Friday, June 25, 2010

You Don't Have To Wait Until You Die - Marginal Thoughts

A friend of mine has just shared this song with me. It occurs to me that she has said exactly the same thing that I have tried to create a space for via a 3,000+ word blog post - all in a 2 minute song by an artist I knew she loved but never sought out for myself.

There should be no hesitation when the coast is clear
You got a right to slide right into place when the end is almost here
So you think you got some rotten deal
What a way to compromise
It's a long long way before you get to claim that final prize
Looking at that sorry face i can recognize the fear
But if you keep on looking up at night the stars will all appear
See there's food for me, there's food for you
There's gold that's in the air
There's oceans deep and wide and there is love beyond compare
There's apples in the trees
Let's take all that we need
We know what we believe
There's hope for you and me
My eyes can almost see
If you fight 'til you're free
You don't have to wait until you die (repeat, theoretically ad infinitum)
I have strong emotional attachments in my life, and one of those, after years of hating my own writing process, is now writing. Still, one can go on for too long in agony when there has been a brief, artistic articulation of one's mission right there all along.

And she sent me this before I wrote the last post. I was just too stuck in my own productivity to take the time to look.

It really covers everything - the need for wealth in its multivarious forms and its simultaneous decentralization as an organizing principle for how we value our lives, the need to share my story now that I know in my heart "the coast is clear," at least for now, the need to know what freedom means when it isn't Capitalized and overdetermined, and the need to lose myself in a starry night when there are Better Things I Could Be Doing Right Now.

And the final exhortation in this song by Mirah gives me an excellent opportunity to share a piece of writing that I've shared years ago. It is the eulogy I gave at my sister's funeral. It is the writing I am most proud of that I produced during my graduate career. And like much effective writing, it is not only all about me, it is also all about you. It is all about the me I wanted to be at the time but couldn't. And it is about the me I am trying to become through my dissemination of this very blog.

Here it is, unedited. I wrote it in 45 minutes, two hours before it was spoken in the funeral.


I am relatively new to sudden death. I was too young when my grandfather Shipley died to remember it at all. When Ammaw went, it was difficult, but her remarkable, long, well-lived life allowed me a small amount of comfort. It was the same situation when Papa, my grandpa Buddin, passed away.

But now, we are faced with a scenario too devastating for words to be adequate.

When I received the call on Thursday that Stephanie was dead, I was shocked. I’m still shocked. The condolence that I’ve received from my friends most often is “I don’t know what to say.” Well, that’s probably because in our culture, we’re not socialized to believe that life can end so soon. Stephanie was still in the invincible years, that glowing epoch when you know nothing bad – not THIS bad – can happen, and your parents believe you because that’s what they have to do to live their life. We’re not supposed to know what to say and that’s OK. A sincere, silent presence is all it takes to comfort the hearts who are suffering, and on behalf of my family, I can most certainly say that we are grateful for your presence, and Stephanie knows that each and every one of you are here, doing for us what you would’ve done for her if it had been one of us that was lost.

When I say that, I don’t mean to take a turn to the morbid; rather, I simply want to acknowledge that death is a part of life, and until we acknowledge our own mortality our lives will only be partial ones. If we live safely, we live only half of a life, but if we live boldly and honestly, we will make the most of the time we are allotted.

When I heard the news, I knew in my heart, and against the advice of many relatives –

I just knew that I needed to see the land of our country, for Stephanie’s eyes to live in my eyes so she could see all she should’ve lived to see. I haven’t told anyone this yet, but when my school year was over, I was planning to fly her out to Los Angeles so we could make a trip home together. I still felt obligated to make that trip, to remind myself that we are all connected by the earth, rather than jumping into the sky and magically touching down a few hours later. On highway 60 between the towns of Globe and Show Low, Arizona (EULOGY EDITED HERE TO ADD: CONSIDER THE BITTER IRONY THAT THIS STATE WILL NOT SEE MY WILLING PATRONAGE AGAIN UNTIL SOME SERIOUS BULLSHIT IS CLEARED UP, YOU NATIVIST, RACIST, EVIL MOTHERFUCKERS. That was tone-modification. Thank you.), I saw something that I will always remember. The sun was rising, and I found myself on the side of a mountain. I couldn’t see the bottom of the canyon, and I could only see the blue-pink hue from the nascent sun in the sky. At that moment I was awestruck in both senses: filled with fear, and filled with amazement. At that moment, I felt peace. I knew my sister was “on ‘the road’” with me. I knew she could see what I was seeing. And I knew there was something bigger than myself there, and whether you call that God or something else altogether, that something was there too.

So, I still don’t know what to say. I don’t think there is any more to say. But I know what I will do, or try to do, from now on. Yes, I’ll mourn, you’ll mourn, we’ll sink into abjection, but then we can – we must – honor the lives who have come before us, of whom Stephanie is now a member. We must live our lives exceptionally, doing the things we most dream of, because we never know when it will be too late. I know that’s what I’ll do, and I hope, for your own sake, that you will do the same.

I want to end with a quote from Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America. This comes at the conclusion of the play, and I think it reflects very clearly a new starting point from here out, a way of coping and a way of honoring.
I dreamed we were there. The plane leapt the tropopause, the safe air, and attained the outer rim, the ozone, which was ragged and torn, patches of it threadbare as old cheesecloth, and that was frightening. But I saw something that only I could see, because of my astonishing ability to see such things: Souls were rising, from the earth far below, souls of the dead, of people who had perished, from famine, from war, from the plague, and they floated up, like skydivers in reverse, limbs all akimbo, wheeling and spinning. And the souls of these departed joined hands, clasped ankles, and formed a web, a great net of souls, and the souls were three-atom oxygen molecules, of the stuff of ozone, and the outer rim absorbed them, and was repaired.

Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there’s a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead. At least I think that’s so.

Oh God. So many things to say, they deserve a memoir all their own, but I will share that I believe there is a reason that when I "leapt the tropopause, the safe air" of my sane consciousness, the line was very thin indeed between the "real-feelingness" of the world and the actuality of my circumstances, at least until I submitted to the syringe that contained the drug commemorated by the pharmaceutical industry in my profile photo.

Don... Geovanni? Mozart? Really?
Done Geo
Gone Deo - God is gone?
Done With Geo?
Finished With The Earth
Card Number 13
Giving Into Circumstances
Circumstantial Giving
Giving In
Just(ly) Giving.
Donation of Constantine?
Donate Geo(graphy?)
Give the Earth?
A Return to Earth
A Beginning

In a compromised state, in this mediated world, I hope you understand not only how, but why, a person who can juggle reading, writing, and mathematics in his head, who has often found succor in outside sources alone, whether in the form of praise, or simply through the poetic and the musical, may see his hallucinations as manifestations of his most terrifying narratives come true.

Maugham's retelling of "The Appointment in Samarra"

No Exit
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

I will share that I thought I was going to hell at a certain point in my vision because I had learned too much about the nature of the world, that everything was evil and everything was playing tricks on me. Hence, the puckish pose, the need to impose transformative Midsummer-Night's-Dreams on those around me via my cryptic communiques. But epiphanies are difficult to share, because even the best ones have their detractors. For all the talk of prophets in the Bible, it often seems that Christians These Days are concerned with a certain homophone of that word. And "feeling like a prophet" is perhaps the best way I can distill the affect of some parts of my episode. And now I'm feeling like a profit, but I want to earn it through traditional as well as radically creative means. I want to see just how much I can change my life if I soften hearts enough to get people to participate in the same thing they may do for an utterly random person on the street on a good day. Hence my solicitation of micro-donations from the world at the end of the last post.

All of this is to say that, as a wise educator put it to me in her generous response to one of my incredibly tonally-insensitive emails, sometimes breakdowns can be breakthroughs.

I will add that sometimes they must be. The unbendable will break. And the unfixable can sort itself out in some pretty crazy-seeming ways.

And sometimes the coast "looks so clear" that you just want to shout it from the rooftops, even when you know the future holds no promises for you.

Consider that in my manic state, I re-saved "Stephanie's Funeral Remarks.doc" and do not remember doing so consciously, with a subtitle: "My Radical Belief In God/goddess Binaries." And consider that Angels In America is subtitled A Gay Fantasia On National Themes. And that last blog post was my Gay Fantasia of sorts, and there are more to come, and the personal is political, and all that. But the Title: Subtitle thing is real popular in academia these days, the bold statement and the juicy hook. And even with the soaringly zhuzhy and vowelled "gay fantasia" opposed to the dactyl-spondaic "national themes," the potential and the settled, we remember only what comes before the colon (consider last 4 words in light of themes w/in Angels in America) in our brevity-obsessed culture.

Consider that when we leap the tropopause on our own, it could be the spirit(s) (goddesses? guardian Angels?) that guide(s) us that we must surrender to.

Consider that a year and a half ago, during my first manic episode, I thought I was talking with my sister directly.

Consider that I still talk with my sister. I now call it "praying."

[begin closing voice-over not unlike Meredith Grey]

So here's the thing.

Even in a world where we're obsessed with the borders of things, we have to remember that when we look to the sky, there is no limit. The stars will all appear. When we look to the ground, we remind ourselves that we're humans, that we fall within the lines. When we look around us, we see the pain on people's faces, but when we know who our friends are, when we know that sometimes even they turn away unconsciously from our deepest revelations, and when we find the courage to continue speaking anyway, the borders become less real, and we know that angels can be right here on earth.

You don't have to wait until you die,
but sometimes the waiting itself can feel like the agony of fearing death. Please find the courage if you can to speak to me via this medium called blogging/commenting. I may turn away unconsciously, but I will try very, very hard to listen. And I will respond the best I can.

You don't have to wait until you die.
And I not only think, but know, that's so.