Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence? -Sathya Sai Baba

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Box

Inside you, there is a box.

It may be a cargo container, or an old shoe box that you taped closed years ago in a move and haven't opened since. It may be heavy and full, packed so tight that it doesn't even shift when you shake it, or it may have just a few things in it. Or just one thing.

One day you will go before a jury of your peers. You have been selecting them yourself, and giving them a place to live, for most of your life. No matter how old you get, how your joints ache, how your skin sags, they will remain young and vital and sharp-eyed and absolutely unable to lie.

Have you seen those shows, the singing, or dancing shows? Often their titles have an accusatory tone: "So You THINK You Can...." The judges hand out soul crushing critiques, taking the dreams of, unfortunately, very ordinary people and cutting their wings off and flaying them, wriggling and naked, before a slavering worldwide audience.

This will be worse, I promise you.

The girl in fifth grade so beautiful you wanted to be her best friend so she would let you brush her hair, the boy always so at ease and confident that he seemed to surf through life on a wave of gold, they'll be there. So will the bullies, of course, the psychos that never tired of infecting you with their corrosive hate, and the teachers that helped them. Your parents might be there, your best friends, that one person you had a crush on for years who never really loved you back, all there. Carefully appointed by you.

Your jury will show you your life, what you have done, and they will show you how to despise it. You will do your song and dance, all the things that you think you are, and they will show you, without mercy, that you are wanting.

And after their judgement has been rendered, when they have lacerated your heart and turned away in disappointment, leaving you raw and bleeding and full of self-loathing, you will retrieve your box, which for some reason you set aside when you went in. You should open it. If you are lucky, one of your jury may look inside the box with you when you do, and point out something particularly interesting.

Here's where it gets tricky. The box contains what you really are, what you have made in this life. The only things that go in the box are the things that you risked your life to make. You might be surprised how few objects there are in the box, or how many. It might contain a rock with eyes drawn on it that's a promise you made to a friend, or a rude carving made out of wood and fire hardened to last that is your marriage. It might contain your art (not the song you sang for the jury - your song, the one you've only sung once for your father, your dance, the one that you do when you are alone and happy), or something you don't even recognize: a bone, a watch gear, an old toy lantern with a sliding switch that somehow still gives off a faint but unwavering light.

That is your life. The song and dance you performed for show is nothing, and the jury was right to reject it. The box contains what is real. The jury will see what is in the box, and they will be unable to refute it, rough hewn or simple though it may be. It will be real, you made it, and no one can take it from you. No verdict is possible.

Whether the box is empty or full, there is still room, and there may still be time, to add one more item. You have to risk your life, but what else do you have? You climb on your bike, or mount your horse, or just stand and walk, away from the seat of judgement. Your jury has been declared void.

You have work to do.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Status Report

Things I'm noticing about my 4 Each Days:

1. The limit of only four sentences, while interesting, is starting to give a structure to the things which I need to work on breaking free from.

2. I actually forget the interesting things, for example, the oven thermostat broke the other day and I had to fix it by taking the whole thing apart. Or the hardcore Morrissey fan who was bartending at the Sea Witch the other day, who, when I complimented him on his choice of music (Still Ill) and his tshirt (the Wu-Tang logo turned upside down into an "M" for "Morrissey"), proceeded to point out all of his lyrics tattoos (three), and told me about sleeping on his Morrissey body pillow (!), which was apparently how he met his girlfriend (!!!). He explained to me that he was a much bigger Morrissey fan than his friend down at the end of the bar, and I assured him that anyone who thought they were more of a fan than he must be delusional. That's a pretty good story, and I totally spaced it.

3. I get about 30 hits a day. Most of them come from friends on Facebook, but a few seem to be from Germany and England.

4. The pleasure I get from 4ED is different from the pleasure of writing longer work. In longer work, it's all about the flow - the joy of spinning out the words, the time collapse of being absorbed. The shorter work is like working out a puzzle that has a finite number of solutions. Four Each Day is like a math problem.

And since this is about Four Each Day, I'll leave it there.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Update, and Notes on "The Shuttle Sleeps Alone Tonight"

Hello! How have YOU been. Good, good. Glad to hear it. I hope that little thing with the whatnot cleared up. The salve helped? I thought it might.

Me? Oh, you know, this and that. Mostly this. Probably less that than I reasonably should.

Well, in case you remain unswallowed by the hydra of social media, I should probably mention my story "The Shuttle Sleeps Alone Tonight" published by the wonderful, friendly, and understanding folks at Devilfish Review.

It's a little elegy to the space program, written when they were moving the Space Shuttle Enterprise onto the Intrepid, and it revolves around something I heard Neil DeGrasse Tyson say to the effect that, should we attempt to return to the moon in this day and age, we'd have to reinvent much of the technology from the Apollo program, because many of the people that got us to the lunar surface in the first place are now old and/or dead, and we kept inadequate records of their creations. The confluence of these two ideas (a de-prioritizing of sending men into space, coupled with the evaporation of knowledge), together with the decommissioning of the ship that was supposed to make travel into space a daily occurrence, created a feeling close to what I imagine is meant when the Japanese speak of mono no aware AKA the "Pathos of Things." There's a sense in everyday objects (and, for a while, the Space Shuttle was an everyday object for me, as familiar and as homey as a toaster) of the passing of time, and the transience of all things. I wanted to capture that sense of loss, to talk about the hopes and dreams of humanity that still awaken in us when we look into the sky at night. To hopefully revive, by showing where we've fallen short, the vision of the future that once was, that might still be again.

Writer, Write Something Good

At the beginning of the year, I made some promises to myself. One of those was that I'd post more here.

I named this blog as I did because, at the time I created it, I was studying Zen Buddhism, and I thought the name sounded cool. It reminded me of what I was trying to do: sit quietly, so that when I did talk, my words might be worth more.

I still meditate (in a different style, and that might be a good topic for a post at a later date) but obviously, that's not what Zen is about. I mean, Buddhism (except for offshoots like Soka Gakkai) really doesn't emphasize the whole materialistic thing.

Where am I going with all this?

I'm not doing a lot these days. I don't have a lot of projects. The craziness of my mid-30's has given way to a much more sedentary early 40's. I stay home a lot. I watch TV, I write smaller projects, I publish the occasional story. I'm happily married (as opposed to wandering through the world with a hole in my chest where my heart was supposed to be, which is what I did for a number of years).

Why am I telling you this.

What I'm trying to say is that, despite my seemingly having toned this shit down, there burns within me, still, this dream that I was put on this earth to do something extraordinary. Everyone has that, as a kid. You know, you draw band names on your notebooks, read books, watch movies and think, "Man, I want to be that. I want to be famous."

I'm lucky now, in that I don't want to be famous. I want to communicate with a lot of people, but these days, you don't have to really be famous to do that.

I'm rambling, I know. I feel like, at one point, I used to be able to pull together a coherent point, and then I did a lot of drugs and watched too much TV and got just enough older, and now maybe it's too late.

Funny story: I've thought it was too late since I was 20. I was bummed since I thought that I wouldn't be a prodigy. I wrote stories, won contests, got published. realized I liked it, got distracted by rock and roll, by laziness.

It's just, somewhere within me burns this dream that I can write something that will touch someone, that will come through the screen, through the page, the way that I've been touched. That I will find my way through the incoherent fucking fog that is my brain most of the time, and write something that somebody will pay me for, something worth something to somebody.

So here it is. I've been talking around it, and not really saying it, because maybe if I left it sort of open ended? Then maybe nobody could really hold me accountable when it all crashed and burned. My friends know that this is more than just a hobby. It's something I've been doing everyday, for a few years now. But I need to reiterate it, just to make sure that everybody who knows me knows what I'm about here:

I'm a writer. I want to write. I love writing, and I want to do something amazing.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

In praise of difficult books

A book is an instrument of possession, in the old-school, demonic sense.

Reading a book is an act of self-derangement.

When you read, the voice in your head that you live with every day, ostensibly your own, is displaced, for a time, in favor of the voice of another. This voice can be friendly, or hostile; cold and dictatorial, or warm and humanist. Just as some people are incompatible and fill each other with antipathy, and should not be seated next to one another at a party, so some writers should be avoided as bad company. This is not a reflection on them, or, for that matter, on yourself, as some people simply don't get along, and may be perfectly fine human beings otherwise. In the same way, there may be authors that you like to have in your head, who, in the heads of others, fill them with dread and despair.

The things that you like about your favorite author may be the things that cause others to throw the book across the room in disgust. There is, as they say, no accounting for taste.

Having said that, even if their values completely contradict your own, it can be useful, for a time, to deliberately take on the mask of another's incompatible personality, to stretch the boundaries of what you consider to be yourself. This exercise, though uncomfortable, can only be usefully accomplished by reading books you don't necessarily "like." Or "understand." 

This intentional mental weight-lifting could be likened to taking a hit of salvia, or DMT. It isn't necessarily "fun" per se, but it can be instructive, providing we approach it with an open and flexible mind. 

The feelings of repulsion you experience when reading a so-called difficult book may have nothing to do with the content. You are taking into you a small piece of another person's mental DNA. His or her voice, way of seeing the world, and the inhabitants of his or her mind, regardless of what actually "happens" (in, say, a work of fiction), may arouse the immune system of your mind (that is, of your ego) which is designed to keep you in a state of equilibrium. Something about the picture this author paints of the world disturbs that equilibrium, challenges your assumptions. 

Notice this. As uncomfortable as you might feel, you will probably not die.

Deep content may be dredged up, and where there is defensiveness, there is often hurt, or fear, or sadness. Again, notice this. You might not have even been aware that you felt this way, since the immune system has kept these issues well protected and hidden. If you are able to trace back the defenses into the darkness, you may find out very important information about yourself, and about what you assume the world to be.

Afterwards, you may need a little something to soothe your inflamed mind. I've always been fond of Neil Gaiman, or Mark Helprin, but your salve might be quite different. Regardless, be gentle with yourself. You've worked hard. Just as you wouldn't work out everyday, you wouldn't read difficult books everyday. Be kind. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Something My Mother Gave Me

I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom without bothering to turn the lights on since I read somewhere that excess light in the middle of a sleep cycle disrupts circadian rhythms. I sit on the toilet to pee in the total darkness, not trusting my blind aim to keep me from making a mess, even though a childish part of me thinks only girls sit down to pee.

After finishing, I pad barefooted to the front room where the cat is sleeping on the couch, and sit with her, my fingers buried in her thick fur, there in the glow of the street lamps that shine through the windows and keep the apartment from every being completely dark.

I remember my mother, how she would rub my back and tell me not to be afraid of the darkness, how she taught me it wasn't scary at all, that it was the deepest, softest velvet blanket, descending over me to give me peaceful, sweet sleep, that the darkness was my friend.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Third Eye Blinder

I feel like I'm being overly obvious. Surely I'm not the only one who has thought of this:

"When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

"But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

Yet here we are again, on Ash Wednesday, with a bunch of pious folk wandering about with smudged foreheads.

Oh, I've got mine, too. Don't worry. I haven't been going to church much lately, and it seems that my fanatical side has taken a long sabbatical (see what I did there?), so I mostly did it because I like going to church with my wife. There's something very comforting in engaging in rituals like that with her.

The symbolism of the ritual particularly struck me today, though. The ashes are applied right over the third-eye chakra (or Ajna), between the eyes, with the ritual words, "Dust you are, and to dust you shall return." The usual explanation is that we remember our sinfulness and our need for the salvation of Christ, but it struck me that there might be a different explanation.

The third eye (not an actual "eye," btw, in case anybody's feeling particularly bloody literal minded) symbolizes our ability to see things as they are, leaning toward the interconnectedness of all things. Through the application of the ashes, we remind ourselves of our inability to see things as they really are, because of the various ways in which we obscure our true vision, which leads to incorrect action. We then pledge, through fasting and austerities over the next forty days, to clean it, and return to our original state of clarity and love.

I mentioned this to Katie with my usual pedantry, saying how the church probably doesn't even know the symbolism of their own rituals, and she, with characteristic ease, took me down a peg. "Sure they know," she said. "They might have forgotten, but you know that somebody thought of this stuff at some point." Which is most likely true.

I'm probably talking like this more lately because I recently started back up on my meditation practice, which mostly involves continuing to do yoga everyday and adding in some visualization exercises from The Golden Dawn handbook. It's been really helpful in continuing the upward swing I've been experiencing in the last year or so. I'm learning to manage my moods, and my brain seems to be working better. Cleaner.

With the advanced techniques out there (chaos magick and the like) I'm basically hacking my brain with the ritual equivalent of a Commodore 64. Frankly, I don't want anything higher octane right now, as I might end up with a head full of shoggoths. There are rituals and techniques that, supposedly, can send you right up the lightning path to godhead, but I'm content to keep working the slow and steady route. I just keep plugging everyday, little by little chipping away at the barnacle of self.