We read a poem by T.S. Eliot last year about how some people spend their entire lives, hunched over, attempting to measure life with coffee spoons, only to die, withered and old, left with nothing but empty dreams.
I suppose some people do spend their entire lives attempting to measure every step they take. They have a plan and Excel spreadsheets filled with colors that tell them which step of the way will come after the next, and they want to force the mass that is life and mold it into their plans.
But me, I don’t care to measure life with coffee spoons, or to attempt to force it into my plans. I want to take a road trip across California and like those horrendously hipster photos that I see across Instagram, stop at scenic locations and feel small compared to the mountains and oceans I stand next to. I want to make a bucket list filled with improbable goals to achieve, and somehow, check off each event. I want to discover new music, write songs, share with the world meaningless words that I throw together in half asleep stupors. I want to dream of foreign countries, explore the different parts of the world, and find new adventures to embark on.
I suppose I am a very stereotypical college student, filled with cliche dreams, driven by the sudden influx of hipster-culture, of hippie vans that roll across dusty roads to a soundtrack provided by Blind Pilot.
And so, I certainly don’t intend to measure my life with coffee spoons. But as I stare at the disgusting amount of pre-requisites and major courses that don’t particularly excite me, and the list of strange, eccentric courses that I would love to take, but don’t fit into my allotted schedule no matter how many 8 am’s I move around, when I think about a prospective career that would potentially provide me the means to actually arrive at those foreign countries and experience different cultures… I realize that no one actually intends to live life by measuring out each drop carefully. No one actually dreams of fulfilling a predestined path of mediocrity.
It just somehow happens.
Anonymous asked: What inspires you to write?
balmy summer nights and mandarin peels. music playing in another room and how people move their hands when they speak. the intersection between past present and future, and everything that’s both lost and found. human contradictions. long fingers of light sweeping through a train carriage. boys with soft, curious eyes. boys with beautiful hands. all hands in general. old people hands. callouses and dimples and the way new skin grows back so much whiter, so much cleaner. being touched tenderly, being touched brusquely, just being touched. my mother bending over in the kitchen, or on the bed’s edge rubbing lotion into her heels. split lips and honeysuckles. blue mosquito lights in public bathrooms. abandoned roadside furniture and the way people try to say goodbye with their bodies when words are useless. familiar cities that don’t feel like home, and unfamiliar ones that do. the smell of basil, the smell of cherry tomatoes, the smell of burnt butter. the fact that none of us really know where we’re going, but we’re going anyway. all this blind, mad hope and hearts that perpetually threaten to vibrate out of their nests. “we are all going forward. none of us are going back.”
The following piece appears in print in the Australian magazine, smith journal.
I was running this morning and passed a guy who was probably in his sixties.
He was walking in the opposite direction I was running and as we passed he said “Good morning.”
I said “Hi” and kept running. I thought about his face and the grey stubble on his cheeks and the set of his mouth. And for some reason I imagined him kissing me and feeling that stubble on my cheek and catching the smell of his breath and perhaps a hint of Aqua Velva. Then I imagined my dad kissing me when I was a boy, to say good morning or good night, and how good that felt. I thought about how happy that probably made him, now that I have two sons of my own, both under the age of three, and I know how much I enjoy kissing their smooth little cheeks. I almost cried and thought I might, but then didn’t, since I had a way to go before I got home and didn’t want anyone to have to see a 6’3”, 230 pound bearded man running down the street in tears in bright workout gear on their way to work or school.
“It’s cool!” I would have assured them, “I’m just thinking about men and boys kissing each other in the context of fatherhood! Not a big deal.”
If you have kids, moments like the one I’ve described above will take place. Perhaps you’ve heard that having kids makes your heart grow in size. This is true, but the growth isn’t neat. Think of it this way: if your heart were a house, having kids doesn’t put an addition on your heart; it explodes your heart with dynamite stolen from a local construction site and then tasks you with rebuilding it five times larger out of the remains you find where your house once was, plus any miscellaneous garbage that might be laying about, some road kill and a few truck loads of silt from the nearest river.
My sons are male, which is the second most popular gender on earth. Before my wife and I had any kids, I’d wanted to have girls. I just thought girls would awaken the fathering instinct in me faster or more thoroughly or something. I know some men would rather have boys and they can be quite vocal about it. They worry about having to protect their daughters, real or imagined, from men. Men like them? Are you afraid men will treat your daughter the way you’ve treated women? Or do you doubt that a girl raised with love of all varieties, tough included, can handle herself in the world? Is it misogyny or self-loathing? Flip a coin; they’re both awful. You should do cartwheels in the street if you have a daughter.
But another thing I’m learning is that that same worldview does a gross disservice to the act of parenting boys. If you need to dote on your daughter and shield her from reality or she’ll crumble or be torn apart by wolf-men, does it follow that boys just raise themselves? No attention required? Can boys not be damaged or led astray? As the father of two boys, are my responsibilities few? Here’s just one reason the way I raise my sons matters to the world at large: my sons will one day wander out into the world and meet your daughters. So one hopes I instill in them, and model for them, behavior that is rooted in kindness, compassion and fundamental respect of others. As well as a work ethic, strength, and the discipline to survive to adulthood in one piece.
It is instructive to examine your feelings very closely when you find out the gender of your child. As I said, before I met him, I’d hoped our first son would be a daughter because I thought that would awaken a stronger parental, paternal urge in me. I now realize that was inherited sexism (“Only a girl would need something as silly as ‘love…’”) But the SECOND I met him, I was a blubbering fool (as I established in the introduction, I cry while I work out, so no surprise) and I felt every molecule in my body explode, reform and realign as a capital D Dad, whose sole purpose was to bludgeon this tiny person with love. And now I’m the dad of two boys I’d hoped were girls, but am leagues beyond happy that they are exactly who and what they are. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go kiss them until they yell at me.
In poetry, the number of beginnings so far exceeds the number of endings that we cannot even conceive it. Not every poem is finished — one poem is abandoned, another catches fire and is carried away by the wind, which may be an ending, but it is the ending of a poem without an end.
Paul Valéry, the French poet and thinker, once said that no poem is ever ended, that every poem is merely abandoned. This saying is also attributed to Stéphane Mallarmé, for where quotations begin is in a cloud.
Paul Valéry also described his perception of first lines so vividly, and to my mind so accurately, that I have never forgotten it: the opening line of a poem, he said, is like finding a fruit on the ground, a piece of fallen fruit you have never seen before, and the poet’s task is to create the tree from which such a fruit would fall.
Anonymous asked: this is for you. i want to cry but i've forgotten what it really is that i would pouring the rain inside out for. do you like the sunshine or rain more? sometimes i'm so tired and hungry and dizzy that i feel like i'm floating outside my body. these days the coffee isn't bitter enough and my words are so empty and lifeless. but my flowers aren't dead as quickly as usual. & i've been reading more. and making art and music. not love. i'm still yet to make peace with my parents though. bye for now.
this is for you. it’s late afternoon and there is the sound of a train passing beyond my window. i am waiting for some steamy summer rain. mm, yes, i think i like the rain more—especially how it unlocks the smell of the earth from underneath my feet. sunlight is important to me—all forms of light are—but there is something about the rain (perhaps its inescapable wetness) that is much, much more tactile and evocative than the sun warming the backs of shoulders and knees. something about the water cycle as a reminder that all things are constantly transforming. that’s it okay for the things you love to evaporate, because one of these days they’ll return, albeit in a different form. so on and so forth.
this is for you. sometimes words are grossly insufficient, especially in containing and maintaining emotions. there are weeks—no, months even—when my words are stale stubs of bread that hurt my teeth when i try to bite into them. there are days when words do more harm than good. but mostly, words are all i have. they have done a lot for me, so it’s only fair i’m patient and forgiving when they don’t want to listen.
what sort of flowers do you have? my mother used to tend to these giant pot plants, in our previous apartment. all but one of them shrivelled up and shed leaves like twisted cicada shells onto our carpet and the tiling on the balcony. i never cared much for the plants, knowing they were dying. but there was one evening, a year ago perhaps, when the wind was whorling hard around the balcony, and my mother’s pot plants were tipping over, the soil spilling everywhere. and it broke my heart to see that, even though i knew they were already dying. i don’t know why exactly, but i went out onto that balcony, the wind whipping hard against the railing, against my skin, and i bent down and scooped the soil slowly back into the pots and carried the plants inside. sorry—i have no idea how all of this came tumbling out. it’s a rather pointless story, really. but i’m glad your flowers are still alive.
it’s okay to not yet have made peace with your parents. i know i haven’t.
keep reading, keep making things, and keep keeping on. you won’t know how it happened, but one of these days, you’ll re-enter your own body and the world will be new again (in the meantime, try some vanilla-scented chai tea).