Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Twinkies 2012

Audio mp3 file / podcast

The end of time happened for Twinkies in November 2012, and I took it as a harbinger of larger and gooier apocalypses to come.

It’s sad that Hostess bakeries went bankrupt. How many of my childhood and teenage memories revolve around Hostess Zingers, Cupcakes, and the Little Debbie crème-filled oatmeal cookies?

The packaging was perfect. With logos and designs virtually unchanged from the 60s, it was almost impossible to look at the food packaging without having flash memories of earlier times. They had a Mother Goose, "And the Dish ran away with the Spoon" feeling; cupcakes with toothpick legs in motion, and little cakes with tiny stick arms.

The pastries themselves upped the kitsch ante, with their sweet, jarring frostings and heavy, bland, spongy cakes. I loved them. But, I bear in mind I also had a wall-sized DayGlo poster of Snoopy doing a happy dance on the wall in my room at my family's cabin in Vermont.

Like all "good" kitsch, Hostess products were all about consumer culture. But, I wasn't worried about that as a 16-year-old swimmer on the swim team (all heart and no talent), I stopped by Sterr’s grocery store after school and to buy myself a satisfying snack to eat on the way home before practice.  Zingers and Vienna sausages were perfect. My mother, the organic food purist, would have been horrified.  I liked the way you could peel the frosting from Zingers and cupcakes and roll it up to make a coiled tube frosting confection you could pop in your mouth for pure sweet joy. You could even coil the frosting around the Vienna sausage. Yum? Yuk? You decide.

Twinkies 2012. It coincides the end of time with the Mayan calendar.  Love the sound of it: Twinkies Twenty-Twelve…. But… what’s going on?

Ding-Dong, Apocalypse Calling.  (Okay, that was too cute.)

But seriously, Twinkies should be apocalypse-proof.

After all, didn’t someone put a box of Twinkies in a time capsule, and when they opened it a year later, the contents were completely intact? That may be an urban legend. I don’t know.

People like to blame the obesity epidemic on Twinkies. But, Twinkies were around in the 1930s, and there was no obesity epidemic then, at least not in Depression and post WWII-era America.

Plus, Twinkies aficionados have complained for a few years now about the “miniaturization” of Hostess products, which makes me think it was a failed Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle solution to the public health crisis. “You may eat what you want! It’s all about portion control!” I can imagine her burbling in her 1950s cheerio voice and “well, of course, BooBoo, you can do it!” attitude.

If Twinkies have shrunk from the size of a Coney Island hot dog bun, to roughly the equivalent of the teeny-tiny bread wrapper for a Vienna sausage, well, that’s just sad.

With their petite size, Twinkies should be getting awards for their role in the fight against obesity.

The same goes for Little Debbie.  While individually wrapped cookies have gone gourmet, and weigh in at around a half-pound apiece, and their nutrition label suggests that there are 6 – 8 servings per cookie, Little Debbie classics – the crème-filled oatmeal cookies – have miniaturized. Once the size of a McDonald’s quarter-pounder hamburger pattie, the cookies are now somewhat larger than old-school silver dollars.

For me, it’s criminal that a “vegan” peanut butter cookie would be considered “good” for you with 1200 calories per cookie (but you’re supposed to break it into 6 equal chunks and share with your buddies – who does that?  No one, of course.), while Little Debbie is cast as “junk food” perhaps even bearing trans-fat (which it does not have). No one mentions that a Little Debbie cookie “miniature” weighs in at less than a hundred calories.

The vegan snack is infinitely worse for you than a Little Debbie oatmeal crème cookie, and even a pair of Twinkies.

But, well, perception matters more than reality, so here we are.

The message is that Baby Boomer comfort food is bankrupt. By extension, are Baby Boomers themselves bankrupt? Not fiscally, but morally, ethically, and stylistically?

I’m not sure I’d go that far. After all, Twinkies are the great equalizer, the great democratizer.

If anything, I’d say that the demise of Twinkies suggests the demise of the tools of democratization and inclusion. After all, everyone loved Twinkies. Or, at least they did around 20 years ago.

The Twinkies (miniaturized as they are) and Twinkies alternatives we’re stuck with now are socially and politically divisive: either you buy your snack food at a vegan Whole Foods-type upscale establishment, and pay $5 or so for a single snack, or you go to the other end of the spectrum, and go to Dollar Days stores to buy a expiration date-crowding box of snacks featuring misspelled labeling and deliberately obfuscating ingredient lists, along with goofy graphics and a creepy suspicion that the snacks are sweet due to propylene glycol, and not high-quality cane sugar or even corn syrup…

I don’t know why or how Hostess leadership blew it, but I have to say that I’m not happy with them.

My feeling is that this apocalypse could have been averted.

That simple conviction makes me think that most, perhaps even all, commercial apocalypses could have been (or can be) avoided.

That said, I have been just tragically too riddled with nostalgic grief to work through my shock-paralysis. I failed to do what I should have, and scoop up all the Twinkies I could at Homeland, the employee-owned grocery store that now occupies the land where the family-owned Sterr’s used to combine grocery store with a comfort-food deli, bakery, and, when the season was upon us, Christmas trees and Santa’s Workshop.

What do we do now?

For once in my life, I don’t have the slightest idea. Is it possible to rescue a brand that rests on little more than nostalgia these days? And, is it possible to rescue a brand that has great sales, but just too much overhead, thanks to generous pensions, labor contracts, and transportation arrangements?

This is the time to share your thoughts. Do it before it’s too late.

The end of time has not established itself as an absolute – at least not now…

Monday, November 19, 2012

Bluebird No More

audio file / podcast

The fall that Rod Stewart’s top-40 hit, "Maggie May," hit the airwaves was the same autumn season that marked the beginning of an inexplicable sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, and an overwhelming sense of dread, mixed with a kind of transfixed paralysis: Lot’s wife in the process of looking back at Sodom and Gomorrah, slowly (or not so slowly) transformed into a pillar of salt.  That’s what you get, when you look back, right?

But, I do not recall looking back at anything.  What was there to look back at with any sense of longing? I had loved being a Bluebird, with our crisp white short-sleeve shirts, navy blue button down cotton vests, and red neckscarves.  I chose being a Bluebird over being a Brownie simply based on the uniform. It made me feel happy and cheerful, and I loved the days when all of us wore our uniforms to school, then raced to the home of the mom whose turn it was to come up with activities for restless, curious, and easily enthused (and saddened) little girls.

During my mom’s tour of duty (about six weeks, as I recall), we went craft crazy, fashioning puffy pompoms of yarn, stringing beads, painting coasters and hot plate holders. When it was Mrs. Collier’s turn, we made plaster casts of animal tracks left behind in sand and clay.  I was intrigued by an especially big canine paw print, which I not so secretly hoped was from Bigfoot. Perhaps it was – now there is an annual Bigfoot Festival just a 50 or so miles from were we made those plaster casts.

I played my favorite pop songs on the record player (45 rpm) we had in the formal living room in front of the massive Victorian armoire, beige carpet, watered silk wallpaper, dark carved overstuffed sofa with watered tapestry.  I loved “Jingle Jump” (that came with a mini hula hoop for your ankle and a ball on a string that you could rotate and jump over … I know I’m not doing a very good job describing it), Georgy Girl, My Favorite Things (from The Sound of Music), and Minuet in G by Bach, Sonatina by Clementi, and other pieces I was working on after school for my biweekly piano lessons with Mrs. Crow, and then Mrs. Hunecke.

Fly, fly, fly, little Bluebird! Bluebirds and the concept of being a Bluebird shaped my sense of self. We lived on the edge of farmland and a long, snaky creek, and birds chirped day and night. I had a light blue cloisonné Bluebird pin that I always affixed to my vest, and a cute little tie ring for my neckscarf. When I wore my navy blue skirt, navy blue knee socks, and little saddle-Oxfords, I felt very snappy and well put together. It was satisfying to see the other members of my unruly, noisy little flock – we chirped, hopped around, and poked around for cookies and snacks.

The times were not as innocent as all that, though. After all, we were in the throes of the Cold War. Did anyone notice that our red scarves were more or less equivalent to those worn by Soviet Union’s Young Pioneers? I am sure my mother did not see they irony. She was a big Goldwater fan, and a John Birch Society member. My sense was that group was proto-Tea Party and intensely against a command economy, and a surveillance society that cohered only when a critical mass of the citizenry regularly ratted out each other, and where mental hospitals were charged with drugging and lobotomizing the “enemies of the state” (non-conformists). Ironically, we lived in Norman, Oklahoma, where the top two employers were the flagship state university (The University of Oklahoma) and the flagship mental hospital (Central State).

My mother, whose depression would engulf her in a few years, right about the time she lost her mother, perhaps never saw the parallels, or if she did, she viewed it as proof positive that we were the “heads” side of the coin; the positive side of the binary relationship that placed one side (ours) as shiny truth-warriors, and the other side (theirs) as chthonic robotic tools, crushing to the human spirit.  Years later, after seeming to have conquered her depression, my mother sat on the edge of the sofa, listening to televangelists and tapes of Bible studies. She filled notebook after notebook with longhand notes. After she passed away, I tried to find the notebooks, hoping for pure gold that I could transcribe and publish as a book of daily devotions, a legacy of sorts. I envisioned something like the notebooks of a mystic, say, Julian of Norwich or Margery Kempe. It was not to be, however. Sadly, the few notebooks I was able to salvage had nothing in them but hand-written copies of Bible verses, repeated, over and over with no accompanying thoughts or insights…

The experience of reading my mother’s notebooks (page after page of absolute emptiness) was exactly the same as the one of talking to my mom and looking into her eyes – it was like looking through glass bricks and seeing a distorted set of color blocks and contortions that echoed the human experience. You knew there was a person there, and you could see the big, bold gestures, but it was hard to connect through so much intervening glass and air. 

West Junior High School was not Monroe Elementary. For the 14-year-old, it was a different universe. Girls at school had stopped being nice to each other somewhere in the second nine weeks of the sixth grade, just after Thanksgiving and sometime when Santa’s workshops started to appear in the local department stores and shopping centers.  if I did so, I am sure I would feel a bit of sadness. It would be the last year that the girls I went to school with were nice to each other.

The leaves had changed color early that fall. I was second chair in the first violin section of West Junior High orchestra, and I took two private lessons per week – one with Mrs. Keith, whose husband was something of a local celebrity at the University of Oklahoma, and one with Mrs. Powers, whose son had an explosives fetish and ended up being a brilliant geophysicist working on the North Slope in Alaska, and who herself, changed directions entirely, and flung to the side her career as a music educator and orchestra teacher in the Norman Public School system and decided to return to school to become a registered nurse.

Was she? No. She had to deal with the consequences of having been an impractical idealist, and being foolish enough to think that one’s violin prowess would mesh well with the exigencies of middle class life, and being a divorced mom of three feisty sons.

I loved taking lessons from both Mrs. Powers and Mrs. Keith. Their personalities were utterly different, as were the pieces they assigned me to learn.

Mrs. Keith was delicate and refined in a “faculty wife” kind of way. Mrs. Powers was thin, but in a wiry, un-made-up, scrappy survivalist sort of way. I was never convinced that either could play their instruments more competently than their students, but I have to say I love the way that Mrs. Keith’s technique chilled me with the ravishing tones and the perfect pitch, not to mention intense coloratura. Mrs. Powers was more utilitarian – no drama in her interpretations of the classics. Her performance and delivery screamed “I’m practical!” “I’m utilitarian and proud of it!” – technically proficient, her interpretations were divine on some level, but it was hard to engage the affect enough to make her listeners passionate, riveted, filled with raw desire for music produced by wire, horsehair, and thick, hot rosin.

But, I’m digressing, obviously in order to avoid the painful subject of my own raw, inflamed, chapped, and incapable of gripping anything with any sort of fervor at all.

I want to tell you about the passion(s) that everyone feels.

There is the passion for life, the passion for chrysanthemums in the fall, and for seeing under the surface, and into the great, deep heart of memory. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Frankenfood and the Skunk Whisperer

Audio file / podcast

I stopped at the midpoint of the stretch of Turner Turnpike from Oklahoma City to Tulsa, drawn to convenience store, diesel, parking spots, and a big McDonald’s. I used to drive straight through, but getting up at 4 am to make it to the office by 7:30 am was never as easy as I thought it would be. I liked to tell myself it was better than returning the night before – better to have a relaxing evening and set the alarm for 3:45 am.

It was a colossal lie.

And, it wasn’t the first I had told myself. I am a master of self-deception and conflict avoidance. My early-morning thoughts are not happy thoughts.

But was it? On this particular morning, I was mulling over a series of articles I had just read: “The Wheat You Eat Is Not Your Grandmother’s Grain.”

Monsanto took a bacteria gene that kills insects and spliced it into potatoes, corn, and cotton.
DNA from fish has been spliced into strawberry plants.
Winter flounder genes have been spliced into tomatoes to make them resistant to the cold.
Wheat is “monster wheat” and even contains tiger DNA?

Tiger DNA?

So. What’s the conclusion??

I conclude that there is nothing left to eat. We must avoid meats, dairy products, and fish due to antibiotics and growth hormones.

When confronted with this dilemma, a friend of mine retorted, not missing a beat, “That’s why I stick to fried foods.”

Corn syrup, candy, fast foods, and other convenience items are in reality petrochemical products.

Well. It’s not all bad. People are worried about the impact of extreme longevity on the Social Security fund. With all this tampering, I don’t think we have anything to worry about.

Today, during a lunchtime walk I encountered a young woman – in her early thirties, I would guess – who passed me in her motorized wheelchair. She was missing both feet. They had been amputated above the ankles. She was obese, so I concluded she suffered from diabetes.

When I was 19, I flew out to Reno, Nevada, after having completed my first year of college (chemical engineering), and I relaxed by driving around to intriguing historical spots. Virginia City’s mansions appealed to me, as did an old fort outside Carson City.

In the gift store, I purchased the “Pioneer Woman’s Recipe Book.”  It contained recipes for food that early settlers were likely to eat. The ingredients were amazingly limited: lard, salt pork, corn meal, baking soda, flour, sugar, salt, dried beans. They also drank water from wells that contained arsenic.

It amazed me that anyone lived past the age of 10 or 12.

I guess they got a lot of exercise.

Pulling up to the E-Z Go Convenience store, I stretched a bit as I walked in and made a beeline for coffee. I contemplated the chemicals likely to be in the water, and I added a bit of cappuccino (pure corn sweetener poison). I regarded the “grillers” rolling on a hot dog / taquito / breakfast roll hot plate. I congratulated myself for having never even tried one of the glistening meat & fat tubes, and then picked up a miniature pumpkin pie. How much pumpkin did it really have? It was some sort of guar gum and flavoring concoction. Yum. Satisfying.

Just one more thing to feel apocalyptic about…

I made my way back to my car, coffee cup in hand. A pickup truck pulling something that looked like a modified horse trailer caught my eye. It had dramatic styling – a huge spray-painted skunk and the words, The Skunk! Whisperer.

Skunk.  Skunk Whisperer.

The sign gave rise to mental images of a guy coaxing a skunk out from the crawl space of someone’s old Craftsman house, or gently scooping up skunk pups from their plush little nest in someone’s tool shed.

What do skunks eat?  What eats skunks?  And, are they safe to eat? Why not splice a rose with skunk DNA?

If there are any non-tampered-with items in our habitat that we can eat, I think the list is pretty short. In Oklahoma, here are the things you can eat with some assurance that it has not been genetically modified:

Venomous snakes:  copperheads, water moccasins, rattlesnakes (Western Diamondback and Pygmy)
Armadillos (although now somewhat scarce, and largely leprous)
Weeds and wildflowers (away from yards and fields):  purple vetch, black-eyed susans, virginia creeper, dandelions, johnson grass, mistletoe, sumac, poison ivy, poison oak.
Tree leaves and nuts: pecans, acorns, mimosas, redbud flowers, catalpa flowers and bean pods, mimosa poms and seed pods.
Most of these items are probably toxis (aka “medicinal”)

I read the stories about genetic modification and the adulteration of our food supply right after listening to Jerry Sandusky and his wife excoriate all the people who testified against him. They were greedy. They wanted to get at Penn State’s riches. They were in it for their own gain.

It was intriguing. What if it had been – like some claim that the U.S. moon landing was – a huge conspiracy?? How, exactly would that work? How could everyone pull it off – a stunt which would require pretty dramatic and emotionally draining acting as well as lurid story-telling. I guess it can be done – think of all the people who became convinced they had been abducted by aliens. Think of the individuals who had false recall of having been abused… (turned out to be the power of suggestion)…

The flaw in the story is … what triggered it? Why would someone invent such a story – and such an elaborate one with so many victims? It had to start somewhere – why start THAT story?

Sigh. Don’t worry about it. Just pull your chair up to the computer and take notes as you stream “Swamp People: The ‘Swamps-Giving’ Episode.”

Every last one of us needs to know how to make “turtle etouffee” and “horny toad fritters” or “jackrabbit sausage.”

Yum. And now, just let me get back to my coffee and mini pumpkin pie from the EZ-Go.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Subterranean Bistro: Shales, Oil & Gas, and the Metro


 The sign outside and the racks of bottles – vin blanc et vin rouge – lying on their sides suggest that this is a wine bar, but in truth, I’ve never seen anyone drinking wine. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen – it just means that it’s not generally what this crowd does at noon, the only time I’ve eaten here, except one time in the distant past – late 1990s – with a person I met in conjunction with a group of Azerbaijanis who were eager to learn the latest seismic techniques that would help them characterize the reservoirs lying beneath the Caspian Sea.

I remember a rather forgettable dinner meal.
Let’s be honest. Obviously I forgot the whole thing.

Lunch at the Metro is never forgettable. It’s a secret garden, an English or French country house with lovely windows, wooden floors, and flowers.

If Chef Gordon Ramsay of “Kitchen Nightmares” were to visit, I’m sure he’d find the fresh cut long-stem roses in vases and the intimate tables to be extravagant, even anachronistic.

Chef Ramsay would insist on “banquette seating” as a trendy, revitalizing touch. It would defeat the very essence of what I perceive The Metro to be about, which is intimacy and conversation. Yes, banquette seating will increase capacity by 40%, but at what cost?

I was disappointed during the last visit that the menu had changed. The Metro is not about change. It is about tradition. No longer present was “The Cellar” salad – I guess no one even knows what or where “The Cellar” restaurant was. It used to be downtown in the basement of the Hightower Building (coincidentally, where my dad had an office during the 1960s). I remember having lunch with him in 1971, right after Christmas. I was in the 7th grade in my first year at West Junior High, and I desperately wanted to have "cute" items to fit in. (I guess nothing changes with respect to wanting to be in the "cool" crowd -- it may be worse now than before ...)  At any rate, I had received $250 for Christmas, and I was eager to spend the money in after-Christmas sales at John A. Brown Department Store, the upscale department store located in downtown Oklahoma City, with, later, anchors at malls and even an elegant little store on Campus Corner at the University of Oklahoma.

You’d walk in and be greeted immediately by exotic and expensive perfumes – the only thing that comes even slightly close to is a duty-free store in the international terminals of large airports. I remember Estee Lauder, Givenchy, Dior, Chanel in the air at a John A. Brown store.

It was exciting beyond belief. I was 13 years old, in junior high, and eager to have a “fashion forward” presence. I would not be hostage to the upscale stores that catered to the youth – stores on Main Street, where the streets were still brick, and the buildings had elegant, bank-like facades. I could move beyond Sooner Tots ‘n’ Teens and Bonnie’s Dress Shop, and buy the brands I had read about in Seventeen magazine, and Glamour, which I purchased the instant they appeared on the magazine racks at the Safeway grocery store at the Hollywood Shopping Center.

I was also convinced that I could be a fashion designer, and perhaps even a model. I was much too short. However, my new doctor (not a pediatrician) had informed my mother that I had an underactive thyroid and that I should be around 5 ft 11 inches, maybe even a full 6 feet, not the 5 ft 6 inches I had achieved by age 13.

The fact that, at 13-1/2 years of age, I seemed nowhere near puberty was another indication of a basic endocrine malfunction, said the doctor, who later went on to specialize in endocrinology.

My mother, who, unbeknownst to my dad, could go almost an entire week in her bed, neck and head wrapped with old cloth diapers smeared with the eye-watering Ben-Gay ointment designed to assuage some sort of generalized pain (the agony of existence, I can to realize), was against my doing anything at all to restore my endocrine balance.

I could sense the deep-seated schadenfreude; the rivalry to best me, no matter what it took. She was 5 ft 8 inches. It was good that her daughter stalled out at something under that. She was, as it was absolutely self-evident, much more elegant and self-regulated. At 5ft 8 inches, 105 pounds, she evoked the sense of Jackie O or Twiggy – never her lumpen-proletariat daughter. It was like being Joan Crawford’s daughter. No coat-hanger, though. Just a wooden ruler.


The Metro’s heavy wooden and leaded glass doors do not rattle the building when they slam shut, which is something to respect, considering the life and times of Oklahoma City.


The memory of dinner at the metro is coming back – at least the surreal conversation – an executive of a local company telling me his marriage was failing because his wife had announced to him that she was no longer attracted to men, and all I could think of was how he must have driven her to it, or, more likely, the whole thing was a sad, self-serving prevarication…

Who really cares about attraction and its vagaries?  It’s all A Midsummer Night’s Dream to me. You don’t really have a choice in the matter … it’s just how / where when the pansy juice hits your eyes and who you first lay eyes on…

And what can I say? Intrusive thoughts of the summer I took a seminar on Shakespeare… I took my young son with me to Shakespeare in the Park. It was just a few miles north of the Metro. I believe those magical evenings in the park shaped his way of a thinking and viewing the world, but no one quite realized it at the time… I certainly was not conscious of it. Similarly, when I was that age, my dad would take me out to drilling wells, and let me look at the samples under black light, drop dropperfuls of toluene to see the oil “cut” and “stream” from the pore spaces. He would also let me drop dilute HCl on limestone to see it bubble and hear the sizzle like the old ZOTS candies the foamed and splattered in one’s mouth … the baking soda / vinegar sizzle being something I enjoyed.

The things you find in cuttings – always unexpected. Upon first glance they seem like gravel for a Barbie doll house, or the gravel you'd put on the bottom of a fish tank… most of it is gray because that’s the color of the fissile shales that fall into the well. They are called “cavings” and they are brittle. At that time no one really paid much attention to the shales. In the ground, they were source rocks and seals, which is to say tat they had oil content, but not enough maturation had taken place, and you could not really recover them.

When I became a geologist, I was enchanted by the shales… they seemed so filled with promise (also known as oil and gas … hydrocarbons… I was like everyone who saw them – for me they were Siren rocks – seductive and yet ultimately deadly. If you yielded to the temptation to set pipe, you’d find you’d invested your very lifeblood trying to perf, frac, acidize, and produce from a formation that would do little more than withhold the goods. If it gave up anything at all, you’d pay, boy, yes … you’d pay.

But why not pay a prince’s ransom for a dream? And the unwillingness to pay a price is the best way I can think of to make your dreams totally and permanently dry up. The mirage of vision can only be transformed into reality by means of risk and risk-taking. Is that how it is?

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

My Personal Mission: Read Mine, Develop Your Own

My mission is to encourage creativity in all walks of life in order to build bridges and help solve what seemed, in the past, to be intractable problems in human relations, technology, economics, politics, and in one’s sense of self and destiny. Creativity, coupled with action and hard work, can, with luck and perseverance, open doors and expand access to education, economic life, and social groups, in order to strengthen one’s ability to have a purposeful, enfranchised, examined, and courageous life.

How do I actualize my mission and vision?
Tactic One:  List and Describe Core Values

Creativity:  I like the way that thinking creatively requires the willingness to put unexpected things together, and to look at a set of things, circumstances, or concepts from multiple perspectives.  Sometimes it’s necessary to explore biases and blind spots in order to avoid confusing the status quo with the truly creative, or simply using new ways to reinforce old biases. Creativity, in the ultimate sense of the word, should be generative and life-supporting, as well as psychologically freeing.

Perseverance:  I value staying with a project until it’s done. If the project is on the wrong path, I think it is perfectly acceptable to drop it. Nevertheless, the ability to envision the outcome, and to stick with it, is something I have always respected.

Teamwork:  Working alone is efficient, at least for awhile. Teams are better. They bring energy, diverse perspectives, and multiple skillsets to a challenge, task, or problem. Being in a team is also vital for feeling enfranchised and that you have a sense of belonging.

Connecting the Previously Unconnected:  I like the idea of taking two or three things that never worked together and seeing how they might connect. It’s a great way to approach problems, and can lead to breakthroughs of engineering. It’s also a great way to energize a team or group problem-solving group – there are usually moments of absurdity and humor that encourage the open exchange of ideas and create a supportive, non-punitive atmosphere.

Tactic Two:  Describe the World as It Is Now, Describe Potential Vision for the Future (key example of this tactic: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech)

I see the world as a place where, despite the eternal self-fashioning and energizing transformations of technology, commerce, and human invention, the majority of the world’s peoples still behave as though they were approaching end times, “slouching toward Bethlehem” (as in the great Yeats poem, “The Second Coming”), and they interpret the events and activities around them as signs of decline, rather than opportunities for creative, energizing, empowering growth.

The fear-driven mind finds apocalypse in the random words, signs, and acts that surround it. For the fear-driven mind, the future is a predetermined horrorscape of chaos, equivocation, and snarling despair. The end is predicted to be ugly and inescapable, and there is no way to protect oneself from it.

The hope-driven mind may find apocalypse to be in our future, but instead of suffering and horror, the vision and hope-driven mind finds generative patterns, and pathways to growth. The end of the world signals Dionysian transformation, a necessary death phase that one goes through in order to be reborn, revitalized, regenerated. The vision-driven mind may have a mystical inclination, and the “dark night of the soul” is the test of faith that ushers in a state of union, of intuitive knowledge, of the achievement of great things.

I would like to work toward a future that allows individuals to find a balance between their fear-driven and hope-driven minds, and which provides a strategy for overcoming short-term, immediate anxieties by recognizing that working through the negative emotions is a necessary part of growth, and simply seeking to avoid pain will mean that one will remain in pain because no major changes have been made.

In the future, I would like to see a world where people understand that they may transform themselves, and that the barriers that once existed can be eliminated. It may take some time, cooperation, and willingness to learn another language, computer skills, philosophy, or higher-order math. It might also require one to examine one’s own internal resistances to change, and to read works of literature and creative non-fiction in order to understand the mindsets of others vis-à-vis one’s own.

The young child born into cold, hard streets of despair and abandonment has the same future as the young scion of a social media billionaire. It’s not enough to scoff and say that they share the same ultimate destiny, to die and be forgotten. It’s imperative to nurture the spark of life and imagination that drives one person to reach a hand out to another, without expectations or preconceptions, but simply to invite another to go on a journey together. The journey will strange, unpredictable, and yet infinitely worthwhile.

I’m reminded of “Woyaya” by the South African song written by Osibisa, performed by Art Garfunkel in the early 1970s:
We are going
Heaven knows where we are going
We ‘ll know we’re there…

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The Spectacle of the Cat

The “Spectacle of the Cat.” Is that what you get when you cross Christopher Smart (Jubilate Agno – “my cat Jeofrey”) and Guy DeBord (“Society of the Spectacle”)?

Or, the Cat with Spectacles?

I have to say that I am a big fan of spectacles, productions, and shows of all sorts. I’ve seen my share of tourist spectacles in the form of “indigenous” dances, and I love it when they devolve into a quest for some essential element – the primal, the core, the essential concept of being and beingness that informs that whys and the “how we knows” of our postmodern selves … 

the fact that we’re convinced that we can only know ourselves when some we are able to see ourselves in some sort of mirror. In other words, our inner worlds become externalized and placed into some sort of visual metaphor for the mélange of conflicting feelings and ideas that we have and live with.

I can’t think of a single culture that does not have its own “star-crossed lovers” Romeo and Juliet tradition. In Guam, there was the cliff where two lovers whose families refused to accept them leapt to their deaths. Azerbaijan has its story of the Muslim youth and the Christian maiden (from Georgia), whose forbidden love is realized, but then quickly transforms itself into a tragedy of the highest order. The spectacle is not the love, but the condition of thwartedness. The satisfying denouement is not the glorious transcendent union, but the desperate suicides of the two lovers who (mistakenly, of course) think they’ve been rejected by the other…

After you see enough of those star-crossed lover / suicide narratives, you start to consider the possibility that Freud was unjustly neglected … not for his libido and dreams stuff, but for his “thanatos” issues – the “death drive” that represent the flip side of procreative, generative, libidinal drive.

And, death does not mean death at all, but Dionysus.  I appreciate Nietzsche in this case: oblivion that slides slowly (or even quickly) into obliterated self, recovered self, and absolute, glorious rebirth. 

Suicide is never a final waltz of dancing bears and oblivion.

No, no, no.

After all, we’re not talking reportage. Instead, we’re considering the narratives that flow from a culture, which embark upon a quest to find a way to express the most intense feelings, the most extreme conditions of existential anxiety, of doubt, fear, longing, and a need to become … to merge, metamorphose, to assume the identity of one’s deepest desires.

That’s what it’s all about.

And, I’m a bit ashamed to admit what I am, what I’ve become. In my eagerness to explore different ways of looking at the world, I’ve become incapable of maintaining a consistent sense of who or what I am in the world. “The centre does not hold” and I’m in Yeats’s “Second Coming,” “turning and turning in the widening gyre” ... If I myself am not that “rough beast” that represents the ultimate end of time, the transformation, the end of the world as we know it, then at least I’m the rough beast’s proxy.

Death does not mean death in this elaborate equation.

Death means a phase change. It means transformation. It means that, when it’s time, (and that time comes for everyone sooner or later – for my mother, it came just over two years ago) -- walking through the open door that promises you a way to unchain yourself from the voices that tell you that you just don’t measure up. In my mother’s case, that final walk was horrific. I was not there – I was at a workshop in Golden, Colorado on the Colorado School of Mines campus – but my dad was, and he remains traumatized to this day.

So, I’m not talking about the real thing. I’m talking about the mythical, metaphorical “death,” which means radical, dramatic change. It means transformation at cell level, well-nigh irreversible.

I’ve taken to sleeping on the futon-sofa in the spare upstairs bedroom that has nothing in it but a carved oak armoire and a cherry secretary desk with a flat screen monitor through which I can watch DVDs or the cable television provided by my homeowner’s association (bundled with other services covered by my monthly HOA dues).

Let me tell you, I’m not one who was seemingly “born for” our times.  No way. If anything, I hate these scary, uncertain times, and the realization that no matter how trivial or inconsequential the perk, there seem to be thousands who would cheerfully drag out the daggers and fight for every job that pops up on job boards in our global workplace and marketplace – even if it costs more to work than to stay at home, and it takes a great deal out of us to “civilize and sterilized” ourselves in order to conform to fluorescent-lit surveillance cubes that most of us call a workplace these days.

What is the alternative? Many of us could live simply, and choose to chill out on the patio, breathe deeply, have time to think about life and the eternal verities.

But then, not working means feeling outside society, and disenfranchised in a rather major way.

And when I awaken at 3:30 am after a long, dismal night of nightmares and creeping, sad knowledge that I’m alone with my thoughts, it occurs to me that it’s much easier to live in a place where consciousness and too much self-awareness are reined in by trivial, busywork coupled with draconian punishment for missing deadlines and failing to live up to expectations.

Keeping fear alive is a great way to block out the tough questions about life, life’s stages, and what it all means (and if meaningfulness matters at all)…

Sometimes, though, questions have a way of surfacing, no matter what we do to keep them submerged. At that point, it’s good to pull out the spectacle – either attend or participate in one. My vote goes to participating – if you are playing a role and are absorbed in creating a dramatic enactment of something, you are more likely to feel comfortable about yourself because you are a part of something that is larger than life, and larger than yourself.

The best example might be Disney. If you are a “cast member,” you’re role-playing in a large spectacle, and your individual beingness is subsumed and transformed into a collective one: the show.

It’s a gorgeous, brilliant concept: not only do you have the opportunity to train your mind on something other than your quotidian worries and pesky intrusive thoughts, you’re also able to achieve a sense of unity. Some writers such as William James (Varieties of Religious Experience) and Evelyn Underhill (Mysticism) might call that a mystical experience. I know I would.

So, returning to the original, triggering thought that precipitated this little “Sunday drive” of the mind, let’s regard Christopher Smart’s cat, Jeoffrey: 

For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in. (Smart, Jubilate Agno,

And then let’s combine it with our media, Internet-driven sense of spectacle, and the possibility that we’re voyeurs of our own lives. Where is the power? What is the power? I’d say that it resides within one’s capacity to create visions – to envision.


Either you think--or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night