Category Archives: Keep the Greasy Side Down Online Magazine

Recent Articles

The Poetry of Violence

As Marilyn Manson wrote, in his once again incredibly pertinent essay Columbine: Whose Fault is It? originally published in the June 1999 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine: “Times have not become more violent. They have just become more televised.”

Violence in our society, whether we are talking about the violence of mass shootings, domestic violence, the violence of war, or the inherent violence built into the class structure – is everywhere we look and the effects of violence surround us and inform our daily lives.

All of us, as human beings, are affected by the unpleasant fact that we share the world with twisted and/ or traumatized individuals. Many of us have come into direct contact with that kind of violence, in one way or another.

Movements like #blacklivesmatter and the #metoo phenomenon are just two examples of just how pervasive the aftermath of violence, and the current condition of our culture’s obsession with it, continually affect people’s lives.

I have always seen poetry as the language of pure human emotion. This is certainly not the best definition, as it leaves many aspects of poetry, and what makes words written as verse – poetic, out and unaccounted for.

This, in and of itself is a cause of great debate in poetry circles, as a poet and teacher colleague of mine and I are fond of discussing. William Wordsworth, easily on my short list of favorite poets of all time, defines poetry as follows: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility” – Lyrical Ballads. This definition, itself, has been the cause of great debate, and it is central to a discussion on the value of poetry composed as an emotional outcry from the effects of violence. Under the most lax analysis of this definition, Walt Whitman’s ‘barbaric “Yawp” is poetry. However, is that resounding, clarion call, affirmation of life, deep and penetrating “Yawp!” a poem? Did it, take its origins from emotion recollected in tranquility? No. The writing of the poem, Song of Myself, in all of its parts, however, certainly is.

In a few months, my poetry collection Kindred Spirits & Mirrored Souls will be released on Ghost Writer Press. It is a labor of love for me in many ways, and central to this debate and ongoing conversation in two specific ways. First: my friend Rhonda and I were very good friends from childhood through adulthood. We were constantly sharing our poems with each other as we were growing up, and both of us had a deep love of poetry. We had always dreamed of putting a poetry book together that showcased both of our works, colliding and juxtaposed over various topics. The root of our discussion lay at Wordsworth’s definition of poetry. In truth, I had a hard time seeing value in many of Rhonda’s pieces, as she took Wordsworth literally, at his most liberal interpretation.  Second: ten years ago, this June, my friend took her own life.  Afterwards, her family gave me a suitcase full of her poems, left almost like Emily Dickinson, on scraps of papers, envelopes, notebooks, everywhere her mind spilled onto paper.  The book is more of a reflection of two journeys, one that ended in tragedy, and the other that is still surviving tragedies like bullets, and trying to process them.  I am not sure if it is good… but I do think that it is poetry.

My aforementioned colleague, a poet from Tucson, Jefferson Carter, would certainly define most of my friend’s work as the poetry of a child that ought not be published. In response to an article published by the Sun-Sentinel entitled, Parkland Freshman Turns to Poetry to Ease Her Pain, Jefferson got some quite heated response from his original posting of the article on social media.  To be fair, I include it here not to throw Jefferson under the bus, but to use him as a very real, and vital, voice on the edge of this spectrum that we are discussing.  Is poetry valid, if poetry is everywhere?  Is poetry an art, if it is something that anyone and everyone can do?  Does society placing value on that which is more ordinary, harm the value of those ideas that are more complex and precisely honed?  Is the news less valuable if anyone and everyone can be a “journalist” on the Internet?  These are all valid questions, and a perspective that Jefferson had the courage to voice.

250099_1980709111077_7962746_n

A few years ago, I wrote a poem about the Tucson shooter for my own private “healing.” [The shooter he mentions is Jared Loughner, and the shooting he is referencing is the January 2011 shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona.]  He was a good friend’s student at Pima Community College. I didn’t post it or try to publish it. Why? Because it felt like exploiting the pain and suffering of others, like turning a spotlight on my own precious feelings.”


Carter continues: “And tell me this: as the Parkland story disappears from the news and we wait for the next school shooting, do you think the “Sun-Sentinel” newspaper will be printing a poem about the same topic by an established, professional poet that is complex, skillful,and deeply emotional? Fuck, no! Easy sensationalism sells. And, perhaps, as a poet friend suggests, bad poetry drives out good poetry.”

A reader responded, basically summing up the liberal interpretation of Wordsworth, “Do you want to know why it’s good, even if it isn’t groundbreaking poetry? It’s an earnest, honest, heartbreaking experience, that no teen should ever have to endure, and this is an outlet for her to express how she feels. What kind of shit were you writing in your teen years? I’d wager it isn’t going in any Canon.”

Jefferson continued his argument: “It may be a sincere effort to express her feelings though why she has to “pretty” them up in rhyming verse, I have no idea. I also have no idea why she’d want a newspaper to print them. Groundbreaking? The question still needs to be answered: why post such poetic attempts or let someone else post them? The author must think the poem is good enough to “share.” Or if one simply wants to “share” his/her “feelings,” why cast them in verse?”

The following day, Jefferson reposted the article, with the following message:

“Well, I was right. I got LOTS of grief for my comments. I get it, the outrage about my insensitivity, etc. The best I can do to justify my position is a somewhat strained analogy: an earnest teenager with no background in law hangs out a shingle and takes on a civil rights case. A local newspaper praises the “lawyer’s” dedication to social justice. The legal community echoes the praises and trashes any lawyer who points out the imposter’s lack of qualifications and legal skill.”

In essence, and please, in regards to poetry which is the topic here, Jefferson is making the hard-line argument of the Wordsworth interpretation. The more mediocre poetry is praised as groundbreaking, the less value is placed on crafted poetry. T.S. Eliot would approve. I remember when I used to teach parts of The Wasteland in college, I would draw specific reference to Eliot’s own reaction to criticism about the sheer number of footnotes required to understand the poem. The sentiment is echoed perfectly on the student site, SHMOOP.com:

Yep, there’s no getting around it: “The Waste Land” can be one tough cookie to read. The poem constantly shifts between different speakers without warning, and it’s chock full of references to classic literature from cultures all over the world, many of which are more than a little obscure. Which raises the question, why oh why would Eliot want his poem to be so hard to read? Well, like many writers of his time (so-called modernists), he felt that Western culture was headed to hell in a handbasket, and that people were getting dumber and dumber (it’s a good thing he didn’t live to see the days of Conveyor Belt of Love). So basically, his message to readers was: “Hey, if you don’t understand what I’m talking about in this poem, go to a library!” 

As is evident, the debate between the purely academic {used here as a descriptor of one who sees poetry and verse as an exploration of craft, language, and finesse} side of poetry and the purely emotional side of it has been raging for well over a hundred years, and will certainly continue to be debated for as long as human beings write verse. Kindred Spirits & Mirrored Souls attempts to give a view into the actual poems of that debate – not to say that mine are immediately more important or of more value than Rhonda’s: we simply come from different areas of the Wordsworth spectrum.

This brings the argument full circle to once again rest on the question, is there value in the poetry of violence?

cropped-img_20180107_182620_349273657288.jpg

On the first Sunday of February, I was sitting listening to the other Open Mic readers at The House of Bards in Tucson. One gentlemen got up and read a piece, and I really wish that I had a copy of it, about Vietnam, and its repetitive refrain haunted me: “and the farmers kept farming the rice”. The poem described the sheer volume of war, of guns, of helicopters… and the farmers kept farming the rice. I loved it, and I couldn’t help but think of the number of veterans that may be enrolled in workshops for just this purpose. Poetry can help heal the traumas of past violent events. Should it be shared?

The National Association of Poetry Therapy, obviously would say yes.

“Not I, but the poet discovered the unconscious,” wrote Freud. Other theoreticians, such as Adler, Jung, Arieti and Reik also confirmed that the poets were the first to chart paths that science later followed. Moreno suggested the term “psychopoetry,” as well as the term “psychodrama”, for which he is famous. By the 1960s, with the progressive evolution of group psychotherapy, therapists were delighted to discover that “poetry therapy” was an effective tool which they felt comfortable incorporating into their work. Poetry Therapy began to flourish in the hands of professionals in various disciplines, including rehabilitation, education, library science, recreation, and the creative arts.  

Mental health professionals were exploring the therapeutic value of literary materials, especially of poetry. Their contribution to the emerging discipline was two-fold: 1) emphasis on the evocative value of literature, particularly poetry; and 2) recognition of the beneficial potential of having clients write either their response to poems written by others or original material, drawing on the clients’ own experiences and emotions.”

In Psychology Today, Linda Wasmer Andrews writes:

“Back in 1982, the first piece of writing I ever sold was a poem called “The Miscarriage,” which originally appeared in Mothering magazine. The poem was a simple but heartfelt response to my own pregnancy loss. It had been a first-trimester miscarriage, so medically and societally, it was almost a nonevent. But emotionally, it felt like a significant loss, and this poem was my way of mourning it. Apparently, the poem spoke to other women as well, because it has been widely republished ever since, appearing in magazines and anthologies, on websites and blogs, and, most recently, in condensed form in Twitter tweets.  Did writing this poem help me feel better? Absolutely, and that was true from the moment I put it to paper, which was well before I ever showed it to anyone or submitted it for publication. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was instinctively practicing poetry self-therapy as a means of helping myself grieve.”

On her site, Healing from Complex Trauma and PTSD, Lilly Hope Lucario shares several poems that she says have “touched the heart of other trauma survivors”.

wilfred-owen-21306000110.jpg

When I was in college, one of the most interesting segments we covered in one of my poetry classes was The Poetry of World War I. No Internet. No Cell Phones. No Telephones. No Video Games. No way to escape… so they wrote poems. They wrote them in the trenches and they wrote them in letters. It was a heart breaking, and wonderfully human, and raw segment of the class. More recently, NPR did a special on an Iraq War Veteran who used poetry to process his ordeals in the Middle East.

“Brian Turner is a soldier-poet who served for seven years in the U.S. Army. Beginning in November 2003, he was an infantry team leader in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. His book, Here, Bullet, reflects his war-time experiences in graceful and unflinching poetry. Turner tells Steve Inskeep about the military tradition in his family and why he joined the Army when he was almost 30. He reads selected poems from his collection and reflects on what inspired them. One poem, Eulogy, was written to memorialize a soldier in his platoon who took his own life.

It happens on a Monday, at 11:20 A.M.,

as tower guards eat sandwiches

and seagulls drift by on the Tigris River.

Prisoners tilt their heads to the west

though burlap sacks and duct tape blind them.

The sound reverberates down concertina coils

the way piano wire thrums when given slack.

And it happens like this, on a blue day of sun,

when Private Miller pulls the trigger

to take brass and fire into his mouth:

the sound lifts the birds up off the water,

a mongoose pauses under the orange trees,

and nothing can stop it now, no matter what

blur of motion surrounds him, no matter what voices

crackle over the radio in static confusion,

because if only for this moment the earth is stilled,

and Private Miller has found what low hush there is

down in the eucalyptus shade, there by the river.

PFC B. Miller

(1980-March 22, 2004)”

The Poetry Foundation lists not only a wonderful selection of wartime poetry and prose on their website HERE, but they also have a fantastic selection of World War I poetry that is very reminiscent of the class that I took at Arizona State University:

While many of these poems do not address a particular war event, we’ve listed them by year, along with a selection of historical markers, to contextualize the poems historically. You may notice that more poems in 1914 and 1915 extol the old virtues of honor, duty, heroism, and glory, while many later poems after 1915 approach these lofty abstractions with far greater skepticism and moral subtlety, through realism and bitter irony. Though horrific depictions of battle in poetry date back to Homer’s Iliad, the later poems of WWI mark a substantial shift in how we view war and sacrifice.” 

“If the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School five years ago had turned a different direction, then poet and writer Brian Clements’ wife Abbey, a teacher, might now be dead. She was spared; 26 people were killed.”  PBS did a special on NewsHour after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School:  His wife worked at Sandy Hook.  Now this poet is helping start a conversation about gun violence.

After that, a lot of other things happened, but it doesn’t really matter what,” writes Clements, of a day when so many lives were torn apart. That’s the last line of his poem in “Bullets into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence,” an anthology on gun violence in America published near the anniversary of the shooting.

The day was devastating for the hometown and the concentric circles of impact, the people who were there that day and the families of children who died,” said Clements, who is one of three editors on the anthology and recruited several voices to write reflective essays in response to the works. The shooting “changed our lives that day, and we became activists.”

Twenty children and six adults were killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut. Earlier this month, the Connecticut Supreme Court heard an appeal by relatives of Sandy Hook victims, arguing that companies who sold weapons used by the gunman should be held responsible.

The anthology includes 54 poems about gun violence in the U.S., from poets including Jane Hirshfield, Natalie Diaz and Danez Smith, and at least six pieces that are original to the collection. Each work is followed by commentary and reaction from survivors, activists and writers, including a foreword by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a gunshot wound to the head in 2011.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 56,851 incidents in 2017, 327 of which are considered mass shootings. As of Dec. 4, 14,331 people have died in the U.S. in 2017 due to gun violence.

I’ve always been in favor of varying degrees of gun control,” said Clements. “Sadly, it took the murder of 26 people in my hometown to light a fire under me and I think a lot of Americans find themselves in this position. We are quickly reaching a point where everyone in this country will be close to gun violence and it takes something like Sandy Hook or the Las Vegas shooting to make us pay attention to it.”

The anthology is a tool for a larger conversation on gun violence and empathy for survivors, Clements said. The editors of the anthology will also create public reading events in an effort to involve people in more direct action about gun violence. A book discussion will be held at the Boston Public Library on Dec. 13 featuring a selection of  contributors.

From the outset we didn’t want this to be a literary project; we wanted this to be a project of the American community… a conversation amongst Americans,” Clements said.

One poem that especially stands out to Clements is Dana Levin’s “Instructions for Stopping,” a poem about domestic violence, which has been linked to several mass shootings in recent years. The response to the poem is written by Kate Ranta, a survivor of domestic violence. “One of the untold stories is how many women die at the hands of their partners,” Clements said.

Instructions for Stopping

By Dana Levin

Say Stop.

Keep your lips pressed together

after you say the p:

(soon they’ll try

and pry

your breath out—) 

Whisper it

three times in a row:

Stop Stop Stop

 

In a hospital bed

like a curled-up fish, someone’s

gulping at air—

How should you apply

your breath?

List all of the people

you would like

to stop.

Who offers love,

who terror—

Write Stop.

Put a period at the end.

 

Decide if it’s a kiss

or a bullet.

 Instructions for Stopping” by Dana Levin, with a response from Kate Ranta, Domestic and Gun Violence Survivor and Cofounder of Women Against the Violence Epidemic. Excerpted from Bullets into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence  edited by Brian Clements, Alexandra Teague, and Dean Rader, with an introduction by Colum McCann (Beacon Press, 2017). Reprinted with Permission from Beacon Press.

Kate Angus writes, in 2014, Americans love poetry, but not Poetry Books: 

People often dismiss poetry by saying it only matters to other poets, but a few minutes spent sifting through the Favorite Poem Project’sonline archives proves otherwise; these short documentaries present a wide range of Americans—salesmen, construction workers, bakers, nuns, anthropologists, accountants, Marines, and Bill Clinton—reading aloud their favorite poems. To listen to photographer Seph Rodney talk about coming home from a disappointing date to find solace for his loneliness in reading the caustic urgency of Sylvia Plath’s“Nick and the Candlestick” poem, despite his surprise that this woman from a “well-heeled New England family” could speak to “me, a man, a Jamaican immigrant—you could hardly get two people in the world more different” is to understand how false the misconception of poetry’s irrelevance is. Robert Pinsky, founder of the Favorite Poem Project, stresses that the organizers didn’t solicit participants; rather they sent out a call for people to apply to share the poems that moved them. “I’m very proud that the Favorite Poem Project didn’t tell anyone to read poetry; we asked people,” said Pinksy, “We had no advertising budget so every time I was interviewed as poet laureate, whenever I published anything anywhere, I asked [them] to advertise it. I used to give the cards to cab drivers and we got 18,000 letters from people who wanted to participate and read their favorite poem on camera.” Poetry Foundation president Robert Polito offers a similar anecdote to illustrate the value people outside the literary community ascribe to poetry, mentioning how a friend who teaches at a military academy frequently receives letters from former students, soldiers who tell her that “the experience of interpreting poems in her class proved the best preparation for the complex and ambiguous circumstances they encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan” 

As I have often made the argument before, I will make it again now, Music is the most prolific voice of popular poetry.  This is not to say that all lyrics from all musicians are poetic, but to immediately discount the value of poetry that does exist within the canon of world music, would be remiss. In Can Poetry Change Your Life,   A Critic at Large writes in the New Yorker in July 2017:

“You also need to concede that the experience cools fairly quickly, and Robbins is alert to that, too. “No one has ever changed his life because of a poem or song,” he says in a chapter on metal, with reference to Blake, Milton, Rilke, William Empson, Peter Sloterdijk, Ozzy Osbourne, and Kant. “Changing your life is for Simone Weil or the Buddha. The rest of us need German poetry and Norwegian black metal because they provide the illusion that we are changing, or have changed, or will change, or even want to change our lives.” I don’t completely agree, but it’s a wise caution.  Another advanced-pop premise is that everything is happening now. Springsteen and Dylan speak to our current condition, and so do Boethius and Sappho. “

Are we seeing a new age of poetry dawning… has the new millennium brought its own new title to the chain of movements throughout history… the Renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment the Enlightenment gave way Modernism….. Modernism to Post-modernism…. are we seeing the dawn of a new age?

Regardless….. I think here, in the final analysis…. at the very least, we can agree that poetry, is necessary.

ghostwriter-final

Keep the Greasy Side Down, my Friends!

Advertisements

The Geek Messiah[s]

“Somebody save me,

Let your warm hands break right through –

Somebody save me,

Don’t care how you do it,
Just save… save… come on,

I’ve been waiting for you…”

-Remy Zero

One of the hallmarks of any given action being labelled as “heroic” is the idea of ‘saving’ someone from a dangerous or unfortunate situation, especially when said circumstance is out of the victim’s control.  It’s a rudimentary method schoolchildren use for telling the difference between good guys and bad guys- the good guys save someone, the bad guys put people in a position which requires saving. It seems obvious, but rescuing someone from danger and making sure they’re safe is about as close to a “universal good” as you can think of, whether your lens is philosophical, religious, or mythological.

This may have its roots in biology – as a species, we naturally feel the urge to assist one another. It may have its role in ancient philosophy, where great minds laid out some of the foundations for ethical behavior eons ago. Perhaps it first grew in religion: it could very well be that humanity does truly exist in a fallen, vulnerable state where we subconsciously yearn for some being to lift us up, regardless of whether we deserve it or not. Perhaps there is no such subconscious yearning, and instead, we simply wish for a hero because we are aware of the many danger and shortcomings of our world, and we use this imaginary figure as a way to fantasize about the world being a better place.

That is where the myth of the Messiah comes in. Throughout time, geography, and culture, humans have tried to imagine what an ideal rescuer would look like. Often times, the person is birthed or created as a designated intermediary between mystic and human. Other times- it’s a human who attained some degree of divinity. In either circumstance, the result is a superhero – one who can save the world, and grant us a better understanding of righteousness, heroism, and hope.

Today in TGC, we going to begin our study of Messianic figures in geek canon by introducing and examining three of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy “Chosen One”s- and we’ll delve in a bit to what makes them so remarkable. At the end, we’ll see what we can learn from these fictional saviors’ examples, as well as ponder what other characters might fit this particular archetype.


Messiah #1: Superman
Sources:
DC Comics
Superman film series (Warner Bros.)*
Current DCU (Warner Bros.)

*Superman Returns is my favorite.

Superman is possibly the easiest comparison to draw to a modern Savior myth. His origin stories, though written by two Jewish story artists Siegel and Shuster, have interwoven an enormous amount of Judeo-Christian mythology into his own retelling.

Sent to Earth by his father as “The Last Son of Krypton” – the messages his father sends with him include almost verbatim scripture from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

Jor-El: The son becomes the father, and the father the son. They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son.

[Insert relevant scripture of your choice here]

While John and Martha Kent are slightly better off than impoverished immigrants Joseph and Mary – the resulting adoption and raising of the new Messiah figure intertwines again around age 30, when both Clark Kent and Jesus of Nazareth are called away by their respective fathers to being their quest to save the planet through the working of great miracles, but most of all, through their innate goodness, and infallible conscience.

Schoolyard discussions and online forums often complain that Superman is “too goody-goody”, or “too overpowered” – such critics of the Superman myth claim that no driving sense of heightened stakes can exist with a hero whose powers are virtually limitless. As a writer – I understand where they are coming from. It is incredibly difficult to watch Superman in any given scenario and feel a sense of dread or anticipation. Those blue tights do not spell intense drama to me. One might then force the question, and ask, would one say that the active ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, a period of roughly three years living and teaching among the people, lived a life of no heightened stakes so therefore he ceases to be heroic?  

Answer: of course not.

His myth is not the typical “Hero’s Journey” – he’s not in the kin of a mortal striving to become their best self. In a lot of ways, he’s already transcended that – he’s already tapped into his godlike potential, and although Clark Kent still has some mortal problems to cope with on a regular basis (romance be damned), Superman is primarily a figure of limitless righteousness, and perfect justice. He is, for the most part, an incorruptible figure, whose only real trials exist in the relationships he struggles to form with humanity, even as he hears their pleas from everywhere all at once.

In this way, he mirrors a Judeo-Christian Messiah. He is most definitely better than everyone else – but instead of placing himself in a place to conquer or rule, he exists as a servant of the people, a defender against tyranny, and a consistent reminder that we can have hope – that good can always triumph over evil, and that there is no such thing as “too good to be true”.

Messiah #2: Neo
Source: The Matrix Trilogy (film)

Neo’s origins seem a far stretch from the wholesome upbringing of Clark Kent- the beginning of The Matrix involves an already adult-version of the protagonist as a late-90’s cybercriminal with a deadbeat office job. His eyes are opened not by an omnipotent father figure, but rather, by Morpheus, a proselytizing mystic who is searching for “The One” – a prophesied savior figure who will bring an end to a centuries-long conflict.

Neo’s quest, unlike Superman’s, is not to use his already-developed sense of justice in the service of lesser beings. Instead, Neo is a more aligned with the “Conquerer/Deliverer” side of the Messiah coin – his mission: to see through the deceptions and lies of the “material” world and to directly confront and ultimately defeat the cause of humanity’s great deception. His powers (awesome wire-fu aside) stem primarily from his philosophical clarity – and his understanding that mastering one’s own perceptions is the key to mastering the external world.

It is a different take on the Messiah’s purity, but still one very much in line with the myth as told by various religious and philosophical backgrounds. Guatama Siddhartha, the man who eventually became the Bhudda, began his journey to Ascension by similarly escaping an a world built to deceive him (in that instance, it was a palace devoid of any suffering or death). The ability of one “Chosen” to save or redeem an entire population is also seen in the figure of Moses – who single-handedly spoke for God against the oppressive powers that be (were?) and used his own brand of super-powers to force the Egyptians into surrendering the captive Hebrews into their own Zion. (Well played, Wachowskis).

Towards the conclusion of his story, Neo’s tale takes a much more New-Testament angle. Instead of conquering the demons by force and defeating them in battle, Neo takes on the role of an Atonement-maker, brokering a peace between the Machines and Zion. The Christian symbolism is not subtle, either.

Messiah #3: Avatar Aang
Source: Avatar, the Last Airbender (Nickelodeon)

And now for something completely different…

In Avatar, the Last Airbender, the world has been thrown out of balance by an invading imperial force, and only one being can stop them – The Avatar, a bridge between the denizens of the natural world and the spirit world.

In this instance, the Avatar is a young boy who literally ran away from his prophesied destiny, plunging the world into a hundred years of war and oppression. Thanks to his mystically-powered cryogenic stasis, he is preserved for the ideal moment in history. At the time of his arrival, some believe he will never come. Others say he arrived too late. Few believe his tale, even as he displays and proclaims time and again that he has come to right the world’s wrongs.

Aang is a fascinating take on the Savior myth, because of a few key twists that set him apart. First of all, he is young. The series begins with him at age 12, and the entire series ages him only two more years. To see a character wrestle with a divine destiny is hardly a rare occurrence, but seldom do stories spend so much time investigating the toll said destiny takes on a young boy who just wants to have fun, and live a normal life. Secondly, Aang is one of the only modern messianic figures I’m aware of who is directly related to the theory of reincarnation. Aang’s past selves are active mentors in his life, passing on wisdom and even some of their own emotional baggage. This makes for an interesting conversation – if the Avatar is consistently reborn, how much of Aang’s identity is his own? Furthermore, if the Avatar is in a state of consistent reincarnation, does that mean the world will never “stay saved”?

To look for a surviving religious interpretation of reincarnation in the form of a spiritual guide, one need not look any further than the twitter account for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. According to his own website, “The Dalai Lamas are believed by Tibetan Buddhists to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are realized beings, inspired by the wish to attain complete enlightenment, who have vowed to be reborn in the world to help all living beings.”  In this case, we see again a voluntary act of service being chosen by a superior being to guide and assist all other life.

————————————————————————————————————————————-

These three entities – Kal-El, Neo, and Aang, are only nicking the tip of the iceberg of the myth of the messiah. While each of them feature exceptional (and flashy) combat abilities, the true meaning of their myths in the collective subconscious is that they provide examples of what it would take to “save the world” – whether that means an infallible code of ethics, an effort to see through the “deceptions” of physical reality, or a destiny of being bridge between worlds for the sake of all humanity – we can all view these stories and appreciate them as being worth our while. They can help us answer tough ethical choices by asking, “What would Superman do in this situation?” or by forcing us to confront and eventually accept a type of unity within our metaphysical as well as the physical sense of self.

As we wrap up until next time – the question which springs to my mind is this: who are the messiah figures in your personal brand of geekdom? If you need rescuing, which figures do you turn to for examples of exceptional virtue? What would a being as perfect as you can imagine be like? We’ll follow up next time with Messiahs, pt. ii, and we’d love to have some feedback about who you’d like to see brought into the discussion.

Until next time – geek on.

Autumn Harley & the Indian Ghost – Ride for the Wild Horses

The 3rd Annual Ride for the Salt River Wild Horses – Apache Junction, Arizona

There is something about growing up, developing a love of reading, being a certain age, and horse stories.  A friend of mine posted a question the other day on Facebook asking what books first opened the door to literature to us, and why did that book have that effect.  It was surprising to me how many people, especially of my generation, mentioned Walter Farley and his Black Stallion book series.  Marguerite Henry, with her Misty of Chincoteague Island series, as well as her books based on historical horses, Man o War, King of the Wind, Black Gold, and Brighty of the Grand Canyon, is another beloved young adult writer who discovered this passion among so many readers.

My grandfather had always had a dream of having a horse on his property for each of his grandchildren.  It was something he valued, cherished, and felt deeply devoted to.  Eventually, he would begin to see that some dreams do not translate into reality very easily.  Grandchildren live far away, they do not get to visit as often as perhaps one had hoped, and horses are a lot of work.  However, I was one of the first grandchildren, and thus got to see the dream begin.

My grandfather, Papa, bought me a wild mustang that had been running with a herd south of the Chiricahua Mountains and ranging into Mexico.  When the herd was caught, they were brought to auction, and my grandfather often told me the story of how that little Smoky horse captured his soul.

img_20180208_161443_5721734412560.jpg

Papa too, loved horses.  He was raised around horses.  He rode horses to school.  Chasing wild horses, and watching them from the top of ridges were realities to him.  One book he gave me, and told me always captured his true love of horses, was Smoky the Cowhorse by Will James.  It was about a wild horse, a mousy dappled grey who never really became tame, but befriended a certain cowboy…. and when that cowboy had no more need of him… he released him.  The story always haunted me, and resonated in other tales that I too, came to love: Call of the Wild, and The Man from Snowy River.  My grandfather named that mustang Smoky after the memory of that fictional horse.

Smoky was my horse, but I could never ride him.  I sat on him a few times with my grandfather always close, and I saw the horse throw my father several times.  Smoky was never meant to be tamed, but my grandfather said he never saw a tougher horse.  “That little horse is tough as nails”, he would always say.

Something in the romance, and the magic, and the adventure of those stories stuck with me, and although my own “horses” have always been two wheeled V-Twins, I like to think that the passion for getting out, experiencing the world, and really seeing it the way we want to experience it… were passions both my grandfather and I share, and chased in our own ways.  After all… it was my grandfather who coined the term, keep the greasy side down…. at least for me.

0815_saltriverwildhorses21590863237.jpg

Something in me never lost my deep love of wild horses.  The dream of them.  The freedom of them.  The lost world that they symbolized.  The world of no fences, no brave cowboys, and no private property signs.  I have spent many mornings on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in the Black River Wilderness watching the wild horses.  Laying silently, and in awe, like my grandfather must have done so many times, watching the stallions circle their mob of mares and whistle their screaming clarion calls.

There are a few things that no matter how many times you see them, they can still take your breath away; wild horses are one of these things.

The wild horses of the Lower Salt River Wilderness Area are one of the last wild bands of mustangs in Arizona, and they are often the subject of much heated debate in the Arizona legislature.

The history of the Salt River Wild Horses is somewhat disputed, but easily proven if one looks deeper into history than a letter written in the mid 70s alleging that the wild horses were let loose by ranchers no longer wanting to care for the animals.  In fact, an article written in January of 1890 calls the mustangs living along the lower salt as “native creatures” meaning at least five generations which would put them well back into the 1700s.  The full history of the horses, as well as the aforementioned articles are included at the Salt River Wild Horse Management Site devoted to the history of the animals.

The ongoing argument tends to fluctuate around the heavily used Salt River, and attached lakes as recreational areas, the safety concerns involved with a herd of wild horses because of this human encroachment, and the environmental needs of the animals themselves.

There is wide political support for the protection of the mustangs, but continual legislation abounds in regards to their protection versus the further development of the facilities in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area.

The bottom line, is that all politics aside… we are quite a huge stain on the world – us humans.  We are insatiable in our desire to explore our world and to be able to experience all she has to offer.  But… there are a ton of us human things…. and we take up a great deal of space.

There are costs.  Sometimes, we need to be reminded of them.

The purpose of the yearly ride, organized by The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group and Harley-Davidson of Apache Junction, is to generate continual awareness of this symbolically important issue and to continue to keep the pressure on the State to provide for the mustang’s protection.  This year, the ride also coincided with my birthday, so once again, my good friend Jason rode Autumn, his Harley Blackline down from Winslow and we met up at the American Legion in Fountain Hills – to ride  to donate to a great cause – to continually – daily – keep the greasy side down.

ghostwriter-final

Until Next Time My Friends…

 

 

The Geek Canon: An Intro

It is a wonderful age in which to be a geek.


The most popular show on television is a fantasy epic complete with dragons, magic, and an entire lexicon of highly detailed names – places, people, swords, and languages themselves, each custom-crafted to the culture and geography of the imaginary world of Westeros. Game of Thrones has earned more Emmy awards than any other show in history, and its viewership (some 8.9 million viewers, as of the most recent season finale) has saturated mainstream culture.

A new Star Wars movie has come out every year for the past three years (and with Solo coming soon, it will be four)- and each one has dominated the box office upon its debut. Even the polarizing latest installment has proven to be a financial success on a global level, and fans such as myself are enthralled waiting for the next installment. Disney has committed itself to Star Wars fans by investing millions into the construction of “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” – a 14 acre immersive experience at its theme parks, replete with life-sized spacecraft and a cantina stocked with Blue Milk just like Aunt Beru used to pour. It’s set to open in 2019, and the eight-year-old version of me still can’t believe I’ve lived to see this dream become reality!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken the superhero film genre to a previously unimaginable new level – making even obscure comic-book heroes (Rocket Raccoon? Iron Man?) into household names, and creating the largest and most financially successful series of films ever designed – coming to its apex in the two part film “Avengers: Infinity War” this summer, but not before breaking presale records (again) with the star-studded cast of Black Panther. Never before has a film franchise managed to spin a story with continuity between 23+ feature length films, as well as 10 television series – all featuring an incredible array of talent in both the production, design, and acting casts. 

Comic convention festivals have become a regular, annual occurrence – a perfect chance to congregate with like-minded nerds, geeks, otaku and fans. Attendance at San Diego Comic-Con has been growing every year, and the event has sold out for the past 10 years. The events have become so popular that recently San Diego has recently won a lawsuit trademarking the name “con”, which is why you see other cities, such as Phoenix, having to change the names of their conventions (although “Phoenix Comic Fest” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, in my opinion).  Never worry, though, because new conventions are propping up all over – anime viewing conventions, horror festivals, Renaissance Faires and more have made the way to meet and rub shoulders with your fellow nerds more accessible than ever before!

Speaking of accessibility – video games have become a pastime shared by the majority of the population (65% of households include at least one person who identifies as a “gamer”). The industry now has the talent and technology to churn out dozens of award-winning games a year, and the conversation of games as an artistic medium has been launched, spawning exhibits in museums, galleries, and convention centers. Virtual Reality, once a mere figment of Stanley G. Weinbaum’s imagination in 1935- now, a real-life novelty whose potential is rapidly being mined for. Master film-maker Steven Speilberg states that VR-dominated reality (as is explored in the book and upcoming film Ready Player One) is a prophetic “amazing flash-forward…” of what our world might be like in the near future.

Even without VR being readily available (yet) – the internet’s influence coupled with amazing advances in modern gadgetry now allow streaming media to be shared and savoured across the continents and in virtually any space – in my current viewing lineup, I enjoy BBC’s Doctor Who and Sherlock along with TokyoTV’s Attack on Titan! – each directly imported from across the pond(s) in either direction to any device in my home, backpack, or pocket.

As a born and bred geek (my mother met my father while listening to Weird Al Yankovic’s “Yoda” – the stuff of romance, there) – I am exhilarated by the discussions going on online and in person, touching each and every one of my fandoms – predictive theories based on deep textual analysis, the creation and sharing of artists inspired by the same stories, characters, and worlds that I enjoy – the communal aspect of “Fandom” has become a huge part of my way of life, and I am immeasurably grateful for the friends and memories that being a “geek” has allowed me to make.

That concept – “Fandom” – is what brought me to begin this series. Maybe because I think too much, maybe because geeks invariably seek validation, or maybe because I hypothesize that other people out there feel the same way I do- that “Fandom” is more than a trite hobby that occurs when one places too much emphasis on their choice of entertainments. The idea that there might be much larger, philosophical ramifications of the stories that the world has come to know and love- that’s what brings me here.

Joseph Campbell once proposed that every myth that humanity has ever told is connected, somehow, to a “collective subconscious” – a type of dream that all society shares, and that the myth attempts to realize. These myths may include legends of great beings battling terrible villains, or might recount the creation of the world. Myths tell the stories of a man becoming a hero, through trial by obstacle, antagonist, or fate.

Myths often are religious in nature – telling the stories of gods and spirits, of a “chosen one” and the prophecy surrounding it. The tales may recount grievous wrongdoings, or related tales of redemption and reconciliation. 

It is my proposal that Joseph Campbell is entirely right, and that our collective subconscious has invested value into these stories as our modern mythology.

Furthermore, these myths merit serious analysis to determine their philosophical and spiritual impact. If these stories are so spectacular that they capture the imaginations of millions of human beings around the world – there must be something that causes that resonance. Why else would the stories of Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, or Naruto Uzumaki each garner such a devoted fanbase?

It is the mission of The Geek Canon to treat the mainstays of geek culture as if they were a type of scripture – to pore over  the details of modern mythology in order to decipher deeper meaning in the collective subconscious.