Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Performances Coming Up

I made this flyer! I do love clip art! Champagne and sardines. Breakfast of champions!

Two shows I'm performing in this week:

1. Blue Ribbon Glee Club, Chicago's punk rock a capella choir: Thursday, July 30th at Martyrs, with Spears & Gears (Britney Spears steampunk cabaret cover band), Eli August at the Abandoned Buildings.  Facebook invite here. I'll be performing in both BRGC and Spears & Gears.

2.  Blue Ribbon Glee Club with The Siderunners and Warsaw Vices, Monday, August 3rd, Cafe Mustache. Facebook invite here. I'll be performing in both BRGC.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Populist But Also Idiosyncratic: Onto The Next, Next Level

Although most things other than printed matter don't sell well at Quimby's, occasionally people consign CDs and records. We do sell a CD and a record by Milwaukee rapper Juiceboxxx that must have been consigned with us around 2006 or so. I don't remember the exact date; I'd have to go back to work at sit down in front of the computer and take a look. Around that time a couple of my co-workers were folks that did a lot of DJing, and so it does not surprise me that we had more to sell at the time that might have been music-related. It tends to be that whoever is employed at the time puts their stamp on the store by reaching out to artists who are in their sphere of interests and acquaintance. Because the store sells a lot of items on a no-risk pay-as-it-sells consignment method, the store sometimes ends up reflecting the interests of the folks working there (at least to some degree).

Quimby's also sells a lot of art comics, some of which are by Providence, RI-based collective Fort Thunder and their brethren/sistren Paper Rad that garnered acclaim with hip comics enthusiasts and was included Whitney Biennal. At some point Juiceboxxx had some involvement with Fort Thunder; I think he may have dated somebody involved in that art scene and sort of incorporated the art and spirit of it as part of his own artistic expression. He uses Thunder in a lot of song titles and on his blog writes about how he's in the Thunder Zone, etc. It makes sense that Quimby's sells these types of comics as well as music by an artist that in some way has some artistic links to the comics.

The reason I bring the link up is because of the book I read recently, which was Leon Neyfakh's The Next Next Level: A Story of Rap, Friendship, and Almost Giving Up, which incidentally yes, we do sell it at Quimby's. I read it because I was sent a sample copy by the publisher (Melville House). They contacted the store to tell us one of their authors was going to be passing through town, and would it be OK if he stopped into the store to introduce himself. It's a thing publishers do.

I'm not sure I would necessarily have moved the book up to the front of my reading queue unless Melville House hadn't sent the author to visit me as well as a sample copy of the book, but I guess that's what publishers want, right? It stands to reason that a publisher would send a sample copy of a book to the person in the bookstore who does the ordering. I'll be honest though: I get sent a lot of sample copies of things from lots of publishers and distributors, and I don't necessarily read them all. If it does catch my fancy, I'll read the book and then sometimes get jazzed about it. Maybe I might even even blog about it. Then if I think it's a good fit for the store, I'll order it to sell because I think the customers might like it too. I might even pimp the book in some way to customers if I'm really into it, which might help sell the book (but not always). This is all exactly what publishers want to happen, and the entire time I am acutely aware of this. Well, guess what? If the book is actually good, then I don't mind this manipulative courting of me as a book orderer and seller. All of this being said, the sample copies of books all the publishers send aren't necessarily always good, and sometimes even if they are, and I order a title for the store, it might not necessarily sell. Sometimes we return books if they don't sell, and it might break my heart because it's a great book. I should also add that often great books sell well in the beginning but eventually the sales taper off because it's not new anymore, and all the people who are going to buy it from us have bought it. What can I do? The public speaks with their pocket books.

So anyway, Melville House sent me a sample copy of Leon's book, which at the time wasn't out yet (but is now) and then a few days later the author stopped in, who, among other things, is a reporter for Slate. (This particular publisher has sent authors to introduce themselves in the past, and they tend to be fun, arty people who write books that for the most part I like. I feel obligated to add that one time we did an event with a Melville House author who was French and who wrote a kind of steampunky book, and when he did the event he didn't know that the event was one where people were expecting him to read from the book. I guess the French tradition is only to sign books, n'est-ce pas? So I guess he was sort of taken off guard. Mon dieu!)

The The Next Next Level started out as an essay in the literary journal N+1, the very issue I have in my bathroom. I hadn't made it to that essay yet. In fact, that copy of N+1 has what in the magazine distribution industry call a "faced" cover, meaning that when a newer issue comes out, the covers of the previous issues are sent back to the distributor to prove they didn't sell, the price of which, is credited to the bookstore's account to use against future due invoices. That means the bookseller can take home the old issue with the missing cover. This also means I am perpetually an issue behind in all my magazine reading. If I have a faced mag or lit journal, I consume it with a much more sort of laissez-faire approach; I might get miso soup all over it at the kitchen table while reading it, or I might read it only when I'm in the bath, maybe getting water all over it. Sometimes it gets mildewy before I even get to finishing it. If I get to finishing it. That issue of N+1? Still haven't finished it. But I have gotten to that article since then.

When I met the author, I was charmed by the author's description of the book. He stopped by before the store opened, and we had a really nice talk. It was one of those discussions that I came away from it intellectually stimulated and totally inspired. Like, you know, Radiolab got mentioned. You know, one of those discussions. The perfect mix of highbrow and lowbrow, where the book was really just a jumping off point for a juicy pop-culture-and-this-is-how-it-relates-to-life sort of things, some of which I wish I'd written down after he left. Why don't I write down this shit right after it happens? And then later I remember so little of it. After I have a good discussion with somebody, I need to go write it all down before it falls away. But life does not unfold that way. I was at work, for one thing. (But! Also! Another point! Why do I always feel the need to document stuff? I've always been this way. I remember once as a kid deciding that it was important that I write down all the animals I could think of. And then I had anxiety about how overwhelming of a task it was. What was I going to do with the list anyway? Submit it for review to The Atlantic?)

BUT ANYWAY (again), ("anyway" should be tattooed on my body somewhere; it is my anchor for pulling me back into the main point of my articles, essays and conversations), the author told me about the book, which comes out of his personal experiences with Juiceboxxx, who he knew growing up as a teenager in the music scene in the Midwest. Leon goes on to have a very adult-y adult life and Juiceboxx continues onto an arty artist life. There's stuff about what happens when their paths cross and then don't cross and then cross again and so on. And it's kind of a coming of age book too. Later, after I read the book, I realized the book is kind of a meditation on living a life of art versus leading the life of one who consumes the art.

By the end of the discussion I had with the author, I was like, Maybe I better go spend some time with this music and with this book, and Leon said he would send me some links to get the real flavor of the music (I guess Juiceboxxx's amazing live performances are what really pulls people in initially), one of which was a Juiceboxxx performance on Chicago community access TV show Chic-a-go-go (one of the many projects of zinester/writer/auteur Jake Austen). This performance made me laugh, because one of the many awesome things about Chic-a-go-go is the fact that it's a kids show with performances that are kid-friendly but not necessarily directed at kids, the upshot being that punk bands will play but there will be little kids roaming around all over the place during the performance, often not necessarily even paying attention to the performers, which makes for hilarious and surreal viewing.

So then of course I looked/watched/listened to Leon's links and made a Spotify playlist, listened to the Juiceboxxx stuff we had at work (OK, maybe not the record; I'd have to lug that home where the turntable is, and I never think of it when I'm at work). It reminded me of a more sort of right-brained MC Lars, and there were some excellent jams that are definitely going on some future mixes. But even if I didn't like the music I probably still would have liked the book, because like really good writing, even if the topic isn't something that jazzes you, if the writing is compelling it doesn't matter. That Nick Hornby book Songbook? Great writing about music. Great writing, period. But the actual songs when you listen to them? Meh. But I'm alright with that.

There are many hilarious and pithy things in this book: the description of the difference between "genius" and "critic," how the author's wife leaves the room whenever he start talking about Juiceboxx, and the discussion of what name to exactly call Juiceboxxx (Juice? Mr. Juice?) (In an e-mail to Leon I suggested Olivia Newton-Juiceboxxx. I should add that Sir Juice-a-lot would also be awesome.)

When I told Leon that I found parts of the book really funny, he thanked me and said that it does not come naturally to him, which I found endearing. He also, in his book, talks about something else he doesn't feel natural doing, and that is dancing, which although I am a dance maniac, I still enjoyed his writing about it. On page 85 he writes:

Part of the problem might be that it strikes me as deranged and unethical to be moving around in ways that basically force the people in my immediate vicinity to imagine me having sex. The rest is that it's not in me, just like loving "Raw Power" isn't in me, as if I'm missing the receptors necessary to truly connect with music and with other people using nothing but my "body."

As you can see, I can't even use that word without putting scare quotes around it. It just feels gross to me, and reminds me, in an ironically visceral way, of how left out I have always felt in situations in which I was invited to undergo some physically transcendent collective experience.

Yessssss!! While it is true that I LOVE dancing (and even help run an all-lady dance party on Wednesday nights), it is also true that I am never comfortable where dance parties turn into everyone running in a circle during one of those new-folk-clap-along-jamborees, because it makes me super self-conscious that I'm supposed to look like I'm feeling ecstatically joyous; the self-consciousness I feel during it is more potent then the joy I'd supposedly be getting out of it; I can't seem to get out of my head on those type of scenarios. And I totally understand how for some people, it's really uncomfortable being commanded to dance, especially if you don't do it regularly or don't have a lot of moves in your arsenal.

I will also add that I'm not into being imperatively commanded to clap along/hoot/holler when a performer demands it from the stage. (I will only clap and hoot and holler of my own accord, thank you.) I will never respond when a performer asks for the ladies in the house to scream or when they shout, "I CAN'T HEAR YOU." I don't do call and response. Call me entitled, but I paid to see them, not to interact with them. That is, interact with them in any way other than enjoying their performance.

On page 87 I love this discussion of "dance punk" bands like LCD Sound System and how they're popularity was interesting because it suddenly became cool for indie rock fans to really "have fun" in a way that was about dancing, as opposed to just enjoying the music (although yes, I do like LCD Sound System). This made Leon feel guilty because he didn't enjoy dancing, which somehow made him feel like he wasn't enlightened. He felt a little betrayed by alternative culture. Here's the part I really like:

...The day I realized that the imperative to only ever follow your gut and never think about anything amounted to a kind of bullying -- was the day I finally became a well-adjusted, happy adult.

THANK GOD, somebody had to say it. "Follow your gut" in the context of "just let it go and dance" is not that easy for everybody. And I'm saying this as someone who who both leads weekly dance parties and meditates for 20 minutes twice a day. I'm not denying the existence of intuition, I'm denying the effectiveness of commanding people to "just don't think about anything."

On pages 104 and 105 Leon writes about Juiceboxxx's blog (where Juiceboxxx talks about the type of music he's really into, and how detail-oriented that interest manifests: ecstatic descriptions of mixes, recorded ephemera, etc.) He uses Juice's interests as they manifest on his blog as an example to illustrate the difference between "taste" and "preferences," Juice being the rare breed of someone who has the former though most people have the latter:

As far as I'm concerned, this is pretty much the definition of having taste. And to be clear, when I say "taste" I'm not talking about refinement but sensibility: an idiosyncratic but consistent mechanism that draws you to certain things in the world and motivates you to seek them out. Most of us don't have such a mechanism: instead, we have preferences, meaning we stick our heads out of our holes every once in a while, inhale whatever books, movies, music and TV shows are in the air as they fly past us in the form of Twitter links and magazine articles, and then decide what of it we like and what we like less. This is why, ultimately even those of us who self-identify as being well-informed and engaged in culture end up being into more or less the same stuff as all our friends and acquaintances.

This is probably true for me. I think most of the time, my "preferences" rule over my "taste" (do I even have any taste? I have begun to really question that). I guess sometimes taste will win the fight when I get really obsessed with something, but for the most part I'm so inundated with different types of media offerings (books, music, movies, etc.) that just sifting through it doesn't lend me time to get obsessed with something in particular, as of late anyway. Maybe I'm just obsessed with the sifting process.

On page 129, Leon talks about Juiceboxxx DJing:

Someone on Twitter, he remembers, said recently that a great DJ "keeps the girls dancing and the nerds Shazam-ing...the point being that the perfect DJ mix is populist but also idiosyncratic.

The perfect DJ mix is "populist but also idiosyncratic." YESSSSSS. So true. On Wednesday dance mixes I've noticed that successful dance mixes are ones that have both songs or artists people might sort of recognize but make sure to not have tracks that pander -- it's a fine line. When I DJ if I'm going for a populist angle, I might pick well known artists but lesser known songs by them. If it's a song that's been played before (yes, there's a database of everybody's songs played), I try to pick a remix or mashup of it -- just some version of it that is different. People want recognizability but they also want novelty. "Populist but also idiosyncratic." I've been using this quote a lot lately. It comes up in discussion of mixes, what songs to select for performing at karaoke or with the Blue Ribbon Glee Club, just, like everything.

In a lot of books I read the topics in the book end up being just sort of case studies about whatever the overarching theme the book is really about. I assume it isn't like the author is like "I have this point to make! And this music/movie/TV show I'm writing about illustrates my point perfectly!" Most likely, they're really into something, and when they're writing the book or essay about it, whatever that overarching "point" comes to be is usually the last thing that crystalizes -- the "SO WHAT" of the piece, as one of my teachers once said, the SO WHAT being the part of the piece  that says why the point they're making is important (such as "this novel subverts the role of bla, bla, bla, which is important because culturally, we tend to" and so on). I think that may be one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much was that  Juiceboxxx was in some ways, almost incidental to some of the observations the author was making about life, media consumption, personal growth, and so on.

I think Next, Next Level is being promoted as being the sort of book that's in line with Chuck Klosterman or Carl Wilson's Let's Talk About Love, which I can totally see. It is true that I enjoy both, so I guess it would stand to reason that I'd like this one too.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

3 Songs, 3 Writers, June Edition!

The most recent flyer I made for the next 3 Songs event at LiveWire Lounge, sponsored by Quimby's Bookstore. The last 3 Songs went so well, here's another one! I'll be MCing and also performing with the Blue Ribbon Glee Club. Sunday, June 28th. An early show at 6pm! When it's over you'll have your whole night ahead of you!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Unlimited Possibility, Collective Effervescence & Me Asking Andrew WK About The Party Bible


I need to stop waiting so long before posting stuff I liked from books I read and the time I finish the book, because by the time I get to posting, so much time has elapsed that it's almost like I didn't read the book at all. On the other hand, when I see what I marked in the book that I liked, because so much time has elapsed and I've forgotten what it was that I liked, that I am delighted by what I marked because clearly, those things being marked by me, were pre-screened for the present me by past me, and I know my own taste. What a convenient way of pre-screening books for myself!

So in preparation for meeting Andrew WK when he was in town last, not only did I spend some quality time with his oeuvre, I also read Phillip Crandall's Andrew WK's I Get Wet from the 33 1/3 series. I liked how funny it was, and how he talked to a bunch of people from AWK's life. There's some good oral history stuff too.

One quote I liked in particular was from Spencer Sweeney, artist and early supporter (credited for "Technical assistance" on the I Get Wet 10th Anniversary Special Deluxe Edition), this on page 105):

"We were trying to come up with the definition of magic one time. What I was able to come up with at that point is, it's possibility. So the gray area is the area of unlimited possibility. And possibility is the true magic. A part of Andrew's philosophical standpoint of maintaining this space--occupying this gray area--is the area of questioning. Even though that may be something that many people may find frustrating, because then you have to apply energy to look for answers or truths of explanations, it also maintains the space of absolute possibility. And that is where you can find the magic."

This quote is basically about keeping an open, curious mind in collaborative atmospheres, when the right type of exploratory thinking is encouraged. Happy accidents, serendipitous connections, unanticipated contributions -- these things are the type of things that can occur in this magical "gray area" of possibility. Now if only I could find a way to make every interaction I have with people feel this way. You know what the problem is? We are not playful enough with each other. Just throwing that out there. We need more play. Or more partying, I suppose, since we are talking about the king of partying.

This seems like as good a moment as any to share the snippet of video where I asked him about his book, The Party Bible, which was announced back in 2013-ish. The book is not out yet, so I asked him about it. When he answered, I regretted asking him the question the way I did, but he was super nice.

I felt like a goofball and I cringe a little when I watch myself in this:

But so enough of that. I can't say much about the rest of the interview because it's for something else that is for a different website that hasn't launched yet, but I will say that he was very kind, and so was everybody in his crew.
Another quote I like is on page 121. Crandell was talking about a friend's love for AWK after hearing his music only once:

"...whoever made that thing that stirred this feeling has to be a friend. Music fosters the environment where thrills and emotions thrive, and to deny a kinship along the way is defeating music's purpose and ignoring its potential."


I feel like it's one degree past that feeling you get when you read someone's book or zine or comic or see their stand-up or listen to their podcast and you love it, and you're like "This person and I totally click. We would be awesome friends"? It's like that. But with music.

But it's not totally just that; it's feeling a kinship with someone, which isn't quite being friends with them, it's feeling an affinity with.

Whatever, you know what I mean.

And finally, my favorite part is this thoughtful moment on pages 144-145. Courtesy of Barbara Ehrenreich's 2006 Dancing In the Streets, Crandall talks about dancing, and how it may have evolved out of people tricking predators by making many people look like one huge scary beast. These synchronized movements create a communal feeling, which explains dancing and its communal party-like atmosphere that it creates. Also courtesy of Ehrenreich, Crandall writes about Emile Durkheim's term "collective effervescence" and Victor Turner's idea of communitas:

"Collective effervescence, 'the ritually induced passion or ecstasy that cements social bonds,' forms what the sociologist said is the basis for religion. Turner, the book notes, recognized collective ecstasy as something more universal and an expression of what he called communitas, 'the spontaneous love and solidarity that can arise within a community of equals.' Ehrenreich says both concepts reach toward a group-uniting concept of love, but that the 'love that binds people to the collective has no name at all to speak.'
We submit: PARTY!"

So, so, so good. At my next shindig I'm totally quoting French sociology while playing Party Til You Puke, because that's how I party. That's how I liked my books, and that's how I like my parties. Oh! Oh! And!At my next party I'm totally shovelling peanut butter Combos in my mouth and quoting snippets from the note on AWK's computer desktop between roughly the years 2001 to 2008: "DON'T BE A FUCKING WIMP. BE STRONG," "COMPASSION AND UNDERSTANDING" and my favorite: "BE INVINCIBLE AND LIFT WEIGHTS."

You'll be thrilled to know that was on pg 155.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Potent Magic Is Mine!

So I belong to this group where we get together and every month a different member of the group presents something, usually of a mystical nature or at least something kind of "forbidden knowledge"-y. Sometimes we have guest speakers come in. One month we had Australian witch/pagan/mystic/writer/teacher Gede Parma talk. I bought one of his books from him and had him sign it. It was Ecstatic Witchcraft: Magick, Philosophy & Trance in the Shamanic Craft (Llewellyn, 2012).

Lately I've kind of had to kind of, get over myself, because there are all these folks significantly younger than I, you know, like, teaching me stuff. It's humbling, but I have to put myself in the mode of "Whatever, we're all just everybody sharing what we've all learned, it's cool." Plus, if someone has spent more time studying or doing something, one might say that actually, they are older than another person is in that field, in a manner of speaking. Like if I've spent sixteen hundred hours studying yo-yo tricks and you have not, I am older than you in the field of yo-yo-ing. P.S. I have spent no time in the field of yo-yo-ing. P.P.S. Strictly speaking that is not 100% true. Allow me sometime to tell you about the phase I went through in high school where I carried around a yo-yo everywhere to unroll at any given moment because I thought it made me look quirky but really I just looked like an asshole. P.P.P.S. I could no tricks on a yo-yo other than make it go up and down, the same way I learned no tricks on a skateboard other than stopping, starting and going down the street.

But so anyway. I listened to Mr. Parma talk and was taken with a couple things. 1) He does not pepper his speech with lots of likes/ands/ums/totallys the way that lots of flakey Victorian Trading Company pagan-y types do. To be fair though, I too also pepper my speech with lots of likes/ums and totallys and I have been known to order things from the Victorian Trading Company. 2) Mr. Parma is extremely articulate. His word choice was so poetic that many times I thought Maybe I should be writing this down but I'm having a nice head buzz taking this all in, which is how I feel when I'm really in the moment enjoying a stimulating performance that I don't want to end. He kept saying things (none of which I can remember now, the talk being eight months ago) that seemed like really good little singular quotes that belong on a post-it somewhere in my life (on the fridge? on the computer? on a bumper sticker? on a social networking platform?). So all I am left with now of the talk was the memory that it was awesome and poetic but with no lasting lessons learned. If you asked me to tell you what the talk was about, in trying to describe it, I'd just sound like I was caught in a the game is up! kind of a way being pretentious, trying to show off, all like I go to talks! but am caught revealing my inability to understand what the talk was about.

Let the record reflect though, that I did understand what the talk was about, I was just too much in the moment to be taking notes and pictures. (This is how I know it was a really good event; there were no pictures of it. The mark of any good event is that there are no pictures. At a good party for example, people are too busy enjoying themselves rather than whipping out a device to document the experience, devices at parties being the crutches of emotionally lazy people unwilling to even try to make a connection with other humans. The mark of a good party? No pictures.

I want to be one of those people who has spiritual experiences and participates in mystical stuff, but my laziness gets the better of me in terms of my participation level in my own home. Sure, I can make an alter, but then that means I have to do something in front of it. Or occasionally clean it. The most spiritual work I think I'm willing to do is read about mystical stuff and meditate twice a day. At this point, the meditating is hardly spiritual; I'm just sitting still doing nothing for 20 minutes at a time; I'm hardly, you know, drawing down the gods when I do it. At best, in my beginner meditation level that I'm still at, I'm reconnecting the circuits in my frontal lobe. But it would be nice to get to some kind of "unified field cosmic consciousness" they always talk about in transcendental meditation (TM). One day maybe.

And so that brings me to some of my favorite quotes in Ecstatic Witchcraft.

I don't profess to belong to any religious/spiritual affiliation. My spiritual sensibilities are patchworky, and even sometimes fluctuates based on my mood. I take a little of "this" from "that school," a little of "that" from "that philosophy," a little "sprinkle" from that "psychological phenomenon" and so on. (Why I had to use quotation marks on all that is not clear to me.) Sometimes all of it gets tossed out the window, sometimes it changes up based on new evidence (or lack of it), and sometimes I don't know what to think. I'm foreclosed on the topic of things beyond the veil of common consensus reality. But it helps to have a definition of what religion is, and I liked this one Mr. Parma offers on page 81:

"Currently I define religion as an externalized expression of spiritual impulse felt and contextualized in community. With this comes agreed-upon terms, ways of conduct, rites and ceremonies, and common cosmologies."

There it is. This is a much better definition than the bland definition of religion like "the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods" or "a particular system of faith and worship." I like the looseness of spiritual impulse contextualized by a community, and the working of cosmology into it. Contact OED!

On the same page, I enjoyed the permission to let go of evaluative process during an attempt to achieve an altered states of consciousness:

"...The idea is to let go of any need or impulse to analyze, judge, or evaluate during the process. After grounding and disengaging from energetic conduct (the process itself-both internal and ceremonial), then it is, of course, appropriate and absolutely encouraged that we seek to interpret the experience, and the analytical mind is welcomed back in."

What I like about this is what I remember learning when I learned TM. (To be clear, Ecstatic Witchcraft isn't about TM. This quote is about being in a trance. But I couldn't help but think of applying that quote in reference to my experience as a meditator. And pretty much throughout the book, whenever the author talks about trance in the book, I thought about it as meditating, even though strictly speaking, I don't think that's exactly what he had in mind.) My TM teacher told me to not evaluate the process of meditation while actually meditating, to refrain from telling myself "this isn't working" or "I'm not achieving the state I should be in." Instead, evaluate afterward the meditation. Or better yet, evaluate how the meditation is working by the quality of my time in-between meditation sessions. That should be how one evaluates ones progress in my practice. And that's why I like Mr. Parma's advice to refrain from evaluating the experience while it's still going on.

I've been told over and over by TM teachers that you don't actually have to "believe" in the good things meditating does for you for it for it to be working, which is one of a few reasons why it is important not to judge the meditation experience while one is doing it. I joked to one of the teachers, "So it's not like I have to say 'I believe in fairies! I believe in fairies! to make it work?," and she said that no, I don't have to convince myself. It was frustrating in the beginning; I wanted extreme results right away so I felt like I was supposed to visualize that it was doing something. Now I'm realizing that a) I was probably trying to hard but also b) I'm not sure that the effectiveness of meditation works that way. It's more subtle. But I'm still new at this, so we shall see.

I also love this quote from page 82 about the function of ego. I know there's a lot of focus on shedding your ego in some types of meditations and religions etc., but I like this thought about the focus of what it does for us:

"The ability to truly release, surrender, let go let God (or gods) in is vital to successful trance possession. The ego is to be honoured only insofar as it is able to discern, on the mundane level, individuality from one another. Without groundedness we might never be able to recognise personal communion, experience, expression, etc., and this contrast of Self from Self is the essential differentiation that induces ecstatic epiphanies of consciousness becoming at one with universal awareness."

Yeah! This quote reminded me that one doesn't understand how special it is to have an epiphany of universal consciousness unless one actually has an individual consciousness. (Now it would just be nice for me to actually have a quantifiable experience of universal consciousness they always talk about in TM, but whatever, maybe that will happen in my future.)

And to that end, Mr. Parma writes on the same page (this is in the middle of a description of a ritual, but what I really like is the description of how to talk about a person's individuality):

"In essence, this step concerns itself with the sense of "I am" and individuality held and nourished within a unitive ocean. The "you-light" is the carved and vibrating vessel that your entire self has become at the point in the process."

This reminds me of this really great thing I once heard a rabbi say, something to the effect that a really good family is one that is a complete unit but that which allows each person their moment to be the focus. Each member of the family gets the spotlight sometime, but there is a unified whole. I feel like the best groups of people I've ever been in, whether it's a group in a college class or a one night group at a party, or a band that works cohesively, there's always this shared sense that everybody in the group is integral to the group but knows just the right moment to let each particular person shine, everyone enjoying being both spectators and performers at just the right moments. There are so few situations that I've felt this way in, where the dynamics are just that perfect, and it is truly magical. I am sad when the night has to end, the performance has to end, that people have to go home and go to bed. The fact that these perfect groups that successfully recognize and celebrate the "you-light" of each member while appreciating the whole are so rare in my life means that they're all the more special when they do happen.

One of the things Mr. Parma writes about was in reference to a quote (pg 121) from another witch, Ravyn Stanfield, who said, in reference to trance possession: "Our bodies are made for this." He writes: "We are incarnate; body is spirit-all is spiritual; we are designed for the capacity of magickal undertaking. Trance is part and parcel of a well-trained human being. Again-if you can breathe, you can trance."

I like this but replacing "trance" with "meditation." I wouldn't say I go into a trance when I meditate; it's more like a really relaxed state. But particularly what strikes me about this quote is the business about it being a natural thing. The TM world teaches something to the effect that our minds naturally want to go into a state of bliss, that the bliss state is its true state, and that bliss is what we are meant to do. I find this both comforting and maddening at the same time. Comforting, because well, if we're meant to do this, it is natural and means that there actually is a blissful state that exists. And we're hardwired to do it! How delightful! Does that mean there's some sort of blissful intent in the universe?! How delightful! On the other hand, this is maddening to me because I am not always able to access whatever this "bliss" is. Does this mean I am incapable? Am I fucked up beyond that "bliss preprogramming" that I'm supposedly hardwired for? Is my wiring all fucked up and that's why I can't access bliss? And am I fucked up beyond repair? Did I do this to myself? Am I the one person who is incapable etc etc etc? You know, as a "baby meditator" sometimes I think these things. And then sometimes I don't think these things because I might be having a TM session that is closer to the stereotype of what I think a TM session should feel like, and it's great, but I can't always replicate it. And furthermore, I'm not even 100% sure that's the state the same bliss state they talk about in TM practice.

Also on page 121, I found a nice description on the veil separating us from the otherworld, and that veil is the subconscious. That's nice and satisfyingly science-fictiony, that the subconscious is that curtain: "Therefore, the shadow forms the edges of the periphery-it is as the subconscious. The veil is the glimmer, or what I like to call the "ripple," that we all feel when we are close to the otherworld."

This quote reminds me very much of the business I hear TM teachers talk about when they're paraphrasing Maharishi (the guy who brought TM to the west, the Beatles bla, bla, bla), in reference to feeling like you're on the edge of going into that TM-y state of consciousness; and the example they always give is "I see the outline of the tree, I can see it's a tree, I know it's not NOT a tree" type of thing, like you can recognize that there's something kind of cosmic or transcendental that's there but you're not quite able to grasp it clearly with your awareness. It's like, the veil is glimmering or rippling but it's not totally apparent how to really experience it. Sometimes when I feel like I might be experiencing something kind of cool when I'm meditating, like when I start to feel really relaxed, there's a moment where I feel like I have to open my eyes and look at the clock to make sure I have enough time to relax into the really good part of it, like to know how much time I have to exist in that space so that I'm not late to work. At some point I realized that if I feel the need to look at the clock and it's early on in the session, that's shorthand for my body telling me I'm getting relaxed. It's kind of like when I was in the dorms in college, before anybody took any kind of recreational drug, they called their parents first, to get that out of the way so they could relax into their drug experience not worried that their parents might call when they were you know, "experiencing a different reality." Me wanting to look at the clock when I'm starting to relax into my meditation is my body telling myself that I'm nervous that I'm going to get so relaxed that I'll lose track of the time I've allotted for the session and then I'll be late for work, but since I'm starting to feel relaxed I just want to take a look at the clock so I know how much time I'll have for feeling relaxed. I know you're asking, Why the hell don't you just use an alarm clock? The reason I don't use an alarm clock is because TM teachers have told me not to for meditating because it shocks your nervous system.

Another quote in Ecstatic Witchcraft that I liked was about how so many of the problems we make for ourselves are about the feeling we're each incomplete. I like this idea very much, and it's a little like "You had the power in yourself the whole time!"-style of advice but enlarged to encompass a description of one's self (page 178):

"To emphasize the art of healing as the restoration of wholeness...is to give credence to our deepest natures. We are always whole, all of the time; however, we often forget and therefore need to re-member. In other circumstances we become so off-center, off-balance, that the wholeness blurs, and we lose our foundation and footing (the prime cause of so much dis-ease)."

I read that above quote aloud to my smart-ass husband and his response was:

"I had my tonsils taken out when I was five."

--which I conquered with the next paragraph, which was:

"We fall and we begin to fear; this erodes our self-esteem, self-honour, and power from within, and we begin to become deceived by the illusion that all is lost. Nothing can be truly lost that is truly yours."

I marveled at the "Nothing can be truly lost that is truly yours" line, at how elegant it sounded.

Then my husband let loose, "But if you lose your key if it falls in the sewer."

So there's that. Apparently if your key falls in the sewer it wasn't yours to begin with. Or something.

On page 92 there's this prayer to chant that's part of a technique for restoring the aforementioned wholeness:

Call Wild to Wild
Call Self to Self
In the circle that lies
Between the worlds

But really I just like it because it reminded me of the line from the poem in Twin Peaks where they go "One chants out between two worlds."

Although Parma writes poetically, on page 204 there's a really good bit on not feeling like you have to sound like you're speaking in tongues when you're describing a numinous experience:

"In having taught channeling to many people now, it seems the first and foremost problem arises when actually speaking or conveying the information received - which is a confidence issue. No one ever has trouble receiving a vision or feeling an intuition; however, many people stumble when they feel forced to express this is a way that will sound cohesive and coherent to their partners. The best way to ensure freedom of flow here is to not judge yourself as you convey. Simply go with the flow of whatever is received and understand that you do not have to sound like some archaic prophetess or Renaissance magician to be an effective vessel or channel thereof."

I like the idea of using this advice for anybody communicating their authentic feelings in any sort of context. Sometimes words don't exist (or we don't have a command of them) for what we're trying to communicate but feelings do, and we should trust them. I'd like to say that we don't have to talk in zen koan riddles to communicate experience as long as we're being honest. I know, I know, easier said than done. I would like to add, however, that at the times that we don't have a grasp on the words to communicate the true message of what we're trying to say, it is the responsibility of the listener to pay attention to the tone of the speaker. They may need to intuit what the speaker is communicating courtesy of the tone, mood and other cues.

This quote about not feeling like you have to sound like some archaic prophetess makes me think about that sketch in the fourth season of Mr. Show where the metalhead teenager becomes the Dali Lama, and in writing to his metalhead friend back home in response to Van Halen winning a video award reformed-metalhead Dali Lama writes, "And it is good news about Van Halen. Like the lotus, they bloom for you again and again."

And finally, on pg 219, Mr. Parma writes: "The art of altering consciousness is just as much about shifting paradigms as it is about inducing psychic trance."

I know I'm not the first person to say this of course, but I really do believe that the first step in inducing change in the world is changing ourselves individually. And we do this with personal work, whatever that means for each person. And each person's "personal work" is different. For some folks it's about going into a trance. For others, it's meditating, or maybe even talking stuff out, writing, mulling shit over, blogging, stitching and bitching, podcasting, complaining incessantly to the right people -- whatever it takes, we need to each be doing that for ourselves first.

Potent magic be yours! Love, truth and wisdom.

Thank you, Australian shaman, for signing my book!

Now tell me, would you more or less likely to have read this blog post if I'd called this blog post "Like the Lotus, Van Halen Blooms For You Again and Again"?

Friday, May 29, 2015

Another flyer I made for our Blue Ribbon Glee Club residency at Cafe Mustache. This Monday! 6/1/15. Don't miss us!

The theme of the flyer? Outdated technology. Let's hear it for mashed up silhouette clip art!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Compatibility, Reality Distortion & Reading the Spine of the Book Over & Over While Sitting On the Toilet

So I read the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson called just Steve Jobs. Why, if I work in a crazy ass bookstore with weirdo art and comics, would I read such a book? It's not something I would normally seek to own except that my husband has a much more corporate job, and he received it as an anniversary gift after being there for a million years. His team signed a card that is still in the book, which I enjoyed using as a bookmark. And I kid you not, the company actually has the prefix "OMNI" in their name, which sounds like something you would put in the name of your major corporation in a movie, almost like a parody. Also, I thought it ironic that he works with a PC computer all day, not a Mac, so it seemed funny to me that they would give him a book about one of the founders of Apple, especially about a man known for his mercurial temperment, but what do I know? This is why I don't work in an office job (though I do spend a lot of my day in front of a computer, which is a Mac).

Actually though, there is another reason this book made it's way into my hands. When I sit on the toilet the placement of the book is at eye level on the bookshelf, so every time I was on the toilet, I would see the spine of the book over and over every day, Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs. So it eventually made its way into my brain that I had to read it.

Most of my life I've been an Apple person, though I have had some experiences with owning at least one PC, so I do feel like I can kind of exist in the mid brain between the Apple and PC, which is interesting, because whenever I do those tests to find out if you're right-brained or left brained, I always end up right in the middle. I'm not quite fully logical, not quite fully creative. I'm not fully spatial, not fully verbal, not fully mathematical.

I spend a lot of my day on a computer at the bookstore or doing stuff on my computer at home which is all Mac-based stuff, though I don't have an iphone. I have an Android, though I do have an iTouch ipod dying a slow painful death. Even my personal device existence is in the corpus callosum between the right brain/left brain Mac vs PC experience.

If I've just spent all day with technology, much of that time frustrated with how annoying it is, what with our old computers at work and my old computer at home, if I've spent my day being so frustrated in a permanent state of Mercury-in-retrograde technology superfuck, why would I want to come home and immerse myself in a book about Mac computer culture and the founder of it? I have no good answer for this, other than the fact that apparently, maybe the best way to get me to read a book is have it eye level for me when I am on the toilet. (Also, once I started it I couldn't stop, mostly because it was illuminating my experience as a Mac user. Yes, I agree, Steve Jobs! MobileMe did suck!!!!)

And also, why do I feel like when I talk about a book I have to spend tons of time explaining how the book came into my life?

Anyway anyway anyway, so, Steve Jobs book at eye level while I'm on the toilet.

What I really realized, when I finished the book and started rambling on about it to whoever would listen which was nobody because I'm sure it's ponderous to listen to me talk about Steve Jobs, was that the book was really about was the debate between the open system vs closed system. And what I mean by that is that in terms of building your own franken-computers, rebelliously hacking and using different brands of pieces to modify hardware and software, that's called "open system," as in like, open to you to use whatever you want to plug into those open slots and open ports! Then there's the other side of things, the "closed system" which is the designer-customized experience of user friendliness for the consumer. Only things that belong in that "system" are compatible, so you can't go outside that system to hack it with other parts. Macs belong (mostly but not 100% any more) to a closed system, making it difficult to hack. In fact, many Macs you have to have special tools to even open the case, which was not so true of open system old computers where you could open them with something like a screwdriver.

Before Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple, they came from a goofy prankster background where they'd hack into phone lines with their Blue Boxes and call phone lines across the world for free. And they'd get together with other nerdy computer types and build shit. Woz was the open source, free code type but Jobs was the marketer. So eventually this became an issue.

I know I'm not the first person to say that the "open system" hacker sensibility seems more rebellious than the "closed system." I'm also not the first person to point out that the Apple campaign of "Think different" is well, flaunting a rebelliousness that is less believable coming from a proprietary "Closed system" type of company, where only Apple things are compatible with Apple things. It seems pretty well, not hacker-ish, not rebellious, totally corporate, total "brand loyalty"-ish to me (though things have become more fluid as of the past handful of years -- I have things that are compatible with both).

On the other hand, you're not a sheep midlessly following the herd just because you have brand loyalty. What's wrong with good design? A closed system can be a good thing if that system is designed well. Isaacson cites a quote from Woz in regards to this very discussion (pg 497): "Apple gets you into their playpen and keeps you there, but there are some advantages to that. I like open systems, but I'm a hacker. But most people want things that are easy to use. Steve's genius is that he knows how to make things simple, and that sometimes requires controlling everything." Control isn't necessarily a bad thing. Isaacson wrote that part of Jobs' legacy was founding a proprietary system that didn't modify hardware and software or share code: "The hacker ethos would be sacrificed in order to create a seamless and simpler user experience" (pg 562). Well it is true. I do think Macs are easier to use than PCs in terms of where to find stuff and so forth, but then, is that only because that's what I regularly use? My husband, a devoted PC user, probably disagrees.

The crux of the book (well, one of them anyway. Can there be more than one crux in a book? No. Whatever.) was this concept of "compatibility" both in the computer world but also as a concept. Like our intersections with other people, you know, like communicating, because Steve Jobs, from what it sounds like, was difficult to be with unless you got on his good side or if he liked you. It sounds like he could be a real jerk, hiring and firing at whim, lacking tact, etc. It seems poetic to me that someone who was clearly incompatible with so many people, would create a "closed system" that is incompatible with other third party technologies.

Many people in Jobs' life that Isaacson interviewed agreed that Jobs had this amazing ability to create a reality distortion field. He'd say something like, "This technology will be available in six months." Everybody would freak out because there'd be no way they'd be able to have the chip ready in six weeks, but because he demanded it, somehow people would figure out a way to come through. Every time I read "reality distortion field" I couldn't help but think of Robert Anton Wilson's concept of the "reality tunnel," which was his theory that everybody viewed things from their own version of reality which shaped how they understood the world; it "tunneled" information in such a way that it was compatible with the way their own already-biased view of the world and themselves. What I want to know is, what if you had a "reality distortion field tunnel" what would it do? Warp the reality around you to actually fit in your view? That would take a powerful person.

But enough of that. Interestingly, I was at the Apple store for a computer issue, and I got to talking with an employee there, and he said that there is a different biography about Steve Jobs, some newer book, that paints a more sympathetic portrait of Steve Jobs that he suggested I read, citing in particularly, a scene where Jobs sits in his car crying. Shall I read that book too or let this book have the final say? (Jobs did tell Isaacson, to write the book with warts and all, giving him full reign to talk to people from his past and present, no matter what terms Jobs was on with them.) This book however, has a passage I found particularly well, I don't know, petty but hilarious and probably enough to allow me to let this book have the final say, and it's this particular detail: Joan Baez dated Jobs for a while. She said that he announced they should go to a particular store because they sold a red dress he said would look great on her, and then when they got there, not only did he not buy the dress for her but then came out with two shirts for himself. And this was after he was super rich, so it wasn't like he couldn't afford it. Did I also mention that there was some suggestion in the book that the reason he dated her was because she dated Bob Dylon and Jobs loved Bob Dylon? Why didn't Steve Jobs just date Bob Dylan? Would another book on this topic allow me to have these thoughts? No? Well then, I'll stick with this one.

I enjoyed hearing about Jobs' many weirdo juice cleanses and fasts. He also did hippie-ish things like nomadically traveling, dabbling in cult-like commune-like living situations and creating an alcove in the attic to do acid. It seemed like he was always on the hunt for some type of enlightenment, ecstatic/numinous experience or sublime appreciation. I enjoyed one particular quote (page 49), where Jobs said "I think different religions are different doors to the same house. Sometimes I think the house exists, and sometimes I don't. It's the great mystery." YES and YES. Two points that sprung to mind when I read that were: 1) I recalled David Lynch saying something in some interview or video to the effect that what he feels transcendental meditation does is get one to the place that many religions try to get one to, but that they all have different ways to get there, which is that place of cosmic consciousness that we all have access to and 2) I like that someone can be searching for the "house," wanting and hoping it is there, but understanding that it may not be there at all. And that it is OK to be of two minds about it. Sometimes I believe in religion-y stuff and sometimes I don't.

Another quote that I really liked was on page 49 where Isaacson quotes Jobs, in reference to his experiences with Eastern spirituality, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism etc. He said something that resonated with me about my experiences with transcendental meditation. Although Jobs may not have been talking about the type of mediation that I do, I have found elements of this to be true in my experience doing it:

"If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things—that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it."

This is so true. When I first started mediating some months ago, for weeks and weeks I felt frustrated because it seemed like whenever I tried to meditate, it was just making whatever was on my mind bugging me worse. Sometimes it seemed like I was just stewing in whatever was bugging me, marinating. And I would actually feel myself literally warming up, like heat was rising off me. But then over time, after meditating for a few months, I stopped feeling heat rising off me and everything slowing down, in terms of my body temperature. Maybe my pulse and heart rate would slow down (I don't know; I've never measured it when I do it). I have actually started to feel more relaxed when I meditate, but it usually takes the first half of the time of the session for me to get there (I do it twice a day, twenty minutes at a stretch). Sometimes when I meditate it takes fifteen minutes for me just to get my nervous system in order, and it isn't until the last few minutes are where I actually feel good. It's not a cosmic experience for me (yet, will it ever be?) but it is relaxing, gets me feeling recharged, and on occasion, more emotionally clear-headed.

The fact that it can take more than half of the time of an individual session to get to a helpful place mentally reminds me of an experience I have a lot with physical exercise. That is, I'm not excited to start it but I force myself to, inwardly grumbling. And for much of the workout, I feel like I'm really just warming up. Often I don't start to sort of enjoy it until the last few minutes, and then it's done. And that's not ideal. Ideally, I'd be enjoying it the whole time but we know that's just not how things are.

The trick is just forcing myself to go do it. With exercising, it's like, just get those shoes on and do it. Or with meditating, just quit what you're doing and put your ass in the chair -- turn off the computer for two seconds and just put your ass in the god damn chair and do it, which seems pretty antithetical to the idea of relaxing with meditation, but that self-talk is really just what happens before I sit in the chair. The part of sitting in the chair is the part about letting go.

A final quote I'll pull, is suprisingly uplifting considering it is in regards to death. Jobs, knowing how sick he was, how he was going to die sooner rather then later, actually made him more likely to follow his heart and live in less fear of making a fool of himself (pg 457):

"Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

If only we could be in the place of following our heart's authentic propensities without fear even when there is no threat of immanent death.

It also seems fitting that I have an appointment at the Apple store tomorrow to fix the jack on the back of the Mac Mini that we plug into speakers. Sometimes the sound doesn't feed through it into the speakers unless we take the cord out and plug it back in. And I know it's the computer and not the speakers because I did some trouble-shooting with plugging and unplugging other devices and speakers etc. If that same guy is working there as last time, I can tell him I finished the book and have no plans to read the other one. That is, unless it ends up in the bathroom so I have to continually read the spine over it over while I sit on the toilet.