Sing ‘Em Out

Weaponized grief, you could call it. Shame warfare.

I often wished for such power. To be able to stare into the pale eyes in a pale skull and wipe away that arrogant, privileged smirk with the power of my voice alone. Like, if I could just look at your whiteboy face while you tell me some ignorant shit that you think is worth hearing because EVERYTHING IN YOUR ENTIRE EXISTANCE has given you one UNIFIED MESSAGE as the ABSOLUTE TRUTH and that message is that YOU AND ANYTHING YOU SAY ARE ALWAYS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE ROOM… Where was I? Oh yeah. If I could just look at your whiteboy face and turn you into a puddle of snot-dribbling grief with just my words. Words that carried every atrocity in them like gel capsules.

I imagine it would go something like this:

Whiteboy: “Well, blah blah whiteboy shit blah blah—“

Me: “INDIAN BOARDING SCHOOLS!”

Whiteboy: “AAAIIIIIEEEEEEEE!” (Collapses into a sobbing heap, will pontificate no more forever.)

I knew a girl who had that power. Like a lot of people with god powers, she wasn’t really using them right. Sometimes she did. There was a co-worker we had, his friend got shot dead. She sang him a mourning song in one of the Old Tongues and you could just see the weight of anger and sadness pouring out of him, lightening him up enough for that first bit of healing to begin.

But mostly she was just a drama queen. And trife. She was pretty trife. Spent most of her time turning her bundle of ancestral anguish into destructive romances and painful friendships. She did us dirty.

Imagine if she figured it all out. Unleashed that power and really put it to use in a good way. I figure in the right space, with good acoustics, she could sing the devil out of at least a couple thousand white folks at a time. I’m sure some of them are evil enough to be immune, but most of them would succumb. Thousands of pale bodies thrashing on the ground in utter despair.

We could get 20 or 30 storytellers to work their way into the crowd after that. I use the word “storyteller,” but unfortunately it’s an english word and therefore mostly empty. It doesn’t say what I want it to say. It doesn’t say what it is. When I say storyteller, think of someone who does with stories what this girl I mentioned does with song.

So we get these folks, have them each take a group in the crowd, and Tell Them the Story. Lay down the one cosmic law we’ve known for all time—we need to be in good relationships with every facet of the living universe, from the stars to the stone. Tell these groups how their machines are destroying everything. Show them what needs to be done. Convert these hellish bastards.

It could be like a carnival. We’d just weave our way from the west to the east in reverse Manifest Destiny, like a backwards sun, bringing the light that removes heads from asses.

This could work, I’m positive. Sure, we’d have to dynamite all the media infrastructure and hack all the digital satellites, shut them all down long enough to give folks a break from the Anti-Life Screen Eye Beam of Soul Destruction. Otherwise these folks would just wipe their eyes, go in the house, and start livefeeding about how transformed they are. Soon, the urge to purchase something would re-emerge, and we’d all be right back where we started.

So yeah, it would be a challenge. But it could be done.

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Panels of Doom

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately on the history of the comic book industry. It is fascinating. As someone who was born in an era when Marvel and DC had already emerged as The Big Two publishers of mostly superhero comics, learning about the origins of this corner of the publishing industry is eye-opening, to say the least.

Before TV conquered the time and the minds of the public, comics was a much bigger business in this country. Hundreds and hundreds of titles published every month, with the popular ones selling in the millions. In contrast, the highest-selling comic book published in 2017, Marvel Legacy #1, sold around 300,000 copies. The tenth highest-selling book, another Marvel title, sold just over half as many: Secret Empire #0 at around 160,000 copies. Even the most popular newspaper of today just barely reaches the heights where comics once reigned—the best-selling newspaper in 2017 was USA Today, a paper clearly written by and for imbeciles, at a circulation of about 2.2 million.

By the time I started reading comics, c. 1988, the business was already full of people who had grown up reading comics, and went into the business with drawing/writing comics as their professional ambition. Back when comics publishing started, it was the bottom of the barrel for commercial artists. It was a profession nobody would admit to, and the more ambitious folks used it as a springboard into commercial advertising illustration. Comics publishing was a laborious dungeon mill with demanding schedules, sharp deadlines, embarrassingly low pay, and zero conceits of being a worthwhile medium for intelligent adults to work in.

Because there was no “comic art” for them to be influenced by—the early comics artists were essentially inventing the craft as they went—most of the artists were trained commercial artists. They brought styles and sensibilities to their art that were directly linked to commercial illustration. It was a long time before Jack Kirby’s dynamic and exaggerated action became the default mode of mainstream comics. The characters in old school comics mostly look like regular people, straight out of advertisements, embarking on whatever adventures are required by a given genre. And the biggest-selling genre of comics, up until the Censorship Mafia came to crush them, was Horror.

One of the comics-history books I got at the library recently (The Horror! The Horror!: Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You to Read! by Jim Trombetta) is specifically about horror comics , the culture they reflected, and the furor of censorship and moralizing that ended their dominance as a genre. As someone a couple of generations removed from the world that birthed them, I find something endearing and deeply humorous in these comics. I feel that there’s a strong narrative in this culture that wants to believe the 1950s were defined by some kind of “innocence.” All you gotta do to put the lie to this myth is talk to anyone black or native or poor who was alive at the time, and old enough to be conscious of the very real horrors they had to live with every day.

The horror comics of that era are like the dark id of this “innocence narrative.” Watching good, upstanding, suit-and-dress-wearing white folks get terrorized, punished, and mutilated by every conceivable horror is, quite frankly, hilarious.

I’m currently thinking through the subject, and will probably have more to say on the matter. For now I’ll share one more take-away point: until reading about these horror comics, and reading some of the actual comics that are reprinted in Trombetta’s book, I had no idea the extent to which the narrative and visual tropes of these comics had influenced comics generally, and therefore my approach to making comics. I just finished the newest issue of my genre-bending comic The Concrete Shinobi, which has strong horror-comics elements.

I’ve developed a soundbite response for people who ask what my comic is about: It’s about a shamanic bartending ninja and his adventures in the occult underground of Los Angeles, circa 2008—semi-autobiographical.

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Defining Success

Like every other chucklehead who ever stepped in front of a condenser microphone to record a rap album, I had dreams of making a comfortable living doing what I loved. Actually, let’s be real; we all dream of endless piles of cash, millions in the bank, groupies, fancy cars, and luxury hotels in exotic places. I never wanted to be famous; I think anyone who does is sick in the head. The seed of True Desire in these dreams is pretty simple: freedom. Everybody wants off the plantation. The lower you are on the economic pyramid, the more important the pursuit of money becomes; it defines success.

I believe it’s important for people to have meaningful work in their lives, however one defines work. However, having one’s time—one resource none of us can ever recover once it’s gone—controlled by other people and entities is an insult to life and humanity. Who hasn’t had an asshole boss? Who’s never woken up and gone to a job wishing they could stay home and go back to sleep? Poverty raises the stakes; if you don’t go out and do all the shit you don’t want to do, selling your time and labor for a pittance, you may find yourself without shelter or food. As anyone who’s ever been homeless or studied the stories of people who are, once you fall that low it’s almost impossible to get back up.

I’ve known plenty of people who have experience in what I’ll call “underground pharmaceuticals.” I have yet to meet one who was in it for the thrill and glory. Being a “drug dealer” has plenty of dangers as an occupation—your safety, your life, your freedom, and your conscience are on the line. But that risk also comes with many of the benefits of being self-employed: setting your own hours, choosing who you do business with and under what circumstances, and being boss-free. Tax-free income is nice, too.

I’ve also known quite a few people in high-paying professions. They’ve got plenty of money, but their time belongs to someone else. I’ve often said that if I could find someone willing to pay me $200,000 a year to do a job, I’d work the job for three years, save as much as possible, and then fuck off for the next fifteen or twenty years. As a single man with no big debts hanging over me, I could live quite well—even adventurously—on thirty grand a year. Funny thing; I have yet to meet a professional who has done anything like this. I’m sure they’re out there, but it’s not common. Usually people just keep working the job.

Americans, being hopelessly addicted to consumerism, never get their freedom even when they make big bucks, because they spend whatever they make. If they start making more money, now they’re spending more money. I used to work at a restaurant where a couple of my friends on staff got promoted to management. If you’ve ever managed a restaurant, you know that once you take the job, the company pretty much owns your life. In my friends’ case, the promotion came with a substantial increase in pay. Both of them went out and bought brand new cars within a month. Both of them bought houses. Almost ten years later, they’re still working there; they’re stuck.

I, on the other hand, got fired, and after a three-year journey through the non-profit industrial complex, I now live a life of functional poverty as a freelance educator. But I have something my restaurant buddies will never have—my time belongs to me.

Most artists in any medium, if they’re true to the creative spirit, want more than anything for others to experience and enjoy their work. This is the Yin/Yang of being an artist—behind closed doors you get the pure joy and satisfaction of creating, and out in the world you get to see that art bring joy and satisfaction to others. It takes a lot of work and dedication, but it’s always worth it. No less a talent than Charles Schultz, creator of Peanuts, once said that cartooning will destroy you. This from one of the most financially and culturally successful cartoonists ever. I would add that there’s only one thing more destructive for a cartoonist: not cartooning.

I’ve been recording rap music and performing for over 10 years now; haven’t made a nickel from it yet. In fact, I’d rather not think about how far into the red it’s taken me. If I were to add up all the money I’ve spent over the years on supplies and equipment, it would probably hurt my feelings. However, my failure as a commercial artist led to my current success as a freelance educator; what I really wanted was my freedom, and now I have it. Took me a long time to get it, and I could lose it much faster, but for now, I have it. Victory! Success!

However, there’s still the matter of that burning desire for the Yang of creativity; getting it to other people. Finding an audience. I don’t currently have many fans, but I’ve got ’em. Last summer I was humbled and blown away when I man I only see once a year at ceremony quoted me an entire verse from a song I released back in 2012. When I start to get in my feelings about my lack of “success” as a musician, I think of that. I also think of something a young woman said to me once, back in my Concrete Shinobi days in Los Angeles—she told me that she listened to my CD every night before she went to sleep.

If I’d never taken the leap into becoming a recording artist, none of us would have had those experiences. If I’d never put on that mask or gotten on that mic, I might be spending my Monday afternoons shilling for some company instead of writing blogs in my pajamas.

Now that I’m making comics too, it’s kinda like starting over again on a creative journey. Making comics is far more difficult and arduous than making rap albums; you wrack your imagination to come up with great stories, you spend countless hours hunched over a drawing table, all to produce something that takes a person about five to ten minutes to read. And when they’ve finished, sometimes they say the thing I both love and dread to hear: when is the next one coming out? They have no clue how much went into the book they just breezed through, but ultimately it doesn’t matter; they’re hooked.

Victory! Success!

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Value the Spirit

Everything is going to be okay. And if not, it’s still going to be okay because someday you’ll die and whatever it is—and everything else—will all be over.

Someone gave their life today. You’d giggle or sneer or maybe smile at my eccentricity if I refer to them as a “person,” because slave cultures only recognize the personhood of one nation: the human nation. This person I’m speaking of walked on four hooves, and faintly remembered their ancestral status as Chief upon the largest bioregion—the largest community—on planet earth: the Great Plains. On that land, the human nation of thousands once recognized their kinship with a nation of millions: tatanka oyate, the (Buffalo)(People/Nation/Community/Tribe).

This one died to feed the people, to feed the ceremony. I hope you like buffalo soup. If not, it’s okay; I’ll enjoy it on your behalf, and keep you in mind when prayers are offered.

“Call for help,” said Cooper-as-Dougie-Jones (see: Twin Peaks season 3, available on DVD or bootleg near you). Yes, call for help, and when it comes one must be thankful. It’s a simple formula, really; if you value something and you are grateful, then you get the most out of what you value. Anything you take for granted, along with everything you don’t, will someday be gone. Simple truths.

A few days ago I was reading an interview that comics legend Will Eisner conducted with Phil Seuling, who is the man more or less directly responsible for the existence of both comic book conventions and comic book stores (Will Eisner’s Shop Talk, Dark Horse Comics 2001). I’ve been reading comics for as long as I can read, and started buying comic books regularly around the age of 9. When I first discovered there was such a thing as a comic book store, my world instantly became that much more magical. Weekly trips, stacks of books, my one-stop depot for the amazing. My first comic book convention blew my mind, and multiplied the magic even more. Phil Seuling gave birth to both. Incredible.

Phil Seuling died in 1984, at age 50. I was four years old. In 12 years, I will be the same age he was when he died.

Sometimes things come along that make you feel the time crunch.

Imagine if you knew you only had 12 more years to live. What would you do? How would you live your life? No obsessive bucket-list fantasies, please; your surviving family members might inherit your credit card debt, or your shame, or both. How much time has already gone by? How much of it did you spend in front of a TV, or playing video games, or being a miserable sonuvabitch? Or (insert waste of time here)? How much more time do you want to give to such things?

No judgment on your choices; they’re yours after all, not mine. I don’t give a shit. These are just words on a screen, something to think about. Besides, I believe that in many areas of life, particularly in our relationships, we get what we want.

Not what we say we want, or what we think we want, but what we actually want. You can tell by what people have. For example, everyone’s got at least one friend in a romantic relationship with someone trife (if you don’t have that kind of friend, you probably are that friend). These friends spend years burning moments off your life, telling you what a shitbag their girl/boy/x/friend is, and yet they continue to choose to be with the shitbag in question.

And you, being a good friend, will dutifully listen, perhaps sympathize, and maybe even encourage them to jettison the dead weight. They never do. You know why? Because they want to be in a relationship with a shitbag.

And you want to be friends with someone who spends years burning moments off your life talking about their shitbags.

Is wanting to play video solitaire on your spacephone for six hours a day worse than wanting to be in a relationship with a shitbag? I think not, but you might disagree. Point is, we all make choices. We all choose whether or not to claim our choices AS CHOICES. You can choose to be grateful for (whatever you have to be grateful for), or you can choose to not be grateful.

“I really should be grateful for…” said in a whining voice riddled with shame and guilt. FUCK THAT, in capital letters. It’s as if the content of “should” was defined long ago by some disembodied and absent power, and that content always adds up to the same thing: I’m not good enough. If you’re looking for ideas on what you should be doing, I’ve got plenty and I’ll be happy to share, because I know just as well as you do that you won’t act on them anyway. You can choose to (whatever) or you can choose to not (whatever.) “Should” can eat a bag of dicks.

I’m going to be bold and say there’s a proper way for humans to exist on the earth—in a state of active humility to the great mystery of life and the living world. Active, meaning “acted on,” not merely spoken into an echo chamber of virtue signaling. I realize that in the MegaTech era people think the sign and the signified are the same thing, but work with me here because this is important: action is action. The humility I speak of is inherent in the cultures, beliefs, and behaviors of humans who live with the earth. Savages, you would call them, if you were being honest. I prefer “organic.”

What makes this way the proper way is that it keeps people from taking too much or concentrating power. The desire for Total Control is anti-life, as we can see clearly here at the event horizon of The End of the World; it only took four or five millennia of pyramids, grids, and machines to bring this planet to the brink of uninhabitability. Does life on earth have 12 years left? 50?

Stay tuned.

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Cherry Blossoms and Dancing Cars

Helicopter rotors rumble in the air like mechanical thunder. Sirens, roaring engines of passing cars, combustion, the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard. Motorcycle engines and sound systems loud enough to set off car alarms. I can hear voices from the neighbor kids occasionally, but there is no other organic sound here. Sometimes I hear birds. This is not one of those times.

A walk through the streets of my east Oakland neighborhood—the first thing I think of is: metal bars. Most of them spiked at the top, most painted black but not all. Gates to parcel off the grid of ownership stand like visible markers of an invisible separation; outside this barrier is a different world. When I walk by and you’re watering the plants or working on your car, we’ll all pretend that the other doesn’t exist. Inside these lines is a private world; everyone intuitively understands the unspoken agreement—these invisible walls are not to be violated.

Wires carve up the sky, hanging like a curtain over the street where I rent a half-dilapidated old house. From the front porch, here on the crest of the hill, you can look out toward the skyline of the bay, and after awhile you won’t even notice those rubber-coated metal cobwebs, like you don’t notice the frame of eye-glasses impinging on your vision. It’s just part of the scene, like the turgid gray air on the horizon in every direction.

Every house is different, and there are hundreds. You can walk for blocks and blocks to the north, south, or west without ever really leaving a residential area. The houses of the Chinese and the southeast Asians are easy to identify—fruit trees, affectionately tended and semi-wild gardens, splashes of colorful plant life that shame the concrete beneath them.

Cars everywhere, parked on every block, on every street. Mid-price range sedans and coupes, crunchy 20-year old Japanese imports, the occasional fancy luxury car, freshly washed, chrome rims gleaming. You can tell which vehicles promise to have Latino owners; well-worn pick up trucks full of yard maintenance and construction tools, a miniature Mexican or Salvadoran or Guatemalan flag hanging from the rearview mirror.

In this city, the cars dance. At every intersection in the neighborhood the asphalt is covered with streaks of tire-rubber. They dance at any time, day or night.

If you head a few blocks west and turn south, you find yourself on a street that dead-ends at the entrance to a park. The last house on the block has a steep stairway leading up from the sidewalk to the front porch, and a woman who appears nearly as old as the city itself lives there. I know this because once when I was passing by, she flagged me down from porch and asked if I would get her mail out of the box that was two-thirds of the way up the steps. Even to descend and return the handful of steps to the mailbox would have been a harrowing and dangerous adventure for someone whose body is crippled and worn by so many decades.

There are rarely many people at the park, especially during the week, during the day. In one distant corner, tucked up against the back fence of a house, there are a couple of tents set up; the park is home to at least a few people. There are two tennis courts, unused except as a place of rest, conversation, or mischief for teens and tent people. The courts are covered in dead leaves and branches shed by the local redwoods and evergreens. A blacktop path winds through the park, beginning at the old woman’s house and winding downhill, through redwoods and park-grass that has already begun to yellow in the summer sun.

The path ends at a main artery, a two lane street with its own exits from two major freeways, and a drawbridge leading to an island, another city. It takes forever for the traffic light to flash the green man when you want to cross this street, because in this artery the citygod gives priority to mechanical blood cells. But your patience will be rewarded when you cross and keep walking. At the end of the block is a court, bordered by apartment buildings. The edges of the court are littered with garbage; car parts, liquor bottles, plastic wrappers, old tires, and every other thing that can wash up on the fringes of a dense urban landscape. The court is a constant host to a few apartment residents who perform mechanical surgery on broken-down vehicles; theses folks smoke cigarettes and look with suspicion on strangers; nobody wants trouble.

A path through wild grass along the court leads to a trail that follows a creek. Just like that, you turn a corner and it’s almost as if you were no longer in the city. Except for all the chainlink and deteriorating wooden fences bordering the other side of the creek, and the rumble of combustion engines, and the gray, and the wires, and the tumors of buildings growing out of the hills in the distance. There’s running water in the creek, buzzing bugs, a few birds, and the occasional feral cat. It took many thousands of years for this creek and her community of swimmers, flyers, runners, and crawlers to come into being; in less than a century, that community has been decimated by concrete infection. And yet the community clings to life with quiet tenacity.

A short walk along the trail will lead you pass a concrete canvass; known only to the local Spray Can crews of midnight marauders, there’s rarely more than a piece or two on the wall, but they are always elaborate, gorgeous works, exploding with color and attitude. Every once in awhile the government Gray Paint crews will remember this place, and spend a few weeks dutifully destroying beautiful art before they forget about it again and move on.

Cross the street, continue on the trail. On the far corner of the next block is a small patio with several folding tables. At least once a week, someone from somewhere brings boxes of bread, fruit, and vegetables and leaves them out on the tables for the locals—a lot of elders, a lot of black and brown and yellow skin tones. Even on the in-between days, when the goodies are gone, you’re likely to see a couple of elders trading stories; an older black man mimes the action of an exciting play from a televised basketball game for a middle-aged Latina.

Cross the street again and enter the Cherry Blossom Tunnel, the length of a two whole blocks where the trail is bordered by cherry trees. In summer the blossoms have long since fallen, but the arcing branches still block out the stun and the sky wires with their maroon leaves. Don’t trip over empty pint bottles of cognac, brandy, and vodka. Dodge the paper shopping bags full of trash, don’t step in abandoned dog shit. A few cats are nibbling at a pile of kibble. They too look on strangers with suspicion. Nobody wants trouble.

Nearly to the end of that second block of Cherry Blossom Tunnel, you’ll come to the temple; a nearly symmetrical circle of eight redwood trees near the edge of the creek. There is a proper way to enter this circle, much like the sycamore grove of Twin Peaks; I know because the Good Folk, the spirits, the gods, the djinn told me, in voices of synchronicity and bird-feather signs. A temple suitable for bodhisattvas, where the King of the Apes comes pray in movement to Guanyin, to heal his sicknesses by running through Taoist exercise routines—Stretch Sinews, Open Bones; Ten Great Heavenly Stems; the choreography and freestyle play of Form-Intention Fist, Eight Trigram Palm, and Supreme Pole Fist.

Then it’s back home, back through the tunnel, cut over to the main artery, past the autobody shop and the liquor store. In need of an old stained mattress, some new used furniture, or possible a busted stereo receiver? It’s an open air flea market here, and no money is required; the only price you pay is your freedom.

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Follow the Spirit

Today is the summer solstice, longest day of the year. It’s been over ten years now that I’ve looked upon each of the solstices and equinoxes as an important time—a time for reflection, for gathering my energy, and occasionally for mourning.

Seven days ago was the one-year anniversary of me being canned from the non-profit industrial complex. I’ve been fired from every corporate job I’ve ever worked in my adult life, so really, it was only a matter of time. There were some substantial differences this time around, though. In a regular job at a regular business, everyone is clear on the goal, the very point of being there: making money. There’s not a business on earth that has high-minded conceits of accomplishing anything else—it is impossible, because a business is a non-living entity. It exists only to expand and produce money. Whatever the people behind the counter or in the boardroom may tell themselves and others about their goals and purposes, ultimately everything is subjugated to this one, cold, basic fact.

Most businesses are exploitative by design and nature—the people at the bottom work to benefit the people at the top. There’s no ownership, no stake, and no illusions regarding the contract that is signed when one begins employment—you, the company, will pay me whatever paltry amount to do a job, and extract profit from my labor. Most employment is “at-will,” which is an obfuscative way of saying they can fire you at any time, for any reason, with or without notice.

The non-profit business world is likewise based on exploitation, but with the added layer of claiming some kind of social benefit. It may not be required for employees to consider themselves Heroes crusading for a Better World, but it’s common for them to do so. You’ve gotta have some kind of psycho-emotional crutch to get you through the days of low-pay, overwork, uncashable checks, and frequent uncertainty about whether or not the company itself will survive. Exploitation becomes not only financial, but emotional; you’re working for The Cause, which you Care Deeply About, and therefore will tolerate all manner of bullshit in service of your ideals that otherwise would be unthinkable.

Most non-profits, like most businesses of any kind here in the states, are started and run by white people. This fact comes from a simple calculus of demographics—there are more white people in this country than any other kind of people—and historical privilege—they have the resources and means to do it. So when I got the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a clearly rag-tag, canvassing-based non-profit spearheaded by a black dude, I took it.

Those facts were not what attracted me, though. I was following the spirit. I had just decided that week to quit my job as assistant general manager at an upscale fast-food restaurant (that feels weird to say), on account of the general manager was a cokehead douchebag white man whose modus operandi was to treat all of the employees like scum and garbage, while doing as little work as possible himself (and possibly while pitching peen to the queer owner, but that’s purely conjecture).

This was early July in 2014. I planned to quit on the 4th, when the restaurant was closed. I told the entire staff except the GM that I was planning to quit, so they would be prepared to be short-handed. I’d also spent over a month taking statements from them, and documenting the GM’s rampant abuse. The day I quit, I sent all my documentation to the company owner, but also to his accountant and all the staff members. Since I knew the owner had some weird cult-of-personality-like romance for the GM, I didn’t trust him to act on my information unless that information was public enough that he would be pressured to do so.

It worked. There was an investigation by HR that resulted in the GM being ousted. I left that job a hero to the staff; from that time until the restaurant closed in 2017, I never once had to pay for food there. One former co-worker told me she believed that God had sent me to rescue them from their abusive boss. Given the path and nature of my life, it’s not the most outrageous possibility.

In the few days between when I decided to quit and when I actually quit, I was coming out of the grocery store in Alameda when I spotted some canvassers outside. They were wearing shirts that said “HIP HOP” in all caps. One of them was a dude I vaguely recognized from the local hip hop scene; I approached him, he gave me the pitch for donating and for taking a job as a canvasser. Turns out he was the Executive Director, who I will now and forever refer to as Crab Cakes. I gave him $10 and took his card.

What really got my attention was the hip hop education program they (supposedly) had. I’d been brainstorming for at least a year to figure out how I could work with young people and teach them about hip hop culture; here was an organization that (supposedly) was doing exactly the work I wanted to do, and I encountered them right when I was about to become jobless.

This is what I mean when I say “following the spirit.” The world is always guiding you if you know how to listen and what to look for. I’d long since realized that my health and sanity depended on listening. So even though the pay was minimal and the work, as a street canvasser, seemed inherently degrading and horrible, I decided to apply for the job, hoping to become a hip hop educator.

It worked. Eventually.

It was months before I recalled any details of my first encounter with this dude at a show, but it speaks to his general character, so I’ll tell the story: I went with my nephew and hip hop partner DJ Innalect to a small indy show out in Berkeley, and Crab Cakes was in the headlining act. Me and Innalect were with the crowd of smokers outside when the door open and this dude comes swaggering out. My exact thought at the time was: “This asshole really thinks he’s something special.” It was written all over him. I sneered, blew a cloud of smoke, and went back to chatting with Innalect. I eventually remembered that “this asshole” was in fact Crab Cakes.

Once I started working at Hip Hop Fuck-Shit (HHFS), as it will hereafter be referred to, I discovered that their “education program” was mostly a fantasy ambition. Crab Cakes had conducted less than half a dozen workshops, mostly arranged by friends and associates who were school teachers. I wrote this off to the newness of the org; it had only been in operation for a little over a year.

Within five months after I started working, a series of unfortunate events occurred that led to a near-complete implosion of the org. Crab Cakes got into a personal conflict with the Assistant Executive Director—a creepy white dude from an upper-middle-class background who had a master’s degree in non-profit administration—and this conflict led to all of the staff, myself included, resigning in a fit of disgust. It’s a great story, but I’ll save it for another time. Suffice for now to say that I ended up returning to the org, for the same reason I started there to begin with; I felt the strong guiding hands of the creator and my ancestors nudging me to return. Actually, in the case of my ancestors, they were quite forceful (and loud). I followed the spirit.

Crab Cakes, being a certifiable narcissist, had no genuine interest in “educating the youth,” despite his incessant, self-promoting lip service to The Cause. He put me in charge of the education program, knowing it was the reason I was willing to return. I loathed the idea of going back to canvassing, but I realized this was a unique opportunity, so I bit the bullet. I did my first series of workshops within a few months, and kept building.

Within two-and-a-half years, I’d taught workshops in over 40 schools, colleges, and youth programs, for a total audience of over 8,000 students. In doing so, I’d brought in around $30,000 to $40,000 dollars for the org. For the last year I was there, my salary was more than I’d ever made in any other job, a whopping $19/hour, full time. As someone who had committed myself long ago to participating in the minimal amount of employment necessary to survive, and as a person who had no debt, I was, in my reckoning, a rich man. Hood rich.

I was also losing my mind.

It didn’t take long for it to become clear that the only real force restraining Crab Cakes’s tremendous irresponsibility and fundamental incompetency had been the creepy white dude with the master’s degree in non-profit administration. With him gone, the org ran like a leaking ship. Every single effort the rest of the staff made to plug those leaks was met with warfare by Crab Cakes (too much of a challenge to his ego), and more leaks. He never met a dollar he couldn’t spend, never met a person he wouldn’t exploit, and—for the last two years I was there, at the least—never met a powder line he wouldn’t snort. I spent a good portion of my last six months there convincing other staff members to refrain from beating him unconscious. Sometimes I wonder if that was a mistake; but then again, these are great people, and I didn’t want them to end up behind bars over this guy.

As a direct result of Crab Cakes’s incompetency, the org was constantly on the rocks; there was not one single pay period in the last nine months of my employment when any of the staff members were able to cash their checks on time. One member of the admin staff discovered he’d been underpaid—to the tune of thousands of dollars—for months. I personally discovered that my medical insurance had been canceled without anybody bothering to notify me, yet the money for it was still being taken out of my check. For three months, I was paying (the org) for medical insurance I didn’t have.

Beginning in January of 2017, he went on a particularly egregious series of hijinks and fuckery that destroyed whatever flagging morale that remained to the staff. It got to the point where I was not only doing my job, I was doing Crab Cakes’s job as well; I was working with other members of the admin staff to develop training programs, strategies, and tactics to make sure the org could sustain itself. Nobody’s really sure what he was doing during this whole period of time, other than a lot of cocaine.

I was so disgusted with his exploitative, abusive, and irresponsible behavior that I was having actual dreams about kicking his ass. I stopped even pretending to give a shit about his ego-fueled diatribes about all the miraculous things the org was accomplishing; they’d always been a waste of my workday, and now they were infuriating. I attempted to coordinate with other admin folks on strategies for taking basic day-to-day business fundamentals out of this guy’s hands, so the tasks would actually get done.

Every toxic social environment with a villain in a position of authority is going to have its apologists and collaborators—people who facilitate the abuse by covering it up, pretending it’s something other than what it is, or finding scapegoats. These motherfuckers are just as evil and dangerous as the abusers themselves, if not more so; without a lot of help, abusers can’t get away with their abuse. Hip Hop Fuck-Shit was no different. Somebody, probably a couple of people, got in his ear about what I was doing. Between that and my refusal to powder his booty every time he had a stroke of inspiration to Act Like a Boss, it was too much for him. He fired me.

As soon as he did, I knew I was finally free.

Having run the entire education program autonomously, I had connections, networks, friendships, and opportunities in the school universe. I struck out on my own, committed to never working for anyone but myself ever again. Other than my sporadic work at an event venue that I do mostly for free concerts and excuse to socialize, I have been my own boss for over a year now. I’m still doing workshops, and I have both the time and the energy to continue working on music, comics, and events. I got my freedom, I got off the plantation, I got my mojo and my life back. I set my own schedule and I work where, and when, I want.

And I did it by following the spirit.

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Thanatology

Even the deathless gods hate him.

Thanatos, the iron-hearted personification of death, twin brother to Hypnos, the god of sleep. In my middle years I see their faces stretched out, twin sets of eyes staring from the sickening electric glow of the screen. They are wreathes of poppies, painkiller pills of a nation putting itself into opiated sleep, and then death.

Born of Nyx, night in the shape of a woman, who also gave birth to their other siblings: Old Age, Suffering, Doom, Deception, Blame, Strife, Retribution, and the boatman who carries the freshly deceased into the realms beyond. Her first children were Brightness and Day, who continue to shine in spite of their younger siblings complete and total conquest of the 21st century.

Just so everyone’s clear: Chaos came first. Then the Abyss (Tartarus), the Earth (Gaia), and Sexual Attraction (Eros). Hold on to those; you’ll need them to survive.

I haven’t owned a TV in over a decade. I don’t watch shows, and I rarely watch movies. My only real link, in storytelling media, to the current psychology of this culture comes from the Marvel cinematic universe. I figure I don’t need more; the realm of superheroes is and has always been the realm of mythology, deep metaphorical significance, and the avatars of Big Ideas and Big Feelings. So if I want to know what’s up with the “american” mind, the full and fundamental values will be on display in Marvel movies, if you know what to look for.

For example, the real story of the Black Panther film is that negro savages are expected to give up their mineral riches to the EuroIndustrial MegaTech powers that be. Vibranium = rare earths minerals, without which there is no MegaTech; no fancy computer chips, batteries, etc. Though you’d never know it from the vantage point of an artisanal vegan bakery in, say, san francisco, the magical digital hypno-realm is still rooted in tangible, material resources.

“Wakanda needs to share its wonders with the world!” Nobody ever asked Tony Stark to share his secret technologies; who would dare to give a moral challenge to a war-machine manufacturing capitalist? For that matter, nobody asked the Asgardians, either. Only negroes are expected to surrender everything they have and everything they are for the benefits of EuroIndustrial MegaTech. If they are good, noble negroes—and not evil savage Oakland-raised negroes with chips on their shoulders—they will dutifully open up to conquest, er, I mean, progress. Did I mention that it’s the mining and manufacturing of “technology” that is killing the planet? Perhaps that’s too much to think about. Hypnos is waiting to put you back to sleep.

The name of Thanos, the Big Bad who’s been lurking in the background of the entire series of Marvel movies, comes from Thanatos. Thanos is the god and bringer of death.

He’s also the real hero of Infinity War.

It’s Thanos who goes on the Hero’s Journey: acquiring artifacts, making a grand sacrifice, defeating powerful foes, achieving victory, and then transforming from a genocidal conqueror into a genteel man on a porch watching the sunset. He’s the one with a simple yet concise moral philosophy that he’s willing to do anything to achieve. He also has the one emotional moment of any significance in the entire movie, when he decides to chuck his daughter off a cliff to get one of the artifacts. Hero’s Journey = Hero.

I thought I was clever for noticing this until I went on wiki to read about the film and found this quote from producer and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, about Thanos: “You could almost go so far as to say he is the main character.” Stephen McFeely, one of the hack writers responsible for the screenplay, also described the film as Thanos’s “Hero’s Journey.”

So much for being clever.

By that logic, since all of the Marvel flicks thus far have been one extended build-up to this confrontation with Thanos, it’s not a huge leap to say that Thanos is, therefore, the real hero of the ENTIRE SERIES of Marvel movies. Basically, we got background on how supposedly bad-ass his foes were, before he shows up and trounces the lot of them.

In the first 10 minutes of the movie, Thanos soundly defeats Rage (Hulk), then impales the Gate Opener (Heimdall) and strangles Mischief/Chaos (Loki). In this story, there will be no emotion, no alternate possibilities, and no tricks—only cold, rationalist genocide.

Euthanasia,” from Greek EU (good) and THANATOS (death).”

Thanos’s goal and moral imperative is to euthanize half the universe, so that all these glorious intergalactic civilizations don’t collapse from “overpopulation,” the way his home planet did.

Whenever some liberoid dolt—say, of the type that permeate Hollywood and Marvel—wants to talk about overpopulation as a threat to the “environment,” I KNOW WHAT POPULATIONS THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT. If only these savages of asia, africa, and the global south would stop having all their savage babies, then we could all still have our Priuses and drive them too. When in truth, the real earth destroyer is the very technology they worship, and its production. It’s this technology that created the circumstances for overpopulation to occur, beginning with agriculture and the earliest civilizations. But nevermind that, we want to see the latest fancy Iron Man nanomechanical armor, complete with new i-phone. OOH! AAH!

I say all that to say, the real story of Infinity War is this: in order for us to continue our magical MegaTech civilization, a whole lot of you savage motherfuckers are gonna have to go.

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The Spell is Broken

The spell is broken.

Finally.

Shame and guilt and plain old meanness. Nasty comments, resentment, jealousy. Lack of trust, constant doubt, a horrible swinging pendulum—one week everything is beautiful, the next week it’s the end of the world and nothing will cure what ails.

That’s a hell of a price to pay for a relationship of any kind. But when that person is supposed to be your partner, your lover, your other half, it’s all the more ugly.

I could go down a list of things I loved about her. It seems harder and harder as the weeks go on. What I’m left with is the realization of just how much emotional abuse I tolerated for the entire year we were together, and memories of the emotional devastation that came when she banished me from her life. To think, that someone could treat you so miserably, and then in the aftermath behave as though YOU were the villain—to sting you with threats and menace.

The laughter has long faded now, and that was the best part. We used to laugh so much; I’d never laughed with anyone as much as I did with her. The tenderness and comfort that came from holding this person in my arms helped me to ignore the insanity.

It’s been well over a year now since we split up, and if anything, the pain that I became accustomed to during our relationship continued, and in some ways increased. These people will get in your head. It always happens slowly. But soon enough, no matter how you contort and deflate and ignore your own feelings, your reality, your life, very sense of who you are, they make it seem like none of that is good enough; if only you did it right, they wouldn’t act the way they act. The message is clear, even if it’s never spoken allowed: it’s your fault I treat you this way.

I hate oppressors and I hate the oppressed. I hate the impulse to bully or be bullied, most especially when it arises within myself. I hate people who embrace victimhood as a way to have power over others. I hate being manipulated. Sometimes it’s so hard to see, and even more so when you’re in love and you just don’t want to believe that this is what’s happening. Even when you think you can handle anything they dish out, it doesn’t change the fact that THEY ARE MAKING A DECISION TO DISH IT OUT. This makes them the villain, no matter how bad you don’t want them to be.

Nothing is worth this kind of treatment. Nothing justifies it, not even the COMPLETE NORMALIZATION of this kind of behavior in the crumbling empire and dying world at the end of the pyramid sun. Bullshit is always bullshit, no matter the date on the calendar, and no matter if the assholes around you are smearing it all over themselves and serving it for lunch.

I don’t want this kind of treatment. I don’t need this kind of treatment. I don’t like it, and most importantly, I have finally reached a point in my life where I simply WILL NOT TOLERATE IT. I will not allow people into my life who are willing to treat me this way. Most especially people I am dating.

What broke the levee on this was when a friend of mine asked how I would feel about them inviting my ex to their wedding reception… which will be held at my house. After three days of drinking & thinking, I woke up one morning ANGRY. Angry that my ex had treated me the way she did. Angry that I put up with it for so long. Angry that I spent the next 17 months after we split up tearing myself apart, and hoping in my heart of hearts that my ex would come back to me. It’s like being poisoned by a vampire bite; you crave fangs in your neck.

It took the possibility of her appearing at my house to wake me up. I know she would never come here; to do so, she would have to be willing to face her own shame and guilt as an abuser, a liar, a pathetic and hurtful ex-partner. Even so, just the possibility of her coming got the wheels in my head spinning something terrible, filled me with the most dreadful feelings.

The worst thing? At first, I AGREED to her being invited to the reception. Just like that. Thirteen months of abuse, and seventeen months of lingering self-destruction, and when asked how I would feel about her being INVITED INTO MY HOME, I simply capitulated.

Well, it took a few days to mull in my being. And when it was done, I woke up ANGRY. And in one simple word, I moved to reclaim all that I had lost:

NO.

She is not welcome in my home.

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Love Song of Hate

There are things I hate.

I am proud of this.

Hatred is proof that I’m still a human being.

It is popular among a certain segment of the population—the last dregs of new age hippydom, fully commodified and leeched of all meaning—to behave as though LovingKindness(tm) is the only proper emotional response to the world that we live in. “I want to do things from a place of love.” I can’t say how many people I’ve heard this from;  too many. All of these people claim to be “spiritual,” whatever that means, but I can say, honestly, that I’ve never met one such person who had the aura of genuine spiritual achievement, the gravitas that comes from acceptance of life in all its beauty and terror.

After years of rolling my eyes or playing dumb when people talk to me about “acting from a place of love,” I finally got to the point where I’m like, “Fuck love!” And what I mean is, fuck new-agey neurotic escapism and passive resentment. It reeks of pathetic despair.

I do, and want to do, things from a place of love anger rage joy hatred happiness contentment anguish despair hope wonder awe fear triumph calm anxiety depression angst comfort envy jealousy jubilation celebration acceptance curiousity pleasure pain elation arousal and horror. In other words, I want to live as a human being. Not a fucking android.

Emotions are complex and multifaceted, layers upon layers. To surrender, ignore, or flatten these feelings out of a desire to be some kind of dime-store buddha or jesus is an insult to everything it means to be human, to be a living being.

Generalized “love” is an abstraction, another ghost in the machine. And to whatever extent one fails to achieve this nirvana of bliss, it becomes yet another reason to experience oneself as a failure. One more way to feel like we suck, and deserve whatever horrors are visited upon us. The doctrine of Original Sin wears many masks.

They are indoctrinating children with this in school, and have been for some time. At least in california, in the bay area. The indistinct and doctrineless philosophy of secular humanism is the perfect pseudo-philosophy for the era of MegaTech Capital because it makes no moral demands upon anyone besides “being nice.” The nicer you are, slave, the more smoothly the machine will run. There will be no disruptions in the workflow. So be nice to everyone, keep buying the latest gadgets, and make sure to experience as much of your life as possible through the mediation of machines.

In my rap workshops, I have students make lists of things, so everyone has words on paper we can string together in a freestyle. One of the lists is “things you hate.” At least a few students in every class cannot come up with anything for this list, or insist to me that they don’t “hate” anything. What a sad existence; it breaks my heart. If you’ve made it to age 13 and you don’t hate anything, you’ve been put to sleep, probably forever.

I’ve even had younger children tell me that it’s “bad” to hate things. You see how this works? They are teaching our children that any negative reaction to the world around them is a personal, moral failure on the part of said children to have the “proper attitude.” Hate is for Trump Supporters(tm); we love everybody! What a bunch of horseshit.

Recently a woman told me that she uses her spacephone to, and I quote, “connect with people.” This is a pure and unfiltered example of the disgusting cognitive dissonance necessary for people to accept without question their status as cyborg satellite drones of the NeoCorporate order. You don’t “connect” with people via a machine—you connect with the machine. You’re in front of a screen, someone else is in front of a screen, and you exchange information digitally. If the meaning of “connection” has degraded to machine metaphor, become a mechanized replacement for human social interaction—as it clearly has—then… I don’t know. Here we are.

One billion channels that are all the same channel: Channel Zero. There’s one for every subculture, every “identity,” every cultural and ethnic particularity, every interest, every hobby, every -ism, every political philosophy. This is the false unity of the matrix, the simulation, the cyborg consciousness; commodified homogeneity masquerading as bonding and agency. Tune into the SocialJustice(tm) channel to find out all the appropriate terms, clothing, music, and ideas necessary for you to enjoy membership in a manufactured community! Tune into the WhiteNationalism(tm) channel to find out why the failure of the “american dream” is actually the fault of ruskies, jews, mexicans, and blacks! Tune into the I-Google-Plex(tm) channel to find out the lastest vapid pop music and luxury consumer items you must purchase in order to achieve dignity!

I’ll tell you some things I hate.

I hate MegaTech Homogeneity culture.

I hate the machine.

I hate cruelty, domination culture, bullies, rape, slavery, abuse, and anti-life philosophy. I hate the pyramid, I hate the Cult of the One Ring.

I hate manufactured idiocy. I hate the destruction of the living world. I hate streaming music. I hate eating shellfish and mushrooms.

I hate flat, inattentive consciousness. I hate seeing people everywhere walking around with spacephones attached to their hands and ears. I especially hate seeing children with screen nannies. I hate that videogames are now a legitimate way for adults to spend their time. I hate the mechanization of time, and the idea that it’s something to “spend,” “save,” or “use efficiently.” I hate watching people whip their own backs. I hate oppressors, and I hate the oppressed. I hate seeing people out in “nature,” or with their children, or at a show, holding their phones and recording everything.

I don’t hate you if you do these things, just like I don’t hate people for getting cancer or speaking english. I don’t hate you if you disagree, but I hate moral relativism; I hate it when people act like every opinion, value, and philosophy is equally “valid” and okay. Fuck that. Some values lead to a continuation and expansion of life. Some lead to total global destruction and mass extinction. If you think these are morally equal, there’s a door with your name on it that leads to the magical land of Eat Shit and Die You Worthless Drone; when you see the red light and hear the buzz, you may enter.

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The Unbearable Burden of Imagination

Sometime between the ages of 8 and 10, I read a book that left me with a feeling that I would now describe as “mind-blowing.” I’m not sure the phrase is accurate, but it at least points in the direction of how I felt. I don’t remember the plot, any of the characters, or really anything about it other than the feeling of my young heart & mind attempting to grapple with ideas like the bending and manipulating of time and space. It was an uncomfortable and eerie—even frightening—process, but I can say without exagerration that reading this book and struggling with its imagery and ideas changed the way I thought about the world.

There are a lot of cliches in this society that essentially serve as a stimulus/response mechanical replacement for thinking. For example, if I begin to criticize the disgusting corporate homogeneity of contemporary pop music, in almost any group of people there will inevitably be at least one dunderhead who says something to the effect of, “Our parents hated our music and culture too, this is just how the generations go, it just means you’re getting old and you don’t know what’s cool anymore, blah blah blah.” As if the apocalypse had no actual, objective effect on the nature and quality of pop media.

Another common cliche arises whenever one attempts to compare—or even talk about in a meaningful way—the differences between, say, a novel and the latest OMG HOLLYWOOD movie “based” on the novel. You’ve all heard it before, so let’s say it together now: “The book is always better than the movie!” Usually, once this comment arrives to stink up the atmosphere, the conversation is over—either the robotic remark shuts down the conversation, or the realization that I’m having an android conversation inspires me to withdraw.

What I’m getting at has already been said elsewhere, so I’m going to quote an online source. Note, this text was written in the mid-90s (it even mentions a Walkman, remember those?), before smartphones turned everyday life into one giant virtual reality simulation of the social:

From Immediatism, by Hakim Bey :
————————
i.
All experience is mediated—by the mechanisms of sense perception, mentation, language, etc.—& certainly all art consists of some further mediation of experience.

ii.
However, mediation takes place by degrees. Some experiences (smell, taste, sexual pleasure, etc.) are less mediated than others (reading a book, looking through a telescope, listening to a record). Some media, especially “live” arts such as dance, theater, musical or bardic performance, are less mediated than others such as TV, CDs, Virtual Reality. Even among the media usually called “media,” some are more & others are less mediated, according to the intensity of imaginative participation they demand. Print & radio demand more of the imagination, film less, TV even less, VR the least of all—so far.

iii.
For art, the intervention of Capital always signals a further degree of mediation. To say that art is commodified is to say that a mediation, or standing-in-between, has occurred, & that this betweenness amounts to a split, & that this split amounts to “alienation.” Improv music played by friends at home is less “alienated” than music played “live” at the Met, or music played through media (whether PBS or MTV or Walkman). In fact, an argument could be made that music distributed free or at cost on cassette via mail is LESS alienated than live music played at some huge We Are The World spectacle or Las Vegas niteclub, even though the latter is live music played to a live audience (or at least so it appears), while the former is recorded music consumed by distant & even anonymous listeners.

iv.
The tendency of Hi Tech, & the tendency of Late Capitalism, both impel the arts farther & farther into extreme forms of mediation. Both widen the gulf between the production & consumption of art, with a corresponding increase in “alienation.”
————————-

Back to the book in question, which was none other than Madeline L’Engel’s A Wrinkle in Time. Whatever experience I had while reading it is one that can only come as a result of imaginative participation in the story, which prose requires. Movies, on the other hand, replace imagination with prefabricated images that are always the same. No patience needed, just add $12 to the local gigaplex and OMG HOLLYWOOD will do all your imagining for you. There’s now a film version of A Wrinkle in Time, a tragic embarrassment.

And lining up to see it is a new generation of children and young adults who have never known life outside the virtual simulation of smartphones and (anti)social media. For them, there is only the machine, their closest confidant. The magic of comics for them has been replaced by military/tech propaganda masquerading as superhero movies. The magic of traversing time and space through prose has been replaced by Ophrah Winfrey on a giant screen.

Finally, at last, an end to the pain of humanness—a release from the unbearable burden of imagination.

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