On Failure

Complete readings here1My sister Zoë's amazing artwork..

Lk 9:28
“Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up the mountain to pray.”

You must buy this now. It’s Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes and Gymnopédies recorded with enough space to drive a city through. It’s actually totally obnoxious at first, because you know the tunes as jaunty and feel they should be going a bit quicker. But the more you listen to it, the more entranced you become… like falling asleep to a lullaby and hearing the melody in a later dream.

The world is dead around us, New York is chock to the gills with dirty snow and I feel like the T-1000 at the end of Terminator 2; a molten self desperately attempting to congeal. You lose everything when you relocate: your favorite food and pleasure sources, your inner maps, the secrets you’ve stored in the hearts of friends. Without these intangible relations to the “real world” your ego-self is set adrift on a sea of its own symbols.

A molten self desperately
attempting to congeal…”

Everyone you meet, every experience you encounter is examined for similarities to your prior life so that it can be properly placed. But rarely do the old distinctions work. Instead the mind reels as it struggles to create new categories and generalizations (the bodega, the wine shop, the Hasidic landlord). The self forms and reforms a million times a moment, trying to discover its relation to the endless ephemeral entities it imagines, inflates, and dismisses.

All alliteration aside, the fact is it’s damn difficult sometimes!

Their end is destruction.
Their God is their stomach;
their glory is in their ‘shame.’”

And now I’ve got to say something profound about these quotes, which frankly stump me. I mean, they all possess that fire-and-brimstone rhetoric of The Bible which perplexes me. I don’t truck with the imperative, I guess. Yet I don’t mind (and even treasure) the writings of Hakuin Ekaku, that old Rinzai monk who says things like: “Time passes like an arrow. It waits for no one. Exert yourself! Exhaust yourself!”

So why so supercilious when it comes to Luke and Genesis?

While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.”

The passage from Luke is about the “Transfiguration of Jesus,” according to the prophet Google, and it’s one of Jesus’s many miracles. There are suppositions about what the miracle means in relation to the overall story, but as far as I can tell it sounds like proof of Bigfoot. This is the Roger Patterson footage: it’s there for people who need something that smacks more of proof and less of faith.

Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
‘This is my chosen Son; listen to him.’”

At least, that’s how it sounds to me. That’s frankly how most of the miracles sound, but at least they have some interesting narrative features to sink your teeth in and attempt to chew. This is just a story about Jesus meeting two famous religious people who affirm he’s one of them, then God making it clear beyond a doubt: “He’s my kid.”

After the voice had spoken,
Jesus was found alone.”

So I lose this week. A selfish desire to sleep, a slowing mind and a midnight hour means I lose. I can’t compose a sermon about a moment of such apparent certainty because I lack anything as concrete as that in my life. I’m waiting for my notifications from graduate schools, which means I’m a bundle of nerves and have no idea what will happen to me in the next few months. My finances are less certain than they have been in a while, my fear of failure sleeps with me at night, and every goddamn sidewalk in New York is girded by a moat.

So I’m sorry, but all I can say this week is that the world is going to keep on turning, and we are all going to keep getting older. Whether you like it or not.



  1. Love you lots Toby. We’ve got very different lives but you describe a common thread that is comforting to me.

  2. Mikkim! Hey I’m just glad somebody reads this crap. 🙂 It’s a way to keep from going nuts out here, where I don’t know very many people and I have too much free time on my hands (usually).

    Love you so much, Miks. Thanks for taking the time to say hi! Not sure when I’ll be back in PDX (I have to travel for two weddings this summer) — but I look forward to seeing you whenever that is.

    Give my love to your family.

  3. “After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.”

    So we are all alone when truth is spoken…perhaps not so different from the NYC experience after all?

    Love you, T. And I love your writing. You are officially on my reading list now!


  4. Hey brother, you speak to me. This is very good work in a very hard place, I miss you, Z

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