Between the Widow and the Plume.

What should have been. This is not. What is? What ever is? What is ever we wish? Dreams deferred and redefined. Undefined. Displaced. Misplaced. Behind the jars.

I never thought love could be uninspiring. I once thought I could touch life. Tease it. Embrace it. Rest its plumes at my breast. Outstretched I grasped at gulfs. Only to stare. Stare! What poetry in this moment! What restless poetry. Coalescing. Reaffirming. Disrobing. Gossamer. Glistening off into the gloaming.

Upon the banks of the Hudson. Train steaming north into disgrace. Wilted marigolds in the desert haze. Feeling in the words. All life and love in the words. The great granite heat of the beating day! Withered defeat to the gape of some mischievous, deceiving dawn. Say to me again. Tilt. Tilt.

Let this moment skip to the last.

Rapturous winds. Flagrant pleroma of the unity of now. Lightness of day. Purity of air. Convergence of east and west. Future and former. Blink. Desolate night. All gone. All away.

Away with them I said. And they have done away with me.

Until they show again.

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Condition.

It approaches 2AM. Why am I awake? Is it because I am sick? Or is it because I cannot seem to drain my mind of thoughts and worries? Perhaps one fuels the other. They all do.

Last night, as the thermostat in our apartment broke 80 as we were about to go to sleep, my girlfriend got me to cave and turn on the air. The cool manufactured air pouring through the vents onto my nude body, exposed because Erica had her nude body cocooned in the covers, resulted in my waking up this morning (well, technically yesterday morning) with a stuffy head and a swollen throat.

This lasted the day but I pushed through in order to satisfy the day’s demands. However, as these demands took their toll on my already weakened mind, the demands of the night grew to be daunting and then, eventually, defeating. I grew irritated and unfocused before collapsing agitatedly onto the bed around midnight. And yet, despite having gone to bed two hours ago, I sit here now, at my desk in the living room, cup of chamomile beside me, unable to sleep. I can’t even seem to envision sleep. It’s like the silenced darkness would prefer my waking company these hours. My mind is hazy, yet my perception is as vivid as the day, or, perhaps, the most vivid dream.

But there was something else that kept me from sleep. Yes, my throat feels as filled with glowing coals, but as I lie there buried deep in my pillow I could not make my mind darken. There is a wonderful line from “Calvin and Hobbes” (one of so many) in which Calvin declares the nighttime to be the most frightening time because all the fears seem more real. At least I think it was “Calvin and Hobbes.” I do not possess the desire to search at the moment. Nevertheless, the validity of that statement (in some variation) seems difficult to deny. In the bustle of the day we can easily distract our minds from that of which we wish not to think. But as the sun sets so does it take with it the very light which allows us to shade the unfavourable. In the comfort of bed, amidst the soothing silence of the dark, those shaded fears come to light, dancing in the helpless halls of our dreaming minds.

Maybe it was only that I am feeling sick, but tonight those fears jumped and jived (but did not wail) before me as on a theatre screen depicting a movie of myself. Each time I tried to cloak them in some other comforting thought, I failed; the worrisome images just jumped right through. The more I thought the worse my body felt, and so eventually I gave in and got up. The resiliency of my mind is no match this evening. It should follow, of course, that Monday is my “long” day. But I can’t worry of that now; there are too many others.

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The Rights of Resistance.

I thought I should clarify something in regards to the post which proceeded this one.

I do not mean to imply that I support insubordination or rebellion. Nor do I promote obduracy. I in fact believe in the tenants of established order, in acquiescence to circumstance, and in the power of authority. I believe granting due respect to those who are wise and admirable; I believe wise words should be considered and followed. I believe in the power of criticism to bring to light voids, inconsistencies, or observations. I believe that which moves into a territory of destructive or disruptive principle should be intervened upon with non-destructive means.

What I champion is enlightenment, thoughtfulness; reason. That is, any resistance must be informed, conscious, honest resistance. Opposition, hostile or otherwise, without logic or reason—that is, opposition on selfish, stubborn, sentimental principle alone—has no ground for validation. It is opaque and juvenile and stands as the bane of a mindful society. Not a soul is to be taken seriously when unable to take serious with consideration her own being. One cannot acquire and maintain the individual confidence we all seek without an openness to critique from others. But this openness must be wholly open, with humility but never mind-less subservience. The Self must be sure yet accommodating; never intransigent.

More lightly: Sometimes if enough people say enough times that you’re a cat, you might just be a cat. If you wish not to be cat than you may either refute those who call you a cat and go on declaring (believing) that you are not such, all-the-while remaining a cat to your own blinded, naive satisfaction. Or you can consider these claims, think deeply on them, accept them, and seek to change your nature as a cat. Seeking to change that who you are but don’t want to be forces one into deep meditation on those things we so freely disguise, thereby bringing about a better understanding of our Selves and the contexts in which our Selves subsist, thereby transforming character by the very action of seeing that character. A reflecting, maturing being in this way is worthy of respect and thereby earns the rights of resistance.

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What the tree saw

Those of you who know me personally (can you know someone impersonally, or do you simply know of him? In any case…) know then that I am in the latter stage of a graduate degree in English Literature. In order to fund said degree, I (among some other less glamorous things) teach Greek and Roman Mythology to indolent, ignorant, and entitled (but ultimately delightful!) undergraduate buggers. Last Friday one of my classes was observed by a professor from our department. Three days after her observation her and I sat in her rather sizable office and held a chat about my discussion of Euripides’ great Medea.

This professor’s (whose own teaching tends towards the tragic) critique was, somewhat to my surprise, slightly scathing. And so, as I sat uncomfortably in one of her rather comfortable chairs I found myself (as I often do) trying to assert my self-consciousness, so as to convince her, seemingly, that indeed I am quite aware of both my actions and implications. Several of her “concerns” regarding my pedagogy, more technically-aimed, were indeed valid, and I acknowledged as much, citing once again my confidence in a greater scheme. Those concerns regarding method notwithstanding, it was almost as if she had no desire to recognize precisely what it was I was trying to do in that classroom. This has been one of the greater conflicts I’ve recognized during my time in graduate school: how academics cannot detach from the scope of their own distinction and interest and allow for—indeed encourage—work and growth as an individual within a system, and not as another name within their system.

I’ll be rather honest here when I say that I felt singled out, distinctly attacked because I’m the slightly reserved (see: cautious), slightly pompous (see: confident) “outsider,” the philosophic-literature guy in a world of ancient culture and language (all outsiders themselves, the inhabitants of this world). Indeed I was Medea herself, the passionate, stigmatized foreigner (though my children remain unharmed, indeed unborn). My dragon chariot awaits.

Normally I am able to allow criticism to slide down and off my back like children at the playground. I am open, aware and humble enough to accept what others say, and incorporate it if I feel it will help in maintaining and promoting the balance I seek, and not take away from it. Humility not withstanding, I am both confident and ambitious. I trust in my Self above all else and, though what I try to promote may not always project sufficiently, I know in my heart and in my soul what I am building. I know what I’m doing and there is not one cynical, self-righteous “man of the world” or “man of the word” out there who will deter that. We are all works in progress, but some unthinkably wield little control of the process. Why should we not control the forces of our own being?

That is not to say that I don’t have forlorn moments of doubt and wonder, moments where I question whether or not I actually know what I’m doing as I say I do; moments where I feel I have no control at all. As I left the professor’s office I had one of those moments, one that has carried through my day and into my bed where I now sit propped up against a paper-thin, white wall. What if she was right? What if, when she told me that she just didn’t see the point to my class, that it wasn’t just her pedantic blindness that missed it? What if it didn’t have a point? Or, perhaps worse, if it did and I’m simply unable to convey it?

Ubiquitous anxieties, which dissipate with humble reminders of my success and realignment, reassurance of the path on which I trod. But, like all other issues, it seems to speak to a larger concern which rests, nestled deep in the dark, dripping grotto of my soul. That is, point, purpose. Is it any good to keep on doing things the way I want to when no one else recognizes it, when they ignore it on their own selfish principles? Is the integrity of agency, autonomy, and steadfastness enough to overcome the poverty and isolation of self-containment and self-centeredness? I absolutely believe it is, and anyone who knows me well (if anyone actually did) knows that I cherish authenticity and loyalty to value, virtue and to the Self beyond anything else. The deeper question, however, that faces us all is what if I’m simply not good? Is anything ever good enough? What if everything I think I’m doing, everything I think I’m building towards, is just juvenile nonsense and Romantic delusion? How do I know? How will I know? And if I’m told, will I listen? What if, when I listen, it’s already too late? What if I’m just wasting my time? (And, again, anyone who knows me know how much I detest [see: fear] time wasted.) What if I’m just a nominal god?

But I’m not, of course. We are all gods in the powers of our own psychic selves. From Max Planck: “I regard consciousness as primary. I regard matter as derivative of consciousness.” Yet so often we shut our ears to this (in the words of Ghandi) “still, small voice.” We fear that force that is our conscious selves, that “power that…holds together, creates, dissolves, and re-creates” (again, Ghandi). We deflect the god that is our Selves onto other things. We let others bear the responsibility that we should innately bear for our selves. We waste time in this way, and in this way we train our kin and our kindred to be empty, devoid of values or responsibility. We make the world frightening in this way.

Ghandi said, “the purpose of education is to bring out the best in you” and, as an educator, I adhere to this. And in bringing out the best in my students I try to help them become aware of that “best,” aware of their own selves and what that constitutes. Why is this concept alarming? Why can I not be who I am? Why can’t my pupils strive to be who they are?

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What has become of the process

Undulation.

Indignantly dispersed luminosity: transfixed, transpired, traversed. Words march in triumphant rhythm, lame and dumb soldiers towards expansive nothingness. Negation is movement, too. The befallen mass does not belie the natural truth, the omnipresent, prescient cogito. Sapere aude. Unnatural to those who pervert and shit upon nature with their plastic gods. Transfiguration murmurs in my dream; the poetry of the vision and movement that is mine. And yours, if you placed your ears to the air, souls to vibrated voice of all natural space.

I laid out upon the stones, sprawled and naked to bathe in silver light. I was not alone. Kate, open and free and dying, beside. June in the air, on a star, in a slithered beam. Elisabeth drowned in the distance. And so I was alone after all. God in all things. Not alone.

All washed out in black waves. Redeeming light now dim, dead. Kate and June together, alive, within. All chaos. All love. There is present another. All alone now, again. All god away in the dusk, night. Opal opaque night. Redemption drowned with Elisabeth without sound, or motion, or attempt. Alone, alone. All present; alone.

And so I wrote the words.

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Pool.

That which is truly great must be both defining and limitless. This is why artists are artists and not just any man, but also why any man can be an artist. Art itself is not entertainment but a representation of the human soul, of the human condition. But this is entertaining, especially when it masquerades as detached objective display. The common conception is that art and entertainment are—must be—separate. And when they entangle, we distinguish the complicated, the complex, that which makes us think and cringe and turn away, as “high” art. Separate from those who are not artists or of the “art world.” The all-inclusive world we like to say we live in is just another masquerading farce. Why are people so scared to acknowledge their own existence?

But life is all-inclusive and art is all-encompassing. There is no distinguishing hierarchy but only experiences and judgment. There is no unique experience, only unique judgment. Novelty lies in the unconscious. Our movements, our feelings, our visions are shared. Archetypes of the collective unconscious. My life is your life but your life is my life.

Such is the artist. The one who captures our lives. The one who makes us say, I didn’t think anyone else felt/saw/thought this. The one who sacrifices his life, the one who pains and sleeps and screams in solitude all to make us see that we’re not alone. We share existence; it’s the one who is not scared of it, who recites it who is the artist.

Reflecting against the settled, gray fog the candle flame flickering on my coffee table seems split. Dancing twin ghosts in a slow, calm dark. Stillness. Still life. Life is art. People ruin it, ignore it, mock it; artists capture it. Our mirror. When the world is quiet its image whispers poems.

The artist understands. So when others inevitably disappoint, let existence speak to you, comfort you. Existence is art, frameless.

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Here Comes the Mourning (Man).

Too recently a person about whom I care too much, during an existential-angsty conversation about my own sense of worth(lessness), told me she couldn’t think of one thing at which I am definitively good. This would’ve hurt coming from anyone, of course, but from her it felt like an admission of dishonesty. It broke my heart, and I told her so. But as I lay later that night in bed, unable to fall into a deep enough sleep so as to sooth my wanting, screaming soul, I thought about why it had hurt me so. Was it because she was so callously insensitive to my nature—the very same nature she claimed to love? Or was I bothered because she was right? Maybe I don’t have a defining, “true” talent. Maybe I’ve gotten by for so long on charisma and instinct that I’ve let the practical, technical know-how and ability completely allude me. Maybe I’m not as good at life as I thought I was. Maybe I’m just full of shit.

Sometime during my teenage years I started a semi-regular baseball column which I gave the title “Fearless Baseball Ramblings.” This column, which I emailed to assorted family and fellow baseball enthusiasts (eventually I put it on a website), was usually long and sectioned. The first part covered something or other I felt warranted attention. This was the feature and usually took up most of the column. The rest of the column had assorted one- or two-line thoughts or quips or rumors (which I probably stole from some other column), and I always segued the two sections with “Ramble On!” (this is when Zeppelin was a regular sound in my headphones). At the start of the baseball season I wrote a special “Fearless Baseball Predictions” column, the contents of which I’m sure you can figure out. It was fun.

The column had no regular schedule. I simply wrote whenever I wrote. Overall, it lasted a few years, and people usually enjoyed it. One day, during one of my semi-regular teenage temper tantrums, I wrote to everyone that I would be discontinuing the column because I was smothered beneath massive writer’s block and I would never write again. It was a big boo-hoo moment and I wish I could see again what I wrote so I can grimace pitifully at how little has changed. Nevertheless, after my throwing in of the keyboard, I received an email from one of my uncles who not so surprisingly told me, in so many words, to cut the crap and just write the damn thing. One line from his email that I to this day remember (and incorporate) explicitly: A writer only gets better by writing. So just write. And write. And write.

In the almost decade or so since that email I haven’t quite followed his to-the-point advice. I write a lot, of course, in various mediums (and my profession, after all, does require it). I’ve maintained several blogs (including this one for longer than I care to remember at this point), filled countless notebooks and sheets of paper. In this interstice I’ve also written two books of poetry and various columns and articles, so I can’t say I’ve followed through on my I-quit-writing declaration either. I write, I think, I write some more, I think too much, I write less. Thing is, as much as I write I probably don’t write enough.

When someone asks me what I do I tell them I’m a writer and a teacher, and this is only partially correct depending on who’s analyzing it. I am a teacher, so that’s not at all incorrect. But am I a writer? What are the qualifying characteristics of such a label? I often maintain that being a poet and being someone who writes poetry are two completely separate things. Does this apply for writing in general? Is it a profession? Is it a state of mind? Must writing be read in order for it to be writing at all? Must a writer write well? What is “well”?

None of these questions I can answer here, and so I won’t even attempt. It doesn’t even matter; I’m not trying to define what is a writer. Or am I? Who knows. Maybe the writer does. Anyway, my point (must writers have points?): I have always thought myself, despite whatever other personal zeitgeist I was in, to be a writer. This is not simply because I have always written “well” (there’s that damned word again…whatever it means) but because it’s always been my mindset. There, maybe I just answered my own question from before. But my (apparently outdated) line of phenomenological thinking tells me that all things metaphysical (ie, having the “mindset,” however nebulous that is, of a writer) must actually be dualistically attached to the physical of which it is meta. Or something. So, at what point must I actually write and craft and publish consistently in order to in fact be a writer? At what point must my mindset become manifest? At what point am I just playing pretend?

My problem, dare I say it, is not necessarily talent but consistency. I ebb and flow. I start projects but don’t finish them. I come up with great things; I come up with crap, or something that’s been said already. I write a lot; I don’t write at all. There is nothing in this list that separates me from any other writer (or any artist, for that matter), but I like to think myself distinct. What, perhaps, may distinguish me from others is that I like to chalk things up to flow and fate. It’ll happen when it happens, I say. But this, as I see it, is too passive. It ignores a certain level of reality that says in order to distinguish oneself (the goal of any artist) one must actually do the distinguishing, or the work that goes into the distinguishing. Talent alone is seldom enough. What my passivity ignores are those very words my uncle wrote to me those years ago. I need to shut up and do it. If I want to be great, if I want to overcome the piercing daggers of inferiority which have stabbed me all my life, I must do it. The longer one sits on something, the more opportunity he gives to another. I’m sick of watching other people be me.

If you have spoken to me sometime in the last year, or if you’ve paid attention to things I’ve written here, then you know well at my attempts towards wholeness. From August 2008 until roughly two months ago I thought, naively, that I had attained it. It is only in these last two months that I’ve been torn open, completely exposed, and I’ve come to realize just how much more I need to do. The thing with seeing yourself so nakedly in the mirror is that you’re often startled into non-movement, which eventually becomes regression because we try to seek comfort so as to ignore what we’ve just seen. Falling in love is easy; it’s in making love work where the trouble lies. The same applies to life and the self. I’m the process of making the self work so that I can make love work and then make life work. I’ve taken several measures in this, many of which I plan on sharing with you. And so here is the next: from here on out I will be posting to this blog on a semi-regular basis. My goal is a minimum of five posts per week on various subjects. This is not all, of course, but merely a space for open exercise. As this semester whittles down, I will also be picking up several projects I’ve let become buried under dust as well as explore some ideas for new movement. I will try to maintain some level of openness about my intents and my progress and just my doings, but I can’t promise immediately complete transparency. The focus of my coming work, I will say, is more creative and less academic. The techniques I’ve explored in order to do this all will not be easy, and the results will not always be pretty. One thing I’m fairly confident of, however, is that it will be me. Purely. Wholly. (Though not Holy…)

When we want someone to see something in ourselves, but that person simply doesn’t see it, the disillusionment and the sadness which comes can be paralyzing. For me, this time, it is galvanizing. In all my sadness and glory, here I come.

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