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Man,Mandrake,Manticore

When my father got towards the end of his life, he spent most of his time asleep.  There was an exercise bike in the room that I had gotten him from California to help keep him alive through exercise, but he never used it and it functioned as a clothes rack.  The radiator was piled high with books but on top of the books was a layer of health-related impedimenta — pill bottles, a folded-up walker — so he never got to the books.  The television was on all the time to a channel that showed violent movies and documentaries about con-men and criminals, but he didn’t pay attention.  He was too tired.

I would fly in when I had a weekend to spend time with him while I still could, but sometimes this felt a bit comically futile — just to stand in the room or perch on the bench by the window while he slept.  My Dad had been very tall — six foot four — and when he came home from work would throw me in the air so I thought I would get beaned on the hanging lamp, so when he was stretched out in bed he was large, although his skin had become pale and yellowish and he had a wound in his leg (he got it I think either falling down in the ruins of Pompeii or barking his shin on a boulder in Santa Monica) that year after year did not heal.  I used to, whenever I left after these trips, count up the hours I would be able to spend with my Dad during his remaining life — figure four visits a year at three days a visit, two hours of waking time per day — four times three times two is 12 — maybe three to five years — 36 to sixty remaining hours — and cry inconsolably, uncontrollably — a big guy like me wracked with sobs like a four year old left alone in the fair.

So as we are wise to do when we have a limited amount of something — candy bars or hours with Dad — I tried to make each one count.

An interesting thing about my Dad is every night before I went to sleep I would have reading time and he would read me usually one or if I insisted two hours of a book.  Mostly the Oz books.  Also Tarzan and the less known sequels — Tarzan and the Ant Men — Tarzan and the City of Gold.  In one Tarzan Tarzan fought the Boche by dropping a lion in the trench.   The huge cat ran amok eating Germans!  No wonder I was afraid to learn to read, because I thought my Dad would stop reading time.  But I was assured by my father and Mady the social worker who lived across Rugby Road that this wasn’t true.

So I asked my father at a moment when he was awake to tell me a story.

“In the future everybody keeps their bodies safe in underground crypts.  They live their lives — go to work, meet people, go to parties and so on using robots.  The robots are controlled by the people who are in the underground crypts.   The robots never let anybody know who is controlling them, because somebody could find the person in the underground crypt and kill him.  So you’d meet somebody — this is Bob Jones, this is Mary Smith — and you wouldn’t know who is Bob Jones really?  You could meet him your whole life and not know who he was.  Or Mary Smith.  You could marry her.  And not know who she was.  But if she kept the same robot all the time it wouldn’t matter.  The real body would almost be like the brain and the robot body would be like the body.”

“Not everybody would make a robot that looked like  a man.  Sometimes somebody would be a monster.  Like a mandrake.  Or a manticore.”

“They had a guy once who was wondering through mazes.  There was a labyrinth.  They had a minotaur there for him.  But it wasn’t really a minotaur. ”

My Dad closed his eyes.  “Dad?”

“What?”

“The minotaur wasn’t really a minotaur.”

“What?”

“What do you mean the minotaur wasn’t really a minotaur?  Do you mean it was a robot controlled by somebody in an underground crypt?”

“What are you talking about?”

“An underground crypt.  You said in the story that all the people were in underground crypts controlling robots.”

“Yes they were.  They were in underground crypts.  Controlling robots for ages.   Sometimes they would have to take an elevator.  Sometimes they would take the stairs.  You had to do that back there.  I think it was on Orchard Street.  That was before they did the things which you understand they do now.”

“But what about the minotaur?  Was it a robot.”

“There were many minotaurs and many robots and I’m pretty sure many people living in underground crypts.  And you couldn’t know, ahead of time, you understand, which was which.  One of the minotaurs could have lots and lots of…”

“Lots and lots of different people controlling it.”

“What?”

“Lots and lots of people controlling the minotaur!  And lots of minotaurs controlled by one person.  But you wouldn’t know?”

His eyes were closed and his breathing was very faint but regular.

“Dad!   Wake up!”

“What?”

“What about the maze?”

“Well needless to say there was a maze.  And an underground crypt.  And lots of people controlling one minotaur.  Two people controlling one minotaur.  Mary Jones and Bob Smith.  But also…”

“What?”

“What?”

“Also what, Dad?”

“Also there was a minotaur.  There was a minotaur who was controlled by several people.”

“Dad, you said that.”

“I did?  Sorry.  If you don’t want to hear the story we can watch t.v.”

“I want to hear the story.”

“There were also many many minotaurs a whole lot of minotaurs that were controlled by different people at different times.  Like there was a schedule.  Monday Tuesday and Friday you would control one minotaur.  Tuesday Thursday and Wednesday I would control that minotaur.  The minotaurs would wander through mazes.  They only looked like mazes because of the capacities of the various minotaurs.  The minotaurs lived in the mazes and every maze had to contain one or more minotaurs.  Needless to say the actual people controlling the minotaurs and the mazes were not in the mazes.  They were in underground crypts.”

My Dad closed his eyes again.  Was he dead?  No he was breathing.

“Dad!  Wake up!  What happened?”

“What?”

“What happened with Bob and Mary and the minotaur?”

“They told each other who they really were and they came out of their underground crypts and went…”

“Where did they go?”

“They went up the stairs and up the elevator and they met on the avenue and they had vanilla ice cream.”

“Dad?”

“Yes?”

“Would you like vanilla icecream?”

He opened his eyes, looked at me, and took my hand.

“You know, I think I would.”

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Nietzsche and Compassion

Nietzsche used to worry that too much compassion would make people weak which for him means something like “too sad to live your life.”  The idea was that if you really realized how much people (and animals) were suffering you would be unable to enjoy your life; you’d commit suicide; or maybe you’d just go through the motions but have no hope.  He was on to something real, which is, the fear of that happening.  People are afraid that if they actually realized the humanity of their enemy, or of the people whom they ignore, they would be unhappy.  That’s the cause I think of the anger on the part of anti-progressives.  They are worried that care for others will spoil their lives.  They don’t want to walk around feeling guilty all the time.

But this itself is an attitude born of weakness and despair.  If you have to lie to yourself not to be compassionate, it’s time to take an accounting.

Is the lie worth it?

Are you sure that the other non-compassionate people who you will end up hanging out with are worth hanging out with?  Or will they perhaps turn on you?

Will you actually succeed in lying to yourself and choking your compassion, or will you end up muffing it, and be neither a remorseless superhuman, nor an effective helper of suffering humanity, but just kind of bumble around somewhere in the middle?

Are you sure that you will be so unhappy when you acknowledge the humanity of the suffering?  Maybe you will do better at it than you think!

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The Clam Who was a Stranger to Human Rigor

Because his body was soft although his shell was hard, and it was perfectly clear to him what of him was shell and what of him was clam.  The shell is dead, it protects me. But it is not me.  I am a soft belly body and muscular foot.  I move.  And I enjoy.  But these humans are always moving through life to protect themselves, so have become unclear who is me and who is the armor that protects me.  They want to go into a group of other humans and be guaranteed that they will be cared for — by money, by personality, by fame.  Foolish humans — their rigor is their tomb.  They have become All Shell.

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What are We Going to Do

with the others, Joanna?

sometimes I think we should run from them

sometimes that we should chase them.

 

they horrify me Joanna that you should

have to live in a world with people like that

who do those things, say those things

 

they touch their lips with their tongues like they want to eat us

they ignore us like they want to let us die

they sniff us like we will make us vomit.  They hate our love.

 

One of them like the 90s sitcom Seinfeld too much

For him, crushing beneath an iron wheel.  One too little

Let him be blinded in the wilderness of crows.  Speaking of crows

 

One of them pronounces the initial “c” when he makes the sound

a rooster makes.  There is no c.  Let his testicles be halved, and the two halves

sewn together and placed in his throat, a third testicle, I love you Joanna..

 

In the morning after we have performed the third or even the fourth sex act

And fallen asleep I have dozed.  I have imagined you dreamed that I was one of them

I dreamed there is nothing I would like better than for you to end it with me, to end me,

to go on alone and inflict on me the punishment of being crushed by rocks.

 

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My Pet Ratite — My Giant Duckling Pal

I once did a good turn for an Indian holy man.  It wasn’t anything very special.  This is not false modesty although that’s something I do quite a bit — it is one of my moves — but what I did for Swami Narendrabodhi really was not much. I saw him walking down canal street with his begging bowl, past Canal Plastics, and I started a conversation with him, and I told him about a Thai wat in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, and took him there on the subway. We talked a little bit about his thoughts on various topics — socialism vs. capitalism, the world tree, life before and after birth — and I dropped him off and gave him six dollars, which is what I had, and also my address.

I thought nothing of it, and did not even connect it when I received a package in the mail covered with brown paper with Sri Lankan stamps and the return address in a peculiar penmanship — Jaganatha Narendrabodhi Wat Surathani Kandy Sri Lanka.

Inside was a large egg, about the size of a volleyball, with specks and the instructions to keep it under a sunlamp.

The creature that emerged looked like a duckling although it was the size first of a cocker spaniel and soon after I fed it — him — I named him Joseph — it grew to the size of a laborador retriever.

Joseph is covered with downy yellow feathers like a duckling, and has a ducklings joy and mischievousness.

He is my best friend in the whole world.  He wakes me up in the morning by putting his bill in my face and quacking.

We take baths together.

I put the collar around his neck and take him for runs in the park.

When he becomes a full grown duck we will still be friends, but it will be more like I am the older brother and he is the younger brother.

We will go away together.

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Fake Sincerity and Hyper-Skepticism

If nobody ever stole people would not have to lock their doors.

But people steal, so people lock their doors.

If nobody ever lied, people would not have to doubt others’ sincerity.

But people lie, so you do have to doubt other’s sincerity.

If every time somebody said ‘I’m a sick person. I should never have done what I did! I will seek therapy.” they really meant that, then you would not have to doubt the sincerity of such statements.

But people say that as a strategy to blunt criticism and avoid consequences, so you do have doubt the sincerity of such statements.

Fake sincerity gets faker and faker and skepticism must get hyperer and hyperer to react to it in an arm’s race.

Would the world be a better place if people could just trust each other?

I suppose.  Better in some ways and worse in others.  Certainly less interesting.  But maybe less exhausting!

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Terach and Abraham: Two Early Treatment Protocols for Anxiety

Anxiety was endemic to the ancient world because the agricultural tech was able to support large populations but the life of each individual member of the population was vulnerable to disease an inter and intra-specific predation as well as resource failure e.g. famine.

Terach developed the treatment protocol of idolatry.  Patients were instructed to create a physical representation of a figure that could reduce anxiety — usually an idealized parent — mother or father (Marduk or Ishtar) but sometimes an idealized king.  In the event of anxiety patients would talk to the idol and ask for protection.  There were also portable idols to be carried in the pocket or worn as jewelry.

The son of Terach, Abraham, encountered the syndrom of Idol Anxiety.  Patients would worry their idol would fail, was in disrepair, had been constructed poorly, was angry at them, and feel anxiety.  Abraham developed Monolatry — the construction of a mental or imagined idol, which would not suffer the vulnerabilities of a stone or wooden idol.  Patients were instructed to imagine the idol either in the sky or in their heart, because the sky would remain present always, and the heart would remain present for the duration of the patient’s life.

Legend has it that Abraham destroyed his father’s therapeutic practice, actually destroying his idols.  More likely this was an economic attack — his competing practice drew clients away from his father’s.

A more charitable reading of the legend is that towards the end of his career Abraham imagined his idol as like his father — a paternal presence that followed him constructing idols to soothe his pain as the situation demanded.  Every person, every day, every breeze and ray of sunshine was an idol his father constructed for him.

On this reading Terach’s ultimate idol was his own son, who relieved his anxiety with the hope that his compromises with anxiety would some day no longer be needed.

From what I know of fathers and son I am sure Terach thought that, but also sure that he had a voice within him that said “Some day.  But not yet.”

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