Suspended over a river of concrete the edge of a forest lingered, just off the edge of my vision. All my visions seem like this, just off the edge of sight, the peripheral within the liminal, only there in the place one's unclosed eyes go when one looks away. He stood there before the forest-that-wasn't there, massive, what man desires in himself, what man strives to become, what man runs in terror from. Frightening in his beauty, his virility, and his indifference.
Two hours later, I stood in the middle of revelers, watching, hearing thunder in my body, not in my ears, watching. Words in song, song in screams, screams forming words which evoked, invoked, lamented arrogance, lamented destruction. I could not tear my eyes from the ringed-tree suspended from his neck, nor my mind from the unveiled invocations.
Then the moment of the sun's height. Fumbling pages could not conceal the intention. The sky fell away, though the Great Light lingered, and beyond the encircled figures (nimbused in this other world in white and yellow) the trees and beyond the trees the stars. The crown raised, the sword heft, another union accomplished both here and always, a thousand times over, a thousand times at once. Ancients watched with us, stag, hawk, bear and salmon saluted, and then the unwound ring and snacks.
Crossing the bridge away from that place another vision, warm gold across vast fields, but then the sun's red was fire, and the field burned, and I looked away.
They hide, just as we do. We'd patent their genes if they had bodies we could imprison, we'd sell them connected plastic if they worked as we do. They hide, we hide.
We hide from each other. I've known men who hide their glances behind lenses and then note their interest later in unread forums. Those who look and look away, down, and search the phone in their hand to divine another's preferences, occupation, length.
We hide behind screens, yes, but we hide behind masks, too. I know a man whose dark profundity is hidden behind manic joy. I know another who veils his deep awareness from his friends with frivolity. A third whose radiant beauty is cloistered by diminished presence, a fourth who has cached his exhalted brilliance inside a shell of apparent stupidity.
We hide behind masks, and we hide behind mirrors, we hide from each other and we hide from ourselves.
It is no surprise they hide from us, but I have learned, lately, they are not hiding very well.
They are only barely out of sight, it seems, lingering like the forest just beyond the concrete, the sea below the pavement, the bird-song and laughter heard but unseen.
It is no wonder, I understand, that we do not see them well, as we can barely stand to look at each other. Was it not said "how can you love god whom you have not seen when you do not love man whom you have seen?"
There is a strand of paganism which believes the gods and the spirits are all within us, aspects of our own (collective) personality. While this is not my experience, I can understand how one reaches this conclusion. Something must change within in order for that which is without to be glimpsed, a way of looking away must become a way of looking at, a way of seeing must become a way of unseeing and then seeing again.
For me it has been this. When I look away, just before I look again, I attempt to look at what it was I didn't notice. In between the glance and the glance, the gaze and the regard, is the Other, hidden, like our selves, like each other, in plain sight.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
I've begun editing more of my novel (a manuscript I completed a few years back). It's called The Jhen of Winter, and I've just posted the second chapter. I've wild hopes of completing the edit before leaving for Europe in early September.
Feedback is dearly desired. Feel free to comment on the pages themselves or by email:
industrialise [at] gmail [dot] com
Feedback is dearly desired. Feel free to comment on the pages themselves or by email:
industrialise [at] gmail [dot] com
Monday, June 17, 2013
Thirteen years ago, after a short stint of semi-homelessness (homeless by federal definitions, but I only slept in bushes a few times), I moved into a house which was to become my home the better part of my adult life.
I have stories of the place, for a place is not just a background or setting for a story, but it is a story in itself. Sun-soaked evenings upon a porch overlooking a lake and the mountains, clinging to the edge of the most interesting and living neighborhood in Seattle. Strangers have stopped and stared, taken photos and waved, sometimes looked longingly, sometimes shaken in frenzied prayer at the abode before them, a hundred-year old house with (Viking, pirate, prayer and upside-down American) flags waving in breezes which spun storms of dancing sun-motes reflected from an ancient disco ball. Salvaged plants and bells adorned the crumbling banister over which I’d look, sipping tea, sometimes unclothed, at the strange, adorable urban world into which I’d rooted.
And I’ve paid 250 dollars a month for my place in this house, this city, this world.
And Then Progress Came
I’ve been here long enough to remember the economic collapses and downturns and recessions or whatever words we summon to describe what happens when each new wave of “progress” ebbs out back to the sea of failed ideas. With each new surge came some grand plan whole classes within the city embraced, a new idea (which seemed always an old idea, one those old enough might remember) to usher the ambitious into the future. I got here just before the internet start-ups started ending-down. Money everywhere, new restaurants and clubs and stores to sell to all the sorts of people who knew what they were doing, knew they were living the future.
And then that ended, and people fled. I’ve never really figured out where most of them went. I didn’t know many of them, because they had more money than I did.
Then biotech. Suddenly the largest university here started down-sizing its liberal-arts department to make way for all the new science students, canceling its direct-transfer agreements with the community colleges to attract more out-of-state, out-of-country tuition. Whole streets were razed to make room for the future, and people who’d lived in places like mine found themselves scrambling to find new places to live. But there were fewer and fewer places to which to run, because with all the new “industry,” all the new progress, came the new buildings replacing the old.
A little later (when the rush for bio-medicines began to lag, when we all realized it would take decades to make medicine from genes, not weeks) came the “housing bubble.” Suddenly everyone wanted a house, even if they didn’t want to live in one. Suddenly it was the “thing to do,” and I couldn’t escape the conversations at bars discussing how it was an easy way to make money. Middle-class white homosexuals started leaving the “gay” neighborhood for other places where there were houses, and when people decried the change of the neighborhood’s character, ridiculous and irresponsible articles in the local alternative papers (written by white gay men) declared “the gay ghetto” to be a dangerous notion, a primitive throw-back to the time when people didn’t like gays. Gays had to progress, and home-ownership was the future.
That didn’t last so long, either.
The Spirit of Place
Recently, there’ve been a few brutal crimes against sexual-deviants in my neighborhood, accompanied by utter shock that such a thing could happen in our brave new present future.
Under all of this has been a completely different change, unmarked by most because it is not a measure by which we mark things. Spirit of place is not something many people can speak of without getting blank stares. It can be defined in multiple ways, cannot be scientifically measured, and is therefore not quantifiable and does not enter into most conversations when one discusses displacement of people.
But it is something that is felt, anecdotally, by those who stay in a place long enough to become part of it. Live somewhere long enough and you will know it. Participate in its growth, open yourself up to its personality, and you will know it well.
“The neighborhood has changed,” goes the most common complaint, the most common remark. “I don’t recognize it any more” is another. And sometimes, “The Hill is dead.”
Buildings go up, buildings are torn down. Streets are widened, narrowed. Faces change, faces flee. Conversations between strangers diminish, conversations into wireless devices increase. Familiar bars and cafes disappear. New ones arrive, different, sometimes adequate, sometimes less so. But things are different.
It’s facile, puerile, and utterly shallow merely to utter “people don’t like change.” I love change, I love things being different, but I do not like things disappearing, being torn down, being destroyed and rebuilt. I don’t like prices increasing, I don’t like rents getting raised. I don’t like feeling unsafe, unfamiliar in the city I’ve chosen to make my home.
What I do like, what I crave—is being part of the spirit of the place. There is a simple yet profound joy in tending a garden which needs (really) very little help from a human to grow—participating in its existence, being part of it is much of the pleasure and provides much of the meaning. On a larger scale, a neighborhood requires the people within it to exist, and requires certain things of certain people to maintain it. The old man wearing skirts and bells is one of its shepherds, as is the old hunch-backed lady who still manages to smile despite being bent at an almost perfect right-angle. The bartenders, the shop-keeps, the baristas, the bus-drivers, the leather-queens and street-punks and all the “normal” people in between them tend the Spirit of Place. They are each replaceable to some degree, but not all at once
Capitalism and Displacement
When we decide to move from one place to another, to leave a city for a new one, or a suburb, or the countryside, we individually weigh multiple factors. Amongst those--and I dare say a significant part of them--are economic and aesthetic factors. Where jobs can be found is often the most important, but so, equally, is where a good and interesting life can be lived. We each experience this as a set of decisions based on free-will, but there is an external engine which affects these internal decisions.
In most of history, when there are large-scale migrations of whole groups of people, it is usually due to war, famine, or natural disaster. But in Capitalism, in the forced-march of Progress, this is the every-day. Economists refer to it as "mobility," and it was recently a thing for politicians to blame joblessness on the immobility of certain workers living hundreds of miles from open job positions. We move for "opportunity" and flee "cost." We re-locate for cheaper housing, or livelier neighborhoods, or to avoid poverty.
One of the most useful ides of Marx is his description of how the demands of Capital(ism) alter social relations. The birth of Capitalism in the 1700's in England began a process of endless displacement which started with farmers who rented their land no longer able to afford these rents and fleeing to the new factories where they could still find a way to survive off their labor. These migrations emptied villages and flooded towns, broke apart old friendships and customs and families and, quite importantly, disconnected people from the sense of place they once felt. They left one location, one Spirit of Place for another, one to which they were new and unaccustomed.
Capitialism and Progress
A short diversion is useful here, to explain how the Progres and Capitalism relate. Adam Smith, the first evangelist of Capitalism, is known for many things, including “the invisible hand of the market” and the doctrine of self-interest as benefiting all. However, one of the most important contributions he made to the justification of Capitalism gets ignored quite often, his doctrine of the “imperative of improvement.” He justified the taking of native lands in North America by the virtue that they were doing nothing with it, that is, not improving it.
Improvement is one of the imperatives of Capitalism, for, to compete with others, one must constantly be producing more, or better, or more efficiently. This imperative became quickly the very ethic of Capitalism, its command: improve or die. An economy must grow every year or it is dying, one must make at least a little more each year than the next, charge a little more rent each year, etc.
And one of the ways to do this is to destroy what was before, which cost less, and replace it with something that generates more money. An old apartment building housing only 30 people for which those tenants would only ever pay $600 a month gets torn down and replaced by 60 units at twice the price. This is improvement.
This is Progress.
This is displacement
Modern materialism and secular scientific pop-philosophy has left us with very few ways to define what has happened around us. We can point to the sadness we feel when the familiar goes away, we can talk of our fear or frustration. We can use terms like “gentrification” or “character” to describe the processes of our loss, but it all falls ultimately flat.
Understanding the external forces of this changes helps somewhat, which is why I will never relinquish my Marxism. But even still, it fails to describe that certain specific thing we collectively experience when everything changes around us, the cause of the shared trauma. And it’s a “first-world problem,” particularly, as the land we’re living on is not ancestrally ours and was taken from people experiencing even more significant trauma (and death) from the coming of whites. But it is a trauma nevertheless, experienced on a numb level which leaves us full of words which never quite describe our rage and loss.
The Genius Loci
A pagan concept helps significantly here. In latin, the Genius Loci was the name given for the spirit of a place, an existent guardian spirit. Many pagans believe such a thing really exists, but one does not need to be a pagan to see the use of such a concept. The Spirit of Place can still exist to a materialist, a Christian, or an agnostic with as much meaning as to one who believes it can be named and spoken to.
There are migrations to this city from other cities, foreigners flooding in with their strange customs and disregard for this Spirit of Place. I’m not talking about immigrants (who tend as a whole to be more aware of the concept of Spirit of Place than most Americans). I mean, in Seattle’s case, southern California. But where they are from doesn’t matter (though if I hear another group of heavily-cologned straight men shout their Orange County zip codes at each other across the street on a Friday night…). What matters is that they are new, they do not yet know the Spirit of Place, and they alter it.
And I would be remiss if I did not point out these people experienced the same pressure as we do now. While I want to vomit a little when I think of some of them being mere refugees from other Genius Loci, displaced by the engine of Progress, it is more-than-likely true,
Another way to look at it exists, though—the pain of the Spirit of Place, the confusion of the Genius Loci, the loss it experiences as whole parts of its long-time devotees flee from its boundaries and new ones come in, too new to be known by it, too money-obsessed to spend the effort learning of its character and personality, maybe even too traumatized by previous loss to embrace a new Spirit of Place, still clinging to old ideas, old familiarities.
To be fair, admixture isn’t bad. New blood, new ideas, new faces—these are all what keep cities alive, what refreshes and expands the personality of a city, what strengthens and fortifies the Spirit of Place. Change is not bad, but nor is it inherently good.
Cities can expand, neighborhoods can grow. But when the guardians of the guardian of a place are chased out, when what made the place safe, interesting, exciting and alluring to those who lived there and those who wanted to live there flee, this is not a thing to be celebrated, nor, really, even to be sighed at.
It is to be mourned.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Early this year, after a great sorrow and a sudden re-awakening of parts of myself that I’d let go dormant (or likely consciously buried—I don’t know, and there’s no one to tell me this answer), I initiated into the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. I needed to.
I had dreams, you see.
A massive, diverse throng “from all nations” waiting to get into a skyscraper, entering a passcode at the great mirrored-glass doors. I didn’t know the code. I was terrified, because I needed to get in. A man took pity on me, saw my confusion, asked what worried me. I told him I didn’t know the code, and he said, “Oh. It’s Brighid. You can tell by the way the rain is falling on your cloak, and in-between the rain.” I entered, and I was in an immense, ancient temple. But what does this mean? I don’t know. There’s nothing to tell me.
A lover and I with a third man. A woman washing dishes in a sink, watching as I watch her back rather than participate. She tells me it will be okay, beckons me elsewhere. And then I am on paths, and a woman with a cauldron stops me and questions me, and I answer, and then I am allowed on those paths. What are those paths? Who were those women? I have only guesses and suspicions, because there is no-one who collects these dreams and suggests what they mean.
Another dream. Me attempting to escape from a massive house familiar to at least one friend (and, from what I’ve learned, possibly three others). I can throw myself off cliffs, but I don’t. I take a difficult (but not deadly) path which leads me back towards someone I was fleeing, and two figures stop me (one in shadow, one in light, “and he a face still forming”) block my path. The one in light wears my the same flute case I carry, and he asks me, “did you forget your recorder? You shouldn’t forget your recorder.” And I am left for days with only “hints and guesses” at who they are and what this means.
There are many, many more dreams. But consider my waking hours.
I ask a question of a goddess. The next day, the answer comes to me in the voice of another, seeming unbidden. But this could be just co-incidence, and I don’t know how the gods work.
I am given stones and crystals, and they do what they are purported to do, and very well. But this could be just superstition and placebo.
I pour some wine out to a god known to enjoy that sort of thing, and suddenly I am flooded with random, incredibly erotic encounters with men so much so that I have to stop for my own balance (and certain parts of me need a bit of rest). But maybe I was just looking for it, and the god had nothing to do with it, but I don’t know, because few who deal with that god have written books about his ways in the present.
I can calm a schizophrenic, except maybe I can’t and just think I can. Or maybe this is just good counseling skills.
I have waking visions where I am somewhere else, I am someone else. A voice speaks, and I listen to what it says, and suddenly certain things happen in my life that go better, easier. I could consult a Christian priest and get an exorcism, I could consult a psychiatrist, and get medications.
A god appeared on the face of a lover the other night. His face contorted, I saw different features, a mirthful sneer or an ecstatic delight. The next day, a friend who’d seen this god in dreams (unless he’s wrong, too), shows me a drawing of this god, and it is the same. And what, I ask, do you dare do with that?
I have a very strong sense of self and will. I have lived my entire life as my own. I am from the dregs of the lower classes, I am gay, I look like a thug, I live with other people in a crumbling but beautiful house for an eighth of the rent that any of my friends pay. I do not care what people think of me, I raised myself and my little sisters from the time I was 13. I enjoy being a fool, getting kicked out of bars for dousing conservatives with my beer, I will say ridiculous things in public to ease tension.
I believe ridiculous things, like Capitalism is evil. I’ve been to jail because I believe this, and thought it was kind of cool. I would rather live poor than dress well. I’ve had my genitals out at inappropriate times, including in the middle of busy intersections with other people doing the same thing, in high heels.
This is all to say, I don’t care what other people say or think of me, and I am completely happy to come to my own conclusions about things, to live my life the way I want to, to build my own world and embrace the (almost unmanageable) throng of wonderful, beautiful people who have thought I’m doing something amazing.
And yet, there is no one to tell me what the gods mean, what they want. I have to dig. I have to churn through libraries (I read more than almost anyone I know, and it’s not enough). I have to consult others, Tarot, the stars, the spirits, my own soul, my Order, the flights of birds. I compare this all to what the science says, what the histories suggest.
And I have come to conclusions, yes, and I’m happy with my conclusions, and I now have theories, I know have fragments of a (gasp) theology.
And it’s ridiculous that I’ve had to do this all myself. Hours and hours on the internet sorting through discussions with no clear reference and in no obvious direction. Morbid fear derived from the terror that there’s something wrong with me until I risk asking an uncomfortable question to a stranger and find out they’ve seen the same, they’ve heard the same, that there is a pattern here, a system, that there are shared beliefs amongst scattered, isolated, strong-willed souls already used to being thought of as freaks, subaltern, wrong.
Where can those of us without such strong will, already scarred so thoroughly by the wounds of difference that we no longer feel the pain of our different paths, go? There are initiatory orders, and these are great but far from perfect or sufficient. There are festivals and gatherings, leaderless (and I’m an anarchist, so I’m not advocating what you suspect I might be) where the only guidance is provided by “the land” or a helpful older man who will guide you after you ride his cock for awhile. Great for those of us who don’t mind that sort of thing, but I am in yet another minority here, and this idea really should make anyone a bit nauseous when they consider the abuse inherent in such center-less “teaching moments.”
There’s an obvious reluctance to tell anyone what something means. That’s fine. Don’t.You might be wrong, too, and that's a frightful risk. You might be right, and that's even scarier.
And there’s an obvious danger in being told what something means, particularly if the recipient of this knowledge has no experience parsing stuff out. Taking stuff at face value, without using your mind--that's the stuff fascism and hegemony is built upon.
Orthodoxy requires Heresy. The High Priest (or the Heirophant) can be upright or reversed. This seems commonsense, but it cannot be reversed if we remove it from our deck, tear it into pieces, and declare that we all must find our own way and don’t need or want those sorts of people who are actually good at making connections between other peoples’ experiences and patterning this together into something that works.
The theorist, the theologian is a weaver, and the woven threads are our collective experiences of the spirits, the gods, the Other. Smash the loom if the tapestry makes no sense, binds you instead of liberates you. I’ll help.
Or better, show that weaver someone else’s tapestry. Compare the two, or ten, or hundred. None of us wants just one weaver (and if that happens, I’ll happily help break that weaver’s fingers). But for the love of the gods, or, better yet, for the love of all of us struggling alone, consider learning to weave, or finding us some people who dare.