Category Archives: Revolution
[A poem about a specific event in Cuba, though severely exaggerated. It had an interesting impact and summed up much of what I learned while I was in the country. I’ll post a live reading of it when I debut it at an open mic, which should be some time next week.]
On my final night in Cuba, while strolling home
from the Malecon, drunker than Hemingway
and more nostalgic than Buzz Aldrin during a full moon,
a boy spat on my shoes and screamed,
“Screw you, dirty American. You ruin everything!”
That is the edited version of his comment,
bleary-eyed and angry as he was.
My entire life I had grown up being called names:
Spazz, geek, twitch, space cadet, nerd, stupid face,
weirdo, pothead, loser, Southern boy, and usless.
But nothing hurt my pride more than
being called, a “dirty American.”
Which in Latin America is a strange insult:
they too are America, not just the United States,
which the US citizens tend to forget.
Without breaking a sweat, I turned about face
and stood in the place before him and said,
“Look, don’t you realize—don’t you see?
I love you!”
We stared each of us for a moment, tense,
and I said, “Look, man, we’ve got a war going on,
and we’re losing. Love is losing.
We’re being drowned in a sea of apathy
while our violence is anything but holy.
But we need to return to the sacred, to the human,
to the soul and to our passions.
We’re facing giants of oppression
and if we don’t learn our lesson, we’ll be done for.
So you and me, we gotta stick together.
We have to rally on the side same,
and what’s the point of shouting at each other on the street
when you’re little brother doesn’t have anything to eat?
Why would you want to fight like this
when you don’t own a toilet where you can take a piss?
So, I’m here for you, and I’ll always be here for you,
so don’t you dare talk to me that way.
I know, I know, you can only get drunk and forget your life
only because today was a good day.
But what about tomorrow?
When will we fight for tomorrow?
When will we wield our imaginations like swords?
I’ll charge into the battlefield mounted on a unicorn
There’s no time to squabble and there’s no time to mourn.
Because it’s bigger than us.”
I realized as he nodded his head
He didn’t understand a damned word I said
But he understood my voice and with what passion I spoke
and I guess he figured I was an alright bloke
He shook my hand and I went on my way
and we got drunker, because today had been a good day.
Sometimes, words won’t do, and sometimes
we fail ourselves—that’s evolutionary
But if we live and we love,
that act is revolutionary.
The strangest thing is to be alive. Or to be conscious. Especially to the fact that, right now, you’re alive. And that your body will keep pumping blood through your heart down miles of thin veins that dangle like the fragile yarn of the Fate’s within your living carcass. One day, your body will die. Unless you do not die, which might be possible. It has yet to be proven that either you or I (unless either of us are zombie or ghost) can die. When someone proves us wrong, it won’t even matter.
But being conscious does not simply mean being awake, yet it means exactly that. Not simply entering into daytime out of deep REM cycles, because even waking, we sleep. Our minds are passive rather than active. We spend a lot of time watching cat videos on YouTube, passively processing information we might possibly forget. That’s why it is strange to finally take deep breaths and truly consider your existence. To ask, what is my purpose here? Why am I alive right now? How am I alive right now? What will happen next? Or most importantly, what will happen when this body of mine crumbles to dust?
Even overweight and overly hairy, I’m not too fond of the idea of my body deteriorating underground, the diet of worms. But we must face the truth of death; we all must. Death is the only disease no doctor can cure. So, if we’re not dead, why are we not alive? Why do we drool while living droll lives? Why do we stare so often at nothingness so that we forget ourselves, forget we even exist?
It is strange to be human, strange to be anything at all. If we were simpler animals, then the existence from moment-t0-moment would make sense, acting on whims and fulfilling basic needs. Yet we are capable of higher faculties, able to wield our minds like razor-sharp swords. We are intelligent with powerful, breath-taking bodies. What our brains do without us even trying, that is incredible in itself. But with application, what our brains can comprehend, explain in words, calculate– those things are worthy of some consideration.
I have undertaken this notion for some time now. To truly consider what it means to be alive, to experience everything as novel and incredible. Even getting a tooth pulled can be a worthy experience. Edgar Allen Poe, as we can see from his gruesome stories, was obsessed with sensation. He once suggested that any prisoner being beheaded should take heart that he is experiencing what not many are able to experience. But it is difficult to think about pain as good, as useful, but even pain is a teacher. For anyone to truly understand himself, he must experience grief, heartbreak, and ultimately death.
He must stand at the abyss of eternity, looking into the dark, uncertain depths. He must teeter forever at the edge, since we can never prove eternity exists or does not since we will never reach the end. And if we do, those who might could have gloated will not be able to.
It is difficult to imagine ceasing to exist while it is also difficult to imagine existing forever. And at least as humans, we can take solace in knowing we were made into being, that we have some origin. When we consider God, who has no origin or end, our minds fail to come to terms with these things. Yet these are the unsettling, fascinating thoughts that make us lie perfectly still in our beds just before sleeping. Those overwhelming questions that can leave you weeping in confusion, that can blast the breath from your lungs with their pure incomprehensibility.
The best we can do, perhaps, is concentrate and appreciate the present as we often do not do. I do not suggest you forgo the past or eschew anxiety for the future, but perhaps to live as we are now with eyes open. Notice what happens around you. Consider who you are and who you want to be. Compare everything you do, each trivial action, to those visions. Often, they collide because we do not live with the constant consideration of our own core beliefs. We stuff them down our own throats for the sake of personal benefit, laziness, and selfishness.
But one of the only ways we will learn to consider others, to consider our own actual beliefs, is not to live so sleepy, where we must consume energy from aluminum cans. You are a body brimming with energy if only you breathe, if only you use it. If only you begin to truly pay attention to the fact you’re even alive.
As much as the art of writing has changed over generations, so has the perception of the writer. Let us crank up the Dolorian again to travel back and look at how the common people viewed writers over the ages and how writers viewed themselves. Could the persona of “writer” have changed that much from the dawn of time?
Speaking strictly in cavemen terms, writers were pretty progressive. They used symbolic language to communicate stories that we have read millions of years later. Such brilliant narratives as: I found mammoth, I made spear, I kill mammoth, and I eat mammoth. From the invention of fire to the first use of clubs, cavemen scholars documented their primeval progress on cave walls. Even before words existed, man possessed an innate need to tell stories, which we surely have not outgrown today.
Once language, written and spoken, was formalized, writers of stories became better well-known. They were the wise men of their day, scholars and preachers and philosophers. These were storytellers who could actually read and write. Playwrights such as Socrates, philosophers such as Plato, scientists too: all these were celebritites because of their skill at the written word.
And yet in the recent past, writers have been viewed not as elite people but lowlife bums too lazy to get jobs. They sit at home collecting unemployment checks while writing about their drug addict lives. We can see the writer crouched over a rusty typewriter, tripping on Benzedrine, chain-smoking, and naked.
The Beatniks of the fifties inspired this attitude towards writers. They were poor people trying to connect with a mystic way of life through drugs. Rather than tell legends, they wrote about their own lives. But they were also glamorized as enlightened and hedonistic. Living life to the fullest. Though sometimes pretentious and overly “ironic” by today’s standards.
While some writers are scene as wild like these, others are seen as recluses.
Think of Salinger or Pynchon. While some are poor, others are rich.
There once was a time when writing was the past time of wealthy aristocrats. Famously, in 1818, Lord Byron challenged his visitors at Lake Geneva to write a gruesome story. Each took turns trying to scare the wits out of the others. One such story that came of this was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Some writers speak as nobles, others for the common man. During the Industrial Revolution, portraits of the common man came into vogue. People saw working conditions from a working class man’s perspective. We saw inside of factories, the evils of corporations run wild with greed, and the daily strife of living in poverty.
Then there are the Romantics, writing expressively about their emotions, about their torments and loves and loss and horrors. Then come the realists who take scientific views and incorporate them into stories. They are intellectuals writing factually about things that will make them look smarter if the right professors read the books.
The war-torn writers write about how battles scarred them, about their emotions being drained. About the absence of a meaning to life. About horror and blood and brutal, pointless violence. These men we viewed as lost souls, writing as emotional release. Penning those feelings that were pent up for years after wars.
We have seen writers in a variety of ways for so long: as highly influential literati, as common men spinning common tales, as the Lost Generation, and as hipsters telling stories ironically.
Today, these perceptions have all meshed so that there is no one perception of “writer.” The only true thing tying us together is our burn to write, our need to tell stories. We cannot clearly define ourselves any longer. We are novelists, vocalists, bloggers, and poets. We are idealists, realists, poor, young, old, wealthy, calm, and angry.
There are no literary periods anymore. All we have to offer are words, trying to describe our own human condition. Perhaps the public sees us in a myriad ways.
But in truth, we are only humans struggling to articulate our own inability to articulate our struggles.
The tube lay hidden in the bowels of my bag. A gaudy red bag that I swing over my shoulder, ADIDAS written across the side in colorful letters. This bag is not a symbol. This bag means nothing yet something because that’s where I stuffed the fallen chap stick tube when I found it. I must have mistaken it for my own and hastily stuffed it into the front pocket where I keep pencils, flash cards, a calculator, and wadded up gum wrappers. In the bottom is a graveyard of used up chap stick tubes, the papered labeling worn and discolored. A new tube falls into the pile, maybe because I thought it was mine.
Months later, I’m reeling in my room, my lips blistering. Dry. Chapped.
Dry lips are the ultimate discomfort. You are allowed to forget your condition for some while if only you lick your lips and plug away at the internet. Or begin reading a book, becoming engrossed. Pulled away from your dry lips dilemma. As you sit, however, licking and licking your lips, it gets worse. Especially if it is winter and tonight is especially cold and your room does not have heating like the rest of the house. The best heat you receive is from an electric blanket that makes you sweat and doesn’t do anything to help your lips.
This discomfort, though, can be ignored for a time. Nothing like being stabbed. That hurts a lot. Or if you burn yourself. It’s impossible to ignore. Dried lips give the illusion that you’re not really in pain until they burst into fire. Metaphorically.
I’m digging through my desk, a wooden monster that takes up a fourth of the carpet space. The drawers broken and filled to the brim either with scrapbooking material (artifacts from one of my mother’s long-ago hobbies) or notebooks filled with scribbling. They’re not neatly stacked, instead crammed in boxes, placed every which way. In hopes one day I might go back to read everything I dropped into the drawers. Spiral notebooks mixed in with fancy journals, whatever the paper is, it’s overflowing with poetry or some story I wrote in the fourth grade. Odes and tall tales and bad emulations of famous writers.
No tubes of chap stick. My lips burn. Ever kissed a hot stove? The pain is nothing like that, but hyperboles offer themselves up freely at times like this. I begin scavenging through the bag, turning up moldy flash cards and broken pencils until I grasp a tube of chap stick.
I don’t look. I pop the top and apply it to my lips. Oh, heavenly moisture. Hallowed be thy purpose. I smear greasy wax to my puckered lips. At that moment, the whole universe rips open. I lower the chap stick. My lips cool. I examine the tube and realize, this is not my chap stick. But what does it matter when you feel this good.
I hold this crusted tube of Burt’s Bees up for inspection. This brand is far too expensive for me. I buy the cheapest, so this tube must be someone else’s. And by some strange chance or slice of fate, this tube came into my bag. My gaudy red bag. My wallet would never finance this.
I, desperate and chap-lipped, press the cold wax of the tube to my lips again. Sweet relief. I am experiencing pure ecstasy, even at someone else’s expense. You get that shiver of connection. Trembling up your spine, spreading its spider legs over your skin. You feel both fantastic and uncomfortable at the same time. You share something with the universe—a beautiful, foreign tube of chap stick. And you have that connection with some stranger. More intimate than a kiss, using someone else’s chap stick. Passive lip-rape. This is beyond sensual.
I am stumbling with chapped lips, searching for someone else’s chap stick. I’ll smear whatever I can find to feel that rush. That heavenly connection. That dynamic surge of relief. I am free. You are free. Yet then our lips dry again and we keep searching.
This same relief, people spend their entire lives trying to find. Even if it means using a stranger’s chap stick. We think if we can just apply some grease to our lips, we’ll feel loved. We’ll feel relieved. We’ll feel better. We do. But only until the grease makes it worse and the icy winds blister your forlorn lips. We need our lips to cry out, to express anything and everything.
You search for it, the feeling, even when the chap stick fails to give sensations. Hitchhiking even though you have money to buy gas. Slipping in and out of stranger’s bed, intoxicated with the feeling of connectivity. Some find it in lust. Others in love. No one is sure who feels it better, secretly jealous of the other. Living in constant suspicion that somehow your neighbor is having an ethereal experience in his bedroom, putting on someone else’s chap stick.
Sure, it’s a mistake. A folly. But you begin to wonder what strange strings of fate orchestrated this moment in time right now. What decisions have you made to bring you here? Begging on your knees for relief. Some find it in a bottle. Others find it in a gun.
Scouring the earth for the next great high, the next moment that will make the universe stand still. That will allow for the meaning of humanity’s existence to encroach upon your mind, if only for a second, before flitting away. So close, so simple to understand. Yet ungraspable. Always the smoke you can never catch. Always the sun: floating right there above you, yet so very far away.
Such is the relief we seek, spend our lives seeking. We begin to suddenly understand that we are indeed conscious. You feel it, as if you’re looking through a window or a mirror with two sides. This is suddenly your world in a third-person POV. You are not of yourself, but of the air, the earth, the universe. And in these rare existential moments, you understand you are alive. And that you have a soul that God created. And that though your body will die, your soul will exist forever. Some part of you will exist forever.
And whoever once owned this chap stick, his or her soul will go on forever. And somehow, your paths have intertwined in an almost insignificant way. Yet at the time, it’s amazing. You must be thankful that some person dropped his or her chap stick. Or set it down on a desk for you to pick up, thinking you might have placed it there moments ago. And in that moment of confusion, you bridge two souls across this small and vast universe.
Imagine living your entire life like that. Always being so awake, so conscious, so alive. Not merely breathing, but living. Every second of your life, you manage to appreciate the treble of someone’s voice, even if the person is only instructing you in Calculus. Or if you look away from the computer screen and absorb the intensity of colors around you. Everything on this earth is very beautiful, if you only look. Every time you eat, appreciate the taste of what you eat. Experience the rush of relief that chap stick can give.
Every experience you ever have comes not just because of your decisions but the decisions of others. So your fate and all our fates are tangled like vines. Your experiences are the indirect effect of some estranged cause. This is not always about butterflies. Sometimes just about someone else’s chap stick.
If we manage to appreciate this, we will not go searching for relief. We will not lick our lips until we are desperate. For that feeling of… anything. Some find it in lust. Others in love. Some find it in a bottle. Others in a gun.
But really, that feeling is all around us if only we can manage to remind ourselves. We are alive. This moment is only one moment in time for me and there will be an endless amount of moments ahead. Even when I die, I will live. And then without a body, I will feel always like this. Immortal. Invincible. Alive.
Wake up. Open your eyes. You are not a robot. You are not mechanical, to be wound up to operate until you need to sleep again. You have been given life so that you may experience this feeling, the feeling you get when you use someone else’s chap stick. And you can feel that forever. When we do, we finally understand what it means to feel so connected, so pulsing with entropy. We feel infinite.
I’m tired of my young friends complaining about “the government” or “the man.” I get. You think you’re oppressed because you have to work to make money. Teens are malleable in opinion and weak in heart when it comes to politics or revolutionary ideas. Some teens were raised from Conservative parents and so endlessly talk about how Obama needs to be “taken out,” that if only someone capable like George W. were again in control, America would be better off. And then the other half keeps bringing up how we’re all the 99% and should “take back” all that money we never made for ourselves from greedy Wall Street bankers.
First off, I don’t agree with everything Obama says, but if I hear another person offer to assassinate him, I will punch him in the face. To claim that Obama and his ideas are “Un-American” would be frivolous, a waste of both of our time. Our nation was established on the principle of compromise so yes, that means other Americans will hold different opinions than you. And you must work together to reconcile them, not “nuke ’em.”
Also, I completely understand how desperately disparate the income gap is. I get it: CEO’s and politicians make way too much money and can deduct way too much from their taxes. Occupy Wall Street may highlight these problems, but it doesn’t do anything about them. In fact, Occupy movements are self-destructive. So… this big wig guy makes more money than you and your entire extended family? How about we camp outside his investment firm and protest? He will definitely care then and then the country will care. We will change everything!
How exactly do you plan to camp out in the streets for weeks and months playing the ukulele? What about going to work? Oh, what’s that? You don’t have a job except for the one that’s “not good enough for you” at a retail store because you got a degree in art history instead of spending those four years at college doing something useful. And because you made that grievous mistake, you want some investment banker to “share the wealth.”
I know that not all protesters are like this. But for those of you who have truly screwed by the system and want to reform, remember who holds your signs and marches with you. It’s sniveling college students with a lot of student debt because they could not stand the thought of NOT going to Stanford for a degree in art history. As if it matters where that sort of degree comes from.
We’ve known forever we’ve been getting screwed over. Our system is more twisted than a Canadian contortionist. But all this talk about “Revolution” is a lot of hot air. That’s not what revolution looks like. Not if you just sit there. And I get that Martin Luther King achieved with peace (I’m not saying resort to violence), but he had a more united cause. Wall Street protesters suffer from this disease of disjointedness. Some want socialism, some want freedom, others free money. But it is not a united cause.
Instead, recent grad students who are forced to work at Kroger realized it would look cool to protest like the Egyptians or other revolting countries. Why can’t America be like them?
Part of the reason is because we’ve already gained democracy. We’ve not ACTUALLY oppressed except by greed. The government is not holding your head under the water. You are free to make money and take part in business. Where you come from partly can hinder you, but don’t tell me it’s impossible. Just because some jerk with lots of money succeeded because of his daddy’s contributions doesn’t mean you can’t succeed as well.
One last thing before I go, American revolutionaries. Right now, millions of internet users are patting each other on the back for snuffing out the fire called SOPA and calling arms for ACTA. Look, they contest, we paid attention to what the government was doing and changed it! Well, good job! You allowed Wikipedia and Google to thrust fear into your hearts so you could act in their better interests. Not that I agreed with SOPA, but you just bent your will to another kind of corporation. This so-called upheaval of anger did not occur until a few days before the act was supposed to be passed.
The act was introduced at the end of October and for a little while, I remember some people from the music industry discussing it. Some authors discussed it. But no one cared. No one cared till websites that would be affected took to the interwebs to warn its users. And then people got up in arms about the acts SOPA and PIPA infringing on our creative licenses… and how it showed unfair the justice system was becoming. Which is good, because that act did not bode well.
What I mean is, when you allow corporations to lead you into revolutionary battle, you’re not exactly going to get a government that is run by and for the people. Instead, you increase the control of corporations. America, you’re doing everything wrong. Don’t kill anyone. Don’t sit on your laurels. And although the internet is a great tool for spreading ideas, you won’t change anything drastically by just sitting there. Engage in conversations outside of the safe walls of the internet where you can be anonymous.
Rise in a different way. If you want to boost this economy, you should not be camping in Wall Street. You should be pursuing an actual job.
Actually pay attention to what your country is doing instead of waiting for the next internet protest to begin, following any “radicals” like lemmings. You are not a lemming. You are an American. And you can be a revolutionary.
Look at what happened during the French Revolution: it looked like a great idea, everyone was getting involve, and fun was had by all until they began lopping off heads in a guillotine. To mindlessly protest against the government is just as bad as mindlessly agreeing with it. you’re just falling prey to another sort of beast.
If you march up and down the street chanting “I am the 99%,” it only means someone else has been able to use you for their ultimate goal. Decide on your own ideas and then start the revolution. If you’re going to fight, fight for what YOU believe. And if you believe in the ideals of Occupy Wall Street (as scattered as they are), then march. If not, keep fighting your own fight.
If I work and you protest, we’re not both together as the 99%. You assume everyone in that vast majority of Americans thinks it is a good idea. But if you WORK to improve the economy and elect officials that actually share your views, you can make a real difference.