Valley Of Tears

the edge of the abyss
is where we dance
singing is prohibited
without the scream

flipping pages
backwards to front
to complete the story tell
kept inside of empty ears

laughter comes so final
accidental as a shiver
the signs point to home
a valley full of tears

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Happy New Year

For about a decade I taught one of those classes you have to take when lose your operator’s license for driving while impaired.

It’s been a few years since I left that job, but much of it has still stayed with me. Like the fact that, come February, work would always pick up. It was the only job I had where I actually got sad if we had plenty of work.

I had a unique way with people, and so they used to book all of the crazies, and easily half off the assholes (even though I taught only an eighth of the classes). For some reason people trusted that I was trying to help them get their lives back on track, and had no ulterior motives. I think most times I was actually able to do that.

The reason I mention all of this is that it contributed to how much I heard and saw while teaching in that classroom. Mostly what I saw was and constant line of people who just wanted their freedom back. But, it’s the stories that stick with me these days. And I still remember many of them too vividly. Some were funny as hell. Many were boring. Too many some were soul-crushing. But one thing that every story had in common was the fact that none of them had planned on it happening. Witnessing that kind of regret never really leaves you. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to try to live with it.

Tonight is a night celebrated around the world. The cyclical nature of the new year reminds us of the passage of time. Both in looking forward to the future, and for hindsight and memory. Plan for the first, so that the latter is something you actually want to revisit.

Please have a safe and healthy new year everyone.

Peace.

I Separate Myself

I was just texting with a friend who had just come back from a house party, and part of his comments were that he didn’t feel like he fit in with that particular group of people. My initial response was, “I feel like that at every party.” Which isn’t entirely true, but it sometimes feels like it. In fact, for about 95% of my life, I’ve felt like I’ve only had about 5% in common with any person in the room.

For myself, I feel as though that happens to me when I am acutely aware of my-self. You know, that part that tells me that J am actually separate from others. There’s something about those feelings of isolation, or separation that seem to fuel the egos growth, solidifying the belief that we are unique and different from others.

Of course, none of that is actually true. The more I lose myself in any situation, whether some music or even just a really good conversation, the less I am thinking about myself. I don’t think about whether I’m hungry or not, or if I’m bored, or even if I am being self-conscious about the clothes I’m wearing. Instead, I am engrossed in the moment, in the now. I am present.

Self-talk, that chattering monkey in your head, necessarily requires you to pause your attention to the current moment, and asks of you to step slightly outside of it to gain perspective. While this view is only a subtle difference, it’s more than enough to stop you from being fully present.

When we aren’t present in our own life, we miss the magic of the moment. And by missing that we begin to separate from others, just a little bit. We begin to see the differences between ourselves and others. And when we do that, we begin to make judgements, even the most well-meaning of which encourage us to compare and separate again. And each time it needs just a little bit more, inch by inch, stretching on for miles.

And we find that, no matter the teacher, the message is the same. “Judge not, lest ye be judged”, is nothing more than a statement of cause and effect, one that we can expect to happen if we allow ourselves to step back in order to observe the differences between ourselves and others. That in itself is neither a good nor a bad thing. What it is though, is simply the statement of a natural law that we can count on as surely as gravity pulls us back to earth.

It is a mile built on inches.

Because, once we do, we have begun to lead ourselves into the hell of no longer truly being on the same plane as others around us. Each judgement one more small wedge that we use, to split ourselves off of the larger tree of society.

When I am sitting in a party and begin to think, “I’m not sure I agree with that lady’s politics”, or whatever other differentiation I might toss to my mind for fodder and fun, is the moment that I set that this separation in motion.

And only we can do it to ourselves. I am the only person actually capable of deciding whether or not to put chasms of thought between myself and the person sitting right next to me.

I was listening and laughing to David Sedaris’s Santaland Diaries near the end of this writing, and during a discussion about forced enthusiasm and fake authenticity, David uttered such a profound line that I stopped dead. It summed up everything I was saying about the cause and effect nature of self-judgement that dooms then dooms us as individuals. And it’s that line I will end with:

“All I do is lie, and that has made me immune to compliments.”

Live Art

I saw Bohemian Rhapsody recently with some friends, and I loved it. I’m also old enough to have been around for the first time around. Long before it seemed necessary to immortalize it on the big screen as its own story.

Soon after I saw it, I found myself listening to an interview with Rami Malek as he discussed what it was like to attempt to portray Freddy Mercury, and it got me thinking. Imagine the process someone has to go through when they try to portray a primarily contemporary musical idol to their original audience, as well as a newer world. More than that, someone who was such an absolutely massive personality. I mean, Freddy Mercury was, if nothing else, a man with a huge presence in recent musical history. A personality that embodies, and maybe even defines the title of “lead singer in a rock and roll band”.

And, during this interview, Malek, begins to describe how to emulate a man who, when he was on stage, gave 120% at all times…

I stopped right there.

Ok, at so first my pedantic nature takes over and I think, “Ugh. I hate that crap. Per Cent. Per 100! If we are giving something our all, that all would be 100% of what we have to give, right?! I hate this crap. It’s just over-the-top Tony Robbins motivational blargspeak, and it makes my teeth itch. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought about why some people make us feel as though they can give beyond what we think they are capable of giving. Therefore, when they give it their all, we see that it’s in excess of what we expected to see from someone like that. And we label it as them having given 120%.

Sigh.

But, this is about art. My belief is that art is really spirit. Or, more specifically art comes out of the gaps in our spirit. It reaches itself out to, seeking the same in others. And art is the language they speak.

Art is spirituality manifested in some form that pleases/stimulates/connects with other people’s spirits, and it communicates entirely on its own plane. It comes into being when its creator creates it, or names it, or loves it, or even passionately hates it. Sculpture and music, painting or stagecraft, subway platforms or museum niches, art exists because we’re human. In the darkest of places, art is a blazing torch. Even in the mundane, art is the eyebrows* we put on that spreadsheet of dry numbers we give to our boss.

But what about the artist who doesn’t have cracks, or even gaps in their shell? What about those who are almost raw spirit under a thin human veneer, coming face to face with the world for the first time. They don’t create when they make their art, they become it. As they perform their art, they create an energy around them that is its own, higher form of art. This form we call ‘love’.

I don’t think artists like Freddy Mercury are capable of giving 20% more than everyone else. I think they are somehow able to transmit the love they helped create when their untethered spirit is finally allowed to fluently speak its native tongue. That’s what we call that ‘art’.

And the best we’ve come up with to describe this phenomenon is, ‘he gave 120%’?! No. No. No. We’re going to need to get an artist on this right away and change that.

A Real Nail Biter

People with chronic anxiety, huddle up! It’s time to give yourself that ‘pep talk’ that only you can give to yourself…

“Get out there Tiger! Don’t worry, today’s going to be boring! Everything going to go as planned, finally. And, for once there won’t be any nasty surprises!”

“No ones going to scream about something in your ear, or yell at their kids when you happen to be close enough to get the ‘shock’ from it. Better yet, I’ll bet you no one is going to yell near you at all!”

“Today you’re not going to have to worry about your boss. You’re won’t need to get clarification from them when they give you vague instructions about some incredibly sensitive matter that they won’t offer you any help with, never mind answer your questions. Instead, everything will make sense, and every angle will be covered beforehand. Doubt is a thing of the past!”

“Today’s the day that your family, and friends won’t ask how you’re feeling, nor will they even have to. You won’t have to deal with that moment when the conversation awkwardly dies, because you don’t have the answer they’re hoping for. Today no one is going to ask you at all, and all of the conversations will be fine.”

“Today will also be the day that your heart rate will finally respond to those breathing exercises everyone has been showing you for years. You know the ones. You’ve tried them a million times, but they only seem to work on normal people. Not today, my friend!”

“And best of all, today you won’t need those rescue meds either. Which means, you won’t need to worry about feeling crappy for days afterwards because of all the side effects.”

“Today is your day! Enjoy, or not. It’s totally up to you! Do whatever you want to today.

And don’t worry, there’s no reason to second guess any of this. It’s all good!”

In Memoriam… And it’s time to get to work

The last few years has been a tough ride for me personally. I lost a brother to an overdose. I lost my mother to cancer. I lost one of my oldest friends, and the best man in my wedding, to Alzheimer’s. There’s also a handful of other major events that would take too long to explain in this particular post. When I look back at every one of those losses, there is a fairly large gap in my blog post history. Who knows why? I suppose it’s one of the ways I don’t deal with grief, by simply ignoring any decent coping mechanism I have for processing it.

A week ago today, I lost one of the most influential people I have ever had the privilege to know and collaborate with. This time the loss is directly relevant to my spiritual well-being, as well as what I write about.

Brian and I met over a decade ago, when he was hired by a friend of his, who was also my boss. A lucky break for me since the same guy had been telling me that I would probably get along really well with his friend Brian. A suggestion that sparked one of the most pivotal relationships in my life.

He was more than just a friend. He was a mentor in a number of areas for me. At other times, he preferred to be the student. It was one the purest definitions of friendship I have ever experienced. For myself, I believe that’s because we recognized ourselves in each other.

Over time, we created and authored a number of blogs that discussed a range of topics. He was one of the few people I can honestly say was able to deliver criticism to me in a way that completely bypassed my defenses, and the need to defend myself from the criticism. He could bypass my defenses and deliver information in a way that made it easy to see his point, simply removing my normal need to save face.

I don’t write because I want to. On most days, it’s more of a need. But, when my ego flairs, writing the type of stuff I do can be painful sometimes. Based on what I know, I suspect that Brian had to learn how to reduce his own ego before he could help anyone else with theirs. I am a far better person today for having known him.

I haven’t used his full name for a few reasons. The first of which is that I haven’t sought any sort of permission from his family to compose a written memorial. But also because I think I knew him well enough to know that, the idea of anyone trying to memorialize him in any way, would have given him the heebie jeebies.

Over the years he pushed me hard to get over myself, and to finally realize some of the projects I wanted to work on. But, like most people, most of it’s blocked by whatever bullshit excuse for a fear that I’d given myself. Each time that he pushed, he was careful to do so in a way that was always most helpful to others, and less likely to focus accolades back on us. In other words, Brian showed me what humility was, from the inside.

Okay, so now after having written all of that nice stuff, it also appears that I have also acquired my own glasses-wearing, mustachioed Obi Wan-ghost, wandering around and bugging me that I’ve still got work to do.

You see, I am not trying to memorialize Brian so much as I am trying to write about the passing of a close friend as a way to exercise my own demons. And also to let people know that I plan to change directions with this blog for a little while, if that’s okay (and even if it’s not). This blog was never meant to be a political bitch session. That’s purely a side effect of our current political climate.

I have been working on a series of essays that discuss the current and ongoing change in status that cannabis is experiencing as medicine, as well as how that might affect people in recovery for things like alcoholism.

Because of some of the training I have, both personally and professionally, this is a topic of great personal importance to me. It’s also one that few seem willing to tackle. And it’s here that Brian recently applied his gentle pressure, for me to continue to explore the subject, so that we could continue to help others in whatever way works for them.

My secondary reason for this post is to ask help from the readers: If you know anyone who can be helped by this information, please share it with them, this topic must be a give and take. Like much of our political discourse these days, the medical benefits of things like cannabis are subject to media favoritism. And the popularity of certain methods and medicines, ebbs and flows on public perception. A perception that is largely informed by backdoor deals and lobbying efforts, usually designed to enrich someone else, somewhere else.

What we really should be doing is using the technology we passively browse, and instead push it to increase our own access to information. We need it to help us expand our knowledge of the truth, and about the real efficacy of our medicines, and our politics. And for many who are trying to recover from addiction, helping them to increase the quality of their own internal lives.

Having said all of that, I want to once more thank Brian for everything he was able to teach me (not always such an easy task). And to also let him know that I miss him, and that I love him. Something I’m sure he knew, but I don’t think I got to say out loud.

Well, at least you can say her speech was long. That’s something… I guess.

So, after listening to the last half of Susan Collins speech, a few things occurred to me that I would love to ask, or point out to the Senator.

When Ms Collins was listing all of the doubts that were never satisfied for her in this vetting, with questions like,  “Why didn’t anyone step forward to say ‘I was at that party’?”, it occurred to me that this was one of the easiest questions to answer... No one stepped forward to say any of those things because the FBI wasn’t allowed to look into the scores of affidavits that citizens had to submit to the news media because no one in our government (Senate, FBI, White House, etc.) would take their call. Duh!

Which reminds me, if you’re worried voter confidence in the judiciary, wouldn’t it be better to appear thorough and non-partisan by waiting until after the election so that the voters can have their say? Plus that would give the FBI more time to run down those affidavits.

Your speech was nice, and contained inspiring words and all, but I have another question: Why didn’t you lecture the Senate and voters about your concerns over the partisan divide in America when Mitch McConnell decided to block the appointment of Merrick Garland by President Obama?

As for Mitch McConnel… He’s a coward who hides behind women when he want to screw over their gender as a whole. He’s afraid of the voters that he screwed when he blocked Obama’s SCOTUS pick. And he did so in a way that would absolutely preclude any sort of vote being called between now and November.

P. S. I’d also like to see more people in the Senate who aren’t actually older than the average human life expectancy was when they were first elected.