A Pirate’s Life for Me

I feel disgust like burning, for so much of what passes for society that to escape this feeling is an actual mission. Who needs more reasons to be miserable, more doomsday proclamations, more excuses to disappear into the zombie stupor that masquerades as consciousness? Not today, my friend. Today, I am ablaze.

The machines have claimed all territory, but they cannot conquer all spaces. Babylon is the hydra inside you; cut off one head and two more online celebrities grow from the gory neck hole. I piss on your tech and your updates, and by the way make sure to warn your friends before they set foot on my lawn that all sci-fi gadgets must be stowed and locked upon arrival; their signals interfere with the flow of truth and beauty.

I see you, yes I do, scrunched over a cold device. I’m betting you’ve never even tasted that plastic case, and therefore have no understanding of embodiment; prepare your saliva, I’ll wait.

Embody, in body, of BODY, and nothing else. The other day I was wondering what it would be like to transfer my consciousness into someone else’s body, and after a few minutes of thinking about it I realized that even this fantasy is a symptom of our sickness. There is no you, no consciousness that exists outside of your BODY, no software that can be moved around like exchangeable cogs. Your traumas and joys are written into your BODY, inscribed in ever muscle fiber, every cell–your anxiety is a chemical cocktail traveling well worn neural pathways; if I were to suddenly find myself in your BODY, I would be you. And oh, how I would play.

And where, may I ask, does your body end? At the skin? Cells shedding by the millions, drifting in an invisible cloud around you, as much a part of the air as gasoline fumes and electromagnetic radiation. Your body leaves a trail for us to follow you home, and if you know the password we may offer you an initiation–for the right price, of course. Haven’t you heard? Reality is a commodity.

Stinking waste for the antiseptic bowl; we’ve got a whole shelf of products to sanitize your humanity. Riddle me this, dark knight of techno-banality: what kills germs and forests? I’ve seen the sacrificial altars, riddled with roadkill and splattered exoskeletons. There used to be sacred customs and taboos, now instead we’ve got armed guards for reservations full of lice-headed kids and child molesters. Rape is the universal language.

How dare I even speak, let alone entertain an idea or a feeling unique to my experience, my human-all-too-human understanding? Everything is prefabricated nowadays, including your thoughts. Yes, I know exactly the proper words and opinions to be accepted in your clique; I just don’t give a fuck. I don’t have any fucks left to give if I wanted to; they ran dry when I realized my life was a science experiment. The hermit is wise indeed, hiding out from infection by devils–he wouldn’t even leave the cave without ceremony and protective amulets.

I’m old enough to remember when the internet didn’t completely suck. Once upon a midnight past, the net was still a place where joyful mischief had a home; bootleg music, movies, software–fuck all these companies and their slave-built infrastructure, (if I want to watch the latest piece of hollywood garbage while drool-dribbling stoned on fine hash, or acquire the latest edition of I Need This Program To Do Anything Meaningful In Babylon, the LAST thing I’m trying to do is pay for that shit.) Crappy page designs full of tantalizing secret knowledge, message boards with only one rule: Never use your real name. We are not avatars, we are writers and conversationalists–and, as it happens, some of us are involved in hobbies and professions that are frowned on by law enforcement (the bastards).

Recently the hills in west L.A. were on fire; I lived in that horrible city for over 10 years, and I can tell you that the hills have always been on fire, along with the rest of the city. It just so happens that most folks didn’t notice. If I use the phrase “false consciousness,” would they even know where to begin? Would you? Nevermind, just google it.

Every society that has experienced the FUNDAMENTAL SOCIAL DESTRUCTION inherent in class-based hierarchy has borne the plague of the social parasite; dreadful names they call us, pirate, criminal, barbarian.  Why the hell would we bother to do all this damn labor, when we can just wait for you to do it and then swoop in and take its fruits by force? Let’s not play any silly moral games, either; otherwise we’ll have to embarrass you by pointing out that your entire way of living is based on force, violence, cruelty, domination. When we taste your blood, it is bitter with the resentment you feel for our freedom. Ten-thousand years have not sweetened it a bit, just as those years have not diminished our desire to live without bondage.

It is true young jedi, there are still secrets in the world; secret zones, secret spaces, secret knowledge. There remain a chosen few of Zion’s elect who retain those secrets, who can teach you how to fall between the cracks in the monolith into the gutter-gardens at the center of the earth. We are the forgotten, the unknown, the impossible, the True and Living. We are the unseen chiefs, and we are not looking for you; it’s already too late, you’re too old, too invested, too addicted, too ashamed, too domesticated. More than anything, you’re too convinced that consensus reality is real, when we’ve known for sometimes that it’s nothing but a complex simulation–a mass hallucination with the power to drive species extinct and suffocate entire oceans.

You might have noticed when you were younger, and you were probably punished for it. Years of negative reinforcement later, now the ghosts don’t speak. If they did you would fall apart, then try to put yourself back together by searching for a “logical explanation,” as if that were something worth finding.

If I share my (knowledge)(wisdom)(understanding), it will wash away instantly, diluted by the tide of HYPERMEDIATION, another insignificant bolt of static in the endless airwaves–another meaningless opinion from another faceless avatar, at best something to ridicule on (anti)social media in hopes of getting another hit of microvalidation. “This guy thinks he knows something, but he actually sucks.” Yes, yes, I suck, now please keep it moving. You are not the target audience. There is no target audience. Actually, there is no audience; everyone is a performer–Sturgeon’s Law applied to humans. Besides, it would take years of intense therapy in our labs and dungeons for you to even notice that we had something to say.

Instead, we just pretend to be One of You–a horrible and tedious game, but one that makes it much easier to commit freedom. We’ve been preparing our alibis for years; they look great on paper. Too bad the machines have extensive data on everything you’ve ever said, every place you’ve ever gone, every person you’ve ever fucked, and algorithms to hunt and track divergent thoughts; if you’re not mechanized, you’re already the enemy.

Well, so be it. Nothing will ever erase the seductive scent of this wine and sweat, the caress of soft fur and warm blankets, the boundary-destroying melding of sexual ecstasy. No droid knows the heart. The past is ours, the future is ours; here, we stake our claim for the NOW.

So hoist the sail, my friend; this compass points to your True Desire, and the wind is in our favor.


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Mourning and the Mausoleum

Some weeks ago I had a phone conversation with a friend of mine who is around my age. We were lamenting that we’d been denied the punkish post-apocalyptic world of mutants, spontaneous freedoms, and actual battles with manifest oppressors that was promised to us by 80’s and early 90’s era science fiction books and films. What we all got instead is the soul-eroding and -denying banality of the endless shopping mall.

Death of the social, communities transformed into masses, the living world converted to a dead shell of asphalt, the long night of the end of the world.

Last night as I was driving out to the supermarket—or as I refer to it, hell—I had a realization that the world I came from no longer exists. It’s been paved over, rebuilt, remade, and everything now in its place sits as though eternal; beyond my memories, my past has been erased. Where once were fields and owls and oak trees, there are housing developments, restaurants for the pampered and safe, and parking lots. It was already disappearing as I was growing up, though my young eyes could not see it.

Like almost everything about modern “life,” such radical change in so short a time is fundamentally alien to the human experience. For hundreds of thousands of years, we lived the same way our ancestors had “always” lived, and we could count on our descendants doing the same. Life was cyclical, bonded to land, territory, weather, and all our various relatives in the web of living beings. Sure, every few thousand years you might get an ice age or other major geological/environmental shift, but on the whole, life was consistent.

Whereas in my short, almost-four-decades-long existence, so many bewildering changes have occurred in how I live and how humans interact with each other that my imagination struggles to make sense or meaning out of any of it. And that’s part of the simulation, the artificial reality that has replaced whatever existed before—there is no sense, no meaning, only the cold absolute drive of anti-life, the same-ifying of everything, the race to nothing. We’re not supposed to be able to make sense of it, an impossible task. We’re just supposed to be carried along with the signal flow. Plug in, tune out.

Mediated lives. The endless screen. Everything and every act a commodity, pre-defined in advance by a consciousness that perceives everything as a photo-op, every experience a potential subject of miniature documentaries.

I worked a show over the weekend where the band had arranged a VIP pre-show event; about 30 people got to come in early, meet the band, do a Q&A, take some vodka shots, and hear acoustic versions of two new songs. An awesome idea, and would have been a genuinely unique experience, had it been limited to the moment in which it took place. But before it even started, it was already filtered, mediated, defined, limited, rendered dimensionless; the band had photographers and videographers recording the whole thing, and at least half the people who came entered the event with their phones held dutifully in front of their faces, standing in between them and the actual event. Instead of being a special moment, a human moment, it was already artifice. It was already simulated. Whatever lingering magic that could have existed was already gone, deleted in advance.

Back to the supermarket. Consumer and commodity, reflecting each other until neither is distinguishable. Instead of sitting on shelves and colorful displays, we sit in cars in parking lots and stand in lines, herded, processed, just like the things we buy. Alone in our shopping bubbles, we move from shelf to shelf, surrounded by pop music and cold fluorescent light, hoping on some level not to have to interact with any other humans—the ultimate tragedy, to confront directly the isolation that defines our existence by breaking it, just for a moment, by acknowledging another victim.

As far as I know, somewhere in the High St. Mi Pueblo there is, right now, an abandoned bag of potatoes sitting in a random location in the store. I was carrying it, put it down, forgot about it, and didn’t remember until I was paying for my other items. There was no way I was going back for it. I barely survived the first trip through, and I still had two more supermarkets to visit before returning to homebase.

I spent three years in the simulated community of a nonprofit organization. People brought together by employment and mutual disaffection with the standard slave jobs available for working class black and brown people. Who among us has not made a latte, served a meal, mixed drinks, stood watch, hauled boxes, mopped floors, pretended cordiality in the face of obnoxious, rude, angry people? For the promise of something better—the promise of meaning—we signed up for the nonprofit get-down, and one by one we discovered, whether we could articulate it or not, the ultimate truth of the 21st century: there is no there there.

I can imagine that my life is a smooth flow from birth to my current adulthood, but I would be lying about my experience of it, which is nothing if not fragmented, broken into chunks, distorted. Multiple lives lived successively—here now my teenage world, my friends, now gone. Here now my college world, my friends, now gone. Here now my bartending world, my friends, now gone. Here now my restaurant serving world, my friends, now gone. Here now my nonprofit world, my friends, now gone, but not all of them. I kept a couple in the aftermath. How long until they, too, are gone? Even my own dear mother I see only a handful of times a year. The most consistent person in my life is Thomas, who is a cat. He will be with me until death do us part. My deepest, longest, closest, most abiding friendship, having now outlasted my longest romantic relationship (seven years).

Death of worlds and ways of being, without time or space to mourn their loss; endless and ongoing mourning, with no catharsis, no closure, no finality, no relief, in a culture of insipid morbidity—life as a drifting journey through an eternal concrete mausoleum.

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Rap Thoughts on a Cloudy Morning

I started teaching myself how to rap in 2005. I was 25 years old.

Usually people start rapping much younger. Truthfully, I did, too—I wrote my first rap when I was 9 years old. But it wasn’t my rap, in a sense. It was in fifth grade, we had to write journal entries every day, with whatever banal topic was issued by that matron of school slavery I called Ms. Snyder. I was bored with the topics, so instead I started drawing comics in my journal. One of them featured a character called Skate Freak—basically it was a Dr. Jekyl-Mr. Hyde type of story, where a nerdy kid who wanted to be cool created some secret formula that then turned him into a super-powered skater-kid rapper. (P.S., don’t bite that, I still plan to do a version of this story someday.)

Anyway, the rap I wrote came out of the mouth of that character. “My name is Skate Freak / my board is so sleek / and I’m rapping to the beat / as I rule the streets.” Because it was his rap, I never thought of it as being my rap, even though I wrote it. In fact, I didn’t occur to me that it was my rap until about a year ago.

Everything changed when I had The Vision, of my future-self as a masked MC. I started teaching myself how to rap, how to put words together in rhyme. Eventually, I started writing to beats. I’m not sure when the transition happened, but at a certain point, I got really good at it, and decided that was the direction I was going to pursue in life.

It’s difficult to describe the feelings I get from rhyming. Elation, joy, laughter, a sense of mischievousness, a sense of connection to powers beyond me. Sometimes I look back at things I wrote years ago and I’m amazed; it’s like it was written by someone else. I was always in love with the process of creating, even though it was often frustrating. Years of writing and recording raps gave me a powerful sense of my own creativity, and helped me to understand who I was and what I was about. Words are powerful; I have seen, time and time again, things I’ve written come into existence. Every feeling, every struggle, every triumph, every joy I’ve ever experienced is encoded somewhere in the songs I’ve written.

True, like every other rapper/MC, when I started I dreamed of making a career out of it; rap and get paid? Not have to work a dumbass job? I can’t wait! But once I got into actually performing, seeing how the underground scene and business actually worked, I realized it was mostly wack. I realized that what I was really looking for was a kind of energy—the energy of a hype crowd, of community, of connection. This is not something that happens in a stadium, or even a big venue. This is something that happens in an intimate space—a basketball court, a tiny barroom dance floor, a basement, a living room.

I started throwing house parties because I knew that was the only way to create the energy I was looking for. I knew it was possible; I just had to be very intentional about creating the space, and bringing in the right people. Thus was born the Invisible Party—No Photos, No Videos, No Phones allowed. And it worked, like magic. Every house party I’ve thrown has been an epic jam. At every party, a handful of newbies have approached me, eyes wide in amazement, and said, “This is the best party I’ve ever been to.” At every party, artists have gotten on the mic and said, “This is the best response I’ve ever gotten from a crowd.” Every. Single. Party.

Through being in the underground rap scene, I’ve learned by experience why all these OG MC’s spent so much verbiage talking about wack rappers and wannabe MC’s—point of fact, generally speaking, rappers suck. As artists, and as people. Under the yoke of media-mind control, most of them are only interested in feeding their narcissism and egos. “Look At Me” is the theme of almost every rap performance I’ve ever seen. In my own events, I’ve done my best to limit this phenomenon by centering the crowd and the DJ—each rap act is limited to 10 minutes, and at least 3 hours of the party is devoted strictly to whatever jams the DJ is playing—which means people are dancing, chilling, enjoying themselves, without the distraction of gadgets or playing paparazzi.

Last June, I threw the first event here at the house that was NOT a rap show. I booked no artists, only a DJ. I sent out almost 100 invitations. Despite the fact that there was (hella) free food, of the dozens of rappers I’ve booked over the years, only two showed up to the party. Nobody else even bothered to hit me up and let me know they couldn’t make it. So, while I only have this one event to go by, it seems to me that there’s a very distinct phenomenon going on here: No shine for you = you’re not interested.


I think I’m done with rappers. Not totally; there’s a handful of the homies I would still book. But on the whole, I’m over it. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s disappointment. Maybe I’m just tired of twenty-somethings in need of emotional validation. Maybe I’m tired of watching mediocre performers make demands of bored crowds.

But I ain’t done with rapping. Not by a long shot. The whole phenomenon of online digital music is the definition of wackness, but there are still people who will buy and listen to my CD’s. I’ll continue to make music for myself, and share it with them. I’ve been getting more into production—I may add that to my musical repertoire. Maybe I’ll learn to play bass.

And I’m definitely not done with throwing events. I’m currently getting my song-blending bars up on the turntables. Stay tuned for King DZA the Sound Selektor.

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Thinking With, Thinking Through

I’ve been in communication with a professor at a local university about doing a series of workshops on hip hop culture and pedagogy. He’s working on a major project with the aim of decentralizing the stranglehold of western european philosophy on critical thinking in university-level education here in the U.S. Of course I am inherently on board with this—any cultural mode and model that’s responsible for unleashing such unimaginable devastation and horror upon every living creature on the planet must be decentralized, if not for Truth & Beauty, then simply for survival.

Two of the main ideas I’m exploring as part of the themes of my workshops are: 1. the idea that “thinking,” including critical thinking, happens not merely with the “rational” faculties of the “mind,” but holistically and intuitively—this includes body-knowledge/awareness and creative imagination & expression—and 2. the idea that all noncivilized human societies and non-industrial civilized societies possess a mode of consciousness that involves thinking critically with and through one’s total environment—thinking with the land, other living beings, dreams, visions, spirits, and ancestors.

Sometimes mechanoids express shock and awe that ignorant savages have such a thorough pharmacological knowledge of their landbase, and that their brews, potions, medicines actually cure sicknesses. “Wow, how did these primitives ever figure all that stuff out? I know! They must have done it through ‘trial and error’ over the course of thousands of years! Those silly, clever savages,” etc. As if every time someone was sick, healers gave them random plants until they found one that helped. Because mechanoids’ prized method of discovering “scientific knowledge” is through experimentation on and torture of living beings, they figure their psychosis is universal; everyone must do it that way.

When in fact, if you read any anthropological reports on traditional and shamanic healing—or even better, if you talk to someone who is skilled in those methods—the practitioners all say the same things; the plants themselves speak to them, or visit them in dreams and visions, or animal & ancestral spirits visit them in dreams and visions, and tell them what plants, songs, and methods will heal an illness. Duh.

This is, of course, superstitious nonsense to the children of Descartes, for whom the entire cosmos is filled with dead matter and automatons, save for the wondrous western european man. This is the “rational” and “scientific” perspective—reproducible, controllable results. That this method, when it comes to medicine, has resulted in a bureaucratized for-profit medical industrial complex that hoards and price-gouges for what useful medicines and treatments it has, seems to not phase the one-dimensional mechanoid consciousness. That their entire cultural model has brought the planet to the verge of complete extinction of all species by global warming also seems to not phase that consciousness.

Divergent sidenote: I call it “global warming,” because that’s what it is. I realize it’s an old-fashioned term now, on account of the PR machines have branded us with the New & Improved buzzwords “climate change,” which sounds so much more ambiguous. It’s the best kind of lie, because it has just enough truth to pass under the radar—technically, yes, the climate is “changing.” They got that much correct. But the nature and quality of that change is unaddressed by the phrase. The earth’s temperature is heating up, as a direct result—for those who may be new to the matter—of the burning of coal, oil, and gas, mainly in industrial production.

Anyway, back to the main plot: thinking with the environment. Solving problems through communication with other living beings, and the various spirits. Thinking “as” an animal. These are modes of cognition that are inherent in cultures that live as part of a landbase, and that are close to the rest of the living world. In my experience, that way of living is not even imaginable to the modern urban blacktop dweller. The only animals they even see on a regular basis are either “pets” or the handful of species who manage to thrive in cities—rats, pigeons, roaches, ants, flies, etc.

Recently I read a book, The Intimate Bond, about the history of domesticated and enslaved animals in civilization. It was fascinating for reasons that varied from sweet to horrible. One of the things I learned was how common it has been throughout the history of agriculture and civilization for humans to share a home with their domesticated farm animals. Like, they sleep in the living room, or whatever the archaic equivalent of a living room is. They’re in your house. Like, sheep and donkeys, mules and cows and horses. They’re part of the family. Even I was like, thafuq?, when I read it.

As I said: close to the rest of the living world.

Last week I spoke to the professor on the phone. We were examining options for getting money to pay me for these workshops. I settled on the option that enabled me the most freedom and flexibility, but there was an additional price to pay: I would have to write a proposal, to give to the money guardians.

I hate writing proposals.

I don’t know what it is about them. Maybe it’s because, like grant writing, they’re pretty much all the same. Maybe because it’s basically just a commercial for something that may or may not resemble what’s in the commercial. Maybe because I’m entitled and I feel like these people should just give me hella money because I’m the DZA and they should know that, and be tripping over themselves to give me checks with many zeroes. Who knows?

I spent a good couple of days after that phone call whining about it to anyone who would listen. Then I sat down to work on it one evening—scribbled out a few ideas, brainstormed. Got a few good things out of it, but I just wasn’t focused. Then, sitting there on my couch, it finally fucking hit me:

I need to go to the woods.

The realization is followed instantly by a feeling of utter foolishness—I’m sitting here in what basically amounts to a manufactured box, trying to come up with an outline that involves the concept of thinking with the living world. I’m fully caught up in the mechano-european, rationalized, brain-in-a-jar worldview, so much that it took that long for me to figure out that I needed to think with the trees. I tossed down my notebook and resolved to spend the next day hiking. The next day I spent about four hours wandering along trails, listening to the crows and wind, the trunks and leaves, the sun and shade.

They told me everything I needed. As they always do.

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Counting Coup

My first victory of the day is getting out of bed.

The eternal battle. Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance, and that’s as good a name as any. The shadow force, the annihilator, the entity and energy that comes into being the moment you realize what your True Calling is. The second that passion emerges from the fiery engine of our hearts and souls, it calls into being its enemy. This is the dynamic balance of the universe; that passion is Creation, it is the power of god and the power of life, and so it has its spectre: Resistance.

It’s heartless and cold and impersonal. It doesn’t care about you; it just exists. And more than any other time in human history, it is fed and supercharged by the very structure of our culture and social organization. There is now an infinity of ways to distract yourself from Doing the Thing. Social media, youtube, TV, video games, texting, Tindr hook-ups, porno, a smorgasbord of high quality designer drugs, bad food, bad consciousness, employment, school.

Since I’m an educator, let me go ahead and riff on that last one. When I was in school, I was internally motivated to achieve and succeed, to get the A’s. Something within me would not settle for anything less. However, I was never under any delusion that the work had any real meaning or importance. Once I learned the true purpose of schooling was to make us into idiotic, obedient droids emotionally dependent on authority figures, all of the tedium, banality, and cruelty of school instantly made sense. But when I was there, I didn’t know any of that. I just knew the shit was a waste of my time.

And so I approached every assignment I ever got with one goal in mind: get this shit done as quickly as possible so I can get back to doing what I WANT TO DO. True, frequently what I “wanted” to do was watch TV and play video games. But I heard the cosmic call of passion and desire for the first time when I was 8 or 9 years old; that was when I knew I wanted to make comics. If I had a worksheet for a class with a backside that was blank, it was covered in drawings—super heroes, guns, doodles, cartoons, whatever. I finished the work as soon as possible and commenced to drawing.

Again, I knew the schoolwork was a waste of my time. By the end of middle school, I’d figured out the system pretty well. By high school I had mastered it, and so I developed a new way to get the dumb shit done more quickly—cheating. Copying answers out of the back of the book, or from other people. Trading homework from one class to someone else for their homework in another class, copying it by the stack, never once reading or taking in any of it. I learned just enough to get an A on the test, but even without that, the grading systems of school classrooms are generally designed to shuttle you through with a passing grade as long as you complete all the work. You could fail every test and get out of the average public school with a C or B average as long as you hand in all the assignments.

Victory over the machine. Defeat the soul-crushing time-waster. Piss on their standardized tests.

Back to now. Victory number one is getting out of bed in the morning, because I sure don’t want to. I’m warm, I’m safe, I’m comfortable. I’m entertained by dozing dreams, or by my own head chatter, which is generally far more interesting to me than any of the pap on television. I’ve got my best friend in the world cuddled up beside me, and he too would gladly stay in bed all day, perhaps getting up once in awhile to run around or visit the litterbox. He’s got a weak stomach so I feed him expensive artisinal cat food, which has an added bonus of making his coat super soft and luxurious. I could just stay in bed and pet him.

The Resistance is strong, the voice tempting and powerful. Stay in bed. All day.

But then the Thing will not Get Done. So I get up. Victory number one. I leave the house, victory number two. I make it to the meeting on time, I show up for class, I get up at ungodly hours to ride through tunnels on screaming metal carriages stuffed liked a cattle car full of mechanized zombies. I travel through the hated City, with all its noise and concrete, I walk into bland, depressing buildings where schooling indoctrination takes place, and I activate imaginations.

I get up. Nowhere I have to go today? Then I sit down at the computer and start typing. The voice of Resistance fades to background noise, because now all I can hear is the pounding of keys and the words stretching to get out of my head, the song of the muse. Victory.

For now. The enemy always returns, because the struggle is eternal. It will keep me from eating. It will advocate whiskey. It will find big and small ways to keep me from sitting down at that drawing board and scrawling out another page. I’m not the best at drawing; it takes me a long time to pencil even one page. Sometimes it’s agonizing. Mostly, it’s enjoyable. But the real joy comes when I see that world laid out on the page, panel by panel. The characters are living and moving and speaking. They are more real to me than the droids on the train, my relationship with them is more dear to me than most in the 3-D world. They demand their stories be told. They, like the seagull and the rat, want to live.

The first blessing of the day is to wake up; it means I’m alive. That means one more chance to get it right. One more chance to Do the Thing, one more chance to live the path that has been illuminated for me by god and truth and beauty. Write the proposal, fill out the contract, return the e-mail, shake the hands and kiss the babies. That stuff is even harder, because I hate it. What I love is on that page. What I love came from the tip of my pencil, but its source is beyond me. That source is infinite; it will never slow down, it will never dry up, it will never not be there. It awaits only the call.

So when that blessing comes and I wake up and I’m alive and the battle begins, there is only one question: will I give the call? Will I sit down and Do the Thing? Will I fight and win against Resistance, will I do my ancestors proud? That was four questions, but they’re all the same.

Pass me the coup stick. It looks like a pencil, or maybe a laptop.

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Old Shoes

Today I threw away an old pair of shoes. They were excellent shoes, probably only the second pair of excellent shoes I’ve ever owned in my life. Red Wings, custom fitted, black leather oxford design, slip-proof with reinforced toes.

I got them for restaurant work, back in 2010, 2011 maybe. I was working at Local Chain Pizza, slanging high quality and high priced recreational food to suburbanites who ranged from rich to wealthy. Slip-proofing is a must; mop floors, clean spills, avoid the doom of your head hitting the tile floor. Reinforced toes are a must; drop jugs, pint glasses, boxes full of heavy frozen things, keep your toes. Custom fitted is a must; flat feet, wide feet, joints deteriorating from genetic disease, pain while standing and walking for extended periods of time.

The active life of those shoes saw nine lovers, four jobs, one major move, one weekly FM radio show, three U.S. states, eight roommates, and one fall from a cliff.

They were dusty, their life spent long before I finally let them go. The catalyst was a new pair of black boots I got cheap at Big 5 so I could respectably meet the dress requirements of my part-time job in the concert venue field. One of the last illusions I was holding onto that told me to keep the worn out Red Wings was the idea that I might Need To Have Nice Black Shoes For Something. The reality is, they were long past nice. They were scuffed up, the laces frayed, the heals worn. There were gashes in the sides from the rocks I landed on in the cliff incident. The right shoe was split along the front where the ball of my foot would flex—last winter when there was hella rain, I went out wearing them and ended up with wet socks and feet.

Once I got the boots, that illusion faded; I just didn’t need the Red Wings. I could let them go, aftermarket insoles and all. You served me well—now into the trash!

And with them, the energy of past lives they carried. Not the memories, never the memories. The experiences I keep forever and visit whenever I want, for better or worse. The women I kissed for the first time while I was wearing them. The anger in my steps—embedded in the shoes—from every time a rich brat co-worker couldn’t manage to do their share of the work or even think for themselves. Midnight liaisons with the Mad Russian. Nights smoking and drinking, movies and Resident Evil 6 with Brother Precious. The weight of every wonderful and every poisonous interaction I ever had in 18 months of street canvassing. The battle of overthrowing a demon king ex-boss. The woman I loved, who loved only herself. The guy I choked on a balcony.

In 2008 when I wrote my first novel, I used a soundtrack. One album that I would play on repeat every night when I sat down to write. That album is Shango by Juno Reactor, which I first got from Victor Vortex. I’m listening to it right now; Masters of the Universe is playing. I’ve heard the song played live one time, when I went to one of their shows. I was wearing the hat I’m wearing right now as I write; I was dancing with a gorgeous young armenian woman, our hands wandering freely over each others’ bodies. After the show, I’m with her in the back seat of her friend’s car. The friend and the friend’s date are sitting in the front seat talking. The woman and I are making out. Later, I walk her to her car, we continue to kiss, I say something to her, words long forgotten. She melts into me—oh my god, your voice…

I never see her again.

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Never Enough Time

When I visit a class to teach, it seems like there’s never enough time. There’s so much—SO MUCH—that I feel like young people need to know about. There’s so much that these kids aren’t going to learn anywhere else if they don’t learn it from me. I hit them with a ton of information every time, and every single point or topic or issue I discuss is like the tip of the iceberg.

Life, history, people—these are complex topics. They resist categorization of any kind by all but the most disingenuous. To give a presentation is to tell a story, and you have to construct the narrative carefully. What do I include? What do I leave out? There are always time constraints. There are always constraints on what I can talk about. I don’t have the chance to get to know students as individuals, or find ways to relate what I’m talking about directly to their lives. I have to speak in generalities. But there’s always more. There’s always more.

This past week I did a series of presentations at a charter high school in San Francisco. I was invited there by an english teacher, to his 12th grade classes, to present information that would relate to the themes they’re studying: identity, art, and society. I did what I do: take the veil off the matrix, talk about all the institutions that we don’t think about or question. But there’s never enough time! I worked with three different groups of students, I had a total of 3 hours with each group. NOT ENOUGH.

I want to give them the keys, show them the doors. I didn’t come here for money—I came here on my Harriet Tubman: to free slaves. The bell rings, I have a moment of panic. There’s so much more I need to tell them. So much more they need to know. I have to be satisfied with this: for the first time since I started teaching workshops, I leave them with a reading list. My favorite books. “If you read all the books on this list, your entire way of thinking, your entire experience of reality will change. You will never be the same. Consider yourself warned.”

There’s a phrase that came into vogue sometime during the corporate ecstasy era of the late 80’s and early 90’s: “think outside of the box.” They love that phrase. But here’s the thing—you can think inside of the box, you can think outside of the box, but what you are never ever supposed to do is think about the box. It is not supposed to be questioned. I go into classes and I say, here’s the box. In all the time I’ve been teaching, the students respond entirely positively. In all that time, all teachers, with one exception, have likewise responded entirely positively. People are hungry for this.

You can’t escape the desire
to break out of the matrix—
it come written in the DNA”
from Supreme Anarch

Time is always limited. All the more so in a classroom setting, in a compulsory schooling institution. Real education means pursuing knowledge and/or skill without boundaries, including time boundaries imposed from outside. On the first day with the third group, I was in the midst of telling my version of the story of hip hop culture—which, if I may, is way more interesting and deep than any other version I’ve ever heard; I was motivated by boredom and frustration with typical narratives to create it—and we ran out of time.

All of the students had to leave to go to another class. When I saw that same group the second time, I used that incident as part of my discussion of the pathology of compulsory schooling—I asked them, by show of hands, if there were no consequences, who would’ve rather stayed and listened to the rest of my presentation instead of going to whatever other class they had. Every hand went up. Every hand—Even the bored and cynical looking kid slouched in a chair in the back of the room.


A young woman asks me, “Why aren’t you a teacher?” I tell her I am a teacher. But I know what she means—she means a classroom teacher. My answer, brief and diplomatic—I hated school the first time through, why would I go back to work there? Everyone laughs. But the truth is much more complex. How do I explain to her in five or twenty or ninety minutes why it is that I can’t teach the way I want to teach, and students can’t learn the way learning is supposed to happen, within the boundaries of a state institution? How do I explain that this place, this system is designed to prevent learning? Only the most heroic efforts of the most dedicated teachers deliver anything resembling education within that system.

I tell a young Salvadoran boy, a middle-schooler, about indigenous people and spanish conquest. His eyes are wide. “Can you be my history teacher?” he asks me.

A young man who shares my name and my interest in rapping is taking notes on everything I say. He asks me questions, searches for clarification, after the class period has ended. He’s skipping another class to see my presentation.

A young man asks me if I will be his friend.

A young woman asks me if she can give me a copy of her zine—she did the art, her boyfriend wrote the poems. I enthusiastically accept. I read the poems on the train headed home, the words of this young man who at twelve years old turned to selling drugs to help his mom pay the rent. Tears burn my eyes. I look on the back of the zine: it was produced as part of the youth program at the organization where the love of my life works, the woman I have not seen or spoken with in eight months. Her name is on the back of it, as art director. Tears burn my eyes, again.

A young woman, and another, and a young man, and another… All ask me, “Are you coming back?” When I tell them no, their disappointment is palpable. It breaks my heart.

Ninja. Disappear in a cloud of smoke.

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Thunder Speaks

The eruption of thunder seems to come from all sides. Lightening flashes, electric zig-zags along the sky. The dark room is briefly illuminated. Thunderbirds, flapping their wings. Have they come to speak to me? I already know the answer to that question. What have they come to tell me?

I don’t know, but I’m listening, giving close attention. Thunder was last night. This morning, I left the house at 6:30am to head out to San Francisco to give a talk to a 12th grade english class on hip hop, social institutions, writing, and identity. I arrived early and decided to take a walk around the city blocks. I knew the area somewhat, because the school is right down the street from KPOO, where once upon a time I hosted a weekly radio show.

I go down a street I’ve never been down before. There, in the middle of the sidewalk, on top of a metal grate: a dead bird. Perfect in frozen posture, no visible wounds, alone, forgotten, ignored. I pass it. I remember who I am, and go back. I pick it up and take it down the block to the park and bury it near a tree. I don’t know how you died, but I know how you will live on; in the dirt, with dignity and respect, free at last from the concrete, you will feed the people of the earth and live on.

It felt amazing to finally be back in a classroom after three months on pause. There’s a certain look that students make, when they start off completely uninterested in whatever is going on, and then slowly begin to realize that I am not a regular teacher. The presentation goes on, their interest piqued, they tune in, they are engaged. It’s in their eyes. Not all of them, of course; I have yet to do a classroom presentation where at least a few students weren’t passed out on their desks. Teenagers are notorious for lack of sleep, and sleep is crucial, so I take no offense.

The circle, the pyramid, the grids, the bones of the dead. The breakers, the DJs, the MCs. Children of the earth, our family, machine god corporations and the secret history of compulsory schooling. Daggers of flying knowledge; all hit some, some hit all. I get paid for this. God, as the muslims say, is truly great.

Back on the bus, then back to the screaming metal carriage, then back to the Town. I run into a friend I haven’t seen in well over a year, who I’ve been trying and failing to link up with for several weeks now. There he is, standing outside Oscar Grant Station, having a smoke and a phone call. “This had to happen,” I say. We catch up for a bit; life changes, work drama, narcissists, conspiracies, private business of the unseen chiefs. As we’re talking, here comes another friend I haven’t seen in months, and have been trying and failing to link up with. The gods work like appliances, said Ghostface Killah, and here we are—the universe moves to link her parts together.

I come home to an excited Thomas—where have I been? What was I doing? He hollers at me and sniffs me thoroughly. We have a nap together. I wake up, wash dishes, make dinner. I want to drink, as I want to drink everyday now it seems, but ceremony is on Saturday and it demands four days of sobriety. Thank the gods sobriety doesn’t include caffeine—I’ve got another early day tomorrow. But for now, I’m back at the kitchen table writing, working; Thomas dozes next to me.

Then, book editing. Then, comic drawing. Then… Daredevil season two!

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Punishing the Earth

Guilt-free confession; I know very little about what’s going on in Houston with the hurricane. I haven’t looked at any photos, watched any news reports or cell phone footage of disasters and tragedies. I don’t personally know anyone who lives there—I have a good friend who used to live there and thankfully no longer does. She’s got family out there; I hope they’re okay. But those are personal concerns, reflective of my web of relationships. The only reason I even have a sense of a scale of the hurricane’s damage is because of how much is posted about it on FB, from hearing other people talk about it, and from being petitioned for donations to hurricane relief at stores.

I’m perfectly okay with this; I have no interest in the spectacle. I went through the spectacle back when Katrina happened. I was working in a hotel bar that had a TV. I saw images of cops pointing shotguns at (black) people carrying clothes and food, ordering them to drop the “loot.” I watched those clothes and that food wash away in the flood water. I saw images of people in that stadium, ignored, hot, hungry, dehydrated. I saw images of political inertia and apathy. I watched passive racism and disposable lives.

From what I understand, major hurricane disasters are happening in a number of places around the globe. On top of that, a whole lot of the western and central parts of Turtle Island are currently on fire. I have family in Oregon; my mom has barely left her house in weeks because the air is full of smoke. My cousin has ashes raining down on her house. Visibility is limited; the smoke is so thick, it’s like fog. The forests are burning.

Living in California means being around people who are once again talking about the possibility of earthquakes. From a rational standpoint, that makes no sense; earthquakes are not weather-related phenomena. But nothing about this is rational. A lot of people are making pronouncements about Judgement Day, or about the earth “punishing” humans with disasters. The earth is taking revenge on us! Run, scream, gnash teeth, etc.

This is absurd, of course. Global warming is responsible for these horrid disasters, and industrial civilization is responsible for global warming. This is not punishment or revenge—it’s cause and effect. I get that it’s almost impossible for anyone to grasp; these things operate on a scale that strains the limits of the imagination. We may see smog in the sky and concrete everywhere, but none of us can see “climate change.” We see cars and plastic, factories and roadkill, we might even see a polluted river or ocean dead zones. But no single human’s experience could ever encapsulate or even make sense of something happening on a global scale, the result of over 250 years of building and operating toxic machines.

It bothers me when people ascribe the values of their judging, punishing biblical god/lord/sky-daddy to the earth. Mother Earth (Lakota – Ina Maka) earth doesn’t punish or judge. She lives, and creates life, and has done so for a very long time. If she didn’t love life, she wouldn’t continue to create it. The idea that she would judge and punish what she loves and creates is a pathological idea, a psychic sickness—another disease imported to Turtle Island by European invaders, far more dangerous and deadly than smallpox or syphilis.

A couple of stories: For some time now, I’ve been ambivalent about the idea of having children, reproducing. Other than when I was myself a child, until I started teaching I spent very little time around children. I never helped raise any siblings or cousins, nieces or nephews. In a way, this has served to help me in teaching; I never absorbed the common approach that adults have to children—treating them like idiots—so I’ve been free to treat them as what they are: young humans. People with feelings, needs, abilities, potential.

During my “I hate the world” years—until I was about 24—I hated children too, naturally. Couldn’t stand to be around them. I found them irritating as shit. Eventually I realized that they were annoying because of incompetent parenting in a psychotic society. Once I began to see children for what they are—young people who have not yet been rendered cynical and mentally dead, people who are still filled with curiosity and wonder—I began to enjoy kids. A lot. Like, more than most adults. Any seven-year-old is way more interesting and fun to be around than 90% of the adults I’ve met in my life. Adolescents and teens are hilarious. Eventually, the damage of Schooling and Media Trance takes hold, and those same magical children turn into boring, neurotic adults.

For a long time, I was adamant about not reproducing. Why would I sentence a child to living in such a fucked up world? To take just one example out of the hell pits, do you have any idea how many people I know who were sexually abused as children? Either directly by adults, or by other children acting out what adults did to them? In their most sensitive, formative years, loaded up with humiliation, shame, regret, and all the other vampire poisons that come with the bite. Most of us humans now live fragmented, isolated social lives—community is a buzzword and a distant fantasy. Who knows what may happen to little Jaime when we send them off to wherever?

Then of course, there’s the whole impending collapse of the biosphere thing going on. There’s a very good chance that in 100 years—less time than has passed since my grandmother was born and lived her full life—this planet will be uninhabitable not only for humans, but for almost all species who are left. And as that collapse gets more serious, human institutions will crumble, and a whole lot of fragmented, isolated, neurotic people will suddenly find themselves scrambling for what few resources remain. This is already happening; those of us in the U.S. mostly don’t see it, because the government here has used enough violence internationally to make sure we don’t. Why would I want to bring a kid into this world?

One day, a few years back, I was at the beach watching seagulls. I thought about images I’ve seen of seagulls covered in the slick of an oil spill, struggling to breathe, to eat, to live. And I realized: life wants to live. Seagulls and bumblebees and butterflies and lions—all of them will continue to do everything they can to live, as long as they’re alive to do so. They will fight to live until they’re extinct. Can humans be so different? I know we all think we’re so much more sophisticated and valuable than “animals,” but come on. We’re a species in a habitat. We want to live.

The truth is, the odds of survival for humans and everyone else would be much better if we humans mostly stopped reproducing—especially those of us living in countries that suck up all the resources. There’s a certain strain of “environmentally conscious” (white) people who really believe in the problem of overpopulation—they just believe that it’s not their problem. It’s those people, those dark-skinned savages, here and abroad, who just won’t stop making babies. I don’t have exact stats on the subject, but I know enough to know that a single Becky Jr. in San Francisco causes, however indirectly, far more damage to the earth than dozens of slum-dwellers and subsistence farmers.

But none of that changes a simple fact: life wants to live. Understanding that, these days, I’m open to the possibility of having kids, even if I’m not on a mission to do it. Why miss out on such a beautiful, magical, human, living being experience just because the world’s fucked up and we’re all doomed? If anything, that’s a good reason to do it.

To bring it back, given how clear it is that life wants to live, the idea that the earth would punish that life—and therefore punish herself—is not only absurd, it’s insulting, degrading, and evil. Newsflash—it’s not only humans who are hurt by these disasters. It’s everyone who lives there, walkers, swimmers, crawlers, flyers, growers.

And really—and I’m going to continue to say this, until it makes a difference in the world or until I die, and I know which one is more likely to happen first—global warming is not the fault of humans, per se; it’s the fault of systems and machines that humans created over many generations. I’m not taking the blame for industrial civilization, ya’ll can keep that cross and nails. Frankly it seems more and more every day that—as amaz0n put it—the war is over and the machines won. But there are prizes they never can and never will take from me.

The love between me and Mother Earth is one of them.

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Creator of Worlds

My first and truest love in life is comics. I used to read the comics pages in the newspaper from the time I was able to read; my favorite was Garfield. When I was in the third grade I discovered that there were collections of the comic that you could buy in book form; this changed my whole life. Now I could get them in a chunk instead of one per day. I don’t know if they still do this, but back when I was in school, Scholastic used to send catalogues to schools with books you could buy. My mom has always encouraged me to read, so she would buy me stuff from those catalogues. One of the few truly joyful moments I experienced in school came on the days when those books arrived. I would bring them home and devour them, usually with the TV on in the background, to which I paid only partial attention. I must’ve accumulated at least 20 to 30 of those books, and I would re-read them constantly.

Calvin & Hobbes came shortly after that. Without a doubt one of the most brilliant newspaper strips to ever come out, Calvin & Hobbes not only activated my imagination (I successfully made time machines and fighter jets out of cardboard boxes), but it also expanded my vocabulary. I don’t think I realized at the time that while the comic was mostly accessible to children, it was really written for adults. I loved that strip, and at one point I owned all of the books. I feel genuine pity for the generations of kids who’ve grown up without that comic in their newspapers. Bill Waterson’s retirement was a loss to readers, but it was the mark of a true creator—when he said everything he had to say, he put the comic to rest. Furthermore, he never pimped it out for merchandising purposes. There were only the books. I have the utmost respect for that.

Sometime around the age of seven or eight, I got my first comic books. My mom picked them up for me one day when I was home sick. There was a comic with Green Lantern and Superman that took place in space, and a reprint of an old Spider-Man story. This was around 1987, and you could still buy comic books off the rack at 7-11. An single issue was only 75 cents, tax free; I could buy a comic with change I dug out of the couch. I started reading Spider-Man, who was my favorite character. I started with it just a few issues into Erik Larsen’s run on the series; it was a Spider-Man and Punisher team up. I fell in love. I started buying a couple other titles, including Punisher and Captain America.

Then, I discovered the Comic Book Store.

Comics became My Thing. Every week my mom would drive me to a now long-defunct comic book store out in Pleasant Hill called Land of the Nevawuz. Pretty soon I was buying up to a dozen comics per week. Or we would go to Fantasy Books & Games in Livermore. Around the time I was in middle school, we found Haley’s Comics in Pleasanton, a much shorter drive from our house in Dublin. I went every week. From 1988 through the time I graduated from high school in 1998, I was buying and reading anywhere from 20-30 titles a month, and buying a lot of miscellaneous stuff besides that. All the different Spider-Man titles, Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Deathlok, Sleepwalker, Darkhawk, Swamp Thing, Madman, Hellboy, all the Image titles when they first came out. I was a junkie.

I went to my first comic book convention in 1992, Wonder-Con at the Marriot in Downtown Oakland. I went every year until I graduated high school. This was before the convention atmosphere was conquered by television and film tie-ins. It was all about the comics, the artists, the writers, the dealers, and a few bootleg VHS merchants. I would go on quests to get all my stuff autographed, and search out treasures issue by issue. I read Wizard magazine and Toy Fare.

I don’t know exactly when I drew my first comic, but I couldn’t have been more than six or seven. In a box in my attic I still have these crude and magical early attempts at telling a story through words and pictures. I decided when I was nine that I wanted to draw comic books for a living when I grew up. Adults, as they often do, set about crushing my dreams by telling me, essentially, that my goal was stupid and I should find something else. The poison pill was ingested but never fully killed my drive. Through high school I was still drawing short comics, creating super heroes, daydreaming about seeing my stuff in print.

Even in college, I was still working on comics. I drew, inked, and lettered three full issues of Punch-Man, a satirical comic about a suburban superhero who knocks out bullies and really anyone else he doesn’t like, who’s costume is a paper bag on his head. It took me several years of intermittent work, but I finished the pages. Several years ago, in a fit of rage and anguish, I threw all the pages in the trash. It’s one of my few regrets in life. I still have all the outlines, though; maybe someday I’ll re-draw it.

In 2004 I started the 46&2 zine, and did a number of comics for that; in fact, by the fourth (and final) issue, the zine was dominated by comics. Then I got into songwriting and MCing, and making comics fell by the wayside—I became a superhero, and stopped drawing them. Now I’ve been The Concrete Shinobi for over a decade, continue to make music and occasionally perform, but after reading The War of Art, I realize now more than ever where my true passion lies. I love writing prose, especially essays like these, but I have a love-hate relationship with writing prose fiction. All of my favorite stories are comic book stories. Those are the ones I want to tell.

To write and draw a comic is an indescribable experience. Storytelling and pacing in comics is completely unique to the medium; I find it to be agonizingly painful sometimes to do even basic page layouts. It’s isolating, but that’s true of any kind of writing. It always feels impossible when I start—how the hell am I supposed to show what happens? What’s the best angle? How can I best do this with my limited drawing skills? On top of all the psychological anguish, making comics is physically difficult—you spend long hours bent over a table, cramping up your hands. An eight-page comic story that takes someone five minutes to read is the result of at least 50-60 hours of work for me, from concept to art-completion. You can add another 5-10 hours for everything involved in self-publishing the comic; formatting, art corrections, printing.

However, there is a magic that is unique to creating comics. Something happens on that page, once the panel borders are drawn and the characters begin to speak and act. They quickly take on lives of their own. The pages come alive—you’re looking into another universe. Often when I’m done with pages, I will sit and stare at them for long moments; the time I spent looking at, say, the eight pages of the last comic I published, are certainly counted in hours. I lose myself in the images, the world I’ve created—every line, every gesture, every sequence becomes something I’m living inside.

So, now I have a new goal—live my passion. It’s going to hurt my body and spirit, but it will be worth it. I’ve got a lot of stories in my head already, and I’m aching to bring them to life.

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