A Meditation on the Value of Dreams and the Failure of Poetry

What follows is introduction to my latest collection of poems. I hope to release it sometime in the next few weeks. This accurately sums up the state of my mind while writing the book. You may want to bring hand sanitizer.

tower

This collection started as a nightmare. A black tower rose from the dirt of what felt like the surface of another planet. There was a sky blazing with white stars and sand beneath my feet. I marched in the company of at least twenty people on a flat desert surface. There was at least 100 miles between us as we closed in on the tower from all directions. We all desperately wanted to stop walking to the obelisk, but something drove us ever forward to some fate worse than death. When we arrived close to its foundation, great doors opened up on all of its sides and we all began to burn within a bright green light. 

That dream haunted me for months. I am no Nebuchadnezzar, but something about this dream tore through my mind and filled me with relentless unease. It was also around this time that I dove into Buddhism again, re-reading the scriptures and dipping my toes into meditation. To my surprise, the serene images of past meditative sessions like quiet brooks and windy mountains didn’t materialize. 

It was that God-damned tower. 

I would see it. No matter what I did when I closed my eyes and cleared my head. I could see it gleaming against a field of black smattered with bright stars. I could feel the others walking slowly on, miles and miles through darkness to its eventual fury. I honestly thought I was losing my mind. Any of you that have read my memoir detailing my time in a psychiatric center will be well aware of how real that threat can be. 

I realized that the only way to rid myself of this haunting was likely to throw myself into it, To stop fighting it and embrace whatever awful message my wayward brain was trying to tell me. I consulted my carefully cultivated playlist of meditative whitenoise channels on youtube and tried a variety of moods and Chakra tones (I don’t believe in any of that stuff really, I just think it’s calming). I must say a great thank you to the channel New Bliss on youtube for their aid in creating what seemed like a perfect mental tone to confront the horrid reality lurking in my ailing head. 

The meditation helped me to sterilize the image. To lean into its vision and open myself to its truth. And that truth still eludes me, but I may at least have a guess. The inevitability of the tower, its sure and irresistible lure is probably something simple like the ever thundering steps of time and mortality. The others are precisely what one would think, the people who accompany me most of my life be it friends, family, or even total strangers at a gas station staring up at the rain as we both fill our gas tanks in the cold. It feels weirdly universal, like a dream of falling or waking up naked at your desk at highschool. 

I am no wizard and I certainly am not visited by prophecies like Daniel in his lion’s den. I am just another idiot pretending to have a brain that is not wired for randomness, inexplicable bullshit. 

So why the Poetry then? Why does the image of pure gibberish and meaningless thought noise merit a whole collection of poems trying to organize meaning from what only amounts to a Rorschach test of neural misfires? 

Because that’s what humans do with the random gas in their brains. They try to force it into some kind of disjointed, spiritual nonsense. We are always Wallace Stevens’ man on the dump building and wrecking carven images of our own deformities, raising them up, and tearing them down again before the moon rises. That making and unmaking can be our greatest source of joy, but before we expunge ourselves of the need to cringe our idols as Heideigger points out, it can also be the source of our greatest fear.

Poetry is a unique kind of failure in this regard. Poetry’s primary function is to be read. It is to be understood. It must communicate and either transmit or INFLICT emotion upon the reader. Most poetry that I have read in my life works to obscure meaning or present its information in a way to make it less accessible to the reader. So many poets are content to make their cute little emotional units more akin to puzzle boxes that most readers will never solve. They are mistaken that this adds an air of mystery to their writing.   

It doesn’t. It makes people not want to read it. And the ones that do want to read it aren’t people you would want to have a beer with. They are people who stare too long at you on a subway train or put ketchup on tuna. Something is fundamentally wrong with them. 

Yet here I sit. Offering up a collection of poetry that does have an element of puzzle solving. Weird, dark rituals dance within and I am not sure I have left enough bread crumbs to make decoding them remotely possible. And it’s weird and it’s gross and it’s stupid and it won’t likely make much money for me in the long run, but you know what? That’s okay. This shit honestly isn’t for you. It’s for me. 

This was my own inner flailing at dark straws. The puzzles may have no solutions at all, because when you get inside my head and poke around there are a lot of personal horrors that will never be fixed. I will hurt and hurt and hurt right straight into the grave and there is nothing you or anyone else can do to make it better. I just struggle to concentrate all that hurt into a wall and bash my head against it till my skull cracks apart and I pass out. It’s sleep, but the kind of sleep you get when your only goal is to live to see the next day. It offers no charge, no relief from the voices screaming inside you. 

All it does is make you forget the worst of it. For a time at least. 

 

3/17/2020

How to Help Your Indie Writer Friends

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This topic spills buckets and buckets of online ink. But it provides an excellent place for writers to communicate important needs to their unique audiences. Let’s face it, the average indie writer starts with a base of family and friends. Of course that is okay. The fact that anyone buys a book at all is a major accomplishment considering the near infinite choices of reading material on the web. If you want your burgeoning writer buddies find a wider group, there are some very important things you can do to provide a wider megaphone.

 

  1. Write a review

 

I can’t state this enough. Even BAD reviews are good because it provides evidence that people have purchased and read the book. Reviews on amazon or any other online retail space lend an important legitimacy to a work. It is a grand compliment to take time out of a busy day to sit and respond to writing. As you consider writing a review, don’t include personal information or discussion of your relationship with the author. The appearance that a reader came to the book blind lends even more credence to the book’s value outside of the friend/family connections, and make it’s that much more enticing.

 

  1. Discuss the book with friends, especially those who may have interest in the topic

 

Readers have more power than ever to influence the market. Each one of you is a walking ad agency that can influence the decisions of others. So many people have already made great use of this with Social Media like instagram and facebook, but even casual conversations are a great place to bring up a friend’s work. Every sale is cherished, and the likelihood of that new reader sharing the book with others is worth more than its weight in gold. Think about who in your friend circle may enjoy the book or has a vested interest in the topic it discusses.

 

  1. Bring up the work to book clubs, request at libraries and local bookstores

 

These can be tricky as you certainly don’t want to make yourself into a nuisance. Book clubs, library requests and local bookstores are chance to give your indie writer buddies a huge boost in sales. Taking time to make one simple suggestion or request won’t take up too much of your time and certainly don’t feel bad if the suggestion doesn’t result in a sale. Think instead that your discussion has spread word of the writing. Hopefully another will follow up on this request and organizations will soon take notice.

 

  1. Create a post on social media and tag anyone who may be interested

 

This is another item to put into the “nuisance” category. But one quick post on social media has so much potential. If the author has a website consider posting a link with a few comments about their work. Consider friends who do not live in the author’s area as a way to spread their audience geographically. Post a favorite quote, or even a short review. One post is certainly enough. No author wants to be treated like Amway or a MLM marketing scam. Sincere, concise posts take an author farther than most people realize.

 

At the end of the day, being a reader is more than enough, as being read is the single greatest gift we can give to our burgeoning authors! These suggestions are just a way to go the extra mile in a world where viral marketing is beast so few will ever tame.

 

Thanks for reading!

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The Cathedral in Rain

 

 

Her bells ring within our minds,

Slow, long, heavy thuds against

Some mystery bronze as if Tibet

Itself has lent the sound. Sorrow

Within cracks upon the drone,

A way…a path back to light

And strength upon her spires.

There are few instances where

One longs to drown. The constant

Echo of gunfire, concussions

From grenades, and the eternal

Wringing of withered, pious hands

Fade to silence in the pure orange

Flames feasting on ancient oak.

But somewhere, in a forgotten

Pocket of being, she stands still

In a cool, unending rain.

Lost in a sopping wood where

Men cannot scar her tranquil

Shade. Those bells from legends

Past ring though no hand pulls

Their ropes. If one stops,

Turns to the north and clears

The mind, their resonance cuts

Clear to the spine, tying us all

Into one healing flame.

 

I had a dream a few months ago of a majestic Cathedral in rain with bronze, thundering bells. It gave me the deepest sense of peace I have ever felt. When I saw Notre Dame burning, I could hear those bells ringing in the distance. I have been avoiding publishing poetry on this blog due to a new attempt to submit to publications. But I really wanted to share this.

If you would like to read more of my poetry, check out my works on Amazon.

https://totaltext.wordpress.com/poetry/cathedral-notre-dame-in-reims

Prufrock in the Age of Incels

 

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I have avoided The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock like the plague. There was always something about the poem that made me feel completely and utterly hopeless, which I believe is by design. But it goes further than that; there lurked something personal. I felt so deeply similar to Prufrock that I feared I would share his fate, wandering wraith like on the beach listening for mermaids. I was a loser. A disconnected, weirdly emotional loser that always stood out and never felt connected to anyone or anything.

We are going through many transitions at the school where I teach, and one of the most frustrating things for me is the switch to a new textbook. Textbooks bring with them heavy -handed, pedagogical umph. The choices as to what poems are included can force a literature class down a narrow choice of predetermined paths and I usually balk at them. Within this textbook, I made the decision to focus on Prufrock as a sort of challenge to myself. One of the only joys I find in aging is the constant reassessment of texts as I visit them in new stages of life. Different things stand out to me and I find the more complicated works unveiling themselves to me more readily as the years pile on.

Prufrock aged in some very peculiar ways that have much more to do with our current sociological climate. I felt my jaw hit the floor as I watched Prufrock bumble his way through the lives of women, coming up short and drifting away in a haze of lonely self obsession. And it hit me like an Emu rampaging down a dirt road while I jog and listen to Bon Jovi on those weird new Air Pod things.

J. Alfred Prufrock is an incel.

In a lot of ways I always knew this, but now I have a word for his predicament that brings his harsh and bitter reality in crystal clear focus. Prufrock wants nothing more than to have a connection with another. To reach out with his complex (if silly) soul and to have someone appreciate his inner self. But every attempt to connect goes hopelessly awry. Each mis-step crushes his fragile self-esteem even more to the point that his neuroticism has taken possession of him. He is a creature DEFINED by idiosyncrasies and built entirely upon the pain of his failures.

Compare this to the modern incel. A creature of the web, an incel is a man (and in some cases a woman) who is unable to function in the world of sexuality. They struggle to find partners for a variety of reasons. Some claim to not have the looks required of men for sexual competition. Others blame their height, anxiety, or weight for their problems in the romantic field. Incels have formed online communities devoted to the discussion of sexuality, and while many seek to rectify their difficulties, other have sunk into a similar despair to Prufrock, feeling lost and fragmented like the famous ragged claws crawling across the bottom of the sea.

But where Prufrock focuses his attention inward, blaming himself as much as the sickening modern world that has cut him off, incels often turn their rage to women themselves in a vile misogyny,  Labeling attractive women as “Stacy’s” and “Roasties” in an attempt to dehumanize them. “Stacies” chase attractive men referred to as “Chads,” and other complex coded language fills these forums to describe what they perceive to be unfair aspects of their world. In essence, these self identified “incels” shape the world to fit a warped and painful vision built of their own suffering. It dominates their view of themselves and becomes a cult like dysfunction.

It’s possible Prufrock himself may be on the verge of his own violent rampage, or at least an increasingly bitter attitude to the women who refuse to acknowledge him. The image of Elliot Rodger filming his manifesto stands in a stark contrast to the shy and otherwise harmless image of Prufrock bemoaning his isolation. The forces are very much the same. Men often struggle to live in a world that takes issue with seemingly arbitrary facets of their character. Women surely struggle with this as well, but for the moment my interest rests with the men, who have taken obsession with sexual fulfillment to toxic highs. This may have always been with us, but the losers of our society have never found it so easy to form a community, to navel gaze and obsess with the myriad ways society has harmed them.

What is to be done with these men? What is to be done with Prufrock strolling the beaches and maybe taking solace with sexworkers in the seedy parts of town? What is to be done with them men crumbling under the primary desire of their being driving them to acts of violence even as their bitter tears flow?

The only authority I have to speak on this issue is the very little known fact that I myself was once an incel. I was very much of the Prufrock nature, immersed in depression and self loathing. I begged my dad for advice in my teenage years. The rules of the game, even the most basic parts of social interaction with others my age were just completely lost to me. I did not understand how to operate in the world. Looking back, I no longer blame my peers for rejecting me in a variety of situations. In short, I was a really weird kid. I was immature and just lost in the realm of how to act in groups. I would describe myself as a mix of being a doofus and just being lost in my own interests to the point that my relationships with others (especially girls) was strained.

My dad had no advice. All he could say was “I never had a problem. People just liked me. You mother just liked me and that was it.” It isn’t dad’s fault. He never struggled with this the way I did. How could he know some magical path to just “be normal” without also sacrificing who I was? How does one keep the dreamy, somewhat annoying charm of a Prufrock without being disingenuous? There was literally no answers. I had to just keep putting one foot in front the other, bungling relationship after relationship and looking like an idiot. I did not really begin to date until I was 22. Even then I sometimes ask my wife why the hell she overlooked some of my more bizarre behaviors. I still have an incredibly Prufrock like sensibility at times and I am not sure I ever truly understood my problems until I was treated for depression and ADHD. I am not exactly an attractive person. I can only credit my persistence (and careful attention to not being a creep) for ever winning the affection of another.

I lurk on incel boards and have such mixed emotions about these men. Sure there is a sense of morbid curiosity and freak show like effect, but ultimately I FEEL for these men. I want to help them get past their psychotic love for their own suffering that I once shared. I want to reduce their pain and help them find some measure of normalcy for themselves, but for the love of Christ I just don’t know how it could be done.

We need to find a way to teach boys and young men how to maintain their psychological well being. We need social exercises so that men can discuss their difficulties without collapsing into a conspiratorial blame game. Incels need to confront their own delusions about what the world owes them, to build a respect for women not as women but as fellow humans that are often as confused and trapped as they are. There is never any guarantee that a man will find some dream girl living in their spaced out fantasies. But there is the potential to find something completely unexpected. That hope never dies, but the darker aspects of inceldom kill it slowly with misogyny, bitterness, and even violence.  

At the end of the day, Prufrock listens out upon the waves though no one sings. The human voices drown our hopes, but as long as we live we can continue to look out upon a grey horizon and keep walking toward some future. At some point, it’s better to turn away from the ghostly voices of the sea and look inward. There you may find some song with which to build a life filled with a strange, and worthwhile joy. 

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Illustrations by Julian Peters, found on Google Search

For more musings on the complexities of mental health, check out the author’s Non-fiction writing.

His time in a psychiatric center

 
And meditations on religiosity.

Crush the Patriarchy: A Love Poem

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In the book of Genesis, God makes Eve from the flesh

Of Adam. He names her, describes her with the hebrew

Phrase Ezer Kenegdo. The wise ones who translated

The book had no words in English to equal Eve’s description.

 

In their foolishness, they picked “helpmate.”

That is not what this phrase means.

The closest anyone has come is “She who is over

And against me.” Ezer is a name of God as one

 

Commands and protects. Kenegdo is one who rises

Up against and meets another where they stand, equal.

There is a hint of threat and dominance to Eve

The ancients twisted the words to hide.

 

I understand them. Eve was the rock Adam would break

Himself against. The one, who digging for his strength

Would break his arms and legs while he laid tied,

Helpless to a wheel. In the depths of his pain

 

She would command him to stand, and he would.

My Eve.

My love.

My one who stands over and against me.

 

You are the chisel to my bare stone, cutting

Away what hides my truth. You hold my greatest

Fears and deepest agonies within your delicate,

Fickle hands.

 

Fickle. Fickle in the way a child holds a moth.

My love for you is the love that moth holds

For the light that sets its wings aflame

And burns its fragile frame to dust.

 

You break me. Shatter me like glass

And expect my parts to reassemble

Themselves. In this way, my Ezer,

You find the strength I hide even

 

From myself.