a tagline: To stare into the infinite darkness and embrace our finitude
a motto: something about vulnerability
I think a lot about how I might start a biography. Early on I want to highlight the unreliability of the narrator.
I think a lot about how I might start an autobiography. I have a conceit about the lessons the Rolling Stones taught me. It’s a good conceit, and I hope to pursue it.
But the quote that inspired these rumination comes from Henry Miller, by way of Erica Jong.*
I read this quote while on a trip through central america. It meant a lot to me then. Something about it’s logic was inherently appealing. It was exciting to consider myself a God.
But now it means even more to me, I feel as if I have a deeper more nuanced understanding. That I have walked much farther along the path it points to, and I think that I understand it’s truth on a more intimate level.
Like the Rolling Stones, I reflect on Henry Miller as a deeply flawed being, who was morally reprehensible in many ways. What I took from Erica Jong’s book was that what redeems him, if anything, was his willingness to reveal himself.
Most of that was lost on me when I read him myself, I was in it for the power fantasy, and as a result I still harbor some judgement.
But I do think that vulnerability is key. The narrative provided by Jong scares me as much as it attracts me. What if I am vulnerable and open and find that I am Henry Miller. I think I could accept that I hold repugnant thoughts, but what if, like him, I did not use that acknowledgment to avoid causing harm?
What if I found that unrestrained, I just enacted my worst impulses on the world.
The Rolling Stones are rarely willing to be vulnerable in this way.
All of which is a distraction, carried along by the narrative logic of the words that came before, as opposed to my true intent. Some writers are capable of coming much closer to resisting that tide, and marrying their words with their poetry and their meaning. They can make the barrier between their words and their inner reality seem paper thin, and that can be magnificent and powerful.
But what I want to highlight at the start of my theoretical autobiography, is that the barrier still exists, however thin.
Did Miller know what he was saying when he said it? Did he mean what I thought he meant 10 years ago? Was his openness to the world bringing him ever closer to the revelation it reminds me of now? Perhaps the beauty is that it contains all of this and much more.
Magnificent. The words themselves deceive even as they reveal. Powerful.
What they do not necessarily do, is convey any true sense of history, or what it meant to be inside his head. And as I cobble together stories about my life and try to cram them into a narrative conceit about the Rolling Stones**, I may aspire to poetry. But I want it to be clear from the outset that I have no capacity to convey the truth of my existence, or even my history, nor can I know the truth of yours.
The things that seemed important moments ago, flitter away.
All we have are these words to communicate with. They can be great.
*Where is the quote? It is here: “Like every man I am my own worst enemy, but unlike most men I know too that I am my own saviour.”
Why is it at the end? I wrote this draft with only my memory of the quote. In that draft it was inserted into the text 3 times! When I finally tracked down the quote it was so far from what I recalled I would have given up the whole endeavor, if this was not exactly the point of this piece.
**I came very close to telling this same story using a Keith Richards quote about the lack of and real security in the world. But that was not the quote that inspired these thoughts. All that stopped me was the knowledge that I could highlight that I had NOT done so, and it would reinforce how unreliable the construction of narrative is.
Preview of Rolling Stones lessons: Something about being open to encountering the worlds most famous band as new, about the power of myth to both illuminate and distort, about the power of controlled chaos, about rhythm that moves and withholds, about how that’s achieved in the studio
“The best-adjusted person in our society is the person who is not dead and not alive, just numb, a zombie.
When you are dead you’re not able to do the work of the society.
When you are fully alive you are constantly saying, “No” to many of the processes of society, the racism, the polluted environment, the nuclear threat, the arms race, drinking unsafe water and eating carcinogenic foods.
Thus it is in the interest of our society to promote those things that take the edge off, keep us busy with our fixes, and keep us slightly numbed out and zombie-like. In this way our modern consumer society itself functions as an addict.” – Anne Wilson Schaef
I want to think there are better uses for my time than writing confessionals.
One of the things poetry can do is capture a reality so completely that you can begin to understand its multifaceted truth. It can take that reality and redeem it. It can show you something about grace.
Leonard Cohen was a poet before he was a songwriter.
The ninth song on Leonard Cohen’s 1979 live album (Field Commander Cohen) is “Memories”. Sung to a do-wop track, the music and vocal swells until Cohen croons
I said “won’t you let me see” I said “won’t you let me see” Your naked body?”
It is a moment of sublime beauty, helped along by some biographical knowledge.
A man known in later years for his impossibly deep voice, in this moment, he croons.