I am sorry for your loss






The move to Arizona from Carson City the summer between my fourth and fifth grade is nothing in the memory stores but a blur of tan and brown, the dusky smell of sagebrush, the sound of sticky tires pulling off hot pavement and backhanded threats from my dad. “I’m gonna pull the car over!” he’d yell, after long hours of boisterous banter and sideways smacking of arms between me and my brothers. And sister. What my mom and dad did not see was the deeper alarm in me, the dread. The loneliness. That the division of labor of my family and the pecking order of my siblings put me in the most invisible and vulnerable position.


Straddling that 4th and 5th grade it was time to move with my dad’s ever expanding sales territory. Who would have thought the transition from mechanical, black and white keyed cash registers with spring loaded number flags to the new electronic NCR 5200 would yield such fertile growth in the American Southwest. Enough opportunity for an expanded sales staff, the National Cash Register company enticed my dad with untold riches and reservations of gold and fry bread.


My brothers and sister demanded something this particular move. We slid down the western US, my first grade in Salem, then second grade in Medford followed by third and fourth in Carson City and now 5th grade starts in the southwest heat, 110 degree east Scottsdale, Arizona. Amidst the futility of any request on behalf of either of my parents, was a swimming pool. And here is where they came through for what seemed like the first time in my little life. Like Santa Claus.


After days of driving we pass by Yavapai row with WWII tract houses sidled up to the Pima Indian Reservation. Pulling in to the bright driveway shadowed from a towering saguaro cactus, my amazed eyes spotted a line of flash cool between the fence boards next to the mustard cooked cinderblock home. Lightening blue water and familiar refractory patterns on the white finish bounced off the shadows cast in the desert light. Hooray! Our new house at 8662 E. Solano Drive had a swimming pool.


Over a short time that swimming pool became a pinto bean shaped site of chlorinated dread. My brother between the many games of Marco polo or stomping launches off the roof, would drown proof me. He held my head under water on too many occasions to number. Not just a dunk but more effortful, my brain jumping into survival mode as my short life played out in slow motion, sudden pangs of distress shuddering through my body. Looking at the fractal light patterns with the thrum of my pulse in the beaten eardrums, flashes of lightning come with flicker pictures and sensations: my mom squinting in the sun, a polka dotted swimsuit, stiff Bermuda grass cutting the tender skin of my back, the drone of a small airplane overhead, my foot bleeding under the arch from broken bottle glass in front of the Oregon State Hospital’s gazebo. The texture of my tongue on the green and red sugar crystals atop a Christmas butter cookie, Jimmy Krueger’s grandma and her gray beehive hair, bitter Brussel sprouts and the way the light fell into the green-tiled bathroom down the hall from my bedroom. The place where, with clenched jaw and angry strength, my mom crammed bar soap down my throat in a violence unimagined. Her usually calm but strong forearms that peeled potatoes became forceful and urgent. My mom, alive, communicating her fury through her hands. Maybe those same hands that pushed on my neck and head, keeping me in the clear center of that goddamn pool…


Then to be let up to air, my lungs swallowing chest-fulls of air, eyes blinded by panicked rage with wet throaty coughs of betrayal. I remember gasping and yelling at my brother. Each time. Every time.


Scottsdale Pool


I write this story to tell myself, to remember the process of what unfolds as it unfolds. That story, like memory, only becomes something in the telling of it. In some ways, writing is an active forgetfulness of moment to breath to breathing. I remember to forget people falling from the sky. The failed parachute flapping in the night and the quick body-breaking sounds through the trees I can hear the sound of that person’s body hitting the forest floor with a thump, the reverberations felt through the lug soles of my boots.


Indeed, as I write the story of the pool I remember to breathe, to gulp air, to suck in my lungs through a narrow mouth shape. Air is precious when I remember the crowded wetness surrounding my submerged panic, where the will of me, seeks the surface and those edges that define the center. Where I seek to forget the story of it, my body remembers to reach up to the surface on tippy toes and, like the horn shape of a trumpet, my lips extend beyond the surface sucking rushed inhales of precious dry air. My body only remembers when I put myself in the position to let it.


There is a writing workshop in town that hosts events called “Write Around Portland,” that I attended years ago. Now, I disappear before you, hoping to write around myself. Conjuring the word, the magic, the in-between spaces, I distract you, my dear reader, from me. Like the pool story and its exasperated birth into words and images, I still sit here heavy in my chair weighted by the prospect of the next thing to do. My gut continues to bloat around the previous meal, my skin itches with sun and the dog’s nails patter on the floor as she comes up to breathe on my bare thigh. Still, I write around a pain pointing at my heart in hope that I can disappear before myself.


I write as if I’m barefooted on the screaming hot pool deck in Arizona. I work around the edges, hesitatingly. I move my furtive feet as if feeling in the dark for the smooth, cool coping lining the kidney shaped pool.  I find the cool center by defining in painstaking detail where “it” is not. Only I know where that cool depth is by sliding my feet around the edges that surrounds “it.” But never it itself. My feet, if they could speak, say, “look at it, don’t meet the center of its shimmery wetness. Diving in, it may be too shallow to swallow you whole.” Like the heartened, open gaze of that crow’s eye meeting mine, it draws to center as the mirror-revealed gaze disappears. In the center of that pool I may find you and me.


Writing around me, I avoid Andy. Andy killed himself on Mother’s Day a few months ago. I can write this now, but maybe not go any further. It’s not so much the loss of him that rises up in my guts but more putrid pain released from other losses of men too young to die. My close connection with them has its own story and I have told different versions over the years. But the bitter bullet that Andy accepted helped release some newer demons living in kinship with those dead others.


While I embolden myself to dive deeply into my heart, I can say at the same time I am never ready or prepared. What I choose to study won’t stay still enough for me to focus my eyes. And my feet alternate with weight and unweight as I rock from side to side. I fidget, oscillating in so many ever-expanding dialogues—embracing and rejecting again and again, the ever-reducing vibrations of my cellular corporeality. What the fuck, I can’t focus on the stuff because I can’t hold still.


It is now under my skin. I feel that pool water now up to my nose and in my sinuses, as if snorted, the shock and the awe of my biology, my mortality, my look at me. The wavy brown structure that is my hair. There is so much to not take, I can’t take it, this intolerable aliveness and cursed awareness that you and I and Andy are inseparable. One organism aware of our separate selves, stripped away of the survival brain, put me in you and you in me, as if my eye connected to your eye yields the same view. And then you are gone. In a spray of blood and bone, evaporated in a blast that chips my teeth and leaves a bruised-jaw tenderness.


As I write and evoke the terror of Andy’s death, I look away from the ripple-y pool surface. But I don’t look away at anything. Not at the floor, or scuffed brown toe leather. Or dog haired red and blue rug. Or earth scrabble hard woods. Or that over there with the amber light. I won’t look at its center, or their center. But not at the center of other things as well. I maintain awareness of its center while looking away. My eyes look unfocused—detached from the picture but aware of that which I look away from. Like the down cast eyes of those Sundancers in Goldendale a few years ago, I won’t look at the braided rope of hair and flat face, or listen with eyes the crinkle of twisted lid bells lining the pthalo pigmented fancy dress. I avert my eyes from the scent breathing in the aged and cinnamon skin. I look away but look with the other sense organ and allow the crusted jewel to reveal itself within the body eye. And then I see.


I see the text message from Andy buzzing on my thigh a week or so before he killed himself: “Hello Dave, how are you doing? I hope you’re well. I see that ______ is doing well and is becoming quite a lovely young lady. I know it has been a long time since we talked, so I’m sorry if this feels out of the blue. I always respected you, and wanted to connect more, but just wasn’t in a place to do that. I am reaching out now because I am not well, and don’t have much of a network of people I feel are healthy and constructive for me. ______ and I have finally split, and she has moved on with someone else. It has cracked open an entire planet of trauma and depression, and I am in a very scary and unpredictable place. I can’t control my mind. I feel possessed by demons. I am trying to claw forward, and I think learning meditation must be a big part of that. And creating a supportive network. And anything else. Right now I am desperate and fragile, and wondered if you could talk some time, maybe hold my hand a little bit and help me find some resources. Thank you for hearing this Dave. I’m sorry for adding something so heavy to your day.”


When I first met Andy, we stood toe to toe. His demeanor and posture spoke to me of the most gentle and present kind. Introducing myself to him, holding his hand in a touch disguised as a handshake, I loved him before he spoke.


He shared with me intimate details of his reality broken open as a teenager. Unable to assimilate, his trauma was contained within a family of lacey curtains and tucked in shirts. Underneath the sheer breezy billows and pale cotton belied a ragged despair that tore through generations and manifested in silence and a familiar dissociation, warm skin over cold flesh. Andy brought to bear his ruptured safety to the world to find comfort and found it in some places but lost it in others.


Unprotected, lived, lost and ever so ever always tender. And open. His gaze and soft, lucid speech betrayed a loosened, lessoned and jettisoned masculinity, the kind that is scary to most testosterone-driven males—that nothing and everything hurt him.


And again like a pendulum, I see in me an effort to go back into the watery comfort of drowning quiet. Andy’s suicide was not anything willed or conscious on my part. The only cursed action I chose was to love him unrestricted as if I had no guarded heart or spring-coiled musculature tensed for the next battle.


My intentional connection to Andy and his death woke those demons up. They arose from my special wound which manifests in my lower left inner abdomen. I talk about the source of me found. The place where my pain continues to birth itself and pour through the systems of endocrine, bilious and sinew. And other systems too.


These nights, some time after Andy killed himself, I find myself waking in the quiet. Like the pool I swam in and out of as a kid, I end up again in the deep end reaching with my toes, holding my breath and sinking. Where there was panic now belies curiosity. I want to know what Andy knew. I want to see the places in me that invite and elicit my insanity, to which a bullet to the brain might remedy. Like the kid in me in that pool, I stretch my legs with toes pointed down, looking for the bottom. I don’t find it.


With open under water eyes, I don’t remember what I see, I don’t picture it, conjure it, recreate it, or store it for further inspection. I let my eyes rest, I don’t focus with effort but let their resting gaze witness the picture in front of me. Those fractal patterns shimmering below the surface on the inside of my eye. I exercise effort to become effortless.  I see it and see it onward through and through. I see to it that it strays and don’t try and fix it with desire or will it to memory. I don’t see the same picture of green against pooling red mercury clotting against a wound, or the bleached spectacle of dead eyes.


Photo Mar 21, 8 49 41 AM




Too Dark To Dream


2015-07-28 13.33.50

Reflecting about the last moments of the 15 year celebration that unfolded in Tlalpujahua with Diego, Bronwyn, Andrea, RLE, Doug, Christopher, Jose, Gama, Melissa, Karina, Antonio, Rosamaria, Alma and of course, Lucy: I see promise and heart and revelation that I will live for you and you will live for me…

Weaving my body through the thicket, we are a pack of grunting animals as we ply the bramble of South Rainier Training area. Here I was a soldier. How did I get here? Dark, wet chill saturates my fatigues, Matt to my front, Jim behind, the cold everywhere, seeping in, penetrating skin and flesh and bone…and yet I am warm from moving, sweat creeping up a stiff band of cotton on my back, rifle cramping my right arm, weighted by the heft of a full magazine. And yet I am warm in closeness to the brothers behind and in front, in our togetherness the snappy chill does not penetrate so deeply.

Eugene and I outsmart the cold ground by gathering fern leaves, piles of them. Another night after a day of rain, wet fatigues now freezing like cardboard as the night sky opens to the stars. It’s too cold to pretend. Scattering in a cushion shaped bed, we stretch the military poncho over the ferns and stake it down for the most warmest sleep in the coldest cold I have ever had–This beats the spooning we did in Yakima, where we borrowed each other’s warmth to survive in forced intimacy.

In the eternity of memory that makes up my army, sometimes just the electricity of a wet clothed shoulder touching shoulder filled me with such promise and hope and warmth that made the all of my short life tolerable. Or an imploring whisper, urgent hushed tones or a searching gaze, in all its excruciating tenderness. And all our shared impulse and drive subverted and sublimated toward the enterprise of killing, toward the arrival of our fine selves to the point of delivering automatic gunfire and triggering shrapnel hurling munitions toward the other…

And now some are dead, put in the ground to where they came from, surrendered to the earth, no longer a narrative but the flash of moments, shared touches and suffering and the quiet amidst the concussions–their fear in proximity to my fear:

And there was a time we were all together

When the sun rose or stars fell

we had nothing but each other

Deafening silence, hush-quiet surrounded us

Separately together

In one moment, not a collection

But one everlasting moment

I felt the fire in my blood

In my guts

But the flames were shared—the searing heat


Oscillating cellular excites the cooling stopped movement

The unaware setting

of the infinite metal

2015-08-11 13.15.02-1

In this Tlalpujahua time we join like open hearted soldiers, bared to our tender core we go into the mine. We stumble, the group of us groping, grasping for external purchase, and physical knowing, assurance of proximity—the utterance, gasped awe of water splash, stone under arch cutting the toe pad, brutalizing the tender foot. Limping in feigned sensitive high ground searching feet walking under ground into the mine. Hand on shuddering shoulder, penetrating the fear of mind in the mine—afraid of breath come close, intimate mirror of self with others in darkness, penetrating the earth one more time, going to ground. The one in front of me, communicating through the lightest finger squeeze a slight warning.

And there in the mine, every part of me open, vulnerable, fearless in a surrender to going further in, I heard the cries of those collapses, I felt those hurts and heartbeats and wishes for this to be over, to get the gold and leave. But it is never enough, always for the more, the enterprise of extracting the medium for others to avoid the collapsing closeness of breath of mirror of self of privation. I witness the past in the blasted residue of the mine, the infinite metal of our shared experience, our shared heart, bleeding on the rock of the mine floor, mingling with the blood of the miners, who created the path.

And I felt the grief of the earth cloven, driven, drilled, consumed, and digested alive, the screams of the miners, too dark to dream, the light extinguished and out of heat, the holding tension of the bodies of those miners, the organized fear to exploit—uncovering the vulnerable to center the unbound and surrender the shaft of lightless night—stars extinguished in blackness of black hole earth bound warmth of womb, mother’s amniotic leaking sack like sheets of wetness coating the walls…

Uncovering and oscillating cellular excitation creates matter shining buzzed to gold to golden hearth to heat to home, penetrating further inwardly, going like a ghost chasing it’s memory we dig deeper into the pit of pity, the mine of mine to objectify the realization of gold, of oro, of two stars together making one…

We travelers unbound take a left up the ever diminishing shaft and sit in breath and silence and like a birth, it rises in me the putrid guts of the grief of the walls and the emptiness of a gold lost in the industry to capture it. I discover my animal next to me breathing in front and behind, a fearful laugh. I find the gold in me forever fluid and connected to the brother and sister behind and in front. I discover the gold that could never be found any other way, blind, in darkness, in collapsing physical space in proximity to the brother and sister to my side, a warmth in absence of the need for it.

The mine, the gold. All mine, all gold.



Medication as…


From 1983-1986, I served in a special operations unit stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington called the 2nd Ranger Battalion. Although it was not much of a stretch from the upbringing I received in my family of origin which, essentially, was preparation to become a soldier, the pace and extreme nature of the Ranger Battalion has me, at times still, catching my breath.

Among other events, what continues to permeate my day to day life from my service, is the loss of many friends, friends who I learned to trust through sheer proximity and intense stress. I am tempted to write their names here but I don’t feel the need to. They are with me always and sometimes, they are ghosts, reminding me on not so good days, of the loss of many things. The most significant injury for me is moral injury–that the dehumanized and professional soldier that I volunteered to be was at the behest of a larger ideology based in subjugation and manipulation of sovereign nations. In this case I am speaking about the Contra war from 1980-1990, a war won through sheer atrocity and terror. I was on the border of Nicaragua in 1984 doing combat patrols with contra soldiers attached to my squad as part of a larger and quite unknown operation at the time. The larger context of the operation was to put pressure on the Nicaraguan people during elections, and as a live, real-time “rehearsal” for a land invasion of the country from Honduras.

Over the past 8 years I have gone to New York for a retreat for veterans, their family and friends, titled: “The Costs of War, Violence and Denial.” At first I was an attendee benefiting directly from the various forms of meditation introduced by the Zen Buddhist Monk, Claude AnShin Thomas. The last retreat, April 2015, I went as both a participant and a assistant, and since my first veterans retreat in 2007, I have since taken lay ordination into the Soto Zen buddhist tradition.

As a participant, I was asked to write down on a piece of paper, any medication I was taking—a way for Claude AnShin to illustrate and emphasize the importance to continue their course—that the various practices we engaged in where in no way a replacement for prescribed medication. Over the years, my list has gotten smaller, the last several retreats, I have been free of all prescribed and self-prescribed medications. It wasn’t until going to the Magnolia Zen Center in Florida, the center where Claude AnShin takes up brief residence as his vows of mendicancy encourage him to travel and move constantly, I spied a rough pile of papers in his office. I asked Claude AnShin what that was about and he said it was the medication lists collected over the years and he did not quite know what to do with them. As an artist, I instantly wanted the papers for yet another collection of material for, possibly, yet another unrealized art project. Claude AnShin gave them to me as well as the next two years of lists, insisting that whatever I create, the information and persons attached to the lists remain anonymous. And, over the next 2 to 3 years, Claude AnShin would ask how the project was coming…often giving voice to my own resistance to working on the collage. I kept away from tackling the project because, perhaps, I was not resolved about the question of medicating my own discomfort. Maybe I was just lazy. Maybe a variety of motivations. Underneath all of them was resistance.

The mandala/collage is a meditation. The work represents a integration of two definitions of mandala: 1) As Oriental Art. A schematized representation of the cosmos, chiefly characterized by a concentric configuration of geometric shapes, each of which contains an image of a deity or an attribute of a deity. And 2) (In Jungian psychology) a symbol representing the effort to reunify the self. Perhaps the work also represents a dialogue between the community of veterans affected by their military service and my own work toward integration and healing.

The Veterans Administration is given the burden of ameliorating the fundamental human atrocity of war, violence and trauma. Faced with an ever urgent problem of escalating veterans suicides, the VA, now more than ever, relies on psycho-pharmacological suppression of symptoms and because of this, many veterans are prescribed medications and, in turn, are then prescribed medications to offset the side effects of the original medication. In other words, the Veterans Administration, administers to management of symptomatology, not healing and transformation.  In the first definition of mandala, there is a reference to an “attribute of a deity.” In this case, medication acts as such a deity This god functions as a panacea for tamping down the bouquet of suffering from traumatic experiences, from the trauma of dehumanized and industrialized killing: war.

In the end, the definition of war is not the exclusive domain of the battlefield. It exists in our society, in the realm of power dynamics in exaggerated gender roles (the war against women), interpersonal violence (the war against children), unrealized liberation (the war against gender/sexual identity and expression), social conditioning (the war against the unknown, racism and zenophobia), and ultimately, the externalization of human suffering: pointing the finger at the other as the source. I don’t want to say that oppression, violence and injustice are not there and I do want to take responsibility for how I perpetuate those systems from my own life and attributes and circumstances. How not to be violent is a far more complex question than merely putting down my weapon.

Expanding outward and inward, as the mandala suggests, medication as diety becomes an interpenetration of the good in the bad and the bad in the good. The mandala represents the collective suffering and healing and transformation from the invisible wounds of war and trauma. Perhaps the mandala represents a transformation of the discriminating mind to that of undifferentiated awareness. Maybe the mandala is just a thing I made and through the process, I was made less fractured and more accepting of my own war and military experiences that continue to play out in my mind, day after day, and sometimes, night after night.

In North American culture, the Buddha is often used in reference to a specific individual, Shakyamuni or Siddhārtha Gautama, the historical figure commonly known as the progenitor of buddhism. In the simplest sense, “buddha” means awake. Maybe the confusion is in the pairing of the both names and definition as one and the same, as in Shakyamuni Buddha. With the medication mandala, the fundamental symbol is that of our inherent awakened nature: our unbiased, undifferentiated awareness. The components that make up the mandala consists of the differentiated mind, the mind averse and conditioned to avoid and escape suffering at every turn. The parts of the mandala, the segregated symbols and signifiers of medications are the confetti of suffering.  Escape from reality is much like the purpose psychotropic medications serve with regard to the community of effected veterans.

Only in looking inward as the mandala suggests, does transformation exist. Only in addressing the underlying pain of trauma are we able to integrate the reality of that trauma. Meditation, rooted in breath awareness, is one tool that has benefited me in looking inward. What has also benefited me is turning away from psychotropic medication and receiving help to further develop stability with which to continue to investigate my own suffering. I must say in the end medication did, at some point, help me. I believe it bears some utility as an intervention and only as an intervention. Ultimately, I have to trust my living organism to adjust. And paying attention to my breath is an act which demonstrates that trust.


Eisenstein’s Folly or “I Sunk Your Battleship”

Article written in art school in 2003 for film class… yeah, art school confidentiality betrayed


          The limitations of Applied Dialectics

Upon seeing Sergei Eisenstein’s Odessa Steps sequence from his seminal film The Battleship Potempkin and studying his essay in the book, Film Form, titled, “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form,” I arrived at a place of criticism of Eisenstein’s theory of montage. In Film Form, Eisenstein addresses the “political” implications of film and its potential for ideological proselytizing: “I would not attempt to deny that this form (film) is most suitable for the expression of ideological pointed theses, but it is a pity that the critics completely overlooked the purely filmic potentialities of this approach.”[1] This statement strikes me as important to understanding both Eisenstein’s film work and his theoretical elaborations.  Not only did he use film as a propaganda tool, he took the Soviet ideological apparatus and applied it to the theoretic underpinnings of filmic language.

Eisenstein’s application of the dialectical “method” betrays an immaturity with regard to Hegelian/Marxist thought. The Soviet experiment made a critical mistake of attempting to take Marx and Engel’s writings and develop a working model for a society. This was essentially counter-revolutionary and a general frustration of the dialectical process of unfolding understood by Hegel and Marx. This is the crux of the issue (of applied dialectics or a programmatic realization of contradiction as the defining motor of change)that Eisenstein demonstrates is a limited understanding of the dialectical process: an unfolding of elements as a result of social pressures.

Eisenstein’s use and misuse of dialectical reasoning, inspired me. He sought to employ dialectics in the realm of film and theory and I am not convinced the dialectic functions as a utility. I believe the shortcomings of this forced application betray an immature, and programmatic method that reflects Soviet Communist ideology.

This misunderstanding is/was clearly manifest in the Soviet model of ‘actually existing socialism” which did a very anti-dialectical intervention into its own historical process by developing a state controlled means of production and an ideological apparatus whose most sophisticated function was survival. Ideological survival included, among other functions, the demonizing of capitalist process and its participants and an “imperialism of the people” in its implementation of the Soviet model on countries and regions to the periphery of Russia.

Eisenstein, in his essay, “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form,” lays out two fundamental dialectic impulses that are motivated by conflict:

1) The adoption of the conflict method of montage which transforms two side by side shots into a third action or dynamic. Eisenstein uses the idea of conflict as the motivating concept of dynamism in filmic montage. Two seemingly unrelated subjects create a dialectic third through their placement next to each other in montage editing and temporal space.

 2) Film Form as treatment or theory of dialectic imprinting on the “brain” that may yield dialectic thinking. Eisenstein elaborates this idea through various descriptions of conflict development in montage. (For example, graphic conflict, conflict of planes, conflict of volumes, etc.) The chief use of this conflict juxtaposition is to deliver a visual representation of the dialectic process, thereby influencing our way of thinking about the film, and hence, the world.

 Picture 13

The dialectical dynamic is bandied about by many intellectuals and academicians and frequently lacks definition or qualification.  Dialectics are as misunderstood as Marx/Engel’s ideas about socialism and the assumption by many that they were the architects of the socialist experiments in the world. The sheer magnitude of their work dealt completely with the illustration of the process of capitalist reproduction of social conditions that would be the systems undoing with the birth of the next stage of class relations to the means of production: socialism. Marx stated after the crushing to the Paris Commune in 1871, that socialism could only be defined by experimenting with what socialism could be: to explain what socialism is without practical application is Utopian.

Primary to Marx/Engel’s interpretation and development of dialectic materialism was their idea of contradiction: the incompatible development of elements within the same relation. For instance in capitalist society, the capitalist class and the working class develop unique properties in relation to the means of production. The capitalist class consolidates its wealth and control by ownership of the means of production while the working class toils away and sells their labor power as a commodity. The capitalist class becomes wealthy and powerful through the exploitation and oppression (oppression through the dehumanization of the worker in the process of labor, repetition of task, the selling of one’s labor power to the highest bidder) of the working class. This is the fundamental contradiction of capitalist society.

One cannot understand the Marx/Engel’s dialectical materialism without going back to Hegel.  Hegel’s whole gig was to create a synthetic reason in response to a negative criticism and reductionism derived from Socratic dialectics. Socratic dialectics, Hegel challenged, offered no alternative to its destructive, deductive process of tearing down and definition of what was not. Hegel developed a modern dialectic that he explained as a mature/forgiving philosophy based on synthesis vs. the immature/angry dialectic of Socrates. Hegel’s main illustration of contradiction was the master and slave relationship. Within this relationship, the contradictory impulses of both the master (to dominate, to receive validation through control) and the slave (desiring freedom; learning that oppression is not the way to achieve it). Hegel saw that emancipation was a probable revolutionary outcome from the opposing forces in the master/slave relationship.

Although these ideas that Eisenstein has worked on are rigorous, they neglect fundamentals of dialectical materialism and Hegelian dialectics as a “process” of becoming in the external world (instead they are a applied treatment or universal description of specific form) and a way of apprehending this process in our thinking.

The Dialectic is a global current, a supreme law of change. Within this current exists a multitude of waveforms that interact in a common substance (such as water, in this metaphor). The constant dynamic interaction and friction between waveforms yields ever larger and radical manifestations, through reverberation and additive cooperation. The ever-increasing scale and quality of these larger waveforms result in powerful forces that exert their influence, transforming fundamental elements into ever changing manifestations.

This is my understanding of the dialectic process. It is not something that I can apply; rather it is an internalized dynamic, a thought process, and an external unfolding of change that manifests in all creations, especially social conflict, in this example. Through a study of wholeness, the perception of the larger environment of our thinking and of the world’s action (in the social sense) becomes truly dynamic.The Dialectic is a process; it is not a methodology from which to work nor is it and application to employ.

[1] Eisenstein, Sergei. “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form” Film Form, Ed. Jay Leyda(Harcourt Brace & Company:Florida, 1947) 62.



“Inhabit your Destiny, live your future,” the riff of the teacher, in his deep, spanish-accented voice, directs the eight of us. We move through the space, circling each other in the blackened, and soundless theater, dimly lit, the radiation of the sun beating on and through the loft of the roof. I signed up for a 2-month creative cohort workshop, where we will present our work as a performance. Led by a man who dances his life, he is the container for the work and the work is all about the operative word of “opening.” At first, the idea of opening sounds like a ridiculous enterprise, but read below and see what happens…

Stretching, rocking, I prepare myself for the unfolding of what is next. The swish sound of busy feet on the plywood-covered stage is in front of a low beat of looped tribal music pushing from speakers. At the teacher’s instruction, we gather, clutching a rope, allowing the braided nylon to slide through the fingers. In the way the energy speaks through the voice of the teacher, he implores us to,  “abandon our habitual selves, our habitual body, to reach and touch our delicate ordinariness, the expanse of our mundane everyday wonder.” I have no clue as to where he is asking me to go but I get it that my thinking won’t get me there. My muscles contract, my bones bend and the hair on my skin stands out as I follow the lead of the teacher. In some unknown way my heart matches the beat of the others as I convince my feet and toes to embrace the floor. I spread my fingers, willing them to open, one by one. Touching the three places with my fingertips with rapid determination, pelvis, heart, and forehead, my hips begin to unwind, my chest opens and I come home to the vigor of my breath. With intention, another version of tension, I apply myself. Lurch, abandon, open, clench, push, rest, and ply, I generate from my insides out as I move. I work on the fire within, tend to it, feel it sear against my insides, the carbon taste filling my mouth, brackish wet in my nostrils. From there I push out, and express. I operate. As the teacher says, I “activate.” And from this inside place, this ordinary self living in my skin, this version of me that is now in the same location, now caught up after years of pushing away from the past, from this place, I butoh. Yes indeed, I said “I butoh.” The word, now a verb, an action, an experience, never a static and fixed thing. Never a noun. Never a word on a page.  Now, only a signifier of a process.

I identify as a painter by choice and inclination—a visual explorer. I am not interested in viewing art or studying the legacy of any painterly school, I simply paint. This is my science, where I pose the question and discover, on my own, what becomes.  My growth thus far has been a perpetual approach to the edge of my self—to the tipping point, where everything is on the line. All is at stake. Risk, life and death, are all part of the edge that I slide my paint into. And it is not enough. Where I lack, I make it up. Where the details are fuzzy, I get more specific in my invention. And often, the work is shit. And because of this edge, I often don’t paint. Then, I do. Sometimes I just want it to be fun again. Sometimes it is.

There are people who say that a true artist can apply themselves to any medium and produce an event or piece of work that is reflective of their essence: a work that reflects the maturity and aesthetic of the vision contained within the artist’s heart. In the case of butoh, the body becomes the body of work—applied physiology. As I jump into myself and hold the poetic imagery suggested by the teacher, I smash myself against the mystery. And I risk injury. A small voice in me curses myself for so quickly signing that release form.

I’m gonna butcher this, this Dave history, this imagined and applied self deception, but you get to read the bullshit and believe it. For it is true because I make it so.  Where I lack the information, I become magician. I conjure.  I butoh.

Butoh, the form, arose in Japan, in the body of the human creatures there, in the late 1950’s.  My limited study of the subject has me feeling quite American and even, political, as I create the story and reimagine it for you—a story derived from short-term study over-layed with ignorant enthusiasm. Butoh arose as a energetic response to the rigid and formal strictures of traditional Japanese theatrical practice and form: formal theatrical practices such as Kabuki Theater and Noh Theater. Butoh blasted away at these traditions. Butoh reclaimed the horror of the unaddressed and sublimated trauma from the nuclear devastation visited upon the island and people of Japan. It was the body, expressed in its raw and splendid imperfection.

Of course there were the progenitors, Kazuoh Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata, but I will fuck that completely up if I try. The point is, this dance, this form, this spontaneous, energetic, embodied practice of abandoning habit and conditioning arose out the radiated ashes still inhaled by the people of Japan to this day. Butoh arose. It birthed itself, to become the child, the wandering child, the broadcast of impulse, defying the ordinary. I’ve read that it is referred to as the “dance of darkness” but in truth, to butoh is to defy classification. “Performers” often Butoh without audience, in a trash pile, or maybe a fern covered floor of a forest, or inside a dumpster—the energetic connection only with the practitioner, to learn, explore and discover the buried terror of uninhibited instinct.

Performers who hold to the form, either to honor the beginnings or to hang on to some semblance of rigidity, often costume in very little clothing, a loin covering or such, their skin covered in white ash. Extreme emotional states, agitation, grotesque and contorted body position, shaking, vocalization, pain, wincing and delicate, slow, melodic beauty, petals of a flower, wings of a butterfly, to butoh is to embrace and embody all that is human and all that is inhuman. To butoh is to move deeply beyond the confines of cultural habit and conditioning, to embody the energetic impulse of creative, spontaneous life—across all cultures, traditions and ethnic blendings, to butoh is to get under it and over it. What are you, reader, waiting for?

As the teacher speaks, his voice becomes the voice of my ancestors. His voice becomes the practice. He exemplifies the diaspora of the butoh impulse. In this workshop the teacher is bringing his butoh to us, the participants. His butoh, like the melting pot of America, unassimilated, his butoh is a mixture of the shamanic rituals and traditions of native Mexico, decades of study in dance and theater, and deep practice with one of the two instigators of butoh, Kazuoh Ohno. The timbre of the teacher’s voice, the cadence of his speech, coaching us, imploring us, betrays the ancient maturity of his opening.

In one poetic image suggested by the teacher, I express my father on the left side of my body and my mother on the right. I feel the tension between the two, the lovely, angry and bitter tension that belied their 64 years of marriage. I live the worry between the two, the division of labor that typified their union, where one embodied the traditionally masculine, the provider, the decider. And the other, generous, the home maker, the cook, the soft one. As I continue to express these two through the anxious digits of my hand, I make a guess at the weight of my mother’s oppression, at her angry jaw underneath the soft smile, but my body, weighted as it is, leans over toward the masculine. Typing a message with my left hand to my dead father I ask him these questions: “What was your secret?” “What was your dream” “What was your secret dream.” As the questions arise from my mind, now overwhelmed by the raw physicality of constant motion, asymmetric spasms of involuntary impulses, labored breath and fatigued legs, sweat jumping off the tip of my nose– I come to a place that is a most vast expanse—the unknown, the void, the abyss of self. I come to know my father and what my inheritance is. The story and the chatter of the surface life I lived under his roof opens up to the energetic reality of my father. To his aspiration, his love, his dream. His pain.

Everyday as a kid under his roof I never forgot his sadness for better days gone by. Sadness for the futility of life. Sadness disguised as rage, broadly applied. That rage filled sadness lived in my dad’s body like a worried knot. The constriction of his arms and legs, always crossed or covering his heart, the square set of his jaw and the feral gaze that rarely loosened. As he would say about anger, “it is honest.” And that honesty always loosened the limbs and softened his jowls, particularly after an aerobic rage. Often I was the recipient of his expression, somehow understanding my part in receiving it, not to take it personal. To cut off myself from myself. To absorb in my body the energy displacement. He would soften with alcohol and spent rage followed by a retinue of “sorry, tiger’s.” He would say it to make it alright. To amend. To atone.

And always, the shallow gratitude for the bombs.

A secret I discover is the gift of his life. His reality was severely impacted by his World War II service, where his survival, according to his story and trajectory, was intertwined with the bombing of Japan. “Thank god for the atom bomb,” was often delivered with slurred speech, my dad imploring with his eyes as if searching for someone in a crowd. Indeed, he was a hard man, softened with alcohol and when under the booze, out of his unclenched jaw came the monologue. Nostalgia. Geisha girls and Glen Miller. And always Frank Sinatra: Frank’s failure to pass the draft review, allowing him to fuck and fuck over every fighting GI, to fuck their wives, girlfriends and sisters with his entitled and syrupy voice. And the repetitive description of my dad’s buddy Fitz or Bill Lolly. And the pictures of my dad, Hollywood handsome, playing in the snow with the most delicate of women. Others, his eyes shining, at a table, clearly lit up with sake, in his dress greens. And more.

My dad was in the Pacific Theater during the war and the capitulation of Japan, their surrender, took him out of the imminent land invasion of the island. He instead, became an occupier, a participant in the defeat of a people: my father as witness to his own life unfolding, his gratitude for the atom bomb, the delicate and profound wound of a people subsumed by a larger power system, the cherry blossom cloud of atomic detonation.  And the ash. The ash of spiritual poverty.

I feel the whisper of his life gracing my skin and unlock in my sternum. I sense the underneath of him, the body free of constriction, the jaw unclenched, his voice full and uncontrived. I dance his dream, the unexpressed dream of my dad—I dance for him, where he could not. I unravel the knot. The braided cords of my sinews and the inherited, transmitted energy shakes loose. It is here that he lives in me and I see the opportunity to transform him and all past generations—to lean into the abyss. How long have I danced around this place, and now, I am here.

I spent fifty of my years running away from myself, borrowing against my physicality, burning my skin, toxifying my liver, mutilating my fingers as I played catch up with power tools, swallowing pills and alcohol, putting needles in my veins and jerking my erection to extract some bit of joy, over and over and over, for years and years. And I did it all to escape myself. To escape to the next thing, always ahead of the moment where my body breathed. I borrowed against my body, trying to catch up to the speed of life.

At this moment, as I write, I am located. In the process of imagining– this dance or dream or whatever,–what was my former enemy has become my friend, my body. I am an inhabitant of this divine vehicle, for the first time in the history of this body. We are aligned. No longer dislocated, my identity, self and body are more integrated than ever.

The teacher continues…, “Tighten, close, cover yourself and your shame, you are small and invisible, disappear before us in your shame. ‘Don’t look at me, don’t look at me, don’t look at me,’” was the instruction to collapse in on our secret shame as children, convince ourselves of our inherent un-loveable-ness. As I brought myself in and tightened around the instructions I felt a lump of pain and hot bitter throaty tears rise up and escape my lips… I was again, little and neglected, forgotten in the present moment of my upbringing. A secret shame blossomed in my body, invited by the teacher, I became a weak, dependent boy convinced of my inherent unworthiness. An image arises of me, viewed in third person, I am sitting before my first grade teacher, Ms. Whitehouse, as she reads to us, sitting on the floor. I position myself so that I can catch a glimpse up her blue polyester dress, up the channel of her legs toward a mystery. The next image of myself, a lonely orphan, dapper in a brown corduroy coat, under the pregnant rain clouds in the playground of first grade. I clutch a stick and pull my hand back in the coat, as if the stick was my prosthetic wand. And I chase a girl with the stick, grunting like a little animal. This was our game. And how do I, today, chase that girl with a wand, what game do I play? And how do I still strive to catch a glimpse of the mystery? Like my tears forming at the corner of my eyes, swelling in size until they drop, as I move with the group, as I imagine, I give birth to that boy, I allow him to escape from my guts, to rise, embraced by my grown up self.

Again, the teacher, “Now! , ok, ok, now, bring yourself forward, uncover, uncover, gently, gently, open, open, now bring yourself open, put yourself in the posture of joy and possibility, live in that place, breath into it and expand, expand. Grow out, hold the future, the impossible joy of everything. Grow with it, let it become.” And I become. I go back to the beach in Guam, 1985, in the army and off duty. I’m there for a Joint Special Operations Training exercise, big words for a blindingly surreal experience of a simulated gun battle. I’m just an island over from Tinian, where the “big boy” was loaded into the belly of the Enola Gay, its next destination, birth of the nuclear age over Hiroshima.  I’m on the beach wearing nothing but a thin pair of surf trunks, the sand so lovingly burning my feet, standing before the waves…. and the sun loves me like no mother ever could– at that moment all fear abandoned me. I enlarge, my chest cracking open, arms spread, palms upturned toward the sky, I invite the sun to enter my heart and I feel my joy, the limitless potential, the electric truth and conviction to crack open the sky. I become it. I touch it. I know it. My body sings.

“Now, bring yourself back. Come to neutral; come to the neutral place where both the shame and joy are together, but with neutral expression. Hold these two places, hold them and let them connect.” And I integrate. I lower my muscles in my face, let the mask slip into a benign steadiness. I breathe. I calm. My body lines up with the two realities and settles. I allow myself to open and feel the thrum of my hard beating heart in my chest, excruciating and tender, the experience that pain and joy are of the same source. I open. My body aroused from a new sprint, a new adventure, running toward myself. Sweat pours down my skin, my hips are loose, my sternum soft, my mouth open. I look out of my eyes and I see the group, an extension of me, breathing with me. I whisper to myself, just under my exasperated breath…“what’s next?”