I poured my father his last drink. Four fingers of scotch, ice, and a splash of water. I added three drops of liquid morphine. I made one for myself as well, same recipe. Richard Pryor had just passed away and it was late at night and my father was making me switch back and forth between CNN and The Weather Channel. I had tried to feed him some ice cream earlier and he spit it up and all over his beard and chest. As I was cleaning him off, he asked for the drink. Who am I to deny a dying man a drink? Who am I to tell my father no?
“Jesus fucking Christ, Sean. Are you trying to kill me?”
That’s what he said to me when I helped him take his first sip. Not thinking—just reacting and feeling terrible—I immediately apologized and took the drink from him but he hissed at me.
“I’m going to die anyway, idiot. Give me that drink back and sit with me.”
I saw the spark in his eye, a shot fired across my bow. So we sat in the dark. We sipped by the light of the television. He talked about how he wanted to have a drink with Richard Pryor, and about how that was going to happen pretty soon.
Every relationship is different. In groups of people who are all friends, everyone has a singular experience with everyone else. This is infallible. Nobody can have the same relationship with multiple people and nobody can claim to know someone the same way everyone else does. We all have different things inside of us that react to different things inside of others, and that goes around and around and makes being a human being having a human experience a weird as fuck thing.
You could say “everyone wears a different mask for everyone” and you wouldn’t be lying or wrong or even mean.
If you wanted to really fuck your own head up, you could try and maintain being one person at all times with every living thing. The same person with dogs as you are with the kid at the bodega you buy smokes from. The same person with the pharmacist as you are with the cable installation technician. The same person with your high school love as you are with your favorite Uncle. The same person with the detective interviewing you about a robbery as you are with someone you met at a job fair. This could go on and on, amen. Think.
When I was young I never listened. There were always folks around trying to kick small doses of rational thought and wisdom my way, but I was too insouciant and too full of myself to realize what was going on, how later on in my life I’d be begging and pleading for wisdom. Older punks would tell me to slow down, take my time, not to do this or that, but I’d barrel forward with every molecule of myself full of desire and anger and swagger. So much blood lost. I would have so much more of my blood if I had only learned to shut the fuck up and listen, to learn.
Now I know what both ways feel like. Now I know.
What we see as death, empty space, or nothingness is only the trough between the crests of this endlessly waving ocean. It is all part of the illusion that there should seem to be something to be gained in the future, and that there is an urgent necessity to go on and on until we get it. Yet just as there is no time but the present, and no one except the all-and-everything, there is never anything to be gained—though the zest of the game is to pretend that there is.
–from The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, by Alan Watts
You cannot get time back once it is gone. As much as we give away, we give it away and that’s a wrap. Nothing comes back from the void. You can keep your ass in one spot long enough and sit in silence and then it starts to happen, you start to feel time slipping out from your fingerprints, from your eyelashes, from glances out a window or in puffs of smoke rising to the light. I’ve been sitting in silence more now than ever before. I sit in silence and I let my mind drift and sometimes it takes me places I never thought I would go, didn’t know mattered to me at all. Sometimes it drifts into my own home movies and that makes a ton of sense since I am working on a book about those home movies. But the home movies it selects for me to revisit are always so surprising. There are reveals in this book I never thought would carry weight for me, moments I thought were trivial or nonsensical, yet—they have immense weight and they hold keys to locks.
I don’t know if I want my time back or not.
I’ve been sitting in silence and thinking a lot about my heart and how it works and when it works well, when it doesn’t. I think about faces a lot. I think about the depths of hugs, the way a mouth feels on the cheek, the way a hand on an elbow or a shoulder can mean so many different things to so many different people, how many masks there are and who is/was wearing them and who will wear them. I think about nervous laughter. I think about eye movement and body language and unspoken things and things whispered. I think about actions and reactions and how each and every is different for each and every. I think about intent. I think about policing. I think about freedom. I think about medication and chemical reaction. I think about scent and tone. I think about failure and what a ridiculous concept it is to fail.
“You can only throw your own head.”
Saw Swans this past week with a friend I consider a brother. I took out my earplugs less than five minutes into the show because I needed to destroy everything inside of myself and needed to feel the pressure and the release the band intended for me, for all in the room. Wave after wave of punishment and bliss, wave after wave of sound and harmonic distortion and tones unknown rising and falling in the wash. Swans played six songs. They played for over two hours. My body was ecstatic. My heart was firing and peaceful. I could feel my feet, but I wasn’t there. I was leaving my body and returning to my body over and over again. I felt reborn with every crash and dead with every thud. It was everything I wanted and needed and more. I wish I could put your hand on my chest so that you could feel this.
A lifeless body is only lifeless because we know it has stopped working the way our bodies continue to work.
So very hard to justify personal battles when the world at large is burning and people are dying and everyone is starving and everyone is screaming. So very hard to express my politics without drowning out the voices that should be heard, so instead I choose silence and personal connection, personal conversation.
Words have been hard to come by so I have been using music to express myself. Sometimes I forget how much can be conveyed with three notes. Sometimes I forget music is my first language. Sometimes I forget to breathe. There are power dynamics in every relationship. My relationship with music is limitless, because I allow it to flow and I do not fight with it. My relationship with the written word—specifically the words I string together that will have my name attached—is more calculated, more affected. My relationship with the words that come out of my mouth is ever-evolving. I learn so much every day about how I speak and what I choose to say and how I choose to say it and to whom I am saying it and how those words will land. I am learning to shut up. I am learning to witness. I am learning to be still.
My relationship with myself is, and always will be, the hardest and most rewarding.
Ask the mirror.