(rant title here…)

6:30 in the morning and it’s been a night of freakish dreams. Echoes of an equally freakish reality. People shouting about this and that (not in my weird dreams, but in the actual news.) Things screwed-up enough that it makes one see what Thomas Mann was getting at, sitting in exile in California after getting out of Nazi Germany just a hair’s breadth short of ‘too late’, and seeing enough of the news to write, “Turn aside, abwenden! Confine yourself to the personal and the spiritual.”

Turn aside! I hit the snooze button as I keep typing on my dark screen, thinking I need more Fran Lebowitz in my life. She’s saying the shit I wish I could say, at an age where no obeisance need be given to the mores of totalitarian desires. Work sucks! Wellness is a confidence trick! Be who you are, warts, insecurities, neuroses, and all! In my heart I’m a New Yorker by allegiance, stuck out in the middle of repressed ‘religulous’ suburban crackersville all my life. Raised in it, stamped by its edicts. I hate it like Friedrich Reck hated the nazis…

…almost a quarter to seven and my thumbs are fighting this fucking computer typescreen, raging at the myriad misspellings, having to correct them on the spot, raging like a dinosaur looking at the oncoming asteroid. Maybe I’ll spend the day listening to some kind of alt-electronic, trashing and wiping my way through government offices with too many white boyz with buzzcuts, waiting for my share of the night schedule, when at least the facility I’ll close my work at will be empty, and then I can play my ‘reefermania’ playlist and call folks and talk about nothing much while I mop floors and dust blinds…

(such is life, vich is likevise de hend of all things…..)

Bit by bit…

…so what does one do in the midst of so much uncertainty, so much turmoil, both from within and from without? It’s difficult. Does one “speak out?” Does one listen? Does one simply “keep calm and carry on?”

I don’t know in any definitive way; that’s for y’all to decide on your own. Speaking for only me, I found myself down that rabbit-hole at the beginning of the previous week. Early Monday morning, staring into the pre-dawn darkness of yet another work-tunnel. Feeling very marginal, very uncertain, very small…

…and then it hit me; Small.

What follows is something of a stream-of-consciousness type of thing that unfolded that day–irrational, yet liturgical. Simply being and being (at the same time) almost crazily joyous at weird shit, at times like these…(here we go…)

{It’s not even five feet from my bed to the bathroom. It’s not even over 24-48 inches from bookcases to bed, or from bed to keyboard. It (still) takes no effort to traverse the span, it seems tangible, set, reassured. I see my paintings and my typewriters, as well as the colored lights hanging from my ceiling…

I have tools for music and for learning and for coffee in the morning, all set in intimate relation to one another. I am set in a web of intimate space within my own life and my own soul, things ordered, planned, but yet also dynamic, impromptu, subject to whim. In my daily life there is a geometric design of intimate moments, no matter where I find myself. I have moments to muse, mourn, meditate, grunt, or simply giggle at my own inner stentorian curmudgeon. This (in itself) is also set on a kind of foundation—knowable, personal, yet malleable…

I find myself at a place where sadness and loneliness no longer intimidate me as they once did. They are treated with compassion and are free to come and go as necessary. My world is neither a gray shroud nor “sunshine and rainbowz”. It is a mosaic of any and all of these on a given day–they have evolved and mutated over time and introspection, at a place where they need not always be further analyzed or interrogated…

I know the tasks to which I am assigned, and there is a certainty that I don’t have to think about them at the close if the day, or worry about them defining my sense of self and of my worthiness as a hominid. My justification is not found in my work, but rather formed a structure of its own…

…of course this isn’t a constant. This isn’t stasis. This isn’t some narcotized ‘safety zone’ in which I’ll never feel fear or insecurity or anything that might disrupt what I have. So what is it?

…it is a kind of understanding. It is a tightening of the focus, a reminder. It is a building-block that I investigate and in whose utility I put my energy every single time I see these small spaces, these tidbits of homey geometry that I observe in the wee hours of my existence. Out of such, things can grow.}

Scenes from a bygone year…

It’s a new year (thank goodness…) Since yours truly has the day off, I thought about relating some of the quirkier aspects of yesterday, the last gasp of the bygone (and best forgotten) year…

Gentle snow, working in a near-deserted municipal building, with very little to do. My schedule for the day has been pared considerably, which means I’m free to work (and lollygag) at a leisurely pace, disappearing up my own nose thinking about all sorts of things, impressions and micro-moments that vanish almost as quickly as they come.

Started the day at an outlying substation. Heaviest work of the day, people still in and out. I can’t believe I get my work done in two hours, everything seems so slow at 8:00 AM in the snow. Some guy rapped on a closed door (the place is only accessible by badge) to come in. I indicate that it’s only badge-access by grasping the one around my neck, and he walks off. Five minutes later I see him coming down the ladder via the roof-access door in the janitor’s station. He’s with the roofing crew working on the still-under-construction, and he’s after a bathroom, which I’ve just cleaned. C’est la vie. I feel dickish for not having let him in and start on the floors…

I have grown accustomed to working to one of my iTunes music playlists (not the streaming, but from music I’ve already bought.) Some days it’s indie/alt. Others it’s all Bach, or all Classic jazz, and still other days it’s electro-ambient or more EDM. Today it’s all what I call the “420” playlist–Tom Petty to Snoop Dogg, Fats Waller to Peter Tosh to Cypress Hill. The vicarious (and, to my thoroughly vanilla mind, deliciously subversive) pleasure of having music so completely at odds with the place where I’m working. Snoop is with me cleaning the locker rooms, while Tom is cleaning the floors, so on and so forth…

..the day will end early, although I still have two hours at a public-works building in another city, normally a four-hour job that (owing to the approaching holiday) will likely be truncated owing to being closed and the reduced traffic. That said, my ‘breeze-through’ is still two hours…

…in the midst of all this, there is a question or two: What are my resolutions for the new year? Will I be able to get back to doing arts more full time? What will lie ahead for me personally? I find myself indifferent to resolutions. They carry less weight the older I get. I can’t answer the second question, since nobody knows when we get to a place where we can go out and see shows and performances. My own situation was already complicated by burnout before COVID-19 was even a thing. There’s no going back to what my normal was, and this is right even though it feels like I have no inner security blanket. Go forward! You won’t know what the answer is until it hits you. The same could be said for the last question…

Eight-o-clock and the illicit (and probably illegally homemade) fireworks have already started. Everyone is ready to be done with 2020, no matter who. There is, I suspect, more relief and pent-up frustration within these displays of celebration more than any kind of joy. Everyone has spent the year worrying and shouting and mourning and being scared out of their wits. Everyone is tired, battle-scarred. As for me, my last abode for the year is the downstairs couch in front of a christmas tree, watching Youtube videos of Siberian Huskies and playing Gardenscapes. I drift off, only occasionally jolted out of semi-sleep by the odd explosion or two as the evening dies down and the calendar flips a page…

…as I get ready for bed within the newest hour of the year, I get that moment where I meet my hiraeth, as the Welsh term it. That place you long for that perhaps (and most likely) never was. A glimmer: I accept that it never occurred outside of my own experience. I accept that my perception of whatever it is that still beguiles me about my long-departed childhood never actually occurred in any place or in any one person or event. It was (and still is) the product of a very complex and intimate geometry that evolved slowly within my soul and my senses. I can’t bring back the moments of potential I felt and felt excited by all these years to any place or time, but I can take one small note of consolation: it is still with me, because it’s Me. That has been (and always will be) with me, and so this thing is my inner kith-and-kin, an ongoing quiet epic–Lawrence of Arabia sans the desert…

My mind is still spinning, so I head off to sleep doing my version of counting sheep: gamecasting the most boring football game in the off hours between two 0-5 teams, where all they do is punt. Off to sleep! On to the next chapter….

Shadows and fog…

You know, this almost looks like something out of a Bergman film…I seem to have a thing about Bergman…maybe I out to get my head examined?? Oh wait, I’m already doing that…

It’s a Sunday night, and it’s frost and fog and inversion (not pictured, this one was taken several years ago) and that crossing of the boundary between the self undefined by work and the self who revolves around work. People hate this time during the week, and I suppose I can understand why. We imagine ourselves as being unconstrained, unabashed, and distinctive within our free time. On the clock, we have deadlines and supervisors and assignments and responsibilities, and everything that matters to us is somehow stored away, muted, hidden, or mediated by our work-crazed society and its obsession with productivity.

However, were we to examine this further, we would find that there isn’t such a firm boundary between the free and the ‘grind’. Artists know what I’m talking about. In order to chase our ‘dream’ work, we have to work harder, worry more, hustle more, and make do with less than most folks. We have no structure of benefits woven within our contracts unless we take positions within a school or university or some kind of work within a corporation where there’s more creative work than usual. When we care about what we do, we worry more, we’re more likely to define our self-worth via the quantity and quality of our productivity, and there’s no firm way to get off this wheel of self-doubt and self-abuse.

In contrast, while a menial job may not pay as much and have the capacity to be boring, it is relatively easier to master and easy enough to divorce from our inner universe. The results and parameters of the work are easier to define and fulfill than any other type of work: the boss gives you an assignment and you do it. As long as you get it done on time and do what the boss tells you to do (which is fairly straightforward) you do it and don’t think twice about it. You can get to a point where you’re free to let your mind roam on things that matter and you don’t have to spend time thinking about the dimensions of your job. It has, in fact, the virtue (as wells the curse) of being able to be boring. While this capacity for boredom has its own problems, many creative people made do with the boring steady jobs while they found a way to do what they wanted to do on the side, granting them a kind of freedom that many of their colleagues didn’t have.

So tomorrow morning I’ll retreat back into the shadows and fog of the work world, and observe and think and listen to music and roll my eyes at whatever my supervisors say and go about my business. I will ruminate on life and my art and meaning, and go home and sleep, relatively untroubled. For this one moment, I have my place of repose…

And now, for something completely different…

It’s Christmas night. Food has been eaten, presents opened, libations drank, arguments had, naps taken, and antacids popped like Life Savers. Relatives are going home or up to bed, dishes may need to be washed, messes cleaned up, and then the abrupt goodbye to a month-and-a-half of buildup, stress, anticipation, or whatever. What’s left is three cold, dark, damp, slippery, and (seemingly) endless months of winter; our holidays are taken, we go back into drone-mode until spring comes to fetch us…

I don’t much like the holiday season. Too much advertising, too many contrived and socially-enforced bullshit stereotypes about ideal norms about family closeness, the wonder of children and the wisdom of elders, and how anything outside of this is abnormal, weird, unacceptable, or (the most toxic word of all) sad. C’mon, get with the program! Put a little love in yer heart! Be…compassionate! Joyful! and (again, the most toxic word) HAPPY!

Nobody is willing (seemingly) to speak compellingly or compassionately about the exact opposite to this pop-culture greeting-card technicolor-sprinkled horror to which we’re subjected, and (not surprisingly) this involves the way many (if not most) of us actually feel about this time of year: Emptiness. Numbness. Frustration. Loneliness.

So–with that said, here’s an honest (but probably flawed) attempt to provide the holiday message we really need:

It’s Christmas night. So What? If you feel badly, take heart in knowing you’re most certainly not alone. Don’t try to hide the shadows–for this is (far from what the copy-writers and the p.r. nuts and the self-help gurus would tell you) a season of shadows, not of light. We light to keep the shadows away–the things never said, the duties never done, the paths never explored, the risks never taken. Tonight, you are absolved from your socially-enforced servitude in trying to pretend that everything is okay. Step back, close your eyes, and remember who you are, and how you feel. What you need isn’t another sweater or gift-card or anything else. You need to have time to sit in the shadows and to recognize their language, to understand the place from where they are coming. Be discombobulated. Throw your hands up, admit how you feel, trudge up the stairs and have a hot bath or settle in for a long winter’s nap. We don’t live by happiness or gingerbread houses alone….

December 23rd, 3:40 PM…

3:40 and I’m walking out of the Wells Fargo Building on 9th & Main, released early from my work obligations. Boards of Canada is on my iTunes playlist and I have this feeling as I step out into the sun and the air, released from the purgatory of fluorescent lights and filtered air: I am at this moment everywhere and yet nowhere. I can feel myself in places I’ve visited, very much at ease moving through my memories and perceptions of them, and yet there is no real sense or urgency, no deeper emotional attachment within this euphoric connection to all of these places or recollections. I am at peace anywhere and yet never feeling truly grounded anywhere. It seems that my “home”–if there truly is one–lies somewhere within the act of perceiving and remembering and less within the exact content of the memories themselves.

I would like to think of this moment (as I walk to my car in a kind of trance) as some sort of universalist revelation, but somewhere I know this isn’t the whole story–there is a kind of preciousness, a melancholia that’s humming away almost undetectable beneath the surface. It is the condition of the person who isn’t confined to time or place…

My inheritance snd my isolation…

Rise to the occasion…

…staring at the ceiling and window at 5:00am…

The alarm sounds. Eyes open (barely.) Another Monday, another week to work, and move, and earn money, and to slink away to the private places of life once our obligation to “society” by scraping and hustling for our own upkeep is done on Friday afternoon or whatever.

(I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.)

It starts, like a sniper’s bullet from the bush: I’m fucked. I’m doomed. Life is going to hell in a handbasket. The country is full of nutjobs and the earth is full of houghynyms while it swelters and burns. Will I get sick? Will I get fired? Will I even be freaking alive in six months??

(I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape having ill health.)

Will I find peace? Financially, emotionally? Will I be able to not worry after a lifetime of facing parents going under from foreclosures, divorce, drug addiction, bad financial decisions? Or, will I merely be another spoke in the wheel?

(I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.)

Will I always be alone? Will I die alone? Will I be able to open up to someone–anyone–about how I feel and find out and celebrate how they feel, how they experience?

(All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.)

Will it matter in the end? Will any of this matter? Will anyone remember?

(My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.)

I take a deep breath and get up. It’s a new day. Another page. Another experience. Another movement. Another act. This is mine, intrinsically mine, and I would not miss it for anything. What is mine is ahead of and inside me, nowhere else.

Revised…

I trained as an organist. The Brahms Chorale Preludes are some of my favorite pieces. They were composed in the last year and a half of his life–the last things he ever wrote. They’re all dense and lush and all deal with the experience of loss and impermanence that transcends the religious tradition of the melodies on which they’re based. Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen was originally a Christmas tune that gave the symbolic narrative of a rose blooming in a chilly night; Brahms sets the tune lyrically rather than literal note-for-note, giving the piece an improvised feel. A piece of late emotion late in the evening late in the year.