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1. Once more, i’ve been too faux-busy to blog. Lots of 12 + hour days, leaving my flat at 0700 and getting home at 2200, often with gaps where i just sit listlessly about in McLingua, or at best go to one of the empty rooms to read or gaze thoughtfully down at the Münchnerinnen cleavage on offer down below.
i suppose i should explore Munich more but lack the volition between classes, drained by the constant need to entertain & appease the villainous Bosche. i haven’t done any writing for a while, just occasional posts on The Michael Report. To write one good hour i need three, one for girding my writerly loins and one for writing preparatory garbage. i don’t like writing on computers and hand takes too long so i mainly use my typewriter – which, however, i can only use at home, and i’m rarely at home, and so, etc. etc., damnable whore & monstrous wounding, etc. i feel so exhausted after teaching that i have nothing left for writing at the weekend, and so just watch Sopranos episodes and drink.
2. Michael (of the Michael Report fame) has now alienated everyone in Munich through his American behaviour, getting violently drunk & aggressive, stealing, lying, writing ungrammatical threats, and so on. i seem to be his only friend in Munich, such as i am. i discovered he wasted the money i gave him for food and a train/bus pass – he spent it all on beer, techno, and baseball caps. Now he’s being thrown out of the house where he’s been living as a very sporadic au pair. Perhaps the family realised he’s the last person in the world to whom you would entrust your children; perhaps they noticed that, during their 2 week holiday, he drank half their wine cellar; perhaps it was the 3 speeding tickets they received, after foolishly letting him use their car; or perhaps it was his spending almost no time in their house, as he wanted to avoid being given any childsitting assignments.
i have realised his Michael Mann identity is Waingro from Heat.
3. Waingro has however had some good luck. He read a book all the way through, for the first time in his life – the Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas i gave him a couple of months back. He stole some wine from his host family and drank it over hours in the English Gardens with Hunter S Thompson. i immediately gave him Catch 22; he looked suitably horrified at the bulk and girth but i assured him it has good horrid violence & evil humour. Later, he said, disgusted: “My boy Craig asked what I’d never do and I said bitch, I will never read no book.”
And Thompson has saved Michael’s fat New York ass. After his host family told him to get out, he was reading Thompson on the u-bahn when – according to him – a girl came over and said it was her favourite book etc etc., and when he explained his predicament she got him in touch with a family who are letting out a room for free, in return for English conversation. It’s only for a month but it means Waingro has another few weeks before he hits the street once more.
Never in my life has anybody started a conversation about literature. And yet, the first time Waingro reads a book a girl saves his life. Predictably, he tried to fuck her but nothing came of it, perhaps because of his ill-trate txt mssgz. i should have conducted his correspondence for him and let his awesome physical charisma do the rest.
i had my old surreal roleplay group again this morning. Only 4 students came, two of them new, all hot babes. It was hot and their building has no air conditioning, so i crafted the following roleplay:
Bettina – you are the head of the department. You have press-ganged Helga into fanning you all day like an oriental slave, also you send her on errands for ice cream. You are an important person and cannot be expected to work without ice cream and a personal slave.
Helga – you are pissed off. Complain to your immediate managers.
They all did very well, with Bettina angrily shouting: “I have more work than you! I need to think and use my brain! I need clear solutions! I cannot work in this heat! I will escalate this to Dr X” etc.
Sara and Sandra have a paddling pool in their office and do all their work therefrom. Helga is jealous and demands a paddling pool for herself. Bettina is the boss and must mediate. This produced the line: “And who will buy paddling pools? Do you think the company has money for paddling pools? I must check with Controlling!” – which, they assured me, was word for word a real life utterance, paddling pools excepted.
3rd roleplay was based on Helga”s part-time Psychology course. As background to this roleplay she was experimenting on her colleagues, poking & jibing them into fits of rage, then noting their reactions and asking intrusive questions about their sexual fantasies and childhood traumas. She would also ring them, pretending to be the police, to tell them their house had burnt down & all their loved ones dead, and then closely observe their horrified reactions, following it up with bland questions: “how did that make you feel?” and “let’s unpack this” and “did you ever have sexual fantasies about a burning house?” She would also present them with important documents which would, however, just be grotesque and suggestive Rorschach drawings (eviscerated mules etc.) and then demand to know their immediate associations & feelings.
This last was a classic. Helga improvised a book she was writing about her colleagues; also, she had written an article for a Psychology journal and posted it on the company intranet, with her subjects’ photos and email & phone, which they did not greatly appreciate.
“But you are very interesting subjects,” she protested, convincingly i thought, “you are important for my psychological research. Many psychologists are very interested in your mental problems and want to meet you too. We have a conference just about you.”
This was a good lesson.
Later it rained and i went to Mclingua and sat on a window ledge in an empty room, looking out at all the wet t-shirts and tempted to shout: “Run Charlie, run!”
i’m in a curious state, with enough money to pay my eventual tax bill, and hopefully enough to survive the dead summer to come. Yet, if i am dealt a huge bill by the damnable French, i shall be in perdition once more. i haven’t heard from the French and am hoping their records were destroyed by a gang of rampaging Muslims, who may have mistaken the hospital records for non-Muslim literature.
i have a peculiar relation to money. When i was young, my father never had any money for my sister, mother & myself; but nonetheless we lived in huge houses and he always had several cars on the drive.
My mother would terrify me by hissing that the bailiffs would come and put us all in prison, because of my father’s recklessly growing debts. He spent money like the stereotypically drunk sailor on shore leave. When he wasn’t working, which he almost always was, he just spent money – on 2nd hand cars which were always breaking down, on koi carp which were always dying (he spent at least half a million pounds on these, probably much much more), radios (at one point he had 11 in his bedroom), CDs (one day he bought three big shopping bags, with multiple copies of the same CDs; he brusquely commanded me to put them in his CD racks and when i pointed out the 3 copies of The Best of Roger Whitaker, he had no idea how this could have happened). There was, however, no money for new clothes or enough food for myself and my sister, or holidays, or books, or anything.
My father ran away from his home in India twice – once in his early 20s, when he was kidnapped and “escorted” back by his many relatives; the second time he got away for good. He regarded his English family as something to use, unpaid servants.
It was an odd childhood, to grow up without enough food, the only clothes that fit were my school uniform, while the rich kids at my school had computers and holidays and toys. However, it was certainly amusing, in retrospect; and a good preparation for adulthood. It was also good to go without luxuries, though a little surreal to live in a house with three bathrooms, but not have enough money for school dinners.
i should have turned into an avaricious lunatic. Instead, i regard money with uncomprehending, half-resentful irritation. When i have enough to cover the next 3 months i quite happily spend money on, e.g. shoes, or give it away to starving colleagues, or friends; or i just don’t spend anything. i’ve spent little on myself of late, having found free music via spotify and free TV via Project Free TV. On account of the summer heat, i suddenly wanted to dress like a desert explorer, so i bought a half-price rucksack and likewise discounted desert explorer trousers, but have otherwise spent nothing since i blew several months’ salary on the train tickets to and from France last month, plus the plane ticket to England for a holiday i had to cancel, after dying in France – the airline wouldn’t refund the tickets so i just stayed here, working.
When i began working as my own man, paying my own rent etc., in autumn 2004, i had 300 GBP in credit. i now owe friends & family & bank about 40 times this much. Most of this is down to the 6 months in Kiel, after being fired by inlingua, the other half slowly accumulating over my 5 years of minimum wage labour, 2004-9.
Over the 5 temping years, i saved through the simple expedient of never spending any money on anything, e.g. walking 4 miles to work through a crack ghetto when i couldn’t afford the bus (at 8 am it was safe, just ugly). Each time i saved money i would lose it. Once, i managed to save about 100 GBP and then quit my job and couldn’t find another for 5 weeks – not merely using the 100 quid but having to dig deeper into my credit to survive. Another time i saved about 85 GBP then got an unexpected electricity bill which came to, yes, about 85 GBP.
Of course it would have been worse if i hadn’t saved anything but the exactness of some of these bills made me wonder if a malevolent deity were perched in heaven watching me, and whenever i saved anything he would immediately cancel it out with a corresponding bill.
Despite being just a rung above a Rambo-like homeless drifter, i’m not a Communist or money-hating egalitarian leftie. Money is simply a worldly expression of fate. i see this as i compare this life with my last. i was occasionally stark broke then but always had a safety net (rich family & friends), and these broke periods were occasional. Most of the time i had more than enough and for a good while i was more than comfortably well off.
In both lives, i haven’t been comfortable in this world, among human beings. If one understands the Fehu and Wunjo runes, one will see how my elberry poverty, or my last life’s abundance, could both express this sense of not being really human. Either having no money or absurdly too much – both make you something of a freak (not quite human).
i worry about money when it looks like next month’s rent will be difficult, but otherwise just try to spend little, and don’t think about it too much. i tend to get what i need (for example, the Kurgan spontaneously invited me to hitch a lift with him to Kassel when he visits his family), and even the periods of near-death, where it’s a choice between suicide and homelessness, are psychologically & magically useful. To be ready to kill yourself for a principle, coldly and without unnecessary feeling – and to sustain this readiness for several weeks – is invaluable, for the initiate.
Without going into death in some manner, i suspect progress will always be limited. In death, you experience freedom from not merely your world but your self. Unless you leave the world you cannot see with the other eye – the eye in the well. You may achieve a kind of power, and wisdom, but it is empty power (Saruman power), and the wisdom does not develop roots. In this sense, the parable of the sower could be taken as an initiatory parable:
And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. (Mark 4. 5 – 6)
Without the roots, it is of limited value. The world is full of failed tzaddik ha-dor. The essential thing is to escape the world. Money, as part of the world, is hard to ignore, but is merely a working-through of spiritual conditions. It seems to express my sense of separation from the world. It’s hard to know how to deal with this. i don’t see any point engaging in motivational pep talks before the mirror, spiritual difficulties are more profound & intractable.
As a start, i am forcing myself to write more regularly, on my temp memoir. This is valuable in one sense because it explores my own worthlessness in this world, my inability to get a real job. But also, my real energies are in my writing and it takes energy to change a situation.
i’ve also given a bit of money away to an impoverished teacher and my impoverished ex-MILF, on the principle of the Old English Fehu poem. Both were reluctant to take it, knowing how broke it am. i persuaded both, telling the teacher that i would only worry about him otherwise, and my ex-MILF that it was a rune working.
About a week later, i was offered work with a new language school. My highest paying work comes from a German company, who switched to this new language school a few months ago. It looked like my 25€/45 minute days were over. However, my students in a discontinued group – all beautiful women, who just like doing surreal roleplays – told the new school they wanted to keep me, so the school offered me work. It’s only 23 € /45 minutes, but this is till 10 € more than i get at McLingua, and about 3 times what i got as a temp in England. Immediately, i will have an extra 180 or so Euros a month – almost exactly the amount of money i gave my starving colleague.
i’m not exactly sure what i’m doing but i feel if i can sensitively ignore money, either not wanting to buy anything, or spending it to help others, i can shake myself loose and perhaps transform my sense of isolation and difference. i think the crucial thing is to accept my basic state – that i am not like other people, have never been, will never be – and use it, instead of listlessly moaning. Introspection only shows the need for action, to escape the magic circle of self. To be awkwardly different can be useful, can be a side product or even a condition of useful work:
Many evil things there are that your strong walls and bright swords do not stay. You know little of the lands beyond your bounds. Peace and freedom, do you say? The North would have known them little but for us. Fear would have destroyed them. But when dark things come from the houseless hills, or creep from sunless woods, they fly from us. What roads would any dare to tread, what safety would there be in quiet lands, or in the homes of simple men at night, if the Dúnedain were asleep, or were all gone into the grave?
Researching my temp book, i’ve been semi-tediously going through my Sent emails folder, from March 2004 when i began office work, to March 2009 when i quit it for good. There were roughly 6 months without work in that period so in all 4 to 5 years, the time i spent in the war in my last life.
Buddhists are generally incorrect. They are specifically incorrect in regarding each life as a step beyond the last, with a clear teleology. Though we are influenced by the past, it’s more complicated than simplistic notions of Karma. Each life is a way of playing out the essential concerns, discords, resistances, terrors, hopes. Each life is in a sense independent of the others – just as one could say that each performance of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony is independent of the others – and more so if you imagine that the musicians have no idea there has ever been, or will ever be, another performance.
Re-reading my old emails i realise how much i have changed since, e.g. 2008. In part it is the natural consequence of nearly dying three times (twice by my own hand in Kiel, once by my lungs in France last month), in part the repeated contact with the old Germanic gods, in part going from a minimum wage data entrist existence, to being an English teacher – a professional schmoozer, if you will. All this is liable to change an elberry.
Magic is an important element here – i was aware of it in my last life, but (as far as i know) lacked the tradition to understand it. In this sense, i was much as elberry was pre-2008, unconvinced by the standard materialist account but unwilling to swallow the New Agey/Aleister Crowley-style bullshit on offer. i existed in defiance of the world in which i lived, flagless.
This is not an easy stance to hold. This last life is the only one i know of, in which i existed without a magical/esoteric tradition. The Christianity on offer in the churches wouldn’t have meant much to me; and the esoteric strains were thin on the ground. Without a balancing tradition, which is both external and internal, it was a difficult life. These traditions are external in that you don’t simply invent them; and internal in that you recognise this is you, that these runes comprise your being.
An email to a friend from February 2009, when i had decided to leave office work but had no idea what else i could do:
Feeling unusually low today, worthless & useless, no good for anything. God, i wish there was something i was good at, just one thing, even if only killing people. i shouldn’t be alive, there’s no purpose for me. i’m like a bit of material left over, not enough to fashion anything, just lying around uselessly.
A week or two ago i remembered Holden Caulfield and his forlorn desire, to be “the catcher in the rye”, akin to a crossing guard. Today, as i was going out for booze & food, some small German children on t’other side of the road asked if i could return their ball. They were about 6 years old and nice, polite, as Germans often are. The road is fairly quiet but sometimes the Bosche crusade at speed and it isn’t hard to imagine a child being wiped out by an Audi. i saw their ball under a car and kicked it over.
i’ve been feeling unusually peculiar of late, as Juniper is on holiday and i’ve had little social contact outside of teaching. These periods are useful. When i do rune work i notice, for a day or two afterwards, a lot of odd coincidences and a sense of being joined to the world, an assurance and power. My natural state is one of imbalance – i naturally seal myself from the world and so exist in a Urizen-like isolation, slowly dying. To connect, i must surpass my self. Magic is one way. The important thing is to for my self to be surpassed by a higher order; only then can i really live. To be whole, you must bend – this is the mystery of Sowilo.
The original Satan – the first person to consciously identify himself as the enemy of god, and to elaborate this in the spaciousness of death – turned therefrom, eventually. Likewise i’m trying to make an accommodation between myself and the world, to serve.
Well, it’s not all bad. i’ve had many good classes of late, though i feel generally pissed off by the charade of teaching. Above a certain level, the only improvements i can make are to fluency. i’m unsure how long such improvements last, without further practice, but i hope that if i can get the students into the habit of using English without cogitating & translation, this will stand them in good stead later. Cosmetic grammatical errors are unimportant, especially given how hellishly difficult it is to get rid of them.
What i enjoy – persuading people to talk. Sometimes it’s easy, i only need to steer the conversation so it doesn’t dry up. Sometimes it’s not so easy. i had a very pretty 14-year-old girl last week, preparation for an English boarding school in September. She’s one of these vivacious, thoughtful, slightly nutty young girls who are often wary of me at first but quickly respond to my evil sense of humour and then without warning or even any clear context do things i could be sacked for. Luckily, this particular girl didn’t suddenly do anything Heloise-like but we got to talking about how shit school is and she lit up and went from short, wary answers to voluble explosions of language, condemnations, interrupted by fits of giggling. By the end of the lesson we were fast friends though no doubt she totally forgot me within 2 hours, Christopher Robin-style.
These kind of lessons i enjoy, circling around a taciturn student, probing, considering each answer, and then getting the scent and heading that way, asking more specific questions, getting closer to their true interests. Sometimes it works by accident, i mention something by the way, like Tai Chi, whiskey, Proust, murder, rape, and it turns out they share my interest and this is the great passion of their life. Sometimes it just doesn’t work and i bring in grammar exercises in lieu of actually teaching anything (this is mercifully rare).
My favourites are roleplays. i have a funny group on Mondays, engineers with a surreal sense of humour. i gave them the following roleplay:
Holger – your manager is an alcoholic and needs cake to soak up the booze, so he can function in meetings etc.; he sends you to buy the cakes and has instructed you to keep it under your hat.
Florian – you are an HR manager and some of Holger’s colleagues have complained that he leaves the buildings several times a day, for cake. Grill him.
We had a rather spiffing one a few months ago, where Florian had constructed a head-mounted light assembly, painted all the windows black, smashed the overhead lights, so the only light came from his HMLA. His colleagues had to reason with him. i think in the end they agreed that everyone would have his own HMLA, as a working compromise.
i usually improvise these in the moment from things the students tell me about their week. Risky, as if my improvisations fail, i’m left gasping and stuttering, but i can usually create something, even if it’s only a modification of an old roleplay. i wish i’d recorded some of them, as with creative students it can work well. A group of sexy bitches i had only wanted roleplays and refused to do anything else, so every lesson i would improvise something. They were usually to do with obnoxious behaviour, for example a student called Carina said she hates seafood so i immediately devised the following:
Bettina – you love seafood. You eat at your desk because the canteen doesn’t have good seafood and you like to work while eating. You order fresh seafood from a nearby restaurant. Yesterday you ate a live squid at your desk, scooping it up and forcing it down your mouth, its tentacles waving helplessly until you swallowed it whole.
Carina – you are allergic to all seafood. Just the smell makes you vomit. Anything remotely related to seafood makes you feel violently ill. Bettina sits opposite you.
This was one of my best roleplays, though in fairness the real genius emerged from Carina’s hysterical loathing, which seemed quite genuine, and Bettina’s insouciant contempt and lack of sympathy. There were some great lines, e.g.
Carina: BettIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINA! Don’t bring this disgusting horrible things to work, you know it makes me ill!
Bettina: What are you talking about? Squid is beautiful. You would look good with a squid on your head, it will match your expression.
Carina: What are you saying? Don’t say things like this. I want to vomit on you.
Bettina: You know I hate this job, Carina. And I hate [the company]. And I hate you. So I must eat squid or I will jump out of the window.
Carina: So do it, jump.
Bettina: The windows do not open, Carina. I must eat squid instead. Next time, I will order one for you too.
And so on.
i do want to quit teaching, because the pay is too shit and not every lesson is cool, but in the meantime i feel it is useful for me. i think it serves a similar purpose to temping – to teach me to let go and just accept things as they are. My worst lessons fail because i somehow don’t see the students as they really are, and try to coerce them to do things that don’t suit them, or i fail to locate the students’ centres of gravity and end up nervously talking too much, in the hope of sparking something in them (which sometimes works). Because i rarely plan a lesson very closely, i have to just go in and hope i can get the bastards to talk. i sometimes bring an article but if i can’t get them to talk about it, i feel it’s more of a time-filler than anything else (they hardly need a teacher to read articles). This means that if i fail to feel where they are, and to respond to it so they respond, i have nothing. This happens maybe once or twice a month.
On the other hand, i am at my best with almost no plans, just a vague idea of what i might do; this frees me up to react to the moment. It’s one reason i wouldn’t write academic-style essays again (too organised, planned) and am not too upset by my enduring temphood.
[…]what you really needed was a flexibility far greater than anything the technology could provide, some generous, spontaneous gift for accepting surprises, and I didn’t have it. I got to hate surprises, control freak at the crossroads; if you were one of those people who always thought they had to know what was coming next, the war could cream you. It was the same with your ongoing attempts to get used to the jungle or the blow-you-out climate or the saturating strangeness of the place which didn’t lessen with exposure so often as it flattened and darkened in accumulating alienation. It was great if you could adapt, you had to try, but it wasn’t the same as making a discipline, going into your own reserves and developing a real war metabolism: slow yourself down when your heart tried to punch its way through your chest; get swift when everything went to stop and all you could feel of your whole life was the entropy whipping through it. Unloveable terms.
(Michael Herr, Dispatches)
i often bitch about my temporary life, never knowing if i’ll have work tomorrow, no health insurance, no pension, no sick pay, no holidays, etc. However, looking at this and my last life i would say this is simply normal for me. Likewise in my last life, nothing worked out the way i expected, and i only got irritated when it seemed to. Bizarre things happened, things you would dismiss as contrived & far-fetched in a fiction.
So i try to accept the uncertainty of things, and just take things as they come.
i’ve been too busy to blog or write much of anything. Lots of 16 hour days, measuring work by my own standards – from the moment i get out of bed to the moment i get home, but actually only working about 10 to 12 hours a day, with a lot of unpaid travel. In Kassel i often worked 14 hour days, in the exact 14-hours-of-teaching sense, but it would kill me now. i no longer retain any enthusiasm for teaching. Even 10 hours is too much. To concentrate on Germans with their Dinglish for 10 hours, leaping on every mistake, remaining sensitive to their moods, adapting lesson plans as you realise the talkative students aren’t coming, keeping an eagle eye out for disgruntled students (a difficult task given how naturally surly Germans appear; also, it’s often the friendly smiley ones who betray you, like the “Fuck Hitler” guy in Saving Private Ryan). i’ve had 3 complaints in the last 2 weeks.
i don’t think i had a single complaint in Kassel; in Munich i’ve had at least a dozen now, maybe more. McLingua students have complained:
1. That all we’re doing is talking.
This is because, you mouthy cunts, you had a Meetings module, where all we do is talk; and a high level where the first chapter has almost no grammar or vocab. And you complained before we got any further. You said I wasn’t really making you work, so you weren’t learning anything.
Solution: my boss told me to prepare extra materials for you, you mouthy rich cunts. So i came into McLingua 2 hours early, without pay, and would laboriously search for articles you might find interesting (i failed), and i prepared grammar each week. And then you said it was too hard.
2. That i don’t correct every single mistake.
Well, this is because in order to survive i have to work every hour i’m given, often placating screaming German shits like you, and by 1830 in the evening i’m exhausted and close to collapse or murder, and with five power fraus all talking over each other, usually ignoring my corrections, it’s pretty hard. You stupid pampered bitches.
3. That i don’t give extra hard grammar and hundreds of new words a lesson.
Because you’re already fairly high level, over 30, rarely or never use English at work or in your private life, and so your English will never improve. No matter how many times i drill you, you will never be able to spontaneously use the Present Perfect. It is a total waste of time trying to teach you anything. And you already know every fucking word you might ever need to use. All that is left are words like fumigate, supercilious, exasperated, etc. – and when i try to teach these, you say they aren’t very useful and you don’t need them. “You are not teaching us the words we need!” you bellow indignantly, you fucking German scum.
With one group like you, i keep a list of the vocab i’ve given you to date, and every lesson spend 15 minutes going over it. And you don’t remember a single fucking word. You can’t remember anything.
And then you look at me reproachfully, because clearly it must be my fault.
4. That it’s too hard.
This is because groups are rarely homogenous. You can apparently get a B2 grade and really be an A2. Companies often lump students together because they work in the same department. So you have one 25-year-old with almost perfect English, and someone 20 years older who says things like: “Ja, uh, yes, I am looking TV at the evening time with the evening eat.”
5. That it’s too easy.
See above. You idiot.
6. That they don’t get to speak enough.
This is because you are in a group and even if i only talk to ask questions and give error correction, there are several other people, some of them mouthy Germans who want to talk over everyone else. And it’s often the mouthy German bitch, who talks 50% of the time, drowning out the 4 other students, who complains that i don’t let her talk enough.
Anyway, this is my life.
If the initiate cannot free himself from his ego he will never practice true magic, he or she will never attain a true unitary state. Once the magician has become free of such desires a more useful emotion takes their place. It is a feeling described by Tolkien as a ‘feeling of bread rather than jam’, a satisfaction that is based on true accomplishment arising from effort and sacrifice.
(Wayland Skallagrimsson, Scientific Magic)
Michael has moved to a mansion in the suburbs. In true bullshitter style he first told me he was dogsitting, and got a free room as long as he walked the dogs. i speculated darkly on how long it would take for him to kill, maim, sell, or just lose the dogs. Later, he revealed, bashfully, that he’s actually an au pair, looking after a 6-year-old boy in return for free rent. He gets his own apartment within the mansion and the parents fund his expeditions to, e.g. the zoo.
“What? You get to live in a mansion and all you have to do is take a kid to the zoo?”
“It sucks man, I already been to that zoo, I don’t wanna see them polar bear motherfuckaz again. Or Ice Bear as this fuckin kid calls them. I keep sayin, fucking polar bears kid, polar polar, not ice. They ain’t no motherfuckin ice bear.”
He lives quite far out of the city and left his smart phone on the back seat of a cab while drunk, so spends a lot of his time twiddling his thumbs despondently. So i bought him a book, Hunter S Thompson’s Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. i thought it a good choice as it matches his reckless sense of humour and involves drugs and crime and guns. i didn’t really expect him to read it. In 2006 i lent my copy of F & L to Bongo, a pot-bellied temp from Sunderland who was intelligent but totally uneducated. Bongo kept it for 2 months then one night read half of it in one sitting, then put it aside and never looked at it again, and eventually returned it saying he’d enjoyed the first half but didn’t have the time to finish it (he typically spent his free time looking for pornography, eating burgers, and rewatching an extremely limited list of films, including Heat, Donnie Brasco, The Elephant Man).
The next time i came into McLingua i saw Michael on the terrace with his red headphones on, no doubt listening to some godawful techno, and reading the book. i went over and asked how it was going.
“Page 45, motherfucker.”
i was impressed, since he’d only picked it up the evening before.
“This is the shit,” he continued. “Where they in the hotel and all they reptiles be on the walls. Man, that’s my life right there. I was reading this shit while the kid be playing with his toys.”
Another teacher congratulated me “on getting Michael to read anything.” He has, apparently, never read a book in his life. i wondered how he could have a college degree but i suppose it’s possible to avoid reading a book, just to go to lectures and rip essays from the internet. i think the crucial thing is his present isolation, especially sans smartphone. He is vulnerable.
Since it will probably take him a while to buy a new phone, i ordered a second book, Michael Herr’s Dispatches. i am curious to see if he can acquire a habit for reading. i read as a young child but could take it or leave it most of the time. Even with Fantasy books, i read the first volume of The Lord of the Rings when i was 11 and even though i loved it, and the school library had volumes two and three, i felt no interest in continuing. It was only when i was 13 that i read enough to form a habit. i think it is somewhat akin to drug addiction in that, according to William Burroughs, it takes quite a while to get hooked. i doubt Michael will develop a real interest in books but even if he only reads a few books before buying a new smartphone, i think this will be good.
He remarked that he’d never had any interest in reading, and hadn’t thought he even could enjoy a book. i don’t think everyone should read as much as i did in my 20s (between 3 and 8 hours a day) but my present consumpion – about an hour or two a day – is reasonable, and in Munich not uncommon (about half the passengers on my daily commute read, usually crime thrillers).
i believe it will be good for Michael to read. For one thing, his ignorance is brutal – he knows almost nothing about anything he hasn’t directly experienced. But also, in some sense books have changed human consciousness. This sounds fanciful but it is simply the case, that our tools change us, we adapt to them until they define our experience.
Books discipline concentration, the attention focussed both outwards (onto the letters) and inwards (construing meaning). While i’m curious to see how animal consciousness develops – as it seems to be doing now – reading is peculiarly human. It involves a complex pulsing of attention, to take words in from another, through the eyes, and then – without really thinking about it – to form these into a private meaning. This is perhaps why Tolkien despised plays, and would have loathed films, for making things too clear, too definite, with only one possible form. He wrote somewhere that if he says: “there was a hill” the reader immediately forms a mental hill, which will be a composite of every hill he’s ever seen, but if you show something on stage, there it is – just take it or leave it, no room for the imagination.
i don’t agree that theatre (or film) kills imagination, it just uses it differently. But i believe this dual action, simultaneously attending to another’s words, and forming a private interpretation, is powerful and valuable. Perhaps some of the value is in the category of spirit, and will only be apparent after death; but even within life, it deepens and refines the attention.
Michael has enormous imaginative energy – not at all academic or intellectual, just the raw stuff; and he careers through life getting into fights (two separate brawls with bouncers), seducing and discarding women, being fired, losing just about everything he has while drunk.
For people like Michael – people invested with great imaginative power – it is important to have a countering interiority, a centripetal force to balance the centrifugal. That imaginative power is the raw stuff of magic. Magicians tend to be cerebral and capable of intense introversion. Michael uses his imaginative energy in a wild, unconscious way – for example, he casts a “spell” over women. He ascribes his success (he estimates he’s blazed about 150 women and he’s just turned 23) to confidence but it’s really a fascination, in the etymological sense of the word, a glamour. Without some anchoring interiority i think he will die, James Dean style.
And so i’m trying to give him a taste for reading. i normally don’t bother evangelizing but he reads my Facebook posts and said, somewhat perplexedly, that he loves everything i write, that whatever it is it interests him. He was perplexed as he hadn’t previously experienced this reaction to words. It’s not that i’m particularly good with words, just that he has (i think) a latent sensitivity to language, which has never been activated.
One should not underestimate the exact form of a technology. The form of a book enforces notions of privacy (a cover you can close, or you can read so no one else can see the pages), of an inner world. The physical fact of hundreds of separate pages, each individual, all bound together, so the separate parts nonetheless form a coherent whole – this enjoins an apprehension of coherence, of plurality & singularity in one, of an order that can make room for wild difference. Convenient as a Kindle is, the physical book manifests a metaphysical concept:
Nel suo profondo vidi che s’interna,
legato con amore in un volume,
ciò che per l’universo si squaderna:
sustanze e accidenti e lor costume
quasi conflati insieme, per tal modo
che ciò ch’i’ dico è un semplice lume.
In general, i think it’s a waste of time trying to help people, but i was heartened by the sight of Michael sitting totally still on the terrace, reading. He’s usually a kinetic, fidgetting kind of person, i.e. perfectly suited for a smartphone, restlessly checking internet sites, email, porn etc. He has yet to develop interiority. To just sit still and open your mind to a reality that was fixed before you were born (Fear & Loathing was written a good two decades before Michael was born), to focus outwards on the words, and transform them into your own imaginative shapes – that is part of being human.
We finally got into the suite around dusk, and my attorney was immediately on the phone to room service – ordering four club sandwiches, four shrimp cocktails, a quart of rum and nine fresh grapefruits. “Vitamin C,” he explained. “We’ll need all we can get.” I agreed. By this time the drink was beginning to cut the acid and my hallucinations were down to a tolerable level.
The room service waiter had a vaguely reptilian cast to his features, but I was no longer seeing huge pterodactyls lumbering around the corridors in pools of fresh blood. The only problem now was a gigantic neon sign outside the window, blocking our view of the mountains – millions of colored balls running around a very complicated track, strange symbols & filigree, giving off a loud hum.
“Look outside,” I said.
“There’s a big… machine in the sky… some kind of electric snake… coming straight at us.”
“Shoot it,” said my attorney.
“Not yet,” I said. “I want to study its habits.”
(Hunter S Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)