I recently finished a project called The Wall of Lonely and Unstable and Strange Men. It is a wall drawing that I used black ink pens to draw, over the course of the past year. The idea came from a group of mentally challenged men who walk past my house, several days a week, on their outings. They are some of the less fortunate members of society, the one’s who have dropped out of the game. I thought I would pay tribute to them in some small way. It was a pain in the ass. The first few days were fun but after that I kept thinking, “What the hell have I gotten myself into?” Now that it is finally finished, I thought I would share it with you. Enjoy and thank you for your support.
The pages are too long. The words spread out. The words slip out. The words move through the brain and back out into the nowhere place from which they came. The brain no longer able to retain the words that live in a book. The brain is slipping away into a kind of digitalized maze. Only tidbits of information and pictures are able to stick. A book filled with words is a marathon, which a person is too out of shape to run. The words are a threat to a person’s limp attention span. No longer capable of the longer sprints and solitudes that a book filled with words requires, The Terrible Reader reaches for her phone.
The Terrible Reader is no longer capable of being alone. He needs to know what is going on on-line. He needs to know what texts have come through. He needs to carry on a conversation that was begun on his phone. He needs to find new emails in his inbox. He needs to check who has checked his frequently checked Instagram and Facebook accounts. There are things to do. Likes to be given and had. Comments to be left. Photos to be seen and loved. The terrible reader has no time for a book. A book keeps him off-line. There is no excitement in these printed words.
The Terrible Reader can no longer sit with herself. It is too uncomfortable. Toes curl and uncurl. Nails are bitten. Fingers are picked. Hair is pulled. It is a continual struggle to keep her attention fixed. She feels restless. Anxious. Just sitting there alone with a book is no longer enough stimulation to keep her attention fixed. She tries to hold on with the book in her hand but it is almost painful. There is an antsiness that won’t go away. And when it does, she feels bored. She feels ready for sleep. The Terrible Reader is in a continual struggle between restlessness and sleep. Her attention span can’t keep up with the attention that words in a book demand. Instead she needs the digitally illuminated screen. She needs the fake light to get off. She needs the high-resolution pictures and live time conversations to feel engaged. When The Terrible Reader is on her phone toes do not curl and uncurl. Nails are not bitten. Fingers are not picked. Hair is not pulled. There is no struggle to keep her attention fixed. There is no battle between restlessness and sleep. Her attention is completely transfixed when on the phone. When on-line, her attention span is dialed in. She is immersed. Like particles of dust sucked into a vacuum machine, she is gone.
The Terrible Reader can read books no more. The Terrible Reader still tries to read books but most of them remain unfinished. Worlds only partially explored. These unfinished worlds pile up like dead leaves in the fall. Discarded and no longer needed, they are left to die under the weight of newer books which will also go unfinished. Unexplored. The Terrible Reader is yet to come to terms with the fact that they have become a terrible reader. They do not want to admit this painful fact to themselves so they continually try and read some more. It hurts too much to make an honest appraisal of what they have become, since humans never like to admit the truth about themselves to themselves. Every time The Terrible Reader sits down with a book their smartphone pulls at them. It won’t leave them in peace. Come to me, come to me, check me, see me, it whispers in The Terrible Reader’s ear. For the fifth time in an hour The Terrible Reader puts the book down and must reach for the smartphone. They no longer have a choice.
Prince, then David Bowie and now Leonard Cohen. What a terrible year this has been for those of us deeply touched and taught by these creative visionaries.
Leonard Cohen was once a wild man. Then he became a Buddhist monk. But he was still a wild man, even when he was a Buddhist monk. I love the story of him sneaking out behind the meditation hall early one morning to drink his coffee and smoke a cigarette.
A lover of women, words, good whiskey and wine. A fine poet indeed. A man with impeccable style, in so many more ways than just how he wore his clothes. The kind of youthful charm Leonard Cohen had well into old age, was proof that a man can grow old without growing old. Every time you heard him speak you listened and learned something original and new. A real philosopher and poet he was. Not many, if any, around like him anymore.
Leonard why did you have to go? I know you were almost really old, but couldn’t you hang around a few more years? I am not quite ready to make a go of this without you in the world.
His novels, poetry and songs where doorways into imaginative landscapes and lovescapes, the likes of which a person never heard before. Without even knowing it was happening he taught you how to live and how to die. This world will no longer be the same place without him in it.
I don’t know as much about Leonard Cohen’s songs, books and poetry as I probably should. I know the basics of Leonard Cohen’s life but I can’t tell you specifics from his biography. For me Leonard Cohen was an example of how to live as a man and an artist. It is strange to me that I have the deepest reverence and respect for a man I have never met. I studied his interviews and from that I learned what I needed to know. I have his album Songs Of Love And Hate hanging on my wall, in the same way that someone would hang a cross or a picture of their hero.
I suppose this is what Leonard Cohen meant to me. He was my teacher. He was a man who spoke more eloquently about how to live life and deal with the various demons he struggled with than any other man I have heard speak. He made me feel less alone with my demons and despair. He showed me the way to deal; through solitude, meditation, occasional nights filled with wine and women, books, music and filling up journals with words, wisdom and art.
How many people become icons but continue to live in very humble conditions, on the second floor of a small home (his daughter and her family live below) in a lower economic neighborhood? He didn’t care much for more ostentatious material things. Money was not his main thing. How rare to find a human being (especially a successful one in America) who puts his art and his life before preoccupations with money, status and more materialistic things.
In today’s America, it is the poets and artists who go unseen. No one talks about them. Leonard Cohen broke through the thick cloud of obscurity and showed generations of artists and poets that they do not have to live a defeated, delegitimized and conformist life. He showed artists, poets and writers that there are alternative ways of living where you can keep your edge and remain in the poetry.
I could be wrong but I think Leonard Cohen somehow knew me. I often felt like he was talking right at me, especially when talking about isolation, loneliness, women, love and art. But I know everyone who loved him felt this way. That is what made him so great and this is what makes things feel so much more hollow and empty now that he is gone.
Thank you for everything Leonard Cohen. You were such a class act. I will continue to live the things you taught. Hallelujah.
Yesterday, the majority of Americans elected Donald Trump as President of the United States. I was angry. Very angry. This morning I woke up with breasts.
These are not male breasts. They are good-sized female breasts. It is as if while I was asleep, someone came and took my male breasts and replaced them with thirty-five year old female breasts. I don’t understand how something like this could happen.
The minute I got out from bed this morning I felt a heavy weight pulling my chest towards the ground. I immediately became concerned that I was having some sort of heart issue. Maybe I was too angry yesterday, I remember thinking. But then as I was walking to the bathroom I noticed feeling like I was carrying decent sized water balloons inside of my chest. I could feel something jiggling around. I stopped in the hallway, turned on the lights, lifted up my t-shirt, looked down and noticed I had decent sized female breasts.
I couldn’t make sense of this right away. I thought maybe I was still in a dream. When I realized it was not a dream, I thought that maybe I was hallucinating. I have been meditating a lot recently and have heard that sometimes walking hallucinations can be a side effect of too much time spent in meditation. I looked at my breasts in the bathroom mirror. I touched them and that is when I realized they were real.
I don’t understand how this could happen. My wife has been Googling all morning. She is trying to figure out how a man can go to sleep with perfectly normal male breasts and then wake up with a pair of decent sized, nicely shaped, female breasts.
This must be the result of feeling too much anger yesterday. I don’t normally feel such long-lasting periods of intense anger and somehow the anger must have messed around with my hormone levels. I have read about men who are really angry suddenly losing all their hair or getting a non-viagra induced erection that does not go away. It is well known that anger messes with chemical constructs in human bodies and yesterday my anger was so strong that I was sweating throughout the entire day. My anger intensified after my father told me that he voted for Donald Trump and that he thought that Donald Trump was going to “Make America Great Again.”
I suppose it would be fair to say that my anger reached levels that if documented by a medical device could be safely called rage. But I did not yell. I did not express my rage in any way. I just let it be there as I kept myself present and aware of my breathing. I know that all emotions are just waves and because of my meditation practice I do not really identify with waves. I just notice them. But I wonder if the meditative suppression of my rage with regards to the election of Donald Trump as President is what has caused me to grow these breasts.
My sweet wife leant me one of her black bras, which I am now wearing as I write this. The bra has helped ease the weighted discomfort in my chest. But now I feel this tight constriction across my entire chest and back. Is this what women have to deal with everyday? Is this what bras feel like for them? If so, just like Donald Trump and all his male counterparts, I have yet again underestimated what women have to deal with everyday. No man, no matter how rich and studly, could tolerate this feeling of being hugged tightly around their chest all day long. No way.
I don’t feel as angry today. Anger is just a wave, I keep telling myself. The shock seems to be wearing off and I am accepting that as a result of the election of Donald Trump as President, nothing has changed and everything has changed. The sun has still come up. There are birds eating from my backyard bird feeder. I can hear cars racing by outside my home. But the far right has seized power in America. Every advancement America has made with regards to equality for all people over the past eight years has been undone. White patriarchy is now back in power. And I have a pair of decent sized female breasts hanging from my chest.
My wife told me that hopefully as my anger subsides, the breasts will decrease. What does this mean? I have to go to work today so I am not sure how long this will take. If I really try to let go of my anger now, will the breasts go quickly away? But anger is not really something I can get rid of. All I can do is step back, breathe and not identify with it. When it completely goes away is not really up to me. What if it doesn’t go away for as long as Donald Trump is in power?
A great deal of Americans are still celebrating today. They are thrilled that a multi-billionaire, far right extremist has seized control of the highest office in the world. Some people are not happy about this but are trying to make peace with what has happened. I am really upset about it and will not pretend like everything will be ok. I will not take my mother’s advice and just try to see the positives. What is positive about this? I am the one who has ended up with a pair of good-sized, female breasts hanging from my chest.
Everyone else seems to be getting on just fine.
My wife just asked me, “Are you mad at me?” I said, “No, I’m just mad.”
I am mad about everything right now. What is wrong with controlled anger when it is a logical response to a terrible situation? I am mad that a man like Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States. I am mad that I live in a country where the majority of people voted for a man with OBVIOUS and SEVERE Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I am mad that all the white, male, power hungry men have won. I am mad about what this will mean for the values of freedom, intellectualism, peace, non-violence, creativity, equality, social justice, integrity, honesty, sharing, environmental consciousness, non-authoritarianism, independence and autonomy that I believe in. I am mad that police officers and the military will get more praise, power and prestige. I am mad that there will be more conformity and worship of money and business. I am mad that people who are not cool at all will now be in power. I could go on and on, but I am just mad.
I realize that anger is an emotion that arises and then gradually dissolves. This too shall pass. I am mad about this because I want this anger to remain. How else will I be able to continue to oppose and not give into this catastrophe? The society in which I live will be forever changed. I am mad that American nationalism has now taken over. I am mad that people think that a multi-billionaire is the fit leader of a working class revolution. I am mad at the degree of stupidity and arrogance that has become confused as the way to “Make America Great Again.” America has never not been great but I am mad that it just got a lot worse. I am mad that America is only going to become dumber and even less tolerant than it was before. I am mad that racism and sexism has just been normalized. How does a man who said all the awful things Trump has publicly said get elected to be President? How does a woman who seems like her husband’s puppet get to be first lady? I just do not get it and I am mad about this.
I have a long day at work ahead of me. How am I going to go to work feeling so mad? I was supposed to exercise this morning but I was too mad. I can hear ringing in my ears. I don’t want to leave my house. I feel afraid of anyone who thinks that it is a good idea that Trump has been elected as President. I hope I will be able to control myself if I am confronted by someone like this. I am mad that after having one of the better, cooler and more intelligent Presidents in American history (Obama) we end up with far right, extremist, Republican, uncool, opportunists seizing control. People who actually think building a wall and shooting dissenters are great ideas are now in power. I am mad about this. I am mad that uncool people are now seen by the mass of Americans as being cool. I mean look at Trump’s Vice President. He is a robot. As uncool as a person can get. I could go on and on but I won’t. I know I already said I would stop but when I am mad sometimes I keep going on and on even when I know I should stop. But even my dogs are mad. They have been barking all morning.
*Sorry for any grammar errors. I am too mad to care.
All of our lives are running away from us and all we have to let us know that this is happening is our withered reflections when looking in mirrors. I am someone who is continually aware of how my life is running away from me. Often I will look at pictures of people in the 1950’s and 60’s and think about how their lives have completely run away from them. I am well aware that I am up against the same fate, every moment of every day.
I have a particular practice or daily exercise that I employ for better managing the feelings of dread and futility that arise when a person is aware of their life running away from them. I make sandwiches. I try to make at least two sandwiches a day but on a bad day I will make five. There is no greater satisfaction in my life than eating a sandwich that I have made. The thicker the better. I do not enjoy thin sandwiches. Thin sandwiches are for those who are not courageous. Thin sandwich makers are so afraid of the realities of life that they do everything to calorically restrict themselves so they can feel the illusory impression of being immortal and unaffected by aging. I prefer thick sandwiches because not only do they satiate the more fear prone parts of my brain, but they also allow me to better enjoy a life that I know is running away from me.
I use the healthiest bread that I can buy. This means bread with a high fiber and seed content. Not only is this bread delicious but I do not feel so guilty after eating large amounts of it. I know that I have superseded my daily recommended fiber intake and this helps me feel more confident about the workings of my bowels. I prefer using organic mayonnaise on whatever high fiber bread I use, but since my wife is vegan I normally have to resort to using organic vegan mayonnaise. The good thing about using organic vegan mayonnaise is that I can use larger amounts of it and not feel so doomed to coronary heart disease. I also like to use large amounts of organic spicy mustard, the names of which I can never pronounce. The combination of organic vegan mayonnaise and organic spicy mustard usually and temporarily suspends any kind of existential dread.
My wife and I both try to keep our refrigerator loaded with stuff to make sandwiches with. My wife is younger than I. Not much younger in terms of the span of human history on planet earth but much younger in terms of the deterioration of the human body. Fourteen years can make a massive difference when it comes to the ravages caused by aging. But because my wife also suffers from a certain existential awareness (a fundamental signifier of an intelligent mind) she too is aware of life running away from not only herself but also from her beloved husband and her even more beloved three dogs. In a way I envy her youth. Even if in youth a person is aware of their lives running away from them they still have the underlying comfort of knowing that they still have a good amount of time to lose. Once you are older, the awareness of life running away from you fills you with more despair (or denial) because you know you have much less time to lose.
My wife has picked up the sandwich making practice from me. She also finds it an effective way to deal with the awareness of a run away life. I appreciate that she dedicates just as much interest in keeping our fridge filled with stuff to make sandwiches with as I do. Because my wife is still young enough where she still has the ability to have an incredibly attractive figure (which often provides a person with the fit illusion of being immortal) she does not make her sandwiches as thick as I do. She usually makes her sandwiches with things like organic vegan cheddar cheese, organic sprouts, organic pickles, organic lettuce or organic kale and organic sauerkraut. For some reason she always insists on toasting her seeded wheat bread, which is something I never do. This is another luxury of being young- you feel like you have more time to spend on doing trivial things. I never toast my bread, only because I feel like I just do not have the time. For her she still has a good amount of time to give to such superfluous things. (This is why most good art, literature, film and music is made in youth. A young person has more time to spend passionately dedicated to such things. Once a person is older they just want to spend time with life or living because there is less time and energy to give towards working at things that feel more superfluous the older and sicker a person gets.)
I stuff my sandwiches with a plethora of different organic things. I use various kinds of organic nuts, organic onions, organic vegan cheeses, wild tuna or wild salmon from a can, organic humus, organic pickles, organic sprouts, organic vegan sausages (usually uncooked), organic cabbage, organic kale, organic mung beans, organic sauerkraut, organic habaneros and organic baked barbecue potato chips for extra crunch. I find that stuffing my sandwiches with things that create a crunch effect allows me to discharge a lot of the anger and frustration that I feel with regards to a life that is running away from me and everyone I love. Crunching is a very effective way to deal with this chronic frustration that I feel in my life.
It requires mindfulness and slow movements to keep everything in the sandwich rather than falling out on the plate. What I have found is that with the right positioning of everything inside the sandwich and with mindful movements, overboard condiments can be avoided when eating a thick sandwich. Whatever things do fall out on to my plate, I make sure to eat once I am finished eating my sandwich. I look as this as a kind of dessert.
My grandfather, on my father’s side, used to do a similar thing. After the age of forty he was also very aware of life running away from him. He often spoke about how he could not believe how much older everyone was getting. “One minute they were young and filled with life and now they are older and filled with all kinds of unwanted obligations, wear and tear,” he would say when talking about friends, family members, old lovers and celebrities that he liked. Every day for lunch he would eat a large hoagie sandwich. He lived in Philadelphia where there was a hoagie/steak sandwich establishment on every corner. Philadelphians obviously are also very aware of life running away from them and deal with it by making and eating very large sandwiches. Have you seen how big these things are? Some people refer to them as subs, because they are so long. My grandfather would eat one all to himself. Everyday. All alone. A sandwich filled with not organic cheese, meat, hot peppers, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, mustard, mayonnaise, vinegar and oil. He would shake not organic pepper and salt on top and whenever he took me to a hoagie place on one of my yearly visits he would always say, “It is all in the bread kid.” To this day I still believe that to be true but instead of using freshly baked white sourdough bread, I use high fiber wheat or rye seeded bread.
I have found that making sandwiches on a daily basis has been an effective, short-term way for me to deal with the day-to-day knowledge that my life is running away from me. The thicker the sandwich the better. But I also realize that this is a short term solution. I have to keep making sandwiches, sometimes several times a day in order for it to work. Once I am done making and eating my sandwich it is a matter of an hour or so before my sense of life going quickly by returns. I notice when it returns because I feel somewhat depressed. This is usually when I will make another sandwich. If I am away from my home and not able to make a sandwich I will settle for having one made for me. It does not work as well, but it still eases the pain of knowing that it is all quickly passing by.
By the way, now it is Fall. I stay inside as much as I can when it is Fall. Fall is a season that can literally fall on you, so please proceed with caution. Look up, even as you eat sandwiches.