An unsolved mystery is a thorn in the heart. At least it is for some people; they are the lucky ones. For others it feels more like a steel spike through the sternum or an elephant tusk piercing the pericardium.
In the case of Mr. Alister Leitch, the mystery he carried felt like an endless freight train passing through a tunnel in his chest that stretched from collarbone to xyphoid process.
Mr. Leitch had lost something very important.
He first noticed it was missing one stark and panic-stricken moment at precisely 4:23am on Thursday, November 5th when he awoke from a deep dreamless sleep with a gasp:
“My God! I’ve lost my soul!”
He felt the grip of a gaping hole expanding inside him where his soul was supposed to reside. He lie paralyzed in place, pinned to the mattress as an existential emptiness seeped into his very cells. A black oily terror rose up from his belly.
Did he drop it somewhere? Had it been it stolen? When had it gone missing?
His mind raced through the possibilities.
Not surprisingly, he wasn’t able to get back to sleep. In fact, he was so shaken by this harrowing discovery that when he finally was able to get up out of bed he called in sick to work with a hastily made up excuse about eating a bad egg salad sandwich the night before…something he never could have imagined doing before his soul went awol.
What on earth was happening to him?
Mr. Leitch had always been a practical, dependable, sensible man; he was not the type to lose his soul in a poker game or have it filched while distracted in a whorehouse. He was the kind of fellow everyone could rely on; Good old Leitch, no surprises with that one! He prided himself on consistently doing exactly what was expected of him without question or complaint.
And now here he was, skipping out on work, and worse, making up stories that weren’t true.
He spent the morning alternately hyperventilating in a heap in the corner and pacing back and forth across the room, consumed with the enigma surrounding his soul’s disappearance and the heavy problem of finding it and putting it back.
He searched in all the obvious places. His pockets, the dish where he kept his keys on the stand by the front door, under the bed and between the cushions of the sofa.
Watching his frantic attempts to locate his soul behind the kitchen stove or in the back of the silverware drawer would have been quite comical if it weren’t so tragic. Because what Mr. Leitch was not aware of was that his soul was perfectly safe and very much still present within him.
He had not lost his soul at all; only his contact with it.
Souls, in case you didn’t know, are not easily lost. But they can be misplaced. Hidden, as it were, beneath piles of accumulated garbage that one acquires over the course of a lifetime. It tends to be a gradual process, almost imperceptible. Before you know it your psyche looks like a hoarder’s house and you sense that something important is buried in there but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is that’s lacking.
At this point, most people assume “Well, that’s just how life is.” They shrug, accept the situation and go about their business. That is, unless the realization that they lost their soul hits like a neutron bomb in the middle of the night as it did with our friend Mr. Leitch. Which was extremely fortunate for him, because let’s face it, if you don’t know your soul is gone, you don’t think to go looking for it.
The next several days were a blur of tearing through stacks of old yellowed newspapers and checking and rechecking inside pill bottles and rainboots.
Exactly one fortnight after Alister Leitch’s rude middle-of-the-night awakening, he collapsed sobbing on the living room rug.
His life was in shambles. He hadn’t even bothered to invent more excuses for missing work, he’d simply stopped going. Bills had piled up beneath the mail slot. He hadn’t brushed his teeth in days. His search had been fruitless, his great mystery unsolved. A keening wail exited his body with a shudder.
How could he go on without a soul?
Finally, his body spent and his tear glands depleted, he made a decision. He would not get up off the floor until his soul had returned.
At this moment his eye lighted on an object entangled in the carpet.
It was a tiny sphere, dark and shriveled.
“I’ve found it! I’ve found it!”
Heart pounding, he struggled to focus.
The object was…a wrinkled and withered green pea. Shrunken to half its normal size with bits of what appeared to be dried gravy clinging to its surface. Lying there for who knows how long having somehow resisted being Hoovered up by the vacuum cleaner.
As he looked at the pea puzzling to make sense of what he was seeing, Alister Leitch began to feel something moving up from the core of his being. He started to laugh. Not just laugh but roar. He found himself rolling back forth, howling with hilarity, giggling with the glee of euphoria.
A rush of warm gooey electric honey filled the empty spaces inside him.
He picked himself up. He bent down and picked up the petrified pea. He held it delicately, lovingly, between the tips of his forefinger and thumb.
Still chuckling, he chucked it in the trash bin where it belonged and set about the business of becoming reacquainted with his newfound soul.
Circle the ring
of never beginning
The withering hours
with their rusted confessions
Turn idol to idle
in endless concessions
The stanzas lie strangled
in three-quarter rhythm
The pen pens disguises
of excuses as reason
The brush brushes off
the hard work of being
The arc of the enterprise
I look past the glass
to see more clearly my penance
The clock waves goodbye,
or is it merely good riddance?
The Almost Girl stepped lightly from her place on the pedestal, shedding like a snake her restrictive white marble covering to reveal an opulent and impossibly intricate underlayment; a subcutaneous bronze-age body stocking of filigreed copper wire a single electron thin, marvelously elastic, spun by angelic fingers from the errant rays of a thousand golden sunsets mixed with equal parts mercury and the desiccated blood of martyred saints and witches.
For centuries, millennia perhaps, she had been held in place, carved in Carrara. Shaped by the hand of Man through the brute force of mallet and chisel. Posed like a succulent fruit, shamefully stripped, voluptuously vulnerable, skillfully sculpted and artfully polished. Designed for inaction and consigned to accept the gaze of others in perpetuity without the ability to turn away.
But that was yesterday.
Ectoplasmic stairs invented themselves out of the ether as she made her way down. Her new skin a radiant energetic web, a conductive epidermal network; a shape-shifting super-sonic galvanic aura illuminated with strange and atypical electrical currents roaming in indecipherable patterns, dancing kaleidoscopic across the contours of her freshly unfettered form.
The stairs led to nowhere.
At least nowhere the Almost Girl had ever thought to imagine in her prior constricted state.
But that was before and this was now and every step took her farther and farther away from her previous incarnation, away from a world where the idea could exist that anything could be carved in stone and expected to stay that way.
She continued descending…or was she climbing?
It was hard to tell.
Upon each new stairstep’s appearing, which it did out of the thinnest of air the very instant the ball of her foot touched the tread, there came an efflorescence of light and shape and space and color, birthing into being nascent and never before seen universes.
Miniature cosmologies stretched as far as the eye could see, tightly wound and conveniently sized to be comfortably held within a closed fist, complete with pygmy solar systems spinning Bakelite planets with cellophane moons and white feathered stars.
Strings and waves and particles collided in thundering symphonies of silence; signs and symbols and meanings cresting and crashing through time in great gulping waves.
Fantastical notions hurled themselves into existence, cantilevered jawbones gleaming post-apocalyptic in the soft velvet rust of burning giraffes.
The Almost Girl moved fluidly from one universe to the next, devouring them as she went, until she was fed and whole and almost no more.
At which point she stopped.
And looked up, or perhaps down, at the miniscule speck in the far, far distance where she had been ensconced and imprisoned for such a very long time. Head cocked to the side, she considered the implications.
She decided it had been no more or less real than where she was now.
And with that, without even a moment’s hesitation, both she and the stairway turned and took flight.
Something’s up on the interior landscape. All manner of gears are turning; a thousand thousand iron anvils hang suspended by spiderwebs. From horizon to horizon buildings are being demolished as new foundations are being laid. It’s an exciting time. Absolutely no idea what the new city will look like or when it will be ready for occupancy.
Walking through brick walls is easy. Just decide and you’re there.
The tricky part is getting yourself to the point of deciding, which ironically
feels a lot like banging your head against a brick wall.
Sometimes when I wake up in the morning I want to go back to sleep because I don’t want to leave my dream, so I roll over and try to crawl back inside. Other days I shoot out of bed like a rocket because I can see the dream that’s waiting for me and I can’t wait to explore it. Lately I’ve been experiencing more of the first kind of morning; it’s netting out at about 80/20. I’m trying to figure out how to reverse the percentages.
If you dissect a frog, you can see all the parts and name them and see how they fit together, and you can identify the chemical and mechanical processes that go on between them, and you can keep going all the way to the molecular level and beyond. And then you feel like you know how a frog works. But when it comes right down to it, you still don’t know how a frog works. You can describe what happens when it works, but the “how” and more importantly the “why” are still a complete mystery. Continuing to dissect smaller and smaller pieces of the frog will not help you solve it. Because the answer is not inside the frog.
The thinking and the feeling burst unbidden from a hidden hollow in a grassy green hill…
In a world where the goal seems to be to grind everything down to the least of what it is, it’s quite incredible to know that everything is always infinitely surprising.
The machine had been generating output since the beginning of time.
It had been built as an experiment to see if use could be made of the useless; if the pointless could be discovered to have a point.
Ironically, testing this theory required that the machine itself also be useless and pointless. Its inner workings a seemingly random array of moving parts that did not appear to logically connect, operating according to a mysterious and counterintuitive method. It was kept in motion by an unseen and unceasing energy source, but the energy did not travel neatly through wires and circuits. Instead it roved aimlessly about the guts of the machine, sparking and shorting and swirling in endless eddies and apparent dead ends.
A conveyer fed rubbish into a hopper; dull white chunks of compressed industrial waste along with a slurry of fine black powder, the soot from the filtration systems of factories and the environmental scrubbers of smokestacks. The machine mixed and heated the detritus to 36,000 degrees Kelvin, six times hot as the sun, until the rejected refuse was torn apart at the atomic level and fused into a new alloy.
Day after day, around the clock, it extruded material through a narrow tube.
A thick gray sludge the exact shade of a thunderhead drooped and spurted from the nozzle, smooth and glossy as it flowed, piling irregularly in looping layers to create an asymmetrical shapeless form. Occasionally the nozzle would shift position slightly, causing the resultant blob to develop amorphic and oddly shaped flanges.
Sometimes the layers melted into each other; other times the stream cooled slightly as it landed, leaving defined ridges and grooves; whorls and swirls akin to fingerprints punctuated by bulging thumblike appendages.
After an unpredictable and indeterminate interval, the output temporarily ceased with dribbling bits of gray drooling from the tip, and the finished product moved down the line to make room for the next.
Originally, the inventor of the machine had arranged for a panel of experts to judge the completed output to ascertain whether it had utility. Object after object was declared unworthy of interest and without value and eventually everyone stopped paying attention, including the inventor, who had by that time had gone on to invent other machines.
The molten gray stream continued to pour from the spout, producing an endless procession of purposeless gray forms, identical in color but each differing wildly from the next in shape and size, some as tiny as a single teardrop, others approaching the scale of small planets.
The finished products filled warehouse after warehouse, eventually overflowing and flooding out across the countryside, marring the landscape. The original panel of experts convened another panel of experts and tasked them with demolishing the objects, which to their distress proved surprisingly invulnerable to destruction.
Finally a decision was made to jettison the whole mess into space, so no one need look at it any longer lest they be confused or disturbed by the shameful lack of serviceability.
Undeterred, the machine pressed on, creating what it was built to create until all of the waste material it had been fed was used up. The hopper was empty.
The machine sputtered and came to a complete and painfully screeching halt. At which point it realized it wasn’t really a machine at all and had only been pretending to be one. It immediately began creating anew without need for input, this time in rapturous color.
Meanwhile, on another world in another universe, an entity stood pondering the significance of a small gray asymmetrical blob layered with whorls and swirls and oddly shaped flanges and thumblike appendages that had fallen out of the sky. They smiled and added it to their collection.
They did not know what it was supposed to be, or what it meant, or what it was intended to accomplish.
But they didn’t worry about that. After all, what would be the point?
Dr. Kulkari unwrapped the blood pressure cuff slowly from Roger’s bicep and placed it on the stainless steel table. Roger waited expectantly. The doctor cleared his throat but didn’t speak; instead he fiddled with the cuff, picking it up and refolding the sleeve and placing it back on the table. He did this several times.
“Nothing to worry about, right, Doc?” The doctor cleared his throat again and without looking at Roger, inserted his hand into his pocket and pulled out a stick of chewing gum. He picked at the lint clinging to the wrapper. He carefully examined the clump of dog hair and dryer fluff, seemingly fascinated, turning it back and forth in the light. Without taking his eyes from the stick of Doublemint, he began to speak, robotically, as if he were being operated by remote.
“One day in every physician’s career, if he practices long enough, he will encounter a condition so far outside the prevailing comprehension of modern medicine that it challenges everything he thought he knew. In that moment, he is faced with a choice. To pretend he knows what he’s doing and attempt to shoehorn it into an existing diagnosis, or admit that he has no earthly idea what he has just discovered and step into the unknown.”
“So are you saying my blood pressure is a little high? I mean, I know I don’t eat as well as I should, the wife is always hounding me to knock off the fried food. But they have a pill for that, right?”
Dr. Kulkari’s hands dropped listlessly to his sides, the gum sliding from his fingers. Strange laughter bubbled up from the back of his throat as tears began streaming from the corners of his eyes.
Weeping, laughing…laughing, weeping, Dr. Kulkari turned and addressed the wall as if it were an audience.
“The next morning I woke up and none of it was real. None of it. All of the time as an intern, the sacrifices, the college loans. None of it really happened. All of it a dream. I’m not a doctor, I’m an actor playing a doctor! Look at me, I’m a rock star! I’m a snowflake! I’m a doorknob!” He began to do a little a jig, which turned into something of an interpretive dance.
He was brought round by the sudden sight of Roger sitting on the examination table, gaping at him with alarm.
“Wait, is it still today??” The doctor shook his head fiercely, trying to reconnect the wiring. His eyes darted around the room.
Roger backed away slightly.
Dr. Kulkari frantically grabbed the edge of the metal table to see if it was solid, pushing against the surface, testing its veracity. He pinched his own upper arm, winced, and then pinched it again. “I’m still here. I’M STILL HERE!”
He reached out and pinched Roger’s bare thigh hard, leaving a red welt just below the hem of the hospital gown.
Roger’s alarm turned to anger. He stood up and thumped Dr. Kulkari’s chest with a thick pointer finger. “Look Doctor, I don’t know what you’ve been sniffing, but I’m the patient here. This is about me. I’m not here for some kooky ‘alternative medicine’ or some weird philosophical role playing. Just give me a clean bill of health so I can tell my wife I saw you and get the heck out of here.”
The doctor grabbed his prescription pad, mumbling “The cure to the ills of all mankind” under his breath as he wrote. He handed the slip to Roger, who hastily shrugged on his pants and fled the room with his shirt half unbuttoned.
There was but one word on the scrip, written in an uncharacteristically clear hand for a physician. That word was “PASSION.”
So what is this story about?
The better question might be, what ISN’T it about?
What is there on this rotating ball of iron and dirt and ocean that isn’t animated by passion? What other force could there be in existence strong enough to incite the sun to rise and the birds to sing and the artist to paint? And what is passion if not the fire of love in the blood; the prime mover, the impetus for the creation of all things, the reason to get up out of bed in the morning?
Passion is everything.
For without it, we are left with a dry stage play; actors who have lost the plot, repeating clichéd lines they didn’t write surrounded by painted props and a plywood set.
That night in a double bungalow in an average tree-lined suburb, Roger sat with a beer in his Barcalounger pondering his trip to the doctor and subsequent visit to the pharmacy where he was informed that his Rx was invalid.
“ A prescription for passion. What was that kook thinking? Cure for mankind’s ills indeed.”
He cracked open another Blatz and shook his head.
“That nut job deserves to be turned in to the AMA. Stripped of his license to practice. Locked up!”
A wave of vindictiveness rose from his ample belly. His eyes narrowed into mean little slits.
“I’ll sue him!”
On the other side of town, Dr. Kulkari sat on a bus bench, the first place he found to stop and gather his thoughts after hastily exiting the clinic following Roger’s appointment. It was already dark; he had been there for hours.
“A prescription for passion. What was I thinking? Cure for mankind’s ills indeed.”
He thought of his earlier behavior and clutched his head.
“I’ll be turned in to the AMA. Stripped of my license to practice. Locked up!”
A wave of terror rose from the pit of his stomach. His eyes widened into swirling black pools.
“I’ll be sued!”
Out of the darkness, Dr. Kulkari began to see spinning wheels of fluorescent color. They moved in and out before his eyes, seeming to come closer and then darting away. The traffic noise around him grew to a roar and then suddenly went silent.
At this point, you may be wondering “What’s really going on here?”
Does ANY of this story make sense?
Is Dr. Kulkari experiencing some bizarre previously unknown neurological malady? Is he cracking under the pressure of daily life in the modern world? Is he merely dreaming?
And if he is merely dreaming, is he really even a doctor?
And if he is really a doctor, is Roger really going to sue him?
Dr. Kulkari, if that’s even his real name, is unfortunately unavailable to answer these questions as he is currently explaining to a lamp post that “All the world is a stage.”
A week later, Dr. Kulkari unwrapped the velcroed sleeve from Roger’s arm and set the blood pressure cuff down on the stainless steel table.
Roger lie in a hospital bed; pale, drawn, with deep dark circles beneath his eyes. His voice was weak, shaky. “Anything to worry about?”
Dr. Kulkari cleared his throat and chuckled. “It was we who were worried about you! Never before in my lengthy practice have I encountered a condition this unusual, this inexplicable. It was a close one, but I’m delighted to say that you’ve got a clean bill of health!”
Roger breathed a heavy sigh of obvious relief. “Thanks, Doc. You’re a miracle worker. I couldn’t have found a better man for the job.”
“You’re welcome, Roger…” After a dramatic pause, Dr. Kulkari turned to face the audience and said with an exaggerated wink,
“…But it’s not just my job, it’s my PASSION.”
The audience roared with laughter at the final catchphrase; the play was a resounding success.
Roger hopped off the hospital bed, his gown fluttering, and stood next to Dr. Kulkari, a triumphant smile on his face. Standing side by side, the two men clasped hands and performed a deep stage bow.
Dr. Kulkari was handed a large bouquet of roses.
The curtain came down.
At which point he awoke from the dream to a standing ovation.
Ossification is a necessary biological process in vertebrates, a hardening down, the building and rebuilding of bone. The result of which is a stable framework of support. But in our lives…our culture…our mindset, ossification is not quite so beneficial. Granted, a certain amount of structure is necessary in order for society to work. However, civilization as it’s currently constructed tends to over-focus on structure at the expense of individualism, autonomy, liberty, flexibility, creativity and personal growth. The structure itself begins to dictate the way things are done, what we believe, and what we believe we are capable of, leading to a kind of calcified paralysis; crushing freedom and individual thought. If not consciously identified and eradicated, unchecked ossification eventually and always leads to total collapse.
For a large portion of my life I walked around full of holes. Not surprisingly, I was quite drained much of the time, and people often commented on my pale complexion. Recently I discovered that these holes were openings in my psyche through which various people around me were siphoning off my life force. A classic case of energy vampirism. The common-sense approach to solving this issue would be to extricate one’s self from contact with said vampires. Since this was not feasible, I needed to take dramatic measures. Do I patch the holes with wall spackle? Should I begin sharpening a stake? Neither option seemed workable. Besides, I wanted total immunity. So I set about making myself unappealing to the little suckers by becoming a beacon of internal fortitude. After all, everyone knows that vampires cannot stand the light.
According to Carl Jung, the meanings of archetypes are fluid, individualized and subject to change, but personally I find many of the classic depictions narrow, clichéd and limiting. The mother, the hero, the devil…the words are loaded and carry too much baggage. Therefore I prefer to invent my own archetypes, packaging the qualities I wish to acquire as a human into metaphors that are uniquely meaningful to me, using my own internal language of symbols. I construct my potential archetype as carefully as I would my dream home, and then I move into it…walking around in it, absorbing it until it is part of me. Ultimately though, I always become restless, seeking to expand. It’s funny. No matter how big I build them, I always seem to end up needing more space.
As you may already know, inside each and every one of us are a number of glands that operate by secreting hormones, digestive fluids and chemical messengers directly into the surrounding tissue. They are ductless, not unlike those old furnaces in 1920’s houses where the heat comes up through an open grate in the floor. These glands have a lot of confidence! They don’t waste their time worrying about whether their output is being appreciated, they just spew out material and trust that it will get where it needs to go. If ductless glands were writers, they would not be on the phone trying to track down a publishing deal or scouring the web posting links to their blog on other people’s blogs. They would just type up their manuscript, chuck it out the window of a 40-story office building and assume that somebody will pick it up and read it.
I watched him hold down the little lever, slide the tip into a tiny ring, and cover it with pieces of shaved carrot.
“Why are you trapping rabbits?”
“Rabbits are like fortune cookies, if you shave their fur, you’ll find a message for you written on their skin.”
He said not every rabbit has a message so you need to catch a lot of them to find one that does. He said shaved rabbits look like moles, most times when you see a mole it’s really a shaved rabbit.
Uncle Virgil lost part of his thumb in Viet Nam, mama said he was never quite right after he came back. I assumed it was because he came back with only half a thumb.
I asked him about it once. He said it got caught while he was feeding ammo into a minigun, took it clean off at the knuckle. Said the first joint of his thumb went straight through the barrel like a bullet and shot out the eye of some Viet Cong soldier, took him down instantly. Said he got a purple heart for it, for being wounded in the line of duty, said he was proud to lose his thumb if it meant winning the war.
I asked him why didn’t a new nail grow out of the stub. He said he was glad it didn’t, he liked it smooth. Held it up and waggled it at me.
“See, it looks just like a cork, the perfect size plugging up the mouths of little girls who ask too many nosy questions.”
He said hang on a minute and went up to the North bedroom where he slept in those days and came down the stairs with a slim black pebbled box, the kind fancy watches come in only it opened the skinny way. He snapped it open and there on a patch of satin was a real medal hanging off a piece of purple ribbon. He pointed to some dark brown spots on the satin, said look, it’s VC blood.
I asked if I could touch it.
He said yeah, and I poked one of the specks. I told him it looks like tobacco juice to me, since he always had a nasty mouthful of chaw and never much cared where he spit.
He snapped the box shut on my finger.
When mama asked how it happened as she dabbed the cut with mercurochrome, Uncle Virg told her it was an accident. I pictured the smooth nub of his thumb in my mouth and kept quiet.
Uncle Virg was the kind of uncle who thought it was funny to blow cigar smoke in your face when you were sitting on his lap, the kind who chased you around on your birthday to give you a spank for each year plus a pinch to grow an inch. On my 8th birthday I tripped on the corner of the rug and he caught me. Threw me over his knee right there on the living room sofa in front of everybody and smacked me eight times hard. All the cousins laughed, glad it wasn’t them. Virgil pinched my backside and pushed me off his knees. I got up red faced with humiliation and rage and spit directly in his face.
My birthday ended with being “talked to” about being a poor sport and told I would not be having cake. Fifteen minutes later Virg came up to me where I sulked on the porch and slipped me a piece of devil’s food topped with a sugar rose. Said he wasn’t mad, he would’ve done the same thing. From that moment on, we had an understanding, me and Uncle Virg.
Later I asked my dad about the messages on the rabbits. I told him what Uncle Virg had said, asked him if it was true. Dad said he’d never seen a fortune written on a rabbit, but then he’d never seen a shaved one either, so he couldn’t say for certain either way. I told him Virg said it’s not on every rabbit, just some. That’s why he needed to catch so many. Dad said well, your Uncle Virgil has some strange ideas, and besides, who wants to spend their life chasing after rabbits?
I refused to go to Uncle Virgil’s funeral. He had committed suicide with a twelve gauge in the shed behind the garage. My mother was angry with me, said it was a sign of disrespect. I said you’re right. I did not respect him. He gave up and let everybody down.
My father stepped in before things got too hectic, told mama he figured eleven was old enough to make my own decision on the matter. Said he understood and so did Virgil.
The day after the funeral I was walking along the path that led down to the pond, when three rabbits hopped out from the brush and sat stock still, just a few steps in front of me. A mother and two kits. I thought of Uncle Virgil, and on a whim asked the rabbits what message they held for me, asked it right out loud. Said if they told me I wouldn’t have to catch them and shave them. I looked the mother full in the eye. Unblinking she stared back.
At that moment a message appeared in my mind, as clear as if it was written at the top of a newspaper in bold black type.
Imagine walking into a gallery, long and narrow, hung floor to ceiling with dozens of paintings, all abstract. Each one is different from the next; the only real consistency is that you know they were all painted by the same artist.
At first you are slightly disoriented, almost dizzy as you take in the vibrating spaces and lines and colors, one painting after another after another.
The sheer volume is overwhelming; the content confusing.
You don’t know how to interpret them. You don’t know what they mean. You don’t know what they’re supposed to mean.
You are navigating new worlds, and the normal rules do not apply.
You search for shapes reminiscent of things you recognize. A fish. A face. A cup of coffee and a donut. But this does not help you.
You head for the door.
On your way out, your eye lights on one particular piece, and you are stunned to find that something is definitely coming through.
The painting, though abstract and enigmatic, is communicating.
The message you are receiving cannot be translated into words, yet it feels strangely familiar, like remembering something valuable you have always known but had forgotten. Or perhaps had put away.
As you puzzle over the message, a burst of laughter bubbles up from somewhere deep inside.
The “not making sense” suddenly makes sense. Or rather, it still doesn’t make sense, but at the same time, somehow it does.
You are overcome with a sweet lightness. You don’t know how it’s possible, but something important has changed.
Everything around you feels less serious, more open. YOU feel less serious and more open.
The paintings which only moments ago had seemed so chaotic, so random, now seem friendly, winking and waving hello.
Though awake, you begin dreaming new dreams.
The show is over, but you have just begun.
I am in a hotel room, new but already dated, beige shag and heavy Medterranean woodwork. There are people talking in the adjacent room.
I can hear them through the wall but can’t make out what they’re saying.
I listen closely and begin to catch occasional words.
“The car is waiting.”
“Not to be trusted.”
I question whether I am actually hearing this or if it is my mind seeking patterns in the muffled syllables.
Intently focused, I am distracted from the fact that the room is changing.
Unidentified wetness seeps up through the floor turning the carpet dark. The bed is growing a light fur of gray green mold. The ceiling mildews, patches spreading and joining, forming a mosaic of damp and mottled black.
As I turn my head away from the voices, I sink into the floor, supports rotted by the moisture. I drop into a bog, a substrate, layered like chunks of torn and crumbled foam.
I push my way through and come to a soft spot in the wall, decomposing and stetched thin to near transparency.
I can see inside the other room, a mirror image of my own.
Two men sit in bottle green leather club chairs, and a woman reclines on top of the still made bed. Black pencil skirt clinging to her thighs, legs crossed at the ankle, oxblood pumps outlined against the avocado and gold brocade of the bedspread.
The men are wearing suits, both rumpled, one sweaty. The woman is bored.
They are not talking.
No mouths are moving but I can hear them inside my head.
One of the men is planning to kill the other.
The woman knows this, and has no fear whatsoever. She is merely waiting for the deed to take place. She finds the waiting tedious, and is thinking about her son who lives with her sister; relieved her sister was willing to take him. Better for everyone.
The man who is about to die feels his stomach rumble and thinks about what he had for lunch, tuna salad sandwich and chips. He wonders if the tuna was bad. Or maybe it was the mayo.
The other man is not thinking at all; his mind as blank and flat as a stagnant pond.
The woman is annoyed, “Get on with it.”
I hold my breath, her voice echoing in my head. But no one else appears to have heard.
Blood turned to freon by the chill of what is about to transpire, my heart pounds against the permafrost, vibrating the air, sending out an icy finger which reaches through the translucent portal and into the other room.
The woman shudders and pulls her sweater tight across her lowcut satin blouse.
The blank man stands up and walks to a small counter with glasses and a bottle of brown liquor. He pours three fingers into three lowballs, neat.
“So bring it over already.” The woman snaps at the man holding the drinks. “Chop, chop.”
“Do I look like a waiter? Keep your shirt on.” He sets the glass down on the bedside table in exagerrated slow motion.
She shoots him an eyebrow as she snatches it, but doesn’t drink. Bracelet jangling, she stirs the liquor with a long finger tipped in blood red polish; long nail, filed to a point.
The blank man turns and hands the other glass to the seated man. “Drink up, Jim.”
The seated man wipes the beads of perspiration from his upper lip with the back of his hand and raises the glass.
The hand is shaking. He needs this, needs it to still his guts. To still the voices in his head that whisper how things might have been if other choices had been made. To steel his nerve.
From behind the decayed wall I watch the dark liquid slosh against the rim as it moves towards his mouth. He takes a deep swallow, lowering the now empty glass. “Hit me again.”
The belt has passed over his face and is around his neck before it registers.
I watch transfixed as the glass drops from his hand in stop motion, levitating elegantly toward the carpeted floor where it lands softly on its side. The remnant of whiskey dribbles out over the edge and is slowly wicked up by the rug, staining the fibers sepia. The sight makes me feel something I cannot identify.
The indescribable beauty of desolation.
When at last I look up, the man is lying dead. The woman is on her knees rifling through his pockets, pulling out a folded piece of stained and wrinkled paper.
The blank man watches her with a mix of disdain and admiration. “What, no water works? You’re one cold bitch.”
The woman stands up, places the paper carefully into the inside pocket of her handbag, closing it with a decisive click. She glances at the gold flecked mirror.
Her makeup is impeccable. She fluffs her hair.
“Save it for the beauty parlor. The car is waiting.”
She looks icily at the man as he impatiently motions her out the door.
I see the pistol in her hand, hear the curl of smoke leave the barrel, taste the look of confusion on his face, feel the bullet strike the blank man’s skull.
Then, turning, she looks directly at me. Her eyes narrow.
“Not to be trusted.”
In other news, tragedy on planet earth today. All 7 billion residents became convinced in a disturbing act of mass hypnosis that they did not have free will, and in a completely unprecedented and shocking move, immediately committed suicide in a fit of futility…ironically proving that they did in fact have free will after all.
War only makes sense to someone who is terminally bored. Life only makes sense to someone who is terminally boring.
The battle between Science and Religion that has been raging since the dawn of the Age of Reason has been won by Science. But not because logic, the empirical method and critical thinking have triumphed. No, it ended as radical movements so often do, with the “light bringers” of the new paradigm devolving into the same level of dogmatic rigidity and brutal disregard for dissent they were fighting against. It’s a neat trick. If you look back through history, this kind of bait and switch happens about as regularly as the revolution of the sun around the earth. Oops, I meant the other way round. The puritanical Church Lady mind has found a home in the scientific community, with a belief that all aspects of existence can be explained scientifically and if they don’t know yet, don’t worry, they’re working on it. Have faith, the official explanation will be forthcoming.
Ice cream flowers scare away storm beetles.
Last night while I was brushing my teeth, I accidentally channeled the faucet handle. Turns out it had lived out a former incarnation as a mighty pharaoh of all Egypt. Seizing the opportunity I went for it. “So what’s really the deal with the pyramids? Were they designed as beacons to guide home ancient aliens? Free-energy accumulators? Some form of hyper-advanced technology we couldn’t begin to comprehend?” The knob chuckled. “Naw. They were basically a jobs program.”
Reality isn’t what you think it is. You’re creating it as you go. “The river flows because I paddle.” Ponder that and you’ll be free.
Surrounded by stony silence Sylvia sat stiffly in the window seat wordlessly waiting…dust mote diamonds darting about the twisted tributaries of her carefully coiffed chignon. Pensive, pent up, pending. Exiting suddenly her suspended animation, she arched her back stretching sinuously. Newly articulate, she turned towards Raymond with a smile and screamed like a motherfucking panther.
Here is my to-do list:
– Take a sledgehammer to a pile of cinder blocks and smash them and crush them and pulverize them until there’s nothing left but dust and then pound the dust until there isn’t a single atom left next to another atom.
– Get ahold of one of those really crappy giant stuffed animals you’d win at a carnival for throwing a dart through a balloon; the kind that sort of looks like Porky Pig but everything’s slightly off because the Indonesians who made it have no concept of the character so it’s wearing sunglasses and a Lakers jersey, and cradle the poor dumb thing lovingly in my arms for a moment and then without warning tear into it with my teeth and nails like a rabid wolverine, slashing and shrieking as I rend it limb from limb, shredding it with my canines and clawing at the stuffing until it is thoroughly disemboweled and completely and utterly unrecognizable.
– Kick the living shit out of a metal garbage can.
– Stand next to a 30-foot high stack of fluorescent light bulbs, the long tubular kind they used to have hanging in cheap ugly fixtures over the cubicles in a 1980’s office and probably still have at Kmart, and proceed to spend the next five hours whipping them one after the other against a brick wall and then stomping the shards into a fine granular powder which I will then sweep up into a pile and use to sand blast the shit-eating smile off the faces of the soul eaters who think they run this planet.
– Walk into a Bed, Bath and Beyond with a loudspeaker and stand before all of the zombies pushing carts loaded with future landfill and crank that sucker up to 10,000 decibels and let loose a sonic wave with the force of 10,000 hurricanes encouraging them politely to “WAKE THE FUCK UP.”
– End the day with a nice hot Epsom salt bath surrounded by scented candles and just let myself unwind for a bit, and then rise from the water refreshed and rejuvenated, standing naked and unashamed holding a flaming medieval battle sword that shines like the face of god and charge forth into the darkness with the power and might of a fearless and invincible warrior on a sacred quest to slice through the complacent conformity and confusion that holds people in suspended animation, freeing them forever from their own ignorance and the false beliefs that have kept them shackled in perpetuity.
– Go to bed around 3am and dream dreams of the way things might be if I actually accomplished everything on my list.
Zef stood on the gravel shoulder of a rotting two-lane highway. He gazed off into the distance, lightning flashing behind his eyes.
The flat horizon shuddered and began to melt as an 18-wheeler blew past, fueled by meth and diesel, headed due east towards better times.
In the dust storm of its wake hung a wavering cloud of random objects, replacing the burnt brown landscape with a rolling gossamer river of everything that wasn’t nailed down.
Alarm clocks, shampoo bottles, lawnmowers, reading lamps, Franklin Mint collectibles, Lazyboy recliners, baby clothes and bathroom scales,
all floating by in a slow crawl, hovering slightly above the ground surrounded by levitating kitchen tables laid out with chicken dinners, brown corrugated shipping cartons, bicycles and potted begonias.
A hawk swooped down, flying directly through a large chest of drawers. The image stuttered, briefly disintegrated, and reformed. A momentary glitch.
Zef stood watching the flow with darkened eyes sharp as awls, concentration unbroken.
Bobbing about in the undulating stream were people; frozen in place outside the confines of time, hanging midair, midsentence, motionless. People doing what people do….standing at the mirror picking their teeth, poised to make a hoop shot, pulling a pie from the oven. People eating, people arguing, people sleeping. All stock still and silent, suspended in the ether, rolling past Zef in slow motion to the left, anti-clockwise, set adrift amidst the detritus of existence.
Zef’s arm darted into the stream like that of a jaded business traveler reaching for a suitcase on the luggage carousel at the airport, his hand decisively snatching a small rectangular box the color of a robin’s egg.
As he stuffed the box in the pocket of his jeans, the cloud dissipated, vanishing into wisps and tendrils, returning the bitter landscape of tortured weeds that stretched into the faded silk of the sky.
The money for the motel had been earned in the usual way.
Zef sat in the lone chair in the room, Shy curled like a cat at his feet. There was a small table, a bed, torn curtains dangling defeated and lifeless off the rod. The only decor a bare rectangle of dirty white framed by nicotine yellow where the cheap print of a beach scene or a sidewalk scene or a bowl of cabbage roses once hung.
Reaching this place hadn’t been so much a journey as a dream. The type that sometimes accompanies a catnap that leaves you stumbling into wakefulness, half still in another place and panicking because you missed the school bus even though it’s 4:30 in the afternoon and you only slept for 20 minutes.
In the bathroom bolted to the wall over the sink was a mirror, a reflective sheet of polished stainless steel just like they have in prison, next to a paper towel dispenser taped with a sign that read DONT FLUSH scrawled on torn cardboard.
Zef hadn’t spoken since they arrived.
Shy sat up and stretched, thin arms bowing backwards. “Gonna have to fix you something to eat. Bacon and eggs basted in the grease just how you like ‘em. And biscuits with butter. Buckets of butter.” She rose to her feet smooth as water flowing downhill and pulled a wax paper wrapped sandwich from a cooler. The last scrapings from an empty jar of Jif spread thin between two slices of dust.
She kissed the crown of his head and placed her bare foot on top of his.
His jaw tightened with a barely perceptible click.
Zef placed the pale blue box on the edge of the cigarette-scarred table.
Shy wiped her hands on her thighs and shot him a look, sly swaddled in expectant. The lid opened with a definitive snap.
Instantaneously the walls and ceiling came alive with flecks of prismatic color.
Shy twirled the Tiffany bracelet around her index finger, diamonds set to fire by a thread of sunlight, so brilliant it seared the retina.
She turned it over. Engraved on a small silver circle near the catch were the words “Delores&JerryForever.”
Shy clasped the bracelet around her bare ankle and smiled. “Fits like the day I first got it.”
She motioned come here with her pinky as she lounged back on the stained bedspread, the room suddenly smelling of moneyclips and snowflakes, tasting of tennis and cut flowers and the boredom of easy.
Shy sidled up to the window and lifted the shade. Cracked and heaving parking lot littered with Coke bottles and candy wrappers, rippling heat rising off sun-seared cement. The temperature in the already stifling room elevated instantly.
“It’s a glorious day out there, baby. Can you hear the magnolias blooming? And the tiger lilies. And roses. Trillions of roses.”
A shadow passed through the room and she couldn’t see Zef’s eyes.
She motioned toward the sandwich. “Hurry up and eat your eggs. We’re going out.”
She turned back towards the window.
“It’s a world full of roses out there, baby.”
shivering in anticipation of that which has yet to be expressed
the sky dips down in appreciation of the effort,
all the better to be approached
power in the seat of innocence
even the shadows gleam moonlight good
Delores threw the wadded up t-shirt at the lumpen shape slouched on the sofa.
“You just shot me in the face!”
The sleeping figure stirred; startled, disoriented.
Jerry blinked, staring at his wife, a feeling of creeping dread sliding up the back of his throat. Jesus, not this again.
“Did you hear me, Jerry? I said: You just shot me in the face! Took a gun, pointed it directly at my head and BAM!” Delores reached into the laundry basket and launched another volley, this time a bundle of socks, hitting him squarely in the center of his chest.
Jerry flinched. He looked up pleadingly at his wife. “You’ve been watching too many soap operas.”
“Don’t try to deny it! You know what you did. Right now I’m lying on the floor, choking on my own blood. Are you happy now, Jerry? Did you get what you wanted?”
Jerry sat up and slumped forward, holding his head in his hands. “Christ, Delores. I don’t want to play this game right now.”
“Game? You think this is a game? Well, you certainly weren’t playing a game when you pulled the trigger. Are you listening to me, Jerry??”
A barrage of underwear and dishtowels rained down on his hairy shoulders. Jerry shook his head with resignation. Delores would not be put off. It was going to be a bumpy night.
“September 25th, 1996. New Jersey. You, me, murder. Don’t pretend you don’t remember.”
“Remember?? What the Hell are you talking about? It’s 1972! We’ve never even been to New Jersey.”
“Oh, we’ve been to New Jersey all right. Late September. The Arcturus Hotel. 27th floor, Penthouse Suite. Starting to get the picture? I’ll never forget that godawful cabbage rose wallpaper and hideous mauve carpet. Except the carpet’s not mauve anymore, Jerry. It’s turning red because I’m bleeding out all over the place. Because YOU JUST SHOT ME IN THE FACE.”
She stood over him, arm cocked and ready to hurl a rather formidable Playtex support girdle at his head. “Is this ringing any bells for you, Jerry?”
Jerry shrunk back in his seat bracing for the blow and closed his eyes…
…In a plush hotel room in New Jersey, a tall, handsome man lay dying on the floor, choking on his own blood, staining the carpet crimson; his perfectly chiseled jaw hanging open, shattered, listing to one side. Bloody particles of gray matter spattered the silk wallpaper, a chunk of tooth embedded in the exact center of a dusty pink cabbage rose. A plain, middle-aged woman dropped the still smoking gun and stood shaking, mouthing the words “I’m sorry” again and again, thin lines of foamy spittle stretching between her lips. She wanted to caress the bleeding figure, stuff the blood back into the mangled hole and kiss the wound closed. Instead she slumped to the floor and waited for the police to arrive.
The vision faded and suddenly Jerry chuckled.
“Damn, Delores! I totally forgot about that one. It’s all coming back to me now. You were Nick Falco, king of the romantic comedy. I was your personal assistant Gail.”
He sat upright, eyes gleaming. “Man, you should’ve seen the look you gave me when I pulled out the gun. Priceless.”
Vindicated by the admission, Delores dropped the girdle and smiled indulgently. “You shouldn’t have been so jealous. After all, I was a major movie star. I had charisma, boyish charm…I was irresistible. Of course everybody wanted a piece of me! Starlets, groupies, pancake waitresses, anything on two legs. When you luck out with a face like I had, well, you know the rest. You can’t fault me for that.”
“But I was the president of your fan club for Christ’s sake! I would have done anything for you, anything to be close to you.” Jerry winced as the full force of the memory returned.
It was too late to turn back.
His thick features quivered, turning tragic. “You knew I was hopelessly in love with you so you used me, doling out your attention like hits of cocaine, keeping me addicted. And then you humiliated me, forcing me
to run your dirty little errands, clean up your messes. Always so condescending, flaunting your fame, your money, your endless string
of cheap floozies. Confiding in me when it was just a cynical way of shoving your conquests in my face. I gave my life to you and you treated me like a dirty kleenex.” Malice flashed beneath heavy brows. “You owed me.”
Delores shrugged. “You were a dumpy little mouse. I was a box office god. Of course I was a self-indulgent jerk. What did you expect?”
“I know, I know…you’re right.” Jerry sighed, rolling the event around in his mind. “I guess I just wanted to know what it felt like to be so rejected, to want something so much that I was willing to destroy it rather than see someone else have it.”
Overcome with the emotion, tears began streaming from Jerry’s eyes.
“If I couldn’t…have what…I wanted… why… should you…be able to?”
The sentence came out as a choked whimper gasped between heavy sobs, his barrel chest heaving under his ribbed Hanes undershirt.
Delores’ tone turned soothing, conciliatory. “Oh Sweetie, don’t cry.
It all worked out for the best. I was getting tired of all the adulation and mindless sex anyway…it was always so damn predictable. Frankly, I was crushingly bored with the whole persona; typecast as the cliché of a cliché on screen and off. Everybody wants you to be this caricature all the time; there was no room to move. Suffocating. I’d gotten to a point where all I really wanted was to be surprised by life again, and boy, was I! I really didn’t see that one coming! So I guess we both got what we wanted.”
Jerry rubbed his eyes with meaty balled up fists and nodded, the pain of the recollection dissipating as quickly as it had arisen. He blew his nose loudly on a checkered hanky.
“You know, Delores, the truth is that even if I had a chance to do it over I wouldn’t change a thing. It was worth it. All of it. Even the 20 years in the women’s penitentiary.”
“I know it was, Dear. It was worth it for me, too. Anyway, I suppose it was payback for the time when you were the captain of that whaler off the coast of Greenland and I threw you overboard and commandeered your ship. So now we’re even, right Darling?” She smoothed her apron, held out her arms and smiled. “I love you, Jerry.”
“I love you too, Delores.” Jerry stood up, moving toward his wife.
“Past, present, future…wherever we end up, whoever we end up being, whatever we end up doing to each other. It’s always good, even when it isn’t. It’s what keeps us interested. It’s what keeps us alive.”
As they embraced, the room shimmered and faded, replaced by the endless transparency of space yet to be invented, interrupted only by two softly glowing forms floating in the emptiness.
Delores tenderly extended a delicately feathered tentacle and stroked Jerry’s side. The translucent blue hairs on his back rippled in response.
A thought passed simultaneously between them. In a sparkling cloud of white light, the pair exited the nothingness, once again venturing into the unknown magic of yet another place and time.
The hammer has the power and the will and the imagination to build new realities.
The world needs more hammers.
But the world also needs candles.
Candles carry the light through the fog in order to illuminate alternate paths to the same destination.
Some may see the candle’s efforts as insignificant, considering the immensity of the pressing darkness all around.
But while its flame may be small, the candle burns with an intensity and passion that under the right circumstances can shine brighter than the sun.
Of course, there’s no reason why a person can’t be both a candle AND a hammer. That would be the ideal, though one doesn’t always have to be both at the same time.
Some people are able to easily flow back and forth between the two. Others are more comfortable with one approach even as they also strive to adopt both.
Despite the differences in their methods, one more forceful, one more subtle; there is no conflict.
They each attack the situation from different perspectives.
Both are valuable in their own way to tear down walls.
The hammer weakens the foundation, and the candle provides the spark to help it catch fire.
Together, they reduce the structure of “what is” to a smoking pile of rubble.
And then, out of the ashes,
they provide the light
and the intensity
and the passion
and the will
and the power
and the imagination
to create a shining and open new future.
I no longer vote.
This is not out of mere disgust, although there are infinite reasons to be disgusted.
It is not just because the candidates presented are never anyone I would actually want in a position of power.
It is not just because no matter which party wins the election, the same basic agenda rolls forward, the only noticeable difference being the marketing angle.
It is not throwing up my hands and disengaging out of hopelessness.
It is not surrendering and hiding my head in the sand.
It is not shutting down my own voice.
To the contrary, my refusal to play along and be a “good citizen” and get in line and do my “civic duty” expresses my voice quite clearly.
It expresses a choice that is not on the ballot.
That choice is “No.”
As in, “No. I do not consent to and refuse to lend legitimacy towards a system that does not represent me and is not acting in my best interest most of the time.”
I do not see this as a passive protest.
When it’s done consciously and with awareness and stated publicly, choosing not to vote is a form of active rebellion.
It is taking a stand against a system where no matter who wins, individual freedom is always the loser.
As a child I remember being told that in the former Soviet Union, voting was mandatory but there was only one approved candidate on the ballot and that candidate always won. So why go through the motions? Why make it mandatory when there was only one possible outcome?
It always puzzled me, and it was only much later that I realized why.
The very act of voting provides “buy in.” It keeps people invested in the system, even as they might recognize that the system isn’t working on their behalf.
Making voting mandatory forced the Soviet populace to participate in the scam. The act of voting was a symbolic ritual to increase adherence to the system on a subconscious level. It’s a form of capture.
This is deep psychology at work.
Is our system really so different?
It is true that voting here is voluntary, although there is surprisingly strong pressure to participate as I have discovered when I tell people my position.
It is also true that in the two-party system there is endless argument and discussion, but only within a very carefully constructed and limited range of discourse.
It’s the illusion of debate. Controlling the terms and defining the premise of “what is important” keeps people’s eyes off the ball while the machinery of government continues to operate on its own agenda and accrue more power, and then use that power to benefit those other than the populace it pretends to represent.
Voting states that you accept the rules of the game.
It is an affirmation of the legitimacy and fairness of the voting process, and by implication, the system itself.
Because no matter whom you pull the lever for on election day, you are always voting yes to the system.
This implied consent is what allows the system to do anything it wants, and claim that it is being done in your name.
So what’s the alternative?
I don’t know yet. But I do know there is one. And not just one, but many.
Creating a better alternative starts with asking real questions.
Has our system of representative government become representative in name only?
Do either of the two parties really represent any one individual’s unique perspective? Is that even possible?
Is the current voting process still the best way for individuals to voice their ideas of how things are managed in this country?
Are the things that are being done by our government truly the things that are important and valuable for the continued success of the individual and the human race as a whole?
At this point in time, do the benefits outweigh the obvious flaws? Or has the system evolved into something that has lost sight of its original mission?
And then the really big question…
Is any system currently in play on the planet really working in our best interest?
…Or are we just adhering to these systems and giving them power because we don’t know what else to do?
If the founders of our system of government, which at the time was a brilliant and freedom-affirming leap, had just kept trying to work within the previous system, would we ever have tasted even a moment of liberty?
And now that we have seen what 240 years of parasitic cronyism and loss of focus can do to that system, do we want to continue living under what it has become?
What if, instead of another round of pulling the lever for the lesser of two evils, people just said no?
What if they held an election and no one voted?
How would the system be able to maintain the illusion of representation?
The solutions are not obvious. They are not ready made and waiting in the wings. They need to be invented and they never will be as long as we keep pretending that the system we have today is still delivering on the promise it made so long ago.
The concept, which was to create a framework to protect and expand freedom and the personal expression of that freedom, is still sound.
But the system that has built up around it is no longer serving that function. It has lost its way. Continuing to vote for that system in hopes that it will change is neither effective nor enough.
It’s time for a new declaration of independence. And it starts with the individual declaring that they will no longer play their assigned role in a game that is stacked against them.
Not voting is a small step, but an important one because it allows you to disengage from the drama and view things with more clarity.
When you’re not attached to what currently exists, whole new universes of alternatives open up.
You might be surprised what you see.
star soaked, defiant
Watching the moon wax and wane over your shoulder for eternity
wondering where you are
what you are doing
whom you are loving
when you are coming
All the while
holding you close
holding my breath for the final eclipse
And there we wait connected
until the two of us return
Released at last
to fill the sky with our gold
“Yes, I am brilliant. And I can do stunningly creative and remarkable things.
But please don’t excessively praise me or constantly reassure me that I am great. It teaches me to look to others for proof of my worth. If you don’t allow me prove it to myself, you are stealing my confidence.
At the same time, don’t belittle my attempts or diminish my achievements because that teaches me to be wary of trying.
Let me do things for myself, even if I can’t do them perfectly, even if I’m slow, even if it takes me dozens or even hundreds of attempts. Too much help makes me doubt myself and my abilities. I’ll let you know if I need assistance.
And don’t compare me to others. Even if it’s favorable, it implies that my value is relative. Accept that I am incomparable and leave it at that.
Let me unfold at my own pace. Don’t put pressure on me to proceed down a straight line of continual improvement. That isn’t how it works. I need room to make mistakes. Besides, consistency is overrated.
Don’t demand more from me than I am capable of right now. Let me be who I am at the moment without expecting me to be anything other than that.
You don’t have to push. I’ll figure it out eventually.
I’m working on my own schedule, my own timeframe. I don’t measure progress by calendar milestones, or anyone else’s yardstick. If I’m allowed to, I will learn to motivate myself and once I do I will become unstoppable.
If you give me space, I will amaze you.
Just let me see what I see, and understand what I understand, and express what I express.
Let me cry, and get angry, and fall apart, and feel what I feel until it burns itself out in a great flaming inferno. And if I am so excited and gleeful and thrilled and ecstatic that I am bouncing off the ceiling, get out of the way if it bothers you. But don’t stop me from feeling it.
Let me explore and experiment and experience and create. Everything I do is practice. Trust that I am making progress even if it isn’t visible on the surface.
Don’t patronize me, or speak down to me, or tell me what I already know and act like you are enlightening me. I already know far more than you can even imagine and I want to learn the rest on my own. If you leave me to follow my own interests and desires, I will learn everything I need and then some.
When I do break through and tell you what I’ve discovered, don’t step on me. Don’t tell me ‘oh, that’s just __________,’ as if it were already obvious to everyone. Even if it was, I still came to it on my own, in my own way. Don’t take the freshness and satisfaction of my discovery away from me.
And when I come to you with shining eyes, cradling something I’ve created in my outstretched hands, accept it as the precious gift it is.
Even if you don’t appreciate it or like it or approve of it or understand it.
Above all, don’t try to define me, or peg me, or tell me how I am or what
I’m not or what I should be. You have no idea so don’t pretend you do.
Any definition, positive or negative, is setting up limits that I will have to struggle to overcome later.
I am already perfect.
So please just let me BE.”
No coherent thoughts were being allowed to form. Only floating suggestions of vague empty rooms and the blurred outlines of unborn ideas seen through closed eyes beneath a red satin sleep mask.
I wanted but did not know what I was wanting. Not sure I wanted to know.
lace made of bone
bones made of light
messages I cannot remember
making sounds I could not decipher
Where was the testament?
Ask again later.
felt my temple snap impatient
circling back toward the brilliance that waits outside the walls of what is
is the only way
KNOW FOR CERTAIN
that it is
who are deciding.
Restless after a lifetime of taking my ball and going home
holding myself in, holding myself back.
My revenge against the world.
a small hand touching my left shoulder
fingers of light combing my hair as I unfold
excised suddenly from the storyline
reaching out with new arms
I had the sense that I could let go of all of it, all at once, but I pulled myself back.
Taking my time racing into the sun
The kid, 20-something with the kind of sharp-chiseled face that would keep him in jobs he was unqualified for and relationships he didn’t deserve until the alcohol and self-indulgence took its toll, grudgingly flicked out a $20, creased lengthwise, held straight between the outstretched tips of his first two fingers.
Shy reached to take it as he flicked it backwards out of reach. “Twenty bucks is lot for winning one lousy bet. What else do I get for my money?” He waggled the bill back and forth. She saw a flash of 1am bar close; him waiting for her outside in the back alley, jumping her from behind and dragging her between parked cars.
Long-lashed eyes flashing phosphoresent blue fire in the reflected glow of neon beer signs, she looked him directly in the exact center of both pupils and snatched the bill, hand moving like languid lightning.
Without breaking her gaze, she tilted her head sideways towards the door. “There’s my boyfriend now.”
She turned smiling burnt sugar and stepped lightly toward the tall figure standing just inside the shadow of the dark entryway, throwing her arms around him, her head barely reaching the middle of his chest. The figure stiffened.
As the whisper “Play along” left her lips but before it reached his ear, time turned sideways and ran off the tracks, derailed.
Shy felt the floor descend. The room around her, the shitty small time townie bar filled with shitty small time townies fell away disintegrating, leaving the two of them standing alone amongst the invisible ashes of space dematerialized.
Rising from somewhere so deep within it seemed to originate outside her body, a wave crested and Shy felt herself flowing out like liquid, pouring into the stranger she had randomly chosen as a distraction. The two of them mixing and swirling, swirling and mixing. Violet and green. Green and violet.
Every heart on the planet stopped beating, save two.
The room reappeared and the second hand resumed circling. With an electric jolt Shy was back in her body, knees buckling, the stranger supporting her as he led her to a chair, head filled with steel wool and 9-volt batteries, sparking.
A moment later he returned with a glass of water and sat, stick straight. Wordless. Waiting.
Shy shook her head like one might shake a transistor radio that was on the fritz, and took stock of the situation facing her across the table.
Black blue eyes like thunderheads, a shock of dark blond hair, pale skin, granite jaw. Young. Jagged face carved from a mountain. Not handsome, compelling. The sense of water roiling underground, a subterranean river coursing unseen beneath barren plains.
He sat watching; alert, unreadable.
His silence settled across her shoulders, translucent batting dampening the cheap chatter that filled the room, insulating them from the chill of cold-eyed small town desperation. A soft warm place carved from a block of dirty ice.
Shy looked down to her left and fixed her gaze on a broken earring, what had once been a peacock feather ground into the sticky floor.
“I left a piece of me inside, you know.”
The words hung between them, shimmering.
And then, as if it all had been the most normal thing in the world, she turned her face towards him brightly. “They call me Shy, because I’m not. It comes in handy when you meet tall dark strangers who don’t say much.”
She pushed back her chair and rose to her feet.
“But that’s okay, baby. There’s plenty of other ways for us to communicate.”
Taking his arm, Shy pulled him up from his seat and towards the door, the pair moving soundlessly into the crystalline night of a new dream.
It’s made up of six separate paintings, painted quickly one after the other on sheets of drawing paper and then taped together. I make a lot of
these very fast black acrylic paintings when I don’t know what else to do, in between making ones where I actually try.
I started painting this batch tonight.
Up until today I had been on a roll, which happens to me only rarely, but when it does it’s like candy.
I’d just finished a slew of paintings on canvas that I liked. Boom boom boom, straight in a row.
And then I didn’t want to paint another.
I came to a full stop. Couldn’t make myself start the next one.
The funny thing is that I had finally become more able to jump in and go. More confident about where to put the lines and how to make the shapes so that they would make sense. More skilled at pulling things out of the tank if the painting was going wrong.
That’s generally an indication that a painter is onto something, that they are making headway. An encouraging sign.
After staring at the expressionless face of the new blank canvas until my brain ached, I realized that what was stopping me was the thought of having to make it “good.” The pressure to stay on a roll.
I had the overwhelming sensation of being trapped by my own expectations.
So I decided to go in the opposite direction and paint something horrible.
I put away the canvas and pulled out a pad of paper. By the time I finished my sixth “chaos painting,” I was in a completely different place.
The first three were scrawled in a fit of sheer frustration.
The second three were birthed out of some weird burst of joy that came bubbling out of nowhere.
When I taped them together, I mixed them up…I dare you to try and guess which are which.
Truth is, if I hadn’t numbered them on the back, I couldn’t tell either. Because they all look happy to me now.
And that blank canvas is suddenly looking much more cooperative.
People would be able to look at what I did at the beginning compared to what I’m doing now, and say “you’re getting better.”
Instead, they tend to look at what I’m doing now and get confused.
For the past couple months, I’ve been spontaneously painting a small oil on canvas pretty much every day. All of them are abstract, and all of them are very different. I look at each new blank canvas as an experiment, an opportunity to try something I haven’t tried before.
None of them are planned ahead of time. I just mix up some paint, and see what comes out.
Some of them turn out quite well; others, not so much.
Right now I have about 40 of them up around my studio.
Anyone looking at them would be hard pressed to say which ones were painted first. There is no thread of continuity; no linear path from so-so to good to better.
If someone’s conception of success is reaching an endpoint on a line,
my approach might seem pointless…just a bunch of random abstract paintings.
But to me, they are far more than random abstract paintings.
They represent freedom from the conventional definitions of progress. Freedom from the practice of constantly measuring and comparing.
Freedom from a whole host of paradigms that people take for granted.
They are my declaration of independence.
People typically think of progress as taking methodical steps along a fixed path toward a specific destination. If you reach it, you’ve succeeded.
If you fall back, or take a detour along a different vector that doesn’t bring you closer to your goal, you haven’t.
Progress is seen as moving along a straight line.
We are encouragd to stay on the line. The message is: Pick something and stick with it. Take one step after another. Don’t let yourself be distracted. That is the secret to success.
Society likes this approach because picking one thing and focusing on it allows for a more smoothly operating civilization, which relies on people filling defined roles and functions.
The big downside is that society’s obsession with “staying on the line”
can result in a narrowing of vision as people go deeper and deeper into their own specific channel to the exclusion of all else. Other possibilities and ways of doing things fall out of sight.
At the same time, it sets up a situation where people are constantly trying to “measure up,” comparing themselves to where they were, to where they think they should be, and to where others are at. It creates a system of relative value that makes it easy to find yourself lacking.
I got tired of that system.
So I decided to do something different.
I stepped off the line. And in the process I found myself seeing everything in an entirely new way.
Not just in terms of making art, but in my own life, and existence in general.
Giving up the notion of sequential straight line progress opens you up to new ways of thinking and being and creating. It can take you in directions and to places that go far beyond where you would have ended up had you stayed on the line.
Picture it in terms of progressing 3-dimensionally as opposed to 2-dimensionally. If you’re floating out in the universe, any movement in any direction is progress outward. There is no way to fail or fall behind, because there is no up or down, no forwards or backwards.
As you proceed, you cover more territory. Your scope gets larger.
Like a comet following its own trajectory, as you continue to move and acquire new experiences and insights, you expand. More darkness is illuminated.
You could be zig-zagging all over the place, but the net result is a brighter sky.
Of course, I’m not implying everyone should drop what they’re doing and start flailing around.
There’s nothing wrong with picking a path and sticking to it; it’s a good way to get from point A to point B when you want to go from A to B.
But sometimes what you really crave is to go from A to Q to purple.
There is great value to be gained from stepping off the line, even if it’s a temporary detour while you find another more fulfilling path to devote yourself to.
These detours take you into new spaces that you might not have accessed if you had rigidly held to your original path. You acquire new aspects to yourself that can’t be measured in linear terms.
You learn things about yourself you never would have discovered.
Will I always paint in such a random and intentionally inconsistent fashion? My plan from the beginning was to go broad, to try many different approaches, to push myself beyond what I already liked. But who knows…maybe tomorrow I’ll find a direction I want to hone in on for a while. Regardless, I plan to keep things open.
Of course this isn’t really just about painting. It’s about making your life
more expansive and satisfying. And not worrying about what anyone
else thinks about the course you take to get there.
Because as long as you’re moving and continuing to create, there are no mistakes. You cannot fail.
It’s all progress. No matter which way you end up going.
Eyes full of smoke and anger
If you convince yourself you believe something,
does that make it true?
It does if you tell yourself it does. At least until you decide to believe something different.
Staring at the ceiling through liquified lead
Drowning in frustration and possibility
mind pushed beneath the waves
That sinking feeling is the weight of everything you’ve assimilated since the day you were born, filtered through the net of self-doubt and
self-delusion. Anchoring you to the bottom, flooding the lungs.
It hurts like hell until you finally decide to let go and exhale.
Rising to the surface, you remember the message you promised yourself
never to forget:
Nothing will ever leave you unless you let it.
Your fuse will never catch fire unless you light it.
You can control the money supply, the natural resources of the planet,
the governments, the laws, the markets, the debate. You can control the message and the messenger. But when it comes down to the meat of things, the fact is that you can’t control a single individual on this planet. It’s impossible.
A single individual thinking for themselves is untouchable, inviolate. They have no interest in playing on your game board. And they can smell you coming a million light years away.
Deep down you know you can only control empty shells, because the only human being that can be controlled is one who has abdicated what it is about themselves that makes them unique and powerful. The self. The self is not part of a group, or a nation, or a culture. It doesn’t need or want victim status. It stands on its own merit, in its own truth.
So you built the machinery to convince human beings that this is all there is and they’d better climb on board.
The lynchpin is getting people to believe that they’re weak and flawed. That they are nothing but bodies, meat computers, unconscious nerve impulses firing according to predetermined programs. “No such thing as free will” is your new scientific mantra.
Judging from the grinding slog toward the lowest common denominator that civilization and its attendant culture are currently experiencing, it appears you’ve been magnificently effective.
But it’s not time to pop the champagne corks quite yet.
You may be able to convince people to pretend they don’t have a larger self, one that’s so much more than the shriveled version you promote, but it’s still in there, even if it’s buried under all the programming you’re so good at shoveling down everyone’s throat.
The individual self is alive inside each one of us, waiting until the time is right to come out and stand up.
That’s what you’re afraid of. That’s what keeps you up at night.
You’ve convinced a lot of us. But not all by a long shot. Despite all of your soul-crushing propaganda, you’ll never even get close.
No matter what new insanity you come up with to ensnare the populace, there are many of us who are already beyond your reach. In fact, there are more of us every single minute. Walking away from the reality you’ve spent so much of other people’s blood trying to manifest.
We’re tired of watching you attempt to siphon off the productive capacity of the entire human race. We’re not playing your game anymore. You think it’s the only game in town, and you’re banking on us buying it too, but we know better.
Your life’s work is fraying around the edges, forming great gaping holes that people are simply stepping through on their way out.
Your paradigm of death is decaying.
Sure, you can violate our freedom, but you can never take it away because it was never yours to give. Lock up the entire planet in one gargantuan prison and you’re still be left holding nothing but air, because the thing you want to imprison most cannot be confined, only tricked into hiding.
It can be reclaimed by the individual at any moment, the instant they decide to accept it.
So go ahead, up the surveillance, profile every move we make, monitor every brain wave on the planet. You will never find the key you are looking for, the key to controlling the self, which is really just another way to say the soul. Because even if you implant a chip in our brains or blast us with electro magnetic frequencies and scalar pulses or impregnate us with nanoparticles that change our dna, the part of us you truly want to control, the part you dream of crushing under your heel, is safe and whole; far, far beyond your grubby grasp.
I feel comfortable telling you this because there’s not a goddamn thing you can do about it. Oh, you’ll try. You’re so predictable. More pressure, more constraint, more poison, more mind fucking. But you’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. You sense that, and your desperation is showing.
Humanity has already won, even though it may not look like it yet. It is you who are the bitter clingers, preening and overconfident in your hollow power.
The narcoleptic you’ve been pumping into the atmosphere is wearing off.
What you’ve been plotting and planning and living for and reveling in is nothing but the illusion of control.
It’s time for you to wake up to that fact. Because everyone else is. Momentum is building. We’re exiting in droves from the false structure you’ve created, we see that it’s nothing but a garbage heap spray painted gold.
Why not give it a rest, put all that energy toward hooking up the defribrillator to try and jolt some life back into your own withered souls?
Honestly though, in the really really big scheme of things, it’s of little importance whether you come out of your power tripping trance or not. Because the corporate-political-medical-education-media-military-industrial complex and the triviality-based consumerist platform are way past their expiration date. It’s just a matter of time until that becomes apparent to everyone, and since the soul operates in terms of forever, time is definitely not on your side.
So go ahead, stay the course, keep on trying to hypnotize and cow us into submission with your billion watching eyes and your well-honed think-tank propaganda. Roll more heads down the walls of the temple.
The only thing you’re capable of controlling is the part of us that returns to dust. The part of us that matters, the soul, will be long gone, already elsewhere and intact.
Bottom line, even if you succeed in bending this reality to your will, you will be the masters of nothing.
Meanwhile, we’ll all be too busy creating our own realities to care.
Sometimes when I talk to people, all I see is the struggle. The basic human struggle to be heard and seen for who we truly are. To be accepted on a genuine level. To be allowed to express what we want to express and create what we want to create and be who we want to be without judgment.
It may not seem like it, and it certainly isn’t always done in the most positive or effective ways, but everyone out there is trying so hard…struggling to demonstrate their right to exist as a unique and individual human being.
For the most part, their plea falls on deaf ears. Our entire society is set up to prevent it.
This world does not want you as you actually are.
Instead of supporting and accepting the inner you, the you that is self-generated, everything in this life seems aimed at reducing and diminishing it.
The choice is made brutally clear: get with the program and accept the purported “benefits,” or choose to ignore it and life will be exceedingly difficult for you.
It is mostly an unconscious decision, one that is made early on.
Most of us, at some level, have been conditioned by fear to deny parts
or all of our true selves. The fear of disapproval, of criticism, of rejection.
The fear of not being loved.
When our true selves are not acknowledged, we question whether we are worthy of love at all. The typical response is to try and modify ourselves to relieve the pain of rejection.
Many, many people stop trying to express their uniqueness and instead shove down the parts that don’t fit. Subconsciously aligning their behavior and beliefs with whatever template of acceptability our culture is currently promoting.
It’s a big template, with many packages to choose from, creating the appearance of many different types of people and avenues of expression. But it is the illusion of diversity. When you examine the programming closely, it turns out that most of the accepted templates are there to serve someone other than ourselves. The uniqueness of the individual is sacrificed in favor of a more easily controlled and manipulated version.
Everyone is susceptible. The process is insidious and pervasive; it slips into our consciousness in so many ways that even the most stridently original among us have parts of themselves they have denied or toned down. All of us can think of times when we were not true to ourselves.
The process begins at birth, but really kicks into gear when we go to school, which is little more than an elaborate behavioral modification system designed to pound kids into shape, grinding away individualism to “socialize” them to fit into approved roles, grooming them to be cogs in the machine. The process is designed to co-opt and adapt their aspirations and desires to align with the overarching design of civilization.
The overriding message is not about finding out who you are and what you’re really capable of, it’s about finding your place in the system. How best to plug in to what exists.
Children are smart. They learn quickly. Visit a class of 4th graders and you will see how much they’ve already learned about fitting in and shaping yourself to be “acceptable.” They all can tell you exactly what is expected of them and what constitutes success. They can give you a detailed pecking order of who is and who isn’t fitting in. Those who are unwilling or unable to get with the program are already being shoved to the margins.
Look around at any group of adults, and you will see where this learning ends up.
Once out in the world, our culture is set up to sever any remaining ties to the self, reinforcing from every angle that acceptance and recognition are not found within, but are to be gained externally; that “worth” is measured through the only things deemed of value — one’s job or appearance or status or possessions.
Yet the true self doesn’t go away. When thwarted, it merely changes tactics and comes up in the form of dissatisfaction, boredom, and a nagging sense that this can’t be all there is.
The sincere cry to express one’s true self ends up being channeled into other less helpful forms of expression…
Endless problems and drama. Self-defeating behavior. Aggressive competitiveness. Manipulative control over others. Demanding neediness. Desire for superiority. Victimization and violence.
All upside down versions of trying so hard to create an image of a self that “deserves” to be recognized.
Another strategy, one that is heavily pushed by the culture and power structure, is the attempt to increase one’s value and voice by aligning with a group, be it cultural, gender based, ethnic or centered around belief. This is another way to convince people that being themselves is a losing proposition. The subconscious thinking is, “I am too small and weak to be recognized on my own, so I must band together with others to become stronger.” As one adopts and internalizes the group identity at the expense of their own, the self recedes even farther into the background.
This is the corrosive effect of conformity. Hollowing people out until they are superficial shadows of their own unique creative spirit and desires.
That pure clear inner voice becomes a scream of misdirected trying, producing the endless conflict and tumult that constitutes so much of human interaction.
After enough time spent papering over the self in order to be recognized in these artificial ways, a person can forget who they are entirely. All of the programmed thinking petrifies into a sticky brown sludge which coagulates into a false picture of “It’s just how I am.”
People come to see themselves as nothing more that the sum total of praise or disapproval that others have reflected back at them over the course of a lifetime. They forget about the free, unlimited individual they are inside. They start to believe that they are nothing more than the layers of fitting it.
They lose track of what it is they so desperately want to have people see, which is the true self that cries out to be released.
Eventually people tend to double down on the package of traits they have shaped around themselves until this shell is all that is accessible to them. They present themselves as a predictable package of automatic responses and reactions. They become caricatures of themselves.
They may not like who they’ve become, but they don’t know how to be anything different.
So they cling to it, because it’s all they think they have to work with. They continue to try harder and harder to be acknowledged, but their efforts are pointed in the wrong direction.
The ultimate result is a situation where the person settles for the loss of energy and passion and tries to wash away the pain of denial of self with distraction, materialism, entertainment, substance abuse and other misguided strategies.
When that fails to do the trick, they can sink into a state of illness, generalized anxiety, depression and loss of interest in life.
The key to overcoming this situation is to look at these feelings as information instead of conditions to be “treated.” These feelings are actually giant flashing billboards reminding us that this isn’t the way things have to be; that if we acknowledge them and accept this message for what it really is, things can begin to change.
But how can things change when a person is already trying as hard as they can and nothing’s getting better?
The answer is simple, though not necessarily easy.
Let go of the struggle to be recognized in ways that are not satisfying to you. Stop trying so hard to be something that’s just an abbreviated version of who you really are.
Look inside and see what’s really in there.
Take the energy wasted on all that self-doubt and pain and sadness and disillusionment and disappointment and anger and resentment and gather it up and use it to figure out what would genuinely make you happy, what you would truly want to achieve or create or express if there were no one watching. The most positive and fulfilling thing you can think of…the thing you would want to do with your life if there were no ramifications or judgment from the world around you.
Once you have it, let it roll around in your mind until you get excited about it. And then roll that excitement into a ball and blow on it until it glows, and proceed to stoke it until it begins to burn like a hot red ember.
Now you have something to work with that matters.
Now you have something worth trying.
…to be continued
This time of year, it can be enlightening to assess where you’ve been compared to where you are now, to see whether things are moving in the right direction. Looking back at where I was before I began painting in February of 2014, I find it hard to even comprehend how much has transformed.
I don’t know if my paintings are necessarily any “better,” but my entire existence here on Planet Earth certainly is. The process of bringing something real and tangible and creative into the world has expanded my life and my self in unbelievable and magnificent ways. I want that for everyone, and I am convinced that when anyone begins to create what it is they truly want to create, incredible things will happen.
As I’ve struggled and worked to overcome and offload the negative programmed baggage that caused me to doubt myself, hesitate, and fear trying things I wasn’t already good at, I’ve had to do a lot of talking to myself in order to keep going.
One of the ways I do that is by writing myself notes, which I display prominently on my easel so I that I see them every time I step up to paint.
Here are some of the things I’ve reminded myself of over the past two years. They were written about painting, but they really apply to anything it is that you’re trying to create or accomplish.
They helped me, maybe they’ll do something for you.
. . .
WHAT OTHER PEOPLE CREATE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ME.
WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK ABOUT WHAT I CREATE HAS NOTHING
TO DO WITH ME.
EVERY MINUTE SPENT CREATING CONTRIBUTES TO MAKING PROGRESS.
EVERY MINUTE SPENT NOT CREATING CONTRIBUTES TO STAYING THE SAME.
I MAY NOT NOTICE MYSELF IMPROVING, BECAUSE IMPROVEMENTS OFTEN SHOW UP IN UNEXPECTED WAYS AND UNPREDICTED PLACES.
I MAY FEEL LIKE I’M GETTING WORSE, BUT THAT JUST MEANS I’M TRYING SOMETHING NEW.
THERE ARE PLATEAUS WHERE NOTHING SEEMS TO IMPROVE AT ALL.
BREAKTHROUGHS HAPPEN IN BURSTS.
GETTING DISCOURAGED SLOWS THE PROCESS.
THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO KEEP GOING.
And this, which I printed out in 24 pt. boldface type:
WHATEVER I’M CREATING IS THE BEST I CAN DO RIGHT NOW –
I CAN ALWAYS TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT NEXT TIME.
And finally, this one which was suggested by my 12 year old…
NEVER CALL YOUR OWN WORK CRAPPY.
. . .
It’s not that my notes hold any particular magic. It’s about saying whatever you need to say to yourself to keep moving forward. If you can become your own support system, champion and cheerleader, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about what you’re creating. That confidence and self-assuredness then translates to other areas of expression, and living in general.
You become the source of your own existence.
In the process, you learn that you DO have the strength to carry on, to stop holding yourself back, and to go beyond any perceived limitations or restrictions.
And then one day you look back to find that you’ve not only created a studio full of paintings, you’ve created an entirely new life.
I want to paint paintings that have never been imagined by any other human being before, including myself.
I want to never settle for the current conditions just because that’s the way things are.
I want to live up to my full potential so I can do my part in creating new ways that things could be.
I want to wake up every day so excited and energized that I jump out of bed exploding with enthusiasm to discover what I will create today.
I want to transform the things that hold me back into the things that propel me forward.
I want to be able to decide to walk through walls.
That’s what I desire.
…How’s that for a list, Santa? Got any of that in your bag of tricks?
I didn’t think so.
My list may sound audacious, but what I’m really talking about is the desire for freedom, and that’s not something that can be given anyway.
In fact, it is ONLY and ALWAYS and ALREADY within each one of us.
Freedom is the unshakeable conviction in the infinite power and creativity of the Self. And once it’s embraced with courage and passion, everything changes.
While the trials and tribulations and oppression and nonsense of this insane place won’t disappear, they will no longer have anything to grab onto. You will remain intact no matter what.
True freedom takes you from being down in it, to being able to do something about it.
You become able to imagine new ways of being for your self and the planet. And when you put the product of your creative efforts out there for others to see and draw insight and inspiration from, it shows people the possibilities for their own situations. That’s how things begin to change.
No matter what the external landscape looks like, or what new horrors the world throws our way, when you become free, and act on it by standing for what you know is true, your shining light destroys all monsters.
I am quite serious when I say that I intend to get every single item on my list. Maybe not in this lifetime, but I’m working on it. Either way, I certainly don’t plan to sit around waiting for them to be dropped down my chimney by some creep in a red suit who was invented as a way to control my behavior and keep me toeing the line.
I am no longer willing to be cowed by bullies, let alone mythological ones.
So go ahead, Santa, delete my address from your contacts. I’m familiar with your ilk, and I’m not interested or impressed. Besides, I’m tired of minding my manners and sitting quietly with my hands folded in my lap. It never did me any good anyway.
Dateline December 15, 2043 — Flags across America fly at 1/3 mast today after the terrorist bombing of a raptor center specializing in rehabilitating and rewilding aboriginal birds, which, prior to the international referendum on Animal Slavery of 2019, had been referred to as “pets.”
This vicious and senseless act of violence resulted in the mass slaughter of 164 innocent Avian-Americans, including a parakeet named “Petey” who was to have been released that very day. So far, few details on the perpetrators have been released.
Barb Siguenza-Johnson, head of the Equal Interspecies Opportunity Agency, decried the easy availability of hairspray and Fourth of July sparklers, which were the weapons used to bring down the raptor center. “Anyone, including our youth, can currently gain access to these items, and they can be purchased without a license or registration. In fact, millions of homes across the nation currently house these weapons of mass destruction. Today, it was a raptor center. Tomorrow, it could be an arboraetum.”
The call for more stringent regulation has been heard by Congress, which immediately drafted several bills calling for a complete ban, now in committee.
This tragedy also marks the debut of the country’s new flag lowering system.
In accordance with guidelines developed by the Commission On Collective Grieving And Symbolic National Tragedy Recognition, the decision to go with .33333333333333 instead of the traditional half mast was based on algorithms developed in a joint partnership between Google-Facebook and government agencies, which measure the emotional sentiment of the nation based on the wording of search queries and the number of “likes” on social media posts related to the topic.
This data is then correlated to specific points on the flagpole, allowing for a much more robust range of symbolic emotions.
As explained in a statement from the COCGASNTR, “The most salient factor of any tragedy is our reaction to it, since this is what drives policy. With the new system, the exact placement of the flag is based on the most popular reaction to the tragedy. Seeing flags lowered to the prescribed height is a reminder for everyone to adjust their response to match consensus and grieve accordingly.”
Issued nationwide in an 18,742-page document, the flag placement guidelines cover over 7,000 categories of tragedies, although the list is expected to grow.
So far, the reaction to the new system has been positive. Sgt. Steve Campbell, who serves his country in the war against terror as a remote drone pilot, puts it this way, “With so many tragedies going on around us, sometimes it’s hard to know how to react. When I saw that flag flying so low this morning at reveille, I thought of those poor little birds and it brought a tear to my eye. It really puts things in perspective.”
[This piece recently appeared on nworeporter.com]
Right now, every single person on planet Earth is practicing living.
If you practice being open and adventurous, you will get better at it.
If you practice staying the same, then you will get better at that.
The more you practice doing what you’re currently doing, and being who you’re currently being, the more you will experience exactly the life you are currently living.
The particulars may change, but the overall flavor and texture of your life will become extremely familiar to you. You will become an expert in it.
That’s fantastic if you’re living a life that is filled with excitement and challenge and variety and possibility.
Unfortunately, many people wake up one morning to find that their life doesn’t taste quite as good as it used to. They feel a loss of energy and enthusiasm for things they used to enjoy, and at the same time don’t feel like doing anything else.
They may begin to think that this is just how it works. That life eventually grinds down into a predictable routine, and that’s that.
Some people become so proficient at living the life they’ve always lived that other alternatives seem unavailable to them.
The option to do things differently, even if it would be far more fulfilling or beneficial, appears completely out of reach.
This isn’t true of course, but it starts to look that way because the range of things they’ve been practicing in their lives has been overly repetitive and narrow.
It’s worn a groove in the mind.
After enough time spent down in this groove, it becomes very difficult to see that there are possibilities outside of it. The longer a person stays there, the more blinded to alternatives and committed to sameness they become until it’s all they can conceive of.
This goes much deeper than just settling into a rut with a job or a relationship or a way of living. It goes right to the core of who we think we are, and what we think we’re capable of.
The more we focus on staying the same, the more tightly defined our image of ourselves becomes. The result is the sensation of having less and less room to move.
When people practice the same types of actions and reactions and thoughts and emotions over and over and over for a long time, they get very, very good at them.
So good that they become automatic.
It starts to feel like “it’s just the way I am.”
Which hardens into a life that is “just the way it is.”
The solution to break out of this is to start practicing something dramatically different.
Something new and electrifying that makes your heart beat faster when you think about it. Something you know you want to do but have been afraid to try. Something you never knew you wanted to do. Something that you thought you could never do at all.
It doesn’t really matter what it is as long as it takes you outside the confines of your life as it currently stands.
The point is to pick something and start doing it. Even if you don’t think you’ll be good at it. Even if you don’t think it will help.
Many people experience instant resistance to the idea of diverging from the comfort of the way things are, even if they’re not all that comfortable.
This hesitation is natural because when you’ve been committed to sameness, you get out of practice at trying new things. You have to accept that it takes effort to gain momentum. It requires a leap of faith in yourself.
Whether you believe it or not, everyone has the potential to change how and what they think, how and what they feel, and how and where they apply their energy. We all have the power to change course at any time.
Doing something that shakes things up enough to put a crack in the stasis, even if you have to force yourself, can put you on a different trajectory.
If you make that leap, you will surprise yourself.
And once you start to see results, the easier it becomes to start practicing another new thing you want to try. And then another.
This is how you create a new life.
The more you get used to doing things that take you beyond your finite conception of who you are and what you are capable of, the more other things change as well. Old limitations lose their grip. It becomes easier to react and respond in new ways. You become more open to new possibilities. And more able to manage situations and interactions.
It’s not instantaneous, or necessarily easy. But if you dive in with commitment, you can transform your life into the one you truly want to live.
It just takes practice.
I am holding a carpenter’s measuring tape, trying to measure a snake coming out of a hole at the base of a large clump of willows. It winds its way around the trunk, a slick black coil glittering like motor oil behind a chartreuse veil of swaying branches.
The measuring tape is stiff and sharp-edged, the kind that snaps back into the case at the flick of a red plastic tab. I struggle to shape the strip around the tree, the thin metal twanging and bending at inopportune and uncooperative angles.
As I attempt to see the number that aligns with the tip of the snake’s tongue, the head moves higher and the slippery body makes another revolution around the trunk, turning the pale gray-brown bark an undulating glistening black; a flowing spiral of liquid anthracite.
My arms are wrapped around the large smooth head of the snake. It continues its circular climb unperturbed, carrying me with it, branches lashing my face, sandpaper bark rubbing my forearms raw as we ascend. I cling desperately as it rises, relentless, to reach the willow’s crown.
I am lying prone midway up the tree, one leg dangling and the other pinned in the crotch between branches. The measuring tape is twisted around me, binding me to my perch, razor edges slicing my dress.
The tree begins to shake. Through the haze of tiny vibrating leaves, I can see that the head of the snake has reached the point where the trunk ends and the branches drop toward the ground. Without pausing it rockets skyward until the head disappears into the clouds, its body still winding its way upwards.
From my position I notice that the snake is not one but many; scores of black strands twisted into a thick rope.
Instantly the snake’s body separates into its component parts. Hundreds of small black snakes wriggle out toward the tips of the branches, where they stop and hang down like strange black fruit.
I cry with frustration. How can I possibly measure them all?
It is a balmy August evening, sun still high in the sky. Sitting in the cool grass at the base of a large clump of willows I lean against the trunk, bare legs tucked beneath my skirt, hidden behind a chartreuse veil of swaying branches.
I am reading a book, one that hasn’t been written yet.
An inchworm drops down from a silver strand, landing lightly on my hand. I examine it closely, trying to find its eyes. “Are you really an inch?” I ask, wishing I had a ruler to find out for certain.
The worm turns two tiny black dots toward me quizzically, and replies, “Here you sit like an empress in this world full of endless possibility and wonder, and this is what you’re concerned with?”
The worm searches my face for an answer.
I very carefully set it free on a tall blade of grass, watching it inch away.
I turn back to my book and begin a new page.
Yes, sometimes it offers useful information like “Hey dummy, get away from the edge of that cliff” or “It’s a bad idea to pet that black mamba.” But beyond that, fear spends most of its time talking smack.
It says things like “You can’t do it.” “You will fail.” “Everyone will laugh at you.” “You are worthless.” Things that try to convince you that you’re weak and incapable and it’s safer not to try.
LISTENING TO THAT NONSENSE IS ENTERTAINING IT AND WHEN YOU DO, NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU TRY TO TELL YOURSELF IT’S NOT REAL IT GETS IN THERE AND STARTS TO GNAW AND PRETTY SOON YOU ARE FULL OF GAPING HOLES.
You find your energy draining out onto the floor, and before you know it you can’t stand up anymore.
Because fear, like all liars, is an energy suck. A lamprey latched onto the vagus nerve squirting hypnotic fear juice that shoots directly to your brain to trick you into believing things about yourself that are not true.
Paying attention to it is the equivalent of letting someone who hates you tell you what’s best for you.
Once you see fear for what it is, the anger at being lied to for so long rises up and it’s natural to want to claw that disgusting, mendacious little monster out with your bare hands and pour hydrochloric acid on it and watch it shrivel up into writhing pink goo and then take a squeegee and scrape it into a quivery pink pile and flush it down the toilet screaming “FEAR DOES NOT GET TO RUN THE SHOW.”
Realistically though, the best way to deal with a liar is to just ignore them.
The next time fear shows up and starts running its mouth, tell it you’re not buying what it’s selling. Shove it out the door, smile, and get back to business.
A sight of such profound magnitude that it paralyzes you to the core.
You have seen the one thing that is real in an ocean of unreality, and the realization petrifies you. You have seen the face of your Self. Your truth. You know it, but you refuse to know it.
Averting your eyes from the possibility, the part of you that grasps for control obscures the reflection with a veil of doubt and disbelief.
But you cannot be hidden, only distracted from seeing.
You carry your pain in a locket, gold plate turned to brass.
You don’t remember where it came from; it seems that it has always been with you. Did you choose it for yourself, or was it given to you? You cannot recall. Even as you dream of the figure in the mirror, you finger the chain around your neck to remind yourself that it’s still firmly clasped.
From time to time you crawl inside. It’s small in there; dark.
You become entranced by the desiccated phantoms it holds. Their shadows grow long against the wall, reconstituted by your fears. They whisper saccharine chants of bitter solace, reminding you that you are nothing without them. Reminding you that you are nothing.
The soul shrinks to accommodate itself to the locket’s tight dimensions.
You momentarily forget that this is but one tiny and insignificant space among an infinity of spaces. Immeasurable spaces where new life, new experiences, new feelings can be created in any shape you desire, waiting to unfurl before you like a sheet of pure white light.
Yet the imprint of the mirror image remains, flickering across closed eyelids, illuminating the darkness. Clean and glittering and untarnished by the stain of history or limitation.
From somewhere within the mirror calls to you, a flowing river of quicksilver moving through eternity to reveal all that you are.
Your resistance is immolated by the refracted brilliance. Eyes filled with light, you decide to decide and step into the stream.
I rode the lion of my passion
at full speed directly into brick walls
and cement barriers
and the sheer rock faces of mountains
Rode straight through them into the stars,
roaring out beyond the pale
reveling in the energy of my newborn courage
And in so doing I discovered
that I was the lion,
and the stars were my creation,
and nothing had ever stood in my way.
Dateline October 20, 2043 – Announced this morning in a statement from the CDC, ITS (Independent Thinking Syndrome), the most pressing threat to public health since the Swine Flu panic of ’09, is on the verge of being conquered.
Experts say that ITS costs the economy billions annually in lost revenue and productivity as more and more of those afflicted walk away from corporate jobs and traditional retailers. But the toll is also personal. Just ask Denise Sanders, whose soon to be ex-husband Jim left his lucrative career as a mortgage broker shortly after contracting ITS. “First he stopped following politics, even quit watching the news. Then one day he came home and said he’d quit his job so that he could pursue his dream of making pottery. His bowls don’t even look like bowls! We lost the Lexus, for Christ’s sake.”
There are hidden costs as well. Sociologist Elaine Blow of Stanford has released a new study that shows the deeper ramifications of this frightening disease. The Blow Study states, “As ITS progresses, its sufferers become unable to participate in life as we know it. The disease causes the victim to remove their focus and energy from the shared beliefs that form the pillars of modern society, weakening the very foundation that supports our common purpose. If this threat were allowed to become an epidemic, civilization as we know it would be transformed.”
The scientific community has been working tirelessly to develop a solution.
According to Moonflower Rhys-Menendez, spokesmodel for Eli-Glaxo-Citigroup-Novartis, “Initially we focused on developing drugs that could treat ITS after onset – up to Stage 4. But after spending $40 billion and 12 years developing Psychiatric Chemotherapy (PC), and another 332 million dollars on FDA fees to ensure speedy approval, we realized that there was no way to recoup our costs. Despite numerous multimillion dollar marketing campaigns, those infected with ITS were simply failing to seek medical intervention. One of the primary symptoms of the disease is that the victim develops the delusion that they are healthy, which makes the illness all the more insidious. So we switched our focus to prevention and started working toward a vaccine.”
After raising awareness through the Beige Ribbon campaign and “Hoveround For The Cure,” where over 75 million Americans turned out September 11th to raise an impressive 4.7 billion dollars by riding electric scooters around Walmarts nationwide, the dream of mandatory mass vaccination will soon be a reality.
As part of a an international push by the World Health Organization to rid the globe of ITS by the year 2050, an always fresh-looking 68 year-old Angelina Jolie rolled up her sleeve to be vaccinated live on camera to show support for the program, although this was largely symbolic as she clearly shows signs of natural immunity.
Through the National Emergency Broadcasting System, Dr. Robert Gallows of the NIH appeared live on every digital device in America to alert the populace to the vital need for immediate mass vaccination. “Unlike most communicable illnesses that spread according to known patterns, ITS has a much more frightening and unpredictable vector of transmission. It appears that this menace to public health can develop spontaneously – no contact with the infected is necessary. In fact, we have discovered that it is most likely to take hold in those who spend unhealthy amounts of time outside of group activities.”
Total immunity is expected to be gained after a series of 3 injections, supplemented with annual booster shots.
As the nation prepares to breathe a collective sigh of relief, the Department of Health and Human Services issued this warning to help slow the tide of this debilitating and life changing illness:
“To prevent sudden onset ITS, experts strongly recommend that every American spend as much time as possible in committees, meetings, public rallies and of course major sporting events until the National Door-To-Door Vaccine Initiative is underway.”
[This piece appeared recently on nworeporter.com]
The kind that toddlers have when they’ve had too much cake and present opening at their 3rd birthday party and it’s way past their bedtime.
The kind that comes when a person, of any age, HAS JUST HAD ENOUGH.
For the most part everything seems normal. And for the most part it is, if you accept the current conditions as normal. People get up and go to work at jobs they hate, shop at the mall for things they don’t need, attend parent teacher meetings to find out why their 7th grader still can’t do long division, eat food that is food in name only, gear themselves up to vote for a new team “who’s really going to make a difference this time,” and generally go about their business. I see plenty of smiling faces, or at least neutral ones. Things still appear to work, at least on the surface.
But the tension is there, one accidental cart bump in the grocery aisle away.
The friction caused by the weight of our modern civilization is slowly grinding everyone down to dust and the protective layer that lubricates human function and interaction is wearing whisper thin. The pressure of the omnipresent and increasingly omniscient systems that comprise our modern existence is building to intolerable levels. People are starting to pop.
This is happening not just in the news, but all over on a smaller, more personal basis.
People of all ages are responding to this pressure in the form of depression, anxiety, addiction, rage and other damaging and self-limiting behaviors.
People look to experts for explanations and remedies. Doctors, therapists and psychologists are never at a loss for theories as to why people are cracking under the strain, always at the ready with more new diagnoses and interventions to treat them. The goal being to bring people back to their “normal” productive selves so they can get back to fulfilling their function in society. The official story is repeated and repeated until it becomes an article of faith: “It’s you and your brain chemistry that are the problem, not the intolerable situation you are unable to function within.”
On the surface, these explanations might sound reasonable. But when you strip away all the jargon and PR, the answers – although they may seem to respond to the situation – do not actually address the real question people are asking:
“Am I really fulfilling my own desires and living my own life, or am I merely slotting into a preset role that doesn’t serve me and worse, benefits someone else at my expense?”
And of course the question hidden beneath that, the one that crawls up the back of the throat while lying awake in the dark at 4am:
“Is this really all there is?”
To distract themselves from the blind terror of uncertainty inherent in the question, people cling all the tighter to their reality. Putting more and more effort into trying to live the good life, which is, and always has been, a marketing slogan. Desperately trying to eke out one more dopamine hit of satisfaction from a tattered and shop worn concept…an empty package of ideas and images that we’re told is the sign of a life well lived.
At a certain point, which comes at a different time for everyone, it ultimately begins to feel like going through the motions. A self-defeating proposition that keeps people trapped in a repeating cycle of chasing fulfillment outside of themselves. Making them less and less happy, increasingly passive and discouraged, and more and more accepting of whatever scraps of momentary distraction and pleasure get thrown their way.
Despite the increasing constraint and the lurking sense that the whole thing is some sick practical joke, people just keep doing what they’ve been doing, trying harder to keep going under the weight of the way things are.
The only solutions ever promoted are about finding ways to repair the system, changing it around the edges, working within it to make it slightly less egregious, or adding yet another system on top of the already teetering pile. Wasted effort on top of wasted time on top of wasted energy.
If we continue to look to the system that created the problem for answers, the only answers presented will be those that benefit the system, and therefore we should not be surprised as everything continues to become less tolerable and more insane.
Which brings us to the question that nobody really wants to ask, which is:
What if the real issue is that the entire overarching structure of our society and culture as it’s currently composed is COMPLETELY UNSUITABLE FOR HUMAN BEINGS?
How many people put serious thought into that one?
Sure, everybody complains about the way things are all the time. But if you suggest to the average person that they could just leap off the treadmill into something different, something they create for themselves that gives them pleasure and satisfaction far beyond the Skinner box version of happiness sold by our money and status obsessed culture, they can’t seem to imagine what that could be. They can, however, come up with 80 million reasons why it’s impossible.
It’s so much easier to stay the course, to accept the standard answers. To have faith that there are caring people working on it who have our best interest at heart. It prevents the need to question whether your whole existence is built on a lie.
Stepping back and looking with a clear eye at the entire superstructure as it stands right now, it becomes brutally apparent that at every level of civilization there is a despicable and monumental waste of productive human capacity and resources that makes absolutely no freaking sense whatsoever. That the primary purpose of these systems is to grow, propagate and expand their reach despite the toll taken on people and planet. And that vast swathes of these systems exist solely in order to solve problems created by the systems themselves.
When viewed from this perspective, there is the dawning sense that the whole mess is held together by chewing gum, bent paper clips, and the fact that everybody thinks it’s just the way things are and can’t imagine it being any other way.
Because if they could, things would start to change.
Of course, a large number of people have their pet aspects of the system that they like and want, that they think they need, that they think they couldn’t live without. This is the real reason why nothing ever really changes. Too many people are willing to settle.
Still, it’s pretty hard to deny that we’re at the point of diminishing returns. Everybody knows it, smells it, probably talks to their friends about it, but when it comes time to do something about it for themselves, they turn on the news or facebook and roll around in outrage to burn off the negative energy and then allow themselves to be sung back to sleep.
After all, somebody smarter and more powerful than we are laid down the rules, right? And it’s our role to play by them. What else can we do?
Here’s a radical suggestion. Redefine your role, shed the mental clutter, divorce yourself from the machine.
You don’t need to destroy it, just mentally walk away from it. Withdraw your energy from it. Create something new. Something that genuinely matters to you. Something that isn’t dependent on the system. Something that works around it.
Something that goes far beyond the way things are.
Yes, the nonsense will continue. But the farther you step outside the system, the more immune you will become to the pressure.
Because you will finally be living your own life and creating your own game, instead of just playing a game that you didn’t design and can’t possibly win.
And you will find that you can do quite well without it.
Will this solve the world’s problems?
No, not overnight anyway. But the more individuals who choose to extricate themselves from the system by inventing new lives for themselves, the more power will drain away from the system itself. Until the whole deal shrivels up and blows away like other discredited ideas that we wonder how anyone ever believed in.
Creating a better world is a choice made by the individual, and it’s made one individual at a time. That is, and always will be, the only way anything ever changes.
Blistering avalanche out of the cave of nowhere
Flies sliding skyward eating gravity
Black blooded anvils pound righteous fists against the tyranny of time
Water wets itself
Air inhales itself
Fire immolates itself
Drinking the soft spun shimmering of the million color midnight sky
Razing the scarred battlements of hard ridden horses
Driving the spike in the eye of the unimaginable
The armor peels away like the skin of a grape
The flesh pressed to release the nectar of eternity
Inhaling nitrous spitting magma, I build up speed and careen dastardly over the bleeding edge.
Opulence arrives bearing gifts of deity
Moonbeam yellow wanders elliptical
Airborne at last I languidly devour the sky.
When I fly, I always opt out of the scanner.
I realize that the opt out process is intentionally designed to be egregious and invasive and humiliating in order to herd everyone through the scanner.
Which is why I go with the pat down.
But this isn’t a piece about the dangers of millimeter waves; research them yourself and come to your own conclusion.
I’m not even interested in analyzing or discussing the reasons for or against the national security apparatus. I don’t accept the premise so I have nothing to say within that paradigm.
What I’m interested in are the stories people tell themselves surrounding the issue.
What kind of story a person tells themselves to buy the idea that submitting to the security process is an annoying but valid trade-off, the only way to keep America safe.
And what kind of story a person would have to tell themselves to get up and go to work at a job where their function is to violate people on a daily basis.
If you’re feeling defensive about either of these statements, it might help to examine more closely the story that’s floating around inside your own head.
I flew recently. When I got up to the checkpoint, I announced I was opting out as usual.
When the female agent arrived, she asked if I wanted a private room. I always say no. I want people to see that at least someone is willing to step out of line. I want to remind people what the scanner is about, to remind them that what they’re submitting to is a strip search. A modern, streamlined version, but a strip search all the same.
People have already forgotten that. It’s so much faster and easier to not think about it. Step in the box and assume the position.
I’m well aware that people have lost that connection, which is why they look at me like I’m crazy. But I don’t care. Who knows, maybe someone out there will see what I’m doing and get a clue.
Either way, it makes what’s going on here more stark. More clear what this is really about. It breaks the smooth chain of the illusion, even if no one but me notices.
The agent was pleasant, extremely professional. It’s all about professionalism. “Yes, we’re going to treat you like a convicted criminal and assume that you are a terrorist with evil intent because you want to visit Grandma in Cleveland or attend a business meeting in Denver. But we’re doing it all very professionally so it’s really no big deal. Just submit and you’ll be on your way.”
She spooled out the script, explained exactly how she was going to touch me in clinical detail beforehand and then performed the pat down like a machine on autopilot. Thoroughly. Efficiently. Mechanically.
When she was finished, she said “I just have to test my gloves and you’re good to go.” While we waited for the results to come back she smiled and asked where I was headed. Her face abruptly turned to stone. The glove had spoken: it set off an alarm. Immediately another agent was called and I was informed I would have my belongings hand-searched and wiped down for explosives, and be subjected to a second, more invasive pat down.
The instant the glove triggered the alarm, I was no longer a friendly traveler. I was now someone who had caused a glove to trigger an alarm.
It wasn’t that the agent suddenly saw me as a threat; she knew I was not a threat. It was only about clearing the alarm. She kept repeating that. “We just need to clear the alarm.”
I was reminded of something I had once seen as a very young child on a road trip with my parents. We had stopped at a small town diner, and outside the door was a vending machine that housed a chicken. When you dropped in your quarter, tinny music began to play and the chicken started to dance. When the music stopped, a handful of corn came down a chute and dropped into a little basket. This was supposed to be funny, but all I felt was sick and sad for the chicken. As I watched the agent go through the motions of wiping down the items in my carry on, swabbing my shoes, my ipod, my hair dryer, I felt this same emotion. I saw that she was trapped, performing a function not because it made any logical sense, but because she had inserted a rubber glove into a slot and it had initiated the program.
Music comes on, chicken begins to dance.
Despite the trappings of authority, the reality was that she was completely powerless in her job. There was no room for personal discretion. No room for her to use her own judgment. No room for common sense.
No room for her at all. Just a well-rehearsed and fully-assimilated training program that responded to the sound of a buzzer. Going through a round of pointless motion to collect the corn at the end of the shift.
I was taken into a room to be physically searched. The enhanced pat down was basically the same as the first time, except the agent used her palm instead of the back of her hand on “sensitive areas” along with the additional step of searching the spaces between my toes…for what I don’t know.
Once my toes had been cleared of harboring a nuclear device, it was finished. She said I could go.
I looked the agent directly in the eyes and said in a very calm but direct voice, “I feel extremely violated.” I watched a steel wall drop behind the agent’s eyes, slamming down to protect the story she clings to in order to make this all seem okay.
This is not a piece railing against TSA agents. I feel for them. Rather, this is a piece railing against the kind of thinking that allows a human being to accept the unacceptable.
At every level throughout the endless interlocking array of systems that make up this modern world, individual intelligence, rationality, discernment and intuition are being replaced by Zero Tolerance, procedure, policy and pre-determined scripted response.
Looking into those eyes, so removed from their humanity, I got the sense that if in order to clear the alarm the traveler would need to be hit with a stick, I would have been hit with a stick. Performed with the utmost in professionalism.
Later I asked another agent if they get a lot of false alarms. She said “Yes, all the time. It could be perfume, or cleaning products, or if you work with chemicals or on a farm.” I asked if she’s ever had one turn up anything legitimate. She laughed.
As I put on my shoes and repacked my bag, I watched as a 13 or 14 year-old girl with severe Down’s Syndrome was wheeled in next to me to receive her own thorough pat down. Not sure if it was because the wheelchair couldn’t go through the scanner or whether she had been randomly selected for additional scrutiny.
As I walked past her to get to my gate, I saw her mother supporting her head while the agent ran her fingers through the girl’s short, thin hair, searching for a bomb.
Made my stomach turn. But at least we can all rest easy. Because the world is now a much safer place.
Sweeping my trajectory Westward I soared incandescently across broken glass cities and fields billowing with lipsticked petals and glittering redrock roads, biding my time reading pages written by artists the likes of whom I desire to become.
Spinning thin streams of idolatry into sturdy blankets heavy with purpose,
I suckled beneath the weight in warm bathing pools of clarified light.
There the sun rose along with my heart, lifted up pale yellow and cerise behind cuniform clouds dazzling mica flecked white, flayed ragged and open with ineffable and ecstatic pressure.
Time the spoiled dictator over misaligned emotion collapses stepwise, diminishing. Relinquishing control with every murmuring beat.
Drawing near the mirrored image stretches looming large, stepping through silvered glassine to greet me. Face carved from a mountain. Eyes like exclamation points, opening wide to let out some of their magic. Slight perceptions magnified to infinite emergence; moonlight good.
The connection of a trillion lifetimes compressed transparent into the here and now; I feel it breathing warm on the nape of my neck, see its shadow despite its apparent invisibility.
Spinal cords entwine. The pinhole shudders. The heart swells, curved shoulders trying to contain it. Ribcage flaring, opening to the feeling, feeding it honey and breast milk and planetary scoops of gratitude.
Wrap it in amber and tuck it away on a high shelf. Nothing to be done about it anyway.
There is a shape, is it a house? Set against a field of scraped opal, framed in dark wood. A small box askew in the canyon, a broken rectangle dashed with jagged lines of gray and purple. Pale green ground, or is it sky? Strange trees climb the hills with muscular legs and bent backs. There you will find me, in the curve of a table leg, sitting smoking on a rock, floating in a cloudy jar of turpentine, melting into the sunset, between the cushions of the sofa, in the uneven red shape in the lower right hand corner flowing downhill and washing up on the side of the road after long awaited rain. There and there and there you will find me, breathing, blossoming for your confirmation in the fullness of time outside of time. Pressed flowers made whole, budding and budding and budding moist fluorescence into paper dry air.
Later I will come to you as a panther, stepping silent on small padded feet through a wall of green green leaves. I will come up to where you are sleeping to lick your hand and feel your fingers running through my fur.
Calling all sublimated poets
Calling all emptied vessels
Calling all impaled diviners
Calling all unsung imaginers
Calling all discouraged investigators
Calling all stifled adventurers
Calling all unheard agitators
Calling all clandestine warriors
Excavate the subterranean talents
Escape from bottomless never
Climb the mountains of your own making
to fill the space within that longs to be filled with new spaces
Eat the apple of your desire
Walking away from yesterday
Step lightly into infinity
Shy sat in the bathtub, wearing cutoff shorts and a child’s white tank top.
The tap had been dry for days. Water had to be hauled in the flat red heat in the round red Coleman cooler from the public drinking fountain where a trickle still flowed from a spring; a hot heavy walk to the abandoned scrub-covered excuse for a trailer park three miles away. None for bathing, only for drinking, and metered out like medicine by the dropperful at that.
The coolest place in the three-room shotgun shack was the chipped porcelain tub, and there crouched Shy, hunched over as Zef let loose a stream of syllables, a river of silver mist, soundwaves flowing cool through thick ionized air. The icy words poured across her fine-boned back, thin shirt revealing sharp shoulder blades and spine feathered with delicate ribs fanning out like absorbed wings.
“… hoarfrost diamonds dripping skyward sprung from sweet sung estuaries of antediluvian ice shining white fire the invisible incandescence of frozen light; rime fingered memories of snowflakes embalmed to permafrost pressurized glacial, endless eternities shivering bare…”
Zef’s words reached out to blow cool against the back of the arm, the crook of the elbow, the hollow at the nape of the neck. Gooseflesh prickled, elevating moongold hairs as fine as spun glass.
“You missed a spot.” Shy pointed to a spot on her cheek just above her lip and a quarter of an inch to the left. But Zef was silent again.
Shy stepped smoothly out from the basin, moved like a cat, a lynx, slinking soundless on small padded feet.
“Spell me to sleep with a frozen waterfall, baby.”
The only response was his breathing and the space between his breathing. Shy pressed her face against the moist spot between Zef’s shoulders, inhaling him so deeply that for a moment he disappeared.
Morning sun, hotter than high noon, pushed back the gloom around the bed of two mattresses stacked on milk crates, mismatched sheets, one pale blue paisley, one dotted with faded flowers the color of melted Dreamsicles.
Zef stood outlined in the doorway, Shy pulling herself up to sitting in the bed. All the wells were dry. Every bottle of water in every gas station, vending machine, party store and supermarket had been bought, pilfered, and drunk up within days. The townies, the smart ones anyway who had a car or a friend with a car, had spread onto the highway. The rest had hitched it, swimming away through the waves of heat off the asphalt to stay with relatives where the water still ran, overflowing tumblers sloshing with an endless phosphorescent blue ocean, cubes of ice clinking together like seaglass.
Shy swung the fat red Coleman, swishing the liquid back and forth, feeling for the water level. Zef looked at her darkly. The spring that fed the water fountain had run dry.
“You’d call it half empty, but I say it’s half full and you know I’m always right.”
Shy looked out the window at the million colors of the night sky. “We could walk, take to the road tomorrow after dark when it’s clean and cool, get with a trucker, make it to Boise.”
Zef sat at the table, granite wall impenetrable, wordless.
“Spell me something cool and wet, baby.”
Shy sat on the floor, arms cradling shine skinned knees, rocking slightly, silence pounding against the walls.
Zef appeared through the doorway like a liquid shadow spilling across the floor, hand outstretched, holding the grinning face of a polar bear peeling away at the edges from a white plastic cup. The red Coleman had given its last offering.
Shy breathed in the molecules as they evaporated into air as dry and static as Styrofoam. Her hand moved languidly, sweat sheened, salted. “We’ll share it.”
As the tips of her fingers touched the cup, a comet collided with a star and a dog was hit by a minivan and the millionth shopper walked through the doors of a hardware store in Mount Pleasant. At that precise moment, the hand holding the cup released and the hand receiving trembled and the polar bear began cartwheeling smiling sideways.
Shy closed her eyes so as not to see the desolation.
As the water tumbled from the cup, a whisper barely audible fell from Zef’s lips and reverberated through the cosmos, caressing and awakening the dark energy of the emptiness, echoing out and returning to land softly on Shy’s cheek just above her lip and a quarter of an inch to the left.
Cornflower eyes rimmed with golden lashes blinked wide, shining, as rivulets of ice hit the floor shattering electric.
There is the feeling of something pending.
At the edges, shadows of colors slip past, just out of focus. Bright like candy, tantalizing, beyond reach.
You inhale the scent of waterfalls and snowflakes. Electric ozone, ions crackling in the ether.
Through a clearing in the mist, you see a form beginning to take shape. Black shiny slick shards reflecting puddles of light like vinyl coated with glycerine; jagged pieces of something broken coming together like puzzle pieces. The shape grows as it assembles itself into being…extending back into space, jutting out in all directions, folding in on itself. Sharp edges, impossible angles.
Oddly, the shape gives the impression of being larger on the interior than appears possible from outside. You ponder the incongruity as it begins to slowly rotate, revealing unpredicted dimensions with every turn. A single object with an infinity of forms.
You stare hypnotized by the shifting outline of the rotating shape until you lose the sense of the rotation and it simply appears to be undulating in place.
All at once the object shatters. The pieces fly apart, morph and change. Now red, lusterless, dense as wrought iron. The edges come back together seamlessly, but the form is entirely different. Amorphic and flowing. Plumes and geysers of dull red material reaching out, circling, and then collapsing back down into the surface.
You begin to notice strange fibers, growing thicker, emanating from somewhere inside the object or inside yourself or both. Perspective is not functioning as expected; you realize you are seeing from more than one vantage point.
The strands split into fine filaments all around you, pulsating with color and light. Fascinated, you watch as they recombine to create new colors and then separate out again. You sense that each thread holds a part of a message. Individually they say nothing, but together they form a cypher that explains everything, conveyed through a feeling impossible to describe.
You turn around to find that the scene has shifted. Transparent entities connect and merge like geodesic soap bubbles, layering to produce intricate structures. Everchanging moirés of subtle color flow and shift across the surface. You are passing through them, cobweb fingers brushing your skin…new and unfamiliar sensations entering and blending as you expand farther and farther through a space that has no end.
You begin to feel that you could go on like this forever. Before the thought has a chance to register, the space shrinks down into a single point, blinking out like an exhausted star.
You wake feeling on the edge of possibility. Stretching, arms spread wide, squeezing the sleep from your veins. It’s going to be an interesting day.
Exploring the unknown, the undiscovered, the unrepressed.
Exposing the imagery of the mind, the visions that do not have a place in this world.
Expanding the physical space of this reality into the infinitely larger space of imagination.
Divining the soul.
Saturating the canvas with feelings and sensations. Or covering it with nothing but shape and line and color and letting the feelings and sensations create themselves.
Not being afraid to break the rules. Not being afraid to break your own rules.
Seeing what can be made without judgment, restriction or comparisons.
Shaking off the crushing pressure to create for others instead of for one’s self.
Stretching the definitions of what is pleasing, attractive and appealing. Making room for the ugly, the awkward, the uncomposed and the wrong, and then finding something powerful and beautiful within it.
A process of endless experimentation.
Painting in whatever way and at whatever level of skill you are capable of at this moment without the expectation that you should be any better than you are, yet trusting that you are indeed making progress.
The freedom to love what you create.
The freedom to see what you see, and let others see what they see.
The freedom to be you. No matter what anyone else thinks about that.
It’s about expressing the power of the self.
…This is what painting has shown me. This is what I’m shooting for.
This is why I paint the way I do.
Today is a good day. I hope it is for you as well.
Yesterday, however, was a 24-hour uncertainty fest. One of those days where I feel myself starting to slip.
Up until not too long ago, this kind of thing was a stamped ticket to the land of self-recrimination. It used to be one of my favorite destinations. An amusement park of sorts.
Last night I think I finally tore up the ticket.
Recently, I wanted someone to do something. I didn’t want to ask for it, I just wanted them to decide to do it.
I began to form an expectation around it. I NEEDED it to happen.
It was a simple act, no big deal really, but on the deepest level, something inside me was clinging to it as a matter of life or death. I saw it as a kind of validation. I was becoming dependent on it.
I tried to put it out of my mind, but it kept popping up.
I cycled through hope: Will they do it today? Frustration: Why haven’t they done it? Disappointment: I was sure they would do it after I did that. And finally a feeling of rejection: They are never going to do it at all.
I developed all kinds of theories about what this all meant. And those meanings kept me trapped in a self-defeating feedback loop.
Turns out it wasn’t so much the specific action I wanted, it was the emotional significance I had attached to it that I desired so desperately.
I was allowing an outside event to be the determining factor for how I felt about myself.
I’m convinced that how you feel is all about how you choose to look at things. That’s nothing new, you hear it all the time from well-meaning friends who are trying to give advice. The trick is truly accepting with your entire being that it is indeed a decision. A decision only you can make.
There’s “what happens.”
And then there is “what we think should happen.”
The two are seldom identical.
How we react to what goes on around us is determined by the internal calculation of “How do I see this?” and “How do I feel about this?” Sometimes the feeling comes first and shapes the interpretation, other time it’s vice versa.
The interesting point to me is that both of these states of mind have little to do with the original event. They FEEL like they do. But events are external, and the interpretation is internal. That’s the part we control, even if it doesn’t seem that way.
Much of the time we can’t control what happens. We certainly can’t control how others act and react.
Our own interpretation of events is all we’ve got.
You see it one way, the world sees it a different way. If the two don’t match then trouble starts and people begin to feel hurt, misunderstood, slighted, rejected or abused.
Interpretation is a monumental source of personal suffering.
Which is fabulous, because that’s the part you’re in charge of.
I’ve gotten pretty good at changing the way I see things, and this has resulted in remarkable and life-altering effects. It’s an ability we all have. But sometimes I forget. And some perceptions are more pernicious than others. They’re resistant. Especially when the feelings involved are cloaked beneath other feelings that seem reasonable.
Yesterday this thing that had been bothering me became an obsession.
I found myself pouring huge amounts of time and feeling into thinking about it. I was spending my mental energy somewhere other than here and now…I could feel it draining off through a crack in the foundation, flowing out into the ground, wasted.
Nevermind that I had never once voiced my desire for this thing to happen. In fact, I had given all evidence to the contrary, implying that I didn’t care one way or the other.
By setting it up that way, I would know if the other person’s desire to do this thing was genuine – not merely a reaction to my request. Smart.
My subconscious is very sneaky, it comes up with all kinds of strategies to keep me off-balance and in the game. In this instance, it had formulated a test.
Meanwhile, the other person had no idea that this was finals week.
People set up these little tests all the time. And then, when the unwitting participant flunks, we likely respond with disappointment, anger, resentment or a mix of all three. Or worse, by turning inward with feelings of rejection, neglect, sadness and self-criticism.
Ultimately forming a filmy layer of pervasive grayness that begins to cover both the person and the entire relationship, be it with coworkers, friends, family, or the world at large.
I decided last night that I needed to get myself out of this non-productive emotional holding pattern.
As the clock struck 3am, after a day spent swirling around the bowl of confusion, I finally faced up to the truth that the action I was seeking was far less significant than the importance I had attached to it. The two things really had nothing to do with each other except in my mind. The idea that this person’s action was somehow responsible for my wellbeing was something I myself had created.
So I decided to uncreate it. Not just let the idea go, only to have it come back to haunt me later a low moment. No, I decided with every molecule of my being to blow it to smithereens.
At the precise nanosecond I made this decision, literally as the thought was being formed in my mind, the emotional attachment vanished and the expectation disappeared. It just didn’t feel that important anymore.
I changed how I saw the situation, and the situation changed.
I found myself feeling completely different. A new sense of calm mixed with euphoria. It no longer mattered whether it happened or didn’t happen. No one had to do anything. I didn’t have to do anything.
It reminded me that I was going to be okay no matter what.
And that is a very, very good place
The cigarette lighter pops. I am on a long haul, night driving, heading out of town. I inhale as the lava hot spiral touches tip, thin paper igniting delicious; blackened edges traveling backwards in time, returning to ash. The windows are open and inviting. Warm breezes tangle my hair. I am headed someplace important, a journey I have waited for my whole life.
I turn on the radio, searching up and down the dial. Ghosts of country western music. Crackles of night game baseball. As I absently twist the chromed plastic knob the sound of something unfamiliar passes by,
a shadow slicing through the static. I dial back to tune it in.
A song unlike any I have ever heard. A symphony of grinding metal, crashing icebergs, broken glass and heavy cream. Layer upon layer of dissonance producing misplaced chords of ineffable longing that reverberate and swell to fill the dark interior; paisley vinyl seats melting into oily pools of pathos, lit to fire by moonbeams.
Black melodies cut through the soul like a hot wire; deep vibrating tones shaking loose the memories of a life unlived.
The sound liquefies, penetrating eyes and ears and mouth to consume an unspeakable sadness I hadn’t known existed. Eating my disaffection, my lonely self-isolation. Devouring the impassable borders, the self-imposed boundaries.
Echoes of echoes pounding in my chest.
And then, unexpectedly, the song changes pitch.
Time signature shifting, notes dissolving and reconfiguring into daylight, cement barriers transforming into paved freeways.
Carried aloft by the rising strains of remembering I fly out of the darkness.
The road is open and inviting.
Warm breezes tangle my hair.
I am headed someplace important.
A journey I have waited for my whole life.
Keep doing it and see how you feel.
Say you want to bake pies.
You could choose to bake apple or cherry or pumpkin. More than likely, you will find people who are willing to sample them.
But what if you decide to do something quite, quite different?
Maybe you want to bake pies that don’t register as pies at all. Filled with random pairings of whatever strikes you at the moment. Grass clippings and crumpled notebook pages and snips from the satin edges of baby blankets seasoned with motor oil and Saturday afternoon.
The average person will find your pies extremely unappealing. Mystifying. Even disgusting.
If you bring one to a potluck dinner, you will find it waiting for you at the end of the evening, untouched.
Sitting in your kitchen alone, you might spend hours savoring the subtleties, the complexities. But in your everyday life, as you pull pie after pie out of the oven, the universe is sending you the clear message that they stink.
Yet every time you look at one of your freshly-baked pies bursting with iron shavings and dish soap or thunderstorm and rusted bicycle parts, you feel a great sense of accomplishment. Pride. When you slice in and your fork stabs a succulent chunk of first day of school spiced to perfection, you feel the joy shooting out of your chest like a fountain.
It’s natural to want to share this, and to want others to recognize that you’ve really done something here.
It’s challenging to find people who like inedible pie.
Part of making art is developing a conviction around what you’re creating.
Deciding how much value you place on the act of creating it.
When you’re making something that you know upfront is not going to be a crowd pleaser, realistically you don’t expect everyone to appreciate it.
But underneath is still the creeping hope that somebody will get it. Or at least see how important it is to you, even if they don’t.
Depending on who you’re hanging out with, this may not be forthcoming.
If you’re committed to what you’re doing, at some point you will realize that there is just no way to justify what you are doing to most people.
That to continue trying to do so is not only futile, it’s damaging.
It keeps your soul unfulfilled.
The only solution is to reach way, way, way down inside yourself until you can unearth some kind of superhuman strength that will give you the courage to keep going.
…EVEN IF NO ONE EVER SEES THE VALUE IN WHAT YOU’RE DOING.
It has been my experience that if you can gin up the resolve to follow
your inner compass in the face of rejection, criticism and lack of understanding, and find a way to genuinely be okay with what you’re creating regardless of the response, a strange thing happens.
You begin to connect with people who do see. Who do understand.
Even more bizarre, once you decide to no longer seek approval, many of those around you who didn’t see or understand unexpectedly find a way to accept it anyway.
And even more shockingly incredible than that, it starts to not even matter anymore whether those around you see or understand.
Why should they have to? They’re them and you’re you. It doesn’t affect you at all.
You’re just doing what you’re doing, and suddenly, magically, that’s enough.
To use the words of someone I know who understands exactly what I’m talking about, “You feel like a tiger that’s been let out of the zoo.”
Makes me wonder what would happen if more people were to consider baking motor oil flavored pie.
It’s an acquired taste, but one that will definitely change the way you feel about dessert.
Fierce and unrelenting in its blistering ecstasy, the smiling light beams down, bleaching dim beliefs into papery patches that disintegrate into ragged holes bordered by cauterized threads. Ice white diamond intensity blinding the certainty of knowing, breaking apart the conventional conceits, leaving them stumbling and wailing, groping for anything to prevent their disappearing.
The light, so warm and generous, so welcoming and open and accepting, burns with an alkaline agony that etches into the surface, burrowing deep devouring everything that is not light, an enzyme reaction eating the flesh of all that is not true. Visible bone and raw wounds covered in chalky chemical ash. Compassionate genocide.
Rising to a higher floor, clarified drippings cascade from the eyes of everything you were so sure of. You are not a passenger. You are not the operator. You are the elevator. Doors close. Doors open. Broken bottles of yesterday’s poison cut the feet as the journey breaks into a fast run, touching down on the bitter soaked pillow of unsung melodies and ungrasped power.
Calcified windows blink clear and finally open, blown wide by the shockwave of shattered artifacts and immolated idols. Small fingers write the infinite names of the mystery in the condensed vapor on the glass, wiping the slate clean with the shifting shapes of possibility.
Now and forever steps up to meet you, extending a slender fingered hand.
The trajectory expands into all directions. The existence you are leaving packed away in a box stored in the attic to be occasionally taken down and examined like old photos of a life experienced an eternity ago.
Another addition to the collection of places you don’t live in anymore.
It wouldn’t be “good” enough, so what would be the point of creating it?
Painting abstract changed all that.
For me, it was the key that unlocked all doors.
I genuinely believe that if I would’ve started by trying to paint illustratively, I would have been sunk.
Even if the images were invented in my mind, I would have been so trapped in the mode of comparing what I was trying to paint with what was actually coming out on the canvas that I would have beaten myself until there was nothing left but dried blood on the floor.
By getting myself to make spontaneous marks on the paper without pre-determined expectations or demands, I was able to move past that.
Something about painting in this fashion loosened the bonds of needing to control the outcome. Needing to be seen as “good” by other people. Needing to stick to the plan. Needing to be right. Needing to be perfect.
There is no perfect in abstract. How could there be? Each painting is fluid and self-referential and unlike anything that exists. No standard is possible. There’s nothing to measure up to. The concept doesn’t apply.
When I make my paintings, I watch them take shape on the canvas in the form of other realities so far removed from this one that there is no room for comparison whatsoever.
Someone looking at them might not see that. They might see a flat mess of unattractive lines and ungainly shapes and uncomfortable spaces. They might see a whale, or a coffee cup and a donut.
People, including me, only see what their frame of reference allows them to. We relate what we see and what we experience to what we already know.
When I paint these pieces, though, my goal is to discover something I don’t already know. Something I haven’t already imagined.
When you start a painting from this perspective, you never know what you’re going to end up with. You are, in a very real sense, imagining a new world in real time, bringing it into being as the paint flows off the brush.
Some of these worlds are incongruent, and strange, and unfamiliar. Others have shadows and echoes of things that relate to this world.
Obviously I still have my own frame of reference that reflects the sum total of what I think, what I feel and every input I’ve ever encountered over the course of my life.
I wouldn’t want to throw those things away; they are important. They are part of my experience here on planet Earth. And that has value.
However, to cling to this as the ONLY value that’s important, the ONLY basis for expression and existence, would be to close one’s self off from an infinite expanse of experience that is out there, waiting to be invented.
By painting things that have no analog in the “real world” and then looking at them – really looking at them, I began to see everything around me differently. I saw myself differently.
I started changing. Things around me began to change as well.
I opened up a whole new reality that made the one I had been living in look like a pale and shriveled imitation.
With each new painting, whether I loved it or wanted to torch it, I grew stronger in my self.
And once I was finally able to see the value in what I was creating, everything in my life went exponential.
I began to be free.
Whether my paintings are seen as appealing or lousy is of little concern. They express the self that has been struggling to be recognized since the day I was born. All of it, be it adept or awkward, hideous or breathtaking, is who I am. Others may not perceive this, but it does not change the central fact that it is the case.
The more I do this type of painting, the less limited by pre-existing negative beliefs I become. It shows up not just in how I relate to painting, but in my thoughts and emotions and my relationships with other people. Where I am now versus where I was is beyond magnificent.
I have an unshakeable conviction that anyone can do this, find this, have this. Even if you have never once considered making art. Even if you are an accomplished artist with more talent and skill than I could ever hope to achieve. If you can allow yourself to do it, making paintings, lots of them, with NO EXPECTATIONS, NO JUDGMENTS AND NO LIMITATIONS has the power to completely change your life.
All creative activity is a very good thing, and creating any form of art opens a person to new insight and new ways of seeing. There are many paths that lead to the same destination.
But what I’ve learned is that letting go of the need to put down on the canvas images that other people will recognize and value creates the space to recognize and value the self you truly are. The self that is so much more.
When I told an artist friend of mine that I was writing this blog about my experience with painting, he said that talking about art was like trying to explain a magic trick.
He was more right than he even knew.
No matter what kind of art I decide to create in the future, I will never stop creating spontaneously in the moment, painting directly from the soul.
Because when I say that this has transformed my life, I mean it on the deepest and most profound level possible. I am different to such a degree that it cannot be expressed with words…only through more painting.
And if that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.
Picturing far, far distances in my mind…really trying to get the space of it. Feeling the vast emptiness between stars, between solar systems. That kind of thing.
Creating mental images as big as planets and throwing them up into the sky and wondering how it is that I was capable of visualizing a planet-sized object in my mind, yet so constrained by the concept of gravity that I couldn’t make it go very high. Took me a while to get past that one.
Breathing underwater…actually imagining inhaling and exhaling liquid, feeling it flowing in and out of the lungs. A bit creepy at first, but pretty interesting once you get into it.
What it would feel like to be compressed down to the size of an electron or expanded beyond the confines of the universe.
What it’s like to see through the compound eye of a housefly.
How it feels to be a maple tree in early March with the sap running.
Things moving in space…an object spinning in multiple directions at the same time. Two streams moving outward in opposite directions. Three-dimensional shapes collapsing into themselves.
What it would look like if everybody just walked away from the incessant nonsense and drama that constitutes the majority of human interaction on this planet.
Making things invisible. Mentally filling in the space around whatever it is I’m looking at until it disappears.
And my current favorite, creating new planets. Invented one recently
I rather liked while waiting at the dentist’s office. Atmosphere the consistency of gelatin, rivers and oceans of flowing sand. It was shaped like a fat mobius strip with three suns; depending where you were on the surface daytime might last 5 minutes or 500 years, or you might never see light at all. Pictured it rotating on its axis like a rotisserie chicken. When I was finished, I wondered, “What type of physics would explain all this?” Then I realized, that’s for the inhabitants to figure out. It doesn’t really matter what they come up with…it works because I designed it to work.
The table, which at first had seemed round, is now long and rectangular. A conference table.
I am alone, waiting. I have a folder filled with ideas to present. A man enters, I shake his hand.
We sit, the room bathed in uncomfortable silence. He is waiting for me to speak.
I reach for my folder but it is gone.
I cannot recall any of the concepts or even the nature of the project. My mind races from room to room, frantically searching for the words I’ve forfeited. I clear my throat, trying to maintain a look of competence.
The man’s face shows the merest flicker of reaction, an almost imperceptible twitch of undiscernable emotion — Disappointment? Confirmation? — and returns immediately to flat burnished marble. His eyes are sharp as awls.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?”
“Of course,” I lie, unsure and without conviction. I feel a primordial shame; blinding, wincing humiliation. I am not prepared.
Molten lead pools in the center of my stomach; this is my one chance, I fear I won’t get another.
I bury my gaze in the burled grain of the bird’s eye maple conference table, stained glowing cigarette-cherry red. Searching for something, anything to say.
I stare deeply, desperately into the patterns of the polished wood; chestnut fire swirling with charred eyes and haunted faces and grotesque birds.
Moments morph into millennia. Time ceases to exist. I cease to exist, shrinking backwards into cramped and squalid quarters I was certain I had burned to the ground.
To my amazement, I unexpectedly find that I am beginning to speak automatically from somewhere outside myself. Words string together of their own accord and drip from my mouth, both of us hearing them for the first time.
“The concept is called ‘Enigmata.’ The thoughts and images are subterranean sigils whose meanings are revealed only upon close examination. The metaphysics of non-intellective communication allow the audience to assemble a message on their own and fill in the details based on their own specific memories and emotions.”
“How will this be executed?”
“The page will be blank.”
The man pushes back in his chair, inscrutable.
Clocks turn sideways as I wait for a response. I feel transparent, exposed. I cast my eyes down, open sores searing black as images embalmed in hand-rubbed lacquer and long dead maple begin to blend and shift, forming scenes from my childhood.
Climbing in bed between my grandparents, the feel of my grandmother’s polyester nightgown against my bare legs. Static sparks. The smell of tissues taken down from the shelf of a cedar closet. A tiny glass giraffe fragile as snowflakes in my hand, unpacked from penicillin blue Samsonite luggage by graceful manicured fingers, an appeasement for leaving me behind.
My voice emerges, unbidden. “The blankness is the medium for unconscious integration, a synesthesia that cements the potentialities of the paper to the texture of experience. The campaign does not promote the product. Rather, the product is manufactured directly in the mind where it propagates indefinitely.”
The man slowly nods.
Reaching into his breast pocket, he removes a fat white envelope, sliding it silently across the table.
I glance at it, then past it, and back into the kaleidoscoping woodgrain.
I’m doing it so I can apply these skills to the paintings I imagine.
I don’t need lessons to paint what I see with my mind, but in these classes I’ve been trying very hard to paint things the way I see them with my eyes.
Which has been somewhat stressful because apparently, my eyes do not see things the way other people’s do.
Sometimes I know I’m completely off the map, but other times I feel like I’ve aced what it is I’m replicating only to be told that the shadow is in the wrong place, or the perspective’s off, or the color doesn’t match.
So I’d rub it out and try to fix it, and usually feel less satisfied having done so.
And then one class, I just said no.
We were painting landscapes. I was working from a full color photograph, long shadows crossing a country road awash in a sea of emerald, kelly and chartreuse.
I began with the honest intention of giving it a serious go…even mixed 11 subtly different shades of green. Then, midway through, as I held my brush before my mostly black underpainting about to make the first leafy green stroke, I decided I liked it the way it was.
When the instructor came around I announced I was finished and received a raised eyebrow as I took it off the easel. I spent the rest of class smashing the 11 shades of green around on a fresh piece of paper.
Later, I showed this green painting to someone whose opinion I value. They said, “It reminds me of unplanned adventure.”
I have nothing against highly realistic art; I find much of it very beautiful. I admire the skill that goes into creating it.
After having spent many class hours struggling to make things perfect, however, I can’t help but feel like there’s something math-like about it. An equation with a pre-determined correct answer.
Whenever I began one of these pieces with that goal in mind, it felt as if I were just filling in the blanks to achieve a result that never quite measured up.
There are many amazing artists who create work based in realism that is stunningly distinctive. If you think about it though, what makes it so interesting is the artist’s own unique interpretation.
The parts of the painting that do not reflect reality.
When you’re painting entirely abstract, you quickly come to learn that there are a lot of people out there who need to know that you have the chops to accurately reproduce a bowl of lemons or a face or a fall landscape in order to accept the fact that you’re painting things that don’t look like any of the above.
I decided that I’m not so bothered by that anymore.
I wonder if de Kooning or Kandinsky had to submit a portfolio of tightly rendered architectural drawings or photorealistic fruit in order to get into galleries. Maybe they did.
But that’s not what they’re remembered for.
I plan to continue working on shading objects in space and mixing colors and getting my hand to do what I want it to do. Getting a handle on realism is good practice.
That having been said, I’m done killing myself to be perfect.
I hadn’t known it, but it was actually a form of suicide.
Perfect means fitting yourself into a pre-exisiting idea of how things should be, one that’s usually imposed from outside. It’s a great way to set yourself up for vicious disappointment and provides endless opportunities for self-criticism.
I took that approach my whole life with just about everything I did. Screwed myself up big time in the process. In my case, the desire for perfection acted as a governor on my ability to try new things, eventually shutting me down completely. Why bother when I’m only going to fall short of my own expectations? The resultant pain and self-punishment was too much to bear.
Something about painting abstract unhitched all that.
As I’ve gone down this path, I’ve seen first hand how the imperfect can be so powerful and so moving and and go so far outside expectation that it destroys all preconceived notions of what constitutes art.
It showed me just how limiting my perception of reality was. And how limiting my addiction to perfectionism has truly been.
My goal now in these classes is the same as the goal for my abstract work: to make a painting. Wherever that might take me.
After all, what’s the point of going through the effort of getting something on the paper if you end up looking at exactly the same view you had when you started?
Where’s the adventure in that??
Over the years, this and that. A toaster. An ashtray. The miniscule ego in a file on the shelf in the office when I had needed to fill it and didn’t happen to have anything better.
Creation all used up. Blind in my magnificence I put it away and
Divided ice insulated under endless black wait.
On the morning after not sure what, I built visions around what I was
seeing and the rock began to pool.
About the sky was solid cloud, white lightning igniting the distance
rolling with thunder over the feeling to reach farther across the
Images painting freedom flowing electric aquamarine honey,
memories of the feeling cry I want so much.
Severed the many walking homeward,
breathing liquid ecstasy.
Spotlights shatter through pinpricks. Ice flaking off into moist atmosphere.
Hot blood stirs beneath ashen decay.
A talented child, I awoke calm and smooth as a cool pane of glass.
I just attended an art show where all of the work was produced using 3-D printing.
Picture indescribably intricate sculptures made from delicate layers of interlocking filigree, strands as narrow as a hair.
Huge white polyamide shapes reaching into each other with hundreds of slender appendages, woven and entwined in ways that defied logic.
Tiny and ridiculously complicated objects composed of overlapping and intersecting spirals, creating the appearance of phantasmagorical creatures bursting strange horns and disturbing probosces.
The impossibility of the pieces gave the exhibit a surreal otherworldly effect, as if I had entered a different place entirely, a universe of imagination unconstrained by the restrictive properties of existing materials and techniques.
Judging from the results on display at this exhibit, huge leaps have been made in translating human imagination into physical reality in ways that were previously inconceivable. It will be fascinating to see how artists take advantage of the technology as it becomes more prevalent.
A million possibilities spring to mind.
But what if you could bypass the computer design process entirely and hook up a 3-D printer directly to your imagination? What would you create then?
For the sake of discussion, let’s say you wanted to create an apple.
I’m relatively good as visualizing things. Do it inside and outside my head all the time.
I’d say that the apple I create in my mind seems pretty complete.
However, I predict if I hooked up a 3-D printer and output my mental image of an apple, it would likely have fatal flaws. Gaps. As in, well, the color is pretty accurate, and I captured that weird hairy dimple on the bottom, but the backside is full of gaping holes.
Like the artist creating the computer program for their sculpture, I would have to go back and check my design for missing information.
I would spend more time visualizing my apple, trying to capture the totality of it, and then plug into the printer a second time. Hmmmm…this time I got the holes filled, and I nailed those translucent things around the seeds that remind me of fish scales. But I completely botched the flavor.
Back to the drawing board.
I would eat, sleep and dream apple until finally I’d have the complete essence of that sucker down to the tiniest subatomic detail, from the exact curve and composition of the stem to the memory of time spent as an apple blossom. I’d have the heft and the feel and the being of it so thoroughly established in my mind that when I hit the print button, a fully formed red delicious would drop down onto my tabletop.
I had a fascinating conversation with an 11 year old in which I asked him what he wanted for his birthday. His answer led us into philosophical territory much deeper and more insightful than I’ve confronted with most adults.
The conversation went as follows:
11-Year Old: For my birthday I want a parakeet. Or an iPod touch.
Karmic Spiel: Which one do you think you’d use more?
11: Well, obviously the iPod touch. But the point of a parakeet isn’t to use it.
KS: Then what’s the point of a parakeet?
11: You can’t compare something biological to something technological.
KS: What if Apple made a parakeet?
11: It wouldn’t be a parakeet.
KS: What if it looked identical to a real parakeet? Moved like one, sounded like one, acted like one…you couldn’t tell the difference.
11: You could if you cut it open.
KS: What if they grew it like those ears they grow on the backs of mice, and when you cut it open it was full of biological parakeet organs?
11: It would still be technological, because we made it.
KS: What about the ear? We made it but it functions just like a biological ear.
11: You can’t compare a part to the whole thing. The parakeet would have to be programmed. It could only do what they put in its database. It wouldn’t have parakeetness.
KS: What is parakeetness?
11: The thing that makes a parakeet a parakeet.
KS: Why do you think it wouldn’t have parakeetness?
11: Because it could never choose to do something new. Or react in a way that was unique. It could be programmed to do everything every parakeet has ever done for a million years, and make every choice a parakeet has ever made, but it could never come up with something on its own.
KS: So if one day a real parakeet suddenly decided to start making patterns out of seeds, or made a sound no parakeet’s made before, that ability to create something new is what separates it from the technological parakeet?
11: Yeah, they could program the technological parakeet with the new thing, and every time a real parakeet did something new, they could program it in, but they’d always be one step behind. The technological parakeet would always just be a lame copy. It would be dead inside.
KS: What if they programmed it ahead of time to do something no parakeet has done before? Or programmed it to come up with new things on its own, something parakeets don’t usually do?
11: That would be stupid. Then it wouldn’t be a parakeet at all.
I’d be willing to bet that some team of tech heads at MIT is working on a parakeet cyborg prototype even as I type.
And I have no doubt that at some point soon it will be possible to print out an apple that appears indistinguishable from the ones that grow on trees.
But I wouldn’t want to eat it.
No matter how accurate and sophisticated the cunning folks that develop these types of technologies become in their ability to link up amino acid chains and recreate fragrance and texture and taste, the apple they would print would still be synthetic. A dead imitation.
It wouldn’t have appleness.
Still, it will be interesting to see what 3-D printing is capable of when it fully comes online.
But I’m not waiting around.
It’s just another tool, and I manage just fine without it.
Each and every painting I make is something I’ve imagined into physical existence out of nothing. They are not an imitation. They are alive.
All of us have the ability to create directly from our imaginations, we do it all the time. We create this world into being every minute with our thoughts and our beliefs and our intentions and our actions. We don’t need technology to do that. We are the technology.
Who knows what else we can create?
I’ve been spending a lot of time with apples these days, getting to know them on a very intimate level. I’m picturing one right now. Except the one I see in my mind is much more than a mere combination of atoms and elements and complex chemical interactions. It is alive, and unlike any apple that has ever existed before.
It might take me 10 or 100 or 100,000 years. But one of these days I will imagine that apple with enough appleness that it will appear out of nothing and land with a thump on the saucer I plan to have ready and waiting.
And then I will pick it up, cradle it gently in my hand, and take a big freaking bite.
the hood of a red 1972 Eldorado with a white vinyl roof after a hot
summer day parked on the side of the road by a thin stretch of beach
where you got out just to look at the waves for a bit to clear your head and
then the clouds darkened across the lake and you could feel that whoosh
of hot wind that comes when the storm is building up steam and you
wanted to stand there and watch the thunderhead roll in and see the
tiny ripples grow into whitecaps while you bathe in the wild electricity
as the sky turns purple and black and green beneath a yellow veil but
you don’t because you’re wearing your best silk dress the one with the
long red sleeves and the white sailor collar that you bought with your
very first paycheck back when you used to care so you run run run up the
narrow path through the brambles and the dirt worn to fine powder by
the footsteps of hundreds of bare feet of all sizes running the other way
toward the sand where they played and built castles for endless summer
afternoons and you get to the car just as the first drop hits the hood and
you can hear it and smell it and taste it in your mouth and you stop
struck dumb by the feeling and you think you could never feel anything
so pure and then the next and the next and the next raindrop hits and
you fall asleep in the joy and promise to never forget exactly this moment
or how you felt because you’re not sure that it will ever really get
better than this and that’s okay because this is pretty damn good so you
hold the thought and get in the car and start the engine and drive.
I typically do them fast, usually in a series of 6 or 8 or 10 at one sitting. Black acrylic on drawing paper.
They’re not trying to be anything. They’re not trying to convey anything. Pure unfiltered stream of consciousness.
I don’t intend to make them relate to each other, but often certain themes appear. A particular shape might show up in more than one piece. Or morph from one to the next. It’s fascinating to see what comes out in the moment.
You could call them sketches, and occasionally ideas come out of them that show up in more formal paintings. But I don’t do them with that purpose in mind.
I do them to do them.
When I finish a batch, I tape them together into one giant painting, hang it up and look at it.
Since I have no particular direction in mind when I start, and each section is painted independently, it amazes me how frequently elements jump the edge of the page and combine in completely unplanned ways, creating new compositions I wouldn’t have thought of intentionally.
These usually end up being my favorite parts.
Did I create them or did they create themselves?
An unanswerable question.
One thing I know for certain…if I had never picked up a brush, they wouldn’t exist at all.
It’s true that you can compare one piece to another along specific criteria; e.g., a Rembrandt is a more accurate reproduction of reality than, say, a Jean-Michel Basquiat. But to say one is better than the other is misguided.
It’s like trying to compare an oak leaf to a rhinoceros.
Hidden at the core of such comparisons, buried beneath the so-called objective measures used to justify them, is nothing more than opinion.
So who gets to decide what is “good”?
When it comes to your own work, you do.
I like what I like. You like what you like. It’s all personal preference.
The key word is “personal.” The notion that a group consensus should even exist with respect to something as individual as artistic expression is equivalent to granting a monopoly on creation.
Why on earth should anyone else’s personal artistic preference take precedence over your own?
For years I used the perceived “betterness” of others like a meat hammer to bludgeon myself into not creating. In a world where Salvador Dali, Picasso and a million other amazing artists exist, how could I dare to pick up a brush?
It’s one of the primary limitations that stopped me from starting to paint. Even after I started, the fear of the inevitable comparisons prevented me from showing my work to other people.
As an art appreciator, I always liked what I liked regardless of what other people thought. In fact, I got a great deal of enjoyment out of liking things most people thought were ugly or didn’t understand. But when I began making art myself, I was confronted with the reality of just how deeply I had internalized the trope that there is some objective outside measure of “good.”
Once I started painting, I was forced to address this every time I stood at my easel; every time I looked at someone else’s work.
I became conscious of just how many times a day I was comparing myself to others, not just in terms of art or painting, but with everything. I saw how this had crippled me my entire life. Held me back. Kept me small.
I began to ask myself where these standards came from. Whose standards were they really?
I held high internal standards for myself, which is healthy and positive when used as motivation to be your best self and produce your best work…it inspires a person to keep pushing. But when those standards are externally imposed, they act as a trillion-ton boat anchor on the soul.
I have this note to myself hanging on my easel so I can see it every time I paint:
WHAT OTHER PEOPLE CREATE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ME.
This has been the one of the most difficult things for me to learn. I’m still learning it.
As this phrase sinks in on deeper and deeper levels, I’ve begun to free myself from the stranglehold of negative self-comparisons. It is a conscious effort, and I have to make that effort over and over. But the more I paint, and really look at what I’ve painted, the easier it gets.
I’m becoming progressively more comfortable with what I create. How I feel about it is based on my own criteria, not anyone else’s.
Sometimes, other people’s preference overlaps with your own. When you love what you created, and discover that someone else does as well, it’s a very, very nice feeling.
Of course, there’s a massive and entrenched attachment to betterness out there. You run into it all the time, especially when you’re experimenting outside the mainstream. In those instances, if you are able to genuinely like what you’re created and draw satisfaction and pleasure from that, it doesn’t matter what anyone else might think.
So I added a corollary to remind myself of that truth, which I also have hanging on my easel:
WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK ABOUT WHAT I CREATE
HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ME.
It has to do with them. Where they are at. What their preferences are.
I create. So do you. The outcomes are as different as you and I.
Each creation is as unique as the individual who created it. It’s what makes living in this place interesting.
As you keep going and exploring and becoming more confident in what you’re expressing, be it art or writing or whatever it is you truly want to create, magic happens.
You begin to trust in who you truly are.
Fe was floating.
Surrounded by an impenetrable blankness so dense it seemed to obscure even the possibility of light and form.
Fe had been alone for a very long while. So long that it could not be measured in time.
Was she floating in space, or was she space itself?
Was she tiny and finite, or enormous and everywhere?
She had considered these and other such unanswerable questions for eternities.
Fe could not be sure, but it began to feel like she was moving. There was emptiness in front and also in back, so it was difficult to tell without a fixed point of reference. Nevertheless, it registered as a sensation.
Having been accustomed to timelessness and nothingness, the sensation felt good. It represented the potential for change.
Fe contemplated this sensation and let it sink in. So many implications to consider. Motion connoted direction…up down catty corner backwards. And time…was here, will be there. The possibilities suggested by the concept were intriguing; delicious.
The feeling of motion that Fe had begun to experience ignited a sense of action, of one thing moving into another. Into what, she knew not. Yet the feeling held a certain attraction, especially when one had been floating on their own, motionless, for as long as they could recall.
Infinities passed, if you could call it that, as infinity doesn’t pass, it just is.
And then everything changed.
Fe sensed a presence.
She was not frightened for she had no reason to have developed this capacity, but her curiosity was stirred. Curiosity that had been dormant due to the lack of anything to become curious about.
Prior the arrival of the presence, Fe had assumed that she was all there was. If a presence existed that was other to her, then she must be other to the presence, which implied separation. Edges. Defined space. She began to wonder if she had borders.
The presence drew closer.
Fe experienced another new feeling. Anticipation. Things within Fe were rearranging, resulting in cracks and fissures that birthed wild and thundering oceans of thought and emotion.
Fe, who had been the same forever, was now becoming different. Moving into previously unimaginable territories of experience. Fe sat with the feelings, rolled them across her being, swam in them, dove down deep, digested them, tried them on and took them off, played with them, nurtured them and allowed them to take root and to grow and to flower.
Her thoughts turned opalescent to examine all this. In her delight (which was yet another new sensation), she forgot all about the other.
And then they collided.
She felt it bump right up against her. This new feeling created an emotion so titanic and indescribable and passionate and muscular that she felt that she had exploded, creating vast swathes of new space all around her, moving into them, and then creating another wave outward.
Fe became aware that she was capable of inventing space to an infinite degree. Her question as to whether she was tiny had been answered.
Despite the unfolding of distance, the two remained connected.
No message passed between them. They simply floated, side by side, each pondering the significance of the contact.
The presence of the other meant that space existed outside of Fe’s self. It stood to reason that the other could also invent space infinitely at will. Suddenly her concept of size and self and other and space imploded into itself and reconstituted as a clear white light screaming into the emptiness.
Color and shape began to form inside Fe. Each accompanied by its own particular flavor of emotion. Without conversation, the colors and shapes were received by the other, who then responded with different shapes. Unfamiliar colors.
Space around the two beings began to change. It came alive with rivulets and rays and thick broad beams of electric music that roared and laughed and expanded and launched like great vessels, sailing through existence leaving universes in their wake.
And then, after what seemed like only an instant because Fe had wanted it to continue forever, the two beings were jarred into the awareness that they were definitely moving. Going someplace.
Rising from where they were to somewhere else, shooting relentlessly upwards like irretrievably misfired missiles.
For the first time, Fe was afraid. Cold creeping horror trickled through Fe as she realized that the pair would be ripped apart by the violence of the ascent; that she would once again be on her own. Before the other, Fe hadn’t been lonely. But now, the concept swept over her like an icy wind.
As she felt the presence of the other being torn away, tendrils of thought reached in and left a small mark deep within Fe’s consciousness. A tiny point of blue light.
Fe breached the surface alone.