*Potentially awkward content disclaimer*
While not nearly depression riddled like some recent posts, this one is long, and a bit wordy, and really quite personal. I am in many ways hesitant to post it, but well, there you have it.
I used to fancy myself a poet, though I also knew that I was never particularly adept at it. I never wrote in rhyme…well perhaps some of the time. What I saw as poetry was for me just another means –another medium- with which I attempted to express myself. I started writing, I suppose, in essay form; rants, treatises, statements of thought and opinion. As I recall I would write about how I saw the world around me trying to make sense of it. I know that I wrote in school –in my youth- but those were assignments and I do not recall putting much thought, and certainly no heart or soul, into those… just did what I was told. As I recall.
I have been thinking a lot this morning about when the switch happened, when I started writing for myself…and why.
I went to a concert with a group of friends back in high school. Joe Satriani, 1980s era guitar virtuoso, played at the Chicago Theater in the heart of the city. This would be a completely different experience for me. I had been to a number of concerts by this time, mostly rock concerts, mostly in large –generally crowded, often frantic, frenzied, and mind-numbingly loud- arena type venues. A group of us went though I only really knew two of the group. Two particularly inspiring friends of mine; “identical” twins, though they were worlds apart. The concert is really a side note here. It was fun to be sure, but left no real lasting impression. No, I bring this up for one specific reason. As an aside – and this is both amusing and fascinating to me- I am, now that I think about it, uncertain if both of the brothers were there or just one and if just one, which one…
Either way, after the concert, the group of us spent the night at the home of one of the group whom I did not know very well so that we did not all have to make the long various journeys home in the wee hours of the night. I remember lying in a sleeping bag next to my friend –one of the brothers, I believe I know which one- attempting to wind down. I asked him if he ever thought about the nature of the universe and more specifically what it meant when it was described as –or how it could possibly be- endless. Remember it was probably two or three in the morning and we had just come from a rather loud three hours of listening to guitar rock. With an audible groan, he expressed his distaste at not only the question but the poor timing, citing that he would like to sleep. However, he left me with one statement… a statement that I have never forgotten; “Our bodies are made up of cells right? What if each of those cells is really a planet, and on each of those planets there are organisms, each of which is made up of cells.” This was a whole new way of thinking about the world for me.
That autumn I moved to Maine. I met a guy that I tried to befriend. He was different, quirky and funny and a sort of hyper-intelligent. He played guitar and sang songs and wrote poetry. He somewhat idolized Bob Dylan. I guess it was around then that I started trying to write poetry, but I wanted to write like him. Now that I think about it, I must have started writing poetry first as I have no recollection of writing in this style (essay format that is) back then. No, I think I know now when I started writing rant-style. I had left Maine and moved to California. Following a brief interlude on the Central Coast I moved south to live with my brother and his wife in North County San Diego. Many things happened while there, many things that would very likely help to define or at least guide the direction of my life… but I do not think I did much writing, if any.
At some point I chose to move back to the Central Coast. The details are kind of fuzzy. I lived with my sister for awhile, then she moved into her own place and at some point I moved in with this family that were friends of my sister. They had a sort of farm in the hills; it was a beautiful place. If I remember correctly this is where I started writing in earnest; this is where I started raving and ranting about the world I saw around me. Something had happened, something that made me angry and resentful. I remember writing about having a general distaste for society and describing the modern human race as I saw it; as “bovines” a herd of mindless beasts blindly following each other around with no purpose or reason. HA! who the hell did I think I was? Somehow I remember mostly that attitude… to learn more I would have to consult the archive of my writings from that time which is to this day in the keeping of one member of that family.
I read a lot during this time; books such as Blue Highways, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior… clearly I was looking for something. Searching for something. I also remember experiencing a very specific break. I cast off any lingering ties to any sort of formal religion, belief, and/or faith. I have this rather visceral memory of being alone one night, outside, in the hills behind the farmhouse (it was actually a triple-wide trailer, but that is beside the point) crying and screaming at the sky, asking for guidance, for answers, and finally to just leave me alone. I was very angry with everything and most everyone… but for the life of me I cannot recall why. Again, I suppose I would have to consult the archive.
I grew up going to a Baptist Church. I was not, what you might call, a proper member of the church and when I look back on it I am not sure that my mother really was either, but she is why we went. She was in the choir and I know that she loved that, I also believe that she enjoyed the community but as for her belief in the doctrines… well I do not really remember ever talking with her about it. We would go early so that she could practice with the choir and I would go to “Sunday School”. For whatever reason I never took to it and as I got older I would skip out and explore the church building instead. The building itself is fabulous, though I have not been there in many, many years. It is a very old building and the streets for some distance around it were all the original cobblestone, although I would not be surprised if that has since changed. Anyway, I remember loving the experience of creeping around the church by myself; there were all sorts of what seemed to me, secret passages and rooms. I loved sneaking alone through the cathedral –if that is the right word- admiring the sheer vastness of it, the grand, stone construction and stained glass windows, the old wooden pews and the deep velvet carpets, the marble baptismal pool and the altar backed by the choir stands and an enormous pipe organ. It felt like another world. Yet, the doctrines, the belief, the structure…the faith, never made any sense to me. I did not understand it and did not really feel any need to.
I have been to Catholic churches, Lutheran churches, Unitarian churches. I have studied Taoism and Buddhism and investigated many other styles of belief. Nothing ever has clicked. None of it really made me feel welcome or gave me any solace. I have not found any answers. I tried science and even that leaves me with doubt. I tried philosophy and that just seemed silly. At some point I stopped thinking about it. Or at least I tried harder to ignore it. I could never call myself an atheist… actually, aside from “damn fool” I do not really call myself much of anything. I have never been much of a “joiner”.
I used to fancy myself a poet. I have not written any sort of poetry for a long time. I laid awake last night thinking…about many things. Scraps of one of my old poems kept coming to me, these lines in particular:
Flowing on its course
At once the glacier
From which it comes
As well as the ocean
To which it goes
My girlfriend loaned me a book about the stages of faith shortly after we first started dating. She is a member of a local Episcopalian church. This reality has given me something to ponder… many things actually. So has that book. I have now gone to an Episcopalian church as well. It has been a very long time since I have attended any sort of church service. I have since been twice and I will freely admit both times have made me very uncomfortable. I feel out of place; awkward and foreign, even a bit jumpy. I went of my own accord because I want to understand. This is part of her life and I want her to be a part of mine, so I need to understand.
Science and philosophy may be ways to attempt to understand the world around us, likewise sociology and anthropology may be ways to attempt to understand human behavior…from a quasi-scientific viewpoint. We use science and politics and religion to attempt to manage the world around us, I guess. But what is belief and what is faith? And the big question that creeps around through much of this; What is love?
While looking through my old notebooks trying to find the lines of that poem I also found these:
I sat today and watched dust particles dance and spin on a beam of sunlight. I watched as they twirled, rotated, and orbited each other. It was as if I were watching the mechanics of a miniature universe. Each particle gleaming in the light as it twirled, casting shadows upon its neighbors. By watching the very small I was able to better grasp the possibilities of the very large.
Of course it made me think of my friend’s statement that I mentioned earlier and about the river and humanity and the world around me. I have not thought in this manner –have not wanted to- for a very long time. For many years now I have just wanted to live life. Trying to understand it just seemed like an endless series of unanswerable questions.
A few years earlier I was working in Death Valley over the winter of 1994/95. I was a baker working at the Furnace Creek Inn. It was an excellent time in many ways, but I was still in the throes of trying to understand the world around me. I spent a lot of time alone. I climbed a lot of mountains and spent a lot of time wandering aimlessly across the barren valley floor. One day at work a word literally appeared in my head; I could see it spelled out though I had no idea what it meant. I asked my boss whom I worked very closely with. It sounded familiar to her, but she could not place it. Something about it made me frantic. I asked around the kitchen and the most concrete answer I got was “I think it is the title of a book.”
The word was Siddhartha. I had no idea what to make of it and so I let it pass, but something left me unsettled.
I had been wrangling with the idea of morals and values; where do we get them, how do we define them, what do they mean? I decided to call my father and ask him. He told me I should read this book called…you guessed it, Siddhartha. I got a copy of it three days later and have read it many, many times since.
So this morning I have skimmed through a bunch of my old poems, read the last few chapters of Siddhartha (the same tattered old copy that has been with me ever since) and the first half of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. Then I sat down to write and this is where it has all brought me.
Life, like the river, is made up of what is here and there, the very large and the very small, the past, the present, and the future. There is no right way, no wrong; no heaven or hell; no sin. There are mistakes and madness and cruelty. There is beauty and truth and freedom, fact and reality and imagination. There is misconception, understanding, knowledge, wisdom, happiness, mourning, light, and dark. I may never have any answers or I may have all of them but does that really matter?
I do not understand God; the idea, the truth, the fact, the phenomenon, the belief. I do think I am beginning to understand faith. I am trying to see through my girlfriend’s eyes because she is a better person than I. She is kind and giving and understanding and patient. She has wisdom and serenity and peace. Moreso she is inspiring and I believe that through her I will understand faith. With her I will understand Love.