Sunday, July 22, 2018


Have i been a victim of theft?
More than i can ever say. That applies to us all, though. Every day of my life, my security, my sexuality, my very humynity have been stolen right out from under my nose. Gone.
In the interpersonal/material picture, not so much. Someone once pickpocketed my wallet. A landlord stole my security deposit. A real estate agent stole my refund.
Nowhere is our culture more purely hypocritical than when it comes to stealing. On the surface we condemn it, but then we set up our institutions so that theft is tolerated, encouraged, even lauded. Capitalism is all about maximizing your pile at the expense of someone else's. Corners are cut, the system is worked, "grey" areas abound, and short-sighted self-absorption reigns. In the big picture, what HASN'T humynity stolen from each other, from other societies, or other species? A corrupt system produces corrupt individuals. End of story.
My reaction to all this has been pretty quixotic. Even in my earliest memories, the thought of stealing was anathema. Not that i was revolted, but i just knew that such behavior had nothing to do with me. Ah, the purity of youthful naivete. As an adult, i've had to (at least marginally) play the games, so of course i've stolen other people's dignity. I've done my best to avoid that, but in the big picture, who am i kidding?
My idealistic tendencies were no doubt enforced by the cultural cesspool that i perceived as a child. Something was rotten in the state of Denmark, and rising above it seemed the only option. Not that this was a conscious decision, it just unfolded over time.
Which is why my first theft was utterly unforgettable.
I was nine when Star Wars came out. My action figures were the pride of my materialistic life, and i took great care of them. I mean, i was still a kid, i PLAYED with them - i wasn't OC, and it never would have occurred to me to keep them "in the box", so i had to replace my original luke, and i wore the silver off blue snaggletooth's boots. But i played gently, and always kept each figure with its correct accessories.
Which is why i was mortified when, at the age of ten, i...lost princess leia's gun. I had a brown/tan/black shag carpet, which may have been the culprit. I gently agonized over the loss.
Then one day, my mom took me to a department store. I was wandering the Star Wars aisle when i saw it...
Someone had ripped open a princess leia box, and stolen the figure. But that rank (or nervous) amateur had left...the gun! There it was, taped to the dangling, clear plastic case. My eyes boggled (at least internally).
It was the first moral crisis of my life.
I knew that at that point, nobody would care about the gun. The damage had been done, and a 1.5cm piece of plastic had no value to the store.
But still, i was pondering....THEFT.
I thought about my tragically incomplete figure. Having my own money to replace lost items was still years away. I thought and thought, and my hand reached out. I touched the box, glancing all around.
I pocketed the gun, and made my getaway.
In the aftermath, i was not wracked with guilt. But did the experience reinforce the notion of never wanting to steal? Probably.
So i didn't...for another twenty years.
I was a working actor on Sanibel Island. The theater, the company, the plays, everything was just wonderful. I grew very attached to a backstage robe, which i wore to keep warm or protect my costume during breaks. This robe was classic - a melange of jungle creatures on a samurai design, complete with metal buckle and a flowing shoulder attachment.
I was underpaid...which perhaps goes without saying. Ah rationalization, i hear your siren call...
But seriously, at one point the wage of actors at my level had been slashed, and we told them we'd rather quit. Solidarity, brother!
After the last performance of a season in which i'd done four or five amazing shows, and made quite a bond with this robe, i walked out to my car, opened the trunk, and made a deposit.
Episode V, Return of the Wrobber? I suppose so.
And some ways, i know i'm not the absolutist i once was. Living in a corporate world leaves one very cynical, materialistically. If there's no clear humyn victim, like if i saw that hypothetical bag of money on the street...
Plus, it's been a long time since i even believed in private property. The quixotic part of me won't let me extend that to its logical conclusion, but i'd have a hard time condemning anyone who did.
Ah, the felon's life for me...
How about you?

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A trip and a dream

Yesterday, i was busking in the park when two pairs of people came along, and one from each group sat down. The first pair were drunk, and the second tripping on crystal meth. The drunk fellow gregariously slapped a $20 into my ukulele case, and said that should be good for a song. I played for forty-five minutes. He and the tripping womyn were very chatty - it was nice to see that there was no language (or chemical) barrier. When he left, the womyn with the powdery lips curled up on my leg. I still had a few songs to practice, so i just went with the flow until i was done. It seemed a safe place to leave her, but she didn't want me to go, and followed me after i got on my bike.
Another day on planet Earth...
Then last night, i had the strangest dream. I was a teacher's aide in an elementary school on the beach, a stone's throw from the surf. Our classroom was on the fourth floor, and there was some kind of commotion below. I saw two indescribably immense creatures emerging from the water, killing as many humyns as they could. All i could make out clearly at first were enormous tails thrashing and displacing staggering amounts of water. Finally i realized they were whales, but far larger than any i'd ever imagined. The bigger one was more angry, and eating and crushing people with abandon. Our teacher decided we should move to a safer part of the school. I thought we were fine, and stayed put. Then i decided i should be with the class, and got ready to follow them. But i wasn't dressed properly. Not quite naked, but close. I had pants and socks and found my sweater, but no coat or shoes. I set off searching for my class, and discovered that the lowest level of the building had several feet of water in it already. I passed a group of adults sitting in a hallway, and realized they were a vocal group who had been booked to entertain the kids. One of them was my sister, and she reached up to grasp my hand. She was so happy, and didn't care about the emergency. We chatted, then i resumed the search for my class. I found them...

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

two miracles

My father grouses about the fact that people don't pick up street pennies anymore. But it's just mental calculus. Without thinking, we all calculate how much a penny will enhance our life, compared to the time spent bending over, retrieving, and storing. If we see someone grabbing a street penny, it's a curiosity, isn't it?
And the calculus extends...most people who become well-off reach a point where they don't bend over for coins of any sort. Having been a self-sufficient non-materialist all my life, i've always danced on the balance between knowing what i need to make to live, set against how much of my life i'm willing to sacrifice on the wage-earning altar. I've been very aware of my mental calculus lately. In cities, street coins are common, but when you're a biker, the calculus changes. Stopping for a coin can take time, even minutes if you factor in traffic lights. If i'm walking, i'll snap up anything silver. But i've realized that a quarter is the only guaranteed stop for me as a biker. Dimes depend on my mood. Nickels, forget it.
And the calculus extends...most people who become rich reach a point where they don't even bend over for a stray bill. They know how much their time is worth, and snapping up dollar bills, even if they did it all day, would be a bottom line loss.
And the calculus extends...hypothetically, there are the ultra-rich who wouldn't even bend over for a thousand-dollar bill. In terms of their ledgers, that nine seconds would be utterly wasted. For others, that bill represents a week's labor. Or a month's. Or a year's...
My point is not merely the insanity of our market economy, which absolutely requires that there be poor people. There is no "ideal capitalism" in which everyone gets what they need. It has never, and can never, happen. If you want to be rich, someone has to be poor. Corporate capitalism goes further, and requires not just inequity, but horrific deprivation.
My point is how this turns us all into instinctive commodifiers. We make these calculations over street money, with zero conscious thought - a precise mirror for how we treat people. When a new person comes into our life, we instantly size them up as potential friend, lover, or associate. And we proceed to court or ignore them, based on those largely subconscious, surface calculations. How will a given person enhance our status, security, or happiness? It becomes a metric of trade-offs. Potential reward versus possible rejection. Exciting versus annoying. Societal approval versus personal growth. Libidinous satisfaction versus social censure. Brilliance by association versus being second (or fifth) banana.
We commodify everything and everyone around us.
Are you comfortable with your worth being both random (based on fad or fashion) and tenuous, with all sorts of valuations (aging, illness/injury, the behavior of those you associate with) entirely out of your control? Of course not. No sane person is comfortable having their life reduced to their surface characteristics. And everyone knows that sting of rejection which feels howlingly unfair.
Even though deep down we all know you CAN judge a book (or person) by its cover with at least 99% accuracy, that 1% is a mindfuck in which all sorts of traumatic, life-altering shit swirls.
In theory, some of this sounds like it shouldn't be so bad. It almost sounds like it makes sense. With sex, and our constant search for "the one", it's almost tempting to think that eventually people who are perfect for each other will FIND each other. And then all the rejecting and sacrifice will make sense. Never mind the unending alleys of loneliness and false hope. Eventually, all systems tend toward equilibrium, and people, whether in friendship or love or business, will find those who balance them?
It's so tempting to think that's true.
But it's not. At any moment in our life we might be more happy or less happy, but in this culture, fear of loss is our only guaranteed lifetime companion.
And deep down, we hate that, we don't understand it, we cannot make it MAKE SENSE.
Is it all capitalism's fault?
Yeah, pretty much. Or on a deeper level, it's the fault of a poison which got into humyn consciousness around the time that agriculture gave us something we'd never known before - surplus stuff. Valuables (in this case, food) in piles larger than we could possibly need at the time.
In response, someone stood up and said, "That pile is MINE."
Humynity has been a descending shit spiral ever since.
Is it too late to spiral back up? I sure hope not. The feelers among us, those who don't get crushed or go insane or kill themselves, they do keep trying, don't they? Even the non-feelers are not so thoroughly mercenary as i've described. Our basic humyn nature is social. Our basic nature understands that to help others is to help ourselves. At heart, we are silly, sharing monkeys, and even the worst of us never dreamed of becoming selfish adults. Most of us, even in the most disastrous moments of our lives, try to not hurt others.
But the calculus of how much we've destroyed our world, and other animals, and the essentially playful, loving spirit of every humyn traveler on this rock, went way past apocalyptic a long, long time ago. If our grandchildren are to survive at all, we're going to need two kinds of miracle - technological and moral. By our standards, the first should actually be easy. The second, we've never seen.
But i'm not about to give up.
I love you all.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

brian wilson

Ah, the Beach Boys...
Didn't care for 'em as a kid.
Not that i didn't appreciate some of their songs - undeniably infectious. But their vibe hit me as hollow. When i found out as an adult that their musical visionary didn't write their lyrics, it made sense. In an era when the singer/songwriter was reborn and popular music tapped into a youth movement wanting to change the world with peace and free love, the Beach Boys ran in the other direction. Could "When I Grow Up to be a Man" have been made by anyone NOT abused as a child? And those inane fucking car songs! I could handle the beach songs, but even without hearing any full album, those car songs made me cringe. When it was revealed that almost none of the Beach Boys actually surfed, it all (again) made sense. An empire built on pandering, indeed.
Is that a bit unfair? Sure.
But then a funny thing happened. In 1988, a friend gave me a tape of brian wilson's solo debut. I reluctantly listened...then did so again. And again. And again and again and again and again, and it was just purely brilliant. Knowing what i do now about his mental illness, and the horrific mind control he was enduring, it's tempting to question my passion for that album. But let's just embrace beauty wherever we find it, shall we? And is it just my own hopeless subjectivity, or is "Brian Wilson" head and shoulders above any other solo effort he did?
It's also tempting to ponder what he could have created, had he gotten the help he needed when he needed it, or had the band not dragged him to the middle of the road (Is there a more quease-inducing pop song ever, with a preciously patronizing message that only pampered millionaires could have created, than "Kokomo"?). But again, those things mostly miss the point. Brian heard amazing beauty, and was able to share it with the world. And even if he didn't write most of his lyrics, he always oversaw their creation, and the fact that the first line of one of the most famous love songs ever is "i may not always love you", is a stunning slice of reality. Or has pop music ever offered a more haunting portrayal of our intimacy failures than "Lay Down Burden"? And somehow, improbably but undeniably, the following set list reveals a personal journey a thousand times more intimate than anything macca or dylan could offer. If the audience isn't sated by two encores, have him come back out and toss off "Rio Grande". Thank you, brian.
Surfer Girl
Wouldn't It Be Nice
I Get Around
Meet Me in My Dreams Tonight
The Warmth of the Sun
Let It Shine
Let the Wind Blow
In My Room
Surf's Up
Til I Die
Don't Worry Baby
You Are So Beautiful
Lay Down Burden
Walkin' the Line
Love and Mercy
Do It Again
Night Time
Your Imagination (a capella)
Summer's Gone
Melt Away
Good Vibrations
Sail On Sailor
God Only Knows

Sunday, July 1, 2018

bond, burroughs, and militaraphilia (pt. 3)

(a follow-up to

Now we come to the part of the essay that actually causes me a little cringe of genuine embarrassment. If you understand the value i place on self-acceptance, you'll know how huge that is.
I was...a james bond fan.
For a long time.
Not brashly or publicly. Nor that i misunderstood how infantile it was. Nonetheless, something there gnaws...
I saw my first bond at...fourteen? Was it moore or connery? Probably moore. Within a few years i'd seen many, and started reading all the books by ian fleming. By my twenties, i'd seen all the films (including "Casino Royale"). I had my favorites (connery, brosnan, "Dr. No") and least favorites (moore, "Octopussy"). I defended dalton and lazenby, and even had a soft spot for "Never Say Never Again". I had one or two glossy movie guidebooks, plus a well-played cd of the theme songs (Coolest bond sample ever? George michael's "Please Send Me Someone to Love"). One of the few drive-in movies of my life was "For Your Eyes Only"...a memory with magic in it. James was smooth, cheeky, and he got the wimyn. Even though i probably would have denied it, i suppose i wished that were true of me too.
Nonetheless, bond was also sexist, emotionally void, and an icon of glamorized violence. Though "A View to a Kill" is objectively worse, "Octopussy" is the first time i remember being genuinely annoyed by the precious flippancy, the utter disregard for life, and the undeniable misogyny. The movies also deified the paradigm of "bad guy/good guy" - an ethos i'd rejected by my twenties. But i kept coming back. Just harmless. stupid, escapist release?
It wasn't until my forties that i'd pretty much put james behind me. Curse you, john cleese and judy dench, for lending your credibility to such swill (don't think it's not tempting to offer a comprehensive shout-out to all the well-established actors, financially set and professionally secure MANY times over, who made the morally questionable choice of accepting a 007 villain or "bond girl" paycheck). I haven't seen most of the craig entries...though i can't swear i won't. Nor can i swear i'll never again watch for old times' sake, particularly with a brother whose 007 enthusiasm hasn't waned one iota. He revels in the pleasures, with no apparent irony or guilt.
I've pretty much always seen through the idiocy of patriarchy. So was my enduring affection for bond simply a reflection of my need to stay in touch with what i was rejecting? BRAAAAP! I'm sorry, that sounds like bullshit, try again. Um...did i need the sense of community being a fan of any public entity entails, plus a way to defend myself against the male culture i was trying to subvert, by being able to say "Hey, look...i'm one of you, i can speak your language"? HALF-BRAAAAP! That might hold a little water, though it's a leaky vessel. Did my love for james tap into my rejection of monogamy, a view that science would validate? Uhhh...sure. Am i reaching? Probably.
Let's move on.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

bond, burroughs, and militaraphilia (pt. 2)

(a follow-up to

What would you do if your first love, who taught you everything and against whom no other love has ever felt so intense and pure, turned out to be... idiot?
You might spend the rest of your life NOT telling people about that first love.
Which may not be an altogether bad thing, but...
...welcome to my literary life.
The writer who taught me to be a reader, who inflamed a passion in me i'd never imagined, whom i thought i'd hold aloft for the rest of my life, has become a bit of a...
...dirty secret.
Not literally - i'd never avoid the topic if it came up. But since my teen years, i've almost never shared my reminisces of the amazing worlds of edgar rice burroughs in polite (or any) company.
I don't recall how my first burroughs came into my hands. It was one of the tarzan novels, maybe #7 or 8. When i'd read the last word, i'm sure i knew i wasn't done. There were twenty-seven others, all in print. I gobbled them up, stopping when i finished the penultimate (i decided i'd save the last one for the last year of my life). I can't remember whether i read my first non-tarzan burroughs, "A Princess of Mars", before i finished the tarzans. But i'm pretty sure that's when it became concretized that i would have to read everything he ever wrote. A quest i came damn close to consummating, consuming the Mars novels, the Venus novels, the Pellucidar novels, the Caspak novels...everything that was still in print, and a fair amount that wasn't. My hunger branched out to burroughs' genre stablemates - howard, norman...
I was fourteen when i read that first novel, and eighteen when i hit college and ran out of steam (but still figuring i'd finish the quest someday). Earlier this year, i was cleaning out my storage, and most of my burroughs books went to donation, but i took that last tarzan novel, and read it on the long bus ride home. It was surprisingly satisfying, and so easy to fall back under his narrative spell. Whatever else one can say about him, few have equaled the tightness and fluidity of his prose.
I'm not sure how old i was when i gave my first interior eye roll at my burroughs passion. My thirties? Of course, by my late teens i already had an awareness that he wasn't as sophisticated as the more "serious" sci fi to which i was graduating - heinlein, niven, clarke...but it wasn't until many years later that i'd processed the moral flaws inherent in the burroughs worldview. A touch of the bullshit macho "hemingway" code, with all the institutional violence and emotional negation that entails. A victorian, self-loathing prudery. Racist overtones, with the way whites were portrayed in comparison to the natives. Rampant speciesism, with many other animals portrayed as "evil" or disposable...this despite the ennobling of "natural" man, and a disparagement of "civilization". A disquieting sexism, with men the prime motivators and wimyn ineffective and overemotional (Though perhaps that charge is unfair, as he clearly took delight in writing an occasional dynamic, capable female character...the exceptions that proved the sexist rule, or stabs at a nascent feminism? It can be so hard to judge someone from an era gone by. Perhaps even the racist charge is unfair.)
Still, such joy i took in those books so scrupulously lined up on my teenage shelves. And the greater point is the literary universes that my burroughs passion opened up. There have been a handful of other writers whose discovery prompted a similar need to read EVERYTHING the writer wrote - o'neill, stoppard, vonnegut, if it hadn't been burroughs, would it have been some other writer? It's almost impossible to imagine that not happening, given my personality and the fertile ground that was my brain. Yet some people say they became serious readers long before thirteen. It's disquieting to think of myself as a lesser reader than i am, but who knows? Yet maybe even, had some other writer been the one to ignite my passion, might my moral growth might have raced ahead more quickly?
And perhaps there are ways in which burroughs changed me for the good? Made me a smidgen more romantic? Reinforced ever so slightly my sense of "me against the world"?
Whatever the case, my burroughs burst was clearly an alignment of innumerable psychological and cultural forces. It gave me joy, and profound escape from a world whose dysfunctionality i could only begin to imagine when i was thirteen.
So if you're ever tempted to say to some youth, "Stop reading that crap! Let me get you something GOOD", well...a more circumspect approach might serve them better. Offer your allegedly "better" book, but take joy in the fact that they're reading at all. Heck, in this day and age, can you even be certain that captain underpants isn't better for a child than dickens or bronte?
But yes - to this day, i know edgar rice a thousand times better than william s.
Ah, the shame...

(coming soon - pt. 3!)

Saturday, June 23, 2018

bond, burroughs, and militaraphilia

At first glance, i can seem morally/ethically exceptional...i've never struck another person in anger (except my big sister once as a child). The teeny handful of things i've stolen in my life are the stuff of amusing anecdote. I've never raped, harassed, or been a predator in any but the most relatively profoundly benign ways.
And by the time i was a late teen, i had fallen in love with the visions of lennon, vonnegut, thoreau, and "My Dinner with Andre".
Pretty hip?
Yet there's a level on which i've always felt a...well, "faker" is too strong, but slightly embarrassed at pieces of my youth. "Deep dark secrets"? Again too strong, but there are parts of my past i never trot out in genteel, cultured company.
Let's trot.
I was a pacifist by the time i was draftable, ready to be a conscientious objector should my country call on me for military service. I like to think that there was no point in my youth when i would have obeyed, had i been asked to kill.
Perhaps some might have found that surprising however, given my youthful love of things military. I never felt a disconnect, but if you'd looked at me objectively...
Playing "war" with neighborhood kids was a devoted passion, starting around the age of twelve. Dividing into teams, armed with our favorite toy gun, strategizing and "killing" each other until only one side was left. I was good. The best, even. Stealthy, fast, patient, and sharp. I can't say that no one ever got the drop on me or that my side never lost, but those were rare. Nor was there anything brutal in our play. It was never consciously personal...just the joyful abandonment of pure play, then reboot and go again. It eventually graduated to super-soakers, which was beyond brilliant.
Yet...was there a deeper level on which we were all training ourselves in predatory ways and attitudes? A level on which we were subconsciously approving of the real-world parallels to our play?
How can there NOT have been??
But if there was, how can i have become so entirely pacifist when the time came to decide such things for myself? There was never any internal discussion or debate - nor any need.
My militaristic-seeming seeds bloomed early. Around the age of four, my favorite toy became G.I. Joes. I had a collection of figures and outfits and accessories, plus three or four sizable vehicles and a two-story headquarters. These weren't those pathetic four-inchers, these were the original eleven-inchers. I had a group of G.I. Joe friends on my block, and we always gathered to play at lizzie's house. She had the coolest collection, and was so conscientious about not getting our pieces mixed up that she had us all bring only our naked Joes. Isn't it fascinating that a girl was the star of our otherwise all-male company? A girl loving military toys?? Somewhere in the back of my mind, i've always wondered what kind of a person she became. A moral degenerate?? The hilarious side of that, is that the point of this article is how i grew into a pacifist icon, despite my seeming militarism as a why wouldn't she as well? But prejudice is always faintly illogical...and more to the point, of course she grew up to be a degenerate! We all did, we all are. But just now, that's neither here nor there...
After my Joes, there were war comic books. Mostly Sgt. Rock and Men at War. Some of them introduced a level of sophistication and ambiguity to my young mind...i remember a story about two wounded survivors of a battle, one who can't see or talk, and another who can't walk. They work together to get to safety, and only in the last panel is it revealed that they're actually enemies.
And then came the models. Plastic glue-and-paint kits, of warships and airplanes. I probably did a dozen or more, between the ages of five and ten. Amateurish at first, but eventually my decal and fine brush work were exemplary.
When i was very young, i had those two-inch green plastic soldiers, and around the age of eight or nine, that morphed into a grand sprawl of one-inch plastic soldiers in various colors, with assembly-required tanks and vehicles to scale (HO?). By then, it was apparent my primary interest was World War II. I'm not sure why. Perhaps because that war seemed (to my child's mind) morally unambiguous, with clear "evil" on display? That explanation doesn't quite fit though, as i took more delight in the Axis toys (this was later paralleled in my Star Wars figures...the Empire was always cooler to me). Was My plastic armies eventually took over our 8'x4' holiday train platform in the basement.
When i outgrew comic books, i collected military books. Sprawling tomes, sometimes focusing on just the ships or planes.
But the culmination of my militaristic pursuits was the board game i created to play with my neighbor and best friend, dave bent. It started from two existing board games about WWII sea warfare, War at Sea and Victory in the Pacific. There were cardboard markers to represent each ship of every navy. They each had numbers representing firepower, defense, and speed (aircraft carriers had a fourth number). I combined, i expanded, i rewrote the rules. I created ships the creators had missed (like the pathetic russian navy!). So many of those three-number sequences are forever burned into my synaptic pathways. A single game could last weeks, at several hours a day. I was always the Axis. Such joy, passing away those hours...
Many might try to bring my father into the picture, and say that coming to grips with his legacy must have been at the heart of all this. He'd been a soldier, and spoke of his service with pure patriotism and pride. He never went to war, but one cannot imagine him having any reservations about doing so (had he, i think perhaps our relationship mightn't have survived). Surely my own youthful zeal for things military must have been related to him in some way, even if only as a means of appeasement? I really don't think so. I remember no time in my life when winning his approval was important. My first awareness of him as a fellow humyn was one of disconnect. He was he and i was i, and the twain simply did not meet. This was neither sad nor happy, it just...was. That may be an oversimplification, but essentially it feels true.
So then, why?
I want to say it's just a reflection of my big youthful brain, looking for outlets to express my creativity and need for escapism (which i couldn't have been aware of then...but we live in a dysfunctional society defined largely by an out-of-balance need for escapism). Perhaps subconsciously i knew that dad (and by extension, the rest of the macho culture that surrounded me) would never hassle me over what seemed an extension of his own life? Maybe...
Once i realized how pacifistic i was, i never felt the need to "burn" my miltaristic past. I just moved on - i was very self-accepting. A trait that was tested by the third focus of this essay, but first...
Edgar rice burroughs! The writer who turned me into a reader...

(Part 2 -