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Exactly two kinds

Sunday 6/16/19

There are exactly two kinds of non-evil people in the world. No more, no less. You are in one group, or the other. Inclusion in a group, paradoxically, does not preclude you from being evil. You can be that multi-faceted, even if you are simple; these are different things. But there are what I call trench people, and what I call convalescent people. Convalescent people are people who will give you a loaf of bread if you knock on their door starving. You can be starving, and they won't necessarily help you, or care, unless you are in front of their face. Sometimes in front of their face repeatedly. A convalescent person will let you stay overnight in their guest room after you broke your leg. You're going to be ancillary to them, no matter the degree or depth of your suffering. They might help you out with money, they might take your kids for a weekend while you try and work things out with your spouse, they might let you use their pool, they might sit on the phone and let you talk--but not actively listen.


Life is a series of gaps, gaps bridged, gaps ignored, gaps widened. Life is about stacks and gaps. There are stacks of things, gaps between them. The space of those gaps, is what life comes down to. The gap between hearing and listening is among our widest gaps. People don't know the difference. Listening is something hard, active, and both harder and requiring more activeness than speaking. All great writers--and artists--are great listeners. I'm not sure I've ever known a listener. What people confuse goodness and decency with is sitting on a phone. Like it's punching a time card. But it's just occupying space--showing someone else that you're still willing to be breathing within their earshot--when it's not listening. Convalescent people go to the bar with you. But when you're jumped, and people start breaking chairs over your head, and you're badly outnumbered, and to help you is to risk a lesser degree of the same fate, the convalescent person has gone out the back door. But, later, on, say, Facebook, they might post something on your behalf.


A trench person is someone in your trench. Assuming the residual effect of what you are going through. They work to be in your trench, which means being present, actively listening, actively seeking solutions, finding ways rather than excuses. If they are doing something that they could jettison in order to do something else that is better for you, they find that way, they do that. Ours is the great age of the excuse. Hardly anyone has a clue, fewer people have a purpose, not many people have an understanding of time and significance, but everyone has an excuse. The trench person has fixed bayonets on your behalf, and they understand that they can be run through the gut as well, because while they are not you and do not feel what you feel with your proximity to those feelings, they are constantly leaping, off of two feet, off of running starts, to get as close to those feelings as possible, to understand. They have virtue, strength, the courage of empathy, the courage of humility, the courage of being able to say, to themselves, "I got this wrong, I am doing this part of my life wrong, and it's impacting my best relationships. I may not have many relationships that truly matter, but this one does; one of my places--and I have several, even many--but one of them is in that trench. If they can do what they do, I can do my inevitably lesser version of it to help, as they would for me, as they add to my life."


And that's it. You're one or the other. I'm a trench person, but I've never actually known one. An angry person can't be a trench person. They will flip out--and often, they'll flip out at you--if things are not going how they think they should be going, or ought to be going, or how you deserve them to be going. They might have concern for you, but their anger over the state you are in, and the iniquity of that, will, ironically, cause them to load up on you. You are in proximity. You are the easy target. Their anger has to go somewhere if it is not broken up, mastered, repurposed. You'll pay for having trusted them, when you needed a trench person. What is causing you pain is likely further away, not people or things that that person you tried to entrust can contact or confront directly in an attempt to fix the situation. A trench person can't have an ego. They have to be capable of change. I have changed so many times in my life. I have changed so many times in the past seven years. I have changed as a person, an artist, over and over again, such that for all that underpins what I am, I am a chrysalis. You see it in these pages, you certainly see it in the broad, constantly morphing, super-charged body of diverse artistic works. I've changed physically, emotionally, mentally. I constantly evolve, I seek new methods and means, and each time I find new ones, they don't work and they set me back further because I am getting better, and in my industry, that makes you despised. I remember how when Molly left and did what she did, the greatest, most stunning act of betrayal I've ever heard about, read about, seen depicted in film, encountered in opera, viewed in the Bible, I walked around for many months ripping myself to shreds. I blamed myself for everything. And I should have blamed myself for little. I knew a sublimely evil person. But I think about the people who also ripped me to shreds. Because that was just the direction of the theme at the time. And I think when we see someone "fall," whom we consider above or beyond us or both, it's a rare person who doesn't take some pleasure in that, and having lived that, I will never believe that people are otherwise. No matter how close they are to you or ought to be to you.


I was talking to someone recently about John Watson and Sherlock Holmes, and their friendship, because I think friendship is largely dead. I don't think people have friends anymore, or know how to be friends. People of older generations do more so; that's a carryover effect from earlier times. But people under fifty? They don't have friends. They have virtual friends. They have their immediate family. They go to a job that they usually don't care about, they lie to themselves about how busy they are even though everything now is easier than ever--more convenient--and they don't know what it means to be a friend in a manner other than leaning across their fence to their neighbor, when you're both mowing the lawn, and asking if you think the Sox are going to win the Division this year.


Friendship takes too much time, commitment, vulnerability; it's too active a pursuit, with no guarantees, in our age of instant--though faux--gratification--and whinging about demands upon our time. I know someone who does not work, who thinks they know about life, who knows very little about life, who lives a sheltered life, who remarked to me that if they read much of my work, because of the time demands, their children would be neglected. Just the work of one single author. And I think, wow, you have no clue what real life is. What real pressure is. Real purpose. Realo challenges. Real dedication. The harder thing for me is, people watch--they can watch even via this journal, which is, I fully grant, piecemeal, so far as its accounting of what I do on a daily basis--and they still have the temerity to say this to me, of all people. There used to be an expression, balls of brass, but this isn't balls, its ignorance and hubris and fear; fear that you're not enough, that you don't do life right, that you made your choices because they were the simplest and easiest, the most rote, the path of least resistance, because you didn't know what the hell else to do. Life by default, not life by striving. And that saved you the stress, the panic. And they'll float passive aggressive remarks meant as compliments down the little stream of communication that is all that connects you, save, perhaps, duty, about how you are "complicated." It always rings like a pejorative. But it's meant to appease their sense of self, which is tenuous, not accurately summarize you. Sometimes its less about complication, anyway, than seeking to grow, by the hour, with purpose, and to truly make this life and this world a better place for people whom you will never know, whom you actually have love for, in a larger way than maybe anyone but the artist can understand, even in those moments in your life--sustained moments, too--when you are absolutely, totally, terrifyingly alone.


A trench person has to have art as a real presence in this life. I think about the people I know, have known, stopped knowing, and how devoid of art their lives are, were, will remain. People of leisure, people with days marked by such simplicity their lives would have bored me when I was two, people with money and time. And I think, how could you really know that much about life if you don't take any time to see what the great minds, the wisest there have been, think, what those minds know about us, what they knew about the people in possession of those minds, and how they moved the personal to the universal so we could all espy ourselves in that amazing, vital mirror that so few humans have been human enough to make for the rest of us? Then I think, let's say you believe you only go around once, that you have one life to live, and it's finite, it's seventy or eighty years--I don't believe this personally, but let's go with it; you really want to leave that life not knowing what Beethoven was about, and Shakespeare, and Van Gogh, and Welles? The six dollar drink at Starbucks is enough for you? And Netflix? And The Office and not even the good version of The Office at that? And you are an advice-dispenser? You're a speck. How could you be other than a speck? But you see, a self-aware speck has a chance to be so much more. Because it has no ego. When there is no ego, there is not insecurity. The constancy is a market for new skins. New selves. Higher planes. Greater cognizance. That's what Socratic wisdom is. Who has it?


Anyway, my conversation partner remarked that Watson had to give up so much, he had to basically forfeit his life, to be a trench person with Sherlock Holmes. Not true. Watson was married twice. Those two guys were not always roommates. One time Watson got married and inherited a mess of kids. And he was a doctor, of course. But he made it work. And sometimes we make things work for the very simple reason that we have to because they are important to us. You can gauge how important you are to someone by how hard they are going to work to make it work. I don't mean by putting up with your torrents of abuse and your last crack-fueled crime spree. I mean with empathy and effort. Active friendship. Suspended ego. Perspective. Active listening. Recollection of earlier remarks, promises made, heartfelt words you had worked your ass off, over longer periods of time, to make clear to them; it is remarkable how quickly someone can cheapen, even deny, cancel out, your entire existence, or large parts of it, blowing up years of what you thought were conversations entered into in good faith, trust, and love, by essentially gaslighting you, making it sound as if you had never once mentioned, expatiated upon with such care, a particular source of torment, one of your larger problems, mapping it out, the threat it posed, what it had cost you thus far, how it might be attacked and solved. We emotionally gaslight people all of the time now. Sometimes for the simple fact that we were never really listening in the first place. Rare is the person who even says, "I wonder how I would feel if such and such was happening to me," or, "I wonder what their day looks like right now, what it actually looks like, how it unfolds, what it looks like to sit and cry, to press your back against the wall at the train station when you feel temptation when the next car comes in, to receive ten items of staggeringly bad news, to be alone all day, every day, to be despised by thousands of people because of unique virtues."


One of our most powerful of opiates is "out of sight, out of mind." A convalescent person likes to know that the person they nominally, theoretically care about, the person they'd send a Starbucks gift card to, or put up while they recovered from their car crash, is alive, and, presumably, trying. They can think "someday it will get better," which also means, "not my problem" or "this is upsetting, I don't want to think about this, I just got that six dollar Starbucks drink and I was looking forward to that." That can move you out of their thoughts. They don't want you back in their thoughts, because they're often burdened with guilt. No one likes guilt. Usually, the people who are the cause of our guilt, because of how we have behaved towards them, are the people who pay the price of our guilt. The angrier a person is--and there is more anger than ever in this world, and by that, I mean within individual human hearts, directed at the individual owner of that heart--the higher that price is. When that person objects to treatment, to the out of sight, out of mind mode of behavior, a charge is immediately filed that an attack has been perpetuated. People go right to that word "attack" now; the twenty-three-year-old liberal arts college trust fund SJW goes just as quickly to that word as the mid-forties tough guy contractor, the very first moment the note of truth isn't so much sounded, as suggested; you can qualify it with a "maybe," or a "don't you think," but make no mistake, the other person sees an attack. This is what I mean about being able to be accountable, to not have an ego, to accept, to change, to own, to grow. People don't do that. Things evolve in nature, things devolve and are eradicated right out of society and basic human interaction and decency and character. This is one of them.


Today is Father's Day. My father is dead in some ways, alive in others. He'd probably be more alive to me, personally, if I had a different life, if I was not involved in this unique life and quest, which even I do not understand at points; in the sense that, can one person, one human, do what it seems I must do, in order to have ever really existed at all. Is this all for that? For the larger story? Is there some reason or plan to what I can do, do do, and what has happened thus far? Because if certain atrocious, scarcely believable things had not happened as they did, I would not be the artist I am, and while I know that is a historically unique artist, it's not helping, it's making things worse; is the getting worse of these things part of what will make the end result so glorious and necessary and far-ranging and impactful? Had I been a regular person, leading a life that at least some people had lived, my father would probably be more alive to me, because I could draw on what he would do in a given situation. I don't know if my dad was a trench person. I didn't know him well enough. That would have taken more time, it would have required me to be further along in life, and we did not have that time. That's not to diminish his role in parts of my life at certain times of my life.


Lately, for reasons I will go into later, as I have said, I have been unable to do much. I had a crises of health this spring, a breaking down, and I see no reason to not call it what it has been. But not tonight. Most days last week I ran three miles. One day I ran six, walked three, and climbed the Monument three times. Today I climbed I ran three and walked four. I went to the Brattle to see the beginning portion of War and Peace. I've never seen the camera move so much in a film. Welles moved it a lot, Murnau moved it a lot, but it moves almost constantly in this picture. It is a major work of art, as a film, too. I will probably write something on it someday. Yesterday I ran nine miles, walked three, and climbed five times, basically punishing my body, not letting up, because this feels like something I can control. I control the quality of my art, I can make better art than any human has ever made, whenever I wish, but that does not help matters right now; it's control in reverse, in a way. Today I was going to the cafe to read when I encountered Emma in the hall. She was concerned because her face had broken out a little and later on I told her it was hardly noticeable, which prompted her to say, "Oh yeah? When some boy is moving in to kiss me, he's going to notice," which made me laugh. I detoured from the cafe for a bit because she asked me to go to the CVS with her, where she wanted to pick out a Father's Day card for her dad. As you would imagine, the stock at half past five on the day itself wasn't exactly awesome. I told Emma that the secret to picking out cards is you find the ones with plastic, because when you give a card that has plastic on it to someone, they're going to think it was written by a choir of angels specifically for them. People think I'm the master of picking out cards, but the truth is, I dash in, grab one encased in plastic--I don't even read them, usually--and bang I'm back out in thirty seconds. Emma went with this ridiculous joke card that made some pun on the word "ale," then asked me in the street, "Do you think this will trigger my dad with his previous substance abuse problems?" and I said no, you're probably all set, just get one encased in plastic next time. Emma might be a trench person some day. And she's more likely to be one if she has the right people around her right now. That's part of the reason why I put the time in with her. Only part. It's not some work of charity. She's someone I believe in. And she's proof that at least one other person like that is out there, and hopefully many more, if they can be found, if they can come out into the open, if they can become more of the visible norm. Totally shit at picking out cards, though. Get the plastic.