August 8, 2016
I stuck a three-fold brochure entitled “What is Vedanta?” inside my book on writing. It’s a book mark but also a reminder. The pairing is everything.
The Vedanta is a philosophy based on the oldest scriptures of India, the Vedas. The basic premise teaches the divine in all of us, and the pursuit of the divine is all there is. Writing needs no definition. Most everyone writes.
But writing for some is more than communication, practical missives that need delivery to complete some operation, some function of human existence. Some of us write because it’s what we do to reach the divine in us. I’m not sure I’m including myself in that “us,” but I’d like to consider that conviction more.
More than God and the divine, the Vedanta embraces all other belief systems whose end goal is reaching the divine. In other words, it makes no difference the words or way, it’s making the journey that matters. And that’s sort of my approach to writing. I write. Every day. Some of it’s good, some not. No matter, it’s the doing that counts.
Some days writing is therapy. Some days it’s meditation. Others it’s creation, while still others–struggle. Writing is life. It’s all we do. Some of us.
The finest and lowest moments connect to writing: that painful process of birthing a poem, a story, an article, a listicle, even, like molding bramble, hay and rocks together to make a statue of the Mona Lisa. And then the miracle of finishing with something approximating Da Vinci’s girl, or even pretty damned close–well, that’s heavenly.
The struggle to achieve, find, see and discover the divine of us in, by, through and despite the Vedanta continues moment by moment. It is the ever-present, ever-elusive (seemingly) goal. Writing is the mock up.
“I wanted to grow into a tree when I was five because the trees around my house looked like they all had arms that reached to the sky or really high places like rooftops, and my arms were so short I could not even reach the counter to steal back contraband my mom confiscated: cookies, silly putty my brother and I fought over, and fake clip-on earrings snuck from my mother’s jewelry box.”
I stare at her perfectly halved hard boiled egg chin as she speaks, mesmerized by its perfect oval shape.
“The Wizard of Oz kinds of trees all bramble and sparsely leafed. Not because they moved or were threatening but because they looked like outstretched arms. I wanted arms to heaven.”
I laugh. “Sounds like you’re going to break into song or start a book Elizabeth Gilbert might write. You know transformation…arms to the heavens…that sort of thing.”
“No, I’m serious,” she counters. “I wanted to grow up to be a tree, a coffee tree. That’s what they were in my mind, for some strange reason. I have no idea what a coffee tree is, but that’s what they were. And for the longest time I could not shake that dream, had literal dreams of being a tree like some Greek goddess. Who was it, Diana? No, Daphne, escaping Apollo, only I wasn’t running from anyone into tree hood. It felt natural, like I would evolve organically into a tree, starting with my fingertips elongating into thin spikes with wispy leaves drooping from the tiniest reaches of the branches that my arms would become. I could almost feel it then…even now, a little. I can summon up that feeling.”
“How curious, specific and lovely,” I silently acknowledged. “I wish I had imagined that as a five year old. But I was too busy wondering if God could wipe out nightmares for me or if I could somehow fly without wings or nun’s habits like the flying nun did.”
― Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum
I first learned of Eco after reading The Name of the Rose in graduate school, though I cannot remember whether it was the first round in 89 or the second in 2003. I saw the movie of the same name and cannot remember whether I saw it before reading the book or vice versa. I do know I enjoyed both immensely, so much so that I read a second book, the one from which the above quote comes, which I also enjoyed, though I believed that the text was far more about the title namesake than it was before reading it. I had read Michel Foucault, who I found as intriguing as mystifying, so naturally was drawn to the title.
The text, like all Eco works, is complex and dense with plot and erudite history, lore and textual references–not your read on the beach in paradise. Eco demands you grapple. And while many details of both books I read are long forgotten, the words and specific scenes remain etched in the beautiful keepsakes section of my brain.
Like many faithful readers, I seek treasure–that unique turn of phrase or universal truth that hangs with me, bubbled to the surface when I need a lift, a reason or insight. Countless times the belief in mystery became and becomes my mantra. Some people often sigh, “It’s God’s will” when at a loss to explain the inexplicable and I just as often say, “Bow to the mystery.” Though both signal surrender, one does far less resignedly.
That the “world is an enigma” satisfies, becalms and relieves humans of the burden of making sense of chaos and that which we cannot understand due to the size of our brains, undiscovered truths or components necessary to solving riddles, or both–or neither. That we madly “attempt to interpret” the world smacks of vanity or fruitlessness but not necessarily. Human’s drive to know, to understand and control is itself an enigma, one with benign origins though sometimes malignant intent or results.
This quote counters another oft-pronounced snippet pulled out of pocket at the cause-effect chain’s logical end with no solution: “Everything happens for a reason.” Eco obviously disagreed and wrote legions against that idea, wracking ordered plots with disordered interferences from magic, evil intent, human contaminants and other messy interlocutors, all in historically altered (small and large) and imagined context.
One thinker, writer and human I mourn, Umberto Eco died yesterday, a significant loss or gain for the mystery.
When I was five, I suffered from nightmares. I don’t remember of what, but I remember fearing sleep. My mother did not allow her children into her bed at night unless warranting such special treatment or need for vigilance over illness, such as a high fever. I may have had the privilege to sleep with Mom once or twice since I was, unfortunately, a very healthy child. But that may have been the cause of the nightmares or at least the desperation I felt, not having a ready fix for them.
Perhaps I got the idea to pray to God as a solution from school. Back then prayer in school was unquestioned. After the pledge of allegiance, the announcer over the loudspeaker (yes the pledge of allegiance and morning prayer were an electro-communal experience) concluded, “And now for our morning prayer,” which was later re-worded to “And now for a moment of silent reflection,” the signal to pray quietly for a minute. I knew God, a word not frequently heard in my household other than in profane epithets my father would toss about on the infrequent occasion of his being awake the same time as the rest of his family. He worked nights. I understood the word, though ours was not a religious family; holidays were eating occasions, just like for my kids now, only holidays to them are gift-receiving occasions. My parents were practicing appetites. Food was their religion. Still is for my living-with-me father, at least, as he has no question more asked than “What are we eating?”
But when I was five and nightmare-filled, I resolved to pray nightly before sleep, begging God with a one-sentence “Please don’t let me have bad dreams” incantation repeated in quick succession enough times to knock me into dreamland. So, when the ritual removed the nightmares, I pondered the remedy and asked my mother in some randomly fallen into my lap opportunity to chat with my mom, who was always busy with too many kids (4 then, 5 later), “Do you believe in God?” She hesitated. It was long enough for me to slide into a little anxiety before she finally said, “I don’t know.” I cannot remember the explanation after that because those three words were the only ones that mattered to me and affected me long afterward.
I didn’t become an atheist or an agnostic or an adherent of any religion as a result of that encounter. In fact, I tried on many religions over the years: Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as agnosticism, atheism and a touch of the wiccan. Today I am still theologically ambiguous, often ambivalent, but a steady incursion of yoga into my life starting at 15 and flexing strenuously or ambivalently throughout my four decades since has led me to a commitment to certain constants such as life in balance (koyaanisqatsi is the Hopi word for its opposite, a word on a button I wore on an old army-navy supply backpack I have sported since the same age) and a dedication to the mystery. I have matured enough to have acquired a healthy respect, understanding, and awe of science: method, premise, discovery and temperament. Though I still cannot commit to any one ordering principle of the universe or multiverse or kingdom.
I have thought about reincarnation and the afterlife in general. In my musings, I have wondered about the human condition as walking, breathing, pulsing meat but also as anima, what I imagined I witnessed depart from my beloved Copper when he was put to sleep, the light and animation immediately stilled, or imagined while staring at a corpse. I have read enough in my lifetime of philosophy, theosophy, literature and science to conclude: I don’t know. Thanks Mom.
So, I have decided that when or if I do come back, I will come back as a sex cyborg, not purely utilitarian machinery like Woody Allen’s Sleeper orgasmatron or orgasmic orb, nor sex kitten destructo agent and object like Vanessa the fembot in Austin Powers’ The Spy Who Shagged Me but more like Star Trek’s Data from The Next Generation, who is a participant and observer of human behavior, learning to emote human style. He is a scientist of human behavior and emotion, both distant and involved, objective and subjective. His capability is not merely a marvel of advanced robotics but of his own capability to learn and grow. I want to come back as Data-fied sex cyborg (not of the Borg race, mind you, more generically cyborg). Probably not the first to imagine this. Think: Donna Haraway’s Cyborgs.
The sex cyborg or sex-bot I imagine is an automaton that charges not from battery or electricity or kryptonite, but from sexual energy, that which is produced in the mutual sexual act–the one most electric–from foreplay (for those willing) to final orgasm or beyond, wherever the sexual activity of a particular session ceases. To keep alive and charged, this sexual agent must connect to its energy source at least once a day for minimally an hour, which means she/it is a once a day every day gal-bot. It also means she must be a multiply-relationshipped, mistress-type bot to obtain quality and quantity of sex and thus charge; long time committed relationships generally contain floods and droughts. Masturbation with imagined mutuality is a weak source so provides little life and would take longer charging time.
The intake of sexual energy is a logical source for a sex-borg because sex seems to be where much of human energy is spent: thinking, chasing, scheming, doing, cheating, excavating, mining, imagining and experiencing. So, the sex machine never fails to find a charge and lives indefinitely, especially if she is styled after the computed universal consensus of what is called “beauty” for a given culture, whether that is symmetry of features, youth, voluptuousness, waif-like body and demeanor, wherever the society is in terms of its constant flux of aesthetics.
Why a sex-bot? Well, besides the obvious, a constant life source and well, fun, I think the mistress-as-robot position is one most amenable to great and constant learning about human nature, what makes people really tick, the underside and bowels of the deepest, darkest (in the sense of not coming into light) guts and mystery that is human. In its many carnations, sex is experienced by and connected to all that humans started out to be, became and ended up to be. I don’t mean gender. I mean the genetics we are born with accented by environmental influences–loving father, mother, absent, cruel, war-torn world, whatever life brings–forms who we are consciously and unconsciously.
Why do some need more sex than others? Why do some not need it at all? How does one get off on eating shit while another doesn’t even find Johnny Depp sexy enough to “do”? It is thus with humans that we experience sex as a repository for all that we are and all we decide in life, our tastes and life choices and everything else. What we get off on is directly correlative to something we were born with or were shaped by in my non-scientific, non-professional home grown logic culled in my experience as a lifetime mistress and story collector.
As a distant observer and participant with a beyond human memory capability, I could do a lot of data collecting and pleasuring. I could potentially be pleasured myself, but I don’t think in the same way as a human experiences pleasure, more like mind-fucking empathy, not voyeurism, empathy. That’s why the cyborg as mistress is effective and intriguing. She is interested in the human species as a wannabe but dispassionate enough to be effective. With the right programming, she could be multi-skilled, adaptive, flexible and if not genuinely at least convincingly compassionate enough to perfect, satisfy and effectuate a wide range of scenarios and partners. She is far more gifted, less cynical and more professional than the human professional of the oldest arts. She is able to collect and provide gem-fuls of information about human nature, desire and need. She is Mistress Hum-bot, potentially something for everyone, who cares, in her fashion, to the extent of her capability, a post-human humanist. Wait, I think my mom already produced one of those. Okay, not really but fun to imagine.