Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence? -Sathya Sai Baba

Monday, March 27, 2006

I didn't lose my job...

... it's just, when I got there, somebody else was doing it.

- Bobcat Goldthwait

"It was resolved." :)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Return of the Repressed

I was reading an article about the rites of Eleusis and the ergot fungus. A little background: the ancient Greeks had a mystery religion that centered on these mysterious rites of Eleusis. Plato’s writing on “The Cave” is thought to have been inspired by his experiences at Eleusis, and many of the top intellectuals, artists and statesman were thought to have gone through these arcane rituals, which involved a reverence toward Demeter, the Goddess of grain, and ended with an overwhelming experience of the realms of the Gods and deep insight into Life and Death. OK. The main pharmacological catalyst of these little rites was the ergot fungus, which is often found as purple spurs or knots on grain that has been infected. Now, in small doses, heavy duty hallucinations and insights into reality are reported. At large doses, however, things get a little less pleasant. Boils, seizures, women having spontaneous abortions, massive hallucinations, and death are all reported symptoms of ergot poisoning.

So the Greeks did this mind-blowing exercise for thousands of years, and then the Christians come around, and of course, in Christian theology, nobody gets to alter their brains without permission. The Christians shut the magic show down, and ergot goes underground for a few hundred years.

Until the Middle-Ages, that is, when villages around Europe begin having outbreaks of a terrible infection called St. Anthony’s fire. Symptoms include: spontaneous abortions, outbreaks of terrible boils, seizures, and widespread hallucinations. When the cause is finally tracked down, the culprit turns out to be, you guessed it, our buddy ergot, infesting grain that was sold to the poor.

Predominantly Christian Europe burns from within as the ancient blessing that anchored the Rites of Eleusis returns as a horrible curse. This is what comes from the repression of gnosis. The substances of choice for consciousness altering in Europe then (and all over the West, even into our day), tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, offer precious little in the way of liminal understanding of the universe. Eleusis offered insight into life and death, the culmination of mysteries in an experiential knowledge of the world through entheogens. This is what happens when you blow off the gnosis. It sort of struck me as both a “return of the repressed”, and also a revenge of the Gods that were displaced as the Western world was forced to embrace Christianity.

There’s a story there, don’t you think?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

I think my last post was too long

so I'm bumping it down, just to see what happens.

A History of Violence

Just watched David Cronenberg’s History of Violence. I’ve been a Cronenberg fan since seeing Naked Lunch in college. It was part of what made me really want to become a writer in a serious way. I used to sit and smoke cigarette after cigarette (Camel Wides or Benson and Hedges 100’s) until I got this buzzing in my head that almost laid me out on the couch, and I’d sit at my purple Remington Portable typewriter and pound out page after page of stream of consciousness weirdness in an attempt to break through something into somewhere else. A lot of my prose was (and, to a certain degree, still is) a bit stilted, as if the critic were sitting on my shoulder, making sure that I didn’t do anything stupid enough to be interesting. So I would do just about anything to break out of my own head, try to sound like something other than a college kid in a small town who really didn’t know shit.

So, the movie. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading this. Go see it.

I got to really thinking about it, and I’m trying to organize my thoughts, here, but it really is about the history, that is, human history, of violence. It didn’t seem to me to be an “anti-violence” movie in a traditional, “violence is bad, kids” way, as much as it asks us to examine our attitudes toward violence, and how humans have handled it throughout the ages.

I’ll just start with what really struck me. The last scene is an amazingly powerful bit of film-making. The main character, Tom, has just come home from what appears to be the final chapter of killing that was required to defend both his family, and, by extension, the life that he has worked so hard to create. His family is at the primal scene of the evening meal. He stands at the door, wounded, outside the circle. He has been estranged from all of them by the horrific acts that he has committed to save them, and by acts that he has done in the past that have come to light through the course of the movie. No one looks at him. His wife looks down, his son looks at his mother, and then away. His daughter, finally, is the one to act. She gets up from the table, gets her father’s plate and utensils, and places them at his seat. He hesitates, and then sits. His face is filled with frightened hope.

His son is next. He is completely at sea, looking at his mother, trying to gauge her reaction. He seems to come to a decision, and he offers his father the meat from the table. Still the father’s eyes are locked on the mother. Will she accept him?

She finally looks at him, her eyes are filled with tears. He watches her with fear and hope and longing. His eyes are red, his whole world depends on her. Not a word is spoken. The screen goes black.

There was something so mythic about this scene. This was the primal scene of the man returning to the tribe, and his petition for cleansing and reintegration. Violence is, and has almost always been, in civilized groups, a taboo. The chaos that it sows requires that it be circumscribed by very strict rules and rituals. Though it may be necessary for the masculine to access that shadow side of violence and rage in order to protect and further the interests of the tribe, there must always be a reintegration in order for civilization to continue. Violence could almost be seen as a contagion in this case – you can’t bring that shit back in the house without undergoing a ritualized cleansing.

And who regulates that cleansing? Well, short of a priestly caste, and going back further in human history (not to mention into the realm of archetype and myth), it is the Feminine that must give the blessing in order for reintegration to take place. Why is it that mothers, sweethearts and wives are held in such high esteem during times of war? What is the role that the feminine plays in the prosecution of violence? Obviously, sometimes violence is required, but if you bring it into the circle of the tribe, breakdown of the whole society becomes eminent. Therefore the Feminine, left behind while the Masculine goes off and murders, must be there when the Masculine returns. And there is a ritual – blessing is not always automatic, nor should it be. In order for the ritual to have power and efficacy, there is a test. The Masculine must petition the Feminine for re-entry into the tribe. For though everyone in the tribe may wish to receive the returning warriors back into the fold, it is ultimately the Feminine that must recognize and certify his fitness. If he is still the Wild Man, still the killer, he brings the contagion with him, and society will disintegrate.

What makes this scene, and this movie so powerful, is not only mythic quality that it has, the sense that this is a reenactment of a situation that has happened, has been happening for thousands of years. It is also that the characters are human, each of them with their personalities intact, each of them of them with their own histories, their own ambiguities and their own relationships with violence.

And the whole movie functions on this level. The story is complete in itself, but there is always the mythic level beneath. The ritualistic aspect of the returning warrior is emphasized in the preceding scene, where, after murdering his brother in self-defense, he throws the gun into a lake, only to collapse on the shore. He removes his blood-stained shirt, and washes himself clean.

Again, working backwards, before the penultimate scene of murder, the lead character and his brother discuss the benefits of marriage. Tom’s brother, a gangster and criminal, remarks that he can’t see any upside to marriage. He, of course, cannot see or recognize the value of the civilizing aspect that Tom’s marriage has. He has built his whole life on violence, and his life is entirely outside of society. Tom’s entire life has been restructured around his attempt to reintegrate into society.

As their discussion continues, Tom’s brother reveals that he tried to strangle Tom in his crib. “Every kid does that, I guess,” he muses. Cain and Abel are indirectly invoked through this simple sentence, as well as the equally ancient myth of Hercules attacked in his crib by the snake – the snake always reminding us of our “lower”, shadow natures.

Tom has tried to flee his violent nature, the shadow. It is not enough to flee it, however. He has to kill it. The only way to kill it (in the form of his brother) is to embrace it (the killer inside himself - the skilled assassin that he tried to flee).

This is an amazing movie. Certainly one of Cronenberg’s best, and one of the better I’ve seen in a long while. Check it out.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Out and About

Since this blog tends toward the more introspective, I thought it best to reveal that, yes, I do occasionally have a life.

Tuesday was a joint b-day party for Piddimus Maximus and my lovely wife. We met some friends, had some drinks (I was on a strict Shirley Temple regimen (ginger ale and grenadine) due to the antibiotics for this ridiculous sinus infection that seems to be my lot every four months or so), a few laughs. It was delightful. Mr. Maximus and I seem to have this thing where every couple of months we’ll get together and engage in these long, intense bouts of conversation that always end up with the two of us saying, “Man, we have to hang out more!” Then we both promptly vanish and are swallowed by the gaping maw of New York, only to be spit up a few months later, “Oh, man, we have got to get together more often!” This is what passes for friendships in the modern age. Thankfully, some bonds, no matter how infrequent, are strong. I’m glad to have a friend in that one, even if mutual business and the meat grinder of the City sometimes make our primary form of communication the email, the text message, the occasional telepathic missive, or even the blog entry.

Last night was the monthly synonymUS performance (as seen on MySpace!). We took a slight break from our usual Sunday night jams before the show, and I think it sort of showed. We never quite hit our groove with the open mic-ers, and though we are gifted enough to be able to do a passable job on minimal rehearsal (it’s sort of our stock-in-trade) I felt like we could have done a lot better. There were moments that were entirely the opposite of what the poet requested, not because we had better ideas, but simply because we never locked in to what they had asked for in the first place. An East-Indian style piece sort of lay there, simply because we never quite found the tonality (and that, I would say, was as much my fault as anything else). A piece in which the poet asked for Soundgarden ended up funk. I was disappointed, is all.

The after-show, was, as always, a joy. We went to a new (to me) place called Esperanto. It was a little expensive and the service blew, but there was a band, everybody was super pretty, the company was lovely and the food was fantastic. Conversation veered from Alan Moore and V for Vendetta to poetics and the sexual politics of message boards. Oscar probably has some pictures up (he obsessively photographed the evening, down to what he called “…the jackson pollack remains” of a chocolate volcano. Sexy!).

Today is Steph’s birthday and she is taking the day off. Quiet, now! Mama’s watchin’ her stories! I’m gonna get her some cupcakes from the Cupcake CafĂ© and give her her birthday gift tonight – the box set of the entire Friday the 13th movie series. I know, I know, what a sap I am. And they say the romance goes out of marriages in a few years…

By the way, the movie Incubus starred William Shatner and had dialog entirely spoken in Esperanto (the language invented in 1887 by L.L. Zamenhof to foster international peace and understanding – hey, good luck with that!). It was released in 1965 to worldwide indifference.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


I wrote this last week. I don't necessarily feel like this now (especially the stuff about Austin), but I figured I'd post it for posterity's sake.


Why does the past come calling today? Why do the grey streets of New York, with their grey skies above filled with grey pigeons flying low above grey canyons of stone buildings, why today do they fill me with longing? When there’s no one else to call, when all the friends are off on their errands and the darkness gets too thick, I return to my pain like a three-legged dog worrying a bone that used to be his other leg. The longing is not for a person, but for a time before, a nostalgia for possibility, a sense that, in a new city, I could remake myself. Instead, I have found myself again.

I traveled twice from childhood to some simulacrum of adulthood. Once when I moved to New York, and once when the ghost of myself finally caught me here, ten years later. He grabs me by the back of my shirt, he shakes me, he says, “You see? You see what you were supposed to do? What were you thinking? What were you thinking?”

The air is clear, or maybe it’s just my eyes. Everything looks sharp edged and defined, and I find myself searching the faces of the people I walk by in the streets. They don’t seem to notice, the beautiful clarity, the perfect dull pearl of the light that turns New York city into the exact movie it was when I first moved here.

New York existed only as a TV show when I was growing up. That pearlescent sheen of soot and smoke, grit and grime was New York to me, only I didn’t know it. But I remember the first day I came here, riding in the back of a cab from JFK towards the Upper West Side, and the day was like this, a fine, cool, grey July day. I looked out the window and remembered a land of Welcome Back Kotter, of Sesame Street, of Barney Miller. In a way, living in New York has been like revisiting the part of my childhood that was only lived in 30 minute segments on TV.

Some people dream of living in New York. I’ve never understood that. It’s sort of like dreaming of having a really nice wardrobe. New York is designer labels and fine leather, it’s Prada or Coach or Louis Vuitton with the perfect hat. I moved to New York because I knew Tucson was kicking me out, and I didn’t have anyplace else I needed to be. There’s no actual reason to live anywhere; you just have to go on a feeling, I suppose.

Sometimes Steph talks about moving to Austin, but I get a bad feeling about that place. It reminds me of the things I hated about Tucson, the superior small town hipsters and their insular clique, the smug superiority. I spent too many years alone in that town. New York, I found friends, parties, love, creativity. Tucson was “How Soon is Now?” land, where you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home and you cry and you want to die.

I even have friends in Austin, or people I think of as friends, but I don’t know, it just seems wrong, somehow. Or it could just be a combination of a backache, a cold, a sinus infection, these beastly antibiotics, a grey day in a city I have grown to love but which I will eventually leave. Perhaps I’m only feeling a phantom of future pain, a remembrance of loss to come.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006


“Sure and still you’re right about your Cheerful Dumb, only they’re not so much happy as lobotomized. But your Gloomy Smart are just as ridiculous. When you’re unhappy, you get to pay a lot of attention to yourself. And you get to take yourself oh so very seriously. Your truly happy people, which is to say, your people who truly like themselves, they don’t think about themselves very much. Your unhappy person resents it when you try to cheer him up, because that means he has to stop dwellin’ on himself and start payin’ attention to the universe. Unhappiness is the ultimate form o’ self-indulgence.”

- Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

My apologies. I forgot I was a drop of water in the vast ocean of the universe. Though I know it’ll happen again, I’ll try to keep relapses to a minimum. Thanks to Danielle for her kind words.