Impostor Syndrome

If I wasn’t an impostor
I’d be virtuous & brave—
but my courage is all posture
& I mostly misbehave.

If I wasn’t an impostor
I would take a leader’s stance—
but I’m bound to make a wrong turn,
so I’d best not take the chance.

…then again, I’ve seen no roster
listing who’s best fit to lead—
what if leaders are impostors
taking risks in times of need?

*
Image: Ivan Aivazovsky, 1890

People who think they know what to do

Have you noticed all these people
who think they know what to do?
Have you noticed how they often
also have a plan for YOU?
It seems rarely out of malice
that they try to force their view;
It’s more like their kingly palace
is a prison
like a zoo
where you spend your life’s duration
in your natural habitat,
but it’s all a fabrication
& you die exactly that.

*
Image: Andre Mouton on Unsplash

Keepers of the fire

With this brief time
you might as well aspire
to be among the keepers
of the Fire.
This Fire’s not like the rosy cheeks
Time steals—
instead, by peeling layers,
Time reveals
the timeless—ageless—Fire
decay conceals.

*
Image: ‘Astronomer by Candlelight’ by Gerrit Dou (ca. 1665)

A product of you, Time

A product of you, Time,
I’ll never be:
your bleeding scythe can only
set me free
from all these vicious
cycles lived on earth
& from the tyranny of death & birth—
you’ll take me, Time—
but maybe I won’t mind
if who I am
you’ll never have defined.

Your phone is addictive

First written & published in collaboration with Michael Tollman in the Farnam Street Learning Community. Image via The Zero Theorem.

Your phone is addictive. That’s really no joke!
Ask any person who gambles or smokes:
You think you can stop anytime you decide,
& that’s why you probably haven’t yet tried.

Free markets run on supply and demand,
so CEOs want that phone stuck to your hand.
Expert psychologists help them design
chimes, bells & whistles that mold to your mind:
Look at that bubble, shiny, bright red,
urging you not to leave that thing unread.
See how your apps feel so pleasing & clear?
That’s not by accident! That’s engineered
to make things so easy you don’t have to think—
calming, habitual, just like a drink.

Try these experiments: When your phone chimes,
notice how part of you practically pines
for relief. Also, toggle ‘grayscale’ on your screen,
leaving those bright, juicy colors unseen—
just like a morning without your caffeine!

Opportunity


Andy Warhol, 1972

What are you, opportunity?
You mask your full identity
until you’re seized—then, we can see
your face of grace. Yet, if set free,
passed up or missed unwittingly,
you mutate all too easily
into a space for tyranny.

What is Tao?

A pure mirror disappears. The mirror is Tao,
a secret known & kept by all
being (by nature) untold.
It’s boring unless
you seek to be born.
It prescribes nothing, yet heals, I think
today. What it is, though… who’s to say?

Tale of two wolves

Two ancient wolves are fighting
forever in your soul:
the first is bright as lightning;
the other’s dark as coal.

One loves to watch you suffer;
one wants you to succeed.
Which fighter proves the tougher
& wins?
The one you feed.

Propagandist

I’ve taken it upon myself
to educate mankind.
I’ve studied much psychology,
much science of the mind.
My stamina’s uncanny;
my resolve is absolute:
I’m speaking for the underdogs
who’d otherwise be mute!
I do their thinking for them—
that’s what I was trained to do.
You wonder who I am?
I am not Red.
I am not Blue.
I’m someone using power
to make fake promises to you.

*
Inspired by: Propaganda by Jaques Ellul
Image: Joseph Goebbels

Train Men


Daniel Celentano, 1935

traveling unnoticed & unknown
traveling together but alone
the cargo of this train’s the pain
of men who’ve sacrificed in vain

If you are creative

If you are creative
you’re never alone:
your drive to create has
a mind of its own.

You’re bound to its service
& soon you learn well:
you put it to work
or it makes your life hell.

*
Image: Salvador Dali

Charisma

She graces who she pleases,
unattached to looks or wealth;
she’s powerful in poverty
& faithful through poor health;
she’s drawn to freaks & outsiders,
but princes have her, too;
she’s blatantly bisexual
& favors no skin’s hue;
she has no code of conduct
or unbreakable taboo
except this: she demands the most of both
her host & you.

Taboo

I think the purpose of taboo
is sort of as a last resort:
When people cut
their love lives short—
when isolation walls us off—
then, like a lung-awaking cough,
taboos
are
broken
&
people
open
up to the nakedest of things—
love, which is why the caged bird sings.

*

image: Shatner & Nichols, 1968

poem for Socrates


Jacques-Louis David, 1787

If words transcended time, I’d say:
“Thanks, Socrates—for to this day
you set a golden standard & example,
stand in sanity when truth is trampled,
immortalize humor,
lead leaders to love being wise
& remind me there are always times to fly
by the seat of your conscience.”

poem for Jordan Peterson

Only after your time will Time decide
how well you’ve served our species as a guide,
but, since a leader’s life’s the life you lead,
here’s how I hope (& think) we both agree:

1
A good teacher won’t preach what he thinks;
instead, he shows the thirsty where he drinks.

2
The more he grows, the less he thinks he knows.

3
Friends are those who keep him on his toes.

4
Blazing no new trail from which to stray,
at best, he sheds some light that lights the way.

5
Finally (to not drag out this poem)
he understands this story as his own:

A wisdom-seeker lived inside a cave
for many moons. He neither spoke nor shaved,
but scribbled nonstop nonsense on the walls
until, clearly enlightened, out he crawled.

The only drawing left, of all he’d done,
was one big disk—a circle, like a sun.

Many disciples followed in his wake,
except they kept on making this mistake:
they drew circles, just like his, everywhere,
never discovering how his got there.

poem for Ayn Rand

When Reason, man’s most perfect power,
is exiled from the Ivory Tower,
you stand outside as fearless proof
of its unconquerable truth.

While institutionalized minds
grow coddled, sheltered & unwise,
you teach bright people to be free
& draw their strength from liberty.

You set the tone, you set the stage
for freethinkers of every age:
You brought, with your life’s burning blaze,
the truth to light, where now it stays.

Advice for readers

Vacations taking nothing but your mind
exist in inexhaustible supply,
so never settle. Keep your standards high.
Great writing moves you fast ahead, and far;
Bad drags you back, or leaves you where you are.

Great writers help their readers come away
equipped not just for tasks, but for the day:
Aware that facts can fail when given straight,
they aim to bring you face to face with fate,
with conscience, with desire, with suffering—
the greatest writers don’t communicate
so much as they illumine the innate.

So, don’t eat food for thought that’s bland or dry
or feed cheap candy into your mind’s eye:
Demand that we, your writers, satisfy.

the way we’re headed (re: social media)

All anyone wants to do is
sit around with friends,
laughing & philosophizing
till the wide world ends.

We know social media is
getting in the way,
but it feels like up
and leaving it is not okay.

They will make excuses for us
when we’re dead and gone, like:
“How could they know better?
Networking was at its dawn!”

Still, we won’t be blameless
in hindsight or history;
we’ll be famous for our shameless,
strangely painless misery.

One thing Twitter can’t do is
acquaint you with your grave.
All of us will meet there, friends,
and no one will be saved.

4 questions

How can something as dainty as a rhyme
stretch to accommodate a paradigm?

How could stone slabs, slowly inscribed by hand,
carry the weight of 10 divine commands?

How did the founding fathers—all mere men—
give birth to a nation with a pen?

How do hearts split apart by loneliness
let themselves be opened up again?

Playtime

Want a useful thought? Here’s one:
play is good for more than fun.

Through play, even wild wolves explore
in peace their readiness for war,
& language (“give a thing a name”)
is mankind’s first recorded game.

The rest is easy to derive:
we work hard & play hard to thrive.

The most advanced tribes ever known
used playing as a shared backbone
as they passed down, against all odds,
their richly painted masks of gods.

Invention (i.e. “make cool tools”)
is simply play with self-made rules.

We use play to grow, learn, create,
communicate & propagate—
plus (Shakespeare said it) play’s the thing
to catch the conscience of the King.

*
See also: Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga
Image: Van Gogh, “First Steps” (1890)

the typewriter

one of each color
one of each stripe
all stories i write
i rewrite for all types!

some like em funny
some like em sad
some like em crummy
some like em bad.
whoever you are, your opinion’s embraced.
i guarantee something is typed to your taste!

one for each pipe-dream
one for each gripe
one for each inseam
& every blood type
if you like ice cream
or if you like tripe
there’s nothing on earth
this typewriter can’t type!

there’s only one limit:
there’s no going back.
so if you don’t like what you see
(CLACK! CLACK! CLACK!)
i have no “delete” key.
cut me some slack.

like father, like son

like father, like son, you’re destined to see
insight blunted by blind scrutiny
& innocence deformed by violent hate
& beauty overwhelmed by spectacle
& conscience crying out against its fate
& Mary ridiculed by Jezebel
& straightforward direction made obscure
& power-hunger crippling strength, & pure
& simple truth labeled stupidity:
like father, like son, you endure all these
& so do i, by knowing you love me.

(a study of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 66)

Brainwashers

Brainwashers in the churches,
brainwashers in the schools,
making worship into mockery
& students into fools;
brainwashers in the Bible Belt,
brainwashers on the coasts;
brainwashers taking dollars,
brainwashers taking votes—
you’re all the same, brainwashers!
you think you’re slick & sly,
but I can see right through your grand
disguises to your lies
& I see how you
falsify your sympathetic cries—
it’s not hard when your crying eyes
look like a crocodile’s!
you think you’re safe, established
& looked up to by the youth?

NEWSFLASH!
you stick out like sore thumbs above the
flat, plain truth,
& already, your time’s run out—
you’re only still around
because what goes up
comes down
& you’re speeding toward the ground

Marginal Revolution

for Tyler Cowen

Shortcuts to the spotlight
are the hallmark of our age—
why labor making thoughts bright
when outrage takes center stage?

Seldom can a centrist
(however strong his form)
cut through the division
that’s increasingly the norm.

Rarer still is one
who can sustain his measured stance
among any admirers he enchants.

You’re that unique exception
who does teach & inspire
without peddling deception
or preaching to the choir,
& though it wasn’t face to face,
you’ve taught me that I’m free
to make a better place
of Earth, like you—marginally.