STACKING BOULDERS (Water)
We were in Boulder, CO on our honeymoon when the protests started in Istanbul. The same story as everywhere else: a park being turned into a shopping mall. The mandate of a largely rural, religious electorate used to attack the rights and freedoms of a more urban, secular opposition. Books and music against tear gas and water cannons. The same kind of questions are going to be asked by protest movements world-wide: what kind of spaces exist, and who has the right to inhabit them? If Gezi gets bulldozed, then one kind of ecosystem will be replaced by another. Biotic life evolved over billions of years will be starved out by new pressures selecting not for the maximization of energy, but the maximization of profit—on the principle that every last drop of liquidity must be squeezed from soil, space, and human bodies.
The pond by my parent’s house where we had the ceremony flooded the following week. Too much water, and now there is too much to write down. All I can do is fold turtles out of paper, and float them off the dock of recorded memory, tiny lights in lieu of closer stars.
There was a book of Zen poetry in the closed but not locked nightstand of the overpriced Bed and Breakfast where we were staying. The whole place had a thematic of (faux?) Eastern mysticism, complete with a meditation room. I remember speculating at one point that guests being Zen was probably encouraged as the only viable way for them to deal with the exorbitant cost.
There was a phrase in one of the poems I liked, by Shinsho: “Does one really have to fret / About enlightenment? / No matter what road I travel, / I’m going home.”
I used it several times that night, when we were walking home from Pearl street and weren’t sure which intersection to cross at. More broadly, I applied it to our reaction on finding out in a cafe one night that the musician I’d seen on a poster in the bathroom earlier that day, with the intriguing description (shamanic folk, live trip-hop, acoustic dubstep, or something like that) wasn’t actually playing that night, as I had misremembered, but a week from then. There had been a show, apparently, but the musicians were now packing up their instruments and leaving. The staff was already setting chairs on the tables upside down as a prelude to sweeping. We just sat, talking, playing with our rings, drinking IPAs, and listening to the music from that other dimension, where the show is always happening. It doesn’t matter, we knew–where we live all streets have musicians on them, all roads will take us home.
Love transforms mistakes into opportunities to practice adaption and acceptance. Like in improv theater, the best moments are often found in the graceful responding to minor blunders. I got the time wrong two mornings in a row trying to go to the meditation sessions at the B&B, and then slept in on the third. Maybe it was because I had just spent such a long time sitting quietly thinking about it, but the repeated mishap itself seemed very Zen. You can’t really think about emptiness and stillness in a room with other people.
The best times were when we just followed gravity, water-like, taking the path of least resistance, which in the case of Boulder was a shaded bike trail along the creek. We rode to the edge of the city, where there were parks and hiking trails up into the red rocks, the small bump in the EKG of the Colorado skyline before it jumps up into the flatirons. When the path was still tracking along the river, though, there was one place where the trees opened up (it might have been a raft-launching point or something) and in the river-bed were stacks of stones. Little testaments to the impermanent reversal of entropy, an instinct for balance in the surety that everything will be washed away…
MASTERS OF SOLITUDE (Air)
One of the reasons I know that my wife is the one, is that she let me read on our honeymoon. There was one particularly wonderful book, called The Masters of Solitude, that seemed well-suited to alpine air and life-reflection. I was still reading it on the flight home, and during a layover in Chicago. Written the year I was born by Marvin Kaye and Parke Godwin, The Masters of Solitude is set in the far future, where an advanced civilization has sealed itself off in a city three hundred miles wide, refusing to help or communicate with an outside population beset by plagues and war. It’s a question of spaces, and who gets to inhabit them.
I have a soft spot for those late 70s SF books, the space-opera zeitgeist permeating U.S. Culture like the speculative idea-music of the previous decade set to darker, empire-sponsored synthesizers.
The division between city and savage covens in Kaye and Godwin’s epic is yet another take on Wells’ Eloi and Morlocks, and can be lined up with any number of symbolic oppositions: mind/body, reason/perception, Apollo/Dionysus, writing/speaking, continuity/drift. While technology inside the enormous, sealed-off metropolis had been improving, granting citizens near-immortality and near-infinite knowledge, outside the city the humans themselves had been evolving, developing powers of telepathic communication.
The savage heroes’ quest of getting through the “self-gate,” the psychological-torture device the city set up as an impregnable perimeter, reminds me somehow of protestors’ battles to break through to an insular government and its self-rationalizing ideology. Or, for that matter, the TSA security check-points at the airport, where we watched an octogenerian woman in a wheelchair forced to stand for a body-screening pat-down. Theater. Multi-billion dollar live-action cosplay for our benefit.
I’m worried about what will happen to my books when I leave the country. On my copy of The Masters of Solitude I wrote “This book can no longer be bought or sold. Gift, steal, or destroy it.” All those volumes have taught me, and now they are going to teach me more about non-attachment, and mortality. Not that I have to consign them all to flames, passing through the self-gate completely unencumbered. My library is an ecosystem, some organisms of which must be culled. I remind myself that I am a writer, and the way I can help the info-sphere the most is by composing novel mutations. Talking about old endangered novels on the internet, trying to get them to breed…
My wife and I actually went to a small demonstration here in Iowa City, wearing papers clipped to our shirts that said “we stand for democracy in Turkey.” We have had several conversations, my wife and I, about how much store to set by the term “democracy,” haunted as it is by coded meanings and secret interpretations, shades of neo-liberal economics and legislative bureaucracies designed to actually contain and subvert the “democratic” forces the word elicits. A word can only represent, not embody. A representative democracy, in the same way, is not necessarily a responsive democracy. Supposedly democratic representation can be, in fact, a more complete and debilitating form of feudalism because it makes the modern peasants seem to be complicit in their own subjugation. Abuses of power and staggering inequalities seem to have been elected. When corrupted enough by market forces, the apparatus of democracy becomes a shield behind which the brutal puppetry of political populism and crowd control can function, keeping the city sealed and the telepathic savages at bay.
The little demonstration was in a small pedestrian mall, which over time has become increasingly threatened by towering encroachments hotels, apartment buildings, and yuppie shopping malls. There is a stage set up, and musicians are tuning up and checking sound. The small group of Turks and sympathizers are standing in front of a folding table, asking people to sign a petition.
“Excuse me” a teenager managing the event says, politely, as he hangs, with painful irony, an advertisement for a “sponsor” of the concert—a realty company—down the front of the table.
Last November I heard the woman who chaired my PhD committee give a talk for the historical society on development projects in Iowa City, from urban renewal in the 70’s to the more corporate constructions going up now, including the obnoxiously massive Moen building directly adjacent to the public space of Black Hawk Park. A Painting of three buffalo, part of a 1972 mural on the site, was first uncovered and then destroyed by the construction.The same realty company responsible for the new skyscraper is building an enormous “justice center”–also being fought by locals, if not local businesses.
Talking with my advisor later, over coffee, about faux-public spaces and commercially produced images of democratic or artistic participation, I compared the zoning conflict to Capoeira, the afro-brazilian game of spinning kicks and dangerous dancing. She didn’t understand what I was trying to say.
My wife and I met playing Capoeira, in a group led by a guy called Cupido (Cupid). I like to say that we got aquainted by trying to kick each other in the head.
The week before the wedding, we went with my wife’s parents and my brother to the Tall Grass Prairie Reserve in the flint hills of Kansas, and saw a herd of buffalo. Large shoulders, adapted for snuffling through snow, searching for hidden bits of green. Now, in the summer, lumbering under the weight of their symbolic (not representative) importance, borne with the stunning blueness of the sky.
Walls can fall if the animals themselves remain. I can leave my books behind as long as I take a pen.
It’s about space, and memory, and the things that are allowed to inhabit it. My hard-drive recently crashed, teaching me even more about non-attachment. One of my students, last semester, before I became jobless again, told me that ads started showing up on his wordpress account. I told him that no, wordpress was funded by people upgrading to processional accounts; surely they wouldn’t put advertising on personal blogs? Later, I found out that he was right. The website I am currently using to host my blog can, without my permission, show you targeted advertising. So, obviously, I’m going to stop using it.
I always use Mozilla with ad-block, so I don’t necessarily see the ads when I look at my own site. Dropbox gives some free storage, and with their public folder, users can essentially host websites for free. I’m going to start trying to mirror everything there. In order to really change the game, to carve out space, you have to work your way into the machine language, the code, until your fingers touch the dirt, and the water is clear enough to drink.
FIRE TIME: Sem Violenca
Two groups of humans converge in a park, or a square, or a street intersection. Not knowing anything about context or geography, one can make certain inferences based on perceived behavior alone. The behavior of one as organized, and the behavior of the other as pursposeful but chaotic. The group not wearing uniforms might be shouting something, maybe “no violence,” while the uniformed humans, far better prepared for conflict with riot gear, clear plastic shields, tear gas cannons, and so on, advance in silent formation. It is interesting to think about which group is more of a “mob.” The police (that’s what they are, of course) move with the order than comes from orders, and displays the violence we think of as characteristic of mob behavior. The protestors, on the other hand, move with the heterogeneous resistance of water, falling back and filming…The squad in riot gear don’t really have to decide on their course of action, since individual will has been taken over by the chained voices of command, but each and every one of the non-violent resisters has to make a choice, alone, to risk batons and chemicals.
The video was from Brazil. The world cup website, at the time of writing, was hacked by protestors who were looping evidence of the police brutality…
Meanwhile, the NSA has been outed by Edward Snowden as a fully-implemented surveillance state. To me, the leak itself seems like it might propaganda. The NSA’s actual goal can’t be to usefully dredge through the petabytes of data held in their mega-facility in Utah. The real intention has to be old-fashioned intimidation and stifling of political dialogue. It’s a bluff, a domestic psy-op to increase distrust of government and creating an increasing zone of taboo, things about which we dare not speak. The problem is that Snowden, along with the majority of the data-sniffers employed by the hydra-headed departments of imaginary fears are private, didn’t work for the government, but with private contractors. The value of such vast troves of information has little to do, obviously, with federal investigations, and everything to do, in my opinion, with market research. Consumer, not terrorist, profiles. The Erdogans and Clappers of the world already know how to keep us under control, now they want to know how to make us shop.
I have complained, before, about covers of books, as the cheapening shell of commodification. With the Masters of Solitude, the front illustration did everything it could to convince me the novel wasn’t worth reading (luckily, I spent the dollar on it anyway). For a change, I thought I would mention a cover illustration I like, along with my own fan-art rendition. I picked up Fire Time (1974) from a used bookshop in Kansas City, at the same time as Ice Prophet (1983) by William R. Forstchen, and This Sentient Earth (1982), by T. Hoyle. For some reason, by reading lately has been very element-based. You could add to this list Cooked, by Michael Pollan (which discusses food preperation in regard to the four basic elements) and the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson, a set of fantasy books in which magic operates through the use of metals.
There is too much to say, about these books and everything. Last night and tonight are solstice-powered super-moons, and I need to post these thoughts to get back to novel writing. All of them, in a way, had to do with war, religious prophecy and apocalypse. In Fire Time, every thousand years, the positioning of the planet Ishtar’s triple suns brings periodic famine and death to the leonine “centauroids” that inhabit the planet. In Ice Prophet, Earth is locked in an endless winter where bloody battles are fought on ice with bladed ships.
In the end, I think eschatological beliefs are childish. Global warming, even, won’t be the end, just the beginning of something very long and difficult.
Walking around with my brother, getting ready for the wedding, we talked about my writing, and how I should try to sell some of it. “I used to get upset,” I tell him, “thinking that I had a binary choice, between not making any money, and selling everything I write or am. Not I look at it more like elements, you know?” This was something we had discussed before. “Water adapts to whatever cointainer gravity steers it towards.” I explain, stumbliningly, that sometimes what I write can take its shape from professional or financial necessity. Sometimes, though, my words need to burn, to fly, or be planted.