Friday, October 27, 2006

peering into empathy

Perhaps I am feeling bitter, or cynical, or worn, or frustrated, or any number of less than bright eyed and bushy tailed ways. (In fact, I know I do, and that it's silly, but apparently don't want to stop, because I haven't.) Bear this in mind. So I'm posting what possibly amounts, more or less, to a temper tantrum.

Trev asked, "What if I widened my circle so wide that anyone's suffering broke my heart that much (or even half that much)?"

It's hard. You end up unable to conclude anything, only able to see a little bit of the complexity and impossibility of things, that life is really anything but black and white.

It's frustrating. Because it seems like there is a lot wrong in the world, but in the end, maybe all that's inside out is you.

It's really hard. Caring is hard. Empathy is hard. Because there's nothing you can actually do, nothing to change, all that's possible is to be there, and most folks hope for more than that - wanting the bandaid, the solution, the fix for the problem. And you're left helpless in the face of every monstrosity.

But the thing is, no matter how fucked up things seem, maybe it's okay just as it is - frustration, difficulty, messes and all. Maybe nothing needs fixing, maybe nothing needs changing.

Then what? All that might be left is a line from Smalltown Poets,

"If you'll let me love you we'll sit here and cry."

It's not the sort of thing I would suggest to anybody, but some of us seem to be incapable of the easy compromise.

Maybe everybody needs somebody to hold them together, or let them fall apart.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

working title: Keep from Screaming

It's not really a song about today so much as being the thing I wrote while meditating on the day. Right now, I actually don't feel like screaming.

There's little here that I could say
of the right thing right time quietly,
and that was exactly what it needs to be.

Thanks for fending off my demons
for a little while I falter,
and finding me a moment's rest,
Hold me, hold them back.

I'm not the type to ask for help,
You know I will care for myself,
I'm fighting hard and don't mind if you know.

Thanks for being here with me,
and understanding quietly,
and letting this mess be okay.
Hold me, hold them back.

Good Monsters, Jars of Clay

Probably my favorite band ever, Jars of Clay, put out a new album about a month ago, and was in Chicago on tour last night; I went to the House of Blues with a friend to see them. Matt Wertz opened; talented guy; bought an album. Every time I've gotten one of Jars' albums, I've listened to it again and again; listening later reminds me of the time when I first had it, and what I was going through then, what it felt like.

My favorite song of the set was Oh my God, from the new album Good Monsters. Oh my God, why are we so afraid? I keep going back to a Watts quote (doubtless from Trev), "in Christ, God screams with us." Like Silence, like Worlds Apart, this is a good screaming song. A really good screaming song.

Love Song for a Savior usually makes me uncomfortable; when they played it last night I just wanted to feel something. It was nice, maybe even a relief, to lose myself for a few long moments in Oh my God, a good kind of painful, good to feel something, at last. New songs are sometimes a drug that wears off too quickly. We all have a chance to murder we all feel the need for wonder -

A couple of weeks ago I wrote to a friend from school; we used to play guitars and sing together, and we did a lot of Jars of Clay stuff. I thought that when I graduated, I might go play in a band for a couple of years. He wrote back; he misses what it was to make music together, too. - if the world was how it should be maybe I could get some sleep - I still dream of doing art full-time; any way to make something beautiful. It still feels as though the world is short of what it could be; I still feel helpless. When I first found out about Blood:Water Mission several months ago I wanted to help; now I feel sheepish mentioning my idea: selling a bunch of my ceramic work to benefit them. Most of my older pieces and many new ones, and also to continue with my tumbler project. What with the purpose being about providing fresh water, and all. Another past idea was to cast styrofoam cups in porcelain for the same purpose... and I like the idea of an enormous pile that looks like discards but it really purposeful art. We talked in class this week about what it means to be an artist; one of the best thoughts was that artists are those people who just need to make something.

At the same time, anything I can't see, doesn't quite exist; they are just stories that people tell about the world "out there".

The songs are about moments. Some of them are dark. Some are comforting. There are no easy answers, maybe none at all, and the world's not a perfect place. In short, it is human, it is honest, and it meets me where I am now.

I am okay with all of this.

[lyrics for Oh My God will go here]

Set list for Jars of Clay:
Work (Good Monsters)
Dead Man (Good Monsters)
God Will Lift Up Your Head (Redemption Songs) (and they loved how we sang along)
Flood (Jars of Clay)
Even Angels Cry (Good Monsters) ending with a few lines of Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics
Love Song for a Savior (Jars of Clay)
There is a River (Good Monsters)
Take me Higher (Good Monsters)
Oh My God (Good Monsters)
Surprise (Good Monsters)
Mirrors and Smoke (Good Monsters)
Good Monsters (Good Monsters)
Love Me (Mini Monsters EP)
Revolution (The Eleventh Hour)
Liquid (Jars of Clay)
The Eleventh Hour (The Eleventh Hour)
You Won't be Alone (?)
Light Gives Heat (Good Monsters)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Alan Watts, "Still the Mind: an introduction to meditation"

I read Watts' "Still the Mind" over a period of several months and finished this evening. The experience of reading the book varied, from feeling meditative to thought-provoking, but it was enjoyable.

Part I: The Essential Process of the World, gently suggests and leads one to an alternate view of things, based much more upon perception than belief. This vital stage-setting comprises more than half the book, and I'd often find myself stopping after a few pages or even paragraphs to meditate on what I'd read. Not that the ideas were new, but Watts has a way with words that was fresh and perfectly expressive. And he asks lots of questions, many of which I'd considered myself, but enjoyed revisiting. The second chapter, entitled "Meet your Real Self" was also familiar, but the logical leading was often too slow for a nimble mind, especially one who'd travelled that path before.

Part II: The Essential Process of Meditation, is a scant thirty pages. The first chapter, again, was logic-based, but had more creative directions. (And I was a bit tired when reading it this afternoon.) Watts begins, I am by nature a person who has the fundamental feeling that existence is extremely odd. This time, logic starts to blend with beyond-logic as he writes, and I was encouraged by what I read. Though I occasionally seek validation, more frequently my hope is for somebody who understands:
So, to put it in a negative way, you can't do anything to change yourselves, to become better, to become happier, to become more serene, to become more mystical. But if I say you can't do a damn thing, you can understand this negative statement in a positive way. What I am really saying is that you don't need to do anything, because if you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomena of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that, and there is nothing wrong with you at all.

Which was also exciting because it reminded me of Trev's encouraging quote in response to my last post. Watts makes a point about how when we allow it, the thing will do itself, and "we" are left on the outside, as observers.

I don't want to sound as though I know everything, or at least have nothing to learn - however - experience tends to be my teacher, and the way it's worked out lately, most of what I read just gives me some company. If my experience doesn't support an assertion that is made about "how things are," it reads like story-telling; a fantasy not expected to be believed. The alternative is that something has a ring of truth to it: as Watts' comment (posted by Trev) that I keep returning to, that the universe is God playing hide and seek with Himself: it struck me as true even though I couldn't verify by experience.

Another quote in a smaller package, from "I Heart Huckabees": "When you get the blanket thing you can relax because everything you could want or be you already have and are."

The second chapter in Part II, as well as Part III, deal with the practices of meditation and contemplation, respectively. Again, a lot of familiar ground, but also some new ways of framing things, different ways of seeing. Despite being rather exhausted as I was reading (and now, for that matter), they were valuable and comforting: not asking too much of me, but fresh enough not to bore. (Several years ago I read several books on meditation and contemplation, coming from the Christian and Catholic traditions, hence the familiarity.) When I'm tired, my mind tends to whir, or fixate on a song, or some other annoyance which wouldn't be annoying but that I don't feel like thinking at the moment, and I end up telling myself to quiet down. Sometimes repeatedly. Another route, of course, it to focus on what's actually going on: clicking of keys, hum of the refrigerator, water dripping someplace, footsteps upstairs. But attention is tougher when one is tired.

Some thoughts, prompted by a comment by Watts that we are each a nerve ending for the universe:

If all that is going on is the universe trying to experience everything - and it experiences some things through me (the Julie channel!) and other things through other people, then there really is nothing wrong, per se, it is just experiences, a grand simulation. So each of us is just a portal or a window; chairness is experienced through chairs, stone-ness through rocks, and so on. Nothing is right, or wrong, it just is.

I am by nature a person who is interested in experience. No doubt school helped with this: what is it like to be in that space? what is it like to sit in that chair? what is it like to stand up there? what is it like to hold that? what is it like to drink from that? what is the experience? The ultimate goal Watts makes suggestions toward is just that: to be the observer, to be the one watching, to be the one experiencing. Still the mind, and what remains is not what we think is there, but what truly is.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


While I was still flying under the Christian banner, I felt like maybe it wasn't good to enjoy the world. From gorgeous moonrises to lovely objects, any of which I'd enjoy and just as soon share with anybody else so they could, too. It didn't seem to mesh with "in the world but not of it" to enjoy the world rather than live in self-denial. Despite anything that might have been thought or said, though, I still chose to enjoy the world rather than despise it, and knew that it was All Right to do so strongly enough to not worry about what anybody might say.

That part hasn't changed. The banner has. Now I'm befuddled; this world seems to be, but isn't quite. Jon put it so well in his latest entry: It's a strange thing to know that the world isn't real, yet to live in it, and love it. Yesterday, in response to some question from Peter (firm owner/team captain/older brother/recipient of my honest commentary) I said that I haven't been able to get engaged or take interest in anything lately, anything. I don't know why not. That generally the silliness and pointlessness of everything is amusing, and I don't mind playing along, but that it hasn't been, lately.

It really has been tiring.

And I'm well aware that even that is imaginary. It doesn't even seem real. Everything has been surreal. Which, naturally, makes it more difficult to engage as though it is real. But what is most real to me for the moment still resides in my imagination; while it doesn't seem wise for me to reside there, I do carry around the things that aren't-yet for comfort, like a stuffed animal. Aren't-yet but ought-to-be and thus, will-be.

And then there's the tragedy that people hurt people. It doesn't sadden me because I still just don't understand it. There's no grief; I just cannot understand. Of course these things seem like good ideas, and I can follow that much, but it's also got the shortsightedness of a child with no fuller understanding. And feeling as though any sort of violence is unlikely (at best) to really accomplish anybody's objective. Not that I am claiming to understand, or even to fully grasp the vastness of what is not understood.

Sometime in the past, Isaiah asked if I could be all right with that - however things were seeming to be, at that moment. And I couldn't, nor was I okay with not being okay with it, but I was okay with all of the preceding, as a whole. And further in the past, I was bogged by something (heaven knows what) and Shea suggested that I might just go ahead and sit in the mud, roll in it even, except that she wrote it more beautifully, the essence of which was, that it's okay to be having that sort of experience and to fully enter into it rather than trying to stay on the fringes because I think I'm not "supposed" to have those sorts of moments in life. Or at least that's what I remember now, years later. So in reading Jon's blog, where he wrote a couple of weeks ago about being lonely and then more recently about being tired, and in observing myself - for the moment utterly adrift - I can't help but think that even this is okay, and to try to accept the experience, rather than fight, even while feeling about so tentatively for the direction of the new wind.

From another perspective, I do feel as though I'm out of my groove - and perhaps I am - but wonder what, if anything, is to be done about that. It's not just a funk-induced thought. But I'd only be trying to get back to a place I've never left, only seemed to. Even a deliberate attempt to change my perspective to the one I think I ought to have, seems artificial at best: I don't want to feel or think or see a certain way just because I have decided that I ought to. Though deeply questioning what is real anyway, I'm hesitant to push anything, instead preferring to observe what happens and learn to move with whatever comes my way.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Lag Time

One thing about working in clay is that there's a lag time between conception and manifestation. To me, these fantastic things already exist. It'd be nice to quit showing up at work for awhile, so as to give life to the play of my imagination. Much like childrens' make-believe, though, I suspect that what matters most is that it's real to me.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Everything and nothing to say.

And it's been like that for days, weeks? Things I've wanted to write about...

Close: I wanted to write about how it's nice to be comfortable around people, not as in all people, but to build on a familiarity with person, person, person. And how little bits of thoughtfulness make all the difference. Honesty, vulnerability. Silly lovely details like rescuing things from the toaster, backhanded compliments, not awkwardly avoiding brushing fingertips when passing objects.

One to One: I really question whether any sort of effort to 'change things' is worth it, in favor of the thought that things happen more or less on their own, once the intention is there and the lever is pulled, it's just a matter of time before the results show up. So I can nonchalantly say that I am changing the world, just as I wander through life. But some really interesting things have been happening where I interact with people on an individual level.

Creating Reality? One aquaintance is frustrated by always being around people who aren't on his level (and is thus glad to speak with me; apparently I am). That's not a problem for me, by which I mean that most of the people I interact with... we connect. In a truly random distribution, that shouldn't be possible.

Angels all Around: A couple of weeks ago I made the mistake of commenting on the sound of the universe, and was not about to have that conversation. (The woman who I'd responded to demanded an explanation; if she knew what she claimed to know, would have recognized me by my words rather than demanding more.) The situation was neatly diffused, and my unwillingness to speak defended, by the instructor and a few classmates.

Art and Passion: Another one I'd write if I could find the part that is worth saying. They seem to be interconnected. And it's tough to find reason to care. But I made some playful stuff tonight. And it could head toward a fair sized installation of playful ceramic thingies.

Splitting Beliefs, Splitting Cultures, Splitting Hairs: a commentary on how people tend to prefer to be divisive... and here I was ready to run with the "whoever isn't against us" thing. ::sarcasm:: What was I thinking? ::/sarcasm::

Truce, Part Umpteen: after nearly getting arrested a couple weeks ago (no, I did nothing wrong, and I only told the cops the truth and they just didn't believe me...) I came home, shaken, and upon taking some garbage out, found a handwritten sticker on the dumpster: You are not alone and in smaller block letters: I am here with you. Not that I know what to make of that, but just add it to the list of things that happened.

Going Fast With kayaking season coming to a close, I am loving the speed of cycling... and looking forward to having a bicycle with drop bars. (Close, take two: trusting the guy at the bike store not to drop me as I'm backpedalling to check fits.) And out there, I find something that moves me. Thirty miles on Sunday night felt great. Is that why I'm still awake now?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

It's nice not to be alone.

Moreso, to be reminded of that. Even though "not alone" is just misleading shorthand.

"Beautiful are the feet..."

Since it's the latent that is the intended object of my writing, there's really not much to say, just as "it's blue" fails utterly to describe the sky. One of those days where somebody should be embraced just for existing.

One particularly striking comment this morning was recognizing a sort of polarity between unity and separation; with or from God, each other, ourselves. Loneliness was particularly mentioned as being reflective of division.

A friend and I conversed on and off all day via computer; several hours after a good discussion on the above, I threw out that I'm both wave and ocean (and everybody else is, too, though most don't realize it) and he then insisted upon being a cloud. Fine, I said, but you'll run out of rain and be ocean again. His (perfect!) response:
"Remember that rain and clouds are recycular (new word!) and that I'll become you and be through you, fill you up and return to what I was once again.

Well. It's good to be alive.

"And the pain makes you feel so alive. Do you know what you are?" -since it's related, quote for Tommy from the new Jars of Clay album.

"I have no fear of drowning; it's the breathing that's taking all this work. Do you know what I mean when I say I don't want to be alone?" -"Work," by Jars of Clay... just to complete the circle.