Saturday, December 11, 2010


Now I am inside out, like a startled aquatic oddity. This is my only defense: no shell, no spines – just grotesque inversion and a silent wish. It’s my primal instinct, my second nature. Cold pressure embraces me as I descend, claustrophobic in my own skin. The weight of paradox finishes the job: I am forced inward, I expand outward.

This is easy to explain. It’s covered in countless textbooks, pamphlets and the literature accompanying certain medications. But understanding is prosaic; explanation is trite and easy. Endless equations and abstracts thick with Latinate ramblings – these are creature comforts only to b-movie brains residing in liquid-filled jars.

How can I take such terms and place them in your heart? Only that kiln can fire them, reducing words to ideas and refining ideas into feelings. This impossible alchemy is surprisingly commonplace. Every day, we sublimate desires into the ether – ripe fruit for the nearest receiver. We write a book of affect, blithely cramming unspoken meaning between the lines.

We think – no, rather… we convey, therefore we are. And by this means, we find so many ways of existing. But few of us can locate our clockwork souls. They are mysterious even as they create the wonders of form, gesture and quiet meaning that emanate from each of us.

Only a master can plan this. You must become an engineer. You must learn the ways of gears and springs. Even then, the magic is not assured. Art happens when ability fails to stifle intent. Then, everything floats. The perpetual motion machines are pulled from the stream of time, but they keep moving. You see them with unrefracted clarity, and you finally understand. Intricate pieces form a subtle gestalt that reflects the chemistry in our little hearths.

Yet, despite the expertise of the master and the engineer, this is instinct. To food, water and security, add ecstasy. This need fills the spaces between our heartbeats. We all want out, and our beauty, athleticism and charm attest to our solipsistic predicament – not a denial of reality, but recognition of its profusion, its plurality. We cannot ignore the many worlds around us, despite our dearest wishes. The market is flooded with personal cosmologies: nobody is buying, everybody is selling, and we all hope to at least share the burden of ownership.

A hapless muse lives in each of us. It’s there from the moment the natal apron string is snipped. We each incubate one deep inside ourselves. We feed our djinn the fruits of sensation and nurse them with unpasteurized desire; in return, they guide us toward a more profound sustenance. With their help, we digest experiences; we break down those meaningless molecules and reconfigure them inside ourselves – we reconfigure ourselves with them. And as we grow our muses grow, until we need to let them out from time to time.

But sometimes the muse can seem a harpy. What else would dig its talons so deeply into one’s flesh… so deeply that they pierce bone? Brittle shells easily crack and give way to angry, bloody marrow. Everything pithy is quickly brought to the surface, but expedience is accompanied by agony and horror. You’re thankful in spite of yourself. The beast will let go, but what will be left when it does?

This is a Modernist muse. Neither Greek nor Roman poets ever called upon this demigod. Though our creations often emanate from us in a manner resembling the old, revered rites, they are just as frequently ripped from our hearts and minds in spastic fits. The ancients took in reality and distilled it repeatedly until they found a perfect ideal. They surrounded themselves with this.

But the creators of Classicism got ahead of themselves and were left with ornate shadow puppets – gorgeous and elaborate masterpieces hamstrung by their own unattainable beauty. We moderns take in reality and relay the actual effect it has upon us, thereby laying a modest, but real, stepping stone toward attaining our own ideals.

But I wonder if this is any less mythical than the old benevolent fairy tales. When one’s inner ancient mind guides the trajectory of a paint splatter, is the product any less mythical than when that same bundle of nerves creates a world of magical gods? Untouchable reality married to material form always gives birth to mysticism.

Joy and sadness may seem self-evident in The Pieta, but no messianic story can entirely explain why we feel Mary’s sadness when we see her gently craned neck and her outstretched arms. A slight alteration might have destroyed this illusion. Similarly, a Rothko canvas is easy to explain superficially, but the beginning of an inner monologue is quietly, mysteriously woven into its proportions of color and texture.

These are markers on an evolutionary continuum. Classicism was the articulation of a contrived yet sublime reality. Expressionism was the desperate unloading of our hearts’ contents. Post-Modernism is a dazed eclecticism reconstructing reality in the wake of the cataclysmic twentieth century. Meanwhile, fresh cataclysms keep piling up.

Humanity’s soul continues to confront humanity’s reality, and we will always strive to externalize our internal lives. In this way, we can hold them at arm’s length. We can ponder them, view them from different angles and uncover their quickly-shifting meanings. This has always been a function of art, whether it concerns our consciences or our ideals.

Logic guides the hand of expression. Even when it is violent, emotional, abstract or formalistic, art puts crucial values into a contextual relationship with each other. We construct models of our emotional lives and test their validity.

Thus, the instinct for art and the instinct for science form one organic whole. The former orders and examines our inner worlds just as the latter does the outer world.[1] Both are attempts to discover relationships amongst vital agents; both reveal how those relationships change when exposed to different contexts and stimuli. Both are disciplines of personal fulfillment which reach their greatest meaning as forms of communal experience.

[1] Psychology is science; it addresses our internal lives in terms of physical realities and external abstractions. This is good and useful, but unlike art, psychology does not attempt to engage that eternal mystery we call the soul.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Open Letter

I’m talking into the void. Nothing is there now.

But I remember someone else speaking just a while ago. They spoke very clearly about friendship and how important it is… how it’s the most important thing. They even shed tears for that most important of things.

But now there is nothing. I’m listening to the void.

“What happened,” I ask, knowing what happened. Truth would have been the wrong tool for this job; it’s blunt and not very functional. A lie is multi-faceted and endlessly useful – ideal for misleading both the deceived and the deceiver.

But this crime is not without a victim. I claim that pyrrhic prize - that lonely plot of ground - for myself and only myself. I will childishly defend it and use it as a vantage point from which to throw blame. It’s all I have left.

I was clinging to friendship, but nothing is there now.

There is only tension – and the pain that accompanies it. It’s the tension between dearly missing a friend and hoping I never see them again. If we did meet, I know I would still be speaking into the void, and that pain would be unbearable.

Now the only thing between us is the void.

The stage in this tacky melodrama was managed even worse than the deplorable circumstances demanded. The dialogue was filled not only with lies but trite platitudes, vacuous self-help and other pedantic nonsense. In any other case, I would have fallen asleep by act one, scene two. Unfortunately, though, I found myself to be one of the main players.

But my lines merely fall into the void. This show has become a one-man play. A dialogue has become a monologue. It’s spoken to an indifferent audience. It will go on long after the seats are vacant, the doors are locked and the lime lights quietly snuffed.

It will get terrible reviews.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hallowed Ground

This is my declaration, a clear statement of grievances, an open letter, as much for everyone as for no one at all.

None of this was ever going to be right. As always, though, blindness struck us all. We filled our closets with our concerns – so many unwanted step-children. We locked the doors. When they finally came out they were ghost-white, emaciated and speaking – in ungodly tongues – of fear, hope, confusion and weakness.

Of course, I can’t speak for you. I can only guess. But everyone is drawn to quiet graveyards and dim copses – places where things are continually laid to rest and brought into being. This contradiction strains the continuity of the underlying matrix, makes it unrecognizable.

These are the places where it all began. These are the places we always flock to, unsure of the virtue of our intentions, unmindful of things we’ve packed away. We go looking for someone… not those who are lost yet ever-present; we look for those who are still living. With luck, someone arrives – someone who can chase away our ghosts or, better yet, devour them. Yes… maybe they will consume our dormant ideals, our breathless expectations, and be nourished by them. In turn, we will also be nourished.

That’s who we want and who we want to be – someone who will grasp those brightly burning archetypes and give them faces, hands, hearts. But we easily over-reach. We breach our bounds and eventually find ourselves in fetters, anchored, our spleens perpetually vented and perpetually renewed.

That’s how I came to juggle the warmth of reason and the wrath of sentiment. And I’m not the only one; it’s a human condition. There can be no finger-pointing. Throw a stone, and you’re sure to hit a victim.

None of these insights help us. In fact, they make our footing less certain. And I built my home on these shifting sands. I wasn’t sure, I didn’t know, but it seemed right. But that ground shifted, and I became dislocated in my own house. I stepped outside and stayed behind. It was the right thing to do.

But, like an idiot, I left behind my possessions. When the creeping ground turned into a landslide, I found myself destitute. It’s a common disaster; it happens a thousand times a day to a thousand different people. It means everything in the world, and it means nothing at all.

I was even more foolish, though. I have a greater grievance against myself.

I hate myself. Of course, hating one’s self, in itself, is not so infamous a crime. It’s as common as jaywalking or littering, and – if creatively used – can become beautiful graffiti. But I continually perjured myself on this point. My defense is that it seemed obvious, in light of my flippant self-aggrandizement and smug charades.

I should wear this on my sleeve – for the sake of my lovers, my friends and myself. But all I have is silence, and my thoughts keep echoing back. In this way, a million imagined offenses surround me. I wanted to be rid of my ghosts just like everyone else. But, through avoidance, I’ve fed them. And they have possessed me. So, if I lash out, you should never be afraid. But feel free to be offended; I shamefully admit that this was only ever about me.

This is my airing of grievances – the start of my long exorcism. Sometimes our ghosts can be chased away or consumed – but not these. These spirits must be extracted and buried. They must be laid to rest where crippled logic and feeble molecules are reduced to base elements. There, they will lose all identity and meaning. Finally, with time, they will nourish that hallowed ground and give birth to worthier aspirations.

Saturday, October 09, 2010


I’m at LAX, again. I’m always coming back. My itinerant ways bring me here whenever I touch ground. And if it’s not LAX, it’s some other nameless port. But they’re all LAX to me.

It’s always sunny – so goddamned sunny. But it doesn’t warm anything. Sure… everything gets baked at first, but it hardens, becomes burnt, and steadily morphs from insulator to conductor. Just like everything around here – incessantly conducting – running relays through metal bars and wires pathetically wrapped in Bakelite and naugahyde.

No, the sun’s heat doesn’t warm… it just peels and strips everything. It sits, laconic yet persistent. The sun reveals all while saying nothing. It leaves us all naked - exposed. When it’s not content with that, it bores into us. It will strip the flesh from one’s shoulder – leave the nerves cold and unfeeling.

I’m stuck in the terminal. There’s an over-night delay. Crews replace an engine. I hate flying.

In here, there is air conditioning – not the creature comforts of home – but the precise quantifying of one’s environment. It chills me. I step outside, in the 90-degree heat, and still find myself chilled. I feel cold because I hate flying. Suspended animation. You are nowhere, your location denoted by a string of co-ordinates. Your existence is reduced to scientific abstraction.

How many licks does it take to get to the center of Tootsie-Pop? More importantly, when that sunlight is done peeling away at me, what will it find?

But I’m still stuck in the terminal. It’s just as bad as searing on the tarmac or careening through the air. The tension of isolation amongst so many people drives me to a window. Through the crystalline glass, I think I can make out the turgid, nourishing air. Inside, there is no re-assuring moisture, and there is no disconcerting stench – a fact I find disconcerting. Has the HVAC swept the humanity from this place, or was there every any to be had?

I need a good stink. A good stink – not the putrid messenger of a tragic accident or a pressing purpose. I need a smell not inflicted, yet also unrehearsed. No infusions of the flesh – no oils or powders or washes soon to go skyward. I need the seminal baby smell that never leaves us - the one which, in our finest hours, sneaks into our semi-somnolent minds - the one which reminds us we’re home.

I don’t even know why I’m travelling. It seemed long ago that I had a reason, a duty. Now, I’m no longer pulled toward something… I’m nudged forward. By myself? By somebody else? Both, probably. I find a place to call home, but rarely stay in the house. Months later, I’m on a plane, missing the white picket fence and the foundation – a foundation which grew from the very core of the earth.

Regardless, I’m at LAX, again. And I hate flying. Everything is weak, and my heart pounds in my head. The new engine in the 747 will take me somewhere.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Beautiful Letter

I wanted to write you a beautiful letter. I sat down. I looked at the page. And time and space split in two. Out fell baubles and trinkets, monuments and facades. Out fell trees and stars, the obsequies of love and the tied-down tension of passion.

Out fell symphonies and Child ballads, accompanied by whispers, soft sobbing and the careless music of words gifted to a trusted confidante. Wind chimes and church bells impressed glinting stars and bright supernovae onto my mind. Faintly, behind it all, was the radiant hum that never began and will never end but insistently defines the boundary of our lives.

I wanted to write you a beautiful letter. Not a poem, but still a singerless song. A message not made of words or clauses or punctuation but of the spaces in between. Yet the maker’s hand kept getting in the way, groping to make out the features of it-knew-not-what – perhaps the cold, wet spaghetti brains in a makeshift fright-house. Incessantly searching, but never finding, its energy was spent haplessly losing the truth. Science told us this would happen, but instinct told us first.

All these things happened. I swear it’s true. All these things pressed from behind the veil of my eyes; only gentle corneal surface tension prevented a deluge of meaning and a drought of truth.

I looked at the page. Serene. Nothing more or less than it ever was. Was the Zen master mistaken? Did he propose an onion skin of illusion while he merely smothered his mind with a blanket? Schopenhauer, too – so desperate – so honest – but specious – what kind of criminal was he? Was he thieving us of reality or murdering his conscience? Either way, he’s forgiven. Like a vandal, his destructive ego shielded the heart of a defenseless child.

I wanted to write you a beautiful letter, or rather forge you a symbol – a seal which could hold the menagerie – or perhaps a ribbon and bow with a protean label attached. And every time you looked at it you’d understand a different aspect of a truth not funneled through space and time. Inside the box would be the effluvia that dance through the mind – on one hand inspiring creation, on the other threatening destruction: hope, strength, despondency, wisdom, pain, foolishness, amongst others.

Love, too. Of course, love – in itself more given to transformation while also permeating everything else. It is the only thing which can translate this all for us, but it’s a blind poet. It will define everything in epic and ancient terms which will make sense but be ultimately useless. We’ll stay sewn into its mesh, but never see the larger picture. The only thing that can help us, the only thing we can grasp, is the single thread between me and you. It’s a thread, not a wire. It will never speak, but will slowly betray its purpose in silence.