Saturday, January 29, 2005

rats and strawberries

Me and Gary Crow had a conversation through letters the last week or so. It is easier than writing to let you read it. Photographs are by Lincoln Clarkes, without permission.

GARY: I hope to see you next week. Still no smokes. What do you think of the idea of making sleeping on the street illegal, its considered progressive, smacks of totalitarianism to me.

STEVEN: its their right to sleep in public spaces as long as they dont pose a threat to themselves or others (sleeping in the middle of the street, sleeping in front of a revolving door where people would trip over them; funny yes, but dangerous). During the winter, if they die from the cold because theyre too crazy to know better, then the cops should be doing random wake ups and doing mental breathalizers on them. If they fail, they go to the loony bin where they should have been anyway. If the cops dont want to do it, I've seen outreach workers in Toronto, hire three times their number (they come cheap as they are typically underpaid- they get no danger pay), and get them to do it. If the loony bins suck, then reform the loony bins like you should be doing anyway. Finally, if the bums pass mental breathalizer, its their right to die wherever they want, as long as theyre not hurting anyone else. There ought to be enough free warming rooms in Toronto, if there arent then that is the city's problem and making it illegal to sleep on the street is going to change fuck-all except the bums will start dying down at Cherry Beach instead of Bay and Richmond, which is just sleazy.

GARY: I understand what you're saying about street sleeping. I don't understand your dream. But I think bums should sleep in front of traffic if they want, so long as I'm not driving. But people who build loony bins should live in them, lie in the bed you make. I'm against them. And putting people "who are dangers to themselves or anyone else" away is horribly totalitarian. Truth is you can't tell, and even if you think you can tell, what is it straighjackets for everyone, its like saying toe the line, its Bush international policism, control yourself or we'll control you, nah, you couldn't tell, you'd be up in arms by some nut who wouldn't look you in the eye or swore cause he didn't like you, any real dangerous person would have the aptitude to kiss proper ass, which is what state rationalism usually wants - I prefer American do what you wantism better. Police pick on the heart of things. Its the movies that are horsehit. Fuckers who tell the police or police agencies (for better or worse public safety public welfare social antiseptic sterilization over death agencies) to get fucked get targeted, when a brain can get around them. I know this. They aren't dangers, they're dangers to ideologies and methods and self-assured good guyism.

But you're right about Cherry Beach. That's what its like in the States. You know there are no homeless in Manhattan anymore, they have them at concentration camps (pretty much) on Long Island. They can't keep them there, but they do cause when legless black homeless vets march into town for tobacco, suburbanites have shitfits. And LA I don't even know, you read my paper, downtown worse than Bombay or Rio, so a crackless hobo takes to the hills with the cougars and builds fires which spread to Mailbu. I gotta believe that there is a new wilderness in the American west, millenia removed from the lights of Vegas and drivethrus of Bullhead City. Its like your Walmart sweaters for a buck twenty-five. Why do you think they're so cheap you asked. You got your global village, hyperspaceagecapitalism, world cities, what's the opposite of gold? You got your hinterland, the stupid plants in Tim Mother's deadland, poor places, if its downtowns like Detroit, or inner suburbs here like Flemingdon, or backwater burg Arkansas. That's where I'm going if I live. I don't know what I'll do there, probably take photographs of the new wasteland, if wasteland can be new or shiny. Its like laundry detergent on Mars. Dusty audio tapes on my bookshelf. Dusty sunlight. Dusty planets 240 degrees to the left of my mind.

STEVEN: as far as I can see you need loony bins. No loony bins, you get people dead in the cold, dead in the bathroom with 200 pills scattered on the floor, dead in the pimp's bedroom of girls who can't think straight but can at least lie still after a slap or two, you get clowns who make moneypeople laugh for somechangemister, I can do a handstand, oh great there was a guy like that in Vancouver he'd do 200 pushups while some teenagers laughed at him for 25 cents, so there is do what thou wilt for you- and I can hardly wait for the 17th century to crawl out from the dead and come knocking at my door "Thought you'd gotten rid of me didn't you? well, get the shovel out, we got almshouses to build and witches to burn, George hasss got Lennies to shoot down at the river" No thanks. Dont get me wrong, the Assholes make me sick no less than you, but the world is a jungle, a real jungle of no ethical judgement, and rapes as easily as it confers bright strawberries, and you know if the rats are in charge its because people are rats in general- all of us, rats and strawberries, and the point is that if the system is fucked -maybe it will always be fucked- in favor of the Assholes that's because shit floats and gravity is no reason to stop trying to fix things. Cruelty is crulety - and the powertrip is there with or without laws to help them, and generally speaking it is laws that save you from kneeling before some guy you call "sire" and collect "his" taxes from "his" peasants. But we need loony bins like gardens and cops with hearts, not Julianne 16-year old proud Independent Free Schizofrenic Paid Cunt dead in 2 years from AIDS for precious freedom, or Bush gofuckyourself economic policy: how free can you be when you were born feeling sick and no one cares if you get better? How free can you be when someone can buy you and your price is the going rate on your heart? In the end (not the beginning) that is what the institutions are for, for walking open wounds, and if the institutions get stolen by the charity-donatin' Assholes of Keeping Our City Free of Hobos And Faggots, well, attack them not the ones really trying to help, cops included. And there are people trying among the rats, I assure you, I met them, theyve got good hearts. They want paradise sincerely and I believe them. Some of them are nuts,

and I really like the bit about the guys who tell cops to fuck off get locked up and the serpent-tongued normalady types are the ones waving to the crowds or designing ICBMs, or just chortling someplace where brown people serve pinapple flavored drinks from an infinite supply of dead natives. Theres a guy at the shelter who is on hardcore meds and the general complaint is that he is calm and manageable now but he gets no therapy- no one is trying to help him work his stuff out. He's just a 16-year old boy with no future who is pretty cool and is loaded on Heavy Metals like Lithium, and he will laugh and cry in the meatgrinder with you and me and everybody else. Is it enough just to knock him on his ass with 20 pills every morning, going through life numb? Or should he stop taking them and punch bricks and faces until he cant open his hands until he trips and "falls" off a bridge at 23, beloved of girl who hates his guts cause he punched her allathetime? I don't know, honestly.

GARY: See the thing is, and this comes up a lot. And I can understand right wing ideology better there in, if you see idealism on the right. What would people do if there was no help. If the kid at your place couldn't get help straightened out. I mean, yes, institutions of help help, but is that the answer. Do people need help? And I mean, yes they do. But can we help? Which is a harder question. Everyone's gonna die. And the tragic even weakness of the human heart is perhaps unavoidable. Is it better that everyone die saying I'm ready to die, is it possible. Should we laugh into our graves or should we preach maniacally on street corners. I've encountered the rat ideology in the abysses of my head, mind and room. And its relative. I know beautiful strawberry girls who have love for rats. I don't know, care, or demand of myself to assume that they are or aren't fucked up. I was a lot more fucked up when I thought they were fucked up. Whatever it is, whatever we, they, are, are. How to deal with it?

The problem I see is that sanity or soul, heart, religion, Christ, kindness is on the periphery and that was just as true in smoke filled existentialist places of poetry as it is on the airwaves. Its one thought. Dogma says its one thought. Hell, the better elements of Christianity are even further on the spaces of periphery in my hometowns. The problem is that most people don't see anything wrong with the rat element, its considered akin to human ingenuity, or the pinnacle of intelligent opportunism, hell poor boys, pregnant women go to war over it. Democracy seems to be leading us back to the dark ages (with WWW and that's not world wide wrestling). If its democracy, which it could be, if enough folks were committed to it. I know there was a long time where I wasn't. And the answers are like smoke. And the questions are like fuel.

I see two classes. And they are more than rich versus poor. The great books I read about society. I don't know. If there wasn't the pro-Bush, pro-private space, other, it would be more existential. And shit, that's a good thing but I hesitate to advocate a golden age of chaos. But maybe I should. Religion or politics. Marlon Hill says that when stupidity encounters intelligence it doesn't retreat. But when intelligence encounters stupidity it has no choice but to retreat, cause you say oops you stupid. I'm not sure that neither of us are stupidity. The problem with people like us is that we don't know what we're doing. We might be great people but we don't know what we're doing. You probably disagree. But it makes people uneasy. Lots of people value sanity, which is kind of insane. We say cool I've got a crazy teacher. What a crazy night, the miracle ether of midnight song and summer patios with the smell of garbage and we wouldn't shoot raccoons who steal from us. But religious devoteeism. Crap who knows. A friend was laughing about a Christian girl who says joy comes from serving Jesus. Is the intellectual connundrum of what to do better? Does it matter that we precision upon things. Which we do do cause we ask questions, but we spend our lives in step A and I will probably remain. There are flaws in everything I understand, the critic can find fault, which doesn't mean he shouldn't, but it is a human inclination to be an ostrich sometimes and stick one's head somewhere to spite one's ass.

Is it bad? Probably. Will it tolerate intolerable cruelty? Certainly. But we're no better than what we're made of. Environmental determinists especially should accept us as sharks, rats and crocodiles. Religionists might see us as creations of half-assed, or full-assed, magic - wrong word, but insist we're of the dirt. Good old socialistic urbanitic existentialistic political dialogue, tragedy and honest hopeless sinning tear criers, see something finer in us, but understand and accept sin where it is probably bad for us, and attack power. And where does spitting in the wind come in. It's a bloody whirlwind from the window I sit by. Politic determination misses something. I know this. And lambs and Christ. If I'm going to die as a lamb my heart will be pounding like a cheetah. Maybe that's the point.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

aśoka the great

King Aśoka was the best king who ever lived. Of all the rulers of the world, who were treated like gold while they bitched and ate and played chess with their brother and sister humans, Aśoka stands alone. He was the ruler of India from 273 bce to 232 bce.

For the first few years of his reign, Aśoka acted like other kings. He was young and talented and didn't give a shit about much else than the schemes of power that 2200 years later still addle the minds of world "leaders". Then he had a reputation for being skilled in statesmanship and a strong general in war, apparently he was pretty vicious. Like Alexander the Great a generation before him, Aśoka inherited a powerful army and he set out to conquer the world around him, and like them all, he would force the world to sing his name.

In 265 bce the Kalinga War began. Aśoka attacked the independent state of Kalinga after they refused to acknowledge his right to tell them what to do. One of his generals was sent with an army to invade them. They defeated Aśoka's general. When Aśoka heard this he went into a rage. He then assembled the largest invasion force in the recorded history of India and with total brutality he flooded Kalinga with blood.

Kalinga was conquered. One day after the invasion, Aśoka decide to go out and survey one of the cities he had conquered. As he went around all he could see were destroyed houses, the ashes in the streets, dead bodies scattered around. Mourning and pain. Aśoka grew sick, and asked,

"What have I done?"

Something happened to Aśoka. I see him, the awareness slowly growing in his thoughts, his impression like the memories of modern day soldiers who looked around and suddenly realized they were in the middle of some insane butchery of each other. Making each other suffer for nothing. To the point where the reasons why and for what didn't matter anymore. His face pale, breathless.

Aśoka changed.

The rest of his rule, what we have left from the myths and the ruins, was a summer of the earth. He converted to Buddhism, then a fairly new religion, and unlike so many Aśoka's conversion healed himself. A rare thing happened to Aśoka. He had begun to want to be honestly good.

His official government policy from this time until his death was called Ahimsa (Nonviolence). This policy was so deeply felt that even the unnecessary slaughter and mutilation of animals was abolished throughout his kingdom. It was forbidden to hunt for sport, only limited hunting for subsistence was permitted.

Instead of going around killing folks and making big plans or statues of himself, Aśoka spent the rest of his reign building universities, water and irrigation systems, rebuilding roads, and this is the best: parks. His legacy was gardens.

Aśoka's policy also contained the principle of egalitarianism: all subjects of the kingdom were treated as equals, regardless of religion, class or politics. Being the most powerful kingdom in the region, Aśoka used his position to settle the political atmosphere by forming alliances with all the neighboring countries, regardless of their size or power.

He is famously known for building a hospital for sick animals. Most of what is known about his reign comes from stone pillars erected all over the country with maxims carved on them. Here is one that announces Ashoka's policy on religion in his kingdom:

"All religions should reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of heart." Rock Edict Nb7 (S. Dhammika)

Here is another one:

"Contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions." Rock Edict Nb12 (S. Dhammika)

(King Piyadasi, I think it means "Good-Looking" is another name Aśoka was known by)

Another announcement on Ashoka's work on the roads:

"Along roads I have had banyan trees planted so that they can give shade to animals and men, and I have had mango groves planted. At intervals of eight krosas, I have had wells dug, rest-houses built, and in various places, I have had watering-places made for the use of animals and men. But these are but minor achievements. Such things to make the people happy have been done by former kings. I have done these things for this purpose, that the people might practice the Dhamma." Pilar Edict Nb7 (S. Dhammika)

(Dhamma means "truth")

This is one of the most beautiful:

"Twenty-six years after my coronation various animals were declared to be protected -- parrots, mainas, aruna, ruddy geese, wild ducks, nandimukhas, gelatas, bats, queen ants, terrapins, boneless fish, vedareyaka, gangapuputaka, sankiya fish, tortoises, porcupines, squirrels, deer, bulls, okapinda, wild asses, wild pigeons, domestic pigeons and all four-footed creatures that are neither useful nor edible. Those nanny goats, ewes and sows which are with young or giving milk to their young are protected, and so are young ones less than six months old. Cocks are not to be caponized, husks hiding living beings are not to be burnt and forests are not to be burnt either without reason or to kill creatures. One animal is not to be fed to another." Pillar Edict Nb5 (S. Dhammika) animals under six months old are to be harmed.

So when they tell you its kind to be cruel and cruel to be kind, well, fuck them. The reign of Aśoka took place, strange and shiny and full of gently waving banyan trees in the storm of earth, 2200 years ago.

Sunday, January 02, 2005


A long time ago, there were no people on Earth. There were trees and flowers, fruit hung from the boughs, insects crawled and fought and ate the fruit, strange animals lumbered around, stopping by pools of water to drink. Ages passed, storms came and went, the oceans were deep and fish had great epic struggles down in the blue, there were mighty hurricanes, and sometimes there were clear, warm nights when the birds chirped and fluttered and above was the same sky, the clean darkness and the beautiful stars, serene and godlike.

The Earth was heavy with life. Nearly everywhere did it cover the ground, or hang in the water. Huge trees, green roaring as far to the horizon of all kinds. Life on Earth just grew and kept growing, never pausing, just blooming more and more and more until it exploded into flowers and the feathers of birds and then, eventually, us.

The early humans hunted and fished with stone tools, gathered fruit and lived in big families. Children still played and flowers were buried with the beloved dead. They wandered the land, the forests, the plains, the mountains, snows in winter, under the eternity above them. Now the future will be very strange, now we have surrounded ourselves with cities, now we begin to move into the sky, but we have always spoken the words to each other, two friends sitting together in different ages saying, what is this great mystery?

All the glamour, all the war, all the posturing and politics, all the great men wearing their great men medals, it all seems kind of silly compared to two buddies asking that question together in big eternity.

Now, living is living, and anyone who has sat at peace with the wind that blows through the summer leaves knows what I mean. Anyone who has squinted and sat upon a rock and watched the reflection of light off the water ripple on the bellies of the trees and seen their life extending back into the past of kidness and on into the future of age understands when I say life is life, whether we were there or not.

On the ancient, budding earth the cycle of creation and destruction went on then as now, only with no humans to wonder at it. But humans do not have a monopoly on wonder, wonder is as natural to the universe as the nucleosynthesis of hydrogen, and wonder was as present in the world then as it is now. All life and all things undergo creation and destruction, it is the great moving of things. Everything is like waves, there are peaks and valleys, like a wave I form, rise up, hang for a moment, fall, and vanish, and what I was becomes part of other waves. Everything that is created is the result of things destroyed. So it was before us here on earth, so it is and will be.

All over the universe, the planets that hang with our momma earth like crazy lumbering gods, the bluewhite stars, the clouds of gas and fire, so it is growing and moving. It is a great mystery. Physicists suspect that the earth was formed from the ashes of a supernova, a great collapse and explosion of a giant star, perhaps a hundred times the size of the sun, because they theorise that only the intense power of the supernova could generate such elements like gold. They have no idea how else gold could form. What is happening, this world, is far beyond anything any person that ever lived or lives has ever even dreamed possible, and it is what you feel when you wake up in the morning.

So here is your solace on this grey January day, that you are graceful creation and destruction, that you casually live as a great mystery, your most small or timid gesture a motion of all the universe.