Fearing Fate

Some Born To Greatness Some Flee It Unsucessfully

Fate is a concept that has fallen from fashion; like honor, morality, and manners. We think of fate as akin to voodoo, primitive twaddle embraced by simple, unsophisticated people. Surrounded by our gadgets, the much-loved amulets and totems of today, we imagine ourselves swimming in free will, shaping our very reality as we go, bending life itself to our wishes. This, of course, is fatuous delusion, the product of our misguided belief that technology will cure the human flaws that have dogged our every step for millennia.

In fact, we are well past the master/slave tipping point and it has become impossible for any serious student of modern life to suggest with a straight face that these machines serve us; our habits and behaviors have simply become grist for the mill they own and operate.

We are the raw material; they are the plantation owners. Candidly, you will have to search far and wide in our society for anything resembling freedom and free will; as was the case in post-bellum America, “volunteered slavery” results when the terrible face of freedom rears its ugly head, we race back to the comfort of shackles, all of us.

Mental illness introduced me to freedom, real freedom, the freedom one experiences wandering alone in the desert at night, pursued by jackals. It is every bit as terrifying and exhilarating as you think it is. But today, now, I am more interested in fate, that force we imagine we’ve outgrown.

I suggest that the only people who would deny the existence of fate are those who have never tried to disobey its merciless judgment, those of us who have never tried to swim upstream, those among us who have never put forth the unpopular, contrarian position just because someone needed to do it and no one else, apparently, had the moxie.

Because, friends, you flee fate at your peril; hide from fate and you enter the old testament world, you get smote with a two-by-four.

Let’s paraphrase Shakespeare. “In my stars I am above thee; but be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some are beaten like rented mules and stepchildren until they finally get a little humility, to say nothing of a clue, and start doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Greatness lurks on both sides of my family tree like a meretricious monster, smiling its disingenuous smile, lying without even saying a word. As a child I did worship it, like other people, but became more conscious of its horrors than its delights, and soon fell into the familiar pattern of fleeing into escape in its myriad forms, drugs, alcohol, mania and depression, indulging hedonistic appetites, the adrenaline rush of reckless thrill seeking, etcetera.

What comes of wrestling with one’s fate, hiding from it, denying it, is simple – and recognizable from far away – you see a man losing a war with himself, a man who has become his worst enemy, a man self-administering the death of 1,000 cuts.

In 1990 I wrote the first draft of my bipolar memoir, Invisible Driving. In the course of doing so I had to confront some hideous realities.

First, of course, came the shame and disgrace of being less than, inferior, crazy. Then there was the ragged history of escape into intoxicants. Worse still was a long string of unpalatable attributes, cowardice, arrogance, entitlement, narcissism and elitism among them.

But, as I slaved to do the impossible, that is, put readers into the unimaginably foreign world of mania, something even more horrible appeared, a quality I’d feared yet always secretly wondered about; greatness.

Once you have done something absolutely new, something clearly impossible, you cannot pretend you haven’t. You know. And if you know, and you fail to act on that knowledge, you are far worse than a slacker – you are too much of a coward to be yourself.

We are put here to love one another, to care for one another. When we don’t, we fuck with fate, and the sickness begins. There are a million ways to be great.

If greatness is your fate, do not flee it; but remember it’s the gift that keeps on taking.” Taz Mopula

Occupy Art: Behold Armchair Activism

Attention All Armchair Activists And Recliner Radicals

The occupy movement has come and gone, leaving only a trail of Starbucks coffee cups and disillusioned armchair activists. We must not be shocked or even disappointed to learn that this symphony of orchestrated whining accomplished absolutely nothing since it had no agenda, stated objectives, or suggestions.

However, lurking deep within the sanctimonious orgy of middle-aged, middle-class malcontents yet unready to embrace the adulthood they’d fled for decades; was a point.

These cheery nitwits drew fuel from more than mere ennui and narcissism; righteous indignation burned in their stomachs like bad Mexican food, inviting the question – Is there any such thing as good Mexican food?

How can it be, they inquired, in that charmingly innocent way of theirs, that 99% of the nation’s wealth is in the hands of only 1% of its population?

It is a fair question, but a stupid one, since the American public stood by for generations and idly watched the looting, too complacent even to vote, much less defend itself.

Far more interesting is the cultural divide, and where one stands on it.

“Never confuse fame with artistic quality, or wealth with value. Society gets what it wants, not what it needs.” Taz Mopula 

After merciless soul-searching I have come to the conclusion that in all my artistic endeavors – (novels – poetry – cartoons – tazmopulisms – essays) – I am aligned squarely with the 1% and have no interest in appealing to the 99%. Let’s do the math.

Entire U.S. population is approximately 300,000,000

Cretins 10%
Neanderthals 10%
Troglodytes 10%
Liars 10%
Racists 10%
Religious Zealots 10%
Xenophobes 10%
Illiterate 10%
Impoverished 10%
Unapologetically anti-intellectual 9%

Alistair McHarg prospects 1%  equaling approximately       3,000,000

Let it be proclaimed for all to hear that I serve the 1%; proudly!

“There is only one truly authentic way to enjoy success; that is by remaining indifferent to it.” Taz Mopula

Just Say NO To Nihilism

In An Age Where Anti-Matter Matters More And More

When you spend a life haunting the dark corridors of mental illness, chemical dependency, and art – well – suicide is always near, rather like those bright red fire extinguisher cases with the label that reads, “In case of emergency break glass.”

Losing a long parade of loved ones to this merciless toll taker eliminates the awe, the terror; glamour and luster retreat. (Notably, many people choose to purchase their suicide on the installment plan.)

If you need mania to be creative, then maybe creativity isn’t for you.” Taz Mopula

My generation fell in love with a mythology that linked madness (frequently drug-induced), self-destruction, and the complete abandonment of all our society held dear. Our special gift back to the society so busy attempting to spoil us was contempt. Our battle cry – sex, drugs, rock & roll – simply translates to – hedonism.

(Need I say we had no alternatives to offer? We romanced nihilism like it was going out of style, which, thankfully, it did.)

Mediocre art misrepresents reality; great art obliterates it.” Taz Mopula

This atmosphere proved to be an ideal breeding ground for artistes who perfected the empty pose, and empty prose that went along with it. Kerouac and Burroughs were early adapters, Hunter Thompson threw himself into the fray, and today Tom Waits is a living homage.

Even now these icons of hip negativity and gleeful self-destruction are taken seriously, revered by people who should know better.

Art matters most when it reminds people they might.” Taz Mopula

I am very fortunate to have outlived my cynicism, sarcasm, and nihilism. Today I find negativity lazy, cowardly, and worst of all – dull. Any imbecile can say no – it’s a trick we all learn at the age of two.

To be fair, I also have no time for those who turn away from the world’s darkness, paint on a photograph smile, and stupidly say yes.

But time is running out, and things certainly aren’t getting better. I seek the people who have looked Satan right in the eye and say yes anyway. They are my heroes.

The Best Present Ever

Share Your Self Unavailable Elsewhere

They say that, for alcoholics in recovery, every morning is Christmas morning and every evening is Thanksgiving. If that sounds like a wonderful way to live, trust me, it is. We start the day delighted – even amazed – to have a day at all, and close it out in humble gratitude – no matter the challenges rained down upon us.

Christmas – that Winter Wonderland of Dysfunction – that Tournament of Neuroses parade – is fueled by an intense concentration of wildly unrealistic expectations arising from what we hope to get and what we believe we must deliver. Resentments fly and pressure mounts – those of us still drinking enter a hideous, toxic fog from which we emerge only after the last dreary scrap of cretinous Super Bowl commentary has been shared.

The best policy regarding gifts is – assume you will not get any – concentrate your energies on giving them routinely – with no quo on the quid’s other side. 

(This mirrors your reality, since you receive gifts daily which are offered with no expectation of return.) 

One of the reasons Christmas is the most dreaded and despised time of the year is that presents – things – are expected to redeem a year of disappointment. This is a curious bit of idiocy, one wonders how it can survive.

When you give, give of yourself. As the great Taz Mopula reminds us:

“Give yourself. That is the only present you can give that is not readily available elsewhere.” 

Give little gifts every day; don’t focus on one behemoth at the glittery time of year to save a lost cause. 

Self Medication

If You Need Brain Surgery - Involve Other People

The first time I heard the term “self-medication” I laughed out loud. In searching for an analogy one thinks immediately of the old adage – the lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client. But that’s when the stakes are low, going free or going to jail. How about when the stakes are high? Sanity versus insanity? Life versus death?

Jean Paul Sartre, a very clever fellow, used to play Russian roulette because he was bored. Well, self-medication is like playing Russian roulette with one big difference, all the gun’s chambers contain live ammo.

Self-medication – (the term itself is preposterous) – fits nicely into the insufferable arrogance and egotism of mania – as if to say – I can manage this little spot of bother myself with nothing more complicated than some garden-variety drugs. I remember it all too vividly – “throwing gasoline on a fire”.

I adored the adrenaline rush of mania, and I tried to “manage it” with marijuana and alcohol – marijuana to knock the sharp edges off the mania and make it smooth and yummy – and alcohol to slow me down and mellow me out to the point where I wasn’t constantly irritated by the sheer inanity of the huddled masses and their inability to keep up with me.

It was an inspired strategy except that it wasn’t and a brilliant idea except that it almost got me killed – folks – when it comes time for brain surgery you really need to involve others, professionals – people who actually know what they’re doing.

The hubris and sense of entitlement one encounters in a person at the apex of mania are astounding, but add in the loss of inhibitions and appalling judgment that arise from drunkenness and you have a confident imbecile who thrives on risk-taking and abusing authority.

Some people can drink; I’m not three of them. It would be nice if the folks who made booze would take people like me into consideration. For example, if booze came with realistic warning labels with statements like these.

WARNING: Excessive Use Of This Product Might Cause You To:

· Invade Russia during the winter.
· Buy life insurance from a guy named Guido.
· Toss your Rolex onto the chips in the expectation of filling out an inside straight.
· Believe your boss really wants your advice about improving the department.
· Think you’ve suddenly become a great singer who will dazzle them all on karaoke night.
· Tell the cop of course you knew it was a one-way street; you were only driving one way.
· Impress your mother in law with that joke about the octopus and the bagpipes.
· Get the word THINK tattooed on your forehead backwards so you can read it in the mirror while you’re shaving.

The list would be long. Perhaps reading it would give us time to get over the absurd idea that we can “medicate” ourselves using drugs that are designed to rob of us of our reason.

Shame On You

Be Nice To Enemies You Are One

The earliest phases of recovery are characterized by denial; you try to distance yourself from the mental illness that has wreaked havoc in your life. Gradually you acknowledge the catastrophic messes you’ve made and claim ownership, your signature is unmistakable. The guilt you experience is not altogether unhealthy as it provides the foundation for action, your determination to not repeat these steps. However, guilt is best consumed in small doses, too much at once can be toxic and counter-productive.

Courage increases as you see the hurt and damage within exposed, perhaps for the first time. The mirror you have finally faced tells an unflattering story, all roads lead back to you, unintentional behavior has blazed a trail of self-destruction and abuse…people and property show the cost of being associated with you. At this point, shame – that most counter-productive of all emotions – arrives with a custom-fitted iron maiden. The self-loathing begins; you fully understand the source, and consequences – of your illness. You are ashamed of being you.

Right here is where you will lose whatever mojo you once had; cool, swagger, confidence will all abandon you.

You will see how the illness is hard-wired into your system – body and soul – and come to understand it not as a flaw but a fact. Work like a demon, shine the light on your miner’s helmet, and you will get to know yourself like never before. Then, forgive yourself – really forgive yourself – and the shame does not have chance. Hide nothing from yourself or anyone else and your beloved attributes will return; cool, swagger and confidence. But now it is different, now you no longer wear them like suits of armor – now they emanate from within.

Eliminate shame and you are free from the curse of caring about the opinion of others.

“Guilt is when you feel bad about something you did while shame is when you feel bad about something are.” Taz Mopula

Attraction Not Persuasion

Pretending Not To Know The Obvious Is Exhausting

I have been a promotion writer for 30+ years. Essentially, writing promotion involves making true statements in such a way that readers are encouraged to arrive at false conclusions. For example, when I say our vinyl siding virtually never needs painting – that translates to – our siding needs painting.

This profession has never posed a moral struggle because, to me, the marketplace rule is caveat emptor and companies have the right to hire professional persuaders adept at putting products and services in the most positive light possible – so long as these hired guns do not intentionally misrepresent the truth.

However, when it came to recovery, and writing my books, I went to the opposite extreme. Rigorous, even brutal, honesty was my modus operandi, I understood that there was no alternative. When writing about serious matters like mental illness, evil, and alcoholism I quickly realized there was no room for preaching or persuasion, only the truth was important, only the story mattered.

Years spent in therapy and recovery netted a treasure trove of knowledge, not just about the hideous monsters that delighted in tormenting me, but also the tools and techniques of the healing process itself. Enthusiastic and happy about these positive developments I sought to share what I learned with my near and dear, and was met with various sorts of rejection. After a while, I stopped. One can only be hit in the face with a bull fiddle for so long.

I came to understand that people are, for the most part, invested in keeping you in your pigeonhole. If they have come to think of you as a self-destructive loser, continuing to do so makes them feel good about themselves. When you present as self-disciplined, confident, productive and – most egregious of all – happy – your new persona is upsetting and troubling. No amount of explanation will help them understand, or care, what you’ve been through. Only results matter.

Even before setting down the first word of INVISIBLE DRIVING I vowed to tell my tale with the mercilessness of a research scientist, embarrassment meant nothing to me. I applied the same formula to MOONLIT TOURS and WASHED UP, even though they are novels. When it comes to my personal writing, the poetry and lit, (and in an odd way, even the cartoons), I have no desire to persuade anyone of anything. 

Tell the truth, as you understand it, with clarity, precision and elegance – and make it entertaining. Don’t tell the readers anything; show them.

Self-Actualization

Arrogance And Intellegence Yes Arrogance Wisdom No

I have learned never to confuse facts and information with knowledge, much less wisdom. In “the information age” there is an endless waterfall of data, but who is there to teach us how we can make sense of it? Mere information is almost valueless and the glut of information we have today is actually an impediment to healthy living. As ever, balance is the key – and you will never achieve balance in the absence of wisdom.

You can get education from others but wisdom, sadly, must come from within. In general, the important lessons of life arrive on the business end of a 2×4. So, for starters, don’t think there are short cuts; the best way to learn is to live. You must have the experiences yourself for them to mean anything.

I think of the process sequentially, so, for want of a better name, let’s call it the Taz Mopula Hierarchy of Self-Actualization – TMHSA – and have a look.

1. Know Yourself. – Few people attack this step and most of the ones that do, fail. It requires curiosity, relentless determination, and brutal honesty.

2. Forgive Yourself. – Only after thoroughly understanding yourself, the good and the bad, is it truly possible to forgive yourself for character flaws and harm done.

3. Love Yourself. – Do not confuse this with narcissism; it is all about unqualified acceptance, humility, and gratitude. The universe loves you, why disagree?

4. Enjoy Yourself. – You can easily spot people that have made it this far, they have absolutely no envy, they can’t think of anyone else they would rather be.

5. Allow Others To Enjoy You Enjoying Being Yourself. – This is the ultimate, it involves you allowing others to enjoy the real you, even if it means suffering their admiration.

The wisdom here is that you will enjoy life, you will have healthy priorities, and you will have purpose. In a situation like this, doing triage on the deluge of useless information clamoring for your attention will be child’s play.

Beware of Sellebrity

Celebrity Not Known Many People

When I was in the throes of mania I imagined myself a world-class genius artiste who – if not rich and famous at the time – would certainly be both at any moment. When I had drifted deep into the dark quagmire of depression I imagined that I was neither rich nor famous – and blindingly incompetent in navigating life.

In both cases of course the truth was far less interesting; I was merely a worker among workers, another Bozo on the bus, trying to make sense of an insane world like all the other citizens – and having a bit of a rough patch.

As a young person I had been misled about wealth and fame; and learned at last that neither one is particularly desirable. Importantly, both stand in the way of happiness, contrary to popular opinion. Having “enough” money is essential; having more than enough is a recipe for disaster. Fame is different, even a little bit of fame can be deadly – at the very least it is a distraction from the important things of life.

As a bipolar nitwit I believed that the happiness I lacked could be found outside, elsewhere; in the approval of others, admiration, success, wealth, etc. In my naiveté it never dawned on me that the creative geniuses I admired – like Van Gogh, Coltrane, Beckett – to select three examples at random – were not particularly happy people. Importantly, I had the relationship between art and success backwards – I was looking at the success, not the art.

As my great friend HG said of my bipolar memoir; “The true success is that you survived the events described and that you wrote about them – everything that happens from now on is extra.”

This so called “culture” of ours is obsessed with celebrity, as if being known were an end in itself. But it isn’t, at least not a worthwhile end. One should find what one is meant to do and then do it as well as humanly possible. If you find your audience, and they give you money, we may say huzzah. But the moment you start straying from the knitting and make celebrity your goal, there is virtually no chance at all you will contribute anything worthwhile to a society in need of all kinds of help.

Today I am happy to let my books, poetry, cartoons etc. do the talking for me. I would be delighted to see them earning money and gaining approbation. I did not create them to be shy, hiding from the spotlight. They are old enough to hold jobs, they have much to offer – and they enjoy attention. I will stand aside, like a father, and continue to regard the camera as a succubus.

People Can Be Important

If You Need Both Hands And Both Feet To Count

Human beings are social by nature; one true barometer of health is whether or not we build and maintain nourishing relationships predicated on dignity and respect. Those of us who have spent time in Cookoopantsatopolis understand what it means to be truly isolated from our kind, imprisoned in an irrational, unsafe world of our own. Indeed, there is no loneliness to match the loneliness of the mentally ill. Alcoholism too is an illness of isolation, a lonely avenue of broken glass.

The very earliest phases of recovery involve emerging from a hideous prison of lies and misperceptions, joining with the world of other people at last. At this point it is imperative to trust, for some of us it is the first time we have ever done so. Sadly, we must acknowledge that our judgment is virtually useless, and the opinions of others are almost certainly superior to those of our own. Gradually we learn how to gauge our own behavior by reading the eyes of others, in this way we become the masters of our own well being. The opinions of others become important raw material in the process of self-regulation.

Having learned how it feels to be connected to others, to trust them, even depend on them – it can be hard to know when the moment has come to fly, however, if you are lucky, it will. As a child is ready to leave home, so are you ready at some point to become serenely indifferent to the opinion of others. Everything in this twisted culture of ours will try to persuade you that you are winning only if you are professionally successful, popular and rich – but one very important measure of your actual health will be how successfully you avoid this idiotic bear trap.

If you can look at yourself in the mirror without blinking and honestly say that you are in good faith, making the most of the gifts you’ve been given, and savoring this sweet short life – you’re cool. As a recovered, clear-eyed individual, the moment you are influenced by how your efforts are perceived by others is the moment you begin your fall from grace. If they like what you do, that’s great, if they don’t, that’s great too. By now you can tell if you’re for real or selling soap – if you’re okay – let the others float.