Books I’m Reading

2018-05-05 16.06.15

 

I forgot to list Thanks, Obama by David Litt because it’s a real paper book; I got it for Christmas.

Speaking of real paper, that’s some of mine there. Field Notes Khaki Graph, Cedar Pointe natural wood pencil. More about my love for analog in an upcoming post.

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Don’t Read Poetry

I am a poet. When I forget that, I wander off into thickets of entropy. I think about poetry, often and a lot, and I think maybe you should not read it. I mean you should do something else with it. Because reading poetry can lead to thickets of attempted comprehension, and poetry isn’t about comprehension. Poetry isn’t just about top to bottom, left to right. Metaphor is not the same as enigma or secret code. It’s certainly not about that Robert Caro quote perhaps you know, “The only thing that matters is on the page.” That’s true, but it means something else.

The essential thing that makes poetry work, if and when it does, is not on the page at all. It’s in the reader’s mind. It’s waiting in the mind for a poem to appear, or a phrase of music, or a smell of food cooking, or a moment’s image of people from a car window. It’s not an understanding, it’s a recognition, a resonance. It is at best a meeting of minds across time and space.

“I think there is a general misconception that you write poems because you “have something to say.” I think, actually, that you write poems because you have something echoing around in the bone-dome of your skull that you cannot say. Poetry allows us to hold many related tangential notions in very close orbit around each other at the same time. The “unsayable” thing at the center of the poem becomes visible to the poet and reader in the same way that dark matter becomes visible to the astrophysicist. You can’t see it, but by measure of its effect on the visible, it can become so precise a silhouette you can almost know it.”– Rebecca Lindenberg

So I suggest do you not read poetry. Listen to it. Pick it up and hold it like something that belonged to someone you love, or something they made for you, and run your hand over it. If you can’t do that, swallow it hole and let it swim around inside you like a fish.
Whatever you do, never ask a poet what a poem means. It means the taste of that cake your mother made for your birthday. It means the cold fog rolling in.

Memory Fades

 

“Time passes. Memory fades, memory adjusts,
memory conforms to what we think we remember.”
― Joan Didion, Blue Nights

 

So many things I believe I remember.
Like a walk in the forest, the stellar jays,
chipmunks, the sound of a stream.
Like standing in a cold city rain, wondering
how life would go for me when
I was older, when I had the means;
tilting my head back and letting it come.
Like lying on the floor with an old dog
and crying, helpless, the Nightland
pressed to the windowpanes, learning
that time falls away like a waterfall.
Like spending a night alone searching
memory for symbols of meaning
in late summer of a life that eludes
meaning, eludes flowers and wine,
and has settled like mud
into a comfortable bed of memories.
Like not loving you enough.
Like waking up after you were gone.
Oh God, I have slept through my life.

 

 

J. Kyle Kimberlin
Creative Commons Licensed

What I Am

“And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.”

― John Steinbeck, East of Eden

The End is Never Told

A writer out of loneliness is trying to communicate like a distant star sending signals. He isn’t telling or teaching or ordering. Rather he seeks to establish a relationship of meaning, of feeling, of observing. We are lonesome animals. We spend all life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say—and to feel— “Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.” Of course a writer rearranges life, shortens time intervals, sharpens events, and devises beginnings, middles and ends. We do have curtains—in a day, morning, noon and night, in a man, birth, growth and death.
These are curtain rise and curtain fall, but the story goes on and nothing finishes.
To finish is sadness to a writer—a little death. He puts the last word down and it is done. But it isn’t really done. The story goes on and leaves the writer behind, for no story is ever done.
– John Steinbeck



The storyteller makes no choice
soon you will not hear his voice
his job is to shed light
and not to master

Since the end is never told
we pay the teller off in gold
in hopes he will come back
but he cannot be bought or sold

– The Grateful Dead, Terrapin Station

So We Believe

Some nights we go to bed sad.
All the lights dim across America,
all the sparklers dipped in a midnight
kind of pain that puts them out.
Then all night it’s cold in the mountains
and across the great desolate land,
a blue wind coming down from high
places, from snow, through aspen
and pine, and it’s hard to sleep.

In the morning there is dove light
again, dishwater clouds.
The traffic moves, dogs bark,
the people rise and fling themselves
into argument – the great debate
of right and wrong – as children
go to school and probably survive.
So we believe there is a God
and it’s not us.

 

J. Kyle Kimberlin
Creative Commons Licensed

Straight Ally

straight ally symbol

“A heterosexual and cisgender person who supports equal civil rights, gender equality, LGBT social movements, and challenges homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.”

When I was in college in the mid 1980s, I was pre-law. I was put in charge of an internship program that was part of a free legal clinic. I was director with a small staff of interns and one of my duties was to recruit new interns. One day I was talking to one a young woman in my program about groups I could visit on campus, to speak about recruitment. She suggested the Gay and Lesbian Student Union. I said I didn’t know if I would be comfortable with that group. She said, “you don’t have any trouble being comfortable with me.” Yeah, I had no idea. Should I have? She hadn’t told me, but is it something of which I should have been intuitively cognizant? No, but that’s not the best question.

A better question is whether I would have treated her differently if I had known. I hope not and I seriously doubt it, but had just admitted to her that in my own mind, I had an issue with gay and lesbian people. They made me uncomfortable, in some way that I’m not sure I could have qualified.

Society’s attitudes were different then. It was in 1984 and I was only 23. I came from a small town with few, if any openly gay people. The Moral Majority was telling American that gay equaled AIDS, while the Reagan administration was busy not helping. So I was given a teachable moment, from which I took away, at the time, the certainty that I had a lot to learn about people and our lives together. But very little idea where or from whom I would learn it. So I promptly, conveniently, forgot about it.

In my 30s I joined what could unarguably be called one of the most conservative churches on the planet. I don’t mean purblind tight-ass, sanctimonious American conservative. (No offense.) I mean Orthodox Christian, the old church, the old calendar, liturgy in Slavonic. I didn’t go there looking for conservativism. I went looking for communion with God. And nobody there was saying anything political; no preaching against gay marriage or anything. I was just vaguely aware of the church’s stand on such matters, that homosexuality is sin.

The Orthodox Christian Church is beautiful in many ways; mystical, ancient and eastern. Completely insulated from American politics, in my experience. Conservative to the point of believing that righteous government is wielded by a God-anointed Czar. No matter how conservative you think American “Christians,” of the kind that can follow Trump and Pence, can act, they are still very liberal and humanist compared to some people I have met.

There were a few points of doctrine that I had a problem with. I believe that pets go to Heaven. I don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin. I believe that sins are acts that separate the sinner from God and arise from our own selfishness, not from states of being. Sins are not acts that piss off other people; nobody has the right to tell you what your sins are. And certainly love can never be a sin. Acts that piss off other people are called pet peeves and crimes, which is why it’s imperative that we prevent tight-ass people from legislating their sins into our criminal legal codes. I believe that whatever your church chooses to practice, the law of the land is equal protection of the law for everyone.

There I was, though, in that beautiful church with those kind and gentle people. In my 30s, my opinion about gay rights was that people should keep their private lives private and stop demanding that the rest of us endorse their proclivities. I think that’s exactly what  I would have said at the time. And of course, I was completely missing the point. I had more learning to do.

When I visited family in San Francisco in the 1990s, someone suggested we go to the annual Pride parade. I recoiled at the idea, partly because I wanted to go to Marin County, enjoy some peace and quiet and relax. There’s a place, or was, in Occidental, that makes some pretty damn fine waffles. Also I was a good Christian with no desire to watch people cavorting in the streets. It seemed to me that sexual and gender identity wasn’t a reason for a demonstration in public. After all, heterosexual people don’t do it. It didn’t occur to me that hetero people should be glad they don’t have a reason to demonstrate.

Two more decades have passed. I’ve made gay friends, transgender friends, I have a transgender loved one, and I have learned that not only was I wrong about LGBTQ people, I was wrong about the culture in which we live. “In the world there is, parallel to the force of death and constraint, an enormous force of persuasion that is called culture.”[i] That culture had persuaded me to think that some of us were normal, others not, and that I was being cool by saying that normal people should tolerate others – live and let live – and the others should fade into the background noise and be tolerated.

Culture wields power. Power is inherently paranoid and potentially destructive. “When somebody goes outside the cultural norms, the culture has to protect itself.”[ii] So the LGBTQ movement is cultural self-defense, not an uprising to overthrow the culture norms, though that may be necessary and may come at great cost. None of which would be quite so obvious to me if not for the great homophobic backlash of the Trump de-evolution.

Before Trump made America hate again, civil rights seemed to be improving. Ferguson notwithstanding, I was more relaxed. I didn’t feel like the rights and wellbeing of people I care about were in jeopardy from the society I life in. Things have gone very much awry and as always the issues of civil rights for LGBTQ persons are no less fundamental and compelling than those of persons of color. They are the issues of us all. And I’m forced to admit that my opinion of 20 years ago was really a subtle form of self-righteous apartheid.

A few things are clearer now than they were in the halcyon days of Obama: First, that a reformation is necessary to secure the blessings liberty to those whose civil rights are every bit as morally imperative as those of hetero and gisgender people like me. The reformation must profoundly change this culture. Second, the culture has it coming, by God. Third, people like me have a moral duty to take sides and speak out, and the reformation will go better for everyone if we do. “Normal is just the average of deviance;” it doesn’t exist.[iii] All life is a spectrum, and if people like Trump and Pence, and the alt-right zombie army they’re building are normal, I want no part of their part of the culture.

I’m not suggesting that churches should be required to perform gay weddings. I’m as much for freedom of religion as freedom from religion. I’m saying the right to marry is a civil right and the government should make no law prohibiting its free exercise. I’m saying that no religion or cult should have the power to legislate its creed and impose its beliefs on anyone who doesn’t freely accept that creed. This culture has been poisoned by fear and tied back to to dogmas of fear, prejudice, protectionism, and doublethink. A reformation of compassion and unequivocal inclusion will do us all a world of good.

I said that after college, I had a lot to learn. I think it’s ironic that I learned as much from the people who hate people who are different than from people who in the crosshairs of that hatred. Fascists never seem to realize that hatred and paranoia (homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia) sow the seeds of their own destruction. Even bystanders can watch bullying for just so long. Now I wish I knew then what I know now, and I wish I knew now what I don’t know yet. “All kinds of sadness I’ve left behind me. Many’s the day when I have done wrong.”[iv] But I know that everyone deserves respect and equality. Our law demands it. And while any person doesn’t have equality, no person who does should go quietly or rest easily.

pooh piglet wind

[i] Albert Camus.

[ii] Robert Pirsig.

[iii] Rita Mae Brown

[iv] Jethro Tull

J. Kyle Kimberlin
Creative Commons Licensed