POEM: A Life Virtual, oh so…

There was twitter Jen
Facebook Jen
Work Jen
School Jen
Family Jen
Amongst others
Never at risk
That they would hookup
Or unplug
In some formidable Jen convention
Or at least the latest version
In some ever expending universe
Wear the cost of multiple personalities
Overrides the truest Jen
A pure work of heart
Jen buy Jen
Beholden
To know more
Hard wear or soft wear
Such careening upgrades
Only in the end
To what so becoming
A life virtuoso

This poem is a reflection and a critique of the affect that recent communication technologies are having on our actual ability to communicate and to form authentic identities. Humans have always had multiple roles to play in life, such as parent, child, sibling, student, worker, friend, lover, etc. However, communication technologies have ramped up the number of faces that we put out to the world and have to manage or integrate in some manner

First, face-to-face communications is the gold-standard for human relationships. There are no real substitutes for such things as physical presence, body language, and tone of voice to communicate and be fully present. Perhaps some people communicate with more people and/or have a greater number of communications, but quantity is not a substitute for quality. As people become increasingly reliant upon lesser forms of communication, this can erode both face time and the skills and info gained by face time. As often experienced, screen time can directly interfere with face time.

However, this poem focuses on the issues of identities and personal authenticity. By adding numerous faces, personalities, and roles in the virtual world, this shifts focus to more superficial, less personal, relationships. The inclination and pressure to put your best face forward further narrows the accuracy of such a face in contrast to your true or full identity. Plus, it introduces a distinct bias and growing gap in comparing our insides with others’ outsides, generally feeding personal insecurity and a sense of inadequacy. Managing or integrating one’s own identities can be demanding enough for oneself. But, the real cost comes in distorting the process of forming your own authentic identity and understanding others in a more deep and intimate way. The imperfections and vulnerabilities of virtual personalities is typically heavily edited. This editing is better at honing narrow conceptions of our identity than dealing with the messy, ecentric whole of our being, which requires building trust, investing time and full presence with one another. Increasing focus on well-crafted identities robs both ourself and others of an accurate grasp of reality as a whole

In the end, the best way to learn about ourselves is in close, intimate relationships. Such relationships mirror back to us the reality that our external self presents and which the other person reacts. Over time, hopefully in the safety of a trusting relationship, we continue to reveal more and more of our inner self. This allows us to better integrate our inner and external self, sifting through self-deceptions based on a trusted other’s feedback. Unfortunately, more superficial relationships are partially designed to deceive others by holding back our whole self, which may be taken as socially inappropriate, and may bring significant social sanctions. For instance, most people don’t tell their bosses anywhere near all that they are thinking or feeling. Our many social roles are molded by these real or perceived potential social sanctions. Virtual communities may escape some of this unpleasantness by socially stratifying and homogenizing, forming their own sets of socially acceptable of behaviors. While this may provide some safety, it cannot fully substitute for the hard work of growing face-to-face intimacy dealing with real world vulnerabilities. If you want to be a life virtuoso, you need to face real people in the real world. Confining oneself to virtual reality only makes one want to screen.

POEM: Guarding God

He stoutly guarded God
From an unruly world
An unreveling creation
And in such earnest
He, and millions others, were
Relieved of their doody
Perhaps only a small relief
For God above
Yet for such bellow
Refuse-ing
To be passed so easy
As some foul gag
Unyielding unearth
As unheavin’
A feudal gesture
In such an unholy rupture
Leaving behind
All the crap in religion
Until vomit us

Does God need guards or protectors?  Is God unable to fend for God’s self?  Can God create such a mess so big that even God can’t clean it up?

It seems to me that God and godliness are incarnated by our lives reflecting what is good, as opposed to enforcing precepts or ideas/beliefs.  I view means and ends as inextricably linked.  How else could it be?  Love begets love.  And God is love.  Violence begets violence.  And while many might be skeptical of love, of God, few doubt that “means” lead to “ends.”  It strikes me that the separation from living in the foundational nature of God, that is unconditional love, is the beginning of sin.  Similarly, trying to take  shortcuts to God’s reign by “enforcement” strikes me as the birth of idolatry, wanting to lord over others.  This approach strikes me as feudal!  This approach is futile in the same way that expecting violence will end violence is foolish.  Both our materialist and spiritualist aspects can unite around this necessary order.  Unless your view of reality is wholly absurd, there is lawful order in the universe — certain things lead to other certain things.  Now, not everything is certain.  But uncertainty is not a license to ignore those things which are certain.  For example, you can ignore the law of gravity, but, quite predictably, this will not serve you or others well.  Likewise, you can ignore the laws of love, or violence, but don’t pretend that such lawlessness will bring greater order and harmony in the world.

Back to this poem’s theme of “all the crap in religion.”  Organizing love can be a perilously backwards approach, since love is the prime mover.  Trying to franchise God — that is, franchise love — will fail inasmuch as: 1) love is not what we preach, and 2) we don’t practice what we preach (regardless of what it is that we preach).  The first is being on mark with the purpose of religion.  There is plenty of disagreement here, on what love means.  The second is about authenticity and authority.  Authority is undermined inasmuch as you preach one set of rules and live by another.  This perilous law is where law-giving and law-preaching most commonly fail.  Preaching lawfulness while practicing lawlessness, well, just doesn’t do much for lawfulness.  The Lord of all has authority because God’s nature is unconditional love, manifest in grace, generosity, mercy, patience, and joyful freedom.  In Christianity, Jesus is lifted up because he came as a servant leader.  Jesus is the way inasmuch as Jesus melded the sacred nature of God as unconditional love fully into his way of living.  That’s the kind of leader worth emulating.  And all who stand against this, will fail.  But like gravity, the law of love seems weak and slow, particularly in narrow contexts and short time horizons.  Still, gravity, as love, will work its way, its purpose, in a sure and steady way.  Ignore such laws at your own peril.

POEM: Somewhat Religious

Priscilla was born into a very religious home
She was conceived in a somewhat less religious car

This very short, funny little poem gets at several aspects of religiosity.  First, sometimes people who are “ex” anything are the most harsh and self-righteous — whether it be ex-smokers, ex-drinkers, ex-sinners, or what have you.  Of course, ex-sinners often specialize in recovery (or penance) from a particular sin or type of sin.  Unfortunately, a zealous focus on one area of shortcoming can foster a blindness to other areas of shortcoming.  This imbalance or hypocrisy is often much more obvious to others than the person experiencing it.  One interesting saying regarding the difference between religion and spirituality is this: religious people want to avoid hell; spiritual people have been to hell and don’t want to go back.  This poem points to another aspect, that is, religiosity can become particularly dangerous when it’s zeal to help others avoid a hell that they have already experienced overshadows their own growth and compassion concerning their own shortcomings in other areas.  This blindness and lack of compassion to another’s current experience, even though it’s part of one’s past experience, typically doesn’t play well to someone currently experiencing what may or may not be perceived as a problem.

This poem specifically addresses a parent-child relationship.  Parents often paint a prettier picture of their own past behavior to their children.  This poem directly addresses this thorny issue.  I suspect that fostering a certain confidence in a child’s positive view of their parents is commendable.  Nonetheless, at some point in a child’s development, they need to see that their parents sometimes dealt with issues in less than ideal ways and still turned out OK, or perhaps have to deal with enduring harm.   Keeping it real, or authenticity, is an important characteristic to model for children (and others).  While there may be developmental issues that warrant avoiding too much information, kids are rather adept at detecting phoniness.  What child has traversed through adolescence without having to seriously confront the hypocrisy of adults, parents included?

Hopefully, our pasts, with all of their shortcomings, provide valuable raw material to practice compassion with ourselves and others.

POEM: Finding Myself

One day I found myself
What do you know, it was right where I left myself

Amidst the ennui of modern society, people are prone to set about finding themselves.  Amidst fast-paced living, there is a tendency to look ahead and move forward, expecting to find ourselves there.  This poem about authenticity suggests that looking back into our experiences can offer clues to where we parted from our true selves.  Perhaps more importantly, sometimes we just have to stop chasing happiness and let happiness catch up with us.

POEM: Stage Coach

Stage Coach

One day
I lost my script
And was taken back
Only to have scene
The other actors
Guise
Now
In the audience
Having won
More stage
Contracted

This is a good example of one of my elegantly ambiguous poems, playing off multiple meanings, creating tensions for the reader to resolve on their own.  The general theme plays off “real” acting and the role each of us plays on life’s stage.  The stage is set in motion by losing one’s script.  For actors this could be a crisis.  In real life, this could be a real blessing and launchpad to freedom. Being “taken back” can mean “surprised” or “to lose one’s footing;” or to return to an earlier time, perhaps a more innocent or true time; or to be accepted back by the other actors for yet another scene. Is moving from “guise” to authenticity a stage?  Within the tension of guise and authenticity is the alternating roles of actor and audience member.  So how does one participate on life’s stage without either acting or simply being relegated to a passive observer?  Is “winning” getting a greater role on stage or somehow transcending the stage itself?  The last line, last word, “contracted” is at least a triple pun.  Contracted can mean having signed (won?) a contract.  Contracted can mean made smaller.  Contracted can mean coming down with a disease.

The title, Stage Coach, lies outside the formal purview of the poem, much like the realm of metaphysics or God, offering a hint, but ample uncertainty.

Of course, the poem and title conjure up the monologue and poem,”All the World’s a Stage,” in the play, As You Like It, by William Shakespeare:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Of course, if you are a playwright, everything looks like a stage…