August 12, 1972.
Two figures make their way through the shopping mall parking lot, a young mother holding the hand of her five-year old daughter, mid-Summer heat rising off the blacktop in stultifying waves as they walk past endless rows of Pontiacs and Buicks and Oldsmobiles.
The mother’s fingers are dry and cool despite the oppressive humidity. The girl’s hand is sticky with sweat. She has been promised an ice cream cone as a reward for coming along without complaining. She is not sure whether it’s worth it.
The pair steps through the glass doors of the department store vestibule.
A whoosh of artificially chilled air brushes the girl’s face as they enter, along with something else; something less tangible. An icy trickle of dread creeps down the child’s spine.
Does the mother feel it? The girl cannot tell. Her mother’s face is composed, inscrutable.
It’s crowded today, a busy Saturday, stores filled with people trying to escape the scorching heat. Their shopping bags bump up against the girl as her mother steers her around clothing racks and between displays stacked with scarves and sunglasses.
Head swimming, the girl’s skin tingles with galvanic prickles.
The child’s narrow shoulders tighten, curving inward, trying to make herself smaller. Trying to protect herself from an invisible onslaught in the form of the consciously and unconsciously projected feelings of everyone around her.
Annoyance, anxiety, neediness. Rage, disappointment, despair. Thick and noxious, mixed with the scent of other less identifiable sensations. All hanging heavy in the atmosphere like metaphysical swamp gas, a liminal miasma penetrating her borders, entangling with her nervous system.
The girl whispers “Ice cream cone ice cream cone ice cream cone” under her breath, repeating the words like a mantra to avoid being engulfed by the dark rainbow of other people’s emotions.
No one else appears to notice.
But the girl sees them clear as day, swarming around her like stringy clouds. She senses their temperature and the shape and texture of their energy.
Some of the shoppers are happy, relieved to be out of the scorching August heat and enjoying their afternoon without incident. They move past the girl without leaving residue.
But others send off nauseating waves of something sour and curdled as they tensely hurry by. The foreign feelings enter forcibly through her eyes and skin…stinging, scalding, smothering. Attaching themselves to the girl like thistles; clinging and burning like oily napalm.
The mother and the girl step onto the escalator. Just below them a woman in a blue sundress is scolding her son; her irritation reaches out and claws the girl’s bare arms. The heat of the boy’s humiliation seeps in through her pores, merging with her psyche. His feelings become her own…I am being scolded…I am humiliated…I want to disappear.
A saleslady with coral lipstick wearing a pale yellow suit smiles as the girl and her mother approach the checkout stand. The mother places a bag on the counter and pulls out a pair of shoes she would like to return. The smile leaves the saleslady’s face, she is irritated. The mother is embarrassed as she rifles through her handbag for the receipt. The tension hits the daughter in jagged energetic shards. The girl’s face burns as if slapped. What did I do? She looks down, shamed, stomach churning.
The awkward transaction finally completed, the mother takes the girl’s hand again, gripping her small fingers tightly, pulsing electric corkscrews of stiff displeasure painfully into her small palm.
The mother walks quickly, heels clicking against the terrazzo, pulling on the girl’s arm, navigating through the busy courtyard to a kiosk decorated like a circus tent. Pink and orange striped awnings, white counter spread with glass jars of jellybeans and licorice whips. Holding up her end of the bargain, the mother hands the girl a peaked spiral of chocolate and vanilla soft-serve in a cake cone, her favorite.
Before the girl can take the cone she throws up all over the front of her brown plaid jumper.
She is crying now, mortified and miserable, and this time the feelings are her own. The mother dabs at her child’s tear-stained face with a wet napkin.
The girl is surprised to discover that her mother is not angry. Instead she feels a comforting wave of compassion enfolding her like heavy quilt.
“I think that’s enough for today,” says the mother as she turns towards the exit.
The daughter sends her mother a burst of gratitude in the form of dancing velvet streamers that reach out and caress her cheek. The mother nods.
On the ride home they don’t talk. They don’t need to.
It’s an interesting exercise…an opportunity for a person to look at who they’ve been, who they think they are now, and who they wish they were.
If you take some time and really do this, you’ll notice that “who you are” is not quite as fixed as you might imagine. And if you’re honest, you will see that who you are has evolved as you’ve moved through life, and continues to change according to the circumstances you find yourself in.
You might even notice that you seem to be a number of different people over the course of your day…one minute you’re fully immersed in the role of X, and then BOOM, the situation changes and now you’re playing a totally different role with very different attributes.
And if you keep going, you just might come to the realization that you are not at all who you thought you were.
Which is precisely what needs to happen to find out who you are capable of becoming.
This can be an uncomfortable process.
It’s akin to subjecting your subconscious to a full-scale internal probe and then examining the results with an electron microscope. A deep introspection where a person takes a blisteringly honest, objective and unflinching look at their own inner landscape. The kind of self-examination where you attempt to peer into the hidden recesses of your very soul.
A metaphysical colonoscopy, if you will.
But if you take it seriously, it can be extremely eye-opening. Because it usually turns out that there’s a lot of strange and undigested crap bound up in there. You start to uncover things within your psyche that you have no idea as to how they got there or where they came from. You begin to see that a lot of beliefs and patterns and reactions you thought were “yours” are not really you at all.
And yes, this can seem terrifying. But also exhilarating.
This line of thinking tends to pull apart the threads of one’s self image to reveal that while there are definitely underlying consistencies, “who you are” has infinitely more flexibility, depth and range than you might have assumed.
And more importantly, it opens up the possibility that you might be able to choose who you are instead of finding yourself automatically wedged into roles and reactions you don’t necessarily want, behaving in ways you aren’t particularly jazzed about.
If you’re up to the challenge and stick with it, you will experience fascinating and life-changing insights…
It gives you a glimpse into aspects of yourself that you have denied or disowned.
It helps you rediscover characteristics you know you have, but have set aside.
And it allows you to access talents and abilities you didn’t even know were there.
It’s an opportunity to invite ALL that is within you to come out and play.
It’s about making a commitment to yourself, in order to discover exactly what “yourself” really means.
Seeing what’s been hidden is the first step. It shakes up the status quo and allows things to begin moving.
Things might not change overnight, but the awareness itself acts as a catalyst, working in the background of your subconscious to bring the YOU that you truly are into focus.
And through this new lens, you will begin to see that you are much, much more than you ever dreamed possible.
But what is culture REALLY? (Hint: The first syllable should give you a clue.)
The most basic description of a “cult” is a social group defined by its unusual customs, beliefs, practices and social institutions.
In other words, a “cult” has the same features as a culture, only “unusual.”
As in, not broadly accepted.
Cults and culture are basically competing belief systems, where the deciding factor as to whether your beliefs are “cultish” or just “normal” comes down to how many other people agree with you.
In other words, culture is an extremely popular and broadly accepted cult.
It’s true that there have been many cults that were ultimately revealed to have horribly oppressive and sociopathic structures and leaders, with dogmatic rules and doctrines slavishly adhered to by brain-washed and heavily conditioned followers. Cults are also known for their harsh treatment of those who disagree, challenge authority, or attempt to escape from their control.
But is culture, including our own current reality, really all that different?
When you step back far enough to be truly objective, it becomes apparent that the customs, beliefs, practices and social institutions of broadly accepted culture are every bit as programmed, personality-driven, reinforced by peer pressure, and taken on faith as any other cult.
If we’re being honest, does not our culture also feature unaccountable leadership, and oppressive rules and systems? Does it not also use punishment by shunning, vilifying and negating to neutralize those who disagree with or seek to operate outside its confines?
At least with an acknowledged cult like Jonestown or Heaven’s Gate you had to actively join to get in. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t recall being given a choice about the one I’ve found myself held hostage by.
We are currently in a period where the prevailing culture is being replaced. Belief is being steered away from the previous cultural standards towards a complete reenvisioning of social structure, philosophy and values.
It’s a culture war, and it’s being fought overtly and covertly with a goal of full-spectrum dominance.
It’s valuable to remember that people join cults because they think they offer something preferable to or missing from currently-held belief systems. It’s only later on after indoctrination is complete and their freedoms and self-determination have been lost that they realize they’ve been punked.
Back in the 1970s, parents who thought their adult children had gotten mixed up in a cult would have them thrown in the back of a van in the middle of the night and brought back for deprogramming.
Unfortunately, even when it was successful all it did was RE-program their minds back into accepting the predominant mindset and value system of the day, which goes by the name of MAINSTREAM CULTURE and is the antithesis of freedom and independent thinking and more often than not gets people to accept and even fight for a whole host of ideas that are ultimately not in their best interest.
The sorry truth is that no matter how much our collective beliefs and practices and customs and institutions change, the bottom line is that we will still be in the thrall of a cult…albeit one that has managed by hook or by crook to become popular enough to earn the status of “normal.” And regardless of the form this new culture takes, it will still rule us and shape us and limit us as much as any other cult that has ever existed.
It’s called Consensus Reality.
Someday I’d like to kidnap everyone who’s been brainwashed into THAT monstrosity and deprogram them proper.
I think I’m going to need a really big van.
However, unbelieving something you currently believe in is much, much harder.
Unbelieving goes far beyond disbelief — it’s letting go of a belief so completely that it no longer affects the way you think or see things.
It requires a total releasing of all preconceived ideas, judgments, biases and expectations in order to create a clean slate for new perceptions to happen. And it’s not easy to do.
For example, STOP BELIEVING IN GRAVITY. Right now. Just do it.
See what I mean?
It seems ludicrous to even consider such an absurd notion.
But what if our destinies are limited by all kinds of beliefs we’re not even consciously aware of?
And what if the capacity to unbelieve is every bit as important to a positive journey through life as being able to believe?
What if, in order to reach a more expanded state of awareness and higher consciousness, many deeply held beliefs must be shed — even those which seem so basic and obvious that they appear self-evident, like gravity?
WHAT IF THE ABILITY TO FLY WAS NOT ABOUT BELIEVING THAT YOU CAN, BUT UNBELIEVING THAT YOU CAN’T??
What if it turned out that your belief in gravity is the only thing that’s keeping you from soaring around the room right now? And if you were somehow able to let go of that belief completely, you’d very naturally and easily levitate off the ground?
Most people would consider this line of thinking to be ridiculous to the point of insanity, and will never allow themselves to ponder the possibilities.
That makes me sad.
Because while the “unbelieving in gravity thing” might not actually get you to lift off, contemplating it would definitely open your mind and make it easier to let go of the many, many unhelpful beliefs that weigh us all down.
And the feeling you get from doing THAT comes pretty damn close to flying.
The entire thrust of the Scientific/Industrial/Technocratic Revolution has been an attempt to fully, definitively and permanently eliminate mystery from human existence. But the effort has not removed mystery; it has only been successful in removing humanity’s tolerance for it.
Mystery, by its very nature, is ineffable and unquantifiable. Yet it does exist, and persists despite materialistic attempts to reduce it to data points.
The uncomfortable truth is that consciousness and mystery are intimately entwined, and any attempt to eradicate the second destroys the first.
Dry and deflating
just like before
No longer walking
Eyes closing to revisit eternities spent dreaming that you were awake
Possibilities appear in unknown languages
unlocking doors to unimagined places
Adventures unfurl like majestic banners
No longer walking
Eyes opening to envision the life you could be leading
Waving away the mist to uncover unconscious
and unacknowledged desires
Undoing the damage of overlooked opportunities
and unmade plans
The point is
To remind yourself that you are the one
you have been waiting for
And to never forget that things
can turn on a dime.
Remember when you used to hold the ocean?
You watched it slip away without a mention.
Living on debt and vacant pleasures
Future bought and sold in equal measure
Swallowing your dose of daily anesthesia
Proud to sit and suckle at the nipple of amnesia
All your soul-fired yearnings seem to make no matter
Just keep on your meds till you’re sleeping better
Captured by the builders of the ruins of delight
No longer the creator of the poems in the night
Again and again, aspiring authors adopt alliteration as an adroit and accomplished aesthetic approach. Absolutely accessible and altogether adventurous, alliteration aids articles…adding an amusing attitude all ages accept as appealing — adolescents and adults alike.
Anecdotes affirming alliteration as an advantageous artifice abound; and aptly applied, alliteration approaches awesomeness.
Although abundantly artful, acute alliteration addiction appears awkward…an all-around Aargh!
The waterfall’s there
just turn your head
Blink, blank, eyes are blind
Better not think or
you’ll lose your mind
Click, clash, the joke is seen
on the mezzanine
Glow, glide, don’t try to hide
Wait too long and
your soul will die
Sink, swim, time is dead
Change the channel
in your mind
to a dream instead
Sleep for one hundred years if you must, but be sure to be packed and ready
for when you awake!
The clock strikes like a viper. Time to jump.
How to do it?
By leaping blindly into the no idea.
All you need is a good running start, pumping the legs so hard and fast that when you get to the edge of the cliff the momentum of the wanting overrides the inertia of the not yet sure, carrying you over the side in a flaming burst of what the fuck did I just do?
Turns out the answer lies in the crook of the elbow held gentle in the soft embrace tucked neatly within the question.
Check out a high school yearbook from 1952. Everyone looks 35 and dead to themselves despite the shiny cheeks and smooth corners of the eyes. The only thing left is the longing…cringing wet spots on the pant leg of propriety.
How does the dying happen so early, before the cocoon has even been pierced?
Flesh the fish flayed fresh, a fillet field day.
Destiny clips along at a dreadful pace, winking lasciviously at the mayhem.
No longer riding shotgun, “I can’t” has been relegated to the side of the road, ass-kicked out the passenger door to steep and stew in the drainage ditch.
Walking tall, height acquired instantly from getting up off all fours, I grow to my original stature.
why I continue to write these little messages
beaming them blindly into the nowhere
for mostly no one
but I don’t really care about that
I do it because
I have made a decision that
whether anyone sees them or not
or thinks they’re valuable or not
it wouldn’t be right to let things slip away
without at least giving them a chance
to stand in the light.
We stagger off the gangplank through the alleys and the gutters
Gently broken in our sorrows
Our lost tomorrows
It’s not easy
No, not so easy
Bearing burdens of our longings without mention without question
Just the echo of a whisper
To heed the calling of the seabirds and the seabreeze and the stories
Of the old forsaken seaways
While we slumber
Oh how we hunger
Braving strafing burned and battered by the forces of the blackness
Our essence not forgotten
With unseen stars to guide us we march skyward facing forward
Holding lanterns lit and shining
Stunned with wonder
I’ve heard the blank canvas referred to as “The White Square of Death.” There’s something incredibly oppressive and intimidating about the blankness. It’s almost crushing. Writers feel the same thing when they stare at the blank page.
You’re staring at a white wall.
You’re literally looking at nothing.
It’s a yawning chasm of emptiness, all unformed possibility and potential – which are usually good things – but at the moment seem like the gaping maw of an endless void. There’s nothing to grab onto to keep you from drowning in it.
It’s the most boring show in the universe…a white wall projected onto a white wall with the message “Run Away” written across it in invisible ink.
When you’re on a roll, the momentum of the elation and excitement of your previous effort propels you up and over the white wall of inertia. It makes it easier to jump back in.
But when that momentum fades, that wall might as well be 6 feet thick and 100 miles high. Getting past it feels insurmountable.
I’ve come to see it as a wall of boredom. And it can crop up in at any point in anyone’s life.
It’s that creeping feeling of generalized dissatisfaction and restless agitation…all you want to do is flee from it, yet at the same time, it’s so overwhelming that it sucks you into its vortex. It’s paralyzing.
The sensation of boredom, like all feelings, is information. It is trying to get you to do something different. Something more satisfying. Something that is worthy of your time and participation.
The key is to recognize the difference between overcoming boredom and distracting yourself from boredom.
Busy-ness, when it isn’t really deeply fulfilling, can be a cover. A way to fill time so you don’t have to see the boredom staring back at you.
Because boredom feels like death. And in a way, it is. It means that we are not doing what we truly, deeply, cellularly want to do in our lives, which is a kind of psychic suicide.
What ultimately helped me move past this was recognizing that boredom is not my enemy, it’s my friend.
True, it’s a friend you don’t want to spend much time with, like that agonizingly dull neighbor you feel obligated to entertain. You listen to them drone on and on until you finally decide that you’d rather be doing anything but this.
As a temporary visitor, boredom can show us things we need to see.
Like “I don’t really want to be doing what I’m doing anymore. It’s time for something breathtakingly new.”
This is a signal that you need to shake things up. To ramp up your imagination and use it as a springboard to pole vault right over the wall of boredom into brave new territory.
Ideas and desires and motivations will start flowing up from the bottom of your soul.
And you will suddenly be able to make that brushstroke or type that word or take that leap you’ve always known was inside you but couldn’t quite seem to access.
Where you go from there is anybody’s guess.
But I can promise you it won’t be boring.
Ghost grey gulls stir the sky undulating airborne ideas of lonely placeholders, insidiously waiting watching listening pretending to be invisible under aspen shadows.
Paper white sheafs fall like apple blossoms from eager and accommodating branches, trampled under the feet of naysayers who answer to my name.
Pass away into sentient estuaries and pools and slick
flowing streams of brilliant marigold wanting.
Pluck the petals one by one naked and alone beneath
the overpass, preparing to get back on the road.
The call comes from far off in the blinding distance, spiraling into a sculpture of black lines and curlicues flying into the vacuum, daring to propel forward unrehearsed.
Someday slips in through the back door, bearing gifts of deity.
Brindle peaches grown lush, fat with beestung pleasure.
If you can see “both” sides of a situation, issue or event, you’re smart.
If you can see 3 or 4 sides to situations, issues and events, you’re a genius.
If you can see all sides of situations, issues and events, you will be be viewed as a complete and utter idiot by all of the above.
Terrence waded through invisible snow, shin deep, filling his Vans, saturating his socks, turning his ankles an angry red. He trudged over the mound of frozen road slush sliding down the side of the grimy pockmarked curb. He looked up, searching for evidence of the sun, bandaged behind wispy gray gauze.
It was 73º, palm trees waving hello to a clear and sunny California sky.
Terrence, however, saw a winter gray sky blending into winter gray ground. He shuddered, the arctic chill soaking through his thin white T-shirt, seeping up through frozen feet and settling in tight knots on either side of his neck.
Terrence couldn’t remember the last time he felt warm. Perhaps in the womb.
He balanced the paper cup filled with molten dark roast on top of a parking meter and warmed his hands by rubbing his palms together in fast circles above the steam.
Two laughing teenage girls swerved past in a cherry red convertible, so close he could smell their hair.
For a moment he thought he’d caught the whiff of an early thaw, a teaser that Spring was afoot. He quickly pushed the thought aside. He knew from experience that whenever he dared to get his hopes up, something in the jet stream was instantly alerted and an even more bitter cold snap invariably set in.
Permafrost had become his personal weather pattern.
He should’ve worn his parka. But it was gone, stolen from the place where he’d stashed it behind the copy machine. Tuesday morning status meetings were notorious for random thievery.
Sighing, he picked up his coffee and headed back to the grind.
Courageously entering the uncertain territory of the yet to be invented.
Exploring the unknown, the undiscovered, the unrepressed.
Exposing the imagery of the unconscious, 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.
Pushing the edge of what is pleasing, attractive, appealing, acceptable.
Seeing what can be created without judgment or limitation.
Embracing a process of endless experimentation that includes the ugly, the awkward, the uncomposed, the off-kilter; and then finding something beautiful and powerful within it.
Granting permission to see what you see, and let others see what they see.
Expressing the power of the self without apology or constraint.
Reveling in the freedom of creating from one’s core.
. . .
The Artist awaits within you
Bubbling up to birth new universes into being
And in so doing, life as we know it is born anew.
The piece warned that the Archons (an hermaphroditic alien race of evil mutants bent on enslaving humanity) are manipulating people through their chakras and siphoning out their lifeforce energy.
The solution to preventing this fiendish energy drain is to perform emergency metaphysical surgery on yourself through a “chakra elimination ritual.” Similar to having a prophylactic tonsillectomy, only spiritual.
The article didn’t mention whether you would need to take chakra replacement supplements for the rest of your life, like being dependent on thyroid medication after one’s thyroid gland is removed. In fact, it didn’t imply any negatives at all for going chakra-free. Apparently you won’t even miss them.
Which begs the question as to whether there was ever any such thing as chakras to begin with.
If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be easier and more direct to skip the ritual and consider that with all due respect to spiritual teachings, the popular depiction of the chakra system might just be a metaphor? And seen from that perspective, the concept of “Archons” devouring your “chakras” is basically one metaphor eating another?
Of course, if you’re a person who’s super worried about Archons, then you should immediately perform the ritual just to be safe. But make sure to use a white candle in the ceremony…a colored candle might work, but it will summon the Annunaki.
Have you ever been talking to someone who’s unhappy with the way their life is unfolding and when you try to encourage them by suggesting that they have the power to change things, their response is less than enthusiastic?
And if you keep pressing and offer positive examples of things that have changed for them in the past, or new approaches they might use to change things in the future, instead of being inspired or motivated, they come up with all kinds of reasons why it won’t work and end up more upset than when they started?
Or conversely, have you ever gotten upset when someone tried to encourage and inspire you in this way?
The notion that situations or people cannot change or improve is a classic example of being stuck in a limited frame of mind…restricting yourself to a minuscule glimpse of the whole picture; one that’s rigidly constricted and squared off with tight angles and thick black edges.
It’s all too easy to become stuck in one’s current way of seeing things; to find yourself trapped in the paralyzing belief that “This is just the way things are” and its incapacitating corollary, “This is just how I am.”
These are two of the cruelest lies ever told.
The truth of the matter is that if you don’t like what you’re currently seeing/feeling/experiencing/being, you are well capable of creating a new frame of mind that better serves you.
There are ALWAYS infinite ways to look at life here on planet Earth. And in the face of infinity, the notion that there’s only one “right” or “best” way to see any thing, situation or person (including yourself) seems more than a little cocky. It’s also incredibly self-defeating and in the long run makes for a life of friction, struggle and pain.
So why do would anyone do that to themselves?
Well, for one thing, it feels safer to have a familiar and consistent frame of reference because it makes a person feel like they have the answers in a world that has too many variables. It streamlines things, and sets a person on a more predictable course that helps them feel protected from randomness and uncertainty.
Becoming married to a particular frame of mind (or lens, or viewpoint, or whatever you want to call it) closes a person off to seeing all of the endless options, connections, possibilities and potentialities outside of it. It literally BLINDS a person from seeing the multiplicity of solutions and ways of creating, operating and existing that are right there, right now, ready to be invented and discovered.
Of course, keeping people stuck in narrow channels of thought and perception is actively promoted and reinforced by our culture, media and leadership… because these institutions realize that if everyone were open to the zillions of ways of seeing and being and doing, and knew that they could CHOOSE their own hows and whats and whys at every given moment, it would be impossible to get the populace to stay in line and do what they’re told.
The slavish adherence to the belief that there is only one best way to be and think and see is a major source of suffering and conflict in our world.
Which is why it’s so important for the sake of your self and your soul to break free.
Having an unlimited frame of mind is about leaping into an entirely new way of looking at yourself and the world around you. One that goes beyond convention and consensus into the wide open space of imagination, intuition and infinite opportunity.
In fact, a more accurate name for it might be an “Un-frame” of mind.
One that’s so fresh and unprecedented and breathtakingly open that everything you took for granted completely dissolves and reconfigures into unlimited new possibilities.
It’s not just a slightly expanded version of how you currently see things. That’s a good place to start, but ultimately it’s just moving into another, albeit larger, frame. If you really want to create a bold new reality for yourself, it’s not nearly going far enough.
It’s also not about adopting anyone else’s frame of mind. Trying on other people’s frames can be an interesting exercise, and it can help you shake things up and break out of stasis, but it’s a temporary fix at best.
No, what we’re talking about here is something far, far bigger. With vastly larger potential for transforming your life and your self.
An unlimited frame of mind is basically the way you’d already be seeing things if the glass weren’t caked with a thick greasy sludge of cultural programming, judgments, biases, internalized beliefs, inhibitions, prohibitions and limitations.
It’s pretty much what’s left after all of these are wiped away.
So what does life look like without a frame?
Well, it looks like whatever you want it to look like. Because it is you who will be creating it through your own desires and imagination without limits.
Looking at life through an unlimited frame means that you get to decide how to see things. Period.
So why not pick a way that makes you happier, more energized and fulfilled?
Yes, it means leaving the safety of having a predictable viewpoint and path from which to navigate existence. And that can be scary.
But the benefits are so beyond worth it that once you see how much broader and bolder and more mind-blowingly satisfying life can be, you’ll never want to go back.
So how do you get there?
Just as there are innumerable ways to perceive and interpret things, there are countless ways to get yourself to a place where you can actually see them.
It might require some flailing around in the dark for a while. Because although there are many, many helpful tools, practices and approaches to pick and choose from, the only path that “works” is your own.
But if you’re committed, and do your best to stay open, you will find your way.
And eventually, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, you will be able to see the joy within the pain, the strength beyond the fear, and the love amongst the discord.
And all of the stuckness and seemingly insurmountable challenges we face individually and collectively will be transformed into opportunities to learn, grow, share and create.
You will become the master of your reality instead of the passenger.
In other words, you will be free.
By definition, the primary purpose of art is to inject beauty and new points of view into our everyday lives; to bring imagination into physical form for others to enjoy and take inspiration from.
But what if you create art that doesn’t get acknowledged or even seen? Can you really call yourself an artist? Or are you merely indulging in a hobby, even if it’s your primary focus or driving force in life?
Is it acceptable to want to paint or make art for your own sake, and your own sake alone? For your own amusement, gratification and delight without necessarily feeling the need to share it?
Is sharing one’s artistic creations a duty? Is it selfish to keep your work to yourself? And if you do put your work out there, is it a sign of “failure” if it isn’t recognized by others through sales and accolades and Instagram likes?
I read a news story about Arthur Pinajian, a Long Island, NY artist who created over 70,000 paintings and sketches, mostly abstract, over 50 years. He never showed them to anyone. He lived very modestly in a small cottage with his sister, and died a complete unknown.
Someone bought his house at auction after his death, site unseen, and discovered piles upon piles of his artwork unceremoniously crammed and stacked in every crevice of the house, garage and out buildings. An appraiser said the collection was worth over $30 million. One of his pieces sold for $100,000.
The mystery around this story intrigues me greatly.
It brings us back to the question at the beginning of this post:
Why does the painter paint?
Arthur Pinajian might just be one of the most prolific painters in history. His work was quite exceptional, at least according to the posthumous appraisals.
He was seemingly sitting atop a pile of gold, yet he died in obscurity.
His works were mostly signed, which implies that he was proud enough to put his name on them. Yet it’s said that he left instructions that his work should be “discarded in the town dump” after his death.
Did he try to get his work noticed without results, and grow discouraged? Was he hoping that if he just kept painting, he would eventually be discovered?
There is no record of his work ever appearing in a gallery.
So how did he continue stepping up to his easel, painting canvas after canvas, never having them seen by anyone other than himself and presumably his sister?
The clichéd story of an artist desperate for exposure and recognition but never finding it only to die tortured, broke and alone is a central theme in the mythology of art.
I don’t get the sense that Arthur Pinajian was in this camp.
We can only speculate as to his reasons, but I’d like to imagine that he just loved doing it. That there was something within him that wanted to be expressed, and once it was, he didn’t feel the need to garner praise or recognition. He simply moved on to expressing whatever needed to be expressed next.
Perhaps he felt that his own gratification and delight in his work was enough.
Maybe it just amused him to see what he created.
Maybe he was just painting to paint.
And maybe that was enough for him to want to keep going.
We live in a world that focuses on “success,” which is popularly defined in terms of acquiring fame, money and preferably both.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with shooting for that.
But we also live in a world of trends, opinions, comparison and consensus, which tends to keep the possibility of achieving wealth and notoriety out of reach for many artists.
I’m glad Arthur Pinajian finally achieved the recognition he deserved for his monumental commitment to bringing beauty and new points of view into the world. And I’m sad he wasn’t around to collect the perks.
But the fact that he soldiered on and continued painting and exploring and creating in the absence of these prizes has earned my unbounded respect.
And that respect flows out to all the creators out there…painting and sculpting and dancing and weaving and writing and making art in all its infinite varieties.
Whether it’s seen or unseen, celebrated or not, every creation you bring into being is valuable.
So keep it up. And if you aren’t already making your own brand of art, now is the time to start.
Because it does make a difference.
Sung or unsung, it’s an enterprise of heroic proportions.
It brings something new into the world that never existed before.
And the vibrations of energy and joy this produces have the power to change the very fabric of reality, starting with your own.
This that I dream, that I clutch in the mist, that I wear on the sleeve,
that I cloak in the crook.
The secret breaks. The tale bends.
The faces white. The pleasure bleak.
Way the far go, wend the fey sail. Never rest the gilded snare.
Cleave bare the blackened scry. All was end. All was lie.
Ever did the ether cry.
A look passes between us, speaking volumes. We are the same, you and I, both trapped in a reality not of our making. An outline of a recollection arises from the deep recesses of the mind…a vision of another place, one that exists without empty men with lead-lined holes where the castles of their souls once stood.
Single roses, long stemmed and in various stages of desiccation, extend from small round receptacles in the wall over the sarcophagus. You see that you too hold a rose. You test the point of one of the thorns against your finger; a small dot of blood appears. You put your finger to your mouth. Sweet, like rosewater.
Shadows move across cold marble walls, but there is no window, no visible source of light. There is no color in the darkness, only the feelings of colors.
Off in the distance begins a roar, reverberation rising, shooting up from somewhere far below…a sonic vibration that shakes the walls of the way things are and reveals reality to be a copy of a copy of a forgery.
The sound echoes round the fortress like the thunder of a thousand stainless steel horses. Ancient marble blocks begin to shift, grinding at the joints in agonized shrieks. Dust drifts down from above, silvered shards swirling in mercury moonbeams. The ceiling has flown away to reveal a cloudless sky.
Crystals of ice form midair, spreading out in hoarfrost spiderwebs that catch the light of the half-full moon; fistfuls of glitter thrown at low-hanging stars.
Outlines of possibilities emerge from the shifting fragments. Time-locked titanium doors swing open. Dormant dreams awaken to take tentative steps on shaky baby legs.
You are sharpening pencils. You insert the blunt yellow tip into the metal schoolhouse sharpener and turn the crank. You test the point against your finger; a small dot of blood appears. You throw the pencil onto a pile, which has grown taller than a mountain, and insert another into the sharpener’s hole. You have been here, preparing, for a very long time.
You close your eyes and picture a scene with rolling velvet hills, a trillion blades of prairie grass reaching toward the lavender sky, undulating to yet unwritten melodies.
We are standing in a garden. Rose petals float on warm jets of fertile air, the skeletons of snowflakes melting on our shoulders.
A nudge shoves the last echo of the empty black spaces over the edge, faceted shards of electric possibility shattering splendidly across the floor
cut the rope
tear the cloth
break the chain
hack the cord
Freed from its tether the gargoyle abandons its post on the parapet, surveying the scene below with clear eyes and magnanimous amusement
the actors having lost the plot
repeating their lines
A second-rate shakespearean drama endlessly
of beige linoleum.
Vivian was a fixer. Not the kind who bribes customs officials to pave the way for smuggled armaments or trashbag-wrapped bricks of heroin. No, her specialty was fixing problems of a far more risky and delicate nature, those of the human interaction variety.
Swooping in to save the day was her God-given gift, and she was bound and determined to share it…gracing a confused and totally hapless (in her opinion) world with her rare ability to see everything including rainbows in crisply delineated black and white.
The queen of strident answers and ready-made solutions, she doled out advice like Bibles to backwards natives with missionary zeal. Her primary goal was to uncover latent dissent and discord lurking beneath the surface. Her preferred method: sifting through other people’s dirt.
“With a willingness to get your hands messy and apply a little elbow grease,” Vivian was fond of saying, “all problems can be brought to heel.”
Vivian deplored the paucity of elbow grease available to most people, a sign of moral weakness (in her opinion). Her elbow grease, by comparison, flowed copiously from a tap that never dried; squirting from what she suspected was a special gland tucked neatly between her ulna and radius.
Perhaps in others this gland was inactive, she sometimes wondered; impacted and useless like wisdom teeth. Regardless, it was a situation she was thankful for, because it gave Vivian boundless opportunities to shine.
So when she noticed that Brooke from Accounting seemed a bit “off” in the office breakroom, Vivian sprang into action like a bloodhound on a manhunt, capable of sniffing out problems in situations where even those involved could not detect their aroma.
She sidled up to Brooke under the guise of reaching for the powdered creamer. “You look a touch gloomy today, anything I can help with?”
Brooke straightened up, cautiously guarded. She was new to the company, only an assistant. “Oh, it’s just a little office squabble. I don’t want to get anybody in trouble.”
Vivian smelled paydirt and leaned in closer.
“Trust me, you’ll feel better if you talk it through.” She said it gently and with great concern, working to keep her eyes soft to hide the glee of a potential score.
Without waiting for a response Vivian took Brooke by the arm, steering her to the door. “Let’s step out and I’ll buy you a real cup of coffee. That way we can speak in private and you can let it all out.” In addition to her abundance of elbow grease, Vivian took great pride in her very soft shoulders, conveniently padded by nature to provide a warm pillow for others to cry on.
Vivian and Brooke found a quiet spot in the corner of the coffee shop on the mezzanine overlooking the building’s lobby. Over the next 10 minutes, Vivian managed to worm several succulent details from a reluctant Brooke, skillfully encouraging her to spill the beans and name names.
As they got up to head back to work, Brooke had second thoughts. “I really shouldn’t complain, Denise in Marketing seems like a good person.”
Vivian quickly offered reassurance that Brooke had done the right thing by opening up. “Brooke, you’re being naïve. Those creative types seem easy-going on the surface but they’re all a bunch of sociopaths who want to make your life miserable. The whole department is full of them. Believe me, I deal with it all the time. Anyway, Denise’s husband is an internet porn addict and she’s codependent, so it’s no wonder she was being passive aggressive when you questioned her expense report.”
Brooke was dazzled. “Wow, Vivian, you’re a genius. How do you know so much?”
Vivian closed her eyes and smiled. “I was born with the second sight, the ability to see directly into people’s true nature and understand intuitively how to help them. People can sense that. They know that I always act from a place of integrity. So they tell me things, and I listen and offer guidance. Of course I would never break anyone’s confidence, I speak strictly from a desire to serve.”
As the elevator approached the 10th floor, Brooke, feeling lighter from the catharsis of unburdening her dilemma, thanked Vivian for being such a good listener, which was music to Vivian’s always alert ears.
Vivian returned to her desk positively glowing. What a dear girl, so innocent and confused. She would take Brooke under her wing, guide her, become her mentor and protector. Her elbows tingled at the prospect.
From that day forward, Vivian and Brooke became daily lunch partners, with Brooke tentatively laying out her negative interactions with assorted co-workers like tarot cards, and Vivian interpreting them, filling Brooke in on all the juicy and sordid details of their personal lives…only to provide insight, of course.
During one such lunch, as Vivian was explaining that the reason the head of accounting could never remember Brooke’s name was because he was preoccupied with hiding his prostate cancer from the board of directors, Brooke suddenly looked up with shining eyes. “Vivian, I have to tell you, you’ve helped me more than anyone I’ve ever known, more than my own family. I can’t thank you enough.”
Vivian was so touched by the outpouring of gratitude that she practically leapt over the table to embrace Brooke in a crushing bearhug. Finally! Someone who grasped the value of her unique helping skills!
The following Friday as they sat enjoying quiche with asparagus and gruyere, Vivian told Brooke that she considered her to be the very best friend she’d ever had, and the only person she could really trust, what with everybody else in the office being two-faced liars, pretending to be professional and honorable when in reality they were all a bunch of closet neurotics, drama queens and deviants.
Brooke blushed, and said in her shy, sweet way, “I’m happy we’ve become friends too, more than you can know.” She reached into her bag and handed Vivian a flat gift-wrapped package with an elegant pink bow.
When Vivian excitedly started to tear the paper, Brooke stopped her. “Please don’t open it yet! I’m going on vacation starting Monday, and I’d like you to wait till then. It’s something for you to remember me by while I’m away.”
Vivian brushed a tear from her eye. She had never felt so appreciated.
Later that day, as she hurried to finish her work before leaving for the weekend, Vivian was shocked to see Brooke walking past her cubicle doorway carrying a banker’s box filled with her personal effects, flanked by two security guards.
Stunned, she felt her stomach sinking like a stone in a bucket of elbow grease.
For the first time in her life she was unsure of what to do. She stepped into the hallway near the water cooler, where Steve from IT (having an affair with one of the interns) and Diane from PR (daytime drunk) were watching the grim procession with Kristin (holier-than-thou killjoy) from Human Resources.
Vivian nestled closer to hear what they were saying as Diane added a blast of hot water to her tea, which Vivian suspected was spiked with Sambuca.
Kristin leaned towards Steve and Diane and dropped her voice to a near whisper.
“You didn’t hear this from me, but it turns out she was blackmailing people in the office, threatening to spread their dirty laundry in front of the higher ups if they didn’t order vitamins and personal care items from some MLM side hustle she was working.“
Steve (recent purchaser of said MLM’s “Super Testosterone Plus”) and Diane (who had their “Hangover Rescue Tonic” on autofill) both looked at the floor uncomfortably.
Kristin continued in a conspiratorial tone, “Of course she never had anything on me, but I was always suspicious of her mousy “Little Miss Nobody” act so I did some digging. Apparently, she has a criminal record for pulling the same scam at some insurance firm in Topeka. She had a totally fake resume complete with phony references. Brooke Johnson isn’t even her real name! She was so good at squeezing everybody that she sold enough product to win a trip to Aruba for the annual sales convention.”
And with that, Vivian’s entire universe went “Poof.”
Not an orderly unraveling, one row at a time like a knitted scarf pulled apart by a curious five-year-old fiddling with a loose end over the course of a boring car ride. That she might have been able to handle. Yarn can be knitted back together.
No, this was the equivalent of an elaborate Prom Night updo that you spent months babysitting to afford, held in place by a single hairpin rapaciously yanked by a sweaty date in a hormone frenzy on the way to the High School…the carefully structured and painstakingly maneuvered coils of hair instantly transforming into a tangled nightmare of teased and lacquered chaos.
Nothing to do but gather yourself up, go home and have a good cry.
Vivian raced back to her cubicle where she fumbled for her handbag, hoping to get to the bus stop before she started sobbing. Her eye lit on the gift Brooke had given her, the pink and green palm-tree pattern mocking her as she tore into it.
It was a catalog of vitamins and personal care products.
Fortunately for Vivian, she hit the floor in a dead faint before she read the note, which featured a neatly handwritten list of detailed reasons why Vivian might find it in her best interest to invest in a lifetime supply of the firm’s “Internal Detox & Parasite Cleanse” Formula.
[Jon Rappoport is a writer, artist, investigative journalist, thinker, consultant, champion of creative endeavor, tireless promoter of the individual, and one of the most imaginative and honorable human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. This is a taste of his potent fiction-writing chops – to read more of his mind-expanding work, sign up for his emails @ www.nomorefakenews.com]
NOTE: A patient presently confined to the Sleight Center psychiatric facility believes he is the current director of the CIA. He also believes he is living in the year 2053. He is writing CIA memos to “his own top people.”
Memo: July 7, 2053
I am shifting identities, and each identity carries its own time signature. Obviously, I have many legends and cover stories I developed over the years in the Agency. At some point, the covers began to take on new force. They ceased being simple disguises. They penetrated past and future. This is a theatrical quality. For example, I found myself reading documents which hadn’t yet been written.
I don’t think I’ll be coming back to this place, Earth, after I leave. I don’t think so. I don’t know where I’ll go, but it won’t be here. There is one thing I need to do while I’m still around. I need to sever my last connection. That connection has to do with secrets. Secrets still fascinate me. So I’ll have to take the lid off and go down that hole into the massive cave and spill all I find there. Some secrets are quite complicated. That’s not a problem. I’m ready. I’m ready to deliver those messages. For example, the one about the person who thinks he is me, who imitates me, who accesses records about me, in order to build his legend. I assume he is the current working CIA Director, posing as me. I would pose as me, too, if I could. After all, I have a great deal of knowledge. I’m rather handsome. I’m facile. My enemies fear me. Most of you don’t know this, but at the Agency we have a number of doubles who are posing as employees. Don’t ask me where the actual employees have gone. I don’t know. I don’t keep track of that. Apparently, someone wants to take over the Agency and is doing so at a slow pace. Replace an agent here, an agent there. On the other hand, and this is what really interests me, the replacement program could stem from the desire to improve the Agency. Bring in new and improved doubles, as an upgrade. Produce androids. This is the future. Suppose, one day, you’re walking around and you see a person who looks exactly like you buying bread in a shop. You approach him and engage him in conversation. You discover he knows everything you know. But he knows it with more clarity. He’s integrated. He’s more agile. You’re no longer useful, pragmatically speaking. You’re out. In an instrumental society, you’re defunct. You have to go somewhere else. You have to start over. You’re cut loose. You don’t need to consider your obligations.
That’s where I am now, except I’m confined. But that will end. I’m not unhinged. I’m lucid. And I consider my options. When I was in my office at Langley, behind my desk, acting as Director every day, I made sure conflicting messages were broadcast in the press. This is the straightest path to sowing confusion in the public mind. Confusion leads to despair, and despair leads to inaction. Does that sound like the work of a crazy man? I knew exactly what I was doing. Just as I do now. Think about it. I can communicate with you, my top people at the Agency, can’t I? They can’t stop me. So I’m still the de facto Director of the CIA. They may have my double over there sitting in my chair, but I supersede him. He thinks he’s me, but I know I’m me.
Remember when we got rid of Nixon? We worked through our cutout at the FBI, and he worked with Woodward. Woodward peeled away the layers of the onion on that story. But the whole story was already in the bag. It was a preordained conclusion that Nixon would leave the White House. We had to make it look like an investigation, a sequence. We do that for the rubes and yokels. We give them sequence, but time is already collapsed. We work with time, ladies and gentlemen. That’s our forte.
With JFK, we were aiming for shock value. The sudden explosion of a shot, to induce public trauma. But with Nixon, we spread it out. We can go either way. We destabilize. That’s one of our primary missions. They’ve tried to destabilize me, but they’ve failed. I’m stronger than ever. The psychiatrists at this facility think they’re experts at creating imbalance, but they don’t have a clue who they’re dealing with. From the beginning, I was suckled on an unpredictable nipple…
Above all, we must remember, when we’re fighting enemies, they are the people to whom we gave life. We invented them. We brought them up. If we lose that knowledge, we lose everything.
We turn out reality. We make it up. Through our agents and assets and cutouts, we disseminate the truth as we create it. If we say the sky is falling, the sky is falling, even if it isn’t. We have the means to build a world, a universe. Why wouldn’t we build it? Should we shrink back from our duty? There is no actual world. It’s an indefinable mix of people and events. It has no form. We give it form. We give it meaning. It’s not our fault that people can’t achieve that on their own. Remember, when the ancient Roman Empire was crumbling, because it couldn’t control all the territory it was conquering, it changed course. It decided to shape a Church that would construct a cosmic order according to a story line it invented. It would thus control minds. That was the great change. Why use armies when words and pictures and theatrical presentations shape thought itself? We are our own Church. We still use political subversion and force, but on the whole we are dealing with mental processes. We slip in unnoticed and re-constitute belief and opinion and perception.
Given enough time, and adequate personnel, we could convince the population that the world is made of jelly beans. Why not? Atoms, electrons, protons, nuclei, quarks—all dead, all in motion according to inexorable laws. They therefore eliminate the possibility of consciousness. It’s already a jelly bean cosmology…
(Jon Rappoport ran for a Congressional seat in 1994. He knows something about politics. He has worked as a freelance investigative reporter for 36 years. His website is www.nomorefakenews.com)
Last night I had bad dreams, anxiety dreams. Charles Manson was living as a squatter in my basement, banging around, causing a ruckus. I had to go down there and tell him to knock it off. He also tried to steal my ipod.
For years I hitched my untamed horses to someone else’s wagon. It usually ended up going around in circles.
One day the weight crushed my spine and I sat down in the desert for eternity.
Later I shook off the harness and for a time ran ecstatic in infinite directions until I unexpectedly found myself groundless, surrounded by nothing but space.
The more you get free from, the more you become free to. And therein lies the problem…Now what?
I couldn’t turn back. That territory had already been covered.
I fell for a long time.
In the bath just now I felt the fear shaking off of me, the tension pouring out from me. I was like a fetus in the salted waters, moving with the tide flowing into me and out of me and through me.
When it was done I had something I wanted to write come into my head, but it left before I could towel off. A seed.
I will assume it went back down to be planted in the fertile soil, to come up as a scarlet field of begonias later.
I refuse to allow myself to be traumatized by the selective and biased media portrayal of current events. I will no longer allow myself to be rubbed raw by constant rancor in the press and the daily shredding of my psyche by the news cycle.
I refuse to continually check social media to see what everyone else is saying about what everybody else is saying about the latest distraction that has been manufactured and pumped out into the public consciousness.
I refuse to listen to anything that is designed to shape or massage or control my perception of a situation or event, and I refuse to be told how to think or feel about it. I will determine my thoughts and feelings independently, thank you, and if that means that I don’t want to talk about it endlessly until I’ve come to my own conclusions, then I guess I will have to live with not being very interesting at parties.
I refuse to allow myself to be led by people “in charge” who do not have my best interests at heart, or the best interests of anyone at heart. I refuse to get sucked into continually discussing their pathetic, absurd antics…and that includes those at all points along the political spectrum. By giving them our attention in this way, we are feeding their power by making them feel vital and legitimate. They are neither.
I refuse to participate in business practices by companies that respect humans so little that they do not acknowledge basic dignity, from their workers’ right to use their own discretion and judgment, down to determining when and if they can TAKE A BATHROOM BREAK. Is there really any legitimate need for me to have that pair of Nikes I ordered on Amazon delivered as if it were a heart speeding to the hospital for transplant? Hell no. Not if it means that a fellow human who’s just trying to make a living has to piss in a soda bottle. The reason these massive megalithic corporations and conglomerates feel so dead and inhuman is because their leaders are diseased at the level of the soul.
I refuse to play my assigned role in a game where the rules are put in place by those who see humans as nothing more than “capital” to be farmed and manipulated and governed as they seek to extract the last trillionth of a penny out of every rock, plant and living creature on Earth. I will no longer allow my precious lifeforce energy to feed the machine that is attempting to destroy me and everyone else on the planet.
So what am I going to do about it?
What can any of us do about it?
We can start by remembering that each of us CHOOSES where to apply our energy and attention and passion and effort, and we can actively decide to focus it on the things we value most, like our friends and loved ones and our communities and on living as our highest and best selves.
You don’t need to move into a hollow log out in the middle of nowhere. You also don’t need to sit huddled in the corner with your head between your knees. This is not about becoming an ostrich or a luddite.
It’s about taking back your own basic power, which starts with the power to choose.
You don’t need a coalition or an army or consensus or permission. You can simply decide to withdraw your energy from giving aid and comfort to support a system that’s rigged against us, and start applying that energy directly to the things you inherently know really matter.
And that, my friends, is how change REALLY happens.
You are walking down a long dimly lit hallway with black-slatted doors on both sides. You don’t know exactly what the doors conceal, but you have the sense that whatever it is wouldn’t be interesting enough to bother opening them.
You’ve been here, walking, for a very long time, but you do not pause to think about it. You do not turn to see the endless hallway falling away behind you.
As you continue onward, the plush velvet of the carpet begins to grow and change…the short twisted fibers stretching skyward, turning to blades of grass. You are in a manicured garden surrounded by a tall dense hedge, purple shadows crossing winding stone paths punctuated by pools of close-clipped green encircling classical white marble statues posed atop pillars capped with scrolled ionic capitals.
A door in the sky opens and a winding wrought iron staircase descends, but you look past it, fascinated by an ant traversing the length of Venus’s forearm.
You can feel the cool Carrara beneath your feet, all six of them. You circle around and around at the elbow, seeking something but not knowing what, driven by some intractable instinct to continue forward. Occasionally you slip back down the smooth marble surface, polished to glass by the artist known as time. Undeterred, you continue your climb. Climbing up, sliding down. Climbing up, sliding down. This is how it is. This is how it always has been. This is how it always will be.
Your sheer white nightshirt trailing behind you, you follow a winding path through a dark forest, blanketed in silence, shrouded in violet shadows, unable to see the sky. There is no sound, not even that of your breathing. You don’t know where you’re going, but you are not lost. At first the walk is easy but as you progress the brush becomes thicker and you struggle to navigate, clumsily clambering over fallen trees and through tangled branches which lash your arms and claw your face.
You are searching for something you’ve forgotten in a room with heavy velvet drapes covering the walls on all sides; no door is visible. You sit down on the floor in frustration and notice an ant crawling across a saucer, circling the rim. Someone calls your name and you turn to see a distant mountain, the peak obscured by lavender smoked clouds.
You are flying across a field of wildflowers, patches of amethyst scattered across a velvet eiderdown of crisp spring green. Strange music rings in your ears, and when you look for its source you find that it is coming from a window behind black-slatted shutters.
You rise from the window seat overlooking the garden and walk through sheer white curtains onto a cracked and heaving Carrara marble balcony; twisted branches growing through gaping crevices. The wrought iron railing is rusted and decayed, scrolled ironwork posts bent and listing. You open your hand to see your palm crawling with ants. Somewhere behind you something shatters.
You walk to an opening where the railing has fallen away completely, stepping off the edge of the mountain peak into the lavender velvet sky.
Mr. Type A, who had been on his way to the most important meeting of his life (but then, all of them were) was sitting on his silver Zero Halliburton briefcase in the center of the floor with his head in his hands. The metal “Emergency Phone” door beneath the control panel was bent and dented where Mr. Type A had been kicking it repeatedly with his Louis Vuitton wingtips; the impotent receiver dangling listlessly from the cord.
He checked his iPhone for the 30,000th time to see zero bars. He looked up at his partner in incarceration, who had been quietly observing the frenzy.
“Say something, God Dammit!” Mr. Type A’s voice was hoarse from yelling and swearing and ranting non-stop.
Poised in a low crouch in the far corner of the elevator was a rather thin fellow in a striped boatneck T-shirt atop ridiculously tight black pants with built-in suspenders. He looked up, cocked his head to the side and made a motion with his hand as if zipping up his lips, his eyes sparkling with delight.
Mr. Type A’s face turned a shade of red usually seen only in cardiac arrest, a large vein doing the rhumba on his temple. “Listen Creep, do you know how critical this meeting was?? My entire future was riding on it!”
With an exaggerated frowny face, the thin man stood and began playing an invisible violin.
Mr. Type A reared up, glowering, enraged. Quickly, the thin man pantomimed the act of pulling a bouquet of flowers from behind his back, stopping to smell the non-existent blooms and then plucking a single invisible rose from the bunch. Smiling, he handed it to Mr. Type A.
Mr. Type A glared at the thin man, boiling with disgust, but managed to gather himself and back off. It wouldn’t look good to be rescued just as he was throttling the little fucker.
“Okay buddy. I get it. But this isn’t the park on a Sunday afternoon and I’m not a 5 year old. We’re stuck in here, and it looks like we’re going to be here for a while.”
The thin man theatrically yawned, tapping his ballet-slippered foot impatiently. He looked at his wrist with elaborate intent. Regarding the invisible watch with confusion, he held it to his ear; shaking it, holding it to his ear again.
With a dramatic flourish he removed the “watch” and chucked it over his shoulder.
At which point Mr. Type A’s mind entered what can only be thought of as some sort of vapor lock. The reptile portion of his brain, the dominant part from which he tended to operate, softly imploded, unable to compute.
Oh, the rage was still there, pumping through his veins in the form of high-octane adrenaline. But the will to act, to shred the stripe-shirted moron to pieces, had mysteriously evaporated.
While Mr. Type A blinked and sputtered, the thin man spread out an invisible blanket, reclined on it with his arms folded behind his head, whistling a silent tune. He reached into an invisible picnic basket and pulled out an invisible beer, cracked it open, and offered it to the shell-shocked executive.
Mr. Type A stared blankly. With a shrug, the thin man took a long satisfying swallow, set it down, and pretended to thumb through a magazine.
Just then, the tip of a crowbar appeared at the joint where the elevator doors met. After a moment of prying, the doors parted to reveal a team of firefighters, several employees of the building, and the building superintendent.
As the slightly confused crowd looked on, the thin man gracefully folded his “blanket,” packing it away along with the empty beer can and the magazine into his invisible basket, and stepped through the opening.
The thin man shook the hand of the crowbar-wielding firefighter vigorously and exclaimed with obvious appreciation, “Thanks a million, I thought I’d be stuck in there forever!”
He blew kisses to the onlookers as he walked away swinging his picnic basket, leaving Mr. Type A standing in the elevator, speechless.
I looked up my symptoms on the internet, and I’m pretty sure I’m dying. But then, when you think about it, all of us are. Every single person on this planet is closer to death now than they were one nanosecond ago. That may seem like a harsh thought, something to be sad about. And it is harsh; reality often is. But it doesn’t have to be sad. Because even though each and every one of us is hurtling towards our own demise, there’s no reason why we can’t continue to become more and more alive as we make the journey. It’s a mindset thing. All it takes is a desire and a commitment to keep on learning and growing and crackling with enthusiasm right up until the very end. Ideally, the most alive you’ve ever felt is the moment right before you croak.
Some people know exactly what they want. They move in a straight line, pursuing their mission like a pit bull. That’s the model of success we’re handed: choose one thing and stick with it. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to work that way. I want to do many, many different things. All at the same time. In fact, there are so many ideas and options and directions that appeal to me that it’s nigh impossible for me to choose any of them. Which means that a lot of the time I appear to be flitting around wasting time and energy instead of “getting serious” and “building a legacy.” Or building anything, for that matter. I recently learned that there are others like me, they even have a name for it: The Scanner Personality. Maybe for some Scanners having a label makes them feel better, more validated. But it doesn’t help me. Why would I want to limit myself to only one label?
1984 Buick Riviera, stored winters, only 112,000 gently driven miles. Two tons of guts and steel and American ingenuity built by sweat, muscle and Detroit blue-collar pride for suburban middle-class middle management. Tasteful with just the right amount of flash, unashamedly chugging down high-octane like a three-martini lunch. Not so much a car as a floating house, a plushly carpeted living room on wheels. Brown velour with cordovan accents, matching sofas front and back, ashtrays on every armrest. All it needs is a Curtis Mathes walnut television console and a couple of throw pillows and it’s ready to move right in.
Alchemy, considered to be the precursor to science, is the ancient practice of transforming one thing into another through a series of precise steps. Mixing an acid with a base to get a salt is a fairly straightforward example…provable, repeatable, and scientifically explainable at a 3rd grade level, as many a vinegar/baking soda volcano has demonstrated. It’s basic cause and effect, which is the cornerstone of science. Alchemy, on the other hand, goes beyond cause and effect to account for magic, which is why it’s looked at as archaic. Modern day science is considered an advancement over alchemy because it analyzes the mystery out of everything and replaces it with facts. A 3rd grader knows the facts of how a vinegar volcano works. A four-year old just sees magic. But who’s to say they’re both not correct? Because at the end of the day, science may be able to describe how a vinegar volcano works, but it can’t explain why watching one erupt all over the table is so freaking delightful.
Her long ponytail flaring out behind her
Obsessed with the idea of escape
Rocketing into the air
Eyes wide, she is trying to get to the surface
The only one in captivity who is still alive, born oblivious
to the artificial world humans have manufactured.
we were lifted heavenly, very swiftly,
two doves beyond the ultimate horizon.
Both grasping the potential dangers, we weren’t afraid;
surely we would travel infinitely far.
We won’t shut our eyes nor blind ourselves to the awareness.
We will fearlessly open that window.
You’ve seen us crash painfully against several and even
many walls in pursuing that prize beyond the stars:
We rose from a crouch then,
both broken completely yet entirely perfectly anew.
So here we were, flying, in the ether, as we were becoming,
our escape from an illusion into a dream.
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 and 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 exactly had his soul 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 were 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 slice 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.
You are alone in a hotel room, new but already dated, beige shag and heavy Mediterranean woodwork. Voices filter through the wall, there are people talking in the adjacent room. You can hear them but can’t make out what they’re saying.
You listen closely and begin to catch occasional words.
“The car is waiting.”
“Not to be trusted.”
Are you actually hearing this, or is it just your mind seeking patterns in the muffled syllables?
Intently focused, struggling to hear, you are 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 you turn your head away from the voices, you begin to sink into the floor, supports rotted by the moisture. You drop through the floor joists into a bog, a substrate, layered like chunks of torn and crumbled foam.
You push your way through and come to a soft spot in the wall, decomposing and stretched thin to near transparency.
You can see inside the other room, a mirror image of your 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.”
You hold your breath, her voice echoing in your head. But no one else appears to have heard.
Blood turned to freon by the chill of what is about to transpire, your 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 low-cut 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.
You 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 you feel something you cannot identify. The indescribable beauty of desolation.
When at last you 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 towards the door.
You 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 to face the wall, she looks directly at the place where you are standing, pinpoint pupils meeting yours in a glacial embrace.
“Not to be trusted.”
Her eyes narrow as she memorizes the outlines of your face, storing the image to be dealt with later.
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. I’d 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.
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.