And Goodbye

And goodbye; we celebrate the parting,

And togetherness–aye both we share–

And bitterness: the herald of our starting

Life again, again–you here, I there.

 

It seems forever when the gulf looms before us

And years together collapse upon themselves into

Seconds of bitter meaning:

It’s always goodbye.

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Places and Friendships and Goodbyes

I’m a long way from home

And those customs I’ve outgrown.

Each new direction’s pointed toward success

In this foundationless infinite regress.

 

Here alone, I’m feeling

How many times

I’ve said goodbye

To those I’ve loved, the places I’ve known.

 

Guess I’ve done what I had to

Or what seemed to be good moves–

The kind of thing I should be glad to do

But for all those good times and broken loves.

 

How long can I survive

Moving around

Wanting a home

A long-time friend, someone to trust.

When Art Tries to Be Art

When art tries to be art it fails and offends.  Novels should be a good story, film should be good drama, music should be rhythmic and melodious, poetry should be the marriage of sound and sense, paintings should be about space, figure, and form, and beauty is important, as is passion in all this.

I saw a movie that began with a woman walking in a graveyard, in the autumn.  “Here we go,” I thought.  Where could the movie go from there?  As the story progressed, it kept cutting back to the woman walking in the graveyard.  Something about death intruding into a quite ordinary story.  Then there are films with odd camera angles.  An odd camera angle that adds to the dramatic tension works.  But there are too many films that show odd angles for their own sake, under the mistaken assumption that those camera angles make a mediocre movie into art.

I’ve heard musicians who add performance art into their songs, so that they will be artistic.  I saw a singer wrap herself in a blanket with an image of the whole world on it, as she bowed.  I wasn’t sure of her point, but I was sure she was trying to be artistic.

I’ve read poets who use precious words, poetic words, so that they would be making poetry.  One such word is gossamer.

I saw an artwork that was a spiral cut of paper with great works of art reproduced on it.  Something about art being about art.

A good story will be art.  A good poem doesn’t need poetic words to be art.  A riveting movie will be art.  A song that touches the soul and bespeaks humanity’s pain, joy, and passion will be art.  A painting you can’t take your eyes off will be art.  Art doesn’t need to try to be art.

The Spirit of Jack Kerouac

Some of us growing up in the ’60’s/’70’s had strong philosophies of life.  It was a time of intentional living for those in the counter-culture.  We didn’t conform to the dominant social norms, and in order to protest, you needed a philosophy to measure the status-quo against.

One of the predominant philosophies was the quest for experiences.  We sought memorable experiences, not simply a job, family, and white picket fence.  (Let alone a Lincoln, BMW, or Mercedes.)  So I hitch-hiked across the US and Canada after I graduated from high school, which included a ferry ride to Nantucket Island with its cobble-stone streets.  After a couple years in college, I drove out from Detroit to Hartford, Connecticut and partied with some music intellectuals for a few months.  Then I moved to Boston, did an internship for a few months in New York, and decided to pursue an intellectual quest.  This led me to a few of America’s best universities and a Ph.D.

What I didn’t know then, was that I was living out a script written by Jack Kerouac, in On The Road.  Though On the Road is about the beat generation, its main character, Neal Cassady ended up a “hippie” and travelled across America in Ken Kesey’s magic, psychedelic bus.  Like the characters in Kerouac, I went after new adventures and experiences and welcomed travel, new homes and different cities in which to live and cultures to learn.  Not by any means done with my life, I have rich memories and experiences that have made me into who I am now.  The philosophy I am describing is one of personal formation and character development.  Becoming a self, not a job and paycheque.

This is still a counter-cultural philosophy.  I guest taught a philosophy class not long ago.  I asked the students what matters in life.  The preponderant response was wealth and power.  I listened to some newly graduated college students talking.  One remark was an awestruck narration of a recent graduate making $90,000 a year.  At that age, I wouldn’t have made such a comment, nor admired someone on those grounds.

Why I’m Glad I’m Sober

I’ve seen both sides.  I lived a long time drunk or high every day.  And when I wasn’t high I was thinking about getting high.  Here’s the things I did when I was a drunk:

  • get mad so I needed a drink
  • get drunk

Now I live a clean and sober life.  Here’s the things I do, now that I am sober:

  • write music
  • record original music and play with other musicians
  • form healthy relationships
  • play card games with friends
  • volunteer in interfaith functions
  • sit on a faculty committee
  • teach classes at church
  • organize lecture series
  • feel my emotions
  • read philosophy, poetry, and fiction
  • go out on dates without drinking
  • listen to live music and hear it and enjoy it
  • write poetry
  • buy art with the money I don’t spend on drugs
  • enjoy life
  • laugh and cry

There are still struggles in life and hard days.  But, as a musician friend of mine said about the process of recording my original music, “enjoy the process.”

The Trouble with Social Action

Eco-justice is a movement that is growing in popularity and importance.  And there are other justice issues that have already become nearly established.  Some of them would be homelessness, bullying, hunger, domestic violence, LGBT issues, and others.  Social justice organizations have been created to address these issues.  There are homeless shelters, soup kitchens, shelters for abused women, and bullying is a matter of consciousness raising.  Religions as far back as the ’60’s became active in social issues.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one prominent theologian who championed social justice as a religious issue.  Another was Reinhold Niebuhr.  Niebuhr once said that theology should be done with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.

But there are problems with religion understood as social justice.  In its history, religion has also been concerned with character development.  Moses, Jesus, Paul, and Mohammed have all taught that a person needs to be moral and good.  For instance, Moses gave us the 10 Commandments, which are all moral rules.  And Jesus and Paul both teach a religion of love.  These teachings are about character virtues, or becoming a good person.

The trouble, then, with religion as social justice is that becoming a morally good person can be forgotten in social action.  One doesn’t need to be loving to be an advocate for ecology.  The worst case view of eco-justice is that a person can be concerned with ecology for selfish reasons.  We save ourselves when we save the environment.  Or we save our children or grand children when we save the environment.  We certainly do need to take dramatic action to save nature, but does doing so make a person loving, and good?  The same can be said for other social programs.  I know many self-righteous Christians who are all in favour of homeless shelters–as long as they aren’t  built in their own neighbourhoods.

A morally good person, a loving person, will care about his or her neighbour.  Such a person will want impoverished and homeless persons to have warm, safe homes and enough to eat.  Such a person will care about God’s created order–Nature.  But social issues will be one action flowing forth from a good-natured heart.  Just as honesty, sincerity, and friendliness will inform their relationships with others.  But the converse may not necessarily be the case.  I’m not sure that social consciousness will render a person loving and morally good.

Indiscriminate Affirmation

I just learned the disconcerting fact that A’s are the most common grade given out in universities.  This makes the highest grade offered to be essentially a participation ribbon. Participation ribbons are given out to children who participate in a sport or contest, but do not win.  They receive a ribbon just for participating.  I would hate to think that going to university is something that one receives affirmation for simply for participating.

This reflects a general cultural condition.  Today we affirm self-affirmation.  Indeed, we affirm affirming.  We want to give our children self-esteem.  So we praise them.  Indiscriminately?

There is something to be said for praise and affirmation in the developing child.  I confess that as a child I received almost no affirmation or praise.  Except for extraordinary accomplishments.  Hence, I became driven to excel and succeed.  And at times I did accomplish and succeed beyond my parents’ and siblings’ expectations or even comprehension.  (Certainly I had my share of failures and screw-ups, as well.)

But I think that the pendulum has swung too far in giving affirmation.  What would be the result except that performance and standards are not significant?  If everything is OK and praiseworthy, where is the motivation to truly merit praise?

And won’t those raised to believe that they merit affirmation just for being who they are become crushed when they emerge into the adult world and find that affirmation is often tied to productivity?  Or is it?  Or will it be?  Can society function on the basis that everything is OK?  Will criticism and qualitative measurements of value cease?  I know literary critics who affirm that everything is art.  They do this in an attempt to deconstruct hierarchies and elitism.  I see disastrous consequences already in the art world as a result of this ideology.  I shudder to imagine how the world will function if a similar ideology takes hold.  Perhaps we are seeing it even now.