Endecay Museladder Jr.

by nielskunze on November 10, 2019

…said the Whispers:

“Just give him a chance. He’ll figure it out.”
“It’s been fifty-three years!”
“So… it’s just the very beginning of the fifth cycle…”

Endecay Museladder Jr.

A Slightly Schizophrenic Public Autolysis

Only that day dawns to which we are awake. -Henry David Thoreau

Reason in the context of Infinity will always come to paradox.

How much energy is squandered in hiding Truth— that which cannot remain hidden!

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates

Today’s world is the predictable result of the reasoned machinations of ancient sorcerers.

Epistemologia 2:

Reason insists that all of reality must be rational;
And even Eternity must yield to logic.
Is Reason thus reasonable? Or something else entirely?

The whispering of Spirit is a personal affair
And never secondhand.
Freewill among the majority
Is the choice to listen or not.
Few are capable of valuing absurdities.

Misanthropiqued

Chapter Zero
Perfidy

Fool me once…
Language is the first betrayal–
Words, the cleaver hacking meat from spirit’s formlessness.
Something beyond the tiresome patterns of my thinking
Reaches back, before my first memory,
To the sea before these islands,
When all blended into All… air and sea, mist and fog,
As the sweet chaos of perception lacking time and place,
Baby-smiles and giggles; no concept of future:
Infancy…Infinity… there’s something there,
And oh, how quickly it is lost!

It all started out so normal, so typical. A young couple, mismatched but in love, conceived a child. The boy was born perfect, healthy, energetic, curious. He was named Allister: the ‘defender of man.’ They mostly called him Alis [ay-liss].

The boy was sweet and bright. He entered kindergarten at four, already able to read and write. Alis crafted poems which his mother loved for no reason and which his father scarcely read. He was only seven when he realized that his poetry was really only for himself— a way for him to point at things, ranking them, and finding himself within them. In his way, Alis was keenly devoted to making sense of a confounding world.

In the beginning, it made sense to trust your mother, to trust your father, to trust life’s many expressioned faces, the meandering path, and to trust god— whatever god could possibly be— until you couldn’t anymore. And then only you were left… and you weren’t even sure that you could trust that.

His first friend was Sottie, a plush grey teddybear. Friendship with Sottie was easy; the bear spoke from the boy’s imagination and there was never any purchase for conflict. For a number of years they were inseparable and Alis loved Sottie, and Sottie— as the boy easily imagined— loved Alis right back.

By the time he was three, his father periodically asked Alis if he wasn’t getting a bit old for toy bears. Alis purposefully declined to answer each time, as his mother ran interference for him, defending the friendship whenever she could. “Leave the boy alone,” she would say, as Alis and Sottie would quietly slink away.

Then, as some sort of compromise, Allister’s mom began to teach him how to read. She had always read him stories, and Alis took to reading like it was the easiest thing in the world. Soon he was reading all the books aloud to Sottie, and his father let him be for awhile longer.

And once Alis could read, naturally, he could write too. Well, duh; they were two sides of the same thing. But the few adults who came to visit with his parents from time to time thought that it was just marvellous that Alis could write at four years old. But really, it was easy.

The hardest thing for Alis, it turned out, was making real honest-to-goodness human friends.

One day his mom took him on a playdate to one of the neighbours down the street. They had a boy about his age who seemed to have the same trouble making friends. So his mom dragged Allister by the hand down the back alleyway, and Alis dragged along Sottie just in case things didn’t work out so good.

Jameson was a sickly child, skinny and pale; he wore glasses and coughed a lot, so he was always pushing his glasses up on his nose. They looked kind of big for him. The playdate, as Alis understood it, had been Jameson’s mom’s idea, but as soon as they had arrived at the back door, she had second thoughts written all over her pinchy face. She explained apologetically that Jameson was not well, that he would be undergoing surgery in a few days, to correct a defect in his heart. Mom said something conciliatory; Alis stared blankly and shrugged a little, and somehow the playdate still proceeded as planned.

Once out of earshot, in the sickly boy’s room, Alis wanted to ask Jameson why his mom’s face was so pinchy, but he didn’t get the chance. Jameson already looked like he was about to cry, so instead he asked the other boy, pointing at his chest, “Does it hurt?” Jameson shook his head no, but a few tears fell from his eyes anyway as he pushed out his lower lip. To Alis he just looked really really sad, and Alis didn’t know what to do about that.

“Do you ever get scared?” whispered Jameson, sniffling.

“Sure. Sometimes,” Alis answered, hugging Sottie a little closer. “Sometimes, at night, when there’s a little light shining through the window, or when my mom leaves the door open with the hall light on, it makes shadows. I know there’s monsters in the shadows.” Jameson nodded in agreement; of course there’s monsters in the shadows! Everybody knows that. “But Sottie knows how to keep the monsters away. He would never let them hurt me.”

“Really?” Jameson had perked up at that, and Alis felt immediate relief.

“Oh yeah,” continued Alis, “Sottie knows all sorts of things. He’s like… magic.”

The two boys spent the next hour and a half establishing Sottie’s many virtues and imagining his nearly unlimited abilities. Superman had nothing on that stuffed bear!

“Don’t you have a friend like Sottie?” Alis finally asked, and the mood turned instantly somber again.

“My mom won’t let me.” That didn’t make any sense to Alis, and he said so. “My dad sometimes says she has a stick up her butt,” said Jameson. That made them both giggle. And Alis finally had at least a little understanding of why her face was always so damned pinchy.

Then it was time to go. Allister’s mom called from the back door where their shoes were parked. When he got there, she asked him where Sottie was, and he answered “He’s with Jameson. He needs him more than I do.” Her smile was positively beaming. And Jameson’s mom, well, her face was more pinchy— Alis was quite sure— than any face should ever be allowed to be.

It was a few days later, when Alis was out playing in the neighbourhood by himself, that he got the shock of his young life. It was just so staggeringly unthinkable that he never really knew what to feel about it, but it sure made him cry… a lot.

He was in the back alley, out behind Jameson’s house, incidentally on the very day that Jameson was at the hospital for surgery, when he saw something unbelievable. There, beside the gate, where the garbage cans were lined in a neat row, stuffed to the brim awaiting pickup, he spied unmistakably the eye of his best friend peering out from beneath the lid. He pulled the garbage can from the bin out into the alleyway and lifted the lid in horror. Amongst coffee grounds and potato peels, there lay Sottie, wretched and stained, discarded like common trash.

In Allister’s mind, Sottie was beyond rescue. Over the past few days, the boy had made peace with his sacrifice for Jameson’s sake. He had understood from the very first moment that there was no going back. The decision to leave Sottie with Jameson had been final, irrevocable. And now this!

He shoved the garbage can lid back down, hard, until it snapped shut. He ran as fast as he could all the way home, crying like he’d never cried before. He cried for days, but he never ever told anyone, not even his mother, why. 

Teacher,
Who are you?
To tell me about me
And the things that I see?
Teacher,
I don’t know you;
All I know is that you’re not my friend.

He was only in the second grade, still quiet and solitary, when his teacher, Mr. Armitage, squashed his last real chances for making any grade-school friends.

“Allister!” he suddenly yelled, and the whole class jumped in their seats. Alis sat in the back, so maybe there was good reason to raise his voice… but not that much. “What are you doing?”

Alis was amusing himself, fighting that dogged beast, boredom. Same as it ever was, he was writing little poems.

“Bring it here,” Mr. Armitage demanded.

Head down, defeated, among the furtive snickers of his classmates, Alis delivered his private thoughts to the waiting, open, trembling hand at the front of the class. He couldn’t decide whether the hand shook in rage or due to some infirmity. Why was he even angry at all?

Mr. Armitage read the scribbled poems aloud, clumsily, awkwardly mocking. Alis stood bent beneath the shaking page as its recalcitrant author, absorbing scorn, deflecting quiet ridicule by the tightening of all the muscles in his body. When the sneering recitation was finally finished, Alis was covered in cold sweat and his anonymity was ruined forever.

He was thereafter the Second-Grade Poet, a leprous outcast, untouchable, unredeemable. Although Alis consistently demonstrated a real aptitude and genuine love of learning, the boy evermore positively hated school.

Fly me to the moon,
Where I can be king,
Looking down on your troubled ways;
Easily turning my back,
Forgetting your smallness,
As I ponder infinite space.

Allister’s home life was to all appearances normal and trouble-free. His parents argued quietly at night, after the boy was asleep, out of morbid consideration. But through the course of the week, as his father went to work and his mother watched TV, crying at the soaps, slowly a subtle but palpable tension would build toward the weekend, inexorably. An outsider wouldn’t’ve likely noticed anything at all. But Alis was a keen insider, alert and judicious; although he didn’t really know what was going on, he always knew that something was certainly going on.

Saturday morning breakfast was always unnaturally quiet, and Alis didn’t know how to speak to the tension, or if it was even proper. So he ate his grapefruit and toast in silence, waiting for his dad to make the move. They would either go fishing for the day, Dad grabbing the boy, saying nothing more to Mom than to mention the spot to where they were headed; or else he’d pack up the truck with the tent and a couple of sleeping bags, an axe and a shovel, and they’d go camping for the whole weekend. Mom was never invited; she’d once said that she hated camping, so it seemed alright to Alis. He didn’t much like the quiet tension that piled up during the week, but he liked fishing and camping with his dad well enough.

He was almost eight, and Easter had just passed. They were on the backcountry road to Whitetail— where they’d be both camping and fishing. The lake was known as a trophy lake, well stocked and remote. But despite its out-of-the-way nature, Whitetail had a proper campground with stalls, pads, campfire pits and firewood provided. It was a provincial park; the BC government maintained it pretty well, so the only real drawback was that there were always other people camping there too, even this early in the season.

“Is the Easter Bunny real?” Alis had to nearly shout over the rattle of the truck on the dirt and gravel road and the whine of the engine during the steep parts.

His dad turned a moment to look at the boy, sizing up the situation. “What do you think?”

That’s what Alis had expected. His dad always turned everything back on him. And he was ready. “I don’t think that the Easter Bunny is real.” He was pretty sure.

His dad smiled ever so slightly, the corner of his mouth caught marginally in profile. “How d’ya figure?” He was looking straight ahead, concentrating on the drive.

“Well,” began Alis, laying out his reasoning, “the Easter Bunny has to first get inside the house. And he can’t come down through the chimney. A rabbit’s got no way to get on the roof. So he’s gotta come in through the door. But he’s got no fingers. How can he turn the doorknob without any fingers?” He let the question sit there as the sure indictment it was.

After a momentary pause and a tricky bit of maneuvering around some wide mud puddles, his dad easily confessed— but not in so many words. “You figured that out, huh?”

Alis nodded when his dad looked right at him. Was that a hint of pride? Alis decided that it was.

“So then…” he ventured further, “I’m gonna say that Santa Claus is bullcrap too.” His dad burst out in genuine laughter at that one, and the boy took it as full confirmation for everything he’d been thinking. He just couldn’t understand why the lie in the first place. The whole world was in on it. What for? He couldn’t help but ask.

“Blame your mother,” Dad answered unexpectedly. “If it’d been up to me, I’d’ve never piled that shit on ya. It’s a stupid lie if you ask me. But nice people love stupid lies… more than their own kids.”

Alis didn’t know what to say to that. There was a lot to unpack in those short sentences. Was his mom stupid or nice? Or both? Was his dad more like him, an outsider? Was the whole world stupid? There was a lot to think about, for sure.

His dad was up at the first hint of dawn. He hauled the canoe down to the lake and set out fishing alone, letting the boy sleep awhile longer.

But Alis wasn’t sleeping. He had to piss, and it was cold. He was weighing the merits of relieving his bladder against the abandonment of his toasty warm sleeping bag. In the end, the bladder won out; the bladder always get’s its way.

He pulled on his boots and his sweater, unzipped the tent and stepped outside. It was halfway between light and dark. There was just enough light to see the silhouettes of a handful of campers— mostly RV’s— scattered around. Nobody else seemed to be up yet. He could piss in peace. He selected a nearby tree as the recipient of his warm morning gift…

“Wanna play?” asked the tree with the unmistakable voice of a little girl. That instantly threw Alis off his game, interrupting his stream before he was actually finished. He stood there a moment with his dick in his hand, staring gape-mouthed at the talking tree. When the girl finally emerged from behind it, he scrambled to zip himself up— quickly, without causing himself injury.

She’d seen him in the half-light, his private parts; he was pretty sure. And that was kinda awkward. She was a few years younger than he was. That just wasn’t right. He couldn’t think of anything appropriate to say.

She said again “You wanna play?”

“No,” he blurted out, looking down at his own crotch to make sure all had been properly put away. And once he realized that everything was quite kosher, he said “I mean, yeah… okay. Sorry,” he added for no reason.

“You’re funny,” she giggled. And just like that she took Alis by the hand and led him down the path which encircled the lake. There were still a few patches of snow along the muddy path, which provided the obvious fun of a snowball fight. Alis had the good sense to allow the little girl to win the battle by flubbing his throws intentionally and falling to the ground mortally wounded when one of her feeble attempts finally caught him in the side.

He played dead, expecting to rally her concern, but all was suddenly eerily quiet. He opened his eyes and sat up. She was standing a few yards away, frozen in horror, looking past him. He turned and got to his feet all in one motion. There, crouched in the snow, was a mountain lion, ready to spring.

“Run!” he yelled, and took off like a bat out of hell, slogging determinedly through the mud back to camp. But before he even got there, he looked back, and the little girl was nowhere in sight. There were sounds, unidentifiable sounds to his young mind, coming from the place where he’d left her. “Shit!” He was cursing himself.

Alis grabbed a sturdy stick from the ground, maybe five feet long, and went charging back into battle. There was no thought on his part; it was the only thing to do; there was no choice.

He screamed and growled like an unknown wild thing as he charged straight at the cougar, full tilt. The cat was standing over the little girl who was just a motionless bundle in the snow. The cougar roared but backed off, and Alis just kept right on coming behind the pointed determination of his pathetic spear. In a split-second decision, the cougar turned tail and ran, and Alis charged after it just as fast as he could run, screaming his fool head off. He chased that cat into the forest until it disappeared.

Then he stopped. Thoughts began flooding his mind. He turned and ran as fast as he could back to the little girl, wondering if she was dead… wondering if this whole thing was even real… wondering if he’d honestly just chased off a full-grown lion…

She was still motionless right where he’d left her. He felt wracked with guilt as he knelt beside her. Her jacket was torn in many places. There was blood on her legs, gashes and rips. He scooped her up like she weighed nothing at all and brought her down to the lakeshore.

Quickly, he began to remove her clothes, getting her out of the mangled jacket, her torn jeans; he scooped water onto her wounds to clean them; he washed her muddy face. Her eyes fluttered open. She was alive! She screamed and screamed and screamed.

The whole campground was there suddenly, a dozen adults looking stunned and confused. The little girl’s parents snatched her from Alis, and began shouting and cursing at him. They thought that he had attacked her, had removed her clothes for… for… They shouted the most horrible things, while others grabbed him by the arms and held him fast. Alis was stunned, dumbfounded. He had no idea what to say to defend himself. He had indeed acted shamefully when he had first run away; he felt guilty for that; he deserved their wrath; they were right. He bent his head and accepted it all; he wanted to die right then…

Right then, Allister’s father sprang from the canoe hastily beached, and grabbed his son from the angry mob. He demanded explanations, and couldn’t believe a word of what he was hearing. Finally, he turned to Alis and asked the boy what had happened, and Alis told them all about the lion.

“Show me,” said his father in a tone that permitted no argument… from anyone. Alis led them all to the place where the girl had been attacked. There were prints in the mud and prints in the snow. There was no doubt he was telling the truth. He had saved the little girl. His father had saved him. And from that moment on, the truth always seemed to Alis like a slippery thing, squirming in the spring mud, half frozen in the leftover snow.

“Don’t tell your mother,” was about all his dad wanted to say about the whole affair afterward. Alis didn’t really understand why, but somehow it made sense. It just wasn’t something Mom would appreciate, so they never told her.

Truth is a lion,
Lurking in a forest of lies.
Hunger is not cunning,
Nor predation even wise.
The lion is just a lion,
Not angry, moral, or even free;
And the tall tales of men
Change nothing of what that lion shall ever be.

There was yet one more stark utterance before perfidy’s full damning statement on Allister’s young life would be complete. He was still only nine when he began to notice some changes in his dad. His father was carrying a little extra weight, not enough to label him as fat, but noticeable, around his belly and neck. His face had become ruddy, as though he was always holding his breath. And the anger that Alis always knew was there just beneath the surface was beginning to show itself more and more.

His mother seemed the same: quiet, timid, doting; perhaps there was a touch of sadness the boy had scarcely noticed before. It was subtle, and just the sort of thing to be kept hidden anyway.

The nightly arguments finally erupted into full-blown shouting matches whose intensity easily reached to Allister’s bedroom where he lay in the full dark trying not to listen. The only real surprising aspect of it was that his mother was fully capable of dishing venom when pushed too far. That seemed to Alis to be something wholly outside of her character. But the boy’s youth had already been quite the lesson in everything he’d gotten wrong about the world he was expected to inhabit; it was just one more thing…

It was about a week before Christmas. It started at Saturday breakfast. From the moment he sat down with his parents, Alis couldn’t help but notice the thick tension filling the air, making it vibrate. No one said a word until Mom began absentmindedly cutting the sausages on Allister’s plate.

“Leave him alone! Let the boy cut his own damn meat,” his father growled. “He’s nine years old for Christ’s sake! He’s not a baby.” His mother promptly dropped the cutlery, letting it clatter on the plate as her eyes filled with tears. She got up immediately and hurried away— presumably to spare Alis from the spectacle of her pending breakdown. “Fragile bitch,” muttered his dad, just loud enough, deliberately, for Alis to clearly hear. And for some reason, those two words cut enormously deep into the boy’s heart. He’d never heard such a thing from his father before; and he never would again.

His mother took him that afternoon to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. Alis was glad to be with his mother on this occasion. They both fully expected his father to be gone camping or fishing, or maybe just out drinking, by the time they returned. But Dad’s truck was still parked out front. Mom pulled the car into the driveway and pressed the button on the garage door opener, and waited…

It is an unfathomable spectacle to see one’s father dangling, lifeless, from the garage rafters. It was something purely inconceivable, yet there it was. Mom gasped and screamed and took her foot off the brake unconsciously. The car idled slowly forward, into the garage, into the hanging corpse. Alis managed to slam the gear shift into park before the car hit the back wall of the garage. He shut off the ignition and forcibly pushed his mother from the car. He shoved her through the door into the house and told her to call the police, while he turned to ponder the undeniable reality of the inconceivable once more.

His father had planned this final statement deliberately— that he and Mom should face this horror together. It was a demonstration… but of what? His dad had been the strong one, the hero, the tough guy— a liar! It didn’t make any sense at all. The only thing that was clear was that his father’s life had been a complete lie. In an instant, Alis could no longer comprehend anything of what he might’ve stood for. And what was this final statement supposed to convey? What was he supposed to learn from this shit?

He still had a lifetime to figure it out… along with everything else that would dramatically punctuate Allister’s unusual life. All he could do was pay attention and struggle not to be hopelessly buried beneath it all.

The light from the automatic door opener suddenly clicked off. Alis whispered to the corpse in the semi-darkness “Fragile bitch,” and went in to find his mother.

“Impeccability is nothing more than the proper use of energy.” -don Juan

Impeccability

Impeccability—
meticulously doing the ‘right’ thing,
Irrespective of morality—
Is the only narrow road to freedom.
At any time,
Awareness is free to explore—
by dissipating or conserving energy—
the current confines of perception.
But those confines are expanded
to Infinity
Only by the actions
which handle and exceed
Those expanding confines.
Those actions are impeccable,
and narrowly defined
through personal experience,
and a tight relationship with power;
All others set limits.
Peace and complacency have no part
In impeccability…
And compassion is a bugaboo for another day.

The Park Bench Encounters 2

Dodgeball Betty & The Elusive Now

“What are you defending?”

She had snuck up on me again! This time she was actually standing right behind my favourite park bench, where I was busy jotting down a few arguments pertaining to our last encounter. Apparently, she had been quietly reading over my shoulder. I slammed the MacBook shut and turned in my seat. But, once again, I was caught in the indecision of having too many things to say at once, and before I could select one she continued on.

“Do you really think I have any interest in arguing with you?”

From what little I knew of her from that singular previous encounter, I was suddenly and thoroughly sure that she was utterly dispossessed of any desire for argument. And furthermore, I was instantly as certain that I would lose any such argument anyway. I regrouped, gathered my thoughts, flashed my most disarming smile, and abruptly opted for a different tack.

“Won’t you please join me?” I indicated the vacancy beside me on the bench, and added “And for god’s sake, please tell me your name… and a little about yourself.” I was honestly curious who this strange woman was, and I felt a genuine relief and momentary satisfaction as she seemed to accept my offer, skirting the edge of the bench to sit next to me. I was rather pleased… right until the very next second when she spoke again.

“What for?”

Derailed again! Everything this woman said seemed to throw me off my game. “Um… I’m sorry, what?”

“What’s my name matter?” she jabbed. “And knowing any of my particulars won’t change a thing I’ve already said or affect the value of anything I might say today. What’s the point of any of that?”

“Well… well…” I stammered, “I have to call you something.” My insistence was weak and she just stared at me nonplussed and unrelenting. “C’mon, it’s just a name,” I pleaded.

“Exactly my point. Pick a name for me if you feel that you must. I’m a stray dog… gotta have a name.” Wink.

I honestly don’t know why this naming business rankled me so, but it did. In meek tenaciousness bordering on real despair I insisted that she provide me with a suitable name.

She acquiesced with a tiny smile, stared briefly into my eyes as if reading something there, and flatly stated “Betty.” And then she laughed uproariously, joyfully.

And that threw me into utter turmoil!

In my youth, myself and a group of friends referred to every girl we didn’t know personally as Betty: “Hey, check out the rack on that Betty!” or “What did Betty want?” when the cafeteria lady periodically gave us shit. And now, that this woman was able to pluck that singularly generic name from my memory, it thoroughly unnerved me. And I was irrationally sure that she knew exactly what she had accomplished with that little maneuver.

“Okay,” I practically whispered and swallowed hard. “Betty,” I affirmed with a nod. “And what is it that you do, Betty?” In for a penny, in for a pound, right?

“I have righteous conversations with strangers,” she iterated with uncommon force. I could only nod in assent. “Look, let’s get this all straight right now. Who I am isn’t at all relevant to anything I have to say. I’m not speaking from any special authority. I have no desire to ever speak from authority. Authority is for dip-shit kids! And we’re not kids, right?”

I nodded again.

“Judge and evaluate the fuck out of everything I say to you based on what I actually say to you, and nothing else. If the shit I tell you can’t stand on its own in your estimation, then chuck it. Save your arguments for yourself. If something’s bugging you, work it out— silently, internally. But you can be damn sure that it ain’t bugging me or I wouldn’t have said it.

“I’m Betty. Yup. And I’m damn fucking sure of myself!” And then she nearly fell off the bench laughing.

I was completely disarmed, instantly; the authenticity of her mirth— without judgment or accusation— totally put me at ease. I was suddenly in a good frame of mind for a real conversation. So…

“What should we discuss today?” I asked in a mood of surrender.

“I have nothing pending,” answered Betty. And I immediately realized that her answer was the full and final punctuation on the statement of who she was— what she was: she was that which had nothing pending, no agenda, no expectations. I imagined that this must be what it’s like to be fully present, to live in the now… and I said something to that effect.

“Hippy-dippy new-age claptrap!” she spat. “Hardly anyone has any meaningful acquaintance with the present. Everyone’s staring at the backside of the world as it’s rushing past them. Except for in very brief— very rare— moments, no one’s meeting the situation as it comes, as it is. Maybe if you’re driving in your car one night and suddenly there’s headlights right in front of you, coming right at ya, and it’s 50/50 whether you’re about to die or not— yeah, then for a split second, you’re fully in the now, looking honestly at all of the relevant data. But then you go right back to experiencing the world according to whatever description of it you’ve assembled from all your past experiences… and that’s just how it works. We drag the whole past along with us to serve as a lens— like a telescope for viewing the world from way-far-away-reality, or like a microscope for viewing the tiniest speck surrounding our distorted personal obsessions and compulsions. Trying to ‘live in the moment’ is just another unrealistic buzzword catchphrase that doesn’t usually suggest any method or procedure for getting there. Our bodies are always already in the now, while our minds are, well, usually someplace else.”

“So how do we get there? Or… er… rather here? What’s the procedure for getting our minds to the here and now?”

“Phew! That’s a biggie,” she conceded. “Minds like to think. But try this on for size: as long as you’re thinking, you’re not here; you’re not now. Even if you’re thinking exclusively about your current situation, in order to think, you have to evaluate and compare the current situation to everything you think you already know. That automatically puts you a couple of steps behind right there— or here.” Wink.

“So I shouldn’t think?”

“Ha!” she laughed. “Good luck with that. Minds are busy little things; if not thinking— you’re dreaming.”

“Isn’t that what meditation’s for?” I offered, “to quiet the mind?”

“Overrated,” she flatly stated. “Meditation’s good for one or two things: training yourself to be your own witness— so you can watch your own patterns of thinking and behaviour; and relatedly, for sharpening your own attention. If you can learn to pay attention to your own bullshit, you can pay attention to anything… or withdraw it from anything.”

Betty paused there momentarily and became thoughtful (which I thought was kind of ironic) and then she re-engaged the conversation. “Attention’s the thing…” she dangled. And then with ironclad conviction: “Attention is what makes reality real. Personally. Individually.”

I wasn’t prepared to challenge her statement, but I needed more to go on before I could accept it. She obliged, of course.

“Let’s try out a little analogy,” she suggested. “There are uncountable little gods hurling every manner of world views at you constantly, like some cosmic game of dodgeball. Scientists are chucking descriptions of the world at you; TV anchors are updating countless views, tossing them out nightly; teachers are lobbing convincing gobs of curricula; parents, friends, lawmakers, and really everyone you meet are all pelting you with every conceivable description of the world. But you, through the action of placing your attention on various aspects of these myriad depictions, cobble together your own unique description of the world. And then you chuck it back at all of them in one way or another— updated and personalized. And for every one of the players in this cosmic game of dodgeball, it is the specific items in each of their realities to which they agree to pay attention that make up the substance of the rubber ball they’re pitching.

“We tend to pay attention to the things we care about,” she continued, “or, more often, the ones that piss us off. For average everyday people attention gets irretrievably intertwangled with emotion. Throughout our lives we continuously make emotional investments in the world of our perception as directed by our attention. That’s the process, in a nutshell, of how we make reality real. We choose what’s real for us individually, and then we are inextricably bound by those choices.”

“Inextricably..?” I dangled the question playfully.

“For 99.9999% of folks, yeah; there’s no disentangling. And for the other three or four people in the world…” we both smiled; “there’s a minimal chance of gathering up all of the bits of attention we’ve scattered and squandered… and then a whole raft of new possibilities opens up.”

“What kind of possibilities, Betty?”

“Magical ones,” she said. And she couldn’t have been more serious. “Remember when you were just a kid and the whole world was awe-inspiring and filled with wonder? You believed in magic— easily— because you could feel it everywhere. And then your parents, and really every adult you had contact with, conspired to ridicule and root out that belief ruthlessly and permanently. They relentlessly drew your attention to ‘magical’ beings like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth-fucking-Fairy. They played you for an idiot. And when you were finally old enough to see through the con, you and all your peers silently vowed to never fall for such ridiculousness ever again. ‘Of course magic isn’t real. That’s for babies!’”

My automatic reflex was to object, but Betty held up her hand and continued. “I know you want to claim that it’s just a harmless prank, but it’s not. It’s a very callous ruse, and not very well thought out. We live in an infantile culture,” she explained. And I stiffened with the desire to interject with a rebuttal, but she mowed me down. “The proof that we’re living in a thoroughly childish society is that we operate on the principle of authority— exclusively. Authority is the lazy way of raising kids— or civilizations. When the children rebel and refuse to believe what you want them to believe, just smack ‘em around, assert your authority. It doesn’t really matter a whole lot what they actually believe, as long as they learn to respect authority. That’s pretty much society’s only directive for effective parenting: complete, indoctrinated conformity. Our insistence and utter dependence on authority is what keeps modern humans stunted, in a state of arrested development.

“So the whole Santa Claus thing winds up demonstrating to the kids that not only does magic not exist, but that the authorities can’t be trusted either. Sorry kiddies: there’s no real magic; might makes right; and even your own parents can’t be trusted— but obey them anyway, and be prepared to perpetrate the same betrayal when it’s your turn… because, you know, peer pressure is a good way to run a society, right? Confusing, ain’t it?”

I had to admit that I was a bit confused, but in keeping with confusion’s wily nature, it was hard for me to pin down with specificity. I filed the whole Santa-Claus-Tooth-Fairy thing away for future consideration, and figured that the topic of authority would likely come up again of its own accord, but I wanted to return to the topic of attention.

“Earlier you made a statement about attention, and you made it almost sound fantastical or magical itself,” I said. “You said that attention is what makes reality real.”

“It is magical,” replied Betty. “Your whole quality of life, the very meaning of your life, comes down to nothing more than what you place your attention upon. Where you direct your attention charts the course of your life. Lives are made from experiences; experience follows attention; attention selects what’s real to you individually. It’s quite simple and utterly profound. Your attention completely sustains the world of your experience.”

I’m sure that the expression on my face still reflected doubt, so Betty conducted a little experiment with me.

“Get comfortable, relax and close your eyes,” she instructed. I complied, and she continued softly, almost whispering in my ear. “You’re in a lawn chair on a beach. There’s an umbrella shading most of you from the scorching sun, but your bare feet are sticking out into the bright sunshine, so you half bury them in the sand. Feel the warm sand around your toes. Smell the ocean breeze coming off the sea mingling with the smoky subtlety of the single malt scotch on the armrest, by your right hand. There are the distant sounds of children playing, gulls crying, calypso music from the cabana behind you… Are you there?”

I smiled. “I am.”

“That’s just little ol’ me whispering in your ear for thirty seconds, and reality gets dislodged and nearly replaced. Now think about the little voice of your internal dialogue— the script constantly running in your head— that won’t shut up during every waking moment. It’s not as crude or as coarse as my little ‘happy place’ experiment; it’s quite subtle and refined by now. But it’s been with you since you began forming your very first memories. That little voice is directing, focusing and reaffirming your attention constantly. And without it, your view of the world would quickly collapse.” She paused a moment for effect. And then, “If you could truly abide in silence, internally, only then would you be occupying the moment and be open to the immense spectrum of perception available. In inner silence, reality expands immeasurably.”

“It sounds simple,” I said, “but I know it’s not.”

“It is simple,” she insisted. “It’s just not easy.”

“Why is that, Betty?”

She smiled as prologue for the ridiculous scope of her reply. “Any and every unresolved issue from a lifetime of accumulated experience is fuel for the internal dialogue. Any place in your past where you’ve invested an iota of real emotion and subsequently felt that you got gypped, where you’ve carried forward a speck of resentment; or conversely, even a reliance on happy memories and nostalgia to force the past into dulling the present pain— anywhere we’re hooked emotionally, right up to the present moment, serves as fuel for the mind’s incessant chatter. The mind loves to talk about injustices its experienced and its surefire solutions for them. It’s almost like that’s all that the mind of ordinary man is— a personal justice warrior… and nothing more. It’s virtually all victimhood, from the undeniable painfully obvious to the finest grades of subtlety. The internal dialogue is the sure indication that the mind is in a passive state. Talking to ourselves places us behind the moment, reacting from the past. Even if we’re giving ourselves pep talks and reciting affirmations, it’s not proactive; it’s not in the moment.”

“So what should we do?”

“Nothing,” she shockingly answered. And then after a dramatic pause, “nothing, if you truly like your life, if you’re mostly content. And this is an important point,” she emphasized, “if you’re mostly okay with the way things are going, why change? You can’t just play around with the things I’ll say to you, out of some idle curiosity. Only if you’re burning for real change, that you know from the depths of your being that there’s more to life than this ordinary existence, then maybe there’s a tiny chance that you can alter your reality in a meaningful way.” She fixed me with a stare that insisted “I know you.” And then she proceeded to finally answer the question.

“You have to spur yourself to action,” she insisted. “For every little thing you can find from your past that still bugs you in the slightest, you have to devise a plan of action that once carried out will resolve the issue once and for all. Hopefully, for the vast majority, you can simply re-live the memory and bring a wiser more mature perspective to bear and reclaim those spent emotions in the light of a new understanding. But you mustn’t fool yourself. You must develop the honesty to know whether something still bugs you or not. If you’re still feeling irked— and especially if an item is still churning up thoughts and self-talk— then you have to find some other meaningful action to settle the account. Maybe you need to talk with old friends and have it out, or visit grave sites, or god only knows what. Only by settling the past— by having nothing pending— can you truly occupy the present and stand a chance of perceiving what this existence is truly about.” 

“And what is it about?” I cautiously inquired, adeptly ignoring the sheer magnitude of the procedure she’d just outlined.

She smiled again and looked at me kinda sideways, seemingly assessing what she should answer to such an impertinent query. “That’s something you can really only find out for yourself; otherwise, I’m just telling you stories. But I will tell you that it’s mainly about becoming acquainted with Spirit— the only legitimate authority there is… as the true Author of reality. And the only other thing I’ll tell you today is that there are no universal steps or surefire procedures for becoming acquainted with Spirit. You can accept guidance,” and here I expected her to wink again, “but you have to devise and implement your own path according to your personal quirks and predilections. And anyone telling you different is full of shit! Or trying to sell you something.”

And abruptly, that seemed to be the end. She stood up and said one last thing in parting: “My shit’s free.” And she strode off into the late morning crowds of shoppers, workers, commuters of the bustling world of ordinary perception.

The Music Archeologist

2: The Black Sun

So now there was just this one thing left to do: end the world. And I was just a spectator.

We had walked some distance away from the car… into a lovely bit of desert nothingness, just sand and small clumps of scrub grass vying for our attention. We three were momentarily pensive, seemingly lost in our private thoughts… until Jay cheerfully smashed the silence.

“I looked high, saw the empty sky.” He was singing the Elton John song again, and it seemed strangely appropriate. “If I could only… could only fly! I’d drift with them in endless space, but no man flies from this place.”

Gord was kneeling now on the ground, inside a finger-drawn circle, further drawing some kabbalistic runes in the sand, muttering quietly to himself in something that seemed to resemble the Yiddish my girlfriend’s grandmother spoke. Figures.

“What’s he doing?” I asked Jay. I wanted him to walk me through our moment of doom— Gord so serious and focused… Jay suddenly carefree, almost happy… I had no idea what to think or feel…

“Him?” Jay seemed surprised that I would ask. “He’s organizing his intent, structuring his dream of destruction, ritualizing.” He said it so casually, like such a thing utterly lacked meaning or consequence. No big deal.

“The circle keeps it in,” he added, and I looked on bewildered. “Oh…” he realized suddenly, “I suppose you’re rather frightened… by all this.”

“Pfft… who me?” Honestly, I was struggling to keep my sense of humour. In the pit of my stomach— the place that really counts— I had accepted that this was the end. But my paranoid brain was still scheming, scrambling, searching for the exit sign.

“It’s nothing,” said Jay with perfect seriousness. Somehow this was meant to be a comfort. “Relax. Enjoy the evening.”

The sun was just beginning to dip toward the horizon. The very first hints of sunset colour were just becoming detectable. There was a promise of beauty coming like coolness to the desert sky… How do you enjoy the death of everything?

Apparently I said it aloud. “How do you enjoy the death of everything?”

“With everything you got,” said Jay. “Until it’s all gone.”

“Will it hurt?”

Jay looked suddenly wounded by the question. “Nah, it’s not really our prerogative to inflict pain… at least, not anymore.” For that last bit he looked directly at Gord, levelling some vague accusation.

I let the insinuation go and continued on more directly. “But we’re gonna die…?” It was half question, half statement.

Jay looked directly at me with soft eyes and smiles, the visage of compassion incarnate as he answered. “Well, I imagine you’ll die… when you lose all context… and there being no sun and all. But me and him, we exist elsewhere, so we’ll just carry on… elsewhere.”

Most of what Jay was saying flew past me as I stared death’s reality in the face, really for the first time in my sixteen years on this planet… er, in this realm, I mean.

“What’s death?” I asked next.

“A very old agreement,” answered Jay quite easily.

“An agreement!” That didn’t sit well with me. “Whose agreement? Who agrees to die!”

“You all did,” answered Jay softly, soothingly. And then he added “It was a good invention. Adopting a strict death policy was the right thing to do.”

“What?!!” Apparently, we earthlings had chosen death for ourselves… and that just didn’t seem at all right to my helpless victim mentality.

“Freewill is the supreme law of the earth realm,” explained Jay. “You’d do well to remember that. Everything under the sun proceeds and develops according to mutual agreement. Y’all agreed to die when you were born here… from the lowliest blade of scrub grass to the mightiest of kings.”

I didn’t doubt in the slightest the veracity of what Jay was explaining. I accepted that it was true, but I just couldn’t fathom the necessity of it. “Why?!” I nearly cried. “Why on earth did we choose death?”

Jay sat down in the sand, getting comfortable before answering. “Have you ever played poker?” he began. I nodded with a look of puzzlement creeping upon my face. I sat down across from him as though we were about to play. I half expected him to pull a deck of cards from the sleeve of his robe. He continued. “And do you play for money?” he asked. Again I nodded. “Why?” he finally asked. “Why not just play for fun?”

“Because… because playing poker isn’t fun if you don’t play for money.”

“Exactly.” Jay elaborated upon my simple declaration. “When there’s nothing at stake, nothing to lose, players are typically reckless. They can bluff without consequence, and they never have a compelling reason to fold. In such circumstances, it’s not much of a game, is it?”

The cutting elegance of Jay’s explanation removed a lifetime of scales from my eyes. It made such simple sense. We made Death the bank, holding the value of our chips for when we eventually cashed them in. And just like the previous one in the car with Gord, I was really warming to this conversation with Jay. However, a definite sense of irony was creeping over me as I realized that I was receiving these kick-ass existential answers right before it was all about to end… forever. Apparently, life loves irony above all else!

Now a million questions were coming to mind! And Jay seemed more than content to answer in his simple and direct way.

“What about reincarnation? What are souls? Does Satan exist? What’s the deal with the moon?” These were the first questions to come to mind, and I felt no hesitation to voice them.

Jay leaned back laughing, truly enjoying the apocalypse. “Where would you like me to start?”

I didn’t know. My thoughts were an enthused jumble. And Jay seemed to understand perfectly. He just jumped right in.

“Hmm…” he pondered and stroked his chin like some wise cliche. “Let’s start with souls.” Okay, I was bright-eyed and attentive. “Souls consist of personal agreements— binding agreements— that carry on beyond the confines of a single lifetime. So yes, reincarnation is real. You can’t just go around making contracts with your fellow earthlings, and then just simply die and have the slate wiped clean. We’d be right back to playing the game without meaningful consequences. Souls are attached to a specific will— a line of choices stretching through time held together by propensity and persistent tendencies. That which survives death is merely the sum of your proclivities in life.”

“We are survived by our habits?” That seemed dire to this little pothead!

“Yes,” Jay agreed, “that’s a very succinct and accurate way to put it. Those habits determine the circumstances of your subsequent incarnation— that, and the outstanding agreements you’ve made. Souls need resolution… and that drives action in life.”

“Karma,” I said to myself.

“I hate that word,” said Jay. “It has way too many stupid connotations… like it’s some kind of tit-for-tat universe based in reward and punishment, balancing good with evil. It’s way simpler than that. Karma is just something outstanding that needs to be resolved— because those involved agreed to eventually resolve it, mostly through experience gained.”

“So… there are no Lords of Karma?”

“No! God no!” spat Jay into the first hints of twilight. And then he quickly added “There are no gods at all.”

I looked at him gape-mouthed. I turned my head to stare at Gord muttering inside his circle. I turned back to Jay, wearing my incredulity conspicuously, like drool running down my chin. “What… what do you mean there are no gods?” I was pinning him with my eyes.

Jay fell over backward laughing. “There are no gods!” he cackled. “Trust me,” he gasped, “we’re all the same… you… me… him…”

“But… but… he’s the creator,” I insisted, jutting a thumb toward Gord.

“Indeed he is… of a sort,” said Jay, returning himself to an upright position. “But do you really think that he created you? Really?”

The question was just so blunt it knocked me upside the head. I’d had this idea what a creator was, what a god might be. And then I’d met these two jokers… and certain ideas began to coalesce and congeal in my brain as we’d progressed in these conversations. But now as Jay asked me pointblank whether I really thought that Gord, or someone like him, had “created” me, it seemed pathetically absurd.

“No,” I whispered. And for a timeless moment I was utterly adrift in immeasurable confusion. And Jay, of course— my hero— came immediately to my rescue.

“The only thing he ever created here,” he said nodding toward Gord, “was the opportunity for you to create yourself… for me to create me… for everything to create itself, along with its own parameters of existence. He’s the God of Opportunity, nothing more, nothing less. You, me, him… we’re all exactly equal. I’m no higher than you. Gord’s no higher than me. We’re all made of exactly the same stuff. And in terms of potential, we’re identical.”

Now that’s what I call revelation! It cut through eons of bullshit and baggage with the simple ring of truth. But there were things still unreconciled, habits of thought and being that couldn’t be so completely and easily undone.

“But he’s about to kill us all!” I insisted. “And there’s really nothing I can do about it,” I argued. That smacked of inequality to me!

“He’s not killing anyone,” answered Jay calmly. “He’s simply removing the sun.”

“Now you’re splitting hairs!” I shouted.

“He is the one who put it there in the first place,” answered Jay with perfect grace and ease. “And that created the opportunity for all this.” He stretched his arms wide as though embracing all eternity. “Things didn’t work out. The self-directed creatures of earth forgot themselves and became lost… despite the revealing light of the sun. It’s time to pull the plug. Nothing has been lost. Everything has been gained.” Whatever Jay was telling me, he, himself, believed it. But I was still having a hard time.

“He’s dooming us all to oblivion!” I insisted, though I hardly even knew what I was saying.

In that most infuriatingly calm manner of his, Jay gently elaborated. “If you were caught in the throes of a terrible nightmare and I looked on, would you want me to wake you?”

“Well, I suppose. But…”

“And when you awaken from a dream, whether fearsome or sweet, has anything been lost? No,” he immediately answered, “on the contrary, you have gained the experience of the dream to carry with you in your newly awakened state… to dream again, as you so choose.”

“Really?” I was somewhat mollified, but not wholly convinced. “That’s all this is… the ending of one dream so another can begin? A cosmic do-over?”

“Verily.” He said it. And I believed it. But there was something lurking in his eyes suggesting that things were just slightly more complicated or impactful than what he’d just described. I let it go though, choosing instead the obvious peace of mind he offered. I relaxed into the dusky quiet and mulled things over for a bit… while Gord muttered and gestured inside his magic circle and Jay hummed the refrains he remembered from the car ride here.

In my quiet rumination, I convinced myself that the end of the world really wasn’t a big deal after all. Shortly, I’d be dead… just like I’d been supposedly thousands of times before— each lifetime a new self-created dream. Dreaming… waking… dying… just consciousness at play. But why didn’t I have any memory of dying before? Thousands of times before? You’d think it might just be the sort of traumatic event one would surely remember. I was just about to ask Jay about that when I suddenly realized that no, I can work this out on my own. And so I did.

The idea of past-life memories had always been intriguing but controversial. But suddenly, now with my new insight, I had it figured pretty damn quick. We couldn’t be allowed to retain clear memories from past lives. Who wouldn’t allow it? We— ourselves— couldn’t allow it. If we permitted ourselves to remember our deaths and the past lives we’d lived, we’d be right back at square one again, playing poker for nothing. Remembering our many deaths would negate death, rendering it— and life— meaningless once again. Our constant reoccurring amnesia was necessary. It made the game possible. Remembering our past lives would be like being able to see all of the cards all of the time. The fun of the game always lies in its secrets, the things we don’t know, can’t know. How boring and pointless would poker be if all the cards were always dealt face up?

And just like that, I suddenly understood the meaning of life!

We were here to create unsolvable mysteries for ourselves… and spend eternity trying to solve them. Why? Because it was the best fucking game in town! Could there be a better reason?

I let that question hang in my mind like my best Sunday suit from when I was a kid and my mom dragged me to church every week. Just having a once-a-week suit to sit among once-a-week friends worshipping a once-a-week god begged an unending litany of unanswerable questions… and suddenly I had outgrown them all! Just like that!

God! Had there ever been an evening more beautiful than this!

The sun was beginning to get kinda low on the horizon. I knew that Gord would have to make his move soon. I was actually looking forward to it. Go figure.

To pass the remaining time, I re-engaged Jay in conversation. “So what’s with all the muttering in Yiddish?” I asked, glancing at Gord.

“It’s not exactly Yiddish,” Jay explained. “It’s the root language. There’s power and inherent meaning in sounds— their placement, repetition and patterning. It’s why we love music. A well composed tune can bring a brute to his knees or lift the darkest heart.”

I liked where his explanation was leading and I told him so. He took that as an excuse to continue.

“Sound is a correlate of light.” He paused to let that sink in a bit. “Is it mere coincidence that there are seven colours of visible light in the rainbow and seven whole notes in the western musical scale? Of course not,” he answered. “Sound is merely light stepped down to the languid pace of everyday life. Sound is a tool for creators inside the creation. Light is a tool generally wielded from the outside. Well, no, that’s not exactly right. Gord can explain it better.”

And at that very moment Gord turned to us and spoke.

“It’s time,” is all he said, standing there with a strange fire in his eyes.

Jay sprang into action and helped me to my feet. Then we both flanked Gord outside his circle, and turned toward the setting sun.

“With your left hand point at the sun,” he instructed Jay. “And you with your right,” he said to me. “When I grab each of your free hands, the circle will be broken, the deed done… untied the Gordian knot, the Seal of the Sun.”

And that was it. Without any further preamble or explanation, Gord grabbed both our free hands. A jolt of ecstatic electricity shot through our trinity and flew like a deranged lightning bolt from earth to sun…

…demolishing it in an instant.

The sun winked out. It vanished from the sky. And darkness swallowed everything…

…except that I could still see the spot where the sun had been just a second before. I thought it was something akin to an after-image burned onto my retina. But what was I doing still standing here, witnessing anything, still having retinas at all? And I knew for certain that something was amiss when I heard Gord curse into the darkness.

“Shit!”

___________________________________

To say that the ride home in the car was weird would be a bit of an understatement, but perfectly understandable… even if nothing else at the moment was— perfectly understandable.

It was a waxing gibbous moon that night. Gord was pensive and tight-lipped. Jay seemed typically unconcerned, calling from the back seat for “More tunes, man!” I obliged.

“And the Tyne God has arrived,” sang Ginhouse from the car speakers. Finally, Jay thought it prudent to break the ice with the obvious question. But first I gotta say that it was both nice and wholly unnerving to have someone else asking the questions for once!

“So… what was that?”

“Black Sun,” is all Gord offered. Apparently that meant something to Jay. It was gibberish to me. After a moment, Jay sighed, and did what Jay does.

“You might as well talk it through,” he said to Gord. And it was Gord’s turn to sigh. And then Gord began to babble… and that was perhaps the most disconcerting thing of all!

“The rumours were true after all… The Black Sun is real… The council tried to warn me… I thought it inconsequential, even if true… Now, I don’t know… Those fuckers! Grey traitors! This changes everything!”

I waited for an explanation, but instinctively I knew that the preceding events hadn’t been fully digested yet. Jay’s calm demeanour must have rubbed off on me. I kept quiet while Jay gently prodded.

“Who’s behind it?” he asked.

“The Grey Men.”

“I see,” said Jay, but I didn’t.

“Who are the Grey Men?” I queried the darkness and the silence once I couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Dream-stealers,” said Gord.

Jay seemed to feel that a slight elaboration was in order. “Power and energy are the basis for the dynamism of the many realms of existence. Every sentient being has power, and spends that power as energy investments, most often through emotions. Emotion— as the base energy of all power— is the thing that turns ordinary dreams into proper dreaming. Emotions can be manipulated; dreams can be altered and stolen; reality can be tightly controlled— even through freewill.”

“The Grey Men are stalkers,” added Gord. “They stalk power for their own ends and means.”

“It’s all part of the game,” resumed Jay. “Stalking and dreaming occur in every realm. They are the two obvious means to power. The Grey Men are consummate stalkers, making their bid for power.

“Usually, it’s not a big deal,” he continued, but Gord cut him off.

“There’s something more going on here… And I don’t understand it… yet. The Black Sun is stealing attention. But even I didn’t know that the Black Sun truly exists. How is it being accomplished? How do you capture someone’s attention without anyone having a clue how it’s being done? It doesn’t make any sense!”

I was understanding really very little of this. I just wanted to keep the conversation going. “But why?” I asked. “What’s the purpose of stealing attention?”

“Part of its purpose was fulfilled tonight,” replied Gord ominously. “The Black Sun was created and hidden behind the real sun precisely for the purpose of thwarting my world-ending intention on this very eve. They will not allow the dream to end. And they will do everything in their power to ensure that the dreamers never awaken again.”

Hmm, that didn’t sound very good!

And Jay added for clarity: “Attention is a very special aspect of awareness. All life is aware. But awareness is subtle and diffuse, whereas attention is focused— especially among earth humans. Within an incomprehensibly immense field of data, it is attention which selects what is to be made real in any realm through choice and focus. But what is the object of focus in this case…?” The question hung there in the darkness, begging to be answered somewhere down the road…

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and I was thinking it too— all of it. Gord and Jay answered all of my immediate concerns, and what you need to know, before I resume the full telling of this tale, is that yes, the real sun came up the very next day right on schedule. And yeah, for awhile there back in ’72 folks talked in whispers about the day the sun winked out for a moment. And even though millions of people around the world witnessed the sun blink, they eventually talked themselves out of believing that it had really happened… because… how could it?

But it did. You know it did.

Soundtrack to the preceding story

Eagle Food
Other People

As a youngster I did impressions: several characters from “Welcome Back Kotter,” Disney’s Goofy, Gomer Pyle, Fozzie Bear, Alfred Hitchcock, Snagglepuss, Walter Cronkite, among others. In those days, it was just me imitating voices. That’s how it was done.

As I got older, I noticed that when I dreamt at night, I wasn’t always me in my dreams. Sometimes— and more frequently as I got older— I was utterly and completely other people in my first-person dream experiences.

Then, one day, I was talking face-to-face with a friend about another mutual friend who was absent. At one point in the conversation it was most appropriate to answer a query in our friend’s own voice. Automatically, and without thinking about it, I also instantaneously slipped into his posture and mannerisms. And suddenly I was him.

The friend with whom I was conversing gaped at me quite freaked out and she said something like “Holy shit! You were him!” The thing is… yes, I was. And I was a bit freaked out too, but surprisingly unsurprised.

I always knew we could be other people.

Tales From My Crazy Uncle Nilly

Chapter 2

Obviously, the stories my crazy Uncle Nilly told us when we were young children were not at all suitable bedtime stories. They were far beyond our abilities to fully comprehend, but somehow we enjoyed them anyway. There weren’t really that many stories, and my uncle had no problem telling them over and over again. We heard them all perhaps a dozen times each, and each telling was slightly different from the last. They were always ‘off-the-cuff’ but marvellously consistent.

We interrupted frequently; we asked many questions. My retelling of these stories here is a composite of all of the variations of each tale to the best of my recollection. My sister Cassy, who had only turned five during that magical summer, has affirmed that this recollection is fundamentally correct. And she has supplied me with additional details from her own memory.

Uncle Nilly treated us both as eager and capable students, even though we had no idea in general about the education we were receiving. It was all just fun and easy, despite the many challenges we faced and overcame. It wasn’t until many years later that we both realized the tremendous advantage we’d received during those two summer months.

“Only the strong survive,” Uncle Nilly told us. Back in the seventies you could still say stuff like that and not be scolded by the prissy Fairness Police. “I won’t bait it for you. You’ll have to do it yourself… if you want to eat.”

He was talking to me. We were on the lake in the rowboat, fishing. I had my back to Uncle Nilly, and Cassy was facing him from the bow. I was holding a bare hook in my left hand as I poked a finger with my right into the container full of dirt and worms. I scooped up a fat wriggling earthworm held between my thumb and index finger and then looked at the hook horrified. Uncle Nilly had just shown us how to properly bait the hook, pushing it through the worm’s body past the barb every inch or so, doubling or tripling up on the squirmy torture, pinning it alive again and again. If worms could scream…!

I couldn’t do it. After a half-minute of vacillation, Cassy held out her open palm for the worm, and I gladly gave it up. She then took the hook from my grasp and without a second’s hesitation shoved it through the creature’s tiny body. She poked it through two more times to really fix him in place and said “There.”

I’d always suspected that Cassy was the brave one. Now all I had to do was cast it in the water like we’d been shown. I was all too glad to get the wriggly thing out of my sight.

We caught four fish that afternoon and I easily aged several years in the process.

In case you don’t know, when you land a fish, the next thing you do is grab it and smash it over the head with a special fish-beating stick until blood spurts out its eyes— that way you know it’s really dead. Then you can safely remove the nasty barbed hook from its mouth, occasionally tearing its lip off in the process. Uncle Nilly agreed to handle that part. But then there was the gutting and cleaning part. Uncle Nilly did two, Cassy did one, and so did I. It wasn’t that bad; they were dead; no squirming. We threw the guts into the lake to feed the fish we didn’t catch.

I guess that was our initiation from being pampered city kids into a world of self-reliant adventure. We handled it so unexpectedly well precisely because we were both so young.

The Grey Men
Part 2: Grey’s Apprentice

After Hala’s death, as I already told you, Alexander was rarely if ever seen again in the company of ordinary men. As a result, the bits and pieces of his later life are sketchy and incomplete.

After his departure into The Grey, a notebook turned up among the things he supposedly left behind. It was unknown, however, if Alexander had ever properly learned to read and write— as that sort of thing wasn’t at all common in those days. So some speculated that the notebook’s author might’ve been the young apprentice who accompanied Alexander in the last years of his time on earth.

Before we can properly speak of the apprentice though, we must cobble together the few fragments we have about Alexander’s existence immediately after Hala’s death.

The one thing that Alexander was sure of as he fled from that awful day was that his new path would be the direct result of Hala’s choice: she had decided to die that day to shake her one true love from his life of ease and complacency and to place him squarely in the teeth of adventure again. Her love had been transformed into this extreme expectation for his non-ordinary existence, and Alexander dedicated the totality of himself to fulfilling it.

The first thing he did was to reverse the pattern of his waking life so that he slept in caves and deeply shaded grottoes by day and roamed only at night. He saw the sun only briefly during the hour of dawn or at twilight. At first it was only to conceal his deeply morose mood caused by Hala’s departure, but quickly he learned that the darkness of the night held secrets and teachings of uncommon worth. So it essentially became the pattern for the rest of his days.

From the notebook (by Alexander’s own hand, or, more likely, as spoken to his apprentice):

There are two distinct worlds in parallel. The one, most familiar, is organized by light and is a description of light’s reflection. The other, brushed softly by our dreams on occasion, is of the dark: chaotic and volatile. Both worlds exist, whole and complete, in man. But memory favours the light, and the dark potential is rarely recognized or realized.

Man is a composite of two unmixable halves. Though both operate equally within him, he pours nearly all of his energetic resources into organizing and describing the light which thoroughly captures his attention and presses his dark half into obscurity and forgotten myth.

The ‘White’ world is populated with inept Black Magicians, almost exclusively. And nearly all of them are pretenders for the Light. They think themselves good, but in the meantime they keep the entirety of their fellow men in tight and secret bondage (their only real magic)… allowing for no deviation and no consideration for the value of the awesome potential ever lurking in the Dark.

The other thing that we know of Alexander’s activities at that time is that he returned for a period to his own people, to the tribe of his parents. He took up residence with an elder shaman, a healer and teacher. Alexander learned all that he could about the deep secrets of the tribal spirit and all of the falsehoods long nurtured in man.

I have lost my self. The ordinary desires and pursuits of men hold none of my interest. Their world is as empty as I am hollowed out. Still, I am all that I ever was and all that I ever shall be. In losing my self I have lost nothing; I have gained my Will, but recognize that it is not my own. All of the falseness I called ‘myself’ amounted to nothing else but a distortion and disablement of Will.

Will is grey and centric, seeking to balance the awareness of both worlds. And more besides…

The strange ‘civilized’ life of the men of the East had always befuddled Alexander’s sensibilities. Even living among them for so long, he had never understood their easy carelessness and their secret desire to be deceived. How could they ever have come to choose lives fundamentally separated from the living world that had birthed them and promised to sustain them forevermore, he wondered.

He had stayed among them because their strange choices had made it convenient for Alexander to exploit their shallow comfort and seeming ease, by playing simple tricks and betting on their greed. But it took this whole new perspective, gained among the wisest of his own people afterward, to finally realize that those men had never been free to choose anything else. Their choices had been captured and stolen from them already generations ago. But captured and stolen by whom, he queried.

And finally, Alexander came to realize that there really were wizards and sorcerer’s in the world, those who wielded the true magic. And long already had there been a faction of them who whispered quietly from the shadows into the ears of men, bending their perception. They whispered of conquest and riches; they had surreptitiously taught agriculture and finance, and the institution of civilization; they were the controlling hand… the hidden, choking hand.

Alexander secretly named them The Grey Men.

Awareness can be manipulated; awareness, among men, is conditioned.

Reality itself, in its entirety, is a masterful manipulation of awareness; it is difficult, but not impossible, to become aware of the manipulation— how it functions, where it leads…

The fundamental struggle is for power and is an affair of personal energy and pressing the parameters of perception until they yield.

The Grey Men were a fraternity of seers and sorcerers whose names were effectively erased from the common history books. They slipped one-by-one into obscurity, shrouding themselves in the very secrets they’d learned in lives of conquest and battle, politics and intrigue. Their special art, wielded from fog and shadows, was a skillful rendering of continued manipulation in the affairs of ordinary men. And the result of their careful machinations was the accumulation of power— temporal and earthly, but also the subtle life-energy bestowed by Spirit to every living creature as its gift of perception in the worlds of Spirit’s original intent.

The Grey Men thought and schemed in terms of centuries, even millennia. By removing themselves bodily from the worlds of ordinary pursuit, by degrees, they extracted the inherent magic sewn into reality’s many guises, and prolonged and preserved their own magical awareness indefinitely. They effectively curbed the reach of man’s dreaming, relegating him to a mundane world of material pursuit. It had begun with the inexplicable rise of agriculture, and the foundation of a hierarchical civilization built thereon. In so doing, the Grey Men demonstrated their aptitude for bringing seeming boons to mankind which in truth were the very agents of their enslavement. It was a strategy they employed again and again.

Once understood, it was easy for Alexander to affirm the existence and resilient persistence of the Grey Men and the general means of their self-serving manipulations. And he could readily admit that in having attained the loss of his own selfhood, the dropping of his common human form, with its consequential access to redeployed energy and reclaimed power, he felt a strong temptation to throw his lot in with the designs of the ancient sorcerer’s, to become a Grey Man himself, for morality truly belonged only to that discarded form. But Alexander saw something that the Grey Men seemed to have overlooked:

Spirit has its own designs and intents… and is the ultimate source of all power. The chief concern of Spirit’s intent is the exploration, expansion and development of awareness/perception. In universes ruled by balance, the apparent gains accrued through the manipulation and outright theft of awareness/perception of others can only lead to an eventual dead end.

The ultimate goals of immortality and supremacy will eventually fail among the cruel designs of the fraternity of Grey Men. So Alexander vowed to keep himself apart from the ancient brotherhood of seers and wizards, and like he’d always done as a man of keen interest, he would chart his own way forward… even as his peers might often mistake his conjurings as the very same dark artistry of vile intent that he would finally seek to thwart. The uncharted worlds of the Unknown Alexander entered into were obviously ripe with illusion, deception and misdirection. And for such as that, his life had served as a supreme training ground. And finally, by the designs of Spirit’s own intent, Alexander was presented with the unique opportunity to pass along the best of all the knowledge he’d gained… to his apprentice.

How the solitary and aged Alexander even acquired an apprentice is a sad tale however. It was a truly tragic occurrence at the very end of his time spent with the tribal shaman, where he and the shaman lived apart from the kin of his ancestral tribe, as was suitable for the acquisition and practice of the specialized knowledge involved.

The day had been unsettling, even jagged. There was a strange vibratory force piling over the mountains, filling the valley with a jangling energy. That strange force, only felt by the most sensitive, was the collective intent of an army amassed in secret just beyond the sight and reach of the people of the valley. The army’s plan that day was to massacre every man, woman and child of Alexander’s tribe for reasons utterly unknown to Alexander— and whose true reasons were unknown even to the massacring army.

When in the evening Alexander and the old shaman ambled into the tribal village under a subtle pall of fear and suspicion, they found that it was now nothing more than a smouldering heap of dwellings, belongings and bodies… so many bodies. There was no life left; even the conquering army was gone. All was a raw and exposed graveyard as far as one could see.

The old shaman fell to his knees and wept in utter defeat and shame. But inside Alexander, deep within his core, something coalesced and became galvanized in that field of destruction. He found himself to be incapable of expressing the overwhelming magnitude of what he was there to witness. It was utterly beyond the last shreds of his human facility to measure such profound grief. But instead of allowing himself to be crushed by the weight of the moment, he shifted inwardly to sidestep the very last of his humanity completely, irrevocably, to become something inexpressible, undefined… not something new, but something truly ancient.

Just then a deep shiver from the unmeasurable depths of the earth arose and sliced through him, shook him, rearranged him. It was a shiver of emotion, a cry far beyond the spectrum of any human possibility. It was a weeping and a grief, as well as the glory and the celebration for the capacity to feel all that a man can feel, and beyond, so poignant in its intensity as to challenge the very life within him. In that moment, its imperative was to surrender to it completely, merge with it, or die. He shivered with the earth in communion with a vibration as old as life itself.

And as the very spirit of infinity, Alexander then reached out with a knowing beyond his senses, to fill the whole breadth of the valley of death with the unlimited essence of this ancient awakened being, as an honouring, a consolation, and a promise. And in that moment of reaching beyond all limits of the dissolved vestiges of self, he detected the unmistakable stirrings of life, resilient and persistent. In that perception of sure silent knowing, he regathered himself and marched his body to the sight of a smoking corpse lying face-down and broken in the dirt. It was the body of a young mother, and beneath her, her newborn infant was still strapped to her belly. And the child was alive! The child still lived!

We don’t even know whether it was a boy or a girl, but Alexander had an apprentice; and the child had Alexander. When he looked upon the infant, his wise and aged eyes saw a smiling bundle of exuberant awareness. The child, like all children everywhere, was a pure vessel of nearly-unlimited perceptive faculty, shining with the spirit’s own hunger for experience and adventure. It was Alexander’s determination that his task was one of preserving the purity of that unbridled receptiveness. For he easily saw that in all his long life, this child was surely his own greatest opportunity for the finest refinements of his lifelong learning. The child would teach him just as surely as he would teach the child; the greatest secrets of life, Alexander had already learned well, are wrapped tightly in the mysteries of perception and awareness… and every child is born a master of just that.

We are all children of the Dark Sea of Awareness, born into the blinding light as we live. In our rearing, we receive only the layerings of limitation piled upon limitation, sold to each as knowledge. As units of socialization we must be rendered small and ineffectual, so as to not upset the social order. We, the Grey Children, belong to no social order.

That was the full extent of the credo under which the child was reared, as an apprentice to the Will of Awareness itself. Awareness is the bridge and the access among all worlds, the Black and the White, the Dark and the Light… and all shades in between. And in that framework, Alexander and the child, were each, equally, Grey’s apprentice.

Endecay Museladder I

by nielskunze on October 9, 2019

…You’re so vain you have no chance of understanding that these writings are about you…

Directions For Use:  Apply liberally. Read. Rinse. Repeat.

Endecay Museladder I

A Great and Varied Scrapbook of Mostly Vampire Selfies

We continually forget that there are no beginnings or endings. And that’s all that needs remembering: there are no beginnings or endings. And so whatever we imagine between them can only be these precious fictions.

The Sky beyond the sky is the colour of impermanence.

The lever, the dream, and the fulcrum…

“People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe. And then they will not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjurations. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe: and it is that belief, that rock-solid belief, that makes things happen.” -Neil Gaiman, American Gods

…and that is the whole of it…

Cold Caterpillar Soup

I dream myself unenlightened
just to belong.
I pour all of my life’s energy continually
into sharing this lie.
Wanting only to be counted among you,
as one of you,
I try to forget
That I’m not even one of me.
Rather, I am caterpillar soup,
Cold in the chrysalis,
And there is no pretence of butterflies
anywhere.

Epistemologia 1:

Context is everything.
And the context for everything
Is everything else.
What do you know about that? What can you know?

Legacy

For all its lack of lasting gravity as it accelerates faster and faster, youth gathers an impossible momentum that carries on quite well into middle age. To it, life ever lies ahead, still an unknown destination. There’s plenty of time… always. Until there’s not. Then youth abruptly ends, and it’s as though something has already— definitely— died. Perhaps it is that youth is defined precisely by its inability to recognize its own individual mortality. You just wake up one day and youth is gone. And that’s only something you can look back on. You can’t see it coming. There’s no sneaking or creeping, just the cold clarity of hindsight, and the shadow of death now lurking in the corner by the closet. At least, that’s how it’s been for me.

And then suddenly the concept of legacy exerts a new pressure on the mind. It seems terribly important on the one hand, and absurdly pointless on the other. I mean… failing to produce a lasting impression while alive, artists, visionaries and megalomaniacs alike dream that death may still confer an automatic poignancy upon all that which previously garnered only shrugs and polite dismissive lies. And for everyone else, all their hopes, by default, are heaped upon their children— their living legacy. But being still blissfully youthful, their children are incapable of genuinely giving two fucks, or even one. And when their own mid-life crisis finally, inevitably strikes, their parents’ stale wishes and outdated aspirations are nowhere in their minds.

Legacy, therefore, is a tricky thing. And although it outwardly appears to be an act of selfless giving, I rather think that formalizing one’s legacy is supremely selfish, wholly personal and unabashedly indulgent. So I will understand perfectly if in this reading you often find yourself not giving a single fuck… let alone the requisite two.

Eagle Food 1

Kill ‘em All!
or
The Time I Murdered My Family

I must’ve been 15 years old, a special mix of volatility and arrogance, exploring my individuality. Lying awake in bed after midnight when the consensus of the world’s reality was somewhat sloppy and loose, I sleeplessly dreamed with uncommon clarity the death of everyone I loved:

I saw myself coming home from a fun time with my friends to a back door ajar. Alarmed to the oddity— but recognizing the lateness of the hour— instead of calling out, I went around to investigate. I found my parents murdered in their beds, silent and bloody. The dog had been strangled in her basket in the kitchen. My brother was shot in the chest in the chair facing the TV in the downstairs family room. I was coldly alone.

I cried in my bed, allowing myself to grieve… even though a part of me knew perfectly well that I had just ignited it all in my imagination. It wasn’t real. But, for a time, I made it real with my grief.

And that changed everything…

Tales From My Crazy Uncle Nilly
Prologue

i

I was six years old when I, along with my younger sister, came to spend a summer with our crazy Uncle Nilly. Prior to the day that we packed up the car— a sky-blue VW bug— I had never heard of our crazy uncle. No one had ever mentioned him before. And that was odd. But I was only six, and so didn’t realize the oddity, along with many others, until these many years later, in trying to recount and rekindle the magical grace of my own unique childhood.

The second oddity that was wholly lost on me at the time was that it was my mother who drove us to the remote mountain home of our long lost uncle, even though he was my father’s brother. My parents explained it away, claiming that my father’s skills and strong work ethic were needed at home to begin the cleanup and repairs occasioned by the flood which had devastated our entire suburban neighbourhood just a few days before.

It was the reason we were leaving: basements were flooded; carpets and drapes and so-called drywall were soaked with grime; furniture and beds and clothing were ruined. To a six-year-old it seemed that the whole world had just become one great mess, a soggy and already quite smelly one at that. On the one hand, my sister and I were glad to be leaving the terrible mess behind, but the mystery of the heretofore unknown crazy uncle on the other hand provided a brand new reason to fret… suddenly, unexpectedly, we were leaving the mud flood behind and heading into an equally murky future.

The drive was a long one— seven hours in all, but it might as well have been seven days to my young imagination. The farmland, mostly dotted with cows, just outside of the city limits, gave way to wilder and grassier rolling hills as the mountains in the distance began to loom like rock-toothed monsters spilling down from the sky. It had only been a couple of hours, when we were already surrounded on all sides by ginormous rock ogres, mostly ignoring us in our crammed bug as we crawled along between them. I imagined that mountains had much better things to do than trifle with the likes of us. Still, we were in their world now… best to stay alert.

“Where does crazy Uncle Nilly live anyway?” I asked my mom an hour or so after that.

“Jeremiah!” she shot back, pinning me with her eyes in the rearview mirror. “You mustn’t call him that!”

“That’s what you and Dad called him,” I easily countered.

Mom gets this look in her eyes when she knows that I’m right but she hates that I’m right. I saw that look in the little rectangle of the mirror. She quietly sighed and then explained. “If your father and I really thought that Uncle Nilly was crazy, we wouldn’t dream of sending you two to live with him for the summer. He’s just a little… eccentric.” That’s kinda outside of the scope of a six-year-old’s vocabulary, so she quickly added “He’s just a bit odd.”

Well, that cleared up nothing at all.

“Is he funny?” asked Cassy from the passenger seat up front.

“Yes, I suppose he is,” said mother, somehow relieved.

“And nice,” insisted Cassy as though she knew with utter certainty, as four-year-olds do.

“Yes, quite nice, I’m sure.”

Have you ever noticed that people only say “I’m sure” when they’re not really sure at all? It’s supposed to be convincing. Well, it might work on four-year-olds, but not necessarily on their big brothers. I would decide for myself how nice this crazy uncle actually was. There was no need to take Mom’s word for it. And so for now I let it go.

After what seemed like days of creeping through the camp of the rock giants, we finally turned off the main highway onto a road that wasn’t much of a road at all. It certainly wasn’t paved, not even gravelled. No one had even bothered to smooth it out. It was more like a mostly-overgrown double-track trail, suitable for herds of billy goats but not VW’s— with their lack of smooth-ride suspension. I pretended we were in a covered wagon made of wood heading out west, fixing to fight some injuns over land or gold or whatever people used to fight about in the olden days. I got tossed around pretty good in the back seat, heading up that mountain to where our crazy uncle lived.

It didn’t seem like a place where folks could live. I mean, there weren’t any houses… or stores… or people. Just trees. Lots and lots of trees. At one point there was an old rusted out car beside the road, someone’s failed attempt having been swallowed by forest and weather and time. We made it farther than they had. And we kept on going.

“This has to be it,” said Mom, more to herself than anyone else after about a half hour of climbing and bouncing… and plenty of wondering. “It’s got to be here,” she added a few minutes later quite unconvincingly.

Then the mountain road that really wasn’t a road at all began to level out, and we were at the very tippy-top of the world, but still lost in a forest of trees and brush. And we motored on. Then I spotted something through the trees out the side window— bright lights that sparkled and danced. It was sunlight reflecting off the surface of a lake. A lake! I didn’t know you could have lakes at the tops of mountains. Apparently, there was such a thing.

And suddenly we were parked. The road had just stopped pretending to be a road, and now the clearing we were in was the smallest parking lot in the world. Mom shut off the engine. We got out.

There was no crazy uncle, no house, no yard, no people, no noise. There was just a tiny path leading down an embankment to the edge of the lake. We climbed down carefully and stood at the shore.

The lake was small and oval. It was long, stretching to the left and to the right, disappearing into more endless forest and swamp at each end. It wasn’t very wide where we stood. We could easily see to the other side, and I bet myself that I could swim across if I had to.

And there it was, the crazy uncle’s house, perched in a clearing on the other side. It was a small cabin, maybe made of logs, and a rowboat sat at the shore below it half in the water, half out. That’s all there was to see. I had been expecting more. What more? I couldn’t even begin to imagine. But this seemed meagre… although Mother was suddenly quite pleased.

“Oh, thank god,” she said. And then she enthusiastically shouted across the lake “Yoo-hoo!” the universal greeting among diplomats, aliens and estranged family members.

“Oy!” came the reply a few seconds later, as the man himself stepped from the shadowed porch, waving hand and arm in greeting, and then shielding his eyes from the sun to get a good look at who had come to invade his little kingdom.

“It’s Mary and the kids!” yelled my mom, answering his gaze. And I thought to myself, what? Wasn’t he expecting us? I don’t really know what I thought— that Mom and Dad had called him up last night to make all the arrangements. But then I clued in pretty quickly that telephone service out here was more than unlikely. So here we were dropping in unannounced to live out the summer with a crazy uncle we hadn’t even known existed just a day ago…

Surprise!

ii

Loading and unloading the rowboat took twice as long as the ride across the lake. Already I had learned that I’d been here before… when I was just a baby. It had been the last time Mom and Dad had spoken with crazy Uncle Nilly. So that was six years ago.

During the short trip across the lake I developed a theory as to why they called my uncle crazy. Our luggage was piled up in the front of the boat, and we three sat in the back as my uncle rowed. At very close quarters we stared each other in the face… and you couldn’t help but notice my uncle’s eyes. They were wide and wild, seeming to sparkle more than the sunlight off the lake. I had never seen eyes like that before. I couldn’t even tell what colour they were; they were just crazy, twinkling like stars! I didn’t know what to make of that.

He seemed nice enough though. “And who might this be?” he’d asked straight off, smiling down on Cassy.

“I’m Cassy.”

“Ah, pleased to meet you, Miss Cassandra.”

“Cassiopeia!” shrieked my little sister, quickly correcting him.

“Apologies my lady. Your unrivalled beauty had momentarily rattled my wits. Please, I beg your forgiveness Queen Cassiopeia.” Uncle Nilly bowed as deeply as a rowboat would allow; Cassy giggled; and everything seemed instantly alright.

As we carried the luggage up to the porch, it immediately became clear that my uncle’s house was no ordinary log cabin. In fact, it wasn’t made of logs at all. It seemed to be made mostly of stone with some wood mixed in. There were no sharp corners or even any straight lines. Everything was curved and smooth, and the rock was like just one giant stone that had been hollowed out and polished. I learned later that it was a type of malleable goop called cob that once it was properly shaped, hardened into lightweight stone. It was really cool!

Now I was on a mission to gather as much information as I could, so as my mom began explaining the situation to my uncle, I tried my best to listen in. They sat in the tiny kitchen drinking coffee I think. I was supposed to be outside with Cassy getting acquainted with our new surroundings, but I made a point to linger.

“It must’ve been your idea to bring them here,” said my uncle.

Mom got instantly defensive. “You said that if we ever needed your help…”

“I only meant that it couldn’t have been my brother’s.”

“No,” conceded Mother. “It wasn’t easy to persuade him. It was just that we didn’t have any other viable options. We just recently moved, and we don’t have any friends close enough that we could ask them to take the children. All of our neighbours are in the very same boat we’re in— dealing with the damage and the repairs… and you’re really the only family we’ve got left.”

“Yes, we three orphans have to help each other out. It’s not a problem. Really.”

“Jeremiah,” Mom turned to me, “can you please go outside to keep an eye on your sister.”

That wasn’t the reason she wanted me to go outside. Grownups and their privacy… sheesh. Fortunately, the kitchen window was open on this early summer evening, and I could still hear everything just fine from the porch.

They talked more about the arrangements, how me and Cassy might have to stay the whole summer, and that when it was over Mom would try to persuade Dad to come get us— so Uncle Nilly could see his brother for the first time in like forever. And then the discussion got real quiet for a bit; Mom hummed and hawed about something I couldn’t quite make sense of. But then my crazy uncle cleared it up in no uncertain terms.

He was kinda laughing. “I know what you’re trying to say, Mary,” he interjected. “Please don’t fuck up the kids.”

“Yes… well… something like that. Yes.”

“I’ll try my best— but no guarantees.”

iii

Mom had spent that first night with us at the lake. But early on day two me and Cassy were on our own. It felt, I dunno, a bit weird, I guess. It wasn’t a situation you’d ever reasonably expect. But there was nothing to do about it except make the best of it.

Uncle Nilly rowed her back across the lake while I hunted for frogs. Cassy was playing barefoot in the mud. We didn’t even really say goodbye. And that’s something you don’t even realize until days later. I vaguely remember hearing the car fire up and drive away down the mountain. And that was it; Mom was gone.

There’s lots I could tell about those first days, two young city kids adjusting to wilderness living, but honestly, that part was pretty easy and unremarkable. There were about a million new things to explore and we did. And Uncle Nilly, for his part, allowed us the freedom to do just that.

It was only once the sun went down that our situation kinda pressed down a bit on me and Cassy. As twilight fell, we got to thinking, and in the darkness we got to feeling lonely— despite our days being filled with adventure. I guess it might’ve showed on our faces ‘cause Uncle Nilly asked about it one night early on.

“What’s playing in your heads?” he asked. That was his way of getting at what we might be thinking.

I didn’t really know how to explain it, and Cassy sure didn’t. We said some things that didn’t make any sense, but Uncle Nilly somehow knew exactly what we were trying to say. And his solution turned out to be easily the best part about that whole summer. My crazy Uncle Nilly told us stories every night. I don’t know if they were told to him, if he read ‘em somewhere, or if he just made them up on the spot, but those stories weren’t like anything we’d ever heard before. And they sure kept our young minds occupied…

The Grey Men

Part 1: Alexander

Long ago when Life in the universe was still young and quite innocent, there lived a boy and his family in the deep forest. The boy’s real name in the Ancient Tongue is very difficult for a modern man like me to properly pronounce, so we’ll just call him Alexander. And though Alexander’s family was part of a much larger tribe, they often spent the summers off on their own in a particular part of the forest where the hunting and fishing was really good. Summer life in the deep forest was pretty easy, but it had its dangers too.

Alexander had itchy feet, and by the time he was already five years old, he just couldn’t stay home with his mother to learn all the normal things a boy in his tribe would need to know about preparing and preserving food and keeping the shelter in good repair. But he was still too young to accompany his father on the hunt; his father liked to hunt bear. So whenever his mother wasn’t paying close attention, Alexander would slip away from the little clearing where they lived in summer to explore the surrounding woods.

His mother became concerned because there were wolves and bears and mountain lions, and about a million other things in the woods that could bring a young boy to harm. But Alexander’s father rather liked that the boy had an adventurous spirit, and so he taught him how to fashion a stone knife from a particular kind of rock that was easy to chip into sharp-edged weapons. And thus, his father endorsed the boy’s fierce independence.

Even so, every time Alexander went out on his own as a little boy, his mother looked at him longingly from the door as though she might never see him alive again. But that mother’s look couldn’t stop him and off he went.

He was still only five years old when he went out one day and met up with a hungry coyote. The coyote stayed low among the bushes as it approached, so Alexander didn’t see it until it was very close. He probably wouldn’t have seen it at all if he hadn’t been forewarned. Just as the coyote was gathering itself to spring upon the boy, Alexander suddenly saw in his mind that there was a coyote at his back.

He acted immediately on the warning, drawing his stone knife from its sheath and whirling about to face his attacker. The coyote flew at him as a snarling frenzy of rage, leaping into the air to clamp its jaws on Alexander’s neck. But the boy’s reflexes were fast and the knife caught the coyote in its own furry neck instead. They fell in a heap with the boy on top and by the time Alexander repositioned himself for another slash at the beast he noticed that it was already dead. Its throat was cut and blood poured upon the forest floor; the coyote lay still.

Alexander’s heart pounded so loudly in his chest that he could hear it between gasps in his ears. He had very nearly died… and that made him feel suddenly impossibly alive! Alexander was the type of person to notice things and remember them. And that feeling was truly remarkable!

The other thing about the coyote incident that Alexander took special notice of was the fortuitous warning that had appeared in his mind just before the beast attacked. At first he couldn’t fathom from where it might’ve come, but over the following days he learned that he had a companion, silent and nearly invisible.

He could see Daemon out of the corner of his eye, but when Alexander tried to look directly at him, his forest companion vanished in his focused gaze. There was a way that Alexander could relax the focus of his eyes, letting the world fall into blurred, depthless disarray, that allowed him to see Daemon more directly, but not clearly or easily.

“Daemon” meant spirit in the tongue of Alexander’s people. It was the name which the boy assigned because the spirit did not talk to Alexander in words and so he couldn’t know its true individual name. Daemon communicated with the boy using pictures and feelings which would just appear in his mind and heart. After a time, Alexander learned to recognize the subtle vibration in his body that indicated Daemon was near.

The main thing that Alexander learned and remembered from his time with Daemon was that there were things in the world that others could not see, subtle things they could not feel.

He knew that Daemon was real and not just a figure from his own imagination because the spirit knew things that the boy did not— like the approach of the coyote; and it showed him the location of a secret little cave in the cliff; it even knew every source of water in the area… among quite a few other things.

A few years later, when the boy was still only seven, he was out adventuring in his coyote-skin tunic with Daemon like they did, when something happened which changed the course of Alexander’s life forever.

They were at the top of the cliff, near the main path that cut through that part of the forest. Alexander was crouched in a thicket of wild roses watching a snake utilize the thorns on the bushes to remove its old outgrown skin. He was fascinated by the long morning spectacle of death and rebirth— and so was Daemon apparently, because a small band of travellers were able to approach undetected quite close to where the boy was presently hunkered down.

The travellers might’ve passed right by before he noticed their presence if it wasn’t for the sudden commotion which ensued a tree-length away from the place where Alexander was hidden.

The band of travellers had been four in number, two on horseback and two on foot. He had never seen men riding horses before. And suddenly the riders were thrown from their horses as the beasts reared up in response to the group of men who sprang from the bushes beside the path. There were four of them as well.

All of this occurred desperately close to where Alexander had been stooped in unawareness. He would have felt embarrassed allowing visitors to get so close undetected if he’d had the time for such a thought. But everything happened so damned fast!

The four men who sprang from ambush cut the others down with knives impossibly fast. The two on foot were nearly decapitated before the other two even fell from their mounts. And they hadn’t even gotten up to fight before it was all over. Four men lay dead, their blood staining the forest ground before Alexander could even register what had happened.

Additionally, a small wooden chest had fallen from the saddle of one of the mounts and had smashed on the rocky ground, spilling its contents far and wide. Alexander would learn later that the bits of shiny metal were called coins, used by the people east of the forest. Now he looked upon one of them just out of reach from his hiding place, glinting in the dappled sunlight.

While two of the bandits secured the horses, the other two bent to gather the strewn coins, as Alexander watched. And suddenly the most foolish notion appeared in his mind. Was it Daemon’s thought? Or was it his own? He thought that he just had to have one of the coins for himself. Without thinking any further on the matter, Alexander in his coyote tunic leapt from the thicket, snatched the coin from the ground and ran full speed right over the cliff in front of him.

The men, startled, shouted behind him. “What was that!” shouted one. “A wolf,” answered another. “No, a coyote,” insisted a third. And the fourth ran to the edge of the cliff where the thing had disappeared… and had certainly plunged to its death. The cliff was high and steep, and the man could not see to the bottom to spot the remains. There were no signs of anything. But he was certain that whatever it was it was dead.

The men discussed the matter as they finished gathering the rest of the coins. In the end, they decided that a crazed or rabid coyote had stolen one of the coins and foolishly fallen to its death immediately thereafter. It was an absurd explanation, and Alexander quietly giggled to himself from inside the tiny cave that was hidden scarcely more than a body-length below the edge of the cliff behind a tall clump of sage, sturdy and well-rooted.

And it was in that moment that Alexander learned— and relearned many times in the years to come— that men enjoy deceiving themselves. They will tell themselves absurd stories in order to confirm their own version of reality. He would come to know again and again that men actually like to be deceived, need to be deceived, while furiously denying that it’s even remotely possible to deceive them at all. It was this bit of knowledge above all others which changed the course of Alexander’s life.

There were many many things about that day which affected Alexander deeply. The first, and perhaps foremost, was his shameful lack of awareness which allowed eight men and two heavy horses to approach within a single tree-length to where he had squatted entranced and oblivious. He had been stupid… and lucky. And he couldn’t rely on others like Daemon to warn him. He had to rely on only himself.

The next important thing was that after that day Alexander never encountered Daemon again so long as he breathed as a living boy or man. When he returned to the site the next day where the blood of the men had been spilled, and where now the vultures feasted, there was a violent vibration emanating from the blood-soaked ground. It was quite enough to drown out the signature vibe of his invisible friend’s presence and interfere with any further communication.

And thirdly, Alexander decided right then and there that once he was grown he would leave his tribe to travel east from whence the travellers had come. Compared to his own people and their simple and secure ways of living, the foreigners were more than a little odd, and that made them interesting to Alexander. Perhaps it wasn’t that he had itchy feet so much as he had an itchy mind… and that was impossible to ignore and really hard to scratch.

He learned that the people to the east were agriculturists. A few generations ago they had ceased hunting and fishing and instead planted crops and tended herds. They produced their own food, and built permanent settlements. And that made them almost unbelievably different in so many subsequent ways that Alexander was more than interested, fascinated… nearly obsessed with them. There was something vital begging to be understood about these men and the world they inhabited, and Alexander was determined to plumb such secrets to their ultimate depths.

To the Easterners, and their special way of not-thinking about the world of experience they inhabited, everything about the world was classifiable as either wholly black or wholly white. And further, when a situation could be shown not to be one way, then— automatically— it was assumed to be the exact opposite way. For these men, everything existed at the extremes of classification. Nothing lay in the middle; nothing was mixed. Between black and white there was no grey. The world they inhabited was strangely lacking in nuance or subtlety.

Quickly, Alexander deduced that it was the strange way these people used and directed their attention that cut to the heart of the matter. Wherever they placed their attention, it tended to become fixated there. And further, whatever they focused their attention on became the foundation of their reality. Alexander learned that it was attention— and attention alone— that made the things of the world real.

And then it didn’t take long for Alexander to fully realize that it was rather simple to capture the attention of such men, to manipulate it, and to direct it wherever he chose, to suit his own purposes.

Among the Easterners, Alexander became a magician of sorts. Men would place bets on the sure absurdities Alexander presented to them and were joyfully befuddled when their certainties didn’t pan out as expected. And that was the strangest part to Alexander— that the fools secretly enjoyed being fooled. And having been fooled, Alexander’s audience would chalk it up to some heretofore unexplained mystery about the esoteric nature of reality, even though the magician himself would insist again and again that he was merely employing tricks of misdirection. But the audience just assumed that this was a lie Alexander repeated for effect.

So, for a time, Alexander lived by making fools of men, and the men thanked him for the privilege of confronting such “grand mysteries”… while the magician himself made special note of the predilections of civilized man and how they affected the very fabric of reality. The whole thing to Alexander was little more than a fun experiment nearly run its course… until the day he met Helena.

He called her Hala. And he loved her from the very first moment he laid eyes on her. In that first instant when she met his gaze, she looked upon Alexander with the very same look of longing and compassion tinged with fear that his mother used to issue daily seeing her son off to his adventures in the woods. It was a look that somehow saw beneath the obvious surface, acknowledging the inner awareness that spurred his heart to adventure… and saw too the inherent dangers present in such a man as Alexander.

Before long, Hala became Alexander’s assistant for presenting magics to the mass of men who were content to be followers, the men who took reality completely at face value, living in their black-and-white universe. She seemed to genuinely despise such two-dimensional men, and delighted in exposing them for the fools they were. Meanwhile, Hala adored the one she called  Alexander the Grey.

Life for the magician and his beautiful assistant was easy; there was never any shortage of fools begging to be duped. After a time, the pair settled into an easy routine, becoming content in the process. And it was this coming to complacency which finally began to erode the bond between them until one day it was purposely shattered forever.

Hala had fallen in love with the adventurous spirit in Alexander, and he had fallen love with that same passion reflected back to him. So when their life together became mundane and routine, the adventure died, and their love all but vanished. And with the last remnants of what had once been, Hala spent it all on one last effort to put Alexander back on his rightful path.

They were performing the sword trick, where Alexander would thrust a sword through the middle of a wooden box holding Hala captive. The sword looked menacingly real, and could even cut a large ham completely and easily right through during demonstration. But it was deceptively flexible laterally, and the box was secretly outfitted with a jam to divert the sword’s thrust safely to Hala’s side at the moment of truth…

But Hala had removed the jam, unbeknownst to Alexander. So when he thrust the sword through the box containing his beloved, as he looked into her eyes at the climax of the trick, he watched in utter shocked horror as the light which shone as Hala’s own life fled in an instant— irretrievably. He stared long into those vacated eyes as blood pooled around his feet.

He might have stared thus for the rest of eternity if it hadn’t have been for the crowd beginning to realize that something had gone wrong. The word “murder” was whispered and finally shouted. And it was enough for Alexander to gather his wits and to flee.

Alexander the magician, the trickster, was never seen again among the Easterners. He fled from the public eye absolutely. It was as though the real trick that fateful day had been to make himself vanish, to disappear forever from the black-and-white world he’d manipulated so easily from the safety and comfort of grey shadows.

Alexander resumed the grand adventure of his life… but with a new view in mind and the bad taste of bitter memories stamped on his tongue. He set aside the simple magic of the misdirected and manipulated attention of others to become a true Mage, a Wizard, a Sorcerer. He became silent and turned his focus upon his own attention, upon his own awareness, and became a master of perception, a true Master of Reality.

Among the burgeoning world of civilized men, the growing legend of the great sorcerer Alexander the Grey became something of a mere rumour, vague but persistent, and very hard to trace. Some said that he achieved immortality and knew all of the secrets of the universe, while others insisted that the man was long dead. Truth was like that among such men, ever shrouded in mystery. But the final thing that Alexander learned for himself and took special note of was that truth was simple, enduring, and readily available to all who were willing to see… and that the whole wide world of untruth was made from magic and absolutely nothing else.

Alexander’s end was not marred by decrepit old age or warring drama. Rather, it just happened one day that he had had enough of his fellow men, and he wandered in his sorcerer’s way to the very edge of the world where reality abruptly ended. They say that it is a place where the Infinite Cliff meets the Fathomless Abyss, and Alexander the Grey stood a moment at the edge of the precipice and peered into the swirling, roiling mists beyond. Willfully, he stepped over the threshold and was wholly swallowed by the clamouring grey shadows, feeling again the same vibration he’d once felt in Daemon’s presence, and knowing that he was home.

_____________________________

I had been a bit confused by the story’s ending, so I asked my uncle about it the next day.

“So did Alexander die?”

Uncle Nilly smiled and his eyes shone. “What do you think happened?”

“Well,” I began putting the pieces together which had been tumbling around in my head that morning, “early on, you said that Alexander never encountered Daemon again while he still lived. But in the end they’re reunited, right?”

“I’m very glad to see that you’re paying such close attention. But, for now, I think it best if we just leave it kind of foggy, in the grey.” He winked. “Tonight we’ll carry on with the next part of the story… and maybe some things will be cleared up. Or maybe not.” He winked again.

“What’s it called? The next part of the story, I mean.”

“Grey’s Apprentice.”

I could hardly wait for nightfall.

Tanking Reality

…it gets a bit funky… after four years of every-other-day. Do the math: that’s more than 700 floats! (It’s almost time to change the water.) The approximate smell of piled gym socks is having it out with fresh, sharp ozone. I turned the bubbler off only a minute ago. The diffuser stone is in my grasp, dangling from its tether of vinyl tubing. I set it down in its place, white and salted, to dry again, to add to the magnesium sulphate deposit on the ledge.

I’m standing naked before the open hatch, before the warm cave of this man-sized, man-made plastic and cardboard womb. I can hear the faint tinkling sounds of music, like what you might hear from someone else’s earbuds during quiet moments on the bus. The music is underwater. And my ears, for now, are still surfaced, attuned to the familiar, habitual perception of regular reality.

I step over the foot-and-a-half bottom lip of the cave entrance— this threshold to other dimensions— to stand in ten inches of water, water that’s actually twice as much salt as it is water. Hard to believe that Mount Epsom dissolved so completely… “First there is a mountain. Then there is no mountain. Then there is…” Donovan knows.

My toes are touching sunken islands of diatomaceous earth here and there on the vinyl seabed of my cave. These spits of white sand have been ‘volcanically’ belched from the accumulated action of a Jacuzzi pump and filter system over the years of trying to keep things reasonably clean… but the ‘gym socks’ have clearly begun to erode my pristine islands.

I turn around in order to sit down, so now I’m facing out from the cave entrance. You have to enter this place head first, face up… backwards. Before I can stretch out, lying on my back, I pull the hatch cover down on top of the entranceway. The darkness is absolute, by design.

Slowly, carefully, so as to not make any waves, I lay myself down upon my back… but instead of lowering my torso to the bottom, magically, my bum rises up and I float like a cork upon the ten-inch briny deep. No part of me is touching bottom. I am fully suspended. I relax.

The therapeutic immersion is kept at a precise temperature of approximately 92 degrees Fahrenheit, the exact temperature at which the body’s surface feels nothing. It is neither warm nor cold. I am floating naked, in nothingness…

…except there’s music! Loud and clear now, my ears are fully submerged in the other realm. In utter black stillness I am riding upon waves of sweet cacophony. Slowly, timelessly, my mind grooves to this reminder of shared reality as my body dissolves and disappears. I am pure consciousness listening, imagining…

(When I purchased the sensory-deprivation Eco-tank from the Samadhi Tank company in California, I also had a pair of underwater speakers custom made by an oceanographer and sound engineer in Orlando. Upon assembly, I quickly learned that the music had to be fully segued— one continuous flow— or else the pauses between songs would create glaring obstacles in my endless symphonic space. The silence was too jarring in contrast to the otherwise full immersion in the thoughtfully curated sound. I also quickly developed a preference for purely instrumental music, as human voices and lyrics could often be a distraction, as opposed to the desired abstraction.)

Amnesia is the only absolute prerequisite for proper dreaming. In order to dream, you have to completely forget yourself… and then the mind automatically resurrects the self within a new dreaming context. That’s what happens inside a sensory-deprivation tank… you dream… but without having fallen asleep. You are perfectly, exquisitely awake…

The action of mind is to dream. That is its default setting. Given nothing or little else to do, the mind will dream, irrespective of sleep. And EVERY DREAM IS PERFECTLY REAL WHEN YOU’RE IN IT.

That’s the takeaway here. After four years of floating for about an hour and forty minutes every other day, I REALIZED again and again that every dream is perfectly real when you’re in it. Or said differently, in order to dream, you have to utterly forget that you’re dreaming. It is only upon ‘awakening’ from the dream that you realize its dreaminess… otherwise, for the duration of the dream, that is your reality— indistinguishable from any other reality in its realness.

In the tank, I am dreaming, while my body is fully awake. That is to say that I am not experiencing sleep paralysis— a normal part of sleep and nighttime dreaming. I am in the tank, but I have momentarily forgotten that I am in the tank… and instantly, at the very moment of forgetting where I am, my mind drops into dreaming. I am immersed in a fully formed reality, going about the appropriate actions for the dream I’m in. It is real… insofar as there’s no inkling whatsoever that something other than the current dream sequence exists. While dreaming, there is no memory of another world; the sensory-deprivation tank is wholly, absolutely sequestered in temporary amnesia. Only the dream sequence and the self I experience within it are real. There is nothing else— for the duration of the dream sequence.

Invariably, the dream sequence ends when my dreaming self performs some overt action within the dream— like throwing a punch, for example— and my body in the tank reflexively twitches in a corresponding manner… and suddenly I’m bobbing to and fro upon the sudden waves in the tank. I smile and laugh inwardly to myself, as I think “Oh yeah, I’m here in the tank…” And then a minute or two later, I’m wholly somewhere else, dreaming again…

Dark Ocean

In the One, Eternal,
Dark Ocean of consciousness,
There is a specific motion,
a spasm-like contraction,
(pre-thought)
That produces the light
of Awareness.
(Aye, Darkness creates the light!)
It is the ‘substance’
of dreaming…
Light waves collide,
interfere,
Combine in the Triad of Perception:
Perceiver-Perception-Perceived,
And light becomes particular…
In the Moment called Now.
Time, space, matter and energy follow,
Evoking, entrapping and entangling Mind.
Mind creates past and future,
Is ever entranced by the light,
And forgets completely
the dark shoreless ocean
of Infinity.

Self is born…

The Park Bench Encounters

1

Personal Responsibility & The World

I have a favourite bench in the park across the street from a popular internet cafe.

On a particularly busy day at the cafe a few months ago I was unable to secure a seat for myself and my Fat Coffee, and most importantly for my computer, so I dejectedly wandered over to the park bench across the street with laptop and coffee in hand. Initially I had assumed that there’d be no wifi in the park, but after a few minutes I decided that it couldn’t hurt to check. Besides, my laptop had a reputation for glomming onto the weakest signals and making do. Lo and behold! This park bench— comfortably away from the insanely busy cafe— had full and free internet service.

And now it’s my personal daily spot. This is how I start my days.

“Whatcha reading?” I hadn’t even noticed the middle-aged woman who’d joined me on the bench a few minutes after my arrival this morning, who was now peering across my shoulder to get a glimpse of the computer screen.

Great… just what I need! Didn’t she know this is MY time? That was one advantage, I suppose, of getting a table at the cafe— there, folks tended to leave you alone… out of respect. “Just the news,” I intoned as dismissively as possible without looking up.

“So what’s news?” she asked far too cheerfully, obviously not getting the hint.

I released a held breath, suspiciously resembling a sigh, and answered “Iran just bombed a refinery in Saudi Arabia.”

“Oh…” she said somewhat perplexed, as though that bit of news didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the contents of her mind. After a moment she added “And what are you going to do about that?”

Now I looked up to fully meet her gaze. Her question was absurd and we both knew it. “Me? What am I going to do about it?” She nodded to affirm that that was indeed her question. “Nothing,” I answered with complete confidence. “I’m not going to do anything about it.” And that was that. Now shut up, my mind silently quipped. And I turned back to the screen.

“Why not?”

She said it with such blandness, without accusation or judgment— just the logical followup in a conversation I was trying very hard not to have. It hung there in the morning air between us like a mosquito, harmless but annoying, and I really wanted to swat it into oblivion.

But I conceded that I wasn’t going to get my wish for solitude, peace and privacy anyway, so I closed the laptop and shifted my position on the bench to face her more squarely. Inwardly I was preparing for confrontation, as mild and innocuous it would likely prove to be.

“I’m not going to do anything about it because it’s not my place to do anything.”

“It’s none of your business,” she added easily.

“Well, it’s not any more my business— personally— than it is yours or anyone else’s, here, in a city park in Canada. There’s really nothing I can do about it… that might be meaningful or even significant.”

“Personally,” she said, again as though she was finishing my thought for me.

“Yes, personally,” I agreed with a bit of annoyance.

“Good thing life’s not personal,” she smiled. “Oh, wait… except to every person alive!” She was teasing me without quite mocking.

I was beginning to think that her off-the-cuff innocence was a ruse and that she definitely had an agenda. I just couldn’t figure out what it might be.

“What do you want from me?” I asked impatiently.

She smiled even brighter… and that just seemed wrong to me. “I want to give you a gift,” she answered sweetly.

“What gift?” I snapped.

“Why… this conversation, silly.”

Couldn’t she clearly see that I didn’t want it? “And suppose I don’t want it,” I stated flatly.

She was ever-so-slightly taken aback. “But you asked for it.”

“What? When?” I did not!

“About three weeks ago.” She resumed her smile. “I saw you right here, on this bench, and you begged me to come talk to you.”

I had no idea what she was talking about! So I answered sarcastically “Oh, so you only took three weeks to finally fulfill my request?” There was no such request!

“Well… I was in Chicago three weeks ago,” she said.

What?! I mean, seriously, what?! I just stared at her with all the perplexity I could muster. “You realize,” I said after a long moment, “that this conversation has gone seriously sideways?”

“Yes, it has,” she readily agreed. “So let’s get it back on track.” And then she just ran roughshod all over my dumbfounded face with “Nearly all of our energy is spent maintaining our view of the world and the feelings that view evokes in us.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. Shit! What would you’ve said? After a brief pause she continued.

“So Iran just bombed a refinery in Saudi Arabia? Well, what a useless piece of shit bit of information that is!” I opened my mouth for a rebuttal, but she just ploughed right ahead. “I know, it might cause the price of gas to go up a penny or two. Or it might not. Either way, I bet it makes you feel a little bit scared. Of course it does. It just goes to show that the world isn’t a safe place. It’s crazy out there! And getting crazier by the minute! There’s always bad shit going on… a new list every day!” She leaned in to whisper “How am I doing?”

“I get what you’re saying,” I conceded before issuing my quick counterargument. “But we, as citizens of the global community, have a responsibility— a personal responsibility— to stay abreast of the major happenings around the world. We need to be informed.”

“What for?” She raised a hand to stop my knee-jerk rebuttal. “So you can do absolutely nothing about it and feel scared and weak and maybe a little bit guilty?” Then she grabbed my nearest hand, compressed it gently into a fist, extended my index finger, and asked me to “Point to the world. Where is it? If I want to go over and talk to this crazy-ass world and tell it to get its shit together, where do I go. Please point me in the right direction.”

I was feeling a bit overwhelmed… mostly by all of the arguments which leapt to mind all at once. And before I could select one to articulate, she just continued merrily along.

“The world doesn’t exist. Sure, you can talk about as though it does. But we might as well be talking about unicorns! Do you want to talk about unicorns?” I shook my head… just trying to keep up. “No. Serious folks don’t give two shits about unicorns! Because they have no personal responsibility toward the welfare of unicorns. Agreed?”

I nodded again.

“Responsibility can only be personal,” she continued, clearly on a roll now. “There’s no such thing as non-personal responsibility. Responsibility belongs to persons, to people. And the world has no responsibilities… given or taken.

“The world is just an idea, a concept you use to disempower yourself and shirk your true responsibilities. Folks like to let the world, as a concept, overwhelm them. They use it like an excuse for limiting their perception and their subsequent action. But keep it in your mind— always— that ‘the world’ doesn’t exist in any actionable sense. You can’t even point to it, so how the fuck are you supposed to deal with it? Stop trying.

“All of your responsibilities are in your personal life… and everything in your personal life has infinite depth anyway. You don’t need to be going around inventing worlds, or intergalactic space monsters, or fucking unicorns to confuse your sense of responsibility.”

“But…” That’s as far as I got before she moved the conversation along again.

“The whole trick to responsibility is one of jurisdiction. You can’t take responsibility for things that are none of your damn business— like the world. The world is not your concern; nor is it anyone else’s.

“We— us humans— are composite beings. We’re two halves of a whole. But most folks are only familiar with the one half— the all-too-human worldly half.”

Dead stop. Smile. She shifted gears abruptly. “Cogito ergo sum… you know it?”

“I think, therefore I am,” I replied automatically.

“Yeah,” she nodded. “But do you know it?” She rightly assumed I didn’t. “There are two halves to that absolute truth. There’s the ‘I think’ part and there’s the ‘I am’ part. And your personal responsibility, as you are now, only extends to the ‘I think’ part. You have no capacity to take personal responsibility for the ‘I am’ part. You don’t know your Being; you only know your doing. But that’s quite enough for now.”

I thought that she might’ve meant that the conversation was suddenly over, but— thankfully— I was wrong.

“The human doing part of your being is your mind, your body and a bundle of deliciously inexplicable feelings about your situation. Your other half— which I’m going to call Spirit— is all about your situation. Spirit selects and creates your personal world; that’s Its responsibility. And in no way is that your responsibility. You have exactly zero capacity to directly change the world of your experience. You can only change the way you respond and feel about it, what you think and believe about it. That’s your superhero power in this situation. And by changing your reactions to the world of your personal experience, Spirit will, in turn, change for you the contents of that experience in the most perfectly appropriate way unimaginable.”

I wanted to correct her, pointing out that she meant to say ‘imaginable,’ but quickly realized that there was no error. ‘Unimaginable’ was correct. She continued.

“We have a personal responsibility to our perceptions… and very little else. By defining ‘the world’ beyond the personal, as something out there, we deny infinity, the true domain of Spirit. And the world doesn’t need you anyway; it’ll accept you, for a time as you are… but existence as we know it is about change, so for how long? Get it together before you die. And you’re gonna die. You can bet your pretty little soul on that!”

I sensed that the conversation, my gift, was coming to an end, and I was at a complete loss as to what to say. She said in summation:

“Or will you commit all of your energy to nonsense?”

She was smiling again, broadly. And I suddenly noticed that I was too. I reached down to retrieve a business card to hand to her and a pen for writing down her particulars…

When I straightened up, I was utterly perplexed again, and a little pissed off too. She was gone. Vanished. As though she’d never really been there. I shrugged and humphed… and finally realized that I had a lot of thinking to do…

The Music Archeologist

1: The Wrath of Gord

The experiment had failed.

The earth realm was slated for destruction… again. Not a correction, mind you; not even a massive one. This time it would be completely dismantled. The members of the board had voted, and the Outlandish decision was cast. Earth had become a danger to itself and others. It had to go.

“How exactly does one go about disassembling a world anyway?” asked Jay.

“It’s a realm,” grumbled Gord.

“What?”

“There are no worlds,” answered Gord, affecting his usual air of superiority, “only realms.”

“Okay…” conceded Jay, “how does one properly set about obliterating a realm? Especially such an aged one? Earth’s been around a very long time.”

“Dissolve the sun,” said Gord rather tersely. It made sense. Gord had been the inventor of suns. And much like Edison had done on the human scale, his little invention had changed absolutely everything. Suns, stars… lightbulbs— they were game-changers.

“Well, good luck with that,” offered Jay, turning to leave.

“Where do you think you’re going?” asked Gord pointedly. “You’re just as mixed up in this thing as I am,” he insisted.

Jay wanted to object, but he knew there’d be no point. It was true. He was as fully entangled with the earth realm as its de facto creator was. He had agreed to share the responsibility for his mentor’s creation the moment he had entered that realm… and had seriously fucked with its destiny. That Gord had managed to extricate him at all from his own follies, lo that long ago, was a miracle in itself. Now, here they stood, outside, so seemingly apart, contemplating the ultimate fate of earth, both knowing what had to be done.

“We’re going back in, aren’t we?” asked Jay mostly rhetorically.

“Yup,” came the immediate answer.

“Shit.”

____________________

I first met Gord and Jay on June 21st, 1972. It was a Wednesday. It was the first week of summer holidays. I was sixteen. I was at work, at the record shop.

My boss had left the shop in my young but capable hands for the afternoon. The record on the turntable was King Crimson’s ’69 debut ‘In the Court of the Crimson King.’

I could’ve sworn I was alone in the shop. It was slow, even for a Wednesday, and I had a perfect view of the front door from the counter at which I stood. Nobody had come through those doors for at least twenty minutes.

The song was ‘Moonchild,’ towards the end, during the noodley bits. My teenage self was unable to understand why Mr. Fripp had insisted on including those aimless unstructured noise sessions on each of the first Crim albums, sometimes lasting more than ten minutes each. It seemed to me that vinyl real estate was at a premium, and any self-respecting artist would want to cram in as much awesomeness as was humanly possible on each and every record… and here was Fripp and the boys serving up a steaming pile of noodles, with not even a morsel of meat to savour. I didn’t get it.

Anyway, that was my train of thought when Gord and Jay suddenly “appeared” in the shop. I swear they never came through the front door. They were just suddenly there, peering at me over the Black Sabbath ‘Master of Reality’ display left over from last summer.

My next train of thought was that these two were really Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, freshly beamed into my reality, here to save the world or some such thing. (Oh the irony of that thought, I would later realize!)

Nope. No pointy ears. Neither of these two oddballs was Vulcan. They appeared human… mostly.

“Can I help you gentlemen find something today?” I asked nonchalantly, trying to cover up my deepest paranoid suspicions, as I emerged from behind the counter.

My very straightforward query seemed to catch both of them a little off guard. “Um… yes… well…” stammered the one who seemed to be in charge— the leader, so to speak. “What is it exactly that you sell?”

Okay, that threw me for a bit of a loop, coming from someone standing in the middle of a record shop utterly stuffed to the brim with records. “Ah, music,” I answered, biting back my profound incredulity.

“Oh, how lovely!” beamed the other one, the nice one— the one I later learned was Jay. “We’ll take some of that please,” he added. “We love music!”

“Um, anything in particular?” I asked, struggling to keep my composure.

“How about this?” asked Jay, holding up the Black Sabbath album from the rack before them.

“Master of Reality,” I read the cover. “Doom metal,” I quickly added, not knowing what else to say.

“Sounds perfect,” muttered Gord just loud enough for me to hear, although I doubt that was his intent.

“The first song is Sweet Leaf,” I began to ramble. “It’s an ode to Mary Jane.” Nothing. No reaction. “Um, marijuana… cannabis…?”

“Ah, cannabis!” For a second there I thought I saw Gord actually smile with the sudden recognition. But then his mood turned on a dime as his natural bitterness seeped through again: “Only worthwhile thing you freaks ever managed to dream up.”

Who the fuck was he calling a freak! Thirty seconds in and this was easily already the strangest conversation I’d ever had. And it never really got any easier.

I honestly didn’t know what to make of these two, but somehow I ended up taking a liking to them nevertheless. They were either two of the most naïve middle-aged men in the history of modern civilization, or they were escaped lunatics from the asylum and possibly serial killers. Either way, they were some real freaky people, and I’d always taken a shine to freaky people in general.

______________________

It turns out that what Gord and Jay were really after was a ride into the desert. They had important business in the desert. Sure… why not?

I drove a cherry red ’67 Mustang. I wasn’t all that keen on taking it into the dusty old desert, but I could always wash it when I got back. I was always washing that car. God, I loved that car!

It was still early— late afternoon… on the longest day of the year. My boss, the owner of the record shop, had relieved me at 4, and after a quick stop at the 7-11 for slurpees, we were on our way to the desert. Gord was strapped tightly into the passenger seat beside me (who wears a seatbelt in 1972?), while Jay was sliding back and forth across the freshly Armor-Alled vinyl bench seat in the back as I took most of the corners a tad too fast— as teenage boys driving Mustangs tend to do.

During a straight stretch of road I spied Jay in the rearview mirror holding the newly-purchased “Master of Reality” album up to his ear as though he actually expected to hear something. I shoved the cassette tape into the deck instead of even attempting to question or explain.

“It’s a mixed tape I made,” I shouted above the music blaring from the speakers. I was always so proud of my mixed tapes. Working in a record shop scored me access to some real obscure gems. Jay instantly seemed to genuinely like it while Gord was quite content with his usual scowl.

When Elton John got to the shushy part in “Empty Sky,” where it got all quiet for a bit, I asked the fellas “So what are we doing out in the desert anyway?” They looked at each other conspiratorially for a moment. Then Gord just shrugged and answered straight out.

“We’re going to end the world.”

“I thought it was a realm,” interjected Jay.

“To him it’s a world,” scolded Gord.

Neat. I didn’t believe them. Of course I didn’t, but I thought it’d be fun to play along. “End of the world, you say? We’d best get stoned then.”

Both of them looked horrified until I explained that getting stoned was the same as getting high on cannabis— a thing to which they were both surprisingly amenable. I pulled the pre-rolled after-work fatty from my cigarette pack and sparked it up. Ten minutes later and the tunes were sounding heavenly and Gord was actually managing a look of honest contentment… until I resumed the conversation.

“So why exactly are we ending the world today?”

I saw Jay squirm a bit in the back seat, but it was Gord who answered. “Because you fuckers just can’t seem to get a damn thing right!”

I laughed. Heartily. C’mon, it was funny. Hysterical, really. “What d’ya mean?” I asked feigning a serious tone.

Gord bent to pick up a newspaper from among the garbage strewn on the floor at his feet. (Yeah, despite the Turtle Wax and the Armor All, I was still a sixteen-year-old kid, after all.)

“This!” he exclaimed, holding up the front page, and smacking it with the back of his hand. He then read the headline to me: “Valedictorian Urges Peers to Follow Their Dreams.” It was a small-town newspaper, and that was just the sort of thing we might consider news.

“What?” I was genuinely perplexed.

“You dip-shits get everything exactly backwards!” Gord raged. “Follow your dreams! Follow your fucking dreams! Why don’t you try leading them instead?”

Somehow there seemed to be something profound in that. I can’t say that I exactly got it right at that moment, but the irascible Gord was definitely onto something.

“Don’t follow your dreams,” I reiterated, “lead your dreams instead.” There was indeed a profound logic in that… or maybe it was just that I was super high on Thai chronic. Whatever, it satisfied something in me.

But Gord was something less than satisfied. The weed obviously hadn’t completely tamed his irascible nature. “I really thought you’d have figured it out by now,” he lamented angrily.

“Figured what out?”

“Base reality,” he said very matter-of-factly… to which I had no reply, mostly because I had no clue what he might be getting at. I shot him a quick look of puzzlement and then waited for him to elaborate.

“There was always just one thing… one thing to protect and cherish… the one thing that no matter what else might happen, it would surely save you. If only you could remember this one thing, it would always rescue you, redeem you, and set the world aright again. But you— every last one of you— forgot it. And now it’s lost… and the world is doomed.”

I really thought Gord was going to tell me what the ‘one thing’ was. Nope. I had to ask, and even then he couldn’t just come out with it. It seems Gord had found a teaching moment— the only thing that apparently made him happy… or, at least, less bitter. He launched into some metaphysical bullshit, like all this end-of-the-world stuff was real and perfectly serious. I kept a straight face.

“There’s only really two things going on here.” He gestured with a grandiose flourish to indicate that “here” was the entirety of the world. “This is a binary realm.” Here he paused to look at Jay, confirming some private joke that wasn’t all that funny. Turning back to me, he continued. “Expansion and contraction.”

Apparently those were the “two things.” I had been expecting something a bit more revealing, insightful, profound. But he was getting to that.

“It’s all about mind, you know.” He paused again to let that settle in, but its significance was mostly lost on me. I still didn’t know where this was going. “And what do we call the expansion of mind?” he asked, fully expecting an answer. I um’d and ah’d a bit incurring some fresh Gordian wrath. “C’mon! We covered this already!”

I shrugged. He sighed. And Jay answered into the awkward silence.

“Dreaming,” he said from the back seat. “Mind expands through dreaming.”

“Yes,” Gord acknowledged. “Dreaming is like a yawn and a stretch for consciousness.”

Okay, I was starting to get it. “So… dreaming is the ‘one thing’ you were talking about earlier— the one thing to be cherished and protected…?”

“Yes, the CAPACITY to dream, really DREAM. Precisely.” Gord suddenly looked almost pleased. Almost…

“But what’s this bit about contraction then?”

“Dreaming can either be wholly private or decidedly social. Dreams can be shared— experientially.” Again with the pause… but now I was really starting to get it. I picked up the thread…

“So… this whole reality— this realm,” I corrected as I met Jay’s gaze in the rearview mirror with a wink, “is a shared dream.”

“Yup,” is all Gord said. I was expecting a bit more fanfare than that. After all, I was really beginning to catch on… but I was still unclear about the whole contraction thing and I said so.

“It’s a freewill universe,” answered Gord. “We can experience the dream of another only through agreement, by making contracts.”

“Ah, that’s what you meant by contraction!”

“Contracts put limits on things… keeping them from expanding into absurdity or just plain oblivion. You need a lot of agreements to make a complex reality like this one work. You need a lot of contracts.” Gord had really warmed to our conversation now, and I was diggin’ it too.

“So where are all these contracts filed?” I asked. “Which law office is keeping track of all our agreements?”

“That’s what the sun is for,” answered Gord. “And we’re here— today— to dissolve the sun.”

“Wait… what?” I didn’t understand how the sun could be the grand repository of agreements among all living things on earth. After all, that’s what Gord was saying… if I was following. Gord seemed to understand my confusion immediately.

“I liked it better,” he began to explain, “when people thought the sun was made of moondust and phlogiston. Beats the hell out of this helium fusion nonsense.” Well, that didn’t help my understanding any better. Gord continued. “All that is… is consciousness. Existence and consciousness are exactly equivalent. You could even say they’re the same thing— the only thing. Consciousness is— that’s our starting point.”

“Cogito ergo sum,” I said.

Okay. I kinda enjoyed this mystical crap. But the knit of my brow communicated clearly that I was teetering on the brink of being lost again, so Gord started in on another tack.

“Close your eyes,” he said.

“Um, I’m driving.”

“So stop. We’re here anyway,” he added.

We were really in the middle of buttfuck nowhere, and I said so as I stopped the car.

“It’s perfect,” said Gord, stepping out to immediately gaze at the blazing sun overhead.

I got out too, and flipped the seat forward to let Jay out from the back. We stretched and breathed in the desert heat for a moment and then Gord resumed his tutorial.

“Now close your eyes.” I did. “What do you see?”

“Nothing,” I answered automatically.

“Bullshit!” raged Gord. “That’s a learned response. And it’s patently false. Now tell me what you actually see with your eyes closed.”

I did as I was told. “I see… colours… lights… random patterns. It’s a jumble. It’s chaos.” Until that very moment I had never realized how much there was to see when I simply closed my eyes. My previous answer of “nothing” seemed rather absurd suddenly. How did I never notice this before!

“I looked high, saw the empty sky!” sang Jay to the desert at large. “If I could only… could only fly!”

Gord deftly ignored him. “Light is the substance of dreaming… and dreaming is what minds do. They can’t help it. Consciousness is inherently creative. It automatically fills all voids in time and space. Light occupies space, thus creating it. Time is filled by structure or organization. Time depends on patterning. These things together create realms… or reality as you know it. And I simply call them dreams.”

Holy shit! I think I was really getting it. Somehow all of this was actually making sense… at least, to my thoroughly stoned inquisitive self. Gord seemed to acknowledge my progress and thus continued.

“Dreaming is projected outward from the source of consciousness— your mind. In every moment, it is natural for you to radiate highly structured quanta of light in every direction. You are the source of light… as is every living creature.” Now we were really getting to the crux of the matter! “The sun is foremost a receptacle. First, the sun gathers the light from all dreamers within its realm. Then, the sun’s own consciousness processes all of the information individually received from uncountable sources, noting in particular where they are in agreement. And finally, it returns that same light restructured and re-patterned as a collective consciousness which is qualitatively more than the mere sum of its unfathomably varied parts.”

And here, Gord actually smiled— a genuine ear-to-ear grin. And rightfully so, I thought. This shit was righteously profound! And then the next realization hit me like a ton of bricks!

If what Gord had just managed to explain to me had any real validity at all, that meant that these two jokers really were here to dissolve the sun and bring an end to the world.

Shit!

___________________________

Stories should have soundtracks too. 

[YouTube has become an unreliable platform, pulling and blocking videos without explanation. Several of my favourite music channels which had been built up over many years have recently been completely shut down. YouTube is not clear or consistent with their rules and policies, so I haven’t invested as much time and effort into my music channel (Music Archeologist) as I had originally planned. Right now, about 80% of the videos I’ve uploaded remain available, but they could be pulled without explanation at any moment.]

What’s Wrong with God

1

I am imagining God, as though peering over his shoulder as he observes a specific instant in the life of one of his children. He is watching intently, wringing his hands in consternation. He is muttering aloud, giving shape to the very horns of the dilemma unfolding.

“Oh child, you have a difficult decision… for one so young. The fate of all the worlds and heavens may very well hang in the balance. She has spotted the tiger. Oh no! Please not the tiger. For the love of all that is holy, turn away now… Yes… but what’s this? That would seem equally as dire! Please set aside that terrible, rocky road… Oh why in the world did I ever agree to granting freewill? I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in ages!” 

The fate of worlds clearly rested upon the slight shoulders of this young girl having to decide. But alas, in the end, she settled on the butter pecan… and the sun again came up the next day. Phew, that was close!

Niels Dennis Kunze – October 7, 2019

Master Index for The Progects

by nielskunze on May 17, 2019

Introduction to The Progects

Horned Prog Set 1 Breakfast in Prague

Horned Prog Set 2 Sometimes the Horns Are Implied

Horned Prog Set 3 Zappa’d

Horned Prog Set 4 Proven in the Groovin’

Horned Prog Set 5 Pop Rocks & Other Unsavoury Snacks

Horned Prog Set 6 Hot Coffee & Cold Fusion

Horned Prog Set 7 Quirky Jerky

Horned Prog Set 8 Lunch In Chicago

Horned Prog Set 9 On the Rocks

Horned Prog Set 10 On the Jazz

Horned Prog Set 11 A Bag of Rocks

Horned Prog Set 12 Get the Funk Outta Town

69 Give and/or Take 1 & 2 (The Music Archeologist Part 1)

69 Give and/or Take 3 & 4 (The Music Archeologist Part 2)

Progged Down & Getting Uppity Hours 1, 2 & 3 (Eclecticism 101)

The Progects: Thoughtfully curated, artfully mixed

by nielskunze on May 16, 2019

Cultural preservation is up to us. It is we the people— ourselves— who must determine what is worth preserving, and then take the appropriate steps to carry it forward for new generations.

Institutionalized and corporate interests will always promote and project that which has already proven to be popular, first as nostalgia to the aging masses, and then as recycled, modernized, updated fare for mass re-consumption by the young. But what is popular is not necessarily good; in fact, it is only ever rarely so.

The Progects concerns itself with music— specifically, progressive music, generally referred to as “prog.” Although initially, prog was an umbrella term for progressive rock, it has grown since its birth in the late sixties to encompass musical stylings including jazz, country and classical structures, along with ethnic influences in addition to common rock and roll. Essentially, prog has come to mean any music outside of “normal” structural conventions, often featuring marked complexity and/or eclectic instrumentation. Prog draws upon all styles and conventions in order to blend and repackage the familiar into unique and interesting and often novel forms, providing fresh interest and originality, where the strictly traditional might otherwise tend toward sterility and endless repetition.

I became a rabid prog-head already in my early teens. When asked— as kids do among each other— “What’s your favourite band?” I could only answer accurately with a list of five. As to which of the five might be my favourite on any given day depended entirely upon the mood I happened to be in. That list of five, in no particular order, was: King Crimson, Yes, Rush, Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull.

It was these five, more so than any others, who provided true excitement to my music enjoyment. Sure I liked Led Zeppelin, The Who, Boston, Black Sabbath and many other popular acts of the seventies, but it was the truly progressive bands who captured and aroused my imagination and transported me to other realms and worlds from the comfort of my own bedroom. Coming home from the downtown record shops every other week with a new stack of trippy music was the cherished prerequisite to magical adventures. And I loved it!

The Progects seeks to recreate that sense of endless discovery through providing hour-long mixes of progressive music. I earnestly wish to impart that sense of real excitement that carried me through my youth and has continued to only grow as I march now through adulthood. For those who “get it”, music is able to provide a unique stimulant to the psyche of the listener which no other art form seems able to achieve. This music is not background noise for attending to other tasks. It demands an actively engaged listener intent on experiencing a sublime joy unique to the musical experience. I know it sounds pretentious, and maybe it is, but who cares if it achieves a lifetime of pleasure along the way!

So far, the bulk of The Progects has focused mainly upon the 7 explosive years of unprecedented creativity which occurred generally among the years of 1969 to 1975. Up until fairly recently I had erroneously thought that prog was a small and very limited phenomenon mostly confined to this tiny historic period. However, not only was there an incredibly huge output of progressive music worldwide during these 7 golden years, the movement— or genre— has also grown enormously ever since. Recent changes in social media has allowed The Progects to mine the previously undiscovered global richness from the vintage era as well as attempt to keep up with the burgeoning developments in the growing genre ever since.

As a Music Archeologist, it is my duty and pleasure to sift through veritable mountains of tailings to collect the nuggets and gems of personal fascination in order to finally arrange them into publicly accessible exhibitions. I have always taken great pleasure in mixing and arranging music into themes, styles and narratives that tickle my imagination. It’s how I listen to music. The criteria determining which specific songs and segments make it into any of my mixes is simply that I like them. I don’t feel duty-bound to include pieces with supposed historic significance if the songs bore me. I honestly enjoy every one of the thousands of songs contained in these Progects. Indeed, this is something I would be (have been) doing anyway, strictly for my own pleasure. It’s just that now, with modern technological advancements, it has become feasible to share this passion with the world at large.

Finally we need not be concerned with copyright violations. YouTube has become the world’s largest music sharing site. Their processing algorithms are able to accurately identify songs holding copyright claims, and monetize videos containing these songs on behalf of the copyright claimants. The video uploader does not receive payment from the use of copyrighted material. As a result, the sharing of such videos acts as a promotional tool on behalf of the claim holders and the artists themselves.

Note: On my personal blog, The Free Radical, I have replaced the WordPress audio players with embedded YouTube videos in order to properly address these copyright concerns. What I was doing before, posting music mixes without any redress for copyright claimants, was in violation of copyright law. Now the appropriate parties are being paid as advertisements infiltrate my mixes. (This can’t be helped— sorry. But you can subscribe to YouTube’s premium streaming service which is ad free.) Additionally, on occasion a single track in one of the mixes may restrict the visibility of the video containing it due to the assertion of global rights by its claimant. When this occurs, I remove the song and note in the track listing below that the video has been edited, so there might be a tiny stumble in the otherwise seamless mix.

Currently, I have created several of my own sub-genres to divide The Progects:

Horned Prog: contains songs mostly from the vintage era, but not exclusively so. They are generally characterized by the use of wind or brass instruments, accounting for their “horniness.”

Epiprogue: this series includes second and third generation prog— so anything from the eighties until the modern day. My personal preferences tend to include Symphonic Prog and Eclectic Prog with a few Crossover (pop) numbers.

’69 Give and/or Take: focuses on psychedelic and prog tracks from the period of 1967 to early 1972, and is featured in the narrative on my blog called The Music Archeologist.

Progged Down and Getting Uppity: is the catchall umbrella term which can include virtually anything I like from any era. There will however be some commonality linking all parts of a mix.

There will be others.

As far as my tastes in modern (2nd and 3rd generation) prog are concerned, my contemporary list of five would be: Beardfish, Echolyn, Spock’s Beard, Izz and The Tangent. And then there’s always Frank Zappa who spans the vintage era through to the second generation proggers of the nineties. (Frank died in ’93.)

As a general rule, I like my prog rock to “rock out.” I shy away from a lot of the more atmospheric or space rock, and generally I’m not much of a fan of Neo-Prog— of which there is a true glut of bands operating in this mostly boring sub-genre. I like music that grooves.

If your own musical tastes overlap with mine, please check out The Progects either on my blog, The Free Radical, or on YouTube at the channel: Music Archeologist. Enjoy!

Horned Prog: Set 11: A Bag of Rocks

by nielskunze on May 15, 2019

Most of the songs on my list are primarily rock oriented… so here’s another batch.

You may notice that I chose to mix Bloodwyn Pig with Bloodwyn Pig– four songs in a row from the same album. It’s a great album! And most bands mix well with themselves.

And I did the same with the little-known band Satisfaction as well, clustering three songs together. Enjoy!

Horned Prog 11-A

Tracks:

  • 24 Famous Piano Licks -Nate Hance
  • My Fixation -Satisfaction
  • Don’t Be Short -Archie Whitewater
  • Dialogue 1 & 2 -Chicago
  • Beginnings -Chicago
  • Cold Summer -Satisfaction
  • Just Like Friends -Satisfaction
  • Go Through Changes -Satisfaction
  • Is It Loud? -Trifle
  • Time Will Change -Missing Link
  • Borderline -Greatest Show On Earth
Horned Prog 11-B

Tracks:

  • Mechelwind -Aera
  • G. Storm -Wilding Bonus
  • Sneezing Bull -Focus
  • Street War 1 & 2 -Rock Workshop
  • Look Upon Me -Hannibal
  • Mister Media -Warm Dust
  • Send You Son to Die -Bloodwyn Pig
  • See My Way -Bloodwyn Pig
  • The Squirreling Must Go On -Bloodwyn Pig
  • Worry -Bloodwyn Pig
  • Take What You Need -East of Eden
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? -The Graham Bond Organization
  • Time Take My Life -Atomic Rooster

The Music Archeologist Part 2

by nielskunze on March 24, 2019

Go to The Music Archeologist Part 1

So now there was just this one thing left to do: end the world. And I was just a spectator.

We had walked some distance away from the car… into a lovely bit of desert nothingness, just sand and small clumps of scrub grass vying for our attention. We three were momentarily pensive, seemingly lost in our private thoughts… until Jay cheerfully smashed the silence.

“I looked high, saw the empty sky.” He was singing the Elton John song again, and it seemed strangely appropriate. “If I could only… could only fly! I’d drift with them in endless space, but no man flies from this place.”

Gord was kneeling now on the ground, inside a finger-drawn circle, further drawing some kabbalistic rune in the sand, muttering quietly to himself in something that seemed to resemble the Yiddish my girlfriend’s grandmother spoke. Figures.

“What’s he doing?” I asked Jay. I wanted him to walk me through our moment of doom— Gord so serious and focused… Jay suddenly carefree, almost happy… I had no idea what to think or feel…

“Him?” Jay seemed surprised that I would ask. “He’s organizing his intent, structuring his dream of destruction.” He said it so casually, like such a thing utterly lacked meaning or consequence. No big deal.

“The circle keeps it in,” he added, and I looked on bewildered. “Oh…” he realized suddenly, “I suppose you’re rather frightened… by all this.”

“Pfft… who me?” Honestly, I was struggling to keep my sense of humour. In the pit of my stomach— the place that really counts— I had accepted that this was the end. But my paranoid brain was still scheming, scrambling, looking for the exit sign.

“It’s nothing,” said Jay with perfect seriousness. Somehow this was meant to be a comfort. “Relax. Enjoy the evening.”

The sun was just beginning to dip toward the horizon. The very first hints of sunset colour were just becoming detectable. There was a promise of beauty coming like coolness to the desert sky… How do you enjoy the death of everything?

Apparently I said it aloud. “How do you enjoy the death of everything?”

“With everything you got,” said Jay. “Until it’s all gone.”

“Will it hurt?”

Jay looked suddenly wounded by the question. “Nah, it’s not really our prerogative to inflict pain… at least, not anymore.” For that last bit he looked directly at Gord, levelling some vague accusation.

I let the insinuation go and continued on more directly. “But we’re gonna die…?” It was half question, half statement.

Jay looked directly at me with soft eyes and smiles, the visage of compassion incarnate as he answered. “Well, I imagine you’ll die… when you lose all context… and there being no sun and all. But me and him, we exist elsewhere, so we’ll just carry on… elsewhere.”

Most of what Jay was saying flew past me as I stared death’s reality in the face, really for the first time in my sixteen years on this planet… er, in this realm, I mean.

“What’s death?” I asked next.

“A very old agreement,” answered Jay quite easily.

“An agreement!” That didn’t sit well with me. “Whose agreement? Who agrees to die!”

“You all did,” answered Jay softly, soothingly. And then he added “It was a good invention. Adopting a strict death policy was the right thing to do.”

“What?!!” Apparently, we earthlings had chosen death for ourselves… and that just didn’t seem at all right to my helpless victim mentality.

“Free will is the supreme law of the universe,” explained Jay. “You’d do well to remember that. Everything proceeds and develops according to mutual agreement. Y’all agreed to die when you were born here… from the lowliest blade of scrub grass to the mightiest of kings.”

I didn’t doubt in the slightest the veracity of what Jay was explaining. I accepted that it was true, but I just couldn’t fathom the necessity of it. “Why?!” I nearly cried. “Why on earth did we choose death?”

Jay sat down in the sand, getting comfortable before answering. “Have you ever played poker?” he began. I nodded with a look of puzzlement creeping upon my face. I sat down across from him as though we were about to play. I half expected him to pull a deck of cards from the sleeve of his robe. He continued. “And do you play for money?” he asked. Again I nodded. “Why?” he finally asked. “Why not just play for fun?”

“Because… because playing poker isn’t fun if you don’t play for money.”

“Exactly.” Jay elaborated upon my simple declaration. “When there’s nothing at stake, nothing to lose, players are typically reckless. They can bluff without consequence, and they never have a compelling reason to fold. In such circumstances, it’s not much of a game, is it?”

The cutting elegance of Jay’s explanation removed a lifetime of scales from my eyes. It made such simple sense. We made Death the bank, holding the value of our chips for when we eventually cashed them in. And just like the previous one in the car with Gord, I was really warming to this conversation with Jay. However, a definite sense of irony was creeping over me as I realized that I was receiving these kick-ass existential answers right before it was all about to end… forever. Apparently, life loves irony above all else!

Now a million questions were coming to mind! And Jay seemed more than content to answer in his simple and direct way.

“What about reincarnation? What are souls? Does Satan exist? What’s the deal with the moon?” These were the first questions to come to mind, and I felt no hesitation to voice them.

Jay leaned back laughing, truly enjoying the apocalypse. “Where would you like me to start?”

I didn’t know. My thoughts were an enthused jumble. And Jay seemed to understand perfectly. He just jumped right in.

“Hmm…” he pondered and stroked his chin like some wise cliche. “Let’s start with souls.” Okay, I was bright-eyed and attentive. “Souls consist of personal agreements— binding agreements— that carry on beyond the confines of a single lifetime. So yes, reincarnation is real. You can’t just go around making contracts with your fellow earthlings, and then just simply die and have the slate wiped clean. We’d be right back to playing the game without meaningful consequences. Souls are attached to a specific will— a line of choices stretching through time held together by propensity and persistent tendencies. That which survives death is merely the sum of your proclivities in life.”

“We are survived by our habits?” That seemed dire!

“Yes,” Jay agreed, “that’s a very succinct and accurate way to put it. Those habits determine the circumstances of your subsequent incarnation— that, and the outstanding agreements you’ve made. Souls need resolution… and that drives action in life.”

“Karma,” I said to myself.

“I hate that word,” said Jay. “It has way too many stupid connotations… like it’s some kind of tit-for-tat universe based in reward and punishment, balancing good with evil. It’s way simpler than that. Karma is just something outstanding that needs to be resolved— because those involved agreed to eventually resolve it, mostly through experience gained.”

“So… there are no Lords of Karma?”

“No! God no!” spat Jay into the first hints of twilight. And then he quickly added “There are no gods at all.”

I looked at him gape-mouthed. I turned my head to stare at Gord muttering inside his circle. I turned back to Jay, wearing my incredulity conspicuously, like drool running down my chin. “What… what do you mean there are no gods?” I was pinning him with my eyes.

Jay fell over backward laughing. “There are no gods!” he cackled. “Trust me,” he gasped, “we’re all the same… you… me… him…”

“But… but… he’s the creator,” I insisted, jutting a thumb toward Gord.

“Indeed he is,” said Jay, returning himself to an upright position. “But do you really think that he created you? Really?”

The question was just so blunt it knocked me upside the head. I’d had this idea what a creator was, what a god might be. And then I’d met these two jokers… and certain ideas began to coalesce and congeal in my brain as we’d progressed in these conversations. But now as Jay asked me pointblank whether I really thought that Gord or someone like him had “created” me, it seemed pathetically absurd.

“No,” I whispered. And for a timeless moment I was utterly adrift in immeasurable confusion. And Jay, of course— my hero— came immediately to my rescue.

“The only thing he ever created here,” he said nodding toward Gord, “was the opportunity for you to create yourself… for me to create me… for everything to create itself, along with its own parameters of existence. He’s the God of Opportunity, nothing more, nothing less. You, me, him… we’re all exactly equal. I’m no higher than you. Gord’s no higher than me. We’re all made of exactly the same stuff. And in terms of potential, we’re identical.”

Now that’s what I call revelation! It cut through eons of bullshit and baggage with the simple ring of truth. But there were things still unreconciled, habits of thought and being that couldn’t be so completely and easily undone.

“But he’s about to kill us all!” I insisted. “And there’s really nothing I can do about it,” I argued. That smacked of inequality to me!

“He’s not killing anyone,” answered Jay calmly. “He’s simply removing the sun.”

“Now you’re splitting hairs!” I shouted.

“He IS the one who put it there in the first place,” answered Jay with perfect grace and ease. “And that created the opportunity for all this.” He stretched his arms wide as though embracing all eternity. “Things didn’t work out. The self-created creatures of earth forgot themselves and became lost… despite the revealing light of the sun. It’s time to pull the plug. Nothing has been lost. Everything has been gained.” Whatever Jay was telling me, he, himself, believed it. But I was still having a hard time.

“He’s dooming us all to oblivion!” I insisted, though I hardly even knew what I was saying.

In that most infuriatingly calm manner of his, Jay gently elaborated. “If you were caught in the throes of a terrible nightmare and I looked on, would you want me to wake you?”

“Well, I suppose. But…”

“And when you awaken from a dream, whether fearsome or sweet, has anything been lost? No,” he immediately answered, “on the contrary, you have gained the experience of the dream to carry with you in your newly awakened state… to dream again, as you so choose.”

“Really?” I was somewhat mollified, but not wholly convinced. “That’s all this is… the ending of one dream so another can begin?”

“Verily.” He said it. And I believed it. But there was something lurking in his eyes suggesting that things were just slightly more complicated or impactful than what he’d just described. I let it go though, choosing instead the obvious peace of mind he offered. I relaxed into the dusky quiet and mulled things over for a bit… while Gord muttered and gestured inside his magic circle and Jay hummed the refrains he remembered from the car ride here.

In my quiet rumination, I convinced myself that the end of the world really wasn’t a big deal after all. Shortly, I’d be dead… just like I’d been supposedly thousands of times before— each lifetime a new self-created dream. Dreaming… waking… dying… just consciousness at play. But why didn’t I have any memory of dying before? Thousands of times before? You’d think it might just be the sort of traumatic event one would surely remember. I was just about to ask Jay about that when I suddenly realized that no, I can work this out on my own. And so I did.

The idea of past-life memories had always been intriguing but controversial. But suddenly, now with my new insight, I had it figured pretty damn quick. We couldn’t be allowed to retain clear memories from past lives. Who wouldn’t allow it? We— ourselves— couldn’t allow it. If we permitted ourselves to remember our deaths and the past lives we’d lived, we’d be right back at square one again, playing poker for nothing. Remembering our many deaths would negate death, rendering it— and life— meaningless once again. Our constant reoccurring amnesia was necessary. It made the game possible. Remembering our past lives would be like being able to see all of the cards all of the time. The fun of the game always lies in its secrets, the things we don’t know, can’t know. How boring and pointless would poker be if all the cards were always dealt face up?

And just like that, I suddenly understood the meaning of life!

We were here to create unsolvable mysteries for ourselves… and spend eternity trying to solve them. Why? Because it was the best fucking game in town! Could there be a better reason?

I let that question hang in my mind like my best Sunday suit from when I was a kid and my mom dragged me to church every week. Just having a once-a-week suit to sit among once-a-week friends worshipping a once-a-week god begged an unending litany of unanswerable questions… and suddenly I had outgrown them all! Just like that!

God! Had there ever been an evening more beautiful than this!

The sun was beginning to get kinda low on the horizon. I knew that Gord would have to make his move soon. I was actually looking forward to it. Go figure.

To pass the remaining time, I re-engaged Jay in conversation. “So what’s with all the muttering in Yiddish?” I asked, glancing at Gord.

“It’s not exactly Yiddish,” Jay explained. “It’s the root language. There’s power and inherent meaning in sounds— their placement, repetition and patterning. It’s why we love music. A well composed tune can bring a brute to his knees or lift the darkest heart.”

I liked where his explanation was leading and I told him so. He took that as an excuse to continue.

“Sound is a correlate of light.” He paused to let that sink in a bit. “Is it mere coincidence that there are seven colours of visible light in the rainbow and seven whole notes in the western musical scale? Of course not,” he answered. “Sound is merely light stepped down to the languid pace of everyday life. Sound is a tool for creators inside the creation. Light is a tool generally wielded from the outside. Well, no, that’s not exactly right. Gord can explain it better.”

And at that very moment Gord turned to us and spoke.

“It is time,” is all he said, standing there with a strange fire in his eyes.

Jay sprang into action and helped me to my feet. Then we both flanked Gord outside his circle, and turned toward the setting sun.

“With your left hand point at the sun,” he instructed Jay. “And you with your right,” he said to me. “When I grab each of your free hands, the circle will be broken, the deed done… untied the Gordian knot, the Seal of the Sun.”

And that was it. Without any further preamble or explanation, Gord grabbed both our free hands. A jolt of ecstatic electricity shot through our trinity and flew like a deranged lightning bolt from earth to sun…

…demolishing it in an instant.

The sun winked out. It vanished from the sky. And darkness swallowed everything…

…except that I could still see the spot where the sun had been just a second before. I thought it was something akin to an after-image burned onto my retina. But what was I doing still standing here, witnessing anything, still having retinas at all? And I knew for certain that something was amiss when I heard Gord curse into the darkness.

“Shit!”

To say that the ride home in the car was weird would be a bit of an understatement, but perfectly understandable… even if nothing else at the moment was… perfectly understandable.

It was a waxing gibbous moon that night. Gord was pensive and tight-lipped. Jay seemed typically unconcerned, calling from the back seat for “More tunes, man!” I obliged.

“And the Tyne God has arrived,” sang Ginhouse from the car speakers. Finally, Jay thought it prudent to break the ice with the obvious question. But first I gotta say that it was both nice and wholly unnerving to have someone else asking the questions for once!

“So… what was that?”

“Black Sun,” is all Gord offered. Apparently that meant something to Jay. It was gibberish to me. After a moment, Jay sighed, and did what Jay does.

“You might as well talk it through,” he said to Gord. And it was Gord’s turn to sigh. And then Gord began to babble… and that was perhaps the most disconcerting thing of all!

“The rumours were true after all… The Black Sun is real… The council tried to warn me… I thought it inconsequential, even if true… Now, I don’t know… Those fuckers! Grey traitors! This changes everything!”

I waited for an explanation, but instinctively I knew that the preceding events hadn’t been fully digested yet. Jay’s calm demeanour must have rubbed off on me. I kept quiet while Jay gently prodded.

“Who’s behind it?” he asked.

“The Grey Men.”

“I see,” said Jay, but I didn’t.

“Who are the Grey Men?” I queried the darkness and the silence once I couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Those who have lost the capacity to dream,” said Gord.

“Completely lost it,” added Jay. And then further for my benefit he elaborated upon the Grey Men. “There are beings in the earth realm who have over many lifetimes invested themselves in external power, to the eventual exclusion of their own inherent power to dream. Having forgotten how to dream, they instead manipulate others to dream the reality of their bidding, reinforcing the external, institutionalized systems of power upon which they rely as manipulators.”

“The Grey Men are stalkers,” added Gord. “They stalk dreamers for their own ends and means.”

“It’s all part of the game,” resumed Jay. “Stalking and dreaming occur in every realm. They are the two obvious means to power. Either you are able to dream the reality you wish to experience, or you influence the dreams of those who can… dreamers and stalkers. The Grey Men are exclusively stalkers.

“Usually, it’s not a big deal,” he continued. “Stalking is inherently inferior to dreaming. It’s derivative, whereas dreaming is clean and direct. A few stalkers is like fleas on a dog’s tail. It’s an annoyance, but it’s not the end of the world. Stalkers are just parasites.”

“But the Black Sun!” interjected Gord. “That’s collusion, co-ordination, organization. The parasites have an agenda of their own!”

I was understanding really very little of this. I just wanted to keep the conversation going. “But why?” I asked. “What’s the purpose of the Black Sun?”

“It’s purpose was fulfilled tonight,” replied Gord ominously. “The Black Sun was created and hidden behind the real sun precisely for the purpose of thwarting my world-ending intention on this very eve. They will not allow the dream to end. And they will do everything in their power to ensure that the dreamers never awaken again.”

Hmm, that didn’t sound very good!

I know what you’re thinking, and I was thinking it too— all of it. Gord and Jay answered all of my immediate concerns and what you need to know now, before I resume the full telling of this tale, is that yes, the real sun came up the very next day right on schedule. And yeah, for awhile there back in ’72 folks talked in whispers about the day the sun winked out for a moment. And even though millions of people around the world witnessed the sun blink, they eventually talked themselves out of believing that it had really happened… because… how could it?

But it did. You KNOW it did.

’69 Give and/or Take 3

Tracks:

  • Tyne God -Ginhouse
  • Giant -Gentle Giant
  • Song to Comus -Comus
  • In Ancient Days -Black Widow
  • Alucard -Gentle Giant
  • Black Sabbath -Black Sabbath
  • Dreammare -Uriah Heep
  • Obsolete Machine -Tasavallan Presidentti
  • With You There to Help Me -Jethro Tull
  • Epitaph -King Crimson
  • Dawn -Grannie
’69 Give and/or Take 4

Tracks:

  • In the Beginning/Lovely to See You -The Moody Blues
  • Look Into the Sun -Jethro Tull
  • Treat -Santana
  • Kings and Queens -Renaissance
  • Ice -Spirit
  • Sweet Dream -Jethro Tull
  • Sun in a Bottle -Ginhouse
  • Ina Gadda Da Vida (excerpt) -Iron Butterfly
  • To Cry You a Song -Jethro Tull
  • Innocence -Renaissance
  • Hypomode de Sol -Jean-Luc Ponty
  • Just Trying to Be -Jethro Tull

The Music Archeologist Part 1

by nielskunze on March 21, 2019

The experiment had failed.

The earth realm was slated for destruction… again. Not a correction, mind you; not even a massive one. This time it would be completely dismantled. The members of the board had voted, and the Outlandish decision was cast. Earth had become a danger to itself and others. It had to go.

“How exactly does one go about disassembling a world anyway?” asked Jay.

“It’s a realm,” grumbled Gord.

“What?”

“There are no worlds,” answered Gord, affecting his usual air of superiority, “only realms.”

“Okay…” conceded Jay, “how does one properly set about obliterating a realm? Especially such an aged one? Earth’s been around a very long time.”

“Dissolve the sun,” said Gord rather tersely. It made sense. Gord had been the inventor of suns. And much like Edison had done on the human scale, his little invention had changed absolutely everything. Suns, stars… lightbulbs— they were game-changers.

“Well, good luck with that,” offered Jay, turning to leave.

“Where do you think you’re going?” asked Gord pointedly. “You’re just as mixed up in this thing as I am,” he insisted.

Jay wanted to object, but he knew there’d be no point. It was true. He was as fully entangled with the earth realm as its creator was. He had agreed to share the responsibility for his mentor’s creation the moment he had entered that realm… and had seriously fucked with its destiny. That Gord had managed to extricate him at all from his own follies, lo that long ago, was a miracle in itself. Now, here they stood, outside, so seemingly apart, contemplating the ultimate fate of earth, both knowing what had to be done.

“We’re going back in, aren’t we?” asked Jay mostly rhetorically.

“Yup,” came the immediate answer.

“Shit.”

I first met Gord and Jay on June 21st, 1972. It was a Wednesday. It was the first week of summer holidays. I was sixteen. I was at work, at the record shop.

My boss had left the shop in my young but capable hands for the afternoon. The record on the turntable was King Crimson’s ’69 debut ‘In the Court of the Crimson King.’

I could’ve sworn I was alone in the shop. It was slow, even for a Wednesday, and I had a perfect view of the front door from the counter at which I stood. Nobody had come through those doors for at least twenty minutes.

The song was ‘Moonchild,’ towards the end, during the noodley bits. My teenage self was unable to understand why Mr. Fripp had insisted on including those aimless unstructured noise sessions on each of the first Crim albums, sometimes lasting more than ten minutes each. It seemed to me that vinyl real estate was at a premium, and any self-respecting artist would want to cram in as much awesomeness as was humanly possible on each and every record… and here was Fripp and the boys serving up a steaming pile of noodles, with not even a morsel of meat to savour. I didn’t get it.

Anyway, that was my train of thought when Gord and Jay suddenly “appeared” in the shop. I swear they never came through the front door. They were just suddenly there, peering at me over the Black Sabbath ‘Master of Reality’ display left over from last summer.

My next train of thought was that these two were really Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, freshly beamed into my reality, here to save the world or some such thing. (Oh the irony of that thought, I would later realize!)

Nope. No pointy ears. Neither of these two oddballs was Vulcan. They appeared human… mostly.

“Can I help you gentlemen find something today?” I asked nonchalantly, trying to cover up my deepest paranoid suspicions, as I emerged from behind the counter.

My very straightforward query seemed to catch both of them a little off guard. “Um… yes… well…” stammered the one who seemed to be in charge— the leader, so to speak. “What is it exactly that you sell?”

Okay, that threw me for a bit of a loop, coming from someone standing in the middle of a record shop utterly stuffed to the brim with records. “Ah, music,” I answered, biting back my profound incredulity.

“Oh, how lovely!” beamed the other one, the nice one— the one I later learned was Jay. “We’ll take some of that please,” he added. “We love music!”

“Um, anything in particular?” I asked, struggling to keep my composure.

“How about this?” asked Jay, holding up the Black Sabbath album from the rack before them.

“Master of Reality,” I read the cover. “Doom metal,” I quickly added, not knowing what else to say.

“Sounds perfect,” muttered Gord just loud enough for me to hear, although I doubt that was his intent.

“The first song is Sweet Leaf,” I began to ramble. “It’s an ode to Mary Jane.” Nothing. No reaction. “Um, marijuana… cannabis…?”

“Ah, cannabis!” For a second there I thought I saw Gord actually smile with the sudden recognition. But then his mood turned on a dime as his natural bitterness seeped through again: “Only worthwhile thing you freaks ever managed to dream up.”

Who the fuck was he calling a freak! Thirty seconds in and this was easily already the strangest conversation I’d ever had. And it never really got any better.

I honestly didn’t know what to make of these two, but somehow I ended up taking a liking to them nevertheless. They were either two of the most naïve middle-aged men in the history of modern civilization, or they were escaped lunatics from the asylum and possibly serial killers. Either way, they were some real freaky people, and I’d always taken a shine to freaky people in general.

It turns out that what Gord and Jay were really after was a ride into the desert. They had important business in the desert. Sure… why not?

I drove a cherry red ’67 Mustang. I wasn’t all that keen on taking it into the dusty old desert, but I could always wash it when I got back. I was always washing that car. God, I loved that car!

It was still early— late afternoon… on the longest day of the year. My boss, the owner of the record shop, had relieved me at 4, and after a quick stop at the 7-11 for slurpees, we were on our way to the desert. Gord was strapped tightly into the passenger seat beside me (who wears a seatbelt in 1972?), while Jay was sliding back and forth across the freshly Armor-Alled vinyl bench seat in the back as I took most of the corners a tad too fast— as teenage boys driving Mustangs tend to do.

During a straight stretch of road I spied Jay in the rearview mirror holding the newly-purchased “Master of Reality” album up to his ear as though he actually expected to hear something. I shoved the cassette tape into the deck instead of even attempting to explain.

“It’s a mixed tape I made,” I shouted above the music blaring from the speakers. I was always so proud of my mixed tapes. Working in a record shop scored me access to some real obscure gems. Jay instantly seemed to genuinely like it while Gord was quite content with his usual scowl.

When Elton John got to the shushy part in “Empty Sky,” where it got all quiet for a bit, I asked the fellas “So what are we doing out in the desert anyway?” They looked at each other conspiratorially for a moment. Then Gord just shrugged and answered straight out.

“We’re going to end the world.”

“I thought it was a realm,” interjected Jay.

“To him it’s a world,” scolded Gord.

Neat. I didn’t believe them. Of course I didn’t, but I thought it’d be fun to play along. “End of the world, you say? We’d best get stoned then.”

Both of them looked horrified until I explained that getting stoned was the same as getting high on cannabis— a thing to which they were both surprisingly amenable. I pulled the pre-rolled after-work fatty from my cigarette pack and sparked it up. Ten minutes later and the tunes were sounding heavenly and Gord was actually managing a look of honest contentment… until I resumed the conversation.

“So why exactly are we ending the world today?”

I saw Jay squirm a bit in the back seat, but it was Gord who answered. “Because you fuckers just can’t seem to get a damn thing right!”

I laughed. Heartily. C’mon, it was funny. Hysterical, really. “What d’ya mean?” I asked feigning a serious tone.

Gord bent to pick up a newspaper from among the garbage strewn on the floor at his feet. (Yeah, despite the Turtle Wax and the Armor All, I was still a sixteen-year-old kid, after all.)

“This!” he exclaimed, holding up the front page, and smacking it with the back of his hand. He then read the headline to me: “Valedictorian Urges Peers to Follow Their Dreams.” It was a small-town newspaper, and that was just the sort of thing we might consider news.

“What?” I was genuinely perplexed.

“You dip-shits get everything exactly backwards!” Gord raged. “Follow your dreams! Follow your fucking dreams! Why don’t you try leading them instead?”

Somehow there seemed to be something profound in that. I can’t say that I exactly got it right at that moment, but the irascible Gord was definitely onto something.

“Don’t follow your dreams,” I reiterated, “lead your dreams instead.” There was indeed a profound logic in that… or maybe it was just that I was super high on Thai chronic. Whatever, it satisfied something in me.

But Gord was something less than satisfied. The weed obviously hadn’t completely tamed his irascible nature. “I really thought you’d have figured it out by now,” he lamented angrily.

“Figured what out?”

“Base reality,” he said very matter-of-factly… to which I had no reply, mostly because I had no clue what he might be getting at. I shot him a quick look of puzzlement and then waited for him to elaborate.

“There was always just one thing… one thing to protect and cherish… the one thing that no matter what else might happen, it would surely save you. If only you could remember this one thing, it would always rescue you, redeem you, and set the world aright again. But you— every last one of you— forgot it. And now it’s lost… and the world is doomed.”

I really thought Gord was going to tell me what the ‘one thing’ was. Nope. I had to ask, and even then he couldn’t just come out with it. It seems Gord had found a teaching moment— the only thing that apparently made him happy… or, at least, less bitter. He launched into some metaphysical bullshit, like all this end-of-the-world stuff was real and perfectly serious. I kept a straight face.

“There’s only really two things going on here.” He gestured with a grandiose flourish to indicate that “here” was the entirety of the world. “This is a binary realm.” Here he paused to look at Jay, confirming some private joke that wasn’t all that funny. Turning back to me, he continued. “Expansion and contraction.”

Apparently those were the “two things.” I had been expecting something a bit more revealing, insightful, profound. But he was getting to that.

“It’s all about mind, you know.” He paused again to let that settle in, but its significance was mostly lost on me. I still didn’t know where this was going. “And what do we call the expansion of mind?” he asked, fully expecting an answer. I um’d and ah’d a bit incurring some fresh Gordian wrath. “C’mon! We covered this already!”

I shrugged. He sighed. And Jay answered into the awkward silence.

“Dreaming,” he said from the back seat. “Mind expands through dreaming.”

“Yes,” Gord acknowledged. “Dreaming is like a yawn and a stretch for consciousness.”

Okay, I was starting to get it. “So… dreaming is the ‘one thing’ you were talking about earlier— the one thing to be cherished and protected…?”

“Yes, the CAPACITY to dream, really DREAM. Precisely.” Gord suddenly looked almost pleased. Almost…

“But what’s this bit about contraction then?”

“Dreaming can either be wholly private or decidedly social. Dreams can be shared— experientially.” Again with the pause… but now I was really starting to get it. I picked up the thread…

“So… this whole reality— this realm,” I corrected as I met Jay’s gaze in the rearview mirror with a wink, “is a shared dream.”

“Yup,” is all Gord said. I was expecting a bit more fanfare than that. After all, I was really beginning to catch on… but I was still unclear about the whole contraction thing and I said so.

“It’s a freewill universe,” answered Gord. “We can experience the dream of another only through agreement, by making contracts.”

“Ah, that’s what you meant by contraction!”

“Contracts put limits on things… keeping them from expanding into absurdity or just plain oblivion. You need a lot of agreements to make a complex reality like this one work. You need a lot of contracts.” Gord had really warmed to our conversation now, and I was diggin’ it too.

“So where are all these contracts filed?” I asked. “Which law office is keeping track of all our agreements?”

“That’s what the sun is for,” answered Gord. “And we’re here— today— to dissolve the sun.”

“Wait… what?” I didn’t understand how the sun could be the grand repository of agreements among all living things on earth. After all, that’s what Gord was saying… if I was following. Gord seemed to understand my confusion immediately.

“I liked it better,” he began to explain, “when people thought the sun was made of moondust and phlogiston. Beats the hell out of this helium fusion nonsense.” Well, that didn’t help my understanding any better. Gord continued. “All that is… is consciousness. Existence and consciousness are exactly equivalent. You could even say they’re the same thing— the only thing. Consciousness is— that’s our starting point.”

“Cogito ergo sum,” I said.

Okay. I kinda enjoyed this mystical crap. But the knit of my brow communicated clearly that I was teetering on the brink of being lost again, so Gord started in on another tack.

“Close your eyes,” he said.

“Um, I’m driving.”

“So stop. We’re here anyway,” he added.

We were really in the middle of buttfuck nowhere, and I said so as I stopped the car.

“It’s perfect,” said Gord, stepping out to immediately gaze at the blazing sun overhead.

I got out too, and flipped the seat forward to let Jay out from the back. We stretched and breathed in the desert heat for a moment and then Gord resumed his tutorial.

“Now close your eyes.” I did. “What do you see?”

“Nothing,” I answered automatically.

“Bullshit!” raged Gord. “That’s a learned response. And it’s patently false. Now tell me what you actually see with your eyes closed.”

I did as I was told. “I see… colours… lights… random patterns. It’s a jumble. It’s chaos.” Until that very moment I had never realized how much there was to see when I simply closed my eyes. My previous answer of “nothing” seemed rather absurd suddenly. How did I never notice this before!

“I looked high, saw the empty sky!” sang Jay to the desert at large. “If I could only… could only fly!”

Gord deftly ignored him. “Light is the substance of dreaming… and dreaming is what minds do. They can’t help it. Consciousness is inherently creative. It automatically fills all voids in time and space. Light occupies space, thus creating it. Time is filled by structure or organization. Time depends on patterning. These things together create realms… or reality as you know it. And I simply call them dreams.”

Holy shit! I think I was really getting it. Somehow all of this was actually making sense… at least, to my thoroughly stoned inquisitive self. Gord seemed to acknowledge my progress and thus continued.

“Dreaming is projected outward from the source of consciousness— your mind. In every moment, it is natural for you to radiate highly structured quanta of light in every direction. You are the source of light… as is every living creature.” Now we were really getting to the crux of the matter! “The sun is foremost a receptacle. First, the sun gathers the light from all dreamers within its realm. Then, the sun’s own consciousness processes all of the information individually received from uncountable sources, noting in particular where they are in agreement. And finally, it returns that same light restructured and re-patterned as a collective consciousness which is qualitatively more than the mere sum of its unfathomably varied parts.”

And here, Gord actually smiled— a genuine ear-to-ear grin. And rightfully so, I thought. This shit was righteously profound! And then the next realization hit me like a ton of bricks!

If what Gord had just managed to explain to me had any real validity at all, that meant that these two jokers really were here to dissolve the sun and bring an end to the world. Shit!

’69 Give and/or Take 1

Tracks:

  • Empty Sky -Elton John
  • Madame Sunrise -White Lightning
  • In Circles -T2
  • The Nile Song -Pink Floyd
  • 21st Century Schizoid Man -King Crimson
  • Looking Around -Yes
  • Bring Out Your Dead -Colosseum
  • Son of Mr. Green Genes -Frank Zappa
  • Jumping Off the Sun -Colosseum
  • No More White Horses -T2
  • The Kettle -Colosseum
’69 Give and/or Take 2

Tracks:

  • Ojo -Leo Kottke
  • Suite: Judy Blue Eyes -Crosby Stills & Nash
  • Nature’s Way -Spirit
  • Big Yellow Taxi/Woodstock -Joni Mitchell
  • The Narrow Way -Pink Floyd
  • The Journey -Ginhouse
  • Tales of the Riverbank -Dancer
  • April -Deep Purple
  • The Moon Is Down -Gentle Giant

Music Archeologist’s Note:

The majority of songs in this set are from the year 1969. Some are from 1970 and ’71. Only “Tales of the Riverbank” is from 1972. I had acquired an unofficial copy of that fabulous song from my older brother’s friend Gerry only a week or two before the events in this story took place.

Go to The Music Archeologist Part 2

Horned Prog: Set 10: On the Jazz

by nielskunze on March 15, 2019

The Jaan Kuman Instrumental Ensemble, represented by the bald guy with the trumpet in the album collage, is one of those eastern bloc recordings that doesn’t have a bad minute on it. It’s just great jazz the whole way through.

Often, jazz can be a very polarizing genre of music. Folks tend to really love it or really hate it. And I have one foot in either camp. Hardcore avant-garde jazz that’s dissonant and meandering, lacking a discernible rhythm or melody, tends to piss me off after a couple of minutes. I like my jazz to have recognizable moments of true musicality, something for my brain to latch onto. I guess you could say that I like my jazz to be smooth– but not slip-in-your-own-vomit smooth. It has to have a bit of an edge, a definite groove.

This set is classic– yet somewhat obscure– pure jazz… just the way I like it!

Horned Prog 10-A

Tracks:

  • Uskaw -FEZ
  • Hey Boys Try Harder -Jaan Kuman Instrumental Ensemble
  • Hulk -Archie Whitewater
  • Cross Country -Archie Whitewater
  • A New Way -Eela Craig
  • Pass the Plate -The Crusaders
  • Caprice -Jaan Kuman Instrumental Ensemble
  • The City -Mark Almond
  • Terminus -Jaan Kuman Instrumental Ensemble
  • Faidadiesis -Bella Band
Horned Prog 10-B

Tracks:

  • Latin Dippy Doo -Flight
  • Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance -Ed Palermo Big Band
  • I Met a Man -Head
  • Song for the Bearded Lady -Nucleus
  • G.B.H. -Head
  • Contrasts -Jaan Kuman Instrumental Ensemble
  • Loneliness Is Just a Word -Chicago
  • Aire -Chicago
  • Flying South in Winter -Tonton Macoute
  • Happy ‘Cause I’m Going Home -Chicago

Go to Set 9: On the Rocks

Horned Prog: Set 9: On the Rocks

by nielskunze on March 13, 2019

This one leans to the rock side of prog… with a bit of orchestral fun to begin. The opening song by Renaissance reminds us that the human voice is the ultimate “horn”. Annie Haslam is simply superb!

Hour 18 gets a bit proggy in the middle while still maintaining its rock orientation… a little foreshadowing of things to come…

Horned Prog 9-A

Tracks:

  • Prologue -Renaissance
  • The First Ring Made of Clay -Roger Glover
  • Cemetery Junction 1 & 2 -Room
  • Satisfaction -Collective Consciousness Society
  • Revolution’s Eve -Alquin
  • Just Lay Back and Enjoy It -Satisfaction
  • Mississippi Delta City Blues -Chicago (scratch track)
  • Smutsig Jord -Splash
  • Real Cool World -Greatest Show On Earth
  • Rockin’ Chair -Lighthouse
  • Magic’s in the Dance -Lighthouse
  • Vehicle -The Ides of March
Horned Prog 9-B

Tracks:

  • Genesis -McCully Workshop
  • Kids Hunting -Missing Link
  • Frankenstein -The Edgar Winter Group
  • Blue Space -Window
  • Inter Galactic Cosmic Triolet -Christian Boule
  • Infinity Machine -Passport
  • Naissance -Carpe Diem
  • La Vaca Roja -Bubu
  • Talle -Missus Beastly
  • Pastorale -Galliard
  • Home Again -Trifle
  • Dirty Old Town -Trifle
  • Spectaculum -Ardo Dombec
  • House of the King -Focus

Go to Set 8: Lunch in Chicago

Go to Set 10: On the Jazz

Horned Prog: Set 8: Lunch in Chicago

by nielskunze on March 13, 2019

My list of songs had grown to more than 300. Each set would use no more than 30. The last set, “Quirky Jerky”, had given me an idea for better organization. I grouped the potential “Horned Prog” songs into 4 sub-sub-genres: Rock, Jazz, Funk and Prog. Each of the remaining sets will predominantly belong to one subset of these four.

Additionally, I had noticed that since the earliest sets I had amassed quite the list of Chicago songs too. Remember when I said this all began with the search for songs I could mix with Chicago? It was time to do just that.

(If you’re wondering which of the Chicago albums are the ones worth purchasing, that would be Chicago I, II, III, V & VII. For Chicago II, I would highly recommend the Steven Wilson remix from 2017.)

Prior to 1978, Chicago was one thing. And after January 23, 1978, Chicago was quite another thing. The two versions do not compare.

Guitar player Terry Kath was obviously the band’s “coolness factor.” It was Kath who gave them that rough edge, the jagged groove, that was integral to their classic seventies sound. When on that fateful January day in 1978 Terry accidentally took his own life through an act of morbid stupidity, that classic– progressive– sound was extinguished.

The band would go on to enjoy numerous top-forty hits thereafter, but they were of a style that left prog heads like me cold and disappointed. It was in January of 1978 that the music officially died. And Terry was the symbol, the sacrifice, defining that awful moment in music history.

Horned Prog 8-A Lunch In Chicago

Tracks:

  • Poem for the People -Chicago
  • Street Music (Parts 1,2 & 3) -Prague Big Band
  • Phantom -Window
  • Goodbye -Chicago
  • Nightwatch -Window
  • Sing a Mean Tune Kid -Chicago
  • Introduction -Chicago
  • To Mrs. V -East of Eden
  • Ella Banta Dum Bundy/Very Last Time -Rock Workshop
  • New Dawn Breaking -Galliard
Horned Prog 8-B Lunch In Chicago

Tracks:

  • Spinal Tap excerpt -Nigel on “sustain”
  • Listen -Chicago
  • Alibi Annie -Trifle
  • Lowdown -Chicago
  • The Climb -Fungkus
  • Second Chance -Daddy Cool & the Groove Bug
  • Drivin’ -Daddy Cool & the Groove Bug
  • Vyrodok -Soviet Funk Volume 1
  • Living Reason -Rock Workshop
  • Farandole -Bob James
  • Something Going On -Galliard
  • Now That You’ve Gone -Chicago
  • Oh What a Feeling -Crowbar
  • While the City Sleeps -Chicago
  • Green Side Up -The Web
  • Prelude to Freedom -The Ides of March

Go to Set 7: Quirky Jerky

Go to Set 9: On the Rocks