The Personal Exemption

April 30th, 2013 by Tim Categories: Introducing, Otters of the Universe - Tim's Blog 12 Responses

Well it’s all right, everything’ll work out fine

Well it’s all right, were going to the end of the line

-End of the Line, The Traveling Wilburys


I was splitting wood and heard a bird cry. Just over the old wire fence, maybe ten feet away, a small hawk had snatched a little black songbird from the air and pinned it to the ground. The songbird flailed and struggled for a moment, then went quiet as the hawk, no larger than a mourning dove, held it to the Earth like a parent might hold an upset child. The hawk simply waited, an implacable force, and I, fascinated, rose from the log upon which I sat to get a better view.


Hawk hunting dove (Cooper’s hawks,Accipitercooperii) by Hector Brandan

The hawk, perhaps irritated by my intrusion, took to the air. Immediately the songbird began to flail and cry again, as if sensing an opportunity to break free. The hawk carried the songbird across the road and pinned it to the bare ground of our garden. I followed, stepping out into the street, trying to see. Trying to see. What type of bird? What kind of hawk? I couldn’t tell. It was all happening so quickly, and I could not get a good enough angle. The songbird cried a bit more on the ground, then again fell into silence. The hawk waited. I watched.

I could see Sally inside through our front window and motioned for her to come out. She opened the door and stepped out onto the porch and I motioned toward the birds on the ground. The hawk, as if seeking privacy or respect, took to the air, the songbird crying and flailing in its talons. The hawk lifted the little bird to the neighbor’s yard and went back to ground in the shadows where we could barely see them. “That made me shiver,” said Sally. “Yeah,” I said. We both went back to our work.

“There’s something for me in this,” I wrote later on Facebook. “Do you identify with the hawk or the song bird?” a friend asked in a comment. I didn’t have an answer for him. I’m not sure I do now. But I have thoughts and connections and bits and pieces. Seems I should be able to put them together into something that helps. If not a picture, then at least a sketch, or maybe just an arrow that points in the direction of further exploration.

It has been an extremely taxing time, these past few months, though different in kind and degree for each of us. Sally and I have spent an inordinate amount of time getting her/our new venture, Vejibag, off the ground. Research. Product development. Team building. The construction and launching of our website. Legal, employee, corporate, and business issues. Copywriting. The launching and promotion of a Facebook page. The fulfillment of orders. Finding and fixing up a local workspace. A local Eastport launch party. The design of a CrowdFunding campaign, including shooting and editing a five-minute video. And into all of that we mixed our hopes, our fears, our desires to help, our concerns about the larger global economic and environmental situation, and our entire lifetimes of experience, wounding, expectation, and assumption, and to all of it we brought our ability to step into openness and uncertainty, into courage and vision, and into the vulnerability of needing help. It’s taken long hours and days and weeks at the computer. It’s taken stepping every day into doing things we did not really “know” how to do. It’s taken spending an hour or two every day, drinking coffee and tea, sharing our early morning anxieties, our dreams, our fears, our wants, our hopes, and slowly teasing apart our habituated egoic reactions from who we really are, and the visions that compel us forward into action. And at the end of it all, exhausted, unbalanced, tapped out, in need, we hit the button and took our Indiegogo campaign live and said to the world, “Here we are. Here’s what we’re trying to do. Can you help us? Because we cannot do this alone.”

“It’s a forty-day vision quest,” I said to Sally, early on, and we took that on as a useful lens through which to view things. We would use the campaign as an opportunity to wander off into the wilderness of “asking for help and support” and see where it led us. We would speak our hopes and needs and desires to our fellows, to the gods, to the land, to the Cosmos, and see how it/he/she/they responded. We would go on a fast from “knowing,” from “being in control,” from jumping to hasty conclusions. We would observe, and ponder, and stay open to useful data from unexpected sources, to messages from something greater than our two little human egos. We would put ourselves into the quest, the question, to be led, called, pushed, pulled, thwarted, aided, and gifted, in order that we might find the vision we sought: Who are we now? What should be do next? And would Vejibag find a place in the world that would support us on our journey? Forty days, we’ve given it, with the expectation that by June 1st we will have the useful guidance we need to plan and make our next steps.

But gods, how painful it has been for me. This quest has brought up my oldest and most gut-wrenching shit and laid it on a sunlit table for me to study. How lovely. I’ve been wracked with anxiety and terror. I’ve been smoldering with anger and defensiveness. I’ve pleaded and prayed and cursed and demanded and walked away, only to return the next day to do it again. It has not been a pretty sight, and I’ve retreated as much as possible into my own life, my own house, my own safe spaces, where only Sally could see me suffer. Did you notice that I haven’t written for weeks?

How do I give my gifts in a way that supports me in this physical life? This has been my question for a long time now. What can I do, what can I write, what can I edit, what can I say, what can I create, what can I give, that will be appreciated enough in the “wider village” that others will give support to me in return? How can I be the wizard living at the village’s edge if I am unable to obtain food and firewood in exchange for my spells and potions? How can I act as psychopomp for a dying paradigm if I do not receive a coin at the river’s edge? How can I complete my anthropological study here on Planet Earth when I was sent on this mission without adequate funding from my home planet? I’ve been working on these questions for a very long time.

And so far, my wounded human ego has not much cared for the answers. Isn’t hard work enough? Really? Damn, I’ve been busting my ass for years! The number of hours I put into our documentary, What a Way to Go, have never been adequately compensated. And All of the Above, the sci-fi novel which, in my mind, serves as the movie’s sequel? Over two years writing, editing, editing again, editing again, laying out, designing, researching, doing things I’ve never done before, pinned once again to my chair by the Muse’s talons while I cried and flailed, surrendering, doing it, crying and flailing and surrendering again, over and over, all for a meagre number of sales, a morsel of food and firewood, a single ha’penny at the river’s edge. And then to do it all again with the next book, Rumi’s Field, which is now in a mid-book standstill? And then to do it all again again with Vejibag? Isn’t being good enough? Isn’t wanting to do good enough? Isn’t being smart and dedicated and willing to spend one’s self in service enough? Isn’t doing one’s work to claw through the confusions of ego and culture enough? When the Indiegogo campaign didn’t take off immediately, when that first flurry of website sales slowed to a trickle, when it became clear the amount of work likely still ahead of us as we try to make Vejibag pay us back with support, all with no certainty that it ever will pay off, I was thrust once again into that same “loss of innocence” that crashed down upon me two days after What a Way to Go was released, when someone, a seeming online friend, someone who had been in touch with us in the time before the movie came out, following our news, anticipating our release, put our documentary up on a bit torrent site for anyone to download for free. I sobbed uncontrollably that day. And I sobbed after All of the Above came out, when it became clear that the work we’d done to gain a documentary audience would not easily or automatically translate into creating a novel-reading audience. And I’ve sobbed in the last few days, crying out to the gods, fuming and cursing, feeling alone and unsupported, even betrayed, as my hopes for support have not easily and automatically become reality.

Did I mention that this has not been a pretty sight?

I was told, you see. I was told that I was smart and talented, and that I could do anything I wanted, and that it would all work out for me. It would be “all right,” just as the Wilburys sang. Parents told me. Teachers told me. An entire culture told me that brains and talent and hard work and good intentions would take me where I wanted to go. I was told. Just as were most of you. We were all told. We were told.

But we live in a world where the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology feel as implacable as that hawk’s talons. That, at least, is the collective belief, and that collective belief might actually be a driving force here, and it may be exactly why we came here in the first place. There are so many of us now. Resources™ are tight and getting tighter. Money is disappearing into ravenous maws and gaping pits and hidden vaults as the Natural™ world crumbles underfoot. Jobs are drying up and markets are wavering and competition is increasing and each piece of pie gets smaller and smaller and the ice is melting so quickly now. And there doesn’t seem to be much of anything, in this physical realm, that will interrupt the perfect storm now hitting us. We can cry and flail when it feels like there’s a chance of escape, because that’s what living bodies do, but at some point there’s little else to do but fall into quiet acceptance of what’s so. Fuck.

Human exceptionalism, the cultural notion that we clever monkeys are somehow exempt from the laws of life, has often been named as a fundamental “reason” for why things are as they are. But culture is not something that lies out there, beyond us. It resides inside of us, each and every one of us, in our thoughts and feelings, our hopes and dreams, our expectations and our entitlements. And there is no “coming to grips” with our culture’s exceptionalism, I say, without also, and perhaps first, “coming to grips” with our own sense of personal exemption.  Here’s my coming to grips: no matter how smart I am, no matter how good, no matter how much I wish or try or work to help, the huge forces now at work in the world are going to hit me just as they will hit everyone. They are, in fact, already hitting me. They’ve been hitting me my whole life. And it does not matter, to the hawk, or to the laws of thermodynamics, what anybody told me.

The game we live in now is very different from the game we were told we are playing. The tax forms we now have to complete for living on Planet Earth are not what they used to be. The personal exemption, in particular, seems to be missing from the second page of the new 1040, good buddies. It appears I have little choice but to learn the new rules.

But I find that there is relief in that, as well as pain, as there often is when I finally tell myself (or when Sally tells me) the Truth™. This article, - 10 Reasons To Quit Your Job This Year – and this one - I Have Seven Jobs and I Love It. Here’s Why You Will Too - both look at the whole “making a living” question with new eyes. These articles scare me, as they confront what I’ve been told, but they also excite me, not only with the clarity of their revelations, but with the possibilities that they open up to us, for those of us ready, able, and willing to grab for them. It seems I’m not in control. Damn. But not being in control is not the same thing as being helpless, though it felt like that to the young child I once was. Instead of control, I have to be in conversation with what’s so. I get to say my truth, speak my wants, needs, and desires, and act to bring about what I want. And doing so will no doubt exert an influence in the greater reality. But the whole of the Cosmos is also speaking it’s truth. And that big ol’ goofy world is way bigger than I. But what a relief, to no longer be in charge here. What a burden that has been. I’m glad to just dance for a while, and let the Universe lead.

It may not be “all right” here at the “end of the line,” not in the way we were told it would be. Not inside the confines of the scientific materialist paradigm. But there’s more than one sort of “all right” in this crazy, amazing, uncontrollable Cosmos, I think. My guess is that, in the end, in some way we do not right now expect, the Traveling Wilburys will be proven correct.

More about which later… if I can convince myself that the time and energy I put into blogging is worth it…





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