On Memorial Day, I read this in a belated birthday celebration (I am now 45 fucking years old) and continuation of the Annual Manifesto tradition begun last year. Rachel Claff baked a mind-stopping cake, friends lent their attention, and the Hopleaf provided a swell venue. It was a humbling treat for me - hope you enjoy the text.
Last year, I bestowed upon myself super powers. I found that one man – even one with Oaken Fists of Flame and a ferocious brand of justice – is not equal to the rolling waves of tribulation.
The One Man Alone model cannot work. So instead, this year, in serendipity and solidarity with Memorial Day, I seek to raise an army.
An army unlike any the world has ever seen. An army that does not fight for nation, and does not fight for glory. An army that does not fight at all. An army that will never need to remember the fallen, because we will all die in our beds.
Welcome. You are the first foot soldiers. In The Great and Glorious Army For a New Millennium That is Already Eleven Years Late. This army shall be self-directed and non-confrontational and super productive.
To join, you need not be the best and the brightest. We will take the middling and the passable, the dim and the hobbled. We will take the feeble and the crazed, the anxious and afraid.
One day soon, our army shall number seven billion, and have no chain of command. Our army will occupy every continent and be the master of every sea. Our army will patrol a perimeter that follows every line of latitude on every map. Our army already has boots on the ground and is ready to roll. There will be no rank – we are all foot soldiers. There are no tours of duty or recruiting offices. You self-declare. You say you’re in? That means you’re in.
Not all are welcome, however. Thugs and exploiters, the witless and wasteful, the belittling and dismissive, the quashing and vindictive, the paltry-hearted and puny-minded – need not apply. The rest of us – this army without precedent, the members of The Great and Glorious Army For a New Millennium That Is Already Eleven Years Late – will surround them and take heart because they are hopelessly outnumbered. It is comical, almost, that these few – a handful of them, really – have drawn so much of our time and attention, and have snatched so much thought and worry and treasure and sorrow away from us. In a final act, we will bulldoze them all into a trench. We will dress them in oily rags issue each of them a lighter. They will erupt in a fireball of recrimination and self-justification right away.
We don’t even cheer, really, to be rid of them. We’re saddened by the time we wasted while mired among them. We fill in the trench and don’t look back. There is too goddamn much to do.
Victory is assured because we have already taken all the territory. What remains is ideology, which we will set aside. Altogether.
Listen to this. It no longer matters whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist. It is too late to be a pessimist. Now, as a person torn between paralysis in the face of the shit maelstrom and the desire to actually change the world, I can say that this is a good goddamn answer. It is TOO LATE TO BE A PESSIMIST.
As recruits in The Great and Glorious Army For a New Millennium That Is Already Like Eleven Years Late, when next you are confronted by a freshly fizzing clusterfuck, I urge you: don’t stare at it. Don’t parse it and wring your hands over it. And for fuck’s sake, do NOT yearn for a rosier and more bountiful time before the clusterfuck. The clusterfuck is what you have. Remind yourself that it is too goddamn late to be a pessimist and roll up your sleeves. Lace up your boots and get cracking. For it is too goddamn late already. It is too late to be a pessimist.
Our weapons will be wooden spoons and surveying equipment; pitchforks and stop watches; pickling jars and ukuleles; crocus bulbs and computer code; rain tarps and egg timers; pitch pipes and bed pans; kite string and plumb lines; gauze pads and cinder blocks; calipers and protective eyewear; knitting needles and shoe leather.
We will take that next hill, but we will do it sheet music and grilled vegetables. We will occupy that next village, but we will do it with frozen yogurt and candle wax. We will storm that beachhead, but we will do it with swing sets and good conversation.
There are two ways you enlist:
- The first is to dig deep and find the work that renders you expansive and truthful – the place in you where your greatness lies, the undertaking that enlarges your happiness and that of others. This is exceptionally difficult and daunting, but we are all foot soldiers in this same campaign and we believe in you. You will doubt and we will tell you: “There is greatness in you. Find it. Find it and grow it.” You will excel because it is in you to do so and because we need very badly for you to achieve.
- The other is to look to your greatest outrage – the crime or loss or injustice that remains troubling and makes you grit your teeth and ball your fists, even if it took place a long-ass time ago. Keep clear sight of this thing, this outrage, for it falls now to you to help correct it. This is exceptionally difficult and daunting, but we are all foot soldiers in this same campaign and we believe in you. You will doubt and we will tell you: “There is abundance and tenacity in you. Find it. Find it and use it.” You will prevail because it is in you to do so and because we need very badly for you to create solutions.
Belief has never been the trouble. The FACT of conviction is not the trouble. The friction and the shower of sparks, the fireball and the impact crater do not come about because we have believed something. Conviction does not cause the hurt feelings and the split lip. It is not conviction that straps an explosive vest on you and detonates it in a market square, or sets you beheading hostages.
It is the MISAPPLICATION of conviction that sends everything off the rails. I am like anyone. I am prey to shitty ideas. Sometimes, I am in the THRALL of shitty ideas. No doubt you are, too. Here’s what to do:
- NOTICE your shitty ideas.
- Get Hippocratic with your shitty ideas. The Hippocratic Oath holds – first, do no harm. For my shitty ideas, that just means: don’t be acting on them, and don’t be shooting my mouth off. Unless there is a microphone. And people show up with the expectation that I give voice to them.
If you think that ideology cannot be extracted from us – and I’m not suggesting it will be easy – here’s what I propose: raise the bar for spouting off. To mouth off about something, just ask “Am I QUALIFIED to mouth off about this?” Here’s what we mean:
- If you wanna mouth off about abortion, have a uterus.
- If you wanna get lippy about gun control, get shot.
- If you wanna holler about the zombie problem, be eating brains or blowing heads off.
Here’s what I’m talking about – I am QUALIFIED to have a position on the death penalty because my family PAID for it with the life of my grandfather. He was murdered in 1985. My POSITION is that killing is never not wrong. Ever. For any reason. No matter who’s doing it. I can debate the merits of this position with somebody who has an opposing view – if their family has paid the price of admission. If there is murder in their past, believe me – I understand their desire to strap somebody into a chair and push a plunger that routs the life out of their veins.
But we could have a frank exchange – and it would be above all respectful, since a terrible cost had been exacted for both of us prior to such a conversation. Our beliefs will have arisen from events – we are not bending events to wedge inside the bucket of our beliefs.
What this approach will do is render the vast majority of human experience as what it has been all along: none of our goddamn business. The new way is this: just because we have been made aware of something does not render us participants, or what they call stakeholders. Tons of shit – MOST of the shit, in fact, happens ALONGSIDE us, but does not require our meddling. By refraining from adding our voices to the shouting chorus, the discussions around all the hot buttons can get more focused and calm.
So, to review: If the token of your trauma does not fit in the turnstile, you cannot pass. If you haven’t paid the admission, you shut your fucking face and get busy.
This is one means of negating the constricting morass of too much conviction, this imposition of stringent standards for mouthing off. The other is a simple trick. This trick is not original, this trick is not new. But this trick is potent, and this trick can change everything.
The trick is this: expand your definition of self-interest. Expand it to include your neighbors. Expand it across your species. Expand it across your habitat and your ecosystem. Expand it across time. Expand it to include fairness, and tolerance, and while it is corny to say it, expand your definition of self-interest to include love. When your fellow foot soldiers are your brothers and sisters, it is a damn sight easier to serve alongside them, is it not? Of course it is.
So, as new conscripts in this Great and Glorious Army for a New Millenium That Is Already Eleven Years Late, here is what constitutes our duty:
- Make Something. Make something every week. Make something new every week. And money doesn’t count. We will not be shifting our priorities. Our priorities are a tear-down. The phrase “making money”? It has always been a criminal mischaracterization and we are done with it. The kind of reverence we have had for “making money” will be reserved for things like “building a kick-ass tree house” or “making these mind-blowing waffles”. Income will depend upon impact. A third grade teacher in Englewood who reads to the blind will make ten million dollars a year. An investment banker who collects cars will make six bucks. That investment banker can find his way back, though. If he works in a hospice and roams around with one of pointy community service sticks picking up trash at the park, he’ll be back on top before he knows it. Here’s what he can mutter to himself as he attempts to retrain his brain: “If it is esteemable, it is lucrative. If it is esteemable, it is lucrative.” Or, if that’s too highfalutin for him, he can tighten it up to: “Quit being a scumbag. Quit being a scumbag. Quit being a scumbag.”
- Help Out Someplace. This one is super simple. Help somebody. A real, actual person. No check-sending or three-click petitions online. You can still send checks or sign petitions if you feel like. These things are fine, but you also have to do something. Ladle out some soup. Turn the soil in that garden. Shelve books in the library. Clean cages at the shelter. HERE’S where it gets tricky though: Help Out Someplace, But Then Don’t Brag About It. You go. You do your thing. You enjoy the work. Be satisfied with the effect it has. Accept the thanks of the people you help. And then you don’t say a word about it. This will be really, really hard for all of us at first, but it is guaranteed to increase the overall awesomeness of the world if we all just do good and zip it. It will grow easier to believe the best about everybody if we know it to be true about ourselves.
- Make Food. Every day. Doesn’t matter if it’s toast. Make something delicious every day. You are certain to grow weary of toast and expand your repertoire.
- Wander. This might actually be the most important one. Listen to this very carefully. A month CANNOT go by when you have not embarked upon a destination-less journey of some kind. It can be a walk around a new neighborhood, or you can book a train ticket to a city you’ve never been to – but you MUST WANDER. When we all become devoted wanderers, we will all begin more sentences with phrases like “You’ll never believe what I saw the other morning…” Or “Here’s something that never occurred to me before…” Or “You have GOT to try this…”
- Learn. An instrument. A language. Patience. Hardly matters. As long as your brain is striving after something, and you are seeking greater mastery, you cannot fail to become more interesting and interested. And imagine for a second if everybody who crossed your path was fascinating and engaged. Imagine yourself to be such a person.
- Teach. An instrument. A language. Patience. Hardly matters. If you say “I don’t know anything worth teaching,” I will strike you. If you don’t have it, find it. Teach fly tying. Teach taxidermy. Teach swimming. Notice what you know and try to impart it. Imagine for a second that everybody you encounter has secret knowledge and they are eager to grant you access to it. Imagine yourself to be such a person.
- Play. Play a sport. It does not MATTER that you are doughy and slow. There is value in it. Play a game. Run like you’re being pursued by bears. Jump like you can smack the top of the backboard. Be a teammate and a worthy adversary. The words I am speaking right now are your License to Suck. Everybody rules at some number of things. Everybody sucks at a bunch of things. When everybody’s doing it, judgment goes up the chimney. Results don’t mean dick - Grab a mitt and get in the goddamn game.
- Care For an Animal. A mammal is best. If you have allergies, then do what you can.
- Eliminate Self Regard. At the stroke of midnight tonight, every mirror in the world will explode into silvery dust. You are no longer able, and have never been qualified to self-assess. You will no longer decry your man-boobs or your turkey neck or your weird hairline or your cankles. You cannot see them. They do not matter. The means of assessing yourself and your performance in this life shall reside in the gazes of others. If you see fondness and regard, this is what you must see in yourself. Earn fondness and regard. Multiply them. Learn to see your own beauty by seeing it in the eyes of your fellow foot soldiers.
- Your Enslavement Ends TODAY. That thing. That burrows up under your eyelids or corkscrews down your ear canal. That thing that coils in your brain and controls. That thing that makes you say dumb, hurtful shit, or makes you skate away from the people you love, or makes you hide from yourself. Liquor. Or chips. Or strip clubs. Or the riverboats. Or rich, creamy cheeses. Or back alley handjobs. Whatever that thing is. You will be free of it. You will cop to it. You will cut it out. You will be free. If you need to go off someplace and get help, do it. Get free. Because we need every foot soldier we can get, and that thing – the one that rules you, even in secret – it is an oil slick on the precipice. Because it is too late to be a pessimist.
- The Great Inversion Begins NOW. “Making money” is dead. Fort-building with kids matters like hell. All the things we’ve been chasing. Do. Not. Matter. Prestige is a fiction. Teaching the neighbor kid to make a thumb whistle with a blade of grass is at the top of your To Do List. Posterity is a sad fallacy. Building a sand castle endures. There is care, it is true, and obligation. There are burdens. There are sorrows. I have known some. So have you. But all the bounty is here, all of it. You need no telescope to see the glory. Use your eyes. The physics of motor oil puddle rainbows cannot diminish their awesomeness. There is sanctity, I think, in the tender claws of daffodils stabbing skyward. Or the undulant dance of wind in the limbs of an willow. Or a hawk catching an updraft. Or the spazzy and frantic laughter of kids running through the twilight, when the sun has dipped behind the trees to cause a crisis of color in the west. Or sitting in a boat, drifting, while the reeds on the bank murmur and sigh. Or the lean of a dog, entrusting the weight of his head to your lap. Or the cool heft of a glass doorknob in a summer house. Or the rude music of a basketball hitting the rim. Or the yielding damp crumble of soil that, if you close your eyes, thrums with the promise of the vegetables that will grow in it. The fat of a baby’s leg. Or that hand on the small of your back when most you need it. There is no end to it. If you are paying attention, there is wonder beyond measure. If you are paying attention, the prizes are many and priceless. If you are paying attention, really paying attention, the husk of your pessimism falls away and you are new-skinned and new-eyed, and ready to march. For you will have joined The Great and Glorious Army For a New Millennium That Is Already Eleven Years Late.