Leaves Rustling In The Wind

Jun 02

My blog is a narrative of things I’ve done, seen, thought or experienced. I think it’s important to be sincere in expression. It makes the words flow in the order of their experience-which may or may not be linear. Memory and events are cut up some times, a montage of events because we think that way, connecting songs to memories or smells to experiences. It’s not in order of occurrence at all, but in order of impact with the foundations things that we may or may not, in fact, recall. And then we interface with other matters of our stories, myths and fables and secret identities (not just Clark Kent, but the Prince disguised as the pauper, the Princess enchanted into something else), destinies and callings. A fish brings a ring to us at the shore of  a lake, speaking clearly it lays whopping fates on us. We’re kind to old ladies who reveal that they are beings of great power. These matters are equal in value, and their memories overlap, whether they happened that way or not isn’t important, it’s what they mean to us.

But there are times we find not fit to blog. Omissions are made to spare the living, to spare the dead. There are so many things I would like to write about but decorum prevents me. The tragedies of others are unfit for strangers to bear in the pages of their texts. When someone anonymous dies, should we, in fact, try to make it pertinent and relate ourselves to it? When Memorial Day came and went, I wanted to scribe my own feelings on war, to say what I think about current conflicts and about the sordid past of man. But it seems a small thing to me-my own views, that is-I’ve never fought in a war. There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion and voicing it, in fact, it is admirable when people do. But I’ve read old essays and articles, editorials from before and after the fact. The men and women who have thought actions against other human beings were justified, only to find later that their words collapsed under their own weight.

The same holds true for other affairs. To be critical of the world means, all to often, that we spare ourselves subjection to the microscope, like a photo taken up too close where everything that is out of sort is there to see. Only-everyone looks that way through that lens. To that end, rather than engage in a matter offensively, I’ve often tried to keep a cool head and stick to the facts, to not let emotion bleed in and remain inviolate. Certain core positions are unassailable: the sanctity of human life, the transcendence of nature, the highest expression of love. And so, instead of throwing out my political views or religious beliefs (they’re mine, not anyone else’s after all, and surely everyone is entitled to their own) I want to share things that make the continuum of being, a common language that, being the property of all, is poetic in nature: a gibbous moon, the language of birds, leaves rustling in the wind…

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Radio Tower

May 24

Writing in my blog I’ve endeavored to be honest, even when it’s painful, embarrassing. The revelations of personal weakness and failure along with bewilderment, fear, the emotions we all feel but would rather not admit to. I’d like to try and say it’s cathartic, but really, I get a secret wonder when I receive emails from others that have undergone similar rites of passage.  I try to write relevant things-that is, matters that are worth writing about. More often than not I fail to really get to the pith of the moment. The words on the page occasionally get close, but so many more times after I’ve written a post I feel that I came short somehow. My fiction even more so. Brilliant tales unwind in reels before my eyes, but when I sit down to make a commitment, to promise the story to memory for others to read, it fails to achieve the ideal formation that I feel it deserves. The story has iterations before its done-different versions of itself, alternate endings, evolutions of character. For reasons that I can’t understand I seem to be able to write memoir reasonably well-well enough that people will actually read it. But when it comes to fiction, I can’t seem to render the mundane and always have my heart in the fantastic. But life is fantastic-even though it’s mundane.

Case in point: A story came to me once, to write about two young men growing up in a small town. There is an intimacy and an oppression that comes with village life. Everyone knows you-but that’s the problem, you have an identity you can’t escape from. You always are who you once were, not who you are today and with that sort of binding you will never be who you really want to. I’ll admit it’s a little autobiographical, and its nuances strike home all the more for me since Facebook seems to have brought all the dramatis personae from my hometown back into my life, even if I’m not friends with all of them on FB, I see their profiles on other people’s lists and remember the weird and now poorly understood conflicts and drama from so long ago. The boys grow up in fractured families-the sort that would have been solidly middle class if their parents had stayed together, and in the confused daze of adolescence find their parents apart and sliding down the scale economically at the precise age when status and identity become so entwined. Like most youth, they take it at face value and with little reflection. Perhaps a little nihilistic self-destructive behavior like bad grades and mild substance abuse finds expression. That and raucous music and outrageous personal style.

Eventually, of course, the two boys go their separate ways upon adulthood. One leaves town. The other stays. During the course of their coming of age, they live together in a borderline bad part of town, living demented bachelor lives that feel more like those of feral lost boys than how young men were in times now past when people seemed to know themselves better and have more control. The borderline part of town abuts an industrial area, and a feature of the story that was to figure prominently was the flashing red beacon of a radio tower in the distance. A light like an all-seeing eye, a part of the landscape even though it was mand-made, the thing is somehow a silent witness, mute in its testimony it observes everything but does not judge. They’d wonder at it occasionally on late nights when they were out of their head. When they were younger and everything had to be funny, idiot joke stories encompassed its meaning, but as years pressed on, it became something more profound. All the more because no one else seemed to notice it but them.

Years later, the young man who left returns. Visits. They go out together and talk about old friends who are dead, or what happened to other friends-where they were and how they were. The women they were interested in once and what they looked like, who they wound up with or were without. Some of it is happy, a lot of it is sad and both have their own parts of melancholy regardless. Stories about school plays, the eclipses of the sun they remember over the years. The past is strange and familiar, the present strange and anonymous. It’s not all that bad for it being so. There is a sense that with the passing of time, things have flattened out, and even if we aren’t who we thought or hoped we would be, nonetheless, it was alright for what it was. It was, it was just being. That night, after carousing and the quasi guilt that accompanies it, he sees the light in the distance. Still there after all these years.

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Days of Tradition

Apr 10

March 21st or so is the equinox. Day and night are of equal length and this is the official start of spring. There is an ancient tradition that when God created the world, it was spring. The old calendars marked the beginning of the year on April First, not January. The journey of the fool, which is the journey of us all starts at this time, when the tides of the season change and life returns back into the earth-or perhaps, it rises again from within. The birds attend their nests-they sleep in trees when they have no young, the nests are solely for them. The insects swarm crazily, buzzing for pollen and wielding daggers. Crooked, twisting, dogwoods bloom. Cherry trees and redbud announce themselves with a royal parade of blossoms. I’ve always enjoyed the subtler beauty of the red maple buds, a deep russet color that makes an understated expression of spring.  At night, we hear frogsong chirping from the creeks and ponds. Often, for me, it’s a surprise to hear them, it seems so cold for the amphibians to already have climbed from sleep in the mud. We can hear birds throughout the year-the songs of frogs and toads most especially marks the day.

When I was a young man, the days of Equinox and Solstice seemed especially magical. The shadows and warm glades of midsummer twilight ensured that there were other worlds than this one, places where human beings rarely treaded. I felt glad knowing that the Longest Night was over and that, despite the cold and saturnine skies, light was slowly returning to the world, and a pivot would soon be upon the year and again it would be spring. Later, I joined secret societies that met on days once revered whose meaning now was largely lost. The names of the days were evocative: The Eve of Saint John, Dies C (Corpus Christi), Pentecost. The Eve of Saint John is around the time of the summer solstice-the feast of John the Baptist, standing in balance on the other side of Christmas and the feast of Jesus. The idea intrigued me-there was deeper meaning at work here. Pentecost refers to the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles-but it is also when King Arthur and his knights would meet, and when the Holy Grail descended to the Earth. According to these hidden traditions, certain days held special significance: the fires lit for Saint Brigid in the depths of winter, the Perseid meteors were the Tears of Saint Lawrence, icons of Mary rising from the beneath the waves. There is a Feast of All Souls, of All Saints, of All Angels.  Walpurgis Nacht or May Eve reserved by the darker powers of the world to enact their nefarious ends.

I’ve worked to keep traditions, inside and outside of the one I was raised in and currently practice. Candles and rites and special foods and special clothes. Without fully grasping just why I was doing what I was doing, I kep to the task at hand. Over the years, a framework evoked itself, a sacred time in keeping with the seasons, the year as holy making the world and all life holy and in tune with the procession of the earth, the turning of one season into the next, the stars in the sky, the chariot path of the sun, the phases of the moon, the tides of the ocean. All life is sacred-and some of the most connected moments I’ve had with this mandate is watching a calf suckle on a cow, a chimney swift feed bugs to its young, hearing the chorus of frogs at night. Keeping tradition-whatever the tradition is-keeps a part of ourselves, marking our procession through the year and hence through the years, as our lives encompass decades we have them inside of the days we’ve kept: the wine drunk, the fires burning in hearths, songs sung and those who come into the world and those who leave for other places.

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The Gods…

Mar 28

The Gods are real-and they’re not like on TV. The Gods are real because you can’t make this shit up. Not to say they aren’t made by human beings-my shadow is made by me, my reflection is made by me. They’re a consequence of the fact that I exist, but did I truly make my shadow or my reflection? I’ve heard atheists paraphrase Philip K. Dick’s Valis and say: “reality is whatever is still there when you don’t believe in it anymore.” But the Gods are there whether you believe in them or not, whether you’re thinking about them or not. Even a monotheist believes in the Gods. People love and try to kill them-just as they love and kill each other-it’s the way of the world.

As a story teller you come to learn that what you tell becomes real. It’s an evocation that calls into existence the elements of its story. Life and death and rebirth. Good and evil-they don’t exist in our world, just ask anyone. But they’re as real as your eyeballs or loins, it’s because someone told a story about it and we’ve all been telling stories about it ever since. A writer does this even more so, as he codifies the tale for a generation and further iterations must wait their turn. All true writers acknowledge the Gods-they’re what make the stories real in their truest sense. A writer with no Gods is a homunculus, a stillborn thing that could have been but never fully formed.

I wanted to be a fully realized writer-I wanted sex and death and dreams and mythology. The poetry of fucking (excuse me if that’s trite). It seemed self-evident to me that there were archetypes, things that were greater than myself. All I had to do was look outside and not ask for explanations. It is all out there somewhere, you just gotta look.

Sometimes I think about it and sometimes I don’t. When it’s the turn of the seasons, it’s hard not to. Flowers and birds and storms and stinging insects returning to the earth. When I was a young man, I was open to it with no real preconceived notions. People would tell you I was crazy, and they were right. And some of them got it (a lot didn’t). It was an intentional madness-not contrived or self inflicted, it was something I submitted to. I let it all go, let it al happen, let it out in all it terrible and bloody, broken lunacy. This is what I am damn it, looking at it for myself. The mud washes away, and when the dross is gone there is no stone more precious.

Once, in a bar, Dionysus told me there was no meaning to life-that life contained its own meaning inside of itself. It was foolish to try and define it because there were things that always lay outside definitions, that crashed into them in the process of their becoming. He had horns on his head if you looked to see them and a greater knowledge of wine than I’ll ever have. He was serious about being the lord of temporary dementia, of darkness in the corners that expands outward when nightfalls. Things are meant to be broken apart and out back together again-different than before, whether it’s better than it was or not is up to whoever is currently thinking about it. When there isn’t enough of that, things flatline and life becomes still, static and a more oppressive thing you can’t imagine. The longer it lasts, the greater and more maddened is the release from imprisonment. Everyone who’s lived through the past ten years in this country knows what I’m talking about.  We got drunk and chased women and things got crazy. And to this day, years later, I’m not sure what to make of what happened that night-except that I respect and am scared of the mother-fucker, even if I don’t always believe he exists outside of me…

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Beware, Peter, the Ides of March

Mar 11

Appropriately enough the year was 1984. I was fourteen years old and in tenth grade. In many ways, this year was definitive for me-it was, in fact, one of the worst years of my life. It seemed that no matter what I did, or where I turned some new disaster lurked to engulf me. Without going into too much detail, my parents got divorced, my mother came down with a serious illness and was hospitalized in Atlanta. I was left to my own devices and held it together as best I could. My biggest concerns were making sure my older sister’s coke-head friends didn’t steal too much of my food and money, and finding a way to get to school (I admit I could have taken the bus, but I thought I was too cool for that). Needless to say, such experiences, combined with the natural mental latitudes of adolescence, made me wild and woolly-a kid loosely adopted by the Downtown Athens community like some feral mascot. The more traditional institutions were less accommodating, and as I seemed hell-bent on crashing and burning, most of the folks I knew from church or school just stood back and watched.  

Up to that point, the crazed anger I felt at a system that had failed me in a vast manner expressed itself in typical teen-age nihilistic self-destruction. There was no higher calling to the extreme rebellion I felt welling up inside of me with beautiful, elemental fury. Little did I suspect, incident and cause would be laid up at my feet.

It was the Ides of March. I was downtown with some friends, drinking a beer and getting ready to go see a band play. At that time Athens had a local TV station that aired live footage. The TV crew was going around asking folks what they were planning to do on the Ides of March. It just so happened that my English class was reading Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, so of course, the play gave me what I thought were great ideas for a clever answer. The TV crew came to our table and asked my friends and I what our plans were, and I burst out with an exclamation that we should do to Reagan what was done to Caesar…although I must admit, I didn’t express myself too eloquently. Instead, it was just teen-age me saying dumb teen-age things. I was pretty pleased with myself at the time, very sure that no one could top what I said. I don’t really remember the rest of the evening-presumably, I hung out, saw a band play and probably tried to meet college girls.

I forgot about what I said-didn’t think there was too much to ponder on, really. A few weeks passed uneventfully. I played around with theater when I was in High School-the production at the time was Jesus Christ Superstar. One day, practice let out early and my mother showed up (she wasn’t in the hospital yet). Usually she picked me up late, and practice let out early-so this meant she was realy early. And that meant, of course, that I was in trouble. The thing was, I couldn’t for the life of me think of what it could be.

It turned out that, whatever the problem was, there were men at the house who wanted to talk to me-and my mother couldn’t tell me about what. That was particularly chilling-as my mother was my only real advocate. I racked my brains for what it could all be about this time.

Two men waited for me in my own house. One was a fat guy with a broken arm-local law enforcement. The other was a poster child for the SS: gigantic, dressed in a dark suit and tie, square jaw, perfectly combed blond hair and blue eyes. He asked me if I was who I was and then told me to take a seat-again, this was in my own home. It turned out he was FBI and they were investigating me. They had seen the film footage where I made my comical remarks about the Ides of March.  Remarks, I would like to reiterate, that were obviously made in jest. This from a local show in a small town on a Friday night on a station that no one (or almost no one, it would seem) watched. I was too shocked to be scared-the situation was surreal, like watching myself in some weird indie movie.

What I said was against the law. What about freedom of speech? Well, apparently, that’s open to interpretation. Technically, because of legislation enacted during the Kennedy administration, I was on the wrong side of the law-again. A lot of people today have lionized Reagan and his era as some sort of Golden Age. It’s their answer to the Kennedy Camelot. Well, let me tell you, it wasn’t that great. The nation was reeling from recession, the Cold War was stepped up so that WWIII and subsequent nuclear Armageddon seemed inevitable. All the environmental concerns I was raised in during my 1970s’s childhood were tossed out the window. Callow materialism gripped the land-the hippies had grown up to sell insurance and bought their kids designer clothes.

Here I was, a fourteen year old boy, trying to hold his own in the world, and the FBI decided I was enough of a threat to national security that I was worth investigating. They said the reason it took them so long to find me (two weeks or so) was because they assumed I was in college. After that, they looked through local High School year books and there I was-positively identified by a school teacher that was trying to date my mother. They knew who I was, where I lived, who my associates were. They took photos of me: my front and my profile. They gave me a hand-writing test. I was on record. Nothing else came pursuant; fortunately, I lived in the US and so a black bag wasn’t put over my head and I wasn’t dragged off into anonymous oblivion for insulting El Presidente.

When they left it took awhile for me to realize no real prosecution was going to take place. A colossal sense of relief fell on me as I felt that for the first time in recent memory, I was given a break. My father called and asked me what I’d done now. Nothing. I’d done nothing. Except open my stupid teen-age mouth and say stupid teen-age things. And to my surprise, Big Brother really was watching.

Years later, the US government talked its citizenry into going to war with the nation of Iraq. They did so with fraudulent evidence and deliberate fabrication of the facts. As a result, thousands died (20% of the casualties were children, by the way) and millions were displaced. Illicit spying on Americans by their own government was engaged-a person I know even said “as long as you’re not doing anything, what do you care?” Under the excuse of war, kidnapping and torture were also employed by a government that people assume is responsiblebecause they assume it is accountable. Countries are destroyed and private corporations are given contracts to re-build them. The cost of oil triples. Health care sky-rockets. The free press is just another business interested in profits. And the pockets of one percent or so of the population are lined with yet more gold.

Sometimes, I look back at myself when I was fourteen-1984. It was one of the most formative years of my life. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin: “Those who are willing to sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.”

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