I’ve been asked hundreds of times to sign personal copies of Come of Age, and I’m glad to do it. More than glad. I see to it that each inscription is very close to prayer, outright. Not always a prayer for something, mind you. Rarely that. Just as often it is a prayer to Something, on account of Something, for the sake of Something, because of Something. This is the affliction and the habituation of an animist: it’s always Something. Always. I’m trying to make the prayer be proof of Something, proof to Something, proof that not everyone in a troubled time went nuts, went underground, went over the edge.
And I find myself thinking about dust when I think about age. I often wrote in these prayerful inscriptions of the dust of the old road, rising. Dust, the most apt, the most able, the most faithful rendering of what the passing of time renders. Dust: not the evocation of futility, but the cradle and grave of all meaning, all purpose, all intent. Dust: the sign that everything that’s been is, winnowed and rendered, still here, the ground of now.
I initially intended to begin this note by observing that the dust has just begun to settle on the empty luggage in the hall, the not-yet-sorted road clothes in the corner of the room, the guitar case leaning against the wall, the clutch of receipts and invoices I faithfully collected on the tour and did not collate, yet to be readied for the tax man … and me. The dust has begun to settle on me, too. It’s a sign that I’ve been somewhere – many somewheres – and that I’ve gathered news and allegations and signs as I’ve made my way across the continent this fall.
This time out I’ve been entrusted with proof. I’ve proof now that many are roused by the prospect of Mystery unencumbered by clumsy explanation. I’ve proof that many are unwilling to submit themselves any longer to the habits of cynicism, misanthropy, ennui. I’ve proof that a cabal of poet musician pirates will lay aside the ties of home and bills and old promises of ‘I’ll-be-there-come what may’ and take up the summons to appear out on the Dark Road for the sake of wrestling monsters, for the sake of a better day for those not yet among us. They even took up the discipline and the discredited dignity of self adornment, at considerable personal expense in currency of a foreign realm, for the sake of the Nights, and the Grief, and the Mystery, and looking ever so good.
Well, they say that the gathering of dust is the sign of settling. But we here in the Orphan Wisdom corner of the world did not receive that memo, that style directive. So our dust is the sign of us gathering our wits about us, learning what’s there to learn from the last tour or two, taking the temper of the road, giving the band much-needed r/r. The brain trust here is in heavy cogitation. I’m tired, but I’m not tired enough. We are rolling the knuckle bones of our fate, probably better known to you as doing due diligence on the likelihood of touring our asses off in 2020, in differing permutations of the Band. We recorded some of the live shows from this fall, and we’re listening close for signs of another life. There are rumours of a new book. There’s something in the air – dust – about new classes here or there. The Office is firing on all cylinders. Soon enough there’ll be announcements here about our allegations about what is to be in the coming year, if we are spared and have our way.
For now, though, on behalf of the Office and the Band, in the name of the Nights we were granted, for the sake of the sudden camaraderie we were afforded out there on the Lost Nation Road: bundles of gratitude for giving us a chance to live out why we on this end were born and spared through the slings and arrows of childhood and adolescence and early adulthood, when so many were not; grace upon you for summoning your care-worn give-a-shit, and rising. And to those of you not yet met and gathered: we are as stallions and mares, kicking at the stall, looking for loose boards to push through or lumber over, on our way again out of the incandescent habits of the hearth and out onto the Dark Road.
All willing, we’ll see you there soon enough,
Orphan Wisdom are now in the planning stages for what is quickly becoming a Nights of Grief & Mystery World Tour, and we are gathering word of serious and early interest from people who’d like to host an event in their home place. Stephen has called this work “writing a love letter to your community”. For 2020, we’re planning tours in April for North America, in June for the UK, Ireland, and Europe in September-October for North America and in November for Australia & New Zealand. Please be in touch soon if you’d like to host an event next year.
I have lived long enough …
No. You don’t want to leave a sentence like that, sitting all by itself, without a back end. Unless you really mean that you have indeed – as of that moment – lived long enough (and writing it down in an email seems a lurid anti-climax to the allotment), then you want to push through the pause that drops in after “enough”. It’s not a bad thing to hear yourself say, though. For practice. So that the real thing doesn’t catch you unawares, as if you’d no way of knowing.
You do have multiple ways of knowing, as do I. All the limits and all the frailties, and all the endings, for example, and all the little camouflaged mercies that at first seem brutal and arbitrary, sending some reaching for a refresher course on the Serenity Prayer, are ways of knowing. Deciding that you don’t know about endings, that you’ve no way of knowing or caring about them, is a way of knowing. I’ve had many people in their fifties over the years tell me that they haven’t known anyone who’s died. Which is straight up impossible. It’s a confession that they’ve kept their distance, so as not to sorrow too much. It doesn’t sound like it, but that’s a way of knowing, too.
Sudden endings are for amateurs. They’re understandable, but they’re not really how it is. “How it is” is that we have plenty of notice that our corner of the enterprise will not last, cannot last. It isn’t kept from us. Just because we might duck some unwanted thing doesn’t mean that it is hiding from us. The “when” and the “how”: now, those tend to be kept from us until five minutes to our own personal midnight or so. And there’s mercy in that, I’d say. What do you imagine you’d do with the information, should you find yourself to be up closer to the front of the line than the rest of us? Most of the people who’ve spoken about this with me imagine that they’d begin firing on all cylinders, bucket-list style, crossing off the Big Doings. Well, I have seen what “knowing the time ahead of time” does to people, an awful lot of them, and based on the panic and the sense of betrayal that showed up I’d say that nobody really needs to know more than they already do about all this, and that more information probably won’t make most of us more capable. It’s like global warming that way: more information won’t make it more true. We have enough information, more than enough, to plot a course towards engaged, passionate, sorrowful sanity. We have more than enough information to oblige us to behave as if there are generations to come that will need some example of grace under considerable pressure when it’s their turn.
Anyway, I intended to begin with this: I’ve lived long enough to see the day when dying and death has become – what else could you call it? – sexy. There’s a bit of rock star status that gathers around dying people these days, and around their helpers. People press in to be closer to them, as if dying people know more about life because they’re dying than the rest of us who aren’t dying right now do. I don’t think I saw a terminal diagnosis confer sagacity and a measuredness not otherwise practiced by people before they were “dying people”. It tweaked what was already there, intensified it often, sometimes to an unendurable degree.
Would-be helpers, advocates and death-trade workers are banging on the bars and the walls to get in. Not everywhere, of course. Not everybody. But enough to notice it. There are alternative death conferences all over that are keen on going mainstream. Somebody should bear in mind what happens when ardent and revolutionary things go mainstream. They tend to disappear. Or they become what the next round of revolutionaries are keen on bringing down. But going mainstream is enormously compelling, enchanting. It’s hard to resist: all those new chances to be heard, to get the message out, to change the discourse, to be an opinion leader. So don’t be surprised when dying has become passe, and boring. That’s what’s coming, I’d say. Maybe the spotlight will settle on elders next, and elderhood will get “the treatment” for a while, and legions will line up for their elder papers, and the whole business will go mainstream – sexy, in an unsought sort of way.
Sexy isn’t very sexy anymore. The dominant culture has done sexy by now. Done it to death, you could say, so that it’s become white noise wallpaper. The part of the culture’s adrenal apparatus called “sexy” seems mostly spent at this point. So it’s being politicized beyond recognition at this very moment – another sign that there’s not much left to wring from it, for now.
That’s an arresting thought, if you give it a chance to have its way with you. That’s how much sustained attention to detail the public discourse seems interested in. There’s only so much novelty you can bring to the daily architecture of our lives, only so much notoriety. After that, well, the hypesters and the hipsters move on to the next attraction.
And that’s when you can begin deciding where you intend to live out your realizations, your discoveries, your awakenings. When things become ordinary again, and the glare is gone and the heat is off, maybe (as Nick Cave put it) God is in the house. And that would be very good news. Or no news at all to those who’ve made their way through the squalls of notice and blame and trending and made landfall in the land of an ordinary day.
Where there could be grief there’s rancour. That’s often true. Where there could be mystery, there’s conviction abounding, and opinioneering. That’s true too, and it isn’t easy to live through. Here’s one antidote: imagine that ‘ordinary’ is the proper place for sex, and for death and for elderhood, and for all of the other sacred things. Imagine that ‘ordinary’ is where mystery lingers now, waiting to see if we’re willing to learn it again.
Imagine too that the sacred and holy things and all the Godly things are frail and vulnerable in their way, and that they won’t endure come what frigging may, and that they have a survival instinct, the same kind entrusted to all living things, and that their way of enduring is to go to the unGodly and the non sacred and unholy places to hide out for a while, waiting for the madnesses to spend themselves. In troubled times, maybe it is that the the Gods move to the suburbs, to the blight, to the ordinary places, to the places unbecoming. If any of that is so, then maybe the ordinariness of love making and of sorrow, the ordinariness of aging if you do and dying when you do is where you go to find the Lords of Life.
There are days that come – and surely they have found you – when assuredness about the aim and the reasons for your life is the first casualty of the giddy good fortune of awakening again and heaving to uprightness and bringing anything in particular to mind. You are suddenly awash in wonder at the ordinary unlikeliness of your days and your place in them. It isn’t confusion, exactly, that comes round. It is more the entirely mandatory happenstance encounter with The Reign of Chance. You wake up once more, but all the habits of your mind have not yet done so, and you come to first light as an amateur again, bereft of order and the easy stride it grants. You have a lightness to your limbs and to your first contemplations, an imprecision you’d never seek, so much like ‘sudden nothing’ does it seem, like the end of the old purpose and of the old clarity, and the beginning of something older.
I have, thanks to the persistence of he Mankiller Tour that began in earnest in 2015, become a denizen of the road. And so I’ve become prone to these kinds of encounters. As on many another strange morning, I have washed ashore just now from ten weeks on the road, from the Oceania Tour, and awoke in this arrhythmia at yesterday’s first light. It began as you’d expect: “Okay. Where am I? Is there a gig tonight? Interview? Does today have an airport in it somewhere? Will I make the weight limit? What is my business? Is there anything of the Old Life standing?” But there was only a room not at once familiar, and a view of the river I once knew now free of ice and risen over its banks, and the particular quiet of an off-grid house that I’d over these months learned to live without. And the grace that comes with the end of momentum. In that quiet, I considered and reconsidered.
If you came to your age of majority labouring under the gaze of two parents who managed a steady fondness for you and your errancy, that’s probably because they managed a stout fondness for each other, and I trust you count yourself in fortune’s company and in something grown rare. And if as you came to the gates of your life’s saunter and sojourn as a young man or woman one or two others raised up the dragging hem of your soul and all its allegations and became your soul’s parents, then the Graces themselves had their way with your days. And if you awakened as you went to some retroactive reasons for your birth and the persistence of your pulse against the entropic odds of this jangled time of ours, you may sometimes be by turns giddy with the assignment of real purpose, and you may sometimes be rent asunder by only a glimpse of how the radical ramshackling beginnings of wisdom are more rarely sought it seems than they might have been in former times, and that they traded in so often now for personal style or for dominion. In those days the longing for companionship for your purposed soul is heavy.
And if you’re gone away for a legion of days at the firm beckoning of the Old Worthies and the Ancients of Days, and if you arrive at a home where someone waits, candle in the window and heat in the hearth, and affords you a bit of room afforded should you have to find yourself again, you are of course fortune’s son or daughter. And all of this, all of it, comes bounding to you as portents and wonders, and signs that the Gods of Chance have rolled the knucklebones of fate and your worthiness has been agreed upon, and that you’ve only to submit, to wear the raiment afforded you by the travails and the truing of your time, burdensome and telling as it often is.
Now, for all of that, should the road find you in conclave with those who will conspire to take all your reasons up with theirs and prize a better day with them, you might just reel from the strange mercy of it all. And you might plead for mercy from that strange, Godly mercy. And that is what happened. The Nights of Grief of Mystery were granted me by the kindness of the peoples of Adelaide and Melbourne, Newcastle, Wentworth Falls, Sydney and Hobart and Auckland, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Bangalow and Coorabell, Yandina and Fremantle, and Bali and Maui, and all the other good places these last months, that is true. Still, the gold and the glint of those long days was finding myself in companionship of the Round Table kind. Companionship: it means – and still means – the way of being with bread, the table fellowship of kin. Scoring my mischief and my muse I had the good graces of a band, one Gregory Hoskins, and a road apprentice, one Aaron Berger. Concerts for Turbulent Times they surely were, sonorous hours and rapture. I will tell you that these times were served by whatever talents of tongue and timbre granted the band and the bard, and by the raucous willingness of the sold out houses down under to be drawn into wonder and poetry and the kenning of these times. The doors were pried at night’s end, and still many lingered and couldn’t leave or wouldn’t, and there was something like victory in the air, and a weary, luminous midnight rumour that people heretofore unknown to each other can still join for the sake of the young among them and of the world still entrusted to them, and that the Mercies count us kin, and that wonder is the currency of the Gods. To all of you who wondered aloud with us these last two months over that vast country in the south: would that the storehouse of mystery out behind the house of your ordinary days be full, no matter how threadbare you’d grown certain it was, and that your neighbours hear tell of it and find their’s full too.
And now this caravan of consequence and conjure, these Nights of Grief & Mystery, are bound for Wales and for England in May (Fishguard, Totnes, Brighton, Norfolk, London, Sheffield and Bristol). Would that some of you come to hear these tales that those who parted from your Old Countries in centuries past came for in Oceania. Would that you grant us, two more sons Come From Away, the honour of your evening.