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Sad Elitist

The sad elitist says “Oh what a sad place this world is!  The masses of people follow vulgarians and demagogues and crap-artists of various stripes.  They are so stupid and vulgar and dumb they do not listen to me and my friends, who are aesthetically sensitive/moral/scientifically accurate [your self-image here].”

And the sad elitist in his heart of hearts worries “What if my aesthetic sensitivity/moral compass/scientific accuracy is a fraud and that is why nobody follows me any more.”

Listen up, sad elitist!

You’re not wrong.  You are more aesthetically sensitive/morally aware/scientifically accurate/whatever you want than the average Jane or Joe.  But you still messed up.

How?

You had it good.  You were a member of the elite, helping yourself to the finest fruits of your society’s harvest.  Your only job was to get the masses to go along with it, promising (and who knows, maybe even delivering) some actual benefit to their lives.  That is the bargain.  You get to be an elite of the aesthetically sensitive/morally pure/scientifically well-informed and everybody else gets SOMETHING.

If you failed to provide anything you have no one to blame but yourself.

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The Young Do Not Respect the Old

We give respect out of self-interest.  If I respect an axe it means I know if I handle it carelessly I could get hurt; secondarily if I learn to work with it my life is improved.

It is the same with human beings as with axes.  If a human earns my respect it means I think for my own good I had best treat what he does and says with some modicum of gravity.  If I ignore what she asks or does I risk mishap, while if I cotton to her desires I may be helped.

The young respect the old less than they used to for two reasons.

First reason: the world is changing more quickly, because of accelerations in technology, therefore the old may lack the skills necessary for success.  Their views may be dumb.  So the young can ignore them more freely; they are a dull ax.

Second reason: There are more opportunities for advancement; more zig-zagging paths to a fulfilling life.  In the old days of hierarchy the old person’s butt was in your face as you climbed a single ladder.  You had to obsequiavate him or her to gain a toe-hold and advancement, bestowing on that old face-staring butt a fine, respectful Kissing and Tongue Bath.  Now you can say “See you later, chum.”

But this lack of respect is it a Good Thing?  Or a Bad Thing?

Hush, child.  Those things worth discussing are always both.  Nobody but a fool would ever even voice the question of the goodness or badness of the unequivocally fine or ill.

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Teachings on Emptiness and Fullness from Paul, a Zen Master from Ocean Parkway and Avenue P

When I was on my existential mystical quest in my mid 20s (and paying the bills with office temp work) I learned that there was a home-grown Zen master named Paul in my own backyard in Brooklyn.  He lived in one of those huge apartment buildings you pass going down to the ocean on Ocean Parkway — the kind that have ancient people in folding beach chairs in front schmoozing and playing chess or dominoes and reading newspapers in the language of their native countries and that have huge dark lobbies with a sweet dank cabbagey smell and peeling circulars from the 70s pinned on a very dimly lit announcement board.

I pulled the gate back on the elevator and walked to his corner apartment on the fourth floor.  He was an Italian American of medium height with heavy metal hair and a Kiss t-shirt.  He was not from a Zen lineage but had read some Suzuki before dropping out of high school and had achieved satori a couple of years later.  He looked to be in his mid-2os but could have been older — there was a bench press in the living room next to a poster of Boddhidharma and a zen cushion so he probably kept himself in shape.

“So what can I do for you?” he asked.

When you get time with a spiritual master it’s good, in my experience, to go right for the deep stuff, cause generally they’re so nice that if you ask them about their family they’ll tell you and ask you about yours and then you’ll exit the ride without any enlightenment.  So I took out my paper and asked him “I’m puzzled by the Dogen question.  Either I’m already enlightened in which case what should I be doing, or I’m not, but if I’m not how could I become enlightened?  I mean from a cosmic standpoint if reality is non-dual I’m already part of that non-dual reality.  But still I’m unhappy.  So…?”

“Do you want some tea?” he asked me.

“Sure.” I said.

He went to the kitchen (everything was pretty dirty — I remember that now.  It reminded me of a widowed grandpa’s apartment — maybe it had been) and took out a pitcher of iced tea and started pouring it into a plastic cup.  He kept pouring and it overflowed.

“I know this one.” I said.

“Sure.  You know that if your mind is so full of ideas the Zen master can’t give you any new ideas.  You even know that idea.”

“Yeah.”

“So?”

“So I want you to empty my mind of ideas.”

He gave me an empty cup.  “Empty it out.”

“I can’t — it’s already empty.”

“Right.  You’ve got two cups.  One is empty and you want to empty it.  One is full and you want to add stuff to it.  What do you do?”

“I don’t know.  Pour from one into the other?”

“Or?”

“I don’t know.”

“Think about it.  You’ve got two yous — one of them is too full and one is too empty.  Make sure you put stuff in the right one and take stuff out of the right one.  Listen I gotta go but just think about that.”

“Wait” I said as he hustled me into the elevator.  “There’s also me, the person with the two cups.  So I have three “mes”?  Right?”

“What?  Oh sure.  Three.  Call me if you need anything.”

He was a good guy and a pretty good Zen Master.

 

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Frosty Fran

Not actually emotionally cold at all.  She has a lot of anger and a lot of love.  She doesn’t express it because she doesn’t want to manipulate people.  She keeps pretty cheery.  She just doesn’t want to share the depths with those who are not ready to share the depths.

Sometimes she dreams that Goofy is a real person, an intelligent southern dog who walks on two feet and takes her on adventures.

If there were a war and she had to kill an enemy soldier to keep from revealing the position of her own troops, Fran is convinced she would do it, but she wouldn’t be happy about it.

Sometimes in the forest she sees the moss and imagines what it would be like to be the moss.  Sometimes she imagines what it would like to be the sun.  And laughs!

 

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“From Tight Spaces We Construct Immensities”

One night I was pressed down with anxiety and when I finally found sleep Shlomo Alkabetz visited me in a dream.  “It’s so hard to say what I want to ask, Rabbi Shlomo.” I said.  “Don’t try to say it the way you think you ought to say it.” said the presence who was Shlomo Alkabetz on the other side.  “Just say it.”

“Why does it have to be so difficult?”

“Our job is to build  the next universe  and every tile, every door knob every pipe and every wire is constructed of the moments that make up your lives.  From your tight spaces we construct immensities.  From your fleeting moments we build eternity. ”

“Only the pain?” I asked him.

“No, no, no, no, no.” he said, hugging me.  “From the joy too.  Not even just the deep joys ; also the ones you don’t notice, that flit by.  We are building you a home.”

 

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Love Stories of the Far Future

1.

In the early years of the 2020s a man and a woman fall in love and pledge never to forget each other.  The human life span is extended indefinitely.  After a billion years the man is a general and the Sol system is under attack by cyborgs.  The man finds he no longer has room in his brain for the memory of the love affair and the codes necessary to save the Sol system from attack.  Tragically, he deletes his memories of the woman.  After the war,she comes to see him, but he doesn’t remember her. But she learns from the Rejuvenation Technician that he took his memory of his love for her and stored it in an Alpaca.  She has a  passionate, physical romance with the Alpaca.

2.

A cyborg in the far future reads the story above, falls in love with humanity and wants to make love with a human, but there are none left.  He makes a pilgrimage to the Info-Star, a repository of all past information and decides to recreate a human based on the residing data.  However because of quantum degradation in the universal memory bank there is no memory left of what a human looks like.  He reconstitutes what he thinks is a human but it is in fact an alpaca. He and the Alpaca have incredibly romantic but very hot intercourse.

3.

A pattern of ones and zeroes at the end of time achieves sentience and,in short order, omnipotence, including the ability to create whole universes.  It creates a universe and is ready to destroy it but it falls in love with a vulnerable, beautiful creature on a tiny planet within its self-created plenum.  It is an alpaca.  He mounts the alpaca right in front of everybody and they  make frenetic, painful,  yearning, passionate physical love.

4.

-What do you think of my stories?

-Pretty good, but there is too much people having sex with alpacas.

-Thanks, good to hear, good to hear.  So how much people having sex with alpacas is too much?

-Any.

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Books I Like Versus Books I Think I Ought to Like

Back in junior high school and high school we had to read books, but there were also books I read because I wanted to read them.  I think this distinction has seeped into my unconscious and surfaced as a feeling that there are certain books that are actually Good and Good For Me, and others that are just enjoyable.   The books I think I ought to like are:

  • about realistic limited characters with boring jobs who struggle with their families and their powerlessness
  • realistic
  • old
  • long
  • hard to read
  • make you aware of language as language — they have prose that is beautiful and self-conscious
  • are in favor of social change
  • serious
  • depressing — they castigate us for our hopes and strip us of our illusions
  • they are unpopular — they make me feel smart and special for liking them while most people would not like them.
  • morally complex

Examples: Jude the Obscure, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Magic Mountain

In contrast the books I like to read

  • are titillating
  • take me to amazing fantastic worlds
  • are funny
  • are violent
  • language does the job but doesn’t annoy me or call attention to itself.
  • were written recently
  • full of wish fulfillment
  • have cool ideas but don’t take them seriously.
  • the characters are extreme — geniuses, morons, femme vitales, weirdos

Example: Gone Girl, Harry Potter, The Shadow of the Torturer.

 

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