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.