Monday, November 16, 2009


We all are...

I find it so interesting how different two brothers can be, even raised similarly in the same family. My brother
Allison was describing the differences between his two very young sons, and I asked him if he saw any similarities between them and us when we were that age. He said in his reply email that he couldn't see any obvious similarities, but added half-jokingly that he and I were skewed and damaged by the events of our childhood until we were 30. This, to me, pointed out the differences between us.

For instance, I see skewing and damage as inevitable results of being born self-conscious human beings. Whereas he seems to idealize the state of childhood somewhat and believe that if it weren't for the damage done to us as children, we would all be better people.

I think we'd just be fucked up in different ways.

I think being human is to be fucked up, that is to say wounded, conditioned by early traumas, stuck in the past, etc. There are different flavors and intensities for sure, but we're all, in my view, everyone of us, wounded, groping, overly something, underly something, not fully alive, all fucked up.

Great joy is possible, of course: the pleasure of living a creative life and loving nature and other people (all of which I experienced all through my childhood and still do), but I think we mostly miss the mark by a pretty good measure. I just see damage as so inextricably part of being human. I've never met anyone in my life who wasn't damaged in some core way. Life is damaging to all living things and ends up killing us in the end. To me, the task of existence is to connect with life and express myself as best I can in spite of whatever inevitable damage has occured. Preventing it seems mostly impossible. In fact, tons of damage gets done by people trying not to do damage. I would even go so far as to say: To have children is to damage them.

(I have a song about this on my new album,
Flow More~Force Less, called "Scarred For Life". It's on my site under Musical Recordings. Other relevant songs, also on the new album, are "Grateful For The Shovel" and "I Don't Care What You Call Me".)

I hardly ever focus on what was done to me, or how I was damaged. I only want to touch life as fully as I can with whatever parts of me feel alive and functioning. True, I did a lot of work on myself, my body and its capacities when I was younger, to wake up as many parts of me as I could that felt asleep, but basically, with a few exceptions, the changes I made were modest. I'm still basically the same person I always was, I've just learned a few things, tossed a few patterns, and done as much of what I wanted to do as I could.

I've had a lot of pleasure in this damaged body, much more it seems to me, than many other people I've met who seem much less damaged in the standard sense. Then I look a little closer and I see that their joys are different from mine, that they value different abilities, and that they're as alive as I am, just doing different things.

Everyone seems obsessed to me. Seriously obsessed. Everyone. We're just obsessed with different things. We tend to look at other people's obsessions and call them "sick" or "obsessive" as though they had a disease and we're fine. But I have never met a single person who wasn't obsessed with something. Sometimes it wasn't obvious, but everyone seems to have something they can't say "No" to, something they "have" to do. In my view, it makes us all equal. We're all obsessive nut cases. Some are just more visible, or honest, or sneaky, or dangerous, or transparent, or legal, or societally approved of at the moment. I'm much more forgiving when I see other people this way. And much more alert.

I might be wrong here, but I think this fundamental fatalism of mine about damage, is a place where my brother and I are not very alike. Another difference, as I see it, is that he tends to express his opinions as though they were facts, as though what he's seeing is how things are. He has great confidence in his perceptions and opinions. I tend to express my opinions as opinions, because I think we're all, myself included, groping around and have no real idea where we are or what's happening. I have a limited confidence in my perceptions because I see perception itself as inherently inaccurate. I do have unlimited faith and confidence in the part of me that knows what feels right and what doesn't. I obey that all the time and my ground is most solid when I just report this, as in "Your song didn't work for me" vs. "Your song was bad.".

I think things out, I analyze like anyone else, I see a certain world out there, I have opinions that I express as facts too, but what I keep coming back to over and over is: I just have a point of view and it's probably mostly wrong. My certainty is constantly falling away, and I find myself less and less drawn to categorizing damage. I find myself more and more focused on what feels right to do right now. That, and questions like, Who can help me?, Who can I help?, and, Who should I stay the hell away from?

In these comparisons, I don't feel critical or judgmental, at least not that I'm aware of. They're just ways that we seem different to me. Like his kids are different from each other. Is it biology? Wired in? Is it a result of their experiences? Some complex interaction of the two? Who the hell really knows?


  1. Hey Gene:
    A little story about how childhood experiences shape us.
    I was at an AA meeting, waiting for it to begin in the parking lot, and I found myself complaining about my father. I was 40 at the time. Now, my Dad was fucked up, to be sure, but it was all passive-aggressive and absenteeism, never overt or physical abuse. I could see the guys I was talking to at the time roll their eyes. I thought they were being unsympathetic.
    I went into the meeting, and there was a 20 minute speaker that night. I knew him slightly. It was a small college town. I knew him to be an AA member, a college professor, a couple of books published, husband and father of four small children, nice home and tenure.
    He proceeded to tell the story of how his father had stabbed their mother to death in front of he and his siblings. The man was paroled after seven years, and was given custody of the kids back. He molested the daughters, beat the sons, until the oldest son- our speaker- reported him to the police and beat him with a bat until the police came.
    Ultimately, the speaker had been legally emancipated so he could raise his siblings at home, with the help of social workers and family members. He went to college, etc, etc. One of his little sisters became an alcoholic and drug addict, and died of a drug overdose, the other is an art professor at Rhode Island School of Design, married and happy, has some art books in publication. She has invented some tools for glass blowing and kilns.
    I was embarrassed and shocked to realize that he had gone through all that, and his life was much more together than mine. Two sisters who experienced exactly the same lives had gone two diametrically opposite ways. What was I complaining about? It was simply clear that it is not what we go through, but how we handle it. We are each separate and different people, each more or less willing to forgive and move on. There is an old saw in AA, "Holding a resentment is like taking poison and hoping someone else will die."
    It was interesting to see the difference between your take on your upbringing, and Allison's. As an outsider, it seems you are each interesting and successful men in your own ways. Certainly more successful than I am. I hope you care as much for each other as I would if I had a brother. You may not realize what a gift that is. Dave E.

  2. Thanks very much for your comment Dave. My brother and I are very different people and I think that in spite of those differences we do manage to care for each other. Another old AA saw: Two brothers are talking. One says, "How come you're an alcoholic?" The other says, "Dad was an alcoholic. How come you're not?" The other answers, "Dad was an alcoholic." What a complex mystery this all is. I'm happy to be alive and living the life I'm living. No matter what my parents did to me, good or bad, I have to say Thank You, for without them this life would not be possible. And I have to say, all suffering is suffering and will benefit from being brought to the surface and felt through, even if it is relatively minor compared to what someone else is going through. And really, there is no comparison. Yours is yours, theirs is theirs. You've given me a very nice "tip" today Dave. Please go to my site and download as much music as you want! Be well and thanks again for commenting. GB