Okay. I'll be a part of this world.

Let's charge through this shit:

I suffer from a debilitating combination of qualities: good taste and pride. This is to say that I know what is good and I want to make it. I am proud of the taste, and loathe the pride. I would much prefer either knowing what is good while being creatively shameless or finding pride through easy satiability. 

So, of course, please forgive me that which I am unable to forgive myself: my work is not yet pareil with my desire!


Writing this piece has been a difficult proposition, yet unavoidable. It's felt like some sort of wall which I must scale in order to proceed with any work whatsoever. Nay, a pit of quicksand. (Stay still, Nate. Remain calm.) 

I once thought that:
art is about finding new, beautiful, concise ways to invoke perspective on the shared forces which shape the necessary and impossibly numerable private experiences which we all have so that we may reconcile them on our own and thus hope to know one another before meeting one another, and we find comfort in that.
And, in thinking about the importance of writing (oh, it is so very important), I thought that its primary virtue lay in its ability to schematize notion. Which is to say that it both offers a map to organized thoughts as well as it organizes those which were previously vague. It is an emergent lesson for both the reader and the writer.

Indeed, writing a draft of the previous thoughts brought me to a further realization: art, writing (if we should distinguish the two) do not simply schematize an extant, notional structure, but are themselves architecture.  Art is a mud hut. A yellow window in a dark forest. It is someone building a home for the notions which had previously only wandered like nomads through their dreams and keeping stoked a flame in the fireplace to warm them and their family. Art accommodates: think of how many times you've heard someone say that the music they listen to at any given time is dependent upon their mood at that time and, invariably, they prefer for the music to represent it. In grieving, people do not listen to cheerful music as to manipulate themselves back to happiness; they listen to sympathetic music which houses their state, keeps it out of the rain. They place their grief within a larger grief. 

Art is not beautiful, of course not. You are beautiful in the presence of art, because your beauty, whatever its particular nature in those particular circumstances, is given a place. Art does not put something in you, it cherishes something already there. It points to these things, holds them, because they are pretty. It is a setting for the jewels of your being. This is what we seek, what we all seek: to be held for our prettiness. The notes of music, for example, placed like bricks in time and mortared with emotion, are a literal architecture. They carve out a space for us which is the only way for us to reconcile with our selves, for if those things have no home, in all ourselves, do those things belong? Because doubt and hope, opposite sides of one coin, are the pits of fixation. And if the world is always moving, staying put means losing your place.

I have spoken of beauty as "the only debt which the universe renders, which in its paying incurs more debt". And poets have long spoken of their poems as a method to get through personal crises, calling their poems a receptacle for their burdens. Perhaps we are building a home for these entities in which they may achieve independence, growth, a life of their own. One thing I've come to terms with over the past months: I am a mystic.

There is a man named Martín Prechtel who was raised in New Mexico and, through a serendipitous series of events, was trained as a Mayan Shaman in Guatemala, in which capacity he served for many years.
Prechtel interviewed and transcribed by Derrick Jensen, as found in Jensen's book Truths Among Us:
Shamans are sometimes considered healers or doctors, but really they are people who deal with the tears and holes we create in the net of life, the damage that we all cause in our search for survival...The question is: how do we respond to that destruction? If we respond as we do in modern culture, by ignoring the spiritual debt that we create just by living, then that debt will come back to bite us, hard. But there are other ways to respond. One is to try to repay that debt by giving gifts of beauty and praise to the sacred, to the invisible world that gives us life...The other world feeds this tangible world - the world that can feel pain, that can eat and drink, that can fail; the world that goes around in cycles; the world where we die. The other world is what makes this world work. And the way we help the other world continue is by feeding it with our beauty.
...The Mayans say that the other world sings us into being. We are its song. We're made of sound, and as the sound passes through the sieve between this world and the other world, it takes the shape of birds, grass, tables - all these things are made of sound. Human beings, with our own sounds, can feed the other world in return, to fatten those in the other world up, so they can continue to sing.
When you dream, you remember the other world, just as you did when you were a newborn baby. When you're awake, you're part of the dream of the other world. In the "waking" state, you are supposed to dedicate a certain amount of time to feeding the world you've come from. Similarly, when you die and leave this world and go on to the next, you're supposed to feed this present dream with what you do in that one. 
Dreaming is not about healing the person who's sleeping. It's about the person feeding the whole, remembering the other world, so that it can continue. The New Age falls pretty flat with the Mayans, because, to them, self-discovery is good only if it helps you to feed the whole.
...You have to give a gift to that which gives you life. It's an actual payment in kind. That's the spiritual economy of a village...Ideally, the gift should be something made by hand, which is the one thing humans have that spirits don't...Once the fire is hot enough, the knife maker must smelt the iron ore out of the rock. The part that's left over, which gets thrown away in Western culture, is the most holy part in shamanic rituals. What's left over represents the debt, the hollowness that's been carved out of the universe by human ingenuity, and so must be refilled with human ingenuity. A ritual gift equal to the amount that was removed from the other world has to be put back to make up for the wound caused to the divine...So, just to get the iron, the shaman has to pay for the ore, the fire, the wind, and so on - not in dollars and cents, but in ritual activity equal to what's been given. Then that iron must be made into steel, and the steel has to be hammered into the shape of a knife, sharpened, and tempered, and a handle must be put on it. There is a deity to be fed for each part of the procedure. When the knife is finished, it is called the "tooth of earth." It will cut wood, meat, and plants. But if the necessary sacrifices have been ignored in the name of rationalism, literalism, and human superiority, it will cut humans instead.
All of those ritual gifts make the knife enormously "expensive," and make the process quite involved and time-consuming. The need for ritual makes some things too spiritually expensive to bother with. That's why the Mayans didn't invent space shuttles or shopping malls or backhoes. They live as they do not because it's a romantic way to live - it's not; it's enormously hard - but because it works.
...Though capable of feeding all creation, the spirit is not an omnipotent force, as Christianity would have us believe, but a natural force of great subtlety. When its subtlety is trespassed on by the clumsiness of human greed and conceit, then both human and divine nature are violated and made into hungry, devouring things. We become food for this monster our spiritual amnesia has created. The monster is fed by wars, psychological depression, self-hate, and bad world-trade practices that export misery to other places.
We inflict violence upon each other as a way to replace what we steal from nature because we've forgotten the old deal that our ancestors signed so long ago...As individuals, we become depressed, because the beings of the other world take it out of our emotions. 
...Often, you'll hear that you have to honor your ancestors, but I believe it's much more complicated than that. Our ancestors weren't necessarily very smart. In many cases, they are the ones who left us with this mess. Some of them were great, but others had huge prejudices. If these ancestors are given their due, then you don't have to live out their prejudices in your own life. But if you don't give the ancestors something, if you simply say, "I'm descended from these people, but they don't affect me very much; I'm a unique individual," then you're cursed to spend your life either fighting your ancestors, or else riding the wave that they started. You'll have to do that long before you can be yourself and pursue what you believe is worth pursuing.
The Mayan way of dealing with this is to give the ancestors a place to live. You actually build houses for them - called "sleeping houses" - and put your ancestors in there. The houses are small, because the ancestors don't take up any space, but they do need a designated place*, just like anything else. Then you feed your ancestors with words and eloquence. We all have old, forgotten languages that our languages are descended from, and many of these languages are a great deal more ornate. But even with out current language, we still have the capacity to create strange, mysterious, poetic gifts to feed the ancestors, so that we won't become depressed by their ghosts devouring our everyday lives.
...[Once you've dealt with the ghosts] Then we have to talk about maintenance, which is far more important than corrective measures. This culture is based on fixing things, as opposed to maintaining them. But once we start to maintain instead of constantly fix, the problems that vex us will become much easier to solve. It will no longer be a matter of fixing something as we think of it today. Right now, fixing something means getting our way. It should mean asking: "What do I need to do here?"...If the modern world is to start maintaining things, it will have to redefine itself. A new culture will have to develop, in which neither humans and their inventions or God is at the center of the universe. What should be at the center is a hollow place, and empty place where both God and humans can sing and weep together.
...When I was a child, I spoke a Pueblo language called Keres, which doesn't have a verb "to be." It was basically a language of adjectives. One of the secrets of my ability to survive and thrive in [Guatemala] was that the [village] language, too, has no verb "to be." Tzutujil is a language of carrying and belonging, not a language of being. Without "to be," there's no sense that something is absolutely this or that. If two people argue, they're said to be "split," like firewood, but both sides are still of the same substance. Some of the rights and wrongs that nations have fought and died to defend or obtain are not even relevant concepts to traditional Tzutujil. This isn't because the Tzutujil are somehow too "primitive" to understand right and wrong, but because their lives aren't based on absolute states or permanence. Mayans believe nothing will last on its own. That's why their lives are oriented toward maintenance rather than creation...In a culture with the verb "to be," one is always concerned with identity. To determine who you are, you must also determine who you are not. In a culture based on belonging, however, you must bond with others. You are defined by where you stand and whom you stand with. The verb "to be" also reduces a language, taking away its adornment and beauty, making it more efficient. The verb "to be" is very efficient. It allows you to build things.
Rather than build things, Mayans cultivate a climate that allows for the possibility of their appearance**, as for a fruit or a vine...In the village, people used to build their houses out of traditional materials, using no iron or lumber or nails, but the houses were magnificent. Many were sewn together out of bark and fiber. Like the house of the body, the house that a person sleeps in must be very beautiful and sturdy, but not so sturdy that it won't fall apart after a while. If your house doesn't fall apart, then there will be no reason to renew it. And it is this renewability that makes something valuable. The maintenance gives it meaning.
The secret of village togetherness and happiness has always been the generosity of the people, but the key to that generosity is inefficiency and decay...Mayans don't wait for a crisis to occur; they make a crisis. Their spirituality is based on choreographed disasters - otherwise known as rituals - in which everyone has to work together to remake their clothing, or each other's houses, or the community, or the world. Everything has to be maintained because it was originally made so delicately that it eventually falls apart.

Upon reading this, I was struck by the similarities to something I had written about 4 years ago. At the time, I didn't understand why I was writing the things I did, just that I enjoyed them and that they were vaguely honest; they were the schematics to some honesty. Or they were home for an honesty and so, just as our homes are maps to ourselves, they were the map to an honesty. And, of course, honesty is truth and therefore they were a schematic of truth.

A soft breeze shepherds leaves across pavement to where they pile aloft cemented corners and rattle with discontent. Some ghost is between them like a pillow, incubating thoughts simple and ancient beyond any language. 
In my passing it uncoils and whips forth like strange magnetism, scuttling sideways a leaf-legged millipede, slow and desperate to perform, until erupting prematurely across a blade of wind, to sleep again for perhaps the life of this universe--sometime maybe after the millionth rotation of existence to wake as myself: spongy skin flinching under my mother's teardrops; flushed cheeks and wet eyes reflecting each other in every one. 
"Sometimes I look at myself and I don't know who I am" I'll say, years later--or have said or am saying. 
"Sometimes I look at you and think you're me" she'll reply. 
"Where does that leave me?" 
"Lost and safe" she smiles. 
For if everything must happen then so must its replicant and so everything is a single point at one moment and it never will end but is a debt that must be paid and in its paying incurs more debt and is soft and beautiful and perfect for there are no free lunches unless all lunches and an eternity of them and so existence must always reach back to extend our history and forward to extend our future relentlessly and endlessly until maybe a chance circle is formed and everything can finally collapse to the perfection of nothing which is all it wants but will never have because the fire will approach its extinguishment only as time will slow proportionally. 
And so I emerge from shadow and my goose-pimpled skin begins to soften again--the building watching over quietly, already forgetting its encounter with this odd bedouin.

...Heavens to Besty, I'm rambling again. I can't help it, for my cup runneth over - or my butt, to some of you. I haven't even touched on the issue, the argument which started me writing. I'll bring this back 'round the next time I sit down.

For now, two nice pictures to get that awful taste out of your mouth:

A space:
And a place:

And finally, with a clean palate, someone who said it all better:
William Goyen, House of Breath

Don't be a stranger, now...

*See Yi-Fu Tuan's Space and Place

No comments:

Post a Comment