Prolegomena to Any Future Autobiography
(in the year of the Coyote)

What is the self? Thoughts move through the mind and are gone. Emotions move through the body and are gone. Memories shift, change. Was that a memory or a dream? I remember what it was like to be twelve, to be a manatee, to be thirty-eight, to be an owl interpreting the dark with the way it turns its head…

So, if everything is constantly shifting, what is ground zero for the self? Is there something we maintain all the way through life?

I was born into a navy family. Does this matter? My bio on Wikipedia says it does (I have no idea who originally posted it). It says that I moved every two or three years when I was a child. This is true. When I lived in Philadelphia in my early twenties, people would ask: "Where were you born?" They expected me to give them some location in the city - and knowing that, thought they would be able to instantly know something about me. I usually said: "I was born in the navy."  Did they know something more about me then? Not sure. Probably, yes. But what does "know" mean in this case? (I think I'm taking this way too seriously...)

You'd think if I grew up in a military family I'd be pro-military. Not so. I'm not against the working people in the military, but I am against the Pentagon and its associated secret and black operations having carte-blanche in this society. I want the military to be something small, used only for defense. The US military budget this year (2017) will be almost one trillion dollars. I've watched as the military-industrial complex has grown over the last thirty years - no matter who was in power  - swallowing most sections of the US economy. If you are participating in the US economy, you're participating in the endless war economy. Sorry. Very few talk about our endless wars. Why is that?

I'm being didactic. I've been warned. I once heard a fellow artist say, in reference to a short story she'd just read: "I don't want to be told what to think." I thought, that's odd, everything in our society is telling us what to think or feel - or both. A burger commercial; a Nobel prize acceptance speech; your favorite song; your mother saying she doesn't want to tell you what to think, but…

Everything created by a human has a point of view. Does this mean it's telling you what to think? Most of the time, when we think someone is telling us what to think in a work of art, it's usually because we don't want to see that particular point of view. Meanwhile, mammals and reptiles and insects have points of view, too. A beaver dam is a point of view. But is it telling me what to think? Hard to say.

I've read political novels that are magnificent works of art. I've read political novels that are dreadful. I wonder why middle-class Americans get so uptight about the intersection of art and politics? "Most political poetry is awful," they say. True. But no one ever says: "Most love poetry is awful." That's equally true. Why do we need to separate everything into categories? For marketing purposes? Marketing departments are the bane of my existence.

What does any of this have to do with the self? Not sure. Here's some concrete stuff about my life: I once walked across France. I was one of the main organizers of the union movement in the Border's bookstore chain (parts of that are in a film by Michael Moore - "The Big One"). I lived in Swansea, Wales for two and a half years. I live at 7000 feet. I used to live at 8500 feet. I'm an altitude snob. My favorite saying is: "Hallelujah anyway." I've been saying it for decades. It's the title of a Kenneth Patchen book. It's also the title of a recent Anne Lamott bestseller. She got it from Kenneth Patchen, too. 

But wait! I've forgotten to put down the most important things: I have spent most of my life hearing voices. Maybe in my head, maybe out there in the dark. I see things, too. Creatures. They separate from night shadows, blend back in. The first time I saw a Bosch painting I understood immediately. "Oh, I know those creatures." There was a very terrifying creature, snake-haired, lamprey-faced, that spent years behind my bathroom door. I wanted it to go away. I wanted it to stay. I once wrote a song about Bosch's paintings. The chorus went like this: "Hieronymus Bosch, hell looked more fun than heaven ever did." You can draw your own conclusions.

Some of the things I've seen have not been straight out of my own mind. I have experienced joint hallucinations with my wife, Michaela. I say "hallucinations," but when you both see the same thing at the same time, and you weren't talking about anything related to what you both saw, then it's probably right there in front of you. Most things in my life can be described as "a mystery" (an overused word, sure, but it's all I've got). Sometimes I catch the pattern of the mystery and the world becomes clear, vivid, and I am one of the colors moving within the complexity of the pattern. If the world wasn't filled with so many man-made horrors (the list is too numerous to put down here), and the US wasn't engaged in so many wars (at home and abroad), or had an insane racist president and an insane clown congress, I'd probably only write about the endless variations of these mysterious patterns. Then again, the continuing insanity is part of the pattern, isn't it? Everything is connected.

Look at the strange shape of a hand. Curious. Look at the way that juniper bush grows. Curious. Look at the strange pattern this life has taken. Curious.

A coyote came into the yard and ate all the black apples that were hanging on the lower branches of one of the apple trees last New Year's Day. Did it mean anything? Sometimes a coyote is a messenger from another world. Sometimes a coyote is just a coyote. I wrote that exact same thing about a crow in my first book, On the Side of the Crow. The feeling remains the same. So, apparently some things don't change.

Hallelujah anyway. 

Novels (and other creatures) that may have helped  
(in no particular order):

Lathe of Heaven by Ursula LeGuin
The Master & Margarita by Mikail Bulgakov
Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo
The Xenogenesis Trilogy by Octavia Butler
In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje
The Castle by Franz Kafka
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
To the Wedding by John Berger
Life by Gwyneth Jones
The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington
The Theban Cycle by Sophocles (trans. Fagles)
Oxherding Tale by Charles Johnson
Among Others by Jo Walton
Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
The Sunlight Dialogues by John Gardner
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
How the Dead Dream by Lydia Millet

Poetry that may have helped 
(in no particular order):

The Descent of Alette by Alice Notley
Canto General by Pablo Neruda
Trilogy by H.D.
The Marriage of Heaven & Hell by William Blake
Selected Poems by Rainier Maria Rilke (trans. Mitchell)
Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud (trans. Ashberry)
Sunstone by Octavio Paz
Loba by Diane DiPrima
Selected Poems & Prose by Paul Celan (trans. Felstiner)
O Taste & See by Denise Levertov
Seamarks by St. John-Perse (trans. Fowlie)
Briggflatts by Basil Bunting
The Half-Finished Heaven by Tomas Transtromer (trans. Bly)
The Collected Poems of Aime Cesaire (trans. Eshleman/Smith)
Fossil Light by Erling Friis-Baastad
A Map to the Next World by Joy Harjo
Juniper Fuse by Clayton Eshleman
The Complete Poetry by Cesar Vallejo (trans. Barcia/Eshleman)
Anything by Federico Garcia Lorca
The Light Around the Body by Robert Bly
The Angel of History by Carolyn Forche

Non-fiction that may have helped:

The Poet in the World by Denise Levertov
The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram
A Chorus of Stones by Susan Griffin
War is a force that gives us meaning by Chris Hedges
The Gift by Lewis Hyde
Fate and Destiny by Michael Meade
The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs
Selected Essays by John Berger
The End of Victory Culture by Tom Engelhardt
Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams
Companion Spider by Clayton Eshleman
The ABC of Reading by Ezra Pound
Leaping Poetry by Robert Bly
The Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder
Howard Zinn on War
The Body Never Lies by Alice Miller

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