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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What we Are and Consume

The other day, in response to a comment I’d made on a friend’s FB post, someone called me a “liberal elitist.” That’s a first. Elitist, yeah—how could you not be at least a little bit elitist if you have a living consciousness in a world of soul-dead drones? It’s a survival strategy. But liberal? It’s been many moons since my beliefs and opinions fell anywhere within the “liberal” shade of the spectrum. It felt like it does when Republicans talk about “the liberal media,” as if a bunch of huge corporations taking orders from advertisers and the government could possibly be “liberal.” I think “liberal” to them means, “in some small way decentralizes my whiteness by talking about black people, queer folks, and immigrants.” Really though, I think they’re just reacting to the same scent of rottenness that all of us detect about the media—it’s feeding us lies and mind control, sewing divisiveness, and generally making people fucking crazy.

As part of my work as a Hip Hop Educator (TM), I have a presentation where I go on a journey with the class, examining words, their meanings, and their implications. I write a bunch of words on the board and then talk about what they mean, and how it relates to the society we live in. A philosophy professor I work with called it a “semantic map.” For me, it began as a way of taking difficult theoretical concepts and making them accessible. It also arose from an understanding that while we may be speaking the same language, we don’t necessarily all mean the same thing when we use certain words. Words are symbols, signs that point to a vibrating bundle of concepts, electric with emotions and associations.

Media – Mediate – Mediated – Immediate – Unmediated – Medium

“Media” means “in between.” In whatever form it takes, it stands between us and something else. Mediation begins with our physical bodies—our senses mediate between us and the rest of, well, whatever is out there. “Material reality?” Who knows? Point being, on a day-to-day level we experience it mainly through our primary physical senses: touch, smell, taste, hearing, sight. I’ll pretend for the sake of argument and simplicity that those are our only senses; just roll with it.

Senses as mediation, for example: a few months back I was visiting a friend. Her housemate’s daughter is around 8 years old, and like a lot of children at that age, had taken an obsessive interest in learning all there was to know about something. She reminded me of something I “knew,” but had forgotten: when our eyes—those brilliant flesh camera light-receiver things—see color, they are not seeing the color of the actual object; they’re seeing whatever spectrum of light that the object could not absorb. A “blue” shirt does not absorb the blue part of the light spectrum; it reflects, and that’s what our eyes see. Objects in mirror may be completely different than they appear.

Of course, our senses are the least mediated aspect of our lives, because they’re the most direct. We have bodies, we are bodies, we exist in bodies; they are us. We don’t exist in any tangible (hee hee) way without them. I taste the apple, I see my cat sleep, I hear the constant roaring of combustion engines on my street, I feel the lukewarm coffee going through my mouth and down my throat, I smell the sage smoke. I has the five senses, is the five senses. Information gets more mediated from here.

If I see someone get punched in the face, that’s unmediated. I saw it. I may not be the one getting punched, but I saw the event take place. As soon as I tell you about it, the event is now mediated. In between you and the face-punching is me and my story. And a story it is, for facts themselves are infinite, and must be pared down—who, what, where, when. I can’t possibly give you all of the facts; the speed of the punch in miles-per-hour, the tone of the impact, the distance in feet that the punchee travelled before falling to the ground, the air temperature, the buildings in the background, the number of pieces of broken glass the punchee fell into, etc.

Now, if I’m telling you a story, face-to-face, the experience of mediation is interactive; you can ask me questions. The story may grow and change depending on what new information I provide. Why did this person punch someone? What else was happening? What do I know about the event, what do I not know? Was it a lovers’ spat? Friends beefing? A paid-for beating by a professional puncher? You get the idea. A face-to-face story is also customized to its audience; you’re telling it to your homie, your mom, your lover, a group of friends, a classroom of black and latino 10 year olds, a classroom of wealthy jewish teens.

Mass media is completely different beast. Television, film—these things tell you the story. They are active, you are passive. They give, you receive. There’s no questioning, no customization; it is a mass-produced product, the same latte every time. And, all of it is controlled by a handful of mass media corporations; at last count I believe there are six companies who control 90% of all media on the planet—newspapers, books, magazines, radio, television, movies. Corporations, which have only one function: to make money. As I’ve said before elsewhere (Did you read The Concrete Shinobi yet? If not you’re slipping, hit me up), machines are not alive, so they do not value life. They’ll do anything to turn “resources” into “money.” Even a glance around the world we live in will show the psychopathic results.

There’s a cute and dangerous myth floating around this culture that the “media” simply provides what people “want” to see. One wonders how such “wants” can possibly divorced from a lifelong indoctrination by consumer culture on every level. It seems to me that the desires of communal animals like humans are fairly simple—water, food, shelter, relationships, leisure. Actually, those are pretty much the desires of every living being on the planet, judging by how they all get down; the other day I saw a honey bee taking a nap on a flower petal. Nowhere on that list is a Toyota Corolla, an I-Phone, or skin bleaching cream. Media in the consumer culture creates false desires to perpetuate itself.

A hard pill to swallow: most of us are simply not in control of what we “want.” The machines control that, as they control almost all material aspects of our lives.

You can learn a lot about what this culture “wants,” and a lot about its real values, by observing its mainstream entertainment. I rarely go to the movies, and I haven’t owned a television since 2006. However, I am on FB regularly, and as a life-long comic book afficionado and OG fan of Marvel comics, I keep up on everything from the Marvel cinematic universe—the netflix shows, the movies. I’ll say, it’s a lot like being in an abusive relationship. They just keep hurting me, over and over, and I just keep coming back. Simply put: all of them are racist to the point of absurdity.

For example, I just finished watching the first season of Daredevil (I’d already watched the second season last year, because Frank Castle). And,




Is a black man.

Ben Urich the reporter, who’s white in the comic book, for some reason is black in the show—and played with brilliance and dignity by Vondie Curtis-Hall, who is far too good for Marvel. He gets to be the negro mentor for the lily-whitest virginal perfect blue eyes aryan blondie princess who ever walked the earth, Mr. Grizzled Negro teaching the trade to Sweetie McNext-Door, and what happens? HE GETS FUCKING MURDERED.

And not just murdered, either. Brutally choked to death, by… wait for it… A GIANT ARYAN WHITE MAN.

To paraphrase the homie Solstice, the lesson is clear: if you’re a black man, messing with white women will get you killed. Every black man knows this, consciously or not, on an ancestral level 400 years deep.

I could go on. But I’m too lazy to be Detective DZA, noter of all racist bullshit in Daredevil and the rest of the Marvel cinematic universe. And, frankly, that knowledge and those conversations are my private business, between me and the folks who Know What is Up. I’ll give one more example, then keep it moving: Claire, the nurse, is one of exactly three women of color who make substantial contributions to the entire netflix marvel universe narrative. Also played with brilliance by Rosario Dawson, who is an amazing actress, gorgeous beyond measure, and seems like someone who’s probably just as cool in real life as she is on the screen. (She also looks exactly like a woman I used to date, who was also a nurse, and watching her on these shows is giving me weird heart-achey flashbacks, but that’s another story.) Rosario Dawson is also “afro-latina,” i.e. puerto rican and cuban, i.e. black.

Despite her badass-ness, Claire must be consigned to the gutter of being a black woman in the show—first, providing emotional and medical support for the self-destructive life of a white man. Then, by being the only female protagonist to be kidnapped, tortured, and beaten bloody so that the white man can come rescue her. Contrast that with the kidnapping that happens to Sweetie McNext-Door later in the season, who is not only not beaten or tortured, but she kills her captor and escapes. On top of all that, Claire ends up being the light-weight groupie jump-off for superheroes. First she’s got a thing for Daredevil, then for Luke Cage, who comes out of prison and—quoth Trent Reznor—fucks her like an animal. Ew.

Most people consume (there’s that word again) media simply to be “entertained.” In other words, they want to take an emotional ride and then forget about it, as mental/emotional/spiritual escape from the basic malaise and misery of modern living. That this is so common, so understandable, so relatable, does not make it less of a cosmic crime. I don’t believe that we exist simply to be entertained. In fact, I’m going to be even more offensive and “problematic” (folks love that word these days) and say that we have a moral responsibility to do better. A divine responsibility. “Regular” people are envious and worshipful of “creative” people because “creative” people are, in big and small ways, fulfilling their divine responsibilities.

And of course, we are all capable of being creative, because we’re all human. In noncivilized cultures—and to a much greater extent before the advent of industry, even in civilized cultures—creativity is simply a part of life. When you make your own shoes, you’re not just slapping together some buckskin and calling it good; it will be decorated, carefully crafted, as will all of the everyday artifacts of your life. Grandma sews an amazing quilt, Uncle tells an amazing story. The industrial-machine cult of “specialization” would have us all believe that some people’s roll in the machine is to be creative, that is to say “produce cultural products,” while others’ role is to consume the products created by that creativity. Bullshit and evil lies. If you’re alive, you’re capable of being creative. If you’re human, it’s your divine responsibility to do so.

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Do the Thing

I had a serious wake-up call yesterday. It came in the ever-mysterious form of synchronous events lining up to show me something I needed to see. God business. As good a place to start as any: I’m a writer, among other things. Like anyone making a go of creative endeavors, I deal with constant struggles against frustration, procrastination, desperation, and utter despair.

Basic reality check: if you don’t sit down to do the thing, it’s not gonna get done. Writers write. I’ve been writing consistently for over 10 years now. It started in earnest when I decided to become an MC in 2006—I’ve written over a hundred songs since then. I wrote a short novel, which is yet waiting to be finished (needs another draft or two), and I wrote a whole memoir—took me 7 years to finish, but I finished it. People have read it, and enjoyed it.

Every year I go to ceremony—the Sun Dance they call it in english, in Lakota, Wiwanyang Wacipi, “gazing at the sun while dancing.” For me it’s a renewal ceremony; my year begins there. Before leaving I lost my job in the non-profit industrial complex. I decided I’d really rather not work for any sonuvabitch ever again, so I’m making a go of it as an independent teaching artist. When I returned from ceremony this year, more so than ever it was like beginning a new life. I knew I’d have to make some changes, acquire some serious discipline in my creative endeavors, which had been more or less on hold the entire time I was plugged into the non-profit machine.

A few days ago my housemate lent me a book, The War of Art – Break Through Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. It is the perfect book for anyone trying to accomplish anything other than showing up for a job. It’s cold and ruthless in just the way that I love; no bullshit here, just the stone truth about what it takes to make creative goals happen. I started reading it yesterday, and damn near finished it. There aren’t a whole lot of books I would actively campaign for people to read, but this one is on the short list; it’s that good.

Thinking about creative goals is like thinking about mortality. We’ve only got so much time here on earth; what are we going to give it to? One of many reasons that I hate television and video games with an unbridled passion is because they are consummate time-wasters; when I look back on all the time I spent as a youth staring at a screen or punching buttons on a controller, what I see is machines stealing away a whole chunk of my life, and leaving me nothing in return. If I’d spent that same amount of time working on my art, writing and drawing comics, my craft would by now be honed to a razor edge.

No love for regrets; the past is written. What it comes down to is this: you’re either doing the thing, or you’re not. Whatever time you give to doing or to not doing, you’re not going to get it back.

So yesterday I’m reading this book, it’s inspiring the shit out of me, and I’ve got a bug up my ass to sit down and really get some shit done. I’d already accomplished my first goal for the day—1000 words written. I decided to work on my website, which features a quote from John Taylor Gatto, teacher, school historian, anti-system curmudgeon, and one of my heroes. On a whim I went to his website (procrastination, or looking for inspiration? You decide) and discovered that he had a stroke back in 2011, and is now partially paralyzed. His wife had a stroke last year, and is now in constant pain and requires around-the-clock care. They have medical bills and expenses they can’t pay for on their own, so they have a donation link on the site; they’re now supported through the good will of people whose lives this man touched.

Gatto is the same age as my dad, both born in 1935. My dad is in pretty good health overall; he’s had a few surgeries to fix worn-out parts and doesn’t move too well these days, but otherwise he’s doing better than a lot of people who are 20 or 30 years younger. It hit me how lucky I was to still have a dad around to talk about, one who isn’t going through such tragic health concerns. But I also realized this, in follow up to what I was reading:


Sounds cliché maybe, but it doesn’t make it any less true. There’s information–then there’s knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. When a saying is just words, it’s nothing more than information. The point at which it becomes real, through whatever magic, and turns into something that has a direct effect on how you live your life, that’s when it starts to make the transition into knowledge and beyond.

This revelation hit me particularly hard with Gatto because as I mentioned, he’s one of my heroes. I first read his book The Underground History of American Education back in the early 2000s. It was available in its entirety for free online; it’s a long book, and over the course of two or three weeks, I read the whole thing. It was so good I bought a print copy; I’ve read it from front to back at least four more times since then. It’s one of those books I continually revisit—the writing is amazing, the research exhausting, and its telling the truth about something we’re all Not Supposed to Question: compulsory schooling. This is one of those rare books that filled in the blanks for me, and showed me how it is that millions of human beings were converted into consumer drones. The truth in that book is ugly and terrifying—the story of corporate manipulation, the rule of systems, the mutilation of the human spirit inherent in compulsory schooling, conquest by machines. He lays it all out, how it works, and traces its DNA.

Reading this book changed my life, and fundamentally transformed how I look at myself, society, education, and knowledge. John Taylor Gatto changed my life. How? Because he sat down and did the thing. If he hadn’t done the thing, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Now that man, that heroic man, is bed-ridden. He will probably never do another guest lecture, possibly never write another book. He’s nearing the end of his life. Imagine getting to that point, with nothing but regret for all the things you could’ve done, could’ve created, and did not.

In the words of a russian mobster from the Daredevil show: I will not die like this.

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The Word and its Power

Thinking on music goals. Really, the ultimate goal is and has always been: dopeness. Manifest the soulforce, the spirit. In a room working on beats, making the heat flow, inspiring the word, the divine ecstatic poetry. It comes in a wave, in a rush, strikes like a lightening bolt, neurotransmitters firing, words coming together, stories being told, trickster vibes manifest. I got something in me that wants to get out, wants to express, to become real—flowing out of the infinite dreamtime imagination god realm, the infinite sea, crystalizing into something of beauty.

This is a process and experience that is inherently spiritual. Primitive superstition, the machines and their minions call it—how foolish to believe in any power beyond the realm of technological control and scientific explanation. God equations are beyond humans to transcribe; they are beyond space and time, beyond the material. They are the codes that tell the drops where to fall, the leaves where to grow. They can only be represented in abstractions or generalizations. The life tree grows, god creates, and in creating we are god, we are spirit.

Mental and Emotional Health. This is the official babylon category that attempts to describes the indescribable value of creating. To balance myself, to balance the cosmos, I must create, I must give form to the infinite. There are things within me—feelings, demons, angels, whatever you want to call them—and they demand that their stories be told. I do not obey, I do not acquiesce, but I do submit, kneel, crawl, and be humble in the face of the infinite, the creator of all, the song with no name. Speak, spirits, and fill me with your wonder and awe. Tears and laughter, joy and pain and suffering and triumph. Love and beauty, and most of all: truth. These words tell the truth, they are beyond any category, have no focus group, and will not be tamed or chained.

The ultimate democracy: imagination is available to all. It is the most powerful force within us, because anything that manifests in the material realm must begin in the imaginal realm. The forces and institutions of control know this, inherently. Some individuals may know it consciously, and actively seek to limit the field. The engineers of systemized mass control know exactly what they’re doing, and what effects it will have. If you can limit the imagination, you can control. Your rule will never be undermined by Dangerous Ideas. “Psychadelic” plants are not fanatically controlled by Law because of danger to their users—they are fanatically controlled because they really can change how you think, and they deliver a real experience of cosmic divinity, not just the fake kind sold in the promise inherent in all advertisements. They are efficacious sacraments, spiritual by design and nature. Proof of their miraculous powers? That the Native American Church actually got legal rights to use peyote in their ceremonies. If this doesn’t shock you, then you don’t understand how babylon works.

Colonize, control. What corpse-shell of the imaginal remains in a world where the entire field of symbols, stories, and meaning is controlled by a handful of corporate egregores? Tune in, watch the screen. Recently, the Channel Zero authorities have figured out that the last realm of truly inspired and unbridled creativity lives in the pages of comic books. The epic dramas, the gods and their powers, the frozen moments. To hold a comic book is to hold an entire piece of space and time—flip to the end, the middle, the beginning, it’s all there, waiting to be discovered anew. Move back and forth through time at will, just by flipping the page. Windows into another world, we call them panels. The Empire has nothing left but its comic books, and so it syphons their power and puts them on screen, where everyone is already plugged in.

The Marvel universe is best for this process, because the Marvel universe has always had a conceit of “realism,” a nod to the flaws that make for interesting characterization. These are heroes who are human, who make mistakes and get angry and sometimes play for the wrong side. And so they fit neatly into the cinematic universe, one that is obsessed with and beholden to High Tech. No more Peter Parker diddling away in his basement, making web shooters from junk and sewing his own costume. Now we get Spider-Man with super cyborg tech suit, courtesy of Stark Enterprises. You keep the suit as long as you do it right. The suit adds powers, value, authority, complexity. Worship this Tech.

There will be no delicate and beautiful acrobatics, no elegant and devastating martial arts for Daredevil, who in the comics is known for disabling attackers with a few calculated blows and a minimum of scuffle; there will be only punch-porn, the sadism of extended beatings, given and received. Even the monks of Kun Lun, and the Immortal Iron Fist himself, will be swallowed by tantrums, anger, guilt, and regret. There will be no elegance, no dignity; there will be only violence. The soldier Captain America will murder at will, as will the god-warrior Thor and the secret-agents Black Widow and Hawkeye.

With the exception of The Dark Knight—and even in that case, only because of the brilliant horror of Heath Ledger’s Joker—the DC movies of the last decade all suck. The wonder of the DC universe cannot be captured on film, cannot survive the transition from static, illustrated 2D to moving, live-acted 2D. “Real life,” even in the era of CGI, simply cannot live up to the majesty of the Sun God, the Will-Powered Ring, the Amazon Queen, the Living Speed Force, the multiverse, the time travel, the epic scope and sheer absurdity of imagination unleashed.

But I digress. Or do I? When I work with young people, I’ve found them to be, on the whole, totally convinced that the only use or purpose in rap music is to get rich. What a tiny, insignificant goal for something of such power. A goal that is fantastic—in the sense of being a fantasy—nearly to the level of delusion. Even a cursory amount of research will show anyone that there’s no money in the music business. Economic life is harder than ever for working musicians, and the various companies and services that control distribution and streaming outlets are the only ones getting paid.

It’s true: one can learn a lot about themselves, life, business, and the world by embarking on a serious quest to become a professional musician of any sort. These are lessons that nobody can ever take away, and will serve one in whatever one does. This, if anything, is an added bonus, small in the face of the True Power of the spirit, the god-speak. This is a power that can change you, change your reality, change your world. The power of the word, the power of creativity, is transformative. You can’t market that, you can’t put a price tag on it, you can’t do anything to chain it to the dead world of capitalist economics. It is a truth and power that is beyond all of us, beyond the simplicity of some system.

That young people would be so lost and deluded is a testament to the stupifying power of The Screen and The School. Those are the twin powers of imaginal conquest. The youth’s imaginations have already been colonized, shrunk, retarded, caged, enslaved. Some of them escape it. Most of them won’t, because if they could, if they did, this world simply would not be what it is; the machine gods would crash.

To take a crude stance: the power of the word is DC, not Marvel.

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The Supreme Anarch

“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”
– Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

There’s a lot of talk these days about “anarchists” doing this or that. There must be a lot of talk about it, because it has filtered down to me through my relatively media-trance-free life, via social media, conversations with people, etc. I haven’t sat and watched a news broadcast in years, and I wouldn’t dream of ruining a perfectly good run by tuning in. So, “anarchists.” I put that words in quotes because I’m fairly certain that almost everyone using it doesn’t have the faintest clue what it actually means. My understanding, based on use and context, is that people think an “anarchist” is someone who wants to destroy everything, create disorder and chaos, is violent, is angry, and hate all the established powers of truth, justice, and the american way.

Even a cursory reading of any actual anarchist philosophy would put all of that to bed. I’m going to give a brief summary of my understanding of anarchism, such as it is, talk a bit about my background with the philosophy, then explain why I’m not an anarchist. First off, I would recommend that anyone who wants to understand the basic principles of anarchism to get on someone else’s internet and search for “Anarchy 101” by Bob Black. It’s straight-forward, easy to read and understand, there’s no bullshit academic lingo or arcane intellectual concepts. I would challenge any reasonable person to find anything in it they actually disagree with.

Let’s look at the word first: anarchism. Three parts to the word:

an,” which means “without”
arch” which means “rule,” as in “monarch, patriarch, matriarch, etc.”
ism” which is a system of thought, philosophy, etc.

Anarchism is a philosophy of freedom from rule and governance by an authoritative power, such as a king, government, or “state.” Modern humans have lived on the earth for about 300,000 years; states, governments, and kings have existed for less than 10,000 years. Human society prior to that—and in many regions, all the way up until the last 100-200 years—was self-organized and self-ruled. Groups of people linked by land and kinship made collective decisions. Social power was spread out amongst groups within the group, different clans, orders, etc. There was no “king,” and “chiefs” did not have absolute rule or absolute authority. There was no such thing. This is the circle/cypher model. In a way, you could say that humans as a species are inherently “anarchistic.”

Nobody knows what happened that led us to agriculture and then to civilization. A lot of folks have a lot of theories, some of which are patently ridiculous and even insulting, but nobody actually knows. We probably never will. Depending on what story you believe, some 10,000 years ago, one of several possibilities took place. Perhaps the social structures and traditions which maintain diffuse power failed in some way, and individuals began accumulating power, leading to the pyramid era. Perhaps some kind of psychic alien invader colonized human consciousness with machine codes. Perhaps it was “natural evolution.”

There are things anarchists are for, and things they’re against. They’re generally for: social equity, environmental respect and sustainability, self-organization, self-rule, communal sharing of resources including land, diffusion of social power, freedom from coercion, and free association with other people and organizations. I summarize all those points with one word: autonomy. Freedom. Anarchists are generally against: governments, social inequities based on race, gender, etc., coercive power, land “ownership,” concentrated power, and the exploitation of land and living beings. Perfectly reasonable.

Anarchism is considered the far “left” of the political spectrum, which is ironic when you consider, once again, that the majority of modern human existence qualifies as anarchistic. However, in this country, there really is no organized “left.” What’s considered “left wing” in the U.S. is really just a minor chord variation on what’s considered “right wing.” Democrats & Republicans, liberals & conservatives, are all statists. They believe in “the state,” i.e. government and corporate power, industrial manufacturing, the rule of law, state violence (police, military, etc.), and they believe in the fundamental goodness of institutions that maintain economic, racial, and gender-based oppression. Anarchists are anti-statists. From the point of view of anarchism, “liberals & conservatives” are really just arguing over the details; they believe in the pyramid—some would like the edges softer, some want them harder.

Some backstory: I discovered anarchist philosophy in the early 2000’s, and began reading it with a gusto. It filled in a lot of blanks in my political understanding; I always sensed that the game was rigged, but anarchist philosophy helped to show me how it was rigged, and how there were so many assumptions built into my way of thinking and in the institutions around me that I had never noticed or questioned. Once I began questioning them, a lot of things fell into place. Unfortunately, this also came with the knowledge that things were way fucking worse than I thought. For awhile, I even identified myself as an anarchist, although I was never too serious about it; after all, I wasn’t participating in any organizing or political work. I never liked other humans enough to team up with them to do serious shit like that. I just hated Babylon and didn’t want to be a part of it, psychologically or emotionally. I wanted a way out of the matrix. Anarchist philosophy helped me find it, at least on a personal level; once I no longer accepted The Lie, I was free to define my life and my success on my own terms.

To paraphrase the black mystic and kabbalist A.A. Rashid, you can’t use the philosophy of the oppressor to achieve liberation. Anarchism, like Marxism, Socialism, Communism, Feminism, and Capitalism, are products (I use that word purposely) of western european industrial thought. Most of these “isms” are just arguing about who controls the factories; they never question whether or not we should have them. They’re also products of western european “scientific rationalism,” which is a materialist philosophy that regards the world as full of “resources” to be “used.” The earth is nothing but dead matter to the children of Descartes. To the mechanized, rationalist mind, religion and anything having to do with spirituality, ancestors, spirits, and the living earth are nothing but ignorant, primitive superstitions. Most of the prominent early anarchist philosophers were atheists. And most of them were just as racist and sexist as any other european “white” man. They believed in the fundamental superiority of european culture, they believed in “progress,” they believed in “industry,” they believed in the subjugation of “animals,” women, and the earth.

On those notes, I don’t fuxwit them.

I know the trees and the ancestors live because I can talk with them. I know the magic is real because I’ve seen it work. I know the earth is alive. These are not issues of “faith” or “belief” for me, they are experientially real, as they are for many other people I know who are connected to these forces. I don’t want to self-rule the factories; I want them gone. I don’t want power-over, I want relationships. I don’t want cold science, rationalism, and machines; I want flowers and clean water, bumblebees and old-growth trees, free children and honored prey. I pray to the circle, not the pyramid.

Back in 2011 I did an album, The Temple of DZA. It’s about destroying psychological attachment to oppressive institutions—turning the pyramid upside-down and entering the circle. “The Temple of DZA” is a cult-religion consisting of one person—me—based on a syncretic blending of indigenous religion, heretical islam and christianity, taoism, buddhism, five-percenter philosophy, and “spiritual anarchism.” “The Temple of DZA” is also my physical body; I am the temple of D(ivine) Z(knowledge-wisdom-understanding) A(god).

I have a song on the album called Supreme Anarch. Here are the lyrics:

(clip from Ghostbusters: “Are you a god?”)
(clip from Raekwon’s song Wu-Gambinos: “I call my brother Sun, cuz he shine like one”)

I am Supreme
I don’t believe in equality
I believe in expansion of me to you, you to me
“Anarch,” without rule
by dudes, schools, or rules
I simply refuse to obey

My authority come from an inner source
You see this freedom be mine by divine right
yours too, cuz you is me
come together work it out satisfactorily
We can and have been, we are
back again
And might be the la-la-la-la-last humans, so dance
embrace, laugh and cry
I was getting freaky is my alibi
when accused of confusion
and mixing up spirit and flesh
a tantra-rifical mess
Set the table, tell a fable
and pull ’em all in,
a civilized lie, just a blip in the line of my history
fist hittin the drum
I’m a god in the sun
No use in hollerin “run”

You can’t escape the desire to break out of the matrix
it come written in the D.N.A.
The ones who don’t fit in is the most resistant
wish ’em luck, and pray they don’t self-destruct
I seen ’em do it with gadgets and booze
I seen ’em do it with babies and abusive dudes
Seen ’em do it with sex and technology
They forget how to receive the call
not to mention the response, we forgot a lot
Then hip-hop came and evened the odds
Only a machine could create the projects
I reject this death-cult prisoner livin that has been given
instead I got indigenous religion–
resistance begin in the mind

Evolve alternative beyond dominance and submission:
a sub-zero mission,
cold as the vaccuum of meaning in major media
Cut ’em to pieces with the sword of D.Z.A.
Roll a bleezy up, fuck it I’m free
You see the badge?
You see the mask?
Got no room for police in my mind-steez
you can take your jackboot back to
the stygian pit

Along wit ya criminals,
pimps, hoes, bitches,
and other fantasy wishes of infected vision
I’m the cure and I’m sick
hip trippin I’m hop
flippin I’m not givin a shit about
any motherfucking matrix god
I comes from the Bay,
red pill’s what I pop, huh
Wake up,
pick up the slack, react
I crash fantastic
and my landing ain’t bad neither
I’m a true believer in being a free human
and some would say that I’m a fool
But I’m a fool with the keys to the gates beyond
and I’m inviting you to come and play along
I am Supreme

(clip from Ghostbusters: “Wait for the sign, then all prisoners will be released.”)

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White Men Writing

All of my favorite writers are white men. This is somewhat disturbing to me, but not enough that I’m ashamed to say it. After all, the literary tradition of the entire western world has been dominated—as have all other facets of the culture—by white men. There are questions of access: whose voices get to be heard? Who is seen? Who is taken seriously, under what terms? Who will be admitted to the publisher’s office, and what do they have to look/sound/be like to get there?

For a moment, let’s ignore all of the factors of oppression that can prevent one from ever becoming a writer to begin with—poverty of wealth and resources, work, disenfranchisement, trauma, etc. Instead, let’s take an archetypal, mythical writer—someone whose craft is masterful, whose analyses are brilliant and profound, whose observations are enlightening, whose characters come alive, whose stories have all the power of the human experience, all the emotions, triumphs, tragedies, joys, and humor. This is the writer who is capable of writing a body of work that will speak to my soul, and fill my mind with new ideas, new ways of looking at the world.

Now, if our writer is a woman, or black, or indigenous, or latino, the odds of them ever even having the opportunity to publish said work are slim. The default voice of this culture is “white man,” so first you have the problem of publishers and readers simply not being able to hear that voice; it doesn’t resonate with them; it’s alien; it brings thoughts they are uncomfortable with, presented in a way they don’t like or don’t understand.

Writing is active. It’s intended to affect the world, to enter the imagination, to touch the heart. Women are not supposed to act on the world; they are supposed to look good, keep house, get fucked, and make babies. Black people are not supposed to act on the world; they are supposed to labor as chattel slaves and prisoners, entertain whites, and through their existence provide a physical manifestation of the european id—be the savages, the criminals, the evil, the primitive, the body, the wild, the inferior, bottom of the social and genetic barrel. Indigenous people are not supposed to act on the world; they are supposed to disappear and die, leaving behind the romantic and magical energy of a conquered and forgotten people. Latinos are not supposed to act on the world; they’re supposed to labor, invisibly.

For nonwhite folks, literary genres are alien, they come from an alien culture. To write at all is to write in the voice of the oppressor. I would never advocate or sign up for some illusory purity of cultures; human cultures have always been syncretic, have always adopted new ways from interaction with other cultures—erotic blending of memes, stories, artifacts, imagination and expression. In cultures that are able to meet on more or less equal terms, there is pollination and exchange; when interaction comes through invasion and conquest, well that’s a different horse. In dealing specifically with western europeans, there is a unique psychopathy to their culture, a will to power-over and destroy that is unmatched—and un-aspired-to—by any other culture in the history of, well, ever. Everything these folks do is suspect.

The written word itself is a piece of sorcery that begins with pyramid/domination culture. It takes on authority that replaces the cultural role of song and storytelling. If it’s written, it must be true, it must have happened; writing is the voice of humans divorced and alienated from the rhythms and flow of the earth and the rest of her children. History begins with written record; everything before that is a muddy prequel, unknown, unconsidered, and inconsequential. Codified grammar and vocabulary, etched in the stone of words, means that language is no longer free to grow and shift and change, as a free river does. Instead, it is dam(n)med, the sides paved with concrete, a sewer not a creek. You would need explosives to change it. Explosives, or the power of another language, another culture, another way of being.

All of my favorite writers are white men, but all of my favorite poets are black. We just don’t call them poets. We call them rappers, banish them to the pulp world of gutter trash folk-art. But a poet by any other name…

All of my favorite storytellers are black or indigenous. Many of them are women. You’ll never see them in print. Their stories came in the smoke of a kitchen fire, or a blunt, and dispersed into the air. They live in my memories and in my spirit. No text can ever do them justice.

These white men who are my favorite prose writers, their works all share certain things in common that appeal to me. Their words make sense of the world I find myself in. I think it takes someone who comes from a culture to be able to fully grasp, analyze, and express the heart of that culture, in both praise and critique. The writers I’m thinking of are people who move on the fringes of this culture; they are rebels, deviants, traitors to the imperial cause, isolated, and unknown to the culture at large. They are from europe, or have lived abroad, or have been adopted by people in other cultures, touched by powers that are beyond the simple mechanical world of western imperialism. They are not the Demon White Man running a bank or pumping out murder mystery novels.

And yet, they’re still white men, which means I must thoroughly filter their words and ideas for poison and bullshit. It’s always there. A turn of phrase, a blindspot, a bold entitlement, a free walk over someone’s couch in muddy boots. Some of the fiction writers have a love for High Tech bordering on the erotic and perverse, which I find completely disgusting. The non-fiction writers can’t seem to escape a certain smarmy, smart-ass arrogance, like they were looking down at the masses from over their spectacles of rebellious genius, wondering when the apes were going to finally grow into real people. Deviance does not come prepackaged with humility. Then of course, there is their utilitarian exoticism of nonwhite people; we can always serve to demonstrate their points, to lead them into wisdom, to provide seasoning and color for their rebellious impulses. Yet, they have the voice, which means the story continues to be theirs. The narrative revolves around them and their experience.

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Enter: The Baytime Vader

You can say that something recorded is dead, and I would sit and listen to you expound for awhile. The heartbeat of music, of culture, as a celebration and witness of life in all its miraculous wonder, this is where life happens. No mausoleum of recorded music can ever take the place of a spontaneous cypher.

On MacArthur Boulevard last weekend at the Laurel Street festival, some musicians unpacked percussion instruments and began absently tapping out rhythms as I walked by. A child who was with them, maybe four years old, began dancing and making his own rhythm on shell shakers. I stopped to watch and listen and bear witness, to feel the beat live within me. I stood away from the group, so that everyone passing by was walking between the rays of my attention and the sound of the music. Soon, a couple of people stopped to join me in watching. Heads bobbed. Amplified by the energy of movement, the spirit grew. Soon, a young woman was dancing.

The players played and the dancer danced. People walked by. Most simply glanced, some gawked, some stopped to watch and move. The leader of the group of musicians pulled several more percussion instruments out of a box, and summoned us watchers into the circle, handing each of us an instrument, a magic wand. We join in the music. The spirit grew and grew until soon there were twenty or more of us in the circle, everyone with an instrument, everyone adding their own piece to the group’s Samba rhythm. People entered the circle and danced. There were children, there were elders, there were couples. There were battles and dramas, ebbs and flows, all played out through the spirit and the beat. Then, when spirit finished weaving its moment, the music came to an end, and everyone dispersed, enlivened. Alive.

It’s true–no piece of recording can ever equal the visceral power of this experience. It must be lived. In comparison to this, a recording of music is dead, just as the written word calcifies a story told by spoken words, tones, and gestures. Yet, the written word is symbolic, and has a life of its own. It has resonances that reach back through unseen history, possesses resonances that are no less powerful because they are unknown or subconscious. Like a hermetic dream emblem, the proper arrangement of words, even on a screen, even on paper, can induce a mystical state–the experience of emotion, meaning transmitted across time and space.

All the more so, then, with recorded speech. All the more so, then, with recorded musical, rhythmic speech. True, the tones and flows are solidified, but also true that they thus become symbols and possess a magic of their own. The energy that goes into the performance, the recording process–some of it, anyway. Enough. Once it is heard, by a dozen or a million people, that energy spreads out and lives in their imaginal space. It grows in power, and in meaning. It returns to its creator anew.

I have known this process in theory since 2004. I have been actively engaging this process since 2007. Through rap music, comics, and writing, I built a story–a legend, a myth, something old and new, something that belongs to its time and yet reaches beyond: The Concrete Shinobi. This myth has lived and already lives again–it has already given wisdom and entertainment and knowledge, it has already become a little girl’s favorite bedtime story. It will continue to grow, because it is meant to. The ninja sneaks in through the doors of perception, bringing god-knowledge, truth & beauty. I don’t know how far this masked man will travel, but I do know he’s always got tricks up his sleeve and cards stashed in pockets.

The Baytime Vader is something else.

Someone else.

The future of the future.

Depending on what story you believe, the Baytime Vader is:

A time-traveling shaman from an alternate future, where the pyramids were crushed and the machine gods lost the war.

A persona of The Concrete Shinobi, who is a persona of Malik Diamond.

An alien invader from the fifth dimension.

A weird rapper whose lyrics don’t make much sense but are funny.

A man in the midst of a psychotic break, delusional, believing in ridiculous things like trees and ancestors speaking to him, dreams delivering messages, transitions into alternate realities, visits to the spirit realm, truth and beauty and justice, magic and gods and superpowers.

All of the above.

Like The Concrete Shinobi, the Baytime Vader has taken on a life of his own. The more of the story gets told, the more people who hear the music, the more real everything becomes. In 2009 I wrote, recorded, and released the first album, Baytime Vader, and less than six months later I had left Los Angeles and was living in the Bay Area once again. I moved to Oakland in 2013, and in 2014 I released Return of the Baytime Vader; soon I was doing shows all over the Bay. Within a year I had built an entire network of friends and acquaintances in the independent hip hop world, thrown several legendary house parties, got a job at a hip hop themed non-profit, and was traveling to schools throughout the Bay Area to teach kids about hip hop–the circle and the pyramid, the elemental sorcery, the basic technique and essential joy of creating, dipping into the pool of wonder.

Last winter, in a creative act of furious desperation, I wrote an recorded an entire EP worth of songs in about a week. Unlike all my previous projects, I went into it with no theme or concept in mind, no structure, no real sense of what it was going to be. I just knew I needed to write, I needed to channel, and I needed to say whatever the fuck I wanted to without worrying about whether it was too mean, too weird, too whatever. I just sat down, played beats, and wrote. The project came to life, spontaneous ordering–it developed its own theme, its own structure. This was not Malik Diamond telling a story about the Baytime Vader, in that persona, as the previous two projects had been; this was the Baytime Vader telling his own story. In his own words. Alienation

It was harsh. Cold. Menacing. Rusted metal in his blood.

I realized that in coming here, the heyoka holy man from a wild, healthy world was reflecting the insanity of this sinister machine world–and in doing so, was beginning to turn evil. This album was not just a collection of songs; it was a distress signal. A transmission, sent beyond time and dimensional barriers through the seas of other people’s imaginations, intended to summon help from the ancestors, the gods, the spirits.

And it worked.

Transmission received. Prayers answered. It worked, and it continues to work.

Thank you.

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Intimate Relations

In my life, I’ve had issues arise between myself and close friends because of questionable sexual behavior. Clearly established moral and ethical boundaries were dishonored and violated. Relationships were strained and stained, some were cut off or put on indefinite pause. My feelings were hurt, I was angry, sad, disappointed. Feelings are feelings and they deserve respect, but they are not the sum total of life’s meaning; ultimately I realize that these people did me a favor by showing me who they are and what they’re capable of–I take the win and keep it moving.

I woke up this morning thinking about lovers, and what I’m currently looking for in a lover. This led me to reflecting on the types of experiences I’ve had in this realm, as well as the experiences I’ve heard about from friends, acquaintances, and strangers. I have some rough formulations that I came up with as a way of understanding these experiences, understanding different types of erotic and sexual relationships. One of the reasons I want to think and feel my way through this comes out of a need to define my values and experiences outside of “consensus reality,” which I find to be mostly wack.

There exists the standard “monogamous” model of relationships–two people in a romantic partnership who, in theory, do not have any outside lovers or romantic relationships. The standard narrative leads them to long-term coupling, perhaps marriage, perhaps children. Even long-term cohabitation is essentially the same thing as a marriage, only without the paperwork or the negative juju that many people associate with marriage due to their experiences and understanding of it.

The problems with these relationships have been well-noted by various storytellers and philosophers for thousands of years. To summarize the modern situation, these relationships are a mirror of the function of capital, which in turn is a mutation of agricultural economics dating back to the neolithic. Ownership and oppression,  envy, jealousy, the basic insanities of the nuclear family, etc. In reality, “infidelity” is common; people cheat on each other all the time. It’s considered standard behavior in many circles for a man to have a wife and a mistress, a girlfriend and a side chick.

Then there’s “dating,” which as far as I can tell is basically “try-outs” for long-term companionship. Many people simply date out of boredom or lack of alternative options, but I think most people who date are ultimately looking for someone to share their lives with. In ye olden days (pre-internet) they might meet potential partners through friends or family, or while participating in activities in which they share an interest. Perhaps they meet at a bar or a club or a show. There are organizations that set people up on dates, or perhaps host “singles mixers” for folks to meet potential partners. People meet each other in school, or maybe have a chance encounter on the bus or shopping for groceries. And since everything material in this society can be had for the right price, people even buy, sell, and trade “sexual services.”

Nowadays, technological alienation has led to a proliferation of “website dating services,” where people fill out standardized forms and are given a list of potential matches based on how well their form answers line up with each other. This technological alienation has reached its current apex with apps like Tinder, which have transformed the quest for romantic and/or sexual partners into the equivalent of online shopping–people as two-dimensional commodities, reduced to a picture and a soundbite, swipe left to reject.

In the last several years, among certain circles of consumer-class bohemians, there’s been a proliferation of the ideology of “polyamory.” People unsatisfied with the basic mundanity of monogamy have opted for relationships with various degrees of “openness” to having other lovers. Many of these folks hierarchically organize the status of their lovers around a main partner–primary, secondary, tertiary (does anyone other than me use that word?), etc. A friend who is a professional counselor told me once that there’s now a whole field of relationship counselors who specialize in “polyamorous” relationships. The most common problem they encounter is that these relationships tend to hinder people’s emotional growth; instead of making the difficult emotional journey of working out relationship problems, one or the other partner simply finds someone else to use as an emotional escape and outlet.

Personally, what I’ve seen most often is that people who are emotionally immature promote “polyamory” out of self-interest; they don’t want to be single and lonely, but they still want to be able to fuck whoever they want. Despite the protests and propaganda of folks who advocate this lifestyle, it is essentially just another commodity/consumer relationship; if I’m unhappy with the current product, I’ll use something different for awhile–I mostly eat at Jack-in-the-Box, but right now I’m in the mood for Burger King. I do not think it’s a coincidence that “polyamory” has gained popularity in the era of Late Capital(ism). Advocates of this lifestyle claim that it represents some kind of freedom; if so, that freedom has not, in any way, extended to society in general. The mental gymnastics of people looking for moral justification of their own self-interest are always fun to observe.

I’ve been in many intimate relationships that I like to refer to as “non-traditional,” mainly because I haven’t known what else to call them. I’ve only been in two long-term (a year or longer) monogamous relationships in my life. It’s been common in my adult life for me to have multiple concurrent lovers; I remember first reading about “polyamory” back in the early 2000’s, long before it became trendy. It sounded good on paper, but there was always something about it that struck me as suspect. I never claimed the label.

I’ve had two long-term “open” relationships. I’ve had sexual/romantic relationships that were on-and-off for years, but I never identified those partners as my “girlfriend,” did not claim monogamy, and had no illusions of long-term commitment. I’ve had relationships that were erotic and sexual but did not involve “intercourse.” When I was younger I did plenty of lying, but I haven’t “cheated” on anyone since I was 19; in all other cases, everybody knew the deal, and signed up with varying degrees of acceptance or reluctance. With some lovers our encounter was a one-time occasion, but in most cases I’ve been involved with someone for at least a few months.

Through all of these experiences, I’ve developed an ethics and morality of sexual/romantic relationships that is deeply personal. If I agree to be monogamous, I will be. If I don’t, I won’t, and I will be upfront about it. If a lover says they’re okay with being non-monogamous but their actions and attitudes say otherwise, I will break it off. I refuse to be the partner-in-cheating for someone who is supposed to be monogamous to another, (though I reserve the clown-pass right to make an exception if the woman is POC and the partner is a white man, hee hee, ho ho). I never sexually engage anyone with whom my close friends have a romantic history. As a general rule, I will not knowingly have sex with anyone who’s ever had sex with one of my friends, co-workers, or professional associates. I won’t keep a lover who lies–actively or by omission–about their sexual history or their relationship status. And, generally speaking, I don’t seek out lovers. I live my life, and if they show up, that’s great.

Thinking through all of this, I’ve come up with some rough categories or archetypes of lovers. In all of these, I assume a basic level of human respect between partners; I have no interest in the objectification and dehumanization of people for sexual purposes. Therefore, none of these categories involve predatory sex–seeking out people to fuck with zero regard for their feelings or humanity–or transactional sex–paying for access to someone’s body. So-called “sex workers” may take issue with my feelings on this, which is their right, but I will say it anyway: exchanging sex for money and/or resources is an affront to the spirit, and proof of the degradation inherent in (machine)(domination)(patriarchal)(capital[ism]) culture. Also, none of these categories are intended to be absolute; they can ebb and flow into one another, the moon and the tide.

The Companion Lover
The type of lover that most people are familiar with from being in “romantic relationships.” This is a person with whom you share aspects of your life–you spend time together, go on adventures, share meals, tell stories, merge your lives in some capacity, or even join forces unto death. The standard “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” fits into this category, as well as long-term lovers with “undefined” status. A spouse or life-partner is a long-term companion lover.

The Recreational Lover
This is a lover with minimal emotional attachments. Their only purpose is in sharing sexual fun. They may be a one-time lover or an ongoing affair with no degree of commitment. This is a hedonistic relationship by definition; once the fun stops, the relationship stops. (Please note that I am not condemning hedonism; it is what it is.)

The Therapeutic Lover
Sex and sexuality are fundamental to the human experience, and in a society of alienation, oppression, and objectification, folks can and do develop all kinds of pathologies. A therapeutic lover is someone who helps to heal those sicknesses through sex. This is someone who ultimately makes you a better, healthier, more whole human being… whether they intend to or not. Sometimes we need a release, but a recreational lover is not substantial enough–one needs more than just “fun.” If you’ve ever felt this, you may have been feeling the need for a therapeutic lover.

The Heart-Connection Lover
This is the spiritual ideal; the lover with whom one shares a deep, soul-level connection. This is all of the other lovers blended together in a sacred dance of intimacy. From what I’ve seen, few people ever experience this level of connection with someone. Even when they do, it’s not necessarily a guarantee of a blissful partnership. If anything, it can be more difficult than any other kind of relationship; it demands change, adaptation, emotional and spiritual growth, respect, and compassion on a level that our society ill prepares us for. This is what people are pointing towards when they use the phrase “soulmate,”–the two who become one, separated only to unite. The idea of, experience of, and hope for this lover have long inspired creative works of intense and enduring beauty.

I have experienced each of these archetypes, and blends of them. I know them by feel, know their benefits and drawbacks. Right now, I have no lovers; after dealing with plenty of heartbreak and trifling behavior, I have decided to be very cautious and intentional about who I share my time and energy with. That said, who knows what the future may hold?

I am an explorer.

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