Sunday, June 23, 2013

Perfume of the Desert

A staring at the wall kind of day. Across this grassy field
the tops of riverside trees are winding fast in a hazy
humid late morning sky. I got here as soon as I could.
Now it's a matter of recovery, of absorbing silence.
I just discovered someone I used to have a crush on
is dating again. I know I don't stand a chance, not now,
probably never, so I don't imagine I'll even try. That steam
is fished out. But you can't help thinking. Roving rivers
of blind memory. In Arabic there's a word for the kind
of memory that comes over you sudden, a full bodied
kind of memory, and you relive a moment you'd forgotten,
or tried to. It's called the demanding memory. It demands
of you what self you are able to give. This morning is like
a sough in the thicket alongside a northern summer
gravel road. I can smell dirt dust in the air. I have no hope
of ever unraveling these ties that blind. People you like
seem to linger at the edges of your life, while people you
love seem either at the center of the radar scan, or completely
absent. An either/or of magnificent endurance. People
I don't like very much gather like a traffic jam where
one should never happen, small streets by a small lake in
a small town. Usually it's just about rubbernecking the latest
disaster, not because anything durable has happened.
We're all mayflies in the wind, after all. It's the end
of wisdom, at the end of life, that leaves you gasping,
a fish out of water, on the steps of a rickety wooden porch
somewhere no one knows who you are, I could die here,
and no one would know. That last thought before you do.
What we hate lingers so long because it's just pickled love
gone sour. Given an inkling of hopeful chance, we'd love it
again, and walk placid as wild turkeys towards doom.
A yearning for that shirt hike from desert to oblivion.
The slow motion violence of those cloudless trees
becomes this backdrop for self-flagellating melancholy.
How can I move forward when everyone wants to drag
me back down into the mud. Solace comes from ignoring
people and talking with redbirds. Even though it rained
hard these last few days, I sniff a tang of alkali dust
in air blown all the way from Nevada to Lake Michigan.
No wind strong enough to scrub it loose. Tang of dead cities,
eroded metals pooled in temporary lakes that lead to no ocean.
I've lost all ability to tell potential lovers what they do to me.
I'll settle for these crumbs from the sidelines. You lose the desire
to risk when rejection is inevitable. Small consolations of
higher forms of love, spiritual, intellectual, distant, worshipful,
the perfume of the desert, either tang or memory of tang, a cup
long drunk, long hungover, long regrets in echoes of a breeze
combing its fingers through hair of trees. Such hard work to resist
this sudden pathetic wail that comes over you with its
demanding memory. I haven't got much left to offer anyway.
The safest muse is the distant one, the muse you watch from afar,
the one that doesn't threaten immolation, moth wing to candle
bright as fusion, soaring in too close. I'll keep my distance,
lessons burned. Let's rename all these birds, give those green
tall stands which brush the wind a new name, a heartwood name.
In my distraction I ignore how solitude becomes a habit,
you have to work up the courage to say hello. People go
to church and nightclubs less for the worship than to meet
each other. If they took their shirts off to dance in church,
that's a religion I could follow. Sweat and wine flung
everywhere. I don't have any conclusions, I just watch
from the sidelines as usual. Once earlier in life I fell
into an abyss, not only of despair, so these latest rituals
of affiliation and desire seem pale to my roving jurist eye.
I'm told you're supposed to feel more alive when you're
near the flame of love, but my wings keep getting burned.
I plummet. I can't afford to fall back in worship with one
who never noticed the first time around. I have no fear
of immolation, I've been a phoenix here before. No,
what I fear is so much more red. When I get on the dance
floor it tends to summon darkness. Memories demanding
sharp as knives remind me how blunt instruments rise
from corner shadows whenever I let loose. Once again
I'm a wallflower at the dance, sore feet notwithstanding,
not because I fear the flame. I'm immunized by being burned.
Once again what I most fear lies in myself. That power
that smolders, deep within, that makes them all
turn pale and flee. A brooding volcano nothing can erode,
fire in the mountain's throat. It's when they realize
I'm not the moth, they're not the fire, that they retreat.
I've tried to civilize this inner mounting flame, to no avail.
I guess I'll always be in shadow, not in the spotlights.
I'll leave behind a stink of burning stone, dust
in the wind. I'll leave a mark along a trail, a maze
to master if you can. An ugly milkweed where there should
be cactus. Stand on the ridgeline, take in blue air
hazed with wind and distance, its scent of dry lake dust.
Bitter grit on tongue, nose full of rocks. Sweet memory
of cornflower. No, I won't try to follow you again. I'll live
alone and learn to like it. I'll never go back to that
village, not where the long boys gather in gloom
of dusk to preen their feathers and firedance. I'll let
my lungs be satisfied with gypsum, salt, and terror.
I'll salve your fear of wildness with such easy lies.
I'll make a bonfire with my heart, and dance alone
beneath such alien stars. My home's this heaven
haven where the sparks fly loose as wind in trees,
where none can hear me sing.

Labels: ,

Friday, June 14, 2013

Creativity: Writing, rather than Writing About Writing

This week I have been sorting through piles of books and CDs, deciding what I can live without. I need to thin the herd, lighten the load, divest. Yesterday I unloaded a satchel full of books at a used book store, one friendly to the obscure, the academic, the poetic, the literary.

I realized, in my sorting, that I have over time amassed an entire library on LGBT/queer/gender theory and LGBT history, all these heavy-duty big books written from an academic and philosophical viewpoint. I've read them all, and realize I'm not going to read them again. There are a very few of these that I will keep, as the only ones I'm ever likely to re-read or consult ever again (like John Boswell's books, Martin Duberman's history of Stonewall, etc.). But most of these need to find another home. Yesterday, the used book store took them all in, and will pass them on. (The recycling of ideas.)

But in truth, the more important realization here is: I'm an artist.

To engage with LGBT studies in future for me is to make art about it, rather than to read or write a dissertation about it. Now that I've embraced being an artist, it's time to let go of my academic background.

And one way I do that is to make art about how I respond to LGBT life, rather than to write a theoretical paper about it. Thus, I have a two-page spread of artwork in the current issue of RFD Magazine, in their brand new "Qweer Arts Issue." (And I plan to participate in the art gallery show that is being planned to highlight artists from the issue.)

Writing, rather than writing about writing.

There are limits to the intellectual and academic study and analysis of the way we live our lives. There are limits to talking about it, as opposed to doing it. I went through graduate school. I can actually read and understand these kinds of heavy-duty high-theory academic books. I know the lingo, I know the theories, and I know the history. (I am a data sponge.) I was actually read good in graduate school: I was an excellent, thorough researcher, and a good writer of thesis-like papers. I got good grades, and was well-liked by most of my professors, one or two of whom thought I could be a brilliant scholar in future.

But that's no what happened. Academia, the university as an educational and research institution, has its own rules of survival, "publish or perish" being only the most famous example, that I could not adhere to, in the end. Grad school politics did not engage my heart, and so I did it poorly. Even though I was very good at the scholarly side of academic life, I failed at the political side.

Most importantly, however, I left grad school, I now believe, because I knew on some level, at the time still a pre-verbal level, that I'd rather write music than write about music, I'd rather make art than write about making art. Making art is what I do best. I'm pretty good at writing about making art, too. But I never wanted to be a Critic, an intellectual who analyzes the artwork of others and never makes his own. I know now that I never would have fit in, in academia; I might have been a good teacher, but probably not a good Professor.

I still write about making art and making music, although I write about it because I'm interested in the creative process as a process. I make notes. I leave breadcrumbs. I document and study the process itself, out of fascination. I have written a great deal about the creative process, and the arts. It's one of my main topics as an essayist.

And I enjoy reading what other artists and writers and poets and composers have to say about their own creative processes. (Stephen King's book On Writing is a wonderful book, even if you don't like anything else he writes.) I love that kind of book, and have an entire library of "poets on poetry, writers on writing" sort of books. I have an entire library of John Cage's books.

But I don't want to read another academic book about queer theory, LGBT theory, or theoretical models of queer living, when what I'd rather do is go live life as a creative gay shaman artist poet composer painter, and respond to life lived as an artist instead of an academic.

I have no regrets about the academic period of my life—except perhaps for one: I never should have let anyone convince me that I was supposed to write ABOUT music, rather than writing music. But even that is a minor regret, because it was part of the path that led me to where I am now.

I embrace that I am a maker, not one of those who talks about makers, although I think it's okay for makers to talk about what makers do. I write, rather than write about writers writing. I embrace the paradox that I am writing, now, about writing about writing. But I'm still writing about the creative process, not about the "product" that I produce. I have little interest in telling you how to think about the art I make, or telling you what to believe it means: I'd rather you discovered that on your own.

As the haiku master said, centuries ago: The poem is only fulfilled when the reader completes the poem by bringing his own life-experience to the reading, filling in the gaps with those things we all have in common, just because we are human.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, June 09, 2013

on the shore of the last sea

and we meet them on the shore
of an endless sea in blue twilight in bright sun
brighter so bright one can barely see past sun tears
as more and more of our beloved dead gather
to greet us to love us to say hello and farewell one time
more in the promise of something we cannot contain
the lost restored to each other
all sorrows healed
not papered or scarred over but gone as if they never

and we meet them on the shore
as the light of that long bright afternoon fades
to blue wind and lapping waves
rising out of the waters we are born from
and to which we inevitably return
when our span of suffered growth is done
given to each other given our sons to the sun
held in hands blessed with infinite brilliant

and we meet them on the shore
where at the edge of vision gold sunflowers
stand tall offering of vigilance
a requiem of attention
shadows of clouds reflected in wind-bled waters
sound of waves of that lapping last shore
sound of breeze in tall grass and flowers
sound of sigh of breath of sleeping children
sound of trees beyond the windows
all one sound the same sound same sigh same breath
all one

and we meet them on the shore
as they go forward into silence
fingers sliding apart last touch after long merge
until we too we also
meet our own children our own loves
from the other side of this meeting place
we dead now those who go on
and return to water in blue

Labels: , , ,