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Goodbye July

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Did you feel the shift?

Did you sense the change?

I witnessed it one evening

When I got off work at nine

Riding my bike home that night

Used to be the sun wouldn’t set

Hours passed with wine colored skies

But now the summer sighs

The nights are still hot

But for the first time this season

I had to turn the a.c. off

I notice the shift in weather

Everything’s much cooler

Soon it won’t be long

Before the air is fresher

Cool breeze in the leaves

Preludes what’s to come

Summer’s height is passing over

The moon is getting clearer

The haze is passing through

Summer here is fickle

Doesn’t like to stay around

No matter how we try

Summer won’t be tame

Comes and goes at will

Those memories we made

Sure they’ll remain

May and June gone too soon

The fourth of July

Fireworks kept me up at night

Still remember the days

Sitting around campfires

Now I sit up all night and write

July was a mixed bag

You brought me new interests

New revelations

That came from new faces

In unexpected encounters

Sometimes we find life’s meanings

In those moments fleeting

Those that come and go by

Pass by at the speed of light

Leaving wisdom that lasts a lifetime

Stood up with this thought all night

Wish you could have stayed longer

But thank you for your time

I’ll keep what you said in mind

August is on its way

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Still got much to do

This month came and went

Time passes way too quick

I wish you all the best

Sorry you couldn’t stay

I’ll leave the light on

If you’ll be back or not

I don’t know

Take care of yourself

Thank you for the moments shared

You might have just set me right

On the path I’m in life

Goodbye July

 

 

 

 

 

Plato’s Allegory

These shackles rubbed my skin raw

I’ve been chained for so long

Been that way since I can remember

Bound prisoners don’t dream

They don’t ask questions

Shadows on the wall entertain

Yet my mind is somewhere else

Dreams existed on another plane

I’ve been restless

Asking my guards questions

They tell me I need to have faith

Assuring me with with the words

From the good book they claim

Will give me peace of mind

Those words just don’t satisfy

There’s something missing

I’m certain.

My dreams became visions

Where’d they come from?

Who is that voice in the distance?

Daring me to be brave?

Decoded the matrix

Didn’t even know I’m in a cave

Tried to ignore my doubts

But this is Plato’s Allegory

No matter how I try

I have to find my way out

I won’t place my faith anymore

In the hands of my captors

All my life I’ve been searching

Wondering what it means to be free

Been waiting so long to be rescued

That I didn’t realize that the key

Always was inside me!

Those chained still insist

There’s nothing but this

I don’t want to go

But I can’t stay anymore

There’s new worlds out there

Just waiting!

I won’t hand over the reins!

Reclaiming what’s mine

I’m done being a captive

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© 2018 Work in Progress (Justin Cobb)

I’m charting my own course

I’m taking back the helm

This is my mutiny.

I’m my own captain now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magnet

The songs that we always sing

About one day finding our space

For me are coming true

One spring I took a trip

Down to the city

Philadelphia!

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© 2018 Justin Cobb (Work In Progress)

There was a rhythm in that place

I felt it deep within

Streaming through my veins

Tugging me deep within my core

Surely this is where I’m supposed to be

I had said

But then I remembered

When I had gone down to Arizona

I felt the landscape embrace me

Reds and greens layered on one another

Rising to flattened mesa tops

You could look for hundreds of miles

My heart melted when I wandered

Among the people I encountered there

The mutton and the fry bread

The sounds of indigenous language

Joining the symphony of Spanish

While English bent and gave way

Just as the deserts of Phoenix

Transformed into red soil

With the green trees

I said to myself back then

Surely this is where I need to be.

I felt that same force drawing me

When I made my way up north

To an island off the coast of Ontario

I encountered something unexpected there.

The lakes that dotted the landscape

They pulled me deep within

Their waters were so blue

So hypnotic

I could feel myself stilled

The beaches enticed me

To follow them to the end

I could see the water and sky meet

Two lovers reunited once again.

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© 2018 Justin Cobb (Work In Progress) 

My head and my body

The life inside my soul

Are overwhelmed with questions

Why am I drawn to every place?

What is it about every space

That seems to call me?

Why does my magnet pull me

In every single direction?

My compass is not broken

Where do I go from here?

I’ve been in the same spot so long

Glued to the ground by my soles

I know my freedom’s in reach

Those anchors on my feet

Have been lifted

I am stumbling

But I’m moving.

I don’t know where the universe

Will one day lead

My soul is being called

It’s time to experience the world!

Maybe my options will narrow

Or perhaps the earth is whispering

A different message to me

I’m still decoding it

But until then

I’ll just follow my instincts

And the pull of my magnet.

 

 

 

 

Thunder

Horses hooves rumble across the earth

Through the trees and the grass

The gentle breeze no longer chaste

Drowning out the howl of the wolf

With its rallying cry

Rains come crashing down

Cleansing the world

With mighty deluge

Branches of lightning

Brighten the stormy scape

The elements come out to dance

This is the sound of the youth

Who have come of age

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Thunder!

Sparks scatter

As Rock meets Flint

Dry deserts seek their quench

Though they were trampled

By gods and empires

With their guns and powers

The police in the streets

Media focused on broken glass

The youth kept their fervor

They stoke the fires

They guarded the ember

From the stormy seas

Of vengeful authority

Facing devastation

While some people prayed

Others got off their knees

Raising their voices

Forsaking their beads

Across the horizons

There came the cavalry

Marching ‘cross the plains

Parading in cities

Multicolored banners stained

With blood and refuse

Destroying arks of refuge

Claiming to bring

Law and order

Yet the youth stood their ground

Joined their voices together

Echoing the cry of

Thunder

Though they were mocked

The youth paid no mind

While some elders criticized

The youth refused to apologize

They felt the earth tremor

Mountains crumbled before them

The dams were broken

By their command

They drove fiercer

Burning illusions

Dancing in unison

To the heartbeat of the world

As the Earth unleashed

Her final judgments

Showering wisdom on adolescence

With her sanctions of gentle rain

While the young broke their chains

Confiscating weapons

Removing crowns and badges

Grounding them into dust

Scattering those dead remains

Paid tribute to those slain

Vowing that their loss

Would not be in vain

With hammers and sickles

Under rainbow skies

They set to work to build anew

Never forgetting the earth’s voice:

The roar of thunder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Day

Never knew there was such beauty

There’s so much to take in

Think I was meant to find you

I took a ferry across the way

To a place I never knew

In a land I only learned

About from my desk

Those worlds out there

With their own stories

Legends of gods and monsters

Draw me to the unknown

The waters call to me

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©2018 Justin Cobb (Work In Progress)

Do you see them rising?

The waves are rolling

Still something’s goading

Those voices keep singing

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© 2018 Justin Cobb (Work in Progress)

Thunderbirds above me

Crashing and roaring

Calling out to those below

Lightning streaks across the sky

Somewhere out there

Don’t ask me why

I can feel adventure

Who knows what’s in store?

Something is driving me

To explore your trails

What I wouldn’t give

Just so I can stay

To wander your shores

In the dead of night

With the stars above me

Dark blue skies unfolding

The glimmer of the stars

The majesty of the moon

I am a hopeless romantic

And you are my lover

No matter how far I roam

There are no limits

In the skies above

Wherever I may go

Over mountains

Across the lakes

Beyond borders

I know one day I will return

I’ll travel highways for hours

Cross waters in the storms

Without worry or shame

Searching the night sky

For every presence of you

On my mouth’s lips

Will be your name

Those stars beaming down

They are my guides

One day they will bring me

Right back to you!

No matter where we go!

Movements can be hindered

Borders can be closed

But if we are strong

What we feel

Will never be chained

Can never be caged!

I dream of you

The heat may be strong

But we are not wrong

The world may be parched

But there is rain to come

We are divided

But we’ll never be conquered!

When we are strong

When we’re loud

When we’re proud!

When they wave their banners

Of hatred

I will think of you!

Their cruelty has

Nothing on this!

My longing

To be with you

No matter how far!

And if we hold on

We’ll stand

Hand in hand

We’ll walk

Reunited

Together

Again

One day!

Travel

So I have some exciting news for you all.

….

 

I just recently came back from an epic two-week study abroad experience focusing on cultural immersion as a means of studying Anishnaabeg First Nation (or Native American) religion and culture. I was doing this experience with six other students from a variety of disciplines from my college, and for the first week the seven of us were involved in a program that included Canadian college students who were doing a program through York University, located outside of Toronto.

We were all studying at this place here:

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Manitoulin Island is off the coast of Ontario, Canada. It is located in Lake Huron. It is also home of the Anishnaabeg (ah-neesh-nah-beg) Native Americans, or as they are often referred to as in Canada– First Nations.

Here’s the part where you may ask, “Why did you want to study Anishnaabeg culture and religion?”

Again, glad you asked.

Ever since I was young, I’ve always been interested in learning about the world beyond me. While I’ve definitely had some awkward moments– times where I was more defensive when I should have been more open-minded– I’ve always been curious about what laid outside the world that I knew. I couldn’t get enough information about what was happening outside of my bubble. I was a voracious reader growing up (and still am though most of my books are more for school). Most of the books that I read were fantasy or sci-fi, but I also had an interest in stories that were taking place in other places around the globe. I also had an interest in learning about other cultures and beliefs and religions. Among those cultures were the Native Americans. Though when I was young, I didn’t realize as I do now that there were hundreds of tribes that called North, Central, South America (as well as the Caribbean and the Pacific) their home. It wasn’t until I started doing research during my freshmen year of college that I came to realize that there was a rich diversity of Native tribes. Unlike what the predominant narratives would tell you, the Natives of the Americas are still here. Some days are better for them than others but they are still alive.

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to go on this trip. I’ve met so many awesome people. My horizons have been broadened. Throughout I got to meet artists such as Leland Bell, Ann Beam, Anong Beam, and filmmakers such as Shirley Cheechoo. I also had the privilege of meeting a Standing Rock activist, several scholars, and students such as myself who are passionate about learning. With that said, I’m truly grateful that this study abroad was my first experience ever leaving the United States.

I know what some of you may be thinking. What? You’ve never been out of the country before? How?!

Reasons. Mostly financial. I come from the middle-of-nowhere in Northeastern, Pennsylvania. My family– for reasons– could never afford to travel or the time to do so was never on our side. Then sometimes when we had the opportunity, my family couldn’t take it. Most of my traveling that I did was through other relatives or when my school went on trips. Those destinations varied: Gettysburg (sixth grade), Harrisburg (fifth grade), Virginia Beach in my senior year. When my Dad went out to live outside of Dallas for about two years, I traveled with my brother and sister to see him there (24 hours on the road…not fun).

I don’t care what people say, Canada overall is a decent country. It may not carry the “exotic” (which is a problematic element which I would like to address in a future essay) aura or the same level of “prestige” (another problematic issue that I would like to address one day) as say going to a European country like France or England. I would like to point out though that the ability to travel is a form of privilege. There are places around the globe where because of the politics or the socioeconomic situation, people are prevented from traveling (this occurs even here in the United States and certainly in nations such as in Latin America or Asia).  The idea though that some nations are more prestigious or exotic to go to is an unfair analysis of travel that puts certain nations on pedestals or completely alienates them from the realm of human and worldly experience. It creates this hierarchy and it unjustly draws lines in the sand that depicts certain nations as being completely separate from us.

This opportunity to study the Anishnaabeg Native Americans was awesome for myself and my fellow students. Studying abroad is definitely a privilege. Everyone should have the opportunity if they can go on it. We certainly need to talk about the socioeconomic opportunities behind American students and their ability to travel abroad at any point in their educational careers and how we can make those more accessible for more students. Studying abroad opens doors for students to encounter the world outside of one they may not have experienced; and definitely allows them a chance to interact with the world on a new level. We went to Canada, but we also encountered the cultures and traditions and life-ways of the first peoples to ever inhabit the region. When done right, students can foster healthy, meaningful relationships where they can encounter peoples from different backgrounds that are symbiotic. The American student receives knowledge from those living in the country or culture they are visiting, and those who encounter the American are given an opportunity to learn more from that person’s perspective about America as a country. Being able to study the culture, history, and the religion of the Anishnaabeg is epic in my point of view. Especially since I’m someone who is interested in learning more about the world around me.

This study abroad also counted as an internship for me. I’m a member of the Honors Track here at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) Religious Studies Department. As such we must fulfill an internship. As interesting as it would be to work for a church or a mosque or a temple, I’m someone who doesn’t necessarily want to be stuck at a desk all the time. I love going out and engaging the world. I love books, computers, cameras, etc. But I’m also a soul that thrives off of interaction with humans– at least those who are wholesome. Plus this will look good on an application should I apply for jobs where I might be working with other communities– indigenous or not– and shows that I’m not afraid to go out of my comfort zone.

Being able to study through experience and encounter is an essential part of education in my opinion. Based on my own observations and my own experiences, I found that oftentimes the information that sticks with me most is not what I read in a textbook but rather what I am able to interact with tangibly. Whether it be listening to people’s stories, watching events occur in front of me, or being able to engage with materials while they are being discussed. I grew up in an area where I didn’t get to encounter a lot of different kinds of people. The most diverse area I’ve ever lived is my small college town. I’m not ashamed of where I come from. I’m not someone who wants to be tied to one place forever though. I like being able to explore. I must also be careful that my travels don’t directly or inadvertently hurt locales that I encounter when I travel to their places they call home. I’m always eager to learn though, and I don’t want to live a life where I can’t experience the potential of life because I’m afraid.

Not only do I have knowledge and experience now, but also inspiration. I can’t wait to start producing more content!

So yeah, I’m satisfied. I loved Canada, and Manitoulin Island in particular. I have some unfinished business there too. That island is definitely going to see more of me in the future.

 

Cyclical Storytelling

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© 2018 Justin Cobb (Work in Progress)

There is no beginning and no end. This is just the part of the story where the blog enters.

A circle is the reflection of eternity. It has no beginning and it has no end – and if you put several circles over each other, then you get a spiral.
–Maynard James Keenan

Knowledge and experience taught me the ease of telling my story in a cycle rather than trying to keep it linear. Life itself does not pass on a straight line. This is a radical notion for a society regimented on the importance of due dates, starting and finishing lines, and even borders. We come up with a goal or a series of goals and we hope that following along a linear process will get us to our destination. We hope that hitting Point A will get us to Point B, and so on until we reach Z. There is something about lines that fascinate many humans. I would argue this comes from a need for order in the human experience. Lines have beginnings and ends. They can be measured and counted. They can be conceptualized and drawn.

We must remember this however: Lines do not naturally exist anywhere in the known universe.

Think about it. Where else outside of human society do you organically encounter lines? Space doesn’t have it. We are the ones who draw lines between two points in the celestial world– whether it be between stars, moons or planets. Animals do not work with lines either. While there are certainly animals including chimpanzees who know how to make tools– they often fashion them from materials that are already bent and shaped, and they are never a solid 180 degrees. It is humanity who creates lines. Or rather– we envision the concept of them. But even humans are incapable of naturally making solid straight lines without the use of a guide– such as with piece of paper or ruler. Let’s not be mistaken though: just because lines are not natural doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The fact that humans are capable of drawing them is reason enough to admit that lines have a presence. The lines that we draw in the sand, the ones that we visualize as we build up barriers or walls…none of that is real. They are human constructs just like money or gender or race. Just like the aforementioned though, the social implications of lines certainly are real.

What’s amazing too is that lines are optional for understanding human experience. Not all human beings tell stories with the concept of lines. To tell a story from the beginning and then draw it out over a span of time and/or distance with an end in sight is a form storytelling that humanity created; and which the West reiterated was the only way to express a narrative.

Storytelling in recent history of the West has followed a linear model. A character starts out in a world that they’ve always known and is operating within the rules laid out for them in that reality. That is until something drastic occurs– a new discovery, or an encounter with something that causes the character to question everything they thought they knew.  Some of the most popular works of fiction in Western culture follow this linear process. Harry Potter discovers that he is not a freak of nature, but rather that he is the son of two great wizards. Katniss Everdeen offers her life in place of her sister at the annual Reaping and in her struggle for survival; discovers strength and courage that she never knew. Frodo Baggins inherits the One Ring from his Uncle Bilbo and has his quiet life pulled out from beneath his feet when he discovers that the Ring’s creator– Sauron– will stop at nothing to get it back to destroy the world as they know it. These characters are thrust into journeys, more often than not ones they don’t expect. With some exceptions– their stories unfold in a linear fashion where Point A leads to Point B, which then goes to C. On and on until they reach the end of their tale.

If you look elsewhere outside of human environments things never unfold before us in lines. They are constantly being presented as circles. The seasons, day and night, they all cycle. Unless trapped, water never stays in one place either. It evaporates, condenses into clouds, and then when it rains it returns to the ground. All things naturally go through cycles. Many human cultures have recognized the symbolic and literal importance of the circle, and the presence of multiple circles as spirals. Acknowledging this rotation, many people make efforts to reference the circle. Hindus for example don’t believe that existence has one beginning or end. Rather, we are caught in flux. We are the sum of billions of years in creation, evolution, and then destruction. Every birth has a death. Life doesn’t stay that way though. Eventually out of the death and destruction life begins anew, the gods reassemble the world and breathe new existence into it. So the cycles persist in a dynamic continuum. Everything and everyone consistently created, destroyed, then reborn until we either achieve moksha, nirvana, release or as some (such as myself) have come to refer to it: liberation. After Shiva destroys the world in a dance of fire and ash, the Brahman returns and recreates a whole new world and so the process continues for eons and eons.

Native North Americans don’t believe in the effectiveness of lines either. The hoop is everywhere in nature as we have established. Many Native North Americans versed in their storytelling traditions believe in the power of hoops. The great Oglala Sioux holy man named Black Elk referenced the power of circles frequently throughout his life story:

You have noticed the power in everything the Indian does is in a circle and that is because the power of the world always works in circles

–Black Elk (1932)

While stories may have beginning points, the narratives themselves unfold in an organic way. I use organic as a synonym for natural when it comes to storytelling. Oftentimes not in the order it happened, but in how the storyteller feels they can best convey them. Starting with one plot point and then returning to an event that may have happened earlier in order to explain the details and reasoning why something is occurring or will. This is true for other cultures and societies as well, especially indigenous populations located around the globe including continental Africa, South America, Asia, and Australia.

Before I go any further I would like to first state that I take no issue with the option of linear storytelling or people whom choose or the method of telling a story via linear, chronological order. Some stories can only best be presented in one such model. These are oftentimes stories where the recollection of it is best comprehended in the way it unfolded. Sometimes it is also best that accounts be relayed in chronological order to maintain its validity. This is especially true of a narrative that has a lot of context behind it– dates, figures, statistics, time, etc. Not only that but sometimes it is better for the narrator to convey their message in the order which the narration unfolds. Ultimately the people who tell a story must themselves choose the best medium (or method of storytelling), time, and place. Some people are best empowered when they can convey their stories in a linear process. Others feel that cyclical narration is better. Both are valid and effective ways of empowering individuals and collectives.

When I share my story with people now, I find that the order in which I tell it is not linear. For me it’s because I can’t reconcile storytelling in a strict linear fashion as my best method of approach. That’s because narratives (including my own) are never fully set in stone. Despite our best efforts they are not subject to the constrained order that comes with the nature of lines. While there are journeys that we undergo which may be fixed at certain points in our narrative, the fact of the matter remains that the story still lives in us. We undergo new trials and tribulations– sometimes we find ourselves revisiting lessons we thought we had learned or circumstances we thought we had gotten over. Some would argue that we return to see how far we have come in understanding the lesson; others believe that it’s a review of the material we didn’t pick up the first time around. Still others may say it’s just because life has a way of revisiting these instances because life is cyclical.

Me? I honestly don’t have a clue. I just like entertaining these thoughts and notions. While I certainly have some agreements and doubts with all the ideas put forward, I don’t like to package things in boxes that can’t neatly fit.

I’m not so concerned about the why in this case so much as whether life actually unfolds in a circle or not. Given my own observances of my life unfolding in front of me and how I have lived it, backed by the knowledge I had obtained I am willing to wager a circle is an accurate way of explaining how time and space unfold before us as human beings. Or in a broader context: as living organisms existing in this vast expanse known as the universe. Since this is how my journey in life unfolded, this is how I choose to tell my story. I am a work in progress. My journey had a starting point and is now spiraling, the path determined by a variety of factors: including how I choose to interact within it in the context I am in during that time period. There’s no telling what’s in store either. That’s what I think makes life so fascinating. Our stories never have a beginning or an end. We are the products of other people’s stories. If we are lucky, we are also players in the stories that come after us.