Friday, June 17, 2016

On Getting Old

Existence accumulates like alluvial deposits in a river. Disillusionments, humiliations, hallucinations, manias, aversions, conflicts, chaos, rocks.
Wrinkles don’t help. Beauty belongs to the young. And we all know how that goes.
Do I feel differently now than I did when I was twenty? Yes and no. Some things change. Some things do not. The things that change are mostly body related. It takes longer to heal. It’s harder to get up from a chair. I have to learn how to urinate all over again because an enlarged prostate demands patience. Women have their problems, too. Menopause. That can’t be fun.
What’re you going to do?
You adapt. You don’t have a choice. You’re on a raft. You’re being carried down a river. There are rapids ahead. You get through the rapids. The water gets still. Then you hear a roar. Is that a roar or a hiss? Is that the wind in the trees or something else? Something scary, like a waterfall. Oh shit, you think, there’s a waterfall ahead.
You don’t appreciate being young when you’re young. How can you? When you’re young you’re young. The bones are forgiving. The muscles are limber. The skin is supple. Innocence is an embarrassment you’re eager to be rid of.
It’s because I’m old that I get to speak in generalizations like this. I was young once and I didn’t feel like this. This takes time.
You need to get old in order to feel young. Why is that? Because when you’re young you’re too inexperienced to know anything else. You can’t feel young if you don’t know what it is to be young. When you’re old, you definitely know what it is to be young. Those sensations don’t go away. Where would they go? They become a part of you. They inform you. They school you. They feed you.
La vieillesse est aussi le moment de goûter le fait d’être en vie comme un bien inestimable, et au fur et à mesure que je me rapproche vraiment de la mort, je goûte la vie comme jamais je ne l’ai goûtée, observes 94 year old French philosopher Marcel Conche. “Old age is additionally the moment of tasting the experience of being alive as an inestimable good, and as I gradually and unequivocally approach death, I taste life like I’ve never tasted it before.”
The older I get the more I need a camel. I have a hunger to see the stars. The afternoon lifts itself into my eyes and I realize there is a limit to life but there’s also the flavor of nothingness to consider, the lure of oblivion, the excitement of murdering distance with Switzerland.  
We inherit the decisions of our youth. That’s the sad part. Or was that supposed to be the good part? I made crazy decisions in my youth. No need to go into that now. Suffice it to say, the man who sits here now once read passages of The Iliad in front of a crematorium during breaks as a factotum in a funeral home.
What happened to that guy? Is that guy still within me? Yes, but he has since retired. He now reads Proust in French at an old brown desk and gets invitations to be cremated in the mail.
He has widened his embrace of the universe. He can smell the fourth dimension.
Think about artichokes. How multilayered they are. The older one becomes, the more multilayered one becomes. Leaf upon leaf upon leaf upon leaf. Youth is the stubborn stuff at the heart. 
I drink my coffee from a Beatles mug. The Beatles never age. Their songs sound fresh every time I hear them. I’ve heard every song at least thousands of times. They age. They get better. I look at John. I look at George. It seems unreal that they don’t exist.
We are in the realm of the immediate. No ideas but in things.
Time imitates the movement of stars.
The snowman in Zen philosophy is a symbol of the nothingness that is at the core of Being. I find youth in snow.  We must learn to imitate the nothingness of snow.
I find it interesting that we need permission for certain things. We all carry with us a set of borders, a sense of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. This is what makes you old.
You can learn a lot from sugar. It was while waiting for a cube of sugar to dissolve in a glass of water that Henri Bergson learned the true nature of life, duration, and time. He learned that our conception of time is an artificial construct.  Experience is an active process. Categories are just a form of shorthand. We need them for basic communication.
Creativity is protean. Nothing is ever quite as real as the present moment. It is in the present moment where time is water and our minds are sugar. Dissolution is the start of something new. Each moment is a creative act. And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, and then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot; and thereby hangs a tale.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

On Knowledge

Knowledge is what you know, said Gertrude Stein. What do I know? I know that kaolin is a fine white clay and that black is a color and energy is a capacity for action. I know that true substance develops in solitude and that the nervous system of a crab pursues the architecture of independence. The slide into essence hustles my sense of warranty. It begins with my sense of alienation and mutates into a longing for monarchy. The ooze of existence turns green with semantic lamination. Fluorescence summons the caress of choice. The hives are full. The plays illustrate our lack of control.
I know what gravity is, that is to say, I know that it exists and that I can feel it, I experience it, but I don’t know what it is, what makes it work. I know that it has something to do with space and mass and forming stars out of hydrogen and the curvature of the spacetime continuum. I know that it’s why coffee doesn’t float out of my Beatles mug. I know that it’s why I can sit here typing this and that time moves more slowly in a job you hate and that it’s notorious for drawing bodies together. I know that it is a fundamental cause of formation, shape, trajectory and methadone treatments.
I know that if I lift an object the object has weight. My body has weight. I know that I can’t fight gravity. What would I punch? I’ve already tried flying. It doesn’t work unless I get into an airplane. Flying in an airplane isn’t the same as flying by my own willpower like Superman.
I wonder if one day people will be able to take a pill that makes you weightless? Wouldn’t that be a gas.
I know that poetry is, in a certain measure, like gravity, since so much of it remains a mystery. Poetry is a form of dark matter. That is to say, it holds the eyes like a hill holds the sky.
The night sky.
I know that friction and hunger are a major cause of war and that gymnasiums are often noisy. I know that there’s a certain charming rapport between mohair and oak. I know that I know more than I know is a possibility but I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t know how to court and marry a crocodile without coercion and shoes.
I know that my life has a purpose but I don’t know what it is. Or was. Or could be. Or might be. I imagine most people have that same instinctive feeling. But is it instinctive or just necessary? Why else would anyone endure the pains of existence without a little occasional pleasure and a reason, a sense of destiny, a direction. I guess if you’ve got kids that takes care of that problem. You live for your kids. But if you don’t have kids you’ve got to have faith in something. You can have faith in your own skepticism.
This is a knowledge that mingles well with corollaries and finance. It’s difficult to know what motivates people to do what they do. I’m often surprised at how little I know myself. I often do things without knowing why I did them. I do them and then I wonder why, why did I do that? Why did I say that? Why did I fall in love with that sidewalk? Why do I like to pop the bubbles in plastic wrap?
I know that if a nation charges a lot of money for education that it creates a structure of sharp class division and will not hold together as a nation.
I know that if I express an opinion the chances are that more people will disagree than agree with it. How do I know that? I have a lifetime of expressing opinions. My opinions generally piss people off. That’s because I took at things from the perspective of art and poetry, the acuity of wild horses or the audacity of froth. I have a difficult time finding the perspective of a more commercial outlook. This makes me highly qualified to rob banks or regret lost opportunities but poorly equipped to manage a rock and roll band or supervise a customer service center at an Ikea store.
I have no idea how TV, radio, computers, electricity, or light work. But I do know how to eat soup with a spoon and build a correspondence with a fellow writer.
I know the meaning of control and try not to lose what little of it I have within my possession.
I know the joys of possession also invite misery.
I know that Neil Young was born in Canada and that B minor is a sad chord.
Don’t ask me about relationships. I wouldn’t know where to begin.
I would begin with a thermometer. And end with a sigh.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


Gas stations fascinate me. Especially the ones that actually work on cars. Put them up on hydraulic lifts and get under them with ratchets and screwdrivers and stare up into the complexities of gaskets and grease. The ones in which a bell rings when your car passes over a hose. Do they even exist anymore? Most of the gas stations now have minimarts, candy and bottled water and girlie magazines. They don’t work on cars. They just offer gas. It’s the ones with mechanics and penlights that I like. The ones with an ambiance of grease and gears, voltage and definition. Those stations. The ones in which everything is brisk. Everything is vivid. Everything is loud and determined. The smells are strong. The camaraderie is strong. The exchanges are strong. Discernments are made. Things are fixed. That’s what’s so fantastic about these places: things get fixed.
Working on a car is a full immersion. Each car is a canto in a long poem which is the highway.
I’ve always liked cars. This is a difficult thing to admit when so many species are dying and floods are destroying communities due to catastrophic climate change. We’ve left the Holocene and entered a new geologic epoch, one in which a mass extinction event is in progress.
I grew up with cars. Everybody had a car. Everybody needed a car. It’s the way the society is built. It’s built around cars. It’s only been very recently that some cities, such as Bordeaux in France, have begun prohibiting cars from their downtown streets.
Having a car as a kid meant freedom. You had a way to get out of the house and stay out of the house until you got your own house.
It remains a good feeling. That feeling that I can get into a machine and cover huge distances and within hours find myself in an utterly new region with different cities and different climates and topographies. I can get up and get in the car and go to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Or Winnemucca, Nevada. It would take 33 hours to drive to San Antonio, Texas. Twenty-four to get to Minneapolis, Minnesota, the city where I first entered this world and spent my early childhood.
No one feels trapped when they have a car. The freedom might be illusory, but it’s a compelling sensation, provided you’ve got enough money for gas, and everything is working.
Having a direction is crucial. It’s a way to inhabit space. Space is terrifying without a direction. The dizziness of freedom, to quote Kierkegaard. That’s what raw, bare space is all about: the dizziness of freedom. Having a direction takes the edge off.
A direction doesn’t have to be geographical, it can be mental, spiritual or intellectual. Having the freedom to change your idea about something or alter your attitude is terrific. But nothing beats having a destination in physical space. A greasy spoon in Tenino, Washington, or Elysium Mons on Mars.
It’s wonderful to get into a car, start the engine, crank the wheel and head out to some location.
Time has direction. I can only move forward through time. Time has the appearance of moving forward. I can’t make a U-turn and go the other way. Return to my youth. I can only age. Acquire more wrinkles. Acquire more wisdom. Is wisdom a place? Yes, I believe it is. It doesn’t have a border, but it does have skills and stationary.
Direction doesn’t crackle, hover, or leak. It’s a phenomenon, not an object. An airplane can have multiple directions but no immanent transcendence. That is to say, it can have immanent transcendence, but you’re going to have to look for it. You can’t locate it on a radar screen.
Direction is a component of space. We’re seduced into space by direction. Direction is how we experience space. Without direction, space would be horrifying.
I have different moods for different directions. Going east makes me happy. Going west makes me earnest. Going south makes me obstinate. Going north makes me impulsive and sad.
The best feeling is to be heading south to California on a sunny day in June.
The most humbling and exalting is to stand under the stars in Long Beach, Washington. The ocean moves in and flops down on the sand and retreats with that funny hissing sound. And up there, in the sky, gazillions of stars that shine with an ancient light, light that has taken millions of years to reach your eyes.


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Metaphysics as a Form of Jungle Gym

The time may have finally come to release language from the leash of common speech and allow it to become a wave on the ocean. Let it roll. Let it swell. Let it float something. Let it reach some island, some continent, some atoll, some isthmus, and crash on the sand.
Dwelling in language isn’t healthy. Dwelling in thought isn’t healthy. But I do it. I do it anyway. All this makes difficult thinking. I don’t know what to think. Until I start thinking. And then it’s too late. I’m already thinking.
I don’t pretend to be anything I’m not. I’m not a detergent. I’m not a flag or a hermit thrush. I express myself differently. I express myself with algae and barometric pressure. I sparkle with solitude. I like things that require a little reflection to understand them. I never whisper. Whispering isn’t my deal. I don’t like to shout much either.
I do like words. Words like pearls. Pearls of sweat. Pearls of rain.
Also, car bumpers, though you rarely see them anymore. Chrome bumpers. Not plastic or rubber bumpers. The bumpers you used to see on Chryslers and Fords from the fifties. Red convertibles with fins. Denim blue ’55 Chevy pickup with a V8 and flames.
Most of the time I’m just happy to drift. The field is open. Anything can happen.
There’s a book on the shelf with a golden spine searching for paradise. Being and Nothingness by Jean Paul Sartre. Lectures in America by Gertrude Stein. The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa.
Nothing in this world gives itself completely. You’ve got to share in its existence. It’s got to be perceived. Perception doesn’t always come easy.
Take clouds. They never stay the same. And eventually it’s not even a cloud anymore. It’s rain. It’s a river. It’s an ocean. It’s blood. It’s soup. It’s a hot shower in Grayland, Washington.
Bats fly out of a cave. It’s twilight. I rinse out a bottle of dish soap and toss it in the recycling bag and wonder how long it’s going to take for all those bubbles to disappear.
Hope is an odd emotion. It’s based on an expectation that the future will bring a more favorable circumstance. It’s easier just to accept disappointment before it gets here. That way, if something good does happen, it will be delightfully unexpected.
Expect the unexpected. That’s my advice.
Is the universe an essentially moral or virtuous place? I don’t think so, no. But that’s one opinion. And I happen to be biased. I live here.
Is the universe even a place? Is it a place or a being? Is it a jungle gym or a pomegranate?
Whatever paradise is, there aren’t any jobs there. Nobody needs a job in paradise. That’s what makes it paradise.
What else can I say? The forest is chirping and calm. Why make a principle out of living? There is no principle to living outside of eating and reproducing. What can you say of those who choose not to reproduce? Did they waste everyone’s time?
There’s no instruction manual for living. You just live. Life lets you know what it wants. Nature provides you with a body. The body wants food and sex. Most of one’s life is spent trying to obtain food and sex. In one’s later years, it pretty much comes down to food, which is a blessing.
As soon as a philosophy develops, it wants to impose its principles on the world. It wants to remake the world in its own image. Hence, plywood and concrete. Dripstone, gyroscopes, and Queen Anne’s lace.
The best philosophy is the one that provides you with cushions.
This is an ancient story: as soon as a philosophy begins to believe in itself, it starts to walk around taking notes and making illustrations. Good microscopes may be obtained at reasonable rates. Abstractions expand into cots.
Every time I put words in a sentence they do this: they begin glue and outlines. Grammar is a muscle. It has a natural tendency to lift things, stretch things, pull things, push things, elongate into beads and spatulas. Sooner or later a philosophy develops. And then what?
You come full circle. You reach that point where language must be released from common speech and become a diversion of ghosts and antiques. Send it on its way. Go, language, and find pleasure in dyes and wheels. Find a fence and jump it. Animate puppets and hammers. Write a letter to Frank O’Hara in the afterlife. I know he’s up there. He, too, let his language go. And here it is, indulging the eyes in arguments of mint, finding blood awkward, finding bones heavy, finding a thesis in everything. 





Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Ragwort and Rattlepod

Pain is ceremonious as a funeral procession. I’m not entirely sure who or what to follow into the underworld. I’m not sure I want to visit the underworld. It is said that if one looks long enough in the mirror one will see death. What I see is a face with deepening creases and wrinkles. Bags under the eyes. A wattle under the chin. All you need is love, sang the Beatles, and they were right, of course. But it’s harder than one might think to go around in one’s mind without getting tangled up in worries and imagine that a feeling of love (I know this is vague, but bear with me) will remedy the situation. The situation being the human condition. In a word: angst. What a great word, angst. It sounds like what it means. A profound aching that penetrates to the bone. A bundle of anxieties, fears, dread, premonitions, conflicts, remorse and dilemmas, all of which begin as soon as cognition begins. As soon as we are brought into this world still covered with blood and slime and open our eyes. The stark light of reality vibrates in the nerves like electricity humming through the high-voltage cables of a transformer station.
It’s never-ending, a Möbius loop of perplexities and anguish.
I’m sorry if this is a bummer. But I’ve chosen pain as my topic and feel a certain responsibility to stick with it.
Thinking is synonymous with apprehension. I think that goes for all people, but since I’m me, and speaking from my point of view, I’d have to say the situation merits special attention.
My mental life is ensnarled with pointless obsessions. This is my brain (picture a sponge). This is my brain on words (picture a sponge dripping words). It’s a jungle in there. Tangles of jackal-berry, spider lilies, and mangosteen share precious skull space with prickly lettuce, poor-man’s spinach, and the Agenbite of Inwit.
Is the Cretaceous over? Not in my head it’s not.
Sometimes you can find redemption in a hot dog. It’s the food of youth. People eat hot dogs when they’re having fun. Put mustard on it. See if it smells of impertinence. If it smells of impertinence, it’s a good hot dog. If it doesn’t, you might prefer a baked potato.
Pain is rarely this ambiguous. But sometimes yeah, sometimes pain can emit a pagan stubble. The sky murmurs winches and pulleys. Consciousness creates chemicals never before seen on TV. And so goes a skeleton of numbers, another face in the asphalt.
It’s confusing as hell. Where did this pain come from? What’s it doing bothering me? Why me?
Pain isn’t choosey. Pain is as democratic as things get. Apart from thinking. Which is cerebral and sparkly.
Each thought is a fetus in your head. Calendars are shifts in temperature. Pain is pure sorcery. I watched some once roam around a ripple of transparency. It made me feel dribbled, as if existing had to do with everything, including fucking one another. The best way out of this nonsense is to sit down and open a book.
The paper hovers above an emotion constructed out of words. This is what happens in a marriage between emotion and darkness. It’s written in my face. Nouns stick to my body like refrigerator magnets. Verbs are more difficult. You have to do them. Perform them. Argue with a forehead. Eat. Sleep. Blow glass.
If you act like a clarinet expect gold and copper. Imagine it’s raining on a tank. The men inside are playing cards. That’s my definition of lungs. Another is streams of air getting sculpted into words. That’s my idea of thinking. The bump bump bump of the beating heart.
Most pains are exquisite. Easy to understand. Easy to resolve. Take your finger out of the fire. Crawl to the lodge and cry for help.
Emotional pain is a little different. It’s a dribble of sensation. The drawers jingle with habit. We evade the pain we glaze with our fancy glass.
Outdoors is different. Here I sit as always with clouds floating out of my head. There is so much to describe. When it comes to emotional pain, I rarely feel one singular emotion. It’s usually a blend. Grief mixed with fear, fear mixed with gloom, gloom mixed with foreboding. It’s often difficult to identify all the nuances in a particular feeling. Conflicts churn in a confusion of color and shape. It hurts my head to have all that shit going on in there. Like Bob Dylan once sang in a song, “there must be some kind of way out of here.”
It sometimes happens that a word will assume a quality similar to Saturday. There’s a nakedness that happens on Saturday. That’s all I know.
Wanting immediate relief is a reason people seek remedy in drugs. It works, but only for a time. When the drugs leave, you feel worse. You have to take more drugs. You need more drugs to feel the effect of the drugs. It’s a vicious circle.
Who designed this universe, anyway?
Words smell of orchids and moss. Light glued together with eyes. Life is sticky with its assumptions, this obsession with gold, this water to twist.
Pain hangs from the lip of a jackhammer like a vegetable.
Fighting a feeling results in making the feeling worse. The more you struggle to resolve an issue, wriggle your way out of it, the tighter it squeezes. The squid gets carried away in a piece of language. The closet pauses long enough to show you Norway.  It feels unnatural for a day, then Mick Jagger is dancing in your bathroom.
It’s better to make friends with a pain. Take it for walks. Buy it clothes. Enroll it in school.
If the pain is a vague disquiet, I‘ll try to listen to what it has to say. Often, the message is garbled, like static from outer space.
If the feeling is broken, I’ll try to repair it. If I’m going to have a pain, I want it to work properly. A malfunctioning pain is a waste of time and money. If there’s a landfill for broken feelings, take it there. You’ll see mountains of broken feelings. Seagulls wheeling above, scree! scree! scree!
If I feel powerless to give the feeling what it wants  -  ten million dollars, a jet, a signed copy of A Movable Feast  -  I’ll look for parables. Parables are little stories that provide insight. Insight is to pain what foresight is to hindsight. A sufficient amount of foresight takes the bite out of hindsight. Insight mellows the fury of pain. Insight transmutes pain into wisdom.
None of my insights come easily. I have to strain to find the meaning of a particular pain, and even then I’m more liable to get entangled in it, cut by its thorns. Waves of rumination break against the rocks of a giant opacity.
I’m not a magician. I can’t create a storm by which to wreak my vengeance on all the people that have wronged me. I don’t live on an island with an obedient daughter and a grumbling monster who brings in the wood. I’m not that guy. But I do have a lot of books. And a lot of the books have something to say about the lessons of pain.
“Pain has an element of blank,” says Emily Dickinson. 

It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not. 

It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain. 

And then, of course, there’s Hamlet. This is a guy who seemed to wallow in his pain. He created great speeches out of it. You have to marvel at the idea that one of the most eloquent pieces of literary work in the English language is a contemplation of suicide. “Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished,” says Hamlet. Then checks himself: “…in that sleep of death what dreams may come?” Why else put up with the pangs of oppression, the tedium of a shit job, the ordeals of homelessness, the humiliations and hurt of rejection, were it not for “the dread of something after death?” “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.”
Which is one way to look at it.
Another is to live as vigorously as you can and find what pleasures you can to balance it out, mingle the consonants of pain with the vowels of consolation. Talk to your pain. Learn from it. Don’t fight it. Don’t debate it. Treat it like a prayer. Because maybe that’s what pain ultimately is: a prayer.