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~ Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Summer Mist

A fog lifted from the sea has drifted inland and stayed awhile atop the hill where we live. A bank of long, flat clouds stretches northeastwards, intent on giving its gift to some other part of the continent. Sheer wisps of mist separate we mortals below from the water we need. Up there. I wonder what selfish little boy has been chanting "Rain, rain, go away!" and getting his wish to the detriment of us others?


A Look Worthy of Baudelaire

I've been told that I look mean when I write. That could well explain why the poor barristes at Tully's whispered among themselves. The sight of me stooped over a notebook or battering the keyboard has unnerved a few roommates, classmates, relatives, and others who see in my face what appears to them to be smoldering rage. When I am in the creative state, my external communication skills become more primitive as the words on the screen become more eloquent. Lynn knows to keep her head when my conversation with her consists of signals with the hand and a vocabulary limited to "Go away." If there's something she needs me to answer, she states a list. I grunt when something she suggests sounds good to me.

I had one roommate back in North Carolina who, when she'd find me hacking out words on the old door I used as a desk would ask Charles Baudelaire, author of The Flowers of Evil"Are you mad? Are you mad?" I couldn't understand why she thought that. On another occasion, another denizen of that same house brought a prospective resident through while I sweated at stamping out my diary. "Joel," she said in a dry drawl that always sounded both bored and annoyed. "This is Trent." I remember looking up and seeing this skinny little fellow with generous facial hair. I didn't say anything. Just stared. Later she took me to task. Pat prided herself as the genuine Southerner of the house and to her my California writers' ways had seemed downright inhospitable. She thought I'd scared him away.

I later moved in with the guy at another house. He remembered me. I asked him what he thought. "Well," he said (he was a poet), "that look you gave me was worthy of Baudelaire but I had no problem with it." My roommate Pat struck him as neurotic, which was true. The first night I moved in, she went into a rage and spent the night breaking every last dish her ex-boyfriend had given her. She screamed at me because he'd made her have an abortion. I wish I'd had Trent's prescience of mind about that woman. Trent and I got on well those six months we lived together. I miss the guy and am sorry that I lost track of him. We both wrote and as we did, we'd sometimes check on the other. There was the look. Never bothered me to see it on his face nor did he lose sleep when he saw it on mine. It's how we two writers were when slashing the wood pulp with our pens. We saw nothing wrong with it.


Fixing Things

I resolved to take a day off before I forgot about the Lake Forest Tully's altogether. I went over to the Irvine store, where Jerry who used to be assistant manager at the Lake Forest store and told him my grief. He did some investigating on his own and reported a misunderstanding: apparently the girls were curious what I was writing about all the time and mentioned it to this smart ass. I told Jerry to just pass the message that I didn't mind if they asked about my writing: I kind of thought they were curious. Due to some other things I'd overheard them saying about others, I was a little suspicious about what they were saying about me.

I am going back tomorrow. Hopefully we will just shake hands and I can just get back to work. I will probably start dropping by the Irvine Tully's more often -- it was a nice change and it was good to see Jerry. Jerry's nervous because he's getting married next week: I reassured him that terror was normal and that things would go wrong but in the end, everything would turn out just fine.

As for the loudmouth, I intend to extract one of two types of writer's revenges: either I am going to use him as a complete loser character or I am never, ever going to write about him at all.


What the Fork?

Kelly Caldwell waxed poetic on the F-word. Like her, I am a defender of its use in appropriate, non-offensive sentences (offense as in football here -- the action of attack) as a cacaphemism or an intensifier. (e.g. God, what a fucked day! or He really fucked me over!) . I wrote this as a comment:

I happen to think the F-word has a rightful place in our vocabulary as long as it is not overused (which holds true for any word). You can use it around me any time, Kelly, as long as you aren't saying "Go fuck yourself, Norton!"

Sometimes when I am in chatrooms where the word is prohibited, I have my own collection of "acceptable variants" on the word. "Fark!" is one of the words. "Fork!" also works well as in "It's none of your forking business!"

One time I referred to my some "forking" problem I had to a lady from New Mexico who was a little bit devout and pure. It shocked her. She told me that she couldn't eat with a fork after she'd seen me use that.

Like what's her forking problem?

For a real addict, check out Crazy Tracy. She's the fucking queen!

~ Tuesday, July 30, 2002

A fit of pique

I think it is time to change coffee shops. The help has started talking about me behind my back, pointing me out as an object of ridicule.

All I want in a coffee shop is a clean, well-lighted place with a couple of comfortable chairs where I can write. I make a point to clean up after myself. Completely. Napkins thrown away. Sugar and drops that I have spilled wiped up. Cups tossed. The pastry plate and fork brought to the counter so they don't have to walk over to where I was sitting. I am happiest when I can sit in a public place and be a cipher, unread and unpronounced. But when you are six feet four inches with longish brown hair and a peppery beard, it's not easy to hide.

The chubby blonde did it. The one who thinks she is a good Christian and is attending Pepperdine in the fall. She was talking about me to the boyfriend of another worker. I've heard her yapping about all kinds of people before. He sat down in his chair about seven feet away and declaimed in a loud voice "Is that the guy you've been talking about?" I looked up. I saw his beady little eyes -- they were genuine beady little eyes, a rare commodity -- rolling about in puffy sockets. He stared at me. There was consternation behind the counter as the blonde and the other barriste went to hide at the other end.

They spent the rest of the afternoon fleeing to the backroom. Once I heard the Pentecostal blonde whine "I can't believe he did that. It's like ruined my day." I believe she said it for me. I settled a bit after I finished a character sketch. Made some notes about this incident. Then I left the dregs of the coffee, the bit of water in the cup, and the plate at my table. Left without a word. No one said goodbye.


End to Ratings

I decided to remove the ratings from this page. I was getting mostly favorable ratings from my reviewers, but some clown came in and clicked on "I hate it" six times. I have a hard time remembering that the balance of good comments outweigh the bad. A nasty remark pierces me. I get to feeling like I shouldn't write anymore. Best for me to go on blind. The rating system just isn't constructive criticism any more than some fool who writes "fuck you" in the guestbook or the comments tells me a thing about the quality of what I am doing, but a lot about the coward who wrote it.

You can still go to Bloghop and rate me if you wish.

Don't worry. The raNtings will continue.

~ Monday, July 29, 2002


I have to feel that the tips of my pen cut the paper, like I'm ritually scarring the page. I wouldn't etch any of this into my face and my hands have irregular scars of their own that I acquired without much ceremony at all. I can find three on my left hand, six on my right. Some of them, like the long one that falls into two parts down print side of my left thumb, are like the knots in Incan courier ropes -- I can recite a history for them.¹ Others are mysterious. I can't remember how I did them. They are the result of scratches that seemed trivial at the time, but proved deeper. There wasn't a story worth remembering: I banged my hand against something, usually, or cut it while bushwacking. I look at them as they cross my hands whitely. Streaks and little crescents.

Some old journal entries, made with my favorite pen of the time, are like that. The significance of some lines, their context, why I wrote them, etc. is lost to me. All that remains of the spasm that birthed them are a few ungrammatical fragments, scrawled in a hand I can barely make out. Streaks, spots, and sometimes a doodle.

¹My brother was chasing me with a push mower. My mother says that I fell upon the toy I was holding in my hand as I ran away. I remember being cut by the half spiralled blade.

Unrecovered Memories

I've never been a fan of recovered memories. I don't believe in them. The idea of going out and buying a tragic life from a willing therapist seems the height of crass commercialism to me and a belittlement of the real pain that I and many of my friends feel. I hate it when some people go rolling out their "past" like a heavily retouched wallet photo. "Recovered memories" seem gruesomely unreal because they are unreal. They are store bought, picked up in shopping malls like copies of Sybil or video tapes of The Three Faces of Eve. They appeal to people who are mental-illness wannabes.

A dear friend of mine who does online peer counseling told me of a young woman who claims that her life has been one unending stream of sexual abuse. The give-a-way is that when she describes each of the incidents she goes into excruciating, pornographic detail. She enjoys talking about it like some people enjoy showing off their baseball card collection or their web sites. Her infatuation with her self-created imaginary life is so intense and garrulous that the local rape crisis hot line hangs up when she calls. This particular woman is also bipolar. Her sickness manifests in the form of these bizarre and intricate stories that she just can't stop herself from telling.

I do not mean to imply that you must discount abuse stories told by people who suffer from mental illness. The parents of such people often felt frustrated by their child's "eccentricity" and "madness". They followed pseudo-Biblical injunctions to apply the rod. By doing so, they managed to spoil the child's ability to feel anything remotely like happiness and caused them to feel a lot of things very much like fear.

I know that things were done to me in the name of "discipline" and I can almost tell you what they were. One can say, I suppose, that my parents and older brother only did what they thought was best. For the record, I often told them that what they were doing was hurting me too much. I remain uncertain. The best I can honestly do is give them the benefit of the doubt, but not complete exoneration. I suspect too strongly that selfishness ruled their motives. They didn't entirely and unconditionally love me.

The things that distinguish me and every other real victim of abuse from the tragedy consumers include, first, a lack of pretense about "forgetting" the crap that was done to us. As many a friend has put it to me and as I put it myself "You don't forget that shit." I would love to be able to peel off the replays of those times when my father Self Portrait - Copyright 2002 by Joel GAzis-SAxchased me with one of the half-inch thick dowels that we used to use to secure the sliding glass windows against burglars or my mother digging her fingernails into my wrist until the skin flaked up and blood flowed just a little bit. Some turn to alcohol, drugs, or other extreme pleasures in an attempt to erase such horror videos. I hide in my bed. It may be that homosexuality is sometimes a response to having been abused. Such victims of sexual abuse turn to their own sex because they are afraid of the other one or they want assurance that people of their own sex can be kind. There is a safe tenderness about it: soft kisses, hugs, and cuddles. Promiscuity is another behavior that sometimes erupts after abuse, especially sexual abuse. I've known a few rape victims, very prim and proper women, who became barflies looking for Mr. Goodbar. I'm not exactly sure of the cognitive dynamic in these cases. It's not clear whether they are just punishing themselves "for having succumbed" or "allowed it" or if they've detected the faint, terrible pleasure of sex and must repeat it in a desperate search for genuine affection from another. Women who have been raped often give off mixed signals: "Love me. Don't touch me. Love me. Don't touch me. Love me. Let's fuck." After learning the history of just a few of these, the word "slut" no longer appears outside of quotes in my vocabulary. I suspect untold histories in the lives of those who frequent sex chat rooms. I don't approve, I don't think the behavior is good for them, but I forgive them. I'm not damning them to hell.

Just to make things perfectly clear, I was never sexually abused. What was done to me by my nuclear family was bad enough, but none of them ever did that to me.

A second mark of distinction that distinguishes real victims of abuse from the psychological supermarket poseurs is that we don't like to talk about it. And when we do, we stick to the barest facts: "He used to beat me." "She burned my wrists with her cigarettes." "He raped me." You don't hear the details when the victim "confesses". The survivor wants to get through it, like people who are sick to their stomach want to get to the toilet and throw up. They see the half digested peas and carrots, but the thing they want most is to get it all out and flush.

Pain from memories never goes away because the memories are always in there and we know it. They might sit like an insignificant snowflake on a hillside, but one good gust of a reminder and they quickly pile up into an avalanche. You don't forget this crap. It lurks. I'd give anything short of electro-shock treatment (which some must have) and pre-frontal lobotomy to be able to repress the crap I remember.

A third feature is related to the second. Pain erases our ability to talk about it effectively. Literature professor Elaine Scarrey studied Amnesty International eyewitness accounts of torture as literary artifacts and compared them to reports by people who suffered in chronic pain. What she discovered was a point where the only thing the sufferer could say was "Aaaarrrrrrgh!" She concluded that pain destroys language, the ability to speak. I believe that my own fascination with words and books comes from a desire to control my experience, the right to express things that I witnessed that was denied me during my life as a dog. (My father used to call the dog his "only good boy" when he wanted to torment me emotionally. "Look, Bingo," he'd say. "That's a baaaaaaaad boy. You're a good boy." Some people thought this was funny.) The only way I can even begin to refer to past and present suffering is to factualy describe the triggering incidents. They might make you wince. I'm glad if it does because that communicates something. But the wince and the metaphors I employ cannot firmly describe to you the awful feeling. It's like the famous altar panel by Mathis Grunewald of St. Anthony being attacked by all those demons the artist seems to have found during his walks in German forests. And it's nothing like that at all.

How the fourth characteristic is expressed depends on your answer to this question: "Can anyone else possibly understand this pain?" Some of us have had abusers who neatly condition us not to talk about it. The silence is reinforced by their ability to hide their second life and the complicity of relatives who may suspect, but do nothing, or deny any evil. These include people who tell you how hard a life the abuser had and how things are so much better for you. They also include many people who, like members of my family, who have partisan explanations for your suffering: my dad's family liked to blame me on my mother, my mother's family on my father. Relatives can begin to look like co-conspirators in the abuse or thieves who steal the niceness that your parent is capable of, leaving you with the meanness. You come under a lot of pressure, most of it well-intentioned, to keep family secrets. So you don't talk to anyone. You don't pick up that you're not alone.

You may begin to talk about it anyways. Then you must face a new hurdle that comes when you discover that others suffer, too. You may choose to believe that none of these people who have been through the pain machine -- not your buddy in a peer support group, not your fellow family members, not even Sybil -- had it as bad as you did. Or you meet people who are very fond of telling you stories that they feel trumps yours entirely in an effort to make you feel uncertain about your right to feel badly at all.

These behaviors and experiences define what I call an "ignorant state". You feel them because you haven't understood your feelings yet. You live in the belief that with recreational drugs, alcohol, estatic religious behavior, compulsive Internet chatting, sheer power of will, etc., you can control the Beast. You tell yourself that you don't have to put up with these invading feelings. You remain unhappy because the Beast keeps chewing at you anyways, dominant until you face the fact that while you can tame it slightly, you can't cage it or make it leave forever. You have to learn to live with it.

Just as Scarrey found parallels between torture victims and cancer victims, I, too, have noted parallels within myself, between the depressive and the fellow with serious dental problems. I've had eighteen root canals. The first happened when I was sixteen years old. FIve years ago, I underwent deep cleaning. That's when they sedate you, slice open your gums so that the roots are exposed, and scrape away all the plaque that has worked its way deep into your mouth. A lot of things came together to bring me to this state: my depression was one; my learned feelings of worthlessness another; my fear of spending money and not having it for things that gave me more pleasure; my belief that I had to show that I was tough; my other belief that I was being punished by God for sins that I had not yet recognized; the fatalism I acquired from my mother's stories of my grandmother's terrible teeth; and the idea that my mouth wasn't worth saving anyways because my permanent teeth had been yellowed by tetracycline, something that other kids discovered and picked on me about after the full set grew in.

My sister-in-law has had more root canals than I have. Her problem is more direct and understandable for some people: she fell on her face and damaged the nerves. She's been through all kinds of dental and neuro-surgery to correct her problem. None has succeeded. She lives on Percodan, because for her there is no other relief. SHe is one of the very few people I know whose doctor has told them not to quit smoking: the added stress would just be too much. Some close to me will point to Jessie and say, in an attempt to make me feel better, "See. It could be worse." Or they suggest that maybe I have invented much of my personal pain.

Jessie doesn't do that. We believe in each other's pain. Everyone who I know who admits that he or she is sick -- whether it is a superficially subtle mental illness like depression or bipolar disorder; or acute and viral like Lyme Disease; or something that regards rigorous treatment like breast cancer; or something that it is utterly impossible to cure like fibromylagia or arthritis -- trusts most reports of pain they hear from others. We're members of a select group, you see. None of us wants it to grow. We don't wish what we have on you. We like you healthy, though sometimes we pity you because you don't know how heroic an effort each of us must make to just stay active with what we have. We fear for those who have never suffered but will suffer, because you really have no idea of what it is like to feel debilitated. We are powerless over our pain. More than anything else, we have to stop ashamed for having it.

I have learned not to feel guilty about my hurts when I meet a quadriplegic. I don't discount the fear of a child who howls because he has scraped his knee. I am constantly learning new things about the etiology of my pain. Many things pull at the loose ends of the suffocating tourniquet I seem to have around my neck. My pain is personal. You can't see mine and I can't see yours. There is no need for us to try to out hurt others. Often the physical symptoms aren't very spectacular or even evident at all except as ugly little things like our failure on some days to bathe or comb our hair. To my fellow victims and my fellow sufferers of pain, I have this to say: I believe that you hurt. I know it won't just go away, especially if it is mental or otherwise chronic. I know that the best you can do, much of the time, is not make it worse. And that there are plenty of people who will make it worse for you. Avoid them. Be good to yourself. You won't forget the things these pseudo-Samaritans do in the name of helping you. When it does cause you grief, just quietly say these two words to yourself: It hurts.

The best way to handle the life that gets thrust upon you by biology and society is to tell the truth to yourself about the ache to yourself, to your therapist, and to those you love. It's important to understand that some things that seem very unimpressive to others can make you scream in the night. Let no one invent memories for you because the ones you have don't seem good enough to justify the expense of the medications and the therapy. Even if your parents didn't sexually molest you; even if they did not subject you to bizarre and extreme tortures; even if they didn't make you watch as your best friend was sacrificed to Satan; even if they didn't use drugs or drink like a fish: there are still many ways that they could have been cruel. There is no need to buy a numbing memory from a therapist who is all too eager to write a best seller or make a name in the field for her or himself. Look at yourself as calmly as you can. In this stillness, you will be able to tell the truth. And that's the first step to living with yourself and the suffering you accrue as you go through life.


Image Poem

Copyright 2002 by Joel GAzis-SAx

Click here to read Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalot"

(Post fondly dedicated to Warpster93, a weaver and perceiver of shadows)


Yet Another Survey

31.25 %

My weblog owns 31.25 % of me.
Does your weblog own you?

I'm a free man! Well, nearly.

~ Sunday, July 28, 2002

To Sleep, Mischance to Dream

I sleep at odd times of the day so that I can see visions. I don't put much stock in interpreting dreams: I prefer to just take them for what they are -- random firings of the neurons that sometimes make interesting associations -- and scry them for material to use in my waking life.

Dreams are a crazy salad of all kinds of things. I find both pain and happiness in them. This afternoon, at the end of a two hour power nap, a long epic ran in my head for perhaps twenty minutes. At the end of my nap this happened:

My father is sitting in his dining room on a piece of the old black couch we gave or threw away many years ago. He's dressed like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, white shirt, brown slacks, mock tortoiseshell glasses. Every time I pass through, he tells me I am a princess who needs lots of trinkets. I pass through the room at least twice, on my way to other oneric segments that I have forgotten. When it repeats for the last time I talk back and he charges at me. He tries to drag me down the hall to my room for a beating. I jump on his back and pull on his head.

It's with trepidation that I write this because I have cousins and other family out there who remember a nice "Uncle Bob" who was always proud of me. For the first time, I am acknowledging in a place where they can see that he wasn't a very nice person to me sometimes. He was explosive. He hit. Once he broke my ear drum. He used to interrogate me about the facts of the Catholic faith and probably did more than any other person to drive me from it. He called me stupid and an "ammunition dump" because I liked to read. They have probably wondered why I squirm when they talk of how fondly they remember him. They shared drinks with him. They never really lived with him and never saw what he did to his sons. He was not entirely evil, but every time they start to talk about him, I feel like the family outcast, the fellow who spoils the legend. For this reason I prefer to stay away from them. They wouldn't understand. They think he is a saint.

When he shows up in my dreams, I feel scared. He is my demon, the harbinger of ill feeling.

~ Saturday, July 27, 2002

100 Facts

Just to get the thing done with and to show that I am as self-absorbed as the next blogger, I've written my list of 100 Facts About Myself. Now will Grey Bird, Pulp Friction, and some of the rest of you out there include me in your blog rolls?


Silverado Canyon

Summer is the season of death in Southern California, when the greasewood and the sage rusts and the sun blanches the grass. Streams run dry. You can dig deeply into their beds and you won't find even a hint of water. The shady places are mottled and the cool they grant is insubstantial. Leaves pop off alder boughs and amble to the earth. Some trees, like the buckeye, drop all their leaves, as if they realize the folly of a verdant display in this heat. A light haze denies you the keen view you think is your right when the sun sits high in the sky. At mid day you see no birds and no animals. When there is sound, it's that of internal combustion engines making motion out of long dead plants.


Just Another Day in the Spam Mail Box

I remember the days when I could open my email box and find actual, personal messages addressed to me. That was the beauty of the net when I first came on in 1988. You posted something and people you didn't know wrote to you with their thoughts and their ideas. Now putting out the word that you exist is like publishing a book of poetry or, as one humorist put it, like dropping a rose petal into the Grand Canyon and listening for the echo. Instead of true-felt friendships, I get this kind of crap:

  • brings you the cash!
  • Get a sizzling summer hair style.
  • Save up to 30% at your pharmacy
  • Request
  • Have you seen this?
  • Overwhelmed by Debt?
  • Customer, what do u think about this?
  • =?big5?Q?=AA=D1=A5=AB=B1=D0=BE=C7?=
  • $10.00 Gas Notice #7734228, please claim by Monday July 29, 2002
  • Euro
  • 2003 Cars - Sneak Previews
  • This is the Love Connection Intersection
  • Slash your long distance bill TODAY! Open House w/ Jim Carpenter!
  • 0% Intro APR - It Pays to Discover!
  • תוספת הכנסה מהבית !!!
  • . olb
  • Lose 10 lbs. in 7 days!
  • Get a Natural Tan Without Getting Cancer
  • מללונקוסךמו ןנוהכמזוםטו
  • K-Buffet
  • deann2u,The Original Breast Firming Natural Formula
  • Eight Kitchen Machines in One!
  • Fw: Re: Account For Spy Cams

Enough already!

Isn't there any real email to be had here?

~ Friday, July 26, 2002

Parallels in the Same Universe

I dropped Lynn off at an automatic teller machine. As she walked toward it, she dug in her purse for the card. This young, athletic guy who wore a white baseball cap, harshly bleached T-shirt, and beige shorts saw that she was going to get there before he was. He burst into a run to get there first. "Why?" I thought. "What's his rush? Or what right does he think he's protecting?"

Lynn came back with the cash, handed me my allowance, and we went down to the local Food Fair to eat. A white SUV pulled up in front of the Edwards Cinemas. I saw a cross on the back. It irritated me. She waited and waited there, for some woman with a kid who was standing at the curb, trying to persuade the child to get moving. I got impatient, honked my horn, and went around her. As I pulled away, I looked into the rear view mirror. The mother and the toddler were finally crossing the street. I was angry with the woman in the SUV. There was no reason that I could see for her dallying like that while the kid was making up her mind. But as I sat down to my dinner I directed the questions at my rush. "Why? What was the rush? What right did you think you were protecting here?"


I've Done It Now

Asking people to take a moment to consider why terrorists do what they do is risky: they think that by addressing their frame of mind you endorse the terrorist point of view. The scarey thing for most people is that when you get them to consider the reasons why terrorists terrorize, the reasons aren't very much different from the ones we give for reacting to terrorism. Both sides justify attacks on civilians because civilians, supposedly, give the actors in violence their support. Both sides attack say that in war civilians are going to die, so don't shed any tears about it.

I cry. I cry for the people who died in the WTC attack, for the Israeli civilians who have been the victims of suicide bombers, and for the many more Palestinians and other helpless peoples who endure harsh states.

The reason why I am going to be in trouble, perhaps even from this paranoid government of ours, is because I've gone ahead and recommend that people read what I call the "terrorist bible" on the main page of my ezine. You are welcome to disagree with me, but this is how I feel: the best way to fight terrorism is to establish reasonable standards of justice and stick to them. The excuse that many people to not change, namely that if we make the changes we are "giving in to terrorism" is weak and only grants the terrorist more material that he can use to convert people to his cause. It is blaming our evil on another person's evil and denying to ourselves autonomy. The terrorist becomes our master. We react and end up doing more evil.

The article in question



I'm hiking in a national park, one by a large lake or the sea. I'm alone. The trail I'm on is much too rough for Lynn. I creep along the middle slope of a long cliff that is the color of Columbian coffee grounds. The going is by hand and foot. Trail conditions are uncertain. I get to a place where I can't go any further. Two long fins of rock and deep crevasses block the path. It has taken me hours to get to this spot. A couple of guys come up behind me and grumble about the obstruction. I look around and see a rough path winding down the cooled magma to the canyon floor. There's a park ranger, some 1000 feet or so down the hill from me. He waves. I scramble down to meet the ranger, arriving instantly. The ranger is out here to fix a chair lift. He can't fix it because he needs a part. He waves again and leaves to get it. The two guys follow me as I begin to explore a deserted marina. The chair lift takes you across a strait to some islands. "This is Lake Powell," I think. [But it's not. The rocks should be red sandstone, not lava flows.] This marina is somewhere up the lake from park HQ. You can only reach it by water (in season) and trail. I go to stand at a point. One of the two guys makes a comment about Clinton. As I look across the water -- from Arizona through Utah and into Nevada [impossible from my presumed point], a haze lifts. There's a fabulous island out there, in Nevada, a place covered by trailers, neon signs, and casinos which are designated by clusters of multi-colored balloons. I've heard of this place, but I don't give it a name. You get there by taking the chair lift or by approaching by automobile from the other side. There's more than one island out there. I look across the water into the living room of a mobile home. It's dark inside and the glass is further obscured by the reflection of the corner of a white wall that should be somewhere between me and the mobile home. But there's only greenish water. I turn away, noticing a pair of bubble gum machines, one selling candy-coated peanuts for 20 cents a handful, the other something else -- raw nuts I think -- for 50 cents. I check my change and see that I only have pennies. The two fellows catch up to me. One tells me that he came here by the upper trail because his wives thought the exercise would be good for him. He comments again about Clinton and I realize that he isn't a Clinton hater. I ask him where he is from and he gives me a name that sounds like "Keafton". "That's in Utah," I guess. He confirms that it is. We walk back down the canyon to the park HQ. The trip by the levellower canyon trail takes much less time than the crawling along the cliff face did. We are all pleasantly surprised.


Blog-a-thon Woes

I wish I could sponsor someone for the Blogathan, but we are pinched thanks in part to three of my five chronic diseases getting the better of me this last spring. I'm feeling much better and being a very good boy now, but it makes me a little sad not to be able to participate as a sponsor for someone. (I'm leaving the chore of putting up a lot of topics to the younger folks.) If you plan on participating, feel free to comment here. Two that I know about are:


Pulp Friction

Good luck! May these links bring you both lots of sponsors!


Where the Writing Is

I'm back to note taking. Spending time trying to understand the mind of the main character as he experiences a flashback.

I wonder how much other stuff that I read rubs off? My current novel is Them by Joyce Carol Oates. If it is having an effect, I think it's making me desperate to write something funny. (God she is depressing! And anyone who believes in an America where little girls remained untouched until they were married needs to read that book. And the works of Herbert Asbury. The world of our ancestors wasn't very nice. Kidnappers usually waited until girls reached an age when they could be prostituted, though. They enticed them with sweet talk and then delivered them to what they called a "bull pen" where the child was forcibly made into a small woman and introduced to what they called "the life". So much for the good old days!) If I was reading something by Hardy, I would probably be rolling on the floor laughing at the stuff I scribbled.

I do much of my work at Tully's, as readers know. People come in all the time and when I am not macheting my way through narrative text, I watch them and take notes.

The troubles with observing people in a coffee shop are many. I'm a shy fellow and usually talk to just the barristes. You can't call out to the customers and say "Come on over here so I can get a good look at you. Could you remove your shirt/blouse and other garments so I can get an idea of your build? What are you thinking about? What have you been doing all day?" You have to move fast and discreetly. Sometimes I make an actual rough sketch -- a few crossed lines in the margin. The fiction writer that I am must imagine them wearing different clothes and different personalities. I take memories and put them together as they never were.

I've picked up a couple of new bodies this way. One of them -- the one I am most excited about -- seemed to be a salesman making his pitch to a tiny blonde who wore nothing but tight black clothes and shoes. I could tell from the length of his back and the way he leaned into her that he was a giant. My notes read in part:

He wears a loose jonquil shirt with a V-neck collar, one side folding over the other. Pressed diluted olive slacks.....A long skinny face. His shirt looks tired. He keeps a pair of glasses in his pocket. Bites his upper lip when he's listening [but] has a comment he wants to make....he wants to register his impatience but he's letting her talk until she hesitates a second too long and then he interjects like a football running back finding a place through the defensive lines [or] a star forward making a break. He leans forward, let's his words charge into his audience, through her defenses, into her brain. He gestures, clutches his fist, explodes his hands like they were star bursts. He probably runs. Maybe he played basketball. He makes the company look goo, healthy, able to survive the wrestling match, take the customer to the mat for the pin. SELL! That's the spirit. SELL!....Put's his glasses on. Eyes probe straight forward, rushing through the lenses to make the block, score the points, make the money. When he is thinking, he holds his pen and points it in the air like it was daydreaming....Holds his arms flat out, marking the dimensions of a box in which the deal can be placed. He pulls at [phantom] levers, stretches strings, waves the sales brochure. The hand goes to the master's jaw as he stares right at the customer and yet relaxes -- comfortable aggression. He's making his point.

He's got the look and feel of a character, but I don't know how to use him.

My other find strikes me as either a stuck-up Christian or a schemer. He's a bona fide block head in the shape of his head and the cut of his hair. His taste in clothes and the funky way he carries himself just call out for a demented juxtaposition. He comes to chat up the chubby blonde barriste. Every day. He made a special point to come by on his day off, which was Wednesday, when he knew she was working. He didn't come yesterday. He knows her schedule, I think. She was talking to a coworker about how she wanted to become a mother by the age of 24. After she finishes college. I suppose he wants to be the man.

I've got a suit for him. Some clothes. And a job. I know what I am going to do with this one.



The breezes that moved the trees and cooled nothing on Wednesday have paused. Tonight the wind rests. The heated air sulks in the alleys. The atmosphere is a sedentary flame.

Sometimes when it is especially torrid and I need to humor myself, I call Lynn on the phone. "It's so hot here," I tell her, "the cats have taken off their catskins. You never see them that way because they'd be embarassed."

It is warmer inside than out. The air will not come inside. My ears burn.

The Weather in Trabuco Canyon

~ Thursday, July 25, 2002

Capillary Action

Disaster. Dis-aster. "Aster" means a star. Dis-aster is not a star. A black hole maybe. A clear puddle in this case.

I worked a little too late last night. It was 3:42 a.m. when I decided to stop flipping through an architectural dictionary in search of a list for Ganesha's Lexicon and go to sleep. Before I went to bed, I filled the aquarium in the bathroom. I slept in, got up once, to use the toilet..

When I got up for the first time this morning, after Lynn had gone to work, I noticed that the towel we'd left next to the shower was wetter than usual. If I stood on it, my weight left a distinct, moist footprint. I went back to sleep. When I woke up later, around 10:30 a.m., I worked on the computer a bit before I used the bathroom again. The mat was completely soaked. The pile of clothes that I'd dropped when disrobing had sucked up much of the water from the floor, up to its peak at about eight inches. The pants I'd worn yesterday were innudated. The cash and the social security card in my wallet flopped about like overcooked pasta when I took them out to check. I removed the important stuff out of my pants and dumped the load into the wash machine. Then I checked the tank.

The crack runs down the back left corner. There's a heavy mineral deposit, white tufts of salt snaking down the corner. If I try to fill it again, a wedge-shaped plate will probably pop out.

The remaining water oozed over the floor like a flattened, transparent amoeba. I sopped it up with a few towels and threw them after the mess I'd already dumped in the wash.

If I've cleaned up right, reading this account will be the first the Empress learns of our new calamity.


What is it?

It's a cactus. A trilobed form I bought a few weeks ago in the garden section of Home Depot. I went to unpot it so that I could put it in a bigger cup of Italian clay. It fell out of the potting soil. I took the soil out of the pot anyway and surrounded it with more soil, a special "cactus mix", that I had bought. Then I placed the cactus on top, pushing it down slightly so that it would nest firmly. It had a single, twisted, woody root the color of a parsnip and no thicker than one of Lynn's little fingers. I watered it with Miracle-Gro that day and every month since, on the first of the month. First it blossomed irregularly. The flowers were tiny white cups smeared with a little pink. They fell off. A few weeks passed. The red fruits that you see crowning the three pates appeared. Each is shaped like a tear-drop or a long pignola. When you crush them, they smell of strawberries. Because of the Miracle-Gro and because of my learning about the liver transplants that people who think they know their edible mushrooms when they don't require, I've not eaten any.

~ Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Paring It Down

I've cut the length of this main page so that only the last three days appear. The rest are not lost. Find the links to my archive on the left hand side and read them there.



This is how burnout feels: like a bit of ash dropped on a tablecloth, a ravenous hole that consumes the cotton fabric, creating an emptiness.

There's a feeling I get when I've been writing for days and days, when the metaphors start coming harder to me. It's a stuffiness, a constipation of the mind that's almost physical. All nerves running up to the top of the head stop before they reach the crown. The nerve endings point to an empty area, a desensitized zone. This is where I get the feeling, a glowing tonsure of numbness ringed by distant lightning strokes of pain.

Back in the days when my madness was unchecked, I sometimes used to hit my head with a pillow trying to frighten the demon under my scalp like the Chinese used firecrackers to scare off invisible dragons. I sometimes petrified lovers as I tried to shake the dullness away. My brain, unbridled by Prozac, pressed me to appease a taskmaster who tolerated no rest, no slacking off. I was young, uninformed about my sickness, and very afraid to admit to myself that I was mentally ill.

I know better now. If I want to forget the numbness, I must ignore it first and get some rest. After a few hours of sleep, I can take up where I left off. If all else fails, I can direct the writing at it. Metaphor helps me cope with the feeling by giving it a substance, albeit one like a tumor. The fascination I feel when I give it form gives me power over it, to shape it a bit, to move past it. Writing about it gives me the power to escape the plight of other madmen who must beat their heads against padded walls until they kill the numbness by killing themselves.


Ganesha Help Me Out!

Consider these phrases:

is - the certainty of possibility

could be - the uncertainty of possibility

could not be - the certainty of impossibility

How do we state the uncertainty of impossibility?


Another quiz the Empress is going to want to take

click to take it!

When it comes to being mysterious, that's what you do best. You like to leave others puzzled and speak in riddles. You're not out there for the fame and fortune, you're just being yourself, doing what you do best. You're strong and courageous, and you're always the leader of the pack. You're skillful; people respect you, and you respect people.

You know, this is one of those really ugly quizzes. One of the questions asked how I would like to kill someone. I looked for my answer which was "I really don't think I'd want to kill anyone at all" but it wasn't there. Lots of rampage in this particular quiz. People who write these things will say that nonviolence doesn't work, but I live nonviolence every day of my life. When they give me the wrong thing in the restaurant, I don't grab the waitress by the collar, give her a shake, and tell her that I wanted the fish, not the steak. A polite word goes a long ways. But there's a whole cult out there that worships violence. At the root of films like The Matrix is the frustration of the viewer. We all want to fight our boss, our tax collector, the local police, maybe even the postman at times. But films like The Matrix seem to pose a trap: "Come be violent, it says. Use this as your form of dissent. (And when you do, we'll bust your ass and throw you in jail! Another dissident handled.)" I suppose most people see it as fantasy and can live putting Neo and his adventures in a place in the brain that does not direct actions. It's the five to ten percent I worry about, though, the students who stock up on bullets and then go shoot up the school one fine day. They seem to think that they can live The Matrix.

By giving us fantasy worlds where the only nonviolent alternative is to submit to horror and ennui, Hollywood takes us one step closer to Somalia.


Vulcan's Children

"...And I am borne on a wandering wind/Hollow, hollow all delight!"

Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Idylls of the King

Despite the blessings of the summer so far, I've been watching the slopes of Mounts Modjeska and Santiago with some trepidation. The slopes are covered with fine hairs of blonde grass that will certainly go red and then black should a spark touch them. These mountains are covered with chamise, which is also called greasewood. Greasewood is not only filled with a sap as flammable as any petroleum distillate: it is territorial. It expands its domain by burning hot when the fire storms of autumn sweep across it. The surrounding vegetation -- the sage, the buckwheat, the prickly pear -- cannot withstand the incinerating temperatures at which the greasewood burns. Chamise raises the ante and when a fire burns through a patch of it, mixed or pure, all that is left is a carboniferous desert that repels water.

The other vegetation disappears entirely. The greasewood, however, lurks in deep roots. When water seeps down to them, these remnants sprout and advance into new provinces previously held by other plants. The mountain becomes more flammable than before.

Where long grasses burn off quickly, greasewood smolders. One good wind blowing over a recently torched slope can pick up nuggets of flame and rain them down on houses and unburned tracts down the canyon. Wooden roofs and thick plantings of just about any kind of tree shading the house invite desolation in these parts. Eucalypts, for example, explode at the crown and send their smoldering tinder skyrocketing into the sky. If a bit of ash falls on a wood roof the house may be lost. The fire station half way between me and the local biker bar has a sign up: GOT CLEARANCE? We're doing good here: we have tile roofs and, except for the purple plum tree leaning against the wooden deck, nothing growing close to our building. When I see flames coming down the mountainside, the purple plum tree dies by an axe I keep down in the garage.

I've seen some big fires in my time, conflagrations that swept across the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains in minutes. They were a pretty sight at night when the orange lines slowed in their progress over the hills as if to give the firefighters a rest; they were most horrid during the day when they spewed smoke tumors and dropped glowing, nigreous flakes of hot carbon onto our street, some two miles behind the city limit. The heat of the day reinvigorated the sluggish blazes and as the fires themselves generated new winds, they resumed their quick march over the acres of volatile fuel that the divine patrons of the greasewood had liberally strewn in their path.

The last such fire I saw was along Interstate 15 just after Lytle Creek. Lynn and I were setting out on our fall vacation in Utah just after dawn. I saw it first: a thin red line of flame, followed by an oily fumarole, and, behind the smoke, leveled blackness. Lynn had never seen a brush fire before and was a little surprised that the whole hillside wasn't in flames -- just the narrow bit between what had been destroyed and what was destined to be consumed next. I thought of the pets and the investment we'd made in our condo. Would we come back to kitty roasts and cinders?

You can pray, if only for comfort and if things go bad, to help acceptance along. Disasters are the exception I know, but the whiff of Kris's BBQ across the way still causes me to rush to the deck and look for the smoke writhing out of the folds of our mountains. To bolster my comfort, I shall knock on wood and hope that I shall not have occasion to tell you my eyewitness account of Vulcan's children passing the ophidian torch as it sidewinds down the chaparral-covered slopes of the Cleveland National Forest.

Copyright 2002 by Joel GAzis-SAx

~ Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Where the Writing Is

Today I find myself between chapters, making notes on characters and storylines for the next. I sit in the chair at Tully's, sipping coffee, and watching for a stream of words.


The Blog Obsession!

Everything that has built up inside of me flows out on Monday, leaving me feeling like the south end of San Francisco Bay at low tide come Tuesday. The heat that everyone has been complaining about across the nation has come to Trabuco Canyon. I closed all the windows, discovered a cat-butchered set of Venetian blinds, turned on the air conditioner, and fled from the house so I wouldn't obsess about whether or not it was getting cool in our condo.

Obession seems to be a common syndrome that bloggers fight. Clever Little Minx disabled the comments on her site, she writes, because she found herself running to the computer several times a day just to read what other people were saying about what she wrote. I can relate, though I have only today acquired a comment from a user who was pushed my way by a favorable comment by The Grey Bird. It's nice to see my words being read by people outside of my IRC circle (who are doubtless getting sick of my annoucing that I have added yet another cute anecdote or clever rant to my pages).

John Gardner wrote that real writers write for "glory". I love the glory thing. Just seeing my words laid out on a web page that I know others can find causes me to elate and ullulate. I try not to wake up my wife in the middle of the night to tell her about my latest entry, but my IRC friends have suffered much from my constant hectoring of them to read my stuff, write a comment, sign the guestbook. A few of them do seem to enjoy their visits, however, and they like to show up in Dalnet #peanut_gallery to tip me off to the twisted URLs that I love and read quotations from the comments written for blogs such as that of Crazy Tracy. snaily^, a dear friend from Atlanta, doesn't like to do the surfing but she does like to say the word "blog" repetitiously on the channel. There's a roque eloquence to the term that I have to admit and if the academics can be ignored, I anticipate that it will have a long and healthy life as part of our language.

Academics don't like IRC chat because they can't control it, but blog, unfortunately, is an obsession that some think can be codified. I don't think they have evil intentions: they just have their own obsessive compulsive habit of putting things in order. When I was touring the country and styling myself as "a new kind of journalist", I received much encouragement from professors who were just as sick and tired as the rest of us of the narrow definitions of what news thrust upon us by the so-called liberal media.

I don't think journalists themselves much like the creative conditions that their employers thrust upon them. The life of a jounalist seems stutifying at times with all the style books and reporting conventions that they must follow, conventions that go beyond mere good grammar and usage to shape the content itself. The system seems to work like this: the journalist writes his story based on the facts he has found. He sends it off to his New York editor who reviews the piece to make sure that it says nothing that will offend the folks who are paying his salary. The editor completely rewrites the piece to weed out the irreverent references and to make it sound like all the other pieces being published on the subject.

When I was in Zagreb in 1992, you could find most of the journalists in town at the bar of the Hotel International. Give the narrow confines of the job that they ran to because they loved it, what with the government press agents and their own bosses, I can understand why they'd choose to remain inebriated between press conferences and junkets to the scene of the latest atrocity. The life of an academic can't be much better. Like the journalist, he or she must stick to form. The academic is all but forbidden to comment on matters "beyond his speciality", even if those things are within the same department because every institution is carefully balanced with experts whose turf cannot be encroached upon.

I couldn't be either a journalist or an academic because I don't take well to shaping myself to fit another person's idea of a hole. I suspect that most journalists and academics want in on blog for pretty much the same reasons I do it -- to allow them to express their forbidden obsessions, personal comments, and opinions that their peers, their editors, and employers will not allow them to make in the usual fora.

I guess I can tolerate their presence as long as they don't try to tell us that they own blog more than anyone else does. Journalists and academics are more like me than against me. I even know of an editor who writes an interesting blog. The one thing I won't tolerate and never will tolerate is some one coming in and telling me that my blog needs "a professional look and feel". Such people are salespersons. They're after my money. If they truly love blog, my message to them is simple: Do your own!"

~ Monday, July 22, 2002


I have been informed by the best of all possible authorities -- namely the above-pictured cat who is at least sixteen -- that humans greatly misunderstand the reverence that cats bestow on themselves. It is not self love, but profound reverence for She Whose Purr Created the Universe. Tracy Tutu Wawa, High Priestess of Bast, took time out from her busy sunbathing schedule to explain the theology behind the veneration due to all cats.

A translation of her soft sussurations into our guttural tongue reads as follows:

Cat worship works like this: The body of the cat is to the cat like a votive statue is to Catholics or an icon to an orthodox Christian. [Editor's Note: Tracy is very wise and learned in human religions. We frequently find her lying atop books, absorbing their contents.] Just as the statue or the icon is not the beatific one depicted, so, too, the body of the Cat is not Bast herself, but an imperfect though beautiful representation of the goddess. Worshippers of Bast take pains to feed, stroke, lick clean, and perform other acts of devotion upon the flesh image. The human, too, may participate in these devotions. A cat is all too happy to transmit their love for the goddess through its person because this accrues what some humans have roughly called "good karma" (as distinguished from mere dogma) and so further establishes the devout one in the good graces of her creator, the mother of all litters and all that is beautiful in the world.

A True Finish

I gave a true finish to Chapter 2 today. The previous version has too few words. It had a preliminary sketchiness that afflicts my writing when I am in too big a hurry to get done. I think I was thinking too hard about the impending reward, the end of the week, and the humor I intended to introduce in the next chapter. I rushed to the end and left it dangling with a sentence more mangled than the road kill it attempted to describe. Over the weekend, I fiddled with it in my head. I realized that I had lied to myself, that this was not the finished first draft at all. I had neither prepared my readers nor myself for the third chapter. So I did it again. I did it right this time.


Tully's Coffee Shop

I don't think I have ever told any of them my name. I know all of their's -- they blare it on their golden plastic tags. Customers like me go nameless, even if we show up nearly every day. A girl who's been gone for a couple of weeks runs the counter with the new assistant manager.

She suspects, I think, that I am a writer. I show at around 2 o'clock most weekdays carrying notepads, a handful of pens, and a couple of light reference books. Once she asked me about it, obliquely. She's the only one who's ever dared. I think I smiled. I am getting into the practice of not hiding my involvement in the amateur's profession.

This one tip toes around me when she sees me writing. Today she walked up to the window that opens next to the rattan chairs I've used the last few times I came here. Then she stopped when I looked up and sputtered "How's it going?" before she ran back behind the counter and hid on the side beside the cash register.

I don't know why she ran. The look on my face feels plain, unopinionated. I look up when they come to the near side of the bar to pour a cup of decaf or grind some fresh beans. I don't change the expression. The two of them glance nervously back at me.

People who have seen me while I am writing say that I look angry. When this kid is not busy or chatting with one of the studly boyfriends who come to visit with her, she dawdles behind the coffee grinder fiddling with the restroom keys or the plastic boxes filled with vacuum packed coffee Antigua Guatemala roast. If I catch her looking at me, she walks away. When she grinds coffee she looks at me. When she fills a cup for another customer, she sneaks a glance. She washes her hands and turns about to shake them dry and look at me. If she goes to the restroom, she investigates my activity for the second it takes her to drop the women's room key back in its transparent holder.

I don't think it's a crush. She speaks too curtly when I order my coffee. Gives me orders to stand here or identify my preferences in dainties immediately. It's business. Get it done and over with. And I am happy to comply because the joy I come here for is not the sight of a pretty, young, slightly acned girl but the writing. I think she's just curious. To tell the truth, I long to read the stuff I create aloud to someone as I beget it, but not to her. This one is young and I'm middle-aged. I need good critics, not worshippers. It's best that I keep this neutral face of mine and let the likes of her misread it as her imagination leads her. In the meantime, I will follow mine.


Hot Times

It's nearly August and the cry goes out across the land "It's too damn hot!" Crazy Tracy has moved in with a fresh air freak to end all fresh air freaks. Personally, while I love to keep my bedroom well chilled in the winter time, I prefer the stuffy air conditioned air to the broiling temperatures that develop when I am not running the air conditioner during the afternoon. The poor people in Florida. They don't just bake: they get poached!

This entry is from my response to Crazy Tracy's misery:

My mother was an air conditioning miser while I was growing up. She'd lose it entirely if she came home and found me running the air conditioner. So I became programmed not to run it, to endure the 90+ atmospheres inside our smog-belt Southern California home. Then a real scorcher would come. I would not dare turn on the air conditioning. And what would she do? Come home and yell at me for not having the house cool when she got home.

As an adult, I keep a fan running in every important room of the house. I don't turn on the air conditioning until the afternoon when the sun begins to shine on the west end of the condominium building. Then I run it until about 8. By this time, the breezes have started blowing up the canyon and we can air the house out.

I should note that this is a California trick, one you can pull because the air is dry. When I lived in North Carolina, the nights did not cool down. You could shut every blind in the house, hide in the deepest corner of the cellar, and watch the sweat pouring off your body pool up and make a warm mud bath. It doesn't work so well on smoggy days either, because the inversion layer is clamping down hard and holding in the smog and the humidity. On those days, I keep central air running for days.
~ Sunday, July 21, 2002

Don't Tell John Ashcroft About This

I do wish trees wouldn't involve me in their sex lives. Something out by the falls is blooming and dropping loads of heavy pollen on my truck. We went out with a friend the other night. She got out of the truck, looked at it, and said "Oh, it's GREEN." The yellow dust paradoxically darkens the paint so that it looks nearly black. The hood's littered with tiny pieces of flowers. If it were cooler, I am sure that I could make out the paw prints of a raccoon or the resident striped skunk in the floral grime. Recently moved trucks make great beds for critters as any cat will tell you.

The estrus cycles of the trees in the vicinity don't come all at one time. They stagger themselves so that sometimes I have a few weeks when I don't have to wash the truck at all. Then the male trees start to lust for the females. The eucalypts, the pines, the willows, and the live oaks all begin spraying the air with their sperm in the hopes that the wind will bring it to a lovely lady tree and they will have children by her. The mess isn't just confined to the mating. Eventually the she-flowers fall off and swell up into nuts and berries.

The ones I hate the most are the purple plums. There's a large one right in the front of my house, leaning precipitously toward the street. You can't round the corner on the sidewalk if you are more than 4' 10" high because one of its branches is set to decapitate. I didn't set there. It's one of the plants that belong to those thin little strips of parkland maintained by the condo owners association. I've considered murdering it with a copper nail, but then I am sure I'd have a dead tree out in my front yard for a couple of years before hard times hit and someone chopped it down for its firewood. The purple plum tree is evil. It drops bombs. Inedible pomes no bigger than my thumbnail that stain the sidewalk a sickly magenta in the early autumn. I can look down from my desk and see the stains of many previous years underneath one of them. Not all of them simply fall to the ground and go splat. Some get picked before their ripeness and used as ammunition in one of the flower wars the kids like to instigate against one another. Others get kicked well away from the source to spots where they get pressed to the ground by a foot. Now and then, one of them manages to trip someone. The only birth control for the purple plums is to chop them down and replace them. But that is like the dread you feel when an unliked neighbor moves out: could the next one be worse? As my neighbor Kris likes to say "The evil you know is better than the one you don't."

I'd better stop now. I have a terrible vision. Norman Mailer once said that he vaguely felt that he had caused the Manson Family murders by imagining a similar psychotic commune while he was working on Why Are We in Vietnam? Far too often I have made a sarcastic comment about the intentions of the Right only to see them actually do some of the things that I thought were possible only in satire. And worse. I am suddenly chilled by the thought of John Ashcroft moving around the Tidal Basin with a chain saw, executing the cherry trees for lewd and lacivious acts performed in the presence of minors. Forget I said this. Pray that the lunatic doesn't think to do it.

~ Saturday, July 20, 2002

Black Oil Sunflower Seed

I put sunflower seed into the plastic feeder that Lynn's sister Jessie sent us for Christmas and more in the tube feeder which I have hanging off the purple plum tree. As soon as I appear on the deck with the bag, a house finch sentry hiding somewhere under the tiled roof of Tim's condo sings out. A mourning dove hears the call and tolls its happiest dirge. The cry moves down the street. It's the Six O'Clock Report. The birds know nothing of the stock market crash or Ashcroft's evil plan to set neighbor against neighbor. I know nothing of avian politics, but they all know that there is black oil sunflower seed to be had on the deck with the cacti, the impatiens, and the dwarf date palm.


Falling in Love All the Time

A few years ago I had to confess the truth to the Empress: I was falling in love all the time. No. It's not what you think. I wasn't having affairs or even thinking about the possibility. She understood and she accepts. It took a little explaining, but I got it through to her that our marriage wasn't in trouble nor was I advocating any kinky alternative lifestyles. I just had this habit of meeting women online who I really liked. I also met a few in real life who I developed deep feelings for. Lynn is still number one and will always be number one. I'm not as stupid as the Piltdown Man after all. (He was a bona fide no brainer.)

The way I wing it is like this: when I fall in love I realize that what appeals to me most is that the woman has a mind that I like. Cyber, I have observed, tends to get you into a lot of emotional trouble. Anyone who says that the InterNet isn't "real" has never cybered with a lover or, at very least, witnessed the depth such relationships can have. I advise against cyber. Emotional wounds hurt. Besides, most cybernauts write pretty boring material. I've known people to write macros that repeat the same move over and over again. Once when I was refereeing an online roleplaying game, a woman hit the wrong button by mistake. The scene started to play out interestingly to say the least.

Then there are the guys who like to pretend they are women so that they can have sex with other guys or with lesbians. Sometimes I found out who these were. They weren't ashamed of it in the least. It was funny, however, when two men who pretended to be lesbians found each other and went at it without knowing that the other was a guy.

I don't cyber. And I don't arrange rendeavous, at least not with women, without my wife also being included in the invitation and the meeting taking place in a public place. Just about every woman who gets friendly with me meets my wife sooner or later. I don't think it is a very friendly gesture to have any kind of sex with a person and then put them into the position where they have to lie about it, especially to the cheated-on spouse.

Many of my friends are looking for someone. I watch every day and hope that they will find someone. I've seen some hopeless romances like the time this woman left her husband to pursue a free life only to discover that the guy she'd decided she loved wasn't interested. She also hooked up with at least one married man without my scruples. Believe me from Day One with that woman I made it clear that I was a happily married man. The last I heard was that she moved across the Eurasian continent to join a fellow in Australia. That makes me happy for her.

To tell a secret, I like dykes. They make some of the best online friends that I have. They're funny, often intelligent, and they aren't trying to bed me. Part of the problem these days is that I have been taking Prozac for so many years that I just don't feel the physical attraction any more. Plus I'm married. So lesbians make terrific friends when they aren't of the kind who distrust every last man they meet. Those I avoid.

I have some hetero female friends, too. And I love them all. But when you marry a truly wonderful woman like Lynn, you must keep your head. You can go with the swell of emotion and be extremely tender towards another woman but you must avoid the erotic. Lynn's been feeding me since 1992 when the last company I worked for closed its doors and I started pretending to be a full-time writer. You don't dump a friend who has stuck through depression, life-threatening asthmatic attacks, the complete reconstruction of your mouth, and a transition to a diabetic-friendly diet. No.

The way I handle other woman is to be clear about my marital status, avoid sexual language (though sometimes when there is heavy flirting going on in a channel, one can slip into it unconsciously), and encourage the friend. I've learned to be very happy when one of my friends finds a lover or a spouse. When the lover or spouse gets sick, I often find myself worrying for the friend, too. I think that's a good sign.

The only worry I have is that some female (as happens from time to time) will try to crack me. This is more than a little annoying. I once stopped one such woman cold by quoting her private messages to me on the channel. It was a hoot. More usually, however, I just set the person to /ignore. It also helps to avoid channels like #sex, #BDSM, #adultery, etc. I do wish the women who are seeking men well, but I'm out of the market. Besides, I'm 44 years OLD, I have a lively beard (not mere facial hair as some think "cool"), hair on my shoulders, an outie navel, a slightly bloated midriff, three cats, asthma, diabetes, major depression, large dental bills, and a spouse. Believe me. I make a great FRIEND.


Do I dare eat a peach?

In terms of age, I may be in the top 5% of all bloggers. Though it is becoming less rare to find people older than me as the InterNet seeps into the national consciousness, I often find myself talking to young adults old enough to be my children (if you claim to actually be one I demand the name of your mother and a DNA test before I start sending you Christmas presents) and some of them have children who would be my grandchildren. Fortunately, none of the third generation is old enough to chat, surf or blog. Yet.

Kelly Caldwell complained about growing old. Kelly sees signs about the date you have to have been born by to purchase alcohol and writes: "It's simply not conceivable that I could have been enjoying life at junior high 21 years ago." Wait a minute here. You mean you're an adult who was in Junior High School when I was out in the world, scraping through graduate school, and voting? I wrote this in reply:

The big shock for me was when I started meeting people who did not remember when JFK died. It was a fine line, dividing me from people who were only a year or two younger than me. (I was five.) For me, one way to designate my peers was to ask them where they were when it happened. Those who replied "I don't remember" or "I wasn't born yet" put themselves in a different group.

It got worse as the years went on. Now that there are plenty of adults around who don't remember the JFK shooting, I am not so shocked any more. The thing that gets to me now is that there are people alive who don't remember the Vietnam War or are mystified by Richard Nixon's resignation. You can tell that there has been a lot of spin doctoring going on, a definite change in the national mood of the young.

~ Friday, July 19, 2002


I treated myself to a Raspberry Tango at Tully's today as a reward for finishing Chapter 2 of my "fiction project" yesterday. Things haven't been moving along quite as quickly as I expected, but I've got a first draft. How did Trollope do it? How does Joyce Carol Oates do it? Whatever is wrong with it can be either rewritten or excised.

I tend to start out very sketchy when I write. Before I tackle a chapter, I make a lot of notes on the people and the places they interact. As I fill up pads, I number the pages and record a brief note about each page in a notebook I keep in a box at the foot of the bed.

Writing's a lot of thrashing about, false starts, and sometimes a joy ride. I find that nearly every article I write in long hand ends up getting fatter as I type it up. I've got to do that if I am going to do what I think good writing is about, namely conjuring up phantoms to deceive the senses. I seek to create that lively, soft ripple that washes over my brain when I read a lively or a vivid passage. I often have to keep revisiting a piece before I get it right. Chapter 2 now ends with a decidedly ungrammatical sentence. I know a few other passages that need work. They're like anorexic girls now: I need to feed them, get them to plump out, resist the urge to let them vomit up every progress and make me start again from skeletal beginnings. If I do it the way it should be done, reading these passages should evoke that exquisite chill I so love when I read a particularly poetic piece of work. But for now, Chapter 2 gets backed up on a disk, stored in a couple of places "off-site", and put in a loose leaf notebook where it can age gracefully for a while as I struggle with the next series of scenes.


What's wrong with America?

People who think like this, for one thing:

[13:29] the USA Is awsome .. and thanks to Bin Laden .. we have our enemies identified so its going to be a really cool war

Yeah, I think I can see the burrowers within, too. And maybe Bin Laden does deserve our thanks. The true colors of the Right are showing. God save America from them!

You may steal this sticker


The Blank Check

I wrote briefly about TIPS on the main page of this ezine a few days ago, just before it hit the American media. The Australians wrote about it first. I'm discovering if you want to get the lowdown on American corruption in time to head something off, you need to read the overseas papers. When I mentioned the program on the Dalnet #politics channel there was disbelief. People wanted "more proof". GWB gave it to them shortly after my announcement.

I got mad enough about this that I told a chatter who called himself "USMarine" that he was a disgrace to the uniform for not opposing this Bush League scheme.

Among the loudest defenders of TIPS at Dalnet #politics is a white woman who fled South Africa after it became a democratic, non-segregated nation. Of course as the one time beneficiary of a police state's surveillance, she would not see the harm.

This is the response I wrote to Cinnamon's terrified account of what TIPS means at Did You Know?...

It's disturbing to me that there are actually defenders of this program out there. I hang around Dalnet #politics. You would think that all the people who have been railing against "political correctness" as a form of thought policing ("they're taking away my right to say 'n*gger'! Fascism!") would be more up in arms about this. But "it's a precaution", they say now that their man is doing it.

I feel betrayed. Betrayed mostly by the wishy washy middle and libertarians who dumped on people like me when we moved to change a few words in our laws and introduce a little fairness and impartiality into public discourse. They voted for the current administration and they applauded while it stole the Florida election. And now, in the country's worst hour of economic and social panic that I have seen in my life time (born 1958), they applaud this arrant police state.

With today's dip in the stock market, a few of them may change. Just as many so-called liberals turned into rabid reactionaries following 9-11, some of the "conservatives" will start thinking more socialisticaly. I still worry. Right after 9-11 I was called a "terrorist lover" because I told people to go slow, be cautious. "Don't give George Bush a blank check!" I said.

And they signed anyways.

Kids sometimes ask "What was wrong with Nixon?" They grew up too late to watch the Watergate Hearings, to see how Tricky Dick's secret police invaded the privacy of the likes of Bill Cosby and the other few hundred "White House enemies" his henchmen compiled. Look to this, I say to them now. This is what was wrong with Nixon. Stop it before it gets too far.


Comments Now

You can now comment on the postings here!


Samantha Runnion

They found the little girl not far from where I live, in the Cleveland National Forest, dumped in the chaparral.

Yesterday when I left the house to get my afternoon cup of coffee, one of my neighbors was preparing to drive off to work. Her son, who is maybe two or three, stood next to her car. "Bye. Bye," he dripped as he waved to her. For a moment I misunderstood him and waved. He took it in stride. "Hi. Hi. Hi," he said and then looked again to his mother. "Bye. Bye. Bye." "You'd better get home little guy!" I said, thinking it just a little odd that he was going to be left in a moment without his father to walk him back to his condo. I waved to the mother and walked on to my truck. It took me a minute to get there. As I unlocked the door, the mother came around the corner and stopped behind me. She looked for a long time down the lane towards her condo. I got in my truck, gingerly pulled out, and waited for her to breathe in relief as the boy made it home to Daddy.

We both turned right onto Ridgeline at the development's entrance. Then, I made a left on Saddleback Ranch and she proceeded straight.

Arrest story

Just before I went to bed, I read a few chapters of Joyce Carol Oates' Them. The little boy describes the news of his neighborhood as told to him by an older girl. There were things that didn't make the papers, the girl tells him, and she relates the murder of two twin girls. One is killed instantly. The other runs from the killer, leaving a trail of blood down the sidewalk. The Runnion story is an old one, it seems, as old as human lust and panic.

~ Thursday, July 18, 2002

This is going to look like a gloat

What Was Your PastLife?


One of the few things you're going to see me say about Israel/Palestine

This has never been one of my favorite subjects. It seems to me that the real struggle is over who can claim to be the victim. I give the slight edge to Palestinians at this time, but I'm not letting anyone off the hook. My constant fear when speaking on this issue is that by stating my opinions for or against some atrocity that one or the other side commits I find myself drawn into a company that insists that the other religion and people are just evil and should be exterminated. No thank you.

I wrote this as a response to an article on lizzamayhem:

Personally, I think the whole thing went to hell on the day everyone knew that George Bush was going to be president. Clinton's peace-making was laughed off by both sides as the machinations of a lame duck. Now we have a wimp who is more interested in setting up a secret police force in his own country in the alledged belief that there is a terrorist on every street corner than in standing up to both sides here.

I find both Israeli and Palestinian actions horrific. While I support the general causes of BOTH sides (a state for each), I am utterly disgusted with the suicide bombings, the settlements, the shootings at civilians, the attacks on Arafat's HQ, the checkpoints, the massacres of refugees, the violent PLO in-fighting, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum.

As long as one side or the other things it has our ear, it will continue to act in the highhanded manner that it has been acting in. And the other side will become even more desparate and violent. I suggest a quarantine of military supplies on both areas of the region as a possible first step. Then a LOT of talking. We've lost two years of negotiating time thanks to the ineptness of our State Department. Colin Powell may have the best of intentions, but I suspect that he's hogtied by the resident of the Oval Office.

The sad thing is that while officials in Washington, Tel Aviv, and the Gaza dawdle, more innocent civilians are going to die. The only sane approach, IMHO, is to feel for the people having such terrible leaders. Ariel Sharon isn't going to end up as the victim of a Palestinian suicide bombing: he's happily leaving the martyrdom to the Jews on the street. The same can be said, if perhaps not of Arafat, of many in the PLO leadership.

It's the leaders, not the people. On both sides.
~ Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Changes on A Fossil Dune

The dirt that we have here in Portola Hills is nearly white. Back in the Eocene, I'm told, the area was sand dunes. When you sit in the garden of the Tuscany Grill and look at the hills, you can make out the wind shaped contours of the old dunes, now hardened and covered with soft chaparral. The City of Lake Forest is engaged in breaking loose some of the fossilized grains and rolling them out into a noveau landscape they call "Concourse Park". They've got concrete blocks, small steel superstructures, and a few stray pallettes laying around near the fence.The ground's scarred with the tracks of heavy machinery. The site looks like a beach today -- as it once was -- but without the waves or the steady wind from Catalina you get twenty miles from here. If enough ice melts from global warming and the continental shelf falls a few hundred feet, this could become sea side property.

I'm happy for the park and look forward to spending some of my time there. I have no idea what stage of development it is in except I know that they haven't started the conversion from Southern Californian vacant lot to New England pasture yet. They seem to be just repetitiously running the tractors and the trucks over the plain, packing it down and shoring up the sagging bluffs.

My neighbor Tim is not happy about the change. Tim is a thirty year old snow board representative who lives across the street. He claims to have broken a dozen or so bones. I've seen him in casts and braces three or four times since we moved here in 1999. Tim's unhappy because when the site was a vacant lot he and his dirt biking friends took shovels and built bumps and troughs to pedal over. There used to be a big crack leading towards the center of the lot from one of the corners that had a challenging groove built into it. You jumped a bump, made a hairpin turn, and then rumbled down the narrow gully. Now the city plows and scrapes the irregularities out. They round the edges, raise a few faux knolls and hills, and fill the chasm that Tim and his friends used to enter Whiting Canyon like a gate to hell.

Tim and his pals loved the lot. Now he's looking at a site farther down the hill. He's going to have to break the crust of a shallow asphalt percolation or build his course around it. I suppose he's looking at it like I saw the filling in of my favorite vacant lot back in San Bernardino with a convalescent hospital and apartments. Australian aborigines soak the features of the earth they walk upon in their mythology. Even rough badlands -- dried splashes of mud -- receive histories from the old men who remember the wisdom of the tribe. I knew the histories for the cracks in the earth, the trenches boys dug, and for the single mulberry tree that I pillaged for leaves that my pet silkworms devoured. I suspect the temporary boys and the eternal boys like Tim knew the little ruts and rolls of the lot like I did, in a way without names, a familiarity of pure form.

One of the next phases in the breaking of the wild character of Tim's motorless speedway is the laying out of the lawns, a few weeks when the cream turns to cappuchino and the whole neighborhood smells like a feedlot. Gardeners shall replace the construction workers. When the project ends in the fall, there will be alien grass to mow, slim saplings to prune when they become unruly, and picnic tables to wash clean after summer time bacchanals. I hope they have shaded benches overlooking the adjacent wildrness when it is done. I shall bring sandwiches, then, and let my eyes dip and rise over the sharp sandstone divides and deep crevices that you can see from the rim.


Crazy Tracy Again

So many sufferers of depression prefer to remain unrecognized and yea, even untreated. If you've been reading this, you've probably heard of Crazy Tracy. I commend her to all my peers in this struggle. At the end of this piece you will find a couple of links to sites and articles about the Beast:

Dear Crazy Nurse Tracy:

I've been following your blog for a few days now as a fellow sufferer. I agree with you: drugs aren't the answer to the depression. They are the floor that you put down so that you won't be getting sucked up in the mud while you address the life issues that are getting you down. I've been on Prozac continously since 1994. Given my family history (the fellows who shot out their brains with shotguns, my grandmother Stella who spent much of her life in bed and lost all her teeth, and the general fatalism of my immediate family following the death of my fatherin 1981), all my psychiatrists have affirmed that I maintain the dose as long as it keeps on working for me.

Prozac hasn't solved my problems. They are still there, waiting to be worked on, one at a time. I do some of this through my writing, some through counseling, some by allowing my wife to hold me in the dark of the night. I find knowing my peers helps when I am in the black dirt bottomlands with the Slough of Despond rolling over me. There is no instant cure for this disease, but there is a way of life you can follow.

Thank you for your comments and your support for others. I've added your blog to my list and have sent a few friends in the dark to you.

How Depression Works

Internet Mental


The Emerald Hell

It's the old memories that get me -- North Carolina, 1980 to 1984. I look back now on Prozac and I feel the sinews pulling on my ribs. I refuse to breathe, maybe so the memories will not hear me as I cringe in my corner.

I am not proud of what I was.

I remember the shocking, alien green of humid summer days, the cheers rounding the corner from the Durham Bulls stadium, the smell of Coors Beers that some fools drove all the way to Oklahoma to buy, and the kudzu that wrestled down the landscape, covering dead and living trees, old cars, rotting slave cabins. How I wish I could forget the mad jungle! I was dirtier, hungrier, and more confused than at any time before or since. I grieved for my father and fought with my family over the telephone and in my head. They didn't believe that I grieved. I wanted someone to die -- it didn't matter who. Change a factor in an equation and you change the result. I kept my first journals then, but I don't think I always told the truth. I philosophized a great deal, answered more arguments and described very little. It was a barren time.

A few weeks ago, before I started this weblog, I wrote and rejected this brief passage for use in my fiction project:

"I dreamed of a City of Evil," said Veronica. "A city built of bricks. Where every brick was made with blood and the people who gave their blood signed their named on every brick.

"Every building was red except for a white tower that was supreme over all the rest. It had eyes staring in four directions and at the top you could see three hieroglyphs in an unknown barbarian tongue. Garish trees surrounded the complex: they regularly turned from yellow to red to candy green. There might have been a fourth color, which was the gray of filthy concrete, but I'm not sure. All I know is that it was an alien place with seasons unknown to me. It wasn't the chaparral -- there were no fires. I suspected that many wicked things were hidden by the trees. The air stank of wood pulp and nicotine. If you tasted the streets, I suspect they'd be sour cinnamon. I hated this city and, yet, it wanted me, insisted that I come to it, live in it, so it could make new bricks with my blood and display my autograph as another of its conquests.

My chaparral, my holy chaparral, covers far more acres in my life and yet it is this emerald island that I remember all too intensely.

~ Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Chlorine in the Falls

Raccoons, skunks, and coyotes come to drink the waters from the pool out at the entrance to our development. They hunch on the imported, cemented rocks. Occasionally a jogger or a dog disturbs a skunk and the whole neighborhood pays. The rancid nut-odor lingers for many hours. But today, as I walked out to my truck to spend the afternoon cursing at the page at Tully's, the odor was that of chlorine. The wildlife won't drink of our pond for a few days. The gardeners polluted it, probably to kill the bacteria. The scent drifts down over the emerald lawn and down the oiled street to our condo. I sigh and think of the gold fish that could be there instead of the stink of anti-bacterial paranoia.

~ Monday, July 15, 2002

Of Printer's Devils and Needlework

Every weekend, I give my creative writing a rest -- which means that on Mondays I must push start my literary engine. The first stuff I wrote this morning felt like a rant and it was! In the world of the computer, it's easy to become like an old-fashioned printer's case, a neat order on the face of it but a jumble of stubby pieces of lead once you start checking out the boxes.

Many years ago, in high school, I learned the real craft of printing, when you pulled the individual letters out of the box or made whole lines fresh from hot lead on a Linotype machine. I loved how I could line up the letters so that they started to mean something beyond their names and the sounds I made to myself when I saw them. As I write this, I've got such a case -- a phantom one -- set out before me and bores me to see all the sounds just piled there, the fragments of sentences not coming together in any matter to please me. I just stare into that space between me and something I pick out there that is between things. The moment comes, at last, when tin lithography plates replace the linotype pressings. Then comes another jump when the letters blink on a kind of mental video screen. Beyond that is a whole new technology, beyond mere ink and luminescences, the stuff that is really frustrating to write about because the senses just putter up to it and fail.

I fancy it is similar to the joy and the sorrow that my grandmother felt as she did needlework. The thread follows the piercing shard into the cloth and out the other side. Each stitch gets a new grip on the cotton.

My grandmother was a talented artist with the needle and thread. She knew how to create eye-deceiving dappling that made her works seem alive. Unlike my mother who needs to buy pre-printed patterns, Grandma Stella started with a blank cloth and sewed until there was a picture. I wonder how many pieces of cloth she threw away because she failed? On my wall, I have one of the pieces that succeeded -- a rainbow parrot on black cloth. I sometimes imagine it croaking its encouragement to me from its jungle.


White Buckwheat

Another one of those fallow days when the low, dull dome of my scalp shimmers a bland gray. I don't much feel like writing and the material doesn't dance. For relief, I watch moving things -- birds, cars sliding down Lake Forest Blvd. while I sit drinking coffee, the antics of the barristes at Tully's. On another sheet of paper I write scatter -- fragments of thought, anything that comes into my head, some of which sometimes actually seems like it can take me somewhere.

I don't know if it is good or bad to read John McPhee on a day like today. He can say so much about rocks and mud coming off the mountains where I might have dispatched the subject in a dim paragraph or two. It's a day for feeling sorry for myself, I suppose, and I don't want to be comforted because when I am, I lose my last excuse for not working on the fiction project today.

I need a recharge and a few days when I am not taking any xanax. I ate a total of one tablet over the weekend. While it fulfilled my immediate need to blot out the itchy pain that shot up and down my calves and the nervousness that caused me to wonder if I was going to kick my wife in my sleep again, it also brought me to my present torpor. Such a choice I had: either this or the worse fate of finding myself exhausted by the lack of sleep. The Muse only hums in the one state and utterly refuses chirp even one note in the latter.

To rehabilitate her, I look outside at the sharp sandstone ridges and half domes and I feel like them -- half-clothed with "soft chaparral" like buckwheat that cracks when you pick a piece and explodes when you set a spark to it. (I dislike violence -- the waving of the arms and the sudden stops as my fists come in contact with something just don't release anything except a hail of splintering recriminations.) Beneath the eroded geology lie the alluvial fans, covered with dry grass that has turned a soporific brown. What I want is for the clouds that keep ignoring us here to scream out their rain songs and beat the typanni drums like a cartoon I saw many years ago when television was black and white. Then I could relax like a deity, comfortably couched in cumulus.


Thoughts on the Beast

Crazy Tracy writes about fighting off the soldier called depression on her blog. I posted this to her comments area:

I remember one morning when I sat up in my bed and woke up my wife. "Lynn," I said to the Empress. "I'm sick." That was the day when things began to turn around for me, when I saw myself as having a disease, not a moldy curse.

It can be hard to explain to people that you sometimes get depressed for "no reason". They want a tragedy, walls falling down or floods of mud erupting from the canyon mouths, something that would "throw anybody for a loop". But, personally, I find that crises ennervate me. The lack of real crises -- "the mundane shit" -- can get me down and staying in the bed for days on end.

When I read your stuff, Tracy, I recognize my own self -- slightly flipped out but with a vision that deserves to be shared with the world.

Insert a nervous click here as the post goes off to her comments section. Am I not more than a little egotistical? Consider what I go through. Vision's great, I think, but does the Beast that bears the gift have to bite so dang hard?


Is Saint Rasputin Next?

Neo-Czarists in the Soviet Union have employed fraud in an effort to secure the canonization of Nicholas II. Nicholas retains a death grip on the imaginations of many people, including my mother, who feel so bad that he and his family were shot as a hedge against reimposition of the monarchy in Russia. Joe Nickell writes in the most recent Skeptical Inquirer that icons of the Czar have been caught "weeping myrrh", a aromatic oil that was once the major support of the land of Yemen and one of the gifts brought to the infant Jesus by the three Wise Men.

Weeping images are nothing new -- Skeptical Enquirer has exposed many such frauds, but when a new one begins to ooze, you can be sure of a rush of the faithful to see what just has to be a "true miracle". No one except a chosen few seem to be present when the image starts to weep, sweat, or pour blood. Nickell writes of one Italian case where DNA testing of the blood bursting out of a small madonna showed that it was that of the statue's owner. Her lawyer explained: "The Virgin Mary had to get that blood from somewhere." (See my wife's blog for some comment on the idea of God or God's agents needing to teleport necessary tissues from human donors.) No case stands up to true scientific scrutiny. Nonetheless, devotees of the saints continue to use such instances as part of the cases they make for the saints.

In Russia, there is considerable pressure being brought to bear on the Orthodox hierarchy to canonize Nicholas II by reactionary voices made free by Glasnost. Russia's patriarch, however, opposes the idea: Nicholas simply did not live a saintly life. He surrounded himself with luxury and refused to use his absolute power to help alleviate the conditions of the masses. Instead he whined incessantly about how unappreciative his people were. One can almost imagine him taunting his jailers. Perhaps it was a snyde remark that led them to take him and his family for a walk in the woods. This doesn't justify the murder, but neither does it make Nicholas II a martyr. Martyrs have to die for good causes and the replacement restoration of one tyranny for another does not count.

One wonders what will happen next. We've recently seen the head of the ultra-right religious organization "Opus Dei" canonized by John Paul II, who seems to be making a last mad dash to include a few conservative cronies before the dice roll of the convocation of cardinals after they tap his forehead with the sacred mallet and declare him dead. John Paul's past canonizations of Edith Stein and Maxmillian Kolbe have twisted Catholic/Jewish relationships. In the meantime, John Paul drags his feet on the canonization of other martyrs of the Nazis and of Archbishop Oscar Romero, clearly shot for his faith because he spoke out for the rights of El Salvadoran peasants. He was, however, a liberal and everyone knows that John Paul doesn't like people who show a little understanding for the sinning poor.

Those who promote the causes of Nicholas II must, it seems, resort to spiritual fraud to override the strong objections against him. If we look at the historical record, Nicholas has no chance of receiving earthly recognition for his good deeds because his evils were so much greater. Nicholas sat in his palaces while his people starved. When they complained, he scorned them as unappreciative. The only "good" thing he seems to have done was to defend the bloated perfunctories of the national church against the godless communists. These priests probably did more to promote atheism by their blind support of a state which exalted the wealthy and the powerful over the peasants that Jesus loved. If more had joined in the cause for democracy and human rights in the latter part of the 19th century and effected democratic change, eschewing the required connection between the Czar and deity, the Orthodox church might have prospered and flowered in the 20th.

To make Nicholas II into a saint requires nothing less than massive historical revisionism and a few frauds. So far his supporters have not been above lies and invention. He does not inspire them to tell the truth, which is one of the highest forms of Good. This should be reason enough to reject for all time any claims on his sainthoods.

As they labor to bury the truth with the past in Russia, the shock troops of Opus Dei now labor to make Queen Isabella, the chief instigator of the Spanish Inquisition and the enslavement of the Americas, a saint because she labored so hard to bring the faith to so many people who had never heard of Jesus. If these two causes go through (the Vatican should tell Opus Dei flat out that Isabella does not qualify because her deeds were downright evil, enslaving, militaristic, and genocidal), what will the Right push for next? St. Rasputin? He did claim to have visions. Perhaps even now an apologist is working on a new biography that will pave the way for yet another scurrilous cause.

~ Sunday, July 14, 2002

Invisible Rhinos at the Zoo

I woke up at a quarter to three today. Just before I went to bed last night, I swallowed a heap of pills that included benadryl for my sinuses, tagamet for the aftereffects of eating greasy zoo food, and half a xanax, all known enemies of insomnia. The hours I'd spent chasing my neighbor's four year old daughter from pen to pen at the San Diego zoo put an odd cramp into my legs: a kind of tingling down the back of the calves, a kind of painful numbness that I think comes from stretching the sinews to the breaking point. I also dosed myself with tylenol, for the pain. When I get the cramps some instinct of the brain tries to relieve them by kicking. The xanax was so I would sleep still and not bruise my wife.

Rowan wanted to see everything. And we would have if I had not lied a little. "The tiger is asleep," was one of my lies. The truth was I didn't know, but the Tiger exihit at Tiger River was a notorious spot for nonactivity. Many were the times when I looked in to see, at most, an white rimmed orange triangle that I took to be its ear. So the lie was not a big one. I also did not lead her down Cat Canyon or show her the way to the kiwi. The lies were necessary for the well being of her four escorts: her mother, myself, Lynn, and Rowan's seventeen year old cousin Sarah.

I love four year olds because they believe in magic. Rowan was certain that there was a "mama" in every cage, that there were no polygamists among the beasts, and that all the baby animals had young sisters and brothers. She had a hard time with the concept that an eight foot tall giraffe was only a baby, but she learned it. Lynn and I seized the chance to tease her a little.

As we stood next to the rhino enclosure -- a beast that fascinated her as much as any except the giraffes -- I asked her if she thought that he could blow his horn. No came the answer of the child. "Why not?" She hesitated, thought. Had she been caught in an error? Adults knew the answers to these questions and they loved to quiz the young. Perhaps she's answered it wrong? The long moment passed. She looked at the rhino, studying its form. Then replied: "Because he can't bring it to his mouth."

As I led the way, she dashed off to the next enclosure, which held a hippo who was throwing his oversized bath toys around. It was getting dark, we couldn't see much more than his head, and I was moving fast to squeeze the camels and the koalas in before we all went out to the car. The next enclosure had a sign identifying the inhabitant as a rhino. Rowan asked where it was. I said "It's an invisible rhino." She stopped and and applied some simple science. "How come I don't hear it moving around?" The Empress came to my aid: "He's wearing fuzzy slippers so he can walk silently."


Five things you wouldn't know about me from reading my blog

  1. One of my favorite forms of relaxation is to read mythology
  2. I have asthma, diabetes, and bad teeth.
  3. I have a degree in anthropology from Pomona College
  4. I have an older brother who lives in Portland, Orygone
  5. I am 6'4"


The Real Moral Decline

After Watergate brought down the Nixon machine, the minions of the right began to promote a new myth: that every politician was as crooked as Dick Nixon, so why even try. The media bought the idea, dutifully putting slightly crooked Democrats on the front page, and the right wing began buying up the press, undermining laws against monopoly and conflict of interest with the aid of strategically placed Reagan administration underminings of reforms that had ensured we had a press that was free not only of governmental control, but also oligarchical control. Libertarians began the shock troops of a movement that declared that liberals were out to deprive us of freedom of speech (e.g. the freedom to call someone a "nigger"). The campaign depended, of course, on distortion of what was actually implemented. The foes of changes in legal language wrongly declared that reformers were out to tell us what we could or couldn't say. The reality, of course, was much simpler: the changes in the language of our laws was simply to remove vulgarity from a common ground.

Affirmative action was another red herring that the Right slung about. I remember how personnel officers would lie and say that they had not hired someone because they had to fill a quota. I sometimes went back to the institution where this was claimed and it still looked as lily white as it had before. Very simple they lied to me. They had a secret political agenda.

These things, all based in the language of lies, are the real moral decline in America. Good people don't trust good people or they fear that someone will "adjust" things to the favor of the powerful by taking out a good man. I don't undertake kneejerk subscriptions to conspiracy theories, but I have to admit that their reiteration in the tabloid press has, in itself, seemed to be a kind of conspiracy. Tabloids seem to teach us two things: that we can never trust news claims of corruption and second that it isn't worth being good because you will be killed.

A couple of days I mentioned America's "quitter" mentality. Calling anyone who hesitates before implementing a possible evil "a quitter" is yet another tactic the ones most responsible for our moral decline use. But they are the ones who have given up. They are the quitters. Clint Eastwood, when asked why he wasn't going for a run at higher political office, simply said "I ain't no Mother Teresa." Clint's just the type of quitter that we've seen these past thirty years. Certainly he is no saint now, but what he's saying is that he's given up being a good person. And many of his followers have joined him. This is not the stuff of which heroes should be made. And this is the source, I believe, of America's downfall. We've given up trying to be good. We don't think about the ethics of what we do and more importantly, we go along. Mother Teresa wasn't extraordinary nor was she perfect. But it has been in the best interests of those who want unbridled use of evil to declare that what she attained in her life isn't humanly possible. Nor do we believe it exists in any person other than her. This resignation is the most impaling moral decline of our time. We should, I think, pay heed to the Bible, which often speaks against greed and militarism, but addresses the topic of sex less than a handful of times. It tells us: greed and hatred are the greater problems. It's time to stop maligning the poor, spreading the lies that insist on impossibility, and start throwing out the quitters from our cultural and political lives. Use the vote and your purchases. There is no need for violence.

~ Friday, July 12, 2002


The prison stood in the middle of the city, a gigantic skyscraper that covered a whole block with no windows. The prisoners spent their days sitting in pews. I went in with a group of Quakers who fanned out to give comfort to the many. My prisoner was a small, balding old man with a beard who sat with two of his friends, wrapped in a blanket. We passed through a line that reminded me of the checkout line at the library. A skeletal middle-aged despot perched behind a counter, checking the bags of everyone who left but none too closely. As we waited in line, I told my Quaker friends about the shivs that many of the prisoners had. Some of them had been quite friendly with the ministers and little did they know that tucked beneath the belt or taped to the arm under the sleeve the nicest of the men kept a deadly shard. The guards moved us out onto the street in groups. I noticed one fellow who was just too clean cut to be one of us. He turned out to be a prisoner making his escape. When he got outside, though, he ran to a grassy spot and began to scream. Several people crowded around him and took him back inside the cell house.


The Language of Quitters

The "not-as-bad-as" tune is being sung in a new key by apologists for the mystery war in Afghanistan. Like the Holocaust revisionists of whom I spoke earlier, they point to the atrocities of the past to justify the present. In this case, it is Vietnam, that war which every right wing nutcase believes was lost, not because we intervened in a civil war on behalf of a government that people did not want, but because we did not leave the shores of the Gulf of Tonkin a burning crater.

"It's not like Vietnam" the defenders of the resident's foreign policy whimper. They doggedly insist that we can succeed were other empires have failed in Afghanistan. They dream their dreams of carpet bombing and nuclear bombs and say that under Bush things will be better than ever before in the region.

The hints that this may not be the case are being ignored by the nattering nabobs of nationalist negativism. We have no reliable reports about what is going on in Afghanistan for one thing. The secrecy and the compliance of the American media ensures that we don't know how bad things are. Reports that do leak out are seldom good. The attack on a wedding that happened a few days ago summons up ghosts of My Lai. One may rightly ask when will we have our Kent State in this? Combine this with the utter lack of a timetable or a clear objective and what you breed is everlasting war, a time of profit for defense industries but at the cost of our national reputation and moral integrity. This thing is going to cost us money, too, a lot of it. Unless Americans get smart and clip the wings from the budget turkey, the mortgage that Bush and Cheney have obtained will use our children for collateral.

But the problem may be rooted even deeper. After Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, Whitewater, the Impeachment Imbroglio, the Starrish Inquisition, and the Stolen Election, Americans may have given up on the expectation of integrity for those in public office. Instead of striving for betterment, we are merely happy with the idea that we're lousing up no worse than before. That's makes us a nation of quitters.

~ Thursday, July 11, 2002

Passed Over

Clouds massed over head until about four o'clock this afternoon. Nothing was tight enough or thick enough to drop rain. It was one of those summer days when the inversion layer holds down the smog and the mugginess while preventing the loose cumulus cabal from dropping its load on us. From Tully's, I looked back towards Portola Hills. The Saddleback looked slate gray and two dimensional. The mesa where I live stretched out from that like an apron dirtied with faux mission style houses and alien trees. It wasn't an inspiration day. The dull haze repressed any desire people might have had to hike, to ride, to bike, to walk, to run, or even sit out in the shade doing nothing. It can be frustrated when the hills are dessicated by the drought to watch so much water being shipped East to places where they really don't want it.

About the time I finish working on the fiction project for the afternoon, the clouds attentuated into forms that looked like frosty shelf fungus. The wind dragged the ragged remnants away, letting the sun find the walls of our condo again and beat heavy on them.



The word "if" doesn't seem to exist in some chatters' vocabularies. "Bin Laden's alive," they declare. Or "He's dead. We got him." And what evidence do they offer for this? There is no body or living man.

Everyone wants to own a certainty. Sometimes the certainties they tout switch every day or with every new debate they begin. They can't see that while we live through times much is hidden from us. Sometimes they are hidden from us by the beliefs we hold, the certainties that historical investigations will overturn. It may take centuries before a relatively complete version comes together. In the meantime, you can expect the public to be vulnerable to rumors, instant revisionism, and popularizations of events. The little lies about welfare queens and the terrorist that lurks inside every Muslim suit some people better than the complexities and uncertainties entailed in seeking the facts.



Prostitute Rescue Organizations (Serious!)

XXXChurch (The one serious link on Sister Taffy's page -- anti-porn exploitation)

Surrealist Compliment Generator

Chick-Fil-A Cow Stolen

Henry the Mutant Lemon (Reader Contribution)

Except from Clifford Pickford's Dreaming the Future


Beneath Mount Santiago

We live in different worlds, my neighbors and I. All I have to do is look at the voter registration rolls when I visit the polls at election time and review the names along my short street. Republican. Republican. Republican. The list goes on. Then, nearly alone, two Democrats -- Lynn and myself.

I sometimes joke that I have been sent here to prostelytize. Truly, howver, I am under no illusion that I can change hearts with either my words or my examples. What time tells me is that hearts will change themselves for better or for worse. I can only leave out my thoughts for others to see on these pages, maybe make an observation or two in casual conversation that will sink deep. Usually, I feel, it is best just to be kind. People around me have a desparate need to believe in our institutions in these days when our federal system limps along and the government comes under attack from many quarters -- libertarian, millenialist, old line communist -- who hope to bring it down so that they may realize some utopian vision that will cost many lives.

Unlike my neighbors, who all put up steel signs with the legend "God Bless America", courtesy of Saddleback Church, I don't look for moral decline in such things as the loss of the words "under God" in the pledge or the failure of our schools to distribute the 10 commandments to every pupil and every teacher. I see our moral decline as an increasing tolerance for calumnies against the poor and for sharp accounting practices intended to drive the price of stocks up following an annual report. I'm a middle aged Jeremiah, pointing to the Jehoiakim in the White House, and watching as no one reads the scrolls he puts out. Part of me has always dreamed that I had a calling as a prophet -- ever since I discovered that my name, "Joel", belonged to one of the anti-militarists of the Bible. Prophets have always contended with the fact that people are more riled up by vice and complacent about greed and military adventurism. The Bible itself speaks many times against these and very seldom against sexual problems. Yet the rants of the preachers, in our age of swords shattering plowshares, focus on sex and sex alone.

Unfortunately, a prophet must be feared and reviled. Parents must warn their children to stay away from the wild eyed man who stops to stare at the purple blossoms of the mimosa trees or to sniff the bark of a eucalyptus. When and if they read my stuff, I'm sure they feel a little nervous because like Ezekiel, I point to a valley filled with bones. It's a scary thing to feel like a prophet, to know that your excuses about incapability won't wash with the force propelling your pen. There, before you always, is the burning coal, ready to cauterize the falsehoods from your lips and make you write and speak only the Truth.

I have found, to my relief, that the truth is not only pointing to the bent backs of the latino gardeners who keep our waspish community a happy, green, place or gesturing down the wires toward distant nations where children spin, press, and pack our clothes in humid tropical sweat shops. The truth is also the flattish clouds drifting into the twin peaks of the Saddleback. It's the heat in this night, the flame of day that billows without the luminance of the sun. It's the fear encased in the tawny grasses on the hill sides that one match could ignite. And it's the single, snowy blossom of the cactus that bloomed on my deck, for just a few hours yesterday, before Lynn could get home so that I could show it to her. Maybe it will open again tomorrow. If so, I'll take a picture.

~ Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Is Chat my only strength?

One reason why I've never liked being part of a "movement" is that it is so easy to have one's energies co-opted and one's individuality stifled. The late crises in #news_garden and the regular life in Dalnet #politics has me wondering if that's happened yet again.

To be quite frank, I get rather tired of seeing my friends in views falling for the same bait every time. Instead of discussing what might be done, they spend their time fighting the same fights with the same people. You can parcel out most #politics debates among these subjects: the Middle East, the nature of God, taxes, gun control, abortion, and Clinton's penis.

I use /ignore a lot. One reason I do this is as a hedge against my own cruelty. It can be tempting when someone gets his dander up to keep probing his words for absurdities, throwing in the occasional flame to make them act even more shamefully than they have thus far. This often means that they get control.

I've develop the habit of speaking my mind once, succinctly, and then moving on. When someone says something stupid, I state exactly why I think it is so and them set them to /ignore, maybe for an hour, maybe for good. I know that I can deliver stiletto like responses, crushing to egos, if I let it go on for too long. The rage builds up, slamming my insides like the rocker arms of some coal-powered Victorian stamping mill. When I am "just a chatter", I don't have to hear every comment. Nor do I wish to.

Feeling charged to answer every riposte made by those blinded by the right isn't my idea of enjoying life. Chat invigorates me when I can devote the time to exploring ideas with friends or addressing new concerns without feeling the need to lambast the right. /ignore gives me the space in which to use my mind for these better things. The funny thing is that those who tell me that they think writing for a blog would be "too much work" often seem to me to derive perhaps a little too much pleasure from seeing their opponents squirm. I've always worried about the sadistic angle. They say that they won't use /ignore because they believe that they want to give every person a fair hearing. When I leave /ignore off, I feel like I am on guard duty for the Left. Whatever energies I have soon get sucked up by answering the repetitions of the right. Best, I think, to laugh it off and then courageously go on creating.


#news_garden debacle

Last night, I was accused by some people of "punishing" my friends for the actions of the predators who have taken over #news_garden. They want me back.

In my defense I said to a concerned #news_garden chatter:

I am not punishing people. I have to act for my own sanity. I was being punished every day I was there for being me.... [X] attacked me several times a day, whined about my judging, etc. And I kept my cool on the channel, until the Saturday night he he went on a homo bashing trip.

Tonight the word is that the channel is derelict, the channel owner fled. All this fear of not alienating the most obnoxious members of the channel lest we kill the channel led to the killing of the channel, at least in the short term.

~ Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Flight from Heat and Unsaid Advice to the Young

We've got to do something about the windows in the bedroom and the study. The late afternoon sun pummels that side of the house with an incessant barrage of photons from about four in the afternoon until seven in the evening when the roof of the condo across the street finally screens us from the attack. The morning air feels hot and flat, "like the inside of a bus" said fleep of his similar situation in North Hollywood. The inversion layer holds the smoke of the factories and of our cars down, shadowing the mountains with a sheer piece of cottony gauze. It's not nearly as bad here on my hilltop as it is in fleep's part of the Valley of the Valley Girls, but it is bad enough.

Before the sun can turn my condo into a broiler, I get in my truck and glide down the hill to Tully's, to spend my afternoon writing to old Sixties and Seventies tunes. The barristes mostly ignore me (my favorites aren't around today) and, before I take on the beginning of the second chapter for real this time, I take a moment to imagine the advice I'd give them, what I think I know about them. The girl working the counter today, a young, plump blonde, newly graduated from high school and aiming to matriculate in the fall at Pepperdine, barely trusts me. She thinks that I am like all the other older men who hang around the place, just interested in her body, of which I think she is slightly ashamed because she's larger than most girls her age. What I'd like to tell her is that I am a Prozac eunuch. For another thing, a woman's looks mean nothing to me if it is clear that she lacks a mind. My wife is both beautiful and intelligence. Perhaps I amplify her beauty a bit because of the intelligence and the energy that I love. Few seventeen and eighteen year olds interest me, except as I might be interested in a daughter or a son of that age, having none of my own. Very few of them have evolved any kind of individuality, you see. They still suffer from the lingering conformity of the high school years. The shaping of people in those years is like a dental tech creating a temporary crown in your mouth, using a piece of putty that she perpetually pinches and tamps down while it hardens; she has you clamp down on it again and again so that it gets to know its place in your jawline. If you chew the wrong kinds of things, if you smash against it with nuts or hard candy, the temporary either shatters or comes off. Then you get the lecture from the dentist, that this is only a temporary and not made for the tougher foods that you crave.

And so it is with late teens: some subjects cause them to crack, so you have to keep things polite, limited to hellos and light, empty-headed teasing. I just watch from the comfy chair in the corner, knowing, I think, the fear and the reason for it, knowing that those kids aren't quite ready for these truths, that they have the temporaries on their minds still, and aren't able to distinguish between me and a common masher. For their safety and my own sanity, it's best to keep things as they are, professional, friendly, slightly distant, and kind without granting them a glimpse of the knowledge I have of them.


Neighborly Interest

A neighbor, who is moving out of the neighborhood in the near future, stopped to ask me what I did for a living. Keeping to what I call "Judy's program" (after my writing teacher and friend Judy Reeves), I identified myself as a writer. "What kind of books have you written?" came the dreaded first question. I explained that I didn't write books. I wrote websites. "I don't write pornography," I assured her, as her toddler son struggled to keep with his plastic trike. "That's good." I started to try to make my break. I hate the question, you see, even when people are asking it out of genuine interest and curiosity. I half like my shell of anonymity among the neighbors. What would they make of the discussions of the chat room disputes, my takes on contemporary politics, my mystical forays into the zoo, my thinking about photography, my rants, my love of absurd web sites, my expressions of uncertainty? Would they try to cure me?

One hopes that the writing would attract people who truly liked me, admired me, wanted to support my struggle. So I must, I dare say, continue to allow people to know where to find it when they ask the next obvious question. I will find out who my friends are if I allow them to find out what I am. Maybe there are a few in the neighborhood, too. Maybe my variety of candor will shock this one and the people she mentions it to. Maybe my honesty will turn out to be my worst quality, once again. Or my best.


Chat Asylum?

I've become the confidant for a few people who drop by #peanut_gallery to tell me about the latest shenanigans in #news_garden. One disenchanted liberal came by to tell me that a particularly obnoxious complaintant was now an op there. He also reported what he thought was a feigned disagreement with between the channel owner and one of the rogue ops. I told him that it did not surprise me.

The process that is used to drive off what many consider to be "fair-minded ops" at #news_garden is pretty much the same: one of the chief agitators from the right attacks and attacks and attacks until at last the op, who has been refraining from reacting, comes down on him, often for a genuine infraction. The agitator complains to the channel owner and the op is accused of being obsessed with the chatter. It's a classic example of the muddled middle in this country, what some of my confidants call "the friendly fascism" that uses one side or the other to ride herd over malcontents. It strikes me that they live to suck off disenchantment and strife behind a veneer of "niceness". The Nasty Nice brook no suggestion of their mean motives or their oppression. To disguise their lack of character and lack of a progressive program, they maintain a constant state of agitation, of suspended extremes in which no reasonable person who attempts to drive a sensible course can possibly survive. Perhaps smirks was right. Perhaps it is just a gladiator's pit.

~ Monday, July 08, 2002

One Nation, Indivisible

People are making the recent Pledge decision anything but what it is. One fruit loop on #politics declared that 75 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that you could not be forced to say the pledge. This new decision, he insisted, says that you can't say the pledge voluntarilly. He thought himself clever. He was dead wrong.

The decision merely states that the government cannot use the pledge as an official document or expression of national loyalty because it contains the words "under God". Our government is without an opinion on religion according to the Bill of Rights. As an American, you can practice what you please as long as you do no harm to others. Good Christians should applaud the decision because the Gospels and the writings of the apostles repeatedly point to a separation between church and state. They existed in a time when the Roman Emperor styled himself as both ruler and as god made manifest in his person.

Over the last few generations, however, some zealots have allowed government encroachment, Roman style, into religious affairs. The words "in God we trust" appear on our money. "One nation under God" was a feeble attempt to make it hard for atheist communists to say the pledge. The only people who suffered were believers, Jehovah's Witnesses and Quakers, who followed the biblical injunction against the saying of oaths (Matthew 5: 33-35; James 5:12). Whether we have received any special blessing from having the phrase "under God" in the pledge is dubious, as one #politics chatter pointed out:

[20:13] <Warpster93> alephnaut, I've made the point that since god was inserted into the pledge, claimed by this country, as it were, we've had our best and brightest assassinated, lost wars, been attacked by terrorists, and lost much of our middle class. Somehow, if there's a god, he's not pleased at being so claimed

By my reading of the Gospels and my understanding of the Christian way of life, Christians should applaud the removal of the words "under God" from the pledge as well as it's removal from our coins and other tokens of our public life. Caesar is not God. That's the point of the story of the tribute money. When a government associates itself with God, it is acting as antiChrist. It misleads us, allowing it to deflect criticism made against it by believers. If you criticize your government, the implication goes, you attack God. Again, I say, the government is not God's instrument on earth, but an institution of men. More than a few whiners about the recent pledge decision need to reread both their Constitution and their Bibles. The State is not God. Do not allow it to mislead you into thinking it is.

" nation, indivisible...." the pledge used to go before commie-baiters inserted the phrase "under God" between the words "nation" and "indivisible". Now what's wrong with that? Not a darn thing! It's truth in advertising. Government is by the people, of the people, for the people, not the Divinity.



Trolling is seen by many people as a crime. The lack of decent definitions have prevented many channel ops and newsgroups moderators from taking action against the people who engage in it, who are called trolls. The term comes not from the little fat faces who hide under bridges, seizing unwary goats as they pass over, but from fishing. The troll casts his line out into a channel, repeatedly if necessary, until someone bites. He derives his greatest pleasure from seeing people take him seriously when he is not.

I perceive that trolling, like murder, can be defined in much the same way as a matter of degree as this table shows:

1st degree trollingYou arrive on a channel for the express purpose of causing disruption with the ridiculous things you say. You probably don't believe the outrageous things that fly off your fingers, but that's all right: you're there to make people react. You never chat. You bait.
2nd degree trollingWhile holding a conversation on a channel or news group, you say something that someone else finds annoying. You see their weakness and go for the jugular by saying similar things, over and over, chortling each time they react.
3rd degree trollingYou happen to say something pretty much for the shock value in passing. One reaction tickles you. You move on to other things.

The best way to deal with trolls is to /ignore them, which is impossible if you are a system op. Wise trout neither op on large channels nor suck up the bait when it is presented. Some people call any killing argument against their position a troll. These same people often feel justified in owning guns that they use to shoot at the neighbors for coming home late at night.

Laughing at the futility of trolls is another way to shame them. Calling someone a "troll" either makes them laugh harder or infuriates someone who had no intention of trolling. You only want to do the latter when you, too, wish to be a troll.


A Place in History

I've long called the Net the site of the most significant folk revolution of modern times. Web logs, I have concluded, are the cutting edge of that democratic change and I've played my part in its development. The masses who create them rebel against these things:

  • Editors who insist that you submit material in their idea of perfect form, which means slick packaging, absence of personal sentiment, and writing that is dumbed down so that the readers cannot possibly use the stuff you write as a springboard for anything except gossip;
  • The loss of the art of letter writing;
  • IRC channels and chat rooms that drip with tuna-flavored sex and scarlet political invective;
  • Academic organizations that believe only the duly credentialed deserve a voice;
  • abUSEnet news groups who lack curiosity and clutter the screen with endless responses to responses, leading you to the same dead ends.

I've been through all of these phenomena and a few more besides, but I think that it was my experiences on the abUSENet and mailing lists that truly drove me to the variety of online writing in which I now indulge. I hate cliques and I hate being included in them. I do not write on behalf of any organization simply because I dislike being told what is correct and on topic. (Though if any editors feel that something here is worth reprinting, they are welcome to contact me)

In 1992, I went to Yugoslavia to work for three months at a peace center. Back then, I styled myself as a "journalist", mostly to lend some credibility to the peculiar type of freelancing I did. Today, I find the label inappropriate. I'm not altogether sure if I invited myself or they invited me. But I went. I avoided the usual places you could find journalists like the government press rooms and the bar at the Hotel International in Zagreb. I sought out my own witnesses to what was happening, sometimes just people on the streets who happened to speak English, and I wrote about them. I am sure that the Croatian government may have sent a few people my way. But I think I could make out who they were and judge their remarks accordingly. I think it made for a different story than what the media wanted and a truer one because I sought to write outside their box (but maybe too much into my own. I believe I have grown out of that need.) I posted my letters on abUSEnet news groups and did not respond to comments, a practice I mostly follow today.

Any history of weblogs, I think, must include my MIRacles and the more extensive, contemporary work of my peer Wam Kat. The origins of the current phenomena run through us. It goes farther back, too, to Gulf War diaries by Israelies who wrote of the nights when the SCUDs rained down on their cities and to descriptions written by myself and others about peace marches happening in the United States at the time. Before that, even, people sometimes posted journal excerpts online amid the hectoring rants of news groups. Those postings and the web pages that followed were a response to endless debates within that chaotic context, a place where people were neither committed to telling the truth or to saying something beautiful -- just to flame wars and mass propaganda. The brave ones sought to share their real thinking. And when they could no longer go drifting along with the hot, fast, shallow flow of the river of InterNet damnation, they got out. They jumped onto the web.

Some people were angered by this move. To this day, they ban announcements from web sites from their groups, from their IRC channels, from their mailing lists. What angers them most of all is that by taking these things out of their circles, the blogger does not help sustain the masses. Some fools try to argue with web pages, often without reading them, in these groups. Others speak loudly for the ban. I have, for my part, never forbidden topical mention of web sites on any site or channel that I run. The channel ops and mailing list owners who overrestrict things merely demonstrate their fear that their voice is not compelling enough.

To set the record straight, I do not claim parentage of web logs. I did not start this until late in the game, after I had spent years writing topical sites about cemeteries, California history, and Alcatraz. But I do claim my part in creating and upholding the new value of the InterNet, that of freedom, the freedom to speak without editors or moderators. My web log is a kind of letter to the world, whose whole course is determined by me, the writer, alone. I urge and support the efforts of others to do the same.

On my tombstone, I have asked my wife to inscribe just two words as my epitaph: INTERNET PIONEER. And maybe: (Since 1988).


In Sickness

I must stay home, settling the turmoil of my insides, today. No Tully's for me.

The fever came upon me last night. I kept running from the bedroom to the office. "Are you hot? Are you hot?" Lynn thought it might be "a little stuffy". We tried a digital thermometer, but it told me that my temperature was 93.2 F. I felt warmer than that. I kept going over to the air conditioner vent to wave my hand over it. The air blew cool. Lynn fetched a light cotton blanket made in India from the clothes cabinet for me. An idea popped into my head. I shut off the air conditioner, had Lynn open some windows in the front because I sleep naked. My theory was that the house was too full of carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gases. Global warming in a condo. The fresh air would alleviate the atmospheric condition. To help me sleep, I took half a xanax -- my first in more than a week. I kept thinking of Warpster93 warning against becoming addicted, of becoming what she called a "benzidrip". I slept until 7, got up, and went to see my endodontist to see how an infection at the base of my number 19 tooth was doing.

This morning after I come home: sudden rumbles in the abdomen necessitating a rush to the bathroom. I still check the air conditioning vents with my hand to be sure that it is still functioning. What is this disease I have? What did someone give to me and how did they do it? Off a doorknob? Did they lick one of my forks at the restaurant? Did they just breathe on me? Or was it something I ate? I drink plenty of water and eat banana chips. Lynn promises to bring me more.

~ Sunday, July 07, 2002


When I woke from my afternoon nap, the sun was shining through the Venetian blinds. It scored me with long blades separated by shadows. I'd been dreaming, a dream that began with a woman wearing a long, close-fitting black dress and high heels who push-started a bus filled open-collar businessmen setting out on an adventure. Our bus crash-landed on a desert planet. A few of us, including the woman in black, encountered a few sling-shot shaped aliens. We started shooting at them just because they were there and they were alien. The five of us ran across the sand towards our base camp. Two aliens flew behind us, trying to kill us with their lemon-ice laser beams. I turned to look back at them, but the sun was so bright that I couldn't see anything except a solid, incorporeal white wall. The aliens killed some of us. The woman in black was one of them. At base camp, we tried to discover who they were and how we could protect ourselves. The commander fed some information into his miniature computer, asking the wrong questions as any one observing the plot from the outside could see. We worried that the aliens would slip in among us. One did, taking the form of the woman in black. Smiling seductively she winked at us and gestured to the director's tent. We all rushed in. The walls of the tent were only two feet high and there was no roof. We sifted through the pile of esoteric books on the floor so we could find the director's copy of Joseph Campbell and understand how the woman fit in to the developing story.

~ Saturday, July 06, 2002

Rhinos Nearing Their Dusk

Over there, beneath the tree," the tour guide calls out over the public address system. "Doing a very good boulder imitation are our two female Northern White Rhinoceroses." The lonely male stands in the shade of a nearby tree. The cows age, grow decrepit. Their race dies out. These are three of the last ten or so left. The crowd on the monorail stretches for a look at the brink of extinction. Lynn giggles. "I wouldn't screw you if you were the last rhino on earth!" she guffaws as the train pulls out. I try to point my lense at them, catch the photons they repel as a record for the affinal lines who will never see these creatures.

Goodbye white rhinos. They found out too late that your women like to run in a crash, several protecting your young. These are your last days and you spend them far from your native Africa on a broken, pallid plain under a California live oak.


Notes on Another Nocturnal Intrusion

Bactrians. Two humps on each. Burnt sienna splotches of mange fall off an old cow. Two other camels wrestle, shoulder to shoulder. Parents lead tired children through an evening that grows into the color of a blueberry smoothie. No one standing on the sidewalk can decide what the wrestlers are trying to accomplish. Even the solid plastic leaves of the oversize guidebook fixed at precisely dead center along the fence doesn't reveal what they might be doing. I spend a little time here, going up and down the path, my eyes fixed on the combatants and the elderly one.


Horn and Hoof Mesa, Notes in Words and Icons

Moving down the serpentine road past various species of gazelle that all look like Thompson's to me but are identified as distinct species by the informational signs. Some kind of fuzzy-snouted hog from Borneo, gathering with its kinfolk to take a shower. A cluster of takins, a beast that like the Okapi appears to be made of spare parts: in this case part goat, part horse, part bison. Sleeping peccaries and idle bongos. And the experience that touches me most closely: a pair of Zebras. I stop to take a picture of the one standing closest to the fence. He eats from his trough. His stripes and white profile face me. A brother, a sister, or a mate stands a few paces back. It notices me, comes forward, cutting the plane of the pen mate at a right angle. I take three pictures of this approach. The eyes of the second zebra shine like twin, candent laser beams, all the colors in the world concentrated in a pair of lights, the only two stars in the camera's night sky that is colored cyan, indigo, and moonstone.

Later, after I move on, pass through other exhibits, go home, rest a few days, and write this down, I look again at the pictures. Green figures almost as prominently as blue. The first zebra is rubbing his chin on a simulated termite mound, not eating. There's moss growing on the base wall. It's a different story. But I find I like both.


The Photographer and the Writer

Getting my sense of life onto paper, whether between the blue lines of a notebook or on glossy photo paper, troubles me. The best way I can describe how I perceive is this: I stand on a slope, viewing the world from the side. Things roll or drift past, rarely uphill but sometimes, always obliquely. I follow them with my eyes and my sense of procipiation, that which tells me where my arm is in relation to my head, my trunk, my legs, etc.

A critic in a writing course I took last fall told me that she thought my writing sounded like I looked at the world like a camera. It was not an unkind remark, just a true one. The character I am developing in my current fiction project also happens to be a photographer. His goals for his work overlap with mine because the urges of the writer and the photographer overlap in me. The artisan who deals in the ways the light discolors pixels and the artisan who deals in the ways sound warps words both must pay attention to the details. Both must play, experiment, and ultimately share what they discover even if there is no money in it, which is usually the case for me. I can't give up my photography for my writing and I can't give up my writing for my photography. The two must coexist in me. There's no denying either impulse.

The photography attains hegemony over my creative life when I am on the road. Every night, I sit at my laptop, performing transfusions from my dinky Samsung digital onto my Compaq's hard disk. I save the writing for when I am in my own bed, at home. It's the time of "the second tasting", as Anais Nin confided in her journal. My notes and my first images are never final because both photo and notes can be incoporated in other projects, improved upon, revised, recolored, given an infusion of powerful verbs or a tweak of the contrast wizards.

In my visions of what it must be like to die, I find myself dreading two things, in this order: the loss of my sight and the loss of my hearing. But then, as I mention this, sitting as I am in Tully's coffee shop and later at my desk at home, I realize that there are other senses contributing to the being in this place: the cushiness of the big arm chair; the solidity of the chair's four feet hunched on the floor; the slightly terrible loose feel of my office arm chair rolling over the plastic carpet shield; the bittersweet relic taste of coffee-flavored ice cream topped with raspberry jam; the silver swish of a mouthful of water that redefines that flavor as it washes a little of it away. The writer and the photographer in me both love the details: the fuzz on the snout of a Malaysian hog; the half stumps left for the camels to rub themselves against; the gleaming opal light that are the eyes of a pair of zebras in the near dark of Horn and Hoof Mesa; the silhouette of a giraffe against the twilight; the caramel on raw sienna of the rhino in its enclosure by day. I love these things -- even the stink of the rhino's dung for which I have no means of photographing. The eye and the ear both love the details: the tiny pimples and pits on the rhino's hide; the wise, stark-raving mad harlequin mask of a red river hog; the distain of a koala turning its furry ass at onlookers.

"For God so loved the world," we might rewrite the epistle, "that He gave to us His only begotten Son to See, to Hear, to Smell His sweat, to touch His wirey Semitic hair, to taste the wine, the loaves, and the fishes He created through His miracles." The image and the word are crude bridges into something greater, into something good. Caress the detail as Nabokov advises, if you choose either art. Isolate it so that it is clear what the viewer's attention must focus on. The photographer does this by picking his background carefully, by cropping, by eliminating distractions. The writer does this by writing only about the things that must be in the story. Both succeed when they both fictionalize and tell the truth at the same time.


Advice from Self to Self

When you leave a place or situation, take count of your friends. This is how you will know them: Tell them what you actually believe led to your breaking with the past and then listen to their response. If they say "you're paranoid" or "you take things way too personally" or words to that effect, don't include them in the count. Denial in any way that you are capable of thinking for yourself or an outright rejection of your views because they upset a comfortable world view are good signs that there is no real friendship here. Real friends speak honestly and truly, they take risks in what they say to you but they also respect your feelings. They love you even if you have differences. Count these and these alone in the great book of life.

~ Friday, July 05, 2002


The elephant enclosure at the San Diego Wild Animal Park hurls its reeking tarp over your nose well before you see any elephants. The African enclosure stands to the left of the Wgaza Bush Line. It is set with fallen tree trunks and megalithic stones that almost make you believe that the beasts have material culture. The Indian elephants occupy the space to the right of the open car monorail. Their enclosure resembles a children's playground with rounded logs and frameworks that look like monkey bars. The Indian elephants either do not mind or the guides simply don't care about invasions of privacy. Visitors peer straight into the "bedrooms" which stand just off the railway. A crowd of Indian elephants habitually gathers near the amphitheater, where they remain on call for shows during the day. The Africans hide from the public view.

We only saw one of the former, trapped in a back pen along a side trail of the Kilamanjaro Safari Walk. A gigantic bull puttered around a foreshortened eucalyptus stump, marking the time by using the 700 muscles of his trunk to sway idly. He made me recall Emerson's famous diary passage about the snakes gliding in the hollow: the loxodont wasn't doing anything purposeful. Just rocking.

[Catching up on the week, especially Monday and Tuesday's adventures at the San Diego zoological parks. The elephants in the above photo are the same elephant. Oh the wonders of technology never cease! To be continued!]

~ Thursday, July 04, 2002

Flattery from a cat

Ambrose has grown accustomed to my ways and imitates some of them. Every morning as I eat my bowl of raisin-shrouded cereal in bed, he squats next to me. I finish the crumbs, slurp up the last drops of milk, and then present the beige stoneware bowl to him. He licks it clean.

I go to the bathroom. He saunters after me. While I perform my ablutions, he goes to the pink plastic water dish we've set there for our eldest cat, Tracy, who is perpetually thirsty. Ambrose dips his paws in the water and sucks them dry. I've asked Lynn if she has ever seen him do this with the bowls in the kitchen. She says "no". I must then conclude that little Ambrose has paid me a high compliment, that of doing in the bathroom the same thing he sees me going there to do: he's washing his hands.


An Irony of IRC

The nastiness of many channels is what holds these communities together and also prevents them from becoming mainstream. The crazies love chaos. The rest venture in once or twice, the thick-headed and the half crazy stay a little longer, and then stay away for good. A few determined people form channels of their own. The mark of an IRC channel's success is not numbers, but how long it survives. A clique can hold a channel open for a very long time, though few care to visit it.



It is a great victory that comes without blood.

I still op at Dalnet #peanut_gallery -- "the home of the not so naughty nurses" -- which is run by my longtime friend meaghan. As I expected, the surge of Sunday night did not translate into a permanent crowd, though some people make a regular visit of it on their own while others come if I /invite them and things aren't too interesting in #politics.

Sometimes I sink into rants about the silly conditions at #news_garden where they believe that words don't hurt and every person who gets attacked brings it on himself. I understand that my ardent detractors did a victory dance when word reached the channel of my resignation. Things have probably quieted down. I am beginning to fade from memories, except of course for the occasional crack in the /onotices.

The owner of #peanut_gallery and I have known each other for a long time. We hold similar views about the inappropriateness of hatred on a channel and we chat for pretty much for the same reasons which do not include heavy flirtation, ethnic insults, or character assassination. This will keep most of the #news_garden herd from flocking to #peanut gallery, but my taste for their beefs has been oversaturated by the brine.

It should be easier putting a stop to the channel disruptions. Unlike Plaguerat, meaghan trusts those she ops, though she does wisely restrict who can be opped -- a lesson she learned from me. Meaghan would not op someone for the purpose of revenge as I suspect might have been done to me at #news_garden. Plaguerat suggested privately in /onotices that he likes to op complainers and then hog tie them with a byzantine, constantly reinvented set of rules that no one else bothers to follow. His capacity to nag me for things that I never did but were common among other ops like baiting and opping people who did not have consensus was something amazing. #news_garden is a place supposedly run on consensus or, rather, to paraphrase Plaguerat, "always aiming for consensus" -- a very neat little trick that allows the channel operator to come down hard on dissidents while turning a blind eye to other abuses. Or so it seems.

Though I am glad to be rid of the insanity that was being imposed on me, I must add that I do not advocate any boycott of #news_garden (except for my own, personal one.) Telling my side of the story is one thing. Drawing lines and demanding that people be on one side or the other is quite different. I learned a long time ago that my friends will like people I detest. And I will have friends who hate each other. Telling people not to go to #news_garden is not now nor has it ever been in the cards.


Holocaust Denial

A group of semi-pro Holocaust revisionists attempted to pare down the widely accepted figure of six million people killed to a "mere" 300,000 on #politics last night. Several chatters shaved the dignity off a fellow who called himself The_Yeti and left him to dash naked through the freezing response to his insistance that the Holocaust really wasn't so bad. As always, they arrived in threes, hoping to prove by their absurd and bloodless martyrdom that they were the victims of a "Zionist conspiracy" to hold Christians guilty for the crimes of Hitler.

I have different grounds for concern about the use of the Holocaust as history by some groups. I hate how the seemingly impossible numbers of dead have made it easy for some to forgive lesser human rights crimes. Often, when you address yourself to unlawful detentions of political dissidents; or beatings in hidden cell blocks; or near drownings in concrete bathtubs; or the rape of conscientious objectors by their fellow violent prisoners; or the demolition of houses; or the security checkpoints that make it nearly impossible for Palestinians to cross their own towns in time to make it to university classes; or the smaller genocides that have happened to Mayan peoples or Amazonian Indians, you hear the excuse: "How can you compare us to Hitler?" They point to numbers, quantity, in the hope that you will not notice the nefarious nature of their practices. Because of Hitler, the Rios-Montt regime in Guatemala can pretend, with the help of full time conservative apologist David Horowitz, to be virtuous. Pol Pot could spend years executing educated people in Cambodia before he totted numbers large enough to impress The New York Times and the rest of the world's media. Because of Hitler, we think the manufacture of weapons of murder to be just another business. And worst of all, we assign all the blame for the insanity to Hitler, denying the part of our own leaders in following and expanding upon the example. This is why I curse the Holocaust. Would that the numbers were only 300,000 as some hope! We'd have a lower tolerance for the bastinado and the submarine torture; for the internal politics of the PLO; for the trudgeon and the sharp knives; for the rocket attacks on Palestinian self determination and the outright illegal seizure of land on the West Bank because some Israelies believe that they have a manifest destiny; for rapes by Chilean secret police and Serb occupation forces. But alas! the Nazis were efficient and deadened us with enormous body counts that only a few deny.


Writing from the Road

I almost can't write on the road. Strange beds; cars coming in and out of the motel parking lot at all hours; the need to take xanax so that I can sleep; the inability to follow my routine, especially the afternoon visit to Tully's; the constant company of my wife which I interpret requires my active entertainment; and my sheer exhaustion after hours of trotting through zoos, museums, historic places, or nature trails: these things conspire to place my voice on hold.

But I am grateful for my travels. The time is spent in pure learning. I listen and ask questions at nature talks and wildlife "encounters" where I learn that the heart of the North African desert fox beats at 700 throbs per minute when it pushes itself into high gear to snag a locust. If I am too discombobulated to use my keyboard or my rubber-cushioned pen, I document and create using my camera. I wait for those moments when the hippo rises to sniff a bit of air or look for those borders between the nitrous atmosphere and the heavier one of water. My mind still works creatively and when I come home to my familiar bed and when I return to the familiar chairs at the coffee shop, I am able to write almost as if there has been no interruption.

~ Monday, July 01, 2002

I am not a #news_garden op: I am a free man!

There's a theory of life that some people claim to follow: let the insults roll off your back. If they keep coming, the theory continues, it must be your fault, not the fact that the person delivering them has a self-control problem. There's no shaking the advocates of this belief when they are not the subjects of attack. What they actually do is channel the anger at undeserving people. I found myself doing this on #news_garden. I had it done to me and saw it done to other ops several times by the channel owner.

The more hours that pass from my resignation, the greater the feeling of relief. Doubtless some official version is out there and they are telling stories of my madness, as they have told stories of the madness of others who have given up in frustration and walked. That's the way things work in any clique: to perform character assassination on those who reject it. I am resigned to it. Eventually, they will turn on some other victim.

One friend who also left likened the channel to a kind of gladiator school. The chatters were the gladiators and the ops the crowd. No clear victories were allowed in this colosseum: they just liked to see the left and the right fight. I have witnessed the list owner go into self-recriminations about how he feels guilty about the times when he has baited people. I know he has baited me. He did so the other night with a couple of snyde comments he made on the channel about my knowledge of history. I ignored him and just went on talking with my other partner, clarifying my position as I went. I don't deny that I've done my share of baiting and I fell into it once or twice as an op. But observe: I have given up my op bit. He remains his own thrall.



It is altogether too trite to say that "power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely". I believe that power magnifies whatever corruption or other flaws are already present. Power or any situation for which you are ill suited will certainly show up your weaknesses.

I failed as an op because I didn't meet the expectations of the other ops. And what makes all the difference is that rather than continue my long failure and the frustration that goes with it, I decided to stop. One certain sign that things aren't going well is when you spend a lot of time in arguments over who is who's victims. For example, another op at #news_garden complained that I was "breaking down" her training as a "Southern lady" when I asked her not to call me "sir". The idea of egalitarianism as an imposition strikes me as "strange", but then, this same person routinely denied my hurts when her pet would start up on me. A common variation on the theme of denial of true victimhood is to blame an attack on the person being attacked. I've known a black woman to be targetted because she was black and told to avoid the problem in the future by simply not mentioning her color. On Saturday night I was told that a lesbian was to blame because she was open about her sexuality. The unwritten policy seemed to be that we must not be anything that upsets someone else.

Recriminations abound and I won't go into them here. I will say that I expect a certain natural course of emotion. Tonight is the elation. Tomorrow is the regret. Then comes the resignation. And finally the shoddy peace. From time to time when someone gets angry with me, they will remind me of my failure as an op. Others told me that I was a good op. But I wasn't. I doubt that I will go back to #news_garden. The place is not healthy for me.

I said to one friend: "I guess I am not strong enough. And you know what else? That's OK."

He replied: "That's a self disparaging way to put it. That's like saying an ace first baseman and .300 hitter is not strong enough to be an umpire."

All the kind words in the world aren't making me feel better about myself, but I am relieved. They can style themselves as the victims without my gainsaying them.

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