Friday, October 21, 2005

President Ladybug

Rob Brezsny is messing with my life.
Brezsny, the writer (inventor) weirdo, wunderkind, thinker, rememberer and official forgetter of all things irrelevant, author of Free Will Astrology (sample horoscope for Cancer – my sign – this week: “Five years ago, artist Dale Chihuly shipped 64 tons of Alaskan ice to Jerusalem. He used it to erect a giant wall in the place where the Arab and Jewish sections of the city joined. The desert heat melted his preposterous construction in three days. Treat this as an apt symbol for a situation that’s going on in your vicinity, Cancerian. There is an improbable barrier between two parts of your life that should be connected. That barrier has now begun to collapse at a rapid rate, and will be gone soon as long as you and yours don’t make a foolish attempt to try to shore it up…”) is also creator of the concept of Pronoia.
His recently published book ‘Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia’ (subtitle “How the whole world is conspiring to shower you with blessings”) and the current source of much of my frustration. It is impossible to read it without taking in and taking on a number of the wildly appealing, and simultaneously crazy as shit ideas.
Ostensibly emanating from an organization known as the Beauty and Truth Laboratory (pretty much Brezsny and his like-minded pals) the tome contains page after page of good news. And it’s real news; the fact that no matter what you absorb during the supper-hour news broadcast, or even a cursory perusal of your daily paper, using impeccable sources, Brezsny reports that crime is on the decline, teen death and teen pregnancy is at an all-time low, dropout rates have dropped, as well as the cheering fact that the introduction of Viagra has decreased the rate of animal killing as Rhinoceros horn, bear penis, whale sperm (and whatever other creepy rare animal byproducts have been placed on the alter of male virility over the years) as nothing really beats the ease – or the efficacy – of the little blue pill.
He has chapters that aid one in strategizing legal and wildly positive pranks, reminders that though life always gives you exactly what you need when you need it, it doesn’t necessarily give you exactly what you want when you want it. Just as the inherent truth – and the potential for genuinely seeing your life and it’s singularly wacky course from a different angle entirely (and one that makes you think you might actually enjoy thinking that way) he slips in a couple of pages from the ‘Pronoia News Network’ which details factoids concerning everything from the amount of love washing over the planet at every second of every day (the World Health Organization reports that over 100 million acts of sexual intercourse involving more than 200 million partners take place on earth every 24 hours; you could just take it as read, or appreciate Brezsny’s spin which is to calculate just how much euphoria is being generated if even half of those encounters are inspired by love. Heck – a tenth!)
Right now I’m on the waiting list at the library for a book he recommends that threatens to prop my mind open even further.
Titled ‘The Diving Bell and The Butterfly’ by Jean-Dominique Bauby, the memoir relates the story of the 43 year old French editor who suffered a stroke that while it left his brain undamaged, paralyzed his entire body save his left eye. Using his eyeball (though actually, mostly the lid) Bauby was able to dictate his memoir over a two year period solely through eye blinks.
Critics have called it ‘startling’, ‘inspirational’ and ‘a jewel’.
With two hands, a fully working body and the entire world at my disposal through the internet, I have trouble coming up with more than one original blog idea more than once a week. This week of course will not count, since all the ideas contained herein owe their genesis to Brezsny. Great.
And I was intending to write about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers (seems this paragon of all things legal whoopsed and forgot to pay her annual bar dues – the legal ones! – and was ineligible to actually practice as a lawyer in the District of Columbia… but as any fool knows, she’s nominated for a judgeship, not a lawyer-ship, so, like, what?) and about the recent PBS presentation of the New York Open Center’s conference on ‘The Real Agenda of the Religious Right’ – it’s absolutely filled to the brim and running over with blood curdling facts about Dominionism and Reconstruction and The Council for National Policy and the fact that close advisors to the President really, really, really believe in The End of Days, really – and I wanted to write about how though Toronto somehow managed to pull back from the brink of allowing sharia law to form a legitimate part of Ontario’s judicial system, the same cannot be said for Iraq, where due to concessions made by the American government in order to enlist cooperation from reactionary religious leaders, the new constitution – when it finally makes sharia the basis for national legislation – will no doubt sideline Iraqi women more effectively than even they were during Saddam Hussein’s tortuous reign.
I wasn’t actually thinking of writing about Saddam’s trial because really, what’s the point?
But even with those other thoughts and issues swishing and sloshing about in my head (as you now know, I’m a water sign) as I read Brezsny’s book, all I can think of is how much better my time is spent pondering the implications of Lucius Cervantes’ contention (as quoted in ‘Pronoia’) that “… the higher a woman’s IQ, the more she is likely to be masculine in outlook. The higher a man’s IQ, the more likely he is to be feminine in outlook.” Cool.
Or marveling at the fact that a pig’s orgasm can last a full thirty minutes – or that the ladybird beetle has sex for up to nine hours at a times, wherein the males are capable of three orgasms in one session, each an hour and a half long. Yikes.
(It’s interesting to note that somewhere in the next few pages, Brezsny quotes Guneli Gun from her book ‘On the Road to Baghdad’: “the world is run by those who can’t make love, or those who do it badly. That’s why the world is in trouble.” Imagining the world run by ladybugs is at the very least... stimulating...)
Pronoia the book is simply stuffed with unusual and outrageous ideas for freeing up (or jettisoning entirely) your warped preconceived notions, your prejudices, judgments, negative fantasies and much of the material we cling to in order to justify whatever self-pity we indulge in at whatever rate of frequency we indulge. You simply cannot hold in your mind both the thought that life sucks and you never have any fun, when you learn of a man who writes an inspiring book with exactly one functioning body part – his eyelid. Believe me I’ve tried.
I’ve started making lists of the ideas I most like and am running out of yellow legal pad paper as the list grows longer with each turning page; I’m fascinated by the results of the poll that asked the question “Does reality exist?” and collated the answers thusly: Yes 42%; No 27% - and those leftovers who insisted that while their reality exists, no one else’s does.
Philip K. Dick said “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
Did you know that Shakespeare coined 1,700 words, including: besmirch, dauntless, dwindle, gnarled, hobnob, lackluster (or, if you're Canadian, as am I, lacklustre) madcap, pander, rancorous, sanctimonious, tranquil, bloodstained, leapfrog, gossip and fortune-teller? I didn't. But I'm proud to say I've used them all... and I know they've made me a better writer. I've made up a few words in my time (or maybe just used alternate, though deliberate and unique spellings) but this information has given me the courage to create more. They'll be... Brezsnylistic - Brezsnylicious even!
I find it beyond fascinating (as did Rob Brezsny apparently) to contemplate Ray Kurzweil’s study of the nature of societal change. Centuries ago, people didn’t really observe the world changing at all – their lives, their parents lives, their grandparent’s lives and so on, all had more or less the same life experience – and expected that their grandchildren would live pretty much the same as well. We know things change – but as Kurweil relates, what most people don’t consider is the fantastic rate of change today. He writes:
The whole 20th century was like 25 years of change at today’s rate of change. In the next 25 years we’ll make four times the progress you saw in the 20th century. And we’ll make 20,000 years of progress in the 21st century, which is almost a thousand times more technical change than we saw in the 20th century.”
This is what makes me want to live longer – not following the trial of Saddam Hussein, or the panel quizzing Harriet Miers on what she REALLY thinks about abortion and the Lord Jesus Christ, or even the final destination of Toronto’s much unloved, much bandied about garbage.
I want to study the life of Mitzi Nichols of Virginia Beach who anonymously donated a kidney to a stranger in 2001 and waited a mere three years for karma to deliver a $500,000.00 lottery win. Yay karma!
Or to rethink Lady Godiva, whose naked ride through the streets of Coventry in 1057 was not (as many have erroneously noted) to inspire leagues of university engineering students, but rather to live up to the dare her assessor husband posed – that if she did, he would abolish all taxes on the local citizenry. As history reports, she did – and he did.
Other naked acts of charity include the 600 women living in oil rich Nigeria, who launched a protest against ChevronTexaco, demanding they plow back some of their profits into the local impoverished community. Their method of protest was to commit a ‘traditional shaming gesture’ by taking off their clothes; Nigerians consider the nudity of women to be a damning protest that shames those at whom the action is directed. ChevronTexaco gave in and hired local workers to build schools and electrical and water systems.
These days I am being encouraged to fear everything from a terrorist attack to acid reflux to avian flu, but Brezsny (the intriguing bastard) has now elicited from me a desire to experience the mind bending fear known as ‘The Stendahl Syndrome’. The syndrome named after the French novelist who wrote about his own breakdown in 1817; a description that echoes down the years and still strikes individuals today, as visitors to the miraculous art treasures collected over the centuries in the city of Florence Italy, sometimes fall apart in the presence of such overwhelming beauty – panicking in front of a painting by Raphael or collapsing in front of Michelangelo’s David, before being ambulanced away to the psychiatric ward of the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital.
If this is an example of shit happening, this is precisely the sort of shit I would like to be deluged with.
Thinking about this stuff makes me happy. And happiness, (though bargain priced at precisely $4.9 million by researchers at Yahoo Personal Finance) comes free to me through the magic of the Toronto Public Library, the relatively small cost of the light I need to read it provided me by Toronto Hydro (who are planning to send me a rebate on my electricity bill) and the small brown dog who sits patiently by, pining for both a treat and a walk, but sensing my passionate intensity and attention to the page, only bugs me on average of seven or eight times an hour.
I’m sure the effects of my recently slightly sprung open mind will dissipate and I will start getting an upset stomach and a nervous twitch (sure signs I’ve clicked across images of the American President, or accidentally landed on CNN rather than The Comedy Network) and be anxious to read the op-ed page of the New York Times and to pump my fist and cry “Yes! Yes!” every time I even think about The Daily Show.
But for now I’ll just remain calm and think deep thoughts and accept that this mind of mine that cannot successfully hold two thoughts, (the test of a first rate intelligence according to F. Scott Fitzgerald is the ability to affect that balance) has for this moment anyway, merely a singular ambition:
To hold one really good one.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Life to Smoochy (War and Remembrance Part III)

Yogi Berra said it’s not over until it’s over.
Never consider a story over until the very last page has been turned, the cover clapped shut, the author pronounced dead and the last nail driven forcefully into his coffin even as it is being lowered into the soon-to-be-sealed and paved over grave.
Because things might change. And the past might take on different and even new memories to reminisce over in the future.
Just this last July, in an absolute orgy of reminiscing, I wrote a few stories about my youth, focusing on my early teen years and my experiences in London – a time imbued with memories so vivid and clear, that even just writing of them made them feel nearly close enough to touch.
And it probably wasn’t the international location, or the experiences in and of themselves; I believe those memories are still so immediate because of the age I was when they happened. At fourteen (going on fifteen) I was just beginning that transition into adulthood… the part that included boys and kissing and first love and the excitement of the possibilities of all that that meant.
(Okay. Puberty. I’m writing about the breathless un-bosomings of an adolescent girl. Laugh if you like – or sneer in contempt; if you don’t have a few adolescent un-bosomings of your own, I’m just so sorry.)
On July 14th 2005 (you can check it out in the archives – ‘War and Remembrance Part II’) I wrote about the International School I attended and the travel perks that come with being enrolled in a school poised on the brink of Europe. The class French trip to Calais began the adventures, but the Swiss ski trip made the much yearned for possibilities real as I fell into an endless series of passionate smooches with the boy I most wanted to smooch.
It was so exciting (I wrote) that I was surprised that I didn’t explode or burst into spontaneous flames from pure excitement and joy.
It was that good.
But then it got that bad.
On the boat train back to London, Wade Cunningham (for that was his totally cool name) grew distant and by the end of the trip was flirting with another girl. My romance was over, my first love finished, my heart became a withered little organ that must have taken entire months to heal.
I wrote in July that though I was over it now (31 years later!) and I had since been kissed and romanced by men I came to love more, I didn’t think I’ve since felt so purely happy, or so completely heart-stoppingly, blood-thrillingly excited as I had on that school ski trip in 1974.
True story.
But then about two weeks ago the story came full circle as I reconnected with Wade (sigh) Cunningham through his sister (and my classmate) Caren, who found me on one of those High School Reunion web sites that have become so popular in the past few years.
Strangely, even rhapsodizing about all that dusty unrequited love that had long ago bloomed in my adolescent bosom didn’t make me search for him – to be honest, it didn’t even occur to me… or perhaps if I thought about it, I feared that I wouldn’t have remained even a faded memory to him. After all, he was seventeen! Way too grown up and mature to remember a skinny little kid like me.
But I would have been wrong to think so.
He remembered. He remembered things I didn’t remember (even with all my romantic and fevered rememberings) and he apologized for the past hurt (long forgiven, I assured him) and gallantly told me he’d ended our ten day love affair to protect his own heart from the pain of one day losing me. (Nice touch, eh?)
What a guy. Wade Cunningham. Sigh.
We’ve written back and forth and are still only scraping the surface of the mountain of experiences and memories that have played out between then and now.
And now we go on from here – he and I and his sister Caren and Lisa Bing and Rachel Younger and John Gross, (who we are aware of out there in the ether) and hopefully many more from back then; that patchwork group of disparate students who attended the now long defunct Dwight Franklin International School in 1973 and 1974.
We’re planning a reunion sometime soon and Wade has even offered to zoom up here to Canada to apologize for breaking my fourteen year old’s heart in person, but first he must go to the South Pole.
(Isn’t that interesting? I’ve been assured it’s not diversionary…)
So March, maybe March we’ll all get together in person and compare memories and current lives and describe the paths each of us took to get where we are now.
I’ve told Wade my heart belongs to another, but I can’t rule out at least a single nostalgic smooch – a smooch to remember the past and to celebrate the present, and to firmly place the smooch in future memories.
Who knows? It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


Like the proverbial iceberg, the largest part of the story, the information and facts about the similarly mostly submerged Giant Squid are finally coming to the surface with increasing regularity.
Just last week a series of photographs taken by a couple of Japanese scientists from the National Science Centre and the Ogasawara Whale Watching Association, both in Tokyo, revealed Architeuthis in all his strange and usually secret glory, frolicking in the cold and dark waters of the North Pacific.
As shy and elusive as President Bush at the outset of the Katrina disaster, the estimated 59 foot carnivorous cephalopod made a surprise appearance and revealed himself/herself/itself to the scientists as he/she/it attempted to grapple with a baited hook equipped with a camera some 900 meters below the choppy surface.
The photographs show an enormous squid wrapping it’s tentacles (two) and arms (eight) around the line which eventually got the better of at least one of the squid’s appendages, offering the scientists a close up look at the be-suction-cupped tentacle, still writhing somewhat in its death throes, but fresh and pink and offering the first real glimpse of Giant Squid flesh not long dead and not washed up on a beach, the way most of the really large squid findings have by necessity taken place.
Then just a few days later came the news from another set of scientists observing the heretofore similarly mysterious sex life of the giant members of the extended mollusk family – the larger female and (slightly – these things are relative) smaller male who combine in their own unique age old fashion to produce tiny little baby Giant Squid in a mating ritual that sounds as dangerous as it does revolting.
According to today’s online ‘The Independent’, a series of Giant Squid washed up on a beach in Spain revealed details including the length of the male Giant Squid’s sexual appendage (a horrifying 8 feet of sharp and nasty squid passion attached to a further 18 meters of squidgey squid reality) with which, according to scientists, the male squid attempt to impale the female – piercing her on the arm in order to impregnate her.
As you can imagine, there’s a certain amount of thrashing about, as well as a significant amount of danger which includes male squids often accidentally piercing themselves, other male squids, or just about anything that resembles whatever it is about the female of his species that attracts his attentions so.
Eek. But it’s all information – more insights into the wild and wacky and downright weird world of one of the planet’s least known and or understood creatures. It’s all grist to my mill – I love the Giant Squid and have been fascinated by him/her/it since I became aware of the genus and was able to go online and research more beginning about eight years ago.
It’s not so much that I’d like to get up close and personal with this creature that belongs to the same family of invertebrates as the octopus, the nautilus and the cuttlefish – I have no desire whatsoever to cuddle one of those fish; but they’re so mysterious, so creepy, so weird and fundamentally alien that I can’t help but imagine their life and style of living.
I learned the legends – the tales straight out of Jules Verne that purported to be real: about squids grappling warships into the deeps, about sailors caught and eaten by a school of invertebrates that jigged for the men as easily as a fisherman jigs for a tame octopus. About monsters seen and measured by the length of vessel that the measurer was on – one hundred and ten feet thought the chap back in the early part of the 20th century.
I’ve read the speculation about the relationship between squid and whales – right whales and sperm whales and grey whales doing battle with the creatures whose tactic it is to drown the whales, pulling them down and down until the mammoth mammal suffocates. Until recently, the best way to guess potential squid size was by the size of the suction cup-scarred whale skin and enormous squid beaks found in the stomachs of the those orcas who survived at least that encounter with death.
In the last couple of years we’ve learned of the Colossal Squid – assumed to be larger than your common or garden (Octopus’s Garden one assumes) Giant variety, a pretty distressing sounding creature matching size with carnivorous power, sporting fully two razor sharp beaks and tentacles covered in sharp tooth filled suction cups.
There’s also a fairly recently discovered squid-type creature which comes equipped with ten indistinguishable appendages (in the regular squid, the tentacles and arms are easily recognized, the arms being considerably longer) which radiate from the body like spokes on a wheel. Each has a sharply bent elbow from which the rest of the arm hangs straight down. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something queerly disgusting about a tentacle with an elbow joint.
To complete this picture of the estimated 23 foot long creature only a mother could love (if she didn’t eat it first) it has two gigantic fins that stick out either side of its body and that flap like elephant ears as it propels its weird self along.
According to one of the scientists that had an opportunity to study photos of the peculiar animal back in 2003, “New species are a dime a dozen in the deep sea, and I suspect there are a lot of very weird things down there.”
No kidding.
But of course the reason we know so little about these creatures is because of the oceanic depths in which their lives typically take place. For the largest of their species, rising to the surface, losing the pressure on their bodies and blood so necessary to survival, the squid cannot really live in our world so close to the top, but as technology improves, we’re finding it little by agonizingly little, easier to find our way down to his.
But talk about weird, creepy and fundamentally alien – little as we know about what lives in the deepest darkest troughs of the ocean, would that we knew so much about the murky workings of the American Government, the specific methods and means used to run that government, go to war or respond to disaster.
I think we’ve all been assuming (hoping) that the current administration’s depth was similar to that of the iceberg or the Giant Squid – huge, hidden and substantial. But maybe the truth is that there’s less than meets the eye. Maybe the truth is as insubstantial and potentially invisible as icebergs at the North Pole, those that through global warming are melting faster than the truckloads of ice some friendly folk recently attempted to ship to Louisiana and points thereabout.
(Unfortunately getting to ‘thereabout’ turned into a runaround that ended with tons of ice being re-routed to cold storage where it’s being stockpiled for the next disaster. Current cost of the ice fiasco? About a cool one hundred million dollars. U.S. dollars that is.)
Consider the fact that in revealing the inadequacies of the action plan to aid in the latest natural disasters even with sufficient notice, the parties supposedly responsible were effectively about as useful as a squid on dry land. Or in the White House for that matter.
One of the weirdest images we’ve yet been privy to in the human world is the latest vision of the latest new, improved President – the compassionate hero who made seven trips to areas devastated by Katrina and Rita… the minute his approval numbers hit an all time low.
The guy who until recently was urging Americans to consume and buy as much oil and energy as possible has discovered conservation (hallelujah!) and is urging Americans to conserve – to drive less, form carpools, take public transit, turn down the air conditioning and turn off the lights.
The same President who continues to visit the storm ravaged homes and drilling platforms and refinieries down south in gas guzzling Air Force One ($83,000.00 to fill, $6,000.00 an hour to fly) or surrounded by an extended SUV driving entourage,eachof which sucks gasoline at the rate of approximately 22 miles to the gallon.
The President and energy conservation: it’s not a glove-like fit if you know what I’m saying.
And the Presidential tentacles reach nowhere near so far as where or when they’ve been needed; from New York to Afghanistan and from Iran to Iraq and now to the French Quarter, it’s clear now that neither his reach nor his grasp have come close to meeting or exceeding his cocky hubris.
Weird things down there? In Washington you mean? I’ll say.
So weird I think I'd rather smile and kiss a cuttlefish than grapple with a President whose mind and motivations are as creepy and alien – and still as mysterious to me - as those of the Giant Squid.