A Hidden Optimism: Going On from the Last Essay

From Funny Times

In the last essay I seemed to compare people to primordial mud. Of course, I wrote it as a comedy, which is to say, the entire essay is excessively optimistic about people, and is only making a generously indulged joke on behalf of a gifted species at the verge of developing into a new form of life and intelligence. But if people approach it pessimistically (I don’t see how they can, given the parameters of my essays in general), then it would be received as ridicule. But I was writing this in resonance with Beckett’s approach. He also tempts people to read him pessimistically. But everything he wrote was a double-entendre. A different kind of humor is revealed when you discover his hidden optimism.

These essays presume several optimistic things (and I don’t expect agreement and I’m not looking for debate, only the willingness to entertain the angle of vision as long as it lasts):

1) that human beings are troubled, but gifted animals; and

2) That human beings are at the verge of realizing a new form of intelligence, a new way of being.

Hence, the metaphor of a primordial awakening.

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“That’s the Show, Waiting for the Show”: The Mysterious “Subject” that Hides in the Shadow of Attention

mirror

Some might think I’m dawdling over preliminaries. Like I’m endlessly adjusting my coat and tie, but never actually going out on stage and performing anything. All backstage banter.

That’s not wrong. In these essays the subject itself is backstage banter – the behind-the-scenes mumbling in our own heads.

It’s very hard to find anyone raring to talk about the way we frame reality back there. It throws unpleasant light on our habits of denial, repression and justification, which keep us consistent if nothing else. So this subject is almost inherently “uninteresting” to anyone who considers themselves already sane.

Thankfully I don’t. And neither do some of you. However, you’re almost unlocatable as a group. No demographic defines you. So I’m not even addressing you directly. I feel like we’re sitting side-by-side under a tree together, sharing a slightly psychoactive substance. What we have in common is the willingness (I suppose) to recognize a certain insanity in ourselves and not push the subject aside as a dull complacency. We’re willing to see our condition as abnormal, which is a surprising relief. Because if this way of life isn’t “normal”, then we can begin healing. Otherwise it’s just a condition defining us in some conclusive sense. I guess I’d rather be considered insane than evil.Read More »

Coils and Spirals

This is a surreal comedy with a tinge of terror. It was based on a dream, and seems to have something to do with the state of the world, but also with writing itself — the difficulty of calling anyone’s attention to the Jungian shadows. Here’s a recording of me telling the story: 

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A while back I discovered a part of town I hadn’t known. This was odd because I live in a small city. We’re surrounded by farmer’s fields, they press upon the city walls. Farms and farms, their fumes invade every spring and summer, heralded by legions of pillaging flies, forcing our retreat block by block, week by week, until we find ourselves by August or September in the last green oasis for hundreds of pesticide-ravaged miles, which is the city park, a tangle of briars and downed trees, a green confusion which is never easy to find, perhaps never even in the same place.

I hesitated to say anything about my discovery for months, because I was afraid that the news would make me and everyone else who grew up here look stupid, misplacing, for god’s sake, an entire neighborhood.

Of course, my aunt ignored the gist of what I told her to resume arguing that we’ve not only lived here all our lives, but for all eternity. She repeated the argument daily, and said she was condemned to repeat it the next day, too. She would say time is a loop of dramas, sitcoms, tragedies, and other forms of farce, one following the other, the same characters, the same punch lines, but you’d need to have a perspective like hers, spanning billions of years, to notice that you’ve played these roles before. The theory alone was good enough to make my aunt feel trapped in a giant hamster wheel, panting for air. That was her preferred state of mind, anyways, favoring the stability of a known horror over any unsuspected risk, no matter how small, which is why the deep silos of her eyes glowed bloodshot red, and why she tirelessly scanned the world for confirmation of her worst fears, so she could blow them out of all proportion, and feel moderately relieved when her worry proved exaggerated.

It was a preemptive claustrophobia that rebounded in a momentary illusion of spaciousness.Read More »

The Problem with Guardian Angels: A Very Short and Steep Comedy

Madelleine Elizabeth Fitzroy, my client, so to speak, died on May 12th, 2021. The obituary in the Seneca Falls newspaper was thin, but not inaccurate. “Madelleine E. Fitzroy (Sherman) died peacefully in her sleep on May 12th. She was pre-deceased 12 years by her husband Harold Mackinack “Mack” Fitzroy. They had two children, Phillip (Jenner) and Maureen (Johnson), and three grandchildren, Elizabeth, Benjamin and Dwyer. She loved to cook and enjoyed playing cards with her friend.”

That was published this morning, two days since she died.

She loved to cook and enjoyed playing cards with her friends (it should have been plural). Otherwise, that’s about it. I couldn’t have added too much more without delving into private matters. I know so much because I’m her guardian angel, and she was my “better half” as we quip up here sometimes, while waiting.

There wasn’t much else to do but wait, because she didn’t live a very dangerous life. Oh, I had to step in a few times, once when she got stung by bees, and then when she almost choked on a liverwurst sandwich while arguing with her husband. I also steered her away from courting Gene Abbott, although Mack Fitzroy wasn’t much better.

You call us guardian angels but I’m more like her reflection in a higher dimension, so our fates are tied. Tomorrow, on the third day since her bodily death — on what you call “judgement day”, but which we know as True Death — she’ll either rise like a feather or sink like a stone. But up or down my fate is tied to hers.

My job is to convince her to rid herself of all her attachments, because any extra weight will cause a soul to sink, and there are all kinds of rumors about what happens down there.

OK, I’m off to meet Maddy in the “flesh” so to speak. And I’ll write these notes as I go, hovering as it were above myself (and a little to the left), which is a skill reserved for those of us in this dimension, sorry.

There she is, already standing in line, holding the memory of her old suitcase.

Damn it, next to her are 4 or 5 elderly ladies and gents of a similar constitution, all yakkety-yakking away as if they were waiting for a bus to Vegas.

The other guardian angels already look frustrated

“… and so I said to her, ‘you think you’re the only one with troubles like that, I got a son in law who won’t even talk to me until I tap him on the head and say “what’s up, buddy?” and then he only says ‘nothin’’ and goes back to playing with his phone. It wasn’t like this when we were young”

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The Need for Comedy and Illusion

The problem with essays is that they tempt the writer to speak from a podium of sorts, as if he or she (let’s say he, because I’m talking about myself obviously), as if he were Walter Cronkite, the last representative of the True Believers in solid facts at the center of life, fading out to extremes of fantasy on the left and right.

But that’s not a valid picture of honesty, because there is no solid center if I am learning. The center is precisely the place where suspension and uncertainty live. Nothing is known; all is shifting perspective.

But in saying this I end up sounding like I’m standing at a podium again, and the hypocrisy this generates is fascinating, if nothing else.

Essays generally leave a stench of dishonesty no matter how honest they try to be. I think there’s another way to write essays, and that’s what I’m exploring.

I wish I could ask the reader to bear with me while I say this next sentence, because this statement is just a door to a larger room, but here it is: I’m not really interested in helping anyone. That’s not why I write. I write because I enjoy tracking down and confronting my own dishonesties.

What I am, at best, is honest about my own dishonesties. And I DO think that facing dishonesty is a good thing for the culture, because the culture is not facing its dishonesties, and I’m pretty sure that this will shortly be the cause of our extinction. But even if I feel this way, that’s not my motive.

I think it’s the other way around: I don’t think I can have a motive if I’m honest. I think I can only have a motive to be dishonest. Honesty is merely being without duplicity. There’s no effort involved if there’s no duplicity. So honesty is an empty condition, negated of all efforts, which are in fact efforts to hide from myself. So honesty is incredibly lazy, a slacker of sorts. There’s nothing moral about it. I do nothing and I’m honest. If I do something about it, then I’m squirming, looking for an advantage, an improvement, anything but the truth.

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A Fly Fable (Which Includes the Amoral of the Story)

fly

Act 1

Eugene yawned. He dreaded another day of banging his head against the glass.

His friend Leslie, however, was eager to get started.

“Yesterday that precocious young fly Skip said he felt the glass in the upper pane softening a little. Let’s get cracking! Today’s the day, I can feel it.”

Eugene stretched his wings and nibbled on sun-dried bacteria. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

Most of the flies stuck between the storm window and the regular window were already banging away.

Eugene stretched his wing again.

His world measured approximately 64 inches by 26 inches by 5 inches. The majority of flies were banging on the glass facing the interior of the house, and not on the storm window to the outside. That’s because the curtains in the little shack were usually closed, which made the interior window into a weak mirror reflecting the trees and fields across the road. And that’s where they wanted to go.

And all memory of night, when they had banged away on the storm window facing the dark fields and trees, had by then faded into legend.

“Eugene thinks he can sit there all day and reap the benefits of our hard work!” a fly named Bixby complained, when he saw Eugene slowly crawling his way towards them.

“Yeh, but guys, how many generations of flies have been trying to get out of this window?” Eugene said, looking down again at the piles of corpses on the sill.

“Oh, listen to Mr doom and gloom!” Bixby said. “Legend has it that a fly named Boris flew out this very window and into those yonder trees!” Bixby shifted a wing to point at a shimmering mirage of a tree. “So how’d he do it? Not by moaning, but by banging that’s how.”Read More »

The Oven Mitt: A Comedy About Psychopathy, Guilt, Fascism and Death

Oven mitts

I feel sorry for the left oven mitt because we don’t really need it. Sometimes I wear it when it’s not necessary, just to give it a boost.

This sounds like I’m trying to be cute, but it’s a raw confession. This is no joke: I recently bought a bottle of beet juice because I felt sorry for the bottle. It was like trying to walk past a homeless dog. And I even spoke comforting words to the bottle as it languished in my refrigerator for weeks, before I finally had to throw it out, because it tasted like shit.

It makes me sick to hear how amused I sound by my own antics. But it’s the act of confession that provides some needed respite, and respite always produces a certain giddiness. That’s why priests always thought I was making stuff up in the Confession booth. As a result, I don’t think they gave me sufficient penance. But it’s confusing the way they made us worship a statue, and then believe that a tasteless wafer was the body of Jesus. They encouraged us to blur the line between animate and inanimate just as we were learning in school that nothing is real unless it can be measured, and everything is basically an automaton, including our own biological drives and patterns of thinking.Read More »