Tag: civil disobedience

As Above, So Below

very pale pale

The other day I read a comment someone made about my generation, the ones the hippies raised, saying we’re a bunch of narcissists.  I’ve been called a narcissist once.  I have also listened to many people suggest that people who write about themselves on blogs or post pictures of their lives too often are self absorbed.

Writers are documentarians.  We record stimuli constantly.  We tell stories, sometimes literal ones based solely on facts, sometimes inspired by facts, but always pulled from the stimuli we are constantly taking in and noting and capturing in multi-media formats.  We listen in on conversations in pubs which become field notes.  We watch light changing on the roads we travel and look for words to cement it into our memory for later, for revisiting, for using.

Anyone who thinks that writing their experiences on a blog or in a book is somehow a great big navel-gazing narcissistic ritual of a me-generation and a sign of extreme vanity is someone who is exquisitely uncomfortable in their own skin, uncomfortable with the idea of mattering, and is definitely not yet a writer.

One of the greatest gifts of sharing personal experiences publicly is that every time we let ourselves be vulnerable, every time we let strangers hear our most private revelations and our most sour or corrupt moments it creates an opportunity to pull someone in from isolation, from the lonely outskirts of the population who has been feeling dreadfully alone.  Telling our stories out loud isn’t vainglorious, it’s inviting tribe recognition.

How many times in your life have you been relieved to hear someone say something you were too afraid to say?  How often has reading a book made you feel more whole, more understood, more connected to humanity?  How do you think you make friends – you get to talking with people you understand, who have things in common with you, who speak the same spiritual language, or who came from a similar background.

What if no one ever shared their private thoughts or experiences out loud?  What if no one wrote books?  What if no one explored themselves with paintings, photography, poetry, and in doing so revealed more universal truths?  Do you think that J.D. Salinger pulled his books out of his ass?  He did not.  His books are an amalgamation of his personal experiences, his imagination extrapolating beyond personal experience, and his ability to see people in the world like himself.  What if he had never written?  What if he thought writing books was a narcissistic activity?  What if artists never painted or sculpted or assembled parts or photographed or sketched or welded or put their ideas on a pottery wheel?  What then?  What would the world be like then?

All art starts with a reflection of the artist.  If you can’t look inside yourself then you can’t get beyond yourself.  If you can’t get beyond yourself then you can’t connect with others.  We take in stimulus and we hash it and wash it and thrash it against the walls of our own spirit, we evaluate what it feels like, what it means, and what it has added to our day, our life, our perspective.  And then we spit it back out in a way that only we can do.  We share it.  We share it because sharing matters.  Because sharing creates community.  Because sharing creates strength.  Sharing lets others in.  Sharing, when it’s honest, is all we have to give as human beings.

So when you’re harshing on people creating a public personal narrative, at least give them a chance to share truth.  Give them a chance to open their veins for you.  There’s more of that going on than people recognize or appreciate.  Sometimes a picture of a home made meal shared on instagram is sending out a home made hug rather than assuming that you really care what someone had for lunch.  Sometimes it’s a dialog, one meant to unite beyond politics, beyond religion, and beyond social status.  All the people you see putting their lives out on the laundry line of social media are doing what people have always been doing, just more efficiently now, seeking connections and conversations with other human beings.  But now we have the whole world at our fingertips.

I have bled myself in my narratives.  I have skinned myself.  But there has never been a moment when I have shared my narrative because I felt self-important, certainly not any more important than any other human beings.  I use my own image quite often and it isn’t because I think I’m sexy and need everyone to admire me – often it is to let you see through me.  Through my eyes to where I’m most raw.  I’m also my most convenient subject.  Sometimes I represent a universal mood or I share what I think you might look like if I could get hold of you with my camera.

I submit that if you are a real writer you have to get beyond privacy and be willing to share what infects you more than anything else, you have to let go of pride and be willing to reveal your flesh in both its weakness and its strength.  If you are a writer the act of sharing isn’t vain, it’s a constant experiment and dare to become more naked than you thought you have ever been before.  You do it because you have something that needs coming out.  You take in so much stimuli that something must come out of it.  And in the end, the things you experience are being experienced by many other people simultaneously.  Sharing gives them hope.  Sharing gives you hope.  sharing brings you all together.

Writing the minutiae of my life isn’t about vanity or narcissism.  It’s about finding my own tribe and pulling the outsiders in.  It’s about expressing what has to come out and letting it be what it is, letting me be what I am without shame.

I’m a writer.  I’m a recordist.  I am the opposite of narcissism.  I look inside myself to find you.  I look inside myself to find all of us.  I’m a small person hiding in big skin.  I’m a mouse with a gramophone.  I don’t share my life out loud because I think highly of myself but because I have a facility with words and meaning and narrative that bring outsiders in.

Outsiders like myself.

When I was a kid my parents taught me the concept of divinity being reflected everywhere.  You can find the cosmos in all living beings.  God lives in all of us.  Every molecule carries the magic of creation and wonder.  I dislike the work “wonder”  because it implies an innocence I’ve never had as a person.  It implies fairies and magic and everlasting glitter streaming through the veins of angels.  But I got it – as much as there can be a God – it is reflected in all of us to some degree.  It’s all around us.

Then when I was in my early twenties working at the Coffee Roastery there was a guy named Chris who developed an unhealthy attachment to me and attempting to elevate my spirituality he gave me a copy of the Kabbalah.  I honestly tried to get into it.  I got as far as this concept: AS ABOVE, SO BELOW.

Which blew my mind away.  I got it completely.  It was the same thing my parents had  been trying to teach me.  What’s in us is in the universe.  What’s in God is in God’s creations.  The microcosm reflects the macrocosm.  What happens on a petty level happens on a global level.  When the plants and the insects are out of balance, the whole ecosystem is out of balance.  When single cells are sickening you will find that all the complex beings are also sickening.

None of us live in a vacuum.  If anyone says “what I do is none of your business”, that may  be legally true, but it’s not true in any other way.  Everything we do has an effect on those around us.  When a nuclear plant melts down in Fukushima it reaches everyone in the world eventually.  When meth producers blow up their premises they poison everyone around them.  When we throw trash out individually we are having a world-wide impact on everyone.

As above, so below.

None of us live in a vacuum.  We are all connected to each other by invisible but strong threads.

I write and share because I feel my part in the whole.  What I say might not be important, but keeping silent would give strength to a tyranny I can’t support.

Speaking out, for me, continues to be my most potent form of civil disobedience.

As above, so below.


American Dissident

We started bombing Libya today.  Excuse me, apparently we’re helping the Allies “protect” the Libyan dissidents of Gadhafi’s dictatorship.

We’re still in Afghanistan.  We’re still in Iraq.  And now we’re going to lend a hand to the civil war in progress in Libya?  Is there no limit to our Democratic benevolence?  Is there no end to our humanitarian efforts?

While people in our own country are stripping every penny they can from everything that has the potential to make our country rise above our brutish gun-toting violent and ignorant reputation (education and support for the arts are a stupid waste of time) we’re spending all those pennies to kill people.  We have all kinds of reasons.  We’re told it’s all so complex.  We can’t pull out of the Middle East because we owe it to them to stay.  Maybe they’ll develop nuclear bombs while we’re too busy teaching our children the fine art of critical thinking, something we’ve never been known for, and then we’ll wish we’d never left.

I am so angry.   I am so heart-sick for the world.  I don’t want to be associated with a country bent on encouraging ignorance in its people and on self destruction.  We’re like Rome before it fell.  We’re like Britain before it lost India.  If we had any wisdom at all (and we don’t) we’d look at history, we’d see our future written clearly and uncompromisingly in the history of the world.

We are not a smart government.  We are not a smart country.  We doggedly hold onto our own propaganda and get drunk off the company line turning our eyes from the stark reality of war.  We sanitize our news so we don’t have to count the bodies we’re stacking in the attic.  We tell ourselves it’s okay to murder people if they might eventually someday pose a threat to us even if it isn’t obvious right now… all we need is possibility.  We tell ourselves that God approves of us throwing down dictators and ignore that Jesus disagrees with his father and tells us that we should turn the other cheek.  We pride ourselves on being a nation of “moral” people who believe in God.*

We’re like the billionaire with the stacks of gold credit cards and an industry built on fragile (now more radio-active than ever) air.  We spend and spend and spend.  Then the bills pour in and we rob the poor to pay the rich (rob the kids to pay the parents) and stave off the creditors for a little while and, satisfied with our diamonds and AKs, we party on as though we’ll always have a bottomless pit of money.  Eventually we discover the bank is on our doorstep and we hawk the furs and the espresso machines and apologize for our gross excesses while applying for more credit cards with foreign banks.

Then one day there’s no more credit.  Everyone figures out the scam.  Bankruptcy is the only outcome.  Vulnerability.  Nothing to back you up.  No savings.  No medical.  No bandaids.  No refinancing.  No mercy.

I’m bankrupt.  I have no credit cards.  When bad shit happens I’ll have only my wits and my skin to get me through crisis.  If I can’t afford a crisis then I’ll have to pay for it with my blood cause there aint no money in the coffers.  This is my country right now.  We are the same.  Except that I have a conscience.  My country has none.

What business do we have pretending to be the fairy godmother of capitalistic democracy?  We can’t afford to give our people decent health care for free, what business do we have fighting wars in three countries?  We value freedom for ourselves but we really don’t give a shit if anyone else has it.  The line is that we’ll help anyone fight for the kind of freedom we have but really we’re fighting so we can tell everyone else what to do which isn’t really freedom.

If we don’t stop starting civil wars in other countries and stop wedging ourselves in the civil wars others have started on their own behalf then we’ll have our own civil war.  The last time we had one of those was devastating.  It was nasty.  It was bloody.   And the South has never forgiven the North for winning.  They’re still flying their own flags for god’s sake.

Just yesterday I got word that Max got a place in the charter school we wanted to get him into because we think it’s just the kind of school where our unconventional son can thrive.  When I heard we were bombing Libya my first thought was “This will erode education in this country even more and the first schools to fold will be charter schools.”

What is great about this country?  That I can say what I want about it without being detained indefinitely without a formal charge?  We have places set up where we can get around that annoying and inconvenient freedom.  All they have to do is suspect you of anti-patriotism.

If you’re not for us you’re against us.

I’m an American Dissident.  If I could move to Canada I’d do it in a heartbeat.  I’m done with my country in my heart.

The worst thing I can say of myself today is that I’m American.

I’d really like to say I’m Canadian.  I’d like to say I’m Norwegian.  I’d like to say I’m French.

The big irony is that my father is a Canadian citizen.  The big irony is that I’m a quarter Norwegian.  My father has Norwegian citizenship.  I’m also part French.  My father doesn’t have French citizenship.  That’s small comfort.  How did I end up having to be stuck with an American citizenship and not enough money to be an expat?

I’m so ashamed of being American and I’ve been ashamed for so many years now that even though I don’t have the freedom to leave my country I abandon it in my conscience.  I am not my country.  I belong to no country.  My passport can say what it will, I belong nowhere.

Until my country starts giving a shit about education and health care and stops being obsessed with the second amendment I belong to no country.

I renounce all government.  I renounce all borders.

Peace is the only way to enlightenment.  Nonviolence is the only way to righteousness.

My freedom is no freedom worth having if the only way I can keep it is to sanction the killing of other people.

The cost is too high.  The American conscience is as bankrupt as the American budget.


*Well, obviously I’m not one of those people.