Saturday, October 31, 2009

on kerouac, substance abuse, and the dangers of creativity

martyrdom is the often-accepted price for living a dangerously creative life. just ask Jesus. no matter how much you want to protect the beautiful, nonviolent fighters, we all understand that some of the braver of us will fall in an effort to create a beautiful world. it hurts me, but it makes sense...

but as i'm watching One Fast Move or I'm Gone, a movie about Kerouac's Big Sur, i realize what doesn't make sense to me is self-destruction by people who could've done good. or did do good but gave it up too easily. i'm no longer a believer in the romance of a short, self-immolating life.

Nirvana's Bleach is 20 years old now, and the effect that Cobain and Kerouac had on my little, indie-rock, angry, and angsty teen self cannot be overstated. \i think that, no offense to those fellas, that set me up for some pretty skewed visions of what made for good creativity. namely, drinking a lot and hurting yourself.

i stopped reading (and writing) poetry when i quit smoking, because i'd fallen into the trap of thinking that if i kicked my self-destructive habits (well, all except coffee and gossiping), i would lose my ability to string together words and to make meaning. i felt like giving up those vices would make me dull and safe.

In One Fast Move or I'm Gone, Joyce Johnson says "He [Kerouac] tried to give people what they wanted, and that required drinking a lot of alcohol." that's the same fear i struggled with, too, but times a billion for Jack. here's a man who's natural shyness is totally at odds with what the world began to demand from him. i can't imagine how terrible a conundrum that was.

and i know that, for many people, alcohol is an opportunity to feel like your best self - shining, creative, joyful, witty, and unafraid of the opinions of others. But Big Sur is the in-depth chronicle of the aftermath - what happens when you spend too much time drinking yourself into extroverted brilliance when all you really want is to be alone. For those who haven't read it, Big Sur (which is one of my very favoritest Kerouac writing ever) is the story of the effects of On the Road, the novel Kerouac's younger exploits which comes out when he's older and broke and living with his mother. Almost overnight, people start hunting him down, looking for a real, live beatnik, wanting advice on how to live the hard, great life. he tells of people who break the windows of his mother's house just to see him, of no longer being anonymous but also not really being known. He also was struggling with the throes of a really deep, consuming alcoholism, which he really wants to kick. Kerouac escapes to Big Sur and the solitude is, at first, a balm and then, after a drunken binge back in the City and an unforeseen party back at Big Sur, leads to a nervous breakdown that Kerouac describes in excruciating, exquisite detail.

it's a heart-breaking and claustrophobic novel, but it ends beautifully. Jack Kerouac, this busted-up, beaten-down Beat poet talks about how he finds some amount of faith that things will be well. it'd be too romantic to say he stopped drinking and too untrue to say he found God, but it does seem that something caught him at the precipice that time in Big Sur and kept Jack from falling over. the last line of the book is "On soft Spring nights I'll stand in the yard under the stars--Something good will come out of all things yet--And it will be golden and eternal just like that--There's no need to say another word."

whatever caught Kerouac doesn't catch everyone. and sometimes, as i've sadly seen first-hand, all the love and grace in the world won't keep someone from thinking their worthless. i know how much i've struggled with shades of these feelings, despite a family that loves me and a faith that gives me hope. for those who don't feel love, or whose brains attack their thought processes and fill them with poison, it must be so, so much worse.

so, tonight, knowing that i belong to a family and faith and community that believe in love and in service, i'll be praying for those who self-destruction puts them in the same dark place that Kurt Cobain and Jack Kerouac might have faced. And i'll pray that whatever got Jack through, got me through, gets them through, too, so that they can see that "something good will come out of all things yet."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

oh, first-world problems...

so, i eat fast! like, SUPER-fast...faster-than-your-brothers fast. well, frankly, i do everything fast. if you were to observe me on a random day, it'd look like i shovel food in my mouth, walk like i'm evading someone, and talk like the Micro-Machine Man. I know where it comes from - years and years of over-committing myself so that my schedule included approx. 30 seconds for meals and 15 seconds to get from point a to point b. add to that my utter horror about being late to anything, ever and it adds up to a fast, fast life.

and i'm sick of it. literally. eating fast is clearly one of the largest contributors to my weight and it means that, while my diet is conscious-and-meat-free, i'm not entirely conscious of what it tastes like.

so, bear with me on this self-serving blog, i've decided that for the next week, at least, i'll be taking 20 minutes to enjoy each meal. and each meal will be cooked by me (or, at least, someone i know and like). i'm sick of running to get food before class or eating on the go. My two hands have proven to be relatively good at mixing up yummy-goodness, so for this week, i'll trust them to do just that. if i stumble across any particularly good recipes, i'll post them for anyone interested and if you've got really good vegetarian recipes you want to share, feel free to post them here.

hopefully, by this time next week, i'll remember what it's like to slow down, even if it's just a little bit. i bet it'll be delicious...

Friday, October 9, 2009

we, the revolution...

so, even though i just finished chatting with jerica about the ways that blogging is sometimes so closely tied to self-aggrandizement, i felt called (after a particularly challenging catholic worker roundtable) to pull up the poem i wrote of which i am most proud.

i wrote this in 2003, after the invasion of Iraq, at a time when i was much more active in the peace movement. in the intervening years, that energy, necessarily, moved towards more diverse activities, including taking care of my momma as her life was ending.

i'm proud of the things i did and thought when i was 23, and i'm not entirely comfortable with things and energies i've given up on now. but i know i'm more peaceful in my inner life than i ever was in my 20's and more capable of relationships with people unlike me, which feels important, too.

so, anyways, i wanted to remind myself (as i am SO self-aggrandizing that i blog to myself) about how i used to view the world and my place in it...
Last Night I Joined the Revolution

Last night i joined the revolution.
I was sitting, smoking, wasting my time.
I was thinking about groceries, books I wanted to read but had not found time to, & the million other deaths we die daily in this quest to maintain the status quo. I was not thinking about the world. I was not thinking about the revolution. Somewhere along the line, I bought into some sort of hippie American dream that offered me organic cigarettes & cruelty-free everything, but still made me complacent and dull. See, I figured the Revolution would move on, that I would find some new distraction, that i would grow old & bitter because the thing I love left. But the Revolution waits - the Revolution needs soldiers armed with words & i have always been a good fighter. But, more importantly, the Revolution waits because it loves me. It's nothing personal - the Revolution loves everyone. So I sat there, thinking crippling, petty thoughts when the Revolution sat down next to me and stole my lighter.

The Revolution lit up and, breathing deeply, told the story of my life. The Revolution said, "You know, it's not about the poetry or the punks or the politicians or the ones who walk away, or the ones who come back. You know, this is bigger than you, bigger than matching children, matching houses, matching frustrations." "I know," I said. "Then, what's it about?" I started crying cuz I used to know - I used to live it. But I couldn't remember anymore. "It's about love," the Revolution said. Don't worry - the Revolution's not going soft. The Revolution still aches to kill indifference. The Revolution still throws rocks at glass ceilings. The Revolution still marches through the streets. The Revolution still hates abuse, cruelty, misused power & the smell of napalm at any hour of the day. The Revolution hates that the children are not loved & that all of us, most of the time, are not even respected. But the Revolution hates these things mainly - no, only- because they are not love.

The Revolution will not be televised. The Revolution will spend that time in a bar drinking with a man who just spent his last dime & his last wish on a bottle of Jack. The Revolution will leave, along with a huge tip, a note to that man. The note says, "I know your story - I see how it ends. Don't give up - we need you. And you are never, ever alone."

The Revolution will not interrupt the latest musical subjugations & slavery on sellout FM to spin pretty little lies over jagged teeth. The Revolution will topple radio towers. The Revolution will use its voice & the tallest mountain it can find & scream truths until its throat is dry and it cannot stand anymore.

The Revolution does not read the New York Times or the Washington Post, although sometimes the Revolution will flip through the Weekly World News because the Revolution secretly wants to take BatBoy home. The Revolution recognizes that headlines are really the same lines we already know except bigger, with pictures.

The Revolution understands that we know truth when we find it, but the world makes us doubt what we believe. The Revolution wants us to believe again. The Revolution wants us to believe that change tips the scales of existence to favor those who want to LIVE. The Revolution wants us to believe that what you say makes a difference, especially when you only say it to yourself. The Revolution wants us to know that true leaders are not the ones with the biggest bank accounts, penises, or thirst for glory, but the ones with the biggest souls, because only they will have the tools to save the souls of others. The Revolution wants us to believe that the fires of justice burn in everyone, no matter how hard you try to hide them in the gritty, every-day-city streets.

The Revolution wants to be fuel for your fire. The Revolution wants to buy you coffee & talk about the world. The Revolution makes people smile who have not done so in years. The Revolution always hands out spare change & cigarettes because Malcolm X said you never know when a drunk man may need food.

The Revolution is waiting for you. Because the Revolution got sick of turning around & seeing the identical goosestepping marchers of progress turn its cities & its soldiers into the next big thing when all they wanted was to be the same old thing they were before. The Revolution waits on you because the Revolution knows how scary it is to realize that there is nothing you cannot do. But the Revolution knows that the fear passes & is replaced by an urgency to salvage anything you can for the struggle that's coming. You will find yourself gathering words like stones & sticks, to hurl at Goliath, with his striped suits and white lies.

The Revolution knows what you don't. The Revolution knows that we are David & if you could see this eternal battle spread out, you would see that we always win. There could be no other way. The Revolution will wait for you & when the Revolution comes, you will never be alone again.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

on the feast of st. francis...

one of my most favorite books is G.K. Chesterton's biography of St. Francis of Assisi. It's a sparse and beautiful depiction of an often-misunderstood saint. I am always particularly moved by how Chesterton depicts the death of St. Francis and it seemed like a wonderful day to share that beautiful and heart-wrenching scene.

From G.K. Chesterton's St. Francis

In a sense he may be said to have wandered as a dying man, just as he had wandered as a living one. As it became more and more apparent that his health was failing, he seems to have been carried from place to place like a pageant of sickness or almost like a pageant of mortality. He went to Rieti, to Nursia, perhaps to Naples, certainly to Cortona by the lake of Perugia. But there is something profoundly pathetic, and full of great problems, in the fact that at last, as it would seem, his flame of life leapt up and his heart rejoiced when they saw afar off on the Assisian hill the solemn pillars of the Portiuncula. He who had become a vagabond for the sake of a vision, he who had denied himself all sense of place and possession, he whose whole gospel and glory it was to be homeless, received like a Parthian shot from nature, the sting of the sense of home. He also had his maladie du clocher, his sickness of the spire; though his spire was higher than ours. "Never," he cried with the sudden energy of strong spirits in death, "never give up this place. If you would go anywhere or make any pilgrimage, return always to your home, for this is the holy house of God." And the procession passed under the arches of his home; and he lay down on his bed and his brethren gathered round him for the last long vigil. It seems to me no moment for entering into the subsequent disputes about which successors he blessed or in what form and with what significance. In that one mighty moment he blessed us all.

After he had taken farewell of some of his nearest an especially some of his oldest friends, he was lifted at his own request off his own rude bed and laid on the bare ground; as some say clad only in a hair-shirt, as he had first gone forth into the wintry woods from the presence of his father. It was the final assertion of his great fixed idea; of praise and thanks springing to their most towering height out of nakedness and nothing. As he lay there we may be certain that his seared and blinded eyes saw nothing but their object and their origin. We may be sure that the soul, in its last inconceivable isolation, was face to face with nothing less than God Incarnate and Christ Crucified. But for the men standing around him there must have been other thoughts mingling with these; and many memories must have gathered like ghosts in the twilight, as that day wore on and that great darkness descended in which we all lost a friend. For what lay dying there was not Dominic of the Dogs of God, a leader in logical and controversial wars that could be reduced to a plan and handed on like a plan; a master of a machine of democratic discipline by which others could organise themselves. What was passing from the world was a person; a poet; an outlook on life like a light that was never after on sea or land; a thing not to be replaced or repeated while the earth endures. It has been said that there was only one Christian, who died on the cross; it is truer to say in this sense that there was only one Franciscan, whose name was Francis. Huge and happy as was the popular work he left behind him, there was something that he could not leave behind, any more than a landscape painter can leave his eyes in his will. It was an artist in life who was here called to be an artist in death; and he had a better right than Nero, his anti-type, to say Qualis artifexpereo. For Nero's life was full of posing for the occasion like that of an actor; while the Umbrian's had a natural and continuous grace like that of an athlete. But Saint Francis had better things to say and better things to think about, and his thoughts were caught upwards where we cannot follow them, in divine and dizzy heights to which death alone can lift us up.

Round about him stood the brethren in their brown habits, those that had loved him even if they afterwards disputed with each other. There was Bernard, his first friend, and Angelo, who had served as his secretary, and Elias, his successor, whom tradition tried to turn into a sort of Judas, but who seems to have been little worse than an official in the wrong place. His tragedy was that he had a Franciscan habit without a Franciscan heart, or at any rate with a very un-Franciscan head. But though he made a bad Franciscan, he might have made a decent Dominican. Anyhow, there is no reason to doubt that he loved Francis, for ruffians and savages did that. Anyhow he stood among the rest as the hours passed and the shadows lengthened in the house of the Portiuncula; and nobody need think so ill of him as to suppose that his thoughts were then in the tumultuous future, in the ambitions and controversies of his later years.

A man might fancy that the birds must have known when it happened; and made some motion in the evening sky. As they had once, according to the tale, scattered to the four winds of heaven in the pattern of a cross at his signal of dispersion, they might now have written in such dotted lines a more awful augury across the sky. Hidden in the woods perhaps were little cowering creatures never again to be so much noticed and understood; and it has been said that animals are sometimes conscious of things to which man, their spiritual superior, is for the moment blind. We do not know whether any shiver passed through all the thieves and the outcasts and the outlaws, to tell them what had happened to him who never knew the nature of scorn.

But at least in the passages and porches of the Portiuncula there was a sudden stillness, where all the brown figures stood like bronze statues; for the stopping of the great heart that had not broken till it held the world.