Thursday, August 31, 2006


We do it this way!

So I'm taking my usual late night therapeutic walk a few days ago, and the streets are pretty empty as usual, when I see this lumpy old goth guy dressed all in black coming my way down Santa Monica Boulevard. I'm walking near the street, under the trees, and he's in the middle of the sidewalk, which means we're to each other's left. I continue my route, and I can see the guy getting nervous. He starts sort of twitching, and shaking his bottle-dyed Stevie Nicks locks, then he suddenly veers over to me, blocks my path for a moment, and says, "In America, we pass each other on the right, Man!" Then he goes on his way in a huff. "WOW!" is all I can say as I continue on my own way, "Everyone's a fuckin' narc these days."

A lot of people talk about how the U.S. is moving dangerously close to becoming a police state, but I think that if there are evil puppetmasters secretly designing society and its citizens to their own greedy ends that they've already engineered us into a much subtler system than that--there's a growing fear in the flabby, feeble-minded masses of people who do things "differently," which is not a problem in itself, but there is a corresponding easier readiness to lash out because of these fears due to our government's oh-so mature and even-handed proclamations and policies about foreign powers and protesters. I swear to God, people, sometimes I feel like I'm on a big ol' poorly supervised playground that's full of nothing but bullies and tattle-tales, and I can't wait to get my education over with and get out into the real world, if there is one anymore.



Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!

Rocky rallies to rock the country out of its stupor
Today, the mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah, Rocky Anderson, gave a speech that perfectly crystallized the lies and crimes of the Bush administration and the true yearning of the people for truth, peace, and accountability. Has anyone suggested that this guy run for president? He seems ready to really kick some flabby ol' neo-con ass. Watch the speech here or read it here- it's about 15-20 minutes long, and chock full of a lot of things a lot of people have been wanting to say for a long time. And then there are little nazis in the making like this twit, who must have their say as well, I guess (yawn). Let the sheeple be sheered, I say, since that seems to be their imperative. Those of us who are still thinking, breathing, dreaming people will prevail.

Friday, August 25, 2006


The walking cure

I've been feeling so misanthropic, curmudgeonly, and paralyzed by my hopelessness regarding the human drama and my still undefined place in it that all I've been doing is wandering around the house or lying on my bed in a half-conscious stupor. Two nights ago, my body had finally had enough, apparently, because it had me up and walking out the door before my manic mind or dormant spirit could catch up with it. That night, I walked for three hours, aimlessly, making turns without thinking, zigzagging through the backstreets of Hollywood while the good people of the world dreamt of sugar plums, or whatever it is the good people of the world generally dream about.

Walking in LA at night is a very old technique of mine, developed in college and mastered in my twenties, wherein I was able to glean all sorts of things about my chosen city of residence that I would never have learned at any other time but during those few wee hours of the dark, early morning. But I'm no longer looking for oddball late-night adventures or glimpses of paradise through dark shadows. My current walking spree is taking on a firmly inward character, so much so that I barely notice the other people around me as I wander--not that there are that many pedestrians about at two in the morning. What few fellow walkers do appear are all either crazy or drunk, and probably assume that I am, as well. Ignoring others unless they insist is common practice when late-night power-walking. Just in case you decide to take it up....

It sounds funny to call what I'm doing power-walking, but that must be exactly what it looks like to people. I'm not doing it to keep in shape--though it never hurts--but to lose myself in the rhythm of my steps while the bounce and motion gently jackhammer the sedimentary gunk that has so slowed down my soul as of late. I'm walking because it's the only way I can tolerate at the moment to reconnect to my own power. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. It's a different kind of power-walking, I guess.

That first walk, I strode off layer after layer of latent rage, and since those layers seem to settle back upon me fairly soon after each cleansing, I find myself doing the same during every walk. Last night, I walked Venice Beach to the Santa Monica Pier and back so fast that I could've kept up with rollerbladers if there had been any. There were quite a few people on the beach at midnight, to my surprise; dark little human forms crouched or standing here and there, some alone and some in pairs; I'd notice them as I approached, but pass by so quickly that I didn't even have time to develop any interest about them. It felt quite good to be so detached from anything but the beat of my feet in the surf and the sound of the waves as they broke. I was hoping for lots of stars, but that part of the coast is so bright that you might as well be in downtown Hollywood. You gotta go up past Malibu to see any stars, or at least as far as Topanga, which I may do one of these coming nights.

Today, I literally stormed out of bed, into my sneakers, and onto the streets before I could rub the sleep from my eyes. By the time my mind was fully aware of what I was doing, I was down on 6th St. and La Brea--a good 2 or 3 miles from where I live. I momentarily dreaded the walk back, but once my feet headed me homeward, the dread fell away and my pace kept my spirit and mind at peace. I hate to even say what my mind and spirit are like when they're not at peace, but let me just remark here that I certainly do empathize with all sorts of terrorists during those less than peaceful times. In fact, I feel like I'm right on the edge of either hurting myself or others, and luckily, my body has found this incredibly simple way to keep me from acting on these almost-impulses. I DO scream or, shall we say, "emote vocally" sometimes while I'm walking, which, I'm sure, does nothing for my image as a sane person.

Besides, I think that absolutely everyone in the world is completely insane no matter how sane they appear to be. There's no other explanation for the mass insanity that passes for pleasure, politics, and progress. I'm realistic enough at this point to know that there's no one out there who's going to beam me up out of this mess, and I lost the ability to fly many, many lifetimes ago. But as long as I have feet that can take me from one place to another, I still believe that I can get there (Where? Ah, that's an entirely other question) my own pace.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Your dreams are your ticket out

The Naked Animal has been off wandering in his native habitat quite a bit lately, that being the forest and the mountains and the rivers, these particular ones in far northern California. In fact, I almost got my foot in the door on some land up in Mendocino County in exchange for refurbishing a century-old ranch-house, but the whole thing fell apart when my would-be contractees started changing their minds about things I thought we’d already agreed upon. Suddenly, I saw a long chain of contortions and manipulations I would have to perform in order to do the project, which would only continue to complicate my life, when my intention is the exact opposite.

I’m a natural purger and I’ve always tended toward simplicity in practice and design, so it’s no surprise to me to find myself at forty with nothing but one room of dear and useful furniture, a suitcase of clothes, and a few treasured knick-knacks to my name. Then there’s the car that’s worth less than I still owe on it, and my cat–a definite drawback when you want to do what I want to do, but I’m utterly unwilling to part with him. We saved each other’s lives, and I know that one day we’re going to be able to communicate with each other through interspecies telepathy. Perhaps I’ll become the next Dr. Doolittle....

But that’s not my immediate goal. What is it that I really want to do? Well, that question has been nagging at me for the past–oh, I’d say about three decades. So, when I recently quit my job and went back on disability due to a rare, chronic leg infection that makes my shins, calves and ankles swollen, red and very painful in sporadic cycles (it’s called Helicobacter Cinaedi–doesn’t that sound like some swanky Nero-era Roman matron?), I started thinking about it a lot. I dove into many deep, dark places in a last ditch effort to hide from what I really wanted, and then went down even further to escape the fact that it wasn’t about want at all, but about a true, deep, dire, burning need. And that need, for me–my purpose, if you will–is to heal.

I don’t even know what that means or what it looks like from where I’m sitting, because I’m sitting in a place where I’m going to have to expend all of my energy healing my highly toxic and diseased self before I can explore what my urge to heal means beyond my own field. I have a power in me that I’ve kept stifled for so long that I thought I had finally snuffed it for good, but it’s still there, burning meagerly but unwilling to go out, and it’s going to burn right through me if I don’t use it to ignite some change in myself, and in the world.

Now, where do I start? Hmmm, let me see... Well, I mentioned my cat being a drawback earlier, and that has to do with what I want to do on a logistical, physical level rather than a spiritual one. But since they’re all intertwined, let me introduce you to my second most burning need; one that is intimately connected to my first: to live completely off-grid; in fact, to grow a completely new kind of civilization that operates not against, but completely outside the current paradigm, in which I’ve always felt like a trapped animal or disoriented alien.

But back to the cat. I mention him because many already operating off-grid communities do welcome new members but are opposed to pet ownership. In fact, I recently stumbled across what would have been a perfect gig for me on craigslist: a one-year, live-in contract editing three books of a spiritual nature for an author who had also established a small, off-grid, intentional community in the Wisconsin (I believe) wilderness. I didn’t even apply because the description of the community included “pet-free.” I am of the opinion that humans have a contract with the animals they have gone into partnership with over the past several millennia, and believe that we are all going to need each other’s help as we forge ahead with our collective evolution. So the cat stays with me.

That’s my personal drawback: I always have to do things my own way. Some call it an asset, but if so, the pay-off has yet to come. My complete inability to compromise my ideals in this matter is the reason I’m not already living in an off-grid, intentional community. There are dozens around the country, and hundreds around the world, and I’ve personally visited several, but I am simply very bad at joining any already-formed group. Or perhaps I just haven’t found the right group to join. But I suspect that I really just need to start my own. Yup, I’m the type who likes to re-invent the wheel.

Actually, my problem with most already-formed off-grid (or near off-grid) communities is that they are all tainted by the dogma of their founders and/or current core groups. When I say “dogma,” I refer to either a proscribed spiritual belief system or religiously practiced psycho-spiritual therapy technique–there are many, many “alternative” paths out there, most of which are certainly harmless and even beneficial to copacetically attuned souls, but I’ve never followed one that I didn’t later find was in fact presided over by the twin powers of dogma and ego, just like every other group-oriented concern on the planet. (Sounds like a law firm, right? “Good morning, Dogma and Ego, how may I direct your call?”)

I really don’t want anyone’s psychic detritus trailing along behind me into a new paradigm–especially my own. I feel the need to shed all beliefs and attachments, even those that currently lie beyond the mainstream. (Okay, except for my cat!) What I want is to go all the way back to the basics in order to rewire my being and its connection to reality from the ground up. In this I see the seeds of a new kind of spirituality that cannot be fully grasped in my current state. Some groups, to be fair, are already finding this in their own ways. I’ve just got to make room on this planet for my own way, whatever it may be, which is what everyone in this planet is trying to do in some way, I suppose.

Meanwhile, I strive to forge a clearer vision of that path, while acknowledging that I am, in fact, already on it. The next fork in the road leads to the release of addictions and improved health, and then we’ll just have to see what that stretch presents to me on its horizon.

I don’t know why I’m posting this, really. I feel completely detached from the need for literary achievement or success in the current marketplace, so it’s not to attract attention. Perhaps it’s to attract possible cohorts, or wise words from those who have gone before me. At the very least, I hereby record my thoughts and feelings as I move through some very big life changes. (Uh, yeah, Rob, it’s called keeping a journal, and it’s not like it’s some kind of new concept or anything.) No more stories of the past–I’m sick of the past and my quasi-nostalgic attachment to it all. Present tense is what I crave, with no strings tied to either the past or the future, a creature afloat in the river of now, of no-time, of all-time-as-one. No more simply dipping my toes in. It’s time to take the plunge...


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Saturday, March 11, 2006


Shadow Dancing

Here’s an episode from my adolescence that came back to me in vivid detail once I reported that I could barely remember anything from that period in my last post:

I was 12 years old, and I hadn’t made it to the National roller skating meet like I had the two years before, so my summer stretched aridly before me without the extra hours of practice and the anticipation of a cross-country trip in August. My dad came to the rescue with the offer of a visit to the Northeast, my and my sister’s first. I can’t remember if this was before or after he’d divorced his short-lived second wife, but the main purpose of the trip was to meet his new fiancee and her eight-year-old son in Philadelphia, then go on for a whirlwind tour of Washington DC, the Jersey Shore, and New York City.

These people were to be part of my new “family,” but I’d already banished that homey concept to the hinterlands of mass wishful thinking after seeing all the ill-will that existed between the members of my own little clan, so I couldn’t have cared less about that sector of the situation. All I wanted to do was travel. I had already fallen in love with traveling because it allowed me to let down my defenses just a bit. Everyone was usually interested enough in something else to be too worried about whether or not I was acting “effeminate,” and I didn’t have to watch my every little move. By 12, I had developed an icy, arrogant, angular facade with which I cut through assaults like a highly sophisticated prey animal eluding certain death. Whatever there was of a real me was somewhere deep inside simply operating the machinery. On the plane, my dad told me and my sister that his fiancee’s son acted “weird” (a blanket term that both my parents used to mean anything even slightly out of the ordinary). He didn’t elaborate, but from the rather queasy look on his face when he said it, I could tell that I was not to be the designated problem child in this particular combination of human elements, and my little tiny self inside all that elaborate armor took a welcome sigh of relief.

Now, my dad used to be someone who was so scared of anything that was out of the ordinary that he regularly derided everything that didn’t fit into his horribly constricted frame of reference. Another way of putting that would be to say he was a bigot. He actually didn’t want us to watch The Jeffersons during our weekends at his place because he didn’t want black people on his television set, and he would fall into a lisping, limp-wristed, stereotyped impersonation of a “homo” every time he saw a man so much as cross his legs. Real men were supposed to simply rest an ankle on the opposite knee, so as to give ample breathing room to their all-important reproductive device. My dad was pretty much obsessed with drawing a wide line between the behavior of “men” and the behavior of “women,” and anyone who didn’t fit into one camp or the other was automatically “weird,” which, coming from his mouth, was like an edict exiling them from the human race. I hated him for this and secretly wished him some sort of revenge for such repulsive behavior.

I could hardly have chosen a more effective agent of vengeance than my soon-to-be little stepbrother; because that roly-poly, not-very-attractive eight-year-old kid with a thick Philly accent still ranks as one of the most raging nelly queens I’ve ever come across in my life–no exaggeration. The first thing he did upon greeting me and my sister–he seemed so excited at the prospect of siblings!–was usher us into his room and show us a full-color, almost life-sized poster of Andy Gibb that hung over his bed. After gushing a bit about how much he loved Andy Gibb and putting on his new album, he got on his bed and carefully planted a big wet kiss on the Gibbster’s crotch shot. My sister and I had no idea what to think, so we giggled nervously and silently guffawed at each other in a swirl of shock, excitement, and embarrassment.

So that’s the kind of “weird” my dad had meant, I remember thinking. I could see that he couldn’t even stand to listen to the child talk. Every time a word escaped his lips, my dad would turn away with a red face, his neck veins straining uncontrollably. I could actually hear his teeth gnash. Ha, I thought. Ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Inside, I couldn’t stop laughing, though outside I was just as repelled by the kid as my dad was. The fact that he existed at all made my years of careful facade-building completely meaningless. He was the first overtly “gay-acting” person I’d ever been around in the flesh, and there was something freeing about it, even if he was only eight. I couldn’t believe that he was allowed to get away with such behavior, and my manufactured sense of appeasement and assimilation was brutally mangled by the total lack of repercussions he experienced for his “girly” behavior.

We went on day trips to Washington DC and New York City, but I don’t remember much except the way I was constantly charting my dad’s reaction to his future stepson’s every move and utterance. In DC, the White House was much smaller than I thought it would be, and the Washington Monument was much larger. What I remember most vividly is how my dad said something nasty about him to me every time he was out of his fiancee’s earshot (I don’t remember their names). Since it was obvious that he’d already been talked down from interfering with the kid’s girly behavior by his mother (it must have been DAMNED GOOD sex for him to put up with that), he laid into him for being fat, eating like a pig, or saying “yous,” in the old-school Philly manner, to mean you-plural. “Yous all get together so I can snap a shot,” the child would say, and my dad would go, “Listen to that, he can’t even speak English!” His remarks were poisonous and continuous, and they painfully subdued me into a catatonic silence. There was plenty of tension between him and his fiancee, too, obviously over her son, and that made for extreme emotional tautness no matter what we were doing. In New York City, near the end of our day when we were hurrying a bit to make it back to Philly, my dad started walking too fast for the kid to keep up with us, muttering under his breath, “get a move on, you little fatso,” and whispering an evil little laugh. I remember with a kind of shame the false camaraderie I felt with my dad simply because I could keep up.

My dad and his fiancee fought long into the night after we got home. I couldn’t sleep at all, but my sister was safely dreamside in her own sophisticated shell of armor, and the dear little flamer was snoring up a storm. At some point my dad came out in his underwear to get something to drink, and got very angry when he saw that I was awake. “What are you still doing up?” he hissed, as if children were supposed to sleep peacefully through absolutely anything.

At some time during the wee hours, I did drift off to sleep, and in the morning, my dad, sister and I went out alone to do errands and such so that his fiancee and her son could have some time alone. Talks were being had. Peace was being made, I assumed, by the woman in the equation. As we drove along the brick-heavy streets of Philadelphia, Jose Feliciano came on the radio singing his version of The Doors’ “Light My Fire,” a slickly produced, quietly resonant take with nothing but Feliciano’s acoustic guitar as accompaniment. My dad turned up the radio loud, and went on and on about how amazing it was that Feliciano was blind, and he sang and played the guitar like that. I remember thinking that was strange logic, like the rest of my dad’s surmises about human reality: Who needed to see to be able to play the guitar and sing?

From that point on, both my Dad and the kid were a little quieter, a little less themselves; the fiancee had succeeded in modulating their behavior around each other for the time being. At the Jersey shore, where we spent a long weekend, I took center stage by having an allergy fit during which I could barely breathe for several hours–one of many such episodes I had as an adolescent, which I now see as physical expressions of my repressed emotional state of near-asphyxiation.

When we got home, my dad told us that he and the fiancee had decided to break it off. “The kid comes with the deal,” he told us, “and I just couldn’t deal with that one.” My sister and I said we understood. But as for me, I didn’t understand a thing, and I didn’t want to, certainly nothing about my dad and his feelings. I was too filled with rancor about the way I’d been pounded into the ground all my life for being different to care about trying to understand anyone else’s paltry little emotional bullshit. Now I knew that there were plenty of people out there–even little kids–who were different, very different indeed, and they seemed a HELL of a lot happier than I did.

I’m not sure how much my queeny little almost-stepbrother had to do with it, but it was around that time that I started really feeling my anger as well as my depthless fear. That summer, I decided firmly that any mother fucking tight-assed bigoty bully, well-meaning, cud-chewing, butt-stupid housewife or pin-headed, inbred redneck twit who wanted to try force-feeding me shit about what was “normal” and what wasn’t could go to hell and choke to death on the devil’s dick. I wasn’t tough enough to back this kind of anger up physically, nor did I think physical–or even verbal--confrontation was very clever, but that’s the way I felt, and I felt it so strongly that I was constantly growling under my breath, ready to pounce.

To somewhat slake this irrepressible anger, and to fulfill my truly urgent need to deflect the constant attacks I faced, I developed a weapon far more effective than answering assault with assault. It’s one that I still use today when necessary, though most of my childhood armory has disintegrated. The weapon is simply a look, but not a simple one. It’s a quick, deep, icy stare that says the following: You are so pathetically atavistic and simple-minded that I can barely believe you exist, and if you don’t leave me alone and high-tail it out of my sight in the next two seconds, you know–you know deep down in your soul–that I could inflict some nasty motherfucking pain on you in ways that you can’t even imagine in your woefully unevolved state. It’s extremely efficient, and an indispensable tool for a post-apocalyptic (It already happened, didn’t you know?) warrior pacifist.

I don’t live anymore in a place where I have to defend myself from rabid bigots at every turn, but “the ice” sure does come in handy for deflecting Jesus freaks, crazies and rampant assholes; and it works even through two layers of glass and a rearview mirror–extremely handy for the asshole-laden streets of Los Angeles. So I suppose I should thank that dear little Andy Gibb lover for waking me up decisively to the fact that, as Andy’s more eloquent brothers (cousins?) put it, “...we’re living in a world of fools, breaking us down, when they all should let us be...”

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006


The Wonder-who-you-are Years

Me on the left: lookin' kinda girly, right?
My therapist once told me that the years between eight and thirteen are always the hardest to talk about for people, and sure enough, I could barely string two sentences together when trying to describe scenes from that era to her. Since then, I’ve attempted to write about certain events from that time, but they’re wrapped in a haze and unreachable by either technique or poetry. This has puzzled me for a while. Did something really awful happen during this time that I am repressing, or is it something more subtle, perhaps even more insidious?

I got my answer when I watched an old video of myself (tranfered from Super 8!) performing in skating competitions back in the 70s. There I am landing jumps and doing footwork and everything, but otherwise feigning nonchalance. In this footage, I perform with no expression whatsoever; I merely go through the moves. Then the camera follows me off the floor where I talk to my coach, and in one particular cut, I’m talking quite animatedly to him with my hands on my hips, fingers facing backwards. I glance at the camera; sheer terror dilates my pupils and immobilizes my face for a split second as I shift my hands so that they’re lower on my hips and my fingers are facing forward.

This was one of many things that my mother, other people’s mothers, my teachers, my schoolmates and various random bystanders told me as they gathered in a tacit culture-wide effort to meld me into the semblance of a heterosexual male, though they could see I was a big faerie: Women put their hands on their hips like THIS (hands at the level of the belly button, fingers facing backward), and men put their hands on their hips like THIS (hands just below the hipbones, fingers facing forward). I was also regularly chastised by just about everyone at the skating rink any time I tried to sneak something the least bit graceful or balletic into my routine–while other guys were mysteriously allowed to queen it up–so it’s no wonder that I was devoid of any personality whatsoever during those performances.

In fact, I was devoid of any personality whatsoever no matter what I was doing. I was so busy constantly monitoring myself for feminine gestures and substituting the correlative male ones that I had no time for an actual personality. Instead, I was furiously working away at developing a persona that no one could ridicule or tear apart so easily, lost in a fugue far more complex than the term “self-conscious” could describe. And I did a great job at it, because I’ve always put my heart and soul into all my endeavors–it’s just that many of them have been self destructive. But seriously, I’m a real artist at it. Self expression had no place in my life. I didn’t even know what it meant. What I was after was a simple respite from constant nagging–even at the expense of my true self. Is it harsh to say I took the easy road out by learning how to “pass” as “normal”? Anyway, I was a kid, and apparently kids are not to be blamed to any great degree for their own actions.

Then suddenly, I wasn’t a kid anymore. When I was thirteen, I discovered both drugs and sex, which opened a maze of conjoined, hidden, alternate universes to me, in any of which I could be myself–at least as convincingly as I possibly could considering my lack of practice in the field. But at least, in those worlds, there was a part of me that felt the fresh air for the first time since I’d begun walking and talking (too much like a girl, even at first). Not that I turned into a flagrant flamer and called everyone “Mary” or anything when allowed to “be myself”–no, my true self was filled much more with anger and fantasy, in equal parts: the anger was in response to the fact that I’d been forced to create a false self in order to survive, and the fantasy was my imagination feverishly constructing a different reality construct, where no one is forced to perform such a violent, invasive operation on himself, and everyone lives in peace and harmony. Yup, I’d like to teach the world to sing. But I’m still learning the song myself.

Perhaps that time of my life doesn’t need to be dredged up any more comprehensively than I’ve done in this post. Recounting the events of the past is only rewarding if you’re searching for their import. If you’ve already gotten emotional satisfaction from your memories without having to tell the whole damned story, incident by mundane little incident, then wouldn’t it be better to spend the time and narrative impetus on moving forward instead? Or do people really enjoy wallowing in the minutiae of reality as regurgitated onto the written page? My mother tells me that people like to read “real” things. I, on the other hand, don’t. I like to read about things that are exactly not “reality,” at least as generally agreed upon, and I like to write those kinds of things, too. So it’s somewhat troubling to me that I feel this sort of compulsion to write a comparatively nuts-n-bolts account of my wild and somewhat dark cavort through the passages of time.

I really don’t know where all this autobiographical writing is going, but I do know this: From age eight to thirteen, I formed an impenetrable cocoon about myself from which the butterfly is still attempting to emerge. Is that age difficult to talk about for everyone (according to my therapist) because everyone goes through an analogous process during that period whether they’re gay, straight, black, white or otherwise? If so, then I propose that it would be a big step toward accelerated human evolution if we all got together and got rid of the part of the growth process where people have to perfect being something they aren’t before finding out what and who they really are–if, in fact, they can do so at all after so many years of denying it. But I don’t think I’d win any votes on that platform....

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Monday, March 06, 2006


1001 Roads to Resistance

For Valentine's Day when my sister and I were little, my mother used to leave little heart-shaped chocolates and cute notes outside our doors so that we'd find them when we woke up. This year, she gave us each a copy of Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, which is a completely unsentimental self-transformation manual about how to overcome resistance, which he calls "the enemy within." It's written in a swift, unadorned style, and each short chapter is padded with lots of white space, so that one can read it in one sitting for full impact. Esquire called it "a kick in the ass," and that's exactly how it's posited by its author, who wants to welcome the brave to the harsh world of art as reality rather than coax the timid to join a fantastical, more accommodating world, as so many self-helpers do. The book was such a good pep talk that I read it a second time a couple of days after my first reading. And then, because I wasn't sure I'd really absorbed it, I read it a third time. At that point, I saw that even the reading of a book about conquering resistance had become a form of resistance in my twisted little universe.

I am the Scheherezade of resistance. I can send my psyche down 1001 different paths, each of them seemingly full of promise at the outset, and each will at some point take that dreaded turn toward resistance. Self sabotage, some call it. A cyclical course of internal obstacles that keep us from realizing our potentials. Whence does this fear of becoming great in our own eyes arise? Why is it so hard to become what we truly want to be, and why does most of the difficulty come from within? Why must everything be a battle? Why must we be such fearsome warriors to survive and succeed when we'd rather be viewing cherry blossoms or watching fluffly little clouds? Maybe I'm just talking for myself here. Maybe there are some people who actually like the constant struggle, get off on it, or at least get off on making the most of it. I don't feel like fighting my demons; I'd rather we all got along instead. But apparently this is not allowed in the current reality construct. Invite your demons in for dinner and they end up feasting on you.

At times like this, when I can't get myself to finish a project no matter how close I get, when I feel that none of the work I do is any good anyway, when I feel like my life bears absolutely no resemblance to any life I might have designed for myself, yet there's no one to blame for its current state of affairs other than myself--at times like this, I feel buried alive by resistance. I know there's air out there, and that one solid push will put me in contact with it, but I whine about not being able to breathe as I ineffectually scratch at the inner dimensions of my self-dug grave. And then I couch the situation in metaphors, like I just did, so that I won't have to dig in and really examine my feelings. The truth is, my feelings are still hard to contact, even after lots of therapy that I would categorize as successful. I've evened out, emotionally--the new and improved manic depressive, with lower highs and higher lows!--but it's difficult for me to contact either anguish or joy. And in between, I feel stymied and stifled. Nothing quite gets through. Creating art is channeling energy, according to Pressfield, and that's something I've always felt was true. At this moment in my broadcasting history, my channels are crossed and clogged. Must be time for a detox...

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Legalize your preferred psychedelic today!

Simply center a religion around its ingestion!

Ayahuasca Visions

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006


The Naked Animal is on ice and in the oven

On ice because I'm busy watching (on TV) and commenting on the figure skating competition at the 2006 Olympics--check out the latest on my skating blog, Dream of the Perfect Double Axel.

In the oven because I've been so busy blogging that I'm heating up leftovers instead of making myself a fresh between-shift meal. But they're good leftovers. Last night, Philip made a brilliant rosemary-rubbed pork roast for "Pal-entine's Day," so I've got a few slices of that, and I've got a nice big slab of a fritatta I'd made the night before. Actually, this frittata should be called a fornata (or something like that), since it's baked, not fried. It also happens to be one of the easiest, healthiest, and most delicious "casserole"-style dishes you'll ever encounter, perfect for any meal and any size of group, and I'd like to share it with you.

Here's what you'll need for the "original recipe," though you can change some ingredients (or size, for that matter) as noted:

a large Pyrex baking dish
a baker's dozen of eggs
six medium zucchini and two large handfuls of crimini mushrooms (or any other veggie)
a hefty block of goat's feta cheese (or any other cheese)
four garlic cloves and half a red onion (optional)
salt, black pepper and cayenne to taste
a small handful of chopped fresh Greek Oregano (or any other fresh herb)
unsalted butter to grease the baking dish

Here's how you put it all together:

Thinly slice the zucchini and mushrooms (or veg of your choice)--and I mean thin, paper thin if you can. Chop up the garlic and onions, and your herbs. Now break your 13 eggs into a large bowl and beat thoroughly. Add your veggies, garlic, onions and herbs to the egg mixture. Crumble (or grate) your cheese into the mixture; add salt, pepper and cayenne to taste; then fold it all together with a wooden spoon or spatula until everything is uniformly blended. Pour the mixture into your Pyrex baking dish, and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until springy in the middle. For a further twist, you can add some parmesan or pecorino, finely grated, as a topping about ten minutes before pulling it out of the oven. You can also cook it just a little longer to increase the firmness, and serve small pieces of it as an hors d'oeuvre.

Yum, I hope it's not burning--gotta run. Enjoy!

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Saturday, February 11, 2006


Do you feel any different?

I had a festive birthday celebration at Casita del Campo, a cheesy and fun LA Mexican restaurant with a huge rubber tree growing in the middle of the main room–we got a table in a cozy room with a fireplace; someone called it a Lion in Winter table. We drank a few pitchers of margaritas, ate a bushel of chips and a ton of gooey food, then attempted to go dancing–everyone pooped out early except for my friend Jon, who I left ripping up the dance floor around midnight. It was a nice night to turn forty. There’s always a heat wave around my birthday, no matter where in the world I happen to be, and this weekend is no exception: I love that run of 80-degree days in the middle of the winter that LA always blesses us with.

All my best buds were there (well, almost–hope to see the rest on Sunday), and thanks to Lynnie, Doug, Robin, Cort and Greg, I have now hit the $300 mark on my way to a goal of $1000 for my artistic roller skating fund. Thanks, guys! Don’t get left out–donate now! No minimum!
Funny, I’d been in a foul mood for weeks just before turning forty, but the actual event changed my mood completely. It was also very cozy and uplifting to be around such wonderful friends. This birthday, I actually do feel different, the way one usually doesn’t despite the party or whatever other event takes place. Yup, I feel different. I can’t describe it exactly, but it has something to do with an apprehension of a greater depth. And then there’s the fact that it simply made me happy to enter a new decade, as if it meant anything–but I like new things and even the smallest signifier can give me a new outlook on life.

And decade-turnings are great signifiers. My friend Robin reminded me of a scene exactly ten years ago when I walked into the laundry room while she was folding (we lived in the same apartment building at the time) and said, “I can’t believe I just turned thirty.” We marveled at the fact that we’d known each other that long, and I did some more marveling over the fact that I’d known several of the people at that table much longer. It was a real treat, and it made me feel definitively the benefits of having moved through an always greater deal of time on this planet. I do feel I’m learning my lessons and appreciating the things I have rather than ruing the things I don’t have.

And then there’s the part of me that spent all day prior to my party moping around the house feeling completely worthless–I’m 40 and I can barely pay my rent!–and berating myself for not sitting down and writing rather than moping around the house. Don’t you just love the Catch-22 of negative thought-pattern cycles? I spent about four hours wallowing in the feeling that I was a completely unviable human being, and then...I don’t know, really. I decided to work out and do yoga, so I did that, and then I had to get ready, and then, there I was drinking margaritas with all my friends under a very flattering wash of pink light.

Natalie glowing by the fireplace
Time just goes like that, doesn’t it? And when you decide to go along with it, it’s really no big deal. It’s the idea of resisting it, or trying to stop it, that always makes it more painful. I don’t know–maybe I’m the only person who routinely wishes that time would simply stop: I’ve always wanted everything to stop, everywhere, for everyone, for 24 hours. I don’t know why, really. As one gets older it seems that time starts to gallop ever faster towards its climax. Or is time really passing faster now? These are the kinds of questions I mull today, as I enter a new decade ready to unfurl my wings again after a long period of restoration.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Papa needs a new pair of roller skates!

Childhood idol Jim Bray at his peak
Meanwhile, yours truly is not going to let a little sick time set him back on the road to roller skating glory. Now that I've been skating a few more times, and feel far more comfortable and smooth on wheels than I did even as a fulltime skating kid, I'm raring to start learning jumps and spins again. I've gotten some great advice on an artistic roller skating forum, including some pointed encouragement from the current world champion of inline freestyle skating, who happens to be 35 himself; I've found a great rink to practice at, plus a coach who's willing to train me. God knows what the end result will be, but I really do want to do a perfect double axel again; I could even put together a routine and compete--I also got some encouragement on the same forum from a 52-year-old freestyle skater who just started competing again, so I'm certainly not the only middle-aged mad person on roller skates out there!

I just bought a pair of starter skates for sixty bucks on the internet--and these'll last me a couple of months as I get comfortable doing single jumps and standing spins again. Once I pass that point, I'm going to need some major equipment to support my aging bones as they attempt to do double jumps and more. Mainly, I need some super-rigid, custom-fitted boot action because my ankles are already weakened and enlarged from skating way back when. The entire package for my new figure skates, including boots, plates (super-light, single-piece construction!), wheels, bearings and toestops, all top of the line or close to it, is going to run me about a thousand bucks. And that's where this post comes in, which is where you, my dear friends, family, readers, supporters, and even cautious observers, come in. It's my 40th birthday on February 10, and this is my version of the midlife crisis purchase. Some men go for a Porsche--I go for a pair of state-of-the-art roller figure skates, a much healthier purchase if you ask me. Because I'm not one of those aging fags with huge disposable incomes that all of that new advertising is supposedly out to snag, I need your financial help, and I've made it easier than pie for you to donate to my current cause!

Simply press the button below to donate to Rob's roller skates fund
via Visa, Mastercard, Amex or e-check--no minimum!!

The donation period will end once I reach a total of $1000 through online donations and mailed-in checks (Yes, if you have my address, you can also simply mail me a personal check). Everyone who donates gets a thank you in the book I'm writing (because this experience is going to be part of it) and a free DVD or digital download of my progress after one year (perhaps I'll have a "routine" by then--you'll love it!). Support a starving artist/author in his quest for roller skating bliss and publishing viability. And thank you in advance!

Also, if you're interested in my progress and my stories of skating yore, I'll be writing all about all that on my figure skating blog, Dream of the Perfect Double Axel. Meanwhile, which is where I began this post, the Naked Animal will continue on this blog to excavate the many other rich veins running through his past, present and future.

Here's to fun and fusion as I flutter, fascinated, towards forty!


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Monday, February 06, 2006


Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily

I once heard or read a passage about Aboriginal Australians, who, upon being arrested and jailed for breaking "Australian laws" for the first time around the turn of the nineteenth century, would almost immediately bash their heads against the walls of their cells until they were dead. It took some time for the Australian officials to realize that the Aboriginals had no concept nor language for the past nor the future, so that their entire lives take place only in the immediate present. This is a hard thing for Western minds to understand. This is what people talk about when they say they're "living in the moment." For the Aboriginals, this meant that being locked up was the sum totality of their existence, which was so unbearable that they had to end it without dilly-dallying.

I do not know whether or not this story is apocryphal, but it perfectly describes how I feel when I am sick, which I recently was, with the flu, for over a week. I actually did bash my head against the wall a few times. It made me feel better, rather the same way self-trepanning does, I imagine. A release of pressure. I'm completely irrational when I'm ill, and I can't help myself. Even though I know intellectually that I will get better, and even though I just definitively proved that to myself by bouncing back from death's doorway, I still feel trapped and hopeless when I get ill. Everything is pointless. Nothing is working right. And the whole stinking affair will end in tears or worse. Darkness. Darkness and doom. I get angry when I'm sick. Or perhaps I'm so weak when my skin has turned translucent through fever that I let the anger that is always there seep right out through my distressed pores. Again, it feels good because of the pressure release. And then there's that painfully cathartic moment of acceptance, just as you're about to hit bottom, when you say, OKAY, FUCK IT, I'M ILL AND I GIVE IN TO THE EXPERIENCE. It takes anywhere from 24 to 48 hours for me to reach this point (plenty of time to bash the odd head or two to bits against the proper wall), where I can relax and enjoy the benefits of convalescence; though negative grumbling about my current physical state goes on unabated.

During this particular illness, I watched movie after movie on the very few premium channels we have (TCM, Sundance, IFC, and seven ENCORE movie channels), cobbling together a fever-dream film festival over the several days I had to remain in bed. The Gala Monday Morning Extra-Strength Tylenol Opening Event included Motorcycle Diaries and The Comedian Harmonists, both of which made me bawl--another good pressure release technique. I had for some reason avoided Motorcycle Diaries when it was out, and I'm glad I waited. It was so lush and visceral, especially during the scenes at the leper colony, that it continually rocked me in and out of my body, finally landing like a very heavy weight on my heart. The Comedian Harmonists was no less gut-wrenching, dealing as it did so unwaveringly with the always stomach-turning topic of anti-semitism and the Nazis.

But I've never been one to shy away from intense experiences. In fact, this kind of dark, emotional movie is far more entertaining to me than any comedy. I continued in a dark vein the next day with The White Buffalo, which portrays such a pitch-black vision of the Old West that it makes McCabe and Mrs. Miller look prettified. After that it was The Wild Bunch, one of my all-time favorites--and who could be more dark, and yet more jubilant, than Peckinpah? I wallowed in the deep human twist of it all.

That evening, I went classic with Ball of Fire and Born Yesterday. The latter I'd seen several times, always wondering how Judy Holliday beat out both Bette Davis for All About Eve and Gloria Swanson for Sunset Boulevard (a later fever-dream film fest fave)for the Oscar that year. Besides the fact that Born Yesterday was full of deeply felt schmaltz about American values in a year (1950) when the Red Scare was running at full tilt, I couldn't figure it out. That night, though, I had a revelation. She won that award for one scene--one scene in which she plays gin rummy with Broderick Crawford, which can be best likened to a fine, idiosyncratic rendition of an intricate jazz tune. Watching her brilliantly rattle off a fugue of tics and rituals that obviously make her experience of an otherwise boring game complete had me on the edge of the bed with delight, and I finally saw how she snagged the voters' hearts away from Bette and Gloria. There was sheer acting bliss contained in the gin rummy scene--a potent concoction, especially to fellow actors.

The next day I continued my fascination with the macho set (J. Lee Thompson, Sam Peckinpah, etc.) with John Huston's African Queen. I really do love that movie, and I always forget how good it really is, how finely tuned and subtle Bogart is, and how utterly believable Hepburn is. Plus, there you've got two people holding your fascination the entire time by themselves, and it made me stop and think: Would I want to spend an entire trip down an African river with anyone in the movies these days? I think I'd end up feeding myself to the crocodiles before the end of the first reel. I flipped sensibilities from ultra-rugged, roughly emotional to roughly intellectual, ultra-smart with Childstar, a beguiling indie from Canada (with a truly moving Jennifer Jason Leigh as a completely amoral Hollywood mother) that starts out with a set of cliches and goes about stripping them down to their human cores in the most entertaining way possible. Highly recommended. Another flip of the genre switch took me to Shampoo (on TCM!), which somehow perfectly evokes my childhood even though there aren't any children in it (unless you count Carrie Fisher's precocious teenage seductress). You can almost SMELL 1975 when you watch Shampoo, even though it's supposedly set in 1968. It's funny how movies that are trying to evoke a year in the recent past always end up PERFECTLY illustrating the very year they were made, instead. No one makes movies with that much pure, casual truth in them anymore.

By Thursday, I had come out of my fever, and was dealing in its place with a fuzzy head and stuffed-up chest. Cable rewarded me with Five Easy Pieces one of my favorite Nicholson movies, also notable because the first 40 minutes of it was filmed in my hometown Bakersfield and environs, with plenty of recognizable landmarks and locations. Karen Black made a perfect know-nothing, white-trash creampuff with a heart of Black Hills gold, and the utterly weird and hilarious scene during which Helena Kallianotes (as a hitchhiker in Nicholson's car) delivers a meandering monologue about "filth" while Toni Basil chimes in with non sequiturs now and then is a cockeyed classic. No one makes movies that center around such basically unappealing characters anymore, either, and that's a shame. I'm so sick of having to LIKE and RESPECT every protagonist in every film--they stuff that shit down your throat, don't they?

Friday evening belonged to Sunset Boulevard, which sucked me in for the umpteenth time because of the almost hypnotic quality of its finely mechanized script and perfectly orchestrated movement from scene to scene. That thing purrs like the engine of a...well, of an Isetta-Freschini! (And as Norma Desmond points out, they don't make cars like that anymore, either.)

Saturday, I was well enough to become engulfed in a make-up day of running errands that had piled up the previous week. Oh Joy. Now you're well--please apply nose to grindstone immediately! By Sunday morning I was already sick of being back in the land of the living, so I pounced upon the remote control, hungrily searching out something to fill in the mid-morning hours while I decided what to do with myself for the rest of the day. I happened upon The Turning Point, and you may laugh, but that one made me bawl just as hard as any of the deeper, more brooding movies I'd watched. Perhaps it was the fact that I'm hitting my mid-life crisis point myself, still quite unwilling to give up the dreams of my youth. More on that in my next post.

Yup, I turn 40 on Friday. Whoop-dee-doodle-now. By that time I hope to be running at 100 percent once more (this damned flu does want to hang on and on in its little post-fever ways), and altogether UNinclined to bash my head against a wall until I expire.

Dreamtime is once again upon me. What will its unforeseen tangents and vortices present me with next as I row ever-so gently down the stream?

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Saturday, January 21, 2006


Sure, I'd love to!

When I walked into my classroom yesterday morning, the title of this post was written on the whiteboard in my hand: “Sure, I’d love to!” I’d been teaching my Korean students how to issue and respond to invitations, and all of them kept saying, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t,” or “No, thank you, I’m busy”; I was trying to get them to learn how to say yes. My life has been all about saying yes lately, which is a big revelation for me, because I’m used to saying no. But wait a minute, what am I talking about? It’s not like I’ve sat around on my thumbs for the past forty years due to an insurmountable indolence–I’ve done a hell of a lot; so much that I wonder if I can even get it all into one book..... Well, of course, I can get it all in one book–I’m a natural condenser and distiller. But to evoke the richness and texture of the life I’ve led in words is a particularly daunting challenge.

What I mean by saying yes, I guess, is that I’m learning to agree to my lighter side even when my tired old negative voices try to talk me out of it. No, that’s crazy, they say. Or maybe it’s just a renaissance of this kind of power in my life–I’ve had a long fallow period during which I’ve felt drained and hopeless, ready to ease on down the road all the way out of here. Well, I did ease on down that road; kinda liked what I saw at the end of it, but decided to come back and stick it out for some reason still obscure to me. It has something to do with healing, and I know I have to start on myself.

I’ve never had problems saying yes to things that feed my insatiable hunger for knowledge and adventure–even danger. I’ve always done it, instinctively, always to more or less intense results. The problem is that “intense” is not all that sustainable. What I’m learning to say yes to these days are my quirkier whims, the desires that are not serious, the ones that simply jazz me up and make me smile–things I’ve always denied myself because I’ve been so serious about myself and the way I’ve lived my life in the past. I think I may have looked joyful and frivolous at times on the outside, but I was all troubled thoughts and karmic worries on the inside. Now I’m finally learning how to take it easy on myself, and to say yes to silly little whims rather than saving all my zest for the voluptuous, grand ones, which are always quite an effort to come up with and carry out, anyway.

Since returning to the land of the living after my long sojourn into the underworld with the Lady Lymphoma at my side, I have been full of puckish little desires, and I’m finally starting to act upon them. It started with a belly dancing class I took a couple of weeks ago, which threw my back out, leading me into a deep experience of self healing, then into one of the best weekends I’ve had since recovering. It always amazes me how much more I grow while dealing with pain than I would have had the pain been absent.

Last weekend was all about skating. On Friday and Saturday, I taped the full seven hours of the National Figure Skating Championships, which boiled down to about two hours of actually skating that I watched Sunday morning. All day Sunday, I was thinking about my own years of figure skating, and especially focusing on the fact that I still imagine and dream about landing difficult jumps all the time. God, I thought, I’d love to do that again, but discarded it as a daydream.

The next day was a holiday (MLKJ day), so I went to Venice Beach to rent some skates. They only have roller blades out there, which I hate, but I got a pair anyway, and power-stroked my way down to Malibu on the cement skating path as smoothly as Hans Brinker on his frozen river.

Once I’d had a taste of the certain sort of glide that rollerblades offer, I wanted more, so that night I went back to my roots, to a roller rink, where I rented a foul pair of beige skates (quads, darlings, the only REAL kind of roller skates) with orange wheels and hit the newly re-surfaced glazed-wood floor. Within five minutes, I was whizzing around the rink on long, powerful edges as if I had just hit the floor for the warm-up at the world championships or something. What a geek! All the cool, dance-oriented recreational skaters were giving me the bug eye. But then some people who were even geekier than me arrived and started doing REALLY GEEKY tricks in the center of the rink, so I didn’t stick out too badly. It was weird how my body remembered.

For a few songs (middle-of-the-road dance hits and soul), I worked on perfecting a series of really fast dance steps that just came to me out of the blue–I think it was “The Fourteen Step,” but I’m not sure. Then I really started to get the itch to do some jumps–not appropriate at public session, but I did a few waltz jumps (just a little half turn, starting forward, landing backwards), and the landing felt so solidly pleasurable–almost in a purely sensual way–that my raring-to-go body was urging me to try something harder. I managed to quell its pleas and stick to some funky backwards footwork that impressed the hardcore rink rats and got me out of there without risking major injury. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea that it might be fun to coax those jumps I’d dreamed of since I was a kid back into reality.

Instead of waking up the next day to a more mature outlook on that particular whim, I was more excited by it than ever. I ignored the voices in my head that were telling me I was too old, not thinking straight, the biggest DORK in the world, and made an appointment for a private lesson at another rink, out in the valley near Cal State Northridge. The woman who’s going to teach me took lessons in my hometown, Bakersfield, with Natalie Dunn, who was world champ when I was a kid, and a hero to me and many other munchkin skaters. Her name is Jamie, and she agreed with me that it would be a hoot and that I should at least give it a try. Hey, I’m not totally unrealistic–I know I probably won’t be able to train hard enough to do a perfect double axel again, or anything like that, but I’d settle for a single one. Oh, and a double loop. I’d love to do a double loop again. Even if you don’t know what it is, doesn’t the sound of that just tickle you?

My first lesson is next Tuesday, and I will certainly keep the gentle reader apprised of any progress made in this latest foray of mine. The idea of doing some jumps again has effervesced my spirit so much that I will never hesitate again to say “Sure, I’d love too” when a quirky little voice somewhere deep inside my psyche invites me to do something purely meaningless, fun and joymaking. In fact, the lift I’ve gotten just from imagining the possibility has also reminded me that I once knew how to fly. And if I can do a double axel again (well, okay, maybe I WILL go for a double), I'll know that remembering how to fly is just a twitch of the wings away.

Oh, and by the way, my 40th birthday is coming up on February 10, and I'd just ADORE a new pair of skates!

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Thursday, January 12, 2006


Matrilineally Meshuggah

Crazy Jew
A cold Friday night in Los Angeles, December, 1984. I’m standing in line alone for Godard’s Alphaville at the New Beverly Cinema, already having devoured the entire oeuvres of Fellini, Antonioni, Truffaut and Pasolini over the last few months. Chatting briefly with each couple or group ahead of me is an Orthodox Jew in full regalia–shoulder-length sidelocks and bushy beard to the belly, a wide, fur-brimmed hat and an overcoat that looks way too warm for the weather even though it’s probably below 50 Fahrenheit (hey, that’s cold for LA). He seems to be selling something. As he gets closer to me, I hear that he’s asking people if they’re Jewish. Everyone is answering yes.

I wonder for an instant if he’ll do something crazy if I say no, but I say it anyway, even though I can feel that the rest of the crowd is silently urging me to say yes even if it’s not true. He looks interested. He explains that it’s Shabbat, and that it’s already past sunset, and that he can’t operate any machinery after sunset due to Shabbas law, even a light switch; so would I please come with him to turn his lights on for him? Oh, and the heater, too? And possibly the oven if his housekeeper forgot to do it, which she can do from time to time. His house is just around the corner. I can see the couple ahead of me silently urging me not to do it, but I tell him I will, thinking I’m about to have another multi-culti adventure in LaLaland-- I’ve been seeking these out on a regular basis since recently moving down from ultra-segregated Bakersfield (yup, that shit still happens, but not by law...) to go to UCLA.

“You’re sure you’re not Jewish?” he says.

I give him a look as if to say, What, you think I’m stupid?. “I have a Jewish grandmother,” I say, “but I’m not.”

“Your father’s mother?” he asks.

“No, my mother’s.”

He rolls his eyes and makes a hacking sound as if he’s going to spit at me. “Then you’re Jewish!” He hits his forehead, hard, with an open palm, and bugs his eyes out at me. By this time I’m sweating, and beet red under my black beret and long hair. I hear someone in the line snicker. In fact, the whole crowd is chattering animatedly now, their feathers all ruffled by the excitement. “I’d advise you to speak with your grandmother, son,” he goes on. “She must be meshuggah not to teach you any better.”

The people in line quiet down as he storms off.

“Good for you,” says the woman in front of me, a forty-something art maven type with a grinning rock-n-roll has-been guy on her arm.

“Why?” I ask.

“He comes here all the time.” Of course, I have to answer that I’m surprised I haven’t seen him before, that I am there all the time, just to show her how well-read I am in the literature of international film. “He says he’s looking for a Shabbas goy, but I think he’s some kind of pervert. Did you see that he was only asking the young pretty guys?” I hadn’t noticed that at all, but I got what she was saying. “Yeah, I’m sure he’s some kind of freak. I’ve seen the way the other Chassids look at him–as if he’s crazy, you know, like they want to stay away.” She pauses. “Did you really not know that the maternal line defines who’s Jewish?” I shake my head sheepishly. “Oh, well, I’d do what he told you even if he was crazy. Ask your grandmother about it. It’s quite interesting.” I ask if she’s Jewish. “Yeah,” she says, “Can’t you tell? I could tell you were the minute I saw you. I always do: Jews all have a little crazy in their eyes.”

the Krayeshka family in Russia
Well, I knew for sure that my grandmother’s family was crazy–but all sides of the grandparental quadrant were, in there own ways, the other three being Greek, Scottish and English, so I couldn’t blame the Kray (formerly Krayeshka) family’s craziness on their Jewishness alone. But the fact that my grandmother didn’t even find out that she was Jewish until she was sixty (I was fifteen then), due to some digging done by her niece, may have quite a bit to do with my grandmother’s particular insanity–a slow, quiet, burning type of madness that stealthily and steadily stalks the family.

My Grandma's older siblings
I can easily imagine what might have led her family to keep this integral part of her identity from her, even if I can’t quite understand it. They were Ashkenazi Jews who fled Kiev during the pogroms of the early 20th century, and when they got to America, they saw that Jews (at least those who were not rich) didn’t have such an easy time here, either. The two children were nearly teenagers, so they could not be protected from the sadness of what their people were going through–had been going through for millennia–all over the world.

Then lo and behold, another child comes. An American. Born on the very American soil of a grape farm outside Fresno, California. And she will be brought up a gentile because she will obviously have it far better that way. They are a light-skinned, fair-haired family, so it will be easy to blend in.

Ann Kray (ctr), 1925
But I’d bet keeping that secret from my grandmother was not easy for any of the family to do, not easy in the least, and I’d bet it drove them all mad, just as it did my grandmother, even though she didn’t know about it. I’d bet the overall mood in the household was, to use a euphemism that has often been used to describe both me and my mother, “high-strung.”

My grandmother’s own strange little life in that nest of secrets and lies must have been full of worries that all revolved around her, none of which she could pinpoint, all of which she could sense. It must have been a lot like my own homelife, in which everyone’s worries revolved around my sexual identity. At least I finally figured out who I was. My grandmother never did. When she found out she was Jewish, her only response, bless her vague little heart, was a bemused, “Oh, hmmm. I thought I remembered seeing those funny candlesticks they have when I was a really little kid, but I thought I must have seen it in a movie.”

Ann Kray, Shaver Lake, ca. 1938
In fact, by the time I got to know her, my grandmother didn’t seem to care much about anything. She was very “whatever”–ahead of her time in that way, since that is many a person’s automatic response to anything the least bit challenging these days. She didn’t seem to have any opinions about anything except a few things that pertained to her personal upkeep and food or television preferences. On the other hand, she was fun to be with for me and my sister (took us shopping all the time, too!), and laughed a lot; but my mother tells me that she was really only like that around us kis. She tells me that when she was little, her mother spent entire days, for days at a time, sobbing face down on her bed. When I was a kid, every once in a while, I would catch her cussing out my grandfather with a lot of hissing and a damning sound in her voice that made me hide under my covers at night.

She was more open, though, about the copious arguments she had with my aunt, five years younger than my mom, who lived in the house, and did so until the day my grandparents were carted out of there by the authorities because my aunt had neglected them all the way to death’s doorstep. She was fifty-five at the time, and a completely stagnant human being. She most definitely has OCD (my mom says she did things like wash her hands till they bled when she was little, and I could write a whole book about her other compulsive behavioral habits), and probably some manic-depression, too, but of course she never got treated, or even looked at. Back in the 1950s, when she and my mom grew up, solid American immigrant stock didn’t cop to unnatural progeny by taking them to invasive charlatans such as psychiatrists.

Throughout my childhood, when I saw her the most, my aunt Carole was a silent, shadow-like, affectless character. My mother says that, after the incident, once my grandparents were ensconced in a safe, clean place where they keep sick, old people till they die, my aunt lashed out at her about a cacophony of family concerns with a focus and rancor that she had never expressed, and that it was extremely scary. Sad to have to nearly kill your parents to let off a little steam, huh?

l-r, my great aunt Grace Kokinos,
grandpa John Kokinos and
Grandma Ann, World's Fair, 1939

They are dead now. It didn’t take long in that safe clean haven for that to happen. My grandfather and his sisters told us loads of wonderful stories; that was what he was all about, so we know a lot about the Greek side of our family–more than any other, really, since my Dad’s parents were/are (only one’s dead) extremely reticent WASPS. More than any other relative, I wish I’d been able to talk more to my maternal grandmother, even though I don’t think she would have been capable. Certainly not at the end. At the end, she grew her dyed hair out long and shaggy and wore her dirty housedresses with nylon anklets out to Denny’s for the Senior Slam breakfast, just like any other crazy old lady. Crazy old ladies generally can’t tell a person much of substance. But neither can angry young ladies or stewing middle-aged ladies or seniors who have simply turned themselves off because there is too much built-up pain to deal with–and my grandmother was all of these before she became a crazy old lady.

Her own mother, I have heard (or did I make it up?), moved to a small outbuilding on the farm at some point and spent the last several years of her life willfully bedridden–just to show how angry she was at the world, I guess. That’s a rich one. In fact, this whole story is incredibly rich and I’d like to write a novel about it–because fiction is really my only option here. My grandma’s niece, Rose, nearly drove herself insane finding the very scant evidence that she did. She’s still alive though, unlike everyone else that was involved. God, maybe I should go up and talk to her about it. I don’t know. Let me think about that one. It might be a great idea; then again, it might be an utterly mad one.

In order to save my own sanity, I detached myself from my family–all sides except my dear sister–for a good long time in my twenties and thirties. My mother and I have only recently reconnected and become truly good friends–due in no small part to the fact that she was a ROCK and GODSEND during my recent year of cancer and chemotherapy. But what brings us even closer is having outlived the madness that has sucked at us all our lives like the sea does at limpets as they cling to rocks.

Not that we’re models of sobriety and balance or anything. Then again, I wouldn’t want to be all that sane; it just doesn’t look all that fun. I mean, come on, we’re Jewish–and that art maven at the New Beverly Cinema all those years ago was right, I’ve noticed it myself–we all have a little crazy in our eyes.

Okay, now I’m fascinated; most likely to be continued in some form or another soon...

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Monday, January 09, 2006


This is the way I pray

Last Thursday, my friend Jon sent me an announcement for a free “urban fusion” belly dance class in East LA on Friday afternoon. My eyes lit up, and I RSVP’d right away. The invite had urged men to attend, and I’ve always thought that my natural style of dancing was somewhat akin to belly dancing; on top of that, Jon and I–along with a host of other close friends–were planning to go to an outdoor psytrance party on Saturday, and I thought it would be fun to get my groove on a little early.

Saturday morning, feelin' like the flames are real
Unfortunately, I found that belly dancing was far harsher on the hips than I was used to, and by the end of the class, my back was completely out of whack. It was our friendly faerie host’s first attempt at teaching, and he went way too fast for most of us, but I don’t blame him: I’m experienced enough to know to take it easy rather than go for it whole hog without the proper understanding of how, exactly, the body is supposed to be moving. In fact, I did think that very thing when I first noticed he was skipping over lots of things I needed to know in order to do the moves correctly, but I can’t help going at every new challenge as if I’m still 25, or rather ageless, since I don’t think of myself as young so much as indomitable. Ha! After two and a half hours of jarring, random hip gyrations, I was wincing with pain.

On Saturday morning, I woke up feeling as if I’d played several games of tackle football the day before–without the benefit of either helmet or padding. After about an hour of hobbling around and gingerly testing my small range of motion, I emailed Jon to say I wouldn’t be going on our weekend jaunt, rather heartbroken over it. Then I lay down on the floor and started doing some yoga–simply because it was the only thing I could do that somewhat helped the pain; everything else, whether sitting, standing or lying down, hurt like hell.

I ended up having a very deep discussion with my body over the next two hours or so, during which I fell in and out of trances, digging into the heart of my pain and massaging it back to life on many different levels. When I finished, my back had improved greatly, and I decided to go out for a walk, just to loosen it up some more. I made it all the way to Jon’s (about two miles), where I felt so much better that I changed my mind about bagging the psytrance gathering. By the time I got home to get ready for the rest of the weekend, I was feeling like myself again–or at least a part of myself that I enjoy more than most: the loose and happy, physically-and-emotionally-centered, ready-to-boogie-my-brains-out part.

What’s great, though, is that I don’t really boogie my brains out anymore. Rather, I boogie them in, if that makes sense. Perhaps a more apt way to put it would be that I dance myself into spiritual alignment these days rather than out of my head, like I used to. I dance because it does something for me that nothing else does: It wipes my marked-up mind clean and facilitates a friendly conversation between my spirit and the rest of the universe.

Later that night with Cindy--Radiate, girls!!
Out of the large group Jon had commandeered (he’s our family psytrance gathering expert), only he, our friend Cindy and I ended up stepping up to the dancing dirt. Because of our small number and resulting lack of preparation drama, we were able to arrive early and snag a good campsite like the seasoned veteran trancers we're supposed to be, and we joined the small group that was already dancing to summon the party gods. Around midnight, the party hit full swing. I went into a spiraling trance to an ultra-deep, core-stirring set by our friend Jon Mark for about two hours, then swirled and spun right in front of a speaker in the downtempo pavilion for another two, while Cindy and Jon shook their own groove thangs in their own special ways.

When I emerged from the music’s embrace, a beautiful blond in a teddy bear suit who was lounging on a cushion at the perimeter of the intimate dancing dirt yelled me over (Hey, you!) and told me that she liked to watch me dance; that I “hold that space so well.” I replied, without even thinking about it, “This is the way I pray.” I think I discovered that as I said it to her, and I’m still thinking about it. Of course, instead of thinking about, or even writing about it, I should probably just dance.

I actually couldn’t stop dancing when we got home late Sunday afternoon–I continued in my room with my cat to a mix on that echoed the psycho-funkadelic sounds of the party’s downtempo lounge. Being with my best buddies and the rest of my extended trance party family, and getting so very deeply into the groove for so long, took me all the way from merely better to very, very good indeed. There are mirrored closet doors across the east side of my bedroom, and I intentionally tried to watch myself dance, to see how I danced, what it looked like, because I realized I had no idea. The music has always been as intense for me: it makes me enter a world full of cell division and sprouting vegetation and sacred geometry. But I feel different when I dance now, and it’s happened quite recently: like its some kind of perfect blend of my artistic, scientific and spiritual concerns, on top of the joyous self expression and release that it has always been for me.

It was hard to watch myself because my eyes glaze over when I dance (except when someone calls me out for a moment with a smile). Things outside my personal vortex become hazy and begin to morph. But I caught a few moves–and I think I’m an okay dancer; I certainly have my own style–and I wondered, where did I get this from? I tried to imagine how I’d developed this particular style of mine, which I’m going to call “psychedelic hula,” and I realized that it had been such an organic process that I couldn’t separate it from myself at all. My dancing is me and I am my dancing as much as my verbal language is, and probably more so. I wish I could do it all the time. Or at least most of the time. Though I think I could do it all the time because it actually gives me energy–not that it doesn’t tire me out physically, because I can feel it in my muscles, but it leaves me refreshed and rejuvenated.

I also go into a serious, meditative trance when I dance, the way Sufi dancers do, I imagine, though I’ve never learned any technique for doing this. It’s a natural occurrence. I laughed when I caught myself in the mirror–I was so serious! Though it feels like belly dancing to me, it looks like like Tai Chi on fast forward with a healthy dose of flamenco and a hint of Bollywood. Now, I have studied a little Tai Chi (as with everything–a little of this, a little of that), but I could no more perform “the form” than I could do a triple Axel. My memory for movement is hideous and I’m a horrible mimic, so it’s hard for me to “follow along,” but I have an innate sense of my body and the way it likes to experience space, which I can express to its full potential in the right atmosphere. The radical party I went to last weekend was certainly that. It was home. And it was church. And I can’t wait to worship again.

But what am I saying? I can pray any time. I’ve got a big room, great music, and a cat who likes to watch. I mean, I couldn’t really LIVE at a psytrance party, now could I? (Or could I?) Instead, my life is its own kind of party, I suppose, and it seems to be getting more festive. I had turned my belly dancing back injury around and grabbed on to the cord of light that is always offered, then slips away, as one sinks into the black pit of pain and depression instead of going down, down, down, and this made me feel that I was actually making some progress. Even a year or two ago, I would have wrapped myself in a cloak of negativity and missed one of the best parties of the decade.

Before I left on Saturday night, Philip told me that he was proud of me for turning it around like I did, that I had a great wealth of self-healing powers–and that these go hand in hand with my great powers of self destruction: What I have to realize and start putting into use is that they are both the same power. I told Jon and Cindy about this while we shared some wine and hors d’oeuvres in our cozy campsite before hitting the dancing dirt, and they both thought it was a cogent and beautiful statement. As usual, Philip hit my nail on its head (he admits he knows me better than he does himself). After that particular night (and morning) of dancing, I am beginning to think that it might need to take a more pivotal role in my ever-spinning matrix of healing and self-transformation. I will surely delve into this and report my findings to you in due time, gentle reader!
Jon and Cindy after dancing--all lit up!

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