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I walked into the school where I’m interning and several children were crying. The staff looked subdued. The Hispanic cleaning crew wouldn’t make eye contact with me.
Many Christians model themselves after Jesus, a man who served lepers, prostitutes, and the outcasts of society. Now they support a billionaire who mocks disabled people because of a single-minded obsession with abortion and the supreme court.
I watched the election with a black friend who fears for her own safety, that cops will act with even more impunity. I have a Muslim neighbor who thinks she can’t visit her family in Egypt because she might not be allowed back home or worse.
I have family who supported Trump. I struggle identifying with them because I’m with everything under target by Trump. I’m with queers, Black Lives Matter, Muslims, people who rely on government programs (because we all do, in one way or another), Mexicans, and radical feminists.
I’m not going to say this is like Germany in the 1930s because I can’t even consider that a possibility, but it’s a helluva lot like Germany in the 1920s when a man told a country: you’re not as great as you used to be and it’s their fault.
No checks and balances. Republicans have the senate, the house, and a majority of state governors. Get ready for Paul Ryan to slash and burn programs, replacing public schools with for-profit ventures that will fail to cultivate critical thinking.
Some people compare Trump to Andrew Jackson as if that were a good thing. Check out the Indian Removal Act and tell me it’s a good thing.
Today was a victory for Corrections Corporation of America, a business that makes money putting people in cages.
Pence is even scarier than Trump. This is the man that tried to legalize discrimination against the LGBTQ community (to which I’m a part, by the way) and signed a law requiring funerals for fetuses.
In more ways than one, this was a huge blow to the field of mental health.
White people, white men especially, got it good. But they feel threatened and that they don’t got it as good as they used to. These people who for years demanded that others take responsibility now display no responsibility themselves.
I spit on white supremacy. I commit to doing everything I can to dismantle my own privilege.
Fox News has poisoned the well of too many minds with fear, hatred, and misinformation. They have conditioned millions of otherwise good people to react with fear and hate when they hear the words “Benghazi” or “Islam.”
My generation is going to have to clean up this mess. This is beyond partisan politics.
The worst part is everything Trump has said and done seems vindicated. I assure you that me and people like me will never let that be the case. I’m feeling sad and motivated as hell.
[For Quality Purposes, please refrain from using a cellphone to listen to the songs in this piece]
The Danube River, or Donau, as it’s called auf deutsch, is an ancient and mighty river that begins in the Black Forest in Germany and empties into the Black Sea, connecting such cities as Passau, Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade. It also flows 15km south of Putzleinsdorf, my ancestral homeland in Upper Austria.
Last month I was there for a family reunion, reconnecting with family from both sides of the Atlantic. One of the planned events was a boat-trip along the Donau. Pretty typical, many oohs-and-ahhs at the glorious green hills rising above the river. Then a few of my relatives, Tomasso Huber and his partner Clarigna Kueng, began to yodel. Singing credits also to the bubbly Lisi Past.
Below: The best thing I brought home from Europe
Below: Two songs, one song harmonic, the other mournful
Above: a yodel about the Danube, the river we were actually floating on (meta)
Below: a contrast in style- Swiss yodeling
Above: two duets
Below: “kennst du?”
And lastly, above and below: “Putzleinsdorf” with lyrics by Johannes Huber
Thanks to everyone who made this boat ride nothing short of a spiritual experience. And thanks to all of my Austrian cousins for making me feel at home.
One more for kicks:
Photos by Peter Taschler
“My willing soul would stay
In such a frame as this,
And sit and sing herself away
To everlasting bliss.”
About four years ago, I woke up at 4am unable to sleep. High in the sky were the first signs of light disrupting the darkness. I went outside by the lake. I sat on a chair on the pier. The chair reclined a bit, allowing me to look up. The sky was becoming lighter and lighter.
Some birds flew directly overhead. After a while I noticed they were following a path- they would approach an invisible point above and then change angles slightly, heading over the lake toward the woods behind me. Every thirty seconds a few more birds reached that spot and turned just like the ones before them. I wondered how they did it, whether by scent, language or something else.
Day started to break and fish started to poke their snouts out of the water. From each point where they punctured the surface, concentric circles radiated outwards. The ripples collided and comingled before vanishing and being replaced by others. The birds kept flying, and my perspective from below allowed me to see their undersides: the head and tail, front wings and hind legs. They looked so much like fish, like animals, like humans lying prostrate.
My frame of mind was one of extreme enthrallment and calm. All of a sudden a hornet landed on my crotch. It scared me, because my pants were thin and its stinger looked mean and was pulsating. The pulsating reminded me of larvae or a baby human being born, in surges and contractions. Rather than slap the hornet away I focused on slowing my breath, calming down even more. Slowly, the hornet’s stinger stopped moving. It quit shuffling its feet and began to rest. I closed my eyes to meditate…
The sound of fish breaking the water, birds calling after each other, the sun making the sky pink and the Earth warm. Then, like a bolt of lightning I made what felt like conscious contact with the hornet. I opened my eyes and when I did it flew away. After sometime I got up from the chair and walked inside. I moved very strangely. Rather than take step after step in usual fashion, each movement was slow, dramatic, strange. I was stunned with the possibility of each step and amused with how often I haven’t noticed it.
When I got inside I opened a notebook to write about what was happening. But instead of writing quickly what was in my mind, I moved the pen slowly… it’s hard to explain why I was moving so slow, but to say that the usual perception of time- as a series of separate moments- was shattered into a single continuum, and so my actions were not separate, but part of a flow.
My mom came into the kitchen where I was writing. I tried to express what was happening and she immediately thought I was on drugs. Ha, no drug has ever made me feel that supreme, and I’ve tried a lot. The experience continued, diminished, then went away, leaving a lasting sense of serenity, but even that passed.
I haven’t experienced the exact same thing since, but have gotten close a few times. Each time I was filled with a sense of liberation, while at the same time afraid of breaking the spell. Once after a long bath, the other while sitting outside by some trees watching the wind blow their branches around.
I’ve had a lot of teachers in my life. I may not be in contact with them all but they continue to impact me.
For example, as I was walking out of the apartment my roommate handed me a book entitled ‘The Universe’ and asked me to throw it away because it had fallen into the fish tank and was ruined. It was a huge coffee table book with pictures of nebulae leaping into the air and galaxies spinning through the cosmos like Frisbees. It was awesome, in the true sense of the word.
As I walked down the steps toward the dumpster, I had a vision of myself running down the street ripping out page after page handing them to people shouting “This is the universe! This is the universe!”
Instead, with a sigh, I chucked it into the garbage. My mind went to a memory of a teacher I once met who had crazy wisdom. On the surface he was mad. But I could see in the light of his eyes that he knew what he was doing. He would have followed through on the vision, despite what people would have thought.
Example number two. I arrived in Philadelphia by train. I was walking into town and saw a group of people gathered around a figure. As I got closer I saw the figure was a man in the most uncanny position. His forehead was planted on the concrete. His legs were half bent. He balanced like a tripod. Unconscious. Stiff. Turning red, deep purple, blue…
As others had their cellphones out wondering if they should call for help, I had a vision of me putting my hand on the man’s neck to see if he was alive and then laying him out on the ground to give him some air or at least an honorable death while giving a direct order to the person next to me to call 911 now. Instead, looking at his bulging muscles and afraid that if he came-to he’d attack me, I slinked away.
My mind went to a memory of a teacher I once met who knew that death is part of life . He wouldn’t have been weirded out by rigor mortis, but would have handled the body humanely.
I was wrong. That’s all I’m here to say, today.
But I don’t mean to say my teachers were supermen, that I need to become them.
I’m here to thank them for showing me another way of being, and to say that I’ll do my best to act on my own vision, next time.
I woke up energized. I thought, “This is good. I’ve had a full night’s rest.” But then I checked my watch and it said 1:30 AM. I looked out the window. A silver silhouette revealed the hills of Nebraska. Orange barn lights littered the floor and hundreds of white crystals hung from the sky. I considered going to sleep but was too awake. The kind of energy that’s both calm and intense.
I stepped out of my seat and walked into the car I hadn’t been in before. Its walls seemed to be made of stainless steel, glimmering violet. None of the passengers were awake, except for one, a young man sitting erect in a booth at the opposite end of the car. When I got there I realized he was sitting cross-legged, his knees beneath a low-lying table. Behind him was the sky, somehow more brilliant than the one I saw moments before. Comets and meteor shot back and forth every second. The milky way was discernible, its creamy infinity flowing through the vast abyss.
I saw constellations I’d never even seen before, and somehow knew the myths about them. For example, there was the broken lobster constellation, named after the king who- with his mighty hands- killed his two wives at the same time when a beautiful woman walked past; then, the woman transformed into a man and cast a spell on the king with his staff, splitting him in two, banishing his separate halves to the sky and to the sea. This knowledge came into me from an unknown source with no effort on my part.
I stared at the young man and saw in his features- the long hair, slender nose, and delicate hands- the figure of a woman. He had on the table a clay pot, two cups, and a deck of cards. He nodded when I motioned to the empty mat across from him. I sat down and said, “Thanks” but he didn’t reply. He poured tea into our cups, first mine and then his. We lifted the cups up to our lips and slurped- the taste was sour and sweet, creamy and warm. I felt drunk, instantly. I panicked, but he reached out his hand and touched my arm to say it was all right. Then he held out his other hand, palm facing up as if to say: observe.
I did. A shadow washed away the clear lines of the room. Although nothing could be told from anything else, I could now feel where the energy in the room came from and where it went, and could respond to it, feeling myself become more vital, unimpeded by my own tendency to resist wherever the world is headed.
Then he picked up the deck of cards and began to shuffle. The cards were made of actual paper: old, yellow and musky. His hands shuffled and spun the cards this way and that, grouping them and dividing them, re-grouping and shuffling again, with both method and absolute indifference.
Then, he picked out a single card and slid it across the table. “Don’t I get to pick my own card?” I asked. For the first time he spoke. It wasn’t english or any tongue I knew.
He repeated what he said, looking intensely at my card. I noticed the separate syllables he made this time- they told me this was my card. I turned it over and a sudden pain entered my throat. I started to choke. Tears went down my face and a gordian knot in my neck grew tighter and tighter. Then, cut by a sword, it snapped and I was able to breathe clearly, deeply, better than I have for a long time. A tightness in my shoulders and chest that I didn’t even know was there went away. My hands started to shake and he held them. Then the room became clear again and all the objects and passengers re-appeared.
I looked down at my card and saw it was blank. I started to flip over the other cards. He didn’t stop me. Each card, one after another, was empty. We started to laugh. He re-organized the cards and began to shuffle again. I re-filled our cups with tea.
“My daughter. She’s… something’s wrong with her. She’s has depression and a lot of anxiety.”
“So you’re saying, she’s anxious and depressed.”
“Not all of the time!”
“It doesn’t make sense. We love her. We’re trying to help. But nothing works. It’s getting worse and worse. We tried therapy, medication, more therapy. We got her involved in sports, taken her out of sports. We’re doing everything we can and still she’s- she’s…”
“Anxious and depressed?”
“I’m just. It’s just. What do you want me to say?”
“She’s sixteen. Who knows what’s happening in her head. And at school, with other sixteen year olds and facebook and horny boys and vicious girls. I know there’s a lot to be stressed about but it’s not normal, the way she’s behaving. She’ll just, shut down. Build a wall. You can’t get through to her. It’s so, so, frustrating. We love her, why is she disappointing us?”
“What do you recommend I do?”
“What are you talking about, nothing!? She’s suf-fer-ing.”
“It will get better.”
“But it’s only getting worse!”
“And then better. Always does.”
“Not if! Not unless…”
“Don’t say it.”
“Listen. I’m her mother and I hate to see her in pain. I just want it to stop. For her. Like when she’s sick. I take care of her. Make her cinnamon toast. Bring her water.”
“With mental illness, and, may I suggest, spiritual illness, there’s no analogy to toast and water. You can’t bring her anything that will make her feel better. The best you can do is let her be. Be-there for her. And if she doesn’t come don’t seek her out. At the very very most, you could, maybe, work on yourself.”
“Work on myself!”
“I’m just saying. When you get a throat ache, it’s not the throat’s fault. The entire body’s sick. Your daughter, in this analogy, is the throat. Right now, she’s getting a lot of attention, and is the one experiencing the most visible pain. But the entire body is sick.”
“Your family. Your home.”
“You sonnofa bitch! If I wanted a Freudian quack to default to blaming poor old ma and pa, I’d’ve gone elsewhere!”
“Fine, fine. Forget it.”
“But I stand by my main point. You cannot fix her. There is no solution. Any solution will just hurt her, more. When someone’s depressed, the last thing they need is a rational reason for why they shouldn’t be feeling depressed. Because when you say they shouldn’t be feeling that way, you invalidate what they are feeling. But a feeling- no matter how irrational- is as real as rain. Who cares if it’s ridiculous, dangerous, or self-destructive. The fact is it is being felt. It has its own truth that no amount of love or reason or medicine can negate. Just let her suffer. It will make something of her.”
“You’ve obviously never had children.”
“It’s easy to say: let her suffer. If you have never had any children of your own. Try some time. Bring life into the world and watch it grow. Then tell me how easy it is to let her suffer needlessly.”
“What suffering isn’t needless?”
“Nevermind. I am not a father. But it’s for you to decide whether or not my advice is valid. You came to me.”
“It depends on your advice.”
“Again. I recommend you do nothing.”
“Absolute shit advice.”
“Why did I think you could help? They say such good things about you on TV.”
“I think I should take my own advice, and not give any.”
[But the author would like to share his own advice, or rather, the words of another…]
“But the truth is that my work- I was going to say my mission- is to shatter the faith of womyn here, there, and everywhere, faith in affirmation, faith in negation, and faith in abstention from faith, and this for the sake of faith in faith itself; it is to war against all those who submit, whether it be to Catholicism, or to rationalism, or to agnosticism; it is to make all womyn live the life of inquietude and passionate desire” –Miguel de Unamuno, Tragic Sense of Life
Water- Stunted History- Numerology- The Crotch- Continuum Has No Mean- Don’t Be a Car- Tautologies Are Not Tautologies- Beginnings Are Fragile- Affected Nostalgia- Actual Child Not Playing- Affordable Care- Escape in Movement- Reflection.
If you look closely, the drop isn’t dropping at all. Like a lump of dough, molecules droop down, and then yank the rest after it. Rolling awkwardly.
Outdoor seating at The Wormhole Coffee- gets its name from being a portal to the past. Décor includes: Care Bears, He-Man, NES. Even a DeLorean, like from the movie. Hipsters wax nostalgic. Because they’re still children? Because they lack history? We assume history begins and ends with our life. Yet for the body to survive, a single cell needs to die.
The address is 1462 n. Milwaukee. Add those and you have 13- a bad number. Add those and you have 4, an even worse number- if four was the guiding principle of the universe we’d have only leap years and instead of jazz marching bands conducted by carpenters. Thank God for 5. Actually, thank 1, that paradoxical number (all the ones make one).
Located a block and a half south of the three-way Damen/North/Milwaukee intersection I once heard referred to- not without affection- as “the crotch” by a young man on his phone in a bus heading west on Fullerton toward said crotch. I thought yes that’s just what it is: a convergence of deep angles, harboring grit that the wind won’t blow away. The center of so much attention.
Admittedly, the very thing I’m doing to set myself apart is exactly what everyone else is doing: passing judgment. Rapidly. Someone’s dressed better than you? They try too hard. Somebody looks plain? Certainly, they lack inspiration. Too loud/too quiet, too fast/too slow… too this/too that. Only I am the Measure of All Things, the Middle Way, Goldilocks with straight red hair.
More than once I hear behind me, “Learn how to fucking drive!” It’s a shame how aggressive cyclists have become. Just a month ago a cyclist, failing to stop, killed a pedestrian in San Francisco. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was riding fixed. Once, you had to fight for the right to ride, but not anymore. Not here, at least. Don’t ride a bike like you’d ride a car. Enjoy the wind, stay in the momentum, and embody a less linear, more cyclical way of moving.
[part of the problem is assuming there is a problem. if i’m always seeking the answer, i’ll always be seeking the answer. too often i don’t do things because i convince myself i’m unprepared. that’s one reason i’m beginning this, right now]
I go inside to have my tea infused for the second time. In the corner are a dozen faces, fixated on the same point in space. I figure, from their mute anticipation and twisted necks, that it’s the bottom of the ninth or the president’s announcing a string of assassinations committed by a rogue CIA agent. Nope, one of them clutches a rectangled controller while the rest watch him play Super Mario Bros. 3. The one where Mario wears a coonskin hat for no explicable reason. I’m convinced they’ve played this game and expressed their love for it more as adults than they ever did as children.
As the Earth turns away from the sun like it’s never going to look back, long shadows are cast by the tiniest bumps. Finally, hazy inferno lifted, insects crawl quietly from their dank quarters and pick up shortwave radio on their antennae. Gum remains on the ground: flat, black, hoarding all light, for all intents and purposes not even gum at all. Half the street is bathed in twilight, while the suds roll into the drain. Of course nothing is certain? An ambulance races to a children’s hospital. 30 year olds walk past, giddy, pawing a new toy helicopter.
Earlier this week the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. Afterward, Obama said the Supreme Court also upheld the principle that people who can afford health insurance should take the responsibility to buy health insurance. Right or left, everyone bristled at these words. Because we citizens are called on to make a sacrifice. We haven’t done that since like, the second world war.
I came here before having a breakdown, back at the apartment I’m staying at. I almost lost my shit because after a week of getting my shit together (moving to Chicago and seeking gainful employment) I slowed down for a moment and then stopped altogether. The movement of the bike ride to Wicker Park helped. Riding a bike isn’t my favorite thing in the world, but the day I ride a bike and it fails to make me feel better I’ll probably kill myself.
Streams of sun ricochet off a broad plane of glass on the other side of the street and shatter the shade over here, as if it were setting in the East. Neatly framed by a single window is a drop of fire. Though just because it’s miniaturized doesn’t mean you can stare directly into it.