It’s Not Working (Series 3)

•February 9, 2013 • Leave a Comment

It’s not working,
Trying to mean something and communicate at the same time.
Meaning is a species of being.
Communicating is a species of belonging.

For most of life, being and belonging vie and jostle,
Like two twins
Who cannot get along,
But get along anyway because they are the same.

Later in life, being and belonging sometimes separate,
Especially for those born with a weak sense of belonging.
The need to be grows stronger than the need to belong
And meets its new twin, the need not to be.

You miss the old twin
But nonetheless long for him to be gone
Because of all the pain you have caused him
And he has caused you.

One night you sit in a nice restaurant
And the socializers turn to wisps
You can barely see or hear.
You have seen and heard it all before.
Belonging has ceased at last to matter at all.



Bundles: An Essay Letter

•February 9, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Humans are bundles of contradictions. This “informal blog” is in my bundle. It has taught me things I should have known already (We academics often find that when we claim something is true, we only discover it is actually true much later and then sometimes regret it).

I am—or was or maybe may still be—for better or worse—an academic. Trying to write “poetry” has made it clear to me that the life of an academic—at least in modern universities—is not the stuff of poetry. On the other hand, it is clear to me now that life (everyone’s) is the stuff of “poetry” and, for a few gifted or truly tortured souls, poetry.

In my academic work I have argued that all human language is a form of poetry. At least when we humans care and are really trying to make sense, we speak in lines and stanzas and rhythms with saturated meanings, though usually we are not aware of it (some of my 1980’s work was about the “poetry” of everyday sense making). Every speaker and every soul has the stuff of poetry inside. What we call poetry is heightened and formalized, but basically just language, our language as each and every one of us owns it. So, too, by the way with stories: All humans are story tellers and story makers—we are especially good ones when we care or suffer and story to recover. Literature heightens and formalizes what belongs by right to all of us and each of us.

In my academic work, I have argued that all humans—and we are built this way by evolution and biology—learn from experiences in the world, not from generalizations, abstractions, and calculations (1990’s/early 2000’s work). Generalizations and abstractions are the result of finding patterns in lots and lots of experiences over long periods of time. We do start with them; we end with them (sometimes, if at all).

When we limit someone’s experiences in the world—through ideology, religion, poverty, prejudice, fear or whatever—we limit their minds, their souls, and their growth as humans. We deny them their right to be, become, grow, and flourish.

Humans learn best from experiences in which they have an action to take whose outcome really matters to them (so says the immortal Art Glenberg). For humans, mattering (caring) precedes all learning, semiotics, and “accountability”. Otherwise, experience is really not all that good for learning.

There is a problem with learning from experience. Humans are powerful pattern recognizers—it is our super power as the good knight Kurt Squire so often says—ready and willing to find patterns anywhere and everywhere at the drop of a hat (or hate). So when we start on new learning through new experiences we need something to help us know what to pay attention to in the plethora of new details. We need, as well, something to help us know what patterns are fruitful to look for as a beginner hoping to go down fruitful and not frustrating paths.

Therefore, experience and learning are inherently social. Our mentors, communities, families, social groups and so forth tell us and show us what to look for and what matters. They help us find the “right” patterns so we can be social, communicate, and belong to the group; so that we can “be one of them” for “thems” we want to belong to and not be excluded from. And sometimes we newcomers reward “them” by finding patterns or variations they have not seen before, if they teach us well and truly (as the sacred Gunther Kress has proclaimed). We newcomers move them forward, if they do not suppress our creativity but sometimes allow us to show them the way.

So, then, the human mind is “social” (as I said in my only out-of-print book), filled with the patterns, associations, and connections our social natures, our social practices, and our social “apprenticeships” have given rise to. Of course, since we humans can belong to a great many different social groups and these groups can believe and value different things in different ways, we are, all, as I said, a bundle of contradictions. The only way you can remain consistent and “true” (“I did it my way”) is to limit your experience, your groups, and your humanity and ultimately your mind, that is to say, to make yourself—or let others make you—stupid.

As and when I became an old man, for a reason I am not privy to—maybe just because I did not ask myself and still do not want to—I decided I wanted to write “poetry” out of my experiences, just the way we humans always do when things matter, but to explore those experiences “privately”. As a man who once knew his Wittgenstein well, I knew there was no such thing as a “private language”. As a linguist I knew that language and communication are irredeemably social (“conventional” is the philosophical technical term here).

I had a contradictory wish: I wanted to write (communicate) without caring (I first mistakenly wrote “carrying”, which is, in fact, better) what others thought or what their judgments were. I oddly wanted to speak/write to myself and for myself in a medium that owes all its design and expressiveness (human language as communication) to sociality and response. I wanted to mean without meaning or at least without meaning what conventions and sociality had or would “force” me to mean. I wanted to use a convention—even have it work for me—but not be part of, not be loyal to, the convention. A contradiction or, at least, a complexity, as I said.

In writing my “poetry” I came to realize that while good poetry (not mine) can universalize specific human experiences, mine would only mean anything close to what I cared about to “old people” (probably not strictly an age-determined thing). That is one among other reasons why what I write is not “really” poetry, not “good” poetry, but only “poetry”, human stuff (by the way I am told editors don’t like scare quotes and think them crude—I cannot imagine honest writing without them (I am told editors don’t much like parentheses either)).

We should not punish ourselves for being a bundle of contradictions. But that does not mean we should not try at least for resolutions even if they give rise, as they will, to different bundles or bundlings. The poems on this “blog” (we all know it isn’t a blog, but I do not know what it is and probably don’t even know what a blog is—hence the scare quotes—an admission of ignorance) are so far in two series. The first series is a “cycle” that is meant to have a beginning (Vampires) and an end (Christmas 2012). These are now in the hands of the Warrior Priestess Denny Taylor. The second series, only a few poems so far (and so far is fated in this case to be as far as it goes) was written as I began to worry—as normal, sane, healthy humans do and should so—what others thought, about the meanings being attributed to me, and about the corrupting effect I could be having on the young. Alas, I am not a normal, sane, healthy human and less so every day, since I am old and in my case—at least in my “middle period” when I could at least pretend to be social—the windmills fought back and “won”, leaving me a battered old man.

Series 3 starts soon. It will be detached from social media—I should never have connected this stuff to social media—that I did, shows how little I understood social media and understood myself. I will say this though—not in any defense, but as a mere observation—academics as a career “well and truly” (as my former Australian friends used to say) renders the word “friend” vexed, confusing, menacing, vague, ambiguous, dishonest, touching, ephemeral, and contradictory—a minefield for the naïve, the autistic, and the rubes like me. Social media has of course done vexed things to the word “friend”—though less deep and rich than the complexities of academics—but I cannot say much here about that because I rarely look at social media sites and when I do I never understand them (there is no glory in this as I well know when I watch the young making “poetry” here as well).

So I am detaching this “blog” from social media and getting rid of the comment function. That way the “readers” (if any and there are in fact few anyway now) will not be fictional (as the giant Ron Scollon warned us they would (requiem in pacem dear Ron, the best of us by far)) any longer, but real people I do not know, see, feel, or have to worry about. If you want to read this stuff—and if you don’t, don’t, and if you do, do, but write too, not just read—we will just write “private” “poetry” in our own private languages together—a new form of sociality. They will say we are only capable—you and I—of parallel play. I will say true, true, save if we—me and you—can engage in telepathy.

I apologize for “involving” “people” in my “private” life—something I abhor. It was bad taste, poor judgment, swimming in the shallows, swimming in the deep water, modern, co-opting what rightfully belongs to the young and the restless. It was vain, clueless, and (“fun”).

Don Quixote

•February 6, 2013 • Leave a Comment

The young need hope,
Even illusions.
Age destroys illusions
And replaces hope with skepticism.

That is why the young should not read the poetry of the old.
Soon enough the young will be old themselves,
Better now to believe that dreams come true
If you just believe them hard and long enough.

Dreams do of course sometimes come true.
In America they are often dreams of riches and success,
Of power and fame,
Dreams that achieved can taste like dust or leave others in the dust.

The truly oppressed, most of the people who have ever lived on this earth
Or who live on it now
Dream of food and respect,
Dignity and freedom from want and despair.

Throughout history the rich have always oppressed the poor.
They oppress them more and more,
Until they finally go too far,
And the poor fight back with nothing left to lose.

An old man like me has no advice for the struggling young.
But if for some reason you lose your hope too soon
And begin to despair at how the poor and weak are continually crushed,
And you come to feel there is no advance against a foe so big,

Then, all I can say is this:
In history, when all is lost, there always finally appears
A wan knight wearing a rusty barber’s bowl as a helmet,
Riding on an old nag, broken lance in hand, to tilt at windmills.

He is insane.
Driven so by his love
For Dulcinea
And for justice.

He tilts at windmills he thinks are giants
And giants actually fall.
He saves the wretched,
Because he tells them a secret that restores their hope.

The secret is that the center,
That central power that makes all others weak and undeserving
And renders everyone at the margins marginal,
Is empty.

Its power is only the false belief that it is there.
But nothing is at the center
Save for empty symbols
The rich and powerful claim only they can read.

The good Don always strikes from the margins,
In the guise of a fool, his fantasies still intact.
The center falls and history cycles on,
The losers the winners in the end,

Until it is time for the Don to come again
In the name of love and justice.
Maybe this time he is you,
Ready and willing to tilt at windmills, your fantasies still intact.

A Red Rock Coffee Shop

•February 3, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Red rocks
Failed gurus
Failed artists
Good coffee.

Surrounded by red wilderness
In a New Age coffee enclave
Where crystals replace gods
Who fail us or who we fail.

Tourists come in
Miffed by the scruffy men who read palms
And the healing women
Who teach us how to talk to cats so they won’t eat meat anymore.

Mark is one of us.
He survived a cancer
He helped along by treating himself with herbal medicines and New Age wisdom
Before a brutal course of chemotherapy cured him.

Mark is all of us.
To survive means to treat a sickness of the soul we help along
With unrequited desires and Old Age nostrums about success
Before the brutal truth of old age cures us.

Now that Mark is cured, he works in the coffee shop
Happy with a new New Age insight
That his miracle cure saved him for something important
Something still to come, something to wait for.

Now that I am cured, I sit in the coffee shop
Happy with an old Old Age insight that all is vanity.
Ecclesiastes says too that there is no new thing under the sun.
But nonetheless I still wait to see what will come.

Dorian Gray

•February 1, 2013 • Leave a Comment

You know how familiar your own hand looks to you?
How you would recognize it anywhere,
Even cut off?

I look at my hand
Or my knee
And I clearly see me.

But I look in the mirror
And wonder who it is,
Surely it is not me.

Others recognize me by my face
Not by my knee.
But my face seems to me more foreign than my knee.

Because I am old?
Because I am afraid?

I don’t talk to my knee,
But I do talk to my face,
In the mirror.

I say, ” Who are you?
I ask because you look a bit like me,
But older and more forlorn”.

The man in the mirror never has anything to say.
He listens patiently while I speak.
Though he nods once in a while.

It is a Dorian Gray scene,
But in a mirror,
Not a painting.

The mirror ages faster,
Showing every misdeed,
Which I hope no one else sees.


•January 29, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Natasha my love,
You picked me,
One of the few who has,
Maybe the only one.

You came out of darkness and said, “Take me”.
There was no “please”.
There was no plea.
It was a command.

I adored you when I saw you,
Because you were so small and weak,
So strong and confident,
So eager to be free.

You had been born sick,
And struggled to survive.
You were manhandled by those who sought to save you,
But you had an indomitable desire to be.

My OCD son followed you as you paced.
Your guardian told him to respect your space.
But later that night, he sat with you,
As you dared dream of venturing out.

When you finally ventured forth, you found a large and menacing bandit.
You sat silently, making yourself yet smaller,
To protect yourself from male aggression,
Only to find that it was really utterly-smitten male submission.

Then you looked him in the eye.
And he fell in love with you forever,
You two spent your days cuddling
When you weren’t playing with delight.

We rushed you to the hospital many times.
When you were away, Bandit was forlorn.
You faced the sickness without fear.
Even when they poked and prodded, you pranced without a tear.

When you came back, we all hugged you
And you settled in again with Bandit.
He gently licked you
And you gently licked him.

You went out and played with Bandit,
But ran immediately back when we called.
Not just because you feared being out alone,
But because Bandit was back home.

In your last picture, Bandit and you snuggle close head to head,
But there is a small speck of blood in your nose.
We didn’t see it until the picture made it clear.
Only later did we know it meant the end was near.

When it was time, you stumbled out from the dark
And asked me to pick you up.
You could not stand
And needed to be held by the one who was always at your command.

We rushed you to the hospital.
But it was too late.
You died in my arms,
And my heart just broke.

Bandit was not there.
He was alone at home in despair.
He sensed something had happened
And sought your smell to quell his fear.

We watched you go,
A spirit, not a body any longer.
I wept in the sterile room
And Bandit howled at home.

You were the little one
Who commanded me to take you
To life
And to death.

Natasha, I still remember you in the basket
So beautiful and benign,
Loving us,
But waiting for your Bandit.

Now I wait for my own Bandit, Bead.
You taught me, Natasha, to command her to take me
To life
And to death
When it comes.


Natasha and Bandit

Fly in the Fly-Bottle

•January 27, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Is there light
Out there?
But Wittgenstein told us that flying to the light is the wrong thing to do.
The fly in the fly-bottle must fly to the darkness to be free.

A fly-bottle uses sweets to entice a fly to fly in.
Once in, the fly sees light all around the bottle,
But only darkness at the opening at the top.
The only way out is to fly to the dark.

The fly is trapped because people hate the fly.
But what if you are trapped by people who love you instead
Though you are in fact no better than the fly?
What if the sweets that trapped you are what you love?

What if what kills you nourishes you?
What if Wittgenstein was wrong when he said death was not an event in life?
Perhaps death is part of every event in a life worth living?
What if freedom means not flying away?

Philosophy makes you wise.
It tells you truly that you must fly to the dark to be free.
But I think it tells you too the goal of life is not to be free,
But to choose to be bound by what you stand for.