Lock-Down


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You’ll have to stay put until something can be established. As long as no one is certain what’s going on, or can reasonably describe what happened, we’re going into lock-down mode. All exits will be sealed until further notice.

People don’t just turn into liquid and flow down the street. Babies don’t spontaneously combust. Sure, unusual things can happen, but then the burden of proof is greater. No one is going to believe you were taken up to Heaven, met Jesus, and then came back down to Earth to tell us all about it. At least they won’t believe it unless you can start showing some miraculous proof.

Miraculous proof is all that we require. Oh, and promotion. Nothing matters without proper promotion. In a better world the important and true would rise to the top, but not here. On this miserable rock bathed in a veil of tears, if it hasn’t gone viral, it simply hasn’t gone anywhere.

What you witnessed may or may not have happened. You might be deluded. Many deluded people aren’t aware of their condition. Look at our President. Just because you fervently believe in something doesn’t mean it exists. Artistic types make stuff up all the time. Some are quite convincing, but everything they invent is conjured up out of thin air.

These are not necessarily bad people who invent things that don’t actually exist. They might be benevolent, caring, imaginative, and supportive of creativity in others. They might also be pathological liars. We who are inclined of give the benefit of doubt are potential victims of this latter group.

And so for the time being we must seal or borders. We must suspect that everyone has a malevolent purpose. Their intentions are to do us harm. “What would Jesus do?” you ask. He would do what we are doing. He would hunker down.

“But” you protest “the Jesus I met in Heaven after I had been swept up to kneel at his feet would embrace even the most snarky of us.” Maybe. But we are not Jesus.

We are simply your neighbors who are trying to make the best of a bad situation. We did not cause this calamity, but we are trying to minimize the negative outcomes. Maybe there won’t be any. Indeed, we could be making a mountain out of a molehill. But someone did testify that he saw another person liquefy and that other person has not been seen since. There is a noticeable smell in the air, like burnt toast, except it smells a bit like burnt rubber and burnt toast. There is also a dog that won’t stop barking, but no one has been able to find the dog. So we are confused and anxious. We will batten down the hatches until the storm has passed.

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DOWN THE DRAIN


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What happens, happens. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we’re in control, but we’re not. Not even close. Things will work out the way they’re going to. We could assume, the way they’re supposed to, but that implies there’s somebody else in charge who knows what’s best.

Recent evidence suggests that’s probably not the case.

The catastrophic and sudden collapse of our government took everyone by surprise, even those who hastened its demise. Trump never expected to win, and when he did, it shocked everyone, even Trump. Well, that shock was nothing compared to the sudden realization that we had lost every bit of democracy and benevolent rule we once enjoyed. Thugs were now fully in charge, and they seemed to enjoy their thuggery.

It was like watching Clockwork Orange, only it was real, and instead of England, it was America. Now there were no longer simple hints of anti-intellectualism, but a full-blown assault on intelligence and reasoning. Truth was an outdated concept. There was only belief and submission to the state. What Mussolini had hinted at, Trump had accomplished.

People had to pretend to be stupid in order to escape being targeted. Suddenly we became a nation of good old boys, Stepford Wives, grinning hayseeds. Rumors of lynchings spread, but none were reported by Fox News. The official face of America, at least the one you could see on TV, looked like the Mormons were in charge. You simply couldn’t be too white.

Homosexuals, intellectuals, people of color, and immigrants all kept their heads down. Better to blend in than to attract attention. Maybe this was just a phase we were going through. Maybe this would soon blow over. Somebody pointed out that’s how the rich Jews felt when they didn’t abandon their homes in Poland, Belgium and France. When they didn’t get out while the going was good.

The startling fact was that no one was making this happen. This wasn’t a conspiracy, a plot by the Deep State, this was simply mob rule. The Madness of Crowds. When 330,000,000 people decide to swerve, it’s a change with momentum behind it. Maybe unstoppable momentum.

The fact that the friendly neighborhood policeman had been replaced by a hormone-hopped hulk dressed in camouflage and body armor hadn’t really caused alarm until now. Now there were unmarked buses with blacked out windows moving about, taking somebody somewhere. Rumors spread that the FEMA camps were filling.

Popular entertainment and broadcast journalism simply ignored the phenomena. Movies starring superheros continued to be made and distributed. Sometimes that’s all you could find at your local cinema. Nobody complained, at least not out loud. Studios and cinema owners were happy because audiences kept coming. Not just teenagers, even adults thronged to view empty spectacle.

The last symphony orchestras and dance companies folded quickly and quietly. Universities shut down programs that didn’t attract grant funding. Since most jobs had already been sent abroad, there wasn’t much for most young people to do. Almost half of the people under thirty were in drug treatment or prison.

And this was just the beginning.

It got worse.

It wasn’t just America that was in crisis. Europe was roiling with social unrest. Huge numbers of immigrants were no longer even the least bit welcome in their host countries, and yet they had nowhere to go. You can’t very well send someone back to Kenya or Nigeria who spent his life savings traveling across Niger and Libya to board rubber raft to take his chances crossing the Mediterranean to get to Sicily and then up to France where he hoped to hop across the English channel and take his seat on a cardboard box next to the homeless in London. You can’t simply send them home. There are too many of them, and besides, they’d just return.

All of a sudden, any progress mankind seemed to have made or have been making disappeared. We were heading down, straight down, swirling down some sort of cosmic drain, and the process seemed to be accelerating. Some people offered solutions, but nothing stuck. Some people claimed to know who was at fault, but a strange lethargy took over, and no meaningful actions were taken.

Then the plague started. It moved with lightening speed, killing half the population of China in a week. India and Africa were next. No one was certain how many had died, because the scope and scale were unheard of. The first peaceful use of nuclear weapons was to incinerate huge mounds of bodies. Burial was unthinkable. Disposal at sea unacceptable.

With so many dead, the support structures of these countries collapsed as well, leading to waves of subsequent deaths to to famine and cholera. All borders were closed. Air travel had ceased.

For some reason, only the United States and Western Europe seemed to have been spared, but then their turn came. Fatality rates of eighty percent. Much higher than Ebola.

By now the rich and powerful had long ago disappeared into hidden bunkers. Since they were hiding they weren’t communicating with anyone, so no one was sure they had survived.

Someone who still managed to reach an audience compared the collapse of civilization to a motor that had been allowed for all into disrepair. At first it wobbled, groaned, screeched, and finally ground to a halt. No amount of kicking or prodding got it running again.

The collapse of the power grid, food distribution, water treatment, transportation continued. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.

Deaths mounted.

Finally, Donald Trump or someone like him surfaced. He appeared on the only television channel still working, Fox and Friends. He blamed Obama and Hillary Clinton for what had happened, and claimed that if people had only trusted and respected him, we would by now have been enjoying the great future he had planned for us.

Then the picture went dark and people who had been watching continued to stare at the dark screen for a very long time because they had no where to go.

These Foolish Things


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Martin Luther wrote this to a friend in 1530: “Whenever the devil harasses you thus, seek the company of men, or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, aye, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles.”

 

As a boy on New Year’s Eve 1912, nine year-old Louis Armstrong snuck into his mother’s bedroom and borrowed a pistol from the pocket of one of her customers. His mother was a prostitute, his father had abandoned the family, and they lived in a rooming house in the Red Light district. Armstrong fired the gun at midnight to celebrate the New Year, but lucky for all of us a policeman happened to be standing nearby and arrested young Louis. A judge sent him to the Colored Waif’s Home. On the way there the driver said “Don’t look so sad, son. This is a good place. We have a band. What instrument would you like to play?” Armstrong’s eyes brightened. “The drums!” he said. “Well, we’ve already got plenty of drummers, but we need someone to play the bugle when we raise and lower the flag. You think that might interest you?”

 

Within a few years Louis Armstrong was playing trumpet in New Orleans brothels He was in the right place at the right time for it was there and then that Jazz pretty much took shape. He is certainly the person most responsible for its popularity across the globe. Bing Crosby, who was the most popular singer of the day said that he thought Armstrong was the best singer alive.

 

Billie Holiday sang like Armstrong played the trumpet. Jimi Hendrix said he wanted to play the guitar the way Little Richard used his voice.

 

In 1955 in New Orleans, Little Richard pretty much single-handedly invented Rock and Roll in much the same kind of way Armstrong had forty years earlier. His first big hit was a sanitized version of a dirty song he had been singing for years to entertain the kind of people he hung out with, prostitutes, drug dealers, and petty criminals.

 

Until he sang at a high school talent show, nobody at Hume High noticed Elvis. Before his appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, the Hillbilly Cat had been driving a truck. Elvis told interviewers that his singing idol was Dean Martin. Dino had obviously modeled much of his style on the crooning of Bing.

 

The real mystery is where did Bing come from?

 

Bing was not born in a brothel in New Orleans, but to an Irish working class family in Spokane, Washington. He was well-educated and briefly attended law school before deciding to drop out and become a musician. He played the drums pretty well, but his crooning and his intelligent use of the newly developed microphone was what set his apart from his peers.

 

Within a few months of arriving in Los Angeles he was the talk of the town. He easily transitioned from microphone to motion picture camera, and led the way for Sinatra and Presley to do the same. Even though modern day listeners think of him as a square, Bing thought of himself as a proto-hipster.

 

In retrospect, all these developments seem unlikely. Culture and new ideas leap in unpredictable spasms.Until Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, Bing Crosby’s Christmas album was the highest selling album in history. Quincy Jones produced Thriller and it turns out he and Ray Charles had been roommates in Seattle, after the blind pianist arrived after getting as far away from Florida as he could by Greyhound Bus.

 

Decca records rejected the Beatles, deciding they had little to offer. George Martin proved otherwise. Aretha Franklin really took off artistically when Jerry Wexler of Atlantic records understood and appreciated the real depth of her talent. Otis Redding was working as a chauffeur when he wrote and recorded “Respect.”  Two years later Aretha had the mega hit, but Otis did it proud, as well. Marvin Gaye was a session drummer at Motown in Detroit when one day he filled in for an absent singer.

 

There’s a line in the Bible, “God chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.”  Even if you don’t believe in God or the Bible, you’ve got to admit that the delightful surprises Fate unleashes as it twists and writhes its way through Space and Time give us cause for hope. Nobody has any idea of what’s really going on. We might as well expect to be pleasantly surprised.

 

It’s a Trump World Out There


VIP’s Only Need Apply

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In the Florence Train station, the waiting rooms were reserved for VIP gold card members of some business or other. So even though I was wearing a suit, I had to sit on the floor of the train station, as there were no benches. Benches would just encourage the homeless to congregate. There are a lot of African men milling around with nothing to do. If there were benches, they would probably sit on them.

Here in the Delhi airport, the only WI-fi can be found by going to a “lounge,” from a hotel or airline. If you’re not flying business class, that costs $20. It’s a Trump world out there. Non VIP’s are left to their own devices.

You are, however, forced to march through the confusing illusions of the Duty Free shops when you make your way to your departure gate. These are the airport equivalent of Pleasure Island, where bad boys are turned into Donkeys in the Pinocchio story. It’s easy to lose your way in the Duty Free arcade, because all mention of your flight has temporarily disappeared. They do this for the same reason they don’t put clocks in casinos. They want you lost in a dream. They’re the Dream weavers.

The African men who seem so out of place came to Italy to pursue a dream. Even if they are simply beggars in Europe, they’re better off than living where they were. They made a perilous journey by sea to get as far as they’ve gotten. There’s a well-worn route by rubber raft from Libya to Sicily.

I am reminded of Hillary Clinton’s comment “we came, we saw, he died, (Snort)” She was referring to the death of Ghadaffi, who died having rebar shoved up his rectum by a mob urged on by the U.S. and with the approval of the Madam Secretary of State. It’s a Trump world out there.

 

Playing Hippie Fifty Years Later


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Yesterday I attended the Shambala Festival in Chiang Dao, Thailand. It’s a small city in northern Thailand that is dominated by a tall mountain that abruptly rises from the rice fields. It’s a lovely, dramatic setting for what is essentially a “Rainbow Gathering.” The participants were mostly young people, a mix of Thais, Europeans, Americans and Japanese. Anyone who wanted to walk around barefoot and smell of patchouli oil.

 

At age 67, I am the age of most of their grandparents. A chorus I’m a member of was performing at a small venue near the kitchen. We were by far the most professional and rehearsed of the small stage acts, but yet the audience sprawled in front of us was half-asleep. They were here for the long haul, days of hanging out. It was a bit unnerving to perform for such a laid-back crowd. On the other hand, I’m sure things liven up at night at the evening stage, now baking in the sun during the day but which would come alive after dark and would host amplified bands which would inspire hippie dancing. Shake your dreadlocks, baby.

 

There were many beautiful young people there but there is a new sort of odd, non-sexual thing happening now. No nudity. No coupling in public. Lots of hugging and flamboyant physical displays of yoga inspired gymnastics, but the obvious sexual attention-seeking is a thing of the past. They’ve moved beyond that.  As someone who was their age at about the time of Woodstock, I am pleased that there is still a demand and audience for this sort of thing, and glad to see that I am no longer the least bit tempted to partake of it. It never even occurred to me to sleep on the ground. I went into town and rented a hotel room, something you can do in Thailand with pocket change.

 

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NOTHING STOPPING ME


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the author thinking about nothing

It occurs to me that living in Chiang Mai, Thailand hasn’t really hampered my ability to be creatively productive. If I’m not writing or performing to the best of my ability, I can’t blame it on location. If I were hiding in a furnished room in Los Angeles, hunched over my laptop and drinking coffee from a paper cup (not Starbucks, too expensive) chances are my phone wouldn’t be ringing with offers from publishers, studios, or agents.

At the age of sixty-seven, I probably wouldn’t be going to parties a lot, either. The nightclub crowd would be unaware of my existence. Maybe I could pass myself off as Harry Dean Stanton’s younger brother, or Tommy Lee Jones’ cousin. A-list geezers.

 

 

PUTTING TOO MUCH WEIGHT ON THE NEWS


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NEWS AS A PERSONAL NARRATIVE

For most of us, reading the day’s news is one of the first things we do after awakening. We grab a cup of coffee and go online. Many of us also glean what’s happening from social media. In this way we attempt to construct a narrative that allows us to feel responsible and informed. We’re trying to act like adults.

We’re also trying to protect ourselves from being blind-sided by some new tragedy. Social pressure leads us to want to be among the group of those who have been informed about the latest developments. Otherwise we would seem like those poor souls who are out of the loop. The process begins in Junior High. You don’t want to be caught dead not knowing about the latest trends in fashion and music.

The “legitimate” news sites all cover the same ten or fifteen stories of that day. They are considered legitimate because somebody gets paid to research and write the articles. They attempt to provide “balance,” whatever that is. On the other hand, Social Media is a hall of mirrors, a closed system which seems open to its users but is really the best example of confirmation bias in action anyone has ever devised. Instead of being a forum for discourse, it’s a pep rally. Hooray for our side. Your “friends” read your posts and you read theirs. You share and like memes which are created by others. In this way you act like boys trading baseball cards at the playground. It’s a form of self-expression based on identifying with something bigger than you.

In Playwriting, they suggest that if a fact is presented in the first act, it must matter by the final act. We have all seen plenty of movies and TV shows, and we’re hip to foreshadowing. We know how to infer causality. We can even imagine reverse engineering plots in order to make a neat story with a tidy ending. What we can’t comfortably deal with is unscripted reality. So we imagine meaning where there is none.

We become irritated by news that doesn’t suggest a plot or a probable outcome. If we can’t tell the good guys from the bad, or get an emotional release from the climax, what’s the point in consuming this entertainment called “news?”

There are computer programs that help struggling authors write by suggesting the elements of creative writing. Plot twists, character traits, motivations, climaxes, resolutions. They are like those programs that help you do your taxes by asking your questions about your financial affairs.

We use these programs and forums in order to make sense of today’s world and because we’re lazy. Thinking and writing are hard.

At least lately, there is a palpable sense among most of my social media “friends” that the world is on the brink of collapse. Hurricanes, Global Warming, nuclear threats, an insane President, earthquakes, Planet X, solar storms, predictions about an imminent stock market collapse. People share a generalized fear that the world is out of kilter and wobbling uncontrollably.

I, however, think that this is normal for the conditions we’ve created. 24/7 news access and the ability to comment on it via social media have made Nervous Nellies of us all. When I was young, my family watched Huntley and Brinkley in the evening, after supper. The dishes washed and put away, the children in their pajamas, we would cluster in front of the TV and watch sober, middle-aged white men tell us what was happening, often in somber tones. Walter Cronkite was grandpa, providing assurance that all was under control, and that tomorrow would be no crazier than today had been. But now, those avuncular guys are gone. Now, we’re on our own.

Oh sure we have some assistance in selecting which memes we will like or share. We have Fox and Friends or NPR depending on our political bent, but the main stories of the day have been agreed upon by all the legitimate news sources, and it’s only up to us to judge their importance and their concordance with our beliefs. Is today the day I believe I should quite my job, cash out and run away? My general sense is that things are out of control and getting worse every day. Can I hang on much longer?

I think the reason we have the arrogance to construct these narratives is because we feel we have been abandoned by the experts we used to trust to do this work for us. Nobody trusts politicians anymore. Anybody who wants to can start a YouTube channel for free and use his smart phone as a camera. Nobody wants to be Chicken Little, believing every rumor and running about clucking in terror. So we reluctantly construct a narrative that seems to embrace or at least explain the main news developments of today.

But we are often dogged by doubt. I forget, is ISIS real or a construct of Israel and the Saudis? Which events were false flags? Is President Trump a successful businessman or a mentally-ill loser? Should I be buying Bitcoins? Is it time to upgrade to a better phone?

No matter which decisions we make and which we postpone making, we will never feel safe or assured that we have not completely gotten it all wrong, because we’re relying on a self-constructed narrative with occasional input from a peanut gallery of social media “friends” who also have no clue. Whether you’re a teenage girl agonizing over which shampoo to buy or a retired geezer wondering whether to start ticking off the items of his bucket list, we’ll still be fraught with anxiety because that’s what this whole news/social media thing was designed to do in the first place.