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Issue #18 February 14th - 20th 2003
The bit about love
Sister Janice and the Empty Mailbox
The bit about everything else
Virginia's Magic Therapy Potion
Sister Janice and The Empty Mailbox
Sister Janice is our new agony aunt. She used to be a nun, but after becoming involved in an accident at her convent involving a papal emissary; the mother superior; the convent dog and a bottle of 'citrus fresh' bleach, she decided it was time to find herself a new career. These days she travels through the galaxies in a converted garden shed.
Write to Sister Janice Slejj care of Friends of the Heroes. She will answer your problems and questions with the insight unique to a disco-loving alternative-gardening defrocked clergy member and cosmic adventurer.
Hello again my little flickers of eternity,
When you woke this morning, what did you do?
Did you yawn, throw the alarm clock across the room, stumble out of bed, abuse yourself and go to work, as normal?
Or did you... just this once... creep to the letter box, hoping, hoping... hoping...
I hoped too my dears. And, like many of you, I hoped in vain.
My first year away from those religious fascists who attempted to curtail my enjoyment of life... into a new world.. and out of the new world, into the galaxy..
The postal services clearly reach this far, because I've been receiving battery-operated items destined for a man named Vincent in Colchester for the past week or so. I'm not entirely sure what all of them DO. I would write to him, and ask for an explanation, but then he might want them back.
Perhaps my mail went to him instead. For this week, my little dewdrops of morningtide, I have had NOTHING in the way of communication.
Not a letter.
Not even a post-card
And certainly not a bloody Valentine's Day card.
Now, I wasn't expecting much. I haven't found too many romantic opportunities whilst floating around the void in a garden shed. There was a brief moment with a man who tried to get me to sign up to the Raelian Order. But the closest I got to cloning was a coffee and a chat on the red spot of Jupiter.
But I hoped, as you do... yes, you do. Whether you admit it or not.
Back in the convent, Valentine's Day was a bit of a no-no. The Pope, in full-on killjoy fashion, decided way back in 1969 that the whole thing was way too Pagan. For which, read 'there's a possibility people might enjoy themselves. Let's stamp on it.'. So, the Holy Ordinance Of The Blessed Virgin didn't like it much either.
I remember once, trying to brighten their lives a little, suggesting the Valentine's 70s night at the local Ritzys.
Now, personally, I don't consider it unholy, strutting your God-given stuff to Grace Jones. The sanctimonious fuckers looked at me like I'd farted a demon.
That was it. I didn't try for years. I hoped this year might be different.
It can be a lonely life. I don't need another person to make it complete. I tried that. I tried it with The Big Guy In The Sky for a while, but he didn't come through.
I don't need another person. Happiness comes from within, and one day I hope to find some. But, this week, just this once, it would have been so nice to find a little envelope on my hemp-woven welcome mat.
tead, there's just an absence. An absence made all the worse by an expectation. As if the world were laughing at those of us managing alone. The rest of the world opens cards, feels the smug satisfaction of knowing that some cares enough to share a bit of paper with them. It doesn't mean all that much, when you know you're going to get something. For those of us with ourselves for company, it means a great deal more. We reflect on the lack of communication, and it seems as if the occasion was devised to bring home the emptiness of life in its full, shuddering numbness.
not going to solve any problems this week. I'm going to open one of the bottles of communion wine that I managed to sneak out of the convent. And I'm going to drink it all. On my own.
I hope you got what you wished, my little rainbows of diversity. And I hope you wished for happiness.
St Valentine's Day
I often celebrate dual festival days, vaguely smug that the origins of my religion are also the source for the secular specialness of these days. Pagans and general society all simultaneously celebrate Samhain/Hallowe'en, Winter Solstice/Christmas, Imbolc/Candlemas and Beltane/May Day/Lady's Day. I can watch, with vague amusement, as God-fearing types enact pagan ceremonies without realising it.
Until this week, I did not realise that St Valentine's Day was also another of those Pagan festivals which had been Christianized into mass consumption. I had assumed that the 'saint' part of the name had meant it had its origins in the crowded calendar of Catholic Saints' Days, especially as it didn't correspond with any of the eight Wiccan sabbats. However, it now seems that the only thing Christian about this particular day is the name attached to it.
Internet sources (of unknowable reliability) have informed me that the pre-Christian Romans used to celebrate the Feast of Lupercalis, celebrating Februata Juno, goddess of love and marriage, and Pan, the god of nature, on February 15th. Part of the festivities on that day involved all the single people placing their names in a hat and then pulling out the name of a member of the opposite sex, in a kind of lucky dip. This person became their sexual partner for the day.
Things changed somewhat when the Roman Emperors converted to Christianity.
An aside: It was considered sound military strategy to encourage homosexuality amongst the Roman soldiers, on the basis that young Julius or Septimus were going to fight a little harder, if they were going to impress the cute lad who'd just joined the legion; or if such-and-such had his boyfriend of several years standing battling away alongside him, he might put that extra effort into the fight, just to ensure his loved one got home safe and sound. The flip side of all of this was that marriage with a female wasn't merely discouraged, but it was illegal while he fought in the Roman army.
Enter the criminal clergy. These were the Christian priests and bishops who performed clandestine marriage ceremonies for soldiers who really insisted on marrying a woman. The penalty for performing such a ceremony was execution and, on February 14th, 260, Bishop Valentine was beheaded for doing just that.
It wasn't until 496 that Pope Gelasius sussed that his Christian Empire was not going to give up the Feast of Lupercalis, no matter how many missionaries he sent out. So he let them keep it… with a few minor alterations for the good of their souls and all that. The now sainted Bishop Valentine had helpfully got himself executed for assisting secret lovers on the eve of the feast; so he got to be the feast's new name. The lottery was emptied of the names of nubile young things and filled instead with saints' names. The lucky dipper had to emulate that saint for the rest of the year.
Pity those who got Sebastian…
Blind man's bluff
It wasn't the most suitable job, for a blind man
There were so many things he could have done....he was clever, resourceful, cute
Had he been free to choose his own destiny, anything would have been possible...poet, philosopher, king....
But he wasn't free. He was under obligation, in the way that only his kind could be. His parents had chosen this for him. His parents, and their friends, the Gods.
Sometimes he'd imagine them, laughing at him. Laughing at their own clever trickery...
'Oh yes... We'll make him wear a LOIN CLOTH...and shoot ARROWS!'
He would imagine them, laughing at him....and he hated them. He knew they laughed. He knew fate laughed. Everyone found his predicament amusing.
And he would have his revenge on them all..
Being immortal, he had plenty of opportunity for revenge. His arrows were tipped with a unique poison. It could kill, in extreme cases, but more frequently it gave rise to a deep and abiding intoxication - a semi-hallucinogenic state in which the thoughts, the actions, the physical proximity of one other being became of such importance to the sufferer that nothing else could exist in their afflicted brain.
Nothing could displant the poison's potent effects, although sometimes it grew weaker with time. In their poisoned state, people would give away all their belongings, including their dignity. They would spill blood, including their own. Their world would change completely, and forever.
There was so much power in that little bow. They laughed, in the early days.
They didn't laugh for long.
Cupid decided to grow to enjoy his vocation. Being visually impaired didn't mean he couldn't work. Far from it. It gave him the opportunity to work that much harder, because accuracy was not an issue. The first few bolts flew swiftly, mercilessly, in every direction. Nobody was safe. The poison affected even Gods. He ensured that those who had created him felt the full consequences for themselves.
Legend had it, and legend was the law in those days, that the first human a victim saw after their wounding would become the object of their desire. If Cupid felt kind, he'd let them be loved in return. But being ridiculed had made him less than kind. There was more sport in confusion. Sometimes he'd shoot the same person twice, and watch the opposite loves rip the victim apart from the inside. Often, he'd shoot the oldest crone in the village as she gazed at the handsomest youth. Occasionally, he'd shoot the farmer gazing at his prize goat. Or the goat, as it regarded the farmer.
It lasted quite a while, such sport. He fired a good few arrows. But it began to grow tiring. He was still young, fit and virile. He always would be. That was a bonus, as times got more image-obsessed.
He was still immortal.
He still had power most could only dream of.
But he was so damn BORED. He was sure he wasn't achieving his full potential. He felt hemmed in by the expectations of others. He wanted to follow his inner dreams.
He'd been reading too many self-help books. You can fit a lot of self-help books into eternity,and things were pretty slow in the ambrosia-sipping realms these days. The heavens were filling up with libraries, careers advice centres, and he hung around them, firing arrows half-heartedly below, knowing he'd never be free to do as he wished.
Until, one day, the answer came.
It was Rowenta, the Goddess of technology, and her brother, Morphy Richards, who suggested it. A human invention. One they were getting quite excited about in the Mortal Realms. A simple bit of programming, and it could do his work for him. He'd have an abundance of spare time. He could take that holiday he'd always dreamed of, surf off Austalian coastlines, he could learn a new language, perhaps take up meditation... get to know the INNER God of Love..
He thought about it for a while Not for long. It wasn't a tough decision. Within a week, he was knocking back Sangria and sprawling, naked on a Spanish beach, aware of the many adoring eyes, despite the fact that he could not return their gaze.. sensing their desire and deciding which pair would get to gaze more closely as the boat of Ra sank towards the sea, and the blood-red sunset caressed their pleasure.
Somewhere, in another realm, a machine took its part in a myth.
And everything went well, for a while. He did Yoga with Yogis, he took tea with Kings and Queens. He had sex with anything that took his fancy. Around the world, people continued to fall in love. And people do not quantify such things, so they didn't notice their love was less organic, and ethereal, more synthetic and calculated. Of course they didn't. They were in love.
One day, a zero appeared where a one should have been.
A circle, instead of a straight line. It moved a co-ordinate out by a fraction of a degree. Which moved another co-ordinate by a fraction of a degree:
A curry. Right now. Nothing else would do. She didn't know she'd been hit by an arrow of love. If someone had told her she had, she would have laughed. Her date smiled at her, he tried to tell her a joke. All she could do was croak the words..
She could almost feel it, sloshing around inside her.. the comforting warmth, the challenging spice. She had to have one. Now. Or she would die.
The date made an excuse, and left. As he walked away, she looked down, at her tuna sandwich, regarding its wholewheat crust and the small sprig of lollo rosso. It didn't look so bad really. It was too early for spicey food.
Months later, she saw him in a Virgin Megastore. She didn't really know what was happening until she found herself, ejected out onto the High Street by Security, still raving about pappadoms
The librarian knew he'd be sacked, but he couldn't help himself. One minute everything was fine. They were discussing the relative merits of the dewey decimal classmarking system and the library of congress system, and smiling to themselves at the idiosyncracies of those who did not understand cataloguing. Then he felt her breast. He couldn't help it. It was as if his hand had a life of its own.
The man on the bus couldn't help it either. A sudden tingling in his nose. Suddenly, he pushed his nostrils against the faces of the office-workers opposite, anxious to smell their skin.
Quantities changed. The rationing circuit developed an error. Bolts were sent out several hundred at a time. People found themselves spontaneously in love with the sky, the buildings, the dog droppings, the old lady across the street, the buses, the dogs, the buildings again... the sky! The streets were full of 'mystics', ranting of rapture. Many of the human systems couldn't take so much desire, and ceased to fuction.
Cupid embraced a young starlet as she stepped from the back of a limousine.
In the heavens, the gods tutted, and went back to their crosswords. Some of them muttered about 'progress', as gods so often do.
Inanimate objects came to life... post-boxes propositioned pensioners, belisha beacons screamed sonnets at passers by..
The gods smiled to themselves, aware that Cupid wasn't invincible after all.
He was in Southern California, participating in primal scream therapy, when it occurred. He couldn't stop himself. He'd embraced at least six of them before he recognised the poison, and its familiar sting.
He told his fellow screamers that he couldn't manage without them, and they had to return to Heaven with him right away.
The computer problem was solved in traditional Roman style. A few bolts through the monitor, and it died with words of wonder emblazoned across the screen.
Cupid resumed his position in the heavens poised, ready to fire. Those on the planet below pulled their lives back together, and tried to make some sense of their own behaviour.
A group of Californians wandered around heaven, muttering about The Celestine Prophecy and discussing how feng-shui could improve the ambience. They spent a lot of time in the libraries, relaxing on bean-bags and browsing the self-help books with an endless fasination
It wasn't the most suitable job, for a blind man. But he had his new friends to keep him happy. He didn't know what he'd do without them. He felt like he could burst.
The Tills Have Eyes
In last weeks issue, we began to lift the shoddy lid on the murky world of personal blacklisting. This week it's time to don the corporate gas mask and wellington boots as we delve deeper into the shadowy bilge of blacklisting....
Ah, the Houses of Parliament. Symbol of democracy, bastion and birthplace of free speech, it's hallowed walls have echoed for centuries to the stirring rhetoric of many a celebrated politician. It is also home to a splendid library, resplendent with a gargantuan archive of press clippings, articles, minutes from parliamentary debates and even cabinet meetings. Indeed, if you look hard enough (no one will tell you this, by the way) there are, tucked away in the most obsure corners of the library, several press clippings and articles that refer to an organisation called the Economic League.
The Economic League was officially founded in 1926, although it reared its head in several different guises up to ten years before then, and for the rest of the century, it carried out, in co-operation with several government sources and members of M15 (the governemt's intelligence service), a systematic attempt at blacklisting every individual that they felt was, in one way or another, 'subversive' to the goals of capitalism. Let me make it clear, when I say 'subversive', I am not talking about a ultra-militant member of the Communist Party urging workers to down tools and burn their bosses houses. You didn't have to even be a member of the Communist Party, or even the Labour Party. Membership of a trade Union would more than suffice, and if one week you took a cursory glance at a copy of the 'Morning Star', you are, in the Economic League's eyes, a communist sympathiser and a subversive to boot. The list of examples of blacklisting are endless, with some figures quoting as many as 250,000 potential employees were blacklisted, often for the most abstract and insufficient reasons. In some cases, you need only be a relative of somebody already blacklisted to make your way onto the list. Considering the severity of the consequences of being branded a subversive by the Economic League - long-term or permanent unemployment - it is remarkable that little of its evidence would bare scrutiny in any court of law. The League's sources generally provided circumstantial or hearsay evidence, open to personal or political manipulation and incapable of being confirmed even if the League had had the resources to do it.
Unbelievably, until 1969, the Economic League denied all knowledge of any blacklist. But in October of that year the League's "Publicly Director", Harry Welton, changed his tack and told the 'Observer': "There's no secret about it. We say we're going to oppose subversion and by God we do. It frequently happens that trades unionists who feel as strongly as we do about the activities of subversives in their unions will give us information. "
However when the 'Guardian' questioned the League in 1977 about its involvement with Reinforcement Steels in Greenwich a spokesman replied: "We don't keep a blacklist. It's all a complete mystery". When the 'Guardian' then produced a confidential memo leaked by an employee at the Great Sothern Cemetary and Crematiorian Group which said "Before engaging staff in future, a call should be made to 01-681-7346, code number 555, and they will require the full names, the area of living, date of birth and National Insurance number of the proposed employee. You give him the code number, you do not give the company's name or mention it. If there is the slightest suggestion of any information held against the proposed employee from this source you do not engage same.", Jack Winder, the Leagues 'Director of Information and Research' said "It is our business to have this information and we will give it to people."
From the mid-eighties onwards, the reputation of the Economic League, helped by an increasingly observant and vitriolic press, was in decline. Tales of corruption, ludicrously outdated blacklists, back-handers from government officials, combined with public pressure meant that the Economic League was finally wound up on April 23rd, 1993. A victory for truth, rightousness, and democracy? Hardly. A few months later, when it was assumed that the sun had finally set of the Economic League's empire, two of it's former directors, Jack Winder and Stan Hardy, founded CAPRiM. Yes, that's CAPRiM. Let's remind ourselves once more of their wonderful, all encompassing literature:
'Living Marxism, Alternative Green, Ethical Consumer, Earth First!, Multinational Monitor, Militant, Morning Star, Trade Union News, New Internationalist, Engineering Gazette, Labour Research Department Fact Service. These Mastheads represent a cross-section of organisations which seek to weaken a company's ability to manage its affairs profitably. While some are idealistic, many are inherently opposed to free enterprise. They all threaten a company's independence. Companies need to know what these organisations are saying and planning. CAPRiM provides this information. And assesses the strength of the threat. And advises on appropriate action. That is one of the ways in which we help you to:- Reduce your risks, protect your profits. CAPRiM helps its clients by checking the bona fides of anyone a company is concerned about, whether external or members of staff. A simple CV check is often sufficient - and economical.'
CAPRiM continue to operate today. When the Economic League closed, there was no mention as to the destiny of the huge index of the names of people blacklisted. I think we can take a reasonable guess as to its whereabouts now, don't you?
Virginia's Magic Therapy Potion
She sips her homemade fruit slushy on her way to work every morning. "It turned out pretty green this today", she said. Every day it was a different color. Red from frozen berries, cream colored from vanilla ice cream. Today? Some kind of green vegetable enhancing powder.
We drove the mile to her office. In the two minutes it takes to walk from her car to the office, you can watch her soul start to shrivel up, her face tighten, her feet beg to be turned around. Alas, she opens her office door and swings her purse down under her desk. She has submitted to the unavoidable:
Virginia's soul will once again be in an office today.
It's not like she hates her job. On the contrary, she enjoys the difference she makes in people's lives. She feels strongly about what she does. "It's just this office..." she explained. "Your soul doesn't belong behind a desk", I agreed.
Any soul with even a spark of imagination could, however, thrive in her apartment. Her shelves of books have titles flashing naked words like... passion, imagination, energy, artistic spirit. Homemade collages hang in her kitchen with images she chose to represent her true self... a dancer, a painter, a child after a mudbath. Her perfectly white wall is blemished with a photograph, a glimpse of the hills of Switzerland where she flies still-framed and breathless, knee deep in green grass and youth.
I came to her, broken. Passionate-less.
Books were the enemy. Words were a mocking voice. Lyrics hurt like medieval tortures on my inside. And poetry? A swear word. I didn't mean for it to happen. I felt like a garden statue in ruins.
I hate the word "should", so it's appropriate now. I shouldn't be a wreck. Shouldn't I just allow all the gods' gifts, like muses and magic, to run through my fingers like water, enjoying the gifts wholly but not holding on too tightly? Oh yes. That's what I should do. But I truly, very truly could not heal from the sudden loss of purified, concentrated, no water added intensity I had experienced. I demanded myself to heal. Instead I became a skeleton in my own created mirages.
I couldn't write. I couldn't read anyone else's writing. I hurt, excessively and consistently.
Virginia's magic therapy potion is in the form of late night vapors and Chinese lamplights. I didn't know what was happening. Our sessions would go something like this:
Virginia: "Ooh, there's this song about the moon that reminds me of you. Listen to this."
Me: "Um, I... uh...I don't think so right now."
As if she didn't hear me, the song plays and I'm stuck in a room where pulsing echoes make a dead heart start to dance.
Virginia: "This author expresses his soul the same way you do. Here, just read this one part."
My everything, soulselfbodyspiritheart roared like gnashing lions, NO!
NO! Dear God, please no. But I read it for her.
I hated it. I hated it. Let that author speak of soul without me ever knowing about it. It hurt, it made me feel things, it made my soul so weary. I was being stretched out of my universe. I did not have the soul capacity to allow it. I was thankful for alone times when I could lie on the carpet and hurt to tears, draining it all out again.
Such a soul as drowned as mine in the god-kissed and the mused, draped in dreams of gemmed divine, now awakened, wet and bruised.
I "should" be all right.
Time passed. Virginia has a string of Chinese lamplights in her kitchen. When they are lit, you feel like something fairylike's about to happen. You feel you might start dreaming standing up. I never turned them on. Until one day, I did. I quickly turned them off again, but I recognized and marked the significance.
I was healing.
The next time I realized I was being cured was eating teriyaki rice with a friend of mine. I was so mesmerized by our conversation about the Eastern beliefs of silence that I forgot to be conscious of the fact that I was holding my chopsticks in mid-air for quite a good amount of time. My face was saturated by soul's humidity.
Virginia woke up from a nap one day to see me sitting on the floor, Chinese lamplights alit... writing. "You turned them on!" she exclaimed, "And you're writing!" She understood fully. "It's... it's not so good", my voice was shaking as I looked down at my scribbled paragraph. Even recounting that day now makes my silent voice shake on my page. I am the statue after the earthquake. I'm watching as misty vapors swirl me, sealing my cracks.
Our last night together as if I sat clutching my little bottle of potion, I breathed the last of the healthy, natural vapors. I reached in me and presented Virginia with all the thank yous I had. "It's been enjoyable to watch you", she said with her signature bright eyes. She explained to me how I began by fighting even the smallest reminders of soul. Eventually my soul was ready, but I was not. My soul began to ask to be fed, while I felt the need to sanctify my fast.
"And now, here you are."
Virginia drips with magic. She quit her job. If she had stayed one more day, her office windows would have shattered from the tornado arising in her. The rest of the staff would have had to spend weeks after the storm picking up all the silver moon feathers she dropped behind. In complete support of her choice, I proudly became the first to donate to the Virginia Art Fund. A silver feather dropped on me as she kissed my hand.
I still can't read a book, or truly listen to lyrics. Poetry still needs to clean out its mouth. I still hurt, very undeniably. But look at this. I wrote... um, well, 'some'-thing. Like being cured from a traveling peddler salesman, I can say I beLIEVE! Virginia's Magic Therapy Potion worked for me.
Even months later as I write for you, these exhales are full of vapors.