Tuesday, November 23, 2010

barkingreed is moving!

The new url is https://www.joshbarkey.com .

Change is hard, I know. I've loved barkingreed like the weird, shape-shifting child that it is. But sometimes, even when you love something, you have to suck out its innards for sustenance, pupate, and move on.

I love you, too... but not in an innard-sucking way. Please come along - I'll miss you if you don't.

give thanks (and blame the nazis)

The school where I teach does not have a cafeteria, so the students eat in the classrooms. Those who come to my room mostly ignore me, which allows me to eavesdrop on the bizarre world of the modern teenager.  One day last quarter, Jon and Leo were sitting at the back of my classroom, eating pizza and having one of their outlandish discussions. I watched as Leo picked off slices of pepperoni and popped them in his mouth.

“You know what’s funny, Jon?” Leo said as he picked away at some cheese, looking for a faux-meat treasure, “I read recently about this law of internet discourse where every argument will always inevitably degenerate to the point where someone will compare somebody else to the Nazis.”

Jon laughed, “That’s totally true.” 

My ears were perking up at that point, because Jon and Leo are exceptionally bright young men and I never knew where one of their discussions might go. On that day, however, they were more engrossed in their pizza and didn’t pursue it any further. It got me thinking about Nazis, though, and mulling over the role they have come to play in our culture as symbolic of the evil Other.

Weeks later, when a student in one of my art classes started complaining because he couldn’t find an eraser, I slammed a hand down on my desk and said, loudly and half-joking, “You’re right! It’s a complete travesty that you can’t find an eraser. I, for one, am completely appalled and chagrined at the dearth of erasers in this room and you know what!?! I blame the Nazis!”

This vocabulary-heavy outburst left the room silent save a few repressed giggles, until one brave girl in the front row said, “What the heck are you talking about, Mr. Barkey?”

I explained myself: 

“It all started back after World War One, when this funny-mustached little dude named Hitler was wandering around Vienna getting kicked out of art school for incompetence. 

"My grasp of history has always been a bit, er, sketchy,” I went on, "so I am not saying that sucking at art necessarily turns you into a despotic, genocidal tyrant—I would never say that—but let that be a lesson to you: pay attention in art class, kids.

"Anyways, Hitler went and became the leader of Nazi Germany and started World War II, which resulted in a whole lot of death, destruction, and the utter defeat of Germany. This all created a power vacuum in Europe, a vacuum which the United States was in a unique position to fill. As a latecomer to a war that was fought on foreign soil, the United States came out of it as the least-damaged emerging Industrial Economy, with the necessary infrastructure to meet the demands of a world newly-interconnected by the whole tragedy. It rose to the challenge with gusto and an often bombastic disregard for any considerations of values, morals, health and wisdom.

"What followed was a period of unchecked growth and economic expansion unparalleled in the history of the world, a mix of good and horrendous developments that pretty much blew the roof off of all previous conceptions of wealth and any sort of sane, holistic understanding of what “the pursuit of happiness” should really look like. As a result, the past thirty years have been a ludicrous orgy of selfish consumerism that has had our country riding the wave of leisure right down the backs of the world’s poor, a ride that (I hope, at least) seems to be coming to an end.

"This is where the erasers come in. You all are a generation three or four times removed from the horrors of the War and the Great Depression. You are therefore incapable of conceiving of a world in which an eraser that is ripped to bits, thrown at classmates, or surreptitiously taken from this classroom will not be immediately replaced by another (preferably better) eraser. In your world, there is always more and more interesting stuff, in ever-growing quantities. And although this is a fool’s paradise—a fact that will likely be brought crashing down on you as soon as you leave school and try to enter this new rat-bagged economy of ours—I can’t bring myself to blame you.

"Your parents have given you everything this culture has to offer and in turn have left you nothing for which to be grateful. Even if Immanuel Kant is wrong and ingratitude is not the essence of vileness, it is pretty clear from the number of y’all who are on mood-altering drugs that the world you’ve inherited has put you in a really bad place. And for all this, I say to you again, we must blame the Nazis.”

That, more or less, is what I said… probably more, though, because I prefer to survive the next parent-teacher night. I, for one, am extremely grateful to have a job I love—one that gives me the opportunity to help these young men and women challenge their cultural presuppositions. 

It's a messed-up world they live in, and it is comforting to think we can blame the Nazis and congratulate ourselves that we are so superior and would never, ever sink to that level. But the truth is that we make our own ugly, selfish choices every day. The Nazis may have made it possible for us to become this ostentatiously wealthy, but they certainly didn't force the credit cards into our hands. They didn't make us slaves to the consumerism that binds us.  Gratitude, I think, can show us how to be free.

Monday, November 22, 2010

the beatings will continue until morale improves

And lo, I have written another piece for GOOD. This time, I have waxed verbose on a topic everyone loves: discipline. I highly recommend that you put down whatever nonviolent thing you are doing and go read it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

tyler ramsey

I am an abominably lazy person. Anyone who has ever planted trees with me would probably deny that - burning the caloric equivalent of a half marathon day after day through hail, heat and hardships of every kind doesn't usually bring the word "lazy" to mind - but that's only if you are content with the status quo, which I am not. Hence, I see myself as lazy. I am lazy at work and at home. I write, but not enough. I play ukulele, but not enough. I keep up with friends, but not enough. Over and over again, I fail to do the work necessary to get me whatever it is that I truly, deeply desire.

I don't beat myself up about this, though (at least, not as much as I used to). I am aware that laziness is pretty much the status quo... especially in the good old USofA. But although I want MORE than that and tell myself that I am ready to allow my efforts to begin to exceed my excuses, I regularly find myself pulled back in front of the computer, where Hulu and all other manner of Evil Creatures from the Glowing Blue Abyss wait to suck me into the Vortex of Shoulda-Coulda-Woulda.

Last night, I somehow managed to ignore the Siren-song of an evening of non-relational self-indulgence and did something out of character - I drove the hour up to Charlotte to watch a show at a hip little joint called the Evening Muse. I'm glad I did. Tyler Ramsey played, and he was lovely. I hadn't been to a live club show for years - not since watching my beautiful musician-buddy Chris play at some hole-in-the-wall faux-parisian place in Vancouver.

I took my camera along and made a video so I could drag you out with me to an entrancing musical moment, and tried to upload the result directly into this post. Google seems to have decided, however, that today is a good day to start reneging on their informal "don't be evil" policy. So instead, here's a link on youtube. I know it's painfully backbreaking work to click on a link and that you are as lazy as I am, but I dare you to take the risk. It's worth it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

beat them until they love you

There's this theology blog I follow by a Pschology professor in Arizona, and he recently wrote a really nice exploration of how a lot of that seemingly sexist, abusive, genderidiculous language in the Bible may actually be - when read in context - an exhortation to nonviolent protest in the face of a sexist, abusive environment. Interesting.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

st. joshua of assissi

















St. Francis is dead, so I'm not sure it is quite correct to say that I am a big fan of his. I do think he's super-duper, though.

Like me, St. Francis was born to fabulous wealth - more so, actually, because while I am only fabulously wealthy relative to the average human in the history of the world, Francis was also wealthy locally. This means that his wealth was in constant, visible contrast to the poverty all around him, a fact that apparently bothered him from quite an early age. A story is told of how as a little boy he sneaked away from his father to give all the money he had in his pockets to a passing beggar, an act that earned him his father's anger and the scorn of friends.

He did not, however, immediately change his overall life. As a young man he partied hard, wore the finest clothes, and even went off and fought in a war. He was taken prisoner and lived as a captive for a year, but after his release, he gradually began to shuck off the accoutrements of wealth, eventually abandoning it all for an austere life of poverty. Austere - but not unhappy. He and his followers were known for wandering around with smiles on their faces and songs on their lips.

While I think this is highly commendable, it is not why I really love St. Francis. The truth is, I don't actually know all that much about him and actually cribbed that last bit from wikipedia. The real reason I have long loved St. Francis is that he is the patron saint of animals and of the environment, and it is said that wild animals came to him, hung out with him, and loved him.

I have a confession to make: in that regard, I wish to be St. Francis. Although I have had a great number of pets in my life, I am no longer interested in keeping them. Rather, I would like to gradually organize my life and my mindset so that I can begin to think of myself as a friend to animals. I want to live at a pace that shows the wild animals around me that I am not a threat so they will feel free to come near without fear. I doubt that I am anywhere near to achieving this goal, but this past Saturday I got a little closer by befriending the lizard pictured above.

There I was, tapping away at my keyboard, when I looked over and I saw this little guy (we'll call him Leonard) lounging comfortably on top of my computer speaker. Normally - because I don't particularly like cleaning up lizard poop - I would have quickly chased Leonard down, caught him, and chucked him outside... probably accidently pulling off his tail in the process.

This time, however, I just watched him. Then I got out my camera and took pictures of him until my proximity made him nervous, at which point I sat back, waited for a while, and then took more. Eventually, I started laying my hand near him on the shelf. When this made him skittish, I would pull my hand away and go back to typing. Eventually, he let me lightly tap him under the chin with my finger. And then, quick as a wink, he had crawled up onto my hand.

Leonard and I had a little talk, and I explained that he would have to go outside. I knew it was colder, I said, but there was more food out there and my house was no place for a lizard. So out we went. When I laid my hand on the ground Leonard tried to crawl up my wrist to stay with me; but when I explained the situation again, he hopped off into the grass and, with one final look, ran away.

Friday, November 12, 2010

all you need is shrimp

This past year I have re-discovered a love of cooking - or perhaps I should say I've re-invented it. I have always sort of enjoyed cooking, and really loved it as a child. But the love I had for it back then probably had more to do with the fact that as a kid, everything is magic. There is something very adult, now, about the love I've learned for cooking: for the rhythms and organization of it; and the raw, sensuous pleasure of eating food shaped by my own hands from ingredients I chose and put in, one by one. It is healthier, slower, more labor-intensive and - best of all - tastier.

And yet, this past year it has often been missing some sacred element. Cooking is a pleasure in its own right, as is eating, but the consumption of food is not meant to be consummated alone. This year I have cooked and eaten many a meal alone at my table, and there is an empty echo to it. I am not entirely sure why, but when I cook for my son, this echo is still somewhat there.

Fortunately, I live fifty short steps from my parents; and although my mom insists on tipping the scales of shared meals in her favor, I still do get the occasional pleasure of a meal made and shared with love ones. I wonder, though, at the difference. Why would there be less pleasure in cooking for my son? Yes, feeding him is a more labor-intensive process and less relaxed, but there is no way I love him any less than I do my parents.

I wonder if, perhaps, the missing ingredient is gratitude. I can make him say "thank you" all I want, but that is never the same as an un-coerced, grateful heart - something he is too young to fully actualize. As I have mulled this over, I have begun to wonder if it points to a broader principle, which I will express as this: Gratitude is Love's fulfillment.

This makes sense to me, and gives me a handle to grab onto as I approach the often shapeless-seeming mass of all the things that make up Love. What does Love want? Why should/do I choose to love? I ask these questions, and the answer I recieve is, "for the hope of uncoerced gratitude, joyously and spontaneously expressed by the reciever of that love."

Does this make the act of love-giving any less wondrous, or profound? I don't think so. I think, rather, that it makes it more beautiful, and that this sort of understanding turns the lover from some grasping, selfish gremlin wanting a selfish love kick-back, to an entity who yearns for a unity of giving and recieving that grows and expands in reciprocity as it comes to life.

Sex, cooking - everything: all lived-out metaphors for this inflaming process of love-making. Let's make shrimp-kabobs. And eat them. Together.

dinner, last week, cooked slowly on a makeshift grill over a bed of coals in my newly-made fire-pit


trees (written during this morning's drive to work)

I shout "Yes!" to autumn morning light on autumn leaves,
lit up in cascades of burning,
glowing,
falling,
dying to the ground.

I shout "Yes!" to half-lit, tufted infernos waking up,
shaking off a cloak of frost-diamonds,
glistening like fresh-seen debutantes
announcing their finest hour.

And I don't believe in winter,
and I don't believe in death
when I taste the fire of their turning
at the drawing of each breath.

Monday, November 8, 2010

labeled

I've been monkeying around with barkingreed again, trying to make it a better place for you to hang out when you want to ignore your life, family and friends. If you look in the sidebar, you'll notice that I've added a list of labels, and I'm going back and making sure that I've labeled all the pieces. So if, for instance, you're seriously interested in sex, you can just click the sexy "sex" label and see what Josh Barkey has to say about it. N-choi.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

why I didn't vote (again)

I guess it comes down to this: if you told me that by running full-force, face-first into a brick wall I would save the lives of six orphans, I still wouldn't do it - not even if it was six hundred thousand. Not because I don't care about orphans, but rather because your proposition seems to me to be not only illogical, but quite probably malicious. 

The same with voting. Here in America where I have the distinct privilege to live (and I mean that), we have a two-party system that it my mind is basically just a one-party system made of schizophrenic, sado-masochistic personalities who would throw battery acid on their grandmothers for a few more fistfuls of power. 

And yes, I am talking about Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, and whomever else you happen to idolize. I'm sure they're all fabulously nice people who are each right about a lot of things and at one point weren't willing to sacrifice a little truth in the name of political expediency, but show me a candidate who never trash-talked an opponent, nor approved a slanted, truth-bending propagandistic smear ad and I will start listening and perhaps even voting. 

Maybe I am wrong. In fact, I am sure I am wrong, because I am sure that on a local level there are plenty of politicians who are too well known by their constituency to hide behind a veneer of fancy rhetoric and doublespeak - and contrary to what the rest of the world thinks, most Americans aren't particularly stupid or malicious when it comes to judging what's right before their eyes. What they are is manipulable, and the bigger the stage, the easier it becomes to murky up the water, villify your opponents, and convince the confused masses to vote out of what's easiest - fear and economic self-interest.

Don't believe me? Just see how far you get running on a platform that emphasizes humility and self-sacrifice for the greater good of the broader human race. Just try to get yourself elected arguing that we ought to significantly decrease our wealth and "standard of living" in order to advance the economic interests of the world's powerless, disadvantaged majority. Just try it - I dare ya!

At that level - the level of fear and selfishness - there is no nuance: just loud, angry yelling and the insistence that anybody who disagrees is an idiot at best and a villain at worst. I mean, just look at the above-pictured recent photo of a whiteboard from the wall of a private school.

In case you have a slow-loading computer or a tiny screen, I'll describe it for you: basically, it says that worldview affects a bunch of different areas of life. As an example in the area of economics, it provides two alternatives. First, for the "Christian" alternative, it describes "hard work, little government intervention - no reward for laziness, etc." Then, as the only other option, it describes "Humanistic (socialism)" as being, "redistribution of wealth, giving to those who won't work." 

Now, to anyone at all interested in thoughtful discourse, this is the sort of politically-loaded malarkey that absolutely precludes the very possibility of useful dialog. You cannot portray the question as being a choice between two such polar and (I think) inaccurate opposites and expect those who disagree with you to want to continue the discussion. This is nothing out of the ordinary, of course - people have been claiming that God is on their side of discussions of policy forever, and in America the bravura of those touting this particular nonsense while claiming that they and they alone are "Christians" is quite well-documented.

Again, I have to point out the incredible lack of nuance. I personally consider myself a follower of Christ and want nothing to do with these sentiments. I do not think these views are indicative of what Jesus was all about at all - only that certain people have hijacked the language of Christianity in order to give a large chunk of the American public a visible devil that they can feel good about throwing stones at. They've gotten these people worked to such a pitch and tenor, in fact, that they're drowning out more reasonable, humble voices and dragging a lot of otherwise sane people along with them. 

The other large demographic that can generally be grouped on the other side of the debate doesn't use religious language, but it does do the same bleedin' thing - so broadly and with such vehemence that even I want to go smash expensive electronic equipment in American megachurches (well, actually, I already kinda wanted to do that). 

This would be a mistake, I think, because while I firmly believe that the person who wrote that was profoundly misguided to do so, I also know that it was probably written out of a desire to see things come out best for the kids, On a smaller scale I can disagree with his words without attacking the person(which I wouldn't want to do), but in the political arena (think circuses and MMA) there is no time or room for such distinctions. The political world is a polarized madhouse where you're either with us, or a reprehensible ingrate with nothing to recommend you. 

I have a friend in Nebraska who tries very hard to humbly consider opposing positions and to get others to do the same. He does it over and over again in web-based discussions and over and over again I see both sides of the argument totally ignoring his requests for dialog and instead regurgitating ugly partisan rhetoric all over him, and each other.  

I wish him the best in his noble, doomed attempts; but even if good, clear information was available, I'm still not going to join him in his quest. Sometimes if you don't want to be lumped in with the swine, you just have to stay out of the pen. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

the silence that speaks

This past Sunday, Dan the Jungle Man picked me up in a canoe-topped Ford Ranger and together we drove down to Lancaster, South Carolina. After grabbing a rotisseried chicken at a megastore, we drove out of town a couple miles and then off down a short, graveled road to an unkempt boat-launch under a graffiti-splashed bridge that spanned the river Catawba, where we launched Dan's old, battered aluminum canoe.

He had only been able to find one paddle, and as it was the new one he'd hand-crafted from a piece of mahogany he'd brought back from the last trip he'd taken to Peru, Dan did all the paddling as I sat at the front and played with my new camera. I offered to take my turn at the stern, but for Dan (who routinely traveled by canoe for days without stopping) this little jaunt-for-a-few-hours was a leisurely chance to stretch and get a little blood flowing.

As we rounded the first bend, the noise of the road dropped completely away and a wild, rarely-broken stillness settled all around us. Except for the occasional hum of a distant airplane, for the most part the only noise came from the rhythmic pwopp-fwssss of the paddle and the indignant hollering of the odd territorial blue heron. It was quieter, even, than the Amazonian lake where we both were raised, and I remarked to Dan how strange it was to drop so quickly from the sound and fury of suburbia into the gentle folds of the countryside. Strange, wonderful... and strangely unsettling.

It had been five years since I had last floated out onto open water - far, far too long. I was practically raised on a lake in a dugout canoe, with a dinged, hand-cut wooden paddle in my hand. I missed the idyllic hours of my youth - the long, slow afternoons with nowhere to be and nothing to do but drift aimlessly on the warm, placid waters of Yarinacocha. More than that, though, I missed the sense of connection I had once felt to the elemental vigor of the earth, and this trip up and down the Catawba reminded me sharply of my growing disconnect from the place-sense I had once glimmered as a child.

After leaving the culture and climes of my youth, I had resolutely plugged myself into what I accepted was to be my new reality. But as I attempted to forge a replacement for the place-sense that I, like everyone, had breathed in with the air of childhood, I found myself creating a new one too strongly shaped by the concerns and commonalities of the paved-over world of suburbanite North America.

Dan and I talked of this as he paddled steadily up the river, lamenting the changes but enjoying the moment. Later, he and I sat on a rock in the river, eating our chicken and the towel-wrapped, still-hot potatoes Dan had boiled in the morning before heading out. Connected, in this way, to such moments from our shared past, I began to feel again the endless yearning that had once been my lot as a newly-uprooted jungle boy living for the first time in the endless drizzle of the Northwest.

Was it only me - a result of my unusual, fractured upbringing? Or could it be possible that a great many of the ills and ailments of the broader American culture could be traced to just this same yearning to reconnect to something slower, calmer, and more steeped in the life-roots growing deep into the soil? I wondered if perhaps alienation from the earth and the subsequent easily documentable destruction of the land that this lack of relationship engenders may very well point to its own solution.

What if we just stopped? What if we turned off the TV and walked, slowly, to a friend's house? What if we did not tell them we were coming, and what if as we went we breathed deeply of the unfiltered air, living slower and noticing, as we did, the damage that all our speed, convenience and efficiency has done - not just to the good earth that sustains us, but to our very souls? What if we were all to grab a paddle and a canoe, and work our way up the river into the silence that speaks?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

it's GOOD to get a "D"!

That's right. I've got another GOOD article out there on the interwebs, forever and ever, AMEN! You may now go look at it. And thumbs-up it. And hug it, and love it, and pet and play with it, and call it George.

a new blog

Forsooth: noticing that the world is really short on blogs these days, I have added yet another, which will be used to chronicle the teeth-pullingly painful process of trying to sell my first book to people with the power to buy it and then sell it to other people. I most likely shant be updating all that often, as selling a book is a slooooooow process. Nonetheless, I invite you to suffer with me.

This new blog is linked in the sidebar. And here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

to kill a yuppie (or at least, her pride)

I'd like to say I am writing in defense of mercy, but this piece probably has more to do with my desire to enact literary revenge all over a yuppie suburbanite named Rosillo. If this was a blog of a zillion readers I might feel worse about this, but since my readership consists mostly of my mom and a bunch of former students, I will disregard charity and blast away.

I don't know all that much about her, but my guess is that Rosillo is not a particularly bad woman. In fact, she is probably about ninety-seven degrees closer to the norm that I. She is a college graduate and probably works in a bank, or as a retail manager. Her slight accent and familiarity with our mutual acquaintance, Ulysses - the Mexican mechanic who fixed her bumper - leads me to believe that she most likely immigrated from that or another Latin country as a child and has worked hard to assimilate into this culture. I also know that she is thirty-one, because she commented on our shared age as she copied down information from my driver's license.

Rosillo drives a Maroon 2010 Kia sedan that for a couple of days, until I paid five-hundred-and-thirty-nine dollars to Wilburn Auto, had a three-inch by one-quarter-inch white mark in the middle of the back bumper, deposited there by the front license plate of the twenty year-old Oldsmobile sedan I happened to be driving when it decided it wanted a more intimate connection with Rosillo's jinxed Kia.

I know her Kia was jinxed because she told me that it was - that this was her third accident in the few months since she had bought the car. But I don't want to talk about Rosillo's spastic driving style. I want to talk, rather, about how mercy and neighborliness have all-but-evaporated in a culture of justice, Justice, JUSTICE.

The truth is that, ultimately, I tapped Rosillo's car with my own not because of her spastic driving but rather because she stopped unexpectedly at the exact moment when I let my attention slip from the road in front of me. According to the laws of this country (which, in this particular case, actually make sense) the accident was my fault, and Justice demanded that I pay the consequences. So pay them I did, and with gratitude both for the fact that I had the money available and for the fact that Rosillo hadn't insisted on calling the cops, an action which might have resulted in me being bent over the knee of the hegemonic insurance company in a Kafka-esque spanking that would have continued, most likely, until I was dead.

Still, insisting on making a guy in a twenty-year-old car and a ratty green sweatshirt pay five hundred and thirty-nine dollars to maintain your vanity about the paint job on a car you'll most likely smash into someone else's car within the month hardly seems neighborly. It's a bumper for the love of everything that is not yet perverse in this deranged society and... I mean, SERIOUSLY, ever hear of a bumper sticker?

Besides, Rosillo, you just gotta get over the ridiculous idea that a car is an "investment." It's not. It depreciates a few thousand dollars the second you drive it off the lot and continues to devaluifize every year after until one day, forty years down the road, some other yuppie is going to say, "Hey, look! There's one of those old Kia's from back before Google bought Korea and re-named it Wonder-Bread-Land! I think I'll sink six million dollars (ten grand, present-day USD) into restoring it and trade it to my local comptroller for a travel pass to visit my Aunt Maybeline over in the Kingdom of New Southern West Third Georgia! Shweeeet (unfortunately, they say 'shweet' a lot in the future)!"

So why oh why, Rosillo, are you stressing about a paint mark?!? It's frickin' paint on a frickin' bumper that will rust, decay, fall off and end up in a landfill right next to your frickin' overpriced, planned-obsolescence power suit and all that other garbage with which you fill your house and those two storage units you pay for. Get over it and stop taking pennies from the pocket of a guy who did not obsessively turn off all the lights in his house for the past two years just so he could take those savings and buy you a few more days vanity on your soon-to-disintegrate car.

Stops. Breathes Deeply. I'm all right. It's okay.

Like I said - I had the money. And it's only money. I don't blame you, Rosillo, for assimilating all too well into a culture as perversely un-neighborly and un-merciful as this one. Before I make my exit, however, I will leave you with a few choice words from our good pal, Willy. Take note:

"The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."

- The Merchant of Venice. Act 4, Scene 1 (written by Willy)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

*Sophia's Curse

A week or so ago I wrote a blog post about online dating, which I said I was starting to check out in order to fulfill the mandate given to me by Austin the Actor and JJ the Chef to "learn how to be friends with women I find attractive." A little while later I deleted the post because, as my Californica friend Seth wisely remarked when I told him what I was up to, "yeah, right."

You don't going on a dating website where the context is always the possibility of romantic entanglement and then try to claim that all you want is friends - that's just ridiculous. I knew it, too, which is why I deleted the post. It seemed disingenuous, and an important attribute that grows symbiotically with a love of truth (to which I aspire... or at least to which I want to aspire... most of the time) is a hatred of lies and  pretension.

The truth, of course, is that I am also often fabulously annoyed by my pesky dedication to the truth. It forces me to admit that on a subterranean level I got on a dating website because I wanted to drown out the anxieties and angsts I've got hovering over me by overwhelming them with the sort of electrical charge a fella like me can only get from a living, breathing woman.

I knew at that subterranean level that I was lying to myself, hoping to be able to disregard the facts of my life: like the fact that I am tied to a specific location and schedule by relationships with people whom I love fiercely; or the fact that I have a responsibility to give the kids I teach my utmost attention when I'm on the job; or perhaps even the reason that I sorta-kinda tacked onto that post about online dating - that I already have a lover, Art, who is jealous and demands my sweet, sassy ministrations on a regular, timely basis. I know these truths - feel them shaving off the seconds of my life and keeping them for themselves - but there are times when I don't want to know them.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and it is always only a little knowledge. No one ever knows much and the best they can hope for, I think, is to have a little bit of wisdom as well - enough to distinguish between actions that increase love and those that decrease it. That, I think, is what wisdom is - nothing particularly spectacular, just the occasional flash of insight into the relative love-producing value of any given course of action.

I may be wrong, but I tend to think of myself as being a somewhat wiser-than-average person. I don't know why this might be - whether it's because I wanted it more than most; or happened to read a few of the right books; or if, perhaps, God just decided to drop a couple of extra wisdom-anvils on my head. Because make no mistake - that's what it is. Wisdom is an anvil dropped on your head from a great height. Wisdom is pain. As far as I can tell, wisdom is a gift God gives to other people... you, the wise one, are just the heavy-laden pack horse.

That, I think, is why the Bible tells that story about Solomon, where God offered him anything and because he asked for wisdom, God honored him by giving him and power and wealth as well. Because let me tell you this, people: wisdom is as much a curse as it is a blessing, and the Bible is all about cheering for the guy who takes a curse on himself for someone else's benefit.

You're doubting me, aren't you? That's okay - it makes perfect sense to doubt a crazy person.

Let me try to explain it differently, though. If, as I have said, wisdom reveals to you which path will lead towards the most love, then as a creature for whom love is the highest pleasure, aim, and object of yearning (which, I am convinced, is a core human reality), it would seem that you would be thrilled to have greater insight into what that path is so you could take it. The problem arises, however, when you realize that Greater Love always includes in it Greater Love for Other People, and as much as you may want that love, there is another, strident yearning in your nature to just say, "Y'know what... screw wisdom and the horse it rode in on - I'm frickin' tired of looking out for what's good for other people in the big-picture-of-love sense. I wanna look out for me, right now! Big-picture love is a costly, time-consuming enterprise and I don't live in long time-stretches, I live in the right now. And in this instant, I want some frickin' mind-erasing pleasure!"

Back and forth it goes, these two elemental forces battling for dominance. The more you learn - the more wisdom you get - the greater the conflict. Selfish, right-now thinking is the oh-so-natural path of least resistance and only creates conflict when wisdom's love-o-scope blinks into operation. The presence of wisdom is not an inevitable precursor to wise choices.  Although wisdom may reveal the way of love, it does jack-bo-diddly to actually move you towards it - all it really does is make it exquisitely painful to step in the opposite direction. Wisdom happens in the head, while the real battle rages on in the heart.

I find that no matter how much I might sometimes want to spend some non-thinking time with a woman, making myself feel better without a thought in my head for what it will take to increase the love in her life, the more time I spend getting to know her, the more wisdom reveals the more loving alternative.

Casual dating, then, becomes a painful proposition, as does casual sex, casual conversation, and casual emailing. I don't feel that every person I say "hello" to on the street has to become my best friend, but I do feel as though each human contact is an opportunity for real love and an opportunity to make another other-centric connection. Love is not satisfied with casual... it wants more, every single time.

And here's the kicker. Wisdom keeps insisting that women are all these amazing, wondrous, mysterious creations and demanding that I love them all. It has been suggesting to me that the best way to love them all is to make art. To write; to sing; to paint, and in so doing to throw my love out, un-exclusively, to them all.

Maybe, just maybe, there will come a day when my situation will shift and I will be able to afford the time to love all of them through my art and one of them in a more focused, interpersonal way as well. This does not, however, feel like that day. It feels, rather, that this is a day in a long continuum of days in which love will have to grow slowly, by inches, between me and a larger world. As much as I may want to live exclusively in the ever-selfish now, wisdom keeps insisting that I at least attempt to live a broader, more expansive love.

I am, as usual, only fumbling towards clarity. I may be horribly wrong and I it is just as likely that I will ignore the insight that I am giving, now, to you. Nonetheless, this is the way it seems to me to be. So curse you right back, Sophia... curse you right back. I'll do what you say but, dodge gambit, I don't have to like it!

---
* "Sophia" is Greek for "wisdom."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

meet the jungle man

This week's offering for GOOD magazine brings together my past and present worlds by talking about a man who has an important role in both of them, Mr. Daniel Fast. It doesn't have any anacondas in it, but I think you might enjoy the read.

Monday, October 11, 2010

in print

When people ask me what it takes to be a writer - or rather, after I get my first book published and my publisher sends me on a book tour of small midwestern towns and some moon-eyed community college student asks me what it takes to be a writer - I think I will probably give the stock answer: read a lot of everything and write every day.

It sounds pretty straightforward, but it leaves out the part about rewriting. I spent this past week rewriting (for the quadrillianth time) my book and I have to say that it does not feel like writing. In fact, it feels a little bit like putting on nice clothes, hopping on a bicycle, and getting caught in a water-balloon rainshower. It's not that it is all that unpleasant - it's still writing and it's still fun - but it has more than enough of those, "I can't believe I'm doing this again!" moments.

Nonetheless, I think I have finally reached a point where my baby is almost-sorta-kinda starting to really show something without just telling it. Now where's that publisher?

Friday, October 1, 2010

blacklisted

Yesterday, Austin the actor/director thought it necessary to post on my facebook wall that my writing has begun to "meander" and that I need to "tighten up." My first reaction, of course, was to tell him that his abdominals and glutes were starting to "meander" and that he ought to "tighten up." Then I remembered that yesterday morning I wrote a Buddha-Jesus dialog and ended up with six pages of unadulterated drivel, so I figured maybe Austin was right.

The antidote to meandering, in my experience, is a list. Lists don't meander, so for your reading pleasure I present my blacklist.


Barkingreed's Blackest of Blacklists:
1. Austin Herring
2. Unfocused, meandering writing
3. Antiperspirant
4. Styrofoam
5. Yellow # 5
6. Genetically modified salmon
7. Plastic
8. Excuses
9. Fashion
10. The wedding industry
11. War
12. Hegemonies
13. Extremely popular vampire romance books
14. Extremely popular "christian" end of the world books
15. Box stores
16. McMansions
17. Politics
18. Being trampled alive by goats
19. My own arrogance
20. Blacklists

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Matt! Damon!

I would like to add a note to an article I wrote about Matt Damon for GOOD magazine, an article that expresses the respect I have for this fellow "maker of stuff."

"I did not actually ask Matt Damon’s permission to use his name in this piece, so I think perhaps a small propitiatory act might be in order. The eighth of October is his fortieth birthday, and I think it would be swell if anybody who lives near one of his homes in Miami or Boston or LA were to go and chuck an apple over the fence into his back yard. He’ll know what it means." 


So seriously. Go. Read the piece. Spread the word. Throw an apple. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

please

you woke me, again, with a kiss...
like this

did you feel that? yes that
that, that, that
was a knife, blunt, to the gut
did you feel how I felt when you kissed me?

GOOD

but

I don't mean it. I do. I don't. I do.
I love you.

I'm just having a hard time sleeping
with you creeping,
sleeping, slinking,
hap-hazarding my nights and

I love you.

but it's starting to wear so thin
so pretty (you're so pretty)
in my dreams
you're the girl in my dreams,
of my dreams
and i can't sleep
so pretty please stop

please do. don't. do.

I love you.

Friday, September 24, 2010

why I killed the electric car (that's right... it was ME)

I am extremely suspicious of electric cars, and never more so than when I recently watched the commercial for the new Nissan Leaf. In it, a depressed polar bear migrated to suburbia to give a big thank-you hug to some yuppie. The implication being, I suppose, that all the wild things are just tickled silly about Nissan's Automotive Creation, a creation which--if only we buy enough of them--will stop the polar ice caps from melting.

The problems with this theory are multiplicitous. Even if I could ignore the offensiveness of the fact that some advertizing schmooze in Los Angeles thought I would be oblivious to the sad irony of splicing together National Geographic footage of wild bears with shots of a captive, “trained” polar bear being man-handled into unnatural settings to market yet another “eco-friendly” product, the metaphorical fur on my neck is still standing straight up. 


I suppose it wouldn’t be so annoying if I really believed in the world-saving efficacy of the Nissan Leaf, but here is where my suspicion really kicks in: See, whenever anyone starts jumping up and down and screaming wild-eyed about how electric cars are the New Messiah because they use less gasoline, I start to wonder, “well, yeah… but where does the electricity come from?”

Not one to wonder for long when I have an abbreviated, probably-somewhat-inaccurate answer at my fingertips, I googled “sources of electricity in the US” and found that according to a 2009 study, 44.9% of the power in this country comes from coal.

This is fine if you like the idea of scraping the top layer off the earth and running it and all the living things on it through a garburetor and then vomiting it back out into a big, unattractive pile whilst creating tons and tons of noxious fumes and poisonous by-products. But me, I’m a little too fond of clean mountains with their tops on to go in for that sort of thing.

Our next main source of energy at 23.4% is Natural Gas; which, although it has “natural” in the title and is apparently less nasty than petroleum, is still pretty nasty stuff.

And how about nuclear? At 20.3% of our power generation, we are getting a lot of electron-juice by micro-slicing nature, and even though I’m not too fond of the idea that I live fairly close to another potential Chernobyl, nuclear power is pretty clean, right? Well, yeah… if you don’t care about your grandkids and all the still-toxic-for-another-bajillion-years radioactive waste that we’re forcing them to deal with, or the way the ecology of our waterways gets majorly disrupted by the massive amounts of water that nuclear power plants siphon off for cooling and then return to the ecosystem, super-heated and essentially dead.

That, of course, has nothing on the water-killing, ecosystem-destroying capacity of our next-most-prevalent power source (hydroelectric) – but who cares, right? It’s not like we need intact, living, healthy waterways to live. It’s not as though biodiversity is worthwhile for anything other than a little voyeuristic pleasure for a few hummer-driving yuppie kayakers, is it? I mean, geez, if we weren’t designed to find creative new ways to screw with the natural course of things, then what in God’s name are our brains for!?!

But even though I’m angry and cynical about how we have created almost all of our electric power with methods that seem expressly orchestrated to give a big middle finger to the health of the world I like to call home, it can still be argued fairly easily that the problem is not the electric car, but rather our methods of electricity production. If we simultaneously change those methods and develop the electric car, we’ll all come out better in the end, right?

Well, in a word: NO; because our problem goes much deeper than what type of car we drive or how we choose to power it. The problem, as always, lies right down in the core of things – deep down in the human heart. The problem is that we don’t care about the earth that sustains us. We don’t care about our grandchildren, or the people who live downstream. We are, in short, arrogant, selfish, narrow-minded and unloving people who are standing around peeing in the waterways, just because we like the sound it makes.

This makes NO sense, and nothing significant will change until we change our hearts - until we stop thinking that convenience is tantamount to survival. Until that happens, the electric car will be nothing more than another way to trick ourselves into a nice, warm, deluded sense of superiority.

--

Author’s Note: while mulling over the electric car, I came across a particularly apt quote by Wendell Berry:

“ The basic cause of the energy crisis is not scarcity: it is moral ignorance and weakness of character. We don’t know how to use energy or what to use if for. And we cannot restrain ourselves. Our time is characterized as much by the abuse and waste of human energy as it is by the abuse and waste of fossil fuel energy.”

daily quote:

The arrogance of worldview insists on filling gaps in knowledge with preconceptions. Humility lets the gaps be, and wisdom goes even further and enjoys them.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

echoes


The racking sobs have gone, you know: 
but in their place a dull, slow ache
takes me unawares when 'ere you find a way to slip into my dreams
and say hello.


And though it seems that this, too,
is bound to fade,
I think instead it's bound to grow more potent with the years.


For tears are a function of sweat, and eye, and blood;
but the dull, slow ache of love issues from
the very pores of the air:
an echo of all the words
I didn't care enough to say...


and now my dreams still speak them, anyway.

Friday, September 17, 2010

ahimsa


I think perhaps I am becoming less of a violent stinkpot - or more of an utterly bonkers extremist (depending on your perspective).

I was just in the kitchen washing dishes and reached for a towel that happened to be the temporary home of a small wasp, which did not appreciate the interruption and showed its displeasure by stinging me on the finger. As I was reaching for something with which to smoosh its little exoskeleton to smithereens, it suddenly occurred to me to ask, why? Why do I feel justified in killing this tiny living creature, just for defending itself? I mean, it's not as if it was one of those vampiric little she-mosquitoes, going out of her way to steal some of my blood. If I was that wasp, I'd have stung me.

So instead of demanding retribution I got a jar, trapped the wasp, took it outside and let it go. Namaste, little hymenoptera apocrita.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A New Lover

I have to confess that there are times when my bibliophilic tendencies push me to read (gasp!) textbooks. This is, of course, grossly embarrassing. Everyone knows education is just a gauntlet everybody's gotta run so they can get a job and so the government can feel it's done right by its citizenry.

Yeah, sure, you learn some random garbage along the way that theoretically expands you as a person and helps you sound smart at dinner parties - but you shouldn't want to actually read textbooks for fun, should you? I mean, that is ridiculous, right?

Nonetheless, I still end up reading textbooks from time to time. For example, I read some of my sister's business textbooks, most of my wife's University coursework, and a couple of months ago picked up a sociology book called "Uncoupling."

This, at least, makes a bit more sense, because although it is a collection of case studies compiled by a professional sociologist, those case studies are of people who have gone through the ending of long-term relationships - a process with which I am deeply (if not particularly willingly) involved. So when I found this "Uncoupling" book in a thrift store I was intrigued enough to shell out a quarter. As I began to read I decided it was totally worth the twenty-five cents, because in the stories of others I found endless commonalities with my own experience - similarities that helped me make sense of what has been such a senseless reality.

For example, the book said that the initiator of the breakup, struggling to construct an identity distinct from their partner, always finds some sort of transitional person. It can be a professional counselor, a buddy, or a lover - but pretty much every initiator finds a person who will affirm this decision and allow her to feel moored as she jumps out into the thrashing sea of identity-disturbance agitated by her decision to break her commitment and connection to her partner. Eventually, the book went on, the rejected partner - having resigned himself to the inevitability of his fate - likewise finds such a transitional person.

I might as well admit that the reason I am posting is that a couple of days ago I realized that I had done it. After a few false starts, I have taken a lover. Her name is Art, and she is the most seductive temptress I have ever met. Not only does she demand every spare second of my time (although I've got to admit I do sometimes resist her on this) but she is also absolutely insatiable. Even everything is not enough for her. It seems I'm always either playing her a song on my ukulele, writing her these endless letters, or drawing pictures for her.

I known, I know... it's stupid; but what can I do?!? I am deeply, head-over-heels in love, and even though the "Uncoupling" book said repeatedly that transitional people don't necessarily outlast the transition, this relationship is different. I just know it. I am aware that right now I am having to work really hard to please her and that later it won't be so effortless, but I get so much pleasure that I can't seem to help myself.

Words fail me, as words always fail to express the inscrutable exhortations of the soul. My lover, Art, is inexpressible. To talk about her is to dance about mathematics: perhaps my words can give a glimmer, but they have nothing on experience.

I think my feelings are perhaps better expressed with a video I discovered on the internets. Go. Watch. Experience. Now.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

naked superpower

If I was a superhero, I think I would be that kid in the movie "Mystery Men" who could make himself invisible... but only if he was naked and nobody was looking. This is partly because any superpower that requires nudity is just awesome, and partly because I seem to have an amazing ability to set impossible goals where it is impossible to determine if I have succeeded.

Like say, for example, this one: I want to live a life that is completely consistent with my values.

Now, I know you might say that we all live consistently within our values because actions reveal what our values truly are, but I think this is too simplistic an explanation of the often paradoxical, mysterious intersections of mind, body, spirit and will. Also, it implies that I value being a lazy, selfish, arrogant poop-head, which is just not true.

As I see it, the real problem with my goal of life/value consistency is a little more complicated. While my actions do reveal my values and (in a somewhat ironic twist) change those values into something else, the problem I have is that although I generally think I am doing things for noble reasons, I often discover after the fact that not only was I driven by an amalgamation of bizarre, misguided notions - but also the actions these notions inspired did not actually accomplish what they were meant to.

I realize that I'm getting off into esoteric Josh Barkingreed La-la land here, so let me bring it down to the practical land of yogurt. Or, to be less specific, my hap-hazard attempts to become the savior of the planet by walking a little more lightly over it.

I was talking to my Nova Scotian surfer-dude/social-worker friend Leland about this a couple of nights ago, and he brought up the matter of yogurt containers. Like me, Leland tries to buy food that is natural and organically-produced. He does this not only because he is trying to minimize the amount of chemicals accumulating in his fatty tissues, but also because he wants to do his part to stop strip-mining the soil of the nutrients of life. He was getting annoyed, however, that even eating health-conscious food didn't really seem to do the trick.

"It's so frustrating,' he said, "I've got like thirty of these stupid plastic yogurt containers under my sink. I know it's all about marketing and shipping and all that, but it's so frustrating that even the good yogurt is packaged this way - and recycling does not fix the problem."

There was a pause as he stewed on this.

"I know," I replied. "That's why I don't buy yogurt anymore. Don't get me wrong - I love me some good bacteria-infested milk - but I decided that I had to start considering not just the content of my food, but the packaging as well. Even my quasi-hippie friend JJ thinks I'm a bit nuts on this one. He says I can just use the containers as my tupperware; but I still can't seem to justify all that unnecessary plastic. I know, I know, I'm a crazy extremist... "

"No... No, I don't think so," Leland cut in, "I think that that is a radical form of protest... the sort we really need more of."

I gotta tell ya, it sure was good to hear something like that from an intellectual guy like Leland. I'm used to hiding these socially embarrassing behaviors of mine - like the fact that I won't wear antiperspirant because I don't want aluminum sulfate in my liver, or how I only ever buy other people's old clothes (and even that only after my old clothes are more hole than fabric). It is embarrassing to admit the way I turn off and unplug appliances, or how I don't have a cell phone because I can't really justify spending an extra bajillion dollars a month on another piece of landfill-bound plastic I absolutely do not need.

The problem, however, is again my understanding of the dubious value and effectiveness of my superhuman actions. As amazing as they obviously are, these tiny, itty-bitty, indistinguishable actions accomplish pretty much nothing at all; and as much as I try to live consistently with what I at least want my values to be, I inevitably fall just a little bit short. There is always a weensie bit more I could have done.

My friend Leland might say that I should not let it bother me - that guilt is a horrible motivator and that I cannot possibly bear the weight of the ecological sins of the world... and he would be right. I don't want to spend my life feeling guilty for things that are out of my control - but that still doesn't change my values or my failure-awareness.

Victor Frankl once said that people are like airplanes flying into a crosswind. To get where they want to go, he said, they have to fly off course, into the wind. Then and only then are they capable of arriving at their goal and achieving their potential. I will not clean up the oceans and I will not solve the drinking water crisis and I will not by the sweat of my brow become a messiah for the new generation. But I will attempt with every bucket of yogurt I do not eat to remember to live in greater and greater awareness of the fact that things are not all right and that I can make a difference, however small.

Therefore, I will say nuts to everybody who notices how nuts I am being and I will live on in my impossible dream... even if no one ever notices my billowing, invisible cape.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Tale of Two Circles: Revisited

I have a literary crush on Wendell Berry. I love the way he arranges words and the things he makes them say. Shortly after I first read his essay "Why I am Not Going to Buy a Computer" two summers ago, I decided to act on that crush. So I stalked him down on the computerwebs and wrote him a letter, asking if mayhaps when I was in his neck of the woods visiting a friend I could pop in for a visit. It didn't work out that summer, or the next, but his responses were always kind and grace-filled. 

This inspired me, in a fit of expansive presumptuousness, to mail him the following bit of writing in hopes that he could spare me an opinion or two. He could and did, and although I will not violate his courtesy by quoting his response directly, I will say that he was characteristically kind and encouraging. What is more, he did me the favor of throwing in a word of constructive criticism, absolutely free.  

When Wendell Berry gives advice, you follow it, so I sat down to re-write and have decided to post the results of this edit. The last time I slapped it on here, someone was kind enough to suggest that I was most likely on drugs when I wrote it. I offer it again, therefore, but with Wendell Berry's approval. 

So there. 


A Tale of Two Circles

The

First Circle
In the old days of The Land of Cowboys, things were simpler. There were only two types of hats: white and black. If you wore a white hat, you were a good guy. If you wore a black hat, you were a bad guy. If there were any questions, all you had to do was listen to the music.
Time kept on trudging, however, and black and white were left behind as the world gradually turned to color. The soundtrack faded and everyone began to notice they were living in a world where things were complicated. They became aware that there were cultures different than their own, whole groups of people who believed in things like, say, “modesty of dress,” just like they did, but who did not happen to believe that there was anything particularly evil about the female nipple. These people were not only refusing to wear the appropriate hats, they sometimes wore no hats at all - or anything else for that matter! Sometimes all they wore were gourds.
There was one group, in a place called “The Church,” that up until the color change had been totally in charge. They had created complex hierarchical structures that discouraged diversity and maintained strict definitions of right and wrong, good and bad—down to the tiniest details. But now that the world was becoming colorful, people began to have opinions of their own. They began to wonder if they, perhaps, could decide for themselves what was right or wrong. This produced the sort of results you would expect, but although The Church reacted strongly by attempting infiltrate the power structures that were gradually replacing their own, in time they lost the clout necessary to be able to lovingly convince folks of the error of their ways with pointed words and a well-placed, red-hot poker. This was absolutely terrifying for The Church. The truth was at stake, after all, and it was getting hard to tell who were the good guys.

At this point, someone had a wonderful idea:
“Let’s circle the wagons. We’ll make an encampment here and we’ll grab those red hot pokers they won’t let us use anymore and we’ll brand the words ‘Good Guys’ right across our own foreheads. We won’t have to worry about the fact that nobody is wearing their hats anymore—we’ll be able to tell by the brands!
“If anyone wants to add their wagon to the circle, we’ll gladly brand their faces and invite them into the club. It may get a bit cramped in here, yes, and we may have to ignore some pretty obvious things—like sanitation and the hunger pangs in our bellies—but that’s a small price to pay for certainty, so it’s worth it. Besides, if we get too short on food, we can just eat the children.
“We can sit here inside these wagons and throw rocks at anyone who rides by and refuses to join the club and take the brand. That way we’ll never get corrupted and we won’t have to notice our tattered clothes, stinking facilities, and the bone-strewn, grassless circle of land we are living in.”
They talked it over and decided it was a good plan. There really didn’t seem to be any other way to ensure that they would always know that there were good guys, and that they were them. If someone was going to be telling people what The Church was all about, they had better make darn tootin’ sure it was the good guys. So that is what they did.
They discovered, however, that the branding did not last. There seemed to be something in the air around their camp, a sort of insidious balm that, despite their best intentions, caused the marks they made to heal. As the pain of branding faded, so did the scars; and in only a few short days you could not tell at all that they had ever been there. The people in The Church were therefore forced to brand each other repeatedly, and so lived their lives in nearly constant pain. In time, though, they began to get used to it. They forgot what it was like to live without the branding.


The

Second Circle
A little ways off –within sight but out of throwing range—there was a second circle: a drum circle. Like all drum circles, this one had no outer boundary. Instead, it was a loose arrangement of people gathered around a blazing fire, having a wild and crazy party. All day long, they would sing and dance and enjoy themselves. They loved this, and were so grateful to be alive and to have a sense of the joy of life.
From time to time they had to go back to tend to their work in the surrounding countryside, but they always took that joy with them and always felt like they were still at the party. They had a tendency to smile, and to whistle while they worked. Because they were happy and having a good time, they liked pretty much everybody who came by their fields and gardens and were thrilled when new people passed their way. They smiled and waved and said howdy—which seemed a bit strange to these travelers, considering that the last people they had passed had just thrown rocks at them. Often this made them stop, and they would ask the gardeners why they were so happy.
The drum-circle gardeners were so joyful about their party (and so sure that the more dancers and revelers there were, the merrier it would be) that they would point towards the sound of the drums and say, “Just head towards the party. There is lots and lots to eat and drink and it’s so much fun! Do you drum? That’s fun, too, if you want, but you are welcome to just go and enjoy the company.”
Gradually, the drum circle got bigger. It grew and grew and grew, until it was hard to tell where it started or finished. It was still open on all sides, except for one area near the middle, where a large circle of beautiful, flowering trees had sprung up. When the children would ask why they were there, the adults would just laugh and say, “because.”


Circles Collide

The circle of trees annoyed the people of the first circle very much. They told their children (the ones they hadn’t eaten) that it only looked like it was made of flowering trees, but that they were actually big, pointy hate-machines that killed small children. They threw a lot of rocks at the trees and the trees were hurt by them, but they always grew more blooms. This seemed very suspicious and ugly and anti-Church to them, and only made them believe their hate-machine story all the more.
One day, a young man named Frank, who had just had his face branded, was sitting under the wagons, looking outwards and trying to catch a whiff of clean, blossomy breeze. He knew he shouldn’t, but his head hurt and he thought it might make him feel better. As he peered through the thick trees, he saw what looked like flickering lights. Because he was in more pain than usual and wasn’t thinking right, he got up and walked towards them. He walked right up under the big, pointy hate-machines and right through them and out into the middle of the circle, where someone promptly said “how-do” and handed him an enormous hamburger.
It was the juiciest, tastiest burger he’d ever eaten. He started to smile, and as he did he noticed that the pain in his forehead was almost entirely gone – had dissipated, in fact, as he had walked towards the second circle. Then the same person gave him a goblet of something cool and sweet and bubbly to drink, and he warmed right up inside as all the rest of the pain vanished without a trace. He found that for the first time in his life, he was genuinely happy.
Suddenly, a wave of guilt swept over him. He had forgotten all about The Church! He looked around and saw that there wasn’t a “good guy” burn mark in sight. The only person with anything similar looked to be the guy who had handed him the burger and the cool/warm drink –and all he had were some weird scars on his hands and feet and back, which were all bare naked. The man was only wearing a pair of flowered, knee-length Bermuda shorts. Frank knew that exposed skin was a terribly bad thing and that he ought to run back to the circle of the wagons as quickly as possible. But he was very scared and lonely and a little bit curious, so he asked the man what his name was.
“Joshua,” he replied, “you want to come join my party?”
“Oh,” Frank said, “Is this your party?”
“Well, mine and anyone’s who is willing to enjoy some good food, drink, dancing and drumming. Check this crazy beat!”
And with that, he grabbed a djembe and began to play such a dizzying, intoxicating rhythm that Frank could not help himself. He ripped off his shirt and started flailing it around in the air, dancing like a man possessed. Somewhere in the back of his mind this worried him—this sense of possession—but he was having so much fun that he soon forgot all about it, and he danced and ate and sang and danced and even drummed a little himself.
As time went on, he began to notice something strange: while this Joshua fellow seemed to be setting the rhythm for the whole, wide-ranging party, each of the partiers was adding to that rhythm his or her own little piece of music, and the end result was a glorious, throbbing aural environment. It filled the air and it filled the earth and it filled Frank so that he wondered how he had never heard it before.
During a restful pause in the music, he asked Joshua about this, and Joshua became very sad. “Well, he said... you could. It was always there, but the circled wagons were muffling the sound, and the pain from the constant brandings made a ringing in your ears, so that you could barely make out the slightest hint of my rhythm.”
Frank was very sad about this as well. He thought about all the fun he had been having the last while, and he began to wish that the people back in the circle of the wagons could experience it as well. He looked Joshua right in the eyes and he said, “Joshua, what do I need to do to make those people able to come enjoy the party.”
Joshua just smiled a sad smile and said, “There really isn’t anything you can do to make anyone enjoy the party. The only way a person can enjoy the party is to let the brand fade and disappear. Everybody is welcome at my party, but no ‘Good Person’ will ever come. They have to decide, as you did, to walk outside of the circle of wagons and eat and drink at the party. Then the brand will fade and they will be able to see that they are just like everybody else.”
Frank was very sad... and a little bit confused. “But, Joshua” he said, “I didn’t decide to come to the party. My head was just hurting really bad and I thought I saw something flickering through the trees.”
At this, Joshua laughed. He laughed and laughed and laughed. And then he picked up his djembe and started to drum with reckless abandon. Frank wasn’t sure why, but this made him very happy. It also showed him what he needed to do. He walked back towards the circle of trees and then through them, carrying a djembe of his own. As he went he sang. It was a joyous song, a song full of Joshua’s laughter, a song that rode the rhythm of the party. This time as he left the circle of the trees, he could hear the sounds of the party all around him, and he called out to the good people of The Church to come and join the drum circle with everybody else.
Even in their pain, they heard him. They came to the edge of the circle and they saw someone who looked like someone they had once known, hitting on something that made no noise. They called out to him, asking him to come and be branded, but he just kept singing and hitting and dancing. They tried and tried and tried, but nothing worked. He was off in his own little world, completely unable to hear the good news they were proclaiming to him. He seemed to be crying.
Pretending to be sad themselves (but glad, if the truth be told, of a little excitement), they took up their stones and, calling out blessings, stoned Frank to death.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

a love story

Once upon a time there was a man who had everything. He was tall, broad-shouldered, cleft-jawed, and really, really intelligent. He was talented at anything he tried and even stuff he didn't. His teeth were straight and so was his shooting, and although he was powerful and rough and could bake you a gourmet cake in the dream kitchen he built with his own hands, behind his granite exterior he was also very sensitive and felt that something, somehow, was missing.

Also once upon a time there was a woman who seemed to have everything. Her teeth were straight and her neck was lovely. She was strong, in her womanly way, but was also very soft and delicate. She had flawless skin and a body that only grew hair at the top - everywhere else was as hairless as one of those ridiculous Mexican dogs. Her waist, ankles and eyebrows were narrow, her legs were long, her perfectly-matched, fawn-like breasts were gravity-defying, and her eyes sparkled like there was starlight in them (or vizine) - but there wasn't any starlight or vizine, she was 
just that way. Despite how Mary-Poppins-Esque she was, however, she too was convinced that something was missing.

One day, the man and the woman who had everything met and realized that what they did not have was each other. They realized that they were 
perfectly suited in every possible way, and although they had their little tiffs (as lovers do), things were really, really great. Sex was effortless, wild, and always mutually fulfilling. They had to compromise on a lot of things, sure, but never had to make any major sacrifices because they mostly wanted all the same things. Neither of them ever, ever thought about what it would be like with anyone else. They fulfilled all their dreams, had the exact number of children that they each wanted, and lived happily ever after.

---

As you may have guessed, that was a fairy story. It is not real and did not happen, but is more or less the exact story that has been educated, pounded and bamboozled into the head of every man and woman in North America - even the heads that think they are too full of brains to be taken in by such drivel.

Let me tell you a different story - a true one. It goes like this:

Once upon a time there was a man who was first a boy, a mix of all that is good and evil about humanity. As he grew and his body changed, he looked at what the men around him were like and tried to copy them because he wanted to fit in and be loved. This man saw men who were violent and men who were gentle, so he stumbled around vacillating between the two. He acted tougher than he felt, and was embarrassed by this. He desired women, and in time came to believe that he ought to have a woman like the one in the fairy story - a "perfect" female who would fulfill all the ludicrous fantasies he had been taught to believe a woman existed to fulfill.

Somewhere else, a little girl grew up being told how to be desirable - how to get men to want her. The implication in this lesson was that men did not already want her and that she would have to learn how to earn that desire. So she learned. She watched closely and imitated all the bizarre, self-mutilating behaviors of older, more experienced women. She wanted to be loved by men and by the other women, who seemed most interested in being around the women that men wanted most - the ones who looked and acted most like fairy-tale women. As she grew older she liked to think that she knew better - that she did not need a man's approval to feel worthwhile. But still...

One day, the man and the woman met. Because everything about their meeting was 
just right and because they both believed in the fairy story, electricity and pheromones started to crackle and arc between them and it occurred to both of them that this was IT. The fairy story was happening at last! And to them! 


The power of this story and (perhaps more importantly) their belief in the power of this story overwhelmed them and they rode for a while on the wave of it, as giddy as a couple of surfers who had just caught the perfect break.

Then something happened. Perhaps the wave went under a pier, or around some rocks, or over a reef that because of its shape shifted the flow of sub-currents. Whatever it was, one and eventually both of them got a sense that the narrative wave was about to crash and boil. In that moment, they understood the story for what it was - a fantasy and a lie.

The story was powerful, though, and jealous. It needed characters to live and would not go gently back into that broad sea from which it came. It kept right on tumbling the lovers, bouncing them off pier-pillars and rocks, scraping them across razor-sharp coral until one of them said, "You know what? Screw this! I know I wasn't promised a rose garden, but this is 
ridiculous. Nobody said anything about bloody cuts and plate-sized bruises - I'm out of here!"

This person left the story to try to find another narrative, one that would follow its proper course. And the abandoned person, seeing no other options, did the same. 



On and on this process repeated for both of them until one day, one of them woke up and said, "Wait a minute... maybe the problem isn't my piss-poor ability at picking co-protagonists for my perfect story. Maybe, maybe, maybe... well, maybe the solution is just to recognize that the whole story is screwed top to bottom, and the only way to begin to heal it and to stitch the narrative strands back together is to stop believing in the frickin' lie and start loving another broken person just the way they are!"

And at that point - right then and absolutely no sooner - there began to be a love story.