Friday, February 15, 2013

The Commencement Speech

     This is the text of a speech that I submitted to the UCSC Stevenson 2010 Graduation Comitee.  I read the speech to the judges, and submitted three copies to them to review but I was not chosen.  That was fine, except that my efforts caused the prototypical speech that was given to sound even more soulless than it would have had I been a disinterested party.  In any case I did give my speech one night, standing on an ottoman, for a besotted gathering of friends.  I could barely speak but I struggled through.  I was weeping bourbon by the end of it.  It is at points immature, but it is at no point disingenuous, even the contradictions are genuine.

I am here to communicate with you but I am afraid of words missing their marks, afraid that my axioms will be idioms and that my proverbs will be platitudes. I may only be able to provide for you mixed similes and Homeric metaphors; incapable of doing much more than tossing out signifiers that imitate blank scrabble tiles, banking on the off chance they will string together into processed word cheese as they rattle and snake into your ears from the tall grass that is greener on this side. But I am here to communicate and I hope that this speech is outstanding… in the rain California needed so badly, and I it strikes me now that if that is what I wanted then maybe I should have begun by saying: THIS is a real place (my god, it is a real place) and there are so few of them left today that we must do everything we can to protect it. That would have been a good start but no, actually, I think I would like to begin by saying that the earth is the geography of our being, and that each of us comes from all that we no longer are, yet can never not be. These sorts of words are what I want to say about our history and our present and our future but maybe I shouldn’t, because those are not my words. I am afraid of starting with my words because you do not trust me. I am too young, too passionate and too playful; you can tell that my rhetoric is deeply in need of some ethos because my logos is drunk on pathos. But at this point I have already begun, so now I can just begin again.

I am afraid we have everything in common. This is why I wanted to talk to you. My desire to communicate is born out of a concern I have been fretting over: a distaste for USs and THEMs, and I hope that my empathy for both groups will prevent me from creating any further division. I guess you could say, that from this podium there are lots of targets, but I don’t intend to shoot arrows at you. What I want is for our targets to be the same and so I hope you will allow me… to speak as “we”.

Optometrists are intelligent men, but I am not sure about hindsight being twenty/twenty. History is no doubt invaluable; the so-called inner things being not so separable from the objects, persons, and events that led to them, and yet I think I know why the beginning seems to be clearer through the lens of the end, it is because the details have become too distant to bring into focus, the sensations and intricacies are lost to outcome’s snapshot. What I know for sure, is that it doesn’t matter how well you see if you never take the time to look; I am certain of this because it is a-priori truth, by the nature of seeing you must look to do it. And when we look, we should all be concerned about the worth of our sense, because there may be no reason this season. We seem to be so tickled in the smugness of our being that we let go the reins of the means, and they decided they could justify the ends while we weren’t paying attention, until now our we are in a situation where plans are obstructing life. I do not believe that it is suffice to say: we deserve more than this, than the bitter luxury of watching twenty first century chaos from the progressive palaces of these redwood sanctuaries. Today we are not even the sum of our parts because we have become satisfied with a perch on the giants’ shoulders. But ARE we satisfied relegating giants to mythology; can we afford to spend any more time shifting blame or any less time evolving our own personal engagement with the world? Is the individual to become meaningless in the face of the complexes we’ve created? We are slouching towards the Bethlehem and things are falling apart, the center cannot hold, and the best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity. Is this to be our Spiritus Mundi? our Zeitgeist? I refuse to believe it or to give up hope, because everyplace that I have managed to be part of, I have met the best minds of my generation, and we are not yet destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked, not yet, but we ARE become angelheaded hipsters, we are those, who, burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night, who, poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high, sit up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz. We, who live in the America, which is still a dream to most of the world, are becoming indentured servants to the institutions designed to serve us, and find ourselves trapped inside a machinery made of ourselves, still moving in the same direction even though our cogs and been stripped of their teeth. And I just don’t understand because wherever I am, I see so many humans that I would gladly let skinny dip in my stream of consciousness. And I did not come here to rant, I came here because my desire to communicate is born out of those people we are here to celebrate, and that is my prerogative.

We do not have subways in Santa Cruz, and so the words of the prophets are written in the bathroom stalls, nestled between obscenity and absurdity, right where they belong. I have collected them from library walls, these particular ones from right behind you at Cowell, and we have said “I don’t know what to believe” and “I am apathetic”. We worried that we might become nothing, because we are tired of everything, and we didn’t love our fiancés because we had fallen in love with our roommates. We wondered how anyone could love us, how nothingness could be so prodigal, and because we couldn’t say it, we wrote that we were lonely and just wanted a friend in this world. We even wrote back to say, don’t give up, and, me too, wouldn’t it be crazy if we were roommates, and I’ll be your friend. I have met these people, though I did not see them vandalize the walls, and I know they also feel something inside kicking to get out; and you know them too, because every morning the same big and little words all spell out desire, all spell out: You will be alone always and then you will die. And so maybe I wanted to give you something more than a catalog of non-definitive acts, something other than desperation. And when Richard Siken says that we clutch our bellies and roll on the floor… I want it to mean laughter, not poison, but we are familiar with both sensations, and sometimes we laugh because there is nothing else left to do and sometimes the medicine is purgative poison, and sometimes we must deal with indefinites. We need to be unable to make sense of things, of people, in order to discover them ultimately, and so I want to speak briefly of myself, someone I still cannot make sense of. And you may want to know how I sank the boat of love three times in only twenty three years, you may be curious about the ivory towers, the independent princesses, and the broken hearted dragons, and you would probably perk up for the part where I walk through your dreams and push you flush against the wall, and every part of your body rubs against the bricks, and well, I’m getting to it.

I don’t know how to write accurately, and I feel overwhelmed with the world as it is, but I also believe in words, and am to suffer my flesh on account of them. What helps me go forward is that I stay receptive, I feel anything can happen. And perhaps that what life is about, people leaving you, and you learning to how to live again. I have met people that I love so much I can’t sleep when they are close to me. And some part wants to say to them, “never change, never change, never change, never change, never change… because that is why I fell in love,” but other parts of me know that the only constant is change. I used to want to tell them, “I can change, if it helps you fall in love,” but I learned that I would anyway and I would have no control over it. I learned about physiology, the brain, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, politics, art, physics, chemistry, publishing, synaptic transmission by way of cholinergic muscarinic receptors, the central dogma of cellular biology, the discontents of civilization, the personalities of Jung, and that darth vader was actually the chosen one and that his story is more compelling because of his ultimate redemption, even if we don’t care for episodes 1 through 3. I have moved beyond seeing in everything the advanced deposit of my dear prosaic delirium and come to realize that we can do anything, but we cannot do everything.

I have been in classes and talked with teachers that have won national book awards, are renowned in their fields, have been everywhere, met everyone, speak more languages than I have fingers, and still wake up every day to discover the world. I have tried to accept what they offered. Still, I don’t have any answers to give you, except for the one I just recently came up with: as this graduation day approached, people started asking me what I would do after college, and so my one answer is that I will be getting a dog.

For the voices that have become blended into mine I must thank Osip Mandelstam, James Murphy, Paul Simon, Richard Siken, S.J. Marks, Joan Didion, Allen Ginsburg, Charles Olson, Nate Mackey, Wlad Godzich, Linda Ogren, Jerome Frisk, Linda Ivey, Bill Nickel, Michael Urban, Carin Besser and her husband Matt Berninger, Heraclitus, my family, and my friends for getting us all to this point, and so…

I want only to end by passing a blessing from Walt Whitman upon all of us, because I believe that when he sung of himself it was for all of us; “we are now ordained loosed of limits and imaginary lines, so as to inhale deep draughts of space, because the east and the west are ours, and the north and south are ours. We are larger and better than we thought, and we did not know we held so much goodness. We will recruit ourselves as we go, and scatter ourselves among men and women as we go, to toss a new gladness and roughness among them, and we will divest ourselves of the holds that would hold us.
Thank you.

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