Living in such a state taTestaTesTaTe etats a hcus ni gniviL of mind in which time sTATEsTAtEsTaTeStA emit hcihw ni dnim of does not pass, space STateSTaTeSTaTeStAtE ecaps ,ssap ton seod does not exist, and sTATeSt oFOfOfo dna ,tsixe ton seod idea is not there. STatEst ofoFOFo .ereht ton si aedi Stuck in a place staTEsT OfOFofo ecalp a ni kcutS where movements TATeSTa foFofoF stnemevom erehw are impossible fOFoFOf elbissopmi era in all forms, UfOFofO ,smrof lla ni physical and nbEifof dna lacisyhp or mental - uNBeInO - latnem ro your mind is UNbeinG si dnim rouy focusing on a unBEING a no gnisucof lone thing, or NBeINgu ro ,gniht enol a lone nothing. bEinGUn .gnihton enol a You are numb and EiNguNB dna bmun era ouY unaware to events stneve ot erawanu taking place - not iSSUE ton - ecalp gnikat knowing how or what 3/31/99 tahw ro who gniwonk to think. You are in FiFTY-FOUR ni era uoY .kniht ot a state of unbeing.... ....gniebnu fo etats a
It's almost Good Friday. Jesus died for my sins, so I get to sleep in. There. The lame Easter joke is already out of the way. Aren't you happy?
This issue was kinda strange and hectic. I had about 14k of material about three days ago, and then everybody decided to send all of their stuff in at the last minute. Of course, it got me off my ass to finish some stuff I had been putting off because I thought there wasn't going to be much of an issue, so I guess that's good. But please, people, early submissions are fine. Really. I've got enough wracked nerves as it is.
The First SoB World Tour went off without too many problems. Morrigan, the esteemed staff member who has replaced Clockwork as the disappearing writer, emailed us and asked us to come and visit her in Montana. Unfortunately, she stopped checking her email before I could get her address, so when we got up to Montana, directory assistance wasn't of much help, even though when she called directory assistance, they told her where she lived and what her phone number was. It's a conspiracy. Anyway, Clockwork, Nathan, and me drove in a Ford Probe for a lot of hours.
But other than that (and Clockwork getting strep throat a few days before the trip), everything went off without a hitch. I must say, I never want to drive across Kansas again. Way too flat. Too much dead cornfields. And 60mph speed limits on the highways. What's up with that?
About the only sightseeing we did (we went up to Montana and back from Austin in five days) was stopping at Mt. Rushmore, which was kinda strange since we're not exactly the most patriotic bunch around. At least it was big. I should have gone to Mt. Rushmore before I had seen the Sphinx, though. It probably would have been better.
So, we don't know when we're gonna have the Second SoB World Tour, but we'll let you know a little more in advance next time so we can plan a bit better and hit more places. Everyone's gotta restock up on their vacation time, though.
So, here's this issue. Read it all. Soak it up. Give it to your friends. Give it to your enemies. Leave it in bathroom stalls on campus or in your workplace. And don't forget to change your clocks this weekend. I forget which way it goes. I think time turns off cause we turned it on in the fall. Right?
From: Ciro Dutch To: email@example.com Subject: Sign me up hey Kilgore, Let's just say that i started reading your e-zine out of love(my boyfriend showed it to me) but to my pleasent surprise, i actually liked it(not an easy feat) I have made it my duty to introduce my friends to it, so that they to can have something intelligent to read while school works to numb their minds throughout the day. So i guess what i'm asking is for you to sign me up to your mailing list. thatnks, it would bring much joy. Ciro Dutch
[well, we're always happy to provide some entertainment amongst those in love. i believe a while back the zine actually was causing a bit of a problem in someone's marriage due to the subject matter or something, so it's always nice to hear about the other side. and just for you, we've included lots of lovey dovey stuff in this issue. okay, that's a lie. keep on passing it around, and get them all signed up. pretty soon, we'll have enough for a cult. i mean, we've already got t-shirts.]
From: josiah Sent: Thursday, March 25, 1999 12:08 AM Subject: your page i cant find a link to your page on the sob site you mentioned you had one in the editorial of the last issue and i felt like looking at your hair think i could have the address maybe? ill give you a spittoon if you like
[no thanks. i don't need a spittoon. you can just click on my name on the main page if you really want to see my hair from four years ago. happy viewing, i think.]
A Prologue to Turing Test Oh, the humblest apologies I mutter. I must confess, the sweet sweat-plowing work that has been done on the upcoming audio splatter has been little and less. Thoughts, many thoughts, rippling thoughts spin down my own neural walkways -- closed eyes, pictured sound tree, how do you want it to feel. Many, many, that is how, with multiple plots and womb-noises, makes you want to sleep in the bathtub. Much still needs to be done. Still needs to be transferred from the realms of raw uncorked thrash media, into a half-polished unlimited useable format. This is a daunting task. I've found myself flying home, numerous evenings, driving into the dining room, ready to implement and create, only to find such unedited recordings waiting for me to wade through, pied piper and his jolly vinyl boots. And I sit and stare for a moment, and the desire is swept from me. By my own brow, of course. It will be done, I say. That is my decree. It is being done, I say. As you read this, every moment, my hand is in the jar. It is little and perhaps nothing, but what else can I do? I could do the thing. Right. My tongue has been swimming in the written word with Dillinger and friends for many months, and I've been wrapped up and hoisted into that world with joy. That, and I have a five picture deal with Miramax -- they want Babe: Pig on Mars and I shall deliver, with Tim Burton as director. Yes. You know. The question remains why I write this half-excusitory explanatory sing-a-long for someone to read -- it is not as though the world stands still until the creation is finished, no distribution to millions by Columbia, no screaming babydoll'd flappers at the doorstep sighing and swooning at every word. There's certainly about four of you -- not counting the pseudo-staff who are obligated by the clauses of friendship to listen to every second. Four who may take the time to listen and grunt to whatever picks and whistles and logging jams they hear. So, out of respect for those four, and the general concept of living up to one's words, I write this. Not to mention the deep rooted desire to fill the wicked void in one's soul through the acts of creation. I have trouble with calling whatever I do art, though I wish it to be. Therefore, the word creation is apt. I ask for patience. I ask myself for patience. I ask for help -- there is no I in Buddha. I ask myself for confidence and honed skill to channel the universe through my body in hopes the results will move someone to levitation, or bestow the power to teleport and visit distant roving planets without the need for bulky constraining suits, or cause someone to smirk and say "neat," or influence a six-year-old to enter the world of music and become a critically acclaimed oboe player. To hint, to hint. Abstract and moody. Some wandering carnival dances, fellow heart-laden friends, conversations in space, deep from the womb, rippling conversations, eternal hope, free and flowing, topped with scarves and eye-pieces, lost, passage through time and boyhood, a hopping indictment of technology. Please be clear: this will certainly not sound like a Depeche Mode album.
Dark Crystal Sphere Floating Between Two Universes
I Wish My Name Were Nathan
As this article has taken shape, the world has seen rumors of war give way to war -- the first NATO war of aggression -- and begun to hear ominous rumblings of the rivers of blood a ground war will bring on. By the time this goes to press -- God willing -- our boys will be safely home.
At this point, it does not seem this is God's will.
Why Kosovo? Why has our Kaiser forced us to stick our bombs where they don't belong; into this particular place where they don't belong? I watched him make his case on television. I read his speech and his statements. I don't buy a word he said.
His second point was the most flimsy. We have to do it now, or we will have to do it later. Watch the argument; feel the dizzying buzz; but you will still not have gotten anywhere. Maybe those whose knowledge of foreign affairs comes solely from CNN are dazzled by the circular arguments; I, however, can think. Why do it now? Why do it later? In short: Why is this America's war?
His first argument -- humanitarian disaster -- is the most cited. Why? Corpses and refugees are photogenic. Humanitarian intervention is good for ratings and advertisers. But what makes it our war?
When did Clinton grow a moral backbone? When did he become a humanitarian? (Kosovoars can't vote. I doubt they can even afford campaign contributions.) For that matter, where is his consistency? This is a NATO war; when can we expect NATO peacekeepers in repressive NATO countries? When do the humanitarian cruise missiles strike London for the oppression of the six counties? Ankara, for the repression of Kurdistan? Madrid, for Euzkadi?
Do we only wage war on non-NATO states? (We must preserve unity, at least for show -- shows such as the nightly news.) Then let us bomb Tel Aviv for the occupation of Palestine.
Too strategic an ally? Too White? (We all know it can't be because Tel Aviv is acting in accordance with the UN!) Let us move a little deeper into the world's south.
When do we bomb Jakarta? East Timor, a sovereign nation, was outright invaded. The U.S. may have been the first to recognize the move -- there was oil involved, after all -- but the UN never did. Humanitarian tragedy? One third of the East Timorese have been killed. Proportionately, this is a bigger holocaust than any claim for the Shoah. Why now are we supposed to forget?
Perhaps the East Timorese are too Catholic?
Let us not deceive ourselves. Whatever has launched Kaiser Bill into this latest murderous rage, love for his fellow man isn't it.
So we look to his last claim, his desperate appeal to national security -- not, the cynic suspects, because even he, globalist extraordinaire, could possibly believe it, but because it gives him a congressional end run, clutching the War Powers Act.
Clinton tells us -- without cracking a smile -- that our children need a stable Europe. One would think Europe needs a stable Europe, such as such anti-bombing powers as Greece, Russia, Belarus. But apparently we know what's best for them. We, in our arrogance, take sides, obliterate the insufficiently politically correct, and dash off to the Bat-cave, having saved the world once more.
Globocop has become Globonanny.
What jurisdiction could we possibly claim? The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is not a NATO state. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia did not attack a NATO state. Kosovo was never even a federated republic; the reasoning used to excuse Bosnia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Croatia as they seceded and hid behind NATO's skirts does not apply to a formerly autonomous region. Repressive as Milosovic may be -- or may not be -- he has not attacked a sovereign state. This was not an international war -- not a war at all -- until the night Clinton ordered the Serb people attacked.
And let no one claim the UN gave jurisdiction. Only the Security Council gives jurisdiction for the use of force. No permission was given. Had it been sought, even if it could have mustered a majority, it would have been defeated by veto.
Clinton has arrogated to himself the privilege of dictating not only the world's foreign policy, but each nation's internal, domestic policy. Kaiser Bill has appointed himself emperor.
But what does he hope to achieve? At the very least, he is setting a bad example. If a supposed liberation army brings repression down on itself -- or fakes repression, as some sources claim -- the U.S. will force their government's surrender. What kind of humanitarian policy is that?
Aside from that, this is an idiotic military policy. No campaign of air strikes has ever turned a people against its leader. To the contrary, we have examples of the opposite: World War Two Britain, Germany and Japan; North Vietnam; Iraq. An air war will not result in a political victory, in a change of leadership. And it cannot in isolation win a military victory, elimination of the Yugoslav capacity to police its own territory. Only a ground war -- and a virtual ethnic cleansing of the Serb people, already begun by the KLA -- can impose this imperial Pax Americana on a crushed Serbian people. And only temporarily.
The Serbs are not opposed to peace. They are not even opposed to Kosovoar autonomy. Ever notice how the U.S. representatives on the nightly news never detailed the certain elements of the peace agreements Serbia would not accept? Serbia refused -- and Russia backed their refusal -- and they were right in their refusal -- to allow NATO ground troops into Serbia. Milosovic told NATO if they wanted to occupy Serbia, they would have to invade Serbia -- and prepared for the bombs.
After all, why should this war be any different? When Bosnian Serbs tried to secede from Bosnia, Kaiser Bill bombed the hell out of the Serbs. When Kosovoar -- which is to say, Serbian -- Albanians, Serbs of Albanian descent, tried to secede from Serbia, Kaiser Bill bombed the hell out of the Serbs. Like mysterious deaths and Chinese debts, it has been an unwavering common thread throughout his regency.
Don't be deceived! We are putting our brothers and sisters on the line in Serbia for one reason and one reason only. We are in Serbia because Milosovic told "Madame War" Albright exactly where she could launch Kaiser Bill's syphilitic cruise missile, in all its dwindling supply. We are hearing either the birth cries or the death rattle of the Bush-Clinton New World Order, the fascist, globalist, one world policeman in all its absolutely powered brutality. Nationalist, don't let the sun set on you here.
Serbian innocents need to die so you can live -- in dictated slavery.
If we believed in peace, we would terminate Clinton's term of office. Since 1989, most of which has been this humanitarian pacifist's watch, military deployments have increased 300 percent. That's three hundred. That's for every one boy guarding some contested piece of dirt a decade ago -- as the Berlin Wall came down -- there are three of the slavemaster's bullet catchers watching dirt now. That is the globalist's police state, not the Democrat's "peace dividend."
If we believed in freedom, we'd let Yugoslavians -- ethnic Albanians, ethnic Montenegrins, and ethnic Serbs alike -- manage their own internal affairs. Had Milosovic attacked an independent country, perhaps it would be right to drive him back. He has not, and it is not.
So, as you go to bed tonight, call up for a moment the bombed schools, the damaged monasteries, the dead Serbs your tax money has bought. Think about the killing your elections have brought about. And ask yourself: What kind of world safe for democracy has Kaiser Bill and his pack of warlords wrought?
Peace to Serbia! Stop the Bombs!
It's some kind of tribal warfare. Monks and thorny queens with staves of diamond arse whip and croon at a virgin's hand. What an endowed monstrosity with ember hands, held still to keep the body warm, archfestivals with winebred children lapping at their mother's waist. We all want to fit into leather pants, stick and stuck with boots and mad verse, rhythm of heartbled dribble, droop and drop kneel to your bewildered folk, impure musings willed to spill forth onto a concrete streaked corner store, nickels and dimes for words that rhyme.
"Can I read you a poem?" Ahem.
"I am the greatest poet who walks the streets of Notting's End, and I shall recite you a poem, I shall, and if your heart is moved and struck, you can pay me what you will for this beauty I spoke."
Beauty for change, change that jingles when beauty doesn't. He spoke his poem, spake and spat, sullen-eyed, minced paws at his side, spoke of woman, the embodiment of beauty through the empires' collapse and death fought death fields -- above all she stood -- hearts and eyes and skin and hair, he spoke, of course, a classical Greek influence, Roman columns and flowers born from blood. That is fine. We ate his beauty, lifted our pockets. When not many days after we stood as the poet of poets approached and sauntered a group beside us, two feet, three, more -- a couplet of womenfolk and off he went with his verse of beauty. The same verse of beauty, same words and pauses, same head bows and eye closures, and off he went.
Disappointed and sad and still unsurprised, as the poet of poets poeticized and did not rhyme with vowels, or give heed to the Muse that mused him. A lie, so it is, but who am I to say I am not a liar. Everyone wants to be a rock star, and those who don't only lie.
I do not know who Shakespeare was, but he birthed the Muses, raised and fed and slept with all nine, whimpering the will of the gods, and he is the rock star. I want them all to be rock stars -- a world full of rock stars, stage upon stage with no opening acts, no headlining troupe, except them and those and, everyone headlining after they open -- and where am I? Where do I sit? The one at the ivory sound board, towering divine, levels and levels of the worldly bops, no. No, I am just a rock star. I open and close and screw myself over as my management and such.
Woman and children sit in rows of lanky bluebonnets, rolling to prove the moment in film, and behind them sits a five-story bank building, and in front a six-lane highway, all to mark us present. If only it would rain snowcones -- real snowcones, not a ball of solid ice with one drop of goo, no plastic or styrofoam, I want Amish crushed whittled love ice, unshaved, draped in a vat of blue and red and gold, wrapped with cardboard chewed by women in Istanbul, and at the bottom, a perfect sphere of amorous gum, the ultimate engineered solution to drips. I can fall in love with every single one of you and your snowcones, and I will in due time.
The Tale of a Dog (Historien med huden)
trans. Tom Geddes
(New York: New Directions, 1999) 182 pp., $11.95
It is a bit disorienting to read a novel written in central Texas, about central Texas, first published in Sweden, in Swedish, by a Swedish immigrant to central Texas, translated into British English and originally published in translation in England. Incredibly believable central Texas characters, in places I personally have been to, will, without warning (and through no fault of their own), say something I was much more used to hearing when I lived in England. Understandable, but somehow out of place.
Interestingly, this feeling of disorientation is probably appropriate in reading this novel, the most recently translated volume of Professor Gustafsson's work. (New Directions now publishes seven of his novels in English, as well as one volume of short stories and one volume of poems. At least three other novels have been published in Swedish.) His novels deal with philosophical issues, much as do those of Sartre, Beckett, or Philip K. Dick. Defamiliarization -- subtle defamiliarization -- is probably vital to understanding the work.
For the past couple of decades, Gustafsson has been teaching philosophy here at the University of Texas, as well as courses on Swedish literature. It is one thing to take a course on math or economics where the professor has written the textbook; it is quite another to take a course on literature where one studies one of the works of the author. In more concrete studies, books are selected to reflect what the professor wants to teach. In literature, Professor Gustafsson has had to earn his place on the syllabus as one of Sweden's most important authors.
The reference to Philip K. Dick above is not entirely gratuitous. While not a "science fiction novel" -- as, say, Sigismund could be said to be -- The Tale of a Dog is as influenced by science fiction themes as by (more commonly recognized) philosophical literature. Professor Gustafsson never refers to Dick explicitly in the novel, as he does to, say, Norman Spinrad. Nor do I remember him speaking about Dick, as he did about other authors, such as Stanislaw Lem. And though all three of these science fiction authors deal with philosophical themes in their work, the character of Anthony T. Winnicott, who "seemed to have a certain penchant for long titles," seems to me too much like Philip K. Dick for coincidence. Unless, of course, one assumes all science fiction authors, at some point in their lives, think themselves to have a direct revelation from God.
Although this novel deals tangentially with the issue of the existence of God -- much as it does with Anthony T. Winnicott -- it deals a bit more explicitly with the issue of the nature of good and evil, their existence and their meaning. Amid Texas floods and Belgian Nazis, bankruptcy court judges, flaming boats and a couple of dead dogs, Gustafsson manages a critique of the reality -- or lack thereof -- of transcendent moral standards, using as a launching point, of all things, Saint Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God. And he does so with the incredibly readable, and somewhat crushing, Existentialist viewpoint he brings to all his novels.
While I am not entirely a fan of the price of their hardback books, I have otherwise never been disappointed by New Directions. One thing that has noticeably changed, though, is this is the first New Directions book I ever recall seeing with a full color cover. The translator, Tom Geddes, is also familiar, having translated Professor Gustafsson's other most recent novel translated into English, A Tiler's Afternoon. In short, this novel is unquestionably worth the price.
I write to no one, for no one. I am a dead letter box. There isn't much of a sender to return to. What happens when you deconstruct a text to kill the author's voice and that text belongs to you? Do you now have writer's block or brain death? What are you supposed to do when subjectivity becomes truth, when words are mere strokes of a pen in a seemingly ordered fashion? The reliance on the written word has spawned religion, law, art and war. What do you do when the text becomes your enemy? You let the characters fight it out for you.
PEN ADDICT CHALKS UP ANOTHER ViCTiM
"See, the author here doesn't believe in himself anymore," Protagonist Jones says, "so he has to speak through me. He thinks he's being sly and crafty, aping me around like a goddamned puppet. As if I'm that naive. I know -- and he knows it, too -- that what he intends to write and what comes out of the text isn't always the same. He's hiding behind a pen, assured that this is the safe route, but there is still doubt. There is always uncertainty. He wants me to be his voice, but I'm not sure I like that arrangement. After all, suspension of disbelief is the first step towards cracking like brittle lips."
QUALiTY CONTROL BREEDS BUREAUCRACY
And we're not even talking about Max Weber here, because English departments have not been relegated to the cultural studies department -- yet. There are still New Critics hanging out in the basements, clutching their Donne and Milton texts to their breasts while they wait out the latest -ism to hit academe. In the meantime, Stanley Fish is putting grocery lists on a chalkboard and asking, "Is this a poem?" The other groups are doing their own things, but they aren't as humorous as Mr. Fish. They're concerned with semiotics and which author is (sub)consciously oppressing X group. It's an oversimplification, sure, but when the text doesn't matter, then criticism becomes art.
JUSTiCE OF THE PiECEMEAL
"But we're all critics," bemoans Labia Child, "whether we like it or not, so some unwitting dupes have to be cajoled into producing art. Prop up an aesthetic theory, let them run with it, and before you know it, you've got tenure. Of course, you'll take yourself too seriously, and people will ram long pipe beams into the holes of your arguments, but that's what it's all about, really. We argue with each other to convince ourselves that we're still alive."
EXCEEDiNG THE SPEED LiMiT(ER of DECORUM)
Crenshaw lit a cigarette and rocked back and forth in his chair on the patio. "For crissakes," he told his cat, Bentham, "that damn bastard's gone and changed person and tense for no reason whatsoever. Plus, I'm now metatextually aware, but I'm just a non sequiter. What the fuck ever happened to unity?"
WARNiNG: KiSS THE WOUND ON THE OUTSiDE ONLY
The first thing we have to do is question the ontological nature of the text itself. Is the text autonomous (poem qua poem) or is there a transactional relationship between the reader and the text? And how does the author fit into all of this after his work is finished? Everybody has their theories, so throwing mine onto the heap will just add to the literary trash: the text has a tendency to exist. Being a reader raises the chance of solidification (you haven't skipped this section, have you?) of the reality of the text, but you can never be sure. The text is a model of supposed reality, subject to change at any given moment.
BARNEBY DUSSELDORF QUESTiONS HiS LEFT THUMB
Barney. At what point in the first trimester do your fingers grow? Thumb. I am a thumb, you dolt, and if you want to gen'ralize, go suck on fingers five and tell me that you're cool.
HE'S PLAYiNG GOD, DR. WATSON
It appears pretty astute for Ben Jonson in the 17th century to play with the fictional reality of The Alchemist by stating that the action is supposed to be actually taking place next door to the theater in which it was first performed. The first words of Subtle the Alchemist's mouth are, "Thy worst. I fart at thee!" Even 400 years ago there seems to be this desire to make the text more than just a text: it directly interfaces with its surroundings. When more and more characters are becoming aware of the author and the reader, how does this affect the analysis? Is it a striving to give our creations answers about their world because we have none of our own?
Humans want to be gods, and writers are about the closest thing because they think they wield total control over their works. In a world that is becoming less concrete and objective, the text becomes just as "real" as the nightly news. Literature can no longer be viewed as a passive activity; rather, the characters are beginning to get ideas of their own about our memespace and are slowly invading.
A REPRESENTATIVE OF THE CHURCH BREAKS PARTY RANKS
"Let's analyze me for a second," proposes Father Lament. "You know nothing about me except my name, which I haven't even had to mention. I'm speaking directly to you, but your ability to discern information about me lies both within my words and without. You have probably already guessed that I'm supposed to be a sad priest or something, and you're waiting for some type of conclusive evidence to validate your hypothesis. Did it ever occur to you that my name might be Bill or Flannery or even Abdullah? I haven't told you my name, so you have to choose who to believe, the author or me. I mean, I should know my own name, correct? When quotes are placed around words, they instantly become subjective, as this dialogue is. Why do you inherently trust the author? Is your faith that blind, your reverence of the text so consuming?
Father Lament jumps off a bridge and dies. His death is investigated by the police who rule it a suicide, but his family and friends aren't so sure. They think foul play is involved.
A PLAN FOR WORLD DOMiNATiON
No wonder Plato wanted to kick artists out of his idealized republic. Writers are liars, plain and simple, and they'll be the first to admit it. Spin doctoring isn't required as in politics or law, and authors, unlike journalists, can flaunt their biases like a baboon who wants to show off his giant red ass. So why aren't writers, who are honest about their deceptions, running the world instead of those who are deceptive about their honesty? The answer lies in supplementing the model of objective reality with that of fiction. When the two become interchangeable, then maybe the world will be, if not a better place, at least truthful about truthlessness.
BONUS EGGS FOR THE PERSON WiTH DiSCERNiNG iNTUiTiON
"It boils down to a question of who to trust. If you haven't surmised it by now, the author is simply another created character in her work, so you have to choose which character to believe. And what do you do if everybody is unreliable in the text? How do you judge what the author intends and if those intentions are actually carried through or, worse, intentionally maligned? Being the author/character doesn't help matters because you are already set up as fallible. While everything may not be a lie, it is not truth either, because truth presupposes total knowledge. You can't even trust yourself."
LOST EPiSODES OF THE SALEM WiTCHTRiALS
Goody Gretel and Goodman Hansel were brought into court as expert witnesses. "The witch," Gretel began, "is an infertile creature, eschewing the natural in exchange for the supernatural. She cannot, however, give up that part of her psyche that is linked to the birth of a new life, so she attempts to destroy it. In our case, the method preferred was an oven -- an obvious symbol of the uterus."
"One other thing that should be mentioned," Gretel offered, "is that we tricked her into her own oven. She experienced a return to center, destroying herself in a symbolic attempt to reproduce."
Goody Gretel smiled. "After that," she said, "we ate all of her fucking sweets."
BLACK HOLE DiATRiBE FOR THE iMPOTENT
Goody Gretel's imminent dental woes can serve as an illustration of this mother's personal predicament. Much like decayed teeth require fillings and a nice polish, so does my current view of creating art need an infusion of fresh meat. It remains putrid, stagnant, and disenjambed. While Goody Gretel can go to a dentist (provided she has insurance), my solution entails a more elusive structure. A muse, perhaps? Inspiration? Maybe my Poetic Imagination has decided to take a vacation to a neutral European country. Browning, in "Bishop Blougram's Apology," argues that the desire to have faith is faith enough. This is not true for writing, however, as the amount of bad teenage poetrie attests: desire is not enough.
SUBVERT THE MALE DOMiNANT HiERARCHY, BABE
"What are you studying?" I ask the black-haired girl at the table next to mine. I am bored.
"Feminist literary theory," she says, looking up. "I'm reading about Elaine Showalter and gynocriticism."
"So, do you think we should revamp the patriarchal western canon?"
"I think so. I mean, look at popular writers of the last century like Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Susan Warner, or E.D.N. Southwick who have been excluded."
"Are they kept out because they are women or because they just aren't canon material, sex excluded? They were popular writers. Do you think one hundred years from now Kathy Acker is going to be snubbed in order to make room for John Grisham or Tom Clancy?"
"You're trying to push me into the extremist camp."
"No, I just wanted clarification."
"I bet you've never read any of the women I mentioned."
"True, but what good does that do you?"
"I know about them, and since I know about a lot of things, that means I should do well in grad school."
EVERYTHiNG YOU WANTED TO ASK BUT WERE AFRAiD NOT TO KNOW
"Epistemology is the problem," Protagonist Jones says. "As in Foucault's epistemes, worldviews change with each culture, and these perceptions of reality are inherently subjective and contradictory. What is true today is wrong the next and laughable the day after. Boethius' Wheel of Fate? The great chain of being in the Renaissance? Flogisten? Har har har. When you only know about things, the relationship with objects and ideas becomes a transitory connection, and so do the words used to communicate these links."
A DEFENSE OF THE READER, OR A MONKEY APOCALYPSE
Many would argue that the reader gives the text meaning, no matter what whacked out theories artists or critics have. Of course, authors themselves are readers of their own texts, so meaning, however illusory, still struggles not to be denied. Whose meaning is correct, if at all? If the writer believes his work means absolutely nothing and was designed as a nihilistic document, are readers who find meaning imposing too much? Can such a text be produced? If the old experiment was conducted with a million monkeys on a million typewriters in an attempt to produce Hamlet, do the illiterate monkeys keying at random fashion a work of art or a work of chance? The two may not be too different.
iN THE GARDEN OF EDEN, REViSED
Monsieur Lasalle takes a sip of water and places the glass on the lectern. "Finding meaning or substance is what drives the author to write or the reader to explore literature," he explains. "The hope that knowledge exists -- whether or not it actually does -- is the motivating factor. We want to learn about ourselves and our surroundings to be able to understand why. We are hoping creatures, and even if it means having blind faith to keep us sane, at least we aren't committing ourselves to insanity. The greatest conspiracy ever told involved a man, a woman, and an apple. They did not escape ignorant bliss; they acquired the ability to doubt and question. It was not a fall from grace but an ascent into reality. The illusion is real: embrace it."
LANKY SWANKMEiSTER POSTULATES AN ELUSiVE PAYCHECK
Let's recap, shall we?
1. The text is your enemy.
It stares you in the face, challenging you to subdue it with analysis and unearth the supposed truths with which it tempts you. Neither the author nor the reader has control, as much as they might like to believe. When Jesus spoke of enemies, he suggested turning the other cheek. Jesus never wrote anything, either.
2. Writers are liars.
This has the possibility of nullifying everything written above. It is a blanket statement, but if truth is not really truth, then everything said can be considered a lie. And besides, if the above statement is not correct, then this text serves as an example to illustrate that very point.
3. Meaning does not exist.
Welcome to the subjective universe of modern humanity. Have a mocha and put on your blinders to keep your head. Even you diehard nihilists are closet utopians. I can smell you.
Do I believe any of this? I'm a writer -- a liar -- who is consorting with my enemy to produce an enemy for you. The question is not whether I believe any of this but what conclusions you draw. The instant you try to defend your position, you become just like me. We are all just characters, and the one thing we dread more than the author or reader is the end.
On Monday, the first of March, 1999, the moon waxed full and heralded the Appearance Day of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. This marked the five hundred thirteenth year of the birth of the itinerant brahman who wandered Southern India preaching the love of Krishna and whom the members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) -- believe to be an incarnation of Krishna -- "the Supreme Personality of the Godhead" -- himself. Through the hospitality of the worshippers, and especially of their leader, Sankarshan Das, I was allowed to observe the celebrations. Hopefully the reader will forgive my mistakes in this short account, for while I am interested in Hinduism in general and the Krishna Consciousness movement in particular, I am not a member of that religious tradition. I hope any blunders I fall into based on lack of knowledge or misguided memory will be slight.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness -- popularly known as the Hare Krishnas -- is a Hindu organisation founded by a retired pharmaceutical executive by the name of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada -- a sannyasi or world renouncer who abandoned family and home to teach the path of ultimate devotion to Krishna. After living in Vrindavana and writing what is considered his masterpiece, a translation of and commentary on the Srimad-Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana), he came to the United States in 1965 and organised the first ISKCON Temple in New York City. The movement was probably most visible in American culture in the late sixties and early seventies, but following Swami Prabhupada's death on 14 November 1977 considerable problems arose. Factions broke from ISKCON, some of which still exist. ISKCON would be ruled by eleven gurus who declared themselves Swami Prabhupada's divinely ordained successors and divided the world among them; at least two of these -- the gurus of Berkeley and of New Vrindavana, West Virginia -- would later be imprisoned for various offences. Both were involved in drug dealing, and the guru of the Berkeley Temple believed he could commune with Krishna by using LSD. Several decapitated corpses were found at the farming community in West Virginia. However, as John Hubner and Lindsey Gruson said in Monkey on a Stick: Murder, Madness, and the Hare Krishnas (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1988), their chronicle of these events:
Since 1987, reformers in the movement have worked to purge ISKCON of the horrors portrayed in this book. They hope to restore the spiritually powerful principles on which the movement was founded.
This was not the end of these problems -- just last year there were scuffles between ISKCON Hare Krishnas and those who challenged the line of succession during a love feast at the Los Angeles Temple. However, in a number of places, apparently including Austin, none of these controversies were brought to bear. I believe this had a lot to do with the character both of the Temple's general devotees and especially of its leader, for unlike those who wanted to take the place of Srila Prabhupada, Sankarshan Das struck me as a humble man who merely wants to follow the path he believes God has set out for him. ISKCON has managed to survive all of the conflicts which have arisen, and seems to have had a massive appeal to converts, now having Temples on every populated continent.
ISKCON follows a form of Bhakti Hinduism, holding that salvation comes through ultimate reliance on the Deity, rather than proper performance of the sacrifices. The Hare Krishnas are a Vaishnavite sect, believing the God Vishnu to be the ultimate God. This is at odds with the Saivite sects, which follow Siva (Shiva). The Hare Krishnas believe Krishna to be the Supreme Personality of Vishnu. They believe that the ascetic God Siva worships Vishnu and as such prayers directed to him are answered by Krishna.
This was not the first opportunity I have had to visit an ISKCON ceremony. The first Hare Krishna I ever recall meeting I met on Guadalupe Street, the main drag across from the University of Texas at Austin. I happened to be walking past him and, as he was an interesting looking character, I wondered what his story was as I walked past. The gentleman didn't leave me wondering long, for as I passed he shouted after me, "Hey you -- the one with the cool hat!" Hearing this, of course, I wheeled round.
What the exact words were that passed between us I don't remember, although I remember discussing my studies at UT with him, and he told me he was from the Temple in Dallas. He introduced himself as Indranuja dasa -- servant of the God Indra, the Thunderer. He put a book in my hands -- A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's The Quest for Enlightenment: Articles from Back to Godhead Magazine (Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1997) -- which he handed back to me every time I gave it back to him and insistently pointed to the book's pictures of the Spiritual World. I had intended to buy the book as soon as I saw it, but I found his salesmanship practices quite interesting. He was obviously well taught. That day I walked away with the book, a coupon to Kalachandji's Garden Restaurant and Palace (the Hare Krishna restaurant attached to the Temple at 5430 Gurley Avenue in Dallas) and an invitation to a free "Friday Nite Krishna Feast" at an address on South Oak Drive in Austin. But, as with many things, I found a multitude of ways to put it off, and it would be over a year before I would attend a gathering.
The meeting I finally attended was heralded the Friday before the event by a flyer posted on a kiosk next to the University of Texas' Tower. In bold letters across the top of the yellow sheet were the words "GAURA PURNIMA" and beneath those "A Celebration of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's birthday, and Holi." Next to a picture of Sir Chaitanya as a schedule of events. As the gathering was "Guaranteed to be a fun-filled evening of dancing, singing, and feasting!" and was obviously open to the public, I decided this was the event to attend. By this time it appears the Hare Krishnas had already moved their Center to another building, this one within a few blocks of the University of Texas campus.
As I walked through the warm March night to the Center, I must admit I was apprehensive. As I headed toward the Hindu shrine, passing through a typical quiet Austin neighbourhood, I felt out of place. While everything I passed, from the typical houses to the corner cafe were familiar and common, the purpose of my trip gave the whole night a bizarre air. And I felt very much alone. In short, I felt like a Catholic in a strange land. It was not long before I approached 807-A East 30th Street, the small duplex on the banks of Waller Creek -- not terribly far from the House on the Waller where famed Texas folklorist J. Frank Dobie once made his home -- which houses the Austin Hare Krishna Center. No sign on the street proclaims the Center's existence, and were it not for the knowledge of the happenings there I would have passed it by as a typical dwelling in a quiet Austin neighbourhood.
I arrived and knocked at the front door, from the handle of which hung a small copper or brass object, apparently of Indian origin, the purpose of which I still do not know. Sankarshan Das -- a thin, pale man with blue eyes and a grey topknot, with a yellow paint streak down his forehead and nose -- met me there. He somehow remembered the e-mail I sent him before Christmas asking about whether non-believers could observe their ceremonies. He asked me to go to the side door, facing Waller Creek. There I took off my shoes and, after noticing another of the copper or brass objects hanging from this door handle, I entered the abode of the God.
Entering the building I found myself at the back of a small rectangular room. Hanging across the open space and across the walls were garlands made from the green oval leaves and beautiful purple flowers of the wild-growing Texas mountain laurel in arrangement which seemed to open the white walls and turn the place into a South Indian grove where Krishna and the cowherd women might have played. In its structure, the white tile-floored room could be in anyone's house, and the Hare Krishna Center has moved from duplex to duplex over the thirty years or so that it has been in Austin. The air was full of the scents of Indian cookery, the ritual meal. Facing us was the shrine which is the dwelling place of Krishna. Within the small images in this shrine -- the largest one, I would estimate, less than six inches in height -- are believed to dwell the God Krishna and his Divine Consort Radha. The Gods and Demigods are, of course, not limited to the statues, for their -- or, I should say, his, for in the faith of the Hare Krishnas they are believed to all be manifestations of a single God -- power is believed to pervade all and inhabit all people. Also, while each of these statues is believed to be inhabited by a particular aspect of the God, each statue does not have its own name. For example, Sri Sri Radha Govinda (Krishna in his Govinda form and his consort Radha) can be seen at both the Dallas and the Brooklyn Hare Krishna Temples. It is the belief of the Hare Krishnas that all the Gods are One, all the Goddesses are One, and the God and the Goddess are One. This is common in -- but not universal to -- Hindu theology. It is probably from such Hindu influences that the Wiccans adopted this form of monotheistic belief system.
When I entered the room was largely empty. I took a seat on the Temple floor like those already assembled and was soon handed a copy of the Hare Krishna Songbook and a small carpet on which to sit. A few people sat around the room and others straggled in as the ceremonies began and I moved closer and closer to the front of the room. Many of the people knelt on the ground, touching their heads to the floor, before the Deity Statues as the entered. There was no segregation of the sexes, and everyone simply sat where there was room. I would estimate a total of about thirty to forty people showed up that night, filling the room and raising its temperature considerably.
I was quite surprised to see that of those assembled there most were of Indian descent, ranging in age from teenagers to white-haired gentlemen. In the heyday of the Hare Krishna movement, at least as I understand, the majority of those involved in the US were converts of Western European stock. Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the movement, was told by his guru to missionise the English-speaking world, and at the age of seventy he came to New York to do just that. In Austin, however, it seems that the movement survived by attracting some of the many Indian immigrants in the Austin area, and their families. Of those Western Europeans who were assembled there -- I believe about seven -- most were middle-aged and were probably converts from the movement's heyday. I found out from testimony on a Hare Krishna webpage that Sankarshan Das himself first ate a ritual meal in Austin in 1971. Vishnupriya Dasi, the woman who helps Sankarshan Das take care of the Temple and whom I assume to be his wife is an Indian woman of about the same age as Sankarshan Das, who wore an Indian dress and the same yellow face marking.
The worship opened with a prayer or hymn to the Guru, Swami Prabhupada. It should be stated that the Hare Krishnas do not believe that their Guru is a God -- at least, it is not so simple as that. Even in his life on earth, Swami Prabhupada was treated as a God because he was believed to be a messenger of God and therefore worthy of the same treatment as a God. Thus he is accorded a much higher place than a Catholic saint, but not quite at the level of, for example, Sri Chaitanya, who is believed to have been God Incarnate. He is believed to in a sense open the way to Krishna, and therefore all Hare Krishna ceremonies open with a prayer beseeching him.
This chant, like all the others in the Hare Krishna Songbook, is in Sanskrit, put into Latin letters, with explanations interspersed throughout. Unfortunately, I couldn't follow most of it, although a middle aged Western European American pointed out where they were to me. In those places I could follow I didn't chant because I feel that joining in such prayers would be in conflict with my Catholic beliefs, although I learned that night that not all Catholics feel this way. This chanting -- accompanied by tambourine, drum, and Sankarshan Das on a sort of pump keyboard -- went on for over an hour. A number of people clapped with the chanting, and after it was over Sankarshan Das pointed out that clapping helped drive out sin, and that only those without sin shouldn't clap.
Of course, among the chants was that usually linked to the Hare Krishnas, which Sankarshan Das would later refer to as the "Sixteen Names of God," as follows:
Simply by reciting Krishna's name -- particularly in this chant, which represents several of Krishna's aspects -- the Hare Krishnas believe one attains grace. This chant is considered by them to be one of the most important, and it was believed to have been spread by none other than Sri Chaitanya himself. Many Americans know of this chant because of its popularisation in the '70's musical Hair, but the means of chanting is much different than in that soundtrack, at least in the case I heard it and in the Hare Krishna recording I have heard. While the musical's version is much more Western sounding and I would say higher, the chanting by the Hare Krishnas themselves were much more like other Vedic or Hindu chanting I have heard in that it was lower and almost droning, reminiscent of the also well-known Om or Aum. As I recall, while this chanting was done seated on the floor, it was capped off with the congregation rising to their feet and chanting for a short time before bowing to the Deity Statues, touching their heads to the floor in what seemed to me a very Muslim-like posture.
This chanting was followed by a recitation of, as the poster reads, "Pastimes of Lord Chaitanya and Prahlad Maharaj. Significance of Holi." At this time the people all sat and listened as accounts of the sacred figures and their companions were read, first by Sankarshan Das, then by various volunteers in the congregation. Occasionally Sankarshan Das would interject comments and clarification, but mainly the book was left to itself. I noticed when Sankarshan Das retrieved the thick tome from the room next door, separated from the Temple area by an open doorway, that he took it from a case of about four shelves of books, all of which bore the imprint of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, the Hare Krishna publishing company which publishes and owns the rights to Swami Prabhupada's books.
The book was largely a collection of various miracle stories and anecdotes about Sri Chaitanya and other Hindu holy men. The most memorable story was of how Sri Chaitanya enlightened the entirety of Southern India by walking down the street. It must be known that Sri Chaitanya is the most merciful aspect of Krishna, and while Krishna himself will give enlightenment to all who ask, Sri Chaitanya doesn't even require that. As Sri Chaitanya walked down the road one day in Southern India, all who saw him suddenly became enlightened. Being enlightened, they recognized him as Krishna Incarnate, and, of course, when one sees God walking down the road, one is quick to follow. As Sri Chaitanya walked with his growing band of enlightened ones, he would direct each of them where he wished the individual to go, and off the enlightened one would go, down whatever side street to whatever district Sri Chaitanya willed. Now, as these enlightened beings traversed the countryside, anyone who saw them, in turn, would become enlightened, and then anyone who saw one of those newly enlightened ones would in turn become enlightened himself. And in this way the most merciful form of the Godhead turned the entire southern section of the subcontinent to himself, without the messiness of free will.
Another interesting story, which also shows the conflict between Saivite and Vaishnavite Hinduism, was one of the tales of Sri Chaitanya's childhood. According to tradition, the young Sri Chaitanya, like Krishna in his boyhood, was a capricious lad. One day, coming across a shrine to Siva where young women were making offerings to the God in order to secure a good husband, Sri Chaitanya told the girls that he himself was God, and that Siva worshipped him. As such, he pointed out that Siva would be much more pleased if they gave their offerings directly to him. Some of the women believed him and gave him their offerings, and these Sri Chaitanya blessed with handsome husbands and many children. Others, however, did not believe the boy, and he cursed them, seeing to it that they took old men for husbands.
A further story, and unfortunately the last that I remember, made clear the conflicts between the Hindu and Muslim inhabitants of India. In this story, a particular holy man -- who precisely it was escapes me -- was being oppressed in some way by the Islamic governor of the region. This angered the populace, and they went in a crowd to confront the man. The Muslim was terrified -- an amused Sankarshan Das interjected that he ran and hid under his bed -- and stopped his oppression of the man after the man spoke to the crowd to spare him. If memory serves me, the man had been imprisoned, and after freeing him the governor himself converted to Hinduism.
After the reading was finished began another portion of the services, which I believe was the "Arati and Abhishek" mentioned in the schedule of events. This portion of the ceremonies was conducted standing, and occasionally bowing in the former position. The services were opened with blowing a small conch shell during the beginning chants. During the Arati and Abhishek I counted at least three blessings of the people amid the other ceremonies. For the first blessing Sankarshan Das sprinkled holy water on the people, similar to the holy water blessings performed in Catholic churches today. The second blessing was one of fire. A small flame was brought by one of the women to Sankarshan Das, who put his hand to the flame and then to his head in a sweeping motion. The woman then brought the flame to each member of the congregation, and they then repeated this procedure. As the plate with the small censer on it passed each person, some people placed money on it, although there was no formal collection like that in most Christian churches. The third blessing was done with the small conch shell itself, which Sankarshan Das blessed the congregation with by waving it towards the congregation like an aspergillum. Towards the end of the ceremony Sankarshan Das once again blew on this conch shell, and then blew on another he took from the mantle in the next room. Soon it was over, the congregants bowed to the Deities once more, and the room broke up into small groups and talked.
Throughout the services, because of my obligations as a Catholic, I had to avoid even the appearance of worshipping these Gods or their images. When the congregants bowed, I would sit, and I stood when they stood, so as to see what went on while staying out of the way. When the fire was brought to each of the congregants, I waved it by. I never so much as pretended to be a Hindu, and I was quite open with whoever asked what religion I belonged to that I was a Catholic. Sankarshan Das even shouted across the room to me at this time to ask if I had any questions about their faith. I mention all of this not so much to protect my own reputation but because I believe it important to point out that one can study another religion while not taking part in it. I bore witness to the Faith of Christ by my simple honesty with the people around me. While I believe that the faith in Krishna is tending toward God, and I can understand why this beautiful religion has so many adherents -- and I can understand why devotees of Krishna would act the same way were they to visit a Catholic church -- but I believe that any faith is incomplete without the Saving Grace of Christ, and had I bowed down I would have been saying by this action that all the blood of martyrdom had been for nothing and that any conception of God, no matter how strange, was as valid as perfect Faith in Christ. Readers can interpret this as they see fit, but I felt it my obligation to show my Faith in Christ by merely saying "No."
Following this the congregation members were able to take darshan of the Deities. It is believed that when a devotee looks on the images of the Deities with faith, he is blessed by in some way taking into themselves something given by the God. Even holy people are thus viewed, and when I studied Hinduism under Dr. Richard Lariviere (to whom I owe most of my knowlege on the subject) he told us that when his wife worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta people would travel miles to take darshan of holy woman. Simply looking upon these people -- like when the South Indians looked upon Sri Chaitanya -- is believed to pass along a blessing, freely given to viewer. The congregation went up to the shrine in small groups and viewed the Gods and prayed. One left a money on the shrine; another left an envelope addressed "To Krishna," which Vishnupriya Dasi later opened and took away. Towards the end, a man began taking photographs of the Deities. As I had been waiting for my chance to do just that, I ran out the side door -- informing Sankarshan Das what I was up to when he asked -- and grabbed my camera from my trench coat sitting on the steps. Coming back in I approached the shrine.
The shrine is a small structure, set a little over waist-high on a wooden base with drawers in its side, with a canopy over it standing on supports. The Deities stand on tiers in the shrine, and a canopy rises over them. A pink lotus representation is mounted in the centre of the canopy front. The Deity statues stand within this shrine, on a series of platforms. The shrine is full of flowers, and it really has more the character of a tiny hill on which the Deities stand at different levels. One's attention is first brought to the two main cult statues -- one of Krishna and one of Radha. Krishna plays the a pipe and is slightly taller than Radha, but the two figures are very similar in appearance. These are the Presiding Deities of the Temple. Also in the shrine, at the lowest level, was a small statue of the Guru Srila Prabhupada sitting on a cushioned dias of his own. At various places in the shrine were two-dimensional images of the deities, some in oval frames. As I recall, these included an image of Sri Chaitanya and his associates, an image which, along with depictions of Srila Prabhupada and of Radha and Krishna, are required of all Hare Krishna altars. It was a very beautiful display, and I believe that for mere aesthetic reasons going out of one's way to see an ISKCON shrine is worth the hardship. As magnificent as the great stone temples of India are, one cannot fully appreciate them if one fails to see the statues for which the temples are homes. For those who do not wish to visit a Temple, most Temples which have web pages have pages devoted to the darshan of the Temple's Presiding Deities, even having chants played in the background. One can (and I have) spend hours viewing these images online, and those interested can go to http://www.iskcon.org/hkindex/ and simply look up the darshan links on the Temples' pages.
As I clicked a few shots off with my camera, Sankarshan Das too was filming, with a hand-held camcorder. He filmed the Gods from all angles and even leaned into the shrine to get good closeups of the images. As he was doing this and all through the darshan I had a very strange feeling of anticipation, as though I was waiting for the statues to move. I'm not sure if I was expecting a trick, or if I was expecting some spiritual creature to actually act through it, but it was a very weird sensation. Seeing the images treated like they are alive has an effect even on the psychology of non-believers, and I believe I can understand in part how a person raised in the Hindu culture can believe that the images live. Some Saivites believe that images of Ganesh, the elephant-headed God, drank milk all over the world in 1995, and I have seen taped footage of this on television I could not adequately explain. Growing up knowing both that objects can be possessed, and knowing that God can work through images, I believe I understand this aspect of the Hindu religion than others not raised in such conditions. However I do not believe that God dwells in any image, and I certainly do not believe that images should be worshipped as Gods. But no statue moved that night, and after Sankarshan Das finished his camera work, a curtain which hung from the canopy above the shrine was drawn, and the Deities were meant to rest for the night.
At some point during the earlier festivities before the darshan, Vishnupriya Dasi brought out a screen and placed it in front of the Deity shrine. This added veil of mystery of course immediately sent my mind into motion, and I wondered what rites went on behind hidden from prying eyes. Soon the screen was taken away, revealing the prasad -- the ritual meal. Hare Krishnas offer every meal to Krishna, following a verse in the Bhagavad-Gita (9.26) which reads, "If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it." This food is then believed to have been made holier than normal food, is better for a person, and, so they claim, even tastes better. This food is, of course, not allowed to contain any meat, fish, or eggs. In addition, certain vegetables -- such as garlic and onions -- are also taboo, for they "are in the mode of darkness," according to Hare Krishna texts. Caffeine is also forbidden, and food prepared by non-believers is warned against because of their mental state might sully the food. In the devotees' daily life, three prayers are said during the offering of the food: one to the Guru (Sri Prabhupada), one to Sri Chaitanya, and one to Krishna. These prayers and more information on the ritual and life of the Hare Krishna are found for example in "An Introduction to ISKCON And Devotee Lifestyle" (an addendum to A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's The Quest for Enlightenment; Los Angeles: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1997).
After the darshan, preparations began for the ritual feast. Originally I had intended to leave before the feast, but Sankarshan Das asked me to stay and come sit by him. Sheets were brought out and laid on the floor. During the commotion a man came up to me, pointing out the Jerusalem cross I habitually wear, and asked me if I was a Catholic. I told him that I was, and he then introduced himself not only as a Catholic, but as the musical director as St. Thomas More Catholic Church in North Austin. It was what I would later refer to as a "Young Goodman Brown" moment for me, for, like the protagonist in Nathaniel Hawthorne's story by that name, I realised that I could never make any assumptions about anyone's beliefs. This man had bowed as low before Krishna as any other, but while I considered it incongruous, he had pure intentions, for he truly believed that Krishna was merely another name for God, no matter how different the beliefs of Krishna Consciousness may be in relation to those of Catholicism.
After the darshan a woman went around a room tearing off pieces of a flower and handing them to each person to eat. She gave me a piece, which I put on the plate given to me for the prasad dinner. This was the most uncomfortable time of the night for me, for I felt that, given the prohibitions set forth in chapter eight through ten of St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, I could not eat the food which was being placed before me. While when a person is worshipping they are caught up in their actions and how they should act before the Divine, when one is at table it is too easy to judge and be judged. In a similar case I greatly disappointed myself, when I observed one of the Rites of Eleusis staged by the Scarlet Woman Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis in Austin in November of 1997. When I went to that ritual, I paid $5 and thought I was going to watch a play about what they believed really happened in the Greek mystery rites at Eleusis. Instead, what was presented was a blasphemous (though they did not recognise it as such) rendition of the Last Supper and Crucifixion. At that time I had a misunderstanding of what these passages really meant -- I knew that they allowed us to eat sacrificed food, but I had not studied the passages to know that this was hinged on the faith of others. If others might feel we were renouncing true faith in Christ by eating the food we should not eat it. But offering food falsely does not make it any less the food of the True God, for all creation is His and we can make use of it if it does not drive others from the Faith. At the Rite event a ritual meal of crackers and wine was passed around, and since I foolishly thought we were simply to eat the food no matter the circumstances, I pretended to eat a small amount of food which came to me. (I did not eat it in reality, for having just read what happened in Tibet to Arkon Daraul among the Buddhists, as recounted in his A History of Secret Societies, [original publishing: New York: Citadel Press, 1962] I was wary of being drugged, as he had been. I did not fear an attack specifically aimed at me, but knowing how many groups -- including the OTO -- use psychedelic drugs as a way to, in their belief, open what Huxley called the "Doors of Perception," I wanted to take no chances.) Fortunately, since I refused to recite the OTO's chants to the Sun, I proved in another way that I would not pay homage to their Gods. Situated as I was, being accidentally placed right next to the raised platform where the OTO's leaders sat, this had considerable effect and elicited some stares from the members. Unfortunately, as I was attempting to read along as they chanted, they may have attributed my failure to join them to the poor lighting. It was not until later, after understanding the Biblical sanctions, that I relised my blunder. I had no fear of being drugged by the Hare Krishnas, but I could not reconcile my beliefs with eating the prasad.
I explained my dilemma to Sankarshan Das, and he referred the question to the man from St. Thomas More, who was consuming all that was placed before him. The Catholic Hare Krishna pointed out the difference between the Gods condemned in the Old Testament, such as Moloch, to whom children were sacrificed, and Krishna. He said that, while those Gods were not real, Krishna is, and this man firmly believed Krishna and Yahweh to be one. Sankarshan Das told me that he joined the Hare Krishna movement in order that he could better serve Christ, and he said that he felt that if I were to eat the prasad, Christ would bless me, and that if I took part in the practice, I would learn how the practice was good to take part in. However, while trying to convince me to eat, one of Sankarshan Das' arguments was more than anything what undid him, for he said that the eating of the prasad was as good as any of the sacraments of the Catholic Church. I knew when he said that I could not eat, for eating would imply that I felt the same way. I could never pretend this, however, because when we consume the Host, we Catholics consume the Body of Christ in reality. Even if the prasad were blessed food, it could never equal what we have in the Eucharist, in which we take the Real Presence of God within our hearts. The food did not go to waste, however, and was taken off by one of the devotees for his mother.
At the feast all the people sat on the floor in rows winding lengthwise across the room. Once again, here there was no obvious separation by caste or sex. Among the American converts this wouldn't be particularly unusual, but among Indians it was somewhat noteworthy. Dr. Lariviere told us that, while many groups in theory do not distinguish according to caste, in practice caste matters greatly, even among Christians and Muslims as well as among some more orthodox Hindus, and this comes out most notably while dining and in marriages. Indeed, Orthodox Hindus are considered defiled if they eat with people of lower caste, and they must perform cleansing rituals. Among most Hindus who rely totally upon God for salvation from the cycle of re-death, in theory caste is unimportant, and here among the Hare Krishnas, at least in Austin, they had apparently succeeded in creating a caste-less Temple.
Throughout my stay at the Hare Krishna Center, Sankarshan Das, and indeed all the Hare Krishnas, were very kind and understanding of my beliefs. From my short time with him, Sankarshan Das struck me as a very good man, and I genuinely like the fellow. Had his past life been different, and had he taken different forks in his path, I could easily have seen him becoming a Catholic priest. I believe he truly loves God, and while I believe he is mistaken to the identity of God, I believe that God loves him. And I hope that, one day, the two of us will meet in the presence of the Living God.
Needless to say, sex is among the most widespread of human social activities. It is present wherever a sustained population exists. The mere presence of sexual activity, though, does not exhaust the anthropological interest.
Especially in the context of a detailed magico-religious culture, the role of sex is often regulated and subject to detailed traditional rules. This paper will explore what is available on the sexual mores of the shamanic Turkic peoples of Siberia, and some related peoples. It will explore the sexual aspect of the initiatory dream, and finally examine the possible role of sexuality to the shaman.
ii. Definition of Terms
For the purposes of this paper, the definition will be accepted that "[t]he distinctive feature of the shamanic ecstasy is the experience of 'soul flight' or 'journeying' or 'out-of-body experience'" (Walsh, 10). This paper will, however, not restrict itself to those persons for whom the journey can be demonstrated. Persons in the shamanic culture who experience altered states of consciousness will also be dealt with, as the emphasis of the paper is on the state of consciousness rather than on the specific form of activity engaged in during this state. This will allow the investigation, for example, of weather magicians, of whom Molnar says: "He is not a shaman" (Molnar, 144).
The term "altered state of consciousness" is a bit less easy to define. This will be defined in a broad sense, to include most controlled trance states, but also to include the dream state engaged in for those practitioners under consideration.
iii. Purity Laws
In the absence of a set of Books of Moses, or a Laws of Manu, the shamanic cultures of Siberia lack a clear and written moral code. What can be known about their cultural dictates in the fields of morals, by those not able to directly question or observe them, must be picked up from off-hand comments here and there in the literature. On the other hand, reviewing the literature leaves one with the impression that, particularly compared with traditions like the Judaeo-Christian and Hindu, if there is a striking aspect to the sexual mores of the Siberian peoples, it is their relative lack.
Not surprisingly, in some cases there appear to be adoptions by the Turkic shamanic cultures of Islamic purity laws. (An example is likely the use of ritual oblations for weather magicians, found in association with references to Adam, Allah, Gabriel, and al-Quran (Molnar, 84).) In other cases, the references to sexual specificity seem rather arbitrary. (For example, the requirement that all weather magicians be male (Molnar, 144), or the claim of the Yakuts that if a weather stone "is touched by a woman, or is seen by foreigners, it dies" (Molnar, 94; see also Molnar, 134).) Apparently, the only explicitly sexual taboos regarding weather magic refer to when the blood of a woman must be used, either a maiden, or a recent mother (Molnar, 36). Either male or female individuals may be shamans, whether or not they have children, and no specific sexual purity laws for shamans were come across in the Siberian context.
iv. The Initiatory Dream
Slightly more information of a sexual nature exists in the consideration of the initiatory dreams of shamanic practitioners among the Siberian people. An examination of a few of those will be useful, followed by some considerations of the common points.
Among the Yakut, the initiatory stories have been somewhat preserved in the epic tradition of the olonkho. One of these discusses the shaman's initiation at the World Tree.
At its roots dwells the protective goddess of his clan and land. Invoked by her protege, she emerges naked to the waist and offers him her breasts. At his first suck she turns pale, at his second blue. She thrusts him away and withdraws. (Hatto, 11)
Another olonkho tells a related story.
The hero Yuryung Uolan, having passed through the Clashing Rocks with the help of his steed, who is possessed of more horse-sense than he, is warned by him against the sirens, three ladies of calorific appeal who, after offering him a feast rich in proteins, recommend their breasts, strictly in the second place, not as white, soft, or lovely, but as very cosy. Yuryung yields -- and falls into the abyss. Life is hard for bone-headed heroes, since later he meets three maidens who invite him to solace them. If not, will he kiss them? If he will not kiss them, will he brush them with his whip? Yuryung passes them by, whereupon for very shame they hang themselves. For, although outwardly indistinguishable from sirens, these are genuine, sensitive maidens. (Hatto, 12)
The difficulty of trying to draw conclusions from brief summaries of texts is acknowledged, and the epic tradition, while bearing the seeds of shamanism, is nonetheless at a remove. Nonetheless, both of these stories represent the motifs of spirit women who are desired by the heroes. Human women appear to be harmless, though that cannot be said; perhaps they needed to be sacrificed, but if the shaman had not passed them by, he would have been destroyed. The spirit women, however, are anything but harmless. Accepting the sirens causes the hero to "fall into the abyss," and it is not impossible the same would have happened had he been allowed to satiate himself on the maiden of the World Tree. Tentatively, one may conclude the desire for these spirit maidens draws him on, but to be fulfilled by them would be negative.
Space does not allow detailed examinations of other dream narratives, such as the others in Eliade or Erdener. However, the trends observed above -- that, when dream spirits are presented, the reaction of the shaman or other trance practitioner is to desire, but not to the fulfillment of sexual desires -- hold. This is particularly true among the ashiks, who once claimed to spend their time searching for the object of their erotic love. The extended pursuit without attainment plays in to the assumption that the desire is the active component, rather than the spirit.
v. The Sexual State of Consciousness
Clearly, there is not a lot of evidence available on this subject. This may be for a number of reasons. For one, much of the early evidence on shamanism comes from a culture that did not fully understand the culture it was studying. The sexual elements in shamanism may have been too foreign for the Victorian scholars to understand. Just as shamanism was long considered to be a form of insanity, and later researchers had to overcome the false start laid by their predecessors, so too the early consideration of shamanic sexuality may need to eventually be revised at a fundamental level for all the nuances to be appreciated.
As an example, from one of the authorities on shamanism:
It is natural that the "celestial wife's" intervention in the shaman's mystical experience should be accompanied by sexual emotion; every ecstatic experience is subject to such deviations, and the close relations between mystical and carnal love are too well known for the mechanism of this shift in plane to be misunderstood. (Eliade, 79)
This passage shows potential prejudicial misunderstanding. One assumes "sexual emotion" refers to sexual arousal, but the key word in the potential misunderstanding here is "deviation." It seems potentially true -- though not necessarily for Eliade's reasons -- that "[t]he sexual relations that the shaman is believed to have with his ayami are not basic to his shamanic vocation" (Eliade, 80). But the difference between an inessential and a "deviation" is a stark difference, and typically a difference less of fact than of interpretation. Another possible interpretation might be necessary to the most full interpretation of the phenomenon of shamanism.
The same assumptions Eliade seems to make also seem to be made by other authors writing on shamanic topics. One example, apparently following almost word for word Eliade's conclusions, reads: "Frequent themes in the hallucinatory experiences connected with shamanistic initiations are death, mystical resurrection, descent to the underworld, and ascent into the sky" (Rogers, 17; a parallel passage is: "The content of these first ecstatic experiences, although comparatively rich, almost always includes one or more of the following themes: dismemberment of the body, followed by a renewal of the internal organs and viscera; ascent to the sky and dialogue with the gods or spirits; descent to the underworld and conversations with spirits and the souls of dead shamans; various revelations, both religious and shamanic" (Eliade, 34)). Aside from the additional prejudice of calling the initiatory dream an "hallucination," Rogers follows Eliade in essentially disregarding the erotic component of the dream, possibly misunderstanding it as a periphery factor. For another example, assuming that the "sexual emotion" is a "deviation," another author writes the "ashiks must have transformed the mystic poet's [i.e., the Sufi's] favorite symbol of the handsome boy into a beautiful girl of fourteen to sixteen who appeared in a dream" (Erdener, 70). Another interpretation could be that this was a tradition independently retained from the shamanic tradition, or borrowed from Sufis who had previously transformed an element independently retained from the shamanic tradition. Again, the statement that the love felt for the dream-bride, the ashik's equivalent of the ayami, is "platonic" (Erdener, 54) seems to rest on the assumption that an erotic desire for the spirit is a "deviation." It is possible, but not necessarily true.
With the lack of available evidence shamanism affords the armchair anthropologist, it is easy to pick out any favored thesis and make up evidence for it. With that in mind, to advance a thesis at a variance with such an authority as Eliade would require at least some basis for the counterassumptions. To that end, one may consider the role of erotic arousal in the physiognomy of the individual, and compare it to the physiognomic reports of trance states of shamans.
Although rejecting the idea shamanism is "caused" by hysteria, V.N. Basilov provides some useful information on the physiological aspects of the shamanic responsiveness.
The shaman loses consciousness, thrashes in convulsions, performs "wild" leaps and all the rest... If the shaman trembles from head to foot or flies into a rage, jumps up and screams, it means that the spirits have come in to him or that he is fighting with hostile demons. If the shaman lies senseless, it means that the soul has left his body and is wandering in other worlds. (Basilov, 8)
Basilov, and other observers, see a number of phenomenon: Sensory acuteness appears to be increased (in that the shaman can find things and directions), but sensory responsiveness appears to decrease, even to the point of apparent unconsciousness; physical blows can be carried out on the shaman without disrupting trance; the shaman seems to develop incredible strength; heat and cold appear to no longer affect the shaman.
Kinsey (The flaws in Kinsey's work are well known; it is hoped this paper does not suffer from them, avoiding his conclusions and drawing exclusively from phenomenological data), for his part, compares the physiognomic response to epilepsy, but nonetheless has many comparable physiognomic details.
[A]ll of our evidence indicates that there is a considerable and developing loss of sensory capacity which begins immediately upon the onset of sexual stimulation, and which becomes more or less complete, sometimes with complete unconsciousness, during the maximum of sexual arousal and orgasm. ...
The situation may involve some psychologic distraction ... but there is some evidence that an actual anesthesia may be involved. ...
Specific observations and experimental data indicate that the whole body of the individual who is sexually aroused becomes increasingly insensitive to tactile stimulation and even to sharp blows and severe injury. ... Not only does the sense of touch diminish, but the sense of pain is largely lost. (Kinsey, 613-5; he goes on to examine depression of each sense.)
A particularly specific physiognomic response in the shaman is his seeming imperviousness to cold. Although Basilov recounts a number of stories demonstrating this, the following makes the important point that not only does the shaman's body not go anywhere -- the effects of the cold are experienced, just not heeded -- the shaman does not indicate a belief in a physical transport away from the source of the sensation.
I put on only the shamanic costume over a naked body, caused my eyes to be bound, and wandered through the tundra for three days and three nights. ... Although I had on only the shamanic parka over a naked body, I did not freeze, but I did take a good chill, which I felt when I arrived back at my tent. (Basilov, 201; quoting the shaman Diukhade)
It is interesting that Kinsey, too, specifically mentioned the decrease in temperature sense as a specific form of the desensitization in the sexual syndrome.
The temperature sense is similarly diminished and may become quite lost during sexual activity. In the earlier stages of arousal there is, as we have already noted, a considerable recognition of the surface warmth of the body which develops as a result of the peripheral circulation of blood. But the sexual arousal may progress to a point at which most persons become unconscious of the extreme temperatures of summer or of winter, of an overheated or a very cold room, or even of objects like cigarettes which may actually burn them. (Kinsey, 616)
Many observers specifically referred to the shaman's apparent superhuman strength, but -- and this is an important caveat -- only while in the state of trance.
"At such a time the shaman is capable of displaying energy totally inconsistent with his physical profile. Thus, weak female shamans have as much strength as several grown men and cannot be restrained, if such is required. Old women and men become limber and youthful," reports Shirokogorov. The latter once had occasion to observe an Evenk shaman "more than eighty years old, who was blind and no longer able to move about without assistance; when he was dressed in the costume, weighing well over thirty pounds, and when the spirit had taken possession of him, he began to jump to a height of at least one meter, beating the drum, and danced with an ease absolutely unfathomable for his decrepitude." (Basilov, 17; Basilov reports a number of other examples)
A similar appearance of superhuman strength manifests itself among the sexually aroused.
Most persons display unusual muscular strength during sexual arousal, and may become capable of performing feats that require abilities which they do not ordinarily exhibit. This is not because they actually acquire strength, but because they are released from the inhibitions which normally prevent them from utilizing their full capacity. ... When there is arousal, many persons become capable of bending and distorting the body to an extent which would be impossible if there were no arousal. (Kinsey, 618)
And this may be the secret, too, of the shaman's powers. Observers agree that the shaman can do amazing things, but do not agree on how: hysteria, auto-suggestion, possession by or of spirits. The relation between the sexual trance state and the shamanic trance state, however, indicates a possible other answer. The practitioner of trance "may become capable of performing feats that require abilities which they do not ordinarily exhibit. This is not because they actually acquire strength, but because they are released from the inhibitions which normally prevent them from utilizing their full capacities."
So far as can be known -- and there are many questions, given the lack of information -- any erotic component among shamans of the Siberian region is a peripheral matter, not a requirement for the profession. This lack of information could have a number of origins, from the misunderstanding of anthropologists who came into contact with the Turkic peoples (either due to ethnocentric misunderstandings or due to having been misled by predecessors in the field), to reticence on the part of informants among those cultures. Be that as it may, this erotic component need not be a meaningless accretion to the shamanic tradition. Just as fasting is not essential, but still plays a part, so too the erotic component may do so, by augmenting the trance state.
Assuming this to be true, some predictions can perhaps be made. On the anthropological level, if more full evidence could be gathered, one would expect sexual restrictions to be as or more restrictive for shamans as for other members of the community, either officially or by tradition. Legends that contain shamanic initiatory stories would be expected to tell stories regarding erotic relations with women -- spiritual or human -- to involve desire rather than fulfillment. (Cases where texts exist in contradiction to this would be expected to have been later changed from the original motifs.)
On the physiological level, further comparisons between persons in mystic trance states, such as shamans, and persons in erotic "trance" states may at least provide circumstantial corroborating evidence.
Anything other than hypothesis, though, remains at this point impossible.
Basilov, V.N. "Chosen by the Spirits." Shamanism: Soviet Studies of Traditional Religion in Siberia and Central Asia. Ed. Marjorie M. Balzer. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1990. 3-48. Eliade, Mircea. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972. Erdener, Yildiray. The Song Contests of Turkish Minstrels: Improvised Poetry Sung to Traditional Music. Garland Publishing, Inc.: New York, 1995. Hatto, A.T. Shamanism and Epic Poetry in Northern Asia. London: Luzac and Co., Ltd., 1970. Kinsey, Alfred C., et al. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1953. Molnar, Adam. Weather-Magic in Inner Asia. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, 1994. Rogers, Spencer, L., Ph.D. The Shaman: His Symbols and His Healing Power. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas, 1982. Walsh, Roger N., M.D., Ph.D. The Spirit of Shamanism. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1992.
"In the East poets are sometimes thrown in prison -- a sort of compliment, since it suggests the author has done something at least as real as theft or rape or revolution. Here poets are allowed to publish anything at all -- a sort of punishment in effect, prison without walls, without echoes, without palpable existence -- shadow-realm of print, or of abstract thought -- world without risk or eros."
scream and screech and summon faeries like Bjork and children do.
I rode whales through '63, before they turned me into an amusement park showcase. Crept along with current and moontows, and here they came, to dance with me in the cold. What poor couple with children in hitch would believe the brewed man with capered white beard and bartered face as he spoke those true tales of bliss and understanding. I could not sing the whales' song but did not need to. They knew and heard just fine. And I heard them and learned the words. Learned I did not need to swim, but only let the world swim for me, devour my limbs and trunk until I was it, and swayed and plowed away. I could hear the coral grow after several days, at first by swishing my ears against the salt, and soon from many reefs away, and sooner still, some many miles. And with the stretch of the reef, an urging sound, came trolling cankerous tankers and engines and boats with nets, immense moving mountains speaking of pleasure cruises and dancing under stars. I could hear them too, more often than the others, deafened with foreign mechanical screaming. And when one slaps the earth, my skull splits, and falls to dry sand, and I swim to distant thick seas where ice keeps those away. Ice capped land bridged water, where movement of ice on ice and ice on earth calms the toes, like a slow working sculpting carpenter, able to never create imperfection. The last I rode in hopes to save the others. They tossed themselves onto weathered beachfront as pedestals of thick show were constructed around them, crashing tourists and tall moneymakers, and they could not live in such patches anymore. I came with a small crew of weathered giants, ones who saw their fathers and grandfathers stripped and sold, and came to see my own watch and scream as this was all shown to the world, kept in annals of history, encyclopedias for children to see. And they saw me emerge from the shelf, from water to man, and they caught me as well, ready to toss me into the tanks with latex fed men, which I could not stand for, as neither could you. Now I tell the tales to bored schoolchildren chased by their parents, and they believe until they are ripped away and tossed bank into their carts.
Old Man Hat traced a circle in the middle of his left palm with his index finger, the nail jagged from continuous biting. His long, matted grey hair covered his face, and the small wicker chair he perched on was more than ample to hold his frail frame. Outside the cell, a young officer on watch slept in a leather chair, and the moon was obscured by still clouds through the window.
When I studied her body lying in the casket, I had an insatiable desire to touch her flesh, to run my fingers across skin that had experienced ninety-seven years of living. She didn't look as peaceful as I thought she should have. Her mouth frowned, which the mortician said was because of her dentures. He claimed that he had tried to massage the muscles, but since she hadn't been wearing her false teeth for a while, it simply wasn't possible. Her skin wrapped tightly around her bones, veins showing blue beneath withered flesh, and I wanted to touch it. I was afraid that it wouldn't feel any different than mine.
Lucinda's head was surrounded by a 2x2x2 foot cube of water, and her smile undulated as the breeze rippled across the surface. Corduroy jeans, loose at the waist, underlined an exposed navel. A tattoo lay bare, a mechanical cog circling her bellybutton. She did not drip.
God called Israel a prostitute, which is no way for Dad to talk about his little darling. Think about it. Even Eve got a shekel for every screw with Adam. The man had no bellybutton: freaks don't get chicks for free.
It was too cold of a day for sex on the beach, and William had the jazz playing in his brain, keeping beat to the lapping waves in an unusual time signature. The jazz was what William knew because it rearranged his hypochondriac notions into something sterile, a release by the burn beat. Seagulls kept their distance from him and his open, inverted umbrella.
"Having any luck with your pecans this year?" Dad asked my grandfather.
"Nope," he said, shaking his head. "You crack them open and they're black inside."
I turned away and sat down in a chair close to the coffin. I could just see her head over the edge, and I wondered what her eyes would look like if they were open. My family and her few remaining friends were in the small room, talking and looking at her. She had outlived her brothers and sisters, and I thought of Burroughs lasting longer than most of the Beats. He had been a literary genius, but she had mowed her lawn every week until she was ninety-five. I wasn't sure which was more commendable.
"Hey, you," the officer said, waking up and lighting a cigarette. "Why do they call you Old Man Hat?"
Bony fingers parted the curtain of hair, and Old Man Hat's eyes were closed, the eyelids thin and almost transparent. His pink lips were chapped, and his face was scarred with quivering hands razor blade cuts.
"Names signify persona, existence, categorization," he answered. "Others have a need for labels, but I am just a body, a conscious conglomeration of flesh, tissue and bone. You think I'm locked up, but you are trapped, too. You can't escape your skin."
The sun fed the jazz running through his cerebral cortex, synapses clicking on and off to the infinite beat. William could almost see the notes materialize in his field of vision, and they sounded green, green like a warm radiation bath to wash away his s(k)ins. It was low tide, so he stuck the umbrella handfirst into the sand and picked up a shovel.
Everyone stared at Lucinda when she went to the mall. They were publicly reviled by her mutated appearance, but secretly they longed to discover how she ate. Most of the men wondered what it would be like to press their lips into her watery face and taste her tongue. Lucinda knew this, of course. She would have welcomed any advances, but nobody ever approached her, and her offers were always scorned.
George Washington's head is on a quarter and gets fondled in millions of pockets every day. Did he take out his wooden teeth while he and his men were freezing at Valley Forge and toss them into the fire for extra warmth? Our forefathers would have never given bums a penny.
It began to rain as William dug, and the inverted umbrella started to fill up with water. He shoveled out sand rhythmically to the burn beat, his brain overclocked and running hot. The notes were clearly visible now, crossing over his eyes as the music got more complex. He could almost see the whole score itself, seemingly scrawled in chickenscratch notation. William continued to dig.
The girls all wear sweatpants, and the boys have septum nose rings. You can feel the tortured libido, the standoffish glances and wavering palms. Everybody's shirts have at least one horizontal stripe. Two women leave the group and head down the stairs, their hair in buns held together by pencils -- secretary whores in the making. "Oh, you have a degree? I like to fuck intellectual proles." Eighteenth century aristocratic plantation owners couldn't have planned office mercantilism any better.
"Come on, there's got to be a story behind that name," the officer said after extinguishing his cigarette. "Were you an expert on fine headwear? Maybe you wore the same dingy cap for sixty years that your father gave you as a young lad during the depression."
Old Man Hat's eyes were still closed. "You don't understand, do you?" he asked. "Focus on your present predicament instead of the past. You can't know history. You can only hope you piece it together in the best way possible. You've situated yourself between nostalgia and ennui, and you're too blind to recognize it. You are an officer of the law. You should know imprisonment when it happens to you."
Earlier that afternoon, I had picked up my sister and driven home to see my parents. She was nineteen and having a rough time this semester.
"I'm not going to the funeral home or the funeral," she commented in the car.
"Why not?" I asked. "Are you afraid to look?"
"It's not that. I just don't want to be around everyone because they're going to be said. Dying shouldn't be a sad even, unless the person is going to hell, but Aunt Bird isn't."
"Don't you want to see her one last time? It's not like she's going to jump up and bite you."
She didn't answer, so I turned up the radio and kept driving.
"Say there, O God above, who reigns in invisible splendor: what's the deal with Sandra's cancer?"
"O beloved child of mine, the world feeds on itself. Consumption is the cause and effect; there is no other."
She wasn't really my aunt. My grandfather had met her during World War II while stationed at Bergstrom Air Force Base, and she babysat my mother and her two brothers. She had no children of her own and basically became an extended member of our family. After her husband died in 1975, the year I was born, we were pretty much the only family she had.
Aunt Bird was strong-willed, independent and old-fashioned. Whenever I would see her at family gatherings, she would berate my long, poofy hair, calling it "nigger hair" and threaten to leave me out of her will if I didn't cut it. My mother would always stop me from arguing with her, citing her age and inability to change at this late stage. I thought that was pretty insulting.
We finally had to put her in a nursing home in 1997, and she only lasted six months. She lost her memory, became incoherent most of the time, and in December she died. I didn't blame her. The friends she made there were being carted off weekly as well.
"What's your paradigm, cop?" Old Man Hat inquired. "Does the political system you adhere to and vehemently defend fully mesh with your perceptions of reality and the way things ought to be? Roll up your sleeve and run your fingers down your forearm. Feel the goosebump skin, the soft hair, the indentions in the flesh from you watch. No matter how free you think you are, you're still a prisoner."
The officer nervously fingered the billy club on his belt instead. "Shut up and go to sleep," he said, "or you'll find out how we treat loons in this county."
The hole was about two feet deep and six feet long. William lied down and began covering his body with sand. A small bird was perched on the rim of his umbrella, drinking rain water. The sun was out again, and his brain was heading towards being well done. The green notes barely retained the eleven note progression they had taken on an hour ago, and it kept repeating as he piled sand on his chest.
Lucinda did meet a boy once who treated her decently. His name was Jerry, and he had moved here with his father after a divorce. Instead of skin, Jerry was covered by a giant scab. He couldn't move without bleeding, but his advanced psychic abilities allowed him to communicate with those who would open their minds to him. Sometimes he would actually talk, breaking open around his mouth, and Lucinda would kiss him, cooling his pain with her water. Eventually, Jerry's father got another job, and she never saw her scab boy again.
The tide was coming in, and only William's head could be seen in the sand. The first small laps of water hit the side of his face, the salty spray splashing his eyes and burning them. The notes began to dissolve on the backs of his eyelids as more water started rolling in. His brain was burning, and the water around him began to steam. When two joggers found him the next day, a big, pearly grin shined beneath his charred flesh.
Jake once knew this guy named Primo Origin. He was, as James eloquently put it, a heliocentric bastard, but with a name like that, you'd expect to have everything revolving around you. One day, Jake and Primo were sitting around in the park talking to this chick who was juggling Christian tracts, one for every denomination and splinter group. Jake thought it was quite impressive for a biped, but Primo retorted by saying, "I'd like to see her doing that while sucking my cock."
Lucinda sat in a chair in the middle of the living room, washing her hair while watching television. It didn't really help much, but it made her feel a bit more normal. A local televangelist was on, preaching about the benefits of the water of life. She scoffed, stood up, and stuck a finger in an electrical socket. The water vaporized, and her waterlogged face looked like it was almost a hundred years old. She ran to a mirror and looked before the water replenished itself.
My uncle, a Baptist minister from Dallas, gave the eulogy at the funeral. It was the first time I had worn a suit in years. My sister stood next to me, trying to stifle snobs. As my uncle went on, I realized that I had never really known her. I was always standoffish because of her barbs, and I always saw her as the perpetual old lady in the recliner who wouldn't change and see things differently. Until I stood there by her grave, I had forgotten about her taking care of me when I was younger, walking me to the convenience store to buy comics or slipping me sugar cubes when my mother wasn't looking. She never changed, but I did.
Old Man Hat leapt from the chair and phased through the bar, landing next to the officer. He grabbed the baton out of the belt and nimbly twirled it under the officer's nose.
"Ever see a paradigm shift in full effect?" Old Man Hat asked. "I'm not as trapped as you thought, eh? You're going to have a lot to explain, so I'd suggest running while you still can. Or do you like your skin?"
Old Man Hat opened the door and walked away.
She brushed her teeth and thought of Hegel. She had never read Hegel. That didn't matter though, as someone's always talking about Hegel. So much so that she felt quite qualified to state flat out, out loud, looking directly into her own eyes, that he was wrong. Completely off the mark.
"Thesis, antithesis, synthesis... but there's no synthesis. Do you see a synthesis anywhere? Or aren't we just going round and round -- thesis, antithesis, back to same thesis, same antithesis, same conflict, no resolution. No, he was wrong. Or my life transcends somehow the Hegelian dialectic. But I'm not that extraordinary. Maybe it's a question of categorization? Maybe I'm still stuck in some sort of thetic stage. I don't think I can use 'thetic' like that. Perhaps, though, that's it. My thetic stage is somehow... what is Nietzsche's 'eternal recurrence' anyway?"
She wandered over to her bookshelf, toothbrush held by the constant sucking motion of her mouth and tongue, toothpaste dripping down her chin.
She muttered aloud from a dictionary of philosophical terms, "...all that has been once must repeat again... Well, what do I do with that? I don't think I can use it without completely bastardizing the term and besides, isn't the interpretation of it a source of controversy anyway? Well, if that's the case, then I suppose I can use it anyway I want.... Which is sort of Nietzschian in itself, right? Fuck. I'm late. And I have toothpaste all over myself."
There was no point in thinking about anything anymore, she just had to refer to a previous page in a journal. She was reliving everything. It wasn't regression, it was repetition. Different men, same problems. Same naive wide-eyed little boy devotion, full of idealized expectations, easily distracted and disappointed, and therefore short-lived. Same heated arguments over and over, recite the lines, maybe she should change the intonation this time, for variety? They looked older, but they weren't getting any smarter. Or maybe she was just good at finding the runts of the litter. As time passed, maybe she was just reaching out for the lesser developed, for the ones who haven't gone through the rite of passage. The right passages? And without them, could they really move on to write quality passages? And without them, would she serve any purpose? What a beautiful symbiotic relationship. Or co-dependent. Either-or.
She had to get to class. She had to get coffee. She had to drink it even if her mouth was full of minty-freshness. There are some things that she had to do. This was becoming increasingly obvious.
She made it to class five minutes early. "James." She announced as she threw her bag down while throwing herself into a chair. "What's 'eternal recurrence'?"
He smiled and put down his biography on Wilhelm Reich. "Well, Erica, you see, that's a difficult question. I mean, Dr. Tomson and Dr. Ivanson are, as you know, completely at odds as to how this concept is to be interpreted exactly. Nietzsche himself never really explained it, thinking the common man wouldn't understand it. Of course, if you look in Zarathustra, Section 10...."
"Uhuh, fascinating, James. Just, can you... synthesize the interpretations for me or give me quick synopsis of each, please?"
"Eternal recurrence. Well. Consider this: everything you experience, down to the detail, must be lived over and over again. It's possible, at least, I think he says this, it may even be irrelevant to the larger scope of his philosophy.... Anyway, he says it's possible at least for some events to repeat themselves... there's a theory that says he says this because of 19th century ideas of thermodynamic law and--"
"Move on, James."
"Well, it's horrible, right? The concept of being fated to relive events.... Because think of all the fucking shit you've gone through. And Nietzsche recognizes this as the 'greatest weight', and he says the weak will be crushed by it. They will continue to suffer through every miserable pain over and over again, and live in terror and regret, never accepting the fact of it. But eternal recurrence doesn't necessarily have this negative connotation. By embracing the eternal recurrence, and accepting our pain as well as our joy, not escaping it, we can move ourselves to make each moment... exquisite. And there's good reason to, obviously, as you will repeat each again and again. You can make each moment full, even the horrible can be made interesting."
"I choose not to suffer uselessly."
"Ugh. She's disgusting."
"Women who are right and write, usually are."
You'd think what with all the thinking that the day would pass quickly. But every thread that Erica followed was followed by a new sequence of mood swings. The day went on and on as her mind went on and on full of itself.
Shut up shut up shut up shut up and give me some peace already. Don't you have something better to do than think? Why don't you take up a hobby or something? All day with you, all day. She stood waiting for the bratty looking, no doubt a Comm Arts major to finish steaming the milk in the coffeeshop that never closed. She couldn't sleep, and it was well into the next morning. As she was concentrating on telepathically trying to transfer cellulite from her hips to the girl's perky little rump, she didn't hear David come in and move into her personal space.
"Coffee at this time of night. Most unhealthy."
"Like the future of this exchange." Her eyes wavered, but she stopped herself from turning towards him.
"Couldn't possibly be any more so than its history."
Ready for combat now she turned and smirked. "Don't be so fatalistic. I'm always up for a challenge."
He looked over and licked his lips. "And a great challenge it would be indeed. I can't believe you are here at 3 a.m. I was just about to get some sleep."
"Sounds like a grand idea. I say go for it. "
She grabbed the mug and paid. But he continued, and she was sucked into bemusement of his complete focus on himself and his obvious lie. "Quadruple mocha. Yes. As in four shots. Just use that milk that's already steamed..." And as if he was discussing an issue of terrible severity, he continued, "I have to get up in 5 hours. Maybe 5 hours of sleep would be worth it though. Maybe."
"How do you deal with these kind of decisions, David? The grappling, the wrestling with such abstract concepts, day in, day out. Over and over. Again and again. I'm in awe."
"And well you should be. For instance, to be faced with: 'Taco Bell, or Burger King for breakfast?' One of the most daunting questions ever pondered by mortal man."
"And if ever one must ponder it, David, you are that man."
He got his drink and paid. "Keep the change, hon.... Not to sound too fatalistic," he paused for her to make the connection to the opening of the dialogue, "but, it is my destiny."
She made her eyes wide and blinked in mock admiration. "I am not meant to reach such heights, such lofty planes of existence."
"Where even gods fear to tread."
"Oh, fear? I thought it was just non-interest." As she said this he walked backwards to the door.
"An easy mistake to make. Especially from all the way down there." He winked and walked out.
She stood unwavering at the counter. She stared at her mug. The girl stared blankly at a textbook. "I didn't even vary my intonation." The way her day had aligned itself thematically offered her some aesthetic comfort.
The lecture hall was black. Black turtlenecks, black scoopnecks, black-rimmed glasses, dyed-black hair, used black boots, old black bags, new black pens.
Erica was in black. In the back. With everyone else. The first five rows remained empty and all the aisle seats were taken. From this point until fifteen minutes into the lecture people would be sighing and standing up to let the later-comers in to the only available seats in the middle of the rows.
"Excuse me, sorry, can I just--" and a wave of sighs came from the end of the row. "Hey, Erica."
Erica moved her coat so that Ben could sit on her other side. "Ben."
"Did you read the new Mots?"
"Uh, yeah, well, I read your piece. It was adorable."
"Could you not? Could you not do that?"
"Oh come on, Ben, 'and her eyes blueful, surreptitiously masking her doubt, only accentuating her beaut--' "
"All right, all right, Erica. When you say it like that, you take all the poetry away."
"Yeah, that's all me.... No, really, Ben. It was a good piece, except for your description of that girl. Of course, I disagree with the underlying theory of desire and your insipid presentation of what actually occurs in a romantic relationship, but hey, what's that saying about everyone having their own opinion? Although, I don't think it's true that we're really all entitled to one, even if everybody's got one. Anyway, it was a good issue. It looks like there's some new regulars involved. What do you think about this Simon Frazer and this Edna Hellenson?"
"Simon's work is good. He's great with imagery, you know? Fuck, that passage with the glass on the countertop! Man. Unbelievable, how that one image just perfectly explained the entire conflict between the two guys at the bar. Man, I wish I could write that, you know? Uh, Edna? Eh. She has promise, but she's not that engrossing. She's too... I don't know. There's no plot, it's all whining and directionless dialogue. And when there is a plot it's something that Steve Midland would have written in a zine back in high school. What was that one chick who used to write all the time? I heard she dropped out. She was a lot better, I think.... You should submit some stuff, Erica. I assume you write? I mean, of course you do, it's obvious by the way you talk--"
"Steve Midland? Is he lanky, with long hair?" She chuckled. "Who isn't lanky with long hair?"
"Uh, yeah, do you know him? I wouldn't think... I mean, Steve doesn't talk to many girls. So, when he does, I usually know her."
"But you do know me."
"I mean, I know that she talks to him."
"Is he coming to the lecture?"
"Uh, I don't know. Why are you so interested in Steve Midland all of a sudden? Haven't you heard of him before?"
"Should I have?"
"Well, it was a big deal a while back. He formally resigned from the staff of Mots. He's kind of controversial."
"Who isn't controversial? And lanky? With long hair?"
"Uh, right. But, I mean, Steve's resignation was a big deal. He was a popular writer. He has his own publication now."
"Fa-a-a-scinating. I'm positive we're speaking of the same person."
"So, how do you know him?"
"He was in my head."
"In classic story-telling fashion, this is to be continued. The lecture is starting."
As soon as the lecture ended, Erica quickly approached a professor to discuss a point he had brought up. Ben waited for a while, but seeing that Erica was on one of her stubborn rampages, gave up and left. Not much later, Erica set up a time to meet with the professor in his office the following week.
Late that evening she found herself once again at the coffeeshop. She was sitting alone, skimming the movie listings and talking herself out of seeing the latest in the trend of teen films.
"Hey. I thought of you today. I was wearing a sleeveless shirt, and I saw myself in the mirror from the side, as I lifted the dumbbell up I looked at my shoulder and thought, 'Erica was right, that is almost edible.'"
She didn't look up while she replied. "Lately, I've been really upset at how everyone takes what I say as truth. No one ever looks behind my words, or even doubts that I'm giving an honest opinion."
"Indeed? Well that isn't to say that I don't have nice shoulders. I do."
She sighed and stared at him with bored exasperation. "And why is it that you are slinking around here again, David?"
"I started missing you, Erica."
"Translation: David's going through withdrawal from his latest chemical addiction. Or is inbetween fucks. And how has the sex life been going, David?"
"Not bad, but not great either. Fucking while on meth is almost as good as having sex with you."
She laughed at him. "Our sex life was the biggest lie of all."
"How so? You faked all your orgasms?"
"Well, what do you think?"
"I would say not all of them. But really, who cares? I was having fun. Insert somewhere close, preferably moist, thrust, repeat. Thanks for being there, though."
"It doesn't take much to amuse you for five minutes. I'm sure you could take a girl who just lies there while you fuck and have fun with her."
"Oh, no not all. There have been a few who complained about rough treatment. If they can't be bent over a bed and fucked from behind, or if they get whiny about having their hair pulled, it's just not fun. Anyway, it's been real, but I'm out of here."
She didn't watch him leave. She thought that was an interesting twist.
Ben, Steve and some young girl had walked in while she was talking to David. A few minutes after David left, Erica felt someone looking at her. It was Steve. She acknowledged him with the raise of her left eyebrow. Ben turned his head to see what Steve was staring at. He looked quizzically at Erica and Steve.
"Uh, hey, Erica." He waved her over.
She pushed herself slowly from her table and walked over. "Hello, Ben. Steve. And..?"
The young petite girl in black smiled earnestly and introduced herself. "Hi! I'm Kate. Nice to meet you, Erica!"
Now Erica looked confused. You could literally hear the exclamation points at the end of Kate's sentences. And she was so fresh looking. Her black looked... pinkish, almost. She was in college, Erica was sure of that. But she couldn't have been more than a second-year student.
Erica turned to Steve, "Did you enjoy the Jarry?"
Before Steve could answer, Kate responded. "Oh, wow! You read Jarry, too? That's so neat. Steve lent me some Jarry. This book Visits of Love. Have you read it? It was so good. Steve has so many cool books." With that she turned and gave Steve a wide smile, as if it was substituting for a bow.
Erica squinted her eyes and leaned in to make sure she wasn't misinterpreting the girl. But no, that was true devoted adoration. "Yes, Kate. He certainly does. Steve's just a cool guy." Her voice was laden with insincerity and sarcasm. Steve remained silent and stared at the table. "Steve. Did you enjoy the Jarry?"
"I had read it before."
"Uh, so when did you lend Steve some Jarry? I didn't know...uh..." Ben looked completely lost.
"I didn't. He took it from me."
"Ste-e-ve. You're so me-e-an. You didn't really, did you?" Kate's eyes were big and incredulous.
"So, uh, is no one going to tell me what's going on... er, what went on?"
"I'm a deserter, not a gossip." His response was directed at Erica.
Erica smiled. She turned and walked towards the door.
"Wait, Erica--" Ben called, "Why are you leaving?"
"I've seen this before. It's a rerun. I'll tell you how it ends: I lose."
She walked outside. She was still smiling. Erica was beginning to enjoy herself.
Distant sounds outside an open window on a cool and windless night... why?
Man is an avalanche.
A human is a clown attending the birthday party of the sun, crouching behind the earth and waiting to say surprise.
He hears nothing and sees only glimmers from his hiding spot. While he waits, the cool of the night numbs him; the dark of the night prompts him to enter infantile fantasy. He concocts intricate fantasies to entertain himself and explain in a narrative fashion how he came to be crouching behind the earth. He longs for sleep, hardly remembering that he is already asleep, in a way. The party has not even begun.
I counted up all the coins that were jingling in my pocket each time I walked across the room and splurged on two bags of crunchy M&Ms. I opened each bag and mechanically ate them while I pondered a program. By the time I was finished, I felt sick. Why? Why the ending, why the resolution, why the conflict? And why was I carrying a buck forty in change?
Increasing your intuition and personal freedom in three easy steps: one, two, bang!
A friend of mine has revealed to me and others that the problem of interpersonal communication is a major hurdle for him. In short, he doesn't believe it exists. I went through a short period of increasing loneliness and terror when I imagined he was right. A casual reader revealed that I write as if the audience doesn't exist. This may be a justified complaint, but not my methodology. I have recently tended toward my friend's belief, especially since discovering the depth of experience that cannot be communicated. The time has passed when I believed that truth could be communicated by stating it; and further still is the time since believing truth consisted of objective facts. Gone are the days of screaming and yelling about ugly parts of the truth, hoping to drown them out through sheer force of attention. And I can no longer describe my high moments, because they are too far away, and last as long as the effort taken to achieve them. What is left? What do I write about? I have exhausted all the audiences I cared to talk to. I am reluctant to attempt the role of teacher or guide, since I am really just a lazy student. I dislike the mode of pure entertainment, since I don't want to offer empty gifts.
All in all, when I look back at the things I think I know and that I think I want to say, I realize I am really just talking to myself. I am really just talking to myself, I think I know, I think I want to say. I realize, I realize, I am talking to myself. I think I know, I want to say, at the things I look back. All in all, as it goes, as it were, because. In short, after all, you realize, you see. You realize, you see. You realize, you miss the point and wait a second, what party, anyway? What am I doing here? I'm horny. Yeah, that hole looks promising. Hope the person around it don't mind too much. Oh yeah? What? Come back here, goddammit, I'm not going to hurt you. Yes I am! More shit about the fucking clown suit, huh? You'll pay for that, fucker. I am so sick of hearing that. I can't help having a clown suit / I wear it as a statement / You're so intolerant of me / Hey man, can't we all get along and see past the polyester and polka dots? Tell me to stop if you don't like it. Honestly, I'm a good guy. I can't hear you / I can't understand your language / You're not saying it the way I want to hear it / Say it again / I lied. Just shut up and let me finish and you can be on your way. Boy, you're ugly. You are so weak. You let me do this. And now it's over. Don't you ever speak to me again, unless we happen to meet again under similar circumstances. A pleasure to meet you. Until next time. Charmed, surely. Give my best to the family. Hey, where are you going? Come back! I miss you / You left something here / You owe me more time / I apologize / You're ugly, weak, and easy. Oh well, bye, I guess. Bitch / Bastard. Old hag / Dumb little kid. A moment like that only comes once every... what time is it? Man, is it dark. Oh no, the sun is going to come up. I can't believe I wasted the whole night. Look at me here! What am I doing with my life? Why am I up at this hour? I'm such a loser / I'm so impractical / I always end up doing the same stupid shit / I just stink of beer / I'll surely be arrested this time / Mother will disown me / God hates fags. I guess if I'm too lame to kill myself, I'll just lie down here in the dirt and hope I wake up with a bad memory. Yes, bow down and kiss the dirt, you scum, it's your eternal womb. Death would only be a reason to giggle where you're going. Maybe someday I'll...
He misses the party! And then it's a new day.
A girl is standing in the kitchen, leaning back against the dishwasher while eating a candy bar. The house is quiet, with each of the family members keeping to himself. Instead of watching TV, for instance, her father is balancing his checkbook. Emily is concentrating on the silence and enjoying the chocolate in her mouth. The cool and windless night outside the window reveals dense cloud cover, meaning the night is luminous, but not enough. It is unnervingly yellow. While she thinks about this, her father stands up and announces, "Well, that's done, now!" He probably knows Emily is there, which accounts for his boisterous outburst. While clearing the table of receipts and statements, indeed, he seems to become progressively more animated. After dropping a wad of papers in the wastebasket, he tools over to the bookshelf and aligns the rows. Then he picks up the cushions from the couch and fluffs them roughly and tosses them back a little carelessly. Emily considers the chocolate bar. A quarter remains. She glances at her father, turns around, drops the candy in the trash, and walks hurriedly to her room. She realizes he could have seen her ungraceful exit -- head cocked, hands grasping a sofa cushion -- and she flubs it even further by closing the door a little too loudly. As she heads toward the bed, she abruptly turns and dives into her closet, hiding behind a tower of boxes, and sobs. I can't believe you did that! she scolds herself. Daddy is always so hurt when you're like that. Just look at the pain in his eyes! Another voice speaks to her. Who hangs around when an avalanche is coming?
I practice frowning in front of a mirror every night, particularly focusing on the rigidity of my furrowed brow. I hope to use it to dent cars.
"How can I take this seriously?" means, "How can I deal with its refusal to settle into a monotone, where I can measure its pitch and mark it on my chart?"
"What is this gibberish? Why doesn't he talk to the reader?" means, "Why can't I deal with the challenges to my expectations? Why can't I just be entertained so I can forget?"
Although I've seen it said that one should forget his past to better see the present, I also believe one should learn from what he forgets... or else history repeats itself.
History is an avalanche.
Time kills, too.
I can almost smell the quiet in the gridlock of the city. Even when the city veers toward a halt, it still moves, still makes noise. The city is perpetually in motion, and trying to slow it down only leads to more frenzied action. The quiet lurks in there, somewhere, hidden away, illiciting challenges to be found. It masquerades as sleep, a sidestreet on a misty 4am morning, or a shady oak tree in the park. Things still move, the air is disturbed, and the aural assault violates my space and dissipates the illusion. I become accustomed to the absence of absence and turn into a junkie for interaction.
The quiet wants to be discovered and felt, cherished like a newborn infant's first sleep. It strives for attention, relegated to dark corners and holes in plaster walls, and the noise continues to invade and diminish. Glimpses appear in the cracks in the sidewalk, on the rotting boards of shut down storefronts, almost tangible, almost within reach. The quiet needs me to survive.
The alarm clock slices through the room, covering up the almost inaudible Lou Rawls playing on the radio. She is already awake, staring at the ceiling and twirling a long strand of blonde hair around her finger. After about ten seconds, she reaches over and slams the snooze button with the edge of her hand and listens to the rest of "Dead End Street."
Her flowing strawberry-colored dress is offset by the army issue backpack she wears. After locking the door to her apartment, she hurries down the stairs in her sandals, each toenail painted to match the dress. The early morning clouds shift steadily across the sky in their pink-orange hue as she makes her way down the block. Her buzzed, blonde hair does not move.
She sips strawberry tea at a table outside of the cafe, her blonde hair blowing in the wind. The face she watches passerbys with is hard, full of restrained femininity, and the hot tea burns the tip of her tongue. A cricket lands next to her idle foot, which she steps on because she can. The tea is half gone by then.
A quick twenty bucks from the ATM and she's off, running towards the cafe, hoping she's not too late for her appointment. The dress tries to wrap itself around her legs, entangling red cloth weaved by fate. Her steps are uneven, and she has to slow down to a fast walk. The concrete is broken with abuse, and she steps on all the cracks.
I want to live in photographs because there everything is static. Motion halts, and people stop in midsentence, their mouths open. The moment is all there is, visualized in freeze frame, and nothing can change. Even the blurs of movement still themselves, defying the natural laws of the universe. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I say it is worth the absence of words.
Hundreds of polaroids line the walls of my apartment. I'm trying to capture the quiet, weed it out of its nesting place, and experience it firsthand. I have pictures of planes, people, cars, dumpsters, potted plants in tenth story apartment building windows, double yellow lines in the road, stereo speakers, the backs of crowds, orators, guns, dog muzzles, seashells, Geiger counters, tin roofs, the moon, a puddle in 51st street from August 1989, balcony railings, chemotherapy patients, horse races, contrails, small albino children, a cow skull, communist leaflets, cameras, neon exit signs, beer cans, empty prescription medication containers, piles of leaves in my stepfather's yard, combs, nonfiction books, Thai menus, nude department store mannequins, laptop computers, shovels, lawn clippings, one-way mirrors, fire trucks, and scissors.
The quiet isn't there, though. The pictures are intangible desires on film, untouchable and unrealized. They surround me when I sleep, teasing me with their stillness, and in my dreams they move.
She glances furtively at her watch, examining the second hand meticulously measuring time. Today's paper rests under her chair, already read and worthless. The cup next to her elbow is nearly empty, and an ant is struggling in the sugar sludge at the bottom to free itself. After running a hand through her short, blonde hair, she takes a straw, crushes the ant, and then stands up to get another drink.
The crosswalk light begins to flash red, and she stops and leans against a streetlight to catch her breath. Wet, sweaty bangs hang in her eyes as she unshoulders her army backpack and checks one last time to make sure her portfolio is still in there. A small sparrow makes a sharp turn in midair, narrowly avoiding a speeding Nissan truck which goes through the intersection as the light turns yellow.
A fold of her dress gets caught between her legs as she crosses them, so she tugs at it until it comes loose. Her appointment book is open on the table, and the 10:30am entry is crossed. She drinks some more tea while going over the rest of the day in her planner, scribbling notes beside a few of the times. She looks up almost instinctively as the loud squeal of skidding tires fills the air.
She sees the cafe across the street down the block as she puts her hair into a ponytail, still walking. She keeps going down the sidewalk towards the cafe, head darting back and forth rapidly, waiting for an opening in the traffic. Sensing a short break in the flow of cars, she steps into the road. She turns her head left and sees a car skidding towards her.
When I was younger, I used to grow out my hair just so I could cut it all off. My mother thought I was crazy since I had naturally curly hair which all of the women in the salon vocally envied. I always made sure to keep the clippings and put them in a large glass jar. It was part of me, in there, and I knew where it was from and could control it.
It's not that simple anymore. The world outside is as dead as the molding hair in that glass jar, but it has perpetual motion. I can't lock it up, can't keep it trapped, even though I might be the only person who knows that the quiet is actually out there, somewhere. I want to feel it, to touch it, to let it hold me in its wispy, silent arms, crushing me to keep me immobile. If I can't stop the world, maybe the quiet can stop me.
She stands and screams as the car hits the girl and throws her backwards onto the pavement. A few people move over to the girl while the driver gets out of his car, a hand clasped over his mouth. Her body is awkwardly arched upwards because of the backpack underneath her, and someone yells for somebody to call an ambulance. She runs over to the girl, strawberry dress whipping at her legs.
She stands and screams as the car hits the girl and throws her backwards onto the pavement. A few people move over to the girl while the driver gets out of his car, a hand clasped over his mouth. Her body is awkwardly arched upwards because of the backpack underneath her, and someone yells for somebody to call an ambulance. She runs over to the girl, strawberry dress whipping at her legs.
Looking down at the girl, blonde hair matted with blood, she realizes that the girl is the one she was waiting for. She gets pushed back as people try to give the girl some space, and a man next to her is on his cell phone with emergency services. All she can do is stare at that face with its wide open eyes and wonder why she never realized that the girl looks so much like her.
My mother threw away that glass jar full of hair when I was at a summer camp in '82. When I got back and found out, I threw a fit and called her all sorts of names, which got me grounded for two weeks. I never collected hair again. That's when I started taking pictures.
I'm not sure if I can ever capture the quiet, but I have to try. The photographs aren't going to work, but even if it's empty progress, it's still progress. The quiet needs me, and I need the quiet. People just keep letting it slip away, and once it's gone, I think it will be too difficult to find again, and then what will we have left? When will we have rest? Will we just be driven along by random events and impotent obligations until we get tired and die?
I shaved off all of my blonde hair last night before I went to bed. I needed a change, and I thought it might impress some of the people who I have to meet and deal with. Besides, I always thought a chick with a bald head would look amazing in a strawberry dress. If my current appointment doesn't show up soon, I'll finish off that last bit of tea and move on. Maybe sometime I'll catch a glimpse of the quiet.
--SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-- State of unBeing is copyrighted (c) 1999 by Kilgore Trout and Apocalypse Culture Publications. All rights are reserved to cover, format, editorials, and all incidental material. All individual items are copyrighted (c) 1999 by the individual author, unless otherwise stated. This file may be disseminated without restriction for nonprofit purposes so long as it is preserved complete and unmodified. Quotes and ideas not already in the public domain may be freely used so long as due recognition is provided. State of unBeing is available at the following places: World Wide Web http://www.apoculpro.org irc the #unbeing channel on UnderNet Submissions may also be sent to Kilgore Trout at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. The SoB distribution list may also be joined by sending email to Kilgore Trout. --SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB--