Unending darkness (Dark: TV: Spoilers: ish)

I live in a very small town. I moved here 30 years ago, but others have lived here longer, grew up here, have parents who grew up here. One of those parents once told me that in the very small local high school, by the time they graduated everybody had fucked pretty much everybody else.

This seems to be the basic idea of the German Sci-Fi show “Dark”, now finishing in its third season on Netflix, except that in that small town, some aspergery dude at some point invented time travel, so that everybody ended up fucking other versions of each other all throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first century. Thus they all ended up being each other’s grandmothers and uncles and what not. On top of that, the inventor guy managed to split the world into two parallel, interconnected worlds, so that you had people from parallel universes fucking each other and giving rise to babies with even more peculiar lineages, such as one whose father was never even born in that world.

The worlds of Dark are full of light and shadow (licht und schatten) and it’s a hell of a ride to the end. Its incomprehensible complexity and confusion is the story itself. I respect that. The only question that remains is why any of these people would ever trust each other for a moment. They’re all such liars and cheaters and secret-keepers, but my own little town is like that, and also like my own little town, no one in that German town ever seems to leave. Even when a bus pulls up and they’re sitting there waiting at the stop, they don’t get on the fucking bus.

The toast made in the last scene summed the whole thing up very nicely. I’d give the show 5 stars, but also many more.

Fathers and father figures

My father died yesterday, age 93, after many years of increasing dementia and disability. He was not at all the same person he used to be, except in certain elemental ways. He would still laugh at his longtime favorite sayings (“here’s your hat what’s your hurry?”, “I’ll never forget old whats-his-name”) and his laugh was legendary, always the loudest in any group setting. His life was long and complicated, with many roads taken and many roads not.

As a radical intellectual of Jewish heritage he found his academic career blocked and stymied by McCarthyist blacklists in the fifties, after having served in the Air Force in WWII and gone through college and graduate school on the G.I. bill. His promised teaching positions at Harvard and then Columbia suddenly dried up and he found himself at a small woman’s college where he remained for decades. Author of several inscrutable books of fascinating premises, he found eventual fulfillment in the founding and leadership of a Gestalt Therapy Institute, a position of influence and localized renown. Beloved and respected in his field, he was a person of great value in many lives. Warm, compassionate, thoughtful and sensitive, he was essentially a good man.

Not that he didn’t have his flaws, among them a rocky marriage racked by his own dishonesty and betrayals, yet a marriage that lasted until my mother’s death, a total of nearly 70 years. Gestalt therapy pulled them through to an old age rich in companionship and care, along with a crusty accumulation of assorted grievances and general crankiness. My mother would scold him for desiring a cookie, for instance. We teased her for her tendency to say things like “you can’t possibly be hungry. You had a tomato yesterday!”

My father was a sports enthusiast, to the point where his doctor forbade him from watching the Eagles on TV. He was an avid tennis and badminton player, a basketball player in his Indiana youth, and a tenacious competitor. He enjoyed licorice and imported beer. He was also a relentless flirt, known for commenting on the physical attributes of nearly every woman he saw. A man of his times, he spared himself from most effort involved in child rearing, though he had four sons. He contributed little assistance with laundry, cooking, cleaning, shopping, baby-sitting, helping with homework, communicating with teachers, et cetera. Yet he considered himself a feminist and certainly respected and assisted many women professionally, whether he slept with them or not.

An avowed socialist and atheist, he was fiercely anti-war, anti-racist, anti-corporate, pro-union and worked locally to support radical charities in the local community. We were an odd family, commie pinko jews-of-a-sort in a well-off very-white and segregated suburban Republican-dominated area. There were hardly any families like ours for miles around. We should have been somewhere else; New York City most appropriately, and probably would have been were it not for the blacklisting.

My parents had their friends but very few family friends (the main ones moved away from the neighborhood when I was very young) and no relatives nearby. They rarely entertained at home or had casual visitors. It was a large and largely quiet house, especially as we grew and peeled off one by one. And in growing up, all of us boys were mainly attached to our mother. She was the involved parent, and the one you could talk to. If my father ever came to speak with you, you knew it was going to be like an unwanted therapy session, where he would grill you on how you were “feeling” and of course you could never tell him. You “felt” that he wouldn’t understand.  His own father had been either distant and uninterested, or violent and full of rage. My father was terrified of his own father and I don’t know if he ever overcame that, truly.

I used to say that I never needed a father figure because my father *was* my father figure. Now, at the age of 62, I have no idea what I meant by that. Was it just words, some kind of cute writerly thing that meant nothing? It is true I never sought out any older men for acceptance or validation, but then I never sought out anyone for that, and never got it from anyone either, except from my own wife and child. Did I never need or want it, or did I just give up at some point? I have no idea. The person I am now looks back at the people I used to be as if they were strangers. I don’t know what the hell they were thinking, or what they thought they were doing. All I know is that the results of my earlier deeds and choices led me to where I am now, to who I am now – assuming I am actually anyone and not just a busy mathematical equation that keeps adding variables and re-calculating day-by-day, to no end whatsoever, an equation that is never complete and never resolves.

My father as well was a mathematical equation. You can plug in his strengths and weaknesses, accomplishments and failures, insights and blind spots, wise and foolish actions, plus the impacts of all the external forces that acted upon him, minus the opportunities denied, times the hours and days and months and years, divided by the struggles and resistances encountered. There is no determination of a self.

He believed very strongly that radical change in the world was essential. People could not be healed until society was healed and society could not be improved until people themselves improved. He was very much influenced by radical thinkers like Franz Fanon, Paul Goodman, John MacMurrary and Paolo Freire. He was idealistic, optimistic, and quite often depressed by the indecency and ignorance of the actual world of humans. He was, however, spared the knowledge of the current presidency and its shameful vileness and idiocy. He was happy in the end, pretty much, the kind of happiness that only comes with a freshly scrubbed brain.

I loved my father. He only beat me once, and I deserved it. I respected him even though he lied to my face. He sometimes let me down but I certainly let him down as well. He smelled of Old Spice and gave us all crew cuts every summer. He made me rub his back but we did difficult jigsaw puzzles together. His interest in music was limited to the chamber/classical kind. He never read fiction and really didn’t understand why anyone would. He loved to laugh. He often sang (too loudly) the same old wartime shanties he’d learned as a youth in the brothels of occupied Germany. Most of the family trips he took us on were to civil rights or anti-war demonstrations in D.C. or N.Y.C..

His most lasting legacy, for me personally, was the year he took us all to live in Bologna, Italy for a year. He was on a sabbatical and writing his first book (Psychoanalysis: Radical and Conservative) and he used to walk my little brother and me to our elementary school every morning. That was the time I felt closest to him (I was ten years old). I will always cherish him for that great gift.

One lump or two

I’m still here, taking it one lump at a time, as far as tumors go, but rarely feeling like putting together words one after another.

Increasingly I’m finding the distinctions between economic systems to be symbolic differences, mainly; different myths more than different realities. The dIvine right of kings, the bootstraps of Horatio Alger, the evils of transnational neoliberal monopoly capital, Workers of the world uniting, Robber barons, Railroad heirs, Tyrants, Juntas, benevolent dictators, Jah Ras Tafari, The leisure class, The man of the people, from Peronism to Trumpism (the Fat Elvis du jour), the ever-longed-for yet derided-as-pedestrian middle class, the people united being continually defeated.

Degrees of inequality shift a bit here and there, power doesn’t always come from the barrel of a gun but frequently through propaganda and/or charisma and all too often from the sheer madness of crowds. Anyone can become a genocidal maniac, now even for free through online instruction!
Is our children learning anything new under the sun?
Who knew that “the world will never be the same again” after Covid-19, just as it was never the same after 9-11, but somehow I doubt this thing is equivalent to the Khmer Rouge. This upheaval is going to nibble at the margins, predicts Nostrathomas. People are gregarious social animals. They can’t be locked down for long.

Adapt and die

We know that living things change to adapt to conditions and those that survive, succeed in reproducing. That’s as far as they get because, of course, they die after that. Whether their progeny need to change to adapt or not depends on later conditions. The thing that changed to adapt is long gone by then. So then, evolution.

We love to use it as a metaphor, applying it willy-nilly as if those applications were living things – memes, cultural evolution, the stories we tell – getting it all mixed up because metaphors are not living things. They change, it’s true, to adapt, and they go away in time, but like trash they are lost or thrown away. That is not death. Non-living things do not die. Don’t get confused.

When a drug is used to treat a disease and that disease changes to adapt so that the drug is no longer effective, it is not a metaphor. The “disease” is a living thing. Reality bites.

“Even dreams must fall to rules. So stupidly. Words are all just useless sound. Just like cards they fall around. And we will be” – Sister Europe, Psychedelic Furs

Cancer is a living thing that does what it needs to do to reproduce. It changes to adapt. It does now know that the thing it does leads inevitably to the death of its host, thus to its own death as well, because it cannot reproduce outside of the host. Cancer is not contagious. When it figures out the trick the drug is using to equip the immune system to destroy it, it finds another trick, if it can. If it can find another trick, it survives, succeeds in reproducing. Cancer cells are not immortal. The ones that changed to adapt are long gone by the time their progeny are using the trick and passing it on to theirs.

It’s tempting in these lockdown times to use metaphors but living things are not words. Don’t forget that. They tell us that viruses are not living things, but bacteria are. Viruses don’t exactly reproduce. They are copy machines. They get cells to make copies of themselves. The copies overwhelm the cells, bust out, and the copies get other cells to make copies, and so on. The virus is not a living thing, but the cells it uses are destroys are living things.

Metaphors are fun, though, so we, us human beings (living things) make machines (non-living things) to help us do the things we do to change and adapt, survive and reproduce. The machines do things to the world we live in (as do we) and the things that are done (factory fumes, car exhaust, chemical spills, nuclear waste, pollution of every kind) overwhelm the world, hurting, breaking and killing all sorts of living things. The human-as-cancer metaphor hooks up with a machine-as-virus metaphor in a successful collaboration of the living and the not. Successful in that the living thing reproduces and is long gone by the time its progeny has to change to adapt to the landscape it produced.

That landscape is not a metaphor. It’s a reality. We built nearly all of our cities next to water because at the time the technology of trade demanded it. The consequences of rising sea levels is not ironic, it’s just cause and effect. The technology of trade created it, long past the point where building cities near water was even necessary. Too late.

Lately I feel that we live so much in stories that we can’t even feel the real world. Okay, I’m speaking for myself but I sense it applies, as a metaphor if nothing else!

 

 

What to worry about, and how

That co-worker who snacks twelve times a day, crunching softly at the other desk in the doubled-up cubicle.

How bad that merge from six lanes down to two on the freeway is going to be this morning?

How many times will I hear the word “enterprise” in the eleven meetings on my schedule, and how will I avoid laughing out loud in each and every one of them?

The Internet Archive set up a “Free Emergency Library” stocked with crappy digitized versions of random books and backlist authors everywhere are concerned that someone might even find their books in that morass and deprive them of a meager portion of their meager earnings.

Is the next episode of that show going to be any better than the last?

Oh, right.

How are the eight million suddenly unemployed people going to eat?

Who do I know who is going to die this week or next?

Is that lady on aisle seven infectious?

Out with all the old concerns, in with the new, but I feel like I’ve already heard all the takes, all the opinions, all the wild-ass guesses, all the well-informed predictions, all the medical advice, all the sober analyses. Social media is even more a wasteland of conformity than ever – on the bright side, I did read that Bernie Sanders once advocated the Wilhelm Reich notion that conformity causes cancer, so now I guess if we all do what we’re supposed to do to avoid the virus … never mind.

If you live in an orgone box you’re already ahead of the curve.

Those of you who went out and “got a life”, how’s that working out for you now? Those of us who never did are having a much easier time of it.

It’s got to be something really strange to make a dent in my attention span these days – and that happened recently when watching Avenue Five on HBO and people began seeing the face of John Paul XXIII in the ring of feces circling the ship, all lit up by lasers.

Live concerts on Instagram from musicians’ living rooms are a new treat.

No doubt more innovations will follow on from all of this but I think we’re all wondering the same thing; where are all the fucking robots when we need them to be doing all the jobs?

Porch theft of packages took on a new light this week when the deliveries were cannabis.

If we were all ants or bees, we would know just what to do. Turns out that being wacky hairless apes living in a fake reality of our own creation has its drawbacks. The things that man creates cause more harm than good unto the earth (says a song by Misty in Roots).

Every time I start to worry about something I have to stop and ask myself, is this worth worrying about? Ever since I came down with stage four cancer the answer has been “no” almost every time.

The fear of death gets boring, I can tell you that much.

 

 

Meg Got Fleeced (Fragments From Books That Don’t Exist #128)

MegGotFleeced

The going was good so you know. I had heard about this spot from that person of a certain age and gender who hung around the coffee shop most days until they remodeled it for way more seating and then it was such a pain to squeeze between the new tables trying to get out so that person stopped going there. The spot was tight and out of the way. I would never have found it otherwise. I used to go fishing for sea glass and this spot was a miracle. The going was so good! It was also always low tide between the cliffs and I understand that seems impossible but there it was. Low tide forever and sea glass out the yin yang if you know what I mean. The rope that dropped from the cliff was kind of frayed and the three hundred foot drop was a bit much I will admit. I didn’t think about the way back up. I guess I figured love would find a way and I was in love with that spot. I didn’t even listen to the vagabond cursing in the parking lot about the tourists ruining everything because that is their one and only mission in life as far as I can tell. We came, we took a photo, we ruined. Something like that but in Latin. My pockets were stuffed full, so full of incredible sea glass I didn’t even notice when the tide came in for the first time in the history of the world.  I could still hear the vagabond laughing though. It sounded like the ocean.

Time is an Ocean

In his song “Oh Sister”, Bob Dylan wrote “time is an ocean, but it ends at the shore”. I’ve had that thought tossing and turning in the back of my mind in the several months since I learned to play it on the piano. Not the ‘ending at the shore’ so much as the ‘time is an ocean’ part. What does it mean to think about time in a different way, to visualize it otherwise? Time is not the seconds or the minutes or the days or the years. We all know about its relativity, how it seems slower when we’re young, faster as we age. Three minutes waiting in line is so much longer than the same three minutes dancing to your favorite song.

Riding the ferry across the San Francisco Bay to work the other morning, I was just staring out the window at the water, watching it move in all its directions, pushed by the boats, drawn by the tides, shuffled by the wind. And the thought came to me that every little flotsam floating on its surface would only see its own trajectory, would assume that everything else in the world is flowing along with it, unaware of all the other movements. So we each move and change along our own paths, occasionally criss-crossing or encountering or colliding with others on theirs, but for the most part never encountering, never seeing, never imagining all the other infinite things and beings on all the other infinite journeys they’re on. Time is nothing but “all the things” continously changing, from the subatomic to the universal and all the ranges in between.

Time is an ocean and ‘it ends at the shore’, which means (to me, at this moment) that that “time” is something personal, that belongs to you. It’s your time and yours alone that can end, that gets ‘washed up’, that ceases to be conscious of changing and eventually ceases to be one thing that changes but instead breaks down into many things that take up their own travels and changes on their own paths.

A bacterial lament

my gut bacteria wants to go back
back to siberia
based on reasoned criteria
and not just hysteria.

it had never intended
to be here to stay
now it’s here to say
on behalf of the viruses, genes and microbia,
it’s got technophobia.
it sees what we’re doing
with the sand and cement
a bacterial lament.
its resident utopia has developed myopia
and can’t see the forest or trees.
all two million genes
asking nice,
pretty please.
let us go home
where the reindeer all roam
and the ice remains frozen
all day.

heart of gold? no, just getting old

I felt it more strongly the other day than ever before – the feeling that I’m getting old. One of the worst things about it, I’m discovering, is the weariness that comes with history constantly repeating itself and generations coming and going. The generations that go take with them their own witness to events. The generations coming have to rediscover all the same truths and by the time they do, they’re just about ready to go as well. Otherwise we’d have no Nazis marching around with assault weapons on MLK’s birthday in Virginia of all places.

Virginia – birthplace of so many of the racist founding fathers, who authored slavery right into the hallowed Constitution in such a way it took a brutal war to clear the path for an amendment to do away with it, an amendment that led directly – directly – to our current culture of mass incarceration, by legalizing slavery in the context of imprisonment.

Virginia – the crossroads of that same brutal war and the capitol of the slave republic that still festers in the ideology of the so-called “red” states.

Red, as in the anti-communist fever that swept the nation for decades and served as an excuse for the domestic persecution of Jews among other feared “un-American” foreigner types, the same so-called “fear” that covers the racism that periodically applies to different sets of people deemed un-American at different times in our history. You name it, if they weren’t Brits they weren’t American in some decade or other over the past two hundred years. Today they speak Spanish or sometimes Arabic.

Those Nazis marching were protesting new gun control legislation proposed by the government of Virginia, legislation born (almost hilariously) out of racism itself. There never was any gun control in America until the Black Panthers in Oakland decided they had the right to arm themselves to protect their community and what do you know? Gun control is suddenly sensible! Those Nazi-Americans have no idea because they never knew, because that generation of Black American leaders was systematically destroyed, assassinated and imprisoned by the very same “gummint” those mother-fuckers are mad about. MLK would be 91 years old today. Almost old enough to run for president.

Everything old is new again. A few of the best movies I’ve seen lately (in my humblest opinion, of course) all deal with the same theme – inequality – as if this is some new condition sprung virginally from the womb of time. Us, Parasite, and Sorry To Bother You have discovered that the rich are richer and the poor are poorer and everything trends that way forever.

Ideologies that have no clothes. The term “late-stage capitalism”, I recently learned, was first used more than a hundred years ago. Is there such a thing as capitalism, really? Why don’t we just call it late-stage feudalism? Maybe because we’ve all bought into the mythology of the divine right of kings, and we believe we have replaced it with the mythology of the entrepeneur, but the history of the Middle Ages was full of usurpers, men who came from nowhere and murdered their way into destiny. Power begets power and they set themselves up as Chosen in the same way as our self-made men do today. Our Zuckerbergs and Bezoses have their parallels in regimes throughout the world throughout history. In another era we called such people Captains of Industry or Robber Barons or Tycoons – everything short of Kings and Dukes and Princes. Abracadabra, it’s Capitalism now. Worship the ground it clears for more and more cement and glass.

My father’s generation fought Nazis, literally, on the ground in Europe. My brother’s generation fought racists, literally, on the ground in the South. And now, they’re ba-a-a-ck, but they never really went anywhere. Still here. Over and over and over again. My father (aged 93) is on his way out. My brothers and I (in our 60’s) are getting there. Our children (in their 20’s and 30’s) are witnessing all the same shit dressed up in newer hairstyles and fashions and, God bless ’em, they believe they have discovered the New World.

On the plus side, I seem to have survived what was until very recently an incurable and quickly fatal kind of cancer. On the minus side, same. Still getting used to that.

Sometimes I get the feeling I really did pass over, though, into one of those parallel universes that’s just a joke, a Ubik-world where the president is an ignorant talk show clown and the audience is nothing but an automated laugh track.

The Girl Who Would Rather Not Run Over Pedestrians (Fragments From Books That Don’t Exist #127)

TheGirlWhoWouldRatherNot

First they came for the recyclables. We didn’t have any recyclables, and anyway we were beginning to doubt that whole idea. You know, China, all the sand on the planet, microplastics in the deep deep sea, and so on. Then they came for the trash. We had a lot of that, so we were glad they came. Some of the trash, I admit, contained potential recyclables. What’s the difference, anyway? They said they’d come again for the compostables but by then we were all like, fuck it, how should I know? We had enough decisions to make. Free shipping or two-day for a nominal cost? Just go with the recommended brand or do a little more looking around? Take the car or ride the bus? Ride the bus? Are you kidding me? What am I, twelve? I’m sure the recommended brand is just fine and free is free. The only thing I’m sure of is that everything comes in a cardboard box, with another cardboard box inside, where the recommended thing is wrapped in plastic, hell it’s made of plastic too. Makes you want to run right into traffic.