Thursday, November 04, 2004

COMFORT, RESISTANCE, ACTION, AND OTHER DIRTY WORDS!

another damned cybersermon by Rev. Paul Mathers

"There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!" - Mario Savio

You'll excuse me if the message of this sermon resembles the message of the last one. Events of the past week behoove me to attempt a more concise explaination on these themes. Besides, I thought it might help some people who are having a rough week.
There's a film I watch about once or twice a year that always convicts me. It's called My Dinner With Andre (and a lot of you out there just figured out what kind of overly intellectual geek I am.) It used to convict me about not feeling, about becoming robotic in my day to day life to the point where I forget to notice things. I work on that a lot and it isn't the big problem for me that it was when I was younger. Now where the film seems to convict me is on the subject of comfort.
There's a part where Wally mentions his electric blanket and how nice it is on cold New York nights to get underneath the thing. What a peaceful night's sleep it allows one. Andre says there's a danger there of becoming robotic and taking your blanket AND the cold for granted and end up not noticing the presence of either. Andre says that he likes the cold because it means he can cuddle close and pile on the layers and so forth. He insinuates there's life in that and that the electric blanket strips away a lot of that life. Wally comes back and says that he likes his blanket and the world is harsh enough. Why shouldn't we allow ourselves what pleasures we can in such a harsh world? And isn't proliferating comfort and pleasure a form of combatting the harsh world?
I see both of their points. In the past I've tended to be more like Andre. Well, that's a lie actually. I tended to be sanctimonious about putting aside pleasures but I woulnd't allow myself the pleasure of feeling the life of cuddling close and piling on layers and so forth. I'd do the turning aside from creature comfort thing but I wouldn't do the enjoying the raw, primal life part, which is rather the point of what Andre was suggesting. For example, over the summer I was hanging my clothes out to dry to save energy and to keep myself from the ease of a drier. Now it's cold and wet outside and I can't do that anymore. But I have to confess that until I wrote this I hadn't even noticed the difference. I'd moved to the drier without noticing. I don't notice how different the fabric feels on my skin with the different drying method. I hadn't been aware of any of the glorious, rich differences.
I'd missed the point. I held the belief, somewhere in the back of my mind, that the world is so harsh that how can I look at myself in the mirror if I'm having a good time and experiencing pleasure.
There's a term for it. It's called Anhedonia. It's the inability to allow one's self to feel pleasure. In the past decade I've had that in spades.
One of my other favorite writers wrote a novel on it. Spalding Gray was one of my favorite writers. I met him once. He seemed distant. He wrote a novel called Impossible Vacation. It's about a man whose mother kills herself while he's away on vacation and because of that he's never able to take a vacation again. I loved Spalding Gray's works. I enjoyed them. I always looked forward to his next work. But in January of this year he jumped into the Hudson River and killed himself. It was about a month before they found his drowned corpse and then a couple of days before they were sure it was him. He was in a lot of pain when he jumped in the river.
We're in a strange and scary period right at the moment. People are afraid because there are so many question marks that have come up in our country in the past few days. Most of my friends are trying to memorize the lyrics to the Canadian National Anthem this week. I'm not. I'm afraid to visit other countries right now, much like people from the southern middle of America probably don't want to visit San Francisco, New York, Minneapolis or Portland anytime in the near future.
Domestically, we're in a social civil war right now (notice I don't say "bloodless.") America is split right in two. Loving your enemies, neighbors and even yourself seems to be the furthest thing from most folk's mind. I had someone the other day tell me that they had compassion for me but it was said in such a way that what they were saying meant that they didn't care about me, didn't want to have anything to do with me and didn't care if I lived or died. What times we live in where people can really express things like this to one another! Aggression and passive aggression are our only permitted tools. Mark my words, we're mere weeks away from hearing mass stories about people just throwing punches all over the place, in restaurants and grocery stores. The other day my 2 year old niece got in trouble. She wanted a beanie horse that was up on a shelf. My 4 year old niece told her she couldn't have it because it belonged to my 5 year old niece. My 2 year old niece clocked my 4 year old niece in the jaw for saying that. My brother's wife came quickly and told my 2 year old niece "You don't hit people." And then my 2 year old niece was in trouble.
A lot of people seem to be very close to forgetting what even my 2 year old niece now knows after that lesson.

What we need is a true underground in the traditional sense. And I don't mean like how I was a goth when I was younger and I'd go see bands in small clubs from Germany or Switzerland who played music that sounded like a fan belt slipping in your engine. In fact, looking at the youth culture underground movements of the past 50 years it occurs to me that one of the major problems is identifying elements (flowers and beads, all black clothes, safety pins in the nose, berets and turtlenecks, you all know the trappings of the many movements) because the fat cats in music and television (and especially in music television) will co-op your image and sell it in boxes. A true underground should move undetected. They should dress like Wally and Andre.
I'm talking about the ancient undergrounds. There used to be undergrounds all over the place. There still are, but they're pretty obscure and they don't want to be found by the likes of you and I or anyone else. There used to be orders that took secret, esoteric knowledge and made sure it wasn't wiped out of existance by the establishment of the day. We're reaching a point in this culture where simular measures might need to be taken to preserve such concepts as independant thought and independant feeling. Or love and common decency. Or art.
I'm not saying we should hide by any means. I'm also not saying we should abandon all of the great work that's been done to make the world a better place through the systems of government that exist. In fact, I'm not saying that everyone should or shouldn't do anything. I'm just making suggestions. But I will say that when I woke up Wednesday morning I had a clearer sense of what can be done through the proper channels and what can't be done. I realized that the bulk of my work needs to be where my heart is.

Listen, last time I mentioned Temporary Autonous Zones. Andre talks about , well actually he talks about Gustav Bjornstrand talking about "reserves" or places where one can go and bathe in the light of true feeling and true companionship and communication without the tyrrany of words and one can refuel their soul in these places in order to return to the world and function in it. I think the returning to the world and functioning in it is the part that, given the current state of affairs, needs to be focused on as an obstacle to overcome. I'm rather of the opinion that the world is what we make it and if our points of magic and delight grow large enough it can gobble up a good deal of the wicked side of humanity. Or rather transform them. There's a term for that too. It's called Apokatastasis, the transformation of the infernal into the celestial.

There are people out there who will probably look at what I'm saying as either extremism or satire. They'll think I'm going a bit overboard and that acting in such primative, savage, and antisocial ways isn't called for. They might say that if one wants to change anything, one should do it through the estabished ways of civilized conduct. To those people I would point out that civil liberties are being repealed in significant ways (I had a friend arrested, held without food or the ability to sit, in a plexiglass pen filled with 200 other people, for over 48 hours for the crime of walking down the street in New York on the day that the vice president happened to be in town,) the arts are screwed as far as funding goes and works of art are being banned outright, our nation is in two wars, one unprovoked, one dreadfully unfinished, both of which are driving our country into bankruptcy and getting people that have very liitle to do with any of it beheaded on film as well at upwards of a thousand on "our side" and uncounted by "our side" of "their side" killed, and the establishment news media refuses to comment on any of this other than to support it. This is just a sample of the laundry list of savage modern culture. How many more savage, brutish and primative actions need to occur before the reasonable, those who would like to believe there is something worth living and striving for, or if you'll pardon the term "the guardians of splendor" start reacting in appropriate ways?
'Scuse me while I start to blather like a hippie for a few minutes here.
"Start?" I hear you cry.
Watching a movie or reading a book can be a revolutionary act. Making love, cooking a good meal, dancing, taking a nap, doing a hard day's work, making art all of these things can be revolutionary acts. In short, allowing ourselves comfort, allowing ourselves an electric blanket or to cuddle up with someone else and bundling up can be in total defiance of the system of hatred and a tool toward making it topple like Jericho IF said comfort is applied with the right energy in the right direction. It is time to actively show those around us, even those blowhards who have bought into the propaganda of hate, to show them love in its purest and most unselfish form. But it's also time to live our examples and show that things can be a lot better if we walk in joy and hope and grace and help anyone or anything that needs help. It's time for joy and action or joyous action. It's the only way to battle hate and violence with any form of effectiveness. I know. I learned all about it when my nieces were watching the Care Bear movie (hope I didn't ruin the ending for anyone.)
The fact that our last shreds of hope for our system over the next half a decade was dashed to the rocks the other day means, to me, that it's time for me to start playing as often, as hard, and as unashamedly as I can.
Speaking of hippies, moving to Northern California has changed my view of hippies forever in ways I never expected it to. Used to be when I'd think of hippies I'd think of either the Merry Pranksters who are silly and fun and joyful and kind of dangerous or Earth First type of people who are far more earnest than I'll ever be and really caring over the world in a maternal kind of way, putting their lives on the line in hopes of protecting the wild lands. But since I've been in Nor Cal, I've learned that there's a portion of hippies up here who are really unpleasant to be around. They're a smaller group, but a vocal one. They're negative about everything and terribly greedy. They seem to be the ones who look back on when they were a youth movement about three evil, right wing thug presidents ago with the belief that their cause lost. Now they seem to want to take it out on the world in hopeless, self centered, and pathetic death throes. There's a name for those kind of hippies up here. We call them "drainbows."
Drainbows tend to be a little surprised and put off when you show that you really do believe and practice loving one another, giving all you can, sharing, treating others decently, attempting to dissolve all conflicts, and expanding your horizons constantly. The thought of actually putting those thoughts into action are alien to them.
Look out, I'm going to get religious here for a change.
There's another film I watch every few years called Jesus of Montreal (again with the Canada!) It's about a group of method actors who are hired by a church to put on a production of the passion play. In doing so they start to act and react to things according to the actual teachings of the Gospels. Naturally the church that has hired them is scandalized, can't stand for this kind of behavior and... Well, I don't want to ruin the ending for anyone but the result is very much like the story of the passion play. I bring all of this up not only to point out the hypocracy of a system that's propped its self up on the facade of that same religion. I also mention it to site a very real danger to those of us who wish to remain very real.
The Drainbow thing is the big dangerous aspect of being aware of how the world is going to hell in a handbasket. That often leads to being so down on everything, so doom stricken, that nobody can stand to be around you for more than five minutes. Likewise there's a danger to indulging ourselves in our joy and comfort, like Wally. There's the danger of blissing out and not giving a rat's ass about anything else. Becoming a sponge in effect and giving nothing back to nobody and not allowing that comfort to do any greater good. Part of what needs to be preserved, in fact part of what the big problem at large right now is the need to seek balance. Balance and awareness. No, balance, awareness and discernment. And a fanatical devotion to the Pope.

I was just kidding about that last part.

I take it as a good sign, and instructive, that two of my favorite living poets have emailed me very well written, heartbreaking poems about where we are as a nation right now within the last 24 hours. Why don't you go write a poem now? It'd probably beat whatever it was you were doing before you started reading this and, who knows, maybe it'll be the poem that incites the revolution that overthrows all the darkness that surrounds us. It's happened before.

We're all standing by the shore of a strong river of evil and control. Many of us feel as if we've just now noticed it's right in front of us and cresting. It's much stronger than any of us. We imagine we feel a bit like Spalding Gray. But we've got few choices at this point. As for me, I'm working on my backstroke.

May you keep moving in strength. May there be light hidden inside of you and may it light your darkest corners. Keep it safe.
Selah.



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Hunter Thompson interviewed on the state of America. Results as expected: funny and bleak.


http://www.laweekly.com/ink/04/50/books-mikulan.php




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Wednesday, November 03, 2004

I feel I should probably say a few words about what just went on in our country. And I figured I'd do it over here rather than on the LiveJournal because this is my world events outlet.
First of all, let me say that I haven't read any official lefty spin on the election yet, so I might say some "wrong" things. But I'm just talking from my gut and how I'm reacting to it, in hopes of possibly comforting some out there who are having a really hard time today.
Last night, at about 11 when it looked like Kerry was about to pull through and win, I turned to my brother and said, "You know, no matter who wins this election, nobody really wins. The one thing these results are showing me is that we're a harshly divided nation."
Pat, my brother, said "You know, I was thinking today that there is always going to be a two party system in America. You know why? Because it's easy. It's simple. You go and say, `I'm a Democrat' and you vote for whoever is a democrat and that's the extent of what you're called upon to do."
I'm not sure I completely agree with him on that, on the fact that it's always going to be that way, but I thought it was at least worth mentioning because it makes a decent point.
I won't say much here about how evil Bush is, how wronged we are, how much damage we're doing in the eyes of other countries and so on. I'm not going to weep and tear at my hair. I will say that I'm really sad that we're going to have four more years of bloodshed. I'm sad that we're going to have issues with our liberties being limited, our money losing value and going to the wrong people, and I'm especially frightened over what's to become of environmental concerns in our country. I'm afraid of the young adults 20 years from now who are the products of the education system of today. I'm going to miss my public radio and public television and the arts in general. I'm sorry for all of my homosexual friends and how this election, specifically many smaller elections throughout the states, basically was a platform for a nasty group to say "I hate you." A lot of people (me included) have made the fleeing to Canada joke today, but in reality I'd be scared to travel in even our friendliest allied countries right now.
In California there's a small movement in the idiot community to get the law changed so that Arnold Schwarzenegger can run for president next election. I think somebody out there should get a petition going to pass a law to keep Ralph Nader from being able to run for president next election. I won't do it, but I think it's a funny idea. Right now we need all the funny ideas we can get.
I'm not going to live in sorrow or fear because of this election though. Kerry was never my hope and the fact that he let me down doesn't change my feelings at all. Rather I suppose the American people let me down, but I don't feel let down because I didn't trust them to make a good decision to begin with.
Look, in 1974 Nixon resigned from the office of president, tarnishing the face of the republican party and, indeed, the office of the president for nearly a decade to come. That gives me hope. But what really gives me hope above anything, and I hope he doesn't mind me mentioning it on my blog, is that our onling friend Sedge had his first child, a daughter come into the world yesterday. Her name is Summer. News like this, events like this in life, are where I draw my hope from. And all the politicians in the world can go to hell.
Be strong.
I think it's a good indication of just how much we can do within the idiom of politics and how much we can't. As for me, I recommend that the people, all of us broken people out there, begin to proliferate our temporary autonomous zones. It's time to make our alternative realities physical. The message, as I see it, is that it's time to change the world in the ways we can.
Be strong.
Be strong.



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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Monday, November 01, 2004

Here's a short story by Susanna Clarke. I've been enjoying her novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell very much. It's good to see such quality in the "pure entertainment and about as mainstream as you can get" publication world. Still, I wonder if success will spoil Susanna Clarke. Let's hope not.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/31/opinion/31clarke.html?ex=1256965200&en=4bfe7ebcd890d575&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland



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