The Story of Ben and Maggie…

Follow the fucked-up yet inspiring love story of Ben and Maggie, a quirky, character-driven romantic drama set New York City in 1980.

Never read my novels? Now is a good time get drawn in!

The Offbeat Rhythms, Volumes 1 and 2 are available here.

Small Satisfaction…

Ah, that feeling of being in a library and seeing your own book on the shelf. I couldn’t find it at first because it was misplaced. It was with the TH’s rather than the TO’s. I moved it to where it belongs when I was done with this photo…

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Meditations on a Waterglobe

One day, to my own surprise, I reluctantly went to the mall with my wife. She wanted to shop for a certain dress or something, and for no other reason than to please her, I (half-heartedly) agreed to accompany her. When we arrived at the store of her choice, she went off to do her thing and I, as I usually do, went to sit on the nearest bench with all the other husbands while I waited for her. No sooner had I sat down than I noticed a display case to my right cluttered with several waterglobes (most people know them as snow globes; I’ve always known them as waterglobes). They’re typically found at Christmas, but these weren’t festive or anything. One was very large and filled with a miniature model of downtown St. Louis, Missouri. Such was the detail of this particular globe that there were even minute people dotting the streets. I picked the globe up, shook it, and then watched as all the little white shavings (which were supposed to be snowflakes but, according to the scale of the globe, would be the size of basketballs in real life) rained down upon both city and citizens stuck in the confines of the glass sphere.

And then I suddenly had this inkling that here in my hand was an excellent visual for what reality is like. We are here, on Earth, trapped by the pull of gravity, bounded by the laws of physics, and stuck forever within the borders of the Universe. As such, we have no idea what might exist beyond those borders. For all we know, the Universe is like a globe in a deity’s hand… to be shaken at will.

Then I imagined that the tiny people inside the waterglobe could actually move around and talk and think. I wondered what they would make of their situation. They would probably scurry about through the streets of their little city and do everything possible to fully comprehend the scope of their reality. They would probably create various religions to explain their presence in the globe. They’d probably conjure up all kinds of philosophical concepts in order to best explain their existence. They might even come up with some version of the scientific method and thereafter use it to ascertain that their Universe is a glass globe with tangible borders and predictable patterns. Perhaps they’re able to glean so much information about their particular globe that they start to feel quite secure about their existence. However, if I were to casually pick up this globe and heartily shake it (which is what waterglobes are designed for), their world would suddenly turn against them, their conclusions would fail them, and all their knowledge would become useless against this new development.

It therefore occurred to me that though they might think they are rather intelligent, they’re actually beyond ignorant. Of course they are; what else could they be? They’ve never been outside the globe and thus they do not know what their globe looks like from the outside. They don’t possess the context of the “outside” to compare to their context on the “inside.” They don’t even know what a globe is measured against that which is not a globe. Ergo, they are painfully limited in what they can know. They can’t fathom that I, the random guy holding their globe in my hand, am not their creator at all. I’m not even the only god-like entity that exists outside their world; I am in fact only one person among billions of other such individuals who are just as limited in the knowledge of their world as the tiny globe people are about their own (see below).

ghgWhat could be said about this miniature species of globe people if, in their ignorance (which they wrongly perceive as intelligence), they start to war with each other over who could best answer the question about what was on the other side of that glass? What if these people killed each other over information they couldn’t understand even if it was given to them? What if they actually destroyed their own globe, thus ending their existence, because they couldn’t contain their anger over the things they didn’t know? And yet, if this did happen, who could blame them? Whoever created this globe and deposited these people in it had to have recognized that existence is, by nature, consistently accompanied by cosmic curiosity. To exist is to obsessively wonder about existence. To inhabit a globe is to philosophically ache over the nature of the globe, its origins, and its meaning. Therefore, who could blame a race of people if, after having been imprisoned within a globe, the reality of their situation coupled with their incapacity to comprehend it ultimately led to their self-destruction?

Maybe some of the people inside the globe think that only by “knowing” the globe’s “designer” can their existence mean anything. So, they set out to “meet” this creator and thereafter file away all the data they can about him. But how exactly are they going to do this? They can’t leave their globe. They don’t even know for certain that anything exists beyond the globe. And even if they did, how exactly are they supposed to establish communication with the globe’s creator(s)? What if they somehow were able to detect me—the man holding their little globe in his hand—and thereby mistook me for their creator? Suppose they could somehow learn all kinds of exciting things about me and use this information to erect religions and various ethical systems and worldviews? Okay, perhaps that’s all well and good, but, I’m not their designer. I’m just a passerby who happened to spot the globe and pick it up. I am not their God, even though that is what they think of me. Perhaps this belief comforts them and lends meaning to their lives. Perhaps believing in me makes them feel better about their situation.

Even so, they are still believing a lie.

What if some sects among the globe people got it into their heads that theirs was the absolute final word on me, the final word on their perceived “creator?” What if they grew so confident in their “exclusive knowledge” of me that they used it to suppress everything and everyone else? The problem with this is that they could never have the final word on me. I may have done something heinous hours before spotting the globe, but they will never know of it. Nor could they ever have full access to the entirety of my mind, which might as well be divine in its proportions as far as they are concerned. And besides, even if they could possess the final word on me (which they can never do), they’re wrong about me being their creator. Ergo, all their conclusions are wrong at the outset because their basic supposition is wrong.

But try telling them that. They just might kill you.

Some of these globe people might believe I “deposited” an official “message” into the globe, thereby revealing myself and my intent to them. This message, according to them, is all they need to know about reality. But how could they be absolutely certain? They can’t. They could never be. The best they could accomplish is to drum up some brand of belief and hope and call it faith. But is it worth it to kill each other over this faith? Is it worth it to order their transient lives around their belief in me? Is that what I would want for them? Who am I to want anything for them? I’m not even their creator! Maybe when I set the globe down and go home, someone new will walk by, pick it up, and deposit his message into the globe. What then? The globe people are banking on a version of reality that looks right to them but is woefully incomplete. In fact, it’s so incomplete that they’re destined to never know just how incomplete it is. Their ignorance yields more ignorance, which only yields more, and then more. They do not and cannot know that their understanding of reality is defective, nor do they know that it’s possible for their understanding of reality to be defective, that reality can’t be trusted.

What a dreadful situation.

And that, to me, is the central point of this allegory. How exactly is reality supposed to be defined when in order to fully comprehend it we first have to have been everywhere and seen everything? After all, an amoeba can’t infer the consequences of an entire ocean simply by probing the one drop of seawater in which he lives. The amoeba would have to leave the water, look back on the ocean, see it in its entirety, and then understand what it is. Only then could it know its place in the water. How then are we supposed to think and converse intelligently about what reality is if we, like those people in the waterglobe, can never escape the confines of reality to look back on it and see it as it is from the outside?

The Oxford Dictionary defines the term reality as:

  • The state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to how one might like them to be.

That definition appears forthright enough, but unless we can somehow escape our “globe” and get the final, full picture of “things as they actually exist,” what do we truly know? We could be—and probably are—as mistaken as that tiny race of beings living inside my imaginary waterglobe. And if that’s the case, then everything we know is wrong. Which means the entire foundation of our lives is based on an error.

Moreover, how are we to determine the scope of reality? What I mean is, where precisely does reality begin, and where does it end? Is there a limit to how much reality one entity can digest and fathom? For instance, suppose there are two men of equal intelligence. One is standing on the street, the other is standing atop an exceedingly high tower. Both men are asked to describe the conditions of the horizon. But the scope of the man on the ground is far more restricted than that of the man on the tower. The man on the tower can see farther; ergo, his horizon is larger. He can see farther down the street than the man standing on it, and not because he is smarter or wiser or any better at using his eyes, but simply because he’s on a higher plane (see below).

454It’s for this reason that the old mariners had a crow’s nest; the best place to spot a distant shore or an enemy ship was at the highest altitude possible. My question, then, is this: isn’t it probable that the scope of reality is much like this? Maybe we humans are standing on the street. Maybe we feel pretty good about our eyesight and how far we can see, but the nature of reality as we know it may not be all there is to the story. It’s very possible that we’re just not able to get high enough to see the rest.

It is at this point that the believers chime in and inform us that, yes, there is more to reality than we can perceive, and it’s called the supernatural realm, and they can tell you all about it. Similarly, the metaphysicists would likely agree that there’s a “beyond,” although they would go about their examination in a decidedly more scientific manner.

In any case, there may very well be more to reality than we can empirically detect here in the natural world, but until we have some concrete data, until we can “climb to the top of the tower” and see more, as it were, all we have is rife conjecture, which may be fascinating but is, at the end of the day, utterly useless.


Taken from my book, Letters From a Dissident Philosopher

Poem: “Amsterdam”

Colors of autumn, fragrance of nature,
Wooden walls among cobblestones.
Moss on the trees and weed in the breeze,
Urban chaos amidst wilderness tones.
Mellow the voices, euphoric the air,
Shades of the past with the sounds of today.
Cloudy the sky and tempered the sun,
Rain on the wind, yet the gloom’s kept at bay.
A heart full of people, and people with heart,
Winding a rope around copper machines.
The music of time in the veins of her alleys,
That feel of wet leather against digital screens.
Smoke in the system, concepts of science,
That tannin scent over marble floors.
Slow-moving madness, everywhere, nowhere,
Muted expressions behind elaborate doors.
The future in check and the past on the wall.
A darkened sense of fear and yet calm.
Thousands of years and yesterday’s tears,
Too alive to destroy, too dead to embalm.
The secrets of ages, semantic riddles,
An ancient land perched on high and down low.
A city of somethings, a city of nothings,
A city with dreams and despair in escrow.
Low on the map and high on the mind,
All quarters converge in the square.
The beginning and end of humanity’s sadness
Is lost, and then found again there.

Poem: “Opus Simplicity”

All life begins with an atom,
And death begins with a life.
All children begin with a husband
Who may or may not have taken a wife.
All songs begin with a moment.
All moments begin with a drink.
All potions begin with a wizard
Who’s stopped up his bathroom sink.
All science ends with religion,
And religion always ends with itself.
All books begin with a tree
That’s felled, then cut for a shelf.
All tears begin with a question,
And all questions end with a mark.
The question before us now is,
“Just what the hell is a quark?”
All roads begin at their endings,
And all endings begin with a road.
All healing begins with your heart,
And all hearts are doomed to explode.
All secrets begin with a riddle,
And all riddles are written near lakes.
All lakes begin with a trickle,
Or the fornicative product of snakes.
All truths begin with a lie,
Most lies embody some facts.
All facts are rooted in fiction,
And fiction is what the truth lacks.
All ashes begin with a fire,
All fires begin in your brain.
Most brains are the product of scarabs,
And scarabs are clogging the drain.
All drains end with a tunnel,
All tunnels were drawn by Van Gogh.
Van Gogh was thought to be crazy,
But he wasn’t, believe me, I’d know.
All veins are sustained by a pump,
All pumps are sustained by the will.
Life is a lie that we want to believe,
And death is reduced to a pill.
All poems begin with a rhythm,
All rhythms being with a beat.
All beats are based on bereavement,
And sadness is joy incomplete.
All atoms begin with a tremble.
All trembles are birthed in great pain.
All pain is the source of great pleasure,
And pleasure comes with a chain.

Poem: “Lost for Words”

Tell me a story about something sacred.
Do you believe in a higher love?
Tell me a secret, tell me a riddle,
Tell me you know what I’m thinking of.
Is there a question? Is there an answer?
Tell me the words you want me to say.
Give me a signal, throw down the rope,
Rescue me now or get the fuck away.
Speak in a manner that betrays your intentions.
Is there a deeper meaning here?
Give me a ladder, send down a lantern,
And work on your grammar, it’s vague and unclear.
Give me a moment; I want something special.
Make me remember that I’ve alive.
Tattoo it deeply on the walls of my brain,
I want to live and not just survive.
Tell me the thoughts of your innermost mind.
Do you believe in the eternal night?
Tell me the beginning and tell me the end,
Or tell me nothing and get out of my sight.
I won’t walk that hall with you tonight,
I won’t sleep in your room.
I won’t lie on your bed,
I won’t fondle your womb.

Poem: “Verse Noir”

First the door, then that click of the lock,
Turning off the light…
That’s the way I started the night,
That’s the way that I got feelin’ right.
There’s grime on the mirror, but that’s usual here,
This place is like a tomb…
That’s what you think when you stand in this room,
It’s like being inside some malevolent womb.
Down the drain, and she’s calling my name,
So I don’t make a sound…
Pretty soon she’ll stop coming ‘round,
Pretty soon she’ll forget what she found.
There’s blood on the floor, and there’s blood on the door,
Someone else has been here…
Probably someone with intentions sincere,
Maybe someone with motives unclear.
Shoot the vein, and then make with the chain,
That’s the way it’s done…
You’re not the only one,
You pretend that it’s normal,
You pretend that it’s fun.
There’s a tap on the glass, and she’s flashing some ass,
Now the mask is in place…
You wipe all the tears from your face,
You open the door and you occupy space.