August 6, 2020

Pack

We’re packing for a trip of indeterminate length. Our plans to log some time in the Mojave got scotched this year, but C’s sister has a cabin in the woods somewhere in Ohio near the Kentucky border. Our little flat in New York has been our entire world—bedroom, other room, kitchen, and repeat—so I’m grateful for any change of scenery. I’m already making plans to become a more positive person. Maybe someone who wakes up early and stretches and doesn’t read the news. Today the governor of Ohio tested positive for the coronavirus, so that’s an interesting omen.


Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement – Black Magic Originated In Nature

Folklore Venom | Hospital Productions, 2013 | Bandcamp
Bombay Beach, California, 2016
August 5, 2020

Decay

This journal will probably begin to decay through August. I’ve lost the thread of this nightly exercise. Maybe it will disintegrate into fragments, stray factoids, and orphaned sentences. Like how the other night I had a dream with an unseen voice saying come here and give god a kiss.

Lately my dreams have been all garble and grime without symbolism or plot. This seems to harmonize with the current gestalt. I often have the sensation of being forced to read the news. Breathe from your diaphragm, the experts tell you. But this year’s happening in the chest, an electrified snarl around the sternum. I downloaded a meditation widget that told me I am not behind my face. “Breathe through your back,” it said. I deleted it.

The rational world feels as if it’s slipping away, but this has happened before. The Surrealists believed this a century ago, and I’ve been thinking about their dreamworlds of flooded bedrooms, bird-men in the streets, and melting machines. Were they fussy about their dreams? Did they consume a specific diet of fairy tales, scientific journals, and newspapers to achieve the desired phantasmagorias while they slept?


Various Artists – Erode

Decay Product | Chain Reaction, 1997 | More
August 4, 2020

Debris

A tropical storm blew across the city today. Seventy-mile winds and a couple of inches of rain. Then it turned into a beautiful evening. Walking down the street, I resisted the urge to take pictures of all the people taking pictures of tipped-over trees and scattered branches. More and more it feels like bad juju to contribute to these dynamics, although I’m not quite sure why. There’s Sontag again: “Today everything exists to end in a photograph.”

Meanwhile, there was a massive explosion in Beirut. Mushrooming clouds of debris. Fireballs that filled the sky. These images were immediately recorded, compiled, and transmitted across the world’s screens. The cause remains unknown.

Maybe human brains aren’t equipped for this, absorbing painful images from everywhere at once without context or the ability to be present and act.

Central Park Moon
August 3, 2020

Moon

There’s a full moon tonight. The Farmer’s Almanac calls it a Sturgeon Moon in August. I should understand the rhythm of the moon by now, but I don’t. One night it’s a distant headlight, chilly and remote, and the next night it’s a bloody orange that fills half the sky. Sometimes it hovers above the East River. Other times it rises behind the city. The moon orbits the earth, I know this much, but why does it appear in all corners of the sky? The Babylonians figured this out thousands of years ago when people believed the earth was balanced on the back of a turtle—why can’t I? I half-remember the textbook pictures, the illustrations of elliptical orbits and axial tilts. I tried keeping a logbook once—full moon in the east; half-moon in the southwest—and sketched chaotic diagrams of ovals, arrows, and lopsided planets. My calculations would have the moon crashing into Jamaica Bay tomorrow. And wouldn’t that be something?

I wonder what life must have been like in the age of the tortoise-earth, to believe the heavens would come crashing down unless the right sacrifices were made, the correct rituals performed. To believe the moon was a rabbit or that thunderstorms were demons. Lunar. Lunacy. Perhaps this had been a better way to live, to see faces in the moon and believe they granted permission for madness.


John Maus – Hey Moon

We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves | Upset the Rhythm, 2011 | Bandcamp
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
August 2, 2020

Normal

Tonight I jogged past the Metropolitan Museum of Art and stopped hard in front of its grand steps. Sometimes it hits like a fresh slap, just how much the world has changed. I thought about those in-between days in March when New York’s institutions began closing, one by one. Office buildings and schools. Libraries and museums. I remembered how I thought this would be temporary, that things would return to normal in a few weeks. That was nearly five months ago.

When does returning to normal become impossible? Maybe there’s a parallel to the psychosocial shifts following the Great Depression or World War II, the gradual realization that life will have a new cadence, that the rhythms of the past can never be recovered.

I often think about all those paintings inside the museum, hanging unseen in the gloom.

In 1993, Octavia Butler imagined a climate-ravaged America circa 2020 in The Parable of the Sower. She anticipated the spirit of today’s Democratic Party with its feeble slogans like “build back better” when she describes a presidential candidate as “a kind of human banister . . . a symbol of the past for us to hold on to as we’re pushed into the future. He’s nothing. No substance. But having him there, the latest in a two-and-a-half-century-long line of American Presidents make people feel that the country, the culture that they grew up with is still here—that we’ll get through these bad times and back to normal.”

Giving up on normal seems like a critical psychic adjustment these days. Normal wasn’t great, anyway. We’re being pushed hard and unnecessarily, but maybe someday we’ll find a better rhythm.


The KLF – A Melody from a Past Life Keeps Pulling Me Back

Chill Out | KLF Communications, 1990 | More
August 1, 2020

Max

“You’re looking at the future: people translated as data.” This line from Max Headroom certainly holds up thirty-five years later. Every few years, I think about the 1987 signal hijacking at a Chicago television station when an unknown man wearing a Max Headroom mask took over the airwaves to mutter nonsense. (The Wikipedia entry includes this fine sentence: “The video ended with a pair of exposed buttocks being spanked with a flyswatter before normal programming resumed.”)

Max Headroom occupies an odd space in cultural memory: a tacky 1980s face on a t-shirt that hawked New Coke and music videos, as well as a glitchy Neuromancing vision of artificial intelligence that satirized a culture increasingly directed towards sitting alone in front of a screen.

Last night I rewatched the original British pilot from 1985, and it’s remarkably durable. Surveillance cameras are everywhere. Vicious advertising tactics are killing people. And wireframe graphics, joystick controls, and VHS tapes leverage the retrofitted future aesthetics of Blade Runner and Brazil, with harsh lights shining through makeshift ventilation systems and piles of televisions flickering on street corners. (Strange how stacks of junked televisions became a dystopian trope, yet the logistics make no sense.) The most chilling feature of this future: off-switches are illegal.


Elecktroids – Future Tone

Elektroworld | Warp, 1995 | Bandcamp
July 31, 2020

Cigarette

I smoked my last cigarette three years ago on July 31 in a motel parking lot somewhere in South Carolina. There was a half-moon in the sky and a large man in a red pick-up truck was talking to somebody on the phone about Jesus. Insects whirred in the bushes across from a 7-Eleven. I’ve smoked so many last cigarettes, and I remember all of them. Nothing feels finer than making plans to quit smoking while lighting a cigarette.

I miss the aesthetics of smoking, the ceremony of fire escapes, solitude, and ash. Instead I run. I creak and jiggle and curse five nights a week. It’s a lousy replacement. If I knew the world would end in a year, would I start smoking again? I often contemplate this question while I grind out my miles.

One night I was idling at a red light in New Orleans when an elderly woman approached my car. She tapped on my window with a cane. “Please help me,” she said. “I have cancer.” She asked me to drive her to the discount tobacco store, and I did.


Ensemble Economique – Gonna Get Right with God, Right After This Next Cigarette

In Silhouette | 2014 | Bandcamp
Rain on the screen
July 30, 2020

Ready

The heat is finally ending tonight. The rain came an hour ago, and C. says it feels like a fever’s breaking. News about the climate crisis tends to focus on high temperatures, not the lows. But since the 1990s, the average nightly temperature has been rising faster than the daytime highs. And these nights have felt so heavy, like the way an old man steps out of a bodega with a tallboy of beer in a damp paper bag and says, “Oh Lord.”

Sometimes C. and I debate whether we’d rather live in ferocious heat or subzero cold. She always chooses the cold. “You can put on a jacket,” she says, “but you can’t take off your skin.”

They buried John Lewis today. The New York Times published an essay he wrote just before he died. I can’t imagine the sensation of writing beyond my death, hoping its timing might capture the attention of a nation busily tearing itself apart. “While my time here has now come to an end,” he begins. And: “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.” His essay appeared alongside news about the collapsing American economy and how it might not bounce back. A former presidential candidate who dismissed the pandemic died of the virus this morning. A hurricane named Isaias formed in the Caribbean this afternoon, and it threatens to roll up the eastern seaboard. Meanwhile, our current president suggested delaying the election. Although this is unlikely, the table is set for chaos in November.

I flipped to where I’d left off in Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower. The synchronicity knocked me sideways as the narrator prepared her friend to get ready for inevitable upheaval: “We can get ready. That’s what we’ve got to do now. Get ready for what’s going to happen, get ready to survive it, get ready to make a life afterward. Get focused on arranging to survive so that we can do more than just get batted around by crazy people, desperate people, thugs, and leaders who don’t know what they’re doing!”


Fennesz – Rainfall

Agora | Touch, 2019 | Bandcamp
July 29, 2020

Pray

When I consider the man I want to become someday, I often picture myself as someone who prays. I have no idea why this impulse is so persistent or where I would direct my prayers or why I haven’t yet become this man. But I enjoy imagining myself climbing out of bed and kneeling before a devotional image. Whenever I see someone unrolling a mat and kneeling towards the east, I envy the sense of orientation this must provide as their thoughts turn to otherworldly matters or the workings of the soul.

This morning I started reading Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower, and I already know it will be an essential book for me. I’m only on page 40, but this feels like the most prescient American dystopia: a climate crisis that leads to desperate violence and reactionary politics. And Butler writes beautifully about god through the voice of a spiritualized fifteen-year-old:

A lot of people seem to believe in a big-daddy-God or a big-cop-God or a big-king-God. They believe in a kind of super-person. A few believe God is another word for nature. And nature turns out to mean just about anything they happen not to understand or feel in control of. Some say God is a spirit, a force, an ultimate reality. Ask seven people what all of that means and you’ll get seven different answers. So what is God? Just another name for whatever makes you feel special and protected?

But what is this urge to pray? My first thought speeds past the philosophical, evolutionary, and aesthetic reasons, and unexpectedly lands on a few lines from Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem:

It was impossible to expect a moral awakening from humankind itself, just like it was impossible to expect humans to lift off the earth by pulling up on their own hair. To achieve moral awakening required a force outside the human race.

It’s a challenging, even troubling thought, but it’s also humbling—which might be the point of prayer.


Atlas Sound – Praying Man

Parallax | 4AD, 2011 | More
Mojave Sunset, 2011
July 28, 2020

Demon

Today’s headlines featured terms like “demon sperm” and “the umbrella man” because we’ve slipped into a psychedelic hell this summer. There’s a doctor in Houston who supports our president’s bizarre fixation on hydroxychloroquine as a cure for everything. She also believes we get sick from having sex with witches in our dreams. The president thinks she’s terrific. He says she’s “spectacular in her statements” and I can’t disagree.

Meanwhile in Minneapolis, authorities have identified the man with an umbrella who smashed up the windows of an Auto Zone and kickstarted a night of arson and looting. He’s a white supremacist linked to the Hell’s Angels. The umbrella natters at the mind. Maybe it’s meant to hijack the symbolism of the protests in Hong Kong, where umbrellas shield protestors from security cameras and drones. Perhaps it’s a 21st-century echo of the Umbrella Man in the Zapruder film that captures the killing of JFK. He’s the mysterious man who opened an umbrella on a sunny day, the one who some believe gave the signal to kill the president.

I remember driving through the Mojave desert ten years ago. I was lonely and filled with grief, and I flipped on the radio for company. I heard a man say they found the lost city of Atlantis, that it was somewhere under Reno. Living in America these days feels like being trapped inside that moment forever.


Midwife – Demon

Prayer Hands | Antiquated Future, 2018 | Bandcamp
Inspiration notes
July 27, 2020

Inspiration

A list of things that inspired the book I’m writing: North Dakota snow. Aural destabilization. Kōbō Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes. William James and “the educational variety of religious experience.” Bohren and Der Club of Gore. Neoplatonism. Varvara Stepanova. Waffle House. The Salton Sea. Bombay Beach. Endless rain. Hubert Robert’s ruins. Static. The main character has my mom’s eyes. The lights of Do Lung Bridge in Apocalypse Now. The Electrifying Mojo. Chrome. No sunshine, only night. Ela Orleans. Rumble strips and tollbooths. Broken screens. Endless rain. Season two of The Leftovers. Plotinus. Origen. The rose in The Little Prince: “Let the tigers come with their claws.” Mahjong. The Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans. Robert Irwin. Stephen King’s The Stand. The Ronettes. The orange juice kid. Spinoza and the idea that god is in the trees. Freightliner trucks. Desert religion. The Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada. The nails and blades in a ritualistic power figure: Nkisi N’kondi. Dial tones. Kali Malone’s The Sacrificial Code. Twentynine Palms. The makeshift towns in the Imperial Dunes. Coast to Coast AM. Being afraid to pray. Reel to reel tapes. Ghosts. Hexagram 18 in the I Ching: Decay. Heat lightning. Footsteps on marble. Marina Abramović’s Rhythm 0. Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. The profane old Buddha in New Orleans who told me that “opinions kill motherfuckers and experience saves lives.” Flickering lights. Mysterious wounds. Color breathing. Robocop and “I’ll buy that for a dollar.” Slab City. Motel vending machines. Interstate 10 is the dime and Interstate 55 is the double-nickel. Maersk Sealand. The Cold Crush Brothers. Sodium lights. Highway service plazas. Towns called Fairfield. Tristan Tzara’s Dada manifestos. Basic Channel. Caravaggio’s Saint Jerome in Meditation. Folding chairs. Church basements. Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower. Replicas, simulations, and artificial skies. Will Durant. The Scholastics. Bertrand Russell. Model 500’s “Night Drive through Babylon” on Woodward Avenue at three o’clock in the morning. Yōko Ogawa’s The Memory Police. Francisco de Zurbarán’s The Crucifixion. Don DeLillo’s Underworld and Mao II. Jeunet and Caro’s The City of Lost Children. William Basinski: “The world is in a bad feedback loop right now.” Tarot readers, soothsayers, and faith dealers. Late-night callers. Glitchy power grids. Doubt.

Broadway, NYC
July 26, 2020

Wave

The heatwave continues. Going outside is like walking into a hairdryer. People teeter in the street, sweat staining their masks. The pandemic has stretched from a blip into a season and now it’s the way we live in America, checking the infection curves and color-coded maps each morning like the weather. The seven o’clock cheers faded long ago.

Five years ago, my father and I spent eleven months far from home, waiting for him to receive a lung from the VA hospital. Lately I’ve been thinking about something he said: “At first the uncertainty was bearable because it was a new kind of uncertainty, but now it’s becoming familiar and that makes it worse.”

What will be the longterm effect of this national humiliation? Each day feels dumber and more dangerous. A headline said bird attacks on Americans are on the rise. Fair enough.


Massive Attack vs Mad Professor – Heat Miser (Backward Sucking)

No Protection | Wild Bunch Records, 1995 | More
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