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.