We are here…

we are here

“every new life on offer here begins now. And now is midnight. It begins now. All these futures. That’s what is here…Every other immediate present and ongoing future you could have had.”

– Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

Here is all there is. Now is all we have. Every moment is an emergent midnight. Every moment carries with it the click of a clock’s second hand calling forth the dawn.

The present and the possible are intricately interlaced and intertwined. This is where life lives. This is where our life lives. This is where all our lives live. The present is the only place where anything is possible, and anything that is possible is only possible in the present. Within the present we are Now-Here, and outside of it we are No-Where.

There is a name for the place found at the periphery of the present; purgatory – the moment when we are pulled from the moment, when we are “Between lives“, when “disappointment is felt in full”, when, as Nietzsche might say, we cease all our Yes-saying to “what is necessary in things”, when we lose the sweeping gesture found in the love of fate. Because “If you truly want to live a life hard enough, you don’t have to worry. You will stay there” and “you [will] get to live it until you die”.

Sometimes it feels like we are simply lost; lost to life, lost to ourselves, lost within the distant and disregarded static humming amidst the clamor of a world already overburdened by noise. But if we could slow down long enough to simply look around, we would see exactly where we are. We would see ourselves tall, sharp, and distinct both with and against the backdrop of the world.

We are here.

We have always been right here.

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A liturgy of surprise…

a liturgy of surprise

Virginia Wolff says that “A good book is never finished – it goes on whispering to you from the wall.” In my experience, some books whisper with such frequency and fervent intensity, that I’ve had to give up on the idea of them ever residing on the wall.

I keep a copy of Anthony Bourdain‘s book, Medium Raw, on the night stand beside my bed, as if it were a copy of Bible. It’s a ludicrous thing to say and do, I know. It’s absurd to even suggest that Bourdain’s book and the Bible are on equal footing.

Throughout my academic pursuits in the realms of religion and the Humanities, I have devoted myself to researching the sacred text, and I can say with a great degree of certainty that, to my knowledge, none of the biblical writers have ever had lunch with Iggy pop, or eaten spicy Pho on a Vietnam street corner, a scene that Bourdain, himself, describes as “the landscape of human desire…strewn with the spent expressions of human lust”. Clearly, Bourdain has a far deeper and richer understanding of the multifarious complexities within the human condition.

I’ve learned a lot from my time spent studying the Judeo-Christian canon, but no one has taught me more about faith, belief, and belonging than St. Anthony of Bourdain, patron saint of fucks not given. It seems that Moses and the apostles, will simply have to settle for second place.

Early on in the book Bourdain recounts having one of the best and most exclusive meals of his life, sitting amongst the who’s who of the cooking world, “the gods of food”, and wondering to himself “what the fuck am doing here?” As he looked around the room he readily recognized that he “was the peer of no man or woman at this table”. He could clearly acknowledge that at no point in his cooking career would any of them have ever hired him. He had found a place at this most prestigious of tables, but he knew it had nothing to do with his talent as a chef.

And yet, it was also abundantly clear that his failure as a cook was intricately intertwined with his arrival at this table. He writes that:

From this rather luxurious vantage, the air still redolent with endangered species and fine wine, sitting in a private dining room…I realize that one thing led directly to the other. Had I not taken a dead-end dishwashing job while on summer vacation, I would not have become a cook. Had I not become a cook, I would never have become a chef. Had I not become a chef, I never would have been able to fuck up so spectacularly. Had I not known what it was like to fuck up – really fuck up – and spend years cooking brunches in bullshit no-star joints around town, that obnoxious but wildly successful memoir I wrote wouldn’t have been half as interesting.

He was a chef who garnered acclaim not for his culinary capabilities, but for his writing, and he knew it. Somewhere in his failed attempt to be a worthwhile chef, somewhere in the anxious discomfort of the search, he became something else, something fearfully and wonderfully made.

I’m having a similar dining room realization, though mine is laced with more anxiousness than appreciation. I used to be the youngest person at the table, but not at this one, not today. Tonight, at this table, I’m everyone’s senior by a few years. I’m not sure when the shift happened exactly. Like the way most things change, I’m certain that it transpired quietly and in plain sight. And, in my case, I’m convinced the slow discretion of the change was made all the more imperceptible by the fact that, over the past few years, I have taken great strides to stay hidden from communal tables of almost any and every kind.

My vantage is not particularly luxurious. The table I’m sitting at is not in an exclusive, private dining room. I am not amongst the elite or the who’s who. In fact, most of the people here I’m meeting for the first, and quite possibly the last, time. It’s just a casual dinner at a beachside bar, celebrating the accomplishment of a friend of a friend, but I still feel like I’m the peer of no man or woman here. I look around the table and I am greeted by youthful faces; vibrant with vigor and vitality, glowing with the fervency  of all that they have already accomplished, and alive with all they still hope to, and probably will. There is welcoming in their eyes, but I find none of the weighted fatigue that must be so readily obvious in my own.

I work hard to hide the wear and tear of my dogged miles, but I feel so exposed. Like a car broken down in the middle of the road, smoke billowing from underneath the hood, hazard lights flashing; my mere presence is a spectacle.

Chuck Palahniuk says that “maybe you don’t go to hell for the things you do. Maybe you go to hell for the things you don’t do.” and, at this moment, I sense how incredulous salvation is when one is so obviously damned. A lifetime of regret and incapacity, arriving in an instant, I all too clearly come to understand eternal torment.

As the only child of a minister, I spent far more time around adults than I ever did around kids my own age. If I wanted to be seen and heard, if I wanted connection, community, and comradery I was going to have to make a space for myself at the grown-ups’ table. This meant that I had to learn to be articulate and intelligent, I had to be knowledgeable and outspoken. I had to be driven and ambitious. I had to learn to hold my own and I did, my whole life, until I didn’t, until I couldn’t.

I reached. I clawed. I pushed. I pulled. I climbed up that damn water spout, and I made something of myself, or I started to anyway. But then down came the rains, they were ceaseless and unrelenting, and they washed me completely out. 

Amidst the torrential downpour of life at its bleakest, its easy to believe that even the sun has lost hope and abandoned the day. But, the sun does, indeed, come back. Sometimes it just doesn’t stay out for long. And, sometimes it doesn’t dry up all the rain, at least not all at once.

If someone would have told me at age 13 that I was five years away from meeting the woman I was going to marry, I couldn’t have fathomed it, or even thought it possible.

If someone would have told me at 18 that I was just three years away from experiencing one of the most profound forms of life-altering love when my son was born in a Cape Canaveral delivery room, I would have, at best,  only patronizingly smiled.

It goes without saying that there’s no way in hell I would have believed them if they told me that I was only a little over two years away from experiencing it yet again at the birth of my daughter.

And if someone would have told me that five years after that, I’d suffer through two devastating layoffs, lose almost everything I’d spent the past nine years working to achieve, and only moderately recover after another five years; the sheer horror would have surely made me hope that it was a lie.

But, perhaps, the icing on the cake of existential angst would be if someone would have told me that at the beginning of 2020 the contents of an entire life would be neatly and catastrophically condensed down to 6 cardboard boxes and a duffle bag, desperately packed into the back hatch of a 2004 Ford Expedition after the devastating end of a nearly 15 year-long marriage.

And yet here I am, still reeling, still recovering, still wondering what “normal” might mean now. Seth Godin explains that “Every normal is a new normal, until it is replaced by another one”. But, a ‘new normal’, almost never feels normal, not at first anyway. Sometimes it just feels fucked-up; really, really, fucked-up.

So much of my life has felt like one unfolding fuck-up after another, and then, one day, something shifts, something changes, something happens and all at once, somehow, it feels like it all makes sense. In one seemingly serendipitous moment, in the warm auburn glow of the otherly and the unexpected, we realize that this crooked path has been twisting fast towards the clearest of all possible views.

John Green says that “You can’t see the future coming – not the terrors, for sure, but you also can’t see the wonders that are coming, the moments of light-soaked joy that await each of us.” Maybe that’s part of the excitement of sitting with such a limited scope. We know there’s something wild and ferocious taking place so near and yet so unavoidably outside of sight, somewhere just beyond what we can see. We can hear a faint yet unmistakable roaring in the distance. We can feel the rumble of something rushing towards us, but we just can’t see around every curve, or every corner, if we can ever see around any of them at all.

Sometimes, it’s not so much the terror and trauma that we suffer from, but rather the fear and the anxiety of our unknowing, near-sightedness. Sometimes we struggle with despair about what has passed us by and all our doubts about what’s on the verge of arriving, because what we’re really struggling with is only the misunderstandings of our partial vision. 

Maybe there are no mistakes.  Maybe, nothing is ever fucked up; not really. What if, as Palahniuk presses us to ask, everything has been “unfolding in perfect order to deliver us to a distant joy we can’t conceive of at this time”? 

We are always in the thick our stories. We are never privy to the whole picture. Perhaps,  what appears as a mistake so closeup is actually the thing that brings us precisely to where we most direly need to be, and  if we could just, for a moment, pan out into a wider perspective, then we would see it. 

If we did, and if we could, we would see that unbeknownst to our own limited view we have been inaugurating a liturgy of reverent surprise right under our own noses all along. We would see that every persistent step taken with both steadfastness and uncertainty has been quietly shifting the world into the shape of our own consolation. We would see that we have been building a temple this entire time; a sanctuary of ultimate concern formed and fashioned by the sacred steadiness of our striding through the foreboding uneasiness of the unseen. We would see that we were always on our way home.

I heart the Internet…

I heart the internet photography by Duane Toops

I have for so long been so caught up in the closed network of being alone with books that I have forgotten the fact that, even though books can build a natural communion of experience between the writer and the reader, books can be an even broader gateway to belonging, connection, and intimacy when they are read and shared with another. In the temporal span of turning pages together, we instantaneously experience “the stable community” of what Vonnegut might describe as an almost utopian “cure for loneliness”. And, perhaps, as Donald Hall might suggest, its also an opportunity for your gaze to be met and intertwined with another person’s, as you both look upon “a third thing”, that is, “a site of joint rapture or contentment”.

For me, this stable community which together shares the rapturous gaze given to a third thing has manifested itself as a kind of two-person book club reading through John Green‘s book, The Anthropocene Reviewed. The book is a series of essays that examine, evaluate, and review the various aspects of our human centered world on a five-star scale. John Green is one of those authors that seems to know me better than I know myself.  He is, what Eric G. Wilson calls, a soul doctor; an artistic physician whose presence in the world provides a prescription to alleviate the ache and burn that often comes from simply being alive.

But, even more than that, to me, Green is what the Celts referred to as an Anam Cara, a soul friend, a person who has connected with the depth and texture of one’s heart to such an extent that they become integral to the structural formations of our spirits.  Of the many-splendored things that come with being human, one of the the most splendid moments of really fucking magical, top-shelf, good shit, is when you meet someone that makes you wonder how you were ever able to live so long without them.

I was late to the party when it came to John Green. Most days I can barely manage to put my finger on my own pulse much less the pulse of popular culture. I’m generally out of step, never in ‘the-know’, and always behind on everything.  I’ve been told that I’m an “old soul”. I used to think that was a compliment. I thought it meant I was dignified and wise beyond my years. I thought it meant that there was something classic about my character, or that I had vintage sensibilities better suited for some bygone era.

Now, I think its just a polite way of saying that, despite the date of birth listed on my Driver’s License, I’ve taken the express lane to becoming a grumpy old fuck. Which wouldn’t be so bad if senior discounts were issued based on the age of one’s attitude alone. Instead, I’m stuck paying full price, but at least I can still yell at people to get off my lawn, so that’s something right?

My discovery of Green, as well as the aforementioned book party of two, could not have been possible without the internet. I stumbled across the YouTube channel and the podcast Green shares with his brother Hank Green. I watched and listened for quite some time, sensing something of a kindred spirit, but it took me a while before I finally got around to reading his work, and when I did, it changed some deep-down ineffable part of who I am, or perhaps, it simply reminded me that it was there. I’ve been hooked on his writing ever since.

Needless to say, when his most recent book, The Anthropocene Reviewed, came out I had no hesitations about getting it the week it was released. I started reading it almost immediately, but stalled out after the first couple essays. It wasn’t due to a lack of interest on my part, nor to lackluster writing on Green’s. I was enthralled, and Green’s prose is at peak performance. I have a habit of juggling several books at once, and Green’s was unintentionally put to one side in the restless shifting of texts. However, in the course of an emphatic, and almost ekphratic internet conversation, I recommended Green’s new book. The strangest thing transpired, my literary advice was heeded. 

When you read as much as I do, you look for almost any available opportunity to talk about books, no matter how cumbersome and clunky it might be peppered it into the conversation.  “I’m so sorry to hear your house burned down, that’s terrible! Hey, speaking of ‘burn’, have you ever read any of Robert Burn’s poetry? ‘To a Mouse’ is my favorite.” I’ve grown accustomed to the blank and glassy stares that come immediately after these kinds of interactions, but for someone to actually, purposefully, go out of their way to buy a book I suggested, that’s different.

It’s funny how such a fleeting aside can serve as the foundation for a two-person book club, but that’s what happened. Sometimes the miracle of miracles is the way one comment can set off a chain of events that alter our understanding of everything we thought we so clearly knew to be true. What can I say? The internet is uncanny. It makes perfect sense, then, that amongst the plethora of facets found within this human-centered age, John Green makes it a point to review the internet.

I can recall the ramshackle collection of plastic and wires that came to occupy a formidable piece of table top real estate in my parents bed room office, and the way that the pressed wood, some-assembly-required, desk and hutch seemed to tremble and sway under the weight of that second hand computing monstrosity. The hunter green carpet, the floral patterned print on the thin walls; awash in the crackle of groans and screeches emitted from a dial up connection; I remember when the internet first came to me.

I took to the internet quickly. In my early teens, a quiet, introverted, only child; I was a pastor’s kid with a small number of friends in a tiny rural town. It seemed like so much of the world was so far out reach, but in some inexplicable way the internet made everything feel close enough to touch.
I didn’t fit in anywhere. I wasn’t bullied or picked on, but neither did I fully belong; too entranced by secular artistry for the conservative religion of my upbringing, but also to entrenched within Christian culture to find a place outside of it. Stuck in a perpetual in-between, I was lonely a lot; a sense that has waxed and waned throughout my life but has ultimately persisted into my now rapidly approaching middle-age. (Well…persisted until recently).

I fell in love with music because it made me feel less alone. Bands and artists, not only knew and understood my angst and anxiety, they gave it a voice, even more so, they gave it a song. Living in that small country community meant that where I lived was never a tour stop for any of artist’s that had become my friends. But, the internet gave me the means by which to reach them. Much to my parents chagrin, I spent hours on the internet searching for photos of all the guitarists and songwriters I admired. And, much to my mother’s consternation I would print and plaster those photos all over my bed room walls. The bands may have never come near to where I resided, but, thanks to the internet, I found a way to keep them close. I still felt alone, but less so.

To this day I have rarely, if ever, managed to find myself living amongst like-minded people who share all my passions and interests. Most days I feel so far from home; like being separated across continents, divided by an ocean, 4165 miles away from where I should be; the internet has continued to be a place I have sought out a kind of communal reciprocity. That is not to say that it has always been easily found or readily available but, there were enough glimmers to keep me there, to believe that belonging was possible.

I have met amazing,  astounding, brilliant, clever, intelligent, stunning, and beautiful people; people who have made me feel more me, more myself, more safe, more found, and more home than I have ever felt before. People who have changed my life in inalterable ways.
It has taken time and patience, but it seems I was more right than I realized. After all , you are here. You are reading this. I found you, and, more importantly, you found me. And I can never thank you enough.

Maybe an essay like this isn’t particularly inspiring or profound. Maybe it’s not world-changing or life-altering. Maybe it’s just grateful, and maybe that’s good enough. Maybe it’s better, and maybe that changes everything. Maybe that’s just what love does. Maybe…it’s perfect.

From now until the day I die, I give the internet 5 stars.

The Tattooed Buddha: Snapshots of Meditation

snapshots of meditation

Recently I was asked by the lovely folks over at the Tattooed Buddha to contribute to their SnapShots of Meditation series, a project that seeks to show what real-world meditation looks like by highlighting the daily observances carried out by everyday practitioners and their reasons for practicing. It’s always such a pleasure to get to work with the Tattooed Buddha team, and I always jump at the chance to do so. Hope you like my contribution to the series, and be sure to head over to the Tattooed Buddha website to read what other contributors have to share.

So much of creativity and the creative process is about seeing; seeing clearly and seeing differently.
In fact, Seth Godin writes that, “Artists, at least the great ones, see the world more clearly than the rest of us”. This is, for me at least, why “artistry” and spirituality are so intimately connected and intertwined. Achieving and maintaining this kind of atypical ability to see and perceive is intrinsic to being an artist, but being an artist has absolutely nothing to do with one’s mastery over watercolors, oils, marble, or clay, because art, itself, has nothing to with any of those mediums, or any other other medium for that matter.

The medium is irrelevant and ultimately inconsequential. “Art,” as Godin goes on to say, “is the intentional act of using your humanity to create a change in another person.”

Meditation is an art, and art is a mediation. Both function as the means by which our perception becomes alerted to the immense profundity laced throughout the realness of the present moment. In art we are allowed to exercise a kind of analytical awareness.

Our consciousness becomes concentrated and compounded, and we are attentively attuned to the rich interplay of texture, color, tempo, and composition. Similarly, “To meditate,” as Stephen Batchelor explains, “is to probe with intense sensitivity each glimmer of color, each cadence of sound, each touch of another’s hand, each fumbling word that tries to utter what cannot be said.” And in both cases, we are at our best, and our most artistic when the change created within ourselves elicits a change in others.

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On the matter of mattering…

on the matter of mattering

“how you matter is defined by the things that matter to you. You matter as much as the things that matter to you do. And I got so backwards, trying to matter…All this time, there were real things to care about: real, good people who care about me…It’s easy to get stuck. You just get caught in being something, being special…to the point where you don’t even know why you need it; you just think you do…I don’t think you can ever fill the empty space with the things you lost. I don’t think your missing pieces can ever fit inside you again once they go missing…maybe life is not about accomplishing some bullshit markers.”

– John Green, An Abundance of Katherines

I don’t think I’ve ever had a realization that wasn’t painful.  Even as salvific as the first sip of my morning coffee is, with the warmth of its concern and its indomitable virility, its still a painful reminder that I perpetually deprive myself of sleep.

For most of my life I have struggled with with a negligent and inefficient distribution of fucks. With spastic irregularity I vacillate wildly between two extremes; either giving too many, or too few fucks at any given time. I not only wantonly misappropriate the amount of fucks given, I also mismanage where I allocate those fucks as well; giving fucks where they should be withheld, and failing to concede them where they would be most beneficently appropriated. Yet, even this insight doesn’t arrive without some form of chronic, and mostly self-inflicted, pain.

The Buddha got to achieve Enlightenment by sitting serenely beneath a Bodhi tree; lucky bastard. I would have had to repeatedly beat my head against the tree before I would have ever gotten close to that kind of clarity. The part of my brain inclined towards revelatory epiphanies seems to only awaken under the duress of anguish and emotional agony.  Having said that out loud, religious mortification makes a lot more sense to me now. Perhaps, somewhere along the way I missed my calling as a self-flagellating monk. Although, it would probably only have been a matter of time before the other monks excommunicated me for being too intense and for making them all look bad. It’s not my fault that lack commitment and follow-through.

So much of my psychic turmoil comes from a deep-seated need to “matter”, to do something that “matters”. That’s an innocuous enough desire on the surface, and, in the mind of a person more balanced and healthy than I, it might even be laudably admirable. But for someone like me who so easily succumbs to the spiraling terror of neuroses too numerous to mention, an attempt at mattering will almost always be deceivingly terraformed into a sinister ecology of not-mattering; an intricate and entangled web of all the various ways in which what I am and what I do, do not matter.

I often, both knowingly and unknowingly, construct false measurements of what it means to matter, that is,  what it takes for me to matter based upon the misguided and misleading metrics of what I believe it is to matter.

So astoundingly in love with books, and writers, and artists, that any endeavor outside those areas seems so unavoidably inconsequential. In my mind, any time not devoted to these artistic pursuits feels ill-spent; effort ineffectively expended on things that don’t matter. And thus, the less time and effort given over to the things that do “matter” , the less I “matter”. When left unchecked, this creates a tireless grinding of dogged-exertion; trying to to fill every waking hour with the concerted pursuit to matter.

But, this game is almost always rigged from the start. I either knowingly, or unknowingly (because I’m honestly not sure) set myself up for failure before I ever begin.

Desperation is a repellant. It pushes away all the things we are most desirous of.

I have narrowed the spectrum of my mattering to such a diminished margin, to such a concentrated, and focused point. Instead of making myself matter all I’ve managed to do is to make myself minute. Hank Green writes that “When you get stuck fighting small battles it makes you small”. Perhaps I’ve been stuck fighting the smallest of them all. Somewhere in the process of the perpetual conflict as Green goes on to say, “I thought only about the fight” and “not why I was fighting.”

There are ways in which I matter that have nothing to do with my ability to make things. There are people that I matter to that has no bearing on how skillfully I can string words together into sentences.

When we fail to recognize how much that matters, and how much they matter, we will constantly feel like we don’t. And, because we simply haven’t let the fact that we matter to people matter to us, not only have we not allowed ourselves to matter at all, we’ve also not allowed the people we care about to see how much they matter to us.

Maybe one of the most important means by which we can demonstrate how much someone matters to us is by letting ourselves matter to them in the myriad of miniscule ways that we never imagined could mean anything.

Maybe that means something. Maybe it means everything. Maybe that’s the whole fucking thing.

David Foster Wallace says that

“You get to decide what to worship…in the day-to-day trenches of adult life….There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And a compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing…or some inviolable set of ethical principles is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.”

Maybe you didn’t need to read any of this. Maybe I just needed to say it. But, I have a feeling you feel the same, and if you do…I have no notes…

To a ‘goodnight’ gone, and those still to come…


I am only a part-time poet. I love to be lost in lyricism, awash in the wide stretching words of sonnets and verse, but my thoughts tumble out best, and most often, in prose and in essay. Perhaps it’s because my mind is always wildly musing and meandering; fueled by the epistemologist’s urgent need ‘to know’ and the philosopher’s desirous love of wisdom, I write for the want of understanding.

But, poetry; poetry is something that comes to me in intervals indifferent to the varying searches of my intellect. Instead, it often arrives as an unbidden and unexpected guest, whose aid is twice blessed because it is unlooked for, as Tolkien might say.

Poetry comes to me in the midst of rapture, ecstasy, agony, and anguish. In all the immoderation of an instant that evades easy expression, it emerges from the excesses of a moment in time.

Between memory and anticipation, between where I have been, where I am now, and where I am going, something nameless and unfathomable, something unexpected and ineffable spills out and spills over in abundance. The moments when we indiscreetly and indiscriminately sense an overwhelming shift in the shape of the world, a change in the amassed arrangement and organization of ourselves; when all we are rupturously collides with all we have ever been, and all we are about to become.

Poetry is simply one of the ways in which I try to grasp at something vaporous; an attempt to capture the spillage in space. It is an effort to create a time capsule; a place where the past is made prescient, where the future becomes present, where now becomes perpetual.

When the losses of all the days gone mix and mingle with the longing for all that is still to arrive, in the fullness of being here, we write. When the magnanimity of the infinite merges into a single moment, we write secret messages. We write these messages, if to no one else than to ourselves, if for no other reason than to remember…

Your voice
Still redolent in my head
Still running wildly through my chest
Still wafting through the four corners of all I am,
And, perhaps, all I’ve ever wanted

Goodnight, you say
Again and Again, goodnight
Over and over, goodnight
I listen until I’ve lost hope of ever tracking the count

I have known so many nights
Many have bidden a darkness beyond words
Some have shown stars brighter than I remember
But none now seem “good” until this one was named as such by you

How strange it is to miss the figment of a face I have never met
To be nostalgic for a life that I have not lived yet

Until then..

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Where the quiet comes to speak…

the quiet speaks

My morning begins with a search for words, and, perhaps, the words begin their day with a search for me. Some days we find each other like star crossed lovers brought together by the serendipity of persistence and strong coffee. Some days we are a missed connection. There is only an infinitesimal window within the infinite expanse of time that we can hope to meet. When cast in such a light the task seems almost insurmountable, if not outright impossible…and yet here we are, together again…

In the life of a poet there are frequent and recurring moments in which the inexplicable force of a thought or an idea storms the gates of our minds and takes tyrannical control over the near entirety of our mental faculties. Like some backwater outpost overtaken and under occupation, we are at the mercy of something beyond ourselves, something powerful and all-pervasive.

There are moments when the work ceases to be our own, and instead we become owned by the work.

To be a poet is to be hunted, hounded, and haunted. To be a poet is to know what it means to be possessed. It is to no longer be in possession of one’s own thoughts, but to be possessed by them, to be possessed by something beyond them, and perhaps to be possessed by something beneath them. To be a poet is to yield oneself completely to the unrelenting control of something that is equal parts demonic and divine.

Chuck Palahniuk writes that “something foreign is always living itself through you. Your whole life is the vehicle for something to come to earth.” To be a poet is to be a haunted house; to be filled with otherworldly apparitions of the unknowable.

Every lyric is a conjuring; every line an invocation, every word scribbled across paper is both a summons and an exorcism. Every poem is an apocalypse, an uncovering, an unveiling, a revelation; an in-breaking, an excavation, and an arrival.

Poetry creates a breach, a disruption. Poetry creates space; a space for awareness and observation, a space to see and listen, a space for silence to creep into our speech, a space in which the quiet can, itself, begin to speak.

Your heart is a secret…

the heart is a secret - original art by Duane Toops

Poetry is an invitation to meditate upon the experience of mystery and the mystery of experience.

The task of the poet is to make the mysteriousness of experience palpably vivid in a way that does not resolve the mystery but, instead reveals the mystery as more profoundly mysterious than we realized.

Poets teach us about experience. They teach us about our own experience. They teach us about the way we experience what we experience. With great care and reverent luminosity, poets teach us to more fully experience our experience. They do this not by teaching us how to put our experience into poetry, nor by teaching us how to experience a poem, but by showing us that poetry is always-already present in experience, itself. Poetry is the experience of everything. And thus, every experience is an experience of poetry.

We are full of secrets, and poetry is the fossil record of the human condition, maybe even the fossil record of the human soul.

Buried beneath the compacted layers of sediment is the history of human longing, the music of our millennia of tragedies and triumphs, the rapturous soliloquy of our radiant splendor; the joy, grief, sorrow, lament, despair, our excitement, exhilaration, and our exuberance.

Each poem is an act of faith; a faith that some minute piece of the manifold mystery will become material for a moment. A faith that some small substance of the things hoped for will become manifest, albeit, perhaps, in an ephemeral way. A faith that we will uncover the evidence of things unseen; the evidence of the possible. The possibility will claim meaning, and in the meaning we will find the secret of our hearts…

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Something like rest…

something like rest - original photography by Duane Toops

I started this blog post over 11 days ago and this is the first sentence I could muster. Actually, that’s only partly true. It would be more accurate to say that after 11 days of staring listlessly, and perhaps even psychotically, into the blank screen that I hope will become an essay, I simply stopped counting. Even though I can’t identify the exact number of 24 hour periods that have elapsed since I started writing this, I feel that I can say with a degree of certainty that it’s probably equal to the number of fucks I stopped giving after editing and updating that first sentence each day I opened and closed this document without ever really adding much more to it. 

I wish that somehow you could see and experience all the cumulative hours of anguished, head-in-my-hands, blank-page-staring, frustrated self-loathing, and utter despondency that lives in the small space prior to and immediately following the appearance of that first sentence. I think that’s one of the things we take for granted as readers. We are so quick to comment upon the tactfulness of  an author’s verbiage, the skillfulness of the prose, the color of the language; the visible materiality of what was written, but we often fail to recognize or acknowledge the excruciating tedium required to begin to put words on to a page in the first place. What we don’t see, and what we don’t talk about, is what it takes just to start.

A while ago,  I decided that I wanted to blog daily. So full of doe-eyed confidence and innocent self-assurance, I actually believed that I could do it. Most of the time I’m a fairly cynical, pessimist. So much so that I don’t even attempt to sugarcoat my negativity by saying “I’m a realist”, because even I know that would be nothing short of utter horseshit. The truth is I’m just an asshole, and my ability to be negative in almost any situation is unrealistically fantastical. There are people who see the world through rose-colored delusion. Their happiness is so aggressively violent that spending time with them is like being shanked through the heart with a unicorn horn, or bludgeoned to death with a rainbow. As much as I’d like to look down on their senseless irrationality, really I’m just as bad. I’m their doppelganger. They can find the silver lining in all things, and I can always sniff out the septic tank.

And yet, there are these moments when I am completely baffled by the inexplicable appearance of my own exuberant surety. Maybe that’s what an out of body experience is like. Shit, maybe that’s what a possession is like.

Perhaps, tied up in some corner of my consciousness there’s  a manically cheery church camp counselor normally kept quiet and catatonic through suppression, repression, and horse tranquilizers.  Every once in a while the gleeful fucker sobers up enough to be lucid, and manages to slip out of the restraints. When he does he almost always arrives with a delighted and enraptured suggestion that is both joy-filled and asinine, but dammit if his cheerfulness isn’t infectious…like cholera…or leprosy. This is simply the only logical conclusion I can come to that not only explains how I arrived at the idea to blog daily, but also how I unwittingly consented to it.

And, for the record, I’m aware that you might think that I’m taking on a rather liberal usage of the word “logical” but, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once said, “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. Clearly, the creator of the world’s greatest fictional detective agrees with me so…yeah…suck it.    

Taking guidance from my deranged inner counselor fresh out of his drug-induced coma, I dove headlong into the inane attempt to write a blog everyday. I made it 16 days before I broke the streak, and probably broke a piece of myself in the process. The exercise was intended to loosen the choke hold of perfectionism’s grip on my writing. Instead, it seemed to only tighten and constrict. Everyday it got progressively harder rather than easier. The pressure mounted and each new link I added to the chain added to the weight of what I carried into the next day. I could feel something beginning to buckle. I did what I always do. I buckled down, buckled in, and pushed. I stayed up a little later, got up a little earlier, and pushed that much harder.

Rarely does that methodology work well, and yet it remains my primary mode of operating. Rest is a truth I know and understand, but it is not a truth I believe in, at least not in practice. In practice, I believe the lie that says I can live at the brink of burnout, under the auspices that I will rest when the task is ended. This is a lie not only because it is impossible to stay alive when each breathe is extinguished by the inhalation of the smoke and soot of what we are consumed by. But, it’s also a lie because I struggle to remember to let rest expand in the openings that emerge between work, and when I do remember, more often than not, I simply don’t do it. And yet, I am seeing the need to start, though I’m not sure I know how to.

What I do know is that when I am at my most breathlessly unrested is when I am condemning myself for not conforming to the normalized and neurotypical definitions of what the average person might call rest. I am not normal. I am not sure that I have ever been average, and I’m probably anything but typical. I am wired weirdly, and I am put together imperfectly.

The hamster wheel in my head hardly ever stops spinning. The brain that powers it feels like something closely akin to a coked-out ferret barreling through an innocuous concoction of espresso brewed with Red Bull. Rest, for me, rarely looks like what it does for most people;  going to bed early, binge watching tv, napping, or playing Candy Crush, if that’s even still a thing. Instead, it looks like reading and writing voraciously.

I do not need, or want, to rest from writing and reading. They are my rest. There are few things that are more refreshing and reinvigorating than when I have made room to read and to write; to feel the cool-warmth and gentle grain of paper glide across the tips of my fingers with the turning of every page, to be both the giver and the recipient of a grace known as the written word.

Books are my best friends, my closest companions, and my one true religion. Books are breathing-spaces. They are safe and solid. They are as secure as a citadel and as consoling as a blanket fort. Reading a book is the repose of a sabbath bound into tangible form.

For me, rest is not refraining from the daily motion of writing. Instead, it is the realization that I do not have to write a completed piece everyday. It’s the recognition that its ok to write slowly. It’s serenely accepting that the time spent staring deeply into the middle-distance between sporadic sips of rapidly cooling coffee, is writing. Its understanding that a few good words strung together is good writing, and somedays that’s more than enough.

I read and write because I am a mystery even unto myself. Somewhere within the process of words being scraped out across the page, the ambiguities of who am are manifest and made clear. I write because when I do, something happens, and usually that “something” feels like home; it feels something like rest.

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I write because…

I write because - original photography by Duane Toops

I saw a post earlier this week that asked a simple question: “Why do you write?” It’s strange how the simplest of questions require the subtlest and most nuanced of answers. Like: Is there a God? What is love? Where do babies come from? Do these jeans make me look fat? What’s that smell? Does this taste funny to you?

The answer to the question of why I write is something I know deeply, but can’t explain. I think it’s because as I shift and change, my reasons for writing evolve and expand right as well. It feels constant, but it is never static.

Terry Tempest Williams says that “I write to listen. I write out of silence. I write to soothe the voices shouting inside me, outside me, all around.” Sylvia Plath says that “I write only because there is a voice within me that will not be still”. I write because I know exactly what they both mean.

I am full of clash and clatter. I write to make peace with the clamor.  I reach into the calamitous torrent of noise charging in my chest. I snatch at the restless cycle of swirling voices, and pull words into the small spaces of quiet at my core where the silence can find space to speak.

I sit at my desk and I write because I’m scared, scarred, and lonely. I write because it’s the only way I know of to let that trembling exhaustion have a voice, and, on so many bleak days, I need to find a reason to go on.

I write because I am a mystery even unto myself, and, somewhere within the process of words being scraped out across the page, the ambiguities of who I am are manifest and made clear. I write because when I do, something happens, and usually that “something” feels like home.