Saturday, September 27, 2008


I think I do a reasonable job of being honest with myself. I see what I do. I know why I do it. I admit my errors. I offer apologies. I have a reasonable sense of my own mortality.

There is a particular arena of life though that appears to be outside of my control. That arena is constituted of my tendency to dwell in my beliefs as if they were reality. In politics, poetry, romance (before I was married), I have always been capable of dwelling in the belief of a thing when that thing does not in fact exist. Take for example the current elections. Once I believed that Barack Obama would win the presidency, I began from that moment to dwell in that belief as an accomplished act. I am then vulnerable to absolute shock if the world's reality does not or tends not to conform to my belief. You can imagine the spiritual chaos I experienced during my dating decades. My passion would perfect my relationships, even with virtual strangers. I can't imagine how I must have seemed to those girls: arrogant, oblivious, or just clueless.

Onto poetry writing, where this tendency (which we have not put a name to) comes into full flower. I can see that I often - most often - sense having completed a poem before I even finish the first line. Something in the original thought or my mood prompts this tendency, this projective habitude, which I am compelled to sustain and fulfill. No wonder then that I often write quickly, once I get going, so as to close the gulf threatening my pre-obtained sense of composure. No wonder, again, that I write in the forms I choose: a box for filing up, or a series of boxes, each discrete, in a row, topped off just so.

Perhaps this mentality (projective habitude, did I say?) is agricultural in origin. There is surely no harm in a farmer expecting plants from the seeds she holds in her hands. It would be unreasonable not to expect a tomato from a tomato seed. Even so, there is peril in projection, and any farmer risks looking like a fool if his plans are upended, whether by some act of nature and/or his own poor planning. There is glory and dismay, I think, in a farmer's life.

On the other side of the human coin is the hunter mentality, which stalks toward an open horizon. For the hunter, belief is constituted only at the point of obtainment. Theirs would be an ordinal habitude. Hunters, I think, would make better writers, overall, though somewhat predictable. A hunter would be more likely to ask questions and more content with open results, and thus less likely to obtain unlikely results. Hunters, as a rule, are less excitable than farmers.

One more archaic type: the shepherd. I take the shepherd's constitutive habitude to partake of the farmer's and the hunter's both. A shepherd should and must expect that sheep will arise from sheep, while flock maintenance is an open-ended activity. Thus the well-worn classical trope of the shepherd leaning against a tree, gazing out at his flock and beyond, from out of his projective anxieties to open references of cities and plains. The shepherd's dilemma is how to choose between the one and the other, whether to dwell in the collective anxieties of his tribe or strike a clean path toward some solitary goal. It should come as no surprise that shepherds prefer music to words.

Human constructions aside, my point is that self-knowledge is not the work of the moment except insofar as one is explaining oneself to oneself and others, as I do here. In knowing myself I have cleared a passage to the work to be done. In making myself known, I have shared a terminology and a limitation. Both terminologies and limitations are forms of further encouragement, after all.

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