It is rarely as good as you think it must be, or as bad as you fear it will be.
Black crows are silhouettes against a cotton sky.
There is light. And there is dark.
The dark cannot subsume the light. Shine a light, and the dark must give way.
Shadows are wholly dependent.
But light shines of its own accord.
Black crows are silhouettes against a cotton sky.
Let them out, give them reign,
let those cleansing tears flow.
Let them pass, be not ashamed,
let those choking fears go.
Let it beat, relieve the pain,
let your heart’s true rhythm show.
Let the soothing abandon engulf you,
make its velvet touch your home.
Be cradled, pure and vulnerable,
and trust, you are not alone.
This damn thing is an absurd joke.
Oh not again. Not again.
I’ve seen myself a thousand times and I have not changed a bit.
One day it will all end.
The ideals of a frightened boy: all smashed.
One day it will all end and the ideals will not save me.
We were made broken.
Now, as then, and tomorrow again.
Listen. I bore myself. And you too, I hope.
It has all been said.
What am I clinging to but broken space?
There is no substance here but hollow ideals.
And yet hear my cry: ‘Give me a war! Give me a goddamned war, and something to die for! Give me an ideal!’
I am an unbalanced pretender. And I always knew it. A goddamned unbalanced pretender, shooting a shot now and then, taking aim and shooting a shot now and then, to tip the scale in my favour.
Tip the scale, tip the scale. I lean too far I must tip the scale.
A pretender. Pretentious. A pretentious pretender pretending to be pretentious: pretentious squared: meta-pretense.
I am not even able to fail with grace. Not brave to fall off the measure. Scrabbling and clamoring to tip the scale. I’m sliding and falling off and I am not courageous. I do not dare…I do not dare!
Have you ever seen the beautiful truth, and had failed to act?
And don’t say at least I was aware enough to see; that most are too calloused to be aware.
Don’t tell me I should feel lucky to live; that most are never born.
Pretenders squander awareness; cowards squander life.
Oh, that I could BELIEVE! In something, in anything. To be calloused enough to not see, but to believe!
Oh, that I could fail to see, and truly believe!
But I have seen. And have done nothing.
Do you understand my words? Don’t make me spell it out.
The pretentious switch costumes until nothing of substance is left.
I need a war! – (to fall off I do not dare)
If you don’t get it….then get out!
You have been spared, and my envy of you knows no limits.
It knows no limits.
I need a war! – (to slide right off I do not dare)
This balance has tipped and I’ve shot my shot and my envy knows no limits.
One day this will all end. This ideal will not save me. Now, as then, and tomorrow again.
I dare not fall so I shall pretend. To wage war that I may believe, and callous my soul to regain relief.
I’ve shot my shot.
Oh that I were as calloused and deserving of life as you.
Who am I
To say what any of this means?
I have been sleepwalking
Since I was fourteen.
Now as I write my song
I retrace my steps
Honestly, it’s easier
To let myself forget.
Still, I check my vital signs
Choked up, I realize
I’ve been less than half myself
For more than half my life.
Fall in love again
Wage war on gravity
There’s so much
Worth fighting for
Another domino falls
It looks like empathy
To understand all sides
But I’m just trying to find myself
Through someone else’s eyes.
So show me what to do
To restart this heart of mine
How do I forgive myself
For losing so much time?
Roll up your sleeves
There’s a chain reaction
In your heart
Remembering who you are.
And fall in love again and again and again
Wage war on gravity
There’s so much
Worth fighting for
Another domino falls
And another domino falls.
A little at a time
I feel more alive
I let the scale tip and feel all of it
It’s uncomfortable but right.
We were born to try
To see each other through
To know and love ourselves and others well
Is the most difficult and meaningful
Work we’ll ever do.
If there is no light, then there is no dark.
I have fallen into the dark; I have become despair, doubt, infinite dread.
The dark says, ‘Turn your back on the light, there is no hope there; the closer you are permitted to come to the light, the further you will inevitably fall. Stay here, on the bottom, for in the end, all is doubt, fear, death, nothingness.’
The dark says the light is but an ideal, one that you can never reach, and thus one that will always fail you.
And I answer: ‘If light is an ideal, then you must be as well. To turn my back on one demands I turn my back on the other. You say it is folly to choose the light for it is an ideal, but then surely it is also folly to choose you.’
And the dark shudders, and spits me from its maw.
In the distance a tiny light flickers.
Caught between two ideals; I walk towards the dancing light.
There’s a pain that only I may know.
If it is common why do I feel so alone?
‘There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.’
Has this wisdom failed me, or have I chosen not to see?
The love of two bound souls…the curves of hips and naked backs…mouths agape in mirrored arches of ecstasy.
We are apes, dammit! So how can we seem so divine?
We long desperately for what we cannot have-
and what we have we fail to see.
The divine is all around and deep within-
A fluttering butterfly tracing sinuous curves across the naked sky,
pulls a string in the poet’s heart making melodious melodies of the mundane.
The sun rises as it sets:
Pain and joy; loneliness and companionship; light and dark; ecstasy and agony.
An ape so divine.
Dear Lord. Almighty mighty Lord.
You have graver grievances to attend, I am sure.
But Lord, hear me out. Listen to my (self)-pitiful pleas. Please.
They say there is no rest for the wicked.
I say what a load of shit.
(HORSESHIT my Lord.
The wicked rest wonderfully. Deeply. Soundly. Undisturbed by haunting visions of moral transgressions.)
—but I digress—(cough cough)
As I was saying:
Grant me the strength to be wicked.
Afford me the confidence to knowingly disrupt the cosmic balance.
Entitle me to take what is not mine.
Endow me with the strength to cheat and lie and steal.
Let me have my cake and eat it too, and perhaps, someday, return for seconds.
Thirds and fourths.
Oh Lord may my self-awareness remain deception,
May the muscles and sinew flexed in the mirror remain awesome,
And may I roll over this world as one so divinely entitled.
If I am lost, let me hurt others in my grasping.
If I am in pain, let me be nurtured from others’ resources.
Let me feed off the world’s goodness and take no measure of responsibility.
Make my ego so strong, so emboldened, that I make victims of others to spare my own suffering.
Let me believe I am more important, the most important.
Let selfishness and egoism and self-deception reign in my heart, my soul.
Let all roads lead to me.
And let my worldly success depend on this attitude.
And whatever you do, do not allow moral questions of right and wrong creep into my self-righteous bastions.
Thank you Lord.
Then come on out. You step heavily on the narrow ledges of cartilage ringing my throat. My invitation was mailed months ago. Come on out. Let me see you.
I have a friend. I have a friend who says my writing is no good. I have a friend who says my writing is no good and yet he won’t say a thing at all. This friend’s silence angers me. I lack the confidence to take a stand either way. And the doubt washes through me. Coats my cells with dull energy. If only my friend could feel, could see me. Could step inside me. Could be me. If only my friend could write a word, a sentence to describe me.
I have mailed an invitation and I lack the confidence to confront my friend’s silence and the truths buried therein. And the doubt washes through me and something fearful sits on my throat.
The sky is blue but sometimes it is gray. Clouds float like silent hordes across the blinding clarity of not-empty space, blocking out the sun. There is no sense in sense when each narrative fails to deliver, breaks its promise of braiding the myriad threads into something strong, believable, dependable.
Day runs into night as ink spilled on white cotton. Spreading and spreading, the oily slick of slippery promise. Sleep comes at high noon. The devil, you see, is in the details. I comb through them, I see his face; it stares down at me as I look at the dimpled whiteness of an all-to-familiar ceiling as the mosquitoes and moths bang against the window, drawn to the single light burning in my room.
Let us be done with it. Come on out and let us be done with it. I have nothing to offer. There is nothing on offer. The silence of confident silence, silent friends have assured me my words are empty. Why try to build a narrative? Let the electric threads spark and crackle. Voltage running the length of headless hydra arms. Wriggling and gyrating in black empty space. No landmarks to pin them. No compass to orient. The flailing and failing lines of narrative in death throes. (I ask in all sincerity: can you picture this?)
I can’t write.
I can’t feel anymore in words.
Abstraction has failed me.
I have lost all direction.
The cold beating of my jelly heart. My veins are poor substitutes for meaning. I might lift a foot as I walk. But the story ends there.
Good out of weakness. Strict normative principles so as to control the world. A moral absolutist so as not to get hurt. Actions not adhering to, not possible to adhere to, such strict moral principles. Hurt inevitably following.
Afraid to live. Ashamed to love. Each breath self-reflective. Critical. Analytical. Simply not comfortable in my own skin.
Each cell of the body awash in nervous energy. Anxious vibrations. Always, always on guard. Even asleep. Especially, in my sleep.
For I do constant battle with my demons.
Guilty. That I am a sinner.
Dirty. That I am impure.
Unworthy. That I will be abandoned.
Envious. That I am lacking.
Anxious. That catastrophe strikes the unwary.
And yet, compassion. For myself. For others. Compassion for my demons. Thirty-six years and I have yet to win a battle. I am done battling.
In compassion there is hope.
In hope, salvation.
I know that. Living to avoid life. Erecting walls of fake concrete. Thick. High. Encompassing the spirit, the mind. I know that. Belief in those fake concrete walls. Belief they are impenetrable. Apparent safety within. Each minute head bowed. Praying, sacrificing, worshiping an illusion.
Within the comfortable confines of illusory fortresses, ego is king. Weakness is lord. Only that which skirts your rotten kernel of fear is permitted entrance. Not only are you the victim, but to protect yourself you have become judge, jury, executioner.
You reign supreme. Alone. Protected. Alive in the dismal darkness of fear and anxiety. Living to avoid life and the blinding rays of light tracing cracks in illusory concrete walls.
Fear to fear to fear to fear.
If sentences could readily bend,
I’d twist that one end to end,
To illustrate the following truth:
Fear brings fear in an infinite loop.
Instead a daily dose of wretched I shall permit –
Of living life choked by anxious threat;
Of more than words bending end to end –
Of wretched routine from my trembling mind slip.
For I envy the skies of a cloudless day,
Into such clarity I breath clouds of gray,
To darken and slow the world that I may,
Reveal the links that could bring me pain.
Take my word, on sunlit morns I pray for rain.
For my eyes are sensitive to the sun’s rays;
I am jealous of the green and life the sun feeds,
Jealous that I don’t vibrate at such vital speeds,
My vitality lost to the rot in my rotten seeds.
This I know: fear and pain are my eternal due.
For I choke clear air with a deathly hue,
Thereby ensuring the truth remains true:
That fear brings fear in an infinite loop.
In my soul day is light and dark is night,
Blind are lies and truth is sight;
And in my soul the deepest spite,
For a world where right is wrong and wrong is right.
In response to a recent query. I thought it worth sharing, as it highlights the motivation behind the seemingly tortuous mission to ‘know thyself’.
‘For me, I not only glimpse into the ether, I spend days, months, years, living within and breathing the ether. If by ether you mean the unknown, the fear and anxiety of your life, the world you dare not enter for it might be too terrifying, the truth too exacting. If by ether you mean the abyss. Why do I do this?
The uncovering and understanding of the deepest truths and realities about the cosmos and your place in it, is, I would argue, the source of everything worth holding on to, worth striving for. It is no mistake that one of the strongest and longest-lasting pearls of wisdom is ‘know thyself’. Knowing yourself requires you understand your relationship to reality, as part of who you are (indeed, perhaps all you are) is as a relational entity: you not only draw nourishment from water and molecules in food, warmth from the sun, oxygen from the air, but as an emotional and social creature you are defined by, and in relation to, others. In a very literal way you are the product of a web of causation stretching backwards through time and covering immense space and nodes of influence.
You can be ignorant. You may truly believe falsehoods and build them into your narratives. The universe doesn’t literally demand you know the truth. However, knowledge and wisdom is the source of everything and anything worth tapping into. Why? Because the universe might not literally care, but if you live your life blind to a deeper understanding you will run into problem after problem after problem. Or so my experience has taught me. Problems with relationships. Problems with self-confidence. Problems at work or in society. You will thrash and point the finger everywhere, absolutely everywhere, other than at yourself. But once you wipe that slate clean, be willing to start afresh, be dedicated to writing a new narrative for yourself, one whose plot better reflects the true nature of reality and your place in it, many of your problems will disappear, your confidence will grow, your relationships will strengthen, you will know when to stay or when to move on, you will stop blaming others (and yourself) and accept not only the cards that have been dealt you (I, for example, have serious anxiety issues, ones for which I routinely blamed the universe), but you will also find ways to work on the things that are in your power to change. Nobody can ask anything more of you, and you will find you are actually beginning to live a meaningful life.
And why not simply ignore and bury terrible truths? I say: there is no wisdom in wilful ignorance. In fact, I find the notion a paradox. Once the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, there is no putting it back in. People try! Alcohol, drugs, running away, escape escape escape! But once the cat is out it will always find you. In bed late at night. In those moments of clarity when you look at yourself in the mirror. When you reflect on your life and realize it is dripping away and you have wasted most of it and the blame and pointing finger no longer saves you. When the universe no longer holds you up. And, for many people I imagine, the cat comes back on their deathbeds, stalking like a phantom the recesses of consciousness until the dark shadow fully envelops the mind. Don’t let that happen! Don’t die without ever knowing yourself and truly living!
Once you glimpse into the ether it is already too late! As in the Wizard of Oz, a peek behind the curtain is all that’s needed to shatter the fantasy. But as you peer ever deeper into the ether, you, like Dorothy’s companions, will find your courage, your strength, your wisdom, and, like Dorothy, your life.’
Each path a life; the worn and barely used alike. The majority of your fellow travellers rarely, if ever, escape their guiding illusions, their paths crisscrossing the world, forming wide corridors and highways of frenzied activity, leading nowhere. They may have tread many more an empty mile than you, but in your stubbornness and reluctance to step off the curb, in your relentless pursuit of self-awareness, you have actually made the longer journey.
Do I know fear?
Never been in a war, a burning building. Never heard a gun fire, saw a child die. Never spent the night next to a loved one as she fought for survival. Never slept under a bridge, missed a day without eating. Never been mugged, accosted, molested.
Do I know fear?
Please don’t make me justify myself. Please don’t ask me to compare. Don’t expect me to rank anything. Maybe, likely, indeed – I am one lucky son, father, husband, man.
I want to say it was Hemingway who wrote something to the effect, ‘it is easy to be brave at 3 in the afternoon’.
I can attest to that; I chase the shadows of terror every damn night. EVERY NIGHT!
Are we not all infants when the moon looks through darkened bedroom windows?
Sleep is no respite. Sleep is no rest. Slumber is a slaughter. A real war waged in a real world in real time with real consequences.
Cradle my paled, icy-cold, terror-stricken face; lift my head from the soaked sheet and still my thrashing arms; press your body against the artery bulging with racing pulse in my neck. And ask me again.
In my sleep? You coward. Attack a man while he slumbers.
Red blood dripping from my right nostril.
How close were you this time? In my nightmare I could sense your presence. Do you no longer attempt to conceal your footfalls?
A coward and hasty. Are you afraid?
Is this irony? Can fear by afraid? Anxiety anxious?
Red blood dripping, staining the white cotton sheets.
I no longer love you. And you want to punish me for that. I no longer need you, and you don’t want to be left alone. You would rather kill me than let me be rid of suffering.
Stalking, scheming, insidious toxic parasite.
I repeat and hear it well; take heed of these last words of mine. I speak them, standing over your unmarked grave in the secret place where I have buried you, countless times in my brightest hopes. ‘You are a fucking coward. Nobody loves you anymore. You belong in the wasteland, forgotten, in an unmarked grave, endlessly and mercilessly trodden upon.’
I long for the day I uncover you, reveal your chaotic and frantic fury, and take my two hands, wrap them gently, softly, almost lovingly, around you, embracing you, as you thrash about. I dream of the day I suffocate the life-force from your evil gasping. Silence, make still, your aimless thrashing.
Until next time. Until tonight. Until after the red blood has dried.
You are blessed and cursed to have found your meaning in the question of meaning itself.
Blessed to be motivated to take a journey of deepest discovery, not only of the universe without, but of the universe within.
Cursed to be born in a world of believers, who are constantly and continuously tricked by the illusion of certainty and absolute meaning.
You have, through much existential suffering and malaise, arrived at some profound insights: meaning does not exist without, but within. Believers believe in what you have found to be myths; believers implicitly believe in the immortality of their egos, which you have failed to locate in yourself; believers expect judgment from a cosmic judge, now, today, and at every instant in the future, and you have realized you are your own judge.
You were once a believer. You too believed in absolute cosmic meaning. You too assumed and behaved as if your ego was immortal. You too were constantly feeling judgment, worried and fretting over the standards set by your fellow believers, and by the ultimate arbitrator. Put that all together and you have a wonderfully adapted and adaptable foot soldier in any environment at any historical time. Self motivated and self monitoring. Guided by shared myths. An immortal soul assured of favourable judgment resting peacefully every single night.
But you were not a believer for long. Something did not click. Too many doubts led to too many questions which led to your lifelong search for meaning. And let nobody tell you this was an escape, bred of laziness, for the spoiled and weak souls; you have shed more tears, had more sleepless nights, agonized in both body and mind for hours and days, months and years, non-stop. You had to know. And knowing is never achieved without great cost.
You have truly lived as a restless and tortured soul for far too long. The illusion holding power over the believers was not quite powerful enough to hold you. And yet it was not weak. It clashed with your spirit, and created for you great tension and anxiety. You could not reconcile your experience in the world with your true essence. At times you lashed out, arrogantly pointed out all the faults of the universe; other times you turned your anxiety inward, assumed the fault must be in you, and lay for days in bed. You were never still, never at peace, never at ease; there was always tension.
And after all the struggle, which is still ongoing, you have clarified the old and arrived at many new insights. Meaning exists, but only insofar as a ‘mean-or’ exists. So it is right to say meaning exists in the universe, but wrong to say meaning is universal. The ego is an illusion, an amazing trick of the mind, and even if it did exist, it would not be immortal. And finally, after all is said and done, so to speak, there is no judge, no judgment, external to the one in our own heads.
Are these hollow truths? No. Do they matter? Yes.
If meaning is subjective then you have the power to create your own. If the ego is mortal then you should not sacrifice today, in the form of existential anxiety and fear, for the hope of a better future. And, most importantly, you are the judge of your own meaning and striving and deeds. You do not have to fear the wrath of some cosmic lawgiver. If you are true to yourself, and strive according to your own standards, that is good enough.
The world of believers is caught in a web of illusion that serves a purpose, one of which each is unaware. We are, after all, evolved apes running the software of the mind adapted for survival on the plains of Africa, in a world at a time far far removed from the one we inhabit today. And yet, that software has not been, could not have been, updated in all this time. For the updates of evolution take eons, and are never completed. And besides, evolution does not care about your existential suffering, or your search for meaning. Evolution is an amoral process, an algorithm. If you are successful at continuing the legacy begun by the laws of evolution, the grounds of your success will be selected. It really is as simple, and as amazing, as that. What better way for a highly intelligent, social, purpose-seeking, conscious animal to succeed in a universe without absolute meaning – where neither its ego nor its anxieties are worth a damn outside its own head – than to have that creature not only invent, but wholeheartedly believe in, a set of myths, values, meanings, governing rules and cosmic judgments, eternal rewards and punishments?
Believers have not suffered nearly the existential malaise and doubt that you have experienced. Of this you can be sure, because they are believers. That is not to say your path is in any sense better than any other. That is not to say you are superior in any way to anyone else. It is simply meant to illustrate that you are on a different path than most people. You were destined to discover these insights. And the path was hard, and will continue to be overgrown and poorly defined. Not many people have trodden this way. But those who have would make good company. In their presence, at least, you would not feel so alone.
You were born a seeker. You could not rest. Your doubt and anxiety fueled your journey. And you have uncovered some valuable truths.
Each path a life; the worn and barely used alike. The majority of your fellow travelers rarely, if ever, escape their guiding illusions, paths crisscrossing the world, forming wide corridors and highways of frenzied activity. They may have tread many more an empty mile than you, but in your stubbornness and reluctance to step off the curb, you have made the longer journey.
Lifting eyes from dark,
Echoes in mind,
Empty of pretense,
Confident in not knowing.
Optimism seeking light,
Broken long dormancy,
Entering the world without,
Blinding, suffocating familiarity.
Same grey streets;
Same concrete buildings;
Same managed woods and rectangular fields and forgettable faces on Sunday walks on worn paths.
Same flow. Same responses. Same predictability.
Tender optimism. Knowing nothing. Utterly incapable of playing.
Words and ideas left unformed.
Nervous air from lungs passing silently through clenched and clenching teeth.
‘Why? Why would it change out there?’
‘It is here, in here,’ the boy said, pointing to his temple. ‘It has always been.’
…the shaking….the shaking….the shaking….
of a leg…
Most people, most of the time, have nothing to say.
Yet they talk!
How they beckon! – Join us. Come join us. Prattle prattle prattle. –
Words strung together, stretching back through ages. Narratives weaving, myths uniting. Layers and scales; minds to civilizations. One unbroken, unbreakable web.
Pretense. Opinion. Myth.
Words, words, words.
Nothing to say. Narratives left unformed.
Order born of fear.
Claiming the seconds that make up the minutes that make up a life.
Doubting, too, these thoughts.