"The world does not reward honesty and independence, it rewards obedience and service. It’s a world of concentrated power, and those who have power are not going to reward people who question that power."-Chomsky

"The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management." -J.H. Kunstler

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."-Dylan

Saturday, October 31, 2009

10/12-10/31/09: Filling Tanks and Adjusting Sails

Early-mid October saw a bizarre repeat of what happened after I returned home in '08, and almost to the day. Once the house-sitting was done, I almost immediately went into a funk; just as last year I had done the same after finishing my initial work with Jack. I didn't realize it until reading back through my journal and seeing that if I were to write that night I would scribble nearly the exact same words...exactly a year later! I've come to greatly enjoy these moments when I sincerely have no choice other than to laugh at myself. They seem to be on the rise!

As the intense, unpleasant scrutiny of myself, and others, continued. I began questioning people's ability and/or willingness to see things as they really are, and a tendency to apply their own "personal narratives" to the experiences in their lives, rather than letting truth be the compass: "See things as they are, not as you would like them to be" is such a simple concept, yet at the same time I know first-hand how difficult it is to adhere to; how easy it is to hide in and project our own interpretation from our own mind. Some believe it's impossible altogether to witness things accurately, saying, "We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are." (Anais Nin or the Talmud)

Many hippies have gleefully hoisted this distorted white flag and embraced the idea of relativism with the ridiculous declaration: "It's MY reality!" Rather than looking further inward to identify and purge their prejudices and what's skewing their perception of reality, they've taken the route of the helpless alcoholic who's decided that, since he's been told he's "diseased," he has no choice other than to drink every day. Hey! Rationalizing the absconding of responsibility works in "his reality," right?

In retrospect, this escapism was the first progressive red flag that has since been elevated to a genuine, open disdain for escapist rhetoric and how agenda always, eventually, hitches its wagon to an ideological/idealistic horse. Somehow, people have convinced these people that self-lobotomization is the answer; that whatever they choose to "believe" is in fact their reality; encouraging a legitimization of self-delusion by teaching egoistic, protective escapism rather than an unattached commitment to truth. It lends a false, transparent credibility to placing point-of-view above truth.

I have a quiet, short-fused, internally turbulent reaction to these hippies, although we often share paths! With that being said, ultimately the mirror had to be turned, and it was. I spent a good part of October and early November harshly questioning rather I inadvertently had skewed my perception of these experiences, and the ideas I pursued as a result. I ultimately found myself hyper-sensitive to hints that Chris or I were deluded. The answers I came up with, for myself at least, were quite quick, obvious and, for once, simple. But, they needed to be asked for my own sake.

**Rant Alert**
Through this patience-testing process, I kept hearing Andre's, "Words are important!" and subsequently noticed an increase in my intolerance for "mystic bullshit." Fancy rhetoric attempting to espouse or defend a "spiritual" idea, but failing miserably once the sentences are parsed; when the bullshit's shoveled to the side, there's often nothing left! It's a vacuum wrapped in verbosity!

It's like trying to debate that the sky is pink instead of blue. Relativists will say, "Sometimes it is! And, what if I'm colorblind? That's MY reality! Who are YOU to say?" My answer? Your internal defect, and unwillingness to acknowledge, address and compensate for it, does NOT change the language we've all agreed upon; the proper description of the general color of the sky is: FUCKING BLUE!

This is that asinine Every Kid Gets a Trophy at work, only now it's Every Kid Gets a Reality. "No Moonbeam, you're not "wrong!" You're NEVER wrong, and you NEVER lose... if you TRY! If you think the sky is fuchsia, it's fuchsia! That's your reality!"

I can't adequately express how that mentality pisses me off. But, let me to try to convey it to Moonbeam. "Hey Moonbeam, sometimes you ARE wrong, sometimes you REALLY DO LOSE; some people REALLY are flawed. See, this is the harsh law of Nature and it even applies to you, you spoiled pretentious fuck! As you can see on display all around you every day, we are neither created, nor treated, equally, and though it's plainly neither pleasant nor fair, no amount of politically correct voodoo-linguistics will change the REALITY of NATURE'S LAW. Progressives are the people who universally tout a special "love & appreciation" for nature, so for them to ignore Her most basic law? Well, the hypocrisies are astounding! Now, precious Moonbeam- tell your parents I said to smoke a joint then feel free to fuck off and quit wasting my time. Maybe I'll see you at Burning Man."

**End Rant** brought to you by Starbucks, proudly serving douchebags (and the rest of you) since 1971!

Once that process was undertaken, the funk lifted. I originally had come to the conclusion that the return home was likely a mistake; that I should have continued on toward California on foot before returning home. After purchasing ANOTHER phone to replace the one damaged sleeping outside at Wendie's, I had barely broke-even after the bus ticket, and was now forced to go into fund-raising mode to get back out there this winter.

I decided on a whim to re-list the injured Saturn on Craigslist, at a reduced price, to see if anyone with extra cash or mechanical aptitude would be interested in buying and fixing it themselves. I was quite surprised when the phone started to ring, and in a matter of a few days had sold it to a guy in Albuquerque.

To clarify, I was VERY up-front about the mechanical issues, which oddly had seemed to vanish when I started and drove it for the first time in six-months. I even offered to let him leave it in the parking lot until he could have it looked at, but he refused choosing instead to drive it 60-miles home.

I sold the car on the 17th. On the 20th I received a call letting me know that the entire transmission casing had dropped while he was out "driving it around". He wasn't upset, but did share that he estimated it would cost over $2,000 to have the tranny replaced. I reminded him that he knew the car was broken when he bought it, and that I HAD offered to let it sit here until it was able to be fixed, and he'd refused. I believe he was meekly fishing for a refund after realizing he had probably fucked himself by treating it as a fully-functioning vehicle without first having it looked at!

That...was not happening.

That...was why he got the car so cheap in the first place.

I...was even more thrilled to be rid of that car.

With the Saturn sold, I learned the same day that I was in-line for another week's house-sitting. Katie had to return to California, and was happy with the way things had gone in September. With that, I had just quadrupled my money in about in hour. This was quite a good Saturday, and the decision to return home suddenly looked quite astute. Laina and I drove to Albuquerque's REI then next day where I finally got the backpack I coveted. It was costly, but a good investment. Thanks to Lynette and Dave, I would never have to buy boots again, and now with this Osprey (Kermit?), I would never have to buy another backpack...or I could return it for a cheaper one if I was in a real fix. Call me the money masseuse.

The second week at Katie's was better than the first in most ways. The dogs remembered and welcomed me with open paws and I managed to get a good amount of writing done, most of it this time in my written journal, coming to a few hard-fought conclusions. After this summer, things had begun to feel less like recess; it appeared to me that my metaphorical "play time" had ended and things were likely to change.

In fact, it seemed they already were. Leslie and I had been in regular contact since I had returned, and we began to bounce around more ideas for the end of November, when she took her winter break at DePaul. I also chatted regularly with Chris, who was on his way from Seattle to Massachusetts to see his dad and setting Halloween-goal to get there hitching...via San Francisco. Following this was his bizarre trip to England to see another ex-girlfriend, and from there it was anyone's guess for both of us.

We lightly discussed Mexico and South America again, and then, to my surprise, Florida. The idea of taking Dave's suggestion temporarily took root, with the two of us concocting a grandiose plan to go to the Atlantic Coast of Florida and trying to find a "live-aboard" situation where we could work in exchange for becoming certified as scuba divers. Then, we could presumably march into Mexico like Cortes and find work as diving instructors! It's not as far-fetched as it may seem; apparently Dave had actually done the live-aboard part.

I ran the idea past Leslie, and for a few days, visions of the three of us invading Florida danced through my head... until I realized that it felt ALOT like the kayak idea. And, that I had really hated Florida when I lived there! Why was I returning again? To maybe learn scuba diving? Couldn't I get certified easier in, say...Albuquerque? Why, yes I could! No, I was looking for adventure to compensate for a lack of inspiration; a destination. Abort!

Leslie and Chris independently came to the same general conclusion for different reasons, and the conversation shifted from traveling to Florida to me possibly just traveling to Chicago for a visit, then perhaps the southwest if Leslie still wanted to come out n' play. Arizona & California's deserts appeal much more to me in the winter than Florida, believe it or not. Nothing was decided, however, and as Halloween came and went, I was no closer to knowing what the rest of the winter held than when I arrived. I just knew I was in the right place at the right time. Sometimes, that's all someone can ask.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

10/11/09: Pondering Camels

"It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24)

In June, Chris and I had a conversation about evil, and I offered that greed and powerlust are its fundamental root. Money is inanimate and cannot be "evil." However, greed is wealth's (Mammon's) engine, and power it's club. The club's damage is NOT limited to its victims; those who swing it, regardless of the rationale and justification, are damaged even if the ego believes otherwise! The Camel Quote has become a personal  favorite.

To his credit, Andre was by far the most "aware" of the affluent people I have associated, which isn't saying much. But, with a little reflection I began to see why the above quotation, attributed to Jesus, is so powerful in its hostility toward wealth. I firmly believe that, on both a micro and macro level, wealth and enlightenment are diametrically opposed and usually mutually exclusive. The wealthy will argue and rationalize 'til Rapture, but I believe this to be a fact that will not change.

After I returned home from house-sitting, spurred on by the conversations with Chris in Port Townsend and the writing I had done at Katie's, I decided to actually open my unused Bible to see what the "presented version" of Jesus himself had to say about it. Using the familiar quote above as a starting point in Matthew, I expected a whole lot of ambiguity and interpretable "parable"; typically "Christian" rhetoric. What I found  astounded me. As I've said before, I'm (intentionally) no Biblical scholar, but I CAN read! Just a few of innumerable examples; Jesus was far from "ambiguous" when it came to wealth. He was outright hostile:

-"Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor... and come and follow me." Matthew19:21

-"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon."
Matthew 6:24

-"For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"
Matthew 16:26

-"But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full." Luke 6:24

And, He seemed to despise hypocrites:

-"Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven." Matthew 6:1

-"So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full."
Matthew 6:2

Like Dennis, Andre was inadvertently providing something priceless in his own way: a naked, unsolicitied glimpse at the struggle wealth creates for a man who's on a spiritual quest. At some level, he deserves a twisted degree pity for his financial triumphs. In this culture, it's unheard of to describe wealth as an "anchor," but that's the spiritual sacrifice of a life of comfort, security, and power. It usually comes standard with a closed, sheltered existence barren of the true experience/struggle needed for genuine empathy, compassion, and concern for others, as demonstrated perfectly by Andre's "debt is a state of mind" comment.

I believe I just answered my own earlier question regarding why it requires a sudden sense of self-mortality for many, particularly the affluent, to begin to take an interest in something beyond materialism. It's simple: Why would they? When a man has few "real" friends, is surrounded by those motivated by self-interest, and an ego addicted to Mammon's power, why would the typical tycoon reflect inward?

Without critical thought or conversation, and surrounded by "yes men," it's easy to convince ourselves of whatever narrative we choose to write! It's a self-delusion that reminds me of Huxley's "soma" from Brave New World; an opiate that numbs the spirit and intellect.

We've been programmed to function on a consumerist, egoistic plane. While the rich have succeeded on that plane, perhaps they've done so at the cost of sacrificing the intellectual and emotional tools needed to authentically empathize.

And, for those who have internalized these notions due to an inkling that "something's wrong," there's another foreboding quote found in Matthew: "Many are called. Few are chosen." As in classical mythology and with Joseph Campbell's "Call to Adventure", I don't believe these words are meant to be taken literally, but it doesn't take much talent for abstraction to see the implication.

When you arrive at this point, I believe, "The Fates" are an egoistic/escapist mirage. Free will, ego, and intellect come into play long after you're "called." I believe that your own capacity for and, more importantly, your decision to look internally, with uncomfortably clear-eyes, and then your actions determine whether or not you're "chosen," however you choose to define it.

I have a very different concepts of "called" and "chosen" than Christians of course, but I've come to suspect that the language is irrelevant. When you think about the barriers, for the wealthy, the path to self-actualization seems impassible and perhaps cruelly unfair. The have their reward in full.

Obviously, I believe Andre is handicapped by his wealth, ego, and the bubble in which he lives. From the beginning of my stay, I was keenly aware of the lair in which I dwelt, despite the fact I was greatly enjoying its benefits!

Periodically, I would find myself observing how Andre interacted with people, and more importantly vice versa, looking for patterns. Several times, I witnessed people seemingly afraid to deal with him honestly, afraid to upset him. Toward the end of our stay, there was even adolescent talk claiming someone close was "just using him." And, of course, Andre's protective of what he has because, of course, everyone wants it! This could lead a person to believe they are in a position to judge another's "worthiness" or to believe they know what's "best" for another. I can understand that, however, wealth alone does not grant one the moral superiority or lofty personal status required to judge by generalizations. And, when judgment and power turn to control...as they ultimately do...that person is likely doomed.

I also believe Andre, even with his noble and (I believe) genuine ideas, still has an epic battle ahead of him. In the end, he's inadvertently stacked powerful cards against himself and, although it's sacrilege in the "Age of Hope", I'm sadly pessimistic. If he's committed to succeeding, and I believe he is, he has in my opinion failed to see the obvious: That despite his best rhetoric and intentions, his identity is still completely anchored to his ego & assets. His ability to "work magic" is, literally, his ability to write a check. His ability to "be of maximum benefit" is tethered to his ability to write a check AND wrapped tightly within his ego.

I find it ironic that rather than envy him, I pity Andre. Not because of the spider bite or his uncertain future, but because I ask myself this: "If all of Andre's money were to vaporize tomorrow, who would he be? How would he see himself if he were unable to work Monetary Magic? How many "friends" would still be there?" Of course, this is a single perspective, and I'm sure that this last question will result in some other folks I met in Portland wondering, "Is that asshole talking about ME?!?!?" Please relax, and realize I am not interested in rendering judgment. But, I would counter that it may be useful to ask yourself, "Am I one of the circling vultures?"

In the event you've assumed this is arm-chair psychological conjecture, I know a bit about a ravaged "external identity." When the radio show ended in 2002, and I was no longer Todd Thompson, most of my "friends" vanished like farts in the wind leaving me sitting emotionally naked asking why. The answer was clear: the relationships I had built were based on the shallow radio "persona" I had developed, and I was forced to ask, "Now that I'm not Todd Thompson, who the fuck am I?" If you need to ask, then have trouble coming up with answers, you have a problem!

The ones who remained unchanged remain treasured friends. I can literally count them on one hand. These are not easy questions to ask, are even harder to answer, and impossible to investigate without a commitment to truth; that inner dialogue Andre admitted having trouble with. Despite his wonderful complexities, Andre is struggling as a confused personification of his wealth, with little clue of how to escape it. How to cut free from a spiritual anchor.

The very first quote above also speaks nicely to the Chris McCandless question and what I believe was his Poverty Field Trip. Friar Chris has often taken exception to my McCandless critique because he closely identifies with McCandless's background. He has struggled with my indictment, often replying, "What's a rich kid supposed to do? Just give up?"

My reply had always been that I honestly don't know. Do what you can, and hope for the best. Subconsciously, however, there's always been a faint smell of hypocrisy to even asking that question, as though wealth is somehow entwined into your DNA and fused to your existence. I've suspected that the philosophical answer is simplistic, and as stated above, would sound something like "Get rid of it and legitimize your fraudulent Pauper Papers."

Of course that IS simplistic, and very few of us are prepared to sell all of our worldly possessions and sacrifice the security they provide! (Foreshadowing alert!) Frankly, I see nothing wrong with openly half-assing it, or openly doing nothing! To my knowledge, none of us are Saints nor aspiring to be. However, my blood pressure tends to rise when people are portrayed, or prop themselves as something they're not. Someone please tell Mr. Penn, Mr. Krakour, and the rest of the McCandless Cultists that McCandless burned his money knowing he was a phone call away from a family "line of credit" whenever he ever decided to bless his parents with his "forgiveness". Rather he used it is immaterial; he knew it was there. It would be much more impressive for someone raised poor to do the same, without a golden parachute just waiting to be deployed by phone.

To me, the shallow image of renouncing wealth, while never intending to do so, is condescending and nicely articulated by:

"Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full." Matthew 6:16

Again, it takes a little abstract thought to comprehend that "gloomy face" can mean many different things, from countenance to clothing and hygiene. Cleverly clinging the literal interpretation and employing rationalization? That could indicate something!

More often than not, I don't believe people rationalize on a conscious level; I don't think they sit in their chairs creating clever, conscious, fictitious narratives. I believe it's subconscious because, as The Sage pointed out later, it's challenging to confront the dark things residing within ourselves.

That observation cut to the heart of my internal, "I feel like a dick" discomfort. I know full well how difficult it is to confront ourselves. I reject the role of  Encouraging Sympathetic Voice because, from my experience, I find to be it a counterproductive haven.

This simple train-of-thought demanded an overdue investigation as to my evolving purpose. The answer was simple and (again) reinforced surprisingly from the Bible in quite an arrogant way!

Reading thru Matthew, it became clear that Jesus was sort of...a dick! His tone was that of a man annoyed with metaphorical blindness and willful ignorance, intolerant of rationalizations and hypocrisies. I could identify with the man who entered the temple and violently overthrew the moneychangers table! Contrary to characterizations as the "Price of Peace", tact and non-confrontational politeness seemed of little concern to Him, even saying, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." Perhaps that "sword" is to slice off the fat of doctrine, dogma, and self-deception. And, if blunt honesty is good enough for your Jeebus, it's good enough for me!

Overall, the impression that I got from my tiny foray into a miniscule portion of the Bible was that, if true, most Christians are in a lotta trouble when their Messiah returns! I repeatedly (and to Laina's chagrin) asked, "Do Christians even read this fucking thing? Or, do they simply rely on someone else to interpret what's inside AND believe whatever they're told it means?" 

Ambiguity toward wealth? MY ASS! I found little resemblance between what I managed to read, and the acts of Jesus, Inc. I have more scripture examples I could share, but I'll close by simply saying that I've come to believe that the greatest blasphemy on Earth is perpetrated by organized religion and what it has done to the concept of God. I would stand tall and say that to Yahweh's face, quite certain that he's agree.

How about you?

Friday, October 9, 2009

9/22-10/9/09: Santa Fe- "Unpacking"

After a quiet day at home on Tuesday, the house-sitting gig started Wednesday amid wild anticipation of spending the entire week on the computer or buried in my notebooks writing for hours on end. I knew that I had much to process and, as always upon returning home, felt highly motivated to get it done immediately in supposed marathon sessions. But, as usual, it didn't happen that way. Rather than a narrative, the writing promptly displayed a tendency to create more questions; deeper layers than I originally assumed were there. That's always a good sign for me personally, but not always pleasant. Especially when many of the hardest new questions revolve around...me.

As I started to get near the heart of Andre's story, I noticed an intense feeling of personal wariness, especially about that Sunday, 9/13. The apprehension's intensity was quite rare, but I understood that his was no ordinary story and I was forced by its content to take a microscopic look at both my own insights and, more painfully, who I have become over the last year and where I was going. I had expected the simple moral question about how much detail to share, but the demand for self-analysis was something that was surprisingly bitch-slapping me at the same time! If I was going to offer acute criticism of others, I was going to be providing it to myself. Like it or not. A handy, oft-inconvenient & unpredictable tool I've acquired somewhere.

As I started to verbally spew into the computer, making connections to both past events and those in Port Townsend, an interesting contrast developed; something that would ultimately lay the very foundation for the immediate future. Despite the persistent questions, the words flowed; again a good sign. Nothing was forced or contrived and, after questioning, challenging, and examining my insights, it was obvious that they were solid-if not pleasant. They themselves then began spawning other multilayer ideas. Yet, the potentially toxic, uncomfortable nature of these observations set off warning signals throughout my psyche. Was this just my ego going nuts?

I began seeking out other opinions and through conversations with Laina, Chris and The Sage, my impressive, redneck vocabulary again went on display as I described these intense, nagging emotions as "feeling like a dick," even though I felt like I was dead-on, even after psychologically beating the hell out of myself and beginning the process of asking "who the hell I thought I was" in writing these things. It was then that I came to realize that I'd had the sense that "I" wasn't writing these things. It was Stream of Consciousness-despite of myself! More than once, I (again) thought back to Randleman, and Pastor Snake...which REALLY set off ego-alarms! Seeing this was encouraging of course, but created more turmoil than it relieved.

The Sage suggested something that I had considered a few times: keeping two journals. One: the run-of-the-mill, fluffy "travel journal" variety. Something easier to comprehend, accept, and escape within (my description). The Second: one presumably written with my actual thoughts... therefore not causing any immediate discomfort to the protagonists. I seriously considered it, but not for long, as I slowly came to realize that the self-doubt wasn't internally based. It was the "critic's" voice; the self- censor voicing the imagined criticism of others. Furthermore, as Laina astutely and repeatedly pointed out, "editing for comfort" would be selling out; doing the very thing that I swore not to do. Reading these passages is voluntary after all, and the notion of producing shallow "bathroom fodder," as Chris puts it, is repugnant. No, this is by its nature occasionally unpleasant and very difficult. It's the "hard" that makes it worthwhile, even though it's sometimes unflattering, even to myself.

I knew coming in that it would periodically be difficult, but I HAVE made myself accountable by having the courage to present it for consumption. It seems cowardly (and suspicious) to consider yourself a man-of-purpose then hide in your journal; the foundation of critical thought is to test ideas by allowing them to stand up to scrutiny! To cower, or worse: put on an "act", would be something I wouldn't be able to stomach, and that I even considered it made me question my own motives and presented the entrance to yet another powerful investigation: the difference between being "clever" and being right, which can lead to the egoistic practice of selfishly protecting a possible flawed point-of-view through linguistic voodoo & rationalization. Later in October, this directly led to my humble, uncomfortable Don Quixote revelation (stay tuned...if you dare!). Good, organic stuff!

With the end of the house-sitting gig came the end of September. As October began and I returned home, my "internal motives" question persisted, but I decided to push forward and allow people to react however they chose. Thinking back over the summer, I reflected on how I had likely severed the pathetic "relationship" with my own father and two of my sisters through simple uncomforatable honesty. Considering that The Hens had chosen to "de-friend" me on Facebook, choosing their traditional method of conflict resolution, avoidance, it suddenly seemed absurd to offer this blatantly self-interest-driven courtesy to Andre; something I had denied much more significant people!

There was much more to come as I contemplated my time with Andre in Portland. As I finally wrote up The Vanity Plate, Now What?, and Navigating the Rubicon, more agitation and an accompanying flood of ideas that was the byproduct. Surprisingly, much if centered around, of all things, The Bible...