A strange thing has been happening in the last month, maybe two months that I go back and forth on writing about. I think that right now, there’s a great need to perform politics online that is, despite the fact of 2020, unprecedented. I mention this because — and I really didn’t think I could be surprised anymore — The New York Times has recently fired veteran journalists, who have done astonishingly good work, for not-even-really-all-that-bad tweets that became the latest subject of outrage culture. Then Cade Metz, for the NYT, doxed the guy who runs Slate Star Codex – a blog that is known for antipolitical rationalism – for no apparent reason other than looking good politically. Carrying around an idea that it’s actually possible that enough people have become so invested in political performance that in fact, the world has gone genuinely bonkers, isn’t easy. It isn’t easy because it’s the trope in too much mediocre science fiction, because it’s absurd, because it’s lonely, because almost everyone around me all of the time seems to think it is obviously fine and normal. But it isn’t. It really isn’t.
When someone says trans rights aren’t politics, for example, the answer should always be: all rights are politics. A “right” is a political term. Rights are not a natural occurrence. When someone says trans rights aren’t politics, what they mean when they say “politics” is “stuff we can disagree on without it being a comment on your character.” Whether or not you particularly like Game of Thrones is politics, because it’s okay if you do and it’s okay if you don’t. Pineapple on pizza? politics. Foreign policy? A matter of character.
How did we get here? Should I write about this?
In the first place, it’s not going to help. Even if the whole world read this blog post, it would be up against too big of a mass to make any headway. It might reach one or two people and those people will henceforth also being extremely uncomfortable. Not exactly a win. Also, it does need saying that this post itself is making claims in a similar tone to trans rights aren’t politics. I am indignant, judgmental, and uninterested in space for another point of view.
But anyway, this thing — I think we all know what I mean regardless of how we think about what it is — has been happening for way more than two months and thus, is not the strang thing to which I referred above. Hell, at this point it aint even strange — I don’t know who’s going to get fired next for not having views Twitter agrees with, but I know that it will be somebody. I’m getting used to the reality TV of life.
No, the strange thing I want to talk about is what I see when I meditate. I meditate a lot — it used to be 20 minutes a day, now it’s every few days for an hour or so, and also most nights in bed. I don’t count my breaths because defying centuries of tradition, I have decided that counting my breaths is dumb. Instead, I put meditative music on and I pay attention to the feelings that I am currently experiencing. I lean into them and images float up. The feeling is much the same as dreaming. Sometimes they’re memories. Sometimes they’re many fragments of memories one after another, all connected by something usually thematic or even literary. But sometimes they’re images of what I think are things that I am aware of peripherally, though I may not remember ever seeing it directly. (When I write it out, it sounds so mystical — but it really isn’t. I am aware of thinking, and the awareness is unusual, and is meditation. But the actual process — the images, the associations, etc — I believe that is what most of us are doing most of the time. It’s the popular concept of thinking, just what’s bopping around in our heads at any given moment, to be distinguished from the intellectual concept of thought which is not relevant to this conversation.)
Lately, the images are:
An overweight woman in her forties in a cubicle that has been decorated seasonally. She has been in her administrative position for years and everyone knows her. She’s married with children and serves on the PTO board. She is the one tasked with organizing office celebrations and potlucks. She knows everyone’s birthday.
Halloween trick or treating, school dances, a child losing a tooth.
Someone in a family has cancer, and neighbors are taking turns making meals.
The way the street light looks in the rain on the street out a living room window at night.
Fantasy novels for young girls.
the memory of the fall festival at the local arboretum that I went to with my family many years.
Bath and body works products and school lockers.
You get the idea, maybe. Some of these images are memories, some of them aren’t. What sticks out is that the emotion that swells in me and brings these images top of mind is grief.
There are many plausible explanations – the first is that for me, these images relate to the particular kind of home I had before my dad died. This is the first explanation any time grief is on the table. In particular the security in the fat family lady, the neighbors bringing dinner, the warm friendship embodied in the picture of a Tamora Pierce novel, and so on, may be the security that I felt when my dad was around, because he was around.
This is an explanation I am inclined to believe, I think it’s true. But I don’t think it’s the whole truth. I don’t think my dad was the only source of that security.
There are two other things missing entirely from these images when they surface – The first is smartphones. There are no smartphones.
The second is not a material thing, but a perception thing. There is no sense of a political self. These images don’t have explicit association with myself as white, or Jewish, or a woman. Some of the images have struggles, but they’re not political, they’re deeply personal, they feel entirely outside of politics. Hurt feelings, because someone did or said something hurtful. Cancer, the disease and the people who love someone with it. There is something about that — that lack of political awareness – that even as I type now stirs grief, deep grief, within me.
I know that if these words were to ever see the light of day, some articulate person on twitter would coin the term “White Grief,” but until that happens, I get to sit in this moment and think about why these images resist politicization. I get to hold the thought that maybe, it isn’t because of something someone else can tell just from looking at me.
Dungeons and Dragons and the people who play it have taught me something. Taught is the wrong word, but reminded is also the wrong word. Re-discovered, illuminated the same truth in a different way, understood something that I have known as a child but not yet as an adult — and onward.
The point of Dungeons and Dragons is certainly one thing and one thing only: to form a tight knit group and slay monsters. This is something we have to do whether we play D&D or not, and it is something we have to learn how to do. For this reason the DM has to be agnostic: he cannot be against the player, indeed he can even be for the player – as in rooting for the player, but he cannot give the player the win. You are not slaying a monster if you cannot be slain by the monster. This is what taking D&D seriously is about and it is serious.
Learning how to do it is hard, and therefore easy to not even try to do. You can play whole campaigns and never begin to think about it in these terms, and it is astonishingly easy — almost embarrassingly so — to analogize the way people understand D&D to the way they relate to collaboration in general. It is easy to read into the way they talk about what happened, and who did what, how they feel about being in the world, necessarily connected to other people. I wish it wasn’t, or perhaps I should say, often I wish I weren’t –
One thing I like about it, though. Two things, actually. The first is that there are people I would have dismissed outright for their political one-dimensionalism that I get to see in better contexts. They’re snobby or pushy or blunt or sweet or goofy, you wouldn’t know that. The second is the rule the DM made in this campaign that we can’t make dirty jokes (I don’t know why) and the weird way that has affected the humor. I do like dirty humor, and dark humor, and mean humor
but I also like goofy humor, sweet humor.
There’s a pervasive darkness in the real world, what it lacks in literal manifestation it makes up for in anxiety and terror. When I think of the people in the campaign I play — the first I’ve ever played — I wish them success in slaying their monsters, friends to help them do it, and a nice celebratory dinner with the same friends in a warm and welcoming pub afterward. They are unexpectedly sweet people, but it may be that
the people you slay monsters with always turn out to be unexpectedly sweet.
I am doing the 40 day sigil challenge with the chaos magicians. I like them. “40 days of ooga booga,” as my friend Rocks called it.
Today was the first day of the sigil challenge. A sigil is a symbol that you create and charge (or activate). The standard form of charging is masturbation, so you can see why it might appeal to a lot of people. There’s something charming about chaos magicians, I promise. The guy who runs the server where we hang out has a youtube video where he talks about what to do when you’re down, he says (a paraphrasing) “think about the fact that maybe you haven’t even seen your favorite movie or read your favorite book yet.”
Every day you make one sigil. You may also make a robofish. A robofish is a sigil that says something which is already definitely true such as “I have a cat.” The best method for activating sigils is to do multiple at a time — because your conscious mind will not be able to remember what every sigil is and thus theoretically your subconscious has easier access to it — these groups of sigils are called shoals. I didn’t even know the word shoal, but it turns out it means “a large number of fish swimming together.” Shoaling is the act of charging or activating multiple sigils at once. Robofish are there as guides for the subconscious. The general idea is that if the subconscious takes the regular sigils in the same vein as the robofish sigils, the sigils will work by manifesting the results the way the robofish are already manifested: as a given.
I doubt you will be surprised to learn that another way to activate a sigil is through attention. If you were to, for example, reply to a viral Twitter thread with a jpg of your sigil, or put a sticker of your sigil on a lamp post, then by definition the random passerby, even if he did recognize it as a sigil, would not be able to discern what it was a sigil for. Thus it goes straight to the subconscious skipping the layer of conscious meaning. Tens, hundreds or thousands of people looking at your sigil is a significant charge — and truly, there are probably a lot of people who would prefer the attention of a thousand people to a thousand orgasms even without a sigil. A “hypersigil,” is a sigil, often in the form of a work like a comic book or piece of music, that gets consumed by many people.
Making a sigil is fun. And — it’s ridiculous that I know this — but Austin Osman Spare, an (quite probably random but then it is chaos magic) occultist from England whose work forms a lot of the basis for the original chaos magicians, felt that the best way to start a sigil was “THIS MY WILL TO”
THIS MY WILL TO HAVE MORE PIZZA IN MY LIFE
is okay, but you want to be reasonably specific.
THIS MY WILL TO RECEIVE TWO PIZZAS FOR FREE THIS MONTH
then you want to get rid of repeat letters and spaces.
Then you draw a sigil in which each of these letters is present, and you should give it a border — a circle, triangle, square, etc — to contain it or give it structure.
I really don’t want to draw a pizza sigil, but here’s an example of a sigil I found on the internet just now that’ll do great for demonstration:
The letters are all there – note that there isn’t a technical correctness necessary here. there are no closed circles, so the “o” is just most of an “o,” and “a” and “h” are in roughly the same place. There’s a very common sigil’d “m” there, on the left (with the top of the “m” facing to the left), and also an “E” in the same place (where the left of the E is the left of the sigil as well). You could interpret a lower case “e” encompassing almost the entire sigil, and you can see the Q, the circle that is around the entire sigil, and the downward curve creating the little line coming out of the bottom right of the Q. I won’t do all the letters, but if you look, you can trace some semblance of all of them. This of course is the opposite of charging a sigil, it is deconstructing one. When you create a sigil, put it away for a little while before you charge it — so that each individual letter you’ve incorporated won’t jump out at you when you get it goin’. Conscious deconstruction is not what the subconscious thrives off of (but we’ve agreed not to discuss that).
And you can create yourself a sigil alphabet, by for example, creating a sigil component for THIS MY WILL TO to reuse in every sigil.
Lastly, you can instead use automatic drawing to create a sigil or sigil segment. For example, think “THIS MY WILL TO” with your eyes closed while you free roam with a pencil on the paper. When you feel you are done, you simplify whatever scribbles you’ve come up with into a shape, and that shape become your sigil segment for THIS MY WILL TO.
This is the simplest way. But there are people who create picture symbols instead — that don’t start with language — artists who use colors and different media. There can be music sigils. I bought a hypersigil from an artist I found, a sigil for “grieving your lost futures,” in the form of a pin. I put it on the bulletin board facing my bed. Grief is a familiar feeling, in grief I find the shape of what we are losing.
Now I submit that creating a sigil is like zentangling – not that I would know, nobody sensible would zentagle. But it enters you into a flow state very easily, it’s relaxing even if you can’t draw and it’s also engaging. Time will slip away in great quantities, so settle in. It’s a little bit like mindfulness because your sigil cannot simply be any forming of the letters into a shape, it has to feel right.
[the following paragraph has mention of actual animal abuse that occurred in real life, but it does have a happy ending]
Today I found out that somebody shot my friend’s cat, the bullet lodged in his spine and he lost the use of his back legs but dragged himself through the rain to my friend’s porch, where she found him. She took him to the emergency vet where they performed a 3 hour surgery, and he’s going to be okay. The surgery cost ten thousand dollars. She set up a gofundme and I donated. I was quite distressed by the story and I told my friend Rocks — and I told him about the 40 days of ooga booga and I said I’m gonna hex that fucker who shot Yugi. Rocks said, “that’s bad juju – just give me the gofundme link.”
Rocks reminds me of those places in stories that appear out of nowhere, where you go in and the chef or shop owner or whoever it is, is very down to earth and not at all wooey but when you leave something that was troubling you is better or a good transition has been made. I believe in messages from Rocks. So I am not hexing anyone, instead I am doing a sigil of protection for the vulnerable, and a sigil of protection for all animals against abuse. I am also doing one to see lots of new birds and take their pictures. Sometimes you just need some levity, and my mom got me a really nice pair of binoculars for my birthday.
I just realized it’s pretty funny that dungeons and dragons inspired a moral panic that people would get into occult stuff, and here I am playing my first ever campaign of D&D and also hanging out with chaos magicians. Anyway, the thing is, there’s something that D&D and sigils and fat family ladies and bath & body works products in the Winter all have in common. If you can see what I mean, then maybe you can begin to see what I’m trying to draw the shape of here. I’m not trying to be coy. I cannot take you there. I would if I could. But there’s no escorts allowed and it is as far as I have ever known, the only way forward, the only way in, and the only way out.
I cannot write about it. I can only show it. Then if you can see it, you will see that you know this geography, that it isn’t Atlantis; it’s home.
 Sigil Source: https://sigilathenaeum.tumblr.com/post/129675325087/i-heal-quickly-and-completely-sigil-requested
Can I confess something? I’m gonna confess something. During Dungeons and Dragons, I wrote a poem out of the player dialog. I would like to tell you there’s a high brow/low brow interchange that delights my intellect and that I am constantly engaging in connecting the small with the divine. But actually, what happened is Gorthog was like “Do we we feel things here?” and I was like “this is gonna be a great poem” and that’s where it started and ended.
Do we feel things here?
I think we need to get rid of these vultures.
Which one do you want?
Third level bless.
Plus I’m gonna smite.
This one is in range.
One thing I have a lot of problems with is Adorno’s line about how there can be no poetry after the holocaust. I think about it actually quite often — for what reason, after all Adorno was wrong about a lot of things (he didn’t like Jazz) (I SAID HE DIDN’T LIKE JAZZ), so why should this bother me?
Poetry is subtext, and when it isn’t subtext, something really terrible is happening. That’s why it was easier to cook (having never cooked before) than it was to write poems in this pandemic. In this pandemic particularly because there was so much fear that was not the virus but played upon the virus – namely, the fear that the isolation of the quarantine wasn’t just the obvious consequence of a viral pandemic but the confirmation of our fears that we are alone and will never not be alone again. A natural manifestation of an already present truth. That was the feeling.
A lot of people put it down to the Trump presidency, some people put it down to social media. Now I am biased because I really don’t like to do things quickly, but I think it’s a pacing problem, personally.
The gravity of this cannot be overstated: meaning — all of it — rises from the chaos via attention. Attention is necessarily tied to time. The more attention you give something, the more meaning it will reveal. The measurement of “more” where meaning is concerned is depth. The meaning becomes deeper. The less attention you give something, the less it means – regardless of how you label it. That is to say, the existence and depth of meaning is dependent on the length of your attention span. Right, that might seem trite but give it a second to settle in. The existence of meaning. That’s a pretty big deal; at least I think it would feel like a pretty big deal if there was no meaning anymore.
This is where The Atlantic or The New Yorker branches off into a conversation about how capitalism benefits not only from our attention (the new product) but in particular from splitting it into brief episodes. If you never look at something, you won’t buy it. If you spend too long looking at something, you won’t buy it. You get the idea. But this isn’t a think piece about late stage capitalism. It’s a think piece about why the parallel meaning between there can be no poetry after the holocaust and never again bothers me so much.
What I come back to is the inevitable truth that there is a time for not poetry. A pandemic or a holocaust. But not all bad times are bad for poems; many of them are well served by poetry. The time for non-poetry is when the poem rises from the subtext and becomes the pretext. An elegance that cannot endure the complexity of humanity. A virus is elegant, fascism is elegant. Poetry is the perfect, clear lens on complexity, but the measure of a good poem is how well it reveals the simplicity from which complexity is built. This is the challenge, even right now the desire to shape what I’m talking about weighs on me with an urgency. Don’t you see? Poetry — the art of poetry — is the art of seeing the complex as if it were simple, no — the art of revealing that the complex is simple. It is revealer. But this function must necessarily live in the subtext of our lives, all attempts — natural or man made — to enforce a perfect, elegant and clear system on top of humanity is necessarily tragedy.
To reveal, via top-down administration, the gutting simplicity of the beautifully complex, is the method of the concentration camp. To discern, from the subtext of our lives, the way the complex distills into the simple, is the method of the poem.
Adorno was onto something. It troubles me. It troubles me that the poem as a governing structure is fascist. I love poetry. I love slowness. I love meaning, especially the elegance of it. What can it mean that this is not the rule by which to govern people? This is what the critical theorists must have struggled with. From this, the idea that governing is to point at every passing policy and yell “this sucks!” From this, the idea not to reveal elegance but cacophony, a mess. An uncertainty, an inefficiency, a confusion that forces us to pause, indeed to get entirely turned around sometimes. In the midst of the governing mess, though, we have the subtext, and in the subtext the poem’s redemption arc.
What an idea! What an idea! No, I think it has come up before — something about the journey being more important than the destination, but I don’t think we ever read that and thought “ah yes, it is only through inefficiency, meandering, mistakes and messiness that we can arrive at the poem instead of the concentration camp.”
But there it is. Take your time. Try not to succeed too quickly or too well. Celebrate the disheveled, absurd state of your life for what it is: the poem garden.
It has been noted by many an obnoxious person that what makes a person happy and what makes her comfortable may be two different things. You can be comfortable with something that makes you unhappy, which is why you don’t change it; you’re used to what you have. This is – if not common knowledge – commonly admonished.
But on the other side of that admonishment is that happiness, in that context, isn’t what anybody is quite thinking of when they talk about a happy life. Most of the time, they mean a comfortable life. They mean a comfortable life that isn’t replicating harmful patterns. The mode of comfort is replication, the opposite of change.
Marx introduced the idea of social reproduction, that the way a social group outlives the lifespan of a single generation is the replication of ideas. But the self is also an idea, and it also exists via replication. Most of our identities are ideas, even the stuff that isn’t overtly political – like being a cheese lover or a book nerd. To become happier, you have to change the replication that is the self.
This is what the admonishers don’t tell you – likely because the only thing they can definitely identify about your situation is that some or all of is existential and haven’t fully realized the implications of what they’re saying – choosing happiness is a violence on the self. It is not only saying “this situation is not good enough for me,” it is in fact also, and mostly saying, “I am not good enough. A different me is necessary.”
The narrative is that because you are not good enough for you, that this is good for your character and not abuse. But there’s a lot of overlap and I don’t know why we don’t hold this truth when we talk about people who could be happy but make the same bad decisions over and over. There is a way in which this act, too, is one of self love, though it may not be the right act.
In experience, we (everyone who is capable of thinking about the meaning of experience) know this. Perhaps it isn’t articulated a such, but I do think everyone understands this, understands that the effort to make change seem graceful, like some kind of pokemon evolve, is beautiful, beautiful garbage. It’s helpful to say it. It’s helpful for our own recognition of ourselves.
With no evidence except experience and instinct, I suspect that the violence in change is natural — as in inherent to the natural world, not something that we choose. I stand before a forest of ideas here, so dense and so absorbing that it’s almost painful. For example, what if we’ve been reading Hobbes and Locke wrong this entire time? What if the noble warrior and the savage are the intellectual exploration of the process of change, from the two-sides-of-the-same-coin perspectives of good for your character and violence on the self. (Granted, by we, I mean my high school criminal civil law class from 2004).
Another example: if we have decided that the violence committed to the self on behalf of the self carries the same weight and properties as violence committed against you by others, can violence committed against you be reclaimed for self improvement? What pops into my head is that Taylor Swift has a pond in her living room with coy fish in it, an image of happiness that belies the story of how she used to push her unpopular classmates on the stairs in high school. Why does this pop into my head? Two reasons: one, if Taylor Swift wanted to be happy, she would throw herself down the stairs. At the bottom she would have crossed the line, the one that holds us from each other. Two, a question (not loaded, a question): can violence be transmuted? If Taylor Swift pushes you down the stairs, can that violence be the same violence that provokes your change? A change you want? Or do you have to throw yourself?
And we are still left with the question of what the coy fish pond is, being that it is beautiful, relaxing, even spiritual — but perhaps none of those things. This is is thicket we must make our way through, it’s not easy but part of of trying to understand this is to say, if the coy fish pond is not happiness, what is it? And how is it different from what happens at the bottom of the stairs?
The coy fish pond can be bought. For a stupid amount of money, of course, money which after a certain point does seem to reproduce by itself. It’s part of a system, and I don’t think capitalism covers it. I don’t think it’s only a question of various entities creating false expectations about how wealth will make you happy. My line of thought always comes back to bigger questions about systems that were not made by man. Right? What if capitalism, in one of its modes, acts as a way for everyone, including the rich, to commit a group self harm by replicating an entire system of “happiness” that is also an act of group self love, a way of avoiding the violent destruction of the people we know as ourselves.
You start in to a forest like this and each tree can stop you dead in your tracks, it really can. There’s just so much here. Because when you start to talk to about — oh here’s another question that just popped into my head — when Jesus tells people to “turn the other cheek,” what does that mean in this new context of violence to the self as necessary in any self improvement process, and how could the new testament compare to the old, much more violent, testament?
Is this why animals don’t have the same kind of consciousness? Are they capable of the kind of self harm necessary for happiness? Is the bar on what an animal can be the degree to which he can overcome reflex and comfort to destroy himself? Or rather, his self? My god my god my god, you see? you see?
You can lose the forest for the trees and the forest is (the forest always is) the thing that is bigger than people, whatever that thing is. That’s what you’re looking for. In this case, it’s tricky because it’s clothed in very individual language, but it is, in fact, about the human condition.
It is not only saying “this situation is not good enough for me,” it is in fact also, and mostly saying, “I am not good enough. A different me is necessary.”