catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 10 :: 2005.05.20 — 2005.06.02


This must be the place

I?m just an animal looking for a home and
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I?m dead.

-Talking Heads, ?This Must Be The Place?

Sometimes driving at high speeds you close your eyes. You?re plowing through Atlas Shrugged to better gauge the opposition. You believe you can travel back and forth through time with such velocity that it all but stops.

You and H.G. Wells; you keep seeing Eloys and thinking about Morlocks, about machines created to sluice time. You keep thinking there?s nothing too far out there about time travel, to bending space and being here now before arriving. It?s like purchasing a book from 1941, which originally was purchased by a professor in his day that tells you something now about what to do today. You see the future in a way of sorrow and everlasting joy; it?s so amenable and true. You see nails and a cross and know they couldn?t keep your man down. You see the future standing next to you, all four feet of her. And she says sweetly, ?Want to try my wings?? And you do all you can not to cry with utter joy.

This is not your home, this broken place with its haunting umbrage. How did you get here? And where exactly do you belong?

If you turned to glance over your shoulder at any time in your life, would you see how your footfalls had pockmarked out the answer to your wandering sojourn in dots and dashes? Would it all be sentence fragments and split infinitives? Knowing this not to be possible, you wonder if you should have used breadcrumbs, should have tied ribbons on the trees; whether you should have taken notes. But that?s the problem; put your head down long enough to annotate your progress and you ironically end up where you don?t want to be and you have to double-back. With eyes cast down you?re bound to miss much wandering aimlessly and blind to all but what your Birkenstocks toe aside. You?d be flat out dumb to your own life. Think of ostriches dunking into the nearest dune and you get the idea. But the other side of the coin is no clear winner either. Being fey has its attractions. However, keep vigilant watch on the horizon and skip what?s plainly underfoot. The peaks and the valleys would come by way of turning stomach. Leprechauns and Chihuahuas would miss your wondrous gaze, unless they?d climbed the yonder Sycamore. Stare straight ahead and it?s all skewed vanishing points at warped speed as if it were you, not Dr. Dave Bowman, in Space Odyssey 2001?s wormhole. Regardless of vortex wormholes or drunk blind trekking, it seems that at some time in your going you find yourself facing a strange obelisk of some kind or another; an apparition or a denizen of a strange land offering up wings. You find yourself being offered red or blue pills. At one time or another?flux and static?you?re suddenly Alice or Zarathustra. This is not my home, this broken place with its haunting umbrage. This is not my home? How did I get here? Where do I belong?

There is the road. It’s not whether you travel it?we all do. The matter comes down to how. It’s the ?How Road,? as S?ren Kierkegaard calls it. ?…In a spiritual sense, the road comes into existence only when we walk it. That is, the road is how it is walked,? he says in Provocations. This ?how? is self-determining, to a degree. How you meet the challenge?free will makes us potential evil-doers, but also capable of love and joy, C.S. Lewis reminds you?is key. How you talk the talk; how you walk the walk. For every thing you do results in consequence. The skill is in minimizing negative outcomes?though never entirely avoidable?while cultivating positive consequences. And then even when the negatives arise, and they do, how you react to those takes you further down that road. The road simply is. The road less traveled is not a physical fork in the forest; it?s the divining principle in you. You are what is important and different. There are no more paths, simply more and more pathfinders. Your way may not be another?s way, but you and that other both face the journey. You can only tell others about the way; you can’t walk the road for someone else. Nor, you think, would you be asked to. That thoroughfare can be a joy to travel along or it can be a chore. You can have a sense of happiness and not notice the path; you can be aware and choose happiness or your can wait for a ride and bemoan the ground beneath your aching feet. The road is the road, nevertheless. The road is how, not what. The road here never, ever, reaches an end. Bear that in mind: The walk as wonderful as the walker. Arrival is not borne of cartography, of X-marked spots, but is the substance of things hoped for: a return to that one true home. Luckily for us wayfarers, the road is edged in signposts for the destination. You see clearly or feel the thrum in the bones; it sends you on our way; it jars you awake; it lands you in the familiar or into delicious mystery.

Once a week you travel into town to attend a writing critique group. Recently, before attending the Thursday night writing workshop at Taft, an emergent church?s arts co-operative, you walked through the neighborhood where the art center is located. A sense of ease and enjoyment came over you. It was like the first time in the day you felt at peace. It was what the A Course In Miracles mentor Dr. Michael Mirdad might say is a turning away from fear?of the darkness, the unfamiliarity of the place. You were thrilled at being in a quiet place in the midst of a large American city under a clouded, benighted moon; free of immediate responsibility; free of the illusions we all created out there in the world. First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then it just is, the Asian mystic might say. First there is a road, then there is no road, then it just is, an Occidental soul might intone. You walked and smoked your pipe looking at the beautiful and intriguing homes along the way; less imagining the lives in the dwellings, but a you, a different you inside each of those places. It was not envy at all, it was curiosity. Or it might have been the simple realization, not fully formed that night, that inside all those dwellings, under this moon, it is all you, that there is nothing that separates us, one from another. When you come to recognize this within yourself and come to recognize a place of real safety and peace, this is a place where nothing is impossible. This is the place where the strength of God abides. God only wants for us peace and love. When you surrender, give up illusions and discard fear, you return to God, to that I am. You are as the iambic pentameter of God?the spoken word of Yahweh; your footsteps on the sidewalks echoing out into the night?I am, I am, I am, I am? You cannot separate yourself from God. Mirdad says you can feel as if you are. The world is an illusion of what it would be like to be separate from God. There is nothing to earn, there is simply to be in love and peace. Be a child of God. Walking around this neighborhood, unattached and without fear, darkness taking from you the detritus and banality that may mock you, you are that blind knowing child, ever so briefly; it is ever so sweet and true. You walk in a circle coming back to where you began. On the outer edges of the circumference, there is but more and more. The circle, the encompassing orb never ends encircling us. It is circles within circles. You and God are one. You are the breath, and the word. Before entering Taft you sit outside and take in its shape.

Easy to miss, Taft is composed of red brick, a recessed courtyard of sorts, and a sanctuary at one end. There is an iron fence, some grass and little else to distinguish the cooperative from outside. Inside there is a constant flow of people and activity. You are drawn to John Keats in these moments, seeing people going to and fro into unseen and unknowable rooms and enterprise. Keats compares our spiritual and social awakening as a walk through a mansion of many apartments, rooms. He says for the neophyte, for the newly minted adult, there are two rooms open to them?one that is the infant or thoughtless chamber; a second that is the chamber of maiden thought. While watching the young at Taft you mostly think of their movement as an indication at some level of maiden thought, even though Christianity in this part of the country can be thoughtless and mean-spirited. But not these young people for the most part. They are open, emerging and exploring. They write evocative poetry, take interesting photographs and play music strange and wonderful. You see them mostly in dyads over the coffee and the psalms looking for the hallways of the many apartments that lay ahead of them. At Taft it?s the cloud of unknowing. That cloud is made of art.

It?s the art that surrounds you at Taft that makes it a special place. Not only does it surround, it emanates from you; it inculcates everyone who crosses the threshold. It is thick and foreboding: black as a dark night of any soul and light as that which shone off Jesus? robes. Here, evoking a secular beatitude proffered by Marshall McLuhan: the medium is the message. By this phrase McLuhan meant that ?we can know the nature and characteristics of anything we conceive or create by virtue of the changes?often unnoticed and non-obvious changes?that they effect,? reports Mark Federman, a chief strategist for the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, in an essay entitled ?What is the Meaning of The Medium is the Message.? According to Federman, McLuhan?s medium is any ?extension of ourselves,? and that McLuhan?s message is the ?unanticipated consequences,? of this extension. You take this to mean, that while content of any piece of art has an impact, its less obvious consequence is the more important. This goes along with what Susanne K. Langer speaks of in her treatise Problems of Art. Langer calls art, essentially paintings, apparitions in which, ?the paint and the ground (canvas) themselves disappear. One does not see a picture as a piece of spotted canvas, any more than one sees a screen with shadows on it in a movie.? To you Taft is not a building and that stranger is not an impish child, both are thresholds.

In beauty, be it a movie, a work of great writing or a piece of art there is a tendency to look for perimeters; there is a need for screens, for book jackets, golden ratios and frames. You could easily understand Plato?s cave analogy here. These things tell you where to look; they give you a sense of where not to look?in delusion. Throughout your life you have looked for the scaffolding, the framing to give an indication of the divine. The setting sun, the eyes of your first heart-sickening love; the quietude of morning with your parents: All these from your youth. Getting older you sought it in books, in films and in the ones you love. All outlines and signs. Whenever you felt close to God you couldn?t see where the ropes were; you couldn?t see where you stopped and this other began; you could not see an end. But in this way, it was and is hard to determine whether you were in or out. Meister Eckert once wrote that, ?Only those who dare to let go can re-enter.? This implies knowledge of the space around you, the holy one. Thresholds abound, Mircea Eliade claims and you should be walking through. There are so many rooms in the mansions. Still, you walk in a daze of unknowing where to go, where to sit, what doors to open. When you go on faith, this is when the magic begins, because you are not concerned about the circles you have been walking in all your life, but the fact that God, the all-encompassing sphere, has no circumference, says St. Augustine. Pentecost comes without perimeters; it arrives without you noticing its machination, its approach; it is a story without beginning or end. You only know it when the heart is aflame. Empiricism here is elusive; space all but obliterated for the self has ceased its accounting of the sun?s trail across the sky. It is not a space that you discover the sacred, it is in time at its zenith?timelessness?that transcendence transports you to ascension. All these years you have been searching space, when it was right here in front of you and all these years asking when was the right time, when it is and will be without end should you only dare to let go. Re-enter the circle without end; it is not the face of a clock.

Time doesn?t exist inside 2115 Taft. There are reminders, to be sure, but no clocks. There is the time it takes for Millie to brew one of her wonderful concoctions. You know the day and time Ash hooks up his turntables and plays his exotic and interesting beats. The spines on Mark and Jenny?s sagging bookshelves speak of time; those pages are printed with infinity?s ink. In the Xnihilo Gallery you know it takes time to absorb a piece of art. Upstairs the recording studio syncopates with the new music of Krista Vossler. During the week organic vegetables are offered, the produce of conscience, soil and time. Perhaps within these walls there is no time. Only eternity or displays of its possibility: Material representations as Frederick Hegel called them. The philosopher believes that a culture?s art objects represent the shape of its time. It?s Mona Lisa?s eldritch smile there on canvas; Elvis? crooked and flashy grin in black and white celluloid; and President George W. Bush?s smirk pixilated and distributed by HALs and Macs. Time can be marked by Beethoven?s Ninth Symphony; Little Richard?s shrill instigations and Eminem?s snarling rap admonitions. Mary Pickford in Sparrows and Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider conjure the eras in which they arose. Age predicates oratum: Blind Homer gave us the monomythic epic a millennium and a half ago; Cervantes scribed the Quixotic and the novelistic in the late 1600s and Shakespeare dramatized our exit stage left from an Elizabethan age, while Beckett just keeps us all waiting in its wings in this postmodern epoch. ?One age revels in the use of symbolisms in pictures, drama, and dance, another all but dispenses with it?? offers one art critic.

In Taft there are so many of these manifestations to consider. There are the round tables in the caf? at which cyber space astronauts chatting Boolean alight across a vast creation of sites, links and wormholes. Tim Berners-Lee hovers like a ghost. Outside there is the brick courtyard, purview of Amarillo the stray Calico feline of nine lives. Outside there is nightfall Bible study and gatherings. Inside fellowship over C.S. Lewis, over Great Books and social justice prevails. Inside a stark depiction of the crucifixion hangs on a stark wall, a historical moment that still echoes today. Time was time was heavy, in here, at Taft it?s not. There are photographs here, time stoppers, freeze-framing myriad faces or the photographer?s own view of the world. Tuesday evenings eternity opens the microphone for the spoken word. In an office in the back a mild mannered, soft spoken poet theologian named Phuc reworks Christian testimony into contemporary colloquy. Be it doom song, mixed beats or whispered sweet-nothings over Vietnamese coffee; no one is watching the time. In these arts you are a co-creator with God.

That night when you took that walk around the neighborhood of Taft and stood outside its hulk, you came to realize that entering there was not about the threshold so much, but more about the how of it. So, you entered Taft incandescent, eager to speak of writing. Inside the place bustled with students bent over books on being and time; gesturing over tables and open notebooks; staring into computer screens. Ash spun a beat that propelled as it soothed. The air was warm and dusted with the scent of coffee, the light dim. Espresso machines steamed and huffed. You sat down at your usual table, smiled at your friends and still in a brilliant stupor, a God-consciousness that may have appeared to be trippy, upturned a candle and lit it. There. You?re not cursing the darkness. And you couldn?t tell the time or give any one directions on how to get here, now; you simply are in this moment, everlasting, eternal, a co-creator of the ever-expanding circle without end: Unbound.

You travel as you pray, without ceasing; sometimes you are here, but mostly you are over there. Head in the clouds, unknowing bliss. A few nights ago, at a friend?s home over plates of tortellini and earnest conversation, you met a little angel. It was after dinner and all had left the room except you and the child; time no longer existed; everything was aglow. She beamed beautifully and leaned in with her magic wand and frilly wings. She was the child that was lost; she was the mother now gone; she was all of our fathers and brothers; she was another season?s promise; she was the answer to the question; she was the hope for the future; she was the mother of the king child. She was proof God doesn?t make junk. ?Want to try my wings?? You put them on, as best you could, and she said, ?You?re an angel.? You nod, wings akimbo. ?Yes, I am.?

Sometimes driving at high speeds I close my eyes. I?m plowing through Atlas Shrugged to better gauge the opposition. I believe I can travel back and forth through time with such velocity that it all but stops. I believe? I believe? I believe?

?This must be the place? is from a collection of essays entitled Strange Land Murmur.

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