There’s a place in the cove, a place with a view of the rocks that sit like unused material in the abandoned construction of the coarse cliff side. Sheltered from the sun by the overhung jungle, the crabs stagger this stone field, much of the surface a blanket of surgical edges. Old folks tell of a pirate movie filmed here in the forties. The stones made filming delicate and dangerous for the mermaids. The waves lap here at low tide, keeping time. The planetary chronograph. The sun sets between the towering stones during certain months. As things have gone, I find it impossible not to think of it. I am ruined by it. The red sea, breathing under the lust of the sun’s blinding egg yolk. Dolphin fins cut tracks on the surface. The salt breeze. It is all I see. No matter how much effort I waste to change it.
White gleam oppressed the sky, forcing one eye shut while the other surveyed the rock wall ahead of him. Five hundred feet of scrub and cactus curved the talus to the three hundred feet of jagged wall. He knew the fastest ascent. He knew the location of the hidden crack where very few before him had climbed the natural steps to the top, shortening the trek to town by a day. By now, his pursuers moved at a far greater speed behind him, somewhere in the valley. Probably on the old mining road. One of their three choices. Not the fastest choice but the easiest. Confident they had him out flanked. He imagined the dust they must have kicked up near the flatland breaks by the river. He imagined the children from the state home in awe of their numbers, their uniforms, their weapons. He hadn’t yet calculated his move a full fledged hoodwink but if they were to mistake his absence on the other side of the mountain tomorrow as anything but their own mistake, his strategy will have reaped a reward he had not considered until now.
I’m standing on the marble floor of the station, her tears falling into sparkling shatter below me. She has stopped herself from walking away to tell me this is all she has, all she knows. If she loses me, she might disappear. In too many ways to count I have described the scale of importance here. Bigger things rule our lives. Bigger things call me to the edge. I can save lives. I cannot resist the siren. Blood colored light pierces our world as the wall monitor cycles to another ad. She says, once more, that there are ten other people who can take my place. She reaches out for me. The train approaches. The other feet on the floor move in singular sound and direction. My will to touch her again withers in the subsequent rotation of advertising, the blood transmuted to some home with some family eating something, or drinking something. Maybe they’re smiling. Maybe they’re ribbed in embrace. For a very brief moment, I find her reflection in the jagged shaped of her tears on the floor but as I sit down and close my eyes, I admit to myself that I made that part up.
Welcome to another costly spin around the sun! 2018 has arrived. I thought I’d talk about mystery today since both 2016 and 2017 did a number on us. I doubt 2018 will be much different.
In my unfinished definition of struggle, mystery performs a lion’s share of the labor.
That may not compute right away but let me rearrange some things.
Our only physical experience of time is bound to the present, the now. The now is the only place where we touch time and time touches us. Yet without the ability to recall the past, the now means little. This recall develops between the ages of two and four and from that murky moment on, we ride the spearhead of time with a reasonable level of cognizance. Granted, we alone construct our reality whether it be the present, the past, or the future but dark, pregnant futures make assembly treacherous. We rarely do it well. Hindsight boosts our precision with the past—not by much but it’s enough to make our gambles on the future seem psychotic in comparison.
This mystery in the projectile of time holds individual struggle in fixed gaze, catatonic. Every passing second, we convince ourselves there will be a succeeding second and another and another and so on. Our only evidence for this conviction: the flimsy memories of a miniscule amount of seconds that came before the next. The whole order of operation grows shaky.
As always, my response follows the Camus rationale. What else is there to do but continue? Kill yourself or point your nose into the wind. With full acceptance of the relativity of emotions and experience, reacting to my fear of the vacancy at the razor’s edge of time seems a waste. A waste of what? The possibility of the next second. Possibility creates value in the now. The now, not the spearhead, is the exhilarating vehicle into the possibilities, even if those possibilities are slim.
It’s sometimes difficult to quantify the constraint mysteries place on us. It pervades our existence. At times the fear these mysteries instill in us becomes debilitating. Many of us use religion as bulwark against the mysteries of death, for instance. Unfortunately most religions fail to account for the ubiquitous nature of mystery. One could even make an Occam’s Razor case for mystery itself more deserving the title of deity than some ambiguous personality clothed in a thundercloud. One can argue any classic deity into a corner where they too face the awesome void of mystery. Once deities acquire personalities and weigh decisions, their realities appear not unlike our own, subject to the unknown, equally under threat.
No religion I’ve ever seen makes a deep enough dive to explain itself without invoking the limited capacities of our minds or our knowledge—which is acceptable. In fact, it’s a baby step in correct direction. There is a simple reason for this veiled confession. The mystery still stands. Neither personal saviors nor reincarnation have delivered any corporeal answers. Even cyclical cosmologies, the oldest and sometimes most coherent cosmologies, cannot answer with evidence why the cycle exists only that we should trust that this is all there is for eternity.
There is no end to mystery. It will always be there. There is no final puzzle piece. There is always another level of reality. This is one of the penultimate facts about the Universe and it does wonders when we accept it as such. Stop pining for an answer. Start asking different questions.
Back in November, a chap—I’ll call him a chap—named Jeremiah J. Johnston wrote strange albeit typical piece that came across my media feed.
Fox News. The heart that beats the veins of ‘boomer fear.
He’s titled it “What mainstream media, cultural elites just don’t get: If there’s no God, then there really is no humanity.”
There is a lot wrong with this piece. Obviously. The part I will address in a different context is the irony of legislating old fashioned values. Until then let’s nibble on this morsel.
“Indeed, one wonders when people will learn. In today’s subjective, post-modern world truth is fast disappearing. Some elites and social engineers deride concepts like right and wrong.” Jeremiah J. Johnston
Aside the comedy of suggesting that evangelism is bolted into the bedrock of truth, he whips out right and wrong as if he’s discovered it in some 2,000 year old, over edited, over analyzed text. How many times must one point out the failures of right and wrong in the Abrahamic texts to provide logical versions of either right or wrong?
One of my favorite messy moments for Gospel ethics occurs when the Pharisees and Jesus have a dispute over washing hands before meals, part of Jewish law. Jesus Christ—the literal big G God—instead of handing the human race a radical tool for fighting disease, he uses this moment to peddle his parables and theology at the expense of billions of lives. Think about it. By random chance, a method for minimizing the transference of germs from our hands to our mouths actually exists in Jewish law. Jesus—all knowing, all seeing, big G God—could have endorsed the practice in a monumental act of compassion but instead he tells his followers that washing their hands is a false practice that denies his very purpose. Instead of compassion, Jesus doles selfishness.
Is this the right and wrong Mr. Johnston is convinced lives in a battered, mistreated collection of stories from a culture grown on spooky traditions and blind authority? It’s the sort of right and wrong I find troubling throughout the Bible. If Jesus can’t get this right, it’s no shock his followers can’t get things like support for Roy Moore or Donald Trump right.
Ugaritic texts predating the Israelites as we know them (1300 bce) contain some of the seeds of Yahwism as well as early evidence of cross pollination between other pantheons of gods in geographic proximity. All the El stuff—Elohim, El -Shaddai, ect—exists in the Ugaritic texts. A dragon cycle appears in the texts and remnants specific to the Ugaritic texts appear in the Hebrew Bible. This cycle called the Baal Cycle is mapped out on the agricultural seasons. The god Baal, a son of El, destroys the Leviathan, a sea dragon or possibly simply the sea itself, and, from the carcass of the beast, constructs the physical world as the ancients understood it. A god called Marduk from Babylon also performs this exact task and he probably did it before Baal.
The early forms of Israelite religion are rotten with cross pollination (known as syncretism) from Egyptian and other Canaanite ideas. The concepts of trees of life and knowledge spin through most of the ancient Middle East. The Israelites are not alone in worshiping snakes or divine councils. Reverse engineering references to the Sun in the Book of Psalms reveals the deep vein of Egyptian influence. The Egyptian Empire influenced everything. I find this syncretism, this absorption of culture, a familiar turn in the way ideas and fascinations still ebb and flow through human cultures. I just watched Michael Rappaport make a statement on how white Americans hold African American culture in far higher regard than actual African Americans and I see variations of this effect as I peer back through history. We infect one another with the random trends and strange exports and it rarely takes a generation for these things to normalize and assimilate.
By far the most fascinating syncretism in the ancient Middle Eastern religions is that of Zoroastrianism into the gristle of Judaism, and in turn, Christianity. There was no hint of punishment after death or life after death (unless of course you were a prophet) in Judaism until the Babylonian exile. The deceptively simple dark and light structure of Zoroastrianism solved one of the biggest theological problems for the Israelite religion. Evil. If Yahweh is all powerful and all things come from him, this complicates any explanation of evil. Capital E Evil. Since the rise of the Yahwist cult, the Israelite answer had always been a mishmash of self-loathing and authoritarian pushback. Zoroastrianism had bad guy and that bad guy solved the puzzle of Evil. Where the apocalyptics of exilic Jews made tacit remodeling of the role of the (S)atan in their sacred texts, Christians and Muslims later mapped the Evil of Zoroastrianism’s Angra Mainyu to Lucifer, Satan and a whole passel of characters from the Old Testament, molding them into one Evil Prince. The Gnostics and the Catholics would write adventurous origin stories for the dark lord. Needless to say, the co-opting of a Angra Mainyu only led to far more confusing philosophical problems for both Christianity and Islam. They had simply lifted the product and left in Babylon the nuance and context of the Zoroastrianism battle between light and dark, good and evil.
Religion is Hip-Hop. Religion is anime. Religion is pho. Religion is baseball and basketball. Religion is k-pop. Religion is cultural overlap.
This variation of a Coffer Illusion is more than just a gimmick made entertaining by the quirks in our visual processes. It’s a metaphor. First, notice how it matters from what distance you initially view the image on whether or not you see the circles out right. Second, notice how once you’ve seen them, you can only for a moment force your brain to unsee them before they appear again in defiance.
The modern version of Eve and the Serpent tells the story of how—much like an optical illusion--a truth is unleashed upon the otherwise naïve. A better tale in this respect is the myth of Pandora’s Box. Each of these stories—both either still or once religious stories—feature the inability to return to the people, the minds, the world as they were prior to this new element. The universe is a different place. Even if one finds oneself attempting a return, the reality of failure always looms. Once delivered, the slightest confirmed doubt casts out stalwart beliefs forever.
We may not enjoy discoveries and the subsequent changes to our world but truth is indifferent. Hence the platitudinous mantra of the hurt caused by truth. Truth doesn’t hurt. Change hurts. Yet only for a brief time, until the smoke has cleared and the new path laid bare. When we embrace new knowledge and relent to the consequences of the new reality, a world closer to the truth emerges and since the removal of superfluous obstacles, living is easier in this new world.
No one describes the world better than Cormac McCarthy. This topic is no exception.
For some unfortunate reason the maker of this video edited out an astounding moment when Ruben Blades' character, Jefe, quotes the poet Antonio Machado and tells the too tragic to be real story behind the poem... but this is still high grade McCarthy.
River of Blood, my serial novel, is bursting with death. Go figure. Many passages of people facing that one thing with which we will all experience exquisite intimacy and yet none of us alive--doing stuff, writing, reading, listening, fearing, loving--have any first hand knowledge of this thing. It's fun to write about. And I am not want for teachers in how to do it...
Robert Stone from Damascus Gate:
'Such a dirty, fearsome place. Then she was swinging free and breath was all she cared about, all, it seemed she had ever cared about, the air of that filthy-smelling place, but there was none to be had. So with her breath all the thoughts of her devotion were expunged while the angry men stood watching her in the beam of their light and she wondered if she would ever ever die and then a deeper darkness, in its mercy, came.'
Yeah..., that passage got to me. I read it three times.
This next passage by Cormac McCarthy describes not the death of a character but the looming, heavy nature of things that have been and will be, all weighted with the inevitability of death. From The Road:
'He got up and walked out to the road. The black shape of it running from dark to dark. Then a distant low rumble. Not thunder. You could feel it under your feet. A sound without cognate and so without description. Something imponderable shifting out there in the dark. The earth itself contracting with the cold. It did not come again. What time of year? What age the child? He walked out into the road and stood. The silence. The salt drying from the earth. The mudstained shapes of flooded cities burned to the waterline. At a crossroads a ground set with dolmen stones where the spoken bones of oracles lay smoldering. No sound but the wind. What will you say? A living man spoke these lines? He sharpened a quill with his small pen knife to scribe these things in sloe or lampblack. At some reckonable and entabled moment? He is coming to steal my eyes. To seal my mouth with dirt.'
Thanks for reading.
In light of the influx of people now reading my serial novel River of Blood, I think it's appropriate to show some gratitude and maybe nip something in the bud.
First, I cannot thank you enough for reading this work as it happens. I post the episodes and watch the stats balloon at midnight every Friday and all day each Saturday and it makes all the time spent on this projects worth every late night and unexpected hour. Thank you all for the interest and support. The end of this portion of the story is looming and I hope the increased attention says something about the quality of the writing and the story. I appreciate every page turned.
Thank you complete. Now to the apology.
There are timeline issues with a certain character and they have plagued me from the start. I admit to minimal initial research on the time period and the politics of 1920s mine labor. Fox Tower's tale has followed a crooked path through the novel and I have ventured a few patch work fixes throughout. I know problems still persist. I will have time soon to mend the frays and the story will stand on solid legs. My apologies.
It is mid-afternoon, you are driving on a residential street, going a little faster than you should—upper 20s mph. You’re meeting a gorgeous new love interest at a restaurant at the other end of this quick shortcut. As happens in this neighborhood, squirrels dart hither and thither across the road and often one of these bastards stops to admire the view… such as right now. You know the rule. Don’t swerve. But for some unknown, reflexive reason you do. You blow a tire and lose control and you kill a ten year old kid walking home from school.
We’ll revisit this disaster later…
In 2015, the New York Times included in a retrospective section newsprint from a November 1922 edition in which they describe Adolf Hitler to their readers for the first time. Whatever the Times motives for including the copy, at that moment, one could not help but recognize the similitude to one Donald J. Trump. In hindsight, the 1922 article highlights the Times’ lackadaisical response to Hitler’s anti-Semitic rhetoric, painting it as some Machiavellian maneuver to build disaffected support. American intellectuals did not—or did not want to—believe Hitler was who he said he was. And millions upon millions of lives evaporated in the heat of that short circuit.
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River of Blood, a novel about anarchism, atheism, racism, violence, family, and corruption.
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