The Taste of Snow

Sugar covered snowflakes were the cookies, they were rich and had that brown plumpness that that most people think only doughnuts own, but instead of one hole each had an intricate maze of deep-fried criss-crosses. No two were alike, just like the real thing, and when you bit into one the powdered sugar and glaze would slip through and electrify your tongue. They also dissolved like real snowflakes but I always wished it would rain down cookies from the sky rather than what I was told was frozen water. The recipe was closely guarded and only brought out when we brought a pine tree into the house, and I waited eagerly for that taste of sugar on dough. Too young to cook I would wait by the mixing bowl as it growled and wait by the oven as it hummed and wait by the window as something not quite so taste fell silently by. I think I was by the window when there was a crash, not the clammer of pans but the brittle kind that means you need to watch your step.

“There’s glass in it now”

“Not enough to make more”

It was a real dilemma. Make glass-filled cookies, or no cookies at all. I, being young, brave, and by the window where glass looked perfectly safe, thought I’d take my chances. But I was short and in the minority. In the end we made them, but only to look at. So I had to eat real snow and watch the platter to try and remember the crisp taste of silent fireworks and lemon glaze. We never made them again because the cookbook got too wet to read. I’ve always wondered how many other children had the chance to learn what snowflakes really taste like.

Notes of a Dirty Young Man: Addendum

It’s been a little over a month since I posted my long rant about my depression, my most infamous post by my own standards since it gained the most views and earned me more than a few concerned messages. I suppose that happens when you drop certain words in a public forum, but now I want to say things with a clearer head on my shoulders. First, I need to thank all of my friends and family who have reached out to me, and supported me, and assisted me in getting help. Thank you to those of you who simply took the time to read some long mind dump on the Internet. The attention was appreciated, it was helpful. I don’t mean to say that it was clickbait, because I was being desperately honest. Sometimes we need to know that we are simply seen by the world, and that we can leave a mark upon it.

I have medicine now, and in less than a week of medication I feel like a person again. The part of me that is me, that is Patrick, had been distant for a long time, and I had to scream to myself at the top of my lungs to get my body and brain to function. It was exhausting, and I was growing increasingly distant. I was telling myself that I would feel better if I solved problems in myself, and it was all the more devastating when solving those problems had no payoff. I was close to the conclusion that the problem was myself. Now, with medicine, there is still pain, there are still moments that can dig up sadness and shame and guilt, but these moments no longer close in on me. The cycle of worrying is lessened. There are still dangerous ideations, but I see them for what they are: reflexes. They are thoughts that pass by as single frames in the film of my life. They are not cloying.

Taking pills makes me nauseous, I eat less than I should when I am already too thin, they make me tired, I find reading more difficult, writing too, I can fuck but not cum, I cannot drink, grapefruit is poison, but I don’t really care because I actually feel interested in life and not bored with being. I have plenty of problems but now I don’t drown by thinking about them, I feel ready to move forward and face them. I feel ready to attempt reconciliation with those I have hurt, rather than relying on apologies and running. I have never believed that happiness is the true goal of living, so I am well prepared to live now with a rational sadness, but I do not feel afraid of happiness or contentment anymore either. Some caution is necessary, relapse is possible, it has happened before. There is no escaping certain cycles of life, but there are ways to learn how to bear them. I appreciate the patience of this world. I appreciate its love. I appreciate the struggles of those who are not me, and those who have put aside their own struggles to help me. I hope I can give as much love and patience and support in return.

 

– PH

Manifestophilis: Lies, Reality, Dreams

Patrick Higgins: Would you say you are a liar?

The Devil: Yes. But I’m only saying that to be honest.

PH: Are you a compulsive liar?

TD: In a sense. I lie compulsively as a choice. My whole being is constructed from compulsion and spontaneity, it’s all eating meals where I can. Ingesting what will give me a new feeling. Lying just plays into that. But I don’t lie to deceive.

PH: Doesn’t lying require deception by necessity?

TD: Yes, but lying can be a vehicle for things other than deception. Sometimes one deception is used to make a much bigger point. I am never more sincere than when I am lying, because when I am lying I’m lying at something that deserves to be lied to. It’s a puzzle: if you can figure out what the deception is, it will reveal more of my honesty underneath.

PH: Would you say you’ve been lying regularly throughout these interviews?

D: When you agree with what I say, that’s when you should think twice.

PH: But isn’t that a little bit hypocritical? You’ve said before you have a great disdain for people who purposely conceal their intentions behind this kind of ambiguity. 

TD: Well, perhaps it’s a case of do as I say not as I do. I would also like to point out that there’s a significant difference between the claim that that everything is relative and the claim that everything can be doubted. Truth can be doubted and still be true, or perhaps it’s true in a different way than we realized. Doubt is incredibly important in all things, so there can be a kind of lying that utilizes that necessity and that power. Any sort of report, any kind of statement is, to some degree, a lie because it is never the event itself. 

PH: Nora Ephron, in an interview with Studs Terkel, said regarding journalism that “all writing is about selecting what you want to use and once you choose what you want to select you’re not being objective.” 

TD: Yes, exactly.

PH: It’s also a bit of a predicament though, because, in that interview she continues by saying that she struggled with the feeling that portraying the feminist movement truthfully was going to do it more harm than good. 

TD: Well, yes, because progress is ugly. It’s unorganized. It’s not this idealized thing that rides in on a white horse in bright shining armor. It’s a weird thing where change simultaneously requires an incredible cynicism because – as I said – you need to doubt everything to avoid being controlled, but you also need to have a bit of Don Quixote idealism about you. You need to doubt facts and believe things that aren’t true to get the right mix that allows you to live effectively and purposefully. 

PH: I think there’s a big difference between facts and truth, in that the experience of personal truth, ideological truth, can exist and remain powerful even if it runs in the face of facts.

TD: Well belief is certainly just as powerful as fact. It doesn’t matter how things actually are if you can’t see or comprehend that reality, because those facts aren’t going to determine your actions.

PH: Which can be a real problem when you have people manufacturing a truth that instills fear.

TD: Right. It can be good or bad. Again, the most healthy Truths, I think, are those that can maintain a heavy level of doubt while acknowledging facts. Being in the process of seeking what works. It’s sort of a spiritual science. 

PH: It’s kind of a Feyerabendian method of psychology.

TD: Yeah, kind of like that.

PH: Of course you run the risk of blinding yourself with doubt and falling into the same trap.

TD: Of course. The risk is there. There’s always risk in anything.

PH: Do you think there’s any way to mitigate that risk? 

TD: Well because this is structured around the individual, the personal, its hard to concoct a universal panacea for ideological traps. Probably the best you can do is simply try and insure that you have people around you that are capable of bulwarking yourself against dangerous shifts. Have people who can speak to you reasonably, fight back if you become too certain of an ideology, support you if you’re too unsure of yourself. It’s unfortunate that the only solution I know is external, because that means you have less control of it, but human nature was never constructed around the individual being in complete control of themselves anyway.

PH: So really its about constructing whatever web of facts and lies works for you?

TD: Yes, preferably at little or no cost to anyone else. It’s not about rejecting real facts, or reading lies, its about asking yourself what information you yourself need to live on. If some factual information does not effectively encourage your way of living, you can acknowledge that it is a fact, but not feel obliged to carry it into your worldview.

PH: But can’t that still be dangerous? If I doubt the facts that build the foundations that other people live upon, even if I only do so to provide a positive ideology for myself, won’t I damage other people’s lives by the living of my own life?

TD: Yes, you will, but that will happen no matter what. It’s important to remember that this works in conjunction with other things I’ve talked about. You need to establish your own damage control through the people around you, and you should always remember that if the methodology of this selective process works for you then it can work for other people too. So when you move into situations where you’re working with other people you need to curb some of those selections and start considering ignored facts. The more people involved in this process the more you need to cut away the necessary self-imposed illusion.

PH: In these collective situations is there still an illusion being maintained?

TD: Certainly, they’re just collective. I mean, what is mass media but a collective dream cultivated by groups? 

PH: But what about in the reality of decision making?

TD: Well then the dream just gets put onto the supposed reality of the world. The systems we establish, whether they give us libraries, renovate cities, or illegitimately incarcerate thousands, they’re just dreams. Dreams put into motion by groups with enough power to enact their view of the world on our reality.

PH: So their dream can be our nightmare. 

TD: If we don’t like it, which we usually don’t. And by “we” I mean almost everyone outside of that group. So either we need to find new dreamers to speak for us, or we need to stop having small groups speak for all of us. 

PH: Do you think either possibility would work?

TD: The latter could work, but only in the face of real crisis or incredible technological advancement. People would make decisions as a group like that only  because they were cut off from everyone else or if there was no need to get anything from outside of the group. Either its a city-state by necessity, or by automation. 

PH: Which you’ve already established has its own problems. What about the first possibility, getting new dreamers?

TD: Certainly that’s still possible, but it is becoming more difficult. I blame that in part because of the rise of media that can project the dominant dream, it makes it harder to think up anything new. Plus, the people constructing this dream-media are also profiting off of it, so its self-feeding. 

PH: What would your dream be if you could enact it?

TD: Lots of drugs. Lots of sex. Lots of art. Enough science to keep it interesting. Arranged outlets for concentrated violence at nobody’s expense. A reduction in the human population. Domesticated bears for pets. A lovely sort of chaos.

Relatability is Not Necessary for Good Art

2dafe98810c6da98e70940a4a1d421ce

With any sort of artistic creation, particularly those that one hopes to show to the world and maybe make a bit of a living off of, there always seems to come up the question of how relatable the work is. Does it speak to the audience on a personal level? Do they feel drawn in to the work? Can it run parallel to the lives of the audience? These can be very important artistic questions, but recently it feels like these questions (or perhaps certain answers: “yes yes yes!”) have taken large portions of artistic critique and development hostage. It seems like nothing kills art faster than a casual “it’s not relatable” or “it’s not relevant,” and that’s terrible.

This topic surged up to the cultural forefront for awhile in 2014 after Ira Glass tweeted

@JohnLithgow as Lear tonight: amazing. Shakespeare: not good. No stakes, not relatable. I think I’m realizing: Shakespeare sucks

It didn’t take long for a slew of articles to pour out dissecting Glass’s claim that Shakespeare sucks, most of which happily concluded that he was wrong. Many focused on pointing out how Shakespeare could be relevant, how it could speak to the human condition, etc. etc. Rebecca Mead, however, took a different approach in her New Yorker article The Scourge of “Relatability” and attacked the notion of “relatabliliy” being an effective yardstick for artistic criticism or legitimacy.

What are the qualities that make a work “relatable,” and why have these qualities come to be so highly valued? To seek to see oneself in a work of art is nothing new, nor is it new to enjoy the sensation. Since Freud theorized the process of identification—as a means whereby an individual develops his or her personality through idealizing and imitating a parent or other figure—the concept has fruitfully been applied to the appreciation of the arts. Identification with a character is one of the pleasures of reading, or of watching movies, or of seeing plays, though if it is where one’s engagement with the work begins, it should not be where critical thought ends. The concept of identification implies that the reader or viewer is, to some degree at least, actively engaged with the work in question: she is thinking herself into the experience of the characters on the page or screen or stage.

But to demand that a work be “relatable” expresses a different expectation: that the work itself be somehow accommodating to, or reflective of, the experience of the reader or viewer. The reader or viewer remains passive in the face of the book or movie or play: she expects the work to be done for her. If the concept of identification suggested that an individual experiences a work as a mirror in which he might recognize himself, the notion of relatability implies that the work in question serves like a selfie: a flattering confirmation of an individual’s solipsism.

To appreciate “King Lear”—or even “The Catcher in the Rye” or “The Fault in Our Stars”—only to the extent that the work functions as one’s mirror would make for a hopelessly reductive experience. But to reject any work because we feel that it does not reflect us in a shape that we can easily recognize—because it does not exempt us from the active exercise of imagination or the effortful summoning of empathy—is our own failure.

Shortly after, Derek Thompson rebuffed Mead’s article by writing The Power of Relatability in The Atlantic:

Relatability might be a neologism, but like a King Lear play set in 21st century Washington, D.C., it merely puts a modern dress on an old idea. Many of the best plays have—and still do—relate explicitly and purposefully to their contemporary audiences. It wasn’t by accident that Oscar Wilde repeatedly skewered the upper-crust of Victorian society and became beloved for it. After all, his audience was upper-crust Victorian. It wasn’t coincidence that Shakespeare, writing for an audience that often featured sitting English monarchs, wrote 10 plays about former English monarchs.

If you don’t like relatability, you’re going to hate the history of American theater, which has been steadfastly devoted to writing plays about typical Americans, living in typical America. Long Day’s Journey Into Night is nearly autobiographical and, famously, scarringly relatable to any family that has suffered from a form of addiction; Angels in America and The Normal Heart took on the AIDS crisis at the height of the AIDS crisis. A Raisin in the Sun? Death of a Salesmen? These aren’t exactly Mesozoic dramas. The Crucible might be the most famous American play that isn’t about contemporary American life, but as a metaphor for America in the Cold War, its politics couldn’t be any more current for its contemporary audience.

The point isn’t that great art has to be about contemporary life. I’m not sure great art has to be anything. But so much wonderful theater has served, historically, as an exaggerated mirror held up to a country at a specific moment in history that it’s shocking to see a writer blast the idea that “[a play] be somehow accommodating to, or reflective of, the experience of the reader or viewer.” Ira Glass did not invent the idea that great plays ought to reflect their times.

I find Mead’s argument more interesting (or, perhaps, more “relatable’). Yes, Thompson is correct in pointing out that Shakespeare wrote plays that featured English monarchs for English monarchs, but the vast majority of his audience was, in fact, the groundlings. Theater was a popular form of entertainment across classes, and his use of language simultaneously balances poetic verse, innovate new words, and baudy humor to keep everyone listening. The fact is, Shakespeare wasn’t just good at making his plays relatable because he felt the need to speak to the human condition, Shakespeare had to keep his audience satisfied to make his living. To bore the groundlings could result in verbal (or physical) abuse of the actors, to displease the nobility could result in losing commissions, funds, or your head. Shakespeare didn’t just relate, he pandered. He pandered unabashedly. There’s plenty of interpretations that indicate Shakespeare was putting in some subversive themes and suggestions between the lines, but that probably wasn’t what made his plays popular at the time. This isn’t to say that making things relatable is bad, but it shouldn’t the be-all and end-all goal of art. Art doesn’t have to play on the personally relatable to be emotional, or meaningful, or just plain interesting. The things that have made Shakespeare last are the broad sweeps, not the specifics. Plays like Angels in America and even the majority of Tennessee William’s work are captivating and powerful, but it’s not like we can say that the majority of people truly have experienced what is happening in these works. What makes many of these plays interesting is how they take topics that were not being talked about, that most people did not relate to, and talked about it anyway. I do not pretend to say I relate to the pain of an AIDS affected gay man, because that’s not who I am, but why should I need to relate to find the story interesting? Why should I need to relate to that experience to feel compassion? To try and boil down these experiences into relatability just further commercializes them. Consider bell hooks concept of eating the other: “where white individuals literally ‘consume’ images and representations of racialized others in order to feel pleasures. She claims that within this ideological structure, privileged white individuals act ‘on the assumption that the exploration into the world of difference, into the body of the Other, will provide a greater, more intense pleasure than any that exists in the ordinary world of one’s familiar racial group.'” (Critical Media Studies: An Introduction, 1st Edition, 145)

In his New York Times opinion piece To Vibrebrate: In Defense of Strangeness Johannes Göransson rejects Matthew Zapruder’s Claim that “superficial introduction of confusion is not how great poetry is made, nor how we’re brought closer to what is most difficult to say.”

Göransson writes:

Not all poems prioritize everyday language. Some poems value arguments and narrative above the experience of language. Sometimes poems have mystical meanings. Zapruder rejects reading poems as riddles, but some poems are indeed riddles. While Zapruder argues that students are turned off when poems are treated as riddles, I have found the opposite to be true. Often students love riddles: they create the sense that words may not mean what they are supposed to (thus flouting his maxim that “One of the great pleasures of reading poetry is to feel words mean what they usually do in everyday life”). Riddles create a sense of mystery.

To further frustrate Zapruder’s binary, the riddle, with its ‘hidden’ meaning, is often keenly language-driven. Poems can be gorgeous precisely in their riddle-like mystery….

Masks and “disguises” are fascinating, and they can also be politically volatile. Masks unsettle identity-based hierarchies: the king might really be a pauper. I think about Raúl Zurita’s Purgatorio (trans. Anna Deeny Morales), the opening of a decades-long poem of resistance to the 1973 Chilean coup. The sequence opens with an image of Zurita’s ID papers coupled with a little poem that asserts that he’s in fact not at all Zurita, but the sex worker Rachel: “my friends think / I’m a sick woman / because I burned my cheek,” he writes (in Deeny’s translation), literally masking or disguising the biographical fact that, upon being released from prison, Zurita burnt his own cheek—an action he took to overwrite/memorialize his torture at the hands of government thugs. This single couplet and its accompanying image wears many masks, many disguises, many disfigurements, many defacements.

There’s another politics at play in the demand for the “straightforward,” one that is personal to me. As an immigrant, I know how beautiful a foreign language can seem when it mingles with your “native” language, or when you only half understand it, or how certain words take on multilingual echoes (The sound of the English word “barn” in Swedish means “children”). The idea that poetry—or language in general—is ever “straightforward” seems impossible to my immigrant ears and eyes.

But I also know how incredibly political foreign languages are in the current moment. All over the U.S., conservative protests insist we need to speak “English only.” Why? Perhaps foreign languages act as “disguises.” We don’t know what those foreigners might be saying; perhaps they are plotting revolutions in those weird words. But I think the opposite is also true—what foreign ideas, languages, and syntaxes is the immigrant masking with their English? A foreigner can never be “straightforward.” There’s always another language mingling with the English, deforming it, transforming it, constantly shifting it. And vigilant people across the country guard against any accent, any slip-up as a sign of a foreign threat.

People love riddles, they love curiosities, they love unlocking patterns. Sometimes those patterns are those that are personable – the seemingly everyday moments of life we all cherish – other times those patterns are bizarre or inscrutable. Sometimes it is the very breaking of the everyday pattern that intrigues us. I do not subscribe to the belief that art should have “meaning,” but I also dislike that which is proclaimed to be “meaningless.” What I enjoy about art is its ability to be utterly unexpected even when it is being mundane or “personable.” I like that art can simply be interesting, relatable or not.

Gomorrah: A Poem For The Fourth of July

Watch us here,
Mark us, our Empire, our World,
Be careful not to choke on your eyeful:
Our Irradiated, gold fields with their hands
     Stuck like beetles in tree sap.
     Unspeaking their woes with tanned lips,
     Choking behind masks and wasps.
     This is not what they wanted, but
     This is what they are given.
Our skylines with firefly eyes
     behind which, every night, is a beating.
     We were fools and couldn’t stand that
     these towers stood equal with a woman
     and her torch, so we built them higher
     and with fists that have no need to protect
     a flame or body.
Our Railways that straddle our waste
     from belt to sunken, feasting chains.
     What promise, what commerce, came from
     this iron stampede? The massacre of
     red, of green, of yellow: the mixing pot
     is our blood bag, struggling to pump
     the keep pure hope alive.
Gomorrahns: gun-soaked Gomorrahns,
     sign-waving Gomorrahns,
     white-housed Gomorrahns,
     murder-aquitting Gomorragns all.
     Our hands are so small because they
     never practiced holding another heart.
I would rather be a cockroach, K,
     than a patriot with their property.
     Be a smear before being a flag;
     be hurt by apples,
     before throwing down seeds.
What are we that worship a man with a
     kettle-hat equal to he who slew a mountain?
     A bum to he who wielded Freedom
     like Moses threw down Laws?
What are we that we do not pacify
     the birthing cry of gunpowder smoke
     that howled with war once, then again?
     But relish the thought of eternal birth,
     to kill another in the name of one liberty
     again and again?
Gomorrahns, we live on fatburgs
     we live on the backs of cleaners.
     Humanity is cleaner than ourselves in
     Its will to fix a nation of clogs.
     They have no need for voices anymore,
     they have learned to breathe without air,
     only swords are worth their lungs.
Hypocrites? No, for they will cut us down
     for virtue where we cut for fat.
     They will cleanse the vermin that
     would cleanse the wheat.
     They see the poverty in our cornucopia,
     They know what needs be done.
So stand aside your liberties,
     around your waiting coals.
     Wait upon your land, bought by
     ancestors from strangers.
     Stolen by strangers from strangers
     before them: the first blood of all Nations.
They are the swift God’s hand you have been waiting for:
     it is dark, it is unfair, it is beautiful, it is just,
     it is vengeful, it is unmanly, it is sick, it is real,
     it is scarred, it is afraid, it is what it is and
     it is not you.
Be grateful it is not you, your blessing
     is to be the first blood of a new Nation.
     Better than before.
     Welcome the difference.
     Gomorrah, it is time you become
     America.

Manifestophilis (Interviews With The Devil): Myths, Gods, Magic

Patrick Higgins: You’re very well read. 

The Devil: Well, when so much of the literary canon is about you it can be very useful to keep your finger on the pulse. Find out when you need to shake things up. Keep the heart beating.

PH: Would you say you’re the most prominent character in the history of literature?

TD: Probably not directly, no. But if you include me as an indirect figure. As a force, then maybe I could make the case. 

PH: You mean if we account for thematic and aesthetic elements we can still find you as a character in works where you don’t appear directly? 

TD: Something like that. Even structurally, any story of betrayal in a way can be traced back to me. At least in the West, but also in a lot of other places. Ancient Egyptian mythology, the Prometheus myth, all those stories are a web. And I crawl through that web to find my way into new stories. 

PH: Now you’re sounding like Anansi. 

PH: [Laughs] You caught that did you? Yeah, I kind of stole that bit. 

PH: So you’re not Anansi? You’re not the same person?

TD: No, we simply have some overlap in our interests. 

PH: Do you work together regularly?

TD: I wouldn’t say so. We just encounter each other sometimes when we attend events that appeal to the both of us. 

PH: Such as?

TD: Food-related stuff mostly. [laughs] Sneaking into potlucks, soup kitchens, wakes. Sometimes we see the same bands.

PH: Talking about yourself as a character in literature, you seem to suggest you have some power as an archetype.

TD: In the Jungian sense?

PH: Right, but you mention overlap with Anansi. Does that complicate this model of comparison? What stops me from saying that a story follows a Horusian, or Promethean model, rather than a Satanic model?

TD: Well nothing. They are quite fluid, but it’s a matter of publicity in some sense. I’ve got a very clear public image. Multiple public images really, and that image is in a lot more minds that Horus or Prometheus probably is. But I think that it should also be mentioned that figures like me, archetypal figures, can also be possessed by archetypes. Like, there’s me the trickster, or me the rebellious son, or me the traitor, or me the tempter. We have many different forms. We are possessed by these personas, these instincts, and those in turn change how we want to influence the world and other people. 

PH: Have you read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods? 

TD: I suspected this would come up. Yes I’ve read it, and Anansi Boys, and Good Omens.

PH: So you’re well-rounded in the recent utilization of mythology in contemporary fiction. 

TD: Perhaps, though there’s plenty more. American Gods is probably the most accessible and popular. It’s a well written book, interesting ideas, decent plot. 

PH: As someone who has interacted with Anansi would you agree with Neil Gaiman’s portrayal of the spirit? 

TD: It’s a yes-and-no situation. Very difficult to put into words. Again, as I said, there are many ways us so-called supernatural figures can be represented and do represent ourselves, and there is a battle there. Different figures are pitted against each other and compared in and across systems of belief, but I think it’s dangerous to equivocate cultural symbolism and trends to explicit religious beliefs and patterns. 

PH: So gods can’t be simply born by people believing enough? 

TD: They can if that’s what you’re trying to do. If you sit down and say I’m going to make a religion and make a religion, you’ve got a God. But saying that advertising, philosophy, symbols, things that spread are inherently religious because they affect the mind and belief is different. I would say it’s magical but I wouldn’t qualify it as religious. Or even spiritual. 

PH: Going back a bit, though, how does this play into your opinions of Gaiman’s work? I can see a criticism of his portrayal of new gods like The Technical Boy, but what about the old gods?

TD: Well, since Anansi is a cultural god of significant importance, and Gaiman is providing an inherently Americanized portrayal, it can cut away the bone of what Anansi is. The Gods in these works have to be generalized even when the author is doing his best to tie them back to their original roots. He has to melt down the archetypes into the mixing pot. I don’t fault him for this, it is about the Great American Melting Pot after all, but readers don’t always seem to understand that what makes gods and spirits and myths important is their ability to personally relate. Gaiman mentions in Anansi Boys how Anansi stories developed into Br’er Rabbit stories, and they also shows many synchronicities with Native American trickster stories, but I don’t think the message is that these things are godly because they are around us. These things are godly because people care about them and utilize them. When we say that media is a god, well why? Because it’s ubiquitous? People don’t worship things simply because they’re around us, or even because they’re important, there has to be something more. Some people may worship the media, but I think only a few people really actually feel a deep, spiritual connection there. Again, there’s a difference between a passingly developed addiction and worship.

PH: Would you say this legitimizes or delegitimizes the philosophy and practice of Chaos Magick developed by Peter Carroll, Robert Anton Wilson and the like?

TD: Well, I don’t think that Chaos Magick can really be delegitimized. As a practice it’s really just trying to break down the principles of what magickal practice is and how it can be used most efficiently by the individual. The problem is that it can go anywhere from that, and people go pretty ugly places. Giving anybody the tools to remake reality is problematic, especially when so many people are too lazy to read the whole instruction manual. It’s hard to say that contemporary Chaos Magick at all resembles the practice that Austin Osman Spare was trying to develop.

PH: Is there a proper use then?

TD: Most hardcore chaos magicians, the traditionalists, though they wouldn’t call themselves that, would probably say no. I say it’s art. Art is the proper application of magick. It’s the remodeling of the interior and exterior world, it’s a force in and of itself but it doesn’t necessarily force anything. It can only hope to succeed by the measure of its voice. 

PH: So then I guess it goes without saying that magick is real?

TD: Naturally. There’s just no way of guaranteeing when it works and when it doesn’t.

PH: Why did the summoning ritual work when I called you?

TD: First, because you had food. Second, because I knew you wanted to write, and that’s what I’m saying. What you’re doing is making a piece of art that speaks for itself. Even though this is an interview it doesn’t use my voice or your voice, it’s something else that’s been synthesized through many different powers. That’s a worthwhile magical practice. I don’t usually appear to people who just want money anymore, not unless there’s something worthwhile they’re going to do with it.

PH: So the diagrams and summoning circles didn’t have any effect at all? 

TD: Not really, that’s all just there for the sake of appearances. Aesthetic. 

PH: See, but I don’t think you’d have come if I didn’t do it. In addition to the other stuff you want to make sure you can keep up appearances. If you come with all the menacing threads it encourages me to follow through, and it encourages more of this artistic magickal practice. 

TD: Now you’re beginning to get it.

Safe Choices, Healthy Choices

In my experience as a growing human being, and in my interactions with other people in that time, I think I’ve come to realize one of the little discussed, universal difficulties of life: the difficulty of determining when the choices we make that make us feel safe can be unhealthy, unfair, and harmful in the long term. I’m not trying to express the “don’t play it safe! Let yourself fail! Seize the day!” kind of mentality that celebrities talk about on campuses to encourage others, though it perhaps stems from a same place. I mean something more closely tied to mental and emotional health, and the way we sometimes become destructive in our efforts to feel safe.

I think most, if not all, people must at some time in their lives develop their own set of methods or tools in response to truly bad situations to give themselves what little safety they can. This is just a natural and necessary response that all life forms have: when we are in truly terrible circumstances, when we feel we are danger, we use whatever power we have to give ourselves safety. The problem, though, is that these responses are built specifically to deal with specific, terrible circumstances, and because of this they can carry the negativity and danger of those circumstances with them. When someone feels terrible or unsafe it is not their fault; but sometimes the tools we’ve adapted to use to develop safety from truly terrible circumstances, when brought outside of those contexts into states of uncertain variables and other potential solutions, can end up injecting the negativity of the original circumstances to ensure that the “solution” works. This can be as simple as making a snap judgement and discarding people based on behaviors or features that remind of harmful individuals from the past; it can be building addictions or obsessions to retreat into; it can be social withdrawal or the creation of emotional walls. It doesn’t always feel like we’re doing these things, but often that’s because we’re still seeing them through the lens of the past, where these could have been necessary methods of protection. This may seem obvious, but it can be hard to recognize these problems in ourselves. It’s hard to see that sometimes very simple, minor decisions and patterns in our lives can be destructive or unhealthy, and it can be hard to see that people around us who have clearly destructive behaviors are sometimes just trying to find a kind of safety and just haven’t been provided the proper tools by their experiences.

I don’t know if I can speak specifically on how to move beyond this problem, but I suppose it is important to recognize that it is something that happens, and I truly believe this is something most people will struggle with whether or not they realize it. I know I still make a lot of reactionary decisions, and live in habits of safety to the detriment of myself and others. I hope to improve this. I also hope that maybe this resonates with others, and maybe that can help people move forward into a more stable safety. I don’t mean that people should discard their feelings. Feeling uncomfortable or unsafe is very serious, and should be acknowledged in any situation, but habits can be dangerous and only a superficial solution. If there’s any first step, I suppose it’s to find the people in our lives that legitimately do make us feel safe, and who care about us and talk and listen,  and to acknowledge that those people are there, and to know that they can be relied on (and shouldn’t be taken for granted) when we move forward in life. I hope that this is helpful to those who read this, because I know it can be painful and difficult process to uncover and fix these patterns. It is hard, but it is worthwhile.

-PH