Tuesday, December 31, 2013

His Holiness the Dalai Lama taking part in the opening prayers on the sixth day of his teachings in Bylakuppe, Karnataka, India


Forget any angry words I wrote before on this blog.

Even unanswered love is better than hollow numbness.

I live, I feel, I am a wave in an endless ocean and so are you.

Be happy in this new year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Nativity


When I was a kid, I dreamt that one day I'll be the deranged, homeless-looking guy standing by the nativity scene.

Who says dreams don't come true?

House of Cards

Watching House of Cards, Kevin Spacey character just gave a detailed explanation on how to commit suicide with a razor (cut along the lines not across, take an aspirin) to a weeping Congressman in a bathtub.

Ha ha.

God's dark sense of humor is the best evidence for his existence.

Hell, if I go out this way, I am sure to take my directions from a critically acclaimed show. They don't tell you how to cut your wrists right on Two and a Half Men.

One problem though.

Its not HBO.

If it was... I would have to consider it.

As is,  it is almost 4 am here in Ohio, I am out to take a shower.

Something tells me I'll make it back alive.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Threads of Love

The common response Westerners have to hearing the Buddhist tenant that attachment is at the heart of all suffering is, "what about love?"

This to me is the weakest and most ridiculous of all objections that could be raised here.

Right, love.

I don't like Shakespeare, but do you remember the plot of that one play he did.

Murder, suicide, bruised thighs of battered wives. No that's not love.

Yeah, go fuck yourself. It is.

It all springs from the quintessence of love. Not being able to live without someone.

I never really suffered as much on account on anything else.

Depression is bad, but it has a numb quality to it. Depression is like a calm ocean of gasoline that puts you under and love is a like a spark that makes it into a burning inferno of pain.

Depression makes you lose interest in life, unanswered love makes you want to pull the plug on the whole edifice.

I could wish depression on my enemy but I wouldn't be so cruel as to add unrequited love to that brew.

Love gives you a thread of hope, a hope of connecting. Its like flickering fluorescent light at a train station.

You can't rest, you can't stay calm, you have to watch the flickering, hoping for a break. Light is better but ever darkness has consistency.

If I were asked if I could terminate my depression, I would pause, it would mean destroying a part of my self. Throwing my DNA into a spin. What remains? Only a few percentiles of difference separates a man from a common ape and maybe depression is part of that equation.

But the love I know...

***

"You're in love with someone who only likes you sometimes, Ivan."

I repeat that to myself like a Tibetan mantra.

I have to will myself out of this. Rationality is a feeble weapon here. Like fighting an African lion with a scalpel. But its all I have.

Maybe if I was different she could be with me or talk to me consistently.

But I am who I am. I can't change. Can't always text about weather and food.

I am Russian. We don't talk about small things.

You know who I am,
You've stared at the sun,
Well I am the one who loves
Changing from nothing to one.

~ Leonard Cohen

His Holiness the Dalai Lama greeting an elderly Tibetan


Teachings at Sera Monastery, Bylakuppe, India - December 26-27, 2013. Source: http://www.dalailama.com

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Ayn Rand: the Russian Girl


I'm reading a book about Ayn Rand. Born  Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum in the turbulent Russian motherland which she grew to disdain.

She came to America, birthed the libertarian creed and became an inspiration to countless douche bag college boys who are currently in charge of the House of Representative (and parts of the Senate), seemingly unaware that her atheist, individualist philosophy flies in the face of even the most Protestant interpretations of the "Judeo-Christian" tradition they see as the moral bedrock of this country.

Ah, and why not? It feels so good to be egotistical and Christian all at the same time. Am I right Paul Ryan? Or am I right?

Throughout her life -and especially in her early days of fame- Rand did her best to erase her Russian-Jewish background. But it does shine through her biography.

Much like this Russian expat, she hated small talk and preferred to have deep discussions.

But beyond modes of communications. Its clear that her maximalism, uncompromising nature and her preference for expressing her philosophy through fiction are quintessentially Russian.

But all of this above is really bullshit. What really surprised me about Ayn Rand didn't come through reading about her life but through videos of her interviews I found online.

I expected a rigid, cold ideological but what I found surprised me.

Ayn Rand was sexy.

Not bend-her-over and pull-the-hair-back sexy but still... I can definitely understand young men hanging around her.

A dumb man, if he has a certain ruggedness to him, can still inspire attraction in the opposite sex in his old age. Que John Wayne or that Scottish guy who played James Bond.

Not so much for a woman.

It is still a man's world in many ways (though I don't grasp much of it in my personal life).

XY chromosomes give you the license to be a sexy, old moron.

For a woman, once youth is melted by the acid of time, only a liveliness borne of intelligence can create a similar effect.

So let me bow my head to Ayn Rand's intrinsic, ageless sexiness and flirtatious nature.

A woman who's life and character I find infinitely more compelling that her ideas.

Alas, that last sentence sounded sexist. But what can I do?

Nobody is reading this anyway; and I'll have eons to delete this before I run for governor.

Friday, December 27, 2013

What Impedes Happiness?


Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche is one of the best Buddhist communicators I have ever encountered. Her ease and sense of humor are amazing, especially considering that English is her second (third?) language.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Holiday Feast


Single life holiday dinner. Marie Callender's chicken teriyaki. Didn't look too promising but tasted alright. I don't think it has what it takes to become a staple of my diet. Kahiki microwavable chicken fried rice, forget about it.

Encounter of the Small Kind


Today, as I was walking into a thrift store, I was surprised to see a child holding the door for me. Upon closer inspection I realize that the individual holding the door was a little person (the non-pc term is midget). This encounter led me to a pointless realization that children never hold doors for you. As I was leaving the store, I saw him smoking a cigarette outside, I was ready with my standard solidarity nod but our eyes never met.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Salty Mass


I bought $1.30 hash browns from Marc's. Now I discover that the animals didn't even salt them for me. I have searched my apartment to discover that this cave with it's crack-house ambiance doesn't hold any salt. How ironic. If I could only turn the salt of my personal life into a physical substance on this day of our Lord. A Christmas miracle.

Anyway, as a Buddhist I must have compassion for all sentient beings.

Peace and love. Peace and love.

The Under-Man



Email conversation with a friend.

You read Nietzsche a lot, right? Kind of want to know your opinion on him overall and what you think his central point was.

Just read The Antichrist because I thought I agreed with the concept, and still do, but the book itself was pretty disappointing / dated / ranting. 

My reply: 

I read him a while back so I don't remember much.

What I like about him is that he is easy to read. His writings have literary quality unlike most of western philosophy that's obtuse and vague where someone just follows their own train of thought without a concern whether other people can understand it. Then it gets so complicated that when other people develop arguments against these ideas their originator can always go for the cheap trick of "you didn't even get it in the first place" but its so densely written that there is little precise that you can get, its really slippery and too few actual arguments in the sea of conceptual garbage. 

I just think that effort to reward ration in western philosophy is disappointing. Most of their truly original ideas could be summarized in 10 pages or less but you have to read hundreds of pages to get to it. 

With Nietzsche, it may be vague but at least its easy to read like Plato. 

I think his central idea was that if one is constrained by conventional morality you are always a slave and your thinking is clouded. He didn't advocate a life of a serial killer or someone else who violates normal morals as a lifestyle, it just that conceptually you have to live beyond them. 

He was against pity, thought that Christianity led to the decay of human freedom. He disliked nationalism because it led to the same herd mentality. The herd is always led and confined by some ideas or right and wrong and it binds the herd together and entraps individual freedom. The idea is not that the individual achieved freedom by being immoral but through dispensing with the "good and evil" mentality all together. He also thought that Christian morality was sadomasochistic because to perfect yourself you always have to suppress your animal spirit. Kind of like laboring hard to make yourself impotent and proclaiming yourself the master when you achieved this feat. 

Basically I like him for his writing style I agree with 80% of his stuff but as a Buddhist I still have a moral code. 

I am against western philosophy generally because in it you are supposed to obtain enlightenment through ideas and conceptual thinking and in Buddhism you achieve enlightenment through training your mind to experience reality in a different (true way) you can use ideas to train the mind but they are supposed to lead to a state of mind as opposed to achieving enlightenment through the right conceptual framework which is what Western philosophy does. 

So I have been really lazy regarding Western thought. 

Them are my thoughts. 

Also don't forget that Nietzsche also ended up embracing a horse on the streets of Italy and going insane (maybe syphilis) and then being used by the Nazis for the bloodiest herd expedition of all time so his philosophy didn't exactly endow him with freedom in the end. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Soviet Kin


Who is this Portland-based Buddhist hipster?

Chrese  Evans, the granddaughter of Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin, naturally.

God, I miss the west coast!

Link: http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2011/11/portland_granddaughter_of_jose.html

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pussy Riot; Pussy Amnesty


Since the girls from Pussy Riot recently regained their freedom under Putin's I'm-a-good-cop-now amnesty bill, I decided to share an old opinion piece I wrote about them for a facebook friend (it received two likes).

***

I will say that giving them 2 years in the slammer as the Russian court has done is obscene and ridiculous. But I basically dislike Pussy Riot.

They wrote a nice, cerebral essay where they tie in the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin. Something a Slavic studies freshman at Berkeley might have written.

But to me it has limited relationship to reality. The Russian Orthodox Church is basically sustained by Russian grandmas, old babushkas who come to a pray and cry there because their husband died and their son is an unemployed alcoholic who leeches off of their meager government pension (which Putin has upped a few times).

These babushkas come to this huge church in the center of Moscow to get away from it all to get their little opiate (to us a Marxist cliche) into their grey lives. And so they are standing there and suddenly these 20-something girls burst in there and turn the church into a Urban Apparel catalog snapshot, with their loud music and fashionable denunciation of Putin.

And now they are supported by Madonna and Kevin Fetherline and whoever else, because they got a ridiculous sentence for a goofy stunt.

But in everyday Russian reality (as I see it and I'm not the most credible since I haven't been in Russia since 2006) not that many people support Putin because he has photo ops with the Patriarch, the reason they support him is because they are afraid of the unknown.

The two previous leaders they had was and incompetent idealist (Gorbachev) and an incompetent drunk (Yeltsin) so with that history they are content to be ruled by a competent former KGB colonel Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

And so these babushkas who support him because he raised their meager pensions are not going to join the opposition because a post-modern Punk Band staged a small concert at the cathedral, in fact they will turn in the opposite direction.

Plus, on a personal level I don't like the whole Pussy Riot aesthetic, its really catchy, too much like a Converse commercial. Maybe when its all thru they can get a job at a marketing firm.

Blah, sorry for being cynical, Kalan. Happy to hear from you

Friday, December 20, 2013

Faith Restored


A few months ago I had the need to change my car battery.

This triggered a slight to my masculinity when I found myself standing at the Advances Autoparts parking lot puffing on my electronic cigarette as a woman old enough to be my grandma in an apron was changing the battery on my 1999 Acura.

"I'm not really good at this," she said with a twinkle.

"Ha ha, much better that I am, I'm sure," I replied.

When it comes to mechanical undertakings, I have a room temperature IQ.

Were I to attempt this feat on my own, I'd probably ended up killing myself with the electric current (pluses and minuses to that outcome; pluses and minuses).

After a while of driving around, the grandmas handiwork began to give in and my car stopped starting. I found myself deprived of driving around like a lunatic while listening to gansta rap and making strange gestures worthy of a High School drug dealer... one of the the few truly healing activities in my life.

Today I took my vehicle to a mechanic where my alternator was changed (Bp Fishinger & Mountview) because I thought maybe that was the issue.

Long story short, my car was fixed and they didn't change me anything.

I was truly amazed by this. I mean nothing significant needed to be fixed.

But still, when I am at a car shop I am about as vulnerable to exploration as a eight year old sleeping over at Michael Jackson's ranch.

When the mechanic with the lazy eye gave me the key and informed me that I owed him nothing my faith in humanity was temporarily restored.

Not charging me was the morally right thing to do but that is not my expectation of my fellow man.

Ahh, if I could only bottle that feeling.

But alas, a girl I knew for five years is ignoring my emails once again and I feel my glass of life-affirmation draining back to its half-empty norm.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

When the Godfather Jumped the Shark



What a goofy film Godfather part III is!

I don't mind Sofia Coppola's high-school-play quality acting. At least she is nice to look at and she did repent her cinematic sins by making great films as a director.

But a mafia hit with a helicopter? We went from "Leave the gun, take the canoli," to doors being locked with handcuffs and mafia bosses being gunned down in some scene that would be too ridiculous in a Batman movie.

Its like Coppola was confused into believing that he was making a straight to VHS Scarface sequel.

I need to get more cheap hobo wine from Giant Eagle just to finish watching this strange movie before my rental expires and I waste $2.99.

WHY FRANCIS!? WHY!?

Gone with the Wind


President Vladimir Putin is to pardon one of his best known opponents, oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, after a decade in jail in what may be a gesture to critics of his human rights record before Russia hosts the Winter Olympics.

Putin made the surprise announcement that he would soon free Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, after a marathon news conference on Thursday in which he exuded confidence that he has reasserted his authority in the face of street protests.

Source: Reuters
***

God works in mysterious ways. So does Vladimir Putin.

Mikhail  Khodorkovsky became a martyr for external and internal critics of the regime.

He was an 1990's oil tycoon, westernized his company, stood up to Putin and got locked up for tax evasion as his company was taken over by the state. Yesterday's billionaire making shoes for the Russian military in a prison workshop in Siberia.

Now it looks like his freedom is in sight.

I was always cool toward this guy. I respected his chutzpah in challenging Putin especially when an option of fleeing abroad was open to him.

Then again, the way business was done in Russia in the 90's, if the law was applied equally, the outcome wouldn't be a free Khodorkovsky but rather this "human rights" icon being joined in prison by all other major "businessman" of the era.

For many Russian liberals, once someone picked up the pro-Western Democratic creed, all his past sins were absolved.

Not so for this immigrant. But I am happy to see him in reach of freedom.

Without the martyr's mantle, Khodorkovsky will be a dry, cerebral businessman with melancholy eyes.

Someone who pissed against the cold wind of Russian politics and remained alive to tell his tale.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Keaton Slap


Watching Godfather Part II. Such a great movie. Although seeing Diane Keaton slapped is against my religion as a Buddhist.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

HHDL in Japan


His Holiness the Dalai Lama leaving the stage at Ryogoku Kokugikan Hall with a Korean monk after his talk in Tokyo, Japan on November 25, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL

Source: http://www.dalailama.com/

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Dream Wisdom


I had a peculiar dream. All of its details escape me but I do remember that I had to submit a DNA sample in it and in order to do this I had to spit into a cup.

Alas, this action was not confined to the dream world and I physically spit on the wall bordering my bed.

This is the first time something like this has happened to me and -not being a fan of washing my sheets- I wish this to never happen again.

Also a first was a presence of the former president George W. Bush in my dream. I don't remember what role he played in this but I do recall that he was wearing Walmart jeans and laughing with evident self-satisfaction while sitting behind a table.

As a liberal I am programmed to blame all of the world's problems on his eight years in the White House therefore -without any incriminating evidence- I will blame him for the spitting episode too.

Thus Bush is not just a failure as a America's chief executive but also a total disaster as a dream spirit.

All I need now is a dream catcher with the Planned Parenthood logo to keep my dream life in the liberal sphere.

Just came up with a great indie band name...


"The Trolling Stones"

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Of Food and Pain


I was at the Chinese Buffet the other day when I realized that it was a scene reminiscent of hell.

Multitudes of people gobbling up obscene amounts of cheap meat, a baby crying in the background (as if fearing that it too will soon be chopped up and served) and to top it off there is an audiobook about the early days of Nazi Germany playing in my headphones.

My finances, being as perilous as they are, I have been going there because with the tip and the drink, I get three meals a day serves in a single sitting for ten dollars. And yet, on account of my mental health, this cannot go on.

I must return to Wendy's where I would get 4 six piece nuggets and 3 Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers for the same price.

This fast-food feast unencumbered by existential pain and a crying child.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tower of Song


I'm sort of like Leonard Cohen; without the women, the class or the brilliance to shape words into song... for now at least, I am deficient. But work will be done and one day....

I love this man and you must love him as well.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ivan's Crucible

There are two major struggles in my life. One is a persistent depression I had since adolescence. The other is a struggle to keep my fucking android phone from automatically downloading Google+.

Ever since I uninstalled that monstrosity, I constantly catch that bastard trying to sneak Google+ back into my life.

No!

My social life is hardly sufficient for one platform.

Some things just aren't meant to be. A communist utopia in Eastern Europe, a large soda ban in NY, a successful competitor to facebook.

Just let it go.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Big Boy Prophecy


"Big boy" was a nickname given to Chris Christie by George W. Bush, Christie's political godfather who started Christie's current winning streak by appointing him U.S. Attorney in 2001.

From my current perch, it is likely that big boy will be the next president of the United States.

The biggest obstacle to his rise to power has been proclaimed to be his uncertain relationship with the far right of his party. And although this segment of the Republican party is the loudest one, its not automatically the most numerous or politically powerful.

If we look at the past few Republican candidates for president -Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush- we can clearly see that only a minority of them were a favorite of the right wing.

Of these five men who led the GOP since Reagan, only Bush Jr. could be considered a darling of the far right when he started. Some -including Mitt Romney and John McCain- were positively despised by these on the right and yet they still won the primaries.

Chris Christie also has the almost universal support among the east coast business elites, giving him a powerful war chest. In a likely scenario, Christie will face a splintered conservative opposition in the primary who will divide the Tea Party vote among themselves, leaving Christie with a plurality. That contest could only be upended by Ted Cruz, if all on the far right unite behind him, but I still believe that a plurality of Republicans will still vote for the most electable candidate, one thing that Ted Cruz definitely isn't.

The strongest wind in Christ Christie's back will be a simple belief of the independent voter that after two terms of a Democratic president it will be high time to elect a Republican. The same spirit of a party switch helped George W. Bush in 2000 (although he ultimately lost the popular vote).

Its also true that there is essentially only one sure way to win the presidency of the United States, and that route is to position yourself as a Washington outsider who will bring change to the dysfunctional and partisan capital.

Everyone from FDR and Reagan to George W. Bush and Barack Obama have used this method. And Chris Christie is a clear favorite with the communications skills and a bipartisan record to employ this strategy. Unlike Mitt Romney, who got elected as a Republican in a blue state, Christie not only won the first election but also succeeded in being re-elected with a huge margin without posing as a liberal Republican or passing a major healthcare law as Romney did in Massachusetts.

His most likely opponent in the race, Hillary Clinton is the quintessential insider. And as a loyal soldier in Obama's administration it will be very awkward to create enough distance from him to win over the independents eager for a change.

Clinton's major strength and Christie's major weakness will be foreign policy. Its one thing for Christie to lambaste a Democratic state senator as "numb-nuts" but many voters will be uncomfortable with that approach in foreign affairs. But ultimately, presidential elections are not decided on foreign policy.

The two most successful presidents in the twentieth century whose terms in office redefine the political landscape in their wake, were Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Both of whom had a unique communication skill. They were able to speak to their audiences in an uncannily intimate style, as if chatting with an old friend, they were able to reduce complexity with false familiarity.

Chris Christie has this skill and I would be surprised not to see him as an American president in my lifetime.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Family Feud


Usually anonymous comments at the end of a news stories are something I am drawn to out of some sense of sadomasochism because they tend to equate various politicians I support with twentieth century dictators or worse.

But this one comment has sort of redeemed my faith in this form of expression.

Story: Liz Cheney was criticized by her married gay sister for opposing gay marriage in her race for Senate in Wyoming.

Comment: So I'm guessing things are going to be really tense at the Cheney bunker this holiday season.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How to Begin a Day


Good words. I often see the sun rise but unfortunately only because I have been up the whole night. Much work needs to be done by this lazy Buddhist practitioner.

Crusading into Nothingness


I've recently been watching BBC documentaries on the early Christian church with its suppression of alternative gospels as well as a series on the crusades.

I have to say that this litany of bloodshed and suppression, of ancient forgotten wars with their forgotten heroes, massacres and victims has left me mentally exhausted and nauseated.

While the history of Buddhism is not a bloodless one it is nevertheless largely free of mass killings and wars in the name of faith. Without any chauvinism, I am happy to be a Buddhist.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Buffet Muse


I was dining at a Chinese buffet today when an overweight woman from a neighboring table walked over and unceremoniously tossed a plastic card literally in front of my face.

She did this without saying a word or even making eye contact. The card turned out be a Starbucks gift-card for an iTunes song of the week. The giant headphones around my ears suggested to the woman that this Chinese buffet patron was receptive to a gift of song. The song that I later downloaded begins with “Oh, oh, oh... I... I was a city boy...” its by Bruno Mars and the title is “If I knew.” Its not a bad song for what it is. The singer regrets his wild past, wishing he could give his lost innocence to his new love.

Normally, I don't listen to this kind of music, but the strange way it entered my life made me want to dissect “If I knew” for some deeper meaning. I found none. When the woman got up from the table to leave, we exchanged nods. This is when I noticed that she sported a solid (mustache-less) goatee. The goatee was a little strange but overall I was happy with the experience.

(Originally written in January of 2013)

A Man at Peace



Friday, November 8, 2013

Art of War



British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously declared Russia to be "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

Perhaps this conclusion was reached after observing some Russian playground art.

***
Link: http://www.adme.ru/vdohnovenie-919705/zhkh-art-581405/

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Humane Society Blues



Today was the conclusion of my volunteer class at the Humane Society.

For the past 5 weeks, I have spent 4 hours each Thursday learning about pets and animal shelter policies in the company of teenage girls and other animal lovers. I received my diploma, volunteer ID and an official tshirt.

The two events that stick out from this educational journey are the time I walked into to the bathroom during the break to discover an elderly woman sitting on the toilet... a strange and unexpected experience for both of us (I guess this will teach her to lock the door next time) and the moment when I learned that over 70% of cats have feline herpes.

(Originally written in May 2013)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Bobby McFerrin - Don't Worry Be Happy


Crack Magic



Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s approval rating rose slightly after Police Chief Bill Blair confirmed the existence of a video in which Ford appears to smoke crack cocaine and make homophobic and racist remarks, according to a poll taken Thursday night by Forum Research.

The poll found that 44 per cent of voters approve of the job Rob Ford is doing as mayor, while an Oct. 28 poll found that just 39 per cent approved.

“That may sound counterintuitive. It could be a sampling, margin-of-error thing, or it could be just some sympathy,” said Lorne Bozinoff, president of Forum Research. “If you saw him during that media scrum yesterday, it might have generated some sympathy.”

Source: Toronto Star
***

Ah, yes, there is nothing else in politics like the old crack popularity bump.

I'm sure the Toronto voters are looking at a glass half full, I mean he could be doing something worse... oh wait, never mind.

With Obama's popularity at record low right now, it might be the time to whip out that crack pipe to get a little headway in the polls.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Love and Freedom in the World of Dew


You won't see too many inspirational quotes on this blog, but this one is good.

Its especially pertinent in the context of my life. I always think about one Seattle girl. Her distant image reincarnates in my mind like the Kennedy assassination in the thoughts of a conspiracy theorist.

Its really shocking to me how much mental pain some irrational urge to connect can cause me. I'm not like an alcoholic who denies the irrationality of his affliction. No, I can shout about the absurdity of it all on top of the tallest hill in Ohio.

And yet this conscious recognition brings little comfort. Emotional pain is not like a broken command in a computer language of ones and zeros that rationality can override.

Her last email to me contained three words, "let me be."

Creating an avalanche of heartache for me and also a running gag with my best friend who often interrupts our conversations with, "hey Ivan, I got three words for you..."

Since she doesn't want to hear from me, my only contribution to her freedom is total silence. And yet this equation leaves little freedom to its master.

I only wish that the Karmic forces trapping my mind can find another beautiful, self-destructive being to latch on to. If nothing else, it would bring change.

***

A world of dew,
and within every dewdrop
a world of struggle

~Issa

The Open Shirt Guy



Its a redundant quality of our age for people to cultivate petty hatreds.

Making minute observations about social customs and listing little things that you dislike has started in the 1990 and with the Seinfeld sitcom serving as the Old Testament of this particular creed.

Now countless comedians and writers make a living out of this crap. There is a small economy feeding people with this observational comedy.

I don't claim to be immune to trends in society. Although I try to be outsider -in the end- I am still an animal in this post-modern stable whether I like it or not.

So forgive me for making some animal noises and rant a little about "the open shirt guy."

I watch a lot of documentaries, I probably have seen all the decent political documentaries that came out in the past twenty years. But I don't limit myself to politics.

If you watch enough documentaries you will inevitably stumble on "the open shirt guy."

"The open shirt guy" is always a white guy and usually an expert on something.

But this honky has a dilemma; you see, he doesn't want you to think of him as a total square.

Thus in order to delineate his white ass from the mores of bourgeois society, he will do something special for you. He will show some skin.

So as you listen to him speak in complete, erudite sentences about the life of some musician, you will also be granted a peek at his pasty, hairless chest.

Man, I fucking hate it.

I could see this dude in front of the mirror, preparing for the interview. Unbuttoning his shirt just to the right place for your viewing pleasure.

The problem here is that the guy doing it IS a total square and with this task he forces us to stare his self-delusion straight at its pasty core.

The thing is that you are not a "wild and crazy guy" but you function in a cultural environment where it is a cherished ideal.

You want to show you are on the edge? Wear all black, wear a leather coat, tattoo your forehead, pierce your fucking nose. Do something else other than unbutton your shirt. Because that is the most square thing you can possibly do.

By being "the open shirt guy" you make yourself the worst kind of a square. The square who doesn't realize that he is one. The clueless square with a goofy open shirt.

Now the picture I attached is someone who has earned the right to have an open shirt.

Greg Scarpa was a mafia hitman who -as he was dying of aids and with an ankle bracelet attached to his body- went out of his house in a rage after a local drug dealer disrespected his son and started blasting. Scarpa got an eye shot out in the process.

Scarpa was "a wild and crazy guy."

I don't fetishize gangsters but although Greg Scarpa has an unbuttoned shirt, the one thing he isn't is "the open shirt guy."

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Human Resource



Here is my online dating profile in its full glory. It works as literature but fails miserably in its purported goal of attracting human contact. I seldom visit the website or initiate contact but recently I updated my pictures and decided to preserve my profile's contents here.

***

Self-summery:

Greetings, woman.

Take everything I write below with a grain of salt.

I am a liar. But you're a bigger liar than I am. And you know it.

Like parallel parking, internet dating is not something I like to do (and I am as shitty at internet dating as I am at parallel parking), but, after being thru with college, there are only so many ways to meet people. (This is a horrible, shitty way to meet people, but it presents opportunities. )

So feel free to lazily glance over my profile and make superficial judgments about my worth as a human being.

I'm a twenty-something guy. I graduated from Ohio State with a Political Science degree, went to Seattle for two years and then came back here because of a strange personal calamity.

Now I'm here scheming to get back to the West Coast. I feel more at home there. Ohio is nice in many ways, but my life here reminds me of being in a coma thus I am eager to leave.

I'm also a Russian, I'm sorry I may look like a nice WASP in my pictures, but I come from a country that is associated in people's minds with alcoholism, crime, dictatorship and prostitution. These associations are unfair and capture only one side of the Russian reality. Its certainly there but should't define a whole people.

I've lived in America since I've been twelve, I have a slight Russian accent, I don't wear Adidas tracksuits and carry a Vodka-filled flask. But a Cold War residue of Russophobia might linger in you're heart. And if it does. I don't know... go fuck yourself.

It's ridiculous to write words and post pictures of yourself in an attempt to get people to like you on a website. I hate the whole process, much of what I read on here is so corny and pointless.

As I wrote in a message to a girl in here, "Any idea of self people have about themselves is an illusion. Online dating is making yourself into a product. So its creating a lie on top of the illusion." That's why my attitude is what it is.

(my name on that website is "Zen" hence the paragraph below)

Don't worry. I'm not an angry person, not as angry as this profile can make me sound. Just tired of the bullshit. I am Zen, in a sense of a Zen master who hits his lethargic pupil. Though I don't believe in violence or hitting people. I don't even believe in using the word "pupil." And I would most likely change my username on here if the website didn't charge money for that privilege.

What I’m doing with my life

Important things and not so important things

I’m really good at

I'm good at catching things when they fall.

The first things people usually notice about me

People notice my height. I'm tall.

Favorite books, movies, shows, music, and food

Blue Velvet is my favorite movie. I love how that film weaves together the banality of life with evil and misery. Its a really original film.

***

"So you can stick your little pins in that voodoo doll
I'm very sorry, baby, doesn't look like me at all
I'm standing by the window where the light is strong
Ah they don't let a woman kill you
Not in the Tower of Song"

Leonard Cohen

The six things I could never do without

1) the vague presence of empathy in the world
2) freedom to make changes in my life (not being stuck)
3) Buddhism
4) intelligent people who try to be genuine (intelligent people who are not genuine are the scum of the earth)
5) ability to learn new things
6) the theoretical possibility of romantic love

I spend a lot of time thinking about

"Form is emptiness and emptiness is form."

On a typical Friday night I am

...having sex with your mother.

The most private thing I’m willing to admit

One time I gave a beggar $20, he looked up at me immediately and asked, "Got a cigarette?"

***

At this point this whole profile is sort of a joke.

You should message me if

...you're easy on the eye and don't think in linear ways.

Heard It Through The Grapevine


Something about a dog...



During the 2012 campaign, former President Bill Clinton was amazed that President Barack Obama seemed to be catching break after break, while GOP nominee Mitt Romney seemed to stumble constantly.

"He's luckier than a dog with two dicks," Clinton would often tell his pals, according to the new book "Double Down" by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.

Source: HuffPo
****

Thanks, bubba.

Now I need years of therapy to get that image out of my mind.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween, Post-Colonial Catholicism


There is a guy I sort of know. Lets just say we are friends of Facebook and occasionally he likes a status of mine. I could tell you more but a picture is worth a thousand words as the trite saying goes.

"Usually in violence oriented situations, my MO is to offer my body and let people vent their pathos onto it..."

This was an excerpt from his post and this combination of English words made me happy, though his whole post has an interesting mix of tragedy, adrenaline-fueled absurdity and a smiley face in the end. This provides the kind of tragic levity you might feel when your car spins out of control in the snow but you don't get hurt.

I don't know.

***

So, last night I got beat up by a bro. I'm still sort of trying to unravel my feelings about it: I was in bedford and N 7th at 4am, totally abandoned, and this white girl and guy, basically college looking, were across the street sort of heckling me, and she sort of came over and he went on, and she said something like hope you don't get hit by that truck (that was coming down the street real slow) and i went up to it playing with it like i was gonna get hit by it and suddenly she's behind me grabbing my neck and dragging me to the side and suddenly he's rushing towards me with an expression like don't you touch her, and starts punching me in the face and head again and again while i'm saying She grabbed Me fuck you, and he keeps hitting me and they both start yelling faggot, trust fund, your parents are paying for you and i say your so boring and then a cab rolls up and they get into is and drive away. 
Usually in violence oriented situations, my MO is to offer my body and let people vent their pathos onto it... and in general I think it's nice to have physical confrontations like that from time to time, but the way this one went down really rattled me... or pissed me off... i think the class/wealth/assumed dependency stuff, but especially when they started saying faggot made me retrospectively wish i had fought and won, and makes me really want to hurt them. i think "legally" this is described as a hate crime... so i don't know what i really want to come of this still but it seems like kind of an interesting opportunity anyways. my head has a lot of bruises on it and my temples are very tender. i have lots of gigs all over the place tonight. happy halloween, post-colonial catholicism! :)

***

His website: http://www.enormousface.com/

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Progress


Oh look... a young, misanthropic Asian girl providing the perfect combination of world-weariness and cuteness, and I am intrigued but not completely in love.

I guess progress has been made since my days in Seattle.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Baby Rasputin


Found myself looking at an American website with Russian baby names suggestions.

I don't know who at babynames.net put this gem together.

One suggestion is Kodiak, which I never heard as a Russian name.

Only familiar with it as a giant landmass in Alaska. But it seems like an interesting name, like maybe for a cat, a hamster or Angelina Jolie's adopted kid.

Then you have Nadezhda and an explanation "filled with hope."

Ok, not bad.

Finally, Rasputin described as "badly behaved child."

Naming a kid "Rasputin" (which is a last name anyway) in the old country would be one sure way to get Russian social services involved in your life.

But in America, hey, why not?

Maybe you want to imbued your baby with a bit of that old sex-crazed-Russian-monk-shot-to-death-by-a-gay-aristocrat flare.

***
Link:
http://babynames.net/all/russian

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Meditations on the Mafia



Currently I am undergoing a personal surge of interest in the American mob.

The midpoint of the bell curve of interest for this particular topic in me has probably been reached but there is still an enjoyable ride down the curiosity curve.

I'll watch a few more documentaries, read a book or two and then sufficiently equipped to make respectable mafia small-talk that -unfortunately- will take place only in my imagination, I will move on to something else. 

The Italian mafia is an interesting structure because the sophisticated nature of its organization both made it one of the most profitable and powerful criminal enterprises in the world and one of the easiest to dismantle when the tables have turned on it in America.

Destroying the mafia from a law-enforcement point of view wasn't rocket science. You institute surveillance of a few high-ranking members. Confront the mafiosi with the evidence you gathered and threaten them with a life behind bars in a supermax prison somewhere in Kansas. Low and behold, someone is going to rat and take down the whole hierarchy with their bought words.

This very process creates a sense of paranoia in the outfit as it begins to hunt rats real or imagined. The choice for a potential government informant is basically to bribe your way to freedom with your testimony or to die as a pseudo-rat at the hands of your paranoid comrades.

In effect, the mafia's ruthless response to potential informants made their embrace with the Feds all the more inevitable.

The process wasn't quite as simple as shooting fish in a barrel but neither was it all that more complicated. Once Hoover croaked and the FBI got a breather from the era where their number one goal was to spy on leftists, the mafia folded rather quickly, disintegrating into a dystrophic shadow of its former self.

All of this made it all the more annoying to watch the self-satisfied cops and officials go on about their "war on the mob" in the documentaries I watched.

There was no "war" because in this conflict the opponent didn't shoot back. It was more of a hunt. The criminal prey not much more dangerous than a deer in an expensive suit.

In Italy, the mafia did strike back, killing the persecuting investigators and politicians.

In America, the only government officials in danger were the undercover agents. For them it was a real war. For everyone else, it was more of a titillating, profitable sport.

Hell, Rudy Giuliani sprinkled his rise to power with the ashes of the mob.

Self-satisfaction comes easy to these in positions of power and all the macho declarations reminded me of the nausea I felt when reading about Charlie Wilson (D-Texas) -the congressman who initiated the heavy American funding for the mujaheddin in their battle against the godless Soviets in Afghanistan- hanging trophies of war like captured Russian weapons on the walls of his congressional office.

To me it seemed like pathetic bravado of a man who celebrated the spoils of war that not only didn't pose any risk to his well-being but gave his life a meaning and greatly enhanced his personal power and influence. The Islamist fighters leaped into the meat-grinder of the Soviet war machine while the smiling Texan alcoholic emerged with a captured AK-47.

Then again, these could be a bitter reflection of my subjective experience. After all, for a Russian, it is a bit awkward to read a book (Charlie Wilson's War) detailing the gleeful efforts of your adopted country to kill as many soldiers as possible from your country of origin in the dying days of the Cold War. Although the Soviets did the same in Vietnam.

***

In the "war on the mob" I was also surprised at the cozy relationship between the Feds and their psychopathic informants.

They didn't just get into the bed with ruthless killers, they also provided a happy ending and left a tip on the dresser.

One of the top FBI informants was Greg "the Grim Reaper" Scarpo.

A guy doesn't get a nickname like "the Grim Reaper" by running a chain of Chuck E. Cheese restaurants.

In fact, Scarpo -when asked by an associate how many people he killed- answered that he lost count after fifty. The bulk of these murders happened after he was a paid informant for the FBI and there are substantiated claims that the information flowed both ways all the while his allies in the government did their darnedest to keep him a free man.

Sammy "The Bull" Gravano whose deal with the Feds dismantled the Gambino family, killed a few dozen people including his brother-in-law. All the while Sammy slept in the bed with his wife who was ignorant of sharing a house with her brother's killer. Thanks to his cooperation, Gravano got off with a few years and is now a free man and a best-selling author of his autobiography, Underboss. The marriage couldn't be saved, alas.

The American idea is that all are equal before the law but if your killer turns out to be useful to the government he might end up as a comfortable retiree in Arizona sipping alcoholic beverages with federal agents who (after years of mutual back-scratching) became personal friends. That is the final chapter in Gravano's book of life.

***

The fall of the mafia also represents a kind of a demise of old, ethnic America. The Irish, Italian, Jewish neighborhoods of old fading away in the onslaught of generic yuppie gentrification. Ethnic identities that once meant something are being absorbed into the Family-Guy-watching, tritely ironic American melting pot of today.

There is a recorded conversation from a federal prison where John Gotti Jr was explaining to pops (serving a life-sentence) his decision to leave the life.

Speaking indirectly, Jr stated that he wanted closure.

"I want whats best for you, son" Papa Gotti proclaimed, "but don't use that word 'closure,' its a bullshit nineties word."

No fan of the mafia I nevertheless wanted to give John Gotti Sr a high-five.

Though he would probably think of that as a bullshit gesture as well. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Books Worth Burning



Conversation with a coworker

6:00 PM Ivan:
Corey Feldman is coming up with an important autobiography called Coreyography
6:02 John: 
that would be better as a biopic honoring his fallen corey
6:03 Ivan:
this is the most important literary effort since Tori Spelling's book "Stori Telling" do you see how the title rhymes with her name?
6:09 John:
i do not
6:17 Ivan:
YOU DON'T SEE THE RHYME! GO TO HELL, JOHN. What do you understand about literature anyway?
Tori Spelling = Stori Telling ! ! !

***

Honestly though how can any self-respecting person with above room-temperature IQ buy a book called "Stori Telling"?

Friday, October 18, 2013

When I met River Kim



I was purchasing breakfast sandwiches in Walmart on Bethel road when I was approached by a young Asian guy dressed in a black leather coat and black jeans. He complimented my headphones, said he was a musician traveling around the country and that he forgot his id at home. His name was River Kim.

He wanted me to purchase alcohol for him. I was reluctant to do it, but he offered to pay me up front. He wanted to purchase two bottles of the cheap, sweet wine Arbor Mist. This convinced me to go through with this illegal act because I was relatively certain that I will not get robbed by a dude buying this cheap fruity wine.

He gave me ten dollars smiled and said, "don't steal my money."

When I brought the stuff for him, we made some we're-outside-Wallmart-small-talk. He thanked me saying that "I meeting a girl tonight and now the date is going to be sweeter."

I pictured him and a girl getting a buzz from Arbor Mist I purchased, each holding a bottle, giggling shyly, and looking into each others' eyes. He asked me what music I listen to. Mostly rap, I said. "You like Eminem?" he asked. "Yes," I answered.

But not wanting to have my music tastes conventionally confined to a well-known white rapper, I continued, "but I like all kinds of rap. Have you heard of Immortal Technique?" Offering the name of a politically conscious, indie rapper. He has. Then River Kim performed a little free-style rap. I wasn't blown away by it but neither was it embarrassingly horrible.

Soon after he departed. The funny thing is that my distrust of human nature is such that I checked River Kim's ten dollar bill against the light twice. Once at the Wallmart and another time at home. If there is a guy who would have the luck to be defrauded by a Korean pop musician at a Wallmart, its me.

You can check out River Kim's art bellow. Its a song titled "2012 BIGBANG COVER - BAD BOY by River Kim." It has over 100,000 views. All of it is in Korean but once in a while he breaks into English to say that he knows he's a bad boy and you are a good girl.

Its 1:23 am, and if know River Kim I'm sue he's closing the deal with the girl right now. Good karma for me? I'm not sure.


written in March of 2013

Russian Time



After watching the inept political maneuverings in Washington it was interesting to see Putin's skilled hand at work in the old country.

A Russian court has suspended a five-year prison term for Putin's most powerful political adversary, Alexei Navalny.

The threat to Putin's power comes from two places. On one side are the Western-oriented liberals who rail against corruption and want to see their motherland enter the mainstream of Europe, their base of power are Moscow and St. Petersburg, the two behemoth cities of Russian history with their growing and increasingly dissatisfied middle-class citizenry.

From the right, Putin faces opposition from the increasingly vocal Russian nationalists who are angered by the influx of foreign migrants into Russia; the nationalist see the migrants as a threat to Russian culture associating them with crime, Islamic extremism and reduced wages for the Russian working class.

Navalny is the only leader who could bridge the gaps between these two groups who often despise each other. He is not an eloquent speaker but his blunt criticism of the governing regime does resonate. He speaks in absolute, unconditional and uncomplicated ways of a non-politician, like an average young Russian railing against the system at the kitchen table. He has labeled Putin's United Russia party as the Party of Crooks and Thieves and this simplistic designation has done considerable damage to the party's brand.

In choosing corruption as his single point of criticism he tapped into a universal vein of discontent. Whether one is a Russian liberal or a foaming nationalist, watching government officials in expensive suits giving dull proclamations on state television makes both groups feel like powerless outsiders in their own country.

Corruption is the one issue that unites the whole of Russian opposition and by being corruption's most vocal opponent Navalny has made himself into the closest thing the chaotic Russian opposition can have to a leader.

Putin has aptly dealt with the challenge posed by Navalny.

Navalny has been accused of theft in his past work in regional government, a court convicted him but then -surprisingly- as Navalny filed for appeal, the court has set him free and allowed him to run as a candidate for the mayor of Moscow.

Navalny has lost his race to a relatively popular establishment candidate while gathering an impressive 30% of the vote.

In the opinion pages of American newspapers, Putin is routinely dismissed as a thug or a dictator. But this episode with Navalny shows that when Vladimir desires to apply the use of force against his opponents he prefers the surgeons scalpel to the butcher's knife. Rather then eliminating its opponents, the Kremlin prefers to sideline them into irrelevance.

First the government went for Navalny's moral high ground.

By convicting him of theft they sought to make a moral equivalent between him and the corrupt bureaucrats he rails against. Russians are cynical when it comes to the judicial system and are unlikely to take this conviction at face value and yet many people do believe that where there is smoke there must be fire.

By allowing Navalny to run for mayor of Moscow, the Kremlin created an illusion of democracy, allowed the opposition to vent their anger in a sanctioned way and discredited their critics by showing them to be in the minority when the ballots were counted.

In effect, Navalny was used to prop up the facade of Russian democracy without Putin having to sacrifice any real power.

After the elections, the appeals court upheld Navalny's conviction for theft, suspended his prison sentence, barred him from politics and traveling outside of Moscow.

Thus Navalny was not shipped off to prison and made a martyr, instead his reputation amended by a corruption conviction and a lost election, he was sidelined and unable to grow his base of support outside of the Russian capital.

Meanwhile Russian state television is filled with news reports of federal officials courageously fighting corruption. Every few months the viewers are treated to Vladimir Putin himself berating some regional officials from behind his desk, warning that heads will roll unless they clean up their act.

Contrary to the impression in the West, Vladimir Putin did not destroy Russian democracy (not that there was much to destroy anyway). Instead he froze the democratic consensus in a place of his choosing.

After the chaotic post-Soviet period, Russians wanted stability. If democracy is a system of supply and demand, then Putin provided amply to the demands of the majority. In his first years in office Putin has been a insanely popular leader. He has used his power to take control of the television channels and regional elections, morphing his popularity into total institutional control. The clock stopped while Putin was on top and the hands of time haven't moved since.

Putin's power raises an interesting philosophical question. If a leader is continuously supported by the majority of the population but that support is achieved by unfair means, can that leader be considered an illegitimate dictator?

For me, the answer is no. Dictatorship achieves power solely through the use of force against its population. Putin exists in a state of power for which the English language doesn't provide a credible word.

And yet Buddha taught his disciples that impermanence is the quintessence of our lives.

Inevitably,  Russia's support for the leader will erode. In fact, this erosion has already begun starting with the fed-up Moscow middle class. Putin's clever political maneuvers will undoubtedly delay this erosion but they can't halt it entirely.

There will be a point where the majority will be against him and then he will be forced to either dismantle the remaining facade of democracy or leave his power behind.

The hands of time will move once more but whether they will move forward or not remains to be seen.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Creepy Masonic Eye for President


The government shutdown ended on a surreal and chilling note. Minutes before the House finished voting for the Senate compromise, a stenographer was pulled out of the chamber while yelling about conspiracies. A few people physically removed her from the chamber and took her to an adjacent elevator. She continued to yell. They were followed by a crowd of reporters and members of Congress, including Representatives Al Green (D., Texas) and Louie Gohmert (R., Texas). It took a few moments for the elevator doors to open, so the people who removed her from the chamber held her against the elevator as she yelled.

This is what I recorded of what she said: “This is not one nation under God. It never was. Had it been, it would not have been – no – it would not have been – the Constitution would not have been written by Freemasons! They go against God. You cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve two masters. Praise Jesus [recording unclear]. Lord Jesus Christ!”

Representative Joaquin Castro (D., Texas) told reporters shortly afterward that the woman had been working in the House as a stenographer for at least a few months. He said she was at the podium right below the Speaker’s chair when she started to yell. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, was presiding.

“It was very disturbing for the members of Congress,” Castro said.

Source: National Review

***
Freemasons always get the short end of the stick.

If Freemasons secretly ruled us from behind the scenes would we really be in this mess, a few nutty legislative gimmicks away from a national default?

I have a lingering suspicion that with congressional approval hoovering around ten percent, many Americans would prefer to be ruled by the creepy Masonic eye on top of the pyramid that they can find on a dollar bill.

Also, does John Boehner strike anyone like a guy with a repertoire of secret handshakes?

As the lady said, "a man cannot have two masters" and with one look at the orange glow of the Speaker of the House one must conclude that this man chose his tanning bed over any secret society. He simply can't make the time for both.

All jokes aside, I hope this stenographer gets well. This world is bad enough without a menacing sense of some insane conspiracy hanging over you.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Portrait


During the end of the day, a bored coworker asked me what he should draw on a dry eraser board. I suggested that he illustrate the ascend of Prophet Muhammad to the heavens on top of a white mule, and then left for the day. Today, I came to work to see a portrait of myself on the board. Other coworkers have noted a resemblance.

Often people wonder what their peers really think of them, now with this sketch of a bearded hobo staring blankly into space, I sort of have an idea. Thank you, Matt.

(originally written in July)

I have to live within my budget, so should the USA.


 "Obama refuses to cut any spending. Why should the debt ceiling be raised when we can cut expenditures? Why should everyone on welfare get a free cell phone? Cut that 1st and we would have billions to spend on more necessary things. I have to live within my budget, so should the USA."

Comment on the Daily Mail tabloid website which I frequent to read the popular comments to get a grip on center-right Anglo-American opinion on everything from politics to Kim Kardashian.

Aside from the obvious stupidity of constantly comparing the largest economy on earth with a family budget, even if you take that comparison at face value it is total bullshit.

The successful middle-class American family doesn't live "within its means" today nor has it ever. Home mortgage is a type of debt, car loan is a type of debt. If everyone always lived "within their means" and never opened a line of credit the economy would grind to a halt.

America only left the Great Depression behind during the massive manufacturing boom that accompanied World War Two, all of it put on a massive credit card, a spending spree so manic and reckless that it would be unimaginable during peacetime. A spending spree that led to the total American economic dominion during the latter part of the twentieth century.

Spending money you don't have is at the core of any capitalist economy. Debt is a financial instrument. A form of technology. Like any other technology its has its risks and rewards.

The high-level of current debt needs to be addressed, but its not going to be solved with a combination of refusing to pay accumulated bills and homey, worn-out platitudes about the family budget.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Pretty Thug Souls



Random internet rambling has put it me in touch with a gallery of Russian mafia tombstones.

Judging by their reception in the comment section, most regard them as classless, gaudy memorials to thuggery.

"I'm dead set against cemetery vandalism, but I'm willing to make an exception in these cases."

Said one, Richard Kent, and received four Facebook likes for his proclamation (which he would doubtlessly hesitate to express if he was in the company of the mourning party for one of the tombstone's heroes).

I, on the other hand, always committed to aesthetics over moral standards, have no objections to them.

Yes they are ridiculous. But they succeeded where much of the funeral industry fails miserably.

These gravestones give a real sense of the person whose decomposed bodies rests beneath the edifice. They keep them alive and give a complete stranger an insight into the character who would otherwise be ravaged by nonexistence.

These gravestones defy death. Their souls live in the image, suspended in perpetual purgatory between a Russian church and a shiny Mercedes.

You could come to that gravestone in the middle of a cold Russian winter night and feel the boozy breath of its protagonist.

Eureka!

***
Link:
http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/200835/russian-mafia-gravestones-are-completely-insane/

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Whiny Demon and the Literature of Melancholy



Currently in the processed of reading Andrew Solomon's book The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.

I recently finished his more recent volume (Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity) about how adults experience their children who are radically different from them, either thru disability, behavior or an identity foreign to their parents.

Far From the Tree is a masterpiece, if you read nonfiction to get a new perspective on the world and educate yourself about people different than you whose lives are hidden from your experience, than there isn't a better book that I could think of.

Solomon covers people on the autistic spectrum, schizophrenics, the deaf, transgender people, children who resulted from rape, parents who gave birth to musical prodigies and families whose offspring succumb to criminal behavior.

He examines these multiple stories from perspectives of the children, parents, the family's struggles with the larger society and its expectations; he interlaces those stories with his own perspective and scientific, sociological and historical insights.

Although Solomon narrates the lives of people with a multitude of radically different identities, I never felt like I was taken on a patronizing trip to the disability petting zoo where one can observe all kinds of lives one could consider unlivable and emerge with a corny inspirational perspective that unconditionally affirms existence.

This book is life-affirming, true, but not in a trite way one would expect, the book doesn't censor out the pain, loss and fruitless struggle people can experience when their child has a medical condition or deviates from the societal norm. Solomon's seemingly effortless flexibility of expression and command of the English language are awe-inspiring.

His book on depression brings up a more ambiguous reaction in me. I haven't finished reading it yet so I can't pass a final judgment on it, though that judgment almost certainly wouldn't be negative.

In the Noonday Demon, he uses his own bouts of depressive illness as a narrative ark around which he weaves experiences of other people with depression as well as the science and history of this mood disorder.

Its no surprise that Noonday Demon won a National Book award and became a finalist for a Pulitzer. For a an intelligent person who experienced depression Solomon's book is a one-stop shop that has everything a general reader would want in a book about depression; memoir, journalism, science, analysis, great writing. Since many readers are not strangers to this mood disorder, his book found a natural constituency.

My ambivalence stems from some of narratives of depression encountered in the book.

To put it bluntly, people describing depression inevitably sound like they are whining. The feeling that accompanies depression are as painful as they are irrational and I am not sure that they always merit being turned into a flowing personal narrative. Reading the Noonday Demon, I realized that much of depression shouldn't be turned into prose because that prose adds little to the world and, in my case at least, fails to inspire deep empathy.

At the outset of the book, Solomon dismisses those who refer to their depression in the abstract. Those who
perceive their depression as an impersonal chemical process in their head fail to acknowledge that its takes place in the context of their life, that is expressed in their particular cultural environment and that their depression is inseparable from their self. Although the self doesn't create depression and depression definitely doesn't create the self, they are inseparable because each defines the other.

Solomon points out that both happiness and love are chemical processes in our brain and we would never refer to them with the same impersonal, scientific terms some people use to describe their depression.

All of these are valid points that are presented more richly in the book by the author than my rendition on this blog post.

And yet if there's a philosophical spectrum with one end populated by those who want to treat their depression as a deep personal experience and the other side who see their malady primarily as an in-personal chemical reaction (viewed by the afflicted person with a scientific detachment), I would plant my flag firmly in the latter camp.

Its true that a precious few would regard their experience of happiness or love as chemical process bubbling in their brains. But its also true that few people suffer from irrational happiness. And love brings about a lot of misery.

People commit suicide because of rejection, homicides are inspired around fanatical love, stalking behavior is inspired by love, misery haunts people whose loved ones died. Maybe for some of the citizens of the dark side of love, it wouldn't hurt to view their mental anguish as a result of a chemical process instead of being one with their pain and always rationalizing it and completely identifying with it.

The depressions described in the Noonday Demon are on a whole other level from what I tend to experience. While I had moments in my life where I would stay indoor for days, venturing out only to the neighborhood store in the evening to get a few groceries. These episodes were atypical and were attached to objective reasons to be sad.

Mostly I deal in dysthymia, life appears bleak and pointless, I am more tired than would be rational considering my work and sleep levels. I want to be alone and have a world-weariness that would be more appropriate to a concentration camp survivor of post-war Eastern Europe rather than a twenty-something college graduate in twenty first century America.

This mood is strong when I wake up and recedes toward the evening. Its not always intense and doesn't prevent me from functioning therefore my depression is not really ambitious. More of slacker that doesn't remotely approach its more dynamic relative, clinical depression, which can leave people bed-ridden for days and for some sufferers only recedes when a low-voltage electric shock is applied to the brain resulting in partial memory loss.

I am not miserable but I am not as productive as I should be. I live in perpetual mental fog, life is random and incoherent. This is not misery or profound pain that cries out for therapy or medication but neither is it really what I would call a healthy mood.

The problem I see are a few times a year when my continuum of low-level melancholy coagulates into something more intense. Sometimes my wavering abstract wish for non-existence acquires boldness, and appears to want to move closer to the magical place where bad thoughts turn into bad actions.

In reading the Noonday Demon, the destructive force of clinical depression became most apparent to me when the impact was described in third person, showing how it wrecked adult lives from the outside as oppose to first-person descriptions of the day-to-day fluctuations in psychological misery. A story of a high-powered executive who after becoming depressed lost her career and many friendships and ended up feeding people's cats for money (with the attention she received from different cats being one of the highlights of her day) shows how a depression is not a variation on sadness but is something totally more sinister.

The stories of people who were afflicted with chronic depression, and as adults had no idea how to form friendships because their self-esteem was wrecked and their mood isolating, were equally powerful.

The book also included prolonged descriptions of depression provided by two relatively young and affluent women. One narrative provided by a woman who doesn't work on account of her clinical depression and is supported by her boyfriend. One moment of her story that struck in my mind was when she wrote how she prefers to take baths because the ordeal of taking a shower is too stressful. I don't have the exact words in front of me, but I am pretty sure that the idea of water hitting her body was described as unbearable.

Here was the moment when I had to call timeout on the value of this narrative or -to be more specific- on the way it was presented by her. To drop my pretentious language, I was annoyed by it, it was too whiny.

Whether depression is caused primarily by genes, environment, life choices, hormonal fluctuations, a hex placed by an old gypsy, a combination of these factors or something else entirely, the end result is brain chemistry that creates irrational mental pain. IRRATIONAL pain. Pain that has the same relationship to reality that the voices schizophrenics hear have to reality. Neither mental phenomena is based on reality. Both exist in their own self-enforcing loops.

We live in a world that in the past century turned multitudes into camp dust. Millions were slaughtered by wars and regimes of all stripes. Beaten to death, worked to death, frozen to death in the Russian snow.

Each day people die from preventable deceases, they die because they don't have access to fresh water.

Taking a daily shower is a distant luxury to millions, probably billions, in the world we inhabit.

It is undeniably progress that more and more people are moving to recognize illness and suffering that are invisible to the eye as just as worthy of treatments as ailments that bleed and cripple the body.

But also I don't think it is valuable to indulge the pain of depression, to rationalize it, to always identify with it.

We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that experiencing taking a shower as a form of unbearable suffering is ridiculous. I wish the author of that shower narrative would recognize the absurdity of it instead of continuing this plea for empathy without any trace of irony.

I experience perceiving the depression as an impersonal chemical process as liberating. Merging the self with that chemical deficiency is exhausting.

To me my mood is like music and my thoughts are like a song you compose on top of it. You can't alter the music easily, you can never shut it off entirely. The only freedom you have is not to sing along.

If the hymn of depression is coming from a malfunctioning neurological soup, then it becomes easier to not indulge the melody as you would if you saw it as some spiritual cry of the self.

I need my clinical detachment, the sterility it affords is a platform for freedom and hope.