May I Continue, Likewise, to Remain

May I be a guard for those who need protection,
a guide for those on the path,
a boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood.
May I be a lamp in the darkness,
a resting place for the weary,
a healing medicine for all who are sick,
a vase of plenty, a tree of miracles.
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings,
may I bring sustenance and awakening,
enduring like the earth and sky. until all beings are freed from sorrow
and all are awakened.

—Shantideva

The Case of Amos Avery Blodget

The doctor lowered his hand. "Oh, Mr. Blodget, you know very well what happens. What happens when God becomes man, through Christ, is that He is crucified. He is crucified on Golgotha. And He is crucified here as we speak—in you, in me, in Matthew, and in this tree."

"But I'm afraid I don't see that, doctor."

Dr. Uyterhoeven nodded. "Well, I'll grant it may not be as obvious a notion, or as popular, but I promise you, if you look directly, you will see—" He leaned forward on his elbow and held up his hand between them, as if to display it. "In order that we may live, that we may have this experience, the Infinite has clearly taken a very finite, very limited form, a form which places such a tight yoke on its infinitude that it apparently must expend its captive energy by scrolling it out, so to speak, through time." The doctor closed his hand. "Or we may choose to look at it the other way: that Eternity has entered the moment—it has done this for our sake—but that the moment places such constraint upon Eternity that it likewise must expend its captive energy by spilling off this vast expanse of space."

The doctor smiled. "Either way, the same obtains for everything you'll ever know of this life, Mr. Blodget, everything you can touch and taste and smell—everything you can confirm—casts an otherwise infinite and eternal being, God, into a very limited, very fleeting and fatal existence. But such is man, alas. Such is our lot. Such is your lot, Mr. Blodget, that you should only ever seem to be where these vast planes of time and space intersect, here and now. That intersection would seem to comprise your existence, I know. It would seem to sustain you and distinguish you, but it also literally crucifies what is divine in you. Understand that much: man crucifies his Lord. He cannot help it. It is his nature, for man is his Lord crucified, as is this day, as is the whole of this domain—an infinite and eternal being, wrested into a finite, momentary world and pinned there, to live and die, over and over again.

—Brooks Hansen, The Chess Garden

Happy Birthday, Eyeball Kid

Last week I got this limited edition pressing of Tom Waits’s The Mule Variations on Discogs:

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Just today I found out from my good friend Dan that this week is the album’s 20th anniversary.

This is a pretty damn good track-by-track retrospective of what may have been his finest album ever. Tom Waits fans tend to divide themselves into periods. I have friends who like the oldest stuff best, friends who prefer the Small Change period or the era of Rain Dogs and Frank’s Wild Years. Me, I love all of it. Even a couple of tracks from those early years, when he showed more promise than payoff.

The Mule Variations straddles all of those boundaries. It’s a primer on his whole career and an executive summary of the cuddly junkyard clang of his sensibilities. He croons, he screams, he digs up roots and pounds them to pulp on a hotel dresser. He creeps and growls and even thunders up a gospel song you could almost screw to.

“Pony” is my tired and lonely song. “Filipino Box Spring Hog” is my summer cicada stomp. I want to buy a banjo and a rooster so I can learn to play “Chocolate Jesus”. And “Picture in a Frame”? That song is me with shaking hands and a tattoo bandage, watching my wife come down the aisle.

Tom’s music was part of what sold me on her, incidentally. She made me a mixtape when we started dating, on an actual cassette. I was on board by the end of “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” and in love by the end of “Train Song”. I spent two weeks memorizing “Step Right Up” and can still do the whole sales pitch. Hoped it might impress her. She stuck around.

I’ve sung his songs to babies and howled them blind drunk. I’ve torn my throat up on the loud ones and whispered the quiet ones like prayers. He’s laid down fully half of the soundtrack of my entire adult life. And The Mule Variations binds all of those songs together, the horse bone glue of a nearly half-decade-long body of work that I can’t imagine not having right at hand.

I suppose it should make me feel old, contemplating the 20th birthday of an album that fell out of the sky at almost exactly the same moment that my wife did too. But all I can feel is grateful that I was there when they both landed.

The Former King

John had told Azharan many times that when the light revealed itself, it was not like a lantern on a prow. It was more like the swallow’s song: To hear it upon waking was to wonder how long the swallow had been singing, and to realize that everything that had come before—all the faces and the words and the fears and yearning—had been nothing but a dream.

— Brooks Hansen, John the Baptizer

The Staunton Pawn and the Vandal Girl

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“No,” he said. “Don’t be. But I have to go.” She was before me, looking up. “This is not what I came for.” He touched her cheek. “I have felt you already, much better that this—just as you feel and think, just as you are. But these hands—this is not how I am. And that”—the Staunton stood vacant in the corner like a bedpost, stiff and limbless—“that only holds my place. All of this is temporary. This is flesh and wood, and it’s not why I’ve come, to drink or smoke your pipe. I am only here to tell you, tell you so you can hear it with your ears—“ Her eyes were brown on green. “What the old man said was true. From the moment you appeared, I have been in love with you, and I grow more so every time you return.”

She pressed my palm against her cheek, and I could feel her tears.

“Here.” He opened my hand, and rolled the thread from my finger. “If strings are for remembering, then I want you to wear this.” He hooked the thread over her ring finger, which was so small he had to loop it twice. “So that you will always be reminded, when all these things are ash and dust, you and I shall be together.”

He tried to pull my hand from hers, but she held to it fast. “Please don’t go.”

He stroked her hair. “But I am not going anywhere,” he whispered. “I will be here.” Her forehead was warm. “And I will be here.” Her heart was beating.

—Brooks Hansen, The Chess Garden

Crack my heart open when I die, and you will find a map of The Antipodes and something from Eugene’s rook there.

Video te iam, nisi

My 11-year-old son just used Google Translate to make the joke that the motto on our family crest should be the Latin for “I see your point, but…”

In a Shocking Twist,

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The thing that kills me is that the takeaway for a lot of people here will be “don’t use two-factor authentication”, not “maybe don’t participate in a platform run by a criminal organization”. If almost any other company did this, especially Apple, people would be screaming about it. On Facebook.

But if back-to-back stories about Facebook exploiting kids doesn’t do it, nothing will. These last two months have been the social media data security equivalent of Sandy Hook. Kids got hurt, no one cares.

I got to make my daughter cry two weeks ago when she asked me if she could download a free messaging app to stay in touch with her friends. It was Facebook’s, so I had to let her down. It was fun trying to explain gently to a nine-year-old that the friendly people with the fun app see her as livestock.

A Fifth of Bliss

He who clings to the void and neglects compassion does not reach the highest stage. But he who practices only compassion does not gain release from the toils of existence. He however who is strong in practice of both, remains neither in samsara nor in nirvana.

—Saraha

Galactic Scoundrels

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My son and I just got back from the local tabletop game store (which rules, by the way), where we hung out at the kickoff party for Galactic Scoundrels, created by a local game company we backed on Kickstarter a few months ago.

It’s a storytelling game played with cards, dice, and (in our case) an appreciation for fart jokes. You’re collaboratively creating the dumbest or weirdest or bawdiest space western you can come up with. The game benefits immensely if you commit to either creating an over-the-top story or becoming a cartoonishly Randian scumbag.

Everyone in the game plays at being an off-brand Han Solo. You’re a space pirate with a ship that starts out as cheap crap and a moral code that hopefully ends up the same way. You try to bluff your way into a job (smuggling, theft, etc.) for some quick cash. If you get it, you do your best not to screw it up. While everyone else tries to screw you. Unless they’re trying to help you. For a price. Assuming they aren’t lying. Which they probably are.

It was me and my 11-year-old boy playing with an eighth-grader and one of the store’s employees, and we were all friends by the end of the first round. We faced everything from black holes to wormholes to a-holes to awkward sexual tension. We had only our guns, our wits, some bribing cash, and not a little bit of smarm to help us. Sometimes we could face a problem head on, sometimes we had to jettison unstable cargo or use a paying passenger as a human shield.

And we laughed. We laughed a lot. This thing was made for parties. It’s silly and funny and things are perfectly structured so the storytelling experience can fall anywhere on the spectrum from PG to Pornhub, depending on the crowd.

So far I’ve noticed only two weaknesses that really aren’t. One is that our first game, playing all three “episodes”, took well over an hour, so a full game isn’t quick. It feels like that’ll speed up as everyone gets familiar with the rules, though. And you can always play just an episode or two or use special “house rules” to accelerate things if you want to keep it to 30 minutes or less.

The other is that the biggest strength of the game is also its potential weakness: the story. The mechanics are fun enough, but the reason I’m bothering to write about the game at all its storytelling aspect. If you’ve got a group doing paint-by-numbers plots where the hacked data you’ve made off with is “spy secrets”, you won’t have as much fun. But if you’re playing with people who’ll imagine the data is the galactic president’s browser history, you’re going to have a ball. Story is such a big part of it that I didn’t care who won. I just wanted to see what happened next.

Right now I don’t know how to buy if you aren’t a backer and don’t live in central Arkansas, though you may be able to buy from Game Goblins’ site (the first link up top). I’m sure the creators would be delighted to help you if you contact them. They’re delightful nerds who made a delightful nerd game that made my entire weekend. I can’t imagine they’d be anything less than helpful. Here’s hoping this will be a springboard to even bigger successes for them.

On the Nature of Angels

Of course we dance on pins and level cities. We deliver up the Jews from Pharoah, unto Buchenwald. We flutter tender in the first kiss, flap in agony above the last row in a draughty kitchen. We know what fellatio tastes like and how childbirth feels. We climb upon each other's backs in shower cubicles to flee the fumes. We are in the serene molecular indifference of the Zyklon and the dull heart of the man who turns the wheel to open the ducts. We are forever standing on those bank steps in Hiroshima as the reality surrounding us collapses into an atomic hell. That moment when you reach your orgasm together and it is the sweetest, the most perfect instant that you ever live through, we are both of you. We keep slaves, and we write Amazing Grace.

Of course we shout. Of course we sing. Of course we kill and love. We cheat in business and we give our lives for others. We discover penicillin and we dump the children we have strangled in back alleys. We bomb Guernica just to create that painting, and the bursts of smoke and scream from beneath us are our brush-marks. We are from the realms of Glory; we are from the nursery, the school, the abattoir, the brothel. How could we be otherwise? You fold up into us. We fold up into Him.

We are in every second of a billion trillion lives. We're every ant, each microbe and leviathan. Of course we're lonely.

—Alan Moore, Jerusalem