On Self Respect

Self respect is an act of defiance.

It’s not supposed to be. It’s popularly portrayed as an internal glow, this happy warm energy that irradiates everything around you with the recognition that yes, you are a living creature, give you space to exist. 

But few people get space for free.  The world can be a claustrophobic place. The walls of other peoples’ needs, desires, expectations, and fears can press in too tightly, over and over again. They don’t cease and desist just because there’s a living, breathing person caught in the way. 

Under these circumstances, there are some people who know how to find the cracks in those walls. They are able to find the small forgotten spaces, beyond the press of others’ existence. They are able to climb on the roof to enjoy a sunset smoke, as it were, kicking their heels against the shingles while gazing down at their in-laws’ perfectly waxed car and their neighbor’s passive aggressive hedge trimming activities. They do it proudly, in full view of the neighborhood, and they do it with the full knowledge that they will be a repeat offender. 

Like most acts of defiance, you can’t really do self respect “just once.” It’s a gateway to all sorts of subversive activities. You may start saying “no” more often, and “yes” when you really mean it. You may spend more time pursuing activities that make you aware of your soul. You may become less susceptible to manipulation and browbeating and your own complicity in sterilizing your existence. 

Luckily, you don’t need to procure suspicious materials in order to make your very own homemade self respect. You don’t need large quantities of tylenol or lime, you don’t need a spare bathtub to hold a batch. You don’t need to watch Breaking Bad like it’s Martha Stewart, although if you do that’s your business. 

I won’t include exact amounts. This isn’t The Anarchist’s Cookbook, and besides – trial and error is a traditional part of the process. Your exact needs may vary. However, here is a basic ingredients list for your very own starter batch of self respect. 

Know your values. This is a lot less highbrow than it sounds. Simply know what you can’t face yourself after – the things that trigger your urge to hide from yourself. Watch for that little internal cringe and twitch of the curtains between you and the world. 

Be aware. Know what it feels like something or someone has dented or violated one of these values. Whether it’s the world pressing in or your own soft spots, know your pressure points and the ways they give in. 

Practice honesty. When one of your values hasn’t performed well under pressure, you may try to hide the feeling from yourself with any number of activities or excuses. These are distractions. Your life is too important to give away to distraction when you could face the truth and grow. If you aren’t honest, you’ll never know when it’s time to give yourself some compassion.

Be contrary. A touch of contrarianism is the crucial touch – that secret ingredient that makes the above Sunday school class of virtues sit up and take notes. It’s salt, it’s Tabasco, it’s fish sauce and fireworks. You can’t craft enduring self respect without a certain subversive tendency to question what you’re told and repurpose what you’re given. 

Of course, there’s one last part of the process. You have to be willing to ask yourself: “Why am I worth self respect?” Until you find that answer, you won’t be willing to defend your space once you’ve made it.  

You’ll have to ponder that question on your own. I can just about manage my own efforts at crafting self respect, what with the most recent explosions and resulting cleanup and singed eyebrows, etc. etc. But my current answer to that question looks something like this.

My existence holds a piece of the universe, a piece that wouldn’t otherwise exist. That piece isn’t going to see expression any other way. 

Like most homegrown attempts at “profound” “truth”, there’s a catch: I don’t know what that piece is. I’m playing this game blind, without any indication of my own value, though sometimes I catch a glimpse of others’ value. It’s like cheating at poker, except my own hand’s cards are printed in invisible ink. 

Because I don’t know my own value, and I don’t know what part of me may be unique, I don’t get to quit defending the integrity of the whole. Or rather, I can – everyone has that choice, multiple times a day. So at a certain point, because I can’t see my own value but can sometimes see others’ value – I have to conclude that defending my self respect is necessary because it enables me to see others clearly from a distance of my own making. 

This translates to: life needs me. The pieces I can’t see, need me. Even the people who crowd and hem me in – need me. They just don’t understand enough to see it. They need my resistance to their demands, and they need me as a separate, unique part of a system they can’t see. So when I say self respect is an act of defiance – I guess I mean altruism. Self respect is an act of altruism…towards yourself and others. 

I don’t know, I still think defiance sounds like a lot more fun. We’ll stick with that for now. And if you have any good recipes for your own version of self respect… by all means please share in the comments. I’ve got plenty of time while I wait for the next batch to finish cooking.

Two Body Problem

The third point in space
Between two bodies bound
Against trajectory:
Call it equilibrium, 
Or call it empty.

You may call it mystery
Divine, or of Science,
Math or logic clear –
Barycenter, or 
Buried center, a 
Two-body problem

As most things are.

You may call it what you like,
Language major
Or minor fair –
More or less. 
I do not care –

I shall call it

“Barycenter” is our name for the point about which two (or more) bodies, bound together by gravitational pull, orbit. Mathematically speaking, it’s the bodies’ center of mass. Metaphysically speaking, it can be anything we want, because it’s not a physical point – it’s a dynamical system, a function of how the bodies interact over time. Like most explanations by poets who get hold of a physics textbook, this one is surely self-serving and far off from the factual base. Yet in a world crafted by definitions, I find my need for a philosophy of dynamics rather than constants runs deep. Sometimes it is good just to acknowledge that there is indeed a space between two bodies that is not replicated by any other space between any other set of two (or more) bodies. And sometimes that is enough – call it what you will.

Walk Out In Stillness

Blessed are those
Who walk out in stillness – 
Who walk out
In the calm of the day
The early sun
Or afternoon’s scorched hum,
In the byways and alleys,
Shadows and lanes
Or the tracks’ farther lonely side.

Blessed are those
Who find or lose
What they seek –
They will keep looking
To find, or find again.

They will walk out in stillness,
They will step towards
The moon, the sun, and the empty sky
Stretched across stars unseen –
They will stretch towards 
Stars unseen.

Blessed are those
Who listen – 
Blessed are those
Whose breath is held,
Whose being is held,
Whose breath is leashed
By things unsaid, 
As an echo of all that is said
In stillness.

They Say If You Want Something Done

They say if you want something done, you must do it yourself. This is not true. 

For starters, there are many things best accomplished by getting someone else to do them. Plumbing, for example, or electrical work – the type of home emergency for which you are unsure whether a professional or an exorcist is more urgently needed. (Don’t wait. Call both.)

Planning one’s own birthday party, too, is an activity which may not yield the best results when delegated – yet the secret, slightly smug satisfaction that comes from others trying (without too much hinting or suggestive tactics) lends the outcome a piquancy achieved through no other means. (It may not even matter if the cake is not the requested flavor, or the dog ate half of it, or the dog baked it, or the cat got involved halfway through and added tuna: the point is, they tried.)

Still. There are some things which, whether or not you want them done, must be done by…you

The first step is of course to see if they must be done now. It is remarkable how many tasks are described as “time-sensitive.” This is just administrative linguistic overreach. Technically speaking, everything is time-sensitive, i.e. sensitive to time. Mountains, oceans, and glaciers are all time-sensitive, but no one goes around asking for copies in triplicate, black not blue ink. 

(Actually it is likely that mountains, oceans, and glaciers are becoming more time-sensitive.  That’s the problem with humanity, it has to go around inflicting its love of deadlines on everyone else, like the more tactless brand of mortician.)

If the above dodge fails, you can always tweak the basic premise in the following way.

If you want something done, there is a simple solution. You must find something else more important to do.

Something urgent, something dreadful: deep dark apologies or tax returns or another deadline – any other deadline, although if it is firm enough to have two extra names and advertise in the “Legal Services” section of the phone book, so much the better. Your chances of accomplishing anything else just skyrocketed. 

The key is mis-directing your own better judgment, i.e. natural tendency to avoid things. By carefully and completely avoiding the larger issue – with all the thoroughness and attention to detail you can muster – you increase your likelihood of accidentally finishing the comparatively-smaller issue(s). Rather like velociraptors vs. Tyrannosaurus Rex in Jurassic Park

I am always extremely surprised by the amount of things that mysteriously disappear off my to-do list around, say, tax filing time. It’s like a reverse missing persons list, except instead of bodies (living or otherwise) I keep finding a trail of no laundry, no dirty dishes, and no remaining meal prep. It gets to the point I’m afraid to check the mailbox for fear of seeing all the neatly stamped-and-addressed envelopes waiting to go out, etc. 

If you are still following the logic here, you must have noticed one more final item of importance. It is crucial to plan time in which to burn through lesser tasks – the original “something you wanted done” – before the actual deadline of the task you are using as a switch-and-bait comes up. 

This is why, if you are going to use this method, you must start early. I now start my tax filing preparations in July just so I can get all the other items moved off of my to-do list before the following April. This also, effectively, means I can accept no more new tasks for the year past July 1st. Why? Because then I’d never get anything done. 

Tidal Pools

Light by side by sun by dawn
East to shore to scale to spawn
Here the weeds and algae latch upon
The rock. 

As the moon so as the sun
As the winds and breakers run
Drawn by ties so widely flung
And strong. 

Cloud by up by west by noon
Here one space, a static room
This tidal pool away from flume
And chance.

Dark by glass by storm by sea
No shore is an island free
And tidal pools new depths shall see
With time. 

One by two by more by few
Us by all by time by true
Shoal by shore by fathoms new – 

In a moment in a breath
Waiting long or sudden stretch
Birth to born to life’s long death
Also, is.

Novena (Nine Days’ Walk Towards Fire)

Nine days’ walk towards fire
In the time of gathering green;
Nine days’ wait towards Spirit come down,
To bridge the seen and unseen.

As tongues shall speak, so salt my words
With wind or quiet breath.
As over waters – soul’s rebirth –
So hover, merahepeth.

“Merahepeth” (מְרַחֶ֖פֶת) is a Hebrew word uniquely used in Genesis 1:2, where it refers to the Spirit of God hovering “over the face of the waters” in a manner similar to a mother bird brooding over her young. To me, it is an image of all-surrounding peace, yet – like a bird alighting – a peace that is not static. It is an active peace that is dynamic, free, and alive to change and possibility. It is not found within a status quo. It is a presence of the present moment – never a second before nor after.

A novena is a prayer said in sets of nine, often over nine days or nine hours. The past months have been a period of change, and as Pentecost and the return to “Ordinary Time” (what a designation) approaches, the above is my own novena to prepare for presence of mind, presence of mindfulness, presence of peace, and the balance of a bird hovering over turbulent waters. As each of your own lives may have need, I hope the same may find you.

No Parallel

To be –

To be
One thing,

About which circle
May be drawn.

Circle or square, 

Give or give in
Give out,
Take part,
Song – 

Each or any of all
Or none
Points through which
More points chart;

My love,
In this wide-flung plane
No parallel lines,

I am a skeptic towards the idea of “epic love.” Or at least, towards the human capacity for such; this became apparent when faced with a writing prompt of “relationships – larger than life or epic love” as given by Lisa Ann Markuson in her weekly SocietyX Therapeutic Poetry Workshop. The “one soul, two bodies” business (as it was predicated) seems to me to make light of all the other internal and external processes which make the idea of “ONE” relationship possible.

Relationship, of course, can take in anything from cellular systems to nuclear forces. Is this relevant to the person sitting across the room from me? Is this good first (or twentieth) date conversation? I have no idea; that is why this is poetry and not relationship advice.

But insofar as I have found it useful to consider my personal relationships as dynamic states of growth influenced by more than I pay attention to – rather than static states defined by the snapshot-perfect essence of one plus one person, pinned in time – this is some sort of love letter to something.

And insofar as the person sitting across the room from me constantly pushes me to be more than my habits, routines, and preconceptions – I suppose, after all, a relationship between two is always about becoming larger than one life.

Two Beside

Two beside
On a sunny side walk;

Small hat, floral skirt; 
Hand in hand
Close ahead
Or far behind. 

Two beside
Do not have room – 

No room for a hat
When wind lifts hair
And heart;

And the floral skirt now knows
Autumn best. 

Soft salt lifts, then,
Like an ocean; like waves
That carry 

Let the image float, then.

Above and aside
Alone and apart


So long as 
no shores touch.

A Slight Haunting Problem

A few months ago, our apartment developed a slight haunting problem. 

We determined the problem was a haunting due to the fact that deep scratches kept appearing on the living room’s fake wood floor, and all the humans in the apartment swore it wasn’t them. Clearly invisible forces were at play. 

We were content to cohabit with our unseen guest(s) until two days ago, when we learned the Apartment Management was commencing its semi-yearly inspections. 

Within the pantheon of external forces that act upon inhabitants of this apartment, the Apartment Management is seen as one of the more powerful malignant entities. Their regular sweeps of the premises are met with slightly more preparation than if we were informed the Lord of Darkness would appear. The Lord of Darkness only carries a pitchfork; the Apartment Management comes armed with clipboards, and has (so far) shown no susceptibility to crucifixes, counter-curses, rings of salt, or anything else we may have picked up from watching Supernaturals

In addition to being evil – which we could probably overlook – they are also illogical. They do not accept excuses such as “a slight haunting” for mysterious apartment maladies such as scratches in the fake wood floor. The Apartment Management prefers to assign blame to people with bank accounts, so it can charge them. 

Thus, today I realized a childhood ambition. I spent the morning coloring directly on the floor. 

Conveniently, there are little “floor repair kits” that come with an assortment of wood-toned markers (oak through walnut) and several shades of wax. (Enough other people must experience this same form of haunting activity for the market to respond.) You rub the wax into the scratches and use the markers to blend the now-even floor into its surroundings. 

Believe me when I assure you – it’s hours of entertainment. Or occupation. I was occupied for several hours, and entertained for about five minutes. But I was pleased with my handiwork. Instead of “deeply scratched fake wood,” our living room floor is now a pattern best described as “camouflage coverup.” It gives a charmingly casual vibe to the room. A few strategically-tossed rugs complete the look. 

Of course, it remains to be seen what our unseen guest(s) think of the new arrangement. Will they feel unwelcome? Will they resort to Poltergeist-style activities to convey this unhappiness? It is possible they have already carried out such activities in our kitchen, without us noticing – will they move this activity to other, less naturally chaotic, areas of the apartment? 

We wait, in the certainty that our actions affect more than that which we can see. We seek answers, in the hopes that we may be able to coexist peacefully and tidily with that beyond our understanding. We continue to watch Supernaturals for home decor tips, because you never know. 

And we move heavy furniture in front of the front door, in terror of the time when the Apartment Management will move in our midst. 

Author’s Note: By some strange coincidence, the scratches regularly manifest near my wheeled computer chair. Could there be a connection? The chair was found on the side of the road – perhaps a previous owner could have forged enough of a metaphysical imprint that the chair is now, somehow, channeling their psychological state. But why now? Why that chair, among our collection of trash-find chairs? We like to ponder these questions late at night, by candlelight1 over a glass or two. Then we look over at the glass we left out for our invisible guest(s) and discover it has been drained. Truly “there are more things in heaven and earth…”

1 The Apartment Management also disapproves of candles. But how else are we supposed to discuss our slight haunting problem? You just can’t do it under regular electric light, especially the way all our lightbulbs flicker constantly.