Awash in Kittehs of Unknown Origin

•6 March 2018 • Leave a Comment

I had a strange and painful dream yesterday, in which I let Ariel (my belovèd cat, if you were unaware of that) out the front door for a spell (on the advice of a dream-reason dream-vet), and lost him. A knocking at the door brought to my attention a glowing Midwest summer day, temp around 27° or so, and a woman in a sleeveless knee-length florally-patterned dress holding a leash restraining a cat, collared but remarkably similarly resembling Ari — continental patches of grey and white, yellow eyes you’d know would gleam in the dark, their mirror reflecting their ignorance of The Dark. But it wasn’t my little dumpling. I was set to coach a U-18 football match a few hours hence of a great local girls’ team versus a boys’ team; the match was actually FIFA-sponsored with hardware on the line — even in my dream, I wondered “what the hell is this competition?” yet I correctly called a handball and we were up 9:2 at the half. Meanwhile, my father was searching ardently for my cat, in a neighborhood suddenly overcome by stray cats closely resembling Ariel (who is very much alive and well, passed out on his bed about 3m from me, thank you), before I woke up. None of them were Ariel. I felt abandoned. Dreamland is an odd place.


Rest, but Not in Peace

•21 February 2018 • Leave a Comment

Billy Graham was many things to many people. To many, he was America’s moral leader, thundering his neo-Calvinist message to adoring and frenzied crowds, admonishing presidents and politicians of both parties to turn to his wrathful Old Testament God, repent and be “born again.” There is no question that he left an indelible mark on American politics and political discourse, culture and religion. “Called” at an early age, he believed, to be a preacher “on fire for the Lord,” a modern Savonarola but on a national — even international — stage. Graham’s distinctive style and apparent personal faith and zeal inspired millions, and influenced everything from children’s television programming to American foreign policy. Ignoring the transformative impact of the movements that he — whether or not he may have sought the role — spearheaded or inspired would be a grave mistake to the scholar of modern American history and culture studies.

To others, like myself, he was at best a carnival barker — a prudent and diplomatic would-be éminence grise, at home among presidents and bankers, pastors and skeptics, the powerful and the downtrodden, theologically every bit as venomous as his less reputable but equally dangerous fellow-traveler Jerry Falwell. Graham had the master politician’s — for, in the final analysis, he should be remembered first and foremost as a politician — gift for seeming all things to all people combined with the demagogue’s ability to move and manipulate a crowd. And he had crowds — his “revivals,” and the thousands that still plague towns and warp minds from Chillicothe, Illinois to the National Mall annually — were nothing if not pure spectacle. The hermeneutics of the conversion/revival experience I leave to sharper minds, but Graham was a maestro of its orchestration. His legacy is immense, but among the bastard children of his theology include such monstrosities as the “prosperity gospel” and its charlatans, the anti-choice, anti-feminist movement, homophobia, opposition on “Biblical grounds” to racial equality, xenophobia, white supremacy, scapegoating of the poor and the faux piety without which even in 2018 few politicians dare to conduct their political lives. Graham gave us the National Prayer Breakfast, the opening of public ceremonies with a prayer to one interpretation of the Christian religion’s deity, and the messianic and moralizing interpretation of American foreign policy, particularly with regard to foreign aid (though there are many other factors, granted).

Thankfully, the “Moral Majority” has learned that it never was a majority, and with each successive generation fades more into irrelevancy. America is moving indelibly toward becoming a society that is more tolerant, accepting and — hopefully — more equitable. I’m neither naïve nor optimistic enough to think that the politics of intolerance, patriarchy, xenophobia and raw power are going anywhere any time soon, or ever — look at the buffoon spouting pieties he does not understand who occupies the White House. But the times they seem to be a-changin’. I will never celebrate the passing of any human being, and my condolences to your family, friends and the millions whose lives you “touched” or found in you a beacon of hope in a “fallen” world; so may you rest, Rev. Graham, but not in peace. Your work, and the damage it’s done, is already fading.

(On a personal note, I was raised Baptist of a very Graham-influenced vintage, and know first-hand the damage politics masked as holy writ of intolerance can inflict. To anyone queer and or affected by this distorted worldview — have meaningful faith: it gets better.)

Why Fergie Doesn’t Matter

•19 February 2018 • 1 Comment

As many of you know, former Black-Eyed Peas singer Fergie has drawn much criticism for her rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Sunday’s NBA All-Star game. It’s not the first time (and certainly won’t be the last) a singer’s performance of the national anthem has come under fire for any number of reasons — and, to be frank, it was a fairly odd interpretation, though I give her credit for at least attempting something new. What bothers me, however, is the fetishization of a two-hundred year-old song that even the current president can’t sing. At international competitions like the Olympics or the World Cup a bit of nationalistic pride is called for — the pomp and display of flags and singing of anthems raises the stakes of the competition, making what are intended to be “war by other means,” well, war by other means. Better to slog it out on the pitch than in the trenches.

What makes no sense to me, though, is the need to reify a tune into something sacrosanct — a secular version of a “Te Deum,” or what have you. Vibrant and confident democracies don’t need to worship their secular symbols to the point where one can lead to a national controversy just because a group of men refuse to stand for it, turning the symbolism on its head, reappropriating it to protest in the most visible way possible. People close to me have reproached me for supporting the anthem protests in the NFL, telling me I should be ashamed, because members of my immediate family served in the United States military — I’m fairly sure that once the bullets fly, the last thing those men and women are thinking about is a glorified jingle. Far worse is the recitation of a “Pledge of Allegiance” recited daily by schoolchildren across the country; there’s no problem with national pride, but I’ve always found the parallels between such pious recitation and 1984’s “Two Minutes’ Hate” eerily striking, even if it’s blasphemy to suggest.

I don’t take “globalism” as an insult — its antonym would be “parochialism,” which has never been a compliment — and find such rote expressions of “patriotism” antiquated, and the more emphasis put upon them, the more indicative of a nation that no longer trusts its reliability, institutions, culture and people to express pride in being American. The rest — including the recent proposed military parade — is just chauvinism hiding behind pomp. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is just a poem put to music.

Trump am Bebelplatz

•10 February 2018 • Leave a Comment

(much of this first appeared in a series of Tweets sent Saturday 10 February 2018 from @destroy_time; please follow, if you’d be so kind —I follow back 😁)

Along Unter den Linden, Berlin’s majestic Prachtstraße, flanked on one side by the imposing Staatsoper, on another by buildings of the prestigious Humboldt-Universität and on the other by the first post-Reformation Catholic church built in Prussia lies the Bebelplatz. Were he curious about the man for whom the square is named, the American President would learn about a devoted socialist, writer and intellectual. That alone would be anathema to Trump’s infinitely malleable set of “principles;” what’s more, August Bebel was one of modern Germany’s Founding Fathers — a founding member of the Social Democratic Party in Germany.* The Bebelplatz, then, stands at the intersection of culture, learning, beauty and knowledge, but that’s not the source of its historical relevance. It was here on 10 May 1933 that one of the more infamous mass book burnings of the Nazi regime took place, as works by authors as varied as Marx, Heine, Einstein and other “suspect” or “degenerate” authors were piled high and set ablaze.**

The president doubtless would be unaware of this horrific history, but perhaps he’d notice a square glass plate set into the stones, around which groups of people stand, mostly in silence, some with iPhones out pointed downward. And perhaps this “very stable genius” who’s “like, really smart” and “went to the best colleges” would shuffle over to see what the fuss was about, why these people weren’t paying attention to him. Once the Secret Service had cleared the way, Trump would look down into… a room with empty bookshelves? A plaque is engraved with some nonsense in German, but thankfully there’s an English translation: “That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people”*** He’d turn to the animated corpse that calls itself Stephen Miller and mutter, “What’s this shit, Stephen? …I don’t get it.”

And of course he wouldn’t. Books mean nothing to one who doesn’t — or can’t — read them. It’s not that Trump is functionally illiterate, if not literally illiterate that’s ghastly — it’s that he takes pride in his ignorance. Decades of right-wing mockery of “eggheads in ivory towers” have led to a president with the IQ of an egg. Among his predecessors, Dubya was no intellectual heavyweight, but by all accounts, he read his Presidential Daily Briefings and asked questions; a scholar? Hardly. But at least he seemed interested in and somewhat curious about the world the Supreme Court picked him to lead.

Trump, on the other hand, isn’t just knowledge-averse — he’s knowledge-hostile. He mocks cognition, confident that his (ample) McDonalds-fueled gut is more reliable than reason or logic. He seems to yearn for the Dark Ages, when priest-Kings held absolute unquestioned authority, whose touch alone could heal the sick.

As someone for whom the quest “To follow knowledge like a sinking star / Beyond the utmost bound of human thought” represents the holiest of grails, this is more than a kick in the face — it’s a denial of the validity of the thirst, the passion that gives my existence a direction, a polestar, a raison d’être. To him, I am less than zero. But thus are autocrats made; entire blocs of his subjects are brushed aside as social parasites, unproductive hangers-on, milking the state of resources that “real” citizens — you! not them! — should be beneficiaries. Now, I’m not comparing the plight of the scholar or the artist to that of the refugee, the truly marginalized and ostracized, but the mechanism is the same and familiar, all-too familiar.

Trump is a man who’d watch with glee as the Library of Alexandria smouldered, chortle with delight were the Met and MoMA to erupt in flame. In “Fahrenheit 451,” Trump would be , were he not trapped in a gilded room with not three, but all four! wall screens installed. In his wildest dreams (can a man lacking in imagination, purged of even the tiniest creative spark, be said to dream?), Trump would spend his days and nights surrounded by a neverending Fox & Friends paean to him, a living monument to the solipsistic megalomania of illiteracy armed with a button bigger than anyone’s.

*—Bebel cofounded in 1869 the SDAP (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei), forefather of the present-day SPD (Sozialdemokratisches Partei Deutschslands), which in a Große Koalition (Grand Coalition) with the Christian Democrats (CDU, Christlich-demokratische Union) have governed Germany for nine of the past 13 years, and with the conclusion of recent negotiations following the autumn 2017 elections, will continue to do so until at least 2021.
**—The monument, designed by Micha Ullmann, has a truly disorienting effect, terrifying if a bibliophile.
***—The quote is from Heine’s 1821 play Almansor — “Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.” 

The Widening Gyre…

•2 February 2018 • 3 Comments

I can’t sleep. This is not a new phenomenon.

On my last vacation on a psych ward, I was prescribed quetiapine 200mg/p.d. to coincide with my daily venlafaxine 225mg p.d. All was good — my mood and ideation balanced, as I accommodated to the new meds. The quetiapine didn’t change anything I noted immediately, the venlafaxine worked well, and for once, I felt good about myself and vaguely optimistic about an equally inchoate future.

The problem for me with quetiapine (Seroquel) is that a common side effect is weight gain; with a long-term eating disorder and body dysphoria, the prospect of additional weight gain was terrifying. I skimped out on my useful psych meds because the consequences would exacerbate the psych symptoms that led me there originally. It’s like being in a hall of shattered mirrors: I only see myself reflected in broken pieces, the shards of which I can gather only randomly, and which cut without discretion.

Forever Print

•1 February 2018 • Leave a Comment

i can be accurately accused of many things — pretension, dilletantism, lack of empathy and many more. Some may even be accurate. Yet when I write — with what feeling I have, with emphasis, with passion enough to tear through my paper and stain my inevitably Arsenal jacket with black ink — I do so manually. Tempting though the BBC3 or Sonic Youth may be, I write, as I read, alone. Likely more so. Writing is an exercise in interiority, a journey into the hidden caverns of oneself, where the stalactites of experience fall to meet the follies of past times, echoed in the chambers of silent caverns.

I write with the attitude of a forgotten old man, categorized endlessly as a bitter and slightly bonkers fool alone in a windswept garret with a single candle sputtering against a Dickensian draught. I am neither old nor Dickensian, though the folly of my youth would a good story of his make, I imagine. No, I am fickle and bold, a traitor of a faith as ancient as its beginning and strange as birth. I’m a creature of my time, yet far outside it, orbiting a star I see dimly that some call earth.

Pens and Paper

•27 January 2018 • 2 Comments

Last autumn, my mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas. There were the obvious things, those I can never have enough of — certain books (that I will read; understand, it’s just a matter of place in the queue… and the queue never in its meaning must end, never ends), another Arsenal shirt of course (the ’17-’18 alts are really badass), but otherwise I really couldn’t think of a thing I actually wanted. An end to inequality, universal healthcare, free education, an end to wars we never should have begun to fight? A boyfriend? Hope?

One does not ask for those things, my Protestant superego responds; they are granted. To whom? I dare to ask. Not your lot, I’m told… take a drag, toss it in a mucky ditch brimming with seventies’ filth — the burnt ends of toasted times, of garret-grey hypnotic crimes, all to pass, a-ha, at last, a new day with brighter clothes. Strike a garish pose; the sores still bleed. But still, “Lad? What do you want for Christmas?”

Something simple, then. I want pens — black — and some small notebooks, the kind you can squeeze in a jackets’ inner pocket, if necessary.

Mother: Pens? You want pens?

Me: Yes’m. I’ve a penchant for losing them, so —

Mother (paraphrasing): I sent you to bloody **mouth, and you want bloody-fucking pens?

(^Paraphrasing!) Me: Yes, ma’am.

Christmas morning comes; even the cat is happy with the toy he doesn’t quite know what to do to or with. My sister’s husband is happy, can’t wait to go shooting sometime in the next few days. For her, some fitness equipment that was de rigueur in October, but electric blue was so then. But she smiles, we smile, we make plans to go to The Last Jedi. My brother-in-law makes a Carrie Grant joke he adapted from Buzzfeed that he and I and that guy laugh at, but at which my sister turns up a phrase, mother smiling with an oubliette smile, my father not quite there, but maybe later.

For me: an Arsenal shirt, some books. To the stockings, the fattening finalé, where the pecan and almond mixes, the city-filled tubs of cheddar and caramel popcorn await our moaning molars. Ah yes, there —

I find six pads of college-ruled white paper and six premium pens of black ink, 1mm tip with which to write upon. And write upon them I shall. Alleluia.

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