Tricks to the Existentialist Trade

Tricks to the Existentialist Trade


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For all my fellow typers out there in our oh-so-precious struggles.

Reading a brilliant existentialist review of an existentialist novel, I’m distracted because outside my office door I sense a sudden movement.

I try to ignore it.

After all, this existentialist shit demands concentration, but there it is again. I look over at the white Berber carpet and realize it’s the shadow of a small bird, likely a sparrow or swallow, flitting about just outside the window near the free-standing birdhouse where every year a nest is built.

Let me repeat: the shadow of a small bird has interrupted my existentialist focus; Every morning, and most of the rest of every day, I sit in my office.

I worry about politics.

I worry about money.

I answer e-mails.

I react and respond and clap and re-tweet and tape and post serious thoughts and feelings to/for/at the world.

I also try to relax and meditate so that my poems, ideas, and writing will come, and I feel deep gratitude, for writing is rarely about work, always about pleasure or survival.

So this shadow of a bird, outside the large window, interrupting my focus and my oh-so-important “work” has pulled me away from grand existentialist thoughts.

I gotta tell you: everyone from Sartre to Bukowski, from Shakespeare to Beethoven, from Picasso to Paul McCartney would love this moment.

And so do I.


Delusions of Adequacy: Grasping For Faux Legends

We spend an enormous amount of our daily thinking and feeling trying to make sense of the meaninglessness of our lives. “Searching for Meaning” is an avoidance stance to the obvious truth that life in general and our lives specifically have no ultimate meaning.

You are not the smartest person you know. You are not being robbed somehow of the recognition you richly deserve because in truth you don’t deserve any special kind of recognition, unless of course your name is Winston Churchill, Jesus H. Christ, George Harrison or Hopalong Cassiday.

No, the lack of recognition and celebrity you experience day in and day out, year in and year out, is precisely what your lack of achievement merits. And you know it. 


Who Am I Then? — After Rumi

If I am not, you or a close version of you; rising up in the garden an explosion of life: daffodil or iris, iris or daffodil if we can’t share the brilliance of our colors with sky, cloud, air, earth the blood of our beings, who am I, then and who are you? 
But what is more, what difference does the answer make?


Black Belt

It’s not about the belt.

I watched a movie the other evening about a guy, 47 years old trying to get a Black Belt in Karate by the time he reached 50.

A documentary film, cleverly conceived and smartly well-made. In the end, not of the film’s supposed plot line (will he or won’t he achieve his goal?) but in its thematic intentions and meaning it became one of those works of art that transcends itself; or maybe not. maybe from the very beginning the filmmaker knew that he’d end up with a portrait of how often in pursuing any goal, the end of your quest serves only to inform you that you’ve just reached the beginning of your journey?

There is a school of Buddhism best described by Sheldon Kopp’s clever Zen title IF YOU MEET THE BUDDHA ON THE ROAD, KILL HIM.

In this film, LOOKING FOR MR. MIAGI, the man on the journey has almost learned that wax on/wax off must come from inside and that all any of us need to know comes from inside ourselves.

Looking out there for Buddha or Mr. Miagi is looking in the wrong direction.

As I get older, okay, OLD, it becomes clear to me that I won’t earn many more Black Belts in many/any spheres of activity and/or dreams.

I’ve been lucky enough in my life to have achieved so much more than I once could ever imagine — Achieving beyond my earlier capacity to even understand the range of possibilities. But one thing is sure, I got more than I deserved. 

Bukowski has, on his gravestone, an epitaph that reads ‘Don’t Try’.

Image from author’s personal pics

I sat near that grave on a warm day once, clearing pine needles and leaves of grass away, and understanding his meaning as an instruction to walk one’s natural path, paying attention to who you are and being true to yourself in all your strivings and in fact eliminating ‘striving’ from the equation altogether.

At that time, this made a little sense to me. Now it overwhelms any sense of anything else at all—Don't try. You want to know why? Because it doesn’t matter. 


Death of a Poet ~ Mary Oliver

And a reckoning for all of us.

Mary Oliver died. And while I had heard of her, and her work, At the time, I hadn’t bothered quite yet to read much of her.

Being a woman poet who hadn’t killed herself, thus lacking the drama adequate to grab my attention. No Sylvia Plath. No Anne Sexton. Not even a bit of Virginia Wolf. I hadn’t paid much notice.

But when I downloaded samples of her books of poems, and I began to read her I realized that her death matters greatly.

Admittedly, I’m in a space of late where the death of most everyone matters greatly to me, after all, my own mortality Is staring back at me, Mockingly, with every mirror I pass.

But Mary Oliver Being a true master of our craft, reminds me of other poets' deaths: Like James Wright’s and Robert Sund’s and Blake’s and Frost’s and Buk’s, of course, (he was 74 when he died, the age I’ll leave behind in less than a month).

Maybe One day My death might matter to others the way These deaths matter to me, As I join this sister, And these brothers, In words and images and love for our craft/lives.

After all, the wind never really stops blowing whether we feel it, and know it, Or not.

So, goodbye Mary Oliver, nice to finally meet you, and sad to say goodbye so soon.


I awoke from the dream.

Or maybe not. I got up to take a piss and wandered into the bathroom still locked in this idea from my dreams, that I might be dead and not even know it, and that this is how death actually works.

Kind of like in that movieThe Sixth Sense but not a horror story because it wasn’t scary at all the dream was just showing that death, even though we’ve died isn’t scary or bad.

In fact, we don’t even notice it for a while.

I was happy and felt good loved and loving as if I was listening to Music made of warm, soft fabric wrapped around my body.

I went back to bed And tried to find the dream again without much luck.

But at least I remembered it this morning, long enough to write about it here.

And the message still resonates in my mind and heart: We don’t really die. We’re not part of a horror film. We go on, as happily or as miserably as we have been living all along.

Heaven or hell is just an extension of where we already are. That’s all. No big deal. A warm blanket wrapped around us like holy, beautiful music.

Of course, this was all Just a soft lovely dream...

or maybe not.


Anne Sexton & Hemingway

There was a time when writers/authors became famous and got rich and, for some, became dead at their own hands...

Okay, they each killed themselves and suffered from obviously debilitating depression. Maybe it’s just that I’m sexist enough to somehow forgive her, as I don’t expect and demand from women the same shit I do from a man.

She stripped off her jewelry, dressed in her fur coat, and after drinking some vodka started her car in the garage and was gone. Everybody knows about Macho Ernie blowing his brains out with his shotgun just before what would have been

toast and coffee and orange juice. And leaving wife number 4 to clean up the mess — not just brains and blood and goo all over the entryway, but to try and peddle the lie of an accident, you know, the old “cleaning the gun at5 a.m.” bullshit.

There are times and ways to end it all: Class vs. Vulgarity Thoughtfulness vs. Selfishness.

And on second thought, this writing is NOT about my sexist views. All I’m saying is

RIP Anne. And as for you Ernie, RIP too, but I’m holding back a bit because no one hurts us like someone we thought we knew and could trust.


Stacie and Me

She is now officially an old dear friend

Stacie is now officially an ‘old, dear friend’ in the way that people you hardly see anymore become that.

We met over twenty-five years ago. I was her English Instructor at the Junior College where she ended-up dazed and confused after being dumped by her husband, leaving her on her own with two kids.

Many things had occurred by chance or some indiscernible design to help us find one another and we became more than just friends but never lovers, never romantic or sexual, just ‘buddies’. And Stacie, more than anyone else, nudged, cajoled, complimented and helped me become the writer I’d always dreamt of becoming, but that I felt sure, by the time I met her, that I’d never be.

After hearing me read my poem, Sheehan to her class she reacted by saying, “You should be writing full-time.”

I answered, “It’s hard to make it…” She interrupted, “I’ll help you.”

Her confidence in me, her naivety about how difficult getting published was, even then, inspired me to try one last time.

She made us lunches, read my work as it progressed (the novel that became Stuck In Neutral) day after day, week after week, a chapter at a time, she suggested tweaks and shared ideas.

Somehow it all worked, far beyond my wildest hopes.

Then things happened around ‘us’, nothing terrible or even bad, but just life unfolding in the way it always does. Then a bunch more happened, some good, some bad, some both and some neither.

Until finally time edged its way forward and the tiny divergence in our lives became a great chasm increasing the distance of our separation

until we could barely see one another across that expanse of time and space.

And so this morning, when I get her text inviting me to grab a bite of lunch, not having seen one another for many months that feel much more like years, I’m happy well beyond the taco she’s promised to buy me (but which, of course, I'll buy because I always do).

Stacie becomes life, reiterating this basic rule: Some friends you never lose, even when they’re no longer around. Some friends you always treasure for all you remember, not for any hope of what’s to come.


Nihilism Vs. Faith

Some people say that atheism takes as much faith as religious beliefs, which is bullshit. A-theism is the disbelief in a theistic “God,” A big daddy in the sky counting falling sparrows and head-hairs and such.

A far better consideration (IMO) is: Nihilism is the belief that nothing matters. Faith can be (& is for me) the belief that EVERY fuckin’ thing matters and that I’ll never understand the fine print in this matter.

So, as my co-star in this journey and trip might phrase it, “whatever.” Yep, whatever. 

Just Weighing Separator

Photo by Arun Clarke on Unsplash