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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

An Integral Part of Nature

Among the various Earth Day quotes that I saw online yesterday there were a few sentiments being expressed that basically likened the human race to a cancer on the face of the planet.

Now, I understand grieving for damage done by industrial "progress". But, ultimately, we aren't going to serve the Earth by turning around and demonizing humanity.

We're a part of the natural world; that's the point. Hurling curses at the human race essentially amounts to insulting Nature who begat us.

We all grew up amidst belief systems that did little to encourage our blossoming... We have much to learn and to unravel. It's soul work, probably foreseen at the onset...

So maybe we could, instead of beating ourselves up for our missteps, honor what strides we are now taking towards awakening?

Monday, April 14, 2014

"One of Those Miracles"

I fell into one of my bleak moods just as Janie was about to arrive at my apartment. We’d planned to take the van out to the woods and camp out, as we both had the next couple of days off. I shut myself in the bathroom and sat on the floor with my head between my knees. I figure this is why I fought so much. I didn’t enjoy the pain of being beaten, and it gave me no real pleasure (aside from a fleeting sense of release) to hurt someone else, but it was preferable to frozen futility. If I could describe this void then I’d be a true poet; but if you’ve never come under the fringes of its frost then you can’t conceive of its particular kind of hopelessness no matter what words I use anyway.
There is no grace within life during those moments. I witness human endeavor and see nothing but impotence unfurling throughout all of our history. Nothing, and no one, can convince me of another vision.
I heard Janie knock and, a few seconds later, the sounds of her and Tommy talking in the doorway. Tommy was no doubt warning her.  ‘Snap out of it! Snap out of it!’ This is what criminals and madmen mean when they say that they can’t stop. You become so convinced of doom that you’re helpless to do anything but watch its prophecy unfold. In believing yourself unlovable you make it impossible for anyone to love you.
I already knew that I was going to drive Janie away; and I hated myself for this.
Although I heard both sets of footsteps, I knew it was her hand rapping on the bathroom door.            
“Brandon? Hon?”
Anything I might have said was bound to be nasty, so I kept silent. There was nothing but ugliness in me, so how could anything clean come out of my mouth?
“I know you’re in there, baby! What’s happening?”
Her voice had risen in pitch. The genuine concern that I heard made tears well up. Then the door was pushed open. I caught it with my left foot before it’d even made it six inches – kicked it closed and held it there. It began to rattle.
“Goddamn it! Why are you doing this?”
I found my voice at last. “Just leave me alone, Janie!” I sobbed.
I heard her slide down until she was at the same proximity to the floor as I was.
“Let’s go out, baby. You don’t even have to talk if you don’t want to – or until you’re ready to. But let’s go have a good time. I can tell you’re really down. But… once you get away from everything and you’re out there surrounded by trees, and nature, you might feel better.”
Maybe there was some fleet of mental viruses within my brain, killing off all of my thoughts as soon as they were hatched, before I was able to voice any of them.
“Baby? Have I done something?”
Her refusal to react, to fight me, began to melt some of the ice within me. I rallied a second time.
“No. It’s me, Janie. I… This happens to me, sometimes.”
She spoke right through the crack between door and hinge. “I’ll go, if you really want me to. But it sounds like you’re just feeling fucked up at the moment and not knowing how to say where you’re at. Am I right?”
I dried my eyes and then chuckled aloud. Her beauty and sincerity astonished me that much.
“I don’t know how it can be that I deserve you, Janie!”
“Whatever that means.” Notes of laughter and derision ran through her voice now. “I wouldn’t be with you if I didn’t want to be.” Then, with even more obvious relief: “Does this mean you’re coming, then?”
Even knowing that she couldn’t see it, I still smiled for her. “Just give me a few minutes to get myself together, o.k.?”
Her response was brisk – and appeased. “I’ll get my stuff and pack it into the van.”
I stared at the white linoleum, the faded white walls, the cobweb in one corner with a few sucked-dry fruit flies dangling in its strands, for one stretched moment. Then I looked up when I heard the creaking of the door.
Tommy poked his head in. “Hey, man… I’ll get your stuff in the van, if you want to chill for a bit longer.”
I nodded – probably more fervently than was needed, because it required effort. “I got it together. It’s all in a mound in the middle of my room.”
I wished that I could convey my complex gratitude telepathically. “Thanks, Tommy. I’ll be out in a few. Janie can get it warmed up if she wants.”
I felt deeply unworthy of such friends in that moment. I cried some more; and I had to bury my face in my towel to muffle the sound. Once I felt that my outbursts were exhausted I stood and gave myself a pat down to bring myself around. Then I went outside, found Janie and asked if she minded driving.
Within fifteen minutes we were on the interstate and headed out of town. Janie and I were both on weekends-off schedules by this point. The forecast didn’t call for rain until late Sunday and so far the prediction seemed to be bearing out. The few clouds in the sky were light and puffy as marshmallows. Winter. I think it’s all the evidence of death, in the wake of autumn’s splendor, the sense that all the surrounding life trusts what is happening, and doesn’t fear for what it’s shedding, that really fires the creative mind. I’d already written three songs since the leaves had first begun to change.
I finally found the courage to speak up. “I’m not sayin’ this like it excuses everything, or even explains it,” I told Janie, “but my mom would have been forty-five today.”
She took her right hand off the wheel and clasped me.
“How long’s it been?”
“Little over six years now. She got stomach cancer that came on real fast. By the time people were sure of what was wrong with her it was already too late to do anything about it.
“My mother was a timid person, always seeming like she was Dad’s shadow. He could say or do no wrong. I hardly got to know her in all those years ‘cause it was like she was just there to be his pale echo. It’s funny to think about that now, because to look at what became of my father after she died… it’s like she was his strength, in some strange way.”
Sometime later Janie turned onto US 26 and the traffic on the highway thickened considerably. I was surrounded by people who I’d never know, merging and passing.
“If you ever get to feeling like I’m too intense to deal with and you gotta leave… it’ll hurt like hell, but I’ll understand.”
She squeezed me tighter. “I have my days, too, you know. Next time we’re together I may end up paying you back for today – and then some.”
She’d had the radio tuned to a classic rock station, but the reception was breaking up into static. She reached over and turned it off. “Have the sessions with Saul been helping out at all?”
I didn’t like talking about my therapy with her; and she knew it. I had to allow, though, that it was probably inevitable. If we were going to grow closer then she’d have to learn, sooner or later, what I was working through.
“Mostly it’s about how I experience so much conflict because I think I’m at the mercy of the world,” I said. “He’s trying to get me to understand that I’ve made my life the way it is and I have the power to change it.”
“So he’s kind of a self-empowerment coach?”
“Saul insists that we create our own experience – in every aspect, every detail.”
Janie seemed genuinely impressed. “Oh, so he’s more of a mystic or shamanic thinker. Wow. And he works as a therapist?”
I chuckled. “I’m not sure what Saul would call himself. He strikes me as an ancient medicine man somehow transported to the modern world. And I find this ironic, too: Everyone who sees him, he tells them to trust themselves and their own inner guidance. I mean, if we all did that then he’d be out of a job.”
“Better that than a guru telling you that you have to believe in him,” Janie pointed out.
“Yeah, that’s for sure. I’d never follow somebody like that. But I have to be honest with you: I don’t always trust myself. Sometimes my thoughts and emotions just run away with me.”
“Like today?”
I released a long sigh. She was not letting me off easy. But I owed her something for hanging in there.
“Sometimes I get swept up by feelings that I can’t explain. It’s impossible for me to get it across to someone else, what I’m going through. And it’s especially hard when I’m with someone who I want to talk to.”
“Maybe that’s part of the reason why you love to write songs. You think?”
I glanced over at her, hoping that the respect and affection that I was feeling was showing in my eyes. I could only nod – and smile.

Earth has its store of wonders, to be sure; and the way that someone can spring into your life and so perfectly mirror your hopes and fears, your longing for love as well as all the parts of you that shun it, is one of those miracles.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Reading "The Edge of the Precipice"

"That's when the madness took hold of me: Madness and exhilaration, indistinguishable." - A living room video with my son behind the camera. He filmed my first-ever poetry reading this time last year, so this has become something of a late-winter tradition I guess...

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"Unsettled in the Deep Regions of Your Soul"

Saul had once been hauled to a police station in cuffs – before his “awakening”, as he calls it. The way he explained his reaction has always stayed with me. He said that being taken into custody is like the confirmation of all of your darkest suspicions about your own human nature. All your life, you remind yourself - in so many subtle ways - that you’re basically a blight upon the face of the planet. Maybe you call your disease Original Sin. Or maybe you’re more scientifically minded and have therefore accepted the idea that your most intimate thoughts and feelings are basically as meaningless and accidental as (supposedly) the universe itself is. There’s a thousand ways to explain and “justify” the notion of tainted humanity. In any case, you walk through those doors, contemplate the iron bars as you look at all those armed men in uniform… and in some way you just want to nod your head like this was all inevitable. Yeah – I’ve been heading this way my whole life.
As it turned out, I wasn’t in the station long. I had to fill out a few papers and then they took my picture: Not a mug shot but rather a photo to use as evidence that I hadn’t been roughed up. “If you got wounds anywhere, now’s the time to show ‘em off!” this one cocky officer said. He probably enjoyed telling that to people who’d just been pepper-sprayed, knowing that they felt like they were on fire but it wasn’t anything that could be caught on camera. I just scowled at him and didn’t waste any words.
All the other activity was on the periphery of my awareness, which is why I can’t describe whoever else might have been brought in during the time in which I was there. The station is an existential juncture in the most surreal sense. People get hustled in there knowing that it could mean the utter end of whatever life they’d been leading up until that point. And to the men and women processing paperwork or enjoying coffee breaks between beats it’s just another night at work. You can get yourself unsettled in the deep regions of your soul if you think too much about it.
A trim and clean-cut young guy who looked fresh out of college came and introduced himself. He was going to escort me down to the psychiatric ward. But first he asked me a bunch of questions and jotted down my replies on a clipboard that he kept referring his gaze to. He warned me, with a smile, that I was going to endure many of these same inquiries when I saw the psychiatrist. He aroused my sympathy. He probably thought the field of psychology paid well and carried good benefits. He was bound to get eaten alive.
I suppose it’s never pleasant visiting a psychiatrist – especially when it’s against your will – but it feels particularly strange to do so late at night. Dr. Lisbet was a petite and humorless lady. She was probably forty years old and looked like her stony face would crack if she ever smiled. Damien, the intern, gave her the questionnaire he’d filled out and then offered me a pat on the shoulders – as if I needed the reassurance – before walking out. At that point in his career he probably still believed that a sympathetic ear and a good hug could cure anything.
Dr. Lisbet was, for several minutes, at least, much more interested in the papers than she was in the actual human being (myself) sitting in front of her. Once she finished reading through them, though, she glanced up and addressed me as casually as if we’d been involved in conversation for the last half-hour. 
“No doubt you’re tired by now, Mr. Chane, but it falls on me to make some kind of judgment with regards to your situation as your father isn’t pressing charges. I’m going to have to ask you a few questions. Had you been drinking tonight?”
I decided that I could be a perfunctory robot, too, if that’s how this game needed to be played. “I was working at Jaspar’s tonight, bussing tables, and hadn’t even been home an hour. No. I had nothing but iced tea all evening.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Real brewed tea? You mean caffeinated? Were you planning on being up half the night?”
‘Play ball, man, or they’re not going to let you leave,’ I cautioned myself. I stuffed my irritation into an inner compartment that I kept empty for occasions like this. “I’m a night owl anyway. And I always work nights, so there’s no reason for me to wake up early.”
No reason save for Rachel – but she didn’t need to know that.
“What precipitated the fight with your father?” she asked.
I hate half-truths almost as much as outright lies. I could tell that this was not going to be a simple round of verbal fencing.
“Look, my old man’s beat me up more times than I could possibly count. And I’ve never fought back before tonight. That’s gotta count for something.”
She scrawled a note on the paper that the intern had given her. I have no idea what it said. Her face betrayed nothing. I admonished myself again. Soften up: Look repentant and humble – whatever it takes. Even if it makes you wanna puke.
“So he was abusive tonight?”
“He had me by the collar and I shoved him away. I was honestly just trying to scare him by throwing the pan.”
Without warning or transition, she asked, “Have you ever experienced auditory hallucinations – heard voices?”
I’m a songwriter. I wouldn’t be much of one if I didn’t hear voices!
“No ma’am.”
That earned me a stony stare. I’d lathered my tone with a bit too much butter.
“Does your family have a history of alcohol or drug abuse?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t think so. My father only started drinking heavily after my mom died.”
That was only partially true. I think that her death had only exacerbated a pattern for him that had already been well established.
“Are you currently using any recreational drugs?”
I really had to bite my tongue this time, as that particular term always gave me visions of playing badminton with syringes. “I tried pot a few times in High School and didn’t care for it. It was disorienting. My thoughts seemed to come too fast for me to keep up with them. No, nothing.”
“Will you be able to find someplace to stay tonight – preferably somewhere where you can live until you find more permanent accommodations?”
“Uh… I don’t understand.”
“Well you can’t expect to simply go back to your father’s house, Mr. Chane. It says here you’ve been employed at the same restaurant for three years. You have your own transportation. You recently turned twenty. Isn’t it time you got your own place, had some space to yourself… to ensure that incidents like this don’t occur again?”
Life was in impeccable order within that square room. The plaques on the white walls attested to society’s faith in Dr. Lisbet and her ability to dissect your psyche with sober precision. She no doubt polished the top of her dark wood desk in between clients. If you had any doubt that you were here to be treated then the pale fluorescent lights, some four feet overhead, served to remind you that this was really a hospital room. Unfortunately, the surgical tools in use here were psychological, not physical, which meant that the incisions they made were much harder to see.
I might have been easy prey. But all those debates with Tommy, and the sometimes wearying lectures, had prepared me for this strange world that had been invented by those who presume to define sanity for the rest of us.
“Most of modern psychology is just the handmaiden of the culture,” he’d told me. “Remember that. It doesn’t grapple with the real nature of things. Take away the consensus reality and it doesn’t have a stone to stand on.”

Nevertheless, I read the look in Dr. Lisbet’s eyes and knew that I was finally caught.    ...

Read More:  What Casts the Shadow?