“To stand like a naked Statue of Liberty in the face of it all, courageous and without fetters in the face of the truth.”
Floating upon the clouds of cigarette smoke,
I wait for the birds to carry me away.
I waited in the mall with a couple of ladies
perusing the samplings of adornment and dressed in animal print
to forget the human body is an adornment in the wealth of an ancient divinity…and I was ready then to join them in their battle against LA’s atmosphere
but they were only being friendly.
I guarded so many secrets,
Nobody knows that I ain’t drinking
and nobody cares.
In the veil of mercury clouds
we travel through rivers flooding over the asphalt’s surface
lain across the city like nerves. I ask you cute questions
about where we can buy a feather during the hour of nesting
and you answer in little chirps, like when I squeezed you around
those gorgeous hips and devoted an unseen sonnet to those curves
we flowed and flooded around. I got ready quickly in a crimson jacket,
waiting always for you to come pick me up.
So, many Americans strike me still as the world’s prototypical idiot savants that have mastered the art of the social glad-hand paired with true yes-man form. It is impossible in the sphere of interacting with Americans to disagree with basically anything one says, whether it constitutes an asinine religious belief or an ad hominem intellectual opinion. You can hardly profess differing musical or film tastes without being cast out of conversations as a anti-social pariah, nor can you mention political views without implying that the flat-earth left-wing/right-wing classification defines the humanity of your viewpoint. There is no room to manuever hypothetically nor humerously anymore, which is a tragic thing for people who may have failed in ideologically codified specializations known as career paths or for people who have born the brunt of unbearable suffering in their lives. The people who have succeeded in becoming unconscious about environments of reality are the people who succeed in herding together in unabashed agreement, whether about demonstrably proven falsehoods concerning the human behavior known as the economy, or in support of the harmful policies based in minority profit known as corporate activity. People in a group, no matter how disorganized, will always appear stronger than an isolated majority while claiming that the appearance of strength constitutes that group’s moral, intellectual, and ontological justifications of correctness. The true irony is that these groupings of hyper-social savants never seem to recognize that the false powers they themselves succumb to in their everyday lives is even weaker than social power, the power of symbolic ownership monopolized by an enclave of a select few. Yet, it is the weak power gone uncontested that trumps the strong and acknowledged power, as we see the social atmospheres base themselves on exceedingly more irrelevant and irreal stupidities, such as internet groups or fad diets, a new pattern of silk-screened t-shirt or a new gadget that does the same thing as the old ones more rapidly and expensively.
The positive benefits of the herd-mentality involve a feeling of safety and belonging, however these feelings are relatively offset by their false and illusiory nature, being that in consumerist society it would seem as though the very things that profess safety would destroy us and that the artifacts of belonging known as consumer goods contribute to the very depths of our alienation. It is a strange world that gestures towards believed virtues with one hand while the other hand is busily yanking away the materials necessary to achieve such virtues.
Far be it for me to point out the hypocrisies of the disenfranchised and disempowered, but this particular instance merits the attention of whoever is still thirstily awaiting mediocre updates concerning my hungover observations and derailed-jazz take on a meticulously asinine world. The problem in question concerns a group of Portland picketers ebulliently protesting the operation of a certain brick and mortar fur-garment company office in the SW, seemingly only on the weekends, with graphic signs of tortured animal corpses and the per-usual genius backtracking through cause and effect relations such as fur equals killed animals. In their own words, “Stop the lies, stop the murder,” though I have to admit I am not really sure that the fur industry, much less the microcosmic symbol comprised for them by the unassuming building, is necessarily lying to anybody, since the last time I checked, customers interacting with “Big Fur” generally understand that they are buying the products of dead animals. Regardless, this fact and others appeared to escape the five-strong riot of political self-righteousness, especially since one female protester outfitted in tight and sexy black was wearing knee-high beige leather boots. FUCK that. She might as well have shoved her feet into the gaping maws of two recently murdered puppies before showing up, or just, ugh, the whole spectacle and experience hurt me so bad through embarrased empathy concerning the stupidity of what was happening that I can’t even write anymore.
Someone once journeyed from barrier to barrier
on tallowed cartography swathed with ink and amber aged
to ask an emperor three questions and to answer gold’s
blood-value with the crescent of revolution’s edge.
Someone once banded with someones, whispered dark plans
in musty holds, then kicked the captain off his bridge.
Now we walk between old walls in this rain-bled brick
that cements us in, old empires slink in the sound of tin-canned shadows
and boil in the vision of outcast lucid men, with vibrant dress upon our
paupers with funeral suits reserved for our richest men. Now we speak
in pine-scent storage where our credenzas house what we know of our kin.
Now we distill the amber age of nostalgia into the whiskey where we often
I am a man who is in the process of being entertained to death. I never really shook the habit of believing time as something to be passed by rather than savoured, so the hours speed by, marked by the duration of indie and jazz albums instead of by the labour-implicit clock. Movies bleed into other movies as I am directed by conventional notions of entertainment cliches, video games addle my desire with the spirit of addiction lacking any intimacy with self-destruction, and banal amusements swelter in the aural landscapes of places where you pay to look cool while doing nothing, aka bars or cafes. It is a strange life permeated by the creations of others, a life where value is found within an inane buzzing kind of sensation known as dull and contained excitement.
Thank god for books, otherwise I fear that we would no longer be exposed to the idiosyncracies of others except for the conventions of drunkeness and marriage. It is impossible for me to sympathize with a television show, to feel compassion for flickering sitcom characters, to even approach self-defined noble sentiments held as transcendant by humorously serious jackasses such as myself. Love, hatred, angst, fear, to name a few emotions, have been regulated to the annals of literary stuffiness and are becoming bereft within the self-worshiping cathedrals of our everyday lives. Who dares express love, hate, much less anything, in the workplace? The appropriate channels for such things constitute dead skins of convention and find new technological irrelevancy in such venues as internet poetry groups. Do we, as a culture, follow economic logic with our intellects and declare an end to the era of emotion as eras of artistic expression have ended, with footnotes in history books and reading lists in graduate programs? Almost. We already cauterize historical eras of spontenaety with the cliches of style, relegating human emotion to the inadaquate expressions of fabric arrangements found on flappers in the 1920’s, hippies in the 1960’s, or coked-out losers in the 1980’s. If there is not an outfit to accompany an emotion made stale by an entire decade, then there is no literature for the library or paintings for the museums, only this self-eating snake of entertainment paired with consumption and endowed with source amnesia, the mindless hunger of junky prostitutes whoring other prostitutes, and the historically spatial problem invoked when mirrors of mirrors are used to create reality instead of expressing it.
Here, I naively approach two huge subjects that in certain circles maintain so much nuance that careers are spent giving order and meaning to them. The first is life, and in case you don’t believe me, you cannot pick a more gigantic subject that lends to floundering in the abstract than the subject of life. Poet’s specify it in the observations of moonlight phantoms stoked among the darkened heather, the rare yet fecund scrawl of the vine and the cryptic observations of the modern man, who preferring starvation and mortification to the eases of modernity, charges himself with the task of a largely unappreciated art. Philosophers calculate complex whorls of metaphysical schemes that eddy into whirlpool arguments that get nowhere, painters portray immediate use of color meshed with considerations of composition, and gruff whiskey drinking curmudgeons lay down the wisdom of their lives to their grand-kin in the forests of Montana beside the company of the campfire and an unloaded 30.06. It is the vague meaningless meaning everybody maintains an opinion about deep down inside or superficially, the subject of every creative endeavor and the spark of every consciousness. So, to pair the subject of life with a man who’s own work and living circumstances were so vast and far reaching in terms of developing modern conceptions of subjects as varied as inter-personal psychology and application of literary technique, is really setting myself up for failure. Dostoyevsky, after all, has been criticized, essayed, novelized, and just about exhumed from his St. Petersburg grave for the sake of a posthumous interview. From his novels’ influence on just about everybody who had eyes in the twentieth century, he has been lauded for inadvertently contributing to the development of modern psychology through his realistic portrayal of marginalized and transgressional characters, which would have been more than enough for any regular author without the added bonus of getting declared a super-saint by Christians and the only articulate man of God worth reading by atheists who couldn’t understand his peculiar blend of moral spirituality. Of course, he has also been somewhat less congratulated for beating the piss out of his child-wife and maintaining a constant state of terrible banking debts, but to drunken literati on the outs with a euphemism-infatuated academia, he is a complete bad-ass. Not only did he try to bring socialist revolution to Russia thirty years before the publication of the Communist Manifesto, but he also got tied up in front of a firing squad for his political beliefs that would have deprived the world of Raskolnikov had it not been for a rider arriving by way of sprinting horse to wave the pardons of the Czar in the face of Dostoyevksy’s would-be executioners. Instead of having a heart attack of joy on site like one accused prisoner did, Dostoyevsky simply developed epilepsy so that he could have a souvenier to remember surviving such a terrible ordeal, along with a penchant for referring to his disorder as “the gentleman’s disease.” If you don’t understand the intensity of his awesomeness already, then you probably have read three books too many by Stephanie Meyer. To get in a Dostoyevsky mood, I suggest you spend a summer with Solyzheinetsyn narratives telling you how to survive five years of cancer after spending twelve years in a destructive labor camp and grow a beard that will get you banned from your group of cool idiot friends who suffer existential breakdowns every time they get a flat tire. Then, amid the torn wallpaper of your filthy and soon-to-be condemned apartment, bring a two dollar used copy of Crime and Punishment to compliment your cheap vodka before telling me that you don’t identify with every drunken bum and upwardly-mobile murderer committed to English translation in that horribly nerve-wracking book. You too will believe that Luzhin is a son of a bitch.
Already, I have been condemned to ambling through this topic since it is so huge. What I want to touch upon was the unique and probably completely bughouse effect that Dostoyevsky had on me. The peak of my love affair with his writing crested around the end of my college career, where I was just beginning to unwittingly be involved in a number of alcohol-fueled fights peppered by the idiosyncracies of substance-mad dialect. Most people would have shrinked away, but I spectated and even curated such events as a twenty one year old girl screaming “Don’t you ever touch her” to a potential spousal abuser before absconding to a fancy hotel to party with a middle age town drunk. Something about the seedy terror invoked by these events suggested something all-too-familiar, until I obtained the gleeful ephiphany of “Dostoyevsky, of course!” At first, I became fascinated by how his novels and dramatic fights were so reminiscent of the scenes of debauchery from my very life until I realized that he had touched on a deep verve underlying the problems of humanity. Not only were his depictions of arguments and fights and calamaties realistic, but they came hand-in-hand with his innate cynicism of utopian ideals and urges. Bush-era America, as removed from 19th century still-feudal Russia as it may seem, is actually the logical accumulation of Dostoyevksy’s ideals, the very promulgated philosophies of idiocy serving wish-fulfillment prophecies of progress without considering the commonly horrid aspects of human nature that make it impossible for five people to get along for the sake of a funeral or birthday, that show societal fads as the potential impetuses for the next prolonged disaster, and above all, that say in plain language, no matter what the successful utopian elements in the lives of a person or a nation, that “man’s life consists in proving to himself every minute that he’s a man and not a piano key.”
Originally, I planned on writing about the qualities of disaster within the lives of creative people, an examination of the creative mess and how it functions as either a side effect or a cause of the artist’s longing to bring order and sense to the chaotically empty space of the blank medium. But I sat on the idea too long, and as it were, circumstance intervened and dictated a change of topics, though it seems that what has been facilitated by the change is not all together that different.
After viewing Slumdog Millionaire, a film wrought with the position that love lies inevitably interwoven with destiny, I underwent a kind of silent emotional eruption that is difficult to describe without being misunderstood. Let me just say that I spent some time delving into the nostalgic soundtracks of my pre-cynicism days where I remained blithely ignorant about the self-destructive powers resting within my body, mind, and behavior. Listening to the Shins took me back to a Halloween free show they played in Portland’s Music Millenium, where they wore surgeon’s scrubs and teddy bear masks, around the time that their second album had been released. The memories of driving in a car with friends up the west end of Burnside through dribbling rain caught in street-light arabesques in order to stand amid darkened and cramped CD aisles seems so fundamentally vivid, not just in the imagery of the memories, but in their underlying meanings paired with the values I held at that particular point in my life, which now seem similar to those professed in the film, albeit without the contrast of Indian poverty. Love was a mystical message, ordained from the spheres of fate and destiny, youth had just crested upon me and I fervently demanded new experiences. The halls of my soul were open for the musics of a simple mysticism, even one updated to the factors involved in the free-range life of a young Los Angelean transplanted into the Northwest’s damp allure involving a liberal arts education on scholarship and grilled carne asada thanks to Oregon food stamps. I maintained a simple devotion to the easy optimism involved when one is just beginning to accept poetic values without analysis: love is always the best thing to happen to anyone at any given moment, destiny conspires on the part of the willful individual, and culture breeds pleasure. It is a time i think about revisiting even with the full knowledge of the slew of illnesses soon to follow, a hopeful time where the only shadows that existed were shadows that actually existed out there in the world.
And the theme of love, thankfully still persists. But I seem to have changed, mainly because I no longer view it as an idea or state to be pursued, nor as something to be mythologized. I try to think of a love so powerful, so breathtaking, so epic, that all I can imagine is a story that never gets told, not because it doesn’t exist, but because people don’t have the right words or expressions for these sort of things. I tried to elaborate on the theme awhile ago when I began writing a story steeped in the supernatural, the premise being that once a man fell in love with the spirit of a woman who took different females as her form. He would catch glimmers of her in these other characters, and spent what was supposed to be his life chasing after these fragments, scraps of dialogue, shards of essence, until he realizes that it is not one woman he loves but all women. It is certainly a different sentiment from the destined-to-be-together school of thought, where the very heavens ache at the thought of a couple separating and the seas split open so that two lovers may meet in the middle of the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, holding out to each other a bouquet of kelp and anenomes and various heart-shaped fish. Ultimately, I think what I was trying to convey in the story was how a love for the small mannerisms and characteristics of another set within a framework of character can expand to not only encompass others, but also to become a different love. And of course, I should mention, that the story broke delineated boundaries of bad taste.
What I am trying to say is just a simple stupid adage that love is what we make it. I had plans to tie this in to my original topic, to say in effect, that the reason that we can have so much hate for people is because often we have not bothered to set aside a space in which to create love out of fragments of our former passions, a person or number of persons in whom to place the cadences of our affections with and admire their resonation. Well, I guess I am saying it now, despite lack of planning. And despite all this, I know it is difficult, perhaps one of the hardest things, to recognize that our joys and sensitivities have led to worse than disappointment in the past, that who we are is often not just a matter of handy-work at the tool bench of our qualities, both of which constitute the terrible, common, and yet unspoken lessons in the lecture of love. Auden summed up the stakes of the situation, “We must love each other or die.” No destiny, no fate, no romantic philosophizing invoked, just the terse and undeniable imperative stated with true need, in short, necessity invoked over art. We must get past all the terrors of our hatred in order to create the meanings of love, we cannot count on the flowered artifice of our old conceptions of fate and destiny to fulfill our lives for us.
In the quick decree of the American culture vacuum, we notice a thinly veiled disgust for difference of style by way of the art that is not there. The casual American audience, I fear, is one obsessed with movement of plot no matter what the elements to the disfavor of character, illumination, soul, and exploration of the frontiers of meaning.
Truely, one forgets. If by some stroke of mystical mutation, a group of select persons were allowed to remember everything forgotton, we could truely begin to represent all the depths and nuances of human experience. Unfortunately, such people or gnostics or freaks would probably go insane. It is with marked acceptance that I abandon such an idea’s value, for forgetting serves us as well as hinders us. Imagine the value and worthlessness of people who never forget things that others have! All the missed beauty and unobserved bliss coupled with humanity’s worst and undocumented horrors, mediated by a range of undulating boredoms and exasperations. And of course, no method in which to verify the truth outside of the changed.
Still, forgetting is an interesting idea. It appears more as a necessary biological function of the mind than an outright hindrence, like a casual process that lets us continue on with our lives without disservicing or even losing the present. As we breathe, so we forget.
I once had the somewhat obtuse idea for a story involving a dying father who for the percieved sake of continuing an after-death relationship/understanding with his young daughter, sets about making a memory machine of experiences he sees as valuable in his life so that she will always have them. The machine, and I use the term loosely, functioned more like a loose-association collage prefaced by Jungian psychology involving the existance of indelible archetypes, that for the purposes of the story, could be triggered by certain external stimuli. So for instance, the girl presumably reads the simple directions for the machine and places a mask like aparatus over her face which fills her nostrils with the smell of carnations, mildewy water, fresh dew, and a bouquet of sweet fragrance, which her young mind subconsciously interprets as either “garden” or more specifically, “the florist’s.” The futher consideration and fiction of the story involved the idea that such sensations could be structured in patterns so as to either trigger these somewhat dubiously archetypal memories, or to transfer strange memories into the water pitcher like receptacle of the girl’s mind.
Of course, all of this seems remarkably archaic and doubtful in these days of modern technological storage devices such as the digital camera and multimeida-processing computer, until one realizes that the memory machine was designed to induce memories and sensations that had not been sufficiently recorded and documented within the sterility of photo albums and computer videos. The memory machine is supposed to use another person’s memories as information to pass onto the other as realistic first-hand experience that still is transfered by artifice so that the reciever does not mistake the sensation/archetype/memory as a completely original and personal experience. Of course, its success or failure depends on the person entering the sensations and patterns to be distributed, which in the case of the story was a dying man, who because of the urgency of his condition, is infused with a substantially different viewpoint and evaluation of meaning in experience than your average record-keeping nostalgic.
I bring this up, because recently a newish drug named propanolol has been discovered that has the effect of erasing memories, which sounds similar to the effects of a fifth of tequilia until one discovers that he drug can erase all memories. Not just bedding down for the night in a bed made out of shredded newspapers with a middle-aged transvestite, but also your first memory as a child, your first birthday, and presumably all of the personal information that can be found on your driver’s license and bank statements. Now, maybe you are thinking like I am, “I sure hope they develop a memory-inducing drug as a counter,” and the answer to such a sentiment is that one kind of already exists. Modafinil, a drug proscribed to narcoleptics, supposedly increases short-term memory recall, along with pattern recognition and focus. But really, it is still a long way off from becoming the counter to proponalol’s potential mind wipe. I guess I am just waiting for a poetic technology that will help humanity as art does, a beautiful mechanism that can endow modernity with new meanings while fortifying the benevolent aspects of the human race, something akin to little that has been invented.
Sometimes we believe that progress is the universal solvent. We assume that people are happier when economies, technologies, governments, and business exhibit signs indicating a nebulous kind of forward motion that lends itself to categorization as success and well-being. The assumption figures that people are fundamentally enriched by rising stock market figures, justice in government, and generally any sort of mass movement towards the fulfillment of a more or less accepted ideal. As long as the machineries of societal symbol manufacturing churn out positive and optimistic futures, our nationally and privately employed prophets and intelligentsia divine good tidings, using the knuckle bones of quarterly profit figures, consulting the yarrow sticks of consumer spending histograms. The future of progress and advancement is contrasted to the future as receding and back-peddling; in the opinions of the common media and economic think tanks, we can only go forwards or backwards.
But the ideal of progress cannot be viewed as a linear, or even a two dimensional, development. Sometimes the symptoms of devolution persist amid the symbols of advancement, and sometimes the hallmarks of progress exist in marked times of turmoil. The lauded markers of success, such as the stock market, advance in spite of loss of jobs and intensified class disparity. People recognize economic failure when the stock market fails, which suggests a synthesis of abstract and representational thought with reality based on the confused notion that symbols and measurements should concretely impact people’s lives. That people should lose their livelihoods over figures representing other figures is terribly removed from the substantial reality of subsistence farming, where the sun, soil, and rain produce crops irrelevant of statistics and opinion.
Also, it is rather remarkable that progress appears to have the face of only business, industry, capital, and currency. At some point or another, we have been pressured to believe that material production, consumption, and accumulation constitute a kind of societal success story, when the process is ruining both societies and the planet. As Henry Miller said, “America has destroyed more in a hundred years of progress than Europe has in a thousand years of war.” Only Miller separated war and progress, when the two are terribly and fatally linked. When we are winning wars, the economy booms, and when we are losing wars, we are somehow slipping into recessions. Often, the only way to lubricate markets is through the creation of opposing alliances who frenzy their industries into smashing the hapless workers of other nations into an honorable blood pudding. Uniform manufacturers sell the costumes of slaughter to both sides, the corporate arms syndicate develops instruments that end development, and even the information industry lends a hand to perpetuating the wholesale destruction of people who by a spin of fate’s wheel were born into a murderous country as a hated, scapegoat of a minority. And afterwards, those of us who win by living in callow smugness behind the walls of a nuclear fortress congratulate ourselves on how good we are and how much we deserve our suburban home, cheap oil, and rerunning crime dramas.
I fear that we will never cure ourselves of the manic-depressive economy until we re-evaluate our notions of progress, that there is almost no such thing outside of the abstract word itself and the various symbols used to define it through archaic mercantile and imperialist conceptions of accumulation and domination. We are a nation awash in the authority of symbolic meanings that have become so calcified in common consciousness that we forget and forgo our ability to change not only the symbols themselves, but the values and ideals that they stand for. When asked what progress is, the average American has little idea beyond more money in the individual bank account, and lacks the imagination of even the most hackneyed science fiction writer from sixty years ago when asked to describe the future. Even the future is only a symbol, a symbol of progress, time moving forward as the culmination of events, but it is here again that we will get lost in abstraction unless bank accounts, wars, and business fade as prominent accents in our societies, replaced by adjusted notions of the ideals and freedoms we hold in common.