Saturday, August 8, 2009


I think I'm done with this blog. It's been fun.
I plan to use this one instead:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mato Paha

It was atop a boulder partway up Bear Butte in the Black Hills that my critical mind loosened its tentacles from around my physical senses and allowed them to connect with the world unfiltered. I never decided what I seeing, smelling, touching, hearing, tasting. It didn’t matter. When I identify what I am sensing, I distinguish myself from the world around me; I mark myself as the control center for signals being sent from a separate entity. When I can turn off the control panel, nature grows up and around it, like vines growing over a backyard fence, and eventually the structure breaks down into the soil and becomes one with the earth.

Look at this:

And there was no god orchestrating the beauty. The symphony needed no conductor because the instruments kept time to the heartbeat they all shared. Every being was connected because it was all really the same being. My mind operated with no more complication than a water molecule rising into the sky or a plant growing toward the sun. The wind made me shiver. My brain made me blink out the dust. The air made my goose bumps rise. My brain made me sniffle when my nose got runny. While the wind and my brain and my eyes and the air and my skin and my nose could each have their own identity, each identity was temporary and arbitrary, existing in only one point in time and space. As time passes the building blocks of each identity destruct and reconstruct, and no identities repeat in space. So while I could try to attach identities to the fleeting groupings around me it was easier to stop trying to hold them in place and let them fall as they may, flowing over one another, becoming one another, like notes in a chord or a body decomposing into soil.
I gradually regained my sense of consciousness, but I never lost the feeling of connectivity. I started picking up rocks and throwing them as far as I could. It feels good to manipulate your environment when the effects are so immediate and directly related to your actions. It was like I was recreating my identity by exploring my power. Even though my identity is temporary, and my power is easily swallowed in infinite space, I can appreciate my place.

To appreciate your power and understand your powerlessness is the greatest connection with nature.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

don't hide behind government

Last Thursday I went to Bethel Lutheran Church for Eric Manley’s funeral. I never met Eric, but by the time I finished writing an article about him for Street Pulse, I felt like he was a close friend. Those who best knew Eric, 42 years old and homeless, said he had the mental capacity of a 15-year-old. He would stroll along State Street with a stuffed monkey Velcroed to his neck, telling jokes to anyone who would listen. He was largely shunned by the homeless community for the bothersome manifestations of his incessant yearning for love and attention. He was always making jokes at bad times and pushing people too far, but he was usually friendly. He liked to buy people presents, and liked to buy himself toys, with money he was supposed to be spending on medicine, food, and shelter. Eric had used up his time in the shelter system by September, and was kicked back to the street. On September 15, Eric spent the night on the steps of Bethel Lutheran, and never woke up. (There are all sorts of ways Eric’s death should have been prevented that night, but I’m still investigating that, so maybe I’ll write more about it here later.)

Anyway, just as I was I was falling asleep Wednesday night I jolted awake, realizing I had no idea what I should wear the next day. I texted my editor around 4am for advice, and wound up wearing tennis shoes, jeans, and a sweater. When I got to the church I was glad I didn’t go fancier. There were a few people dressed up, but I soon figured out that they were all affiliated with the church. Most of the people were homeless, with outfits ranging from a Hawaiian shirt and suspenders, to traditional African clothing, to sweats. It’s amazing how the homeless population can display so much more diversity through clothing with so much less money than upper classes do with so much more.

The room for the funeral was small, classroom-sized. Nobody was able to come up with any photograph of Eric, but a police sketch artist donated his time to draw from his corpse a picture of him smiling in front of the capitol. The sketch of Eric, propped up on an easel, watched as people took up the thirty chairs in the room, sending surprised church staff running around for more. Everyone seemed surprised; I think each of us felt like we were going to be the only ones who cared enough to show up.

The reverend began the service by asking if any of Eric’s family members were present. We all knew the answer, but let ourselves hope and looked around us, hoping to make eye contact with someone related to him who cared. But nobody spoke, and the reverend moved on with a sad smile. The reverend began by reminding us of the saying, “Leave no man behind,” and said that was what we were doing at the service. Although Eric was ignored in his life, and ignored in his death (Street Pulse was the only newspaper to even mention his death, and it is possible that the county failed to respond to 911 calls prior to his death), individuals gathered to remember his kind spirit. During the service, people sang songs, eulogized him, and whispered prayers in his name.

For a few hours Thursday morning, Eric Manley finally got the attention he wanted all his life. It’s too bad more people didn’t reach out to him before it was too late. It’s easy to gripe and groan about a bad system, and it feels good to blame problems on government. While commendable, it’s also fairly simple to fold yourself into an organization which seems to work to change the government. But what’s really brave is to act as an individual, reaching out to other individuals. Sometimes the biggest changes happen on the smallest, most intimate levels. One person reaching out to Eric to help him get on his feet would have made a bigger difference for him than shorter lines at the food pantry ever could have.

It’s important to think on a large scale, and to push for big changes, but we can’t forget that people have the power to change things without their government. Lack of government should never be an excuse for lack of action.

Monday, December 29, 2008

circling around balance

Little yellow squares zip down and down and down. In grid formation they speed below her bony feet and up the side behind her, brushing her long tail. Faster, faster, faster, her feet slam down on the wires. Her running accelerates to fervent leaping. Faster, faster, faster, the squeaky wheel spins. She channels her fury into the repeated motion, even though it leads her nowhere. Faster, faster, faster, her heart pounds. Her efforts are fruitless but she won’t give up.

Finally her legs slow. Squares emerge from the blur. As the wheel stops she rocks back on herself to sit. She looks around and finds herself where she began. Quietly accepting her surroundings, she turns her head forward again. The squeak of the wheel recommences.

We are born. We try to push the path in front of us behind us, but it only goes around us to catch up with us ahead. It can be wonderful because the path is beautiful, but sometimes we move too fast to see that. Regardless, we die where we began. And the earth goes on spinning.

"Sometimes I get overcharged, that's when you see sparks. You ask me where the hell I'm going, at a thousand feet per second. Hey man, slow down, slow down. Idiot, slow down, slow down."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Tickling is strange, because it's a gesture of love that hurts the beloved. The laughter reflex is at the same time the beloved's vice and protection. It encourages more tickling, but it's also the only way to relieve the tension.

Sometimes I feel like my heart is being tickled. When I can laugh, it's not so bad. It even feels good. But sometimes I can't laugh. My brain decides to protect my heart from more tickling, so it hides my laugh where I can't find it. And then there's no way to relieve the tension.

So, I try to fight it. My heart is tough. It can handle poking and stabbing and squeezing and punching. But tickling? I don't have a defense built up for this. It's so light, I don't know how to fight it.

I can't fight it out
I can't laugh it in
So the fingers linger on my heart,
slowly crawling along with painfully little friction
The corners of my mouth rise obediently,
but they wobble on shaky nervous muscles,
which quietly endure the pain

Sunday, December 14, 2008

hold steady

I’ve been trying to pretend I’m past The Hold Steady, but I keep coming back. I’ve been trying to look at angst retrospectively but I keep feeling it. I’ve been trying to call this character Craig Finn, but I keep calling him Jesus!

The Hold Steady makes it okay to feel unsteady. It’s like I’m taking all my insecurities and uncertainties and mistakes and trips and faults and regrets and nerves and misgivings, and I’m packing them into a heavy fist punch where they become righteous and strong and unified.

And everything that is unsteady comes together and becomes steady. And when I look around and see all the fists I don’t feel so alone.

So here I am trying to “reach into the speaker and hold on to the quarter notes” because “certain songs they get so scratched into our souls.”

Friday, November 14, 2008

near is dear

A fish in a tank
Back forth back forth back forth back
On a shelf in space

It’s so frustrating—why can’t you stop caring so damn much about that fake plant?
But it’s ok. It’s yours. It’s yours to care about.
Besides, you feel the vibrations coming through space…..

Let your arms fly high
Let your waist whip round
Let your feet jiggy jig
Feel it, feel it, feel it
And let go of it, let go of it
Meet it and greet it, open the door wide
Do the electric slide
And let it pass out the side

And there’s that plant again. There it is. And it’s all you can think about.
But it’s ok. It’s yours. It’s yours to care about.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

our saving graces

I left Van Hise today feeling restless and stressed. I let my feet carry me toward the lake.

I let the fog in the air fog the hurtful details of my situation, and I let the branches above me protect me from the unceasing poison arrows falling from the sky. I let my body collapse on the moist dirt and leaves, put my face to the ground and took in the wet smell. I let my tears join the rain, taking my emotions with them into the ground, into the roots, into the trees.

Eventually I sat up, propped my back against a trunk, and looked out over the still lake blending into the foggy sky. This is all I want. This is all I need. There is so much beauty here, and so much love.

I struggle with putting my overarching perspective on the human condition into logical form. But as I sat by the lake today I pulled out a notebook, and gave it a try.....

Before humans evolved, animals never needed a sense of beauty or a love that extended beyond themselves and their family. It was all they could do to keep living. There was no room in their minds for anything besides survival, or anyone besides themselves and their family. The desire to survive, the most basic animal desire, always translated to attaining more, because that more was always necessary for survival.

When humans evolved so that there was extra room, they used that room to figure out how to create more room. Though humans stopped needing more, they didn't stop wanting it. With survival squared away, desires turned toward immortality. With the absense of nature's tensions and reliefs, reliefs were found in artificial tensions. Humans set up systems of belief which provided a path to immortality, and artificial tensions and reliefs.

Within every system of belief, there are symbols which represent needs. In most systems today, those needs all revolve around attaining more of something. Many systems create the need for more money. Almost every system creates the need for more time alive. Religious systems create the need for more goodness. Our systems also create the need for more education, more memories, more experiences. By trying to fulfill these "needs," we set up a situation of tension for ourselves. When we succeed in fulfilling them, we feel the relief we want so bad. We also feel, more subconciously, that we are defeating the trappings of our animal body and desires by attaining these symbols which give us a feeling of a higher mind-- an immortal mind.

It is perfectly natural for us to need to set up symbols of need; we would find no reason to live without them. And it is impossible to suppress our natural need to need. However, so long as the needs we create continue to be ones which bring us more, our need for need will ruin us. It will not be long before we bring our species to its own demise.

So, we must find another source for our artificial needs. I believe that our only way out of self-destruction is to find a system of belief in which the greatest symbols of need are beauty and love. If instead of needing more things, more experiences, more time, we can "need" beauty and love, we can fulfill our basic needs and spend our extra time enjoying beauty and making sure the people around us are meeting their basic needs too.

Beauty and love are our saving graces as humans. Our minds bring us a lot of trouble. Our minds perturb us with fantasies and philosophies that are forever trapped in earthly animal bodies, leaving us confused with desires and purposes we don't understand. But with its vices, our minds bring two things that can save us from all of it: appreciation for beauty and love. If we can appreciate beauty and love, we can live out the extra tension and relief we crave through them-- through music, sex, art, excercise, sharing, dance, aid. If we can channel our confused desires and purposes into beauty and love, we can ensure that everyone's basic needs are met and that everyone has a way of creating and meeting extra artificial needs without having a negative affect on the world around them.

I don't know how we'll get to that point. And I don't know if we'll ever even have the chance to get to that point. But having a vision of that world in my head makes life easier. And even if humanity as a whole never makes it there, appreciating the beauty and love in my own life makes me happier.

As I was leaving the lake, I passed a woman on the phone. "The lake is so beautiful right now," she said into her cell. "The sky is really foggy and the lake is so still. It's amazing." I couldn't stop the smile spreading across my face. That's the key.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

i feel it

I want to remember this forever.

I know it isn’t always a good thing when a group of people joins together and starts thinking as one. There’s no doubt that it’s led to some of the most horrible crimes by humanity. But tonight felt so good.

I watched McCain’s and Obama’s speeches in the union, surrounded by strangers. At one point during Obama’s speech, as tears were streaming down my face and I was sniffling through hiccups, the woman next to me said, “All I want to do right now is give you hug.” So I hugged her. And we cried some more.

After the speech I went outside and followed the shrieking to State Street. At first I just started hugging everyone I recognized. And then I just started hugging anyone. I was giving high fives left and right, chanting, singing, and screaming. Soon the calls of “to the capitol!!!!” began to mount and the movement began.

At that point I think I lost track of my identity. I stopped thinking about myself. I lost track of how heavy my backpack was, how cold I felt, how badly my feet ached. I became part of a greater identity, which was so comforting. We were all in it together. I didn’t have to worry about thinking things through, being responsible, making decisions.

We started down the street, united by a large U.S. flag at the front of the group. Just as our energy began to die down another group came down a side street and merged with us. My vision was a blur of smiles, teeth, wide eyes, flailing limbs, flags, flying hair, bodies colliding. I let my body go, kind of the way I do in a mosh pit when I don’t have the impetus to fuck with people. I just let the crowd sway me this way and that, and let my vocal chords vibrate freely into the night air.

When we made it to the capitol, it was like we had reached the head of the dragon. People were breathing fire all the way up the steps of the capitol. At the very top we all lined up and began singing the national anthem, and other celebratory and patriotic songs. Eventually, the fire started to die down, and the group needed a change of atmosphere to get fired up again. Shouts of “to Bascom Hill!!!!” became the new battle cry.

So off we were again. Thousands of feet pushed forward against pavement, shouting cries of victory. A few whistles and drums tried to send out music, but were mostly buried by human voices. Strangers became best friends, and people who once bragged of plans to leave the country ASAP shouted “USA” loudest of all.

As we approached Bascom, the crowd broke into a run. People leapt over the knee-high rope at the base of the hill, hanging on to belt loops, blankets and cameras. Bascom Hill is famous for the exhausting demand it places on its conquerors. I know I usually avoid at all costs. So as we ascended, we all lost our breath to our screams and our legs. But it became the common joke. I’m pretty sure everyone on that hill that night laughed about it once.

Finally at the top, the energy built again. All that air we had been sucking on our way up was finally exhaled down the hill in song and celebration. People coated the entire hill. I have no idea how long we were there; my sense of time left me early on. I just remember looking up at the stars, smiling, and losing my voice to the crowd.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to reflect deeper, but for now I feel great. For now I’ll let myself succumb to the beautiful feeling of togetherness and movement.