Talking Las Vegas


Since the shooting in Las Vegas Sunday, something has been bothering me. Something other than the obvious horror of hearing about yet another mass shooting here in our nation. It’s been bothering me since Columbine, but the articulation of this thing has evaded me. None of the theories of the why have fully hit the mark for me. None of the solutions seem to point to the core of how this continues to occur. We have a problem right here in River City, and none of us seems to fully grasp the whole tamale.

Its not that White Anglo Saxon males haven’t been capable of mass slaughter before. They, in fact, are kinda good at it. Our country was founded on it. Think about Wounded Knee. Or hearken back to the Raithlin Island Massacre in Ireland, where English Protestants murdered over 500 McDonnell clansmen in a day. The list goes on.

And white men don’t have the corner market on slaughter. Throughout history, humans have been butchering each other right and left, with whatever tools that came to hand, for one reason or another, or none at all. In the recent Vietnam documentary aired on PBS a Marine interviewed stated that the military was just “finishing school” for men’s natural killer instincts. It’s hard to deny the evidence that as a species we are capable of all manner of horrors.

But this is different.

In most other instances, when humans raze groups of other humans to the ground, the humans they are killing are somehow “other”. Other skin colors, other cultures, other languages, other team. Other. Not us.

The mass shootings here in our Pleasantville, these are American civilians mass murdering other American civilians. For no apparent reason.

Psycho killer, ques que c’est?

And yet, for instance, as with the Aurora, Colorado theater shooter, these white men are deemed legally “sane”.

So this is quite specific in my mind. A twist of the mind peculiar to our culture. And getting worse all the time. The frequency and amplitude of these massacres is continually on the rise.

And in that definition of the phenomenon I finally saw the answer. The Other.

Here is what these killers all have in common. They are alienated from their own society. So average citizens are The Other.

Charlie Hoehn wrote October 3 about this phenomenon. His solution is for white American men to play more as children. But I think this goes deeper than that. I see this as one part of a cultural disease that effects us all. To me, this phenomenon is all about Self Loathing. With men, whose energy generally gets directed outwardly, the Self Loathing gets projected onto their own people. Therefor mass slaughter. With women, whose energy generally gets directed inwardly, the Self Loathing takes the form of grotesque levels of plastic surgery, until their faces are no longer recognizable as human. Self mutilation. Cutting in teens. Addiction. The opiod epidemic. Obesity.

Our culture has become more and more isolated from one another, from our true selves, from connection with spirit, from connection with nature, with anything that nurtures and fosters a deep sense of well being. The focus continues to be on the exterior, on appearances, on material acquisition, on career accomplishment, on skeletal thinness, on agelessness, on imperviousness to time.

We are paying for it with these occurrences. Mass murder. Climate change. Our elected leaders. Poison in our food supply.

There is no free lunch.

We cannot live forever hermetically sealed away from the laws of existence. We cannot cheat death and not pay. We cannot take more than our share and not have repercussions. We cannot have our cake and eat it too.

Yes, that is a quote from Ted Kaczynski. Another white alienated American man who took out his loneliness violently on random strangers. It wasn’t that his perceptions and observations were incorrect. It’s that his methodology of solving it wasn’t effective. Blowing people up, or shooting them from a building high above, doesn’t change what is wrong at the heart of our culture.

So what does?

The only answer I have is a personal one for me. I must attend to that in me that has gone along with this separation from self, other, nature and spirit. I must do what I can to turn toward those I encounter with compassion, connection, and responsibility. I must consider each human on this tiny blue-green sphere to be of my tribe. I must consider each animal in this great biosphere to be a member of my family. I must consider all of this universe to be a great web of connection in which I am but a tiny, vulnerable, part. Vital, yet inconsequential at the same time.

Is this a tall order? No doubt. But it’s all I’ve got. It likely will make very little difference in the giant scheme of things. As the voice of the ancestors of Ireland said to me one night in a ring of stones to the west of Cork City, “The world has it’s own story, missy, you just stick to your own.”

There will be a reckoning. It’s currently in progress. Where will you stand as it transpires? Can we turn this Titanic away from the iceberg? Who sees in the dark? Who is at the helm? Who has a lifeboat? Who doesn’t mind a little cold water?

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Otherwise Known as Getting Old

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First of all, who the fuck can keep up with evolving music genre definitions and terms? Apparently not me. Over the past few years I have found myself getting into weird arguments with my teen-becoming-young-adult audiophile daughter. Arguments I obviously think I should win, seeing as I *lived* through the decades she claims to understand so well, at least in as far as music genres are concerned.

When I finally decided to troll around the interwebz (ie Wikipedia) (ie the new and improved arbiter of all things) to bolster my obviously correct viewpoint, I realized that a whole lotta somebodies have been waaaay too busy coming up with musical genre names and sub-categorizations that are… well… ultimately subjective IMHO.

And then we have iTunes. That tells me I apparently like “Chamber Pop”, which I had no idea even existed. Which Wikipedia doesn’t acknowledge exists. It is a real genre? Do I have to admit to listening to it in public? The world may never know. My daughter and I are certain to disagree about it, whatever the official answer. And I’m beginning to think there is no such thing as official when it comes to musical genres.

Don’t even get me going about punk.

When did punk rock become:

Anarcho punk • Crust punk • D-beat • Art punk • Deathrock • Digital Hardcore • Folk punk • Celtic punk • Cowpunk • Gypsy punk • Garage punk • Grindcore • Crustgrind • Noisegrind • Hardcore punk • Post-hardcore • Emo • Screamo • Thrashcore • Crossover Thrash Metal • Powerviolence • Street punk • Horror punk • Pop punk • Psychobilly • Riot grrrl • Ska punk • Skacore • Skate Punk • Post-punk • Gothic rock • No Wave • Noise rock • Alternative rock • Grunge • Post-grunge • Indie rock • Industrial rock • Noise pop • Nu metal • Post-punk revival • Post-rock • Post-metal • Sadcore • Shoegazer • Slowcore • Death metal • Goregrind • Doom metal • Folk metal • Gothic metal • Industrial metal • Metalcore • Deathcore • Sludge metal • Speed metal • Thrash metal • Crossover Thrash Metal… etc etc etc

I don’t mean to sound like an old curmudgeon, but I’m beginning to think I am one. WTF ppl?? Really?

In my day (oh my god here I go) we had five non-pop basic rock (not blues or r&b) genres: classic rock, hard rock, metal, punk, new wave. The bands that inched a little too close to commercial sound started being called “alternative”. Am I wrong? Was I asleep? When did I blink and miss the explosion of pretentious music genre naming committee meetings? I married a folk musician, had a kid, and forget to fiddle while Rome burns. Which any day now they are going to start calling a Slowgrind Riot Starter with strings.

I’m going back to sewing fabric together now. I call it “clothing”. I might listen to some gypsy folk crust pop wave while I work. Otherwise known as music. /rant

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Liking Obama

obamacat I have cats. Currently, I happen to have three living with me. I grew up with cats (among many other pets). Whether we lived in the country or in town, sidewalks or gravel, small yard or acres of woods, we had generations of cats, being born in our closets and garages, dying at home or at the vet’s office. I have always liked cats. As a kid they would cuddle in bed with me while I slept, curling up on my feet, snuggling against my neck when I was feeling bad, playing with string and toilet paper tubes. Cats are cute, cats are fuzzy and sweet, cats are fun.

About eighteen months ago I moved to a house in the country for the first time in many years. Within short order my three fuzzy, adorable, packaged-pet-food-eating cats began hunting gophers and birds like they had found cat heaven. For the first time in my life I started to really take notice of another side of my fuzzy adorable pets. I have watched them patiently wait outside the home of a den of veggie munching gophers, pounce, and drag the wriggling creature into my house where they gleefully play with it in it’s death throes, truly enjoying the long, slow, torturous killing process as if it was better than sex and food and episodes of The Sopranos all rolled into one. I have seen them make the kill with a primal mechanism in their eyes, then immediately walk away to come purr and sweetly rub against my legs with love and affection.

My fuzzy adorable pets are sociopathic serial killers.

I voted for Barack Obama. Well, to be honest, I voted for Barak Obama in his first presidential election. I donated to his campaign in both elections, but when it came time to stand in the polls the second time around I found I had misgivings. I couldn’t bring myself to vote against him, or in fact to cast a vote of confidence for any other candidate on the roster, but I could not, in good conscience, cast a vote for him either. I could not really articulate to myself in that moment the exact reasons why, but there were too many ambiguities, and if I was genuine with myself, I could find no one in whom I had real confidence as a leader, nor as a representative of my interests in the political sphere.

That really is not a new phenomenon for me. The year I turned eighteen and could vote for the first time in a presidential election, the choices were between Ronald Regan and Walter Mondale. I wrote in a vote for Bill the Cat and Opus the Penguin from the comic strip Bloom County by Berkeley Breathed. It seemed as equally absurd as the choices being offered up. The prime motivating factor in elections where I have voted for a presidential candidate on the roster has almost always been in order to vote against a candidate I was more opposed to. Choosing the lesser of evils. I have accepted that as a reality of modern politics for a long time.

When Barack Obama was first running for president I experienced for the first time the sensation of liking a presidential candidate. He was articulate, he was educated, he was diplomatic, he was reasoned. He supported the end to don’t ask don’t tell. Obama talked health care reform, and social equality. Obama talked ending the war in Iraq and torture reform. Obama talked environment. He seemed smart and nice and fun. A good man, a good husband, a good father.

Since Barack Obama has taken office there have been many disappointments. I’m not terribly naïve. In today’s world there are bound to be almost nothing but gray areas. I pay a slight amount of attention to most ins and outs of the political news. Most of it seems like the lurid breathing of some distorted mythological beast. I focus my attention on trying to make small choices in my own life that support a sustainable way of life as a human being. I try to choose actions that say no to nihilism, that say yes to living lightly on the planet in reasonable non-violent accord with other life forms. Sometimes I wish election pamphlets would offer choices as simple as “check here to say yes to trees” and “check here to say no to murdering children” and “check here to avoid ruining an ecosystem”, but of course it’s never that simple.

However, the most recent news cycle dealing with drone strikes in the war against al Qaeda, each approved personally by Barack Obama, has caught my attention in a sharper way. According to the New York Times the drone strikes have included, “15 Qaeda suspects in Yemen with Western ties. The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years.” Obama is knowingly issuing kill orders on Americans and children on foreign soil.

I don’t for one moment think this is anything new. I have long understood the concept of “collateral damage” and the vast moral gray area that appears as soon as you say yes to one justified reason for resolving conflict by violent means. As a human living in the 21st Century I turn this dilemma over in my psyche with regularity. I don’t for one moment think I have something world shaking to add to the conversation. I am simply marveling at my own capacity to regard someone like Barack Obama with a kind of affection, to feel that I “like” him, when all evidence points to his acting in the real world in the capacity as a sociopathic serial killer.

I guess if I were a gopher, or a bird, or a Yemeni Muslim cleric, or the mother of a 15 year old American Islamist on foreign soil, I might “feel” differently toward my cats and/or Barack Obama. But then again maybe not. Maybe it’s in the nature of sociopathic serial killers to be able to foster a kind of palatable affability. Isn’t that how they continue to be able to operate in a world filled with other feeling beings? Like a Klingon cloaking device, sociopaths fly in under the radar with charm and intelligence and cute fuzzy faces. Isn’t that the premise of the character Dexter? Isn’t that just how it is?

Maybe I’m a little late to the party. Maybe at the age of 47 I’m finally unfurling one more layer of willful naivete. Truth is, I still like my cats, and I still feel that warm fuzzy feeling, whatever you can call it, when I look at pictures of our president. The only difference now is, I suspect that that feeling is really beside the point.

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mammal love Next door to me, out here in the wild, west county pastures of Bloomfield, are two separate properties with corrals. To the south is a family that keeps goats and alpacas. To the west is a broken down little paddock with an ancient blue roan horse, blind in one eye and sway back. When I first moved here over a year ago, the alpaca property hosted one youngish, chestnut quarter horse. The roan and the chestnut for months on end spent all their time at the one corner where their pastures touched, leaning over the gate to touch their necks to one another. If the chestnut was taken to another part of the alpaca farm, the roan stood at the gate, banging the metal lock and pining after his friend. It was sad, but entirely endearing.

Recently, the owners of the two horses got together and decided to have mercy on the poor beasts. They struck a deal, and the chestnut was finally moved into the paddock with the blue roan, where they now live happily, hanging out in all parts of the field together, necks touching, swishing flies from one another’s faces, clamoring for hay in the morning, nickering contentedly at night.

For the past few months I have been like that blue roan at the fences. My closest friend in recent years has been going through Difficulties (with a capital D) that have made it necessary for him to barricade himself more and more often into his Tower of Power, don his suit of armor and keep watch on the battlements, night and day. Coming to understand this posture has been a whole learning curve in and of itself for me. Historically, boys are a giant enigma to me. So it has taken some time to really get that withdrawal and unavailability in this case mean absolutely nothing beyond their function to him during a bafflingly arduous and painful interval in his life. Really coming to understand that has been a journey. Getting that has made things easier. But it’s still not all.

Perhaps I’m a little late to the party, but I’m really experiencing lately how important the closest people to me are, in terms of how calm, happy, centered, and well I feel on a daily basis. Well duh, you might say to yourself. But really, to someone like me who has struggled with human relationships her entire life, its a bit of a thing to marvel at. Perhaps for those who managed to form close relationships early in life, maintain them, and enjoy the comforts of a steady group of close humans who never wander far off, it’s not something they much need consider. Its taken for granted, perhaps, and part of the landscape of their lives. I think of my grandparents, who met as kids, married young, and stayed together their entire lives. They complained about one another a great deal, but in the end, when my grandfather died in February of 2005, my grandmother followed just a few months later. On a basic, primal, mammalian level, they were joined like a pair of horses in the traces. What is it the Christians call it? Ah yes, “equally yoked”.

My daughter became an adult over the last few years, graduated high school, fledged (awkwardly and with difficulty), and now lives on her own in town, going to school, working part time, carefully and slowly finding out about herself and life. The center to my life for the past twenty years is no longer here inside the four walls of my home where it has been. That basic mammal rhythm, with it’s stresses and comforts, has dissolved and transformed. Romantic relationships I have formed over those years never blossomed into cohabitation. Close friendships I enjoyed fell apart. My closest friends, across the board, I watched succumb to the ravages of drug dependencies and the inevitable fallout of those choices. My own shortcomings unable to salvage whatever friendship might have been possible regardless. I have close family, but not here in my town. For whatever reason, the current reality of my life has become a huge empty space where basic mammal comfort used to be. I live alone, fifteen minutes from town. I am between lovers. It’s just me and my cats at the moment.

So the loss, even temporarily, of my closest current friend during the tides of everyday life, I feel extremely intensely. How much I rely on the most basic thing, mammal touch & the presence of another human I trust, I love, I enjoy. So often these days I notice the absence of the most simple comforts: someone I care about just here inside my four walls and that one person I hold closest at the end of the phone line like a motion of the stars and moon, reliable, constant. Are you still here? I’m still here. How about now? Yes still here.

Meditation practice is helping me hold it with an open heart. Compassion for my own emptiness. Acceptance of how it just is. Last night I came home and stood on my back deck under the stars, listening to the horses in the field next door snuffling together in the dark. They sounded contented. Being human I remembered when they strained over fences, pining and thought of how one of them is old, and wont last as long as the other. I thought of what it might be like for the chestnut when the roan is gone. Being horses they snuffled happily in the moment, as Wendel Berry said, “not taxing their lives with forethought of grief”. Maybe it’s time for me to get a dog.

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Wrecking My Life

Last night out with some friends I was asked why, if I had a deep and powerful spiritual practice some years back, why I gave it up. Huh, leave it to friends to ask the hard questions. In the moment I cited getting burnt out on sitting in circles burning sage, and getting embarrassed by being so openly odd, wanting to become “normal”. Both of those are true, but in thinking about it this morning on my walk I realized the deeper, realer, more important answer is… I wrecked it on purpose.

Okay, so… I’m an alcoholic, right? Yup. Still am. This January will mark (g-d willing) seventeen years of sobriety. But at my core, I carry a secret beast that craves self destruction the way howler monkeys crave mangoes. For a long, long time I tried to figure out WHY. I thought if I could identify the root of this little character defects, I could pull it out by said roots, and be free free, greatgodalmightyfreeatlast! Wrong. Truth is, there is no there there. It’s like chasing electrons. The only answer seems to be… I’m an alcoholic. It’s kind of a relief actually. It’s like accepting that I’m never going to be an astronaut. Or a ballerina. Or a figure skater. It narrows the field in a calming fashion.

So… back when my spiritual life was really taking off… back when I was becoming an urban shaman… back when I practiced at my altar many days per month, and walking at Green Gulch was a normal part of my breathing life… things were getting really good. I was in the first five years of my sobriety. Eating organic. Playing music. Enjoying a wide circle of great friends. In school. Kicking ass, taking names. I was writing, getting published, performing, raising a young daughter, doing Waldorf parenting, getting well.

It seems very clear now… I had no idea how to live that way. It freaked me the fuck out. Things got too good, way too fast. I had to wreck it.

I picked a relationship with an unavailable man instead. One who would disappoint me and ignore me. One who would criticize me and find me wanting. One who would abandon me frequently.

I picked a friendship with a woman who was too scared of life to walk her dog, who spent most of her time living through her computer, who controlled most every aspect of our friendship together and hoarded me in her cave, almost demanding that all other humans be excluded from our world together.

I gave up everything else, including organic food, my spiritual life, saving the world from environmental destruction, and most every other aspect of life that had lasting and sustaining value to me. I traded them for a shallower, shinier, high sugar content laden, caffeinated, one dimensional version of a good life. I got naked on the internet and had a lot of really weird casual semi-sexual encounters with near-strangers. My life got very very odd, for quite a number of years.

Flash forward a buncha years… boyfriend married someone else… best friend buggered off out of state and burned our friendship down… being naked on the internet didn’t make me a rich porn star, in fact I lost my house, my investments, and finally lost my business. My daughter survived her childhood, but the teen years were a passage through the valley of the shadow of death.

I’m a poster child for alcoholism. Except it’s not just the drugs and alcohol that destroy lives. It’s the ISM. I can wreck things sober too. Watch me. It’s my mutant super power.

But now… now I’m waking up again. Even a big fuck up like me gets a second chance. Somehow I’ve been lead back again to my own interior. What else is there? All else is fleeting. But my connection with a power greater than myself, that remains. It can get very, very thin at times. I can lose the sight, feel, smell and sound of it. So it’s taking time to reawaken. Like pulling on a thread, in the dark, gently, gently. I don’t want it to snap.

Maybe this time I won’t freak out when things start to get good. Maybe this time I will be able to sustain a slow emergence into the light. Maybe this time I will know where to go when my nasty little beasty wakes up and wants to burn shit down. Feed it cookies. Laced with benedryl. Go back to sleep beasty. I choose life.

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Stealing Ducks

This morning I found myself embroiled in a strange tiff with my studio landlord. A misunderstanding over lines of communication, mostly, but as I attempted to set clear boundaries and advocate for appropriate financial privacy with him, I was startled to notice how unreasonable he appeared in our email conversation. Unlike the laid back fellow I had been dealing with over the past year. I was preparing to consider a vacating of the premises and consolidation of resources. However, finally he called me by phone and chose to confide in me that he was not in his best mood due to the fact that someone, last night, stole his wonderful duck.

Oh no! I said, Not Puddles!!!

What kind of deviant bastard would go around, in this day and age, stealing ducks? Especially on a Monday night?

Back in the Victorian Era, apparently, the crime was quite common. Duck stealing was prosecuted on a regular basis and could land the perpetrator with consequences ranging from whipping, fined a shilling, or bail… all the way to 10 years in prison, hard labor, and 14 years of “transportation”… which I have to assume means being sent to Australia. Wow, those guys took duck stealing seriously. And today, I can see why. My landlord was so upset!

I can understand. Some days I feel like my duck has been stolen, and I don’t even own a duck.

In Japanese culture, there is a concept known as “Wa”:

Wa, the principle underpinning Japanese society, is one of the key concepts necessary to understand Japan.  For most Japanese, Wa is a feeling close to perfection: a group situation in which everything goes smoothly, without contestation or ill will, everyone knows their place and act accordingly.

I heard this term originally from a recording engineer I worked with once upon a time that formerly traveled with the likes of Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. He was known to say from time to time, “Hey man, don’t fuck with my Wa.” I have loved that phrase ever since. Anytime I’m feeling peaceful and some negative Nelly starts to affect my mood, I think that phrase at them. Sometimes it even leaks out of my mouth, even though I’m pretty sure it sounds hopelessly hippie-ish… and almost no one knows WTF I’m talking about when I do say it. Not that that has ever really stopped me. The more anachronistic the better in my estimation. But I digress…

My landlord had his Wa fucked with in a serious fashion today. When a man feels unsafe in his community, in his home, in his own damn garden, that’s just mean. And poor Puddles, she might be someone’s lunch.

At the end of the day, I was just reminded… to tread lightly with my fellows. You never know when someone’s duck has been nabbed, someone’s world turned upside down, when someone’s Wa has been seriously disrupted. I should staple a note to my eyeballs. Walk lightly… speak with compassion… hold love in your heart even when you are at odds with someone you share space with.

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The Blank Page

Facing the blank page may, as it turns out, be the easiest way to meditate for this writer. I wake up in a head filled with chatter. The dream I just had, what that reminds me of, a song I heard three days ago that I hated in high school that won’t stop playing in my head, a list of shit I have to get done immediately, the fact that I haven’t filed my taxes yet, conversations I never had that if I had said something better how completely awesome I’d be now, a swimming pool I want to build some day… it’s ridiculous and endless.

But sit down at a blank page with the intent to write, and my mind goes completely blank. Suddenly I’m the stupidest person on the block with nothing to say. It’s amazing.

However, as Anne Lamott advised, breathe. Just take it bird by bird.

Writing in cafes is easier for me. Writing at home is like asking to be struck with insanity. Did you finish your dishes? That order for tarot decks is staring at you from the tack board against the wall. You should take a walk. Maybe baking a cake would be easier than writing this blog post. No one reads you anyway. Just go take a nap and watch Judge Judy.

In cafes the noise and bustle act like white noise. My focus returns. Maybe it’s because I’m so vain. In a cafe there are other humans around witnessing my greatness. Ooohhh, look at her, she’s a writer… oooooohhhhooo…. special. Perhaps it’s because I’m too embarrassed to give up quickly while sitting near other humans in a cafe. I have to look like I’m doing something important! Maybe I just get lonely at home. Certainly I’m very easily distracted.

Having finished this blog post I’m likely to say to myself, well, self, you accomplished that. I guess you can go reward your self with a walk and a muffin and some Judge Judy. Except Judge Judy isn’t really a reward. More like long slow torture. Maybe I’ll skip the Judge Judy and just stay here and write. Make some headway on that goddamn novel. Chip away at my magical thinking and turn it into something more like an actual life.

This week I’m trying to figure out what Selah is doing while aboard ship. Out on the dank waters. Pining after Thegn. Filled with fear, hope, dread and determination. Time to go into the cave. Brave the dark. See what my subconscious has rattling around down there. Promise you’ll hold me later when I’m nuts and want my mommy.

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