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Friday, June 10, 2011

FINDING MY OWN POWER


alexander seton, hand-carved marble, 2011



je suis comme je suis
je suis faite comme ca
     --jacques prevert

Justin came by today to pick up the 24 foot ladder I'd told him to come and get. He's wanting to start painting the outside of his house. I'm of an age where ladders have become the enemy. I hear of people my age falling off them, hospital, serious damage. I don't have any desire to hit my head on rock falling off a ladder. No interest in ladders anymore. Justin married with a house needs a good extension ladder. I'm glad to get it out of here and into the hands of someone I want to have it. I won't be tempted to climb the ladder now in case of any reason. I used to be very comfortable on a ladder, but am not always comfortable standing on the ground anymore. I enjoy giving things I don't need to Justin and Crystal when they can put the various objects to use or sell them, whatever. When I give them something, I forget about it. I don't ever want to be one who says some time in the future, 'Well, I gave you....' I'll never say anything like that. If I do, I'll be the first one to hit myself. And it will be hard. I remember the time I heard myself start a sentence, 'The kids these days....' I got with myself so seriously, it never happened again.



In the teen years, I felt like a sailboat with a broken mast riding a storm. I left my teen years like escaping from prison. Let me outta here! I was somebody at sea in a boat that went in circles and never got anywhere, had no destination, no idea of what to do, only a long list of what not to do. My head was twisted in a knot from conflicting influences coming at me from all directions. I wasn't able to make decisions for myself. Church didn't allow making decisions for myself. Parents didn't allow it. Neither did school. Nowhere in my early education did I learn anything about the importance of making practical decisions. When it came to decisions I made for myself, they were not so intelligent, because I had so little experience. Anybody who impressed me with a big mouth that bragged a lot could direct me like a sheep. Mother telling me what not to do, daddy daring me to do anything, just make a move, like a skeet shooter, school telling me information is knowledge, church telling me that to live my life as a human being is wrong.



At age 23, when all the obligatory forces that controlled my life came to an end, I set out taking my first footsteps as myself by my own decisions. First thing: education. I knew I was a functional idiot, unable to read with comprehension, believing other people knew more what was right for me than I did. Everybody was saying, you needta, you oughta, you should, you gotta, and it all conflicted. It took years before I learned that other people do not know better than I do what's right for me on my path. If I don't know, that means nobody knows. Somebody whose path is working in a bookstore gets told by somebody who races motorcycles he needs to get a motorcycle. Not necessarily. How long it took before I could turn a deaf ear to sentences that start, you oughta. What a liberation it was when I got it. Lost some friends over my liberation. Somebody who wants to control me is not my friend.



I left God as one of the obligations that inhibited decision making. I needed the freedom to think for myself, whatever that meant. I needed the mental space to find out what it meant. Two years on a ship in the Navy, the last of the major obligations on the checklist, I used to learn how to read. I read the books the senior English class in high school read, the course I didn't dare take. I discovered Albert Camus', L'etranger, The Stranger, then at the base library found more Camus. I started reading people he wrote about, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, serious existentialist philosophers who wrote their philosophy into novels of the French resistance during WW2. I read several of the novels, quite a lot of their plays. Existentialism fit my way of thinking at the time in a perfect synchronicity. I understood existentialism in my life, my dull, bland, boring life in a city in Kansas where 50s television was the closest thing I ever saw to art. Certainly had no notion of the abstract expressionists in New York at the time breaking new ground every day.



On my own, out of the Navy, into school, into a good part time job, an attic apartment that was my own space, I was suddenly curious about everything I didn't know about, contemporary art, contemporary writing, film, theater, all art expressions. Art has been my only interest in my adult life. What can you do with an interest in art in America? Not much. A few aggressive people can. But I've never been aggressive, nor have I ever enjoyed competition. I see it a good learning experience, but not a good way to live. I can't live my life in aggressive competition. I hear on NPR talk about getting corporate jobs, resumes, giving self over to the corporation for absolute control, learning to be a robot for good pay that, alas, goes into robot living in a suburb and watching tv with 300 channels. I need more than money and status in my life. I think of WB Yeats's father, the painter Jack Yeats, saying he would not talk about money or sex, both of them too boring as subjects of conversation. When I saw that the first time, it registered I knew what he was saying, so I talk of neither subject. They really are too boring in conversation. They're only exciting when desire is involved.



Looking backward in hindsight where we have close to 20/20 vision, the Charleston years, the years I lived under my own power, were the years of breaking down all that went before, in my time of decisions made by everyone but me, picking apart what was real from all the unreal. What do I call real and unreal? It's real when it has to do with who I am. It's unreal when it glosses over who I am with what I am. That's my meaning when I use this language. I've spent my adult life looking to go with the real and let the unreal go its own way. Best not to fight the unreal or react to it. Just let it flow by like a muddy old river. There is enough that's real in myself and around me that I don't need the unreal. I have no false friends, no fake people in my life. I really love that. No money and no status means nobody sucking up to me for something I have, not who I am. No buzzards circling my funeral. Nobody bullshitting me about something I have no interest in. Nobody trying to sell themselves to me. No reason to try to sell myself. I am as I am. I was made that way.



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