Sunday, February 26, 2006

Jake's Siddahtra Complex

Saturday Guardian February 25, 2006

I was born into money. At 18, I inherited shares in the family business worth half a million pounds. The dividends alone came to around £20,000 a year: back in 1985 a tidy sum indeed. As a result, the world never posed much of an obstacle, and questions of career or income, much less food or shelter, were never raised. So I did what anyone would - went shopping.

On an average day, I woke around 1pm, ate, drove my black Opel Manta to the West End and spent £200 on records, videos, comics and books. On less adventurous days, I rented three or four movies from the local video store, ate an M&S dinner, rolled five or six joints, and spent half the night getting high. If I already had movies, I often didn't get out of bed, just rolled a joint and turned on the TV.

On my 20th birthday, I moved to New York. Beyond the locale, nothing much changed. When I wasn't enjoying pot and movies in my Bowery bedsit, I was drinking tequila and snorting cocaine in an East Village bar. If anyone asked what I did for a living, I took great pleasure in telling them: "You're looking at it."

What no one saw, however, was that I was crying myself to sleep at night. What I wanted most of all was simply to fall in love. But when it finally happened, the woman in question would not, or could not, reciprocate. Suddenly, my life of luxury seemed a cruel mockery: since I could have everything except the one thing I wanted, I no longer cared for anything. A feeling of peace came over me - the peace of total indifference. In the absence of desire, I no longer had anything to gain, or lose.

I was in control of my actions for the first time. Since it no longer mattered what I did, I knew precisely what to do. I sold my shares and put the money into land, then signed the land over to a close friend. I packed up all I had left and gave it to a relative. I kept around £1,000 to fund my escape, but handed half of it out in £50 notes to passersby on Tottenham Court Road. My whole decision was the enactment of a personal fantasy: to go willingly from obscene wealth to abject poverty, and see how it felt. It felt strangely liberating.

I wrote a will and, without mentioning where I was going (only that I was), numbly said my goodbyes to family and friends. No one questioned my decision.

When you leap into an abyss, you don't have to take aim. I was fleeing from my life, and anywhere alien to my western sensibilities would do. I wanted to be reborn, I just didn't want to have to die first, and the masochistic vision that consumed me was of walking naked into the desert: somehow this image soothed my despair. Failing that, I figured I could simply smoke myself into a stupor and remain there indefinitely. So reasoning, I spent the last of my funds on a plane ticket to Morocco.

All I knew of Morocco came from the stories of Paul Bowles, a writer I admired and knew lived in Tangier. Even in my despair, I was drawn by the idea of meeting him, and by the seductive nihilism of his tales.

Setting foot in Tangier, however, my suicidal vision quickly dissolved into a new, much less comforting but considerably larger vista. As the demands of hunger and homelessness took over, I had little thought for suicide or transcendence, much less walking naked into the Sahara. Like most westerners, I had never experienced hunger before. Now it was all I could think about. I was sleeping in abandoned buildings; begging for change from incredulous Arabs and suspicious tourists; stealing bread from the market; occasionally fleeing for my life from murderous moslems. And getting high every night to stave off the unbearable despair (I could always raise 30p for a bag of kif). It was not a pretty picture, but it was what I had wanted.

No one knew where I was, or even if I was alive or dead. In poverty, I was free to reinvent myself, with no one to tell me otherwise. Unlike many beggars, this was what I had chosen to be. And I found that truth was indeed stranger than fiction: within a few weeks of arriving, I had a kif-smoking companion and benefactor - Paul Bowles. But that's another story ...

For the record, I never regained my wealth, nor regretted throwing it away (for more than a moment or two). With hindsight, it was less a whim that made me do it than simple self-preservation. Today I live, just barely, off the proceeds of my books, hand-to-mouth, and one day at a time.

First response so far, not counting family, is from Balloon Bill Morrison:

Jake. What do you know, your story about how you lived and or could have lived. Fascinating. Jesus! Quite a thing to do, give up a fortune. Man. Shaped you up good eh. Courageous fool? No, you live free as Siddharta ferrying the folks back and forth across the . . . I don't know; I'm looking for something here but don't find it. Anyway, apparently you got to write to live for two reasons, to live off a bit of money and because your heart needs it to live. (That, Liz and 'real' love of course). If you had the cushion of the dividends yearly not so much enlightenment, hard scrabble adventure, maybe not nearly the type or as much writing as you do eh. You know something most don't, to have given away ALL your possessions. That's got to be an assuaging thought, in the sense that you know what you can do, did, while others live mundane; you went bottom (TOP) so to speak, in order to rearrange yourself. Reborn. Died in a way and reborn eh. Killed off a part of you to replace it. So, THE STRENGTH COMES FROM you knowing what you can do to make an energizing life happen when push comes to shove. I sent the GUARDIAN piece to my Brother John who enjoys your adventures, work. Bill

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Goodbye "Self": Hello Sun.
ABOUT THE SUN, the only real role model worthy of emulating, and the continuing woes of the unsung poet who wants only to SHINE

From a journal entry, 1998:

NEVER SAY DIE. The day will come when I will be acknowledged and a readership granted me. The trick is it seems to just get up after every fall, brush yourself off and resume the attack once more, with all the vigor and dedication of the last time. Each assault must indeed be as the first. A struggling writer can have no memory when it comes to rejection and brush-offs (or just plain being ignored), otherwise his frustration and disappointment will lead to a bitterness and despair that will eat away at him steadily and relentlessly until there is nothing LEFT. Above all he must tell himself constantly that he is only playing the game (because it’s the only game there is), and that whether he wins or loses—is ever published or acclaimed—is finally immaterial; what counts is his perseverance. So long as he knows what he is doing has worth and meaning, he will prevail. Indeed, the proving fire of the artist—as much as his own emotional anguish and sorrow in love and in life—is this period of unrecognition, oblivion, in which his only solace and encouragement comes from the very same genius which torments him and compels him to go on creating, against all the odds, to go on howling in the void. And even his doubts serve as part of this process of discovery: they serve to throw light on the rock of certainty upon which all his acts are based. There is no one who can tell me that vision is not mine; poetry speaks for itself, and wisdom holds forth even as it keeps its silence. Time has no dominion over it.

Eight years after first writing the above, and if I am honest, not much has changed. Since then, I’ve had four books published, a piece written about me in Fortean Times, the occasional online review, a piece due to appear in the Guardian, countless emails from devoted readers of Matrix Warrior and praise from such luminaries as Pauline Kael, Joseph Chilton Pearce, Ramsey Dukes, Kenneth Grant and Keith Gordon. And to be frank, I still feel largely “undiscovered,” and definitely underappreciated, as a writer. Which perhaps only goes to show that, so far as kudos go, this self will never be satisfied. The ego is a black hole that can never be filled.

And after all this time the question remains the same: does it even matter what “the world” thinks of what I do, even if I do it expressly to get “its” attention? Isn’t that just a subterfuge of the Id to keep me creating? After all, is there really any difference between a writer trying to find his or her “audience” and an infant trying to get mommy to notice it? Both come down to the same thing: “Look at me!”

I was whining to my brother (the semi-famous Sebastian) the other day about being a king without a crown (i.e., no one reviews my books). He responded that I had a crown, I just couldn’t see it. And isn’t the best kind of crown the invisible kind, that only a select few who get close enough to notice, and with the eyes to see, ever know about it? Isn’t that the kind of crown I want for myself? Or do I really want some big, gaudy, ostentatious thing weighing heavy on my head and attracting attention (mockery as much as reverence) everywhere I go? Like Elvis in his later years, or wacky Jacko? No fear.

Sovereignty comes from within, from being true to ourselves, from expressing — radiating — our inner (soul) natures to the fullness of our capacity. The joy of a performance is in the _expression and not the applause. The Sun shineth not in order to be worshipped. The Sun is worshipped simply for shining, never giving a damn about who it shines upon, much less what kind of reviews it gets.

I have just about worn myself out writing books and constructing web sites and sending emails trying to get NOTICED. Now I am going to try one more time to give all that up and say “DIE!” to the ego, so sad and insecure in search of aggrandizement from a world that never gave a damn. Said world is only any good to the artist as a foil, and it only ever really inspires us to create via its complete indifference. In which case, I am doing just fine being ignored. The virus that does its work unnoticed, is the virus that can really do some damage.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Prankster and the Conspiracy
Adam Gorightly’s Excursion into Fringe History

Although Kerry Thornley is a minor player in world history, he is something of a key figure in the culture of underground literature, and is now the subject of a new biography by fringe writer Adam Gorightly: The Prankster and the Conspiracy: The Story of Kerry Thornley and How He Met Oswald and Inspired the Counterculture. Reading the book, it quickly becomes clear that Thornley is almost impossible to pin down, ideologically, professionally, or otherwise, and to his credit, Gorightly doesn’t even try put his subject into any kind of box. He seems less interested in writing a conventional biography than mapping (however roughly) a specific period in countercultural history using his subject as a departure point. The result is one of the few (non-autobiographical) accounts of those “freewheeling 60s” that fully captures the bizarre blend of optimism and paranoia, freedom and dementia, that characterized the period. Gorightly doesn’t pretend to be an impartial researcher of factoids, though the book is full of them (as well as hearsay and a generous concession to Thornley’s own self-mythologizing). He writes loose and easy, with an obvious regard but a suitable lack of reverence for his subject to do full justice to him.

The central thread of the book (as the sub-title makes plain), and perhaps the primary reason for Thornley’s minor celebrity in the conspiracy subculture, is his early acquaintance with Lee Harvey Oswald, whom he served next to in the Marines. Besides this, Thornley was a living anomaly: a writer, soldier, huckster, drugee, drop-out, bum, possible victim of mind control, occasional visionary and co-founder of Discordianism (perhaps best known to fans of Robert Anton Wilson, a supporting player in Prankster) and the Church of Sub-Genius. Thornley was also an early proponent of “paranoid awareness,” of which, ironically, he eventually became a victim (of too much paranoia, not enough awareness). In the period following the JFK assassination, during which Thornley was questioned by the Warren commission and under investigation by Jim Garrison (the dubious hero of Oliver Stone’s JFK), Thornley slowly became convinced that he was a victim of government mind control and microchip implantation, and even began to wonder if he wasn’t involved in the assassination without knowing it, a kind of “Manchurian Candidate” programmed killer. He also began to suspect that many if not most of his friends and associates (especially Wilson, who bore the brunt of Thornley’s persecution mania for a period) were government agents, keeping tabs on him and plotting against him.

Closer to an astral interloper than a historian, Gorightly explores Thornley’s labyrinth of paranoia from the inside, willing, perhaps even happy, to let the weirdness of his subject infuse him, until, like a good anthropologist, he has been all-but assimilated by it. Even though he never partook of the events described, by the end of the book Gorightly seems to have grown quite intimate with the spirit behind them. The writer’s sympathetic magic allows him to more or less seamlessly enter into the zeitgeist and weltanschauung of the period and its protagonists, and to take the reader along for the ride. It’s a twisty trail, all right, but fortunately Gorightly (for the most part, barring a few misguided attempts at drollery) keeps his eyes on the road and his hands on the wheel. As befits his subject, he manages to always seek out the absurd in what is essentially a tragic tale, that of a talented individual driven to the edge (and over) by circumstances beyond his control.

Based on this work at least, Thornley seems most interesting as a kind of cipher, a black hole for weirdness, a person around whom all manner of bizarre events and personages seemed to gravitate. The book leaves it open as to whether or not Thornley had a hand—however peripheral—in the JFK assassination (highly doubtful), or whether he was ever employed (and mind-controlled) by the CIA or any other military/intelligence agency (somewhat more credible). By the time you’re done with the book, such nuts-and-bolts questions probably won’t matter much. Thornley’s “madness”(he was never actually certified insane) not only seems to have resulted from having gleaned too much truth, but even—in a way that belies rational understanding—his madness may have been a higher truth unto itself.

Judging by this insightful, melancholy account of one man’s tragically inspired personal odyssey, not only will the truth make you crazy, but going crazy may be the only way to get to the truth at all. God gave man reason, then hit him with a reality that no amount of rationality could make sense of? Wouldn’t that be the ultimate prank (and conspiracy) of them all. . .

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