Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Ironic Advent 2017 Meditation #17 Approximately: Ben Camino's Behind

Ironic Advent 2017 Meditation Approximately #17: 
Ben Camino's Behind*

Ben Camino has gotten behind on everything, due to his inability to stay ahead or even keep up with everything. It sort of reminds me of the end of that Renaissance poem by Andrew Marvell  called "Running on Empty." 

Wait, no. That was Jackson Browne, who had a habit of doing upbeat songs about being downbeat (see, or hear, his bouncy little tune called "Fountain of Sorrow"). I used to have that problem. Not any more. 

Last night I saw a guy who had previously only ever heard one of my songs, but had heard it multiple times. After the last time, he told me it was the saddest song ever writtenIt's a compliment, he said. In truth, I used to have to wrestle with that song to keep it from being bouncy (as I said, see, or hear, Jackson Browne's "Running on Empty" and "Fountain of Sorrow" in which the poet/composer failed to wrestle well). 

Anyway, or anyway(s) as we say in the Ben Camino universe, I told the guy that I took it not so much as a compliment but as a challenge. Then last night I played another pretty sad song (both pretty sad and pretty and sad, I hope). But first I introduced it with the story of his compliment, my challenge. That, by the way, is a personality type not inventoried by any of the personality type inventory thingees thus-far dreamed up by people who make money off stuff like that. The type of person(ality) that takes compliments as challenges. My type. 

He listened. He liked it. He said it was beautiful and sad. I'm trying to figure out if I can use that as a challenge or not. 

In the meantime, and I do mean mean, I've been suffering through something that might be a spirtual malaise, it might be emotional exhaustion.  Burnout, was a friend's ugly word choice, but when I said so, she came back with: since when is Ben Camino afraid of ugly words? 

Hmmm. Touché! 

I responded: since when is Ben Camino afraid of  . . . italics? or  . . . parantheses? or . . . ellipses?

As I say, Andrew Marvell did NOT write "Running on Empty." He wrote "To His Coy Mistress," which every student of  Renaissance Literature (who paid attention at least) knows is NOT about the poet's mistress or about love or even about being coy. It's about time and our exhausting, losing race against it. And the gargantuan will in some of us to exhaust ourselves in a race we are doomed to lose. 

Anyway(s), I got tired and sort of fell apart for a few days. My dog was dying, my Christmas plans were a little confusing, my focus was wandering, I spent long periods staring out at blank wintry landscapes. And I forgot to eat anything except holiday sugar and dough. 

So then, Rorie, the lovely crazy little dog died. Jenny, my beautiful daughter beautifully held her in her arms for the last few days of her life and was with her as she gasped her last breaths. Her last bits of breath/life were drained out. Which, by the way, is the root meaning of ex-hausted

I sighed deeply, breath draining out of my body. Without planning to, I sobbed for awhile, water draining out of my body through my eyes. I made some split pea soup and remembered to eat some of it. I finished my grading. Worked on the newest saddest song ever written (my response to the compliment/challenge). Booked my daughter a ticket to Texas to celebrate Christmas with family and, I hope, rest from her own physical and emotional exhaustion. 

My friend texted, trying to help, apologizing for the literal world of hurt. Agreeing with me and every other child born into this world as sparks fly upwards that it's. not. fair. I appreciated that. But, in a rare moment of sanity, I replied: 

Short version. People are fleeing for their lives, living in refugee camps, being martyred, losing every damn thing they have. At some point, we have to conclude that my whimpering means that I am a wimp. 

Also, some people chose to care about my little pain, though it does them no specific good. I am blessed, but my blessing detection radar is malfunctioning. 

This may be what we mean by emotional exhaustion. 

Of course, this is supposed to be an Ironic Advent Meditation, so, structurally, we have necessarily come to the spot when Ben Camino turns a thousand words or so on the fulcrum of meaning known as the and yet, and yet trope (Toth, Veronica 2017) and explains how this is all connected to the Third Sunday of Advent and the prophecy of Isaiah and the preaching of John the Baptist and how they ran out of communion wine at church on Sunday and so forth. 

To tell you the truth, which is all Ben Camino has ever tried to do (don't look me in the eyes), Adventing this piece hasn't been in the front of my mind up until now (OK, if you know me, you know that I am hoping that somebody out there admires my ironic gerunding of the liturgical year)

Really, I just thought I would write an update explaining why I have fallen behind on these meditations. I didn't want the Jennifers and my two readers in Scotland to fear that I had forsaken them. We can agree that the world is a fearful place enough already without that. 

And THEN (exhausted yet?) I was going to link that brief (oops!) apology to a meditation I actually wrote the other day  but never published for reasons  I have explained above. Or perhaps they are inexplicable (a word much less ugly than burnout).  

Had we but world enough and time
I would still do so guys.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near; 
And yonder all before us lie 
Deserts of vast eternity. (italicized stuff is from Marvell's poem) 

Also, this meditation is already kuhrazy long, and I have GOT to pack up (five guitars, check; mandolin and banjo, check; box of Clif Bars, check; Guadalupe candle, check) and head for Texas because timeisrunningoutfolks. 

I had already promised, pre-burnout  that I would be down there in time for my brother Noel's birthday. That ain't gon' happen as they say in Dallas. The new goal is to be there at least in time to pick up Jenny from the airport in Austin on the morning of the 22nd.

If I'm still around and, as granny used to say, if the Lord's coming tarries . . . (WHAAAAT? THAT is my connection to Advent!), I will meet you here tomorrow. 

Seriously, love you guys. You are so worth my time, but, like Andrew Marvell's narrator, I'm running out of it. If you promise to be good, OK if you just promise to click on the appropriate link (which is sometimes as much as we can expect), tomorrow I will share something pretty and sad (and pretty sad) about my brother Noel. He was born on December 2oth and brought home to our little house in McAllen, Texas on Christmas morning. One of my earliest memories. 

Imagine that for a Christmas gift! Well, I guess that's pretty much what all the commotion is about at Christmas anyway(s). The baby. And the telling about the baby. And the singing about the baby. And the exhausted people waiting for the baby (sometimes singing pretty sad songs). 

In the meantime, and I do mean mean, I'm using the weirdly perfect journal which I wrote my still unpublished meditation about (and in) last week to keep track of some things. 

I'm filling it with good things, mostly. Not necessarily happy things. Because many of the best things include the possibility and/or reality of hurt. Mary had a baby, yes lord. And a sword in her heart. 

I'm also tracking you folks out there. You do some amazing stuff. You reach out and give, sometimes in difficult situations. That's a beautiful thing. Pretty and sad. Just so you know, I'm keeping track. In my weirdly perfect journal (yes, yes, I will explain). 

I'm writing it down because, as I said, I am blessed, but my blessing detection radar is malfunctioning

Yes, I probably need a few days off. maybe longer. But for now, I'm picturing my exhausted daughter holding her little dog as her little dog soul literally exhausts. 

I'm picturing kind people who care about the little hurts of wimps like me. I'm picturing the people, some I know and some I don't know, who are caring about and doing something about the more difficult, complicated sufferings of those for whom the world has become hell. 

You bring them comfort and joy and language skills and food and shelter and hope and sometimes just a voice on the other end of the hotline. 

And I'm picturing the day when the saddest song ever written intertwines with the dance song of the universe, a bouncy tune co-written by yours truly, Andrew Marvell, Jackson Browne, and a square cat some folks call Gabriel. 

Here's a pretty but now pretty and sad picture of Jenny and Rorie at a music festival in Nashville a few months ago. 

*Wait, you thought I meant, Ben Camino's  . . . beehind (as they say in Dallas)? Who are you? I don't even know you? 


Friday, December 15, 2017

Ironic Advent 2017 Meditation #13 or so: Journals are People Too

Ironic Advent 2017 Meditation #13 or so: 
Journals Are People Too


(Really Long) Note to Reader: 

Dear Reader, 

This meditation was written on December the 15th, almost a week ago. For various reasons, I failed to post it or decided not to post it at the time. I was going to ask for a response from some of the people who were involved in the story it tells before I published it. That sort of worked but only sort of.

Plus, as I mentioned in my last post, I got hit with a bad case of emotional exhaustion or whatever people want to call it. One friend used the ugly word burnout. I was forgiving, but don't try that 70x7 times. Not with me anyway(s).

I hope this will help explain the out-of-order number of this meditation (#13 or so) AND the strange time references (when I write yesterday, that refers to December 14, for example). I now feel compelled to publish it because I know the Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize probably want to make their decisions before New Year's Eve. 

This meditation also features a first public look at Ben Camino's bad handwriting. Just because I have ugly handwriting that doesn't mean I am willing to use ugly words like burnout, except when quoting someone else who probably has perfect handwriting but inferior diction. You will notice that the picture above features the opening lines of this meditation written in a journal. It will help you to remember that moving forward. It helps make sense of things, if anything can in the Ben Camino universe. 

Speaking of such, the Ben Camino universe has moved, momentarily to Austin, Texas, where it is warm, even muggy, where the dogs and birds and cats have gone to sleep, where a pint of Bluebell ice cream was hiding in the freezer just for my ironic pleasure, and where a bed is waiting for me to stretch my tired and very crumpled up body after 20 hours of driving (accomplished in 24 hours, which was made easier by the fact that this was the shortest day of the year. And, yes, I know, that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever) after I finish posting this tardy but heart-felt meditation. 

In closing (to this gash of an opening), I wish and pray Advent blessings on y'all all, as we say in Texas, at least when we are at Missy's house. If our blessing radar is in order, and if we care enough to look, we are given and/or we discover new wonderful things every day in this sad old universe.

Unfortunately, the last few days, we have been reminded again of how much we lose and how much is taken away. The world lost a beautiful soul named Josh Vahle this week. His family, his friends, and many of my friends, are sitting with that reality tonight. And will wake up to it again tomorrow, when there will be viewing service in preparation for the burial on Saturday.  

At the same time, my family and I are still remembering my brother Noel, whose birthday was yesterday, and who left us too early, just a few years ago.  And I know this might seem trivial to some people, but we are still hurting, too, from the death of our family dog on Sunday morning (I wrote a piece on Noel, gifts, loss, and even the loss of a dog in December 2013, shortly after Noel's death.)

A rather trite phrase has become quite popular in recent years to register shock, and sometimes loss. It is often used ironically, as far as I can tell. It is:  No words

Hmmm. No Words. In the case of the kinds of gifts and griefs, presents (and presence) and takeaways, that make up so much of the fabric of lives that go deep, we can honestly say that No Words makes a lot of sense because words never seem adequate or full enough to unpack those meanings we feel, perhaps, more than speak. And yet, and yet. Could it be that it is just these words (and perhaps music and color and design) which are the gifts we are given/the tools we must use to scratch the nearly impenetrable, seemingly inscrutable surface of both grief and joy, even if sometimes those words are just so many version of Alas or Alleluia

No Words are ever enough, because they don't, that is, explain away anything. But, sometimes at least, words can be a quest rather than a summation. Maybe we should all speak our sentences like my son Nathan who lilts up at the end, as if everything were a question. As if asking for your participation in the meaningmaking.

Ben Camino, your humble servant (no I'm not), is not as doltish as he sometimes seems. He knows that he does, indeed, talk (or write) too much. The fact is that he's trying to do something other than please the folks at the Ironic Advent Meditation Manual of Style (copyright Ben Camino 2017) or any manual of style for that matter (copyright whom the hell ever whenever).  In fact, he's trying to do something other than please you, dear reader (as harsh as that may sound to you, given all the nice things your parents say about you)

As Annie Dillard would say, I'm trying to be a miner and words are my pick. Or a woodcarver and words are my gouge. Or a surgeon and words are my probe. Only (this is me not Annie now) I'm not digging or trying to dig rocks, wood, or even bodies. I dig (all meanings) and gouge and probe mysteries. And I still haven't found what I'm looking for. 

If you dig to(o), stay with me, chant Alleluia and Alas with me in myriad variant forms, read (with) me, and sometimes, with me, slap your hand over your mouth in awe, wonder, and sorrow when we know we have come, once again, to what appears to be an epiphany or an apocalypse. Then we will try to eat a good breakfast (I recommend my veggie scramble), do some deep breathing, and start again. 

And, so, the journal meditation. 


The day after Ben Camino wrote about the physical remainders/reminders of those friends who are dear to us (who says Ben's not in "the Christmas Spirit"?), something weird happened. Really weird. No, weirder than you are thinking right now. It was ironic. And wyrd. In the medieval sense. 

If you don't know what I'm talking about with all this remainder/reminder stuff, you might need to take a glance at last night's (early this morning in Nova Scotia) Ironic Advent Meditation, "The Things We Carry (for Love)." (That was posted on December 14).

Last night, my dear friends (the Gormans), the parents of a dear young friend (his name was Tripp) who left our presence way too early, gave me something really precious. One of the most amazing, thoughtful, beautiful gifts--Christmas, Advent, or otherwise--I have ever received. It was Tripp's mandolin. Dirty, out of tune, slightly (maybe more than slightly) damaged, and did I already say dirty? It was not only a reminder of him but it also literally contained/retained his touch, his skin cells, his germs, his  . . . dirt (did I already mention that?). 

I wrote that up last night. You should read it, but to do so, you will have to backspace from here and go back and find the link. It's not that difficult. You just find the highlighted words, pray to the billions of uncaring stars above, hope the link isn't broken, and click. It works about 23% of the time. 

I like what I wrote last night. I usually do, even though it sometimes kills me to do it. I don't write for writing consumers. I don't write product. I'd rather go blind (Foster/Jordan, do yourself a favor and listen to the Etta James version). Nobody pays for this stuff. Except in blood and guts. OK, I'm not sure what that means. But I write to help people hurt, heal, cry, laugh, dance, throw my writing across the room (breaking their computers and/or phones by doing so), give up being shallow and stupid, take longer walks, and decide to stay alive for yet one more day (even if just to see what I write tomorrow). 

Sometimes I even tell the truth. As I did last night. 

Well here is the weird ironic truth of today. 

I got another amazing gift. Today. And yes, yes, I know that I'm on record as complaining about Advent gift-giving, but could we just do a little compartmentalizing for minute so I can get through this meditation without crying? 

And here's the thing. The thing. I got the exact same amazing, thoughtful, beautiful gift from another person exactly one year ago. Truth check: I didn't actually check my calendar from last December, and even if I had, I don't write stuff like that down, BUT anyway(s), it was exactly a year ago BCT (Ben Camino Time.)   

It was a journal (not any journal, but a new copy of the same brand of awesome  hand-made journal).  The kind you give someone who likes to write. Usually given by people who like to write. And who think, ahead of time, that the gift would mean something special to you. 
I loved the one I got last year so much that I immediately went out and bought some almost just like it (but not exactly like this one) and gave them as gifts to people I cared about. I mentioned it in one or maybe even two Ironic Advent Meditations last year. I loved that gift. More than loved it. I lurved it.  And I filled that baby up.

Even though I keep many things (Too many things if you listen to some people. Just the right amount of things, though, in the mind of the moon goddess and the howling wolves of the forest who serve her. I listen to them, in case you wondered. Not to the people who say you keep too many things), I don't have that journal now. 

I left my blood (OK, not literal) and guts (also not literal) and ink (literal!) and dirt (literal, but not intentional) and germs (ditto) and skin cells (hmmm, thinking about that one) on it and in it. And now I don't have it. The Gorman's don't have Tripp's mandolin anymore. They don't have Tripp anymore either. 

Perhaps this nasty habit of losing things and people is just what we call  what life is like down here under the cruel moon goddess and her pack of howling wolves. And yet. And yet. Perhaps we call it this: you hold on until, for some reason necessary or not, you don't. Or until you can't. Letting go is also called giving. Unless you're just throwing stuff in the dump which I call cuss word cuss word cuss word

I had it for awhile. It was a lovely gift. I don't have it now. And I just about got used to the fact that this is what happens down here (cue the howling wolves). And then I got another one. Wow. Just wow. And other things people say when they want to say wow just wow. Totally random on the human level. But on the level of, say,  Chinese restaurant fortune cookies, very very meaningful.

And the note attached said: "this one reminded me of you, and seemed to almost emanate a mournful sigh when I saw it." Whaaaaat? Truth be told (and that's all Ben Camino really wants to do dear friends), I didn't read that when I got the note, because I saw the gift, and I stopped reading. And I stopped in my tracks,  stopped breathing, stopped eating sugar, stopped ordering books on amazon.com, stopped writing poems to the moon goddess. I was all like . . . really? with the universe. Don't worry, it didn't last too long.

Well, I finally did read the note. Are you joking me? I thought. That's a little thing I say sometimes when I'm tired of using prepositions my sentences (oops, did it again). 

Well, alright then. Here we are friends.  In a world of Adventy things. Waiting. Emptiness. Promises. Hopeishness. Holding on ness. Throwing away ness. What to do? What to do? 

Perhaps some of the following thoughts make little enough sense to be truly beautiful. I mean they probably won't make sense to those who throw life away but they might make sense to those who want to embrace it, hold it tight, and yet . . . still (fooled you!) . . . open our furry paws and let go because that too is a gift. 

And so. Our new Statement of Principles (see Orson Welles, Citizen Kane):  

*Bless the moon goddess and all her howling wolves.  

*Bless the Givers of mandolins, germs, human and divine seeds and eggs, skin cells, poems, songs, friendship, flowers, meditations (ironic and non-), lessons (in language, writing, courage, kissing, dancing), doodles, and beautiful journals waiting to be filled with more gifts. 

*And Thai food. Also the givers of Thai food.

*Bless people who get you (OK, I mean get me). Even if it's just one a year. A year ago sort of exactly. A few hours ago exactly. Whatevs. 

*Bless people who make unnecessary apologies, who don't go see Star Wars on the first night (and those who do), those who pray for their dogs and those who grieve because they don't have one. 

I wonder if I've ever been the person who gave someone the exact same gift the second time around? I hope that I will be if I haven't been yet. And I hope that what I do with the gifts I've been given, by such thoughtful friends (human and divine), will be worthy of them. 

Sometimes I seem hopeless. I hope I will fill my miracle journal with hopes. 

I hope that my howlings will be holy. That my songs will be sad enough. That I will give up being shallow and stupid, take longer walks, and decide to stay alive for yet one more day. And give sweet gifts.