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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The Language of Birds

Mar 01

Yesterday, I saw flocks of birds, their species unknown to me, wing their way across the blue walls of heaven, headed south and east for equally unknown havens. There were decades of them, flying in unison, engaged in a singular mind and activity that, no doubt, have been used in migrations for millions of years. I watched them come from the northwest, flap over head and then fly out of sight beyond the eastern treelines.

What did it mean? I found myself wondering. I look for signs in the world around me. A shooting star, the appearance of a person or object just after we have thought about them or it, a coin in the street, a dream full of chthonic and archetypal meaning. Augury, the signs of the birds in the sky no less than any other part of the living world that continually reveals itself and by doing so initiates us to deeper levels within as we spiral through our lives. The birds give portents and omens, the creation of cities and alphabets comes from them. The language of birds is an interior one, and the men and women who understand it know what the gods know and dwell in mythology where the temporal world segues with the eternal.              

The first bird I remember was a rooster that lived nearby. I was in my crib, shadowed in the blue light of early dawn, the rooster was crowing. Its call waking me up-not just for the day, but for the life ahead of me. It always seemed fitting that this was the first bird I knew-although I never saw it, just heard its sound, and can still hear it today when I think about it.

When I was young, there were long stretches of silence and solitude. The world seemed, on occasion, overly vast, unconfined, sprawled about me in gigantic proportions. A little boy on a hill by himself in the looming dread and sparse chill that accompanies the later days of fall, when the early afternoon just after school is empty and alone. Amid the dead brown lawns and vacant houses, I often looked up into the blue reaches of the sky. There, gracefully tacking in widening circles was a vulture. Often, vultures, associated with death and scavenging, are maligned creatures. But this seems to be a projection of our own fears. Taken for what it is, as the vulture soars in the highest planes of heaven, it is silently meditating, taking it all in, its flight is unhurried. It brought peace, calm, reflection.

There was a single birdhouse in the backyard where I grew up. A simple, box shaped, plain brown, wooden place nailed to a pine tree. Cardinals nested there every year. The brilliant red plumage of the male stood out for all the more of its glory against the dull brown. I would marvel at how it seemed that only cardinals liked the house, they were the only birds that ever occupied it. Later, I learned that cardinals mate for life, and so it was the same family that lived there, year after year, raising generations of cardinals in the house we put out there for them. To this day, I feel a connection with the cardinals-as if by providing them with a place to live for such a long time, I’d earned their friendship and knew them better than others.

One of the great bird sightings in the sky is the great blue heron. It flaps ponderously, impossibly lifting the length of itself and then winging onward. When I see the heron, I think of how the Egyptians regarded the ibis as the bird of wisdom, how Hermes devised the alphabet from the leg movements of cranes. Here in America, surely, the great blue heron is a bird of wisdom that is our very own, and watching its flight and stances we can learn things heretofore unknown to us.

A red pleated woodpecker makes its home amid a row of high standing oaks to the southwestern point of my home. High above, it knocks out its meals from the wood, like a workman with a hammer, day in and day out. I recently learned their primary food is carpenter ants, of which, there are many in the area-once, there was a gigantic nest of them in the broken stump of an oak tree that fell in a storm.  The woodpecker has lived there for sometime, and seems to be undisturbed by the red-tailed hawk that, in its turn, lives in the northwestern part of the yard. The hawk announces its presence with triumphant screeching, and while this may be a way to warn others away from its territory, I am quite certain that he simply enjoys shrieking, its his way of exulting in the day, saying hello to the world as the other birds, squirrels, rabbits and small mammals dive for cover.  At night, the owls engage in a similar activity, and hoot themselves to the night, calling to each other in cries that sound like there is at least some sort of conversation taking place. This is the neighborhood of birds, where they know about each other. Along with mourning doves, mockingbirds, crows, nighthawks, listening in is hearing about a voice of nature, a music of the earth that with frogs, whales, coyotes and more is the chorus of life with all its undefined meaning-the meaning is contained in the thing itself and by seeing and hearing and experiencing it we have that meaning within as well.

We have a hummingbird feeder near the house and a ruby throated hummingbird darts to it furtively. At first, if we were near the window or moved at all, it would shoot away. But over time the little guy figured out we meant no harm and that we were just observers. No need to fear, please, hover all you want and drink your fill. My children marvel at the bird, seeing it at the feeder is a brief moment of wonder-and brevity, perhaps, sometimes should accompany wonder to truly leave its marvel in the soul. Like the cardinals from my youth, I feel a connection to the bird and see in its flight the language of birds.

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