Allegory of Fire

January 21, 2015


I painted a room the other day.  Brightened it up.  The previous inhabitant used the room as his personal home theater.  He painted the walls a hasty, dark purple (eggplant?) color, ostensibly to absorb and block rather than reflect the ambient light.  Along with heavy shades on all the windows, the darkness of the room maximized the draw of and focus on the lights and sounds emanating from his entertainment shrine.  Maybe less a shrine than an altar.  It certainly involved sacrifice.  Either way, the room clearly served as a place of worship to the gods of the commoditized, commercial entertainment industry.  Until we painted it, and in spite of its large window area and south-facing position, the room seemed so dark that I called it “the dungeon.”  By painting it, we restored its warm, welcoming functionality and returned the space to the land of the living present.

While painting the final coat around the windows, my partner noticed a ladybug crawling on the window.

“it needs to go outside,”  she said.
“it’s just hibernating,” i replied.
“no, it’s not,” she said.  “it’s moving.”
“of course it’s moving — it’s like 95 degrees in here!” (i had stoked the fire once already that morning on top of a fairly warm day to create a warm, fast-drying painting environment, since we had limited time for the second coat of paint).

a few minutes later, in between paint refills, i asked, “did you take the ladybug outside?”
“no, i didn’t, i thought you were going to,” she said.

i put down my paint roller and walked over to the window, looking for the ladybug.  it rested in stillness on the sill, and refused to climb onto my finger.  having gone through such scenarios before, i fetched a piece of paper, and bugged the beetle until it felt bothered enough to start scurrying again.  It climbed onto the paper readily and immediately came to rest.

Earlier, while stoking the fire, I noticed another beetlebug of a different sort on a piece of wood.  A bug of a type unfamiliar to me, rounded in body and spritely in movement.  I figure it had enough trauma today already by virtue of hanging out inside a piece of wood I split open with the maul.  Cutting to the chase, I set up the same paper platform I gave the ladybug and used my hand to get the second bug moving.  It moved immediately.  But it didn’t intend to run away.  Instead, it hopped onto a piece of kindling and buried itself deeper inside the wood underneath the bark.

I took the paper with the ladybug outside and set the paper down in some dirt and walked away.  Plenty of ladybugs make their way inside my house, only to die there for want of food and water.  It had a better chance of finding food and shelter anywhere outside.

Later, I stoked the fire again, using the kindling that held the bug somewhere in its core.  I thought of that bug’s traumatic experience, first, from my rending its home in two with a metallic wedge in flash of weighted momentum approaching terminal velocity.  I thought of its attempt to escape from me, deeper into the wood.  Its refusal to leave the wood.  I thought of these things as I watched the wood burn. I thought of the bug feeling the steady temperature increase, first from outside to inside, then from ambient room to firebox.  Although it probably died from something else, I wondered which spark and pop represented the explosion of the boiling liquid from inside the shell of its body.

I assume every piece of wood I use to heat my home teems with levels of life that I cannot touch, see or even understand.  I wonder how many bugs on average I burn to heat my house every year.  I thank the wood — and the trees the wood comes from — for the heat, every time I start a burn.  But I burn more than wood.  I experience trees and bugs as people.  I burn people inside and outside my body to stay warm, and (among other conversations) I thank those people for the warmth they give.  Some people might consider this sadistic.  I consider it honest:  Every day, countless others die so that I can live.  Life works in no other way, and only death exempts us from this rule.  One of my greatest hopes in death?  That my body feeds wild and free spirits in turn.  Until then, I try to live in a way worthy of such a death, worthy of the wild lives that sacrifice themselves to sustain me one more day.

I wonder to what extent either bug somehow represents my behavior in life.  Represents indominatable wildness or domesticated passivity.  Do we live to our fullest capacity, taking risks well-outside our comfort zones to pursue our passions toward a life worth living?  Or do we seek to burrow more deeply inside the womb of comfort?  Do we have the wisdom and courage from life well-lived to recognize when a hand seeks to help and support us, and act accordingly?  Or do we, so traumatized already, run blind and senseless from every helping hand as a potential source of trauma straight into the firepit of trauma itself?  Do we have the wisdom and courage to stay and fight for our homes when others conspire to appropriate, colonize, and destroy?  Or do we run blind and senseless from every aggression, living a reactive life on the run from fear?  When we run from fear in search of peace, we bring our fear with us and destroy any peace we actually encounter.

We cannot avoid death.  When it wants us, it will have us, however it wants.  Quick or slow.  Painless or agonizing.  It may sneak upon us and rest at our side with a gentle whisper, or it may hunt us and rip out our throats.  Until then, trauma will have its way with us throughout our lives.  I don’t fault either bug for its behavior.  I have seen my life through theirs.  I have seen myself towering, nine miles tall, over them.  I have felt their willingness to fight and live in a world bent to the whims of psychopathic and narcissistic giants incapable of care, love and respect.  I incorporate the lives and behaviors of these bugs as mentors, guideposts and guardians of my own.  They remind me of my giant status, that I need not adopt the narcissism dominating and poisoning my species at the moment.  I ready myself for when either helping hand or fire comes for me and my home:  Will I act with with wisdom in acceptance of past and future trauma, and courage in the face of fear?

110814 fear

November 8, 2014

fear keeps us apart
fear divides and conquers us
fear pulls life from love

when fear dominates
fear pulls life into the void
fear always exists

fear can protect us
recognize fear and respond
without submission

immigration: yet another example of sexist piggybacking on racism

December 31, 2010

i do not have a witty title for this.

A great introduction to and reposting of an equally-great article in Latina Magazine, embedded ironically amongst adverts featuring toothpick-skinny white models and french-sounding perfumes.

Let’s call it the intersection of racism and sexism, via immigration.  I fully and whole-heartedly support this blogger’s message to “these people condemning refugees,” amounting to a resounding


fuck you for every asylee you want to send home. These people need help, and you are sending them back to hell and, in many cases, certain death. I am not exaggerating to make you feel guilty — this is truth, and I hope you never have to live in the same terror these people do[…]

I will leave the story as to why there was even a copy of Latina Magazine in my house in the first place for another day…

Quote of the day: Banned Books

January 10, 2010

Banning Maya Angelou from school libraries and curricula is like banning Jesus’ crucifixion from Bible studies because it is “violent” and possibly “gory.”

Here is the relevant quote:

While you’re at it OC, ban the bible too. There’s a lot more rape and killing in that horrid book.

No, I don’t think the Bible should be banned.  I think every school should have important religious and cultural texts in its library, for students to access and study (including important books of other religions, such as the Torah and Qur’an).

For the same reason, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings should be in every school library.  It is a relevant, timeless classic that can help us learn about ourselves, including how to develop empathy and compassion.  For example, to overcome internalized homophobia (that says gay people somehow want or need to become straight, rather than asking us to accept them for who they are).  And isn’t that what Jesus was all about?

“The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.”   –Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891

two satires and a funeral

November 9, 2008

It’s time to for a good ol’ post-presidential election unwind.  Here’s three questions (and answers) to help y’all out:

Read the rest of this entry »

Poetic context

October 26, 2008

When I started this blog, I promised myself that I would use it as an outlet for my poetry.  That’s been a difficult promise to fulfill.  Not because I don’t have stuff to put up here.  But each poem that I write — and consider finished — is a direct window into (or for me, a mirror to reflect) my thoughts and feelings about life at a certain point and time.  It’s incredibly personal process for me — an emotional braindump into a more or less tightly structured linear, language-based narrative.  As a result, it is an emotionally excruciating act to simply put my poetry “out there.”  To put it another way, it is incredibly difficult for me to show or read my poetry even to those people in my life who are closest to me, and whom I trust the most.

Not that I don’t want to.  I do.  But often times, I just can’t.  Why?   It’s not that I don’t want to.  But there are just some things about me that are very tightly guarded.  Sometimes I try to rationalize it by comparing it to the beliefs of peoples whose spirituality lead them to fear the camera.  Their fear is driven by the belief that their souls will be stolen if they allow their picture to be taken.  Why?  Because reflections do not simply depict redirected light, but one’s soul.  Mirrors take on a spiritual significance.  In this interpretive frame, photos “freeze” and “capture” the soul much in the same way that many of Superman’s enemies were imprisoned in the Phantom Zone (bear with me — it’s an apt analogy!).

I don’t fear the camera, but patently despise most posed pictures these days.  I believe they are often fake and deceptive.  Rather than capturing a moment in time, the intent is increasingly to manufacture a moment and maintain a false memory.  How many family portraits are really cheerful smiles bracketed by petty bickering and bitter arguments?  Image composition, shaping and manipulation tools are now as common as digital cameras.  Just as they can be used to bring forth a deeper truth, people increasingly use these tools to manufacture or manipulate an aspect of an image in order to deliberately distort the subject that the picture portends to faithfully represent.  It’s a distorted mirror showing us what we want, and we fool ourselves into believing it’s an accurate display of what we already have.  And when we believe we already have it, there’s no need to work to obtain it, right?  False happiness in a nutshell and a creepy window into our cultural psychology.  Not that I’m entirely camera shy.  If a camera catches me doing something, fine.  I just refuse to pose.

After all that, I still can’t go as far to say that I fear that my soul will be stolen if I pose for a picture, or make all my poetry available for public viewing (what’s the connection there? Do I even have a soul?).  However, I still think that there’s saliency in the picture/soul point.  As in everything, context is king.  And to publish a single poem is to rip it from its historical and living context, in the same way any decent human needs a healthy terrestrial ecosystem to thrive, and likewise would immediately die if we shot them naked into space.  The point for me resides in this question:  How do I know what level and type of context is enough to prevent my poems from arriving DOA like a naked space monkey?  I believe that largely depends on the relationship between the artist and the audience:  different people connect with and derive meaning from different things.  Is publishing them here really shooting them into space?  Is it tantamount to murder?  I suppose it depends on who reads this blog…

And to what extent should the poem be able to speak for itself?  In other words, how much context does the poem carry embedded within itself?  Is it a trojan horse?  A seed bank, ready to plant and grow a new ecosystem in someone else’s mind to ensure its own survival?  A puzzle or a piece of a larger puzzle, to be interpreted and assembled?  Howsabout a lil’ bit o’all of the above?  Inasmuch as each poem contains potential to create connections between people, too much context might limit or even alienate the audience.  What gives me the right to say someone misinterprets what I write?   And, likewise, what good does context do to protect interpretive integrity in the face of emotional dishonesty and willful ignorance of available evidence?

Of course, there are also more pragmatic decisions to drive my deliberation.  For example, which poem(s) do I start with?  How frequently do I post them?  Is this even the right medium?

I’ve since resolved that a body of poems together create their own context — their own universe.  I’ve given thought to intertextual tagging, which I still might do.  It could help make more obvious the common themes and deliberate cross-referencing that occurs.

If you’ve read this far, at the very least you deserve a poem or three — if not to enjoy, then at least to ground this discussion a little more.  Perhaps we can consider this impromptu essay some of the all-important context I was talking about.  So for all y’all hatin’ to be waitin’ on the poetry: I promise, I’m working on it.  Without further ado…

Please stay on the line.  Your call is important to us.  Our technicians will notify you as soon as we have the problem fixed.

fear tactics

September 14, 2008

It’s damned near impossible to have an honest policy disagreement in the political mainstream these days.  Fear spreads like a disease.  People who are afraid will try to make others afraid.  Often, this is unintentional.  Sometimes, though, it is deliberate.

Read the rest of this entry »