Tuesday, June 19, 2012


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


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)

The Trickster” Static Movement (March 2010)

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

Magna Mater”  Open Magazine (Issue 1, 2011)

Animus”  Danse Macabre Magazine (Issue 46, 2011)

Just Like” Long Story Short (April 2011)

Umbra” Death Head Grin Magazine (Sept. 2011)

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.