Lessons From Beyond the Pale

Here’s something of a mission statement. I thought it would be good to put this out early as I get things going. I’d like to think of it as more than just a place holder or filler. I struggle to take myself seriously sometimes, and to give myself any credit. I have this voice in my head that says things like “What wisdom do you have to pass on?” “Look at you, as you sit on your throne of self righteousness telling a million strangers that you have things they should hear, things that they need to know.” “What makes you think anyone cares about anything you’ve got to say?”

Maybe it’s just me that needs to hear myself say it.

A long time ago I wanted to change the world with my writing. I wanted to inject something artistic and good and beautiful into the world that other people could hold on to and relate to and connect with. I wanted to share the beautiful, whimsical, crazy, amusing, terrifying and horrid observations, realizations and truths I discovered and the understandings I had come to. I was young and I believed wounded souls could use words and music, cameras, ceramics, paints and public spaces to declare amazing testaments to how life really could be. I believed those souls would someday change the world, change everything if only the world would stop trying to shut them up.

As a kid I was one of those brave souls running around with his head on fire with creativity and passion, who believed rock and roll would save the world. I was going to be a writer. I never planned on making money at it, I just knew I was always going to do it. But in my late 20s I hit this weird groove of self-destruction and started telling myself to shut up. I quit believing there was a point to my writing. I quit believing everything really, but most importantly I quit believing in myself. In spite of not doing anything with it though, I kept writing, as writers do.

This blog is the birth of two conversations I had. One with my buddy Levels, who I met in a protest camp out in the Texan desert, fighting pipelines, and the other with my friend Paul, an old co-worker who I tell people to imagine as an imaginary friend of mine: an old hippie that lives in my head. Most people who know me well have come to wonder if Paul really does exist outside my head. I would assure you he does, but, well, it’s hard to say really. These days, especially.

I’m a drifter type coming to terms with middle age irrelevance, torn between two urges. On one hand I’m dealing with the slowing ability and desire to keep up with a life of bouncing around, barely tethered to any one place. On the other hand, I’m tired of trying to insert myself into a professional world and society that clearly have no interest in accepting me. Do I keep pushing on further into oblivion because forward trajectory is the greatest comfort I’ve ever known? Or do I try and settle down a bit and give all these arthritic and musculoskeletal issues some attention… what to do, what to do.

So I was talking to Paul one day, lamenting being torn between taking off again on some grand adventure to wherever or continuing on with trying to do the whole settle down/career/grow roots type thing. He told me: “Of course you’re having troubles trying to settle down. You’ve been out beyond the pale; you’ve seen what’s out there. Life back in the village just isn’t the same anymore.”

Beyond the pale was a term I hadn’t heard before but I instantly fell in love with it. It’s poetry. It’s perfect. In 12th century Ireland the pale was the region in the east, ruled by the crown. It was the protected, civil and above all safe place that sane and wholesome folks never left. And for good reasons (they believed): Beyond the pale was the lawless hinterlands full of dirt worshiping heathens. Beyond the pale was nothing but uncivilized savages, war, and likely dragons. Those who had gone beyond the pale, Paul explained, were those intrepid adventurers who would return with tales of glory and woe, adventure and magic. They were the hardcore troubadours, the ones whose tales were retold at taverns and firesides until they became the legends handed down by generations.

More recently, talking to Levels, I was once speaking to the damaging effects of having given up on ever being a writer. I had let go of the dream and ambition of it ever amounting to anything, but I never stopped producing. I did it out of impulse. I did it out of reflex. I did it because my lungs and nose work in conjunction to breathe and always will and my mind and hands work in conjunction to write and always will. That is just fact. Anything besides acceptance is futile. I told Levels how I had taken a new perspective on a the last few years: that I never really quit writing, I just shifted my priority to living. To gathering material. To adventuring and gathering wisdom and tales and knowledge. When I was young, I had been given the ability to write, but I didn’t have much to say. Now I feel like I have both the ability to write and things to say.” Levels agreed “Now that you’ve traveled, had those adventures and learned those things, it’s your duty to tell others what you’ve learned. That knowledge wasn’t given to you to hold, it was given to you to pass on”.

My duty to teach others what I’ve learned. That feels heavy. It doesn’t feel like a desire, it feels like a charge. It also feels like a relief valve that opened up, like the equation to the problem of my life. All the suffering I’ve gone through and pain I’ve put myself through, the lessons learned, the experiences both negative and positive, the whole of my existence that at times feels like a complete and total waste of time, it’s all only a waste if I don’t put it to use. That’s what I tell myself.

I was 18 years old the first time I was homeless. I kicked around on the streets of Milwaukee until I joined the Air Force, then kicked around Europe, back to the States where I kicked around the plains, then the south, then some more time on the road and finally back to Wisconsin (for now). I keep coming back to the village, to check in, to tell tales, to rest and recalibrate. However, it gets harder to stay after each time I leave and I find my return trips getting shorter and shorter every time.

This blog is what I’ve learned from beyond the pale. This is me leaving all of those lessons, those tales, those legends here at this fire for anyone to find. I believe most of the truths, philosophies and understandings I’ve discovered to be universal and few if any are really anything original or unique to my life. I don’t say that to take anything away from my own experience (I, like many people, am forever talking down my accomplishments and struggles alike), but to recognize that even though each human existence truly is a wholly unique and snowflake like experience, they’re all connected. It takes a lot of faith and hope to believe that love and beauty really are the ultimate truths and that they really can win out over everything. Maybe, like me, you need a place to sit and rest and find something to bolster that faith and belief. That’s why this fire is here, may it travel with you when you go.

I’m starting to come out of a decade’s long crisis of faith, in that regard, and one thing I’ve found integral is the ability to lean on other true-believers. I hope you find something useful here among all these words and pictures. I hope you find some peace, some solace. I hope you find understanding, love, healing, and above all company.

 

Good to see you again,
Keith

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