"Her arched look could slam a door from across a room, and more than a few dreams had died at its command."
Yep, it was that kind of morning. I had been reading a description of the English iconoclast Jessica Mitford and the author had placed great emphasis on her singular ability to arch an eyebrow and wither somebody's heart with just a glance. I resolved to make use of that idea somewhere, and when I woke up in morning, I put the quote above in the 'to be used later' section of my journal.
I shared my morning coffee with Carl Jung. He was writing about a dream he had where he was placed into a supplicant position requiring him to touch his head to the floor. He made a strong effort but could not close the last millimeter. In his interpretation, the inability to touch the floor explained man's relationship with God, the willingness to go so far but always holding something back. Without it, he said, there would not have been a need for book of Job, or for Christ to enter the world.
It gave me some food for thought. So much of what is going on in this crazy world carries the same import of the incidents talked about in the scriptures, only we are far too stupid to understand this simple fact, and too given over to the belief that what we say and do is somewhat meaningless. I never liked using the word stupid when I was in the classroom, but the word does seem to perfectly describe the condition of being intentionally ignorant.
Jung was a compassionate thinker too, but he used the phrase maliciously stupid to describe such a state. God forgive me, but I can't help but think that there is a certain maliciousness involved both in mankind's inability to perceive the truth and in our unwillingness to believe that our lives even matter.
I see Shakespeare's fingers all over this current script, and it looks a lot like he's ripping off Faustus and Oedipus the King. I think that he's also been watching some Tarantino movies and possibly The Sopranos on TV. Who knows, maybe Sophocles and Goethe are also collaborating on this project.
In other words, nothing nowadays seems to make any sense at all. I try to keep my hopes up and remember the time that me and my brother Tim brought Tinkerbell back to life by believing with all our hearts. But then I remember reading in a history book that World War One made absolutely no f-ing sense at all either.
I was so shocked that the historian had written the F word that I ran and got a highlighter out of my desk drawer. When I got back to the book, the word was gone. I still remember it though, and that phrase has stuck with me, and I often use it to describe situations like what this old-people-seeking-missile of a virus has created.
To take my mind off of such thoughts I decided to ride my bike around my hometown while listening to Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. It's a trick that I often use in an effort to try to trick the Universe into yielding up some of its secrets.
When I got down to the road by the park where all the squatters are, he was singing about a book of poems that she(?) had given him where,
"Every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burning coal
Pouring off of every page
Like it was written in my soul."
And I knew that it was his way of telling me to pay close attention to my surroundings. That there was something afoot here that most people weren't catching.
As I rode along, my mind often twisted back into the past when I was young and rode my bike along these same paths, and it was like realizing that no time had really elapsed between then and now. When I was looking at these streets through those younger eyes, I was also seeing them as I do now without realizing that it was so, the time between being the illusion.
When I got down to the road in front of the church that used to be the Nazarene church, the song was A Simple Twist of Fate with lyrics that said,
He woke up, the room was bare
He didn't see her anywhere
He told himself he didn't care
Pushed the window open wide
Felt an emptiness inside
To which he just could not relate
Brought on by a simple twist of fate."
Dylan, and especially this album, talks to me, and these words reminded me of my wife's leaving. He wrote them to describe his own heartbreak when his wife left. Pushing the window open wide and feeling the void enter the room, damn, what a soul sucking image. The location where I was when I heard them served to remind me that even churches change over time. You wouldn't think so, but they do.
What few simple twists of fate could have brought about my wife still waking up beside me in the morning and/or the Nazarenes still holding services on the corner of Letts and Hall? I'm left with the distinct impression that those should have been the choices that were made, yet weren't.
He next compounded the feeling of guilt and confusion from those bad decisions with some words from You're a Big Girl Now,
"I'm going out of my mind, oh, oh
With a pain that stops and starts
Like a corkscrew to my heart
Ever since we've been apart."
I don't know about the people who once attended the Nazarene church. I knew some back in the day, but most of them have long since died. I do know that every now and then that corkscrew is applied to a soft spot in my heart to remind me of the importance of making better choices.
Then minutes later, as I made my way up Letts toward home, Idiot Wind comes on, and this time, it's Job himself telling the story.
"You hurt the ones that I love best
And cover up the truth with lies
One day you’ll be in the ditch
Flies buzzing around your eyes
Blood on your saddle."
Prophetic lines if there ever were prophetic lines. While listening, I can't help but to think that truth remains the truth in spite of all the savage, maliciously stupid people we now have shouting nonsense to the winds. I don't wish anyone ill, but there will be a certain grim satisfaction knowing that them flies will one day buzz around their vacant eyes, at the bottom of a ditch too, and right next to blood stained saddle. He doesn't explicitly say that the horse ran off, but it's implied.
But Dylan doesn't just leave things there. He admonishes the rest of us too. He once said he couldn't find a place to break this song off, that the words and images just kept coming, many insanely beautiful, trenchant, and addressed to our materialistic side,
What's good is bad, what's bad is good
You'll find out when you reach the top
You're on the bottom."
Or else, frighteningly apocalyptic,
"The priest wore black on the seventh day
And sat stone-faced while the building burned."
It is the chorus though where he warns all not to go back to a world of worshipping movie stars and athletes and tells us that we need to take our politicians out to the woodshed in order to remind them they need to work for us and not the opposite. The song's title Idiot Wind seems to perfectly describe our current news media and makes me wonder if it will be all the people who pay them, follow them, or enable them who will eventually wind up seeing/not seeing the buzzing flies and that empty saddle.
There is a message of hope at the end of the album too, but it's words are also juxtaposed against the bleakness of a world where true wisdom has fallen beneath the cushions of the sofa with our pocket change and popcorn seeds where we watch and measure our lives away as time spent between commercial breaks.
The repeated chorus of Shelter From the Storm reminds us that true wisdom only results in recognizing our situations and surroundings for what they really are, biblical settings and events where God is always negotiating for our lives and our salvation or damnation,
"Suddenly I turned around
And she was standing there
With silver bracelets on her wrists
And flowers in her hair
She walked up to me so gracefully
and took my crown of thorns
'Come in,' she said, 'I'll give ya
shelter from the storm.'"
Returning from my journey, I realized that yes, there is such a thing as malicious stupidity. Covid-19 is its cousin and apathy its twin. I also know that there is a stern, austere beauty attached to my hometown. You have to squint sometimes to see it, or else mentally go backwards in time to when you can remember in a soft, fuzzy, glow what it looked like before you missed the opportunities offered up by a few simple twists of fate and made your own series of bad choices.
But given the choice of staying inside again and listening to the children of the corn argue about what our options are, it's well worth the effort to rediscover.