I’ve decided to post this even though, as a poem, I think it lacks cohesion. I just feel like sharing this facet of my emotional life these days. On the night I wrote this, I felt like being experimental, whatever that means. The Wasteland was rumbling around in my brain. Also Kierkegaard. And I was thinking that we can be aware of events happening to other people, but ultimately every event in life happens to me. All experience is subjective.
1 Fear and Trembling
Hurry up, please. It’s time. The governor has set a curfew now.
I had not thought Death had undone so many. I mean Old Mr. Death, the Old Man. The proprieties must be observed.
He stands on a hill outside town – the insatiable wind.
He stands at the end of the street – dogs barking.
He stands in the door of your kitchen – the oven goes cold.
2 The Sickness
We who were living are now becalmed in the currents of time.
We who are dying are impatient to escape this vessel on the wind.
Why is there nowhere dark enough for rest? The sun is vulgar to a man who would be free.
Pray for us sinners, now and until the Old Man comes.
3 Unto Death
Pale hands at absolute zero then whispers in the empty rooms.
May the judgment not be too heavy upon us.
Hoarfrost – all of the flowers in your garden are sleeping in a mist of tears.
A million dead? Oh no, far more. So count the bodies all night long
then in the morning, sunbright gulls on the peak of the roof.
I would like to give you a gift. Here’s everything I can remember, if I can find a vessel to hold it. I imagine a mason jar that once held Grandma’s jelly, or the wooden bowl my brother made in shop class, almost 40 years ago. How many thoughts can fit in such a space?
I ought to remember a lot of my life but it seems that everything collapses as it dries, becoming smaller before it blows away. So you should be able to carry this home. Leave it in a place where there is light in the afternoon, where birds can be heard in the morning. Sometimes it will bring shadows and rain, but often it will shine.
It’s kind of a struggle, isn’t it? Life these days, I mean. Not still so hard everywhere on Earth, it seems, but here in the land of Star Spangled Bullshit, the matrix is still seriously warped.
Does Life ever seem unreal to you, like there’s been a glitch? Do you wonder if that feeling is based on your objective personal experience, or on what you’re being told Life is like these days? Maybe it’s some of both?
I have an idea that Life sucks in 2020. But this is because I have to wear a mask and wash my hands, and there are places I can’t go, and I’m working at home, and I’m worried about myself and my family. I’m worried there won’t be a Christmas.
Statistically speaking, your experience has probably been similar to mine: One person I know from school days got covid. She suffered (far more and longer than Big Orange did) and has recovered.
No one I know has died. Several people in my town have died but they haven’t been identified. I don’t miss them. If you were effected by such a loss, I’m sorry. It’s still disingenuous of me to claim your suffering as my own, let alone to elevate it to a national loss. If we were going to do that, we needed to start reading the names of the dead on TV a long time ago, to be caught up reading by the end of the year. 300,000 minutes – a minute for each death – is about 7 months.
I’m not downplaying the severity and tragedy of the pandemic – over 210,000 dead and counting – but most of us are suffering through 2020 vicariously, through the news and social media. We’re generalizing our personal experience based on that of the nation as a whole. Is that reality?
Incidentally, I keep hearing people talk about 2020 as a bad year; they’ll be glad when it’s over. But I’m not sure anyone has provided Covid with a puppies and kitties 2020 calendar, so the virus will be aware of our plans for a better 2021.
I sit down every day and try to write something. I write some poems. I keep a commonplace book of my reading notes and discoveries of ideas. Mostly, I keep a journal. I try to think of things that I’ll want to remember about my life in this time, and what it was like to be me. Mostly, I think I fail, because I’m not writing what it’s really like to be me. I’m writing what it’s like to be me under the influence – not of alcohol or drugs, but of other people. We are all swimming in a fishbowl of other peoples’ influence, and it would be absurd to suggest that’s not what we’re made of.
It reminds me of that old joke about the fish. Two young fish are swimming in a river when an old fish passes and says, “How’s the water, boys?” They turn to him and ask, “What’s water?”
Well, the water we’re swimming in, mes amis, is information.[i] I watched a John Green YouTube today in which he said:
“Our information feeds shape us. What you do with your attention is, in the end, what you do with your life. So I gotta be careful what I pay attention to, because the stuff that’s the loudest and the most outrageous, is, for me at least, also often the stuff of nightmares.”
We know this is true, though sometimes it seems like people believe they have a second life, apart from what they’re experiencing in a given moment. There’s Now and then there’s Real Life. I’ll pay attention to this newsthink program for a while, then I’ll get back to my real life.
That doesn’t work. We are thought, consciousness, awareness, and experience, at this moment. Nothing else exists independently. Our thoughts make our lives. As Marcus Aurelius said, the happiness of our lives depends upon the quality of our thoughts.
Given that’s the truth of consciousness, it boggles my mind that people are so careless with what influences they allow. For example, millions of people watched the debates – intentionally – knowing from experience what those things are like. It’s just bad theatre.
I was in a place where I wasn’t watching but I couldn’t avoid hearing the blabbering of the goats. What a horrendous waste of minds and hearts is politics; what a vast mis-firing of countless neurons. And we’ve been brainwashed into this concept civic duty requires us to attend to its effluvial process, not as a means of learning but as acolytes from whom a sacrifice of precious and finite Time is demanded by The Lord of the Flies. So we snap on the telly and squat ourselves down to watch.
For an hour and a half or more, we forget that we’re going to die and we’re not getting that time back. And what’s worse, what we watched and heard becomes a part of our subconsciousness for the rest of our lives.
What it’s like to be me right now – the way it is – is to be a tiny, insignificant thread in the Charlotte’s Web of American Life; the illusion that American life is distinct from other life; and the false dichotomy that one guy or another is really Some Pig. Which isn’t to say we don’t have to make an important distinction – and cast a vote – against the covid rabid pig that eats human flesh and for the pig that doesn’t.
If you asked the average person to draw a ven diagram of American society, they would draw two distinct and separate circles: Us and Them. That’s pure bullshit cognitive dissonance; there are thousands, if not millions, of circles. You’re visiting my circle right now; at least a fleck of it that I can manage to type up from a moment’s fleeting awareness.
Circumstances always and uniquely alter the truth of things. The truth is that day to day, each of us is absolute winging it through this shit. We’ve been hit by a rogue wave in the endlessly repeating patterns of human life and history. And when that happens, the ship’s captain doesn’t retire to his cabin to read his books on seamanship. Sombody gotta grab the wheel.
We Americans have the added complication that the ship’s captain isn’t on the bridge. He went straight to the bowels of the vessel when we left port nearly 4 years ago. He’s been down there ever since, out of his fucking mind, issuing orders that will likely take us all down hard by the bow.
I didn’t sit down here to write a post about Hair Furor. He wasn’t on my mind, except that really he always is. Having no legitimate, certainly no well-intentioned, leadership, is making life harder and more complicated for every one of us, whether in subtle or dramatic ways. And when I say that Trump is insane, I’m not being facetious or anything but completely literal. I’m saying his behavior is indicative of raging mental illnesses, as far out of control as any wildfire my home state of California has experienced this year. He’s truly nuts.
I can’t think of a good way to end this post. It has rambled a bit. And I really need to get away from this screen. Daylight is burning! I’m not used to typing this long anymore. I’ll leave you with Good Night and Good Luck, and this:
The chief task in life is simply this: To identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own. – Epictetus, discourses , 2.5.4.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. – Proverbs, 4:23
[i] Yeah, I don’t really speak French. I’ve been binging Poirot; it’s great. Sorry, not sorry. LOL.
Alright, gentle readers. Gettin’ down to it. Gettin’ serious. “Because here we were dealing with the pit and prune juice of poor Beat life itself, in the godawful streets of Man.” – Kerouac
Remembering it Now
My bicycle is gone, the one with the banana seat, hand brakes and handlebars like rams’ horns, wrapped with yellow glitter tape. It was 5 speed, which was boss in 1972. Chased by a German Shepherd, I rode it into a ditch. My mother rescued me.
Papa’s typewriter cannot be found, a heavy old Royal with black and red ribbon. No electricity required. He let me play with it but he used it to write letters about dogs — German Shepherds. And dogs arrived and they were good — his dogs didn’t chase children off the road.
Phone books are gone. Are they even printed anymore? No need – all of the names are lost to time and all of the time is lost to suffering and fear. No one is even naming the dead. I didn’t know Death could take so many without bombs or guns or a very good reason. Casus belli. We’re going to need a bigger book.
Months and days and hours are gone, disappeared in the tule fog of quarantine and unknowing, and weeks of fear and counting of the unremembered Dead. The soul waits in a closet the back of the house, with the sweaters we were wearing when the world blew down.
All of the Kingdoms of Hope are gone, all of the plans we had, the bright joyful memories of time to come. Who can remember Christmas in a plague? How we met back in 2020, and we hugged, hands around the table. In the kitchen, side by side. We hoped! We remembered a future more bright than it ever could have been.
So any time you want to weep for all that is gone, brothers and sisters, I’ll join you. From hopefully safely now and here.
I’m a Christian. I think if churches want to demand exceptionalism and the right to cause a surge in spread of the plague, they can start by helping to pay the costs of community infrastructure and emergency services by paying their full taxes. No exceptions, no exemptions, no deferments. Pay up or shut up. Freedom isn’t free.
I am beyond sick and tired of people and groups yawping about their rights while entirely ignoring their responsibilities.
They’ll know we are Christians by our love, not our community spread, contact tracing, and mortality rate.