It’s been raining all night and I’ve been
drumming in my attic studio. I keep the windows closed so I can
play as loud as I like, but it gets hot. So I've stripped down to my
shorts and finally, even that is too hot and I am broiling, I walk
out into the soft rain, cool air, and the wilderness of the back
yard. It's deep, dark and hidden from the neighbors. Who, by the
way, are motionless mesmerized by their flickering blue light box
or sleeping soundly isolated from me and my little animal friends
by the drone of the A/C.
I am becoming one with the
lawn, sprawled face down in the grass. Even in my own yard I fear
what the neighbors will think. Are they watching? Judging? Worrying?
The rain cools my back as I deeply breath in wet grass and dirt.
My heart opens to earth, the moon and the magical life after dark.
It’s a pure religious moment, as religious as I know and the
smells transport me back to my childhood; rolling down hills for
hours till grass and mud and Quentin become entwined as one inexorable
smelly thing. Back to when my senses were still open; unselfconscious.
I wondered thoughtfully, “Why has it been so long since I
have experienced this simple wholesome pleasure?
Suddenly the neighbors flood
light turns on and lights up both of our yards. Gone is that earthloving
man allowing the rhythms of nature to pour through his very being.
In his place is exposed a crazed half naked freak passed-out face
down in the mud, dead. “No officer, he’s not moving!”
I’m trapped in the headlights. What do I do, Act casual? Sure,
just relax, continue to sniff the lawn you degenerate wacko. Each
second the light shines is drawn out into an elaborate exquisite
motionless horror of its own. Are they staring now? And Now? How
about now? Are they dialing the police? My landlord? What will I
say when they step out with their flashlight and say entreatingly,
accusingly, “Hey you!” “Oh, hi there Wanda. Say,
I was just, er, I was, ha ha, ah its a little hard to explain…”
My mind makes a valiant attempt
to intercept these thoughts. “I’ve done nothing wrong,
I’m in my own yard, I’m decent, even if it doesn’t
look like it. There is no reason I shouldn’t be allowed to
do this particular strange action. But it is short work for my paranoia.
Me motionless, face down, half naked. Them, who knows, perhaps cowering
in their pajamas on the back porch waiting for IT to move, for something
to happen. In the cold blue light minutes tick by slowly. I’m
naked in the headlights, but oddly this isn’t my first time
First some background. Way
back in my youth my house was surrounded by hilly farmland, feral
patches of woods, briars and a highway. It was my own personal endless
kingdom to wander, poke, prod and dream in. Then they built a McDonalds.
Although I couldn’t see the building itself from my house,
they did put up a tall lit sign along the highway which I could
see from my bedroom. I could only see the side so instead of golden
arches (come on “Yellow arches”) all I saw was one yellow
prong thrusting its big corporate, "Eff-U", into my view.
Something had to be done, but all I could do was simmer.
Until I found the wrench.
It wasn’t a huge wrench but it was big and the biggest I
had. And from the wrench came the plan. First I scouted the terrain,
tested the escape route, and then waited. At 3 Am I put on my inconspicuous
dark clothing and hooded sweatshirt, maybe a bit much for a July
night. I slinked, or maybe slunked past the highway lights, climbed
the fence into the dark parking lot and started to work on the huge
nuts holding the tall sign to its concrete base.
In retrospect, I guess it
was good that I failed so miserably. Even if I had gotten the bolts
off (yeah right) the best case scenario is that the sign came crashing
down hurling sparks and wires and smashing plastic and me running
like hell with a giant wrench in hand.
The worst case was that I
got the bolts off but inertia held the sign in place. Balanced for
days, like a giant glowing one ton flyswatter, 35 feet tall hovering
over the parking lot waiting for a good stiff wind and an unwary
carload of orphan babies.
Instead I spent 20 minutes
lying on the ground trying to get some leverage on the bolts and
learning that sign bolts are put on by very intense hydraulic machines,
gargantuan and powerful beyond my little wrenches best wet dream.
And no matter how I scrabbled around and sprawled on the ground
I couldn’t budge them.
It was in this unwieldy position,
face down prone, that I found myself when 3 cars pulled into the
parking lot and parked facing my completely exposed position. If
I had acted instantly I could have been over the fence before they
knew it, But I didn’t. 3 Pairs of headlights lit up the neatly
mown lawn in which I was lying. From the edge of the lot to the
chain link fence 15 ft behind me, it was suddenly daylight.
I’m a big fan of nature.
I try to emulate what I see as best I can. Usually if you shine
a light on a wild animal it will instinctively freeze and if the
animal is lucky you won’t even notice them and you’ll
move along. This was my first strategy; Freeze face down, on the
lawn, 3Am at the McDonalds. Those first few seconds are critical.
If they didn’t notice me they’d turn off their lights
and begin partying as if I didn’t exist. But they didn’t
turn off their lights they just sat there quietly watching me in
one of my first big improvisational performances ( some say my best)
After about 5 awkward minutes of lying face down motionless in full
view I became convinced that I hadn’t fooled them, So I switched
suddenly to my second brilliant strategy which went something like
this. “Don’t mind me, I’m just sleeping out, nothing
to see here folks.” I adopted a more casual pose, try to imagine
such a thing, a casual pose at 3Am in a darkened fast food parking
lot, 3 car headlights trained on a lone hooded figure lying face
down in short grass with a wrench. I pretended to be admiring the
stars, in an unlikely face down kind of way. I nonchalantly slid
my hands under my chin and rolled my eyes back so I was looking
straight up, at the stars, you know. “My aren’t they
pretty? So y’all come here often?” I’ve blacked
out exactly how long this odd standoff lasted But if you press me
I’ll say 30 minutes . They never said a word They didn’t
get out of their cars. They finally drove away unceremoniously.
I still wonder what story they tell?.
Our conception of reality is an esthetic choice. The
difference between our world of atoms and evolution and the dream
time cosmology of the Australian aborigines is not a matter of truth
or falsehood, realism or illusion, intelligence or stupidity. Each
system produces results unobtainable to the other, each is closed
Reality is a limited structure
that exists because we consensually agree to sacrifice all the possibilities
that do not fit with our current conception of reality. Reality
is an esthetic which requires strict allegiance in order for entry.
Not adhering to the absolute consensus on the nature of reality
will banish the individual to a solitary existence, a punishment
too painful and terrifying for most people to consciously or voluntarily
choose. Personal atypical experience which does not adhere to our
socially adjusted reality simply will not be accepted. Keep your
stories of levitation and alien abduction to yourself. Those things
that don't fit with our current understanding of reality will have
to be disregarded; left unrealized.
But reality does change.
Or more exactly, the prism, in our minds, through which we see reality
is exchanged and we see what appears to be a newer reality. We seek
an answer with an unambiguous mind and we find an answer to fit
our question. We focus passionately to fill an empty space and,
Eureka!, we find the puzzle piece that fits the open space, a space
whose jagged outline was created by our search. We feel that reality
is waiting to be discovered and we discover it. But there is no
reality out there in the unknown waiting to be discovered. We open
a space by asking a passionate question like "how can we end
this war with the Nazis?" and then we expand upon reality by
creating an answer, "the atomic bomb" that fills the space
created by the question.
Reality is not something
we discover, it is something we create. This creation is not a free
for all. In order for the atomic bomb to become real, to be real-ized,
people have to passionately believe in the possibility, and even
then this new possibility has to have correspondences with our present
conception of reality. This bridging, built with hard work, consensus
building, theorizing, research, and testing, draws the new reality
into existence. That money and status and credentials of the priesthood
of science were behind this massive reorganization of reality ,attest
to the difficulty we have altering reality, but alter it we do.
Atomic theory becomes accepted into ordinary reality and the bubble
snaps shut, ironclad and irrefutable until the next passionate opening
question is asked.
Reality is an esthetic choice,
a consensual agreement on the appearance of reality we find most
appealing. This choice is alterable and in fact is constantly being
shifted by us , the creators. The apparent seamless stability of
reality is a requirement of our hominid brains, a restraint that
allows us to organize the chaos of the universe into a cohesive,
if limited, sphere of reality. A clearing in the woods. Something
which seems secure, stable and unchanging so that we can deal with
change at a human pace, confront chaos without being overwhelmed.
You my friends have created, are creating, and will continue to
create all that you experience and know.
I pray we continue to choose
the most beautiful reality we can.
Someone once told me they
didn't like tomatoes. So I looked at what they were eating and I
said, "Well of course you don't like tomatoes, cuz'…that's
not a tomato!" When I was a kid we grew these things we called,
“Tomatoes” They had a vague resemblance to those things
we call tomatoes today except that they tasted delicious. In fact
some people claim that today’s tomatoes are somehow connected
to the tomatoes of my youth. But who do they think they're kidding?
My childhood tomatoes were soft and easily damaged, they had an
inconsistent and irregular shape that was marred on the surface
by ugly black and green cracks and splits and bulges of irregularity.
Inside they were a soft gushy watery mass of seeds and juices and
translucent membranes. It was a sexual experience, lying in a field
on a summer day eating tomatoes off the vine, the insides dripping
down my shirt. These things they call tomatoes today are something
else; replicant plasti-fruit. strange vegetable children's toys,
indestructible and bland
First of all they are not
soft, practically by definition a tomato is soft. Secondly, although
they taste vaguely like a tomato their is no burst of delicious
juices. These pale and sturdy baseballs ooze a pathetic dribble
of tasteless seeds. What's the fun in that? A tomato was an ugly
and awkward red blob, barely containing an explosion of juice and
seeds. These modern tomatoes have been engineered to be consistent,
sterile tasteless pink cellulose with no cracks or bruises. Face
it, these things can fall off the counter and survive.
The river, fed by a glacier melting off the side of
the volcano was a rich chocolate colored slurry of gray volcanic
ash and finely ground brownish basalt lava.
I climbed down into the current
channel to admire the fractal forms where the slow moving silt was
deposited and eroded. I knelt in the damp sand at the rivers edge.
It was a tiny southwest diorama, mini buttes, washes, tiny canyons
with pebble boulders, rivulets cutting inch wide grand canyons;
A table size model of the landscape I had been driving through all
In the river, 85lb boulders,
big enough to break my leg, tumbled down a rich sandy slurry, a
large scale rock polisher. They passed me like trotting dogs making
a pleasant clunk-clunking sound as they collided underwater and
dropped off of ledges.
And then suddenly as I am
writing the last sentence the sound of the rock tumbler changes.
It was as if someone upstream had noticed that the tumbler was only
on “low” and flicked the switch to ”high”.
Upstream from where I stood the channel was now full but the meandering
curves hid this from view.
I could hear what sounded
like, "Like a very large herbivore chewing its way, very quickly,
towards me through the boulder strewn gravel bars."
And now I could feel it in
the ground, a shaking and pounding as if a freight train was just
around the corner. The trotting dog boulders were suddenly joined
by a faster herd of elk boulders and the chocolate slurry had become
more like a runny chocolate cement full of rock.
A beautiful Willy Wonka liquid
chocolate stone sidewalk, roiling and splashing and spitting out
I take this as my cue to
run like hell. It wasn’t far to run but as the stream doubled
in size it was unclear where exactly the riverbank was going to
be in 10 seconds. I leapt up the steep sandy bank as the flood arrived
raising clouds of dust as undermined banks of dry ash slide into
the onrushing chocolate surprise. The savage little meandering curves
straightening out as chocolate filled the channel.
The front of the flood came
splashing menacing over dry boulders then breaking them free, pounding,
flipping & rolling downstream, the whole flood growing before
my eyes. The roar of water punctuated by deep reverberating thuds
as car squishing boulders pounded over each other.
I’m swept away by the
intensity of leaping out of the way of a flash flood. Awestruck
as I stand 2 ft from the crumbling edge. It was crazy and scary
how fast it came and how violent it sounds as boulders hurtle past.
Headed into the Wild
headed out into the wilderness looking for the essential qualities
that make a place wild. Looking for some way that I could condense
that experience and transport it back to Philadelphia. I traveled
to places you could only reach on foot, Mountain tops, deserts,
and a rain forest. And there, in the rain forest, on the pacific
ocean, alone in a tidal marsh, I was confronted by the inescapable
truth. Wilderness is not condensable, wilderness is not portable.
This wild uncultivated land mutates slowly over eons. Dynamically
balancing each change. The tiniest detail fixed in place and time
by erosion, competition, weather, plate tectonics, and tidal rhythms.
It is a whole cloth which no scrap of fabric will reveal. Pictures
and recordings are just a simulation; a simulation whose subtle
dishonesty is exactly the sort of thing that keeps the human-made
world separate from the wild one. Looks like wilderness, sounds
like wilderness, but it lacks the 360 degree surround sound and
smells. The unhurried, untamed muddy tangled, "I'm just a part
of the food chain here" kind of feel
The River: Part 2
then, almost as quickly, it seemed to pass. The noise got quieter.
The larger boulders rolled to a stop and now more and more of the
smaller rocks settled back down. And just like that it was back
to its former chocolatey rock tumbley self. (pause) Well I was so
excited I started writing furiously. Click, click, click The chunky
little boulders tumbling in the rich chocolate sauce became a clatter
of rolling bowling balls piling up at the ball return station, making
a dull thunk that you feel as much as hear. The automatic ball return
delivering up more and more bowling ball size rocks. I continued
to write, oblivious of the river. “Now what did that sound
like?” (Make sound with voice and rocks) “Like a large
herbivore chewing its way towards me.” (rock sound) “Ah,
chewing its way , very quickly, towards me.” (pause) I looked
up from my writing to notice that the river had become a Willy Wonka
chocolate sidewalk again. “holy shit!” Upstream the
roar came again, this time punctuated with ground shaking thuds.
3 giant boulders lead the charge this time clumsily clunking through
the roaring cascade of cobbles scraping and grinding but moving
quite sprightly for 5-600lb monsters. Rolling or flipping or just
plowing everything out of their way. Again I’m thrilled and
awed, but now whooping and throwing down my hat as massive five
foot chunks of the opposite bank are undercut and calve off like
polar ice sheets swooshing into the torrent spewing out boulders
which splash me with mud. On the other side of the collapsing wall
is an old oxbow pond. An oxbow is a water filled channel cut off
and damned up when the river changed course. Now the stored power
of the pond is unleashed as it tears through the remaining wall.
Huge banks collapsing, roaring, crashing, calm and then another
flood and another and from the looks of this place, this is a calm
There is some force pressing against the tangible
universe, the reality in which we live. We'll call it the life force.
Oozing into every nook and cranny, expressed as mold or microorganisms,
trout and polar bears currently, but unlimited in its variety over
time. A timeless force that presses against the hard part of this
universe, infinitely flexible, resilient and diverse. Unperturbed
by cataclysmic destruction over millions of years and completely
unfazed by our own piddling attempts to suppress it. Every 16 lane
concrete expressway is an inconsequential blip in this billion year
parade of life. Our impenetrable facades of brick and plastic are
crumbling before our eyes. Wildness is pressing up and out, bursting
forth in every stitch of unattended anything. A force which ceaselessly
brings life into beingness. Including ourselves, but not fundamentally
preoccupied with Homo sapiens as some penultimate masters of creation.
The life force is blind, bending over ever living thing, large or
small and whispering in its ear, …"Grow, Grow."
The Cement Truck
I'm at the cement truck, well, that's what I call
It's a 50ft twin waterfall of chocolate cement.
The sound is alarming!
Large and small boulders of basalt
in a slurry of volcanic ash the consistency of runny cement.
85lb rocks falling 50ft grinding and scraping in mid-flight.
A growling muffled by watery cement,\
and the concusive thud-thuds of the really big boys bottoming out
with shock waves you can feel through the ground.
I'm at the cement truck because you couldn't build a thing
that could do what this waterfall does all day long.
It took hours to scabble up the loose volcanic ash,
I'm out of water
and I nearly went over the falls myself
but I had to do it,
because the only way to truly experience the cement truck is to
Bringing it Home
I wanted to bring all this to Philadelphia, the sudden
overwhelming flash floods of chocolate slurry, the crisp mountain
air, the grinding sound of boulders pounding each other into sand,
Or, by god, the sound of the 50ft waterfall of chocolate cement
spitting out grapefruit size rocks like a machine gun (sound of
machine gun), in the glaring sun, hot and thirsty, running down
the mountain like a 10 year old tipping monstrous boulders and watching
them ripping down the mountain, catapulting 20-30ft in the air and
exploding in the river. I wanted to bring the silence of the desert,
a silence so profound that my heart pounding was the noisiest thing
for 20 miles.
I wanted to surround you
and infuse you with the ambiance of a 1000yr old spruce forest tangled,
impenetrable, muddy, mossy, hushed fern paradise. The pure clear
water trickling a narrow groove in the rock face over a million
But you can’t see those
things here because wilderness is not portable. They exist in real
space and real time and cannot be moved. The only way to know those
things is to visit them. So here we are in this place which was
once a wilderness of pure clear rivers and ancient forests itself.
It is easy to believe that we have controlled or conquered this
wilderness. We certainly have done our best to cut, burn, pave and
pollute it, but every weedy lot is the advanced guard of an unstoppable
force. Every concrete slab will sprout a forest of 1000yr old trees,
every building will crumble and rust and disappear into a mossy
tangle, of impenetrable fern paradise. The wilderness we thought
we had destroyed is actively reclaiming this space, cracking the
roads, rusting the facades, undermining our best attempt to dominate
We are all here on Earth to fulfill some special function
in the Universe. We have all been carefully designed to be really
good at something. Some of us are especially designed to be good
at flying spaceships to the moon or negotiating peace treaties.
And some of us are designed to be good at sorting old buttons or
spotting the elusive Yellow Breasted thrush. As Humans we would
like our special purpose to be “Important”. To be World
changing, to be full of fame, glory and sex.
But the Universe could care
less about our egotism and our homosapian hard-on fantasies. There
is no hierarchy of jobs or special purposes. Everything is equally
important and at the same time equally insignificant. If there were
a hierarchy, Photosynthesis would be more important than TV Actor
or Actor turned Politician. Decomposition would be ranked higher
than Office of Homeland Insecurity. And Evaporation would tower
No, we were designed with
particular qualities that naturally make us super-qualified to do,
at least, one thing very well. It could be obscure or obvious. It
may take a lifetime to discover or it could be something you’ve
done since birth You might call it a hobby or a career but you’d
do it whether there was money in it or not. It might be an all consuming
passion or only used once in a lifetime. The Universe is far too
complex for you to see how your special purpose fits into the big
picture. And it really isn’t important that you know this
Your Purpose is probably
redundant. The Universe likes things that are redundant. Just in
case one of you dies or decides to not fulfill your purpose . Decides
to take some ecstasy at the crucial moment. Or decides that reading
your email is more important than expressing your unique gift. Then
the job you were designed for, The Cog that you are in the Universal
Machinery, will still be expressed.
I was designed to make interesting
hats. I could flail at the universe with righteous indignation that
making interesting hats is not Good enough, not enough to build
a life around, not sufficiently involved to occupy my overstuffed
brain. Or I could accept my fate, step into the shoes set before
me, the shoes of an interesting hat maker and live out my purpose
regardless of my judgements. It’s my choice, it’s my
mission. I can accept or decline.
But in the end, when everything
else has been taken away from me by time and age and the Republicans.
When my infatuation with self importance and ego fades, and every
drudgery thing I do has been revealed as an elaborate con to make
me someone else’s wage slave. When I finally kick my addiction
to cable TV watching and video game obsessing. When all my religious
indoctrination drains out in a moment of profound realization next
to the body of my dead friend. When every other distraction is removed
and I am an empty husk of protoplasm
I’ll still be making
interesting hats. Because that is the special purpose that I am.
My art is about instinct.
Whatever disciplinary boundaries I cross are irrelevant
I know what I like and I go there trusting that
what fascinates me is, in fact, fascinating.