Gently Becoming a Beast

With papers to grade, stories to complete, and a mind-heart fusion that wants to focus on only one area (i.e., person, i.e., woman), the last thing I wanted to do was put aside an hour for jiu-jitsu, the gentle art of fierce joint manipulation. Okay, you got me–the last thing that I wanted to do was to grade Comp essays. Regardless, much like getting up early and taking a cold shower, I always am glad that I did after the ordeal.

I currently rank as a blue belt with three stripes. My instructor says that the primarily qualification for a purple belt is to make his life miserable. Lately, I have been bringing him much grief. Tonight I rolled with an assistant instructor who is a purple belt, thirty pounds bigger than I, and twenty years younger than I. Toward the end of our non-stop twenty-minute roll, he released a hoary sigh of frustration. After he eventually made me tap with an arm bar (and he did), he said, “You are, by far, the most difficult person to tap.” Though I lost the bout, I will claim the moral victory. I told him that, at my age, that is all I need to hear.

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu has truly transformed my life. Not only has it molded my body and bolstered my cardio, putting me in better shape than most of my students half my age, it has brought me improved self-confidence through, often brutal, physical struggle, and has allowed me to master my body and its movements in ways I would have never before imagined that I could. This beautiful art has revealed to me the strategic importance of leverage, angle, and frame. Recently I was able to tap out a newbie. Big deal, right? Well, considering that this dude was, at nearly three hundred pounds, nearly twice my weight (not to mention his height advantage), I find that victory inspiring and a testament to the art itself, especially considering that for the majority of the fifteen-to-twenty-minute roll, he lay on top of me. Excruciating.  (As an aside, for those not initiated, you may wonder what makes a twenty-minute roll anything to write/blog home about. Oh, dear reader, try grappling with anyone of any size for more than a few minutes without rest. Trust me, you will find that three minutes can be exhausting, let alone twenty or, as I did recently with my instructor, forty minutes.)

Given that I started my odyssey, sadly, later in life, I know that I will never reach the heights that I could have reached had I started as a child. Still, as Jack Donovan so poignantly points out in his Becoming a Barbarian, manhood is essentially a tragic affair, for we are born to struggle, as stacked as the odds may be against us, and only the cowardly and effeminate attempt to defy this noble fate of ours.

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Hammer Time

Recently I watched the mesmerizing You Were Never Really Here, starring the always captivating Joaquin Phoenix. (FYI fact: I had a friend whose father was the firefighter who futilely performed CPR on the beautifully doomed River Phoenix all those years ago outside Depp’s Viper Room in Hollywood.)

I am not familiar with Lynne Ramsay’s work, but I may have to investigate. Watching this film alone–as I usually am wont to do with films I truly want to enjoy, I could not peel my eyes from the screen, truly a visually addicting experience.

Not giving away anything too much: Phoenix plays a shell-shocked vet who has taken up rescuing young girls from ebephophiliacs. He looks crazy as hell and knows how to wield a hammer. The first rescue scene will haunt you. It will also forever change the way you listen to Rosie and The Originals’ “Angel Baby.”

Though not a father, I think that if I were one, I could find myself delving into this kind of madness. Any man–or woman–who wants to prey upon children or young teens (as our global elite does with impunity) deserves a swift hammer strike (or ten) across the face.

Since we are in the mood, here is the song itself:

 

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True Condition/Tinged with Doom

I return to Cyril Connolly’s The Unquiet Grave as I do to my favorite drink: I know what to expect, and I have probably had one too many encounters with it, but I always come away pleased, refreshed, consoled–and maybe even inspired. Connolly was, at the time this work was written, approaching the age I am now approaching. He was struggling with the disappointment of not having produced that which he suspected he was capable of producing, a feeling that I, too, have come to know all too well. He was also coping with a recent divorce. Because of this, I gave a copy to someone whose wife had left him and their two little girls. He found great comfort in this work. In fact, he said that it was one of two books that he carried with him while roaming Scotland.

What I reread today–Connolly writes:

I am now forced to admit that anxiety is my true condition, occasionally intruded on by work, pleasure, melancholy or despair. 

How apt this is. Perhaps this describes any modern person; I know that this describes me. I am a pacer. I pace when I teach. I pace when I think. I fidget when I try to explain things. Both my parents are nervous people, so, naturally, I blame them. Many of the animals that they have taken in have, quite humorously, assumed their nervous personalities, much in the way that spouses begin to resemble each other.

Ever since I was a child, I have played this destructive game: I will replay an event or day ad infinitum, morbidly adding an element of chaos or destruction to each replay. I have never, as far as I can remember, been able to take anything for what it is and accept it. Everything is tinged with doom.

For Connolly, his primary source of anxiety was not producing anything of lasting value. He comments, “As we grow older, in fact, we discover that the lives of most human beings are worthless except in so far as they contribute to the enrichment and emancipation of the spirit.” For him, this meant producing a masterpiece, for “the true function of the writer is to produce a masterpiece and that no other task is of any consequence.”

I fear that cowardice and laziness will keep me from writing what I know that I can write were I only to focus and to commit. The hope of producing something of value is one of the most driving forces in my life, as I do not believe I have much else to contribute to the “enrichment of the spirit” apart from my writing.

I am a persistent, stubborn fatalist. I do not expect things to work out for me in any area of life, yet I stupidly–perhaps–trudge forward. I doubt my abilities as a teacher. I know that I can be a fickle and selfish friend. I am a moody and only reluctantly faithful son. I can be petty, cruel, and vicious. What can I even say about my romantic failures? Much, but I will maintain a prudential silence in that regard. Above all, as we have gathered from Boethius, the rota fortunae cannot be predicted to spin any one way with any consistency.  Perhaps the only consistency is that we will be consistently disappointed, especially when our individual vices have yet to be rooted.

I feel that I am authentic only when I write in that I am fulfilling what I was meant to do. All other times, I may as well be working that summer job to tide me over until the fall. How much of life is, for what it is worth, a summer job?

 

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Ephemeral Art

In the opening to The Wit and Humor of Oscar Wilde, the editor writes that                          “[c]onversation is an ephemeral art, and as the autumn breezes blow the brown leaves to eternity, the spring green freshness becomes only a memory.”

Ephemeral art::art of the ephemeral:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;                                                                                      Petals on a wet, black bough. ~Ezra Pound

The exalting joy, yet the terrible fate, of conversation is that it is nothing more than leaves blown to eternity. This serves us well; for the most part, we do not want our conversations recorded and remembered and replayed. However, what about those rare instances in which we land the perfect zinger (as opposed to constructing a witty rejoinder days after someone has already made fun of us), find ourselves on the receiving end of a well-deserved compliment, or finally admit our true feelings for someone who has haunted our hearts?

I suppose that is one way that smartphones may actually benefit humanity. Maybe. (I did have a dear friend who had the irritating habit of recording me when I was unaware and, often, inebriated.)

Speaking of Oscar Wilde, the dandy genius, let us relish a few of his witticisms–perhaps they may linger longer than leaves blown in the wind.

“A man who moralizes is usually a hypocrite, and a woman who moralizes is invariably plain.”

“Rich bachelors should be heavily taxed. It is not fair that some men should  be happier than others.”

“Women are meant to be loved, not to be understood.”  (soooooo true)

“A woman will flirt with anybody in the world as long as other people are looking on.”

“American girls are as clever at concealing their parents as English women are at concealing their past.”

“She looks like a woman with a past. Most pretty women do.”

“Women have a wonderful instinct about things. They can discover everything except the obvious.” (damnnnnnnn)

“Women, as some witty Frenchman once put it, inspire us with the desire to do masterpieces, and always prevent us from carrying them out.”

“Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel certain that they mean something else.”

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

“Ambition is the last refuge of failure.”

“I am not in favor of long engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out each other’s character before marriage, which I think is never advisable.” (so fucking true–take it from me, never allow an engagement to persist for three years without some move)

“How marriage ruins a man! It’s as demoralizing as cigarettes, and far more expensive.”

“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.”

“Prayer must never be answered: if it is, is ceases to be prayer and become correspondence.”

“Skepticism is the beginning of Faith.”

“[M]y duty is a thing I never do, on principle.”

“One should always play fairly–when one has the wining card.”

“The Americans are certainly hero-worshipers, and always take heroes from the criminal classes.”  (*slides shiv between the ribs*)

“Oh, I’m so glad you’ve come. There are a hundred things I don’t want to say to you.”

“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”

“A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite and it leaves one unsatisfied.” (for the win!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

“The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.”

“I can resist everything except temptation.” (heh heh heh)

“If your sins find you out, why worry! It is when they find you in, that trouble begins.”

“The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” (gospel truth)

 

 

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Time for a Little Thought Experiment

Most of us are familiar with the mildly lingering regret that comes with meeting a person whom we wished we had met years ago, primarily either when we or that other person still possessed a particular relational availability, or maybe simply because that person could have told us something from which we could have greatly benefited. I believe that the process of discovering insight can work in a similar manner. I have recently finished F. Roger Devlin’s Sexual Utopia in Power. The eponymous essay of this powerful collection of essays was originally published in 2006, but I was made aware of it only through its Nine Banded Books reissue nearly ten years later. From having feasted upon a steady diet of red-pill offerings for the past years, I cannot say that any of the particular dishes served in this work were new to me; however, the manner in which they have been prepared (i.e., the clarity and cogency of the argumentation) make this tome valuable even to most experienced of red-pill gourmands. I can only imagine, though, with regret, what a different person I might now be and what situations I could have avoided had I discovered this way of thinking back in 2006.

The reality is that I could quote from nearly every page, so I am practicing intellectual restraint by quoting only the following. This passage led to me to wander back into my thought laboratory, hence why I am quoting it:

I have come across male commentators, for example, maintaining that professors who “prey upon” female students should (in certain cases) be treated as rapists. This is a radical departure from the Christian view of women as moral agents, and the high status of women in Western society is essentially bound up with such a view. As far as I can see, if we are unwilling to hold women strictly accountable for their actions, we have only one logical recourse available: a return to the ancient Roman legal doctrine that a woman is a perpetual minor.

The usual qualification: I am not saying there does not exist men–and women!–who are predators and who will, either through strength of body or mind or will or a combination, attempt to subjugate unwilling would-be victims. However, what needs to be acknowledged is that once a person reaches a certain age (though this age will vary depending upon a host of factors), if there is any amount of consensual activity, then both parties bear the moral burden of that activity, though one party may be more responsible/guilty than the other.

Let us take an example that no one who wants to keep his/her job and a respectable position in polite society will publicly discuss: campus date rape. There is a qualitative difference between the following scenarios: one, a man lurks in the shadows and physically overpowers a struggling woman on her way to the library or to her apartment and viciously tears away her clothing to insert forcibly his penis inside of her and, two, an alcohol-infused horny frat boy who went too far after a woman willingly came to his fraternity home and willingly separated herself from her female friends and willingly drank herself to oblivion and willingly went back with said frat boy to his bedroom. In the first scenario, the woman, according to most anyway, bears absolutely no responsibility for her actions and should be pitied accordingly. In the second, as unfortunate as the situation may be and as much as I, personally, do not care for frat boys, the woman bears some level of responsibility for abandoning all forms of prudence, especially given the ubiquity of such stories. However, the legal and moral environment in which we live today is one in which the woman in scenario two is absolved of all responsibility in the matter, putting her on the same moral and legal plane as the woman in scenario one, which is unjust and an insult to the woman in scenario one, especially if she happens to be someone who makes a point of avoiding potentially hazardous parties.

The aforementioned passage made me think the following: let us give women a full moral pass, absolving them of all moral agency, as if they were minors. In doing so, however, we need to try to be as consistent as we can; as minors they should not be allowed to do the following: own property, work beyond a strictly-set number of hours each week–and only in establishments suited for minors (e.g., neither corporations nor academia), take out loans, drive, vote, go to college, stay out past a certain time, and, in general, stick their noses in the affairs of men–the true adults of society. Of course, this would make things rather difficult if one wanted to marry a woman, but surely a little inconsistency could allowed for the survival of the species.

 

 

 

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Everyone Is His Own News

While I do not intend to come across a Linh Dinh fanboy (this makes for my second Dinh post in a row), his latest submission at the Unz Review beautifully laments a postliterate America. He begins by reminiscing on the pleasure that he used to take in reading various newspapers, both the corporate kind and the alternative weeklies. While many newspapers may have only encouraged their readers to be “uniformly brainwashed,” the real virtue of a newspaper was the insight it gave Dinh into the particular personality of a town/city: “Traveling to a new town, I always looked forward to browsing its newspaper, for here was its self-portrait, exotic and absolutely inaccessible to me previously.”  However, with the transition from print to the screen, the medium metamorphosis itself has brought about a change in not just what we read but how we read and digest information:

Whatever its flaws, the local newspaper gave each community a social forum and common culture, and though newspapers haven’t died off completely, the remaining ones are eviscerated, and hardly read, for nearly everyone is on social media, all day long, where they can broadcast themselves. From reading about their town, people now upload endless selfies and self-important proclamations. Everyone is his own news, superstar and universe. Self-publishing, each man is an insanely prolific author, of gibberish, mostly, delivered to almost nobody, but it’s all good, for he can endlessly worship his preening self, on a screen, an intoxicating experience. With FaceBook [sadly, I know this as sic], Twitter and Instagram, everybody is famous all the time, to himself. 

As I reread and type this, I realize that this statement indicts bloggers as well. Well, then, why should lovers of the non-self-promoting printed word continue their clumsy efforts to co-opt a medium that inherently destabilizes what they value most about the craft of writing? Linh gives one consolation: the Internet “has allowed deeply heretical views to surface, so that we can be swayed by writers who would otherwise be entirely silenced….” This consolation, though, may still prove to a net loss (heh heh), for there “are no coherent stories left, and no reflection, and if something makes sense, it can only do so for a flash, before it’s washed away by a deluge of lies and trivia. Nearly as soon as something is read, or rather, skimmed, it’s permanently forgotten.”

 

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Rot More Beautifully

Vietnamese-born, American-raised Linh Dinh is a writer whom I discovered years later than I wish I had; however, I am thankful that have I discovered him at all, and I must thank the politically/culturally raucous site The Unz Review and its founder’s, Ron Unz’s, willingness to promote dissident writers. Though a published poet, Dinh may be better known for his ruminations on the crumbling American empire. While I plan in the coming weeks to publish a review of his highly engrossing (and incredibly affordable, especially given the quality of the content) Postcards from the End of America, I want look at his postcard about a city in which I used to live (twice–fool me once//fool me twice–the shame is all mine) and to which I still have connections: Jackson, MS.

To begin, one must understand that Dinh’s odysseys across the continental forty-eight find their inspiration in a statement by (one of my favorite writers) Evelyn Waugh: “There is no place that isn’t worth visiting once.” Developing this, Dinh believes that          “[t]here is no place that isn’t worth visiting a bunch of times, with each subsequent visit richer than the last” (21). However, unlike those who believe that one can experience the body and soul of a place from the interstate or from behind glass and metal, license-less Dinh takes buses to his destinations, and once arriving, he begins his ambulatory adventures, claiming that one can get to know a locale only on foot: “Anything that’s seen through a screen or windshield becomes ephemera, with its death nearly instant. You don’t have to switch channels or run over it, it will disappear by itself. All screens and windshields have been erected to block us from intercourse” (20). By putting himself in sticky situations, as anyone who still walks through shadier (Read: older, more attractive) sections of any downtown knows, this man has died for our automotive sins of omission and embraces the world where the rubber, most decidedly, does not meet the road.

In his postcard entitled “Free Grub in Jackson,” he narrates his brief passage through Mississippi’s capitol city. His description of downtown immediately struck me as accurate and accessible only to one who is passing through a place without prior attachment: “Everything was grimly functional, at best, or else abandoned. There was no art or flirtation, no life” (270). Though it has been a few years since I (nervously) trotted through downtown Jackson, this couplet captures what I remember completely.

Evidently having done his homework about the city, Dinh writes: “The racial tension of the sixties culminated in the police killing of two black Jackson State students in 1970. White flight then commenced [Brandon. Flowood. Madison.], suburban malls were built, so now, the empty and wrecked buildings are scattered throughout downtown…, but this decay is all too common across much of Mississippi, for many of its cities and towns are like quainter versions of post-industrial Detroit” (271). How true. Quainter versions of post-industrial Detroit–a comparison that I have felt for years, but have not had this expression to capture my inchoate suspicion until prodded by Dinh.

Dinh then gives a summary of Jackson mayor Chokwe Lumumba’s brief tenure in office (2013-14), one that ended with a death that had some speculating that he may have worried the right/wrong people in the federal government. I had left Jackson by that point, but my brother, still living in Jackson at that time and a cautious supporter of Lumumba, kept me abreast of the mayor’s political leanings.  Dinh rightly compares much of Lumumba’s social advocacy for inner-city youth and his secessionist-rooted nationalistic yearnings for his people to that of whites who desire the same, but who are, for all the obvious reasons, prohibited from being as free in their public expression and political activism as their differently-colored-but-ideologically-comparable brothers and sisters. Yet, as Dinh continues to point out, such mulitcultural-free environments are the provinces only of those who can afford them. The working poor and the middles classes, despite their political preferences and attempts at self-determination, will continue to work and live in environments over which, for the most part, they have little agency or control. For how long, though, can the center continue not to hold? Per Mississippi: “From 1882 to 1968, white mobs lynched 539 blacks in Mississippi alone, the most in the entire nation, but now, there are white groups who keep tabs on the staggering number of black-on-white murders, maimings, rapes and recreational assualts” (274). Do you now, dear reader, see why only a dissident website can/will publish the work of Dinh? Unfortunately, most of America is not reading his observational realtalk to its detriment. (There is also a brief discussion of Lumumba’s mayoral predecessor, Frank Melton, but purchase Dinh’s book to read about Melton’s amusingly juvenile antics–you will not be disappointed. As my brother and I would laugh over a given, ahem, expedition, I found myself starting to admire the man in a weird way.)

He continues to recount his experiences on Farish Street, a street that I have visited only after more than a few drinks and in significant groups of people. The bar that I went to, in my opinion, unofficially markets itself as an authentic Black Encounter for non-blacks who want to risk their lives–or, at least, who do not mind getting accosted by smooth beggars–going to a Historic Black Area. Still, fun times: How many times have you seen a powerfully-voiced black woman sport a Metallica t-shirt on stage–or anywhere? Right. However, Dinh, apparently,  wandered into another bar: “Not just an old man’s bar, this was an old-fashioned establishment, and all over its walls, aging itself was mockingly celebrated…” (277). Whether it is the empire or the physical/mental decline of aging, there is little that any of us can do to change its course; why not mock it and have a helluva time in the process? There was a group gathered outside this bar around a grill. Though they were not intending to sell the meats of their labor, a lady (as only the South can produce–regardless of the color) told Dinh that she would give him a plate, and a plate she did give him: “sausage, pound cake and deviled eggs” (278). My mouth watered reading that passage. If you have not eaten in the South, especially Mississippi, then do not talk to me about soul food.

Mississippi may be the poorest state in the (Dis)Union, and we may have the poorest academic scores and the richest teenage pregnancy rates, but we, sure as Elvis is the king of rock ‘n’ roll, are a state that knows how to cook and eat and drink. Also, we are a state that is big on charity. On Dinh’s way to the Big Easy, he met a “homeless man with tattoos all over his face” (278). Did he get robbed? No, he got a piece of fried chicken, for according to the tattooed man, he “had enough, and was going to throw the rest away” (278). As Dinh observes, there is much to lament about the Magnolia State, but, then again, “[u]nder a lovely sun…things do rot more beautifully than with dirty snow” (271).

 

 

 

 

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