Sacred Disorder | Cliff Bostock's blog – 'Finally, I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind' (Rimbaud)

Another birthday

Tuesday, June 16, is my birthday. It’s also Bloomsday, Dublin’s annual celebration of writer James Joyce and his world-changing novel, Ulysses, published in 1922. Bloomsday is named after Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Ulysses, which describes a single day in his life, June 16, 1904.

I’ve always enjoyed the coincidence of being born on the day that the 20th Century’s most notorious novel took place. The book was banned in the United States until 1933 and was still considered risque when I was a kid. (No, I wasn’t born in 1930.) I remember buying the novel at Miller’s Bookstore in Buckhead when I was in high school and getting some very disapproving attitude from the woman who sold it to me. This quality of unconventionality and defying authority — particularly moralistic and puritanical authority — was well established in me early on.

In some ways, buying the book was prescient, too, because, being full of references to the original Ulysses, it demonstrated the broad significance of the mythology that had already come to fascinate me in my Latin classes and is so much a part of the depth psychology I studied for my PhD.  I later learned that Joyce’s daughter had undergone an analysis with Carl Jung, whose specific work in depth psychology led me to study the field.

It’s strange how much of life makes sense in retrospect. Events that seemed completely random and unrelated weave themselves into a sensible narrative and picture of character. (I described something of this in an earlier post about my continual encounter with the work of Emanuel Swedenborg.)  James Hillman, the post-Jungian whose work has obsessed me for almost 20 years now, describes such experiences as flashes of the soul’s destiny. Neuroscience is providing mounting evidence that much more of us is given with birth than we’ve previously believed. Whether you regard character and destiny as qualities of the indefinable “soul” or some literal organic process, the effect is the same: Our lives have meaningful telos.

I hasten to say that this is not an either-or proposition. The Greeks analogously understood that, from the empirical perspective, we live in a heliocentric universe, but they also believed the image of Apollo crossing the sky in a fiery chariot was important as an “as if” metaphor. Likewise, we know that we are not blank slates at birth, but, not knowing exactly how we become ourselves, the poetic image of soul expresses the felt sense of this mystery by which our lives seem directed. Poetry is as important as science in our lived experience. It really is.

The last year has been painful in several respects. Our cat of more than 12 years, Marlene, died. This remains so painful to me that I haven’t written about it. Marlene put me to bed every night, climbing on my chest and rubbing my “heart charkra” until I fell asleep.

Another painful loss was Creative Loafing’s discontinuance of my “Headcase” column. As I’ve written earlier, I was in great need of a break after about 20 years of writing it. But it’s become increasingly apparent to me how important it was in my own personal process. I’ve had a couple of offers to resume it with other publications but I’ve avoided making a decision. Part of my grief around this pertains to watching Creative Loafing suffer the declining fortune of the press all over America.

I continue to feel great pain about my father’s disinheritance of me, which I’ve written about earlier (and I did decide to decline participation in a TV documentary on disinheritance). Such an act is calculated to make the disinherited child feel rejected for the rest of his life — not only by the parent but by siblings who, by their honoring of the disinheritance, reinforce the parent’s rejection.

At the same time, however, my dreams during the last few months have turned from raw expressions of anger at my father to more and more recollections of pleasant times with him. We’re destined to love our parents, it seems, even if they reject us — and I guess parents are destined to love their children even when they feel rejected by them. His own mother long ago told me my father would never really grow up. After horrible, often weekly phone calls in which my father used to call me every name imaginable, my mother used to get on the phone afterward and tell me, her voice tremulous, to ignore him.

I remain enormously grateful to my partner Wayne, who has shown me more love than anyone in my life ever did. His mother, like his father before he died, has likewise treated me with open-hearted love that is so alien to me in a parent that I have often found accepting it difficult.

Finally, I’ve noticed that as I get older, I become ever more haunted by the innumerable friends who died during the worst years of the AIDS epidemic, including my first partner Rick. Most of them were barely into their 30s. It is an ongoing source of mystification to me why so many friends, far better people than me, died and I’m still around. The memory of the holocaust of the ’80s and my increasing appreciation for the love I do find in the world make me more impatient than ever with needless suffering.

I’m especially appalled by politicians and their media sycophants. Barack Obama, who seemed like such an avatar of genuine change, is rapidly taking on the appearance of another political conman, literally instiutionalizing the corrupt ad hoc policies of the Bush administration and ignoring the promises he made in nearly every respect. As I often tell Wayne, the only good thing about getting old is knowing I probably won’t be around when the U.S. turns into a bona fide banana republic.

At the top of this post is one of my favorite songs, “Anthem,” by Leonard Cohen. This is my favorite version, by Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen from the 2004 film about Cohen. The imagery in the video reinforces the underlying message of the first noble truth of Buddhism — that life is suffering. (Cohen is a Buddhist.)  The song’s point is that suffering is inevitable but must be opposed when it is brought about by governments. Still suffering’s direct experience is essential to finding meaning:  “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” And it is this shattering — the breaking of the heart, really — and the apprehension of meaning that prepare us for love: “To every heart,  love will come, but like a refugee.”

I think this is what I’ve come to understand more deeply in the last year. We hurt in order to make space for love. Once it inhabits our hearts, its safekeeping for ourselves and others is all that matters.

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