There’s a lot I could say about living in a remote mountain town, but one of the nice things is that everyone has chosen to live here, cut off from the rest of the world by a 3+ hour drive, because they want to enjoy themselves. Accordingly, everyone is so busy planning and executing said recreation that you run into a disturbing amount of flakiness. Plans are made with the assumption that about 100 different things could come up that would require cancellation. When you really want something to happen, you have to voice that it’s important that people not flake out.

Coming from the city, where this sort of will-o-the-wisp behavior is seen as disrespectful, I was, of course, perturbed at the lax attitude with which Durango denizens approached social commitments. Why were people being so obviously selfish? Didn’t they know it was rude to not give me time they said they would? Did I do something wrong in the planning stages? After spending two years amid this lackadaisicality, however, I’ve learned to swim with the current, and it’s actually quite nice in these waters. I’ve run about 20 minutes late my whole life, so it was comforting to operate in a place where everyone stays pretty calm about regular punctuality failure. And when things do come together, you know that everyone present truly wants to be there, rather than showing up out of an uncomfortable fear of upsetting others.

It’s a subtle, unspoken conspiracy of selfishness that becomes part of normal social relations. Maybe it’s a small town thing: you’re inevitably going to run into everyone you know just going about your life anyway, so it feels less imperative that you carve out special times and organize events just to make sure you see the people you like.

These days I’m all about sitting in my open-windowed apartment, listening to some blues and the birds outside, making small talk with my dog and sampling the different sitting options throughout the house for hours. Serving tables requires forty hours a week of both socializing with strangers and getting along with a tight-knit cohort of coworkers, so the solitude really allows for some emotional/mental processing. But it also necessitates a lot of declined invitations and social avoidance.

I’m not afraid to be honest. I want to be alone. It’s not about me rejecting others. It’s about knowing what I want and what’s good for me. My friends are all doing the same. If they flake out, if I’m not invited to something, I have more trust that they are doing what makes them better individuals. It’s not about me, because when I do what I want, it’s not about other people.

Assuming a certain amount of selfishness in general social operations would 1) prevent a lot of petty conflicts between friends not close enough to thoroughly understand each other and 2) ease a great deal of aggravated insecurities and bruised egos.

Because we live in a society that treats selfishness as something nice people don’t do, we are more apt to take things personally that have nothing to do with us. This attitude encourages us to build our identities in a hall of mirrors where we try to understand ourselves through others’ behavior towards us. We never get to build a center, a steady, heavy idea of self that can only be felt and never seen, because the reflections we get from others are always necessarily distorted. The best way to feel out that center is to make a distinction between doing things you truly want and doing things you feel required to do.

Really, we’re all on a sinking ship here, and you’ve got a nickel of time to spend before death catches up with you. Be genuine, be selfish, and be grateful when you have great times with others; all the rest—the petty conflicts and bruised egos—is just wasted energy that could be spent getting what you want.

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“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”[1]

It’s a quote often ascribed to C.S. Lewis, but the ever-petulant Internet has debunked that.[2] In fact, no one knows where it came from. What’s clear is that people have been saying a version of it for quite some time.

You break up your existence into two things. Academic people like to call it a dichotomy. D.H. Lawrence calls it a “divided psyche” and attributes it especially to Americans[3]. I really want to get into his thoughts on blood-knowledge and how Americans can’t even feel it anymore, because they’re so stuck in their heads, but that’s not where we’ll go right now.[4]

I think of myself as a body and a soul, even though intellectually I like the hypothesis that our existence is closer to an endless network of chemistry between the past, present, and future of our experience and memory. Every input is something new that reacts with twenty-seven years of sedimented history that lives in my neurons.

I can see my body in the mirror. I can touch it. I can feel the parts of it I like and the parts of it I don’t. I can feel the influx of endorphins when I exercise. But I can also feel things I can’t see, and I call them my soul.

Then there are stirrings in my body that color my entire day. They turn it red, and then everything I do all day looks red. There are stirrings in my soul, and I get really close to the mirror and look for them in my irises.

I don’t think it’s fair to say you are a soul any more than you are a body. You are bestowed things by the universe to call your own. The universe constantly flows into them and out of them; you cannot quarantine your soul from the world any more than you can quarantine your body.

If I had to choose between a life of pure touch and a life of pure thought, I would choose touch.

When two souls love each other, their bodies follow. When two bodies touch, the soul either runs to the surface of the skin or shrinks into the unknown where it can be safe.

The agonies of the body are never worse than the agonies of the soul. But I can feel the agonies of the soul dragging my body down. When I use my body intensely, it can lighten the load of whatever weighs on my soul, if only for a short time.

There’s a circle between the soul and the body. You cannot say you are one more than another. You have blood-knowledge. It tells you to do things that your mind classifies as stupid or wrong.[5] But it also tells you to do things that bring you closer to owning the center of what you call yourself.

I want to live in my blood as much as I live in my mind. Dichotomy-schmotomy. I want the whole thing.


[1] This post will have footnotes. Footnotes are one of the best things writing ever invented. Never, ever, pass up a chance to use footnotes.

[3] D.H. Lawrence. “Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Scarlet Letter.” Studies in Classic American Literature. Please, please read this book. If you have any interest in American culture, or if you even participate in American culture, which most everyone in the world does to some extent, please read this book. The best parts are the first two chapters and his essays on Poe and Hawthorne. Basically he says this country has floated on a sea of blood ever since it began and underneath all of our productive little Puritan spirits lies a maddening destructive darkness.

[4] p. 90-91: “Blood-knowledge, instinct, intuition, all the vast vital flux of knowing that goes on in the dark, antecedent to the mind….And on the other hand, the mind and the spiritual consciousness of man simply hates the dark potency of blood-acts: hates the genuine dark sensual orgasms, which do, for the time being, actually obliterate the mind and the spiritual consciousness, plunge them into a suffocating flood of darkness.”

[5] See Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire. He lives in his blood; he’s a beautiful fascinating rotten man.

 

If you pay any attention to cognitive studies these days, you’ll know that scientists are finding fewer and fewer large scale differences between the animal and human brains. Instead, complex human behaviors have merely been tacked onto already existent parts of the animal brain. For example, several neuroimaging studies have found that navigating through a space activates the same part of the brain as organizing abstract concepts—i.e., we move through our physical space with the same part of the brain that we use to map out our ideas.

What this all points to for me is that my dog and cat really are the furry humans they seem to be. Let’s look at politics. Juno is clearly the Republican here:

Juno came from one of the nicest doggie shelters in town, where no animals are ever killed and nice people came to walk her here and there. Once she had a home, she set to consuming anything and everything that looked interesting to her—phone cords, pillows, lighters, markers, etc. She prefers the plushest of beds, and pees on ones that are clearly bought from discount stores. In short, Juno has some serious entitlement issues. What’s more, she severely distrusts children and poor people. Does Juno see the bright future of the nation in the faces of the tiny humans she encounters? Negative. These pint-sized gremlin creatures are clearly beings of evil who only want to contaminate her with their lack of education and discipline. I caught her growling at a baby in Jiffy Lube once. Fact. Poor people are even worse. If you are unshowered, have a large beard, wear tattered clothing, or just have nothing better to do but sit on the street and try to pet dogs that walk by, you are going to receive some seriously sketched out growls and under-the-breath insults from this canine. Don’t even try to approach her. She’ll run away like a Southern white woman in a black gay bar. Also, I’m fairly sure that Juno expects the rapture to happen every day—you should see how nuts she goes for bright lights and reflections.

Henry, on the other hand, is a man of the street and definitely a Democrat:

Henry came straight from the pound yo, where mother*ckers disappeared every day and were never seen or heard from again. Some seriously messed up shit. Even though he, like Juno, is black, Juno has always treated him like an immigrant, an invader to her territory. Juno likes to sit on top of him, just to make sure he knows he’s the little guy. This has clearly caused Henry to have an inferiority complex, because he tries to compensate by getting as fat as possible and climbing up to the highest places in the house. To get what he wants, Henry knows he’s got to make his voice heard. Whether that’s by chewing open entire loaves of bread, knocking over the trashcan, or cuddling up to you in the early hours of the morning only to slowly dig his claws into your neck, this guy believes in doing whatever it takes to achieve his goals. Sure, lots of doors are closed to him. Henry James Patsiokas will figure out how to open them—you can be sure of that. Henry believes, above all, in equality. What does Henry say when Juno gets a new toy and his expectant meows are answered only with the paltry offering of a treat from the bag he’s been tired of for weeks? He turns around, sticks his tail straight up in the air, and shows you his butthole. Talk about body language. All this guy wants are the same privileges that the spoiled, slobbery canine who can’t even cover up its own poop gets.

There is, however, some common ground between these ideologically opposed beasts. That, my friends, is cuddling. Yes, the mornings are filled with each one on either side of me alternatively sidling closer and closer to my face to try to prove he or she is the favored one. Juno will slap Henry in the face with her paw; Henry will latch onto Juno’s ear or leg with his teeth. But when the two of them find a way to let go and sink into the sleepy warmth of good cuddles, we all drift off into a peaceful post-wake-up nap and enjoy the most luxurious feeling of contentment in the world. Until Henry gets hungry again.

manifestoed

Posted: August 26, 2012 in red

I hate that stupid phrase about changing the world. “I’m going to change the world.” Great. Well, first off the world changes every day, of its own accord, and each change is tending toward some new paradigm in whatever field it affects, however great or small. And that’s not the effect of one person or a group of people but an impulse in the collective itself, a communal desire borne of multifarious and unrelated groups of people to manifest a certain shift in a certain field.

Fuck changing the world. It will do that all by itself, and I’m sure you’ll feel really good about yourself if you can lay some sort of claim to taking part in a change that is generally perceived as making things better. The reality is nothing is good or bad. Ok, less people are dying. You’re further depleting the food supply, which puts pressure on the environment, and that extra eighty gallons of pesticide used to grow the sustenance food for the poor people you helped save is going to implode the earth five years sooner than it eventually would. Congratulations. You feel good about yourself.

Everybody dies. The only reason we go around trying to have less people die is because otherwise you’re in a society about survival of the fittest, and then everyone just ends up killing each other over the next guy’s apple. Sure, I’d rather our have vain, self-serving idea of a “good” society than the Lord of the Flies one, but don’t decieve yourself, it’s a communal survival mechanism and there is no such thing as progress when it comes to human nature. Only repression.

What I want to do is light souls on fire. There’s an ancient idea about how we’re all just participants in the World Soul, which proceeds from the One, the original creative impulse, the being that exists before the principle of being, an epic stillness that creates not of its own will but of its own nature, and from that One pours the entire universe, first spirit and then matter. And at our very core, when we are closest to the purity of our own self, is that spark, that ineffable need to create, to flow through the One and take part in the unfolding of the universe just as we were meant to. It means bright eyes and hungry hands and lots of pacing and loving and hating and tears.

At my center is a black hole wishing to swallow the universe. That I know. But there’s forever the mystery of what happens to the matter that gets sucked in. Whatever it is, even if it is something so opaque as death, I want to know.

I want to wheedle my way in, through your ears or hair or skin, and find that spark. I want to rip a powerline down and poke that part of you with it. We’re in a society that privileges the comfortable life over the alive one. Little insignificant routines that tell us we are doing just fine and we should sleep easy at night. Sitting in front a computer all day, unmoving and bored, but we’re told that’s RIGHT because someone pays us to do it. It’s a farce of empty legitimization.

Have you ever had an animal look at you when you’re on your phone or on the computer? It’s painful how torturously boring they think we are.

Maybe there’s too many of us here, and the only way we can all get along is to take part in the deadening society we’ve built. If we all burned with the real sparks within us, the whole place would turn to ash. But mine is so loud and so hot that I can’t shut it up, and I see it, I see it in everyone in those millisecond expressions of eye and it’s our origin and our birthright and I just want you to burn with me because it’s a feeling that goes beyond our pedestrian notions of happiness–it’s truth running through your veins begging you to be it, be in it and not question whatever it might look like from the outside because IT IS WHAT YOU ARE.

You are not Abandoned

Posted: August 23, 2012 in blue

Fear not, my seldom opened virtual notebook, I shant leave you forgotten on some empty faux velour bluish gray bus seat of cyberspace. What is it about that thing, publishing? I write a good deal more for no one than for everyone. Isn’t that the idea, though? You write everything you’re afraid for others to see somewhere hidden, and imagine after you die you will somehow increase in importance and then the world can finally be exposed to your untested brilliance?

Some failures of logic in there, for sure, but I’m also quite positive I’m not alone in my silent quest for posthumous glory.

It comes down to fear, then, and what is any fear other than some modification/transformation/manipulation of the fear of death? It’s my current quest to get over my fear of death, because I had a quite stoned revelation that my fear of death controls every decision I make. A silent grip around my chest squeezing the air out so my brain can’t think for itself.

The ego, the transcendental “I,” the ever-beating demand for validation. Because the ego is born from the knowledge that YOU ARE GOING TO DIE AND YOU DON’T KNOW WHEN OR HOW. A life is thrust upon your confused spirit, and your coming to adulthood is the desperation to define your life before it’s gone.

Do animals know they are going to die? They certainly have (gangster) egos:

They don’t seem too concerned about death, though. My last cat, Tango, died suddenly, but he came to me the night before and was noticeably more affectionate–almost aggressive in trying to pry my attention away from the computer in favor of intense cuddles. Maybe once you’re not afraid of it you can feel it approach, like the need to pee, and greet it as you would any natural part of life.

What I meant to get at, which may or may not have been accomplished, is that, in this day and age, if you’re going to write, you might as well write like you’re not afraid of death (since it’s coming anyway), and therefore the distinction between putting your thoughts on a privately owned piece of paper or out in the world for all to see should be a matter not between me and my ego but between me and whatever I hold sacred. Sacred things are private, and sanctity is one of the few things us humans can’t communicate effectively to each other (hence the clapping in church–if we all pretend we feel it, and it sounds like we all feel it, well, then, we all feel it!).

In short, my neat little piece of silicon property, You are not Abandoned.

After more than twenty-five years of intense clinical analysis, I have arrived at a careful diagnosis that my habitual behavior exhibits some symptoms of both Attention Deficit Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’d like to discuss this, because I think we need to reign in all the negativity surrounding interesting psychological differences that each of us may have. “Disorder” just seems harsh. First, though, just because Freud would want it, I’m gonna justify my diagnosis.

 ***

I’m reading on my bed. My eyes drift away from the book to a small dustbunny of animal hair (that’s a funny word, dustbunny. Hang on, I gotta consult some OED…

Ok, after accessing the Oxford English Dictionary, then remembering I left my beer in the living room while in the process of moving my study materials there, then fetching the beer back to my room, and finally looking up dustbunny, which the OED tells me is actually dust bunny (which out of the hundred or so sub-entries of the word dust, only dust bunny, dust cover, and dust mite are not hyphenated [constant pattern recognition and fixation, there’s the OCD] as opposed to, say, dust-flow, a stream or landslide of volcanic ashes saturated with water), I find that dust bunny is mainly a North American term, and the OED’s aggregation of its uses dates it back to 1952, when the Newark (Ohio) Advocate and American Tribune published the sentence,

“He [a child] can be happy enough if there are occasional dust bunnies under the bed, but he will be miserable indeed if we neglect to safeguard his place in a free society.”

Oh, the fifties.)

So I see the dust bunny, put down my book to pick up the dust bunny, and then glance under my bed where a small forest of animal hair has grown rootless onto the wooden floor where my bedroom chi needs to flow freely (the Chinese chi, not the Greek letter, which is how the OED defines the word [disappointing] [never let me blog with the OED open]), I fetch my shop vacuum, which, by the way, is a great solution for vacuuming hardwood floors, and three hours later, after finding piece of dirt after piece of dirt everywhere in my household, the whole place smells like a dinosaur burped Lysol and my book has been comprehensively neglected.

***

Now, this may not be the best example of “disorders” producing productive results, but what the term actually means is a psychological condition that impedes healthy functioning. REALLY what it refers to is a way of thinking or seeing the world that impedes someone from being able to sit a desk 8 hours a day and do what they’re supposed to do, whether that may be doing good in school or chugging away at that 9-to-5. DISORDER has become such a powerful term that we tell 13 year olds to pop cocaine derivatives so that Mom and Dad can brag to little Jimmy’s mom about the 98% their son got on his history test.

Plato and Aristotle just walked around talking to people about things like beds and tables and ended up producing the basis for cosmological Western thought, but no one told them they had disorders. Next time you do something and that little Freud voice in your head criticizes it, just remember that 2nd grade self-esteem program the school’s counseling department made you do crafts about: I’m THUMBody! (Cuz your thumbprint is unique? Get it? Clever, I know.)