Tuesday, November 11, 2014

City of the Dead

(originally published in Roots magazine, 2012, but the lifespan of online literary magazines is unpredictable, and I want to have it somewhere more reliable.)


The places you find depend almost entirely on the people you find them with. Which is why it was reprehensible of me to be driving around Youngstown with my ex boyfriend on a cold windy day. I knew if I went with him, I would find something good. Wanna find the dead? Bring something dying with you. Nothing more corpse-like in this entire state than the zombie relationship we had been pumping antibiotics into for the last 8 years, so sure that eventually science will catch up and find us a cure. I know the way this bait works – I used the decaying scent of our guilty whispers, hushed anger, veiled flirting to lure the buzzards, and once I saw the buzzards, I saw the broken driveway which led us into the asphalt heart of the City of the Dead.
The City of the Dead is down by the railroad tracks, where the boxcars used to buzz the tire plants and brought their tons of black coal dinosaur bones to the captains of industry and their waiting minions. When approaching it, you will see the skies start to tint a particular color, like a memory of a rainstorm. It will not rain, it never rains here. But there is wetness and puddles and the ooze of moisture through brick. Once upon a time the weeds were kept back by constant traffic, but now they are trees, which technically makes them no longer weeds right? If you get tall enough, don’t you grow out of that?
Where did they all go, these men of steel and copper and rebar? The buildings lie picked apart, and the roads are torn up. I watched cautiously, expecting giant worms fed on rendered waste to rise up, their coils eating through the landscape. But it was quiet. If not eaten by worms, was it disease? An unknown virus traveling in among the rock waste, infecting the men so that they became unsettled, uneasy, unsuccessful. Did it drive them away to the North? If you are in the middle of Ohio, which direction do you run? North, towards the lake, or South to the river? East to Pittsburgh or West to the great glass capitol of Toledo? Wherever they went, they left. Almost all at once, as if one day they put down their shovels and telephones and looked at each other in unison, mice who hear the cat approaching. They let their tools lie where they were. They packed up their children and wives, and abandoned their houses, which would slowly become the outer defenses of the City. The distractions for community leaders and fake kings, carpetbaggers who would slink slowly in to fill their voids. The City was smart. Left alone by its keepers, it prepared for war, built the moats and murder pits and grew the long grass tall. Then went to sleep, determined to outlive the politics of recession and development.


It worked. Not even the street rats, with their ever present tags and empty 40s, had been here. Or they had come once and never again. Or they had been eaten and their flesh spun into spools of abandoned cloth. The green waste of ceiling night crawlers drips down the corners. Maybe this City had never been populated by men. Maybe that was the secret, that this was a clockwork factory, and the men were actually made of steel, and these are their bones I am walking on right now, climbing over with no thought, no respect, eager to expose every corner of this places that wants to stay hidden. I am an interloper. I’m probably going to die with some steelworker curse on my head. I’ll be lying in my death bed, striking and dying with the weight of molten steel on my chest, trying to light a goddamn cigarette before my wife catches me.
So he watched me climb around on the rocks, and since he hadn’t brought his camera with him (on a trip to take photos, what?) he kept pointing out things I should take shots of. Stop doing that, I thought silently to myself. Stop telling me what to point my lens at. There isn’t some formula to this. I’m trying to document death here. But he doesn’t understand the concept of death, he is tingling with life, in the way that never stops to see the remains of what it has fed upon.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pickled




When Frank made the mammoth, it was in a room that pulsed with reds, purples, and orange-flavored pinks -- kept at twilight 24 hours a day, and so warm the staff worked in tank tops and sundresses. Outside, the Northern California Spring was muggy, cloudy, and gray. The skies hung heavy with rain, threatening rolling thunderstorms that marched in from the sea to invade the continent. When Frank walked outside, he had the sensation of emerging from a universal womb. The bodily jolt of coming from the dark-red warmth to the wide-open grays and greens disoriented him.
“There’s no reason we should have spent so much designing the lights, or keep this damn place so warm. It’s a fetus. It’s in an actual womb. What does it care?” His medical technologist Alice would say this every day, as she picked at her kale salad in the hermetically sealed staff break room. Alice was on the paleo diet -- she was only allowed to eat things her primitive ancestors could have picked, foraged, or killed with rocks. It was supposed to be a better genetic fit with the body, reverting you back to a time before agriculture ruined man by introducing him to things like pasteurized milk and pancakes. She knew it was bullshit, that the main point was her ancestors could never have gotten their grubby little hands on the insane selection of fruits and vegetables, weird South American grains and fish caught in Asia, that she could buy at her local grocery store. Those starving, mongrel cavemen would not have been able to eat 3 solid meals a day of whatever they wanted. If they ate one meal a day, they were lucky.
“They might as well just tell everyone to go on a starving African diet, that would be the most effective. I should market that. I could send out tapeworms with the videos,” she joked.  But Alice had married a man who was much more attractive than her, and consequently spent most of her meal times gulping down potions and spells, trying always to shed the extra thirty pounds her Polish ancestors fought so hard to ensure their children could have, to survive the long winters. Frank had married nobody, and sometimes he wondered, watching her push a chickpea around her plate with a bamboo spork, if he might have married Alice had he met her early enough. She was smart and relatively pretty at the peak of various diets. Frank’s sister used to call that particular blend of blowsy, broad features a “peasant face”. But Alice had a capacity to believe in fairy tales ,despite knowing better, that he found hard to swallow. A marriage between the two of them would have ended with him as the bad guy.
“An interesting way to look at the paleo diet is to see that it really means condemning the entirety of human advancement,” she told him one night, as they were getting drinks after work. “Basically, we’re saying that everything we've created since we stopped living in caves, and started planning food supplies, and building farms, has been poisoning us. We wouldn't have science or art, any kind of culture, if we hadn't started staying put in one place and building a stable structure for ourselves. But apparently, that’s when the downfall started. And now we want to have it both ways. I don’t know if that’s possible. It seems like it shouldn't be, morally. All I want to do is lose weight and have good skin, because of the society we've built. The cavemen didn't care about good skin.”
“It’s important to my world view that I not be the bad guy,” he said.
“That’s an incredibly unachievable goal,” she replied.
Elephants take 22 months to gestate, so the team guessed a mammoth wouldn't be too different. They had used an African elephant as the surrogate mother. They used a zoo-bred one, hoping that an elephant raised on man-grown corn and municipal water would pass along to the calf some genetic hardiness to the new world. The effort of the labor was horrible, the calf was breached and nearly split the surrogate’s pelvis in half. There was a Cesarean, but the poor creature died shortly after the birth, quietly bleeding out despite the veterinarian's best efforts. The zoo was incredibly mad at them. But overall, it was a success, because now they had Judy.
Judy was a 200lb miracle -- a ready-made ghost of the ancient past, and the only one of her kind to breathe a modern atmosphere. The first mammoth to see buildings, and electric lights; the first to hear English spoken. She looked like a children s’ toy, with a comically large domed forehead, and small ears close against the side of her head that had never evolved to keep cool at noon on the savanna, or flap the tsetse flies away. She talked constantly, making deep bellowing noises from inside her baby chest that sounded like a hundred bullfrogs singing. She loved to be scratched in the thick, wiry mats of hair behind her ears, and around the white stumps of her growing tusks.
Frank liked Judy. He felt bad for her, all alone growing up in a closed pen. There was nothing natural about her existence. The first month of her life, she consumed a mixture of proteins and acids that had been designed to mimic the nutrients she would have consumed in the Pleistocene era.  The temperature was dropped as her hair grew longer, to recreate the high Asian steppes of her ancestry. The air of the lab was kept heavy in CO2, remembering an Earth that was much wetter and thicker. Frank was a research assistant, and he monitored the little calf’s microbiome, the composition of bacteria in her mammoth guts -- which little creatures were living in her intestines, building their microbe civilizations in her stomach. When he took the daily mouth swabs, Judy looked him woefully with big, brown eyes, an expression only herd animals have mastered, of both confusion and acceptance. She took to butting her lump skull against his arm to try and stop him. All babies have the charm of insistence.  
He tried to talk to her while he collected his samples, He would tell her what his bike ride to work had been like that morning. This morning there had been a strange, old Japanese man selling watermelons right outside the entrance to his apartment complex, who had cursed at Frank in a thick, fluid tongue as he rode by. Frank couldn't understand the cursing, didn't know if it was personal or general. Maybe the old man was just cursing the world as a whole.
“In fact, I want it to happen again, so maybe I can try and memorize what he’s saying, and ask Akihiro what it means. Am I going to grow horns? Flippers? You can’t underestimate strange men, Judy, or their cursing.” And it was true. Frank was not religious, but he believed in intention -- through the course of any organism’s existence, all the pains and joys it experienced, all that energy of emotion, could build up and remained stored away in forgotten parts of cells. The more a creature had suffered, the more seriously one should take its cursing. He snuck Judy carrot sticks he had pirated from Alice’s lunch, letting her grab them delicately one by one with the end of her trunk.
Despite her isolation from the natural world, Judy was certainly not kept from the unnatural world. After it became clear that she would live, that there would be no laying down and dying without warning in front of the school children of the world, the lab set up several cameras and feeds to share their discovery with humanity. It didn't seem to outwardly affect Judy, nothing in her routine changed. But Frank wondered if she couldn't feel the psychic energy of all those people watching her. After all, her body was from a time period before wireless filled the air, her cells were tuned to different vibrations. How could 6,000 year old cells be prepared for wifi? Or even the vibrations electricity must make, surging through the wires and ground, and all around her into machines trained to be focused on her at all times. Did she feel that? Was it just a slight uneasiness she couldn't articulate or shake, the sense of someone watching? Herd animals had to have a heightened sense of being spied on if they wanted to survive, he would think.
He regularly checked his apartment for bugs, but never told anyone.
Frank would sit at the end of the day in front of the window to Judy’s pen, watching her rolling a huge rubber ball around all by herself. There was no one to play with, Alice had gone home. He caught himself thinking about what it would be like to be Alice’s husband forty years from now, watching her die. There would be a lot of pies at the funeral, and he wouldn't eat any of them.  
Frank pictured Judy’s death happening as if she had only a certain amount of breath the universe had granted her - the last allotment of air her dead species was allowed, the very dregs. Suddenly she breathes it out like a sad, old dog, like a clockwork toy running down. She lays her head down on her knees, in that submissive folding grace animals have when they know their final moments have come. An animal doesn't feel they should struggle against the inevitable. They hide away and accept it without regrets or apologies. Their body has simply stopped working, and they have no choice, never had a choice. She collapses in slow motion on the smooth concrete floor of the lab that is the only home she has ever known, and it’s over.
He knew he was still thinking about Alice.
She aged too fast. her telomeres were short, though of course they had nothing to compare them to except modern elephants. The lifespan of the original woolly mammoth could have been three years or thirty, they had no way of knowing. Judy’s lifespan, at its current rate, was five years. There was a moment, almost overnight, where she went from a bumbling calf to a fully grown behemoth, with a long, shiny coat and heavy, dangerous tusks.  She suddenly had the quiet dignity that comes with being unable to communicate with anything around you, the bearing of a queen about to be beheaded. Slowly, the company stopped wanting photo ops. Slowly, the school children stopped watching.
“It’s because it’s more acceptable to keep a baby in a prison, you can call it a nursery,” Alice said, gnawing on a piece of raw sweet potato as she watched the video feed. Frank got up out of his chair, walked over to her desk and pulled her roughly up. He stared at her for a minute before he kissed her, memorizing how there was no protest, how she simply folded into his arms and responded to his motions. He could taste the fibers of sweet potato in between her teeth.
“Stop, someone will see us,” she protested in his ear as he slid his hands up her plump thighs, underneath her stretch-tight skirt. So he stopped.
He called off the next day, and drove up to Oregon to look at farms. No one cared that he called off, except maybe Alice. The Judy project was slowly winding down, the budget was on death watch. Humanity had moved on to repairing other sins, the Yangtze dolphin and the Dodo, far less ambitious projects that didn't interest him. She was, in the end, just another elephant with fur. She wasn't an ongoing salvation. If they set her free on the steppes, made a herd of other mammoths so they could repopulate the snowy mountain tops, the bulk of them would be poached immediately. People were still poor and opportunistic. The only thing that stopped her from being a rug was her singularity in the world.
Frank felt a guilt deeper than his bones.
He went back to work, and didn't talk about it. He ignored her baleful stares, ignored both of them.
Outwardly, nothing in his environment changed, but he could feel the tension of a coming action buzzing in the air. Judy could feel it too. She paced and stomped when he walked right past her pen every day, quickly going home every night to sit in his rented room and think about how weird it was to watch his species, to watch himself, serving a ghost. A loser in the evolutionary wars. Not pretty enough or fast enough to survive. Once they had hunted Judy to extinction, driven her off cliffs to butcher her for meat and bones, and now they worshipped her as  a miraculous sign. He was complicit in this. He had fathered a creature, brought it into a world where it would be alien and alone, for no good reason except he wanted to.
On the right day, he rented an animal trailer and came at 5am, before the PI came in. The only staff was an undergrad tech who could barely keep his eyes open at the end of his overnight shift.
“I’m taking her across the deck to Allen’s. There’s something about her sleep cycle that’s bothering him, and he wants to hook her up over there and take a look. After all, mammoth R.E.M. cycles, you know Do they dream of prehistoric men? Do they dream of stars or sabertoothed tigers?”
The undergrad nodded sleepily. He didn't care. He had a final in two days and rent was due.
Judy fell in step with Frank as soon as they left the enclosure, step by step. The look in her eyes was one of complete trust, because what had she ever feared? The trust of a herd animal, of one bred to link tusk to tail and follow directions, the confidence that comes from having a leader when one has been leaderless -- it came off her in waves and infected Frank with a sense of righteousness.
An hour up the 101, Frank got a call from Alice.
“Frank, I was trying to see if you were coming in today, and then Paul told me you took Judy to Allen’s, but I called Allen and he hasn't seen you. I figured Paul got it messed up.”
“I’m sorry to put you in this position, but I can’t tell you what to do here. I’m not coming back. And I’m not going to hurt her. But I’m not coming back.”
“Shit, Frank, are you kidding? What are you going to do with her? Are you selling her?”
“No, of course not. But who knows how much time she has left, and she’s never even been outside. If she died in that lab, I would never forgive myself. I would never forgive you.”
Alice was quiet. He wondered if she had hung up to call the PI. Maybe she had already done that, and they were tracing the phone call.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here,” she said, finally. “I don’t understand why you didn't just ask Harry if we could let her outside. Instead you took something that wasn't yours. That’s massive theft, that’s grand larceny. The company is going to to send people after you, she’s a proprietary formula. This isn't going to blow over.”
“Maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll be glad for the budget room. If they ever want another mammoth, they have an entire back stock of pickled mammoth DNA. Maybe they’ll give up faster than you think. Especially if you give me a head start. Is anyone at the lab with you?”
“No, Paul went home,” she sounded calmer, his righteousness was infecting her too. He pictured her all alone in the lab, thinking about him, wondering where he was.
“Do you want to come with me?” he asked. It was a gesture instead of a question. It was as offensive as slapping her ass. But she didn't know that.
She hesitated again, but not as long. She was smart, he could already hear her brain figuring out the next steps. He didn't ask her what they were, he wouldn't be there so what did it matter? They were not in this together.
“ No, I don’t. But I’ll do what I can. I’m not falling on a sword for you though, I don’t think you know what you’re doing.” Alice tried to sound authoritative and stern, but Frank could hear she was buying the fairy tale already -- him, the renegade hero, Judy the princess in distress. She would never admit that for that particular myth to be true, that made her one of the villains. She was good at doing things like that. So in the end she would do something to cover for him.
“You weren't going to say goodbye to me?” she asked.
“Why say goodbye when I’ll see you every night in my dreams?” he replied.
“Shut up, that’s so stupid. You’re so stupid.”
He waited for her to say something else, so that wouldn't be the last thing she remembered saying to him. But when she didn't, he threw the phone out the truck window.
The farm was nestled high up on the side of a mountain, where the clouds could gather and touch. It was a small, neat shack and a big barn, all surrounded by a high wooden fence. The new wood of the fence smelled sharp in the rain, and glowed a dark wet gold. The fence made him uneasy, the whole point had been to take Judy somewhere with no walls. But at least there was grass, air, real birds. At the very least it was something new. Besides, there was always the possibility that like a dog who has grown up in a cage, no walls would have made her herbivore brain uneasy.
He spent his mornings out there with her, watching her graze in the field, trying all the new plants, their tastes and textures. After a week, her coat began to develop a thick layer of insulation and grease in response to the non-programmed cold and wet. Her tusks were stained and sharpened against tree trunks. Her dirty hair became matted and tangled, and she went from an artist’s rendering of a mammoth to an actual full-blooded real-life mammoth -- articulated in full scale, ripe and threatening. Frank was proud of her statuesque profile and heavy dignity. A mammoth that could breathe the modern air, eat the plants that plants had become, drink the poisoned rainwater and live. He hadn't realized it before, but this was always the only way to end the project, to see if the thing he had made could really live. To see what an actual mammoth really looked like.


His victory was short-lived. Within a month, she was dead. She lay down in the middle of the hillside, curling her trunk around her. She gave an ever so small sigh that made her belly rise and fall, and then she died.
It was probably the plants she was eating. Or maybe the air after all. The composition of the water, or the noise of electricity, the waves of data filtering through her ears, the plastic remnants in the ground, the deadly sunlight coming through the ozone. Maybe just the weight of being alone.
It was worth noting, Frank thought, that an alien can only survive a month in our atmosphere.


Frank left her body out there to decompose. Why tell anyone? Someone would just make a rug out of her. He couldn't tell if he was being disrespectful. Elephants had graveyards after all, there were rituals. But he didn't know what they were, only the elephants knew. He wondered what they would think if he brought Judy’s body back to them on the Plains of Africa, on the Steppes of Asia. How they might have marveled at their ancestor in front of them, a past that had only lived in their pachyderm dreams? Then how they might have looked at him, the invader laying the corpse of a miracle at their feet. What does elephant condemnation look like?
So let her body lay there and be buried, let it be forgotten and not stuffed on display in a museum somewhere. Let no one make carvings of her tusks, or molds of her skull. Let her tail disintegrate with her toes. Let no one break up her marriage. Let whatever intention she carried in her genes dissipate like smoke into the clouds. Please let it be enough to try and be good, he whispered into her little ears. Let the curse not catch him till at least Canada.
 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to Find a Job



1. Be very quiet. Jobs are scattered, fragile things. Have you ever met a really paranoid person who wasn't a pothead, but was just really really scared and therefore defensive and angry all the time because their adrenalin levels were always spiked? That's what jobs are like. They let home security salesmen into their houses, feed them whiskey and let them sleep with their daughters. If you're going to get close enough to snag one, you're going to need to be a home security salesman, or a girl scout, or a member of the church of jobs.

2. Find the most beautiful, hospitable, relaxing place in the world. It should be covered in sunlight and trees and blue skies. The weather should always be the exact temperature of blood. Once you've found it, take a moment to appreciate it and wonder what your life would be like if you lived there always.

Then seek out the exact opposite of that place - where it snows or hails all the time, where the land is flat and featureless, and there are only 500 people in a 200 mile radius and they are all covered in mosquito bites all the time, and people regularly lose fingers to either frostbite or paramilitary militias.
That's where all the jobs are.

3. Be beautiful. Jobs are like unicorns - they only care about virginity and sex appeal.

4. Pray to the Job Monster. The Job Monster lives under your bed. It lies there eating the hours of your life you spend staring at the ceiling, wondering what illicit and ill-advised things you can do to make just a little bit more money. The Job Monster sends you emails constantly, of people also looking for jobs, trying to scrape out a living on the black market catching freelance half-jobs. You're a slightly more discerning collector than that - you know better than to waste your precious minutes tattooing 500 words on some mangy half-job's ass so you can come back and find it later, and use it as bait to catch another one. You know it looks lazy, but you also know that somewhere deep inside of you there is a well of really good art, and you don't want it tainted, and you want time to search for it slowly, not panicked or stressed, but quietly and softly, so that the really good job sitting there at the well's edge drinking doesn't catch your scent and run off.
You are starting to realize that you should have settled for a husband years ago, because now you're going to die alone and poor, and it's not like this appeals to you, and you're trying not to be an idealistic brat - but there must be a reason why being sincere about it worked for all those other famous hunters you admire.

These are the thoughts the Job Monster is gobbling and sucking up as they fall off your bed sheets like snowflakes or dandruff.

5. Stare out the window at the morning sky. Wonder at how very vividly blue it is, a certain kind of sunshine at 10:30am blue, and the yellowish green of the tree leaves shines out against it. The air smells like September. You feel something in the back of your eyelids lift and heave up in a gasp, and there is an empty feeling in your chest as everything inside you jumps up to your skull, and out your eyes, and this is how you transcend, like the Virgin Mary, just let everything defy gravity and head speedingly up up up...and then while you're ascending through the clouds, if you get scared of the upcoming lack of atmosphere, if you decide the approaching view of space is not worth the inevitable suffocation and death, if you chicken out - you can turn your head around and try to use the vantage point of being a satellite to try and spot the best job. Once you see one, don't worry, you'll fall fast enough. You'll be mad you're descending so quickly, you'll wish you had stayed up there just a little longer. Every once in a while, you'll regret not burning up in the atmosphere. But at least you'll have a job.

Monday, November 18, 2013

7 Tips For Making Yourself More Attractive


photo courtesy of this terrible article and also cause this looks like the still of a really good movie 


Every one of us has had a morning where we stand in front of the mirror, the whole day ahead of us, and we look at our face and think "How am I going to pull this off?" The desire to be more attractive to the opposite sex is the most primary natural instinct we have. We smell like it. We taste like it. Our bodily functions cycle on it. Every single person in the world, from the time they are born until their last breath, is going through this.

 Unfortunately, not everyone is given the best equipment. Some of us, most of us, just have faulty genes. Our families have been pumping poison and crap through our blood pool for centuries. We have been bent and molded like plastic dough. However, it turns out since we're all mostly like that, you can actually change yourself to compensate for your shortcomings. They did some study recently that said people totally cared most about traits that were only a matter of pulling out the credit card. Good hair, good clothes. Being neat, well put together, and confident. Being nice. And being generally within the norm of physical fitness.

But also, all that stuff is hard. So here are some other, more (I think) easily achievable ideas.

1) Try not brushing your hair all that often.

Maybe this isn't true everywhere, but here in North Carolina, the humidity makes everyone's hair kinda curly, and if you brush it all the time, it get's thin and frizzy. But if you never brush it, just maybe comb it every couple of days, let it air dry,  most of the time it looks cute. And if it doesn't, then just take comfort in the fact that you're helping to keep the bar low for the rest of us.

2) Remember to ask questions about other people.

I'm not going to qualify this one. I'm just going to give you a blank stare.

3) Don't be upset about something all the time.

Make sure you set aside a few hours during the day to not be angry or worried or sad about something. It doesn't matter what you feel, as long as it isn't one of those things. Some people call it "me" time. I call it "how to maintain and care for your humanity" time.

4) Be clean.

Just in general, don't smell. You can smell a little. You can even occasionally be smelly, anyone who *does* stuff can't help that. But shower, or bathe, or whatever, every couple days. I will even accept bathing in the ocean, if you really want to conserve water. I accept that as a thing. But water should touch you en masse every once in a while.

5) Have thoughts about things that have no immediate relevance to your life.

Like, try reading a science magazine. The actual articles, not just the i09 writeup. Or read a book, but not a book about running, or mothering, or anything at all that actually is something you do already. Like, a book about something you never even thought of doing - murder or prostitution or the cod industry.

All anyone really wants in a partner is someone who's going to be entertaining, and if you are only average looking you can't count on sex being entertaining always, so you need some other assets. Random science facts or being able to play music, those things count. People who are really into international news, that counts. Baking croissants counts. It's not that hard to be interesting, you just have to be interested.

6) Girls, always wear a flushed cheek, and put a little rosiness on the swoop of your eyelid, and try to match up a pink lip, and honest to god, this makes it look like you just came sometime in the very near past, and guys totally dig this. Not a lie. Totally true.

Guys, just smile more and stand closer.

7) Do something, some adventure, all alone by yourself. Make it something really cool, like two weeks in Turkey or a coffee tour in Jamaica. Then you have a cool story to drop anytime you're talking to a new person at a party, but also since you did it by yourself, you're automatically going to get this look of introspection and mystery, cause you'll be remembering something you've not related to other people, and that's really, really hot.



8) Have a pet dinosaur or whale or giraffe or lion or whatever, something really really big.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lashes


She got them because when she wears them, she feels like a movie star, like an animated character, something more approximating a sex kitten than anything she ever feels by herself. And as such, they give her power, the only kind of power a girl can really feel, because maybe you can talk men into doing things - paying you, respecting you - but you haven't got any real power over them until they want you. 

They come from Indonesia, or China, somewhere gray with industrial dust, and green with predatory vines, full of small brown people who smile widely at foreign cameras, their teeth rotting in their skulls and the stained walnut sheen of manual labor and poverty. In those places, the visual images of beauty have been laid bare, stripped of the intellectual justifications of the West - women are either pretty, or they are cattle. She was told once, in a moment of first world poverty (which is the kind where you don't go to the bars for a few months and you live off processed cheese) that she should move over there, with her big blue eyes and huge tits she could make a killing just by being a hostess at some bar. The person telling her that didn't hear the stink of rape in those words, not hers but all the girls in that world who wouldn't look like her, and therefore not be okay. If she had brown eyes and darker skin, there would be no talk of adventures with moneyed businessmen, there would only be settling for the first somewhat gentle guy to think she can keep a house and have babies. There would be no long studied conversations about self-awareness over cocktails, there would be only work, cook, worry, get fucked, get a few hours sleep, wake up and do it again, for the rest of your life. Know that you aren't good enough for anything else - cling to the daily pains and suffering as the only things that actually make you an individual. 

The lashes are long and shiny and black. She wipes off her mascara before going to bed, and the unnaturalness of them sticks out even more - the plastic black against the soft, thin brown of her own. 

Whose lashes are those? Were they ripped off some child in Africa? She smiles at the girl asking the question, but she wants to point out they were only made by a child, not physically tortured off one. What's the difference, really? Older, richer, desperate women have been sucking the youth from children for centuries, to stain their lips and drape soft things across their skin - an entire class of Madame Bathorys, Countesses of Blood. 

When she wears them, people tell her how pretty she looks, what has she done differently? They can't even remember what she looked like before, not enough to know, even though it's obvious - they could never be real. But people still ask, are they? As if doll things could occur naturally, aren't they supposed to?

She goes to sleep with them on, and dreams of plastic hair, plastic lips, plastic dresses and stockings and shoes and plastic skin gleaming unblemished and powdered perfect, of men pulling out plastic - sitting across small tables enchanted by things that have been manufactured for them, to keep their attention, like ravens or trolls. Then she dreams deeper. She dreams of factories made of sheet metal walls, dirt floors packed down and crawling with fleas and lice and roaches, of eating cheap noodles out of lead painted bowls - the bland bleached flour taste sour and slick on her and she sees more men. They are everywhere, their faces grown bulbous and elephantine by years of drink and smoke, not even the same creature as her but Men, who demand money, who demand work, who grope and poke and laugh, who pull her hair and tell her why she is ugly - all the reasons she is ugly and useless and no one will ever love her because her skin is not white and her figure isn't thin, and she doesn't smile, why doesn't she smile? 

It doesn't matter, if she smiled they would just tell her that her teeth are too crooked to suck their cocks properly, and then kneel her down in some back room and push it in between her cracked and dry lips, because nothing is good enough for what they deserve but they'll take it all anyway.

She dreams of drunk men in uniforms, thick with fire and brimstone and the command of craftier men than them, dreams of them rushing in like wolves in the middle of the night to tear their wooden houses apart, to cut the communists' heads off with piano wire, to slice open their faces and tongues, and she sees the women huddled in their night clothes, being pulled away to the jungle one by one as the soldiers feel like it, and the next day she will see those same men in the town, running their soup stands and hat shops and those same wolves will cower to the bigger, badder wolves in suits, who eat and shit Western money, but no one would ever think to cower before the stone, the concrete boulder sitting on her chest, underneath which lives her pain. It waits inside her, inarticulate, unknown to even her, leaching it's toxins into her bones and slowly smouldering into a fire. 

She wakes up and knows it is a lie, it's an idea of an idea she saw or heard somewhere, but she feels the stone inside her own chest - a pebble in comparison, but building building building like a dirty snowball. In the dream, she felt fury and fire. In the morning light now, she feels only the desire to be numbed by it's persistent coldness, until she can't feel anything, and can only go through the motions - smile, manicure, pick something cute, reapply lipstick, smile in the face of humiliating rudeness because you're just a girl and you shouldn't be crazy.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

This is How Myths Start



I am, by natural inclination, a very superstitious person.

Wait, let's start here instead.

Once upon a time, when the Earth had just formed out of a coagulation, a collision of rocks and space dust, when it was just a ball of smashed together minerals, the heat from the impact of all those little bits and pieces grew to be so hot all the metal was able to run together, and the planet was nothing but a molten marble, a suspended drop of swirling heavy poisonous rock. And when this happened, all the iron and nickel in the molten mixture started to gather and sink to center, pulled by gravity and whirling dervishes, and it all came together in a dense crazy whirlpool of super-heated stuff, and is now what's known as the Earth's Core. The thing that gives us our magnetic field and therefore allows our entire atmosphere to exist. This is known as the Iron Catastrophe, Jere told me about it as casually as one sends a link to their friend of a Dogs Eating Pickles tumblr. And I felt two things when I read it - first, shame at not knowing about this already or more likely, having forgotten about it already, and two, gratefulness that it existed and a desire to honor that it existed and tell people about it.

I think this is the base emotional process behind superstition - the shame is basically fear of being found not worthy, unable to prove your value or competency in the face of a huge universe that isn't capable of showing mercy for your best intentions, and which you will likely never be able to know or conquer, whose attention you may never be able to catch. Right, like, when you are something way smaller trying to not get killed by something way bigger, it's important to decide if you either need to hide from their attentions, or you need to try and get their attention so they don't step on you. I guess it depends if you prefer to see the universe as something hunting you, or something marching past you unaware. I prefer the latter, it seems less psychopathic. So first, the shame and fear. That's where the gesture of a superstition comes in - the throwing of salt, or the motion of avoiding a crack, or the carrying around of certain objects.

The second part then is the belief. Once you've made the gesture, you have to have the belief behind it, or it won't work. Any 15 yr old witch will tell you that. Spells require real belief, and that's where the gratefulness comes in. Because it creates a rush of emotion that sings out "Yes, and Thank You", one of top ten most powerful things you can utter when you really mean it.If I were to believe, for instance, that all I had to do to conjure something I wanted - a desire or a safety - was to think very hard about the molten core spinning around at the center of our planet for millennium, and the very wonder of its formation and existence and slowness of process, then if I was clutching a magnet in my hand and thinking of its mother iron at the same time, that would be a spell.  Superstitions are just the little spells we all do, all day, to compartmentalize our worlds.

I have excuses for believing in these kinds of things, and also for looking and seeing signs of synchronicity all around me. I was raised Catholic, and I was read fairy tales every night before bed. What else could possibly have happened to me? Of course I was going to have an unwavering sense of magic, more so than god or law. Here are some examples:

- My birthday is 7/10, Sean's birthday is 10/7. I believed this was important for the longest time, and attributed significance also to the fact that the last number in the year I was born was the last number in the year he was born, but flipped upside down, and also kinda believed this was why we always had such bad birthdays together, because we were birthday opposites.

- A few years ago, I created a fake fb profile for my fake boyfriend, just so I could have my relationship status read things like "Bridget is currently separated from Sunny Disposition. Today is Sunny's birthday, according to the random date in November I picked when I made his profile. Turns out, today is also the birthday of a guy I met 8 months ago, whom I'm consistently halfway in love with.  No part of me really thinks that's a coincidence.

- A guy bought me a rock. I carried it around with me cause I liked it a lot. I lost it, and we started being awkward around each other. I found it again, and everything smoothed out and got better. So now I'm attributing the health of our friendship to whether or not I've got this rock on me.

Obviously all these things are crazy. Only a crazy person would believe they were true, and I know they are not true, but....I feel they're true. I know they're not; I feel they are.

And lately I think I've come to a decently solid interpretation of this contradiction, which is that I don't believe in God, but I believe in the Narrative. I believe in the human brain's infinite capacity to turn anything into a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I believe that the practice of drawing those lines between events in order to sequence our experiences is the creation of time, and the constant evaluating of our memories creates place,  and the position of hero or villain in our stories creates our sense of identity, creates us. We honor the great Narrative in our lives when we create these stories and recognize them.
  
In my particular story, I am apparently boy crazy. Anyone who knows me will tell you it's true. I don't really know why, I'm just that kind of person and always have been, I relate everything in my life to sex. I take a morning supplement that is basically what they give to guys to increase virility, and honest to god, it's the healthiest for keeping my coat shiny and my teeth sharp, the sex plant simply works on my cells best. I think some people are just based in certain emotions, like the humours of the body or the elements. And to write it off as just an excess of lust, like it's something a little common decency could fix, is oversimplifying and naive. There's a lot of emotions and actions and choices and beliefs that play into my kind of personality. It's a very vulnerable and risky thing to be - the kind of powers you choose to fuel your life say a lot about you, and sex (not as the act, but as the mindset) is one of the most uncontrollable, but also one of the most potent. When you choose to use it to try and relate to the universe, to let it be your key into understanding reality, your filter or translator or however you want to take this metaphor, then you are saying "It's more important to me to be powerful than it is to be safe."

My point is, I'm a girl who knows about spells, and it doesn't surprise me at all that I would seek out the most dangerous power source for my own magics. I don't know how you're supposed to be a priestess of the Narrative otherwise.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Can't Undead the Dead



I had a weird thing happen to me yesterday. I hooked up with this guy, just strictly a very casual thing, but he's a nice guy, and so hanging out with him was naturally very sweet and affectionate, and it all sort of happened as easily as it could have - there was none of the "does he like me?" or "what's going on here" tension that I've been flooded with this past year. I mean, there was a little, because there should always be a little, but only for an hour or two when we first met, and then everything was very obvious and mutually acknowledged. It was, one could argue (especially any "one" that read that post a few days ago when I was in the thrall of disappointment), exactly what I needed. Wilmington, and maybe North Carolina as a whole, has this spell where it does that - it waits exactly until you've hit rock bottom needing or wanting something, and then it drops it in your lap. You just have to stick out the desperation. Ran out of my savings - needed a job - came down to 2 dollars in my bank account and the next day got a job at a place that gives you free food. Couldn't afford my apartment, was going to be homeless sleeping on my friends' couches - Teresa and Steve suddenly need to get a place too. Fallen deep into the self-loathing hole of rejection and vanity - meet some nice guy who doesn't tell you that you're so smart or confident, but instead tells you how sexy and pretty you are. North Carolina's versions of miracles - or maybe this is how homeless people live.

So this morning I should have been in a good mood. But as soon as I got to work, as soon as, in fact, my fingers wrapped around the little pink rock I've been keeping in my pocket as a worry stone, I felt this terrible melancholy sit on my chest. I couldn't shake it, it got heavier and heavier. I was just flooded with this sense of focus-less guilt and shame and mostly missing - it was as if my psyche, once it was away from the nice, comforting petting, became irrational aware of the hole of being in love. I mean, I'm always a little in love, with something or someone or everything and everyone - I'm one of those plastic molds they poured love into when they were making the diorama, and I've just been slowly melting in other people's heat since. And like, my head finally fell off or something, just another thing broke inside. I was inexplicably distraught. I think I may be addicted to touch. I think once I get it, I become a junkie, and the withdrawal is that much worse. One heavy petting and I'm off like a powder keg, I explode in affection, and then for another six months I'm depleted and raw. 

It reminded me, no wait, it was exactly the same feeling I used to get when Sean and I would break up and not see each other for a few months, before running into each other out, and then right back into the habit of being in love.

Then, of course, it got really busy at work, and I got really stressed out (which is dumb, because even the most stressful day at the co-op isn't really stressful at all). I have a button on my apron at work that I write different sayings on each week and this week it was " Sincerity is Underrated". It's been good for reminding me, and customers, to talk to each other like people who see each other every day, rather than just cashier and customer - I've learned lots of interesting things about people, especially older ladies who could be my mom, my mom is exactly the sort of lady who will respond to that sort of thing thoughtfully, and so I guess it makes sense her daughter wrote it in black sharpie to wear on her work apron, like David used to write on white t-shirts to wear to shows. A guy I have a crush on - a really smart guy I always feel the need to impress, and probably fail at miserably every time - came in, and he asked me how I was doing and I actually told him. I mean, I didn't tell him the boy stuff, but I told him about school, and life, and how I felt off kilter with my whole life at the moment, like Jere's visit had shaken all the silt in me around, and at the moment I just felt muddy and unclear. And he told me about work stress, and then at some point we talked about rainwater reservoirs being water jugs for huge animals, like if there was giraffe rescue, like how much better my life would be if I could just drive by the giraffe rescue and see their heads poking up among the pine trees. Because sincerity is underrated. And then another boy, a friend of mine, came in, and he was on the phone the whole time he was in the store, but as he was leaving we gave each other a huge long hug, and see, sincerity is underrated. Then I realized I was dehydrated, drank a large glass of water, and eventually felt better. 

That picture up there is from a battlefield around here. It was the first place I walked around and really felt the blood in the sand. There's a church there, or the ruins of a church, and on the older plaque inside the church, it talks about how the settlers of the fort tried to save up for ages to build the church, tried a lottery and everything. But then one night, a Spanish galleon crashed on the coast, and the villagers took the loot that washed up, sold it, and were able to afford the church. Cute, right? Only later on as you're walking through the ruins of the fort, there's another more modern plaque, the kind Park Services builds under pavilions, and that plaque pointed out that the "cargo" which had washed up on shore during the storm, was actually a boatload of slaves. So basically the slaves that managed to escape the sinking ship, and survive to swim to shore in the cold Atlantic during a storm, were then captured by settlers and sold off, and then they built that church, and I swear I've never stood in a building I wanted to see completely torn down and disintegrated as much as that one. 

So yeah, you can smell blood everywhere in that place, dead bodies everywhere. The trees have drank off it, the vines have grown through it, the little tiny sand crabs have eaten it. That's why everything in this place is so predatory, it's because we gave it a taste. 

But I correlate the way that place made me feel, and the way I felt today, standing at the counter with my homemade life sayings pins, ringing up almond butter and gluten free cake, knowing how ready I was to be in love again. Not with that guy. Not with any guy I know. But with someone. It's like, you can feel the past destruction, the past loves, the past murders, and the sense of the impending long slow march pools at your feet and tries to suck you into the bloody sand, but you know this is just how this place is now. This is just how you are now. You can't unkill soldiers, and you can't unlove love. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

History Lessons



This is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Of course, every place is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. But this particular place, at noon on a hot Sunday in August, getting lost with Eric looking for a place called Sugarloaf, this stands apart in a history of beautiful places. Place and time are inextricable, you can never go back to this place, it's never the same light or smells or clouds or person.



I might have said this earlier, when I first moved here. I remember thinking it at least - that one very obvious thing different about this landscape was how detailed it was. All these little shards of color and shadow, broken up in contrast as if someone had applied one of those HDR filters to the entire world, and then used their flash because everything is So Bright. I never thought about it, but Ohio is much more watercolored and smudged.

There's just so many leaves everything, thin leaves. It's all thin here, instead of broad and flat.



In the state parks, the sand lies hard packed into hilly wooded dunes, covered with pine needles and decomposing plants. It's a weird texture to walk on - like you can't really go barefoot cause it's rough, but also you can't wear sneakers because it's all sand and there's nothing worse than getting sand in your socks and having to still walk 2 miles back, in more sand. I have learned to hike in flip flops which seems really really unhealthy, though for reasons I just can't pinpoint. I was always so self conscious about my feet, I like how quickly that fell away, like, last January. Anyway, you have to wear flip flops, or straight up boots, or one of those expensive hybrid shoes they sell in camping magazines.



There are little pockets of the smallest cypress groves ever. Like, as if we are wandering in a diorama of the Pleistocene era at the Natural History Museum - trudging through the ground up shells of mollusks and the worn away bones of mammoths. There are giant sloths watching us from the trees, and everywhere the acid of evolving life is bubbling and churning away, sending it's DNA stink into the clouds and into our lungs.



I don't know how I'm expected to *not* fall in love with everyone here. I'm living in the same primordial soup as the people who first created language.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wilmington Vasectomy




There's a guy I know who just got a vasectomy.

It's bad, because at first when he told me about it, I was all supportive and sympathetic, because I had a boyfriend once who got one, and every time I say that out loud to myself, I feel this dark twinge of "Oh geez, he *really* didn't want to get me pregnant..." I mean, no matter who you are, you're going to have some deep pyschological reaction to the idea of a vasectomy or hysterectomy.

So anyway, I was the good, sensible, positive friend. And then he told me about how since he only had one ball, from a previous trauma, the doctor had given him a half price vasectomy. Because they only need to do half the procedure, right? See? And now I can't stop laughing every time I see him. Which is not what you should do to a man who just got fixed.

His girlfriend (and let me tell you, it was a bit weird having casual frank conversation with a couple about their vasectomy) knew a girl who had to have a c-section, and she had them do a hysterectomy at the same time, cause hey, you're already in there. Two for the price of one hysterectomy and baby delivery.

There's a Wilmington Vasectomy Commercial. When Mom came to visit, she was particularly impressed by the soft core porn style billboards for plastic surgery all around town, and also we have local commercials for vasectomy services.

A bunch of women at the co-op where I work just had babies. They are all the cutest babies ever, and not just cause they are babies, but because the general attractiveness of everyone in this place is so much higher, and that also applies to babies. It's gotten to the point where I feel bad when I see a not so cute baby in the place, because it must feel self-conscious next to the virtual Gap ads being carried around in swaths of Egyptian Cotton by their yoga model mothers.

Look, the thing is, I'm not against yoga as exercise, I mean, I have a neutral opinion about it. Certainly everyone I know who does it is much prettier than normal. But the culture of it? With all the clothes and mats and headbands and blissness - it's creepy. I call it Yoga Brain. People come in after class, and they are blissed out on an exercise high, and they're half asleep, wandering around, getting into their cars and driving. Sometimes it's hard to have a conversation with someone who is *really* into yoga, because that weird calmness makes it hard to read the normal physical and social cues. On the other hand, it's pretty easy to convince people with Yoga Brain that you're awesome, because you just have to be sweet and friendly to them, and they think you embody happiness in the universe at that exact moment in time and existence.Which is why I always feel bad when a Yoga Brain's card gets declined, it seems so mean to harsh on them like that. It's usually just cause they entered their pin wrong. But sometimes it's because they've been taking a 20 dollar class twice a day.

I don't know why vasectomies and yoga go together in my brain, but they really do.

I bet there are a lot of old rich men in this town who get vasectomies specifically so they can fuck whatever girls they want to and not have to worry about any illegitimate bastards coming after their fortunes, which are already divided up enough between three alimonies and child support. I bet that's a thriving industry here - the vasectomy that frees you to enjoy the fruits of your manhood and early retirement. A vasectomy you deserve.

If I was an old, rich man, I'd get one.
But also if I was an old rich man, I'd look homeless, so it wouldn't matter. I'd probably *be* homeless.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The One Where We Try This Again



This weekend, Jeremiah came to visit me.
We drank a lot with people in Halloween costumes, and went to the chilly beach, all around the big old mansions and hidden gardens, into the hipster house party and the southern polish festival and down the Cape Fear river on a flat boat with a piano and a dog. I made grits. It was the best I could do for him.

Every time a good friend of mine from Cleveland comes down here, I feel a conflict of personalities - a deep insecurity about how the Past Me will measure up to the Present Me. The Past Me was riddled with bad emotional decisions and squashed ambitions. The Present Me has sun bleached long hair and no money ever and the vulnerability of a small puppy that's just been weaned and needs someone to hug it. I'm not saying one is better than the other - no, actually that's exactly what I'm saying. But I need approval, I crave it constantly, and so a visitor will bring out a need to show them why I'm here. And every time, it works. They all love it here. They all say they want to move down here with me. I seem so happy here, they say. And I'm left feeling drained by my internal conflict, unable to process the validation, and somehow feeling rejected by the world. I want to follow them back to the safety of my neighborhood. I want a world that embraces me and loves me.

People have been repeating a refrain to me lately - how much Wilmington loves me, how amazing it is I know so many people, how great I'm doing for only a year here. I remember hearing the same refrain in Cleveland, and there's something about that kind of praise that makes me feel worse. Because I know it isn't true. I know it's just a facade of confidence I've put on, a persona that is still a persona no matter how hard I try to keep it real and true, and they see what they want to see. I mean, I get this is what we all do, present our good and sane face to the world. But in Cleveland, I had people who had seen me at my worst, for years. Here, that hasn't happened yet. My worst has been lying curled up in a tight little ball inside my chest, and just because I've learned to put a leash on it and teach it to sit doesn't mean it isn't there and it doesn't also need love. That's where the disconnect, the deep unhappiness I feel sometimes, comes from with this place. Most of the time, I'm fine. Half of the time I'm ecstatic here. Some of the time there is a gray heavy fog of despair, and I'm lost in it, and I don't understand why no one else can see it.

One night, I said to my roommate, as we drove back from the bar, "I don't understand it, I'm fuckable, right? I'm not hideous, right?"
And he replied, "Bridget, you're the most confident person I know."
Which is not the response any girl wants to hear.
But there's only a few adjectives Wilmington knows to describe me with - confident, brilliant, intimidating, hilarious. I know I should be grateful to hear those, and I am, but it's only ever those four, ever. Over and over until they lose their meaning. In Cleveland, people threw beautiful or sexy in there occasionally. I haven't heard either of those in over a year. That makes me feel like something is horribly wrong.

 And this is what Jere said to me, he said "Bridget, all the men who have fallen in love with you, it's been through your blog. That's how you get people to want you. You are never going to be the one they look at and fall for, they have to read you."

I think that's depressing as shit, but what can I do?
They don't know, but I know that anyone who loves me for my mind is going to eventually have to deal with the worst of me, that isn't house trained and jumps on people and barks at passing cars all the time. So that'll never last anyway, and the only obvious conclusion is I'm just one of those people the world will love, who will never actually get love. That's a conclusion that tows the fine line of realism versus nihilism. Because sure we all know it's the *wrong* thing to say, that several good souls will try to console me and feed me lines about hope or whatever, but also it's a Very Real Possibility. It happens to people all the time. Especially really smart people who have ambitions of not settling, who are incapable of settling because they know it will turn them into a bad person. It's why having such a reliance on love like I do is a deep personality flaw, and one that will inevitably let you down again and again.



A friend of mine is going to a spiritualist conference this weekend, and the theme is "The Question That Drives You" - figuring out your personal koan. From their website:

"When we take all our life-actions into consideration, what primary drive are they trying to satisfy? If we want to increase our chances of fully satisfying that primary drive, would it make sense to pay more attention to the feeling of it, our interpretations of it, and how we could phrase it to ourselves in question form - in effect finding and working with our personal koan? Does it take great doubt to arrive at certainty?"

It's becoming increasingly obvious that one of the main stories in this town is the seeking of spiritual clarity. I think that must go along with the ocean thing - people attracted to the Great White Noise are seeking respite from the harsh daily noise of the physical real world, and so it makes sense they would be seeking emotional respite as well. There are a million churches here, and they are not all traditional Southern baptist. There is a growing collection of non-denominational, meditation based, yoga based, crystal and oil faiths - all the little closet ones that exist to help the bourgeoisie find a semblance of wisdom by talking to them about their favorite subject - themselves. All human beings love talking about ourselves. It interests us the most. It makes us feel special and important, to be the subject of introspection and critique. Tell me what my soul is like. Tell me what color it is, and what plan it has for me. Tell me how my heart should feel, how to forget I have a mortgage and kids and insurance bills, because I have enough money to cover all those, so I can afford to forget it for a while. Teach me how to be special, how to become superior to the other lost souls around me, and how to find all the other superior people so we can hang out together and talk about how great we are.

In that respect, Catholicism will always have a special place in my heart, because they just get together to talk about how non-special and awful they are. It's refreshing, that old school self-hatred.

I was somehow, almost completely against my mother's will, raised to believe I require no other moral structure than the one already in my head. I am weirdly unimaginative that way - I don't long for a god, or think to myself when I look at a beautiful sunset that there must be one. I don't believe in an afterlife, or anything other than decomposition, and I'm not scared of that, death seems totally normal and non-traumatic to me. My heart stands on a solidly concrete floor where it doesn't feel the need to ask questions of the universe that can't be answered. My heart thinks if there are other answers, I'll just learn them as they are presented, but why bother wondering about them until then?

But I do want to figure out why other people are so obsessed with them. I naturally come to that from a place of superiority, where I think "silly people, don't you know this is futile and doesn't help poor people, and maybe if we all just stopped thinking about ourselves for a few minutes and thought about real world things that would help people, maybe capitalism wouldn't exist." (As a counter-point, I offer this entire blog entry - but I know I would be a better person if I thought about myself less.)

That isn't a helpful attitude to have towards spiritual folks if you're trying to suss out where they come from and what they're about, and why people choose religion. Just like only thinking about yourself isn't helpful to life, thinking you're just naturally smarter than 90% of the population isn't helpful either. I have a fear of coming off like the biggest rube - the one missing some essential part of the human experience and just assuming it doesn't exist cause I don't see it.

So yesterday I was thinking about my own personal koan. What is the nonsensical statement that sums up the inspiration of my self-doubt the most? What is the clutter stopping me from seeing my own personal drive? Or do I already know it, and yes, actually I'm just more intuitive and well-adjusted? And HOW WILL I EVER KNOW IF I KNOW IT?

Is that it?

I mean, what is it that I want? Do I want love more than anything? I have lots of love around me, maybe it's to be desired that I want most. Or do I just want to be sure of what the hell is going on around me? Just to have a real knowledge that how I see reality is pretty close to the truth, and therefore some camouflaged cosmic angler fish isn't going to lunge out and surprise me and chew me up with sharp little teeth. If modern man has become aware that what he perceives as reality is a construct of only his experiences and therefore not reality at all, then isn't it just a primal form of self defense that we try to figure out if we're right or not?

A guy told me recently my desire to never be bored was intimidating. I thought to myself when he said it that he didn't understand where the truly interesting things about knowing someone lay, that when I really like someone, they are never boring to me - that really no one is boring if you are really looking at them and not just at yourself.

Last night, I watched something called John Safran vs. God - it's on Youtube, go find it, all 8 episodes are amazing. But in particular, the Buddhism episode. He goes to a monastery and tries to learn to meditate, to answer the koans correctly, and hold focus. He ends up getting beat with a stick a lot. And in the end he says he doesn't understand why Western Buddhists have left behind the best part of this ancient Eastern religion - which is getting to beat people with a stick a lot.

Maybe if American Buddhists beat each other with sticks, instead of buying 80 dollar yoga mats and burning 20 dollar beeswax candles of the Buddha, maybe I would like them more.