Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Tragicomedy in Three Acts

This past weeked was the hurrah we have before really plunging into work and fatigue, a hangover from the last weeks of summer, a time to celebrate and avoid any and all responsiblity. For your humble narrator, this took the form of three days of madness and yearning in Kingston, Ontario.

I. The Determinant

Travelling some three hundred kilometers across the conveniently highwayed Canadian landscape is rarely worthy of mention. Every offramp is labelled; every shoulder is according to the transportation code; every lane is maked and the distance markings are sterile and efficient. Seeing as we were being characteristically countercultural, we stopped off and wanted to find a cornfield to explore. We ran afoul of a farmer who allowed us, after we had been kicked off, to explore the divide between urban and rural through the form of bitching about being kicked off. But this is not some sort of cloud-watching pastoral romp: we were on our way to friends' houses in the student ghetto with the determination to be intoxicated. It began almost immediately: my penchant for wine making itself apparent in attics and on the sidewalks and in some other person's shed, falling off of couches and shouting, making elaborate plans. Fairly early on, I had crossed the threshold of being able to encode anything that happened so everything I know of this evening I know second-hand. Apparently I ranted and raved at a neon-esque sign. I smashed my nose into a concrete post and collapsed on a lawn; I have a grass stain to prove that. I also gave up on making words. Apparently I had sex on my mind. No surprise there. That happens. But apparently it also happens that when you shake hands with the Abyss and your consciousness only comes in intermittenly and your optic nerve fails and your face muslces go slack you only remember it as noise. (If you remember it as anything, that is.)

II. The Life Rounded With Sleep At Both Ends

Discontinuity. I wake up in a strange bed and fret for an hour. Where am I? Where are my things? Where is my memory? My self-respect? My peace of mind? My people? My head pounds for the rest of the day and my tissues soak up water like a sponge. A brief discussion of Gatorade and its advantage in terms of osmalarity follows once I find my people, or they find me. I am not awake for an hour and we're hitting the sauce pretty hard again, standing on the gravel and the linoleum floors and the hardwoods of a bunch of houses and stores that in my mind have no spatial relation to each other. There was widom from the keg dispenser. I have been dumped into a world where everything has four walls and the occassional window, though that is not needed. I walk when everyone else walks and I give up any pretense of control of events. We eat and converse and play video games in a spacious loft-place. I nap and try to regain my internal monologue; I am awoken by a man screaming death threats at another man. Food shopping follows; more houses pass in and out; doors open and close; people are greeted and rings are kissed; anecdotes exchanged, and then the climax of the evening happens. I'm glad I shared it with a friend who was of much the same mind as me. The scene that followed that night can only be given in hurried, impressionistic sketches:

Floods of drunken human tissues compress the street. The cops can't stop it; there is a torrent of flesh; glass breaks everywhere every two seconds; men dance on women and vice versa and in other combinations as well. Vomit and shit and piss waft in huge invisible plumes across the blocks and backyards. Some hooligans overturn a car and jump it into pulp and constituent parts like mufflers and cam shafts. Fireworks fire sideways into the trees. The upper storeys of houses disgorge volleys of glass bottles. The crowd presses and flows: it is at equilibrium, the conscious deliberations of thousands come to little more than brownian motion. We find a dazed fellow lying in an alley. We bring him to a couch; he refuses to put his pants back on. And we carry on. We see old men rushing the barricades and their leather jackets stolen; we see the sidewalks are jagged with glass edges. The buzz of the crowd is consistent and ridiculous throughout. The birches waft in the vibrations of the screaming. Bodies press and people trip falling into bloody somethings. Men take their bows and feed the birches with their vomit. Windcatchers chime and aluminium siding is ripped off. TVs are smashed with cinderblocks. The paddy wagons sway under the weight of piles of drunks. I want to leave, but there is no place I'd rather be. Talking under Chinese lanterns in some anonymous basement staircase on what was hours ago an impossibly industrtial pile of booze. The sky is red under light pollution and the clouds are wisps under noise pollution.

I sleep on a floor that night. It is fitful, but remembered. My belt jangles the entire night and won't let my friends sleep.

III. The Long Arm Of The Goodbye

I woke up, had breakfast. We played video games and sat around. I won a few times. It was anticlimax; it was the beginning of a recovery. Sat on a bus and counted the cars passing the other way. I got to 1100 before I decided to do something else. I tried to play an album in my head all the way through. I coudn't remember what came after track 2. I will feel like an egg carton for a few days.

On a Shirt: "The world is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel."

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


I saw the sun rise the other day. This came on the tail end of being up for some ungodly stretch of time. As I wandered the streets of 6 a.m. downtown Toronto, it was painfully obvious that this was a much more godly hour than, say 4 or 5 a.m.. There were construction workers at every site; the only people who walked the streets otherwise seem to have been "characters" and speed freaks. (I could not, to save my life, identify a speed freak. Just so you know.) Also, I was hopped up and actively crashing on more caffeine than I cared to remember; my retinal ganglions danced in front of--or perhaps as part of--my vision like a cloud; the little bitty caffeine molecule reached out and touched its best buddy, cAMP phosphodiesterase, with reasonably high affinity. Later that morning I stared down a floor and everything was moving. I wandered further among statues and shrubbery; I jumped some fences familiar to me, all under the leering of construction workers and nightwatchmen who looked bitterly disappointed that I was not "some broad". I shouldn't be that harsh: how many of the nightwatchmen are lonely sensitive poets who never got their break?, and how many consctruction workers are actually hidden Bodhisattvas, arms akimbo upon the interlocked girders at the top of human society?; how many are skywalkers crying their noble tears which get misted across the hubristic sidewalks? If you recall, I spen many years among them, but they are not my people. And what was I to them? A witness? Surely nothing that patronizing. I was just some guy walking the streets and looking at the piled up homeless, surely some of them what is left of speed freaks. I was isolated and senseless and thinking of biorhythms and how mine were telling me to get the fuck to sleep. But I was inspired. And I tried to translate that onto the internets, but I've mostly botched that effort. But I had to try, for surely sleep deprivation means something, right. Surely when I argue with myself the whole world can hear it. Surely I see the same colours of dark-blue turning to lighter-blue. Surely the ground will quake and I'll have a final moment of Basho. But I got confused and went to sleep: back to the regularity of sleep/wake, back to fruitless attempts to be a Renaissance Man, back to eye strain and free-floating anxiety. I manage to range far and trip over every rock on the way.

Consider: "A prostitute was forgiven by Allah because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was about to die of thirst, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it. So, Allah forgave her because of that."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Mind Machine

I'm not here to make you comfortable. Hell, I'm not here to make me comfortable. The beginning of class every year forces me to lay out a program which I attempt to follow and then throw out about a month in. And I'm not talking about a work ethic; I'm talking of something deeper. Last year I tried to reduce everything people cherished to mechanical things. I thought it was edgy and depressing at the time, but I then found that it was quite compatible with beauty and purpose, once we removed the dross of our cherished prejudices. I've come a long way from the morbid high-schooler who sat on the lawn one day and muttered "it's all potassium" (what I meant, of course, was that everything I thought was just a pattern of action potentials in my brain--which includes calcium and sodium ions as well as potassium, but I was going for effect). In a sense, of course, everything I think and feel and believe is nothing more than aaction potentials and their patterns. But what I've learned is that the phrase "nothing more than" is a holdover from old dualist, Christian times. People need to face that we are machines. We are not "nothing more than" machines. We are beautiful, streamlined machines. There is a wealth of consciousness that supervenes (I love that word--it allows me to escape constricting lariats of "nothing more than" discourse) on my patterns of nerve activation. That's my program this year: to work out in my mind how to reconcile my cherished values with mechanism and evolutionary neccessity (in the sense that our brains and minds were built to survive, not to reflect except insofar as it helped survival, i.e. childbearing, i.e. fucking). I might have to throw out a lot of values.

Here's the question: how can a mind machine have values? How do you make a jump from a biological organism's on-board computer to a mind that engages with the world and categorizes into value judgements? To what end? Are ethics just a hedonistic, utilitarian kind of argument? Are they just aoutgrowths of power? I have a year. Starting now.

Consider: "We've tended in our cosmologies to make things familiar. Despite all our best efforts, we've not been very inventive. In the West, Heaven is placid and fluffy, and Hell is like the inside of a volcano. In many stories, both realms are governed by dominance hierarchies headed by gods or devils. Monotheists talked about the king of kings. In every culture we imagined something like our own political system running the Universe. Few found the similarity suspicious."

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Wine (Part V)

As you might have noticed, there has been a distinctive trend this week toward hitting the sauce pretty hard. Not just wine either, but I prefer it as useful shorthand. If every week were like this week, I would be a dying man, but I would also be a man very much into opportunity, curious observations, mental snapshots, social cognition and so on. But the general case is kind of useless and doesn't grab the imagination at all.

So, what happened? Well, if this were my first week of drinking, I'd have glamorzed it beyond belief. Nights languidly mixing wine and vodka and smoking um peace pipe with houses full of people. Inviations to exclusive buffets; realizing the postmodern condition, frazzling straight society with borderline-legal equipment. Officially pronouncing that my drug habits make absolutely no sense. Discussing my indecisions with people just met. Mangling the abrasively topical. Failing to express wonder at the curve of the streets, at the chimneys and curlicues and baustrades. Realizing that hermaphrodites can be an excellent conversational lever. Realizing further that what I thought I had complicated was a simple case after all. What does that mean? It made sense when numbed hands spit it out onto the internets. I'm tired; I want to sleep. So, what shall it be? A bottle of wine or a bottle of pills?

Consider: "A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships."

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Wine (Part IV)

Why do I gnash my forehead against solid stone minarets night after night? You might as well ask why I write these posts. It is a good question, but I'm in no mood to talk about it, and you are a captive, to some extent, of my sentences. But you can leave whenever you want, just as quickly as all sense left, just as quickly as the neon sign outside the hyperrealistic Bloor St. window managed to redden and cast its long shadows across out lost semi-kitten. It was in a musician pad. They wove the fabric of the religion of our generation, because art is the only God you can prove exists. Anyway, last night was another of those nights where if there were a camera I would turn to it at the worst possible time and deliver some deadpan monologue. (Such as "the man over my right shoulder rocks there and cultivates the bitter lines of disapproval, but he is the unacknowledged Bodhisattva of this scrappy collective; he may shave his head; he may wear the uniform of the agnostic metrosexual: but if intent were butter he would sell the surplus".) More scenes and staged suicidal dramas; more family prognoses and neediness. More scenes of mean drunkenness than I care to see in the next decade. Who complains to his fellow buyers about exorbitant pricing? Sucker traps with purple neon and big-screen TVs. This night the stars were nowhere to be found. A friend's mattress: hidden stains of blood and coffee and water. The typical toilet scene at 3 a.m.: vomit and excrement--but why the blood? I have a stomach of steel but I, too, was bleeding. Glass shards? Table edge? I had managed to shave off a dime-sized patch of skin, like a fucking section in an anatomy teaching lab, exposing a slightly deeper layer of skin. When I start sutaining inexplicable injuries, bleeding and not feeling it, I know it's time to wrap the night up.

Consider: "Would I lay down my life to save my brother? No, but I would to save two brothers or eight cousins."

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Wine (Part III)

When I take off my slightly crooked glasses, my eyes take about ten seconds to adjust to their new alignment. It is that period of blurred confused sterreopsis that I channeled last evening, though my glasses were on for most of it. It was blurry climbing of fire escapes, looking for reprieve on the rooftops above the city and university, something done without the almost subconscious General Order #1: gather experience and then throw it out upon the page and text. No, this was a night of just sprawling, of just drunk and reeling in the aisles of excess, of just letting that old joke percolate through and nurse a touch on the upper arm for the rest of the evening. Of course, it not all rosy: on one rooftop we found a trio of like-minded coeducational rooftop escapists but I could not find the barbarian W of Cassiopea, or the lonely Ursas (major and minor) and thus no Polaris and no Arcturus, no summer stars, no ascendants and zeniths and nadirs and no Mars the God of Wars. That, and I was getting a headache from the White Russians I had purchased with nothing but my good looks (eat your heart out Ginsberg--relevant line is line fifteen). I'm getting more headaches lately. Naturally, stars lead to discussions of the universe, loping consctucts of wonder, depth and baselessness: wailing songs to the moon, really invocations to the Mohammedian angles populating that invisible Cassiopea. At no point, however, was there talk of cognitive science; no talk of AI, no talk of the sentient singularities which will one day dance around the husks of burned-out stars, dancing as long as they can and nursing their gift of consciousness for as long as the Heat Death of the Universe is still at bay. I can't believe I missed the popportunity to discuss it with someone in Comp Sci: because compared to those hardcore people I'm just a patchouli-scattering, rain-dancing, peyote-swilling hippie, I'm not and I am. You couldn't tell just by looking at me.

Consider: "America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood? / I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his automobiles more so they're all different sexes / America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe..."