Thursday, June 23, 2011

Battersea; Atheism over Agnosticism; Rosalie; Pink Floyd; Don't Kill Yourself

Dear Bleaders,

So what's shakin'? Same old around here. I've been named one of the 25 most influential living atheists. To which I say, "You call this living?" No, but seriously folks. It is super fun, and brings new readers (hi new readers!) but oddly does not come with a large cash award. So I remain beholden to poetry for my amusement. I thought today I'd try to unravel some thoughts on time travel, or rather, as it is more commonly noted, some thoughts on history.

There is nothing stranger you can do to your mind than to give it history. Take Rosalie, for instance. She is walking through a village early morning in England and looking at the charming houses and ingratiating streams. She walks a long time as the grey sky mists and clears to blue, and back to grey and misty. Rosie's okay and her good shoes are holding up too. She smells the world and feels it in her belly. Her mind is rattling around in there, wondering what it’s doing here, but the rest of her is feasting on the moment.

Now Rosie goes into a café and starts reading the big grey book on the counter beside her, a history of this same town in which she’s been wandering. The sky starts storming outside, inside they seem glad to have her, so she gets comfortable and lunch hours go by.

By the time the sky gets light again, it is already getting dimmer, past tea, before dinner, and she heads out to snake the streets home to her hostel. But now she knows everything about Battersea. Why is Battersea inland, for instance? Because it used to be on the coast but the sea was so brutal in its marauding erosion that the townspeople picked up and left, stopped in a quiet place just south of London and named their dry new encampment with the old wet name they’d always known. Much later Bertrand Russell would deliver, here, one of his most powerful and influential speeches on the purposes of man under the godless heavens.

As Rosie walks homeward the aspect of the natives changes. Now she everywhere sees the odd pluck it must require to lift yourself up and all your neighbors and redirect your browser to another world, inland, and name it Battersea again. Battersea forever.

The human mind, I think, has two modes: Present and Historical. Both are good. In the first you are an animal, in the second, just a god. The first smells baking bread. The second knows this is the same bread Henry the Fifth smelt just before he dealt his quiverblow against the fearsome French, who were all man and five times as many but their arrows, ahem, fell short. Englishmen now in their beds have wished they’d been there to see it for centuries now. Englishmen, for Chrissake, get out of bed already.

Let’s make the village a concept and do this again. Rosalie is an agnostic. She has heard the argument that no one can prove a negative and believes it. Then she wanders into a café and reads a big book on doubt as she waits out the rain. Now she knows that the term agnosticism was invented only a hundred years ago by Thomas Henry Huxley, and has no intellectual pedigree to speak of. Huxley made it up having read about Skepticism, which is a philosophically robust proposition that asks how we can know anything at all, given the limitations of our minds and our tiny, animal perspective. Skepticism is thousands of years old and has been brilliantly explored in every age. Agnosticism is the logic of Skepticism applied to only one question, the question of whether one particular people’s imagined idea of the supernatural actually exists.

To be sensible, either you are a Skeptic about all things, which allows you to be a profoundly interesting thinker but does not allow you to claim to know anything about the world; or you are a rationalist, which means you gather evidence, try to minimize your cultural bias, and make conclusions. If you make your decisions by rationalism, you can certainly say that an idea is not to be considered as at all valid if it has no evidence to argue for it being true. In Skepticism I have to allow that possibly all of life is happening in the dream of a cosmic elephant; in rationalism, I do not. It is philosophical nonsense to take Skepticism and apply it to one belief. In rationalism, it is possible to rule on the validity of a conjecture that has no evidence.

Huxley made up agnosticism because he wanted to leave room for people to be atheists but still keep a line of hope. But that is massively wrong-headed. When people confront the truth they get used to it and see that it is not so bad. So there is no afterlife. Big deal. Life is enough. When you are dead, you are so dead that nothing should matter to you about it. When you are alive, you’re alive. Every moment is so huge, there is so much of it, and we take in so little of it. You want more life at the end? You’re hardly using the life you have now. None of us are. We already have more than we can handle. Your job is to try to know the present and the past, to expand into the now, in part by knowing what was.

Some people get on a plane to change where they are but you can transform your surroundings as well as your inner world with just a touch of new knowing.

Having researched and written Doubt: A History and The Happiness Myth I find myself in a land unexpected. Richer and twisty. Aware of how an inland people still braves battering by the sea. History emancipates and reconfigures so the way home looks different than the way we’ve just been.

Russell’s speech (in 1927) was “Why I Am Not a Christian,” and it was published and republished and for several generations it was a downright sacred text for those flying their kite with nothing but wind and skill. For more on that and a thousand other inspirations, see Doubt: A History and The Happiness Myth.

It was, btw, over the Battersea Power Station that Pink Floyd floated their pig on the wing. On the Animals cover (1977). Life, friends, is boring. That’s why John Berryman drank so much, so much of the time. His mother was right too: Ever to admit you are bored means you have no inner resources. I admit now that, like everyone else, I have no inner resources. By contrast though, I have quite a lot of outer resources, and not always in the tankard. With history hissing gory about the storied past, and the smell of the bread, baking in one’s olfactoric imagination, it begins to be possible to still the spinning day down to something distillable, and store it, and become your own oracle.

Rosalie notices that everything has changed, but that she, in some ways, at least, is the same, and has kept her name. It’s still me. It's still Rosalie. It's still Battersea. It’s still you too, and since it is, you need to know your history. It makes the run from the gun to the sun a lot more fun.

Alright, I love you, as you know. Don't kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again.



Monday, June 13, 2011

Game of Thrones

Dear Bleaders,

I could eat a horse's heart.

As any years-long member of an art or science can say, as any partner in any longstanding marriage could say, as any smarty with a heart who has worked and lived in America in these last few decades could say, as anyone who birthed (or hardmade/hardwon child) and raised children could say, as anyone from a family can say - I have eaten the equivalent of a horse's heart, and I like seeing it done on screen by a stunning, blond blindsiding frontside Force-of-will kaleesi with eyes like my day's peak and piqued and picked and peaked high.

Oh Their God, the whole show is so good I can't take it.

I love ALL the characters, and also want to kill them all with my hands and daggers and swords, and also have sex with, um, most of them. Have a mug of beer with the rest. Maybe a little cuddle. A little play sword-fight with Needle. A smirking kiss from Mayor Carcetti? Chest butt with Eddwd. No leg ride wit the sweet recently disabled kid, Bran, I think, yes Bran (don't remember this line or name if you haven't seen the series yet, it might slightly spoil one small thread). I'd like a sewing circle with the redhead little princess to be. I'd like to slap Joffre and teach him how to make his elders a cup of tea. I'd like to have klingon sex with with kalisee and her horse chieftain. Learn medicine from that dirty sheep lady, she's got pot, you know she's holding at least pot and some pain pills. Trade barbs with the imp, he'd like me and when he tired me out I could probly outrun him. Glad the blond shrill prick got a metal hat. The fat king's makdes (spoilerminded tense mash) me feel bloated. Love Lady Cat. Love Needle girl. Love Sam on the wall fat coward but observant and smart. Love the wolves. Love the bastard. Love the whores, poetic. Think it's funny that Jamie and Cqueen are pretty much the only one's we've seen actually have a good fuck. Love the blood. Love the honest depiction of family as a snakepit of conquest and incest and horror and murder and soul murder, and also the place of loyalty, and trust, and fun, and hope, and companionate despair. Love the iron chair.

Game of Thrones.



Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gorilla Poem

This is a poem from my second poetry book, Funny. Most of the poems in the book have an old joke inside them.

Gorilla In a Darkening Room

A suspicion about oneself
in the midst of placid repetition
is a vehicle.

The suspicion is not a destination.

Obviously, the suspicion
should not be denied, but neither
should one believe it.

Let us imagine that life
in the arctic is going well for you,
though you are entirely alone
and the food is long gone; you’ve
made your meek adjustments.
The suspicion is a four-wheel drive
all-terrain vehicle that appears,
with keys, one dark day. My point is:
it is important that you do not
simply begin living in the car.

Drive. Our concerns are the anxiety
of not knowing
where we’re going,
and the terrific fear
of being given anything else to do,
of anything else appearing on our desk.
We tender resignation.
We succumb. We head back
inside and stick in a thumb.
It’s a not uncommon, it’s a common

error about how things get done.
How many gorillas does it take
to screw in a light-bulb? One,
but you need a lot of light-bulbs.

The gorilla regards
the crate of light-bulbs with excitement
but by noon, despair. My friends,
I admit, I can not
bear the anxiety of not knowing.

Outside, the African sky bleeds blue
and oxidizes. Indoors, the one
light socket opens herself
to her gorilla and waits for the perfect
turn. Did you really come here

to talk about love? Poor baboon.
This is no way to go about it,
of course, of course we need
to be more honest, to admit
the secret weakness, the shattered,
well, let’s move on.
You hear the socket coo:
My lonely gorilla, did they
punish you into perversion?

Under these circumstances

it is hard to be epic. The best

you can do is re-open the field

of possibilities and resist
rushing them closed. Bear
the anxiety of not knowing.

Resist summing up.
The secret weakness
wishes to speak! Nevertheless,

face it, nothing works.

It is winter in the African
jungle and I am
empty. Below me, on the ground,
a silverback looks out
at the bruised-fruit sky of a setting
sun and then back up at me.

There’s something about
fear of darkness in his attentions.
Crates of light-bulbs
everywhere and everywhere
broken bulbs. The terrible
graying gorilla is really trying
to figure it out now. He’s

looking closer. I want him
to figure it out, much as,
in the other metaphor, I want
to park the car in the first
town I come to, buy a house,
marry the village wine-steward,
and open a nice Chianti.

But you’ve got to roam.

The mango-papaya sky
at sunset in the jungle,

the aurora in the tundra.

Either way, be brave,
press the sky back into
the distance. Give yourself
a little room. Inside

the little room, dark now,
the gorilla sighs, the light-bulbs
sigh, the socket sleeps
and dreams about the rising
sun. So this is how the west was
won? This is how things get done.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

pinker still

Sunday, April 17, 2011

yet pinker