Friday, April 22, 2011

Escape Into Chris - Entry 17

Jeff Luker

February 2006 – Normal, IL

A letter to my father on his 60th birthday

It is hard for me to believe that my father is 60 years old. Memories from when you used to take me to my soccer games, or sit with me in front of the computer helping me write my papers, or when we took the road trip to visit colleges – all of these memories have the quality of immediacy. They say that our capacity for memories is infinite, that once you begin digging into your past, there is no end to it. You are embedded in my past lives, through infancy, childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. There was a golden age for our family and that was perhaps before my 10th birthday. I have fond memories of riding with you and mother in the back of the car. I don’t know exactly where we were driving to – perhaps out to dinner or to a movie. And as we were driving through the Midwest Club, I remember telling jokes to you and mom and making both of you laugh. I don’t know what I said that was so funny but mother would laugh hysterically. Our family was gay, cheerful, and young.

In my childhood and early adolescence, you instilled in me a rare gift which I am grateful for. I imagine that most parents, as they are raising their children, do not analyze the effect such and such a behavior will have on their children. Whatever you taught me at an early age, you taught to me by instinct. What you have given, that I cherish and employ to this day, is a freely-chosen self discipline. Without self-discipline, I doubt whether I could have stayed clean from drugs this long. Without self-discipline, I doubt I could pursue my literary ambitions. Without self-discipline, even staying in shape and quitting smoking would have been impossible. Now I have received many gifts from both you and mother but this is the gift that stands out to me as being directly from you.

The other gift, which is a close second, is a love and appreciation of literature. About a month ago we were reading Shakespeare together – how joyful was I to be in your company reading again. And what a stark contrast from my childhood years when I used to throw tantrums to escape the “reading hour.” But time and patience transform everything. Here I am today thanking you for what I felt you had imposed upon me as a child. The irony implicit in this life – the story speaks for itself.

Though for a good many years mostly when you made me read out loud to you – I imagined you as an overbearing tyrant which of course you were not. But a child sometimes sees his parents through a distorted lens. And as an adolescent, especially during my addition and during the divorce, I imagined you as a personification of evil. I might have made you into a voodoo doll if I had access to one. This of course is an exaggeration but I had a lot of resentment to you and many others during this period. What still baffles me to this day is not only the spiritual strength you must have had stored in you to protect yourself from me, but also the warmth you kept burning in your heart. Never did you grow cold, never did you reject me – but always loved me – and therefore this is the best model of unconditional love I have ever been shown. And it is this model of unconditional love that I emulate toward myself and others.

After the fog of my addiction cleared, after I began to mature into early adulthood and started taking care of my body and my health, you can imagine how my view of you began to change. In a way, I immortalized you – lifted you up from the ranks of man to the tier of godhood. You became a living hero to me and I sought to model my life after you. Indeed, I had transformed my life. I was living from what many would call a second birth and after years of abusing you, I must have wanted to pour a special salve on the relationship that would heal the wounds between us. But just as during my adolescence when I made you a voodoo doll, after my recovery, I was making you into my Buddha, my idol and I was near worshiping you. But neither of these images of you matched your true relation to me.

So today, on your 60th birthday, I ask the questions – What is your true relation to me? If you are not the man I blame or the man I praise, then who are you to me? And without being too philosophical, too entangled in speculation, I feel I can make the judgment that only now am I coming to see you as you are, and to love you for the man you are. For the first time, I am not inflating or deflating you – but really starting to get to know you. When I came over a couple weekends ago and we hung up pictures and organized your books, I saw a glimpse of who that man is who I call my father. No adjective will describe him. Not because he has no qualities – but because he is of a spirit that transcends qualities. He is an individual but not an ego. He reminds me of myself but overflows beyond myself.

Dad, I love you. A gratitude is present in me right now as I pen these final words. The mystery is so inconceivable – so infinite – it surrounds me like a dream. All I am thinking – this life is too short, too short, too short…


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Escape Into Chris - Entry 16

Sketch by Chris Al-Aswad

July 30, 2006 – Normal, IL

I have a backyard
my neighbors have a garden
the air reverberates with
children’s voices.
Crickets chirping
the autumn stands one month ahead
looking back at the most placid day
in August – her feathered frock
gently ruffles.
My forehead is bathed in sunlight
my eyes are handsomely covered.
I sit on my patio like a spectator
wearing a disguise.
The twittering of the birds overlays
the chorus of children’s voices
from far and near.
Chortles and sing song laughter.
You must see the birds flying
over the rooftops
they glide and glide.
All the winged creatures slipping
through the transparent air.
My grass smiles to butterflies
central Illinois - one giant plain
summer’s last hurray – the heat
trickles down in beads of sweat
and the clipping, and twittering, cheeping
the fresh and innocent vision
Miranda calls it a “brave new world.”
There’s the butterfly
hear her flapping around
right over your head,
Splendid wings, gold shimmering
things like a flashing jewel
We practice our reunion
in our backyards-
we paint through our anxieties.
This is a new landscape. A new setting -
the frightfulness will disappear
the nervousness will go away
fill the cup and you will take care of your
All the gifts were given to him
All at once from his dead mother -
mother, I am grateful
mother I am great.
the zigzag path of the butterfly
brings me out of my shade
says to me hello.
In the beginning, there were words I had
trouble saying.
In the beginning, there were words I had
trouble phrasing.
I am new here
new to a backyard.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Escape Into Chris - Entry 15

Sketch by Chris Al-Aswad

September 27, 2007 – Normal, IL

The personality comes and goes. My task is to stay aware – aware of my discomfort, my anxiety, my suffering. An insight – as I mature, I find that my path is not so much one of seeking perfection or discovering an ideal state or creating an ideal object of art, but surrendering to my limitations, my deepest imperfections. I don’t become a genius as I’ve always assumed but instead I let go of the ignorance, the fetters that delude me. This means accepting my greatest imperfections and loving the person I am now. Becoming does not resolve the human predicament. Being aware, however, can take me out of my personal drama and awaken me to my full capacity of love.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Escape Into Chris - Entry 14

Sketch by Chris Al-Aswad

June 2007 – Normal, IL

My personality is based on an overcompensation. I was wounded probably at the end of my childhood and at the beginning of my adolescence. I made several observations about who I am. I must have observed that I was not as smart as a certain group, that my intelligence was middle range and also that my abilities were mediocre. For the rest of my life, I would attempt to overcompensate for a belief that I am not as intelligent as the smartest group. I always compared myself to the highest, the brightest – they were part of the exclusive club I longed to be in. Similarly, socially I was not the coolest but I watched the coolest with envy and longing. This self division occurred in me early on. I told myself I must try to become unique. I cannot be like the others. Because I saw the smart people and the cool people as unique, as special but I was only average, mediocre, like everyone else. My turbulent adolescence centered almost entirely on this blind cause to become unique in whatever I could.
I saw sameness and difference everywhere. I loathed sameness and worshiped difference – to set myself apart from the rest. Individualism became my creed. My academic obsessions – I had to overcompensate for what I believed was an overall lack of ability. My drug obsessions and self abandon – I had to overcompensate socially. I did not want to be like everyone else – extreme drug use put me into another category. I was unique because of my intensity.
All of this overcompensation and the thick protective skin it has left on me – now that I prose my pain through the character of Lethe, I feel at last I have found the key to not only his drives and insecurities but my own – and everyone’s personality to the extent that all of our personalities are overcompensation for some lack we feel from long ago that has, over the years, attained a level of truth with us. With me, I’m completely identified with my writing – this is my ultimate project to once and for all prove or compensate for my lack of ability and intelligence. We are walking overcompensations, it is as plain as day.
What does this all mean? We are not ourselves – we are a reincarnation of our past selves. The wounded child or adolescent replaying the trauma over and over again by trying to cover it up, by being what he feels deep down he is not. Is the personality not a machine of overcompensation? For my novel – and I wince to say that because the novel is the epitome of my obsession. But what if, by knowing this about myself and others, I can expose it and Lethe is the obvious over compensator – obvious to everyone (the reader) except himself. Rose too. What is the result of blind strife, self hatred, the empty core of the personality – it’s a myth each of us believes to be in the truth. By now, we’ve programmed ourselves into certain protective traits, habits – to keep us from feeling that empty core. We have all had a prolonged exposure to the empty core of our specific lack – now we structure our life on the project of becoming what we feel we are not. What then happened originally? Were those initial perceptions of our death, our lack, mistaken?


Friday, April 8, 2011

Escape Into Chris - Entry 13

Lethe Bashar's Novel of Life Las Vegas

Written by Chris Al-Aswad and illustrated by Gerrar Gonzalez

June 20, 2007 – Normal, IL

In my novel, the main character is riding a bus to Las Vegas when he has an epiphany – “I’m an eccentric genius,” he says to himself. He’s writing a novel, he realizes, a novel of life. He’s writing his “aesthetic existence” in the words of Foucault. To Lethe, the world is the stage for his art. He immerses himself in drama with other characters, and then, suddenly detaches himself to investigate the random experience. The other people he meets in Las Vegas are the supporting cast. Lethe provokes them to create drama, to create experiences that he can later contemplate and analyze or manipulate in story form. Lethe’s arch-type is the magician – he takes pleasure in play acting and playing with social realities. He has a personal mythology – he unconsciously weaves and develops in his interactions with others. Lethe is also a narcissist and perhaps his greatest shortcoming is that he assumes random people he meets are conforming to his imaginary epic. It appears as though these other characters are meeting him on the same stage and perhaps they are momentarily – but this is an illusion because in this novel every individual is immersed and blinded by a personal mythology of their own. Where they are the center of their life – epic and they seriously play the role they have known since their earliest memory. Everyone around them is the supporting cast. Therefore humans go about thinking they belong to a universal script in which everyone else naturally understands their role – when in fact – our epics and roles are as diverse as our environments, upbringings, and countless other factors. We have difficulty understanding others when we forget the role we are playing. The liberating part of this theory of life is that when you become conscious of the role you are playing, you no longer have to play it anymore.

Read scenes from Chris’ novel of life here on The Blog of Innocence.

Read Chris’ graphic novel at Escape Into Life.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Escape Into Chris - Entry 12

Sketch by Chris Al-Aswad

January 2008 – Normal, IL

We can learn by
living in reality
by dispelling illusions
And illusions are desires
forget desires -
Just be – live in the moment
of what you are doing
Otherwise we cheat ourselves
We trade in counterfeit
We never understand truth
We never understand goodness
We ourselves are false
We can only do one thing
to get out of this cycle
of birth and death
And that is to discern what is
true from what is untrue
Real from what is unreal
So for me, greatness
cannot be attained by simply
desiring it.
Awash in the dreamy world of
illusions and ideals
that does not get you to the
thing itself
that does not get you to
that does not get you to
Greatness must desire you
Love must desire you
Only by renouncing these illusions
by refusing to perpetuate them
By living, in reality.
Reality has its own desires
Reality has its own will
its own push, its own momentum
We have to be aware of
the way things are
before we can transcend them
otherwise we will only have falseness
to adorn ourselves with.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Escape Into Chris - Entry 11

Sketch by Chris Al-Aswad

2007 – Meditation retreat with Dad

“All in all, today hasn’t been that bad and things are looking up for you already. And while the body is irritating and you always wish you were more comfortable, at least you are aware of your pettiness and discomfort. We do have a lot to complain about and for that reason, we shouldn’t complain. We should just patiently endure it. I can’t say things are not constantly aggravating because they’re not. You seem to fall into a rhythm sometimes and the ugliness and the irritation recedes from your awareness.
Desire is a funny thing- eventually you get all those things you wished for. But what about happiness, which has an elusive way of appearing and disappearing. Don’t go looking for it though. Because it’s harder to catch than a butterfly though desire also runs away. When you’re chasing things, they are bound to run from you. Even the thoughts in my head I chase like rabbits – never to hold them. They rapidly multiply into whole colonies of rabbits. Soon I’m chasing rabbits in three different directions. Whether it’s the mind or the body, you’re mad. And then maybe it’s the moment because things change you know. That’s what I love about reality – it’s totally unpredictable. In the moment, I write a poem saying the body is miserable and everything is wrong. Already conditions (in me and around) are beginning to rearrange themselves. So I write to probe a mood of misery and then find I’ve come to a place where those things I’ve said at the beginning of the poem belong to the perceptions of another person. My tone changes like the feeling over my body changes - And those things I once felt were the bane of my wretched life are now like twinkling lights in a fog bound street. You can’t pinpoint where they’re coming from, but you know they’re there…”

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