strong grip of the lion’s paw


in this CNN interview Philando Castile’s mother and uncle spoke with Alisyn Camerota about the death of her son. a tweet that caught my eye mentioned that the interview ended with a prayer.

it was sort of a prayer, but it was something more, as well. after saying thanks for the interview, Clarence Castile added a postscript (22:20). he said, “I’d like to say one thing: Oh, Lord, my God, is there no help for the widow’s son? We’ve got to hang on by the strong grip of the lion’s paw.”

i could tell it was a quote, and it sounded like a biblical reference, but i couldn’t place it. when i googled it, the first thing i found was a bunch of articles about the freemasons. it turns out that the widow’s son was an architect named hiram abiff. Several hirams are mentioned in the old testament, but none of them has a story to match the freemason allegory:

in the story, hiram abiff was the architect for king solomon. he was murdered by 3 of his coworkers as they tried to make him tell them secrets (of the kingdom, or their trade). he was buried, outside the city, in a shallow grave surrounded by a sprig of acacia. it is a parable, and “the themes of the allegory are the importance of fidelity, and the certainty of death.”



atoms are mostly empty space and i am mostly atoms




meditation is teaching me what it is like to learn how to do something. perfect practice makes perfect, which is to say, 1. i continue to use guided meditations and read and listen to podcasts about buddhism and mindfulness, and 2. i continue to practice it as a habit for a certain amount of time most days. i decide to practice – whether i want to or not – for the sake of deciding to do it. or for the sake of the small bump of reward-endorphins i feel as i start and when i finish.

this might be too rationalist/materialistic, but it is odd to think that what i perceive as an inability to recognize and feel confidence in my own achievements might be a simple equation of low output of a certain chemical that would alter my intuitions. i hope it is more of a plasticity issue, sequences of firing neurons, and that i can fake it till i make it as they learn better sequences. and, by the way, it is very funny that i think of my neurons as “they.” what is more “I” that my own neurons? if i’m not my neurons, then who am i?

i am not my brain; i am not a captain at the helm of a ship sitting behind my eyeballs; at least part of what i think of as myself is my emotions, and those emotions are directed by chemicals like serotonin and endorphins, and there are more of those chemicals in the stomach than in the brain, so why don’t i assume “Me” is peaking out my navel?



and it doesn’t stop there: why does it feel like Me is only in my body? on the smallest scale that we know about everything is made of atoms. the things around me in my bedroom – desk, bed, blanket, book, empty glass with residue of protein powder and such and such a color and at such and such a distance from myself – are clouds of atoms. atoms are made of particles, and most of them are empty space. that empty space is a vacuum; i and everything around me and everything that i imagine still exists outside these four walls is mostly empty space. a brain takes in what it can process through the senses and uses that to build a desktop display full of folders with programs and apps and word documents named “this is what a desk is” and “this is what anger feels like,” and so on.

so if i am a pile of atoms, mostly made of nothing, and we (the atoms) are sitting on other piles of atoms (bed to floor which is the top of the next ceiling down)…well, what is stopping me from being everything?



…is a good word. i learned it from Hitchens’ Hitch-22 a few months ago, but despaired of ever remembering it. the word registered again once or twice when i flipped through old pages in a notebook where i’d written it down, but never with the type of familiarity that made me think i’d learned it. now, today, writing in my journal, i had need of exactly that word and out it pops, from a part of my brain that i can’t manually operate, like a piece of alien space junk gliding over the edge of a black hole’s event horizon. and, i even spelled it correctly.

that means i learned “frisson” when i’d consciously thought that i’d certainly forget it. i learned without trying, memorized as a side effect of a few 30 second cognitive exercises (write it down, look up its etymology, look at it again after a few days…).

take heart, good people of the world: when you try hard to improve it starts to happen when you aren’t even looking.

[free-sohn; French free-sawn]

a sudden, passing sensation of excitement; a shudder of emotion; thrill:

he’ll stop at nothing for a shot at something sexy, while it’s hot…


…and therein lies the thrilling plot of PICTURE SNATCHER. that is a real quote from just one of the wonderfully creepy public domain videos i edited together for my new project. it is a music video for my cover of Blank Space (my version is called “blankspace”) by Taylor Swift, for a contest.

the original song has some depth that i never considered until i heard Taylor Swift introduce it as a reaction to her fans conception of who she was:

“In the last couple of years the media have had a really wonderful fixation on kind of painting me as like the psycho serial dater girl.”

the tune grew on me once i realized that Swift was singing from the pov of a fictionalized version of herself created in the minds of her audience. she blamed it on the media – who supplies digestible, sensational narratives – while i am more inclined to blame it on the market – which votes with money and clicks to support tabloids, and pointless bickering on panel shows, and more grease in our food, and gawker. the Group decided that, based on a few glimpses of her life framed in clickbait on the sidebar, we could understand her characteristics and what complications we could expect to unravel in her plot, just like any movie. or at least a little part of lots of us did, and that adds up over a population into thousands of disembodied fragments of humans bitching about your dating life.

so, Swift identified how others identified her (which is not at all simple for me, but might be for a celebrity?) and then took that character and wrote a song from her perspective. then we, the market, hear the song and at least a fraction of us just assume we are hearing autobiography. it seems very meta and ironic under a catchy surface.

i rewrote my cover version from the pov of a crazy celebrity stalker. i recorded it in my bedroom, with a friend’s microphone. my laptop and ancient version of garageband are so old that it is almost impossible to get an entire song recorded; halfway through a take the microphone will short out and start crackling, or the program will close as it tries to load an instrument. i like that i live in two worlds; i have one foot in the future, because i can record high quality music by myself for low startup costs in my own bedroom, all using technology that has only existed for tiny sliver of history. but one foot is in the past, because even a few years, single digits, is enough for this new technology to become hopelessly outmoded. humans made and used the same flint spearheads for 10,000 years, and at that time we were already physically indistinguishable from modern humans. now i am using a computer that is mostly a mystery to me, that i could never fix or rebuild by myself, but as long as it works i can create miracles of objectified memories that can be artificially recreated for eternity.

the video that goes along with it (public domain american television from the 20th century) is menacingly innocent. all together i rewrote and learned the song, recorded it, and made the video in a little less than two weeks. all of the sudden i really, really like contests and deadlines. i am most happy when i’m not even considering happiness because i’m in a flow state, and flow states appear when i am under pressure.

knowledge + experience = wisdom


i grew up seeking knowledge as a way of life, and in some ways it has served me well; i can write catchy songs, i can come up with interesting stories, i can deconstruct art that i admire to determine what i can learn from it. knowledge of history and science and politics connects me to reality and society, and i can’t complain about that.

but somehow, up until now, i missed out on the middle concept in the equation i used for the title of this post. experience entails getting off the couch, putting down the book, putting yourself out there…this long list of cliche knowledge phrases that are our best vocabulary to describe the unrivaled importance of trying, in person, and not in your own head. for example: i have known for a few years that i should start going to open mics at local music venues and bars to play my songs in public. i had that knowledge, and some other basic knowledge about what i could expect and how i would feel making that first step. but i had no wisdom on the matter, and knowledge – on its own – comes up short. there are too many questions for knowledge to answer…what will it be like? who will be there? what if i am rejected? what if it is a long commute, which bus will i take, who will i talk to first, how do i find and choose the right opportunity, ad nauseam. and there is nothing to study that can answer all those questions, so the only solution is flexing the addend, and going for it.

in the last few months i have found myself becoming addicted to a marvelous new feeling. it centers around discipline and courage. i started going to open mics, and now i find myself comfortable, adventurous, and more than willing to stand in front of strangers who may or may not even be listening.  when i was in college, pre-show butterflies would make me sick for days before the first note was played. now, after just a few months of experience and the harsh shock of jumping blind into a freezing river, i am suddenly a completely different sort of person who seeks butterflies and embraces them when they appear.

for a creative person, the opportunities that arrive from making that jump are staggering. i do a decent job of online marketing. i have a website, i’m on most of the big social media platforms, i run a few ads now and then, i interact with fans of my music or drawings. but none of that ever got me a paying gig, and none of it made me a real honest face-to-face friend, and none of it ever made me so uncomfortable that i was forced to grow. and of course it didn’t; everyone with knowledge knows that humans crave interaction, and that the anonymity of web interaction has none of the visceral power of a hug. but up until recently i was not exercising that knowledge, so it was more of a burden than an indication of where i should go next.

so, where should i go next? my worldview is collapsing and expanding like my own modestly big bang. my last post was a poem about using anxiety as a tool to answer the toughest questions in life, like, “what should i do next?” it feels counterintuitive to me, as if you suggested that the secret to flying was by nailing your own feet to the ground. i am in the middle of a spurt of wisdom, and everything is topsy-turvy; if i have a panic attack while walking to the train to play at some dive bar i’ve never seen, in front of people i’ve never met, that panic is a neon sign screaming that i’m doing the right thing. i’m finding that if i want to be relaxed and free, i should kill most of my free time with exercise and meditation and chores and work and take care of myself the way i know (ledge) i should, and then i can actually enjoy the free time that remains. that i can feel slightly less happy every single day when i tell myself that it is time to go to the gym, but by some subconscious alchemy that momentary loss of apathetic comfort blossoms into creativity and energy. earlier when i mentioned jumping into a freezing river i was speaking metaphorically. but, no joke, taking ice cold showers is just another part of all this. hot water makes me warm, but lazy. cold water makes me shiver and is almost too uncomfortable to accept. but after a hot shower i am apathetic compared to this high, (genuine and powerful as any cannabinoid i’ve encountered) a fresh clean energetic high from the moment i shut the cold water off.

i want to spend more time looking at this equation, because it feels like the most exciting thing i’ve ever learned. normally i’d keep this all to myself, because i want to fully research and understand a topic before polluting the internet with my input. but that is just part of this whole new thing. now i value trying and failing over and over (edison/lightbulb), and writing before i figure out the end of the story.