I am over here cobbling an multi-disciplinary art submission, stitching together various assertions & high-spirited lunges about my aesthetic vision & artistic provisions, often culled from previous plops done here on this blog. For this week's post, I thought it useful to place it here.
Looking out at the juniper bush coughing through winter, my mind burps an old bit of Kenneth Koch’s poetry, an epigraph for my work heading into this new decade--“I have a knocking woodpecker in my heart and I think I have three souls / One for love one for poetry and one for acting out my insane self.” When new folks find out I am a poet, high-energy camo-clad hick that I am, they often present perplexed eyebrow-raising plus the question, “How did you become a poet?” It starts with peering, which, I have come to realize, is kind of a rural thing, “just looking at stuff,” as my dad says.
Many of my ancestors’ / elders’ activities promote the importance of seeing (& thus, pondering)--farming, fishing, hunting, porch-sitting, building stuff, etc. As a whippersnapper, I would ride atop a pillow in the passenger seat of my dad’s semi-truck to peek at what we were passing, what we passed over. He taught me at an unusually young age the difference between the solid yellow lines & its dotted brethren, a lesson that backfired, what with me stringing together calls of “don’t pass, don’t pass, don’t pass” with “okay, you can pass now” for hours on end.
I have always floated on a curiosity in how others witness the world & how to gain more perspective & further goodness out of my own living from such methods. My dad sees the world through the movement around him, be it from the perch of his eighteen-wheeler, his recliner, or his deer stand, & he compartmentalizes & retains it through humor & storytelling. My mother’s literal vision was “the worst non-legally blind person in town,” I remember the local optometrist once declared; where her eyes lacked, my mother’s spirit extends very strongly, passionately, with love & frustration, protestation & faith alike.
I am reminded of Donald Revell’s assertion that “[t]he poem’s trajectory is an eyebeam, not an outline.” It is not the linear construction of that vision, but rather how our natural selves go forth & bring back what is found. My good buddy, Toby, a person who is blind, utilizes sight words like “I saw this play” or “He looks really cute;” which jarred me at first, but through his perspective, I have come to appreciate the expanse of vision that life renders us. Regardless of our literal ability to see, each of us finds our own method of envisioning our world through our other senses, through our emotions, through the stories of others, & through our collecting mind.
My high school art teacher was the only person that ever gifted me a failing grade, & you know what, I deserved it, me over there trying to fake my way into a realistic conch shell. Thanks to The Surrealists & The New York School, I later learned the power of collage, both in words & in visuals--the cutting & pasting, the collecting & combining, the piecing & the puzzling. In life, I am forced to witness angles & visions, perspectives & delusions, otherwise left for the wind--what the subconscious throws, what the unconscious uncovers, what dreams deliver, & what my delusions skew. Thus, the gut of me is lined with work that is polyvocal, collage-like, & disjunctive, what some might call dissociative & what I call the manner in which I witness the world.
NUTS OF FORGETTING
after Brendan McLean
With a simple flick of the wrist
My grandfather shook the snowglobe.
My triple-paned skull. Funny ain’t
It, not a one motherfucker
Comprehends what’s claimed obvious.
Cards dolloped towards the center
Of the table meant nothing in
Particular, but yup, of course
The situation contains much
Muck in practicality, such
As the inability conched
& carried by my grandfather
Steeped in separating cousin
From I, not in looks or lineage
But the deeds we do & the needs
We undo. The twine round the news
Paper still fresh with ink pulled tight
To the fact my mother is on
The porch with what she dares affair
As my father brings a blanket
& returns to me with melting
Cheeks. The snow done settled within
My northern orb. I lose track of
What once resembled reindeer.
The vision of my mother set
To bury her father before
Leaving my father for a fake
Gold watch found at the bus stop.
I drive thirty-three miles north to
Escape & three miles south to return
To the house my grandfather loans
Till this vision unweighs me &
Even then the house belongs to
My mother. In whatever manner
Is cheapest, she will gift, but frank
To be, she is hard to trust these
Days, what we, the time, the watch holds.
Her pile of nightgowns needs folds.
My wife drinks tea in the other
Room, convinced I of the misplaced
Shaman variety, though maybe
I am more a child of echoes
Some bastard hybrid I found
Spiritual healer & Rambo half-
Petrified as I barrel forth
Into the field, then later would
Tell you, I fell from the roof, but
Truth is I am not trustworthy
Either. In actuality
I shimmied the gutter, balanced
My chin ever so a bit &
Plummeted onto my back. I
Dreamed the stars fell down & shattered
The pocket watch & tore grief from
The ghost’s grasp & let my grandpa
Know he knows nothing, which is just
A little more than I, naked
& juggling the family’s fallen
Nuts of forgetting till I die.
Like it or not, I am often the energy hub in my relationships, especially in small groups or triangles--the conversation carrier, the constant worrier, the couch cushion under which the others hides their unresolved (t)issues*. On this side of things, it is a survival mechanism, an alchemy of sorts to convert my own insecurity, paranoia, & anxiety into the form of well-rounded openness, a manner of distraction / disruption from mine own unsolidified trust vs. mistrust feelings. Unfortunately, it is also often a self-fulfilling prophecy with my social conspiracy theories**, psychological hypochondria***, & deep-well of collected feelings****, often leading me to blow up the relationship, as the hub bubbles & the worst imagined possibility (always loss, embarrassment, fear-causing) bursts forth.
As such, I have become well-versed in the art of the vulnerable, explanatory apology. In the past, I let my response be reactively honest & timely, but I found that to be more escalatory than reconciliatory, a form of gaslighting even. Also, in order to avoid further emotional entanglement, I have found it better to start with a letter as the opening mechanism of reconciliation, first reviewed***** by my wife & most trusted feedback-giver Diana. Both for my own continued growth & others’ possible benefit, I will plop a recent version of this letter at the end of this post.
On Christmas Day, several fruiting contentions among my immediate family fell from the branches--unresolved decades-long conflicts, unspoken grievances, unwelcomed guests, etc******. As the empath******* of the family, those problems are often voiced to me & unsettled elsewhere, leaving me to carry the emotional burden of that, which because of my temperment & make-up often takes a larger-than-necessary toll on my spirit, body, & mind. In turn, thanks to my psychological disorder, this well of energy often overspills in hyperbolic & unpredictable ways..
That is exactly what happened on Jesus’s B-day this year. As Diana later said, she could tell I was not handling the strange vibe of the room & the disjointed family time very well, & unfortunately, neither of us grabbed the gumption to say see-ya before the blur of my disorder mingled with the overwhelmed emotional reserve I have been gifted. On the surface, it looked basic--my grandpa made a few-too-many grumpy old-man remarks & threw his cards, so I said some choice words & stormed out.
For an onlooker, even the family members there, that was it, something seen a dozen times before, Tyler overreacting, flying off the handle, & coming back in a few days to apologize. As I have learned more about my disorder, my disposition, & my position in my circles, I have had to contend with the fact that it is not all there is. During our drive home, a short mile up the road, I began to dissociate, swirling in my typical vortex of anger, embarrassment, & emotional obligation, a haze Diana has seen consume me a dozen times before.********
In my never-ending quest to understand how my weird brain stores memories, processes emotions, & reacts (in)appropriately, I have found I just need more time to compile a response & ultimately an apology than other folks require.. For me, it is pivotal to first write down my apology, feelings, observations, & needs. Too often in the past, I have sent it prematurely, when I still needed time for revision or to realize it should not be sent at all. This time, I opted to share it with Diana & not present it to him, opting instead to take that synthesized emotion & present it with a hug for my vulnerable elder. This approach worked well, preparing myself to lead the reconciliation & allowing him the necessary space for the relief he deserved & the response he was capable of. While I am learning********* that I am honestly often incapable of controlling myself in the midst / mist of the dreaded outburst / episode, I have found the process of writing the letter below tremendously valuable, able to prepare & revise my response in a way that is purposeful, honest, & humanist.
*Does this come off as sexual? I hope not, but I keep it out of affection for the use of parentheses.
**When Diana & I started dating, I honestly believed for the first two years that she & my most recent girlfriend, who had been classmates, had concocted a plan to destroy me by making me fall in-love with Diana & revealing it at our wedding. This is extremely bad thinking, just to be clear, & I am working on it.
***In the ways others are constantly convinced they have found a new physical ailment within their body, I have spent the last decade cycling through various psychological & intellectual disorders to explain my disjunctive & peculiar behavior, everything from psychopathy to Autism. I would consult Dr. Google, match it to multiple symptoms, & ignore all other factors of failure, before presenting it to my less-&-less amused therapist.
****Here I am reminded of Bill Burr’s bit in his new special Paper Tiger in response to his wife’s “Where is this coming from?” questioning about his outbursts; it is like, having you not be listening?
***** One time, I heard the poet Ellen Bass talk about how her partner always “checks her teeth for spinach,” as not so much a first reader, but a final reader before showing this or that piece of writing to the world. Diana & I have taken that approach to heart, especially in terms of confrontational situations.
******I am leaving the details in the wind, to preserve privacy for the others & remain focused on the main purpose of this essay.
*******I am still not sure or settled on what word to label myself with here. My therapists have used “empath.” I often say emotional “conduit” or “harborer.” In the writing of this, I discovered the idea of the “energy hub.” I am sure there are better terms.
********& a full story I will save for a more relevant post.
We wanted to write you a letter about what happened at Christmas, a situation we realize was very upsetting & confusing for you. Clearly, it was those things to us as well, so to clear the air & begin reconciliation, we felt it best to write a letter. Above all else, this letter represents how much we love you, how much it means to us to be here with you, & what we desire in relationship with you in the coming years.
First of all, we are sorry for how Tyler exploded at the card table on Christmas. Later, we are willing to explain how those emotions came to boil in that situation, but for now, it is best to start with an apology. We should’ve removed ourselves from a frustrating situation far before it got to that point. We are sorry you had to witness this outburst & for all the pain it must have caused. We want to assure you that this situation was about far more than the minor conflict at the card table.
To better explain what happened from a larger view, we need you to know a struggle we’ve found since our return in order to strengthen our relationships in the future. At times you make quick assumptions & bring a negative attitude when we spend time together. Because of this we feel distant from you & find it difficult to be honest about our journeys in life. We have our own problems, triumphs, & everyday tidbits we’d love to share with you, in the same way we love hearing your stories, seeing your puzzles, & celebrating your life. For example, your grumpiness at Christmas dinner, though minor, only added fuel to that fire, an unnecessary stressor we are sure you don’t wish to cause.
Again we’re sorry for the disruption Tyler caused at Christmas. Thank you for allowing us to be honest with you. We love you & we want to be around you to show gratitude for all you’ve given us. We have so much to learn from you and desire to carry on your legacy. We are truly honored that you trust us to care for your house. We want this chapter of your life to be as comfortable & happy as possible, with us by your side.
Tyler & Diana
Happy new year! What're you up to in 2020? I’m shivering with plans over here. Here’s a quick little rundown, in case you wanna get stoked together:
Future Barn -- The interwebs version of Future Barn will continue to pump out weekly content--short essays about mental health & art, MORE RECS MORE RECS for ya, new poems & collages, etc. Check it out here. As the weather turns pretty again, the physical version of Future Barn will continue to blossom as a space for collaborating & art-making, etc.
Your Buddy, T-Gob -- I’m restarting a project I unveiled in Austin, a handyman-of-many-talents gig system offering affordable, reliable help on a variety of projects--from household organization to writing editing, from event planning to errand running. If you need help with something, I’d love to help you with it, easy as that. More info found here.
Dispatches from Elsewhere -- As the days click over to springtime, I’ll be building out my old van into a sweet space for podcasting. I’m going to relaunch my Dispatches from Elsewhere podcast, refocused on the good folks in & around Elwood, Indiana. More information here.
First Visit to Austin -- I will be returning to Austin for the first time from Monday March 9th to Monday March 16th, with a little dip out up to Dallas for some buddies’ wedding in the middle. I’ll be solo. I’ll be couch-surfing. I’ll be discing & laughing & jamming out & collaborating & whatever. Hope to see lots of Austin buds real soon!
Happenings-- I’ll have my paws on some good happenings this year. I’m co-producing House Play (a new play by Diana Lynn Small), which will be launching a fundraising campaign in February, hosting a workshop of the play here in Elwood at the end of that month, & premiering the dang thing in Austin in June with Salvage Vanguard Theater. I’m also hoping by the second half of the year to put together an exhibit of my collages & the first Leon Tyner’s Antique Horse Blanket show; holler if you want to help with making any of that happen.
Be sure to keep me in the loop on what’s going on with you.