Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Whipping Good Memories and Dead Horses

Despair, when it is, is bottomless, omnivorous,
swallowing whatever you throw at it. As your goals
vanish into its maw, you try to kill despair,
hurling at it your best memories, your triumphs,
your deepest truths, and these too are instantly
coated with sticky black drool.

Memories will only stand for so much, and then
they mutiny: "Don't you remember...?" "NO! I
never loved you, it was never good with you!"
An old truth is a slippery anchor in a maelstrom,
one more weight to drag us under.
"But it was good! It was wonderful,
remember? Please remember!" So one tells oneself
(or so we tell each other) like a teamster
in a blizzard who doesn't realize the horse
he's whipping has frozen to death.

Despair owns the walls of the room, each piece
of furniture, your body, the bed, the window,
whatever you can see through the window,
the texture of whatever you touch --
and any wisp of memory you drag into the room
where you are stuck, staring at or away from despair.

Despair is beaten by not believing what one seems
to know (that this night or week or month or year
is forever), by knowing that it eats anything
you bring near it, by not feeding it.

See that delicate ship hoisting
all its bright-colored sails into the dark fury
of a storm? See it plow under, all sails flying?

No, best to batten down, lie low until
one can move, can see or imagine a way to move,
lifting one foot, then the other
and moving in a direction one insists on calling
(against all of the nightmare's frantic denials)
forward; one finds something to do that one can do --
a little thing, tie a shoe, take a walk,
clean a room, get out of bed, scratch
an itch, listen to the Blues...

not some radical puffed-up parody of total solution
urged by despair itself, charged with
melodramatic electricity. Find one thing
that is (if we pretend there can ever again be
one thing better than another) better to do than
nothing at all, and do it,

and gradually -- as chaos resolves into up and down,
what is and what is not -- one can do more,
begins to feel that the circles
in which one has been moving have, themselves,
been moving, like a child's traveling ovals --

one has been getting somewhere, one begins to know
some things one never knew before,
and there are calmer spaces, breaks in blackness
hints of a sky that is not sea, a long arc of horizon,
a direction, a future and, therefore, a past,
the tingle (uncoaxed) of a few good memories,
still dazed, but alive after all,
a smell of salty tangled life
that could be hope.

A Theory of Murder

The thing about murder is it's too easy. Where's the game? You dent a body slightly -- if it were a car, it would be easily patched up -- and it's dead. The guy is gone.

In the arena of creating effects, wowing people, getting people to say "Man, you're too much!" or "Ummm, you're a great lover" or "Did you really just make that up?!" or "Oooh! Ahhhh! Don't stop!" or "ENCORE! ENCORE!" or "And the WINNER is..." -- in that arena, creating an effect upon someone by killing him or on others by killing their intimates is akin to aceing a challenging test by looking up the answers in the back of the book.

There's a game to not getting caught, and there are other ways to decorate murder with the semblance of intricate play, but I wonder how often something like the following happens (perhaps over several lifetimes, perhaps over decades):

A person accidentally kills someone he loves -- bumps that person off a cliff or puts a small hole in the otherwise intact face or by some small, seemingly harmless action causes a heart to stop, a clot, an unintended impact. Let's say it's sudden -- the person is very much there, full of familiar mannerisms and gestures, smiling, chatting, knowing your thoughts, responding to your words and expressions, and something happens, and the body is still there, almost looking at you, but has gone still, is unresponsive, no one is there, and you have no idea where your friend has gone, whether or not the friend still exists (and you begin to doubt, in the face of such apparently absolute absence, whether anyone could possibly ever have existed there). Let's say the body appears whole and unharmed or only slightly marred (as by a small bullet hole between the still open eyes).

There's a huge discrepancy between the enormity of the presence becoming an absence (friend here, friend gone) and the triviality of the visible causes (some slight damage to some tiny part of the body). The discrepancy would be less if the death had been slow and agonizing or quick and dramatic and gory. But here death seems too trivial an event to be associated with so huge a spiritual result. And it's particularly hard to deal with if you think you caused it -- if you handed the person the mushroom that turned out to be fatal or accidentally fired the gun you thought unloaded or, in play, tripped your friend who fell and hit temple against sharp stone and went still.

You did such a tiny thing, caused such a huge effect.

In such a situation, one solution -- one way you might make sense of it -- is to view your action as a terrible action causing terrible damage, magnify death, no matter how quick and simple, to monstrous proportions, live a life of pennance.

But a more attractive solution (since it lessens your guilt) is to say, after all, nothing much has been lost. We're just chemical accidents. When you kill someone, it's no big deal, nothing more than shutting down a few chemical reactions.

In other words, you reduce the enormity of the absence by deciding that there was never much of anyone there in the first place. Perhaps there SEEMED to be, but that abundance of beingness was an abundance you imagined, just as a child endows a doll with personality. You resolve never to do that again -- give depth of being to others, give others the means to disappoint you.

And if the loss was extreme enough (and your own carelessness flagrant enough), you might find yourself obsessed with proving to yourself that death is no big deal by killing some other people (intentionally) just to prove to yourself that it's awfully easy to kill people and makes no difference to the world or to you.

And along the way, you feel justified, since your victims inevitably betray you: You create what you think must be the ultimate effect upon them, but they reward you with no response. They just vanish. That pisses you off, so you begin to do weird things, like arrange bodies in lifelike positions, have sex with them, talk to them -- all desperate attempts to persuade yourself that you've created an effect on them by having them appear to be creating effects on you in return. I suspect this is part of the stereotype of the serial killer getting off on his killings, having an orgasm. And it's part of the rage associated with such people.

Eventually the only interaction that's real to them is killing, and that interaction is always initially a release, but soon after devastatingly disappointing -- an exaggerated parody of he letdown after bad sex, in the absence of live communication.

I'm not sure it ever happens that way (well, yes, I'm pretty sure), but I do know that we sometimes feel impelled to degrade our idea of identity and of the reality of other people. Killers and torturers tend to kill, as they kill others, their own imaginations. They no longer want to know that behind another face can be found another being like oneself with hopes and dreams. Life goes flat for them.

Since that perception of others, that knowledge that you are among fellow helloers, gets killed off when you kill others, soon it validates itself: You no longer need to deny that others like yourself exist, because, devoid of the imagination that lets you grant life to others, you can no longer grant life to yourself. When you begin to unsee the beings around you, you become less. In the absence of others, your own identity becomes unreal to you. After all, who else exists to agree that you exist? Having no playmates, no one to help (and a game is, among other things, a means to help ones teammates), you are dead.

So now it's OK to assume that others exist like yourself, because you dead yourself, devoid of dreams (it's no longer safe to dream), a distant spectator to the actions of your own hands. So the killing of those like yourself is now of no significance.

I wonder if it might happen that way?

And I wonder how engaging in wars creates killers -- or at least people dead inside. And I wonder how drugs designed to make us not feel much (so that we don't feel bad) might accelerate such a process. And I wonder what remains of the identities of those who promote and prescribe such drugs. No wonder they perceive that the person drugged has "improved" -- if they aren't really aware that there is someone there. Psychiatrist says "He's much improved." Parent says, "But he's like a zombie!" How is it the psychiatrist hasn't noticed?

The serial killer thinks those he kills are thereby much improved. They are purged of their phony eye-gleams and words and cutenesses. To the serial killer, life is a siren, a temptation to get caught in a painful trap. Chemicals pose as life. The serial killer frees the body from life as one removes bait from a trap. Not that psychiatrists are serial killers -- I suppose some of them aren't.

I wonder how those of us who'd prefer to be alive and have others be alive can create life faster than the deadly ones create death.

It must be odd to stand next to a living person and be unable to perceive the being. Here I am, miles and perhaps years from the "you" I address, and yet you are alive for me. I recall (partially) an old poem of mine about why I'd never become a serial killer: What if, without realizing it, I killed one of my readers!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Games Beings Play (poem & essay)

We Can't Go On Meeting This Way...

If my voice, my smile seem
as intimate to you as your own
(yours seem my own), it's because
you and I met long ago in a dream
(where first meetings happen),

one I'd thought my own until the day
my setting sun surprised me
with a tint of airy blue I'd never
put there. Thus the game began:

I put forth Romeo and Juliet. You
covertly took over Juliet, and
when my Romeo's avid lips drew near,
her tiny teeth nipped off his nose.
I did a quick fade out (stifling
an earthquake of giggles, thinking--
one of us thinking--"Will Romeo
be rebuilt in a day?")

to a long white beach
with palm trees and crashing surf.
You turned into an old airplane
and sputtered across the sun,
dragging a Coca Cola sign. I became
an ack-ack gun, you an elegant finger
plugging my gun barrel. I became a
crocodile, jaws closing over the finger,
which became a stick thrust crossways
to prop open my jaws--

Too trite! Go back
to the gun, no the finger, no, just
play it out (I said, you said, we...)--

and so into the soft sky rose our
crocodile, trailing a Coca Cola banner,
and, flaring to lurid orange,
set slowly in the West.

The poem above (humor me -- I call such things poems) I wrote as an attempt to liven up the way we think of the spiritual life. If we are spiritual beings capable of creation, immortal (and I think we are), then what do we do with enternity? Where's the fun? Most poems that approach this (and there are millions of them) deal with finding some long-ago "you" and becoming verdant landscapes, winds, storm clouds and mountains, pervading galaxies and pocketing universes as if they were a child's pretty marbles.

They're good on spectacle, but often light on games, an old difficulty resembling the traditional response to the Christian idea of Heaven: OK, here we are on a cloud with golden harps. Now what? (One of the more ambitious attempts to resolve this and propose a life both transcendent and playful is Herman Hesse's novel, THE BEAD GAME. A more fully realized approach is Nabokov's great PALE FIRE, both about this and designed to involve the reader in a game of this sort, with author and reader the competitors. Kafka's THE TRIAL is a similar, but grimmer game. PALE FIRE is about as much fun as one can have while reading a book, which, on planet earth, means about as much fun as one can have, though love, sex, hot fudge sundaes and high speed chases are good too.)

The game in the poem above is closer to the way I think we interrelate when we are most ourselves. The closest parallel to it that I know of in art is the depiction of Calvinball in the great comic strip, "Calvin and Hobbes", where the boy (Calvin) and the tiger (Hobbes) invent the rules as they go along.

Suppose you're a being and you live in a universe of your own creation? How do you know someone not part of your creation is impinging? Something surprises you! ("I know I didn't put that blueness into the sunset!") And then the game begins, no limit, no end of ways to express no end of emotions and concepts via exchanged creations, the rules changing with great rapidity, action epics lasting a fraction of a second -- or as long as we consider they are lasting.

And the rules are based on aesthetics. One puts up (creates, makes available) a handsome male, the other bites of its nose: Is this attack? joke? intimacy? It's playfulness (above) is understood because it livens a boring stock romantic image. In other words, to respond appropriately, yet freshly, you have to operate at a level of aesthetic awareness comparable to that of a poet who must respond to a line of poetry with a next line that is both immediately recognizable as appropriate and also surprising, expanding the game -- or, for the hell of it, plunging into chaotic nonsense that's a kind of art in itself (not a sunset, but a gorgeous crocodileset).

I mentioned Calvinball, where, if tagged off the base, Hobbes will "remind" Calvin of the rule he has just made up that Calvin must spin around three times before making the tag. An even better analogy to what I describe in the poem is something I once witnessed between two nephews of mine -- identical twins. I watched them play -- age 4, I think (I'm ancient, since they're now in their 30s). They were playing catch on the carpet, rolling a ball, but not just rolling it, using some toy that had a ramp to start it rolling. And I noticed that as they played, mostly without words, they kept changing the game, more than once in a second, responding in ways that implied rules, and it all made sense -- to them, to me, watching.

It was odd, my knowing exactly what the little changes meant, without knowing how I knew -- or rather, realizing why I knew: We are not, natively, the players of games (not only that). We are the creators of games.

The best ways I know of to experience this state in action are to get involved in improv. groups, jazz and jam sessions or any art form, and especially art with live interaction among artists.

The single most effective way I know of to introduce someone to an awareness of the extent to which living is a continuing creation of games is explained in a book entitled THE CREATION OF HUMAN ABILITY by L. Ron Hubbard. In that book (pages 207-208 in my 1989 edition) is a "process", a sort of game used to increase someone's awareness (a sloppy definition, but it'll do here) called "R2-69: Please Pass the Object." It explains exactly what to do to get someone aware of games and rehabilitate the sense of play. Try it on someone deathly serious and watch him/her rediscover laughter.

[Note: The process is labeled "R2", meaning "Route 2" because it's one of a sequence of processes designed to get someone somewhere (from spiritual state A to spiritual state B, for example -- a route), and is done after a set of processes labeled Route 1; and this process (R2-69) is the 69th process of Route 2.]

Apologies to the pious, but "spiritual life" is not synonymous with "solemnity" or "dullness" or even "sexlessness".

Monday, June 04, 2007

Consciousness Explained?

I recently read a longish pseudo-profound quote from a book called "Consciousness Explained". It was a very complicated explanation of what the self is, the complications required because it began with the assumption that there is no self, only a body and an incredibly complicated reason for a body to require the "center of narration" we (who?) call "self".

Such silliness is far more intelligent than the truth (or at least a workable truth -- something that can lead us to more interesting games). I don't mean it's smarter to believe that you and I don't exist. What I mean is that it's so stupid that it requires numerous graduate degrees to explicate. It sounds intelligent because it takes so much intelligence to articulate the complexity that results from such stupidity.

For example, if you assume that the sun and other planets revolve around the earth, the mathematics required to "demonstrate" this and predict motions and positions of sun and planets are far more complicated than those required if you assume that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun.

If you delight in paradoxes and complexities, don't look for truth. Look for desperate attempts to avoid truth. It's tempting for any intellectual to avoid truth, since truth is often simple: For example, you're you, I'm me, we aren't our bodies; that seems simple enough and obvious enough, and it's a workable hypothesis. Using it, you can cure illnesses, reduce crime, reduce insanity and a do a number of other desirable things. (OK, it may not be obvious to everyone, but some of us have seen what it can do as a hypothesis. The point I'm making here is that it's as reasonable a hypothesis as "We are the delusions of chemical actions in a brain pudding.")

But that's far too simple. It's too much like truism. It's something that just about any laborer or beggar could understand, most children, too. So it's useless to an intellectual. Intellectuals are a lot like pharmaceutical companies. The pharmaceutical companies aren't much interested in letting people know what mineral and vitamin and some herbal supplements can do for them, because these things aren't patentable, so there's no profit in them.

Similarly, intellectuals profit (or win glory and rave reviews in the New York Review of Books and other lofty venues and tenure at universities) by coming up with complex brilliance that only a few people can grasp.

And yet the stupidity of "Consciousness Explained" is excruciating: The title says it all: Consciousness precedes explanation and is a far more basic concept than "Explanation". Another way to put it is that you can't resolve consciousness or get a clearer idea of it by explanations, but you can resolve explanations or get a clearer idea of them by consciousness. So the book is bass-ackwards.

We don't have a verb "to conscience". We can't say "Explanation Conscioused". Consciousness is basic enough that we don't do it. We are it. We are that which is aware of being aware -- and which (as described eloquently at this site) can create things to be aware of and agree about them with other similar creators. A less awkward title might be "Awareness of Explanation".

"Consciousness Explained" is a bit like starting with the idea that the books in the library were here before we were and that we are their delusion, and that these books are somehow culminating -- by evolution of language all by itself -- in a book about books that explains how and why all the books that exist have come up with the illusion of authors and readers and a world that exists elsewhere than on the pages of books.

The best way to understand consciousness is to be aware of being aware. Lately, have you noticed that you are?

Friday, June 01, 2007

How YOU Can Make Billions in the Mass Murder Industry

How YOU Can Make Billions in the Mass Murder Industry

Cho went about it wrong.
He just started shooting,
a crude and unrewarding activity.
Here's what he should have done:

1. Switched from English to medicine.

2. Gotten his degree in psychiatry.

3. Gotten on the American Psychiatric Association (APA) committee
that updates the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM),
mainly by creating new mental illnesses
by voice vote.

4. Proposed a new illness: Obsessive
Respiratory Rhythmic Inflation/Deflation Disorder
(ORRIDD) -- that is, breathing, a specialized,
chronic restlessness or tic.

5. Worked with a major pharmaceutical firm
to develop a cure (a lead pellet to be injected
directly into the brain).

6. Helped develop the marketing campaign:
may SUFFER FROM Obsessive Respiratory Rhythmic
Inflation/Deflation Disorder!!!

If YOU are suffering from ORRIDD, tell your doctor
or your local quiet, unsocial person (perhaps
one of our trained students or postal workers)
that you may need a prescription for QUIETUSIN!
Quietusin is made of the purest lead available
and is injected directly into the brain. The results
are instant, a blessed restful state for the first time
in your life -- and it LASTS! Lasts without your needing
a second prescription. NOTHING WILL EVER
BOTHER YOU AGAIN! This is what you've been waiting for!

7. Become a well-known proponent of Quietusin,
give talks on it to doctors, write a book about it,
get interviewed on the late shows, in magazines,
author studies on the reliability, the lack of
withdrawal symptoms (the impossibility of withdrawal),

8. Welcome your patients, point out (if they haven't noticed)
that they are suffering from this obsessive condition.
Get them to notice how much of their time and energy
is expended on this respiratory unease. Make sure
they are properly insured. Give them their "shot"
of Quietusin -- preferably outside the office,
to avoid messes. Collect from the insurance companies.
You can line up hundreds of patients in front
of a freshly dug trench, and use one of the latest
automatic delivery devices to medicate them all
in a second.

9. Find more patients.

10. Since many obvious sufferers from ORRIDD
will be in denial, utilize current state laws authorizing
mandatory out-patient medication to force those
who by virtue of this ailment (a disease just like diabetes
or tuberculosis) may be a danger to themselves or others
(your ex-wife's mother or your boss, for example)
to receive their doses.

11. Invest in perpetual care cemeteries, crematoriums,
armament manufacturers.

And so on. The possibilities are endless...