In Memory of Claudia

My little bird, Claudia, passed away today. She was a spunky, beautiful, loving parakeet filled with song and vivacity. When let out of her cage, she would swoop and dive bomb about our apartment, a little green hornet.

She had the softest tiny belly. She loved sitting on my shoulder, grooming me.

We got her to provide companionship for my white-fronted Amazon parrot, Vincent, whom I’ve had since I was a little kid in San Diego.

She loved Vinnie as much as we do, and would selflessly groom his forehead and sing to him. She would boss him about and eat the food out of his bowl.

Four years ago, we purchased Claudia from a Pet Co downtown and brought her back all the way home on the A train.

In the middle of the night in one of the first months after we’d gotten her, she somehow got herself skewered–literally–on a toy hanging up in her cage. She was hooked onto it like a fish, flapping around in pain and fear. We managed to disentangle her, and I poured hydrogen peroxide on her wound.

We were terrified over the course of that week that she would die, but she was resilient. She was a tough little one. My NY bird.

Because of this resiliency, when she began getting sick over the past month, we didn’t think much of it. I was worried, of course, but I assumed that she would pull through whatever was ailing her.

And she did seem to get better, for a while. But suddenly today, she took a drastic turn for the worse. She was having difficulty breathing, and eventually moved to the floor of her cage, hiding under her food bowl.

When a bird does that, you know things are bad. Birds are good at hiding when they are really sick.

She passed away before my eyes this evening. It was awful. There was nothing I could do to help her.

Whenever I tell people that I have birds as pets, they seem to think it’s weird. And I’m sure that it must seem silly to you to grieve over a parakeet. But birds are wonderful pets. They have vibrant, unique personalities and are filled with the joy of living.

My wife and I have been sobbing all night, and I’m not ashamed to say it. I loved that little bird. And I am going to miss her terribly.

The Toughest Gamut

This last week has been perhaps one of the hardest thus far in my 1st year of teaching. It started in the very first minute on Monday and continued more or less unabated thereafter: insults, fights (one of which erupted in the middle of the sidewalk in front of all the parents at dismissal), yelling, and an uninhibited and calculated disrespect of myself and any other authority figure in the classroom. Some of my students spend their time in school determining how to best undermine my lessons (and goodwill) in any manner possible, and they will even coordinate their efforts. It is probably this latter behavior that most drains me.

The moments of breakthrough are few and far between with my students. By breakthrough, I mean for example moments such as when I watch a student perform various types of acting out behavior–such as ripping up papers to shreds, complaining every time I ask her to do any work, or stomping around the room and kicking things–and I recognize that something has happened to her that she needs support with, so I talk to her quietly about something that happened at home that morning and recognize that it is nothing personal against me (sounds so simple, right? Try doing it when you have 4 other students screaming for your attention and understanding). Or another moment of breakthrough with a student who has refused to communicate with me in any way except insults and blatant disregard since I have known him, but then on Thursday I actually got him to have a 2 minute conversation with me. And then he got suspended after that, so all progress has been subsequently lost. But maybe I might be able to have another conversation with him again.

In other words, extremely limited breakthroughs that take an extreme amount of effort and self-control. I’m not going to make much academic impact on some of my students. I understand the need for gauging the effectiveness of a teacher by test scores, but when you have a student taking a 5th grade state test when he reads at a pre-primer 1st grade level and he gets his test read to him but his working memory is extremely limited–well, exactly what kind of improvement are you going to see on that test? The kind of impact I have had on my students has been that I have taught them to stay in their seats 80% of the time and not to stand on tables and not to run down the hallways 95% of the time. I’m not joking or being facetious. There have been a number of different people in the building who have come up to me and told me that they are amazed at how much some of my students have changed. They used to be literally running around the entire building all day long and even terrorizing teachers by cornering them and threatening them physically. Now they sit in my classroom and spend the majority of their time insulting me and insulting each other. So that’s improvement.

But it eats away at my energy. It burns me out at the end of each day. I am sometimes left literally shaking with anger, stress, and despair in the middle of lessons, the moments when I have tried everything that I can think of but I just no longer have the will to fight or to see beyond the displays.

1st year Teaching Fellows are assigned an advisor from their graduate program who comes to observe lessons, lend support, and ensure that the school is treating them decent. My advisor has been great in giving me pep talks, because I am invariably a cynical and critical person, and I can be pretty hard on myself. She came into my school on Friday and arrived early during my prep, and talked to me the entire time, and I think some of my students overheard the conversation and decided that they wanted to put on a show for her. So during the next period, as I began my lesson, several of them really put on a show. I mean yelling, swearing, talking back to me, etc.  This continued unabated the entire lesson and into the next. I think that in some weird way, they wanted to show off to her, to show her how tough they were. It was disturbing, but I think what was encouraging was that there were 3 students during this performance who kept on track and attended to the lesson. So I taught it to them, and as I circulated and began working one on one with them, one of the others began doing their work, and then another, and finally the loudest of them all took out his paper and did a problem or two by the very end of the second lesson. My advisor stayed the entire time and worked one on one with one of my students who had walked out of my classroom upset. I have taught some of my students who have anger management issues to take a chair and sit outside of the classroom when they are angry until they cool down, and then they will come back into the classroom. My advisor was impressed that my student knew to walk outside, and then promptly returned ready to work a few minutes later. I didn’t even notice it, as this has become a frequent daily occurrence for a number of my students.

My students love to complain about the fact that I rarely take a day off. I think they overheard some of the conversation I had with my advisor, where she was talking to me about other 1st year teachers who have had nervous breakdowns in the classroom or quit, because they told me that they were going to make me leave. I told them that I liked them too much to do that. And I told them I would never take a day off even when I’m sick because teaching them was too important to me.

Which is a bunch of bullshit, but I’m not going to let them run me away into despair. They have been taught by their lives that the only manner in which to gain power is to destroy. But there is a deeper power. The power to create. The power to envision. The power to nurture. This is the only power that lasts.

My god I hope that I can heed my own dictums.

The Battle of the Bereft

Last weekend a friend was visiting, and of course I began discussing my students, because what else do I have to talk about now? I talked about their problems, their behaviors, their tough home lives. So he challenged me to say what they were good at. And in that moment I realized just how bereft my understanding of them is. I couldn’t think of anything. Not one thing. I wanted to weep.

When the entire world tells you you are worthless, in what place do you claw to find succor?

I watch them clutch empty-hearted at the manufactured dreams of the complacent, and shit on the very fabric of their own existence.

Dreams of graduation into comfort seem to be the defining tunnel vision of my own survival. All I can envision are green trees, rolling hills, an empty swatch of air and bird ringed silence across my bedroom window. A river, somewhere, without the brown slogs of industry.

Already, I have abandoned them. To leave them to their trash strewn streets, the steps of apartment buildings that serve as the template for passing the time. To their endlessly working, endlessly shopping mothers, who give them whatever they want whenever they can.

In this ghetto of the soul, it’s all about power. You take it any way you can, you drag down those who might love you and beat them into submission.

This is the game we play, whether in the streets or in the classroom. Who is the powerful? Who is the one who will lead by the blood on his hands?

I am too battered right now to step away from the battle. I see only red before me. I am angry. I am filled with despair. And this is when I know that this is the only fight worth

losing.

Gaining the Loss

The rule of the cosmos: you can’t ask for anything. You’ve got to just take what you need and give what you have. Seems to be the way things work, more or less. Like, if I get a little bit too screechy, needy, desperate for love and attention, then all I can hear is the veritable waves on the shore in the shell held up to the ear. So I have to regroup, sit down in the empty night space and meditate on my nothingness. How I have nothing, I am nothing, I will gain nothing. I’ve got to keep it all in perspective, somehow. Clam up, button the hole, and just observe, just watch the way the world works. The way that light seems to be generated not by light but by some other order of power. How all of the good things in life are really just a residue of extreme evisceration. The trickling out of beauty from the suffering awareness of despair.

So how to live life in this full declaration of madness? The masses recline before the injection of beauty. So dawn it upon them in full, without shame or fear or denial. There is nothing to lose. There is nothing to gain. There is just what you allow yourself to be, here, in this place of moment.

Hallowed Lives

To possess something of depth, there must be a relevant soul-searching ream of pain, as what has built up and calcified is scooped out, cleared out, cut out. Leaving the space for the blueprint of something new. In the erection of new life structures, you think of the manner in which windows will capture light, the space needed to sustain love. Policies are put into place, expectations are clearly set. From out of the hollows of your aching heart are formed crystals, that when dug up form the diamond terrace of your realized dreams.

The people in our lives are designed to mold us into who we want to be. To support, construct, motivate. If we are not here to enact something better, than what would be the point? Together, pressing the clay of our vision into higher planes.

All that exists is a matter of process, timing, development. We must wait, patiently, for the universe to unfold into itself, riding the waves of our suffering as we hollow our lives in preparation for the future.

How could I write this?

How could I possibly sing into this despair, this thin air of the void between distant strangers? What could I create to withstand my own insecurity, that could remain standing apart from listless self-concern in the overwrought perception of the wind from others eyes? I look into myself and see mostly fear, a defensive readiness, a reflection of my environment. This is not an excuse. I need to speak of what is within me, this bottled up genie of anger, petulance, and routinely denied divinity. Is it that I am getting afraid to die? That the more patiently I stock up for the future, the more loss of presence I incur? Enough questioning. This is not an inquisition. This is the attempted cultivation of understanding. Between estranged parties. The tentative negotiated establishment of dialogue.

It’s hard, sometimes, to empathize with strangers when they seem to ask something of you that you can’t imagine. Yet that much harder to ask yourself to begin to articulate your own emotions. Because you are so estranged from yourself that you fear a stranger may yet somehow know you better. May see into you directly for what you are. A human. A somewhat pitiful collection of experiences determined by circumstance and placement. How can you transcend this? How can you transcend this? How can we?

You can’t. You suffer from this realization. You shake, you cry, you wail. You stand silently with hands in pockets, overwhelmed, underheld, simply shelled. You can’t be any more or less than what you are. Until something within you is shed. Until you jettison the weight of your dreams, the afterbirth of your desire. Leaving a hollow form waiting to be filled. Leaving the space of a song that is waiting to be sung, in fullness of pain, to fill the voiceless silence in every person that they may or may not have known that they had.

We must cling to each other, like life rafts in the fearsome storm of the unknown. We must watch each other, drink each other, live each other. I am aching to tell this to myself, so that I remember when I am with you. That I love you, everyone, that I love to live, that I am willing to suffer to know this again everyday. Because this will soon be forgotten. This will be misunderstood. This will need to be reiterated, revoiced, rebirthed tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Is and Should Be

Life is and should be hard. To compete for the sun, establish one’s space in which to grow, to harmonize with what already exists, and develop continuously for deeper rootedness is a struggle. To be able to propogate only love, without bitterness, without anger—this is the pinnacle of existence. How many people do you know, whether rich or poor, who can smile at any stranger and fill their momentary solitary space with light? It is rare indeed to be able to penetrate the inner sanctums of alien awareness. You think you got something? Whatever it is that you hold is a barrier to divinity. Your own mind. Your own body. Your own desire to be something greater than this situation in which you find yourself, to be someone better than the people you are surrounded with. This moment, this day, this everyday mundanity. You are of this. You are this, with no delineation, no distinction. This, you, bounded, distorted, disarrayed.

And then just when you despair: the light. The tomorrow making of vision. A higher-ness of determination. Your potential succor staggers your stasis into omega futurity. You are of what you are, bounded only by what you aren’t, which is ultimately or predeterminately of what you are.

Simply put, the light, the love, the making of our interrelated creation: this is exactly and precisely the manner and whey in which it should be. A separation of layers, a diminishing and ascending relation of solidity. As I shed my past, shed my reluctance to be more or less than my own imagining, I find out who I am meant to be. This parcel of exact and apportioned reckoning. This complex version of what is and always will be simple in a single vision.

Song for Tomorrow

Sprawling Sky

What is there left to say when every day of existence is the grayscale of a wall that can only be chiseled away piece by steady piece? Where is that beauty so quietly hidden, by what means can it become manifest? Is it enough, this promise of a brighter day that comes in vacation segments, this savings accumulation that is someday to be spent carefully and considerately on future investments?

But there is no easy way to develop. This chiseling, this restrained practice of focused everyday yearning for the distant sky, is perhaps the only way to truly know how to feel the sun on one’s skin when it finally breaks through, momentarily, at an angle sweeping out through the morning chill. Everyone is sleeping in various states of shuttered despair, afraid to open themselves up to the effort required to grow. There is no easy way to get what we need. We fight each other, we fight ourselves, what is the difference?

I know that I had been hiding, tucked away in my sheltered enclave, where I could save and then spend, surrounded by my comforting stuff and people who comforted me to be comfortable themselves. Now the only shelter I’ve got lies within my skin, a formation of my bones, the portals of my eyes the sole conveyers of the world so reversibly different from what is captured without. That doesn’t make any sense, but it sounds good, so I’ll leave it be. There is no easy retreat from the challenges of the everyday world anymore. Escape has become recognizable now as what it is: a distant metaphor for death. Life consists in confrontation, struggle, adaptation, mitigation. The diplomatic conveyers of my heart are my hands and my feet. Words fail me, they fall far short of capturing anything but a residual complaint. As I await some space of inspiration to befall me, my body becomes that chiseled wall against the world. Peace by steady peace, the struggle is ever ongoing. To struggle against myself, or to struggle within the world, what is the difference? The inner regalia of bereft desire is seeded carefully into the sewn pockets of each moment, barely acknowledged, the dropping drip flooding of particulate divinity parseled into the lines that encode a face, turned so swiftly into a smile upon another’s reckoning. Smile for me, strange face of the day, that I may sleepingly move into tomorrow.

Trivial Mundanities, aka TMs

Trivial Mundanities. Such is the stuff of life. I am beginning to think that underlying much of Thomas Pynchon’s works is an attempt to demonstrate just how much of history is formulated by the forces of completely officially ignored and hidden aspects of existence—strange sexual encounters, anarchist theorems, smoke enshrouded pontificating into the night, etc.

Just to give you an example of the current T.M.s of my daily life: I left for work Friday at 12:06 midday in order to begin work at 2 in the afternoon. I then worked til 2:30 at night. I arrived at home, due to some mistakes in getting off at the wrong stations due to construction, etc, at 5:30 Saturday morning. I then again left for work that morning at 12:07, after waking up at 11:30. Blah blah blah. The point of this enumerating on timeliness is that work, in this (a)typical example of another crazy night in my life, can consume—inclusive of the transit time involved in getting to it—a grand total of 17 hours of a day in my life. That particular scenario left me with 6 hours of sleep, though in actuality it was more like 4-5, given the time I spent showering when I got home and the fitful type of sleep that was to be had.

That’s not much of a life outside of work, now, is it?

Just to give a few more T.M. laden tidbits subsequent to aforementioned Hell Night: I woke up, sort of, in the morning, stumbled creakingly into my clothes, fed my screaming parrot, ate a granola bar, brushed my teeth and washed my face, and made my way out to the street, hence towards 1) the shuttle bus to 2) the A train to 3) the E train to 4) the Q53 bus. It being a Saturday, the place wherein I work was slam packed with frantic consumers, and due to some problems we’d had with a fire at our frozen warehouse, our intranet ordering system failing, etc, the day was even crazier and more stressful than usual—and as always, compounded by the fact that I am still new and “learning the ropes” as a manager there. So I didn’t get a break to eat and sit down and drink water until 8 at night.

So I’m sitting here and it’s past 3 am in the quiet of the witching hours and I’m beyond exhausted. It’s my “Friday” however, meaning that I’m now into my weekend, which will consist mainly of sleep and attempts to pretend that I’m not going back to work again soon, very, very soon.

It’s funny that I have been for so long wishing to put the “car culture” of California behind me, and here I am, fulfilling my ambition, logging in my plentiful hours within the New York MTA system, breathing in its subterannean fumes. I spend most of that time reading my library books while listening to my MP3 player—which may have just died actually (I haven’t had to time to analyze the situation: does it just need to be hit, recharged, taken apart, plugged in, re-re-booted, etc? Or is it really, finally, after so many years, Dead?)—closing my eyes and attempting to relax/nap in the hard plastic seats of the subway while my head nods to and fro, or staring at a single point at the ground and trying to pretend that I don’t notice the weird dude who insists upon starting blatantly at me as if I’m some kind of anomaly that does not compute.

The trains late night can really lead to existential crises; you will find yourself sitting in a murky, decaying waterlogged station, the tiles splotched with grime, a vomit spill projecting on the ground in front of the puritanically designed hard wood row of seats, a midget with a black cap and a dragon embroidered denim jacket asking you if you speak Spanish and then saying something completely nonsensical to you in any language, a number of high pitched alarms ringing just slightly off time from each other for some reason that is unknown and obviously unimportant. You sit and wait, and wait, and wait. This could be hell. Trains in other tunnels rumble unseen on their way to somewhere else. Men in hardhats, doo-rags, and florescent vests walk about the station and wave flashlights. A rat mama and her baby scuttle across the tracks. Trash scatters everywhere, so ubiquitous it is unseen.

You get onto a train, finally, and random people of the night settle and are settled into states of disarray, disheveled post party/event states, bodies splayed at awkward ankles, heads nodding, a besotted woman guffawing at her partner’s slurred unfunny statements, an old man across from you pressing his head into the corner of the wall—you think at first that he is crying, and then you grasp the darker truth—his nose is pouring—literally pouring—out snot, and it is dripping down onto the seat, and he is embarrassed, attempting to hide it, trying to flick it over as it pools onto the seat with his finger into the crevice on the side. You pretend that you do not see what is transpiring.

Another man hacks up sputum and spits loudly onto the floor of the train. He stares belligerently at a man wearing an MTA uniform and hat. He spits a number of times more, to make it clear that he is spitting to make a point. He shakes, perhaps with delirium tremens, or in some state of spiritual dishevelment. He is dirty, he has bags of probably useless objects. He is talking to himself, complaining incessantly. Apparently, he has fallen asleep and missed his stop long ago, and blames the MTA system for making him miss his stop. He stares at the man across from him in MTA clothes and shakes, and spits audibly, and then continues to complain. To whom? Is it the Train Gods that he rails against? The forces of the ominous sounding Metropolitan Authority? People in the train pretend that this is not occurring, that they notice nothing, though they see everything.

Ah, the trivial mundanities of my existence.

Dirty Hands, Clean Mind

You’ve formulated these full, glossy lit pictures of perfection in your mind. You’ve established how you believe the world should be. You’ve determined how you want those you love to be. And now you find yourself putting up walls between yourself and reality, constantly on retreat, the ebbing colors of your idealism flowing into the eroding moat outside your acceptance. You hold on tight to your imagined versions of who you love, as they slip away invisibly from between your bestowed masks and costumes like a greased pig. You clutch at ghosts, you cherish empty husks, you bed with demons. You dig yourself in deeper, unaware of how alone you have become, how lonely, how lost, how stranded.

Those who love you become your enemies. They talk about you behind your back, unable to confront you with a reality that you can’t accept. There is no possibility of change, no potential for a different outcome, until you’ve come to the end of your own rope. Until you are ready to reach out from behind the walls of your idealism and step back into the world that exists beyond your limited desires. Until you drop your selfish ego and accept your diminutive status within the world. Until you drop the burden that you have created and free yourself to become involved.

To become involved in the nurturing and growing of living things, you must get dirty. You have to struggle, get down onto the ground on your hands and knees, work at the earth, sweat into your clothes. There is no easy way to create beauty that will survive apart from you.

There is nothing wrong with being a perfectionist, with being an idealist, with wanting the world to change, with being angry and bitter with the way things are. But if this idealism is preventing you from becoming effectively involved in your own life, then it is just as dangerous as greed, just as dark as blood shed by warfare. In order to act, a thousand other potentialities must be destroyed. The question is: is this action the right action? Is this involvement the right involvement? These are the things that frighten you. These are the things that hold you back. While your plants are withering. While reality grows ever more desperate, more detached, more inclined towards despair. The real question is not right or wrong; the real questions are: how selflessly can you act? How fully involved can you be?

If you can give yourself completely, then there are no questions.

Dirty your hands in the challenge of your world. It is best, of course, to think and choose the best course of action. But how many times have the options only become apparent after you have already committed yourself? In the streamline of successive moments, the right way will become manifest. You must believe this. You must have faith in what is beyond yourself of which you are but a part. You can’t out-think the physical manifestations of the universe. You can’t formulate a perfect philosophy to encompass each and every moment. You can only open yourself to learning, like a child. In response to reality, you will know what is the right way to act.

Open yourself to the suffering transparency of the light. Break down your walls to the invading hordes of the world.

It is only your mind that misleads you.

Integrity in the Street

Flat surfaces superimposed in 3D alignments against the horizon, hard edges, challenges unsought for that must be met at every seeming second. On the street level, your illusions stand for nothing but what you’ve truly bought into. You sense shame, a fundamental smotheredness. Aspects of yourself that you cannot defend are attacked by glances that you have left unmet. You yearn for an openness that is only earned through pain. The sense of being incomplete surrounds you—the dissonant shards of failure due to negligence are strewn across the surface of the streets. Are you beautiful enough to join in its din? Are you pure enough? Are you enough of steel, enough of integrity, enough of acceptance? This is the challenge of the street. You must deliberately shed, sufferingly, your protective mundanity, the blinders that allow your days to fast forward into oblivion. Can you feel it, fully, the force of the untouched, the anguished power of the unsaid?

To walk, balanced, swaying in fecundity, through the broken corridors of the streets. The beat that drops assuredly through crooked time. Your flow is rapture, your channeling deliberate, your connections run deep. Integrity. Spirit. Vulnerable as the stars, naked in the frigid night, shaking out the past.

A Drop of what was once Passion

There comes a point when you can no longer forfeit what you feel for what is the more comfortable compliance, without some serious loss of presence. All of this time that you once spent in development can so easily be lost, and you are left with a shallow shell of what once was, and all of your capability is a memory. Achievable, you know, with disciplined time, but the window recedes further with each passing day, with each fleeting moment spent unfocused, unbalanced, untuned.

There must be some way to way to reconcile the need for introspective stillness with the needs of nurturing others. Some way to find concentration in the act of complacency. Some manner of extreme cognition in the shelter of what is acceptable. I don’t even know what I’m talking about.

There is a certain unreachable distant loneliness that resides within us all, and how to understand this, cherish it, embrace it, while harboring the movement of the wider world? To be an oyster with the pearls around your neck? To move ever inward, ever deeper, while fostering acceptance and even love in the face of mediocrity?

It is easy to mock the hungry passion of the misaligned, but not so easy to mock yourself in your dry stasis of daily existence. Where is the key that would unlock this door? Where the wind that would rustle skirts? Where the tiniest tip of real blood that would give credence to your emptiness?

Patience, patience, patience is the rhythm of your future dreams. It remains to be seen, the fruits that might fall from beyond your reckoning. Can you measure up to your potential? Will the secret corridors whose shapes are suggested in the profile of your silences open up one day to the masses, tickets sold out?

All remains to be seen. In the meantime, there is only our imagination.

Stillness in the Eye of the Beheld

At every stage in the evolution of the human species, when we develop tools with greater and greater capabilities of empowerment, we also gain the capability of greater destruction, and vice versa. Every sword is double-sided, every tool a weapon. An airplane as the most accurate of guided missiles. Misguided youth and passion strapped with shrapnel, the stealthiest of dirty bombs. Every versatile development of intelligence bends alternately to creation or destruction—the greater the power, the greater the atrocity.

Yet in order to develop, we must chance our ultimate demise. There is no advancement without struggle. There is no progress upward without the danger of falling. This applies to all of mankind, as well as to the individual existence. The alternate threat and promise of extinction is what drives us to create. To distinguish ourselves from inconscient matter, to approach the flame of divinity, to grasp at it with groveling, greedy fingers of competing awarenesses, until we discover, the hard way, that we are all of each other, all of the light that we seek, all of the matter that we shed.

So on the way to this discovery we slaughter, we suffer, we sear our desperate imperfections across the face of the earth, spreading the disease of despair and hollow complacency with a missionary zeal that results only in complementary rage and anger, in blind lashing-outs by voices bound by their own inarticulate tongues of selfishness. This sickening beauty of humanity, the terrible power of our destiny. Killing ourselves to know of ourselves, so that we may better live alongside of our silences. The way Miles Davis kills everything around him for that solid punch of harmony in the midst of chaos. Creating the space for momentary beauty to shine out of its darkened backdrop of everything.

Not every flower will find the outward sun. But every form of life, whether fallen to the earth for sustenance to the hunger of the future, or rooted into the highest of heights, holds within the seed of bliss, the joyful dance of incomplete perfection. For not any one thing could ever exist without the other.

Evil as Good

In an experience with a shaman in Cuzco 2 years ago, one of the insights I gained from that little glimpse into the great unknown was that there is nothing to fear in all of the vast, seemingly demonic forces arrayed beyond our understanding in the cosmos. That all is of the light, a part of the entire. I’ve been kind of sleeping on that window of intuition, but I re-remembered it the other day as I was reading a section in The Life Divine, wherein Aurobindo is grappling with the question of the existence of evil and suffering in the world. And I then realized that this little insight I had was perhaps deeper in significance than I had originally thought. For me, personally, the recognition that everything in existence is a part of a greater whole, including the “bad” and evil things, was a stepping beyond my upbringing. I was raised as a Protestant Christian, and as everyone knows, the Christian theology, in a nutshell, is arranged around the concepts of good and evil as represented by God and Satan. The presence of evil and suffering is explained as the meddlings of the fallen angel in our material world, allowed by a distant God to challenge and torture us in our den of sin. But there is, of course, a strange paradox in such an explanation of evil, for it renders a supposedly omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient God as suddenly reticent and detached from humanity and their suffering. This means either that this God is cruel, or that he is not in fact all-powerful, or both.

I’m quite certain that Christian scholars and mystics have grappled with this question throughout the ages, and have more than likely come up with some insightful answers based within the Christian dogma. As I no longer adhere to any religion myself, I am not all that interested in theological answers, but rather in a unitary spiritual, metaphysical vision. The deeper mystic, in any religion, recognizes the unity of all existences as an extension of God. For if God is omni-everything, if it is Brahman, if it is all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing, then it must necessarily include all of what we perceive as bad, in addition to all of the good.

This has led me to the idea that the very concept of “evil” is a necessarily human construct. After all, animals and plants do not create religions, laws, and codes of ethics for their behavior. If you agree with the principle of evolution, then you necessarily regard human life as an evolved form of life with a level of consciousness which goes beyond that which it has evolved from. As such, we have evolved into this perception of suffering and evil, and it is thus a mental construct, a product of our evolved mentality. And therefore, our conceptions of evil, though formed from fear and ignorance, are in fact an essential recognition of that which we must defend ourselves against, and ultimately transcend, in the effort to evolve. What we perceive and regard as evil are in fact powers beyond ourselves that threaten to overwhelm or lead us astray in our aspiration towards divinity. But in the bigger picture, these forces, so seemingly arrayed against us, are in fact a form of cosmic devil’s advocates that push us and nudge us and batter us towards perfection, honing us, challenging us. And when we recognize this greater truth, when we overcome our fear and ignorance, we get that much closer to transcending the existence and persistence of evil in our lives. In the light of this greater awareness, what was once perceived as evil and in opposition to ourselves transmutes into something with broader implication and potential, even a deeper good. All of this suffering, all of this evil, could be seen as teachers, bearers of painful lessons that we must learn. We must answer and overcome their challenges, and realize them as a part of the whole of existence. Both negative and positive, united, represent the entire picture. There is, therefore, nothing to fear. All is of the light, for all comes from the light and returns to the light, and has always been and will always be the light within itself, and of itself, and beyond itself. This is not to explain away your suffering. This is to say that perhaps you suffer because how else will you recognize delight? And this is not to explain away evil, and give it reason to perpetuate, but instead to say, for what other cause and purpose will we battle for what is right, and thus find our eventual, stumbling way into higher modes of existence, where evil is no longer what it was to our fractured, self-embattled minds?

To Live

(written in 1996)

I

The drip, drip, dripping of time runs in rivulets down
the gaping wound on the side of the eternal boy.
The scabs continuously rub against themselves,
pouring forth new pain from the deep caverns within,
from the hungry depths of resentment and anger,
cutting away at the corpse of the man,
eating away at the decaying walls of the man,
the pain possesses, the snake entwines the host.

His bloody eye, ever roving for release,
settles upon a passing child, a little girl
who reminds him of a forgotten part of himself–
and the storm of suppressed feelings
rages into his mind, the winds blowing past
into his hands–beating, beating, remembering now
the anger, the hatred released upon his head–
he feeds upon the pain–hers–his. To make
another feel this pain, to release, to fill
the hollowness inside with another’s heart
stolen, ripped out with his bare hands–
he flies away crying hoarsely, a dying boy,
a living man.

II

I brush my hands–lightly
against my bruises,
feeling the vestiges
of another’s hurt–I
have always believed
in god until now–now
it is a hollow steel image
nailed above my bed.
I hate him.
I see strange things–
in my dreams–
barren landscapes,
charred by the fires
of wars, ruined
by the havoc of storms.
I hate myself.
Why do people turn
against themselves?
I rub my hands together,
feeling a warmth
only outside.

III

Time, the eternal lacerater, flows forever,
washing the wounds of the injured
in the blind waves of deceitful memory,
leaving restless scars in the belly
that must be stoked with the fiery touch of hope.

But what is the world without hope, where
does one fall to be saved, what is the world
without hope but emptiness and death
and pain and pain and endless pain?
Cut off from herself in the past,
she tries to reunite the shards, the pieces–
blood seeps out the cracks formed
by the forced union–never to be whole again.
There is no hope for one who has already died.
She casts her hands out into the dark space,
groping, and feels the cold rigidity of the crucifix
above her head–the hollow steel image that is him–her–
sparks fly and she wonders if there is a chance–
tobe reborn?.canI. canwe. . .
No–there is Nothing.

But a fire once started cannot be stopped
except by time and time and death.
She looks in the mirror and sees nothing–
and that is the world–everything, anything–
beautiful, the world is horrifyingly beautiful
and it was there all along, before and after
the snake–it takes death to know life–
a shattered image, broken to emptiness,
is life itself in truest form: piercingly aware
of death and its encompassing futility.

IV

I am nothing, nothing,
but part of everything;
I am nothing, nothing,
but the world, the universe;
I am nothing, nothing,
but life and death–
I have tasted the blindness
and now I can see;
I have touched the judgment
and now I can sing–

I am nothing–
nothing–
and I am beautiful.

Fitting

Words have not been coming to me easily, which speaks itself of some disconnection between within and without. So in struggling for reparation of these unseen scars, I know that the only way to heal is to hurt, to allow myself to feel some pain that has not been expressed, but easily, so easily repressed. It could and can be something as abstract as the disconnection between sublimity and mundanity, between possibility and actuality. Or something so small as a moment’s ignorance, a shadow’s fall across that page in time. Locating the exact pinpoint of dislocation is not so important, I don’t think.  I think it more critical to address this very moment’s division, in which I would attempt to pretend that I have nothing to say, that there is nothing to say, that there is silence within, nothing worth writing about, that I am incapable of writing effectively about what I might happen to think of, etc.

So this is an incantation, a spell, a charm of words wreaked to heal, words woven to address a lack of words. Sometimes I begin to think that everything that is written must be deep, must be good, must be pure, must be whole. And so the imperfect, unchosen words slip away, disappear, hide fragmented into the folds of silence, and I am left with nothing at all to speak, because nothing, in the beginning, is good enough of itself, no word on its own can embody completeness. All of these imperfect pieces must be strung together, stitched and woven together, until something beyond themselves, something beyond myself, begins to make itself known. And how can I know what this complete vision will be until I plunge into the shrapnel storm of potentiality, and begin to pick and choose fragment by fragment, brick by brick, carefully placing and replacing and deleting, until a stairway to something has been made?

And so here it is, this beginning entry into renewal, rediscoverance, rebirth. It must be done again, again, everyday, this remembrance of what can never be captured. I must start anew at every step, forgetting momentarily what has come before and concentrating only on what is to come, and what will be formed. And then it fits.

Speech From the Void

There are words, fathomless, unbound, scratching out from the core of you, burning to be formed into knowing. There is hidden, silent violence working itself within you, unknown even to you except as you lay awake in the night, the moonlight filtering through the slits in the blinds like starlit screams. What is it that so desperately needs to be spoken? Is it that your days have fallen like marbles to the ocean floor of mundanity, and you seek the overwhelming force of suffering, the cleansing purge of pain, to remind you of what it is that is beauty, to stir you back into remembrance of passion?

Ah, yes, you are tired. Your body is sore, your immune system is battling some invading horde, and your mind is sick with work and worry. But what kind of excuse is this to the sleepless void within you? What does the god within you know of such pettiness?

To speak, finally, of that which bubbles upward through subterranean fissures of your being, is like drilling down into the earth, and striking oil. Stored reserves of energy manifest themselves suddenly in outward movement. That which is pressurized will eventually find its outlet into another waiting form of containment. The cells branch forward into the light, forming bodies, minds, universes of dancing mirrors struggling to mimic infinitude on the tongue of a moment. Nothing can truly be said that has not already been formed in the deepest essential core of you. What you speak is of a process, of a stream, of a movement that is always circular, but never the same, for it is spinning ever toward itself into a future that is unknown.

You need this, this struggle, these imperfect structures of desire and transcendence.
Without the awakening in the night to see the world as it sleeps, you would not know yourself.

Giving All

I think that culturally, through movies, advertisements, and the like, we have been taught that love is about receiving things. Like Valentine’s Day. It’s about getting what you desire. For girls, it proceeds from getting the bouquet of flowers, to getting the diamond ring. For men, it proceeds from getting the poonanny, to getting the trophy. As if all you really had to do was go out there and succeed. Conquer, divide, and rule. Get a nice house, acquire some kids, and there you are. All tied into the American Dream.

As if you just put yourself out there, and worked hard enough, and were good looking enough, then all your dreams would be fulfilled. Some perfect person would walk through the door and everything would suddenly fall into place.

But love isn’t about comfort, ease, and mere fulfillment of desire. It’s about giving. Unconditionally. How many people, besides truly loving parents, really know about unconditional love? We have been taught that the world should center about us (and all the things that will make us feel bigger, better, and more complete). But when you truly love someone, the world centers about them. No matter if they are perfect or not. No matter if they fulfill some adolescent fantasy or not. Simply because they are them.

The things that make us beautiful are the most natural aspects of ourselves, that we would consciously hide if we knew that it was showing. The flaws, the silliness, the shy craziness waiting to be unleashed by adoration. The beauty that we see in the marketplace, the airbrushed glossy masks, are manufactured to fit into some collective fantasy of perfection. But they are not beautiful. They are desirable, simply because they are unattainable. Yes, unattainable. Just like advertisements for products try to sell you some simulation of happiness, contentment, and eternal well-being, if you just had that one thing. But the very idea that you could find nirvana through a product shows just how unattainable such a state of happiness really is. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps it is not in your nature to always be happy? To be perfect? To be desired by everyone?

This reminds me when I was in college, when ‘E’ was making its journey from hippy new age raver desert parties to mainstream clubs and consumer groups. I knew people who were taking E every weekend, and taking more and more of it, attempting to prolong their sense of belonging and connection to other people, the feeling in music, the beauty of dance and touch and scent. These people became ‘E-tards’, and you could visibly see the effects of taking way too much of the drug in their faces, the draining of nuance and groundedness, the flattening and glossy extension into disassociated fantasy. They totally missed the whole point of the experience, just as most people miss the whole point of all ecstatic experiences. It’s not about always being high, happy, and united with all the world. That in fact to prolong such experiences is to flatten out reality, at the expense of yours—and other’s—feelings.

We have to feel everything. We have to feel not only happiness and beauty but also pain and loneliness. And when you truly love someone, you lift up the barriers that separate you from them by accepting everything that they make you feel. You open yourself not only to their kisses and hugs, but their insecurities and pettiness. This is all part of the deal. You can’t have one without the other. Well, you could, but then it wouldn’t be love. It would be a conditional relationship based on your desires.

Some people are happier to flit from one person to the next like a hummingbird, sucking nectar from each one and then moving on before they run into emptiness. It takes a lot of work to hide what you feel from other people. It takes even more work to constantly hide what you feel from yourself.

Try loving someone for more than what you want from them. Just for them. Not only for the beauty in their eyes that first drew you in like flames in the night, but for the complexity and human nature and stark, bare, raw beauty in their hearts. Root yourself down into them deep. Because down here, in this other person, in the darkness of the unknown, in the ripping wind of the void and formless ancient beginnings, you may just find yourself. Complete. Beyond desire. Beyond suffering. Drenched in love. Immersed in love. Drowned in love.

Dropping Out The Sky

Break in the Ice

Do you feel sometimes as though you were waiting to fly, and that you are simply awaiting the proper environment, the correct medium, the right chance, that somehow you will sense just as it occurs? And yet somehow this perfect runway never shows up—or maybe it even does, but the lighting just isn’t good enough so that you can recognize it, or people were getting in the way so you could never get up to speed, or . . . something. Something just is never right.

Well, the fact is that most of us need a good solid kick in the ass to go beyond what we are accustomed to. We can get used to anything, even getting abused on a daily basis, even mortar shell fragments whizzing by our ears, even junkies outside on our doorstep shooting up, even being the junkies ourselves, dependent on the next small change to get us to the next fix to get us by, just to get by. We need to be booted out of the nest to find ourselves falling, with only our god given instinct to save us from gravity. We need to be hurt, we need to be pushed, we need to be upset, we need to cry, we need to come to limits beyond ourselves and stand there in that cold and airless night and feel the vacuum beyond the impetus of everything that we thought held us into ourselves and understand just where we stand in the grand scheme of things. And realize that we are really nothing. And to realize that in the midst of this nothingness we act as anchors and stars to everything else that is also nothing. Like the cold stars in the dark sky, shining mindlessly through space to you to call to you in a language beyond understanding.

To fall from the nest, to be pushed into the wide open heartless sea, with nothing but yourself to save you. Your body knows what it needs to do. Your mind is there to revel in the mystery. Your spirit can only be drunk in the awareness of itself.

Everything in our lives acts to push us beyond ourselves, beyond our comfort zones, beyond our knowledge, beyond what feeds us, beyond what clothes us, beyond what defines us. So why fight this movement into the wide blue yonder? Delve, dive, fly, experience, hunger, desire, reach, pull, cry. The only thing holding us back is ourselves and our fear. Well, you’re always going to be scared. Every single time you have to leave what is known and what is safe and what is secure, every single time you will be scared. And every single time this fear and adrenaline will turn into exhilaration and bliss in a heartbeat once you have stepped out the door and onto the stage and into the light. This is what it is to have faith and surrender and to love. To let go of yourself to give yourself to something beyond yourself. To find yourself, to truly know yourself.

A kick in the arse. A drop in the water. A fall from heaven.