Reading you is like drinking those bottles full of clear liquids the night before a colonoscopy. The next day I survive the test and am told that I do not have colon cancer — yet. Still, I am getting the test in spite of the fact that I know that my pack a day cigarette habit coupled with 12 fancy beers a day is probably gonna kill me first. I've been working for a very large corporation for the last 20 years as a print advertising designer. I am on the Endangered Species list at 58. I have been playing the consumer game for the past 45 years. I've known that the whole thing was a lie since I was 13 — before that I lived in a world that was so monochromatic that when I heard the Beatles I thought that heaven had come to earth.
I wanted to tell you my whole story, but have decided to spare you that. I have one simple question: seeing what you see, knowing what you know, what are your recommendations for how to proceed? Because I am seeing that just drinking hard enough to not think about it is no way to live. Or is it? When the best hopes being offered are simply the offerings of another corporate lackey, how does one live?
Do trips to Mexico help?
I realize as I write this that you are not pretending to be a self-help guru for baby boomers with a guilt complex. Still, I cannot help but hope that you have some thoughts for a one-time proud hippie (I marched against the war in Vietnam in Detroit in 1968 and again against the war in Iraq in 2003) who longs to extricate himself from the accumulated bullshit of years of consumerism.
I write letters to congressmen and senators and get form letter responses — personalized, no less. So I would like you to write me back, tell me you read what I wrote, that you got this e-mail. That's all. I will be satisfied.
Yours in hopelessness,
Yeah, we are on the endangered species list all right. But the rest of America, and maybe even mankind, is not far behind. Not that it's any consolation, of course. I have to smile at your mention of the Beatles being like heaven coming to earth. Me too!
In reply to your query, all I can do is tell you my experience. I don't know shit really. Certainly not the answers to other people's questions, especially those of such a serious nature. However, I do know my own experience. Sort of. So all I can do is share that.
You ask if "trips to Mexico help?" Because Mexico is my home for the time being, (I spend most of my time here now, and have obtained legal residency status) and only go back to the US when necessary, I'm not sure if "trip" is the right word. I rather feel that the world is my home now. Consequently, I do not know if "help" is the right word either. I no longer have any geographical goals, per se, other than I seem to be a better person in some locales than in others. I hope I am not running, because at this age running, physically or metaphorically, takes too much effort. I'd rather walk, with periodic rest stops — such as this one in Mexico.
It took me over fifty years to figure out there is no running away, or finding some perfect life. We just exchange one set of problems for another. I ran away to the US Navy to escape a small redneck town. I ran away to the West Coast to become a hippie. I ran to homestead in Idaho on an Indian reservation, I later ran back into the straight world, mostly out of fear for financial security. And when it became personally undeniable that America had become a lonely totalistic empire, whose heart is a bank vault, and that I would not survive its enforced loneliness, masked by gunpoint cheer and state authorized messages of "hope," and loudspeakers above the workhouse extolling the "work ethic," well, it was either be somewhere else or die inside. Get a different set of problems. Some nights even sickness or hunger looked acceptable, compared to the screaming, yet silent anxiety I was experiencing. I swear it was fucking unbearable. By 2005, I was in Central America for I did not know how long.
Personally, I found that the problems I encountered every day in places like Belize (and now Mexico) somehow suited my own innate sensibilities better. I had no expectations really. Which is good because both paces would have been extremely disappointing if I had. Mainly I just wanted to give up any "advantage" I supposedly had as a citizen of the "greatest nation on earth," which was, as I said, quite literally, killing me, much as it seems to be killing you.
Beyond that, I wanted to spend the remaining 10 or 15 percent of my life doing stuff with human beings, face-to-face, asshole to belly button — babies being born, people dying, getting drunk, worshiping their gods, experiencing joy. And I wanted to do so without any mediation by soul killing American corporate culture. I did not want "security" as Americans and Europeans perceive it, and still don't. The only way to do that is to intentionally stay pretty broke. Money is a rigged game — you cannot win by trying to buy security. Oh, you can have the illusion of it, but the price is your soul. The entire world architecture of money, beyond basic sustenance, is a horribly corrupted — especially since the advent of the "virtual world economy," a paper and digital racket that sucks away the people's hard earned wealth before they ever see it.
Well, I say, fuck their offerings. And screw childish "hope." Hope is for little kids and tooth fairies. The world we awaken to each morning is the only real thing there is. And if we are spiritually, morally and philosophically intact, and humble enough to feel it and love it each day, we don't need to hope some unseen force or bunch of politicos, or an "economy" or so-called leaders are gonna make it better for us. The orchids outside my doorway are blooming and my wife still loves me after all these years. A real gypsy taught me a song yesterday and Easter is in the air in Mexico. I guess that as a burned out old hippie and a writer, I cannot imagine anything else to hope for.
I truly do understand what you are saying about consumerism. I lived it too. I still have a house full of stuff in Virginia that is the biggest bane on my life. Tons of stuff — old paintings, family documents, guitars, stuff my kids made while growing up, art and artifacts gathered from around the world in the course of a life, file cabinets full of articles I wrote for magazines and newspapers over the past 40 years. My wife and I are paralyzed over what to do with the stuff. She retires in a year or so and so still lives up there in the middle of it all. When I am there, we sip wine and savor the memories connected with acquiring those things together, the 18th Century drawings we bought together at Covent Garden in London, the love we felt in Venice. And when I am in Mexico, I understand that the freedom of my austere life here is of greater value than any of those things. Which does not keep me from missing them from time to time. But in my heart I know that, for the most part, I have beaten American consumerism (though I'll always be a sucker for good imported booze). The other thing I know for sure is that the only way for a man to "extricate himself from the accumulated bullshit" is to extricate himself. Walk away. There is no plan one can make to do so while living in the belly of the beast. The beast of American capitalism will not let you, but will encourage the belief that you can. As my webmaster Ken, who left America over a decade ago say, "The only way to do it is to just get up and do it."
Also, I believe it can still be done while remaining in America, once one rises above the "learned helplessness" that comes with being a captive of the empire. But it still entails giving up most of what you know, and more importantly, what the society around you believes is reality. It means becoming a renunciate. Giving up everything in a society that believes the very things that are destroying it are necessities. No car, no processed foods, no cell phone, few clothes, little or no technology, no media entertainments, refusal to own investments, no more than five or six hundred square feet of living space, dedicated hours each day for reflection on the little things one does to maintain one's self, such as cooking or bathing, or gardening — but especially renunciation of technology. Technology not only carries the disease, but is its most virulent aberrator of human consciousness. In fact, even at its best, it colonizes and mutates human consciousness, just as this laptop stands between you and me, distorting our communication as much as it facilitates it. Is an exchange of digital packets between two human beings, each isolated at the end of a cybernetic node, really human communication? Of course not. (Yes, I know how much shit I'm going to get for that statement.)
Anyway, I try to limit myself to owning only one piece of high technology — this laptop. I don't own a camera phone, or a cell phone (much to the ire of publishers, friends
and some family members). To my shame, I do have a television in my little casita. I missed my wife so much at first, that I bought it just so I'd have distraction in the lonely evenings, which of course, did not work. It was a stupid American thing, an ignorant knee-jerk consumer reflex, as if the voice of Larry King were going to substitute for the words "I love you" when night falls. I'm learning all the time to beware of what is available around us.
Regarding writing congressmen, I never bother. It's just part maintaining the appearance of democracy. Everybody writes their congressmen on both sides of an intractable, polarized and deadlocked system dedicated to preserving iron fisted capitalism, no matter what happens. No matter how the vote on a piece of legislation goes down. I have absolutely no faith in the American political system. Or ultimately, in any political system for that matter. Ain't no saviors of the people up there on Capitol Hill. Just powerful men and women who don't have a clue but have plenty of ambition and ego and avenues to feed both — with a few exceptions like Dennis Kucinich.
I am convinced we all have to find our own way, and find it alone, most likely at great cost — that great cost being the loss of all that we thought we knew about the world. I am coming to understand that as Americans, we were born into a powerfully induced mass illusion. An infantile consciousness of "I-want-I want," which drives the machinery of war, waste and profits, and which colonizes our minds and souls from birth like a progressive disease. I say "coming to understand," because, as an American I can never truly understand. My consciousness and neurosystem are far too mutated to ever understand. But I find great relief in the effort.
And also pain. Some nights I drink, and cry inside for both the world as I have known it — youth tasted so good — and for the kingdom of mankind that might have been, but really never could have been. Because the kingdom is truly within each of us, never in the clamorous throng.
But in the morning the roosters crow, and wood smoke stirs in the air, and this village wakes up, and does all those ancient things decent people do in so much of the rest of the world. Old women sweep the street in front of their doorways, men uncomplainingly go in search of a day's labor, and young mothers nurse babies in the courtyards, full knowing that what they see around them is all there will ever be for them, and that the Virgin of Guadeloupe blesses each morning. Just as their mothers and grandmothers knew it. Already they are tired for the world. But not joyless.
And neither am I.
Lately, I've had a spate of emails saying how bleak and hopeless some of my writing has become, in the estimation of many readers. This comes not so much as criticism, but as observation. I am no longer taken aback by it. To me, it's simply a kind of reporting on the world as best I can.
Others ask me the best way to escape America to Belize or Mexico. How to plan a breakout from the empire to these places as I have described them. Once in a while I reply, even though I know better. Each person's conditioning and perceptions are different. And surely their experience would be different, were they to do what I have done. That's a given. In the end, all I can tell you is that you will have to act according to your own inner lights then be willing to live with the results. And even then, I'm not sure that's true. But it seems true at this day and hour, in this little stone courtyard on a hillside under a spring sky.
Podemos ver el mundo con ojos de fría y un corazón caliente.
In art and labor,