the meaning of life, what happens when you die, and other dumb questions

Here’s the scoop. Life on Earth is indeed hard AF, and there’s a reason for that: because we need it to be, and we make sure it continues to be. But let’s back up one sec.

Energy comes in degrees of physicality. Everything is made up of energy, but some energy is more dense, more measurable by human tools, more visible. The heaviest, densest energy is a rock, which is super interesting, and then a little further along the spectrum you get your average mammal. This is energy that requires physicality, and also requires complexity and conflict.

Physicality provides unique opportunities. To combat, to overcome, to enjoy desire and sex and deliciousness, to feel the sun on your face.

Physicality is the result of strong emotion. It is strong emotion. You feel, you want, you need. All these things weigh you down and keep you alive. We call these dreary challenges “the reality of life,” and yet it is only the reality of human life. It is unlikely that the average tiger, parrot, or fern spends a lot of time wishing it were really a basketball player.

Only the human has optional desires, like being taller, or richer, or more lovable.

All life forms desire to eat, procreate, and maintain the other basic requirements to remain alive. Only humans want add-ons.

We are here to explore the mess. We want mess. It’s why we became human. Pretending to “rise above,” feign intellectual superiority, or stifle emotions are just ways to buy time. Distractions like drugs, shopping and booze are also just buying time. You have serious things you need to experience. Until you do, you’ll continue to suffer.

Some of these experiences are pleasant. Some aren’t. Sometimes growth comes from letting yourself be loved; sometimes it comes from experiencing rejection. This ebb and flow is so hard to live through, and yet live it you must.

The only way out of this mess is to be in the mess.

Some may accomplish enough in one lifetime, some may need lifetime after lifetime. Maybe we take breaks, playing harps in the cosmos. Maybe we come back occasionally as dolphins. Who knows, and frankly, who cares. It doesn’t matter to those of us who are here, what happens when we are not here. What matters is that we have shit to do, and do it we must.

Over time, you will do it more awesomely. You do it with more love, more patience. You make fewer mistakes. You do more. You gain the add-ons you desired, or you realize you no longer needed them. You grow your hair out, spiritually seeking, and you learn to breathe from the tips of your toes.

You learn to look a stranger in the eye and truly see her.

You learn to hear the higher voices.

You learn when to wait, and when to act.

Over time, the weariness becomes curiosity, frustration becomes acceptance.

You grow.

And as you grow, you become less. Less real, less physical. Less needy, less desirous. You carry fewer emotions, toss aside preconception. Your appetites forget themselves.

For as you grow, you discover the hunger is sated by what comes without hunting. What has no taste tastes most flavorful. What has no value seems richest.

So,
watching the sunset one evening,
you fade
into the other side.

love, sex and other comestibles

He sat down at his favorite Italian place and ordered his favorite pasta and a beer. College basketball played silently from a discreet TV in the corner. A couple nearby were in a huddle over a plate of bruschetta. His buddy Sean, whom he’d known since high school, was behind the bar.

Just a nice, quiet Friday night.

When she came in, it was close to midnight and the place was empty but for a birthday group on its third bottle of wine. She sat down with a stool between them and Sean poured her a glass of white.

Small talk developed. Relaxed, he let slip a controversial opinion. He felt like Seattle was becoming a cultural dictatorship, so occasionally he liked to test someone. See how easy it would be to offend their PC sensibilities.

To his surprise she was not only not offended, she agreed, rejoined in fact. They took it further. Next thing he knew she had scooted over to the stool next to his, and he had ordered her another glass, and then…

He remembered to mention his fiancee. She remembered she had a ferry to catch. And as quickly as their connection had been made, it was over. She was gone. He paid Sean for his meal. Friday night ended with him walking home to walk his dog, and with her vowing to herself to time her evenings better so that she wasn’t stuck killing time with interesting strangers.

Strangers who had other commitments.

Notes from the island: Amie

She was starting to feel like she was alone in a crowd, singing a song no one could understand. Nearly every day she found herself wishing she could better articulate one simple point:
Calm down. It will all be okay.

Ironically, in a city gone mad, that seemingly simple point was harder to make than any complex legal argument. Try telling the man staggering up the street, drunk at 9am, that it will all be okay. Try telling the people driving like bats out of hell to jobs downtown that it will all be okay. Try telling your coworkers that, or your mother, or even your cat.

Driving off the ferry one night, safe from the rage-filled city, she felt inclined toward a whiskey ginger. Into the dive she walked, wondering how many stories in her life began with “I walked into a bar,” or ended with, “And then I paid my tab and went home.” She couldn’t seem to escape the reality that no matter what else was going on in her life, one solution was always to sit down on that stool.

If only she had such faith in other spiritual practices, like yoga, or helping at a soup kitchen.

But this was another question she could ponder over ice.

Fiddling with her phone, she remembered that she had uninstalled all her social networking apps, like Instagram and Facebook. In a fit of enlightenment, she had realized that these supposedly social tools were actually preventing her from socializing. The only way to explore this theory had been to uninstall them. Toying with the idea of now re-installing one just for something to look at, she sighed.

Forcing herself to test her hypothesis, she set down her phone, walked over to the group of folks at the other end of the bar, and asked them how their night was going.

She was soon ensconced at the corner stool, discussing everything from Utah to Hawaii, software to poetry, suicide to morality. This was what always tempted her to return to a good dive: it was the most likely place you could have philosophical conversations.

And it was better than an app.

It was revealed to her that she shared her name with one of the bartender’s children, who had committed suicide as a teenager several years before. He elaborated, describing how and when and why. Inhaling, she felt no need to run away from the conversation. This was an opportunity to practice articulating her inarticulate song.

She said, “I feel the need to say something presumptuous.”

He waved his beer at her in invitation.

“I have always struggled with anxiety and depression. I know a little bit about what inclines someone toward suicide. What you’re describing… the way he did it, and his reason… there was something in his wiring. If he hadn’t done it then, it would have been a year later, or five.”

“That’s what his sister says,” he told her.

“But you feel guilty,” she pressed on.

“There is some of that,” he agreed, and joked without humor, “That’s why I come here.”

She suggested he think about letting go of that.

She didn’t really know if he could have done things differently. She just knew with utter confidence that it no longer mattered. His guilt now only served to keep him on that bar stool with that pint glass.

If she was ever going to get off her stool, she had to find a way to show people that it would all be okay. Even when it most profoundly was not. It was simply a song she could not get out of her head.

He thanked her, patted her shoulder, and bought her another drink. A stocky regular sat down with them. They chatted about her recent move to the island. And then “Amie” came on the jukebox.

Together without discussion the three of them began to sing along, and sang every chorus to the end.

For 4:23 minutes, life was completely, unreservedly okay.

The husky fellow held out his large hand to shake hers, saying, “Welcome to the island.”

She paid her tab and went home.

Grandpa

My grandfather is a difficult man. He has expressed, over the years, hatred of every type of person from women (father of three daughters) to African Americans to homosexuals to Native Americans. The worst human being in his view is the liberal female politician, since she is crazy, stupid, and in power.

He’s always been cool with Martha Stewart, though.

He’s in his 80s and health issues start to pile up now. 6’4″ and hale for most of his life, working in construction since childhood, he’s only started to seem “old” in the past few years. His mom lived to 89 with a retiree’s diet of vodka, Twinkies and “Wheel of Fortune,” but he’s outlived both his father and brother by many years.

For a long time I had nothing left to say to my grandpa. I couldn’t forgive him, as an adult making my own way in a still-sexist world, for raising my mom and aunts to think they were useless girls.

I couldn’t forgive him for programming my brilliant mother to see herself as emotionally troublesome and useless outside the house.

Now, many years have passed and journeys taken. I don’t necessarily believe in forgiveness, especially towards someone who has never sought it from anyone in his life. This is not a post about how I can see the old guy’s point of view, generational differences, letting go of anger, blah blah blah.

I don’t have much emotion left, and I do not excuse a man of any generation for holding his daughter as lesser than a son.

But.

My grandpa’s having a tough go right now and I had to admit to myself that I do care. Here’s why.

He’s John Wayne.

I know that sounds like I’m romanticizing, but it’s true. He looks just like him. He hunts, builds, tilts his head to one side before making a joke. He has this restrained way of refusing to express an opinion, (assuming it’s about a subject close to home, and not Hillary Clinton).

He was still working on his own roof at, like, 70.

Maybe I’m still influenced by one time I was hanging out in his shop with him and a cousin. I was 9 or 10, and I heard him mutter a swear word – my grandparents don’t swear. Next thing I know Grandma is taking him to the hospital because he’s cut the tip of his finger off on his table saw.

Another fingertip went about fifteen years later. Context: He was 65, 70. I date men now who can’t go a week late on their haircut without complaining, and god forbid you need help with anything involving a drill.

I quote him when ranting about Seattle’s inability to deal with traffic and public transit issues.

I get the same pissed off, “Get off my property” rebellious anger when dealing with bureaucrats – they don’t teach you that in the postwar world. It is deep and it is genetic. A pacifist, I wonder sometimes at my quiet inclination to maybe, quietly, get some shooting lessons. Just in case.

Where does this come from? Many will say, attitude is not genetic, but they’ve found now that trauma impacts your DNA. Can roofing a house at 14 give you a feirceness you pass on, even if to a “dumb” granddaughter?

He does not see me as dumb. But I feel that if I had taken his opinions seriously, growing up, I would have been. I feel I had to make my capability a non-issue.

Maybe he’d say his dad made him feel the same way.

I’m trying, struggling, to express a true dichotomy. Is it love if someone is woven through you? Even if that person has, at best, come to respect you in your third decade because you gave him no option?

Even if, at best, he has forgotten how to hate and now just wants to chill the fuck out.

I have no words of redemption for my grandfather. But his ethos has influenced mine. Not the hate, but definitely the determination.

What can I say? John Wayne was beloved for a reason, Republican bastard though he was.

Maybe he’ll make 90 and I’ll read this to him.

Friday Night Teddy Bear

She fantasized that she could walk into Salty’s and find him with a beer and a drunk buddy discussing some deep subject like whether pink lures worked better than purple ones. He would act surprised to see her, attaching great significance to her arrival, and say something idiotic about how they were meant to be together. She would sit down with her own drink and assure him they were not.

But in this fantasy she would take him home. She would do this because sex with him was like being with an extremely ferocious teddy bear, a combination she had longed for for some time.

It appeared to be impossible for her to want a normal love with a normal man. Whenever she got frustrated with the obsessive, melodramatic men she knew, the type of men for whom reality was a highly optional endeavor, she would remind herself that in her daily life she encountered just as many cheerful, well-adjusted men. They just bored her to death.

And this was probably the crux of it: she didn’t want a relationship. She wanted a Netflix series of a man, a bingeable drama that you could also pause or mute. She wanted a love that was wild and true and could be turned off when it was time to go to work.

In the meantime, he wasn’t at Salty’s, and she could never just call him up. That would be too easy. So she paid her tab, and drove home. To her TV.

Dusk

The moment
when the setting sun
gives color to the sky,
and you pause to name
the shade of blue.
The moment you decide
between a joke and a glance,
to bring someone home,
(if they’ll let you).
The moment
each morning
you get out of bed.
Dawn to dusk,
alone or entwined,
you breathe as expected,
but now
and then
you choose to
inhale.

the suitcase

Do you remember when I
had a life?
A lover once told me he liked
finding himself in my blog,
turning up in my story.
I don’t have lovers anymore.
I don’t have the elasticity
to let a man
make room in my heart.
The women who remain have
super-elastic hearts,
big enough for
all comers.
That must be fun.
I once wrote, sincerely, “a stranger is just a friend
you haven’t met yet.”
Now I keep strangers right there,
right in the heart
of strangerdom.
This is the land of
no rights and
no sympathy.
The land of
separate homes,
distant kitchens,
unknown bedsheets.
I do not learn the soap
you favor,
or the beer you keep in your fridge.
I stay apart.
I do this so that I never have to leave you.
But a suitcase
makes a weary lover.