Monday, February 28, 2011


At lunch today, I sat in a quiet corner of the library reading and listening to my iPod. Looking out the library window, I see a squirrel digging through the grass in time to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 26. It is a rainy, foggy day, but rather warm. Storms are coming, and this makes me happy, because thunderstorms are heralds of Spring. And there is nothing like standing in a thunderstorm, with warm winds and driving rain. The experience is primeval.

Yesterday the basement cats (not to be confused with the LOLcats “basement cats”) went outside for the first time in a few months. They stretched out gratefully on my patio, eyes closed, blissfully soaking in the sun. I picked up one of them, and her fur was warm. As sunset approached, I went down to the basement to put in one final load of laundry. A chill was in the air, and both cats had dutifully returned to their beds downstairs. They have become spoiled by warmth, dry shelter, and regular feedings. I can recall when at least one of them used to stay outside in all kinds of weather, and dug through garbage cans for food.

For the first time I attempt to engage in post-war rebuilding, and I begin the task of dragging away the huge tree branches on my property to the woods beyond my fence. I’ve noticed that the crocuses are nearly blooming, and the stalks of daffodils protrude from the ground like green daggers. I pick up a fallen fence post in my garden, and pull away some leftover dead leaves from the brown plants. The brown lemon thyme still smells like lemon; the strawberries have red buds underneath their still-green leaves. The garden plants are still icy in some places, and the ground is muddy, so raking the leftover leaves from last Fall is out of the question at the moment.

In the house I have been baking bread. It is a swirled bread, with onion and herbs. I slice the hot bread and prepare to toast it, and pour myself a glass of red table wine. I think of the Queen of Pentacles and the Tower, and wonder if my quiet, domestic life will be disrupted again. Spring brings new things, both expected and unexpected. The aroma of yeast and herbs and heat fills the kitchen.

With all of my chores done, I am left uncertain about what to read, what to watch, whether or not to call a friend or eschew conversation. Everything is blank, and in blankness there is great possibility for both achievement and failure. The Void is the face of God—empty and unsettling. We like to know the outcomes of things, whether or not seeds planted will bear fruit, and we have no way to really know.

Every now and then I get impatient with not knowing. Every thought is like an acid bath on my nerves, and I shout at the universe, “why do you do this to me?!”, as if I am exceptional, as if I will have a laugh with some unseen entity and it will tell me everything, and I will have to anticipate nothing. Which I realize would leave me with no new tales to tell. (With thanks to Love and Rockets.)

I am still reading Hèléne Cixous, about her notebooks. Notebooks are windows onto the past, validating reminders that certain things happened, that I had certain thoughts, that I documented certain things. When I read through old notebooks I experience old identities (not who I was as opposed to who I am—that never changes), and, just like the old mixtapes, I remember where I was and what I thought and why it was important at the time. Sometimes remembering is amazing, sometimes amusing, sometimes disturbing.

Somewhere between the past and the future I am settling on my couch with some toasted onion bread with Monterey Jack cheese, a glass of wine on the coffee table, a cat curled up next to me, an old documentary on the TV, played from a VHS tape. Outside it thunders. There is no other time.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Psychological Androgyny

Breakfast out this morning. That used to be a regular routine, but financial circumstances have curbed its frequency. Sitting in my customary spot in my favorite cafe, I hear two older men, regular customers, talking about recent attempts to bust unions in Wisconsin. I hear one man grumbling about "what I didn't get when I retired," and sees no reason why anyone else should get what he didn't get. He then moves on to education. The solution to the problem, he says, is to make all schools K-12, only have 1 superintendent, 1 principal, and only 1 teacher per classroom. That would solve everything. Too many administrators, too many assistants. I am tempted to turn around and remind him that there are over 3,000 students between two high schools in the County--we're not even talking K-8. I'm tempted to tell him that teachers work 10-16 hours on average per day, and have to do a lot on weekends with grading, assessment, rubrics, extracurricular work, and jumping through administrative hoops. They also may have to deal with difficult students or ones with special needs. But I say nothing. It seems to be human nature to only focus on oneself--I had this, I didn't have this, I saw you do your job and all I saw was this. Therefore I am qualified to say what you do and don't do, what you deserve and don't deserve.

I recall that there was a time that corporations gave free health benefits and real pensions, and reasonable vacation time. It was presumed that what you didn't get in these benefits you exchanged for higher wages. I can't help but think it's wrong to expect government workers to give up all of their perks when they don't get paid the way corporate employees do. Maybe it's evened out over time, I don't know. I'm inclined to think its lousy all over, but unions give you some hope that you might come away with something fair. Certainly there are corrupt unions, but on the whole, I don't think they have as much of the power and perks as people seem to think. In any case--this has less to do with individual bargaining contracts, and more to do with the erosion of the rights of the labor force. Without unions it is likely that we will return to working 16 hours a day with no vacation for little money. I don't think I'm exaggerating. Corporate greed knows no bounds.

This is not how I wanted to start my morning, and I am grateful that the din of other customers rises as the place begins to fill up. I order an omelette with kielbasa, and my body reacts like a man discovering water in the desert. It seems I am not getting enough protein these days.

I am reading Helene Cixous again, her chapter entitled "The First Lucidity". She is writing about graduate school, about her "delirium" that was not delirium, being told you are mad and realizing later you were perfectly lucid. She is talking about writing her dissertation on James Joyce's Ulysses, and there is an implication that those who declare her mad are those critiquing her work. Not surprising for literary academia. I resisted graduate work in literature, in spite of the temptation. In literary academia, there is a right way and a wrong way to look at things. This is hard for me to swallow. Literature reflects the culture, it may reflect a broad context--but it also reflects the personal. We fall in love with a piece of literature because it resonates with something in us. To disown that because it is the "wrong" interpretation seems antithetical. Writing comes from the soul, and while the mind can pick it apart, it is hardly a necessity. Some experiences are best left undissected.

She states that her mentor might say to her that "the head is the plaything of the soul", and that her lucidity is "a weakness of the brain that is not suited to women, and will lead me to the other side." She then states. "Madness is a protection. It stands guard against the horrors of reality." This resonates with me, because I identify with her lucidity. I feel like it keeps me away from "normal", makes me suspicious of others and vice versa. I become aware all at once that there is no group to which I completely belong, where I am completely a member. There are always conditions for membership, and I am loathe to follow conditions. I stand on the edge of everything, watching everything, half wanting to be involved, half pleased to walk away. And many consider me "strange", perhaps even "mad". Certainly "deviant".

Earlier this week I went to one of the universities where I teach to attend a couple of talks, have dinner with a friend, and attend a faculty get-together. The first talk was given by a student on the genre of film noir. He mentions the femme fatale, whose presence stands in opposition to that of the mother, the nurturer. The femme fatale is independent, she adopts many male behaviors, she may even be dangerous. She is always tragic. We discussed archetypes of women--the virgin, the mother, the whore. It occurred to me that these archetypes are still very strong in society. I do believe it's why people mistake me for a wild woman. I don't fit the virgin category, and I don't fit the mother category. So I must be a whore. And simply ask any of my sexually liberated friends--they will tell you that I am decidedly the opposite, almost to derision. My colleague suggested that I was more "motherly", but that is also a mistake. I tend to attract men who want to be mothered, because I come across as strong and independent. In fact, what I want is another strong, independent man whom I can trust and respect--and who will be the same for me. I'm not interested in being anyone's mother, except perhaps the cat. I can't imagine a more loathsome type of relationship. But, I am also not virginal and innocent, a mistake still others will make because of my spiritual bent. So what am I?

I came across a test on a writer's blog, where you could paste in some of your writing, and it would analyze it and tell you if it was written by a man or a woman. I pasted in 3 different writing samples--two were fiction, one was a blog post. For two out of three, it said the piece was written by a man. Which, linguistically says that I use "male" words. Whatever that means. In any event, it makes me think that I am some sort of psychological androgyne, and some people find this fascinating, others find it unsettling. I look at the faces of people meeting me, and sometimes they furrow their brow, pull back in suspicion. What are you? And what do you want? seem to be the unspoken questions.

What I want is irrelevant. I expect nothing from anyone. I get what is mine, and not through manipulating or using someone else. We always get what is ours, and don't get what isn't. There is no need to worry about it. I am interested in what you are, but not because of what you can do for me. There is nothing utilitarian about my friendship. If I like you I will seek to spend time with you, but not obsessively. If I love you, I will go out of my way to be with you, but will still not be obsessive or jealous. I don't own anyone. And they don't own me. If you really care about someone you respect their space, and their choices, regardless of whether or not you agree with them.

Maybe it goes back to my stubborn refusal to decide. Why is it "us and them"? Why is it "either/or"? Whatever we are, we're also the opposite. That might be what bothers people--they want clear categories and labels, they want to know which shelf they can put you on. Anything else is chaos, as far as they're concerned. But the shelf is a hallucination. There is no logical order to the psyche.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Some Blog News and Stats of Interest

One of the things I really dislike about Wordpress blogs is their statistics. They tell you almost nothing about your audience, and they don’t let you install external tracking codes. I don’t see why they think this is useful. Blogspot is a Google product, and therefore it’s easy to use Google Analytics tracking. I love Google Analytics.

I’d like to share some things I’ve discovered on Analytics. But first, a couple of announcements.

First—I discovered a great new blog reviewing books and other things associated with Lovecraft , horror, and weird fiction. It’s called Grim Reviews. Pretty much every book reviewed here is something I’d want to read. If you like this sort of thing, I recommend checking it out.

Second—congrats to my friend Mark at Youdopia for getting one of his links posted at The Guardian (a UK newspaper). Such links drive traffic way up, and I hope he’s gotten a few more readers as a result. I read Youdopia on Google Reader, which is good and bad—when you subscribe to an RSS feed, you no longer count as a “hit” in the Web tracking software, because you often don’t go directly to the site.

OK, so, back to stats of interest. Since its inception, there have been:
304 posts (this is 305)
10,110 visits
14,259 pageviews
7,305 unique visitors

Not bad for what really started out as a personal reflections site. Of more interest:

I’ve had visits from 95 countries, with the U.S. being the top (6,996 visits) and the U.K. following (1,060 visits). The top 10 include the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, India, Italy, Germany, Japan, France, and Brazil.

What are people looking for? In general:

Ghost Hunters
Na Karmana (Sannyasa Sukta)
John Foxx
The West Virginia Penitentary pentagram
Inverted Pentagrams
Found Footage Festival
Alan Robeson Chillingham Castle
Maggie Nelson’s “Bluets”
Midge Ure (shudder)
A variety of other blogs by people named Brigid (or Bridget or Brighid, etc.)

The weirdest searches were as follows (and I don’t think I answer any of these queries in my postings):

Barry fitzgerald nude ghost hunters international (no, I have no nude photos of Barry. Sorry.)

Cataloging books that might be hoaxes (my question would be: why bother?)

Does seducing women through hypnosis work (No.)

Email picture of cars driving through a very high wall (don’t think I have any of those, either.)

Has anything happened to people on the haunted wall (I don’t know, but tell me if you find out.)

Invoking spirits through lalitasahasranam (You’re missing the point.)

Karborn mother (yes, I’ve met Karborn’s mother. )

Someone stole my billiard balls, where can I get a replacement (Couldn’t tell you.)

Us airforce base Alaska 1953 fire brigid burke casualty (Really? I had no idea I died in 1953. Sounds like a legend-appropriate death, though. You know—Brigid, fire...)

Is John Foxx married (No, but he’s not available. He’s in that category of “men I would love to be with, but are seriously involved with someone else”. But I don’t write about that, because it’s his private business.)

Metaphors about driving (these always come from the U.K.—what is it with you Brits and driving metaphors?)

I hope you’ve found this enlightening, and maybe I’ve answered some of your questions. Next time I'll write a real post.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Relative Experiences

6 AM and the downstairs cats are meowing away, wanting to be fed. I snap on the side porch light, but then quickly snap it off again. I will not compete with the full moon.

The wind has been howling all night. At times it seems like an airplane is about to land on my house. I wonder how many of my garbage cans, recycling bins, and other items not tied down will still be in my yard when I go out this morning.

I glance over at the cemetery. In the last couple of years I've seen light coming from there, and it was puzzling because I could not see the source. Then I realized that they put up a huge crucifix on one side of the cemetery, and have it lit by floodlights. Jesus dares to compete with Selene and Eos.

I butter an English muffin and make some tea, and find myself wondering how much is "enough." I am referring to that thing we call "experience." You may say that there is never enough, that we have to keep living, keep moving--to stop experiencing is to stop living. But I'm not thinking of the rest of my life; I'm thinking of my life so far.

I will be 40 years old next year, and I think I have lived a rather unusual life. I did not take the expected steps of settling down with a family and driving the kids around to dance lessons and soccer practice in the dependable minivan. I tried the marriage thing, and it was a catastrophe--the best thing I can say about it is that I gained a LOT of life experience about what love should not be--more than I want, actually. I've traveled all over, I've associated with all kinds of people from nuns and Jehovah's Witnesses to hardcore Satanists, from poor and recovering drug addicts to celebrities, I've pursued careers that interested me rather than doing something "for the money", I've bought my own house and learned how to do plumbing and all other sorts of repairs, I've read countless books and received two postgraduate degrees, I know 3 languages, I took martial arts for 4 years, I've written notebooks full of stories, vignettes, and poems (some of them published), I've been blessed with experiences of inner stillness that many people never have in their lifetime, I am fully equipped to manage crises, I've handled my own court cases without a lawyer, I do not rely on my parents to take care of my financial needs. Yet, somehow--I am still not considered to be an "adult", and I am seen to be "lacking in life experience" by certain people.

Don't get me wrong--I haven't done it all, I don't know it all, and I'm not suggesting that I do. There are many people with a lot more experience than me, and also different experiences that I'll never have. But I think I've done "enough" to establish at least a moderate sense of credibility. I'm a terrible liar, so I can't bullshit you about things I know nothing about. In fact--I'm pretty sure that a lot of people--more than you think--get by on bullshit rather than experience. I'd like to believe that I have some degree of authenticity. I will give you my honest opinion if you ask. The trouble is that people ask and don't really want to know.

I suppose there's nothing to be done about it. It's one of those paradoxes of communication that the more you say the less you are heard, and the more you are considered the problem than the person trying to open up real communication about the problem. People want to talk at you, but don't want to hear anything in response. I don't mind people who vent, but if I have to listen to enough of the same monologue, I usually recommend a therapist or a brick wall. Both will listen without comment, and you can bang your head against the latter in frustration if you want. I assume that there is a breaking point--if you haven't resolved your issue and you can't stop talking about it, and aren't interested in taking any action to fix it, then I really can't help you. And no, I don't want to listen over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over every time I see you. I don't want to be able to recite your rant back to you like a favorite Monty Python sketch.

The age aspect of this is definitely weird. I'm somehow perpetually a child, yet I'm already periomenopausal. If this should surprise you, I should note that my mother hit menopause at 43, and we've followed similar patterns with such things in our lives. Well, almost similar. My mother always had a mild monthly experience, and then one day everything just stopped. She also bore 4 children. Whereas my uterus is something of a Celtic warrior; it has stoutly resisted any attempts at fertilization, has to be sedated with hormones to keep me from become murderous once a month, and will no doubt go out kicking and screaming. Just like the rest of me.

In order to clear my head of such thoughts, I ventured outside, and found that the lid to my garbage can was two houses down, even though it's supposedly a "locking" lid. So much for that. I also discovered that it's bone-chilling cold out there. And still windy. Interesting how the sun makes the weather look deceptively nice. Now that the snow has melted, I realize that I am living in the wastelands of a great tree war. There are huge tree branches everywhere--in the driveway, in the yard, in the road, on my patio. Huge limbs that haven't only fallen, they look shattered, like they were hit by a grenade. I note the greenness of the grass. I guess underneath it all, no one got the memo it was winter. Perhaps the tree war was a distraction.

Getting into my car, I look at the thermometer, and I realize that "bone-chilling" is 28 degrees Fahrenheit. How quickly we get spoiled by spots of warm weather. A month ago I would have been begging for 28 degrees.

It's all relative I suppose. Like age and experience.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


My weekend started a bit early. I went to work very early Friday, and left at noon. As I sat drinking Cabernet in a French restaurant on an abnormally warm afternoon, I found myself digging through the pages of a Hélène Cixous book. Here are a few quotes:

Love Itself: In the Letter Box

"It begins with fear, passion begins with a fear. Fear is the trembling of faith. One cannot have faith without being afraid. One cannot have faith, no human being Being human is that: to have faith that's been fractured then stuck back together."

"Telephoned. Nothing is known about the voice. I imagine when God says his speech without words without voice without language without face, he opens his non-eyes he closes his non-eyes, he starts over"

"I-ate is a visit to the Museum of the living-being."

"They were the shortbreads that I had gotten into the habit of buying for my long stays in the British Museum. By metonymy the little wedges of pastry had absorbed the voluminous and fertile idea of the most substantial library in the world. To eat shortbreads was to let melt on your tongue the sacred host of venerated books. I read you. Hoc est meum corpus and your body was also for me the bread of all the venerated books."

I took a long walk in the warm afternoon when I finished, but it started to get windy, and by Saturday, cold again. I watch my neighbor's recycling bins go bouncing across the road, into the abandoned property across the street, towards the cemetery.

I have decided to watch The Call of Cthulhu today:

The movie ends with a quote from Johansen's journal: "The most merciful thing is the inability of the human mind to correlate its contents."

Indeed. Our minds are filters, distractions from terror. Here are a few Cthulhu-related distractions:

Oil gusher unleashes Cthulhu on South Park

My First Necronomicon

The Adventures of Lil Cthulhu:

And--if you didn't see it in one of my earlier postings--here is a commercial for a "good book" (parody of a commercial for the Book of Mormon):

I'm off to make supper. Just remember--"Ph'nglui Mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn."Thank you, and good night.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Chris Rock had an interesting metaphor for the American Tea Party movement. He said it was a bit like “kids acting up before they go to sleep”. All riled up and then they’re knocked out. He said it makes him hopeful, because it seems like racism’s last gasp in this country.

I do hope he’s right.

There’s been an astonishing shift in the Middle East, though it’s still not easy to tell where all the chips will fall. Certainly it’s herd mentality working in the opposite direction. Normally the “herd” is swept into mindless idiocy, but this time they’re encouraged by each other’s good examples. If one group of people can break free of a dictator, then others in other countries feel empowered to try as well. I recall the story of a town in India where Amma and her swamis were working to build homes for the poor and disenfranchised. The villagers stood around and watched them, but as soon as they saw them working together, everyone started to pitch in. That is the kind of infectious cooperation that one hopes for—it manages to turn a human liability into a strength.

As I said, it’s hard to interpret recent patterns. Are they an emerging trend, or just a temporary swell? It’s tempting to view this as a swing of the pendulum away from older orders, but there are many complicating factors. To see it in such terms is to re-engage in the perpetual good/evil battle. And such a battle does not really exist; it’s a hallucination—an interpretation based on how we are affected by a given event.

Though one wonders how “real” something becomes if enough people participate in the hallucination.

There is a tendency to want to “measure” the existence of God by some human yardstick. The common yardstick is answered prayers. George Carlin had the old joke about praying to Joe Pesci, because his prayers were answered 50% of the time—odds about the same as praying to God. But this is a faulty yardstick. It assumes that a. God is a real anthropomorphic being, and b. that God is there to shower you with favors. A “good” life is evidence of God. A “bad” life marred by misfortune is evidence that there is no God.

Recently I read a story about the witches in Romania. The government is now taxing their services, and apparently they are liable for punishment if their spells don’t work and their prophecies don’t come true. The rationale for this is the same as the God/prayer rationale—the measure of the “realness” of something is statistically significant results. In fact, this is absurd—not because there isn’t a Mystery to confront, but because the very thing you are confronting is a Mystery. You might try to influence the flow, work with it, maybe even fight it—but you can’t control it.

The whole point is that it is beyond our reasoning and nature. If we could understand it, it wouldn’t be a mystery. You notice I don’t say “being”. I don’t have any evidence that the Mystery is a being. The notion of “being” is a convenient metaphor.

Amma once said of prayer that it has to be for everyone. If you pray for something individually, you take away something from someone else. To answer one prayer is to deny another. You might pray that no one in your town dies, but the undertaker has the opposite prayer. After all, to answer your prayer is to put him/her out of business.

This isn’t to say that people don’t or shouldn't have individual goals and aspirations. You can take whatever steps you like to fulfill them. But a certain amount of flexibility is required. Sometimes the path that you think is most logical isn’t the way life flows. And if you just go with the flow, you end up where you need to be—and may get other things in the bargain. You might even find that you don’t really want the thing you thought you wanted. Or that your desire was actually harmful.

I imagine I am thinking about this because I feel like I’m being pulled in multiple directions right now. Not by work, but by an unresolved past and present unknowns. I don’t really know how things will shake out—and I can’t worry about it. I take it one day at a time, and see what develops. We always get what is ours.

In the meantime, I am trying to turn my own liabilities into strengths, and pour them into writing. Not just blog posts, but things for publication that I have been stalling on due to lack of inspiration. Nothing inspires like conflict.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New Posts on BBFiction Blog

Lately I have not been sleeping nights. While I have been mysteriously awake, I have been writing.

I should have another story ready for publication soon, thanks to my caffeine-deprived nightmares. I have another story and poem up at BBFiction, my other blog.

Check out "Monsters", and see what you think.

If you haven't read my previous work, check out other posts on bbfiction and:


(available in print in the Spring 2010 issue of Dark Gothic Resurrected)

("Senex" has been taken down due to archives cleanup at Writing Raw. I'll see if they can put it back).


So, Michelle Obama says that “laughter” is the key to her relationship. I imagine the Obamas would have to laugh a great deal; given the pressure of his job, the alternative would not be so pleasant.

We laugh because we encounter things that are funny. But “funny” isn’t always light and humorous; sometimes it’s downright terrifying. Or, to put it another way, we face things that are so absurd, we are so overwhelmed, that if we don’t laugh we might find ourselves crushed.

I can think of a time more than 10 years ago that was like this. I was getting ready to schedule the oral defense for my Master’s thesis. I had worked on it for 9 months, turned in drafts to my primary advisor, and she assured me things were great. Then, at the beginning of April—5 days before the defense deadline—I received a call from her. “I’ve finally read your thesis. I think you need to start over again.” Note the word finally. She had never read it to begin with; she had simply decided that it would be fine because I knew how to write. Yes, I know how to write, but whether I was going in the right direction was another matter. I was shattered when I hung up the phone—I could not imagine starting all over again. I don’t cry often, but I cried then. My very helpful husband saw me, and said, “You disgust me. I hate you,” and walked out. (Are any of you who knew my ex still wondering why we ended up divorced?)

Ten minutes later my advisor called back and asked if I was all right. “Of course I’m not all right,” I told her. “You waited until 4 days before the department deadline to tell me this?” “Oh, is that all you have? Oh, but you know how to write—I’ll get you another week, and you can get it fixed.” I thought, a week? This woman is either incredibly naïve or has an unwarranted amount of faith in me.

The next day, I got a call from my friend Liz—her father just died suddenly at the age of 52. That was followed by a call from another friend, whose house was destroyed in a flood. Between that and the bickering with my husband, who thought I was a horrible person for showing any sign of weakness or breakdown, I had hit that threshold. Things were just so badly out of hand that I no longer cried about it. It was funny—I had to laugh. And I laughed telling people the story. They probably thought I was crazy. But I was beyond that—things were just terrifyingly absurd.

In the end, my husband and I muddled through another 2 years, and I managed to re-write my thesis 3 times in 3 weeks, and still graduated, even though I am thoroughly uncomfortable with the thesis I wrote. My friend managed to get insurance to pay for rebuilding her home, and as for Liz—well, I went to the funeral, and tried to be supportive. I’m not sure that sort of thing ever gets better. Nonetheless, life went on, even though it appeared to go up in flames.

I think this is why I’ve lost all sense of expectation of anything. It’s like buying a house in Centralia, PA—you never know when the ground underneath you will suddenly catch fire. If I take it all too seriously, my life will be very grim indeed. It does come back to the issue of control; when things spiral out of control, the only thing to do is let go and let whatever is happening actually happen. Hanging on is worse.

This, I think, is the appeal of satire and dark humor. When we see such light reactions to dark events, it reminds us of this very thing. One doesn’t laugh because it’s “funny”; one laughs because there isn’t any other choice, except maybe going crazy or driving off a cliff.

Speaking of satire, I will leave you with this wonderful article from the Onion:

Nation Somehow Shocked by Human Nature Again

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Once again, it is sunrise, and a spectacular one. I am only awake because of the cat's vigilance. I've noticed a tendency to write a lot about sunrises and sunsets. When I think about why, the immediate answer is that they are edges.

Sunrise and sunset--dawn and dusk--are neither day nor night, and yet they're both. It's the edge of darkness and light. When we speak of being "on the cutting edge", it invokes images of that far-off horizon, the edge between the known and the unknown. That phrase is usually used in connection with a discipline (the cutting edge of technology, the cutting edge of fashion, etc.). But I think of that edge as the place where I'm most comfortable.

In ancient religions, the shaman is said to have a foot in both worlds. Whether that makes me a shaman or not I can't say, but I like the idea of being able to move freely between those two "countries". The "edge" is more of a mental construct than a reality--we filter out the unknown and unseen rather than acknowledge it. We are BOTH, not either/or. There is no taking sides. I have been told by colleagues, friends, and mentors in the past that I MUST choose a side. But I've never seen a need--that is someone else's need for a filter.

There is much joy in not choosing, and life is less conflicted. Some days my more "divine" impulses prevail, other days my more "demonic" ones may be more evident. It's easy to get caught up in feelings--the ecstasy of falling in love, the anger at someone who has betrayed you, the anxiety that is the result of unexpected bad news. But our reactions are just a role--it's like a giant role playing game without the 20-sided die. They are all components of our psyche, but the underlying self doesn't have anything to do with any of those feelings, just as it has nothing to do with what career we choose, or how much money we make. Emotions are tools, and like everything else, they are useful for prompting us to act out our roles.

Ethics is a difficult field, because it is impossible to make absolute statements about right and wrong in the broadest sense. We have certain metrics that we give ourselves--for instance, the Holocaust is a measure of something horribly evil and wrong that probably the majority of humankind can agree on. However, most "moral" decisions that we make on a daily basis are not on the scale of Holocausts. Still, they could be major events in our own lives, and knowing the "right" thing to do isn't always clear. In fact, in most cases, there are complicating factors. It is better not to be wedded too much to black-and-white thinking about right and wrong, or else every decision becomes an oppressive challenge. There's no openness to going with your higher instincts, because your superego has imposed a strict narrative on the subject. It's bad enough when the individual suffers, but when we try to impose those narratives on others, then we risk doing serious damage. Frequently we are on the edge, and you shouldn't push someone to one side or another--where they turn has to depend on their own circumstances.

All dualities are edges--night and day, male and female, good and bad, right and wrong. The reality of the psyche is that we are all of these things. It is rare that we stand so strictly on the edge--often we are some mixture, with one aspect being more noticeable or dominant than the other. If we identify too much with the dominant trait, then we are often surprised and confused when the opposite traits present themselves. "Surely this is not me." If the opposite trait does not fit in with social or religious norms, we might be labeled "abnormal", or, at an extreme, "possessed". It's as though something not part of you has taken hold of you. But it almost never an outside influence--it is the "you" that you and others have chosen not to see.

Jung's psychology is based on what he calls "individuation". This is the integrating of these opposites in our psyches. It's a merging of the opposites rather than the rejection of one over the other. We think perfection comes from cultivating our "good" traits and trying to exorcise ourselves of our "evil" traits. There is no faster way to give your "evil" traits control of you than to repress them. That's worse, because you believe you are doing good, but in fact all you are doing is alienating and/or hurting others.

A last thought--I received a comment on an older post that made me think of the notion of the sublime. Often, the terrifying is actually our salvation. For instance--if you think of certain Hindu and Buddhist deities that are terrifying aspects of the Ultimate (the Goddess Kali comes to mind), you find that they are actually the deities that will provide you with clarity, and then with peace and stillness. You do risk being torn apart, but it is for a greater, more beneficent cause. The step into the unknown is always dangerous, but it is a step that you need to take if you want to have a life. Living safe is not living.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


One of the effects of a brutal winter is the creation of potholes. Lots of them. Driving to work, or anywhere, has become more like running through an obstacle course. Some of them are deep; I’ve barely missed a few that looked like they could swallow up at least half of my car. The worst ones are on the highways and on the side roads of affluent neighborhoods. Or, maybe it’s just that I drive through a lot of affluent neighborhoods on my way to work. In any case, they’ve never been holier.

A ring of black holes has been discovered in the constellation Cetus. If my understanding is correct, the black holes are forming because of a collision of two galaxies. Matter eats itself. Black holes are like life in that sense, I think. Life is all about eating itself. The Kirtimukha and the Ouroboros.

Too much thinking makes loopholes. Alan Watts once spoke of the reluctance of the ancient Chinese to let the people read the laws. They argued that they would read the words without understanding all of the factors involved. In order for laws to be just, they need to be executed with equanimity. But, if one reads the words too literally, they find exceptions, omissions—loopholes. Loopholes can be useful when you’re dealing with a strict or unjust law. But often they are used to get around laws that are merely inconvenient, though necessary.

Loopholes aren’t limited to the law. Our reasoning is full of holes, especially when it comes to self-discipline. It is easier to come up with an excuse than it is to do the inconvenient thing. It is only when we are inconvenienced by our attempts to avoid inconvenience that we resolve to take up the discipline again.

So—are exceptions and excuses holy? There is “hole”, and there is “whole”. There is “holy”, and there is “wholly”. Some would argue overlap between those terms. So, it is ironic that the word “hole”, while not the same term (e.g., holy is not an adverb meaning full of holes), doesn’t refer to “wholeness” at all.

It does, however, refer to emptiness. I would argue that this is the same thing on some level. God, after all, is “No-thing”. Silence, like anything, is neutral--it's an omission of any sound. What we do with that omission is another matter.

Monday, February 07, 2011


A couple of words on "worthiness".

First--I saw this blog posting today. It's from the woman who defended her young son's right to dress up as Daphne from Scooby-Doo for Halloween, when other parents told her it was "inappropriate" (read as: promoting "gay" behavior). Apparently her Church pastor has joined in the bullying, and told her she was "in violation of Matthew 18 and the 8th commandment", claiming she lied about the other mothers who judged her son. He also threatened her with ex-communication if she didn't issue a public apology.

Second--I had a conversation with my hairdresser on Friday that is similar to the conversation I've had with others over the years. He has had his own spiritual experiences, which he defines as "pure grace"--and then wonders why he had them. Why wonder? Because he was not religious, he was not practicing any discipline, had no special spiritual qualifications or knowledge--he was not "worthy".

So, who defines worthiness? Who is "deserving" of what we have often termed as "grace", for lack of any better term?

Dr. Elaine Pagels, one of my favorite early Church scholars, gave a talk on the book of Revelation in the Bible. She points out that there are at least 6 known books of Revelation from the early Church period--only this one was chosen for the Canon. Her talk speculates on why this is the case, but most interesting is her discussion of those other books (at least one was deemed "heretical" by the Church). There is one significant difference between the other books and the one in the Bible. In all the other books, Jesus appears and says, in effect, "All will be well." There is a sense that everyone is eligible for salvation, everyone can receive the "Holy Spirit". However, in the Biblical Revelation, there is a distinction between spiritual haves and have-nots, the worthy and the unworthy, the "pure" and the "sinful". Those categories are very strictly maintained.

This latter view is epidemic in our cultural mythology. We believe ourselves to be flawed and unworthy. We want to believe in the idea of "Divine Justice"--if we've been wronged, then ultimately the "bad guys" get punished. At the same time we fear punishment ourselves, because we are perpetually unsure that we are not one of the bad guys. While one cannot make a blanket statement about all priests, ministers, and churches, it is unfortunately true that church leaders tend to perpetuate this mythology. Cultivating humility is one thing. Passing judgment on others as a religious leader is quite another. I believe it was Jesus who said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." I believe Jesus also said "Judge not, lest you be judged". Or, as my neighbor, who is completely unversed in doctrinal theology once said best: "I thought that if someone sinned, you were supposed to pray for them and let God judge."

Of course, some of these folks do pray. Their prayers, in effect, say, "I would like to pray for person A, who is sinful because they are not like me." And they fail to see the irony in that.

When I was a child and went to Church, I noticed that my mother never went to communion. I would ask her why, and she would just tell me to hush. Later, I found out it was because she was "not allowed" to receive communion because she was not "in a state of Grace". Why? Because she married my father, who was divorced from his previous wife. They considered her to be an "adulterer", which is pretty funny. She finally got an annulment, and after laying out several hundred dollars in cash, was apparently considered to be in a "state of Grace" again. This is one of many reasons that I find it hard to take the Church's position on such things seriously. If "grace" comes from how much money you have or how much work you do to promote a particular priest's agenda, then it has nothing to do with anything remotely "Divine".

I've said it 100 times, I'll say it again--the word "religion" comes from the Latin word meaning "to tie back." We are broken, religion is to put us back together. Religion is about connecting, unifying. Among humans, this can only be accomplished through compassion. There isn't a person alive who hasn't gone through difficulties, and hoped that others would be understanding even if they didn't agree with their decisions. If we were in dire need, we would hope that others would help us. Compassion doesn't judge people's viewpoints or decisions. When you start judging worthiness, you're not "linking back", you're tearing (further) apart.

We judge ourselves the hardest. When we have moments that can only be defined as "Grace" (as my hairdresser did), we immediately feel we are not worthy of them. We feel we have to be saintly, purified, or special. It has to be the "reward" for years of hard discipline. When you think about it, this implies that "grace" is something we can control--that if we just follow those certain steps, we will always have those "a-ha" moments. And we think this because we are raised to believe that we are imperfect, and nothing like the Divine. We put people into categories; in monotheism, it's often the line between the "saved" or "elect" and the "unsaved" or "evildoers".

I was re-reading some Erik Erikson lectures, and was reminded of his notion of "pseudospeciation". Humans have a tendency to create hierarchies, to put people into artificial categories. In short, some humans become "better" than other humans. Such a way of thinking at its extreme can lead to dehumanization of entire groups. Any kind of genocide, eugenics, or "ethnic cleansing" comes from this extreme of pseudospeciation. And it has its roots in a mythology that suggests some are more worthy than others.

Real "religion" is about compassion--about bringing people together, about equal respect. Anything else is not real religion--it's using religious doctrine to promote self-serving agendas. No one has any business discussing anyone else's "worthiness" in the face of the Ultimate--whether you believe the Ultimate is a Being or a State of Consciousness. And if we feel we are unworthy, it's because we've been convinced that we're not connected--that only the very "pure" are connected. Everyone is connected, without exception--your level of awareness of that will vary. How you live your life is irrelevant when it comes to those realizations. Your happiness depends on your ability to accept whatever comes, not on how well you follow a set of arbitrary cultural rules.

Friday, February 04, 2011

(Pseudo) Snow Day Randomness 2011

I was talking to a friend today about my writing. I mentioned that I’ve had a hard time generating any kind of substantial thoughts about anything. Yeah, there are things going on in the world, but I really don’t know how I feel about any of them at the moment, and don’t want to speculate. He reminded me that I hadn’t yet done a 2011 “snow day randomness” post. I am not looking to encourage any more snow. But if you look outside, every day is pretty much a day with snow, so this will have to be close enough.

So, I present to you—2011 snow day randomness:

First—Sarah Palin seeks to trademark her name, and her daughter’s. Ostensibly this is because she’s protecting her “brand”, but I’ll betcha (pun intended) that she would use said trademark to sue anyone who she feels uses her name improperly. Which is OK by me—I’ll just refer to her on good days as “Caribou Barbie”, and on bad days as “The Alaska Jackass”.

Next, a stunning photo of the village under Mittlerspitz by David Kaplan.

John Foxx goes quasi-industrial with Benge. This new album is going to be BITCHIN’:

Here are a couple of recent and worthy Onion articles. The first reminds me of hipster couples that I know. The second is hilarious, but also scary. The Onion has a scary amount of truth in their satire. Example: When Bush was elected President, they posted an article, “Bush: Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity is Finally Over”. And, very soon thereafter, it was.

Honey, I'm not going to stand here and debate the merits of the B'52s...

Republicans vote to repeal Obama-backed bill that would destroy asteroid headed for Earth

Here is a great page about the writer M.R. James. There are links to 11 of his ghost stories. I’d cite a favorite, but it’s difficult.

Here is one of my favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons with backwards titles and credits:

And finally, here are some Spongmonkies. You’re welcome.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

February 2ish

Punxsutawney Phil says that Spring is just around the corner. I’m inclined to believe him, because he’s a furry rodent. I’m sure the people organizing the event have something to do with the declaration, but I want to believe him. As I heaved large chunks of sleet and ice from the end of my driveway this morning, and had to bludgeon the ice on my car to get it to move, I really wanted to believe Spring was coming. Besides the Phil factor (or phactor), my general feeling has been that this winter will never end. And of course, life has a way of doing the opposite of whatever I assume to be true. Sometimes this works in my favor.

I heard that New York City now has its own groundhog, and its own ceremony. Today, the groundhog apparently bit Mayor Bloomberg. I have no idea if he saw his shadow or not (Bloomberg or the groundhog). I also don’t know where he would have a hole in New York City that he could crawl out from (the groundhog, not Bloomberg). In any case, we hope the Mayor is all right, and that he takes it as Nature’s warning against doing nothing about getting municipal workers to plow two feet of snow for over a week.

Still, I tend to go with Phil’s predictions. Call me a traditionalist if you like. I’ve never made the trek to Punxsutawney—I’m not that hardcore about the event. Besides, today is Brigid’s Day. This refers to St. Brigid, and the Goddess Brigid. My own name comes from the latter, but either way is good. Brigid is a fire goddess, and heralds Spring. She’s also the goddess of inspiration—the creative fire. St. Brigid, besides being a woman bishop (the Church says it was “an accident”) had the belief that Heaven contained “a great lake of beer” from which all could partake and enjoy it’s “mercies”.

There is a story in the Zohar about a Rabbi who visits Heaven and Hell and finds they are identical—people sitting at a great feast with spoons chained to their wrists. The difference was that people were starving in Hell because they couldn’t use the spoons, but feasting in Heaven because the people fed each other. I imagine the Brigid beer lake scenario is similar inasmuch as Heaven and Hell are both a lake of beer. The difference is that in Hell, the beer is made by Anheuser-Busch. Not much of a moral there, but oh well.

In any case, I am trying to be optimistic in the face of this latest storm. So far, the Great Wall of Snow has been about seven feet high (everywhere), and this ice storm added nothing to that except—well, some ice. I also noticed that two very large sections of two trees on my property came crashing down with this storm. This is good news—both of them hung precariously, one of them low enough to be threatening (pit-and-pendulum style), but too high to take down with a cherry picker. I thought I would have to call a tree service, but Nature has done the job for free. Plus, I kind of enjoy watching the squirrels come racing down the tree in my driveway and go sailing across the ice on my neighbor’s lawn. I think they do it on purpose.

In any case, I’m celebrating Brigid’s Day and the groundhog’s prediction with some quality beer.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


January has been a month of false starts and stops. Since our return from the Christmas and New Year holiday, there has been a major snow or ice event every week that has led to days off—sometimes more than one day in a row. The first storm had 7 inches of snow by me (everyone else had 26-30 inches). Then it was another 6 inches. Then a foot. Then 4 inches. Then another foot. I think we have forgotten what winter is like. And I know now why I want to forget, and why Northeast winters drove my sister’s family to relocate to the California desert.

Such events are like driving in New York City—every ten feet or so there is a red light. And every light is red. Everything is so close, and yet so far. I remind myself that we are fortunate here—our towns are prepared for such events, and a major snowstorm could drop 18 inches overnight—and I’ll be driving on clear roads by noon. Still, it disrupts appointments, work schedules, social visits. Eventually you just give up, and vow to wait until Spring for anything important.

Whether the snow is to blame, or something else, this is a very disconnected time. I walk around my house feeling like I’m haunting it. Even the cat, who is usually super-affectionate, has let me know that he’s tired of my being at home. It’s clear that I’m interrupting a long nap.

I have a lot of time at home to see what’s going on in the world (one of the ironies of modern life). I look at Tunisia, then Egypt. It restores my faith to see revolutions that are not led by crazy people. A friend of mine speculated as to whether or not this represents a shift away from Islamic extremism in the Middle East. Yes, the uprisings are not about religion, but there have been big pushes for democracy, and not towards theocracy. I think all things that go on in the world touch each other, and as each event occurs, you wonder where the wildly oscillating pendulum will stop. You hope it is in a good place.

Two weekends ago, I visited with my friends Jeanette and Dan, and our varied conversation got around to events in the United States. Dan pointed out that liberals have always failed in this country because they believe they can win by presenting facts. They forget that the people they are opposing are driven by a narrative—what I would call a myth. We are all driven by narratives, but this is a special narrative, a set of assumptions about how things are supposed to be in this country, and why they are that way. It’s a mythology made up of the founding fathers, the Bible, the U.S. Constitution, and the didactic tales of dime novels. And, like most mythologies, it contains few ( if any) actual facts. This is also why scientists fail to convince Biblical literalists that evolution is not just “a theory”. Those who present facts are seen as elitist, intellectual snobs—hence, the deriding of education as meaningful.

This is mind-boggling to most folks, but the only way to win is to take the narrative seriously, even if it makes no sense. Dan mentioned FDR—he was able to sell a public with similar views on many aspects of his “socialist” New Deal by showing how his goals were not different from theirs—it was a question of semiotics, different meanings and words for the same thing.

And so it comes back to language. Babel. Lots of people talking, many cannot understand each other, even though linguistically they are speaking the same language. At the risk of oversimplifying, I would suggest it is the language of the “old” versus the language of the “young”. The demographics are not that strict, but one is certainly an old world view, and it is mostly embraced by the older people in our society. However, it is clear that younger generations have much different values. As the older generations pass on, the younger ones will put forward their new values. Let’s just hope we survive the rash of climate-change denial that is decidedly part of the “old” view.

We may have to wait until Spring to do anything important.