I am a textbook example of an alcoholic depressive. I never felt comfortable or okay or like I fit in. I was always comparing myself to others and coming up short. I sucked. Nothing would ever work out. I would get lost in fantasies about some far off future in which everything would suddenly work out perfectly for me, life would be easy and I would smite my enemies with battleaxes and fire, then a teacher would call on me and I wouldn’t know the answer. Happened a million times. I discovered alcohol when I was fifteen or so. Changed everything. When I was knee-walking drunk, I felt okay. Really, really okay. I never got the “ten-feet-tall-and-bullet-proof” thing that some drunks get, but I did get okay. I discovered punk rock around the same time, which was awesome. Suddenly having a shitty attitude and an aura of inarticulate angst was cool – well, nobody else thought it was cool, but they didn’t know about punk. I got an electric guitar – the red Hondo All-Star that I still have and still use – and a really crappy amp that some guy’s older brother built – it had car stereo speakers, I shit you not – and started thrashing. Senior year of high school, I noticed that another spazz/reject in the cafeteria had on plaid thriftstore pants. We got to talking, discovered we had a lot in common besides awkward taste in trousers: we both enjoyed punk, theft and alcohol. I had a girlfriend at that point and the three of us formed a band, the Impediments. We got the name from an article about the Replacements – they had originally been the Impediments, but had showed up drunk and played horribly under that name so many times that word had gotten around and they had to change their name to get gigs. I thought it was perfect. My girlfriend didn’t really care and the other guy was just killing time ‘til he could get the hell out of the Valley. I think he’s in Taiwan now. He and I “obtained” a drum set and he traded me his half of something else we “obtained” for my half of the drum set, so he was the drummer. My girlfriend was female and couldn’t play an instrument, so, obviously, she was the bassist. I owned a guitar.
What I wanted the Impediments to be was a synthesis of the loud, fast three-chord riff-rock of the early Replacements and the noisiest, freakouts of Sonic Youth. And I wanted to be drunk. Basically, the Replacements with less talent and more free-form feedback scree.
We had a few practices at my girlfriend’s house which basically consisted of drinking, setting up, drinking, playing the “Louie, Louie” riff, drinking, talking about how much we hated high school, me presenting some lyrics I’d written while not paying attention in class and the three-chord riff I’d come up with to accompany them, which was usually a variation on the “Louie, Louie” riff, and drinking. Sometimes we also smoked pot. Occasionally, we watched Rock’n’Roll High School. I actually convinced some college student I knew to let us play at a party at her house. The other Impediments were not as sure as I was that we should do it. They kept talking about the fact that we didn’t really know any songs. I was absolutely certain that if we showed up, drank a lot and attacked our instruments like we were trying to kill them before they killed us, we could blow minds and break hearts. As it happened, the other two didn’t show up at the party, the college student told me she’d only said yes because she thought I wasn’t serious and they wouldn’t let me drink their beer because I was a minor.
The Impediments did actually play publicly a few months later. Some kid’s parents were out of town the day after graduation so the kid had a party. I didn’t know the guy – I think the drummer knew a guy who went to another high school and that’s how we found out about the party. There were going to be bands playing on the back porch and a lot of beer. My girlfriend got thrown off a horse and broke her arm the day of the party, which seemed like a good omen since, according to the aforementioned article, the Replacements bass player had broken his arm the day of their first gig. I think he fell out of a tree. At any rate, the drummer and I went to the party and got drunk while some guys played B.T.O.’s “Takin’ Care Of Business” and shit like that. I don’t know if we’d forgotten our gear or if it was a conscious decision, but we were planning on using other peoples’ stuff. Nobody wanted to let us do that. When it started raining, everybody went inside and we saw our chance. We managed to make some goddawful racket for several minutes before the guys who owned the stuff we were banging around in the rain came out and threatened to kick our asses. That was pretty much the end of that band.
I am not sorry. I remain, to this day, 100% convinced that the Impediments was a grand idea. Sloppy, three-chord riffs and freakout noise made by angsty, drunk teenagers in cultural dead-zones is what keeps rock’n’roll alive. Oh yeah , I also wanted to do Hank Williams covers. That would’ve been awesome.
I was in a band or so after the Impediments, and I eventually married that girlfriend, who never did learn to play bass. The drinking and the drugging and the depression kept on getting worse. I quit playing guitar after I threw the red Hondo in a fit of punque pique and busted the humbucker (I eventually had another humbucker and two single-coils installed). The marriage didn’t last. I hadn’t felt okay in so long I didn’t know what okay was. Plus I kept developing new symptoms – agoraphobia, panic attacks, compulsive self-mutilation, aural and visual hallucinations, paranoia, psychotic breaks with reality, insomnia and on and on. I would go days without eating for no reason. Another girlfriend told me that sleeping beside me was “like sleeping next to an epileptic having a fit” – that I thrashed around and made weird incoherent noises all night. The nightmares were so horrible I would take speed to stay awake and then take a handful of downers so I could go straight to unconsciousness and hopefully miss the dreaming state, which never worked. I fucked up my liver so bad it stopped functioning properly. I had out-of-body experiences at inconvenient times. I was batshit crazy and I knew it, but knowing it only made it worse.
At any rate, I eventually got sober and started looking into mythology. I stopped arguing that there was no value in the world’s religions and became open-minded. I went to the local Community Services Board and got some selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors and I actually took them – and take them – as prescribed. I didn’t get all better overnight – Christ, I spent over a decade digging myself into a hole, I’m amazed that I survived – but I did get better. And better and better.
I haven’t had a drink or drug in a long time, thank gods. I no longer keep a loaded shotgun under the bed to defend my stash in case the feds/aliens/Mormons show up and/or I ever get up the nerve to blow my head off. I do still get mildly depressed occasionally, but thanks to the Rx, I don’t become catatonic and because of my spiritual condition, I’m able to just keep on keeping on. I’m able to pay my bills, play with my daughter, perform with my band, go hiking, ride my skateboard in the parking lot of the Baptist church up the street late at night…I have a good life.
Depression and addiction cost me years. Medication, myth and a lot of great friends gave me my life. I encourage anyone who suspects that they may have an emotional imbalance and/or problem with drugs/alcohol to seek help. The religions of the world, read metaphorically, were and are incredibly helpful to me. They might help you, too. If you do not have such an imbalance, you might still benefit from the myths – that is, after all, what they’re there for.
And if you happen to be a teenager with a cheap guitar, shitty amp and a couple of friends, don’t stop rockin’.
I am traveling in time. So are you and so is everyone. Or did you think you were sitting still? The future is an inconceivably vast and unknowable abyss into which we are all plunging at the dizzying speed of 3,600 seconds per hour, helplessly, whether we wish it or not, with little or no ability to determine our course and only the dimmest guess as to what we will encounter.
Well, I know one thing that’s going to happen: first thing tomorrow morning, I’m gonna call Southern States and have them come by and put some oil in my tank. I never remember to check the tank – there should be a fuel gauge on the house like there is in the truck so I’ll know when I’m running low. I’ve never run out of heating oil on Monday morning – always happens on Friday evening. The wee grrrl was at her Mommy’s house this weekend, so I decided not to pay extra for weekend oil delivery. I’m old and tough, a weekend of cold don’t bother me none. I lived in a house for several years that had no heating system whatsoever, plastic sheets over the windows. I don’t know why I didn’t install a woodstove in that place. I’d put a woodstove in the current digs, but I made the mistake of asking the landlord if that’d be okay and he said “no”. I shouldn’t’ve asked.
Anyway, the cold didn’t change my plans at all. I had a bunch of movies from the library and a big piece of art to work on. I watch movies on the computer which sits on the bed, next to the Tascam Mini-Studio, the wretched old four-track that so many BDSR releases were recorded on. The Tascam lives in its box now and makes a good surface for the huge book of watercolor paper that I do most of my art in, while sitting cross-legged on the bed. It’s a cozy set-up and the cold didn’t change anything except I kept a brown hat on and a sweater and socks on my hands with my right fingers shoved through the holes so I could hold a pen. I actually got more done than I would’ve if I’d had heat because I wasn’t wasting time on frivolous activities like washing dishes or folding laundry. The piece I’m currently doodling is a portrait of Rangda, the Balinese daemon queen. Rangda is one of my favorite naked, horrible, child-eating, death-dealing hag-goddesses. There’s a BDSR cd inspired by/in homage to her and her bug-eyed, hook-nosed, tusk-protruding face is on my left bicep, covering a bunch of crappy tattoos I got when I was stupid. Rangda is sorta like a smaller version of Kali, the most misunderstood of Hindu deities. Kali is generally thought, in the West, to be an evil, destructive goddess, like Satan in drag. She is, actually, the form that the Great Mother seems to have to those who resist the inalterable rush of time and tide. Try to fight the inevitable, try to hold on to your youth, beauty, fortune, anything, and you will know her as Kali the Destroyer, who tears from you everything you hold dear. The best part is that if you don’t try to hold on to any of those things, you will still know her as Kali the Destroyer. Kali is Kali and that’s that. All you love and cherish everything you believe in, every dream and desire will be swept into her gaping maw as soon as she decides to sweep it. Rangda will appear to you, sooner or later, doing her jerky dance, pendulous dugs swinging, huge mass of tangled hair shaking, long curved claws reaching into your breast to snatch away your life. The Cailleach Bheur will strike the ground with her staff (sometimes she uses a hammer), bringing the winter winds to freeze the world, including my place, right now. Resist if you like, it doesn’t matter.
Why are they female? Because nature is female and the hag goddesses represent the uncompromising forces of nature: the cycles of the year, the inevitability of death, the merciless ravages of time. The world/universe/Great Mother gives us life and takes it away. From her body we are born and to it we return. And she loves us all, loves us as infants at her nurturing breasts and loves us as food in her cavernous belly. This is all pretty basic stuff in some parts of the world, kindergarten Sunday school stuff. It strikes Westerners a little odd because we were raised up in a tradition that denies the existence of the Great Goddess. Be good, say your prayers, go to Heaven, says our tradition. Malarkey, says me, hogwash and malarkey. Heaven is not a shining city in the clouds, ‘tis a state of conscious where neither fears nor desires hold sway. Or is that Nirvana? Oh yeah, it’s both.
Heaven and Nirvana are eternal, another misunderstood concept. Eternity is not a long time; eternity is the absence of time, which the concept of time renders impossible. We can never grasp it because we are bound by what Immanuel Kant called “the forms of sensibility”, that is, time and space, the pairs of opposites, our dharma and so on, all of which are, in the Hindu view, inside the womb of the Great Goddess. Our entire universe is her womb and we the babies inside, swimming in the amniotic fluid, imaging that we have achieved something wonderful because we have learnt to wiggle our fingers and kick, but oh the shock we’ll get when the time comes for our birthing. I’m pretty sure babies don’t really want to be born. They may think they do – p’raps the womb seems a little confining – but they really don’t want to give up the comfort and security of the only world they’ve ever known any more than we want to die. Birth and death are the two doors of life – entrance and exit – so it’s natural that we pair them, as we pair male and female, good and evil, up and down, the pairs of opposites. As descendants of Adam and Eve, we are alive in this world, which is the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and Eve was really a handmaid of Kali, as Mary was a handmaid of God. You see how all these things mesh together? How the myths of the various corners of this fallen world fit together? That’s because they’re all telling the same story, the story of our bodies and spirits, which are not enemies as some would have us believe.
In the womb, we have our universe, but the Great Goddess is more than just a womb. Beyond all forms of sensibility, beyond time and space, beyond opposites, beyond the imagination, is where she really dwells and that is where we will dwell, too, when we have matured enough to be born into her presence. Maybe you’ve never seen an infant, only moments in this world, placed for the first time at its mother’s breast, but I have. I assure you, those little creatures know exactly what to do there and so will we. Death is nothing to fear. Hell hath no fury. All will be made clear in time, or rather, in timelessness.
For now, however, we are still ensnared in this world, with all its horror and delight, still being assailed by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, still being pulled this way and shoved that way by the needs and desires of our carnal bodies. If it wasn’t so funny, it would be terrible. But it is funny, really, the carrying on, the sturm und drang, the much ado about nothing, like a cosmic slapstick.
It helps; it really does, to immerse oneself in the myths. When things go awry, when suddenly we are reminded that ours is a fallen world, a whirlpool of suffering, a maelstrom of agony, a freezing Hell (unless you live in the tropics or in goddamn Iceland, where every home has free heat), it helps to meditate on the Great Goddess in her most honest of forms, as Kali, destroyer of even the Gods. And to know that she is past, present and future, and beyond those concepts as well.
Life is an awful thing, ain’t it? What can one do in such a reality, but laugh and plunge in? Of course we suffer, life is suffering. There’s nothing wrong with suffering. There’s no reason whatsoever why we should or must resist the pains of life. We are voluntary participants after all. Maybe we didn’t ask to be born, but we certainly are not being forced to continue to live. Suicide is an option.
Still, it isn’t an option I feel inclined toward today. In the morning I’ll call Southern States and order the minimum amount of oil they’ll deliver. I’ll drink coffee and see if I can reinstall that little piece that fell off the truck. I’ll get the sprat from school and see what she wants to do. Eventually, the house will be warm again and spring will prob’ly come sometime and then there’ll be flowers and butterflies and a new bike to teach the girl to ride and skateboards and lightning bugs, then summer and trips out to the woods to swim in creeks. I think I’ll actually take the girl on some overnight camping trips this year, maybe with a friend who is also a single dad with a small girl. We’ll roast marshmallows and not dogs and the girls will beg to be allowed to stay up later until they fall asleep in our laps. There are shows to play, recordings to record (maybe a cd inspired by/in homage to Kali), and mountains to climb and, of course, incarnations of the Great Goddess whose carnal bodies have needs and desires to be attended to.
The future is nigh upon us and there will be blood, but there will also be coffee, ambrosia and cunny juice. All things considered, I’ll take it.
The Spotted Opossum and I were playing in her room today, building towers with blocks, mostly, when she suddenly turned to me and said, very seriously, “Daddy, I don’t want to be an animal anymore.”
I could tell by her tone that she was not simply referring to pretending to be a kitty-cat or penguin or pony, animals which she frequently announces that she is: “I’m a kitty-cat!” This was something else, something which meant something to her, and I didn’t know what that was so I used one of the techniques I learned from being in therapy and from taking classes in how to be a therapist: I repeated her statement back to her. “You don’t want to be an animal anymore.”
She nodded and went on, “And I don’t want to be in my Mommy’s tummy anymore.”
“You don’t want to be in your Mommy’s tummy anymore.”
“No, because when I’m in her tummy it’s like she ate me and I don’t like that.”
I just let that hang for a minute. I was building a tower with blocks and she was rummaging around in her socks and underwear drawer for something.
“I think that when I die, after I die, I’m going to come back into my Mommy’s tummy and then be a little baby again and I don’t want to do that.”
The little grrrl is, at the time of this writing, three years and nine months of age. She’s a little clingy in strange places, but if she’s in a familiar setting – the kids’ museum, the skateboards-and-used-records store, the coffeeshop on Court Square – she’ll march right in with her elbows swinging and take over, shouting, singing, telling grown-ups how it’s supposed to be. She has blond hair, blue eyes, rosy cheeks and is ridiculously adorable. I know, everybody thinks their kid is adorable, but I’ve had total strangers coming up to me for three years and nine months, telling me that the little girl on my shoulders is the most adorable child they’ve ever seen. Seriously. Other parents will comment on my kid’s attractiveness right in front of their ugly little grubs. It’s bizarre. Her Mommy and I considered renting her out to advertising agencies, but decided not to because we were afraid it would make her neurotic and weird.
She’s bold and vivacious and wildly alive and sometimes she wants to talk about death. She learned about death last summer. The dog died. The old, blind, deaf, spotted dog died. I buried the dog out in the George Washington National Forest and took the girl out there the next day to show her where Trudy was. We’ve gone back a few times since. We put flowers and rocks and Fig Newtons on Trudy’s grave. We talk about how the energy went out of her body. Now her body is food for plants and trees and her energy has gone on to some other place, some mysterious place. I try to be clear and concise when I answer her questions about death. I tell her that no one really knows about death, but that I have beliefs which I share with her.
She told me one day that the energy part of Trudy, which we also call the “spirit”, came back as a Dalmatian puppy, “like one of those puppies in that moooooooovie. You know what movie I mean, Daddy?”
I don’t enjoy talking about death with the little girl. I don’t think that any parent enjoys talking about death with their child. It seems wrong somehow, discussing death with a person so vividly alive, so brilliantly far away from death. I always wish we could talk about cartoon ponies or how much we love cupcakes or how funny toots are, anything but death. But it must be done. The wee’uns have to learn what death is and since I’m not going to farm it out to some preacher or priest, I’m the one who has to tell her.
For myself, I’m cool with death. I consider it to be as natural as fucking or shitting. I’m absolutely certain that there is nothing to fear about death. I do not have an opinion regarding the state of the individual’s ego/consciousness/spirit/soul/monad/atman after the death of the body. Maybe something happens, maybe not. I’m willing to wait to find out. I want to pass this along, to convey to my daughter my assurance that death is okay, but it’s difficult. She gets all serious about it and makes a sad face and it makes me think about the fact that she will die, which is unpleasant. Nevertheless, I’m the grown-up, so I respond to her as naturally and easily as I can. I don’t bullshit her or talk down to her and I admit that I don’t know all the answers.
I never told her about reincarnation. As far as I know, she came up with that herself. The idea that an old Dalmatian would be reborn as a new Dalmatian seems a bit sophisticated for a three-year-old, but the sprat is as intelligent as she is beautiful, so I wasn’t too shocked.
Then this thing today – I don’t want to be an animal anymore and I don’t want to be back in my Mommy’s tummy, to be reborn as a human baby again. Someone else might interpret that a different way, but to me it’s pretty obvious that my little girl is saying that, having lived through countless incarnations in animal forms and countless incarnations in human forms, she is ready, in this lifetime, to quit the cycle of death and rebirth, to attain to Nirvana, to become Buddha. What else?
It is, of course, her business if she wants to dissolve into Nirvana. I won’t try to talk her out of it. I will, however, do my damnedest to model for her, and explain to her when she’s old enough to understand, why I have taken the Vow of the Bodhisattva, which is, briefly, that I will not seek Nirvana for myself until all other sentient beings have gone before me, that I will reincarnate in this world, with all of its pain and suffering and sorrow, again and again and again, for as long as it takes until pain and suffering and sorrow are no more. It’s a big undertaking and I have regretted it on more than one occasion, when I looked around at all the blithering idiots and realized I was going to have to bring them all to Enlightenment, but it’s not all bad. The world has many pleasures which I get to enjoy, of which being a Daddy is one. I would like it very much if my daughter decided to take the Vow and become a Bodhisattva like her old man, but I know she must make up her own mind.
It’s so odd when children speak of things like reincarnation and their desires to stop it. They usually seem like such silly little people that one easily forgets that they, too, are manifestations of the eternal and infinite One and are already far along their own paths when they are born. We, the parents, frequently forget that we may be changing the diapers of ones who are far more spiritually advanced than we can imagine, that they may teach us far more than we can ever aspire to teach them.
If my daughter becomes a Bodhisattva, she and I will both be reincarnating again and again and again until all sentient beings are enlightened. If she becomes a Buddha, our paths won’t cross again because she will have gone before me. That’s kind of sad for me. But ‘All life is sorrowful’ and all that Noble Truth jazz.
I may have said before and will certainly say again that I’m not a Buddhist, despite my love for and appreciation of all things Buddha, especially the Zen koans and Tibetan aesthetics. The reason I am not a Buddhist is I don’t agree with the Four Noble Truths, which are the foundation of Buddhism and which here follow:
- All living things suffer.
- Suffering is caused by attachment.
- Cessation of attachment is the end of suffering.
- The Noble Eightfold Path leads to the cessation of attachment.
That all living things suffer needlessly, senselessly and pointlessly in this miserable shitstorm is certainly true, no doubt about that. And said suffering can be traced back, in any and all cases, to some attachment or other, some fear or desire. After that, Gautama goes in the direction of saying “no” to life’s nightmare, which is where he loses me. I’m an alcoholic drug addict – I spent a dozen+ years saying “no” to life with the aid of every pill, powder and poison I could obtain through fair means or foul. I said enough “no” to life. Now that I’m clean and sober, I’m gonna say “yes” to it. All of it. That doesn’t mean that I don’t deplore arrogance, stupidity, cruelty, violence, malice and all the other awfulness, it means that I’m not willing to forgo the pleasures of life just to avoid the pains. The pleasures are more pleasurable than the pains are painful. Life is fucking worth it and I want it.
As we all know, Siddhartha Gautama was motivated to quit the world by seeing, on successive outings, a sick man, an old man, a corpse and a holy man. His thinking was, everyone gets sick, gets old and dies – a holy man, who has quit the world and is seeking a way to stop reincarnating, is attempting to stop reincarnating, to stop the process, to stop getting sick, aging and dying. That’s fine, but if you reincarnate, you get a new body, a new life. Why not focus on the renewal? Why not say “it’s okay that I’m going to get sick, get old and die, because when this meat-carriage is worn out, I’ll get a new one”? Why not say “I’m going to do all I can, accomplish all I can and enjoy all I can and if I don’t get everything done that I want to, I’ll just come back”?
That’s what I’m up to. I’ve got some plans and serious intentions and it’s going to take more than a few lifetimes for me to make the changes I have in mind. Actually, I’m glad Gautama is gone away to Nirvāna and isn’t here to get in my way. He was a nice enough guy, but a bit of a whiner.
So, if the girl wants to go on to Amitābha’s Pure Land or whatever, I’ll be sorry to see her go, but I’ll still be around, saying “yes” to all that life has to offer – good, bad and ugly – and building towers with blocks.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.