Friday, October 20, 2017

"Ishtar"

-directed and written by elaine may
1987
Oft-acerbic cartoonist gary larson penned some 4000 THE FAR SIDEs...and there was only ever one for which he publicly apologized. A "hell's video store" featuring shelves full of nothing but ISHTAR.
The zeitgeist's attitude toward this movie has softened from its initial roaring condemnation, when ISHTAR became the infamous poster child for bloated Hollywood wretchedness. Perhaps money was a factor in the public scorn that cascaded down, but not in the obvious way...perhaps it was a subconscious twinge of shame from an obscenely rich country that allows millions of its citizens to live in poverty. What's that? $40,000,000 for a MOVIE?? A comedy, no less? I HATE IT!!! Or perhaps, in this sycophantic culture of self-loathing, sometimes we have a cathartic need to immolate - for every Beatles or AVATAR, we need a nixon or ISHTAR. And if you read the trivia section from this movie's IMDB page, you might be dumbfounded at how seemingly doomed-to-failure it was, with toxic disagreements between director and stars and studio chief david puttnam (whose lack of enthusiasm for this inherited project may have blossomed into outright self-sabotage). It's certainly puzzling how the wheels fell off so swiftly, especially after the pre-release screenings were all successes.
But in the intervening decades, more and more cries of "unfairly maligned" have popped up. Or some version of "not bad, and the songs are wonderful". So perhaps someday ISHTAR will be hailed as one of the great comic gems of all time. I don't dabble in hyperbole (well, much), but i promise you, this film is on par with the quote-reference status of marx, mel, Python, or ZAZ.
One fascinating by-product of the discord was that may, hoffman, and beatty each had their own team of editors, making three different versions of the film. Which was released?? How many years are we going to have to wait for a deluxe edition, with all three?
So here's what you'll fall in love with, if you dare. Hoffman (TOOTSIE, THE EARTH DAY SPECIAL) and beatty (BULWORTH, THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS) play two hack lounge singers who get a booking in Morocco, then get swept up into intrigue between a despot, rebels, and the CIA. In acting, drama gets the glory...but comedy is harder, and dustin and warren nail this one. Throughout the mayhem, lyle and chuck keep writing songs and focusing on their act...and indeed the music (by may and songwriting legend paul williams - THE MUPPET MOVIE, THE LOVE BOAT) is so off-the-charts, intentionally-awful hysterical, one can only hope it was as much fun to create as it is to hear. It's so infectious, you might end up rejecting the "awful" premise altogether. It's certainly my holy grail, as a soundtrack was recorded but never released. Are you reading this, paul?? Tell us you didn't burn the masters! Our bumbling leads both fall in love with the same revolutionary (the impeccable isabelle adjani - NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE, QUEEN MARGOT). The oscar goes to charles grodin (MIDNIGHT RUN, DAVE), who manages to make an amoral CIA antagonist both hysterical and sympathetic. Jack weston (THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET, THE FOUR SEASONS) plays the duo's jaded agent, to hangdog perfection. Carol kane (TAXI, THE PRINCESS BRIDE) is priceless as a put-upon girlfriend. Matt frewer (MAX HEADROOM, THE CRIMSON PERMANENT ASSURANCE) is spiffy as a CIA operative.
The chemistry and comedy are seamless...and sometimes the accidents worked in their favor. There was supposed to be a big military climax, which warren almost insisted upon, but it wasn't elaine's forte. Warren gave in, and as a result, that scene centers around a lone jeep in the desert...which is a perfect metaphor for chuck and lyle themselves. It keeps the lightness and pathos close at hand.
There. I've told the truth. That's dangerous business.

Monday, October 16, 2017

"The Princess Diarist"

-by carrie fisher
2016
What happened? I told myself (and the world) that i was out! Yet here i am, touching (however tangentially) upon a piece of the Star Wars universe. I made the break a few years back...i, who for much of my childhood plus my teen years PLUS most of my adulthood, had held my devotion aloft (admittedly never so, shall we say, "colorfully" as some fans, but in my heart and the scope of my knowledge, i took a back seat to no one). Finally though, i could no longer ignore the fact that the SW universe is one of glamorized, unrelenting violence, wherein the "good" people are just as blood-spattered as the "bad" (okay, light sabers self-cauterize, but you get the point). And beyond that, to see life as "good vs. evil" is a child's philosophy, one that has humynity stuck in apocalyptic barbarism.
And when i say "enough", that's what i mean. So when Episode VII (with original cast!) was released, i took no notice. Not one stray glance or thought. It would be almost impossible to overstate the enormity of that, given my previous life.
Why then, am i here today?
Because of carrie. That plus extenuating circumstances. I'd been aware of this book, and wasn't tempted, even though i hold ms. fisher the writer in high regard. But last week, i was in a rush at the library, needing a semi-mindless bedtime book. So i grabbed this - a collection of diary entries from the time she was filming the first SW movie, before her world (and ours) changed forever.
Knowing carrie, i expected literary merit and blunt honesty. What the hell, i said...it would be the one little indulgent SW reminiscence i would ever give myself. So what happened on the way to this being a trifle that i would never consider worthy of sharing with you?
An eye-openingly wonderful book, that's what.
The way she set up the diaries, with self-deprecation about what an unformed, uneducated teenager she'd been, led me to have minuscule expectations. I assumed that i would enjoy her present-day commentaries more.
Which turned out to be true...
But the power of the diaries snuck up on me, until i was gobsmacked by her nuanced, crystalline expressions of longing and self-loathing, all centered around the "secret" affair she had during those three months, with harrison ford. These diaries are a searing portrayal of alienation...and not just the kind we feel from other people, but the more disturbing alienation we feel from ourselves. Carrie captures what it means to live in this dysfunctional culture, where even our most intimate relationships are often a source of never-ending torment, as we struggle and bargain for the simple love we need. Which leads us (for those who try to remain emotionally open) to never-ending cycles of self-destruction...or never-ending cycles of self-deception for everybody else.
Carrie was, of course, more in the destruction than deception camp.
And her teenage poetry is astonishing. My expectations were comically low, so i had to read four or five of them before it sank in just how good they are.
And now, i realize that if i live a long life, i may actually one day watch her two late-life SW films...if only to search for a glimpse of the deeper soul hidden behind her eyes.
Brilliantly done, carrie. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

sweetprints

What's all the fuss about, sugar??
Refined sugar, that is. Been getting some awful press. Words like "toxic" thrown around.
Sigh. All lil' old sugah did was try to make people happy. Not just people, either...picture a bear going for honey. A chimp going for grapes. A dead dog next to a pile of chocolate wrappers.
Okay, not that last one. But we mammals love our sweets! And why the hell not? Sweets (and fats and salts) affect the same pleasure centers of the brain as opioids. Damn right. Pass those chocolate-covered potato chips!
And now sugar is being linked to depression? Cancer?? Obesity??? Okay, we'll give you that last one. Apparently what happens is that natural sugars, like those found in fruit, come with all sorts of fruity things bonded to them, which the body needs time to break down. But refined sugar hits our innards on an express track to the liver, and abnormally-saturated livers seem to be the primary cause of obesity. As for those grimmer possibilities, more long-term studies are needed.
Hm. Well, sugar is a drug. Of course. I think even people without kids would agree. And in this world, most of us need every single escape from reality we can get. Particularly ones that we can afford with pocket change, and won't land us in, y'know, jail. So americans consume twenty teaspoons of sugar a day. Hm. Yeah, that's a lot. If the thought of just eating twenty naked teaspoons of sugar at one sitting doesn't turn your stomach, you might want to consider a program. Y'know, the kind with steps.
But i can't hate ya, sugar! In fact, the reason i came here today is to write...a love note. A sweet love note. I have adored sugar, and seem to have avoided the more perilous pitfalls. And i grew up in middle America, where we had dessert every damned dinner! Well, everyone else in my family anyway...i was the only child who couldn't be bribed - no dessert was going to make my brussel sprouts disappear. Nor did i continue the daily dessert pattern as an adult - currently, i eat sweets maybe once a week. In fact, i just had my first refined sugar in over two months...i hadn't intended to do so, but once it was happening i went with it, out of curiosity. I didn't notice any change in my desires or emotions or energy.
Not that i'm immune to sugar's drugging affects. These past few years have been brutal. There have been nights when i ate sugar just because it might make me feel better. And it probably did. In fact, i even occasionally found myself eating sugar two nights in a row. One time, i did five straight.
I was studying humanity, y'know? Pass the damn chocolate-covered garlic!
My first step away from the refined norm came at the age of sixteen, when i transformed my personality profoundly, including a moratorium on all added sugars. And i mean ALL. I never blinked, never cheated. Five years later, i realized it had all been part of a teen identity crisis, so i opened myself up to resuming the things i'd excised. Alcohol never came back, but meats (for a while) and sweets did. And now, years later...well, i wouldn't mind dropping refined sugar altogether. I might be headed that way. More and more, i seek out natural sweeteners. Perhaps my favorite sweet treat now is a little squirt of maple syrup.
But wait, what's that? Dark chocolate-covered blueberries? My my my.
So now, let's switch over to an "a la" mode which may only be of interest to rat anthropologists centuries from now. Come with me, kiddies, let's go for a wonka ride on my sugary journey. What i've hated, what i've loved, and what i've REALLY loved.
I remember a childhood beach trip with my grandparents. They had something called Mary Janes. Sort of a peanut butter nougat. I wouldn't want one now, but for those few days i loved them. My other grandfather always had greenleaves around, a minty gelatin. Again, i wouldn't eat one now, but his personal magic made his candy magic too. I remember visiting the general store where my father had grown up, and tasting the old-fashioned candies...swedish fish, and those little LSD-like tabs you peeled from a long sheet of paper...
Later, gummy bears had my attention for a while, but that may have been mostly because of the tongue-tactile delight. Jolly Ranchers were good, too. And one childhood sweet i've never seen since, the only one which i would pay money to have just one more time, was little wax creations shaped like soda bottles. You chewed them, and they had some kind of fruity liquid inside. You eventually had nothing left in your mouth but wax, which you spit out. It sounds kind of dumb now, but i loved them.
And speaking of soda, which seems to be the number one sugar devil in the world...yup, loved it. I preferred Coke over Pepsi. Dr. Pepper was dandy. Root beer and cream soda even more. Dad would bring home wooden cases of huge A-Treat bottles from an outlet store. The flavor we boys loved and hated was golden dry ginger ale, because it was double strength. I don't remember anyone ever drinking more than a sip, but it was huge fun to watch friends have a first taste, and see their faces contort. I also worked in a mexican restaurant, and would make hybrid cola creations in the bus station, mostly a mix of cola and orange (and tea?). By my mid-twenties though, i had heard about the studies (suburban legends?) in which a tooth left in soda will decay after few days, and that was enough. After that, the only soda i had was a root beer float once every few years.
But by far the most tantalizing sweet was, of course...ice cream! Is there any treat more sweet/fat maxed? I was picky though...chocolate was loathsome, and strawberry not much better. Vanilla was where it was at. And when chocolate magic shell came along, heaven had found its silver lining. There were a few fancier flavors i loved throughout the years, the greatest being chocolate chip cookie dough. From which mustache-twirling genius did that one arise? And Dairy Queen also made bad sooooooo good - their dipped cones were pure crack (surprisingly, i favored the butterscotch over chocolate). And ohhhhhh my, what were those things with the peanuts and chocolate coating/pudding? Buster Bars! Holy mcfucktree, Buster Bars. Once my vegan days arrived, i discovered that the soy/rice/coconut ice cream substitutes are so fantastic, that many vegan-disparagers might prefer "the fake thing" in blind taste tests. My only other ice cream memory is how stunning it was to watch my youngest brother. As a thin teenager, he consumed bowls so enormous, it looked like nearly a quarter-gallon at one sitting. No, he didn't get fat...but he did become a hardcore drug addict years later. Hm.
The second-greatest sweet ever? Look no further than that favorite ice cream. Chocolate chip cookies! Dry or dunked, crunchy or chewy (or both), homemade or store-bought, it's almost impossible to go wrong. My devotion translated into learning to make them, and spending years refining my recipe (which required a new drawing board when i stopped eating dairy). But even a failed batch is never a failure. And of course, eating the dough is sometimes more heavenly than the final product. There are other cookies out there, but none worth mentioning.
Okay, shortbread is worth mentioning.
And Girl Scout thin mints, and samoas! And Keebler fudge sticks! And oreos! (one of the few non-dairy mass market cookies) Being a precocious child, i invented double stuff oreos years before they arrived on the market. Twist one wafer off two cookies, and press the white centers together. Yes, i ate the rejected wafers too - there were apparently starving children in China, and i was a child of conscience. It didn't occur to me to mail those wafers overseas (or to my own american backyard as it turned out, but that's another story).
Pudding i liked, but not enough to go back to it once i started eating sweets again. The only ones i really liked were rice pudding and tapioca.
Pies have always been a mixed bounty. There's the great (french silk, pecan...which can be awful with a bad recipe), the middling (key lime, apple...which can be fantastic with a sublime recipe), and the noxious (pumpkin, coconut cream, banana cream...which has never been good with any recipe ever). Ooh, and my mother made pennsylvania dutch milk pies. Mmmmm.
And what is pie without the amazement of whipped cream (which has a coconut version that's almost orgasmic)? One of my most resonant sweet memories involves theater rehearsals in a church basement...after which, we explored the kitchen and discovered tubs of whipped cream in the freezer. I took a few bites every night. If you've never eaten frozen cool-whip, you've missed one of life's sweet shangri las. To this day, one of my most sublime treats is chocolate chips swirled into whipped cream.
And what of that american staple, cake? More miss than hit. Yellow cake and chocolate cake have always been yuck, even when i was a less discerning child. The one cake i adored was the red velvet mom always made on my birthday. Carrot cakes can be great. Wedding cake? Pretty damned good for store-bought, though the sugar ratio can cause a quick shut-down in desirability. Ice cream cake? Brilliant! Cupcakes? Mostly pheh, but a few of the storebought varieties (ho hos, ding-dongs) are fantastic. I liked twinkies as a kid, but the processed thought of them is wretched to my adult palate. And the second-most repulsive sweet ever (after, of course, peeps) is something called the snowball. The one cake memory i have which was almost miraculous (and never to be repeated) was an italian rum cake. The only other time i tried one, it was pheh...but that first one is burned into my drugged-out brain forever.
Ambrosia? Great. Monkey bread, cinnamon buns? Ecstatic when fresh. Sugar bread, cinnamon sugar toast, and much later cinnamon sugar pretzels? Wonderful. Real s'mores were great too, the only marshmallow memory which still pleases...um, except for Count Chocula and Boo Berry...yummm.
Licorice? Nasty. Jelly beans? Pointless. Except for, um, buttered popcorn Jelly Bellies...maybe swirled with a blueberry or two.
Of course, to an american child, candy bars are the sweet by which all others are measured. The high holy sweet holiday, Halloween (Or wait, is it Easter?? Of course - America has TWO high holy candy holidays!), is an unending candy bar orgy. Apples?? Raisins??? GET THAT SHIT OUT OF MY PLASTIC PUMPKIN! Hmm...i get why sweets got all mixed up in Easter...as holidays go, it's tragically unhip, and only by making kids drugged-out happy zombies could positive associations be reinforced...but why did we decide Halloween needed candy? Dressing up, scaring people - that's already hip, the candy part seems gratuitous! I guess it just goes to show how much we love sugar. Maybe the question should be, why aren't St. Swithin's Day or Arbor Day high holy candy holidays?? Let's make them trees sexy, maybe some kid might grow up to save a forest! So with candy bars, which have i loved most? The first was the Heath bar...mmmmmmm. It is one of the minor tragedies of my life that i've never found a non-dairy version. There was something called a Marathon bar, a carmel chocolate creation which was stunning for its architecture alone. Twix bars were pretty damned good...though the best Twix was one which didn't last, the cookies n' cream version - curse you, oh capricious corporate America! Reese's cups were pretty good, especially when dark versions (like Newman's) became available. York peppermint patties? Fine. M&Ms were respectable, especially when the peanut and dark versions came around. Milky Way Dark? Not bad. Toblerone was damn good, and Toblerone dark double damn good. If you're sensing a trend, yes, as i discovered dark in my teens, it pretty swiftly rendered milk chocolate pukelike in comparison. My favorite bar became Hershey's special dark. Years later, when they "lightened" the recipe, that was the darkest (ha- unintentional pun!) chapter in my sweet tooth life. The new version was disgusting. When they made the change, i found a store that had the old ones, and bought out their stock, making those bars last for a year or two.
The only peeps of the candy bar world? Something called a...mallo-cup (shudder). And those Halloween tri-color traffic cones...WHO EATS THEM??
The only thing i ever loved about Easter was the white chocolate rabbits, though i can't imagine eating one now.
One bizarre candy bar memory, an accidental aberration, happened when i was on a camping trip. I was poking around a cooler with a cousin, and we discovered Hershey bars. For several days, the melting ice had left an inch or two of water in the bottom, and these bars were soaked. Their brown color had paled, and some adult suggested throwing them out. But i took a nibble...and it was freaking amazing! Far less sweet, but soooo cool. The fact that nobody else would go near them was my own little chocolate miracle.
As an adult, pretty much the only sweet i've bought for myself is some form of dark chocolate. A bag of non-dairy chocolate chips is all i need. Dark chocolate espresso beans or pretzels can be dandy. The only brand i know worth mentioning is Nib-Mor...mm-mm-mmmmmm.
I suppose the lesson here is...look at how much i've just gushed. If i met a woman who moved me this much, i'd marry her...and i approve of marriage less than i approve of peeps! Bear in mind, in terms of being an american child sweethound, i was average at best. As an adult, far less. Yet, oh the power of these refined brain drugs. I've avoided obesity, and have only ever had one or two cavities. I'm not condemning sweets, but it sure seems that the overlords of capitalism have led us down the primrose path with the 100 POUNDS of sugar they pour into our eager gullets each year...especially those of us who won't (or can't) choose more powerful (and mind-altering) forms of escapism. I'm just saying, if 100 pounds is the average, someone out there is consuming 190 pounds, just to balance me out. Sugar is everywhere. Sugar is cheap. Sugar makes you feeeeeeeel good. And we live in a sedentary culture of alienation and escapism so relentlessly dehumanizing, that we gobble and gobble and gobble...and, yes, we are the fattest country in the world. Probably ever. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
And since the only exports we have left are guns and Hollywood, the rest of the world seems to be following in our tubby sweetprints.
Yes indeed, awareness of my stress is, well, pretty stressful. Congratulations, U.S.! You're the global pioneer in metastress!
Sigh. Barkeep, gimme a sip of that maple syrup.
Ah, screw it. Leave the damn bottle.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

"The Sixth Extinction"

(AN UNNATURAL HISTORY)
-by elizabeth kolbert
2014
Science has identified five mass extinctions in the history of life, when conditions on Earth shifted suddenly and drastically, the most famous being the cretaceous asteroid impact which killed the dinosaurs. And it's only now, thousands of years after starting the process, that humanity has realized we are the authors of an unfolding extinction event which should dwarf every previous one. Perhaps rats will survive. Perhaps only microbes. Or not even that. It started when we began hunting the megafauna (mastodons, cave bears, giant turtles...), animals so large they had no natural predators, so their slow birth rates couldn't replace even minor losses. As time passed, our cleverness allowed us to travel everywhere, bringing predation and invasive species to indigenous populations which had no defense. We've clear cut as much as half the world's trees, savaging millions of ecological systems. Overgrazing and improper farming (which kolbert doesn't even get into) have made deserts the world's fastest-growing ecosystem. We pollute the atmosphere, which calcifies the oceans. We breed at constantly doubling rates which dwarf that of any creature ever...and the grand irony is, we understand these things only when we're past the point where our impact is already far greater than an asteroid strike equal to six million nuclear bombs. Amphibians are the most imperiled; it's hard to imagine they'll survive. Ditto for coral, the rain forests of the sea. A third of all sharks, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are also past the point of no return.
Each of kolbert's chapters focuses on one emblematic species, and she also dives into our understanding of life's history, with fascinating looks at the scientists (cuvier, lyell, darwin) who paved the way. She shines a light on the oft-astonishing efforts humans are making to counter the unfolding apocalypse...but at this point, those are candles in a typhoon. To do justice to this book's subject would take an encyclopedia set...yet strangely, kolbert's 269 pages almost feel TOO long...too well-researched and written, with prose so enchanting that one nearly loses sight of the hair-on-fire urgency which the subject demands.
That's a critique most writers could live with, of course. At least for another century or so. Beyond that, no one may have to worry about "living with" anything.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

"Al Franken, Giant of the Senate"

-by al franken
2017
Let's get to the heart of the matter - does al have any more business writing books?? Having made his bones as a satirist outsider, can he have anything to say now that he's become an actual U.S. senator? Now that he's establishment extraordinaire, enmeshed in the political game, in which image is everything and incumbents can ill-afford to alienate any voter, can he be anything but a mockery of his former muckraking self?
I'm frankly not quite sure...but he's still funny as hell.
Does he pull his punches, holding back a horde of insider information? No doubt...but he's such a good writer you might not care. Has he become an apologist for a system that crossed the dysfunctionally corrupt line long before he was born? Yeah. Should he be ashamed of lending his credibility to a nation of staggering wealth, which tolerates abject poverty? Yes.
But still...funny as hell.
He takes you on the long ride through his campaign and unprecedentedly-contested victory, and offers hysterical views of his position and peers. He walks you through his re-election, and tries to come to grips with the culture of cynicism and incivility that led to the current presidency. You'll hope that he doesn't die in office, so that one day he'll write about his political career once he no longer cares about offending anyone.
So here's to that book...
...and heartfelt thanks for this one, too.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

"Terra Nova"

-created by kelly marcel, craig silverstein
2011
A lovely little slice of sci fi delight. In 2149, Earth's atmosphere is no longer breathable. Science discovers a way to transport small numbers of humans 85 million years into the past, where a colony has been set up. Dinosaurs (and big, unfriendly insects) abound. A fugitive cop comes through the portal with his family. The colony leader (steven lang - AVATAR, THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS) embraces him as the colony's first lawperson. A group of renegades may be agents from the future, intent on plundering natural resources. The CGI visuals are sweeping and seamless, the dialogue and acting dandy. STAR TREK veterans brannon braga and rene echevarria contribute to the writing and producing. There are one or two clunkers, but overall the series is so well-done that the show's demise after one season is yet another short-sighted network shame.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

"Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?"

-by franz de waal
2016
I'll get my one critique out of the way first...because it arrives even before you reach out your thumb to lift back the book's cover. I so, so wish this wonderful author would stop referring to other animals as "animals", because that reinforces every antiquated, arrogant, avaricious notion of insufferable humyn exceptionalism. Let's please start calling other animals just that - "other animals".
At the same time, i suspect i know why he doesn't, and i almost support that likely reason. It's hard to imagine that he hasn't considered this linguistic nuance himself, but probably refrains because it would make him appear more of an extremist than he is. It might be a confrontational and intractable challenge toward the mass of humynity which still clings to the notion that humyn consciousness is somehow, some way, absolutely unique in Earth history. Even if debunking that claim is the sole point of a book you've just written, even if you have careful, conservative evidence to make your case (which de waal does), you're almost certainly never going to convince someone they're wrong by first announcing "YOU'RE WRONG". So franz brings the argument to people on their own terms, continuing to refer to "animals" as though that's not us...and then, once people are calmed by his restraint, they'll read the book, and if they're open-minded, they'll probably end up spreading his message more forcefully than he does himself.
So you might call this author a clever franz! (to get that joke, read the book)
Speaking of which...
Brilliant! Brilliant and measured and beautifully-written...de waal expands his previous focus (the lifetime he has spent studying apes) to include the entire animal kingdom, collecting all the evidence available to substantiate the notion that the difference between our brains and those of other animals is one of degree, not kind...
...and the difference is actually even less impressive than that, as we're starting to discover ways in which other animals can outthink us. Chimps, for example, seem to have better instantaneous memory. He goes over all the old chestnuts which have fallen...other animals do indeed use tools, have culture, an artistic aesthetic, long-term memory, self-awareness, perhaps even death-awareness...and the newer chestnuts, those last-grasp straws to which exceptionalists cling with death-like, bony fingers, are also falling. Other animals (dolphins and some birds) have natural language - they call each other by name. Chimps have local dialects. And the perhaps final chestnut, so new that it not's old enough to yet be a chestnut, the notion of future (even distant future) self-projection, is falling too. Nor is it just the apes and dolphins who are turning out to be mental marvels. Elephants, whales, monkeys, birds, octopuses, even amphibians...and even some insects have been proven to possess individual facial recognition, one of the benchmarks of "high" intelligence. We're discovering that "intelligence" is all over the place, and on multiple levels - not just in unexpected ways, but in unpredictable and uneven degrees for very similar species. Evolution gives each creature exactly the smarts it needs, no more or less...and we'll probably keep on discovering no end of creatures who are simultaneously smarter and dumber than we. We're also learning that many of the intelligence tests we've applied to other animals have been ill-conceived, reflecting only biased, "humyn" ways of thinking.
A delightful, crucial book in the quest for knowledge (and self-knowledge).

Monday, September 18, 2017

"Derek"

-directed and written by (and starring) ricky gervais
2012-2014
A soft-mockumentary of a nursing home and its denizens: an overworked matron with a heart of gold, a hangdog handyman, a homeless and lecherous boozer, and a mildly-autistic staff worker with a heart of...platinum, i guess? The foibles of our world are seen through derek's simple, eager eyes. I'm going to say something that will sound like a negative, and i suppose it is, but not to the extent you might think. DEREK feels like the very best product of a graduate film school exercise in which the students are given three hours to make a film, from idea to fruition. The show is long on heart and smiles and tears...and how could you ask for anything more? I suppose the "more" would be writing that never feels contrived, but the forced moments are rare, and generally so cathartic you won't mind. The Duran Duran talent show, the zoo visit, the most tactless wedding toast ever...all gems you shouldn't miss.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

"Ascension"

-created by adrian cruz, philip levens
2014
A mini-series created for the SyFy channel, ASCENSION pulls off one of the greatest cinematic fakeouts i've ever seen. The action bounces between Earth and a spaceship launched by NASA in the 60s, halfway through its 100-year mission to populate another solar system. Will the existence of the generational ship be exposed on Earth? The visuals are enormous and awesome, and the kennedy-era culture aboard-ship is fascinating. Finally, it's revealed that the ship never actually left Earth - its inhabitants unaware that they're rats in a government sociological experiment. The acting and dialogue are top-notch, and the show simmers with sexiness. The subplot involving an attempt to genetically engineer psionically-gifted humans is a bit unnecessary and unfulfilling, but by the time the series ends, you'll wish very much it hadn't. With delightful turns by tricia helfer (GALACTICA, TWO AND A HALF MEN) and gil bellows (ALLY MCBEAL, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION).

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"The Crazy Ones"

-created by david. e. kelley
2013-2014
Robin williams' return to series TV, after thirty-one years...and it's a bit of a letdown, if you're looking for the kind of smart material he'd graduated to on the big screen. He plays a big city manic peter pan ad exec, with a button-down daughter (sarah michelle gellar - BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, SCOOBY-DOO 1-2) as a business partner. Once you adjust your expectations, it's not so bad, thanks to some lovely cameos (most notably pam dawber - MORK & MINDY, STAY TUNED), a delightful recurring role by brad garrett (EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, 'TIL DEATH), and the most successful regular, the quirky amanda setton (THE MINDY PROJECT, HAWAII FIVE-O), who looks like a runway model but talks like the coolest, scariest tomboy ever. The writing is never quite good enough to lift the specter of robin's death, but you'll find a few laughs along the way.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

the mighty wregor!

(and the semi-mighty wrob)
Yesterday, i traveled more miles by bike in one day than i've ever done before. At least 36. Not that that's so damn impressive, as cross-country bikers do 100 miles a day. But it was my personal best. I'd be willing to wager i was the top biker in Contra Costa County. The whole Bay area? Doubtful.
Oh, wait. I forgot the x factor. This was one day after record Bay temperatures. When i left the house it was around 100 degrees. Now that i think about it, i didn't see one other biker the whole trip.
Okay, maybe i was the top Bay area biker yesterday.
And i did it all to drop off a borrowed highlighter.
My chariot was the mighty wregor (that's a silent "w", and a soft "g"). A Maruishi RX-105. I've had it for less than three months, and as it's a much fancier bike than i usually ride, and maybe one size too small, and i live in one of the bike-theft capitals of the world, i've considered trading it in for a less-auspicious target (and using the leftover money for rent and such). But i bought it from a relative who'd cherished it, and selling it would feel shabby. So i've been marking time, thinking that if i can keep it from being stolen for another few months, it will have been a worthwhile investment. It's an older model, but a bike clerk told me i could get as much as $400...i paid $50, which equals the most i've ever spent on a bike.
Anthropomorphizing vehicles has never been my style, but when mary sold it to me, she asked what i was going to name it. In deference to her, i inverted the bike's previous name (adding a silent "w", of course).
I should also mention that this wasn't just 36 miles in three-digit heat. The route from San Pablo to Vallejo is mildly mountainous. There were numerous up and downs a quarter mile or more, at a 15-degree angle.
I didn't time the journey, but i estimate it took over four hours, with thirty minutes devoted to breaks.
Why would i make this olympian trek, just to drop off a highlighter?
For love, of course.
Not in a cliched way, though! I've a new friend. We've known each other a couple months, and a part of me hopes that we'll fall in love, but that wasn't the point. It was a psychological gesture of balance. As she has a car and i don't, and there's a fifteen-minute drive between us, she's done all the facilitating so far. We're at a tenuous point between lovers and friends, and when you dance that dance, there's always the danger of the latter being eaten alive (that doesn't sit well with me, as nothing is more sacred than friendship). For instance, if she met the man of her dreams today (rich/great sex/on bended knee), and he asked her to get rid of me, i think i know how that would go. She has many hippy affinities, but as a single mom who once dreamed of being a Disney princess, ideals only go so far (if that seems mercenary, she also has more integrity than most, so i imagine that after a year or two she'd send a note my way, just to find out how the asian coeds are treating me).
Anyway, i took this loony trek to Vallejo unannounced. I even half-hoped she wouldn't be home. I had an envelope for the marker, to put on her porch and leave her flabbergasted by not knowing how it got there. Again, this was about balance. Have i written her poems? Sure, but that's not necessarily impressive, as i'd probably be writing poems regardless. I just wanted to ensure that the thought would never pop into some corner of her brain, "Y'know, this bum has never gone two minutes out of his way for me."
As for the trek itself...
It started out brimming with happiness and excitement. With whoops, even. I love higher temperatures. The local weenies had been complaining about this "heat wave", but i was happy to be comfy again. I'd never been on the northern stretch of San Pablo Avenue, and it turned out to be charming. The towns seemed quaint, with nice-looking shops and eateries. I knew this was no lark, though...the biking was hard, even when i was fresh. I knew the heat posed dangers, but i had two bottles of water. All went smoothly, until...
I got to where San Pablo breaks off near Route 80 and the Carquinez Bridge. I headed in that direction...only to discover that bikes aren't allowed access there. I considered breaking that law, but as i'd just spent a week studying for my CA driver's license, i didn't think such audacious scofflawry prudent (or even likely to succeed). I had to backpedal, and the detour added four miles to my trip (plus the 2 it took to fix my mistake). To wind back around to where i'd already been, i had to ascend the highest terrain yet, past a refinery and a spot named "Vista Point". The sense of loneliness was acute, and it occurred to me that it would be a bad (or good) place to die. Eventually a few cars passed me, and i even flagged one down, just to be sure i wasn't going the wrong way. I began taking water breaks...and even breaks just to gather myself. At 70 degrees, it would have been a stroll...at 100, even i was feeling the heat. But i got to the Point, and felt fit enough to take a look.
Then i coasted down to the bridge. A genial group of walkers pointed me to the bike path. I only passed one person the entire span. With the uphills behind me, the final four miles were breezy.
I rang her bell, and even though her car was there, i suspected she might have company, so i prepared the envelope. Just as i was getting ready to go, she opened the door. The looks of semi-amazement she gave me, money can't buy. She refilled my water bottles, and i pedaled away. It was probably imprudent of me to not take a longer break and get more fluids, but i'm contentedly dumb that way.
The shadows had begun to lengthen, so that i was more shaded by trees and buildings. Once i got to the other side of the bridge, i met the same group of walkers, at the same exact spot! We marveled at the coincidence. Then the uphills were upon me, and it was instantly obvious that it would be slower going. I began to downshift three gears as opposed to two...and eventually even four. I generally avoid taking breaks on an uphill, but now...i felt weary, and had an ache from the back of my head down to my butt. By the time i got to the north-south San Pablo straightaway, i could feel the preliminary stages of vision distortion that come with overheating.
Go. Break. Water. Go.
Slowly. At one point i passed a pharmacy, and considered stopping for a sports drink. But i felt like i was in the last few miles, and could gut it out.
I had two breaks of 5-10 minutes. For some of that time, my head was drooped over my handlebars. The water didn't taste refreshing anymore, but i kept drinking.
The toes of my right foot curled around themselves, and the whole foot cramped.
Wait. Go.
I fantasized about the meal i would have. Ever thrifty, i haven't eaten out once in the six weeks i've been here. I would stop for some yummy asian bean curd.
The last hill was almost the killer, because the previous hill had looked like the final one.
Finally, i was coasting down to home.
I didn't stop at the restaurant. A good thing too, as i might have ended up lying on their floor for twenty-five minutes, which is exactly what happened when i got home. As i took my shoes off inside the door, my left foot seized. Then the right again. After fifteen minutes i tried to stand up, and was down again.
Brilliant. What a day. Huge and beautiful.
And i learned something. I learned that no writer who bikes ten miles a day, will ever experience writer's block. During the trek, my mind cranked out at least three worthy ideas, the last of which was a poem dedicated to an amazing womyn in Vallejo. I hoped it might even make her cry.
A day in the life of a lonely fool, being naked for her (and you) as a rule.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

"The Bonobo and the Atheist"

(In Search of Humanism Among the Primates)
-by franz de waal
2013
Primatologist de waal has given us a beautiful, thoughtful, measured book...with a canny title. Bonobos are very much in vogue in the scientific and progressive communities, with polyamorous hippies embracing them as proof that humans are naturally happy, peace-loving fuckmonkeys (this author has been guilty of that himself). But franz points out that bonobos are not compulsively peaceful with no sexual boundaries - indeed, their copious sexuality is largely about softening social conflicts. And at the end (or beginning or middle) of the day, a female bonobo still has to be willing to mate, which isn't an automatic given. De waal isn't swayed by the hype, saying that the most compelling comparison is still between humyn and chimp males, with collective hunting and defending, coalitions against rivals, all while competing for status and females.
But none of that is what the book is about! De waal has bigger begonias to fry - he's in search of the roots of morality itself, and more specifically a refutation of veneer theory, which holds that humans are by nature selfish and nasty. Without an artificially constructed morality to keep us in check, so the theory goes, we'd kill and steal and fuck whenever and whatever we please.
Poppycock, says franz! He shows us the social origins of morality in all mammals, and the advanced levels found in elephants, apes, dolphins, and others. Monkeys have a clear sense of fairness, as shown when they refuse to eat a treat if they see another monkey given a better one. Infant human studies show this sense of inborn fairness, too. Apes go further, refusing to partake when they see another ape treated unfairly. They also show more advanced group morality, spending often considerable effort to maintain the peace when there's no personal reward for themselves. The only difference between us and other apes is degree - because human society has grown far beyond the intimacy of tribal life, we've needed to invent larger and more abstract forms of control - hence, "god".
But de waal has no interest in religious debate, and indeed does much to dissuade agitated atheists from militant stances. This book is for two groups - those who think humans naturally "evil", and those who blame religion for all the world's problems. Both groups are deftly redirected.
My only criticism? I wish he would say "other apes" instead of "apes". But, just like a spirited game of badminton between humans and bonobos, that's a relative quibble.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

"Pacifism as Pathology"

(Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America)
-by ward churchill with mike ryan
1998, 2007
Is pacifism the worst thing that could have happened to civil disobedience in the 20th century? Has non-violence played right into the hands of the global corporations who have steered humanity into endless cycles of poverty, exploitation, and genocide? Is the seemingly irreversible destruction of our ecosphere at the hands of capitalism (which seems patently incapable of self-correction) made doubly inevitable by devotion to pacifistic ideals in those who would save us from ourselves?
Ward churchill makes a starkly convincing case, by deconstructing the supposed triumphs of non-violence. Were gandhi's gains made possible only by a century's worth of violent revolt plus the bankruptcy of the british empire after WWII? Was indian freedom an illusion, as western capitalism never lost control of India's economic fate? Would martin luther king's victories have happened without the threat of the Black Panthers? And whether or not you accept the contention that jewish religious leaders steered jews into not resisting the stars, ghettos, or concentration camps, it's hard to disagree with the contention that if those nazi door knocks had been met with bullets instead of bleats, millions might not have died. Certainly the present israeli posture on militarization reveals a (chilling?) determination to never be caught unarmed again.
Churchill's point is that pacifism is of limited use once violence has begun...and the violence committed against "people of color" all over this world (and in America's backyard) shows no sign of abating (to say nothing of poverty's violence perpetrated against "people of no color?"). In response, western protesters offer only parades by permit and temporary arrests that become peacenik status symbols...while the displacement, death, and devastation goes unchecked. A war against humanity and our very planet is being waged, and these feeble protests have amounted to nothing.
This book can be unsettling...especially for someone (like myself) who has spent a lifetime making non-violence a sacred covenant. "Pacifism as Pathology" can make a pacifist want to grab a firearm and head for the barricades. Of course, there is a great difference between passive and active resistance, and ward isn't suggesting that armed revolt is the only solution. In active resistance, direct action is taken against the machinery of oppression - with real (even dire) risks involved. It is the absence of active resistance in America, that ward sees as the disastrous by-product of the deification of non-violence. He speaks of the necessity to incorporate different resistance strategies, to achieve real victories.
A challenging, necessary book.

Friday, August 18, 2017

"Californication"

2007-2014
-created by tom kapinos
This show, about "bad boy" novelist hank moody (david duchovny - KALIFORNIA, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW) bursts out of the gate with hip, bawdy hilarity. By the fourth season, that thrust peters out...but they muddle on. I would say the high point is the moment when the eighteen year-old who was sixteen when she seduced him, gets in bed with hank and the woman who plays her in the movie version of their affair, and they both reach into his pants together...but truth be told, the show's moralizing cracks are already beginning to show by that point. The show's fatal flaw is that the lead character would never watch this crap, especially when all that's left is the realization that hank is in no way actually subversive. Instead of articulately defending his libertine ways, he embraces all the judeo-christian-muslim morality being dumped on him, and becomes that most loathsome creature of all - a hypocrite. A damn shame, too - the dialogue and acting in the racier parts are often delightful (the intimate scenes less well-written). It all makes you wish they'd had one more writer on staff, someone like...well, hank as he originally almost was. Watch the first few seasons, then get out before the Hallmark era descends.

Monday, August 14, 2017

free spirit seeks asian marriage for...

(the following is an ad i placed on Craigslist, with the above title)

...humanitarian reasons? Mutual enrichment? Friendship and love?
I've never been married, by choice. It's a barbaric institution, all about possessiveness, sexual jealousy, and hoarding resources in a world of poverty. Marriage was born in a time when men literally bought and sold women. I never want to be a part of that.
But i know that in this bizarre world, marriage can open doors. There might be someone reading this for whom marriage would be the key to a world of dreams that seems otherwise unreachable.
Why asian? Partly because of population demographics here in the San Francisco area, and partly because i've always been an asiophile. But your skin or culture matter not, if the message of this note touches some need in you, and your spirit touches me.
Why would i do this? Aside from lifting someone else's life, i could use a lift too. I'm a non-materialist, choosing to live without the security of excess money. Having someone to lighten life's burdens might be lovely. But as you've perhaps guessed, i don't have a specific idea in mind here. Just opening up a thought to the universe.

(My first foray into an online personal ad in years...well, i have returned to a large metropolitan center. Can a renaissance for my moribund southern bible belt love life be far behind? This ad is more playfully platonic than serious, but since i'll never marry for conventional reasons, the idea of "helping" a woman fulfill her dreams has always been bouncing around some corner of my mind. Especially if she's asian. What - i can dream, can't i?)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

"Speaking Freely"

(Unlearning the Lies of the Fathers' Tongue)
-by julia penelope
1990
As a student, penelope was expelled from two home-state colleges (FSU and UM) within one year, for suspected lesbianism and lesbianism...though curiously, not in that order (i'd make an accuse/suspect Clue joke, if it all weren't so vomitously shameful). She persevered and got a doctorate, but her teaching career was slow-tracked because of her "too narrow" focus on lesbian studies. "Speaking Freely", one of her twelve books, deconstructs all the grammatical tricks of the english language which demean, marginalize, or render women invisible, plus those structures which serve to conceal the male exploitations and brutalities perpetrated against them. Misdirecting modifiers, vague pronouns, euphemisms, agentless passives...for example, if a newscaster were to cite a rape statistic, he or she might say, "There were seventy-three cases of rape in Berks County today". But that construction completely conceals the rapists and victims. A more honest syntax might give us "Men raped seventy-three women in Berks County today". The first version doesn't hurt or bleed, and it makes the events feel like rain, something that just happened to happen. Or think about the assumptions and roles revealed in the difference between "to mother" and "to father" - always, men are active agents and women passive tools of male initiation. Or take the verb cuckold - there's no female equivalent. Eggs are therefore less important than sperm, no? Or why do we have "emasculate", but not "effeminate"? Because there is no quality or measure of womanhood that has relevance in languages constructed by men.
Julia owns up to the fact that by writing in english, she's committing many of the offenses she's trying to out. She talks about laadan, a woman's language constructed in the 70s, completely free of patriarchal assumptions and biases. She talks about the feministly-correct changes in our language since the 70s, some of which have merit, but none of which get near the core of the problem. Absent a total woman's revolution, she talks about attitudes and tactics that can better this world, for women and men - above all, the need to reshape language so that women are allowed to be active agents, free of the motherhood/sex object boundaries.
I wish i could tell you this amazing book has lost its relevance twenty-five years later. It's a challenging read. And worth it.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

dear pam 2

Dear pamela mammala,
Stop peering into the depths of my spirit.
I look back on a life of conspicuous gentleness and consideration, and know that i might have had forty or fifty lovers by now, had that not been so...in other words, had i been more "normal". The insanity of that sometimes pushes me to the edge. And then i meet a new woman, and i know if i let out the predator in me, i could have her. As the years of loneliness pile up, i feel less and less proud of having been able to conquer my predator so well.
I think about you, and the thought that i might bring you a kind of carnal healing you've never experienced. It wouldn't bother me, if i knew there were other men who could offer you the same. There probably are...but statistically, the odds of you meeting one of them are iffy at best.
In any kind of rational world, we'd already be lovers. And on some level, we are. But of course we'll think all these things through, and easily come up with practical reasons why not being lovers makes sense.
But at a certain point, i feel like the ultimate theme of my life will be "all this useless wisdom" (to appropriate an elvis costello title). We all should be able to just be alive and human in the moment, but it almost never happens.
And sure, we might not even have great sexual chemistry! But when i think about the confluences in our spirits, and striking similarities in our sexual tastes...
You asked whether i were ever tempted to fuck out of hopelessness. Stop being so perceptive! It gets harder and harder for me to keep those demons at bay. With us, it's not just that though. It's easy to imagine being your deep friend for the rest of my time on this planet. It's also easy to imagine spending thousands of hours in beautiful sexual communion.
But don't make too much of my ramblings. I know too well how out of balance i am. If you'd like a metaphor for where i am at this point in my life, imagine a bloody, pulpy body on the road. But one hand is lifting off the ground, and the whispered words emerge, "I will save this world, you hopeless fuckers..."
Are you done making babies, or can you imagine more?
------------------
About back-patting...i spent many years cultivating humility. When i thought i'd reached it, i dug for deeper levels on which i might be full of shit. Trying to never put myself above anyone. Trying to eliminate all thoughts of entitlement. Starting with the concept "Everything i know and believe is probably wrong". It was only after twenty or so years of doing that, that i'm finally acknowledging the notion of "false modesty". It can be a disservice to yourself and the world to pretend to be less than you are, so i'm starting to own the notion that maybe, just maybe, i have wisdom and understanding that stretches beyond the average person. Maybe even beyond the average intelligent person. Maybe even...
I try not to picture my life playing out. Part of my spiritual striving is to be fully present and alive in the moment. I have ideas which i pursue, but i try not to project my ego into the future. Put another way, we all spend our lives creating and maintaining our own personal mythologies...just as we may not really ever "know" another person (only our "idea" of them), you could argue that all we know about ourselves is our idea of who "we" are. And in this world of individualism gone steroidal, we all keep one eye on the "story" of our life, so we can impress others (and ourselves).
Besides, the more i can detach from my own ego, the more likely a candidate i might be for alien abduction (or rescue, hopefully).
Have you an answer to your own lifetime question? And have you ever fucked out of a sense of hopelessness? The way you asked, i suspect the answer is yes.
love,
wrob

Monday, July 31, 2017

her milkshake

AP News Flash
Los Angeles, January 3, 2018
-The national furor continues in day five of the kelis trial. The R&B diva has been caught up in the wave of "outsized celebrity ego" litigation sweeping the country. After numerous civil lawsuit triumphs against more prominent performers, politicians, and professional athletes, public advocacy groups have turned their attention to kelis, whose 2003 hit "Milkshake" catapulted her into the national consciousness. As usual, the charges initially focused on "self-glorification detrimental to minors and the public good", but as in earlier trials those allegations have been nigh-impossible to prove, so prosecutors have again turned to the "false advertising" tactic so damning in the suits against snoop dogg, eminem, and the sinatra estate. The question of whether kelis' milkshake brings "all the boys" to the yard has been the center of dispute thus far. There have been many witnesses eager to testify that they never once even considered going to the yard, including supreme court justice clarence thomas, all but one of the wayans brothers, and matt damon...but the prosecution has been stymied when asked to provide a single witness who could demonstrate "opportunity but clear refusal" to go. Yesterday's shift in tactic focused on questioning the veracity of kelis' claim that she would "teach you, but [she'd] have to charge". Prosecution alleges that her "need to charge" was a blatant, egregious deception. They've subpoenaed copies of the defendant's tax returns from 2000-2003, and a swift ruling against the singer is expected.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

$any?

I have no idea whether this housing ad is real, but i gave it my best pitch (see below). No word back yet...

$1 NO-vices naturist commune $any! (NO str8 guys)
naturist = 100% nudist = ALL ALWAYS NUDE, the obvious [NO] 'hit-on' reason for NO str8 guys. 
NO 'vices' means: no smoke/drug/drunk/NOISE/mess/disharmony/crime. (not 'morality'!)
Safe, comfortable peace&quiet. Communal: NO privacy (1 shared space)! ALL ages/genders.
Tech-positive. NON-sex env. but "open-minded" (not 'up-tight' sexually): a delicate balance!
LGBT-friendly. NON-judgemental, like HAI.org . Money NOT a main issue (alt. contribs cool).
VERY/UNlimited 'touch-positive'! Share ALL, openly. Can you 'grok' this? Explain in your reply.
Thanks & best wishes.

Hello.
If i told you twain, thoreau, lenny bruce, and elizabeth cady stanton had a love child, wouldn't you want it/him/her to write about you?
Your ad blew my mind a bit. I'll get my one contentious point out of the way - i'm not sure about your premise that straight men become mindless predators in the presence of naked women. In some ways, the opposite is probably true. Our cultural neuroses and sexual obsessions are a result of living in a repressed, touch-deprived society. If everybody were naked all the time, we would stop caring about nudity (and beyond that, if everybody had healthy levels of human touch and regular sex, we'd be far less insane...but i suspect i don't have to sell you on that one).
Writing about your community by becoming part of it, would probably be one of the highlights of my literary career. For years, i've intended to do an investigative piece on a nudist colony, and it sounds like yours may be the most spiritually advanced around.
As a writer, i've never made (or sought) a penny. Like picasso said, the meaning of life is to find your gift, and the purpose of life is to give it away.
If we were to look up your "no vice" ethos in a dictionary, there would be a picture of my face. No joke.
Ditto for "open-minded". Anything that makes consenting equals happy (and doesn't hurt anyone else), makes me happy.
Ditto for "non-judgmental". I had to look up HAI (well, i did just set foot in CA for the first time). Brilliant.
Double ding-dong ditto for "touch positive". The greatest book that's never been written is the one that deconstructs how important touch is to human health, and how far lost we are in this personal-space nightmare we call home.
I even grok grok. A fantastic book.
Am i interested in living with you, both as a writer and a human being? Yup.
If you want to crucify me because i'm a straight male, you're too late. I crucified myself years ago.
If you've read this far, i'd be happy to send you the investigative journalist piece i wrote about the sex trade in NYC. I tried to experience as much of it as i could firsthand, without actually having sex with a (probably-exploited) stranger.

yours humbly,
wrob

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"RICH PEOPLE THINGS"

(REAL LIFE SECRETS OF THE PREDATOR CLASS)
Updated Edition
-by chris lehmann
2011
If you'd like to understand on an intellectual basis just how broken this country is, how cripplingly unbalanced we are in terms of "fair play", and how embroiled we are in undeclared class war, this is the place to start. Lehmann makes no emotional appeals, no revolutionary clarion calls. He simply deconstructs the current brand of american capitalism, and exposes a class war coming not from the underprivileged, but from the rich who have taken an already criminally-stacked deck and pocketed three of the five cards the non-rich thought they had.
Lehmann has an 800-verbal SAT mind, and if you're not on at least a 600-level yourself, the richness of his prose will boggle and batter you into submission. In deference to that, i think it only fair to offer you some of his unfiltered words, rather than the reflections of a relative plodder like myself. Here's a lift from his chapter on reality TV:
"By staging competitions for scarce resources, as in the breakout network franchise SURVIVOR, we're testing the core postulates about human behavior in the state of nature. By pitting aspiring singers against each other in AMERICAN IDOL - and putting them to a public vote - we're plumbing the wellsprings of the longing for success and recognition, while also (for good measure) shoring up the hoary talent-will-out shibboleths of the national gospel of success. By marching contestants through the Trump boardroom in THE APPRENTICE, we're sizing up the proper quotients of ruthlessness, ego inflation, and sycophancy that form the forever-unstable compound of corporate achievement.
But it's never the case that reality TV is "real" in any meaningful sense. This isn't just because the producers insist that at least one camera crew is on the scene to record the raw drama of interpersonal confrontation, replete with off-camera lighting and audio set-ups. No, more fundamentally, the sagas of the upward-striving reality format are unreal because they envision perhaps our culture's purest form of class contempt. Lavishly appointed depictions of overclass leisure, such as those in Bravo TV's REAL HOUSEWIVES franchise...provide a study in disaccumulative wealth and entitlement every bit as stark and provoking as the taxpayer-funded executive bonuses at AIG and Goldman Sachs. The surpassingly odd thing about these shows, though, is that they do profess to be natural reflections of our unquestioned social hierarchies; their pecuniary displays are evaluated on the spectrum of taste, not on any moral calculus."
He also exposes the failings and hypocrisies in the U.S. constitution, the New York Times, meritocracy, populism, the Democratic party, the prosperity gospel, ayn rand, lobbyists, libertarians, and the social media. Not all of the twenty-nine essays are equally salient, but they're all pretty stunningly clear-thinking.
I'll end by making the only realistic conclusion that a reading of this book can offer. The only two cards the non-rich have left? Suffer and die, or fight back.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

gay trump star wars banana beatles

Last night was my first in a new home, in a new state, farther from any support system i've ever lived. The past week was very stressful, with a relative attacking my character for reasons she either didn't understand or wouldn't talk about, and several home possibilities going phlooey, leaving me needing to take almost any home that became available so as to avoid being a houseguest who stayed too long. And this...was my dream last night.
I dreamt that my sweet youngest brother jeff (who in real life has fallen for drug addiction and christianity, and is quite straight) became so enamored of donald trump that he gave him a blow job and followed him around like a puppy. Trump was visiting a fictional home where my brothers and i live. He was a little less abrasive in person, but just as narcissistic and pathologically deceptive. At one point i overheard he and jeff talking, and donald said, in a playful babyish voice as he lifted his shirt, "Do you know the biggest surprise about donald? My soffffffffft skin." I kept my dismay internalized, as jeff was clearly smitten. My other brother dave was somewhere about, and more houseguests as well. It was my job to clean the bathroom, and i noticed the toilet was too dirty to ignore. I started cleaning the crap, and ended up standing in the toilet. I overheard donald on the phone advising the Beatles (apparently it was 1966) to put out an album about bananas and coconuts before the Rolling Stones released an album making fun of the Beatles' love for bananas and coconuts. Meanwhile, jeff and donald were watching a remake of Star Wars, with the same characters but a different storyline.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

dear pam

Ohhh pamela mammala,
Fabulous vocabulary? It didn't feel so great when i looked at that "pseudo-lover" phrase for many minutes, trying and failing to get the wording right. I was going for playful and disarming. "Alternate universe pseudo-lover"? Still not right.
I'm actually not good at confrontation, either. I used to be, but when i set about trying to take down my walls a few years back, so i could feel emotions (good or bad) more directly, i succeeded too well. Negativity goes through me now like stones through wet tissue. It can leave me feeling sickened.
What a beautiful photo of your son.
I love that you sent a photo of yourself when you did. Not that i needed to see one to know how to respond, but there was an imbalance because you'd "seen" me. I was impressed with how quickly you righted that, consciously or not. In previous on-line correspondences, i've found that women (people?) can be content to ignore that imbalance entirely, if it's in their favor.
I came to CA without a home because i hadn't found one yet, but my brother had bought me a roger waters Sacramento concert ticket. I came, i'm here, i'm glad. I've got about $8000, and i may need to make that last for a year, as it may take me that long to make any money from my writing. I'm still not entirely comfortable with even trying to do so. The intersection of art and commerce is a perilous one...deadlines, editors and publications trying to "water you down", and then if you DO achieve success, how do you resist the temptation to "give them what they want"? I've been writing for ten years, and have been taking my baby steps in public speaking the past four (the amazing thing about that is not that i've been successful, but that i've been able to please a cranky, conservative crowd just as much as the young and idealistic). Up til' now, i posted all my stuff on a free website, which is how all art should come. It's a little troubling that i've started holding back my really good (publishable?) pieces. But i've made my peace with that. I don't mind living as a relative pauper, i actually prefer it in a world of horrible poverty...but this world will chew anyone up in a heartbeat. Money's security is an illusion, but a powerful one. Also, just as most men don't "see" ugly women, most women don't "see" a poor man. I was in the southern bible belt the past four years, and not coincidentally, that's how long it's been since i've had any real physical intimacy (except for just now, when i was love-assaulted by a cat...i've never been around a cat so aggressively intimate that i feel almost CPRd with fish breath).
I wrote an article recently about being attractive/unattractive...yes, there can be character benefits. But in this looks-obsessed world, it's also an invitation to schizophrenia. Sometimes i'd rather just be "ugly" or "attractive" all the time. You?
The tragedy of the Bay, eh? I did kind of wonder whether i was coming to SF twenty years too late. But it's hard to imagine that Santa Cruz or Austin have the same literary infrastructure. As reticent as i am about art&commerce, i'm ready for as large a stage as my words will take me.
And to think, you still have no idea whether i have talent!
You aspire to way-out levels of realness? Amazing. So rare. And even maybe a little self-destructive, in this world. I'll back you up in any way, and try to offer you just the same. As in, i loved your first photo (and i'm sorry it got swallowed by our thread), but the second one threw me because of the makeup! Yet it almost seemed like you anticipated that response! Oh lawsy, i've railed against makeup in my writing...trying to do so in a light-hearted and fun way, but not always succeeding.
I'm on Facebook...but i ignore it strenuously. I guess i only keep it so that long-lost acquaintances might find me.
And more realness...even though the possibility of a romantic connection between us is fanciful, non-essential, incidental, there's a part of me that's so damaged by how dysfunctional romance is in this society, somewhere inside i cringe at the mere thought. The possessiveness, the jealousy, the beautiful feelings turned to betrayal and disappointment and recrimination...all these thoughts in me have started a new romance poem, with the central metaphor being a blinding searchlight shined on every new love interest, like the bat-signal but with THE ONE??? written across the beam instead of a bat. How we turn such a beautiful, natural thing as romantic attraction into a horror show is quite stunning.
I'm not saying i can never imagine being in a romance again...but that would be a very sane response. For anyone.
Yes, i think humor is underrated too. I mean okay, partly it's just a coping device and not particularly noble in that regard...but i still think that humor is one of the primary indicators of intelligence. Even as a child i was partial to practical jokes and gallows humor. If someone hasn't figured out that we need to laugh to keep our sanity, especially in this world, they're missing something. Some of my more snooty friends have even looked down on my comedy tastes, like the AIRPLANE!/NAKED GUN movies.
So what makes you laugh?
I think romance was ruined even before the internet. I think 70s feminism killed romance...in a good way. When women demand equality, ALL THE OLD RULES have to be thrown out. You can't just tweak the system, it's too broken. So it might take another generation or two before romance even starts to become healthy again.
What some people miss about me, is that i'm generally quite the optimist. Even unjustifiably so. I need to believe that we can get past this post-agricultural, post-industrial nightmare.
I also read a lot about the science of human sexuality, and i like the things you say. You seem pretty knowing.
But what do i know?
happy hugs,
wrob

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"Life and Death on Mt. Everest"

(Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering)
-by sherry b. ortner
1999
In the wake of the 1996 Everest disaster, the western fascination with climbing the world's highest mountains peaked (forgive me)...and not least of all in the literary world. Our obsession with the world's only weapon-free "death zones" is considerable, either for those who risk (or lose) their lives in the pursuit of defining their lives, or the rest of us who are content to visit vicariously. Many gripping, inspiring books have emerged in this literary sub-genre.
The only absolutely essential one among the lot belongs to ortner, who focuses on the single almost-universal feature of Everest history -  the sherpa. This nepalese culture has provided almost all of the high-altitude porters in the century-long history of himalayan high-peak climbing. In essence, the sherpa are the folks who have done all the hard work so that rich westerners could pursue their dreams of achievement, anti-modernity, or glory. If not for the sherpa, the first ascent of Everest wouldn't have been in 1953, but rather twenty-five years later when messner became the first to ascend without porters (or supplemental oxygen). On the surface, the tale of the sherpa is one of vulgar exploitation - in addition to doing all the heavy lifting, the sherpa death rate is more than six times higher than any other country. Nor were the sherpa just doing something that came naturally to them - contrary to stereotype, they have no biological superiority as climbers, and had never before ventured into the himalayan death zones (indeed, they had strong cultural prohibitions against doing so - it would be seventy years of playing "coolie" before an all-nepalese expedition went to Everest).
Ortner tackles the question of exploitation, and finds the answer complex. As an anthropologist, she views human interaction in terms of layers of interactive "games"
(economic/gender/class/religious/etc.) that occur simultaneously, sometimes reinforcing each other, but often working at odds. Many of the traditional views of the sherpa (childlike, devoted, happy-go-lucky) are revealed as racial constructs that barely scratch the surface.
As literature, the book is a bit unfocused. A work strictly for the layperson could communicate just as much at half the length. Indeed, as one reviewer commented, "Life and Death..." has the feel of an academic monograph that some publisher decided might sell, so had ortner make cosmetic changes for the mass market. But if you're of a studious bent, the deeper cultural analyses are a fine read, and ortner writes very clearly. She thinks clearly too, especially when navigating the nigh-impossibility of complete understanding in matters of cultural relativity.
The mindset of the "sahib" is also given deconstruction, as an understanding of western attitudes is essential to perceiving how the sherpa have been shaped by (and shaped in return) western presence.
If you're a part of the climbing culture, this book is essential. If you have apathy or even disdain for said culture, but would love to understand the curious symbiosis (mutual, profoundly-unbalanced parasitism?) between sherpa and "sahib", this is the place to start.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

doreen

WOMEN 86
We met through a mutual friend. As doreen walked away after our first meeting, i tried to not watch her go, but failed. Her energy was beautiful, and her ass hypnotizing. When we met again, i found out that our friend had instructed her to not flirt with me...at first i thought because this friend wanted me for herself, but perhaps it was because she wanted to "protect" doreen, who drank a good deal and was in an unstable marriage. Because our mutual friend was ultra-conservative, perhaps she wanted to make sure that doreen wouldn't be "unfaithful". Maybe it was both of those things? Whatever the case, doreen soon did flirt with me, freely and fully. We started spending time together, and very quickly that involved holding and hugging. It was exciting...on the surface we had much in common spiritually. She had a hard time relating to this uptight world, and joked about being planted here by aliens. She loved my spirit, and my stories and songs. It was all so much easygoing fun, and i was so lonely and touch-deprived that i wasn't inclined to overthink things - we were soon cuddling naked. Her drinking gave me pause, though. Being together with a new love is such an escapist rush, and the fact that she wanted to have a drink or two on top of that (while i wasn't drinking at all) seemed...curious. The second time we cuddled, it became sexual. Her intentions were clear, she had even brought lube. After a few minutes, she reached for my cock, but i wasn't erect. Had i been, would i have given her what she wanted? Even though i have no respect for marriage, i knew there was so much we hadn't talked about. Why was she still married, if they were no longer sexual and the relationship was presumably a source of misery for both? I didn't care about "adultery", but wanted nothing to do with secrets. Was my lack of fast erection just about sexual chemistry? Or my subconscious misgivings? Or just a commonstance of middle age? She asked whether she could give me oral sex. I knew there were emotional pitfalls we hadn't even begun to broach, but i was so tired of everyone in this world (me included) relentlessly denying their own humanity. I said yes, and she dove in. It was lovely. After that, it became clear that she could only be with me on the sly, and i began pulling back, saying we needed to talk about all these issues. She showed no interest in that, and when she encouraged me to stop by her place, i begged off, not wanting to face her husband until she and i had talked all this through. That conversation never came, and a couple months later i moved across country. I stopped by her home on my way out of town, and had a lovely visit with her and her husband, whom i liked too.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

"Planet of the Apes"

Take your hands off me, you damn dirty...
The classic APES franchise. One moment of brilliance followed by a parade of putrescence?
Substantially, but not quite.
PLANET OF THE APES (1968) ****
Solidly based on the fantastic novel by pierre boulle, the original is a classic, and rightfully so. A trio of astronauts experience an accident that brings them back after 2000 years. They crash on a planet they are unaware is Earth, and find a society of talking chimps, gorillas, and orangutans who have enslaved a population of pre-vocal (or post, rather) humans. An intelligent, seamless script married to a lightning strike of acting/directing/production chemistry. So absorbing, you forget any thoughts of overt artistic message, until it all comes hammering home in the vision of the half-buried remains of the Statue of Liberty. A career-defining performance by charlton heston (BEN-HUR, TOMBSTONE). The ape makeup is exquisite. The only major flaw is the marginalization of females - the lone human woman is essentially a mute supermodel (insert obvious joke here). But otherwise...a film deserving of consideration on any "greatest movies ever" list.
BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970) ***
A sequel that attempts to further the original artistic vision, not just copy it. On future Earth, an underground human society worships a derelict nuclear doomsday weapon. More astronauts arrive in search of the first crew, and the apes pursue them. Heston plays a small but crucial part. It ends realistically, with planetary annihilation. Not nearly as great as the original...but a million times more worthy than JAWS 2 or TEMPLE OF DOOM.
ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971) **
The chimps cornelius (franchise cornerstone roddy macdowall - TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY, FUNNY LADY) and zira flee the doomed Earth in a salvaged spaceship, and time travel to our present day. They hide their intelligence and knowledge of the future as long as they can, but eventually end up in government torture/interrogation. They escape, and are given sanctuary in a carnival run by ricardo montalban (FANTASY ISLAND, STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN). Before being killed with cornelius, zira gives birth to a child who is spirited away. A fine try, but the writing and balance falter...
CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972) ***
Montalban raises the orphaned chimp in a time when all dogs and cats go extinct, and are replaced as human slaves by non-human apes. The child (also beautifully played by macdowall) has all the intelligence and abilities of his parents, and ends up leading an ape revolution. A bit plodding, but worthy - the wild card that keeps the franchise from being a perfect jaws spiral. The original brutally murderous ending has been restored in blu-ray.
BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (1973) *
In a post-nuclear world, the ape leader caesar has built up ape society, and tries to foster amicable relations with the surviving humans...an effort which is subverted by a pocket of humans still highly armed. Cue the title. The whole affair feels like a pretense for the mindless, interminable battle scene.
Beyond all that, the only conspicuous, consistent failing of the franchise is in reinforcing the misconception that humans aren't apes. We are one of six ape species on the planet, and the fantasy that we're not is one of the chief reasons why our own extinction will probably mean the end of all other animal life too. Is it too much to hope that the current re-boot of the franchise includes a population of speaking bonobo apes? Now THAT would sell some popcorn! Perhaps the most perfect classic APES experience however, would be watching the first movie followed by the short-lived TV series. Those episodes lack any particular intellectual ambition, but they do have the tightness and charm that the big-screen sequels failed to recapture.

Monday, June 26, 2017

SF gay pride!

I attended the San Francisco gay pride parade yesterday...
And i can't tell you about it!
I wrote a charming little article about it, thinking it would be a toss-off with no public speaking potential...but reading it now, i may be wrong.
This whole "withholding the best pieces" from this website is so strange, on so may levels. The notion of me intending to marry my writings with some kind of commerce, is just so bizarre and counter-intuitive. It may turn out that i'm not nearly the writer i think i am, or that any taint of money may subvert the integrity of my work, and then one day sooner or later i may post everything you've missed.
Anyway, the parade was amazing. I already have my attire planned for next year - the same "I'M NOT GAY (but $20 is $20)" T-shirt i wore yesterday, plus "FREE HUGS" written on my cheeks.
No, not those cheeks.
Or who knows?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

an open letter to believers

Dear faithful,
I'm curious...you're comfortable with the thought that a god would send one of its children to Earth just once in the thousands of years of recorded history? Just once, and no more? Isn't it more consistent to propose that god might ALWAYS have one of its children on Earth, to perform miracles of goodness and explain life to everyone? I mean okay, god is mysterious, but intentionally so? God wants to make it HARD for us to believe, rather than easy? What would god possibly get out of that? What's the holy upside? Why set up a system that screens out people inclined toward logic and fairness? To appear once, preaching and miracling up a storm, then disappear completely...that doesn't strike you as random, even sadistic?
I'm curious, just curious.
I'm trying not to pick on christians specifically, but taoists and jews aren't claiming the U.S.A. as their very own.
And do you ever wonder whether god sent any of its children BEFORE recorded history? Maybe jesus was the 144th Earth child of god. A neanderthal child of god, perhaps? Do your minds not work that way?
I'm also trying to wrap my head around what christians mean, when they claim that this is a christian nation. Are they claiming that we as a nation act in a "christian" manner? At a glance, that's beyond preposterous. Jesus preached non-violence, radical sharing, and inclusiveness. As a country, we have always used violence to further our wealth and power, and also as a primary means of conflict resolution. And sharing? Jesus said "Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise". It doesn't get more unequivocal...yet here we are, long the richest country on the planet, yet we have always chosen to allow the most abject poverty among our brothers, sisters, and babies. And inclusiveness? There was a time when we manifested that..."give me your tired, your poor"...but our selfishness has long since kicked that sentiment to the curb. So what exactly is it that christians are talking about? It's clearly not our behavior, so is it nothing more than the fact that a majority of americans believe in some kind of god, and a majority of those believers are christian (at least in name)? Our founding fathers, almost none of whom were christian, created rules of governance that couldn't have been more clear about not wanting religion within 20,000 miles of national decision-making.
So are christians just making a power grab? I can't find any other reasonable interpretation...yet to seek earthly power rather than spiritual rectitude only underscores the notion that these people are anything but "christian". Unless you want to chuck the New Testament - then, by the barbarically savage and punitive standards of the Old Testament, we are indeed "christian".
Or i suppose rather, we're jewish.
Hava nagila,
wrob

Friday, June 16, 2017

unstill waters

I arrived in California for the first time this week, and attended a roger waters concert almost immediately. Both events were steeped in surreality - roger's music has permeated my life, but i never imagined i'd hear him live. In terms of impactful lyrics, there's lennon and waters...and nobody else, really.
His time in Pink Floyd is the heart of his legacy - his solo work has been brilliant, but not nearly so transformative or transcendent. In a hopefully pardonable oversimplification on both sides, he was the spirit of Floyd, but his bandmates were the sound. When he left he struggled to recapture the balance between word and melody. Yet for all the genius of DARK SIDE, THE WALL, WISH YOU WERE HERE, ANIMALS, and MEDDLE, if i could have only one roger album, it would be his solo masterpiece AMUSED TO DEATH. The lyrics are more cutting and immediate than anything Floyd offered. It's searing, eviscerating, and melodically fantastic. Beyond that, were i about to be dumped on a desert island and could grab only Floyd or roger's solo work...i might take the solo box.
I spent the thirty-six hours leading up to the concert immersing myself in his new album, IS THIS THE LIFE WE REALLY WANT? A twenty-five year buildup of delayed gratification might swamp anything, and perhaps this one will wear better with time, but it feels...average. Better than HITCHHIKING, and on par with KAOS and FINAL CUT (though lacking the one or two standout tracks that grace those works), it delivers a dark edge but breaks no new ground.
Roger has hinted that this tour, "Us & Them", is probably his last. The concert promised to focus on Floyd songs, and as i took my seat in the arena, i realized this meant that i might not hear any of my favorites...but told myself that if i heard just one of four tracks ("Three Wishes", "It's a Miracle", "Towers of Faith", or "...Crazy Diamond"), i'd be happy. As the encore arrived, i still held out a slim hope for "Miracle"...but the double-bang of "Dark Side" and "Comfortably Numb" was no consolation prize. Nor was the show itself. Roger and the band were exquisite. "The Great Gig in the Sky" offered entrancing variations on clare torry's vocals, and after intermission, the show ascended to another level. As a suite of songs from ANIMALS began and a replica of the Battersea power station descended over the arena, cinematic images of global devastation, poverty, and trump flowed over the crowd...it culminated in "Money", and was breathtaking in its anger and outrage. I myself might have chosen to avoid the donald angle (giving a narcissist any attention, positive or negative, is generally the wrong choice), but roger left nothing unsaid, and i love him for it. The political theme of the show was RESIST...a message not lost on the crowd (though i should add, that anyone rich enough to afford this show isn't likely to be on the front lines of the revolution...a sad paradox almost certainly not lost on roger). If this is his swan song, he can walk away with no regrets, knowing he gave us a much-needed voice of protest, unrest, and hope. His songs touched the masses, and his lyrics fed the brilliant.
DREAM SET LIST
-One of These Days
-Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
-Us and Them
-Three Wishes
-Picture That
-Have a Cigar
-What God Wants
-To Kill the Child
-Echoes
(intermission)
-Time
-Towers of Faith
-Comfortably Numb
-Hey You
-Shine On You Crazy Diamond
-Knockin' on Heaven's Door
-Each Small Candle
-The Tide is Turning
*encore*
-It's a Miracle
-The Final Cut

Monday, June 12, 2017

titles 2

Writings only available in performance, the last batch of scribblings from those floridaze...
-Four Girlfriends
-Hobo Song
-Smone Soup
-The Three Nanny Goats Gruff
-Life Among the Death-deniers
-The Turtle and the Bunny
-The Ugly Cygnet
-Rubber Cuddle
-Resensitization
-Lost Planet

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

farewell FMB

(or, bye-bye Booze Beach)

And another chapter comes to a close.
Or not...i've been trying to dis-indoctrinate myself from seeing this life in terms of some kind of personal mythology, whereby the maintenance and creation (or even self-destruction) of that narrative inhibits us from actually being alive in the moment.
But yes, another home is about to become part of my past, as i head for San Francisco (a city, and for that matter state, where i've never been). This will be the first time i've moved to a new home with no support system waiting. I'll have a brother ninety minutes away, but otherwise i'll be a stranger in a strange land. I don't have my residence lined up yet (know anyone in the city by the bay who has a room for a non-materialist, semi-flatulent free spirit??), but i'll have a week or two housesittting in Davis to get that arranged.
I've been told all my life that i was made for CA...progressive and so laid back i won't be perturbed by mudslides, fires, or San Andreas hi-jinks. Of course, the Yellowstone supervolcano may also be due for an eruption that would wipe out the western U.S., which would merit one hell of a "gnarly". But with coastal wind conditions, San Fran might get only a half-inch of ash, unlike the 1-3 feet that would fall inland...so i've got that goin' for me.
Have i enjoyed my time here? I came to find peace, warmth, and healing after a decade in the cold, hard city, plus a spiritual journey that had disabled my emotional walls...and healing i found. Falling coconuts to open, beautiful storms and sunsets, more nudity than city life provides, and lush plants to tend (i bemoan the coming drop in upkeep for the greenery at my home - it's taken me all this time to get the whole thing beautified: candle-wood, frangipani, poinciana, passion vine, devil's trumpets, bridal tree, corn tree, and others i can't even name).
I came to take my baby steps in the public speaking of my own writings, and that's been a resounding success. Even more surprisingly, i've been able to delight any audience, from the young and hip to the old and cranky (or even fundamentalist!). My repertoire is honed, and it's time for a metropolitan, progressive pond in which to play.
Personally however, it's been more disaster than delight. The friend i came for above all, the one i thought of first whenever i wanted to share something i'd written, someone i'd cultivated for fifteen years and had hoped was ready for a friendship that would show the world how to do it, flickered out in a sociopathic, hurtful haze (Did i live here twice as long as planned partly to give her time to sort through her demons, and know i would still be here? Sure.). Number two on my friend list didn't bloom either. And my mother hasn't dealt well with her fear and control issues - she pretty much kicked me in the stomach every time i saw her these first few years. The one play i acted in was a horror show, with unexplained loathing for me emanating from my co-star. My romantic life was almost non-existent, and might have been better had nothing happened at all...one almost-lover came laden with post-traumatic issues, and focused so much unbalanced hatred at me that i feared for my life. I had one work client descend into bipolar depression - i should have left her, but was perhaps her only regular human contact, so in return for my amazing work and friendship i let myself be kicked in the face with paranoia, obsessiveness, and cruelty for many months. Another client transferred all her stress onto me...i tried to disentangle myself but she wouldn't let go, and i stayed with her because i thought i might be able to help her confront her control issues, or at least give her a little of the physical caring she had lived without for so long.
In many ways, i need to recover from my recovery.
On the plus side, my two aunts were a source of joy, and i had many clients who were a delight. The personal connections i made through my public speaking were breathtakingly humbling. My housemate chris was a rock, always there with support and the type of joyful irreverence that feeds my spirit. My other housemate irene has been descending into dementia these four years, but can still be a delight. I tried to get her out of the house once a day while she was still living at home, and i considered remaining here until she died. But her death has dragged on for over a year, and she doesn't want me to put my life on hold. So the other day, i had to say goodbye to her forever. So hard. My two closest physical companions, sarah and hank the rescue pit bulls, are away on a trip that has taken far longer than expected, and i won't even get to say goodbye. So sad.
Yet even in this broken, unfeeling world, and with my own flirtations with clinical depression, my creativity has persevered. I've written continually...essays, poems, and new versions of every classic fairy tale. Last month i recorded ten of my songs with a dear, dear friend. My little thoreau's cabin on this canal has been an unfailing sanctuary.
I love you all.
See you in San Fran.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

"Stumbling on Happiness"

-by daniel gilbert
2005
A charming book, that proposes a definitive completion to the endlessly iterated (and eternally debunked) proposition that "humans are the only animals that BLANK". Every time we've tried to finish that sentence (make tools, have culture, use drugs...), our puffed-up arrogance has eventually gone pfffffffffft. But now, NOW, gilbert finally has the correct sentence (or not...perhaps our compulsive need to finish that sentence merely reveals a pathological need to justify our behavior or expunge our murderer's guilt). For what it's worth, gilbert tells us that humans are the only animal that projects its own existence into the future, and thus we're the only creature constantly making decisions based on what we THINK will make us happy years or decades from now. He explores our biology, and our singularly enormous frontal brain lobe. He then illuminates the aspects of human psychology that make us so horribly bad at our aforementioned happiness-projections...namely, that our capacity for self-delusion in the service of ego seems almost limitless, and that we also never stop making the mistake of basing our future state of mind on the limits of our current state of mind. We're also profoundly geared toward needing a good self-image...and to that end, we subconsciously let the truth be damned! We always report a high level of happiness with conditions we're STUCK with (a marriage, a bought car, a circumcision), but are more truthful with ourselves about conditions we can jettison easily (a girlfriend/boyfriend, a leased/rented car, a piercing). For example, we always pay lip service to the notion that parenthood is a source of profoundest joy, when in-depth studies reveal that parental happiness takes a universal dive after children are born, never to return to original levels until the kids have left the nest. Gilbert's main thrust, advice-wise, is to urge us to trust the advice of others who have greater experience. Time and again, studies show that method to be more reliable than our own guesses...yet (surprise?), we seem profoundly resistant to such advice.
A fascinating book, and a wonderful read. In this day and age, it always seems that the psychological profession is farthest behind the curve, relative to the speed with which the other sciences teach us new things about human nature. Thank you for restoring my faith a bit, daniel.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Freethinkers"

-by susan jacoby
2004
I'm hard-pressed to offer a more perfect and concise critique of this book, than that provided by philip roth - a freshman course on the history of american secularism should be required at every college, and "Freethinkers" should be the text. There's simply no level on which jacoby's work isn't everything you could want: depth of research, clarity of vision, and smoothness of prose. Her main thrust is twofold - honoring the rich history of american freethought, and making it clear how vital the separation of church and state is to democracy...a message that may be more needed now than ever, with fundamentalist revisionists trying to jam religion back into government, and convince everyone that we're a "christian" nation. It takes a staggering level of truth-avoidance to suggest that the founding fathers wouldn't have been appalled by those efforts, but many believers are willing to take that leap. Jacoby helps you understand how easily minorities are disenfranchised by allowing religion into government, even a tiny bit. A world without diversity, or freedom of thought...is that the America to which we should aspire?
"Freethinker" is a word that has long since fallen out of vogue, but it was a noble honorific during the 19th century, when the notion of not being beholden to dogma or superstition was so strong, it was a national movement. Before radio or cinema, the primary social entertainment was lectures, and there was no more prominent 19th-century draw than robert ingersoll, the "Great Agnostic" who almost single-handedly restored the fame and honor of thomas paine, the godfather of american freethought. Would the Revolution have happened without paine? Would the slaves have been freed without william lloyd garrison? Would the feminist movement have happened without elizabeth cady stanton? Would the labor movement have happened without eugene debs? Would the civil rights movement have happened without bob moses? In all cases, the answer is almost certainly yes...but these were the freethinking people who stood up and dedicated their lives to making our murderous, greedy, hypocritical country actually live up to the ideals on which it was based.
The stories jacoby illuminates are fascinating, like how susan b. anthony and margaret sanger furthered the feminist movement by compromising it, making undesirable alliances or backing away from the depth of their beliefs, the way stanton steadfastly refused to do.
Or francis bellamy, who wrote the pledge of allegiance...but most people don't know that he was a minister who was defrocked for railing against the evils of capitalism, and that he would have been appalled by the insertion of the two words "one nation UNDER GOD" sixty years later.
Nor, jacoby admonishes, should we take any humanist victories for granted, for they could disappear in the blink of an eye. An hysterical but frightening example came after the Espionage Act of 1917-18, which criminalized any disloyal language. On that basis, a filmmaker was imprisoned for making a short film about the American Revolution, which cast our then-ally England in a negative light.
I've gone back and forth with labeling myself. Is agnostic too abstract or conciliatory? Is atheist too immodest or confrontational? Is secular humanist too wordy or toothless? In many ways, freethinker is better than any of them. Let's keep the dream alive. Thank you, susan.