I took my friend Rich to my favorite cocktail lounge downtown for goodbye drinks. First alcohol I’ve consumed since February; I had a Founding Father and two Turmeric Tonics. Rich had Manhattans.
Rich emphasized to me over and over the importance of creating. He always has, in fact, but I understand more about it now. In broad strokes: I *used to* see this question through the lens of a traditional life path and career versus an artistic road-less-traveled. For me, it’s generally been the latter, but with almost a sense of resentment. I can’t seem to do normal, even when I try. For instance, I played a show at a downtown bar years ago and a seemingly well-to-do man in the audience felt really impacted, and told me, “Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever stop doing this, it’s so important.” Believe it or not — and I was operating from a more crippled set of beliefs around abundance at that time — my basic emotional reaction was — Oh, that’s nice for you to say, with your bills paid and your retirement set and your car tuned up and your wallet fat with disposable income. I’m over here essentially losing money, losing time in which to make money. Not at that two hour long gig — I mean, the years it takes to create and function on a level where you can, versus getting climbing a more definitely monetized ladder. That’s the issue with low-level gigging, which I never broke out of — it’s a net loss, at a time in my life when it would behoove me to be getting a leg up. And I sustained that net loss in various ways at various times because, of course, I agreed with him — what I was doing felt really, really important. Expansion on a plane, in a dimension, that simply matters more than money. Until a money crunch, and then it can’t matter more.
So that was my old school dilemma and dichotomy around the idea of being a creator, roughly speaking. A lot has changed now, and I know Rich was speaking to his own update here as well as to my own. The cliche ancient Chinese curse is, of course, “May you live in interesting times;” well, we do. The essential nature of the conflict can be interpreted variously but I think the term “spiritual warfare” begins to capture the magnitude. The term “crossroads” is important as well. We are at a crossroads, as a species, as a planet, as a nation, and individually. Really on every level. A crossroads is a place where you choose, and the choice then commits you to experience whatever inherently lies down that road. In that sense, I think the crossroads already occurred for many of us individually, earlier this year — I get a sense that we’re not so much making our beds as we are lying in them, here in 2020 Q4.
If the term “spiritual warfare” is off-putting — and I agree, it is, because organized religion makes me break out in diabetes — here’s what I mean: it is the creators versus those who cannot create. “The people with the black eyes,” Rich calls it. He’s not referring to very dark irises, which are gorgeous of course; he means chronically without the spark, the connectedness to their own source energy stream, by whatever name. This has absolutely nothing to do with being recognized as a “creative” person along quaintly pre-fab lines, where a person who paints canvasses is creative and a person who paints fences is not. In fact, misapprehension of that whole point always gave me diabetes too, and I stepped into a much higher degree of personal power once I shook it off, and validated my own sense of being an inherently creative person, whether I was playing a song I wrote or slinging another Kenworth down the west coast, from Spokane to LA. Creative people make their own luck, they make their own lives a garden; they can bless and honor other people’s paths because they know that, regardless of what another chooses, they themselves retain the ability to find their footing no matter how the deck of their own life tilts and pitches. They don’t seek to control, because control is the antithesis of creation, both for the controlled and for the controller. I don’t mean control over what fucking keys to press on a saxophone solo, I mean the sort of control exerted over others.
So look around. Whatever flavor of derangement syndrome you have right now, and I know I’ve got a couple on board too, squint your eyes and look around. Who’s advancing an agenda of control? Who’s advancing a matrix of creation? I’ll give you a clue — a pure matrix of creation is a trapeze without a safety net. You have the freedom to fly; you accept the risk of falling. This means everything from capitalism to humiliating yourself at an open mic, and I know a little about all that. An agenda of control, though, is a net with no trapeze. You just lay there and wait for them to bring you your universal basic income, or your diversity Oscar. You’re not allowed to have a trapeze; you might hurt yourself, or worse, offend someone.
The people with the black eyes won’t help us forward into a world that honors our prime directive, human creativity, because they can’t. You know how they say those who can’t do, teach? Well, those who can’t create — control, regiment, censor, punish, limit, homogenize. We’ll never agree on anything because we’re not supposed to; that contrast of perspectives is the engine that drives us forward, individually and en masse. We’ve established, in our country, a matrix of creation that not only defends but demands our continuous machination forward along the lines of disagreement. This is as it should be. And it must continue, within its minimally supportive matrix. I’m a fan of both trapezes and safety nets, and we’ve done a reasonably good job, in our country, of providing both.
A great thing happened the other day: a person with whom I’ve strongly disagreed, more times than I’m willing to bother with, messaged me a link to a blog he wrote, with this confession: You’ve inspired me. I inspired him to write a blog about how much he disagrees with me and how wrong I am. That’s everything, right there. And as I’ve said before, and will say again: I hope I’m wrong, about a lot of things! I don’t think I am, but that would be just peachy. And if I’m wrong, then I’d like to be countered and out-done through equivalent creation, not through control of what I create.
So try it out; look through this lens. Identify those with whom you disagree and then out-create them. You have that right, and it is god-given; what you don’t have is the right to sanction their creation.
I’ve done this instinctually, many times. One of my funniest creations, recently revisited via these old CD’s I found in my dad’s possession, as we went through the household, are my old “voicemail dance mixes”. So, years ago I received, on my flip phone, a very aggressive voicemail from a woman I’d never met, who was now dating my ex. I’m fairly conflict-averse and so receiving a voicemail from a stranger, detailing my personal shortcomings plus an invitation to actually fight, was a fairly shocking thing to me. I believe I was sitting in the courtyard of a downtown cafe at the time, enjoying some bruschetta.
The woman objected to a recent action I’d taken, which was to gift some ashes to my ex, in a small sealed vase. The ashes were from my dog Eva’s cremation. The ex had helped me raise Eva, a white Lab, through puppyhood, in the course of our relationship prior to its collapse, which involved drug use on his part. Eva was my first dog that I got, all by myself, and the ex really role modeled for me the richly multi-dimensional relationship you can have with a dog. This had been my impulse anyway, but in a world where people just keep dogs at home or in the yard, it was so good to be encouraged to fully connect with her, to really access and expand the nuances of her emotional and intellectual capabilities. Dogs are like a foreign language — you can learn enough just to get by and find the el restaurante and el bano no beuno, or you can take the extra effort to become fully fluent, to hear them and feel them in their own native tongue, and to allow them to access you, fully, in the same way. To actually occupy the terrain of another’s preferences and moods and priorities is a magical experience, only problematic among humans because of the risks of co-dependence. With a dog, it’s all reward, no risk — she was my four-legged self, and I was her constant advocate in the world. Not only for her basic wellbeing, but for her delight, her interest, her growth, her sophistication.
This ex, having laid this groundwork for me with Eva, caused her to be a phenomenon in not only my own life but the lives of everyone she and I encountered. Eva and I swam from the shore to an outlying island together, off the coast of southern Texas (things you can’t do with little dogs). Eva and I broke into the pool at our RV park together, at night, where no dogs were allowed, and splashed and played together. Eva and I sat at the table in my travel trailer and had pancakes-for-dinner together, I shit you not, and more than once. A plate for her, a plate for me, hers cut into pieces but with just as much butter and syrup as mine.
Was she “spoiled”? Well, I invited folks over for a cookout at my travel trailer, to include an RV park neighbor who was active duty and had a chocolate Lab. He made much of the utilitarian nature of his chocolate Lab, who was named Stryker or some dumb shit. Play time was strictly limited to fetching the rubber duck, in order to further acclimate Stryker to his job as a hunting dog. We’d sometimes overlap, out there at the grassy dog run, me playing with Eva like two peas in a pod and him shouting and pointing his finger at poor Stryker. Stryker lived in a fenced enclosure shaded by the fifth wheel overhang of this guy’s trailer, when he was at work, and he wasn’t allowed on any furniture. Stryker must obey, and sit, and wait, and live a life dictated by fewer than a dozen commands. Eva flowed with me, included in every possible moment, as my true friend.
So I invited him, as well as my coworkers, to the cookout. Stryker was a nightmare — guiltily gobbling at the plate of pistachios I’d put out, running and hiding and being yelled at; confused by all the people and begging for food and being chastised and put in time out and ultimately yanked and leashed harshly to a picnic table so he could think about what he’d done, and remember his low, low place in the great totem pole of life. Eva was simply another party guest. She did glance at someone’s plate of food, at one point, and I said, “Eva,” with some mild reproval, and she recovered her composure. She went around and did happy checks on everyone and, for god’s sake, she would have refilled their drinks if she’d had opposable thumbs. My entirely spoiled, non-utilitarian dog was 99% just another person at the party, comfortably regulating her own behavior and contributing to an overall positive, fun vibe.
Eva loved kids. We stopped for middle eastern food at a cafe with an outdoor courtyard, driving through Los Cruces one day, and a woman’s curious toddler approached Eva with wonder. The woman confirmed with me that Eva was a pacifist, and I gave the toddler some pieces of pita bread to feed Eva. Eva’s entire demeanor changed around young children. Of course her body was stronger than her brain, of course she was doofy as a rule — she was a Lab, for fuck’s sake — but she knew children were little and she should be extra gentle with them. The toddler tore pieces of bread, stuffed them into Eva’s mouth, reached back into her mouth and removed them, tore them up further, attempted to stuff those same pieces into his own mouth (the mother and I intervened then, “whoa whoa, hey —”), stuffed the pieces back into Eva’s mouth, reached up and pulled on both her ears with both chubby hands, and just generally had a big toddler make out session with my dog, on the cool tiles in the shade of my mosaic table.
Eva was a full fledged person, as all dogs or at least most dogs have the capacity to be, if you simply conceptualize them this way. And my ex-boyfriend had been a factor in my early recognition of that. So, when she died, I had some of her ashes put into a sealed vase for him.
So, the voicemail. “We have to determine WHO. JUSTIN. BELONGS TO.” “He told me you’re a bitch. You can quote him.” (Why would I quote him on that?) “And if I’m wrong about that, you can go ahead and call me back at xyz-xyzz.” It was outrageous. I actually felt a little spike of adrenaline and breathlessness; I felt very disoriented, receiving a personal attack of this nature.
So, a day or two went by, and I went to Radio Shack and bought some little gadget that helped me export the voicemail from my flip phone to my laptop, and from there into GarageBand, and I started messing around with it. I thought, the only thing that will salvage and transform this negative experience is creating something new with it.
Soon, I became wholly absorbed in learning how to use GarageBand, layering tracks and editing the voicemail into soundbytes for strategic placement within a song narrative I created around it. It wasn’t remotely a negative experience anymore — it was one of the funnest things I’ve ever done. And it was, you know, a big fuck you to those two, whoever and however the wires got crossed, which was obviously not my problem.
(Visit my home blog if you'd like to listen to the track.)
It didn’t bring my dog back, but it did turn at least one lemon into some lemonade I could drink.
I’d like to say more, and write more, but today is a big day! Packing the actual wardrobe I’ve retained for my Hawaii quarantine, taking one last trip to Goodwill and figuring out what to do with this mattress we’ve been sleeping on, which no donation hub will accept and I don’t blame them. We’re closing up shop on this beautiful house one last time (the realtor will come with a lockbox for future handyman/cleaning lady work etc. — handy person, cleaning person I should say, in Q4 2020) and heading down the road to Phoenix this afternoon. Dinner with at a favorite place with some reasonably favorite friends this evening, a night in a hotel, an early morning turning in the rental car and checking into our flight with the bugaboos, and across the ocean to our new home. Maybe my biggest, best creation to date.
This has been wonderful, though, to share some thoughts this morning, and I just have all the love in the world for the unconquerable Rich Neville. I promised him I’d blog about the Flagstaff hot tub outrage, and I was going to include that today but I’m out of time. Raincheck! Probably no time to blog tomorrow am, so maybe I’ll be in my new home by the time you hear from me next.