a quiet life (part iii)

Look, you guys have been clamoring for this.

I don’t want this story to continue. YOU do.

Therefore I am holding you personally responsible for everything I write henceforth.

***

“You can’t use racial slurs in conference calls!” the Human Resource officer told me.

“Susan, stop,” I said, “you know how much you turn me on when you’re angry.”

“I’m afraid that you will be suspended without pay until the Board decides what to do with you,” she responded.

“I’m not racist!” I declared. “I was simply stating what the Papa John’s guy said in HIS racist phone call!”

“You are hereby suspended. Please vacate the premise.”

“Bitch,” I said as I stood up.

I was so upset that I got drunk and drove to a cockfight. As I was placing a bet, my friend Don noticed something was wrong.

“What’s on your mind Bill?” Don asked as we were sharing a crack pipe.

“I don’t know anymore Don,” I said. “I feel like I’m stalling. All I’m doing is filling my time with sex, drugs, and absurd behavior. It’s gotten me nowhere. I don’t ask for much. All I really want is a quiet life. Sounds simple enough but I can’t seem to get out of my own way. I’m lost and the walls are crumbling all around me. Is it possible Don? Is it possible that I am the problem?”

Don took a hit off the pipe and thought for a moment.

“Nah,” he finally said.

“You’re probably right.”

Then we picked up some hookers off skid row.

we’ll always be together in electric dreams

Ever had a dream that made you wake up laughing?

So I was at a writer’s workshop where some dude was trying to get under my skin. Then we became best friends. Tom Brady also showed up because he was trying to get his acting career started. Why he was at a writer’s workshop was never explained.

Then, like a ghost from the past, appeared an old friend. In real life I haven’t spoken to him in nearly 15 years. His brother was actually my best friend and our friendship ended in the worst possible way: in a courtroom (we both lost btw). It’s one of my biggest regrets, and in truth, I dream about him often.

But his brother shows up, and I confide in him that I think highly of his sibling and I miss them both. In fact, I tell him that I am at this workshop because I am writing a fictionalized version of our friendship.

The Brother tells me that I can’t do that. I ask why and he disappears into a bookstore. I go looking for him and I find him with three small children. I ask him again why I can’t write the book. He tells me that his brother’s dead and that one of these children is his son.

It was a poignant moment in the dream. It reminded me of the passage of time, how we were once small children, and how we are now creating the next generation. I tell the Son of my best friend that I too have a son, how fortunate he is to have his uncle, and that his father was a good man.

The Brother disappears once again, and I help the Child find his uncle. As I walk with the Child, he tells me to not have regrets, and that he hopes to meet my son. I tell him that “that’s a very nice thing to say,” and that I hope they meet someday too.

Finally, we find his uncle standing outside. He’s with two men in suits. I tell the Brother that per his wishes, I won’t write the book. One of the men in suits spoke up and said “that’s a wise decision.”

“Are you an attorney?” I ask.

He nodded.

“What if I changed all the names and events? Can you sue me then?” I said.

“Well clearly he (my best friend) is everything that he’s not,” the lawyer replied. Whatever that meant.

I look over to the Brother. “Did you invite these guys here?” I ask.

He did.

“Well fuck it,” I said. “I’m writing the book.”

I then pointed at the lawyer’s shirt like he had a stain. When he looked down, I lifted my finger up to his face.

“Fuckin loser,” I said.

Then the dream ended.

the problem of good

Part of the reason why William Peter Blatty considered The Ninth Configuration as a true sequel to The Exorcist is because they both attempt to address the “mystery of the good.”

Blatty, from my understanding of course, was a devout Catholic so he understood these terms from a very spiritual perspective. While I find the phenomenon of religion fascinating, I don’t view the universe in that particular way. Nevertheless, I think Blatty was attempting to address a very interesting question, particularly with The Ninth Configuration (the film. I haven’t read the novel)

Much ado is made about “the problem of evil”, but that’s only a problem from a religious perspective. If the the universe is indifferent to our plight, and life is inherently selfish, then there is no mystery. Furthermore, there is no good OR evil…it’s merely a projection of human perception.

Many philosophers have attempted to formulate a model for morality, notably Kant’s Categorical Imperative and utilitarianism, with varying degrees of success. I personally tend to favor something that I heard Bart Ehrman say: I just know it when I see it. However I do find it interesting that nearly every religion has some variant of the Golden Rule: do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.

I don’t think that I have many philosophical convictions, but one thing I am certain of is that I am not a “blank slatist”. If we were born as blank slates, then nothing we do would be possible. Language acquisition itself provides some insight into the a priori nature of our being. What language can tell us precisely about our morality is unknown to me, but I think it warrants further investigation as evidenced by the Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule may not be a “philosophically consistent” principle, but I think it’s intuitive enough that there could possibly be something revealing about it. Empathy might be an example. To my understanding, empathy is a phenomenon that’s scientifically falsifiable, but I’m just spitballing here. Maybe “good” and “evil” are a priori categories of human reasoning, I dunno.

Either way, from both a religious and secular perspective, “the problem of good” needs answering.

faith based (2020)

So I was watching Spalding Gray’s Terrors of Pleasure when I thought “I’d probably enjoy this if I was sober.” So then I searched for something on Amazon Prime.

I came across a comedy called Faith Based, about two buddies that try to make a Christian film. It had all the ingredients to make a good film, or at least a movie that I’d enjoy. But it serves as a good reminder of how difficult it is to make a good motion picture.

It’s a story that I’d otherwise enjoy: about mediocre, yet good natured, talent trying to break into the big leagues by making a movie to help save their father’s church. Naturally, they discover the business is populated by cynical assholes.

Some of the jokes land. When the lead characters explain that “no one wants to see a movie where they don’t recognize anybody” and the camera lingers on the two actors you don’t recognize, I chuckled a bit. The film could have used a bit more of that self-awareness.

But I really am like my lead character in A Shot at the Title: I rarely watch a movie that I don’t want to completely rewrite and redirect. I think the film could have been salvaged by jettisoning all the Office inspired interviews and extending the length. The movie couldn’t have been made for very much money, but the production quality is pretty good. Maybe lingering on some of the shots would have extended its impact.

Of course, it’s not my movie, but if I were making it, as the lead characters go through their trials and tribulations, I would have played with audience by getting the movie as close to a shitty Christian film as one could possibly go before pulling the rug out from under them. That would have accentuated one of the film’s themes: that all of our hopes and dreams are actually just a scheme to make some asshole more money.

But if you’re interested, despite its subject matter, it’s not an anti-Christian or anti-religious movie. At its heart, it’s a film about family, community, and belonging. Nothing we haven’t seen a hundred times before.

Anyways, now I’m sober. Back to Spalding Gray.

Another shot at the title (part I)

“Get the fuck out of my house,” I told Pablo.

“At least read the script!” he replied.

“Pablo, I have everything I want. I’m happily married to a Vietnamese hooker I met in Van Nuys. I’ve got a son and a house in the hills. I’ve got more money than god thanks to This Taste Like Ass. I’m done with Hollywood. Fuck Kathleen, fuck the studios. I’m retired.”

Pablo shook his head and looked down at his beer. “You know what they say about you?” he asked. “They say you’re a one-hit wonder. That you got lucky with This Tastes Like Ass, and lightening doesn’t strike twice.”

“And they’re right!” I replied.

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this,” Pablo said. “I remember when I first read your script years ago. I said ‘this guy is going places’ and I thought it was a privilege to represent you.”

He stood up and looked at my three Oscars mounted proudly behind a glass case. “When we first met, you told me that the worst fate someone could have in this town is to have a career like Michael Cimino,” Pablo continued. Then he turned around and looked me in the eye. “Do what Cimino couldn’t do. Prove Hollywood wrong: make another great film.”

I looked away. “Like I said: I’m retired,” I replied.

Pablo stood up straight and laid the script down on the coffee table. “I’ll leave this here with you,” he said then showed himself out the door.

I picked up the script.

Like a Fart in a Windstorm by Dallas Austin Antonio,” it read.

***

Later that night, my son put on a film streaming on Amazonian Prime. I don’t remember what it was called. “Big Gay Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” or something. I was too drunk to care.

But my blood began to boil during the sex scenes. The action was not much better. Finally I had enough and in a drunken rage, I slammed my foot into the TV.

“What the fuck is this shit?!” I yelled.

“Dad you’re drunk! Go to bed!” my son, Slick Rick, said.

“Fuck you asshole! My creativity built this house! I own Hollywood! Back in my day, we showed rock hard cock, full frontal nudity, and absurdly graphic violence! Not this pussy shit! No tits, no penis? Why is there a plot? We never cared about that crap! What happened to kids these days!?Hollywood just ain’t the same anymore Slick Rick, I’m tellin ya.”

“Dad, you need to get a hobby,” he replied.

I sat down next to Rick and patted him on the knee. “You’re a good son,” I said. “Now go help your mother.”

I then wrapped my bottle of Evan Williams in a paper bag and began wondering the streets Laurel Canyon.

The next morning, when I woke up in my neighbor’s backyard, I began to ponder Pablo’s words. I took out my cellphone and called him up.

“James, where the hell have you been?” he said. “Your wife’s been frantically calling me, wondering if I knew where you were!”

“Nevermind that,” I replied. “Get me a meeting with Kathleen Kennedy (not THAT Kathleen Kennedy, the other one).”

“So you read the script?” Pablo asked.

“Yes, I took your advice. We’re back in business.”

TO BE CONTINUED

last temptation of Christ: a deeper revolution

The Last Temptation of Christ unsurprisingly stuck with me. Usually when I complete a novel, I think “hmm, that was nice” and I move on to the next thing. But Kazantzakis’s interpretation of “the Greatest Story Ever Told” is rewarding and leaves a lot to think about, especially if you’re obsessed with early Christian history.

I mean, obviously it’s not historically accurate. That’s not the point. The point is that the book brings these familiar characters to life. Jesus begins the book as a sickly carpenter before transforming into the messianic figure we’ve come to know and love. However, his humanity is emphasized. At times, Jesus comes across as a jerk with megalomaniac fantasies. This helps contextualize Jesus the man and the era he lived in.

This is best demonstrated by his relationship with Judas Iscariot. Judas is a true revolutionary with a hatred for the Romans and is often frustrated by Jesus and his message of love. Jesus feels that Judas’s revolutionary ideals don’t go far enough: the concerns for the body are temporary, Jesus wants to bring salvation to the world…Jew and gentile alike.

The various characters are often puzzled by this. This universalism is too lofty, too radical to ever be realized.

And this sort of remains true today. I’ve expressed my admiration for John Dominic Crossan views: Jesus was responding to the imperial authority of the Romans. Jesus and his followers might not thought of it in that way, but that was effectively what he was doing. I don’t think enough scholars, both Christian and secular, stop to appreciate this. Not even Bart Ehrman.

I think this is best demonstrated by the cross as the official symbol of Christianity. Jesus unquestionably died by crucifixion, perhaps the most ruthless form of punishment by the Romans. And none of the early Christian apologists deny that it happened. Stop and think about that: their very leader got “owned” by the Romans. In fact, it HAD to have happened so that he could be resurrected. So Christians took this event and chalked it up as a win for their beliefs, and a loss for the ruthless rule of the Romans.

Scholars often wonder how Paul was able to convince so many pagans to convert to Christianity (or, to be more historically accurate, his form of Christian Judaism, as Paul still thought of himself as a Jew), well maybe here’s an answer: Roman rule under the Pax Romana pissed off enough people that when they heard of a man who was resurrected after a crucifixion, conversion was a way to subtly stick it to the Romans. This could be why Paul put so much emphasis on death and resurrection in his theology.

Yes, I know there are plenty of problems with this theory, chief among these is how little the Romans are criticized in the New Testament. In fact, the Gospels explicitly blame the Jews for Jesus’s death and not the Romans, even though the Romans certainly DID execute Jesus. My response to this is that you don’t have to spend more than two minutes following populist/leftist politics before realizing that they hate each other more than they hate their opposition. It is my opinion (maybe more on that at another time) that this is fundamentally rooted in these kinds of movements. Even though the Romans were THE existential threat to life in the Mediterranean world, it would have been mainstream Judaism that were the primary theological/ideological opponents of early Christianity…even if the Jews were as much under the thumb of Roman rule as they were. This is heresy in the world of radical movements, what leftists might call “class traitors” today, and it wouldn’t take much for Christian writers to switch out Romans for the Jews in regards to who was guilty for Jesus’s death.

It is this narcissism of small differences that plague radical movements, religious and political alike, and I doubt early Christianity was any different. (See Monty Python’s Life of Brian)

It is difficult to tell if the real Jesus actually preached this message of universalism, or a peaceful coexistence of all people under one God. Crossan might, but it’s more likely this was extracted by later thinkers and is now considered the ethical message of Christianity IF people could move past their short-sightedness (maybe not under “one god”, but you get the idea).

Anyways, I’ve spent too much time on this post, forgot where I was going. The end.

the last temptation of Christ- by nikos Kazantzakis

Look, I’m not a particularly religious person.

Why I obsess over Jesus and the New Testament, I don’t know. Just do. Get off my ass.

But I just started reading The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis. I’m only about halfway through it, it’s a long book. I don’t expect any twists and turns to a story that I’m already familiar with.

But the book is nothing like the film, let’s just get that out of the way.

I couldn’t have written in a million years. It reads like an extended version of the Gospels. But it weaves between perspectives-from Jesus (Son of Mary, as he’s often called), to Judas, to Mary (wife of Joseph) to Mary Magdalene, to the Apostles, etc-to create a rich tapestry of these events. Because Kazantzakis writes like the authors of the Gospels, the book actually breaths life into the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

While reading it, I honestly forget that this book was deemed “controversial”. Of course, I haven’t gotten to the “last temptation” part, which might understandably piss some people off, but as Kazantzakis explains in his prologue, Jesus (at least if you’re Christian) was both full divine and fully human. Can you imagine the burden of having to live with that? Everyone hears about the “divine” part. But no one wants to confront the “fully human” part. So Kazantzakis takes that perspective and runs with it.

Anyways, finished taking a shit. Gotta get back to work.

BYE ✋

“joseph campbell”

I was watching Bart Ehrman debate some dude, forgot who, and he mentioned the non-canonical early Christian text, Apocalypse of Peter (never read it). The text describes heaven and hell, with descriptions of hell being far more creative than those of heaven. Point being, as Ehrman explains (paraphrasing): “there are only so many ways to describe eternal bliss”, while the imagination on eternal damnation knows no bounds.

It’s not really a revolutionary observation, I know, but that’s true in all our storytelling: “heaven” is a place of temporary stability before “hell” comes along and propels the plot forward. Therefore much of the creative energy behind a story lies in the “hell” of it all.

In other words, story is conflict.

But I think Ehrman’s statement is also a reflection on the nature of language. I’ve always found that imaginative descriptions of dread, anger, depression, anxiety, etc. to be far more creative and rewarding than depictions of bliss. Heaven, beauty, bliss, etc lie in the realm of the sublime, and therefore transcend the possibilities of language.

However, that might just be a reflection of my own deranged mind.

Whatever dude, shit’s boring.

once upon a time in montana iii

I couldn’t hit shit with my six shooter. I missed every target.

J Robert Oppenheimer’s 10 year old son, Malachi, watched and nodded his head. “Did you really know my father from the war?” he asked.

“Sure, why not?” I replied.

“Whose side did you fight for?”

“Uh, Abraham Lincoln’s?”

“Which detachment?”

“963rd, 9th battalion, 4th infantry, uhmmm, at the Battle of Waterloo?”

“Did you get injured?”

“Oh yeah. All over.”

Malachi scratched his head. He knew I was full of shit. “Are you sure that you didn’t know my father from the future?” he asked.

“How do you know about that?”

“He has a time machine in the barn.”

Malachi took me into the barn and lifted a large tarp off a time weapon—a similar looking time weapon that sent Mr. Ree, Oppenheimer, and myself back to 1879.

“Does it work?” I asked Malachi.

“Of course. My father built it. He can make anything work.”

Oppenheimer stood at the entryway of the barn. “That’s enough Malachi,” he said. “You run along now.”

Malachi shook his head. “Yes father,” he said and went back to tending to his chores.

“Why didn’t you tell me about this, Bob?” I asked Oppenheimer.

“It doesn’t work.”

“Malachi says it does.”

Oppenheimer paced back and forth, rubbing his hand across his face. “Look,” he said, “we can go over this all day. Sure, I can send you to the future, the past, whatever. But it’s almost impossible to get you back to YOUR timeline. I’m sorry James. But we need to look at the present. You’re here. Mr. Ree is here. I need help. This community needs your help. Please help me. I can’t fight Dickleburg on my own.”

I thought through his words. “You love Malachi,” I said. “But did you know that I have a child back in that timeline? If there is a chance, however slim, to get back there, I have to take it. Wouldn’t you do the same if you were me?”

Oppenheimer nodded. “If I’m going to help you,” he said, “then we have to secure these goldmines. There’s a property in gold that makes these time weapons work. To secure the mines, we have to defeat Dickleburg.”

I pulled out my Korth 357.

“I’m no good with those six shooters,” I replied. “But I can shoot a fly’s dick off with this 357. Can you help me make more bullets?”

“That I can do.”

TO BE CONTINUED

midlife crisis

I ain’t gonna lie.

I did exactly what I wanted to do for nine straight years: drink in excess.

So it’s hard for me to say that I regret nearly a decade of my life. There were some great fucking times.

But were there regrets? Situations I could’ve handled better? People I could’ve been nicer to?

Oh yeah! You bet!

The truth is, where I came from, I overstayed my welcome. A good friend told me, for my own well-being, that he better not see my face in these bars ever again.

He meant it.

I never returned. Never spoke with him again.

Some things are meant to be forgotten.

But I can’t help but think: do all my old friends hate me? Do they think about me as much as I think about them?

I suppose that we all separated for the better. It just nags me that there are those I spent years with, whose lives instantly got better once when I left.

Of course my life got better too when I left them.

Maybe I’m just overstating my self importance.

Maybe it’s hard for me to accept that time is gaining on me.