The Tomato Thief

I can explain I swear.

We
No longer see
Our own food
Shooting up
Beneath our feet
So it’s difficult to feel
Deepest love for the land

While
Day after day
I wave magical paper
And food appears
So of course
I love money

Took me a while
But when finally realized
You heard the bang
Of a hopped fence
Walked through your fields
And found a grown man
On all fours
Gnashing at your tomatoes.

Thomashartbenson

Posted in Poems and Other Lyrical Jackfoolery, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Father’s Day Conversation in an Airport

I was changing planes down in Atlanta’s airport, cursing the airport terminal train because I had a plane to catch and had been waiting for 10 minutes now. To my right stood some guy, and when I finally glanced over I was surprised to find he was looking right at me.
Asked me where I was from and I told him. “Oh yeah?” he said without much warmth, “I been up there before. I drove a truck up to Canada once, picked up a load in Brampton…” and then went on to tell me with as much fervor as the story deserved, about a load of shingles getting delivered to an IKEA someplace in Ontario. (“An I-Kay-Oh”– some kind of southern accent I didn’t recognize.)

And he didn’t fit my vision of a trucker: reasonably neat and clean-cut, glasses, no baseball hat, and
 eyes that alternated between sudden, transfixing stares into mine, and worried glances into some infinity over my shoulder.
“My truck’s in Tennessee now,” he continued, shifting the lone lumpy duffel bag he was carrying.  “Loaded up. Gotta deliver it to Florida.”
I asked what he was doing in Atlanta then, and he told me he was coming back from Oklahoma City where he’d “just spent four hours.”
It wasn’t small talk. No warmth, no enjoyment, and not just idle stuff because we were both staring at some empty tracks together; this guy wanted something but I had no idea what. I mumbled something meaningless about how Toronto and Brampton aren’t actually that close.
“Wait a sec,” I said while searching up my best internal map of the central U.S. “You flew from Tennessee to Oklahoma… where you spent four hours, and now you’re changing planes here in Georgia cuz you’re heading right back again to Tennessee, right back to where you started all in one day…?”
“Yeah well my son’s in Oklahama City. Father’s day.”
“Ohhh.  So you flew to Oklahoma, to see your son. For four hours…?”
“I only saw him for three, actually.”
The terminal train arrived, automated doors slid open and we climbed aboard, the only ones on what felt like a ghost train.
“You from Oklahoma City? Is that where you normally live then?” I asked. “And you drive your truck all over based out of there? 
The guy nodded. He looked tired–wide-eyed tired, like he was staring into some memories all the time.
“I mean I guess it must be hard to spend time with your kid when you drive a truck, hey?”
“Yeah I only see him every other Sunday and Thursday evenings. And his mom cancelled last Thursday, so…”
“So you flew round trip today from Tennessee to Oklahoma to be with your kid.  That’s a pretty seriously good dad you know.”
That he heard, and he shifted a bit and he looked at me again. “Well I just gotta hold out a few more years till he’s twelve,” he told me. “She can’t keep me away from him forever you know…”
“Ah Jayzus.
That sounds real tough, man,” I said. “How old’s your boy?”
“He’s nine. Nine years old. Just gotta hang in there till he’s twelve.”
“Why’s that? Custody laws change at twelve?”
“No but when he’s twelve he can choose to see me for himself…”
And that was it.
The doors slid open at atTerminal C and he got off. We said bye to each other and as the train withdrew toward my own terminal I watched him shrink fast and disappear. But I couldn’t help imagining the kinds of thoughts you might have as you’re driving a highway, thoughts that finally having you pounding the steering wheel, saying fuckit, pulling your rig off the highway toward the nearest airport then buying a ticket to go see your own kid for three hours.
Brutal.
Those Paul Simon lines always get me:
“I knew a father who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons for the things he’d done…
He drove a long ways, just to explain
Kissed his boy as he lay sleeping 
Then he turned around and headed home again.”
When my son’s mom and I broke up, she took him back to Toronto to be near her family; there were broken hearts to heal, angers to nurse, there were a lot of emotions going round at that time on both sides of our respective coins. And I remember how, for the 7 months that followed–until I could move myself east as well–I couldn’t drive past a playground without thinking about a tiny little uncomprehending baby boy, think about him just maybe wondering where a former omnipresence in his life had disappeared to–and my heart would stutter and crack, and I ‘d clutch the tiny blue mitten I kept in my pants pocket like a talisman against the the life events pouring in through my chest cavity.
So Happy father’s day to you buddy, wherever you are.
Happy father’s day to all the fathers out there just doing the best they can.
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Froggy Went A-Morphin’

They say a snow leopard may roam its entire life, never visiting the same valley twice.

We spend virtually our entire lives thinking–yet nobody has a clue as to how a thought is formed, or what physical process underlies it, or why our experience of them is what it is.

Imagery. Pictures of the past, imaginings of the future. Snippets of songs, of poems once read, of stories once heard. A conjuring of colours and shapes, a creation of pictures to go with whatever words are entering my ears, or my eyes as I read. A voice sometimes narrating my actions, blithely discussing current options as if I’m having a boardroom conversation with myself. And deep down statements about myself and the world around me–principles, rules, beliefs, all garnered from a lifetime of experiences–that are often so deeply embedded in my psyche that I have no awareness they’re there at all, until perhaps I find myself becoming angry or upset in some way; and then I can look carefully and realize I’ve just lived a moment that ran frustratingly contrary to some inner statement of mine (‘people shouldn’t act like that, but that guy just actually did!’)

And they’re powerful in our lives to a degree that we likely fail to notice.

In a sense our entire world morphs in conjunction with our thoughts. Believe the world to be enormous, and so it will seem. Think that it’s small, and just like that it closes in around you. Believe in its evilness, its goodness, its banal neither-ness, its fundamental goofiness, in its God-made oneness or its godless infinity–believe in whatever next you believe–and magically we’ll look around and discover the irrefutable evidence that proves our thinking, once again, completely correct.

Perhaps the universe is infinite not just in time and space, but even in shape and nature. Perhaps it can manifest a trillion different worlds, ones for every man, woman, snow leopard, blinking frog, or bug-eyed alien..?

For the last two decades or so, my thinking tells me the universe is terrifying perfect as is. Every cardinal sings just so, and the leaves on either side of him flutter in breezes dictated exactly by a nearby exploding sun. So when I stare in disbelief or utter rejection at an act of ugliness around me–a simple irritant, a painful tragedy–my conception goes on to say that the world has not lost its perfection, but rather my ability to see its true nature has been obscured by a dense swarm of ideas and judgements–just as a sudden accumulation of condensation on the inside my glasses doesn’t indicate the room itself has filled with fog.

And I don’t wish to accumulate newer or better beliefs–that would be increasing the fog. Rather I seem to resonate with those ideas that somehow leave me needing fewer ideas. For example I long ago threw away ideas of hell or heaven, pain or pleasure and replaced them with the simpler model of ‘lost in thought’ or ‘experiencing reality’. As a child I would have had to hold within my mind very separate concepts for “mountain”, “boulder”, “rock”, “pebble” and “sand”,  before learning to see them as different stages of the same thing. Just as by studying physics the attractive force between all matter deftly unified every falling object I’ve ever seen around me with the formations of planets and moons and the rings of Saturn.

You can always tell how good an answer is by the degree to which it explains more than you’d asked to begin with.

Obviously I’m not the only one. That same perpetual search for grace or “elegance” in concept has physicists the world over dreaming of unifying the four (formerly five) basic forces in our universe to three, or eventually, just to some imagined Holy Grail of one.

I still remember the those moments in University when certain new concepts would finally click, and my cloud of necessary thoughts right then and there at some library desk would have been reduced by some small but significant amount; situation for which the word “epiphany” was coined.

This is not to say that having these ideas in our heads is remotely bad–as I once believed. Obscuring and distorting as they do, ideas are not enemies, even within in my own worldview that says that a pure and perfect world lies glimpsable for me, just beyond their reach).

Our entire existence seems to unfolds in a never morphing state of ‘now’–a moment-to-moment world of light, sounds, forms and sensations, all of them changing, all the time–and we tumble down this stream every waking hour quite helplessly, with a visceral awareness there are no beaver dams or time-brakes of any sort to ever stop or even slow the perpetual onslaught of change. Which is scary.

To stare at the universe in all its unadulturated glory for even a moment can be a terrifying experience. Talk to anyone in a psych ward.

So the closest thing we can come to climbing out of the river is to clamber up onto some river rocks of our own construction; to create, that is, something ‘solid’ and relatively changeless over time: thoughts, ideas, imagery, conceptual beliefs and deepest principles.

So we memorize and internalize our ‘truths’, we create pictures of how things were, or how they will be, pictures especially of who we are–and then we revisit these things as often as necessary. We place these statements and images somewhere inside our neural circuitry–perhaps as a comfortably familiar pattern of firing neurons (again, we simply don’t even know what a thought is!), and when untethered life gets too scary, we climb sopping wet out of the infinite tumble and gasp for breath, safely ‘thinking’, safely doing something that is, besides experiencing the crazy river of reality. 

And some of us cling so hard and fast to the same ideas it’s unclear when was the last time they truly experienced a moment of even semi-reality, and you feel sure that on their deathbed they are going to have to release some fists that have been clenched their entire lives. And others of us seek more ideas, not to replace previous ones, but to add to them like collectors, thickening the cloud, creating yet more safety, yet perhaps ironically distancing themselves from what they truly want all along–those glimpses of the true world, those moments of true aliveness.

I am drawn to those moments, and I used to seek them out addictively; a state of affairs they certainly contributed to my own eventual stay in a psych ward many years ago now.

And yet I still spend almost no time not deeply unshielded by my own internal ideas and beliefs. Just a split-second experience or two here or there, maybe once or twice a day–an un-narrated feeling of sun on my shoulders, an unexamined melody singing in my ears, a moment of ecstasy here or there–even an unexpected punchline that short-circuits all the certainty I’d been feeling (I was so sure it was the man that was talking–not the duck on his head!)–and if the experience was pure enough, if something had left me no-mind-ful enough–I might suddenly find myself shaking, in tears, or howling with laughter.

But then my mind starts babbling again–What a beautiful sunsetAnd what time is it anyway? Daycare nearly over, better get started walking now or I’ll be late…–erecting again the safety of invisible walls.

I used to fight my own mind. I used to wave off my thoughts and insist squeezing some final ecstatic juice out of that setting sun. As if my thoughts–parts of the universe too–were somehow separate from the perfection. A hard lesson learned there, topic for another day.

It’s all very weird: inexplicable behaviour of the mind, behaviour that simply is. Thinking thoughts that shape the world around us, thoughts which can be jettison-able like ballast, thoughts that will no doubt faithfully accompany us until some downriver moment when all will go silent, and we’ll dissolve back into the River we always were.


Thomashartbenson

Posted in Exploring the Universe via a Human Body--A User's Guide, One Man's World (mine), Ramblings on the Within | Leave a comment

Paula (the music teacher)

Mexicans like their fiestas.

The biggest is September’s Dia de la Independencia–a celebration of the morning centuries back when an angry Mexican priest rang his pueblo’s church bells, waking everyone up to deliver the fateful speech that sparked the revolutionary war against the colony’s governing Spanish oligarchs.

In my 30’s I lived for a few years in Zacatecas, a Mexican city high up in the Sierra Madres, not far from Padre Hidalgo and his bells, and every September 16 on its anniversary the place would pretty much go nuts.

My first year I had no sense of the scope of it. I strolled down to the main square curious about what was going on, and maybe a half hour later wound up jammed against a stone wall there, as burning shards of fireworks rained on a crowd of screaming, scattering locals. I was wearing a giant sombrero (someone must’ve handed it to me, as part of the general festivities), and its ridiculously oversize floppy brim shielded me, as well as two middle-aged senoras I’d never met before–from the burning shrapnel. Terror and joy–the three of us caught eyes as the ashes and embers hit the cobblestones all around us and laughed.

MEX100. CIUDAD DE MÉXICO (MÉXICO), 15/09/2011.- La bandera mexicana y juegos pirotécnicos son vistos hoy, jueves 15 de septiembre de 2011, durante la ceremonia del

Five days before the big event the following year, Alex–a Canadian buddy who was down visiting–and I hopped on the bus for Guadelajara. We had a mutual Mexican friend Claudio who lived there. Claudio was about to head out to the west pacific coast along with a dozen or so of his own friends, guys and girls, all from Guadelajara. We would join them there and drive out to spend five days out on a beach that one of them owned. In Mexico you can own beaches apparently.

The northwest coast of Michoacan State is beautiful. Driving west a large paved highway takes you up and over some high desert volcanic mountains before descending back into lush green tropical slopes on the other side.

Ahi ahi ahi!” yelled Identical Twin #1 at Identical Twin #2 behind the wheel. He was pointing at a dirt road, but struggling to be heard over the car stereo blasting Mike Laure (pronounced Mee-kay Louw-ray), 1940’s era cumbia tunes about how the avocado might run out, or the watermelon might run out, but la cosecha de mujeres–the reaping of women–well that never ever stops.

Twin #2 braked hard then edged us one tire at a time off the highway down into a orange dirt road heading off into the coastal rainforest. A caravan of cars with the others followed behind. And then we bounced through potholes and swerved through giant trees for miles and miles. Huge trees these were, with a canopy of leaves high above, the occasional prehistoric-sized plant with leaves longer than myself, and an abundance of wild fruit trees, and I believed that if I timed it just right–if the twins weren’t quite so intent on arriving wherever we were headed, regardless of ditches and potholes–I could have reached through the open window mid-bounce and returned with a fat mango in my fist.

The road dead-ended. The landing party leaped out and ran ahead with woops. A sliver of bright yellow lay visible up there. Alex and I were the only newcomers here–these were childhood friends of Claudio, and everyone had been coming here for years now. We emerged behind them, leaving mottled jungle shadows to find ourselves beneath a blazing sun on a crystalline beach, staring into a blue sky that might surely stretched to faraway lands (Macao, Ceylon, Siam!). A few hundred metres to either side of us this glorious horizon ran aground, smashing against some indomitable cliffs and their over-spilling jungle trees. And thus the whole place was sealed off; liked we’d stumbled upon a gateway to dreams, a land to ourselves.

The twins’ family had owned it for generations. Just back of the hot sand in the shade stood the one-floor cabins, the windowless shacks and some palapas–those wall-less palm-frond structures that line every tropical coastline the world over–that the family maintained.

But it was the beach that called me. After a year of black smoke and buses, cobblestones and church bells, crammed town squares and markets spilling over with noise, it was glorious to find yourself in some part of the universe that more or less just emptiness. A million crystals of sand, each with a facet silently mirroring that terrible sun my way, and some small almost non-existent waves, breaking never more than one at a time.  Only a single wooden chair broke the spell: a speck against the blue. And when Alex and I reached it we found a pack of cigaretts, a pair of sunglasses and a single gentleman’s sunhat placed lovingly upon it–waiting for a favorite uncle who would never return.

Tables and chairs had appeared. Beers, limes and tequilas. Coolers full of food and solid slabs of ice. All of it offered to us with huge smiles. As long-distance tagalongs, Alex and I had brought nothing but our backpacks and nothing to contribute except a single battered guitar.

It didn’t matter who knew who though. There was swimming, and bonfires. And the lone guitar was a hit. Someone always knew the three chords necessary as the rest bawled out some terrible mexican song or other:

Y volver volver.. a tus brazos otra vez…!!

More typically yet, our new friends liked to sing the songs of Mana–a band that had come out of Guadelajara a decade or two prior, which to my perhaps hypercritical ear sounded preposterously close to The Police–if they’d had an alternate Planet of the Apes-style existence, that is, living and writing all their songs in Mexico.

But everything was a joy. And there was that same bond between Claudio and his childhood friends that I’d often seen with other Mexican teens and twenty-something: always quick to be arm in arm, terrible songs or no, quick to help each other. A kind of bond that easily transcended gender barriers too, as well as any add-on worries about displays of male tenderness; and it was a common sight to see collections of guys and girls with a leg or an arm draped across one another , and someone perhaps absent-mindedly playing with another’s mop of black hair.

People and place: I couldn’t have thought it more beautiful.

And I soon realized that the most beautiful part was a girl named Paula.

It wasn’t about her features and whatnot–though she was tall and moved in ways that invited the corners of your eyes. No, what was most striking was how Paula, without demanding attention for it, was very alive. She noticed things. Before you realized that a bird had just called, she’d already turned and was looking for it. If the fire was warm on her skin, she felt it and went silent as she wriggled her toes. If rain was falling–every afternoon it poured for an hour or so–Paula was usually the first to leave the palapa and and remind herself of warm rain on her face and bare shoulders. And if we were all out in the water swimming about and dunking each other–well I guess Paula didn’t like swimming because you’d eventually catch sight of a small figure way up the beach, bending over to look at some beautiful rock or other. And then suddenly you’d want to be over there too, to see whatever it was she was seeing.

And most importantly when someone’s alive and noticing the world, you pretty much want them to notice you too.

Well there was that guitar. And I’d pretty much grown up playing guitars. So whenever Paula was within earshot, I grabbed it: the best songs–not the idle strumming and those mexican tunes, but intricate fingerpicky stuff, fast and complicated, where a thumb might send a bassline plunging while a pair of fingers danced a melody the other way. Or slow and bluesy, with bent notes in just the right places. The kind of playing that people heard and would sometimes say “wow, he can play.”

Not Paula. She was more interested in on a chess board, or a something funny someone had just said, or a riddle someone had just invented. Or she would simply leave and go off in search for the waterfall that was alleged to exist somewhere nearby.

Day 3, I gave up. I went back to swimming in the ocean. Lolling about in hammocks. Drinking my beers. Nursing my ego.

monterrey pic from way back

Our last day was September 15 and we woke to the dull thumps of distant fireworks from a fishing village, a few miles south, celebrating Independence Day, 8am and all.

Someone found the waterfall. Or one of the twins who’d known all along finally led us there. It was maybe 4 feet high, enough that if you swam directly beneath you could lose yourself in the roar and the crush of gallons of water smashing your shoulders. And we flopped about in the pools at its base, cooling ourselves, playing yet more riddles. Mexicans love riddles.

On the beach a good one got carved into the sand, and even as the afternoon rain broke and began to soak us no one left until it was solved. (A great one in fact. I’ll post it here soon). In the downpour we scaled the bottom edge of the cliff at the sound end, reached a layer of clay, and those above threw handfuls to those below–until everyone had enough to be coated top to bottom, like a dozen cackling mudpeople. And when we dove en masse into the ocean and the waves washed us clean, there were peals of delight at the now eel-slippery smoothness of our legs and faces and arms; your arm felt like the smooth skin of snakesnake, your cheek felt as if it wasn’t even you.

We ate our meals till we were stuffed. We drank until some of us were staggering. And anything that had been squirrelled away–a bottle of wine, a fire-stick, a mask, a sombrero or two–all of it emerged. And by now we’d all been on this beach long enough together that laughing aplenty was had in recounting stories of these days alone.

Recuerdas a Jaime, cuando dijo…

When full darkness set in, fireworks appeared: rockets and firebombs whistling up into the sky, never reaching the top but always exploding into hails of burning shrapnel, arcing down into the ocean before our feet, flickering light and sudden shadows on our cackling faces.

But my favorite moment was this. It was late. Nearly morning now. Most were either asleep in one of the cabins, passed out in a hammock, or possibly off in one of the few guy-girl pairs that might have gone quietly astray into some secluded spot in the blackness of the beach. Just four were left, staring into a bonfire, brought together less by cameraderie–although I felt like we were all one group now–and more by a desire to not have this day end just yet, like random moths gathered to the only light within miles. There was little left to say and no one was trying to say it. And for me it was enough to follow the orange embers that emerged each time the wood cracked.

Paula was there. “I don’t know why,” she said, breaking the silence but still staring into the fire as were the rest of us.  “No se por que.. but right now I want to cry.”

She was huddled under a blanket, and I became aware that for the first time since we’d arrived on this beach five days back, it had become cold.

She looked at me, as if seeing me for the first time. “You play,” she said, and gestured toward the guitar off in the shadows. “Please,” she said. “Play something to make us cry.

Toque algo para hacernos llorar…

Quite often what strikes me most is someone’s tone of voice. There was a matter-of-factness, as if Paula was asking me to pass the salt for the tequila–but also something as if whatever she’d just asked for was her suddenly-realized, deepest desire.

Llorar?” I said meekly.

I knew even then that there’s times when beautiful things make you feel sad. Like days on deserted Mexican beaches. Or when a girl you have a crush on locks eyes with you even for a moment, pins you to a moment like a butterfly on a wall, and suddenly you’re alive and right here. And there was something sad about it. And I’d long ago got to figuring eventually that the sadness has to do with some subconscious prescience that when I die moments like these will be exactly what I’ll miss from this vast and crazy world.

And I knew too that there can be something good about sadness. Like a good heartbreak–you feel that pain inside you and realize suddenly that you’re not in fact numb to the outside world after all–that in fact it can breach all skin and barriers and emerge from the cracks inside your chest, like it or not. I’ve had a good few laughs that way…

I came back with the guitar, and everyone was still staring at that fire.

But I’d somehow never realized that music could have anything to do with all that. Sounds, eardrums, noises. Or that someone could think of this endeavour that I had spent so much time obsessed with–the harmonies and scales and arpeggios and chords, the keys, rhythms, decades of practicing–was simply a convenient tool to be used to provoke some necessary feeling within.

No. Music was sound. And sound was all ‘out here’, in the small crashing waves, or the breeze through the palm fronds, the cracking of that splitting wood. And music was usually way up there, on some stage with its amplifiers. Or I suppose, if it was a certain kind of music, with a certain kind of groove, then it truly took place on a dancefloor. Or in your head–lyrical ideas, clevernesses, maybe even thoughts about a tricky way someone had just changed a key. Jazz, for example, never a big favorite of mine back then, had always played itself out up there someplace inside my brain.

Never in the heart…

Well I’d like to wind up this story and say that I began to play and out came something so gut-wrenchingly beautiful it left everyone a blubbering mess.

Nope. But I can say this…

I changed later on. I kept hearing those words of hers and the way she’d said them. And slowly I changed what ‘good music’ meant. And it was no longer about proficiency, or cleverness, or innovation–though I still respect those things. And bands that I thought were awesome, somehow paled when I realized they had never struck me any deeper than my thoughts.

And I noticed things: the more I cared about what others were thinking of me—”Am I a good guitar player?”–the more people were staring at their own thoughts about whether or not I was a ‘good guitar player’ or not. And the less moved either of was.

And I noticed that when any person–a student at school say–simply sang a song quite innocently and free from those add-on worries, who might barely be able to strum her guitar even, but who sang each note in easy deference to… something… some sort of inner playful sense of ‘well this is how the song goes so this is how I’ll sing it’, perhaps, the more something in me responded.

And I even started to enjoy the lack of music, especially when it happened within music itself. And by that I mean the silences between notes, or that split second after a song has ended just before the applause begins, or best of all when a band in a bar starts playing so sparsely that a hushed of the crowd and the barely audible whirrs and ambient clinks of the room itself, it all somehow enters that song–and place and people become one. And I saw how people felt moved by these things too.

And I began to trust that when something inside whispers that I should play a certain note, or stop playing entirely, to pluck hard or softly, neverminding how I believed it should be done, it is always mine not to ask why.

Hell I even started liking Mexican music.

And country. Epiphanies are dangerous things.

But what else can you do when someone’s doing their thing on a stage inside your very heart?

And I feel increasingly sure that if I play music from someplace deep inside like that–just as someone else might listen to birdsongs with all they have–someday on perhaps another deserted beach I’ll be given a second chance to make somebody cry.

Red Dress 371

 

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The Drop Off

A hug
Then another
Your little body
Swept right off the ground,
Then five turnaround waves
Between skips
And the bouncing
Of a backpack off
Your calves.
A last glimpse
At the doorway–
Laughing eyes
Sharing the fun of
Our joyous little scene–
And then I crossed the playground
Fighting blubbery tears like
A little boy.

IMG_2455

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The Eighth Wonder of the World

Black out the windows
Turn off the lamps
Shutter your eyes
Tight as a drum.
Then sit and stare
Within the pythic chamber
Of your bolted skull,
Where colours still
Appear.

Posted in Poems and Other Lyrical Jackfoolery | Leave a comment

How Can Anyone Be Happy? (reprise)

A music buddy the other night, draped over a bar and sipping his diet coke, turns away from the television and its massive-oil-spill-in-the-Gulf-stream images, and asks, in tone as if he genuinely wants to hear an answer to this moot doozy: “How can anyone be happy? Anyone?! Tell me honestly, with the world going to complete shit the way it is. How the hell can ANYONE be happy?!”

I made up some answer about every time I go to breath in, there it is—air waiting for me, but I wasn’t feeling it so it was lame. And we went on and played our show, sang a few good songs about broken hearts and booze and no one solved any world problems.

It’s 6am here now though, and last night that feeling of incredulity, of the insaneness of this world came on strong. That is to say, we fight against this world to the point of pain, we suffer for everything it will not do at our behest, we strain to move parts of it toward us, our desires, or push other parts away from us, our fears. We fight to keep parts of it nearby (for this little piece of the cosmos, this laptop here and this rented room, this body and this life–they belong to me). We want more, or less. That, but not this. And we’re buffeted by an onslaught of thoughts and imagery that picture different worlds in a zillion different ways and of course in all of them we’re happy, but not here in this shithole. And the tragedy is that there in fact is one thought that mutes this cacophony, a thought that is more a feeling or a sensing than a thought at all. But unfortunately it so rarely enters our awareness:

“None of this has to be.”

I don’t mean give peace a chance.

I mean none of this at all absolutely has to be here. Not this room I’m in with it’s red and blue walls and this slight buzzing in my ears. Not this bed beneath me, these keys under my fingertips, nor these fingers, nor me somehow inside these moving hands. Nor this spinning rock on which we’re stuck, this star around which we fall, this galaxy or any of the other billions of surrounding galaxies, nor the space between us and them or even the fact that this entire place–galaxies, fingertips and all–flows and changes, evermorphs at the speed of time.

Nor should patterns necessarily have to exist in how this unfolding takes place, or need there be the elegant mental models which so pleasingly explain these patterns–our gravity, electromagnetism, evolution by natural selection, Big Bang theories, and so on. Nor the mathematics in which so much of that is written, or the words in which we think, not even the idea of peace which we so like to dream about—no, near as I can see, none of this has to exist.

And I’m probably going to eat a piece of bread with some of that Skippy peanut butter soon. And just now I had a memory of riding the zipper 15 times in a row years ago in some Mexican fair. And all of that too, for all intents and purposes, should not be here.

But it is.

Imagine the opposite. Imagine someone pulls a plug and the everything goes black, and all matter simply disappears. Lights out, except we don’t have even a split second to notice the end because we’re no longer anywhere to notice anything, and in any case there is no anything anymore to notice the absence of. Nothing. No awareness.

Or maybe the bonds between matter fail and over the next few seconds we watch every solid surface around us slowly blur as subatomic particles lose all attraction to each other. And when we reach out in panic our hands have comet-tails of flesh behind them, a blurry wash of matter that blends into whatever we were reaching for. And then the entire room with all its matter, shapes, forms and colours blends into a giant wavy, slowly dissipating soup. The ‘browning of the universe’, like when you mix all the paints together as a kid and you get that uniform mud, except now your eyes have dissolved and you no longer have the matter of your brain with which to be disappointed. But, so far as we know, that doesn’t happen and will continue never to happen.

Why does any of it have to be? Why does this world exist at all? Why was oxygen present yet again in the moment my body breathed for it?

None of it makes any sense, and the idea that we could ever figure out some answer to this, the kind of spirit behind “I won’t rest until I know the mind of God”, is so laughably hubristic, so misguidedly whacked that it should be no surprise to find that–to the degree we’re allowed to imagine how unimaginably unfathomable and ungraspable this world actually is–a weight is lifted from our minds and shoulders, and for just a moment we look around and experience a truly glorious show: oil slicks and the feelings of despair that arise included, shitholes and heartbreaks and the songs we sing about them, fingertips typing little sounds to my perceiving ears about the whole place which doesn’t have to be but is anyway.

It’s early and I need to get over to where my son’s place to take him to daycare and his mom will be there who has been effectively hating my guts lately. I’m gonna run down by the lake to get there, and by the time I arrive it should be more or less kick off time for the Dutch world cup game (Denmark) and if I’m lucky the boy won’t be up for a bit yet. And if not he’ll get up and we’ll hang out. And yeah, I am pretty happy.

Good morning, anyone out there.

[Written this morning.. edited just now. Holland won. Hup Holland. Worst battlecry ever.]

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Daily Psychosis

“Psychosis refers to an abnormal condition of the mind described as involving a “loss of contact with reality”–Wikipedia, on Psychosis.

Well, in the last half hour, just like everyone else, every single time I had a thought I lost contact with reality for its duration–several thoughts were a second or two in length as I replayed a snippet of a conversation, or even just a flicker of a remembered image here and there, or an imagined future moment..a few considerably longer as I sort of daydreamed for a block or two just now while I was out running. Each was, by these kinds of DSM definitions, a psychotic episode. While thinking those thoughts–myself like everyone else–I was completely immersed in them. Which means that everyone in the world is unequivocally going in and out of complete psychosis hundreds perhaps thousands of times a day.

Which is maybe the first conclusion from modern psychiatry that I’ve liked.

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Sociopaths, Narcissists and other Licences to Hate

Saw it again today and I’m tired of that word.

“Sociopath”: the modern concept of someone who is irredeemably and irreparably ‘bad’, ‘wrong’, unworthy of basic human kindness, and otherwise less than fully human.

A word that could be more clearly seen, however, as the modern rename of medieval concepts like “sinners” or “abominations”, or even “witches”, hidden beneath a thin veneer of scientific sounding psych-babble so as to make it okay light torches and sharpen those pitchforks.

A term that somehow gives us licence to short-circuit all connection to the heart, leaving ourselves lost in abstract judgements, condemning, hating, and thereby embodying a state which, by the typical definition of the word itself (“one incapable of giving empathy to others”) ironically leaves us behaving like a “sociopath” ourself.

There’s others. “Narcissist” is a big one these days and I’m tired of that one too. Leastways when it’s used in that same “I now get to hate you” way. Which I suppose is the bigger problem here–labelling so as to be able to stop thinking about the paradoxes of people doing their very best with whatever they’re given.

Tackling it head on, we’re all complete narcissists, and unavoidably so. What else is there in here behind my eyes, but some weird thing I call ‘me”? I vaguely get the idea that you people are out there someplace, and I do my best care about others, but in fact it makes me feel very good inside here whenever I do, so the basic truth is I can’t really hope to separate selfishness from selflessness. Which leaves the term “narcissist” as empty.

Mother Teresa must’ve had some serious gall–all she ever did was stuff that made her feel good about herself, hey?

For what it’s worth I wrote a post about that narcissism thing obliquely elsewhere. And we can either choose to mourn the fact that there’s no such thing as “lose-win pure selflessness”–and consider ourselves a hateful species–or we can celebrate that Nature has designed us to be so socially attuned to each other’s company, so desirous of and receptive to each other’s joy,  that lose-win has been trumped by a quite remarkable, quite unnecessary but true nevertheless, win-win symmetry within all our interactions.

Symmetry is the key. Because there’s a lose-lose version too: I treat you poorly, you treat me poorly back. We both feel like shit.

Which brings us back to modern day Sociopathy.

If you’ve never managed to find any love for another, then you’ve never got love back. And if you’ve never felt love from someone else, then you sure as hell aren’t going to think of others as anything other than hateful, and treat them so. Which in turn inspires hatred back. Lose-lose. A painfully difficult cycle to break. And a society that insists on mentally labelling the person on the wrong side of the cycle as being ‘less than fully human’, therefore unworthy of our own empathy, oils the gears and cranks those pedal.

So cut that shit out.

Finally it seems appropriate to note that this tirade, this frustrated cry for wilderness justice–can’t we just find acceptance for each other and the world around us?!–is in fact brought to you primarily by displaced feelings toward knotted muscles in my lower back.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa

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Things You Learn From Sports-Crazed Dads

Occasionally I get reminded of this..

Two years ago at my son’s soccer game I watched our team’s star player Robby get elbowed off the ball during a key breakaway. Robby pulled up in total frustration, appealing first to the ref, then to his dad–standing next to me on the sideline–as play went on without a referee’s whistle.

Dad was a self-admitted sports-obsessed guy, for whom competition was everything. “These games are killing me,” he’d mutter anytime the score was too close in the 2nd half. No kidding he once had to walk away, he was so worked up about winning–never mind we were watching a big amorphous pack of tiny 6 year olds in oversized uniforms squibbling after a ball they barely had the power to kick, along with a few lost souls in the distant corner more interested in the dandelion puffs.

So I’m standing next to Dad, wincing a bit because I’m positive he’s about to yell something harsh at the ref–the elbow was obvious and I don’t doubt Robby would’ve scored. But he turns to the son instead: “Get over it, Rob,” he says and I’m surprised by an almost bored tone of voice. “Dirty stuff is what other teams do and will always do. Let the refs worry about it. Now listen to me…”

And then he sort of woke up and added urgent advice about taking the ball up the wing, never ever up the middle or blah blah..

So yeah. Of course people will cut me off in traffic. Of course they won’t throw money in the jug when I’m playing music, or they’ll toss in a few insulting nickels, or look at me like I’m an asshole for even asking. Of course they won’t have my size in stock for whatever it is I’m trying to buy. Of course the tire just blew and of course the timing couldn’t be worse. Of course people get upset when I show up late. And of course they’ll show up late when it matters to me. Of course nobody recognizes we’re all doing our best, and of course we’ll all pretty much continue to get livid with each other. Of course of course of course.

And it’ll happen like that for the rest of my life, until the day I die. So cut the whining, and maybe just focus on not playing the ball up the middle.

And I’m pretty sure I’ll never fully stop getting angry here and there. But whenever I remember to replay those words and tone of voice–the transformative power of boredom in the face of an intolerable fact–something rubs off, some latest outrage loosens its stranglehold, and I act just a little less silly about it all.
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