Wednesday, December 19, 2007

millions of miracles

to spin, to claw, to cry. out there window is a picture of the stone building across the street. it is past midnight but the sky behind it is a dirty grey, not black. the grey is not to be scorned. its an old grey - a grey that was above the stone building in 1910, the grey will endure until they knock down that building and the one i'm sitting in, the grey will come during the month of december 2076 in the early morning hours. it will always be in the past.

right now i am in the apartment that is in the present, and outside the weather is 1910. They are all dead of course. that our lives should be matters of bloodpumping love stunning at a breathing, colour gleaming, miracles by the millions, miracles of everything, the moving, unfurling skydrifting silent roar of every beat that pulse in harmony in love with your heart beat pulse, that our lives should the be business of exploring the far countries, of cracking open into fat shining eyes of mortal wisdom, miracles by the millions of everything, of building a cabin in an silverbirch forest made of swampwood smell of rotten trees, the heavy fertile musk,

well call ME a faggot, but in all our practical, sophisticated calculations of morality and aestethics we built a little web of a dry, pale future. its a future that will invite you to come along or stay behind alone. all all alone, where you can be a pretentious whiner in the basement apartment of your mind. up there we will be "doing alright" we will say we should not be blamed. weve done the best we can, i remember something out there, beyond the grey, the colour of the sky reminds me of it. something young and ancient, we did our jobs, maybe we did not learn to ride wild horses across a rain, maybe we did not canoe down the Mackenzie River singing french songs, maybe the best i could do was just to hold it all together just to take of myself and not be a burden, to stuff art and craftsmanship into a cafeteria tray, oh eyeless dreams. but dont blame me, because im not a great hero. i learned i was no hero long ago when i shook hands with cowardice. dont blame them, when they say dont blame me because i shunned the beautiful world, it was too hard to look at, you can see it in their eyes, or your eyes: its death somewhere down the road waiting for them that drives them there, the loneliness of dying with no meaning. they seek wombs of all kinds. do not sneer at them, with cold death perched like a bird on a branch above their road, watching, watching, watching.

In the agonizing dark when the lights go off and there is a great huge space between you and the ceiling that contains future trails and past trials, go on open your eyes, the dark that never speaks, never answers your questions or pleas, but sits there silent - sometime stark and immobile, sometimes covering and warm. the futures are different, the pasts are mostly painful. the present is a question, when am i going to die? what will the world go on to be? What will the people i know go on to do. they will forget me, and sometimes remember. but they will never remember me as intensely as they spoke to me, as they slept with me. All the beings in 1910 are somewhere or nowhere. I like to reach into the past sometimes and seek people similar to me. A woman in 1877 who looked at the grey sky and thought the same, maybe while drinking tea and thinking about her past. I used to have a crush on Emily Bronte, because she thought about a lot of the same things i do. i wonder if it occurred to her there might be a fellow that she would really like, but would be born a couple hundred years later. Theres a beautiful fellow who does not belong in his time in a workcamp in the Temagami, circa 1903.

and now, my fellow future ghosts. i was reminded of the beautiful world that is such a narrow path, to be distracted is to lose it again for months. it is a sacriledge to not revere the declicate sense of that far place, but a frail truth is always more despised than a passionately believed lie.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

snake in a jar

it is said that Li Po, the Chinese poet. used to get drunk and throw his poems into the river one after the other as he wrote. he probably loved the moon, probably sat or stood and fumbled and fell and drank wine and wrote beautiful, perfect images of the world and threw away the paper that cost much money into the water and laughed. laughing it is funny because he was half human and half animal, half child and half god and you can pick which half you think is which but i'll tell you you're wrong.

in the woods you can know something you cant know anywhere else, not on mountains or in subways. you can stand in the trees that wail in the wind saying here come the ghost. you can see a morning sun worth more than all human effort, a sunrise alone that glories the underbranches surpasses with the most casual gesture all art, war, science, philosophy, cities, even god, and you feel in your soul of beating blood that you have been embraced by ordinary sunrays into the forever of living things being born and dying. You join it.

they do not know why the drunk laughs with the moon.

and if you would fight anything fight yourself.

and if you would fight anything of yourself then fight adulthood. not because you were happier but because you said true things.

with adulthood comes two things: conscience and survival.

you never worried about apples until you had to get them. you never protected yourself until you were hurt. you never hated until you saw the reptile in someones eyes. survival gets bigger, always tries to eat more of you, when i was small, i lay in the dark and had a vision of a big fat snake coiled in a jar. it filled the jar. that is survival, and if you go that way the things you say you wont mean, but youll think you do because it will hurt to say you dont. you wont love right because you wont be able to be honest, and love must be honest to be worth more than trajedy.

and there is conscience. conscience is very old. it is always tired. it is always tired of loss. it always remembers everyone you lost. the ones you could have saved. you were not immature when you were a child. you know this. what, just because you didnt know how to wipe your own ass then you think youve got more sense now?

it is said one night when the buddha talked late with his students he pointed to the candle and said,

at the beginning of the night we lit this candle. see how it has burned down half way. By the morning it will be extinguished. Now, the flame we lit at the beginning of the night, is it the same flame that burns now?

One of his students said, it is a different flame.

And another said, it is the same flame.

the buddha answered, it is both the same and a different fire. The fuel it is burning is constantly consumed. The energy it is composed of is like the water of a river, constantly flowing through it. But the form of the flame, it is the same. This is the same flame we lit in its progress through the wax. This is you. You as a child are both not longer the child and remain always the child. all your moments are contained within you of now. All men are children, all men are angels as in their best moments of love and courage, all men are monsters as in their ugliest and cruellest moments. this moment is all moments that have been and are to come.

Me and Gary Crow sat in his basement again, after so many years. When we were young, we became naked in front of each other sometimes, and this fuelled an obsession with truth, a stupid, hormonic, obsession. we had said i am lying, i am confused, i am chasing myself like a dog chasing his damn tail, i am humiliated to be human, what is it to be here, what is the shadowed god that never answers but hangs there, sometimes a grinning blackness, sometimes a dancing star?

he went his way, alone, or at least we could no longer find ourselves in each other. he hated me for awhile. i hated him for awhile. he threatened me. i told him to fuck off. he slept in cars and apartments in anonymous towns with no furniture, he read lonely books and saw jesus and buddha. his mind outran his soul. he was trying not to try and it was killing him because the snake in the jar eats you unless you make friends. the snake can never be killed. this is sorrow in all things. you have to love your wounds. he accused everyone of being inside him, pulling him. then his family brought him out of hell, amazingly. then he tried to explain, and i loved him even though i barely understood, just for trying. we got hammered on wild turkey and he said the most wonderful thing,

the one thing ive learned is that you should be kind.

Friday, April 20, 2007

the chicken factory

To begin with, I would point out that most meat-eaters seem mysteriously offended by the concept of vegetarianism. Every time the subject arises (and I've deliberately never initiated it) there is an automatic reaction to criticize vegetarianism as being impractical or at least associate it with some kind of hippie delusion. There invariably follows an angry joke about how pleased the individual is to eat dead animals, despite having never passed judgement on anyone for eating meat.

To most vegetarians, I don't even count as one. I eat fish and dairy. I simply do not eat mammals or birds. I suppose my motives for being vegetarian are fairly unusual, at least I haven't found them in the classic propaganda.

It began with a simple question. There was some conversation about hunting. I think I got the idea I'd like to hunt. I'd never hunted before. The more I thought about it, the more I was impressed by the knowledge that hunting was an ancient and basic form of food gathering. Even as humanity began farming, the killing of animals was an intimate act. There at least existed on some level a relationship between the killer and the killed.

In this age, most animals are killed in factories. I used to live two blocks from a chicken processing plant. It was on the corner of a main intersection in a rundown part of town and some sick capitalist bastard had the notion to paint it pink. Big trucks used to pull in with thousands of cages stuffed with shrieking birds. Asian guys would come out and hose the trucks down. They always seemed to be hosing some part of the place down. When you were forced to walk past the factory, you did whatever you could to dodge the spray and the little rivers of chickenwater.

There were many terrible things about that factory but nothing was more awful than the smell. It smelled of metal and disease and bowels. It left you feeling stained. All the welfare bums and junkies and teenage hookers that walked around in that area felt that somehow that smell was the true smell of the black heart of our predatorial city. It was the smell of hopelessness and cruelty. The total indifference of the white suited workers outside with facemasks on, hosing down the concrete and sending greasy infected pools of water into the street only underlined the message. You live in a meatgrinder.

Perhaps as a kind of crowning fuckyou to the sad grey humanity around it, the chicken factory boasted a small metal cylinder on the top of the building. The rusted cylinder turned round, night and day. And sometimes you would look up as you passed by and would see something slurping out of the mouth of the black cylinder. It was pink and it dripped into some unseen vessel.

The chicken factory was probably fairly representative of a typical slaughterhouse. From complaints I've heard about the smells coming from beef and pork processing plants it sounds as though the chicken factory wasn't that bad. I've no doubt the factory upheld all environmental and safety requirements. I do not believe that the factory violated any humane treatment laws. But nothing good can give off a smell like that.

And that's what it is to eat meat in the modern age. They kill animals on an assembly line reeking of terror and pain. The animals are bloated from growth hormones. And in the end, theyre only killing dumber and more innocent versions of children.

There may have been a time where such things were necessary and even right but that time disappeared with the advent of the factory. The old time hunter and farmer that kill what they need could claim to be honourable. Hunting still seems to me to be a valid lifeway, if done for food and done with some sense of respect. The same cannot be said of factory farming, which reduces suffering to a Quarter pounder and the laughter of the wellfed. It only serves our cold, vicious instincts to shrug in the face of the suffering of other living beings.

And I came to ask myself:

"Could I kill an animal and eat it?"

The answer was obvious. I didnt know. In my life I'd only killed animals that I'd found dying like mice and etcetera. The more I thought about it the more I thought specifically of mammals. Humans are among mammals. Mammals and birds are the only kinds of animals we know of that demonstrate the capacity for empathy. Empathy is the ability to care for the happiness of a being other than itself. Empathy is the primitive root of love, understanding, altruism and art. It may be that this deeply biologic aspect of our natures is the source of goodness. It is perversely ironic that humans, who tend to see themselves as the highest order of life on this planet precisely for their capacity for goodness, discard empathy where the killing of animals is concerned for the very reason that they are entitled to it because they are "higher" beings.

One has to spend only a little time studying the conduct of mammals before realizing their almost "human" behaviors. Elephants are well known for leaving totems for the dead. Dogs are known for sacrificing their lives for the sake of their masters. Macacques are known to hand down learned behavior through generations. Whales compose complex and changing songs. Cats are fuckers just like humans. If humanity would spend a little energy learning about these beings instead of wasting it protecting a proud ignorance the world might well be unable to sit before meat without being troubled. We are masters of the Earth, we no longer need to scrabble in the night, struggling just to survive. We are capable of honestly being the honorable and good creatures we always pretended to be, and one big step in that direction would be to recognize innocence when it stares you in the face and oinks.

So that's how I came to be a vegetarian. I could not be responsible for the suffering of animals that were about as kind and sensitive as I was, only a little bit dumber. Knowing what a dumbass I was, how could I hold that against anyone?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

a long time from now

A prologue to a novel

A long time from now, after the last war has been fought and the last piece of blackened earth has been buried in green, a great thing will happen to the little species of humanity on this planet. We will, finally, blossom into a shining, elegant people, we will become the gods we always looked up to, but our darkness will not rule us as it rules the gods.

One of the great problems of future mythologies is that they haven't happened yet. Our epics, fables, creation stories and fantasies all have the advantage of having taken place in the past. They have happened already, and so can be told, and anything can be true if it happened in the past, because no one can go and look and prove that it did not happen.

But this story is of how we are to come, a story of what might happen. But this story is different, because it draws upon great things that are asleep or only half-awake in the human soul.

The history of our species so far has been a chaos of war and peace, beauty and ugliness, violence and love, brilliance and savagery, ignorance and curiosity. In the broad strokes, earth produces life like a mad garden, species of plants and animals, viruses, bacteria and insects growing indiscriminately on top of the rotting compost of the dead. Through millions of years and millions of changes, mountains rising and falling, trees jutting up like calm mammoths into the sky, reptiles and their cold hearts hunting on the small and the defenseless, then flowers came, and birds chirping in the dawn, and then warm creatures, dolphins and whales and bears and elephants, and among these came little humans, ingenious and curious, fearful, caring, vain and restless.

Their delicate, so beautifully intricate irises of blue and hazel and emerald bore a great spark in them when they paused and watched the landscape, the motions of the world. Their eyes were the diadem of Mother Earth, for that spark was the great light of Life, and its brilliance is unmatched even by the most terrible sun. All life did mother earth bear from her heart, so that all life was not just, not just her children, but all life was mother earth herself, but a great age was to pass before these little humans took up their heritage and called themselves earth. Many times the mother herself doubted the outcome, and whether her own children would turn and destroy her one day. To her great relief and ours, humanity would come to love its mother again.

At first these little mammals seemed good and innocent. They loved to roam, and wandered the earth, always wondering what lay beyond the next horizon. Slowly and in good time they would learn things, how to keep fire, to make a sharp point, how to bear the furs of great animals to survive the cold. They delighted in the busy sky of night, in sounds and colours. But mother earth was not a gentle mother, and she was far from perfect. She was a wild being, indiscriminate in her creation. Her house was always stormy, and her house was not safe. She could throw up great fires, or breed vicious and cruel beasts. She could freeze the land, or lay it waste. Once she rained with all her might on every place her storms could reach. She could laugh at the most capricious designs of parasites, or withold her sapphire waters when they were needed most.

The little humans were raised in such a house, and their brilliance and their fear and their vanity and their love clashed with the world and grew into the tangled vines of our hearts. They came to accept casual creation and destruction, learned the killing throw of the spear, to watch with one cautious eye the clouds, that death and life were inextricably woven together so that one meant the other and the only prize was to see a new dawn rise in strength.

Humans were born to fear, and they were born to wonder. And wonder begets more wonder, just as fear begets more fear. They struggled to grow into the light of their eyes, but at the same time this light shone through, and humans began to act and move rather differently than their brother and sister animals. Humans began to do mysterious things. They would pause and wonder, and then move on. They would make intricate sounds, and trace pictures in the soil. They fashioned tools, and these became more and more elaborate as time went on.

Then came the first time that flowers and beautiful shells were put into the ground with the dead, and the first time the words of the grandmother was preserved in the granddaughter, and the first time the count of bison were kept in pictures on the cave wall.

And rapidly, after a millenia of slow and languid change, the arts of humanity gushed forth, affecting all they did and were. They learned to tame animals, and to mark themselves, and how to evoke experience from words, and most amazingly, they grew, all of them, to conceive of a power and a meaningfulness in something much greater than themselves, they could sense something beyond what they knew, this they called gods, and all people made gods.

And then in some places people began to tame the earth herself. They told the soil which plants to grow and which to not grow, and told the water which way to run, and how much. They commanded the dirt and the stones to arrange themselves to keep them from the cold and from the predators. They learned to co-operate in great numbers. And from these came little towns, and little vistas of farms. They bade the dog and the horse and the chicken, the goat and the pig, to come closer and take food from their hand. They told the horse to pull and the chicken to feast and the dog to watch in the distance.

And they learned that when they co-operated there was great bounty, and when they bickered or went away there was less or none. And many understood already how to punish and so to make the defeated co-operate, and this they accepted.

And they were so small and innocent and fragile looking. Watching them from above, in that great blue that they looked up at as master, They collected stones and raised them high and hoped the gods would notice. They peered into tangled forests and named the magic that ruled the world, that they saw just at the edge of their vision, passing from behind one distant tree to another. And most of them thought that this, their little land, was the whole world and everything there was, and did not notice all the dark spaces in their knowledge. And others did and looked at all the things that happened that they could see, and all the things they could not see thriving and moving and they called it great mystery. And a silence always follows that phrase that sounds like everything coming into being and all light.

And some chased the mysteries and looked under rocks and played with beetles, and some felt the terrible loneliness of being alive, the loneliness of being in eternity and mortal.

And they now, sometimes, and more food than they knew what to do with. And the strong men sometimes wore feathers and shells in their hair, and gave the extra food to warriors and mystics so that they would stay, and so grew armies and words and markets and temples and everything strange and human that we do and take so seriously.
and our fear and our wonder grew together and sometimes they were one and the same.

And there now, so long after the gentle mammals who wandered the earth, you can see the golden masks of Crete, the flat and grinning kings, the graceful, powerful and unloving eyes of the pharaohs, the Chinese poet sitting gangly on top of a hill and watching the armies of bamboo and iron marching. There are the halls of Alexandria, a temple dedicated to what humans had learned, and memory, and the beauty of how things are and what there is to know.

And there is Copan, the stone temple dedicated to vastness, surveying the wandering jungle all around. There are the blueskinned gods of India, carved into the rock but graceful and indomitable. They dancingly curl their arms, that could move suns with the slightest gesture. There are the Roman senators arguing, sitting on great benches of marble, suggesting the truth of lightning and reading with awe writers that were for them too ancient.

And among all these beautiful and mysterious things were the skin and bones of scarred slaves, the swords that cut into pregnant bellies in vengeance, the rats who emerged from the ditches in the night smuggling disease, and with it sorrow and horror. There are the merciless priests carefully polishing sacrificial knives, and later the scrawl of writing in the morning sun that gives birth to remote deaths.

And among the light and the innocence was the sight of parasites bursting from skin, the mysterious red blotches, the black sores, the blue lips, the green skin. There was the shivering, and greying hair and wrinkling skin, and babies born dead, sometimes one out of four.

And there were the ruthless laws of no appeal, and the droughts, and the thousand things that wear down and destroy a child as it grows. Betrayals, rejections, lies, fears, failures, humiliation.

And sometimes there was falling in love, two little mortals sharing an eternity that is now gone, gone; and hard work repaid in overflowing harvests of wheat or deer. Sometimes there were beautiful statues raised higher than any statue could have been raised, it seemed, and wanderers who whistled in the summer dusk and dogs who wagged their tails when the people came back. Stories were invented, and songs, and now and then gypsies and traders arrived with dazzling things. Sometimes the stories were true, and they were adorned so as to give the heroic deeds of the ordinary human their rightful gravity.

And then out of the small cities came men with funny hats who were very strong, called kings. Kings seemed to grow out of these complicated flowers of towns naturally, and all over the world. And with them came armies, many warriors who did nothing but make war. These strange people did not hunt or grow their own food, but sat and waited for the king to give it to them, and if the king did not have it he sent the warriors to get more. And they enjoyed going.

And too the gods grew, there came out of the mysterious giants clothed in magic, little men with wisdom that not longer said bend thy knee but bend thy heart and soul. Buddha and Jesus, Nanak, Mohammed, Confucius, Lao Tsu, Ghandi, Moses and others too.

There came iron, and cities that crept over the hills and across rivers, empires and empires of elaborate buildings, ships with white sails, here are the Romans with their tall crosses and induestructible eagles, their heroes of glory waving to thousands of them back from the wars. Here are the Persians covered in gold and purple, the elegant and brittle Chinese emperors at the edge of dawn, tracing the lines of all change in perfect words;

Out of all this we came, here and now, the thousand generations stretching back into the darkness of the long gone past. They all feared and wondered, though maybe very differently, I don't know, we weren't there. But from what is left, their drawings, their ruins, their stories, and from us, their children, I suspect that they too struggled with demons and angels, gods or no-gods, with sanity, with the mystery that is being born and one day dying, with the pushy unasked-for demands of the heart, the body or the world.

But true, true; for us we must know only by broken pieces and guesses, really for us is only a short road we look back on and see it fade into pitch darkness. So too is it with our little future before us, a rising sun that blinds when you look at it directly.

This is the prologue of our future, and in the telling I wanted you to know that this life, its presumable succession of lives, is a dance, one not necessarily leading to a perfect climax, a dance where we, none of us, can say for sure if or when it will end or begin and how. But a dance of constant changes, and beautiful variations, and scary ones, but always leaving one with the sense of a great thing moving that we may, after all, be too small to ever really understand, like the ants being arranged, when one plays with them as a child, but no less miraculous for just being ants.