Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

I just finished reworking this story from my novel, Wasted Nights and Wasted Youth, I hope you enjoy it. It references another story/location within the book, Golden, that one is still being touched up and will be posted soon.

Have you ever felt the fear? That base fear that every child knows when they are alone at night, embraced by darkness from all sides. The fear of what is lurking just off the periphery, lingering in the murky gloom, waiting for you to grow brave enough to venture into its domain. It is that fear that causes you to jump at the slightest sound, to avoid large windows after dark, and to corner yourself, back to the wall, just to make sure nothing can sneak up behind you.

I felt the fear the other day. Though I am no longer a child and it was broad daylight I felt the fear. It started as a faint tickling in the middle of my back, just below the shoulder blades along the spine. The tickling grew to an uncomfortable pressure, like the feeling of a finger jabbing me without release, pressing hard against my vertebrae. I felt that I was being watched. No, I knew that I was being watched. I could feel eyes on me, observing and cataloging my every move, waiting for their opportunity to pounce as a lion waits for a gazelle. I felt the fear strongly, for the first time in many years.

I first noticed my ethereal stalkers on my way to the bus station in the morning while heading to work. I was not doing my best that day, my situational awareness was dulled. I was distracted by the feeling of being watched that was slowly consuming me as it overpowered my thought process. As a result of this, I missed the call from my boss that work was canceled for the day, due to massive protests near our office downtown. Most people would be happy to hear they had a day off, paid on salary; I was morose. I would have been safe at work, with the others, but now I was going home alone with my spirits. The feeling of being watched had progressed with certainty to the feeling of being hunted. I was the quarry. I felt paralyzed like a deer caught in the headlights of the incorporeal oculi that plagued my existence. And the fear grew.

I got back onto the same bus I had just exited, to turn around and go back home. The social awkwardness which accompanied this would normally have driven me to the point of mincing my words and blushing, not today. Today I had bigger concerns than awkwardness; I was being hunted by an invisible tiger, haunted by a ghost with no name. I got on the bus without saying a word, just a nod to the driver. With the exchange of nods complete I progressed to a seat and tried to calm down.

The pressure along my spine had peaked and crystallized into a tangible form. The eyes I felt staring at my back had now become daggers, piercing through my flesh and bones, delving deep into my heart and dwelling there causing immense discomfort. Sitting down did little to help with the pain and discomfort I was feeling. It had taken on an aspect of what I can only describe as sickness; I felt like I was going to be ill all over the bus. I looked around me frantically, to see if anyone was looking at me strangely, giving me some clue that this wasn’t entirely in my mind. There was no friendly face to confirm my sanity, or lack thereof. The only eyes I felt upon me did not belong to any human face. And the fear grew.

Every so often on my walk home from the bus stop I had to pause to look around me, to make sure I wasn’t being followed. I kept glancing fervently over my shoulder looking for my pursuer, but it was to no avail. I accelerated my pace, my walking now on the verge of running. I was being pushed forward by the force of the eye-daggers in my back and the fear pressing at the back of my mind. I must have looked like a madman, rushing through empty, windswept streets; like a traveler seeking shelter from a storm, and finding none. A newspaper blew past me like a tumbleweed and a dog barked in the distance, signs of life in a listless world. By the end of my trip home, my walk had become a full on sprint. Despite this, the walk had never seemed to take longer, every moment passed like an eon. It was as if time itself had slowed down to corroborate with my would-be captors.

Now that I was home, I was back to a place of safety, where I was no longer alone. I didn’t tell any of my three housemates about the fear, for I imagined they would consider me as mad as I must have appeared. Due to my run in a three-piece suit I had worked up quite a sweat and my shirt-tails were hanging out over the belt line. Disheveled. That was how I looked and how I felt. Even though I was in the supposed safety of my own home, I still did not feel safe. I could feel the eyes upon me, I could still feel the fear paralyzing me. And the fear grew.

As the day dragged on, I could not have envisioned a worse possible day off. While normally I would have gone out celebrating my good fortune with my friends or gone out hiking, today I was locked in my bedroom, finishing moving furniture and rearranging my belongings. Instead of getting out and away from the fear I was stuck inside, locked in a prison of my own making waiting for the fear to consume me. My girlfriend and I had just separated after several years together. We had slowly grown apart. The realization of this was even slower to dawn on us. Once it had, we were slower still in acting upon it.

Eventually, as with all things we see in opposition, something had to give, and when it did she was the one to pack up and move out. Now, I was alone, and tonight I would sleep alone for the first time in many years. Before we had gotten together I could only sleep alone, whenever I shared a bed I had trouble sleeping through the night. I had the tendency to thrash around while sleeping from vivid dreams, active dreams. As a child, my dreams moved me; I had night terrors and ran around my house screaming. Could sleeping alone be the source of the fear? No, sleeping alone was nothing new to me, it was far more normal than sleeping with another. I racked my brain for some clue as to the wellspring of the fear, but found nothing. Yet still, in the sanctity of my bedroom, the fear grew.

I cooked and ate dinner in silence, contemplating my fate. What was hunting me? What force or creature found me so irresistible that I could not be ignored? And what was the reason for it? Had I done something to deserve this? If it was a question of deserts, what cruel god had I offended to deserve this torturous punishment? Dinner was a small, unwelcome, reprieve from moving, which had proven to be the only thing that could distract me from the feeling of being watched. Not fully, but enough where I could pretend everything was still normal. This must be how soldiers felt on a battlefield after the first sniper bullet shot through the air and was planted in a man, making him a corpse. I was holding my breath waiting for my bullet, never knowing when it would come. I’ve always hated waiting, since I was a kid. The feeling of waiting to die was the worst kind of waiting imaginable.

As night fell, I decided strong drink would help keep the phantoms at bay. Gin and tonic has long been held to be a cure-all, for malaria and other ailments. I wondered if demonic possession was another dis-ease healed by this wonder drug. I continued to move furniture around my room and unpack boxes while continuing to drink. The hours dragged on as the gin and tonics flowed on and sleep refused to come. Morpheus had already blessed my housemates, but I was forsaken, the last one awake being hunted by an unknown predator. Oh sweet Morpheus, what did I do to forsake you? Did I take the wrong colored pill? The matrix of my life was becoming distorted by my fear, I was becoming irrational.

I ventured out of my bedroom, into the midnight dark of the still and empty kitchen for another gin and tonic. Suddenly, the fear flared up. A red flag instinctual warning of life threatening danger. For a moment, I froze where I stood and stared into the darkness. Out of the amorphous dark materialized a small being made of shadows, no taller than a child, a shadow within a shadow in the moon’s penumbra. There were no clear features of the thing, past two pinpoint eyes, gleaming like stars out of a night sky, far off stars from some distant galaxy. I saw no face where one should be with my eyes, but with my mind I saw a myriad of horrifying faces in an endless montage, all with the twinkle star eyes. I could not bear to look at the thing, and ran back to my bedroom in terror, locking the door behind me.

Utter panic arrested my breathing and attacked my heart. I did not know what the thing I had seen was, nor did I care to find out. I now knew what had been watching me, I had seen my hunter and it was not of this world. Clearly, it did not want to take me yet, it was still enjoying the sport of the hunt, like a cat toying with a mouse once victory was assured. That was perhaps the most disturbing fact of the day’s events so far, it found my torture pleasurable. I shuddered to guess what it had it store for my demise. I had been reduced to a small child once more, a mirror image of the shadowy doppelgänger that laid waiting for me just past my flimsy bedroom door.

I remembered that as a child, the best way to conquer the fear was to go to sleep. Somehow sleeping always manages to make everything better. When your head hits the pillow, the entire world may be crumbling around you, and when you wake up miraculously the world has been built up new and more beautiful than ever. I needed that right now, I needed that beauty to help me overcome the fear. After many hours of unpacking and begging Morpheus to bring me to dreams, even the most awful nightmares would be better than confronting this real horror that skulked in the Stygian dark. I was tempted to sleep with the lights on, thinking that might protect me from the shade that was prowling about my house. In the end, I decided not to, it was best to face my fate head on, as my hunter had faced me minutes before. Despite that resignation I did not feel up to going back out of my room, the fear within me was too strong. Besides, what could I hope to do to a demon of shadows?  Instead of physically facing my doppelgänger I would face it metaphysically, in dreams, perhaps there I could stand a chance of besting the fear.

The next day when I awoke, still alive, the feeling of being watched had subsided, and the fear had diminished, but it remained. The fear remained in my memory, a specter haunting my thoughts. Perhaps something had been disturbed during the move, some hidden evil from childhood. Some long forgot secret doing of mine, a horror of my own past too despicable to recall. While the fear had temporarily passed, I knew it would live on in the back of my mind, pressing me. It would be there, forever waiting, lurking just off the periphery in the dark, biding its time.

***

            Something was definitely not right in the world, or at least in me, I could tell that much. This gnawing feeling in my guts, a feeling I often felt all my life, like the fear, signified some tragedy. I wasn’t sure what was wrong though, everything seemed fine with me. Aside from the bad break up and worse hangover everything seemed fine. One thing I did know was that I needed to sober up. I needed to be able to see the world through clear eyes again, not shrouded in a haze of bong smoke or sheltered behind beer goggles. While I had come a long way from Golden, the General’s words were still fresh in my head. Encouraging words, psalms of strength from a slightly shell-shocked bible-thumping trucker, words that might normally have fallen on deaf ears but they stuck with me. “If you knew what to expect on the test what would be the point in testing you?” There wouldn’t be a point. Even worse, if you knew what to expect but were still punished for your mistakes, then life really was about playing your part and dealing out punishments on those who forget their place or seek to change it. I refuse to live in a world that is afraid of change. Evolution is the only constant and I will evolve from my shortcomings.

Hey readers, I’ve recently begun wondering if my blog might be too diverse in focus for my readership and I am debating limiting my focus on this blog and starting another one for other posts or possibly something else. As a person who has many focuses in life and does many things I wanted a blog that reflects that, but I worry people might feel spammed with posts that are not relevant to their interests (you are here for DIY but I just keep posting about politics, or vice versa).

Here is your chance and your place to tell me what you come here for and what you’d like to see more of. You can choose up to 3 options on the poll and even add your own options if I missed something.

This year’s theme for Burning Man has been announced, and it is Caravansary. If you are like me then your first thought was probably, “what the hell is a caravansary?” Quickly followed by the realization that it is a very tricky to pronounce word. A caravansary is a type of walled inn with a large central courtyard that was built along the Silk Road to protect caravans at night from marauders. You can think of a caravansary as a man-made oasis; they offered the same level of protection in their stone walls that an oasis saw from the harsh climate of the desert itself. Caravansaries and the Silk Road were crucial to the flow of information as they served as meeting places for all sorts of people from every corner of the globe, the crossroads.

Now, if you are like me, you probably then realized that this theme doesn’t really add much to the event like previous themes have. Burning Man has had themes for art since 1998, but the art-theme area of the website gives no hint as to the purpose of these themes nor their goal. Perhaps I am off base in assuming the themes are meant to modulate the event to make it somewhat different every year. Sure, Burning Man is always totally different, yet always the same, but the theme offers participants a filter or locus through which to view the event, it points us in a direction and says “go.”

Past themes, like Green Man, Metropolis, Cargo Cult and American Dream have forced us to re-examine our relationships with the environment, our cities, ourselves, and likelihood of realizing the American Dream. While Burning Man is always a leave no trace event, thus environmentally conscious, Green Man took it to new levels with art pieces like Crude Awakening. This was a giant oil derrick which showed humanity’s worship of oil which ultimately erupted into a mushroom cloud of fire when nearly 3,000 pounds of propane and jet fuel were ignited at weeks end. While that might not sound terribly green it is equivalent to “the amount of energy consumed in the Bay Area in one minute” and since the Bay Area was on vacation that week at Burning Man I imagine it balanced out. So while past themes have provided direction to the event in addition to the existing matrix of Burning Man laid out in the Ten Principles, this years theme does not.

Let’s break down this year’s theme. A caravansary is an inn where people from all over the world would get together, drink, swap stories, and perhaps swap more than that in gifts, trade, and lovemaking. By default, in order to be at a caravansary, you were on a pilgrimage of sorts or you worked at the inn. If you have never been to Burning Man let me do a quite comparison for you. If you are at the Burn you are on a pilgrimage of sorts or you work for Burning Man/the Government (“the inn”). Burning Man itself is a caravansary protecting inhabitants from the harsh Black Rock Desert that surrounds, it is our oasis in time and space in a vast sea of dust. Within this grand caravansary there is arranged a smaller assortment of taverns, bars, inns, and lounges, nearly all having some sort of inner courtyard to offer weary travelers repose.

While I am rather underwhelmed by the theme, because it is basically saying “this years theme is Burning Man,” I am similarly impressed. I was forced to learn a new word and I’ve already had my consciousness expanded thanks to my initial opposition to the theme. Sometimes what sounds utterly moronic at first proves to be the best idea imaginable and Burning Man is a great place for testing the bounds of imagination and idiocy. I am also impressed by this year’s Burn because instead of placing the Man ever higher from the desert floor on huge structures, making him ever less ADA accessible, he is returning to the floor of the desert as a MASSIVE effigy.

So how is Burning Man a grand caravansary? And if it is what sort of folks go there on pilgrimage to trade ideas and craft a collective narrative?

Well, there are these kinds of people…

Burning Man – Fun for all ages, old and young.

There are there sorts of people too…

Sometimes a dance floor at Burning Man just looks like a forest of fuzzy coats and furry top hats. This can be both wonderful and very disorienting if high on drugs.

And yes, they’re out there too…the infamous sparkleponies.

A wild herd of sparkleponies have appeared. Not always female, know a sparklepony by their sass, ass, and magical ability to vanish whenever it is time to do work.

Burning Man is representative and inclusive of everyone, including the aforementioned stereotypes of sparkleponies, people wearing furry coats, and naked old people; honestly, they make the event what it is, God bless the sparkleponies and shirtcockers. Past the usual stereotypes and tropes, Burning Man has a lot of techies. Hordes. It’s like SF moved to the desert for a week. The Burning Man census reveals this to be true, showing that over a third of participants still come from northern California, mostly the Bay Area. Most participants identify as being white/not a person of color; the question has been asked in different ways in different years yielding different results.

There also are retired army generals, like former NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark, who was hanging out at this last Burn in conversation with John Perry Barlow (an EFF founder and Grateful Dead lyricist) and Larry Harvey (the main co-founder of Burning Man and its informal mayor). It sounds like the start of a joke; a Dead-Head,  a retired General, and the founder of Burning Man all walk into bar to sit down for a drink. It would be funny if it wasn’t real and didn’t have major significance. The usual belief is that Burning Man is only a place for the fuzzy hats and that clean-cut Good-Ol’ Boys would scarcely want to go let alone be accepted there. Only he did want to go there, no one is forced to be there other than the police and Burning Man staff who provide the crucial infrastructure to keep the event functional and safe. Not only did General Clark go to the Burn he also was accepted and given a rather warm welcome.

Everyone knows that world-class DJs are at the Burn every year, such as Junkie XL, Paul Oakenfold, Beats Antique, and The Crystal Method, but many people don’t realize that non-electronic artists also go to Burning Man, they just aren’t performing yet. P Diddy was sighted around this last Burn as well, sporting a stylish pink parasol. Hopefully P Diddy will join the vast legion of performers who gift their crafts to Black Rock City every year. As previously stated there are hordes of techies at Burning Man, this includes the God-child of all techies, Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg is not alone, he is joined by the whole cast of The Social Network, including the identical Winklevoss Twins and Dustin Moshkovitz. Moshkovitz wrote a great piece about why the presence of techies and plug and play camps should be embraced rather than spurned. I still have mixed feelings about plug and play camps, but much of the bad taste has been cleansed from my palate. Some people need a very sterile environment in order to enjoy the Burn, sometimes for valid medical reasons; who is any one person to deny them that experience? I’m not that guy and I don’t care to meet him.

Mostly you find lots of people like me. We dress however the hell we please regardless of where we are; I wore a three piece suit many days this last Burn, then other days I looked like a “steampunk hobo wizard” to quote a friend. People like me do work, often more than our fair share because we recognize that without someone doing work Burning Man doesn’t happen. People like me are kind of artists, maybe writers, often wearing many hats at different times filling many different roles in camps and in life. We’ll gift you things at the Burn unprompted and without any expectation of return, the way any true gift should be given.

The only people who are not welcome are asshats like Krug champagne who either cannot read, can’t be bothered to read the rules, or worse of all read the rules and think they are exempt from them. Burning Man makes it very clear that you are not to exploit the event for marketing or promotional reasons; this isn’t your photo-op to make your brand seem edgy. Krug thought it would be in the Burner ethos to have a huge invite-only champagne party out on the Playa, exclusively to take promotional photos. They then felt it would be neighborly to leave the place trashed; isn’t that one of the Ten Principles? Oh wait no, it’s not “leave it trashed,” it is leave no trace. Way to go asshats. Some Burners did come by to help clean the mess up, but it wasn’t their mess and that really wasn’t fair to them, but then when is life ever really fair? Burning Man often teaches us, sometimes brutally, that life is not fair (see the yearly ticketing melee).

All things said and done, I love Burning Man as much as ever and would love to make it back out there this year, though I worry about the chance of that given massive medical bills. People complain every year about the theme, how it’s not like it used to be, and how it used to be free, etc. Nope, it’s not how it used to be, no one is driving over tents in the night or shooting guns in city limits. Nope, it isn’t free either, but there are bathrooms provided and other services (an awesome medical system with 3 major locations in the city). Burning Man used to embrace anarchy more than it does today, now it is radical self expression that is embraced. I prefer what it is today, a temporary experiment in city building and the world’s largest living art museum/gallery, and I for one love being part of that grand social experiment in the most famed caravansary of our time.

The second short story I am posting from my novel and the first of which coming from the Burning Man section of the book.

Branded

It was Sunday, that made it God’s day out there in the Christian world. Here at Burning Man, Sunday means it is time to burn the Temple and bring the formal Burn to a close. Tomorrow will be the last official day of Burning Man, but you can stay longer. Right now, tomorrow feels like it is a lifetime away.

For me, Sunday also meant my facial wound from an amazing and daring swordfight was now healed enough to begin flaking off, and the fight itself legendary enough to earn me my own Playa name, Captain Safety. I was amazed by how quickly I healed out here and suspected it had something to do with the climate or alkaline dust. If I nurtured this facial wound right during healing, in time I could have a real bad boy scar. You know, one of those scars with a story, a scar right over your eye. This Sunday also meant I’d regained enough serotonin to be my normal talkative self again, mostly.

The best way I’d discovered to spend the long, hot hours in the middle of the day was with hookah, friends, and Pabst Blue Ribbon. PBR was a fine beer, with a better flavor and usually a lower price than Budweiser and other cheap beers. Yet one had to cope with the hipster stigma attached to it. A devils bargain, but everything was a trade off.

At Burning Man no one seemed to care what you drank or wore, in fact I don’t recall even hearing the word hipster all Burn. Most burners complained more about tourists than hipsters; tourists were people at the Burn as observers, often considered to be not true burners because they didn’t fully embrace the burner ethos. But tourist, like hipster, was in the eye of the beholder and a pejorative applied to a person by a stranger who knows nothing of who an individual really is, other than the caricature they are presenting at a given moment. And moments are merely snapshots in time. Maybe I looked like a tourist, maybe I looked like a hipster. Neither one was relevant when we were all covered in the same dust.

We were relaxing in the long shade created by the RV by the afternoon sun; the whole crew was assembled. There was the Trio de Chicas Locas, the three gorgeous and fierce girls Foreman had helped out earlier in the week when one of them got a concussion. It was nice having a medic in your camp. There was, of course my camp, Coffee and Cigarettes, our leader Rhyno, Foreman, my friend Chyutknee, and various others. We were based after comedy movie of the same name and gave away the very obvious and appropriate coffee and cigarettes, as well as having nightly open mic comedy. We also had some new faces. The Chicas had managed to find a Trio de Australians and brought them over. Two of them looked like decent blokes, and one of them looked like a fucking butcher. It was something about his eyes, kind of shifty and not trusting, which made him seem out of place at the Burn and not trustworthy to my drug addled brain. His eyes and his Mohawk, which was held together by some combination of Elmer’s glue and safety pins, made him look rather menacing. Matching the mis-matched pins through the glue-ridden unicorn horns of his hair were two larger safety pins through his ear lobes. They looked to be the same thing he pierced the holes with originally, who knows how long ago that was.

Ramona, easily the most loca of the trio, was soberly and then drunkenly telling us how this was her last day out here and she had to leave before the Temple burned. Missing this experience was something she was not okay with, but she had a backup plan. She insisted on having an image of The Man branded on her. She wanted a true hot iron brand, cowboy style, though maybe not hog-tied. This gorgeous young girl wanted us to leave a mark on her physically, as we already had emotionally, and specifically she wanted that mark on her ankle.

Her ankles were slender and beautiful. I could wrap a hand around one and touch my finger tips together. In all ways imaginable this was a less than ideal location for a brand. We were in a desert, over 100 miles from the closest hospital. Instead of getting the brand on a nice fleshy area, like her gloriously round ass, she picked her dainty yet boney ankles.

One of the Australians, not Crocodile Dundee or Steve Irwin, but The Butcher, offers to do the deed. “Oy, I’ll burn it on you,” he says with a sly, suspecting, and suspicious grin, “let’s go back to my camp where my tools are.”

When he says tools I see a twinge of something cross his maniacal face and I know what he means.

“My Gods,” I exclaim loudly in my head, still not fully able to articulate speech after the MDMA crash. “This scheming bastard with a rat’s nest for a head wants to take her back to his camp and work her over with his tools. He wants to whisk her away and have his way with her. By the looks of him he’ll rape her, chop her up, and then maybe eat her and only maybe in that order.” You can never tell how depraved these types can be. Retrospectively I am not sure how much of this was the drugs talking to me and how much was legitimate worry for a new friend.

I come back to the present moment, out of my head, to see Ramona beginning to fall into this twisted cannibal’s plot. I grab her by the shoulder, gently but urgently and pull her aside. “Don’t go with that kangaroo fucking madman, you cannot trust people who fuck marsupials. Besides that, did you see the look in his eyes? He sees you as meat, fresh, warm, red meat for the slaughter. The man is a butcher, a kill you first and fuck you later type. Jeffrey Dahmer dressed in a t-shirt and furry boots, every safety pin jammed through his body a former trophy. I count six trophies Mona, do you think this crazed wingnut likes symmetry? I doubt it! Do you see what I am saying?”

She was hesitant to reply, looking torn between perplexed amusement and sage decision making, “I think…”

“What I am saying is we have a propane stove, vice grips, and hell we even have the saran wrap and medical tape we need to doctor it up right. We have you covered, stay here with friends.” She nodded, I had won her over.

“Oy, are we doing this or not?” The Butcher was getting antsy to leave; he knew I was onto him. I could smell his fear.

“Yes, but I’m staying here. Coffee and Cigarettes has everything I need and I would rather not walk a bunch after branding my ankle.”

As a man of many talents who had traveled the world over, Chyutknee offered his services at this crucial juncture. “I’ve branded cows and sheep before how different can this be?”

At this utterance The Butcher dejectedly signaled to Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin that it was time for them to piss off. He scowled at me, a crudely mohawked savage with pins through his ears and murder in his eyes. They walked out of camp into the dust laden winds and were soon nothing but a memory.

***

“Alright, if we’re going to do this we’re doing it by the books, as best as we can.” Foreman settled into his role and drew from years of experience as an EMT to make sure our semi-sober selves did not make a complete mess of things. “Captain Safety, get your medical tape and vicegrips. Rhyno, start wiping off that metal necklace you were gifted with this sanitary towelette, we’ll use that as the brand. Chyutknee, get some gloves on. I’ll turn on the stove and grab the saran wrap!”

This process, while done with the utmost expediency, was being conducted on “Burner time,” meaning time became quite relative. Two beers later we were all assembled and ready to go. Ramona was propped up in the comfiest folding chair in the camp, the one with all four legs and no rips in the fabric. Her intended leg was elevated, bare, and erected for this moment of great anticipation. While the necklace was being transmogrified into a hot brand, Mona cracked open another beer and we toasted to her decision.

I had always hoped to witness a live human branding someday. I just never expected to see one so early in my life, or to be so intimately involved in the experience. I even had my camera there to get photos.

The brand was ready and we readied Ramona with a cloth bit in her mouth. With a big grin, the grin of a proud craftsman birthing a new creation, Chyutknee let the scalding, blistering hot metal kiss the delicate ankle of our dear little Ramona, gently, like a politician kissing a baby. As one would expect, she squirmed from the pain but took it well and ended up with a very decent looking brand of The Man. We wrapped it in saran wrap, taped it down like one does a tattoo, iced it, and she was good to go.

Like a real champ, while many of us were still paralyzed with wonder, Ramona laced up her boot over the newly minted brand. She stood up, chugged the rest of her beer and was ready to go party. I was awestruck by this beautiful, tough as nails desert flower who just bloomed before my eyes. This girl was of a breed too strange to live and too rare to die.

For those of you just tuning into this blog I post a lot of things about drugs, mainly medical cannabis but I have and will touch on other drugs as well in time. This is a result of the context of my birth and life. I was born in the Bay Area, the child of an original hippie and the career-driven yet fun-loving college girl he re-married to. Put simply I never had a normal childhood by most people’s standards and it has only gotten stranger with time.

I decided some years back to begin writing down my experiences as a series of short stories which has grown into the skeletal outline of a novel. This novel is the product of my life living on the edge of drug culture, it is a partial autobiography, the autobiography of a facet of myself written by the amalgamated self. The book is currently under the working title of Wasted Nights and Wasted Youth, I am doubtful that will be the final title. I will be periodically posting my stories here, I hope you enjoy it.

 

Extraplanar Travel, Made Easy

Salvia Divinorum, diviner’s sage. Commonly known by only its genus, salvia, the true intrigue lay in the descriptive aspect of its name. Divination is the act of seeing a place far removed from one’s physical body. Seeing the future, astral projection, spirit quests, all of these sorts of spiritual endeavors were the domain of this herb. Salvia has a long history of spiritual use with indigenous peoples around the world. Some users claim to see a woman of light who appears to them to give them spiritual quests.

That is all irrelevant in today’s prohibitionist America, what is relevant is that salvia is legal. It’s also quite relevant that it is perhaps the most intense hallucinogenic experience a person can get crammed into ten minutes without their brain melting out their ears. On acid, you’ll see cool patterns, but you still perceive the real world. With shrooms, you may see some things that aren’t really there, and time is distorted, but it is still the real world. On salvia, you go to a completely different universe.

***

            “Ok guys, I got the salvia, are you ready to go to other worlds?” Patrick was normally a grade-A fuck up, at everything. His brain was fried; the result of a lifetime’s addiction to drugs starting before he could even walk. You couldn’t blame him for his mom, you could, on the other hand, blame him for himself. This time he did right and Roy was right to vouch for him, at least this time.

“Fuck yea man. How strong is it?” Roy was a boxer to his very core, training and a preoccupation with strength, never left his mind.

“60X, it’s pretty fucking strong man, it’s strong enough.” I’ve never understood the numbering system for salvia. It’s nice to know what the multiplier is, but it’s worthless if you don’t know the initial amount being multiplied. And if it is zero? 60X of 0 is still 0.

“Sounds good to me, let’s split it up for the four of us. Jimmy, John, how much of this are you guys going to want?”

“I’ll take a quarter.” I’d done salvia before. I didn’t hallucinate that strongly my first time, but I was told after the fact that I “didn’t do it right.” I wanted to be sure to avoid that this time around. Even though I didn’t see things I felt the high come on, like my body coming to the edge of a great cliff then falling off, plunging into a new world. I’d heard of people meeting “Her,” the woman of light, and I had always hoped it would happen for me, but in over a dozen attempts I never had any luck, perhaps today would be different.

“I’ll try a quarter as well. I’ve smoked pot before, I doubt it will be any different.” John was generally quite cynical, and skeptical of new experiences, it served to limit his world, and options in it, considerably.

Roy pulled out his small, indigo blue bong, speckled with flecks of black, patches of navy blue and wine-stained purple. I was familiar with this piece, Roy brought it everywhere with him, it was his “travel bong.” He had a whole mythology around it; he had dreamed of the bong, then it came to him one day as he was shopping for a new bong, after breaking his old one which “never felt right.” Regardless, it was a very cool piece.

We all took our hit in turn; with salvia you smoke an entire bowl to get high in a short period of time. Patrick insisted he got to go first, as he went out to get the stuff and paid for it. Roy corrected him that he paid for it; Patrick, “hadn’t paid for shit, but ladies go first.” We all got a good laugh at this, expect Patrick, who mumbled “whatever,” and greedily took his hit. Roy went next, as he paid for it, it seemed only fair. I left John go ahead of me, so that I would still be sober to babysit the three of them. It would have been nice if someone had thought of that before it was too late and defaulted to me. Normally I may have cared, but watching someone trip out on salvia is pretty fucking hilarious. After they came back to earth, and had their feet firmly on the ground, I took my turn.

***

            One of the nice things about salvia is that you are not out long. With shrooms you might be gone a few hours, perhaps a little longer if you’re on acid, but with salvia you’re only off in space for about ten minutes. This is enough time for a thoroughly enlightening headtrip, as I had just learned, but we’ll get to that in a second. Salvia also has a halo, which lingers for almost half an hour, where you can get aftershocks from the trip and everything has a slight glow to it. Once we were all firmly on the ground again, the real fun began, sharing our journeys with the others.

Patrick claimed he went to the South Park universe, like from the TV show. He was transported right into Mr. Garrison’s classroom, which was being visited by the schools nagging guidance counselor, Mr. Mackey. Patrick had done something which was “not okay, mmkay,” and receiving the full brunt of Mackey-vellian wrath. Even Cartman and the boys had to chip in that Patrick was being a “douchebag.” This was the point where the trip shifted gears and every person became a key on the grandest of pianos which was reality. Patrick was now the sole host to this bizarre concert in his mind, which continued to judge and reprimand him.

One thing can be said of salvia, and all hallucinogens, your state of mind when setting out on your journey can radically alter your course and ultimate destination. The same can really be said of all journeys in life though. What I saw of this while sober was very different, Patrick was pretty much just rolling around on the floor like he was very drunk and mumbling to himself.

Roy said he went to the Super Mario Brothers universe. It began with the couch in front of his eyes compressing to become the two dimensional backdrop of the video game level, the trees and floating platforms that made up the scenery. Then Roy appeared, as a little Mario jumping through the air, grabbing coins and hopping on koopa troopas. He was now viewing himself from a third person camera angle, in other words from outside his own body; out of body feelings are common with hallucinogens and to be embraced. Roy, as a boxer, rolled with the proverbial punches, and dodged a giant bullet while grabbing a fire power up. He was well on his way to saving Princess Peach from the evil Bowser.

Roy was extremely entertaining to watch. He took on a very 2-D shape, like a man in a running position with one leg straight and one bent, and his arms crooked out to his sides. He then hopped in place a few times; I am assuming this was when “Mario” was jumping. The only audible thing he said was “It’s like this,” then he spun in a circle counterclockwise. I couldn’t tell if he had saved the princess or if she was in another castle. He was pouring sweat, and had turned bright red; for some people salvia is a very physical trip, this is why having a babysitter is a good policy for safety. Roy felt a force pulling him counterclockwise throughout his halo; he actually spun a few more times just to mitigate his urge.

Out of the four of us, John was the only one that definitively had a bad trip. He went to a universe where everything around him was fractured into millions of faces. Even the faces were made of faces, and they were all laughing at him. And he saw himself laughing with them; as I saw him sitting there next to me, laughing like a madman. He described it like, “life had been reduced to being one big joke and I was the punchline.” John tended to be a person riddled with social anxiety and this fully manifested in his hallucination.

My trip was something wholly different, something unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Instead of the usual journey to another universe, existing off somewhere in the murk of the multiverse, I went inside the universe of myself. Normally when a salvia trip comes on for me it feels like I get to the edge of a great precipice then suddenly plummet into a new world. Right now it felt like I was riding on an old wooden roller coaster, the kind that always begin with a steep incline up followed by an anticipatory plunge. While I was still slightly cognizant I heard myself exclaim, “I’m tripping balls!” Though it probably sounded more like, “Yiam Tryppy Blals.”

I found myself in the kitchen of the house I lived in while growing up in my transformative years, elementary through high school; up till my parents’ separation. I was sitting at the kitchen table with Roy, John, and a couple other good friends from that time of my life. We were all drinking coffee, out of identical mugs. I had the distinct impression that the cups were new, and the coffee maker was new; in fact many things in the house were out of place from my memories of the house. Then my dog ran into the room followed by my mom.

“Okay everyone, it’s time,” my mom said. At which point everyone at the table stood up, except me. I was bewildered, I didn’t know what it was time for or what was going on.

I stood up and said, “What’s it time for Mom?” No sooner had the words left my lips when everything in the room, every individual object, split into two people, a man and a woman back to back, wearing hunter green sweaters and khaki pants. The table, the coffee mugs, every spoon, even the dog, bifurcated into two weaselly looking glasses wearing strangers. It didn’t stop there, I looked up at the corner of the kitchen, where two walls met the ceiling, and I saw the walls split apart like a movie sound stage, exposing the vibrant blue screen glow behind.

The weasel people grabbed me and the others, and took us ‘off set’ to a backstage area. In this backstage area there was a sea of red shopping carts, all filled with different colored paint. While paint would normally be pouring out all over through the sides of the cart, this was a drug trip so things like logic and physics need not apply. The weasels plopped us all into empty shopping carts. I looked around me and saw that all the carts were full of people, and they were all people I knew from those transformative years of my life. I saw Roy and John’s parents, my own parents, all my school acquaintances. Stranger still I saw an army of me’s, each one slightly different; clearly these were different manifestations of my own psyche.

The camera angle then panned out to a 3rd person camera angle to show me the full breadth of the shopping cart sea. What I saw was amazing; the carts were layered and formed a giant effigy of me. I had the knowledge that I, my True Self in the trip, was located at the right corner of my mouth. The corner of the mouth is a bridge point; between two types of skin, between two places that distinguish a friendly kiss from an intimate one. I am a man on a bridge, torn between two shores.

I was then back inside my own head, back in the shopping cart. I noticed there was a power cable of some sort behind me and though that it was awkwardly placed so that someone would surely trip on it and hurt themselves. I decided to exit my cart and get the cord in a better position. In the process, I accidentally hooked my foot on the cord and unplugged it.

Roy’s mom looked over at me and said, “Oh god, Jimmy what did you do?”

Then Roy, and John looked over, “Dude…”

And my mom joined the chorus, bellowing in my ears and rattling me to my core “Jimmy, then entire universe was created for this very moment, and you fucked it up!” It would seem that somehow I managed to unplug myself, or my reality, or something like that. What was made glaringly certain to me at this moment in my trip was that there was a greater Jimmy, a Jimmy lurking somewhere above my reality and my entire universe was just his drug trip. I was going to show that bastard a thing or two about destroying my reality for his drug trip.

I felt myself get sucked upwards into a great vortex, a swirling brown whirlpool drawing me up towards the greater Jimmy. The way was fraught with peril, the whole time giant hands would swing out from the walls of the vortex to bat me to the ground, where I would lay, back broken, until another me took up the fight. With each successive go I got further and further, until eventually I fought all the way back to full consciousness and merged myself, becoming the greatest Jimmy.

Or had I? Existential fear wracked my brain. Am I the greatest self? Or am I just a lesser part of a greater organism; am I just a figment of their imagination? I consoled myself that if this was the case then life was a stage and all I could do was put on the best show I could for as long as I could. I also took comfort in the realization that man is a social creature, we are all enmeshed in the greater organism that is humanity, or even more broadly in the global system that is Lifeboat Earth. Even if I die, I live on in that greater self, in the world itself.

I had gone inside my own mind, there was no doubt about that. The shopping cart sea was all of the individuals I met that have made me who I am, including different aspects of myself and archaic versions of me. I still pondered the meaning of why I am specifically the right bridge of my mouth. Another thought crossed my mind, though my mother was not made of light, perhaps I had finally met “her.” The question then is, what is my quest to be? This would take further mediation to fully comprehend.

Continuing where yesterday’s blog leftoff, here are some famous examples of stories, myths, historical and religious figures who conform to the archetype of the Hero’s Journey.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT: The first 6 are all historical/religious but then I go on to movies/books and I’d hate to ruin a plot for you without warning you first.  Specifically, I discuss Stranger In A Strange Land, The Lord Of The Rings, and Fullmetal Alchemist.

Heracles with Cerberus.

1. Hercules/Heracles – Hercules is the Roman adaptation of the Greek hero Heracles, son of the god Zeus and a mortal woman, making him a demi-god. Heracles is most known for twelve trials he had to endure, one of which was going to the underworld to capture Hades three headed dog Cerberus. Going to the underworld of Hades is a figurative death Heracles passes through in order to best his labors and recover his sanity while achieving immortality. The purpose was not becoming immortal, that was merely a side perk, the main goal was atoning for slaughtering his children after he was driven mad by Hera.

Baby Achilles takes a bath in the River Styx.

2. Achilles – Another Greek hero, Achilles was also demigod like Hercules. Instead of being immortal like Heracles, Achilles was invulnerable to harm everywhere on his body other than his heel, creating the metaphor Achilles heel. His mother baptized him in the river Styx, the river of the underworld, which granted him immunity to harm everywhere except his heel, where she held him. Ultimately he died in the Trojan War, that grand battle to bring home the beautiful Helen of Troy to her native Sparta. Many warriors fought in this battle, some died; the cunning Odysseus, both Ajax the Great and Ajax the Lesser to name a few of the best known. Of all the many heroes mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey, the only one better known than Achilles is Odysseus himself who is a main character in both books. Achilles has gained eternal glory through his death for himself but more importantly for Greece.

Jesus Christ, Superstar!

3. Jesus – Jesus Christ was potentially a real person who lived in ancient Mesopotamia, born in 1 anno domini (AD). There is much dispute over whether Jesus was real or is myth, and the belief that he is the son of God. I believe he was a real man, likely not a pale Anglo white man. He was a religious philosopher of sorts and also had a stripe for politics, this won him few friends with the Romans who just loved crucifixion. Jesus preached a new way of doing things and shook things up in the social order which annoyed those in power. Jesus is said to be the son of God, the product of a miraculous birth, sent to earth to be killed to man’s sins, only to be reborn and go to Heaven. The story of Jesus is a perfect telling of the major steps in the Hero’s Journey.

Buddha under the Bodhi Tree.

4. Buddha – Buddha was a real flesh and blood man before attaining enlightenment, a prince from the Himalayan foothills named Siddhārtha Gautama. Unlike Jesus, there is no dispute about his existence, merely differences in opinion on the nature of his divinity and enlightenment. Buddha means “enlightened one,” and contrary to the beliefs of some there is not one Buddha but countless. Anyone can become a Buddha, an enlightened one, given the right environmental factors. For Siddhārtha, he needed to meditate under the sacred fig tree, now called a Bodhi tree in honor of the enlightenment achieved beneath its boughs, like a religious Sir Isaac Newton. Buddha does not physically die during his Hero’s Journey, but his ego is allowed to die. The death of the ego is a central to many Buddhist sects and The Buddha was the first to demonstrate how this can be done and why it is desirable. That was The Buddha’s glory.

President John F. Kennedy

5. John F. Kennedy – President John F. Kennedy was America’s youngest President until Obama, our first non-Protestant President, and a brilliant statesman/playboy. He was a real American hero on many levels who did a lot to advance civil rights and was an early advocate for wave-powered electricity, just to same some of his glorious exploits. He was tragically assassinated during his first term.

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr

6. Martin Luther King Jr. – Like JFK, Martin Luther King was assassinated for shaking up the present day politics. MLK and Malcolm X both occupied crucial roles in the civil rights movement, aided in a political capacity from JFK. Martin Luther King was a preacher who was instrumental to the success of the American civil rights movement, most known for his legendary I Have A Dream speech.

Rodin’s “”Caryatid Fallen Under her Stone,” a central piece of the allegory in the book, and an allegory for Mike himself.

7. Michael Valentine Smith – Mike is the main character in Stranger In A Strange Land, perhaps the most famous novel by Robert Heinlein. Mike is about as blatant a Jesus allegory as one can be without the Church coming after them for copyright infringement. A Muslim character even eludes to him being The Prophet reborn. While one can read a Jesus allegory in Stranger there is much more to the story than that. In the end of the book, Mike is martyred, not on a cross but in his own way and that is his death on the Hero’s Journey. But as anyone who has truly grokked the book knows Mike cannot really die, no one ever really dies as long as something has grokked them.

Gandalf, The Grey

8. Gandalf – In the Lord of the Rings there are several heroes who die but the one who best embodies the Hero’s Journey is the wizard Gandalf the Grey. Gandalf fights the Balrog in Morea and in the process is killed only to be reborn as the more powerful Gandalf The White. His death empowers him to further glory along his Hero’s Journey. Other heroes also die along the way, physical deaths, spiritual deaths, and perhaps even some deaths of ego.

Ed and Alphonse Elric.

9. Alphonse Elric/Edward Elric – In the anime Full Metal Alchemist both brothers experience various deaths along their journey, in both series and in the movie as well. Alphonse actually dies before the series even begins but his soul is brought back to the living world at the expense of his brother’s arm which is Ed’s first death, from there it continues until you wonder how either character keeps sane. Before all of that, the death that portends all others is that of their mother, her death is the catalyst that literally makes our heroes into the men they are destined to become.

I hope you all had a good Christmas. While I am not Christian myself I take time off for my mother’s birthday on the 24th and time with my extended family on the 25th. In case you are curious I was raised as a Nichiren Buddhist and my current spirituality is that combined with Tibetan Dzogchen Buddhism, alchemic philosophy, and smatterings of the Abrahamic faiths. Though I do not believe in Jesus as the son of God and that December 25th is his birthday, if you are a Christian, I imagine you will feel a pretty strong affinity for the sentiments in this blog regarding Jesus (this truism applies to him rather strongly).

The other day I was thinking about the phrase “the hero must die,” and how it kind of is a truism. A truism, if you didn’t know is a statement so obviously true that it needs no further explanation, though it has varying degrees of meaning. The term dates back to the early 1700’s, making it an invention of the enlightenment era.

The first truism I’m going to briefly dissect is the timeless phrase known to writers world-round, .” I cannot find an exact date for the first usage of this truism, but it is likely to be rooted in the ancient Greek’s conception of the Hero’s Journey, a story archetype. The archetype can be broken down into 8 stages, one of which is death. Though different people have different interpretations of the stages in the Hero’s Journey the death of the hero is unanimous, though it is not always a physical death. Sometimes death takes the form of other types of loss, a spiritual or economic death for example. The entire Hero’s Journey, all the death and loss, is in pursuit of what the ancient Greeks called kleos, which means glory or fame and also is the name for a song or poem that conveys glory. Kleos is “both the medium and the message of the glory of heroes.” For the ancient Greeks, the concept of glory was a very altruistic concept done for the good of the many not the good of the hero.

Stages Of The Hero’s Journey

  1. Miraculous conception and birth
  2. Initiation of the hero-child
  3. Withdrawal from family or community for preparation
  4. Trial and Quest
  5. Death
  6. Descent into the underworld
  7. Resurrection and rebirth
  8. Ascension, apotheosis, and atonement

This was originally meant to be one post but it had become large enough where I have to make it two posts. Check out the second half which profiles 9 Hero’s Journeys for you, from every age of history and many different cultures.

I love books and I love movies, I also love examining them to see what they tell us about a society at a given time (Example: Lord Of The Rings is about WWI/WWII in Europe). It can be interesting to see how a common narrative gets built up and developed over time, for example, the narrative of children killing eachother in gruesome ways.

In 1954, William Golding turned heads with his revolutionary book, Lord Of The Flies, about a group of adolescent boys who end up marooned on a deserted island. The book explores the boys downward spiral from civilization and order into savagery and chaos. It is the first book published I have come across where the plot can be summarized as ‘a group of children in an isolated place killing eachother.’ It was so thought provoking that it was later made into a movie by the same name, and even remade.

In 1999 the genre of children killing eachother in remote places had the novel Battle Royale added to its roster, bringing a new movie with it, including a sequel. While it is possible to believe that the remake of Lord of the Flies inspired Battle Royale there are numerous differences between the plots. Both books feature students, but the highschool class in Battle Royale is randomly selected by lottery in a society well aware of the death games played by adults; Lord Of The Flies is random in that the students are randomly marooned. The key difference is socio-cultural. One society has children growing up with the expectation that they may be called to battle and maybe die against their will; the other society is comparable to WWII era England with no such pervasiveness of death. Another difference is the addition of women and a female protagonist to balance the male protagonists (one main, one supporting).

2008 brought us the Hunger Games triology, which took the same general plot of Battle Royale, made it more Western and expanded it into three books (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay). The books have caught fire with the public and have quickly been turned into movies; Catching Fire is currently in theaters and Mockingjay is in production. You can currently see The Hunger Games on Netflix. After many silly protests I finally caved and saw The Hunger Games last night, and I’ll admit it is much more than just a Westernized remake of a Japanese film), it is a whole new twist to this half century old plot.

First off, The Hunger Games has more character development than Battle Royale and Lord Of The Flies combined. As someone who cares about plot development I appreciate this greatly. Second, while Battle Royale does involve a totalitarian government of sorts and has some anti-government themes it does not hold a candle to the anti-rich/anti-government sentiments present in The Hunger Games. Third, while every kid in Battle Royale is given a backpack with tools and weapons in them, none receive any training in personal combat. Fourth, though they are being monitored in Battle Royale and can be killed at will for bad behavior it is nothing compared to the 100% full control the government has of the forest in The Hunger Games. They can even craft new animals and summon them at will. Tied into point four, The Hunger Games is a game, a TV show; Battle Royale is televised but not to the same degree.

As someone who went to school for politics and loves plot development I have to say that the Hunger Games is my favorite of the three. As someone who has read Lord of the Flies twice, seen the original film, seen Battle Royale numerous times, and now seen The Hunger Games I feel I have a pretty firm basis of comparison. I need to read Battle Royale and the Hunger Games Trilogy to truly be sure.

I will add that there are some elements of Battle Royale that don’t fully make sense to me, that would probably have a deeper impact if I was Japanese, or at least spoke the language. Some things definitely do get lost in translation.