Tuesday, October 24, 2017

At War With Our Shadows

I remember, as a child, first encountering my shadow. It was a beautiful bright summer day. I was in the backyard running with the energy of a child when suddenly I became aware of something following me. I turned and saw on the bright grass a darkness that ran as I ran. It was following me.

I remember the fear it caused in me. It seemed something I had been unaware of all this time, and now here it was. I could not shake it, it pursued me, matched me step for step. I looked at my mother, as frightened children do, hoping she could save me from this thing that would not leave me be. But she only laughed and told me it was my shadow. This did not make me feel any better. I ran, I dodged, but I could not shake it, could not even momentarily confuse it or slow it down.

I don’t remember how long it took me to get used to it, to understand it and realize it had no power over me. It only echoed my movement, could do nothing to me. But I eventually learned it was nothing to worry about. As a matter of fact, thinking of it was a waste of time. Nothing I could do in regard to it would ever make my life any better.

I’m an adult now, and yet there are moments I find myself still reacting to the shadows. I’m still tempted to take arms against them, to respond to their actions, forgetting that they can only respond to me. Too often we feel we must battle the darkness, that the cause of good is to combat evil, the cause of life to combat death. We spend so much time battling evil and death that we forget to concentrate on goodness and life.

Evil will always exist. It clings to our every movement, seeking to divert the power of good to its own designs. The true power evil has is that it is capable of distracting us from the good. We react to evil when we could be enjoying and participating in the good.

Death will always exist. It is inevitable and will consume all in time, but it cannot erase the time we are given, cannot take from us the allotted days we possess unless we spend our days thinking about death rather than living our lives.

Shadows exist everywhere, but they mean nothing. They have no power except what we bestow upon them. To worry about evil is to prevent our ability to spread goodness. To obsess about death is to distract us from the miracle of life we are given. I once ruined a beautiful summer day by worrying about the shadow that followed me. I will try my best to never again ruin another precious day.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Random Thoughts Part 26

We have become so afraid of looking like hypocrites that we no longer try to be better than we are.

I have the same amount of energy I had when I was a child of 8. Unfortunately, I now have four times the body mass to push around, and it now flows through joints that are resistant to movement.

I think what has largely been forgotten in the last 20 years or so is the timeless idea of passing down to the next generation what has taken a lifetime to learn. Rather than transferring the lessons we have learned from our parents, we are now feverishly trying to follow what is the newest trend, abandoning everything once considered to be holy, sacred, wisdom.

Just because you believe passionately about something does not make it true. In fact, it kind of undercuts your beliefs if you are so dogmatic about them that you never stop to question them.

There is nothing so good for writing as doing a bit of gardening, and there is nothing so bad for gardening as being a writer.

It’s hard to believe in ten years I’m going to wish I was the age I am now.

Cynicism is not a road that leads anywhere but a resignation to stagnation and a commitment to unhappiness.

There is no virtue in pointing out the ugly truths of life without providing alternatives or accommodating hope. It’s called cynicism, and it is equivalent to a doctor cutting open his patient without actually performing an operation.

In law, the life of an animal is worth nothing unless it is owned. In other words, it is property not a life form. We need to develop a way of seeing the world that goes beyond this.

Does saving money always increase your happiness? Buying ice cream by the gallon rather than the pint saves you money, but not calories. Life is not so simple that you can evaluate it by a metric like money.

It is not war, or people like Charles Manson or Adolph Hitler that make me question the existence of God, but things like toenail fungus and tape worm. Why God, why?

Americans don’t have roots, they have routes. They don’t have homes, they have travel plans. Other countries have edifices that have stood a thousand years, the U.S. has Route 66. Balzac wrote about a city, Kerouac about a road. Shakespeare wrote about history and the return of the natural balance, Thomas Wolfe spoke of further.

Primitive humans did not know how bees helped pollinate flowers or how photosynthesis worked, but they knew how to live in harmony with nature. They knew her secrets without cutting her open and sticking her under a microscope.

We don’t need to tear things down, we need to build things up. We need not destroy but create. The old will rot on its own, it is the young that needs tending.

All literature is children’s literature nowadays. The only thing that separates children’s literature from adult literature is swear words, excessive violence and overt sexual descriptions, and those are slowly filtering down to younger and younger audiences. In the past, an author had to be clever in order to avoid censorship, find a way of saying something that could be both innocent and extremely dirty.

Why are we all rushing through life? What is it we think awaits us at the end?

I see people, in thinking they can make the world a better place, race into the turbulent waters of discontent. Like waves crashing into one another, they seek to make things right by opposing force with force. They see the turmoil and they want to correct it, but they only become a part of it. If you wish to end the conflict and chaos, do not dive into the maelstrom but instead raise islands. This is what we need more than ever, since the constant conflict has erased from our minds any thought of consistency. They have swallowed the islands up, and the islands, being made of sand, were easily brought low. It is our job to build, it has always been our job to build. 

Technologies do not develop if we don’t tolerate them. There is no such thing as baby shock collars, though they would be easy to create. The surprising thing is that we tolerate so much of what we now have.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Shared Glimpse

Have you ever, in a public place, walked past someone and have the urge, not to ignore them but to look into their eyes and smile, to acknowledge that we are all sharing a similar journey, and that life can sometimes by very beautiful?

Not seeing him or her as a potential threat or sexual conquest, not judging them or fearing being judged, but simply seeing another sentient soul, someone capable of spirituality and kindness, of love and charity, of beautiful thoughts and an openness to awe.

For that briefest of moments you are not comparing yourself to them or them to you. You do not feel jealousy for what they possess nor pity for what they do not. You feel only unity, similarity, oneness.

And though the moment is brief, it stays with you, that person stays with you. He or she is a friend to you, though you have only shared a glimpse, because they have affirmed for you your connectedness to the world beyond the physical. It has shown you that no matter your physical or economic state there is a beauty deep inside all of us more important than all other matters.

This happened to me today, at least I like to think it did. I like to think the other person involved shared in that briefest of moments the openness and goodwill I shared in a glancing smile. I do not know for sure, will never know, but I like to believe that in some small way I was capable of making someone feel what I felt. And who knows, perhaps that feeling was not born in me but was inspired by the other person. Perhaps it was something we both created together. Or perhaps it is something that is always there and we were both fortunate enough to witness it at the same moment

Of course, it could all be in my imagination. Perhaps I am a silly dreamer who imagines what does not exist. But the alternative would be to deny that such an occurrence could ever take place, to cut oneself off from being open to each day’s potential miracles and magic. I prefer my approach. And in that spirit, I hope I am able to share it with you.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Madness Whispers

Madness whispers a little louder to me every day. as sanity’s offerings continue to pale. Wonder and awe or dark drudgery.

“Why not?” she speaks softly, seductively. “Why not?” And what answers I can muster come from far away as if muttered by another’s lips.

Let me be mad. Let me drift beyond the boundaries sanity has lain out for me. Sanity kills dogs and grandmothers, it hands out parking tickets and extinguishes color. It need not be.

“There is another way,” she says, her voice ripe with brightness and hope. “You can choose.”

As I drag myself to the dark dungeons of truth she holds out her hand to me and pleads, “I am yours.”

Her laughter is beguiling, the laughter of youth. She speaks of butterflies and bright blue skies while reality talks of factories and polluted seas but its voice is one of authority. Madness, madness is me.

Reality is a cage, a boundary, a prison, a resignation. It is what is left after every other option has been exhausted and extinguished. Reality is despair, it is a sad surrender. It is social security for the tired soul, the old folk’s home, a morgue for the body that awaits the grave.

Reality is a pre-arranged marriage made by my parents without my consent. Its laws were laid out by those long dead, a corpse’s hand clawing the face of the future. It is written in code to coax the mind to betray the heart.

Reality unites us in thought, but madness unites us in spirit. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

To You, The Reviewer

(This post has some harsh points of view and probably won't win me any friends. Why post it, then? Because it needs to be said.)

When I read a review of a new book or movie or album that tells you how completely it satisfied the reviewer’s criteria, it makes me want to puke.

So you, the reviewer, wish to be satisfied on every level. You spend your money and you expect to get the utmost satisfaction in return. To you it is all a business transaction.

You know what you sound like, don’t you? You sound like someone visiting a brothel. Before the financial transaction begins, you explain to your partner for hire what it is you expect, what you want her to do, and how much you are willing to pay for the services rendered.

This is not how it works, at least when it comes to art. Now maybe you don’t want art, and that is fine. But if that is the case, don’t pretend you’re judging your experience at that level. Let’s call the transaction what it is: a greasy trade of money for titillation and satisfaction of your baser desires. Don’t try to elevate it.

Let me tell you a little something about art. I know, your college English professor taught you everything there is to know on the subject, and you never once bothered to question his intent. He led you into a cozy little room stuffed with old books with gilt covers and there he seduced you. He lured you into a world of fine ideas while slowly separating those fine and beautiful ideas from the world in which ordinary people live. In short, he showed you the world that should be while increasing the gap between that world and the world that is.

And you bought it. He showed you a world in which you were better than the money changers and the manual laborers and the small-minded businessmen. He created for you a refuge you could hide in when the real world got to be too much. You were better than that. You were apart from it.

Except you weren’t, not really. You see, there was a price to pay for this refuge from the real. You had to protect the sacred vision and so you had to do whatever was necessary in order to hide it away from the ugly world.

In other words, in order to save the lovely visions of the possibility of a better world, you had to detach it from the reality that would tear it to pieces. Like an overprotective parent who believed their child too precious for the world, you kept your precious hidden. In truth, you did not have enough faith in what you cherished to place it in the outside world, permit it to survive or wither according to its vitality and rightness.

You created a fantasy world for yourself. You took the external trappings of stories, the kind that lure children into a deeper understanding of the world, and you abandoned the deeper truths the storytellers were trying to share. And you did so because those deeper aspects of your reading would have required you to reconnect to the outside world. You would have had to commit to such ideals, put them to the test, and you were afraid to do that.

You saw the beautiful words in Hamlet but you did not see inside the heart of the man who struggled with the existential essence of his life and dilemma. You never bothered to see deep enough into the character nor the man who wrote it. You excused yourself by calling Shakespeare an unfathomable genius rather than plunging into the depths of his genius the way one who appreciated genius would. You feared where such genius would lead you, and at the same time you feared not appreciating an acknowledged classic. Sometimes your tepid little soul even sought to pass your tepid little judgment on a great work, a profound work, by adding your advice on how the work or the author or the character was lacking.

You detached yourself from the essence of all that art is, because it frightened you. It was too bright, it was too brilliant. It pushed you away from your quiet reading spot, shoved you out the front door into the big bad world you wanted no part of, just as Gandalf pushed Bilbo into adventures that were more easily read about than lived. You wanted to believe in wizards, you just didn’t want them showing up in your neck of the woods.

Art is not a sterile thing. It is not meant merely as a distraction from the real world, not some abstract but beautiful and ornate creation upon which we can for a moment ignore the uglier aspects of our lives. No, art is intimately tied to our lives. It makes us see our lives, our reality, in new ways, makes us less satisfied with what is so that we can work upon creating what should be. It is a map that can lead us to places we never would have imagined. But instead of following that map, we too often frame it and hang it upon the wall.

It is the artist’s job to make you see things from a different point of view. It is the artist’s job to make you uncomfortable. You must enter into the relationship with these expectations. It is not that the artist is above you, superior to you, it is that the artist has spent a great deal of his time and attention on a particular line of thought that he puts before you and wants you to consider. It is his job, it is the one area where he is, through endless hours of research and practice, qualified to give you his expert advice. He is no different than a doctor or a mechanic, but like them, it is his job to tell you the facts, not tell you what you want to hear and make you feel cozy.

So this is art. Maybe you’re not interested in art, maybe you think art is shit. That’s all well and good, just don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Don’t pretend that everything that is worth writing needs to conform to your criteria. It is easy as the reviewer to believe you can criticize without being criticized in return. But reviewing is a job as well—a review, a work--and as such it is worthy of criticism itself. If you cannot or do not relate to deeper aspects of a work, you leave yourself open to criticism. It is like judging a piece of music solely on the lyrics and rhythm, ignoring the melody.

Artists aren’t here to amuse you. We have all been amused for too long. As Neil Postman said, we are amusing ourselves to death. No, it is not my job to amuse you but to awaken you, to bring you from your extended adolescence into adulthood. To lead you from amusement to amazement. This is not a bad thing. No, it is a wonderful thing. Magic is not something that exists only in the mind of a child. It exists, really exists, only to the adult mind capable of perceiving it in all its glory. It is not so frightening, you merely need to take the next step…