Thursday, May 21, 2020

music and crushes

my whole life has been
music and crushes
hard to tell
which starts where
the elliott smith
line of notewords
that sparks like
a firefly
looping around
a pond
and someone
seen for sunlight
seconds walking
through a door
can’t break
them apart:
surging the same
in ‘78 or 2020
only the songs
are different

Saturday, May 2, 2020

The National Prayer Breakfast, 2020

A boa constrictor zig zigs into the banquet hall, elevates its head and knocks over a pot of coffee.

The lights go out. A swarm of bats rush through a hole in a window and circle the giant chandelier. Their wings make a slapping sound and their whirring speed stokes a wind that elevates the combover of the president.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Thanatos in St. Paul?

Viewing the videos of the "Give Me Liberty and Give Me Death" protests, I don't get the impression that the folks rIding on Harleys and in minivans are not necessarily more financially desperate than the average Joe or Jess at this time. If it's not financial urgency, then what is driving this odd and shocking behavior -- behavior that Darwin tells us runs contrary to the basic instinct of all animals: the instinct to survive.

It could be that one reason Trumpists are so desperate to venture out into virus-threatened public spaces is because they lack an interior life. This culture tries to steer us away from the cultivation of a spiritual, creative and imaginative center. This is because so much of what constitutes the pursuit of an inner life is free or at least not terribly expensive and this culture is threatened by and terrified of that which cannot be sold. The isolation and the physical space limitations are challenging for all of us, but those of us who have passions that can be pursued alone and away from market culture have found some valuable moments of learning and contemplation during the quarantine. However, when one's self is so heavily identified with the the market economy, through one's purchases and favorite "brands" and through one's role as a worker in the economy, being faced starkly with one's self can be very unsettling.

For the lucky among us, an $8 used book can buy us days of reading and years of reflection and rereading. We can down $150 for a guitar and some money for lessons and have decades of exploration with the instrument. I fear that many of the Americans rallying to return with haste to a virus-haunted world may face a howling and barren valley when confronted with themselves.

And finally, let's say it: There may be a death drive at work here. I recall an interview Derrick Jensen did with poet and community activist Luis Rodriguez. When asked how youth could engage in such perilous behavior, Rodriguez explained how a lot of the gang kids he works with in East LA engage in such dangerous behavior because they cannot imagine a future for themselves. He said that their gang violence was an indirect way of seeking suicide.

Do people who cherish life, who cherish their own lives go bounding out into the streets, crowding together during a quarantine? I don't know. But these are questions worth asking.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Book Review: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, by Masha Gessen.

I'm listening to the audiobook of "The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin," (2012) by Masha Gessen. While I am enjoying the intrigue of the late 80s Soviet Union and all the remarkable shifting of pieces and the uncertainty and the boiling over of frustration into rebellion, I find myself only able to listen to 20 minutes at a time of the book. I only now figured out why: It is because Vladimir Putin, now and certainly then, is an extraordinarily boring man. The story of his life is like this: He wants to do this thing and then he does this thing. He must talk to this person, so he talks to this person. His ambition is that of the cockroach: plodding along trying to get some crumbs of bacon fallen to the floor. He is a man devoid of introspection. The effect of listening to an account of Putin's life is soporific: an effective identity for a KGB man and future dictator.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Why Does Donald Trump Lie So Much?

When Donald Trump denies saying something that he has said, has he forgotten what he previously said? Has he perhaps convinced himself that he never said it? My sense is that Trump is not an amnesiac. Rather, he has an inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that he does anything wrong or says anything wrong. His psychological development is arrested at around the age of eight or nine years old — the age when the parent points out that the son has tracked dog crap into the house and the son responds like Bart Simpson, saying, “It wasn’t me.” I remember lying like that. My dread of the shame I would feel upon admitting that I tracked dog crap into the house was so great that I felt I had to lie.
Fortunately, in my case, I learned that lying actually created more personal pain and problems for me than admitting the truth did. The guilt I felt about lying was a very bad feeling and the amount of work it took to fabricate more lies in order to support the original lie was more labor than I was willing to do. I liked playing basketball, running around in the woods by Lake Michigan and riding my bike with my friends too much to spend my all my time and energy concocting falsehoods.
Telling the truth about errors I made or even bad things I knowingly did allowed me to gradually learn to feel less shame about my mistakes and foibles, about being human. In other words, I learned to screw up, admit it and not be crippled by shame. I think this is a crucial milestone in the development of a person. It can happen earlier or later in life, but it must happen or the person will remain trapped by fear of embarrassment and shame in a castle made of their own lies. And that grim castle, with the walls slowly pressing in, is where the president dwells.
Pity the child raised by a parent who suffers from perfectionism. They are made to feel that screwups and failures are not acceptable. We know from accounts of Trump’s life that Fred Trump was such a parent: a rigid and avaricious fellow who would tolerate nothing but the most superficial type of success from his ne’er do well son, Donald. Trump learned to lie early and he found it a hard habit to break. Learning to admit one’s gaffes is like learning to swim. If you do not learn it at a young age, you do not know that being in the water can be a comfortable place, even a soothing place. You must go through those early days of flailing about in the water to be able to learn to relax and ultimately find grace in your movements in the water.
I have taught immigrants English as a Second language for twenty years and more than once I’ve found myself in front of the class, at the crossroads between admitting I didn’t know something and pretending I did. A language is a living organism, always changing, morphing slightly to take in new vocabulary or alter syntax, to adjust punctuation or reconstruct grammar. Consequently, I can sometimes find myself telling my students something incorrect about the language. Inevitably when this happens, a smarty pants student (or just me) will catch the mistake and then I must admit in front of a room full of people that there are things about my native language I’m not clear about. The first time did this was excruciating; sweat pooled down my back and my voice cracked. Nineteen years later, admitting that I have told the class something stupid is practically effortless. I even enjoy it! I can joke about it with the students and experience the satisfaction that comes with learning something new.
Tragically, the president cannot enjoy such small graces. And because he lives the most public of lives, we must witness him sledgehammer the truth daily, spitting out non-sequiturs and twisting reality into absurd and grotesque forms. We have all had the opportunity to chat with a world class bullshitter perched on a bar stool, waiting beside us for a train or sitting next to us on an airplane. During such encounters, we think, “Poor guy. Doesn’t he know that he needn’t lie like that in order to have people like him?” And then we exit the bar, catch the train or plane and start to put some distance between us and the fabulist. Would that we could with the president.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

William Blake Was Not a Content Provider

William Blake was not a content provider
When he flew a red kite above the London smoke
When he dreamt of windstorms pummeling factories
When he heard the sound of a child walking on the roof
William Blake was not a content provider
When he walked for miles beside the icy Thames
When he dreamt of a wren calling out from a slag heap
When he saw a man walking a tiger in Piccadilly Circus
William Blake was not a content provider
When the plague returned to London
When the souls of the dead exited the coal mines
Wearing wicker masks of horses and sheep for the harvest

for Leo Gonçalves

Friday, March 13, 2020

Mike Pence in The Haze

Mike Pence is the great American absence. At some point in his youth, he became some other one, someone that is not he. Now his voice issues from that other, while his face remains perplexed, in the zone between what he was and what he's become. And Mike Pence? Well, he's not there. The job of “Mike Pence” is to carry around the face and the voice so that they may broadcast a version of Mike Pence that he is not. The voice, the face and the bearer are made to lie for his boss, which he does and he doesn't even know why. There is a mercy: Reading the Bible brings a poetic ecstasy wherein the false Mike Pence fades and the real one emerges and resonates like a struck bell to the word-cadence, Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary, the devil as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. But this lasts for mere seconds and then his fear of a vengeful father God hurling lightning, threatening to sacrifice sons returns and the other face and the other voice come back, leaving their bearer to a cruel limbo that plods on dumbly into the haze of days.