The End and Beginning of Many Things

Thanks be to Deity that people were given resilience and bravery to fight for their rights and that this day, Providence has seen fit to, finally, grant that our government recognize that LGBT people are actual human beings. Just like anyone else, with the same right to marriage. Blessings from a sinner to my brothers and sisters, all, who are perfect and holy just as they are in my eyes — and the all-seeing eye of Justice.

Our battle — it is OUR battle, all of us, people — will continue and, I predict, worsen. The retaliation will come and come swiftly by the reactionaries, by the bigots, by the people who are utterly blind because of rationalized wickedness masquerading in priest’s robes and waving a book they cannot interpret adequately.

For one thing, to have any right, the battle to defend it must be refought each and every generation, from now on to save it from ignorance and erosion. People must be educated and persuaded, as many as who will and can listen, and that is a work of culture and individuals — no law can do that for us. A law that becomes unrecognized and re-interpreted to nothing is no law at all… its spirit is strangled.

Secondly, we must swiftly move to guarantee that no one can be discriminated against because of whom they love, whom they marry, how, within the bounds of reason, they live. That must be enshrined in law very quickly or the very next thing you will see are the religious bigots rushing to fire and punish people they dislike on the basis of their warped and merciless “religious beliefs.”

We live, suddenly, at a moment of crisis — and as I learned long ago and have taught all people who would listen, “crisis” means both “danger” and “opportunity” at one and the same time. Tear down state supported flying of that damned flag of the Army of Northern Virginia — and, yes, two of my ancestors fought under that flag, under Lee and Longstreet, and another fought under the “stars and bars” of the State of Georgia led by Gen. John Bell Hood, at the Battle of Atlanta and fell dead at the Battle of Jonesborough, slain by a Northerner’s bullet.

As a “son of the South” do you know what I say to that?

I say the same thing Gen. Longstreet said after the war was over — “Good riddance to a foolish cause and a waste of lives.” That man had the guts, from his home in Gainesville, GA, to become a Republican (when that actually meant something decent and right), to support racial equality — in the 1860s, mind you — and got himself hated for it. He renounced that stupid war and the “ideals” it stood for, and his role in it. And he gave no more a damn about that marginalization than he cared for the artillery shells that fell all around him and even into his tent as he calmly ate dinner on the battlefield.

Lee told everyone to fold up the flag, put it away, and reapplied for his citizenship in the United States of America six months after he surrendered to the Union.

If you cannot — will not — follow suit now, at this late a date, you are following a lie, not your “heritage”.

What we are living through now, people, and will live through, is the undead hand of hellish beliefs trying to choke the advent of better beliefs, a better way. That hand is tight around your throat if you are gay or lesbian or transgendered, bisexual, or if you are an ally to a better way; it is around your throat if you are black, if you are a latina or a latino, if you are a woman.

You can bet your life it’s trying to choke you to silence if you have better ideas to offer, if you speak of a better world.

The only way to break the death-grip of that skeletal hand of the worst remnants of history — a history that does not have your good in mind as a living human being, whoever you are — is to snap each skeletal finger off with a superior idea, something worthy of belief, a better morality than our past — that past as it actually was and in its misinterpreted, romanticized forms I hear screamed at me from every corner now,

We live now. We have a tremendous battle ahead on many allied fronts. Do not rest now that you have won one right and, perhaps, gotten some of those rags of hatred off some state houses. Celebrate a moment, but begin sharpening your weapons — your ideas, your beliefs, not guns — and join together in organizations. Do it now. Get active. Your enemy is so well organized, it should cause you grave alarm — but they are wrong. Their fortresses are built on sand. They will fall flat if opposed and their errors ridiculed in the open and in the courts.

Go and show us how to make a better future. It is yours.

‪#‎marriageequality‬ ‪#‎scotus‬ ‪#‎resist‬ ‪#‎racism‬ ‪#‎starsandbars‬ ‪#‎flagissue‬‪#‎justice‬ ‪#‎mercy‬ ‪#‎morality‬

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MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

Talking to anyone about anything… an undertaking in itself as one finds oneself alone in an existential sense. Which is fine, as I am an introvert in the extreme and have accomplished most things of any value simply talking to myself or worrying a problem like a dog worries at a bone, living uneasily with provisional make-do solutions until something solid and substantial — meaningful, rather (let’s not mix the metaphors yet), the marrow of the matter,is reached. It won’t be of much concern to anyone but me, but I have to live this life and do the best I can with it and that can’t be pursued any old way.

I can’t be satisfied with “any old way”, that is.

In the end, I, who am other, “otro,” “alter” am more so because of my pursuits, which are boring or exasperating to most. And even an introvert has some need of sociability beyond professional connections and family, who can be wearied by his foolishness.

From those small doses of human interaction I draw out years worth of topics to consider, other points of view, a greater richness than my ascetic life would otherwise provide.

I’ve nothing much to contribute to a conversation, though. I listen intently, take everything in to the point of exhaustion, and then you’ll not see me again for a great deal of time. Constitutionally, without aid of the social lubricant called alcohol, anaesthesia, I am worn out by being with too many people. Plus, there’s a lack of sense of humor and wit — there are exceptional moments when it comes to me, but it comes on its own and leaves of its own accord, a fickle daimon.

As for serious conversation, when I do speak, I find I must locate what world the interlocutor resides within and just how different it is from mine… not simply “what do you know and what have you read,” but what is your ontology and epistemology? As for either, I may as well be practicing oncology and episiotomies for the nauseous pain such enquiries induce. No, of course I don’t use words like “ontology,” “epistemology,” “phenomenology,” or “existentialism,” nor “vital reason” and “historical reason” in my normal talk… but the questions bring out the other’s positions. And then I try to reach common ground and rarely find much.

Not out of superiority but from the odd place on the outside of normal life I’ve always found myself. Further beyond the happy, comfortable shores now than ever. Mania at least allowed me a sort of social aspect to my duality, a delightful, angry buoyancy, and without that: There is permanent depression, life underwater, which is a strange place indeed to exist.

Richard Van Ingram
25 June 2015

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“Are You Out There?” Instructor’s Letter, June, 2015

[I write my classes a letter every month toward the end.  I don’t know why — I feel compelled to do it… I always wished someone had done this for me, I suppose.  But I went to university in a different time, place, age.  I choose to do it because it seems right and will til I’m ordered to stop, whether anyone reads it or not.  Like the song says, “It doesn’t matter” — not to anyone but me, unless they choose to read and care.  Same for you, whoever you are out there.]

Students and Scholars,

I do this at the end of each semester — it’s a sort of summary of experiences and observations from my point of view.  It may or may not be helpful to you now or in the future:  As is anything you learn or don’t.  The same goes for me as well as I’m speaking for and to myself when I speak to you all.

***

“Therefore make up your mind before it is too late to live as one who is mature and proficient, and let all that seems best to you be a law that you cannot transgress. And if you encounter anything troublesome or pleasant or glorious or inglorious, remember that the hour of struggle is come, the Olympic contest is here and you may put off no longer, and that one day and one action determines whether the progress you have achieved is lost or maintained.

“This is how Socrates attained perfection, paying heed to nothing but reason, in all that he encountered. And if you are not yet Socrates, yet ought you to live as one who wishes to be a Socrates.”

Epictetus, from section 51 of ENCHIRIDEON

“I see my future shufflin’
A shaky step at a time

I got no choice but careful

Thank God I’ve done my crime

The tools I see on tv

Can’t stand it when they fake

A prick’s a prick at any age

Why give one a break?

“I wanna live a little bit longer

I wanna live a little bit longer, now

I wanna live a little bit longer

I wanna live live, live, live, live….”

Iggy Pop
from “I Wanna Live”

The end of the semester is always a sad time for me — a month is never enough for me to get to know people and, prior to being students, you are all unique people with your own worlds, beliefs, approaches, and attitudes.  I learn as much from you, probably more, than you learn from  me, both from what you say and how it is said and what you refrain from saying.

One thing I have learned in my years seeing classrooms of college and university students from this side of the podium is that each class has its own personality, its own social order, its own spoken and unspoken understandings.

Most all of you except one or two are of a different generation than me which means you have a completely different generational mission than my own.  My generation was known as Generation X — I am at the prow end of it: It began around ’65 and ended with people born at or just prior to 1980.

We were “X” because we are an unknown and quiet bunch, on the whole, except in pop culture; the smallest generation born in America — our parents were the first to have access to birth control and the notion of the Sexual Revolution; the first generation that will economically be less well-off than the one before it; the first generation to come of age under threat of AIDS; the last generation to consciously grow up under Cold War fear of instant  nuclear annihilation –

The first generation to almost completely raise itself — everyone was at work or busy (the term “latch-key kids” was invented for us) — we are the children of what became the “Me Generation” of the 1970s (one of the experiments the Post World war II Boomer generation went through) –

The last generation to have teachers and professors who were old enough to give us a smattering, at least, of an old-style “classical” education; the first generation to be taught by younger ex-hippies; the last generation to see the remnants of old legalized institutional racism; the first generation to live with the hope we might actually make our country a more equal and free place for all in terms of human and civil rights and civil liberties – and culture –

The first generation in modern times to see the return of “free market” deregulation, the loss of the social safety net, the rise of libertarian and laissez-faire economic ideologies….

As you know, I could go on and on.  I won’t.  The point is: I come from an entirely different world than most of my students.  Sometimes it is difficult to put myself in your places, inside your lives — even vaguely — to understand from your point of view what the world appears to be.  And without a background in history, philosophy, sociology, art, and practical psychology… you cannot put yourself in my shoes even abstractly.

So each semester, I have to re-learn who my class is, individually and as a group: To begin with you where you are, who you are, in your place, and share the little I know and suspect from my standpoint and experience, my learning and my ignorance… my failures.

I work at this very hard.  If I can’t reach you in language you will understand, if I can’t identify with your general direction — individually and as a group, if I don’t warn you what I and others better than me see dimly up ahead, I can’t begin to prepare you for the world and life.

And all this class is, in the end, is a preparation for learning how to live the right sort of life, to look around and see where we, as a nation and world have been, where we are, and where we might head.

Where we might head, gentle, patient reader, is up to you.  It’s your choice, in your own life privately and as a generation of citizens who will choose to lead… or choose who will lead you and where.

Perilous, those words.  Life, yours and mine, is always perilous, in a time of crisis (obvious and not so obvious), But crises are always times of choice.  The Chinese pictogram for “crisis” is a combination of two more basic characters, one meaning “danger” and one meaning “opportunity”.  Two paths.

Always there are at least two paths and you must become creative enough to find the right one for you and turn what seems disastrous on the surface to your advantage.

“The thing that matters is not what you bear but how you bear it,” said one of those old Roman Stoics (Seneca), along with “…disaster is virtue’s opportunity.”  [Those are from his writing “On Providence” if you ever wish to read the whole thing.]

I have shown you, but only just barely, some of the weapons for your struggle and which will always break or tend to mislead and which, if used well, will increase your ability to truly turn disadvantages to your benefit — at least to bear the trials life will hand you and emerge on the other side intact, with integrity, whatever “the other side” might mean…:  In work life, in private life, in social life.

I have shown you, just barely, ways to apply the theories and which theories are being applied by others, even if they don’t understand what they believe or why they believe it.  I’ve shown you the tools to become more conscious and conscientious and careful…. If you choose to do so.

Yes, my lectures are “heavy,” yes my words in class are many, yes my e-mails sometimes are long or pestering.  I always communicate with class as if this will be the last time we might speak with one another (one never knows these things).  We only have roughly four weeks together, I want you to pass.  Above all, though, I want you to walk away with more to think about and an approach to how to discern true from false and good from bad.

Yes, you are supposed to have more questions in your mind at the end of a class like this than at the start.

Questions are a sign you are beginning to understand you have a need.  If you need to know, you will ask, “why” about everything important and won’t be satisfied until you lay hold of a better way than you may previously have been following.

That takes a lifetime and working that out is practicing “philosophy,” in the ancient, deepest sense.

I can point out many possible directions.  I can challenge you.  I can warn you where some directions are liable to send you if followed consistently.  But I can’t live for any of you; I can’t take your place or perform your special mission in life that is your calling.

But I can tell you how important it is you choose well as possible and pick yourself back up when you make a mistake or are manipulated.  You are important and I’ve no proper words to explain how important you are: important for your own future, the future of your families, your communities, your countries, your world.

Each of us does our public and private work, whatever it will be, and we each create a part of the future.  Your action and your inaction creates the future you will leave for others whom you will never know as well as creating the present.

What else do we have in this world as human beings more important than recognizing the gravity, the value, the quality of our choices for ourselves and one another and generations of people yet to be?

(Here is one of my infamous asides; skip it if you’re bored: My entire life has been a very strange experiment in trying out ethical theories to find out what sort of life one gets from them because I began directionless and obsessed with finding a good way to live; I do not recommend you ever do this without mature forethought and advice from many wiser, smarter people or looking to their example.

I say this as my life has also, at times, been a string of disasters I did not know how to “turn to my advantage.”

 When I talk about terrible theories and why they are terrible, I used to believe and live them.  When I talk about better theories and ways to think, it’s because I’ve tried those, too, and still make use of them or see the use of them in a good life.

This, in large part, is my destiny — to learn things the hard way and come back, if I get to come back, to share with others, to give warnings and evaluations. Take them or leave them: I must do this.)

I am hardly an example of an upright and good person; I am as imperfect as anyone, more so than some, and a little dense sometimes.  You can do better than I’ve done.  I learned to try and to try hard — but you can do better.  I have faith you and your generation will; your voluntary willingness to return to school at this stage in life tells me you have the desire and drive to have a better life, a better future.  And this is good.  I was not so intelligent or able at your age.  (Maybe I’m not now: it’s possible.)

Live your own life, but live it to a high level of intensity by following values that are truly valuable, as a sailor navigates her way by the trustworthy stars at night.  Make those values your own and put them into effect in your own life, in your own way, with your own style.

The future is not mine: it’s yours.  Over time, you will learn to do well with it — again, this is my faith or else I wouldn’t teach.

I’ve compressed a lifetime of experience and learning into one heavy, dense chunk and handed it to you over the past three weeks.  After next week, you’re done with me and you can all be relieved.  But you are not done with morality because it is tied to human choice and life is nothing but time and choice.  What we choose and the quality of the choices is who we are and who we become.

Please, choose well.  Continue to teach yourself — a bachelor’s degree means you are prepared to learn and grow maturely as well as pursue a career, which is part of that.

And that is the most I will say from this point forward.

“Manifestly, no condition of life could be so well adapted for the practice of philosophy as this in which chance finds you today!”

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor, philosopher, in his tent after a day of battle and decisions in his older years, writing to himself… and you and me.

MEDITATIONS, Book Eleven, section 7, Penguin Classics.

19 June 2015

Richard Van Ingram

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Slinging Hash With a Prophet of Doom; or, Republicans Ate My Future

“Slinging Hash With a Prophet of Doom; or, Republicans Ate My Future” by Orestes Wilkerson [who may or may not be intimately related to Richard Van Ingram; 2006-ish]

What mother in her right mind would even think of naming her son Orestes?

And while that one sinks in or floats on by, let’s be honest – my inheritance wasn’t what I wanted all the way around. Here I am, 40 [now, 49] , prow end of “Gen X” as it becomes Gen Ex, the Generation Formerly Known as (, i.e. nothing in particular). Free Love – dead. Consciousness Expansion – dead. Peace – dead. Love – dead. Rock & Roll – Britney Spears.

Pass the bubble-gum flavored Zima, please.

Just what the freezing Fuck has gone on here in these, our United States, Land of the Free, Home of the Low Equity Home Loan? Gen Ex’s future looks about as full of promise as Kurt Cobain’s after deciding smack addiction and bipolar disorder go together like Fred and Ginger dancing in a Kansas tornado.

Well, holy losing hand, Batman, what the Hell did you expect? Your parents’ all-knowing, Howdee Doodee, swing-to-the-right, born-again, wall-to-wall-and-tree-top-tall-Jeezis-is-my-co-pilot, Jack T. Chick-Jimmy Swaggart-Jim & Tammy-Jerry Falwell-Pat Robertson-Gawd Bless Amerika-Ronald Reagan-neo-conservative-fascist-asshole-motherfuckerin’, sit-back-and-enjoy-the-ride-folks-cos-you-ain’t-got-no-choice, there’s-more-of-us-than-there-are-of-you-and-we’ve-figured-it-all-out, and (besides that) we’ve-got-the-bucks-and-the-good-jobs-and-refuse-to-retire (Fame! We’re gonna’ live forever!) cap-you-chino-suckin’, you-talkin’-to-me?-gruntin’, 9/11-hysterical, wild-eyed-paranoid, my-Hummer-looks-like-a-military-vehicle-maybe-it’ll-scare-bin Laden-gas-suckin’, Dick Cheney-has-my-best-interests-at-the core-of-his-hardened-arteries-believin’ lifestyle pretty much spelled your doom before you had a chance to say, “Uh, what is this man talking about in this amazingly long sentence full of vague and not so vague references and accusations that, yet, somehow remain beyond my finite, public school maltrained capacities to interpret adequately?”

Dude, would you like fries with that? And if you wanna move up in the world, I hear Waffle House needs a cook for the night shift – last guy got busted for dealing meth off the back porch. Scattered, smothered, AND covered.

Yes, it’s all good. And yet, no, it isn’t. I mean, if your parents’ generation is, as a generation, sort of like an Überparent – let’s say, your Mom – and assuming parents are supposed to do things for you, mmmm, like be nurturing, caring, sacrifice for you – what sort of Mother has Gen Ex had?

Let me put it to you another way since I’m damn sure it hasn’t sunk in through the Zima fumes or proven half as entertaining as Britney’s ass: why would any mother name her son Orestes? Especially since Orestes killed his murderous mother, Clytemnestra after she engineered his father’s death?

My name is Gen Ex’s secret name, our secret wish, our collective Complex. Until our common Mother and her vicious neo-Conservative lover dies, we will labor under a heavy curse. Our teeth will ache for meat and blood, our hands for broken bone, our feet for the carpet of a harpy’s corpse. Our days will be chains until then.

Clytemnestra should sleep scared of something besides terrorists because some generations give birth to their killers.

Albeit, in this case, the “killer” has recourse to the ballot box and the soap box to work his vengeance.

But maybe the old girl wised up a long time before we did – or will, as most of our bunch are still sold on the idea they can Get By lying low, smoking the sacred weed, talking Indie Revolt over Guiness while paying Clytemnestra’s toll to live in the basement. You grumble beneath your breath at work, but work until you can’t stand it, then get another job (second verse, same as the first; repeat as needed); follow, do as you’re told, don’t vote since it’s a damn waste of time (plus you never bother to find out anything about the candidates anyway). You play guitar and paint when no one’s looking and no one can hear; and if all else fails, there’s porn and Fear Factor to amuse you into sleepyland where you will be of no difficulty to anyone anytime soon.

In other words, though you’d like to kill Mom, you’ll spend the rest of your days earning money for her rent, living by her rules in that cramped, damp basement apartment in her house; and then, when the time comes, you’re going to wipe her ass and change her Depends until she keels over and leaves her material possessions to Gen M-I-C-K-E-Y.

Y?

Because of nostalgia – Gen Y appears at times so thoroughly lobotomized it’d be a miracle if they could reason their way out of a paper bag with holes on six sides with a freaking roadmap and a hunchbacked midget to hold their hands and coax them into coming along. “Please – it’s this way master! We’ve been doing this for hours and I promise that this hole is what you’re looking for… please stop looking at Britney’s ass and come along….”

And so on.

Gen Y has the same thing going for it that the Boom Generation did and does: there’s more of them than there are of us. Gen Ex is a minute rag of cheap deli pastrami sandwiched firmly between two slab-sized slices of resource draining, power wielding, All Amerikan White Bread. They know what they want and they want it now and, By Gawd, they have the Divine Right to Whatever Their Eyes Hath Coveted simply because there are so many of them it would take a plague to lay them low.

And may God (some real one) forbid this. The only other thing that’s morally conceivable is that somehow our generation might get on the ball and Change Their Minds, but I think we’ve got about the same chance as that midget in the paper bag: “No, really, this is the way out – yes, Britney is fascinating to watch but we really need to be moving along. You don’t need another Zima, No, really….”

And Gen Ex is apparently never going to rise to the challenge partly because of this attitude it carries, this resentment for The Way Things Are married with a feeling of malaise. Or, in plain English: “Fuck it Dude, let’s go bowling.” When the going gets tough, Gen Ex is about 50 miles away looking for paisley retro clothes at the thrift store and comparing the relative virtues of Blue Grass to Ska.

Which is a fine way to spend a weekend, who can argue? But when the fate of the world hangs in the balance, perhaps an hour or two a night might be devoted to reading something with more words than pictures (unless it’s a comic book by Alan Moore, in which case all is forgiven). Perhaps an hour or two could be devoted to… reading something as long as that “something” does not involve in its title words like “people,” “in touch,” “star,” “enquirer.”

You get the pictureless picture here? No pregnant Britney; no big lipped woman done stole Jennifer Anniston’s husband (who, by the-way, never looked half as good or came off half as slick as George Clooney in the Ocean’s re-make); no Desperate Housewives, no win a Desperate Housewives desperate Tupperware Party Contest, no purchase necessary, void where prohibited, Teri Hatcher will dance the fandango wearing a thong on your dining room table topless smoking a Virginia Slims (you’ve come a long way baybeee) cigarette precariously held between her pearly whites in a foot long ivory & gold-holder.

No! None of this insanity. Philosophy, politics, art, literature, and history – lots and lots of history. This would be a good start. Didn’t learn this shit in college? Good – teach yourself. Didn’t go to college or didn’t like it when you did have to read stuff like this in the past? Fuck you. Read it anyway, this time as an addict trying to get the combination to the locks on the drug cabinet, or as a horny bastard trying to figure out how to seduce that deliciously unseducable strumpet who – you feel in your heart of hearts – has a weak spot, one which you will locate with the aid of those stupid books.

Ah, Hell, maybe she won’t give it up. Maybe you’ll just fumble around enough to get your face smacked. Maybe you’ll never figure it out, maybe you’ll unendingly sling hash, the same hash, at the cosmic Waffle House for an eternity like some bizarre sort of greasy Sisyphus. Maybe your teeth will quit aching and half of them will fall out after you stop dealing meth off the back porch and start spiking it yourself just to stay up all night to Work – for humans exist to work. Don’t you know, “Man is for the Sabbath?”

And who are you working for? Mom, dear ol’ Ma’, and pretty soon you’ll be wiping her ass all day and slinging hash for her all night, mainline crank, stare blear-eyed at Britney’s ass wanting to have it or have your own be like it, and drink that Zima. And when Ma dies, you can go to work for her replacement, your little sister; second verse, same as the first. Except when you get old, you’ll be in prison or under a fuckin’ bridge because Ma will have exhausted the resources you need to get old and live like a human.

Whatever happened to “Won’t get fooled again?!”

I don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows, either. Except I’m no kid – I’m 40 years old.

* * *

I’m a little dog living in a house full of screaming Republican felines and, damn, they’re getting’ loud, always getting their picky-assed way, spraying the shit out of everything in sight, filling the air with their heavy cat reek while I sit calmly at the window watching the sun go down and wonder how I could con ye olde flaming orb & All Seeing Eye to burn this worthless Satanic Mill to the ground so Somebody could start over again and do Something that looks like a halfway human, or canine, job with the smoking rubble.

And next time, with no goddamn George W. Bush-loving cats.

Arf.

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The Forward, or “Forewarned,” by a Guest Writer…

Forewarned

Way back in 2000, Richard asked me to edit this collection [ Misery Breeds Art – see below for the link] and perhaps write a foreword. I looked through the collected works and decided not to change a word. I didn’t live his life and the words were obviously pulled straight from the heart. Changing things would be a falsification of historical records.
However, I’ll gladly fill in some background, a warning for those whose lives were different from his, so that you’ll have an idea what inspired these works.

Dahlonega was a small town in the mountains of North Georgia, not then easily accessible from the closest urban center of Atlanta. I say “was” because things have changed drastically from Richard’s youth there. Once upon a time there were still folks that only came down out of the hills once a year for supplies. Everyone waved at each passing car on the road because chances were you were  related by blood or marriage or both.    The farmer’s co-op was still the major social center and the economy was only barely influenced by the occasional tourist dollar. But as highway 400 inched closer and closer, more and more outsiders moved in, trying to get away from it all, and more and more tourist dollars poured in, completely changing the face of the businesses on the town square.

The early transformation era of Dahlonega was the period in which Richard grew up there. Lumpkin County High School was as divided as the town. Upstairs, the college-bound courses taught the newly imported kids and the occasional native freak how to get out of town. Downstairs the kids from the old locals’ families learned shop and other “vocational arts” guaranteed to keep them within the county boundaries. The stairwells could be dangerous places where the tides of these divergent forces could pull you under.


I arrived a pure outsider, an import from Atlanta. I hid myself in the upstairs classrooms, the sanctuary from the often physically abusive, always mentally abusive local elements. There I met a guy who was even more of an outsider than me. He sketched strange drawings in the halls between classes, wrote strange things in a calligraphic font, read books that sounded foreign even to us recent imports from the city, and shunned all except those on the outer edges of the outside, despite his long family history in the county. Though he might say otherwise, it is fortunate for Richard that he was related to most of the population of the county. It kept him from the physical abuse, if not the mental torture, inflicted on other outsiders. To the locals he was just “my crazy cousin Rick.” To the rest of us outsiders he was that dark, brooding guy you wished would open up for just a minute. But even in the small band of outsiders, Richard still managed to stay outside.

North Georgia College is in the middle of Dahlonega and accounts for a large portion of the population living within the official city limits. However, the students rarely interacted with the townsfolk, and on those rare occasions when they did there was often a fight of one form or another. The locals didn’t think too much of the school, as it brought in more outsiders. This is ironic since the school began as an agricultural college. And more ironic since the campus culture closely mirrored the town culture. NGC was, at the time of these tales, a military college. All those generals’ sons who were too dumb to get into West Point or VMI got dumped at NGC.

The corps of cadets accounted for the vast majority of NGC’s male students. Conservative, often brutish, distrustful of outsiders, they were guaranteed officer positions in the armed forces if they could graduate from the sometimes-less-than-academically-challenging school. The girls of NGC were those too dumb or poor or conservative to attend UGA or other big, respectable school. These young women would troll the corps of cadets looking for future officers to be their future husbands.
Add to that the midnight curfew in the separate-sex dorms, the rules against public displays of affection, and the homogenous campus body and it felt like Faber College from Animal House, without the Delta guys to break the monotony.

Then there were the outsiders.

“Commuters” we were called officially. If you lived within 20 miles of NGC with your parents you weren’t required to be in the military program. Without the olive drab uniform, you stood out in every class.

“Hairbags” we were called unofficially, since we didn’t have to wear the flat-head look dished out by the local barbershop to the cadets.

We were perhaps 20% of the student body, and only a handful of us hung around campus outside of class. We few hairbags with nothing better to do would cluster in the less-traveled rooms of the student center and plan our nightly escapes.

Out into our “home” town we’d go in search of alcohol and a party. We’d usually find the alcohol and create our own party, of sorts. Years later the nights seem like one continuous blur, like one long night spent on the hood of my car talking shit with Richard and a few others, as drunk as we could afford to get while watching the rare female look at us in horror before retreating.

There were a few high points, a few nights less lonely than most, but it would be fair to say I wish I could have afforded to go away to college like most of my high school friends.

It would also be fair to say Richard wished he could have afforded to go away to a school that actually taught some academic content instead of yet another school of hard knocks. Athens, Georgia, is a college town in every way. The student body is the majority of the otherwise-small-town population. The University of Georgia is renowned for two things – football and alcohol. UGA has been rated #1 at both several times, but regardless of how “The Dawgs” are doing during any given season, the party never stops. You didn’t have to be a brainiac to get into UGA. Anyone with any higher intellectual aspirations (and the money to do so) generally avoided the place. But if you couldn’t afford to go elsewhere, or wanted to be anything but an intellectual, you wanted to be at UGA.

Even at 18 years old I’d already classified Athens as “the town of wannabe’s.” Nobody actually WAS anything.

If you were a smelly hippie wannabe, but kept wasting your extra time working so you could afford to stay, you went to UGA.
If you were sort of a money-grubbing yuppie wannabe, but kept wasting your extra time drinking instead of working ’cause mom and dad were footing the bill, you went to UGA.

If you wanted to be an artist, but spent all your time working and drinking instead of creating, you probably knew Richard.
But unlike most of the artist and/or philosopher wannabe’s, Richard was working his ass off at his trade. I have rooms full of his work to prove it. Unfortunately for me, he spun so far outside my circle of friends I rarely saw him after he left Dahlonega and North Georgia College for Athens and the University of Georgia. Unfortunately for him, he was so far outside the social circle of humanity that his sanity, already as thin as warm ice, degenerated further and further. On the rare visit back to “home” he looked like Moses come in from the wilderness. And like Moses he refused to rest, back to the wilderness, back to the desert wasteland, back outside.

So you have been warned. This is a look in, from the outside.

Frederick Noble

2001 – The FOWARD to Richard Van Ingram’s book of poetry, “MISERY BREEDS ART” by editor Frederick D. Noble IV, owner, publisher of Degenerate Press.

Misery Breeds Art

 

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Nothing to say here for the moment…

Bad day.  Disasters.  You don’t need to hear about it right now before I process this and get something meaningful out of it.  If there is anything meaningful to get out of it.

Right now, it’s absurd.  A great chunk of my attention and energy is preoccupied with an absurdity.

There is no worse way to spend your time, folks.  Take a lesson.

12 June 2015

Richard Van Ingram

 

 

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“A Year Passes Like Nothing”

A Year Passes Like Nothing

Or, Misty Watercolor Memories Are Keeping Me Awake Again

A Brief Meditation On Memory

OUR DOCUMENTS ARE USELESS, OR FORGED BEYOND BELIEVING.

PAGE FORTY-SEVEN IS UNSIGNED, I NEED IT BY THIS EVENING.

IN THE SPACE BETWEEN OUR CITIES, A STORM IS SLOWLY FORMING.

SOMETHING EATING UP OUR DAYS, I FEEL IT EVERY MORNING.

DESTINATION, DESTINATION.

IT’S NOT A RELIGION, IT’S JUST A TECHNIQUE.

IT’S JUST A WAY OF MAKING YOU SPEAK.

DISTANCE AND SPEED HAVE LEFT US TOO WEAK,

AND DESTINATION LOOKS KIND OF BLEAK….

The Church

from “DESTINATION”

MEMORY HAS ITS PECULIARITIES, ONE OF WHICH IS: IT DISTORTS. BUT, IN LIFE AS IN MUSIC, ALL DISTORTION IS NOT TO BE AVOIDED AND NEITHER IS IT A BAD THING. WE TEND TO REMEMBER THINGS THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO US, THAT INFLUENCE US, AND OUR MINDS ASSIST US BY EXAGGERATING AT TIMES OR PAINTING UNCLEAR SCENES IN LARGE, BOLD, UNAVOIDABLE STROKES. MEMORY’S DISTORTION, THEN, ISN’T SO MUCH A SUBJECTIVIST LIE WE TELL OURSELVES; RATHER, IT IS TRUTH, IMPORTANT TO US, TOLD TO US AS A STORY, WITH ITS OWN MAGICAL EDITING PROCESSES.

SOME SCHOOLS OF PSYCHOLOGY MAY DISAGREE WITH THIS THEORY AS MUCH AS THEY WILL, BUT IT REMAINS A HUMAN FACT THAT MEMORY, OUR HISTORIES, OUR AUTOBIOGRAPHIES, OUR STORIES, OUR PRIVATE MYTHOLOGIES ARE BOTH REAL AND NECESSARY TO OUR EXISTENCE AS PERSONS, NOT MERE DATA COLLECTION MACHINERY. PERHAPS SOME IN THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY LAMENT WE ARE NEITHER INFORMATION STORAGE AND RETRIEVAL SYSTEMS NOR MERE ANIMALS OF INSTINCT AND IMPRESSION – THESE ARE EASIER TO STUDY – BUT I DECLINE TO JOIN THEM.

AS USUAL.

I AM A PHILOSOPHER. A HUMAN’S “THING-NESS” – IT’S RESEMBLANCE TO THE INANIMATE OR INARTICULATE WORLD – DOES NOT INTEREST ME OVERMUCH. A HUMAN’S “PERSON-NESS,” MY OWN “PERSON-NESS,” THESE HOLD MY ATTENTION.

Beginnings and Destinations

 

IN A FEW DAYS, GOD WILLING, I WILL ARRIVE AT THE COMPLETION OF MY 44TH YEAR AND BEGIN MY 45TH ON PLANET EARTH.  IF I HAVE BEEN HERE BEFORE OR IF I HAVE BEEN ELSEWHERE, I KNOW NOTHING OF IT.  SO I HAVE NO HOPE OF BEING HERE AGAIN, AND A SMALL, FERVENT HOPE OF LIVING ON IN SOME FASHION AFTER MY LAST DAY IN, I PRAY, BETTER CIRCUMSTANCES.

 

AROUND THIS TIME EACH YEAR, MY MEMORIES START FLOODING BACK UP; THERE IS NO DISCERNABLE ORDER TO THE FLOOD, JUST A RUSH OF SCENES AND STORIES, EPISODES FOR ME TO PIECE TOGETHER AND FROM WHICH TO MAKE SOME SORT OF SENSE.

 

I THOUGHT OF WRITING ALL THESE DOWN, BUT IT’S 2 AM AND YOU, GENTLE READER, WOULD PROBABLY CARE LESS ABOUT ANY OF THEM, THOUGH SEVERAL YOU WOULD FIND AMUSING.  THAT, AND I HAVE TO GET UP AND BE ABOUT MY BUSINESS IN A FEW HOURS, SO I THREW THE LIMITATION ON MYSELF THAT I’D SPEND NO MORE THAN ONE HOUR TYPING AND TALKING TO MYSELF PUBLICLY FOR YOUR EDIFICATION AND TO SILENCE MY OWN HEAD.  ONE HOUR’S WORTH OF MY DRONING SHOULD BE ENOUGH FOR ANYONE, INCLUDING MYSELF.  BACK WHEN I TAUGHT, IT WAS CERTAINLY ENOUGH FOR MY POOR STUDENTS.

 

WHICH MEMORY TO DISPLAY, THEN?  ONE THAT MAKES ME OUT TO BE A HERO?  ONE THAT PORTRAYS ME AS A ROGUE?  ONE THROWING LIGHT ON MY SENSE OF HUMOR?  ONE FILLED WITH SADNESS?

 

I’M GOING TO TELL YOU A STORY, GENTLE READER, NOT AIMED AT DOING ANY OF THESE THINGS.  I AM NO HERO, NOR ENTIRELY A NE’ER-DO-WELL, NOR ALL FUNNY, NOR CRYING INTERMINABLY.  I AM AND HAVE BEEN AND DONE ALL OF THESE THINGS AND MORE, AS HAVE YOU, DOUBTLESS, AND PROBABLY BETTER.  BUT ONE THING I HAVE BEEN GOOD AT IN MY NEARLY 44 YEARS IS LEARNING AND TAKING LIFE AS A LESSON AND A TEST.  OH, I FAIL THE TESTS OFTEN ON THE FIRST, SECOND, AND EVEN HUNDREDTH TRY, BUT WHAT I AM, WITHOUT QUALIFICATION, IS STUBBORN.  I KEEP TRYING.  I KEEP WORKING AT THINGS, TURNING THEM AROUND AND AROUND AS A DOG WORRIES A BONE TILL HE CRACKS IT OPEN AND GETS AT THE MARROW.  I HAVE WORRIED WITH SOME PROBLEMS LITERALLY FOR DECADES TILL I CRACKED THEM OR SPLINTERED THEIR SHELLS TO GIVE UP TASTE OR SCENT.

 

WHY?  WHY NOT?  I’VE NOTHING BETTER TO DO WITH MY TIME.

 

I WAS IN THIRD GRADE, MRS. DOWDY’S CLASS.  SHE WAS AN OLDER, HEAVY WOMAN WITH HEAVY GLASSES, WORE SKIRTS THAT LOOKED LIKE THEY WERE MADE FROM THE PRINT 20 POUND FLOUR SACKS THEY USED TO SELL.  MAYBE THEY WERE.  IT WAS A SMALL TOWN IN A LARGELY RURAL COUNTY IN THE FOOTHILLS OF THE APPALACHIANS – HER HUSBAND WAS A FARMER AND A PREACHER AND DROVE A SCHOOL BUS.  I DOUBT THEY HAD MUCH.  MOST OF US DIDN’T, REALLY, BY COMPARISON WITH PEOPLE IN CITIES.

 

BUT MY PARENTS ALWAYS GAVE ME 15 CENTS FOR ICE CREAM EACH DAY.  THEY HAD ENOUGH FOR THAT, AND I LIKED ICE CREAM.

 

THE GIRL WHO SAT NEXT TO ME WAS NAMED AUDREY.  SHE HAD SHORT, BLACK HAIR AND BIG, BLUE EYES AND CARRIED A LITTLE PURSE OF SOME SORT.  AUDREY WAS NEITHER FRIEND NOR ENEMY – SHE WAS PART OF THE FURNITURE OF MY WORLD.  COME IN, SIT DOWN, LOOK LEFT, THERE’S AUDREY TALKING TO HER FRIENDS.  SHE WAS NICE ENOUGH, WHICH MEANS SHE DID NOT SAY BAD THINGS TO ME OR MAKE FUN OF ME, BUT THAT’S ABOUT ALL.  I WAS FURNITURE IN HER WORLD, TOO.

 

THE ICE CREAM PROCEDURE WORKED LIKE THIS: AFTER LUNCH AT SOME POINT, THE TEACHER WOULD LINE UP EVERYONE WHO HAD THE MONEY FOR THE STUFF, WALK US ACROSS THE HALL TO THE LUNCHROOM WHERE THERE WAS AN ICE CREAM FREEZER.  THE TEACHER WOULD TAKE OUR DIMES AND NICKELS AND, IN RETURN, WE PICKED OUR TREAT.  THEN WE ALL WENT TO RECESS.

 

ONE DAY, AUDREY WAS LOOKING FOR HER DIME AND NICKEL WHERE SHE’D LEFT IT IN HER PURSE DURING LUNCH.  NO DIME, NO NICKEL, NO PENNIES, NO NOTHING.  SHE COULDN’T FIND IT.  I WAS SITTING THERE WATCHING HER DRASTIC PANTOMIME BECOME MORE EXCITED UNTIL SHE COLLAPSED IN HER CHAIR AND BEGAN CRYING.  BIG TEARS ROLLED OUT OF HER BIG, BLUE EYES, AND SOMETHING IN ME HURT FOR HER.  EVERYONE IN CLASS JUST SAT THERE LOOKING AT THE GIRL, DOING NOTHING – NO ICE CREAM FOR AUDREY TODAY.  I COULDN’T STAND IT.  IT DIDN’T SEEM RIGHT.  YES, I LIKED ICE CREAM, BUT I DIDN’T WANT TO SEE AUDREY CRY BECAUSE SHE COULDN’T HAVE ANY.  MY MOTHER HAD RAISED ME BETTER THAN THAT – TO SHARE WITH PEOPLE WHO DIDN’T HAVE WHAT YOU HAD.

 

FOOLISH ME.  I ACTUALLY LISTENED TO AND BELIEVED THINGS LIKE THAT.  I’M SURE ALMOST EVERYONE SITTING THERE STARING AT AUDREY HAD, TOO, BUT THEY WEREN’T MOVING.  SO I STOOD UP, REACHED IN MY JEANS, AND TRIED TO HAND AUDREY MY 15 CENTS.  I COULD DO WITHOUT ICE CREAM ONE DAY TO MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY, I SUPPOSED.

 

MRS. DOWDY YELLED AT ME.  SHE WAS WATCHING FROM THE FRONT OF THE ROOM.  SHE MADE ME STAND UP AND ACCUSED ME OF STEALING THE MONEY.  I SAID, “NO, I DIDN’T, I JUST WANT AUDREY TO FEEL BETTER.”  THE TEACHER INSISTED I TOOK THE MONEY WHILE WE WERE OUT AT LUNCH AND THEN MY CONSCIENCE HAD GOTTEN THE BETTER OF ME; SHE INSISTED I ADMIT IT TO THE CLASS.  THE STUBBORNNESS TOOK OVER.  “NO,” WAS ALL I SAID.

 

“THE GREAT EYE IN THE SKY IS WATCHING YOU AND KNOWS WHAT YOU’VE DONE,” SHE SOLEMNLY PRONOUNCED AS ONLY A BAPTIST PREACHER’S WIFE COULD HAVE.

 

I WAS THINKING, YOU’RE RIGHT.  HE KNOWS WHAT I’VE DONE AND WHAT YOU’VE DONE, TOO.

 

I FELT DIRTY.  I FELT HUMILIATED.  AUDREY WOULDN’T LOOK AT ME AND I DON’T THINK SHE EVER SPOKE TO ME AGAIN EVEN IN PASSING TILL SHE MOVED AWAY.  I SUPPOSE THE REST OF THE CLASS THOUGHT I WAS THE ICE CREAM MONEY THIEF AFTER THAT; EVEN IF THEY DIDN’T, THEY DID FOR THE REST OF THAT ONE DAY.

 

I DIDN’T BUY ICE CREAM AND I THINK I QUIT EATING IT AT SCHOOL, FOR THE MOST PART.  TO THIS DAY, ICE CREAM HAS BAD CONNOTATIONS FOR ME.

 

OH, WHAT GREAT LESSON DID I LEARN?

 

I THINK THAT DAY I BECAME A PHILOSOPHER.  A REAL ONE, NOT JUST SOME JABBERING SCHOLAR WITH AN ARMLOAD OF DEGREES.  I LIVED WHAT I BELIEVED.  I HAD INTEGRITY.  I REFUSED TO BACK DOWN AGAINST AN OVERWHELMING FORCE WHEN I KNEW THE TRUTH, AND I REFUSED TO BLASPHEME AGAINST THE TRUTH – AT LEAST THAT DAY.  I LEARNED THAT STANDING UP AND DOING THE RIGHT THING IS OFTEN REWARDED WITH NOTHING BUT ABUSE AND EMBARRASSMENT – AND THAT YOU’VE STILL GOT TO TRY TO DO THE RIGHT THING ANYWAY, BE THE PERSON YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE, NO MATTER WHO OR WHAT OPPOSES YOU.  IT’S BETTER TO SUFFER FOR DOING SOMETHING GOOD THAN TO SIT IN COMFORT, UNWILLING TO STAND UP AND DO ANYTHING AT ALL.

 

I LEARNED THERE IS A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE BETWEEN APPEARING GOOD AND ACTUALLY BEING A GOOD PERSON, AND THAT TRULY GOOD PEOPLE MAY, TO THE MISINFORMED OR OVERLY SUSPICIOUS OR PREJUDICED, LOOK LIKE BAD PEOPLE.  AND I LEARNED THERE IS VERY LITTLE ONE CAN DO TO CONTROL ANYTHING ABOUT ONE’S REPUTATION – ONE’S REPUTATION IS AT THE MERCY OF THE MOUTHS OF STRANGERS; ONE’S TRUE WORTH IS KNOWN ONLY TO ONESELF AND TO ONE’S GOD.

 MAYBE NOT EVEN TO ONESELF.

 

I LEARNED SOME OF THOSE LESSONS THAT DAY, MY HEAD HANGING IN MRS. DOWDY’S CLASS.  OTHERS TOOK ME DECADES TO REASON OUT OF THAT INCIDENT AND OTHERS LIKE THEM.  I BECAME, OVER TIME, ALMOST PROUD OF THAT LONE KID WHO STOOD UP TO AND TRIED TO COMFORT HIS CLASSMATE FOR NO BETTER REASON THAN SHE OUGHT NOT TO SUFFER SO OVER SO LITTLE.  I BECAME A BIT PROUDER OF THE KID WHO REFUSED TO ADMIT WRONG WHEN NO WRONG WAS DONE, WHO DIDN’T COWER IN THE FACE OF ABUSED AUTHORITY, WHO SPOKE SIMPLY AND CLEARLY, FOR ONCE IN HIS LIFE, THE TRUTH, AT A MOMENT IT MATTERED TO SPEAK IT.  THERE’S NOTHING HEROIC IN IT – IT’S WHAT EVERYONE SHOULD DO IN SIMILAR SITUATIONS, AS A MATTER OF COURSE.

 

THANK YOU FOR YOUR INDULGENCE AND FOR MAKING THE TRIP THROUGH ONE OF THE MEMORIES THAT MAKE UP MY WORLD, ONE OF THE BETTER ONES.  AN HOUR HAS PASSED AND IT’S TIME TO STOP.  MAYBE NOW I CAN SLEEP.

 

RICHARD VAN INGRAM

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN 5 FEBRUARY 2010

[Addendum, 7 June 2015

I apologize for the capital letters — I’m too lazy to re-write the thing and I’ve no idea what possessed me to do that in the first place.

One continues to learn throughout one’s life — if one works at it.  More experiences, more consideration, reconsideration.   More study, more experimentation, more mistakes, more learning… if we’re fortunate.

I’m pushing 50 now.  I’ve made some progress since I wrote this — but this piece of writing seems to stand as is, with a couple of minor alterations for wordiness.  It’s no great piece of meditation, but the theory and ideas are solid.  As are the beliefs in me these powered, the standards, the values, the actions, overall.

Hopefully one can take something valuable away from this aside from the impression I am, at times, self-indulgent.  But I am no exhibitionist — my personal tales are chosen for one purpose: universalizability.  That’s all.  Nothing else.  Individually, I am unimportant and very boring; but some episodes in my life, I’ve found, resonate with some people.  So I choose to share those openly.

The real me:  I remain a mystery.  To you and to me.

RVI]

"Between Time and Death," Pen and ink, Richard Van Ingram, 1994,  owned by an anonymous collector
“Between Time and Death,” Pen and ink, Richard Van Ingram, 1994, owned by an anonymous collector

 

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A Meditation on Suicide

 

A Meditation on Suicide

 

 

I can do it you gently,

I can do it with an animal’s grace,

I can do it with precision,

I can do it with gourmet taste,

But either way,

Either (way), either way,

I wanna kill you

I wanna blow you…

Away.

I can do it to your mind,

I can do it to your face,

I can do it with integrity,

I can do it with disgrace…

I can do it in a church,

I can do it any time or place,

 

I can do it like an angel

To quiet down your rage…

 

Johnny, angry Johnny, this is Jezebel in hell

I wanna kill you, I wanna blow you…away.

I can do it in the water,

I can do on dry land,

I can do it with instruments,

I can do it with my own bare hands.

But either way,

Either way, you know where it stands:

I wanna kill you —

I wanna blow you…

Away.

Johnny, angry Johnny, this is Jezebel in hell —

Johnny, oh my Johnny…

Where did your pleasure go?

When the pain came through you?

Where did your happiness go?

This force is running you around, now

Getting you down, now —

Where is your pleasure now, Johnny?

Where has your pleasure gone now?

Johnny, angry Johnny…

POE – “Angry Johnny” [choruses edited]

Twice.

Once at 16 with a hawkbill knife, alone in the woods, wicked sharpened point resting on my forearm.  I couldn’t push it in.  Sat there on a stump for who knows how long, staring at it, balanced between life and death — the sharp edge of the blade asking me to leave and be done with it and the dull back telling me to fold the knife back up and face the next hour.  See what happens next.  Wait it out.

And, so, I did.  I didn’t really want to die as much as for things to be different.  Better.  My life… my circumstances were bad and I had no guidance, no support that was meaningful.  No one to talk to who could truly hear me.  Understand — help me understand that circumstances change given time.

And I did, too, (change) as I stuck around to find out “what’s next” and to make choices about it.

I got better… and worse.

29 years old.

My wife told me she was divorcing me.  I cried.  Begged.  I was bipolar and didn’t know — mixed episodes, manic and depressed simultaneously.  In reality, I was doubtless intolerable.  She was done.  Both of us should have been done with one another years earlier, but our religion didn’t permit it.  In other words, we used that as an excuse not to do any better and admit the failure, move on.

Our son was only a year and a half old.  I took care of him, she worked.  I could not bear the thought of losing him, not her — that’s why I begged and that’s why I was crying.  In my state, I could not calm down and think clearly — that I could get a lawyer and make certain of my parental rights.  Get on with living.

No, things hadn’t been good.  At all.  Some days when no one was around, I’d been sticking the barrel of a British .303 Lee-Enfield in my mouth to see if I could reach the trigger, kill myself cleanly.  Quickly.  Not botch it.  The taste of steel and gun oil still hangs around in my mouth 20 years later.

It’s a sad taste, an angry taste — mechanical death.

But I loved my son and would put away the rifle under the bed, take another breath, move on in a grey, leaden haze.

That night, the Divorce Night, my ex-wife went to bed.  My rifle was in there.  Couldn’t get it.  Shaking, I walked to the kitchen and found the biggest, most terrible butcher knife out and aimed the point at my guts.  Seppuku.  An honorable death to blot out the dishonor of my pointless existence.  Spill my intestines on the floor, bleed out — a horrible death.  I deserved a horrible death.  Voices like those in that song by POE kept replaying and replaying in my mind.  They had for years.

But all I could think of was… my guts staining my ex-wife’s floor when she finally found my corpse.  And my son growing up with me as a bad memory and nothing else.  That was not the Fate I was assigned and my destiny demanded something better of me.  I could not be that woman’s husband and I was no good for myself at all — but my boy: I owed him.  I owed him “my” life — I did not belong to myself like property.  I had chosen to be a father, so I chose him.  My life was his.

At least his.  His life was meaningful to me.  It remains so.

I put the knife down and called a friend to come get me.  He drove me around all night til the urge to die passed, then took me to a therapist we knew the next morning.  Then to the hospital where I was evaluated and sent to the Mental Health Crisis Unit where I signed myself in.

That was 1995, 28 August, the Feast Day of St. Augustine of Hippo.

Diagnosis, meds, stabilization, monitoring, smoking in the yard, movies at night.  Doctors, newspapers, therapy.  The most important thing I learned was that the Chinese character for “crisis” is a combination of two ideographs — one meaning “danger.” the other “opportunity”.  Deep wisdom.  I’ve contemplated the two edges of that knife ever since and keep choosing opportunity.

My son is 21 now.  I fought to keep him stable, pass on what I learned.  I tried.  Perfection was not my aim, but goodness.  Good enough-ness.

That worked well enough.

And along the line I became good for other people aside from my son, a little better for myself — I achieved a level of stability, obviously.  Medications — I take them religiously.  The mania went into remission 15 years ago and counting.  The depression, not so much.  It rises a bit and falls horribly at times.  I’ve learned to live through it.  It can be done.  I’ve gone back into therapy.  I have help.  If it gets too bad to bear, there is the hospital.

Dying is easy.  The manners of death are nigh infinite — the menu is long, elaborate or simple.  Meaninglessness isn’t an achievement.  Death, if I choose it, is meaningless, the choice of meaninglessness.

Living is a struggle.  A struggle for meaning and meanings are finite and difficult to bring into being.  Painful.  I doubt, sincerely, the value of “happiness” as a goal — it’s a by-product, at best, of achievements… not economic “achievements,” but ethical ones.

That much I’ve figured out… with help.  Jung, Frankl, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Camus, Ortega y Gasset, and many, many teachers, examples, guides.

The struggle is better.  “Better” only exists due to strenuous, consistent effort.

Life, if truly lived, humanly lived, is a constant revolt against the absurdity of death and its twin brother, meaninglessness.  Thank you, Albert Camus for achieving that insight and sharing it for all to read and grasp.  Or not.

It’s your choice.  It always was.

6 June 2015

Richard Van Ingram

 

 

 

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A Question for My Readers

I’ve thought about doing this for years, but was never certain anyone would listen.

If I created a weekly/bi-weekly podcast, would any of you listen?  An answer yes or no will suffice.  Just write a message to this post at the bottom.

Of course, I speak English, USA version, and would use my lecturing voice and attempt to be clear and entertaining.  An episode would be 15 minutes or 30 minutes — 15 if bi-weekly, 30 if weekly.

Second question, if I did a podcast, what sort of content would you appreciate?  The sort of things I express here?  Commentary on a particular sort of topic?  Give me some feedback in the message if you would.

That’s all for the moment.

Thank you,

RVI

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On Silence and Creativity

The Wise say that midnight is the hour the Face of God is closest to the world.  Perhaps that is because the night, in traditional cultures, was once quiet and mysterious; one could only hear the breath of the winds and the far off cries of night animals, the promise or dread of tomorrow.

Midnight, for most contemporary Americans, probably means something besides keeping watch over creation with the Divine – it means returning from a movie or the bar, or it means the night shift, or sleep, or television.  Cities are busy by night, and even the rural areas, in their hidden ways, are a swarm of activities and entertainments.

Activity means extending oneself into the world, holding its hand, wooing and dancing with it, arguing, dueling or trading blows.  Activity, though, most usually means losing oneself in the world, forgetting oneself, going through the motions of what most of us call “living”: being completely caught up in the events of the world and daily demands to act out pre-written roles one has not so much chosen as surrendered to.  One’s language is filled with gossip and hearsay, words and ideas of anonymous “others.”

A certain amount of inauthenticity is unavoidable in human existence – that is obvious enough.  But sometimes, around midnight, I wonder whether our culture has almost completely obliterated authenticity – whether inauthenticity, living outside oneself to such a degree that one’s interior only speaks in dreams is the only acceptable form of life.  I wonder how many people act as they do because they must, because they must be who they are, because they have some genuine idea of who they have to be that was hammered out in sweat and doubt and years of anguished questioning.  And I wonder how many act as they do because it is “what is done,” what is fashionable, acceptable, expected – even because it is the easiest path.

 

Maybe here, in San Antonio Thursday is the dead night – the streets are clear and quiet; I haven’t heard a siren for hours, nor the roar of a plane going who-knows-where or why.  All that’s here is my cat, who alternates between being drowsy, loving and energetic and destructive to the furniture.  My wife sleeps, tired after a day of work.  And there is the television.  I watched the news shows – Joe Lieberman wants to violate the Constitution by stripping the citizenship of people he doesn’t like; Arizona wants to punish poor people who come here illegally for work and a better life rather than focus on the businesses that hire them or social justice; oil spews into the Gulf of Mexico; Greece is falling apart, the European Union is shaky, the U.S. economy may sink yet again.  Wars smolder in the Middle East and American soldiers see the sun rise over strange horizons.

 

All of these concern me, pull me out of myself . . . for a moment.  But it is midnight, and at midnight one becomes aware of exactly how little one controls in this world, how limited one’s ability to influence events.  As soon as a thought is formed or a plan, a word spoken well or poorly, as soon as one puts one’s hand to something – the rest is a matter of Fortune and Providence and the choices of others.  What is within my grasp and responsibility lies deep within me: it is mine to go within, to withdraw from action and outward activity and learn who I am and who I must be.

 

In the midnight silence, there is space within, my own cavernous interior, where there is a reflected echo of the Divine Face: sometimes it is a dim spark, sometimes a shadowy outline, sometimes a whisper, a direction.  In the silence, I can become caught up in the conversation between myself and my Self, and between myself and my God.  In ancient times, the Greeks and the Romans called this secret Self that dwells within, this secret messenger between me and the Divine, the daimon: the guiding spirit or Reason, one’s holy angel, one’s destiny, one’s vocation.

 

It is only in the silence of withdrawal that we can hear our particular calling – the vocatio, our special calling and direction in life, the unique and irreplaceable person who we must become if we are to be ourselves.  Before and after all action and activity there has to be withdrawal into our secret Self to question our destiny for guidance, for we are like sailors on the seas at night and our special calling is the Pole Star we must guide ourselves by – it does not fail to lead even if all other stars fade or fluctuate.

 

And all others stars do fail, do fade, like the fashions they are attached to, the mind- and soul-numbing activities they inspire.  Each has only one true, authentic Self, a true calling more than mere ego in this world, a mission that must be done by you or me and no other.  One must hone, train and beat the unrestrained, raw ego into a perfect tool to achieve this mission by means of the pressure of virtues and high standards of honor.  There has never been any other way to live properly as a human, as humanity is something to be achieved and won, not something handed over easily or automatically, lightly, as a gift of bountiful nature.  For there is something beyond nature in the human, something always to be done, not something simply to rest in having been achieved.  Human being is a matter of active self-creativity, not the automatic processes of nature.

 

Richard Van Ingram

Originally written 7 May 2010

The Magnum Opus Basil Valentinus

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