This week, your Storming Bohemian has moved to a new house. Again. And so some reflections:
There is much to be said for stability, I know. The steady quiet observation of the likes of Annie Dillard or Henry Thoreau evokes my admiration. I am even an oblate of a Benedictine monastery. I know monks who have remained cloistered for half a century, and wonderful, interesting, eccentric, and contemplative men they are.
But for all that, stability of place has not been my karma. My father had the wanderlust. When I was only eleven years old, what I knew of stability was carried off in a whirlwind when he moved our family from a suburb of Boston to the Mississippi Delta to establish a poverty health clinic. In 1968, in an all-Black town (except for us). It was the year Martin and Bobby were assassinated. Gone were familiar streets, family, teachers, piano lessons, reliable summer vacations—a stable world. It seemed everything was swept away. The world became a cacophonous catastrophe. My family fled rural Mississippi under difficult circumstances, over a three-day period during a crisis brought on by an attack on my ten-year-old sister. (It’s an interesting story and my sister has written a memoir about it.)
I entered my teens in the early 1970s in Miami, where Dad had found a job setting up a health clinic for migrant workers. This was a decade chock full of communes and cocaine and Miami was about as stable as a skiff in a hurricane. I was too young for the draft, but not for the anti-war demonstrations. By fifteen, I was a chronic runaway, riding my thumb all over the East Coast from commune to commune, bouncing like a ping pong ball between drug-addled hippies, friendly suburban families determined to be cool, offbeat gurus running hippie ashrams, and a surfeit of strangers.
Sing it with me: “People are strange when you’re a stranger…”
Caught in the whirligig of time and history, I was both deliriously happy and terrifically traumatized. And this is what I learned: I could find my stability in movement. The chant of change became the mantra of my growth, my art, and my being. This has cost me a lot of jobs, brought me material poverty, and spiritual riches. Sometimes it feels like a wash. Sometimes it feels like destiny. Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. Whatever.
Sing it with me: “Freedom’s just another word…”
About a year ago, I tried to count the number of addresses I’ve had since becoming a teenage runaway. At thirty-five, I gave up. I have many friends and family owning no more than two or three addresses in a lifetime. Those with four or five consider they have moved a lot.
So what does this peripatetic history have to do with punking the muse? I want to say that, for me, writing and art are all about contemplation. To be an artist is to pursue the miracle of remaining awake in a world of people who are constantly falling asleep. Everything conspires to induce sleepiness: the hypnotic effect of the quotidian, the somnolence of the steady job, the sturdy house, the predictable hobbies, and the ho-hum hominess of habit. All of us face the temptation to shut down our attention. After all, the world isn’t pretty, is it? No need to compose a catalog of calamity to make the point. One can shut down with distractions, running madly from one adventure to the next. Or one can shut down through isolation, cutting off all stimulation to live in a cave or a cell.
The monk’s cell does not provide stability; that comes from within.
In my experience, it is possible to find a great depth of attention in splendid isolation: for example, think of Thoreau at Walden Pond, Merton in rural Kentucky, Wordsworth in a field of daffodils, or Bukowski in a barroom. It is also possible to find nothing more than depression, drunkenness, and a deadening coarseness.
As alluring as I find seclusion and silence, monastic calm, the reliable round of Benedictine bells, my muse—my Holy Guardian Angel? my higher power? my inner Self?—seems to be less Demeter (stable and steady goddess of the harvest) and more Kali (goddess of time, bringer of change). In recent years, forcing me to move my ass from place to place, she has appeared as one landlord’s crazy girlfriend, who chased him through our house with a butcher knife and threatened to barbecue his dog before keying my car; another landlord hoarded a collection of sixteen (!) fertile Shih Tzus that took over our lovely home in the hills (before leaving, I noted they put the shit in Shih Tzu). It is no surprise that the muse is moving me along again, this time manifesting as the landlady who collected rent but stopped paying the mortgage.
And so I pack too many books, my precious altar objects (a wooden skeleton representing an ancestral shaman, an anthropomorphic cat, the representation of my shamanic healing owl spirit, a bag of my favorite incense), corral my significant other (he does the cartoons), and head into the wind.
The moral? Take the inspiration that’s given. Don’t seek another life. Pay deep attention to the one you live.
The stability (what there is of it) is in YOU, my friend: not in the times and certainly not in your specific conditions. The Buddha was right: keep the change.
Now let it all amuse you, and keep on punking.
Rumpus original logo and artwork by James Lorenzato, aka Argyle C. Klopnick (ACK!).
“The Storming Bohemian Punks The Muse” was originally developed as a column under the editorship of Evan Karp at Litseen. An earlier incarnation of this work can be found there, along with many other interesting things.