Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sick Of It All

I am sick to death of defending Extreme Horror. I am sick of all the pompous, self-righteous, self-proclaimed guardians of the genre making broad generalizations like, "Extreme horror is just gore for the sake of gore." or, "I don't think horror is just about the gross-out." "Horror is about dread and fear not about shock value." or "You need good characterization not just page after page of mutilation, rape, and torture." No shit, Sherlock. Did you figure that out all by yourself? Horror is dread and fear and suspense AND shock-value. It is a story that raises goosebumps and one that makes your skin crawl and your stomach turn. It is that creeping fear that leads up to that moment of extreme terror when we see the monster and it pulls your guts out through your asshole, when see the violence and the mayhem in all it's raw un-edited glory! Dread is the build-up. Shock is the pay off. A horror story is like a symphony and shock is the crescendo. That's what it is to ME, but it may not be that for everyone and that's okay. It doesn't have to be. Some people will take the dread and the suspense without the shock and some are happy with the shock and don't need the slow buildup. That's cool. To each his own. Who has the right to dictate what others should or should not enjoy?

Suspense, dread, shock, that eerie creepy feeling, that feeling of revulsion, these are all part and parcel of that thing we call horror. These are not mutually exclusive concepts. Sometimes a few good shocks help create that fear and dread as you wait on pins and needles waiting to jump and shriek, wondering what's about to be thrown at you next. Every good Halloween haunted house creator knows this much. Horror is not one thing or the other. It is the most all-inclusive genre of all! Where there is fear there is horror and who is to say what is or is not scary and what should or should not be terrifying? Gross things do scare me and a lot of people. A lot of people do have nightmares when they see something utterly disgusting happen to another human being just as people have nightmares when they see something sad or violent happen to a fellow human. People who try to dictate the limits and boundaries of fear are just assholes. If you're one of them then fuck you.

If you write a story where the characters have no depth and are just one dimensional caricatures then that's a bad story whether there's gore in it or not. If you write a story with no shock value at all but just a bunch of eerie goings on and creepy suspenseful moments but there's no character development than that sucks just as much as the story that's all shock value. If you write a story that has no discernible plot, no sympathetic characters, but has some eerie moments that's a bad story. Adding or subtracting gore won't change that. Bad writing is not the sole property of Extreme Horror. If you don't like horror that goes for the jugular and the nutsack at the same time and prefer a chill over a shriek then go read that but don't jump up on a soap box and start telling everyone else that stories with extreme sex or violence are not horror. Fuck yeah they are! They terrify a lot of people and always have. Most of the people these guys canonize were not trying to write safe sanitary tales that creep you out without disturbing you too much. They were trying to push the envelope and most of them did in their time. Robert Bloch, William Peter Blatty, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, they were all extreme in their day. I am as sick of repeating this as I am of hearing the "gore-for-the-sake-of-gore-shock-value-no-characterization" refrain repeated ad nauseum on thread after thread whenever Extreme Horror is mentioned. I am sick of pointing out how some of the best horror authors today have written extreme horror. I am sick of pointing them in the direction of classic genre literature that fits in the category of Extreme Horror. I am sick of reminding them that bad writing exists in every genre. I am sick of pointing out that shock value is as much a part of horror as dread and suspense. I am sick of pointing out that they ain't the authority on what horror is. I want to just tell them to shut the fuck up and go read their creepy little stories and leave the big scares to those who can handle them, those who love and appreciate them. But I'm far too nice a guy for that. I'm too diplomatic. Better to just eviscerate their arrogant insipid asses in a short story loaded with gore, shocking as fuck, with all the character development you could want.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Jealousy

I have never been a jealous man. I once thought that this emotion just did not exist in me. After my first two girlfriends cheated on me I learned not to expect fidelity so I never worried about what the woman I was with was doing when I wasn't around. I just assumed she was cheating which gave me license to do the same. I never worried about who had more money than me or who had a nicer car or better clothes or a better looking woman. I may have felt a moment's jealousy when a guy walked into the gym with a better body than me but that just gave me inspiration to do a few extra reps or add a little more weight on the bar. If my best friend walked in with Ms. America I would have been genuinely happy for him and not felt the slighest twinge of envy. I knew that I'd had and could always get women just as beautiful. If a co-worker won the lottery and acquired the kind of wealth that I have always dreamed of it would not have given me a moment's pause. I knew that my ship would soon be docking at the harbor carrying all the weakth I was due. A less talented fighter gets in with a major promoter and I'd have never thought to wish him anything but the best of luck. A less talented trainer signs a deal to train a major talent and I could have cared less. I knew that one day I'd be recognized for my skills as well and the big names would be coming my way. A less talented peer gets a major book deal and to me that only meant that the chances of me getting a similar deal were just as good. Why? Because I have always believed that good things were coming my way. I have always believed that I was destined to have all the things I want in life, all the things I work so hard for. That's why I can work a fulltime job and still teach kickboxing at night and then come home and write, because I believe in my heart that one day it will all pay off. As I get older and my window of opportunity shrinks I find myself beginning to feel the unfamiliar emotions of envy and jealousy for the first time. And I hate it. It is unworthy of me.

I look at myself in the mirror now and see a body that is not as hard and muscular as it once was and I find myself looking at those younger guys who walk around the gym proudly displaying the body I once possessed with resentment and animosity. I find myself thinking all the negative things people used to think about me, "I bet he's on steroids." "I bet he's conceited and Narcissistic." "He probably spends all his time in the mirror." "He's probably gay." "He's probably just overcompensating for having a small dick." "Of course he has time to spend all day in the gym. I bet he doesn't have half the responsibilities I do. He probably doesn't work hard all day and have to come home and raise kids." I know it's all bullshit though. I was never on steroids. I didn't spend all of my time in the mirror. I wasn't gay. I never had any sexual inadequacies to overcompensate for. I worked a Full-time job and had a wife and son and I still found time to make my body look the way I wanted to. The reality is that these guy I see in the gym are just younger than me. It is easier for them to build muscle and shred fat at twenty-five than it is for me at thirty-five. I shouldn't resent them for it. If I want my body to look like that again I just need to work harder for it. So, I jump back on the treadmill and do my three miles, counting the amount of calories burned the entire time. I go over to the free-weights and I grind out repetitions with as much weight as I can stand and I get over it, but suddenly it is getting harder and harder to do that.

I see guys who make less money than me driving nicer cars and with bigger houses and suddenly I find myself feeling jealous. But I know it's not their fault that I have an ex-wife who takes a quarter of my monthly income in child-support. I know it's not their fault that I got screwed when I bought my house and now have a mortgage payment that is more than a third of my monthly income. It's not their fault that I screwed up my credit immediately after buying my house and so now I am stuck in this house until I can get my credit fixed while meanwhile the price of houses keeps rising so fast that if I don't do something soon I won't even be able to afford a new house once my credit is cleared. I remind myself that not everyone has a house. I remind myself that I may not have the the newest most expensive car but I also don't have car payments to make on either of my cars. I remind myself that the money I send to my ex-wife goes to give my son the quality of life that he deserves and that I always want to be able to provide for him. I remind myself that I work so hard in order to allow my woman to stay home with my new daughter rather than pass her off to a babysitter while we both go to work and that this requires some sacrifice. But lately I have found less comfort in this.

I see an ex-girlfriend with another man and I start feeling like kicking the guy's ass. I start wondering if she loves him more than she loved me. If he treats her better than I did. If he's better in bed. If she does all the freaky things with him that I taught her how to do. I want to take her off his arm and make love to her right there in the street to prove to her that I am fucking irreplaceable! I know she's not mine anymore. I know I have no right to be jealous. So what the fuck is wrong with me? I was never like this.

A young fighter comes into the gym and manhandles one of the guys that I am training and then loudly proclaims that he's as good as I was in my prime. And I want to jump in the ring and teach the kid a lesson, but even though I know that I would have taken the guy apart in less than a round just six years ago, I know that I'm not as good as I once was. I'm not in fighting shape and he is. He outweighs me by 25lbs and if I was in shape that wouldn't make a difference but now that could lead to a major embarrassment. I know that my reflexes have slowed some with age. So I let the comment slide and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth for weeks. So slowly, quietly, I start getting myself back into fighting shape. Because I want to invite the guy back into the gym to spar with me and I want to hurt him. Because no matter what I tell myself about getting older I can't let stuff like that slide and that isn't like me. There was a time when I could have laughed it off. But now I'm afraid. I'm afraid that I might not be able to take the guy. And as much as I tell myself that there is always someone bigger and stronger and better, to me it just feels like what I'm really saying is that I can't do it anymore and I can't except that. So, I might just get my head kicked in trying to prove that I can still fight like a twenty-five year old and I know that it's stupid, but I can't stop myself.

I hear about yet another author landing a major book deal and a part of me cringes. I don't know when this started. When I first began writing again about six years ago I loved hearing about the successes of others. It gave me hope. When did it turn to jealousy? I remind myself that I am only six years into my ten year plan and things are going well, but all I can think about is the remaining four years and how that window is getting smaller and I start to panic. But even worse I start to resent and covet and envy. I tell myself to put those thoughts out of my mind and just concentrate on honing my craft. So I sign up for writing workshops and I reread The Transitive Vampire and Story . But that feeling doesn't go away. What the hell is wrong with me? I go on messageboards and I read lists of people's favorite author's or of the best books they've read that year and if I don't see my name on the list I get angry. Even though I'm not nearly as well-known or as prolific as the other writers named. Even though I know that half the people responding to those threads haven't even read my shit. Why the fuck haven't they? I get pissed off and depressed even if I didn't publish a book that year. I get frustrated because I want to see my name on that damn list! When did I start giving a fuck? I was always the guy who didn't give a fuck. That was my claim to fame. Nothing bothered me. Now I'm some raw nerve. Now...I'm becoming human and humans suck! Humans are petty and vindictive and trifling and vain and I'm better than that aren't I?

What's wrong is that I am getting older and it scares me. I'm not jealous of the kid because he has a better body or a bigger house or a nicer car or because he's a good fighter. I'm jealous because he has youth and mine is slipping away. I'm jealous because his best days are ahead of him and it feels like mine are now in the past. I'm not jealous because some guy is getting more notice as a writer than I am. I'm jealous because I'm afraid I may never get noticed. I'm not jealous because my ex-girlfriend has a new man. I'm jealous because I'm afraid that I've made all the wrong decisions and it's too late to change them. I'm jealous because I'm beginning to fear that my window of opportunity is not open in front of me but closed behind me and I somehow missed it. I'm jealous because I'm no longer as certain as I once was that I will recieve all the things I have worked so hard for and that others seem to be getting. I'm starting to wonder if hard work and dedication really do pay off or if it really is a matter of luck and timing. I'm worried that in a lifetime of always striving for loftier and loftier goals that this just might be as good as it gets. And I'm worried about the fact that I'm worrying about all of this because this isn't me! I don't trip off this kind of shit! I'm bigger than this!

So what do I do? Do I whine and complain like the punk ass trolls that haunt the messageboards announcing to all that they are the best undiscovered talent out there and decrying the acheivements of others? Do I become some bitter old coot bothering everyone with stories about how much better I was than them when I was younger? Do I give up and disappear into some black hole where people go to hide from their lost dreams? No. Hell No! I do everything I said above. I spend more time in the gym and get my body beautiful back even if that means I have to be there an hour longer than the twenty-five year old next to me who's lifting half the weight and getting twice the result. I get back into fighting shape and kick that young buck's ass or I get my ass kicked but either way, I give him the fight of his fucking life and let him know that this old man can still throw with the best of them. I clean up my credit and buy the new house but keep my old cars because they are paid off and I have a woman and don't need to show off for anyone. Fuck keeping up with Joneses. I'll kick Mr. Jone's ass! I keep honing my craft, becoming a better writer, and working towards that book deal and if that means that my ten-year-plan has to become a fifteen year plan or a twenty-year plan than so be it. Twenty years will pass whether I do anything constructive with that time or not. Better to spend it working towards my dreams. I accept the present and let go of the past and work towards the future. I get my old cynicism back and marry it with a little hope. I get my old "don't-give-a-fuck" attitude back not because I don't think anything matters but because I know that whatever happens I will survive and prosper like I always have. I do like the twelve steppers and change the things I can and accept the things I can't. And if a window closes in front of me I'll just kick down a fucking door. I'll keep fighting because that's what I do. Jealousy is for pussies.

Friday, November 18, 2005

What is Art?

Art and artists are two words that get thrown around so much that they have nearly become meaningless. There was a time when it was clearly understood what was meant by art. Artist, philosopher and prophet were words that were nearly synonymous. This was pre-Dada, before painting a street sign blue transformed it into art. I think that the modern idea that anything an artist creates is art has obfuscated the definition of art to the point where calling something a work of art now means little more than that it appeals to one persons aesthetic. It is no mystery why the artist holds so little importance in modern society. Entertainer is a title that will get you more acclaim than artist today.

So what is art? Emile Zola described art as "A corner of nature seen through a temperament." Meaning that art is the artist's unique perspective and perceptions stamped upon reality. This combination of the artist's personality and actuality is then rendered through some medium. The juxtaposition of the artist's individuality, his "temperament" and personality with whatever reality he is attempting to capture is unavoidable. In this respect the Dadaists are correct and all attempts by the artist to capture reality in some physical medium are indeed art because they are all imbued with the artist's individuality. But this definition is incomplete. It does not exclude those creations that are not meant to capture some aspect of nature or reality but are merely utilitarian like a street sign or an automobile engine. It leaves open the possibility of calling a wastepaper basket art which is what the Dada movement eventually led us to. Everything is art. Which in essence means that nothing is. It brings us back to the street sign painted blue, which I would allow if the artist had created the street sign or if that was truly how he saw it. But what we had instead were artists who would run around splashing paint on everything and then hauling it into a gallery and calling it art. The Dadaists take it too far. Which of course was their goal at the time as Dadaism was largely an anti-movement, a reaction against the stringent narrow-minded view of art that existed at the time. Sadly, the legacy left behind by this movement has damaged if not destroyed both art and the artists, which may again have been the point of the movement. So, I guess in this respect, the nihilistic movement that was Dadaism fulfilled its goal. My goal is to undo the damage.

It has been remarked on in the past how ten people can look at the same scene and see ten different things. Ten painters will paint it ten different ways. Ten photographers will take ten different pictures and ten writers will write ten different interpretations of it. This is where the seed of the idea that everything the artist creates is art came from. Because it is rare that two individuals will render something the same way. But this is just a starting point. The artist's selective preferences will transform the scene before him. Just by shading a painting differently than the guy next to you does not mean that you have created art. Even a photograph does not show the objective truth but only the photographer's perception of that truth. A photographer takes a picture of a homeless man. His decision to photograph that homeless man out of all the other countless images he could have captured is what begins to makes that photo art. The precise moment he decides to snap the picture tells us something about the artist. Is the homeless man lying peacefully in the sun? Perhaps this tells us that the photographer finds something beautiful in him. Is he wiping his nose on his sleeve? Perhaps this tells us that the photographer finds him disgusting. Is he laughing? Is he snarling and shouting? Is he making an amusing face? Is he crying? All of these things would tell us something about the artist's emotions upon viewing the subject. If he was amused by him, frightened by him, or saddened by him. What defines art is therefore the artist's intent. Was the artist trying to say something to us? Were they communicating with us or just trying to be clever? According to Leo Tolstoy, "The artist should be compelled by an inner need to express his feelings."

I have often quoted Leo Tolstoy when it comes to defining art and I shall do so again:

"... If a man without exercising effort and without altering his standpoint, on reading, hearing, or seeing another man's work experiences a mental condition which unites him with that man and with others who are also affected by that work, then the object evoking that condition is a work of art. And however poetic, realistic, striking, or interesting, a work may be, it is not a work of art if it does not evoke that feeling...A real work of art destroy in the consciousness of the recipient the separation between himself and the artist, and not that alone but also between himself and all whose minds receive this work of art. In this freeing of our minds from its separation and isolation, in this uniting of it with others, lies the chief characteristic and the great attractive force of art."

I find this interesting because in this definition of art it is not enough that the artist, like in the case of the aforementioned photographer, shows us what he thinks or feels about something but is able to make us share in this feeling, to repulse us with the same thing that repulsed him, to show us the humor, the horror, the joy, or the sadness in the same thoughts or experiences that evoked these feelings in the artist. Art is therefore a medium by which the artist shows us the world through his perspective. And this is where Dada and its contemporary bastard child "Modern Art" fails. By merely being witty, or clever, or creative without being an honest expression of the artist's "unique condition of soul" modern day artists who ascribe to this antiart style fail to create more than entertainment. Every singer, every painter, every actor, every writer, every dancer, every musician is therefore not an artist no matter how skillful or talented they are, not by this definition and I submit to you that we need this definition. Without it we are left where we are today with art priced in the tens of thousands being indistinguishable from the wastepaper basket and the fire extinguisher or someone's spilled drink. We are left with poetry being indistinguishable from a doctor's note or a grocery list. Dada was a great movement for it's time but it was a reactionary movement and the aesthetic it was reacting to no longer exists. Now the pendulum has swung in the extreme opposite direction. It is time to swing it back some. It is time to give art back to the artists and let the clever craftsmen and entertainers enjoy their acclaim as such without trivializing the lofty acheivements of true artists by lumping them all together. Art to me is the highest form of spirituality. It is man's only hope at immortality, the only means for uniting two souls across time and space. It is the most human of all acts. Man is not the only animal that walks upright. We are not the only animals with verbal communication. We are not the only tool makers but we are the only animals that create art. To be an artist is to fulfill the greatest potential of the human soul. To be a great artist, one who is able to transmit his unigue perspective, his thoughts, emotions, and personality to hundreds of thousands across centuries, across miles, generations and cultures is to be close to godhood. Art is self-expression and self-expression is life. Immortal art is immortal life.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Repentance

Repentance. Webster's Unabriged Dictionary defines the word as "deep sorrow, compunction, or contrition for a past sin, wrong doing or the like..." I have done wrong by many women in my life. This is my act of contrition.

When I was in the twelve step program for my Sex addiction, one of the final steps to recovery was to contact everyone you had ever hurt because of your addiction and apologize. I never stayed in the program long enough to get to that point. I couldn't get behind all the religious overtones and the need to submit yourself to a higher power. Logic and the human will are the highest powers I acknowledge. Even if I had stayed in the program I would have found such a task monumental. My list is long. Now, as I approach my goal of absolute freedom from this addiction I am going back to steal a page from SLAA and apologize to everyone I have hurt. Perhaps some of them will even read this. I am embarrassed to say that my memory for names is not very good so I apologize if I leave out a name or two. In fact there are many that I have forgotten entirely therefore I am limiting this writing to those women that I was in an actual relationship with (meaning more than two weeks). For all the other women, the one night stands and weekend flings, I apologize to you as well, along with anyone else I have left out. This is my open apology to all women who have ever had the misfortune of dealing with a man like me. I promise, I will be a better man. You are all now my committed allies in keeping me on the straight and narrow. Remind me of this post if you ever see me stray.

Tuerrie, (I'm sure I just murdered your name, but I'm not sure I ever really knew how to spell it.) You were my first kiss. I remember us out on that canoe in the middle of the Lake at the family reunion. Your family was like family to us and so we invited you to come join us. We made out all afternoon and it was wonderful. Until then I had never thought that any girl could ever find me attractive. My life had been nothing but hell until that kiss. You and I set up a date a few weeks later and you stood me up. It hurt me and I never forgot it. I was only twelve then. I was still innocent. That was the last summer of my innocence. When I was sixteen your mother called me out of the blue to ask me to take you to the prom. I accepted and when I went to pick you up that night I sat listening to you tell me over and over how we were just going as friends and that this date didn't mean anything. I resolved right then and there to make you fall in love with me so that I could hurt you like you had hurt me. I did and I am sorry.

Jeanette, you were my first real girlfriend. I met you at Harding Junior High and you asked me out. I accepted and immediately started pressuring you to have sex with me and then left you a few weeks later when you declined. I was so wrong I'm embarrassed to even write this. I am sorry.


Here's one of the hard ones. Chrissy, you were my first love. I put you on a pedestal. I worshipped and adored you and you destroyed me. I have never hurt the way you made me hurt. I forgive you for that now. With all the obstacles we had to deal with at that young age I should have just left you alone. It was too much for you. I understand now why you tried to leave me that first time. I should have let you go. The pressures of racism are too much for many adults. It was wrong for me to expect a fourteen year old girl to handle it. I still don't understand why you cheated on me with my best friend while I was working everyday to support you, but I've let that go too. I still should not have cheated on you. I am sorry.

Michele, Candice, Crystal, Naomi, I used you all to deal with the pain I was going through with Chrissy. I was not in a good place then and you deserved much more than I gave you. Naomi, I did love you and I wish I had given you a chance. I'm sorry if I made you feel unappreciated. Candice, you were a good friend and I should have kept you as my friend instead of taking you as my lover. I've made that mistake more times than I can count. I'm sorry and I apologize to all of you.

I can't remember the name of the girl I dated before college. It disturbs me that I can't but it doesn't surprise me. I took you for granted. You were so good to me. We met at the Blue Horizon on Halloween night and immediately fell into a relationship that I was just barely committed to. There were other women and I was not in love. I just could not stand to be alone and you were there. You deserved so much more than that. I left for college without giving you hardly any notice that I was leaving and never stayed in touch. I should have treated you so much better than that. I am sorry.

Felicia, you were my rock in college. You were my bestfriend. The funny thing is that with the big crush I had on your roommate I cannot even remember her name now. It was you I stayed in touch with and it was you who were always there for me. It was nice when you came to visit me in Philly. I can't even regret the sex. It was honest and open and beautiful. I don't regret what happened with you and Renee' and I either. I cherish that memory even if it did get a little out of hand at the end. I'll admit it now that I got a little jealous. I was more than a little possessive back then. Even still, that first night was very special. We should have just left it at that. And what can I say about San Francisco? You walked into one hell of a screwed up situation with Toni and I and I'm sorry you got stuck in the middle of that. I was way out of control by then. I had no idea that you had feelings for me. You had been my friend for so long I still thought of you that way. I wish you had come to my wedding. I wish we were still friends now. I'm sorry if I ever hurt or disappointed you. I love you sister girl.

Renee', you remain the standard by which I judge all women. You were the most incredible woman I'd ever met. You taught me so much. I would not be half the man I am today were it not for you. The best thing you ever did for me was to get me out of Philly. For that alone I am grateful. Both of us being artists was a lot harder than I thought it would be. In the end it turned into some kind of competition and that took a toll on our relationship. We were also both sex-addicts which almost sounds like it should have been perfect but we both know that we abused each other because of it. I still laugh when I think about calling you up and begging you not to have any other women in my bed when I got home from work because I was tired. That would have been most men's dream and it was mine for a while until it got out of control. That night with Pinay is still in my top ten. If I never told you how beautiful you were to me I hope you know that now. I'm sorry for how things ended.

Toni, I don't think I ever had a better friend than you. I was way too honest with you about everything while at the same time giving you all kinds of mixed signals. We should have never been more than friends. I loved you so much and back then I didn't know any other way to express my love except through sex. I miss you a lot. I'm sorry for hurting you.

Jennifer, damn you were beautiful. I don't think I'd ever seen anything as beautiful as you when I walked into that store on Haight Street. I never expected you to call me. I loved being with you, but I can't honestly say I ever really loved you. I was already damaged goods by that point. I had more issues than I could enumerate and no one at that time could have kept me satisfied for long. What we had wasn't love though I liked you a lot. I think we both knew that. I treated you like a trophy and I'm sorry. You deserved better. The way things ended was terrible too. I should have been honest with you instead of letting you walk in on me like that. I can't even remember the name of the girl I was with though I apologize to her too. She became a regular booty call for me and that wasn't fair to her either. Sorry to both of you.

Natasha, I loved you so much. You put up with a lot of shit with me. I wish we had met at another time and place. I was far gone when my broken pieces fell into your lap. You tied so hard to hold me together, to hold us together. I wasn't worthy of you.

Christina, I can still see your beautiful smile. I always felt so safe and loved in your arms. I wish I had moved in with you after I came back from Philly. I really did love you. I was going through some racial identity issues at the time and I am embarrassed to say that the only reason I didn't move in with you is because you were white. I wouldn't have admitted it to myself at the time, but I was starting to think about settling down and I was surprised to find those issues coming up. I wish you had given me a chance though. Our child would have been beautiful. Still, I understand your decision. I wouldn't have made a very good father at that time. I wasn't ready yet. I forgive you and I hope you forgive me. I'm sorry for ever hurting you.

Kelly, my beautiful brown poetess. I remember watching you read your sultry love poems while the Brown Fellinis played jazz in the background and being absolutely mesmerized. I knew I had to have you. I went back the next week just to see you. The first time I called you and heard your answering machine message I knew it wouldn't work between us. You were very religious and I was the biggest sinner around. But you were just so beautiful and so sexy. Every time we made love there was such a powerful connection. I loved introducing you to new experiences. We never really dated though we were always intimate. I guess that's what I'm really sorry for. I never gave you a chance. I used you for sex and that was as close as I allowed you to get. I never thought we could be more and perhaps we never would have, still, I wish we had tried. When you got engaged and moved to Atlanta, even though I was already married myself by then, it hurt more than I ever admitted.

Mona, I don't even know where to begin. I watched you dance every night for months just in awe of you. I had never seen a body like yours before. And the way you moved! I was blown away when I found out that you liked me too. I think every lesbian in the club wanted you. You were like some mighty Amazon warrior. You were the woman I thought I was supposed to be with. A powerful, beautiful, Black Queen. But you were just so damned muscular. It started to freak me out after a while and I wasn't man enough to tell you what was going on. I just became less and less intimate with you and then finally left. I was so wrong. I rushed into my relationship with you and then rushed back out just as quickly. I led you on, however unintentionally, talked to you about marriage before I was sure that you were what I wanted. I'm so sorry.

Rosie, I made so many mistakes with you. I hate giving excuses, but I was young and ignorant of so many things. I didn't know shit when I met you. The longest relationship I'd been in prior to meeting you was two years. I had no conflict resolution skills. In my past relationships, when arguments started I started looking for other women and then started looking for the exit door. I was a raging sex-addict at the height of my addiction when we moved in together. I promised you that I would get rid of all the other women and then I blamed you for not being able to satisfy the sexual needs that the other women had fulfilled. And I have to admit that there was still one that I held on to long after we got married. After you got pregnant and your sex drive dwindled to nothing I would lay in bed at night in a silent rage thinking that you were rejecting me and regretting my decision to marry you. I didn't know anything about the hormonal and emotional changes women go through during pregnancy. I took it as some type of slight against me and I went outside our marriage more times than I could ever confess to. When your sex drive never recovered the way I thought it should I continued my affairs, even taking a mistress for the last four years of our marriage. There were a lot of things wrong with our marriage, you were sort of cold, you had intimacy issues going back to your childhood, you never gave me compliments, rarely hugged or kissed me, and seemed to take the constant compliments and fawning affection I lavished on you for granted. And I was so extremely needy then. All the affection you withheld from me were the very things I was addicted to. I hurt more often than not in our marriage and rather than deal with those issues I ran from them into the arms of other women. I am sorry.

Zondria, you were there for me through so much. I owe you more than I could ever repay. You say that I helped you grow as a person, but I took a lot from you as well. I put you through hell in the more than half a decade we were together. I loved you so desperately. For so long you were the only thing that made me happy. I wish I had not been married when our relationship began. I wish I had given us more of a fair chance when my marriage ended. I don't know how you managed to still love me through all of that. I wish I had let you go and not contacted you again once I had started a new relationship with someone else. You had gotten everything good I had to give at that point. You didn't need me or my issues any more. All I had left to give was pain. But there was always something magical between us, the way we made love, the way we loved and nurtured each other, the way we always seemed to be able to anticipate each other's needs and give each other exactly what we needed. We seemed like such a perfect fit, but there were always obstacles and most of them came from me. I think I was just afraid. You were so perfect. If I married you and things didn't work out than I would have known that the problem was me. You loved me so much I just couldn't stand the thought of us one day yelling and screaming at each other. I couldn't stand the thought of us not loving each other one day. I never wanted to look in your eyes and not see that love there. The thought terrified me. In the end, it happened anyway. I wish you all the happiness in the world. You deserve it. You are beautiful. Never forget that. I am sorry for everything.

Glenda, I have known you for more than a decade. You were my comfort and my joy on many occasions. I was barely more than a boy when we first met. I know that I abused the power you allowed me to hold over you. I did love you in some way that even I struggled to understand. That mad passionate thing we had between us was always a hair trigger away from a major explosion. I am sorry that we were never officially a couple. I'm sorry I never let you all the way in. I'm sorry for how you came back into my life so many years after we said our goodbyes and I'm sorry about how we finally had to say goodbye again. I'm glad that you were able to find your peace and clean up your life. I truly hope you are able to hold onto this newfound strength. Have a good life.

Christie, we have survived so much. I have said many times that we make no sense together. We don't. You are the most argumentative, emotionally dependent, frustrating, infuriating woman I have ever met. Frankly, you scare the hell out of me. It scares me that I could have fallen in love with a woman so obviously wrong for me, a woman with the potential to ruin my life, yet I have. I guess it is true that opposites attract. We have clashed far too often. We have hurt each other far too much. It seems we have never been completely committed to each other at the same time. When I run away you try to hold on. When I try to hold on to you you push me away. I apologize for my part and I will make a deal with you. If you hold onto me I will hold on to you. Not just for Isis, but for us, for our future. We could spend the rest of our lives making each other miserable or we could make paradise, we could make a family, one we could both be proud of. I have made my choice and I believe you have made yours. No more hurting each other. No more hurting anyone. No more apologies. I want this to be the last apology letter I ever have to write.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Myth Of The Afterlife

Life after death. It seems such an obvious contradiction when written out in simple words. Living after you have ceased to live. Seems as if it shouldn't even require discussion. Yet billions of people across the globe from hundreds of different cultures and religions believe in just such a thing. Our senses reveal to us the evidence of life's cessation. We see the heart stop beating, the lungs stop inhaling and exhaling. We can measure brain activity as it dwindles to a halt. Yet we still believe that life continues. We believe without any evidence to support this belief. Those who do believe this seemingly unbelievable idea say that no one really knows for sure. All we have is our faith to show us the way. Is that really all we have? I beg to differ. They point to the lack of evidence against an afterlife. Lack of evidence? Really? I would suggest to you that there is now and has been for several centuries enough evidence to completely debunk the myth of the afterlife. If you have anything close to an analytical mind and you are at all open-minded and you wish to maintain your illusions than do yourself a favor and read no further. Consider this like a movie thread with spoilers in it. Because I intend to tell you exactly how this movie will end and I don't want to ruin it for those who need their illusions. I am well aware that for many many people their faith is necessary to them, something they could not imagine living without. I am not so cruel as to wish to snatch the life preserver from a drowning man. But those of you of strong faith who are already one-hundred percent committed to the conclusions you have reached through faith, who are well-skilled in the art of believing without evidence and against all contradictory evidence may well enjoy this journey and since faith has always been an effective weapon against knowledge I'm sure you will come through this unscathed. Those of you who are truly open minded and not committed to any one conclusion, but are open to all ideas may find this helpful in figuring out your own life philosophy.

First we must agree on exactly what we mean by life after death. Obviously we are not talking about the heart pumping, lungs breathing, growing and reproducing, type of life as it is defined on this planet as we can all safely agree that this does come to an end. For the purposes of this argument we will agree that we mean consciousness after death. Consciousness after the body has been annihilated, brain and all. This theory rests on the belief that the brain is not the seat of consciousness but rather the "soul" is that part of ourselves from which all of our drives, desires, instincts, emotions, and awareness originate and where our memories and personalities are stored. This soul is said to be something non-physical which cannot be physically unmade thus allowing for the consciousness to continue after the destruction of the flesh. If we can agree on that than we have a place to start and here's the first question you must ask yourself:

"How is consciousness achieved? How are you conscious of these words on this screen, the keyboard at your fingertips?"

Of course the answer is because you can see this screen. You can feel the keyboard beneath your hands, hear the click of the keys as you strike them. You can perhaps even smell the plastic from which your keyboard and much of your computer is composed. Baring these senses you could even taste the metals and plastics to confirm the existence of your computer. You are conscious of this computer the same way you are conscious of all things, because you can taste, touch, see, feel, and hear it. Consciousness is a product of the senses, senses which are all destroyed when your flesh decays and rots from the bone.

You can't see without eyes. You can't hear without ears. You can't taste without a tongue. You can't feel without nerves and skin and flesh. All of these things will rot away with the rest of your body and then what will you see with? What will you smell with? What will you hear, feel, taste with? How will you be conscious then? Extra sensory perception perhaps? Maybe there's some mysterious sixth sense that will somehow materialize after you die? Yet, we find no evidence of a sixth sense anywhere. Even those people who claim to have it, speak of it in terms of their five senses. They have visions. I can assure you that people who have never seen before have no visions. They cannot even imagine what the world truly looks like, just as you cannot imagine a color that you've never seen before or a sound that you've never heard. The blind do not have visions and the deaf do not hear voices. At best, any sixth sense would be merely an augmentation of your existing senses, which being dead, you would no longer possess.

So there you would be, alive but unconscious of anything outside your own mind (if we allow that the mind is non-physical, which I'll address soon), a vegetable of sorts. Oh, but perhaps this afterlife is like some of the Eastern religions believe, an eternal dream state? But see, the problem with dreams is that they require memories and you wouldn't have any. Did I forget to mention that? You see, when you die, your brain rots and everyone knows that that's where your memory is housed. That's why a blow to the head, a high fever, consciousness altering drugs, can all screw up your memory. Severe brain damage, we know can delete your memory and your entire personality forever. It can render you unconscious for the remainder of your life as well. Now, how could that be possible if the consciousness where some non-physical spirit? How can you physically affect the non-physical? How could a blow to the head render you unconscious and even wipe out your memory if the soul, and not the brain, were the seat of consciousness? Why is it that we can link the damaging of brain cells to the loss of both memory and consciousness if the brain were not a necessary and vital part of your consciousness? We can infact pinpoint the exact area of the brain where memories are stored and we can directly link the destruction of brain cells in that area to the permanent loss of memory. What do you think would happen to your memory if your entire brain were to disintegrate in your skull and leak out of your ears? If a blow to the head, drugs, or a high fever can render you unconscious what do you think would happen to your consciousness when your entire brain decomposed? Obviously, when your brain goes, so goes your memory and all other type of consciousness.

I knew a guy who was sitting in a coffeeshop when he runs into an ex-girlfriend. I remember the story so well, because he wrote a poem about it. He approached the girl and said hello, smiling from ear to ear. She smiled back and asked him if he knew her. His smile faltered as he replied, "Yes, of course I know you."

"Than who am I?"

She had been in a car accident a few years previous and had total amnesia. They sat down and talked and she began asking him questions about herself.

"I like sports now. Did I always like sports?"

"No, defintely not. You hated sports."

"I'm a lesbian now. Was I always a lesbian?"

"Uh, No."

She blushed realizing that they must have been lovers.

"I paint now. Was I an artist before?"

"No. You weren't."

As they talked he realized that he was talking to an entirely different person in his former grilfriend's body. There was nothing the same. Even her pattern of speech was different, he said. I saw a show on TV about a kid who was a college football star who had an accident, got amnesia, and now hates football and thinks it's stupid, iss shy around girls, is completely opposite of the kid he used to be. His parents say that they had to bury their old kid and treat their son as if he were an entirely new child because he was. So, obviously even with our same bodies our memories go along way into deciding the type of people we will be. So, again I ask you to imagine what it would be like to wake up in a new body with no memories of ever having been anything else. How the hell do you think that "You" by any reasonable definition of the self would continue to exist? Your self would be no more.

So, let's look at this afterlife of yours. You are a disembodied spirit without the ability to see, feel, taste, smell, or hear, no way at all to experience anything new and no memory of ever having experienced anything in the past. You are as unconscious as a stone and you can't even dream. Remember what I said about not being able to imagine a shape or color or taste you'd never experienced? What if you'd never seen or experienced anything? If you had no memory of any shape, any color, any taste, any cutaneous or kinesthetic sensations, how could you dream then? Dreams of an eternal blackness without form or substance or sensation? Does that sound like heaven to you? That is no afterlife.

But maybe those New Age religions are correct and life is just this eternal energy that's a part of everything and last forever. That could very well be possible, but so what? That energy is not you. That sounds like that mindless disembodied spirit with no memory and no consciousness. But maybe those Eastern religions that believe in reincarnation are correct and this energy is transfered into other living things after you die? In fact, considering what we know of matter and energy, reincarnation is probably closest to the truth. Matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed but merely transformed from one form to another. But I doubt we are talking about reincarnation the way it is presented in most religions as your life force being reborn whole and intact in another form, but rather your life force disintegrating, reintegrating with the earth, and then being recylced in many different forms much like the process your flesh goes through. But even if we allowed for the possibility of your memoryless lifeforce being reborn whole and intact in another form, again, so what? Whatever new form this energy is converted into it will not be you. Your self is created by your perceptions of the world, shaped by your own unique perspective and the experiences that shape your personality compiled in your memories. The fact that you are a certain height, a certain weight, a certain race, a certain nationality, a certain sex, that you grew up in a certain area under certain circumstances, all go into shaping your identity. If I were to remove all of that, would you still be you? Think how drastically your perception of the world and your sense of self would change if I were to put your consciousness into my body. How long do you think you'd still retain your identity? Now what if I were to remove all of your memories and then put your consciousness into my body? Would you still be you? Even if I was to remove all memory of you ever having been anyone else? Would you still be the same person or would your entire identity, your entire self, be destroyed? Now imagine I were to take your unconscious memoryless "life-energy" and place it into an animal or a tree or a bird or, more likely, combine pieces of it with other disembodied life forces and disperse it among many different types of life forms? Think your identity would still somehow remain intact? Think you'd retain your sense of self with no memory of ever having been anything but the myriad creatures your soul is now scattered amongst? Would you still be you with your essence broken down and scattered amongst many different creatures? Nope, uh uh, all that you are, all the lessons you learned throughout your life, all the memories and experiences you suffered for and now cherish would be lost forever. You by any reasonable definition of yourself would cease to be.

Now, how about if I didn't put your mind into another body but just set it adrift in the ether without memory and without senses, without consciousness, essentially without you, as dead and lifeless as a stone? Would that mindless, deaf, dumb, and blind thing still be you? Or would you be gone forever? And that's only if you buy into the very unlikely idea that there is some type of life energy that exists independent of the body. More than likely the energy of life is just a chemical reaction caused in the body that ceases once the body ceases to function. It is highly unlikely that this energy exists as some integrated whole even as it lies in your body now. Still, this is a far more likely scenario than your life force exiting the body with all of its senses and memories intact to run off to heaven and continue its existence. I think I've pretty much proven that that ain't happening regardless of what the various biblical texts may lead you to believe.

But what about becoming one with the infinite, uniting with the all, becoming one with the universe? That is like that reincarnation I was speaking about, your life force suffering the same fate as the flesh, being broken down and integrated with the larger body along with Billions of other life forces. Like a drop of ink in an ocean. Pretty nice cozy way to describe the extinction of the self. You become part of the all! Digested by the earth or the universe to be recreated as new things that, of course, would not be you. See, you are more than just some nebulous energy or force. You are a specific thing with a specific definition, specific hopes, specific dreams, specific memories and experiences, a specific way of perceiving the world and interpreting those perceptions. Without a body, without a consciousness and without a memory, you would not be you, but something entirely separate and unique from you. What you are describing is akin to melting down a shiny new Ford and making silverware out of it and still trying to call it a car. Sure, all the same material is there, but that car is gone. Man is more than just the sum of his parts and I assure you that while all the chemicals and minerals and perhaps even the spark of life that animated you shall continue on, it will continue on without you. All that you are shall cease to be. That's what happens when you die. That's why no animal on earth has any desire to shrug off this mortal coil except for man, who alone has the imagination capable of self-delusion. And that's what we all have to look forward to. That's how the movie ends.

So, when someone asks me why I write, this is the long answer. I write because I value all the memories and experiences I have suffered and struggled to acquire. I value them if for no other reason than that they have cost me. Every lesson I have learned in my life has a corresponding physical or emotional scar and it offends me that these should be scattered on the wind and lost forever when my empty, memoryless, unconscious life energy vacates my rotting carcass. So I preserve them through you, the reader. You extend my life. As long as there are readers to discover my thoughts and carry them on in their own heads than my thoughts will not be dead until the last of my readers perish. That is the only afterlife we can hope for.