[A snippet from a writing project in gestation, which will probably make very little sense if you haven’t read these other snippets: Square one, No importa, New tables, Belly of the beast, No turning back, Memories, dreams, reflections, & El campo de pueblo.]
I’m sitting in a corner of the room, surrounded by all our belongings. Some guys are putting in the floor tile today, so my world has shrunk to a six by six foot pile of stuff while they work on the rest of the room. Presently, the workers are taking a little Pepsi break, chatting about this and that. The word chinga tends to come up a lot. Undoubtedly, they must be curious why I choose to remain in the room while they work. However misguided and ultimately self-defeating, I tend to view most others here as potential criminals, out to fuck me over as soon as the opportunity presents itself. People have families to feed, and here’s my stuff all laid out like a five-finger discount flea market. I remember a line from Fight Club: “The things you own end up owning you.” This couldn’t be more true for me right now. I am attached to my things with shackles.
At this point, I’m against putting in the tile, as a way to protest the cost being jacked up at the last moment and because the process promises to be a major inconvenience. They say “no hay problema, muy rapido,” half the tile in today and the other half tomorrow, but experience tells me to expect otherwise. The room is my safe haven, where I have established at least enough privacy, order, and control to maintain sanity. I can feel the shackles chafing.
Of course, when it’s all said and done, it will be nice to have tile, as the floor figures prominently in my plan to take over the world. How so? I’ll get to the specifics in a minute, but in general the plan is fairly simple and straightforward: To resurrect every stinking, rotting intention that lay buried in the dung-heap of apathy, excuses and half-assed efforts I spent a lifetime compiling in the U.S. Every last little desiccated seed will be resuscitated and nurtured to fruition. Among other things, this means a book will be written; a language learned; an instrument mastered; and a body and mind recalibrated, re-inhabited and renewed.
I’m sure you’ve heard it all before, from one twenty-something or another. Carpe diem and all that horse shit. If you’re a friend of mine you’ve heard it many times, straight from this horse’s mouth, especially when the beer is flowing. I’m fine with the so-called realists who like to roll their eyes and who prefer their resignation and cynicism to my pipe dreams. If I’m deluded in striving for the full realization of my potential—and I suspect that I’m naïve at the very least—what really is there to lose in persisting in my folly? I finally have the time—nine full months, all day, every day—to invest in myself, to break some long-standing patterns, to reset the game and start playing without my hands tied behind my back. If not now, when? If, in the end, the whole project provides nothing more than a few laughs for the older and wiser Future Bob, then so be it. Don’t laugh too hard though, Future Bob. It might make you shit your pants, or at least pee a little. A crack of a smile will do just fine, and makes for a suitable death mask as well.
Along with Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, I’m currently reading Full Catastrophe Living, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Jon’s the one keeping me on the floor, experimenting with various yoga and meditation practices. About the level of commitment necessary for self-realization, Kabat-Zinn quotes psychologist Carl Jung: “The attainment of wholeness requires one to stake one’s whole being. Nothing less will do; there can be no easier conditions, no substitutes, no compromises.”
I love this kind of balls-out sentiment. Miller strikes a similar chord, vis-á-vis art: “Art consists in going the full length. If you start with the drums you have to end with dynamite”. My bandmates and I used an inside catch-phrase to capture this full-throttle vibe, demanding of ourselves and each other that we “head the gong.” Those of us who grew up worshipping the rock band Led Zeppelin know well that drummer John Bonham, who died young of a drug overdose, used a gong as part of his drum set-up. Anyway, the guys and I went out to see a Led Zep tribute band one night, and as the drummer wailed away during the famous ten-minute Moby Dick drum solo, we couldn’t help notice that he held back a little toward the end. “Dude,” I said to my friends, “if you’re going to do Moby Dick, you gotta go all the way, you gotta throw yourself head first into the gong. Yeah man, you gotta head the fucking gong!” Trust me, if you were there and full of Pabst Blue Ribbon, you would have been pumping your fists in the air.
I’ve often told myself I would one day put into print the “Head the Gong Manifesto,” making explicit to myself and to the world precisely how I intended to live, should I ever find the requisite strength and courage. My hesitation has been held in place by a couple of lines of thought, each representing a critical voice I’ve internalized over the years. The first essentially says, “You’re selfish.” This one comes straight from the bosom of my family. My lack of interest in creating and raising children is at the root of this accusation more than anything. I’ve mounted a stiff defense against this charge, pointing out the logical absurdity of choosing parenthood for the sake of not-yet-born children. I’ve trapped them with arguments that force them to admit their own inescapably selfish motives for becoming mommies and daddies. But it’s not really about any of that. They want me to do it for their sake, to affirm this most central of their values. In rejecting parenthood I’m rejecting them—it’s as simple as that. And so what I most value—this stuff about truth and awareness and developmental potential—this makes me even more of a self-centered little bastard. “The holy trinity of me, myself and I” is how my brother summed up my life. “Maybe they’re right” is a thought that comes up more than I’d like to admit. Navel gazing looks a lot like narcissism, and if it quacks like a duck it just might be a duck, right? It’s true that every minute I spend here nurturing my own seeds I could spend trying to better the lives of the people all around me, people too focused on survival to worry about drum solos or finding time to just be.
The case against me is strong—I can’t deny it. And there’s still the other line of attack, the one that says, “Even if it is worthwhile to go the full length, you just don’t have what it takes. Not. Good. Enough.” Just like that, my manifesto is transformed into yet another list of New Year’s resolutions destined to be forgotten by the time February rolls around.
Well, here’s the list, for what it’s worth: I’m going to meditate everyday; write the book I’ve been not writing for the last ten years; finish up and properly record every song idea in my cassette archives; learn Spanish, then Chinese; study a martial art; step up my exercise regimen with daily stretching and calisthenics; learn some cover tunes and refuse to shy away from opportunities to perform; rededicate myself to the study and practice of Somatic Education (a form of neuro-muscular/body work); find a way to teach for a living… I’m sure more will come to me. And I’m off to a good start, I must say – writing like a madman, Spanish improving by the day, soccer practice every night, a few days into formal meditation practice and a solid floor exercise routine.
We’ll see what it’s worth, in the end. Call it an experiment, a wait and see thing. Let’s see if by investing some quality time in me, myself and I, I might be of far greater service to others when it’s all said and done. Let’s see if I become more or less of an asshole. If it doesn’t pan out I can always just admit the error of my ways, settle down, have a few kids and let them redeem the situation.