Advisor #2

Standing up for myself.

I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that I’m not equipped to do it. It’s always been a tug of war within me. When I feel someone has insulted me, there’s a voice that says, “You gonna let them get away with that?!” but there’s also an immediate voice that says, “LET’S NOT CAUSE ANY PROBLEMS HERE! Feeling bad? Muffle it up. No worries officer, no issues here!” That’s the good citizen part of myself – doesn’t want any quakes or tidal waves. Then, usually a few minutes to hours to sometimes days later, voice number 1 comes back in and says, “HEY! REMEMBER WHEN WE GOT INSULTED?! YOU JUST GONNA LET THAT SLIDE?!” Then I get mad. It’s like, I’m my only champion, and I never hired myself. So I hire myself after the fact and it’s like “We’ll never let this happen again.” Then I’m mean to that person for weeks, months, sometimes years. Because I’m standing up for the little man. Myself. The little man is myself.

Where did that all come from?

Who has insulted me? What am I thinking of? Okay, I feel, sometimes, if someone gives me really real feedback that I’m both being enlightened and insulted. One of my friends the other day was giving me really real feedback about my directing style. At the moment I sat there and there was a little meter in my brain, or maybe a little judge (let’s call them Advisor #2), saying “how well can you take this feedback? Don’t be a jerk now. Take it well, and be grateful for it.” So that’s what feels like the most important thing to do.

Days pass. Suddenly, Advisor #1 comes stomping in. This in the middle of a run. “Hey! Did you even notice that that person walked all over a success you thought you had and told you it wasn’t a success at all! They told you you fucked it up! And they warned you not to fuck it up again! You gonna take that?! You better stew on it, tell them to butt out of it, you better just make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

And then I’m liable to punch a wall.

I’ve got all kinds of people in my brain, jostling around. It’s like a mosh pit at a hardcore concert sometimes. They can also be easily camouflaged. There are all these violent, angry, leering advisors in there, but Advisor #2 is like, “Alright Sam is in smoooooth sailing mode – let’s keep our heads down and voices to a minimum and we won’t have to go through any turbulence. Remember to keep your seatbelts fastened and your hands and arms inside your seat at all times.” And then something bad happens – let’s say I’m running late for a grad school info session and I accidentally splash water and hair all over the sink while I’m trying to shave at the last minute. Then, trying to clean up the hair, I end up splashing another bucketload of water on the floor. And suddenly I will literally howl. It’s like this.

No one:

No one:

Literally no one:

Me: “I’M JUST TRYING TO FUCKING SHAVE FAST AND IT’S ALL A MESSSSSSSSSS!” Then I’ll slam the sink as hard as I can with the heels of my hands.

A few moments later I’m like…who was that? Not me, I’m sure. Let’s just forget all about it.

Dirty little thoughts hiding deep in my brain trying to stay silent then you jostle the damn things and they all come alive at once.

I think the best thing is to give all thoughts a platform, let them speak. Sometimes I’d like to say to Advisor #2, mano a mano, “I know you like peace and quiet and the illusion of equilibrium and all, but it’s just an illusion. There’s a gaggle of rough, loud, tough, violent thoughts back there – and we’d better hear what they have to say before they go nuts and wrench the damn plane out of the air!”

There. That’s all I have for self-therapy today.

Hope it helps!

Pieter Schoolwerth – Loose Company (after van Baburen) – 2011

Doubt is a Place

Time is a bit of a brick wall right now pushing down on me. I don’t usually write on Sundays but this day I do. I do this day because I have an essay to write for grad school applications and I want to give it my best shot. Seems helpful to do my usual routine because, by all accounts, it’s supposed to (arms tingling, standing up in goosebumps. Is it the music by Yo La Tengo? Is it the thoughts? Is it a draft in the room? All three?) help me write from a more truthful place. And it’s clear to me that an essay for grad school applications should be truthful. What does truthful mean? I suppose that I’m not using a lot of big words to be impressive, not sending energy out or “using too much force” to do something, or, as Strunk and White might say, I’m omitting “useless words.” Well my free writes don’t do that. But in the editing process…?

I feel like a man under the stars. Somewhat peaceful today looking up for constellations. On the other hand it could just be the cover of my journal adorned with moons and comets and planets and shooting stars and moons and comets and planets and shooting stars and moons and comets and planets and shooting stars. And man it feels good to just release sometimes, to let the old fingers work, to let the young fingers work, to let it all out. Remembering (because they said it it in my morning meditation) that doubt is just another thought. Where is it? In the stomach? In the head? In the breath? Doubt is just another journey, one that we all must take. DOUBT. And that’s what my essay’s about.

Feeling lots of doubt today. Is this helpful? Is this worth it? Am I improving? Those are doubtful questions, and they’re flowing through. Say buh-bye to them now because they’re gone. Though maybe they’re still kicking around in my stomach like flakes spiraling in a glass of liquid a glass of liquid a glass of liquid of some kind.

Yo La Tengo – It Takes a Lot to Laugh it Takes a Train to Cry – 2020

I’m listening to this Yo La Tengo cover of a Bob Dylan song. And I sit breathing and my breath is a little thick, a little heavy in my chest. My neck is a little tense. My eyes a little – well, what are my eyes? I don’t know. They feel damp actually, not slitted like I was going to say. But this new mode is a little suspicious, it’s like let me sensing through my whole system to see what clues I find…

Dreams. I had a dream once, and I know I wrote it down, about a department store. It was at the bottom of a large, long staircase, like a certain Best Buy in midtown Manhattan – only, this store wasn’t in Midtown Manhattan. It was in a dream city, possibly a dream version of Sydney, or London (night) mixed with Oakland (day). It wasn’t any one place, but the feeling of the place was desolation. Could well have been BERLIN. My most desolate city. Why? Because I was a creep there. I’m digressing. This department store at the bottom of a long staircase or escalator was HUGE. There were piles of items in the corners. And in the far corner a dragon display. It wasn’t functional but there was a huge, life-size, red dragon made of legos looking out of the shadows. The shelves were almost empty – not much in stock. And the staff were all wearing masks. Was I wearing a mask? I don’t remember. The dream was pre-pandemic. I just remember the whole place was like a wilderness. No telling what bugs crawled through. No telling what shady deals went down. And I wandered around transfixed by the enormous displays and the few items on the shelves, fantastical games and collectible sets I wanted to buy, but also disturbed by the shadows. And disturbed by the display of a huge mountain of gold that seemed to lead through a hole in the ceiling. Light came through the hole, upsetting the shadows but not actually brightening the store.

That strange room haunts me to this day; it peeks in on me in my waking life. Somehow the vibe is mingled with the vague memory of a woman that I had jilted, who was crying, who was desolate, and somehow my stint in that department store was like a stint in purgatory.

So my dream last night had a little bit of that quality, whatever it was.

I also once had a dream set on the California coast. I got lost in the hills, lost my car, lost my friends, and was wandering alone, trying to get from somewhere like Olema back to San Francisco by making my slow way around the points and rocks. The sun shone down, but there was something coming after me. Some kind of terrible highway patrol or something. Or large carpenter ants. And when I got back to the city it was being invaded by aliens.

That landscape was also in my dream last night. I don’t remember any details, just some conjunction of those two desolate but lush landscapes. Empty on the surface but look up close and you’ll find them teeming with life. Stomach filled with a little puff of anxiety now. I know it’s time to try my hand at my essay, round 2. My time for wake up free writing and dream remembering and stalling is over. But also remember, doubt is a thought.

Doubt is a thought.

But it’s also a place.

Giorgio de Chirico – Mystery and Melancholy of a Street – 1914

November Thoughtswimming

Back to old imagery – chipping away in a mine, digging away in a field. But I’m just writing. This is a sleepy week and an achey week. Makes sense coming after a long week of electing President Elect Biden. Let’s hope the Republicans don’t fuck it up.

But who the fuck cares? Is that how I really think? No. But I am tired, and I’m drinking my coffee and it tastes good. I’m always looking for pockets of collapse, but collapse is not so helpful. I’m still on the trail hiking – it’s not good to stop and sit and drink water and eat snacks – because it’s incredibly difficult to stand up again.

So I suppose I’d like – I just yawned, I just yawned and half my body is tingly, my right arm, and my left arm was stuck to the desk, and my eyes feel so sleepy, closing them is wet, and the light across the room look like bars of white metal across the bed. Helena is now hidden by the Xbox. But when I peered over during my dance earlier and made a sound, she opened her eyes and closed them quickly, as if she didn’t want to get disturbed from her reverie by seeing me.

My fingers are tingly, and tapping on the keys feels like bending my nails forward a little bit – hard. And I’ve felt on the verge of a sneeze almost since beginning. My waist is hard and compact, the right leg jamming up into it and the pelvis perched on itself, rolled a little forward.

Had my first burst of anger just now. It seemed to come from a little mix, a wash of impressions: my pelvis being crushed, a little rolled forward, sniffing an almighty snort into my stuffed nose (a little bug flew around my fingers just now – my apartment is inundated with these tiny flies you can only just barely make out swooping around in front of whatever background they’re in front if. It gives an impression of motion without being able to immediately identify the source) and felt wetness go up my nostril, and had a thought about how my nose has been stuffed for days and days and I can’t get over it – and I’m sick of it.

Rehearsal is also weighing a little bit on my mind – it will come up after I finish this free write and after we do lunch. And then Rebecca and I are going to catch a Zip car and I’m going to drive her home.

Everything feels slidey today. I see. I see. I register, now, that I had not shut off the “judgment” nozzle that was dripping inside of me. The meditation on Headspace today was about maintaining curiosity and interest in the tiny details of the flow of daily life. In other words, maintaining curiosity in one’s presence. Boredom, it seems, is a thought or a default that we can indulge in as much as we like. But the thought, or the impression, doesn’t rule us. Have the thought, the impression, “I’m bored,” and now I feel I can sink into it, turn myself off, or I can let it float away and allow other things to float by, like Poohsticks in the river. I guess that’s why Winnie the Pooh is so Zen. Because he just lets those Poohsticks float by and doesn’t jump in the river and thrash around? Sure.

Poohsticks – E.H. Shepard – 1926

The body is interesting. I resist impressions in the body, just as I do impressions in thought, and I also judge and recriminate myself for impressions in the body such as I do with thought. Meanwhile, the river is floating by. So going red in the face and yelling at the river – it doesn’t help, it doesn’t make it stop flowing, or switch direction. But I believe there is a way I can swim.

Mary Lattimore – Sometimes He’s In My Dreams – 2020

The music changes, and this new song seems to ooze a little liquid out of a packet near my heart. Recently I have been having heart palpations, strong thumpings in my chest. They seemed to frequent themselves around the election.

How funny, that just some time ago I was at the Farm with Rebecca, thinking those golden mornings were just a concept. Being out there near those fields, being able to step outside without a mask on, the Rocks always waiting and listening, the beautiful cool bedroom, and the little room with the desk where I wrote. Remember when you took that break, Sam? Was it truly helpful?

Yes.

But it also was a chance to recognize how I’ve been marshaling energy, how I’ve been dealing with it. Simply setting it to my side and saying “I don’t want to waste this.”

I’d rather swim in the river. The river of energy flows, and I can keep up with it, I can paddle, I can swim. My back feels wide and long like it’s wrapped with a parachute of skin. And as I breathe the skin stretches over my ribs and my legs sit crunched and I have a thought about my November Novel. The November Exchange. The November’s Deranged.

Clay Stefanki – a member of our TFT class at UCLA – died. He was a vibrant man, grinning and dancing, with a voice like a crack of a good old American whip and a two-ton smile. A song and dance man. A tall man. A kind man, and from all I could tell, a good man – as all men are who don’t indulge in the darkness. And my inability to even write good or bad, to allow that those terms have meaning in human behavior…but I digress. The point is, he didn’t seem to do harm to those around him, rather bolstering them, shining them up. That is a great man.

Warmly,

Samuel.

Claude Monet – Impression, Sunrise – 1872

Patience and Hope

I feel it. A little ball of energy in the center of my stomach.

The energy around it sags and tightens. Sometimes tense, sometimes loose, depressed, or jubilant – but it’s there – a little ball of energy in the center of my stomach. I looked at the clock, calculated how much longer this free write will go on – fourteen minutes or so. We’re just right at the beginning. And still I feel a little ball of energy in the pit of my stomach. Excitement.

I’m listening to Summerteeth by Wilco, one of the greatest albums of all time. It’s so connected to something warm and soft inside of me that when “She’s a Jar” comes on I start to cry.

Wilco – She’s a Jar – 1999

Energy is eking out of me coolly, out of my chest, and as usual I’m scared of it. I’m scared of the tears coming out of my eyes. But I feel good. It’s okay to allow that emotion. It’s okay to have emotion. To have hope. Even though it’s hard.

Patience. Hope. My watchwords.

And I don’t know.

And sometimes I’m very happy. And sometimes I’m very sad. And sometimes I feel so angry. And sometimes I’m very worried.

Patience. And hope. Because more comes clear the longer I hang in there, and although there is no fixed happy ending, there is the chance of one. I mustn’t choke it out with my flexing hands of doubt. Let the doubt be there, but don’t let it double you up, impale you, let it out. Let out the doubt. Patience. And hope. And sunshine.

I’m buoyed on this happiness right now. A bubble in my stomach, and chest, like movement.

Patience and hope.

Biden has pulled ahead. He’s still ahead in the states he had, and has continued to pull ahead in the other battleground states he needed. Blue blossoms all over the map.

Patience. Hope.

America is a ball of violence, anger, resentment, and yes, hope. And people get slaughtered here. They are allowed to be slaughtered by Biden’s party, in fact, tacitly submitted to the slaughter. And people in Trump’s party actively encourage the slaughter. People have been backwards-facing before. Some have seemed to turn around. Okay. The point is that this country is just about halfway racist, and halfway okay with genocide, murder, and disenfranchisement of Americans. And the other half seems tacitly okay with this, having not stopped it.

That is one big mess.

Patience. Hope.

Because that ball of twine, that big tangle of thorns and bloody clothes and skin and bone and flesh, might unknit itself with very careful massaging. I want to go into politics.

I want to dabble in everything I do. If I add dabbling in politics I’ll never get through the day. I don’t know if it means anything that I have this desire. I think I could still work towards my love of writing, acting, directing, and put some of my time into grassroots politics and organizing. I want to help. Because I know that Joe Biden is just the beginning.

Patience and hope.

Because now we must, with a calm and dignified hand at the helm, turn the whole Goddamn ship. And we have to drive the racist rats out of the brig. They’re down there chewing through our foundations. Pulling crew members and passengers down and gnawing through them. Killing them. No one can live on a ship like that. It’s a nightmare out of Stephen King. And just because Biden’s in charge doesn’t mean he’ll change any Goddamn thing on his own. He doesn’t want to.

To reach the coast of Utopia, all the deckhands and all the passengers and all those in the coal room and all those in the officers’ cabins have to work to change the course. Hearts have to change. That is how art connects.

I don’t have to work in politics, but I can make political art.

What is political art?

It’s not a play telling you what to think. NO NO NO. Perish that Goddamn thought, I’ve seen about four hundred of those and they leave me sick and dead.

It’s what Brecht truly tried to do: ignite people to think for themselves. Blow their minds with theatrical wonder, put them into a receptive state, and reveal enough about the machinery of REAL LIFE that they see they themselves could change it.

Bertolt Brecht – 1898 – 1956

If we continue with our ship metaphor, I would like to put on plays on the quarterdeck. I would like to put on plays that stretch out the body of American politics and anatomize it, show people just where they could stick in a scalpel, just what could be cauterized, amputated, or grafted onto. Show them that they are part of the machinery of America, and all parts of this machine can think, can work, can change. In the meanwhile, I’ll be learning, changing, and thinking as well.

Dear Lord, today we may have the final call that we are in Joe Biden’s America. Hope is the most holy thing in human existence. It is the only thing that can light up the wall of death and allow us to see it – allow us to – allow it. Hope is the flame of a tiny candle, and death is a universe full of darkness. And still the flame remains, and that, in itself, is holy.

Without this idea, without this allowance, this space – there can be no change. If all we do is cringe in the face of death, then death is changing US; we cannot move in such claws. But if we huddle around the candleflame of hope – it will ignite the shadows within our hands. We can invite in our brothers, sisters, siblings of all stripes, to come in and huddle around the flame together. And the flame will grow as others add their own. Until we have a bonfire – a bonfire of hope. And with that bonfire we can cauterize the darkness. We can live with it. We can allow it. And we can change our bodies in the shifting light. We can…

become.

Become what?

Truly alive.

Nicholas Roerich – Song of Shambhala – 1943

The Old Man and the Dog

If anything, this proves that 2020 is the year of uncertainty. You like uncertainty? Here, have a little more. You want to know where things stand? Not yet. You want a refutation that around half of the people in this country are racist? Nah, you don’t get that. You think you know common sense, and it’s as plain as the nose on your face? Ha. Have fun in 2020. By the way, can’t see your nose with your mask on.

Uncertainty. And as I sit here, I’m perched on my sit bones, my jaw is a little tense, the right side of my lips pulled down, and there’s a little stretching ache in the left side of my back.

Last night started to feel like a vortex that went on and on. I was looking for light at the end of the tunnel, at times I thought I saw it. Then the light seemed to extinguish, and it was 2016 all over again, and I was all wrong. And not just me, although I’ve been trained to use “I” statements. My echo chamber was all wrong. Half our nation likes submitting to our Strong(man) Leader. He’s so strong, he’ll farm for us himself, with those muscles of his. Not a wimp. A big boy. Makes us feel safe. Great economy.

Frankly, I’m lost in it all. I’m trying to grab on to hard things here, hard and fast facts, but they are slipping through my hands, slick with uncertainty. Uncertainty, the grease of 2020. What will survive? You’ll have to be okay with moving forward not knowing. Because you can’t skip to the last page of the book and look at the last words, and besides there is no last page anyway. Even when the sun explodes that’s just the end of Volume One.

The one thing I feel highly rueful about: Biden did nothing to indicate he will truly listen to Black voters, and grapple with the racism he himself has been a part of. I heard a pundit posit that that was reflected in the polls last night. All I know is during the town hall broadcast, a Black man stood up and asked why he should vote for Biden, other than the vice president saying…

I’m in over my head. I don’t even remember the exact quote. I’m sitting here, with the little ache in the left side of my back, my long-sleeve blue shirt getting too warm. I couldn’t remember the time I started this free write so I couldn’t look up when it will end. I think I probably have about eight more minutes. And I’m digging in a direction that I can’t sustain. I can’t remember the words, I don’t know enough specific data to comment on what’s going on. I’m sitting here, accepting that I’m a small piece of a machine that is moved by pieces much bigger than I. It’s like a carnival wheel, and I’m just in one of the boxes. Hordes of other people are turning the machinery, making it go. I’m just praying it stops at the Joe Biden dock and the Democratic win and that we can at least try to move the country forward without having to deal with strongman, authoritarian tactics. Just back to plain old Oligarchy: not great, but we can at least roll our long, blue shirtsleeves up and deal with it.

I think for the next day or two, as long as this uncertainty lasts, I’m not going to be so good at focusing. That thought puts a little sucking sensation in my chest. I don’t like having that thought, I’m a perfectionist and I’d always like to be working at my top abilities. I hate to admit something going on with me which I don’t want to think about. So that’s resistance to the thought, just like my meditation program is trying to teach me to notice. Well, I noticed it. I have resistance to the thought that I’ll have trouble focusing while this race is still going on. I also feel resistance to the fact my back is feeling crunched and curled forward. And I have resistance to the fact (a suspicion threading through my brain like floss) that this is all part of a nasty game. Just like 2016, except they’re extending the cheese a little closer to our face than last time.

Sometimes I think America can never resist electing the most interesting story. Trump is our own homegrown strongman dictator. He’s a reality TV star. He’s racist! He’s obvious! He’s orange and full of himself! Who wants boring and dependable, when we can get so much ENTERTAINMENT for the next four years?! That was my feeling in 2016: that Donald Trump was just too terrible to lose. Any story that devastating has to be lived out.

For a while at least.

Now I pray that the story is interesting enough to overthrow our strongman dictator. He is literally spreading a fog of contagious death in order to campaign, is literally super spreading IN THE WHITE HOUSE on the night of the election. We need to elect a dependable old man to put that dog down. The dog’s gone fucking mad, get old Joe Biden and his muzzle and leash and dog-catching team and put him down! We created him, we can muzzle and chain him too, and it’s about time because the bad dog is infecting about half the farmstead with his terrible disease.

I hope the story in history books will be that we needed stability so badly we finally voted for it.

And even if Joe does win, which I pray, which I pray, the hard work begins. Then we have to roll up ALL OUR shirtsleeves (white allies need to fire on all cylinders here) to convince the old man (hired just to kennel up a bad dog) to also clean the house, break into its foundations, get rid of the rotten, old beams and pour a new bed of concrete. I mean, we’re having a pest problem right? We hired an old man to kennel a dog, and now he also needs to drive out the racist rats in the basement. We can get the old man to do that, right?

Let’s get the old man to do that.

Uncertainty. It can lead to hope. It’s possible to hope. Do I have hope?

I have hope. It’s a tired hope. But I have it. It’s tingly.

Jasper Johns – Map – 1961

I May Break my Femur

Sitting. Sitting here. The chair is soft against my ass, which also feels soft, although I know there’s bones inside it. And if I peer through the screen, I believe I can see Helena all wrapped up with Rebecca, lying in bed.

Self-consciousness, of course, ripples. My eye itched, I just scratched it. I hear Rebecca breathing, which for some reason is an observation I feel I have some resistance towards, as if I want to block the sound out. It seems I often have resistance to other people, and other places. A resistance when it comes to someone asking for my time, or someone spending their time around me and making sounds. These things make me – I don’t know, want to block out the very stimulus itself.

Younger, as a kid, I used to be afraid to go off ski jumps. I was on the steep and deep team, and that meant that Jeremy Ashkenazy (or something like that), one of the ski coaches, would take us to the terrain park. Sometimes another one tagged along. Bill Hudson, maybe? Or, I know there were other coaches for the team but I can’t remember who they were. For me, Steve, Mike, and Phil always come to mind, the original three coaches of the Sugar Bowl Ski Team. But this was late period. This was during the decline and fall of my ski team years.

They would line us all up on a tussock a ways above one of the large ski jumps on the freestyle course, or rather, the terrain park. Around us, snowboarders were pointing their boards, gaining an incredible amount of speed, then launching into the air and either doing a flip or a 360 or tucking their leg and grabbing the board; and they would soar through the air ten, twelve feet above the hard-packed ground. I would be watching.

Then my turn would come at the top of the jump. I was terrified, truly just scared out of my mind. What was I scared of? I think it was the feeling of flying through the air, the lift in my stomach. It would be fun, exhilarating, but the feeling could lead me to tense up or the opposite, flail out. I might go all soft like noodles, passing out in the sky and landing without any attempt to keep myself upright. And once Bill Fleming broke his femur going off a jump in the terrain park. I could imagine that happening to me. The snap, audible from the chairlift. My imagination was overeager. And no matter how I thought over the jump to come, I couldn’t work out in my head a plan that would account for the rush of feeling that would come with flying twenty feet in the air.

One thought (I don’t like to admit myself) is that that was a unique experience. That I didn’t do the jumps, and I’ve never done anything “comparably” gutsy. Just not true. I’ve done things that took bravery. Both propositions and break ups, journeys to distant lands, submitting myself to people or places I didn’t entirely trust. I’ve done dangerous things. Leaping off a ladder to the roof of the movie theater near UCLA in the pre-dawn – I could have died.

But I have always been afraid of great surges of emotion. I fear them because I don’t know what they will do to me. I would like to allow that I didn’t go off those ski jumps, that I didn’t point my skis straight down the hill, gain an insane amount of speed, and launch fifteen, twenty feet into the air, and that’s okay. Not only okay but smart. I acknowledge that it was my right to pass. But I also acknowledge, here, that I might have enjoyed the feeling of flight. That what I was so afraid of was also a task I could have excelled at, if I had allowed my fear and done it anyway.

Even in my mundane life of quarantining in a one-room apartment in south Brooklyn there are things I’m afraid of. I was afraid of logging in to class yesterday and doing work. I am afraid of writing grad school applications. I’m afraid of recording voiceover. I’m afraid of perfecting my latest novel.

I fear my own strong emotions: hate, anger, terror, adrenaline, joy, and sorrow, sadness. I fear experiencing these. And I fear technical maneuvers, such as landing in the snow, or navigating a scene for acting class. I have trouble trusting myself in situations with such high levels of emotion, and the technical maneuvering to land the jump. And yet, I’ve landed jumps. I acted Hamlet. Directed Midsummer. Excelled at LAMDA and acted in Measure for Measure for Bill Alexander. I ran the floor of Mabou Mines as a gorilla for Lee Breuer. Attempted mask work and puppetry to act with the sublime Maude Mitchell.

Trust is the antidote to fear. Only, trust is not a reasoning emotion. It is not saying, “Okay, I can tilt my skis just like this and wait for a wind just like this and breathe just like this, and now I’m all prepared and there’s no way I’ll fall and break my femur.” It’s saying “I may fall and break my femur. There’s no way to say it’s impossible. And yet I trust, I put faith in, I allow that all will likely be well. That things will turn out for the best. That I can do it.

And if I break my femur —

I’m better for it. I’ve learned something. And I’ve lived.

ML McCormick – Olympic Ski Jumper – 2018

New York Morning Cat

Here to write. Everything eats and is eaten just played in my mind. Because it’s a line in the new Adrianne Lenker album, super great. Calming. Beautiful, pretty, like a breath.

Adrianne Lenker – two reverse – 4AD

I feel chunky today – a little blocked. Sad as I think a thought; yes, a thought just passed through me – that I always start out all these journal entries the same or at least I’m beginning to; and it always has to do with my physical sensations. I wanted to shove the thought away because it made me feel like I was a failure, the ensuing thought, that I’m just indulging a bad habit. But now I have the thought that my thoughts have no authority, and it’s true. It’s not like my intellect’s idea of what’s good and what’s bad and what’s unique and what’s not is very important. It ain’t the literary critic of the New York Times upstairs. Which doesn’t mean that they (the literary critic of the New York Times, that is) know what they’re talking about anyway.

Thoughts.

I feel soft today though, and there’s a little light inside my chest, a lift of energy. Sometimes the energy, or movement, in my chest registers to me like light inside. I heard Rebecca getting into place for work this morning; she’s been up as well, getting ready to coach a new pupil in Computer Science. But when I leaned back to see if the noise I heard was her, and to find out if she was working in the bedroom area behind the screen, I just saw little Helena (the cat) lying on the corner of the bed. She caught my eye. The kitty has a little, precious face. It actually puts energy and movement into my chest. There’s times the kitty is so cute that I feel it in my sinuses between my ears, or my inner ear. It’s like my ear canals start to pulse and vibrate, an effect of swelling up with how cute that cat is.

But what is the expression on her face? Focused. It’s the face of a kitty who’s…vibing. I really don’t know any other way to put it. She’s very seriously lying there and experiencing the pleasure of lying there. As if it’s a job, or even holy activity. Like she’s a little monk, and the way she worships is to feel comfortable and calm. So she lies there and cultivates comfort and calm and blinks.

But my God if it isn’t awfully cute.

Thoughts have flowed through my head many times throughout this free write. The thought flowed through that I’ll never be able to write non-fiction like Stephen King. I thought of the intros to his various books, and his jocular and comforting tone throughout On Writing. So that thought floated through and, honestly, who cares?

Other thoughts like that flow through. I’m going to stop resisting them. Sometimes I register that a thought is negative and I just shut it down: it’s a thought that scares me too much to consider, so I smash it. But I think this style, this new style, of noticing the thought and letting it float by in the light of day is better. In some way having a negative and paranoid thought and squashing it just gives it more power. But to open a window in the mind and shine some light on it actually takes away its power. It shrivels up in the light of day like a…I don’t have a good simile. Here are a few options: slug with salt on it; bug in the window (?); raisin in the sun (taken); in my mind’s eye as I set myself up for a simile, I imagined a bug that’s not supposed to be out in the day and if you set it out in the sun, it shrinks. But I don’t know if a bug like that exists. Maybe just a slug in the sun. But slugs survive in the sun. They just seem to prefer the shade. So, in conclusion, a slug forced to stay in the sun far longer than a slug might prefer.

Thoughts about my body, my ability to keep thinking through Alexander directions and to let go of areas of holding that are not necessary to keep me up and balanced. Quick thinking through the directions: I give my neck a gentle wish to be free. I sense my head moving up and away. I sense the length, depth, and width of the whole torso. I sense the legs moving away from torso, and the torso following the head up and out. I sense my feet sinking away. I am balanced by shifting energies.

That last one was mine.

This free write’s almost done. I’d like to corral it up to a conclusion. I can allow all the negative and positive thoughts in the world. I can allow them all, and they don’t make me, they don’t define me or my work. They, like I, are allowed to exist. They’re even allowed to die. And the scary or negative thoughts scare and discourage me a lot less when I notice and allow them.

Rebecca just brought me a coffee refill. It was a joy to see her. It was a joy to smile together. And these small things are life: nothing more, nothing less. Nothing better.

Claude Monet – Cat Sleeping on a Bed – circa 1865 – 1870

Whose Hollow Legs Scrape Across the Ground

My jaw is a little tense. I’m sitting here, my brow relaxed, and tears behind my eyes. I want to cry – for some reason there’s the desire to cry inside.

Like a shallow wound.

Strong feelings of backward motion today. Probably to get to the bottom of it (now my eyes are ringed with tears) I’d have to go through last night. Or maybe through the events of the last year and a half. I don’t even know. I’m scared. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.

Last night, anyway, let’s start there. I had a scene rehearsal with my acting mentor, Natasha, one that was going to be filmed for her website for her online Zoom course. At some point around halfway through, she lays into me. Tells me that she sees that I don’t have any excitement anymore, that I was once brimming with energy, and now I have none. I hate it when directors tell me things like that, as if they’ve been given some carte blanche to see and judge and decide my life. Everyone seems to feel they have carte blanche to see and dominate and tell me what I should be doing with my life.

My one life.

And it doesn’t help that I feel no sureness. I never do. I feel confusion most of the time. Do I really want to direct? Do I really want to write? Do I really want to act? Should I really be best friends with my best friends? Should I really live in New York?

For God’s sake, I’m not sure about any of it…so when Natasha entered my mind and told me I was so utterly dead inside, passionless, it struck a chord. Have I constructed a life around myself that I am placating? Am I some kind of cosmic Poland, taken over and annexed by everyone from Nazis to Commies (sorry, no offense to Poland)? I was weeping openly while writing the paragraph above this one.

Here’s my instincts. It’s my life and my free write and I’m allowed to say what I instinctively feel. I trust that the things I’m passionate about are worthy of being passionate about: writing, storytelling, directing, acting. I just haven’t found myself yet in them. I’m working; and, by God, before the last week I’d been working every day. Writing. Imagining. Preparing. But it’s the business. The business.

I get halfway through a spreadsheet and want to go to sleep. I can’t work with budgets, balance them and so forth. I can barely apply to colleges and submit short stories. And that does take up at least five hours in the day. It ain’t an eight hour workday, but the other stuff around it is important too.

And am I getting defensive, am I simply protecting the scared, lost, lonely part in the middle of me?

Perhaps.

Let me slow down and write some things I know to be true instinctively:

  1. Natasha is not always right. She was also trying to bring me alive for the scene.
  2. I have more right than Natasha to see my inside self.
  3. If I don’t let out my reaction to this, I won’t want to sustain being in Natasha’s class: I will grow resentful.
  4. Writing is both fun and progressive. I’m learning, and submitting. And that feels good. And I’m working on stories that matter to me. Natasha knows nothing about that and why should she?
  5. I am the only one to tell myself what I’m doing.
  6. I can trust myself. 
  7. Working with Rebecca and my classmates in Natasha’s on acting is helpful.
  8. I’m resentful of the people in my life telling me which direction to go in.
  9. I’m also highly self – conscious that I don’t know what I’m doing myself.
  10. I love directing. I love writing. I love acting.

I love Sade. I’m listening to Sade.

Jezebel – Sade – 1985

I’m sad, there’s a sucking feeling in my chest and tingles all down my arms and legs as I cry again, because Natasha….she made me feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. And I’m angry about it.

11. I don’t know what I’m doing.

I don’t feel much if any more clear about anything after writing this. I’m hunting for my own path: the roaches, Rebecca, Natasha, schools, writing…that’s all part of it. I’ve lived half or nearly half of my life, maybe more, maybe even less. Could be anything. But it’s my life. MY time. And I want to fill it with what I want.

Natasha wanted to make me feel as passionate about acting as I do about writing and directing. But I do know that something in it backfired, I felt slightly ambushed. Under-rehearsed, and then abused in no uncertain terms about the very core of my life, potentially to make me mad and do the scene better. I like acting, it’s creating art. I would like to keep practicing it and that seems like Natasha’s true intention: to stop me from giving up my passion for acting as well. But I am overwhelmed by my urge to also write, and also direct, and then there’s a deep desire to make money off my own enterprises.

Only a minute left in this free write. I don’t feel I know much more what’s right or wrong. But I also know that I need to trust myself. Those benchmarks, they’re everywhere. They point me in this direction and that and I’m like a leaf in the wind, or a hollow man whose hollow legs scrape across the ground.

I want to plant my feet.

I can (thirty – three be damned).

I will.

Dear God, a prayer for direction. Dear God. God.

And let Joe Biden win the election.

Joan Miró (1893 – 1983) – Untitled

The Crack in the Wall

Sometimes I treat my routines like a diet. Gonna have to eat something: so eat a little meditation, a little worship, a little creation, a little editing, a little movement, a little research…and what comes out at the end? A healthier and more creative Sam presumably. And some creative output.

That thought was in my head when I sat down, so I had to write it out. It’s like having one’s throat clogged with an apple seed. You gotta spit it out to breathe freely. Or swallow it. I suppose I could have swallowed it.

But here I sit – thought, on the page. Brain a kind of empty, cool place. Coolness running down my arms, tingles around my thighs, and the white of the room padding me, comforting, coolness in the walls. This is the old kids’ bedroom at the Farm. It used to contain three single beds, two bunkbeds and one stand-alone. Matthew slept in the bottom bunk, I was on the top, and Frankie slept over in the standalone. To my recollection we were all very happy with that arrangement. Although there were times my incredibly overactive mind made me fear that the bunk would crack and fall on Matthew – and then my life would be ruined. Imagine sleeping and crushing your brother because of a technical malfunction in the night….

Rebecca just came in and kissed me. She smelled like a new perfume…(the word that comes to mind is “hibiscus.” Whenever I think of perfumes the word that always comes to mind is hibiscus)…(but maybe it was…oh there’s a flower, and I know I could put my finger on it…lilies maybe? Lily of the Valley perfume? Or am I thinking of Breaking Bad now? Jeez, what’s all rattling around up there?)…anyway, she kissed me. She’s driving into town and needed to say goodbye. I was not disturbed by the interruption. It was pleasant, her lips slightly warm, and her face close to mind, and her smile…there are pleasant things that give one a pleasant feelings in a morning, all gold and sunlight draped over the apple blossoms and yellow California grasses. She leaves now, and my breath is shallow…

Yes. This room. When it had three bunks there was, for some reason, a night I was sleeping in here alone. My Dad came in to read me a bedtime story. He happened to read me that chapter of the Hobbit when the dwarves, hobbit, and wizard, Gandalf, find refuge in a cave in the mountains. They all settle down and go to sleep, except for Bilbo, who stays awake and muses. His waking mind melds with his dreams and he sees a huge crack spreading across the wall of the cave. The crack spreads and goblins come in, sneakily, stealing the horses, and laying rough hands on the dwarves. Bilbo calls out, warning them, and is the only reason Gandalf is able to flash a few of them with his hot, hot magic and escape. Gandalf of course saves them later. Without the Hobbit and his shout they might have been doomed.

The Hobbit film – 1977 – Rankin Bass

But what stayed with me that night, after my father finished reading, was the crack. What if a crack formed in my bedroom wall and got wider and wider and unseen goblins stepped through? What if they grabbed me from my bed in my warm, comfy, slightly creepy house, where my parents and other siblings were sleeping just rooms away, and dragged me through their crack into another world? This terrified me.

Once, long ago, I ate something and went out in to the fields. Perhaps this is too fresh – perhaps this is too honest. Perhaps I should strive for opacity and say “one may have eaten something and gone out to the fields, and if they did, this is what may have happened…” But I’m going to be honest with you. The “one” is me. And I ate something and took to the fields with a host of friends.

That is the closest adult sensation I can relate to the crack in the wall. I felt as though that crack in “the wall” could exist anywhere, opening on another plain of existence. A deeper plain. These edible things were fun: they made the trees swirl and the bushes dance, they made the blue sky shimmer, they made distant people appear small and very close. They put one in touch with the waves that organize all matter, growing and shrinking like the waves of the sea, and the waves of energy that flow through ones buoy bones, waves that could grow from the inside out or outside in and almost overwhelm. They turned a trek through a field into a trek through a mind into a trek through an imaginative world, painted by the media consumed in the past, the color of the clouds, the thoughts in one’s head, the memories, and the imaginings of the future. They made the mud of the fields turn springy.

But that crack: I had it as a child, and I had it as an adult again who had eaten a strange pizza and wandered out into a field of amber with sailing, granite rocks; the crack could open, and then the goblins could grab me, and pull me through the wall of existence, and take me somewhere…else. Somewhere that is both elsewhere and the foundational material of the current place. A place, as they say in a terrible Indiana Jones cash grab (with aliens!), that is the SPACE between SPACES. But for real.

Lying in bed after my Dad left, the lights off except for the nightlight, I was sure it was only a matter of time…that perhaps a crack was growing wider in the dark at that very moment. That any second I would feel rough hands grab me and pull me through.

It could happen.

And it makes life exciting.

“Le Pays des Miracles” – Rene Magritte – 1964

Rarified

I feel poised between utter relaxation, relaxation as a quiet, almost holy experience, and obligation. Stress and worry and planning. I know there’s a way to plan and still be relaxed…

STOP

Just wanted to say I’m listening to Smooth Operator by Sade and this seems to be hitting the right spot.

Sade – Smooth Operator – Balm for 2020

Smooth Operator. How did I avoid Sade for so long? It’s just like Richard and Linda Thompson I want to see the Bright Lights Tonight: an album that is absolutely a Sam Gibbs classic and never passed through my ears before this year.

GO

Let’s look at the morning around me. It’s cool and warm – a contradiction that nevertheless feels true. It’s a brisk 9 AM and people are out there cleaning up the little pond that appeared in front of the driveway.

A couple days ago Rebecca and I drove up, coming back from a run. The people were outside our place dressed in their orange vests. I was thinking of the polite way to ask them to move out of the way but Rebecca leaned out the window and said, “This is us!” The people moved aside briskly. But then I slowed down and said “Are you working on the pond over there?” And they looked at me like a true weirdo, not part of their covenant of road workers. One of them smiled and said they’re making a new pond in our land…or something like that. I couldn’t tell if they were actually giving me the skinny or teasing me with false information. Even if so it was in good fun. But they could also have been telling the truth.

There is a copse of trees just past the driveway, behind the newly renovated barn. A small stream runs through it. My Dad used to take me there when I was very little to splash through that stream in galoshes. Back then the stream and the surrounding Eucalyptus trees were proof that the grounds of the Farm were endless; that there were other worlds enfolded into the land around the house. That if you walked past the driveway, you entered a magic land of a deep stream bed, with water skeeters and mole holes in the banks, if not gnome holes. No. The gnomes lived under the caps of mushrooms, especially where the fungi formed a ring. That’s how you knew faeries lived there. I’d seen it in a computer game, Quest for Glory 1: So You Want To Be A Hero, if you must know.

Quest for Glory 1: So You Want to be a Hero – Sierra – these games shaped my very personality

I remember my Dad as a big kindly presence leading me through the woods. There were times this big peach blob of Dad would make me scared or get very mad at me, which to me, reflected my own debased and monstrous behavior. But when we went on our own missions, he was my amazing mission commander. He was my private Davey Crockett leading me through the frontier, able to rise to any challenge, fight off any beast, even forage for food and water, if need be.

So when he took me to that magical stream through the trees behind the barn I felt that, should we slip through a portal into another world, I would be in good hands. We would find our way back to our land and to Mom and all of my siblings. Of course we would both wield swords. But Dad’s would be far larger, and perhaps magical. Maybe I would wield a wizard’s staff anyway. That was always my jam.

But, as Terry Pratchett says, a Wizard’s Staff has a Knob on the End. Anyway, that’s just a song from Discworld. But ignore the strange sexual double entendres from the preceding paragraph. They are certainly not my intent.

Pulled into the music I’m nodding my head, noticing the resemblance to Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean.

Sade – Hang on to Your Love – 1984

I’m grooving, it put a worm in my middle, a wiggle in the worm and a piggy in the wiggle.

Just words that are fun to say.

So where was I in this nesting doll? Yes. My Dad could lead me into another world, a fantasy world, and I would be safe in the face of danger.

And in a way, going into the trees and investigating that stream was like going into another world. Even if we didn’t definitively pass through a portal, we passed through an invisible one. One in my imagination. On the other side the stream was huge, gnomes were hiding just out of sight, and I was in, pardon the unfortunate Disney reference, a whole new World.

Of course I walk over there now and see it’s only a few square feet of trees. There’s not much space. They’ve grown close over the river, or so I think, and it is not a whole new world, just a tiny pocket of the world we are normally in. Now I’m far taller than the stream banks. And for some reason I make the assumption that I know everything I would find in there. That there is no longer a magical portal.

Is that necessary? Isn’t it possible to be so curious about a stream bed in a small patch of woods in another world, even as a thirty-three year old man? There are certainly enough amazing details to that landscape to warrant curiosity. The amount of small critters that live in the stream bed alone warrant wonder.

As I said, the road workers are working out there now. They’re redirecting that stream because in some time in the past ten years it overflowed its banks and wandered across the road, creating a roadpond. The city would just redirect the water with a culvert but they can’t do anything so drastic: there’s a small, endangered, green frog in that stream and those woods. Rebecca and I saw one yesterday up in the barn where we went to rehearse. It was sitting on the bars of the old, abandoned motorcycle, as if it was about to ride the damn thing. As if it had heard that Crazy Frog ringtone one too many times.

Crazy frog – 2007 – watch if ye dare

(That Crazy Frog ringtone was absolutely one of the harbingers of our current apocalypse. Who knew? And if you don’t understand that don’t worry because I’m not sure I do either but I’d be more than happy to discuss it with you.)

The workers didn’t seem interested in chatting with us about their progress on redirecting the unruly stream. They didn’t mention finding any gnomes in their work. They don’t seem like the type to look for gnomes. They’re just doing the job.

We came into the house and the house was peace. The house is peace. The mist that surrounds the house as night falls and the owls swoop is peace. The morning air is peace.

The word of the week is rarified.

And yet, my phone beckons. The people I love need things and I need things too. I’m poised between utter calm and juts of pressure.

And that’s life.

I have no problem with that.

Now listen to Frankie’s First Affair.

Peace.

Granville Redmond – Sand Dunes – n.d. (1871-1935)