Took the Spotted Opossum to the Little Grill for blueberry pancakes. Ran into one of her friends, a wild-haired little imp, attended by a baby-sitter who was also a teacher at the grrrl’s old pre-school. We shared a table, the wee’uns had a good time kicking each other under the table and giggling about whatever inside jokes they were in on and I was able to treat everybody out of my employee food credit fund.
The girl and I got in the little red truck and rolled on out to the country. We bounced around a bit looking for the best possible spot and settled on Rawley Springs, one of our reoccurring playgrounds in the G. Washington Nat’l Park. The dam we worked on last summer was mostly knocked down – as I expected – so that gave us some work to do. We also had this little flower-pressing book from an arts’n’craftsy set she got for Xmas, so we looked around for flowers and leaves to press. And, of course, there were spiders and bugs to exclaim over, stare at and talk about. She wants me to pick up all the creepy-crawlies so she can see them, but she don’t wanna hold ‘em herself. No crawdads or tadpoles yet. They’ll come along.
We encountered a group of Indians – from India – who were out for out for a hike. They had some concerns about bears and snakes which I was able to address to their satisfaction. While I was talking to a couple of them, I noticed another one standing back and taking my picture. I had an image of how I might look to them – a bearded, tattooed American, wearing camo pants and a battered, brown leather hat, holding a little girl on his hip. I imagined them home, in Benares, showing their friends the picture of the rustic mountaineer they encountered, hanging out in the woods with his daughter – the same way American tourists talk about the exotic people they met when traveling. It was an amusing thought. I was glad to run into them, glad to be able to tell them they didn’t have to worry about bears – they all stay away from where people are – or snakes – we have some dangerous varieties, but they won’t be out and about for a few weeks.
There was one scary moment – I left the girl alone for a minute to take a picture of something. I explained to her where I was going and she said she wanted to stay where she was to do what she was doing, so I gave her the standard line about staying out of the water ‘til I got back and went. I was gone for a minute or so and when I got back she wasn’t where I left her.
Friends, I know a bit about myth and folklore. I know that there are many stories about magicians whose hearts are not in their bodies – they have removed their hearts and stored them in some protected place. This prevents them from aging and they cannot be killed by direct attack. Usually, these are dark magicians; the hero has to find the hidden heart and destroy it to stop the magician’s evil works. In faery tales, giants = parents/adults, so maybe these stories have to do with parents, I dunno, but I sure do know what it’s like to have one’s heart located outside of one’s own body. Any parent knows that.
In a trice, I was thigh-deep in the river, spinning around and hollering her name. My daughter is the only person I’ve ever met who is more important to me than me and she was not where I left her. That’s a form of terror that I can’t put into words. Parents understand; others can’t.
I saw a little blond head through the bushes up the trail. She had gone after me, heard me call and, running back to me, had tripped on a root and fallen down. We had missed each other in crossing because I didn’t come back along the trail – I took a shorter, more direct course. She was crying because she fell and I was kinda dazed by the wave of fear I’d felt, but we got through it. She does need to learn to be okay by herself for short periods and I need to learn that she can handle it. That’s part of facilitating her developing need for independence. I’ve left her alone for a minute or two before and she was fine… just one of those things, I guess.
After five hours, we’d eaten all our trail mix, pressed a bunch of foliage, rebuilt the dam and she was sprawled out on a rock with the towel pulled over her like a blanket so it was time for heading home. Back at the shack, dinner, activity books and puzzles, finally off to bed.
And why is this “Bridge Of Dread”? Well, it’s like this: Sub Rosa released a double-cd set of works by Angus MacLise, The Cloud Doctrine, back in ’04 or so. I was already a fan of the man’s musical explorations so I snapped it up. It’s all impressive, but “Universal Solar Calendar” really jumped out at me. The piece is MacLise reading a loooooong list of seemingly random phrases which I soon realized was his naming of the days of the year. I did some research and was eventually able to orient MacLise’s calendar to the Gregorian and ever since then I’ve christened my day-planners by going through and writing in the name of each day. Sometimes, I need a title for a piece and nothing is coming to mind, so I check the name of the day when I completed the piece.
“The Supernatural Bride”, an acoustic guitar mediation that was the BDSR side of a split cassette with Matt Riley was recorded on the day Angus MacLise named “The Supernatural Bride”. “Days Of The Zenith”, a track on From Pussys To Death And Back Again/Eternal Freakout, was recorded during the series of days named “First Day Of The Zenith” through “Fifth Day Of The Zenith”. An early BDSR cd, The Transcendental Outhouse, which was a tribute to Angus MacLise and contained his reading of “Universal Solar Calendar” covered in sludge, was centered around a live show recorded on the day he named “The Transcendental Outpost”. I tweaked that one slightly.
An unintended, but welcome, consequence of using MacLise’s day names this way is that certain days are fixed in my memory. Whenever I look at my planner and see that the day is “The Transcendental Outpost”, I remember that show, in that damp basement, in that apartment where I painted a huge, day-glo Jolly Rodger on my wall with the slogan “Some Day, Some Happy Day”, where the Spotted Opossum was conceived, where her mom and I split up. “The Supernatural Bride” was a different apartment, the girl was a toddler. “Descent Of The Host”, which hasn’t been released, was this place right here, where I’m sitting right now and the name of the day I’m writing is “First Day Of The Zenith”, so we’ve come back around to that, and the memory I have is that creaky glider-chair where I sat in the middle of the night, recording Pussys To Death, exhausted from twelve-hour workdays, but determined to plow ahead.
I didn’t realize when I first wrote “Universal Solar Calendar” in a day-planner that I was setting myself up to experience the annual cycle in a new way – new to me, but not new. Holy days are supposed to function this way. Michaelmas, Candlemas, Good Friday, St. Stephen’s Day – the Church calendar is peppered with saints and special observances. All the religions have their ways of designating the passage of the year, ways of marking out specific days and linking them to memories. This teaches us to know the individual days of our lives as unique, while also illustrating the steady march of time, which leads inevitably to death and then on to whatever happens after that. It’s a good system.
I want to remember taking the Spotted Opossum out to Rawley Springs to press flowers and play by the creek. It was a good day, the first day warm enough to go out there and get in the cold, clean mountain water. It was a wonderful daughter/daddy day, boo-boo and all, in the midst of a season of troubles and strife. Things ain’t exactly as I would wish them to be, but I did have that day with the girl and that day will now be associated with “Bridge Of Dread”.
This is pretty much how I operate. I stumble into things. When I became a vegetarian, I was motivated by some sort of vague sense that maybe being a vegetarian would somehow be a desirable thing. Eventually, I began to associate my abstinence from meat, fish and fowl with the dietary restrictions imposed by various religions. I am morally opposed to factory farming and I believe that consuming massive amounts of animals is unhealthy, but I’m a vegetarian because being a vegetarian causes me to be aware of my relationship with Divinity. I stumbled into the “Universal Solar Calendar” as a way of designating the days of the year and marking them out in my memory. I follow the inspirations and see where they lead. And I heartily encourage other people to do the same.
When one is open to the influence of spirits and/or Spirit, that influence comes. Intuitions and weird ideas float in, wanting to be made manifest. It takes a little practice to figure out which ideas are ego bullshit and which ones are inspirations – I get tripped up occasionally. Mistakes are part of the learning process. Generally though, I find myself stumbling happily along, realizing after the fact that some random thing I did for no known reason has influenced me in ways I never coulda/woulda seen coming.
I'm sitting in a room. Specifically, the basement of the Blue Nile, an Ethiopian restaurant here in Harrisonburg, VA. We used to play here a lot, back when I worked in the kitchen and could badger the soundguy for shows all the time. After I left, I didn't see him as much and we haven't played here in a year or so.
The line-up tonight is Helgamite, some heavily bearded, corrugated metalheads frfom up in Luray, Joey Molinaro, a grindcore violinist from New York or some such Yankee state, us, and the Subtlerrrs, a band I never heard of who were added to the list by the soundguy, probably because there's some possibility that somebody might want to hear them and the night won't be a total loss. I've been in touch with Molinaro via the www for a while, but this'll be the first time we play a show. Hopefully, he'll get here sometime soon.
It's St. Patrick's Day. Five years ago, I was sitting in the waiting room of a hospital in Charlottesville, VA, waiting for the Spotted Opossum. I was vaguely wondering how I'd handle a St Patrick's Day birth. I am, by nature, prone to think about such things and I was wondering what kind of sacrifice I should offer to Patty as thanks for a happy, healthy delivery. A goat? A potato? In the event, the wee grrrl didn't arrive until 3am the following morning. She was a tiny thing.
Today, I spent the afternoon with her. She was all about watching My Little Pony and not a bit happy that I still don't have internet at the apartment. I made her put together a puzzle instead. I am that parent - the one who doesn't have an Ipad or TV or internet or any of that cool shit. When this snow melts off, I'll be dragging her out to the woods and making her swim in creeks, capture small varmints and roll around in mud. Actually, I don't have to make her do that stuff. She is my child, after all. Given the chance, she'll wander along a creek picking up quartz crystals and fresh-water mussel shells all day long. It's only when she's inside that she wants to zone out in front of a glowing screen.
Since I've been away from this, I've been working a lot at the Little Grill, a collectively-owned restaurant. I discovered that place when I was 16. It was amazing. There was always something going on - poetry reading, play, bands. The bands then were mostly of the rural variety, bluegrass, country blues, folk, but there were enough rock, punk and just fucked-up noise bands that you never knew what was gonna go down. I lost my virginity in a car in the little Grill parking lot. After, we went inside to see the band.
And the people who worked there then were all cool as fuck. I was 16, so guys in their mid-twenties who drank and did drugs and were in bands were like demi-gods to me. They put up with me pretty well, I guess. I was an obnoxious little piss-drunk kid.
Eventually, a new owner got the place and immediately fired me. I can't say he was wrong.
Over the years, I've mostly avoided the place. I worked there briefly in '06. Got mad and walked out. Last summer, it started to seem like signs were telling me to apply and I always pay attention to that. Even with my shoddy history, they hired me. I announced my intention to become a worker/owner a month or so ago. The A&E recently took a job with a band based out of Nashville (or Ashville, I'm not sure) and the A&E slot fell in my lap. I had been plotting for months how I was gonna take it over, but it just happened without me doing anything.
I've been pretty clear about my agenda. In the past decade or so, the Grill has lost it's way as far as music is concerned. Its all folk now. Folk and old-time. The kinda stuff they play on NPR on Sunday afternoons when old hippies are napping. Boring, hackneyed shit.
No more. Obviously, I'll have to keep some of the boring dreck, but a new day is dawning at the Little Grill. All the freakish glory of my teenage years with none of the vomiting and suicidal hangovers.
Helgamite is destroying. These guys are louder than anybody needs. Molinaro showed up. I sent him looking for the soundguy, who is hiding someplace. I think the Helgamite bassist is sitting in with BDSR tonight. I never know what the fuck is happening with my band. Or why. Molinaro wants to play third, which puts BDSR in the #2 position.
I was hoping to get a recording from the soundboard, but apparently that isn't possible, so it'll be the standard ghetto, sounds-like-shit muddle that we've all come to know and love.
I have just been informed that the Subtlerrrs will be next, then Molinaro and BDSR last. This is how it always goes down. There's some blond with a Eurotrash haircut roaming around making me wanna, Drummer Boy is rockin' out, the order is changing, the soundguy is cranky. Typical. This afternoon, I was kinda hoping the show would be cancelled. I always kinda hope the show will be cancelled on the day of. I'm not a person who wants to be in the spotlight. I do it and I actually do enjoy it when I'm up there and everything is coming together like it's s'posed to, but I'm much more comfortable climbing a mountain or drawing or picking up mussel shells with the grrrl or cooking on a flatgrill or driving my truck or just about anything. I have stage fright - that's part of why I wear the medicine hat. It allows me to get in character, to get out of myself. And when the noise is full-on, cored-out and rolling, I get really far out of myself. Sometimes, when I'm performing I really do love it. Sometimes.
The college girls in green plastic hats just fled. I'm surprised they were here as long as they were. Molinaro told me his tour is going good, which is good. Hopefully, he'll get enough money from the door to cover his gas to the next gig.
And why is BDSR last? How does that make any fuckin' sense? I used to be able to count on us getting the opening slot.
The Subtlerrrs are setting up. I've been talking to dudes in local bands, telling them I'll be the booking guy at the grill, trying to generate some interest. Most dudes in bands just wanna play shows, so it ain't hard. I should have no trouble getting two or three bands every Friday without repeating too often. Outta towners are always welcome, of course.
I always feel weird sitting around in bars waiting for someone to tell me it's time to play. I was never into the whole bar scene. When I was a drunk, I avoided bars as a rule - too expensive and I was prone to becoming somewhat antisocial after I reached a certain level of drunk. Incapable of decent behavior. Getting drunk in a bar was too likely to end in arrest or brutal beatdown. Now I find myself sober sitting in bars.
The Subtlerrrs are reading Genesis. The guitar has a no-name guitar. It ain't even a Silvertone. I'm playing the black, left-handed Hondo tonight. Standard tuning. Black X wanted to switch to open E - I usually work in some D-based tuning. It seemed easier to just tune standard than tune to open D and raise eveything a step. Standard tuning has it's uses. I'm not opposed to standard; I just like variety. Actually, standard tuning is a change of pace for me. At home I've been fucking around a lot in DADAAD.
These guys are pretty good. I gotta get contact info.
I also gotta get working on this piece of art I brought. Pen work, easy and portable. I've got a visual art show in April and I need new stuff.
I'll try to get stuff up here more often.
So, I haven't posted in a while because I've been busy and because the word program I was using was actually a temporary thing that my mom had on this computer and it ran out or stopped working or some such and I'm trying to figure out how to get another one without, ya know, paying for it.
And I been busy. All good stuff - work, daughter, art, music, snow, good things. I set up a BDSR Bandcamp and put up a bunch of songs. But I haven't been doing this thing, which I don't feel good about because I usually do three or four a month and I feel like I should put something up once in a while at least. So, enjoy some photos of my mom's back yard which she also left on this computer.
Oh yeah, uh, religion is the best thing people ever came up with. I haven't been depressed or dropped acid. I rode my skateboard to the mailbox and back t'other day. I'm reading The Gateless Gate again - it's awesome. My daughter turns five next month! Holy Shite, seems like just yesterday she was in diapers. Not Noise, meditation, look both ways, smell the coffee.
I was in the car with the Spotted Opossum recently and out of nowhere she said "Daddy, you know how your wish came true?"
"Some of my wishes have come true, Honey. Which one do you mean?"
"When I was still in my Mommy's tummy, you wished that I would be a girl. You remember that?"
"Yeah, I remember that. I thought it would be fun to have a girl." I really did kinda hope for a daughter, but of course I wouldn't have been upset if it had gone the other way. I told her I had wanted a girl one day when she was talking about how much she prefered girls to boys. She's really opposed to boys right now, with a few exceptions. Boys are too rowdyand rough and don't follow the rules the way they should and they have little or no appreciation for cartoon ponies.
"Well, my wish came true, too, because you're my Daddy."
I teased some clarification out about that statement and what it came to was that, before she was born, when she was still with God, she wished that I would be her Daddy and her wish came true. I am her Daddy. She says things like that occasionally, incredibly touching and loving statements that make my heart swell and give me the ability to tolerate countless tantrums, fits and random bouts of obstinance. I'm sure all parents have stories about when their brats said amazingly sweet and endearing things.
The notion of a crowd of babies hanging out in Heaven waiting to be born is one we're all aware of, whether we actually believe in it or not. I don't know where it came from, certainly not the Bible. The Judeo-Christian tradition, which includes Islam, holds that all individuals exist in the mind of God before they are created, but there's no Biblical evidence that those individuals have any way of determining or influencing where, when or to whom they will be born. No before-life existence is postulated: the soul enters the body at the same time the sperm penetrates the egg, the individual lives for as long as they live and then go wherever God decides they should go, according to His Divine Judgement, which seems kinda arbitrary and harsh at times. I don't know where we got the idea of a Heavenly nursery filled with baby souls waiting to be born, but it seems to be associated, in my mind at least, with storks.
Eastern religions, of course, do offer a before-life existence. Hinuism, Buddhism and all their various tangents and offshoots postulate reincarnation. Souls, or monads, pass through physical bodies repeatedly. One's actions in any given lifetime determine the circumstances one will be born in next time, a theory known as karma. This is generally presented as a system of justice: if you're and asshole in this incarnation, you'll come back as a dung beetle, so be nice. John Lennon was using that idea with "Instant Karma". It's slightly better than the idea that you're going to burn in Hell forever and ever and ever for consensual sodomy or picking up sticks on the Sabbath, but only slightly. I personally find it hard to believe that the Universe turns according to such a petty little reward/punishment mentality. Reward and punishment are educational tools, not ends in themselves. I reward my daughter for good behavior and punish her for bad behavior because I'm trying to teach her certain values.Kicking people when you don't get your way is wrong because it hurts the other person, not because it results in no dessert. My goal is to instill in my daughter the idea that hurting other people is wrong in itself. Withholding dessert is a way of getting her attention and illustrating that actions yield consequences. The Law of Causality is one that Hinduism and Buddhism establish first and transcend later. I'll do what I can to help the grrrl transcend the cause/effect dichotomy when she gets to that stage, but first she's gonna have to stop kicking me when I say she can't watch just one more episode of "My Little Ponies".
Karma is an impersonal force like gravity. Karma isn’t doing anything to us. Karma just is. We can learn from karma, but first we have to think of it as a thing we learn from, as opposed to a Thing that punishes or rewards us according to some Celestial Code of Conduct.
I like the idea that we have some choice regarding our education, that there is a period between incarnations when we are at one with the One – Brahma, God, Wakan Tanka, or as a friend of mine says, the Great Whatever – when we are freed from our temporal attachments and concerns and can look at our progress without bias, when we can look with “eternal eyes” if you will. Seeing ourselves and our growth from this perspective, we can evaluate what we’ve learned and decide what we need yet to learn. I see the period between incarnations as a break between college semesters when we can sit down, look over the classes being offered and figure out what options would best educate us.
Accordingly, I choose to believe that when I was last between incarnations, I chose to be reborn as a white male, mostly heterosexual (I confess to having a slight crush on Daryl Dixon, the redneck character in The Walking Dead, though that might be because I like to think I’d be that much of a badass in the Zombiepocolypse), in 1969, to certain parents, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, USA, with a predisposition toward drug and alcohol addiction and a uni-polar depressive disorder. I chose this life because it offered me the best opportunities to get the education that my eternal Self knew it needed. The fact that that could be a steaming load of happy horseshit doesn’t change the fact that holding that belief gives me a sense of control over the circumstances of my birth and encourages me to look for the lessons, the growth opportunities in my life. Life doesn’t give me lemons. I chose a life that includes some lemons for reasons that I do not presently understand, but I did choose it. And I chose education for the sake of education, not because it was a means to an end. That’s where the idea of incarnations as college semesters breaks down. Most college students are in college to get degrees that will lead to jobs, not because they want to learn, an unfortunate result of living in a goal-oriented, materialist culture, but the metaphor still has value.
It is right and good, therefore, that I embrace the lessons my life offers, whether they are easy or difficult, comfortable or painful. Most assuredly, I do not enjoy every lesson. When I was in college, I liked some classes and hated others. Abnormal Psyche was lots of fun; Introduction to Statistics sucked. I have liked some teachers and hated others. I have had to repeat some courses many times. Fortunately, I got Pell grants for college and there is no tuition for life. I have not used my degree professionally – I’m not even sure where my diploma is at this moment - but the process of getting it did have profound effects on how I live my life. Some of the information I got at college has come in handy: anybody who intends to become a parent should learn a bit about childhood development and behavior modification. Mostly though, the three years I spent getting a two-year degree changed my perceptions of myself and my abilities, altering my life trajectory in profound ways that I do not yet fully comprehend. It’s important to remember that one doesn’t have to fully comprehend the educational process for it to work.
Remember The Karate Kid? What’s-his-name had to wax all Mr. Miyagi’s cars in order to learn how to block a punch. That’s classic Japanese-style education. You do what the teacher says even though you don’t see what it has to do with the education. Later, it all makes sense.
The problems that I face right now are lemons that I have to wax. I don’t know what I’m going to learn in the process, but I have reason to believe I’ll learn something. I always have.
It follows then that my daughter, who I consider a more advanced monad than myself, chose to be enrolled in a semester of life as a white female, of as-yet-undetermined sexual orientation, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, USA, with me as her Daddy. Her statement about “wishing” to have me as her Daddy meshes perfectly with my own beliefs about incarnation as education and I have no reason to doubt her. That I frequently doubt my own fitness for the job means that I am a person who frequently doubts his own fitness for anything. Beneath that temporal insecurity, deep down at the eternal core, I must know that I am exactly fit for the task. She knows it too.
I still have to study and work, of course. I still have to try hard to do well. I do believe that my actions will yield results on some level. A friend – another recovering alcoholic – once said that alcoholics who die drunk come back as dung beetles. I replied that alcoholics who die drunk come back as alcoholics until they finally learn to stay sober, which my friend agreed was a harder lesson.
I want to enter every learning situation with a positive attitude. It doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes I get frustrated with my apparent lack of progress. Sometimes other people get frustrated when I haven’t learned things they think I should’ve learned – that happened at work last night. I try not to be too hard on myself because I find it doesn’t help. Obviously, it behooves me to extend that attitude to other people. The person who scolded me for fucking up at work last night was working with incomplete information – the fault was not all mine – but she was partially correct, so rather than argue with her about how somebody else’s fuck-up fucked me up, I just accepted what she said. Some of the fault was mine and I need to work on that.
I’m going to go get the Spotted Opossum from school in a bit. We will not be watching My Little Ponies today. I’d be okay with watching one episode, but I don’t want to deal with the fit that will happen when she wants to watch a second one and I say “no” so I’m just going to nix the whole Ponyville gang entirely. She’ll be cranky, but hey, she’s the one who picked me to be her Daddy.
I’m writing this in the last couple hours of 2013. It’s been a hectic few weeks since I put anything up here. Shit’s been falling apart.
The Toshiba has been showing signs of rough usage for some time. You know, bits falling off, little quirks, special knowledge required to get things to happen. It went mute a few months ago, which meant I had to burn cdr’s and go for a drive to listen to anything I was working on. In mid-December, the power cord wore through. The thingie that plugs into the back was already pretty hinky and it turned out they don’t make those anymore, so replacing isn’t an option, which left me without a computer for a couple weeks. That’s why I ain’t posted.
There’s also some car trouble – my ignorant guess is that it needs a new head gasket. I’ve done that job on older cars with simpler engines, so I might be able to pull it off. We’ll see. I sure can’t afford to have somebody else do it, even though the garage where I get inspections is pretty cheap.
Both roomies bolted. One has been talking about it for months, did it all right and on the up. The other one…not so much. I heard a rumor she was moving, asked her about and yeah, she’s out in ten days. No reason to think she would’ve told me if I hadn’t asked. Utilities are in her name so I assume she was just gonna leave me with no power and water, which is no worse than I would’ve expected really. She ain’t what you’d call a friend. I needed a place to live. I’m on a separate lease, so my rent don’t change, but the utilities’ll go up. Meh.
Then there was Xmas. I am a huge fan of the pagan celebration of the winter solstice and I don’t mind at all that the Xians pasted the birth of Jesus on top of it. They got all the imagery right, that’s for sure: the birth of the Sun God/Son of God, the miraculous birth, the evergreens, all of it merges smooth and works well. Until it all went commercial as shit. I’m not exactly sure when that happened. I’m sure somebody has been complaining about how the “real meaning of Christmas” is being forgotten since the year 2, but I’d put it in the 1950’s, since that’s when most of everything started to really go to shit in the USA. I haven’t done a lick of research on that one and I’m not going to. Xmas has been steadily getting more and more horribly anti-Christlike for as long as I can remember. The past few haven’t been too bad for me personally – my daughter is all caught up in the magic of it, believes in Santa Claus, loves every bit of it. I enjoy her enjoyment and I focus on what the Yuletide means to me. It works.
On Xmas day, we got up. She ran out to the livingroom and came running back yelling “Daddydaddydaddy! He was here!” It was cute. We saw some kinfolks, I took her to her Mommy, who took her to visit her family in godforsaken New Jersey. I had to endure a bit more relatives, but the food was good. One complaint I don’t have is that my people can’t cook. I ate all there was that didn’t have dead animal in it, sat around and listened to pudgy, bald guys talk about hunting and football and got out. Leaving the family thing on Xmas is always a giddy experience: it’s the furthest I can ever get from the next Xmas.
Here’s a thought: how about if we just don’t have Xmas occasionally? I’m thinking we take every fifth year and just don’t do it. No Xmas in years that end in 5 and 0. Wouldn’t that be cool? We’d all be able to get through December without the hectic, bombastic stressfest for a change. We could still give gifts to people if we wanted, get together with friends and family, donate to charities. We can do those things anytime we want, Xmas or not. Just think how nice it would be to be able to go to the grocery store and not have to hear some idiot ringing a goddamned bell. If we liked it, we could increase it to every other year. Maybe we’d eventually eliminate Xmas altogether, which would actually mean it would be celebrated by friends and families on 25 December, at home, with a good meal and some simple gifts, the way it was until the 1950’s or whenever.
Anyway. The grrrl went to NJ for a couple days. I worked both jobs (Isaiah 48:22). She came home and we’ve been tolerating each other pretty good for a few days. We’ve had a couple spats, but we get along pretty good most of the time. Things’ll get back to normal soon enough.
Nana gave me this weird little computer that I’m using now. She got it a few years ago, never really took to it. I had no trouble getting it working, though it did need one-hundred-twelve updates. I’m not kidding. “Now installing 1 of 112 updates. Please do not turn off your computer…” I had to download Google Chrome to check my email. I installed the sound program I’m used to and I’ve started fucking with sound again, which is fun. As I type this, in bed, sleeping Spotted Opossum beside me, I’m listening to Shinki Chen’s Shinki Chen & Friends, a fine slab of 70’s Japsyche straight off youtube, which I hain’t been able to do for a while. I still gotta get all the shit from the old box to this one, but I’m not worried.
2013 was a fine enough year. I moved twice, which was less than the year before. Swear to gods, if I can put some cash together, I’m buying a cabin out in the woods and never moving again. The little red truck runs like a top. BDSR released a bunch of new stuff. The line-up right now is a good one, possibly soon to be augmented with clarinet and flute. Seriously, there may be a clarinautist and a flautist joining the din. I can’t imagine how esoteric that would be.
Another thing happened. There’s this guy in town, another musician-type, we’ve had some bad blood between us for years. There’ve been times when I’ve wanted to make that right, but there’ve also been times when I’ve stirred shit up. Mostly I’ve just let it alone. Guy came up to me one day to tip me off about some LP’s he thought I’d be interested in at the local skateboards and used records shop. I was dealing with the grrrl, who was pitching a fit about something at that moment, so I couldn’t really engage with him, which may have been better. Small steps. I sent him info about the “Crazy Bush’ compilation, invited him to contribute a track. He said he’d put something together. So – may be that we’re both ready to move on. One shouldn’t look too far ahead with this sort of thing, but I’m hopeful. Decreasing the amount of negativity in my world is something I always hope for.
Been feeling the bite of poverty, man. Getting all Zen about it. Nothing like poverty to help ya get all Zen. Then again, I picked up a copy of Dennis Tedlock’s Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition Of The Mayan Book Of The Dawn Of Life And The Glories Of Gods And Kings at the free book stand in front of Downtown Books recently and I’ve been reading that. I haven’t figured out if the Mayans had anything like Zen, but they had some good shit going on, that’s for sure. Solid Twin Hero stuff, very popular all over the Americas. And I just realized, just now this moment while I was writing, how I can use that looped sample I made this afternoon and a section of the Popol Vuh that I wanted to do something with when I read it last week. Those two elements might just fit together exactly right or I might have to bend ‘em a little, but I think it should work. Ha.
Ah…uh….the Shinki Chen thing ended a couple paragraphs back. I switched to Taj Mahal Travellers July 5, 1972, which is a whole ‘nother trip. Also, it’s about to be 2014.
See ya on the other side.
1976, London, a handful of teenage girls decided to start a band. When I say “teenage”, I mean fourteen to sixteen. A couple had passed through short-lived early punk bands, but none of them really knew how to play their instruments. The only one with any massive natural talent was the lead singer, Ari Up, a German-born spitfire in possession of an amazing voice. The Slits exploded onto the scene, opening for the Clash a year after forming. They were riotous, chaotic and utterly bratty. Drummer Palmolive couldn’t keep a steady beat, so the din pulsed, speeding and slowing according to her irregular patterns. Original guitarist and bassist Kate Korus and Suzy Gutsy were soon replaced by Viv Albertine and Tessa Pollitt. Ari Up had a habit of lifting her dress to show audiences her panties.
There may have been all-girl rock bands before the Slits. The Shaggs were around, but they don’t really count because they were forced to be a band by their father, who had received a message from God or something, and they were never any good. Possibly, some record company scum had put together an all-female group for novelty’s sake, like the Monkees with boobs. Probably there were others that never made it out of the garage. The Slits were, to the best of my knowledge, the first self-starting, all-female band in rock. And they named themselves the Slits. That’s nailing the flag to the mast.
Some live recordings of the early Slits exist, but are hard to come by. They were in The Punk Rock Movie, toured with the Clash again and learned to play. Palmolive left, to be replaced by Budgie, later of Siouxsie and the Banshees, which tightened up the rhythm section. They embraced reggae, landed a record deal and released Cut, which featured the three female members wearing only loincloths and mud on the cover. Neneh Cherry, daughter of jazz great, Don Cherry, added vocals on the album. Budgie would eventually be replaced by Bruce Smith, drummer for the Pop Group, but publicity photos would almost always exclude the boys. (Budgie can be seen far off in the background in one of Cut’s inner photos.) The Slits were willing to have a guy pound skins, but they were female-led and girl-powered. They toured like mad, released a load of singles and another album, Return of the Giant Slits, and broke up in 1982.
Palmolive formed the Raincoats after leaving the Slits. Viv Albertine made films for the BBC and British Film Institute. Ari Up moved to some jungle in Indonesia to live with head-hunters, eventually returning to music with the New Age Steppers. A version of the Slits reappeared in ’05, featuring Ari Up, Tessa Pollitt and Hollie Cook, daughter of Sex Pistol guitarist Steve Cook. Ari Up died of cancer in 2010, aged 48. Her death was announced by John Lydon (aka JohnnyRotten), who was her stepfather, having married her mother back when the Sex Pistols were a going concern.
Everything about the Slits is fucking awesome. They were children when they started, girls, who came out of the gate raucous and defiant, kicking down barriers and not letting anything get in their way, not even their inability to play. They took the sausage-fest of rock by storm, transformed themselves almost overnight into a dancehall/punk assault unit, attacking gender stereotypes and flying in the face of what girls were supposed to be, naked and filthy. They had brass ovaries and when it was time to quit, they quit. They laid the foundation for chicks in punk, creating the look and attitude that would later become Riot Grrrl. Anyone who cares fuckall about feminism should be required to own Cut. Anybody trying to raise up a ferocious little girl should be slipping that one into the player as often as possible.
The Big Drum In The Sky Religion has mostly had male participants. The first performing incarnation featured a couple women, anarchists who were in it more for the opportunity to tell their friends they were in a crazy, noisy improve band than because they actually intended to actually do anything. Italian Ice, my adopted little sister and my daughter’s unofficial goddess-mother, got in pretty early and is still in whenever she’s around. She tends to spend a lot of time in third-world jungles. Puddle Creature played a few shows and was on a couple releases before disappearing into the blighted suburban wasteland that is Northern Virginia. JuJu “Dallas” Sweetlime tore some amazing, fucked up lounge jazz out of a Wurlitzer keyboard and threw down some random vocals until she moved to NYC to mooch cigarettes and blow off hipsters. I managed to coerce C.C. LaLucha into tickling some ivories and reading Revelations in Spanish before we parted ways. Other than those few, and that trannie who was around for a little while at the beginning, it’s been all male.
Guys tend to approach me and ask if they can sit in. Sometimes they stick around for a while. Women don’t seem to be into it. I don’t know why. I’ve tried to recruit females, offered to teach them to play an instrument, usually bass. I’ve pestered and cajoled, but the chicks just don’t wanna. It makes no sense to me. I have always wanted to play music and would have jumped at any chance to be part of a totally free-form, no-need-for-talent, all-improv entity at any point in my life. I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to get in BDSR, but I’ve come to accept that some people don’t.
What I really want, of course, is a woman like Ari Up. In the band and in my life. I’m single now and not really looking, but if I could find a single woman, around 40-45, optimally with a decent voice, who wanted to jump into BDSR, take on some of the managerial chores, do some art, make some noise and cuddle up on the sofa to watch The Holy Mountain once in a while, I’d be all over that like ugly on an ape. If she had four-foot dreads, that’d be fine too.
Unfortunately, such a woman is unlikely to show up any time soon. The Slits came out of a specific time, place and social situation. Punk rock blew the structure apart. The dark stars lined up perfectly to create the Slits. If there’s another woman like that anywhere in the universe, she sure as fuck ain’t in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The best I can hope for is to raise up the Spotted Opossum to be that awesome.
Speaking of the Spotted Opossum, she was running full-speed down a hall recently and discovered, the hard way, that her mouth is the exact same distance from the floor as a doorknob. There was some screaming and crying and blood on her jammies, followed by a trip to the E.R. We took her in for oral surgery t’other day, but the doctor was unable to save her big, right front tooth, which was a baby tooth and going to come out in a year or so anyway. So now the grrrl has a big gap in the front which looks pretty cute and tough. As designated Keeper of the Relics, I already have a jar for her teeth. Wasn’t expecting to need it quite this soon. I’m happy to say, she hasn’t slowed down. Knocking out one of her teeth hasn’t dampened her reckless joie de vivre one tiny bit. She continues to be the smart, funny, fearless, pink explosion of wild abandon she’s always been. I’m looking into fiddle lessons, so you can expect her to show up on even more BDSR releases, if she’ll let me record her.
I’m sure the Mommy will expose the girl to smarmy, gutless femmy music. Her friends will doubtlessly get her into whatever godawful boy bands and bubble-gum pop kids are into in a few years. It falls to me to provide my daughter with access to good music. That means Can, the Clash and Acid Mothers Temple, certainly, but she’s a girl and she needs to hear female voices. Elizibeth Cotton is one of her faves right now. She digs the Slits and As Mercenárias. I haven’t played Bikini Kill, Melt Banana, Crass, Babes In Toyland, 7 Year Bitch or AIDS Wolf for her yet – those bands are a little too sonically harsh for her, but I will. I’m looking for some Slant 6, Breeders and Team Dresch, if anybody has it.
I’m also looking for women in the experimental/improve/noise scene. The only band I can think of that was hellishly noisy that had a woman that BDSR has performed with was Blue Sabbath Black Fiji. Guitar As Spacecar had a female shrieker out front, but they played precious little before hanging it up. I’ve heard rumors that there are women in the scene someplace, but I ain’t seen many. If you know of any, please hook me up with contact info.
In the meantime, check out the Slits, support women in rock and under rocks and free Pussy Riot.
The Spotted Opossum and I were in the car t’other day, going from A to B. The Slits’ Cut was playing at low volume, just sort of there in the background. I’m always conscious of the music I have on when my daughter is around because I’m trying to raise up a smart, active, assertive and riotous grrrl with good taste. The Slits started off as a gang of thrashing, bashing teenage hellions with more attitude than aptitude and evolved into a punk/reggae, feminist assault unit who punched out some great grooves without losing their edge. They carved a place for themselves in the rock’n’roll sausage party, basically ensuring that punk, unlike all other forms, would have some menstrual blood on its tracks. Good goddamn job, says me.
S’anyway, during a lull in the conversation, the grrrl caught the refrain “Don’t take it serious” at the end of “So Tough” and asked me about that. I explained that they were saying not to take things so seriously, that some things are not worth getting bothered about. I was coming at it from that angle because little kids, including mine, have a tendency to get really upset over matters that are, in the grand scheme, pretty fucking trivial. Part of my Daddy job is teaching her that her emotions are fine and good, but that they need to be regulated in some ways. One simply cannot function well in society unless one can control one’s emotions. Understanding that some things can be ignored or brushed off is part of emotional maturity.
She acknowledged the validity of that interpretation and offered an alternative. Perhaps, she suggested, the Slits were addressing someone named “Serious” and they were telling Serious not to take something. Like, maybe they had some Halloween candy and Serious was trying to take it. “Don’t take it, Serious.”
I agreed that this was possible. She asked who was named Serious. I said I didn’t know of anyone by that name. We arrived at B, got out of the car and our talk drifted on to other things.
This morning, after a last-minute wardrobe change, some minor abuse of the roomie’s cat and a hurried search for something to take for show’n’tell, we managed to get down to the car where she suddenly announced that she remembered who Serious was. Serious, she informed me was a dog who belonged to Hunter O’Ryan. I was still struggling with consciousness and was distracted by trying to get her to school and me to work so I was slow to catch on. I thought she was talking about characters in a kids’ show or some something that she’d heard someplace and partially understood. It took me a moment to get it: Sirius is the Dog Star, associated with the constellation Orion, the hunter. We go to the planetarium at the local university occasionally. They have free shows every Saturday, the earlier one for kids. Last summer, we saw a cartoon about Orion, his legend and how he became a constellation. I had completely forgotten it. If you’d asked me, I would’ve assumed that she had too, that it had just sunk onto her brain as one of the fun things she and I have done together.
Nope. She obviously held onto far more information than I would’ve thought any four-year-old could. Of course, this is a four-year-old we’re talking about. She can remember the name of my roommate who has a cat, but not the other one and she sometimes needs help getting her underpants on right, but still. That she remembers from a cartoon six months ago that Sirius “belongs” to the hunter, Orion, is pretty amazing and cool.
What I’m taking from this incident is that my kid is really fucking smart. I already knew that and I’m certainly aware that few people who aren’t immediately involved in our lives give a shit. Parental anecdotes about amazing kids are a dime a dozen. It does tie in with a theory I’ve had for a while about the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism and manifestation of the bodhisattva of Divine Compassion, Avalokiteśvara. See, I’ve always treated my daughter like an intelligent person. I’ve always talked to her as if she was an equal, obviously taking into account her ability to understand words and concepts, and answered her questions as completely as possible. I encourage her constantly and I’ve provided her with many opportunities to learn, i.e. visits to the planetarium, art galleries, farms, as well as classes in dance, music and simple construction. She loves classes. She’s taking swimming lessons right now – her Mommy signed her up for those, so she gets the credit there. We have the girl in a Montessori school, which she loves, and we read to her daily. Certainly, she was born healthy and with some inherent capacity for intelligence, but we’ve done what we can to facilitate her growth.
The Dalai Lama, a compassionate and kind man by any standard, was raised to be compassionate and kind. He was found/selected as a toddler and grew up in a Tibetan monastery where his education was specifically directed toward his position as Dalai Lama, so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that he grew up to be somewhat kind and compassionate. How else could he have turned out? Sure, he’s a reincarnation of Avalokiteśvara, so he had a predisposition toward compassion and kindness, but all sentient beings contain Buddha-nature, so we’re all capable of awakening to Divine Compassion, reincarnation of a bodhisattva or not. Why don’t we? Because we’re taught not to. We’re taught that we are individuals, entirely separate from other individuals. We are, of course, individuals and thank the gods for that, but we are also aspects of a greater, eternal and infinite, whole. Realization of that fact is essentially Nirvana.
Any individual raised to believe s/he is intelligent, kind, compassionate and essentially at one with all that is must necessarily believe it to be so, at least as much as her/his capacities allow. Her Mommy and I have taught the Spotted Opossum that she’s a smart kid and she has proven she is, so much so that it sometimes surprises her Mommy and I, who were raised with different thought-forms. All of this is fine for raising kids to be smarter and more compassionate than their parents, but it goes further. I was not raised to excel at much. My parents did not set high standards or go out of their way to put me into situations that would enhance my natural capabilities. The under-funded public schools I was forced to attend certainly didn’t encourage me to pursue my interests. I had to find ways to learn about and engage in the activities that mattered to me, not all of which were positive or constructive. Eventually though, my diligence in finding and following my own course paid off. By the time I got sober and started getting effective treatment for my depressive disorder, I was quite experienced with alternative forms of self-education. I had learned to wrap my head around apparently incomprehensible concepts, accept paradoxes and embrace mutually exclusive ideas. As I delved into the world’s vast treasure trove of myth, I found that I could easily understand what was being said.
The sound of one hand clapping? Clap with one hand. That’s it. That’s all there is. Enlightenment is nothing more than that. Love your neighbor as yourself? No problem when you realize that your neighbor is of the same essence as yourself, though individuated on a different time-table and manifesting another aspect of the One. It really is that easy, if you set high standards for yourself and put yourself in situations that will facilitate the growth of the self you want to be.
Suppose you want to attain to Nirvana. You simply tell yourself that you, like all sentient beings, already possess Buddha-nature and then put yourself in situations that will help you realize that fact. You might think that I mean go join a Buddhist monastery. Nope. Buddhist monasteries are filled with people who are absolutely convinced they cannot attain to Nirvana. They’re working and working and struggling and mediating because they believe they can’t be Enlightened. It seems like a paradox, but it’s really just a logical error. It’s the same as the Bill of Rights granting everyone the right to “the pursuit of happiness”. Friend, if you’re pursuing happiness, you’re not happy and you never will be until you stop pursuing.
Anyone, at any age, can change how they think. When you change how you think, you change how you live. As Funkadelic said, “Free your mind and your ass will follow”. It is not difficult. It does take a certain amount of effort and it doesn’t happen instantly. Well, some things do happen instantly. I have experienced moments of satori, when dots are connected and realizations occur, but mostly it’s just a matter of deciding to be something and then acting like you are that something until you are. That’s how I became a shaman, how I conquered death, how I became one with the One.
Of course, I do still get upset over trivial things from time to time, until I remember not to take things so serious. I’m playing a game called life in the zone of middle dimensions and sometimes I get caught up in the game. That’s just part of the fun of playing. It really is just a game, though.
Anybody can change. Anybody can conquer fear, keep their head when those about are losing theirs, enjoy the luxuries of poverty, walk through the valley of the shadow of death fearing no evil. It’s all about what you tell yourself.
So. What do you want to be?
Occasionally, I make comments in this space that an uninformed reader might misinterpret as mildly misogynist. I have a somewhat twisted and dark sense of humor and I frequently make the mistake of assuming that other people will know where I’m coming from and when I’m joking. I have also had no good luck with romantic/sexual relationships, which fact has certainly colored my perception of women. I do frequently find the females in my life to be somewhat frustrating and inexplicable. I am sure that there are inherent differences between males and females. None of which changes the fact that I am a feminist. I absolutely believe in gender equality. The fact that men and women perceive the world differently does not make one way better. Actually, the best course of action is for each gender to learn as much about how the other gender views the world so that each can increase their own awareness and become more whole and integrated.
Feminism isn’t ultimately about making sure that female laborers get paid the same wage as their male counterparts, though that is an obvious and necessary step. The final goal of feminism, the final goal that I’m working toward at least, is for all human beings to recognize how gender divisions create personal divisions, i.e. how each individual is negatively affected, so that everyone can embrace those qualities and aspects of themselves that are associated with the other gender and become a fully functioning, complete human being.
I am physically male. I have all the primary and secondary physical characteristics that are associated with males: penis, testicles, beard, broader shoulders than hips, &c. I am also artistic, intuitive, introverted and somewhat passive, attributes our society views as female. Another way of saying it would be that I am a yin man. My inner processes are more yin than yang.
Yin and yang, of course are the main pair of opposites in Chinese mythology. The black half, yin, is associated with female/wet/dark/passive/&c. The white half, yang, which is red in Chinese tradition, corresponds with male/dry/light/aggressive. All possible attributes align with either yin or yang, though how exactly they align might depend on circumstances. Neither is better than the other. Men and women are generally more yang and yin, respectively, but there are cases in which a male should act more yin or a female act more yang. Both should be options.
I want to point out here that the yin/yang symbol is one symbol. Many, if not most, people see it as two halves: a yin half, with a spot of yang and a yang half with a spot of yin. According to this (mis)interpretation, males should recognize the spot of yin in them and females should recognize their own spot of yang. Feh, says me. Each person contains equal amounts of yin and yang. Each person is the entire circle. The yin and yang portions are shaped as they are, as opposed to half-circles, to represent the constantly circulating interplay of yin and yang. Now one, now the other, as circumstances require.
My daughter fell off of a chair recently. As she fell, I lunged forward, thrusting my right hand forward to grab the back of her head, preventing it from striking the floor. I don’t mind if she falls occasionally, especially if she’s being kinda reckless. Falling down is educational. She certainly wasn’t going to suffer any bodily injury falling off a chair so I wasn’t concerned about her body, but I wasn’t about to let her skull come into contact with the tile floor. My hand provided sufficient protection. She was a little surprised and chagrined by the fall, but not hurt. I suggested she be a little more careful and that was that. I don’t know whether that particular incident, which just happened to pop into my mind at the point when I started writing about it, is an example of yin or yang, nor do I think it matters. I have achieved a degree of integration that I’m comfortable with.
In the past, I struggled with it a lot. I have never felt like I really fit in with the majority of people around me, but I felt more unlike males than females, so I tended to associate with women. I’m heterosexual, but it wasn’t all about macking on chicks. Actually, it wasn’t even mostly about that. I just felt more comfortable around women than around men, who I viewed as mostly misogynists. At a few points in my life, I rode the swinging pendulum to the other extreme and behaved somewhat misogynistically myself. Norse mythology helped me a lot. The Norse gods and goddesses are pretty extreme in their gender roles, which helped me to identify their various characteristics, sort them out in me and figure out how and why those characteristics worked together. It wasn’t a conscious process. I didn’t pick up a book on Norse mythology in order to figure out which parts of me were more Thor and which parts more Freyja. I read Norse myths because I like to read myths and later I realized how I had been affected. Greek mythology might do the same thing: the Greek pantheon is similar to the Norse, but I’ve never really liked the Greek myths that much. I dunno why.
Anyway, I’m more internally yin. Externally, I’m pretty yang. Probably many people who know me in only a superficial way would be surprised to learn that I view myself as yin. It doesn’t matter. Most everybody knows me as a person who opposes inequality whether its gender-, racial-, or any other form of inequality. I’m fairly blunt about it and I take it further than most of the liberals I know who tend to be kinda mealy-mouthed about it. Fuck sexism. Fuck racism. Fuck homophobia. Fuck the oppression of the poor, which doesn’t have a name – poorism? Capitalism? Oh yeah, that’s what it’s called. Fuck capitalism. Fuck all that shit.
The integration thing is something that we have to work on as individuals of course. Myth helped me with it, but I have the advantage of being male. I am absolutely certain that women can benefit from myth just as well as men, but women have to do more work. Wolfram Von Eschenbach’s Parcival is a magnificent piece of work. The point of that book, the best version of the Parcival story which is the best part of the Grail cycle, is the importance of having a quest, a goal, a thing to strive for. Parcival commits himself to finding the Holy Grail. He searches without respite, even after he has been told by a divine messenger that he will never succeed. He searches because the searching is what gives his life meaning and in the end, he does succeed. That is exactly how we should live: striving to attain the one true thing, whatever it is, that gives life meaning without being distracted by anything. That’s how Gautama went to the Bo tree. That’s how Jesus went to the cross. It’s a wonderful message and I think about Parcival in the wilderness when I’m struggling to find a way to continue to do the things that I do. Women can find that inspiration in Parcival just as well as men can, but they have to first identify with a male lead character. That may not be a huge step – it certainly isn’t one women haven’t gotten used to – but it is one more step than I had to take. There are myths with female leads, of course, but precious few. The lion’s share of myths are aimed at a male audience and have males in the lead.
I’ve been thinking about this stuff recently because of the Spotted Oppossum. She’s really into princesses these days, which is cute and fun, but I’m trying to raise up a strong, confident, assertive grrrl so I’m a bit concerned about the pink-washing she’s getting from the entertainment industry. We started watching the Disney/Pixar movie Brave t’other night. It has some scary parts that were too much for her so we turned it off. I watched the rest alone and was impressed. It’s not perfect, but it does present a strong, assertive female character, a princess, of course, but a tough one, who refuses to submit to tradition when it comes to her right to live her life her own way. It’s a good message. I talked about it with the grrrl the next day and her curiosity is piqued. She wants to watch the rest of it, if I skip the scary parts. She also wants a bow and arrows.
So. Kind of a meandering, unfocused ramble so far. That’s how it goes, huh? BDSR recordings tend to be that way too, don’t they? That’s yin. Allowing something to progress organically, accepting the various twists and turns and double-backs, going wherever it goes, is a yin style. If you’ve been to college, you’ve been exposed to that scholarly writing style where the first paragraph is the statement of intent or whatever and every paragraph after it has a specific reason and it’s all very formulaic and dry and dull and painful to read. That’s yang taken to the extreme. Making things happen is yang; letting things happen is yin. Again, both have their benefits. It seems pretty unlikely that I’m going to edit long, meandering BDSR jams into a smooth, three-minute, verse/chorus/verse/bridge/solo/chorus, normal, yang song anytime ever, because that ain’t my style. My artistic sense is yin and I’m quite capable of getting all yang up in here about it.
I was at the grocery store with the Spotted Opossum t’other day, getting bread, peanut butter, bananas and other essentials and I didn’t have enough cash on me so I pulled out the debit card.
So I wiped the card on my shirt and swiped it again.
I was pretty sure there was money in the account so I asked the cashier if there was an ATM. She pointed it out and I was about to take my cranky, hungry kid over there to withdrawal cash when a woman in line behind us stepped up and said “I got it.”
“I’ll just pay for it. You don’t have any beer or anything in there, do you?”
“No, we have peanut butter and bananas.” I was kinda surprised and not catching on.
She swiped her card and whispered “God says ‘hi’.”
“Oh. Hi.” That was a really lame response, but I did thank her and then I took the grrrl out to the car and gave her a banana. We went downtown so I could check my balance and I realized that I’d forgotten to account for the insurance on my vehicles which comes out automatically every month. I wasn’t overdrawn and I got paid by one of my jobs the next day so it all worked out that way. And I got to explain to my daughter that other people also commit random acts of kindness and that, in this case, the beneficiaries were us.
Friends, what that woman in the check-out line did was about as fine an example of the positive power of religion as you can get. She had on scrubs, so she works in medicine, which ain’t bad money. She had a bit to give to strangers. Her hair and complexion indicated a recent round of chemotherapy, so she understood a bit about suffering. She let me know, in a small and simple way, that she was motivated to kindness by her faith. Bam. That’s a fine thing, right there.
Of course, that woman was almost certainly a Christian, which means that she and I don’t see eye to eye on some matters, but no matter. Whether we share common views on such piddling details as the exclusive divinity of Christ or the Triune nature of the Almighty is trifling bullshit. The important thing is that kindness was done. A small, spontaneous goodness happened, not enough to get anybody into Heaven or significantly improve anyone’s karma or secure anyone a seat in an open lotus in Amitabha’s Pure Land or anything.
God – by any name – appreciates kindnesses. I try to help other people and to teach my child to do the same. As we reap, we sow.
A fellow was obliged to take in his aged father, who couldn’t take of himself anymore. There wasn’t any room in the house, so he gave the old man an empty stall in the barn to sleep in. The father asked for a blanket to wrap up in at night. The man went and found a raggedy old blanket that the dog had been sleeping on. It was worn most of the way through. The man ripped it in two and went and gave half to his old dad, meaning to use the other half for rags. When he came back from the barn, he found his little boy folding up the other half of the blanket.
“What’re ya doin’?” he asked.
The boy said “I’m saving this half blanket so’s I can give it to you when you’re old.”
The man went and got his old father and brought him into the house. He made room for the old man to live.
That story, which I’ve told in a sorta Southern hillbilly voice, is actually Chinese and somewhat ancient. The basic idea – the ungrateful son who realizes that his own son will treat him as he treats his father – can be found in various forms all over the world. There may be versions in which the characters are female, but I don’t know of any and it’s probably more likely not. Traditionally, in almost all cultures, women became members of their husbands’ families when they married and therefore had no, or less, obligations to their parents. It is the duty of the sons to care for the parents.
Filial piety, the respect one has or is expected to have for one’s family members, especially the older ones, is part of every culture. I was thinking about the “Half Blanket” story this morning while painting my grandparents’ kitchen. I paint. That’s one of my jobs. My grandparents wanted their kitchen painted. I could hardly say no. I haven’t always been a very good grandson and I’ve never been the hunting, fishing, go to church every Sunday and then fall asleep on the sofa watching Nascar grandson they wanted and expected. For the past dozen years or so, I’ve showed up pretty regularly and participated in family get-togethers so I’m not a total loss. Of course, I have provided them with the most intelligent, vivacious and utterly adorable great-grandchild they’re ever gonna get, so that’s a point in my favor.
When Gramma started talking about painting the kitchen, it was obvious she meant me. It was equally obvious I would take the job. They’re paying me, of course. Gramma threw out a figure, a third less than what I normally get paid to paint, and I said “That’ll be fine”. I would do it for free, but she wants to pay me so I’m not going to get into a stupid and awkward argument and insist on not getting paid.
It’s a simple job. One coat on the ceiling, two on the walls. The trouble is, and I should’ve seen it coming, my Grandad.
Grandad was born way back in some dark holler in West-By-God-Virginia. He learned to hunt as a means of putting food on the table. He was an electrician on a Destroyer in World War II. He had a truck, a ’78 Ranger-Explorer, that didn’t have factory cruise control so he jerry-rigged a ball-chain necklace to a valve on the carburetor, ran it through a hole under the dash and held it in place with a clothespin: cruise control. He has always fixed, maintained and modified things. He was probably a better painter than me once upon a time, but that time is over. Grandad is eighty-eight or so. He spaces out frequently, falls asleep at random times. When he starts talking at the dinner table, it might be about something he read in National Geographic, something that happened on shore leave in Hawaii, the neighbors’ cats or anything other than what everybody else is talking about. Nothing wrong with that. If I’m not senile at eighty-eight, I’ll pretend I am.
The trouble is, he can’t fucking paint. I started rolling the ceiling this morning and the next thing I knew, Grandad was standing on a stool, cutting in, slopping paint on the walls, which wasn’t a problem since I was doing the walls too, but then he got a brush and started cutting in around the kitchen counters and saying shit like “I keep messing up over here”, “The more I paint, the worse it looks”, while I was rolling the walls and hearing “Half Blanket” on repeat in my head. I knew why that story was in there and I got the moral right off the bat. There was simply no way I could do anything about the situation. There is no kind way of saying “Grandad, you suck at painting because you’re old. Go away.”
You know how old people fuck, right? Slow and sloppy? That’s how my grandfather paints. It sucks. It’s an awful thing to say, but it’s true.
When I got clean and sober and started living a spiritual life, I had to evaluate my beliefs. I had to ask myself what I believed as opposed to what I had been taught to believe by other people – the society I live in, the church I grew up in, the schools I went to &c. I whole heartedly believe in living a life based on beliefs as long as they’re truly felt, not imposed by outside influences and accepted without evaluation of their worth. Of course, I agree with most people that murder, rape and theft are bad, with some possible exceptions in the case of theft. Honesty strikes me as a better policy than dishonesty. Rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s seems like a reasonable way of doing things. There are many social and religious tenets that I don’t agree with, but I really do believe in family. The people I’m related to are my kin, whether I like then or not, whether I share their interests or not, whether I find it easier to just not mention the vast majority of what goes on in my life because a) I don’t feel like explaining what the difference between “noisy” and “Noise” is or that one can do anything with a banjo other than play songs made popular by Granpa Jones, and b) they’re all too busy yapping at each other about who wore what to church and who has cancer to hear anything I have to say anyway, or not. I appreciate and value my blood-kin simply because they are my blood-kin. The fact that I have nothing in common with them other than DNA and an affinity for pie is irrelevant.
Of course, now that I’m a father myself, family is even more important. I want the Spotted Opossum to know where she comes from, what her roots are, who her people are. I want her to remember playing with cousins in the yard, sneaking candy from the dish on her great-grammaw’s side table, sitting on her great-grandaddy’s lap. I’m sure families are the same all over, but I’m from the South, so that all seems Southern to me, like picking squash out of the garden, which we did last Sunday. The Spotted Opossum really enjoyed picking squash, though she swears she’ll never eat it.
“Half Blanket” uses self-interest to make its point. The father in the story is motivated to treat his father better when he realizes that he is setting the example his son will follow. He doesn’t want to end up in the barn with a half a blanket. Self-interest is fine as far as it goes. The point is well made. I believe it is possible to do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing. That’s a little harder to convey in a short story, but it’s worth striving for. Always.
So tomorrow I’ll do the second coat on the walls and try to fix all the shit my Grandad fucked up. It actually shouldn’t be too hard. Maybe he’ll fall asleep.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.