Tag Archives: spirituality

Infinite Crisis/Infinite Opportunity: Me + Phil Jimenez on Reimagining Creativity and Power

27 Jan
me-phil

Your Friendly Neighborhood Goofballs

What would you do if you had superpowers? And why is the answer for comic book heroes always, “beat some asshole up and send him to jail!” Why do our imaginations seem to turn so often to just, sort of, tidying up all the bad stuff. Couldn’t we dream bigger?

I had to investigate this weird imaginative limit, so I called up one of the most imaginative people I’m friends with, comic book writer/artist/creator, Phil Jimenez. Phil is probably best known for his work on Wonder Woman, and for being one of the first mainstream comic creators to talk about being gay. He’s also worked with creative warlock Grant Morrison, has drawn Spider-Man, created Otherworldand he teaches illustration.

Phil and I go all over the place here, but we’re always circling the potential of creativity pjand trying to avoid the word “power.” Why is everything framed in terms of power, anyway? To that end, we talk about Tempest, a DC character he revamped, Chris Claremont’s X-Men (particularly the Siege Perilous story lines and the Asgardian Wars – but don’t worry, you don’t have to speak comic geek to get it, we lay it out), the difference between collections of comics and absorbing the content of comics, and more.

Of course, it all relates back to the world at hand: Where many people are just learning to be heroes now. We’ve got all this creativity available to us at all times. So now what?

There’s a little mismatch between the audio and the video; I’m working on upgrading all my stuff, so if you have any desire to help me get better equipment, hit me up. In the meantime, I’m working out the best way to turn these videos – including the one I just did with Caitlin Doughty, the poetry reading by Martin Pousson, and my discussion with Dr. Chris Donaghue – into downloadable MP3s. I HAVE an Mp3 for this one, but I’m working out the best way to offer it as a downloadable file. Does that mean I’ll be a podcaster? Ahhhhh!

Chaos Magician + Renegade Anthroposophist = Podcast

5 Jan

IMG_4011Happy to announce I’m the first guest of 2017 on one of my favorite podcasts, Rune Soup, hosted by author and occultist, Gordon White. (If you want to skip past this stuff, just scroll down to the podcast.)

I found Gordon through a series of synchronicities: Last year, I spoke to an occulty friend of mine in San Francisco after three years of not communicating (nothing bad, we just sort of dropped out of each other’s lives). “Conner, you’ve got to read this book called The Chaos Protocols! It’s a completely new take on the economic climate and how to engage with money and the world we live in now,” he said. Or something to that effect.

I trust my friend’s taste, but to be honest, I did what I often do when people recommend stuff to me – I  thought, “Sure, sure. Another magick book. I’ll get to it in 2052.”

Later that day, I turned on a podcast that I love and am often happily frustrated by, Skeptiko, hosted by Alex Tsakiris (you may remember my conversation about scientific knowledge with Alex from December 2014). The guest? None other than Gordon White. It was a great interview.

Okay, okay, I’ll look this guy up. When I checked twitter, I saw that we followed each other. Huh? I had no memory of following him, nor of him following me. He must have just tweeted something awesome and I instinctively hit the Follow button. A few months later, I’d read The Chaos Ptotocols (it’s excellent, as are his other books, Star.Ships and Pieces of Eight) appeared on Episode 24 of his podcast, Rune Soup (which is also the name of his excellent occult-meets-politics website), and was becoming fast friends with Gordon.

My second appearance is even better than the first, in my opinion. We talk about 2017, gwwhy you shouldn’t despair, what the state of the world can mean for us spiritually, why it’s important to decolonize our thoughts, the power of forgiveness, and more. It’s all part of my work this year to radiate empowerment to you, dear reader, dear viewer, dear friend. This includes my upcoming online course, Radical Undoing: Decolonize Your Mind with Sex, Science, the Occult, and Philosophy (sign up!); which I talk about on the podcast.

Let’s become the prisms through which inspiration, imagination, and creative engagement refract and illuminate.

Here’s the podcast! Enjoy!

The Question of Light: Tilda Swinton’s speech at the Rothko Chapel

27 Jan

tildaBelow is the only place to read Tilda Swinton’s moving and radiant speech at the Rothko Chapel in Texas.  

Why do I have it?  A brief explanation.

Last year, actress Tilda Swinton was presented with the Rothko Chapel Visionary Award at the The Rothko Chapel, which is home to fourteen of Mark Rothko’s paintings.  It’s also a spiritual and human rights center whose mission is “to inspire people to action through art and contemplation, to nurture reverence for the highest aspirations of humanity, and to provide a forum for global concerns.”

One of her friends (writer William Middleton, mentioned in the unabridged version of the speech) sent the speech along to me and my boyfriend.  We read it aloud to each other, we paused, we marveled at the wisdom: art and light and compassion.  Then we read it again, inspired by its unfolding grace.  

When I tried to locate a link to the speech online, it was nowhere to be found.  I found photos of the event, the celebrities there, the gowns and the expressions.  But Swinton’s words, like many of the most beautiful words, were spoken, alive in the world, and then invisible again.

Below is Tilda Swinton’s speech.  The original version begins with words of gratitude,

“I had a dream last night that my brother told my father why I am here tonight and my father misheard the name of your most generous prize and declared those who honour me highly perceptive to be recognising me with a Contrary Award. I am sincerely humbled by any honour you do me.”

For the purposes of offering it to an audience not in the Chapel that evening, I’ve edited it slightly, removing parts that are directly referential to the event. The integrity of the speech remains, and it is an illumination.

***

“Discovering the landscape of a world inhabited by artists has been one of the miracles of my life.

I was brought up in a world where art was something owned and insured – usually inherited: but seldom if ever made by anyone I knew.

I had an early inkling that there was fun to be had over the hill, like the feeling when faced with a sunset that someone’s throwing a mega awesome party just beyond the nearest cloud, and I set off to join the caravan. Let’s just say I was in search of company, headed towards the glow, and I found it.

I believe that all great art holds the power to dissolve things: time, distance, difference, injustice, alienation, despair. I believe that all great art holds the power to mend things: join, comfort, inspire hope in fellowship, reconcile us to our selves.

Art is good for my soul precisely because it reminds me that we have souls in the first place.

We stand before a work of art and our spirit is lifted by it: amazing that someone is like us! We stand before a work of art and our spirit resists: amazing that someone is different!

It occurs to me on a regular basis that the cinema carries the potential to be perhaps the most humane of all gestures in art: the invitation to place ourselves, under the intimate cover of darkness, into another person’s shoes, behind another set of eyes, into another’s consciousness.  The ultimate compassion machine, the empathy engine.

Here is the darkness.

Here comes the light.

No8

– Rothko, Mark. No. 8. 1952. Private Collection.

When my children were ten, they came back from school elated one day to tell us they had started the supremely grown-up business of learning science.

When we asked them about their first lesson, they proudly announced they were addressing the study of light.

When we pressed them to describe how their teacher had approached the topic, with the bemusement of those genuinely unaware that there could ever be any other way, they told us that she had closed all the shutters and that they had sat in the dark for an hour.

Where I live in the far north of Scotland, the question of light is an axis central to every season, to every day.  In the topmost branches of June, the skies turn navy blue just before midnight and hover there until about 3:00 when the sun comes blooming up again.

At the turn of the year, on the other hand, a long lunch folds itself into the evening before you know it, and then into night-night blackness until way after the school bell in the morning.

A fisherman I know from a nearby village told me one day that he and his brothers had long ago pulled up a massive turtle, far from its tropical home, onto the deck of their boat in the North Sea off the east coast of Scotland.  He described how it lay there, unfathomably exotic and helpless amongst the mackerel, and that he would never forget their discussion about its fate.

‘What is it? No idea. Let’s kill it.’ Which they did. He said he had never regretted anything so much in his life, that he knew something failed in them at that moment.

We know what threatens our humanity the most; we shouldn’t need reminding.

The capacity to project our own shadow onto others, to edit our understanding of our own frailty, to hold it at bay, to play tag with our vulnerabilities.  You’re It, don’t touch me.  Our attachment to an idea of malevolent foreignness, of malign darkness: this is our Kryptonite… we know this well.

Swinton in Rothko Chapel (from W Magazine)

Swinton in Rothko Chapel (from W Magazine)

Over the weeks that my mother was dying, the year before last, I went out into the nights and trained my eyes to see in the dark.
It provided a particular kind of comfort undiscovered anywhere else at that time.  By then I had sat in the Chapel and the serene witness of Rothko’s velvet abyss accompanied me on those nightwalks. The truth is, it’s never been very far away, ever since.

The last feature film my friend Derek Jarman made before died of AIDS in 1994 was Blue.  For many, his masterpiece – an Yves Klein- blue screen and a soundtrack.. a work made just as his sight was leaving him as he became blind.

Maybe most of all great art encourages us, as does this film, as does Rothko, not to stop at opening our eyes, but to go on to close them, as well.  To go to what we know deepest, earliest and most clearly: that we humans are, in essence, humane, fair, kind.  Gracious. Light-filled. Wise.  And that our darkness is just what it is: an intrinsic and balancing ballast to all that loveliness.

…Perhaps the most radical suggestion we can make about ourselves is not that we are not different. Or even that we are. But that we are both.

I remember a very specific moment in my children’s development, around the age of seven, when the power of reason became the happening thing, as in, ‘ No I can’t climb up a tree with you now because this dinner needs cooking…etc?’’

Along with this magical property came the anthem that still rules in our household to this day, the mantra of it can be both.

‘Would I like the chocolate eclair or the fairy cake? Do I want to play with my Lego all night or, as it happens, go to sleep because I’m super tired?… Do I like my twin brother /sister or – could it be – that I really really hate him/her?”

…Light and Dark both at once.

Welcome to the age of reason, welcome to life.

…Wherever you are alone with yourself most will show in that magic mirror.  And bear your heart witness, and keep you company whenever you need to draw on it.

We come. We take it home with us. We never really leave.

The Rothko Chapel is a sacred space because of precisely this capacity it has to re-bind, to re-balance, to re-store, to re-inspire the spirit in its simple and essential gesture of darkness held in light. Of art held in spirit. Of spirit held in life and the living of life. It is a truly humane space for humans to find themselves in.

Glamour is a word derived from the Scots, meaning ‘dangerous magic.’

The Rothko Chapel is glamorous beyond any glamour known to any Highland witch. It is a light that never goes out.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the kindness of your invitation.

And for the inspiration of your fellowship.”

– Tilda Swinton, 2014.

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photograph by Lucy Gray

(UPDATE 2/12/15 – Rothko Chapel got word of the enormous response to this post and has put the speech up on their website.  There’s also a beautiful photo of Swinton speaking.  I’m so happy the speech has found its way back to its original home!)

Treatment As Metaphor: What Happened When Susan Sontag, My Mom, and I Were Diagnosed with Cancer

22 Jan
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My mom and I on my 22nd birthday. She died a little over two years later.

My essay“When You’re Sick You’ll Wait for the Answer but None Will Come,” was the cover article of a recent issue of The Stranger.

In 2007, a doctor told me I had lymphoma.  Looming over this diagnosis was my mother’s slow death of bone cancer in 2001.  My literary hero, Susan Sontag wrote about cancer and our attitudes about it so convincingly; but I found that when I was confronted with fear for my health and life, her thoughts on illness weren’t complete.  What about our attitudes about treatment?  I’ve been mulling over this essay for year, and am happy to have written (exorcised?) it and to have it finally out.

Read the entire thing here, read some excerpts below, and feel free to share your experiences in the comments.  Thank you.

***

I was on a hospital gurney in a hallway, and I’d been there, confused, for hours. I was wheeled out there after a CT scan on my abdomen.

Am I okay, I’d asked the CT technician. She looked down at the floor.

“You’re going to die,” she said.

And then, animated, “Just kidding! The doctor will see you in the hall.”

She patted me on the shoulder. That’s the kind of person she was.

I was there after being assaulted by my boyfriend; it was the first and only time he’d hit me, and I promised myself I’d never see him again. I didn’t have a job, I’d just finished grad school, and now my rib was broken and I had internal bleeding and bruised intestines that would scar up. I wasn’t sure what was next for me. The CT scan was for my liver and spleen to make sure they hadn’t split open.

My spleen was fine; my liver was fine.

“Your spleen is fine; your liver is fine,” the doctor said. I was in the kind of pain that’s not just dull or sharp but also frightening.

“The suspicion is that you have lymphoma.”

I’d talked to this doctor hours ago, when I checked in for my injuries. We talked about police reports, and he checked my breathing.

What? I asked.

“Your lymph nodes are irregularly large; you’ll have to get another CT scan. The suspicion is lymphoma,” he said again. Suspicion. Was that a diagnosis?

A smiling nurse appeared next to us. “At least you caught it early!” she said. “Think about it! The assault saved your life!”

***

Death comes, and when it does, it sounds like a creaking door. I know this because when my mom was finished with cancer, a noise uttered its way past her teeth. Like something being crushed slowly, but there was no burst or relief at the end. She died on a bed in our house. She’d spent a lot of time before that moment disappearing. No more fat or muscle on her, no more talking; she was like a piece of paper with bones in it. Each breath was a disjointed heave and hiss, and then it stopped.

I was 24; she was 56.

None of this will tell you enough about her, nothing could, but I’ll try:

My mom would tug at my sister’s hair or pinch me when we misbehaved, because she was a big sister to us. Her mother died giving birth to what would have been my mom’s first younger sibling. My mom corralled and held us against harm. She wouldn’t let us watch violent movies. She wrote a short story about a woman who slit her wrists in a library and everyone walked by quietly, trying not to notice. She read a lot. She gave classes for women at Barnes & Noble. She told me that as a little girl, she had a dream about looking out her open bedroom window as nickels rained in from the sky until the entire room was full. Sometimes she’d make me or my sister or anyone laugh so hard that we couldn’t breathe. She had a John James Audubon bird book that she’d pull off the shelf and page through with me: the colors and the brushstrokes and the scenes of struggle and beauty.

They’d told us she had cancer, bone cancer. First it was breast cancer, and then it was bone cancer. Ten years ago, they amputated her fleshy left breast. She said that on surgery day, she put a sticky note on her breast that read “Good-bye.” Treatment came to a temporary halt in a curved line of black stitches across her ribs. That should be enough, but no! A breast wasn’t enough for them. Not the cells, not the doctors. Ten years later, there was a tumor on her sternum, and then her leg. Then she was in pain. Constant pain. From diagnosis to death, it was a little more than two years.

***

Treatment” is a word made up of different words.

“Treat” is from the French traiter, derived from the Latin tractare. To handle, deal with, conduct oneself toward, tug, drag about.

“Ment” is a magical suffix that turns actions into things. To add “ment” to the end of a word is to draw it into the world.

That means treatment may be “the state of conducting oneself toward something.” That’s as gentle as a quiet, correct step.

It also means that treatment may be “the state of being dragged about, the state of being pulled violently.”

When we’re sick, or when we think we’re sick, we seek treatment. Since we all get sick sooner or later, treatment is a part of being human. It’s not separate from our lives, it’s not a feature of certain people’s experiences, it’s not optional.

EPSON scanner image

Susan Sontag

Writer and intellectual Susan Sontag, in her book Illness as Metaphor, wrote of this obligation to be sick in our lives. And she also wrote that to decorate our illness with metaphors and melodramas was to make matters worse. “Illness is not a metaphor,” she wrote. “The most truthful way of regarding illness—and the healthiest way of being ill—is one most purified of, most resistant to, metaphoric thinking.”

She was diagnosed with cancer on three different occasions. First, breast cancer in 1975. She responded to it with Illness as Metaphor, a radical mastectomy, and chemotherapy, which she opted for over a “modified radical” mastectomy, which was a less invasive treatment. She viewed cancer as a growth, so radical treatment was necessary to getting to its root (radicalis from the Latin radix or “root”). An extremity of uprooting. When a friend came to her with a cancer diagnosis and fears about the pains of treatment, she told him that when he was in such terrible pain that he may have to stop, that’s when he should take another treatment. Then another. She was expressing sympathy by encouraging defiance. I wonder why she didn’t notice that her approach to treatment echoed perfectly her approach to living, and so was alive with metaphor.

Radical in her heart, radical just above it.

***

Looking up treatment was a treatment itself. Perhaps I could calm down if there were cures.

Night sweats, itchy skin, fever, abdominal pain, cough, fatigue, weight loss, rashes, back pain. None of these are disease-specific. I found myself suddenly scratching my legs more and waking up in the middle of the night. I found myself exhausted. Was it lymphoma or just “normal” or had I been hexed?

“You should calm down,” one friend said.

“You should rest before you drive across the country,” said another.

I didn’t go back to the doctor. I wanted to escape everything, and I had to make sure I would never interact with my boyfriend again.

I put my things in my car and drove across the country alone, from Amherst to San Francisco, wondering if my back pain was from sitting or impending death. In one of those states in the middle, the ones that are so beautiful that they blend together and make you forget their names, I stopped my car and watched pronghorn antelope grazing. I’d never seen antelope before. The only sound was the wind, which rushed up fast like the grass was exhaling. Then I remembered: lymphoma. I wondered if the states were being granted to me, one by one, showing up to say good-bye or calm me down. I’d felt my lymph nodes in my neck every day. I still catch myself feeling them. I wonder how my hands got up to my throat, searching for something.

There was a feeling of spinning.

***

A question that is bound up in illness for us: Who’s to blame? If the person who chooses to pray as treatment dies of cancer, is it their fault? If so, isn’t the same true for someone who chooses chemotherapy for cancer and dies of cancer?

People will be quick to tell you that some attitudes toward health are “dangerous.” This is true. They’re all dangerous.

…But what if we eat raw food? What if we drink enough water, if we take vitamins, if we sleep well, if we exercise, if we meditate, if we go on “retreats,” if we take psychedelic plants, if we get massages, if we become vegetarians, if we eat more organ meats, if we force ourselves to laugh, if we take morning walks?

We try to avoid illness and treatment, and in avoiding it create a constant state of illness and treatment.