Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Mountaintop

She had been on the mountaintop since the early afternoon the previous day. She had watched the birds and the lone hawk that swept over her in circles again and again, as though he had something specific to communicate. She searched his feathers and form for a message, letting the tenuous sparks of insight fall to her like snowflakes.
The afternoon had stretched long and wide, opening its tunnel of curiosities as the sun arched across the sky. She walked the path of the day without fear of a setting sun, and soon, as she knew would happen, the light turned golden and then slowly drifted below the long mountain range in the distance. Her vision blurred and she opened her arms wide and lay back on the firm soil of the earth, letting blue twilight spill over her like the sweet arms of death.
Blue turned to crisp black and without light, her body quickly grew cold. She kept her eyes wide, letting the blackness and flickering stars roll and tumble over her with possibilities, letting it drag her mind into depths that daylight preferred to avoid.
There were demons and they laughed and giggled. There were animals with horns and a lilting flute somewhere in the distance.
The wind moved over her and a nearby howl danced with her fears. Dark time lasted for an eternity, just the slowly arching crescent moon marked the movement of the earth and her body’s place upon it.
Her body held onto the deep worry that came from childhood and her parents and the movies she had seen. Her mind clung to visions of chains and bumpy demons and the sounds of crying. She knew she held on to the light, thinking that it alone would ease her deepest fears.
Just as she clung to the daylight, she held on to the world, to the flowers and plants and dreams that she could see. As she looked, she saw the nightmares of her youth and the cold waiting chains of years within a sphere of words she had never asked for.
The long night opened its tunnel and she walked in, letting herself be filled with its chill and rich sounds of pain and mystery. And then there was a chamber without words. Here, she was truly scared. Here, she had no body, no role, no purpose. Here, she was nothing.
Then the nothing found its way back, it found the body, the fears, the worry. It found all that it ever was. But it brought back the memory of the chamber. Her eyes were wide once again, and she knew that to live in the light, she would have to learn to voyage in the dark.
She lay on the mountaintop as morning light spilled into the world of a newborn day, and she drank in the pale pink light, letting it come into her like the semen of the sun. She opened her arms wide, letting the day bathe her in its clarity.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Place in The Symbolic Order

She read the email on her small laptop with a slight sense of curiosity. It was a small update from her mom.
“Erin’s doing fine, she lives in Massachusetts, Tess lives in Germany with her boyfriend and she teaches English, Shelly lives in London.”
She nodded to herself. They were all short one-liners about friends she had lost contact with years before, but she felt satisfied and reasonably caught up. Then her brain did a little twist and she smiled when she realized she didn’t know anything. She had no idea what Tess saw every morning on her way to work or what her boyfriend looked like or how she felt close to midnight when she looked out a window. She knew nothing about her old friends, just a few simple words. Germany, boyfriend, teaching. Three simple words that helped her place Tess within the world. She had never even been to Germany, but she imagined Tess walking on a cobblestone street eating a sausage. It was her own imagination that made her feel like she knew how Tess was doing. Those three words gave her images, they gave her pictures and implications that had nothing to do with the Real, or with what was really true, but the three simple words satisfied her curiosity for a moment. Now she knew.

She wondered what her own mother had said about her. Did she make up a few lies or did she simply give them her location on the planet and another word about her job. They probably nodded and were satisfied, just as uncurious about the details as she had been. They would be able to imagine her somewhere within San Francisco and that would be enough. Everyone would nod while taking another bite of dinner, imagining her somewhere next to a red Golden Gate...yes, that was San Francisco She was placed, comfortable within the symbolic order. They would have no idea that she lived in a large studio with a backyard full of trees and flowering shrubs. They would not know that she woke up every Sunday morning and sold bread at the farmer’s market and felt tired afterwards and then would go home and start working and soon someone with a friendly voice would call her and she would smile and feel her chest lift and lift and a smile within her would burst and appear on her lips. They would know none of that, just as she knew nothing about them. She lived in San Francisco. Erin lived in Massachusetts. That was enough to know.

Because a simple word will easily place us within the symbolic order, what we do can easily be explained with a sentence.
“I’m a saleswoman…”
“I’m a musician…”
“I’m writing a story….”
“I live in London…”
You will see a head nod, the chin rising up and down slowly, yes… it is understood. They can picture someone behind a counter and a cash register. They can picture someone with a guitar and hear some music in their head, they can picture a book and a pen…it is all easily understood, you are now known. There will be no further questions, you have been placed within the symbolic order.

Because it can all be so easily explained, we can hide what we do. Never mind that the dark mystery envelops you in a crystal sheath and takes you beyond the realm of words, somewhere that cannot be explained. It is not for the world to know.
People are satisfied with a one-liner. Your emotions, the way the light fades slowly out the bedroom window and makes you feel like the twilight holds every secret in the world, it cannot be explained with a word and it can never be known. They think they know you with a word, let them. The things which cannot be explained with words will always remain invisible. If it cannot be explained, it will not be seen.
We can hide what we need from the world even when we live among the crowds in the city. We can even show ourselves to them, we can show our books and art, and as long as there is a word to describe it (colors on a piece of paper is called “art”) then they will feel like they understand. If what is true is spoken, then it will be changed. It cannot be otherwise.

A woman is working undercover for the CIA. She pretends to be the girlfriend of a gangster and follows him around the world, reporting his whereabouts whenever she can to the authorities. In her role as the gangster’s girlfriend, she pretends to be sexually interested in another man in order to lure him into her bedroom to gain his trust. It will be his trust in her which makes him go to a secluded field and wait for a man which will never show up, which is what the gangsters want. But after sleeping with him, she develops true feelings for him. What she had once pretended, what had once been a cloud of dust and lies has become real.

A young boy wants to be a doctor. He sees his father dressed in a white lab coat, grabbing a thermos cup of coffee before heading out the front door to perform a few surgeries, and that is what he envisions for himself. He wants to be in that lab coat, kissing his wife goodbye before he goes off to save a couple of lives. The boy spends his evenings studying a mountain of books and because of his intense effort, he gets into college and then becomes an intern in a hospital a few miles from a choppy ocean. After a few years of intense memorization and fourteen hour days and many tests, his internship is complete and he is now a doctor. He now wears a spotless lab coat and walks on the shiny linoleum floors with shined shoes. Patients call him “doctor” and he interacts with them using a tone of authority. As a sign if status, he buys an expensive watch, which is what every doctor on his ward wears.
The only thing Real is the watch. It can be seen and felt. The symbolic order creates the “doctor.” There are extensive ideas of what doctors should do and wear. How they should act, what they should drive. None of these are inherently real. These things do not make a doctor, they do not determine if someone has the know how to set bones or perform surgery. A lab coat does not make a doctor, but within the symbolic order, it does. The role of doctor is adopted and acted out.

In the symbolic order, little girls are given dolls and tea sets and pink clothes. The babies do not come out of the womb asking for these particular things, but they are given them by adults because within the symbolic order, that is what girls play with, that is what they like. Little boys like sports because they are told they do. They prefer blue because they are given clothes in that particular color. Eventually, after enough time, little boys do actually like basketball and little girls really do like to play with their dolls. What was not real to begin with has become real. The girl is placed in the symbolic order as a girl, she acts like a girl and is given “girl” things and then, she becomes a girl. Pink clothes are not an inherent part of having a vagina, but within the symbolic order, at least in the United States, it is.

If a little boy is only given pink clothes and tea sets and baby dolls, he will probably grow up liking them and playing with them. It will be all he has ever known. But when he steps into the broader symbolic order, where most boys play with trucks and wear blue, there will be a serious clash. To the boys in his school, he will be seen as “other.” They will not understand why he is not like them, and they will search for a way to explain it and place him within their symbolic order.
Placing someone or something within the symbolic order is a quest for Order. To make sense of chaos. The boy who likes pink because he was given pink (just like the other boys like blue because they were given blue) will be called gay or sissy or whatever word can be used to place him in the symbolic order. It will be the word used to understand him. One word will be enough to provide the explanation.

Our purpose is to be awake within the symbolic order. It existed long before us, it will continue after the last breath of our body. Our purpose is to be free to fit in or not. Our purpose is to be awake enough to have a choice. The left hand path is the path of breaking the rules of the symbolic order.
The symbolic order has been given to us, it has been placed on us since birth. It was imposed upon us by parents and teachers, just as it was imposed upon them as infants. No one chose it, we stepped into the role that was placed before us and pretended to “be” until we “became.” The left hand path breaks the rules of the symbolic order. That is one of the choice at our disposal. We can also choose to fit into the symbolic order without becoming identified with it.

A little boy is dressed in a fancy suit every Sunday and brought to a small church with a white steeple. He copies what his parents do. He kneels and clasps his hands in front of his heart, he bends his head forward slightly and closes his eyes. He asks for things he wants while his eyes are closed and he imagines something, somewhere, fulfilling his wishes. Soon, after enough imitation, the boy comes to church thinking that he has made the decision, he has chosen this path for himself. He is now a full grown believer. He is too identified to see that the people around him on the wooden pews have all been taught this just like he was. They simply imitated the others around them, just like monkeys learn to ride bicycles and wash their socks or bang shellfish until the shell cracks.
We do as we were shown and religion is no exception. Our choice can be to come into the small church, to feel the pressure of the floor as we kneel, to drink in the scent of the candles, to close our eyes and act out the part without becoming identified, without being absorbed into the act, without letting the imposed symbolic determine the real.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On The Edge

“I want to fall asleep, but I just cannot let myself dream.”
He said it softly and so close to the glass pane that his breath momentarily fogged a small circle on the window. And just like the dreams he would not allow, the little galaxy vanished before he saw its nebulous shape.
Five inches above, his eyes looked out the window. Below him was New York City and a skyline of gray and glass and snow covered branches and impatient taxi horns. There were a few speckles of green that dotted the sidewalks and in the very far distance against the white horizon, the promise of Central Park. The open. The wild within the tamed.
He looked out, his eyes burning with the cold that found its way through the glass, wishing he could just blink and find himself in a grove of tall trees, perhaps watching a chipmunk gather some nuts amid buried oak leaves and empty potato chip bags.
If only he could travel so easily. If only he could let himself wander from the room, beyond the walls and carpet and structured glass. The world out there was spiraling through the dream, and he wanted to be part of it, only he didn’t know how.
He looked out the window. He wished for something he could not name. He tried to claw at the feeling, he tried to turn it around and examine just what he wanted or how he could find it, but the shape was a gray cloud that morphed every time he tried to focus on it. There was nothing to hold onto, no word or action he could use to explain his irritation, his frustration with himself and his constant need for control.
“And why can’t you let yourself dream?” the thin voice of a woman finally responded.
He rolled his eyes towards the city, hating her voice and the question. Hating the legs that sat crossed and covered in sheer black pantyhose. The leather chair held her. It touched her legs and the back of her torso which was covered in a white collared shirt and a blazer above that.
It was a question he tried to avoid nearly every time it was brought up. He just didn’t have an answer, not an answer he wanted to reveal. What if he jumped into the cloudy stew of colors and shapes? What if he jumped and could never find his way out again?
He would be stuck in the world of twisting reason that leaps from moment to moment without sense and logic. He would be trapped within his own mind, unable to drag himself back from the deep waters of unconscious darkness. He had the vague memories of nightmares that squeezed the breath from him. Thick armed and tentacled men who tried to drag him to their chambers while he gasped tugging at their claws.
He couldn’t risk it, he might not be strong enough this time. He cleared his throat, preparing the simple answer she could understand.
‘It’s all chaotic and nothing makes sense. I just wish it could tell me something directly. Something I could use right away. What do I do with a flying mattress or an octopus that keeps trying to eat my hand?”
There was a heavy silence between them, as if the woman on the firm leather chair could not think of a good argument to counter. He looked to the horizon, finding the greenery of Central Park with his seeking eyes.
If only he could leave his small apartment or the doctor’s office two floors down. If only he could find his way to the lobby and out the front revolving door and onto the sidewalk. It was through the doors that the world awaited. The park was beyond the walls of his building, beyond the cage of his skin.
In the distance there was a bit of the wild within the tamed. That small part of him wanted to run towards the trees, to dive into the dark lake that waited impatiently for curious hands.
A small howl emerged from deep within him, but he stifled it with a little false cough.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Game

They played the game as honorably as they could, as honorably as they could being men. Being men began with long organs that dangled between their legs that caused them to belch with ferocity and cry in the middle of the night while swimming in a small pool of white liquid. They played as they knew how. As men. They were beings that charged forward into the fog, with pistols at their sides and laughter from behind and ferocity that burned deep. They played as they were taught. As little boys they were divided into teams and shown how to tackle and dodge and score. They did as they knew, as they were instructed, as they were shown. They followed the long trail. The pants. The mustaches. The beards. The guns. The ferocity. The analytic. The cold. Other men had come before, and the road was well marked. It was colored in blue and black and brown. Colored with little helmets and little plastic bats and science kits. These were the things of boys. The clear indicators. They went well beyond the name and hair style. It was the rearing. The leaning through imitation. They were boys because they were raised as such. Before the plastic pistols was the suppression of tears. Sensuality hid in the closet, constantly tormented by the ape in the room. Father was watching. There was no room for softness. The moon hid because there was only room for strategy. The rules were written on the blackboard. The locker room smelled of damp clothes and fear and sweat. It was each man for himself. Attack or die. In the whirlwind of manhood, she was lost. Hidden behind the glare of the sun, she sat back watching silently, absolutely hidden. The trees held just the faintest whisper of her presence. The cloudy sky was as soft as her bosom, gentle and pillowy and smelling of wildflowers. But they were blind. All those boys were so utterly blind in their hard helmets and shoulder pads and uniforms, so blind in their hard muscular bodies and sense of importance. She was their ruler, the silent empress present in the air that they sucked, present in the woods surrounding their field, on the grass below their spiked shoes. They were the players in her kingdom, only the blind could never tell which way was up or down. Her markings covered their bodies with moles and hair and sinewy muscles. They were birthed from the folds in her great round body, suckled on her milk. But they might never remember. Theirs was the game for the moment. They were in the game of men. They played their parts to perfection, each move and line delivered flawlessly. Like blind actors on a stage, they were the men. The athletes, the boys successfully reared into manhood, so deeply enmeshed within the game that they could not see the empress on the dew, or the tip of the blackbird’s beak. They could only see the importance of their game, the game of skill and force and ferocity. She held back, silent, cloaking everything with her breath. She was just an inch away, but lost forever in the shadow of their game.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Crumbled Bodies

There is an orange skyline hugging the awkward angles of fallen structures; the foreseen time that the insane have warned of is here. The towers of glass and steel have taken new shape. Piles of rubble and trash rise up like little mountains. Gray mounds of crumbled concrete and steaming piles of burning wood have reconfigured the city streets. Like scavengers in a sunken ship, we pick through the debris, looking for gold and pictures in frames, anything we can use and shape anew. The dust of the orchestrated implosion is strong, and in the setting sun, everything is cloaked in a thick golden haze. Through the murky light, I look for you, for your blackened contour in the earthly clouds. Your curving shape is close, walking on the loosened train tracks, picking up bolts and small pieces of iron. The heavy metal screws designed to last centuries have been defeated. Strait lines and symmetrical patterns have deviated from the original plan and now, in defiance of blueprints and architects, they skew to the right. Loose wooden beams poke from the earth in every direction, looking more like the decaying posts of a pier battered in the salty elements than the dry as bone metal tracks. The boxcars and trains have long since disappeared from the rails. The masses have taken them as housing; stopped in their tracks, the dwellers live side by side on the thin rails and cluttered railroad yards. The solid colors that once passed mile after mile of corn fields; the dingy red, blue, yellow and green remind the little girls of the rainbows they have only heard about. The clouds have disappeared from the sky, and with them, the rain. We live in landscape of heat and dust, altered only by the fast moving gusts of wind that momentarily delight us. The lighted prisms that bent over us have no home here, they are shapes of myth and memory in the few that have stable minds. Some of them journey on, following the rambling train tracks, using them like a well lit path that turns in unlikely directions. The earth, what is left of the green and blue planet has jumbled the metal course. A better path? More natural? There is debate amongst the walkers, but still they follow the rusted metal pieces, for no better reason than to discover where they lead. In the remains of the cities, where the high rises lay in smoking piles and the street lights have all gone out, people still scream in the streets. There is no fear in their voices, but they scream to their god. Are they heard? We leave them to shout their profanities, we walk by them with sympathy, soon, perhaps, we may be like them. When our stomachs rumble and begin to cave, when our bodies have taken hold of the small kernels that remain, perhaps we will stand atop piles of rubble, naked below the waist and foaming at the mouth. Or maybe I will end up like the wandering girl, still wide eyed and smiling, the dirt on her face outlining her tender eyes like well applied makeup. She left her kinsfolk in the hills and came to us alone. But I found her in the green land, not far from where I stand, three bullets in her head, disguising what was once her mouth. I found her at daybreak as I scavenged for pine cones to warm our cement cave. She was like me once, open and oblivious to the terrors, never knowing the surety of death… that it happens, in one shape or another, that it comes. The crusted brown shapes around her face and body once flowed a bright red, hot and clear and humid. When I saw her, she was long gone and what remained was already ice cold, taken out by a passing group of dark-skinned boys. I see them in my mind, shouting from a car as she rode on with an increasing sense of dread. Just hecklers, right? Death cannot come. Now? Why would it come now? And then the sound. A shot. At her? Really? It happened fast…it happened so slow. The way death moves and time escapes perception. She lay on the earth as they came closer. She thought of her mother, high in the hills. Did she beg? Did she cry? Did her coming fate slow her mind, did every instance of her fleeting life pass through her like a pretty kaleidoscope? Did she smile, remembering the sweetness that surrounded her in a younger age? Death, approaching her from all angles, a couple of boys that forgot her face as they walked away with her bag. They destroyed her body, ripping apart her flesh like children with tools of men. I saw her cold body and covered her in dry leaves and a yellow flower plucked from a cluster of weeds. Just like the crumbled edifices that litter the small city, she lays still for the birds to pick through. A changing form, from flesh to dust, she moves as I will soon. Like her, I will someday surrender to the fate of circles that never come to a final rest.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Using Time

I smiled as we approached the corner. Ahead of us in the dark night was the circular shaped building I had always wanted to enter. I had seen it years ago, I had watched couples walking towards its wide open doors, I had seen the warm yellow light of the interior cast into the street, the people inside, just beyond the thin window panes. Now I would be that vision for another curious girl, in another car, as she passed down Van Ness on her way towards nowhere. The imposing size of the symphony hall took up a good chunk of the city corner with its massive cement walls and long, rectangular glass windows which offered a fractional slice of its inner vibrancy to the world as a silent gift.
Once inside, we walked up three levels of carpeted stout steps to the outer narrow lobby that wound along the outside of the auditorium. Between the outer lobby and the inner chamber was another narrow curved hallway. Every hundred feet along the interior wall was a door that led to the deep auditorium. On the outer wall were doors that led to the exterior lobby and to the long flight of stairs that would take us to the street. The inner hallway was lit along the outer wall by circular shaped lights that seemed like crystal covered portholes that fragmented the daylight into a kaleidoscope of shapes.
We followed the usher down a row of deep narrow stairs to our seats and I experienced the slightest bit of vertigo as a looked at all the tiered seats below us. The auditorium was arranged like posh rice paddy fields that descended into the wide-open space surrounding a smooth wooden stage with built-in tiers for an absent symphony.
A few rows away I watched two girls approaching and recognized myself…but wasn’t I here? In this chair? “Those girls have my same hair,” I said smiling. “I have no interest in talking about your hair, just be here with me.” I fought back the tears that sprang up, the machine feeling slightly reprimanded. My stomach felt a little queasy. I took a deep breath in, beginning in the stomach and then filling the space of the chest…VAHHHHHHH, my mind said in movement with the breath. KAHHHHHHHHHHH, there was no movement, just the holding of air. When I could not maintain the pressure any longer, I released…DEEEHHHHHHHH. Without anything left, I held and maintained silence within. The murmur of the room was loud. There were words coming from the people behind us, they were loud, their words came in and out without understanding, I recognized the sounds, the words, but I didn’t latch on, they went through me like clouds. VAHHHHHHH, my mind said in movement with the breath. KAHHHHHHHHHHH, there was no movement, just the holding of air. When I could not maintain the pressure any longer, I released…DEEEHHHHHHHH. Without anything left, I held and maintained silence within. The woman in front of me was reading a newspaper, there were photos of a beach. On the tier below us and towards the center of the room, was a man standing by the entrance to the balcony seats. He was wearing a black tuxedo and a bow tie, his hands were clasped in front of him, as though waiting for a command. VAHHHHHHH, my mind said in movement with the breath. KAHHHHHHHHHHH, there was no movement, just the holding of the air. When I could not maintain the pressure any longer, I released…DEEEHHHHHHHH. Without anything left, I held and maintained silence within. Across the space of the great wide auditorium, there was another man, dressed in a similar tuxedo, he stood silhouetted against the illuminated rectangle behind him, the open door. VAHHHHHHH, my mind said in movement with the breath. KAHHHHHHHHHHH, there was no movement, just the holding of the air. When I could not maintain the pressure any longer, I released…DEEEHHHHHHHH. Without anything left, I held and maintained silence within.
There was a pretty girl with long hair several rows down, a man with a pony tail just a few seats from me on the left…he reminded me of someone, but his beard was much too trim to be an exact match. The voices behind us peaked into a raucous chorus of laughter. Then the lights dimmed and the room was full of applause as a man in a suit introduced the three band members of the quartet. As the applause peaked with enthusiasm at what was coming, a man stepped onto the wooden stage. He was thin, slightly frail, in a suit that, from our distance, looked maroon. The musicians gathered in their appointed positions. The young drummer went to a slightly raised platform and sat on his stool, gathering the two wooden sticks in his hand. The guitarist nestled his instrument on his lap and beneath his arm and found a comfortable place on a tall stool. He reclined against it, not exactly sitting. One of his feet remained on the stage, the other balanced on the rung of the metal stool. The bassist stood behind his instrument, he put his arms around it, about to dance, about to show her a good time. He was ready, in his black pants and collared black shirt with the top two buttons undone. And then the man in front, the man described to me as a living legend, a demigod among the mortals. He stood closer to us than the rest, just a few feet in front of the bassist and guitarist who stood across from each other, the drummer was a few steps back but centered. The four of them made the shape of a square cross.
The man in front picked up his saxophone, beside him was a trumpet and violin. This was Ornette Coleman. There was silence as the applause died. The men on the stage held the silence with us as well, then burst into a frantic bout of noise. I was immediately lost. The sounds seemed to slap me in the face, moving fast, repeatedly, hitting me again on the other side before I had time to completely fall over. It felt like a storm. A big messy storm. I heard my brain say that I couldn’t hear them. I wondered if it was the room, but wasn’t it designed with acoustics in mind? Was it me? The CD I heard earlier in the day sounded clearer…I thought of my mother saying there were better Italian restaurants in LA after she returned from Italy. The piece abruptly ended and I clapped along with everyone else. The second piece began more slowly, a little more moody and seductive. I focused on the drummer, then closed my eyes to try and hear him moving with the other three.
I opened my eyes, I looked slightly to the right and saw him holding her hand. Immediately my body tensed. He was not touching me. I let the breath come into me slowly. NO, No. Do not fuck this up. Breathe. Pay attention to the music. The sound of the saxophone was high, seeming to screech. I closed my eyes. I listened. Yes. The bass. I like the bass. I tuned in. Song after song passed. Then I noticed that his hand was on her knee. His other hand rested on his left knee. I brought my knees closer, I tried to position myself close to him, so that his hand would come casually to mine, but it did not. When the song ended, he leaned over with a smile and gave me a kiss. I smiled, wondering if my eyes revealed my thoughts.
I watched the drummer, whose shirt was showing signs of dampness. He was a monster, tapping, moving, striking, there was so much variance, then I listened to the bass, I tried to hear it, I closed my eyes and tried to find it through the melody and the violin and the drums. But then I looked over at her knee, and I saw his hand there. “I just cannot do this. He really does love her more. He really does. I never spend the night, and he loves her more. It is always like this. Always. Oh my god. Ok.” I let out a sigh. A tear began to form on my right eye. I took a long deep breath, I felt my chest. “May the result of this small sacrifice be for the benefit of all beings everywhere.”
BAIIIoooooo….Ornette called me back with his saxophone. Come back, listen to me. I closed my eyes, I listened. It got deeper. I felt sleep tugging at me and I fell deeper into the sounds. It seemed to get louder. Was it me? The song ended and he leaned in again and gave me a kiss. His smile was bright, he was having a good time. But why wouldn’t he touch my leg? “He really loves her more. It is just so simple.” A long deep sigh. The drums…the bass…his hand on her knee. I looked at the filled seats around me, the bodies, the shape of the theater. I felt myself in the auditorium. I felt myself as a body. “Do you always want to be like this? Do you want to remain trapped in this body, in this realm? In this fucked up mantram that cannot let you pay attention to the music?” I didn’t. I knew that. Each one of these thoughts was the jealous machine that just couldn’t believe it was loved despite its foibles. I closed my eyes again. My head was moving. I realized I was bobbing to the beat of the bass… was that right? I wondered if I did this often, I wondered if the drummer had his own rhythm, if there were multiple beats to bob to. My head moved and I heard the screech of the violin enter. I tried to listen to the melody of the guitar, but it seemed the most buried. Then there was a fast little melody of the saxophone, then the response of the guitar, only slightly higher, then the response again of the saxophone, now higher than the guitar, it went higher and higher three times. I smiled, hearing it, happy that I had. “His hand, her knee.”
And then the three musicians quieted slightly while the guitar rose. I heard him clearly. Then the guitar faded while the bass became the center of attention. “Oh no. It’s over. It’s ending. I spent so much time begin jealous, I didn’t spend enough time listening. This little life is over. I wasted so much of it. I am here in this auditorium, I am here, in this body, I couldn’t focus on what was here, I spent so much time focusing on what was not happening. What I wanted, what was being fulfilled, what wasn’t. I wasted the life. If I don’t stop the habit, I will really be looking back, if I am lucky, sixty years from today, thinking the same thing.”
And then it was over. The lights came on and we walked out into the cold air of the night, staring from the balcony to the lighted citadel on top of the capitol building.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Everything Is Nature

The room is lit with a bright artificial white glow. The space is wide and long and the powerful light bulbs hide high overhead, their distance is like the sun, far away but felt by everything beneath it. A long stretch of black and white ads run across the back wall of the bowling alley. The smooth wooden floors of the lanes gleam with thick varnish and a weekly dousing of wax. Echoing through the space is the low rumble of heavy bowling balls. They hit the wood of the lanes. They hit the white pins waiting at the end. The temperature is a perfect 69 degrees. Everything about the room is artificial. Without a word, it manifests its aim, the geometric perfection of clean lines. There is no wave, no tilt, just constant even shape. There is nothing natural about it. Not the wood floors, long cut from the old growth forest. Not the paper used to create the ad campaign along the back wall. The bowling balls and white pins are smooth and nearly perfect. Nothing about this chamber is found in nature. There are no rocks so round, no trees so straight. It is a created room, a created game. But this is nature. It is here, on earth. On a flattened piece of land, in a city shrouded in mist and lit by a distant sun, it is “natural,” mutated and rearranged, but “natural.” The sun, a million times removed, is still present here. The nearly flawless shapes and lines, they exist because of the gleaming orb a million miles away. The wood of the floors grew with heat. The metal foundations were forged with tools from the earth and fire. The artificial composition of the pins and bowling balls are a conglomeration of substances transformed through human hands and ideas. And the humans playing the game, walking in mismatched shoes, smiling after rolling a gutter ball. They exist only because of the sun. Light brings them food, it nourishes plants and animals. Light gives them the ability to build and create artificial worlds with bright lights and wide lanes. The room does not smell of dirt and pine. It houses all the strange creations of the world, but the elements of the earth are still present. The life blood, the moving red vein, is here as well. The flowing red vein moves through the people, moving and walking and rolling. It moves through the filament of the lights overhead. What was once a living, breathing tree is the ground at their feet. What were once buried elements in the soil are now bowling balls. Everything has been transformed, but it has come from the one source. The source of it all. The sun. And while they play indoors, while they try over and over to hit straight rows of white pins, the sun shines outside. Far away, perhaps covered by clouds, but it shines. There is nothing unnatural, not in the cleanest white room, not in the grocery store or chemist’s laboratory. This is nature. Every thought, gust of wind, packaged food, water bottle. Each object is affixed with a million invisible tendrils, tied one to the other, eventually finding its way back, winding and curving through machine and heat, finding its way to the brightest star.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Art And Perception

It is opening night in the SomArts gallery and the covered walls are still fresh with the first round of energy and enthusiastic eyes that fill the large room. In one particular corner, at the far end of the gallery, are two small pictures covered in glass and surrounded by a thin wooden frame. The drawings speak for themselves, yet they do not have a mouth or tongue or voice. But they do speak clearly to those that see. To those that look with a second’s glance. They speak clearly to those that take in their shape and color and let the lines filter in through the layers of experience and mind and consciousness. They go in, turning and twisting, becoming new things in the subconscious of the viewer. They flow like smooth driftwood in the river of the mind, hitting stones and spinning wildly through tiny rapids. Art speaks through the interaction. Each new interpretation is a communication. It happens with each single person looking at it. Each person, who brings their own world understanding and luggage of signifiers and interprets the drawing in their own way. They don’t even have to think about it, the shapes move in like a quick fire, transmuting before the eye can blink. Just a single glance is needed, the mind does the rest, moving the shapes like a multidimensional Rubik’s Cube and spitting out dreams. And just like a river, the painting is never the same. On first glance, it looks like the same stagnant piece. The men look at the same two drawing as the other couple before them. The image hasn’t moved. There are still two penises, one shaped into a high heel shoe, the other creating the barrel of a gun. Moments later, when the two men leave, the drawings will stay in their corner of the gallery….only…something new will jump when a new set of eyes come to rest on them. It is the nature of art, alive in the perception of it. Born anew each moment through attention. The drawings on the wall switch from moment to moment, from person to person, from eye to mind. Art carries itself, rising up from a piece of paper like a flag blowing in the wind. It is the painting, the image and lines and color that talks without sounds and without a body. It speaks independently of the artist. The long forgotten hand and brush mean little any more. That hand was merely the vehicle for creation, the body for birth. Once finished, framed, hung…it changes. It moves. It talks. It gives over and over. A new meaning, a new word. From body to body, it changes.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Jump


A man showed up at my door. He was tall and a stranger. The kitchen light was bright, the day outside even more blue and full than I expected when looking out my wide bedroom windows. He stood leaning against the door frame, bringing whispers of deep color. There was silence as our eyes traveled together. silence as he stood before me, still and calm. The seconds became twisting curls of life until he spoke. “Do you want to go for a ride with me?”

I looked into his eyes, “YES.”

A man showed up at my door. He sat on my faded blue carpet with those long legs crossed. The walls were a carnie’s cage of baby blue. The air held the wafting scent of sweet bread and a winter’s approach. “Do you want to go on a journey with me?” he said with a smile while a slight chuckle dusted his lips. I held my answer. I walked through the night, passing Christmas lights and moving through gusts of cool wind. I walked with a twin, passed muted Victorian architecture and slumping telephone poles. It would be the last time I would see her shadow.

The night faded and then the sun was up once again. I held a small telephone to my ear, feeling the hardness of its plastic, feeling the machinery of its shape. “Did you think about my question?” he asked.

“YES”

There was silence. I looked into the world of the blue carpet. Long beams of sunlight moved through the tall plate glass windows and caught my arm with a small kiss. “Would you like to know my answer?”

“I already do. I heard it in your voice, the way you said ‘yes.’”

And then the waters opened.
The dark night opened its cloaked arms.
The gusts of wind were no longer tinged with bloody fear.
The lights held more than their fair share of meaning.

A man walked into a crowded train car just as the sun was setting.
And he could have found another seat.
He could have remained silent, upholding the unspoken rule.
But the lens opened. The voice cracked into rainbowed pieces.
The door remained cracked, just enough for a narrow-waisted girl to squeeze through.

And she could not dive. She could barely swim. But she did jump. There was no grace.

She went face first.

Over the cliff.

Head first into what was waiting.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Death

A college-aged boy in a white T-shirt and jeans stands in front of a crowded room. His round Asian face looks towards the white pull-down screen in the center of the classroom wall. An unused microphone rests in his left hand. The room is dim, the only light source comes from the projection itself, which is a picture of the same boy, in another place, a different time. The boy in the photo is in a light filled greenhouse. His hard city mask has fallen and he beams into the camera, holding a red ripe tomato in each hand. In the dark room, down a windowless hall in the basement of the science building, the boy looks at another self. He cannot recognize himself. He brought the slides, he practiced the presentation, but the face that appears to be his own is a stranger.
Who is that? he wonders. He is without the requisite white bandana and required mask. The boy in the room has been overtaken by death. He stares with eyes blinking. He looks, searching, searching for the self he now knows. Searching for…something. The projected photograph is a sudden flash…something used to be different. For a moment, maybe as quick as the snap of the shutter, he was different. He smiled because of tomatoes. His fingers were dirty and his car was useless and all his friends and family were miles away. He was no one to the soil, no one to the trees. But he coaxed life from a seed. And life was given. Birth happened, and the tomatoes were proof.
The photo which he stares at now with strange curiosity, is a reminder of another life, one that faded the moment he left the greenhouse. A tarot card drifts to the floor. The boy doesn’t see it, he doesn’t feel its subtle wind. It lays facing up, a skeleton in armor tramples all with his horse. The flag of death waves in the red sky. A fallen king lies next to his forgotten gold crown, two children weep at the feet of the white stallion. Are they in the path? Is the horse’s shoe a moment from their heads?
The boy with the microphone does not see the fluttering death flag beside his own head. The stench of his physical death will take years, but this is just as foreign. It’s like looking at his own corpse, except…it is not. His corpse looks at the being left behind. The being forgotten, flowering just for a moment. Open and light-filled and caught forever. Caught for a moment that will always exist, even if it has moved beyond the recognizable.
Death came uninvited. Death came when the boy began to think, when he began to be “himself.” When he returned to life as though nothing had happened. When he got into his car, put on his bandana, and tried to explain his experience. But death happened. A moment of sudden life had exploded out of the rotting experience of a machine, and that moment lives on in the photo. It lives in the dim room, lives in the moment. It is the reminder that flowers can bloom in the mud, that a burst of lighting can cause a fire. But the boy standing with the microphone is a reminder that death is never far away. It is ready, with horse and flag and armor, ready to snatch it all.
The class waits expectantly for the explanation of the photo, the description of his experience and the things he learned. But there are no words for the captured moment. No words that can describe the bliss of creativity and birth. Nothing to explain the smile and the love of two tomatoes and the energy of a being spilling forth. The class is silent, waiting for the unexplainable to be explained.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Black Friday


“Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock, jingle da ta da taaaaaa….”

Overnight the mall has turned into a simulated winter wonderland. The shop windows are built upon beds of soft fake snow, mannequins in sweaters and mittens pretend to play in an eternal moment of cheer. There are pine trees everywhere, green garlands and candy canes and colored lights. It happened overnight. Just the other day was fall. The predominant colors were brown and yellow and gold…and now, just a day later, there is white and green and red. Just yesterday I was eating turkey and cranberries and stuffing, yesterday was another holiday entirely, but now, we are all in a downward slope towards Christmas. There’s the jiggling man and snow and trees and wrapped boxes with bows, all the signifiers of the holiday.
And this is it. The official first day of the season. “Official” according to retail analysts and department stores and consumer groups and the stock market. It is Black Friday. The “official” first day of the Christmas shopping season. And overnight, it has become just that. The food of Thanksgiving is not yet digested, and yet, the Christmas buzz has begun. The ringing of registers, the unmistakable sound of a credit card transaction spitting out a receipt, the bell of Goodwill employees with their red buckets, the Christmas carols in every store with a sound system.
The mall is an oversized ant farm. Families, couples, teenage girls…everyone is here. For the sales, for the shopping list, for the spirit, to ease the boredom of a day off work, out of habit, out of a clever advertising campaign. The mall, spacious as it is with tiled floors and wide aisles is just not meant for so many people, each laden with bags and staring into colorful window displays that depict what we should all strive for: endless styled merriment.
They do it en masse. Millions, all waking up on the same particular Friday morning. All with the same idea, the same plan, the same future just minutes away. The town may change, the particular name of the mall, the dent on the credit card, but it is the same flow, the momentum that propels them out the door, into a car, and into a packed shopping center.
The biggest cloud that coats the brain is the illusion of individuality. They may be singular bodies, breathing and moving independent of each other, but there is no individual thought or plan. Millions of people cannot suddenly wake up the same morning and each have their “unique” idea of how to spend the day. Anything that moves that many bodies to one particular place is carefully constructed. We’ll never see them, those slick men and women with a firm grip on human desires and insecurities. They can move a million people like soft clay bent between fingers. Scared, sad, bored, deeply fearful about the meaning of existence, desperately clinging to any theory that explains life in an easy-to-follow formula. The stores are ready for the masses, those people ignorant of their own fears. The stores are open by 6 am and there is a line around the block. Large women in oversized jackets run to the shelves like they are stocked with the last remains of bottled water and provisions. But there is no war, there is no scarcity. This is the desperation of the satiated, or seemingly so. Another Black Friday begins and end with the illusion of free choice.

“Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock, jingle da ta da taaaaaa….”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Attempt

The school is closed on this early Sunday morning. The imposing shapes of the administration buildings stand silent in the background, and just a vague sense of silenced authority finds its way to the parking lot. On this weekend, as with all weekends, there are no cars in the lot, and the recently paved black asphalt is the perfect floor for an education without curriculum and standardization. This is the self-created flat-land of trial and error. The place where there is only will and peer pressure and broken bones and the decision to try it again.

Two dozen teenagers are gathered on the periphery of the asphalt, close to the sidewalk that wraps around it like a thick barrier. They stand there, patient and attentive, but with their hands on their own skateboards, ready in an instant to step into the sacred space.

In the center of the lot are metal rails and obstacles meant to be jumped onto or over, or coasted against. They have brought them here, carried in backpacks and bicycles, easily assembled and built for the moment. These are self-imposed obstacles, and they’re here to be used. To hit, to land, to wail against.

In the center is a young man. His slim-fitting black pants do nothing to prevent him from attempting another trick. He has tried it over and over, weekend after weekend. Sometimes he gets it. Sometimes he pushes himself with his right leg and rolls over the asphalt gaining speed until he is just a few feet from the metal bar. Then he puts a little more weight on the back tail of the board and uses his right foot to push the wooden board up just a little higher. Sometimes he gets it. Sometimes he makes it to the rail and then falls off. Sometimes he makes it to the rail and grinds the bottom of his board against it till it ends. Sometimes he even lands on the ground with both feet on the board. Sometimes he falls off halfway through. After all the attempts, he has still not got it quite right, not enough to be consistent. So he tries it again.

His loose black T-shirt billows with the force of the wind. This is the moment. The gathered on-lookers watch him, and though he has made it to the rail, nearly to the end, he looses his balance. His arms are still out to the sides for balance, his right foot tilts awkwardly on the board, just about to fall off the platform completely. His right foot is bent and raised slightly towards his chest. He knows what’s coming, and he smiles.

The trick has failed. There will be a fall, he will have to roll as he always does and duck his head, and just as he feels his entire body shifting with gravity, he smiles. Another attempt that has failed. But after the fall, he will try again. There will be a line of guys, they’ll attempt the same trick. And he’ll be standing there, watching them, as they watch him now. As he waits for another turn, he’ll watch their footing, the speed with which they approach the rail, the timing and pressure on the nose of the board. He’ll watch it all, looking for another subtle movement to use and push him along. It’s balance, timing. Above all, it is will. There is so much to remember and execute, he has to do it within seconds. If they are watching him from the sidelines, they’re learning from his mistake, just as he learns from them. He smiles. It was a good attempt, another jump into the unknown, taking all the knowledge he could remember and use. And though he jumped, though he ground the wheels for a few feet, it just wasn’t right. When he falls, the sun will still be shining. The clouds will still be scattered. He will be one jump wiser. If he can just remember it all, he can try it again.

For the brief moment, he is suspended, not quite the victor, not quite the fallen. He knows his mistake. He smiles and waits for the crash.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Without A Body

Those little fingers move, picking up a pen. Nubby pink toes grasp the air as they move her forward, keeping balance on the large globe beneath her feet. She turns her head to the right, her eyes searching for the bright flash of red that just blinked out of existence. She is a body. A moving, flesh covered body. She walks, breathes, talks, I see her jumping on a bright green hillside, her arms swinging wildly as the soft whiteness of her moves through space. And I see her as real. She sees herself as real. For what can be more real than a body? It is the eyes she sees through, the vessel that takes her from supermarket to concert to warm bed. Is it the body that defines life? I breathe, therefore, I am. I take four steps, therefore I am. I sing a little tune, therefore I am. If she stays still. If for some reason, her body no longer responds to the command of her mind and she sits in a padded chair, unable to dance, jump or walk, is she still “here?” Her body exists, we can see it. I watch it remain motionless as four small black wheels guide her through wide city streets, but what does she feel? Is she trapped? Made powerless and motionless by the body. She can see, perhaps she can talk, but what is still inside? What is it that looks out through those eyes, what is it that still questions? Maybe the being. Maybe the still sleeping machine without mobility. I remember having a sickened feeling as I watched a man in a high-tech contraption. His head was held upright by metal poles, a tube and ventilator helped him breathe. I though to myself, “I could never live like that. Wouldn’t it just be better to die?” Motionless, still except for, perhaps, an active mind. What are we without a body? Maybe this motionless woman paints the picture of what we will all soon be without a breathing, carbon-based body. Trapped? At the mercy of something else? Is this woman with shriveled legs and skinny arms more prepared for the black spaces of the Bardo? Will she more easily recognize the falseness of the body? The illusion of the self? Or will she travel the chambers, looking for something to enter, looking for someplace that she can be “herself” again? How do we determine existence? How do we extract it from the void?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Balancing on Trains

The subway rattles along its track. We are underground and the interior lights wash us all in a yellow haze. In front of me is a man standing close to the double doors. He is at least fifty years old, maybe a little more. His hair is completely white and his skin would be considered white by many people on first glance, but it is actually a deep shade of pink, almost red. He has on a pair of khaki pants and thick white tennis shoes. A loosely-fitted red T-shirt is untucked from his pants and revealed by his unzipped light white jacket.
There are plenty of seats on the train, it is Saturday and just a little after 3pm. I have left the hordes of tourists above ground and the commuters still have another day to relax before the cycle begins again. Instead of taking a seat, the man stands close to the double doors. His feet are spread wide apart, not horizontal and parallel to each other, but aligned vertically. His left foot reaches out a couple feet from his body and his right is extended behind him. His knees are bent slightly. Instead of holding onto the silver railing that outlines the door, he has his hands raised out to the sides, nearly halfway to his shoulders. His body sways back and forth, moving as the train does. His arms oscillate up and down, providing balance as the cabin wiggles forward on the tracks. His eyes are fixed on something low to the ground in front of him. His light colored eyes are open wide, nearly mesmerized by the object providing him a sense of stability.
The words that come to mind are “crazy and postal and bug-eyed,” but they pass quickly through me and I watch him with a small smile on my lips. I am the only passenger that has a view of his face, the rest of the half dozen people sit behind him. A couple of steps away from his wide stance are two middle aged Latin women. I watch them as they laugh and joke with each other, each so comfortable and happy. One sits slouched into the seat, the other sits a bit taller, but they don’t seem to think about their bodies, their shapes are now merely habit. They focus only on the face that laughs beside them. They each look at the man occasionally, but they do so as they talk and their bouncing conversation does not stop. I study their faces to see if they are talking about the man, but their expressions and body language do not imply that they see anything strange. There is a portly Latin man a couple of seats behind the women. He is dressed in dark slacks and a white button-up dress shirt. The other people are a blur, forms with no distinction.
I look to the man. His eyes as wide and focused as if he were watching the whole world crumble. I take a bit of comfort in imagining that no one else sees him, just as I knew this morning that no one saw the tears spill across my cheeks. The train had been crowded, but no one saw. Twelve hours later the world has changed, but it really hasn’t, and we stand alone.
The train lurches and the pink-faced man looses his balance slightly and stumbles to the right. He smiles and then after a few seconds, yells, “DAMN!” He looks at me with a smile and says something, but the noise of the train drowns his communication. I smile back, somewhat shyly. A little shocked at his loud outburst. He refocuses and opens his eyes and raises his arms. His hands are nearly parallel to his shoulders. The other passengers are watching him now. The women keep talking and laughing, but now they look at him differently, with the faintest hint of suspicion. He is not doing anything particularly odd, he’s just trying to balance, as he would on a surfboard, but given the place, given the norm, it is unusual. It is so unusual that he might as well be dressed as a clown and singing off-key. It is completely other.
Three years ago I saw a man practicing what seemed to be Aikido moves on the train, but besides him, every other rider I have ever seen walks immediately to an open seat, and if one is not available, they grab a rail and hold on. How can a man simply not holding onto the rails or taking a seat in a nearly-empty train seem so odd? Just this slight difference in body posture means the difference between “normal” and “weird.” Practicing balance. The man is practicing balance. No matter what is beneath the feet, no matter how the body is thrown, he works to maintain balance.
Before the sun had risen I looked at the tarot card of the moon. But it was not just a moon in the dark sky, the shape of the moon was yellow and embedded within the round shape of the sun. Below the moon/sun was a long path, on either side of which was a dog and a coyote, both had their tails and heads raised to the sun/moon. All morning and afternoon I had held the image of balance. It was a balance and merger between the conscious and the subconscious, between the dreams and waking life. The unification of the spectrum and the long path that led beyond the mountains.
I watched the man practice his balance. He used his time differently. Much different that anyone else around him, much different than me. The train came to a stop and the man stood a little straighter, the double doors opened and he looked at me, “Have a good day now!” he said cheerfully as he walked out the doors. I smiled at him and the train continued on.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Power of the Secret

He woke up frightened. His chest was a rock of fear and his arms were covered in a glossy sweat. Someone knew what he had done. It had been many years, but now someone knew. The deed was out in the world. It swirled in the light of the sun and then found him in his dark apartment in the layers of night and dreams. How the rock had been turned, he had no idea. But the worms were exposed and a wind had drifted towards him and disturbed his still body.
The note had been left on his car. Such a small innocent piece of paper, no different from any of the other pieces of abandoned trash that coasted down the street until finally drifting to the sea. Only this one was not lost. It had not fallen out of a blue trash can on an early Tuesday morning. It had been folded with care and written with a precise hand that revealed black block letters. It was for him. And it found him. It began with his name and was attached perfectly to the side of his car. How he wished that a strong wind had shaken it loose and sent it running through grass and cityscapes, but it didn’t.
He grabbed it with curious eyes and slightly shaking hands. It was on his nightstand now. A small white innocent piece of paper, only its message was a demand.
“I know what you did. I want two million.”
He was over forty. He had done many, many things he was not proud of. Things he would never tell his mother. He had lived a wild life for many years. It was the consequence of money and fame. It was the consequence of being a male. It was the consequence of abundant energy and the pursuit of the unknown and the love of a female body. He had been ripe and he had stepped into the world wanting to lick it all.
As he sat in bed in the early morning light, the smell of coffee coming from the kitchen, he knew there were some things he would not repeat if given the chance. They seemed fun, they seemed okay at the time, at least some of them for a few minuets before rationality and consequences caught up to him, and although he tried not to live with any regrets, still there were some things he would not repeat. There were some things he didn’t want exposed. He was a public figure, he needed to fit, at least partially, into what the majority of his audience viewed as “appropriate.”
What did they know? Was it that one time on Christmas Eve? Or that one comment he said while intoxicated. What did they know? Which secret? There were a handful, some he didn’t want to think about.
His mind went to his family. He thought of their faces bunched in disappointment. He winced, his chest hurt. The walls began to push against their wooden supports, it felt like they could crumble. His skin glistened.
He looked within and suddenly he knew what they knew. His body was still wet, his heart still raced, but he knew. And now, he had to reduce its power. The secret, the deep, deep hole in his chest that spun like a wild storm would have to be revealed. His mouth would bring it forward. His words would expose it and turn it over and over until there was light. Until the eyes of the world judged him. He would tell them all, and he would drain the secret of its power. With each sentence, spoken live and slowly, he would let the flashlight of a million eyes do their work.
It was only a secret if no one knew. It only held strength as long as he locked it up in fear. Blackmail could work only if he held tightly to the moment, if he clenched and gritted his teeth and pushed the rock further into the moist dank earth. It was only a source of power if he kept it hidden in the closet of memories.
There would be no money. There would be no dark well within his chest anymore. Tonight he would expose himself, he would reveal his secret, he would tell them all and they would reject him or laugh, but the secret would be drained. The power of that little folded note would be worthless, because they would all know. And the secret would die under the sunlight. Such is the nature of secrets.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Brian David Mitchell


In this realm of the human. In this society we understand filled with cars, TV, politicians, ads, churches, movies, restaurants, laws…in this realm, in this American culture, there are shared symbols. Each single person will look at the same advertisement (or a thousand other things) in a different way based on their own upbringing, knowledge, memories, etc., but there is a basic shared language that exists between the bulk of the population. The shared collective symbols of right and wrong and beauty and ugly and funny and colors and laws is what allows millions of people to interact with each other through language and action. We can look around and see people behaving in generally the same way as we do, this we consider “sane.” Millions of people in America share the same “symbolic order.” The symbolic order are the words we use to explain our human experience. Words to describe our emotions, to describe our experience, words to describe our actions and understanding of events. Because of a general consensus that there is a God in the sky that created life on earth, because a majority of people share this “symbolic order,” (they use words like god, heaven, hell, creation, bible, etc) they all consider themselves normal and sane.

When there is a disconnect, when a minority of people (or perhaps one person) has a symbolic order (a collection of words used to explain their experience, etc) that does not fit within the larger symbolic order, there is conflict. These people are considered “insane.” They understand and explain the world with different words.

Brian David Mitchell believes he is a man of god. He was a street preacher in Utah in early 2000. Many people would have regarded him as a semi-delusional zealot who believes he can hear God. Many people pray to god. They talk to him, some think they hear answers, all of this is considered sane by the majority of the American public. But when a man does nothing but stand on the street and preach and shout and lecture to the passers-by about the word of God and Jesus, the majority, even the church going people, think that the mind has slipped.

Brian David Mitchell had constructed a world around himself, as we all do, to explain his existence. In his world, God speaks to him, God commands him. In his world, his symbolic system, men may have more than one wife. Men may do what they want with their women as long as they are married. Within his symbolic order, he believed that people must be humbled. They must experience the low-human state so they can one day experience a higher one.

There was one family that did not believe he was completely insane. The Smart family of Utah hired him to help repair their roof. He worked at their house for five hours one day. One night, he cut a hole in their screen, broke into their home and kidnapped Elizabeth Smart, the 14 year old from her bed in the middle of the night. He took her to the woods. His wife gave Elizabeth a robe and told her change to change into it. A small ceremony was performed and Brian David Mitchell proclaimed Elizabeth as his wife, he raped her afterwards, as he would many times afterwards. When his first wife complained that he was having sex with Elizabeth too often, he began to rotate between them. Elizabeth was found nearly a year later. "Anything I showed resistance or hesitation to, he would turn to me and say, 'The Lord has commanded you to do this. You have to experience the lowest form of humanity to experience the highest.”

Brian David Mitchell and his first wife are in police custody. They are both declared mentally unfit to stand trial. It is Mitchell’s explanation that the court sees as unstable. Although many people in this country pray, when God is used as a reason to commit a crime (actions the collective accepts as “wrong”) the general consensus of the explanation is “insanity.” This explanation is not shared in the symbolic order of the larger society.

The writer of a particular article about the Elizabeth Smart case used words like “horrific and sick” to describe Brian David Mitchell. This is the conflict. One man believes he is doing what God wants him to do. He is humbling a young woman so that one day she can reach a higher state. This is what he actually believes. This is how he actually understands the world. The police, the criminal justice system, her parents, neighbors, journalists, the Americana public see this act as the raping of a young girl by a crazy zealot. One deed is thought of as righteous, the same deed is seen by others as evil. Both are words used to describe an action.

Even in custody and in court, Brian David Mitchell continuously sang hymns to himself until he was removed from the courtroom. Perhaps the world around him seemed crazy, full of evil men who had no contact with god. Perhaps he sang to remind himself that he was the one with the truth. He was the one with God on his side. He had to sing to protect his world. He sang to protect his symbolic order, the world he had built for himself, the only world that still had a place for him.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Question

There has been a lifetime without understanding. A simple word. As though words were simple. As though a mere string of letters could ever begin to describe the shifting of something so subtle. Uttered, spoken, shouted with disgust, thought of with envy. A word. The simple word. The complex word. The question remains, what is it? The study has given me more questions. The statements, the answers, the thoughts, the ideas…they have all fallen, one by one. 2,4 ,6, 12, 16…the understanding has fallen, there never was an understanding, just the knee-jerk recollection of the letters.
How many more words are there? How many more ideas…how many more things that are stored up with no real study, with no real questioning? There is a lifetime of rusty accumulation. A lifetime of words, a lifetime of supposed understanding and usage. I ride the wheel and I am left holding an empty bag. The wind blows and I hear an echo. I truly don’t know. I have never known. Each thought is an elusive grasp into the fog of truth.
For what is truth? What is understanding? What is power? Traces run along the ground, I run my fingers along their trail. But where do they come from and where do they go? I look forwards, backwards, I call to my friend… “where are you?” there is no answer, just another gust of wind.
I have been listening to the sound of wind, the sound of dust hitting a window over and over. I have listened to its bell for three decades. I have called to it, played with it, danced with it…I have never known it. I have never looked beneath that skirt, never studied the shape of the long first letter, the curve of the last. And I haven’t looked in. I haven’t felt the muddled ball that whirls in a fog of letters and symbols and blue and black. I think I see traces, I think I can poke it…and maybe, maybe…but I look into the distance with squinted eyes. I look out and know that the earth is covered in fog and letters dance in the wind and my fingers are covered in slime and my mind is coated in an even thicker sludge.
First, I will need to scrape the green ooze off. First, I will need to sit with the stillness, the evaporated shapes, the missing thoughts. This is not ignorance, this is the understanding that I have never held between my fingers.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

In Bondage

And yet, in another form it dwells. There are so many rocks on the shore, all from the same massive cliffs. It is gray and hard with some dark caves that hide the whispers. And he stands at the podium, a well dressed man. Lights all around. Reporters and cameras. The talk, the strings of words and punctuation that wrap around and form a concept. The pack of brilliant speech writers who so blindly follow a man. Or they follow the money, or the ideology, or the power. Those sentences, they convince the majority of young boys to pick up a pen, then hold a gun. Then run and follow and sleep and yell and smoke. And maybe they’ll come back. Maybe they won’t. Maybe just a part of them will make it back, just a small part of their brain or body. They are so young, so eager to make their claim on the world. So eager for adventure, so eager to die, to spill over and into the unknown that waits with white and yellow and red explosions. But they are slaves to the machine of bondage and slaves to the force of war and corporate power. They have been convinced. With simple words, simple phrases that reach out to them with purple tentacles that clasp onto the things they know as ideals. Those words attach themselves, they bite with venom and they stay, they linger and they pull the strings. These are the boys that will give their lives. Give their lives for a carefully devised speech, for a carefully devised strategy that requires force and brute strength. What this country wants requires taking. They need guns, steel, ammo. They must be a sacrifice, and there is a willing martyr. An army in fatigues will lay down and die so that American corporations can gain access to new markets. They will die so that America can gain more power. They will die all so that a very few, so very few, can control more. And they are the pawns, the fatigues in bondage. The young eager men who moved without choice, without freedom. They give their breath for a machine that knows no limits, love, reason. They sit and listen and march. They move in tandem with a larger force. Men behind closed doors design their fate. It was never for freedom, never for democracy. Those words are meaningless, meaningless for the men in the suites that sit behind locked doors, men who are always safe. It is others that give their lives for their simulated ideals, others that die for an idea of something, perhaps never really knowing what it is. They are in bondage. Boys who move for the strength of American power. The ones who thought, perhaps ever so faintly, that they were doing something great. But they were the bodies. Simply bodies. Bodies moving for a larger force, a larger cause that knows no human interest. It is the pursuit of power. Always more power. And power, that elusive word that seems to have no real definition. Only the traces of its movement can be seen, like a streaking cloud. Is it tangible? Can it be seen or touched or felt by those who do not have it? America, the great brutalizer. America, the great bully. America, the great weapon maker. They are asked to give their lives, to die for the accumulation of another man’s power. And they say yes, as they have nothing else left to say.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Penis

They drive through the desert in their open green trucks. He stares into the yellow flat lands. Not a tree in sight, just the cracked earth and small gray bushes that have lost all their leaves in the drought, now they stand like skeletons naked in the sunlight. The hot air whips at his face. He squints, but he is used to it. The pain of dirt and pebbles and flying sand landing on his skin does not bother him anymore. When he was ten, he would cry when a rock scratched his skin as it flew through the air in a sandstorm, but now he just squints and tightens his jaw.
The caravan has thirty cars, each one with ten men. At fifty miles an hour, they send plumes of dry land spiraling behind them. He does not have to look, but he knows that each one of them is hard, that the bulge in their pants protrudes with eager anticipation.
They drive towards their village, the small collection of huts that is now theirs. Soon they will claim it. Each woman will soon know that she belongs to a new man. The village awaits helpless with no men, he knows, for they have slaughtered them all just ten miles away. The bodies lay dead and bloody in the sun. As their cars left the scene in no particular rush, he saw flies landing on their lips and wounds. Soon the vultures will come.
The defeated men had fought to defend their village, the men in the trucks had fought to take it, and they have emerged victorious. He shakes his head, “the fools had no chance,” he thinks.
Now they are going to take it. The women will be opened. Each one, multiple times. Their bulges are eager to take what is theirs. He looks on, expressionless.
“Those women, crouched in their tents are mine. The little girls are mine.”
He feels anger inside. He feels disgust.
“The old women are mine. The little boys are mine. They are my property, mine to use, mine to destroy.”
He wants them to understand this. He will show them. He will take them. He will put himself inside them until they all know that they are his. Each man in the caravan has won his prize. They have fought and seen spilled blood and lost comrades. They have lived for days without food and water and still they have fought, and now their new property awaits, perhaps unsuspecting, perhaps nearly dead with fear.
He will show them that they are his. With each thrust they will know. They will scream his name. And they will remember. It is his right. And tonight, he will do as he pleases.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Drop

The long silver bomb fell through the clouds and the women dropped to the ground. It wasn’t that they consciously thought of ducking, but their bodies melted and substance that had once been known as skin and bones and hair fell to the rumbling earth like heavy dust. When the waves of hot vibrations passed, the women looked through the remains of their buildings. They pulled out pieces of things they had once called children. Under heavy pieces of crumbled walls they discovered the loose remains of fingers and little toes. Tin cups that were once held by small hands during breakfast lay beneath a broken wooden table. When they found someone breathing, they called the remaining un-bandaged men and with sheets and what was left of their strength, they carried them to a makeshift infirmary in the place once known as the park. Only there were no trees left, just little sticks that had managed to stand up to the waves. They would have to find a new name for this barren land, it was no longer a park, it was nothing they recognized.
And their city, there would have to be new words to describe this collection of rubble that they once called Nagasaki. It was no longer a city, no longer a collection a tall cement buildings and crowded urban center. This place was a land of broken pieces. They combed through the piles of glass and wood looking for people once known as friends. They salvaged items their memories categorized as useful. The fire wind had come just a few hours before. The end of the world moved through them like a white cloud. It ripped through them, surely they had found hell, this was the landscape they had been warned of. It came from the sky, but they would have to search for understanding later. Now, they looked for their memories.
An old woman looked up to the clouds, to the blue dome she once believed contained her god. Was it the destruction of nature or man? What had crumpled everything she knew? Who had the power to flatten her home? Who had the power to take her children, to turn them to dust? She turned back to the land of cement. Back to the landscape of twigs and wrinkled flesh. Maybe they would understand later. Now, she looked for the things she recognized, before the hot wind had come. Before her home and children had turned to dust. Before there were crumpled men that needed water and bandages. Before the world was flattened. She picked up a pitcher of water and walked towards the wounded.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cutting The Cord

She takes one small breath, her first. The earth has opened up with light, long awaited through the long meaty tunnel. It is cold, her body feels a sensation without description, a pain without concept, just the raw brutal force of chill on still warm flesh. She takes another breath, her second.
A woman is crumpled against the backseat of a four-door car. Her open white thighs reveal streaks of pale blood that have yet to dry. She leans against the cold vinyl seat of the car, exhausted, sweaty and smiling. Beyond the window of the stopped car, there is night all around. A moon glows somewhere in the sky, only no one notices. The wind beats against the window of the round-edged car. And inside, in the yellow glow of an interior light, they can all see, something has come out.
Creation has turned along the wheel. For a moment, they all ride the second hand together, watching, breathing, crying as a new being emerges into the human realm. It has come, from a place that knows no buildings or cars or sympathy. This new thing, this new creature comes without language. Without concepts. From one realm into another, tonight, this thing has come
The night is cold. The young body feels the air with stark attention. This is the steady re-supply of nature. Whatever words and thoughts and explanations were used to create this little being, this is nature multiplying. This is creation. This is change. Replacement. One body spawns another. One gives as another takes. The night is so dark.
After the pains have left, the crickets take over the sounds in the darkness. They are in between towns. Like a piece of blood cut in the cord that must be tied. With this birth, they are bound.
The baby will learn, the baby will follow and imitate and the habits will be passed. From one generation to another. This new life will be stamped with all that has come before. It will turn into the human, it will live in this realm, in the world of language and thoughts and the mind. It will grow, until one day, it too will re-supply the earth with another young form, a new little body that will also come thoughtless and empty of language.
But now, the night is cold and the crickets sing. A little baby breathes. The force of creation moves.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hidden Motives

She held her picket sign high into the afternoon breeze. It was as though the wind itself was against them. As though the force of nature had conspired with all those greedy corporations and corrupt white-haired politicians to keep the truth of their message hidden. What had those scheming men who knew no justice done to the wind? How had it, too, been manipulated? She held it up, battling visible forces and those that moved in more subtle ways.
She had made the sign herself. She had gone to the store and bought markers and white cardboard and a thin piece of wood from the hardware store. She rummaged though the drawers in the garage and found some thin nails and hit the little metal spikes into the white board. This was the first time she had made a weather-resistant sign. Others she had made with tape had fallen apart after a few hours and she didn’t want to make the same mistake again, she had been doing it for many years. And so, feeling proud of the effort she had invested in making her sign, she held it a little higher, just a little prouder than the rest of the people that crowded around her with their own signs.
She was on a large grass covered mound, one thousand feet from the governor’s office, the place where bad decision were made. The building where men in suits cut funding for free lunch programs and health care for the poor. This is the place they came to work, dressed like other citizens, with shoes and ties and combed hair. Yet here, they did things that knew no sympathy. Here, they gained power by villainizing single mothers. They rose while the rest of them drowned…and they still looked like other men. So she was here, among thousands of other like-minded individuals, demanding that the shenanigans end.
There had been speakers on the stage for an hour and a half. They were critics of the system, victims, professors…they all used the bullhorn and the crowd clapped enthusiastically throughout their speeches. She watched as a young woman with long brown dreadlocks approached the impromptu stage. She climbed the stairs, walked to the microphone and began to speak, only there was no sound. A couple of people on stage dashed to the speakers and wires and began to fiddle with the cords.
She lowered her sign for a moment and turned around. Smiling, she surveyed the crowd.
“So beautiful,” she thought. “So full of youth and vigor and anger.”
She remembered her first protest, it was at least twenty years ago, she had come with a boyfriend who had been a college student, a few years older than her. She hadn’t been too interested in going to a march through downtown Washington, she would have rather stayed in his dorm room and watched a movie and cuddled and maybe even make-out till her lips hurt and he would be hard and she would have to push him away with an embarrassed smile. But that day he had made it clear what he wanted to do, he was going. She could come or not, either way, he knew where he would be on Saturday. And of course she did go.
She went and was invigorated by the crowd. She saw her boyfriend as never before, chanting in unison with the crowd. Waving his arms in the air. She was swept away by the energy and she chanted too, sending her voice into the crisp morning air. More than anything, she remembered the way he smiled at her as they turned the corner of Lincoln and Harvard. The sun was sending rays of light down through the clouds and he smiled at her while his voice raised in angry unison with thousands of others. He smiled with all the energy he had and she felt him move inside like a beam of light.
In that moment, she felt loved. By him, by the crowd. They made love later that night for the first time, the only time they would ever do so.
More than the culmination of his sticky desire, he filled her that night with the seed of action. Politics would become her obsession. She went to rallies on poverty and forums on social justice. She had done tree-sits and humanitarian missions to Gaza. She had done it all, there were so many problems to solve, so much to do. She only wished she had more hands, more bodies, more time.
She remembered him again, that boyfriend with a scraggly goatee and hazel eyes. He had made her laugh. He had kissed her just right. She had had so many lovers since then, even a husband now, but she remembered her moment of political awakening. In his arms, with his loving eyes on hers. And her voice rose again, in angry unison with thousands of others.