The Polarizing Duality of America’s Souls

“You cannot unify that which is diametrically opposed.” – Janaya Future Khan

The word diametric comes from a straight line drawn across a circle, or a diagonal line which cuts the circle straight down the center. The two end points of that line are considered the exact opposites of each other, they are the two extremes. They could not be more different from one another.

But are they not, in a way, unified?

They may be opposite ends of the line, but they are still together on the same circle.

In America, we are at a point where the two extreme sides cannot be more opposite and also cannot be more clear. And we are grappling with what to do about this. There is talk of compromise, talk of unity, of reaching across the aisle, of listening to each other, hearing each other.

Coming together.

But we are together. We are unified. We just don’t like what we see or how it is playing out. We are unified in our fighting against each other. It is the fight, the fight which is that straight line, which connects us and keeps us apart.

Perhaps, some of us, want to be unified in peace, in not fighting. But the only way that happens is if one side dominates. Gets bigger than the circle so much so that the circle we are currently on together collapses.

We have this notion, as many a politician on both sides has expressed, that we are in the “battle for the soul of the nation.” Which implies, of course, that there is one single soul among all of us, that which we are “fighting for” which I suppose implies a fight over defining what our soul is, who we are, what we stand for, what our vision is for the future.

I assume it implies our soul is the best in us, of us, among us.

But “best” is what we do not seem to agree on. The definition of “best” for one side means justice, for the other injustice. For one side best means equality and for the other best means inequality. For one side it means fairness, honesty, truth, for the other it means cheating, rigging, stealing.

In a recent article in The Atlantic, Ibram X. Kendi speaks to the idea of the two souls of America. Justice and Injustice. That the battle is not for the soul of the nation but between the souls of the nation.

Kendi writes:

“Humans lie about themselves, like they lie about their nations. Humans and nations hide behind the cloak of ideals and intentions. But the outcome of what humans do and what nations do is never a lie. The outcome—what comes out of a nation’s policies, practices, and ideology—is what a nation breathes. Nations—like institutions and individuals—are not inherently anything. They are what they do. What they do is what they breathe. And what they breathe is their soul.”

I feel this. Because there are some things we cannot solve with a “reaching across the aisle.” There are certain people, certain groups, with which we cannot compromise. To do so would be to destroy our own dignity.

When one side holds a march led by white supremacists declaring their murderous violent hate, and none of the other members of that side, even if they claim to be less “extreme, ” loudly and vehemently demonstrate that that is not in fact who they are, what their soul is, then there can be no unity on a higher plane of existence.

We will remain unified only on a circle which permits this battle to continue in perpetuity. Round and around our diagonal line will go, and we will be unified without ever reaching each other.

Right now as I sit typing this, there is a tension in my chest. A tension in my being. Something telling me that only one side, one soul, can prevail. And obviously I do not have all the answers, but I am drawn to look deeper, to understand more clearly what it is we are up against, to think critically about this.

Because for now, it would seem we are only connected by the fight which is keeping us apart.

 

 

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Photo by Andre Benz

Killing Season: On Getting Through Election Week

Next week is gonna be a shit show. Even more than the last four years have been. The exploding culmination of all the corrupt entitlement, bigotry, lies, whining, blaming, killing, flailing, drama, chaos, wild accusations, scandal, deceit, sickness, and ignorance.

Our emotions will be played, manipulated, strung out, trampled, extorted, abused, and weaponized against us.

For weeks I have been counting down the days until Election Day in the USA. But the truth is ‘Election Day’ is now. It’s already happening. I think something like close to seventy million people have already voted in this country. An astoundingly large number of votes have already been cast and we still have five days to go before November 3rd.

It is heartening. And yet. The amount of anxiety that crawls beneath my skin is massive and constant. Fortunately for me (and I sincerely hope for you) I am surrounded by precious friends and family who help me to get through with laughter, love, and the strength that comes with the fabric of community.

I am lucky. I am privileged. I am blessed deeply. For this I am eternally grateful, and even still I never thought it would come to this. Not here. Not in America. Not in the land of the free and home of the brave, which is a sickeningly cliche thing to say, I know.

Why write any of this?

I’ve no clue if it is helping – me or you or anybody.

Because I can’t not write this. I can’t not capture in words the reality – the stark shrieking reality – of this time. This exact moment in history.

I write it as it happens knowing that very soon this time will be over, gone, swept away like grains of sand upon the winds of change.

We may have never thought it would come down to this one election which will decide the fate of our lives forever. Will we recover by trusting science and taking care of the least of us or will we be thrown into the darkest period we have ever known and possibly ever will, under the sadistic rule of a blood thirsty dictator.

We may never have thought this would be a choice to be made in our lifetimes. If you are like me, you are incredulous that this “choice” is so hard for some people to make.

But here we are.

It is what it is.

We have to play this as it lies.

We have anxiety and fear and disorientation.

But we also still have a voice. We still have power, resolve, community, hope, determination. We still get a vote and vote we will, and have, in massive numbers. Do not stop now. Do not stop ever.

Because this isn’t over on November 3rd. For myself, I am already practicing extreme self care in preparation for next week when every minute will be another shock, another surprise, another rant, another abuse of power.

What I keep believing in, though, is that what we are witness to is the final gasp of patriarchal power trying desperately, grossly, furiously, to keep its wrathful grip on a society which deep down it knows has already left it for dead.

We are not going back and we are not going away and we will not stop and we will not be silenced.

I don’t know what America will look like over the next three months, no one does. It is unthinkable yet highly likely that this president will tear us to shreds just for spite whether he loses or wins, concedes (ha) or doesn’t. He is already working quietly behind the chaotic scenes to dismantle the civil service, to gut and discredit the vital structures of science, environmentalism, social justice, journalism and many others, from the inside out.

Destruction. Demolition. Burn it all down, they don’t give a fuck about life of any kind. They are a cult of death, built on death, death as currency to gain more power and wealth.

But I do know that right now, recording this exact moment in time, while we all watch and wait and pray and guess and wonder AND VOTE, we can all feel that we have already been fundamentally changed forever.

We have been driven to the brink and forced to look ourselves square in the eye and answer for who we are, who we believe ourselves to be, what we expect not only of our leaders but of ourselves as leaders in this fight.

The next few months are gonna get ugly. But maybe if we acknowledge that now, we can take back a bit of our sanity ahead of time. Try to remind ourselves, over and over, that we will win.

No matter how long it takes.

 

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Photo by Annie Spratt 

 

 

 

Coming Clean: Say What Needs to Be Said

To speak your truth out loud changes the molecules of the atmosphere inside of you, and outside of you.

This is the part of writing that keeps writers coming back. It’s electrical. Molecular, biological. In the forming of the thoughts, the critical thinking, observations, research, the thirst and hunger for knowledge, for perspective.

Perhaps this is why those in the heights of power don’t want us to talk about politics. They don’t want us to imagine a better, fairer, kinder way.

They don’t want us to have a voice.

Because they know that once we have all of that, once we have a clear vision and the ability to articulate it compellingly, we become powerful, too. We become much harder to control, to silence, to intimidate, to crush.

As of this writing, there are fourteen days left until November 3rd. Once these fourteen days are over, they are gone forever. What has been said and done to bring about our future will have been said and done and laid to rest.

If there are things you feel bubbling up inside of you, truths you want to speak, influence you want to have over the outcome of this choice we must all make about the future of our country and the world, and the life we will lead going forward into 2021 and beyond, it is time to say them out loud.

The hard conversations. The pushing past our comfort zones to engage in a kind of speak that may be brand new, it may feel cumbersome, it may feel overwhelming.

It is time to say the thing that up until now you were afraid to say.

To make little quakes in the universe with your thoughts and words and feelings. To electrify the atmosphere within and around you. To alter the biology of this nation, this society, this collective experiment.

A strange and oddly beautiful thing has happened to me over the course of the past few weeks as I endeavored to express my perspectives and observations, views and feelings, surrounding the upcoming US election.

I knew it would be unsettling in some ways for me to speak about politics in such naked fashion, to essentially say the things I had been thinking inside silently for so long.

What I did not expect or see coming was how I would be changed, transformed, even, by doing so. When you go where you feel you don’t belong and stick it out, you find you do belong. You belong everywhere, in all things, in all situations, where you feel called to be.

Not because you are a savior or prophet or some sort of anointed guru with all the answers, but because you are human. All of this world is your world. All of the topics are your topics to wrangle with should you so choose.

This is not just about one election. This is about your life. What you allow yourself to be and become. What you believe matters. What is at the very heart and soul and core of you.

Will you speak the truth even if your voice shakes? Even if it means you will have to stand alone in some instances? Stand out and stand up?

The days are growing short and the time is now or never. Perhaps the person you want to be is the person you are already.

You just have to say it out loud.

 

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Photo by Taylor Harding

Why You Gotta Talk So Much Politics?

Sunday morning.

The sky is ice blue behind electric orange trees, leaves rustling slightly in the cool autumn air.

The past week was chaotic, loud, confusing, and intense. It has been many weeks like this and I know the one ahead will only be different because the madness will increase exponentially from now until election day, and then still beyond that.

Trump will not go quietly, graciously, or with decency. He will claw and fight and rage and gnash his filthy teeth to get what he wants. To hold tight to power with childish stubby little fists.

We know this. In fact, it is one of the few things about him you can count on. Rage. Lies. Jealousy. Vicious cruelty, criminality, corruption.

And so it is.

I light a pine scented candle, sip my coffee, open my laptop and begin to write.

In times like these, when the spirit is relentlessly drained each and every day, each and every hour, I have to remind myself to breathe. I have to be vigilant not only about what is happening outside and around me, but also inside me.

I feel everything underneath my skin. Creatives always do. Our senses are heightened, we see not only with our eyes, but with everything we are made of, everything that we are.

I know the week ahead will be full of hope and energy, a fierceness of purpose, an ever sharpening eye on the prize. We must win this election. And we must never stop fighting with compassion to right the wrongs of our past and present, and give all of our hearts, minds, souls, bodies, talents, to creating a future worthy of our little ones, our children, and our highest selves.

Someone asked me the other day why my writing has “gotten so political.” And I laughed at first, shunning the ignorance of that question. How can it not? I think to myself. What else could it or should it possibly be in times like these?

But then I did take pause.

And as I sit here looking out over the rooftops and up into the bright sky blue with promise and possibility and great great heights, it occurs to me that everything is political.

From the air we breathe to the art we make to the words we speak.

It’s just that maybe we only notice its fever pitch when we are fighting for our lives.

 

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Photo by Kharytonova Antonina

This Is How It Happens Here

On November 3rd we vote for a system of American government.

We choose between democracy or fascism. Republic or dictatorship.

A life of hope and freedom and possibility or a life of cruelty and imprisonment and injustice.

What continues to astound me is how many people do not see this.

And I wonder, do they see it but don’t believe it?

Do they think it could never happen here?

American exceptionalism is not a real thing, though we have been taught to believe in it.

We are not exceptions to the rules of humanity, we are not immune to the insidious takeover of authoritarianism.

Any society made ripe with fear and division, crime and deception and greed, will collapse into chaos.

Under the right conditions, any body will break.

All flesh will tear.

We are made of the same stuff as any other body, any other country.

Just as vulnerable.

This is how it happens.

Is happening.

We are in it.

And this election won’t heal the wound.

But at the very least

we have got to stop the bleeding.

Vote.

 

 

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Photo by Ewelina Karezona Karbowiak

Liar, Liar: Why We Must Protect the Integrity of Speech

As writers, we have talked about why we must protect our freedom of speech. But what I think doesn’t get near the attention it should is not just the right to  freedom of speech but the necessity of the integrity of speech.

The integrity of speech meaning to speak the truth, even and especially when it is hard. Even and especially when it is inconvenient and uncomfortable. To speak the truth as the first priority in the relationship.

The integrity of speech means using language to bring people together rather than divide them. Knowing the best way to do that is to be both compassionate and transparent.

To be honest with people is to respect them. We are all adults in the room. We can handle anything so long as you give it to us straight.

This is how to build a society around trust, which is the strongest bond there is between any two people, any two groups, any two nations.

What we have lost over the last four years is the trust of our nation’s people, our ability to respect each other, listen to each other, protect each other.

We have lost our allies around the globe for the same reason. Lack of integrity. The president is incapable of understanding the value of community. He is incapable of empathy. He is incapable of using language and communication to unite people, protect people, honor people.

He is incapable of keeping his word, which, by nature of the office he holds, is our word.

His words become our words when we elect a man to speak for us.

His lies become our lies. His delusions become our fears, our confusion, our crippled and dwindling power.

We must be extremely discerning when it comes to giving a president – or anyone – such awesome power to speak for us. Trump is a liar and a conman. That is all he has ever been and none of it will change because it can’t. He can’t.

On November 3rd (26 days away as of this writing) we vote for integrity, transparency, truth, community, unity, true power.

We have seen the alternative. And I’m pretty sure most of us would agree we’ve seen too much.

And at the same time, not nearly enough.

 

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Photo by Gerardo Marrufo 

Dissonance

Everything is nerves. The coffee tastes sick, or maybe that’s the bile churning in my stomach. In my throat. My mind is chewed up inside the newsfeed as it makes of me, my neuroses, my tendencies, my addictions, a feast.

I am studied. I am a study.

I do not know how I feel because I feel so much I have had to go numb to survive. A little bit, I just breathe a little bit. Everything in small bites, tiny sound bites like a digital water torture I sign myself up for. Sign myself into. Login. Pay for. Pay handsomely for.

Somewhere across town a panicked woman watches a panicked man flashing on the screen and validates her own fears against his. Fear is manufactured, you know? They promised manufacturing jobs would return.

The coffee is cold as I shiver beneath my nest of blankets, window open to the chilled autumn air coming off the street. Inside the room inside my mind I feel the tension rise and fall with the spinning in my belly. The cognitive dissonance of these days is jarring. The threat is overwhelming because it is us.  The line between existing and not has always been us.

We are an experiment. We are the cure and the disease. We are the lab and the secretions. The junkie and the drug.

It’s finally fall which means we are finally done with the wretched scorch of the sun. I’ll take the razor sharp blue sky, the orange blaze of another season burning by. I adore the changing leaves, crimson cinnamon air, and the frigid ocean waves glittering in dazzling white morning light.

And all the while, the terror. A family torn apart. Entire lives and their dreamers, up in smoke. Comedians. Fundraisers. Artists. Soldiers. Models. Click bait. Murder. Botox. Kitchen supplies.

The pornography of a life distorted. Voided out. Blocked.

And I know I have to try. And I know they tell me it’s ‘now more than ever.’

I know it’s how they want us. Colliding with ourselves inside.

 

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Photo by Omid Armin

 

Geometry of Desire

We come to understand the triangulation of desire. We see the lover, the beloved, and the obstacle which separates them from one another. Desire requires this separation, without it the structure of Eros collapses in upon itself.

The lovers wish to remove the barrier, dissolve the boundaries, to become one. This is the nature of the craving, the need for union, the longing for dissolution of the boundary. The aching for sacred violation.

And this, of course, is impossible. All time cannot be removed between the two, all space cannot be destroyed, for we are human creatures, bodies and minds and souls, made of our own flesh and bone and skin and psyche.

We are destined to remain within ourselves, to remain individual selves. All the while, within each of us, a longing which can never be fulfilled, never be satisfied.

There are some of us who seek for even the slightest satiation of these needs, sparking, burning, flashing in the dark.

And here we have the poetry that is desire. The poetics of loss, of need, of want, of the tragic beauty of the bittersweet emptiness.

Star gazers. Seekers of knowledge, tasters of the forbidden fruit. Practitioners of the art of seduction.

We beckon, we sing our siren songs for no one who can save us from ourselves.

Ouroboros.

Desirer of the desire, wanter of the want.

 

 

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Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy

 

Finding Myself: Reflections On Self-Transformation During Quarantine

“Getting lost was not a matter of geography so much as identity, a passionate desire, even an urgent need, to become no one and anyone, to shake off the shackles that remind you who you are, who others think you are.”
― Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

As I move through the days, I realize more and more that I feel desperate for a world that is more thoughtful, contemplative, aware, awakened, transformed. Desperation, though, is not anything I can work with, this wishing for a different kind of world, as that is not within my control. What I can work with, however, is myself. So I am taken recently with the idea of doing inner work with myself in a way I wish society and the outer world at large would take the time to do before emerging from this gruesome pandemic. You see, I don’t want to go blindly back, I want to move forward transformed. And my fear is that too many people want the former even as I am starved for the latter. I am hungry for a transformation of some kind to take place both within and around me.

I have admired Rebecca Solnit for so many years I can’t even recall when I first was introduced to her work, save to say it was a long while ago. But I had never before read her incredibly eloquent, insightful book A Field Guide to Getting Lost. It has come into my life just a few days ago and met me exactly where I am in my -sometimes/often rattled- mind and soul. (Incidentally, the irony of a book about being lost finding me where I am in the dark right now is not. . . ahem, lost on me.)

There is a quote by Henry David Thoreau which I find quite poignant: “Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves,” that resonates very deeply and profoundly with me in this present moment, some nine weeks into isolation. In a sense, I do feel I have lost the world, lost connection to it, not completely of course, but very much so in many ways. And I find it such a gift to have this extended period of time to turn inward, to take the journey into my own heart and mind and ask the big existential questions. What is most important to me in my life? What is my purpose here? What will I do with my gifts, interests, passions, ideas, thoughts, visions? What do I want to explore moving forward into a brand new phase of life, expression, creativity?

I am privileged to be able to spend time inside of myself with very little outside stress. I am safe, many are not. And I cringe every time I hear someone say “We just need to get back to normal.” I physically wince inside as though I have been struck because I am afraid of the grave mistake of going back to the old idea of normal. The idea that we need to rush to the end of a major global catastrophe and quickly forget it ever even happened. Well, I don’t want the world to forget. I don’t want to forget. And I don’t want to rush out. Not out of my house, not out of this moment in this one precious life of mine when so much is being revealed, our weaknesses exacerbated and our strengths tested at every turn. I want to sink inward and search for what I need to find, what I need to understand about what this experience is teaching me. Turn toward what is calling to me to be still and listen, to learn, to be made new. I want to be changed. Opened. I seek answers. Revelations. Insights. Discoveries. Magic. Mystery. We are all lost right now. We are surrounded by the unforeseen, the unknown, and the unknowable. Isn’t this where rich art is born? Out of uncertainty? Out of the searching for the secrets within? Out of being lost, and found, by ourselves in darkness?

In a beautifully elegant passage from A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Solnit writes:

“Edgar Allen Poe declared, ‘All experience in matters of philosophical discovery, teaches us that, in such discovery, it is the unforeseen upon which we must calculate most largely.’ Poe is consciously juxtaposing the word ‘calculate’ which implies a cold counting up of the facts or measurements, with ‘the unforeseen,’ that which cannot be measured or counted, only anticipated. How do you calculate upon the unforeseen? It seems to be an art of recognizing the role of the unforeseen, of keeping your balance amid surprises, of collaborating with chance, of recognizing there are some essential mysteries in the world and thereby a limit to calculation, to plan, to control. To calculate the unforeseen is perhaps exactly the paradoxical operation that life most requires of us.” (emphasis mine)

For me, this is the very essence of the creation of art of every kind. A collaboration with chance, with the dare, with the unknown, the unseen. An acceptance, and even a welcoming, rather than a rejection or denial of the unforeseen, the incalculable, the mysterious force with which we interact in order to transform and be transformed.

“In her novel Regeneration, Pat Barker writes of a doctor who ‘knew only too well how often the early stages of change or cure may mimic deterioration. Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay.” Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost (emphasis mine)

We have, in a sense, lost the world, lost contact with much of it. Lost control of much of it. Lost the illusions of a control we thought we had but in truth never did. We are experiencing grief, rupture, disintegration, decay. I don’t want to have gone through all of this mind bending upheaval and have learned nothing, to have nothing to show for it, nothing to emerge with when we see each other again. I want to find the gifts of this moment in time, brutal, surprising, breathtaking, and honest as they may be. Through all the heartache, I need to know it was worth something. That there is something in me I can still give, and a place within me which is still open to receiving.

The truth is, there is no going back, there never is. And I wouldn’t want there to be. I want to move forward, to be transformed into a new person, a new being with deeper awareness and intimate insights and renewed perspectives on everything. I want that for myself and I want it for the world. But I can only take care of myself. So I start in my own mind, my own body, my own spirit, my own soul. I read about getting lost and more and more, I am finding the deep abiding wisdom which can only be revealed in silence, in isolation. I cling to the hope of my soul’s voice, as wide as an ocean, wild, powerful, roaring, steady, ancient, shimmering in the dark.

 

Pet

Perhaps what frightens me most is not having done it well enough to feel complete before I’m erased from this mad place for good. Perhaps I overcompensate, cut off my nose just to spite my face. The way I write the words like tossing smooth rose petals one by velvet one into the void which only widens as the time rolls on. Words like sharp knives flick themselves in my chest, trail little fires along the blue veins in my wrist. The mountains we scale inside our old cavernous souls, searching ourselves for signs of a life worth living, a life that is ours and ours alone. The blood we spill, the tears we cry, the tears which refuse to come and instead bloom into addiction, hidden hauntings, long halls of vibrating thoughts on repeat, on repeat, on repeat. The lovers we take into our darkened caves. Kiss them, fill them, tease them, kill them, walk away. I’m not looking for a savior. I don’t need your plastic Jesus Christ. If what’s within me isn’t enough already then I’ve got nothing more to offer you. Take this skin, take these bones and carry them off into the setting sun as it swallows this wracked planet down whole. It was Bukowski, of course, who nailed it: Don’t try. In some obscure interview decades ago he said it, That’s very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It’s like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks, you make a pet out of it. How many have made a pet out of me. Fastened me with a slick leather leash and told me to crawl. Stroked my little animal head and led me straight into the pleasures of the moonlit gardens of hell.