Thursday, March 28, 2013


I'm trying to let go. I think back on a child gathering Easter eggs among the tiger lilies watched over by his mom and grand father. What happened to him to fill him with anger and frustration? How is it he was kept in from recess or harassed on the bus? Was there a point on some hot Georgia summer day that turned him inside himself? But if he could travel back in time to that point, offer some word of encouragement for the frustration, staved off the cruelty of adults and kids, what would that do? Is a mixture of melancholy and curiosity hardwired into our DNA, such that our lives play out as fate? I would like to say no. No to fate. No to some inherent outcome of life. 

The teacher who wanted to break me of drawing - sure she's misguided. She wants to get her lesson plan done and these kids out and moving up. She's not trained (or not trained well enough) to deal with outliers. And the bad teachers - those teachers who eclipse the good ones in their influence - certainly they are survived. They usually don't harm so much as cause an inconvenience along the way.

I am ticked off at their memory though. Not seemly in a grown man. I admire people who just brush these encounters off: especially when people have enough of  a sense of their agency to say, "get lost." There was a posting lately, I think a quote attributed to Wm Gibson: if you're down, depressed, etc consider that it's not you but that you're surrounded by assholes. Genius. I read that and laughed. 

I can't and you can't go back and right wrongs. Like George Costanza our lives are best served by not flying out to deliver the perfect retort. You zing me, you zing me; you hate me, well and good. Don't waste time on making something happen that isn't going to. I did that for a few years at a little church in Athens. I can say that I learned what wasting my time looks like. Whenever I find myself dissatisfied and feeling down, I now have the capacity to consider that it's not me. What a thing! It's not me. Pardon me while I move on - you people carry on with whatever this is.

As a kid we pick up all the bits of shit that falls on us and we carry it with us. Maybe we think it is such a part of us as to be necessary for life itself. Certain kinds of theology (altar calls, original sin, total depravity) enforce the identity of yourself with the bag of dung accrued to us as ourselves. But it's not true. We are trained to believe it is. We're called good boys and girls when we embrace how unworthy we are. We are habituated to conform. And it is jarring: I remember how elated I was upon reading Paul's letter to the Galatians - Freed from the law - A new creation - only to be told by my mom that it was a difficult letter and easily misunderstood. Jeeees! I understood it perfectly. It's a very short little letter after all and tells you not to waste time with the Law; that time spent with the Law would be better spent castrating yourself! It says a lot about freedom and nothing about feeling bad about yourself or going forward in tears for your wayward life. Oh, I've hit a bit of a screed. I'm sure I've said it all before. 

What I want to say is that the rest of my life is free. I may need to remind myself of this a few times more. I hope at some point, when I think of the actors for bad in my youth, that, instead of anger welling up, I laugh. Christ's admonition to "let the dead bury their dead" is instructive here. They are dead (some are and some are merely figuratively dead) - certainly not part of my life now - and would not be invited in again for even a chat. I think when Paul speaks of being crucified to the world and the old life in Galatians, that he's talking about how dead that past is. We cannot over emphasize how dead the past is.

There are nurturing things in the past as well. Perhaps I should consider how to hold onto the good, even while excising the bad. I don't know. Perhaps even the good takes on a stale aspect. It becomes mummified in nostalgia, glossed over as a golden age -and we all know a "golden age" is an early sign of senility: "last night I dreamed of Mandalay." Gone with the Wind - I say, "good riddance with the wind." 

Whenever I hear someone extolling the virtues of the past (whether my grandmother or someone even younger than me) as a golden age where "we never locked our doors and people knew each other" , my eyes roll. I've heard this trope used to describe rural Georgia as well as Brooklyn - Brooklyn! I'm speechless. I no longer believe people when they start talking like this. When they tell me this, I wonder if some hardening of the brain cells hasn't begun. Even Ecclesiastes says that when people say former times were better than these, such speech is not from knowledge. Even in 300 BCE this trope was tired. So Qoholet, Paul and Jesus, to name three, have nothing positive to say about the past - in fact they seem to endorse getting over it: good and bad. 

I once read Walker Percy's Movie Goer, Lancelot and Last Gentleman - and I was lost in a reverie for the old South. I tried to see myself as the scion of Southern yeomanry. Like Dylan's Blind Willie McTell, I see them big plantations burning - and power and greed and corruptible seed, seem to be all that there is. And someone like me, who loved history in school - who's aptitude for names and dates (taking them in and spewing them out) is so grand - who cries at tragedy and delights in narrow escapes - is prone to the dis-ease of nostalgia. I walk in subdivisions where my great grandfather's farm was and imagine the furrows, the corn, and following my grandfather's foot prints in the crust of the soil. I know what it means when the past isn't even past - the thrill of it - as if some spirit infested the ground I stood in, and the brush of Gen Oglethorpe's Scotsmen might be felt as I stood in the tabby fort left standing. 

The land has a lot more stories to tell than the one's written down. If you stand on a tell in Palestine, the story would be very different than the one written down. And when you stand on Peachtree, do you feel the story of the Creek village that was there as the cars whiz by? Maybe one thing Joyce was saying with Finnegan'sWake is that our stories become garbled - that the land and the rivers change the stories such that words and syllable slip away from meaning and leave a floor of scattered husks - husks that used to contain the nut of understanding between peoples, between you and me - but, after we're gone, bear testimony not to our meaning but only our mere presence.That we've eaten the fruit out and left behind memories fit only to be swept away.

Well that's us. We humans. 25000 years ago someone carved a deer on an antler - and that's all we have. 10000 years ago, someone painted a cavalcade of animals - and that's all we have. We don't know what to make of it. When people look at a painting only 200 years old, they still don't know what to make of it - there's the convenience of books that'll tell them - but the punch in the gut meaning it had that made it important then is lost to us now. A 12 year old circa 1500 knows more about Giotto then than a PhD in art history knows today. The 12 year old didn't need to know why this was important. Maybe that seems hyperbolic - but I don't think it's far off.

Like Pound said, "Quick eyes under earth's lid." 

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