Update: July 15th, 2020
The heat of the last week is southern gothic. It’s biblical – which is often times much the same thing. Storms are promised, loom in the distance, don’t come in. We’re challenged by now to keep what we’ve nudged into being alive. That’s how it goes with plans: You make them, your odds are frankly incalculable no matter what the metrics guys say, and you imitate certainty’s surer moments.
And then life goes as it does.
So this is the last update to what started as a kind of days-at-a-time notice board of the near future likelihoods of the Orphan Wisdom/Nights of Grief and Mystery work I’d prepared to do out in the wide world. There is no such work to notify anyone about. Everything is cancelled for the balance of 2020. Most recently, that includes two meetings of the Orphan Wisdom School that were to be here at the farm in July and August. Though we’re continuing to plan with local organizers for 2021, to remount every cancelled thing from this year, the truth is that these are smudges of smoke. That’s their substance, given everything.
Probably like you, I’ve watched the whole operation go from disbelief to panic to hoarding to adults wailing and tantruming on the floor of costco because they’re being told to wear a mask, as close as ‘back to normal’ as I’d like to see, and then on to boredom and brailing a way onwards. In the midst of it all, lots of demonstrations, a few riotous days and nights, and some few weeks later more cases, worse projections.
It’s rarely been as clear as it is now: Caring for yourself is one lucid way that you care for others now. Or not.
I wrote months ago that this virus is a God. One consequence: It isn’t a matter of opinion or belief. It’s bigger than all those things. And it comes down to whatever etiquette we can conjure that befits the presence of a deity in our midst. That includes learning a few phrases of its language, as it has so clearly learned a bit of our metabolic language.
For what it’s worth: Imagine a time to come where people who are not alive today will strike up conversations with those of you who are, the aged version of you, now, and in that conversation will ask, as if they’re talking about another era, another age: “Hey, what was with 2020? What the hell was that?” Whatever you do with the idleness forced upon us, the income free months, the hours at the window, that will be what you’ll have to answer with. We’re making our memories as we’re making their world. It’s a strange, serious time.
Gods willing, we’ll be on the road next year. And I, for one, will have stories to tell. I am – no exaggeration – living for that.
See you then.
Update: June 11th, 2020
Rain Wear on a Windy Day
Patient; ready; listening: That did describe the state of affairs in my corner of the world in the heady days of late winter/early spring. The novelty of those days was in its odd way bracing and compelling and utterly captivating. The apparent fact of each of us being able to die imminently of something nobody knew about a few months prior was, in a peculiar way, exciting, in an uncommonly utter sort of way. It certainly commanded attention. It wasn’t a matter of opinion, for once.
There’s little or no novelty now, though. The virus is leaving most people alone. It’s not kind to older people, but the general population has had it easy, infection-wise. At least virally, this turns out not to have been The Big One. The patriotic, sermon-on-the-mount pull of social distance is waning fast. And you know how this goes: In a consumer culture, the eclipse of novelty by the numbed momentum of the mainstream is the death of customer loyalty, customer buy-in. Covid 19 has fewer and fewer intellectual and social justice customers each day that passes unspectacularly, ordinarily by. Covid 19 – it’s hard to imagine – has gone mainstream. Already. And it’s not above the fold, anymore. Americans have their ominous election (the rest of us have it too, thanks to the relentless export of their domestic fretting), there’s the renewed-for-now attention brought to bear upon race relations. There are the environmental safeguard suspensions, citizens wondering when they’ll get bailed out by their governments. Various miscreants, shenanigans, wrongdoings caught on those ominous eye phones and broadcast to the masses before they’re dry, before they’ve even happened. There’s new stuff to occupy the isolated mind. There are great pronouncements that ‘everything has changed’. The immediacy is breathtaking, the relentless newness of human stuff. People are moving on. Alas, I would say.
Makes me wonder what people do in war time. Makes me wonder if it’s anything like this.
I’m holding out a wisp of maybe regarding the Orphan Wisdom School sessions this summer. Otherwise, we’ve had to cancel the entire year of Orphan Wisdom doings, including the 70 city, four continent Grief/Mystery Rough Gods Tour. That alone has been almost enough grief/mystery for me. I’m forlorn about it. Strange, but a congenitally shy person is missing beyond describing the visceral encounter with my co conspirators on those nights: The band, the organizers, the paying patrons. But Mr. Hoskins and I have been cooking up a record, what amounts now to a double record of live work from the last tour and studio things. It began in Oaxaca, just as the rise of the virus gained momentum and notice. When you hear it, you might think we were tuned to the news feed every day. The truth is that we were incommunicado almost until we were done. The spirit of the times – and the dispiritedness of them, too – can make its way under a closed door or past a shut down order.
The doings of a small mixed farm off the beaten track aren’t much affected by all of this, mind you. The season and its mandates continue to prevail. The lambing and shearing, the planting and transplanting are done, and now we wish for rain. When it’s the season that is compromised, mind you, that’d be a hiccup of a different order. That might be The Big One. But until then, the mainstream can get used to anything.
And so, that might be the revolution now: Whatever you do, stay amazed. Or get amazed. Or confounded, unsettled, undone. Whatever it takes to break the habits of the eye, the habits of the tongue, to stay alert, to keep the language on call: That could be the spirit work of now.
Years ago I worked in the death trade. I was administratively in charge of all I surveyed, and for a handful of minutes I was referred to as ‘an opinion leader’ in certain parts of the medical mainstream. The clinicians I supervised were I think by turns stimulated and dismayed by the kinds of measures I was advocating. One of them took to ‘teaching’ to outside groups what I was teaching them in supervision. That seemed to me a kind of rushed rate of learning translation. So I asked her to tell me what she was teaching in these outside sessions. “Oh”, she said, “It all comes down to getting comfortable with your discomfort.”
No it doesn’t. Comfort is nothing to be proud of, nothing to brag about. It’s a secret numbing, there to help you overcome the overt numbing. Same numbing, soon enough. Getting comfortable with discomfort is a shell game, a pyramid scheme.
Here’s to discomfiture. Here’s to disillusionment.
Update: April 30th, 2020
This Is Another Important Safety Announcement
If there were ever a time for tombstoning platitudes, this’d be that time.
Safe isn’t what happens when you do all the right things.
We weren’t safe before this virus. We won’t be safe after it, whatever ‘after it’ looks like.
This virus isn’t an intrusion into the natural order of things. It’s the natural order of things, clearing its throat, murmuring one of its many names.
If we need to feel ‘safe’ before we get mobilized on behalf of any kind of better day, we aren’t going to do the heavy lifting, the hazardous work of making that day.
Being safe is the first casualty of being an engaged citizen of a troubled time. Listen to the sound of the words: ‘Be safe’. Mythically, poetically, politically, that’s amateur hour.
I called the 2020 version of the Nights of Grief and Mystery the Rough Gods Tour. I haven’t been off the farm in over a month (excepting one afternoon, feeling crazed, when I broke out against sustained protest all around me just to see something of the wider world, and it turned out to be Easter Sunday, and I didn’t see a soul during the full extent of my strange protest), but I’ve been touring with the rough Gods for most or all of that time, and for some time before all this. As some of you have done. I know. I’ve heard from some of you.
Whatever the ‘all clear’ siren is going to sound like, it’ll surely be two things: It will be a signal that it’s time to remember what is at stake, and what we’re still alive for, when most of us surely know that it easily, easily, could have been otherwise.
And it’ll be wrong. It won’t be ‘all clear’. Clarity doesn’t come from good sailing weather. Clarity comes from wrestling the Gods of your time. Clarity doesn’t come from there being no storm. It comes from learning the storm.
The band is keeping tuned and toned. Hoskins is twisting his dials, getting the right sound for the new record. We’re planting the fields to feed you when you come for the Apprenticeship and the Die Wise and the School sessions, in case we get to do them. And to put some away for the strange weather ahead.
Not much of an update, this. Just a little sign. A sign that we’ve you in mind. That this really counts.
We’re doing what we can to read the weather up ahead, as you are. Whatever we get to decide, we’ll be faithful to these days.
I’m going to go wash my hands now.
Blessings to your well worn floor, and to the threshold you’ve crossed in your mind a thousand times lately.
Update: March 27th, 2020
Grace to the housebound.
Like everybody, we’ve had to postpone what we were bound for in the spring. We’ve disappointment, and we’ve tea leaf reading to do in our spare time. Respectful of the various governments’ best efforts to manage what they can, we bow to the general wisdom about staying indoors and counting the blessings. So we’ll do our best to reschedule everything up to 12 May inclusive, probably in the fall.
First: Thank you for your inquiries about the Nights of Grief & Mystery Rough Gods Tour. With everything else you have to think about and care about and decide upon, we are honoured that you’ve included something we love in those long lists of yours.
Second: We’re coming to your town, or somewhere close by. Maybe it’s in the fall instead of the spring, we’ll see. But we’re coming. Who knows?: Maybe we’ll end up with a longer list of dates than we started with. Maybe, finally, Nights of Grief & Mystery will start to sound like something familiar, or worth considering, instead of a freak show. Sometimes it takes a crisis, some forced confinement, to bring the psychic landscape into high relief. We have patience, and we have a sense of urgency about all this.
Third: We’ve been working on a double record since early February. It’ll likely be ready sometime in May, maybe early June. There’ll be some live pieces there, recorded on the North American tour late last year, and some new studio things.
We’ve been thinking about whether we have anything a time like this deserves, might require, might be able to use. We’re going with, ‘Yes. We do.’
We’ll see you down the road a bit.
Update: March 23rd, 2020
Right in these days, the countries we were meaning to tour this spring and early summer are entering into the hardest, most disruptive phase of coping and planning and reacting and advising. Patterns are starting to emerge. The epidemiological flight path of the virus is becoming clearer. The wild card isn’t the virus. It’s the local and regional reaction to the news.
It isn’t unreasonable now to imagine that late April/early May will see the worst of it come and go – depending on what people do now.
We’re doing what you’re probably doing: being lucky, being grateful, being edgy, staying away from the news for the most part, trying to let our daily lives be overhauled by what this might yet mean.
And we’re meaning to keep as much of the tour schedule in tact as we can, perhaps moving some of the canceled shows from the spring to early fall. That’ll be a feat, rescheduling will. The good news is that we’re a little act, with a bit of overhead and a sense that a Night of Grief & Mystery might belong to these times.
So we’ll continue to do what you’ll continue to do: Stay alert, listen for the ‘all clear’, whatever that might mean, ready ourselves for what these times might ask of us.
And then, Gods willing, see you on the road.
Update: March 15th, 2020
Swept away by the next thing, and then the next thing: That’s the weather now. Your rudder’s a plank from the scrap pile again. For the moment, the sail’s a bedsheet again. The rigging is clothes’ line.
I hear that people are coming to this site to find out what I’m going to do about the School, about the Grief & Mystery tours, about the Apprenticeship and the Die Wise session, and the plague, and other things. The online opinionfest is under full sail. I’ve nothing to add, and no inclination to add. And yet, people are asking, are worried, are up against what they can’t change, can’t decide upon. I’ve had this Orphan Wisdom sign hanging out in the wind for years now, and I can’t deny that puts me in the place of responding.
So, how to do that? How to do it without adding to the cinders and the dust, the fog of opinion, all the posturing about new moral codes and social distancing and the rest?
Let me try.
Freud was pretty sure that our civility was miles wide and a millimeter deep. So was William Golding, who wrote Lord of the Flies, and Albert Camus, who wrote The Plague. I’d agree with those Europeans on this much, at least: In crunch time, you find out what you believe. Not what you believe you believe. You certainly find out what you mean when you use the word ‘human’, and why we have the word ‘humane’ as a variant.
I’m in an odd place at the moment, compared with urban people and plugged in people. I’ve been working on a new record away out in a dry-season countryside, and was nose to the grindstone for the whole early wave of this thing. The sense of peril and of imminent demise and of the naked mandate of self preservation taking hold was unknown to me, and then quite far away. In one way I’ve had the grace of a bit of quiet and distance and not knowing. That ended fiercely and utterly about a week ago, as I was swallowed into a mad vortex of real and pretend decision making about the entire year’s plans, plans that affect scores of people directly and thousands indirectly. Now there’s a different kind of grace: I get to choose what is important, and what should stand, and why I’ve been doing this Orphan Wisdom work for the last fifteen or twenty years, and whether any of it matters.
In too many ways it’s now like the disaster movies we’ve been treated to for a few decades. We get to watch the peeling back of Dorian Grey’s civilized visage in real time. We get to watch welders sealing Chinese people inside their apartments in the name of obtaining a healthy society. And for a consumer culture, there are few scenes so chilling as drastic footage of empty shelves.
I’ve had to decide again what ‘Orphan’ means, what ‘Wisdom’ means, what ‘Grief ‘ is and what ‘Mystery’ is, what ‘Rough Gods’ are and where the world is, what a storyteller owes to the world that granted him his stories, what we owe each other in kindredness. All of this is a matter of deciding, not knowing. It’s a time for learning the touch of a Rough God, and the proper limit of personal safety. We are apprentices to limit, finally. Indeed:
You start off in the light. And you end up in wisdom, if the Gods are prevailing.
I’ve had to decide what some pestilence-bent assembly of the willing might look like, might do. I’ve had to decide what art in a time of trouble should do. I’m steering the Orphan Wisdom raft into the teeth of the tempest. I’ve no idea who’s on board. But there’ll be Orphan Wisdom School, there’ll be Nights of Grief and Mystery, and there’ll be learning after Rough Gods. In 2020, C.E.
Where, and when, and who, I’m not four square and sure. I don’t have to be sure, not now. Patient, though, and ready, and listening for the wind’s keen and direction. We’ll see what another week or ten days brings.
Note: Please monitor this post for current news and changes to upcoming events as we respond to unfolding COVID-19 developments.