As I head out across the parking lot, across the street, heading for the Barton Field parade grounds, I’m blinking back tears. I did this to myself on purpose. I’ve been sitting in the car listening to a CD I bought by the Chieftains called “Voice of Ages”. There’s a song called “School Days Over” which tears me to pieces every time. There’s a handful of songs that do this to me and I reserve them for the days I'm going to write. Listening to one of these personally sacred songs is an act of communion, like standing on a cliff over the sea, blowing a conch shell to invoke the deeper gods. They bring up to the surface that interior part of me with all of its scars and images, up from the dark and the cold, up to the surface where we can commune and look each other in the face. Music is how I conjure the gods and the demons both.
“School Days Over” has to be one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard, but only because it speaks to me. A Irish father is telling his son to wake up, put on his pit boots and work clothes for the first time. He’ll have to drop out of school, give up whatever he hoped to be, and begin his first days in the coal mine as a laborer who will be old before his time. With a soft mixture of pride and grief he sings "Put on the sark and moleskin trousers, time to be on your way." Trading dreams for the pick and shovel is what men have always done for those who need us to do this and need us to be that. Its how the male soul defines itself to women and children, and ultimately to ourselves. Women do this too in their own way. A man purchases his manhood with his freedom. A woman purchases it with her happiness.
As I reach the two mile dirt track, young men and women go jogging by. A small squad of them gallop past as a sergeant chants cadence. They’re wearing exercise uniforms and sneakers, but the pit boots are there nevertheless.
I take off my shoes, pull off my socks. I stuff the socks in the shoes and roll up my pants cuffs. It’s a warm day in the deep south, with some wet thunderheads on the horizon. I want to walk barefoot. I want to feel the cool oiled sand under my feet, even though I’ll walk with a funny penguin gait. It’s what I want more than anything right now.
Walking under the trees, with my shoes tucked under my arm, thinking about the coal miner and his schoolboy son whose childhood is over. Letting my mind wander anywhere.
Last night I was watching James Cameron’s masterpiece “Titanic”. I don’t know anything about romance, but the passion and poignancy of the romance between Jack and Rose speaks to me. Jack might have been that coal miners son, who decided to step into the unknown and find the world for himself. He refused to let anybody dictate what he would be. Especially the wealthy swells of the time who tread contemptuously on the miners and Irish poor in the steerage. When it was time to man the life boats, the steerage poor were locked down below so that the "people of quality" might have the boats to themselves. All that changed in only a few years. That iceberg may as well have been World War I crashing into British society and sinking it, But the ending bothers me. Rose, the old woman, dies and is reunited with Jack the young man. They are young and on the stair case.
But wait wait.
Who is Rose? Is she the old woman, married at least once and with children and grandchildren, or is she Rose of the Titanic? Who? And who is Jack, frozen in time? Is he a ghost.
But wait wait.
Is that what a ghost is? An image, like the gray of a flashbulb on the retina, of a moment frozen in time? If this is the best possible moment for Jack and Rose will this instant last forever repeating itself endlessly? Is that what a haunted house is? Is this the real meaning of Heaven, life’s best moment repeated in an endless loop. But what is Hell? What of Jack and Rose's worst moment, chained to a pipe as the ship fills with ice water? Is there a frozen ghost of that moment? Is that Hell?
But wait wait.
If we’re sitting at the bottom of a well of circumstance and neurology, who are we really? Who is the real me walking the track?
Freud and Jung together made the conjuring of the unconscious their craft and laboratory. Freud realized that the unconscious doesn’t distinguish values, it doesn’t distinguish between fantasy and reality. If I imagine love making vividly enough, I’ll get hard and feel desire for release. A woman, imagining passion will dilate and become wet, ready to receive. The unconscious doesn’t make a distinction.
Jung understood that the unconscious works in imagery not in words, maybe that's why it doesn't distinguish reality. He was fascinated by tarot cards and dream imagery and the mystery of coincidence.
Magick, ritual magic as opposed to stage magic, is based on the concentrated projection of imagery and imagination. Almost any image will due if it can be imbued with emotional content. It’s the power of a song to make a man cry, when he sees himself there. Its an unspoken language. So much of magick as I’ve read of in books is about focusing the will and the imagination together to bend reality. Very few can do it. But religious people do it with acts of faith all the time. There is a theory in Tibetan Buddhism that the afterlife is composed of the images of our strongest desires and fears made real to us. If there were a Jack and a Rose there is no reason they wouldn’t find themselves on that stair case, frozen in their moment of greatest happiness.
Overhead a red hawk is circling and I feel the great urge upon me, because writing is an urge. Its not just something you do, its something you can’t help but do.
I see the hawk circling above. I’m imagining a room with predatory animals as trophies on the walls. I’m imagining a man with an eye patch and a silver haired girl is talking to him and he tells her of his fascination with predators. That he is a hunter, a predator himself. And what is the ultimate predator? A man? No, he says. There is one greater.
Would she like to meet her?
I’m done walking. I need to write. I’m on my way to find the table, one of three locations I sit at depending on where I am, because I know the sea god is waiting for me there. My rituals are about to begin.
(If you would like to see a performance of "School Days Over" by the Chieftains and The Low Anthem, you may find it here:)