Tag Archives: self-importance

Memory is the Greatest Weapon

Memory is the greatest weapon in love’s mad arsenal.

I wrote that line when I was 26 years old. It still rings true – although as I get older it seems often it is a weapon for good, a defensive rather than offensive tool. Like vision, which has so many words related to falsehood – illusion, deception, misperception, memory is often associated with failure or more accurately, betrayal. Our memory of events, people, ourselves over time is the only database we truly have to catalog and create, of out some great Aristotaliatarian urge for order, the meaning of our lives; that is to say, the context of what we perceive to be our living – or as RD Laing put it, our “experience of living”.

It may be that the failing of our memory as we age, rather than a curse, is an infinite blessing. Much like the edges of a scene are washed out and lost as a light is brought closer and closer to it, perhaps as we approach nearer and nearer to the infinite we, like a cosmological deer caught in the headlights, lose our periphery as a mechanism for focusing us on what’s next, what’s beyond: a re-merging or reemerging with the light of pure energy. It’s an idea, anyway. It explains end-of-life lapses, maybe, but does it justify what seems to be a complete forgetting of what it means to be young, to feel free to make mistakes, to imagine oneself ten feet high and bulletproof (or conversely, to lack enough imagination to see negative outcomes as well as ephemeral pipe dreams) – that bitter cynicism that seems to latch onto us when we see our children grow up, when the salary increases don’t come, when the first world problems of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and bad cholesterol turn our muscle to fat, our burning young blood to sludge, and our thoughts to preservation instead of rebellion? Winston Churchill quipped, “If you’re young and conservative, you have no heart. If you’re old and liberal, you have no brains.” Isn’t there a middle ground? More importantly, if in fact you become conservative, shouldn’t part of that stewardship be to preserve (as in keep alive, not as in pickling) the ideas, energy, and purpose of one’s own youth? To at least, remember it as a necessary force in getting you to your current state?

Remembering one’s life, however, requires something a little more than simple memory, especially if that memory is limited to dates and times and places, a rote classification like that required in learning history in school. Writing that kind of history requires the author to be equal parts archaeologist, anthropologist, historian, philosopher, and demagogue. Because what’s important to a history, we are always taught, is the key milestones, decisions, and events – the turning points in a journey. What’s important to your own life, I suppose, is where those milestones, decisions, and events lead. But what’s interesting to anyone at all is none of those things. It’s the journey we want to hear about – the means, not the ends.

Of course, this flies in the face of everything we know about success, about what makes it and what it isn’t. Success, so many of us think, particularly in the West, is the bottom line. The balance sheet. The physical (and far too often) monetary legacy. An inheritance that can be passed on without too much bother, or effort, on the part of the beneficiaries. Sounds cold and unfeeling. Perhaps it is. But since the only way to pass on the intangibles is to share their experience, so that they become part of the beneficiary’s consciousness and history as well.

And for that, the best a personal history can do is make suggestions, offer clues, share if not the physical roadmap from here to there, then at least the names of the shops where such maps may be sought.

Memory is both an ally and adversary, both mirror and shadow. We have a tendency to remember ourselves as either more heroic, or more absolutely ordinary, than the reality of ourselves experienced by others at the time – our contemporaries, or people who existed (and perhaps still exist) in a shared, same time and space. It’s easy enough to cherry pick the highlights, after all, from the advantage of hindsight – when we are perhaps self-satisfied enough to put a blithe label on success and failure. In this sense, we are like self-examining anthropologists (which is by the very act of crossing the line between the Observer and Observed, an extreme breach of anthropological etiquette). When we look back and examine the artifact (i.e., artificial fact) of a past experience, there is a choice to either apply the worldview we have now, or imagine a remembrance of our worldview then, and interpret the motivation, action, and outcome of our history accordingly. Our interpretation then casts us as hero or villain, genius or idiot, by the yardstick of today only. There is never a clear connection between the fool that was and the fool that is. To make that connection requires a humility that an autobiographer lacks in the first place. You cannot, after all, trace the evolution of the intangible without using a tangible paradigm. And even those paradigms have their limitations – as my wife demanded in elementary school when told there were only three undefined terms (in geometry), the point, line and plane, “Define love.”

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Don’t Believe the Hype

The world is suffering and pain
or so the Buddhists say
but with control of mind and flesh
for some, it goes away

Not for the tree, or rock or mouse
does this travail desist;
nay, ’tis for man, and man alone,
the top dog on the list

For man deserves a better fate
than to compete, and die;
and thus, all man’s misguided myths
are built upon a lie.

The lie is whispered in our cribs:
that this world is our toy,
and that each field of grass is less
than one grand girl or boy

And so we use, abuse and waste
our time upon this earth.
Instead of finding balance,
giving back, we make it worse.

How did we get here? And what for?
These questions, our tales say,
end in the right of human might
that does not see the play

of life and death in which we’re cast
where we believe our press
and act in spite of natural law
that teaches, more or less

That every thing that lives requires
the death of other things,
and in the end will make an end
of pawns, as well as kings

This suffering we dwell upon
disturbs us each, because
we think ourselves, mankind, exempt
from nature’s violent flaws.

And so, we ponder future states
where all is just and fair
instead of realizing that
we are already there.

This world was not conceived for man
to do with as he please;
his grand appearance made less ripple
than a passing breeze.

To think your kind has rights to more
than any other type
is just misguided myth, not fact.
Please, don’t believe the hype.

04 AUG 2004

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No Critique Requested

So many poets trace, or seek to trace the root
of their art back in time, but just so far;
and would attempt to judge all verse to suit
their own agendas. Doing this, they scar

just the veneer, the surface of our craft,
by quoting others’ rules, like “show, don’t tell”;
throughout the ages, true poets have laughed
at limitations that disdain the well

of inspiration that knows not of schools,
of petty squabbles that divide with scorn
the select few from all the rest. What fools
think they decide what makes good form?

The work of poets starts first with the tale,
spoken aloud, and then put down in books;
to show, not tell, like television, pales
its gift for message, and relies on looks

to transmit to a world that cannot see
beyond its own small, self-enamored frame;
into this setting, the false sense of free
expression is not proud and strong, but lame.

For poetry is far more ancient than
the movement touting art for just art’s sake;
it must encompass all that is human
experience, or it is a mistake.

And it must tell a story, even though
there is no audience that seeks to learn,
and stand its ground, despite foul winds that blow,
to keep alight what flame in us still burns.

As for the countless journals, zines and such
that would critique using a focused knife:
To poetry, they do not matter much;
They represent its corpse, and not its life.

16 JUL 2004

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Dathy Pahka and the Couscous Bauble

We sit in circles, crop circles, like silver-clad heroes at Arthur’s table, dark knights of the soul of verse, our words colliding in the jousts of wit and criticism. Is it the flame that draws us moths to it, and so we dance in the flickering candlelight, hoping to stay entranced and yet remain un-scorched? Like ashes on the forehead can remind us of our lone and bitter days, days when we thought “if I could only be accepted, if they would only listen” and so drank ourselves silly in the inconsequentiality of the moment, we titter, stumble, laugh and tumble against the cold, hard steel of our truths, our realities.

And in the end, we want of wealth, of fame, of power, of “don’t I know you from somewhere” and “weren’t you with…last seasons” and “oh, I thought your last…was simply marvelous” and so on and so forth and furthermore and insofar and even if it mattered, even just one smattering of an insignificant jot of ink that spilled on blotting paper or stained the index finger rather than died its immortal death on the crucifix of watermarks and typesetters’ thorns – yes, even if that could save our tortured souls from waking in a world we could not evade with our descriptions, make light of in our comedic stances, would we want to pass it by, relinquish our hold on that which makes us realize how much we need to simply create, to form, to place under our power that experience of living, of dying, of falling down drunk in an alley watching our world crumble in half empty tea cups?

Written, it seems so concrete, so decisive and bold – yet it is the journal of a hallucination, created in our minds and carried out on the gurney of the flesh into the streets we barely recognize, and the stones in the pavement do not glint or glitter as we remember them, nor so brightly as they can.

An in our drunken haze we drop our curtsies and highballs half-full of the contraband elixir we consider our inspiration – and we ask for it by name in the password prose of prayer: give me three or four rounds of Dark (and often cloudy and thick swirling dark it is), and then a couple of clear and crystal Brights for the road, the road I must trod down in inebriated, lucid celebration of my inhibited yearnings. I want, I announce to the “wicked and expedient stones,” the world of my choice, of my creation: a world where one can morally possess a mind and venture to speak it, a world where social conventions are gatherings of gregarious and yet not sheep-like folk who know not only which fork to use with the salad, but which one to take at the bend in the road that leads to funny or witty, separating dull chortles from mirthful laughter.

Laughter, yes, and tears that come from excess – these are the signs by which we will be known; and they shall sing our praises while they curse us, hound us for mementos while they scour the tabloids for our inadequacies, and read until the wee hours of morning each drop of saccharine and strychnine we draw from our veins with the prick of a vengeful pen.


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History Lessons

Well, my mom is visiting for a few days, having driven 2,500 miles on a cross-country jaunt to see not only me, but my sister in Tennessee, uncles and cousins in Cincinnati, the farm in Forest and then friends in Madison, WI and back across the country to San Diego.

She brought with her a number of interesting things, as she is in the process of sorting through everything in her house and distributing items to myself and my siblings. One of those things was a box of my writings dating back as far as 30 years, including but not limited to, song Lyrics, short stories, school essays, drawings, etc. Much of this I gave to my parents for safe-keeping when I moved to Boston in 1991 – but other parts of it were part of a much earlier trove of collected stuff. High school journals, elementary school skits, and so on. After plowing through this compendium of teen angst, I find myself more and more in agreement with Wallace Stevens on the matter of a poet’s subject being bestowed congenitally. Were this not the case, I don’t know how I could have touched upon certain themes, expressed in certain ways, as I find in even some of my earliest efforts. Of course, there is a great deal of schlock to be unearthed in these, and equal parts precocity and absorption with and of the culture of the times (mostly the mid to late 70s and early 80s). But there are some gems there. Some that barely require the shaping of the jeweler’s tools. As I rediscover them, I’ll be adding them to this site, which ultimately serves as the touchstone for all things artistic throughout my life.

I also revise my earlier comparison with W.B. Yeats. One thing that we both share is a somewhat conceited relatively unshakable belief in our own genius (LOL). One thing that I lack that certainly assisted Yeats in proving that greatness to others is the propensity and capacity for self-advertisement, for putting my name out there in whatever form possible. Or maybe these found writings of mine illustrate otherwise – because certainly there is much that I have written throughout my life for the purpose of including others in my version of reality. Hmm…

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