O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

All our lives, we wonder at what we and others might be.  Who are we?  Who might we be and become?  Who are we to others?  With others? To ourselves?  Who are we when we are alone?  Who are we or what might we be after this brief physical identity has been shed?

Identity bedevils us.  It troubles us because it remains so difficult, even impossible, to pin down.  Owls hoot to us messages from the dead, but even those who have finished with this life before us tell us nothing definite.  Hooting in the night can be as vague as fog beneath the moon.  Amorphous.  Nebulous.  Such tricks hath strong imagination.  Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, i’ th’ name of Beelzebub?

Who indeed? Desdemona hears the knocking, hears the ravishing strides of approaching death, while Emilia only hears the wind.

Affirming or denying ourselves, our name, Montague or Capulet.  I am not what I am.  We are spirits of a different sort.

If I say, “Call me Ishmael”, it does not necessarily mean that I “am” Ishmael.  What is a whale?  A composite of its constituent parts?  A vengeful ghost?  A god?  Perhaps we ourselves are conglomerates, assembled and morphing, heaving with change and temper, at once a one thing of a many.

We often define things, ourselves and others, like lists of characters in a play.  The King of France.  The Duke of Florence.  Bertram, Count of Rousillon.  Yet, perhaps just as often, we seek to transcend or defy prescription:

Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
Usually, we think we or others “are” something or someone, even grinding down identity to the point of being or not being.  Poor Yorick.  I knew him, Horatio.  But he has gone somehow, leaving only this relic and my memory of him bearing me on his back a thousand times.  Kissing his lips.  Where are his or Gloriana’s lips now?
When we meet, we so often ask, “What do you do?”  In the United States especially, but in other places as well, this tends to mean “how do you make a living?”  How do you earn the money around which our society seems to be predicated?  We might do better to ask “What do you know?  What do you understand?  What could you show me?  What might you teach me?  How might contact with you expand my own understanding of who and what and why?
This might only ask a small shift in the thinking.  A small shift in perspective.  A shuffle of the feet, moving our weight from one foot to the other.  The tiniest alteration of a tone of voice.  Yet, the benefits might be enormous for both ourselves and others.  How might we recognize others as the beacons that they can be, and the potential guides they are, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.
Wherefore art thou Romeo?  Art thou Romeo?  Or art thou many perspectives, ways, engagements, spirits, all of them the like of which I may not ever yet have known?  The bell may toll for all of us, but we might do well in the meantime to try to hear what lies behind the wind.

Four horsemen

Tonight, they are rain, quiet and persistent as Ragnarök.  No sudden apocalypse, but an urging to yield sweeping across the land.  Turn in, turn in.  Sleep and fly the coming days.  Yet, we wait.  We watch the news.  We fret to ourselves, our friends, our families.

Lady Macduff after her husband has left his chickens.  Urgent business always calling.  Support riding over the ridge.  Then the bad men come, as if they had been waiting just out of sight.  Always waiting.  Riding into our dreams to unhallow and disturb our sleep.  And sleep becomes the murdered sleep of a disquiet world.

Fallen asleep in front of television once again?  The hours creeping up on us and we–it is so much easier than reading to just turn that on and let the stories parade themselves before our eyes.  We can rest then.  Have a glass of wine.  We have worked so hard.  We certainly deserve it.

Only those cries.  Neither nightingale nor lark, but softly hooting goblins in disguise, spoiling the milk of our dreams in proportion to the ways that we have spoiled our own lives.  “O dark, dark, dark.  They all go into the dark, /The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant” go our days of light across the fields.  Tiny life threads turn to lines of ash in ashtrays while the ghosts of men from long ago boats await us in the silence.

Solemn too, these deep angels of the shadows, standing in the dark with swords, treading bits of starlight into broken glint beneath their feet.  We pray for cockcrow although we remain guilty things, seeking great bears and other creatures in the woods.  Moss and fungi grow up between our toes and we stand transfixed, consumed with our confusion.

What have we wrought?  The cold iron of an age ago.  Standing towers grass grown sideways, bending under the weight of all our progress.  Bowing down to flaming birds.  Universities bowing down to administrative, economic protocol that rusts and rots them from within.  Flowers amongst the gravestones.

Here is Ann, and here Bedelia.  Sacrificed to work in this industry.  In any industry.   For what has opened them to cockle hats and staves has left them open, turned to owls in trying to protect themselves, flying out the door and never seen again.

For Ophelia’s world is outside of ours and within it.  Worlds rolled in worlds.  Fairies in the woods outside of Athens.  Kings and Queens and echoes.  Lovers and echoes.  Romeo and Juliet, their love the negative space (the “Ma”) of feuding.  Something into something else.  Yin and Yang never static, but constantly becoming each other.

The man who hesitates in his revenge loses himself.  Conversely, the man who speeds to vengeance remains too hot–listening hotly, with no cool wit to temper his judgment, no cool mind to tell him that the poison he follows will ultimately poison him.  Hamlet and Laertes.

Yet, how do we wait?  For four more years?  For the next election?  For the next political resolution?  How do we wait while rage consumes us from within while we smile and go about our days.  Go to work.  Just get by.  Nickel and dime.  Dry and dry into the days ahead when fires come behind the rains.  Like Ragnarök sweeping across the weeping land.

How do we shield the children?  How best to teach them, maybe we should ask.  How best to care for our neighbors and ourselves, keeping everyone not just safe, not just barely sustained, but happy and fulfilled?  Aye, there’s the rub.  No urge to bodkins.  No urge to firearms, vehicles, ideologies.  Letting quietus come when it will, as it will, while we remain content in here and now.

How moving fingers write

If you have ventured this far, you are welcome.  There is a bit of a caveat, however, in that you may find that this was not written for you.  Rather, it was written for “us”, meaning all of us, but only insofar as my own perspective will allow me to write for that.  So should you find what follows distasteful or unpleasant, please feel free to move on in peace.  You should invest your reading time where you wish, and I will never have any desire to hold people here against their will.  Please be free, but know that abusive comments will be deleted and those who make them will be exiled.  All of this is meant to be ultimately supportive, but this forum is also, in the end, not a democracy.

Is there a caution to abandon hope?  Does hope linger amongst the flowers growing in the churchyard?  Snowdrops?  Wild iris?  Do we remember them?  The flowers?  The dead?

We have abandoned them in many senses.  Not just because they have crossed a river that we have not, but also because we continue to abandon them everyday.  The dead slip away from us in perpetuity.  We may be “boats against the current”, but their boats have been carried away leaving only moonlight and ripples behind them.

And their ideas?  What ideas are those?  Education in the United States increasingly becomes an education of trades.  Scholars steadily become figures of the past like knights or frontiersmen and women.  In sacrificing our democratic republic before the throne of corporate oligarchy, our schools and our universities have become like corporations, selling to demand, selling to the highest bidders, selling to the wealthy at the expense of the poor.  The erosion of scholarship before the ascendancy of trade has much to do with currency being the only real currency in the realm.

Who gives a damn about knowing deeply about such things as history, literature, classics, or philosophy?  These things have seldom lined a pocket well except when veneered with gaudy spectacle.  Bread and circuses?  Juvenal was right.  We love watching fireworks, and we love how television takes us away night after night.

We’ve forgotten the flowers.  There may be fairies in the garden, good neighbors, but we don’t give a damn.  Things of darkness anyway.  Not that there’s even time to go there.

Practical becomes the god at whose altar we sacrifice stupid romance, and foolish mysticism.  Some or other book will tell us about the afterlife, and we will go to some or other house of worship once a week, maybe, to hear someone speak loosely constructed life lessons to us, and we will be better.  We will be moral.  We will be whole.  With that and a high paying job and a 401k or an IRA, and maybe a 529 account for good measure (if we have offspring).

That and a decent sized car.  And a smart phone so we never have to leave the news or the weather, and so we can reach others every minute of every day.

Mind you, trades are great.  They keep things running.  We need plumbers and steel workers, and people to fix the robots on the automotive assembly line.  We need nurses and doctors and (yes, damn it) we need lawyers too.  It is no stain to work amongst the ranks of those whose mission is to make things work more easily for others.

Yet, there is an alarming, silent migration away from scholarly learning, in the U.S. and in the wider world too.  University buildings dedicated to the arts and humanities echo like the mausoleums they are becoming.  And who can blame the students?  No one (or very few) can make a living out of those subjects.  You cannot easily build a comfortable house with paper.  And what does it lose the birds to move on to new water holes when the old ones have dried into extinction?

Only that then there are no more birds where once there were.  (So?  Things change all the time.  You can’t stop change.  You can’t stop progress.)  And the birds arguably add a breadth and depth to the tapestry of nature that, once they have gone, becomes difficult to recreate or recapture.  Those threads pulled from the fabric tend to fray in complicated ways–ways that are difficult to define or immediately perceive.

We do perceive them though, eventually.  Blank stares in the aisles of stores (where we trade with increasingly consolidating corporate giants for our goods–for our food, our clothes, our daily supplies).  We seek the good summer read and find that many novels have become somehow bland or banal.  Food too.  Remember how it used to taste?  Remember how it snowed each winter?

In all this, it is too much work to tango with Nietzsche’s long and complicated thinking, wrangle with Shakespeare’s obsolete and often difficult language.  We work too hard already.  I’m tired at the end of the day.  Give me something entertaining and something that won’t make me work too hard to understand it.  Something simple, even banal.  Television or the summer novel.  And bring me cake or chips while you’re at it.  Even a beer.  I just need to sit for a few minutes.

That’s where we seem to be.  Perched on the edge of a new Dark Ages where opinion or bluster trump facts and understanding.  Too dramatic?  Of course.  A new Dark Ages?  That will never happen.  The world always changes and there are always those who will be dissatisfied and non-adaptive.  Whiners will always weep about moving on, they will always throw themselves in front of the rolling boulders of progress, trying to deny entrance to that lovely conciliatory giant wooden horse.

All I know is that dinner time draws near.  Other thoughts, or any resolution, will have to wait until next time.

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