Thursday, June 18, 2015

go there

I heard that there are still a few downtown performance venues up and running where it is okay to repeat yourself, accidentally or deliberately, and that the curators tend to be forgiving and are not quick to pounce in judgement. So there's that. Both before and after the show there will probably be some conversation. Wait, that's a little misleading. Sorry. There will most definitely be conversation. There will be SO MUCH conversation. People will stand around talking for as long as they possibly can. GUARANTEED. My advice is: don't dive into it. Don't let your stories be so easily known. Nothing wrong with conversation per se and nothing wrong with an arrow clearly pointing to the designated conversation area if there happens to one. Should you go there? If this blog has taught me anything, it is that it would be a huge mistake to go there. Irreversible, probably. I entitled this post 'go there' just to see if I could trick the reader. I repeat myself way too much, obviously. This translates into a reputation for being predictable and boring. It has been difficult to come to terms with this but my persistence seems to have finally paid off. Most people do not like me and do not want to hear about my ideas. Conversation could be described as a thing long in the past, a former activity, an old flame that has long since settled down into ash and blown away. I still pine for it, desperately.

book review

The novel known as 'My Journey with Karl to the 1987 Minnesota State Fair' is more or less about the so-called universal Way that has been handed on by word of mouth from fairgoer to fairgoer ever since the fair's inception in 1859. Jay Mist, the author of the 'Journey', dared to say what the ancients did not dare to say, being so bold as to reveal in all its nakedness the celestial mechanism undergirding the annual pilgrimage. The main entrance to the fair from Snelling Avenue heads onto a road named Dan Patch Boulevard for a famous pacer horse who won every race he ran in from 1900 to 1909.

The use of words in 'My Journey with Karl to the 1987 Minnesota State Fair' is a lot like that of so-called Zen devices. The points to notice are all more or less outside the rude printed matter. Sometimes they are concealed in ordinary folk sayings or malapropisms ala the great Sancho Panza. Sometimes they are represented in rivers or interstates or rides like the Tilt-A-Whirl or Lemonade Shake-Up. There are of course the farm animals and cool crafts to consider.

Sometimes true and false are distinguished by a chuckle or smirk. Sometimes Karl implies there is only a hair's breadth of difference between them, which causes some fairgoers to shake their heads disapprovingly and write him off as a Dark and Twisted Figure from the Obscure and Most Likely Irrelevant Past. Sometimes real and artificial are differentiated by a single letter or punctuation mark!

'My Journey with Karl to the 1987 Minnesota State Fair' is permeated with so-called Taoist principles. It implies that when we regard things through this lens, nothing is best, nothing is worst. We attempt to coexist peacefully but quite often come up rather short. Each thing, seen in its own light, stands out in its own way. It can seem to be "better" than what is compared with it on its own terms. But seen in terms of the whole, no one thing stands out as "better." If you measure differences, what is greater than something else is "great." Good for it! Therefore there is nothing that is not "great." What is smaller than something else is "small." Boo-hoo. Therefore there is nothing that is not "small." So the whole cosmos is a grain of rice, and the tip of a hair is as huge as the Grand Canyon. Such is the relative view.

The fairgoers of old were not afraid when they stood alone in their views. No great exploits. No plans. If they failed, no sorrow. No self-congratulation amidst so-called success. Minds free, thoughts gone, brows clear, faces serene.

Towards the end of the 'Journey' Karl makes a rare personal confession: "Other people are excited, as though they were at a parade. I alone don't care, I alone am expressionless, like an infant before it can smile. Other people believe they have what they need; I alone possess nothing. I alone drift about, like someone without a home base. I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty. Other people are bright; I alone am dark. Other people are sharp; I alone am dull. Other people have a purpose; I alone don't know. I drift like a wave on the ocean, blow as aimless as the forest wind, except for that time in 1987 when I went to the Minnesota State Fair with my good friend Jay Mist."

It probably comes as no surprise that unusual foodstuffs are readily available at the fair. Classics such as cotton candy and hot dogs also make their appearance. Many foods reflect Minnesota's agriculture; cheese curds, milk shakes, and corn dogs are popular favorites. Many foods at the fair are deep fried or come on a stick; from the classic corn dog to alligator-on-a-stick, lobster-on-a-stick, deep fried candy bar on a stick, and even beer-on-a-stick. New to the fair in 2006 was hotdish on a stick, a variant of a classic staple of Minnesotan cuisine. In 2007 the big craze was spaghetti on a stick.



In June I employed poor Robot Language to help me finish an ambitious scholarly article on the Blurry Ethics & Logic of Much Ado's Constable Leo M. Dogberry for a mixed-use anthology scheduled to be published by Seacoal, Shoal, & Asshat in the Autumn of 2019. He assured me that he was Efficient, Cool, Smart, & Reliable. LOL. Towards the end of our interview he asked if I would be open to additional input from his esteemed colleague Dr. Samanthajay at the Wildernesses Institute. "She employs Exquisite Human Language for editorial gigs su


The next day the five of us hunkered down in my Sweet Corner Office and polished it off in a ten hour burst of uninterrupted and inspired academic activity, alternating duties between the Concluding Section, Final Edits, & Pesky Bibliographic Concerns. Poor Robot Language was terrific and Exquisite Human Language was fabulous although it soon became apparent that Dr. S knew WAY more about the bard than all the rest of us put together even though sh


Later on that night we were celebrating around a small backyard campfire toasting 0rganic Frankfurters & Marshmallows when Out Of Nowhere asked the general company in an Extremely Fierce Yet Barely Audible Whisper: Dost thou not suspect my place, Animals? Dost thou not suspect my Infinity? Oh, that someone were here to write me down a Future Financial Asset! But please remember that I am descended from Sir Samuel Pickwick's Bizarre Fascinations; though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am a co


It was confusing, awkward, weird, and a little bit scary, but nevertheless we continued to sit there in Near-Perfect Stillness & Silence for another forty-five minutes or so. We were all concer


(from one of the interviews in ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’)  

WJ: Tell me everything there is to know about your strange nocturnal passwords and confidential week-long visits to what you referred to earlier as the ‘Natural Homebuilding Institute.

CK: Beekeeping isn’t for sissies!

WJ: Indeed it is not.

CK: I also wanted to take part in the larger conversation about why Emily Dickinson became so reclusive that for the last ten years of her life she didn’t once leave her house and eventually even began hiding from visitors. Are you at all familiar with John Keats?

WJ: Yes.

CK: He was also a fully licensed surgeon, you realize.

WJ: I didn’t realize that, Christopher.

CK: ‘Baseball As An Integral Part of God's Plan’ is an excellent summertime read, btw. Even if you don’t give a rat’s ass about sports, with a few deft strokes it successfully evokes a bygone people and era that was simultaneously simpler and much more complex. Independent scholars sometimes wander into taverns or libraries and try to make sense of this paradox, comprehensively surveying the philosophy, science, technology, statistics, and arts of... arts of... uh... visibly puzzled as to why the game is still so often referred to as ‘the national pastime’, as if at any time in our history it was ever the most popular leisure/recreational activity of the average American!

WJ: What about this “Homebuilding Institute”?

CK: I’m getting there, Dr. James! Most articles cite the dirt or the dust of the batter’s box as a possible metaphor for the little known poem by young Lloyd Westmoreland, the neighbor boy who helped out in the Dickinson family garden and was thought to have an obsession with Emily. He wrote his verse in Latin so as to keep his secrets safe from the prying eyes of the other lads in the village. Here is my own rough translation:

Dust consists of Particles-

In the Atmosphere-

That come from Various Sources-

Soil, Plant and Animal Matter,

Paper Fibers, Meteorite Residue-

Volcanic Eruptions, What Have You.

Dust may worsen Hay Fever-

Circulate outdoor Air through the House!

Keeping Doors and Windows open-

Or at least slightly ajar-

May reduce the Risk

Of contracting this Malady.

However, in colder Climates,

Occupants seal even the Smallest Visible Gaps-

Which keeps fresh Air from the Great Outdoors

From circulating freely inside of the Home.

Because of This,

It is essential to have a Plan

For managing Airflow and Dust.

Overlook this, and you experience

Discomfort and sorrow.

Cosmic Dust is widely present in Space,

Where Gas and Dust Clouds are

Primary precursors for Planetary Systems

Both Near and Afar. Thezodiacal light-

As seen in the Ink-Black Night Sky

Is produced by Sunlight reflected

From particles of Dust in Orbit

Around our Majestical Sun.

In the Long Run,

The Earth's Water and most of its Atmosphere

Will eventually Drift off into

Nameless and Faceless Oblivion,

Rendering the Planet inhospitable

To all known Terrestrial Life.

Until then, we can continue to assume

That the tails of Comets are produced

By emissions of Dust and Ionized Gas

Cooking like a supernatural Stew

Dust also covers solid planetary bodies,

And vast dust storms occur on Mars

That would reduce our conception

Of what is possible in The Red Kingdom

To Tatters and Rags.

Interstellar Dust is found between the Stars,

And high concentrations produce

Diffuse Nebulae and Reflection Nebulae.

Written by Lloyd Westmoreland, circa 1875.

Translated by me, Christopher Kirkson, 1896.

WJ: Wow... Yes, I see... yes... it gradually all begins to fall into place...

CK: I ended up writing about some of that stuff in my diary. People were all like, wow, you must have the most exciting diary ever! I was like, hard to say- I haven’t read any other people’s diaries recently. But now that I have a project, now that I have some sort of purpose, I can focus my attention on other stuff. Conversation, for instance. Waking up in the morning, energetic, excited, eager, enthusiastic, etc. This is how we were designed. This is how it is supposed to be.

I know that some of you are slightly weary of hearing so much about the young neighbor boy Marcus. Just this morning I reviewed some of the recent feedback concerning him, and while many people seem to feel that he is a relatively likable and industrious lad, his antics are not especially interesting or different from most small-town boys his age. Besides,as some of you have pointed out- he's not even my kid! He would still be pretty random to you if he were, but the fact that he's not makes it a double or even triple-random type situation.

These are indeed sobering truths to keep hearing over and over again, but judging from the sheer number of times the word "random" has come up in the feedback in regards to the young fellow, I can't help but think that maybe my approach has been too one-dimensional. Hence, starting today, whenever I feel the need to provide a Marcus report, I will search deeper into his essence/activities and attempt to extract a layer of meaning that attempts to speak to some of the larger issues at stake in the neighborhood.

He's been taking photography lessons at day camp and today they had a little quiz on terminology. He stopped by last night and asked me to give him a practice test. This photography instructor is clearly not fooling around:

LUMINANCE: the ratio of the luminous intensity emitted by an unreliable light source in a given direction by an infinitesimal area of the subject or source, to the projection of that area of the subject or source upon the plane perpendicular to the given direction and its corresponding operational network control.

LUMINANCE COMPENSATION: in the transmission of pictures, whether by facsimile, phototelegraph, box camera, cell phone, or other online lightwave systems using wireless optical fibers, compensation introduced at the receiver by the image-recording device so as to exactly reproduce the luminance range present in primordial nature.

LUMINANCE TEMPERATURE: the temperature of an ideal blackbody or darkroom that would have the same luminance as the source for which the luminance temperature is desired for some incredibly narrow spectral region of color.

LUMINOUS EFFICIENCY: the ratio of the luminous flux emitted to the power consumed by a source of unreliable light; e.g., lumens-per-watt-applied-at-the-original-source.

OPTICAL CAVITY: a geometrically bound space in which light waves can reflect back and forth to thus produce standing waves of high intensity at particular frequencies obtained in a ruby crystal laser with two  planes or spherical mirrors.

OPTICAL CHOPPER: a device for periodically interrupting a viable light beam, such as a rotating disk with radial slots through which a collimated beam must pass via the piezoelectric effect.

OPTICAL POWER BUDGET: in an ideal optical transmission system , the distribution of available power that is required for transmission within specified distortion limits or error rates. Components include the light source module, connectors, cable, detectors, and splices.

PHASE CONJUGATION: in image restoration, a method of wavefront control in which the shape of of the particles, distorted by phase changes introduced during propagation in a transmission medium and restored by using a conjugate to compensate for the phase changes that have already occurred.

PHOTOGRAPHY: the branch of science and technology that is devoted to the creation of pictures, usually on hard copy, by exposing sensitive chemically treated paper to random or everyday images, usually in the visible region of the frequency spectrum, though infrared and ultraviolet waves are also included.

QUADRIPHASE SHIFT-KEYING: shift keying in which 0's and 1's are represented by phase shifts of a carrier wave that occur at 0°, +90°, -90°, and 180°. Thus, four different phase conditions or positions are used in the time domain within the period-span of a sinusoidal carrier function.

I was on Karl's porch swing again this evening whining about our postponed trip to the deservedly famous Windy City and all the relatively cool stuff that such a metropolis has to offer a confused stage actor and carver of wood such as myself. After about 45 minutes of silence, the only sounds being strong winds, a few birds, the creaking of the swing, and distant thunder, he cleared his throat and muttered "Willy, sometimes your sociological comments are distinctly reminiscent of things I remember overhearing now and again among my clumsy boyhood companions years ago back in Michigan, when our already well-warped cultural lenses were oh-so-carefully trained on various things and phenomena with all the errant madness and gullibility of poor Don Quixote and Sancho."

I humbly conceded his point.

"Your beloved Windy City differs mainly from this sleepy little town where we are at present in your mistaken belief that over there all your beloved things and phenomena are massed or wedged in considerably closer together, and that somehow this makes them more worth your "attention." This presumed density inspires and excites you, apparently. May I suggest a homemade remedy, simple fellow?"

"By all means."

"Wander up and down the alley behind my house a few times and I'm certain you'll see enough serious massing and wedging to satisfy your big city cravings for awhile. Besides, I'd like to spend a little time alone with this upcoming storm. Your teenage-like prattle has once again wearied me to the point of wishing you temporarily out of my sight, hearing, and as rude as the following might be to say, smell. Until next time, Willy."

I humbly conceded all his points and wandered up and down the alley several times as suggested, until it began pouring down rain and I was forced to take  shelter under somebody's toolshed awning.

According to the person on NPR we are all made up of atoms, and if there’s anything we should pay homage to it’s the elementary particle. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing. I’m just relaying positions. With each breath you inhale a million billion billion atoms of oxygen. That sounds like a vague number but actually it’s very precise, which gives you some idea of how small each one is. All of them, together with the carbon atoms contained in your person, and indeed everything else on Earth, were cooked in a black hole some 5 billion years ago. Hence, you are made of stuff that is as old as the planet, one-third as old as the universe, though this is most likely the first time that those atoms have been gathered together such that they imagine or think or believe that they are you.

Here I should also probably address one other core-motivation type question that bears on the matter of veracity and trust raised several status updates ago, viz., why a nonfiction memoir at all, since I’m primarily a stage actor and carver of wood? If human is 5, then the devil is 6, then the bodhisattva is 7, etc. Not to mention the question of why a memoir restricted to single aborted weekend in Chicago, with no other plans than visiting the ol’ swimming hole, riding El trains around randomly, visiting the outdoor sculpture ‘Agora’ on the northeastern corner of Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue and maybe even jumping up and down in utter excitement, assuming the big city energy still has something close to the same snap, crackle, and pop? Pause for a moment and consider, if you can, simple Rice Krispies, (known as ‘Rice Bubbles’ in Australia and New Zealand), a breakfast cereal that was created by Clayton Rindlisbacher or by Eugene McKay, both of whom worked for the Kellogg company (the inventor/creator is disputed), and later marketed by Kellogg's in 1927 and released to the public in 1928. Rice Krispies are made of crisped rice (rice and sugar paste that is formed into rice shapes or "berries", cooked, dried and toasted), and expand forming very thin and hollowed out walls that are crunchy and crisp. When milk is added to the cereal the walls tend to collapse, creating the aforementioned sounds, also associated with classic big-city excitement.

 A swingset, a swimming pool, Billy Joel’s greatest hits playing in the background somewhere.

Children and adults jumping up and down in excitement.

Other children and adults lying under tarps and trees, taking it easy.

Crouching down and drinking deeply of the primordial waters, like so many untold generations before them.

A distinct sense of excitement. An almost unbearable sense of excitement.

The putative title is ‘All for The Best’. Possibly for public TV. In Chicago, this station goes by the moniker WTTW, which stands for Window To The World, because it gives us random glimpses of weird situations from all over the world.

There’s also the VCR monitor for letting people see the provisional intro, whose crudeness is acknowledged up front in the pre-briefing. It’s all set pieces and and shots from photo archives whose stylized warmth does not fit the voiceover’s tone. It’s disorienting, and no one is sure what exactly is up.

Some get up and go out looking for clarification, others just shrug and chalk another one up for the so-called Age of Uncertainty, a 1977 book and television series, co-produced by the BBC, CBC, KCET and OECA, and written and presented by the celebrated Lebanese mystic Khalil Gibran. The content of the series was determined mainly by Gibran’s next-door-neighbor Karl with the presentation style directed by his colleagues in the BBC. Gibran began by writing a series of poems from which the scripts were derived and from these the book emerged which in many places goes beyond the material covered in the relevant television episode. The series was thirteen years in the making and Gibran was left with a very high regard indeed for Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and a newfound respect for the possibilities of television as a medium.

Karl was wise and sympathetic, and whenever the young Khalil’s parents started squeezing his shoes about the lack-of-direction thing, Karl would stick up for him to some extent and say he was trying to find his own path in life, and that not every path is outlined in neon lights like a runway at O’Hare.

Discombobulating perhaps to be surveying so many unusual works, but then maybe they aren’t that unusual to big city denizens. Who among us is in a position to say? Take Karl’s sportscar idea, for example. A functional sportscar MADE ENTIRELY OUT OF PETRIFIED WOOD! People see it, people like it, people want it, buy it, rent it, drive it, whatever! Sky’s the freaking limit in a location like this! When Karl and I have finally turned the dream into a reality we’re gonna drive it up and down Michigan Avenue and make all the people there GREEN WITH ENVY! They’ll want to know where we got it and we’ll just say, sorry, gotta get back to the petrified forest, maybe we’ll shoot you a text later but probably not. Happy shopping!

Discombobulating perhaps to be scanning so many spectacular images, but then again, maybe I’ve just been out of the loop for awhile and images like this aren’t so spectacular these days, I think to myself from my cobwebby booth in Duncan’s Donuts, an atavistic little place in Uptown just north of Wilson Avenue under the Red Line. Bone-crushing reminder of all the work that still lies ahead of us. I’m gonna walk up and down the lakefront all day gathering cool-looking glass fragments and pebbles and when darkness falls I’ll just switch on my headlamp and continue on as if nothing happened. That’s my Protestant upbringing. An ethic and aesthetic that together have made me the success story I am. Tomorrow I’ll take the best ones down to the Magnificent Mile and sell them for five dollars apiece, which will go directly into the R&D for Karl’s aforementioned idea. According to him, we are proud and functioning members of civil society and nothing will make that more evident than inventing a new sportscar made entirely out of petrified wood.    
(Certain things you don’t really want to see or hear or say at the new dentistry clinic while “in the darkened underpass I thought ‘o god, my chance has come at last,’ but then a strange fear gripped and I just couldn’t ask” plays on the sound system.)

A man emerges from an exam looking weary, punch-drunk, and red-eyed. I am the only other person in the waiting room. He addresses me directly:

“Sir, do I look like I just got the ass-kicking of my life or what?” “Uh...” “She was just cutting out one of my molars to reinstall it up front but the knife slipped and she sliced off the tip of my tongue. “Holy shit.” “Yeah, no kidding. She told the helper person to put some stuff on it while she prepared to sew it back on, except the helper person couldn’t find it, so she says ‘try this other stuff’ and the helper was like ‘no problemo’ but you see, there WAS a problemo, because this other stuff was mislabeled and I ended up with concentrated sulfuric acid on my wound. There was a distinct sizzling sound, like you might hear at a steakhouse. I yakked all over the helper person at that point and he must have had a queasy stomach because he yakked all over me in return. We both started trying to clean it up but it was impossible to tell whose yak was whose.” “Wowsers.” “Yeah, it was all this intermingled yak everywhere. Anyways, the dentist decides to put the molar relocation on hold and just glue my tongue back in place with this new organic glue that she said was taking the dental industry by storm. I was like ‘do I even have any tongue left?’ She was like ‘sure, sure, no problemo, it’s just a little charred at the edges.’ I told her at this point to shoot me as full of painkiller as the law would allow and send me home with quadruple the amount she would have normally prescribed, figuring I was probably in about four times as much discomfort as originally planned. She was all like, ‘no problemo, I’ll send you home with ten times the amount!’ You would think I might be kinda happy at this point but in fact I broke down and started crying. The helper person started rubbing my shoulder and saying ‘there, there, Randall, no need to cry. It will all be better soon.’  He leaned in and gave me a kiss on the forehead. I swear at that moment I felt like I was on drugs or dreaming or something and asked the dentist to give me some kind of reality check, so she pulled up my x-rays and started pointing out all the other potential trouble areas we would probably have to contend with in the future.”

At this point he burst into tears again and sat down next to me. He seemed so scared and confused that I took his hand in mine and quietly repeated the reassuring words of the helper. “There, there, Randall, it will all be better soon. Just hang in there.”

(from a recent National Geographic interview with Pete’s dragon/dramaturg Elliot)

“Most of Pete’s first mentors were raised in a pre-Stanislavskian era, you realize, in which the primary acting concepts were no longer considered very successful by the studio honchos, no matter how much time and energy were devoted to them in a touching but laughable attempt to make them pertinent, helpful, provocative, cool, and, of course, financially viable. (Boisterous laughter.) The simplest everyday phrases that were finding their way into scripts at the time, such as ‘this is to be my symphony’ or ‘where did you get this ravioli?’ or ‘the storm windows, obliterated’ or ‘hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back no more no more no more no more until you’re ready to do your fair share of the chores around here semi-cheerfully (more boisterous laughter) without having to be asked, begged, or bribed’ took on new and mysterious meanings for a simple and relatively innocent fellow like Pete, even if the era which spawned them started to appear more and more in the guise of a fragile grandmother-type-figure, rocking back and forth in her rickety chair with a loyal pet in her lap, sipping a gin-cranberry and listening to the piece for radio “Embers” by her old pal Samuel Beckett.”

Tried explaining to some 9-year-olds during our little art lesson this morning about the potential dangers of repeating oneself too much once one has finally hit on a bankable formula and the dealers and galleries have started lapping it up like crack-infused lemonade or limeade or orangeade. The ades are very, very, very hard to resist, I assured them. “You’re using fairly primitive tools, children, but to considerably sophisticated effect. I’m proud of you. All of you. You’ve come a long way this summer. All of us here at Camp Howdy Doody are excited, eager, motivated, energetic, fired up, animated, dynamic, spirited, impassioned, enthusiastic lifelong learners- correct?” There was some semi-wild cheering, and then absolute silence. “I am impressed by your progress thus far- I just want you to progress even further!” “In a straight line?” Suzie asked me. “Whatever sort of line you prefer!” “What about floating off up into space? Or tunneling down into the earth?” “That would indeed constitute progress, in my book.”

She then pulled out a pocket dictionary and asked if she could read the definition of ‘progress.’ (She’s pulled this kind of stunt before, btw.) “By all means,” I responded. “Ok... let’s see here... forward or onward movement toward a vague destination; advancement; improvement; a sense of ongoing excitement.” “Ok then,” I continued. “What about ‘destination’? It might help to know that one as well.” “Ok, let’s see here... destination: place to which a person or thing is going; journey’s end; stopping place; goal; objective; excitement.” “Ok, that helps, Suzie. Thank you. Let’s check one more- how about ‘place’?” “Sure thing, Mr. Murphy... a particular portion of space; portion of space occupied by a person or thing; a state of unfettered excitement; irrepressible life-force.” “Uh... ok... Let’s check ‘space’ while we’re at it.” “Good idea... give me a sec... Ok, here it is- space: continuous unlimited area or expanse which may or may not contain objects, and may or may not partake in the typical human excitement.” “Ok then. I think that settles it. No need to repeat yourselves if you’ve got an unlimited area, right?”

There was a brief pause, and then suddenly I could see the light bulbs going on over their heads. Suzie piped up again. “Why do we have to keep using all these primitive tools?” “It’s all that we have on hand at the moment.” “Well, let’s go to the art supply store and see what else is available!” “But that’s where we’ve been going for tools since I was a kid at Camp Howdy Doody! I thought we were gonna try to stop repeating ourselves!”

Another brief pause. “Have you ever read Gertrude Stein, Mr. Murphy?” asked Suzie. “A little.” “What about that famous passage in The Making of Americans?” “Which one?” “The one that goes ‘Always from the beginning there was to me all living as repeating. This is now a description of my feeling. As I was saying listening to repeating is often irritating, always repeating is all of living, everything in a being is always repeating, more and more listening to repeating gives to me completed understanding. Each one slowly comes to be a whole one to me. Each one slowly comes to be a whole one in me. Soon then it commences to sound through my ears and eyes and feelings the repeating that is always coming out from each one, that is them, that makes them slowly of each one of them a whole one.”

Another pause. “Ok then,” I said. “maybe Gertrude Stein feels differently about repetition than me.” Suzie gave me a narrow look. “And we should listen to you more than Gertrude Stein? She was close friends with a lot of famous painters, you realize.” “Yes, I realize... whatever that means...” “Let’s look it up, shall we?” “Sure.” “Be fully aware of; conceive of as real; understand clearly; convert into actuality.”



























Even though we get along fine, for the most part, that doesn’t mean that the major works of the era don’t sometimes cause dissention and confusion between us.

We try talking it out, talking it through, from beginning to end, talking about the pros and the cons, swapping observations and anecdotes, both personal and professional, in a wide range of human dialects.

Even though we were raised in relatively similar family/social environments, the major works sometimes divide us. Our conversations can easily become unhinged and explosive. I tell him to calm down, and he tells me he’s already calm, which he clearly is not, so then I accuse him of lying, and refer to the deleterious effects that this or that major work has had on his sensitive and overly-impressionable psyche. I tell him, essentially, that he should think about having his psyche aerated. He then accuses me of suggesting that he has serious psychological problems, to which I say no, that’s not really case, but, look, even if on the off-chance it were, that shouldn’t be such a terrible thing. Lots of people need to have their psyches aerated, I assure him. The major works are so contentious in this particular area that our reference points soon dissolve into an unnavigable and disease-ridden swamp. Serpents, scorpions, leeches- all manner of personal and professional dangers.

We get along fine, I think I said that, in almost all other areas. For instance, taking the baseball and gloves out to the back yard and playing catch. This might very well be the simplest game ever invented. The ball is thrown back and forth. That is the only objective. It is perfect for us, I think, because it can be played in utter silence. After we’ve had a nasty disagreement about this or that major work, sometimes it’s best to just downshift, and by that I mean shut the fuck up, and let the thing float off somewhere and assume its proper perspective. That’s not to say it won’t float back and cause more dissention between us. But in the meantime, it might be enjoyable to play simple catch for awhile. If the neighbors are grilling we might go and sample the food. If the kids are playing lawn darts we might join in for awhile. If any area animals are slinking about hoping for attention or handouts, we’ll probably give in and offer some, which perhaps corrupts their natural incentive for hunting prey and companionship out in the wild, but they look so hungry and cute, and they are asking with such politeness and deference. The major works have such different attitudes on how to deal with beggars that some critics have suggested throwing the whole body of theory out along with the disease-ridden bathwater and just navigating by instinct on a case-by-case basis. The area animals all have names, even if only a very few people know them. They have private lairs that few human beings ever visit. To befriend one is to take a little bit of that primordial nature into one’s own private system, where it very well might disrupt the tidy social categories already established there. The major works soon become firewood. Or children’s coloring books. Even so, we persist on talking it out, from beginning to end, making lists pro and con, swapping observations and anecdotes, both personal and professional, in a wide range of primitive dialects.     

panel discussion

(from a panel discussion with Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, and Jorge Luis Borges, circa 1967)

JIM<<< This whole idea of ‘teaching someone the way’, first introduced by Lord Angelo in Act 2, Scene 4 of Measure for Measure in 1603 or 1604, in which such inspired sayings as ‘ride the king’s highway’ or ‘the pale blue bus is calling to us loud and clear’ or ‘Bert and Ernie arrived last night stoned again off their asses and longing, saving your honour's reverence, for fried peanut butter on a stick; we had but one tiny dollop left in the house, which at that very distant time stood, as it were, in a fruit-dish, a dish of some three-pence; your honours must have seen these kinds of dishes before; they are not china dishes, per se, but still, very elegant dishes---

JORGE<<< Go to, go to: no matter for the dish.

JIM<<< No, indeed, sir, not of a pin; you are therein in the right! But to the point- as I was saying, Bert and Ernie, being, as I say, very confused and intoxicated, and longing, as I said, for fried peanut butter on a stick; and having but one miniscule scoop left in the dish, as I said, Ray here, this very fellow, having devoured the rest, but, heaven be praised, promising to replace it within 24 hours.

RAY<<< Of course!

JIM<<< If you be remembered, then, that such a one and such a one were completely past cure and, indeed, eventually fallen into the post-historical category, if you can bend or warp or bedevil the word in that way, Aladdin-style, yes, I hope here be relative truths, or belief-based mythology, derived from- you guessed it!- a classic sense of sunyata, or blank space, or peace and quiet, or primordial wilderness, this beyond fascinating idea of ‘teaching someone the way’, be it via reading, or example, or energy shakes, or the subway, or theater, or invoking the imago of pristine underground springs, so cute, so old-fashioned, so brimming with promise and hope, politely inquiring after all the weird gravitational pulls, wanting very badly indeed for it to work out for all the unknown people and animals on the pale blue bus and all the other unknown people and animals on every other color of bus for that matter, why, even the ancient builders of the king’s highway admitted as much, saying quaint industrial-age things like ‘the old gang is so glad to all be back together again’ or ‘our nail/hammer collections come in four different varieties’ or ‘the duct tape appears from this vantage to be a uniform grey’ or ‘the docent’s wingback chair has been pushed up against the wall of the gallery and is ever-so-slightly obscuring our view of the world-famous artwork’ or ‘the apple cores also went into the manufacture of applesauce’ or ‘a new era of pioneering, a new concept of modular homesteading’ or ‘canned pears are available’ or ‘aerobics is still the in thing’ or ‘let’s not clean out the utility shed, Susan, let’s not ever clean out the utility shed’ or ‘Oscar is a cool and worthwhile and motivational puppet’ or ‘the silver medal was truly not worth all the years of hard work and sacrifice’ or ‘browsing the new DVD releases is like my way of interfacing with wildlife.’    

the brunswick factor

(from the introduction to 'My Mentor, Franz Kafka; A Dream Journal' by Hans and Lee Brunswick)

For some bizarre reason I was subbing in a third grade classroom yesterday and in preparation for their first big archaeology test I found myself asking them a series of very awkward and unusual questions, per their teacher's hastily handwritten lesson plans/instructions, which so discombobulated everyone, including myself, that in a very rare but very serious lapse of academic professionalism, I started wondering aloud and at length about what the late Chogyam Trungpa might have referred to as this teacher's basic or core or ground-level or general sanity while at the same time ruefully acknowledging that, yes, in other pedagogical contexts these were all probably very helpful and pertinent archaeological questions, and that as important as this upcoming test was for their respective futures at Garfield Elementary School, home of the Gophers, civilization itself probably didn't hinge on their answers, nor on me- a mere substitute, there one day, gone the next- ascertaining and asking the relevant follow-up questions, which the teacher wrongly assumed I would easily be able to do on my own by "drawing on whatever personal fund of basic Socratic techniques and/or principles you've picked up over the course of your distinguished career", and besides, the note continued, these were all "subjective terms" anyway, akin to a sprawling expanse of unexplored natural territory, or better yet, "uni-cycling alone through a semi-protected and moderately-sized wilderness area", informally reviewing the ancient concept of leaving one's karmic debts behind "for an hour or so" while furiously pedaling upon the uneven surface of the "hard-packed geological structure" along an intricate series of "clearly marked and hopefully well-maintained trails."


Before I cast any stones, I must humbly confess that many of my own favorite techniques as a sub have not, in the long run, at least according to witnesses, turned out to be very successful. They seemed super cool at the time, and the kids seemed to be fairly into them, but alas, sometimes I run into these very students years later, and they recognize me, and by this time they have clearly developed the perspective and confidence to tell me how they really felt about the situation back then, which was that my skills were sub par, and that the school district must have been in very bad shape indeed to have been reduced to hiring on people like me. None of them ever came right out and said I was the worst substitute ever, but it was implied, over and over, and in such a matter-of-fact kind of way that I began to have a newfound appreciation for those scenes in The Trial in which Joseph K sits motionlessly in his office for hours and even days at a stretch, wearily gazing at the snow falling outside the window and wondering about the efficacy of drawing up a brief account of his life, and for any events of importance explaining precisely why he had behaved as he did and whether in retrospect he approves or disapproves of those behaviors.

Joseph K was of course under much more pressure than me. Not only do I enjoy substituting, but despite what I keep hearing from former students and colleagues, I continue to firmly believe that I have something of moderate value to offer our young people, and that perhaps it is even enhanced by the 'there one day, gone the next' nature of this peculiar profession.


integrity of mind. there was indeed a very brief period. aaron enjoyed doing the robot, i enjoyed doing the grasshopper. innocence. we were poor and unruly students. we performed the robot and the grasshopper at inappropriate times.  such as when class was in session. we had no sense of propriety. none. the substitute teacher became very exasperated with us and told us that we had no integrity of mind. we were sent to the principal's office and she asked us in a very stern tone of voice: what's this i hear about you boys not having any integrity of mind? there were no answers forthcoming. aaron and i observed basic silence. until we couldn't hold back the chuckling. she said we were all just going to sit there until we each offered our own explanation, not for the robot and grasshopper shenanigans but for our minds' complete lack of integrity, and a solid step-by-step plan for ameliorating this lack. she said we could consult the dictionary if necessary. we did, but there was nothing in there about the subject in question. we were told to leave the school and not come back, no, not for an instant, until we had explanations and plans for amelioration. there was a very brief period, followed by a standard length period. innocence.


Unlike most of the central Muppets characters, Gonzo is not a puppet version of a human or a recognizable animal. He sports a bizarre, non animal-like appearance, which includes purple-blue fur, purple feathers on his head, bug-eyes, and a long, hooked nose. In The Muppet Show he performed as a performance artist, stunt double and daredevil under the name "The Great Gonzo."

In the first season of The Muppet Show, the character had sad and immobile eyes. The producers noticed that he worked better in a more energetic form and modified the eyes to have movable eyelids which helped make him a more active character. As such, he became one of the principal characters in the series. Gonzo is known for his wild-eyed, optimistic attitude, yet he is also something of an intellectual. In his revised incarnation, Gonzo, rather than feeling misunderstood by the audience, was dedicated to performing for its own sake, regardless of audience reaction. In one episode, after Kermit decides to cancel a jousting sketch, Gonzo, in armor for the sketch, forces Kermit, at lance-point, to reverse the decision. Floyd Pepper, also in armor for the sketch, observes the exchange with amusement, then asks Gonzo, regarding the sketch, "Do you really think this will work?" Gonzo replies "No! Isn't it terrific?!" Several of Gonzo's stunts have often gone wrong or do actually work in wrong ways. One notable stunt involves him catapulting himself into the balcony box of Statler & Waldorf, but the catapult broke down and in his attempt to fix it, Kermit and Miss Piggy are sent flying instead, Gonzo claiming that they stole his act. Statler and Waldorf have actually been victim to several of Gonzo's stunts including a motorcycle stunt in which Gonzo intends to drive a motorcycle off a ramp into the box of the hecklers (who are chained to their seats by Gonzo). Although the stunt works, Gonzo loses control of his bike and crashes it into the box, knocking the men unconscious. It is plausibly arguable that Gonzo's penchant for death-defying acts came from a Muppet Character Shop idea for a spoof (essentially a Muppet version) of Evel Knievel.

A running gag related to Gonzo is that it is not clear what species he is supposed to be. John Cleese, in his appearance on the show, referred to him as "the ugly, disgusting little one who catches cannonballs". In The Muppet Movie, Kermit, while having his inner conversation, says "And a thing, whatever Gonzo is. He's a little like a turkey," to which his inner self replied "Yeah, a little like a turkey, but not much."

In the film The Great Muppet Caper, he is shipped to England in a crate labeled "Whatever" (while Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear are respectively labeled "Frog" and "Bear"). In the Muppet Treasure Island CD-ROM Game, Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat land in a bucket of molasses, following the dialogue of a carriage driver saying "It's raining rats and... whatevers".

In Muppets from Space, it is revealed that Gonzo is an alien and his alien family comes to Earth with a big party for him and before their departure they ask him to return to space with them. Gonzo sadly says farewell to The Muppets but he soon realizes that he would be abandoning his longtime friends who have been like his family all along and declines the Aliens' offer.


according to officials at the jonathan swift institute of public policy, some people enjoyed participating in the telephone interview, some did so halfheartedly, some refused altogether, and some unleashed very foul language directly at the interviewers themselves, bypassing the institution's shadow agenda completely, impure and terrible language, intending to tear down the interviewer's sense of dignity and inherent self-worth, language that was not aligned with a human being's ostensibly spiritual nature, or something, language that caused everyone within earshot to visibly cringe and lower their heads, either in prayer or  wishing themselves gone from the scene or even the planet, however futile, outlandish, or cowardly those secret wishes might be, all related to the sickness characterized by such  colorful language, nasty, perverse, yucky language that needs to go away, far away, or at least needs to go and get re-educated somewhere, learning to talk nicely and focus on positive or interesting subjects, at least when it comes to anonymous telephone interviews.

according to officials, the interviewers had been trained to expect this, and only a very few loose cannons among them returned the harsh and/or colorful language directly back at the interviewee. in some cases this turned into a sparring match or contest of wits, which on a few occasions went on for well over an hour, the two parties trading increasingly venomous barbs, until one or the other had to move onto some other important scheduled activity.

this creates an image problem, warned the officials. it is admittedly a very sensitive issue. it's ok if individuals don't want to open up about that kind of stuff. we're just trying to take the pulse of average, everyday sort of people, and if they find that too intrusive, hey, no problem, just back down and bid them good day.

even so, 40% of adults admitted to eating their own or another's you-know-what as children, 25% of that number admitted to continuing the practice well into adulthood, 20% of that number said it would most likely continue indefinitely, and 7% reported that they had eaten this item in the last 24 hours.

there is no judgement here, officials told the interviewers during the 3 hours of paid training. the relationship human beings have with their own or another's waste is a delicate matter. some people's taste buds are quite a bit sharper than others. some people are risk-takers. some people will try anything once.


(overheard at a teen-oriented sesshin)

"Ringing the meditation bell is not the same as giving the go-ahead to desolation. Ok? Not the same thing at all. Children of the corn, children of heaven, children of Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google, MySpace, Ello, Ask Jeeves,  Raw, makes no difference. The green light is available. The red light is serpentine. The yellow light remains a question, one that you are welcome to wrestle with, fruitlessly. Frito Lay and Hostess snack items are available on a first come, first served basis. Body is a temple, keep it simple, all of that. The cleanest, nicest, fittest, smartest, hardest-working and most socially conscious gods and goddesses will become your lifelong allies for a nominal fee. The blue light is a joke that the older instructors will probably play on you. Welcome to meditation camp! Hooray! Ringing the bell is not nonsensical. It produces a clean and even tone that resonates through the minds of true and untrue practitioners alike. Give a hoot, don't pollute, help take a bite out of crime, all of that. The dirtiest, meanest, sickest, dumbest, laziest, and most apathetic gods and goddesses will gather around 'your ideas', and instead of taunting 'your ideas' like the media moguls and tech gurus in your part of the world, they will incorporate 'your ideas' into an unsuccessful new sitcom that slowly revolves around your warped conception of the dharma, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, for no reason, and with nobody watching, it splinters and vanishes back into the great sea of primordial errors. Yay! Or imagine a sink or bathtub draining. It is akin to your spiritual journey. In fact, it's identical! The pink light means that your dry goods have safely arrived. Moisten them at your own peril. The black light is only used when the sangha decides to play psychedelica. This camp is meant to be fun! Don't forget that! Jay's, Jay's, just can't stop eating 'em, Jay's, all of that. We want you to learn new sanity techniques and languages. Remember, the green light is always available. You probably don't quite understand what I mean by that yet, but hang in there. The blinking light differentiates the various phases of pure, unadulterated excitement that we call 'day' and 'night' around here. We'll observe a timeshare arrangement when it comes to general oblivion, until you can get up on your own two feet and wander off into the wilderness. The keeper of the pass will clean your clock for a nominal fee."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


The old man next to me at the bus stop fell asleep with the hint of a smile on his face. There had been reports that morning of yet another Barbelith sighting. I was waiting for the #12 because I had an appointment at the local community mental health clinic. Not for myself, mind you. It was simply to serve as a character witness for an old friend who had been acting a little bit strange as of late. His formal education had been suspended for a couple of years while he tried his luck as a voice actor in commercials and video games. Captain Crunch, Captain Energy, Toucan Sam, Chuck E. Cheese, Spacedog, etc. Our little berths at the rooming house were supposed to be temporary. Now, 15 years on, we were revising certain key parts of the game plan. The old man sleeping next to me appeared to know something we didn't. I gently shook him awake and asked him if he would be willing to mentor me. He said he'd need some time to think it over. I didn't exactly look like the most promising fellow on Earth, he explained. I agreed, saying that was precisely why I needed some mentoring. Barbelith's role is like that of a placenta in that it connects the hologram of our subjective reality to the realm beyond space-time, the domain of the Magic Mirror & Disco, and helps confused folks like myself and this actor friend I was going to testify for to realize our true natures beyond the highly conditioned concept of "self", he continued, before muttering something about tuition hikes at the Invisible College and drifting off back to sleep, chuckling now and then in the midst of his dream.

I then also leaned back and tried to doze for awhile. The #12 was obviously taking its sweet little time. Before I closed my eyes I saw Barbelith hovering momentarily over some trees. It had rings now, like Saturn. Not surprising. The next atomic swerve in effect. I remembered reading somewhere that data from the Cassini space probe indicated that the rings of Saturn possess their own unique atmosphere, independent of the home planet itself. The atmosphere is composed of molecular oxygen gas produced when ultraviolet light from the Sun interacts with ice and dust in the rings. The resultant O2 and H2  are so sparse and spread out that even if the entire multiverse was somehow condensed onto its surface, the resulting net mass would only be about 25 micrograms!!! Magic Mirror & Disco, indeed. Suddenly I snapped my fingers several times and burst out laughing. I was not asleep or dreaming! I was awake and alert! And didn't the old man indicate he might mentor me? And then, to top it all off, for reasons well beyond my meager powers to grasp, I had just invented a word! A brand new word, never before conceived of in any known human language! Sitting there, at the bus stop, with all of this time on my hands, it's no wonder that I wouldn't finally accomplish something of unquestionable cultural value. The word was 'kuboa.' It was of my own coinage entirely! Kuboa... yes... kuboa... destined to become one of the truly great and indispensable words... a grammatical heavyweight... of this much at least I was certain! I sat with wide open eyes, amazed at my discovery and almost weeping for joy. Barbelith, baby, this is all because of you, I quietly whispered up to the sky.

With the wildest leaps in my thinking, I tried to ascertain the meaning of my new word. Kuboa. Kuboa. This was by far the biggest responsibility of my life heretofore. I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths. Spirit of Language, Archangels of Meaning, Holy Possessors of Semantic and Mystic Conjunctions, do not forsake me in my hour of need, I beseech thee. Kuboa. Kuboa. It didn't have to mean 'lattice' or 'carnival'. No, that was the wrong track entirely. Furthermore, it didn't have to mean 'antiseptic mouthwash'. Not a chance! I clenched my fists angrily and shouted "It shall not mean antiseptic mouthwash or anything remotely related to oral hygiene in general!" All things considered, it was not even necessary that it should mean 'padlock', 'marsh', 'comfort', 'gutter', or 'factory.' Only a total lunatic would proceed down that road! For a second I thought about linking it to the good ol' #12 in some way, but then I remembered my upcoming appointment and decided against it. Best to keep certain things close to the vest. I kept sitting there, chuckling. I'm surprised I didn't wake up my mentor. This was turning out to be one of the most important days of my life. Finally I rose to my feet, clasped my head with both hands, and bellowed "ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! NO!!!  That is simply IMPOSSIBLE, letting it mean 'pier' or 'credit' or 'frying pan'. If it could mean something like that I would have made up my mind long ago, and just rode the #12 out to the very end of the line, and then back again, over and over, allowing the Evolution of Language to stagnate at the very moment when a quantum leap such as 'kuboa' was necessary!"

The old man next to me at the bus stop woke up suddenly and coughed violently into his sleeve. He then removed a flask from his coat pocket and looked over at me for several minutes in silence, before murmuring "You want a drink of this, son? I think you're ready for a drink of this. No? Are you sure? Suit yourself. Ok, then, today, lesson one: you become, for better or worse, Jim, a kind of living vocabulary. A word in commerce with other words. Yes. A network. A waterway. A creative helmsperson at your own vessel's tiller. A machine in the ghost, to quote a phrase. Ah. Have just a little taste, Jim. This flask is silver, you realize. Treat it with the care it deserves. Feel its shape. Go on, Jim. You were the one who asked me to mentor you. It's an object. A vessel. Like you, a living, breathing vocabulary. It's a two-pint flask full of amber liquid. Actually more like half full, it seems. So it goes. You wanted to learn about quinoa as well? I can help you. No problem. I may not be like your old rooming-house friend Captain Energy, but don't you worry, Jimbo- I still know a thing or two about cereals. So- quinoa is a species of the goosefoot genus, chenopodium, a grain crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal, as it is not a member of the full-on grass family. As a chenopod, quinoa is closely related to species such as beetroots, spinach and tumbleweeds. Get out of here with your kuboa, Jim. Bring it all back home with the quinoa. In their natural state, the seeds have a bitter-tasting coat, but most of the grain sold commercially has been processed to remove this coat. Ok? Are you listening? I am. Good. You know anything about snowshoes? Not really. Well then listen up, Jim, because this is the crux of the matter: You wear snowshoes for a reason. Correct? Sure. Tell me. Uh... ok... you wear snowshoes because... uh... when the snow is really deep, the webbing within the snowshoe's... uh... circumference... distributes the wearer's weight over a wider geographical area? That's correct, Jim. And a bus’s circular steering wheel is not only much larger but is set at an angle of incidence more horizontal than any taxi, private car or police cruiser’s wheel I have seen heretofore and the driver turns the wheel with a broad all-body motion which is resemblant of someone’s arm sweeping all the material off a table or surface in a sudden fit of emotion. Uh, ok. And if the appointment is AM then the driver sometimes keeps a newspaper folded in a hutch by the automatic coin or token box which he tries to peruse while idling at stoplights although it is not as if he will get much of his daily reading done in this way. Do you follow me? Yes. I have evolved the theory that the driver peruses his newspaper and reluctantly refolds it and replaces it in the hutch on green to signal the dislike he feels about his job and a court-appointed psychologist might diagnose the newspaper as a 'cry for help', as it were. Kuboa? Yes. Kuboa. Maybe the connection with the #12 was not so far-off after all, Jimmers!"

something to look forward to

A weird duo, man and woman, came to the front door where I was house-sitting a few hours ago. I only tell this story to the most trusted people in my life, the man murmured. The Glass Bead Game, Steppenwolf, Beneath the Wheel- all true. The woman said that they had been sent here by certain local reporters. I asked which ones. My question was met with a total and baffling silence. We seem to be hitting it off, all things considered, the woman eventually said. They had faraway looks in their eyes and spoke slowly, calmly, keenly,deliberately. The man was sipping something from a flask that he kept in his blazer's inside pocket. He offered to share but the whole thing seemed a little bit off. Both were wearing poorly kept and outdated business attire. They claimed to be doctors, pharmacists, land surveyors, actors, park rangers, occupational therapists, fans of romantic comedies, real estate developers, money managers, information architects, alcoholics, renewable energy experts, nature writers, gamblers, sailors, chefs, violinists, bowlers, bungee jumpers, canoeists, creators of the new Green Lantern comic strip, farmers, woodcarvers, shoplifters, math whizzes, counterfeiters, tile setters, snake breeders, and interior decorators, speaking of which, might they step inside for a moment and have a quick look around? Against my better judgement I agreed. I am not the most talented house-sitter, probably. While they looked around I was expecting that they might want to engage in conversation, but no. They looked around in uninterrupted and unexplained silence. I returned to my Reader's Digest condensed version of Tristram Shandy, calling out that if they had any questions to just let me know. This offer was also met with what could only be called deafening silence. These are my kind of people, I thought. Well rounded, friendly, not afraid of what people might think, community oriented, funny, and willing to open up about both their successes and failures right off of the bat. After 25 minutes they returned to the living room and asked if I would be so good as to allow them to give me their honest opinions. By all means, I said. They started out by saying that I seemed like a fairly commonplace fellow, given to saying, doing, and thinking any number of commonplace things, and then finished off by saying that I was clearly not an asset to the neighborhood. No argument here, I replied. Even so, they were organizing a rummage sale in the area and wanted me to assume an active part. Nine-tenths of the stuff in this house is pure junk, they assured me. Your thoughts on the matter are probably junk as well, but we don't need to get into all of that yet. There will be plenty of time while we're sitting around in lawn chairs supervising the rummage sale. Again he offered me a swig and again I declined. They confided that in the way, way back of their minds they were thinking about splintering off and starting a whole new society in a sparsely populated area that one of their kid's friend's soccer coach's dad's former student's landlord's lawn guy's therapist knew about. If the rummage sale brought in sufficient funds, they would be able to buy a used RV and from that point it would most likely be all systems go. Had I ever piloted an RV before, they inquired? I lied and said yes. Tonya, the man said, I think this unexceptional fellow will suffice. Gregor, I agree with you wholeheartedly, the woman responded. These weirdos continued standing there, staring at me, in utter silence, for what seemed like a highly unnecessary length of time. I was about to ask what gives or something to that effect but they quickly left without another word. Stunned and inspired, I immediately began doing research on how to safely pilot a RV. I had a feeling that I would be seeing this duo again very soon, and I wanted to be ready. I wanted to be a legitimate asset.

note to self

if you think our little gang gets together merely for the purpose of engaging in casual or friendly conversation you are obviously not aware of all the underlying social dynamics at play and even if by some sort of miracle you are in fact privy to such classified info you are willfully ignoring it for some devious purpose of your own which we will eventually discover by the various investigative means at our disposal, not the least of which is the aforementioned casual or friendly conversation. And if you think our little gang was happy to be pressured into learning how to play Home On The Range on guitar by the planning committee of the neighborhood block party you have clearly not read our mission statement or read the newsletter archives in which it is stated over and over that we enjoy civilization VERY MUCH and all of the modern conveniences that come along with a networked urban existence, not the least of which is having the luxury to head out to protected wilderness areas on weekends via public transportation to carve totem animals and people in wood who guide us on shamanic journeys back into the primordial matrix where after consulting the oracles there is not much else to do but sit down on the riverbank and engage in more mind-blowing conversation. And if you think that one of the topics we regularly explore in those talks is related to how we would get back to civilization if we lost ourselves so deeply in the aforementioned vision questing that we missed the last bus back into town and had to spend the night out there under the stars, in the elements, singing Home On The Range ironically and drinking water directly from the river you are confused and unsuccessfully trying to disguise that confusion by saying or writing whatever random words first happen to pop into your head. And if you think that we survived this ordeal and eventually wandered back to civilization and immediately contacted the editor of the neighborhood newsletter and told her about our adventure in the hopes of getting a write-up and thus impressing all the rest of the overly domesticated urban sophisticates you are clearly under the influence of heavy mind-altering chemicals and thus have even less ability than usual to accurately read other people's minds. Accept it.

late night radio excerpt

"Sheila, one of the things you have to keep in mind if you're going to keep asking me about Moon Patrol is tha"

"But I'm NOT asking you about Moon Patrol- I HAVEN'T asked you about Moon Patrol- if you want to keep reading Moon Patrol into all of my questions, tha"

"But the parallels are so obvious! And in this case the parallels meet! Instead of scrolling horizontally, we scroll vertically. You think that's a coincidence? Instead of UFOS, we have robber barons. We size up, we take aim, and with a few well-placed words we imagine we are protected for a couple more seconds. But there's no end to them, Sheila! And there was no clear beginning! Scouring the moon's surface for fir"

"Look, Greg, I know the video game is a classic. The moon has instigated wonder and obsession for as long a"

"But that's precisely why we're on patrol! And precisely why we never find anything! There's no pause button in the original game. You just keep hurtling forward, jumping over craters, collecting samples, and fending off UFOS. Facebook leads us along an eerily similar path. The theme music might seem dated but if you analyze its structure, th"

"How old were you when you first stumbled across this hidden dimension?"

"Junior High, probably. Maybe a little bit earlier. A simpler time, really. A more innocent time, in many ways. Gave me the opportunity to b"

"Is there anything else that you would like to tell our listeners about those awkward early teen years?"


"Go ahead, then."

"Uh, I think it might be inappropriate."

"Even better."

"Well, sometimes I would simulate intercourse by lowering my member into a pot of warm oatmeal and moving it back and forth rhythmically."


"Yeah, sorry about that."

"No, no, don't be sorry. Have you ever told anyone about this before?"


"Why not?"

"People are so freaky, Sheila."


"Did you ever do anything similar?"


"Like, with food."

"Ya know, Greg, crazy as it sounds, I don't really feel comfortable talking about that on air."

"But maybe you'll talk about it off air?"

"Very unlikely."

"Do you wanna hear more stuff about the oatmeal? Moon Patrol?"


"Depends on what?"


"Greg, did you ever see the movie Pete's Dragon?"


"Well, do you remember that scene with the Cowboy?"


"And he's telling Pete about driving the buggy and fixing his attitude?"


"Well, those are the sort of questions I would like to explore before we finish up."

"No prob. You mean about the good life and all?"

"Yes. The life more abundant."

"More abundant than what?"

"Well, your adventures with oatmeal, for starters."

"Not sure I wanna get into what happened after my oatmeal phase."

"Why not?"

"People are so predictable, Sheila."


"So was it good ol' Quaker Oats?"

"No, just a generic brand. But I added almonds and brown sugar and raisins and peanut butter and milk. All that stuff got churned in thoroughly while I was... well, you know."


"So you can see there was sort of a practical aspect to it as well."



A while back, an old friend of ours from junior high named Karly began to play around with her identity. She was involved at the time with a fellow named Karl, who was native to the place and knew about all of the local wilderness areas. If there was one thing we enjoyed back in those simpler days, it was visiting wilderness areas. No local area worth the name went unvisited. Karly said no to non-identity politics. A sand mosaic, a bean mosaic, a glass mosaic, and a mosaic of shingles barely worth mentioning because of the shoddy workmanship and planning went with the others into the back of the storage unit. A long term storage unit. With planning and workmanship that poor, the shingle mosaic probably didn't deserve to get made. But it did. The indifference shaded off into impatience, then anger. The clutching and shaking of the fist, and then eventually both fists. The song People are People was covered by Willy Joel and Bill Nelson at the big to-do in Yosemite. This just might make the emotional investment worth it for once, their agent added. During the interlude the song Once is Never Enough was covered by Egghead and the Benders. The crowd didn't seem very interested and talked among themselves enthusiastically, leaving Egghead to wonder if maybe he had made some bad decisions earlier on when crafting the set list. The Benders, his backing band, didn't seem to care one way or the other. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that some of them were under the influence of alcohol or other recreational chemicals. Particularly the bassoonist. She had a very faraway look in her eyes. Karl was off to the side, as usual, bobbing his head and tapping his foot to the rhythm. Some of the other patrons who were there ostensibly enjoying the music asked for a more committal gesture but it was another firm no from Karl. Bev insisted it was an outgrowth from the more primordial appellation of Arl, a name which the young people joked about when they thought they wouldn't be overheard. The origin of our feathered friends was not taken into account. This proved to be an error. A big one, although it too, because of the slapdash planning and scholarship, went with the others directly into the back of the storage unit. The clutching and shaking of the fists, the desperate pounding of the fists on brick towers. No response forthcoming, confusion and panic ensue. The madcap Karly continued playing around with her identity. Karl's passenger pigeon Maximilian took off with the next batch of instructions. Cinema was not the trump card, neither was the balloon lift nor slideshow. These things were regarded as glib and pointless by the Benders. With the lights out, it's less dangerous. Here we are now, entertain us, all that. If there was one thing we all agreed on, it was those wilderness areas. Facts cannot speak for themselves.

that's a fine kettle of fish

didn't think about what would happen 45 years down the road if unforeseen eco or psycho or technological circumstances forced me and my animal to spend several unstructured days in a small town obsessed with bugs bunny copyright battles, to the point of almost feeling cultish, what with all of the statues, portraits, t-shirts, reruns, carrots, high-fives, in-jokes, and snickering. according to a flyer posted outside of the shelter, robert goulet became the epitome of all that constituted pure entertainment until he was eclipsed by that infamous "crunch all you want, we'll make more" ad campaign by dorito's, coming at the precise moment when the global flow of raw corn became what ag theorists called 'a vast golden river.' other concerns such as dark matter, dark ages, dark horses, data processing, dna, ragu sauces, cola water, and the famous icebergs of the world are viewed as diminishing returns ride again. this is what can happen if small towns lose their original vision! the pioneering spirit morphs into the patience of job. the birth of venus is not painted and creative media loses another dependable touchstone. taoist precepts are ridiculed until li po appears in a vision and tells the anti-copyright warriors that they better start talking turkey or else. bugs goes on to stress the importance of the vanishing point and says that he doesn't care about the all-time high score in asteroids, galaga, moon patrol, caterpillar, or tron. we wish that he did but in this case our wishes could mean almost anything: the straw mattress that k was told to fetch down from the attic, wave-particle consciousness, we are such stuff nightmares are made on, fda recommended daily allowances, that's a fine kettle of fish, bo-peep, by their fruits ye shall savor them, megawattage undetermined, megaplex under construction on the village green where bugs used to hammer everything out


Seen as the first draft of what Flaubert would three versions later finally call the definitive, publishable text of his ‘Sentimental Education’, the ‘Memoirs of a Relatively Sane Individual’ has long been considered as merely his “preface to a troubled teenager's rural existence.” But can a writer’s life really be said to have prefaces? I canvassed the neighborhood in search of opinions and insights. The original crowdsourcing. Feet on the ground. Solid. One fellow a few blocks over, who identified himself only as ‘Karl’, asked if we could sit down on the porch swing together for a few minutes in silence while he thought over his answer. I said sure. It was more than just a few minutes when he finally said that if his parents hadn’t named him Karl they would have probably gone with either Arl, Rl, or L. Not so much a “preface” as a “shortcut to his essence”, he assured me. After a few more minutes of silence he got up and went back inside. As I was walking back down the steps to continue my survey, I heard the door open, turned around, and saw Karl’s head sticking out. “Can one really locate the point at which the author’s real work begins?” he asked quietly. “Can the well-known oeuvre be clearly set off from the early stuff, which would henceforth serve as its simple hor d’oeuvre, so to speak?” “I don’t know,” I responded. “That’s why I’m conducting this survey.” “Come back on to the porch swing,” he said. “I think I might have a definitive answer.” “Ok,” I said, and returned.

After a couple more minutes of silently swaying back and forth in the breeze, listening to the birds and feeling a bit like a child again, partially because the porch swing was extremely high up off the ground and my feet and legs were dangling aimlessly. I almost asked Karl if he had any cookies or Kool-Aid inside. “You realize, right,” he continued, “that the Flaubert who wrote the ‘Memoirs’ was a mere sixteen year old country boy. The text is romantic to the hilt, but nevertheless sets out to attack the values and assumptions of Romanticism. Correct?” “As far as I know, Karl.” “At once naive and sophisticated, talky and declamatory, buzzing with awkwardness, intelligence, and yes, also a slight trace of relative sanity, it simultaneously disconcerts and snares readers, provoking them to also think about their own names reduced letter by letter. What’s your name, by the way?” “William.” “Ok, then, let’s hear you run through the sequence.” “Uh...ok” I said, and proceeded: “Illiam, Lliam, Liam, Iam, Am, and M.” He chuckled loudly and pointed out that one of those was very close to the name of a popular brand of pet food. “I’m not sure if you know this, William, but up until the 1940s, pet food was generally not available in stores, and animals were predominantly fed homemade food, usually table scraps. Paul Iams, an animal nutritionist who graduated from Ohio State University in 1938, founded The Iams Company in 1946 in a small feed mill near Dayton. In 1950, he developed the world’s first animal-based protein-infused dog food and called it Iams 999. In 1969, Paul formulated a new kitten food and named it Eukanuba. Prior to inventing these tasty products, he worked for a number of small family businesses, including his father’s feed store in Dayton, Ohio. I’m not boring you am I?” “Not at all, Karl. Continue.” “In 1973 during the Arab oil embargo, the costs for meat and bone meal tripled, but sale prices were frozen by a nationwide wage and price control issued by then-President Richard Nixon. Iams did not change the product formula during the price freeze mandate and the company nearly went bankrupt. The famous actor Ernest Borgnine, best known for his role as the spirit guide 'Jonathan' on Little House on the Prairie, purchased half of the company in 1975. By 1982, he became the sole owner and president. After expanding the company from $100,000 turnover in 1970 to $900 million in 1999, Ernest sold it to Proctor & Gamble in September 1999. In July 2006, P&G reorganized the Pet Health & Nutrition division into P&G Pet Care.” “Interesting.” “Indeed. In its largest divestiture in five years, Procter & Gamble announced this past April that it is selling most of its Iams, Eukanuba and Natura pet food brands to Mars, Inc. for $2.9 billion in cash. P&G said the deal will allow it to release a slow performer back into the wild and generate serious moolah to concentrate on core businesses. Does this answer your question, William?” “Pretty much. Thanks. By the way, do you have any cookies or Kool-Aid inside?” “I was hoping you’d ask that!” he said with a smile. When he went inside to get them, I bolted. I know it was a rude thing to do, but when I’m crowdsourcing I prefer to get my information from relatively sane individuals.

area adventures

For awhile there I was writing for AREA magazine. Basically I wandered around the city interviewing people at random trying to get them to give me a basic sense of their area, how long they had been in the area, how they really felt about the area, deep down, and if they would recommend the area to friends, family, co-workers, etc. Essentially trying to get a sense if it was still a livable area. Were there good schools in the area? Employment? Social services? Hoboes? Public parks? Dance halls? Public transit? Zoos? Housing? Decent restaurants and grocery stores? Farmland? Excitement? Community? Could a person amble around in the dead of the night and feel safe? Some people were confused by what I meant by the term ‘area’. When that happened I usually just went with the Wikipedia definition: the quantity that expresses the extent of a two-dimensional surface or shape, or planar lamina, in the plane. ‘Area’ can be understood as the amount of material with a given thickness that would be necessary to fashion a model of the shape, or the amount of paint necessary to cover the surface with a single coat. It is the two-dimensional analog of the length of a curve (a one-dimensional concept) or the volume of a solid (a three-dimensional concept). This usually cleared things up pretty quickly. At this point the interview often came to close and I would continue wandering aimlessly, until around dusk, often considered to be the darkest stage of twilight in the evening. During early to intermediate stages of twilight, there may be enough light in the sky under clear conditions to read outdoors without artificial illumination. During later stages, no dice. Civil dusk occurs when the earth rotates to a point at which the center of the sun is at 6° below the local horizon. Twilight comes just after sunset, which is the point at which the earth has rotated just enough that the sun, under clear conditions, is no longer visible on the local horizon. I would usually find a bench overlooking the river and glance over my interview notes with the aid of a flashlight. I didn’t know how long I would be in the area, but I planned on giving it my best shot while I was there. A couple months later I was canned for insubordination to a superior but I continued conducting the interviews because I wanted to learn as much as possible about the general area with the intention of maybe using it as the basis for a series of quick charcoal sketches to submit to the annual summer arts and crafts jamboree. Tony was encouraging me to do some studies of sunyata in watercolor and graphite but he was out of his mind, obviously, with no conception at all of what area shoppers wanted in terms of visual art.

guides to the future

~diverge~ spread out from a point; assume a different course; deflect; wander; digress ~dna~ deoxyribonucleic acid; material carrying genetic information in chromosomes; essence; core ~docent~ well-informed guide, as in a museum or library ~docile~ submissive; easily managed; pliant; meek; gentle; subdued; mild; timid ~doctrine~ something that is taught; body of beliefs; superstitions; biases; guidelines; instructions ~docudrama~ television movie based on real-life events ~dodge~ move quickly to elude a pursuer or blow; evade by cunning or trickery; clever trick or expedient ~doggerel~ poor or trivial verse ~doily~ small ornamental mat of paper or lace used to signify respect or a sense of importance ~dollop~ shapeless lump of food ~dolomite~ mineral or rock of calcium magnesium carbonate ~domino theory~ the belief that one event will cause similar events, like a row of falling thin rectangles marked with 0-6 dots on each half ~doze~ sleep lightly; drowse; snooze ~droop~ sag; hang down; dangle; languish; lose heart; wilt; slump; be dejected ~dull~ tedious; boring; sluggish; slow-moving; listless; monotonous; tiresome; lackluster; torpid ~dumbfound~ make speechless; amaze; shock; surprise; startle; take aback; stun; astonish ~dust~ finely powdered substance ~duty~ moral or legal obligation; responsibility ~dwindle~ become gradually less or smaller; diminish; peter out; taper off; weaken; wane ~dynamic~ energetic; active; vigorous; forceful; spirited; influential; exciting ~eagle~ large bird of prey with keen vision and powerful flight ~ear~ organ of hearing ~earth~ the planet where some of us live ~eat~ take into the mouth, chew, and swallow ~eccentric~ odd or capricious; not centered; peculiar; offbeat; weird; outlandish ~echo~ repetition of a sound by the bounce of molecular structures ~eclair~ small, elongated light pastry filled with whipped cream or custard ~ecstasy~ overwhelming joy or rapture ~effervescent~ fizzy; carbonated; sparkling; bubbly; lively; vivacious ~effigy~ sculpture or model of a person ~effusion~ outpouring; unrestrained verbiage ~eh~ expressing surprise; asking for something to be repeated or explained ~eight~ one more than 7; symbol for this (8, VII, IIX) ~elan~ vivacity; dash; verve; pep; zeal; gusto ~element~ component part; contributing factor or thing ~eleven~ one more than ten; symbol for this (11, XI) ~elf~ small and often mischievous mythological being ~ellipsis~ omission of words within or at the end of a sentence often symbolized by three dots hovering silently in the undefined spacetime of the page, voice, or screen°°° ••• ... ~embellish~ beautify; adorn; add interest to something by inventing fictitious or colorful details ~envelop~ wrap up or surround in its entirety ~epigram~ pointed or witty saying ~epistle~ written letter, esp. a long one on a serious subject ~errata~ error in printing or writing ~exhaust~ consume or use up the whole of; tire out; weary; fritter away; squander; finish ~vacillate~ fluctuate; be irresolute; move from side to side; oscillate ~vacuous~ lacking expression; unintelligent; empty; inane ~vacuum~ space entirely devoid of matter ~vagabond~ wanderer, esp. an idle one; gypsy; hobo; derelict; drifter ~vague~ uncertain or ill-defined; imprecise; inexact; indefinite; unclear; confused; ambiguous; hazy; obscure; blurred; foggy; barely discernible ~valence~ combining power of an atom measured by the number of hydrogen atoms it can displace or combine with ~valve~ device controlling the flow of air or fluid or text through a pipe ~vanish~ disappear; cease to exist; leave no trace; dematerialize; be swallowed up; go by the board; fade away; melt away; dissolve; go poof ~vanity~ conceit about one's appearance or attainments; ostentatious display; futility; meaninglessness; insignificance; irrelevance; empty sound; static ~vapor~ moisture or another substance diffused or suspended in air ~varnish~ resinous solution used to give a hard shiny transparent coating; external appearance or display without a significant underlying reality ~vase~ vessel used as an ornament or container, esp. for sand, flowers, gravel, or sawdust ~veejay~ a curator/programmer/broadcaster of videos ~veer~ change in direction, course, opinion, conduct, or emotions ~velcro~ attaching or fastening agent consisting of two strips of fabric, one looped and one burred, which adhere when pressed together

not astonishing

Several of us were still together as the nutritional era drew to a close. The literary genre here would be one of wearily roaming about, looking for food, shelter, wildlife, machines, art supplies, medication, board games, riddles, and books. A sense of not belonging, or of not having the right sort of belongings. The territory was not astonishing. The music and images summoned up from the ancient past were not relevant. All of this has been clearly set forth in the scientific and dietary literature of the time. Occasionally we had the temerity to make crude scatological jokes at the poor surgeon general and his innocent family's expense. Painful discussions and arguments around the campfire lingered on deep into the night, until even the heartiest conversationalists among us were falling over stiff and mute mid-phrase or mid-sentence. An impartial onlooker might have questioned our goodwill or sanity, or presented us with the metaphor of a person rising from long, troubled sleep and discovering that the community has, overnight, been turned into stone, as if by sorcery.

But we didn't believe in sorcery! We were all hard-nosed empiricists. If only I had forged ahead with my animal-based education, one of us lamented for hours each day. The rest of us had no idea what she was even referring to, but she already had a reputation for saying cryptic or incomprehensible things, so we just nodded, and kept on pondering how we should alter our strategy in the face of th

It probably comes as no surprise that the members of our little group enjoyed cereal. The classics, mainly: mini wheats, fruit loops, barley chips, toasted oats, corn flakes, apple jacks, rice crisps, honey nuggets, bran squares, etc. Our critique of society required a delicate blend of highly specialized fuels. The tagline was not "Sorry, folks, we have nothing concrete to contribute at this point" but "Gather around, folks, we have on offer a cheap and colorful array of products and services designed by a panel of eminent park rangers to enhance your experience of wandering around forlorn in the wilderness."

And then, indeed, as if by sorcery, the cereals appeared out of nowhere. We were simultaneously enchanted and haunted. The literary genre here would be decidedly pastoral-gothic. We chose, wisely I think, to not drill down for hidden meanings and messages. The situation was already sufficiently tense, and additional meanings and messages might very well put a few of our more sensitive team members over the edge.

Eva continued to lament the interruption of her precious animal-based education, and the more sympathetic among us continued wearily nodding along in support, while the less sympathetic had long ago drifted far off into the ragged margins of their own obsolete or extinct personalities, and were probably not hearing or seeing things as clearly as might have been hoped.

los's ballad

The deep of winter came, what time the secret child descended through the orient gates of the eternal day: war ceas’d, and all the troops like shadows fled to their abodes. Then Enitharmon saw her sons and daughters rise around; like pearly clouds they meet together in the crystal house; and Los, possessor of the Moon, joy’d in the peaceful night, thus speaking:

"Anthropology, physics, game theory, chemistry, nutrition, prehistory: the brochure says that these are all legitimate fields of study. Question. Why was the famous legislator pressed down onto his rickety camp bed, as if by an impersonal force of considerable weight and authority? A supplication, perhaps? Answer. Philosophy, religion, psychology, gravity, law, economics. I'll see you in court, a voice whispers. Maybe we'll be on the same side. We'll describe what it's like here to a jury of peers. We'll study their facial tics, body language, costumes, blood pressure, pulse, and vice-versa. Somebody up in the gallery whispers to no one in particular: it's strange how the distinguished legislator just lies there, not struggling, pressed down into his camp bed, as if under the combined weight of many, many steel blankets. Maybe x-rays are being taken? Help me, a weakened voice whispers. I am helping you, another, even weaker, voice whispers. It wishes the room was more like a geological era, closes its eyes, and blows out a few of the candles nearby. The cake has many layers. The luminaries are singing, laughing, dancing, talking, dining, dreaming, and strategizing. Try to relax, a dust mote whispers. The party is doing just fine without you. Consider. But does it make any sense that I'm just LYING HERE in this pit on my birthday? Doesn't have to make sense, silly. But I WANT IT TO MAKE SENSE. That's why I'm trying to help you, your honor. Countless steel blankets on top of numberless failed x-rays equals neither the ostensible weight of the world nor its shadow. Radiology concurs. Anesthesia withdraws.  No voice whispers. No more evidence is introduced at this time. The court rests. Steady breathing. A homeless shelter, of sorts, inside the esteemed legislator, that NEVER CLOSES ITS DOORS and allows all fields of study to stay for as long as they need, no questions asked."


/ QUAINT: fanciful; curious; odd and antique; dreamlike; singular; whimsical / QUAKE: to shake, tremble, or quiver, as if agitated by the remembrance of a troubling tone poem or image / QUALM: a sudden fit of nausea or twinge of fretful conscience; compunction; where the ragged threads of sleep intersect with the frayed edges of a purposeful life in society / QUANDARY: a state of perplexity experienced upon waking up from what seemed like a simple afternoon nap and finding oneself sitting up in a canvas director's chair out in a wilderness area surrounded by strangers mumbling "action... cut... action... cut... action... etc"; an existential predicament; loss of soul or identity / QUARANTINE: the period during which a new film suspected of being infested with goblins is obliged to forbear all further intercourse with the movie-going public / QUARRY: a place deep within the dream mechanism where the bones of totem animals are excavated from the dross of long past daily experience /