Thursday, April 26, 2012

On Big Sur, By Jack Kerouac

Big Sur by Jack Kerouac is the best book about addiction that I've read. High School teachers do their students a great disservice by requiring them to read On the Road and not Big Sur. What you walk away from On the Road with is a romantic sense of the beat lifestyle. What Big Sur gives you is the bad liver, the delirium tremens, and the psychic toll that was the end result of too much 'consciousness expansion'. In Big Sur, poor old fat Jack can't even hitchhike anymore.

It makes sense to review Big Sur on a blog about disillusionment (in the positive sense; freedom from illusion; everything in the medicine cabinet has expired), and it make sense that it should be reviewed by a hardcore HP Lovecraft fan, because essentially it is a horror book. Kerouac describes paranoid fears and unknown nightmare vistas as good as Lovecraft, if not better.

In Big Sur, Kerouac is desperately clinging to the remaining threads of a hollow religion. During his moments of despair he lets go from time to time and reaches to another hollow religion--Roman Catholicism--and even this one provides little consolation. Because all religions are hollow, essentially. That's what makes them so adaptable. Every one of them can fit every one of us at different times, depending on the situations and impulses we find ourselves saddled with. Their meaningfulness is derived from their meaninglessness; once you leap inside, you can pretend anything you want.

Kerouac suffered from the disease of alcoholism, and wherein many folks use their religion as a tool with which to escape the disease, he used his to dig himself deeper into it. Addiction hollows you out. Maybe that's why so many recovering addicts find solace in religion; their disease has created a vast emptiness inside of them, and what better thing to start rebuilding with than the malleable material of religion. There is just enough structure in any religion to allow a person to feel comfortable, but after that, the relationship becomes a dance.

I don't say these things lightly, or with scorn. I am a recovering addict, and a recovering christian. I have seen the permutations of each. I understand what it feels like to be 'born again', in both the sense of a person recommitting or committing themselves to Christ, and of the person waking up the next day after a night of heavy drinking. I have only glimpsed the horrors that engulfed Jack Kerouac, who was really a beautiful man if what he wrote reflected reality. He was a beautiful, tragic, sensitive person--a pulsing nerve exposed to the universe--who never had a chance to catch his breath. Big Sur breaks your heart.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Country versus City, Lifting Weights, Free Will, Armchair Philosophizing

I used to think I wanted to move out of the suburbs and into the city, but now that I work in the city, I think maybe I'd like to move out of the suburbs and into the country. I don't mind interacting a lot with people for my job. It's my job. I interact with all kinds of people, all day long. That's fine. In my personal life, however, I'm starting to find that I need more time alone and with my little family unit.

The houses on the street that I live on are starting to feel too close together. I am a big advocate for community, but don't feel a strong compulsion to partake myself; not in my off time. I don't know if that is hypocritical, or just human. Maybe there's no difference between the two. During my working hours I spend a lot of time watching how society makes its sausage, and the process isn't pretty. Lots of ugly stuff goes into it, and keep your fingers away from the grinders, man.

The country life probably isn't for me either, though. Of all possible living environments, I am probably best designed to be a brain in a jar. If you could somehow rig the jar with mechanical hands that I could type with via brainwaves, all would probably be well.

I've been working out lately. Not 'working out' so much as lifting dumb bells.I've decided to grow enormous biceps. The more I lift, the better I feel. More confident. A man needs a weapon. Having strong allows you to approach your fellow man with equanimity. Not until I began lifting weights did I realize how devious my mind had become. It's survival. Always keep your eye on a man with poor musculature. His weapon is somewhere else.

I just posted the following status update on facebook:
"personal growth is hard, but i know i have to do it. People who refuse to grow only become smaller and emptier. Here's to embracing growth, even when it makes you grimace. The strenuous life is not for timid hearts."
I deleted it not long after, partially because I left the 'l' out of 'only', and partially because I suspected what I said was bullshit. I wonder if it's possile to refuse to grow. Life molds us, and much is predetermined.  I've been keeping track of the Sam Harris/Jerry Coyne versus Russell Blackford/Daniel Dennett debate on free will (blue team versus gold team, I believe is how Russell puts it), and don't know where I come down on all  of it. I am very attached to the notion of free will, but we've got to remain flexible when confronting new and scary ideas. I am certainly more emotionally sympathetic to the compatibilists.

Who wants to live out their life believing one thing at the beginning and sticking with it all the way through to the end? We are transitory things. Our hearts weren't built to remain stationary. No part of us should be static. We are flowers that grow until they are chopped. Even the the prickly flowers get chopped.

Maybe all of that is bullshit too.

A Letter That Would Make Any Kid's Childhood

(From Mental Floss)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


The idea of immortality is awful to me. I understand the desire to see loved ones again and to feel safe and enlightened and peaceful, but I wonder if people have really thought about heaven very much outside of that. To me, knowing that things end makes life more beautiful. There is no beauty without death. To me, One rigorous life is enough. Being fully present for this life is enough, however long this life is.

Monday, April 16, 2012

New Piece In the Cincinnati Enquirer

Friday, April 13, 2012

Goodbye To Peace (a pep talk for myself)

'No Justice, No Peace', or so the bumper sticker says. Sayings like this are heard and spoken so often that they become impossible to think about. I think it's time to look into this one a little bit, though.

What the statement seems to say, is that there will be no rest until all wrongs have been righted. Well, I am here to say that there will never be this kind of justice. The promised land will never come. We will all fail to reach it together. The bumper sticker is right, though; there can be no peace until there is justice. So it's time to abandon the pursuit of peace.

This is not a call for warfare or bloodspilling. I hate ideological violence. It's also not a call to a joyless life.  I am an epicurean. I view pleasure as the highest pursuit. We must not confuse pleasure with peace, nor pleasure with hedonistic abandon.  Real pleasure--sophisticated pleasure-- is rooted in struggle. Epicurus himself suffered from horrible bowel problems. He knew about struggle. Epicurus's battles added that much savor to his leisure. We have to learn how to relish the fight. It has to become an end unto itself. We have to slay all of the buddhas, depants all of the saints, and set fire to any blueprints for heaven on earth, or heaven after earth. Everything we ever touch will be flawed, because we are flawed animals who do not fully understand ourselves. There will always be missing pieces left over. We're absurd creatures. Working for justice is an absurd task. That's why we'll keep doing it. 

At least that's what I am telling myself at this moment. I get frustrated by the imperfection of things. I am always making mistakes as a father, a husband, a writer, a worker. There is suffering in this world that I cannot alleviate. It pains me. I am often frustrated by the fact that life is constantly in transition, from one challenge to the other. I'm trying to internalize the notion that to fight is a good thing, and that it's okay to go to bed tired, with things undone, and some matters up in the air. At my best moments, I am able to do this.

Sometimes I find that the only way to deal with internal dissonance is to approach it in a meta sort of way.  There's another bumper sticker for you: 'Think Globally, Act Locally'.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without benefit of experience." ~ Henry Miller

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Sentence That Just Blew My Mind

"It is difficult to believe that Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a literary contemporary of Ernest Hemingway." Robert Bloch, from his essay, 'On Poe & Lovecraft'

It alarmed me to read that line. Yes, HP Lovecraft and Ernest Hemingway were contemporaries, but it's hard to think of two more different men.

In Hemingway, you definitely have a man of his times. Not only is he a man of his times, he is also an expression of his times. In Lovecraft you have--if you want to put it romantically--a man out of his times. It's possible that you could say he is a 'man of his times', but only if you consider reaction equal to embrace. Here is the paragraph that precedes the above sentence:
"Nor would a reader find more typically American protagonists amongst the pendants, professors and regionally-oriented recluses of Lovecraft's tales, in which there's scarcely a hint of the manners and mores of the Roaring Twenties or the Great Depression which followed in the ensuing decade. Aside from a few remarks regarding the influx of immigrants and concomitant destruction of old folkways and landmarks, plus brief mentions of the (intellectually) "wild" college set, Lovecraft ignores the post WW1 Jazz Age in its entirety: Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone, Valentino, Mencken and the prototypes of Babbit have no existence in HPL's realm."
Hemingway was attuned to the zeitgeist of his era. In fact, when you think of that era, Hemingway's face is one of the first to pop into mind. Although Lovecraft was of the same era, he definitely wasn't in it.

Once the shock of seeing two very disparate characters juxtaposed, certain similarities do materialize. Hemingway died of a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Lovecraft carried a cyanide capsule around in his pocket, just in case. Both men chose the same medium in which to project their inner lives onto the outer world. Perhaps that's it. Lovecraft abhorred what Hemingway embraced, and it's hard to imagine Hemingway's mind comprehending Lovecraft in anything like a sympathetic light.

But under a good light, when you look at Hemingway & Lovecraft, you do see two men looking at the same thing. They are two very different men, but there is an important commonality. The shotgun and the cyanide capsule, I think, are key.


A reader called 'entlord' over at Daily Kos chimes in: 
"both of them dealt in myth.  HPL created an entire pantheon of "elder gods" and forgotten rituals to make his own myths.  Hemingway used himself as the raw material of his myths.  For example, Hemingway told the story of how he liberated Paris single handed did not happen as he claimed.
Also both men were plagued by their relationship with their mothers whereby affecting their relationship with women for the rest of their lives."
Maybe the chasm isn't as wide as I had thought?

Another commenter suggested that a Hemingway/Lovecraft team-up might have been fun. I've always thought it would be cool to see Wes Anderson turn 'At the Mountains of Madness' into a movie: Willem Defoe, Bill Murray, and Jeff Goldblum as leaders of the expedition.

The Buddha

Monday, April 2, 2012

Allow Me To Rage Wildly For Just a Moment...

The things that people choose to comment on on Facebook can be both astounding and revealing. While scrolling through my friends' Facebook updates today, I saw that one of my friends had commented on a post one of their friends had created in reference to the above picture.

For the sake of the poster's anonymity, I'm going to call him Douche McAsshat, or DM for short.

His commentary on the photo:

"DM: Is this really how FLOTUS is suppose to dress??? What a complete and utter disgrace to our Country!"

And then, responding to someone who said she thought the first lady was beautiful:

"DM: you cannot be serious? You seriously think this is an "OK" look for the FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA? If you are standing by that then this Country is more gone than even I thought. People have been so dumbed down and would believe even the worst of lies and then to accept this as just the status quo. Moochelle is not even a female but then again you think it's beautiful and don't even know the first thing about her. God help us all....."

The conversation degenerated further from there, with D.M. saying he 'would respect her a little bit if she would dress a bit more presidential rather than like a hoe on the street corner'.

I can't express how much I hate people like D.M., and all of the stupid, stupid words that fall out of their stupid faces. First of all, this is the issue that he decides to take to the people? The fashion sense of the first lady? D.M. is a shallow, small man, who doesn't posses an ounce of the class, grace, or intelligence that Michelle Obama has. His comments convey that. Secondly, Michelle Obama is an incredibly beautiful, accomplished, and impressive woman. I think she has magnificent style. Thirdly, and most importantly, D.M.'s comments reflect an ugly, reactionary belief system that requires women and people of color to 'remain in their place'. D.M. clearly has problems with strong women, and especially strong black women. His reaction is the fearful reaction of a man clinging desperately to a dying white supremacist, patriarchal social structure. Beneath the insults and outrage about decorum is the real motivator for his statements: Fear.

 Undoubtedly, Michelle Obama is too enlightened to respond to the kind of vile nonsense that D.M. traffics in. I am not, however.

I'm glad he's scared. Fuck him.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Rick Santorum Is Gone

Rick Santorum is gone, more or less.Thank his non-existent god for that, if you are inclined to provide agency to the lack of momentum that caused his righteous bullet to bounce off the armor plate of the average republican voter's heart. His worst sin was never his views about abortion or women or gays. His worst sin is encapsulated in a line he used in his near-hit Ohio Speech, where he said [paraphrased], 'the american citizen has done nothing wrong; it's the government that has failed'.

To attempt to whitewash the sins of the American public is the worst kind of palaver. The old political axiom that states 'the people get the government they deserve' has it right, and puts it more objectively.

Taken individually, the American people are of varying quality. As is true for all groups, as a whole they are evilly inert and mediocre. Just like Rick Santorum. What is unique about Rick is that I think he believes the horseshit populism that he secretes. He is truly a man of the people. He is the government we deserve. Looks like we're going to luck out again.

Which is a shame to a certain extent. I had hoped to see somebody other than Mitt Romney come out of the republican contest on top, even though I know that out of all of the contestants, Romney would probably do the least damage. Newt couldn't do it, because he is an elitist and a maniac. The modern republican party can handle maniacs (they liked Cain and Perry and Bachmann for awhile), but they don't do elitism. In Santorum, you had exactly what the conservative heart of the party seemed to want; but the rank and file were unable to buck that Republican tendency to 'do what daddy tells you to do'. Romney was chosen and financed, and as much as they gritted their teeth, the good soldiers still followed orders. That's what republicans are good at, you know; doing what they're told.

You may accuse me of being overly ad hominem in this diatribe, and you may be right; maybe my animus towards Santorum all boils down to the fact that he has made me feel self conscious about wearing my sweater vests.