December 2nd, 2015

There was a time. And a purpose.

Remember now your creator in the days of your youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when you shall say, I have no pleasure in them.

I have moved on.


October 18th, 2015

My best friend called my last paragraph a ‘rant.’ I was surprised. I started thinking about thinking – how I sort and construct the ideas I use; how my thinking so often sets people off.

I’ve long been bemused by normal political conversation; people energetically promote unfounded explanations, and doggedly stick to impractical proposals. I’ve come to believe we’re not primarily interested in understanding the world, but in protecting our own interpretation of it.

So, my friend thinks criticizing liberals’ commitment to republican democracy simply constitutes a screed – yet our obviously non-democratic power structures are enthusiastically defended by the same folks who once stood staunchly behind labor unions. My sense is, they just might not believe in the efficacy of their representational system; they’ve put faith in the incomprehensible mechanics of global techno-capitalism (complete with its rejection of the significance of nation states).

But nobody actually thinks in language like this. Instead, we’re suspicious of any but the simplest sentences, and believe only what we’ve always thought to be true.

The thing is, promoting our story because it’s old and warm-hearted doesn’t amount to a meaningful position – it’s just self-reassurance. Fine, as ironic chatter at a dinner party with friends. Useless, as a way of understanding what’s coming now.

Of course, I’m christian, so I believe world change comes through individual changes of heart in eight billion people – and sure, I believe this will happen. But I don’t see it yet.

What I do see is a bunch of affluent do-gooders making the occasional squawk, but with their votes and minds transferring all power to the super rich – because to disturb the rich is to threaten the eternal rise of the stock market.

Intellectual room is pretty limited, here. How small a space can I fit myself into?

The stock market’s only been around a couple hundred years – and I’m to expect it’ll go up forever?

Another friend recoils when I say things like that; derides my idea we individuals are merely expressions of the grand events. I’m blamed for depriving us of our peculiar specificity – of ignoring we can ‘treat’ the stock market like it’ll go up forever; we can’t concretely imagine it doing anything else.

It’s true, there’s a tiny space we can crawl into called ‘searching for happiness’ (or ‘finding inner peace,’ or whatever). It can be a wonderful space, evoking impressions of eternal joy in a universal oneness, etc.. It’s just that nobody sitting around ‘peacefully’ (not Jesus himself) ever helped another human being. Indeed, many are honest enough to observe it’s not their point.

So the doe-eyed affluent liberals are living their dreams, paying attention to themselves, and flexing their various empathies through checks written to charity. They feel deep outrage and soulful indignation when a man walks into school and shoots somebody else’s kid in the head – but what can they do?

What I do is imagine the world is bigger than myself; that my job is more than seeking self-fulfilment on the trip to the nursing facility. I go farther, and believe I’m a word spoken by a voice of which I’m just the tiniest sound – that the contradictions within me are but the big picture drawn small.

I believe Jesus is right: if you’re trying to prove yourself, you’ll have to sell all your worldly possessions and distribute them to the poor. Otherwise, well – you ain’t gonna live forever.

Just like me.


Politics, markets, revisited

October 8th, 2015

A friend outside the country asked how ‘you Americans’ remain so comfortable with our regular on-campus mass student shootings.

I remembered the day right after the World Trade Center bombings. My East Coast liberal friends were shaken, and saying – actually saying – things like, “I have to believe the people who are really in charge – I mean, you know, the people really in charge – those people understand this and they’re doing the right things to protect us.”

Money has been declared protected legal speech, and it’s embraced as a proxy for personal action. The received faith is we’re operated by private professionals, and politicians are proxies for monopoly interests (which we are sure are our own).

Perhaps the only society which can offer the opportunity and dynamism liberals prefer is one without elected officials. Perhaps we’re not, in fact, comfortable with our mass shootings – we really can’t do anything about them.

Dimensions of change

September 24th, 2015

My fifteen-year-old son explains it to me this way: “You guys are old, and you believe things are going to stay the way they are, because that’s how they’ve been. I am completely certain everything about how I live and experience life is going to be totally different when I’m thirty.”

He’s saying this – I think – because he’s reading work from us ‘old guys.’ We’ve created machines that build machines, and planetary intelligences which exceed our own. We have drugs to make us think and feel as we choose. Our capabilities are already beyond our control (and we know this).

Yet here I sit, wondering – of all things – about my retirement income. Only Evan sees how ludicrous this is. I keep telling him, ‘look, all this stuff about qualitative change – surface warming, machine intelligence, the de-coupling of productivity and value, the Balkanization of nation states on a planet with super viruses and myth-driven fanatical killers – all these threats can only be consequential if people figure out how to bring them to market.’

The idea is, there have always been threats and terrors (and the Chicken Littles who keep us contemplative). But as a society, we choose what works, through price determination and competition, and only the successful stuff will be allowed to go forward.

Retirement income is about stock markets, and these ‘always’ go up (after a while). I guess I think they really have at least something to do with what’s going on underneath, but I’m not sure what. I read the ancient history and I wonder if the changes in the world between, say, 1920 and 1940, were as significant as those between, say, 2010 and 2030. I remember John Galbraith’s observation about 1929: “People weren’t surprised the market went down. They were surprised it kept going down.”

(I write this in hopes that, as usual, my printed predictions will be the trigger that starts things moving in the other direction).

What I write about

September 18th, 2015

All my life I’ve been writing about the same character.

Nothing I think or feel is about who I am. But I come around by thinking and feeling. Boy, do I come around. Quickly I want to be who I am. There’s no way. I’m just thinking and feeling.

I receive the whole world as possibility; as opportunity. It translates into desire, which extinguishes itself.

All my life I’ve been writing about someone who means something; about a friend I’m safe to follow.

Adults look like children to me now. I’m still searching the sky, hoping for what matters.

It’s like this.

September 12th, 2015

I see the patterns for, maybe, a thousand possibilities. I have the time for two or three at once. How could I have known it would be like this?

Look what’s happened to my face.

I am here, but I don’t look it. Floating in a sky of similar, unfamiliar billions.

Smiling admirers cluster together for moments, enjoying sunlight and music. The thing in my middle is joyful or sad to the same consequence. The dour critics, like me, go wherever the dancers go.

The thing in my middle is its own creator. Yours, too. We know us as stories we like to hear about others. You are a tale about me.

Talk me into acceptance. Talk me into life. Talk me into a real good time.

(I went dancing last night)


Understanding ‘healthy’

August 20th, 2015

There’s now a public list of adulterers we can search through for the names of our spouses. Nobody intended it to be public, of course, but there is a popular website for married people who want to have secret sex with other married people. It’s an interesting subject, so somebody ‘broke in’ and stole the member list.

There’s been talk publishing the full list was necessary, to push towards legitimating promiscuity all around. The idea is, if the list is used maliciously to target a few important individuals, it could be blackmail material against the high-ranking officials who inevitably put their names on it. By publishing everyone’s name, it all becomes ho-hum.

Doubtless, a number of people are going to ‘suffer’ from these exposures. I quote the ‘suffer’ because infidelity and deception, in some of us, create lots of fear and uncertainty which feels very bad – even though the body’s fine and the ‘sufferer’ somehow shuffles right along. The effort to obsolete infidelity and remove the deception from our various copulations implies all the bad feeling might just go away.

Nowadays, I can’t help thinking if I’m suffering, I’m not healthy. I should do something about it. It’s amazing to me, this confused complex of thoughts – all whirling around sensations of deep discomfort – is really very simple. I’m unhappy. Take a pill.

The ‘pill,’ of course, is metaphoric here. Usually it’s a whole lot of conversations with professionals and deep self-assessments, coupled with some real pill-popping, and its result is, morning and evening – I keep getting by.

I remember what feeling ‘good’ is like. It still happens now, several times a day. But I wouldn’t be in this spot if I could leave it. I’ve tried to leave it and I can’t.

So I remember earlier times when I myself passed around wisdom about approaching and enjoying life – as if I knew. And I think it’s hard to be in the spot I’m in. People who depend on or cater to me lean back satisfied when I make it through another day and announce I’m a ‘6’ on a ten-point scale of contentedness. I just make it through and that’s OK.

I think of all the various combinations of shocked psychologies, as they encounter surprising names on the public adultery list; how many extraordinary subjective experiences are just falling out of the sky. How many people are feeling really, really bad – but just keep going on.

The ‘going on’ is healthy – what else is a body supposed to do?



A day between

August 9th, 2015

It’s my birthday. I used to celebrate how much like everybody else I thought I was. It was a hypocritical celebration, because in fact I’ve always thought I’m extraordinary. The ‘joy’ in being like everybody else is mainly my desire to be ‘good’ – to say, in effect, I may be confounded by all these other people, but my heart remains with them.

Today, I’m celebrating just being here, period. I do feel good today. The summer is wearing on, and I am an extraordinarily lucky man.

I’m lucky because I’ve been jolted hard enough to force me out of any recognizable shape. I think there’s a core shape to most people; an experience with an outside they don’t reach.

It can be fairly obvious when someone has to earn money. ‘Having to earn money’ is more than just a political leaning, it’s a whole set of gut realities that overwhelm any real ideas about alternatives. For very many people in this country, ‘having to earn money’ is the whole size of the human being.

For many more there’s the shape of dependence on someone else. I forget nearly half of us don’t earn anything at all. These generally don’t bite the hands which feed them. Often, whole families are bound to a single thinking, as the way they’ve always survived.

But I was uprooted from one place to the next. I’ve lived outdoors in the wind and inside next to the hearth. I remember counting pennies to make it through dinnertime tomorrow. And I’ve been disappointed by the flavor of five dollar tomatoes.

I’ve been here long enough to have earned my keep, so to speak. I can feather my bed for a while longer, if my head stays in it. Or I can drive off and park next to the creek. The afternoon sunlight is brilliant against the rocks.


too long, really

July 31st, 2015

‘but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?’ – Jesus Christ (KJB)

‘[History repeats,] the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.’ – Karl Marx

‘but Oh! that magic feeling – nowhere to go…’ – McCartney/Lennon

I picked up my kid in a parking lot down next to the creek and there was an old camper van parked on a far corner of the pavement. Bundles and blankets were spilling out of broken screen windows, and a short-haired dog was tied to the front bumper, drinking from a plastic bowl. A long-haired guy probably thirty was propped against one side of the rig, contemplating some object in his hand.


July 16th, 2015

My ‘mother dying’ thing probably went like everyone else’s. I sort of wanted to know which way I was going so I checked in a lot, and while I was there I felt all the warmths and rages of all our earlier years. She vehemently shamed me and cursed me with words, some afternoons when I left her struggling and alone. She beamed joyfully, receding into her death mask, and told me she loved me before she went. Who can ever know why I was there – just because I promised to be fifty years ago.

I can’t find any comfort outside myself. If I offer ‘me’ as an assurance, I am simply nailed to the floor. I know people today who think my choices say something about themselves, as if some other’s person (or happiness, or future) is indelibly marred because I behave unexpectedly; as if anything outside this body you can touch right now with your fingers is more than just your own idea. How can I comfort you?

I have an eleven year old son. When I was his age, I threw a temper tantrum and my mother’s boyfriend asphyxiated me by squeezing me between his knees, saying ‘this is death.’ It certainly felt like it, until he released me briefly (saying ‘this is life’) and I gasped air and thought ‘oh thank you! thank you!’ – until he squeezed me into darkness again, finally letting me go and tossing me to the floor.

My mother watched.

This is just to say I have issues – and that issues don’t matter. You can’t look at me and have the vaguest notion of what you see. Did mommy scream at you when you were a kid? Did daddy hit you with a belt? Check in with an active listener and wrestle with your self disappointment. Get back to your desk and put something interesting on your calendar.

How much do I love you?

You have no idea.

I checked in with my mom every other day, and she never went away. Her body just fell off her. So I take it here I am, and things are getting pretty shaky already. I’m never going to wake up to be anything. This is already it. And I never got to hear the sound of my own voice.

I’m not contented. I’m not smug. But I’ve been beaten to shit by people who claim to love me – and ought to – just a little bit often for one pass through the needle’s eye. If you wonder what I can do for you, really – nothing. Except for this moment right now with these fingers and these intentions I can say ‘I love you.’