Saturday, July 31, 2010

being there

a close friend called crying early this morning and we talked for a little over an hour about her marriage and its problems. what we talked about beyond that isn't important except to note the issue isn't the sort of thing you might normally expect from people married less than a decade but is exactly the sort of thing you might expect from 2 good people trying to make their life together work.

what is important for the purposes of this post is something she repeated several times over the course of our conversation, and that is that she couldn't talk with her local friends about it "because they're, you know, they're xian and they talk about how they're blessed because they've married their best friends and they'd say 'just swallow it and say "thanks," because your life could be so much worse.' and I know that, and then they'd say 'you need to talk with god and see what he wants you to do,' and then they'd say, 'we'll pray for you,' and while I think that's worth something, I don't think that's what I need to hear."

she's become more serious about her xianity since her marriage but this could easily describe religious friends of any faith, and not only the abrahamics. assertions like these come easily to the lips of our buddhist friends, our pagan friends, our hindu friends, even our uu friends. our friends have found their answers in a belief or worship system or a certain way of thinking and are sure that anyone else's issues can be addressed using the same methods or questions they use. but if that were true there'd be a single faith which answered every need, and the fact that millenia of seeking just such a faith has led to greater diversity rather than uniformity suggests there really isn't one.

my friend also contacted the pastor who married her for advice, but he was out of town. to his credit, she's pretty certain his response wouldn't be anything like that of her xian friends', even those who are also his congregants. I like to think we learn in seminary that there's great complexity when coming to grips with the problems people bring to us. I like to think most xian pastors, most imams, most rabbis, most priests, most healers, most religious counselors of any stripe give suggestions beyond "ask god."

I like to think we realize often there aren't answers we can provide, even when the answers seem so obvious. for instance, while she and I talked divorce (and she and her husband have as well) I don't think that's the solution to her issue (and I don't think she does either): she's very conscious this issue isn't something that would only happen in this single relationship and if she could only get loose of him she'd solve it. in the best of times our greatest obligation is to be what I've heard called "the nonanxious presence," the person who simply sits there and listens and makes a few observations and whose primary responsibility is to say "you aren't crazy and you aren't alone." in the end, that's the best and most honest we can say to anyone.

Friday, July 30, 2010

my short thieving life

"Darling is asleep at the foot of the wall. Sleep, Darling, stealer of nothing, stealer of books, of bell ropes, of horses' manes and tails, of bikes, of fancy dogs. Darling, tricky Darling..."

--from Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet

I often stole library books, and while I sometimes did it the old-fashioned way, this is the way I generally did it. now, you must keep in mind this was 3 decades ago and longer, when there was less communication between systems or even between libraries in the same system, when no one had computerized cards or barcodes.

it was almost disparingly simple. back then you could go to your library and get a card by submitting a bill with your name and address, and most libraries waived the bill and would accept any envelope with a canceled stamp and your name and address. I would mail myself an envelope, white-out my original name or just some letters of it and the street address, and then retype a new name and street address. I would then present this to the library, usually pretending to have an accent because it made it all the more interesting and because people back then were more likely to help a new citizen and to chalk up any discrepencies to his unfamiliarity with the country, and then check out any number of books I wanted, and simply never return them. I made certain as well as I could that there wasn't anyone with the name I'd submitted at that address because I didn't want to give him the bill.

my excuse, so far as I needed one, was that this was the government I was defrauding--and I realized that's what it was, and misusing the mails too--and as the government then was headed by republicans and specifically the bastard ronald reagan, this was to the good so far as I was concerned. I was all about taking advantage of the system back then, going so far as to attach return magazine and corporate postcards to city phone books and mailing them back, the whole industrial complex being one construct in my mind. or affixing stamps sideways to envelopes which would stop the automated system so someone would need to reach in and do it by hand (or so I'd been told, I don't honestly know if it was that much of a bother or if the machines had already been programmed to compensate for this).

I think often it's this sense of passive-aggressive revolt that attracts me to books like basbanes' a gentle madness and raynor's the blue suit or the novels about book scouts like reverte's club dumas or the cliff janeway mysteries by dunning. I knew even as I was doing it that these books were worth nothing monetarily--they were library copies with all the wear and tear and defacement such books are heir to--but they were worth something to me, and one of the things I told myself, and I'm certain I was at least partly right about this, was that my stealing them gave them some use since they would otherwise have languished on shelves for decades before being culled from the system for the crime of not having been checked out. I am reinforced in that belief any time I go to a library sale where there are thousands of bad books and maybe a dozen that I'm interested in, all of them marked by a large red "withdrawn" on the textblock.

so it wasn't for financial gain, although I guess in a sense it was since stealing books freed me from having to buy them and I could spend my money on other things (since I am like erasmus in that regard). I'm sure there's a hierarchy of thieves and on that grid I'm sure book thieves rank perilously low. but there was an element of excitment to it even if I was certain of not being caught--the sense of striking some kind of blow against a huge system, the delicious and nearly sexual thrill of breaking a commandment and the law, the swoon of fooling people into thinking I was someone I was not and their eagerness sometimes to help me. one librarian was so helpful that as I was checking out it took all I could do not to say "you know I'm not bringing these back, don't you?"

Monday, July 26, 2010

alternatives to church

we got up on sunday with every intention of spending the morning at my wife's congregation but once we got outside we were sidetracked by the bright beautiful day and realized we would have a better time working on the yard. so we dressed down and spent our 1st 5 hours of the day hunkered down moving mulch, watering, transplanting and digging up roots. it was productive, a good, happy day, and the beer afterward was sweet and cold. it leaves us a little nearer to god (although in a bass-ackward way considering sunday is supposed to be the day of rest and here we are acting like it's the 1st couple days of creation; but the sabbath was made for us and not us for the sabbath, so like any good garden soil it's fungible).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

why can't we just get out?

"Why, I wondered to myself, couldn't everybody just count to three and get better? From my present, chemically aided vantage point, it seemed to me that all these recriminations, resentments, and assorted unhappinesses were nothing that the right combination of drugs wouldn't put right. No doubt I was not the Messiah-like prodigy my parents had taken me for when I came along, but at least I had the right idea about what to do with this miserable mass of familial failure, disappointment, and dysfunction: Get out--out of all of it, in whatever manner and with whatever tools were at hand."

--ptolemy tompkins, paradise fever

I remember this feeling, the sensation of staring down at whatever little and petty problems people were having from the perch of whatever I was high on--alcohol, weed, acid, enlightenment, a relationship, honesty, good sex--and muse how it only was natural that if one wanted to one could get really right with everything and everyone, simply by deciding that was what one was doing. this is one of the aftereffects of the hangover of growing up in the 60s and 70s when it seemed like almost everything was possible if we just determined we wanted something enough--after all, we got anything physical or mercantile we wanted, didn't we? any amount of drugs and sex and strip malls offering anything we dreamed up was all there for the having--why not simply want justice and equality and right relationship enough? as greg brown sings, "I watched my country turn into a coast-to-coast strip mall; if we can do all that in 30 years, why does good change take so long?"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

who needs to know?

Lee Siegel in Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob:

"'Convenience' is also the rote answer to another fundamental question: Why does anyone not employed in the news media need a constant flow of news and information? One of the Internet boosters' proudest claims is that the Internet can deliver the news to its users with unprecedented immediacy. If someone gets shot in a supermarket parking lot in Flagstaff, Arizona, an Internet user in New Jersey will know about it hours, maybe even days before someone who depends on his local evening news. But who really needs to know that?"

siegel's question sounds like a tossoff but it's a legitimate one we oughtn't take for granted. what difference does it make that I know about the cop shootings in oakland, ca, this past sunday morning or that the shooter was, according to his mom, motivated by his recent news-watching to take up a gun? in my specific instance it might make some difference--I can use the information to jumpstart a classroom or sermon conversation about the way we react to things or what we do with what we know. but that's just my making use of the information for my particular situation. in general, what does it mean that a guy living on the rim knows in real time about something happening elsewhere?

the flippant answer to who needs to know and what good does it do might be "no one and nothing." it might mean something somehow if you know nothing about the case of angel torres and I introduce you to the video of his hit-and-run. but really, what are you going to do with that information? can you do anything with it, besides use it to bolster your already solid sense that the world is chaotic and people suck?

my sense is that it does matter that I was aware of neda agha-soltan's death within minutes of its happening but I don't have any method for quantifying that sense. unlike siegel's contention, raised elsewhere in the book, that information is only good in culture if it's profitable--a concept he does not approve of--I think information is valuable for its own sake if for no other reason than that it informs our experience of the world. it's a question of what we do with that information that says something, not about the information or its practicality, but about us.

Monday, July 19, 2010

my short thieving life 3

lapel buttons were among the easiest things to cadge. generally they were kept on cardboard displays by the register in stores but it was simple to palm one while looking at the display and then leisurely slip it on your jacket while wandering around the store. that must be why they were so cheap but there was a certain elan I felt wearing one I'd picked up.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

rainbow mashup I've come across

I have been working on a mashup of short vids I took at the gathering this year, but I'm just mindblown by this one. there are a few things I would change to it, but the music is absolutely spoton and the images are so much more vibrant and lively than anything I've got. you should simply enjoy this like a fine summer day...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

why is there no "night of the living dead" for contemporary comics?


I'm not the 1st person to make this observation and it's not even the 1st time I've made it. one of the joys I've retained from my childhood is reading comic books, although I'm more likely now to read them in graphic novel or collected form, and I'm likelier to read them for free in libraries and bookstores. that's what I've done with this free rainy afternoon and I've come away feeling depressed.

comic book authors in my youth wrote exciting but meaningless and unrealistic stories about exciting but unrealistic people. today's authors are still writing about unrealistic people but they're behaving more and more like the nastiest people you're likely to meet. whole swathes of bystanders, innocent and villainous, are shredded in each story as if every one was a match in a book and with about as much interest on the part of the writer as a child gives a single match when he has a whole box beside him.

part of the reason I gave up reading comic books in the late 70s-early 80s was that the stories didn't reflect reality as I was coming to know it and as I was coming to experience it in other art forms. comic book writing today strikes me as being at about the same level as the writing of horror films in the early 70s as filmmakers were intoxicated by the idea of lifting the restraint that good was always rewarded and bad always punished, and the idea that death could come to anyone sitting at home as quickly and horrifically as it could to someone carrying a flashlight with burned-out batteries into a dark house. but the impetus has been on finding newer and more personal ways of slicing into one another rather than on new ways of telling those stories.

there are, of course, exceptions, many, many exceptions. and I don't really have much right to complain. I'm not, after all, the audience they're written for. I read them for free, after all, and as a luxury after I've gotten my more important work done. who are they written for? sometimes I think I know--kids for whom the bitterness and hypocrisies of watergate and vietnam, even if they don't know the names, are a given; kids for whom attending an r-rated movie was never a rite of passage but something available on tv after school; kids whose grandparents marched so a black man could be elected president and whose parents march so he'll be impeached.

I don't want to sound like I should be on the edge of my lawn waving a cane--I don't think I really should be taken into consideration by comic writers or readers. but I wonder if for these kids there will ever be a comic they can look back on the way I look back on night of the living dead or phantasm or rabid or the exorcist, as attempts to articulate something for which gore and sudden death was an integral part of the message, which was something about the inexplicability of life and our feeble reactions to it, and not just something to say "kewl!" to and go on to the next page.

my short thieving life 2

one of my favorite places to read was the vista room at sojourner truth library on the suny new paltz campus. there are huge windows there that look out on the shawangunks to the south and catch the sunset, and big cushy chairs where you could put your feet up on the windowsills and feel the heat of the day through your soles. in a stunning example of shitting where I eat, I decided to steal books from there.

it wasn't really an intent for any particular books, it was more a case of whether I could do it. there was a study room on the second floor where about 20 chairs with desks attached had been stored, and I decided to settle in there about an hour before closing time. that was pretty easy; once I was settled in I actually took a nap and woke up just before they turned out the main overhead lights. I gave myself another 20 minutes to be certain everyone was out and then crawled carefully out of the stacks of chairs with my bag.

I'd attended classes and lived in town for nearly a decade by then and I knew that library intimately. the library was built on three floors, 2 of them below ground, connected by a central staircase with wide landings; the 2nd floor was a good place to start since it was nonfiction. I'd make my way down to the 3rd floor, fiction, and then back up the stairs to the main area.

I wandered pretty freely and it was an odd sensation, seeing all those books by the ghostly light of the moon. I hadn't thought to bring a flashlight, so I was limited in my choices to books I could see by moonlight. the stacks were terribly familiar to me but in the dark they were less rows of books and more like walls of bricks.

I'd collected maybe 5 books before the lights suddenly came on.

there'd been no "click" I'd heard, no sound of footsteps from the staircase. I dropped to the floor like I'd been shot, expecting at any moment to hear some armed guard shouting, "freeze!" in my rational mind I knew there was no armed guard--new paltz couldn't have afforded one, and what would have been the point?--but had ratiionality been my strong suit I probably wouldn't have been there in the 1st place. I cursed myself suddenly for not opting to dress in black clothes and having gone there instead in cut-off jeans and sneakers with no socks and a white tee shirt. I might as well have worn blaze orange, I thought.

there was no threatening "stay there!", no menacing click of a revolver. in fact, there was no new sound at all since the lights had come on and I began to wonder if they were on a timer for some reason, maybe to discourage situations like mine. I began to creep slowly back to my hiding place with my bag when I heard voices in the stairwell. they were speaking something asian and as I jumped up and grabbed my bag and got out of sight into the storage room just before they reached the 2nd floor landing, I realized I'd heard the arrival of the cleaning crew.

I dove back under the chair stacks to reevaluate my situation. I had no idea how long they would be there but I was pretty certain I was safe in the storage room--who cleans storage rooms? that proved to be right and I ended up laying on the floor in comparatively full view of the crew--composed of a man and 2 women, all of them middleaged and probably vietnamese--and watching them go about vacuuming the carpets and washing the landing. they spent at least an hour on that floor--I didn't have a watch and couldn't see a clock but I did end up napping for a little bit while one woman sloshed a mop about 10 feet from my nose--before heading down the stairs for the fiction section.

I decided it was time to cut my losses--which weren't really losses at all since I had some books I hadn't had before--and not press my luck any further and head out. I waited until I could hear the fading echo of their voices before leaving the storage room, which was only a couple yards from the landing, and heading up the stairs. on my way I glanced over the bannister and saw the kerchiefed head of one of the women mopping the landing below me. had she glanced up she would have seen me against the railing or between the gaps of the steps.

but she didn't and I crept up the stone steps very, very quietly, to the main floor. I knew there was a rudimentary alarm system that covered the length of the exit from the main library but I didn't know if it was turned off at night. I opted not to chance it and slithered over the checkout counter. I grabbed another couple books from the other side of the counter, not caring what they were, just feeding my sudden chagrin at not having had time to get to fiction, and then dropped first my bag and then myself in the area between the white column of the alarm and the wall. it was snug but I fit. I shimmied through and I was past the alarm.

there was only one more thing to do, which was to leave. I'd figured on going out through the main doors of the library on the first floor, but the cleaning crew had turned on the lights there too. there were 2 sets of glass doors to get through that way and I had no idea if there were any other members of the crew outside smoking or cleaning the front walk or if the armed guard I feared was posted there. there was a 2nd floor exit down another set of steps and under the main entrance where there was only a single door. but for all I knew that had an alarm.

I chanced it. the door was locked but had a pushbar that unlocked it from the inside. I pressed that, expecting to hear a siren at any moment, and shoved the door open and myself outside, where I knew I would be a sitting duck for anyone out there. that exit was in a tunnel under the main floor hallway with cement walls on both sides until the walls gave way to sweeping lawn. I headed not for the lawn but for another set of steps, figuring anyone out there would be more likely nearer the lawn. but there was no one anywhere and I never heard the expected siren and I ran like a fool hugging my swag like a lover all the way into town.

I've only read 2 of the books I took that night but I still have the others.

Friday, July 16, 2010

my short thieving life 1

I suspect every postmodern outlaw considers himself some variation on jean genet (with the exception of patti smith whose reprobate-of-choice is arthur rimbaud) and I was certainly no exception. having read our lady of the flowers and a book of his letters, I set out in the mid-80s to remake myself as a thief.

I was going to say I was a very bad thief because I never made any money at it, but in retrospect I must have been a pretty good one--better even than genet--because I was never caught. in some twisted way I can claim my thievery was sort of benign since I never stole anything I couldn't use--food, primarily, sometimes clothes. but mostly I stole books.

when I was living in my car I picked up on the ways to shoplift, especially from large stores, pretty easily and quickly. the first time I did it, though, I wasn't homeless yet, just drunk, and I was in the market in new paltz around 2 in the morning after a night of wandering and drinking aimlessly. I was with shelley, I think, or it may have been denise. it was a woman, I'm certain of that. I wanted some ice cream and had just enough money to pay for it. but I also wanted something else, a slim jim or a pack of peanut butter crackers, and I wasn't exactly hungry for it, just wanted it. I slid it up the sleeve of my jacket and went to the register and paid for the ice cream and went out to the car.

hence was born in me a realization that it was easy to steal something if you were paying for something else, a sort of slight of hand. here is where I don't think I was very good at it because what I stole was almost invariably less expensive than what I chose to pay for. but no one ever confronted me.

when I was on the road my usual target was convenience stores and larger groceries where I'd wander the aisles, picking up and setting down things, then choose a jar of peanut butter (this was my staple on the road, no food is better for it--it's nutritious, delicious, doesn't need refrigeration or any packaging other than the jar it comes in, and travels well) and then at some point would slip a package of crackers or a loaf of bread or a packet of pitas under my jacket or my shirt and walk calmly and with a smiling face to the register, pay for my jar, flirt a little with the cashier, and walk out.

it's now a point of pride for me, many years on, that sometimes I have the opportunity to do these things again but now I have the means to pay for what I want, and so I do. it was a part of that whole genet-think I had that allowed me to do this in the past. but now I will even draw attention to myself as someone who is waiting to pay for an item, ringing the bell on a counter after waiting 30 seconds rather than simply walking through the doors, that distinguishes me now from then.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

mason city's billboard

the information is incorrect, the analogy is incorrect, even the grammar (the descriptor should be "democratic") is incorrect. but the right of a political group--in this case the northern iowa tea party in mason city--to rent a space on which to announce their view, no matter how incorrect, must be upheld. in exactly the same way this must be allowed, and this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and even this. the criteria is not and should not be communal agreement or communal standards--were that the case only the blandest ideas could be communicated between communities, and maybe not even those--and while I'm uncomfortable that the default position is that willingness and ability to pay should be the deciding factor, that is the fairest position I can see. why then don't we see billboards in favor of, say, drugs? in some cases, we do. the solution, in good old-fashioned free market style, is that if a group or individual is offended by a billboard, purchase the same space or another to run something counter. as the sainted saul alinsky proclaimed, make the enemy fight by his own rules.
also, the irony of the unintended message is delightful.

Monday, July 12, 2010

an accurate reaction

I love this photo. I got it from the website stfu, conservatives. it is an accurate reflection of my reaction to glen beck's attempts to coopt dr. king.

"strangely enough, everybody believed me"

"The sexual energies that had recently surfaced in my own body were, I realized soon enough, not to be argues with. But that did not mean that sexuality itself, and especially as practiced by the adults around me, was to be trusted. As I saw it, the best strategy was to give in to my own sexual needs as vigorously and frequently as I had a mind to, meanwhile pretending to the rest of the world, and the rest of the household especially, that those needs did not exist. If I could not help being prey to sexual desire, and if I was, in fact, pursuing sexual fulfillment as the adults around me were chasing after each other out in the open, I could at least have a say in how much of that desire I admitted to having. And I admitted to none.

"Strangely enough, everybody believed me. Of all the various cheerfully naked, patchouli-scented females who drifted through my life in those years, none, as far as I know, ever noticed that the pale, waxy-haired youth hunched over on the sidelines with his face buried in a book about sharks was, in fact, a cauldron--or at least a skillet--of fulminating and deeply confused sexual energy. Time and again, I watched in astonishment as my clumsily feigned lack of interest in all things sexual was accepted at face value.

"Thus when Zaba, a young woman Betty picked up hitchhiking, sought to perform a womb-regression upon me to get to the source of my lack of sensual attachment, she never even paused to consider that I might have been too preoccupied trying to conceal the embarrassing results of her hovering, massaging presence to concentrate on what it had felt like back when I was being born. one ever seemed to question why it was that I sometimes liked to sit down on the floor of the ocean in full scuba gear while a handful of female Atlantophiles were bobbing about above me. As far as everyone else was concerned, I was working on my underwater breathing skills."

--from Paradise Fever: Growing Up in the Shadow of the New Age by Ptolemy Tompkins

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"if there was...any real 'great secret' to life..."

under my mother's influence and because there were so many of them around the house, I started reading books on metaphysics, "mysteries," and the new age at an early age. books by charles berlitz, madame ellen blavatsky, erick von daniken, jeanne dixon, katherine kuhlmann, anton levay, edgar cayce, hugo stiglitz, brad steiger and others were constant companions who explained much of the world's secrets to me. on my own I discovered alan watts, jawahrl krishnamurti, chongyam trungpa, sun bear (winona laduke's father), and the late peter tompkins, whose the magic of findhorn left an incredible impression on me.

tompkins is best known for the seminal book of counterculture kinda-science, the secret life of plants, and I'm currently reading paradise fever: growing up in the shadow of the new age, the memoir of his youngest son, ptolemy tompkins. if the younger tompkins is to be believed, it's good to know that the search I found myself a part in wasn't just going on in the homes of muggles like me but among the young of the masters themselves.

"I noticed that [my father] always seemd to be talking about secrets of one sort or another and how knowing those secrets could set you free. Sometimes...the 'great secret' would be that you and God weren't really different, but on some mysterious inner level one and the same. But at other times it would be about something else--that love was the engine that drove the universe, or that everything possessed consciousness, or that all things good and bad that happened to a person came from actions committed in a past life.

"In addition to the various 'great secrets,' there was any number of lesser ones. Who built Stonehenge? Who wrote the plays attributed, by the dull-witted academicians, to Shakespeare? Who ran the banks in America? What were the ancient Egyptians really up to? Gradually it became clear to me that if there was, in fact, any real 'great secret' to life, it had to do not with any single, specific secret but with the nature of secrecy itself. Life was essentially a carnival of misleading appearances--a papier-mache landscape set about with hints and inconsistencies, which, when examined closely enough, pointed the way to a realm beyond. The mass of humanity, it seemed, chose to ignore these little openings and inconsistencies with which the world was strewn..."

Friday, July 9, 2010

caveat fantasist

this is interesting.

"There are fairly ancient beliefs, mostly from religion, that stories can alter reality. The Judeo-Christian God spoke the world into being. Magicians can use incantation to make a person to fall in love with you. An impure thought might lead you to hell. People have attributed great power to storytelling, and therefore we sometimes mistakenly judge fantasies using the same moral and ethical principles that we use to judge reality. So if I enjoy the Twilight movies, it's the same thing as enjoying spousal abuse. Or if I like first-person shooters, I'm actually the kind of maniac who would love to kill wantonly.

"Basically what we're talking about here is an entrenched, unexamined idea that stories will take over our minds, and fantasies become real. It's the kind of belief that doesn't hold up to much scrutiny, unless you really do believe in sorcery. Once you let go of this belief, you're free to understand fantasies as what they are: Bursts of emotion, metaphors, parables, ways of safely exploring the unknown in yourself and the world.

"But there is another, more pernicious belief about fantasies. And that leads to my second theory, which is that certain fantasies are deemed unacceptable because people fear the opposite of what I described above. They fear that fantasies are under our control, and that we can harness them to understand our place in the universe. Looked at from this angle, Twilight becomes a disturbing story because it's something that girls use to figure out their sexual desires. Violent stories are upsetting not because of all the bloodstains, but because they stand in for something more profound and socially powerful: They represent many struggles, from the push to escape the ghettos of GTA, to the fight for adulthood and autonomy."

I had hoped the author would take this a little farther, but she didn't so I will. is there a point at which fantasy, especially sexual fantasy, becomes dangerous? some rapists have fantasized about it for years although most rape fantasies remain fantasies. much of adult hetero porn is predicated on the fantasy of sex with teen girls--hence the prevelance of pigtails and catholic school uniforms and lollipops and titles like "innocent high"--but few consumers actually catch a flight to thailand for sex with underage girls (or boys). of course, all porn is based on fantasy: that this hot person wants to have sex with me right here and now.

sex researchers have known for decades that fantasy has a rightful place in actual sex, not only in fetishistic sex but in vanilla intercourse. if you close your eyes and imagine it's tom cruise atop you, your partner, who will probably never know that's what you're thinking, reaps the benefit of that and everyone's happy. is it the same if who you're imagining is your neighbor's 12 year old neice?

here's where it gets tough. part of me wants to argue that fantasy is fantasy, and if your imagination runs to preteens, and it stays in your imagination, then all's good, rock on, no one needs to ever know. despite many parents' willfull ignorance, we know pre-teens have sexual feelings, and most of us only need to remember back to our own tweens and earlier to know that's true.

but another part of me asserts there's something wrong with this. it's one thing for a 12 year old to touch herself in the middle of the night while fantasizing about doing something, she's not sure exactly what, with the 40 year old neighbor and quite another thing for the neighbor to imagine what he would do with her. most teachers and preachers would say the problem is in power and it's partly that but it's also got a lot to do with maturity and age-appropriateness. nabokov's lolita is a classic attempt to articulate what this difference consists of, and a.m. homes' the end of alice is a contemporary, more explicit try at it. the difference in both of these examples is between imagining and acting out, for both would-be participants, and maybe the difference lies in that completely.

we can't legislate what people fantasize, although we try to sometimes, and the ick-factor some of us associate with fantasizing about rape or bdsm or same sex or coprophilia or beastiality or pedophilia--and the discomfort I feel in lumping gay sex with beastiality is an indication of how far we have to go in articulating clearly a difference between acts between consenting and non-consenting participants--can't fool us into thinking that we can.

as newitz argues in her essay, "Without fantasies, especially extreme fantasies, our minds lose their ability to splinter a single moment into many possible options. Immersing yourself in the story of something ugly and horrifying, or silly and frivolous, is a way of saying, fundamentally, that things don't have to be the way they are." there's something fundamentally human in fantasy, especially sex fantasy, and I suppose the most realistic way of dealing with it is a form of caveat emptor: let the fantasizer be aware what he's getting into.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

as if I knew what I was talking about...

I'm not much of a television watcher any longer so I may be coming late to this. we were watching one of the local news stations for the weather and traffic and as if to prove my assertion yesterday of the ubiquitousness of the internet, and to provide examples of how not to integrate into other media, 4 of the 5 local stations in the space of 5 minutes did features in which they placed a full-screen shot of a website--facebook, youtube, cnn headline news, and tmz--and either played what was on it or simply read it aloud. the only one we get which didn't was an affiliate even further out on the rim than we are, and my endorsement of their not doing the same thing must be tempered by my sneaking suspicion that they simply don't have the technology yet.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

listening in on the presbytery

I missed my own denomination's general assembly in minneapolis a couple weeks ago, so I suppose it's only fair I attend a workshop on worship for another faith. the presbyterians are meeting for their general assembly in the same place as the unitarian universalists--the minneapolis convention center--and my teacher jann cather weaver (who's united church of christ) gave a presentation focusing on church and social media, a topic in which I'm particularly interested (and which I am studying in greater depth with her this fall).

jann's presentation was sparsely attended--I counted about 25 people over the course of 3 hours--but it struck me as one of those poorly attended lectures like 1928's "what to do if the stock market crashes" or 1979's "protect yourself from immune deficiency viruses." she had a lot of worthwhile things to say to people who heard her and were aware they were listening to a treatise on the reality churches find themselves in today, not in the future: a place where a rapidly dying demographic ventures 1 day a week with the expectation of hearing that it is a good and gracious group whose children, if they could only put down the electronic whizzbangs, would soon find themselves as valiently articulated. the fact they don't find their children beside them--or when they are beside them, find them checked out--seems either not worth notice or is evidence of their children's deficiencies.

jann's message was that social media are themselves works of the spirit to bring about the kingdom/kin-dom/realm of god, communicating the way we live out our faith. this was a good message to hear since it is not an endorsement or denial but a recognition that facebook, google, youtube, texting, iphones, ipads, and whatever other communication application is hovering around the corner is a way, not of holding one another off at arm's length but of drawing one another closer in ways never considered before. I sit here now in the crystal court of the ids tower in downtown minneapolis, utilizing public wifi, watching no fewer than 5 people around me texting while listening to whatever they're listening to--music, talk, phone conversations--on earbuds. 2 are reading from kindles. a man in a 3-piece suit and with several piercings in each ear walks by chattering into a bluetooth handsfree plugged into 1 ear. the little girl with her family who looks about 6 around the corner from where I sit is involved in some online game while her parents talk to each other in spanish. this is not the future. this is today. if we are honest in our profession that church is not simply a 2 hour a week phenomenon and if we are successful in our attempts to bring it into the quotidian, making our everyday time liminal, then this is a part of that: not as a method of shutting each other out but of bringing one another in.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

who needs to be warned?

this is the text of a letter to the editor I sent to the bradford (pa) era in response to an article they'd printed (and which doesn't show up on their online edition, although this followup headline did). I've been told by my dad it was published the other day, although the era doesn't have a practice of printing their letters to the editor online.

To the Editor: I take exception to the characterization of the story about the impending visit of the Rainbow Family as needing a "warning," although that's probably how officials from Pinedale worded it. I am visiting your area after the death of my mother and will be at the Gathering in another week with several thousand of my family. A veteran of many Rainbow Gatherings and a 50 year old teacher of college english and lay minister, I am likelier the demographic most of your readers will meet at their businesses and on their streets than the people against whom they're warned to "look out [against] for theft, take keys out of cars, lock up houses and anything else of value." Of course there are addicts and thieves among us, just as among any group of 12,000 people. There are approximately 8400 people living in Bradford: don't you have any crime? If the Allegheny National Forest were hosting the Republican National Convention, there would be similar offenses (the difference of course is that for all their rhetoric they're not likely to spend money anywhere around Bradford). We are your kids and grandkids, your aunts and uncles, your cousins and childhood friends. We're coming to celebrate being alive and a number of us will purchase water and chocolate in your towns and fill up our cars and for the most part we will come and go quietly. Just as in the old days of the carnivals and circuses some of your kids might leave with us and some of us might stay around. But what puts the real lie to the need for a "warning" against the Rainbow Family is a story several pages in: the suburb of Chester, population 37,000, has had 11 murders since January. Perhaps the Rainbow Family and others need to be warned against visiting that town. It sounds a lot deadlier.

Friday, July 2, 2010

list of my family I met at the 2010 rainbow gathering

· Bickel and his girlfriend: driving a truck with MO plates but coming from Florida to help set up Oz Kitchen; had a cab-full of dogs and a cat that rode on the driver’s lap; parked at A Camp cuz they feel safe there
· Harold and Katy: a pair Bickel picked up hitching outside Warren, PA, who were from Baltimore; been on the road about a year
· Dog Bite Girl: came across her on the road into Welcome Home after she’d been bit by a dog near Bus Village; was pretty rattled; gave her a toke from my cigar after she asked for a cigarette; wore a “Fuckin Homeless” printed like “Dunkin Donuts” t-shirt; strawberry blonde and about 6 foot; ran into her that night again with her hand bandaged up and on antibiotics from the hospital; told me the litany of tests and shots they did and then crowed to her companion, “He gave me a smoke off his cigar and it was a Black and Mild, man!”; companion gave me the thumbs-up
· Sparrow: also came across him on the logging trail but he was heading the opposite way with a cartload of stuff; stopped to tell me he was from Boston and was tired of being without a female in his life; “I mean, girls, at least flirt with me, I’m wholesome;” about 20 with coke-bottle glasses and sandy hair, tall and thin
· Elmo: young woman about 25 carrying an open Japanese parasol who came up to bum a cigarette off Sparrow while we were talking; looked kinda longingly at him for a moment and after he gave her 1 I said, “Elmo, will you kiss me?”; she did, a warm hug and full-on lips, and I said to Sparrow, “That’s what you got to do, brother;” he shook his head and went on his way and Elmo and I walked on chatting until I dropped her off at Kiddy Village; from Denver and heading out to this year’s Burning Man with a theater group
· Tony: at Main Circle; from the Delaware Water Gap; we traded stories about 209 and Dingman’s Ferry before he went off for food
· Grandfather Woodstock: an old man with long white hair and long tobacco-stained beard naked under a rainbow-dyed robe; had set up a small shrine at Main Circle complete with chair and bicycle horn; told me he was 100 and he looked it; saw him with a camcorder the next night standing on the chair to video the drum circle
· Magic: another old man staying at Kiddy Village; old cracked leather vest and drawstring pants; giving his great-granddaughter a ride on the logging road in a plastic cart; she said, “Grandpa, I wanna pick berries” and he wheeled her right into the brambles and she laughed
· Aviva and her fiancĂ© and Katy and the Jersey crew: most of these were from south New Jersey, except Katy, who they picked up in Philadelphia; Aviva came from west of the Pine Barrens and was carting in a heavy dufflebag full of food; I offered to help her carry it in and shouldered it and walked it the mile and a half to their camp; she was astonished I didn’t drop it or slip once in the mud and called me “a rockstar” to her campmates; she was short and kept her dark hair in braids while Katy was tall and had her blond hair in dreads; once we got to their camp near the Rusty Nail Aviva packed a bowl and held it out to me saying, “That’s for you;” I only took a few hits off it, opting to share it with her and the others around the fire; like almost everyone else she had a dog
· Red and Chef: I know Red from Menomonie where she and her family used to attend the church that I served; I recognized her my 2nd night wandering around Main Circle; she had more barbs in her lips since I’d last seen her but I recognized her immediately; she and Chef had to drive to Erie the next morning with a bunch of other kids who’d been ticketed for underage drinking and possession of paraphernalia a week before; I said I was leaving the next morning and offered to head that way but they said they already had a vanload of kids going but appreciated the offer; they’d been there already 3 weeks; we traded stories of people we knew and I was surprised when I asked about 1 of her brothers that she’d had a restraining order taken out on him; turns out he’d been abusive for years; I apologized and said I didn’t have a clue and she said she knew, it was always kept quiet; she said she hoped to smoke pot with her dad this year (she’d long ago done so with her mom); she hugged me when I got up and we determined to meet up again out in Babylon
· Trashcan: came in off the road, originally from Florida; offered me some crank and asked if I knew anyone who wanted meth; I said no to both but got him talking, which wasn’t hard, and he told me a long rambling story about his hitching east, most of which was muttered and pretty unintelligible; but he was friendly enough and hugged me when we parted
· Duluth: I met up with her on my way back from Back Entrance and we took to talking about where we were from; she’d spent a long time in Minnesota—“I keep ending up back there”—although she’d been living for 6 months in Ithaca, NY, and expected to stay another few months; she studied herbology; she was normal height, heavy-breasted and slim, with big glasses; she seemed pretty stand-offish and didn’t even tell me her Rainbow name (I called her “Duluth” and she didn’t argue); she melted into the crowd at a kitchen we passed
· Steve: from Denver; his 1st Gathering; he’d come in with a group of guys for the experience of it; we’d been talking for a while on the trail in from Welcome Home before we stopped and helped Aviva and Katy carry in stuff
· Adam: I met him at Main Circle a couple days later; he was 1 of the guys who’d ridden in with Steve; big-bellied young guy, maybe 25, also born and raised in Denver
· Black Hills: a very monkish-looking fellow from South Dakota, raised near Spearfish; wore tie-dye robes and long shirts and linen trousers and what looked like a dreamcatcher on his head like a sunbonnet; not very talkative but as we were walking a brother stopped to hug him and said “You actually smell clean”
· Dog Runner: my name for a tall thin man I saw running a pack of 6 or 7 dogs of various sizes along the lumber trail each morning; shirtless and wearing thin runner’s socks under his sneakers; dreadlocked; I don’t know if they were his dogs or he was running them for other people
· Mica, Jackson, and Goose: a trio who’d arrived the same afternoon I did from Jacksonville, FL; traveled with Henry the dog; Mica was a big girl in a billowy muumuu and her mom was a police officer in FL; Jackson was a young bearded guy with the look of someone who’d been on the road much too long (Henry was his dog); Goose was a tall kid with a wispy mustache who’d never been out of FL in his life and he and Mica acted as if they’d been friends for a long, long time
· Benny: had been there 3 weeks already, arriving with the intent of being part of Council; pudgy like an early beer-belly but friendly as all hell
· Kevin: Benny’s dad who’d just retired after 30 years with the Coast Guard; had gone to the Academy and graduated into the Guard and had decided to live in VA; this was his 1st Gathering, which was funny since I’d started talking with him cuz I thought he might have been someone who’d been there back when I was; shirtless and pasty but with heavy arms, someone accustomed to hard work
· Dog Girl: from FL and traveling with 11 dogs, a mom with slackened tits and her 10 pups; tall and green-eyed with wild red hair and freckles; maybe 19 or younger; told everyone the pups had all been found homes so she didn’t have to deal with explaining to some people why she didn’t think they would be effective dog companions; I wanted to call her Diana because of her pack but didn’t think she’d get the reference; she was probably the person I was most comfortable talking with and if she’d been interested I’d have taken her with me just for the company
· She Slips: when I told her my name she said she wanted to come up with a clever one too and finally settled on “She Slips in the Mud and Falls on Her Ass” after doing that 6 times as I walked with her back up the trail from Main Circle to her camp near Welcome Home; dark hair and burnished skin; talked a little crazily and muttered so I often asked her to repeat things; came from the St. Regis Reservation in New York near the border; kept up a running muttered monologue as we walked; good-looking
· Michael: a cyclist from Ohio I met on my way out; I’d stopped at a stream I knew of in order to bathe and he’d spent the night there; 1st words to me were, “I’m lost;” worked as an occasional tree-lopper and grew trees and flowers in his nursery; had made enough money cutting trees to buy land and build his home and nursery and now had no bills and lots of free time; a little taller than me and sinewy and burned; gave him most of the food I had left (granola bars and dried fruit and peanut butter) and gave him what I hope were accurate directions

Thursday, July 1, 2010

back to babylon

home again, home again, and too busy to talk about much of anything. I'm posting a link here to a video I think is pretty representative of this year's vibe--it's not my own video, I'm still in the process of editing that, but it is a minute from monday evening at main circle, and while you can't see me, I am sitting on the ground behind the shirtless dancing man in the center of the screen.