Thirty days hath November. Not so hard
to remember all the things I’m thankful for–
just four weeks, and two days more.
Other months have thirty-one, and there’s a
challenge can’t be won.
December now. I guess I’m done.
(like breakfast cereal) is a
mix of nuts and flakes,
stuck in ruts and catching breaks
both big and small. And through it all
darkness falls, bit by bit,
piece by piece, a periodic lease approaching
final terms. Then come the worms…
Friendship is as friendship does–
what never is most never was. It’s not
a rush; it’s not a buzz; it’s not a bit of
dryer fuzz. It can’t be shelved, or laid away;
it can’t just be the words we say. If
you are mine and I am yours, then nothing
can remain of course, nothing granted,
nothing given. An empty room cannot be
leavened with a healthy dose of silence; nor
can an island in the sky bridge the space from
you to I.
Were I a fly perched on your wall, would
I stand or would I crawl? Would I idle; would
I stall? Would I learn to walk, or fall upon my
broken knees and plant a few suppliant trees? And,
if I did,
would you thaw, or would you freeze?
Alone at hand, a tiny speck amidst
The grand. I am but a grain of
Sand upon an everlasting beach,
Out of reach. Creature of
All wrapped up in
Vain conceit; a
On my own two feet.
The road stumps the
Holds me fast and
Sets me free, a wanderer
Without a map.
What a liberating trap!
*My thanks to the spammer who inspired this verse.
As he said, always follow your heart…
future, present, past colliding
in that moment of
resurrection and reversal.
All is universal, in the pause between
two heartbeats, when one meets
another, and that other is
oneself. He approached me,
and when at last he raised them,
I saw they were my own.
Writers who wish to do more than bear witness to human suffering or add to the overburden of entertainment have a responsibility to advocate for justice, humility, and compassion.
– Alison Hawthorne Deming
Recently, a friend of mine slapped me upside the head. Not literally, of course, and not intentionally; figuratively only, and in a good way, a necessary way. She posted the above quote on her blog’s Facebook page. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since. I went to bed thinking about it; I got up thinking about it. I’m still thinking about it.
There is so much truth in that short little statement that I have no idea how to begin to unpack it. What exactly am I up to here?
As a writer and a human being, I am under a dual obligation, both to tell the truth and to be the truth. And it’s that second one that gets me. It’s so easy to take a bird’s-eye view when I’m sitting at my keyboard, communing with a lifeless monitor; so easy to expound upon the errors of others and lay out a carefully-crafted philosophy for living as a corrective to the world’s ills. But if I put down the message along with the pen, if I follow pontification with prevarication, then my work becomes all plot and no action: my life is, to quote the Bard, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Moreover, to act in the moment as the moment demands (one of my favorite Zen teachings, and one that challenges me every time I attempt to live it) is more difficult, more threatening, than we often imagine. True spontaneity is a rare gift; it is also the essence of authentic living; it is also usually just beyond my grasp. To be truly spontaneous is to respond to the exigencies of the moment simply because they are there, thoughtlessly, not in the sense of acting carelessly, but in the sense that action follows opportunity naturally, as inhalation follows exhalation. And for me, anyway, that sort of open response to unfolding circumstance is much more easily said than done.
I want to know how to marry deed to word. I want to be that finished product, The Compleat Writer, that Alison Hawthorne Deming references in her quote. But how to do such a thing? Will Wheaties-eating do the trick? Is it enough to say what needs to be said and hope to hell someone’s listening? More importantly, am I listening? Am I the same guy, out there in real life, that I am when I’m all crammed into this blog post?
Writing humanity is a difficult task: character development, authentic dialogue, the ability to tap into the core of human emotion–all these things require great skill in the best of writers. But humanity in writing is another thing altogether: I can’t afford to be just another one of my own characters, and my dialogue can’t get by just sounding real. I have to be willing to let others tap those human emotions right out of me; I have to bleed so they can see it; the ink and the sweat must mix.
This is a responsibility I cannot ignore. It is also one I all too often pass over unthinking. So thank you, my friend, for the wake-up call. I needed that…
Place your hand on my shoulder
and the world, however cold or
gray, fades away, and I am me,
and I alone can see the future. It’s
in your eyes, your smile, your way
of waiting patiently while I try to find
the key to silence.
Speak and music plays, symphonies of
days gone by, and I can fly, or at least
try. Wingless in the sky of your emotion;
all is motion, all is stillness, the shrillness
of insistent existence doused, put out,
destroyed in the void between two hearts,
playing a part in the pantomime of sharing. And
while the blaring of the crowd echoes in the
background, this equalizer we’ve found
slowly puts the volume down and I
can hear the sound of myself, filtered
through your self and reflected onto mine.
How to erase
in the back of your mouth,
the clinging shreds of doubt
mucking about, pouting,
shouting unintelligible rhymes into
How to reveal
inside your chest (or is it best
to leave them hidden?)
to all the rest of everyone, and
when you’re done, how do you
seal them up again?
How to conceal
of misuse and self-abuse,
physical, spiritual, the virtual
recluse, chained up in flesh,
mesh of lace, stranger’s face
hard as chiseled stone?
How to undo
that tie you to a past
that speaks with voices you don’t know,
can’t recognize, not realizing
they’re your own hollow tones
Sometimes we stick our feet in it
and squish it all around;
sometimes we fall head-first in it
and that is where we’re found,
facedown, grasping blindly
for someone who will kindly pull us
from this hole, wayward moles in need of
vision (self-derision, maybe mental
circumcision) and direction. What’s perfection
but chimeric brain pollution?
In ablution lies salvation, washed
of frustration, of encrusted expectation:
make a mess, clean it up–
I fucked up.