Talking 'bout my "generation"

I think it’s a positive thing that the concept of “generations” on a mass scale is falling apart. It’s a pretty silly notion, if you think about it. You can talk about generations in terms of family, in terms of, maybe, neighborhoods or communities, but anything beyond that…? It’s like the old Athenian idea of a polis, or democratic voice of the people – with one person you don’t have a polis, and with a hundred thousand you no longer have one. You can’t have generations with 300 million people wandering about. It’s not like there are great lulls in which pediatricians and elementary school-teachers sit around, playing cards and dusting, waiting for the next wave to come along. I can’t confirm this with statistics, but I’m pretty sure that there were graduating classes all across the country every year between 1969 (the last of the ‘baby boomers’) and 1980 (the start of ‘generation X’). Should we just cast those people aside? The flotsam of procreation? Essentially “generations” is a marketing tool: a way to lump people as part of something through gross generalization.

You know whose fault it is? This generation idea? Gertrude Stein. When will Gertrude Stein’s reign of marketing tie-in terror end??!! WHEN?! Damn you, Gertrude Stein! Damn you to hell! Yaaarrrgh!

Anyways, she was sitting around some Paris flat talking to Hemingway and a bunch of the ex-pats and they were drinking and blah-blahing about meaninglessness and so forth, and she said, “Yours is a lost generation.” Then everybody went, “Cooooooool, I want to be in a lost generation!” I mean, who wouldn’t? It’s like being admitting to a super-hip club just by being born at a certain time. And generations are usually used to described younger people, and the description usually based around youthful behavior, so it’s rebellious, yet inclusive.

So then, of course, you get the baby-boomers, which is good because it would be more difficult for them to be so utterly self-involved without a catchy name. Then Generation X (seriously, people, naming a whole cultural wave of people after a briefly-existent punk band?), which was when the whole marketing idea really took off. If we say that our product is the choice of this generation, why they’ll have to buy it! Remember in the 80’s, before we had the term generation X, and Pepsi launched the “You’re the Pepsi generation” campaign? Jesus Christ, that’s subtle.

Now there’s all this generation Y (come on, that’s not even trying), and generation E and crap. If this group of teenagers is supposed to be an offshoot of Generation X, shouldn’t they be called Billy Idol? Aaaaaaaaaaahahahahahahaha! Get it?! You don’t? Oh.

But, of course, it doesn’t make any sense, because the people who are being marketed to aren’t the children of generation X, there just other people. As it stands, I’ve heard people from age 46 to 14 claim to be generation X, usually with a furrowed brow, trying to figure out what this means. That’s a big-ass generation. Let’s just drop it. No tidy groups, just a big mess of people.


Quick note

Just in case anyone's interested - the Reviews page is up and running now.


Empathy is power, but not the cool kind...

Some years ago I was living in this tiny, studio apartment in Portland. Your standard-issue early-20’s Starving Artist housing unit. View of another building, blood-colored water for the first several seconds when you turn on the tap, etc. I found myself one night, for some reason, watching a trash-TV news show about some serial killer (of course). Lying on my mattress on the floor, staring at the fuzzy reception on my 13” black & white TV. Lonely. Digesting my fourth consecutive dinner of rice avec ketchup. Ah. Good times. Good times.

So anyway, this serial killer had killed a man as one of his victims, and it really freaked me out at the time. I actually had trouble falling asleep – and not for the usual reasons. I mean I knew why, why the idea of a serial killer killing a man bothered me. No room to dissociate. I would have never said I did so, because of course it’s not a conscious move, but it’s human nature to assure ourselves of our own safety when we hear of horrors. We could not have been the victims because…

Because the victim was a woman.
Because the victim was gay.
Because the victim was black.

Or, looking to our horror-film standards: Because the victim was promiscuous. Because the victim was stupid and went to check out the sound upstairs by herself.

Not me, because…
Not me, because…
Not me, because…

If we want to see the extent we’ll go to, look at September 11, 2001. People were so frightened because it was us, it could have been any of us. Within a day or two, Jerry Falwell was saying that we deserved it because we are a nation of sinners: homosexuals, abortionists and masturbators. He said that! That because people masturbate, they deserved it!! But it was calming to a lot of people who could remind themselves that they are not gay, they don’t have abortions, or if they do they don’t admit it to each other, and they always feel really, really guilty when they masturbate, so there. Not me, because…

One of my classes is reading Elie Weisel’s Night, the story of his time in a concentration camp. I’ve been trying to get them to not refer to the victims as Jews, but as people. They are, almost universally, unwilling. They actively dislike the idea. I’ve been trying to break down these dissociative barriers so they can read the story with empathy, and direct understanding. I tried to explain that they weren’t Jews, they were people who were Jewish. I’ve tried reminding them that it wasn’t just Jews in the camps.

Side note: Several students thought that putting homosexuals in concentration camps was a good idea. None of them saw anything disturbing or ironic about agreeing with Nazi concentration camps. A couple did explain to me, though, that this was different, for you see, gays are gross. Ah! Touché! I was barely able to resist laughing at them and telling them to be careful of spiders and dust-bunnies that deep in the closet.

So, they won’t do it. Perhaps it’s just latching onto educational sound bites. “Slavery caused the civil war.” “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” “The Nazis put Jews in concentration camps.” But the active refusal really feels like a sort of fear of empathy. If it is only the scythe of timing and circumstance that separates you from such things, the stakes go way up. Security is lost. You are forced to imagine what these things are like in the past for people who are you, for all intents and purposes… then you have to do it in the present. You are forced to think about the horrors in the world that you do nothing about, or even encourage. And then what do you do?

Empathy very well may be the most dangerous and powerful thing in the world.

Addendum: Apparently - looking at the comments - I need to clarify. When I say empathy is dangerous, I mean to the status quo, to our comfort. This is not a bad thing, this is an amazing thing. A great thing, perhaps the greatest. It's just that it's frightening. Empathy will end wars. It will end terrorism and exploitation. It will end prejudice - if these students would empathize with concentration camp victims, it would never happen again (not these students specifically, of course, just in the general sense). So it is ultimate power, it's just that it's not the cool, Matrix-esque kind. It's power in the way that the pen is mightier than the sword, but no one wants Aragorn to carry a pen ("Orcs! I shall write a treatise enumerating their evils and calling for sanctions!"). It's power in the way that forgiveness is a power, but most people would prefer laser beam eyes.

I was trying to end the posting with a cool one-liner about empathy. Great.


Also, sometimes dogs catch frisbees

You’re never supposed to punish a dog for something he’s done more than a couple minutes earlier, since his event-memory is only about five-minutes. No matter how mad you are, it’s pointless to flip out, because he’ll just look at you, head cocked to the side, with that big, dopey “can I have a sandwich?” look on his face wondering why you’re all huffy. Unfortunate, but it’s just the way it is.

So, like most states, we got caught up in the whole gay marriage issue during the last election cycle. It was a tough one, because it’s a valid issue, but was also obviously intentional distractions from the real, and more complicated issues.

Don’t worry – they connect. I’m going somewhere with this.

Bush’s dad did something similar, with the whole flag-burning issue – proposing a constitutional amendment banning the burning of the American flag, or wearing it in a disrespectful manner (shirt = patriot!; pants = hippie fag anarchist!; oversized top hat + stilts = delightful parade Uncle Sam!; oversized top hat – stilts = raver; etc.). The rallying cry of the Neo-Con, Protect Marriage crowd was that homosexuals should be allowed to have civil unions, but marriage?! How dare these people try to desecrate the institution founded on the premise of women as property!?! Everyone knows that homosexuals can’t be monogamous. So, two days after the election (literally), on this issue, which for many thousands upon thousands of people was the deciding issue, Bush said, “Oh, by the way, the banning gay marriage thing? Yeah, we’re not going to do that. Really, I’d love to, but you know, that Social Security isn’t going to dismantle itself!”

So now it’s left to the states to decide. The problem is that banning gay-marriage is unconstitutional, because it’s mandating discrimination. Many people didn’t understand that it didn’t have to be legalized, it already was, and it was just that no one had ever pushed the issue. Anyway, so a few months after the electiona Republican in Oregon submits a bill to recognize civil unions. After all, it’s what the Neo-Cons and the Republicans Party (official motto: “Fuck you.”) said they wanted, right?! Hahaha! Sucker!!!

He’s been assaulted with thousands of letters and emails accusing him of everything from treason to buggery. Often with rampant misspellings, I might add with a snobbish wink, and very often with parroted buzz-phrases lifted from talk radio. The essential message is how dare he betray the wishes of the Republican Party, that we can’t grant “special rights” to these people (Apparently all heterosexuals are special. Yay! I’m special!), and that if we do grant them civic unions, instead of visiting each other in hospitals after-hours, inheriting life-partners’ property and having legal rights, this will lead to rampant public sodomy, mandatory “Be Gay” classes and assemblies in school, and maybe even (shudder) men holding hands in public. IN PUBLIC, PEOPLE.

Now, this may seem, at the outset, just a skosh hypocritical. But when psychologists are trying to quantify intelligence, one of the key aspects is the subject’s ability to conceive of “later” or “earlier.” Willfully delaying gratification (“Maybe I’ll save some Halloween candy for later”), or using part events as guides for future behavior (“When I ate all my Halloween candy at once, I went into a sugar-frenzy and killed my neighbor. Also I got an upset tummy. Maybe I won’t do that again.”). Obviously, the mass of this crowd is astonishingly unintelligent and perhaps we should look in to the idea – like dogs – that they are physiologically unable to remember what happened a couple months ago. It would also explain people’s belief that Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11 (or, well, ever).

Now – and this is important – I’m not saying neo-cons are dogs. I’m saying they’re dumber than dogs. Yes, even shih-tzus. And those things are dumb. After all, dogs are loyal, often selfless and if they pee all over you, it’s generally on accident. To be fair, Neo-Cons are well known for not shedding excessively, and they never, ever have gas (gas is a sin).

Using a little Aristotelian Syllogism, the next step is obvious. Neo-Cons need, for their own protection, to be leashed, bred for desirable tendencies, and please, for God’s sake, Byron reminds you to spay and neuter your Neo-Cons.


The Paradox of Negativity

So I was bursting blood veins this morning about how it’s been revealed that between the years of 2000 and 2002 our government was illegally buying oil from Saddam Hussein and paying him kickbacks directly, under the table. Not just a little oil, but more than all other nations in the world combined. What I was writing on, though, was not the horrible, despicable hypocrisy – that is totally consistent behavior for this dynasty – but rather the lack of surprise and attention paid by the general public, indicative of our exhaustion. Our satiation. But then I was looking at comments and on an earlier posting (“Breach of Contract”) someone asked if I am always so negative. Since issues about me are vastly more important than global betrayal, war and the decline of civilization (note to the subtlety-challenged: this is an ironic/satirical statement), I’m switching gears to respond. And pontificate. And so forth.

Am I always so negative? Initially I was going to just going to give a short response (something along the lines of, “No. Psh.”), but then I thought, ‘Hey! Why answer an innocuous, harmless (and, granted, legitimate) question succinctly when I can blow the comment way out of proportion and link it to issues of God, cosmic responsibilities, paradoxes, disease, me, and an overlooked TV series?’

A foundational element of this site – an all social criticism – is recognizing the inherent paradox of crisis and true criticism. Blanket negativity isn’t criticism in the true, analytical sense, it’s just trashing on things. This trashing on things, or dwelling on the negative, can be so draining and exhausting because it is usually incomplete – non-thinking in a sense. Actual darkness cannot exist without light. Cataclysm without growth. Crisis without opportunity (one of my favorite Simpsons quotes – Lisa: You know dad, in Chinese the word for crisis is the same as for opportunity. Homer: Yes! Crisi-tunity!). So overturning the rock to expose the ugliness must, at least in its implication, generate the idea of change, positive growth. Conversely, while optimism and positive thinking are, of course, important, vital to mental health, often it can turn into complacency, and an attempt to find the positive side of things can sometimes result in stasis, or even letting evil reign free.

In the entry in question, the implied conclusion is not one of hopelessness, but obligation for growth. Not that we have opportunity to become individuals in an Emersonian sense – we always have that – but that we absolutely have to! A toxic culture is awful and, yes it is that bleak, but this will force people, out of pure survival, to develop, to reject ascribed beliefs and forge their owns paths. Yes, I do believe that our culture is in a terrible place. Yes, our empire is in decline and our free market has achieved an incredible Pyrrhic victory.

I suppose I should put in a little caveat here. I am a pretty dark person. Always have been. I’ve also been told I use too many big words. This has nothing to do with being dark, but I just figured I’d mention it. Also, it’s probably important to mention that my mental filter is a bit clogged at the moment. On a large scale the state of the world is, of course, jaw-dropping. Nothing new under the sun there, per se. On my own small level, my wife, M, got a pain in her leg three years ago and it gradually spread, engulfing her entire body in tremendous pain 24 hours a day, while doctor after doctor after doctor promises cure then shrugs six months later and suggests we see if there’s someone else we’d like to go to instead, all the while I stand helplessly by. I’m teaching at a high school as part of an attempt to plunge into the train wreck of public education and be part of the solution instead of part of the problem (thus exemplifying the idea of the paradox of criticism: public education is awful [criticism], they need teachers [implication]. Guess I gotta be a teacher for a while [positive action]), and I underestimated what a formidable foe the system would be to my mind, my personal Byroniverse. Plus I think they’re going to cancel Arrested Development. Those are couple examples that are definitely coloring my view.

So, fair is fair: I’m a fairly dark person, in a fairly dark time. Guilty. Stop me before I critique again. Strap a Mickey Mouse shirt on me and send me my subscription to USA Today. But if we’re going to save our culture, our minds, our souls, we better start tearing our mores apart. And laughing. Really laughing, not just pointing fingers. I’m at a point in my life where I strongly believe in the ancient idea of a Prankster God. When things are at there worst, there often at their funniest. Our ability to laugh at our absurdities often saves us. This is an idea for another entry. But out of my darkness (I hope) comes my humor and hope and, maybe ironically, faith in others.

Bush was paying Hussein under the table? Fucking hilarious. I mean, it really, really is. People are following Bush as their moral crusader? Oh my God, the joke was funny, the tag line is even better! It’s horrible. It’s indicative of the corruption of greed and power and dynasty. It’s dark. It’s hilarious. It’s got to be remembered. It’s got to be acted on, if not now, then in the next empire, when they find themselves in this position.


Accidental 'Lighthouse = Writing' metaphor

So I accidentally-on-purpose mentioned my site to a couple people, so someone would read it, but no one bit. Then I blatantly plugged it to a couple people. Nothing. Finally I resorted to actually writing the address on one of my student’s papers. Sad, yes? Thank God someone seems to have looked at it, though, because the next step might have gotten pretty desperate. T-shirts. Assignments to my students. Walking around town with a sandwich board (“The end is nigh! To learn more, log on to Once Wide World…”). Breaking into people’s houses and forcing them to read. Writing an entry using phrases like “barely legal” “free sex” and so forth, just to get a couple of Google hits.

Which I guess I just did…


What is it about external confirmation that is so important? I mean, why not just write on yellow legal-pads and keep them in a trunk somewhere a la Dickinson (minus the Miss Havisham/crazy aspects)? It’s not enough to write, we need someone else to see it. Yes, yes I know there are oh-so-many exceptions, Dickinson, Keats writing “Ode to a Nightingale” on a scrap and shoving it in the bookcase, and so forth. But you know that Keats was hoping someone was going to grab the poem from the bookcase and say, “Wow, John, this poem is kick-ass!” and Dickinson daydreamed about us revering her poetry exactly the way we do. Is it the inherent idea in art of connecting the human experience to one another? Or is it more basic and primitive than that? Seeking approval. That we just never outgrow wanting a pat on the head or heart chuck-on-the-shoulder from mom/the teacher/God. Maybe the two are inextricably bound.

I was at the coast this weekend, and around dusk got very maudlin and grandiose as I stared at a lighthouse. It was a gray sky, and the lighthouse seemed impossibly lonely, impossibly sad, there in the distance. This basic staple of human history – both literally and figuratively – of trying to announce through the darkness that someone else is there; that you’re not alone. That someone wants you to be safe. Lighthouses just seem to capture so much of that feeling on a very elemental level. When you sit staring at a lighthouse, especially at dusk, you get such a sudden blast of understanding just how God damn big the world is, how vast and impossible it all is. But, of course, everything with which we surround ourselves it designed to hide that fact, isn’t it? Ironically, we isolate ourselves from the world to not have to face how lonely it is. It’s only when we try to connect to others that we must face this. Writing is the attempt to connect. It being read is the connection. Hence, wanting people to read what we write. And like it. A lot. That’s always a plus.

Hm. I wasn’t even shooting for the whole ‘Lighthouse as metaphor for writing’ thing. Kind of cool. Kind of sappy.


Atomic theory

What if atomic theory is correct? What if everything is comprised of atoms, molecules, etc?

If this is true, and one were able to see these particles, it would be difficult, almost impossible, to differentiate between one object and another, to see where one person ends and another begins. It would mean that we are all, literally, connected. Are all, quite literally, one entity.

If this is the case I'm going to owe some new-agers apologies. Crap.


trying to teach how to think...blind leading the blind

One of my classes is a creative writing class. We’re doing a short unit right now on expanding the ability to think and create. I suspect people thought this would involve exercises like writing stories from a bowling ball’s point of view and things like that. Instead I’ve been trying to touch on the idea of shattering the way we think, to shake up the hard-wiring a bit. Squeegee the 3rd eye, as Bill Hicks used to say. The lesson is based from the examination of truth, the dissection of our own truths. Rejecting the things we’ve been taught as givens and deciding for ourselves what to think.

They’re bored out of their minds.

One of the complaints is that it doesn’t have anything to do with creative writing. That part was giving be a bit of trouble too. I knew there was a connection, but I couldn’t quite see it. I was just trusting that it was there. But, man there is nothing but nothing like people making you mad to get real clear real fast, is there?

It’s similar to this time in college I was taking a history of western art class and we got to modern art (Picasso, DuChamp, Magritte, Mondrian, Pollock, etc.), and this mouth-breathing, frat-guy vomits up the standard rant about “a six-year-old could draw that” it “doesn’t even look like anything” and “this art reminds me of my limited mental faculties, and my constant fear that others are mocking me without my realizing, therefore I will clobber all things I don’t understand.”

Wouldn’t that be great if he actually had said that last part?

So, I myself was having trouble understanding some of the concepts behind the art, but I really didn’t like this guy, so I launched into a lengthy speech that, seriously, was channeled by God or something because I sure as hell don’t know where it came from. It was a clear, complex and passionate explanation of modern art, it wasn’t just a hateful retort, code for “fuck you, troglodyte.” From that day, I have loved modern art. He’s probably long since forgotten it (and it isn’t like his eyes went wide and he said, ‘I see it now!’ at the time. I suspect he thought something more along the lines of, ‘fag.’), but I totally succeeded in convincing myself. Isn’t that weird? Not just because I love the sound of my own pontification, but because my irritation forced me to verbalize something that was slogging around the backwater slums of my brain.

Same thing in creative writing. I gave a short speech about the artist’s obligation to see life clearly – recognizing which things he sees because he’s been taught to, and to be able to recognize the filter that shapes his own perceptions. To recognize the things we’ve become blind to because they’re so commonplace we’ve come to regard them as simply the way things are. To identify truth, not as we all think it is, but as it is. Writers being the safeguards of human experience, protecting the experience against revision and manipulation. It was good stuff.

They were still bored out of their minds.


Breach of contract

I was showing Supersize Me to one of my classes yesterday, and something somebody said in it got me thinking. One of the people being interviewed kept bringing up the idea of a "toxic culture" or a "toxic society." While at the outset this seems like an alarmist term, or perhaps a hyperbolic buzz-phrase, it really isn't. And the implications of this are huge.

A society has one obligation: in short, to better the quality of life for those who subscribe to it. The obligation of a society is to its individuals, rather than to itself as an entity. When the society ceases to uphold its obligation - in its structure, its laws, its expectations - the social contract is nullified. As Hobbes says in Leviathan - "You are king only so long as under kingship, my life is secure." This doesn't mean, of course, that if you're unhappy, it's society's fault. This is an unfortunate perversion of this concept. The question is what happens if you behave as society asks you to? By agreeing to uphold the law, to pay taxes, to not build a castle and stockpile it with women, jerky and guns, what happens in exchange?

Our culture right now?

If you eat the food you are expected to eat, you will get sick. You will get diabetes, you will get asthma, you will have heart trouble.

If you entertain yourself the way you are expected to, you will grow petty, dull-witted and illiterate. You will cease to be able to pay attention for more than the fifteen seconds which is the maximum allowed to pass without a "joke" on a sitcom. You will grow to adore barbarism and torture that you inflict, via your games.

If you own the items you are expected to own, you will get terribly, terribly in debt, and you will stay there for the rest of your life. Your home will become a storage facility of gadgets around which you patrol as caretaker.

If you work the jobs you are expected to work, you will never, never in you life, create something that is identifiably yours. You will never contribute anything to society that is unique or new. You will never benefit from the success of you company, only be allowed to remain in stasis. You will service the system, and then when you have fulfilled your part of the bargain, you will be thrown out.

If you admire the people you are expected to admire you will strive to be shallow, self-obsessed, mean, childish, greedy, and self-promoting.

This is the very definition of "toxic." If you ingest it, it will sicken and kill you. If you subscribe to the culture as you are expected to, it will ravage you, not force you to better yourself, to contribute, to do good things. This is a breach of contract, and it renders it null.

The question becomes this, then: If you have no obligation to the society, does this fact mean you should just look out for yourself, or does it increase your obligation to other individuals? Does it mean you shouldn't pay taxes and play spider solitaire all day, or does it mean you have to work harder to reject expectations, while fighting to rebuild a better society? Do we reject the foundations on which our society was built? Or do we try to get them back?


favorite books

So, I’m filling out the little profile thing and it asks favorite books, movies, etc. Well, I just ramble on and on about my favorite books making little asides and pithy, self-deprecating remarks, and then I hit ‘submit’ and…oh, too many characters. Okay, okay, fine. I delete a bunch and then submit it and it’s this weird cluster of hyperlinks because it doesn’t want pithy remarks or why their your favorites, and so now with the punctuation rules in the profiles, it looks like one of my favorite books is called Dick; (oh.


I’m sure everyone else in the world knows that how those online profiles work, but sweet flaming Jesus, you don’t just ask someone for a list of their favorite books or movies and expect a concise, qualifier-free list! That’s madness! Madness! But then, I’m the one who can’t be bothered to learn to write code, right? I wanted a nice, tidy, pre-fab blog site. It’s just that I’ve had too many friends, reeking of coffee, BO and junk food, their eyes sunken from lack of sleep, saying, “Check this out! It took over 165 hours of work, but now when you click here? A Wookie shits on Osama bin Laden! Hahahahahaha!” or whatever, and somehow html just dropped on my priorities list.

Plus, I mean, seriously. When you ask for a basic, no-frills list of favorite books or movies or music, you don’t get a no-frills list of favorite books, movies, etc. You get ‘Here’s a list of books that I hope impress you, and they would be my favorites if I were as cool and smart and edgy as I almost am, and wish I were, and will be someday when I quit dorking around and, you know, self-actualize or blossom or find my focus or something. Oh God, I’m pathetic. Please love me.’

This is just the book list, too. I’m going to need a nap and an energy shake or something before I can tackle the movies. Jesus, there goes my weekend. So anyway, here’s my current list of favorite books. Obviously, this list will change frequently due to remembering others, encountering new, etc.

Smarty books: Heart of Darkness – Conrad; Moby Dick – Melville (Oh, don’t roll your eyes at me. I’m serious. I’m not trying to be pretentious. I’m not! See below for an explanation); Great Gatsby – Fitzgerald; The Book of Laughter and Forgetting – Kundera; The Palm-Wine Drinkard – Amos Tutuola (Oh, for the love of God. Do you see what I just did? That's not one of my favorite books. That book is fucked up! Insane weird! It's interesting, but I didn't even particularly like it, to say nothing of it being one of my favorites. Things Fall Apart by Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe is one of my favorite books, but everybody's read that one, so I had to think of a really obscure African novel to try and up my cool-quotient. Oh, God I'm pathetic. Please love me.).

Books I'm reading while pretending to read those mentioned above: Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series; Lullaby – Palahniuk; America: the Book; Fast Food Nation – Schlosser; Tess Gerritsen mysteries; Sophie’s World – Gaarder; High Fidelity – Hornby. Using Blogs to Start Cults and Scam People out of Their Savings and Into Being Your Sexual Servants – Smithee.

Oh, wait. Disregard that last one.

Comics: Get Fuzzy – Darby Conley, This Modern World – Tom Tomorrow, Pearls Before Swine – Stephen Pastis, Mutts – Patrick McDonnell.

Newspapers: The Guardian; The Nation; The Onion.

Pamphlets: "Trial of the century - is Jesus really God?" (Left on windshield. Very funny stuff. I won’t spoil the verdict for you.)

Cereal boxes: Instant oatmeal packet "Dino-facts." (Disappointing and pedantic. A real step down from the ‘jokes n’ toast’ series)

Okay, the Moby Dick thing. Anyone who’s read it can tell you it’s chapters of intensity, excitement and profound thinking interspersed with stretches of astonishing dullness. Merchant and Ivory dull. Poor man’s anesthesia. But the book captures not just the insanity of vengeance, but the quest for that great, unnamable “It”. The thing we can never understand that defines us. Here is Byron’s guide for reading Moby Dick:

Obviously, an argument can be made for each chapter, like the one about species of whales. That’s the whole chapter. Melville saying, “There’s blue whales…aaaaaannnnd….Grey whales…um…whale sharks. They eat kelp…aaaanndd…”. And it’s awful and boring and, of course, incredibly outdated, but then you stop and say, “Oh the limits of our holy science! How Melville has captured the finiteness of knowledge, and the way no categorization can capture the white whale, and thus life itself! I would sit here and ponder this, except I’m feeling dizzy from beating my head on the table out of boredom!” So, at least on the first reading, read each chapter devoutly, as if the secret of life might jump out at any second, except the following: Skim chapters 23 – 25, 41, 43-47, 51 – 54. Chapters 55 – 92 you should read, but read like you kind of have to go to the bathroom, and maybe the kettle’s about to boil.
I know that’s a lot of skimming. Trust me.


First entry - the "Why"

So...Why. Why this blog.

I am consistently stunned at how history repeats itself, and the way the United States seems to be mirroring the Roman Empire is amazing to me. Two empires founded on noble ideas, revolutionary in progress, unfathomable in our love of violence. The end result of our current actions and converging beliefs has been laid out before us in history, by our own cultural ancestors, no less, and repeated by us again and again through the ages. Yet here we are.

In the fifth century, Alaric and the Visigoths sacked Rome. Really, really sacked it. This is pretty much considered when the Empire ended. The proverbial doctor took off his gloves, cried “damn it!” to the heavens and called the time, throwing the shock paddles to the floor, so to speak. By the by, am I the only one who could just giggle endlessly at the mental image of an army of Goths? Anyway. Really, the empire had been falling for quite a while, but it’s far too murky for history class to get into that so, 410, Alaric hits Rome. Rome falls. Plop.

But of course, it did fall for some time. And in 380, 405, 299…there must have been those Romans who saw it coming. Not just philosophers and so forth, but just folks. People who saw that some intangible peak had been crested, and that the empire was now dying, even as outward appearances might not say so. The edge of an empire in decline. Enter: me. I guess I want a place to say how things look right now. We are on course with a terrible destiny, and I mourn this, but also am strangely excited to witness it. Obviously I’ll be going on about personal things as well, but the primary idea here is looking at the U.S. through the filter of now. Perhaps writing a letter to the future to say, “some of us see it happening.”

So, after Rome had been stomped, people come drifting back to see the remains of the city. Among them is Rutilius Namatianus. He’s mourning the end of a great city, a great era. Of his beloved Rome he says something like, “Thou has made of alien lands, one fatherland. The lawless find their gain beneath thy sway. Sharing thy laws with them, thou hast subdued them. Thou has made a city of the once wide world.”

Now, I have to insert at this point, that I’m always skeptical of these sorts of quotes. I mean, come on. He just blurted that out and somebody next to him said, “Wow, Rutilius, that was really, incredibly eloquent and poetic. I'm gonna write me that quote down”?

Or maybe the actual quote was more like, “Son of a - ! Look at our town! Motherfuckers! Aw, man Rome was great! Really great! Like, really! It was like...laws n’ shit! The whole big world was, y’know, like a, like a thing. A city. Fuck!” And then some attendant cleaned it up and wrote it down.

Actually it was probably option 3: the attendant said it, and Rutilius claimed credit. You know, like that Queen in ancient China who’s given credit for discovering silk. Right. I'm sure the queen was out there boiling caterpillars, desperate for food and they came apart to form the foundation of a durable, lightweight, sexy fabric. No. Some starving commoner did, presented the new fabric to the queen and she said, “I love it! I shall discover it! Now piss off, commoner, you smell, and your gurgling stomach is bugging me.”

What was that queen’s name? Hm. I’ll have to look that up.


The United States has so much grandeur, glory. Founded by philosophers. Bound by ideology instead of geography. Good stuff. Yet so dearly, utterly fucked up right now. We too, have made a city of the once wide world. The entire world exists in degrees of variation from our cultural influence at this moment. Hence, “the once wide world.” That's the Why. And that’s what I'll be writing about.

That and cracking jokes, publishing and shamelessly promoting my fiction and obsessing over minute personal problems.