Yesterday my day was interrupted by the unexpected news that a very longtime friend of mine had passed away. After the initial, and requisite, disbelief and information-gathering/passing phone calls, as the Autumn day breezed on, I began to dwell on the fleeting nature of our humanity; how in a catcall the roles once occupied by certain individuals fade off and become replaced by new people playing new roles, the old to be but frayed memory. As the winds of life blow on so do pass people into the oblivion of Past, some never knowing the impact they had on any given Present.

This particular friend of mine once held the rank of significance for me and many others; despite her quiet, infinitely humble, innocuous demeanor she was at once a voice and presence in the church, a leader, a Sunday School teacher, an elementary school teacher, a store-owner, a wife and mother, a friend to many, and a mentor and guardian for me at a time when despair seemed all I had.

It was over a year since I last saw her, a year that saw her endure more than any good person should, and a year that saw me grow into new realms of faith, awareness and appreciation. It makes me sad to think that I will never see her again, and that I never got to share with her my newfound love and appreciation for peace, sunlight and life. I never got to ease her as she eased me so many times. I never got to tell her how much she did for me and so many others, how much she was appreciated, how important she actually was.

There is no more fitting description of her I could give other than that she was a paradigm of peace. She promoted it through her serenity and compassion, and she maintained in the face of constant dissonance. How she maintained her peace is both astonishing and inspiring to me and, though I’m sad she is no longer on this earth and concerned for her young son, part of me is relieved to know she will no longer have to face such dissonance, such trial. Her peace, always constant during her life, is now eternal.

Reena's Baby Shower.

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The Same Old Rain?

I woke up this morning with a wish. It was not that my alarm would quit its nagging, or that Athena would stop growling at the passerbys out the window. Nor was it that a certain recent trend which again reared its head just a few hours prior, before I leapt off another day’s cliff into the shadowy depths of dreamland, would dissipate—though this factors into the wish as a larger prayer for my Being. It was also not that I would finish my work this evening in time for the 30 Rock premier. But, hey, let’s face it: I’m going to watch it regardless.

No, my wish this morning was to be more like my mother. Each day, regardless of weather or circumstance, I hear in the frail, dripping, distant traps of my psychic caverns my mother’s powerful, perfectly pitched voice in song: This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! There are days when I curse her for this, for being so excruciatingly naive. But it is when I curse her that I realize I am only being defensive and cynical. It is when I curse her that I see myself as that sad, lost one who sleeps until noon and then wastes the remainder of the day in the glow of a living room screen; it is when I curse her that I see myself as the bitter, scornful one who proceeds in his day without civility or compassion, the one who need project his own anger at himself outwards so as to only justify his sorrow. But this is not her and so as her blood, and a piece of her spirit, this should not be me.

But how easy it is to be this, to allow the negative forces of daily life to impede upon the one central truth, the light which should shine bright through all dark days: we are alive! I do not believe that the, or any, Lord has bestowed upon us this day, this life, but that has no bearing on my appreciation for it. On this day in particular the sky is infinite gray, a cold drizzle seems not to fall but merely hang in every inch of the air, of the gray space. Because of this rain and this cold the bitter and sad are even more bitter and sad, some become even (a strange use of that word in this context, I admit) enraged or depressed. This leads to traffic, or traffic leads to this, or they each flow into the other. Regardless, what results is increased negativity and decreased love for that beautiful thing which we all share.  And all of this before punch-in time.

When I wake with my wish I need only to glance at the sunlight sleeping beside me, or think of my all-loving, all-compassionate mother and I can move on in grace. I face that same rain but I kiss that moisture, let it revive my heavy eyes. Some days, as I implied above, are more difficult than others, of course. And how quickly comes the jaded disillusionment and disappointment with the failure of others to walk in this same light. But no one, not Jesus nor Ghandi nor Lennon nor Jung, said that Unity and Peace come easy, nor do they come once and stay forever. To love is to commit, and I love life enough to persist in learning and light through ignorance and shadow. To do this I need constantly to remind myself of the glory of each day, and of what I am here to do. If only I could hand out post-it notes to the others.

Each one of us affixes ourselves to something else in order to proceed with our selves. I can’t condemn this, of course, because clearly I follow a certain doctrine in my own life which was not originated by me. But to allow the golden thumb of the miller to tip the scales towards the other is to create an unbalanced self. We take these outside forces (say, for instance, religious doctrine) and toss everything into its greedy arms. In this we are no longer a self, or a Self, but the Other. We find false peace and not a shred of unity. I thank my mother each and every day for presenting me with an example of love and faith, but I do not pass off my life onto her. She is my reminder of the Goodness I wish to be. If only we took these tokens of Love as reminders, as examples, and used them to restore a faith in our selves we could create a unified, peaceful, loving Self which does not drown in the floods but kisses that refreshing water in rejoicing and gladness.

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In The Arms of Poetry.

Among my misfortunes is that I cannot follow what I can so clearly see. My self-consciousness (in its most literal form, as in consciousness of self) is eclipsed by my idealization. Thus my proceedings often, despite an acute holistic awareness and insight, follow the course of naivety and myopia. People find me hypocritical for this reason. As a good friend recently reminded me: the teacher cannot be taught.

But what is the reason for this form of masochism? Why can I, upon approaching those I trust, analyze my own situation perfectly, draw out with eloquence and epiphany what the missing piece is before advice from the other has even been suggested, but then proceed in spite of myself in what would be assumed as the wrong direction? Some call this passivity. Some (for instance, me when discussing the situations of others) call it fear.

The reason is because I believe in the power and course of chaos. I believe situations work themselves out (not exactly towards the point of final rectification, however; the nature of Truth may be implied from statements below) and that from the winds of chaos blow the breeze of order. I believe in the forms (forever shifting) of the abstract. I believe in the inherent, and hidden, purity and goodness of things. I believe in Love and Self. I believe in consciousness, both personally and collectively. I believe in the unconscious. I believe in the limitless strata of this very existence which are always flowing, always forming and coming apart again only to intertwine in harmonious difference. I believe in the flowing river which both drowns and directs home. I believe in Poetry.

These are not conceptions easily grasped by others, especially in this western world of modern science, of politicians, of exploitation, and social degradation. These conceptions are brushed off as too conservative, too vague, too essentialist, too formulaic, too indirect; too “unreal.” These people are often those you’ll find at church on Sundays. Nevertheless, you’ll notice in the above paragraph my belief in consciousness. And so therefore I can present my awareness (again, as indicated above) of the finite, fragile stick on which the flame flickers. I can declare with humility my shortcomings and follies. The strength of my consciousness grounds me in situations, and, as you say, we should always be in the moment. But moments exist not as they are, but in context and concept. We exist outside of physicality, outside of the body, of the room, of tangible conflict. We are out of our control…though we exist, and we say, and we do, and we move. And when the elements converge, when physical and non-physical, “real” and “unreal,” meet and meld this is communion, our step away from, and towards, alienation. From Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

“The human being has two states of consciousness: one in this world, the other in the next. But there is a third state between them, not unlike the world of dreams, in which we are aware of both worlds, with their sorrows and joys.”

This is Faith. Not fate, nor destiny, but Faith in the innocence and goodness of things as they were, as they are, and as they should be again. But Faith is not such an easy thing to maintain. I can see where the narrow minded reader may see in these thoughts a tilt, a certain “blinded optimism.” The more thoughtful, mature reader, however, should take from my accentuation of consciousness and harmony (in addition to whatever she may know of my psychological readings) my belief in the shadow existing alongside the light. The dark must exist with the light, the evil with the good, in order to form the whole of existence. We are forever in conversation, not dictation. But Hate is too powerful a foe for Love. How feebly Light acquiesces to shadow. Civility, humanity (community by our nature as humans), falters, hides, dies. The crystalline river, fathomless in depth, becomes blackened, polluted. It flows no longer towards Home. Faith is challenged by science, by desire, by evil, by fear. Faith is challenged by the situations of our own physical lives. The body strangles the spirit and we are left unwhole and jaded.

So what are we to do in the face of these powerful foes? What are we to do when we stare into eyes as striking and pure as that crystalline river and know that they deceive? When one speaks with words of love and promise, but when known to manipulate? How can I kiss away your pain if a pill can do it more effectively? How can I have faith in that which so mocks it? We can adore without faith, but can we love? Can we work?

When Faith submits it ceases to be Faith. Several years ago I wrote my undergraduate English thesis on the notion of hope in Waiting for Godot. In it Vladimir and Estragon exist, despite their poetic and philosophic aptitude, only for Godot, an abstract concept, a non-physical presence (leaving out intentionally here my analysis of the boy who sees Godot). As the world beats them down, as time whithers their bodies, the two representatives for humanity are left with nothing for which to live. Except Godot. And so they wait and they endure. They infuse merciless time with superficial trivialities—exercising, singing, gazing, fighting, dribble—all to wait for Godot, a being whom they have no true confirmation will come or even exists, but a being whom they know must exist. What of their Faith?

And so when we hold in our arms, feel against our physical bodies, that deceptive thing we do so because we feel its spiritual purity. We feel its hidden, un-matured presence somewhere in that dark passion. Through the passion we see the sorrow.  When our own blood boils just the same in the wake of a kiss we kiss again with the might of Mars, believing Venus to keep that blood flowing to the heart. We see the deceptive darkness of desire but we transcend it, not exploit it. Though we see not the pure unitive force, we feel it, we believe it, because if we didn’t what would be the point?

But is my feeling, my faith, simply my own naive passion? Am I making this all up because I’m passive and afraid of a cruel, crude, hopeless reality? Am I forming things from my own entranced adoration? Am I so deceived like that one who does in fact exist?

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Dispatches from the Dark.

Moving out of New York City last year was not a chance decision. There was a reason, a glaring, explicit reason why I barely looked at any graduate programs in the city, and when accepted into one of them (another was upstate), opted to instead accept the offer from my current school in Maryland. It was not that I hated the city, if it’s even possible to do so, or that other cities glistened with such allure so as to make New York seem worth leaving. Other than the retired, the expatriate, or the newly-minted family, who really leaves New York by choice? But twenty-three years is a long time to spend in one place, even if most of that time is spent half-conscious, and as I began to finally grow into that amorphous outline which had haunted me for each of those twenty-three years, I came to recognize a certain stifling imposed on this actualization, a certain tyranny of fulfillment, which came directly from this asphyxiating, and generally uncomfortable, city. This outline was not eidetic but lucid enough so as to elicit sublime determination. The symbol and self, separated at birth, constantly sought reconciliation. As my unhappiness in New York became increasingly crushing, I realized the foundations of what I truly wanted out of life—peace, community, and space—could only be attained elsewhere.

So I left. I didn’t go far enough to not be able to come back when I pleased, but far enough to not be included in the geographic grouping of northeast states. In Maryland I was far enough so as to be just beyond the reach of the city’s dirty claws and crudity.  I began graduate school and made my own life for myself in a fabricated, pristine suburbia (Columbia) which stands as direct opposite to the honest grit of my home city. In this freedom to establish the lifestyle of my choice, one not directed by the judgmental precepts that come with longstanding occupation of certain space—one not mandated from that which was external to me—I found the peace I felt I had sought before; the outline no longer haunted, but was instead being filled in, substantiated; colored with every step of my establishment. I created communities; I joined them. I found love, centrality, direction. The rudimentary sketches shaped into being. I found my self and in this I found my peace.

So when I called my old boss at my alma mater in New York and asked him for a class to teach during the summer, I’m not sure what I was thinking. There are a few reasons which may serve as justification. There’s the practical reason: the money. Though, in truth, I don’t make very much of it. Despite having no classes to teach in Maryland over the summer, I could have wrangled some reasonable income flow together, spent my time freelancing. The ironic truth is that I’ve lost money by coming back to New York. So that doesn’t quite fit.

There’s my stock reason, the one I present to others upon their questioning of my decision: teaching this particular class is important to me. There’s not a shred of mendacity in this statement, as anyone who has seen me pour my energy into it can attest. It’s a program vital to the students and I have not felt in my three years teaching it that the college treats it as such. The program needs me, the students need me, because I sincerely (and sometimes excessively) care. There’s inspiration in my insanity and my students often thank me for it. I can’t change the way society views education (of self, as well as proper), but I will not stop in my seemingly-constant quest to open the minds of a select few all the while using myself as an example tantamount to what I preach.

Besides, though I often diverge from the pervading philosophy of this college, I’m comfortable there. My colleagues—many of whom are my former professors and mentors—are also friends of mine, individuals who cultivate a particular nexus of erudite, colloquial community, who have inspired—and continue to inspire—me in my constant intellectual growth and enterprise.

This reason satisfies my decision on a particular level. It is, after all, the very reason for my return. And there are others: seeing my best friend regularly, roaming daily the spirited, independent and artistic blocks of BoCoCa (my favorite portmanteau, and tri-neighborhood conglomerate), sipping cappuccino in the very place I now sit, Building on Bond, or wine at the Jakewalk, meditating and working on poetry in Trinity Church, buying fresh vegetables at the Union Square farmer’s market, perusing the art galleries in Chelsea, spending time with my mom, or watching free performances at Lincoln Center all remind me of why I loved this city in the first place—and why I will always love it.

And yet.

When I decided to come back—for two months—I was expecting something. I didn’t know what, and I still don’t know, but I know it’s not here.

Was it the intellectually and spiritually revitalizing sincerity and communion of the time right before my move last summer, when each breath was of freedom, of happiness, of love, of life itself? (So refreshing is vitality!) This, after all, was my final impression of New York before leaving. Or perhaps I sought to recapture a piece of my past from which I have progressed so far. But why would I want to do that? Why would I upend all I’ve worked so hard to establish? Maybe I thought I could recapture something that I left behind, or stand defiant in the face of a dead past and all the perception and projection that comes with it. Those who stay mired in a past, and hence something fallacious, are the army of sad soldiers forever marching in circles towards their own sorrowful delusions. Believing the past to be the present is to impede progression, and what are we doing if not progressing? But maybe my living in the present and the future was obscured momentarily by some unconscious prodding of my past self.

I sit here now, gazpacho and empty cappuccino cup next to my open notebook, Sam Beam (of Iron & Wine) typing away on his laptop at the table adjacent to me,  and I realize that there is nothing left for me in New York. There are physical things, sure—my favorite haunts, my family, and so on—but the essence of what I need to maintain the peace I’ve acquired is not here. Not now. All that I’ve faced since returning is bitterness. The new direction that I’ve taken with my life has not met support but instead vitriol from those burdened souls who are so comfortable on their throne of negativity that any sense of change is approached as hostile. The positivity I try to espouse gets lost like a backpacked traveler in this hurried city of selfishness and anger. My father’s house—the very house I grew up in—synechdochally represents this collective comfort, this clinging to an illusory present based on an all too extinct past. Too often people like to sit in their sorrow and self-pity just to sit in it, siphon false compassion from others, and not actually use the sorrow to generate something positive. This I have no sympathy for because I’ve done it, I’ve lived with it, and it’s empty. Your emptiness is sad and false, and I will not allow it to impede upon the spirit of movement, of artistry, of love that I cultivate. Your lack of sophistication to understand me should not affect me. But I’d fail to properly express how fatiguing it is to maintain my sense of love and peace, of light, balance, creativity and direction in the face of such relentless dissension and desperation. I wish I could sit here today and write something defiant and inspirational about my triumph over emptiness, bitterness, and perception but I can’t because it’s been its own battle to hold together that which I have worked for.

So maybe I know why I came back. Maybe this return, as exhausting, frustrating and consistently disillusioning as it has been, was needed to keep me reminded of what I need in order to maintain and continue building upon the foundations I’ve established for myself. Maybe this shadowbeast of a past life was to serve as a challenge in order to continue to inspire me to create, to love, to grow; to be the one who stands upon the shooting throne of light, scepter pointed ahead.  Maybe I needed this regression in order to continue going forward.

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Mountains (never molehills).

If I have an adjustable hat and the notch it’s been set at no longer fits my head, what would I do? Some people just keep trying to make the thing fit, but it won’t. What do you do when a hat outgrows you?

What’s it called when you make excuses for failure and shine an extra bright light on the successes? These little mountain towns creep me out. It has everything to do with my having spent the first two dozen years of my life shackled behind the city gates. I come to places like the one I’m at now and realize that what I’ve seen in the movies isn’t all just hokey fiction. Oh, so people actually do put cattle skulls on their front fences. The closest store to where I am currently is about a half hour down the mountain, and at this particular store I could have purchased a hunting rifle (replete with requisite gear), fishing gear, groceries, a fresh-made hero, glass statues and figurines, and mailed a package to New York. I never realized how many sexual innuendos can be applied to fishing.

I woke at five this morning and wrote out on the porch while watching the sun rise through the trees and over the mountain. This evening, after driving a half hour down the mountain to a lake down in the rolling green valley, I watched the sun set back into the mountains and from their collision exploded a stunning spectrum of colors across the black water. The black sky is now ablaze with millions of radiating stars. Bugs are creeping and crawling all over my laptop screen, but I still see the bullshit.

Two evenings ago, in the middle of the woods, I was trying to explain why people are so afraid of me. Look in your heart and you’ll find out. This evening I was asked what type of writer I am, a poet or an essayist. Why do I have to brand myself as one or the other? To be a writer of poetry does not make you a poet. Is it strange when I tell people that, truly, what I’m interested in is the poetics of existence? Why should I not be? We are, after all, wrapped forever in its arms. (Oh, look, get it now?) This is the God I worship. The God of life. What? Who said June? The same who meditated and chanted with me in the sunrise.

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I am sitting on a couch in the lounge area outside the bar in the Sunset Tower Hotel. I’m in a midnight blue De La Renta suit, having seen only a few hours prior a production of La Traviata at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, with a royal blue dress shirt and a tie spun from fine Italian silk–a gift from my mother several years prior. To my left, on the same couch, is Peter, a recent but very dear friend of mine who seems to “get” me in a way others do not, who is not scared off by my rituals and antics and persistence; on the adjacent, smaller couch is Ryann, a young screenwriter who is at the same time both interesting and intriguing, whom I had met the night before and would like to get to know further. I am situated comfortably, one leg crossed over the other, my left arm placed in an L on the back of the couch, my head resting in its palm; my right arm draped going the other way. On the table before us sits a Kettle One martini, dry, with three olives (mine), two glasses of red wine for the others, a few napkins, and a steel tray containing kalamata olives, kettle chips, peanuts, and garbanzo beans. A grand piano sits unaccompanied next to the bar. Through the windows around me I see the lights of the L.A. night gleam. The lounge is empty save for us and a small party of three foreign women who are later joined by two males. It is late. I am not tired, though I may seem so.

We talk consistently but I am thinking mostly about the past year. The anticipation of the coming emergence swirling beneath the fatigued, craven exterior of a latent, leashed soul; the unforeseen arms which plunged deep, uninhibited, and pulled that soul to the air; breathing in the air; watching life begin again. As these little periods are emblematic of the larger scale scheme of all things, so can a day be of phases. I can sum up my entire year, so to speak, in one day in late August of the year 2008. But I won’t. Not here.

I think about liberation from all, but it takes almost a year to realize that more than anything what I needed to liberate myself from was myself. I am plagued by two problems: one, my metaphysical mind; two, that I can always see the finished product before the process actually begins. The fusion of these two make for a long, Gordian equation of inevitably disastrous consequence. I take the former and try to force the latter. Maybe you can call this idealistic. Whatever.

Here I am, wondering why nothing can be what I want it to be, the way I picture it, why all stars burn out in my hand, and there I’ve been trying to force things love and learning. The only agency we may possess over growth is awe, confidence, respect. The ability to accept life as it is and as it becomes. Be one with it. Nothing more.

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Here comes the sound of the rocknroll mew-sack raging towards ya in bee-bops buzzin’ in waves led by the queen to the caves and it’s comincomincomin til’ it’s here do you hear? I said, do you hear? Who is the life of this rocknroll part-hey? Where you Atman? Oh here it comes again and away we go!

Ok let’s get one thing straight, straight as the bumble bee lines. (Do you hear the chorus sounds? I said, do you hear?) I roam you roam we all roam for ice cream, life seems something like light beams from the starzzz, from the sunson, from ol’ silver hair herself. I look up she looks down we meet in a frown. There’s a point to this, the ol’ silver linin’ round the black words. But maybe you don’t see it because all you see is yourself, whatever that is. Computer screen mirror. But what do you see–yea, YOU. You see me and thus you becomes me but I’m me so you can’t be me. Get it? The Self is not someone other than you. So stop trying to be me, you hear? I said, do you hear? Yea, I hear you. I heard you before you spoke. Now hear me. For once.

Back to my point. Way way back. Before I began. There is my point. Before and after. Don’t you know by now my point? No, of course not: like I mentioned back in the winter’s fall of some December night one year more than one year ago, I scream into voids. No matter; it’s not about you. It’s about me. But I am you, you are me, we are one, a part of this all, a part of me all. Oh, fiddles. I’ve gone and confused myself again. So said Shandilya. There is my point. Right there on my flesh: the meaning of June, the explanation of everything; the indivisible, right there on the man-made flesh; the imperishable upon the finite cave. But you don’t see that; you’re too busy thinking up silly games to satisfy your misguided ego. A child in a mucked up sandbox. Oh happy day. Oh sad day.

Let us direct our deepest desires to realize the Self.

Nuff-4-now. Too much for you. I walk in light towards light, the dark above me below me not before me. Go to the light of the Self. Look at all these things I can do. If you draw pictures can I write words? Or can I write words and you draw pictures? How about an Adam Kadmon for the 21st century? Follow Adam when he begins to speak. If he hasn’t already. Our language begins before we are born if we are born at all we are born into it as it. Ok? Ok.

What happened to the rocknroll? It rolls on in spite of you, I guess. I can’t explain this, but I’ll try, he’ll try, we’ll all try for ice cream.

Clearly I have a lot to say, so LISTEN TO ME. You hear? I said, do you hear?


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