[“What’s done is what remains, and furious sorrow” (headstone for Clive Howlett), and angel guardian headstone from cemetery in Oxford, England. Photo by Rowan Wolf.]
So much has been lost to the hubris and cupidity inherent to the hyper-industrialization and commercial hustler that defines the Anthropocene Epoch. To take it all in, to allow oneself to feel the full implications of the dire situation, of the ecocide and humanity lost to endless war and economic exploitation, one would be knocked to one’s knees with sorrow or compelled to give voice to bursts of full-throated rage.
Therefore, as the grid-decimating tide of Sandy recedes and the power and lights have been restored to our East Village, fifth floor walk-up flat, I sit at my writing desk, and I am staring down the scope of my cerebral cortex, desiring to unload both barrels into the delusional asses of climate change deniers.
This mutant strain of hurricane (that has inflicted much disruption in our lives and a great amount of stress on my six month, pregnant wife, Angela) was caused by changes in the Gulf Stream, wrought by manmade greenhouse gasses.
Personally, I’m done with attempting to persuade idiots by intelligent discourse and fools by plying them with common sense…finished with issuing reasoned warnings to dissemblers and dimwits who claim the iceberg directly in the path of our ocean liner is simply an ice dispenser, conveniently located to refresh our beverages.
Sandy (as did Katrina) reveals, how tenuous the grid work of final stage capitalism is…how rapidly it comes unraveled by nature’s impersonal fury.
While composing the first draft of this essay (pre-Sandy) — as I was writing the following lines, “Often, the soul is forced to get your attention by guiding you into situations that serve to open your heart by means of breaking it. Closed off from the temptation and tumult …” — I received a phone call bearing the message that my best friend in this breathing world was dead.
The next lines I wrote were: Alright then, soul, you have my full attention, although my eyes are blurred and scalded by tears.
After inexplicable and heart shattering events, one’s mind searches for deeper meaning…even when there can be none gleaned from quotidian tragedy. In this case…a fall involving a bicycle, and a friend, a brilliant artist, a vivid soul, a warm, passionate human being, a generous, compassionate companion has been forever lost.
Meaning is an ad hoc, flimsy structure…erected of metaphysical eggshells…convictions garnered from happenstance, the traumas of early life, books happened upon, chance meetings, misheard advice, friendships lost and cultivated.
In the presence of death and in the aftermath of great storms, we apprehend how vainly we cling to the illusion of certainty and permanence. Yet, deep down, we know how insubstantial our constructs are…How fate and circumstance can intervene, and can leave us staring into the indifferent maw of eternity.
“For in much wisdom is much grief, and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow” –Ecclesiastes 1:18
To John, my departed friend: I’m not going to allow you to travel too far away from the realm of the living without your soul glistening with my abundant tears.
As Sandy raged around our home and then departed, I stood in grief’s dominion. There are empty spaces here — graceless voids — torn into the hours of the day after a person close to you has been, suddenly and without warning, taken by death.
John, you and I spoke often and for long durations about the necessity of artists and writers allowing themselves to be undone by life and remade by creative choices. For me, your sudden death has accomplished the primary. Through, our perpetual dialog, we explored the interplay of polis and ecosystem, and how this essential criteria was absent from so much current day art and curation e.g., how in art one might limn New Orleans’ ragged (yet vividly alive) grandeur — the city’s alluring, dangerous, vitally alive character — its crumbling agora — and the forever living, always dying nature of the bayous and wetlands that surround the city. And the manner one might merge and express those elements in one’s aesthetic. (Apropos: Much of the city of New Orleans itself was comprised of swamp land that was drained, thus creating the city’s familiar crescent shape and susceptibility to deadly flooding.)
In John’s art work and curation, he desired to evoke a dialog between the ghosts of the past and the living present, human beings and nature, cityscape to backwater, brain to gut, beating heart to eternal moment, phantom to flesh, memory to heavenly fire, compost to possibility, possibility to fruition.
John was driven to entice the individual artists out of his/her prison of enshrinement/exile of hyper-individualist alienation …to bring the work of an individual artist into a broadening dialog with the work of other artists…to create the affect of a vital agora. He grasped that art does not exist alone; it is not an embalmed corpse, but a living (and dying) thing; hence, it must share common space and communion to be fully alive as well as decay to compost (and therefore be granted renewal) when it dies.
John desired a dialog between passion and putrefaction. He grasped the nearer an artist drew to expressing the impossible was made possible by exploring the realm of the possible. But, in addition: messing with things quotidian, breaking them apart, caressing, tormenting, tweaking …reconfiguring all available material into new forms…Like lover’s, battling and entwined, whose love fuses the familiar and the alien, thus broadening the lives of both parties, by allowing them to become greater than the sum of their parts, art must challenge our verities; it must induce one to become more like one’s essential self by the dissolution of safe, but soul-defying, habitual thinking.
An awareness of the ongoing (and exponentially increasing) catastrophic changes to the ecological balance of our besieged planet can serve the same end. Otherwise, one would risks being as devoid of character as those reality-adverse creatures — monsters really — possessed of inexplicable self-regard, who wield power in this age of hype and hubris. Conversely, one’s suffering unites the psyche with the sorrows of the earth; teaches us that we are bound by its limits and laws. The knowledge grounds us in humility, by revealing that eternity is boundless, but we are not. Because eternity treats us with such callous disregard, we feel an affinity with other vulnerable things. One recognizes the commonality of suffering, thus one gains empathy.
Yes, death is implacable; the only thing close to matching death’s tenacity is: The persistence of memory and the urgency of the soul to make every moment holy.
Often, in the locations where one’s heart has been wounded by circumstance, thus seized by novel (even agonizing) apprehensions, as is the case in the sections of a forest that have been scoured by fire — new life, nourished by ash, will grow. Have you ever walked through a field of bright wild flowers, risen from the charred ground, where a wild fire has blazed?
Over the last few years, many people close to me have died. A firestorm has run riot through my heart. In its wake, regions of my soul are vivid with eternity’s wild flowers.
The view is breathtaking.
History is a story of bitter grace and pain-wrought wisdom: In this tale, we learn: Collective trust is a catastrophic misjudgment, made possible by its partner in crime, an artist of legerdemain, who goes by the moniker, Hope.
Once you have had your heart shattered into pieces, and even though time has mended it back together, because all of the shattered pieces and scattered shards can never be retrieved, you, as a result, will never be the same.
And that is a propitious development, because room has been made within you for novelty and wisdom. The process allows for transformation, for one remains oneself, as, all the while, alien elements are merged with one’s own uniqueness.
Accordingly, providence favors those whose faith has been shattered.
“A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Life begins in mystery, what lies after life ends is unknowable — and, in between, we experience constant bafflement. Yet, how exquisite the landscape is as it rolls by; what exquisite sorrow we yield by being part of it all.
My best friend was plucked from this tormented world. My father died last May…I’m buffeted, shattered by circumstance, but Angela, my dear wife, is more than half way through the second trimester of pregnancy. The event has engendered much soul-searching for a certain father-to-be i.e., wandering in awe and bewilderment through the landscape of his psyche, and forays, in his better moments, into the image-rich landscape of Animus Mundi.
Art is merely artifice, if it is not sown from the soul’s veritable soil. What is the song of the night bird sans the night? A thousand gradations of green comprise a swamp’s canopy. The heart is just a pump, sans a loving/embattled (both are borne of libido) connection to the soul of the world.
My recent proximity to the realities of birth and death has forced me close to the living heart/inhuman abyss of the soul of the world. Yet amid this startling landscape the mind abides greater, even agonizing truths.
Climate chaos. Dying oceans. The degradation of U.S. corporate/militarist empire and the concomitant collapse of the global, neoliberal order. Our child will be born into a world where there will be a paradigm shift — or there will come mass tragedy.
My father was born on an Indian reservation. My mother escaped Nazi Germany on a Kindertransport, shortly after her father was taken to a concentration camp for anti-Nazi activity.
Angela, was born in a small, rural home, a sharecroppers shack, in the South Carolina Low Country that housed generations of cotton-harvesters and tobacco-croppers.
Our people, sharing the fate of multitudes born into this world, have endured and even flourished under terrible conditions. The Tyler/Rockstroh whelp will be afforded the same opportunity. Who is his grim augury-prone old man to deny him the chance? That would be the very emblem of hubris, because, among the living, there exists no bottom line — only how you choose to write the book of your life.
“Life moves on, whether we act as cowards or heroes. Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.” ~Henry Miller