Get 'Forty Days of Fire, Forty Days of Rain,' a living novel by Douglas McDaniel:
Media Arts in War: Part Dos
The scene: In the imagination, but with combat boots on the soil, clearly, lugging the laptap across the land. Just out of lunch after getting my Chinese fortune cookie from this rough-up downtown takeout joint in Lowell, Massachusetts, too dumb to realize I was doing the historic Jack Kerouac tour in some crude way, since he was born and raised in this half-priced-on-everything, that is, everything turned into a pawn-shop-of-a-New England post-industrial town. Must have been nice when he was a boy.
I certainly don’t remember or have the cookie fortune now. Wish I did. Must have been a one-line bibliomancy both eternal and true. When I stumbled upon a commemorative site, a classic red-brick mill building river-walk territory of the National Park Service, or at least this part of town near the Merrimack River seemed to be, I stumbled upon the Jack Kerouac National Monument, or perhaps it was just a shrine, I couldn’t tell. It all seemed very official. Paid for. Some kind of Stonehenge. With big horizonal cement slabs in half circles, trees growing old and wise. Worthy of the full respect of everyone. It was late December, the year 2000. Bush had just been elected.
I’d gotten there how? By train out of Boston, I guess. I pulled a folded pouch of black, white, quite stained cloth from my backpack. I set it on a cement bench with various notebooks of poems and mental notes and lists, lots of them, indicating plans, big plans … a backpack carting the PC, a compass, business cards, collected media, small piles of books bought from garage sales and second-hand bookstores, since I tended to rove around, accumulating books by the cart like a wild Celt trying to save literature; a carved wooden “eagle” and, gotta have it, the Mythville logo, which is the image of a steer skull and the words Mythville.org, my brainchild just coming to being. An adaptation from a Georgia O’Keefe motif (traced it from a drawing myself … a red, white, black deathly image … when a friend saw it he said, “How unfortunate.”) But at that time, for myself, it said it all. Or so I thought. Really, the logo was just a “A premonition of anthrax,” I can now chuckle to myself, in the mythville of my mind, on how that logo was devised nine months before September 11, 2001, but only a couple of weeks, if that long, after December 13, 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled all Floridian dimpled chads null and void. That’s the kind of humor you find now. The ironic kind. Laced with synchronicity. With saturnine subtext. Oh well, satire never plays fair, but self-satire is at least honest enough to keep it real. For the time being.
All we really knew back then, the witches of Essex and myself, was there was going to be some serious hell to pay. “Some serious action,” this bizarre historian landlord in Ipswich, who also claimed to be the makeup artist for Blue Man Group, would say after the World Trade Center Towers were taken down. Back then, in howling, painful plea for compassion, I was making frantic drawings of churches with rivers of blood running from the door, lightning in the background, Abrahms and Bradley tanks gunning up for assembly in the background; an anguished plea for my future ex … my thoughts being consumed by a mournful longing to restore order in my household, and therefore, my cracked-open heart. And the logo, the dot org, a network of one? What a gag! A serious non-prophet action, yes it is, yes it was.
Oh yeah, the scene, again: the Jack Kerouac shrine in Lowell, Massachusetts. Right by the river. Betwixt the satanic red-brick mills. The site is chosen now, for examination, because just eight years or so ago (as I write this), sometime after the so-called “election” of Dubya as national executioner, and just prior to the dawn of a century where the prophecied drowned “ceremony of innocence” was tossed about by a churning blood-blackened sea of “mere anarchy” and the authoritarian agents of chaos and predatory capitalism, that is, on January 1, 2001, I had accidentally found this place. Or, since there’s no such thing as an accident, it had found inconsolable me.
There I was, in a Chinese food restaurant in downtown Lowell, after coming out of the “T” station (Yes, I can see it, hear it now, the Dr. Sax sound echoing in my head, bobbing alone to some unstoppable radio relay in a personal musac running simlutaneous to all of the other racing thoughts), the Lowell railway terminal, right along with the “On the Road” mementoes … and me regularly lugging it all over to the city center because, hey, it was something Kerouac would do. To see a woman. A witch ... to have her … should have seen it coming …. That it was just a sea-salty neck to run to, a few wild nights of sex to kill the pain, a ghosty reflex to the sudden loss of love … I didn’t really have that thought, however, until I opened up my fortune cookie and realized, like I say: I was “On the Road” to Mythville, on the way to the so-called Blakean “Palace of Wisdom,” on the high end of a borderline charge down the cyber-human highway of excess.
Yes, yes, certainly, it was a road of excess ... I just loved to wander all over New England, by car, train or, at best, by foot, to let the thickety mysteries of the Hub, for this transplanted Arizonan, find me ... a mad attempt to run away from myself, my deep-felt sense of dread and disorder and outraged abandonment.
So then, from downtown Lowell, I just got up, and started walking toward the Mer O Wac bridge, toward the home of this earth woman, a graphic designer and co-conspirator who had agreed to create a logo for the self-publishing effort ... the mission ... she had long flaxen hair, long flaxen body … could it be an accident? Finding that place. Along the way, wham! A moment of complete synchronicity. I walk right up to the Kerouac shrine. Ker O Wac by the Mer O Wac. Never even knew there was such a thing. A veritable stonehenge for the New Journalism.
So now, the coffee is ready. Time for the imaginary press conference. The pouch, a pirate flag unfolded and draped over my shoulders, like a cape. An act of bizarre eccentricity worthy of a Lord Byron or Robert Bly. There are imaginary snickers all around, and I stand (the performance artist) on the cement benches there, part of the circuitous shrine, with big stone slabs circling me, each with bits of Kerouac’s writings, his poetry … imaginating a bunch of nobody listeners around me, listening to me, nobody, signifying nothing. I light up a cig, an Indian bidi, blowing out the smoke for effect. To make it worse, I stand on the center stool of the Kerouac shrine, and my voice begins to boom as the sound waves bounce around within this literary circle, standing on this sorcerer’s stump: “Click, clack, paddywhack, I just met Jack Kerou-oooooouuu-wack! Right along the Mer-O-Wack, the mighty Merrickmack,” and so on, with nobody around to listen in, nobody to say, “shut up” … or, “I knew Jack Kerouac, and you ain’t no Jack, Jack.” Those not in audience, the members of the nobody press, would’ve just whispered sour nothings and giggled, but with the acoustics, if the nobodies in the cowed media corps really had been there, could fail to hear the other: “What a piece of work! Standing on the shoulders of this giant, Kerouac! Indeed!”
I sat down. Belly-laughed at myself concaving into a slow rumble, then cruched down into a sitting ball to weep.
Where am I now, or that is, where do we go? Nowhere, so much, because at the end of it all, it exists in each and everyone’s mind. The Road, that is. Think of it like the impossible endless search for the Holy Grail, negotiating the storehouse of each person’s personal mythology, where all of their angels and demons live. It’s the shining city of light. A place the imagination (and therefore the soul) can go into infinite directions. Just on the edge of touch, but certainly not your mind. For some people, it’s a whole barnyard of beings and deities, gods and their avatars. To meet the Ethereans, perhaps, at first. To ask for their guidance … all quite within the literary tradition of summoning the muses … yes, yes ….
Start, click, go ...
Answer, click. go ...
A dark star, lacking
historical shape, summons
the swooning sun and cold,
diminished by Pluto,
like the ghosts who roam
our napping houses
and see us through
mannequin eyes and pass
through us in pixilated clouds
of moneyed seas
Born of the earth,
this failed and fabled space,
where darkened dreams
dare us through tubes
of digitized light,
and friendless faces,
serve as avatars
in our endless night ...
Ask me a question. Anything.
Play me with your games.
Answer me. Anything:
Demons, be loved!
There’s a code for this quest. Comes in handy. Comes from studying the cemented-over bricklands, the symmetries of it all, the way the old Freemasons even lined up the old North Shore lodges, leaving clues in the aging stone bridges crossing the river in Haverhill, Lowell, North Andover … Ah yes, code is law ... just follow the sun east to west, note the charted streets, the compass-like points of civilization. The passwords are being all handed out now, then, to all of the nobodies there … indeed, a reflex action to turbulating times. But this is no French cartogropher’s “Rex Deus,” Priory of Sion-style hoax to earn the crown of Paris. No indeed. The very use of kings and queens are beyond comprehension. Just like the Da Vinci code, too, but in this case it’s a real story of that search? Some of it perhaps. But it’s all a lost doggy story, too, really. A cautionary tale about how a borderline personality learned to surf eight years of George W. Bush II, yes, a borderline perp trying to find his own little lost doggy. Yes, yes … explains the pain … the loss, the endless searching .... the wars and so on … You do need to be able to work your machine to get to my machine and then download, or just fuck me, but more likely get either an e-book or print-on-demand book, or fuck’n’hell, just read my mind. It’s all tipping over now … pouring out. Feel the pain.
So the code is the computer, the ghost between the digits one and zero, and all of these digitized geeks, who like to read about wizards, the enviro digeratis, the online sorcerers, all of those not in the audience … except, perhaps, as, well, kind of personal pathway: The seekers on the road to superinformation? The search for a cure for information disease? Like Blake said, “The road of excess leads to the Palace of Wisdom.”
The road could’ve begun, a ticket for a tricked up mule born then bought on the Smolak Farm in Andover, actually, when I had a long discussion about rabbits. Actually, books with “Sully,” as in author William Sullivan, who wrote numerous short, somewhat quirky, oddly sinister children’s books. It was the fall of 2000. Election day was looming. It was a beautiful day. Picking apples, wandering through the trees, picking a pumpkin with black-hair brunette Italian-American wife and my little girl. Talking of wolves and rabbits. The little lady bossing up in bouts of joyous Catholicism. Then I met “Sully” and saw what he was trying to do, and is still doing, writing fairy tales about rabbits and a whole barnyard of his own characters. I was the senior editor for Access Internet Magazine, with its 11 million readers weekly, another kind of content farm, and I suddenly realized the connection between the mythological constructs of William Blake and the hierarchical order of the online, and therefore, real world. Ah yes, the first notion of the online dissenter. And more than that, what it might mean for a self-publisher of numerous, smaller, shorter, more digestible reads. In other words, making e-books, William Blake-style. Some dumb idea, huh? In reality, it was just an excess burst of energy in addition to an overly channeled professional, high-paying workload running unchecked while under the influence of a shrink-prescribed dosage of Aderol, amphetamine salts, all leading, at the back end of a legal-speeding year of taking the stuff, culminating in a psychotic break. But for an adee-dee outpatient like me, it seemed to be an attractive option. I mean, they had pamphlets for the stuff all over the psychiatrist’s waiting room’s coffee table, right there with copies of Harper’s and The New Yorker and Scientific American, right?
The experiment in experiential literature all started, also, with a pirate flag. That is really the crux of the whole thing. That was my first logo. The Jolly Roger. A textbook version of the story was later published by conspiracy history author David Hatcher Childress, who theorized that when the Knights Templar were disbanded in 1307, their massive fleet, created for the purposes of patrolling the Mediterranean during the Crusades, dropped off the charts of the known world in 1307 from their sea-base at La Rochelle, taking their treasure with them. They were the first pirates to fly the Skull and Crossbones flag. Some fled to the new world, others marauded Vatican ships, still more moved on to Scotland, where their members joined up with the St. Clair family of Rosslyn, where they initiated the Scottish Rite as a secret society and planted the seeds for Freemasonry.
What kind of Peter Pan fantasies are we talking about here? Now? No, that’s right … I remember ... That medium was the message. The pirate flag was the crux of the whole thing, the Skull & Crossbones vibe back then. A kind of upgrade from the televised “X-Files” journey of the 1990s … the pirate flag … the crux … the whole thing. Oh well, maybe I really should backtrack? Provide even more back story before the Bush era even begins? When moving through a lot of the ephemeral stuff quickly, we are well advised to keep the mind still and the eyes sharp. The truth will fly right past you.
Okay, so there’s the election. I voted for Nader. Who knew? Then, this long period of a couple of weeks, then a month, then six weeks of nobody knowing who the hell is in charge anymore, right?
Then came a solar storm … A solar storm hit New England. I looked it up. Nobody believed me, except for a lady in a gas station pay counter near the freeway in Andover. A lake of fire in the sky, over Lawrence. I thought the whole place was ablaze with lightning. Yes, yes, that was the first day of forty days of fire that I can count, the forty days of rain …
Falling from the startled sky,
a ping pong ball hits a hardwood
floor. Sun-scorched groundlings look up
as they project their plans for vacillating
ports of thirsts and wolves plow
through woven bursts of hunger.
It goes like this:
Last night I realized
this tussle is bigger
than all of us, this war,
and everyone else, too.
The world does not need
saving. We need to save
In our storm of power,
The electrical charged-dens,
the humidity cave contracts,
pushing me out. My wall,
porous and impossible,
quakes into birth
in a bottomed-out boat
on awkward waters.
The world does not need
saving. We need to save
Penetrate me and you will fell
the timid tree of earthen polarity.
Open yourself and I will pour out
an endless river of myth
and information. I will become
that blank, vacant stone face
of the autocratic cowboy,
plugging the pipeline
with blood and tufts
of wool, terror and wonder.
We are the air between the clouds,
the unembellished force between you,
me, silent pulse in cell phone static,
tongues that lick, pendulous TV.
If I smoke, I will be like smoke,
and of smoke I will be ... Myth
and Turks, tongue and TV. Our vapor,
my steam, colorless and apt, cools
the firestorm of the big mistake.
But all politics aside, this thing
is bigger than you, bigger than me.
We are sick and sad and shuddering
tense toward all roads leading
to darkness within darkness.
This dark place, colorless and free.
This congenial mix of ebony leaf,
taurine, fear, cell phones,
ozone and TV …
The world does not need
saving. We need to save
each other. Lies and myth,
steel and money, cell phones
and tongues, ozone, Taurine and TV.
Look it up yourself, a freak solar storm hit New England, the whole earth, really, from that point, sometime between the election and December 13, 2000. Apparently, it was the end of a 13-year cycle of unusual solar activity. My theory is that it sent vibrations turbulatin’ on into the very core of the earth. I was certainly feeling them: After the Supreme Court had ruled to decide the election, I just broke loose. I wanted nothing to do with this country, or, any other. It was as if a bolt of lightning had briefly lit up every one of our institutions and revealed, for just one brief flash of X-ray, every one of our major institutions as faulty, frail and hopelessly corrupt. For me, looking at it from the dark, wintery, London-esque Mordor of Boston, one big, giant, monstrous … well … one big complete bogus ... Mythville. Not that there was much of an audience for this kind of publishing, or expression, or angst or call for action, through the blogs and so on … a specialized audience, indeed. Audience? At that point, I was just one guy with a blogger … A voice crying out in the wilderness …. Yeah sure, that’s what we all believe, but like the ancient Google myth, it’s really just endless pourings of pitchers of water into a crack in the earth, an attempt to cool off the planet, or heat it up, who knows, with words? … So, as my world was coming apart, and I was determined to break out of the system, especially creatively, in pursuit of this self-publishing, self-expressive dream, I decided I needed to network with like-minded people.
So, what I did was …. And really, trust me, I’m not this person anymore … I took the pirate flag, which I intended to give to my future-ex-father in law for Christmas, and I hung it out to flap in the breezes on the front porch, right out there to challenge the American flags, innocuous sailing flags, and so on … for whatever reason, people in New England all have flag mounts on their porches. I wanted to signify to anyone who might get the code: Panic! Panic! It’s time to take action. It’s time to be a pirate.
But action came from unexpected quarters: My wife threatened divorce , then followed through with those threats. My in-laws, Sicilian mob-style, tried to get me kicked out of our place there in North Andover. They called the cops. Stirred up the neighbors. Threatened to send thugs over to kick me out. Took the family car, a kind of wedding gift, away, leaving me wheeless, with me in it, dragging me out into the street after following me for a couple of blocks … the future ex-father-in law using a spare key-clicker to open the door after three people in their own vehicle followed me, pulled up behind me … dragging me out, pushing me around, threatening to beat me to threads if I didn’t leave town, leaving me on the street, alone, gasping, shaken … driving away with the broken-down family’s blue Ford Taurus, which had been loaded down with Christmas gifts … I ran to a nearby friend’s house to call the police, but they did nothing, absolutely nothing, as it all led to a confrontation in front of my house with police siding with future ex-brother in laws, a sister in law, and my future ex, too, who hadn’t been there for the original rousting, but all of them there, now trying to get me kick out of the apartment … I was a man at war …a Man-of War along the Mer-O-Whack … Once, when I had left the home, they snuck into the basement and pulled out all of the fuses, leaving the place completely dark. I guess they figured I would never be able to get the old place back up and running. In fact, I’m pretty damned good with matters electric. They called the landlord and said I was burning candles in the house and leaving wax all over the place, like some kind of creepy Vincent Price.
O sure, there were candles … Yes, but I only burned them at dusk, as a ritual before more writing and blogging and grieving and so on. I was in mourning, politicized: Look, I'm not saying I wasn’t getting a pretty weird ... approaching the borderline … yes, well past, already, by the time I … I was just expressing the anxiety and turbulance I was feeling all around me. For God's sake. It was the year 2000!
Since both misery and mystery love company, some pretty cool people got curious about what I was up to, and started to come over to the house. I’m sure this sudden new type of gathering in the neighborhood only served to stir things up even more. By this time, the North Andover police really wanted my ass in a sling. One cop, a long-timer macho kid, who lived as a townie all his life, came over, and asked me, after I smarted off about “search and seizure” and preserving the U.S. Constitution and some such lunacy, he asked me if I was a lawyer. I said “Yes, I went to Harvard law school.” It was true, the going over to Harvard part. What I didn’t say was it was only for one day to attend an Internet-related conference on MP3s and Napster. Anyway, I was obviously going head-to-head with the Gillette crate-packing mentality around there.
That’s when I really started to meet the witches of Essex county, too. They would come over, hang out. I would play loud music, loads of U2, the Tragically Hip, Radiohead, and try to describe what, exactly, was going wrong with me, trying to get me off medication I had been prescribed for my ADD … many of them were members of a group to quit prescribed medications of the Aderol sort and I was dying from the hebbie jebbies of cold turkey … and they’d get to play the healers …. People from a salon in North Andover. In fact we had designers, Webmasters, entrepeneurs, like-minded folk came over, too … but there was a strong New Age vibe …. This Reiki therapy trainee came over and practiced on us, for myself, something of a hallucinatory experience: I imaginated a merely multi-colored dragon as I closed my eyes and relaxed from the near-touch of Reiki-trained hands hovering over me. Was it Mesmer or was it Memorex, who cares? It was a real salon, Parisian style, and I was that cat Cagliostro. Or, at least one of them: the millenial metromystical man … a Prometheus, on the drugs, at least, who once saw too far and was by this time suffering painfully from the ill effects of time travel man. It only lasted for a short while, though, a few weeks at the most ... it was short-lived because I had decided to get out of there. The Sicilians around the corner, my former New England family fully militarized against me, were getting to be too much … I constantly felt I was being watched, followed, plotted against.
My whole plan was to end up in Telluride, Colorado, writing my wigged-out tales from my heart-home, anyway. So with so many problems for me in the neighborhood, my pending divorce, and all of the lousy bitterness and stupidity that entailed, I decided to leave, going back to my friends in the mountains of southwestern Colorado. From there, at about 9,000 feet in altitude, I launched the first incarnation of my brainchild, my Frankenstein, my personal obsession, this text, my message to you, dear reader … and Bush had just been elected … the dot-com bust just a few months away … Still nine months away from September 11.
Then, I lived in Telluride for a year, then came back to New England, living in Ipswich this time, in order to clear up legal stuff related to the divorce. But right as I moved back, this time to Ipswich, the attack on the Twin Towers changed everything. I was living in Concord, Massachusetts, home of the first “shot heard ‘round the world” on the day the towers came down in an apocalytpic cloud of dust and awe. All I can most clearly recall is the complete silence of the skies to the east, over Boston, where the hijackings had begun.
I moved to Haverhill because it was cheaper, times getting tough, setting up a small “metamedia” bookstore and art gallery right there on the street. And, of course, I always put my pirate flag out on the window to attract like-minded people and ward away the foul spirits, too. Artists. writers. Out-of-work programmers. scammers. sheer lunatics wandering that unwalled insane asylum called Haverhill. Perfect town for people with Peter Pan fantasies in their heads. Lot of Captain Hooks floating around up and down the main old downtown quad, home of Arichies’ Comix, Viet Nam war vets, most likely … up and down the street drinking beer and me bashing away on my laptop in the Irish bar downstairs. I loved that place. A writer’s place, that bar, for this message to you, dear reader.
Please keep on, see … I almost starved. Trying to sell e-books and print-on-demand poetry is not, exactly, the stuff of commerce you’ll no doubt find. You can only go so far with a pirate flag in your shop window, as well. But the public doesn't give a fuck about even the shadows flickering on the wall anymore, much less the secrets of the fire kept only by the Platonic allegorical philosopher King. So until they do, it’s to thine own self be true, with time still to hope everybody else eventually realizes the only actual political boundary, that of Gaia, is both rock, living and atmospheric in nature and moving, through space, on the moment at perilous speeds ... the road going onward … the little doggies as lost as ever … and the weather spinning madly about … pressurized within the undulating currents beneath the overheated earth …
I thank the sky lord
for clean water to drink
I thank Tom Clancy
for providing so much
damn PR for the military
And a special thank you, too,
to the clown in his flight suit
sky bombing us in his dreams
And a special fuck you to
the apocalypse for being
such a damn Good Book
and making it so hard
to get clean water
and for the passing
of fluids through
his oh so cool
And thanks for a hole of hot sun
stretching toward the East,
causing a bubble that burns
little words into a diplomatic urn,
and thank the world
for what the devil would do
His imitation is your mastery
as the nations fold and unfold
and the bailiwicks bawl
about the rule of law
And thank you money for your energy
passing over the world like a green cloud
being and for hell being all filled up,
by the counting of your digits
Thanks a lot for my sanctuary box
Thanks, thanks a lot
An excerpt from