Secret Mojo Dumbs It Down for You

November 2, 2006

Soot

Filed under: Fiction,writing — secretmojo @ 11:55 am

She lifts the candle. Gives it a sniff. And, holding it reverently between her fingers, sets it precisely one and a half palm widths from the table’s edge. Though unlit, she’s careful not to create a wind-wake with her movements. She slides her arm through the air, and lands her hand upon the book of matches.

She jacked those matches from Nightclub Sorentine.

The length of her fingernails lend a birdlike style to her movements. With four sticks and a thumb, she rubs the matchbook open. Her eyes at last adjust to the darkness; she sees every matchstick but one.

The missing she used to start her stove. Tomato soup can be delicious, but only if you believe in it.

Deftly, razor nails as wedging tools, she separates the third stick in the front row, dislodges it, and silkily turns the back of the matchbook towards herself.

And strikes.

A bloom of light brings the planes of her face into being. Irises contract. Eyebrows draw dancing sticks on her forehead. Her nose elongates as she guides fire to her candle.

Scented. By which Wal-Mart means: scentless to humans.

With a touch, the flame is passed. This is her favorite moment: the passing is not transfer, but infection. Give a toy, the receiver keeps it. Give advice, and you don’t abide by it yourself. Give yourself, and he owns you dead.

But give fire, and the room gets brighter. Watch the flame eat a wick or a match in crawling motion, fire pulling itself sideways by its own feed. Destruction at its backside, a reminder that the Universe doesn’t come cheap. A reminder that you, too, hazel eyes and cranky spirit and dead-end job and sex with the occasional orgasm, will pay for the privilege of lighting a candle one day. You too, she reminds herself, will be soot.

Which of you readers remember Wendy Hagden, of Unadilla, Georgia, USA? Do you recall the truck stop restaurant where she worked? Hands in knots, legs more swollen every day, and a smiley-smiley-smile that delighted everyone — including some customers, with furtive hands, a bit too much. What of her bat in the attic? Did she ever shoo it from her place? Of course, as you may already know, it wasn’t really her place, but rented from some slack bastard who believed his sole responsibility was to own the house and collect rent.

Do you remember Wendy?

Her child, Susan, despite all odds, became an actress. Studied in New York (and never told her mother how much sex and drugs she had in school). Did many commercials. Became near-famous with the amount of commercials she did. Ad agencies loved Susan’s gift for frigid allure. Which meant she could promote sleeping pills, undergarments, checking accounts, deodorant, and politicians with the same steely intellect that both gave credibility, and, as one producer put it, “makes you want to fuck her.”

Anyway. Soot. Both of them.

I say this not to bring up the specter of death in a gloomy voice. You’re the one who makes it gloomy. I can’t do anything about that, unless I decide to change the mind of the World — which I’m considering, but which can wait for a moment while I write. I bring up the subject because it distresses me what you choose to place in time capsules. Printed material. Fashion trends. War reports. DVDs. A lock of hair. As if Wendy were defined by her hair! [note: are they aware Strossian-Von Neumann DNA-extrapolation is pure crap?]

Don’t you know that you pay for all these things?

Why is it never you store the real moments? The instants you are capable of making true, like testing the microphone, choosing from the menu, catching a cold on vacation? These are moments truly worth fire’s wrath. They are the Ungh of life that, when the match is near consumed and Wendy puffs it dead to stop the heat at her fingers, leaves a legacy of the impossible.

Ask Saturn. Or Jupiter. Hell, even Mars (after the revolution). Ask SN 1604. What you accomplish, in the nothingness of your dullest days, are miracles.

And for that, you pay. Nothing’s free but Will, and, I can tell by your obsession with credit cards and furniture design, efficiency is of no concern to you. I shake my head at your idolatry of worthlessness [note: might they construe that as harsh?]. I, a billion times smarter than your Saganuk — or is it Newton in your time period? — have been dumbfounded by you. For that, at least, you can be proud.

Listen: in the fullstore — or rather, “the end” — whatever you choose to do, be you Wendy enduring the lecherous gaze of every strung-out trucker (lesbian or not) daily, or Tariq the wanna-be-rapper whom his mother just cold-cocked for eating fish with his hands, you will get the bill, and it’s the Law that you pay it.

I am a collector.

But don’t get your hopes up. I’m not your fictional “Grim Harvester.” There is no such thing. I cannot be negotiated with, because you establish your own death. Think “cholesterol” or “cigarettes.” Why do you now live to 150, while those before you had but decades of life? You educe your own final instant; I have nothing to do with it — nor can I influence your longevity.

I’m a simple collector, after the fact. Or rather, archivist. Yes. That’s the better word. A soot collector. I got into this business to witness miracles. But now, seeing which “miracles” you choose to emphasize and spend the zero-point reservoir upon, I must say that I’m tired, and want out. It’s a shame that I live under tyranny — the kind that allows me my opinion but not my will — and cannot change jobs.

Resufferant! Look at all that self pity I just wrote. I’ve been collecting for far too long.

Anyway. Allow me to “just say it.” With admiration of you and love of myself, in an act of Ghandish civil disobeyance (which the cabal will undoubtedly call “treason”) and knowing full well I risk Dispersment of my pattern all over Series 7, I hereby break the Greatest of Laws.

Let me tell you about Wendy, and what happened after she extinguished her match.

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August 18, 2006

Morality precedes religion? Salman Rushdie on Faith & Reason

Filed under: Atheism,books,Fiction,Literature,Politics,Reading,religion,television,writing — secretmojo @ 11:55 pm

Wooohooo! All the author interviews at Bill Moyers’ Faith & Reason are up. I’m saving Margaret Atwood, with her darling little “happy witch” pose, for my own personal finale.

For a week, I denied myself free speech hero Salman Rushdie’s interview (click on “watch the interview online”) because I wanted to savor the anticipation while I enjoyed the others. I finally broke down, though, and clicked the link.

Rushdie, as the President of the PEN American Center, helped initiate the Faith and Reason event; his interview is longer and addresses far more topics in the political, religious, philosophical, and imaginative realms than the others.

The man is brilliant.

But he’s so smooth about it, humble and precise, that the complexity of his mind goes unnoticed. He talked about everything. Far more than I could encapsulate in one post. The Danish cartoons, the transformative power of the artist’s imagination, 9/11 as a hinge moment, how cultures are becoming increasingly incomprehensible to one another, his new-found joy of ordinary life, and much more.

Most interesting was his idea that human morality precedes religion. Religion, he posits, grows from an attempt to codify the moral instinct already built into our DNA. He points out that all art began as sacred art, and from this, implies that art and religion go hand in hand, and that the need for religion may be like language: a natural inclination of the human species, which gets fouled up, revised, politicized, and abused over time.

He also complained that there’s not much secular lingo to describe transcendent experience, and implies that this may contribute to atheists gaining the stigma as men with no moral guidance.

I found the part about morality as antecedent to religion so fascinating, I had to pause the video and mull it over.

It’s hard to argue with Rushdie, but let me try: I agree that religion is the language of morality we’ve developed. It’s rough and simplistic, but one must learn to grunt first, then write in iambic pentameter. One only needs to inspect all the religions out there to realize that, despite what any believer might believe inside his own faith, all religions are at their base, secular. Or at least humanistic. Only the biases of the mind entice one religion to claim absolute arbitration of morality, truth, and behavior.

That is essentially what Rushdie says, but I add this tidbit: we need only recognize that religion is an adopted moral language and lifestyle to get over all our hang-ups about it. Einstein used the word “God” differently than anyone else; he recognized that it was an unfortunate part of the vernacular needed to describe unprovable, yet still worthy, concepts.

And this is where I think many atheists and believers alike fail. The former asserts that fantasy is not real, therefore precariously dangerous; while the latter contends that truth is divine, and must never be challenged.

But I say that religion is a chosen, not given, symbolic language of morality that, in response to uncertainty, fills the gaps where we aren’t bright enough to devise ways of acting ethically.

“Chosen” changes everything. Not only does it implicitly recognize the sheer power (and worth) of imagination, it puts the responsibility square upon the believer to answer for his behavior. He cannot claim “God said so” to win an argument because, in the end, it is he who bought into the belief for one reason or the other, so it is he who must justify it. Therefore, a believer’s ideas of restricting or oppressing other people can be criticized as ideas embraced firstly by him and only subsequently strengthened by his religion.

With religious diversity in mind, Rushdie also warned against moral relativism, faintly echoing Sam Harris’ contempt of religious moderates.

In a nutshell, moral relativism is “live and let live” applied to morality. “They believe in cannibalism, and hey, that’s their religious prerogative.” But Rushdie admits that there is a paucity of language to describe absolute morality within the secular world. We’re just not experienced at it. One must always bring God into it. “Atheists are obsessed with God,” he laughed.

I agree with him here. Relativism is a dangerously slippery slope of self-justified apathy, and I believe people are not philosophical enough nor bright enough to discover the bullshit and oppression hidden within the ideology of “don’t rock the boat.” There needs to be a new lingo to describe what is right and what is wrong without bringing religion into it; too many religions on earth, and certainly too many political abuses of them, make the current religiously tainted moral vernacular (“Infinite Justice”) unacceptable.

Rushie suggested that Democracy was one of the ways to manifest our innate moral sense. With Democracy we can, unlike archaic religions dependent on absolute verity, adjust and improve our morality as we go along — without destroying the idea of Democracy. Slavery might have been wonderful 150 years ago, but is appalling now. We argued about it, killed each other over it, changed it, yet still retain our democracy.

Religions change, too, of course. Rushdie mentioned this, but didn’t give it the time I expected. Christians don’t stone women for adultery today, for example, nor do they beat their wives with a stick no thicker than the thumb.

In my view, these subconscious revisions of religion’s authority are done on the sly, and dysfunctionally ignore their own divine text. Such “adjustments” are entirely subtextual, never become explicit law, as in a Democracy — in other words, there’s no chance to say “Whoops. Sorry.” and move to a higher level. Eventually, divine books will internally contradict, show their age, and yet are kept that way — believers would never countenance an edit by anyone other than God himself.

I’m convinced that today we are on a threshold here, where many minds, like Rushdie’s, have advanced to a state able to articulate and obey a moral code without adopting the entirety of a religious system.

But many minds haven’t. Most people recognize the golden rule as the best piece of moral advice ever given. But with all the evidence of others getting ahead through shrewdness, a person tends to reconsider the value of such an ideal. Some folk still need supernatural help to become less selfish; and I’m okay with that.

But: I say religion as authority figure will fade. Must fade. Because if it grows, it may kill us all.

Like political parties, where a person can both believe in conservation and remain a Republican, religions may adopt a welcoming flexibility. They’ll evolve more explicitly. They won’t lose social influence, just their absolute authority. That’s what my brochure says, anyways.

I doubt this could happen in my lifetime, of course. I need only look at Lebanon — or hell, most of the Middle East — to see how far we have yet to go.

The whole interview is worth a gander. Beats the hell out of American Idol, for sure.


I have two other posts on this series, if you’re interested: The Burden of Belief, and Bill Moyers Delivers again: “Faith & Reason”.

August 5, 2006

the loss of stars

Filed under: Fiction,Naked Crunch,writing — secretmojo @ 4:57 am

I stood in one place forever ago, mesmerized. I cranked my neck until vertebrae touched, and flipped a headswitch, sending feelers from my eyes. I touched the stars, or rather, they touched me. Milky band of galaxy sequins warned that I was too damn tiny to get a big head. The endless pinpoints conspired to intimidate my being with their never-touchable tease.

But through time, a thousand eras long, I felt the light arise from my right (a small cabin by the shore) and a glow encroach from my left (electric installation at a country feed store). A haze enclosed upon my stars in steps minute and mundane, until the backdrop to the brightest, a ribbon of lustrous everything, rescinded beyond the fog.

But I kept my neck in position, vertebra a vertebra, hoping, wishing, dreaming that the industrial breath that abducted my stars would take a break, get tired and sleep, and in its respite I might find mine: a billion of a billion on my megascreen above.

But damn its tenacity, its industrious foreverness: the haze stayed strong and grew in power. After millions of years of your neck like that, it starts to crimp a bit. I endured the pain that lashed from cowlick to coccyx through the twentieth century, but now, I am.

I am.

I’m tired.

So slowly (the pain is insurmountable) I bend my chin parallel to ground. The Supermall attacks in a bright white flash; I shut my eyes. I return to become the center of the world, with no more warnings from the light of dead worlds ancient. I become righteous and absolute, final and enraged. Unleash war on my brothers like we’re not a collection of ants on an ant on an ant of the universe. Join the petty fight for the death of another, as if the Pleidies could feel the recoil.

I can become big again.

Slowly, I open my eyes. Praise the haze, and walk forward for the kill.

July 19, 2006

My man Anton

Filed under: Fiction,Literature,writing — secretmojo @ 5:34 am

So here’s a classic by Master Anton.

Every time I read and re-read Chekhov, my ego gets an ugly look at itself. Here I am, compensating for a limited imagination with florid narrative, rhythm tricks, and far too much use of the em dash, while Anton has the smooth confidence to tell it like it is, plainly. So plainly, in fact, that I wonder each reading: where the heck is the writerly part of him?

He’s a lesson to everyone. Stock up on Anton, and find out why pasta tastes better nude. Find out why stretched rhetoric (grand, idealistic, and phrased in absolutes) is just mayo to hide the cardboard taste of the chips. Discover the kind of humility that does not mean “know thy place,” but rather “I am clever, but never, it seems, cleverer than the world.” Let Anton show you how that last time you banged the table and shook your fist in the air proved you an ass. Yet, he won’t call you an ass; through his example you’ll surmise it on your own.

And finally, rediscover what it’s like to enjoy a tale. Not a story, nor a plot, nor a thriller/horror/drama/treatise/”reality” showcase. Walk alongside a couple of interesting fools; we are all humans who may or may not have turned out like this, given a particular set of circumstances. And isn’t that silly, outrageous, insignificant, sad, and sacred?

July 18, 2006

May I play with your amygdala?

Filed under: Fiction,Naked Crunch — secretmojo @ 3:01 pm

No sunrise today. An overcast blanket deprives the grass of color. But the robins still arise, naïvely chirping in the trees; early birds appetent upon the day.

Out there, on your grass, lies dew. Her dayspring glister begs for contact of feet. There is no reason for it; life is the reason. Dew was meant to be felt by feet. This, your dew. These, your toes. Call it fate, impulse, or the temptation of primordial nature: urge becomes will becomes action, and you are out the door heedless, torso slave to legs.

With a spritz, cool wetness—earth alive—nestles between your toes; a friendly caress from the carpet of green turns your morning muscles blithe. A zephyr tickles your ear, and birds gather their babble in staccato-tat cacophony. Do they notice you, a wingless animal enjoying the grass? And what is this interest they have in you? Chirps become gurgles turn hunger into rapture.

The turbid worms beneath your feet find purchase in your toes. Your back reclines like feathers to sleep as wet sounds crawl your face; you have no voice, the birds swoop in, and your sunless dawn in spurning motion heaves itself away.

* * *

Awake! A child. Not yours, but everyone’s. Eyebrows not developed, a head too big for shoulders. Eyes preternaturally wide, and her lips, his lips, quiver from a terror: she and he with halting motion raises two hands to plea for help; but you’re busy with yourself, ego stroking ego, too slow to enter the now. Before you reach to touch his finger, or hold her hand to stop her weeping, he effervesces: confetti into the sky. She drifts as mist to cool the day and through her, for him, a rainbow brightens, shimmers, and melts towards the ground.

* * *

I saw my friend, distraught from love, sitting and slouched upon the floor. She was sixteen or so, as I was then, and stoically showed no tears. I doubt she knew I was in the room, because she produced her dad’s revolver and stuck the barrel in her eye. Between squeeze and blast, she flipped one eye open; she recognized my bent-up hopeless face, and seemed to wonder, in her slow-motion “whoopsie daisy” way, if I’d mind stopping the bullet so she could have more time to explain.

I’d rather she had cried.

* * *

My ears started ringing thee days ago. But onlyu when the world got qwuiet. Yesterday, the knormal sounds of of my day wer overshadowed by this piercing, horrendous noise; I should’ve seen a cdotor, but I was stubborn and afraid. I couldn’t sleep from the nausea and the high fucking pitch ascreaming in my head. until it finally gave up its torture upon me and dealt me silenc. Full silence.

and just this morning, my eyes began to fail; i could not find my way aruond and i coudnt call noone because i couldn’t heare in the phone. i guess i couldn’ve called 911, but it passed my attention at hte time. So now i write to taell anyone who gets this that i cannot see eithe, and i am having trouble typing or finding the phoneeeee; theresmi,bmess in my fingers, butt i am every much alive; is ihjusatq canm t feerl anhythiiiiiiiiiiinggggggg

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