Gift of the White Stone.
Friday, December 14, 2007
In the dream I was dead.
I was glad when the phone rang to wake me. Have you ever been dead in a dream? What saving grace roused you?
Do you ever want to give up? Do you hear the hoarse whisperers in the dead of night? Throw off the heavy weights of responsibility! Be done with it! These are commands from the destroyer, come to devour you.
My friend Curtis said, "I am the eternal optimist." I trust him, too — but I am not similarly blessed. I plunge into sidetracks leading to the unlevel shore. I brandish the sword, slashing at waves. It is an old failing, rooted in an embattled upbringing.
Sometimes I am beset by wranglers, but it takes two to tangle. I trick myself into thinking I win.
Before Gerald died, he would admonish me:
"Surrender to win."
I sought to discover the difference between "surrender" and "give up." What do you suppose he meant?
If I could but bring my raging old self to surrender . . . .
What Cost Redemption?
According to Gerald's plan, a desperate man, trapped in a war to the death against self, would have to surrender to unknown forces outside of self as the precondition for receiving the promise of redemption.
That sounds good when your flesh is torn and bleeding, and when everywhere behind you is wreckage you have wrought, but redemption is a lofty sanctuary to a man mucking about in the trenches, or wallowing like a pig in the ditch, or benumbed like a robbed and beaten wanderer tossed into the pit. THE fortunate OTHERS can sing Ava Maria to their heart's content, but what about me, this miserable "I," bound to so much scarcity and want?
What do these unknowns have in store for me?
"You got something better, go for it," Gerald would say. "Otherwise, shut-up and do what I say." And I surrendered. And time passed.
A Cold Rain Precedes the Solstice.
Now I stand with the herd — reluctantly, or willingly, it doesn't matter:
I am a member now. We stand at the leading edge of winter. We brace and steel against the cold Boreal winds. Many among us have surrendered to win, moved ahead, fallen back. In the cold rain a few days before the Solstice, I am moved to remember. In remembering, I think of you, the all of you whose presence keeps me clinging to the ledge.
I think of you, young man, think of you for reminding me of a truth:
A writer is one who writes.
We weren't considering issues of perceived quality. We weren't issuing judgments about style and voice, he and I, him and me, but merely remarking on the foundational value of creating literate text.
A writer is one who writes. Substitute any endeavor and the truth remains the same. A welder is one who welds, a racer is one who races, a lover is one who loves. Sing, dance, cook, or sprint — any undertaking fits. "Arise, for this matter belongs to you," saith Ezra the Scribe. "We also will be with you: Be of good courage, and do it!"
Crushed by the Silence.
What price inaction? Here on the back pages of a life, forty days of public textual silence becomes a nightly burden. At times it weighs so heavy I feel like I am crushed.
No wonder I become paralyzed and die in my dreams.
No wonder the tightrope walker falls to her doom.
Who is there on the plaza to offer her the promise of redemption, or at least to hold her dying hand? Who will volunteer to carry her to the wilds and stuff her cold form into the hollow of a tree?
No wonder the sword swallower severs his tongue. Who among us can hire the surgeon to sew it back?
On the lonely boardwalk by the salty sea, snared by hope, I trick myself into thinking I have something to say, something you'll deem worthy, something useful about life, my life, and how it represents universal aspects of experience, how it speaks to you along a shared journey.
Then the moment passes, the sun like alway' rises and sets over my inaction, and I'm not the writer again and again.
A Way to Get the Voice Back.
I go to the haunt of the false muse. She lives in a hoodoo shack on the edge of the wandering wood. The truth is, I say to her, I just want to be with you. All of the night. All of the day. I just want to be with you. She say, "Are you ready to pay the price?" I say no. I wander away from her tether, climb back into my canoe on the River Achernar, and glide with solemness and pity into the watery gloom.
I surrender, but I don't give up. So what if they've stolen my voice. I'll find a way to get it back. I know their secret places, their codes and devices. So what if I run with a pack of wolves, howling at the moon. From the distance comes the echo of another pack, answering the howls. We're all in this together — are we not? — calling out to one another o'er the vast distance of a mystery and a void.
Soon after Gerald convinced me to surrender, grizzled Jack appeared. One autumnal evening outside the sanctuary, he called me to his side and gave me a small white stone. "Put it in your pocket and keep it there," he commanded. "Keep it there until you understand what it means to you."
Engraved on the white stone was my new name.
The ink was invisible to the usual light. When I learned how to read it,
I changed my name and buried the stone with my spirit bag in a
"Once you had wild dogs in your cellar: but they changed at last into birds and charming singers." Thus spake Zarathustra.