In Quest of OK

In an earlier article, Fear And (Self) Loathing on I-95, I discussed an internal dialogue that I had with my old nemesis, the one who lives in my brain. I have since rediscovered Transactional Analysis, a branch of psychology begun by Eric Berne in the 1950s, and elaborated upon by Claude Steiner and others, and it has shed a rather interesting light on my predicament.

It calls my internal tormentor the Critical Parent. I would go so far as to call it the Abusive Parent, and even the Archfiend, but whatever you call it, it is the part of me (and you and most other domesticated primates) that is convinced that deep down, I must not be OK. Now, my own parents, by the grace of “Bob,” were and are pretty awesome people. If they did err, it was on the side of caution – I was never physically disciplined, and I was told to use my words rather than to accept invitations to step outside. It was a loving household with plenty of attention paid to each of us three kids (though as the oldest, I admit that I had a bit of a head start in terms of attention).

#THROWBACKTHURSDAY

But the Critical Parent archetype got in just the same, and it categorically denies the benefits of this style of upbringing  – emotional intelligence, compassion, curiosity, intellectual freedom, and unconditional love, among other things. When thinking about this, my Critical Parent claims that I could not hold my own in a bar brawl or mosh pit, fend off some maniac on the street, or rebuff some creep who threatens my girlfriend. The Critical Parent tells me that I would not lift a hand in my own defense, or in defense of those I love because of my candy-ass, bleeding-heart liberal upbringing, that my compassion is a mask for moral weakness, and my flabby physical form is evidence that I know deep down I am not worth even a show of self-defense. And it is hard to argue with that voice because I’ve never had the chance to gather relevant data to contradict it.

That’s not the only thing that my inner Critical Parent has to say, but that will suffice for my point.

The kicker here is that we all have some measure of the Critical Parent inside us, no matter how we were brought up. Freud thought of this facet of ourselves as the internalized voice of society, like a cop in your head, observing and criticizing and sentencing you to emotional jail time every time you transgress the boundaries that you were taught to believe in. We seek recognition, known in the jargon of TA as ‘strokes,’ in order to counter this nagging negativity, but society limits the ways in which we can seek these strokes, creating a tightly regulated ‘stroke economy’ (thanks, Obama).

Society demands a lot from each of us, and there are precious few, if any, who can truthfully fulfill everything expected of them. There may be no one, however, who can fulfill the demands of the Critical Parent. No matter how hard we work, how good we are, how far inside the lines we color, the Critical Parent is there to say we could have done better, we didn’t give it our all, we should be doing other kinds of work: in short, giving us different rationalizations for this rule: “You don’t get to feel OK yet. Do this, and then maybe I’ll allow you to feel OK.”

The Critical Parent begins to sound like certain United States politicians, doesn’t it?

The Critical Parent also sounds a lot like the social commentators who look at everything from marijuana to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and say that they will ruin society. Their arguments often center around people, substances, events, and other phenomena that make us feel OK without ‘earning’ it.

Ladies and gentlemen…. the face of evil.

This in turn, the argument goes, will lead to a country full of lazy, entitled, amoral degenerates, and so on and so forth in the grand old Puritan style. How will the wheels of industry turn, the pundits wonder, without the clawing, grasping, fire-under-the-ass-lighting need to earn the ability to feel OK?

It raises an interesting question: Do domesticated primates operate optimally when we’re desperately seeking permission to feel OK, or when we start from a feeling of OK-ness? Do we work at all when warm fuzzy feelings are free? Do we just laze around? Or do we work differently, toward other purposes? There are great rationalizations for both sides of this, and perhaps both/neither are optimal working conditions for different situations. I certainly have an opinion about this, but I want to hear yours down below.

I also want to know more about your experiences of the Critical Parent, its complaints about you (if you feel like sharing), and any ways that you have used to cope with or master the Critical Parent.

Thanks for reading! You’re OK. And maybe I am, too.

A Drunkard’s Guide to Spirituality

Imagine that in place of Dante’s dark wood, you find yourself in a bar… You don’t quite know what brought you here — in fact, you’re absolutely baffled, and you need some coaching from one of the kindly waitstaffers before you find your way to a table and order a drink. Unsure what to get, you order a Happy Hour Special, and the bartender – who, even all the way across the room, is stunningly attractive – sends you the most beguiling cocktail you ever saw in your life. It is brightly colored, elaborately bedecked with garnishes and one of those charming little paper umbrellas, and it tastes – well, it tastes of a little bit of everything. It tickles you, it tantalizes you, it is the perfect balance of sweet, sour, bitter, and salted rim, but there’s  Something Else in there, which you can’t quite identify. As I said before, you’re very disoriented. There’s nothing for it. You ask for another. 

You continue in this way for some time, and you start to get tipsy. You groove to the band, and as you keep drinking, the band sounds better and better, and the drink is amazing, but that aftertaste just sticks in your mind and the whole scene begins to clunk in your brain. You wonder what this entire place is for, with its lights and music. And your eyes fall upon the amazingly attractive bartender, who is mixing your next drink. Wow. Those eyes… The waitstaffer takes it, and before the bottle goes back under the bar, you see the bartender pour a healthy measure from it into a shot glass and give it to an old fellow sitting on the bar, gazing raptly at the bartender. You watch as he sips contentedly, and your drink begins to seem terrible even as you drink it. Dissatisfaction has crept into the mix, and eventually you leave your table to join him. 

He greets you like an old friend and invites you to sit down. You ask what he’s drinking. He nods sagely, and says confidently that you can’t handle it, but he tells you to order a Happy Hour Special without the garnishes and perhaps without one or two of the mixers. You order it, and wow, that bartender….. you aren’t sure how you got up the nerve to speak to someone THAT attractive, but you did it, and in comes a new drink. It tastes really odd at first – in fact, you want to spit it out right in the old man’s face, but he encourages you to slow down and not gulp it, and not compare it to what you had before, and to breathe a bit between sips. When you do this, you realize that the taste of that Something is coming in more clearly than before, and you feel a surge of bliss that’s unlike anything you’ve ever felt before. You realize that you just made friends with a Master. 

In time, the Master tells you to simplify your drink order several more times, and at first, each of these versions tastes really vile, but has more and more of that blissful Something. You may need to use the bathroom and eliminate. You may need to vomit. That’s OK. Let it happen. With every step, you feel lighter and more blissful, and the dips down into dissatisfaction are easier and easier to deal with. At length, you order your first honest-to-goodness shot, and when you take it, the bliss is so wonderfully awe-inspiring that it fries your logic circuits entirely, and you see the Bartender looking at you full in the face, and you kiss…

And suddenly you can see yourself through the eyes of the Master, and the eyes of the Bartender, and through the eyes of your reflection in the mirror behind the bottles on the shelf, and through every set of eyes in the place. You wake up, alone behind the bar. You walk out into starless, barless, you-less utter blackness. And even there, Something. 

You wake up again and no time has passed, and there’s that bartender, who you love with all your heart, and the Master, who you love with all your heart, and every other being in that bar, who you love with all your heart. Even now, you may feel some dissatisfaction from time to time, but now you know how to deal with it. And even the frilliest, sugariest Happy Hour Special is like an Holy Sacrament from that moment on. 

Fear and (Self) Loathing on I-95

I had just come out of perhaps the best rehearsal for a music event I’ve ever had. In preparation for my concert as part of the Three Busketeers this coming Wednesday, I had a chance to spend an evening with my friends Andy and Sam woodsheding some old favorites and learning some original songs as well, and it was a wonderful time. 

I had borrowed my parents’ van, and upon inspecting it, I noticed that the passenger-side door handle had been crunched. Still workable, but it looked to me as if I’d been sideswiped. 

Immediately the panic started. It rose like thunder out of my adrenal glands and blossomed up like a mushroom cloud into the brain. I am known as a mediocre driver in my family, but I had never been responsible for anything like that. In a flash I was caught in a high-stakes cost-benefit analysis – to tell or not to tell my folks. I felt terrible that I had let such a thing happen on my watch; after all, despite being twenty-five, I still do crave my parents’ acceptance, and the thought of losing it was playing havoc with my emotions. I can still feel the keen, stomach-clenching dread that I felt as I called my dad. 

I was shocked how understanding my Dad was. “The car is pretty beat up anyway,” he said, “Just bring it home and we’ll have a look.” Even tone of voice. No sign of disappointment or threats of being disowned. He told me not to freak out, but I had a long drive ahead. I never stood a chance.

The ride home started out ok. I put on a great CD (Steady as she Goes by the Raconteurs) and hit the highway. Along the way, I heard nature’s call and stopped at a gas station. On getting back to the car, I noticed huge scratches across the driver’s side which I was certain had not been there when I stopped for gas on the way up. 

Imagine a moment of crazed denial, a halfwitted hope against hope. Imagine me, hoping that the obvious scratches on the weather-beaten Dodge were just streaks of road salt, and my mad, frantic scrubbing at them with the little windshield squeegie-sponge from the gas station. Set it all to the climax of the Rolling Stones’”Gimme Shelter,” and that is what I was just then, a flesh-puppet full of panic held together with perhaps the most paranoid song ever to issue from Mick Jagger’s lips. Indeed, it seemed to me that a storm was threatening my very life, and all I wanted was some shelter. 

How could I be this careless, I wondered, as I struck out again towards the highway. I don’t take the best care of my things, it’s true, but I did my very best with the car this trip – what the hell was wrong with me? 

The ride was a blur of self-recriminations and attempts at calming myself down.

Maybe the scratches weren’t my fault, I vainly hoped. Maybe Dad won’t notice. Maybe it’ll be ok…

You lazy, no-good shit! You never take responsibility for anything – not that it would do you any good! Of course he’ll notice, and of course they’re your fault – and it will never be okay. 

By the time I got to my parents’ place, I was ready to crawl across Providence to my own apartment like a worm, dragging my guitar behind me. 

Dad greeted me outside the parental palace, and I held my breath. He walked around the car, and finally said “What were you talking about exactly?” I showed him the crunched door handle, and he looked at me askance. “Oh, your brother did that a while ago.” 

Pardon? I showed him the scratches. 

“Oh, your mom did that.” 

My entire internal melodrama melted into liquescent relief. I saw then the cosmic joke of that beat-up minivan – that somewhere along the line, despite any and all evidence to the contrary, I had subconsciously bought into the not-good-enough trip. I caught myself, but only just. The ironic perspective of myself has not left me, nor has the insight into anxiety as a fact of my life and the lives of others. I hope the lesson will remain clear. Well played, Universe. Well played. 

It is tempting for us to deny the role that anxiety and fear play in our lives. We are told that ‘fortune favors the brave,’ and that ‘fear is failure and the forerunner of failure,’ or, for my Frank Herbert fans out there, “Fear is the Mind Killer.” Certainly none of us want to think of ourselves as cowardly beings driven by dread, but to push that part of our experience away is not the answer. Even revisiting the experience in the relative safety of the Rochambeau branch of the Providence Community Library brought back a visceral sense of that fear, the fear that some inner corruption, some basic rottenness inside me would spill forth through carelessness and cause those who claim to love me to reject me. This is a fear – indeed, a grinding, chronic angst – that lives in many hearts these days. I’m not here to speculate about how it got there or who’s to blame. I’m here to do my best to integrate it, and to help others do the same. 

Overthinking Overdrinking: St. Paddy’s Purim

Sometimes it is hard to explain one’s interfaith background. Sometimes it causes confusion in a synagogue when you forget to take off your Celtic cross necklace, though to be fair, in my experience, more people understand the significance of tzitzit at a Pagan Pride festival than on the street in Providence. 

Sometimes, however, it is just plain awesome. And this year is one such time. 

This year, Purim, the drunken celebration often called ‘the Jewish Halloween,’ which commemorates yet another failed attempt to exterminate, convert, or otherwise make Jewishness not happen, comes just one day before St. Patrick’s Day, the most well-known and pervasively-celebrated Catholic saint’s day in Protestant-swarmed America. And being Jewish and of Irish extraction… well, pass the Manischewitz and the Guinness, bhoys, it’s shaping up to be a helluva weekend! 

Now, I for one appreciate the fact that St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by Irish and non-Irish alike here in America. Kitchy, leprechuan-and-shamrock-spangled BS aside, for those who want to delve deeper the bottom of the nearest pint glass, it gives non-Irish Americans a chance to learn more about Irish culture, cuisine, folklore, and the experience of the Irish here in America, which was not very nice in the beginning. My modest proposal is to do the same thing with Purim – let everybody celebrate it at whatever level they can appreciate it. Those who just want to get drunk can get drunk. Those who want to get drunk while wearing silly costumes can do that, too. But for those who want a taste of Jewishness that they might not get during the rest of the year, they can hear the Purim story, in English, Hebrew, or any language they want. They can celebrate the miracle of survival and the retention of cultural and religious identity within the heartless empires of days past and today. And those who want to get drunk to feel closer to God can do that too. 

There are some factions who want to shut the doors, and say that St. Patrick’s should be ‘just’ for the Irish (or just for ‘white’ people, apparently). On the Jewish side of things, I know of very few who would support Purim taking what we might call the Lucky Charms route to cultural acceptance, but that’s hardly what I have in mind. Most of my Jewish friends will drink with Gentiles any other day, and the best Purim parties I’ve been to have always been open affairs. I believe that opening the doors of holidays like this in a polyglot, multicultural world like ours is a vote of confidence in one’s own cultural identity, and for those who want to learn, it is a bridge to better understanding. 

Spring is a time to celebrate survival. The trees are budding, and even those of us not at the mercy of the elements can feel a bit of relief that winter, for the time being, is fighting a losing battle. In the Celtic Pagan idiom, the Oak King is recovering his strength, and challenges the Holly King for supremacy. To paraphrase the Greek idiom, Persephone is hustling her bustle past Cerberus on the way out of Hades. Everyone on Earth today stands on the shoulders of our ancestors, the heroes and the scoundrels, the average and the extraordinary alike all passed on the fire of life to us. Our job is to be grateful to them, celebrate them, and realize their total humanness in its good and evil and mediocre forms. We also ought, I believe, share our cultures with others on as level a playing field as possible – no one culture on a pedestal, no culture left in a pit. History makes this difficult, and no matter what the whiners say, making room for “other” cultures is not a ‘punishment.’ It is an opportunity. There is no one on earth that you – yes, you- cannot learn something from in the right circumstances. Sometimes, those circumstances are academic, professional, or religious. And sometimes they are in a bar. 

The world is far from perfect, but we all have a lot to celebrate this Spring. So, stay safe, have fun, and if you have a moment, see if you can’t imbibe some culture along with your beer, wine, or whatever. And even if you don’t go looking for him, if you encounter the Pooka, tell him J Bandaloop sends his regards.

Overthinking Piracy

Photos courtesy of M.S. Morais

This past weekend, I was a pirate.

 

ARRRRRR!

 

 

And a singing pirate at that!

You’d be hard pressed to find a scurvier crew with better singing voices.

On Saturday, my beloved Kelley and I and several of our friends headed up to Dover, NH to help inaugurate the Dover Bowl’s pirate-themed laser tag course as a part of the singing pirate crew BONES – the Brethren of the North East Seas. Several other pirate crews were in attendance as well, and the day was spent singing shanties, shmoozing with other sea dogs, eating, drinking, shooting pool, and securing several subsequent gigs. People loved us.

 

 

It got me wondering – what is it about pirates that people love so much? Disney’s Captain Jack Sparrow is credited with kicking off the recent upswing in pirate popularity, and the recent Assassin’s Creed game is certainly helping people to rediscover the wonder of sea shanties, but there seems to be something more about pirates that we want to associate with. This is of course more relevant to the image of pirates we see in the media rather than the reality of historical piracy and, indeed, modern piracy. Pirates have become symbolic not because they were saints in reality, but because they represent a cluster of certain virtues that many WIERD people feel their lives may lack.

Pirates, like many other cinematic archetypes, are associated and even identified with freedom, and libertarian and anarchist thinkers alike claim a sort of intellectual, cultural, or perhaps spiritual kinship with the buccaneers of days gone by. Many of us do see ourselves beset by a culture that thrives on ignorance, an economy structured to keep us running on hamster wheels, and a government that at every level would rather listen to billionaires than to ordinary citizens, no matter how loud we are. The pirate in us urges us to take arms against this situation – figuratively or literally as the case may be- and to carve out spaces where we are free to be who and what we are – or who and what we wish to be. The pirate in us knows our own worth, and will defend us, our endeavors, and those we love with her/his life. The pirate in us encourages us to empower ourselves and one another to do what we can to better our lives without permission from on high, and reminds us that life isn’t worth living without celebration. Which brings me back to BONES.

Every member of BONES has a day job, and each of us lives – to one degree or another – in consensus reality. We each have our reasons for becoming pirates, and I look forward to getting to know my shipmates better and learning these reasons. For me, creating and inhabiting a pirate character is a wonderful chance to embody and pass along that spirit of antiauthoritarian, interdependent, hardworking, hard-partying, swashbuckling badassitude, and to do it all in song is heaven itself.

But it is bloody hard to feel that badass when one’s shipmates insist on calling one WHUMPKINS.

 

BONES is actively seeking gigs throughout the Northeast US at any event where pirates would be welcome. Contact us here for more details. And you can tell them that Master Whumpkins sent you.

The Unbearable Lightness of Business

What turns me off to most things labeled “Business” is the culture and aesthetics that come with the territory.

Sure, I’ve been programmed to believe that a jacket and tie looks ‘sharp,’ that skyscraper office buildings are ‘powerful,’ that the world of business, in short, is a world of dignity, and that even its excesses are calculated to reinforce the power of its rituals, garb, and priesthood. There is no escaping a certain degree of that program in the United Snakes today. Even those of us who prefer trees  to office buildings and bonfires to boardrooms must occasionally nod to the world of Business and affect its mannerisms in the name of survival tickets.

Even in the arts, the orthodoxy of being ‘businesslike’ clings like a limpet to most organizations.

Yet as with so many things encumbered with ritual and protocol, the drama of business obscures the fact that it is, at bottom, all about negotiation, which is to say, communication. And a great deal of that communication

Here is a riddle to guess if you can…. is The Big Boss still The Big Boss without his Big Boss costume and supporting characters?

I am doing a lot of business these days, and though I cannot tell you what business IS, I can certainly tell you what it feels like, stripped of office politics, meaningless water cooler gossip,  and lunchroom pop culture ping-pong.

Business feels like talking to people.

And I can talk to people.

I cannot build skyscrapers or import coffee or fund an election campaign, but I can sure as hell talk to people.  And now and then, those people do things because I talked to them.

It all feels so ephemeral, yet so powerful.

It makes me wonder what I could do if I talked to the right people. Or the wrong people.

Of course, this experience reinforces my intuition that business (and government, sports, and even arts and culture – in fact, most of the sections of your newspaper/news site of choice) is a cheap sideshow next to the decay of the planet, and yet, business has a key role in the main event, even as the sideshow goes on. We have yet to see how the gladiatorial contest will go, but anyone rooting for anything but the Earth is rooting, in the end, for her/his own extinction.

How can I appreciate anything I do onstage in the age of global climate change? How can I shake people out of the sideshow and arm them for the arena?

Can you talk to people?

A Short List of Tiny* Musical Subgenres

Ever since I saw this video, I’ve been researching obscure musical genres. Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of them. They’re all pretty underground, but I think one or two might really break out in the next couple years.

- Velcropop

- Fishbowl Folk

- Solar techno

- Baldfaced Classical

- Tombstep

- Reggae From Space

- Baroque Junkyard

- Drainpipe Bebop

- Elephant Polka

- Squonk

- Wibble

- Exquisite Corpse EDM

- millionaire fandango

- Whomp Stomp

- Vortex Shimmy

 

*and by tiny, I mean nonexistent**

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

**to the best of my knowledge. IF anybody out there makes one of these happen, let me know. I will videotape myself squeeing and put it online for all to see. And you will beam with pride. And we shall feast and make merry. Fa lalalalala lalalalal fal lalalala laaaaaaaa.

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Markovich Arts

Personal Blog of Alex Markovich: if you enjoyed any of my photos I can send it to you as a postcard (free of charge) – in exchange, I would appreciate if you mention it in your blog or your social network. If you, or one or more of your friends, is the owner of the cafe, bar or a restaurant, head of the library or an exhibition hall, I am pleased to offer you a sufficient number of my original photographs to display for a photo exhibition, titled “Rural Russia”.

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