My Fourth Decade

As I draw on to the end of my fifth decade, I’m feeling reflective. Indulge me in a little reminiscence, and by all means come to my birthday party. What follows is part four in a series; read about my first, second, and third decades on Mid-City Messenger.

Stone Cold 97

My fourth decade kicked off with a knock-down, drag-out, protracted dispute between my father and me. We worked through many longstanding resentments and misunderstandings in counseling sessions that went on for the better part of a year. As part of the deal, we both agreed to swear off drugs, including alcohol and tobacco but not caffeine or cough syrup, thankfully.

And so it was that I found myself stone cold sober at my 30th birthday party.

Somehow I convinced my father to join me in publishing an online journal over the course of 1997. We posted our intimate thoughts on drugs, alcohol, and our relationship. It was, in fact, a blog — though that word wasn’t coined until a year or two later. It’s still online for anyone who’s curious.

After much effort, my father and I managed to salvage our relationship. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it. We’re still friends.

MIME

My grandmother passed away that summer, the last of my grandparents.

In the fall, Christy got a job teaching in Indianapolis, and we moved out of the garage. I got wind of a new graduate program at Indiana University, through the Department of Telecommunications: the Masters in Immersive Mediated Environments, or MIME for short. My work with ROX got me in the door.

MIME offered a wide-open approach to new media. For my master’s project I combined forces with my wife to launch The All New Christy Paxson Show, a transmedia spectacular which included a series of web animations detailing “The Life of Christy.” It’s still online for anyone who’s curious.

Xy Inbed

Meanwhile, I filed a personal bankruptcy. I’d acquired $24,000 of credit card debt, covering basic living expenses during the ROX years.

Around this time I was in conversations with some folks at Free Speech TV about the idea of launching a website which would allow users to upload their own videos. Basically, our idea was YouTube — but we never launched.

Things were pretty rough for Christy in Indianapolis. One of her students died in a house fire. We sent out a card that December with the grim inscription, “Unhappy Holidays.”

Before I knew it, graduation loomed. I asked Christy if I should look for work globally. We both loved Bloomington, so this was a tough call, but in the end I applied for jobs all over the country.

NOLA

I scored exactly one interview, and it changed my life. In February of 1999, I flew down to New Orleans for an interview at a certain HBCU. I had purchased a pair of shoes for the occasion, only they weren’t brand new. They were from the Salvation Army. Much to my chagrin, they began to disintegrate during the day of interviews and meetings. Little chunks of sole were crumbling off and littering the carpet. I was probably hired because they felt sorry for me.

We moved down here in May, and nothing’s been the same for us since.

To me, the experience of being in NOLA is inextricably intertwined with the experience of working at that HBCU that hired me, and of riding my bike to campus every day. All three have been very good for me. I immediately felt “at home” even though I was an outsider.

Butter
American Beauty Creamery Butter, New Orleans, circa 2000

Things haven’t been so good for my long-suffering wife. She thought the Indianapolis public schools were rough, but here in New Orleans she discovered a whole ‘nother level. I was stunned when she came home from a meeting where teachers were advised to use the Bible to solve their discipline issues. Make sure you got a big thick edition, so when you hit your students they can really feel it!

The world population hit six billion in late 1999. Fears of a “Y2K bug” apocalypse proved unfounded. We moved from our pricey apartment in the Warehouse District to a cheaper rental uptown. I left some frozen chicken in the trunk one day, but that’s another story. I started producing an experimental TV series called no.rox.

The Nader campaign was ramping up and I got involved with a group of people trying to form a Green Party of Louisiana. We eventually held our founding convention in 2002 and officially qualified with the Secretary of State in August of 2005, just weeks before you-know-what.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A new millennium

Technically the 21st century began in 2001. I made a return trip to Scandinavia, for a conference in Finland. Terrorists flew planes like bombs into buildings that September, in a ploy to provoke war between Islam and the West. ROX went back into production, albeit at a much slower pace.

We bought a house in Mid-City. I’d feared my bankruptcy would be an obstacle, but it wasn’t. The financial system was more than happy to welcome me back to a lifetime of debt.

Cloud Formation
Cloud Formation, New Orleans, 2003

Blogs became a thing. My employer implemented a new electronic timekeeping system, prompting me to start my first blog (as such), Pride Before Kronos. It’s still online for anyone who’s curious. I’ve been told it played a role in changing our policy. The experience was so powerful it motivated me to start my personal blog, b.rox, in the spring of 2004.

Service was restored to the Canal Streetcar line after a forty-year interruption, and the first car rolled just two blocks from our new house. There were also a number of street murders nearby that year. In once case we knew the accused shooter, who later turned himself in.

In May of 2005, I hiked the length of the Lafitte Corridor with a couple friends. I was stunned by the potential of this abandoned rail-line, and I started researching how to spearhead the a project of turning it into a trail.

We declared that summer to be “The Summer of Christy” and we celebrated all summer long. As we vacationed in the Ozarks, we tackled the question of reproducing. We decided to give it a whirl. Christy went off the pill, and we even planned our first official go at conception. It was to be at our friends’ wedding under the Brooklyn Bridge on Labor Day weekend. Well, not at the wedding ceremony itself, of course.

But we never made that trip.

Katrina and what came after

I used to think of the year I lived in Sweden as the worst in my life, wrought as it was with teen angst and personal conflicts and the pain of apostasy, not to mention that cold dark winter near the arctic circle. However, the next sixteen months were worse — from when Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast, right up to the end of my fourth decade on this planet.

We ended up spending almost three months in Indiana, and I’m ever grateful to the community of Bloomington for their hospitality. I made a couple trips back to New Orleans during that time, sneaking into a closed city on the first trip, gutting the lower floor of our house on the second. When Christy joined me for our final return, tornadoes and snow flurries chased us away from the Midwest — as if to say, get back down there to New Orleans.

We crashed for a while on a friend’s couch in the Irish Channel. But what I remember most is when we moved back into our house in Mid-City. We were the only people living in the immediate area. In that dark December, the only lights for blocks around were the oil lamps we used to play Scrabble.

In January of 2006, on my 39th birthday, all the universities re-opened. For my money, this was the single most hopeful moment in the recovery of the city.

It was a long hard slog. Living in the flood zone, surrounded by devastation, we lost all touch with what might be considered normality. I drank heavily. And participated in endless planning processes.

Cloud Formation
Cloud Formation, New Orleans, 2006

There were bright spots along the way, and I clung to each one. Seventeen people showed up for something I billed as the “second annual hike” of the Lafitte Corridor, and the group known as Friends of Lafitte Greenway was born that day.

Picking up our discussions before the storm, Christy and I decided to start trying. She got pregnant almost immediately but then suffered a painful miscarriage. That was surely one of the worst days.

Though it all, I kept at my blog, writing as if my life depended on it. Maybe it did. Before the storm I read people from around the world; now I wanted only to read locals, and I discovered I was not alone. A community of bloggers emerged. On the first anniversary of Katrina there was a conference put on by the local blogging community, Rising Tide, the first of ten annual meetings to consider the future of New Orleans.

And then the worst thing ever happened, a tragedy so cruel I can still hardly wrap my head around it. On the fourth day of 2007, Helen Hill was murdered in her own home. A talented artist and the sweetest person you could ever hope to meet, Helen was also a personal friend. The murderer was never publicly identified, and no one was ever arrested for this heinous crime.

I grieved for Helen deeply, and I still do, but her untimely passing affected me in another, very unexpected way. The murder of Dinerral Shavers combined with Helen Hill to produce an unprecedented level of community outrage, and the largest protest in the history of the city was organized. I found myself invited to join a dozen speakers at a massive rally at City Hall.

This experience changed me forever, but that would only become evident in my next decade. As my 40th birthday approached, I found myself in a distinctly non-celebratory mood, questioning why I’d moved back to New Orleans.

Stay tuned for the surprising twists and turns of my fifth decade.

My FOLC Tale

Hikers

I’ve got a new essay up at Friends of Lafitte Corridor.

Most if not all of the major spiritual traditions on our planet seem to embrace the path as a metaphor. Maybe that’s why I’ve found the prospect of a greenway in the Lafitte Corridor so inspiring over the years. There’s been something very compelling about imagining a trail in what is currently fallow, empty land — and treading that ground with others who share the dream each year.

You should go read the rest on the FOLC site.
Continue reading “My FOLC Tale”

Green Hearts

Green heart

Some time way back in the mid-70s, when I was in elementary school, I read about the Christian martyr Valentius. According to the account I read, he was imprisoned. Desiring to write letters to his friends, but lacking any paper, he instead used the leaves that were growing outside the window of his prison cell. It was from this act that the tradition of sending little notes on St. Valentine’s Day emerged. In fact, the leaves were heart-shaped, so that’s where we got the symbol, which truthfully doesn’t look much like a real human heart.

I was so knocked out by this story that (with a little help from my mother) I made valentines for my classmates that year out of green construction paper, rather than the traditional red. I recall that in my homeroom we’d all made and decorated large envelopes that we hung on the wall to receive valentines. I believe everyone in the class brought in valentines for everyone else, so we all got 25 or 30 and probably quite a bit of candy as well. It all seems quite ridiculous in retrospect.

I did a quick little bit of research this morning, but I can’t find any evidence to support the Valentius leaf story. I suppose it’s just a little too perfect to actually have any basis in fact.

Photo: Green heart / juise / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Note: Apparently I wrote about this some years ago.

Don’t Fear the Epigraph

Throughout my childhood my family made regular visits to my grandfather’s place, a doublewide trailer at the dead end of a long rural road, secluded acreage at the edge of Pottawatomi State Park in scenic Door County, Wisconsin.

On one visit, I excavated (from a drawer in a nightstand in a guest bedroom) a remaindered paperback of The Stand by Steven King. I suppose it was purchased by one of my aunts, uncles or cousins.

I didn’t manage to read the book. Not sure if I even tried.

But what I do recall, with crystal clarity, is the epigraph. Strangely enough, the epigraphs from The Stand are mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on epigraphs, but not in the entry on The Stand.

Actually I gather there are several epigraphs for the various sections of the novel, but there was one at the beginning that caught my eye back those many years ago. (It must have been 1981 because the book came out in paperback only in 1980. Surely a remaindered edition wouldn’t have been available until then. My grandfather died in 1981, and I didn’t return to Sturgeon Bay until 1992.) With the front cover missing I suppose the epigraphs may have been visible without actually opening the book. There were some other quotations, but only one made a lasting impression.

And it was clear she couldn’t go on!
The door was opened and the wind appeared,
The candles blew and then disappeared,
The curtains flew and then he appeared,
Said, “Don’t be afraid,
Come on, Mary,”
And she had no fear
And she ran to him
And they started to fly…
She had taken his hand…
“Come on, Mary;
Don’t fear the reaper!”
— Blue Öyster Cult

At the time, I had no idea who the Blue Öyster Cult was. They sounded mysterious and intriguing, and the lyrical quotation was dark and chilling. The name and the lyrics combined to create an atmosphere that was both dreadful and delicious at the same time. Eventually Blue Öyster Cult became my favorite band of my high school years, based on the records they’d put out in the 70s. “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” remains one of my favorite songs. But at the time, I didn’t even know they were a rock band. I thought they were some sort of religious group. Their name alone evoked a mysterious image that still haunts me today.

I don’t know why this memory came back so vividly today. Perhaps it’s because I recently read Earth Abides, a novel which inspired The Stand. I’ve still never read The Stand, and really have no desire to do so, but Earth Abides is a great book.

Vnad Ladlkj Faldkfj

Here’s a shot of the Times-Picayune, Section C, May 29, 2010.

Vnad Ladlkj Faldkfj

Oops.

I still remember when I discovered the existence of typos and other such mistakes, at the tender age of eight or ten. I was so taken by the concept that mistakes could make their way into print that I began to collect them. I kept my clippings in a box for a black light bulb, which was labeled “Black Light Blub.” In fact, I think it was that “Blub” that first sparked my interest.

The collection is long gone, alas, but I still take a perverse delight in seeing mistakes in print. I’m sure this was an embarrassment to someone at the Times-Pic, but it provided me with a brief moment of amusement. So, thanks.

A Watery Grave

Sub Pub

Sometime way back in 1992 a co-worker of mine at DialAmerica, a freaky long-haired nipple-ringed Mormon dude named Rob, told me that he and another guy were trying to get band together. Next thing I knew I was in his basement with a mic in my hand. Rob was a drummer; he had a double-bass setup and wasn’t afraid to use it. And that’s how I met Jeff, a shaggy genius guitarist with some seriously heavy riffs. His daughter Alex was there running around the basement too, something like four years old and cute as a button.

I guess they liked what I was laying down because they asked me to come back fro more. Soon I was Alex’s newest “boyfriend.” Jeff and Rob and I started working up some songs. We advertised for a bassist: Jeff made a freaky, colorful, psychedelic sign and posted it in the window of his apartment in the Allen Building overlooking Kirkwood, above the Uptown Café. That’s how we met up with Marc, a kid fresh out of high school who had just arrived in Bloomington to study at the Big University, an insanely talented devotee of the Stuart Hamm school.

Before I knew it we were playing the clubs around Bloomington. (Marc was underage for most of the places we played, but apparently that’s legal if you’re in a band.) I think the first gig we played might have been a short set at ER Night at Second Story. I took the mic off the stand, jumped off the stage and paced back and forth on the dance floor ranting like a madman for all three songs.

We had a pretty aggressive sound. As for my vocals, I was mostly rapping. This may seem like a strange thing for a white boy in small town in the Midwest in the early 90s. And indeed it was a strange thing. I don’t know how to explain it exactly. I did not listen to a great deal of hip-hop, but what I’d heard I liked — De La Soul and Eazy-E, mainly. But I’d been rapping since the late 80s, mostly for my own amusement and the chagrin of my friends. I don’t know where I picked that up or what I thought I was doing. I can only say that rapping seemed so fresh and cool. Rap was virtually unheard on stages around Bloomington at the time, especially in combination with rock music. I had not heard Rage Against the Machine at the time; when I finally did a few years later, I was overawed. But by that time, our band was breaking up.

We called ourselves The Submersibles. The band name was probably Jeff’s idea, he had a peculiar sense of humor. As it turned out Jeff and I were the core of the band, because Rob soon dropped out. He cited religious differences; he was a sincere Latter-Day Saint and claimed to be offended by my lyrics, but I think it was really because he got a real job. (He also tried to save me with a team of other Mormons but that’s another story.) We got another drummer, a guy named Hans who played with a jazzier feel. But then Marc transferred to another school and had to say goodbye. We found a great but very different bassist in Mike. (He was also a bit more responsible and organized than the rest of us, which was hugely helpful.) I forget what happened to Hans, but eventually he departed and Bevan took his place. The lineup changes were challenging but at every turn we were fortunate to find such immensely talented people to play with that it didn’t slow us down as much as one might think.

We played mostly in Bloomington (here’s some video Sean taped at Second Story) but did a few gigs around the state. The most memorable of these, to me, was when we played to a huge audience at a warehouse in Evansville. I think it was an all-ages show. The kids there seemed incredibly turned on by our music, in fact they seemed almost rabid. I was a little freaked out by some of them, like the guy with a swastika carved in the side of his head. “I’m not a Nazi but I do believe in racial heritage,” he said after the show, or something like that. He loved my performance. That gave me the creeps.

Not everyone was a fan. Mostly I heard from friends and fans who loved us, but of course that’s the nature of showbiz. I’m sure there were plenty of people who hated us. When we got a track on Live from Bloomington 1993, we garnered the following review from Bill Zink:

"a confusion within the band itself"

You can read the complete article. It’s a hoot. I thought maybe I could get a song out of there somehow — “The Defunkifier” — but it never came to pass.

I’m connected with Bill on Facebook these days, and he reminded me that we managed to quote him on a flyer advertising a Submersibles show. The choice quote comes from later in the article — “Sorry, Submersibles. I take back everything I said. You guys rock.” Apparently we excerpted only the last three words, and put his name on it. I think that’s hilarious, and I wish I had a copy. All I could find in my files was the following collage:

Zink Flyer

We mostly did our own flyers, manged ourselves, booked our own shows. We recorded a number of times, but despite embracing a general DIY ethic, we never released any of these recordings. Jeff was something of a perfectionist, and I think he felt we could do better. After the band broke up, I put together a tape of some of our tracks for a couple friends, and he was not entirely happy about that.

I was never actually clear on why we broke up. It seemed to be a decision between Mike and Jeff. They just called me and let me know. I wasn’t too upset because I was increasingly preoccupied with ROX which had become a full time job for me at that point. I was also a very ambivalent performer. I liked making music, but performing live could sometimes be a drag. It was physically demanding, and my voice often was not up to performing an entire set. Also, being more of an introvert, I felt extremely awkward up on stage. And of course, since I didn’t have any equipment of my own, I always felt obliged to help our various drummers carry their stuff — and man, did they have a lot of gear. It’s a lot of work to move and set up and tear down and remove a full-size drum kit.

I lost touch with Jeff over the years. We connected once maybe eight years ago. He still was reluctant to share our music. Then I lost track of him again. When Musical Family Tree launched, I really wanted to publish those old Submersibles recordings, but I remembered Jeff’s reticence. I had too much respect for Jeff to do it without his blessing.

All that changed a month or two ago when Jeff appeared on Facebook. I broached the topic once again, and this time he was more receptive. We e-mailed back and forth a hundred times, sorting through our three studio sessions and one live performance recorded straight from the sound board, trying to determine which tracks were worthy of sharing with the world, and which should be consigned to the dark musty cellars of oblivion, never to see the light of day.

And so it is that The Submersibles have finally released a record, a compilation of a couple dozen tracks, most of which have never been available to the public before. (“Splinter” was on Live from Bloomington 1993, remember?) We’re calling it Totally Submerged: A Watery Grave. You can listen to the album (downloads enabled) via our band listing at Musical Family Tree. Important note to Mom and Dad: Do not, repeat do not listen! I love y’all, but you would not enjoy this music and would probably find it offensive on every level.

Totally Submerged: A Watery Grave

I apologize to the world at large for the muffed vocals on some of the live tracks. For the stupidity of the lyrics I must take full blame. Listening to this music takes me back to another time and has engendered many thoughts about how I’ve changed and grown over the years. Most of all I feel immensely fortunate to have collaborated with such talented and committed musicians.

Where are they now? Jeff is in Florida transforming himself into a manatee. Alex is in the Navy. Marc is playing in Mindwarp Chamber. Bevan is in The Very Foundation. I’ve totally lost track of Hans and Rob. Mike is still in Bloomington doing great things in the theater scene which appears to be thriving. Thanks, guys, I wish you all well and hope you enjoy listening to this music as much as I have.

A Decade Up in Here

Today makes ten years I’ve been working here at the University.

Somehow this seems more significant than marking ten years in New Orleans. Not sure why. Maybe because we’ve moved around to different houses and neighborhoods in the city, but I’ve been working in the same place the whole time — coming into the same building, sitting in the same room, looking out the same window.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m amazed to be working at the same place for such a long time. Certainly this is the longest I’ve ever held down a job. Then again, I consider this the first and only real job I’ve ever had.

I never have any trouble remembering the precise day I started because it was a small point of contention. I was finishing up grad school and wanted to push it back a month or a few weeks. But my (future) boss’s boss said that June 1st was “pretty much written in stone,” a phrase which has stuck with me to this day. So June 1st it was, which I now know as the beginning of hurricane season. Didn’t think much about that at the time.

I don’t have any pictures from my first day, but here’s one from a few months later, looking scruffy and conducting one of my first web seminars. It was a Saturday morning workshop on Netscape Composer. I believe this is the earliest extant photo of me “on the job,” so to speak.

B at the Board

I recall only one detail from my first day on the job. I came in bright and early, eager to make a good impression and start off on a good foot. I asked my boss what time, as a rule, I would be expected to arrive at the office? He thought for a moment, and said, “Whenever — just be responsible.”

I knew right then I was going to enjoy working here, and I’ve been doing my best to be responsible ever since.

I remember my job interview even more clearly. That was in February of ’99. I had purchased a new pair of shoes for the occasion, only they weren’t new — they were from the Salvation Army. Much to my chagrin, they began to disintegrate during the day of interviews and meetings. Little chunks of sole were crumbling off and littering the carpet of the office suite. I was probably hired because they felt sorry for me.

Granted, faculty development is not exactly a career I ever envisaged for myself. But even after ten years the work is still interesting, more so in fact. I’m constantly learning, constantly being challenged. I guess I could do another ten if they still want me.

April Fool’s Pranks

A well-crafted prank is a thing of beauty. I’ve pulled off a few in my day of which I am proud, but they were modest endeavors. More elaborate pranks raise the stakes, and the dividing line between a successful prank and abject failure is precariously thin: A prank that doesn’t come off makes an ass of the perpetrator.

April Fool’s Day is a special challenge, since people may presumably be on their guard. Thus, really good April Fool’s pranks are something of a rarity. I don’t think I’ve ever pulled one off.

Today I managed a couple of half-hearted jokes that are barely worth mentioning. At a presentation this afternoon, I invited the audience to stay for the social hour my unit was sponsoring, and noted that “unfortunately, there is no wine.” Ha ha, April Fool’s. (Yawn.) Only slightly better: During our staff meeting, when Olivia left the room for a moment, I saw she’d left her recorder running, so I asked my co-workers if they’d noticed that she had something between her teeth — even though she didn’t — just a little something to amuse her when she plays it back.

As noted, these are hardly the stuff of prankster legend.

(It should be noted that gags such as Google’s annual announcements of bogus innovations do not qualify. They are funny, and clever, but they’re jokes, not pranks, and one would have to be very gullible indeed to be taken in.)

I can only recall one such prank that was successfully played on me. It was something like fifteen years ago when I was working at DialAmerica Marketing, Inc., as a sales rep. The supers called the shift a few minutes early to make an announcement. They distributed a memo from the home office. It seemed the sales commission for our current project was being cut substantially. The real kicker — the reduction was retroactive, affecting all the sales we’d already made earlier in the week. People were mighty upset, myself included, and the grumbling began to get loud when finally the supers burst into laughter and yelled “April Fool’s!” I couldn’t believe it. My burgeoning sense of distress and mounting rage was suddenly yanked out from beneath me, and the resultant emotional freefall produced a sense of euphoria not unlike the sudden descent of a roller coaster. I’d been fooled, but good, and it felt great to laugh at myself. That’s what a good prank is all about.

Vortex of Memory

I’ve been feeling the pull of the past. If memory is a drug, then journals are the paraphernalia true addicts need to get that extra kick. Which is why I’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to preserve my handwritten journals even after they sat under water for two weeks after Katrina.

Lately I’ve been revisiting the ’80s, in particular the year I lived in Sweden, and even more particularly the week I spent visiting Moscow and Helsinki and Tampere, Finland. Besides my journals, I have a copy of a 26-page letter I wrote to a friend recounting every aspect of that week in excruciating detail, very possibly the longest damn thing I’ve ever written. (Seriously, as many words as I crammed on each page, that letter’s probably longer than my master’s thesis.) I’ve been reminiscing about the Etelämäkis, the family who hosted me on that trip. I even tried looking them up on Facebook, but I was misspelling their name.

I’m not entirely certain why I’ve been preoccupied with that certain time at this certain time.

Then, a few days ago, something strange happened. The Etelämäkis contacted me. (Yes, via Facebook.) It seems Erkki and Raili are coming to the States to visit some friends. As fate would have it they’ll be on the Gulf Coast, so they are planning to rent a car and come visit us in New Orleans.

I couldn’t be happier, but it’s also just a little spooky.

Collaborative Memoir

Facebook continues to amaze as I connect again and again to people with whom I haven’t communicated for up to a quarter century. So what do you say to someone after such an interval? Sometimes, not much. But the fact is, sometimes it doesn’t take much to trigger old forgotten memories.

For example, my friend Vic mentioned “an adventure in the graveyard.” I had totally forgotten about this episode, but at his mention the image came back quite vividly — moonlight reflecting off the snow amidst the headstones.

Vic elaborated:

Let’s just say the graveyard adventure is forever imprinted on my psyche. With our trek into the night time hours as everyone was asleep… I’d never done anything like that before… There was a particular tomb stone that you jumped upon and it started to fall over at me… As you and I quickly uprighted it, I stared in affirmation that my mother’s rules and not following them had come true and I’d be punished for it… for the gravestone was etched with the title of which this gentleman held. It was none other than a “Judge.” I was horrified… We may have eluded the police in this late night excursion but I was going to get mine as this societal law enforcer would probably get even from the grave… LOL… Looking back it was probably one of those moments a person will remember for their life. I was such a stick the mud. Thank goodness for your influence.

I find this sort of reminiscence wonderful. It confirmed my desire for a collaborative memoir. At first blush it seemed rather simple. Set it up on a wiki or some such platform. Start with a defined time and place — say Greenwood Community High School in the early 80s — then invite anyone and everyone to add whatever they like. Each person remembers different little snippets, which in turn may trigger forgotten memories in other writers. They can all be linked and interrelated into one glorious tapestry, ever expanding, ever unraveling…

But very quickly I began to imagine problems. Presumably people would write in the first person. That would create confusion with regard to whose voice one is hearing at any particular point. That’s a mere technical issue; perhaps it could be surmounted. The real stumbling block, I think, is that even after 25 years, there are still plenty of raw truths that could wound and injure. An honest narrative would be hurtful; a sanitized narrative would be boring. If you take out the sex and the drugs and the petty backstabbing, you’ve gutted the narrative of all the best parts.

Therefore I have concluded that this project is impossible, or at least not worth the trouble. Which is good, because I have other things to do.

My History of Seizures

Last week I promised to expand on a topic of your choosing. I thought maybe y’all would want to know about smoking pot on TV or getting arrested for streaking. But in fact far more people expressed an interest in this item:

I was epileptic, with serious seizures, but I seem to have outgrown it about ten years ago.

The people have spoken! Herewith, a brief history of my seizures.
Continue reading “My History of Seizures”

Sympathy for the Devil

Ángel Caído en El Retiro

One day when I was very young I brought home from Sunday School a page from some sort of activity booklet. I believe it depicted Jesus being tempted by Satan. I cut out the image of Satan and pinned it to the wall of my bedroom. I found a blue foil star somewhere and pinned it in his hand. Somehow that seemed right. I’m sure at that tender age I didn’t know that Lucifer means Light-Bringer in Latin. I doubt I was aware that in the Book of Isaiah he was called Day Star, or Morning Star, son of Dawn.

Mom was a little upset by the display. “I won’t have devil worship in this house,” she said. I explained that I wasn’t worshiping him, I just thought he looked cool, with the horns and bat-wings and all. Besides, I pointed to the star as evidence that he’d turned good.

But I think the real reason Satan interested me was as a symbol or icon of transgression. From those very early days to this, I’ve been fascinated by transgressive behavior, rebels and outcasts, deviants and misfits, anyone that goes against the dominant narrative, anything that seems offensive to mainstream sensibilities.

I am not speaking of an obsession, just a mild fascination, an enduring interest. I know I’m not alone in this. It’s easy to look around and see there are plenty of people who share this interest. But I also recognize that it’s a minority position.

I still find Satanic imagery mildly compelling. But his primary appeal, to me, exists only within the Christian paradigm. As that has become less dominant in my mind, the power of such imagery seems to diminish somewhat, but my general interest in transgression remains. Curiously and ironically enough, I imagine Jesus as a friend to transgressors of all types.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, and wondering as always about that ultimate question: Why? There are so many ways of being. Why am I more this way than another? Why am I who I am and not someone else? For many years I have sought environmental explanations. More and more I attribute my quirks to nature, not nurture. I am who I am because I was born this way.

Ángel Caído en El Retiro / Álvaro Ibáñez / CC BY 2.0

Green Valentines

When I was a wee lad in elementary school, I was fascinated to read about the origin of the modern “heart” shape, which looks nothing like the anatomical human heart. It all goes back to Saint Valentine, the Xian martyr, who was locked up in prison, and sent notes of love (presumably agapeic love, not erotic) to his fellow Xians. Since he didn’t have any paper, he wrote on leaves which were shaped like what we now think of as a heart.

I thought this was so cool that I made valentines out of green construction paper that year. My classmates already thought I was weird. This merely confirmed it.