Had I the crude and scrannel rhymes to suit
the melancholy hole upon which all
the other circling crags converge and rest,
the juice of my conception would be pressed
more fully; but because I feel their lack,
I bring myself to speak, yet speak in fear;
for it is not a task to take in jest,
to show the base of all the universe-
nor for a tongue that cries out, “mama,” “papa.
God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please, — you can never have both. Between these, as a pendulum, man oscillates.
He in whom the love of repose predominates will accept the first creed, the first philosophy, the first political party he meets, — most likely his father’s. He gets rest, commodity, and reputation; but he shuts the door of truth.
He in whom the love of truth predominates will keep himself aloof from all moorings, and afloat. He will abstain from dogmatism, and recognize all the opposite negations, between which, as walls, his being is swung.
He submits to the inconvenience of suspense and imperfect opinion, but he is a candidate for truth, as the other is not, and respects the highest law of his being.
Sometimes, often while drunk, I leave myself notes, only to find them months or years later. Here’s one I stumbled across from June 2013. I was somewhere in Colombia.
Every song seems an ode to my inadequacy. I need salsa like I need air. I’ll never breathe free until my feet know what my hips have known from the first instant I stood erect. What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I just know? Salsa is all that matters; the rest is just waiting to die.
And if all that is meaningless, I want to be cured
Of a craving for something I cannot find
And of the shame of never finding it.
Note to self: Don’t let the ache of all the books you haven’t read, may never read, cripple you - keeping you from reading any books at all.
On changing the world and not
Dear technology startup: It sends a chill down my spine when you say you’ll change the world. Hitler changed the world. The Koch brothers are having a “scalable impact”. I need you to be more specific. What is the magnitude of the change? Is it tectonic or incremental? What are its moral dimensions? Will the world be more or less just as a result? Build cool stuff, by all means, but don’t delude yourself. Lies of effusion are some of the most insidious.
Frank Chimero puts it brilliantly:
Revolutionary, disruptive, magical, wizards, and on and on—contemporary digital culture has co-opted the language of revolution and magic without the muscle, ethics, conviction, or imagination of either. And it’s not that those things aren’t possible, we just aren’t living up to their meaning and instead saturating ourselves with hyperbole. These are words you have to earn, and slinging them around strips the words of their powerful meaning. Can you take a real revolution seriously if you are bombarded with messaging that says your phone is revolutionary?
Weep not now, my love.
For as all die, so shall we.
But it is not dying that should pain us.
It is the waiting, the intermission when we cannot act, when our will is shackled by tyranny.
Yet somehow, I know the miracle of the world will be wrought again.
The space will be filled in spite of the hurt, by the immensity of love that will defy dying, and death.
Good night, my love.
Obituaries and Eulogies
The Guardian’s Mona Chalabi nails it in this piece: Obituaries. Full of ‘eccentricities’ and ‘devotion’. Time for a bit of honesty
All but the unquestionably evil get the soft treatment. That sends the wrong message to society about the consequences of our actions – that ultimately, in death (in print at least), you’ll be well remembered no matter what you do. An honest representation of complexity, not a black and white characterisation, is normally something to be respected in our professional and private lives. So it seems even more perverse that our final assessment is so consistently distorted.
It reminds me of when a childhood friend died a couple years back. He was someone who appreciated that we erase, not honor, people in eulogizing them in euphemism, half-truth and lies. In my poem for him, I told the truth - that he was brilliant and narcissistic, funny and self-destructive, deeply troubled and loved despite his worst failings: “I won’t mourn you the way the movies tell us to”.
You, who are so liberal and so humane, who have such an exaggerated adoration of culture that it verges on affectation, you pretend to forget that you own colonies and that in them men are massacred in your name.
Suddenly this defeat.
The blues gone gray
And the browns gone gray
A terrible amber.
In the cold streets
Your warm body.
In whatever room
Your warm body.
Among all the people
The people who are always
I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person.
Culture of Euphimism
I’ve always had a certain terror and twisted respect for the British mastery of euphemism. How they can cloak the ugliest things in the language fit for high tea conversation. It’s taken a couple of centuries, but I believe we may have surpassed our British cultural forebears in our mastery of the polite and ugly art of euphemism. I read and heard things the last election cycle that leaked through me like acid and yet were near impossible to pin down in their specific offense without a scholarly dissertation starting at the beginning of western history (or at least farther back in it that a casual traveler is willing to go) and arriving exhausted, exasperated in the present. And our culture of euphemism extends far beyond the election of course. Never have we been better at erasing with language: enemy combatant, welfare president, “leaving the labor pool”.