Thursday, August 18, 2011

Yes, I'm Over the Handlebars (Again)

Downloadable Audio file / Podcast:

I saw her clip the wall, literally fly over the handlebars of her bike onto the cement bike path.

Oxygenation in the stream: roiling, churning bubbles effervesce upward, outward, away. They hit the rocks, turbulent and then they splash, wet energized spray into the air.

Fish thrive in pools of pure bubbles and charged water as the molecules break apart, release energy into the stream, into the ether - the zeit-stream, if you will … and when those charged particles come together, it’s raw, pure convergence, and your mind flies with it, marshaling forces for ongoing and ever-undefined forays into the unknown.

Weren’t you once complacent? smooth laminar outpourings of thoughts, dreams, ideas, material liquid self, and then you hit the rocks, where the light hits the spray of water, and you could see the full spectral flow – the purple blue green yellow orange red of a bright, proud rainbow.

I saw the whole thing – in fact, she rolled like a pro and ended up 3 or so feet away from where I stood. She was bleeding at the elbow, and there was a gouge in her helmet. A lesser cyclist would crack a shoulder, snap a fibula.

It was on the Boulder Creek bike path where it splits into a “Y” – one arm goes under the Folsom Street Bridge, the other to street level. I was sweating, taking the half-mile hike to Benson Hall on the Colorado University campus in high heels, tight skirt, ridiculously expensive Donna Karan pantyhose tights with waist-level elastic that sprung itself useless after only ten or twelve hot water washings…

Boulder Creek churns down the mountainside, cold and yellow and filled with the bacterium of existence. Under the Arapaho Bridge a “stream observatory” had paused the day before to peer through porthole plexiglass windows inserted into a reinforced concrete wall (part of the bridge).

Watch the fish? Watch the bubbles? Champagne? Mountain Dew?

Breathe in. Breathe out.
You don’t know where you’ll end up next.

“Are you okay? You really know how to take a fall.”

It was all I could say. She stood up. Amazingly, just a scraped elbow. No medi-vac to jet to the nearest hospital, no ambulance to transport the body to the morgue.

Flash memory: South Canadian River (Oklahoma), summer 2000.

Dirt-biking involves a different kind of flow – dunes, quicksand, braided stream in drought conditions.

Dirt bike hits Jeep.
Jeep wins.

16-year-old dirt-biker lying broken on the ground. The next morning’s Norman Transcript gives it a mention on page 3 under “Fatality at River.”

It was not easy to accept that the sweet-faced person I saw lying crumpled on the sand was dead.

Thank God my Jeep was not that Jeep. Mine was one that was simply there to explore the dunes.

Who would ever think that when you popped up on the dune, you’d run smack into a dirt-biker with the same idea, just with two wheels and no exo-skeleton (unlike the Jeeps: 4 wheels, replete with fully hardened exoskeleton).


So let me tell you about Camp Cimarron. It was the all-girls summer camp I went to when I was 10 years old. I was a Campfire Girl, just “flown up” from being a Bluebird (for second and third graders). The camp lasted a week. I had just finished the 4th grade. We slept in cabins. We took classes, but I remember very little.

In contrast, the three years I went to the Baptist Camp Nunny-Cha-Ha in the Arbuckle Mountains are very clear to me (grades 4, 5, and 6). It was also very different than the large Arrowhead-type Camp Kickapoo (Kerrville, Texas), where I stayed for 5 weeks. Camp Cimarron was less about the other campers, the counselors, the people, and more about the place itself: the river, the sand, the water, moon and stars and hot, dry air at night.

My favorite place at Camp Cimarron was a sand bar next to a cutbank on the barely-flowing except in flood Cimarron River where the river had eroded the bright red Garber-Wellington sandstone. Ledges felt like large nail files. The sand under our feet felt like rough, hot, calloused hands rubbing the arches of our feet and the spaces between our toes.

One night, we camped out under the stars. Bright starlight. How could anyone possibly sleep? New moon, no city lights – the Milky Way looked like fog, and the nearer and brighter stars were celestial river sands, sinuous and meandering in and out of consciousness.

Infinity comes to you in the form of restless, half-dark, half-light mind, when you’re sleeping rough, stretched out on a yoga mat under a cotton sheet, wondering about life, love, the smell of night, and creeping hot breath of scavenger birds and coyotes.

What do you do when you’re ten years old and you already know that the feeling you have when you’re touching the earth, feeling the hot, dry wind, and hearing the soft slip of waters over sand, will haunt you every time you close your eyes?


There is an obligatory “full circle” element here. I need to refer back to the woman I saw take a dive over her handlebars.

I need to discuss the oxygenation process, and the way that turbulence engenders life and creative self-expression.

It’s not very appealing, though, to construct such a nice, tidy narrative.

After all, I’m sad, and I’m not happily oxygenated by the combined behavioral determinants of gravity and foolish optimism.

I’m aware that the place anyone takes themselves when infused with euphoria has to do with their perceived need to retreat back to their own minds, into their “happy places.” It also has to do with what they do to trigger euphoria.

If it’s an exercise addiction, it’s one thing. If it is all about expensive, commercialized products (“solutions”), then I think the persons are involved are sacrificing their hearts, minds, and futures.

Is it worth it? You decide. I can’t.

The breeze was cool during the meeting. Their hearts trembled in anticipation.

Oxygen, turbulence, pain, hope.

It was the perfect way to push oneself over the handlebars of life.

Videographer: Dave Feiden

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Route 66 Rest Stop in the Texas Panhandle: New Technologies & Encounters

First, I want to apologize for the wind noise -- it is, however, the Texas Panhandle! Sorry about that, but if you can slog through, please share your thoughts / experiences in the comments section.

Here are thoughts that the Route 66 truckstop brought to mind-- New technology leads to unexpected encounters. It's been that way from the very beginning.

Let's think about it, Route 66 was built because of emerging, evolving transportation technology. People became mobile, and they also met people and had encounters they never envisioned before.

Today, communications technology and social networking are also leading to surprising encounters -- with people, ideas, places.

Earlier technologies, such as navigation technologies in Europe, as well as what I like to think of as "financial technologies" (early stock / trading companies, limited partnerships, in and after the Renaissance).

Now we're in all kinds of new technologies -- we blink our eyes and we miss five or six iterations. Does it matter -- at least in the way we structure our "technologies of the imagination"?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Route 66 Rest Stop Series: #3 - Route 66, Kitsch, Memorabilia, and the Artifacts of Recollection

When we stop along the road at historical sites, what do we encounter? How can we use the experience to reflect upon what it means to explore connections, and what kinds of memories and emotions are triggered? The American love affair with the car has shaped the American imagination, from Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby to Kerouac's On the Road and all the wonderful road films.

Please post your thoughts, and lists of truck stop experiences, memorabilia, food, music that you find unforgettable (either in a good way or a bad way!) -- if you have Route 66 experiences, that would be especially nice.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Murder, Suicide, Self-Immolation Clusters: Observations

I often wonder about strange synchronicities and repetitions -- things that you start to see once you know the history of a person or a place long enough and well enough.

In the case of a person, it may not seem to remarkable that the same things seem to happen to them -- after all, they're making choices, and the choices are going to align with their tastes and proclivities, right?

In the case of places, it's sort of different. It makes me wonder if there are certain vibrations or resonances that create a situation where people behave in similar ways. I'm not talking about the obvious things -- people go swimming near bodies of water, or do daredevilish things near cliffs. I'm thinking of something that causes people to behave as though certain places were haunted, or that there might be the presence of spirits that compell people to behave in certain ways.

Case in point: Norman, Oklahoma

I've been in touch with Norman and Norman's history to be able to detect patterns -- even without a very extensive analysis, and without reaching back into history.

For example, there seem to be "murder - suicide clusters" in certain places in the town. For example, my parents' house adjoins two homes where people either committed suicide, committed murder, or both. The "murder suicide house" was built in the 1960s -- it was an ugly yellow two-story ranch house at the end of a long drive. Their lot was long, and the back part adjoined my parents' lot. I would never have known about the history of the house, except that my parents wanted me to purchase the house in order to secure the acreage and to have adjoining lots. I might have been interested -- the price seemed relatively reasonable -- except for the knowledge of what had happened there. There was no way that I would occupy a house where a doctor, who, receiving the news of terminal illness, decided to kill himself and his severely disabled wife.

That house was next door to a house where, 30 years or so earlier, a suicide had taken place. It was the mother of one of my classmates. I think it happened when we were in 5th grade, but I may be wrong. It could have been when we were in junior high school. At any rate, it was most definitely a tragedy. I had no way of truly comprehending it at the time, and I'm not sure I would be able to do so now. It's very disturbing.

Another violent cluster exists on the west side of Norman, near the edge of the South Canadian River. Back in the 1960s, two teen-agers were murdered in their car where they were presumably making out. It became the "Murder of Lover's Lane" and achieved a bit of notoriety for the fact that it was widely believed that a corrupt, dissolute cop had killed them. Why? Who knows. He was known to have been a kind of voyeuristic "bad cop."

How is this a cluster? I had not thought of in that way until a few weeks ago, police dug up a woman who had been murdered, ostensibly by her lover (and not a bad cop), and then buried in the back yard of a house for sale that had been unoccupied for more than eight months.

What linked the two? Crimes of passion. Crimes of perversity.

In the case of murder/suicide, I'd say they were crimes of despair.

I recently watched the TV footage of all the immolations sweeping north Africa, and I was reminded of images from Vietnam, when Buddhist monks immolated themselves in order to shock / horrify the populace to realize how civil war was, in essence, self-immolation -- exceedingly painful and ultimately self-destructive. Needless to say, the gesture fell on deaf ears.

However, immolation sort of gained a foothold in the U.S. during the 1960s -- not because the self-immolators wanted to show how they were a sublime metaphor for what was going on. No, the American self-immolation gesture was almost always something else -- an expression of despair and self-hatred; a cry for help gone horribly awry; the ultimate narcissistic gesture not to say self-loving, but to say that my pain is bigger than anyone else's, and I have to express it in this over-the-top, grandiose way -- and -- oops, well, it hurts, and, oops -- it's fatal.

I deeply respect the Buddhist monks' view. I only wish they had not felt the need to kill themselves to get their point across (a point which was never gotten across anyway). Yes. Civil war does the same thing as setting yourself on fire. You burn. You suffer extreme pain. You ravage your body. And then -- either slowly or less slowly - you die, and people don't care that you suffered and died. So -- the end question is, why even bother with civil war? Why start it? Why not resist violent confrontation? If you wonder what it will do for you as a culture, just witness the monk's immolation. That's the dominant metaphor. Don't forget it.

People who see patterns are rarely rewarded unless it's a pony at Saratoga.

People who see the big picture metaphor in a person's work of art or self-sacrificial gesture of resistance are few and far between. They tend to be fellow artists or writers -- they don't have much political clout.

I don't know what to say except to express the opinion that to sacrifice oneself in order to create an enormous, all-encompassing metaphor usually ends badly. So, I say, just don't do it. Say what you need to say, but don't hurt yourself. Focus on the sweetness of life. Of course, that's hard to do when you're feeling so much existential pain that all you can do is resonate with the great, global weltzschmertz / world pain that, in your own living, breathing experience, is overwhelmingly painful.

Don't give up, my friend.

We've all been there. For a guy, it might be a gun. For a women, it might be pills and an eating disorder. The weltzschmertz takes no prisoners.

But, somehow, patterns do. So, my thought is this - if you find yourself in a very destructive pattern, consider moving. There have to be "lucky" places as well as haunted and cursed, right? Go to a happy place and heal. Then, take stock of your life an think about what you might do in the future.

I'm at that point, and it's surprisingly pleasant.

A video shot at a rest stop on old Route 66 in the Texas Panhandle.

Friday, February 11, 2011

SkyBook - Yesterday's Facebook: A Page from Tinguely's Journal

Does it ever seem odd to you that many of the world's civilizations were pyramid-builders?

How did they all happen upon that particular architecture? Every child who has ever experimented with blocks has found that the most stable edifice is a pyramid, so perhaps it's not so earth-shattering as it may seem that so many people decided to try their hand at a pyramid.

But still, why is it that they seem to have so much in common?

What if the solutions are in the stars?

Let's think about this.

Back in 1,000 BC, the stars were absolutely brilliant. They were bright. The constellations were in your face. Imagine the night of a new moon. The moon could be so bright there could be moon shadows. It's hard to imagine from the vantage point of today's cities.

Brilliant stars, maps in the skies. The night sky was so fascinating I'm sure that during the new moon people dragged around exhausted during the day after staying up all night watching the skies.

What were they watching?

What if they were looking at star-based blueprints? What if there were blueprints for buildings, structures, etc? Okay -- and let's get more extreme -- what if the sky was yesterday's Internet -- a shared repository of image-based knowledge. Images blended with oral traditions. It was a scary time. Very little was written, scratched in stone, or carved into cuneiform.

Forget mp3 files. Forget avi. Forget everything that could be made dead, like paper.

With digital spontaneity, are we more like the star-gazers than the Francis Baconian "New Atlantis" Royal Society types? A printed page is static.

Oral tradition and knowledge gleaned from the ever-moving skies are fluid, and aggressively mediated by society and human desire.

Knowledge gained through social networking is fluid, ever-evolving, mediated by human desire (and tools -- technology).

Tools of transmission: technology.

Ancient technologies? Tools of transmission? What were they?

The stars themselves, but oral tradition -- frozen (and ultimately misrepresented) by glyphs, cuneiform, diagrams, art.

At any rate, it's food for thought.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Ice Storm and a Body in the Backyard


Last week, they found a woman’s body buried in a neighbor’s backyard. Granted, it was not a next-door neighbor, and it’s true I did not know her. Yet, I felt a grip of sadness blended with revulsion. Her children said they never liked the woman’s boyfriend. The woman’s mother said she knew her daughter loved the man who eventually killed her. The four-bedroom, three-bathroom red brick house in the once expensive neighborhood did not look like one where you’d find a body – it’s a mere mile away from multimillion dollar homes. But, that particular house (on a nice corner lot) had been sitting vacant for 8 months, and the ex-con killer was a “friend” of the owner of the house. Some friend. There had to be more to the story than met the eye.

When the huge ice storm rolled in, it came accompanied with thunder and lightning. Ice fell from the sky as flashes of light and loud cracks of thunder made an unsettling prelude to the foot of snow and inches of ice that would soon coat the entire countryside.

Electric ice.

The guys at the office building refused to clear the snow while it was still loose and fluffy; consequently it turned into an ice brick at least four inches deep in front of the doors, on the steps, walkways, and the porch.

Ah yes, and I was reminded of how much I love / hate snow and ice; it’s so lovely to see it pile up, and it’s nice when it’s so cold your nose burns when you inhale. Snowboundedness has its charm. It’s interesting to see how your mind goes into different nooks and crannies when you’re feeling contemplative, thoughtful, uninterrupted except by your compulsions to raid the refrigerator one more time and to run through the array of movies you can stream on and the latest youtube videos. It’s also nice to lose oneself in podcasts, especially the ones that tell us people’s stories. Revelations, confessions, unveilings: it feels as though it’s happening to me – I’m crawling through the dark, wet basements of my own heart. And still, the ice beats against the window.

We’re getting used to these rough storms.

We need a new narrative for the twenty-first century. The old political and economic narratives are just not working.

Could we say the same thing about the psychological and sociological narratives? Oh yes, I believe so.

The connectedness we claim that occurs with social networks is really disconnectedness. Don’t you see it?

Yes? No?

You read this and you think you’re connected to me, and I hope and pray I’m connected to you, but I’m really just connected to thoughts I throw out there to the cloud, to be (I hope!) ever-present, ever accessible. And yet, it means that they’re always out there intensely ephemeral and I’ll never really take possession of my own thoughts, my own essence – and I’ll never really touch you. I’ve lost that ability. All I have is the ability to envision the concept of touching. But you’re not really able to get into my heart the way you once were able to, and I’m not able to crawl deep into your nerve endings.

We just aren’t that raw any more. We have the soft armor of “the cloud” which keeps everything nicely phantasmic (isn’t that what we should, by rights, call the images we see, the noises we hear, and yet can’t really embrace … can’t ever really put our arms around their vital, beating hearts – all we get is this nice, infinitely echoing simulacra).

But there are some narratives that seem to be utterly timeless, even though we would prefer them not to be –the apocalyptic narrative, for one.

I was once loose and fluffy but somewhere along the way, started to melt, refreeze, then melt again.

The cold draft curls itself around the floor, the walls, the sliding glass door, which is surprisingly clear considering it’s 2 below zero out there in the cold, dark Tulsa night.

If I say I have real feelings -- I still remember -- what will you say?

I used to look at life in one way; then started to look at in an utterly different manner. What changed? All that empty space in the sky? I’m not entirely sure.

Emotional freefall.

I used to let myself leap off various intellectual cliffs, with little or no regard to the fact I might not ever come down. Groundedness was not something I particularly desired – to be weighted down without those soaring thoughts that took me out to distant planets seemed to be one of the saddest facts of consciousness one could possibly imagine.

There are still things I won’t tell anyone. I won’t share the night panics, the dark fears in the middle of the night, the refusal to let anyone ever enter my home or my apartment unless it was to clean, repair, or to go with me as I grabbed my keys, purse, and computer on the way to a road trip of the mind.

It was cold tonight when I made my way across the frozen street. I had almost forgotten the way that snow crunches when it approaches 0 degrees Fahrenheit. You take the chance to walk across the street with nothing but your wits and your ability to slide on wet, uneven ice that grips the asphalt.

This morning, I saw a man walking down the snow-packed side street, relief flowing through his eyes and his entire face. He had a 12-pack of Budweiser still in the plastic bag from QuikTrip. Did the blizzard have the unintended consequence of propelling addicts and alcoholics into unwelcome detox? I could only imagine the discomfort of cramps and hallucinations in the 3 degree pre-dawn hours.

Breathe in deeply even though the cold air burns your nose.

It takes courage to do what you’ve done all your life. You’ve examined your own thoughts with the idea of developing the ultimate “urtext” to knit together all those distant hot suns that twinkle like cold little nightlight stars in my heart and my mind.

You’re letting yourself think your own thoughts, listen to your own mind.

I’m not there any more. I prefer to let the workplace exigencies dominate my own narratives; in other words, I’ve become an approval seeker, and I have substituted the security of a predictable cause-effect relationship (customers want a product, I deliver it, they reward me with a pat on the back, and I happily eat the treat tossed my way) for the randomness and unpredictability of thoughts / emotions. I’ve learned to discipline my mind. I have learned to marshal my emotions. I’ve learned to manufacture “bliss.” And, I’ve forgotten how to be a human being.

In the early twentieth century, the possibility that we’d build robots that would eventually supplant and rule us was a terrifying possibility. We were, as factory workers, quite inferior to machines. Later, androids become not just more physically predictable but also more cognitively agile.

Then came the bionic men and women of the popular imagination.

Now, with our tools, we are already bionic. We don’t even need genetic engineering and medically engineered implants and parts.

It’s easy to think of ourselves as invulnerable as long as we’re on the inside looking out to drifts of snow and cold, dark skies.

But then, the frailties kick in. We get bronchitis. We get the flu. We pull tendons and we aren’t able to assert ourselves in the same way. Do we get kicked out of The Cloud? Do we become invisible, except for the false self that gets the most hits?

I’m not sure how to ask you these questions. You asked me if I’d come apart if you left me (died), and we both know the answer is “yes.” Is the fear of loss any reason to avoid being together? Yes, of course. That’s how it is these days. If things can’t be perfect, we’ll just stay in our web-surfing haze.

Obviously we need to learn how to enjoy the pain of our own humanity. I’m not very brave. So we must enjoy our lives now, no matter how trite that sentiment might seem. That’s what it means to be brave.

Despite the permanence and impermanence of The Cloud, you and I are neither permanent nor impermanent. We just run, run, run trying to outdistance the awareness of our existential condition.

And, well, I feel sadness for the poor woman whose body was buried in the backyard of a soon-to-be foreclosed house.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Money Is A Technology

Money is a technology used for leveraging time. I could go a bit further and say that it's a technology for doing a kind of time travel, but that would disappoint the people who like to think of time travel as something Jules Verne or Dr. Who, where you go to places in parallel dimensions, or to the same place, but see it as it will be. Planet of the Apes.

People like to say that money is a tool.

Sure, it is definitely that, but I'd like to posit that credit is a stronger, tougher tool than mere money.

Credit is a technology by which one can avert or forestall a Malthusian disaster.

Use credit to buy seeds, equipment, fertilizer, and other inputs, as well as processing, storage, distribution.

Credit is one of the most effective technologies ever invented. It multiplies the money supply, and helps get capital into the hands of people who will truly make it productive.

The only flaw in this technology is that it is not so much a mechanical technology (using machines, etc.) as a "belief" technology which requires faith and a collective suspension of disbelief. Everyone needs to accept the instrument as real, viable, and ultimately defensible (by someone or something -- the major entity of the day).

Money and Sports and Time: Gambling is another time technology

Sports outcomes contain built-in uncertainty, which make sports amenable to gambling.

How does time factor in it? The outcomes are worth something before they're determined; not so much afterward (except in terms of developing hierarchies).

People place their bets before the sporting event take place (kind of obvious).

Gambling is another time technology.

Are sports economically meaningful without gambling? Is enthusiasm for sports really muscled by its pure entertainment value? Does it contribute to the informal economy in an aggressive way because of gambling -- or, time technology?

Sports-themed restaurants are not so much about the sports as much as they are all about themed networking.

I'm tired of women sportscasters complaining about being treated strangely in the guys' locker rooms. To me, it's painfully disrespectful to hold interviews in locker rooms, regardless of gender.

What's next? Interviews in the bathrooms? In the stalls?

What happened to maintaining a locker room as a sanctuary for the players and coaches -- no outsiders allowed -- EVER.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Perry Mason Time Travel Diaries: Into the Film Noir of Our Lives

My son gave me a full set of Perry Mason episodes -- all nine years -- a year ago for Christmas, and it has brought me untold hours of joy. I love watching them -- I've watched many episodes -- especially the first two seasons -- many times. The later episodes are a little harder to watch; the videos were burned from recorded videos, and they are not in the best condition. They skip, get hung up, and do other annoying things. The shadowy black and white is great, though, and it's amazing how much of the action takes place at the witching hour -- midnight or near it -- and how rainy and dark many of the locations are. I love it. The episodes filmed after 1962 seem a bit heavy on the method acting -- it's as though the cast has gotten too far into A Long Day's Journey Into Night, The Iceman Cometh, and any / all Tennessee Williams plays. The gothic lighting of Elia Kazan (echoes of German expressionism and Fritz Lang) is reinforced by Perry Mason's questionable ethics and his cat-and-mouse maneuverings.

The cat-and-mouse game seems, at first blush, to be with Lt Tragg and DA Hamilton Burger (Los Angeles -- pronounced often with a hard "g") and with law and order, but each episode reveals that the true cat-and-mouse is with Occam's Razor, and the facile assumptions that flow from appearances. If any two-word slogan could epitomize Perry, it would be "appearances deceive."

Over the last year, there have been a few times when, after weeks and weeks of pushing myself to work 18-hour days (okay -- I'm including tennis in that calculation -- take out tennis, and you've got 15 - 16-hour days), I've taken to my warm, comfortable, and rather small upstairs bedroom. With a laptop on my lap, and my portable DVD player at my side, I sit, propped up with pillows and in soft flannel pajamas (and fluffy slippers) -- working on various projects from work, while watching episode after episode of Perry Mason. I love the theme -- the 1965 version of the theme song totally grooves; there is a baritone sax melodic line that is absolutely unforgettable; it gets into your veins, nerves, organs, even -- and you just groove with that dark, smoky, intimate sound until tears come to your eyes.

I'm not sure which episodes I prefer. Most Perry Mason aficionados seem to think that the first and second seasons are the best. I will say that Perry is much more rogue-ish, and some of the lines seem to be double-entendres of the most shameless stripe (in "The Sulky Girl" Perry says he's holding out for a "sulky boy" -- which, if you're a viewer who has not been watching closely and do not realize he's referring to the impending birth of a child of his client, a hard-to-handle "sulky" heiress -- strikes you as amazingly outre.

It's one of those golden closeted moments -- Perry Mason -- represented by Raymond Burr, a gay actor who had invented an entire mythology of heterosexuality, including three wives (who died tragically), a son (who tragically perished from leukemia), a heroic sojourn in the Marines (Iwo Jima?), education at Ivy League schools, and a childhood in China -- when you just can't believe he's outing himself in such a bold way, with no "wink-wink / nod-nod" but a explicit, sexually honest statement about his animating urges...

Well, upon re-watching the episode, the actual context made the line, "I'm holding out for a sulky boy" quite pedestrian, even patriarchal -- the girl heiress had been such a handful, that it was perceived as quite natural to root for the birth of a boy -- not only would he preserve the line, he would also serve as a sane, stabilizing male force.

Lovely ironic double-entendres -- I think they were probably unconscious -- but perhaps not.

In other episodes, Della advocates for the "damsel in distress" potential client by pointing out her physical attributes: "she's quite lovely" etc. Perry always takes the bait, and takes on a client that, presumably, he would have spurned, if she were old, plain, or simply uninteresting.

The frumpy clients always have a certain "je ne sais quoi" quality -- that either makes them pathetic ugly ducklings (where "nature's green is gold") with potential; or aging and/or indigent clients whose personalities serve as foils to Perry & Co. -- showing the dark, noirish, yet noble qualities of Perry, Della Street, and Paul Drake. In one episode, the formula was put on its head via a disconcerting off-the-cuff exchange: Della Street: "Perry, she's quite lovely" to which Perry retorts to ask why she never describes the men --

If you don't know the true sexual orientation of the cast, it's easy to applaud Perry's statement as a proto-feminist freedom-fighting against sexism.

However, if you know the true sexual orientation, the statement is filled with irony, wonder, and a deep, dark acknowledgment of the human condition.

In fact, it's this darkness, this subtle world of the double-entendre that most attracts me to the first two seasons. On the other hand, the later seasons pull me in because of the fundamental darkness of consciousness itself, where Perry Mason distinguishes himself with anti-communist / anti-progressive pontificating, while still plunging into the heart of darkness -- into the worlds inhabited by troubled, conflicted, flawed protagonists who repeatedly self-destruct, self-immolate, and psychologically self-mutilate -- they become reminders of how fragile the human psyche is. In doing so, the later episodes of Perry Mason are amazing tributes to individualism and the notion of deliverance as something radically courageous because it allows the individual to be multi-faceted, complex, and often contradictory; and yet, in the end, a symbol (or entire narrative) of salvation.

So, when I sit in bed, sipping hot coffee laced with gingerbread-flavored coffeemate and sweetened with stevia, stretching out in my flannel and micro-fiber fluffy slippers, I'm drawn to the darkness behind the personae -- after all, aren't we all in the same boat... ? My public persona is very tailored -- I prefer dark jackets, white blouses, narrow skirts (think flight attendant garb); it's a corporate uniform. Yet, I know I have to pay a high price for all those days when I'm "on" and I'm in all-day meetings and am aggressively launching / promoting / facilitating programs and concepts. I'm aware of the darkness within -- in my case, it's all about self-doubt. In the Perry Mason "noir" world, it's all about longing, fear, despair, envy, loss, hunger, and -- above all -- helplessness. There's "Rage Against the Machine" but how about "Rage Against Existential Helplessness"?

Noir is incredibly seductive. The honesty it engenders transcends words. It's freedom through honesty -- existential honesty. It takes a lot of effort to overcome the cognitive dissonance we have to deal with when we muscle our own identities into compliance with what the world seems to be telling us what we should be (I guess you could say that we pay a price as we go into a socialization process)....

Best case - it requires energy to adjust ourselves so we can enter the stream -- reminds me of the way natural gas has to be compressed in order to be able to enter the pipeline, which only takes line pressures that are sufficiently high --

Also well, it takes a lot of effort to beat ourselves into submission.

Film noir openly acknowledges -- even celebrates -- the fears and insecurities that drive people to beat themselves into submission; and, the fears and insecurities that accompany those who tried to beat themselves into submission -- to conform to the status quo -- and who failed...

I'm not sure if I'm making my point, or if I'm expressing myself with sufficient clarity ...

But I want to explore this topic and I welcome your thoughts and responses.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dena Baab: Response to Valerie Fox's The Glass Book

Critical Thinking Essay by Dena Baab, written in conjunction with an English composition course at Florida State College Jacksonville, Fall 2010. For the "Thought Block" prompts, please scroll to the bottom of this article.

I chose to write this essay on the suggested alternate writing, The Glass
by Valerie Fox (The Glass Book: After reading “They know about fish”, I must admit I
was a bit confused by it, and wondered if I just wasn’t having an open

Thought Block #1 - The kinds of scenes and ideas that come to mind don’t
really even make sense to me. When I read “people adopt them as pets
and put them on TV”, I first thought of aquariums. Then I began trying to
widen my view into a different perspective. If they were speaking of
possibly a TV show or documentary, I felt like the “tables and desks with
things on them called computers” was maybe referring to all the people
and paperwork involved in putting together a TV show. It wouldn’t be just
about the two fisherman anymore.

However, I still feel like I might be off-base about this story. In a different
direction, I’m thinking that maybe the debacle is some form of debate and
this is two government officials. I think what’s makes the fisherman
authentic is their down-to-earth appearance and ability to appear as
heroes. People will believe what they want to hear and follow those that
tell them exactly that.

I feel to be authentic is to be real, genuine and honest. You have to BE
these things, not just act that way. Eventually, the truth will come out and if
you are just acting a part, people will see you for what you really are. You
can be honest without being brutally honest and hurting people’s feelings.
If you are genuine and true, it will show through and people will not only
see it, but feel it as well.

Thought Block #2 – In “Well Met”, I felt like I was watching a scene unfold.
I’m on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what will happen next. I think
each specific “snip-it” draws my attention . The entire piece reminds me of
an actual dream, because you are zipping around from place to place to
person to person. You’re always trying to get somewhere, or find
someone, and you usually wake up before you accomplish that. The kind of
stories that seem to fit these poems might be children’s books. Maybe I
am way off base here, but the poem just makes me think of Dr. Suess
stories and other children’s books. The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and
Ham read much the same as “Well Met”.

Thought Block #3 –The places mentioned that might be in a collision course
with each other are somewhat extreme. The woman in the hotel room
scantily clad, to the church at St. Anne’s. In “A True Story, everything is
back and forth. “He is her salt and she his pepper”. The reference to
romance and war shows so much contrast, a person doesn’t know which
end is up. The woman’s getting older and the man’s getting younger. Which
way do we turn?

I think the gist of these stories says a lot about the world. There is
tremendous chaos and confusion, but there is also a lot of good in the
world and people who strive to do so. Yes, there are people who are
carefree and don’t really care what happens, but I also think maturity about
things comes with age. When you are young, you don’t really care or
understand ways of the world as much. Wisdom comes with age.
However, some people never grow up or gain the maturity expected of
them to be responsible adults and positive members of society.


If you're familiar with Valerie Fox's work, you know her work takes the reader to an intense, new world of associations, connections, and reconfigured perception.

Writing Assignment / Journal Based on Valerie Fox's The Glass Book

Step 1: Please respond to the following questions and observations. Let your thoughts flow, and do not worry about complete sentences or grammar. You may make lists and your thoughts can be fragmentary. The goal is to free-write, which may involve free association.

Thought-Block 1: In "They Know About Fish," what kinds of scenes and ideas come to mind? How might the work evoke notions of reality television or a documentary? What is the role of the viewer in making the fishermen authentic? What do the fishermen themselves do in shaping a notion of authenticity? What does authenticity mean to you in this situation? Write a few sentences about what it means to you to be authentic.

Thought-Block 2: Which prose poems make you feel as though you're watching a scene unfold? What are you, the viewer or reader, doing? How is your attention directed to specific elements of the scene? Does it make you seek to find a story to tie all the elements together? When do you first find yourself looking for a story to make sense of it all? What kind of stories seem to fit these poems? What did you expect to see? Investigate Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Thought-Block 3: List places where the characters in Fox's writing are in a collision course with each other. What will happen? What does the impending encounter reveal about each? What does it say about the world we live in? What are the locations they're in? What is the context? How does the fabric of reality hold up with all of this investigation into relations / places / encounters? Do you sense a strengthening of the people (or the places)? Or, an increasing fragility of the people? If you were to write a version about an encounter in an odd place in your life, what would it look like?

Step 2: Read your thoughts. Then, expand them. Revise and edit for clarity, but do not remove the vital spirit, the essence that flows forth. Then, share your thoughts on a blog, or turn them in as an assignment for a course.

Step 3: Create your own prose poem / writing. As you do so, visit the notion of "fu" -- the Han dynasty form of writing that blended poetry and prose. Here's a rather incomplete article on Chinese poetry, but a good starting point:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ashley Jay: Response to Valerie Fox's The Glass Book

Writing Assignment / Journal Based on Valerie Fox’s The Glass Book. Free pdf of the "lite" version; gorgeous printed version here.

Thought Block 1: "They Know About Fish"
Scenes of a small cold ocean side town, with lots of family owned storefronts. No big department stores, just the mom and pop stores. The town shuts down on Sunday. Everyone is trusting and believes there town is very safe. The way the towns’ people just flock to these men does bring to mind reality TV. It is liked the show “Punked”; these to men go in acting like they are something that they are not. Then in the end the truth comes out, however, they did not want it to. The viewer believes the men are telling the truth so they promote the fact that these men are really what they say. The “fishermen” go on telling stories about the sea and the fish they have caught. Telling stories is a great way to bring people in to the lies you are telling, the better the story the more people believe. Authenticity in this situation is explaining about fishing and being a fisherman. To be authentic in my opinion is to be true and honest. Just being you, whether that is being mean, nice, or in-between.

Thought Block 2: “The cornmeal ceiling, The furry couch”
This poem makes me feel like I am watching someone’s dream unfold. Its like I am watching from afar someone’s daydream, his or her subconscious is jumping all over the place. It is making for a very interesting story. The person starts out by worrying about another man and a child. Almost like he is self-conscious. Then it grabs my attention by the person being a rider on a greyhound bus. So that kind of explains why the person would be saying the comment about the other person and the child. Then it jumps to a nun, then a scarecrow in front of a seminary. It really jumps from subject to subject but the writer does a good job of in a subtle way to tie it all together. Toward the end I kind of was wondering of the cornmeal ceiling and the furry couch come into the mix. I envision the writer is speaking of himself or herself at the end of a long hard day. The cornmeal is the popcorn ceiling; the furry couch is where they have been perched at all day working hard. This poem goes with stories that are very image driven, that do not come out and say what they are saying, however the writer paints a picture as they go. Almost like Alfred Hitchcock shows. Alain Robbe-Grillet used imagery and repetition to drive his readers to the point he was trying to make. When reading his stories you really had to pay attention and study the subtle description of the story line. I find this kind of reading to be very interesting and enjoyable.

Though Block 3: Collision Course
In the first poem the fishermen are on a collision course with themselves. The truth of what they truly are, just plain outdoorsmen not fishermen at all. In the second poem the person is on a course with himself and the reality of the person they have become. In all the poems it seems that people are trying to find him or her or something. What will happen in the end, I think will be a mixture of good and bad. Some people will be happy and some will be sad. I think they are all in the location of searching for who and what they really are and want to be. Some of the encounters are positive and some are very threatening and scary. I think that the stronger people are sometimes the ones you have to watch out for. They may seem like the ones that have it all together, however, they are the ones that fall the hardest once left to do things alone. I sense an increasing fragility among people. With the finance strain that many Americans are facing it is easy to get depressed. It seems like every day you hear of someone losing their job, house, or something devastating happening to them and it is easy to just give up hope. If I were writing about and odd place in my life it would be about the constant change of a career and major in college choice. One day it is nursing, then teacher, then and hospital administration. The list goes on and I am at the point were I have to make a choice and I am scared to jump.

Step 3: a response

There is this girl she is 27
This girl needs to find her way
There our lots of paths this girl can take
This girl is at the point where she has to choose and take one
There is a lot of fear in this girl
This girl’s biggest fear is failure
There is only one way this girl will fail
That is by just sitting back and doing nothing
This girl will make a choice
There is no truning back for this girl
She has made her choice and will succeed with all she does.

Note: Ashley Jay's response to Valerie Fox's poetry / poetics was written in conjunction with an English Composition course at Florida State College Jacksonville / Fall 2010.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Mischief Afoot


The newscaster announced that the Creek Nation's oldest living member had just died at age 110. She was born in 1900. Pretty amazing.

Question: How often are the "hyper-generians" not the person they claim to be? How often is it a much younger person who has assumed their identity?

I am always skeptical when I hear the 105-year-olds discuss their lives -- especially the ones who claimed the secret to their longevity is hard living -- drinking, smoking, gambling, eating pork fat, donuts, deep-fried American cheese? They could get the requisite skinniness through bouts of anorexia and bulimia. Why not consider at 75-year-old imposter? Even a 50-something pretending to be an 80-something?

I'm sure it's been attempted, especially if there are entitlement payments in the mix (pension, headrights, oil and gas revenue, etc.).

Where there's money, there's mischief afoot.


If I were compelled to pretend to be a 110-year-old, what would I do?

First of all, I wouldn't do it. I would not pretend to be an 80-year-old, either. Not worth it. I don't want to have the conversations I'd be expected to have -- boring historical ramblings and an invented personal landscape. The alternative would be to feign dementia or Alzheimers. That would be a fragile defense against being exposed as an imposter. It would make me too vulnerable. Before I knew it, I'd wake up to find myself in danger of having my own identity snatched from me, and an imposter installed in my stead.

No thanks.


It's only tangentially related, but the idea of a person pretending to be a super-annuated citizen who has, in fact, passed away, in order to get her Social Security check, pension, and any other dividends or royalties that might be coming her way seems to have incalculable psychic consequences to the person who decides to shove their own identity and reality off to the side in favor of a secure income stream.

What ever happened to "to thine own self be true?"

I suppose the person who is willing to rebirth themselves is somehow dissatisfied with their personal reality.

Don't they realize it means they will never see their existing friends, family, and colleagues?

I guess it's considered the sweet end of the deal, if their life is really so bad that they must go down that path.

Perhaps they're old enough that they've lost everyone anyway and the person they're impersonating was their only remaining relative -- a mother, etc.

Who knows. Seems lonely, and not as regenerative or as materially secure as it might look to the person who is idly contemplating it.


Which leads to My Ten New Year's Resolutions:

1. Be true to myself. Play more. Buy more toys. Translation: get involved in high-tech and very visionary educational / literary projects that challenge me on at least three or four levels.

2. Enjoy what I eat, and eat what I enjoy. Slow down, sit down, and don't wolf it down while standing up. I'm not a cow (yet).

3. Record more podcasts -- audio and video. Continue to interview e-learning innovators. Ask them to provide a video -- 2-minutes average time -- hosted on youtube, which I can embed.

4. Write a children's book. Do not center it around vampires, werewolves, zombies, luisons, or other undead, unless the publisher absolutely insists.

5. Set savings goals; reduce my overhead. Achieve the savings goals. (In other words, set them low).

6. Transform the workplace, make the world a better place. Think of solutions to hamster-wheel jobs and hamster-family workplaces. Do what I can to help people prepare themselves for jobs that have a chance of resulting in something. Who wants to think that their only thrill in life is seeing how many sunflower seeds they can pack into their cheek pouches? It is important to take the high road. Don't become a hamster mommy or daddy who emerges from its shredded Kleenex nest with a hunk of newborn hamster baby tail hanging from your mouth. Be nice to your co-workers, even if it is difficult. It's all about overcrowding and overpopulation. Why else would the hamster mommy or daddy eat its young, live spawn the very night they're born? Sometimes the cage is too small, the cube farm is too cheek-to-jowl and invasive. Help people spread out.

7. Warn the world of the danger of exotic pets. An African black mamba is not a good pet. Don't encourage genetic engineering and the development of such aberrations as glow-in-the-dark anacondas.

8. Watch more film noir.

9. Assume a relaxed, passive position when my loved ones are speaking to me. They will think I'm listening and have acquired (finally, after all these years!) an ability to hear what they're saying -- and-- more importantly -- accept it. I know in my heart of hearts that I have not (and cannot) acquire that ability. It's better to learn how to mentally multi-task. I can mentally rerun what I'm choreographing for fun dance routine, or visualize tennis and the serve I'm trying to learn.

10. Develop a new character to draw as I illustrate the children's book I intend to write.

Meta-Goal: Smile, chant, pray.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Pandora's Boxes, Escheatment, and a Stolen Wheel


Tanguely Frere emerged from the racquet club damp with sweat and ready to make the long drive across the dark city to her mid-town apartment where she planned to take a hot shower and to collapse into a soft bed with clean cotton sheets.

It was not to be.

As she approached her car, parked under a light and in view of the surveillance camera, she saw that the right rear end of her car resting on the ground. Someone had stolen her right rear wheel. Not the tire, but the entire wheel. There was a small pile of 5 lug-nuts on the ground.

It was the second time in two weeks that it had happened. The first time, Tanguely had interrupted the thieves, who sped off in a souped-up box of a car – an Element or something like it-- that sounded like a Harley Davidson with glasspacks. She did not realize what had been happening until the wheel started to come off as she drove down the road, heading toward Starbucks.

"At least the wheel did not come off while I was on the turnpike or in traffic," she said to the tow-truck driver.

They stole her wheel sometime before 9:15 at night on the shortest, darkest day of the year, which happened to coincide this year with a full eclipse of the moon, slated for around midnight.

"You were right." Tanguely texted her hair stylist who had become a mystic, soi-disant, with tarot cards and psychic visions. She wasn’t alone. Others were feeling the psychic groundswell, as late-night Coast-to-Coast radio interview subjects waxed eloquent on underground civilizations, reptilian aliens, Trilateral Commission meetings, Bohemian Grove, and 2012.

The eternal return of the apocalyptic narrative.

In the QuikTrip convenience store where Tanguely bought a coffee after airing up the spare tire, she noticed a bleached blonde woman with a chipmunk-like laugh that was so loud it echoed off the glass doors of the refrigerated SmartWater and sugar-free energy drinks. The woman was young, but with a laugh like that -- the result of being goofed up one whatever cheap stimulant around (meth? glue? shoe polish?) -- she would be wizened and toothless within three years. She could run around the trees with the other toothless chipmunks on crystal meth, thought Tanguely. Ordinarily, Tanguely felt a twinge of compassion for the drug abusers who seemed to gravitate to the convenience stores. Tonight, though, after having her wheel stolen, Tanguely felt hostility; raw aggression.

“I wonder how much they got for my wheel,” mused Tanguely. How long would it keep them high? They need to switch over to huffing gasoline. It’s cheap.

“Except they probably did it partially for the thrill,” commented Tanguely to no one in particular.

Someone was speaking Mexican-accented Spanish in a squeaky baby voice that someone had probably told her was "perky," and not simply annoying. She was showing her friend an engagement ring.

Tanguely paused by the door and punched the number in on her new iPhone which had a finicky touchscreen.

"You seem grumpy," commented her friend. Although it was pointless to call him, since he around 150 miles southeast of the racquet club.

"I am grumpy," said Tanguely. "I should be grateful. I know that. At least they took the whole wheel, and just one. It's better than having it fall off at 60 miles per hour."

Tanguely walked across the parking lot, and the sound of chipmunk laughter bounced up and down. Tanguely felt like turning around and running up to the chipmunk woman, recording her laugh and uploading it to iTunes.

That laugh would be perfect for horror films. You could play the laughter just before the knife came down in the shower, or the chainsaw appeared in Lovers Lane.


Tanguely walked through the door and opened her mail. She noticed a holiday card from the stock transfer company that had escheated 90,000 shares of stock she had inherited from her mother. The stock transfer company had claimed they had tried to establish contact with her. Unfortunately, the stock transfer company tended to deluge everyone on their mailing lists with spam and junk paper mail, to the point that whenever she saw an envelope with their return address, she expected a sales pitch for unneeded (but very expensive) workshops and third-party goods and services -- insurance, travel deals, even cosmetic surgery.

So, she didn't open her mail from them. She did not know she was not in contact. As a result she was turned over to the State of Colorado.

Getting her stock back once it had been escheated -- basically seized -- by the State of Colorado was harder than Tanguely ever imagined.

Now she was opening her holiday card.

It was a cute pop-up of gift boxes -- blue and purple. Undoubtedly, someone had thought they were nice little Hanukkah or Christmas gifts.

Pandora's boxes, thought Tanguely.

Beware the gifts proffered by a securities transfer company. Not Trojan horses, but worse. Open the box, open the present, and unleash pesky, needling, schadenfreude-ish energies of the night.

Was it the kind of energy that drove people to steal a wheel from a car in a racquet club parking lot? Did someone know she was inside, playing tennis on an indoor court?

"Doesn't your current boss live down the street from the racquet club?" asked her friend. "Doesn't he have a 16-year-old who just got a small SUV?"

"That looks like an Element?" responded Tanguely. She paused. "Yes."

Her friend sighed loudly. Tanguely spoke.

"I wasn't taking it personally until now," she said. "I guess I should. The police seemed to think it was an unusual event and that no one wants Subaru tires and wheels. If I had a Ferrari, yes. A 6-year-old Subaru? No."

She picked up the pop-up holiday card and peered inside the little pop-up boxes. Did they have gifts inside? The card was not elaborate enough for that.


The big questions:

How do we tell good from evil and right from wrong?

What is reality?

How do we know what we know?

Which professions are most ethical and which are the least ethical?

Why is being a circus clown a morally better choice than being an Olympic athlete?

Revenge fantasies flowed through Tanguely’s mind. How could she entrap the wheel thieves? It was not worth it.

Switching gears, Tanguely thought that the answers to the “big questions” were patently self-evident.

Therefore, they were not too interesting. She was more interested in the “nano-questions” – the subtle questions that left no “psychic footprint” to disrupt the flow…

“Morality does not unfold in a linear way,” commented Tanguely.

She assumed the thieves were young, male, with beliefs of impunity and immortality.

How about cornered rats? Desperate, angry, unwilling to conform?

Time for a few rat traps, of the human type, thought Tanguely.

And, well, rats were of any age.

It was sad.

Happy New Year.