Always

1.

When four wheels carried us

To rivers split by stepping stones

Together for a time

Your black strands whipping

Dancing by day

Each arched footfall

the drumbeat

 

I dreamed of you

Under falling lotus petals

I gave you my bed, held

The space between

Fingers that could interlock

 

2.

When we passed through gates

I crossed the border

Scandalously dressed

We broke the rules together

 

I placed the wedge

You swung the hammer

Red hair like you loved to brighten my blue

Keep coming back

 

3.

At twenty-three the curtain lifted

I returned without limits

Knew myself –

I desired my dust to be mingled with yours

Forever and forever, and forever

 

And now

Dust clouds underfoot

Learning to linger

Counting breaths

Call me Gautama

Maybe next time

Tara

 

 

via Daily Prompt: Youth

How to Stop Destroying Ourselves: Step One

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.  ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. ~

I just downloaded four new apps for streaming news onto my iPhone. A good writer reads, I figured.

A list of headlines:

“In Baton Rouge… shooting… shooting…”

“… Civil Rights Protests…”

“Chinese nanny beaten…”

“Germany fears…”

“…allegedly raped again…”

“… Bring more weapons.”

Get the point?

I was at my on-campus job yesterday, sitting in the back room during a period of downtime. My iPhone news headlines feed – which displays four stories at a time – all promoted “news” about the recent Baton Rouge incident, cops vs. people, and racial oppositions.

I made a mention, a comment. My grandma always told me keeping my mouth shut was my weakness.

A group of four co-workers, myself included, launched ourselves into a rapid discussion over the topics. One young man spoke more than he listened. I tuned him out. One smart-kid listened more than he spoke. One young woman who is known to be nice to everyone remained observant. And agreement was reached:

If the press would stop running headlines promoting violence, violence would decline.

Violence is like fire; it’s hungry, always hungry.

Open your news feed. Whatever your source of “breaking news” might be, open it and browse the reading options. Make a tally. How many of those headlines are concentrated on violence, fear, political or racial tensions?

Sell something exciting, explosive like fireworks. The quickest way to maintain relevance is to latch on to the flashiest events.

All things come with a price.

It is extremely important to know what is going on in the world, in the country, in the state, in the community. My community, your community, their community – it’s good to know what’s up. I wouldn’t want to go walking out onto the streets during a shootout as much as the next person. So yes, I like to remain informed.

Why is it, though, that every headline in my news feed, every day for the past… well nearly forever, concentrates on the subjects of conflict, tension, violence, and death – these time-proven main focuses of the press?

Do these topics sell without effort? Is there some conspiracy agenda? Or do we, as first world, 21st century human beings, no longer know how to fix our eyes on anything else? Have we become so accustomed to the stories of the wars of our fathers that we are, in a sense, culturally programmed to carry on the narrative of endlessly warring tribes and nations? Have we matured to be nothing more than just a cog in a machine whose function is to continue the rise of a climbing death-toll, and track the process at every interval?

If you want something to die, starve it.

In an age where we glance more often at the screens of our smartphones than into the faces of other humans we pass on the street, our attention is always for sale. We are a spoon-fed population caught up in an ancient pattern of development and conquest. Today’s conquests aren’t just about oil, land, religious or cultural supremacy, access to water and food. The most valuable resource that can be one in the attention of the masses.

Where the eyes go, the feet will follow.

Conflict is growing. Fear is spreading. Tensions are rising.

This can only be contained before so long before the building pressure reaches a point of no return. Do you think things are bad now? Wait until all hell breaks loose in every street in the nation, outside your home, in your backyard, in your children’s favorite play spot, in the place you were married, in the place your grandparents and/or great-grandparents are buried.

The attention of an entire national population, from the coast of one ocean to another, is being directed in one linear direction, and we the people gladly hand over our time, our money, and our attention to be leash-led there.

Though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill.

The day when “news” becomes the thrilling tale of a good-Samaritan risking life and limb to help a neighbor or a stranger from accident, when daily headline updates promote community events that unify rather than reinforce opposing sides, when breakthroughs in music and art rather than advances in defense technology and the latest political scandal fill our feeds, that is the day we will know peace has returned to our lands.

Everything depends on what you and I want.

Do you want to raise the next generation in a broken, warring world filled with blood and fire? I don’t. But where else are we headed at this point?

We have more control than we think. 

If no one reads what is printed, the press will have to change their content. Writers have to eat. News has to sell. Don’t like what you’re reading? Don’t pay for it. Starve out the weeds and there will be room to plant flowers… or a ficus… or a hanging tomato garden – whatever blows your skirt up.

What you feed on, you will produce.

There’s a war going on. Americans are killing each other. We’re losing. Humans are killing each other all across the planet. We’re losing.

We won’t have to wait for malevolent extra-terrestrials to invade and destroy humanity if we destroy ourselves before invasion day. We won’t have to wait for the second-coming for judgment by fire if we burn ourselves and our entire world before that day has the chance to dawn. There will be no apocalypse to worry about if we end the world ourselves.

But…

If we can turn a 180, if we can love as hard as we hate, if we can reignite the spark of hope and become co-habitable with one another; if we become an undivided, interconnected species, our capabilities working in uniform will make us indestructible. Nothing from any other world, no disease, no idea, no band of gods and monsters will ever possess the power to erase the human race.

The only thing with the power to eradicate us is ourselves.

The only thing with the power to make us indestructible is ourselves.

Do you want to make America great again? Don’t count on the next up and coming politician to do it for you. If history hasn’t yet taught us to stop relying solely on our extremely fallible politicians, there is no one to blame but the stubborn student.

Don’t go away from this thinking the press is to blame. Blame is the wrong game to play.

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

 

Frail

Are We There Yet: Beating Exhaustion at It’s Own Game

My forehead is sporting a pale raspberry sheen. I spent a good 2 hours exploring the local nature reserve over here in Middle-of-Nowhere, Pennsylvania and found a few un-mapped trails.

I haven’t gone exploring like that since I was a young warthog. The thrill of adventure fueled a passive yet saturating energy that soaked into my skin and bones. I ventured past fallen trees out of which which grew large, flat-topped mushrooms and fresh grPo3tryeen sprouts (like something out of a fairy-tale). I crawled beneath dense foliage, drawn in by the hint of what might have been an old piece of trail overtaken by an abundance of plant-life.

The red patches of burn scattered across my body and the close encounter with a massive thorn-riddled amateur-trap were completely worth it. There is nothing quite like an adventure.

IMG_0969
A pretty little tree stump from the local nature preserve

Maybe, though, a journey can become burdensome when carried out for too long, until it remains as nothing more than a thorn in the side.

I’m tired.

I’m pulling a seven day work-week, and that’s not why. I’m just tired.

Rough patches happen. Exhaustion falls upon the best and worst of us. We are a toiling species, chasing after the wind and laboring beneath the sun. I’m a perfectionist. I strategize everything and carry out the most minute details exactly as planned. It gets old, let me tell you, being foolproof. But I’ve learned in my short amount of years in this life that it is inadvisable to ever count on anything being easy.

My father used to tell me: Plan for the worst. Expect the best.

I don’t remember if he was actually the one to tell me that or if I heard it from a grade-school teacher sharing her opinion on the way doctors think.

Yesterday, I talked about “knowing thyself,” and mentioned that I know my triggers that tell me to take a nap or eat some food before I end up ripping off someone’s face. Irritability is a commonly occurring warning notification for me. I promise I’m not a mean person, but I suppose that could depend on who you ask. I wasn’t always as perfect as I am now (just kidding… kind of).

Anywho… the point is I’m irritable. Like, right now. It’s a special kind of irritable that tells me I need a day off. It all began when I woke up this morning.

I slept in, first of all. I was waking up at 6 a.m. for a while and taking small afternoon naps everyday. It was quite the system. Recently I’ve been waking up later and later. I reasoned with myself that anywhere between 6:15 and 7:00 a.m. is free game. I woke up at 7:30, which isn’t a problem. The problem was the immediate onset of apathy for being awake and the burning desire ever since to go back to bed and shut out the world for the rest of the day and be lazy. Netflix and napping all day until work in the evening would be nice.

Even as I type this word and that word and this word again I couldn’t care less. It’s all part of the waking up process; nothing to worry about. It’s just been more difficult lately to get through the waking up process.

Sorry, I dozed off….

Following close to the heels of my Eeyore-style apathy comes my signature irritability trotting along like it owns the places.

Fuck these stairs. Why are there always so many? Why is everything so far away? Where’s my breakfast? I hate these fucking stairs this is bullshit.

I know, right.

What’s my point?

Yeah get to the point, already. You always talk so much. Nobody gives a shit. Get on with it already for Christ’s sake.

Last night after leaving my second job at 11:30 p.m. (It was a long, but rewarding, day), I had a little chat with a newer friend of mine who’s been going through a confusing time in the realm of romance. I’m completely supportive of the match. I think she and her knew interest would make a fabulous pair, the item of the decade to be sure. But she, like me in matters of the heart, worries too much; worries about who drives where and who texts who first and who pays for what and how it all makes her look.

There comes a point, in most and many things, where the adventure fades and the journey becomes a game of management. I once lived in Texas where I had a friend, Katerina. She had this metaphor: building sandcastles. Building sandcastles is basically being at the beginning of something and finding yourself planning out or envisioning every little detail of the future. You’re building castles, but alas castles built of nothing more than sand.

Here’s the problem with building sandcastles: Those walls can’t be lived in.

Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do! I can live anywhere!

Wait till it rains.

Now I strongly advise setting goals, holding a vision in front of you to guide your feet and supply motivation when the road is no longer level and smooth. But there comes a point where too much building changes the focusing from loving something to loving the idea of something, and in turn the goal subtly changes from the attainment of something to living within that idea, that phantasm of what you could have.

Go with me here for a moment: I think that when we become overworked, having pushed ourselves past our limits (admirably so) and not given ourselves time to rest and enjoy our progress (foolishly so), that is when exhaustion sets in. Keep following me: In order to inspire the self to continue working through exhaustion, more motivation is needed, but the same old image gets old after a while – and maybe some of us become a little (or a lot) apathetic toward our vision.

More. We need more.

So we build a little more onto that vision; we add a little more detail. We continue working. We tire out, but we must keep going. There’s no time to stop. There’s something to be won here! Add more detail. Oh this is going to be wonderful! Labor, tire, detail! Labor, tire detail! More! Labor, tire, detail! More! More! More!

And then we break. We’re all more-ed out. And everything goes to shit.

Don’t take my word for it. I’m just a guy with a lot of experience in failure.

 

So, back to that point I promised I was getting to.

There’s a difference between a journey of effort and the kind of adventure you can still have in your twenties exploring in nature. Such is life. I like to think our goals are just our imaginations all grown up. Playing in the woods is the same as living life. There’s effort, but there’s also enjoyment. Navigating the underbrush while avoiding aggressive thorn-vines is effort. Enjoying what you’ve just discovered and knowing you came out unscathed is enjoyment. Putting in the work that requires discipline is effort. Stopping to enjoy how far you’ve come and realize you have that less far to travel until you reach your goal is enjoyment.

And leave the details to life. Be willing to be surprised. Some of the best things come to us by accident rather than our own design.

The invention of the potato chip. Case and point.

This concept is universal. It applies to romance, goals, education, hobbies, what have you. Remember to love the real thing and don’t settle for the idea of it. Remember to stop and enjoy your little accomplishments because a mountain is made of many stones and each one is to be appreciated for its contribution. And remember to take a break. You’re not a machine. You’re a human. Don’t lose all your progress because you couldn’t take time to enjoy it in increments and catch your breath.

Keep moving forward, but be willing to stop and smell the roses every now and then.

Oh, and when you have tuckered yourself out because you didn’t take my advice and you find yourself feeling inadequate and ruminating on all the reasons why you won’t win, my girl Taylor’s got that answer for you.

 

Journey

Get Out of My House: Take Control of the World Around You

Know thyself.

I am not a morning person. I need a good hour to myself to wake up before I start interacting with other human beings. And I can’t do caffeine first thing in the morning. I have to wake up naturally before I start on the coffee or energy drinks. otherwise I just get tweaked. It’s not a big deal. It’s just my process. Six to seven hours of sleep and some breakfast, maybe a morning walk, and I’m good to go.

I’m like a small child; not enough sleep and not enough to eat and I get… irritable, to say the least.

When you’re a full-time college student over here in Middle-of-Nowhere, Pennsylvania – attempting to fulfill a double major, working, rehearsing 5 nights a week 85% of each semester for stage productions, and trying to maintain a social life – food and sleep aren’t really the kind of things you come across without seeking them out with diligence. As a result, more than a student or two have their cranky days on a semi-regular basis. When you’re an extremely expressive individual individual like me, cranky isn’t your best look.

 

You are like a house.

She’s a brick… house. She’s mighty mighty – .

Sorry.

Anyway, you are like a house; or rather, the keeper of a house.

 

I stayed up late watching Once Upon A Time last night. When I woke up at 6 a.m. with maybe 5 hours of sleep under my belt, I knew from the weight in my limbs, chest, and eyelids that I – and the world around me – was in for a rough day. There are people who can function without sleep. My grandmother is one of them. She sits with her laptop in front of her and dozes off for small amounts of time throughout the night while she does whatever it is she does. I don’t know how those people pull it off. My mugshot would be flashing on the T.V. – young man arrested for violent crime. More tonight on 11 at 11 after Once Upon a Time – after a week.

I work as a server – one of my jobs – at a quaint little restaurant in the town I grew up in during my high school years. I used to love serving when I was 19. Absolutely loved it. It was fun. It was easy. I made enough money to pay my rent and utilities, keep my phone on, and go out to the city once every two weeks. It was great.

It’s not that I hate serving. It’s just that I’m not the extroverted ball of sunshine that I once was. Hours upon hours of forced smiles, rudeness, lazy chefs who flip their lids over special orders, and pretentious SOBs who know how to spend but not how to tip gets to be a bit much nowadays. I cope. Every night after work I enjoy a cold beer at the restaurant’s bar area after the whole place has been all cleaned up and there’s nothing left to do but unwind and count the day’s income. Once a month or so I switch out the beer for a nice bottle glass of wine.

What really trips me up is a dinner shift on not enough sleep, especially if I’ve forgotten been to busy to eat that day. Remember what I said about me and crankiness and being expressive? My poor co-workers.

I really could have my own reality show – someone pitch this to MTV for me. I’m quite the character. You’ll know when I’m in a no-sleep/no-food funk at work. I slam set down plates in the server station with more force than necessary, mutter under my breath – all the choicest words in my vocabulary -, walk really (really) fast – think Olympic speed-walking -, and move around in a spastic kind of way, and of course put on a big, fake, gleaming smile when I get to my tables.

It’s not just the lack of sleep. It’s my boss.

Here’s the deal. I could get really busy at work and lose my head for a bit because I have no energy, make it through the busy spurt, and come out on the other side just fine.I’d order something to eat from the kitchen, get some energy in me, and be fine for the rest of the day. Short little episode over. Customers notice nothing. Co-workers are spared the nightly show. But no. Things can’t be that simple. Why? My boss is a just as much of a drama queen as I am. I love her, don’t get me wrong. But she knows how and when to be a bitch.

Here’s what I would like a not so ideal, sleep/food deprived dinner shift to look like:

Go in. Get busy. Get flustered. Boss-lady reads the signs and helps the servers get through the business as usual. Boss lady goes about her managerial business and lets us all clean up our messes from the busy period and recover from the craziness. Everybody does their job. Everybody ends the day happy, no matter what speed bumps we hopped over along the way.

What a not so ideal, sleep/food deprived dinner shift actually looks like:

Get in. Get busy. Get flustered. Boss-lady reads the signs and provokes you. “You have food dying in the window.” “You’re mumbling under your breath back in the server station.” “You’re walking too fast. You look like a spazz.” Yes, yes, yes. Thank you very fucking much. I know exactly what the fuck is going on. I know what I look like. Thanks for the status update, Captain Obvious. The busy period ends and I’m still going crazy because my boss decided to play devil’s-advocate the entire time, popping up behind doors and corners at the worst possible moment just to give me a play by play on everything I already know instead of jumping in to help fix the problem. My boss would make a terrible doctor.

“You’re bleeding internally.” …   … “You’re still bleeding internally.”

She knows how to push my buttons. She knows just how to piss me off and exactly where to kick me while I’m down. My poor co-workers.

As much as I love to vent about work, the solution doesn’t lie with work. My boss is not the problem. If my boss weren’t there to poke and prod the very worst and most tender nerves, there might very well be something else to take her place and do the very same.

As within so without. Perception is everything.

I’ve been reading a paper by a Dr. John Deely. Dr. Deely’s field is semiotics, a word which means – basically – the study of signs and symbols and their uses and/or interpretations. In this paper, Dr. Deely uses an illustration of a wolf howling in the night. Now follow me here. The howl is just a howl, only a sound. Now if we introduce a sheep far off and another wolf far off in another direction, the howl means something. To the other wolf, the howl could be a mating call, a cry for help, what have you. But to the sheep, the howl is a symbol of danger.

Let’s think of boss-lady as the big bad wolf.

Perception is everything. As within so without.

 

Of course, getting more sleep might help. But ambition –  it comes with a price -. I could eat more regularly like a responsible adult. I’ll work on that one. I could do a lot of things better, I’m sure. I’m sure some out there would say noticing the corrections to be made is the first step. I disagree. I think noticing corrections to be made is the outcome of the first step: watching.

Your mind is a house and you are the steward.

Anyone and anything that enters a house changes the atmosphere, the feng-shui, the social climate. A good steward is mindful of all that goes in and comes out. He/She keeps a watchful eye and maintains the atmosphere within the house, making sure the climate is appropriate for the present situation.

On mornings like today when I wake up sleep deprived and cranky, I notice. Not just by the weight in my body or the dry itchiness in my eyes, but by watching my body and my mind. When I’m in the shower and begin to notice that I’m already ruminating and imagining everything that could go wrong with the day or imagining a less-than-ideal conversation with someone I don’t like, I know to take a nap and get some grub. Immediately.

The key to being successful is simple: Know thyself.

Know what your bodily sensations mean. Read the signs and jump in to save the day. Know your thought patterns as an actor knows his/her cues. Be a good steward and keep the balance in the house you tend to.

How the hell are you supposed to pull that off?

Practice.

Sit still and be observant. Just breathe and watch your mental and bodily activity as you would a T.V. show. Let your breath be the anchor of your attention, a place to come back to and recollect yourself. Within that calm, still, quiet place watch what happens within you. And then watch what happens outside of you on a day to day basis. You’ll start to see the connections. When the wolf howls, are you the sheep or another wolf, or are you a tree? Whatever you identify as within, that is the meaning you will find in the signs around you. Those meanings are the substance with which you construct the world around you.

Perception is everything. As within so without.

Don’t be afraid to let new things in, and don’t be afraid to evict some old tenants.

 

 

 
Guest

Student Debt Saved Me

My favorite T.V. show is Once Upon a Time. My favorite character is Rumpelstiltskin – for obvious reasons.

There was a time when I had an older brother. He was awesome. Don’t get me wrong; he was an asshole at the most opportune moments, like all big brothers, but he was awesome. He had this dream, when we were young: He imagined that one day he would be rich, rich beyond our wildest dreams, and own an enormous mansion – like a castle – that would fit all of our family. We would all be together like we never were. He and I would also make imaginary plans, late at night, to run away and find a new life.

My mother wasn’t the best at facing situations. She was more of a let’s-get-the-hell-out-of-here-and-let-everything-sort-itself-out kinda gal. When I was in high school she went back to school. She was living in a plain apartment beside the train tracks in the area of town where the road could have used a touch up and for heaven’s sake did no one know how to plant flowers? A shrub perhaps? My mom, who fled any time things got too good or too bad, was studying to be a surgical technician. Her grades were impeccable. I’ve seen her tests and she never scored anything below an A mark. 17 days before she would have graduated, (and who wouldn’t have hired her with her test scores?) she quit school. Just quit.

Let’s talk a little bit about television. Maybe a little bit about me. We can talk about you, if you’d like.

Rumpelstiltskin was the village coward, to be sure. Famous for breaking his own leg in a ploy to be dismissed from his duty to fight in the ogre wars, he was the mark of shame in his small, poor community. Rumpelstiltskin was left wifeless, friendless, and crippled, caring for his newborn son.

There came a day when the army and it’s commanders came riding through the villages, taking children in the name of the crown as soldiers for the war. Rumpelstiltkin’s young son was soon to be drafted. Fearing for the life of his son, – the last person remaining who loved him – Rumpelstiltskin heard rumors of a dagger kept by the military official who would come for his son. This dagger, according to the rumor of a man met in the forest, controlled the will of the darkest and most powerful being of human descent: The Dark One.

Let’s make a long story short. Rumpelstiltskin got the dagger and, rather than control the Dark One, became the Dark One. Bestowed with immortality and immeasurable power, Rumpelstiltskin destroyed his enemies, ended the ogre wars, protected his son, became formidable, became addicted to his power, became afraid of ever going back to a life without power, abandoned his son in favor of his power.

This all you’ll understand when you watch season 1 of Once Upon A Time. Trust me, no spoilers here. Now if I told you about season 2….

We all have our nasty habits that are hard to break. For some it’s a matter of drugs and alcohol. Some go to dangerous lengths in the name of self-preservation. I smoke too many cigarettes even though I say all the time that I’m going to quit. I’m also really good at running. I’m great at it. Good situations and bad situations alike, I’m great at high-tailing it out of them. I just don’t like to stay in one place for too long. It makes me feel trapped.

When I went back to school two years ago, I immediately began doing everything in my power to set the groundwork for an escape if I ever started getting cramped.

I got cramped.

I ended my first year of school with a 3.9 GPA (I’m pretty sure it was a 3.98, but bragging would be rude). In my second year of school, I failed 2 classes (maybe 3) and started spring semester classes a month late. Don’t worry. My GPA is still above a 3. The entire year was filled with complaining, resistance, irritability, an existential claustrophobia that demanded that all should turn to hell and crumble around me so that I could get out.

I’ve done a lot of sitting still over the summer, and a lot of thinking. All my life I’ve been taught to give up, to run, to abandon situations for good reason or no reason at all. I’ve been indoctrinated in the art of fleeing. I’ve studied through the process of enculturation, trained hard in my few beginning years of adulthood (what a wake up call those have been), and I have graduated summa cum laude with a degree (and damn, just give me an honorary phD) in cowardice.

Has anyone ever watched The Lion King 1 1/2? Remember scurry, sniff, flinch? Yeah. That’s my motto.

Why do we tell stories? Why do we write books and poetry and songs and movies and T.V. shows? Survey says: Because underneath the layers of fictional worlds and fantastic characters and deceptive language, there lies truth (or at least something to be learned). I think what makes writing successful, more than its ability to entertain, is its ability to teach. Every one of us is trying to navigate this world and this life while trying to make some sense of it all, all the eccentricities and challenges and things that just don’t make any sense on the surface. If writing is the way an author comes to an understanding of the world, then his/her understandings are woven into his/her work, and therein lie the marketability. I dare to say that for most of us, the goal of life isn’t to acquire a lot of money or a mansion or what have you, but to know what the fuck is going on. We, as a species in the dark, flock to anything and everything that helps us figure out life. There’s distraction too, oh yes. But that rebuttal is a topic for another time (someone remind me, please).

Either way, I think that’s why I like Once Upon A Time so much. And I think it’s the same reason I write. One day there might be a kid just like me, one storybook away from giving up (whatever that means to him/her) because of bullies, parents, poverty, shame, fear, or what-have-you. Because nothing makes sense until he turns a page and discovers hope.

What’s the point?

The point is I finally got myself into a situation where the only way out was through. There ain’t no way I’m paying those student loans if I leave this place behind. Talk to me when I’ve got a master’s degree.

I’ve done a lot of thinking over the summer, and for the first time in a while, I’ve gone on adventures. Part of my escape plan was telling myself I wouldn’t be able to make any meaningful friendships at school because of the age gap (which isn’t as bad as it could be). I’m a genius. If I didn’t make any connections, there would be nothing to tie me down.

That’s where student loans bit me in the ass.

Here I was, stuck in school, desperate to get out, and lacking any real form of human connection. Last year I made the best friends any one could have with three people I would die for. I’m kind of an abrasive person. Once I made those connections my personality began to soften with other friendly figures I became acquainted with. Good thing, too. I’m kind of popular around here (and humble), and I really don’t need a reputation for being an ass (It might be a little too late for that, but nothing is permanent.)

Sooo… what’s the point?

Not sure, but I hope this helps. I think the point might be that we don’t really know ourselves as well as we think we do, and don’t really find out until we find ourselves in a situation where our view of ourselves and the world doesn’t work. So I’d say a good takeaway is to always be willing to go on new adventures and escape your comfort zone, but never be afraid to settle down and tie a part of yourself to what’s around you.That way there will always be a connection, and you’ll always be able to find that part of yourself again if ever you return even just to pass through.

And of course, the real advice: Don’t ever give up. Be like a turtle racing a rabbit: Keep moving forward.

 

 
Cowardice

The Best of the Dark Side: Music from the Past 25 Years

I used to (and still do in moderation) listen to music that I guess could be described as dark. I’m completely nocturnal.  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

I’ve had a debatably unhealthy obsession with darkness for as long as I can remember.

Alternative rock was the first genre of music I fell in love with as a wee young lad evicted from the womb in the early 90’s.Every now and then, I get nostalgic for the music from my early years and all the sad songs and dynamic dirges added to my repertoire throughout my young lifespan.

If you’re like me and enjoy indulging the darkness every now and then (at least in music), you’ll definitely hold an appreciation for this collection of music from the 90’s all the way up until 2015. Enjoy!

 

1991: “Black” – Pearl Jam

Of course Pearl Jam makes the list. Starting the engines on our tour of the anthems of all that is dismal and morose is “Black” from the 1991 Pearl Jam album, “Ten.” A ballad of loss and memorium, “Black” became an instant favorite of mine. It would have been my first experience of love at first sight if I heard sound through my eyeballs.

Favorite line: “And now my bitter hand cradle broken glass of what was everything.”

1994: “Zombie” – The Cranberries

God, I still love this “anti-war” angst-ridden protest art composition. Communicating the horrors of the cycle of human beings epically fucking up and repeating their mistakes, “Zombie” – from the 1994 album “No Need to Argue” – by the Cranberries has always held a special place in my rebellious heart.

Favorite line: “But you see it’s not me, it’s not my family …. It’s the same old thing since 1916.”

1998: “What It’s Like” – Everlast

From the 1998 album “Whitey Ford Sings the Blues,” “What It’s Like” by Everlast is a warning against passing judgement. Themes of endings, beginnings, the plot twists of life, and social hierarchy are woven through this composition featuring a light swing groove that was nominated for a Grammy in 2000 for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.

Favorite line: “I’ve seen the good side of bad and the downside of up.”

2002: “Perfect” – Simple Plan

Ushering in the new millenium is “Perfect” by Simple Plan from the 2002 album “No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls” and featured on the 2004 Lindsay Lohan flick “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen.” What this song lacks in lyrical complexity it makes up with a haunting chorus, striking harmonies, and teen angst.

2003: “Behind Blue Eyes” – Limp Bizkit; “I Miss You” – Blink 182


I’m sorry. I’m indecisive. 2003 must have been a great year for music. “Behind Blue Eyes” by Limp Bizkit, a cover of the 1971 track by The Who, appeared on the 2003 album “Results May Vary.” The lyrics dances around the whole “no one understands me” theme and explores the honesty of coming face to face with one’s darkest battle and it’s insignificance.

“I Miss You” appeared on Blink 182’s  2003 self-titled album. This is the kind of song I like to sit down with and play on repeat so i can harmonize and chug sip a bottle glass of wine… or knock back some whiskey (It honestly depends on how the day goes). This early 2000’s love ballad featuring strong instrumental composition and cleverly layered vocals was nominated for a Teen Choice Award (of course). The track reminisces on the torture of separation and bonds not quite broken.

2005: “Far Away” – Nickelback

Oh the feels! The anthem of regret, I really do love you, and baby come back, “Far Away” was featured on Nickelback’s 2005 album “All the Right Reasons” alongside the hit song “Photograph.” “Far Away” scored a Songwriter of the Year nomination and the album itself was nominated for the Juno Award for Album of the Year. A lot of family fights and packing the car (again) memories follow this song around like a shadow.

2006: “Through Glass” – Stone Sour

From the album “Come What(ever) May,” “Through Glass” is a song about disillusionment and feeling trapped.

2007: “Broken” – Lifehouse

That empty, sort of hollow feeling you get that signals you coming to your wits end, having no drive left and yet knowing you have a reason hidden somewhere to muster the strength for another step: here it is. “Broken” appears on the 2007 Lifehouse album “Who We Are.” I distinctly remember some bad-ass art sprinkled throughout the CD booklet. This song is all about coming to end of yourself and realizing brokeness (wouldn’t have guessed that from the title). The arrangement also features some killer drums that really work to drive the song forward. And old favorite.

Favorite line: “The broken clock is a comfort, it helps me sleep tonight. Maybe in can stop tomorrow from stealing all my time.”

2009: “Anthem of the Angels” – Breaking Benjamin

If there is another album in all of rock as depressing as the 2009 album “Dear Agony” from the Pennsylvania-born alternative metal band, Breaking Benjamin, please tell me. Released in 2009, the album “Dear Agony” was dedicated to lead singer and guitarist Benjamin Burnley’s grandfather, the second of four men to share the name Benjamin in the Burnley family. The song communicates obvious themes of death and letting go. Musically speaking, the song features a mix of acoustic and electric instrumentation, a swelling chorus, and the crisp vocals characteristic of all Breaking Benjamin compositions.

2012: “Gods and Monsters” – Lana Del Rey

Breaking the mold a bit here. If this one gives you flashbacks of Jessica Lange, you’re on the right track. Featured in 2014 on American Horror Story: Freak Show, the song originally came into the world in 2012 on the Lana Del Rey album “Born to Die: The Paradise Edition.” Leaning less toward depression and more towards just being a fucked up hot mess, this song will definitely connect you to your dark side.

2014: “Skeletons” – Heartist

Released in 2014 as part of the album “Feeding Fiction,” “Skeletons” features a string orchestra sound supported by heavy drum-work all pulled together by a strong, gravelly male voice and a strong chorus. All about the past, the skeletons in the closet, and the drive to become a better person, “Skeletons” is a song for those trying to make a way for themselves while up against seemingly impossible odds.

Favorite line: “How can I forget the past if it still haunts me?”

2015: “Sound of Silence” – Disturbed


A thrillingly haunting cover of the 1964 Simon & Garfunkle song, “The Sound of Silence” surfaced in 2015 on the album “Immortalized.” Theatrical and building, this song features a satisfying blend of piano, acoustic guitar, synth, and percussion that all comes together to give the illusion of a full orchestra playing behind the classic rock vocals of lead singer David Draiman. Behind the musical genius that went into arranging this glorious version of a classic piece of music, the lyrics themselves carry a deep, multi-layered message.

Darkness

The Big Picture: An Integrated Perspective on Wisdom

I almost didn’t write this. Instead, I was going to expend 1500 words talking about past struggles and feeling unlimited. Maybe I will, one day, but too soon. And I didn’t feel like writing a self-help book my first day back to the blogging world. By the way, how was everyone’s holiday weekend? I’m sporting a nice sunburn. Mission accomplished.

Creative Writing is one of my two majors in school over here in Middle-of-Nowhere, Pennsylvania. Last year, I took a British Literature class and submitted a presentation on the life of Christina Rossetti. Since my high school years, I’ve had a fondness – kind of like the fondness you would feel for your favorite flavor of ice cream – for Rossetti’s poem “The Goblin Market.” At surface level, it’s the kind of poem you would use to teach children not to go where they aren’t supposed to be with people they aren’t supposed to talk to to do things they shouldn’t be doing. Underneath that, there’s a hell of a lot more to the piece. It’s actually kind of genius ( I should know. I spent weeks diving into the deep layers of the poem with a magnifying glass).

I think I’ve always been drawn to the forbidden. Growing up in the old church village where I would visit Grandma with my siblings multiple times per week, my favorite bible story was the tale of the forbidden fruit. I used to imagine what it must have been like to take that first bite, how the fruit could have been so enticing after the explicit warning that had already been issued. I’ve carded a few doors in my day. I like going where most people wouldn’t and making those places my own.

I used to be a hardcore Jesus-freak. I once led worship once a week in a prayer room as the leader of a prophetic worship band. I’ve drank the Kool-Aid, caught the bug, carried the cross, and I don’t regret any of it. I learned a lot about myself back then. Some of the most stretching and rewarding experiences of my life came to pass while I was a thousand miles away from home trying to find God.

I like Jesus. I like the things he had to say. I like Christians. I like Catholics. What I don’t like is the ethnocentric mindset that one group of people are the only ones who have the right view of God, the right wisdom from God, and are the only ones who know the way to God. No accusations here, to be sure. The world is a very large and diverse place. If God is depending on one worldview and one group of people to maintain harmony between heaven and earth… well, I’m just not sure how well that plan was thought out. I abhor the idea that as diverse as we all are, we have nothing to learn from each other.

I was always under the impression, from the religious instruction I was raised in, that Jesus and bible equals good, and everything else is a shit pile of lies and everyone else is wrong. I hope you’ve had a different experience.

I’ve been keeping a copy of the Tao Te Ching next to a copy of the ESV translation of the bible.

Buddhism was the first Eastern religion that I dipped my toes into. A friend from years past and miles away once told me in an appreciative tone, “You’re such an intellectual.” I didn’t appreciate the complement of the time. I kind of fancied the idea that I was more of a romantic, but nowadays I’m in love with my intellectual side. It allows me to explore without limits, to appreciate wisdom gathered from all ages and all cultures, to look at the pieces gathered from all corners of the earth and see how they fit together.

The curious thing is, once I began studying other belief systems, the one I was born into began making more sense. Allow me to illustrate my point. Whatever you’re reading this on, be it a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or what have to, bring your face real close to the device so that your nose touches the screen. Keep it there and keep reading, or try to. Tell me how that works out for you. My prediction: it won’t.

When we hold things too close to us, we never seem to be able to see them for what they really are. We never get the whole picture. It’s the same thing in writing. When I’m writing a new piece of fiction or poetry, I know that piece will become a much better end-product if I set it on the back-burner, let it simmer on its own, and forget about it. Out of sight, out of mind; there’s another draft to be written. When I finally come back and I’m seeing my draft with fresh eyes, I’m able to see more objectively; I see clearly and am therefore able to make connections, refine images, and organize structure and be witty with my words.

I think it’s kind of the same with wisdom found in many places. When first introduced with a collection of wisdom, it is good to dive in and enjoy, to meditate on what has been passed down like a rabbit chewing the cud. At first introductions, however, you can only go so far. Wisdom doesn’t indulge impropriety. She doesn’t take her clothes off on the first date. Rather you go your separate ways and let her return home. If you really want to get to know her, you might ask people who know her well what she is like. You wouldn’t count on just one perspective. You’re more clever than that. You ask the shop-owner who sells her potatoes every Tuesday, the milk-man who converses with her every Monday and Thursday morning, and her best-friend who hears from her every day. Wisdom is a popular gal that has many friends from many different places over a span of many, many years. If you really want to get to know her, ask around and go on different kinds of adventures with her. Don’t just take her to the park. Take her to the skate-hop, the bar on karaoke night, the museum on Friday. If you want to know her, know who she is in every situation.

My second major in school over here in Middle-of-Nowhere, Pennsylvania is Anthropology. There is a saying in my studies I’ve become quite fond of: Culture in integrated. We could talk for hours about this, but we won’t. Here’s the quick version: If you are studying a culture, you wouldn’t just look at the economic system or only the religion. Rather, you would look at everything – language, education, child-rearing, subsistence strategies, economics, religion, yada yada yada … – and see how it all connects into a unique and fascinating pattern that is culture.

I like to think that all things follow this pattern of integration. As a writer with an obsession for the art of fiction, I can tell you for a fact that people are just as integrated as culture. As is the future, I imagine. As is wisdom.

When I began understanding karma, “As ye so, so shall we reap” made sense to me. When I began to understand “The Way of Heaven is to win easily without struggle” and “My words are easy to understand and easy to practice” I began to understand “My burden is easy and my yoke is light.” When I began seeing neither good nor bad in situation, I began to more deeply understand “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to his life.”

I don’t think anyone’s wrong and anyone’s right. I don’t think Buddha knew more or less than Jesus. I think if, out of all the ideas out there, only one is right, than most of the world is screwed. But when you dare to take a step back from the idea you hold so tightly too – like I did and force myself to do all the time when I write -, things begin to become more clear and everything seems to fit together just right.

Don’t be afraid to let go of what you hold dear or hold as true – or at least your idea of it – to go around exploring and asking questions. When you really love something, when you really truly want something, you have to let it go. If it’s meant to be, it will come back to you and you’ll know it more intimately. For a seed to grow, it first must die. Happy journeys.

Forbidden