Summer Holiday

bernadette driving

That’s Bernadette getting the hell out of Dodge because my parents are due to arrive for another interminable annual visit in just over a week from now.

As it takes all of my mental fortitude to remain consistently pleasant and apolitical in the presence of my astoundingly rigid and overbearingly Catholic parents, I’ll probably be posting very little here for most of the next month.  A lot can happen in four weeks’ time.  The world may end; then again, it may not.  Maryellen might jump in and post new material for you to read; then again, she may not.  Who can say what joys or horrors might transpire with the passage of time?  Not Bernadette, obviously.

Until then – here’s a little something, just because:

Śūnyatā

sunyata_4313_by_eyeofgalyx-daclbws

Here’s my final Challenge the Curmudgeon post.  It’s been a very interesting week and I’d like to thank all of you once again for playing along and forcing me to think outside my comfort zone.  This is another one from Pablo (https://pcuzco.wordpress.com/).  Pablo requested that I discuss “…something about the progression of events that got you where you are today, drug free, Buddhist and insane (in a good way). No details, just a funny story.”

It didn’t happen when I put down the bottle.  It wasn’t contained in the words of philosophers or Pandits, gurus or Geshes.  There was no flash of enlightenment on the meditation cushion; no communication with dakas or dakinis, deities or demons.  I didn’t find it in a Sangha and I sure as hell didn’t find it within 12 trite steps to sober mediocrity.  But scientists and seers agree that it is happening because it is the nature of it to happen and in order to happen, it has to stop happening just as often as it happens.

Truth be told, nothing happened to me.  This is because I’m not so much a “me” as a happening that calls itself me and nothing happens to a happening.  Quite some time ago, events occurred on levels from macro to micro that set in motion an event that decided it didn’t like being an event, so it convinced itself it was a thing.  That event was me.  In attempting to change its nature from fluid to static, a miserable, frightened, angry, jealous event transpired and I kept ruminating on this pitiful event causing it to gain strength.  Warm and cold fronts danced to a stalemate and in my resulting torpor, I forgot all about the blood circulating through my veins and arteries, the replication of cells, the regeneration of tissue, though I kept doing all of that, albeit unconsciously.

The most happenin’ of all the happenings was contained in a thought.  Or rather, between two thoughts.  The first thought was a son-of-a-bitch, full of self-deprecation and fear.  The second thought was rather silly – something about a goose?  I must have seen a goose that afternoon.  But here’s the really far out thing: I didn’t craft yet another redundant sob story around the depressing thought, nor did I create a fairy tale around the goose thought.  It was more like, “I suck”, “goose” in rapid succession.  Then my emotions and intellect blinked off, just like that, but only for a second.  “Huh?” I said to Bernadette as she was splayed out on the sofa going to town on her crotch.  She didn’t respond because she’s a dog, but she dug what I was saying just the same because she instinctively understands that nothing needs to be understood.

The space between our thoughts – that’s where it all goes down.  And that’s the most profound – no, strike that – the only thing that needs to be understood.  But whether you or I or anyone else understands it is irrelevant to the creative vibration; it will continue to do its thing caring fuck-all about our opinion of it.  I already knew that, but I was still a neurotic mess because philosophy is just a word game in which charlatans like me indulge to hear ourselves talk.  It wasn’t until I was caught off guard – my ego that guards the gate of self-delusion took off for a nanosecond as it always does – but this time, ego clocked back in just a little bit early and noticed it.  It noticed that nothing was there and then, as usual, something returned in the form of a goose.  Self-hatred gives way to goose was how I had always interpreted it.  I had it all wrong.  Emptiness-self hatred-emptiness-goose – that was the actual order of operations, as it were.  In other words, the self-hatred and the goose came from nothing.  When they disappeared, they went back to being nothing-with-potential, because this is what happens to everything – thoughts, people, trees, galaxies – when they return to the emptiness, their source.

I understood then and there that I am a victim of nothing.  I have no enemies or struggles.  I suffer no injustices nor do I achieve any goals.  I am not an individual – I am an event that was set in motion approximately 47 years ago and will cease happening at some point in linear time.  Except that I will never cease happening.  Sure, I won’t always inhabit this 120 lb. slab of amorphous flesh, but that isn’t really the end of the event.  It will just seem that way to those who stick around long enough to notice that the Paul-shaped thing hasn’t shown up for work in quite some time.  Meanwhile, the constituents of the Paul-shaped thing will be abuzz with activity.  The energy that perpetually activated Paul-consciousness for a spell will move on to brighter pastures – maybe a little bit will animate a grizzly bear in the Yukon, another bit will help a distant star along on its journey to supernova.  And just as it was prior to March 16, 1970, the Paul event will no longer be aware of itself.  I’ve already been there – we all have, for far longer than we’ve been “alive” – so why are we so scared to return?

I now have the luxury of playing with my darker thoughts.  That’s what happened.  No outside forces control my mind because there are no “outside” forces.  As I view aspects of the big unity through these temporary eyes, I’ll continue to have all sorts of thoughts and form all sorts of opinions about it and some of them will be downright horrifying.  But I don’t have to settle in and spend time with such thoughts.  They come.  They go.  The insubstantial feelings of dread disappear like smoke rings if you let them.  It took me over 47 years to learn how to let them disappear, and to welcome them back like a surly old friend when they recur.  Your old friends won’t hang around very long if you don’t engage them in discussion, so you may as well show some hospitality and keep the welcome mat out.  As soon as you turn your back on your troublesome guest, the void will snatch it back and pause and introduce another guest – maybe an exotic stranger.  But don’t pay that stranger too much mind, either.  It’s that infinitesimal gap between the departure of one and the arrival of another that encompasses all of creation.  As such, it’s the ultimate destination.  I’ll see you there.

Todd

Baby-spencer-icarly-o

The next challenge comes from the brilliantly skewed mind behind Mydangblog.  She’s an expert at turning the seemingly mundane into comedy gold, so why not have yourself a laugh?  Here’s where to find her: https://educationalmentorship.com/.  In response to the challenge, she wrote: “How true is the saying, ‘A daughter’s a daughter all of her life; a son’s a son ’til he gets a wife’”?

When Todd was a toddler, he toddled after his mother in pursuit of perpetual protection and praise.  His mother called him a “handful”, which was a maternally polite euphemism for “a 50 lb. anthropomorphic hemorrhoid”.  From binkies to baseball cards, she placated his every whim and this made him feel shiny and special.

When Todd was a teen, he thumbed his nose at his mother, ignored her advice, dropped the “my” from the “mom” and pronounced it “Bitch”.  Sometimes she sighed or rolled her eyes, but she kept him well-fed and gave him his space and this made him feel shiny and special.

When Todd met Molly, two m’s shy of his mommy, he thought, “close enough,” and put a ring on her finger.  His mother called him a man, so he tried to live up to the title by making Molly feel inferior.  Molly stood by him and fed him well, and at first, she seemed to enjoy her role.  So Todd stopped calling his mother and when he cried for his dinner, the onus now fell upon Molly, whose home cooking made him feel shiny and special.

Todd had a short attention span.  His mother always said this showed he was creative.  So while Molly served him to the best of her ability in an effort to sustain the illusion of marital bliss, Todd created temporary surrogate mothers all over town.  They made him feel shiny and special. He contracted herpes and generously shared them with Molly one night when he was too drunk to recall that she bored him.   These days, Anheuser-Busch supplied his binkies.

With free time on her hands, Molly struck out and sought sympathetic ears.  “You should leave him,” they said, “he’s just a 50 year old anthropomorphic hemorrhoid.”  So with the support of good friends and good wine, Molly did just that.  When Todd came home to an empty house, he swore and screamed and cried.  He picked up the phone and called his mother.  She tried to console him, but Todd was hysterical; too far gone.  He put his fist through a door, woke the neighbors next door, and was taken away to a quiet place where he could rest.

Rita the night nurse comes in at 8:00 p.m. sharp with her cart full of food and pills and goodies.  She fluffs Todd’s pillow and tells him he’s handsome, which makes him feel shiny and special.  Just as she exits his room each night, he rings the bell and summons her back.  “What is it, Todd?  Did I forget something?” she asks.  Todd smiles coyly and answers, “just making sure you can hear the bell.”  Rita smiles condescension at her ornery charge, then heads downstairs to the break room.  “Finished with your rounds, Rita?” a congenial nurse inquires.  “My shift never ends,” she replies.  “I’m stuck with a 50 year old anthropomorphic hemorrhoid that thinks I’m his mother.”

 

Get A Life

200

It’s a Sabado caliente here in ABQ, so I’m putting my 2 remaining Curmudgeon challenges on the backburner until tomorrow.  Thank you to everyone who gave me such interesting topics to tackle; you’ve made the challenge far more fun than I ever anticipated.

Does anyone remember the short-lived Chris Elliott sitcom Get A Life?  It aired on Fox in its earliest days and somehow managed to survive for 2 seasons.  The basic premise of what was undoubtedly the most bizarre sitcom ever conceived was that Chris is a 35 year old paper boy who lives with his parents, hilariously played by Chris’ real father, Bob of the comedy duo Bob & Ray, and Elinor Donahue, best known for her role as “Kitten” on Father Knows Best.  Chris’ parents were always shown sitting at the kitchen table in their bathrobes begrudgingly entertaining the latest moronic nonsense from their utter humiliation of a son.  Years before South Park gave us the perpetually regenerating Kenny, Chris usually died in some horribly violent way at the end of each episode, only to magically be alive and painfully stupid once again the following week.  The brilliance of this show was that it was so calculatedly retarded that to watch it actually caused physical discomfort.  As Get A Life remains an obscure nugget of 90s pop culture, here’s a short scene to either disgust you or turn you into a die hard fan.  The choice is yours.  This is Chris auditioning for a part in the local musical theater production of “Zoo Animals On Wheels”, the worst fake play ever televised:

 

The Guru Is A Fraud!

monkey

Okay, now we’re getting down to the real challenging challenges that were presented to me earlier in the week.  I know I indicated I was only going to pick 3 topics, but they were all so good and outside of my usual purview, that I have decided to try my hand at all of them. This one comes from The Modern Leper, an extraordinary writer whose current novel-in-installments, Utopia, deserves to win a Hugo Award and be available at all major booksellers in a future far less distant than that of the setting of his story.  Check it out, along with the rest of his excellent writing, here: https://themodernlepersblog.wordpress.com/.  For the challenge, The Modern Leper gave me the following: “Okay, how about this: what scares you? And I don’t mean like bears or the dark; I’m talking more in an existential sense. I’ve always found you write quite confidently, and you seem like a reasonably stable character (or at least stabler than the rest of us), so I want to know what (if anything) will break that wall. I want to know what challenges the deepest fibre of your being.”    

Thank you for stopping by.  I hope you don’t mind the incense smoke, I was just meditating in front of my shrine and the Nag Champa helps me to transcend mundane thoughts.  You probably came here in search of spiritual instruction or perhaps a koan to shock your mind into sudden enlightenment.  I’m sorry if you got the wrong impression.  Advertising is inherently dishonest, after all, even when all we’re selling is an image.

If you’re confused about what I just said, you might want to brace yourself for a shock: I am a mess.  A far more manageable mess than I once was, to be sure, but a pile of garbage is a pile of garbage no matter how many layers deep.  I’m afraid I may have inadvertently given the impression that I’ve risen above the types of fears and neuroses that plague the average person through a calculated regimen of spiritual practice and metaphysics.  The truth of the matter is that I am a skilled actor.  I act with my words, my mannerisms, my style of dress.  I act with my expressions, my slow calculated steps and the illustrious names I drop.  I perform with everything I’ve got because, you see, I’m not as concerned about the audience out there as I am about the audience of one that lives behind my eyes.  And I’ve nearly got him fooled.

The audience of one is, of course, my ego – or for those with an aversion to Freudian terms, whatever you choose to call the feeling that one is a distinct individual with a corresponding destiny.  Like all egos, mine is a pitiful, trembling thing, which is perfectly apt for something nonexistent that gets treated as though it is the most important thing in the world.  It follows me to the meditation cushion and injects sparks of panic into my quest for Samadhi.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let me tell you how I came to embrace this self-conscious quest for enlightenment.

When I was a boy, an empty vessel, my parents filled my head with all kinds of horrors.  They told me that God was an all-powerful, highly judgmental patriarch in the sky whose appetite for adoration is insatiable.  As I grew older, other people I met corroborated that story.  They said that all but a select few who had turned their lives over to God would be promptly deposited into a pit of eternal torture the moment they shook off this mortal coil.  As I grew older still, I heard more and more of this, so I played the alchemist and transformed all that fear into rage.

The rage was a smokescreen, too.  I began drinking heavily in an effort to dull this repeated cycle of panic, terror, rage, panic, terror, rage, but in short order, the life of a drunk created social disasters and mental confusion that almost caused the whole works to overload.  I’ve peered over the precipice of death many times, never quite finding the courage to jump.  It seemed that despite it all, I still wanted to live this infuriatingly futile life of mine.

I tried to lose myself in romantic love; a fool’s game upon which I’m sure I needn’t elaborate.  A heavy cloud of depression kept my body supine but it never dulled the fear.  There is no comfort in fearful repose.  Finally, the bottom dropped out and the ravages of alcoholism brought me to a crossroads.  Would I live in a meaningful way or would I die?  There was no discernible third option.

So here I am, living proof of the choice I made on that fateful day.  Ironically, the siren call of the wisdom of the East that had beckoned me since my teenage years finally made itself resoundingly clear, so I set out absorbing every available resource I could find that would teach me how to think like the silent, noble lamas of my imagination.  But the lamas who wrote these words weren’t imaginary and what they taught me was that there was nothing at all fateful about that day because there is no such thing as fate.  Or destiny.  Or purpose.  And my Western mind initially found great comfort in that because it misinterpreted the Dharma as a very deep contradiction of the Judeo-Christian ethos.  I thought my adoption of these views would be a peaceful refutation of the myths of my culture. It wasn’t.  When one’s ego reads of its own insubstantiality, it simply grasps at that new idea for its continued nourishment.  It finds meaning in the meaninglessness.

Listen: I do see more clearly now through the illusions we all entertain.  A general calmness that had always eluded me before has become a fairly reliable companion.  This is good.  Yet, it solves nothing.  Though the severity and frequency of panic has abated, it still permeates the energy that moves me and ties me together.  As everything is cyclical, I often anticipate its reappearance with renewed strength; a storm gathering quietly in the background as I go about my arrogant business of playing the role of a suburban prophet.  The very thought causes me to panic.  Have you ever seen a self-professed guru attempting to sit serenely in the lotus position in the midst of a panic attack?  No?  Me, neither, but that’s only because I don’t have a mirror on my shrine.  I would guess that it’s a comically pathetic spectacle.  Perhaps I should ask my dog.

Some of the most skilled purveyors of the so-called wisdom upon which I base my worldview have died in nefarious ways.  Two of my chosen spiritual mentors drank themselves to death.  One has to wonder how confident they could possibly have been in what they were selling.

Are these really our only choices?  Nihilism or a dangerously selective eternalism?  The Buddha answered this question with a resounding NO, of course, but he’s been dead for over 2,500 years and his current self-appointed mouthpieces rarely deign to descend from their mountaintops and explain the elusive Middle Way thoroughly to the modern world.  I suspect they are mostly actors just like me, but far more adept.  Their inner audiences are so thoroughly entertained by the show in progress that they don’t even need an external audience.

I admit your visit caught me off guard.  I didn’t have time to don my robes and choose an appropriate sutra to elucidate, and for that I apologize.  So now you know.  I am a fraud.  My spontaneous and accidentally genuine words belie my wise reputation.  I have figured nothing out, nor have I conquered my fears.  I am afraid of living as much as I am afraid of dying.  I am afraid that I am far more transparent than I thought and that unmistakable beams of fearful ignorance shine through my eyes.  This temple may as well be a brothel for its lack of authenticity.

But then, who doesn’t enjoy visiting a good brothel every now and then?  Thanks for stopping by.  Come again soon.  Namaste.

Guilty Conscience

I was a tad harsh on my dad in my last post.  Not that anything I wrote was untrue, but it did have a one-sided focus on what I perceive as his faults at the exclusion of his many great qualities.  And let’s face it: as much as I find myself perplexed at how he lives and how he thinks, I’m sure he finds me equally mystifying, what with my fondness for punk rock music and aversion to haircuts and left-leaning politics and affinity for strange looking Far Eastern religious iconography, among other things.

So even though Dad’s distaste for the internet ensures that he will never read my somewhat disrespectful post, I will extend him an olive branch all the same with this classic Family Guy moment of father-son bonding:

 

The Weenie & The Beehive

far side

Today’s “Challenge The Curmudgeon” topic comes from Paul Green a/k/a Mindfump.  If you don’t follow his blog, you’re doing yourself a serious disservice.  This guy posts something virtually every day and I can’t recall a single one that didn’t leave me in absolute stitches.  But he’s more than a one-trick humor pony; he writes very honestly about depression, anxiety, death and other topics that sometimes make folks uncomfortable – but his hilarious take on all of it makes discomfort impossible.  But that’s enough out of me, just see for yourself: https://mindfump.com/.  Paul’s challenge comes at a very opportune time.  My parents will be driving out from New Jersey to see me on July 6 and staying for 3 weeks.  This is a mixed blessing, as you’ll soon see.  Paul asks: “Which parent took you to a schools sports event first and how did it change your view of the other parent?” 

My mother is 84 years old.  She is Italian and headstrong and obsessive-compulsive and anxiety-ridden and chronically depressed and belligerently Roman Catholic.  She has worn her hair in a B-52s style beehive since before I was born.  My father is 80 years old.  He is Irish and slightly effeminate and henpecked and boring and belligerently Roman Catholic.  Together, they look nearly identical to every human couple from Gary Larson’s The Far Side comics.  And obviously, they are far too old to understand the way people like me and my sister think and how we choose to live our lives.

I am not a sports fan.  I don’t play sports, watch sports, peruse the sports page or even own Huey Lewis and The News’ yawnfest of an album named Sports.  But this wasn’t always the case.  From roughly 4th grade to my freshman year of high school (which in New Jersey was the final year of junior high school), I traveled the path from spectator sports enthusiast to insufferable jock.  Then I discovered weed and the whole thing evaporated into thin air, but that’s a subject for another day.

My sister and I theorize that my dad is gay but his religious fanaticism precludes even a secret mental acknowledgment of his true sexuality.  Thus, he is almost asexual. He is petrified of sex in general, refusing to discuss it in any way other than to remind people that its God-mandated purpose is solely procreation.  Linda and I think it’s quite possible that he and my mother have only had intercourse 4 times, resulting in a daughter, a son and two miscarriages.  So when I first expressed an interest in spectator sports, I think he felt it was his obligation to nurture my enthusiasm.  His biggest fear must have been the prospect of learning that either of his children was gay and in his mind, an interest in sports is an unmistakable sign of heterosexuality (I’m not sure what he made of Arthur Ashe, Martina Navritilova, Billie Jean King and Greg Louganis).

We didn’t play sports together.  I can only recall one occasion where we threw a baseball back and forth in the backyard and despite the fake smile plastered on his face, I got the distinct impression he would rather have been doing just about anything but throwing a baseball back and forth in the backyard.  So he concentrated mainly on the spectator sports angle, since he was a fairly big fan of the New York Knicks and Giants and sitting in front of the TV watching a game with your son isn’t nearly as uncomfortably interactive as a game of catch.

When the Nets franchise first moved to New Jersey, the Meadowlands Arena hadn’t been built yet, so they spent a season playing their home games at the Rutgers College gym in New Brunswick, NJ, about a 15 minute drive from our home.  The first sporting event my father took me to was a Nets game at this venue.  There were only two more occasions after this that I can remember: a 76ers game at the Philadelphia Spectrum and a NY Rangers game at Madison Square Garden.  The passage of time has caused all three of these outings to blend into each other in my memory, so what I recall here might have elements of each.  And here’s what I recall: not much.  We got some drinks at the concession stand, found our seats, sat in them and watched the action below.  I do remember that my dad, in typical fashion, was too embarrassed to cheer with gusto so while the rest of the fans were out of their seats losing their minds over some amazing play or horrible call, my dad kept to his seat, his knees touching and his hands in his lap like Jessica Beals in the famous Flashdance movie poster, proffering a politely inaudible golf clap.

This was my male role model growing up.  Thank Xenu that I’d soon discover Jello Biafra, Kurt Vonnegut, Johnny Rotten and Henry Rollins to counteract his influence.

But more to the point: these 3 seemingly uneventful outings to professional sporting events actually did have an effect on how I viewed my mother.  They proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was the “man of the house”.  While my mother has never expressed an interest in sports, she was the only element of strength in the Loughman home.  She made every major decision, took care of disciplining the children, made the rules and enforced them.  She worked full time, cooked dinner, engaged in a maniacal form of housecleaning that made our home uncomfortably institutional and antiseptic, yelled, swore (in Italian), and took an attitude toward her husband that was almost condescendingly maternal.  Dad worked full time, ate dinner, did crossword puzzles, followed her around the house with the vacuum attachments, and fell asleep in front of the TV with a half-drunk Black Label beer bottle in front of him (on a coaster, of course).

So the upshot of the “male bonding” that occurred between me and my father was that I was left with a lifelong curiosity about his masculinity.  I sometimes entertain the idea of pretending that I’m gay and coming out to my dad, just for kicks.  But since he is 80 years old and has helped me out enormously throughout my life, I’ve decided to forego that potentially cruel gag.  After all, if his religious beliefs turn out to be true, he may find himself awkwardly coming out to St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, and I think that’s punishment enough for having lived a life immersed in hypocritical homophobia.