Monday, December 31, 2012

Inventing the Enemy (Umberto Eco)

A little background on this piece--Eco gave this as a lecture at the University of Bologna in May of 2008. It's the first piece in a new collection of essays with the same title. I'm not sure why I'm so drawn to Eco's work. It may be because his specialty is semiotics, a field that makes us think about how we express and understand things in more than a superficial manner. His novels are very involved but engrossing, and it requires some level of discipline to catch every nuance, to follow every plot. Like a good workout, I'm tired afterward, but glowing with a sense of having done some real "work". I can confidently go on to approach my own writing and research, feeling like my mind has been warmed up for the race.

"Inventing the Enemy" starts with an anecdote about an encounter with a Pakistani cab driver who asked him about his home country of Italy--"who are your enemies"? Eco was taken aback by the question, and by the assertion that a country must have enemies. After thinking about it, he realized that Italy had no outside enemies--all the enemies were from within--"Pisa against Lucca, Guelphs against Ghibellines, north against south, Fascists against Partisans, mafia against state, Berlusconi's government against the judiciary." (p. 2)

Eco then muses on the notion of having an enemy, making references ranging from ancient Rome to the plight of the Black man in more contemporary eras. He looks at the way Blacks are negatively painted, as well as Jews, throughout history.

He notes that enemies are necessary for identity--we define ourselves in terms of the "other". It becomes a battle of sacred vs. profane, moral vs. immoral, beautiful vs. ugly and fetid. The enemy who kills children and drinks their blood (something said of both Jews and Christians at different times in history). The enemy is something foul, from the bowels of the earth, the Fomorians as opposed to the Tuatha. The Enemy is smelly, monstrous, and ugly, and it is worth noting that demons in Judeo-Christian writings have the same attributes. Eco in fact talks about the alleged witches' Sabbats that involved allegiance to the devil and the defaming of the cross. The enemy is also portrayed the criminal and the prostitute, disrupters of the social order.

At this point, I can't help but to reflect on Western myth and its own reflection of Western consciousness. The mythology of the West suggests that Nature is bad, or at least inferior. God is separate from Nature, God created Man and Nature, Man sinned against God, God withdrew from the world and left it as corrupt, and ruled by Death, also considered to be unnatural.

As Western culture marched from the ancient Semitic days towards the Hellenistic period and the Roman empire, the notion of the Enemy became more central. Hades always had its place in the cycle of life, as did Ge, the Earth Mother. But as the world became more philosophical, glorifying Spirit and Ideas over Matter and things of the Earth, the split became more pronounced. There had always been a tension between the orderly rituals and rites of elite society and the rituals of the masses, which were often related to fertility and could involve chaotic, frenzied rites. With the coming of the Christian Era, the Church rejected and sought to stamp out these baser rituals and their deities. The philosophers and the Christians became champions of the "Good", and sought to eradicate "Evil". And, just as spirit was seen as more valuable than matter, so the "good" became identified with spirit, and evil with matter and the Earth.

In Jungian theory, Eco's idea of the Enemy is in accord with Jung's map of the psyche--it is made up of pairs of opposites. Those weaker sides that we don't want to admit are part of us, or are under-developed, are known as the "Shadow". Jung's proposition was not to get rid of the Shadow, but rather to integrate it via something like Hegelian synthesis. It is often an uneasy alliance, but it is the mark of the mature individual, the Hero who has successfully gone on a quest and returned a new person.

James Hillman defines the metaphorical Hades of the unconscious as the "place of soul-making" for this reason. He sums up the problem of the Christian idea of salvation by saying that Paul exchanges psyche for pneuma: "We pay for spirit with our souls. Christianism's defeat of the underworld is also a loss of soul." To have a "victory over death" means that we lose the ability to make our souls. (Dream and the Underworld, p. 87)

With respect to this issue, and the demonization of things of the Earth (e.g., sex, wine, etc.), Jung states: "The medieval carnivals and jeux de paume in the Church were abolished relatively early; consequently, the carnival became secularized, and with it divine intoxication vanished from the sacred precincts. Mourning, earnestness, severity, and well-tempered spiritual joy remained. But intoxication, that most direct and dangerous form of possession, turned away from the gods and enveloped the human world with its exuberance and pathos. The pagan religions met this danger by giving drunken ecstasy a place within their cult...Our solution, however, has served to throw the gates of hell wide open." (Jung, 12: ¶182).

And so we return to the question of the Enemy. Eco correctly points out that we need an Enemy, and notes at the end of the essay, "We can recognize ourselves only in the presence of an Other, and on this the rules of coexistence and submission are based. But it is more likely that we find this Other intolerable because to some degree he is not us. In this way, by reducing him to an enemy, we create our hell on earth." I would add that it's not so much that the Other "isn't us", but that our ego does not want to acknowledge that the Other is as much a part of us as all those wonderful things we believe about ourselves. Where there is Heaven, there must also be Hell, and it all exists within the space of the Psyche. Rejecting and denying the Other only makes us unconsciously hateful human beings.

A friend and I had coffee recently, and she and I had both been to see the Hobbit at different times this month. She blasted the movie for being "too violent" and teaching kids to be violent. I told her she'd missed the point entirely. Life is violent and full of suffering. Even if it's not physical violence, there is a certain violence involved in growing up. We are always encountering the Enemy, seeing monsters everywhere. You don't get through life by hiding and pretending the monsters aren't there. Each confrontation changes you, and makes you a person more aware of the totality of being, not of the smallness of the ego. For all the faults of the movie vis-a-vis the book, it is pretty clear that Bilbo Baggins is not the same Hobbit that left the comforts of his home and his mother's dishes in the Shire. He has gone outside his comfortable little world and develops his weak points on behalf of others, instead of simply indulging his own desires. The process of becoming involves a lot of discomfort, and a constant engaging of the Enemy. However, we are not out to destroy the Enemy, but to come into an uneasy alliance. Even in the Titanomachy of ancient Greek myth, the monsters were not killed, they retreated to the depths of Tartarus.

Perhaps this quote from Jung sums up my reflections the best: "The devil always seeks to saw off the branch on which you sit. That is useful and protects you from falling asleep and from the vices that go along with it. The devil is an evil element. But joy? If you run after it, you see that joy also has evil in it, since then you arrive at pleasure and from pleasure go straight to Hell, your own particular Hell, which turns out differently for everyone. Through my coming to terms with the devil, he accepted some of my seriousness, and I accepted some of his joy. This gave me courage. But if the devil has gotten more earnest, one must brace oneself.   It is always a risky thing to accept joy, but it leads us to life and its disappointment, from which the wholeness of our life becomes." [The Red Book; Page 260-261] *

*(Thanks to the Carl Jung Depth Psychology blog for this piece.)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Future

Perhaps it is because we are at the end of a year that I am looking at the future. This involves cultivating new beginnings, and leaving behind those things that are no longer relevant in our lives.

One of the things I'm questioning is the relevance of this blog. I've not posted much at all since September, and what I have posted is rather diffuse--there's no real theme or purpose to the whole thing except for "stuff Brigid rattles on about", and a lot of it comes off as pretentious. Some of it seems repetitive as well. For having such a full life, it seems like I don't have a lot to say anymore.

That said, there are times when I like having the blog as a vehicle. So, I'm not sure that I want to shut the whole thing down. But I do think I need to refocus.

Therefore--as of January 1, 2013, this blog will only deal with the following kinds of material: reviews and travel accounts. This includes books or articles that I'm reading or have read, and feel compelled to comment on, and accounts of trips that I take across this country, or in another.

All essays, vignettes, and prose or poetry writing will be over at http://bbfiction.wordpress.com, another blog I have neglected for some time, because of my academic commitments.

Hopefully this re-balancing will enable me to write in a more focused and useful fashion, and will allow anyone following my blog for whatever reason to choose the appropriate forum to follow.

A word on comments--I will no longer allow anonymous comments, and if comments are posted, there is no guarantee that I can take the time to respond to them. If I do respond, it may be awhile, so be aware of this if you're looking for a dialogue on whatever I've posted. I am beginning my doctoral work this semester, in addition to my other jobs, so it is going to be a challenge to keep up with posting as it is. Thanks for your understanding on this.

Have a happy new year. -- BB

Sunday, November 25, 2012

In Between

There are a strange collection of aromas this morning. There is the smell of food cooking somewhere, but I am not cooking any food. I open the door, and take in the scent of cold, wintery air before shutting and locking the door again. Complicating matters is the scent of the balsam fur candle I bought the other day, a rather pointless purchase when I consider that I'll be putting a live Christmas tree in my house next week.

I am always amazed by sunrises and sunsets. Currently I am looking at the silhouettes of Celtic crosses and other headstones, with the bones of forsythia bushes in the foreground, and a blazing blue, orange, and purple sky behind them. Summer sunrises are not like this, unless one is at the Shore.

This rather mundane ritual of getting up, making tea, and watching the sunrise with my writing in some ways encapsulates the joy of life for me. It is quiet--I am not distracted by loud music, or blaring television sets. There is the occasional mewl of the cat, and the hum of hot water moving through the baseboard pipes. Besides that, there is just silence, blue, and blazing orange. Eos has always been one of my favorite Titans, and I cannot help but think about being between two worlds, the shamanistic symbolism of the Argonauts and their boat.

Perhaps this is because I have just re-read the Argonautica for a lecture at the end of this week. But I tend to think of myself as always on the threshold of something, never quite here or there, not passing through the gate, but not prepared to go backwards, either. Since I am neither here nor there, I have no choice but to be in the present, which, if the Zen monks are to be believed, is the only place of peace.

Of course, being in-between leaves an empty space for opportunity and speculation. It is at these moments that I plan trips abroad in my mind, even when I have no money. While I am longing to go to Southern France next year, the idea of a week at a convent in Ireland (suggested by a friend recently) also sounds very appealing right about now. Or, even just a visit to the sisters at Mt. St. Mary's, for a weekend of silence on the hillside, curled up in the library window seats or downstairs with some cocoa in front of a roaring fire.

The in-between place can also be a beacon for every psychical disturbance that one experiences. Those quiet spaces get filled with voices of guilt and regret and despair for what could have been, and the exasperation of not knowing what will be. We have so many distractions--humorous TV shows, cat pictures on the Internet, long conversations with friends that steer us from unpleasant subjects. None of these are bad, in fact they are particularly welcome when one is anxious. But in the silence, it's just you and the huge monster that is your dilemma alone together in the room. The first impulse is to flee by turning on a radio or television, some device that will shut out the things that materialize when there are no distractions. One of my graduate school professors once said, "You can learn to be with anyone, but the hardest person to learn to be with is yourself."

Sometimes, during these early morning hours when I don't have to go to work, I will get an idea for a story. No, that's not quite true--the idea will have presented itself in that other in-between state, sleeping and waking. But lately, I have had an urge not for prose, but for poetry. I am not quite confident as a poet; there is the weight of the "literary" when one presents a poem, a sense that one is not "doing it quite right". It is not difficult to write literary prose. But it takes work to write literary poetry. Society often scorns it as a useless art or a distraction, but it is one of the greatest abilities of the human mind. Managing to find words that musically capture an image of something unimaginable requires experience as well as discipline. Some poets work on a single poem for years, just to get it right.

When I think of thresholds, the first poem I think of is Sylvia Plath's "The Moon and the Yew Tree", or even Tennyson's "In Memoriam" verse 96. There is a transition there, a sense of either descent or re-integration. Descent always brings the possibility of re-integration. In Plath's case, it did not--she completely self-destructed. Her line there is, "I simply cannot see where there is to get to". There has been the suggestion that at this point she produced, wittingly or not, a new mythology for women. She moved away from her more proper, academic forms to something more primal, the deep purging that characterizes the "Ariel" poems. Plath was no different from most smart women in that she wanted it all--to be "greater than Virginia Woolf" as a writer, and to be beautiful and admired in a goddess-like sense, and to have a wonderful family and be a wonderful mother. The Ariel poems tear all of that down, expose it for the nonsense that it is. The woman is as much Durga or Kali as she is sweet-faced Lakshmi or Saraswati, and she does not wish to be controlled or punished by male convention.

On the other hand, I often find myself thinking of the lines in Elizabeth Bishop's poem, "The Moose":

"Yes..." that peculiar
affirmative. "Yes..."
A sharp, indrawn breath
half groan, half acceptance,
that means "Life's like that.
We know it (also death)."

The poem is about riding on a bus, and suddenly the driver stops when :

"A moose has come out of
the impenetrable wood
and stands there, looms, rather,
in the middle of the road.
It approaches ; it sniffs at
the bus's hot hood.

Towering, antlerless,
high as a church,
homely as a house
(or safe as houses)."

I think that about sums up the experience of the in-between. There is a moment in which everything stops, and Nature faces you, reminding you of its friendly, nurturing qualities, and perhaps invoking a nurturing sense in yourself, if you can stop being afraid of life. As Bishop says in subsequent lines, "Why do we feel (we all feel) this sweet sensation of joy?"

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving

Experiencing Thanksgiving morning with some green tea, an English muffin, and a blog posting for the first time in quite awhile. I started to pull out work for my lectures, and finally decided that I need a break from that. This is a holiday, I should spend more time at leisure. But the Latin word for leisure is "schola", and I never quite get away from the academics, even in my leisure time.

Of course, Shiva cat is determined to maintain a dialogue with me as I'm sitting here with my breakfast. Nearby the new humidifier hums, spiraling its mists towards the ceiling. The windows are a bit foggy, but I can see the rising sun on my left, and the pumpkin that I never carved into a jack o'lantern sitting underneath the huge maple tree in front of me. The squirrels have now broken into the pumpkin, and I frequently see one of the pair that live in the maple tree sitting on top of the pumpkin, scooping up the fruit and scooping out the seeds. At least some creature is getting the use of my otherwise wasted purchase.

Hurricane Sandy, or the "Frankenstorm", if you prefer, destroyed Halloween this year, just as the so-called "snowpocalypse" did last year. Sandy is the reason my pumpkin never became a jack o'lantern; I had to spend the weekend before the storm re-routing drains, moving debris, and otherwise stocking up on essentials, including gasoline and cash. What was odd about Sandy for my town was that it did far less damage than any previous hurricane, but its widespread affects were practically apocalyptic. I usually think storm preparations in this area are a joke, but I was very glad that I'd taken the time this year, as it left me better off than most.

I walked outside the morning after the storm. Everything was dripping, but it wasn't flooded. Many pieces of the pine tree in my yard were scattered about, but all the trees around me, and the power/utility lines, were intact. Down the street I found a huge tree branch blocking the road, and managed to move it to the appropriate yard. My power was out, but I was hoping that would be a short-term event.

The reality of the storm hit me a day later, when my neighbor and I went out together, in an attempt to find some breakfast. Driving up and down our local highway, everything was out, including the traffic lights. No one could open, no one had power. The few restaurants that somehow didn't lose power, or that had generators, were packed to the gills. Long lines were snaking down the highway for gasoline. Everywhere we went, it was so full, we'd be standing around for an hour minimum, and there was nowhere to park. Finally we returned home, not wanting to waste anymore gas. She asked me if I thought the gas station would take quarters, as all the cash machines were down, and it was all she had in cash. I told her to give me her quarters, I'd give her the equivalent cash. My neighbor's daughter brought her some breakfast, and I went to my parents' house, who thankfully never lost power. In the end, I packed up both cats, and stayed there for a week, only returning to vote on Election Day.

About 9 days after Sandy, a Nor'easter came through the area that was mild by comparison. Both storms were a disaster for the Shore towns, but up North, it was more like an apology, a pretty picture painted by Nature for those willing to get up early in the morning. My own employer had re-opened by then, and driving through my parents' snow-covered town framed by the intense blues, reds, and oranges of sunrise, was inspiring. The "village" that had lost so much of its character over the years, a former vacation-home area in the "country", now largely a collection of cheaply-made McMansions awkwardly placed on plots of land too small for them, looked like an enchanting place again under the glamor of snow.

Now it is Thanksgiving, it is sunny, cold, and dry, and I have a lot to be thankful for when I consider the last few weeks. I cannot imagine how it is for people with homes in the Rockaways, or Staten Island, or anywhere along the Shore. The photos of Seaside Heights were sickening. I know many people associate that area with the reality show Jersey Shore, perhaps one of the best examples of our culture as the nadir of Western civilization. But the Seaside I remember is the one I went to growing up, visiting the boardwalk as a child, going on the rides, playing games, and eating Kohr's ice cream and Three Brothers pizza. We would rent in Ocean Beach, and usually visited Seaside twice during our week vacation. I hear that all of that is decimated. I don't think I could bear to drive down there and see. Those who live there year-round have lost everything, and in some cases, there are retirees who lost more than one home at the same time.

I am very thankful that I suffered no damage--not even flooding, or large limbs on the roof. I am very fortunate that I had my parents' house to go to--food, shelter, heat, and working Internet, and much closer to all of my jobs. At the worst, I suffered inconveniences, and minor lifestyle adjustments. And I'm thankful I had the foresight to take out enough money and put enough gasoline in my car to get through the worst of the crisis--I only had to sit in line for gas once. I am grateful for Governor Chris Christie, for actually stepping up to the plate and handling the storm fallout without any partisan nonsense. And for once I am grateful for Fox News's Megyn Kelley, someone I usually want to punch in the face, for turning to a Karl Rove in denial about Obama's re-election votes, and saying "Now, is this math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better, or is this real?" As Jon Stewart accurately noted, this should be Fox's slogan instead of "Fair and balanced." With apologies to my Republican friends--Fox may represent the way you want things to be, but it's not a picture of how things really are. If you think MSNBC and CNN are biased the other way, try watching BBC or Al-Jazeera.

I'm not looking to wax political, but it's probably worth mentioning this myth of "entitlement" on Thanksgiving Day and the beginning of the holiday season, where we talk about sharing our bounty with others. The new take on Obama's re-election is that he's promised people "stuff". Having access to basic health care, being able to pay your education debts, and being able to put food on the table for your kids are not "gifts", or at least they shouldn't be. We live in the richest country in the world, and we still have a 19th century mentality about our resources. The term used at the end of the 19th century for what we now call the "1%" was "robber barons". They broke the backs of the masses so that they could be rich. They were not hard workers. They worked hard at exploiting others. And corporations would love to go back to that model; in fact, you might argue that they're well on their way already. People forget that the middle class was built--and America became economically strong--with lots of government intervention and financing. It can't be done any other way--no one else has the collective resources, and you pay TAXES for heaven's sake--they should benefit you. There may be people who take advantage of the system, but that's what government needs to fix, not to punish everyone in need on account of the manipulators of the system. Incidentally, the only difference between those manipulators at the top and those at the bottom is that those in the top are considered "business savvy" while the ones at the bottom are considered "thieves". We reward the criminals at the top, and punish the ones at the bottom severely. We should look at Iceland's model--throw the manipulators at the top in jail and forgive the debts of the masses. Their GDP was up 17% last time I checked, and they're in better shape than any country in Europe.

I think we have too much "stuff" in this country, but our economy is built on people buying stuff and using services. Everyone has to have money in order to spend it. When everyone can spend, then everyone benefits. There are more jobs, people live happier lives, because they can do what they want without the burden of crippling debt. I would suggest that we stop demonizing the poor as lazy freeloaders, and worry more about the big picture. When everyone has enough, then everyone wins.

And if there's one thing the storm should have taught us, it's that we're not as individualistic as we'd like to believe. The best part of the storm was people coming together to help each other, and to share what they had with those who didn't. It would have been a bigger disaster if people did not come together. It's not "socialism" in the pejorative sense, it's the best part of being human. Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Stone

Today is the first day that is cold enough to turn on the heat. I prefer to do this on a day that I am home, because I have an unnatural fear of turning the heat on for the first time. Of course, if you think about it, it may not be so unreasonable to have some numinous awe of an appliance that operates with flames and combustible materials like natural gas or oil. Especially one in the basement of your house. But, everything went well, except that the thermostat STILL doesn't work properly with this furnace, which tells me it's a crappy thermostat. On the bright side, that's much easier to fix than a furnace problem.

Today is also my day of catching up on writing lectures and grading, because work never really ceases for me during the semester. This isn't really a problem, I'm just easily distracted on the weekends. For instance, I'm taking time to write this blog post. Which is not a lecture, but is related to a lecture I gave last week.

In a discussion on Athena and Artemis, we looked at the motif of "turning to stone". It seems to me that one can "turn to stone" in a couple of ways. Consciousness is a balancing act, and being too much in the ego can turn one "to stone", as well as being too much in unconsciousness. To stagnate on either side is like being "made of stone". There has to be a dynamic flow between the two.

The most obvious association with turning to stone is Medusa, the Gorgon, who turns men to stone when they look into her face. In some versions of the myth, Medusa is a priestess of Athena, a virgin goddess, and Athena finds her making love to Poseidon in her temple. She punishes her by turning her into a monstrous being, represented in Greek art as having snakes for hair, boars' tusks, lolling tongues, and wings coming from their forehead. I have also heard versions where she is a priestess of Aphrodite, but the Athena version probably makes more sense, in light of the fact that she gives birth to Pegasus (a winged horse, and Poseidon is associated with horses) when she is killed. Still other versions suggest that Medusa was always a monster. In any case, the hero Perseus cuts her head off, and is able to do so by looking at her reflection in a shield, never looking at her directly.

Heinrich Karl Fierz is a Jungian psychiatrist who has written about the "Medusa" in his clinical practice. His patients have drawn pictures that look like a starfish or octopus, and these have been dubbed the "Medusa":

"Seen as an image, the medusa also provides clues about the biological and spiritual danger that it signifies. Seen biologically, it kills its prey with the poison in its tentacles. In a spiritual-mythological context, it is the snake-infested head of the Medusa that turns people to stone...Jung was of the opinion that the enormous affect associated with such images derives from toxic damage caused by metabolic disorders, which blocks psychic development...The 'poison of the medusa' needs an antidote, that is the biological aspect. With regard to the spiritual-mythological aspect, you will recall that Perseus overcomes the Medusa not by looking at her directly, but by catching her reflection in his shield. Thus, the dangerous, panic-stricken fascination can be overcome through reflection...The image in Perseus' shield is an image of reflective understanding." (Jungian Psychiatry, p. 138-139).

Thus, one can be "turned to stone" by an encounter in what Jung called the "psychoid" regions of psyche. They can become stuck. Similar in this regard is the myth of Pirithous and Theseus (also used as an example by Jung), who go into the underworld (i.e., the collective unconscious) to abduct Persephone. They become stuck to the rocks, the "Chairs of Forgetfulness", and are now trapped as a consequence of their rash assault. It is a representation of schizophrenia, of a disconnect with the conscious ego. All of normal life is forgotten, and the person is unable to move forward-they are "stuck", or "turned to stone".

Another myth with a "turning to stone" motif is that of Leto and Niobe. Leto is the mother of Artemis and Apollo. Niobe is a Queen of Thebes, where Leto and her divine offspring are honored. She does not believe Leto deserves such honors, as she only had the two children, and Niobe had 7 boys and 7 girls, which made her more worthy of praise, in her opinion. This insult to Leto was answered by Artemis and Apollo killing all of her children--Artemis killed the girls, Apollo killed the boys. Apollo and Artemis have the curious attribute of being protectors of children and young adults that matched their sex, and also of suddenly and savagely killing them. When Niobe begged Artemis to spare her youngest daughter, Artemis killed her anyway, and turned Niobe to stone. Niobe, now a statue, was whisked away to the top of Mount Phrygia, where the statue supposedly wept for its loss.

From my perspective, this is a mirror image of the Medusa problem--it is someone too stuck in their own ego consciousness. There is a tendency to believe that what is external to us is all there is, and an interior life is somewhat downgraded, at least from an uber-rational perspective. I visited some friends a couple of weeks ago, and one of them was reading Richard Davidson's "The Emotional Life of the Brain". Davidson had noted that few studies had been conducted regarding emotions and the brain, because emotions were viewed as some sort of irrational embarrassment by the scientific community. It is in this way that modern science is influenced by patriarchal religion--there is a belief that humans are greater than animals, and that what sets us apart from animals is our ability to reason. Therefore, the exalted Man is a reasonable and rational Man. This was before we understood that animals also have the ability to reason. Certainly crows are smart enough to make tools, and octopi are know for playing pranks. Still, it is an unconscious myth that persists. Rationality is "light" ; all other human attributes are "darkness", and ones we should be ashamed of in this view.

From the psychoanalytic perspective, the problem with this is that we are arrested in the maturation process. Our resistance to the unconscious only gives the unconscious more control over our lives. We walk around as though in a hall of mirrors; we never see ourselves, except as reflected in those around us (and quite literally in mirrors). Again, one must be introspective, reflect on experiences and their inner meaning, to achieve balance. When they don't, they are wonderful and everyone else is the problem. This is another kind of "turning to stone"--a "stuckness" in one's own ego identity. Such "stuckness" is often shattered by an appearance of the Trickster archetype, if the person is fortunate. In less jargon-filled terms, it is what my mother would call having "life happen to them." The person who puffs themselves up with their illusions is often brought down quickly, like the Hindu story of Indra and the ants (see the Moyers/Campbell "Power of Myth" episode on the "Message of the Myth" for a retelling of that story).

It is in these ways that mythical stories can provide guidance for us in the context of our life experiences. There is a tendency to read myth (including scripture) in a very rationalistic, literalistic kind of sense. Even the ancient philosophers did this, when they viewed the stories of the gods as bad role models for human behavior. One has to look beyond the surface to understand the meaning. But this often doesn't happen until an experience occurs that calls for introspection. It is important that we don't deny that aspect of ourselves, lest we end up "turned to stone". In popular culture, a similar fear is expressed in the fascination with zombies--mindless cannibalistic feeders. While I would not directly compare those images, they both warn of the dangers of thoughtlessly clinging to an identity or role.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

NYC on a Thursday

Thursdays are tricky. They are a "normal" day workwise, but if I want to do anything Thursday nights, I must be mindful of the fact that Fridays are not "normal", they are in fact 13 hour days, from the time I leave home to the time I return.

A friend of mine asked if I wanted an extra ticket to see the Corin Tucker Band. I think he bought the tickets over the summer. September is the time when school starts, and we are often hit with unexpected changes of schedule. I did not know I'd be teaching a class. He did not know that his daughter would have an important event that evening. So, I ended up with two tickets, and no one else to go with at the last minute. On a Thursday. Which is tricky.

I am wide awake as I leave work on Thursday afternoon, and feel pretty sure that I am in for a good evening. I am reading Muriel Barbery's second novel on the train. It is short, so I want to save it, have some to read through dinner and on the way home. I put the book down, and I am immediately assailed by the snorting laughter of the idiot behind me on his cellphone, and the sounds of the couple in the seat in front of me kissing very loudly. To my right is a girl listening to her iPod, but has no awareness of volume, as I can very clearly hear the mass-produced excuse for soul music that she is listening to quite clearly from 3 seats over. The train stops for about 5 minutes--it is not late, but probably waiting for another train to pass before entering the tunnel under the Hudson River. Visions of Sartre's "No Exit" dance in my head, and I am grateful when the train lurches forward again.

Once in New York, I jump on the downtown E train. I must take the uptown train most of the time, because finding the downtown track within Penn Station proves to be far more difficult than it should be. Once on the train, a man gets on the train with a child in a stroller, around 23rd Street. He announces loudly that he has to get back to Boston, but has no money for the bus. People open their wallets to help him out, myself included. Across from me sits a homeless man, with very few teeth left. He pulls a couple of dollars out of his pocket and gives them to the man. He needs five more dollars, and someone finally gives it to him, and he is grateful. As I get up to get off the train at West 4th St., a Polish woman on the train walks over to the homeless man and gives him his 2 dollars back. "Here sir, I gave him more than enough to cover. You keep your money. That is the nicest thing I have ever seen." She looks at me and nods congenially, then looks back at the man. "You are a good person, sir--a very good person. So many people who have the money won't give anything." The homeless man is clearly touched, and smiles broadly with his crooked teeth. The woman and I step off the train, and I head over to the F train platform.

I head over to Lucien's on First and First. I was not sure that this is where I would end up. I just knew I wanted French food, and this was the first place I'd encountered. The waitstaff at the restaurant is very nice. I am seated near the window, where I can watch the people heading up and down First Avenue. I choose a Rhone Valley red, and order steak tartare. The waiter calls to me. "You know that tartare is rare, right sweetheart?" I assure him that I know that. "I don't want to insult your intelligence, but a lot of people order it who are just looking for regular steak with fries." I tell him that he's not insulted me--it's always better to ask. He asks about what I'm reading.

"It's Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery. About a French food critic who is dying, and is trying to decide on the perfect flavor that he wants before he dies." The waiter then proceeds to tell me about "Jiro Dreams of Sushi", a documentary about an 85-year-old Japanese sushi chef. "It sounds boring, but it's really fascinating." He tells me that the man's restaurant only has 10 seats, and one has to reserve a month in advance. He also spoke about the fish auctions, and the incredible back and forth of the auctioneers and the buyers.

The steak tartare is done a bit differently from what I'm used to, but I do eat all of it. The flavors were interesting, but I would probably choose something else next time. The pommes frites, which are an old comfort food classic, were excellent. It's a place I'd definitely visit again.

I walk over to Mercury Lounge, which has opened up a few minutes earlier. I pass the merchandise counter, and make eye contact with Corin Tucker herself, who is helping out. I say hello, very surprised to see her there. Not that it's necessarily so unusual.

Surprisingly, I've never been to Mercury Lounge before. It's a small venue, like a lot of the little Brooklyn music places. I get a beer and take a seat. The opening band is called "Imperfect Forms", and they are pretty good. I don't really know how to describe their sound. As the time approaches for the main band to come onstage, the venue gets more and more crowded. Soon, I cannot see the stage at all, even though I am up front, and any pictures I take with my phone come out black. Corin Tucker comes onstage with her new band. I had not heard them previously, though I am familiar with her previous work, particularly Sleater Kinney, Heavens to Betsy, and Cadallaca. The songs were impressive, intricate, a mix of psychedelia and *almost* punk, without falling definitively into either label.

I did not stay for the whole gig, as Friday was a teaching day, and I was not willing to face my students with only 3 or 4 hours of sleep. I realize that I am also not a fan of packed crowds, and the wall-to-wall stuffiness of one of autumn's last humid evenings definitely affected my senses. I kept thinking that I probably missed something good, like Carrie Brownstein coming out for an encore, or something. (Reviews show me that I did not miss such an event.) I felt like the songs were a mix of her Cadallaca work (sans farfisa organ) and the Sleater Kinney stuff, but realizing that it is not really fair to compare the songs to either project. It's another animal entirely.

The train home was unusually quiet. I am not used to NJ Transit without loud cell phone conversations, obnoxious drunks, or giggling teenagers on their first New York excursion. I can see myself perfectly in the train windows, and it occurs to me that I cannot see myself when the light shines brightly; only when it is dark outside. I drive home, with no particular thoughts of anything, except my 10 am class.

My New York excursions have only been samples. To have a full experience of the city, I really need to have a hotel room for the night. NJ Transit hours are not the city hours. The real night life begins well after 9 pm, long after others have shut everything down.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Saved

I have to say, this is a morning I've been waiting for. It is September, and Fall-like weather has finally come in. It is a Sunday morning, and I ought to be sleeping in, but you know, the cat and all. I got tired of him biting my elbows. I was supposed to meet a friend for early-morning breakfast, but now she's postponed til later this afternoon. I also plan to pick my Fall stash of apples with another friend this afternoon, and I'm trying to envision exactly when I'm going to fit in my yardwork. There are far too many leaves on the ground for the second week of September. Even my neighbor, who very beautifully and meticulously tended to her yard yesterday, now has a huge mess of leaves and sticks from yesterday evening's storm. Near my kitchen door, there has been a yellow spider trying to look inconspicuous in a corner. Upon closer examination, I now think there are two yellow spiders there, and that they are attempting to create more yellow spiders. I hate to spoil the romance of their liaison, but if they think I will tolerate a gazillion yellow spider babies in my house, they have another thing coming. The last time I encountered yellow spider babies--in my car, while driving--I got a bite from one that swelled up and left me hyperventilating. Obviously I'm still here, so it wasn't fatal, but if there's any thought that I'm going to allow for a repeat performance...it's the old "fool me once" cliche.

I had the misfortune to wake up with a Bon Jovi song in my head. Lest you think I listen to Bon Jovi, it was a song I heard while buying groceries yesterday morning. There should be stiff penalties for any shopping facility that plays crappy music. Jon Bon Jovi is a Jersey boy, and anyone who doesn't live in New Jersey (and some who do) seem to think that we have a moral obligation to listen to Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. I am not a fan of either one of them, though I will give Springsteen credit for being a talented songwriter. I like maybe 3 or 4 of his songs. Bon Jovi, as far as I can tell, is a genuinely decent human being--he's done a lot of charitable things, and I don't think it's just for media show or tax purposes. But I can't stand his music. At first, it was just more hair metal, that I was unfortunately exposed to in high school. Then Bon Jovi fell in love, and started churning out sentimental crap. At least that's the story I recall.

I have decided that love is bad for creativity. When you are in love and in a new relationship, you are as high as a kite, and sound like an idiot most of the time. If I look over my writings over the years, the worst crap I have ever written has been written when I was in love. It takes a broken heart, disappointment, or just plain old-fashioned psychosis to write well, or at least write interesting stuff. If I look at all my favorite artists, writers, and musicians, they are either a. on drugs/were on drugs, b. clinically mentally ill, or c. had some kind of life crisis or heartache that really kicked them in the teeth.

Of course, the life crisis bit can work in reverse, in some cases, especially if the person in question then decides to "find religion". The only artist I know of who produced great music after finding religion was George Harrison, and that's likely because it was genuine and not crisis-driven."Finding religion" is similar to falling in love in this case. There is an unbalanced optimism, and the sense that you can now "fix" the broken world. The method of "fixing" is entirely a projection of this delusional state, so it really does nothing but irritate others, who would prefer you keep your delusions to yourself, thank you. People in love tend to sound like stoned hippies ; people who have "found" religion tend to sound smug and self-righteous. And they pity that you are not like them. I prefer to listen to someone in love over someone who has "found religion" (especially if they have "found Jesus") any day.

"Finding religion" after a severe crisis is not usually a victory, though it is perceived this way by the victim. The script may go like this: "I was a prostitute who shot heroin every day and killed people, but now I've found Jesus, and I'm saved." Er, not really. You've taken all the things of your life that you can't come to terms with, and thrown them in a closet. You then declare they are no longer in your closet, they are now personified as a being called "Satan". "You" are not really "like that", the "Devil" made you do those things. In typical patriarchal fashion, this has become a war, and you feel you have "conquered" your personal Satan via Jesus, not realizing that the so-called "Satan" hasn't really gone anywhere, and has more control over you than ever. Just because you choose not to see "him" doesn't mean "he" isn't there. In fact, you're better off psychologically acknowledging that "he" is there. Integration is always better than repression. It's the real meaning of C.S. Lewis's statement (paraphrased)--the thing the Devil wants the most is for you to believe he doesn't exist. Or, quite simply, yes, you ARE really like that. As is everyone else, potentially, when we are out of balance. There are many complex reasons why this might be the case. But denying that part of oneself only creates self-hatred, and therefore a judgmental hatred of others. The new life will constantly need to be validated by others, because it isn't authentic. Hence, this need to "convert" others, and to proselytize.

I'm sure I will get into trouble with someone for that last paragraph. Perhaps it is my recent delving into the Iron Age religious and mythical transition that has made me think more about the notion of "salvation". Salvation is an Iron Age concept, that comes from warring patriarchal tribes. For all the good it does (giving hope about existence after death), it also has created a psychological disaster, in that it has left Western civilization in this moral struggle between "good" and "evil" that is exploited by governments and media everywhere, and ever present in culture. We are split, and unable to see the value of integrating. You can be a wonderful, charitable, divine person, and you can also be the worst sonofabitch. There is the potential to be a Mother Teresa, and there is the potential to be a serial killer. We all have it. We just don't like to acknowledge the second part. The irony is that not acknowledging it makes it more of a danger. We see it in others, and decide those others therefore need to be "controlled" or "destroyed", not realizing it is us as well. Maybe "serial killer" is extreme, but people are often harmed in the name of "their own good". There's often little or no need to save someone from themselves. When someone feels the urge, they should look at themselves first.

In any case, we sometimes reach a euphoric state where we think we "know", where we think we've "arrived", and other things cease to have meaning. But any life path lived with awareness will have these wonderful "moments" that don't last. And when you consider how much about existence is simply unknowable, it's best to be careful when you assert that you "know". The best you can say is that you "know" what's good for yourself. And that may change.

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Look

Autumn seems to be arriving early this year. We have not had huge amounts of rain, and so far (knock wood loudly) we have avoided the wrath of any hurricanes or tropical storms. Still, it is a bit windy and rainy. My back yard, which was leaf-free after my efforts on Sunday morning, is now covered in a blanket of yellow and brown leaves, all from an apparently dying chestnut tree on the property behind mine. Maybe it is because I am prepping a class in Greek and Roman mythology that I am reminded of the myth of Sisyphus.

Today is Labor Day, and true to American tradition, I have spent much of my weekend at picnics. Many of you who read this blog are not believers in astrology. However, I considered this weekend to be an education in the Aries/Taurus cusp personality. I am an Aries/Taurus cusp; so is my mother, and so is one of my friends, the one whose house I happened to visit on Sunday.

At the Sunday picnic, my friend had a ton of excellent food--some wonderful Italian specialities, every conceivable meat on the grill, and loads of good desserts. She was constantly running around, taking things out of the oven, preparing things, running here and there to do things. Whenever anyone asked if they could help her, she said, "Nope, got it under control." Similarly, when I was at my mother's house today, there are some things she will let me help with, but with others she will say, "Nope--leave that for me, I have my own system."

At my mother's house, one particular dish she was cooking did not turn out properly, and she was very vexed throughout the entire meal. I said to her, "It's fine, it tastes fine, it's not the end of the world. " And of course I know that if this happened at an event I was giving at MY house, I'd want to pull out the knives for hari kiri. I tell my mother and my friend not to worry so much about having everything perfect, and I know damn well that I will criticize myself for years afterward if I screw up the same thing. It's the case of the pot and the kettle. I have had friends stay at my house, and I think they sometimes get vexed with me, because I usually don't let them do anything, and I'm adamant about it. I've tried to be more relaxed, but I have a real thing about my own house and kitchen--I know where everything is, and I have a system for putting everything away, doing dishes in the proper order, etc. We tend to be the same way about our jobs--we know what we're doing, and we don't like others messing up our system, even if it's well intended. As my mother put it, "it throws you out of your rhythm." I totally get that.

My mother is a rather tiny woman; we are the same height, but she has a considerably smaller frame. Still, there are people who find my mother intimidating. "I have no idea why," she says. She's not openly aggressive. But she told me a recent story that illustrates why she is feared, or at least respected. My mother has been the head of the shelving department at a large public library for about 30 years. Recently, in the children's room, a couple of kids were diving off the ledge by the bay windows. One of her shelvers approached the mother, concerned that one of the kids might go through the window. "I wouldn't want that to happen," said the mother, who did not move from her computer to see what the kids were doing. So, the shelver went over to speak to my Mom. The kids must have heard, because they temporarily quieted down. Then they started up again. My mother came out from the stacks, and approached them, shaking her head, and wagging her finger. And she gave them The Look. The kids stopped immediately and sat down.

The Look has been my mother's weapon of choice since we were children. It is far more effective than yelling or physical violence. All she has to do is give you The Look, and you will wither instantly into submission. It's really a superpower, and I told her she should handle it as such.

As an adult, I don't have the mastery of The Look, though I'm more immune to it now if my mother gives it to me. I prefer honest, face-to-face verbally calling someone out rather than just giving them The Look. But I don't think I do it as effectively. This is probably why my mother prefers I be silent in conflict, rather than speak up. But her battle weapon is different from mine.

When it comes to personalities, we know we're not always right, but we know what we think is right for ourselves. And if anyone tries to talk us out of what we think, openly argue, or belittle our points of view, we get like agitated cobras ready to spit venom. Which is why when we have family arguments, it's so much worse; we are equally stubborn and entrenched in our viewpoints, and neither side will budge. Over the years I have learned to use humor to break such impasses. And I know I'm not going to change her way of thinking (nor she mine), so I go out of my way to avoid arguments. Neutrality is far better than war in such cases.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Ghostwatch

I've not only been behind on blogging in recent weeks, I've also been behind on reading the blogs in my feed reader. I finally took an afternoon to catch up, and came across this article on the Mental Floss blog, about a BBC Halloween television special that caused PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in viewers. It also prompted a proposed change in the definition of PTSD, but that is another matter.

Naturally I am intrigued by such things, especially when I found out the program was called "Ghostwatch", ostensibly a reality show before reality TV, where the BBC sends reporters to investigate a haunted house, live on air, on Halloween. I managed to find this program on YouTube, and watched it the other night. A friend of mine in the UK said she recalled something about this show, and the backlash it received for dubbing itself a reality show. In fact, the whole thing was NOT real, not live on air, but it caused a panic much like that generated here in good ol' New Jersey when Orson Welles did his radio broadcast about the Martians landing. My friend said that she didn't think the show was worthy of the panic it caused, or at least didn't seem as scary when reviewed another time.

There are people who believe in the "paranormal", and those that do not, and there is a spectrum of belief/skepticism that is not simply black and white. While there are those who accept none of these things as true, and those who accept everything as true, it's likely that the majority of people fall somewhere in between, even if it's not fashionable to admit it. After all, as I've said before, the true scientist does not automatically discount everything, but does view such phenomena with a healthy amount of skepticism, and should always seek more rational answers first.

I watched this show knowing it was fiction, but I tried to imagine what it would have been like if I didn't know it was supposed to be fiction. And, even as someone who has seen phenomena and believes in the possibility of ghostly phenomena of all types, it would not have taken me long to figure out that this program was faked.

It starts off well enough, rather believable. You have a serious-looking host, a parapsychologist familiar with the case to answer questions, a panel of staff for phoning in questions and comments, and reporters and technicians in the field, some who take it seriously, others who see it as a joke. I should add that this was filmed in 1992, so those of us used to Ghost Hunters-style reality TV would find this a bit amateurish. Still, it wasn't too bad technologically--they had infrared cameras, temperature controls, cameras in all active rooms of the house. The woman who plays the parapsychologist is quite convincing, even when she debates a member of PSICOP about his overtly-materialistic viewpoint on such phenomena, which he naturally thinks is entirely faked, or could be and therefore unconvincing.

The show did address a problem faced by parapsychology researchers--fakery in a genuine case. At one point, one of the girls in the haunted house, Suzanne, is caught making banging noises with a piece of metal, and the host of the show is willing to write off the whole thing as a hoax perpetrated by her. However, media pressure does sometimes cause this to happen in real cases, especially when dealing with teenage girls. They are now on display, forced to show that something will happen, and usually such phenomena do not appear on schedule. If nothing appears, they look foolish. That doesn't mean nothing happened, just that nothing happened that night. But, when the media is there, they have to make it seem like something is happening; their social credibility depends on it, and ironically they end up destroying it. And it's bad for research, because now the case is cast in a suspicious light. What if the researchers were duped? People are more likely to believe that than any amount of evidence.

As the show went on, I tried to suspend disbelief, but the bullshit detectors really went up after awhile. I don't want to create spoilers for those who want to go back and watch it, but you basically have 2 possessions (a ghost possessed by another ghost) , 2 possible poltergeist centers, 2 girls exhibiting possession symptoms at the same time, and voice phenomena that was quite unconvincing, given how it usually manifests. I have heard of poltergeist cases where 2 teenage females in the house may amplify the activity to an extreme, but the additional ghost story just made it too much. It was as if someone said, "hey, let's take every possible element of a scary story and put it into one haunted house!" While there were no demons, there is an element of evil that makes it quasi-demonic, just to cover most bases. All they were missing was a fairy sighting.

It got worse when the parapsychologist suggested that a huge seance was being created via television cameras, and the hysterical phone calls about glass tables exploding in viewers' houses, and such, and the "stopped clocks" everywhere. While that's a neat idea in fiction, it in no way mirrors any genuine cases that I'm aware of. The ending is nothing short of silly, and the fact that all power is out, except that "one" camera that still seems to be running somewhere, just drops the show with a "clunk". Only in fiction do spirits possess TV sets, or move through telecommunication lines. And the likelihood that you will have a murderous ghost possessing a schizophrenic suicidal ghost, which in turn possesses 2 girls at the same time is...well, "jumping the shark."

Finally, whatever ghosts may or may not be (we don't really know), I have never heard of them manifesting enough energy to wreak havoc on an entire country. Unless, of course, you're talking fiction. It's a nice try, but the more I watched, the less I was buying it.

Of course, I suppose if you have a viewing audience that is caught up in the suspense, and thinks this is a real broadcast, it might cause some panic and fear. I did find it somewhat disturbing, even though I knew it was not real and a bit over the top.

Still, I wouldn't deem it worthy of PTSD. I think I'm more likely to get PTSD from the piece of fuzz I picked up this morning from the living room floor that happened to be attached to a huge, living spider. I don't think the cat was aware that I could scream that loud.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Epiphany

Summer 2012 has been a lesson in the unknown and unexpected. It's been many years since so many things have not gone according to plan. As the plumbing for my new furnace fails a pressure test for the second time, I imagine that my friend J.R. will be right, and it will be October before my new furnace and hot water heater is installed. My summer has been dominated by this monumental utility event. The number of days I've missed work, re-arranged hours, had to work Sundays, all because I'm waiting for contractors, code inspectors. The Fridays off that I could have gone to the beach, or out for a day trip, nixed because "the code officer will arrive between 10 and 4". Still, I am grateful that the code officer checks these things. If he didn't, I'd end up with a gas leak, and probably an explosion, if I wasn't overcome by fumes. No one likes red tape and regulations, but with something like this, I'd rather be inconvenienced than dead.

We have had very little rain in the last month. For the last couple of days, nature has finally thrown us a bone, and at least 2 inches of rain have fallen. I will take small batches of rainy days to a rain-intensive hurricane any day. Still, rain leaves me feeling listless. It takes me all day to finish simple tasks. I remind myself that it is good to take a break sometimes.

Today the story broke about 12 people killed in a Colorado movie theater by a gunman, a 24-year-old PhD student. It happened at the premiere of the new Dark Knight movie, and apparently he has some delusion that he is the Joker, or was acting as the Joker. If that is true, then it is more evidence that the line between fantasy and reality can wear very thin for some people. It doesn't have to lead to disaster, but sometimes it does.

I went to see my guru about 10 days ago, when she was visiting New York. For a woman with so many physical problems--back problems, shoulder problems, diabetes, who knows what else--she is ferociously strong. She held me so tight to her, I could feel the mala underneath her white dress, I almost couldn't breathe. Mother Kali was crushing me, destroying the apparent to get to the real person, beyond illusion. When I left her, I shook all over for some time. We exchanged no words, I don't think she really even looked at me.

But after I left her and went home, I found myself changed, yet again. Opening my computer, I was barraged with articles telling me how to dress, what to eat, who to vote for, what kind of career to have, how to manage my money. Visions of celebrities whose names were familiar, but meant nothing to me, spilled over across those articles. This is why people like to look at pictures of cute cats and dogs with grammatically poor captions. When I turn on the computer, I don't want to feel under attack for my life choices.

Really, it is all self-judgment. It is almost impossible to escape day-to-day media. There are things we really do need to know to make good decisions. But we will never really get to those things, sucked into the vortex of images and information that assails us.

I realized when I got home that I don't have to listen to the images or compare myself to them. I don't have to pick a career that makes millions. I don't have to live on fruits and vegetables. I don't have to like Obama or Romney. I don't "have to" do anything. My life is my own.

Maybe this shouldn't be a startling revelation. But so many decisions are made because I "must" do this or that. We do things that we think will impress on our resume or CV, we try to impress people that we think can help us in our goals, we follow life paths that are "acceptable" to society. It's all political, and it's anti-soul politics. We're not about becoming uniquely who we are, we're about competing, winning a rat race, doing what it takes to make money, not to do what makes us happy. We are told that certain careers should be avoided because they don't have a good ROI. Society judges us by our actions as though we were a financial investment.

There is no need to participate in this. It is true that the independent path is harder. But that doesn't mean it's not worth treading. One who experiences the thin line between fantasy and reality does not have to become a killer; they can be a magician instead. Imagine what you want to become, and then act as though it's the truth. Surprisingly, it can become the truth. If magic is an illusion, so is life. So much talk about "fictions" when it's all a fiction of sorts. The creative person writes their own fiction.

The day I went to see my guru, I saw many people who I used to be friendly with. Many of them looked sick and anxiety ridden. Some were just the same. I was aware, and perhaps surprised, by my own lack of remorse about those people and friendships. They had been in my life, now they are not. We are not friends. And it does not matter. Bitterness comes from attachment, from wanting to be liked, from judging ourselves failures when others don't like us. Sometimes, as in marriages, you are just not compatible, and some people are poison for each other. I recognize that the events that made me finally and fatally disgusted with these people actually helped the person that they tried to hurt. I should be grateful to them in a way. But I have no desire to return to political games. I am not interested in being the person they would like me to be.

For now, I am interested in long walks, reading literature, and enjoying the company of good friends, new and old. Lunch at the National Hotel, a walk along the Delaware River, a cup of green tea and the New Yorker at breakfast. I am back to French lessons, and the works of Marcel Proust, which are sometimes engrossing, sometimes irritating. In between I have listened to audiobooks--Thackeray's Vanity Fair was the first. I'd borrowed it from the library, and the last disc did not work, so I resorted to the horror that is the text to finish it. I had to know, after all, if Rebecca Sharp was picked up by the Hell's Angels. Or maybe, being the end of the 19th century, she would have run off with Aleister Crowley to India or China.

"Mrs. Dalloway" by Virginia Woolf was the last audiobook I finished. I'd read "To the Lighthouse", but this was astounding. I understood the term "literary fiction" after listening to this. There is something wonderful and sublime within the mundane in literary fiction. It's like the forms of meditation that call for awareness to every action--watching yourself do dishes, watching yourself take steps, watching yourself do everything. The mundane is like the opening of a geyser for the creative mind. While doing menial, everyday things, thoughts gush through, and if we paid enough heed to them, we'd find at least some of them to be "literary". It enables one to see the connections between things.

In the first Proust book, there was some discussion of "Vinteuil's Sonata", a bar of music heard by Charles Swann, that gave him a great epiphany, that somehow summarized his relationship to Odette de Crecy. I found this passage intriguing, because I've had similar experiences with phrases of music. I am looking forward to the day that you can input an MP3 of a phrase of music, and find everything similar to it. Pandora Radio, the "musical genome project" does a very poor job with this so far. It does not understand the experience of a phrase of music that puts us in a different place, almost a different dimension. For Proust it was violin and piano that created this effect; for me, it is usually guitar and flute.

And no doubt you Monty Python fans will snicker at the use of the words "Proust" and "summarize(d)" in the same sentence. I know I just did.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Finish

There is a cat wandering around my property that looks very similar to Whiskers. For those of you who don't recall, Whiskers was a cat I had adopted from neighbors (who no longer live here) due to neglect. Whiskers had to be put down in January, as she was in obvious pain all the time, couldn't eat, and could hardly move.

I watch the cat out the window, as it saunters down towards the cemetery, near where Whiskers' original owners had lived. The cat sits looking through the locked gates of the cemetery, and rests a paw on one of the bars. Then, swishing its tail, it gets up and heads into the thicket on the opposite side of the street.

This morning, the cat is wandering through my neighbor Linda's yard. The sight of the cat does give me a bit of a shiver, not because I think it is some ghostly revenant or reincarnation of my previous cat. Whiskers' death was at a time when I made all kinds of vows and decisions. The death of Whiskers was the death of many things, or at least a walking away from things I thought were finished. Now, seeing a cat much like Whiskers in life reminds me that many of those things I walked away from are still here, and by no means finished.

I am hoping for a less oppressive week.Yesterday's heat index was about 110ยบ, and I did nothing but sleep, exercise, and read. Severe storms came through in the evening, and as usual, they passed to the south of us--no rain. So, at sunset, I went out to water the gardens. There was more rain this morning, but again, it passed to our south. I'm not going to complain as of yet. It is true that the grass is turning brown, and that some regular rain would be helpful, but I find myself thinking of last August and September, when we had two thunderstorms dropping 4-9 inches of rain, followed by a hurricane and a tropical storm. I think we had 26 inches of rain total. I hope to be digging trenches and putting in drains this year to avert a basement flooding disaster, but there are no guarantees that will work. And right now, with my new furnace, still not hooked up, sitting naked as a jaybird in the middle of my floor, I don't need any wet floors downstairs.

It's all about finishing. Yesterday at breakfast time, I cooked eggs, roasted potatoes in the oven, and popped an English muffin in the toaster oven. I realize that it was a terrible day to turn on the oven, but I was finishing---finishing off the potatoes and the eggs before they are no longer fresh. I have started several books, including one audiobook, that I must finish. I have a furnace install that must be finished. And I have a mortgage refi that must be finished.

In the midst of all this, I keep trying to start new things. I have contemplated going to Paris this Fall, as there is a ridiculously good deal on flight and hotel via Virgin. I could probably make it work. But I remind myself that I need to get rid of old debt--a substantial portion of it--before I start spending money on European vacations. I'm not even going to see John Foxx in London in September (mainly due to outrageous airfare costs to the UK). Hopefully by next Spring with tax return money I will be in a position to go. I am anxious to finish old business. But much of it cannot be finished right away, however badly I may want that to happen.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a couple of very good friends, Dan and Jeanette. (Dan had written the Mirage Divine blog that I recommended a few years back, though I think he's on hiatus from doing that right now.) Dan shares my interest in astrology, and was showing me how to do "progressions". This is an alteration of the natal chart that shows you what will happen in the future, or to see what influences are affecting you right now. He looked at my natal chart, and pointed out the position of Saturn in the 12th house. "This," he said, "will tend to make you feel you are always running out of time." And this is true. Whatever face I may present to the world, I can tell you that underneath, patience is not a virtue of mine. My Impatience is only stayed by its dubious neighbor, Distraction. And even that has difficulty containing it.

I note that Dan says it makes me "feel" I am running out of time, but this is an illusion. There's no need for me to irritably run here and there, to cram as much in to a single day as I seem to feel I must.

So, I go through day-to-day, trying to pretend that there aren't major changes that I have to participate in, and spend my time reading books I've always wanted to read, getting a refresher in the French language, and continually look for extra sources of income and other things that might move me ahead in reaching my goals. Internally I am all set to go, externally, I am stuck on the runway due to inclement weather conditions. If I was literally stuck on a runway with nowhere to go, I'd likely be reading a book. So, the metaphorical meets the literal.

Even worse than waiting is having everything dropped on you at the last minute. Nothing irritates me more than planning for something--making phone calls, finding out exactly what I need--only to be made to wait, and at the last minute, being told that I don't have everything I need and am suddenly under the gun to do a whole lot of work in a very short space of time. A classic example of this in my life was when I obtained my first mortgage. My loan officer literally did not call for weeks. I called him every week for a status update, and he actually seemed annoyed with me. "I'll call YOU if I need something," I was told. Of course, my closing was getting closer and closer, and I still had no idea what was going on. Suddenly--one fine July day when I planned a relaxing day at my apartment--I got a frantic call from someone in the mortgage division, screaming at me because a whole lot of paperwork was needed RIGHT NOW and he didn't have it. You can bet I screamed back at him for a full 10 minutes. And, because I wouldn't make my closing if I didn't scramble to get that paperwork, I now had to abandon my plans and run around trying to get everything they needed. I have no patience for this kind of thing, and I think it's what I'm seeking to avoid most of the time. (To be honest, between the mortgage debacle and an incompetent attorney, I'm amazed that I live here at all right now.)

Of course, they say much of it is about attitude, and perhaps the lesson here is that in spite of the chaos, everything turns out all right in the end. That, and never use Weichert's mortgage services.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Occam’s Razor

Early morning has been the only time I can get a breath of fresh air. Summer started promptly last week, and most days have been hot and humid. But the early mornings are cool and breezy, and make me wish I could go for a long walk in the early AM instead of driving to work.

Life around me becomes more overgrown and tangled. There is a fox screaming in the yard across the street almost every morning. Deer are a regular sight now, when previously we never saw them on our side of the highway. And a family of turkeys has been shambling around my property and my neighbor’s, occasionally taking to the treetops, a weird juxtaposition against the hot air balloons that have been flying overhead on certain evenings. The grass at the foreclosure across the street is probably 4 feet high, and the church’s adjacent property to mine is equally dense. It feels like the encroachment of natural monsters onto my neat little block and lot in the township where I live.

In the midst of the oppression outside, I find myself rebelling against complexity, especially the self-imposed kind. But life is not that simple. And the more I attempt to simplify and focus, I am besieged by more complexity, usually of the unexpected variety.

In my self-imposed isolation in air conditioning, I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries on poltergeists. From an analytical psychology perspective, such phenomena is a constellation of the Trickster archetype. In plain speaking—the manifestation of unpredictable behavior—throwing dishes around, making objects fall from the ceiling, starting random fires, and other such “surprises”—is due to an archetype manifesting in the “real” external world. I find such phenomena interesting because it is the most dramatic evidence of the existence of the psyche.

Of course, there are those who say that such phenomena don’t happen. It can all be “simply” explained as an illusion or a hoax, especially by those who have not experienced it and not read any of the evidence. Besides the phenomena themselves, I find the behavior of those involved interesting as well. Often these events are first witnessed by females and children. The male in the household is usually skeptical, to the point of calling his kids “imaginative” and his wife “delusional”. That is, of course, until the phenomena affects him. Then it’s a whole different story. Firsthand experience is a whole different story, especially when there’s no obvious rational explanation.

There is likely a natural explanation for such things, and as I’ve said in previous posts, I think it’s due to a “perfect storm” of biochemical, psychological, and geomagnetic factors. But there’s not a “simple” explanation, and it’s not easily tested in a consistent way, because it’s not consistent phenomena.

Skeptics will often mention “Occam’s razor” when faced with complex phenomena. Put simply (no puns intended)—the simplest and most obvious explanation is probably the right one. There are many cases where this is true. However, we are dealing with things that do not have simple answers. If we move away from so-called “paranormal” things, one could easily point to quantum physics as a good example of complexity. There is not a single theory from this field that is “simple”, even with attempts to make a unified “theory of everything”.

We live our lives with an illusion of causality and probability. When things happen we look for a “reason”. We may choose where we live, how we eat, sleep, exercise, and de-stress based on statistics from studies. But they are only statistics—they do not create reality. Numbers are as metaphorical as any other symbolic construct that we use to define our universe.

Simplicity is a tool to keep us from going insane. We stick to what is familiar, to what is easy, with the idea that we can then progress to what is more difficult. It’s like taking a swim in the ocean—you’ll start at low tide, stick one toe in, and eventually work the rest of your body into the water. Similarly—you could find yourself stepping on a crab, stung by a jellyfish, you could be pulled towards an undertow—anything can happen, even when you’re sure you’ve checked conditions and you’re “safe” . We adopt beliefs about how our lives will go every day, because we’d be overwhelmed by uncertainty if we didn’t.

I had a conversation with my friend's son and daughter a couple of nights ago. We were discussing education, and solutions to learning problems that bureaucracies try to solve by "assessment" and "testing"--of both teachers and students. My friend's son said, "I have learned to be suspicious of simple solutions. Usually someone thinks there's some innovative, simple trick that will fix everything. The solution actually may be simple, but it takes work, and requires money." This reminded me of Lerro's assertion in his book on the movement from Earth spirit worship to sky gods; societies usually don't implement long-term solutions to crises that involve major changes in lifestyle. They only make small changes that are "band-aid" solutions, leaving the fallout to future generations. This has been true since the time before the Iron Age. "Simple" can equal "lazy". "We know we have a problem, and we don't want to deal with it." It's a form of burying one's head in the sand.

Simplicity is neither good nor bad; it can be a very useful tool, and can help us move forward and accomplish things in our lives. When I have too many things to do, I make lists and break things down into small parts, doing a little each day. This is very helpful—except when it’s not. The day that I wake up not feeling well, the day I get an unexpected phone call with bad news that drains me of all my energy, the predicted sunny day when I was going to do yard work that turns out to be stormy—these things can upset even the best laid plans.

This is the nature of the Trickster archetype. We try to exercise a certain amount of control over our lives, but things happen to remind us that we’re not in control, life is very uncertain, and anything could happen. It’s another version of, “You can eat right and exercise all you want, but you could still be hit by a bus tomorrow.” And unless you’ve completely surrendered to uncertainty, this will be a frightening thought. So, we pretend that things are certain. And it’s good that we do, as long as we remain flexible, and realize that it’s a game we’re playing with ourselves.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Speed

Over the last year, I have been slowing down. I’m not entirely sure why this is. When it comes to driving, I am very slow. I used to drive like a normal person, but now I have trouble holding the speed limit on the highway. At night, my vision is terrible, and at all times, I hate going fast down curvy roads. I find it annoying because it limits my travel. I don’t like driving on highways that are 2 lanes with lots of trucks. I feel like I’m going to get run over one of these days.

The speed problem may have started with my car. Last year it stopped braking properly, but even now with new brakes (and having driven a brand-new rental car in the last year), I’m still phobic. I think of Steve Gonsalves on Ghost Hunters, and his fear of flying. As he said on the Leap Castle episode, he used to fly quite often, but then he was on a bad flight home from a cousin’s wedding in California, and he hasn’t been able to fly since. He’s certain that he will die if he gets on a plane, and no attempts at therapy have helped. My situation seems like it might be similar.

I have friends who think the problem may be physiological—perhaps a deteriorating inner ear condition. This isn’t out of the question, as I haven’t been able to go on any kind of ride that goes fast since I entered my thirties. I can’t even swing on a swing. I don’t like height, but I always liked speed. Now that kind of speed makes me physically ill. I’m sure my heights phobia is part of the speed thing, as I’m pretty good gathering speed uphill, but not going downhill.

All of my self-analyzing of this change has made me wonder if I’m being critical of myself for just being careful. I never worry about speed traps, because I’m always doing the speed limit or less. I’m very conscious of the road, and animals that might be crossing it, even more so than before. But I’m ambivalent. People have told me that there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the speed limit in the slow lane. But I feel this pressure to go faster.

The Northeast is certainly a place known for speed. Walking through New York City is an experience like no other in the world, except maybe the London Underground at rush hour, and it still doesn’t quite compare. You have to move fast or you’re going to get run over, and this is on foot, not in a vehicle.

Looking deeper, I feel pretty certain that this is one of my inherent life process problems—I always feel I need to be producing more, doing more, wasting less time, keeping things moving. Patience is not one of my virtues a lot of the time. But when you’re slowed down by things out of your control time and time again, it may change your perspective. There’s really no need to be “in a hurry to go nowhere”.

Speed has a lot to do with time, and our conception of it. When you are bored, time seems to move very slowly. But when you are enjoying yourself, time may move much more quickly. The period of time before a traumatic event—the moments before a car accident when you know it will happen, for instance—seems to have a momentary slow down in time. When someone is depressed, the apparent slow down in time allows the person to look at their situation with more clarity.

“Stop and think” is something people don’t do a lot of in a world where everything is moving fast, especially with respect to news and other information. There is far too much, we use shortcuts, filters—and we miss a whole lot. Of course, we also may not adequately keep up without some kind of filters. It’s a balancing act.

Slowing down may represent a shifting in priorities. There’s less of a sense of trying to accomplish a lot, to run “the rat race”. There’s more of an emphasis on enjoying the here and now. So—it is possible that my slowing down is not a liability; it may just be a supplanting of the world’s priorities and expectations for my own.

I still wish I could do 75 or 80 in the fast lane, though.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Reads

My days have been less about writing and more about reading in the last month. In particular, I felt I had to better elucidate the theme of my book proposal, so I was doing some more background research to make the more ambiguous points clearer. So, in plain speech--most of it is non-fiction reading.

I attended Book Expo America in Manhattan, which was at its usual place, the Jacob Javits Center. Why I always go to this as a person who hates crowds, I don't know. It is the one conference where you can be guaranteed that people will congregate in the middle of aisles, and generally walk around as though everyone else is invisible, scanning the rows as if trying to find a sign of life while people try to get around them. It's like trying to get around the tourists in Times Square. Walking in New York requires a certain speed and rhythm, and having someone abstractly stop in the middle and start looking around, oblivious to everyone around them, is a bit like driving behind someone who hits the brake every 3 seconds. It should be no surprise that New Yorkers experience "sidewalk rage".

A couple of tips for Book Expo if you ever go--for one, be selective. There is always the urge to take every free book handed to you, but a fair amount of it is stuff you would never read, nor would anyone else you know. I always ask what the book is about before taking it, if the author is not familiar. And be careful about taking big, thick books--unless you can easily dump your stuff in a nearby car or hotel room, you will sustain permanent shoulder damage from carrying all that stuff around. The Javits Center is not near anything, so you have to walk if you've taken public transport from anywhere. The other tip has to do with food--don't spend $6.00 on a cup of coffee, if you walk around the exhibits when they open, someone will inevitably be giving away free coffee and breakfast. Vendors also have plenty of snacks, though be careful--the best snacks are at the Christian booksellers, so you have to decide if the homemade chocolate chip cookies are worth their spiel.

I have not started on any of my Book Expo books, though I will tell you that my favorite find is from Coffee House Press. It is a book giving the top 50 favorite reads of proprietors and/or staff of various independent bookstores. They tell me that next year they are going to get the "favorite 50" lists of librarians, so all my colleagues should start to give this some thought.

The current volume is entitled "Read This!" and will be out in September.

My current reads have been James Hillman's "The Dream and the Underworld", Daniel Lerro's "Earth Spirits and Sky Gods", and Rupert Sheldrake's "The Science Delusion", and I've finished all three. Now I am revisiting Bruno Bettelheim's "The Uses of Enchantment".

I discussed Hillman in my last blog post. In addition to his objection about interpreting dreams in terms of waking life (dissolving the underworld into the upper world), he also feels that one should not interpret the dream-ego as "objective" while everything else is "subjective". The dream-ego is as symbolic as everything else in the dream. The most interesting chapter to me was on barriers--things that get in the way of our need to negotiate death, which is what the underworld is about, after all. One that stood out to me was "Christianization". To quote Hillman: "The ascension [of Christ] requires that we leave not only our blood behind, like the thymos which did not belong in the underworld and whose desires cost soul. Paul goes Heraclitus one better--or worse, because the Christian ascensional mystery exchanges psyche for pneuma. We pay for spirit with our souls. Christianism's defeat of the underworld is also a loss of soul."

That thought, in fact, forms the very idea of the book I'm working on. But I will leave that for now.

Sheldrake's "Science Delusion" should be required reading for the 21st century. As I've mentioned previously, Sheldrake's thesis is that materialistic philosophy, while it has helped us develop technologies, now undermines science's ability to move forward. He has ten chapters that cover the ten core assumptions of materialism, and he takes them apart. He noted that hardcore materialists like to deny consciousness, vitality, and "soul" (for lack of any real scientific term for this phenomena), but they fail to convincingly remove vitalism from their arguments. They just stick the soul somewhere else--like the genes, for instance. They say the mind is in the brain, but neurological experiments over the last 50-60 years have not proven this. Additionally, science has a group of skeptics that are as difficult as the most fundamentalist Christian believers.

Robert Anton Wilson once said in an interview: "I got tired satirizing fundamentalist Christianity, I had done enough of that in my other books. I decided to satirize fundamentalist materialism for a change, because the two are equally comical. All fundamentalism is comical, unless you believe in it, in which case you'd become a fanatic yourself, and want everybody else to share your fundamentalism. But if you're not a fundamentalist yourself, fundamentalists are the funniest people on the planet. The materialist fundamentalists are funnier than the Christian fundamentalists, because they think they're rational!"

Sheldrake can point to various examples of this. One of my favorites is a story about Richard Dawkins. Dawkins wanted Sheldrake to "debate" him on the belief in paranormal phenomena. We're not talking ghosts at this point--just things like intuition, telepathy, precognition. Sheldrake used to dismiss such phenomena, until another highly respected professor suggested to him that there might be something to it. When he encountered examples, he organized experiments. He was able to demonstrate to a certain degree that such "abilities" are a natural part of human experience, experienced by everyone at some time, and statistically occur at significant levels above chance. (It should also be noted that most "psi" research has the strictest blind controls of any experimental field--much stricter than biology or chemistry or even psychology.) When he confronted Dawkins on this, Dawkins said he was not "interested in the evidence"--he just wanted to show that anyone who believed in such phenomena were "enemies of reason" (as his TV show was called). However, in almost all cases, the skeptics won't even look at the evidence. The possibility doesn't fit into their worldview, so no evidence is valid and it doesn't exist. Which doesn't sound much different to me from a fundamentalist Christian who says that the world was created in 7 days because it fits their worldview, and so evidence of evolution must be simply faked. They say the same things on opposite sides of the coin.

Lerro's book is on the development of religion in the Iron Age from a dialectical materialist/Marxist standpoint. The Iron Age is the era I'm most concerned with in the book I'm working on, and Lerro makes many good points, though I don't think his argument represents the whole picture. It does give an interesting context for the disenfranchisement of the underworld.

So, that leaves me at Bettelheim. Bettelheim's book is also a very important one, as it discusses the psychoanalytic importance of fairy tales in the lives of young children. They cannot be regarded as unrealistic "wish fulfillments" or stories that are too violent, or as giving an unrealistic picture of life because they always have "happy endings". Fairy tales are a tool for children to negotiate unconscious anxieties. Children are much closer to the collective unconscious than adults, as they haven't fully formed their conscious egos. Fairy tales, more so than other children's stories, set up a symbolic crisis and a means of resolution, which, as Bettelheim's research demonstrates, allows children to negotiate their difficulties and develop their personalities.

I am now thinking about my own list of 50 books. But I will save that for another post.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Story List, and, Underworld

Recently I was asked for a complete list of the stories I've published so far with any links. Here is the latest list:

Senex”  Writing Raw (September 2009)
 http://www.writingraw.com/files/Senex.pdf 

The Trickster” Static Movement (March 2010)
 http://www.staticmovement.com/thetrickster.htm

"Anima” Dark Gothic Resurrected (Spring 2010) p. 31-43.

Magna Mater”  Open Magazine (Issue 1, 2011)

Animus”  Danse Macabre Magazine (Issue 46, 2011)
http://dansemacabre.art.officelive.com/BreakfastFiction.aspx

Just Like” Long Story Short (April 2011)
http://lssarchives.homestead.com/justlike.html

Umbra” Death Head Grin Magazine (Sept. 2011)
http://www.deathheadgrin.com/11_09/id440.htm


I had a Twitter conversation with someone about my characters. She found them hard to identify with, and I think many people do. When I look at the personalities of my characters, all of them are jaded, alienated, withdrawn. Many stories are about relationships, but whatever may have started as love is taken over by something else, something archetypal in a potentially dangerous sense.

After reading James Hillman's "The Dream and the Underworld", it occurs to me that my characters are underworld characters by his definition. He defines the underworld as a place that is in a way "upside down" compared to our world. Rather than being light, civilized, and intellectual, it is dark, cold, and lacking in the "light-world"'s morality. For people who try to follow the normal conventions and ideals of our "day world", the underworld is a creepy intrusion,  and because there is an attempt to repress it, it gains control and takes over.

There is also a certain naivete in the stories, as there is an expectation that people behave in normal, traditional ways. There is a monumental effort to do so on the part of the characters. But this is broken down, and there is only heartache, betrayal, obsession, and crushed desires. "Senex" is the only story that makes any attempt to have a character return to the "upper" world, but when I read it now, it seems kind of weak and ill-fitting. As Hillman says, it is an outright disrespect to the underworld to try to dissolve it into the upper world.

It is possible that I (figuratively speaking) spend too much time at the edges of the underworld. I've always been fascinated with post-death existence, cemeteries, disturbing things on the fringes of normal experience. My understanding of the normal world of "love" is more of a textbook understanding. This is not to say that I haven't had genuine love experiences in my life that have been fulfilling, at least for a time. But, like everything else, there's something mysterious, weird, and creepy about the whole game. It's sinister, and perhaps untrustworthy.

I recall a video in the late 1980s on MTV by the Motels. Martha Davis always sang about love gone wrong, and many of their songs are very much "post-love"--that sort of eerie place you are left when love completely dies for you, as well as the uncertain place one is at when they start the whole journey. Puberty is a frightening time, when one is ripped from childhood into the foray of hormonal activity that makes for very intense emotional ups and downs, and a tremendous amount of social turmoil. It is not surprising that many kids withdraw during this stage into strange worlds. The Motels' song "Suddenly Last Summer" is almost a perfect musical expression of that weirdness, and whoever did the video was right in tune with that vibe:



There are other songs like this (ELO's "One Summer Dream" comes to mind), but the video expresses that subtly freaky dark side of the whole "falling in love" bit. It's love with the underworld built in. Which is appropriate, considering that most things people believe about love are bullshit--marriage as the ultimate expression, happily ever after, always romantic and attracted. It also tends to make the attraction and sexual part of the whole deal into something much more superficial. There's something devouring and selfish about it. Ideally it should be two people who are Shiva/Shakti--they respect each other because of the "god" they see in the other, and therefore want to serve each other. While there may be relationships like this, and I know people who are happy enough, I think this ideal is rarely reached.




This perspective that I've always had of the thing may explain a. my tendency to be uncomfortable with romance (there are exceptions, but I don't get involved often), and b. my interest in the work of John Foxx. As to the first--I have a warm and friendly personality, and this can sometimes be mistaken for something else, especially by men. Some feel that they can cross my physical boundaries. I don't mind hugs or quick kisses from male friends, but anything more sensual or intimate is like a disrespectful storming of the underworld, and my inner reaction to that is very violent, especially if it is someone I have trusted not to be that way. All doors are shut from that point onward. I've recently realized that I have accepted some boundary traversals in the name of not wanting to offend someone, or just believing that someone is "touchy/feely" and nothing else is meant by it. That is pure naivete and stupidity on my part, so the lesson is to put up boundaries early and not tolerate anything.

But turning to John Foxx (who has nothing to do with that last diversion--in fact, I sometimes question if I've traversed his boundaries at times)--a lot of his music is dark, and reflects a sort of gritty, cold alienation. "The Quiet Man" is a great piece of writing, and fully illustrates that sense of being someplace unreal. John refers to walking into places filled with old memories, and his reference to women is always an intimation rather than intimacy. He gets the sense that "someone was just there"--a shadow, a hint of perfume--and that is enough. He writes about another world within this world, which may be for him a world of memory, certainly a world of shadows, and he peruses the decay with fascination. That is a very "underworld" laden approach to the story. There are things to be perused, examined, but not really touched. Touching is dangerous in the underworld--it's like Pirithous and Theseus, who descend to take away Persephone, and find themselves stuck to the rocks.