27 September 2013 § 2 Comments
“…I’ve decembered eastern european cities, and found graffiti rainbows muraled on the walls of bombed-out buildings, and all they were building there were churches.”
Krivo’s worn, upright bass and I grooved in the same Mississippi River eddy; Zach’s banjo twang rolled over rhymes which had been stuck in my throat for ages. Jazz and hip hop etched their spray can beats across the enraptured faces of our audience. A one-bulbed chandelier swung in small circles above my head, and my ephemeral kingdom reached to the far edges of Zigzag’s living room. The reign continued for a few seconds longer; I bowed and smiled, stalling to soak up the attention, then made sure to disappear to the kitchen while they were still applauding.
A couple of weeks ago, we went to the Portland Poetry Slam at Backspace. Now, I’ve been involved in Slam Poetry off and on for the last decade or so in that wherever I’ve moved, I’ve made it a point to find the local slams, lose at least five in a row, then resign to only reading during the open mic segments, energetically rejecting Slam’s competitive nature. It didn’t occur to me until that night at Backspace, a hip venue in Portland’s Pearl District, that one day I would grow out of Slam altogether – not just performing on its sidelines, but doing my own thing exclusive from its young and angsty passionstance.
Memorization has been a subtle enemy of mine for ages. To evolve the battle one night, I lay on the couch and plucked images from the air, hallucinations and dreams. Somewhere in my body they translated themselves into words, and journeyed into my throat and flew off my tongue and back into the atmosphere from which they came. They sounded like a raft drifting down the Mississippi at night, a woman swishing her feet in the water, decorated in filigree. Like a peacock feather birthed from the corner of her eye, spirals and vines in bluegreen violets swirling.
At the Poetry Jam Aural Pleasure #6, ZigZag and Susan’s lovechild, performers and listeners merged professionalism with infantile grace. I was honored to be amongst you. That inspiration flowed through me and into the microphone. The audience and musicians wrote my second poem; thank you. I choose to interact with poetry right now with a freestyle stream. My knees shake less; heart beats harder.
It snows sawdust in heaven when I cut down poetry to meter and rhyme. Thank you Roberto Bolaño, Saul Williams, and the mercilessly-loyal-to-form poets who thickened my skin to a clammy, callused tattoo. I’ve found a relationship with words that pleases me. Sometimes, it pleases others also: their faces glow, and air stops in their throats. The tempo of the music rises and falls like yogi rib cages on windy ridges. I’m glad to be on stage in those moments, with a mirror to show the audience the beauty I see.
21 September 2013 § Leave a comment
My under-the-stairs writing desk reminds me of Harry Potter’s room: the fake-wood work surface serves as the base of a right triangle whose chopped top angle tells me that there’s a limit to the sky. Perhaps the lack of windows and cluttered artwork clogs the flow of energy. If Feng Shui had an evil twin, he would live in my writing room, between the loud fan of my old Toshiba laptop and the laminate wood grain facade.
My favorite, or most useful, books live in a nook in the most extreme angle of the shape, hard to reach and certainly the first place a gumshoe would search for scarlet letters. This room is a vortex – the incandescent lamp with the stained-glass shade warms the golden walls. My shelf of worn journals and ideabooks, which now number almost to dozens, and whose truthful answers to any question one could possibly ask about me, Sean, the [insert projection here], taunt further honesty from my depths, pull me father into the portal, my face poring over a cheap plastic computer and brittle post-it notes long since expired, searching for some refulgent reminder that I’m sitting here for a reason, leaving the whole world behind in another attempt to reach within myself, because there’s got to be something redeemable there. It’s a lonely place in here – which is why I often go elsewhere. And, it takes but a small comparison to relieve heavy thoughts. Let’s take Adam, the “first” man.
Adam undoubtedly endured phases of loneliness and despair unlike that which anyone has experienced since, especially me. Whereas Joe might feel like there’s no one around who understands his hobby of hanging dead cats in doorways, or I, who might choose to not engage with others for inordinate amounts of time, thus projecting a wide misunderstanding of how the inner artist suffers; Adam was the only human alive.
No empathy cooed from the eyes of his ghostly mother (in some belief systems, it may be considered blasphemy to entertain that Adam had a mother at all). He received no comfort when he tripped on a root in the less-tended orchards of Eden. He had no one with whom to relate. The sky was nice, but what is the use of an observer if there is no one with whom to share one’s observations? And why would he have kept a diary, if there was no one from whom to hide it?
As little boys, some of us dreamed, what would it be like as the last human on earth, or at least part of the last pair on earth, like a deserted island with a supermodel whom may or may not have been interested in copulation. It’s not wonder we dreamed so: the first man had that dream, too. There were less people then (one, specifically), so perhaps God was still taking requests.
Imagine waking up; you feel normal, lonely, thinking about that dream and what you might do if she was interested, having no experience in copulation at all – except for the novel sensation of the naked woman lying next to you.
Ever since, boys and men been trying to realize those dreams – waking up day after day, hoping that a beautiful woman broke into the house, and snuck into bed, lotus flower blossomed.
It’s a male thing. Genetic. Implanted by God, like skin wrinkles and spit.
Picture: the eve of man’s fall into chaos, and the woman next to Adam wakes up. She nuzzles the spot between his collarbone and shoulder, fermented morning breath wafting. Startled, he jumps out of the palm leaf bed. He wonders if the swinging walking stick had anything to do with his sore ribs, his clay face a contorted work in progress.
What is that? he asks.
Oh, I thought you might be lonely, answers the sun.
That doesn’t answer my question.
Your question was ambiguous, the sun replies.
Disappointed with the lack of gratitude, God decides to give Adam the silent treatment, and unwittingly applies it to the entire potential of humanity.
Fast forward to later that day, when Eve (named for the day she found herself in Adam’s bed, with no memory of Before), walks about the garden, annoyed with Adam’s prickly nature. It does not seem strange to her that a snake speaks her language, or that he sounds oddly like the sun.
At the reptile’s recommendation (an early incarnation of Yelp), she takes the bright apple hanging from the tree. Its sweet crunchiness excites her taste buds, and sugars swirl through her body, creating the first erogenous zones.
You know the story after that: the mutable world went feral and mutant, God’s silence confused his creations, and the apple became a universal symbol of lost innocence, a moment which squashes any excuse to not do what pleases most.
Picture: a shiny brand new MacBook Pro sitting shut next to me. waiting for its unfolding, waiting for me to taste its release of sweet digital endorphins and happiness because, for the first time in my life, I purchased a laptop. It’s a silver, glowing flame to strike when I’m running short of ideas, and it has a keyboard whose keys feel like miniature orgasms on my fingertips.
But we’re not there yet. I’m not ready to embrace it yet. There’s so much meaning-making to do, I can hardly pull my fingers away from the Toshiba, when I see a card under the stained glass lamp, propped between audio wires and an unused calligraphy pen:
Let everything happen to you,
beauty and terror.
Just keep going.
No feeling is final.
Imagine the loneliness and sweetness both subsiding once acknowledged, and the last physical remnants of an extinguished life let go.
This is where I am. I am here, now.
19 September 2013 § 2 Comments
Last night, between the purple pureed Peruvian potatoes and the Spanish coffee (which I ordered thinking was made from Basque coffee beans), Nick pulled me aside, figuratively, and the table went quiet. I could barely hear his hushed voice, but I got the idea. In intimate tones, he said what a turning point in his Burn it was, the day he taught me how to shave. That up to then he thought our connection might have been friendly, or even sexual, but no, it wasn’t those things. It was a moment, he kept saying, about role models and fatherhood, and how we could learn from each other.
Before this emotional exchange during which the three women at the table are sitting silently, and I’m acutely aware of the awwws in Heather’s throat; I could see from the eye in my ear the happyproud look in her eye she makes when her man has learned something new about being a man, much as I imagine she would look at our child – at this point a someday far-off possibility, and yet feels like palpable, like a persistent daydream.
Nick went on in a quiet you-can-tell-he’s-saying-something-but-what tone, the heavy restaurant noise behind him. Tears form somewhere between his nose and eyelid and I hear but not see them. My hands fit flat together, mantis, thanking the universe for this experience.
In front of me a man my father’s age, whom I consider a friend and peer, who was just laid off his Top 5% job and feeling great about it, telling me how a moment with me was so meaningful for him that he called it, with witnesses, the shining moment of his Burning Man 2013 experience. Shaving. Which at Burning Man likely isn’t a terribly common occurrence BUT I did, for the first time, do it correctly.
I poured boiling water into the large silver mixing bowl and carried it to El Trucko Sancho, Nick and Aieda’s 70s lovetruck, where we used the dusty side mirror because there wasn’t another around. He showed me how much shaving gel to use. A half-dollar. Rub to foam it up, then lather your face. Everywhere.
“Use as much lubricant as you can,” he said, “like in others parts of life.”
27 years old, and it was the first time I’d used anything other than water to shave my face. Nick flipped when he found that out. That’s ludicrous, he said. You can’t dry shave! Why would you do that?
I learned to shave from a movie when I was 12 years old, I said. There was a man and son in the mirror, and, while the dad used shaving cream, the kid didn’t have any hair on his face, so I figured I didn’t need it. Apparently, when I did start growing hair there, I didn’t watch the movie as a reminder, and water just seemed to work. I thought Macullay Culkin screamed in Home Alone because shaving hurt.
“Never go sideways,” said Nick. “You’ll get ingrown hairs. Just down the face, and up the neck. That’s it.” Maybe some men do it differently. That’s okay. This was the first lesson in being a man I could remember wanting when I was in Boy Scouts – at eleven – and not having the courage to ask my Scoutmaster, hey, I know there’s no merit badge for it, but can you teach me how to properly shave? It’s a lesson I think I might need sooner than fifteen years from now.
During the lesson itself, Heather and Aieda made a point to not come over to check my progress. They figured it was an important male bonding moment, and held space for what was happening. I appreciated that.
At the restaurant, Nick seemed like he wasn’t really crying anymore, and went into more of a thankful tone. I still couldn’t hear all of what he was saying, but I thanked him some more, and he thanked me, and there in the fancy Papa Haydn’s we stood up and hugged, his utilikilt and pink flying pig socks on display.
Like the angels they are, the ladies said little of Nick’s profession of his Shining Burn Moment, and let it pass, warm and significant.
18 September 2013 § 1 Comment
During yoga this morning, between warrior pose and a bout of dizziness (probably should have eaten breakfast), it occurred to me to write a feminist mission statement. Why, I do not know. Thoughts are just thoughts – especially during yoga, when the monkey mind will do anything to avoid the next stretch – but thoughts are also things: tangible, and subject to change.
I remembered that Heather, weeks ago, asked me to encourage her to exercise so that she might be more fit for the wedding. It is a request I have entirely failed to to respect. Why? I’m a sort of hermit, but somehow I got this body of a warrior, and it demands to be worked. I am at times defiant, but not lazy. Her request reached further into my heart than indolence. It spoke to an expectation and pressure that she should be other than what she was.
Okay, Sean, you don’t have to be so vigilant with your ideals – this is her wedding, she wants to look her best; so do most women for their big day. Some turn to yoga, some the gym. Others zigzag to an infantile and pretend anorexia which may or may not lead to other, and much bigger, problems.
Let’s step back for a moment from that story.
Once, in a grocery store, I watched a woman stare at tabloid magazines while unloading her cart. I saw her eyes scan the curveless bodies of bikini-clad celebrities whose thighs do not touch, and could hear from the back of the checkout line her breath fall from the crest she’d ascended that day when her son read aloud, without assistance, his first complete sentence.
Oh, my culture, let me count the self esteems you have destroyed; the minds, bodies and spirits of women you have driven to silicone prisons and disease. You stand outside the restroom demanding that they puke the food you sold them, and apply a good foundation before they walk outside.
You teach that I would not want them otherwise, that I would not be attracted by their light, even if it didn’t apply to their weight. That unless they met your ideal for beauty, they couldn’t possibly embody my utpoia for a lover, or my child’s mother.
In sooth, you’ve aimed for us both. I have not escaped your grasp, and will not apologize for broken fingers. The thing is, you’ve harmed the women whom I love. My request is that you acknowledge this. I’m capable of letting go, and forgiveness.
I hear silence from your invisible fist, so I’ll keep talking. Since childhood, my intention is respect. Not as a formality. Respect to me is that if I see the good in you, I’ll speak to it, in case you haven’t got a mirror handy. Sometimes I rely on the completed karma. My vision is better some days than others – when it’s not so good, I listen to what you say and ask you questions. I want you to understand your own potential. I may not know what it is, nor be the best partner for its cultivation, though often I’ve risked the interview process anyway, reckless and regardless, open to the possibility.. My heart as a result employs a plural state of peace.
I want you to know, my profligate culture, that I will take any risk to advance self-love and -acceptance. Even marriage to a divine creature who inspires me. Love is the least I can defy you.
5 September 2013 § 3 Comments
In the middle of the night, somewhere between the Gypsy Queen art car and the Fire Convergence Gathering, Heather told me about Andrew’s return home to Vashon Island.
I knew about the DUI in Alaska, how someone in the boatyard had called the Dillingham police because someone was doing donuts around container vans and fishing boats. The place was dangerous enough, but add a drunk Viking in a Nissan truck to the mix, and someone might get hurt. Battle axe, or something.
He got the ticket after I left town. Fishing finished early, and after three months on the sea, I wanted only to go home. When I said goodbye to him, I told him not to drive. We’d been drinking all morning and afternoon. He had showed me the copy of Rime of the Ancient Mariner with the original lithographs, foreboding images that reeked of the kind of seasickness that leads to insanity. It was beautiful. He intended to give it to his daughters when he got home to his yurt on Vashon.
Over bottles and bottles of wine, he made sure that I knew of my accomplishment. “You’ll never be fast enough for Robert,” he said. “That’s the point.”
Deckhanding a highliner tests the soul. Andrew did it for seven years – longer than anyone should. This year was my second, and I was thinking of retiring.
Andrew and I have things in common. An insatiable desire for risk and adventure; a somewhat unhealthy habit of pushing everything over the line; receipt of irritating amounts of attention for superficial traits; a deep and subtle preference to die young and glorified. We’re rock stars in our own ways. I don’t know if we share sordid histories with self-hatred, but I have a feeling that at times he’s had trouble looking in the mirror too.
So when Heather said that the DUI was nothing, that if he lost his entire crew share to paying it off it wouldn’t matter, I asked what else was up. I’d been angry about his getting caught. Andrew, I wanted to tell him, I told you not to drive.
“He got home to find out that his brother had killed himself,” Heather said. She said she wasn’t sure if it was the right time to tell me, what with Lucy there, and the chaos of blinking lights and fire, furry bicycles swerving this way and that, dissonant music thumping from a thousand origins surrounding.
I remember looking at her for a while, trying to comprehend what she said. I remember the searing orgasmic feeling run through my body as I stood there dumbfounded in my lights and gypsy garb. I envisioned a rainbow dagger slide into my belly button, and probing for my spine. A badly healed wound growled from between my heart’s dislocated ribs.
Nietzsche said “there is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.” In specific ways, the body remembers. We hold stress in our shoulders, anxiety in necks, heartbreak where it belongs. The distant memory of losing a brother to suicide bum-rushed me from every muscle and molecule in my body, where I’d stored it more than a decade before. It was the kind of pain that inspires art, and war. For years it had been my compass. It was the reason I started playing guitar, left Alaska at 16, went to audio engineering school. Years later, it was the reason I did not do the same myself. I remembered thinking that my death would have seemed unoriginal. And I wouldn’t have that.
“I’m so sorry, Sean,” said Heather. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“No, it’s perfect. Thank you. Can we go to the Story Portal?”
I spun the giant wheel. At each interval a prompt threatened to reveal something intimate about the spinner: High School Was…; Epic Fail; Gross!; What I Love Most About Myself, etc. I waited patiently for the wheel to stop. It didn’t matter which prompt I was given, I thought, standing there on stage. I would tell the story that I came to tell.
The steampunk clockwork on the wall behind me ticked away with anticipation. I had no nervousness; only anger and fear and sadness and doubt. My prompt: “This One Time At The Burn…” I started immediately, “my fiancée told me that a brother of mine lost his to suicide. Now we have one more thing in common.”
I told the small audience about fishing in Alaska, about Andrew’s sky blue eyes and long blond locks, his ability to put away a case of beer in an afternoon, and how much I loved him. I monologued an obituary of winter 2001, and tried to describe how pain was so moist back then that picking at the scab didn’t seem to harm anything tangible. At 15, I didn’t yet understand how scars changed in shape and texture over time, how they shrunk or expanded depending on how one tends to them. I knew the importance of story, though, and how we all have a handful, and tell them over and over again in different words and context, hoping to heal and, secretly, to learn from them. For years I made a point of collecting stories so that this wasn’t the only one I had to tell. (And here I am, telling it, for the second time in a week).
With suicide it’s easy to search out blame. Reasons are simple explanations to people who have never experienced the biological battle of wanting to die. Reason changes nothing – it is neither a character, plot, nor action. Nothing that I had projected into the past had helped me feel better about losing my best friend, and I remember thinking, even as a rookie human, it doesn’t matter why – it just matters what I take from it, how I learn from it.
I remember my stage time being relatively emotionless. Not apathetic, but I was able to hold myself together to complete the story. I replaced in the mic, sat down on the pew in the back, and cried. The next two stories, a slow reentering into my body, were about a near death experience atop a mountain, and a man’s failure to keep his premature son alive. I was comforted by that mine was not the only death-ridden story on the playa, by that I was amongst kin and similar outcasts from the default world. I had found those who understood, and gave me space to be with myself.
After an hour of tears, I looked up and said aloud, without thinking, that I need to go to Vashon. I remembered wanting people around me who understood. So here we are, in a post-playa daze, putting away Burning Man stuff and preparing for a trip to the Island, and a facilitator from the Story Portal found me here. To my delight and honor. Her passion my outlet and opportunity to contribute to the world.
4 September 2013 § 2 Comments
Truth is beauty.
What would the world be like if women were safe?
A guy named X Factor who wore a white wig, told me that the question is actually more complicated than that. I said, how? And I asked him the question. What would the world be like if women were safe?
Well there’s money and greed and power and all of these things that complicate….
No, I said, wait. What would the world be like if women were SAFE. Safe from corruption. Safe from sexual predation, safe from judgment, safe from media. Safe from projection.
And I began to wonder for myself.
What would my world be like if women were safe?
Immediately I thought of the artist, Marco, who at seven heard from his mother the grisly details of the rape of his nine-year-old friend. How could Bliss Dance and Truth is Beauty, his magnificent works of art depicting dozens-feet-tall steel women in ecstatic bliss and absolute safety, validate my disgust for rape and every sort of violation of the goddess, and also turn me on? Was I okay with that?
I stood at the base of the voluptuous monolith, my head up to her ankle, and asked myself, how do I respect a woman, and want to ravish her simultaneously? How do I do that?
For most of my life, I took exclusively what I thought was the Safer route, and remained in Friend Zone territory with most women I met. It was a conscious decision that saved me the trouble of many ex-relationships. On the downside, I got to experience my sexuality in its purest form a few years later than I might have otherwise.
But I’m straying from the topic. What would the world be like if women were safe? If the vulnerability I experienced in a 57-foot-tall steel dancer whose arms reaching for the desert moon could somehow infuse itself into every woman on the playa, everyone would see the peace and happiness in this woman’s body without thinking, oh, I’d tap that.
No no no that’s not why we’re here. We’re here for the moment of the temple burn, where my unique perspective from 2:34 and GDP saw this woman reaching for the sky, the pyramidal flames of the unintimate temple enveloping her, and yet not, for the temple was a quarter mile behind her.
We were trying to get out of there. I was tying up lines, with an attitude, of course, and Heather asked me if I’d taken a moment for the flames. I thought of Kara, the being of light and grace we’d met the day before and remembered her hobby of memorizing Hafiz poems and dropping the perfect one at the perfect time. Of her pursuit of a PhD. Of her radiance. How much resistance had the world offered her? How much unnecessary fight had she put up to make her way?
And what does ‘safe’ mean, anyway? Does it mean, simply, not in danger of physical harm?
Safety, for me, precedes fences and puffed out chests. Safety is the lack of need or want for protection. Is it the lack of available threat. Having no known predators. Of embracing the Unknown with curiosity, rather than suspicion.
And yet safety is not the total lack of desire on the part of men. There are ways in which we can show up with our desire and appetite that are honorable and in dignity. Of course, I didn’t find that out until I was 26, and I’m certain that many men never discover this.
Why not? Because we live in a patriarchal society? Because we were raised by women who did their best to teach us to be men, and failed? Not for lack of trying. I wonder, when did my fellow boys get so caught up in Bro Code that they forgot to look out for their sisters? I’m disgusted by our behavior. I take responsibility for not saying anything earlier. I take responsibility for stealing her attention off you, breaking our unbrotherly bond. She deserved more respect than you knew how to give her.
I’ve done this over and over again at risk of being thought a Player, or Thief. At risk of endangering their hearts, and mine.
I cannot guard alone the respectful palace. I cannot be a template for every woman I meet, and the bane of my fellow men. It doesn’t feel good anymore.
So what could I do to make the world a safer place for women?
Just like any planetary problem, it starts with individuals. What can I do for others if I cannot do for myself? I have the body of a warrior; made for protecting kin; what can I do with it to respect the feminine?
I can manage my energy well, acknowledge attraction, be authentic and transparent. I can be pure in my intentions; hide nothing, yet choose words wisely. Above all, be kind – and if I cannot manage that, then to do no harm.
It starts with Kara, with whom my last interaction occurred at Truth is Beauty. I was in love with her words and smile and hugs and humanity – my fiancee felt the same – and how do I depict this? Should I hide my attraction to this woman, or enjoy my giddiness and joy when she recites another Hafiz poem for our last moment together? Heather my lover watched on, insecure that her crush on the same woman might be usurped by, or washed up in, my cute-and-ridiculously-obvious infatuation. How could I show up for Heather, and Kara, with respect for both?
This is the kind of lesson that would have been really nice to learn when I was younger, like instruments and languages. Art takes practice. Brick walls and silence do not safety make.
Before he left, I said to X Factor, there are other, more complicated questions, for sure. And look at this piece of art. Listen to its maker, Marco, talk about how we must make a radical shift in our perspective if we’re going to thrive. Just think of an answer. What would the world be like? Some days, orgasms might flow through the streets. On others, we might wade knee deep in menstrual blood. Men would teach men to be men, and women would teach us all how to be human.