Category Archives: Life

Silent Prayer

After writing two books—the first on philosophy, the second a collection of poetry—I see my writing in a new light. I am a better philosopher than a poet, and this is fine because I write always with the spirit of a poet. Blogs, emails, research papers. Even grocery lists.

I’m writing this now because I want to say what I truly am: a reader.

Yesterday my mother and I visited my father’s grave. She brought a book of prayers that bring her comfort. She insisted I read a prayer out loud, and I did because we both needed to hear it.

Afterwards my mother paused and turned to me. “You have always been a great reader, even as a child.” I took her at her word and said a silent prayer. At night I read a little Baudrillard and thought of this blog and the books I have written and the things I still want to say.

Have I ever written a word without reading it to myself first? Am I not my ideal reader?

A great writer is a patient reader who knows when to pause and see the world anew—not as it appears, but how it might have been, or how it will never come to be. A great writer erases him- or herself from the world word by word, offering a different version of events in which he or she has already disappeared, or never arrived.

Socrates, as envisioned by Plato, said philosophy is a preparation for death. Socrates wrote nothing down. He couldn’t see for himself that writing, too, is a preparation for death—that writing about the departed brings us closer to death.

Two interpretations among many: I went to read a prayer in a cemetery, but there was no sign of my father. Or it wasn’t clear I had read a prayer in a cemetery until I blogged about it here. All that remains of my father is a sign.

Until I die I will write, but not before reading every word back to myself—not to ensure clarity, but to suspend meaning, to render the world more enigmatic for those I’ll leave behind.

1 Comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy, Poetry

Death By A Thousand Eternities

“Without the threat of death there’s no reason to live at all.” –Brian Warner

We are told to exercise, to improve the quality of our lives, to above all be happy. We buy a Fitbit. It counts our steps, checks our vitals, monitors our sleep cycles. Measuring, labeling, categorizing—our Fitbit is as a body sensor and a mind censor. A census-taker of souls.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves: the final goal of science and technology is to exterminate death. It may take forever, but future generations of scientists will risk their lives to get dying under control.

Are we not heading towards a man-made eternity without God? Are we not destined to create a permanent Heaven on Earth that would put to rest all hope of an afterlife?

Thanks to technology we’ve forgotten how to die.

We must resist the consumerist imperative to buy ourselves more time at all costs. Embrace death. Let it come for us, naturally or accidentally, as a devastating act of mercy. A blessing in demise.

To kill death with technological precision—to be forced to live with ourselves forever—this is Hell Unending. Death by a thousand eternities.

1 Comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy

Nervous Lethargy: Assembly Stage

The writing and rewriting and rewriting again and again process is complete. There are 60 poems in Nervous Lethargy. Some date back to 2000; I wrote the latest one two days ago.

Next up: converting each Word document to the proper format I’ve devised for the whole book. Need to set up consistent font size, font style, page orientation, margin settings, page breaks, page numbers, headers, etc. Then merge all the files into one Word file and convert it to a PDF. Then upload the PDF to CreateSpace for their magical computers to check for errors and measure the extent of my madness.

The cover is done. The intro is done. The postscript is done, as is the “about the poet” page. The contents page is not done, but I have already determined the order in which the poems will appear. There are three chapters, each with 20 poems. (I’m nuts for symmetry.)

Once Amazon accepts my file (even if their computers don’t agree with my worldview) I will order a proof copy, which will arrive in my mailbox with free shipping. Thanks, Prime! Then if I’m happy with the whole thing, I’ll say “GO AHEAD, I’M READY TO BARE MY SOUL.” And Nervous Lethargy will go live and I’ll let you know it’s finally here.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Life, Meta-Blog, Poetry

The Weight Of A Thousand Ghosts

When I became the lead opinion writer for my college newspaper, my father suggested I call my column “The Road Not Taken” after one of his favorite Robert Frost poems. I thought about it but went in a different direction, choosing instead a title of my own: “Free Association.”

Five years later I instructed the cemetery director to add these lines to my father’s headstone:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by”.

I read recently that Frost wrote “The Road Not Taken” with his friend Edward Thomas in mind. After an initial reading, Thomas thought that Frost, through the speaker in the poem, was lamenting the uncertain nature of making choices, suggesting his life would have played out differently if he had traveled a different road. Actually, Frost was poking fun at Thomas, who frequently complained about the routes they took on walks through the woods. Unaware of this backstory, many readers believe Frost is arguing in favor of the road not taken, praising independent spirits for forging their own paths.

We can’t imagine a life we didn’t lead—we only know the road we’ve taken, the one we’re on right now.

Wherever he went, my father didn’t travel lightly. He carried in his chest the weight of a thousand ghosts.

Naturally I inherited his nerves. I was hurting so bad after college I decided one day to disappear. Medicine works best in small doses. But it’s easy, when you think about it, to fit a bottle in your mouth.

There is no magic pill, I’ve learned, no invisible ink for writing goodbye. Once you’re born, you’re in the thick of things. Even suicide, Sartre reminds us, is an act of being in the world.

There were signs we missed, being caught up in our moods. I shared a poem with him once about my life being an arduous climb up a mountain that extends higher and higher with each step, death a slip within reach.

Our only hope is to keep climbing, he said, without looking down. “This is how you’re feeling now. The pain won’t last forever.”

These are the pictures I paint of him in poems, stories and songs. There’s an art to reproducing one’s father, recasting his shadows, repeating his sins.

Fate is genetic; it comes before and after us. Faith requires both a leap and a precipice.

It’s easy to get lost in the woods.

1 Comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy, Poetry

The Reversible Straitjacket Of History

Alan W. Watts, in The Wisdom of Insecurity (1951), deconstructs our faith in the power of belief:

Most of us believe in order to feel secure, in order to make our individual lives seem valuable and meaningful. Belief has thus become an attempt to hang on to life, to grasp and keep it for one’s own. But you cannot understand life and its mysteries as long as you try to grasp it. Indeed, you cannot grasp it, just as you cannot walk off with a river in a bucket. If you try to capture running water in a bucket, it is clear that you do not understand it and that you will always be disappointed, for in the bucket the water does not run. To “have” running water you must let go of it and let it run. The same is true of life and of God. (24)

Watts exposes the profound absurdity of human existence: the pursuit of life gets us nowhere in the end. The wise know there is no security. This is the beginning and end of the proverbial human story.

The grand narrative of modernity centers on the indestructibility of Progress. Mankind is constantly getting smarter and moving faster, onward and upward to bigger and better things. The sky’s a limitation—for now.

Baudrillard challenged self-perpetuating systems of modernity, working hard to destroy them, theoretically, in his polemical prose. A disillusioned postmodern mystic, Baudrillard believed in the power of reversibility. Systems, he said, have the ability to undermine themselves. Computer viruses, for example, circulate in vast networks built for the smooth transmission of critical data. Superbugs continually infect residents of meticulously scrubbed hospital rooms, mocking the germaphobe morality we’ve waged against the natural dirt and stink of the human body.

Baudrillard tells us to celebrate reversibility; when we try to perfect systems, they fight back for our own good. We reclaim what makes us human in the face of out-of-control technically efficient machines. In a blessed moment of poetic resolution, the violence of perfection becomes the perfect violence against our increasingly sophisticated attempts to realize the world in its totality. Reversibility itself is subject to reversal.

History has the uncanny ability to jump over its own shadow. At their peak performance, oppressive economic, political and social systems engineer their own implosion. The most spectacular events of terror set the scene for the one-upmanship of further murderous replies. Clever machines compute themselves into exhaustion, activating the internal suicide switch of their planned obsolescence.

What’s “done” today is free to be undone tomorrow or next year or next century.

A recent example: Billy Bush conducts the “pussy grabbing” interview with Donald Trump in 2005. Hot mic audio of the exchange resurfaces in 2016; Bush’s career is finished within days of the leak. Trump, no matter his place in history, remains a tool.

A new year is upon us as the world rushes headlong into the past. Russia and the United States are engaged in full-blown Cold War mode again. In a dramatic reversal of fortune, if Congressional Republicans get their way, more than twenty million Americans currently covered under Obamacare will lose their benefits.

We’re forever bound in the straitjacket of history, but when we relax and let our minds run, things have a way of turning inside out. One day the poor man will be rich and the rich man poor. We make poetic resolutions every day, not just on New Year’s Eve.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy

Voice Recognition

A young psychoanalyst named Fliess once asked Freud how a therapist knows when a patient has been cured. When the patient realizes therapy never ends, Freud said.

I’ve been thinking about taking a break from therapy in the near future. After at least one monthly session for the last decade and a half, I’m ready to move on.

We all tell ourselves stories about ourselves, each of us simultaneously a personal expert and unreliable narrator of our lives. We awake each day in the same body we went to bed with, but our worries and neuroses, played out in dreams or nightmares, don’t disappear overnight. Our core conflicts persist but manifest in different ways according to our moods or external stressors. Yet every morning we begin again in the middle of things, psyching ourselves up for the inevitable challenges of facing the world in front of our mirrors.

My personal narrative includes memories of individual therapy sessions spent crafting and revising an inconclusive autobiography, therapy itself a series of stories-within-stories, a self-reflexive automatic writing of the soul.

There’s no cure for the trauma I’ve suffered, but I’ve learned to recognize the sound of my own voice again, which speaks to the kindness of my therapists. A kindness I’m now showing myself.

2 Comments

Filed under Life, Philosophy

Student Teacher

“I am not a writer, a philosopher, a great figure of intellectual life: I am a teacher.”—Michel Foucault

A friend said recently, “Maybe you just like to think a lot. It’s not a bad thing, just who you are. A lot of philosophers are writers.”

I found this statement odd at first. Am I a writer or a philosopher? Why can’t I be both? In fact I have been all along. It’s silly to separate the two.

Something’s going on beneath the surface when I’m writing and philosophizing. I’m teaching. In fact I’ve been teaching all along. This blog is full of questions. My book is an exercise in self-discovery and a search for meaning you can hold in your hands.

Foucault was a teacher, but he was also a writer, a philosopher and a great figure of intellectual life. He loved ideas. He had a tragic sense of humor, perfect for (post)modern living. Like all great teachers, he checked his ego at the door and listened before speaking.

I’m not a certified classroom teacher. Why can’t I become one? Because I assumed fifteen years ago I couldn’t handle it? Because running from a challenge was easier than taking it on? I’m in a different place now, but with the same personality, the same interests, the same worldview.

I haven’t written about my depression in a while. Have I learned (how) to live with it?

The universe is not impartial. The gods have no regrets. Fate doubles back to meet us where we’ve gone astray.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Meta-Blog, Philosophy