Last Fall I wrote the following piece on Medium, and good thing I checked, because for whatever reason it’s no longer there. So here, dear friends, I submit to you my darling Stock Damage…
what were we thinking—
should I get into this?
wait a minute
I didn’t ask
to be born into this…
It comes to this—I have just enough business sense to know I shouldn’t get into telemarketing.
Now I’m peering down into Google Earth, I’m google-earthing into the ancient neighborhood of my childhood, for the hell of it.
The memories, they feel broken. They don’t all connect so easily into a feature length movie or form into a giant robot with a blaster and sword.
Memories come as poetry—in bits and pixels, truths, half-truths—until my eyes adjust and hindsight is 20/20 once more.
What has become of my family and I? What was it then? Sitting here, staring into this woodgrain—is this where I’m going to figure it out?
What will become is determined by the story I‘ve been telling—you and myself.
Because I write things down… I’m this way. Because I’m an only child… I’m that way. Because I moved here… I’m… Because I’m X, I struggle with the WHY.
Am I in fact an only child?
Am I even writing this now?
Is it as simple as I see it? When were times ever simple?
When is time simple?
It’s simple to remember. More difficult to envision, to see beyond. I was too busy being five when you asked me what do you want to be when you get up there?
With increased, and probably warped, cognitive powers—of course I’ll put out fires and wrangle cats out of trees. Of course I’ll cram all the subpar into their rooms and lecture them on consequences. Of course I’ll be one to help balance the scales of justice and hurry along silver-haired ladies with bags of apples across the avenue.
With increased, with sharpened mental acuities—of course I will be a father—if not of children—then ideas and jokes and epiphanies, epiphanies that open the third-eye-street-lamp.
I wish our family could have held together. I wish my mom would have actually learned to cook.
So often my mother and I, we’d say to each other shut up! as in hush-your-mouth-get-the-hell-out-of-here-that’s-crazy-you-don’t-say, that sorta thing. Because we weren’t paying attention, soon enough it turned into just shut-up! We didn’t realize what we were saying to each other until it was too late and feelings were hurt, and it became stock damage. We never thought we-have-to-be-careful-with-language.
Violence is in the air. Vile, violation, vivisection, vandalize, vilify—these are other V words that come to mind, various permutations that act to complicate and add so many unnecessary layers of chaotic suffering and confusion to the human condition.
To vilify violence isn’t possible when violence—the thing that is so hard to walk back, to reverse, to repair—is itself the villain. Violence is the line crossed. Violence is sometimes the first thing we think of. Violence is in our speech.
I think now I am so much more patient and warm, and ready to listen.
I remember towards the end of my grandmother’s life she was about to have an operation, one that they had to put her to sleep for.
She was in her late 90s and at that age it’s risky to be put to sleep, so they were telling her, you know, there’s a chance you might not wake up form this.
I’m cool either way, she felt.
So in that state, the assistants were carefully putting her onto the stretcher for surgery, aware of this pain that she had in her hip. A few minutes pass and she tells my mom and I—everyone thinks it was from a car accident, that’s the story, but twenty years ago your grandfather and I, we got into a fight and… he came flying across the room at me and kicked me. I had to go to the hospital. I’ve always said it was from a car…
That day I got a little more insight into what has been winding its way through our family.
To imagine deeper longings, perhaps an inner-child is saying:
I wish you would have talked to me about stages of life. I wish we would have had a serious talk about transitions. Shit, I wish you would have talked to me about energy.
Why is it that instead of hearing about the birds and bees from our Dad, we have to go to the Tibetan Book of The Dead?
Go to your mother… Shut up!
I think now I am so much more patient and warm. I listen. I sit still. I read a lot and forget a lot and read some more. I can list off first and last names of tons of authors and book titles and short stories and this is when our hero got very drunk in a bar and fearlessly charmed his aggressors to the point of asking him to join their gang—you’ve got what we want—but in the end he stumbled out of there, off again on his own, without them.
Remembering my grandfather in the retirement home, he was being tormented by what he called a Little Chinaman.
You get out of here, he screams.
The Little Chinaman stops by late at night, and my grandfather smashes him over the head, drawing blood, with a minuscule, heart-shaped trash can.
What can I say, my grandfather had anger issues. He even came to blows with his friends in the middle of the bowling alley.
A little older, this is where I set a modest fire in the ash tray, at those very tables. Then, outside—threw a book of lit matches into the trash dumpster and walked on. We sat across the street, my friend and I, watching the black cloud overshadow the shopping center, and the fire engines roaring to the scene so serious.
I was becoming a vandal—it was fun, it was something to do, it was some sort of reaction in the nervous system, it was this unnamed angst hurled at the world and those who did not deserve it. In my teens, I figured it’s their karma, isn’t it? This was my attitude at the time. Everyone deserves something… Here I am to provide it. The pain that dominos through life. I’m giving it back. I’m perpetuating the madness. I’m becoming one of them…
Our mothers want to protect us from this anger and violence, but it isn’t long before this world crashes in on us. We used tease a kid we knew in school who was named Freedom by his hippy parents. One day he didn’t show up to the lunch table. We found out that he was caught up downtown, dealing, and was fatally shot.
All these pathways are opening up to us. What happened to Freedom, that could have been any one of us.
Where I had a blessed day, I became increasingly interested in Eastern philosophy and meditation. What continues to interest me is the Buddhist conception of Right Speech, consciously ejecting yourself from the cockpit, from autopilot, and giving a fuck again, making the sincere effort to cause less harm with the word spew. It is honestly one of the most arduous practices, especially in the congestion of the city where everything is lightning-paced.
But this is the life hack. Slowing down, developing compassion, transforming how you treat others, and becoming aware of your thoughts before they transform into actual robots.
I have learned to breathe a different breath putting more and more spirit behind each and every word.
There is no real ending to this. The world continues on, ravaged by war, natural/not-so-natural disasters. The average driver confuses their phone for a steering wheel, TV for reality, reality TV stars for politicians, politicians for saviors, and we suffer.
The news is paralysis.
Introspection and charity. Clarity and meditation. Compassion and activity with a full mind. These are the Zen keys. Clear sky consciousness. You can ask your guru’s wife just how enlightened he is.
I look at these stories and remove myself from them. While they’ve made me into who I am today, so do many other positive stories where I have held my tongue, held back, changed my route, and chosen a different adventure. There is this extra layer of cognition. Mind aware of mind.
Writing poetry—and reading it to my friends—has seriously rewired my mindset, to share what’s between-the-lines.
Taking the time to sit still and watch my thoughts and emotions and all the stories go by, learning more and more to *let go* has taught me a lot about the nature of the grasping mind. Identity, something we hold onto so strongly, can be released of the stronghold of ego. Who are we really?
We are all connected in a web of interdependence and interpenetration. We are connected by the Sun and oceans and the surface we trod. Our garments are stitched by someone so far away it might as well be a fairytale. Meditating on this transforms something within. It probably took a whole Game of Thrones for your pants to get here. Not a season, but the entire series. It’s not over. Life is a massive recycling program.
Perhaps we can lower our phones and actually talk to the person in front of us taking our order. Lucky not to become a hoarder.
Washington, D.C. and the surrounding borders, where I grew up, during the 70s and 80s, was subject to a pandemic of narcotics, murder, robberies, jewel heists, and car jackings. By the second or third grade, I was at a Roy Roger’s fast food chain with my mother, who was throwing me a birthday party. All of my class was invited.
A man with a ski mask, who was not invited, arrived as we were playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, and proceeded to stick the joint up—snatching ladies’ purses and cash from the clerks, and in a panic, hurried out, directly through the plate glass window.
At home—at least for a day—I was not allowed to watch Heathcliff The Cat, who stole a fish from the market when it would occur to him. It could give me ideas.
I could understand her firewalling me from The Incredible Hulk, since it caused me to hulk-out in the living room. This was something of a red flag for my mother, hoping instead I would access my inner-Bruce Banner and be content, and tune into the wholesome neighborhood of Mr. Rogers. But even Mr. Rogers couldn’t sit still and was addicted to taking that trolley to go see King Friday XIII.
Just the memories, the memories, they feel broken. In time, in time wounds are healing, just like they say…
My earliest experience with death that I can conjure—the head suddenly rolling off of my teddy bear as a lie in bed trying to close my eyes—I have some distance on that now.
My grandparents are resting somewhere in the vast unknown. My father is still taking shots of planes, in the sky and stationary at the port, which is still pretty cool.
And my mother, she’s spending quality time shut up in the Rocky Mountains, thinking about all of this, I bet.