Thursday, December 14, 2017

Ironic Advent 2017 Meditation #12 or so: The Things We Carry (for Love)

Ironic Advent 2017 Meditation #12 or so: 
The Things We Carry (for Love)

Ben Camino had a big date tonight. As Crazy45 might say, I have very big dates. The biggest dates. The best dates. All the dates. 

No, not that kind of date. Those are filed under the heading of a previous existence, the absence of which compel Courtney Gorman to give Ben advice about his pathetic so-called love life.  

Still, a big date. A very big date. The best date. 

Obvs, the date is December 14, dearest friends. And that means there are only eleven more days of Advent and then Advent, the time of waiting will be over (yay!), and we will simply have to wait however many thousands of years from Christmas Day to the Apocalypse until maybe (we hope) we can experience some of the peace and joy we were told we should be waiting for during Advent. This particular weirdness, of course, is the baseline meaning of "Ironic Advent." 

By "the date" I also mean the annual date I have with my sweet friends Cindy Gorman and Courtney Gorman (that's a guy's name, don't make fun). Cindy and Courtney are the parents of three lovely children, Chelsea, Grace, and Tripp. Tripp was my student once upon a very short time. We became very close during that short time. As Cindy likes to see, we connected.

Tripp wanted to be a writer and, well heck, so do I. So we had that in common. And we both tended to look at life a little sideways, a little . . . ironically. Tripp died suddenly in late November of 2011, and, due to the relationship we had developed, the family asked me to speak at his funeral. I have written all about this before in a piece called "Trippy Advent."

If you'd like to read that piece, you will need to hit backspace until you come to the highlighted words "Trippy Advent" (you just passed them). Then click on them. And pray to the stars above that the link isn't broken. That's what I do, and it works about 23% of the time. If you pray to the stars first.

A few weeks later that year, in December, we met for dinner and conversation and consolation and gifts. And we might have had a little too much to drink. Every December since, we have done the same. 

It feels like we have fallen into a nice little rhythm. Cindy eats some fish, drinks wine, and gives me lots of sympathy. And talks a lot about Tripp. Courtney eats raw-ish meat, drinks beer, and gives me advice about my love life. And talks a lot about Tripp. I complain about the cold, dark universe, drink almond milk (some allegations in this piece are just that, allegations), and talk about Tripp.  

Also, we laugh. A lot. 

And yet. And yet. There's a sadness at the middle of it all. The laughter, the advice, the sympathy, the gifts.

We can talk all we want about Tripp, and it's a joy to do so. But he's not here. He's missing. Gone. 

I don't like that. And I know that they freakin' HATE it. But they keep moving. Forward into the fog as my dad used to say. 

That isn't the absolute worst description of the life of hope and faith I've ever heard. My father had a way with cliches. I've written about him quite a bit, but do us both a favor, just google Ben Camino, Ironic Advent, Charles. It might work. And it'll save my setting up another link.

But we don't go forward alone. Or at least we need not. Of course, we can go with other folks/friends/loved ones/scared, scarred pilgrims huddling close to us for warmth. That's part of why the Gormans and I get together every December. Why I call my sister every day. Why we love our dogs (and some people endure their cats). 

Then there are these other things. Not people we can huddle with because those people are gone. They can't huddle. They can't breathe. They are missing. 

But they leave things behind. Tripp left an imprint on Courtney and Cindy and part of what I love in them is the Tripp in and on them. And I think it's part of what they endure in me. My Trippy-ness. 

More than that. There are the Tripp things. The leavings. The relics. No, not exactly the bones or the blood like the relics medieval pilgrims venerated of their favorite martyrs. 

But other things. I still have a sheaf of Tripp's papers in my office somewhere. I gave most of them to the Gorman's to hold on to. And I do mean to hold on to. His books. His Fender guitar, which they keep in his room right where he kept it. And lots of other things.  All the things.

I know about this. This is my (spiritual or not) practice too. I have flowers on my dashboard, Clif bar wrappers in my window, and many other physical items which are primarily embodied memories. Or the memories of bodies of people I love(d). 

One of the greatest of these is my momma's banjo. An old Silvertone. She bought it through the Sears catalogue. I learned to play stringed instruments by playing it. And, last year, I liberated it from my brother's closet, and brought it back to Indiana to play it. 

First though, I had all the original strings (which dated back to my mother's ill-advised attempts to learn to play) taken off and bagged up, one for each of her children. Tenor banjos have four strings, in case you are wondering. Each string has my mother's skin cells on it. And mine from when I was nine, which is also sort of strange.

Tonight, I got a new relic. Something unbelievably amazing. Something with Tripp Gorman's skin cells and germs still on it. His mandolin. He wanted one so he could learn to play "Amy" by Pure Prairie League, which was Cindy's favorite song. Ironically or providentially or just coincidentally, it happened to be my mother's favorite song too. That and "Morning Has Broken." 

I can still remember Nita putting "Amy" on the stereo while she held a cup of hot coffee to her head, as if she were transfusing the caffeine into her system by osmosis. Weird. Beautiful. My mom. Listening to "Amy." And she never learned to play that dang banjo. But she did fool around with it. And I learned to play it. 

Tripp never really learned to play "Amy" or the mandolin for that matter. But he fooled around on it a little, according to Cindy. Now I have it. And tonight I tuned it up and composed a little ditty. I called Cindy and Courtney to listen on their bluetooth while driving home. It made them happy I think. 

 I don't (yet) know how to play "Amy" but I can play a new song I call "Trippy." I will carry the song, the mandolin, the skin cells, the germs, the relic, the embodied memory of Tripp with me into whatever foggy forever might await. I will hold it dear. It will console me. It will also make me sad.

I can't fit it on my dashboard, but soon, I hope, I'll have a recording of "Trippy" playing through my car stereo, like other musical memories that haunt me and hurt me and huddle with me as I move forward. Into the fog. 

When I get everything in this universe figured out, I will include a link to the song so you can hear it. A little bit of Tripp for your ears. In fact, the link will be right here (you might need to download the file, but it won't bite you). 

Anyway(s), may all our dates be this lovely. 

Forward.  Banjos, mandolins, dead flowers clutched to our battered hearts. Drive safely Cindy and Courtney. And hold on tight.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Ironic Advent 2017 Meditation #11: Beat Thing for Saint Lucy's Day

Ironic Advent 2012 Meditation #12 (2017 Meditation #11): 
Beat Thing for St. Lucy's Day

Hosea loved a whore and waited for her holiness to come,
Missy lost her cat and never got another one,
Baby made a cut and prayed that God would let it bleed.
Daddy had to kill a man. Rhyming that would be a sin.

Ginsberg wrote a poem, and the whole world howled along.
Moloch! Moloch! nightmare of Moloch's song.
Ashcans, Talibans, World Banks, and Queerkillers,
God's son for this? Maybe. But then again . . . .

Kerouac lit a candle in words in Mexico in somnia in ekstasis
speedfreak hymns for the highways and the thousand dirty pilgrim places,
and in a shack out near the dump out near the dive where Jack would score
a brown-skinned boy was born into this lousy world.

Hosea, keep on loving, though you can't know what will come,
And Missy, get yourself a cat, because it sucks to sleep alone,
And darling quit your cutting, go out dancing, moan your need,
And daddy . . . I don't know. Get a light. Let's go see.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Ironic Advent 2017 Meditation #8: Shaggy Dudes, Cutting to the Chase

Ironic Advent 2017 Meditation #8:

Shaggy Dudes, Cutting to the Chase

This year the Second Sunday of Advent gets right to the point, cuts to the chase as my dad used to say (never knew exactly what he meant), cuts out the cute stuff, cuts to the bone, cuts to the heart, cuts through the fog, cuts the crap.

I mean, it cuts nothing at all but starts at the most barebone of the gospels, the lovely, spare, yes m'am that's all I've got to say opening lines of The Gospel of Saint Mark. That's enough for me. For today anyway.

This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the Son of God: 
A rather shaggy wild guy eating bugs showed up in the desert saying rather wild things. First, though, an angel appeared to . . . . Oops, that's not here. But then Joseph thought . . . . Not here either. No Herod. No genealogical register. No neo-platonic Logos riff. No nothing.

Shaggy dude. Eating bugs. Sayin' a change has gotta' come. And the message, though really stripped down in Mark, is pretty specific (if weird). Here's what EVERYBODY has to do. Get in the water, confess that you are doing wrong. And start doing right. And that, my friends, is how we decorate for Christmas. In the wilderness. Y'all got it?

Sounds like Advent, if you've been paying attention.

Does John Baptist really look like Johnny Cash? I don't know. I just like to think of them both as no-nonsense, cut to the chase (still not sure what that means) guys. Pretty sure Johnny Cash only knew three chords, and he only played one of them well. His vocal range hit everything between A and B. With some difficulty.

John Baptist had one song. And he beat it like a drum (stop me if you've heard this, because it's a song I wrote a couple of years ago for Advent). "Turn around" was the verse one, verse two, chorus, chorus (as Johnny Cash used to say). 

Really I think of John the Baptist as a cross between Johnny Cash and my friend Richard, a sage from Arkansas. IF only his name were John, I could claim it was a miracle and nominate someone for canonization (either Richard or Johnny Cash or maybe Luther Perkins because he was JC's guitar player who gave the Tennessee Two that distinctive cut to the chase sound on Sun Records).

Richard is appropriately grizzled, but I think a lot of that has to do with being on sabbatical. Not sure if John B had a sabbatical. Johnny Cash was in rehab for awhile, so maybe that's kind of like a sabbatical. Maybe he got pretty grizzled those days.

Richard also plays guitar, but I'm not sure how many chords he knows. What I know is that he likes to cut to the chase, cut out the crap, get down to brass tacks or brass knuckles or whatever brass thing it is that people get down to. Sometimes I don't know what he's talking about, but it's still kind of cool to see his guys get all prophetic and fiery and then, unlike Ben Camino, he just says a few words.

Today we were talking about deer hunting. And he said, yeah, you never realize that you can see 300 yards. I kind of acted like I knew what the hey he was talking about. And then he stared off into the distance and said, yeah, that's the great thing about deer hunting. You sit there all day and don't see any deer. But after awhile you realize you can see 300 yards. Past the trees and everything. So I didn't say anything for a minute, and then I said, yeah, I just remember sitting with my dad in a tree freezing to death. And Richard said, yeah, that's what I mean, you can see 300 yards.

I really CAN, because I've been at this a few years now, draw a really beautiful connection between Richard's focused vision on . . . nothing (at least not what he's supposed to be seeing, namely deer) and John the Baptist's focus on the essentials and Johnny Cash's one chord and one key and Mark's spare Gospel and the cold Second Sunday of Advent. I CAN, I said. And yet, and yet. I don't think I need to. I don't think I'm going to. If I don't get going soon, I'm going to miss the Our Lady of Guadalupe vigil. 

Just this. Tomorrow I'm going to go out and sit in the cold for awhile. And I'm going to look. Maybe I'll see a deer, but I'm pretty sure I won't (hell, there's a better chance I'll hit one driving to work). But I hope to heck I learn to see for 300 yards. Because that is a skill that my friend Richard thinks important. And, as I said, he is a sage. From Arkansas. That's almost Texas. 

While I'm out there, I'm gonna' be humming "Folsom Prison Blues," probably the song in which Johnny Cash most clearly sings one note over and over again. And (ironically or not) meditating on John the Baptist's stripped-down gospel intro. Fix up your broken road. God is coming. Look over there. 

Ironic Advent 2017 Meditation #4: Saint Nicholas: In Praise of Heresy and Heresy Hunters

Ironic Advent 2017 Meditation #4: 
Saint Nicholas: In Praise of Heresy and Heresy Hunters

I am not really necessary (I'd sort of like to let that be a complete sentence, since I feel that way a lot these days, but . . .) to speak up on behalf of Saint Nicholas specifically and heretics and heresy hunters in general. Obvs, they get a lot of bad press in these days of blurred distinctions, fuzzy definitions, careless creeds, and long but thin prepositional phrases (like this one). Still, as heretics and heresy hunters, they should be able to stand up for their own damned and damning selves. 

And yet. And yet. I do, in fact, want to speak up on behalf of both heresy and heresy hunters in this slightly late but still, I hope, crazed prophetic hallucinatory non-journalistic thrill ride known as Ben Camino's Ironic Advent Meditation for the Feast of Saint Nicholas.  

Yes, yes, I know that I'm several days late for the big Saint Nicholas celebration (some of you are like, the what what?). Yes, yes, despite the fact that I am a man of letters, a humanist of the old-fashioned sort, I can count. To six at least. The truth is, I actually did begin to write this meditation on December 6, but certain circumstances intervened. Little things like complete physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual exhaustion were part of the problem. Also I left my meds at home and was away from home. Also left my computer at home and was away from home. Also no dinner because I forgot to eat and was away from home. Also no mojo because I had no dinner. Also because I was playing music. Also because I was celebrating the anniversary of something that made me sad to celebrate. Other than that, this baby would have been right on time. In the Nick of time you might say. You might. I wouldn't. 

Anyway(s), there's no time like the present like my old grandpappy used to always say. Sometimes. So here goes.

I remember a few years ago, well a decade or so ago, well a decade and a half ago, when a friend of mine was accused of heresy. I'm not making this up. If you Muggles travel in the Ben Camino multi-verse for a while, you might experience interesting and maybe disturbing things. Finally, he was released from his contract and paid some money which was a way of saying we think you are a heretic but we aren't going to make you say so and you are free to go spread heresy elsewhere. I think. 

What I remember most distinctly was my son saying something like: "we still have heresy trials? Is that still a thing dad?" 

Not sure what I said then. But here is what I say now. In my five days late Saint Nicholas meditation. 

Yes son. Yes we do. Yes, we should. Well, I don't care about trials, as such. But yes, I assume there is still heresy, I assume there are still reasons to call heresy heresy, and I assume it might be necessary to do something about it (although like some medications not to mention Crab Rangoon, this should only be a last resort and should not become an addiction).

I'm guessing that most of us hate this idea. I do too when I'm being lazy and letting television comedians do my serious political/social/cultural thinking for me. But they are my best evidence for the deep cultural need for heresy, heresy hunting, and heresy . . . talk. For Saint Nicholas and his kin, that is. No, not those who give us presents, although I like presents and hope to get many of them during the Christmas season (which as you may not know doesn't even start for another two weeks and stretches until January 6). But those who, like Saint Nicholas, make fine distinctions and argue for them. The legend that Saint Nicholas slapped the heretic Arius is not necessarily to the point, although I was happy to use it for ironic fodder in an earlier meditation found here.

Our liberal, anything goes, love you too, everything-is kinda'-blurry-so-please-don't-try-to-make-me-pin-down- any-beliefs-or-anything contemporary culture is IRONICALLY judgmental as you know what. Reinforced not so much by the church but by whichever brand of news programming you ingest, whichever Facebook groups to which you belong, or, as I said before, by late-night comedian/journalist/socialcritic/entertainers. And it's mostly reinforced by shame rather than discussion of ideas. I'm painting with broad strokes. Sure. As are they. As are we. Good (or not so good, really I don't care about that) Old Saint Nick may or may  not have slapped Arius. But, dang, they talked the heck out those ideas for years before the slapping commenced. 

My point is that we HATE (I want to put more syllables in that but couldn't find a way) people who make the kind of distinctions and judgments that we ourselves are making ALL THE FREAKIN' TIME. We are just making them about other things. Try explaining to some people why it's NOT OK NOT to proclaim "Black Lives Matter." And try explaining to some other people why it's OK NOT to proclaim "Black Lives Matter." Whaaaatttt? There is no discussion. You are not worth the discussion if you disagree with me. 

Sorry for using the obvious go-to example, but we could all come up with a million examples, including whether Taylor Swift should be taken seriously. Do not say the wrong thing. Somebody gonna' slap you and he might be called Nick. Or Kanye. 

I know. I know. I came back from complete physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion (not to mention the meds and no dinner) to write this? Yep. Been chewing on it for a long time. Bless you my heretics. Bless you my heresy hunters. Argue it out. Make fine distinctions. Show me your charts (but please no pie diagrams, not until Christmas which is still two weeks away but lasts until January 6).  

Our problem is not that we have heretics and heresy hunters (those who argue against and oppose the heretics). Our problem is that we silence the discussion, the argument, the dialogue, the church councils (and whatever group we want to get together to decide whether Taylor S is a serious artiste or not). 

But seriously. Somebody said, once. No more Jim Crow. Heretics changed the world. Somebody once said, guitars are OK in church (they may have been wrong, actually). Somebody is still saying, we can drive horse-buggies but not cars. Personally, I'm not fighting over the car heresy, but I think it might be helpful for a group which agrees together to define shalom in certain ways to maintain their borders on that question and others.  

Well, of course, silencing the heretics and the heresy hunters is not our only problem. The other problem is  HOW we go about this thing. Yes, we need to disagree, argue, and even point out the errors of our opponents if we are going to continue to be a.) rational creatures and b.) claim to value the truth (defined for the time being as the truth as we see it after working hard to see it clearly). But that shouldn't involve doing violence against those who disagree with us. I get no brownie points for arguing against torture, burning at the stake, or the use of the sword of government to settle these arguments. 

BUT, we still believe theft is wrong, even if we don't execute thieves (or cut off their hands). We still believe racism is wrong even if there is no way of punishing someone who has a heart and mind that we would love to change if we could. 

The point is that it's not our disagreements, even our deepest ones, that are destroying us. It's our failure, really our slothful refusal to engage each other seriously in long, complicated, difficult, complex discussion. It won't happen on Facebook. It won't happen on the John Oliver show itself (although his show and many others can serve to highlight the topics, you might say, of our necessary cultural arguments). I'm starting to worry that it won't happen on our college campuses, but I'm holding on to some hope. It might happen in our coffee houses, if we took out our earbuds. It might happen in . . . our churches. There need not be a contradiction between robust discussion about our theological/cultural borders and the preservation (and sometimes revision) of those borders. There are, after all, Church Councils as well as reformations of all kinds. 

Charges of heresy by heresy hunters of our time are greater than ever. We just don't use the word. And the issues, to a great degree, have changed (for better or worse). I don't see that changing anytime soon because it is a way that cultural groups (large and small, from huge body politics to small splinter religious groups who don't drive cars) represent, resist, revise, maintain, and preserve their identities. 

The kind of cultural discussion I'm talking about here, now that I re-read it, sounds like a fantasy. Like another Ben Camino pipe-dream. Alright. I'm pressing "publish" anyway(s). But y'all help me/us with some ideas if you think it's worthwhile. 

Shantih. Shantih. Shantih. Slap. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Ironic Advent 2017 Meditation #3: The Feast of Christina (by Veronica Toth)

Ironic Advent 2107 Meditation #3: 
The Feast of Christina

*A Guest Meditation by Veronica Toth

Non-Apologetic Introductory Remarks: 

Dear Ironic Advent Friends, it takes a special kind of person to venture into the alternate universe known as Ben Camino's Ironic Advent (and sometimes Christmas) Meditations. The kind of person raised by wolves. And yet, and yet. For several years now, some of the very best meditations have come (originally from heaven no doubt but more locally) from readers who become guest writers. Ben Camino not only gets tired and sick, but sometimes he gets downright sick and tired of the sound of his own voice and the constructions of his own sentences (however witty they be). 

Last year featured some especially rich guest writing, including one of the most read pieces every to appear on the Benblog. Today, we welcome Veronica Toth and her reflection on her "personal saint" and one of Ben Camino's absolute favorite poets, Christina Rossetti. Although NOT raised by wolves (she says, however, that perhaps Malinda was), Veronica still has quite a pedigree as a writer. Her poetry has been published in Windhover and Rock and Sling, and she is a distinguished graduate of the distinguished English Department of Taylor University (which must, therefore, be distinguished too). She is presently a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Follow Veronica's blog, where she is co-posting this piece, at Tasting Twice.

I love this piece, as I love the love it reflects for the person about whom it is written. It is fitting that Christina Rossetti, who wrote her own book titled Feasts and Fasts should now, finally, have her own Feast Day. I hereby confer on Veronica the power to proclaim one. At least in the alternate universe known as Ben Camino's Ironic Advent Meditations. 

I know you will love it too. Stay tuned at the end for some music (the lyrics to which tiny Veronica loved to hate). 

Take it away, Veronica. 

Today is the 147th birthday of my personal saint, though she might not like me saying that (the saint part I mean). Too . . . papist she would say. She’s the kind of person who refused marriage proposals just because the guy was Catholic (she was a high-church Anglican). 

She might also be opposed to my mentioning her age – who knows, maybe Christina Rossetti is as sensitive about growing old as the rest of us – in which case, I’m sorry, Christina, but let’s face it, you’re no spring chicken. If, indeed, you are that sensitive, I guess I won’t tell you what Virginia Woolf had to say about you either.

When I was little, I had a volume of Christmas stories and poems that my mom kept on the top shelf of our built-in bookcase. I’d remember it every December and take it down and brush off the dust to read my favorites. Here’s the thing: I also took it down to read my least favorites. Because, in this collection of actual stories composed by real authors, the editors thought it would be cute to intersperse terrible writing from 8-year-olds who liked atrocious rhymes and trite phrasing. (What? No, no, I’ve never been elitist…) 

So, when I came upon the Christina Rossetti poem they included, I fully believed her to be some overly-pious, pigtailed girl from Newark who happened to wield meter and rhyme better than I could, and so I was mostly disdainful (but also secretly jealous that she had made the big-time). Every year this sappy last stanza would make tiny me almost lose my tiny mind with irritation:

"What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart."

You could say I was not yet a Christina Rossetti fan.

I met Christina for the second time in a Victorian Literature class taught by a smart and good human, the very same man who, in my final paper, told me that my ambitious thesis was both the paper’s greatest strength and greatest downfall. You should probably not listen to people who tell you this. They may be trying to mess with your mind. They may be idly exercising their rapier-sharp wit on your unsuspecting, overly-ambitious literary criticism. They may be trying to sell you a fortune cookie. But this professor happened to be, as I said before, smart and good and, most of all, right about the thesis, so I stuck with him. (Mostly. I did draw the line at Kipling. Can you blame me?)

Anyway(s), I liked “Goblin Market” well enough. If you haven’t read it, “Goblin Market” is a surprisingly sensual parable, “for children,” about not giving into temptation. But I especially loved her short autobiographical poems. Loved them. Like, check-out-all-the-Christina-Rossetti-biographies-the-library-has, loved

I guess you could say Christina snuck up on me when I was vulnerable, because the semester that I took Victorian Lit was not my best. I was fond of spending it in my room crying about what was wrong with me, or driving to Wal-Mart while crying about what was wrong with me, and sometimes I liked to mix things up by walking around campus while crying about what exactly was wrong with me.

Christina’s writing is, as one of her brothers puts it, “replete with the spirit of self-postponement.” In 21st century vernacular, she says no a lot. No to potential lovers, no to her own fiery temper, no to normal human desires. 

In many ways, Christina also looks a lot like Victorian women are supposed to look: gaunt, pale, repressed. But don’t be fooled. She nestles down in these barren places, carved by her own hand, and distills them into verse and legend. She writes with power, with clarity and feeling, finding ways to make her compulsion to fast – her greatest personal weakness – into her greatest artistic strength. 

I, too, am a faster and not a feaster, uncomfortable with excess, compelled to renounce. To hear a voice from the numbered lines of an anthology that seemed to be echoing all the things I thought wrong with me was an exceptional discovery. Christina seemed to be my literary counterpart, except of course far better with meter and rhyme and definitely not, after all, from Newark. I felt known by this woman, even over the years and over an ocean.

Now, in graduate school, I’ve spent this semester in another Victorian literature class. We read novels, not poetry, and we look at everything with a postcolonial squint, so Christina Rossetti is always only in my peripheral vision. Luckily, I’ve found new hobbies that mostly don’t involve crying or wondering what is wrong with me. But I remember that semester when she kept me company when no one else knew how to. 

I remember that her words were the reason I decided, on my visit to a new campus for a shiny new degree, to try out the words “I study Victorian literature. I am a Victorianist.” They’ve stuck, though her time in the literary-criticism-sun has not. Her “aesthetic of renunciation” is passé.

And yet – and yet.

I like to imagine what Christina Rossetti does when I, on occasion, ask her to pray for me. Every week I affirm that I believe in the communion of saints, so I figure it’s worth a shot. If she puts her prayers for me in rhyme and meter, all the better. I know I’m getting her mixed up with her brother Dante Gabriel’s poems, because in my mind, she’s a blessed damozel leaning over the rails of heaven, watching with bated breath for the college students who crack open their fuchsia Norton Anthology of English Literature (Volume E). 

I suppose she is up there today, perhaps still renouncing cake, along with the marriage proposals of Catholics and agnostics. But I hope that instead she is feasting on fullness, renouncing renunciation itself, learning the courage to say yes. That is what I ask her to pray for me.

You know what I think you should sing today? In between Mariah Carey and Pentatonix, of course? The poem Christina called simply “A Christmas Carol,” better known today as “In the Bleak Midwinter.” Do it for Christina. It’s her poem (the one I used to love to hate in my childhood Christmas book), now set to the music of Gustav Holst. 

If I’d slowed down to read the first few stanzas, all those years ago, I might have read between the lines. I might have heard the sadness of what she sang. I might have heard her battle with self, her tumultuous interiority, her hard-earned joy.

I hear it now.

Joe, Ben Camino’s friend and editor, just so happens to have recorded a version of the song and you can hear it if you click on this link yes this one right here.

Don’t say no. 


[This image of Saint Christina is actually from her brother's painting Ecce Ancilla Domini (also known as The Annunciation), featuring Christina as a rather angsty teenage Virgin Mary, apparently not THAT interested in the angel's announcement. Do yourself a favor and book a flight immediately to London to see the original painting in the Tate Gallery. Don't say no.]

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ironic Advent 2017 Meditation #2:The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook . . . and Stuff Like That

Ironic Advent 2017 Meditation #2:
The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation & Distress Tolerance 
and Stuff Like That 

Quite frankly, I have no idea what dialectical behavior therapy is, so I probably have NOT been developing any skills hitherto. Although, on the other hand, I probably didn't know what jumping was called when I first started doing it. Or burping. So maybe I'm good. Maybe my mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation and distress tolerance are AOK, right on target, just where they should be. Maybe.

Maybe, I said.

On the other other hand, I probably wouldn't be sitting in my grey Soul, with the seat jacked back just enough to feel like I'm not sitting at my office desk, staring at the bent faculty and staff only parking sign shrouded by a really ugly shrub, listening to really sad music which I wrote myself, and wondering if I will ever get the moral energy to put that parking decal that is sitting on my dashboard in its proper place on the rear window, if all was well with my soul (if I have one other than this car).  I mean, maybe my jumping and burping analogies don't apply. Maybe what I really need is some good old-fashioned emotional regulation. 

My therapist seems to think so. And I like him. And maybe I trust him. Maybe, I said. But for now, let's just say I like him. He wants me to get the DBSTW book and start doing the exercises. Well OK then, I like exercise. In fact, most weeks I work out at least three times. Because I  work out not to build my body but to take my mind off . . . my mind, I usually call it "hurting" rather than working out. There may be an exercise  in the book to cure me of that too. 

Still, I'm probably in better shape than most other writers who write a new just-in-time Ironic Advent Meditation every consecutive day of Advent (fit company though few*). And I used to like math homework. So . . . we shall see what we shall see, as my dad used to say (without the annoying ellipses). That's one of the memorable things he used to say that I can safely repeat in polite company. That you, my dear readers, are actually polite company may, in fact, be a polite fiction, but treating you politely, I'll just bet, is one of the first steps on the pathway to interpersonal effectiveness if not distress tolerance. Bingo! Win/win, as they say. Although if my therapist ever says it, I'm moving on.

Anyway(s), I'm spending most of the afternoon sitting in the car because I can't seem to move. Where is that big freakin' moon from last night? Where is the love for all things bright and beautiful (and dull and ugly for that matter) I felt so keenly not that many hours ago? Also, to quote Roberta Flack and Donnie Hathaway, Where is the love you said was mine all mine 'till the end of time? 
Also see: 
Where are the snows of yesteryear? (Villon) 
Where are the horse and rider? (Tolkien and every medieval writer who ever dipped ink) 
Where are the roses that so sweetened our eyes? (Sidney)
Where the hell are my reading glasses?

Did I mention Sir Philip Sidney? Dude could write. And when I say dude, I mean . . . Sir Philip Sidney. 

I can sense that some of my polite audience may be wondering, even murmuring, about my apparent failure to get into the swing of Adventing. What was all that I said about Charlie Brown attacking the football one more time? What about discerning the signs and looking ahead to the promised kingdom in which burping, jumping, and the love that fills the empty space shall rain (reign?) in our hearts like something something something?

First off, back off. I'm paying attention to the signs. That's all I'm doing. Faculty and Staff Only. And the sign is bent. I am giving it fuller attention than, perhaps it has ever had. Perhaps more than it deserves. And, in the background, just beyond the faded roses (did I mention Sir Philip Sidney?) on my dashboard, is the mostly hidden but still there prayer chapel. Standing proud against the sky like a monument to something something something, although temporarily effaced by a really ugly shrub (which may be just a really ugly young tree). 

And I am not driving off a cliff or hurting myself or anyone else (except to whatever degree I "work out" tonight). I'm just sitting. Having a hard time moving forward, but not skipping out on all the . . . things. Waiting. I'm as hopeful as can be for someone who isn't feeling hopeful. That will have to be enough. For heaven's sake. And for anyone else who cares to know. 

My therapist said I have to learn to live with some of this stuff, going ahead and letting it feel not-so-great (he said something else) but sometimes just sitting with it. I'm not sure, but I think he may have been trying to trick me into doing some exercises before I got the book. No fair. Trust issues, dude.

The lovely candy-cane ribbon on my rear-view mirror is rather scandalously hiding the rosary which always hangs there. Sort of like the ugly shrub hiding the prayer chapel only . . . seriously, isn't that the prettiest ribbon you've ever seen? It was just the wrapping around the wrapping of a gift. The wrapping was pretty too. As was the gift. But the ribbon is saving my life right now. [Oops, there I go again. My therapist says I'm dramatic. Have you ever heard of a histrionic personality, he asked? I laughed like a maniac when he said that. Some of you who know me know why. Uhhhh, yeah. Have YOU ever heard of Holden Caulfield, buddy? Taught me everything I know.]

Advent is not the gift, they say. It's just a time of waiting. Of longing. Of expecting. Of hoping. I think that's great. Maybe someday my Soul will rest, and, maybe love will fill the empty space. Maybe, I said. For now, I have a bleak day, a bent sign, a beautiful ribbon, some sad songs, a comfy car, a crappy view of the prayer chapel, and a book titled The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpresonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation & Distress Tolerance on order from Amazon Prime. 

I may not be the first person to be in this situation. I may not be the last. My therapist seems to think not. Maybe I trust him. Maybe, I said. 

Also, I have full parking privileges in the library lot, from 8:00 A.M.-5:00 P.M., MON-FRI. I'm not sure what I will do with those privileges tomorrow. Perhaps howl for joy if that crazy moon gives a return performance. Possibly just sit here scanning the horizon, reading the impossible words of Isaiah 2:4. Holding on to something. Like a ribbon. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Ironic Advent 2017 #1: A Landslide Brought It Down and Other Things That Sound Like They Mean Something

Ironic Advent 2017 #1: A Landslide Brought It Down 
and Other Things That Sound Like They Actually Mean Something

[a rare actual photo of Ben Camino, engulfed by a big, freakin' moon]

It's been a beautiful day or two, for December, if you can stand ordinary time. Me, I've been chomping at the bit for Advent to get here, so it's been a pain, global warming and all. Yes, last night the sky was amazing, including the forerunner to tonight's even-more-amazing moon. The clouds were unlike any I'd ever seen before in texture. OK, maybe I'm exaggerating, but it's time you start readjusting to the Ben Camino universe dear ones where the difference between reality and . . . what I tell you to think gets blurry. 

Anyway, or anyways as a former good friend of mine used to say and my daughter Jennifer still does, the sky was just . . . whoa. So, because I was in Ohio, I happened to comment to an Ohioan how whoa the sky was. And, of course, being an Ohioan, never to be outdone by a Hoosier, my respondent assured me that the sky in Ohio was quite regularly this irregular and, in fact, was invariably weird. I gave up, at least for the time being, knowing I would have an opportunity for payback in my first Ironic Advent post for 2017. 

In a minute I'm going to talk about the big freakin' moon. Right now I just want to say how sad it is that I, Ben Camino, also known as your Advent servant, am inside writing this meditation, while THAT moon is still out there haunting us. I'm getting texts that say things like "look at the moon," by people who must a.) think I have lost my eyesight or b.) know that I'm probably just being morose and refusing to acknowledge the beauty of the creation of c.) writing an Ironic Advent Meditation. More on the moon in a minute. And I promise that I will eventually get to "Landslide (brought it down)." 

But I realize that some of you may have some questions about Advent. And, even more of you, who may (but probably don't) understand Advent, have questions about Ben Camino and Ironic Advent Meditations. To you good people I say the following: please don't make me go through all this again. At least not yet. For several years now, I have written these meditations during the season of Advent (and usually twelve more for the twelve days of Christmas). I can't explain what Advent is right now, but here is a link to a previous attempt. And the best way to understand Ben Camino and Ironic Advent Meditations is to read them all tonight before you go to bed, starting with the ones from December 2012. If not, you can just relax and learn as you go (and read some of the old ones when you have some extra time). 

Anyway(s), that is some big freakin' moon out there. And if you are in some part of the Muggle universe that doesn't have access to . . . the moon, please refer to the photo of me above, taken earlier tonight on the bridge over the Sydney Harbour. You doubt this, Muggle? And everybody is all crazy about the moon, giving it cool names, like cold moon, and doing strange dances to mandolin music. Oh, no, that was the little girls who were dancing to my song tonight at the public library. But still, it might have been the moon too. Earlier (ten minutes ago) I did some in-depth research through the first-thing-that-comes-up-on-Google-Search method when I typed in "big, freakin' moon on December 3" and this is what I got:

"In December, winter sets in and the Full Moon is called the Cold Moon. It is also called Long Nights Moon, and the Moon before Yule. ... The December Full Moon is also called Oak Moon, while a Celtic name was Wolf Moon." 

A likely story. That's someone's way of saying that they have no earthly (intended) idea what this moon is called (interestingly, the article goes on to say that "in Ohio culture, it is commonly known as the plain old ordinary everyday Moon and they are not amazed"). I say, if you call it everything then you are calling it nothing. But  Ben Camino, who lives in the alternate universe of the liturgical year, knows. It's called the big freakin' Advent Moon

Consider the gospel reading of the day from Saint Luke, not to mention the ones from the Book of Bokonon which I will omit for the present.   

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon [the Amplified Version has BIG FREAKIN' MOON], and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay,
perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People* will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
And then they will see the Son of Man
coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

[*the original Greek excludes Ohioans who will have no reaction] 

Are you seeing what I'm seeing? Nations in dismay. Big Freakin' Full Cold Long Nights Yule Oak Wolf Moon. People are afraid, wondering what in hayall is going on down on our little planet under the big freakin' moon. 

Which reminds me of this guy I met at an open mic a couple of weeks ago. I wrote a poem about it. It goes like this. 

Strangely moved tonight
by the old hippy (with the perfect white pony tail)
not at all hiding his hearing aid
required no doubt by way too much Led Zeppelin II once upon a 70s time
covering Stevie Nick's "Landslide"
complete with billy goat treble
probably just his own voice now
not an imitation of her or anyone else's 
particular billy boat treble
he omits though the gypsy dance moves
and pouty lips 
which I would have thought obligatory for a Stevie Nicks' song.
it is, in truth, a lovely song though
though I'm afraid it really more feels like it means something
than it really does mean something
which may be what it means
at least to me
sitting here waiting to do my own song
which one guy who heard it called
"the saddest song ever written" 
although I'm working to remedy that

Whoa! That has to be the worst transition ever by Ben Camino. Let's just say I'm kind of anxious to get outside and howl for awhile. I have always thought it understandable how pagans of all sorts have worshiped the moon. I am at my most "religious," I suppose,  when I consider the heavens, including the moon. Which religion is not always clear. 

Anyway(s), I keep thinking I know what "Landslide" is about, and I'm sure that most people either know or think they know. It's doesn't seem to be a particularly complex song. But it doesn't work. Not really. I've looked at it several times with this in mind, and I will share the diagrams upon request. For now, let me once again say that it is indeed a lovely song. And it's kind of sad. I think. And I'm not sure what else, including what "it" the landslide brought down. IF you know, don't tell me. Don't ruin my love of ambiguity. 

And the moon? OK, give it all the names that Google Search can come up with. Here are the most important things about this moon: Awe, loveliness, fear, worship, majesty, a god, the feeling that I'm not a god, LOVE.

I don't know what comes next. People dying of fright? The Son of Man coming in power? A baby born in Bethlehem or Benghazi? More old guys covering Stevie Nicks?

I love words. And I love what they tell us. And I know that most of what words tell us is how lovely words are and how hard it is to understand anything down here under the moon. Under the heavens (whatever that means). 

"Words and music will never touch the beauty that I see in you" wrote Jackson Browne. I'd say that words and music are just about as haunted as . . . the rest of the universe. And maybe that's why I like a haunted song like"Landslide" (whatever version, with or without gypsy dance and pouty lips). And maybe that's why I love Advent. 

Like Charlie Brown deciding again to kick the football, I keep coming back. I guess I'm hoping or maybe dreaming that this year the football of meaning and love will stabilize a bit. I feel what I really hope for, although I'm not sure if I can say it. In "Weight of Glory," C. S. Lewis said “In speaking of this desire for our own far off country . . . I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia." Like Cold Moon. Like Christmas. Like the heavens. Like the saddest song ever written. We gesture towards it. It might take a god to rip it out of us.

In fact, the other day, a god came down to Ohio and ripped open the hearts of a few thousand people who had seen it all and knew how ordinary it all was. The locals said it was nothing special. Sadly, for them, they were right. 

The moon is still shining, and I'm headed out to get my heart ripped open. Again. If I live through the apocalypses promised in today's gospel, I promise to waste several thousand words in the weeks ahead on you my friends, my readers, my judges, my secret admirers, my would-be assassins.

You will all misunderstand my words. This is what we Can know. But I hope they touch you, sadden you, thrill you, anger you, haunt you, elate you, and rip you open. Yes, I've got my annual Advent ache, not to be confused with my usual everyday ache which never goes away. 

It's the first Sunday of Advent. Let's go. I'm sending you a text: "look at the moon." 

And another one: "people don't keep covering 'Landslide' because they understand it. They cover it because they want to possess its beauty. Because, like the moon, it's not-so-hidden message is that everything glows. Including us, unless we insist on our inner Ohios"

Buen Camino kids.  

[ a rare actual photo of Ben Camino on a raft somewhere engulfed by a big freakin' moon]