How Belief In God Limits Us

The question we all have as human beings is “what lies beyond our limit?”  We just watched the film Another Earth where humans are faced with the perplexing realization that there is another earth mirroring our own, even another self completely synchronized with us.

In reality, when we come into contact with other people, their inner being transcends us.  They might let us into a few thoughts, but other than that, we will never fully know them.

But to find another replicated self – would we recognize ourselves?  Would that other self transcend us as well, as though we are looking at a stranger?  Would you feel competitive of your other self?  Would you find your other self ugly?  Would you be annoyed by your other self?  Would you love your other self?  Would you tell your other self to get over all their hang-ups and get on with life?

Just as we will never meet our other self, we will never meet our idea of God.  In Gordon D. Kaufman’s book, God The Problem, he states, “If there were no experiences within the world which brought us in this way up against the Limit of our world – if there were no point at which man sensed his finitude – then there would be no justification whatsoever for the use of God-language (Kaufman, 49).”

To embrace what lies beyond the limit, we talk of God in ways that we can understand from our experience of human relationships.

“…God is spoken of as lord, father, judge, king, and he is said to love and hate, to make covenants with his people, to perform “mighty acts,” to be characterized by mercy, forgiveness, faithfulness, patience, wisdom, and the like – all terms drawn from the linguistic region of interpersonal discourse (Kaufman, 62).”

In the Webster’s Dictionary, the word God is defined as “1 cap : the supreme reality; esp : the Being worshiped as the creator of the universe.”

When I say that I do not believe in the existence of God, I am saying that the belief of a creator and a ruler do not measure up in our current state of reality, or even within the context of the past and ancient history.  He was the explanation that existed before we had a scientific explanation, used as a way to interpret people’s experiences.  People desire to make sense of things, but the problem is, God does not make sense.

I am in awe of our cosmic universe, so much so, that I find it impossible for our existence to be so limited by this idea of God.  To me, we are looking too far out into the distance, when the answers all lie within us, within and beyond our massive and destructive home on earth.

“Indeed, we have learned, that it is precisely by excluding reference to such a transcendent agent that we gain genuine knowledge of the order that obtains in nature, are enabled to predict in certain respects the natural course of events, and thus gain a measure of control over it (Kaufman, 120).”

So there is no direct encounter and never will be – no way to interpret God outside of our own imaginings – in which case, God is actually a mirror of our own humanity – full of insecurities, the need for affirmation and praise, the desire to be close to these humans who are always so distant and cold, the desire to have their obedience, to incite dominance, to be in charge, to have control.  Why does God mirror the fickle childishness of a human being?  And if God is the creator, then who created him?  The answer seems obvious – human beings created him.

“When feeling is given a dominant place in shaping the interpretation of reality or the world, a religious world-view results (Kaufman, 214).”

Lately, every time we see my parents, my mother has to make a comment about God’s existence.  God is woven deeply within the fabric of my family.  He is given praise for all the good things.  The universe is over-simplified through Bible stories taken literally.  My mom celebrates the day that she will “go to be with Jesus.”  It’s not by my father’s intelligence and diligence in over forty years of hard work that brought them financial security.  No, it’s God.

The last time I wrote about religion, I was extremely angry for being raised without a choice.  Writing is good therapy, and I’ve come to a new place of peace and acceptance.  I feel released through my own realizations and views on life.  But I’ve also chosen to keep those views separate from my family life.  They have an idea of what I think.  The problem is, no matter how much I bring it up, they will forget it, or write it off by tomorrow.  My mom especially, has selective memory.  She blocks out the things that she can’t handle.  Especially since, according to their belief, I am “lost” – whatever that means.

When I am with my family, I do my utmost to respect them.  You cannot argue with a mind-set, culture, history, or the entire fabric of someone’s life.  They will do anything to shut out conflicting views, to keep the cognitive dissonance at bay.

Family is extremely important to me.  So I hold hands with them when they pray, I smile and say nothing over the Jesus comments, I listen to my nieces simplify the world by stating the Bible as fact.  In the meantime, I hope that as my nieces grow older, they begin to see that life isn’t so cut and dry.

Coming from children, religion makes sense.  But from adults, I expect more.  Sigmund Freud said, “The roots of the need for religion are in the parental complex; the almighty and just God, and kindly Nature, appear to us as grand sublimations of father and mother, or rather, as revivals and restorations of the young child’s idea of them… when at a later date he perceives how truly forlorn and weak he is when confronted with the great forces of life, he feels his condition as he did in childhood, and attempts to deny his own despondency by a regressive revival of the forces which protected his infancy.”

A universe that circulates around our own egos – that sounds like a man-made myth if ever I heard one.  We are all in the struggle of existence whether we like it or not.  We will all one day fall prey to death.  We have no real control.

“May it not be the case, moreover, that the very act of believing in God is in itself morally dubious?  May this not be largely an attempt to avoid taking full responsibility for ourselves and our lives by creating in fantasy a “heavenly father” into whose care we can place ourselves when the facts of life become too unpleasant (Kaufman, 14)?”

I find this over and over in people who dedicate their lives to God.  Life is just too much for them.  They would like to whitewash all the realities that are too painful for them to take.  It’s a coward’s way out.

The older Christians in my life all believe that I will come back around.  They were “wanderers” in their twenties and thirties, and are convinced that by forty or fifty, I will realize that my demise is nearing.  There are too many things I cannot control.  My body will start failing me, or friends will start dying off.  I’ll be faced with the futility of my existence.  I don’t think they understand, that I have already experienced all of those things.

It seems to me, when people leave faith behind, they fail to search beyond faith.  They avoid the question of spirituality altogether.  Then eventually, they inevitably end up going back to what feels comfortable, to what they knew in their youth.

My dad told me, “Never stop searching,” with his hands clasped tightly around my shoulders in a desperate attempt to get through to me.

I replied, “I never will.”  I wish I could please him, and be what he wants me to be, but I have to be myself.  I will never go back to where I came from.  I will move forward and live to the utmost before my body turns to dust.  And believe it or not, I’m okay with that.

 

For more on this topic:

https://laurenjbarnhart.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/god-against-nature/

https://laurenjbarnhart.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/why-i-stopped-believing-in-god/

 

 

Culture Over Color

Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is so rich with lyrical prose that I had to read the first page three times before moving on to the next.  She flips back and forth effortlessly between a deep southern African American dialect into literary narration.  I found myself speaking out loud in the tone of her dialogue, just to listen to the way it rolls in and hangs there, like humidity in the calm before a storm.

The plot follows a woman named Janie as she struggles to find herself through imagination, love, and experience.  When the book was first released in 1937, it was attacked for not fitting within the African American protest tradition of the 1930’s.  The lives of Hurston’s characters are rich and varied; not the diminished, victimized culture portrayed in other works of Black fiction at the time.  The main focus is on a woman’s right to life, while race is merely the framework of her culture.

As Henry Louis Gates Jr. puts it in the Afterword, “… the social realism of the thirties, and the cultural nationalism of the Black Arts movement – was the idea that racism had reduced black people to mere ciphers, to beings who only react to omnipresent racial oppression, whose culture is “deprived” where different, and whose psyches are in the main “pathological.”  … Socialists, separatists, and civil rights advocates alike have been devoured by this beast (199).”

This is an idea that shouldn’t, but still does, persist in some ways today.  When I was a poet in New York City, I grew tired of listening to the African American poets perform angry diatribes against racist white people.  At every single reading, it always happened.  Rather than action, it was reaction.  I deal with my own kinds of anger, and I understand how difficult it is to exorcise that as an artist.  A part of the process in expressing anger is to move forward, but it’s easy to get stuck.  By playing the role of the victim, you avoid personal responsibility.  You cannot always blame someone else for your lot in life.  You must take action, no matter the obstacles.

Zora Neale Hurston’s voice is extremely relevant for today.  Rather than fighting for or against race, she celebrates culture, which is something different entirely.  She shows us, that regardless of outside factors, we all search for the same thing – for life, for soul, for the full human experience and the freedom to have it.  She brought more humanity to the Black experience than any of her contemporaries.

Janie is on a search for love from the time she blossoms underneath the pear tree.  “She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight.  So this was marriage (Hurston, 11)!”

Janie’s grandmother wants her to sit and do nothing – the ultimate achievement for a 2nd generation woman past the time of slavery.  Her grandmother arranges a marriage to an older man who is stingy and has plenty of land, but Janie doesn’t love him.  She escapes with Joe who is on his way to the first all-black town to build a life and community.  But in his efforts to be a successful businessman and mayor of the town, he fails to recognize Janie as a human being and sees her only as the object of his possession.  He desires the ownership he was denied before, from all things and people.  Janie is not allowed a voice, and Joe’s accomplishments (in his mind) serve to make her a great woman.

“…  Ah told you in de very first begginnin’ dat Ah aimed tuh be uh big voice.  You oughta be glad, ‘cause dat makes uh big woman outa you (Hurston, 46)”

At his death, she finally transitions, as Henry Louis Gates Jr. puts it, from “object to subject.”  She is rich with an empty life.  Leaving it all behind means nothing to her if she can have what the pear tree knows every spring.  A young gadabout named Tea Cake sweeps her off her feet.  He loves her, and lets her be exactly who she is.  They go fishing all night, shoot guns, and take off to work “on the muck” all summer long in Florida.  She goes from wearing fancy dresses to overalls, and everyday feels brand new and alive.

But nature is a brute force, and a massive hurricane destroys their new life together.  In the end, it doesn’t matter as much that Janie loses Tea Cake, as much that she experienced what everyone is looking for – love.  She is fulfilled by experience, complete and refined in her own self.  Now, just sitting there doesn’t seem so terrible, when her mind is full of beauty.

“Dey gointuh make ‘miration ‘cause mah love didn’t work lak they love, if dey ever had any.  Then you must tell ‘em dat love ain’t somethin’ lak uh grindstone dat’s de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch.  Love is lak de sea.  It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore (Hurston, 191).”

Anyone who dares the world for love can relate to the character of Janie.  I spoke to a poet the other day.  He told me that when he was younger, he didn’t finish his PhD. because he went through a divorce.  But in the process, he fell in love and became a poet.  When I told my husband this, he said to me, “Heartbreak is better for writing poetry than love.”

I replied, “But first you need love to experience heartbreak.”

It’s true that I wrote my best poetry when I was broken.  All of my best poems were inspired by men who could only see me as an object, not a human.  Likewise, I could only see them as my teachers and not my equals.  I was in the chrysalis phase that, Janie as well, took so many years to fly out from.

What I thought was love was only fantasy.  And when you live inside of fantasy, reality is not allowed to exist.  Nighttime is the only time for this sort of love, in the daytime there are too many reminders – that I was an object left behind on the bed for more important things, a side-note, a thing whose roots to the earth must be ignored since mothers and fathers and even friends remind a man that a woman is a subject and not just an object.

Zora Neale Hurston was a prolific writer until she fell into obscurity in the early fifties.  Her work could not be simplified, her ideals could not be categorized, and this made her ambiguous.  She was accused of molesting a 10 year-old boy, though she was in Honduras at the time of the crime.  Still, the charges damaged her career.

She worked as a maid in Florida, and failed at a string of jobs.  Ten years later she died in a welfare home.  She was virtually forgotten until the writer, Alice Walker, wrote an article for Ms. magazine in the early seventies, on how she went in search of Hurston’s unmarked grave to give her the recognition she deserved.  Since then, Hurston’s work has gained popularity and been recognized for its importance.

But her obscure death and eventual poverty are upsetting to me.  I relate to the string of miserable jobs that never work out.  Her financial struggles and the fight against what she wrote in an essay entitled “What White Publishers Won’t Print” demoralized her, and diminished her output.  Hurston did not feel like a human being without pen and paper – the curse and the gift of being a writer.  If you are truly a writer, there is nothing else for you, but to write.  In the end, she did her best to give us the keys to understand ourselves.  I am grateful to Alice Walker, for bringing Hurston’s work back from the dead.

 

It’s Not Your Genes, It’s The Way They Raised You

It’s hard to remember the first six years of your life, but according to Oliver James in They F*** You Up – How To Survive Family Life, those first years and how our parents relate to us, define us more than genes.

Parents are often limited in their ability to connect with us in all stages, such as the competitive adult who lacks understanding for the fantasy life of a four year old, but strongly relates to the adolescent.  Other parents are short on empathy due to problems with depression or lack of proper care in their own upbringing.

If our parents lacked empathy, were abusive or absent, there’s a very large chance that we will end up struggling with depression, narcissism, or personality disorder.  If those issues aren’t dealt with, we’re at risk for repeating the exact same cycles in our own children.

What our parents value in us and encourage determines to a large extent who we become as people.  From infancy on, we are treated a certain way on the basis of a complex weave within the mind of the parent.  What do we remind them of, do we bring back memories of negative experiences in their own childhood, do we remind them of their own failings.  The cycle repeats itself when we become parents ourselves.

“Each parent treats each child so differently that they might as well have been raised in completely different families (James, 8).”

Though obviously, I can’t remember how I was treated as an infant, the one thing I do know is that my mother does not like babies at all.  She has difficulty relating to them, and is bored until they get to the toddler stage of being able to talk.  She was also unable to breastfeed.  Our Old English Sheep dog, Big Boy, guarded my crib religiously and growled at any unfamiliar person who dared to enter my room.  All through my childhood, I was often much closer to animals than to people.

When I was older I lived at the pool with the girl from next door.  My skin was a dark chocolate, my hair a golden mushroom.  I don’t remember if there was an adult with us.  It was normal back then for small kids to run rampant through the neighborhood without supervision.  My mother hated parks, possibly because it meant she had to talk to the neighbors.

My parents didn’t really interact with me in playtime, and my sister was too old for most of my games.  What I remember is that my mother seemed like an ever-present figure in front of the kitchen sink.  Always washing dishes.  I would look up at her from my spot on the floor, next to the record player, chewing small square ice cubes and listening to children’s albums from the 1950’s.

She always loved us, was always caring, if not strict due to a desire to ingrain us with her beliefs.  But she was a distant, foreign presence until my teens.  My father didn’t really know how to deal with being a dad.  In fact, he is still figuring it out.  As a parent, do you ever stop figuring that out?  Especially since your children are constantly growing, changing, evolving – hopefully.  Once stern and emotionally unavailable, he is now more loving and affectionate than I ever thought possible.

I remember having a fear of using the toilet.  I was afraid that a giant snake would come up the pipes and bite me in the ass.  I washed my hands before flushing, then pressed the lever down and went running, flailing my arms down the hall, certain the snake would get me.  There was also an angry tiger that lived in a massive empty oil tank in the basement.  I could hear him groan within the metal.  I pictured him pacing, muscles flexing beneath his orange and black striped fur.

My sister told me they opened a McDonald’s in Africa, but since they didn’t have cows there, they just used six-foot long worms that they sliced into patties.  She said the patties were kind of rubbery and grey.  I actually believed her, and then held a grudge for years when I realized she’d made it up to prove my gullibility.

I find it lame that some people think children are not sexual creatures, and that you wake up at twelve suddenly aware.  All children are sexual, and their levels of inhibition all depend upon how adults handle their sexual expression.  There was enormous embarrassment around my constant desire to stimulate my genitals.  It was a humiliation for my mother.  I found ways to hide it – hands hidden in pockets, the edge of a chair.

When I was four or five, I was at someone’s house, and a boy pulled me into a bedroom for the classic, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”  With our pants pulled down around our ankles he pointed at my crotch and said, “I can almost see it.  Don’t worry, you’ll grow one soon.”  Suddenly, I felt incomplete.  I was missing something.  But that something looked kind of funny and I didn’t get why it was so important to have one.

I didn’t have a crush on a boy until the first grade.  Below age six, my crushes were on beautiful women, particularly, my preschool teacher.  She carried a Gucci purse, and always wore purple with lots of make-up.  I craved her attention, wanted to be close to her, wanted to be like her.

At four, I was so shy that when people asked me my name all I could say was “Hi”.  For a while, that is what they called me.  “Hi.”  I stuttered and could only speak after literally spitting it out.  From the very beginning, I was behind in school.  Maybe my sister struggled too, but she was an over-achiever.  My parents always treated her with respect, like an adult, while I was always, and still am, the entertaining fuck-up.

“From the moment we gather on Christmas Eve or the day itself, our parents and siblings demand that we enact our appointed role.  Never mind that we may have long since ceased to be the clever one or the fatty, the attention-seeker or the moaner, our family treats us just as they always did and within minutes of walking through the door we are back in the nursery.  The achievements and independence of adulthood are swept away and we find ourselves performing a role that we thought was long obsolete (James, 35).”

Going back a generation, it seems that everyone in my mother’s five child family needs therapy.  “Offspring of families with five or more children are significantly more likely to be delinquent and to suffer mental illness (James, 4).”  My grandmother had depression.  She was not really suited to having so many children, and would have been happier with a career.  She loved fashion, and later in life, liked to write.  But to her children, she lacked empathy and was prone to negative outbursts.  My grandpa was emotionally distant and had trouble expressing affection.  He was reserved and stern – does that sound familiar?

Growing up, my father had very little emotional support.  His mother died when he was three, his grandmother who helped raise him after, died when he was eleven.  His sister ran away from home at fifteen, and his brother died in a car accident at eighteen.  To cope, my grandfather was an alcoholic, and he married a woman who never accepted my father as a son.  So for a long time, my father struggled to emotionally connect with people for fear that he would lose them.  He’s had moments of irrational fear and outbursts, particularly, when I learned how to drive.

Something about the whole environment of repressed feelings has turned me into a fighter for speaking my mind.  When I came to adulthood, I was the first in the family to speak directly and honestly and openly.  It was an enormous shock, I think, for everyone.  When they attempted to close up, or retreat backwards, I kept marching forwards with my banner raised.  Now when an issue lurks beneath the surface, it is always bound to come out at some point, and we are all happier for it, even if my mother blanks out the things that she doesn’t want to remember.

At this stage of my life I have a very healthy, strong relationship with my parents.  I work through the way things were in the past through my writing, and I find understanding and forgiveness for the course we were all on that we really had no control over.  The mind is made up of maps and patterns that can only be broken through vigorous insight and awareness.  My mother can afford a therapist.  I can afford a pen and a pad of paper.

As I think about having a baby, I have become even more aware of breaking negative patterns.  In some ways, I feel prepared because I have already done a lot of work within myself.  I’m looking forward to the possibility of the challenge.  And despite a few hiccups, I’m extremely lucky that, growing up, I had a strong and loving family life, and still do.

Oliver James refers to many studies that have proven genes play much less of a role in us than we have been led to believe.  I appreciate this stance, and have witnessed to a great extent, that we do have the ability to change our reality completely, even working through the deficiencies in our early development that are inevitable no matter how wonderful our parents.

I’ll always be the entertaining fuck-up to my family, and that’s okay with me. But as a result, there is always the feeling that I have to prove someone wrong.  I know within that I am a winner, and I’ll just keep doing what I do regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.  The main thing is – I’m okay with myself.  Once you achieve that, others are okay with you too.

 

New York State of Mind

Last Sunday, at the bookstore, I saw the name ‘Emily Gould’ in red letters on the spine of a book in the memoir section. I don’t forget the names of editors I worked with briefly as a literary agent. Back then Emily was an editor at Hyperion. She has since worked at Gawker and is now on her own doing freelance. Her memoir, And The Heart Says Whatever, is a snapshot account of her life from college through young adulthood in New York City.

“I felt the vacuum of the empty suburbs surrounding me like a black hole in which my body was suspended, as though I were the only warm alive thing left in the world (Gould, 27).”

After her childhood in the burbs, Emily only lasted one year at Kenyon, a university in the Midwest full of loser frat boys, where women end up objectified or abused. It’s obvious that she does not fit – the same way that I did not fit at small, conservative George Fox University. While all of my roommates were out with their fiancés, I was sitting alone in my bunk bed with a stray cat, eating Chinese take-out and watching old Fellini films. I dreaded the moment when they would return, “What is this crap you’re watching? It doesn’t make any sense!”

Once in the city, Emily pays her way through writing classes with a series of server jobs where she suffers from anxiety. She feels exhausted from performing, leaves her feminism at the door, and puts up with being treated like a dimwit.

My first job in New York was in Soho at an Italian restaurant. The manager wanted me to stand outside to try and draw people in. I was not even a host, and I was not getting paid. Around 9pm, a band started to play, and the manager asked me to sit with some rich businessmen. I have to admit, though he was turning me into some kind of unpaid escort, I enjoyed the conversation, since one man owned the art gallery across the street, and bragged about how he had worked with Andy Warhol.

The manager said I would be serving at another location that was just opening up in the Lower East Side, where my commute would take twice as long. On my first day there, the owner only came upstairs to yell at us then disappeared into the basement for hours.

The other two servers were actors and called me “babe,” in a condescending tone that I found irritating. There were no sections, and they viciously fought for tables. Being the newbie, I had one lone table, and ended up bussing the other 49, spinning in confusion.

When it was time to go, I went downstairs to find the boss. Down a long hallway, he was sitting in a grimy office smoking a joint and counting piles and piles of money. There were at least twenty stacks over six inches high. I’d been in New York for one week, and already I was working for the mafia. I’ve since learned that in Jersey and New York, restaurants are backed by mafia money, while in Seattle they are backed by drug dealers – same thing, different titles.

I walked back to the original location and told the manager that I wanted to work in Soho, but he didn’t have a position for me. It was a good thing. I was the only person there who wasn’t right off the boat, and all the money was under the table with no salary. I was beginning to think that the entire city was outside of the law.

A year later I ran into the manager again at a party thrown by a flamboyant Italian man. At all of his parties, the host hired a model to walk next to him carrying a sign that read, “Stefano Is Here” with an arrow pointing down. The manager was working as the DJ that night, and I had been hired as a dancer with a percussion band that I performed with. We were at a swank restaurant uptown, called Zanzibar, and the party had a tribal theme.

The ex-manager/DJ was completely shocked to see me. I was no longer shell-shocked and outside of my element. In fact, I was getting paid to be the life of the party. Things moved fast in New York, so fast, I can’t believe it all happened.

After a series of serving jobs, Emily Gould found herself working as the Editorial Assistant to a Senior Editor at a publishing house.

“I was realizing that the production of book-shaped products had very little to do with “books,” the holy relics that my college education had been devoted to venerating (Gould, 99).”

Once at the literary agency, I imagined myself taking on literary clients and life-changing books, but I couldn’t halt the constant stream of fluff being thrown at me by my boss or the pressure to find a sale that could meet current trends. I didn’t feel strong enough, or maybe nothing seemed good enough, and everyday was a pressure cooker to make that deal happen.

Being let go was a tremendous relief. For all that time I’d never been able to read my own books, or write my own words. So every morning for the next six months, I was up at 6am to write for an hour outside the coffee shop, with people rushing past me to work. After writing ten pages, I would begrudgingly join them, and go to my shitty job in the city, numbering every single piece of crap artwork that came out of Peter Max’s factory. Like that first restaurant I worked at, only recent immigrants lasted in his exploitation-fest. He was donating millions to charity, and I couldn’t afford to live. But as long as I got that writing in every morning, it seemed okay.

Emily Gould still lives in Brooklyn, and I have to admit, I feel a sense of envy that I am not still in New York too. There is always the sense that I am missing out on something – connections, parties, shows. You can find all that in Seattle too, the problem is that I really haven’t yet.

I also have a theory – that when you leave New York you get slightly weak and introverted because the pressure is finally off. I hadn’t realized how much energy it took. I’ve watched as friend after friend left the city and completely went into reclusive mode. One friend even took to the mountains, and never lasts for more than 24 hours when she comes to visit me. In New York she was a tough, angsty, goth rocker chick in platform boots. Now she is a peaceful hippy, who prefers to live in a yurt, pee in an outhouse, and grow vegetables.

Five years since my move back, I’m teaching myself how to refind my New York energy. I’m remembering that in New York, amidst all the crazy, I learned how to live, how to survive, and how to love exponentially. Not the fake romantic love of adolescence, but real love for all of my friends and my community.

Instead of complaining about how I lost that when I left, I’m now remembering how to be what you wish others would become. And surprisingly, I’m finding what I’ve been looking for. Friendships are flowing naturally, the way they should be. I sense I’m growing closer to the pulsing beat of energy. Life takes a turn, once again.

Traveling Sisterhood

Esther Freud’s novel, Hideous Kinky, is a semi-autobiographical novel of two sisters traveling with their hippy mother through 1960’s Morocco. Freud is the daughter of the famous figurative painter, Lucian Freud, and the granddaughter of Sigmund Freud – a fascinating family rife with details we would all like to know more about, but privacy runs in the family.

The narrator of Hideous Kinky is a four-year-old English girl. Her narration is deceptively simple, leaving the reader to comprehend the complex layers of the story on their own. Mysteries are left untold, such as what they left behind in England, who her father is, and who sends the money. Through the little girl, we are unable to decipher the details of her mother’s love life (though we can surmise), and never know where they are traveling next, or how long they will stay. We feel the confusion and the uncertainty. Time slips away without the basic information needed to succeed back home in England, such as even, how to count.

My emotions over the mother ran the gamut. At times I felt exhilarated that she could live so far off the edge with two little girls in tow. At other times, I felt angry when the girl’s were not receiving education, medical care, food; at one point even spending a day as beggars. Upon their return to England life would seem so regimented in comparison. How would they adjust? But those events take place after the last page.

I’d seen the film before I read the book – and they both have much to offer. One did not ruin the other, as is often the case, though the details of the story differ.

My two nieces are missionary kids. They have been going back and forth between a jungle village in Papua New Guinea, a mission base, and the states all of their lives. Life for them is a constant readjustment. They are flexible and easygoing, because they have to be.

The oldest is very social, relates better to boys than girls, and likes to write fantasy stories (mainly, because she lives one). The youngest is exactly the same as I was at her age – always up in her head, living in imagination, weaving thick plots to escape the boredom of the present, yet a social underdog. However, that was two years ago, and every time I see them, they are different and yet the same.

Now that they are thirteen and ten, childhood is quickly disappearing. They are on the border, where glimpses of the women they will become disarm you completely – vivacious and strong, with lively blue eyes that are full of curiosity.

The oldest is at the stage where her parents and those in her environment are forming strong opinions in her. When they were younger it wasn’t that big of a deal that we have different beliefs. But they are being taught to look down on those who do not believe what they do.

They have always looked up to me. And now, at this stage, I’m afraid of being looked down on. Maybe it’s all in my head. But it isn’t, because I was taught exactly the same thing, and at that age, I looked down on, and judged everything that was “of the world” and “fallen”. I didn’t yet understand life as it really was.

There are cracks in the veneer every now and then. The oldest is now on facebook and she once posted a comment that read something like, “Sometimes it’s hard to believe that there could be another life out there.” I went searching to find it again, but she has since erased it. Don’t we all feel trapped within our parent’s existence until we are free to go?

But for now, my nieces live below the equator, a day ahead of us. When it is summer here, it is winter there. In my neighborhood, it is loud with the noise of people and cars. In the jungle, it is loud with insects, birds, and animals. They navigate difficult terrain over-run with foliage. I navigate cracks in the pavement and annoying people asking for money.

When my oldest niece was a baby she crawled like the natives in the village – with her left knee on the ground, and her right foot walking. She had ringworm from sitting naked on the dirt. I worried over her – but she was completely resilient. It’s the babies that are born there that are really at risk. Many of them don’t even survive birth.

In four weeks, my sister’s family is coming home on furlough and will be in the States until April. When they are gone, I turn off all thoughts of them with the press of an imaginary button. But now, the button is off and I think about their return constantly.

The night before my sister’s wedding, I couldn’t stop crying. As her bridesmaids flitted about, she came into my bedroom to comfort me. It didn’t matter what she said, I knew that I was losing her. She’d found her husband and now all they needed was a distant place to be sent to. A year later they were gone.

They said it was a twenty-year mission, and it’s been sixteen years. As their responsibilities grow, I keep wondering if they’ll ever come back. And how will they cope with life here, without financial supporters, without constant movement, with some sort of steady job that is the same day in and day out?

When we were kids we used to pack our suitcases, hoist everything up on the swing-set, and pretend it was a train that would take us all over the world. It was her favorite game, her escape from boring suburbia.

We have both traveled, escaped conformity, and found an obsession with words – she as a linguist, and me as a writer. But I don’t really know who she is anymore. She never talks. We have only been alone together once in the past sixteen years. We took a walk, and she told me that there are things about my life that she envies, because as a missionary, you have to keep up the façade of minimalism. I told her that I envy her nomadic existence.

When I was a teenager, I idolized her, and thought that I would never measure up. She seemed like a saint, and I felt like a failure. I was her project, something that needed to be fixed.

My nieces represent something that was lost between my sister and I. They are the next generation of traveling sisters. They talk in secret sister code. Life will be a shock for them when they leave the fold. In some ways, they are even more sheltered than we were. I wonder where their lives will take them. I wonder if they will ever consider Seattle home.

Write To Live

I am feeling vulnerable.  The pitch for my memoir is about to be sent out to editors, and I have spent the last ten years pouring everything I have into this book.  It has evolved and grown with time, and thanks to rejections of past versions, it has become more refined, more complete, more honest.

Though I try my best to not take rejections personally (having worked in publishing has helped me a lot with this), it is still always a hard blow to the ego, with days spent feeling like a failure.  I know my book has enormous potential, now I just need people in the publishing industry to see that too.

In vulnerable writer moments, the best author to turn to is Erica Jong.  “Only if you have no other choice should you be a writer (Jong, 6).”

I have just finished reading her book, Seducing the Demon – Writing For My Life.  The stories from her life are all hilarious, and told in nonlinear fashion.  Most memorable would be how she broke up Martha Stewart’s marriage when it was already falling apart (picture Stewart’s husband as an emasculated chore boy).

Humorous stories aside, it seemed that Jong was speaking directly to me and everything that I am dealing with right now – death and the struggle of trying to capture life in words.

“Life is a dream, but the dream disintegrates unless you write it down (my father) reminds me (Jong, 253).”

I first began writing because I wanted to end my life.  It was a common theme throughout my adolescence, but escalated when I was twenty-one.  I always knew that I was not the person my family wanted me to be.  Within my core, I was not a Christian, but I was told by everyone around me that if I did not follow I would lose their acceptance.  I would be fallen, lost, going to hell.  I did everything to make God real to me.  But instead, I began to see that everything I’d been told was false.

In the process of all this, I was prone to deep depression and would fall into trance-like states where I left my body and began to ponder how I could destroy it.  Looking back, it was symbolic, since the Christianity I was raised with denies the body.

Eventually, when that mode became an everyday issue, I had to enter therapy.  The therapist didn’t sort my issues since I was still stuck within my Christian university and didn’t feel free to speak what I was really feeling.  What really changed my life was writing.

“Writing is tough, but it’s a lot less tough than depression.  Which basically leads to suicide.  Unless you make a joke (Jong, 232).”

At first the writing was not good.  It was melodramatic, sickeningly romantic, full of unnecessary flourishes and old-fashioned language.  Through hundreds of poems, I attempted to express what I was feeling.

I experienced a real breakthrough while reading Allen Ginsberg’s poetry.  Here was a man who bravely and beautifully wrote about gay sex in the 1950’s.  If he could do that then, than I could celebrate sensuality in my poetry, turn it in, and risk getting marked down or reprimanded.  Surprisingly, my teacher raved over the poem I wrote.

We normally looked at each other’s work anonymously.  But at the end of analyzing my poem the professor said, “And the girl who wrote this…” (Everyone looked around since there was only one other girl in the class) “Ope!  Sorry Lauren!”

The room full of boys twittered in embarrassment.  But then my professor continued, “This is the first poem I’ve seen all semester that is ready to be published.”  I sat there red in the cheeks, but brimming with pride that this professor who was such a tough nut to crack, who was known for yelling at people for using the word “deep” because it didn’t express anything, was now telling me I had potential.

“For the poet, the lover becomes the world.  The exploration of love becomes an exploration of life (Jong, 66).”

Before poetry, I painted portraits, then realized I had more to tell.  Poetry was vague enough to feel safe writing what I had to say.  But then I wanted to tell the whole truth and share the whole picture.

To write I have sacrificed money, jobs, relationships, and security.  But I have no choice, and wouldn’t be happy any other way.  My book sits there like the holy grail, full of promises that might not be met.  When I first tried to publish it, I was cocky, with no doubt that the first agent would snap it up and put it on auction, scoring a great book deal which would lead to it becoming a bestseller with a movie deal in the works.  I literally did not doubt this one iota.

In it’s earliest version (not nearly as fleshed out as it is now) it was rejected by over a hundred agents and editors.  Back then it was just a novel about a girl who parties too much.  Now it’s a memoir about a girl trying to forget an oppressive upbringing through an underground subculture that turns dark quickly.

“People who most crave ecstasy are probably least capable of moderation (Jong, 134).”

The people I write about in my book will be both horrified and gratified to see themselves frozen in time.  But the only reaction that really concerns me is that of my parents.  I hope they can forgive the fact that I need to lay them bare to understand my life.  Like many parents, it’s painful for them to allow their child to be their own person.  They will never fully accept who I am because it doesn’t fit into their worldview.  I am the reality that they find hard to face.

“If you want to be a nice person, don’t write.  There’s no way to do it without grinding up your loved ones and making them into raw hamburger (Jong, 239).”

Now when I actually see the living people who embody the other characters in the book, I hardly know how to look at them, without only seeing our past.  To me, they have become caricatures of themselves, mythology.

“Time and again I have found that once I have frozen a person in a book I can hardly remember what the real person was like (Jong, 268).”

At a memorial, I saw them all two days ago.  I realized, that they feel the same way about me.  They are completely unable to understand who I am now, unable to listen, and can only speak in jokes or insensitive diatribes.  They have frozen me in time.  I didn’t want to be there, but in coming together over the death of our beautiful friend, I came to the ending of my story.

“You are not doing it all alone.  You are standing on the shoulders of the dead.  You are writing love letters to the grave.  The word is a link in a human chain (Jong, 61).”

I’m in those last years where you can be considered young.  But I don’t feel young at all.  I feel like time is too short and I have too many stories to share to fit into that shortness of life.  Ideas keep popping into my head.  I want to write them all, to share this thing I cannot stop.  To live, I must write.

Life Is Never What You Expect

I once had a professor who said, “You live one life, but you have many lives within it.”  The same can be said for a book of short stories.  They are all unique, but each story is connected, and wouldn’t be complete without the others.

Aryn Kyle’s collection “Boys And Girls Like You And Me” is honest and full of humor over the sad circumstances of life.  Her characters all want to really live, but life is never what they expected it would be.

“That was the real bitch about time: Everything true would become false, if only you waited long enough (Kyle, 123).”

I am hard at work, putting the finishing touches on my memoir.  In the last week, three people who are a part of those stories have died.  Two of them were shot and killed in the Seattle shootings.  Drew Keriakedes and Joe ‘Vito’ Albanese.  I first saw them when the show, Circus Contraption, started about eleven years ago.  As the bandleader, Drew wrote all the whimsical music.  The show went on to New York City (where I was so homesick I went to see them three times in a row) and performed internationally as well.  When Contraption came to an end, the two were in a band called God’s Favorite Beefcake, and performed once at a friend’s wedding.  The day of the wedding I wanted to tell them how much they meant to me.  But I didn’t.  I got shy, even though I had spoken to them before in New York.  Their music was genius in that vaudevillian sense.  There was no one else like them.

The last thing I ever thought would happen was this.  The last thing that should ever happen to beautiful artists who spread joy and laughter and music throughout the world is violence.  And all because some mentally unstable guy got out of the house with a gun and decided to go on a shooting spree before he shot himself.

All moments and all people pass away, but art gives us the remnants of what once was.  I realize more than ever, the importance of capturing these moments in my history, and all the beautiful people I have known.  My generation has such a limited experience of death.  Death is a reminder that my introversion is a waste of love I could have given.

Life is short, life is intense, life is funny and sad and unpredictable.  We’ll only make it through if we hold each other up.  It just takes being vulnerable again, to learn how to try.

In memory of Arthur, who also passed away last week, I would like to share this poem I wrote about him ten years ago.  He was a beautiful man. 

Arthur’s Kiss

Smooth into me

like butter, you ooze

flicker glisten skin

glide cross fingers

no angles pointed joints

just round solid

foundations formed

through anticipations

refused content.

The Fat Is On The Fire


Two months ago, I bought a necklace with a black metal pendant cut in the image of Hunter S. Thompson. Ever since then, his spirit has been following me around, reminding me to “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” More even, than his words on the paper, he has a lot to tell me.
Away at a Writer’s Refuge, working on research for my memoir, I found a note I made twelve years ago that read, “Read Hunter S. Thompson.” I turned around from the table where I was sitting and looked at the five books I brought along with me. One was Thompson’s Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ‘80’s, a collection of articles he wrote in the mid-eighties for the San Francisco Examiner.
My favorite bits are Thompson’s personal tales of car explosions, raising peacocks, owning a strip joint, bad gambling deals, people out to slit his throat, incognito travels, and random chats with people like Nixon’s secret Chinese mistress who lived on a Houseboat near the Sacramento River where a humpback whale was causing a ruckus.
As Thompson floats through good ol’ boy territory and rebel remnants of the west, it’s hard to decide which is more loony – his crazy life or the Republican Party. His articles cover batty political figures and power-hungry televangelists trying to make their play for the White House. He manages to make them all look like corpses in an article entitled, “The Other George Bush” where his friend Skinner recounts a bender:
“… he’d spent the last two nights arguing with George Bush about the true meaning of Plato’s Republic and the Parable of the Caves, smoking Djarum cigarettes and weeping distractedly while they kept playing and replaying old Leonard Cohen tunes on his old Nakamachi tape machine (Thompson, 298).”
Skinner was convinced, here was a man “smarter than Thomas Jefferson,” who could “stand taller than the two Roosevelt’s put together.” Thompson doesn’t resolve the mystery for us, but he has plenty of dirt on “Big George.” As for Reagan, “Old actors never feel guilty for crimes they committed at work – because all they ever really did was play roles, and that was all Reagan did as President (Thompson, 215).”
The religious right permeated culture throughout the eighties. Even beyond the church, the mentality of doom and destruction and punishment were prevalent. Ronald Reagan told People magazine in 1986, “This generation may be the one that will face Armageddon.”
“That is the hallmark of the Reagan administration – a Punishment Ethic that permeates the whole infrastructure of American life and eventually gets down to George Orwell’s notion, in Animal Farm, that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others (Thompson, 206).””
The pendulum swung, as it always does throughout history, into an era of fear and a backlash from the orgiastic drug spree of the 1960’s. Aid’s hit, though it took the mainstream a long time to really admit that it existed. Instead, there were reminders that sex could kill you, and living means dying. “… “safe sex,” the meanest oxymoron of our time (Thompson, 206).”
Thompson’s stories collide with recollections of my childhood. I was born in 1979. My first experiences of the world were in a decade that I now look back on with words like – fear, greed, power, money, poltergeist, apocalypse, punishment. It’s no wonder that my generation flipped out and went grunge.
“The President’s wife, in her role as main spokeswoman for the administration’s War on Drugs… has created so much pressure on a whole generation of confused pimply teenagers who may or may not “Say No to Drugs” that the last of the ‘80’s seems destined to produce another generation of criminals like the one that got caught on the cusp of the ‘60’s, when Jell-O conformity of the Eisenhower Era finally created so many socioeconomic rejects that it eventually became fashionable to be one (Thompson, 207).”
My mother was highly susceptible to all of this fear. I wasn’t allowed to own a Cabbage Patch Kid. She had heard a story that one became possessed by a demon and talked to a kid. Dolls with creepy faces were suspect in general, especially ones with eyes that blinked. Our house was at constant risk of becoming a poltergeist. As long as you clung to Jesus and said his name over and over, you could avoid spiritual catastrophe.
Alcohol and drugs, it seemed, were the ultimate invitation to demons – just try it and they could infest your house like fleas, hiding in the carpet and the crevices of the couch just waiting to claim another soul for the dark side. All it took was a moment of weakness. Life had the horror and magnificence of a Sci-Fi film. Any mistake could cause you a lifetime of punishment. Perhaps the extremes were what made me want to screw up in the first place, just to test it out. All that striving for perfection and bullshit can really weigh you down.
It was a strange era to spend the first ten years of my life. Stranger still, that the current Republican nominees resemble something more akin to the ‘80’s than 2012 – slippery slicksters who might just bite us in the ass because we’re too anesthetized to do anything about it.
When I talk to people just ten years younger than I am, I get the feeling I’m actually talking to the Internet. They spit out facts and ask me, “Have you heard of this band?” “Have you seen this video?” “Do you know who this guy is?” and pop out their iphones at me with the source of their never-ending information that they want to spew in my direction.
What happened to the human beings? Are we all just extensions of machines now? Showing off our prowess through information rather than active imagination?
I’m grateful that I was born before the era of the Internet and the cell phone. While I enjoy the ease that they provide, I appreciate being unplugged and fully committed to the moment. Thompson reminds us, that if you’re not living you’re really dying.
Nature is tough. To survive, you have to be a warrior, but to thrive you have to remain open, even when struggles make you want to go into seclusion. For those with courage, life is full of thrills, ups and downs that bring you closer to your own true nature – honest and pure.
The smoke from Hunter’s cigarette is drifting in tendrils around his face as he gives me that devious half-smile. He’s still wearing his Aviators even though we’re in some dark seedy restaurant with holes in the booths. I watch him sling a few back, and have a feeling he has more chaos to share before the night is through.

The Tree of Life

The minute I heard that Andras Jones had his book Accidental Initiations published, I was magnetized and couldn’t resist the pull.  It arrived in the mail, and I dropped what I was reading to dive right in.  It is strange and kind of wonderful to read a book written by an acquaintance.

“… we are sent to schools where we learn the agreed upon truths our CULTure calls reality.  These institutions ultimately release us into the wild, civilized world, to parse the varied sub-cults available to us and find our way toward a truth we determine best serves our nature (Jones, 22).”

When I first met Andras he unnerved me.  That feeling never went away.  He is quiet and introspective.  It bothered me that I never knew what he was thinking.  This was heightened by the fact that it is obvious he is a mischievous visionary, spiritually heightened but always on his guard.

In the book, Andras writes of his life experiences through various cults and relationships while guiding us through his own personal Kabalistic Tree of Life in the city of Olympia, Washington.  He finds ritual and symbolism in the map that represents different aspects of being.

The symbol of the Tree of Life has appeared to me several times, and each time it did, my life changed dramatically.  I found it again the night that I met Andras.  It was my last year living in New York.  That December, people from Seattle kept appearing, drawing me back west.  Their spirituality overwhelmed me in a place that tends to be so matter of fact.

A massage healer who was also a confessed energy vampire was staying with me off and on.  I had met him at a party in Seattle the summer before.  He was extremely pale and had a disease that aged him in the sun.  The more time he spent with me, the darker his skin got, and the lighter mine became.  Things were very trippy with him around.  I liked that he made me uncomfortable.

“Yes, many of my new friends and teachers were well-meaning charlatans or self-deluding shamans, but at least they were trying for the big consciousness shift (Jones, 52).”

He took me to midtown to an apartment where traveling tantric practitioner’s stay while working in the city.  Andras was staying there with his girlfriend at the time – an escort turned sacred sex worker.  My friend mentioned that Andras did a show called Radio8Ball based on concepts of synchronicity.  Audience members submit questions to the Pop Oracle and random songs answer their questions.  I eventually became a fan and saw the show in New York, Seattle and LA.

Andras’ girlfriend made mushroom tea, and though I normally do not do drugs, the mushrooms seemed so natural and called to me.  I played it like this was nothing out of the ordinary, but I was nervous.  Here I was with three people I didn’t trust at all about to do shrooms.  Anything could happen.  And in fact, it seemed that night that everything did happen.

At first I felt ill, but once outside and moving, the feeling subsided.  Everything unnatural was disturbing, and in New York City, that’s pretty much everything.  I realized I was not experiencing an altered state exactly.  This was true reality in another dimension, as seen through the soul of a mushroom.

“… the high was only a perspective shift from which to experience reality more realistically (Jones, 36).”

We walked past a man and I knew right away that he had killed many people.  My friend thought he could speak in foreign languages.  And I realized, in my suede jacket, that I was wearing a cow.  I could feel the cow and hear it mooing.  Unnerved, I asked my friend, “Just be my reality, okay?”

We went to Central Park and I could suddenly breathe and the world was made of rainbows and light.  Andras said nothing at all.  He had the grin of a Cheshire cat.  His girlfriend seemed like a doe – innocent and pure, an awesome contradiction to her line of work as a high-paid sex worker.

We came to a stage and my friend walked into the shadows becoming darker, then walked back becoming lighter (his favorite trick).  The three of them felt far away from me.  I climbed the stairs behind the stage, wanting to escape.  There were thick vine trees lining a path and I found the Tree.  I sat in it and the Tree began breathing up through me, rocked in a cradle of inhaling and exhaling wood.  We were melded together as one.  I wanted to be alone and away from all the uncertainty.  But my friend kept calling me, “Lauren, we’re moving on.  You need to come now.”

“No, I don’t want to.  This is where I belong.”

Eventually, I caught up to them.  We walked through a horse round and circled a statue where a panther mutated into a squirrel.  Live animals had become fluffy unreachable entities with no connection to humanity.  Electronic music was a terrible noise while church bells were the most beautiful sound I had ever heard.  People moved in herds except for some crazy disco roller skaters that all moved to their own rhythm.

When we returned we descended into an emotional slump.  I became obsessed with willing a rose to open, and then felt depressed as it began to wilt.  My friend worked on Andras doing massage and Andras had a break down, conflicted over his own masculinity.  We all sat down and my friend began to cry as he confessed that in a past life he had been on intimate terms with the insides of human bodies, opening them up to look inside.  Andras’ girlfriend wanted to work on my friend in a healing exercise where she needed to feel connected to him spread eagle on the massage table.  Andras was getting pissed, so they left us and went into the dark bedroom to finish the therapy.

Andras and I sat on the couch awkwardly feeling jealous.  He began to obsessively clean the kitchen and the living room.  I wanted to catch the train back to Hoboken, and he had plans for the next morning.  He began to yell all of this towards the bedroom, and finally my friend and I got the hell out.  I couldn’t go to sleep when we got back home, and I found the dark room disturbing.  So we lay there for a long time with the lights on, talking beneath the covers.

I would see Andras randomly here and there over the next five years.  Mostly through his show, once at an awkward networking event, and once at his past job as a bartender at Bottleneck Lounge.  He approached me at one point to help find sponsors for his radio program, but I was not at all right for that kind of job.

Accidental Initiations is enjoyable to read, and I don’t think that’s just because I knew many of the stories and people he writes about.  It’s a shame that on Amazon his ‘boring haters’ have made quite the mark, although their crazy attacks made me want to read the book even more.  He left KAOS radio station in Olympia on bad terms, fired for indeterminate reasons.  There was much slander and harassment against him and he’s hell bent on getting his show back on the station.  But he needs to let it go and move on.  The low point of his book is including all the dirty details involved in the case, including letters (that according to the ‘boring haters’) are not accurate.  This chapter has nothing to do with the spiritual journey we are all on with him throughout the rest of Accidental Initiations.  It is more suitable to a temporary platform like an article or a blog, not the pages of a book, which had the potential to go beyond his current audience for Radio8Ball.

Next week I am off to a place of solitude to finish a memoir that has been in the making for the last ten years.  Andras reminds me that our shared history is a strange one, with details impossible to recreate.  I too am not as social as I used to be because of people that have let me down.  And though I began my memoir out of spite, I somehow was able to forgive my enemies as I wrote through their voices.  I became the people that I loved, the people that I hated, and left behind the person that I was.

“One of the key components of any effective cult is some level of getting over yourself as a route to getting truly into your Self (Jones, 51).”

After that night when I sat in the Tree, everything changed.  There is strength in knowing the earth is made of magic.  I didn’t need to find my identity through someone else, because I had my own.  Nothing could stop me from being an artist.  It was time to go home.

Elite Syncopation

In E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel Ragtime we are taken into the vulnerabilities and motivations behind such historical figures as Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, and Emma Goldman.  We are witness to the making of revolutionaries and criminals.  War is on the horizon – the great equalizer between massive wealth and massive poverty.

Each character ricochets off the next, creating a stream of events flowing from one to another.  The book begins with Evelyn Nesbitt.  Her beauty causes a murder among the rich and powerful.  Her picture sends newspapers flying off the stands.  She becomes the standard model for every sex goddess that follows after her. “Goldman sent off a letter to Evelyn: I am often asked the question How can the masses permit themselves to be exploited by the few.  The answer is By being persuaded to identify with them.  Carrying his newspaper with your picture the laborer goes home to his wife, an exhausted workhorse with the veins standing out on her legs, and he dreams not of justice but of being rich (Doctorow, 71).”

One of my favorite scenes involves J.P. Morgan, who in his quest for Egyptian mysticism spends the night in a Pyramid seeking a sign of his greatness.  He only finds that the place is infested with bed bugs.  His feeling of elite superiority to be in such a place is even more diminished when he is led out in the morning to find a team of ill-mannered baseball players goofing off on the ruins.

Coalhouse Walker, a liberated black man, seeks justice against the crimes committed against him.  He turns into a revolutionary willing to sacrifice his life, staking out J.P. Morgan’s library of artifacts and rigging it with dynamite.  As Booker T. Washington tries to reason with him, Coalhouse replies, “It is true I am a musician and a man of years.  But I would hope this might suggest to you the solemn calculation of my mind.  And that therefore, possibly, we might both be servants of our color who insist on the truth of our manhood and the respect it demands (Doctorow, 238).”

Throughout is the rage that we are experiencing in our own time in the same phase of a century – rage against the one percent.  I grew up around wealth.  I went to high school blocks away from Bill Gates’ mansion in Bellevue, Washington.  My sixteen-year-old classmates drove BMW’s and Mercedes’.  My mother wanted to make up for doing without as a teenager, so she bought me one thousand dollars worth of clothes every fall and spring.  I learned quickly, that having everything you want doesn’t make you happy.  And after college, I had no idea how to deal with real life or live on very little.  It took years to train my brain how to stop being magnetized to extravagance.  Eventually I gained the survival skills I needed.

My number one lesson was that I was too impulsive to own a credit card.  As a teenager I’d never looked at a price tag, but now I became an obsessive bargain hunter.  I sought out the cheapest market in my neighborhood and bought all the food I needed for a week for under $40.  I learned to like my natural hair color and taught myself how to cut my own hair.  Instead of buying beauty products, I only use almond oil.  Natural remedies have replaced doctors and prescriptions.  When buying clothes I tend to do day’s worth of research, and think out my choices and price options for the best quality at the lowest price.  It pays to buy things that last.

I have yet to own a car, though I did spend six months puttering around on a sporadic 1974 Honda CT90 motorcycle.  I realized my own two legs were more dependable and I like the exercise.

I’ve been living on random jobs for eleven years telling myself that I can keep doing this while I wait for that book deal to happen.  And every year has seemed like the last year I will do it, to the point that it amazes me that this distant carrot could keep me going in the same way until the day I die.  I’m okay with that.

Jobs always come up when I need them, like magic.  But there is a constant scramble for backbreaking work.  One of those jobs is as a part-time contractor.  I am the person wearing dirty overalls, up in my head all day sanding, patching and painting in the routine movements of a machine.  When I work in public places, I note that people regard me as being beneath them.  When I wear my normal clothes, the same people regard me as their equal.

I sometimes work for a friend, serving food and mixing cocktails at parties.  We work for the one percent.  I hate the feeling of subservience the very rich can make you feel.  You’re not allowed to really exist.  And I’m good at being a shadow on the periphery, taking care of their every need.

At one party, the couple was our age, in their mid-thirties.  He worked in commercial real estate and she did nothing but buy designer clothes for all I could see.  She didn’t know how to work the stove, and he couldn’t be bothered with knowing where anything was in the kitchen.  They owned a mansion with forty-foot floor to ceiling windows with a full skyline view of the city.  The kitchen counter was also forty-feet long.  The house itself was built like a fortress with a ten-foot wide wooden door opening into the courtyard, and a glass door twenty-feet tall to the house.

Usually the very rich live in houses that are not to my taste.  But in this place I found myself becoming more and more green with envy as the night wore on.  I was disgusted with myself for feeling this way.

They were lonely people living at the top with the usual token gay bestie who worshiped their lifestyle.  The husband did the usual boasting of only flying private, and told boring tales of doing without comforts in foreign countries.  He was anal and obsessive compulsive.  You could see he wouldn’t have gotten this far, this fast, if he hadn’t been.  Everyone was slightly bored and more amused by the view of the city than the company.

I appraised their lame choices in art and thought of the paintings I would hang instead.  I imagined where I’d put the grand piano and how I’d rock star the place out.  Desperately, I wanted to go back to my own life so I could begin to forget.  Then back at home I kept looking over towards their neighborhood from our balcony, pin-pointing exactly where that magnificent house stood amongst the crevices of the hill.

Is it bad, or is it okay to find motivation from being around the rich?  On a good day I feel like the upstanding socialist – equality for all.  And I am lucky to have the life I lead – rich with experience, vibrant, full of love and time enough to write.  But as a human being, we are all competitive by nature.

It all reminds me too, that there is a part of me that is still that spoiled adolescent.  She resides deep in my subconscious, causing me to make impulsive choices every now and then.  Like J.P. Morgan, sometimes our illusions of grandeur need to be taken down a notch by bed bugs in the Pyramid.