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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Know Thyself

What defines us? Who is it we truly are within?

Throughout our lives we go through periods of change. It’s not just the nearly magical way we fly through fluidity of thought, but also the fact that our physical bodies go through changes as we grow.

But, what is at the core? I believe that philosophers and religious masters have been trying to crack that question for as long as mankind could conceive of the question. 

Lessons I learned long ago from reading about ritual magick taught me that we are made up of reflections and facets, rather like a cut gemstone. I am a step-father and husband. I am an artist and creative. I am a writer and analyst. I am a philosopher and student. I am that I am.

I have many names.

I have many roles.

I have these reflections that show who I am by relationship and connections. I am all of them and more at once. But, how many facets will others assign to me? Their opinion will change depending upon the facet that they see.

In one lifetime I have been the mendicant child as well as the obstinate one. I have been the criminal and the observer of the rules. I have been the prolific thinker and the ignorant blockhead. I have been both the jealous and the generous man.

Along my path, I’ve come to understand that I have to have faith in who I am and the path I am walking. I have to accept that I am all of the facets that show. It is a practice of meditation upon the koan that is before me.

Zen Master Hakuin during his life had a long and glorious reputation of studying and living a pure life. During his later years, he settled down and followed his philosophy of practicing deep compassion and continuing his commitment to help all sentient beings everywhere. He sought to bring the Dharma teaching to everyone.

A young girl lived near him. Her family owned a food store and catered to not only Hakuin, but the other monks in the area. Without warning, her parents found she was with child.

Throughout their rage and anger, the young girl would not confess the father’s name. It was only after long hours of questioning, asking, and other harassment that the young girl finally gave up the name of Hakuin.

The family went to the Zen Master with the information and questioned his reputation. They wondered if he were going to hell. They wondered why he had taken their daughter to bed.

“Is that so?” was all he offered in response to them.

Word had spread about the offspring. Hakuin had lost his reputation and fewer and fewer monks sat to hear his lectures and koans. Once the child was born, the family brought the wriggling mass to Hakuin.

Hakuin accepted the child. He supplied the child with clothes and food. He sought to keep the child well.

A year later, the mother of this child could no longer keep her secret as it was too great a burden to bear. She finally admitted that the real father of her child was the apprentice of the fishmonger.

The mother and father of the girl-mother went at once to Hakuin upon learning the truth. They begged and pleaded for forgiveness and apologized to the Zen Master for their ignorance. They also asked for the child back from him.

Hakuin, being who he was, was more than willing to give the child back. Throughout all of the pleas and revelations from the parents of the girl-mother, all Hakuin had said was, “Is that so?”


Zen Master Hakuin knew the truth. He did not argue the point with the ignorant that only saw the villain he had become. What was thought of him did not change the fact that he was no villain. He did not change his ways because those around him saw something of him that they did not like. He kept being Hakuin.

Who we are at our core should not be defined by what is believed of us. We are often not the monsters we are accused of being at our core. We may have been unseemly or walked darker paths but that is not the whole of what we are.

What is important, that I can see, is knowing we are all fluid. Even if we fall into the trap of believing what has been said of us, we have to understand that this too is temporary.

What is so now may not be what is so a moment from now. How we react to what challenges us is more important than mere 'facts.'

-E

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thoughts on Cyberpunk

“A picture of Tokyo in the rain is as cyberpunk as paying for sex from a one-legged robot that achieved sentience by mail order…”

Deightine, Moderator /r/science

For me, it started in the late 80’s, I was a bit behind the times though. I was in high school and fell in love with the dystopia that it was. Everything around me was so bland, so boring, so fucking beige. It was all old denim and a second hand olive drab coat. It was a life stuck inside my own mind where all the colors were various shades of pastel verging on neon and noticing I was the square peg being forced to interact with round holes.

I found the movement through role-playing games, Cyberpunk 2020, Shadowrun, GURPS. I found more through novelization and short stories, Count Zero, Hardwired, Angel Station. When I finally saw Akira, Bubblegum Crisis, and Dominion: Tank Police, I was blown away.

I dreamed in bits and bytes. I coded in Pascal and C. I saw the huge vastness of cyberspace in my mind and wanted to be one of the console cowboys who could jack into the net.

Despite the squalor and the loneliness, these anti-heroes were SOMEBODY. They had a sense of self that couldn’t be denied. They knew who they were and what they were supposed to be doing in their tiny spheres. They had the right connections in the right circles. They had the right skill to perform the job.

These guys were hot shit walking on razor wires.

They weren’t the nobody that I was. They didn’t have to try to figure out what was next (in my mind, at least). They didn’t have to deal with the fact that they were displaced constantly and didn’t have any true friends. They didn’t need friends. They only needed the connections. They only needed to play the game to get ahead. They made up their own rules.

I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be them.

I had to use the computers in school as I couldn’t afford one. Two thousand dollars in 1986 was a hell of a lot of money. I learned how to make the 5.25 inch floppy disks into double density disks with scissors. I learned how to use Bitcopy to make pirate versions of software.

My first computer had no hard drive. It held two 3.5 inch floppy drives and a 256 bps modem. I cruised BBS systems that could hold only a few users at a time. I found new things that I could barely describe then. Now, it was so much digital spackling paste on a loose frame. At the time, I thought I was envisioning Babylon.

I moved through hand-me-down technology and learned how to mount motherboards and memory. I learned that I preferred Windows to MAC. I wasn’t ready for the world of Linux, that was just too much for my tender mind back then. I saw how some of my friends seemed to hack Best Buy and walk out with thousands of dollars of computer equipment and software with attitude and an old receipt.

Yeah, we were nigh untouchable then. It was the beginning of the boom. Many of us were embroiled in darkened quarters trying to think up new hacks, pushing the limits of modem technology, and using $600.00 software to make desktop backgrounds.

This is what it meant to me then. For a moment, I thought I was a true cyberpunk. I ate drive-through Chinese food and spoke geeky with my friends. I absorbed the attitude and found my indignation for authority. After all, I was an entitled white male who graduated from high school and was basically thrown to the wolves of life. I didn’t see then that it was my poor choices that brought me there. Imagined power then does not hold a candle to the wisdom I have now.

What I saw as cyberpunk then was more of a social movement that relied upon a few core friends, exotic food, and technology. In this age, it is something different. It has evolved.

As an aging man, I can honestly say that my children have far more intuitive skill in relating and using today’s technology. They push it to a fantastic level that I couldn’t envision back when I was hanging out at the Circle K and reading comic books and magazines from the rack.

Terabytes were mythic and scoffed at. Now, I have two 2 TB hard drives sitting in my office awaiting a frame so I can use them as a backup device.

The cyberpunks of this age run in the dark web. They are pushing technology and evolving into beings much like Otaku. They never knew a time where wifi wasn’t there. They never knew a place where there wasn’t a place to plug in and charge a laptop or smart phone. To them, asking for the wifi password is commonplace.

Today’s cyberpunks help the Anonymous movement to bring us news and views that wouldn’t be available otherwise. They work as government agents or contractors to protect the gigantic systems that seem to turn the digital cogs that move the world.

We do not have the tech in our bodies as was envisioned by those who founded the Well. I’m uncertain that we ever will. Society, as a whole, is not ready for the polished chrome forms that were so hot back then.

I’m not certain the mainstream will ever accept that. It’s too posthuman, too freakish to be part of normal culture. The media, and those who control it, won’t allow it to become haute couture.

We do have the functional cyborgs though. Hip and joint replacements, ocular implants, aural implants, artificial organs, implanted devices that relay our vital signs to another computer device wirelessly are all being used in modern medicine. These are only off of the top of my head. I’m sure if I did a modicum of research, I would find more examples. VR tech is even going out to consumers at a somewhat reasonable price.

The Powers That Be paint pictures for us that are streamed into our homes. They coat everything in beige. Drugs, once illegal are now accepted in some places. The veneer is being stripped in small pieces. It is being flaked off as we scratch at this annoying itch.

Our reality is being changed with every purchase we make.

Many folks say that cyberpunk is dead. To a degree, they are not wrong. The ideals born of the green circuit boards and soldered connections from so long ago have become passé as we have all grown. We rebel in different ways now — sometimes it’s with purchasing, sometimes it’s with protesting, sometimes it’s abstaining.

What is cyberpunk?

Look around. It’s our connections to each other and the world. It is how we are now addicted to the high of social media, how we have become smart phone zombies, how we are all connected across the globe, how we have evolved to dating apps and websites versus personal columns. It’s how we can be anonymous faces online and easily become another persona, how we can tolerate the hatred spewed out of the ignorant, how we have become used to the foreign wars over resources, how we have come to expect the next shoe to drop at any time when it comes to global destruction, how we constantly seek escape from our reality to avoid our ‘real life’ in meatspace.

Welcome to the future.

It's 1400 Zulu, do you know where your meat body is?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Turn Back When You Need To

There is a parable of the Emperor’s Zen Master and the Man that Never Turned Back that seeks to explain how enlightenment can change a man. It is a dangerous and easily misinterpreted story in my opinion. To preface, I understand the metaphor, I can see what is intended. Many others will not see the subtle nuances that I perceive. I am no Zen Master, only a student of observation.

Gudo was the Emperor’s Zen Master of the time. He wandered around the countryside as a beggar from time to time, as was his will. Once, when he was on his way back to Edo, he approached he village of Takenaka. It would not be so normally, but a squall had encompassed his traveling route. Gudo’s straw sandals were falling apart and he was drenched. At a farmhouse near the village, Gudo noticed several pairs of dry and complete sandals in the window and approached the house in order purchase a pair.

The mistress of the house, seeing how wet he was from the storm, offered the sandals and invited him to remain the night in her home. Gudo accepted, thanking her for the accommodations and kindness. He entered the house and recited a sutra before the family shrine. He was then introduced the woman’s family and noticed the distress the all carried. He asked what was wrong.

“It is my husband,” the woman said. “He is a gambler and a drunkard. When he is winning, he drinks and becomes abusive. When he is losing, he borrows money from others. There are times he does not come home at all.” Through dry eyes and a downward cast face, she asked, “What can I do?”

To this, Gudo put some thought.

“I will help him,” he said. “Here is some money. With it, buy me a gallon of fine wine and something to eat. You may then retire. I will meditate by the shrine.”

By the time the Master of the House had returned, the storm had stopped and it was quite late. He was quite drunk and called to his wife, “Wife! Wife! I am home. Have you something for me to eat?”

“I have something for you,” Gudo said quietly. “I happened to be caught in the rain earlier and your wife kindly asked me to remain here for the night. In return, I have bought some wine and fish, so you might as well eat.”

The Master of the House was delighted. He drank the wine at once and laid himself down on the floor. Gudo remained beside him in meditation.

In the morning, memory tainted from the previous night’s drinking, the Master of the House woke with a start upon seeing Gudo. “Who are you?” the Master bellowed. “Where do you come from?”

Gudo, still meditating responded quietly, “I am Gudo of Kyoto.” The Master of the House immediately found himself embarrassed and apologized to the Zen Master.

“Everything in this life is impermanent,” Gudo smiled. “Life is very brief. If you keep gambling and drinking, you will have no time left to accomplish anything else. You and your family will suffer.”

The Master of the House found the simple phrase touching him as if waking from a dream. “You are right!” he declared. “How ever can I repay you for this wonderful teaching? Let me see you off and carry your things for a time.”

“As you wish.” Gudo agreed.

They started out when they were ready. After the pair had gone three miles, Gudo told the Master of the House to return. “Another five miles,” he begged.

“As you wish.” Gudo agreed.

When the two reached the agreed-upon five more miles, Gudo announced, “you may return now.”

“Another ten miles,” the Master of the House pleaded.

“As you wish.” Gudo agreed.

Ten more miles passed and Gudo turned to the man, “Return now.”

“I am going to follow you all the rest of my life,” the man declared.


As I said, I understand the point of this story. It is to show the dedication of the Man who Never Turned Back once he had found the point of his enlightenment. He was following Gudo (and his teaching) for the rest of his life because, as he was told, life is impermanent and fluid.

Yes, it is a metaphor.

Yes, I know that.

Some, not understanding the meaning, may view the message of the story in a different light. I fear that some may find their enlightenment and roll off of the rails in an attempt to follow this new bliss.

What of the farmer’s family? What happened to the farm? Did the husband, the Man that Never Turned Back, ever return to his family? What of the wife and children?

We cannot, in truth, just leave our responsibilities in pursuit of the latest philosophical revelation. We cannot be of the world without taking part in it, without taking responsibility for it. There are consequences to our actions. We cannot just throw ourselves and our lives away because of a new insight. We need to incorporate what is best and leave the rest behind.

Being present in the now is the lesson. Life is fluid and can take us in many different directions. We all have the capability to be the drunkard, the gambler, the abuser, but it is a choice that we make.

We choose to be the rioter.

We choose to be the bigot.

We choose to be the xenophobe.

We choose.

Now that you know it is a choice, make the right one for the world you want to create.

-E

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Diffusing Darkness

I’m not going to pretend that this week wasn’t emotional. I was unable to put together words for what I was feeling for quite some time except for, “I’m afraid.” I am afraid for the future. I’m afraid for the present. The lessons learned from the past are seemingly being ignored.

What this means to me as a creative is that there may be more trite details I will have to go through to ensure that I am medically insured. There may be more difficulties ahead to ensure that my family keeps maintaining at the current financial level (if not better). There may be more difficulty in creating the reality I want to be in.

I know that I’m not supposed to dwell on the future and live in the present. I know that I should recognize the anxiety, acknowledge it, and let it flow through me. I’m doing my best to do so. I took Wednesday off from reality and just shuffled around the house in silence. I accepted what was and what wasn’t.

On Thursday, I knocked out perhaps 2,000 words on Project B. Friday was too busy between work and private life. I feel better, not secure, but better. I know that those gloating do not care about the undercurrent of feelings out there. Many of the angry do not either, sadly. What I do know is that I do care.

I’m hopeful. It’s the best I can do right now. I have to keep my mind in check and ask, “What can I do at this moment in time to create the better world I want to live in?” My answer is to write, to express, to let those that will read my words that they’re not alone. This is regardless of their choice of candidates, race, color, creed, or any other orientation or discrimination that would classify them as an outsider.

Darkness cannot defeat darkness. Hate cannot defeat hate.

We know the rhetoric. We have heard the voices. We have read the words. It is time to start doing and performing. Crying, “Foul!” rarely works outside of sports. Even then, the accusation is subject to review.

I don’t know what else to do in order to make my world more gentle. These are the ripples I’m making. This is the pebble in the pond.

Cheers.

-E

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Thoughts and Cups


I believe that this is the appropriate beginning for me. The wisdom in this has been pushed and translated into several key components of mindfulness and religion throughout the known world.

It is attributed to Nan-in, a Japanese Zen master, that he was once visited by a scholar to discuss thoughts about Zen. Being the gracious host, Nan-in made and served tea to his guest. As Nan-in poured the tea into his visitor's cup, it naturally approached the brim. Nan-in kept pouring. Upon overflowing the cup with tea, Nan-in kept pouring.

The scholar watched the tea overflow out of his cup until he could not contain his thoughts. In a fit of concern and some mild frustration, the scholar said to Nan-in, "It is overfull. No more will go in!"

In response, Nan-in said, "Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. how can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

Here is where I begin, with a cup and my thoughts. It is my journey to find a better human dwelling in my own shadows. It is my task to shine the light on these dank places and root out what is there. I need to find the full cups scattered around and empty them so I can fully understand what I'm being shown.

This is not to say that I am abandoning what I have learned. That is not the goal. The goal simply is to be a better me, whatever that may be. Of course, I wish to be the wordsmith of my dreams, but if I focus on that rather than being the most wholesome person I can be now, I will be bringing on anxiety. If I focus on the failures of the past and who I was then, I will become depressed and let the agita continue to rebuild.

It is not as easy as I make it out. Living in the present without the gnawing fear of both the future and the past coming up to tear into you takes skill. It takes practice. It takes patience not only with the surroundings and situations that will come up in daily living, but also with oneself.

In short, it takes love. It takes loving yourself and those around you. It takes loving the place you're currently in and understanding that it will not last forever. It takes loving the moment.

No, it is not easy. I am not always successful in living in or loving the moment. It can be terribly frustrating when it seems (at the time) that these moments produce nothing but bile and hatred because of failure. It has lead to both anxiety and depression because I did not step back and see that the moment was temporary or had limited effect to my life.

My cup was already full in these times. I can see that in this moment of silence and rumination. It is, and always has been, about the present.

And to be extremely corny, I will end in saying that this is why living is such a gift.

-E.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

An Excerpt

You may ask yourself, "E, what are you working on? What stories do you have planned for your public face?"

You may also may not. Frankly, it doesn't matter.

Here's an excerpt.

Where to begin? Thurston was dead. There was no doubt in that. The record of his internment was affixed with all of the necessary signatures: the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. All were notarized, witnessed, and affixed with the official seal. LaGrasse signed it as well, as a matter of respect for his oldest friend. LaGrasse’s name was good for whatever incidentals that were needed to complete the task and for whatever he, himself, wanted to change. Yes, there was no doubt, Thurston had joined the Choir of the Invisible.

Mind you, I do not mean to say that I hear the singing of that glorious choral melody that the Invisible Choir sings. I do not know the composition or timbre of their song. I do believe, however that they do exist in the hereafter and those who do join their celestial ranks would be able to pull the heartstrings of many a stone man with words beyond power. So, I will say again, with or without your permission, with as much fearful reverence as I can, Thurston had joined the Choir of the Invisible.

LaGrasse and Thurston were partners in business for years beyond my reckoning. LaGrasse was the man’s sole executor, administrator, and assign. He was also Thurston’s sole residuary legatee, sole mourner, and solitary friend. With all of that said, it was witnessed by the clergyman, the clerk, and the undertaker that LaGrasse was  not so dreadfully affected by the event of Thurston’s death.

Thurston’s name was never painted over on the sign above the business office. It stood years after his joining of the Choir. The firm was simply named “LaGrasse and Thurston.” Sometimes new customers to the firm called the remaining partner by his own name, and sometimes by Thurston’s, but he answered to both in indifference. It was all the same to him, so long as the money traded hands.

Renewal, Rebirth, and Running in Shadows

The separation of what I do professionally and what I do socially is somewhat disparate. I hold a position in an office that pays the bills and insurance. I wish to do more on my own rather than being an #officehero feeling like I'm a cog in a great machine bent on becoming, and I quote, "a thriving enterprise providing solutions to the world's most complex problems."

Within, I am told that I have the soul of a poet and adventurer. I am a #wordhero who has bled out hundreds of thousands of words throughout my many years. I've told of galactic adventurers and down-home heroes. I've placed antagonists and protagonists alike in difficult, nearly impossible really, situations. I've broken children and brought them back stronger than ever. I've killed superheroes after they have saved the day. I've told of love and loss and everything in between.

I've also cracked the Moon and decimated the Earth.

Today, this auspicious day, well, auspicious to me anyway, I am following my feelings and putting things back into perspective. I am using the time that I am to be performing the traditional arduous word marathon to place things back on the rails and to stoke the coals within great fiery furnace that is my creative mind.

I've been holding myself back. As I look back on this, it is about fear. Fear of being myself, of saying what I need to say, of thinking that some may not like (love) the words I write. I'm kind of tired of living in fear. I've let it creep deep into the cracks and crannies of my life and fester there like some sort of maligned tumor that made me think that I should be something other than what I am.

I am that I am.

I know, blaspheme, right? No, not in the least. I am that fiery being encased in this fleshform. I have the connections to the universe that enable me to sit and listen to the sky as I knock in perpetual question. I am also the tender thing that can easily be bruised from a hard word or seemingly inescapable silence that permeates the realms I wander.

I am all of it and I don't give a soft winged damn what you truly think about it.

If you like what I write, great. If not, well, one cannot please everyone. I happen to like (love) the words I write. They are deeply personal and I expect (yes, expect) a modicum of respect for them. You want to be a troll, go do it somewhere else. I don't need it.

If, however, you wish to connect and share, here I am. If you want to discuss with intelligence and understanding, here I am. I'm more than willing to hear and view different ideas. I'm more than willing to share them. I'm more than willing to entertain that I have an awful viewpoint and it needs to be changed.

So be it. I know that I am not perfect. I know that I'll make mistakes and change my views upon any number of things based on new information. I'm not cast in stone, nor are my views.

It feels good to be back. I look forward to our future conversations should you choose to engage.

-E