Snowflakes and Ashes*


To this brief journey,

to this time-travel adventure,

to the utter absurdity of our

helpless leap into the future;

to all the surprises and the pain… Continue reading “Snowflakes and Ashes*”

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Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night


Dylan Thomas

by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Continue reading “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”

Lenny


This is about a guy named Lenny. Lenny Kravitz. But not the famous one born in 1964. (No relation, actually. That name has been a burden.)

This Lenny was in a British rock band in the late 70’s. The drummer. The band had one monster hit and then sank without  trace. The hit was played occasionally on oldies stations after a decade, then less and less. While the craziest part of fame lasted (from the spring of 1973 through the next summer) they lived the rock-star life on the road, tearing up hotels left and right.

It was the 70s, when the national nervous breakdown began in earnest. Lenny was known for dressing up in a giant pink cloth penis outfit and dancing around the stage, the uncircumcised head flopping back and forth, the girls screaming in the audience, Continue reading “Lenny”

A Song on the End of the World


CZESLAW MILOSZ

BY CZESLAW MILOSZ

TRANSLATED BY ANTHONY MILOSZ

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.

And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.

Warsaw, 1944

Borrowed Dust*


This body’s nothing but
borrowed dust
Animated—somehow.

Flitting from who knows
what to who
knows where.

I like how we
guess about our
destination, though.
It shows optimism.
We’re nothing if not plucky.

My own guess
is that the truths
are greater than anything
we’ve dreamt
from fear and need.
I could be wrong.

But we’re here.
That’s all we know
for sure.
Until Nature washes us away.
Or not.
Wait with me,
be brave…
we’ll find out.

Sanctuary


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The poet Rumi advises us to find a place

high in a nearby tree to hide our spirit.

It is so easily bruised and, when hurt,

we cannot hear what it says.

I read this and had a question–

why did I wait so long to do the work?

I didn’t know how to protect my spirit yet,

to shelter it in that old Hemlock tree there,

massive, dark, unmoving, quiet,

and happy to give my spirit sanctuary,

as though it grew all those years for

no other purpose but this.

Come Out To The Edge


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I may look normal, but I’m not. On the outside, my life looks conventional. But this is the kind of place I live in my head.  It’s a constant battle between doing stuff I’m afraid of and running away. Out on the edge….

“You think I’m insane?” said Finnerty. Apparently he wanted more of a reaction than Paul had given him.
“You’re still in touch. I guess that’s the test.”
“Barely — barely.”
“A psychiatrist could help. There’s a good man in Albany.”
Finnerty shook his head.

“He’d pull me back into the center, and I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” He nodded, “Big, undreamed-of things — the people on the edge see them first.”

Things Before The New Year 2



Ah. What to make of the coming year? War, pestilence, famine, chaos, Donald Trump, uncertainty.

But it’s not all gloom and doom, either. A macabre old joke has it that at a certain age, any day you wake up on the top side of the dirt is a good one. Or, when someone asks how you are, you are supposed to wink and say, slyly, “Well, considering the alternative, I’m great!”

Too dark? I’m sorry. That’s not my intent and I really don’t think this way very often. But keeping it real is the real point of doing these little exercises. It keeps one focused. Pauper or king, the final destination is the same, and there’s the end of it. If you are young, you probably don’t think this way, nor should you. There’s plenty of time. Just make each day count and the final amount will be taken care of.

So why worry? We can’t see the future anyway. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Prepare for what you can.

Feel free to ignore these: Don’t take easy paths, or indulge in cheap diversions. You’ll just end up growing donkey ears. Hone your inner steel and crave the edge, but also keep your heart open, childlike and reachable. Find things that matter, find your passion, don’t mope when things go wrong (and they will) but get up and live each day out loud.

It’s simple, really. It just takes all you have, and that’s the joy of it. 🙂

That’s a way to live, and considering the alternatives, it’s not too bad. Let the pale, creeping dampness of depression, doubt and insecurity go down the drain with the next shower. Any day can be a turning point. As Picard would say, “make it so.”

Show the way to others, love deeply and truely and never miss an opportunity to be kind.

“Somethin’s Happenin’ Here,” Garden Club Warned


There’s something happening here, but what it is ain’t exactly clear.”

That was the central — and only — “conclusion” of a report submitted Thursday by an investigative committee of the local garden club.

“There’s a man with a gun over there, telling me I got to beware,” said Jim Holderman, chair of the committee and prize rose grower. The crowd murmured and nodded. He added: “I think it’s time we stop, children — what’s that sound? Everybody look! What’s going down!”

The sub-committee had been empaneled to make recommendations to the group after the results of a contentious and nearly psychedelic board election were eventually certified. Everyone was still confused.

Retired trout whisperer, Courtney Scales, stepped briefly from the shadows at the back of the room into the flickering old-timey moody candlelight and said:

“There’s battle lines being drawn.” Heads nodded in the gloom.

“Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong,” Scales continued, encouraged. “There’s young people speakin’ their minds, but getting so much resistance from behind.”

“It’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound?… Holderman said again, then slumped back into his seat. No one took notice, as he did that a lot.

Everyone grew silent as Ruth Broadbottom rose with a great deal of rustling. (It was how she did everything, and gave off the smell of lavender. Always.)

She was the oldest member of the group and had lived through the great Rubber Duck Fiasco of 1962, and the Gingerbread Restoration Wars in town in the early 70s and late 80s. People wanted to hear what she had to say. She waited until the room was absolutely still, cleared her throat delicately and said:

“Paranoia strikes deep. Into your life it will creep.” She paused and looked at every face turned toward her.

“It starts when you’re always afraid. Step out of line, the men come and take you away.”

At that, she rustled out the back door, trailing a cloud of lavender, and the meeting broke up. The people left murmuring in small groups as they went out into the night. The comments were all the same….

“We better stop. Hey, what’s that sound? — Everybody look! What’s going down?”

 

“For What It’s Worth,” The Buffalo Springfield. 1966

“Pain That Cannot Forget”


That was a terrible year, all those years ago, and was in a long string of terrible years. I had thought that was the worst, though. By a shrinking margin, it still is. But this year, and probably the next, are closing fast.

In order for us to learn, it has been true that we have to suffer. Maybe it never ends, the learning.

This speech is one of the most remarkable I’ve heard. Imagine if someone running for president could talk like this today, who had the kind of mind and education to be able to quote someone like Aeschylus from memory. Just imagine. I don’t see anyone who fits the job description.

Not this year.

“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
–Aeschylus of Athens

Walnuts or Roses?


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Note: The nice people @Spill_words have republished this today. 
http://spillwords.com/walnuts-or-roses/

When you’ve been together as long as we have—
the grown children are off making their own mistakes,
and careers have been dropped like bad habits—
the arguments tend to be about basic things.
We no longer tolerate easy answers.

Just the hard ones, such as those about walnuts and flowers.

One of you wants to plant the trees everywhere,
Knowing they’ll grow 100 feet high, and three across.
Their fruit is good, and their wood makes sublime furniture.
This all comes with foresight and patience.
Remembering a father saying one day, a few years before he died,
“Plant a walnut tree and generations will thank you.”

Continue reading “Walnuts or Roses?”

Fear and The Light


terror
Who knows when fear arrives for us…
Perhaps the first is in the egg’s big moment,
When she, plump and frisky and motivated,
Feels the urgent “hey, baby, open up!” of a thousand horny
Sperm poking and stroking all sides of her
Like desperate sales clerks
After three slow months
And she’s the one customer with cash.

My first remembered brush with darkness
Was a nameless thing, because I could not yet form words.
I left my family in the living room and wandered around the corner.
I  remember seeing the half-dark kitchen,
All shadows of familiar things turned strange In the gloom.
And toddled onward, lurching over to a corner.
Who knows what I was looking for.

I saw a mark on the linoleum
(I think my creepy brother had told me it was a bug, earlier, and I
was somehow drawn back to it)
There it was, but in the gloom, alone,
It seemed alive and growing, reaching for me.

I froze. And screamed. And fled.
I think that was the first time I’d felt totally alone,
Separate. Safety was gone, and that spot
Was everything that aloneness meant.
The bottom dropped out of my world
And sheer panic made my feet move,
Back toward the light, my parents
Sure something malevolent was following.

I remember hysterics—mine;
Unable to talk yet, I could only babble desperate sounds,
Trying to name a
Terror that no one could understand.
My father took my hand and let me stand in the door
While he turned on the kitchen light
Beckoned me over, and asked what I’d seen.
He was probably expecting a rat.

In the light, the terror, the prehensile primal fear
That had wrapped a tentacle around my chest
Uncoiled. Bit by bit.
It was just a bug-shaped stain on the floor.
I remember approaching it slowly,
Touching it with my toe.
“Go ahead, touch it with your finger,” he said, mildly
Ignoring my brother’s laughter from the other room

The monster shrank from the light, shriveled
And went back into nothing.
A remnant of a splotch of something dropped long ago.

But to this day, I believe that evil is real and
That it cannot
Live for long in the light.

Memory    Obstacles

Meditation: Fear Makes the Slave


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My own fears make me their slave

My biggest shackle is the fear of letting go of my fears—and of not knowing what comes next.

Fear of the unknown. I choose this, not someone else.

I must name them, first. To know the fears. Their source.

Naming is owning. Owning is freedom.

But…

Freedom with humility. Humility because fears always come back.

We are always vulnerable.

And fears live behind walls. Fears drive us to create walls. For them.

Walls make fears stronger. A spiral to utter failure.

Fear that. Not the unknown.

Fears make me their slave.

Humility and courage breaks the shackles

So I, we, can face whatever comes, every day.

It is never finished.

Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree


Obstacles

This was going to be just an anniversary rerun, happily marking one year today since my stroke. And I apologize for the need to make this a little darker than I’d intended. But I think you’ll see why.

I’m doing well, happier than ever, tapping deeper into the craft I love, and enjoying new friends —you— as never before. I’m living much more healthily, have lost 23-pounds on the way to 35 or more, and the satisfactions of this blog alone has reduced stress. I want to be around for a while, tasting the sweetness and bitterness of life in equal measure. I’ve never felt so alive. And so I thought to put up a simple marker to a very interesting and rewarding year.

But the Universe has a perverted sense of humor. Within the week, other news reminded us that there is bad with the good, and that what builds us up can tear us down, too. A meeting with a surgeon today told us what comes next for her.

Cancer. Again. Breast. Third time. Fourth diagnosis overall. The good part, if there is a good part, is that they caught it so early that it’s still at Stage Zero. Some more consultations are to come, of course. And ultimately, a major surgery. But, no chemo this time. We must be content with such small gratitude as this. But it is enough.

It seems that one can have one of two reactions to something like this. We can feel the close brush of the thing we will all eventually face, and be driven inward, fearful. Or, we can realize that Fate comes at a time of her own choosing, and none of us knows the day or the hour. The choice is always between fear and shriveling down, or doing what must be done in spite of the fear.

Life will break you if you let it.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

______________________________

April 24, 2014 ….

On Thursday morning, I woke up feeling funny, my right side partially paralyzed. After waiting far too long, I went to the ER and learned that sometime overnight a tiny blood vessel near the center of my brain on the left side, about the level of my eyes and near the hypothalamus, had been blocked by something. The loss of blood to a tiny, tiny area deep in my brain has made things I took for granted now difficult.

I went to bed feeling normal, woke up a stroke victim.

But, it’s turned out as well as could be expected. I’m home, the symptoms are fading away, and the docs think I should recover completely. I was extremely lucky.

It talking with someone else today I was reminded of this song by Johnny Cash, on the last album he recorded “The Man Comes Around.” The phrase– “whirlwind in the thorn tree –in it sums up the last couple of days, how events can take over and we’re whipped around and wounded, feeling out of control.

True Friend Fear, Stay Ever Near


It took me the longest time— as in, my WHOLE LIFE— to realize that if I wanted to be professional, but wasn’t terrified most of the time, wasn’t resisting like hell the sitting and writing, then I really didn’t care about it, and I was probably just f*cking around.

An amateur, in other words.

I know now that fear can never really be overcome. In contrast, the amateur thinks he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional “knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior, or a dread-free artist”, in the words of Steven Pressfield.

Self-doubt is a friend. If you’re wringing your hands and asking yourself if you’re a writer, you probably are. So there.

Especially if you’re terrified. The fakers are full of false confidence.