Nov 6, 2012

Who Can Be the Face of America?

I have not registered to vote. I will try to explain why here, because I know none of the Obama campaigners peppering the streets of Hanover (and scrawling his name in bright pastels all over the sidewalk) will want to listen to this.

Something has happened with my generation, and it's more complex than apathy -- we have become completely disillusioned about the possibility of trusting authority. This includes nutritional claims on food packaging, statistics in publications with an agenda, the U.S. history we were taught in school, and everything that a politician says. Maybe we're only coming to this awareness now because of the (beautiful, amazing, truly democratic/anarchic) Internet, and the mind-boggling volume of free information these days... but for whatever reason, it's a decisive time. Most people I know my age are either gung-ho, optimistic change-enthusiasts or feel resigned from the whole business of politics. The idealistic dream of having your individual and underprivileged voice be heard throughout the annals of hierarchy in America is dead.

My attitude towards politics falls into the second camp: the resigned. This is absolutely not because I don't care what happens, or have a nihilistic mentality. I care enormously about the fate of humanity and what our society becomes, and that is why it make me so sad that I feel this way. I think the point of ultimate disillusion happened when I was in middle-school, and furiously anti-Bush (largely because of the angsty activism of Green Day's American Idiot, but that's beside the point). George W. Bush -- this greedy, falsifying, callous, flagrantly stupid man -- was re-elected for a second term as president. And I found out after the election was over that the votes in Florida were miscounted, recounted, and manipulated in favor of Bush. It seemed to me that the corporations that run America wanted him in office, not the majority of the people, and so the victory was facilitated without popular consent. That was the most crushing, hopeless realization; all that striving, tackling issues, daring to change, and taking human lives more seriously than statistics (in terms of going to war with Iraq etc., or not) materialized into nothing but a minority of Americans frustrated, hurt, and confused for four more years of the world hating our country.

As for the process of democracy itself, even if it can be imagined functioning without any corrupting influences, I'm not sure that it works at all. Capitalism certainly doesn't work, we know that for sure. One thing that I have learned from being in psychotherapy and observing my own behavior patterns is that emotion is the most compelling, driving force in the human brain. The politicians that succeed in this country are not the ones with the most intelligence, capability, and empathy to solve complex, globally-pertinent issues; because that would involve tolerating uncertainty. A thoughtful person has to admit a lack of omniscience and divine right; a society of people has to do the same.

But societies don't do this. People respond to, and choose to follow, leaders who are charismatic, good-looking, someone they can idealize as the Face of America. The Face of America is a mask, and it will tell you anything to get what it wants -- absolute power. This is the most depressing fact to me: the politicians that present their ideas with a lot of emotional syrup ladled on top, whose oratory skills are like an inflamed preacher or conniving car salesman, the ones who touch people's hearts and also speak to their deepest fears (no matter how misguided and reactionary), will WIN. They will make a better impression, win hearts, and become the leader of our nation. There was so much talk about how Romney performed better in the presidential debates than Obama did, all because he appeared more confident and less thoughtful (not because of the content of his ideas). Obama speaks in a measured, resonant cadence, and seems to carry himself with the full weight of responsibility that his position entails. Romney is able to smile, swipe aside evidence and rational arguments, and launch into an essentially vacuous parable that melts people's hearts. Example, not a direct quote: "Well let me tell you, I met a little kid down in Arkansas named Johnny and I asked him what he wanted for Christmas. He looked into my eyes and said that he just wanted his daddy to come home from the war, and THAT'S who I'm fighting for ladies and gentlemen!"... and everybody explodes into tears of elation on cue.

When people are looking for a leader, they do not want rationality, practicality, consideration for all parties. They don't even seem to want a thorough thought process. People tend to follow those who are able to touch them emotionally, get them excited, make them feel good -- those who have that indefinable star quality. Another part of this in the Romney/Obama case is that people are drawn to candidates who fit their prototypical image of a president (subconsciously or otherwise). Romney looks like an aging Ken doll. He's a rich, old, white guy and you could cut diamonds on his jawline. Obama is clearly something else, and something that much of America still fears. Bush looked more like a president than Gore -- he was older, grayer, had a more breezily confident (and delusional) smile, and indisputably Aryan features; no dark hair and eyes to suggest Jewish heritage. Kerry and Bush both looked pretty old, rich, and white; but Bush still won out of the two by playing off of people's immense fears surrounding 9/11.

I don't think everyone should be allowed to vote. I don't think presidents should have to perform for the people of the country they represent. I think our system of American government is corrupt, self-destructive, inhumane, and past hope. It's heretical to say any of this, which is why I am not posting a link to this article on Facebook.

However. ALL of that being said, I'm not dead yet and this massive problem is not enough to commit suicide over. Coupled with that fact, I also intend to continue living in this country for at least the majority of my life. So next year I am going to register to vote even though I don't think it will facilitate any kind of positive turnaround for America. Choosing the lesser of two evils is still better than just resigning from the whole issue and consigning yourself to the flames.

Sep 1, 2012

Why I Hate "Keep Calm and Carry On" Signs

This is a rant that has been bubbling in my subconscious for a while. I've gotten angry at "Keep Calm and Carry On" signs and complained about it to friends before, but was never quite able to make myself intelligible enough to make a point. So I thought it was time to explain this, because these signs are everywhere and don't seem to be going out of style anytime soon. I see them on posters, address books, bookmarks, mugs, journals, and whatever other attractive accessories can fit charmingly cherry-red in the palm of your hand. People are clearly consuming this and clearly resonating with the style of it, like they did with LiveStrong wristbands nearly a decade ago (but without the added moral salve of a charity contribution).

Clearly this "Keep Calm and Carry On" sign is a symbol that still has major currency in modern culture. But it's a logo with a message that is not just stylish and easily digestible, but also something evil out of 1984 or Hitler's Germany. The poster was originally created as war propaganda in the United Kingdom in 1939, right before WWII. The posters were never actually put up, because they were made in anticipation of a German invasion (which never came). But the aim of the message was to placate the British public, to reassure them that the government would take care of everything, no need to panic or dwell too much on what is going on.

And now people in America seem to have assimilated this poster into their arsenal of mass-marketed, saccharine inspirational messages. "Keep Calm and Carry On" has been widely and lazily interpreted as a reassuring message of self-empowerment, hope, or whatever other meaning you want to tack onto it (a handy credibility-dodging technique used by horoscopes and phony palm readers). It has become a style without substance and a symbol without meaning.

This is a very scary idea to me -- symbols only exist because of their inherent meaning. Divorce a symbol from its concept and connotations, and it will lose its power. And surely there can't just be a mass epidemic of appreciation for white lettering set against a vibrant red background, so the connotations must still be alive somehow. It's strange that no one has pointed out the meaning behind this sign, and yet people are so willing to swallow it down and use it for their daily life.

Jung was right, X amount of decades ago, but no one apparently listened well enough -- if we, as modern humans, continue to move away from the meaning behind our symbols and the connotations they have (in an effort to have rational, logical dominion over our reality), we will sever connection with a very innate and essential aspect of our humanity. The "Keep Calm and Carry On" sign is a cultural symbol rather than one of the natural symbols that Jung based much of his theory on, but he still addresses its import in his seminal final work, Man and His Symbols (1964): "The interpretation of dreams and symbols demands intelligence. It cannot be turned into a mechanical system and then crammed into unimaginative brains."

So this means no more dream dictionaries, and no more hollow symbols smacking of fascism. If I had my way; which, as many people who publish rants of opinion on the Internet will know well, is probably not going to happen.

I really need to get one of these and start spreading my opinions in the flesh:

Jun 25, 2012


Look at this if you just want to give yourself a good, caffeine-free jolt.
Happy Monday!

love, Clelia

Jun 19, 2012

Edmund Kemper

April 12
8 minutes to midnight

Some things have started coming together for me about Edmund Kemper. I still don't know why I spend so much of my free time engrossed in the life histories of serial killers, but I think I know why I keep coming back to his story. Unlike a high percentage of serial killers, Edmund Kemper is completely honest and completely aware of the horrific things he did in his life. His life was almost impossibly sad, lonely, too much to bear, and caused so much psychic anguish; he had a high IQ and marked sensitivity, so it must have hit him especially hard. Despite being isolated and/or abused for most of his life, his desire for human love never abated and became in adulthood what he called "this awful, raging eating feeling inside... this fantastic passion." Learning about him has been like discovering the Elephant Man under a Halloween mask -- someone with a terrifying exterior whose inner self is much more hideous but also much more heartwrenching.

Basic facts: in 1970's Santa Cruz, there was someone picking up hitchhiking college girls and murdering them -- the media dubbed this person The Co-ed Killer. Only pieces of their bodies were found, scattered in bags in the brush along secluded roads. The killer was Edmund Kemper, 23 years old. He had been institutionalized at 15 for killing his grandparents, and was now living with his verbally abusive mother, whom he has hated his whole life. After murdering six co-ed girls, and getting away with it, he decided that he didn't want any more innocent people to die in place of the one person he really wanted to kill -- so he decided to murder his mother. Early in the morning, while she was still sleeping, he went into her room and bludgeoned her skull with a mallet. He then cut off her head, had oral sex with her severed head, set it on the mantlepiece to throw darts at and scream at... he cut out her tongue and vocal cords and tried to stuff them down the garbage disposal. After this was all over, he called his mother's friend and asked her to come over. He killed her as well, and raped her corpse. Kemper then loaded his car up with guns and drove for three days without sleeping, with no idea where he was going. He reached Tucson, Arizona and stopped at a phone booth to call the Santa Cruz Police Department and turn himself in as the Co-ed Killer. He confessed to everything, and remains in jail -- he's now 67 years old, with the unlikely possibility of parole this year.

Here is a clip from an interview where Ed talks about his mother, and how his murder spree stopped:

What Kemper did was fueled by so much sexual frustration, and such a painful lack of love from anyone in his family. Nobody trusted him, his mother belittled and abused him, his father didn't want him, his sisters were taught to fear him... being an outsider, he gained a lot of perspective and insight into human behavior but no vantage point where he felt like he could connect with them. This insight ultimately enabled him to gain the trust of hitchhiking girls, chat them up, act in a way that would make them think he was safe to be around. But he never felt he was able to really communicate with them unless they were dead, inert, completely under his control and unable to talk back. He said once, "With a girl, there's a lot left in the girl's body without the head. Of course the personality is gone."

It's the sexual frustration of Ed Kemper that clicked in my head tonight...

His mother and grandmother were matriarchal, domineering, and expressed a lot of hatred for men. Therefore, Kemper was ashamed of being a man almost automatically from birth, and never able to express himself as one.

He was locked up in a mental correctional facility from age 15-20; the most hormonal years of his life. He missed the hippie revolution, and subsequently was completely cut off from his generation and from basic human society.

He wanted a loving experience with a girl more than anything. He wanted to go out on dates. He only went on one in his life, and belittled himself so much for his ineptitude in talking about it in interviews later that he scared himself off at the time. He talks about being "such a dork", taking her out to Denny's and a John Wayne movie. The girl likely didn't have a clue what her presence was doing to him.

Another lonely loner killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, shares Kemper's behavior of eating parts of their victims to keep them inside of them, to be close to them. Both have admitted that it was a sexual thrill to consume human flesh. Both were also weirdly loving towards the memory of their victims... even reverent. Kemper would save personal effects from the girls he killed, as well as keep their severed heads around to talk to or sleep next to. He buried one girl's head in his backyard, facing towards his bedroom window so he could talk to it before he fell asleep.

Kemper is hesitant to simplify possible causes or explanations for what he did, but basically revealed that he felt like he was killing his mother all along through these college girls. It was an indirect, surrogate way of acting out his rage against his mother and to inflict harm on women at large. He loved and hated his mother. In an interview, he admits that it's hard to see how he loved his mother, and that it was "not a rational process, a very painful process". Even after he killed her, he still loved her.

The manner in which he explains the atmosphere in his car, riding with the hitchhiking co-eds he picked up, is very telling. He had a weapon concealed in the car; in the trunk, under his seat, or under his leg. He says that once the gun came out, something would have to happen. He was always intrigued by his victims, liked talking to them -- they felt utterly untouchable to Ed (who loathed himself for what he was, what his mother and family had said he was), and that overwhelmed him with even more intense desire. But he knew that if the gun came out, something would have to happen. He would have exposed himself for what he was: a murderer. If he had pulled his penis out, intending to rape the girls, something would have to happen. He would be exposing himself as a man, which to him was a more daunting admission than that of his murderous side. Violence and murder was Ed Kemper's way of expressing himself sexually... he was so ashamed about it that he could not leave any evidence of the act behind, not allow the possibility of the other person reacting to his sexuality. In an interview, Kemper said that he would have loved to rape these girls, but he didn't think he would be successful at it. But when they were dead, there was no judgment; they couldn't react to what he was doing. This was the only way that Ed could feel like he was having sex.

In his lifetime, Ed Kemper never had real sex (i.e. non-necrophiliac sex) and probably was never kissed by a girl. He said, "I wasn't impotent. But emotionally I was impotent. I was scared to death of failing in male-female relationships."

When he finally killed his mother, it was a very messy, violent, over-the-top murder. He unleashed absolute rage, all of the frustration he associated with her from the time he was very small. It was as if this was his way to finally make her pay attention to him, finally listen to him instead of just berating him, and finally show her what he was. Not only what -- a murderer -- but WHO he was. He was a man.

Edmund Kemper stashed her body in the closet, cleaned up the apartment and left. He willingly went to jail three days later, back out of the world. In jail, he said that he wanted to study science, math, French. He ended up reading audio-books for the blind. Ed Kemper seems to think of correctional institutions -- asylums or jails -- as his only home. Looking at the rest of his life, it makes sense; it was only in these settings that he received any kind of care or attention.

In the documentary Murder: No Apparent Motive (which discusses serial killers as if they're a new brand of computer technology), the ending clip is of a very sincere, arresting statement by Ed Kemper. He looks into the camera and says that if there's anyone watching who thinks they might be having thoughts like the ones he had, to tell somebody. Trust somebody enough to tell them. It's not a crime to have violent, murderous, raging thoughts; but it is to act on them. And it's a hard thing to stop, once you start giving in to them.

He actually said all of this! At least at the time of the interview, 1984, he seemed really tortured by what he had done, and how his life had turned out. The only other full-length video interview I've ever tracked down of him is from 1991, and he is a very different person... much heavier, greasy, nervous, agitated, even a little sarcastic, looked very unhappy. Prison obviously changes a person, but he must have also started to realize that he would never have the opportunity to have a normal life -- ever. He was not an engaged, honest, remotely friendly person to listen to in this video. He talked like a crazy person, a deeply frustrated and bitterly aging man with no respect for his own personhood or that of others. None of this is surprising, but it was still sad to see.

In fact, I find Edmund Kemper's whole story horrifyingly sad. I wish that somebody had been there for him growing up, some kind teacher or social worker, who would have been able to do something... but of course it's far, far too late now.

Why do I take it upon myself to feel sorry for these serial killers, to feel the full tragedy of their lives? Why do I want the emotional burden? Is it simply more gravitation toward what is dark, twisted, forbidden, perverse... but still can only harm or touch me in my imagination? They're all just stories after all, histories and stories. And these stories have very real consequences, the victims and all those related to them don't give a fuck if the killer had a bad childhood -- and I agree, that doesn't excuse anything. But it is worth acknowledging and exploring. I think my connection with them, though, might be about wanting to feel the full import of the human condition. What can happen, what needs can go awry, what our capacities for evil are and what is the story-arc of the unraveling of a human mind.

Jun 17, 2012

Murderabilia & Serial Killer Groupies

There is a lot of noise made about the phenomenon of "murderabilia" trade on the Internet. Murderabilia is exactly what its gimmicky name is supposed to sound like, memorabilia of murders -- artifacts or products connected with serial killers. You can buy letters from David Berkowitz, clown paintings by John Wayne Gacy, Ed Gein's mother's crucifix (a pretty high-end item). Not to mention the trading cards and action figures. I agree, it's grisly and sick and should not be allowed, but the element of deviance and perversity is probably what fuels it in the first place, and so making a show of being offended will not stop it. But anyway. I discovered something far more interesting and sick than murderabilia: there are people who become penpals with serial killers. I just spend the last hour reading a lot of threads and blogs from teenage girls who write letters to serial killers in jail -- keeping up multiple correspondences at once, complaining about how their parents freaked so they had to get their own P.O. box, delighted in the anecdotes of the whole thing. Here are a few samples: 

freedomlovinggypsy: "I actually wrote to a few. I wrote to Charlie Manson, and trust me...You don't really want to write to him. His letters are all jibberish and sloppy and almost impossible to read!! Then I wrote to David Berkowitz, and he kept sending me pamphlets about getting saved and preaching to me! And I wrote Richard Ramirez, and he was so obsessed with the damn devil it was unreal..He asked me if I was willing to sell my soul to get anything I wanted..Yeah, ok..Like, it really worked for! And I wrote to one, I can't remember what his name was. But he sent me a letter telling me what to do! Like, he told me to come to California, and bring money, and rent a hotel, and come and see him, and marry him!! Insane in the brain....that one was...I know alot of serial killes are psychopath but I really think some of them are just insane."

Lysosome: "I used to write to Richard Ramirez when I was 16-20, he was nice, told me to get an education and that Im sweet and should sort my life out and not end up in prison lol. I really liked him I told him I wanted to chop his wifes feet off and he was cool about it. he's a nice guy :-). Obsessed with the Devil, wanted rude pix of me, blah blah blah. Asked me if I was mad? haha."

ursulabear: "kemper is my favorite! pleasepleaseplease adress please!"

Serialthriller187 (one of the few boys on the forum): "My current pen pals are: Roy Norris, Phillip Jablonski, and Jack Owen Spillman III. I am waiting letters from 5-10 others. I have thousands of addresses. It's not 'risky' writing to any of these people at all, People are paranoid. If one is on death row, or life without parole, or life without change of parole. They rarely get released, If so, The feds watch their every move. Kemper won't write. You won't get a reply." 

And my absolute favorite, from dogbeith: "i am fascinating by serial killers becuse thay are so deffrent then other human beings but i do not want to talk to them or write letters to them cus thay murder human beings"

I've been mired in serial killer research for at least a year now... and a few of my friends have said that they've had episodes of this same intellectual compulsion (often coinciding with a bout of depression). So I understand the fascination, and I certainly understand trying to see inside the minds of these psychopathic people. Edmund Kemper is possibly the most flagrantly, fantastically fucked-up individual I have ever heard of, and the serial killer case that I have been most engrossed by. Apparently, he has this hard-to-get reputation among serial killer groupies/penpals. He's selective, choosy. 

Celebrity serial killer culture really makes me cringe internally, but I come into contact with it a lot as I'm researching this stuff. The fans, the people who absolutely relish it... for instance, someone made a MySpace page for Kemper: 

There are YouTube accounts that are much worse... people who make tribute videos to Ted Bundy, or write comments gushing over the minutiae of serial killers' lives. There are also streams of Tumblr pages to wade through... Kemper is being used for memes and banners, just like every other famous face known to American culture (for notoriousness and notoriety alike). 

(By the way, these pictures might not make complete sense if you don't know the story of his case, but you still get some idea of the horror in the facts behind it. Here's my favorite documentary about him, from the TV series Born to Kill?, if you're curious [and I love it when you're curious]: 

It's really good to be able to joke about this kind of thing, actually -- cannibalism, murder, necrophilia, psychopathy, mutilation. If it retains the untouchability of a taboo, it just gives the crisis more power and, by extension, the killer a more powerful status. They are sad, fucked-up individuals with sad, fucked-up lives. For a country galvanized by reality TV train-wrecks, exposes about hoarders and beauty competition mothers, this is exactly the brand of entertainment and intellectual manna that we're accustomed to. It seems natural that serial killers are a widespread obsession, a national mascot (what a revolting-idea-ringing-true THAT is!). 

I've thought about Edmund Kemper quite a lot -- far more than is healthy. I came up with some psychological insights into his case about a month ago, after watching every single shred of video about him on YouTube and reading everything I could find in the weirdest, darkest corners of the Internet. I want to post it sometime soon, but it's not ready yet. It sleeps inside my journal, fruits of a very late night on YouTube and the slow, gestating, timed release of a really well-structured revelation.

By the way, I found it:

Edmund Emil Kemper III, #B52453
P.O.B. 2000
Vacaville, CA 95696

I'm just not sure what I'm going to do with it.

Jun 7, 2012

Ray Bradbury, R.I.G. (Rest In Gusto)

I'm sure Ray Bradbury would want me writing this in a summer field soaked with restless stormy electricity, with pencil nub and dime-store pad of paper balanced on my virginal knees, in the gurgling, bewitching twilight. While I've got the small-town part covered, I am in fact writing from a laptop hissing and whirring on my not-quite-virginal lap, with ambient electronica being funneled through my brain from those same evil seashell earbuds that make Mildred an ignorant zombie slave in Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury's world, full of fantasies spun not only about space exploration and supernatural carnivals but also the wholesome milk-fed purity of America, is long gone. Not from the consciousness of readers or devotees of escapism, but from the material and undeniable world of today. He only just recently died, but has really been consigned to the past for a long time.

Let me make this clear, however: I in no way want to disparage Ray Bradbury, or undermine his value. I was so electrified by his writing that, at age 14 when I first picked up The Golden Apples of the Sun in a bookshop and read its opening paragraph, I seized five more of his paperbacks and carried them resolutely up to the register. I think he is priceless, his energy is commendable and beautifully irrepressible, he writes with abandon and passion but also finesse. He is also completely accessible -- an excellent thing, paving the way for future popular fantasists like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. But I was affected by his death, as were a lot of people, and started thinking about what his identity was... who he is, who he saw himself as, who America remembers him to be. Because he does seem utterly inseparable from the identity of America; no other author has written about its cultural history and traditions written about with such warm, frank sentimentality. He is also a great example of American individuality and persistence, the idea of the self-made man; he never went to college, instead locked himself in a library for a few years and emerged a writer. As magically as a butterfly from a chrysalis. Not really, but isn't it appropriately poetic to think so?

I tried to post this quote of his as a commemoratory Facebook status, but it is too large to fit in the allotted space. I'll stamp it onto this blog instead, so it can at least exist in some corner of the Internet, however obscure:

"Thomas Wolfe ate the world and vomited lava. Dickens dined at a different table every hour of his life. Moliere, tasting society, turned to pick up his scalpel, as did Pope and Shaw. Everywhere you look in the literary cosmos, the great ones are busy loving and hating. Have you given up this primary business as obsolete in your own writing? What fun you are missing, then. The fun of anger and disillusion, the fun of loving and being loved, of moving and being moved by this masked ball which dances us from cradle to churchyard. Life is short, misery sure, mortality certain. But on the way, in your work, why not carry those two inflated pig-bladders labeled Zest and Gusto?" (from Zen in the Art of Writing).

As I said, Bradbury is irrepressible. His sentences gallop and froth and are set suspended, glistening on the page, in the same defiantly sublime attitude as the sight of a baseball arcing hugely and silently over grass and upturned heads, or the sea-green swirl of a galaxy seen deep in space. As you can probably tell by that inadvisably overwrought previous sentence, I completely sympathize with this tendency to over-describe. It's the desire to craft the Perfect Sentence by piling on more and more layers of poetic imagery which so many other writers and editors try to strip away like the indulgent fat that it is. But for me, the most entertaining writers, the writers with the most heart, have always been the description-a-holics: Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Martin Amis. Bradbury's writing is particularly exploratory, messy, unafraid, striving to create pure magic.

He has a particular vision of the purity of America, American youth and particularly summertime. I've seen  certain themes and images stretch across almost everything he's written... the enchantment of summer evenings, the crispness of fall, the eerie charm of a small town, the magic atmosphere of carnivals and fairs, running-jumping-climbing trees, baseball and libraries, wandering through graveyards and wondering about life... it is an America where boys still toddle down dusty sidewalks smacking on popsicle sticks and run a mile back to the house the minute they see a shiny red bicycle in a shop window that they have to have. You can hear the sadness radiating off the page as you read Bradbury's descriptions of this slow, sepia-toned life... it is the atmosphere that his imagination fermented in, what he grew up with, and he knows that it is disappearing. I remember reading some very funny cranky-old-man comments he made a few years ago about the Internet. He was protesting adamantly, "But it's not real! It doesn't exist! Where is the Internet? Where?" Not an exact quote, but he said something to that effect and degree of force.

The stories of Ray Bradbury (who is, by the way, the most skilled craftsman of the short story who I have ever read) seemed destined to become folklore from the beginning. Their wonder, their magic, their idealism and innocence but also their dark delight, resonate with every open mind. They are atmospherically perfect, like any ghost story told with relish around a campfire on a sharp, smoky autumn night. But that earthy, intimate, enchanted, mysterious, quiet, catching-fireflies-in-a-jar type of world is as sadly dead as the man who immortalized it in his writing. And he did it with relish, joy, bombast, and pure gung-ho gusto.

As the back cover of my tattered-but-still-intact copy of The Golden Apples of the Sun proclaims, in the brassy voice of a carnie trying to draw passers-by into his tent of wonders, "Strange, haunting, bizarre, grotesque, rooted in reality, soaring with imagination, alive with people who never were and creations that one day will be... creatures and stories to set you shivering, gasping with terror, gaping with wonder..."

Mar 14, 2012

Reasons to Live

Last post today, I promise.
I'll level out soon. But I am really glad to be back doing this.
Next time I post something, it will be a full-fledged piece. Coming soon.

Among the Extraordinary Moments in Human History Are These Events. They are comparatively small perhaps, but large in the sense of the human spirit itself... and somehow as striking as small poignant knives straight to my little heart addled with the mystique of celebrity.

1. When he was just starting out as a doctor and trying to make a name for himself, Frederick Treves (London physician, savior of the Elephant Man) would get up every morning at 5 or 6 to answer correspondence and settle personal papers before beginning his ample day's work.

2. In the last interview he gave before he committed suicide, Kurt Cobain confided how lost and overwhelmed he felt by his own fame. He said that people kept feeding him "fine French meals" when all he really wanted was some macaroni and cheese.

3. Salvador Dali, as a young man in his twenties who had just had sex for the first time (with Gala, his lifelong muse) and was making great shakes with the Surrealists of Paris, was officially banished from his father's house. So he shaved his head, buried his black hair on the beach along with the urchin shells from his lunch, and then sat under some olive trees on a hill overlooking Cadaques for hours... "contemplating that panorama of my childhood, of my adolescence, and of my present."

4. Hubert Selby Jr., a poor and nearly-unknown working-class Brooklyn writer, was so happy when he finally received a cane issued to him by the state of New York. He was an old man at the time, with ensuing health problems. He kept telling his friends, "Finally! Finally the government did something for me!"

5. Sammy Davis Jr. was born in Harlem and died in Beverly Hills.

6. Liza Minnelli howled out "We Are the Champions" with the remainder of Queen at a stadium-sized tribute concert to Freddie Mercury. It was magnificently sweet and as over-the-top as anyone could ever hope for. Afterwards, before the final guitar blast and crescendo of jubilation, she called out to the sky: "Hi Freddie! Just wanted to let you know that we're thinking about you. Stay safe!" Like an aunt's answering-machine message. Blam. Feel-good roar.

7. Frank Sinatra's last words were, "I'm losing."

8. The last words that William S. Burroughs ever wrote, in his journal (published as Last Words: The Final Journals in 2001), were: "Love? What is it? The most natural pain-killer what there is. LOVE." 

Moments like these are why I will never get bored or dispassionate writing non-fiction.

Liza Minnelli

I have no reason for posting this, other than it is absolutely amazing. This is an 18-year-old Liza Minnelli, singing and dancing and flinging herself all over stage on her mother's television show, in 1963.

My favorite moment is when she's hoisted up on the men's shoulders and screams out, "Smile!" like a newborn baby chick squawking for a worm. Not a flattering image, I know, but that's what it looks like.

I have so much fondness for Liza Minnelli and whatever it is that she embodies -- glamour and cheesy decadence, camp theatrics, sexy neurotic megalomania, overdoses and instability, boas and lipstick and fishnets and rhinestones (what became drag queen culture, basically)... and most of all, pure old-school showbiz. But I'm also the kind of person who insists that the hyperbolics, hysterics, and hydraulics of musical theatre are actually great emotional communicators and can make for an enriching entertainment experience.

I really miss the New York that used to be defined by Liza Minnelli; and along with her Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, all those other performers who operated on this glittering delusional basis.
Maybe it only exists in my imagination...

Transmission from the Realms of Uncertainty

I created this blog with the exact opposite intention of writing what I am about to -- a candid, diary-entry-style transmission from my own babbling consciousness to the infinite Internet. Hello, Internet! Hello to the unknown, the Great Perhaps; with all its wanderers, forlorn, howling among the empty eternities. But I really do feel that some kind of update is needed, if only to prove that I am not dead and neither is this blog.

I haven't done this for a while, so bear with me. I might sound like an Romantic poet robot for a while, or Jack Kerouac on downers (more hopefully the latter). These sentences will form, hopefully will begin to coalesce, hopefully I will figure out what I'm trying to say. Or maybe I'll just dispense with trying at all for now and just stick to a page of notes.

This is the upshot of my excuse for being absent for so long: I have left school and have been living in New York City for the past 2.5 months. I've been very unstable and having a lot of psychological problems, some of which were what made me decide to drop out, so I haven't really been focusing on writing very much. But I feel like I'm coming back to life a bit and now that I'm in the city that enraptured me so much over the summer to write about, it would be a horrific waste to not at least try to wrangle something out of my freaked-out mind.

Things I Want To Write About Soon:

 - The Drake Hotel in Chicago, at Christmastime.
 - Coney Island in the winter
 - Looking Like a Mess in New York: the importance of fashion, The Look, what image you present walking down the street in this city. Patti Smith, Tom Wolfe, John Waters, and Lady Gaga all have a lot to say about this, and I have had my own sorry experiences of feeling subhuman in a Starbucks for having greasy hair and a plain, off-kilter shabby coat on.
 - McSorley's, the oldest bar in the city, where we met Monk. Who stays forever young.
 - the Haruki Murakami craze: review of After Dark (entrancing), Kafka on the Shore (overlong), Norwegian Wood (cloying and addictive)... maybe take a look at 1Q84 so I might have an idea of what I'm talking about in a contemporary, up-to-date context
 - the hopeless message running above subway commuters' heads -- literally -- that no one seems to be confused about the origins of but me. It begins, "OVERSLEPT, SO TIRED. IF LATE, GET FIRED."
 - Babbo's Books in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn
 - midnight movies at the IFC Center in Greenwich Village -- ranging from cheesy to classic to cult in horror and the occasional basic American blockbuster (I'm not sure if you could call Jaws a horror movie...)
 - David Shields' 2010 book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. The front and back cover is a Christmas wrapping-paper-style pattern of glowing, ecstatic, excited blurbs and calls-to-arms from fellow writers... but did anyone really pay attention? Everyone is still stuck in the slow, lukewarm, milky tide of bland modern fiction. One thing he proposes: everything should actually be written in segments, in list form, not according to conventions of plot but by the haphazard insistent barrage of ideas as they pop up in the mind. Nothing horrific like a Twitter feed of a novel, just something that feels more like messages rather than one long streaming story. Maybe it's true that we don't have the patience for that anymore, who knows. Many decades ago, Carl Solomon (dedicatee of "Howl" and a reasonably fantastic writer himself) tried to start something similar with a book called The Messengerial Revolution; not by stating his stylistic aims outright, but by example. It never took off, the book is out of print and obscure. But still, an interesting idea... and one that speaks to my own mania for making lists/notes
 - It may be an easy/obvious one, but --> RETROMANIA, anyone?
 - Also, what the fuck ever happened to Lady Sovereign?
I love one-hit wonders. I could write a book. In high-school, I created another blog solely about the '80s synth-pop duo, Soft Cell (known only for "Tainted Love", except among the hopelessly nostalgic or insanely retroerotic):

I don't know if anyone remembers this...