A Compelling Story

“A year after that very popular novel came out I read an article summarizing a study about that novel conducted by scholars at a well-known university. The study documented that the vast majority of people who bought and read this popular book believed it was not a novel, but an absolutely true story, though the book was marketed as a work of fiction, and nowhere on or in the book did the publisher or author claim the story was true. The study further reported that when people who loved this book were informed that the story was not true, they reacted with either tremendous anger or enormous disappointment, or both.”

This is Todd Walton discussing an interesting phenomenon, from Know Your Audience. And it is something he has personally experienced with his own fiction writing:

“I became aware of this phenomenon—people believing fiction is true—some years before this mass delusion about a popular novel swept the nation. In those long ago days, I frequently gave public readings of my fiction; and it was during the mid-1980s that more and more people began to experience my stories as true rather than as fiction. In response to this phenomenon, I would preface my reading of each story by declaring that the tale was not autobiographical, not inspired by supposedly true events, and was most definitely a work of fiction.

“Even with this disclaimer, many people in my audiences continued to assume my stories were recollections of things that had really happened to me, regardless of how preposterous that possibility.”

It’s not only that people were adamant about believing his fiction was real. They would get quite upset when told once again that it was fiction, even though they already had this explained to them before the reading. Some of them accused the author of lying to them. And a few left the room in protest.

From a slightly different perspective, here is an anecdote shared by Harlan Ellison:

“He told me– and he said this happened all the time, not just in isolated cases– that he had been approached by a little old woman during one of his personal appearances at a rodeo, and the woman had said to him, dead seriously, “Now listen to me, Hoss: when you go home tonight, I want you to tell your daddy, Ben, to get rid of that Chinee fella who cooks for you all. What you need is to get yourself a good woman in there can cook up some decent food for you and your family.”

“So Dan said to her, very politely (because he was one of the most courteous people I’ve ever met), “Excuse me, ma’am, but my name is Dan Blocker. Hoss is just the character I play. When I go home I’ll be going to my house in Los Angeles and my wife and children will be waiting.”

“And she went right on, just a bit affronted because she knew all that, what was the matter with him, did he think she was simple or something, “Yes, I know… but when you go back to the Ponderosa, you just tell your daddy Ben that I said…”

“For her, fantasy and reality were one and the same.”

I quoted that in a post I wrote about a similarly strange phenomenon. It’s how people are able to know and not know simultaneously (a sub-category of cognitive blindness; related to inattentional blindnesscontextual ignorancehypocognition, and conceptual blindness). With that in mind, maybe some of those people in Walton’s various audiences did know it was fiction, even while another part of them took it as real.

This kind of dissociation is probably more common than we might suspect. The sometimes antagonsitic responses he got could have been more than mere anger at having their perception denied. He was going beyond that in challenging their dissociation, which cuts even deeper into the human psyche. People hold onto their dissociations more powerfully than maybe anything else.

There is another factor as well. We live in a literal-minded age. Truth has become conflated with literalism. When something feels true, many people automatically take it as literal. This is the power of religion and its stories, along with politics and its rhetoric. But some argue that literal-mindedness has increased over time, starting with the Axial Age and becoming a force to be reckoned with in this post-Enlightenment age of scientism and fundamentalism. That is what leads to the black-and-white thinking of something either being literally true or absolutely false (a blatant lie, a frivolous fantasy, etc). Iain McGilchrist describes this as the brain dominance of the left hempisphere’s experience and the suppression of right hemisphere’s emotional nuance and grounded context.

This mindset isn’t just a source of amusing anecdotes. It has real world consequences. The most powerful stories aren’t told by fiction writers or at least not by those openly identifying as such. Rather, the greatest compelling storytellers of our age work in news media and politics. The gatekeepers have immense influence in determining what is real or not in the public mind. This is why there is a battle right now over fake news. It’s a battle among the gatekeepers.

This connects to the smart idiot effect. It’s interesting to note that, according to studies, the least educated are the most aware of the limits of their knowledge and expertise. It requires being well educated to fall into the trap of the smart idiot effect (hence why it is called that). This is the reason media personalities and politicians can be so dangerous, as they are people who talk a bit about everything while often being an expert in nothing or, at best, their expertise being narrowly constrained. This is fertile ground for storytelling. And this is why attention-grabbing politicians like Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump first became famous as media personalities — their being experts only in entertainment and egotism. Those like Reagan and Trump are storytellers who embody the stories they tell. They pretend to be something they are not and their audience-supporters take the pretense for reality.

This is seen in many areas of society but particularly on right-wing media. Interestingly, according to research, it is most clearly evidenced among the most well informed audience members of right-wing media who simultaneously are the most misinformed. The average Fox News viewer does know more factoids than the average American (maybe no great accomplishment), but they also know more falsehoods than the average American. What they don’t know very well is how to differentiate between what is true and not true. To be able to make this differentiation would require they not only be able to memorize factoids but to understand the larger context of knowledge and the deeper understanding of truth — the subltety and nuance provided primarily by the right hemisphere, according to Iain McGilchrist. Otherwise, factoids are simply fodder for talking points. And it leads to much confusion, such as a surprising percentage of conservatives taking seriously Stephen Colbert’s caricature of conservatism. Isn’t that interesting, that many conservatives can’t tell the difference between supposedly authentic conservatism and a caricature of it? The election of Donald Trump, an apolitical demagogue posing as a conservative, emphasizes this point.

It is maybe no accident that this phenomenon manifests the strongest on the political right, at least in the United States. It could be caused by how, in the US, authoritarianism is correlated to the political right — not so in former Soviet countries, though. So the main causal factor is probably authoritarianism in general (and, yes, authoritarianism does exist within the Democratic Party, if not to the extreme seen within the GOP; but I would note that, even though Democratic leaders are to the left of the far right, they are in many ways to the right of the majority of Americans… as observed in decades of diverse public polling). Research does show that authoritarians don’t mind being hypocritical, assuming they even comprehend what hypocrisy means. Authoritarians are good at groupthink and believing what they are told. They are literal-minded, as for them the group’s ideology and the leader’s words are identical to reality itself, literally. One could interpret authoritarianism as an extreme variety of dissociation.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Todd Walton’s most offended audience members would test as higher on authoritarianism. Such people have a strong desire to believe in something absolutely. Self-aware use of imagination and the imaginal is not an area of talent for them nor the trait of openness upon which it depends. This is because they lack the tolerance for cognitive dissonance, a necessary component of suspension of disbelief in the enjoyment of fiction. It makes no sense to them that a story could be subjectively true while being factually false (or factually partial). Hence, the sense of being deceived and betrayed. The fiction writer is an unworthy authority figure to the authoritarian mind. A proper authoritarian demagogue would tell his followers what they wanted to hear and would never then tell them that it was just fiction. The point of storytelling, for the authoritarian, is that it is told with utter conviction — it being irrelevant whether or not the authoritarian leader himself believes what he says, just that he pretends to believe.

Authoritarians aside, it should be noted that most people appear to be able to distinguish between truth and falsehood, between non-fiction and fiction. People will say they believe all kinds of things to be true. But if you give them enough of an incentive, they will admit to what they actually believe is true (priming them for rational/analytical thought would probably also help, as various studies indicate). And it turns out most people agree about a lot of things, even in politics. Dissociation has its limits, when real costs and consequences are on the line. But most storytelling, whether fictional or political, won’t effect the concrete daily life of the average person. People want to believe stories and so will take them literally, especially when a story has no real impact. For example, believing in the literal reality that bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ is an attractive story for it being largely irrelevant, just a pleasant fiction to create a social bonding experience through ritual (and evidence indicates that many ancient people perceived such things metaphorically or imaginally, instead of literally; the mythical being a far different experience from the literal). Literal-minded people forget that something can have truth value without being literally true. That is what stories are about.

So, it’s possible that if there had been some concrete and personal incentive for self-aware honesty (at least some of) those seemingly naive audience members would have admitted that they really did know that Todd Walton’s readings were fictional. It’s just that, under the actual circumstances with little at stake, their only incentive was their own emotional commitment in being drawn into the story. To be told it is fiction is like being told their experience is false, which would be taken as a personal attack. What they are missing, in that situation, is the willingness to separate their experience of the story from the story itself. It feels so real that they it would ruin their experience of it to imagine it not being real. That is a successful story.

(By the way, this helps explain why Plato so feared the poets, the storytellers of that era. See some context for this in an earlier post of mine, On Truth and Bullshit: “Frankfurt talks about the ‘bullshit artist’. Bullshitters are always artists. And maybe artists are always bullshitters. This is because the imagination, moral or otherwise, is the playground of the bullshitter. This is because the artist, the master of imagination, is different than a craftsmen. The artist always has a bit of the trickster about him, as he plays at the boundaries of the mind.”)

* * *

For some further thoughts from Iain McGilchrist:

The Master and His Emissary
pp. 49-50

“Anything that requires indirect interpretation, which is not explicit or literal, that in other words requires contextual understanding, depends on the right frontal lobe for its meaning to be conveyed or received. 132 The right hemisphere understands from indirect contextual clues, not only from explicit statement, whereas the left hemisphere will identify by labels rather than context (e.g. identifies that it must be winter because it is ‘January’, not by looking at the trees). 133

“This difference is particularly important when it comes to what the two hemispheres contribute to language. The right hemisphere takes whatever is said within its entire context. 134 It is specialised in pragmatics, the art of contextual understanding of meaning, and in using metaphor. 135 It is the right hemisphere which processes the non-literal aspects of language, 136 of which more later. This is why the left hemisphere is not good at understanding the higher level meaning of utterances such as ‘it’s a bit hot in here today’ (while the right hemisphere understands ‘please open a window’, the left hemisphere assumes this is just helpful supply of meteorological data). It is also why the right hemisphere underpins the appreciation of humour, since humour depends vitally on being able to understand the context of what is said and done, and how context changes it. Subjects with right brain damage, like subjects with schizophrenia, who in many respects resemble them, cannot understand implied meaning, and tend to take conversational remarks literally.”

pp. 125-126

“Metaphor is the crucial aspect of language whereby it retains its connectedness to the world, and by which the ‘parts’ of the world which language appears to identify retain their connectedness one to another. Literal language, by contrast, is the means whereby the mind loosens its contact with reality and becomes a self-consistent system of tokens.”

p. 332

“Metaphorical understanding has a close relationship with reason, which seems paradoxical only because we have inherited an Enlightenment view of metaphor: namely, that it is either indirectly literal, and can be reduced to ‘proper’ literal language, or a purely fanciful ornament, and therefore irrelevant to meaning and rational thought, which it indeed threatens to disrupt. It is seen as a linguistic device, not as a vehicle of thought. What the literalist view and the anti-literalist view share is that, ultimately, metaphor can have nothing directly to do with truth. Either it is simply another way of stating literal truth or else it undermines any claim to truth. But as Lakoff and Johnson have shown, ‘metaphor is centrally a matter of thought, not just words’. 2 The loss of metaphor is a loss of cognitive content.”

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What if everything you knew was wrong?

What if everything you knew was wrong?

Posted on Sep 17th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
I noticed an interesting thread question in the QaR group.

What if everything you knew was wrong?

I must admit I didn’t resonate with many of the answers.  That is a very profound question, but many of the answers seemed to take it lightly.  I don’t get how people can answer with confident certainty to a question that asks about the possibility of the complete disappearance of the very foundation of all certainty in your life, in your very sense of reality.  Its quite obvious that I have a very different read on that question.

I can only guess that anyone who answers with confidence is someone who has never had the type of experience implied by the question.  I have had experiences that undermined my sense of reality and my sense of self, and my experience is that there is no answer to this question.  Any answer would be a further claim of knowledge which according to the scenario would be wrong.  My sense is that most respondants in that thread weren’t interpeting that questioning in its deepest meaning.  Some even seemed to just take it as a linguistic game rather than as a soul-wrenching inquiry.

I’m not surprised by the responses.  As this is Gaia, it was unsurprising that they largely were typical New Agey viewpoints.  This makes me think of the research on optimism.  From my understanding, an optimist (almost by definition) can’t take such a question seriously.  The question presents a non-optimistic scenario, and so the optimistic response to it is how to reinterpret the question.  The research I’ve looked at concludes that optimists tend to not accurately see reality as it is but instead as it might be.  There is a correlation between optimism and extraversion, and so an optimist generally desires to turn outward.  This question, on the other hand, offers us to turn within to the very ground (or rather groundlessness) of our being.

I’m not saying that the answers in that thread are wrong, but they are quite different than my own view.  The main point of my writing all of this is about how much our experience determines our responses.  Experience comes first and the responses we give based on that experience come after.  In that sense, our verbal explanations always carry an element of rationalization.  We feel such a strong need to explain and justify our experiences to ourselves and to others, but ultimately our experiences are non-rational.  Our experiences can’t really be explained or even communicated.  Our experiences seem to be at best their own justification, but the tricky part of the question is to consider that maybe our experiences aren’t justified.

I have felt frustrated by this recently.  The most deeply genuine experiences I’ve had in my life seem impossible to communicate.  In fact, they bewilder me to the point I hardly understand them.  As implied by the question, they undermine my very sense of being able to know anything at all.  I partly get annoyed at others’ confident certainty because I lack it.  Then again, I’m grateful for my lack of confident certainty because it allows me to more easily see multiple perspectives.

The real frustration comes because I do want to communicate.  I identify as a writer… and, yet, the most important experiences of my whole existence can’t even be touched upon by words.  So, I spend a lot of time talking around in circles never coming to any satisfactory conclusion.  The reason I write so often about ideas is that I can write about ideas.  That is relatively easy.  However, related to the question, that which exists beyond all ideas forever nags at my awareness.

I’ve been feeling a desire to instead turn to fiction.  In some ways, fiction can get at these non-rational experiences better than other modes of verbal expression.  But I don’t know if even fiction can capture or satisfactorily allude to my confused sense of reality.  The challenge as I see it isn’t how to answer the question.  What I want is to find a way to get beyond the question itself.

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 5 hours later

Nicole said

did you also read John’s answer near the end of the thread? I thought that he had really got it, as you describe – that really if everything we knew was wrong, we would literally be nowhere.

But I’m more interested in your dilemma. I agree that fiction is probably the better way for you to approach explorations of what is beyond ideas and questions. I’m wondering what some of the fictional approaches you have at the moment in mind might be.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 10 hours later

Marmalade said

I did like some of the answers in that thread. 

John’s answer was pointing out the philosophical difficulties of dualistic language, but all language is dualistic.  I was looking past such problems of language which are mostly surface problems.  I don’t agree with simple dualistic value judgments either. 

However, I was looking past this surface level to the deeper implications of the scenario and the experience that such a scenario would incur.  The term ‘wrong’ may not be the best term, but its adequate for conveying a certain kind of experience.  As I mentioned, I have had experiences where everything I knew felt ‘wrong’ and not in a dualistic sense but rather in an absolute sense.

I’ve been slowly reading A Scanner Darkly in bits and pieces.  I just came across a favorite section which is also conveyed well in the movie.  Its showing the degeneration of his mind really kicking in.  In a single scene, he switches between several cognitive perspectives talking about himself the whole time as if he were someone else.  PKD does it so smoothly which is extremely impressive. 

I can feel confused at times, but this goes to a whole other level.  PKD shows from the inside what it might feel like as your psyche disitegrated.  At the same time, the tone becomes evermore philosophical as the charcter not only tries to figure out what is going on but also what it means.

Subjective experience is difficult to convey in all its complexity.  Most writers stick to more normal characters because the challenge of writing well is already difficult enough.  I want to read more good examples of the type of writing that PKD does in certain of his books.  I’m thinking over the many novels and stories I’ve read over the years, but offhand its hard for me to remember which authors might’ve done this well.  I would definitely point out Kafka for he is good at deeply conveying a subjective mood.  I like Hesse’s writings, but I’m not sure that he exactly fits into what I’m thinking about here.

I’ve been very specifically thinking of fiction this past month.  I even have a story I want to write.  My motivation for the story is to convey this feeling I’ve been having lately and so the whole story hinges on how well I could convey it.  I don’t know that I could convey it, but I’m willing to try.  An aspect of the story is also about the sense of connection that one can feel with others at times and the utter disconnection at other times.  The disconnection part fits in with the difficulties of communication.

The story I’m thinking of has a different type of narrative than a typical PKD story.  I’m thinking of a very short story that happens in a single location with very little action.  The story will be as much about the past as its about the present which is another challenge.

We’ll see what I come up with.  I’ll keep you apprised.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 13 hours later

Marmalade said

There are 3 elements to storytelling that I’m considering:
 – Conveying multiple perspectives within a single character and smoothly transitioning between those perspectives.
 – Creating an atmosphere, a mood, a subjective sense of reality that permeates all aspects of a story.
 – Using imagery and themes that are potent and subtle, that bridge between ephemeral inner experiences and concrete outer descriptions.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

you’re getting me lathered up in a fervour of anticipation! really, i can hardly wait to see what you come up with, Ben. It sounds absolutely fascinating.

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

1 day later

1Vector3 said

Boy do I ever resonate with the experiences and challenges. Plus, as spiritual discussions try to get ever more precise about what is “experienced” even the word “experience” drops out of the running, and we are left with elusive stuff like “the suchness of Beingness” or “the ground of Beingness” or “Being.” Blech.

I was in a spiritually-oriented discussion group last night, and oddly enough was talking about one of your points: I have written and blogged about many of my inner illuminations and experiences and insights and transformations but the most profound ones – and even many of the less profound ones! – I have felt a disinclination to even TRY to write about.

So I am very frustrated, in a way, as a teacher-via-writing because the stuff I write is not the really IMPORTANT stuff, which part of me thinks I not only COULD write about but MUST be writing about, yet I cannot bring myself to do it. That’s all related to letting go of lots of my “Should’s” but it also means I end up feeling as if I am simply presenting surface stuff, misleading folks into thinking that’s all that’s going on, or the most important stuff going on. So I am breaking my identity of Rescuer, but not without the good fight, haha.

I once made a stab at trying to describe what it’s like to break through the sound barrier of “knowing” and live at the speed of “the living Truth” but it didn’t seem a particularly effective stab.

I don’t have the ability to write fiction, but I do have some poetry skills, but they don’t seem to have aligned yet with any of the kinds of purposes-of-writing we are talking about here. Perhaps they will.

In face to face life – and actually even via print and computer words – there are ways to transcend worded communication/influence. Sometimes I just give up on words, even though most of the time I live in them, as my personal arena of Divine Expression.

It was sooooooo wonderful to read your thoughts, so wonderfully expressed. Thank you for sharing, and for being in my world, kindred spirit.
Blessings, OM Bastet

Marmalade : Gaia Child

2 days later

Marmalade said

Hey OM!

Writing is difficult no doubt.  I gave up on words for a period of time some years ago.  I stopped reading and writing not for ideological reasons but because language just didn’t fit my experience at that time.  This is impressive considering how much of my life has revolved around words.  Of course, my love of (or addiction to) language won out.

I don’t see language as the enemy as some spiritual people do.  Like you, I usually see it as my personal arena of Divine Expression or something like that.  I’d like to find a different way of using language.  Fiction is what I know and so I plan on focusing on that, but poetry definitely works for many people.

I’ve decided to focus more on my own writing and less time on pods.  I think I’ll only keep the God Pod and Community Film Picks on notification.  I did finish a very rough draft of the story I’ve been thinking of, but it will probably be a while before I’m satisfied enough with it to share it.  I plan on trying multiple different ways of telling the story before even getting much into the editing process.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

3 days later

Nicole said

that sounds like an excellent plan. The more I try to keep pods under control the more they proliferate – I’m back up to 31 Lol fortunately not all of them active. Time to trim some of the inactive ones again!

starlight : StarLight Dancing

13 days later

starlight said

Ben, have you just tried to do some honest journaling…not really anything specific to begin with…just honest feelings about experiencing?  this helps, and it also helps to always write what you know…so, if you ‘don’t know’, write about the ways you know you don’t know…this will open up areas that are blocked in your psyche…also, you mentioned feeling connected…then feeling disconnected…write about these experiences honestly…putting these honest feelings down on paper, then looking at them, opens up other areas of awareness…

will look forward to reading you…when we can honestly speak from our hearts…the experience resonates…and touches all that are listening with their heart…

much love and joy…star…

Marmalade : Gaia Child

13 days later

Marmalade said

Yeah, for years I used to do lots of that kind of honest journalling.  I still do it some, but not as much as I used to because it ultimately felt unsatisfying.  It was useful for a period of my life.

Part of my frustration lately is not just that I ‘don’t know’, but also that I ‘don’t know’ what to do with what I ‘do know’.  Specifically, my present frustration relates to being on Gaia because my frustrations are amplified.  There are three overlapping types on Gaia.  There are the rationalists which are mostly represented by the integralists here.  There are the spiritual believers who are heavily weighted towards the new age.  And there are the activists who are extremely politically-oriented specifically liberal and progressive.  I find these three types interesting, but I don’t really fit into any of them. 

All three of these types (and this entire community) is dominated by optimists.  I’m not an optimist… far from it.  I have certain ideals that occasionally inspire me, but I’m not that idealistic.  If anything, my view of life is tragic.

So, in many ways I ‘don’t know’ about my own experience.  More importantly, I feel most people ‘don’t know’ my experience.  I realize this is a common experience of feeling not understood, but I think this feeling is more accurate for some people than for others.  In our society, statistics show that pessimists are an extreme minority.  This probably has always been true because optimism has more of an evolutionary advantage.  My pessimism is out of sync with society (especially in the US) and maybe with the human race in general.  Furthermore, Gaia has an even higher concentration of optimists than probably anywhere else on the web.

The obvious question… so why am I here?  I don’t know. I was raised with the New Age and I’m apparently drawn to it like a moth to a flame.  How tragic.  🙂

When you read my writing on gaia, you are reading a highly censored version of me.  I partly don’t speak about certain experiences because I don’t fully understand them, but I also don’t speak about certain experiences because I doubt most others here would fully understand them.  So, what is the point?!  No one on Gaia has ever seen my darker side and probably no one here cares to see it.  And I don’t care to hear all the optimism I’d get in response to it.

The reason I’m here is similar to an explanation of the universe that I find humorous.  Some people claim that this universe is the best of all possible worlds.  Now that is a depressing thought.  This is the best God could do?  Anyways, it seems ironically funny to me because its usually stated as a way of countering pessimism.  My point being is I’m on Gaia because its the best of all possible blogging communities which can simultaneously be seen as praise for Gaia and criticism of blogging communities in general. 

I’m a dissatisfied person and that is the way it is.  The problem isn’t anything in particular.  The problem is everything.  Our inability to understand and to communicate.  Our inability to do anything actually significant about all of the suffering in the world.  Our inability to see outside of our limited perspectives.  I don’t think we can honestly speak from our hearts or at least I have yet to either personally experience it or observe it in others.  The only ‘honest’ experiences of the heart I’ve had brought on silence and a sense of existential ignorance… which isn’t a bad thing… in fact, I suspect the world might be a better (or more intereting) place if more people had such humbling experiences.

The difficulty I have with a place like Gaia is that too many people here have agendas and are too certain about their agendas.  This isn’t a bad thing per se.  The purpose of Zaadz was to be a place for people who want to change the world.  But I don’t want to change the world and I don’t resonate with people who do.  Its not a judgment of them.  I’m glad some people feel compelled towards change… whatever inspires you or whatever is your nature.  My attitude is just different because my experience is different.  My attitude is how to let the world deeply and profoundly change me.  One of my highest ideals is to let go of all ideals, but that is of course an impossible ideal.  lol

starlight : StarLight Dancing

13 days later

starlight said

Ben…again, i encourage you in honesty…how do you know that other’s will not resonate with your experiences of the darker side until you put it out there?  and, relatively speaking…is that not in and of itself your purpose for being here?  i write about horrible experiences that i have had in reality…smoking crack…prostitution…sexual abuse…and yet, i also write about the real inner peace and joy that i experience…

imho, and b/c of my real life experiencing of my own dark nights of my soul…i was not able to get past them until i saw them for what they were…and got honest with me about it…seems like, you are doing that, but your frustration just might be, your lack of expression…iow, your creative ability to express in words what you have experienced or are experiencing now…and the way to solve that is just to do it…write what you feel…be honest…to hell with the optimist…fuck em…lol…like Adam said…

FEEL TO HEAL AND KEEP IT REAL…

how do you know that other’s don’t ‘feel’ the same ways?  by speaking your truths no matter how dark they may be, you release that frustration, and you give other’s the right to be who and what they are…and feel what they feel…

these are just suggestions, but b/c i deal with the ‘dark side’ of life every day…i no longer deny this in myself, in other’s, or in the world at large…

much love and joy…and if you don’t want me to say that…tell me to ‘fuck off!’  LOL…

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

13 days later

Marmalade said

I hear ya.  I’m sure some would resonate with experiences I could communicate.  I’m not saying I won’t try to write about these more difficult issues.  I’m not sure what my purpose is for being here other than writing.  I do want to try to express something of my viewpoint as far as I feel capable.

My frustrations go beyond difficulties of communication.  I’m just frustrated, but I don’t see my frustration as something to be solved.  I feel the world is inherently dissatisfying.  For me, frustration is the seed of my spiritual experiences.  Suffering and longing go hand in hand.  I can put this into personal terms, but I don’t have the time at the moment.  I’ve spoken about my depression in various places on Gaia.  This might sound strange to some people but part of me doesn’t want my depression to go away.  I don’t want to forget the world’s suffering.  I don’t want to distract myself not even by ideals of love and compassion.  I don’t know what this means, but I do know that suffering is the most real experience I know of.

All of this means little.  Either you’ve had experiences similar to mine and agree with my perspective, or you’ve had different experiences and thus have different perspectives.  Another thing is that I don’t have the belief that you seem to have that expressing something will change it.  I have no expectations that my frustration will ever be released or rather not until I’m released from this mortal coil.

I don’t know what the point of any of it is.  I’m just a writer.  Its what I do and so here I am.

One last thing about this frustration is that I feel immense shame.  I’m far from being successful by most standards of society.  My only level of success is that I hold down a job, pay the bills, and haven’t killed myself.  I pretty much live my life day by day.  I have no excuses for myself or my life.  I’ve had more opportunities than most people ever have.  Most people would see my failure as being completely personal.  My parents worked themselves through college and into professional careers.  Both of them started off fairly poor and are now upper middleclass.  I, on the other hand, have slowly worked myself back down to working class.  My parents are accomplished and have intense work ethics.  I can’t even get the motivation to do the dishes. 

I live my life in fear.  I’m afraid of everything.  Life will only get worse.  My depression will only increase with age.  Pain and suffering will only increase with age.  Loneliness will only become more intense as people I know and love die over the years.  To be completely honest,  I’ll be ‘lucky’ if I don’t either end up killing myself, becoming institutionalized or else homeless.  That is my darker side.

I’m not seeking pity.  And I’m definitely not looking for good advice or optimistic outlooks.  I very well may say ‘fuck off!’ to anyone who does offer any of this.

starlight : StarLight Dancing

13 days later

starlight said

LOL…there ya go!  rotf…least you made me laugh…which is something i love to do…

i spent my life trying to kill myself with drugs and alcohol….today i am thankful for another way to live and enjoy  my life…i am really a very simple person…and i don’t have a belief system anymore, cause i had an experience where all my conceptual beliefs, including the religious ones crumbled…i cannot think conceptually now…i don’t know why i am here…fuck it…don’t care…just going to try and enjoy my life as much as possible…cause that is what i want to do…lol…if you like your depression…happy depressing…lol…i don’t see much point to all the suffering…but i, like you, am not willing to look the other way concerning it,  or pretend that it does not really exist…even if it is just temporary…but, unlike you…i fucking love my life now…i love nature…i love to write…i love to feel joy…i love to cry…i love music…i love to sing…my songs…i love to play guitar…my keyboard…congas…i love to dance…in the rain…play with kids…i love…rainbows…sunsets…stars…i love to fuck…and i love to say the word fuck…i love food…i love the internet…i love movies…books…i love to learn…and sometimes i love just being lazy…well, i love that a lot…mostly…i just stay honest and real with me…cause that makes me happy…

anyways…this has been a very enlightening discussion…for me anyways…always, *

Marmalade : Gaia Child

13 days later

Marmalade said

Your attitude is fine by me. 

My theory is that I am what I am and I experience what I experience… and as far as I can tell this theory applies to everyone.  I’m happy when I’m happy and I enjoy life when I enjoy it.  Conversely, I’m depressed when I’m depressed and I gladly curse God almighty when I’m in a bad mood.

For happy people, I say more power to them.  Overall, I’m not a happy person myself.  But who wouldn’t choose to be a happy person if such things were actually choices.  I’ve tried to be one of those happy people.  It just didn’t work out.  We all have our fates.  Some people just have easier fates than others.  I can hear people responding with the opinion that nothing is fated, and all I can say is that such a person believes this way because
their nature and life experience has led them to do so.

Freewill is a sacred cow for optimists, but it doesn’t mean much to me.  I’ve spent much of my life trying to choose something other than this life I have.  Nevertheless, here I am as I am.  I’ve tried to just love life and enjoy the simple things.  I have found some basic sense of contentment, but depression always returns and my periods of depression last way longer than my brief moments of carefree happiness.

I suspect that everyone tries and enjoy their lives as much as possible, but what is possible is not the same for everyone.  That reminds me of what my Grandmother used to say: “Everyone is doing the best for where they’re at.”  Not much more can be said than that.

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

13 days later

1Vector3 said

Your position is coming through loud and clear, Ben, and I believe I’m hearing it. As someone who values you, I had to at first be sure that, re your depression, you had covered all the possible avenues of change that I am aware of, and since you seem to have done that, it does appear that “not much more can be said.” Until and unless something changes……

I don’t identify with any of the three groups here you mentioned. Do you consider me a New Ager and optimist? Both labels would be just about the opposite of the truth of me !!!! I am a heretic on at least 40 points wrt New Age, and as a perfectionist down to my cells and in every second of my consciousness, I am a card-carrying pessimist, always focusing first and foremost and at length on what is wrong and what could go wrong. For example I have had a long hard struggle for decades to even begin to entertain the notion that “Things could turn out the best way I could imagine, not the worst way.”  Give me anything and I will tell you all the downsides of it, past, present, and future. But I also see ways it could be improved, and ways the improvements could be accomplished. That is part of the gifts in the garbage, as one of my friends calls it.

So I am an optimist in believing everything CAN be improved, it’s just a matter of willingness and resources. And I am an optimist in believing that there ARE gifts in every garbage. In fact, that’s why the garbage exists, to call attention to the gifts.

Then again, I am usually hopeless about things actually improving……

Free will ain’t a sacred cow for me. I have a heretical view of that notion, which most people would (sloppily and inaccurately) interpret as no free will. One of my New Age heresies, a very severe one. Very severe, as it impacts how we approach changing the world.
I don’t feel like a happy person, overall either. Too much guilt, too much hopelessness, too much anger at God and blaming of God. But I have my moments not of optimism but of “knowing” [not accurate word]  the Bigger Picture, in which all that fades to less than nothing. Less. Like it never existed.

That somehow feels like a deeper and more authentic Me than the rest. And, fortunately, those moments are expanding in number and length, which I desire, but which I am only cooperating with; it’s a happening, not a doing….

Anyway, what I value most is honesty/authenticity, which is a version of Truth I treasure in self and others, and you reek of that !!!!!

Namaste, OM

Marmalade : Gaia Child

14 days later

Marmalade said

re my depression, maybe it’ll change but I’d be surprised if it did.  I tried to change it… and, since that didn’t work, I tried the opposite tactic.  That is my version of being practical.

I didn’t have you in mind when I was thinking of those three groups.  I was mostly thinking about broad categories.  I’ve heard your views on the New Age and so I know you don’t self-identify as a New Ager.  I don’t know you well enough to say what I think you are to tell you the truth, but for some reason to me you’ve come across as an optimist.  Of course, labels are relative in how we personally interpret them.  You seem more optimistic than myself anyways.  I do sometimes see the gifts in the garbage, but first and foremost I see the garbage.  Actually, I usually don’t see a clear difference between the supposed garbage and the supposed gifts.

I like the distinction you made between CAN be improved vs actually improving.  Sounds like the type of think I’d say.

Freewill… that is a heck of an issue.  I’ve thought about blogging about it.  Maybe I will.  I could write a very long and detailed blog or even series of blogs about that subject.  I’ve been thinking a fair bit about it.  I was reading about freewill online and came across compatibalism which states that freewill and determinism are not in contradiction.  The freewill/determinism debate is like the theism/atheism debate.  According to compatibalism, freewill is relative.  Freewill is meaningless as an abstraction, but in practical terms we must define the specific context.  What specifically do we believe we are free from?  Or what do we want to be free from?

I dig what you say about your “deeper and more authentic Me”.  Good luck on expanding those moments in number and length.  A happening, not a doing… yes, indeedy!

I reek?  ummm… thanks.  🙂

Nicole : wakingdreamer

14 days later

Nicole said

Ben, I am really moved by what you are saying. Thank you for showing up as yourself to this extent though you are clearly very doubtful of getting what you need.

I have seen over and over here people expressing deep negativity, pain, suffering, heart cries – and finding others who resonate – yes! someone else who understands how deeply messed up the world is, thank you! So I believe the same will be of you, if you choose to show the “darker side” of Ben.

One of my closest friends here on the site loves really dark, angry music, has lived a very very difficult past (and blogs often about it) and sometimes shows up with very violent or heavy energy. He teaches me a lot , as you have done and are doing now much more, about how really unhelpful or inappropriate it can be to try to cheer people up or be optimistic at times. Now, when he gets in those kinds of places, I just walk over to him mentally and verbally and sit next to him, and we talk about it, and when he is ready to be alone again he lets me know and I quietly go.

I have no illusions about being able to understand what you live. I hear what you are saying about depression and it brings light for me, reminding me somewhat of times I have been depressed and had something I needed to work through about that, and just quietly turning away from all my friends who were telling me I had to “fix” the depression because they were uncomfortable with me being depressed. It wasn’t about them and I knew they couldn’t understand that.

I am greedy, Ben. I will admit it. I want to know about all of you, not just the parts of you that you think that I can relate to. In return, I promise to do my best to honour you and not impose my thoughts, feelings and beliefs all over that honesty.

14 days later

Centria said

Ben, thank you for writing this and sharing more of who you are and feel and think.  As someone who definitely leans towards optimism, I suddenly felt a rush of shame and guilt…..that so much obvious optimism might somehow not be honoring or respecting or allowing the more pessimistic sides to have their say, as well.  Just reading your words and story helps balance something.  Well, hopefully, anyway.

Last fall and winter I sat with a good friend who was very depressed.  She was thinking of killing herself.  It was tough to witness, tough to stay there with her, tough to honor exactly where she was in her life.  Like you, part of her did not want to be optimistic.  Part of her, as she expressed it, wanted to deeply feel the suffering of all beings.  She didn’t want to hear any change-your-thinking-and-change-your-life mentality.  So I listened.  And she spoke sometimes, and didn’t speak for long months.  And I did eventually recommend that she consider medication, and she eventually decided to seek help for her depression, and now she’s doing pretty well in her life.  But it did seem very important not to “fix” the depression, not to turn immediately towards the light and cheery and bubbly and optimistic. 
The words to express things are SO hard.  Because we don’t know.  But we use words and stories to attempt to explain….something…..but it’s never true and never accurate and is very often frustrating.  I feel frustrated just trying to find any words to comment here.  What could I possibly know of your life?  Nothing, only the glimmering edges.  And maybe not even those.
Yet I am always amazed when words come out of me pretending like they know or mean something.  Because when I look closely at what’s inside there doesn’t seem to be much there.  Emptiness.  Yes, a structure exists, in which one can claim optimism or pessimism.  But other than that….well, I feel there’s not much I can say that can express anything valuable here.  Except I value your presence here on Gaia so much, your honesty, your thoughtfulness, the way you can’t be pinned down into any definitive category.  Thank you Ben for continuing to share your truth…..and hopefully that fiction, as well.

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

14 days later

1Vector3 said

Yeah, that was a tongue in cheek compliment, just for the fun of the language play. Glad you got it !!

Well if you do write about free will, Ben, I have a lot of comments ready !! Like determinism is definitely not the only alternative to the common notion of “free will,” not by a long shot. And that free will as commonly defined is not a necessary precondition of personal responsibility or morality.

Something Nicole said has indirectly triggered this thought which I am not sure I have expressed here before: “Depression” is to me a pretty meaningless catchall medical term. I often encounter people who consider themselves depressed, are labelled depressed, are treated as depressed, and to me they are just profoundly SAD, or feeling hopeless. To me, there is biochemically-induced depression, which is real and common, and a painkiller did that to me once, but on the very rare occasions when I have(fortunately for very brief periods)  felt slow, heavy, apathetic, tight, weepy, paralyzed, untalkative, withdrawn / dissociated, it’s because I am sad or hopeless ABOUT SOMETHING. True depression is kinda about everything and nothing in particular, as I understand it.

I feel more optimistic haha about people being able to pull out of sadness or hopelessness (or any of the other particulars mentioned below) than I do biochemical depression, or true depression if that exists. But I don’t feel hopeless about any of it. Anything can change. Miracles do happen.

Oh, and lots and lots of people labelled depressed are of course suffering from anger turned toward self, or guilt or self-blame, that’s the classic psychological mechanism, but most of the ones I encounter are actually in deep grief or mourning, often about the state or condition of the world !!!! They are sensitive souls, and bear the grief and suffering of all, as personal. To label this as a psychological or psychiatric illness or disorder is to kinda miss the point; it’s a soul-level response to an observed situation. It is optional, but only if one realizes exactly what is going on.

So “depression” to me is vague and meaningless, unless further specified. Not that I am saying you need to, just sharing my view on a subject that’s commonly discussed these days.

So the checklist would be:
sad?
hopeless?
biochemical source?
anger at self, self-blame, guilt?
grief, mourning? personal or world?
None of the above?

Blessings, OM Bastet

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

14 days later

1Vector3 said

Centria posted while I was composing. Point made: I do not consider her friend “clinically depressed” or mentally ill in any way shape or form. She is one of those I precisely mentioned; The souls who feel the suffering of everyone, as their own. I hate it when those people are put on medication – except for my OTOH below. I believe there are spiritually-based perspectives that could alleviate the perspective which is causing their “depression.” That “depression” or in truth empathetic sadness  is based on an OPTIONAL way of looking at the world, at people, at suffering.

OTOH I believe that a prolonged time spent in any of the other “causes” I outlined above, ends up causing biochemical depression, in addition to any other cause, as the body adapts, and some holistic approach including body mind and spirit would be needed to really make a difference. At that point, anti-depressants might make the person more functional, but they are walking wounded, and the causative perspective still operates.
 
All this sounds like theory but I hope the passionate desire to alleviate needless suffering which is the engine of my life, comes through in somehow. I do it my way, not always very personal or cuddly, those ways too are marvelous. I resonate with and respect and in fact sometimes do, in personal life, the kinds of “being with” and “grokking” that Nicole and Centria have described.

Hey, Ben, this is becoming Collective Wisdom on a very very common issue. Would you be willing????? Any others object???  Perhaps not really soon, but sometime after the energy has moved on from here??

Blessings, OM 

starlight : StarLight Dancing

14 days later

starlight said

My theory is that I am what I am and I experience what I experience… and as far as I can
tell this theory applies to everyone.  I’m happy when I’m happy and I enjoy life when I
enjoy it.  Conversely, I’m depressed when I’m depressed and I gladly curse God almighty
when I’m in a bad mood.

see, i think this is way cool…that you know and accept where you are…and that you are
not running around trying to pretend otherwise…which is what i did for years…never
facing myself…running from drugs and alcohol back to religion always escaping from the
now i was in…shew…today, b/c of my recovery program, i do not have to live that way…
i could never just be honest with me…until…i was able to be…of course, once i was
finally able to get honest…that enabled me to really use the 12 steps and to open up
that awareness…now, i deal with life on life’s terms…it has been a lot of work…and
much of it has been very painful…but i would not trade my life now for anything…
For happy people, I say more power to them.  Overall, I’m not a happy person myself. 
But who wouldn’t choose to be a happy person if such things were actually choices. 
I’ve tried to be one of those happy people.  It just didn’t work out.  We all have our
fates.  Some people just have easier fates than others.  I can hear people responding
with the opinion that nothing is fated, and all I can say is that such a person believes
this way because their nature and life experience has led them to do so.

i would say, from my experience, that happiness and depression both, are way’s of
experiencing this reality…and i tend to agree that there is no choice…on another forum
many of us went round and round on this…here is my story as it relates to choices…

when situations unfolded several years ago, that have led me along this journey that i
got sober on, i would say that i had no control over them, nor did i have a choice at
that very moment when the officer put handcuffs on me and dragged me off to face my own consequences of my behavior…however; everything i had done up to that point…had led me to that point…and looking back, no one put a gun to my head and made me behave in the ways that i had…so, i had to take responsibility for my actions…

i soon ran out of people, places, and things to blame for my behavior, b/c i had started
looking honestly at me…i am grateful that i had the awareness to do this, for i am
reminded that many near and dear to me, do not…i eventually even ran out of the idea
of a god to blame anything on, or to depend on persay, or to praise and thank for even
the grace of awareness…it just is…and i have accepted that today…and for those that
it is not…well, that just is too…

my own experience however, of taking these steps, which are just a journey within, taught
me that though i did not have a choice once i picked up that first drug or drink, or even a choice as to whether or not i used then…that b/c of the clarity of awareness i have today, i do have a choice whether or not to go down that road of insanity again…tomorrow,
i don’t know about…but today i am aware, and i am emotionally sober, as well as clean from chemical substances…i also learned that using was not my problem…it was my solution…my problem was a lack of power to live life on life’s terms…i have sense found that power within my own awareness…and it is way cool…lol

i learned through this program how to live life on it’s own terms…to stay awake to the
moment of now, and stay out of yesterday…out of tomorrow…and out of my head…i found
too, that every negative or positive feeling was due to conditioned awareness…and the
reason that i believe anything…is also due to that conditioning…so i really resonate
with that last sentence of yours in the paragraph above…

this way of thinking gave me an opening though…if i am responsible for how i feel…
what i think…what i believe…and my behavior…then that meant that i could change it…
first by recognizing it…accepting it…then remaining open to the now of awareness of the
moment…and it’s potential for change…THIS WAS VERY POWERFUL FOR ME…AND IS STILL…
when i am able to remain aware, i tap into that inner power, that inner strength, that we all have within our own awareness…
i might not be able to change or control the fact that a tornado destroys my house and all
my material possessions, but i do have the ability…today…to choose what i think about
that…and by changing my thoughts…i change my feelings…on a very simple level…
instead of reacting by conditioned beliefs and habitual emotions…i am free, in this
moment, to look at it another way…

there is a saying in recovery…

we cannot hear until we hear…we cannot see until we see…

iow…IT TAKES WHAT IT TAKES…


Freewill is a sacred cow for optimists, but it doesn’t mean much to me.  I’ve spent much
of my life trying to choose something other than this life I have.  Nevertheless, here I
am as I am.  I’ve tried to just love life and enjoy the simple things.  I have found some
basic sense of contentment, but depression always returns and my periods of depression last way longer than my brief moments of carefree happiness.

concerning freewill…i tend to think that we are puppets of awareness for the most part…
and yet, as i mentioned, in each moment of pristine awareness, there is the potential for
change…but even that change is not concrete…it just is…and i have learned to
experience my life in that ever-free moment of now…awake…present…even to the feelings
that i may not enjoy…like last night…i had gas…damn…it hurt…LOL

what i have experienced too…is that this very journey of life…is an awakening…if i
but pay attention…and remain present in the moment…

i have come to know depression and happiness as the protective layers of our conditioned awareness…we protect ourselves with both of them…and in my experience…they both have been necessary…to get me to right here right now…underneath all those layers of conditioning…i found my own true nature…and when i can remain there, which i can now most of the time…it is beyond awesome…beyond happy…beyond peace…beyond depression beyond suffering…beyond physical pain…beyond now…like Buddha said…it is bliss…nonconceptual…and free…(i am not a buddhist however)…i have even gone beyond being labeled as anything…(religiously speaking…lol)

i am a human being…and i still own my suffering and pain…my joy and sorrow…in the moment when i experience it…but it does not control my life, the way i think, believe, feel or act today…and i still have conditioning i am working through…mostly opening up further and integrating awareness with life experiencing…which you dear Ben, sharing yourself so honestly, have helped me with…

my sister is very sick with depression…my mother is very mentally ill…and we both were raised with this; it affected us differently, but needless to say we both were very much affected…and it has been so difficult for me (accepting her depression), b/c i have been on the other end of it…but i watched my sister start opening up…she was going to meetings with me, and she was blossoming…but she began shutting down again when she had to get honest…her critical thinking muscles are lazy…she holds on to her beliefs of religion like a little child not letting go of her blankie…and she is addicted to the idea of depression….and i stopped trying to push her here after her last two threats to kill herself…but i do not feed into her depression either…i allow her to be just what she is…and she is a beautiful being…very funny and intelligent…she just really is not aware of that…her mind is so tangled with guilt and shoulda, woulda, coulda’s…and a lot of childhood trauma…she is not at this time capable of facing herself…and with the medicines she is having to take, i don’t expect this to change…but, i do not believe that it cannot change…just like…i may wake up tomorrow
with the beginning of Alzheimers…some things again…we have no control over…but i am
awake and aware at this very moment…and it is within my control at this moment…to allow
my own true nature to just be…our conversations here, will no doubt enable me to be of more service to her…if nothing more than on the level of understanding…i thank you for that…


I suspect that everyone tries and enjoy their lives as much as possible, but what is
possible is not the same for everyone.  That reminds me of what my Grandmother used
to say: “Everyone is doing the best for where they’re at.”  Not much more can be said
than that.

there is another saying similar to that that i love…

“When we know better…we can do better.”

today…i take responsibility for my knowing…and my doing…but i realize today too…that this is a gift of the grace of awareness…

much love Ben…always, star…

Marmalade : Gaia Child

14 days later

Marmalade said

The thing is that I fully realize that when speaking about depression online like this only invites people offering advice and whatever.  Its to be expected even if its not what I want.  I’ve a number of times responded to someone’s sharing of hardships only to discover they didn’t even want any response at all.  I’m not like that because I always appreciate responses, but years of hearing advice has soured me on those kind of responses.  How I see advice is that if something works for you, then that is good… but it may not be useful to anyone else.

To some extent I understand other viewpoints, but I don’t know how to bridge the distance between my viewpoint and those of others.  My personal understanding is complex and contradictory.  Sometimes, I sense a genuine goodness and at othe times I would declare without a doubt that this world is a living hell.  At other times, I feel they may both be simultaneously true.

Hey OM, feel free to start a thread in the Collective Wisdom pod.

starlight : StarLight Dancing

14 days later

starlight said

well, i  cannot speak for anyone else, but i really was trying to just share my experience, strength, and hope…and specifically that…i understand that it might seem that i was trying to give advice…however; i assure you that i am aware that my path is not yours and vice a versa…but i cannot deny, that i would think it way cool, if you got something from it you could use…i would hope that you would be open to that…

the only way to bridge the difference between viewpoints, is to remain open as far as i can see…iow, allow yourself the willingness to see things differently…but again, that is a tool i use…that has worked for me…

always, star…

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

14 days later

Marmalade said

I’m just not in the mood for positive intentions, be it advice or not.  I’m open to what you’ve said, but at this point in my life I feel like I’ve heard it all.

I was raised in New Thought Christianity.  I spent years reading about and practicing positive thinking.  I’ve been to a Landmark Forum which teaches how to take control of your life.  I used to have a regular yoga and meditation practice for years.  I’ve been to many psychotherapists, psychiatrists, and even a shamanic healer.  And I went to a Shiatsu massage school where I learned alternative healing including energy work.  Sounds like a resume.  lol

I understand not wanting to blame God or other external forces, but I neither want to blame myself.  If doing all that I’ve tried isn’t good enough, then just hell with it all.  Its not your fault that I’m feeling irritable, and I’m not saying that I don’t want to hear other people’s perspectives.  I’m almost always willing to see things differently.  I’ve dedicated most of my life trying to see things differently.  But maybe at the moment I’m not in the best of moods for feeling open towards certain perspectives.

I’m sorry if I sounded critical, but afterall I am feeling quite critical.  Please understand that it isn’t you personally or anything specific.  Its just how I feel, but I don’t expect anyone else would want to listen to my griping.  I’m just expressing my criticalness because its worse if I don’t. 

15 days later

Centria said

There’s no other option, Mr. Cat, then to take you exactly as you are in this very moment.  That’s good enough for me.  🙂

Nicole : wakingdreamer

15 days later

Nicole said

You’ve explored so many avenues… I fall silent next to you and simply offer U2 – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

If you do want feedback or if there is anything else I can do, I’m here, Ben. Love you.

starlight : StarLight Dancing

15 days later

starlight said

well, take your irritable ass to a 12 step meeting!  LOL…i don’t see that on your list…and it really sounds like you need one…LMAO…(just a suggestion…lol)

Recommendations for your Mind and Imagination

Do you need to blow out the dust and cobwebs from your mind?  Here are my recommendations (in no particular order):

Robert Anton Wilson – He is the penultimate countercultural writer.  He knew how to make conspiracies fun.  The Illuminatus! Trilogy was entertaining fiction that covers a lot of the same material he writes about in his nonfiction.  If you just want his ideas straight, then a good book would be Prometheus Rising.  I personally think the world would be a better (or at least more interesting) place if everyone read some RAW.

Terence McKenna – In the area of psychedelics, he is my favorite writer.  But his mind is wideranging which covers similar topics as Robert Anton Wilson.  I started with True Hallucinations, but any of his writings are quite enjoyable.  For the sake of variety, The Archaic Revival is a good collection of essays and interviews.  I have a book that has these two published together which is quite nice.  I’d also recommend listening to recordings of him speaking because his enthusiasm is contagious.

John Keel – A truly weird writer in the Fortean tradition.  The first book of his I read was the The Mothman Prophecies which is a good introduction to his ideas, but for his full weirdness read The Eighth Tower.  By the way, the movie based on the first book was decent entertainment (and I do recommend it as worthy attempt at portraying difficult material), but a lot of the weirdness got left out.

Patrick Harpur – Read Daimonic Reality.  Not quite as all-out weird, but still helpful in shifting your view on reality.  It’s probably the best all-around introduction to help you grasp the wide spectrum of the strange and the paranormal.

Jacques Vallee – A scientist with a very respectable intellect who doesn’t let his evenhandedness get in the way of his appreciation of the oddness that is the human being.  He is well known fo his Passport to Magonia where he discussed the connection of UFOs with folklore, mythology, religion and non-ordinary experiences, but there is no need to seek out that out-of-print book.  He reworked at least some of the material in his more recent book Dimensions: A Casebook of Alien Contact

George P. Hansen – I’ve read The Trickster and the Paranormal which I highly recommend.  However, it’s no casual read.  He packs in a lot of info that you probably won’t see connected together by any other author.  If you can read this book and not feel a little uncertain about objective reality, then I’ll be impressed.

Victoria Nelson – Her book The Secret Life of Puppets was an inspiration to me.  She gave me new appreciation for some authors I was already familiar with and made me aware of some works I’d never heard of.  I found it very enjoyable the way she connected certain strains of Western thought, popular culture and weird fiction.  It’s a very accessible book of very deep ideas.

Eric G. Wilson – His writing is directly in line with Victoria Nelson, but with more emphasis on philosophy and religion.  Both authors look at the underbelly of Western thought.  I find his mix of ideas appealing, and I like how he keeps his focus on what it means to be human.  I first read his The Melancholy Android, but his Secret Cinema might be a better intro to his thinking.  Neither are massive tomes, but he packs a lot in.

William S. Burroughs – He is best known for his fiction, but I’m going to recommend some of his other writings instead.  One book that offers an interesting glimpse of an interesting mind is The Cat Inside.  It’s partly autobiographical and partly musings about life.  Another one that I really enjoyed is My Education: A Book of Dreams.  Burroughs had a rare mind.  He is one of those writers who I can sense the actual person behind the words.  If you really want to get the sense of Burroughs, then you have to listen to his recordings.  He read many excerpts from his works and he did some interviews, but what I love is simply the sound of his voice.  Once his voice is firmly implanted in your brain, then read some of his books.  A very odd and entertaining adaptation was made of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch by David Cronenberg, but actually it’s also an adaptation of Burroughs’ life and writing in general.  I really liked Cronenberg’s loose adaptation and he has done a number of enjoyable weird movies worth watching such as eXistenZ.

Philip K. Dick – He is another writer who I have the sense of knowing as a person because his writing was often autobiographical.  He didn’t travel widely as Burroughs had, but his mind certainly travelled widely.  I’ve enjoyed all of the fiction I’ve read by him.  One of his more interesting novels might be Valis which is the first in his Valis Trilogy.  However, to really appreciate his fiction it’s necessary to read some of his nonfiction.  I’d suggest reading either In Pursuit of Valis: Selections from the Exegesis or The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings.  Even if you’re not someone who normally likes theology and philosophy, PKD’s odd take on them might amuse you.  It’s hard to find non-fiction writings any weirder than what he has to offer.  If you want to read some writings about PKD, there is a lot of good stuff out there (for instance, those who’ve written about him include some writers I’ve mentioned above: Terence McKenna, Victoria Nelson, and Eric G. Nelson).  My favorite book about him is Pink Beams of Light from the God in the Gutter: The Science-Fictional Religion of Philip K. Dick by Gabriel Mckee.  Mckee provides some useful context by which to understand PKD’s philosophizing.  Also, my favorite movie adaptations are Blade Runner and A Scanner Darkly.  I really love the latter done by Richard Linklater who also made Waking Life which is an even stranger film.  Some people didn’t like the rotoscoping technique of Linklater’s adaptation, but personally I thought he captured PKD like no other movie.  A Scanner Darkly is one of those stories that is so mindblowing in it’s depressing darkness that I was glad it’s balanced with a playful attitude and the actors in the film captured well that playfulness.

Franz Kafka – Now, this guy is a writer who can always lift my mind out of mundane normality.  His fiction is required reading and personally I’d recommend his short stories, but if you’ve already read some of his fiction then I’d recommend the Blue Octavo Notebooks.  These notebooks were different than his diaries and they contain some very interesting musings and fictional snippets.  By the way, I’d recommend Jeremy Irons‘ simply titled movie Kafka and Orson WellesThe Trial.

Douglas Adams – I figured I should include this author simply because he has a very weird imagination that is endlessly humorous.  He throws out a lot of odd ideas and manages to tell an enjoyable story at the same time.  If you feel like you’re taking life too seriously, any of his fiction would be a good antidote.  His most popular work is his Hitchhiker Trilogy, but I think I might’ve enjoyed even more his novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

Barry Yourgrau – His stories are just outright goofy but in a good way.  The only book I’ve read by him is A Man Jumps Out of an Airplane and so that is the one I’d recommend.  He has also written children’s stories, and he has done some spoken word which can be found online (check out The Sadness of Sex on Youtube which is just the first part of a larger work). 

Thomas Wiloch – I just like his imagination and the fantastic images he creates can be quite striking at times.  I suppose one could think of him as a darker version of Yourgrau.  I have read some of his stories from different collections, but the only book of his that I own is Screaming In Code which has some nice pictures in it.  I don’t know which would be his best book, but if you just want a taste of his writing you can find some of his stories online.

Neil Gaiman – His Sandman series is some of the best graphic novels around.  They’re strange stories with high quality artwork.  He manages to create some very distinctively intriguing characters and places them in equally intriguing worlds.  I won’t vouch for all of Gaiman’s work, but I’ve enjoyed all of the graphic novels I’ve read by him.   A good graphic novel is always nice when you’re trying to escape from reality.  Gaiman has also been involved in films and shows either in writing the scripts or in having his work adapted.  I’ll mention only two notable examples.  He wrote the story for Dave McKean‘s move MirrorMask (and they’ve worked together before in graphic novels).  McKean has a surreal visual imagination that goes well with Gaiman’s writing.  His story Coraline (which I’ve never read) was made into a delightful animated stop-motion 3-D film.  It was actually a bit freaky considering its target audience would seem to be young kids.

Alan Moore –  He has done a lot in the field of graphic novels and I’ve only read a small portion of it.  I started with his Promethea which I absolutely loved.  It’s an imaginative work about imagination.  Moore has also done some darker stuff which is also good such as Watchmen (a decent movie adaptation was made of it, but it’s seems surprisingly difficult to do justice to a graphic novel in the constraints of Hollywood).  What I like about his imagination is that it has some intelligence to it.  I like seeing interesting ideas placed in a visually stunning medium.

Grant Morrison – I first read his Doom Patrol which is truly bizarre.  I’ve since read some of The Invisibles and The Filth.  Both of those are equally bizarre.  If you like weird, this as weird as you can get and still tell a good story.

Bill Willingham – I include him for reasons of basic amusement.  Like Gaiman, Willingham draws on folklore in his Fables series.  Otherwise, they’re very different in style.  His Fables series tell the stories of the fairytale characters we’re all familiar with but mixes them together with an overarching plot.  It’s just fun to read.

Harlan Ellison – He was friends with Philip K. Dick for a time.  He isn’t as well known as PKD, but Ellison was also one of the early innovators who helped popularize the field of weird fiction.  He is a very prolific writer and I certainly haven’t read all or even most of his work, but what I have read I’ve enjoyed.  Even though he doesn’t quite have the philosophical depth of PKD, he does have a strange imagination.  There was an interesting graphic novel adaptation of his work called Dream Corridor.  It’s uneven in the quality of different adaptors, but overall his stories translate well to a visual medium.  Another very interesting collection is Mind Fields: The Art of Jacek Yerka, the Fiction of Harlan Ellison.  The art in that book is truly surreal and Ellison wrote his stories as direct inspirations of each picture.  It’s been a while since I read the stories in that collection, but the pictures have stuck in my mind.

Thomas Ligotti – Something about Harlan Ellison’s work reminds me of Ligotti.  I’m sure I like Ligotti better, but I don’t think they’re really comparable.  Ellison is dark and Ligotti is even darker.  However, by saying he is even darker I don’t mean grotesque or violent.  It’s dark in a more subtle sense.  Many consider Ligotti to be the best or at least most weird writer in horror fiction.  A good collection of his stories is Teatro Grottesco, but maybe the reason Ellison made me think of Ligotti is because the latter also has a graphic novel adaptation of his work (i.e., Nightmare Factory).  I should mention that some serious Ligotti fans dislike the adaptations.  I understand that much of the enjoyment of Ligotti’s work comes from his mastery of language, but still some of the artwork in the adaptations is truly compelling.  His story The Frolic was made into a very good film.  Although I’m not sure that Ligotti’s writing will blow out the dust or cobwebs from your mind, his stories probably will do something to your mind.

 Matthew Rossi – I own his Things That Never Were: fantasies, lunacies & entertaining lies.  As far as I know, this is his only published book, but I’d hope he would continue writing.  I don’t know the type of person that this book would appeal to.  It isn’t exactly either fiction or nonfiction.  It’s just intelligent silliness.  Obviously, he is someone who has accumulated lots of useless information in his head and so decided to try to put it together in such a way that it made it somewhat plausible.  He mixes up history, mythology, religion, genre fiction, conspiracy theories and pseudo-science.  As Paul Di Filippo says in the Introduction: “Rossi’s several incompatible mindchildren aren’t fighting. they’re violently screwing, and out of this brain-intercourse is going to arise an unpredictable hybrid of startling portent.”  Also, if you like Rossi’s writing, you might enjoy Myths for the Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe by Win Scott Eckert.

Some collections that are required reading:

 
I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild’s Pocket Book
Edited by Iona & Peter Opie
Illustrated by Maurice Sendak
 
This is a well-chosen collection of songs and rhymes that children have repeated for many generations.  I was only familiar with some of them probably because the editors collected these 50 years ago in British schools, but I enjoyed many of them that were new to me.  These songs and rhymes are just pure silliness, and Sendak’s pictures are almost on every page.
 
Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts: the subversive folklore of childhood
By Josepha Sherman & T.K.F. Weisskopf
 
This is a great find.  I recognized many of the songs and rhymes.  This is the unedited version of your childhood.  A nice thing about it is that the collectors provide multiple versions which demonstrates the innovativeness of children.  Some people might be surprised by the dark perversity of the child’s mind, but I can’t say I was surprised.
 
Grimm’s Fairy Tales
By Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
 
If you haven’t ever read any of these, you should.  And if you haven’t read them in a long while, then you should read them again.  I really love these stories.  There are many different versions and I don’t know which is the best.  I’d probably go with the Jack Zipes edition.  I didn’t read these as a kid and I doubt many parents these days would read them to their children.  Some of them are fairly dark, but that is part of what makes them amusing.  The Grimm brothers supposedly had even cleaned these stories up a bit when they realized that their target audience might actually be children.  I would love to see the original versions, but I don’t know if there is such a collection.  Anyways, the Grimm’s versions are enjoyable.  I personally find something immensely appealing in the simplicity of a fairy tale.  Many fairy tales (especially in their earliest unpolished form) have a dream-like quality about them.  The only modern fiction that comes close are prose poems or flash fiction.

I’ve already mentioned some movies above.  Here are some other movies that just amuse me or in some cases help free my imagination and inspire a sense of wonder (I’ll only list my top favorites, but you can find all of my favorites on my About page):

Monty Python – Pretty much anything by them is amusing.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show – I enjoy this movie in the same way I enjoy Monty Python.  Inane weirdness and silly songs and dance.

Army of Darkness – This is one of the best cult classic horror camp movies ever made.  I’m a fan of Bruce Campbell’s brand of humor.  If you’ve already seen this movie and enjoyed it, then I’d recommend Cemetery Man.

Waking Life – Strange ideas presented in a strange style.  This was Richard Linklater’s first use of rotoscoping which he later used in A Scanner Darkly (which I also highly recommend).

The Nines – It’s hard for me to judge this movie for it is strange to the extreme and yet certainly not weird simply for the sake of weird.  It’s an amazing movie, but it probably requires watching it more than once.

Donnie Darko – Another movie that really makes you ponder reality.  There is some very startling imagery in this movie that sticks in my mind.

Dancer in the Dark – I realize this is a movie people either love or hate.  I admit it’s a bit difficult to get into at first, and of course not everyone appreciates Bjork’s singing.  However, there is no movie like it.  After a while, I was completely pulled into the world of the protagonist and I thought it a very fascinating world.  It shows how imagination helps someone survive even the bleakest of situations.  So, if you like despairingly depressing movies where the characters break out into song and dance, then this is for you.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – This also was a movie I had a hard time getting into the first time I watched it, but it’s grown on me.  This movie literally takes you into the mind of the protagonist.  It’s both funny and sad, something like life itself but with more entertainment value.

The Truman Show – This is one of the best Philip K. Dick movies ever made that wasn’t specifically based on a Philip K. Dick story.  All I can say is I hope I’m not trapped in a reality tv show.  That would be truly sad, especially for those watching.

Dark City – This is an even darker and more fantastically weird version of The Truman Show.  Being trapped in a reality tv show might not be such a bad fate afterall.  It’s an awesome movie and the visuals are just amazing.  By the way, it’s somewhat similar to the Matrix Trilogy, but Dark City was made first.

What Dreams May Come – This is a more positive view of the imagination, but it has plenty of dark to it as well.  Even if you discredit it for the romantic optimism, I hope you can appreciate some of the stunning visual scenes.  This is the only movie I’ve ever watched that made the afterlife seem compellingly real.  For certain, the Hell that is presented feels much more convincing than the Christian version.

The Fountain – This is one of my all-time favorites, but I can understand why others might not like it.  Similar to What Dreams May Come, it plays with ideals of romantic love but it stays away from sentimental superficialities.  It’s a very convoluted movie which some have complained about.  However, if you’re like me and have some ability to understand complexity, then it shouldn’t bother you.  There is some very intelligent use of visual language that helps hold the narratives together.

Altered States – This was a very original take on the scientist that goes too far, but in this case he nearly falls off the edge of reality.  Psychedelics and monkey-men, sex and religious imagery… what isn’t there to like?

Return to Oz – If you liked the original The Wizard of Oz movie (or maybe even if you didn’t), then you should see this.  It’s Oz transformed.  I’ll just say that, upon her return, Dorothy isn’t greeted by singing Munchkins.

If you don’t have the time to read a book or watch a movie and need some quick amusement or mind-expanding edification, then here are some websites for you.

The Church of the SubGenius

Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

The Landover Baptist Church

The Onion

Uncyclopedia

Principia Discordia

fUSION Anomaly

The Deoxyribonucleic Hyperdimension

deviantART

TV Tropes

Thomas Ligotti Online

What I’ve been doing lately

I’ve had a bunch of stuff on my mind lately.  I’m being my normal distractable self.

I was reading about the Monomyth in terms of fiction.  Along with this, I’ve been visitng the TV Tropes site which is always enjoyable.  I’ve been trying to refocus on fiction and I’ve been working on a story. 

For some reason, conversations with my parents have led to the subject of generations.  So, I was looking at a specific generations theory that is based on four repeating archetypes.  I’ve read about generations quite a bit over the years, but I learned something new in some recent reading of online articles. 

Generation X (of which I’m a member of on the younger end of the scale) isn’t very large in number.  The Boomer generation before is about twice the size and the Milennial generation after is about twice the size.  Generation X hasn’t had as directly a powerful influence as the Boomers.  When people think of contemporary American culture they’re essentially thinking of Boomer culture.  And just as Generation X is just starting to move up in to positions of power, the massive Milennial generation pops up and will get all the attention. 

I don’t mind so much.  I’m excited to see how the world will change as the Boomers retire and the Milennials become the new force that dominates American culture.  I suspect there will be an explosion of technological innovation of the likes that hasn’t been seen for a long time.

On another topic, I’ve been reading some graphic novels.  I’ve decided to finish reading the whole Sandman series which is probably my single most favorite graphic novel.  I also want to finish Doom Patrol eventually.   Another favorite series is Promethea which I’ve read before, but would like to read again. I’ve started looking at some other graphic novels: The Filth, The Invisibles, and Watchmen… the latter of which has been made into a movie.

I’ve also been reading other books as well… ya know, the kind without pictures. 

I’m reading The Hidden Passion by Caruana.  It is a novelized version of the Jesus story from the Gnostic perspective.  He bases it on and directly quotes from Gnostic texts.  Its quite fascinating and a nice balance to my past studies of Gnosticism.  It makes me want to read more of the Gnostic texts.

I’ve been skimming through the nonfiction book arts of Darkness Thomas S. Hibbs (the title intentionally leaves “arts” uncapitalized).  Its about several of my favorite subjects: film, neo-noir, sci-fi, and Gnosticism.  It covers similar territory as the works of Eric G. Wilson, but with a different emphasis.  Hopefully, I’ll get around to reading it in detail soon.  I have the sense that it will be a book that I’ll return to many times.

My friend has been reading some of the writings of Martin Luther.  We’ve discussed it some and its interesting even though its a bit hard to understand some aspects.  My friend has an interest in the idea of sin.  Luther believed that we couldn’t see sin in ourselves, and that it was only through God that our sin could be brought to light.  Luther has a fairly black and white view in which it seems that he presents God as an absolute Other.  Only utterly blind faith can save us.

I’ve been watching some tv shows and movies. 

I just finished the movie Walk Hard.  Its a very silly parody of the Jonny Cash biopic Walk the Line.  I watched it before and its as funny the second time.

There are two tv series I just started watching.  Pushing Daisies is somewhat original.  Its about a guy who brings back the dead.  It reminds me of a couple of shows.  Its similar to Dead Like Me and Tru Calling.  The other series I’ve watched a few episodes of is Fringe.  Its of the paranormal investigator and political conspiracy variety first popularized with the X Files. 

The only thing that annoys me about Pushing Daisies and Fringe is that both lead actors always seem like their constipated.  I think its the actors’ attempts to portray characters that feel troubled by life.  That is only a minor complaint because the acting overall is good.