Invisible Baggage

iceberg sailboat

When my daughter was born I wanted the safest car available, so I purchased the first of my five Volvos, the only new automobile I’ve ever owned. Later I discovered the trick of buying high-end Volvos used, right off a lease, thereby scoring a like-new car at half the price.

I cared for my vehicles with a level of obsession only the mentally ill can muster. They were cleaned routinely and kept absolutely empty, indistinguishable from how they’d looked on the showroom floor. These cream puffs were, perhaps, my only material world self-indulgence. One key element of their care regimen involved always, always making certain the doors were locked.

With a slavish, OCD-esque devotion to meaningless, compulsive routine I invariably checked all four door handles, and often the trunk, to make certain the automatic locks had responded appropriately when prompted. (Of course they always had, but one can never be too careful when one’s cheese has slipped far off one’s cracker, no?) I suppose that, after enduring such terror and madness in my manic episodes, I desperately craved mastery over something, even if it was only my car.

Perhaps the sweetest of them all was a burgundy 850, loaded. My then girlfriend, let’s call her Prunella Entwhistle, and I chose to go on holiday to Nova Scotia. Going by car meant we could travel every mile from Philly in THC-enhanced luxury, styling like sophisticated Sybarites. And so we did, all the way to the very northernmost tip of Newfoundland, an isolated promontory mere whistling distance from the Arctic Circle.

Newfoundland is a raw, desolate place; apart from the slender road there was no evidence of “civilization” whatsoever.

We parked. Before us lay a vast vista, the chilly North Atlantic, not far from the Titanic’s final resting place, and there, right in the center of our view was a massive iceberg not half a mile offshore, glowing with that transcendent blue one sees nowhere else. Hush, an immense silence made even quieter by the ambient sounds of waves dragging along the stone beach, wind, and the occasional bird. We burned yet another J and gazed in a kind of rapture, then got out for a better view of the frozen mountain, floating so peacefully.

Prunella zipped up her jacket. I got out, squeezed the remote door lock, and checked all four handles. Then I rapped on the window of every door with my knuckle to make certain it was up all the way, (I kept the windows so clean it was impossible to tell if they were open or closed.) Prunella watched with disbelief and then blurted out. “What the hell are you doing? Moron; the nearest human being is fifty miles away!”

My father, quite famously, was blissfully unaware of his inner life, but he did get off a good one-liner from time to time. He liked to tell me, “No matter where you go, you take your problems with you.”

One For The Money

Even The Greatest Paintings Are Flat

“Take no prisoners!” That’s what legendary singer Billy Paul used to tell his band right before going on stage.

I’ve been a performer all my life, singer, poet, comedian, lecturer, maniacal street celebrity. (HIDEOUS DETAILS AVAILABLE HERE).

For much of what I laughingly refer to as “my career” I regarded assassins as the apex of professionalism – heartless and methodical, all business, all technique.

Over the years my attitude about performance has transformed, closely tracking my recovery.

At first I thought of “the act” as a mask I clung onto with white knuckles, until one could not tell where it ended and my face began.

As I became more comfortable and facile in front of a crowd, moving with glib, even condescending confidence, I polished the mask until it shone so brightly even the people sitting in the very last row needed sunglasses.

Then something happened, I grew more confident still and suddenly craft and “art” became less fascinating.

I must credit a few very special people for carrying me across the river; by watching these world class artists perform I discovered that craft is only a tool.

Real art, I came to understand, lies in opening up your true self and sharing what you have, whatever it is that makes you special, whatever it is that’s unavailable anywhere else.

Lily Tomlin, Richard Pryor, Keith Jarrett, Sarah Vaughan, Sun Ra, and Jimi Hendrix.

When these people left the stage they didn’t take anything with them, they gave it all. All of them shared one essential quality; fearless generosity.

Craft is just something you internalize until you can forget it altogether and be yourself – cool, relaxed, smile on your face – bathing in the spotlight’s unforgiving chill.

Straight Jackets Made Here

straight jacket

How is it that a culture able to conceive and create over 100 different types of toothpaste has managed to develop just one vision of the afterlife?

Heaven: puffy clouds, harps, angels floating lazily. Hell: flames, smell of sulfur, pitchfork-wielding demons.

Humanity really enjoys patting its collective back on the subject of inventiveness and creativity, but here, in a matter demanding its full powers and greatest reach, we are stuck with clichés so mundane they’re better suited to greeting cards than theological constructs.

Once again, imagination fails precisely when we need it most.

Heaven is actually very easy to find – (in a difficult sort of way) – but I will save that discussion for another day.

Hell, by contrast, finds you – and for those of us who labor under the disadvantage of mental illness, this concept has a very special meaning indeed.

You see, there is nothing generic about hell; it is not a “one-size-fits-all” experience. To view it this way is to grossly underestimate the exquisite construction of nature, in general, and the human mind in particular.

In fits of mental illness, your best friend – (you, one hopes) – turns traitor and becomes your worst enemy. This is very bad news since your newfound nemesis knows absolutely everything about you – darkest hungers, terrors, insecurities, shame, self-loathing, resentments, rage, unwholesome needs.

In other words, there is an entire dungeon full of devices to select from in order to devise a torture ideally suited to hurt and damage you as much as possible. One must admire the elegance of this construct, assuming one is blessed with the luxury of distance from it.

They say that the lesson you most need to learn is the one that will continue to confront you, reappearing endlessly until you deal with it. Mental illness is frequently a way to make certain this rule is enforced.

Your straight jacket will not be “off-the-rack” – it is custom-tailored to accentuate precisely those qualities you would prefer to hide from the world, and yourself.

Dismantling The Vatican

vatican

My father was beyond judgmental; he was an imperious iconoclast with opinions about absolutely everything. The Professor expressed thoughts in the form of edicts and proclamations, as if to say disagreement was a pointless exercise. One did not have discussions with the old man, much less debates. One was educated.

My family traveled a great deal when I was young, and my dad, an architect and aficionado of esthetics, among other things, was fond of dragging us to cultural touchstones like cathedrals, gardens, and art galleries. He would explain, with signature irreverence, (much to the horror of passersby), and we would listen with appropriate respect, if we knew what was good for us.

The Vatican

I remember walking through the Vatican with him. Together we examined every gilt detail of this opulent, overwrought warehouse, admiring the way it oozed wretched excess at once gaudy and operatic, carefully designed to intimidate and lure with meretricious sparkle. Sweeping his arm in grand theatricality he exhaled loudly and sneered, “Cecil B. DeMille”.

The Snarling Atheist

My father was no mere agnostic, I should point out, but a snarling atheist who put nature in the place frequently occupied by God. Still, he admired cathedrals from an architectural standpoint and an artistic one. He was much taken by the cathedrals in France and took great pains to point out that the men who built them often worked their entire lives without seeing the finished product, indeed, many of these monuments required centuries to complete, and, generations of stone carvers toiled in anonymity, devoting their skill, art, passion and best energies to a higher calling.

No Guarantee Of Reward

How does the old saw go about the man who plants a tree knowing that he will never live to sit in its shade?

The Great Fake Art Quote Quiz

campbell soup

Ours is a slovenly age where being loudest actually trumps being right. Long before I discovered Taz Mopula, whose sage utterances so frequently grace these virtual pages, it became evident to me that misattribution of quotes had reached epidemic proportions.

Today, the time is fast approaching when Chuck E. Cheese will be getting credit for, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

In an attempt to return decorum, and intellectual good faith, to the practice of quoting exceptional people for general edification, I have gathered some profound observations on the subject of art. Your challenge is to locate the disingenuous one(s). Good luck!

“Mediocre art misrepresents reality; great art obliterates it.” Leroy Neiman

“My fondest wish is that I have contributed nothing to the art world.” Andy Warhol

“Fear is the motivating force behind all great art. Artists achieve greatness not because they set out to, but because they desperately fear mediocrity.” Pier Paolo Pasolini

“The great triumph of art is its purposelessness.” Salvador Dali

“Critics are to artists as cats are to fish; fascinated by their movements up to the very moment they devour them.” Pablo Picasso

“It is art, not science, that most convincingly shores up the imaginary wall allowing Man to believe he is qualitatively superior to the lower beasts.” Samuel Beckett

“When you find an enterprise for which there is no satisfactory category, all that remains is to call it Art.” Christo Vladimirov Javacheff

“To ensure success, always treat your audience the way you would treat a retarded baby.” Alfred Hitchcock

“In a perfect world there would be no art; it would be superfluous.” Jackson Pollock

“Paint, musical notes, and words are not the raw materials of art; the raw materials of art are fear, resentment, and free time.” Albert Camus

“Art may be best understood as the shortest distance from Point A to Point B in all cases when Point A resides in the material realm – therefore enabling it to be proscribed by sensory analysis – and Point B resides in a realm which is at once unknown and unknowable.” Jean Paul Sartre

“The artist is not compelled to earn the audience’s respect; quite the contrary, it is the responsibility of the audience to erode the contempt naturally felt for it by the artist.” Richard Wagner

“The difference between lavatory attendants and art critics is that lavatory attendants provide a valuable service to society.” Rene Magritte

Contact me for answers.