Place of Refuge

Place of Refuge

27 February 2010

. . T.e.x.t.u.r.e...&...T.e.x.t. . .

As one relatively new to blogging, I was thinking about my last entry, where it's true, I talk about the Bible and the book of Genesis the same way I might talk about Shakespeare, or Capek's The Makropulos Case.  Like literature, like fiction.  To talk about a sacred text that way may be troubling and even offensive to some people.  And yet it is so fundamental to Makropoulos, who is a textual being, a woman who unfurls herself in words.   So don't believe for a minute that I think that there is no such thing as a sacred text.  For me, these very words are sacred, because they are all I have. 
Some texts are far more sacred than others, and the Bible is one of those texts.  In some texts, you can feel and hear the breath of God, who almost begs to be known in the words and images He chooses.

Indeed, I would say that life itself is a text, and its texture is loaded with imagery.  The challenge to all of us is to recognize the signs that direct us on a safe way through our life, and to our most desired end.

In Islam, people believe in fate; the text of anyone's life is written on her/his forehead.  And the names of God are written in our hands.  With that belief, bodies are already preinscribed, and we slip them on at birth and perform a text already written through our lives.  The test of a good human being then becomes a matter of how well one accepts fate, and lives life.

A decade ago, I was living in a country that was predominantly Muslim.  I was living in Turkey.  Now, I've had some experience with Turks in the past; I was born in Thessoloniki, and during my childhood, it was under Ottoman rule.  When I was a child, the hatred and fear of the Turks was great, and sometimes they took full advantage of that.  But I was young; I don't remember so much.  My mind was occupied with love and music, and I left Thessoloniki with a man - my first lover.  I mention him in an earlier blog.  My personal memory of the Turks was vague, but it included my father's hatred of them, and a dark looming presence that seemed to linger over the mukhtarlik - the home of the neighborhood watchman, which was at the end of my street.

When I found myself among Turks again, I was frightened at first.  But I went largely because it would put me so close to Greece again, and I missed my homeland so very much.

Again, it may appear I go off course, but not really.  They say age brings wisdom, and that is oh, so true.  My fear of the Turks was quickly replaced by fascination and recognition; I swear I met more than a few people who were like me - people who had been alive for centuries and who were weary of life, yet loving every day.  In Constantinople, some would look at me with a glimmer of recognition, and I felt like I knew them too.  Old souls.

I came to start to see the deep texture of my life while I was living in Turkey.  For the past couple hundred years or so, I've known that life goes in cycles, and that we venture out in our youth, visit new places, try new things, and then ultimately begin a return.  On the return, we begin to see the patterns.  That's part of the texture of life.  It's as if humankind is living on a huge loom, and we are the bearers of each glimmering thread, weaving back and forth, encountering others, creating a pattern.  Creating new patterns.

Time and technology has allowed those patterns to extend further and further around the planet; sometimes I imagine that to be spirit would grant one the ability to hover over the earth and see the traces (like the Australian aboriginal idea of dreamlines) left by each individual as they have travelled their life's paths.  And the overall impression would be something, I think, like an elaborate oriental carpet. Some individuals who never leave their hometowns or homelands leave tightly inscribed, ornate patterns, while others, like me, are the ones who create wide arching, barely visible curves that cover nearly the entire canvas, intersecting with the smaller patterns, pulling them together, and making them part of the whole. 

It's hard for me to not notice that what I just described is something like a grid.

Within our own little lives and patterns, we often cannot see the larger picture, and so things appear so random.  I felt that way too for a long time; but today I don't feel that way at all.  Too many signs are telling me that the pattern of my life and the pattern of human life is intersecting in a very important and fundamental way right now.  Is it my fate that I am here right at this moment, telling you this?  Or was I supposed to be here, writing this?

I like to believe that, despite the fact that some foolish man's blundering mistake put me on this human ferris wheel for longer than I was intended to be here, I do have some power over who I am at any given time, and what I do as a result of that.  Indeed, I tend to believe in a limited form of fate -- we each encounter choices as we travel throughout our lives.  Like intersections.  We can choose one way, and encounter the karma that is associated with that path, or we can choose the other.  The outcome of either is our individual fate, but it is also closely related to the fate of the human race.  In that sense, we have the power over the text of our lives, as well as the text of humanity.

Sacred texts -- books -- end up being like scripts, giving us advise on the choices to take to restore humanity to the unity we all strive for.  And this is why I think it's interesting and important to spend time reading them, very carefully.

23 February 2010

Avatar: A Return To The Garden

a note on originality. . .  .

Now, when I was a girl, the wise old woman down the street was the most profound person I knew, and every word she uttered was pure, true, and absolutely hers.  When I was a teenager,  listening to my father talking about the new ideas of the day, I began to realize other people had thoughts equally as brilliant as the old woman down the street, and some people even had the same thoughts.  When I finally got a chance to learn to read, some time in my twenties, people were beginning to get concerned about receiving credit for the thoughts they wrote down.  I agreed; this is when my desire to write began, and it was accompanied by my belief that if I could write, my wonderful original ideas would be known for an eternity as mine and only mine.

I felt that way for over a hundred years, but I've gradually come to feel it is such an immature attitude, really, this belief that in this large, lovely world of ours one individual in one place could have a thought and be the only person to have it.  You can be certain that somewhere, thousands of miles away, or perhaps only on the next street, someone may be having a similar or the same thought, but not the means to express it.  And they may never have the means to express it, despite the brilliance of their thought.  So I have since come to believe that the myth of originality is really grounded in the phenomenon that I'd rather call "The I Wrote It First Syndrome."

But for a couple hundred years, especially in the West, men in particular lived under the illusion that one man was capable of having a single original thought, utterly different from every other man's thought, and definitely different from women's thought.  And men took ownership over thoughts, and got very uptight if someone said the same thing they said, without giving them credit.

Now, the internet has given us a new perspective: I'll have what I think is a brilliant, original thought, then Google it, only to find 250 pages of blogs and editorials and syllabi and articles on versions of my thought. It's impossible to know who wrote something first, or who may have thought it first.  This can be a really deflating and silencing experience, if I let it be.  Or, it can force us to think about thinking and expressing ourselves in a completely different way.  And yes, this is absolutely connected to the idea of the Grid, and its relationship to the Collective Mind.  The internet makes us realize that there is a collective mind, with a multitude of layers, embracing the earth, sort of like radio waves.  If we tune into the one we're "wired for" properly, we'll discover a thought, a priceless thought, that we share with many like-minded people.  That thought can empower us both individually, and as a species.

But that's something to pursue later.   Don't forget that image of the radio, though.

For now, I want to contemplate an idea that others have contemplated already: the idea that the movie Avatar's  Pandora is really Eden, and our longing for it is actually a longing for what we lost, or what we've had all along but not paid any attention to.

Where is Eden and how did we lose it?
Some believe that the original Eden was somewhere between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.  And perhaps that is the place where Adam and Eve hung their original hat.  However, I tend to believe Eden was and is the entire earth.  A virtual Pandora, indeed, with just as many beauties and mystical happenings as any fictional planet could ever have.  In fact, that burgeoning cauldron of young life that this planet once was was probably even more spectacular than anything James Cameron could imagine.

And one particularly beautiful life form that was here, brought here either by evolution or some divine decision, was human.  Shimmering and upright, seductive, vulnerable, and funny.  A delectable treat for the predators, but like every species, humans were given a capacity that they could use to save themselves and their species.  They were given a brain that was wired into a very complex system of senses.  Avatar acknowledges the cat-like nature of human-like creatures; humans are, like cats, capable of tuning into the intuitive, spiritual realm.  That's what the sixth sense is all about.  It's a sense that has been dulled over time.  But we have it.  That sense is directly related to bodily awareness, to the ability to be tuned into our physical surroundings by using our biggest organ: our skin.   It's rare that we think about that fact, but skin is an organ, and it is one with very precise functions, related to drawing nutrients from the air and the sun and to mediating the environment in which we live.

Neytiri, the Na'vi heroine in Avatar knows absolutely how to use her skin, and her inner eye, in combination with all her other senses (which for her are really secondary) in a wide range of circumstances and physical activities.  And this is what makes her, and her entire breed, so alluring and desirable.  But they are really not all that different from us.

We've absolutely lost our ability to use this complex combination of senses.  We rely on some of the weaker senses, like vision, which, you might note, Neytiri often uses last.  Quite frankly, the only time many humans today come even close to using their skin appropriately is when they're engaged with sex, and this is why some humans overindulge in it, the same way they might overindulge in alcohol and some drugs.  If we used our skin regularly, in the wide ranges of manners within which it is capable of being stimulated, then sex would be treated like the gift and sacrament it is really intended to be.  That's not to say it wouldn't be hot and steamy and wonderful; in fact it would be more hot and steamy and wonderful.   But since so many aspects of the sexual act have been fetishized, many of us have lost contact with the fact that the act of sex is the highest form of communion two humans can share, and it is at its richest when the people engaged in it have reached a very special level of mutual understanding.  And that doesn't imply that they should be married, or that the union need be heterosexual.  But it does imply that once two humans reach that level of union, they should feel no need to be with anyone else, because they are so absolutely in accord.

But again, in my usual way, I wonder off course.  Or maybe not.  In the Garden of Eden, that is how sex and sensuality would be.  And sensuality would not refer only to sex, it would refer to every interaction that we have with our natural environment.  And no one would get bent out of shape over it.  A bit like on Pandora.

Any human today who says they long to live on Pandora is really longing for a situation wherein all of our senses are alive again, and used in equal balance.  That, too, is why there's an increasing interest in survival reality shows, and horror films, and terror, and fear.  Since we don't know how, anymore, to interact with the natural world in a subtle way, we seek out activities that induce extreme adrenaline pumping interactions with the natural world.

It's because our senses have been dulled.  But what caused that dulling of the senses?

The Fall From Grace.  The Apple.

This brings me to one of my favorite books in the world, a book I can read again and again.  During the mid 1600's, after my first and greatest lover died, I spent twenty years or so living in a convent.  That first love, my greatest love, was the one who wanted to preserve my youth and beauty forever.  I wanted to get old with him, but unfortunately, his tonic worked.  I remained vitally youthful and alive, watching him age and whither.   But I didn't care; when we were together, I was so absolutely pleased to always be the only beauty in his eyes.  After he was gone, I grew to hate him, because his selfishness had damned me to wander the earth, alone, for an eternity, my forever young body forever the object of men's and women's lusts and desires.  I didn't really have any love of any kind, until very recently.  Yes, it felt like I was with my first love again, which is why when the eyes of my most recent love turned to flirtations with others, I grew so deeply hurt and sad.

But let's go back to the 1600's, in the convent, now in France, where I trained my voice to sing purely, and I poured over the Old Testament.  My favorite books were the Books of Genesis, Exodus, Ruth, Isaiah, the Proverbs, and the Psalms.  At that time, I took them quite literally, but since then I've gone through so many stages of understanding, and now I like to read them more in the tradition of Kabbalah (You have to understand, the only way I can keep these wonderful books fresh and alive for myself is to look at them in a number of ways.  The beauty of these books is that one can do precisely that, and each time find something that seems oh, so true.  Again, as with everything I'm writing here, I have to emphasize that I'm not claiming that what I'm saying is actually fact; this is just the way I now think about these books after 100s of years of reading them, and watching the stages of humanity passing me by. )

I take very literally parts of Chapter Three in Genesis, where the serpent approaches "the woman" and tells her that she will not die if she eats of the forbidden fruit, but rather "Ye shall not surely die; For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil." 

The apple is the fruit of knowledge; we all know that.  Christian, Jew, Muslim, we all know that.  But knowledge of what?

"And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons."  (Genesis 3:7)  For me,  that is one of the saddest lines - and perhaps most ridiculous images - in all of written literature.  Because at that instant, that instant of supposedly gaining knowledge, the woman and the man felt a need to hide their animal nature.  This was the first step towards dulling those senses that were intended to keep us in harmony with our natural environment.  It's been a snow-ball effect ever since, because this event, of course, was soon followed by jealousy, lust and competition, largely over a) a desire for something someone else has and/or b) an infatuation with another individual's body and its adornment.  Ornamentation and ostentation became the means by which humans judged each other, and rivalry set in.  Blood poured, soon after.  Think Cain and Abel.  Think Joseph and his coat of many colors.  Think every bloody gory story in history.

But let's get back to Genesis.  That sad, tragic moment of two creatures suddenly fumbling with leaves, attempting to find some way to cover themselves out of embarrassment over something that was just part of what they naturally were is followed by a comic scene:  "And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees and the garden."  (Genesis 3:6 -- yes, I'm using a King James translation, because I like the language so much.  I've read the Bible in so many languages, and some may come closer to the original meaning than others, but when I read this translation, well, I felt it put it somewhere in the same league as Shakespeare, so it has remained my favorite over the centuries.)

Yes, this is a comic moment -- imagine it: they heard the VOICE of God walking.  No, they did not hear His feet rustling in the fallen leaves, or His body pushing aside the growths.  They heard His voice, walking.  God is VOICE.  And then those too poor fools were foolish enough to hide, as if one can hide from God, their creator.  He does, after all, know all.  Goes to show that fruit of the tree of knowledge didn't really work, because they would have known that He would know immediately that they ate it, if the were really as smart as God, and they would have just stood there, buck naked, and faced Him, God-to-God.  After all, He was probably naked, too, if He was visible.

But no, they hid.  And He found them.  And He knew, immediately, what they had done.  And God was sad, because, quite frankly, He knew that they were perfect before they ate the fruit.  If they would have just grown and lived in Eden, in their natural state, they would have grown to be Gods, because God made them in His likeness, and gave them the environment that would feed and nourish His children until they grew to be just like Him.

Fundamentally, if we read this book this way, God forbade them to eat of the Tree of Knowledge because He knew that if they did, they would become mutant.  A part of their organism would grow faster than it was supposed to, and that part of their organism was their brain. 

I don't believe God cast humans out of the Garden, as the book of Genesis says.  He didn't have to.  The minute the man and the woman reached for those leaves to cover themselves; the minute they felt shame and guilt, they had left the garden.  So began the era of uncertainty.  Brains mutated.  Other parts of our systems atrophied and withered, as we relied more and more on the activity of the brain, working with the rather superficial perception of the eye.  Those two organs, working hyperactively in concert, created the ability to deceive and be deceived.   To be jealous; to be angry.  To desire what they eye can not see; and to feel that others are hiding things from us.

can we go back to the garden?
I'm not sure this is a question I can answer tonight.  I am very tired.  My mutant mind is old, though it's so full of things to say.  Yes, I do believe the garden is here.  The Garden is Earth.  And the Voice of God still walks in the Garden; we just haven't been listening.

But listening doesn't happen with only our ears.  Seeing doesn't occur through only our eyes.  We have to reawaken our bodies, our earthly avatars, to all their senses, and the first step towards doing that is to recognize that we all are, after all, creatures of the Earth.

21 February 2010

Living Off The Grid

If you take the time to read my wordy first entries on this blog, you'll see the story of my Grid message.  Some might say it was just a dream, but if it was just a dream, it was a very odd one. For the sake of those readers (if there are any) who don't want to read my earliest ramblings, the message I received in a dream was this: Jesus will come as the scholar in the four days of the Grid.   I woke up and wrote it in my journal.  Alongside of that sentence, I also wrote: The Age of the Grid?  Then I went back to sleep, hoping for more news.  I got none.

Five and a half years ago, right after receiving that message, I did a Google search on the term "The Age of the Grid," and it yielded only a couple pages, and they all were about Grid Computing.  Today, a Google search on especially the phrase the "Age of the Grid" will yield pages and pages.  The idea of The Grid is cliche now, and there are now even people talking about living off the Grid.

I fully understand why someone might want to live off the Grid.  A London Times story online points out that this is part of a compulsion to avoid surveillance.  There's actually an entire website called 

It strikes me as both odd and ominous that in the short period of time between my receiving my dream-message, and the present day, the idea of The Grid has gone from being a fairly rarified geek notion to being part of the daily lexicon.

I imagine that someone reading about this message would be alarmed, if only for my sanity.  Fundamentalist Christians might ask: "what should we do to prepare for the Coming of Jesus?"  My answer to that is simple:  act likes he's coming today.

And that gets to the true reason for this posting.  For me, the most compelling question is when?  When are the Four Days of the Grid?  What are the Ages of the Grid, and when is the Fourth?  It appears, quite clearly, that we are currently well beyond the First Age of the Grid, if in fact people are considering living off of it.

Those who seek to live off of it seek to avoid surveillance.  They seek to be spared the tyranny of an Orwellian nightmare.  And I understand that fully.  But my question right now is: at what cost?

Any technology is a tool, and tools can be used for both good and not-so-good ends.  As I have said elsewhere, just as a hammer extends the capacity, limits, and strength of the hand, computers and the internet (which is the DNA of The Grid) is that technology that extends the capacity, limits, and strength of the human mind.  I'm not the only person to make this claim. 

One can both kill and build with a hammer, and so too is the case with the internet, and computers. 

But just because someone can kill with a hammer (indeed, here is a most disturbing video of some young men in the Ukraine killing someone with a hammer and a screwdriver.  Please do not follow this link if you have a weak stomach. I could not watch the whole video) does that mean we should start "living off the hammer"?  No, I'll bet even people who are living off the grid have hammers.  They may even have guns, which are far more lethal extensions of the arm, and the hand, and the fist, then a hammer.

Indeed, even Jesus used a hammer, if we are to believe the stories we've been told about him.

This is why I am disturbed that people would opt to live off of the Grid, when it's very likely that the Grid has as much potential to build something good as a hammer does.  It all depends on how you use it.

At its most basic level, the strength of The Grid is its ability to create a mass, communal mind that can work very quickly and collaboratively to produce some kind of meaningful end.  What's at risk, of course, is individuality.  What is to gain is the survival of humanity.

Let's consider two cases, one where the Grid was used for evil ends, and one for good ends.

The first case has almost become a cliche, that being the horrible incidents of 9/11/2001.  It continues to intrigue and boggle my mind that a relatively small group of terrorists was able to do something that no nation has been capable of doing: attack the United States on their home turf.  And how was that group able to do that?  They used The Grid.  They used the internet, telephones, and any number of other technologies that allowed them to produce a collaborative effort that far extended any one individual's abilities.  And frighteningly, they succeeded.

They will continue to succeed.  The U.S. government's attempts to pursue individual terrorists, and to frisk innocent passengers en masse come no where near touching the apparatus that binds a breed of terrorist who really doesn't care about individual fame.  Lone Christmas day bombers, or single men trying to light their shoes are decoys, designed to keep our attention away from a plot far greater than the attack on the Twin Towers that is no doubt being planned as I type, and is using the same technology to disseminate its messages.  When or where the next true attack will occur, I really don't know.  I am, after all, just a slowly aging diva with an overactive mind.

Efforts have been made to use this same networking power for positive ends, but they're not always as successful.  Still, those efforts are kind of wonderful in their own ways, hinting at the power this technology can hold for us.  Consider this:  a few years ago, I heard the story of a missing computer scientist, a man named Jim Gray.  He had taken his sailboat out onto the Pacific, and disappeared.

According to Wikipedia, Jim Gray "was an American computer scientist who received the Turing Award in 1998 "for seminal contributions to database and transaction processing research and technical leadership in system implementation."  His colleagues decided to try to use the very technology he was so instrumental in developing to try to find him.  They initiated a search of the waters he was believed to be lost in, via the very accessible and user-friendly Amazon Mechanical Turk.  Again, I'll quote Wikipedia's definition of what the Mechanical Turk is:  "one of the suites of Amazon Web Services, a crowdsourcing marketplace that enables computer programs to co-ordinate the use of human intelligence to perform tasks which computers are unable to do."

The keywords in this definition are "co-ordinate the use of human intelligence."  Yes, therein lies the power of The Grid.

For a few weeks, anyone with a little extra time who was willing to subscribe to the Mechanical Turk could search a sector of the sea, presented through images captured via satellite, for anything that looked like an overturned boat or debris, or perhaps the actual boat itself.  Detailed instructions were given on what to look for.  I know, because I did a few myself, hoping that I might be the one to spot a sail, or an overturned hull, or some other little clue of what happened to the missing man.

No one found Jim Gray.  But part of his legacy is that his final search attempted to utilize the combined strengths of multiple human minds in a way that his own research helped to make possible. 

This story is both beautiful and absolutely misguided.  I was fascinated by it, because it allowed me to become part of a project that was bigger than myself, and that, ultimately, had very little to do with me.  However, it was designed, ultimately, to serve one man, and - if I remember correctly - there may have been a reward to the individual who found the spot where Jim met his fate.  Lovely idea; however, this is not, in the end, how this tool should be used.  The internet is not designed for the benefit of any one individual.  It is the most perfectly democratic medium and technology.  And in a perfect democracy, all men and women are created equal, and work together for the communal good. 

And that is how the internet - The Grid - can be used positively.

If people with good intentions - intentions fueled by the true teachings of a man named Jesus - were to use this tool for humane ends, Jesus would come again, and he would come again as The Scholar - the communal mind of humankind. 

But as of right now, it's true, the only efforts that have truly used the power of The Grid to successful ends are terrorists, misguided governments, and big business.  And ultimately, they're all one in the same, and they are not, by any stretch of the imagination, anything like a Jesus.  It is really up to us - and that includes those poor misguided individuals fumbling around, trying to light fires "off the grid" who fundamentally do have good intentions.  Living off the grid must be done in ways that also maintain grid-based communal cooperation, especially if the true intent of the off-gridders is to maintain human life on the planet.

13 February 2010

Pete Morton

Sometimes you hear something that you just have to share:


Pete Morton | MySpace Music Videos

Why don't more people know about this man?

paradigmatic shift

The arrow on this image is pointing to Earth.  
I was made aware of this image the other day, when I was listening to the radio, my favorite medium. (NPR to be exact; I got the picture at their article.  Thanks)
There's something wonderful about a medium where only voices live; where the body isn't the thing by which we are judged.  I actually wrote an entire dissertation about that.  That may be the crowning work of this lifetime for me.  But no one wanted to publish it, though a few people published chapters from it.  Radio is the perfect medium for women.  So is the internet.  Radio, and the internet, are like wearing a burka.  No one judges you based on your body, or your face.  If they want to get to know you, they have to look into your mind.

But I digress

This picture was taken by the NASA Voyager 1 spacecraft, and there was some debate over whether or not it should be taken.  Ultimately, Carl Sagan (remember that voice?) and a few others lobbied that the cameras on Voyager be "turned back towards earth"  And this was the image they got, on February 13, 1990.   There's a wonderful quote from Sagan both on NPR's site that features the above image, and on the radio story itself - it goes like this -

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.  (from a book called Pale Blue Dot, but I took the quote from NPR)

What a shocking, stunning change in perspective.  We weren't ready for it in the 1990's; but we need to be ready for it now.

Just the fact we can look at it signifies to me that we truly are entering a new era, and much of the turmoil we've experienced over the past 20 - 30 years is in part due to the fact that science itself has forced us to reevaluate our place and importance in the universe.  Getting used to what it means to be a "Pale Blue Dot," as Sagan called it has at least, if not more, of the ramifications that this shift in perspective had:

as found on wikipedia

I don't really want to try to explain the details of the Geocentric Model; follow they link; they're described on wikipedia pretty well.  However, the thing to note as that the earth is in the center of this universe.  This model was replaced by 


Copernicus' Heliocentrism 

(Again, the link brings you to the wikipedia entrance on heliocentrism, which places the sun rather firmly in the center of our galaxy, at least.  That's where I go the picture, too.)

Now, some of the repercussions of this change in perspective happened early in my lifetime (Remember, I was born in 1585!)  Copernicus died in 1543.  His treatise was published just before his death, and Galileo was doing his work during the early 1600's, so some of my earliest political memories are of the anger, fear and suspicion that occured around this idea that we were not, after all, at the center of the universe.  

What people from this age know is what the history books tell us.  What I remember is how this set with the common population.  The common man clung to the old view - it was so much easier to deal with.  But the younger generation, and I was part of that generation, was ready to rebel about a lot of things, and one of them was this.  I mean, after all, Ptolemy's system was a bit like the tyrannus system of our families,  and those of us who felt a need to rebel loved the idea that the earth, like our parents, was not the center of the universe!  But in general, it felt like the ground was shifting under our feet.  And then along came Descartes and his ideas about the human mind, and, well, every man became an island.  A few women, too, like me.  Being an opera singer made me suspect from the start, so I had nothing to lose - one of my lovers taught me how to read, and I began spouting my opinions regularly.  Of course, he dumped me then, and I was pregnant.  Made the best of it; I read Shakespeare and Marlowe and Johnson with my daughter.

And for awhile, life, the world, everything, seemed stable and knowable.  And grand!  Kings took the name of the Sun; and we were able to convince ourselves that Earth was somewhat favored in the whole scheme of things because we were the third planet away, and had this very special position that allowed for life.

But today we have THIS image.  We don't think about it often, but I found it so interesting that this radio program talked about it, called our attention to it.  The change in perception that this image requires us to make is a radical one, and I think humanity is finally at a point where it can actually make it.  So the image returns.

I feel it again, that incredible instability of humanity's perception of itself shifting.  They call it a paradigm shift. 

We're in it; wonder what it will look like on the other side.

11 February 2010

Planned Obsolescence

It makes only sense that Makropoulos should use a Macintosh.  The other day, I went to turn on my iBook G4, and was writing away when the screen went blank.

Now some might call this their trusty old friend, but honestly, it's only four years old.  When you've lived as long as I have, four years is equivalent of the amount of time it takes to squeeze a pimple.

I remember when I brought the thing: I was very proud and excited.  This world of computers has long struck me as a esthetically very functional, until I really started paying attention to Macs.  I mean, let's consider it, now: as I've said here already somewhere, and countless others have observed, every new advancement in technology has served to extend some part of the human body, and the computer is the extension of our brain.  We don't think much about what our brains look like; luckily they're stored within heads, which, for the most part, are pleasant to look at.  If we were to walk around with exposed brains, we would find a way to adorn them.   Of course, if our brains were exposed, they might even become yet another measure of our appeal, or even our sexual prowess, so we may find ways to make them look extraordinarily erotic.  Glitter, perhaps, or fishnet coverings.

But I digress.

Computers, as I say, are extensions of our brains; they are our brains made visible.  Until fairly recently, the only computer company that made any attempt to make the brain sexy was Macintosh.  So of course I had to have one.

When I got it, I had to pay over a period of time, a practice that makes me very uneasy.  I was raised in an era in which if you couldn't pay on the spot, or trade something for your desired object, then you couldn't have it.  The world was a much happier place then, and most people, for the most part, had what they needed and were happy with it.  But I paid for my Macintosh over a year's time.  The saleswoman said I could even do it over two year's time, and I just shook my head.  She continued: "and then you'll be getting another."  As if that was expected.

So I have stubbornly resisted the planned obsolescence of my iBook, until this morning.  Of course, in the meantime, I went and got another Mac - a Mac Mini, which I attached to my un-Mac TV, and than of course my iPod, and then my iPhone, not necessarily acquired in that order.  Macs are a bit like M&M's - you can't eat just one.

When the iBook took a dive, though, I began to come to terms with the fact it was literally built to do that.  Indeed, all really high technology is built to be obsolete, because designers who design high technology know that in a few years, they'll come up with a better model, and this one will be passe.  And whoever buys high technology will no doubt want to the newer one in a few years.  And I guess it's true; I do.

Strangely, the same day my Mac began to sputter, so too did a part of my body.  After all these centuries, I detect that there may be something in my body that is tiring, something that is longing to be part of a newer model.

It was not my legs, which are divine, nor was it my lips, which out lip the most botoxed of beauties.  It was not my breasts, which aren't too big, or too small; it was not my eyes, which still make men cry.  And it wasn't my hair, which is still a lovely golden shade, or my teeth, which have never seen a scrap of metal to straighten them.  No, these things are just as they have always been, to a point where they really bore me. 

No, it was nothing visible that gave me a reminder of the fact that perhaps even I would become obsolete.

It was my heart.  Such a poorly planned organ, with such a huge job.  It is the motor to the machine we all travel in.  And it is also the physical seat of our emotions, of our love.

To hold our love in such a fleshy thing is just absurd.  Because love is so large, and hearts are only tissue.

Planned obsolescence.

I look forward to seeing, and knowing, what the next better model will be for the human heart; the model that will be able to hold love, even through the most tumultuous times.  But even that will be designed with one eye towards the fact that there will be a better model, still, in four more years. 

I wonder if Apple will design it, that new heart.   Perhaps it will be a piece of technology, programmed to love on command.  And not remember, and not hurt.  That might be far more efficient than the current state of affairs.

For now, I'll start thinking about getting a new MacBook, though I really can't afford one right now.  Like this old heart, I'll see how long I can make the iBook endure.

I need it to work for me, a little while longer.

08 February 2010

Avatar, The Life

I find these three-dimensional, IMAX movie theaters to be horrifying.  Richard Wagner would have loved them, though. You might remember, he's the guy whose operas about German mythology and supremacy ended up being a major influence for Hitler.  Also his idea of the gesamtkunstwerk.  This means, literally, "total art work."  He wanted his operas to be total, embracing, devouring -- using the combined arts so completely that the viewer lost all sense of identity to the art itself.   This is a really alluring and scary concept.

I'm an artist, it's true.  And you'd think I'd want to have that much power over my audience.  But that doesn't interest me.  What good does it do us to rob our viewers of their minds and their identity?  It's one thing if the viewers have a pretty good sense of themselves to begin with, but it's another if your viewers enter the event with misconceptions or unstable identities.  And most of the people I've met these days (as in every age) really don't have very stable identities.  Today, in particular, people seem so influenced by what they see on television, in films, on movies.  It's as if they've confused that screen they spend so much time in front of as a mirror.

This all gets to the ethics of reproductive art.  Plato was concerned about this stuff, too.  But don't think I knew him.  I'm not that old!  But I did know Wagner; I sang in the chorus of an early performance of The Ring Cycle.  Great music, that's the truth.  The music alone can rob your identity; singing it demands that you give up your soul to it.  (In fact, that's true of nearly every good opera.)  It's easy to get swept up into the power of Wagner's music; I was, when I first sang it.  But then, when it was over, I felt a really sick feeling in my gut, like I had just been used to spew a message that I didn't fully understand.

I don't know if Hitler understood it, but he used his interpretation of that message, and the method of delivering it, when he performed his dirty deeds.  I don't really want to talk about that right now; just thinking about Hitler and his crimes makes me cry for days.  You would think after four centuries on the planet I wouldn't be so sentimental, and I'm generally not.  But there are some crimes that are so hideous, so horribly sad, that they still tear at my soul.  Indeed, they remind me that I still have a heart, and a soul.

Wagner came n where near realizing gesamtkunstwerk.  The other day, though, I snuck into the back of a 3-D Imax movie theatre, and experienced something that did.  It was called Avatar.

Avatar, The Movie
Avatar fulfills all the requirements of a gesamtkunstwerk, and the end result would have made Wagner incontinent with happiness.  It uses every art form, empowered by modern technology, to transport the minds of its audience to another place completely.

I sat in the theatre and occasionally looked around me, at the popcorn on the floor, the hands clenching overpriced drinks, the bodies propped in various positions, trying to negotiate chairs they shared with layers of winter wear.  Faces tilted upward and bespeckled with cheap plastic glasses, those lenses became the portal through which the minds were transported away from fleshy presence.  And I thought to myself, I'm surrounded by avatars, and they don't even know it.

They've been transported, to a  place of beauty and mystery and blueness.  A place where human-like creatures can communicate with their environment through an umbilical cord of hair. A place where the corporal and spiritual essence of the planet has a conscience that is more powerful than the combined forces of the beings that populate its surface.  A place where trees are like limbs sprouting from the core of the planet, capable of sharing with us the knowledge so essential to the earth-mother body from which we all came, and to which we will return.

In Avatar, Pandora is a planet on which all life forms are actually offshoots of the planet, it would seem.  The planet has its essence, which is total and timeless; when life on its surface is created, each different life form seems to embody some aspect of the total essence at the core of Pandora. 

Avatar, The Life

It's really funny now how some people who have seen this film want to go back to Pandora.  I read something today about a group in Florida that wants to create a Pandora community.  They don't want to imitate it, they want to be it. 

What's the big deal, people?  Can't you see, we're there already?  And, quite frankly, we are already in our avatars.  That's precisely what our bodies are - the vessels we've chosen to occupy while we live out our time on this physical domain.  Our bodies themselves are the machines we imagined while we slept in that space between the etherial muck of timelessness and creation, and the timebound travail of earthly embodiment.

It is quite wonderful how, in the movie, the main characters go to sleep, and in their sleep, escape to their other bodies.  In this sense, those other bodies, those large feline-like blue bodies that live in a realm oh, so, sea-like, are the dream bodies of these characters.  This could indeed cause some of the audience members to decide that they prefer to sleep permanently (I just read a story about how some viewers of Avatar have contemplated suicide!)

As long as we think that the material realm we currently occupy is the Real, well, then, the world of the avatars appears to be a dream space.  But what if we flip that dynamic - what if we assume that our dream world, that world of shared symbols and hopes and fears, constitutes the most Real place, and this world we occupy is a dreaming place?

I'm not the first to suggest such a reversal.  But if you will imagine this with me, you may see how our physical bodies can be perceived as our avatars, our vessels designed solely for interacting and acting on this physical plane.  And if you'll believe that, then perhaps you can take the next step with me, which is to believe that then the world of Avatar is always already here.  Why has it pleased so many people?  It's because, in some respects, it speaks directly to a shared vision and dream of a perfect world.  Of the Garden of Eden perhaps - that unspoiled world that we lost when we dared to think that we could act as individual gods.  That is actually what happened when a man nibbled on a forbidden piece of fruit.