Well, as of this writing, it has been around three months since we met in person for the first time - and the day changed both of our lives. She officially had a boyfriend at the time, so I couldn't even - say - kiss her, but due to our mutual dread of leaving each other for the three-hour drive we had met each other halfway in, we still ended up magnetically sleeping pressed against each other in my car the entire night, and I drove straight in to a morning shift at work the next day. And within a few days, she had broken everything off with the boyfriend completely (I wasnt disturbed by the wait, because I knew there was no way to deny the kind of chemistry that we had and no way it could possibly not be overshadowing anything else she might have had - even though I knew she had sex with him one more time after we met, her analysis of which later to me was a relieved "with you, I will never have this kind of sex again") and we were figuring out how to make something as serious as we were work with three hours of distance between us and my family being less than fully supportive for hyper-religious reasons.
For a million different reasons, we made the decision to travel from Georgia (she) and South Carolina (I) together, and we have been in each others' presence almost 24-7 since then. Within two weeks, I had a job and we found an excellent place to stay at an eco-commune - which part of me hesitated towards, expecting obnoxious hippies, but the people are all bright, intelligent, and thoughtful and the design of the place is both brilliant (foot-pedals on sinks, lofted sleeping areas, designated times for members to work on keeping up and improving the area...), impeccably clean and beautiful.
We do, of course, have an open relationship, in principle, though we havent actually "opened" it yet. Not the kind that signifies we are committed to each other any less (if anything, the opposite) and not the kind that means either of us are particularly inclined towards casual sex. Actually, in all honesty, the relationship is far more likely to become open on my end than hers, but (again in all honesty) given that her partner count is also around thirteen times higher than mine (you can do the math for that if youve been paying attention), neither of us really feels that that is any kind of unfair. Yet, as always, the best things always come when you have the least preconceptions about what you expect to come, so I am not placing any sort of labels on what I am looking for except to say that I am open to the possibilities of exploring new angles of these dynamics.
’The rhythm of the breeze blowing through the
windows we rolled down as we lay here in the back seat,
and the rhythm of my heartbeat as it speeds up and slows down
to the rhythm of the dance of your fingertips
across the surface of my skin
combine to create something
so intricate, Bach, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky
could not have composed it, together, in their lifetimes.
You were not there.
And neither was I, as we laid there.
All that existed was us,
and a rhythm
pulling us in
to the most
I’ve never heard.’
I wrote this for the first girl I ever fell in love with. Writing this for her was how I knew I was actually in love, for two reasons: I didn’t really write it for her. And I didn’t really . . . write it.
I just flowed out of me. As a spontaneous, unplanned expression of what I felt. And I wrote it down not to impress her, not even for her, but simply to give some tangible form to the memory so I would have something to look at or hold that might bring me back to the way that place felt, hoping I could encapsulate those feelings with triggers that would mean something to me whether they meant anything to anyone else or not.
We lived with each other for about a year. It was the most intense connection I have ever had with another human being, and the physical chemistry was unlike anything I have ever experienced. On her birthday, I took her out to eat and she told me she didn’t want anyone singing. So I slipped a message to our waiter when I handed him back my menu asking him to embarass her as much as possible, and before we left literally the entire restaurant joined in singing her ’happy birthday.’ Sometimes we would just bump into each other, and we would end up stuck there like magnets with neither of us wanting to move, both of us realizing neither of us wanted to move and having no concept of any time passing for those moments. The entire relationship really could have been a movie.
I’m only giving you the essence of this story, so I won’t drag you through the details: eventually things started to turn absolutely insane and suddenly, very quickly began falling apart. And on one specific night things finally got so bad that I realized what I would have to do in the morning.
So I waited on her to go out to feed her horses.
And when she did, I stuffed everything I needed as quickly as I could into two TaeKwonDo dufflebags, and walked out on foot without a trace or a word or goodbye.
We still haven’t seen or spoken to each other again to this day.
Much later, in the shower listening to a mixtape of beats from Red Skull (a producer for some of my favorite emcees—Mic Righteous, Lowkey—who I’m in somewhat personal touch with) and very high, I wrote my first rap track by accident. The third verse went something like: ’And I will tear you down for selfish reasons, ’til you’re no longer breathing; the promises of love—well, aren’t they deceiving?! And the feeling itself is so fleeting—as soon as you find it, it’s leaving; I hear the goodbye inside of every single greeting. So pay no mind, if you see me bleeding—I’ll be okay. I love you—stay the fuck away.’
The last line would of course allude to the fact that in this hypothetical, I was imagining what would happen if we actually did meet each other again. The whole track sounds crazy on purpose; because that’s exactly what I was trying to vent.
Moving on, suffice it to say that I’ve spent time in the equivalent of solitary confinement (I’m not talking about actually being committed, I’m talking about my childhood); watched half of my family die throughout that same period; dealt with some really psychotic mental abuse I’ll get into talking about further down, and ended up spending a week living ’on the street’ in high school because of it where I broke into an abandoned house and walked back and forth to school without anyone knowing, taking peoples’ leftover lunch food to eat later; have seen people murder close family and then stage it as suicide and get away with it . . . and, whether for good or bad, all that stuff has played a huge role in making me who I am now. Stronger — but also extremely more cautious and careful with opening up to people. So I write only hoping someone will understand who I really am.
I wrote this at age ~16/17 inside the abandoned house I broke into that week during high school.
’I stared Death
in the face,
He came and told me,
’I’ll take you
From the mask that you’ve worn,
when it’s been torn
when you’re lost
in the dark
And you’re broken, confused,
and don’t know where to go;
take my hand
and I’ll lead you
Now, I hadn’t exactly been ’kicked out,’ per se. With grandma dying of cancer in my bed, and when my mother’s only lifelong friend had just had her murder staged by her husband as a suicide after her son (my nonbiological cousin) died in a crash, what happened next just made everything too intolerable to endure.
I had been homeschooled through much of childhood in part because dad traveled with his job, and homeschooling allowed us all to move together; and in part because they were both hardcore fundamentalist Christians who didn't want me in the school system being “brainwashed” to “believe in” evolution. (And I grew up like this in the lone trailer on an empty back road with nothing but horizon and forest in sight in every direction, with only one lonely road meandering through.)
Eventually, I started torturing myself with doubt over whether I had ever really felt Jesus “coming into my heart.” As I thought about it, I started to realize I probably hadn’t; and that terrified me. I spent months lying awake at night sweating, sometimes wandering alone in the forests begging God for some kind of sign, trying to figure out what I was supposed to feel and whether I had really felt it or not. But even through all this I never really questioned whether or not Christianity was true.
That is, until I stumbled upon Thomas Paine’s ’Age of Reason’ part 2, ’Examination of the Prophecies’ while studying the Founding Fathers. I knew that one of the primary evidences the Christian apologists point to was Jesus’ supposedly miraculous fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. When I experienced doubt about my belief, this was the kind of thing I would look to in order to reassure myself. But Thomas Paine demonstrated, irrefutably, that all the claims of Jesus’ prophecy fulfillment in the New Testament are simply invented.
Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth, for instance, has Joseph fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s massacre of infants (an event historians find no evidence for in the first place, by the way) — and we read in Matthew 2:15 that this happened “to fulfill what the prophets said, ’I will call my son out of Egypt.” But when we turn to that verse — it's Hosea 11 — we see that it is clearly, plainly a past–tense historical statement about the Israelites wandering the deserts before coming to the promised land. There is no way around this. Apologists will invent the already strained idea of a “double prophecy” to try to explain this discrepancy away, but even beyond the simple fact that this concept was pulled out of thin air just to escape the obvious — it still doesnt work. Because Hosea 11:1 proceeds directly into Hosea 11:2-3, and Hosea 11:2-3 says this: “But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals, and they burned incense to images.” There is no way to even bullshit around the fact that this could not possibly have had anything whatsoever to do with either Jesus specifically, or even the Jewish idea of the coming Prophet in general. Unless you think Jesus killed things and sacrificed to Satan. The inescapable conclusion is that whoever this ’Matthew’ was (we don’t actually know who the authors were—did you know that? We simply have no idea. They got the names they have today because a bishop named Irenaeus made his best guess two–fucking–hundred years later!), either he didn’t even know his own Torah well at all or else he was simply making the stuff up.
So I finally, after this torturous path, started to realize that I might not have felt Jesus coming in to my heart and changing anything because none of this was true in the first place.
So I read. Meticulously, from Thomas Friedman’s ’Who Wrote the Bible?’ (Friedman is a Christian) to the testimonies of pastors who had resigned from their past religion to a pretty ridiculous amount of other things. Finally, I ended up writing an essay to try to summarize everything I had learned that had finally solidified my conclusion — I can finally say: ’No, I am not a Christian, and there is no way I can even take seriously the possibility it could be true.’
Now, I hadn’t yet questioned my belief in God. And in fact, I still actually saw myself as searching for God. With a naivety that I now find incomprehensible, I believed that everyone else necessarily had to feel the same way as I did: that my first commitment was to God, and that the claims of any book written by the hands of men should have to be judged on their merits; because if we are wrong in our beliefs about God, God Himself would want us to correct that mistake; and so, since my conclusions were to my mind so undeniably proven by the evidence I had gathered, I really, truly assumed I should have been welcomed by everyone around me for helping to get us closer to whatever the truth actually is.
I had no idea what was to follow. Amidst everything I have already described was happening (death–murder–suicide, etc.), mom found that essay. . .
And the next thing I remember was being kept up straight through an entire literal school night to hear her screaming about how horrible Hell was going to be once I, and I emphasize this: “sent myself” there. I quickly realized that there was absolutely nothing I could possibly say to defend myself, because in this accusation that I was “choosing” to “send myself” to Hell, there was not even the admission that I genuinely believed the conclusions I was saying I had come to believe were true. If no explanation can possibly work because someone has it already made up in their minds that any ’explanation’ is just a sham, there isn’t a whole lot you can do.
So all considered I’ve probably spent well over 1000 hours (again, many of them school nights) sitting stoically while listening to these tear–dripping, blood–curdling screaming speeches. She even contemplated suicide, on the basis that she knew God has to erase your memory of anyone you loved who is in Hell if Heaven is going to be Heaven, and she couldn’t continue to live bearing that ’’knowledge.’’ This was not a threat. It was her very serious thought process. And to this day, she still “fights” with this.
What made the whole experience worse was that in a sense yet I was still able to understand her. I couldn’t attribute any of the torture she was putting me through to malice. From within the Christian world view — I mean the kind that starts from and takes seriously the premise that the entire Bible was inspired by God Himself, not the pick–and–choose buffet sort any of you reading are more likely to be familiar with — she was right about it all. This was truly the logical consequence of actually taking Christianity seriously. She was being far more rational and consistent than any “liberal” Christian who thinks Jesus was nothing but some ancient new age hippie. Even while I was being kept up through school nights for this kind of psychological abuse, before dragging myself miserably through the school day to come back for another day of Hellfire as I watched everyone around me die, I still felt compassion for her in some twisted kind of way: not only had her only lifelong best friend just been murdered by someone who cleanly got away with it, now her only child was “choosing” to send himself to eternal torment instead of paradise and she was never going to see me again either.
I wasn’t afraid of Hell itself, of course; not least because I had studied enough comparative mythology by then (e.g. The Origins of Satan by Elaine Pagels) to know that the entire concept of a fiery underworld ruled by a dark overlord did not even come from Christianity. In fact, that idea is nowhere to be found in the entire Old Testament! It first appears in the Gospels; and can you guess what term the New Testament uses to refer to this fiery underworld?
That’s right: Hades.
The Old Testament Hebrew root word s–t–n simply meant ’one who obstructs or opposes.’ That’s why even though in the story of Balaam’s ass in Numbers 22 where Balaam’s donkey sees an angel standing in the path Balaam wants him to take, the angel is clearly an angel, sent by God; the Hebrew nonetheless refers to that angel as a ’satan.’ Why? Simply because the angel was ’opposing’ Balaam, ’obstructing’ him in his path. It’s also why modern translators, assuming a theological vision that only took shape hundreds of years later and trying to read that vision out of much earlier texts whose authors would not even have recognized it, produced the apparent contradiction between 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1. It is only suddenly in the New Testament, written around Greece and Rome under the influence of Greco–Roman mythology, that we suddenly get a fiery Hell referred to as ’Hades’ and a capital–S Satan lording over it. A ’Satan’ who is diametric enough to the rest of the cosmic kingdom to tempt Jesus himself in Matthew 4, instead of always being a nondescript angelic figure sent to do God’s own bidding as in the rest of the entire Old Testament.
But of course, none of that was any help to her. There was no reasoning. I felt like someone trapped in a cell with a delusional schizophrenic, unable to comfort them because I did not share in their delusions, and unable to pretend that I did. I actually did try faking conversion, more than once. But she was far too observant; and despite my goddamndest best efforts at making my entire life into a believable act, she finally saw through both attempts. That’s when things finally got so bad that I ended up just having to leave; when going out in the street, busting in to an abandoned house and ’living’ there instead turned into a better option.
So now, you’ll have to excuse me. When it comes to the ’big questions,’ so to speak, I consider myself some kind of agnostic existentialist and I disagree with all kinds of things going on in the mainstream or ’New Atheist’ movements. But being openly agnostic on the question of God’s existence and so forth doesn’t mean I take religion any more seriously; any more than your general belief that God does or could exist causes you to take Scientology seriously. And whatever my deeper thoughts may be, I do see all forms of organized religion as being exactly on par with Scientology. And my personal experience just goes far too deep for me to be able to accept religion in my relationships. Anyway, the point here is the biography; I sort of start to slip into the philosophy later.
I’m a huge fan of slam poetry (things like this and this make me feel a little more alive for a few minutes); and as an extension of that, rap has become possibly my favorite genre (of course I go through different phases over time). I think people think of rap as a ’lesser’ art for two reasons: one, ’speaking’ doesn’t require the same kind of talent that singing does; and two, all it really takes to rap is the ability to rhyme the last line of a sentence, right? As Zeroh puts it in FKIT: “One would think whack raps to make a nigga feel hoodwinked; but, be it the proper cadence, one could say whatever comes to mind in four–four arrangements. Like: ’My lame. I’m lame. Don’t you like my lame–game?’”
I think those people don’t understand poetry. Rap, of all genres, offers the biggest word count and speed of speech to give room to really paint a complete picture. Of all genres, it offers the most room for the kinds of devices that are used in real poetry. I listen to a wide variety of rap (from scrawny white nerds to thugs), but two of my favorite demonstrations of just how ’deep’ rap can be are from Immortal Technique: You Never Know and Dance With the Devil. Both tracks are 8 minutes or more long, by the way, and I would actually go so far as to list Immortal Technique as among my ’inspirational people.’ We’re talking about someone who became established by bootlegging his own albums and sending them out for free; who used the proceeds of one of his mixtapes to travel to and build an orphanage in Afghanistan; who clearly knows his history when he raps something like “Patrice Lumumba and Salvador Allende / Were slaughtered by the power-hungry branches of their own gente / Ghandi wasn't killed by Pakistani nationals / He was assassinated by a Hindu radical / And Che Guevara, rebel to a U.S. continent / Was sold to the C.I.A. by Bolivian communists / Wasn't Yitzhak Rabin murdered by a Zionist / And Anwar Sadat a victim of the same violence? / Malcolm X was seen as a threat to the F.B.I. / But to blast him, they used Muslims from N.O.I.” (the point being: betrayal from within is a more significant problem to social movements than threats posed from without).
I don’t exactly have a rap voice (which is why no one will ever hear the recordings), but I write and I think I’ve gotten pretty damn good at least at the writing aspect. So I’d love to find someone willing to work with me to record things I’ve written. I’m literally going to “freestyle” whatever follows for the rest of this: “You’ve never seen me in my natural element. If you did, it would be evident I’m an emigrant from an internal penitentiary; a temporary resident hesitant to set precedents lest consequent actions are incompetent to reach the same level; hence, proficient with words, yet verbally reticent, to my detriment. But now my temperament’s set for desperate measures, like impeaching a President. I’m defrauding myself; spiritual embezzlement. Burning Bibles for the Hell of it; I denied your god, then died — and lived to tell of it. In Hell my soul could not take heat, like parrafin — so I went to war with seraphim just to take that repetoire and develop it. Now I live with scars that tell of it.” (“I don’t like cocaine, but just the smell of . . . what I get for selling it” came to mind next and I thought it was hilarious, but . . nah, I’ll save that for a track that’s only for shits all the way through.)
My favorite emcee of all time just might be a girl who’s a published author with a philosophy degree and teaches a college course on poetry. (Dessa — “The Chaconne” Live @ The High Noon Saloon).
. . . No, you don’t understand. I mean as in I’ve seen every interview she’s ever given (just to sit and admire the uncanny combination of beauty and intelligence) and almost all of the live performances, purchased the book, and seen every slam performance anyone has ever recorded. I want this woman’s album covers on a frame in my room.
(Sidenote: And if you like Kimbra (you know, the girl in that Gotye song?), you’ll love the Aby Wolf she collaborates with.)
It blows my mind on a regular basis to recognize how wrapped up we all are in our own. . . identities, even though—when it comes down to it—how much are we actually in control over? When I picture a simple image of myself, my name, voice, and face are three things that quickly make up a huge part of the picture; and they’re a large part of what create my first impression on someone else. But ’I’ did not choose the face I was born into. Nor did I pick my voice—and I didn’t even select my own name. Yet, even deeper than that, I didn’t choose any of the things that go on inside of me, either. My emotional reactions—the way I’m wired for things to make me feel: I didn’t choose that. My talents—I didn’t choose those either. If I start to write a song and I find that my brain naturally puts together the right parts to come next—in a very real sense, ’I’ am not responsible for that even as I’m in the middle of the very act of writing it; it wasn’t to my credit nor blame that my brain had the ability to do this naturally. And the same thing goes for constructing a sentence or anything else. And then even on the most rudimentary level, if I pay attention to it, I realize: ’I’ am not even . . ’generating,’ so to speak – the very next thought that occurs in my mind. If I pay attention to it, I become aware that every single proceeding thought just sort of ’pops in’ as if of its own volition; as if I am merely its passive recipient; as if everything that I am is a result of what my body and brain do, and my consciousness is nothing more than a flashlight stuck inside this particular machine and shedding light on a tiny fraction of what that machine does, mistaken if it ever thinks the actions it sheds its light on are a product of itself. I often find myself wondering: once you subtract everything that is so automated and determined for us, exactly what’s left? Exactly what underneath all of that, if anything, is ’me?’ Honestly, is there anything left at all? I think it’s entirely an open question whether ’I’ even play any small role in nudging my exterior self in one direction or another. I think Arthur Schopenhauer spoke some of the truest words ever written when he said, “Man can do as he wills, but he cannot will as he wills.” Alternative translation: “Indeed, man can do what he wants—but he cannot will what he wants.” In other words: we are ’free’ to pursue our desires, sure; but we aren’t free to choose what those desires are. And if our only ’freedom’ consists of the ability to pursue demands we ourselves never chose, just how much ’freedom’ is that, really? But it goes even further than the free will debate, really. It’s not just that we don’t have as much ’freedom’ as we think. It’s that our whole identification with our ’selves’ turns out to be a sort of hoax; I did not choose either my face or my voice or my body or my genes or my parents or the place or time I was born in or my emotional dispositions or my talents and I don’t even ’choose’ the very next thought that appears in my mind; so how absurd is it that we are all so wrapped up in treating these things as our ’selves?’ I mean, imagine loading up a video game and feeling some personal sense of pride or shame that the character is ugly, or can jump unusually far: the situation with our lives is really no different than that at all. Which brings to a related question: of all the bodies that have, and will be, born across all space and time, exactly why was I born in this one? Pause a minute; really let that question sink in: there has to be an answer to it; there really does have to be some reason why I was born as this and here and not anyone or anywhere else. Yet, when we try to think what that answer could possibly be, it is just as certain that this question is real and is an absolutely central life mystery as it is that we can’t even fathom what type of an answer could possibly satisfy it. Even if you grant, hypothetically, that God is deliberately crafting individual conscious souls and placing them in the particular bodies in the times and places they end up in, the question still remains: so, God crafted the conscious soul that ended up in this body I’m in, and placed it here deliberately; sure, but: the question still remains precisely, why was that particular soul he crafted, and not any of the billions of others—why was that one me?! For that matter, if God exists he may very well even be asking himself, ’Now, just why the hell am I God?! . . . ’ (I always think back to this brilliant short story from Isaac Asimov).