiece, beginning when the protagonist and hero of the novel has just died, and finds herself in an astral version of her beloved city. Throughout this novel, Williams' prose is amazing, perfectly tuned to the emotional pitch of the characters yet original and strange.
I could go with several examples. Suffice to say, one of the reasons I read speculative fiction is because it is a literature of ideas, yet if those ideas were told in the no-style style, they would be dry and boring indeed. The storytelling matters greatly.
I have few grand conclusions to offer, and I know the salvos I have shot across the bows of mainstream literary criticism will be greeted equally with derision and agreement. I do believe it's more than just a matter of taste and preference, though. I believe that it matters how you tell a story. And I further believe that the manner of the telling should reflect what is being told. That is the whole point of literary style, it seems to me.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Writing: On Not Being Able to Fit Into the Boxes
I love the form of haibun, which is the form Basho's travel journal books are written, with alternating prose and haiku sections, on some pages just a single poem, on other pages a formal haibun which is a prose description of a moment or subject followed by a haiku on the same moment or subject but from yet a different direction. In not irrelevant ways, the haibun is my ideal form for writing.
I see when literary publishers offer open reading periods, during which anyone can submit a manuscript or collection, that they often create fixed categories for acceptance. You have to submit through the Poetry gate, or the Fiction gate, or the Nonfiction gate. But what if your manuscript moves between all of these? What if there is no real distinction, or boundary between them, in your writings? Where do submit them? I often feel a kind of decision paralysis in the face of such categorical requirements, and end up not submitting anything anywhere. Because inevitably I'll place my manuscript in the wrong box, and be automatically rejected.
The fact is, my best writing is All-of-the-above. The writing of mine that I like best, perhaps I should more truthfully say. The stuff that I write that excites me doesn't live within the boxes of Prose or Poetry, but tend to be Prose-AND-Poetry. I readily grant that there are lots of editors who just don't know what to do with that. I'm sure I've caused more than one headache which led to rejection. (There is also the issue that when you read a certain genre, yo bring presuppositions—one hesitates to say prejudices—to one's reading, and things that don't go along the usual trails get rejected not because they're bad but because they are not comprehended.)
Well, I don't want to make editors' jobs harder, and I'm not trying to be difficult, AND it seems to me that the rigid categories between writing genres are in fact a barrier rather than an aide. They are illusory, and often arbitrary, and even occasionally rather dismissive.
Because the one genre I don't really write in, and have no real "feel" for writing in the genre that doesn't like to be called a genre, namely, mainstream literary linear-narrative prose fiction. I have written in that non-genre-genre, an have even been published in it. It is just that it seems like an artificial construct to me, like nothing real at all. Virginia Woolf was right: life is not lived as a neatly-arranged linear prose narrative, as consciousness is both more diffuse and more Brownian (nay, distractible) than the artificial construct of linear narrative pretends it is. And not just Woolf says this, but Albert Einstein, whose spacetime theories strongly imply that everything is always happening all at once, and time itself is a constructed fiction of consciousness that we make up to be able to cope with time.
It's very likely that I will only rarely ever get published. (And thank you ever so much to those sympathetic editors who have been willing to take risks on my behalf!) I just can't seem to stay in the boxes.
Monday, February 15, 2016
There's no recourse. You have to start all over again.
But the task is Sisyphean. Why even bother?
Life goes on. Does it? I'm afraid of good days
because they're always followed by soul-killers,
days you look at the knife block in the kitchen
and wonder. I can never seem to have a good day
without being slapped down the very next day.
Some tepid creek of dull everyday shallow streams
would seem preferable. But I don't seem able to take
that route, either. I'm not wired for ordinary.
You end up all alone, because no one wants to hear it anymore.
Can't really blame them, although it's tempting.
Who wants to hang out with a perpetual loser blocked
by gods who want to keep him stuck till he dries up
and blows away. Driving out alone into the desert
and waiting to die seems like a welcoming option.
My life is a Samuel Beckett laugh-riot of prisons.
I can't go on, I must go on, I'll go on.
It would be a lot funnier if you weren't living it.
I'm looking right now. This bleak window opens on
black and white and dismal grey, an apartment backyard
overlooking an industrial backyard and main street
which birds and squirrels don't bother to name.
Names are temporary, and change with the inhabitants.
My life is a hotel room in which I never stay anywhere,
there's nowhere to stay. I lost everything
and that's not enough. Do I even get to tell people?
No, that why lies an endless circle of ridiculous maimings,
none of them more visible than the invisible disability
I can neither manage nor convince anyone is real.
Like there's a point. Push that boulder up the mountain,
it will just roll back down again. Why bother
Here's a thought: since you're going to end up there anyway,
just head for the desert now. You're going to die there,
so why wait. It's just masochistic to stay where the world
has let you know how much it hates you being there. Go.
Don't even bother to wrap up affairs. Just go. Those who are left
can have the dregs that no one wants. Savor freedom.
Part of the samurai's code was, When you know you're going to die,
you can do anything. So go. Let the boulders roll where they will.
Nothing to stop you. Why do you hesitate? Do you so cling
to this hateful existence that you would rather stay and suffer
rather than be free? The bars of the cage hold your eyes
but the cage door is open. You just have to turn your head to see it.
Last time I lived in this place it was just the same.
Here I am back in that same cage, clinging to those same bars.
This time, I'll notice the door. I'll let go of the boulder.
I'll just walk out and disappear into the void.
Like the nothingness before and after the Universe, why wait.
I can't cope with limbo. That's all.
I just need to know something's happening.
I've spent far too much time, this past era,
waiting on other people's agendas who forget mine.
I just need to feel like things are moving forward
at a rate faster than geologic.
It's about feeling like anyone has heard. It's like
a basic need, a mammary need, to feel like you're not shouting
down a well for no reason, not even getting an echo back.
It's like there's a void of silence around your heart.
Nothing can get through, be heard, be present. Time shifts
into its slowest gear when silence replaces sympathy.
Oh we are needy. We are clingy in our need, and fearful.
The entire reason for being is to not be alone.
Monday, February 08, 2016
Creativity: Observing Improvisation
When I'm improvising music, or playing music in general, I'm often making lots of decisions about what to do in the moment. The fallacy that many intellectuals have about the improvisation process, though, is that this requires verbal cognition. It doesn't. It's a profoundly non-verbal sort of process. Making art for me is not an intellectual puzzle-solving game-theory process; you can only analyze it that way afterwards, not during. Words are the very last tool in use to guide or distribute the process of improvising in the moment. Even when I improvise a poem in the moment, the words are the product, not the tool; which perhaps accounts for why so many of my poems are sequences-of-images.
Many writers I know cripple themselves by revising as they write, rather than dumping it all onto the page and editing it later. If you bring in the inner critic or the inner editor too soon, all too often the creative spark is what gets lost, and the result is often very dry, very cerebral. It may be very interesting to the intellect alone, but it won't endure in the somatic or sensual memory.
That's the problem with almost all verbally-directed cerebrally-dominated art-making: its products don't endure in the emotional, somatic, or psychological memories, just in the intellectual. (Not neglecting that many intellectuals conflate the intellect as being all of psychology, when it is in fact only a small element.) Writing a poem in a fixed form is a fascinating intellectual game, but I can only think of two or three sestinas or villanelles I've ever read that stayed with me; the rest are all forgotten, more form than substance. Machaut wrote memorable villanelles a few hundred years ago; Neil Gaiman write the most memorable sestina I can recall about ten years ago. And that's about it.
The only poetic form I regularly write in is haiku, which is a hugely open-ended form emphasizing how images lead to emotional responses; it's actually a very emotive form. When you see an ironic or humorous poem in the 5-7-5 syllable form, that's actually NOT a haiku (unless it's in the mode of Issa); it's a senryu, or something else, not actually a haiku. Again, the prevalence of the haijin (haiku writer) state of mind in my poetry might account for why so many of my poems are sequences-of-images. It's a natural form and style to me, made even more so by time and experience.
When I was improvising music yesterday to play along with a silent film I wasn't stopping and thinking about what I was going to do. There was no outline. There was response in-the-moment. The big thing that many people forget, who are not experienced improvisors, is that every decision that happens is not thought out beforehand. There's no time for verbal analysis. You just go. Improvising music is in fact a very non-verbal process. Analysis, by critics and music theorists, of what happens later, is by contrast a very verbal process. But it's not that way in the moment of making. Critics and theorists (and artists who are cerebrally dominant) would do well to remember that distinction. It's a very important one.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Who Are We, and Where Are We Going
It's pathetic, I suppose, that I'm now more comfortable in anonymous hotel rooms than anywhere I'm supposed to be living, I have a place to live in Madison, now, with a very positive and even supportive roommate, but sometimes I still prefer being alone. That's really why I stopped at a hotel last night. Too tired to deal with people. No spoons left for social graces. Too much effort to even talk to people I like and want to be with. I just wanted to be alone and silent. I don't know how to survive without silence and solitude, anymore. Happiest out there driving alone on the road, in the desert, or forest, or wherever there aren't many people, or any.
I've been kicked out of every group I've ever belonged to. It keeps happening. I should accept it by now, but I keep fighting it. Every group I've ever given my loyalty to, I've been forced to leave behind. I keep getting kicked out of the nest, before I'm ready to leave on my own. Either I've outgrown them, or the gods want me to move on, or it's time and I don't want to go, or fate moves the pieces on my board and I have to leave.
It keeps happening. It's happening again.
Madison, WI, isn't supposed to be where I live. During the crushing end of times in Beloit, when I was having to see everything I own, including my home, the only home I've ever owned, I dreamed that I could give Madison a chance. After all, I used to live there, and had and have many friends, and musician partners, and so on. I've given it a good try, but everything, literally everything, has told me not to make a hime there. No signs of inevitable placement. I've been prevented at every turn. That's the usual sign.
I went through the hell of trying to rent an apartment in Madison, only to be confronted by the unsolvable Catch-22 of: 1. You can't rent an apartment unless you have a job, or credit, or income source. 2. You can't get a job unless you have a street address of a place to live, like an apartment. That paradox is what me onto the road in early November, where I spent almost two months out West; two months, I must say, that were almost the only happy times I had in all of 2015. Everyone noticed. Everyone commented on it. I was happier out West than I had been all year. Less stressed. More positive.
Then I came back to Wisconsin. And the stress immediately got worse again. And then I got bullied, and had to flee a situation where I had been staying. And that pushed me back out on the road again. If only for more healing via travel.
Then I came back.
I'm exhausted, right now, because after two weeks on the road, to Ann Arbor then down to Tennessee and Kentucky to check out another possible living situation, which did not pan out, I had to immediately go back to Ann Arbor for a job interview. I sucked at the interview, and I don't think I'll get the job, but the more I thought about it the more clear it was: I am being invited to live anywhere except Madison. It's time to go.
I got really clear, driving back towards Madison, although stopping short at a hotel before getting there, that Wisconsin is hell for me now and I just need to leave it behind. I got really, really clear; it's so obvious that I should have seen it before, that all my remaining time spent in Madison will be about preparing to leave. It's true, there are details to finish up of this life. I won't rush, if the gods permit, and I know I won't be staying much longer. A few months, probably.
Wisconsin has been very hard on me for the past decade, and it's never going to emotionally neutral there. All that suffering will always leave an aura of sour apples behind. Maybe not in the greenwood per se, but everywhere there are people. So it's time to go. I have more Stuff to get rid of, from the storage locker, and I have time to say goodbye properly to some long term friends, but then I will be gone. These past few months were offered to me, in the words of a friend, as a Farewell Tour. And that's how I am treating them. I won't say de ice what kind of Farewell, just yet. It doesn't have to be that final one, although for awhile that too was in the cards. But it's definitely a Farewell to the life that used to be, that I have now outgrown, and need to put behind me, so I can actually live and thrive, elsewhere. That's the truth of this. That's also why hotels feel better than what used to be "home."
I've never been able to "go home again" in my life. (Cue Thomas Wolfe.) I've never really been able to go back, and stay, anywhere I used to live. I've always been required to live in a new place. I know that on some level that the gods park me in a new place, to be of service there, so that my frequency of light can be used to brighten up a dark place. I'm really tired of always being alone, of never finding a loving partner, although I accept this as part of my path. You're getting a lot more honesty from me, tonight, in this hotel, than anyone is probably prepare to deal with. Well, deal with it. This life path I am on is nomadic, is lonely, is demanding, and has its powerful rewards that sometimes make it all feel like it's been worth it, although not that often.
And I have to keep going.
Caroline Myss, one of my spiritual directors this lifetime, says: Loyalty is a beautiful tribal quality, especially when it is conscious loyalty, a commitment that serves the individual as well as the group. Extremes of loyalty that harm one's ability to protect oneself, however, qualify as a belief pattern from which one needs to free oneself.
That nails it on the head. When I first give my loyalty to a group, I am very conscious of it, and very aware that service is the key: serving others, we serve ourselves. Yet I tend to give my loyalty a bit too fiercely, and it does come back to bite me. Because I make the mistake of thinking that others also give their loyalty as I do. That's one reason I've been kicked out of the nest so many times. People change, and I find myself alone in where I gave my loyalty, with no reciprocation anymore.
I don't really want to die, anymore. I'm not really suicidal. But I do still have days when I just don't care, when I'm too tired to care, and don't want to go on. Lots of honesty, here. Days I can't face anything normal or socially typical. When I'd rather be out there talking to the Green Man God of the Woods than any human. When Dionysus has my love, and you don't. Days I just can't deal with the superficiality, the inanity, the shallow self-regard. Days when I could cheerfully be a hermit in the desert, and talk to the coyotes more than people. I'm half wild as it is, I guess I always was. Maybe that's why I keep getting kicked out of every nest I've ever tried to build. It's happening again, right now. Let me just pull the knife out of my back, before I continue. There. That's better.
The last year has been about getting rid of or being forced to let go of everything I owened, everything left to me by my parents, all my money, my condo, my belongings, my whole life here. Another nest just taken away. Apparently I'm just a drama queen for ever mentioning it, or for it affecting my mood, or for being so exhausted that I'm not perky or cheerful enough, for it giving me a "bad attitude." I guess that's true. Never mind that it's been the most horrific decade of my entire life, beginning with the deaths of my parents more or less in my arms, passing through almost dying from chronic illness, and finally culminating in the Year I Lost Everything.
Well, so what.
Time to move on. Time to start over somewhere else. Time to go back out to the desert, or the woods, and start over elsewhere, with a lot less baggage, including the physical. Since that seems to be the pattern of my life, I might as well embrace it. I don't know if I will ever live with people anymore, I'll just drop in for a visit. A good visit. With some people, a very good visit. But love and sex? Probably never going to be a permanent thing, for me. Always moving on. I can accept that, too. It doesn't hurt too much, tonight, to embrace that. After all, being pansexual or an omnisexual mystic means I've had sex with the sky and the mountains as often or more than sex with people, men or women or both.
I like people. I really do. I just can't build permanent love relationships with them. I mean, other than as family of choice, which I do love and am grateful for. I just seem to be the wanderer, the warrior, doomed to be homeless, rootless, and so on. That's not self pity talking, that's just acknowledging the archetypes that rule a life.
So, here I go, again. Writing this out in a hotel in the middle of the night after collapsing into sleep upon arrival. That's why you get so much honesty, at the moment, no point in lying to myself. No need to pretend anything other than what it is. And we go on.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Floating in Space
by a lot of dying right now. I'm reading death poems
by the saints and angels, the Zen masters
who on their deathbeds would dictate one last poem,
haiku, tanka, Chinese syllabic quatrain, whatever.
The enlightened masters gave one last lesson
when departing. One of the greatest of masters
left us with the haiku: "Now that I'm enlightened,
I'm just as miserable as ever." I suppose that must
be true, or at least hopeful. Meanwhile I read poems
from Jim Harrison, of late life, the darkest things
I've read from him since "Letters to Yesinin," where
he wrote to Sergei as a way of not joining Sergei,
not killing himself and becoming another dead poet.
That whole book, and one other, inspired me to do the same,
not kill myself, when I was dying, or so close to it
that I didn't want to live. I didn't care. Nothing
was less fun than living, just then.
And today the news is full of the last words
from another saint, David Bowie. Someone once asked
John Coltrane what he wanted to do, now that he had changed
the entire face of jazz. He said, "I want to become a saint."
And he did. THere's a church in San Francisco
dedicated to Trane's sainthood, where they wroship
with an all-day free jazz jam. I can't think what's more fitting.
Now Bowie. I'm not sentimental. I never cry when expected.
I reserve my tears for when I cannot prevent them,
which is rarely the usual suspects or times.
Some movies will make me weep consistently, who remains
dry-eyed at most funerals. The truth is, when you're too full
of feeling it stops you up rather than brims over.
When it's too much, you go numb, at least for awhile,
and nothing can come out without explosives.
The tributes that get to me are the ones as weird as
who inspired them: like Chris Hadfield singing
on the International Space Station, a free-fall rendition
of "Ground Control to Major Tom." Hollywood, never the best
at being tasteful or sublime, couldn't pay for a backdrop
or special effects like that. Actual guitars floating in space.
Now this long distracting mournful stretch of a day
is ending. All day I've tried to focus on what must be done,
and never got as far as chores or duties. I was stuck
on the cusp of contemplation, a tired man sitting on a stump
in a desert thunderstorm, weeping.
What else is there to do? I'll tell you:
If you want to make a tribute to the artists who have changed
your life, do something at least as amazing as what they did
that changed yours, or at least inspired you.
DOn't settle for weeping with the herd. Make a fire.
Here's a random guitar. Place it on the funeral bin,
or set it slowly spinning down the length of the tin can
out there in space, with the Earth rotating out the window.
Don't imitate, steal. Be just as good as your gods.
After all, that's the minimum tribute they deserve.
Chris Hadfield performing Bowie's song "Space Oddity" on the Space Station
Monday, January 11, 2016
Wizardry 2016: Notes
What I need more of in my life, what I need to remember, is wild magic, not rule bound and law bound magic. Everything you need to learn, you can, from the trees, the wind, the old stones, the lake. No explanations or justifications are necessary. I am far more wild than that. I need to remember and embrace the wild.
It feels sometimes like all I know anymore is despair, doubt, suffering. But a wizard's way begins in words. Naming is a powerful thing. Change the words, and you change the story, and maybe the story's ending. Words are a wizard's tool, although there are many things behind words. Use the tools, change yourself, change the world.
Another thing about wizardry and wizards: They notice everything. Everything. And they never lose their sense of wonder. Even at ordinary things. Everything is a source of wonder.
Half of wizardry, like empathy, is deep listening. Listen to what the world tells you. Most people can't shut up long enough to actually listen to anything. Are you that afraid of silence, that nervous about gaps in social interaction? Try just listening for awhile, without spending all your energies thinking of your next reply.
If you want to leave a tribute who an artist who made a difference to you, who changed your life somehow, do what that artist did: don't copy what everyone else is doing, make something transcendent, memorable, and durable. Make it count.
Basho said: “Do not imitate the masters. Seek what they sought.”
Be just as good as your gods. That's the minimum tribute they deserve.
(I'm feeling a bit scattered and distracted as I write this tonight, because earlier I was verbally assaulted, which has re-triggered some PTSD about bullying, meanwhile I managed somehow in the past day to upset my touchy stomach due to somehow getting a wheat gluten hit against my gluten allergy. Never mind. Onward.)
I might start with the background of why I have a hard time with Gratitudes this year. I could start with the fact that 2015 was the year in which I lost everything. My home. Most of my belongings. My inheritance. My financial cushion. My application for disability. Several friends. I could mention that I was homeless for seven months in 2015, and unemployed, and stuck in the catch-22 of You can't rent an apartment without having a credit history or a current job to list, but you can't apply for a job unless you have an address where you live. I could mention that I have been verbally abused and bullied twice in the past week, something beyond Holiday Stress and into ridiculous mirrors in which people yelled at me for having a bad attitude but in fact were exemplifying in their own actions what they yelled at me about. (It's called projection, and it's one of the most pernicious strategies of the bully, and the person living with no awareness of the consequences of their own actions in the world.) I could mention the times I've approqched taking my own life this year, because life was too painful, too exhausting, too horrible, and I didn't care in those moments whether I lived or died, and would have preferred dying, just to get some relief. I could mention how I had to sell my beloved pickup truck, which had served me well on many road trips and daily commutes for eleven years, and, to replace it, bought a van that had a lot of trouble of first. I could talk about how my van was my only home for several months, during which times I drove it around the country looking to fix my life, and slept in it many times, and so on. my van actually was my only home for half of 2015. I could mention the many friendships I've lost this past year, as people who I thought I could count on seemed to fear being contaminated by my misfortunes, or were overwhelmed and helpless to the point of backing away in helpless surrender to not knowing what to do, or who left me feeling betrayed because they seemed to forget old agreements of mutual commitment and instead kicked me to the kerb. I could talk about how bitter I have felt most of 2015, bitter and abandoned and lonely and mired in self-doubt about how to move forward. I could talk about how my self-comfidence was so wroded that I ended up with panic attacks preventing me from making any decisions at all, more than once.
All of this is true. It's also just the tip of the iceberg, and I am leaving many things out. All I've listed so far are many but not all of the big pieces, and few of the daily, small, cumulative bits of suffering, bumiliation, frustration, loneliness, and sadness.
In truth I genuinely would prefer to "accentuate the positive." I am not unaware that losing everything this year leaves room to fill my life up with better people, places, experiences, and feelings. I would rather talk about how happy I was in November and December of 2015 to be on a road trip out to the Western Lands, to be making photographs as I went, to be camping in the National Parks when the weather permitted, to be making tracks in snow in the Rocky Mountains, while back in the Midwest there was an unseasonably warm winter and green lawns well into December. Indeed, being on the road for those several weeks at the end of the year were almost the only time in all of 2015 that I felt joy, or simple happiness, at all. Then there were the weeks when I housesat while I was homeless and took care of the cats and other pets for a week here, a week there, another week over there, enjoying being with the cats, and very much enjoying the restful silence and solitude while I had a roof over my head. I tried in every instance to do my best to be an excellent, responsible job at housesitting; it's something I would cheerfully do again when asked. One of the happiest times of my homeless wanderings were when I camped along on the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota, in August and again in September. Similarly, the times this summer and fall I was in northern Michigan were very good for the soul and body.
So, with all that as preface: truly 2015 was the worst year ever: I want to move forward into what I am grateful for, from the just-ended Year from Hell.
I am grateful to everyone who has supported me over the past year, helped me move, helped me financially, helped me organizationally, helped me out with a place to stay for a night, or for several nights, helped me keep my head together when everything was falling apart, helped me with strategy, with planning, with a thousand other small things that add up to my personal survival.
I am grateful to be alive. Some days, that's enough. Some days, it's the bare minimum I can manage.
I am beginning to comprehend what the Powers That Be seem to want me to do. I'm grateful for getting some clarity on that. I'm aware that Losing Everything also means that a door opens to freedom, for a new life to come in and replace the old, and maybe be better than the old. In moments of clarity and vision, I accept this. Sometimes I can even be happy about it. I'm grateful for insight, for intuition, and for being clever.
I mean that. I am grateful for being clever. For having been born with smarts, intelligence, and gifts. And for having had the opportunities to do something with them. My parents provided a good education. If I didn't live to everyone's expectations for my life, well, there are reasons for that. One of them is, without my knowledge, I was starting to get sick. I didn't lack ambition, I lacked the health to fulfill it. I know so much more now than I did back then. I try not to have regrets. I'm grateful for such knowledge.
I'm grateful to have survived all the bullies and assholes who have tried to knock me down, destroy my life, knock me out or over, from the day I arrived in the USA after a childhood spent in India, to last week. I am grateful not only to have survived bullying, I'm grateful to be able to make art about it. Making art is the best revenge, some wise person said, and I believe it.
I am grateful for losing everything so that void can be refilled with something new. I had a dream a few days ago in which I had been hired to go out on tour as a sound man for a famous band, one of my favorites, one I aspire to. I was the new guy, and I was about to go out on tour, so I had a lot to learn. The gist of the dream was: I need to be out on the road, doing art, making art. I need to be nomadic, more than ever, and make art. I am grateful for the dream. I am also grateful that most of the tools I need to live that lifestyle have fallen into place in the past few months.
I can't honestly say that in fact I am grateful for Losing Everything, but I'm working on it. As I said above, there are some indications that it was necessary. You don't always have to like or enjoy the way your life works out. our plans are not necessarily the real plan. I am grateful for those moments of clarity and enlightenment, regardless.
I am grateful for passion. Sometimes stubbornness is all that's kept me alive. I'm grateful for the anger that is fuel. Fuel to get things done, to move forward, to keep going. Anger is an energy. Use it. Be grateful you have the fuel, you will need it, and you will use it.
I thought about listing every name of everyone who has helped me over the past year. I still want to do that, and I also don't want to leave anyone out. So I'll postpone that in favor of general gratitude and eternal respect. More than I can say. Thank you.
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Blessed Solstice 2015
Sweet winter solstice blessings to all.
May your forests be dark and fragrant with unsolved mysteries.
May your fields be blessed with gentle rains.
May the road rise to your journey with the grace of fish rising to taste the water's surface.
May the lights of all the physical fires, the fire in the atom spinning, be the lights in your eyes that find the path you follow open and inviting.
May your home be filled with feasts for all your senses.
May your nights be dark with dreams and crystalline sleep.
By sunlight, candlelight, starlight, and fire light,
Reflections of the Light Eternal.
It is finished in Beauty,
It is finished in Beauty,
It is finished in Beauty,
It is finished in Beauty.
Who created us all in the beginning,
Receive us all in the end.
So Mote It Be.
Peace On Earth
The message that comes through when I encounter snark and ironic posturing, is that the person posting feels superior to all around them. That usually resolves to ego inflating itself because on some level it feels uncertain or insecure. Consider that your own self-worth doesn't need to be reinforced by tearing others down.
"Peace on earth" requires one to be open and vulnerable, rather than lofty and superior. We must meet as equally damaged, equally vulnerable, to find what we have in common, and build on it.
Wednesday, December 02, 2015
words from silence
river of stars coursing
from fireplace hearth across skybowl
to moon river on lake
except from firecrackle and wind treerustle
build a fire
cast its glow across the meadow
stars flicker in grass
moon silvers treetops
fire grows and fades
dim eyes in the hedge
no voices but from hill echoes
there's no home here no home
but sojourner's wayside rest
no words rise
out of darkness starlit blessed
abandon all words
in favor of brush, quill, pen
abandon all desire of words
till words come of their own will
creeping at last to doorsill
to hesitantly knock
bright glints of moon
in their wild wild eyes
Poem written while camping in northern Minnesota, September 2015
Tuesday, December 01, 2015
while the light lasts
fire behind me, warming me
waxing moon over my shoulder
misty silver mark on sky
through blackbranch trees
moon river on lake surface
small waves striking shore rocks
behind fierily trees
lightning strobe far to the west
past forest swamps and rivers
candles flicker in chill western breeze
we live to write while the light lasts
Written while camping on the shore of Lake Michigan, September 2015
Sunday, November 29, 2015
The Olive Trees
at the end of life
down the end of the lane
bright gold sun
at the top of the sky
draping blue shades under trees
dark green leaves
wind shimmer even in this glow
and the aftermath of night
is the reason we go on
under the olives in the hopeless garden
night of power
river of stars eddies, swirls
constellations moving to new forms
first taste of water
deep black underground river of stars
sparkle tin cup brimful clear
first light the lake
blue through standing pine altars
of green, loon calling, calling
first morning of the world
sunlight on birchbark a whorl of time
the oldest land spirits step quietly
through pine stand altars green and grey
bring ancient woods
under a fierce minted moon
scattering silver spots
on a leaf-blown path
old old wind
this night of power:
wind high in trees
By firelight, candlelight,
starlight, and sunlight,
Who created us all in the beginning,
receive us all in the end.
Saturday, November 28, 2015
each eye-opened dawn awaking
world born first time anew each day
the first day new creation
rebirth yes too but also
each day new day each moment a new
first hours each morning chill
maker arises from dream—
spinning wollen thread hiking mountain vale
cooling purple-red stories out of day's=blood
hiss of summer's wind-tossed trees spun into melody—
to make new day something out of nothing
birth creation reconciled gap between
mulberry and morning-glory
all green-gold before first tea
what will it be today
scarf or hummingbird cloak
irony of a night soul forced awake
at dawn or at least when sun hits tent
creative friction anew
in span taken for tea to steep
what will you maker have made
so rarely spinning words from hoard
when melody alone fulfills
tease meaning from the film flicker
cinematic sequis spun into light
rope burns and orgasmic joy
rhythm creaking swings of childhood
symphony of vertigo spin till fall on grass
druids shrouded in acid hazmat cloaks
long silence of birdsong sibilant pines
each new day younger or older than the last
unpredictable change of hair red gold white
how did we walk this far again anyway
by each awaken make a new day
so far beyond where cardinals stay
aflicker red from green to grey
such habits pull my hands and break
a form down
to nothing is my dawn allegiance
creation's light fall on what he makes
each morning formless until most made
first artisan celebrates each day anew
first day of creation every day
birds flicker in the fever of living
each second vibrate pulse into being a billion motes
time of slow god and slower hanging tree
pull back now
these darker screens on which to paint
careful what you make manifest each early dawn
last moods that linger shadow all your day
what maker creates both dark and light
a round of wheels cycles spinning tops
magnetic field and solar wind
elegant particle dance
no wonder old ones imagined sun gods in such light
when every day's a new creation
new imagining new world new life
what will he make fresh awoken
this first hour of new universe made
dawn of new life lived
Friday, November 27, 2015
Gratitudes Thanksgiving 2015
The list of my circle of close friends who have helped me immensely in this past year—in multiple ways on multiple fronts, some big, some small, every little piece adding up to a whole greater than the sum of its parts—is a long list full of wonderful people. I'm challenged to make a full list, because I don't want to leave any names off accidentally. So please, all of you, accept my profound and eternal thanks. Thank you. THANK YOU.
I'm grateful to have what I have left, for what I have now, every little piece of it. I have a vardo, a nomad's wagon to live in, and destinations to go and visit, and a road to travel. If the folk in one town start to be a problem, there's always another town own the road.
I had a really good Thanksgiving here in CA with best friend and best friend's family and circle of friends. Not merely a great food feast, but good conviviality and lots of excellent moments of laughter and music. Thank you.
There are people I think of as family. My family-of-choice. Most of them know who they are. I'm grateful you're in my life. Thank you.
I'm grateful simply to be alive. There have been several occasions in recent years when that was no sure thing. There have been a few times in this past, difficult year, when I've come close to that edge. My mental and physical health have been fragile, or, to be blunt, on some occasions this past summer, outright broken. I've spent time these past few weeks on the road rebuilding the equilibrium and stamina lost to several months of trauma that, to be blunt, not everyone I know could have survived. Nor could I have, without immense support from my closest friends. Thank you.
I'm still here. I want to be here. The future is no more certain now that it has been. I have no answers. Life is lived very much day to day. Don't ask for more than that. And thank you.
Nothing is resolved. The road is not closed. I will have no truck with false or toxic hope. I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist, and I've become a hardcore realist. I wait and see what develops. I will not pretend to embrace optimistic resolutions I do not feel, or believe, or have any faith in. Neither will I close myself to grace. I am always open to grace, and I have received many, many gifts. I am still here.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
What Offends Me Most in the Public Arena is Sloppy Thinking
Lots of folks get offended very easily these days. The interwebs are full of outrage, and manufactured outrage, and partisan political discourse, and angry rhetoric, and name-calling ad hominem attacks, and friends yelling at each other because of some political opinion. Its ridiculous. As if people cannot bear to be disagreed with, ever, for any reason. But the echo-chamber of complete agreement does not serve us in the public intellectual arena: you cannot go deeper into your own beliefs and understanding if they are never questioned.
I don't say I never get offended; I do. However, what I find offensive is rarely about the content of your argument, but rather about the consistency and logic of your argument. I get along perfectly well with people I disagree with on many issues; I get along poorly with people who throw half-baked aphorisms at me and expect to nod my head in instant agreement. Even if I otherwise agree with them on many points, I don't give their half-baked opinions a free pass just because I mostly agree. This does offend people, yes. Such friends do get upset with me when I point out the gigantic holes in their arguments; they need to get used to that, because that's not going to change. I think for myself, do my own research, and rarely take things at face value.
Because what offends me most is not the contents of peoples' opinions, no matter how bizarre, but the logical inconsistencies and contradictions that they present.
The main thing that ever strongly offends me is blatant hypocrisy. Inconsistent logic comes a close second, though. (Hypocrisy itself is logically inconsistent, of course, which is one reason it's so heinous.) Most of the comments I make in socio-political discussions are to point out where rhetoric and logic aren't being used correctly, or at all. Which does offend some folk who prefer that their prejudices not be questioned or exposed to the light of logic. Typically, ad hominem personal attacks come from those who fear that their argument doesn't have a logical leg to stand on.
Sadly, this is true for atheists just as much as it is for religious believers. It is as true for progressives as it is for conservatives—although experience teaches that progressives generally tend to do their research more thoroughly than do conservatives. Again, the point is logical consistency, not the contents of your argument. For example, if people claim to be driven by reason rather than prejudice or superstition, they must consistently apply reason to their own arguments, and expose their underlying assumptions to the light of reason. No pre-judgment and no underlying assumption gets a free pass.
No one should be tolerant of prejudice or unreason, not even their own. No one gets a free pass.
I am not required to tolerate intolerance, prejudice, stupidity, or poorly-informed opinion. In fact, as followers and fans of Mark Twain, it is a public service to skewer faulty reason and prejudicial thinking wherever one encounters it. Even, yes, amongst one's erstwhile allies.
For example, while it is perfectly possible to hate that abortions happen and still be pro-choice—i.e. in favor of women having the right to manage their own bodies and their own health, while also wishing that every child was a wanted child—you cannot pretend to be logically consistent if you want to defund Planned Parenthood and still claim to be pro-women's rights: those two positions are oxymoronic when placed side by side, and yes you do look misogynistic when you attempt to do so.
For example, you cannot use the inflamed rhetoric of your antagonist without looking like a mirror image of your antagonist. You cannot call your interlocutor an idiot without opening yourself to the same charge. You cannot insist that your opponent's argument be subjected to rigorous logic and scientific experiment without exposing your own arguments to the same requirement. No double standards are allowable, ever. Period.
What also offends me is when people repeat a meme without fact-checking it; especially if that meme came from certain sources. Always Consider The Source (CTS). For example, Planned Parenthood receives Federal funding, yes, but none of that Federal funding goes to support abortion services; furthermore, Planned Parenthood provides many services such as birth control—which prevents unwanted pregnancies, and therefore reduces the incidence of abortions as well—and the abortion services they provide are only a fraction of their services. If you believe otherwise, you have bought into the disinformation smear campaign of the political right wing, and you need to check your facts. For example, if you believe that right wing charities and ethically and morally superior to charities that are either political neutral or sponsored by generally progressive religious groups such as the Methodists, you again need to check you facts, and not assume that every piece of disinformation you read is accurate or authentic.
Data overrules half-baked opinion, every time. Fact overrules political prejudice, every time. Period. Know your facts before you open your mouth, or you can expect to be challenged.
People, you look really stupid and uninformed if you repeat a meme because it agrees with your prejudices, or your well-considered opinions, but is provable disinformation or lies. (CTS)
People seem to get offended whenever I present a nuanced opinion rather than total agreement with whatever their current bumper-sticker opinion is. People also get offended when I point out the holes in their arguments. Oh well.
Finally, we all can be wrong. I can be wrong, you can be wrong, people you admire and respect can be wrong. The history of politics as well as the history of science is littered with strongly held beliefs proven to be wrong at a later date.
But here's the problem with being wrong: If you never admit you're wrong, or apologize for making a mistake, you have no credibility. By admitting when you're wrong, and moving on, you both grow as a person, and your group grows in wisdom. If you are completely unable to admit you are wrong, as people of fixed prejudices are unable to admit the light of reason into their opinions, you are a hypocrite, and logically inconsistent, and everything wrong that I've been talking about here. When you discover you're wrong, admit it, and move on. There is honor is honesty. There is no honor is face-saving lies.
If someone disagrees with you, you TALK to them about it. You find out if in fact you substantially disagree, or if it's mostly semantic. Coexistence requires communication. And that requires getting outside the comfort zone of your dearly-held opinions. It requires you to let them be challenged, so that you can hone them, or change them if required.