We don’t give other people credit for the same interior complexity we take for granted in ourselves, the same capacity for holding contradictory feelings in balance, for complexly alloyed affections, for bottomless generosity of heart and petty, capricious malice. We can’t believe that anyone could be unkind to us and still be genuinely fond of us, although we do it all the time.
On a more specific note, since I’ve decided to write to Readers instead of Professionals, I’ve also tried to pick one specific Reader, one person, and tell the story to him or her. John Edgar Wideman has a great quote about this. I’m going to paraphrase. He says that reading a story is like intercepting a private letter that’s meant for one specific individual but that’s somehow made its way to you. I like this idea very much.
Picking one person, one who isn’t too close to you (and the story you’re trying to tell) but isn’t too far (not a stranger, in other words), can create exactly the right distance. He or she is intimate enough that you will tell the story with your own voice, your personality and quirks. In other words you’ll be speaking with a friend and not some imagined reader. You want it to be someone with a little distance, though; otherwise you’ll fall into the kind of easy, cryptic banter that best friends and family members may understand but others won’t. I can say a certain word to my sister (“Obsession”) and we’ll break down laughing. But it won’t mean much of anything to you. You might grin politely, but you won’t feel included. So you want to avoid anyone that close to the story because you do need to explain, set scenes, create a story.
My last two books were written to two specific people. Old friends who I haven’t hung out with in a long while. They knew me well enough that I could employ my sense of humor and indulge my penchant for the strange, but because we last spoke when we were in our early twenties, I still felt the need to interest them in the story I was trying to tell. That’s the sweet spot for storytelling.
Everything I wanted people to know I’ve already presented, and in some ways I’m more candid in talking about myself than I was before. When you surrender, you get used to a certain level of candor—you know, the old thing, you’re only as sick as your secrets. You develop a confidence in truth-telling. Part of my drinking was so much about trying not to feel things, to not feel how I actually felt, and the terrible thing about being so hidden is if people tell you they love you…it kinda doesn’t sink in. You always think, if you’re hiding things, How could you know who I am? You don’t know who I am, so how could you love me? Saying who I am, and trying to be as candid as possible as part of practicing the principles, has permitted me to actually connect with people for the first time in my life. It’s ended lifelong exile.
They always say God is in the truth, and I’ve ended loneliness and been able to feel connected by saying who I am and how I feel. I’m sort of comfortable to the degree to which I’m an asshole. It’s not like I’m not an asshole—people know the ways I’m an asshole and it’s within the realm of acceptable asshole-ocity. Part of my drinking and depression was having a voice in my head that was constantly criticizing everybody. I was sort of brought up that way, hypercritical, and I feel like my spiritual practice is a constant correction out of judging everybody else. But I think I’m more critical of myself than anybody, strangely enough, as marvelous as I am.
The DOP was redesigning the hubs and had a timeline to spend the money. They asked Jim Biber to do the job and he agreed and signed me on for the graphic component to redo signage and paperwork. We looked at the thing and said, “Listen, these people need art in the offices,” so we made a series of posters for the DOP. We thought it would be really awesome if the posters were inspiring and motivating and we made them tongue-in-cheek by playing off of existing inspirational posters.
This one is the eagle—we’ve all seen this. But our eagle says, “There are no shortcuts.” Then, each poster has a little warning. This one says, “Do the work. The process is everything. If you cheat it, you will compromise the transformation and come out the other side unchanged—a knucklehead.” The last part is, “If you don’t like doing the work the first time, you’re going to hate doing it again.” We wrote it in a cool, stern fatherly tone. Plus we made up fake logos to make it look legit.
[…] Vince Shiraldi, commissioner of NYC DOP, said that when they redid the first few resource hubs, the clients would get off the elevator, walk into the room, and turn around and walk out—they thought they were in the wrong place. Do you know why they do it? Because they are not used to being treated with respect.
After the project went up, we did some interviews about it and people asked me what research I did in preparation. Research? I didn’t do any fucking research. As Chris says, “They are us, except they got caught.” We all want to be rewarded and treated with respect.
I think what we have here is a working definition of an asshole — a person who demands that all social interaction happen on their terms.
We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.
Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent
under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep
in the rice paddy muck,
nor the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles
make the wheat fall in waves
they don’t get to eat. My friend the Franciscan
nun says we misread
that word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them.
To understand the meek
(she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop
in a meadow, who—
at his master’s voice—seizes up to a stunned
but instant halt.
So with the strain of holding that great power
in check, the muscles
along the arched neck keep eddying,
and only the velvet ears
prick forward, awaiting the next order.
Jose Francisco Benitez Paz, [Yanira] Maldonado’s attorney, told a judge during a court hearing on Wednesday that she should be released from prison, noting that it was a fairly sophisticated smuggling effort that included packets of drugs attached to the seat bottoms with metal hooks — a task that would have been impossible for someone like Maldonado. ‘It was very well prepared,’ he said. ‘It wasn’t something quick. It was very well done.’