I am meditating. In a room in Rodeo, at the rickety old secretary/dresser I use as a desk. It is by a window. I look out at the roadway, and think I am glad to live at a crossroad. The house across the street is silver grey. By its front stoop is a tree all covered in lavender blossoms. I wish I knew what to call it. But I see that it is beautiful, even though I cannot give it a name.
I wish I knew what sort of a man I am, to be called by my true name, but I don’t know, only that I am beautiful, which has to be enough.
I am meditating. I work to stay open. I work to feel this beautiful life, to understand the importance of the lavender blossoms. To live at this crossroads of knowing and not knowing the names of things and of my own self.
But sometimes this beautiful open, meditative state that I keep seeking in contemplation and retreat and sacred reading and chant and poetry and hope just isn’t enough. This beautiful life seems a beautiful lie, and then we die.
On Facebook today, I read an article about Gertrude Stein, living in Paris through the war years under the Vichy government. It seems there are those who believe that Stein was close to being a collaborator, in the interests of protecting herself and her collection of paintings. Something more than a resistor; something less than a Nazi. It made me shudder.
Who are we, any of us, in a time of turmoil? What are our true names? Do we name ourselves citizen? Writer? Resister? Artist? Priest or priestess? Lover? Witness? Even… poet? I think of the wisdom of another ex-pat American in Paris: “People are strange when you’re a stranger…”
Do you understand my mood this morning, Punk readers? Neither happy nor sad, creative nor blocked, alert nor sleepy, but somewhere in an in-between space. I loaf through a mournful ambivalent morning of liminal luminescence.
But I have a deadline, and this column must be written, so I try to prick a hole in this aura of mine, and let something leak out for you.
Have I ever written a column with more question marks? Today is a question mark day. A day of suspension. Here’s another possible name: The Seeker.
In the traditional Tarot image, the card “The Hermit” is represented as a seeker, a man holding up a lantern, alone, in a dark night. Yes, today is like that.
Since the election, oh so long ago, I have sought to find myself in a political stance. I’ve read more issues of the New York Times in these past six months then I’ve read in my entire life. And I’ve begun watching TV again, after many years of abstention. I’ve even been tempted to toss back a stiff drink after a quarter century of sobriety (I haven’t… yet). For weeks after the election, I posted on Facebook every day: “This is not normal. Pay attention.” Then I’d include the number of days since the dark night of November 8, 2016. But I grow tired.
My beloved friend, potent poet and gifted amateur chef Hugh Behm-Steinberg, has always enjoyed the occasional casual Facebook post describing a meal he is cooking, or telling the story of simple domestic events. But now he has taken to finishing such anecdotes with a remark such as, “And Trump is still an asshole and a fascist.”
Sometimes, I feel as though our true names have been stolen from us by the Orange Fury. He chokes us with his fire and smoke, sucking up all the air, poisoning everything.
I work hard to keep the doors of my psyche open and let the fresh wind of spirit blow in from some Other place, some Other America where my still patriotic heart can live, some alternative reality where Trump was never elected, or even turned out to be a good man (is it possible?) or even a woman, an America where poets can celebrate more than lament.
It is June. School is letting out for the summer and the children are knowing joy in freedom. Will it be for the last time?
On the Fourth of July, I will turn sixty-one years old, with another new name, “sexagenarian.” It’s not as sexy as it sounds. But, you notice, I share a birthday with America. I’m stuck with that. I’m an American and I love being an American. Born just outside of Boston, a town whose streets run through the body politic like arteries carrying the life blood of history. I imbibed patriotism with my baby food.
Lord knows, that part of me that can be named “patriot” has been challenged. Little did I know, attending my New England elementary school, that the stories I read of Johnny Tremain and the American Revolution were not stories of my people, Ashkenazy Jews who came here to escape the pogroms and poverty of the old country, becoming gangsters and doctors and artists and show folk and schoolteachers, grocers and executives, but never coming close to transforming into Mayflower blue bloods.
To hell with that! I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, Yankee Doodle do or die, a real life nephew of my Uncle Sam, born on the Fourth of July!
That is another name I claim, the SCROTUS (So-Called Ruler of the United States) notwithstanding.
Heed the wise words from a recent Facebook post of Hugh Behm-Steinberg: “I’m making corn chowder. And Donald Trump is a criminal asshole…”
What to do in this time of assholes and scoundrels? Look at them. Name them. Love your life as much as you can. Make the soup. And keep on keeping on.
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.